Monday, December 21, 2015

Ça Fera

According to Google Translate, the title of this post means "It will do" in French. I like that. As we head into the thick of the holiday season, I realized that it's been nearly six weeks since I've updated the blog - I didn't mean to let so much time slip by, but things happen, especially at the end of the year. And what a year it's been! Just before Christmas last year, I underwent a lumpectomy to treat "Stage Zero" breast cancer - another name for "ductal carcinoma in situ." (Christmas on painkillers - that ought to be a country song.) Stage Zero. Nothing to worry about. Whatever. Cancer. That's about all I heard.

I came through things with flying colors and the subsequent six weeks of five-days-a-week radiation treatment, while not a whirligig of fun, were all right. I had an amazing medical team, support from family, friends, co-workers, and strangers. People looked after FryDaddy so he could look after me. Still, I was stubborn and fell into old thinking, which included acting mule-headed and ignoring that I wasn't exactly 100%, which meant that I resisted having people take care of me. No, no, that's okay - I don't need help; I'm just fine.

Nonsense and I regret that.

So around late June, following a HUGE health scare with my dad (everything's okay on that score, but my family is quite ready to be done with this year), I started the "French journey" I've been writing about here for the last six months. A year-end wrap-up seems to be in order.

While I can still be as crazy as a rat in a coffee can (see picture and imagine a far more crazed, Edgar Allan Poe sort of rat), I'm better that I used to be (most days, anyway). Choosing the French to emulate was a good choice for me - it's a society that celebrates women, style, and intellectual ability (philosophy is a standard high school subject. Seriously). Yes, I've made changes in how I eat (most days). Yes, I've pared down my wardrobe and I've found amazing high-quality clothes and accessories. Yes, I now have a chaise longue (and I now know that it's not spelled "lounge") that I want to spend entire days on. Yes, I'm better at leaving work worries and aggravation at work (most days). Yes, I know about eight ways to twist and pin my now-shoulder-length hair into an updo. Yes, I can tie a scarf about five different ways. Yes, I have a Pandora station devoted to French music.

As one of my beloved friends tells her composition students when they present her with a paper that's long on facts but short on reason, "So what?"

It's an excellent question. The "so what?" in this case is an internal shift. It's not about perfume, or glitzy hairpins, or a silk blouse (although I found one for eight dollars the other day. I swear, it's like hunting). Those are merely outside trappings - certainly pretty, but not essential. The "French shift" for me has been a change in attitude. That includes taking the extra few minutes in the day to do things that make me feel good, whether that's adding a scarf to an outfit or making sure to have fresh fruit in the house. This change in internal attitude also means noticing things as they cross your path. The Bible tells us "Seek and ye shall find" and this is true. Yesterday, I noticed that "Angels We Have Heard on High" is a traditional French carol. My dad brought home croissants (which he never does), so I have those for a day or two leading up to Christmas. People know that I'm working on these things, and send me encouraging notes - including about a chaise longue! My project has taken on a wider reach than I ever would have imagined. Then again, I think we all could do with being a little gentler in our attitudes towards ourselves and one another.

A huge part of that has been learning to say "no" and mean it. "No" is a complete sentence and, while I still deal with twinges of guilt when I say "no," I an bone-deep sure that I am better able to serve my community, my students, my family, my friends - and yes, myself - when I'm not flailing about trying to complete too many tasks in too short a time. (Let me tell you a secret. Lean in here, so no one overhears us. Ready? The way to make saying "no" work is to look the other person square in the eyes and simply say "no." Don't attempt to explain, or add conditions, or (heavens above!) say something like, "If only . . ." Just say no, then smile. Perhaps shrug a little to indicate that, really, you would, but with the state of things as they are, it simply isn't possible. [Yes, you can communicate all of that with a shrug. Practice.] My French cousins might add "C'est la vie," but I am not French, so I'm sticking just with the "no" and the shrug. It's simple and it works, provided you keep your trap shut after saying "no." The other person will begin to talk. Let them. Smile sadly a little. Add nothing to the conversation. Say "no" again if you must, but nothing more than that.)

Also - I'm learning that, at my age, no one gives out gold stars. Remember those? Very popular with teachers, especially those who work with young students. Well, after a certain age, nobody gives those out, so it's imperative that you find your own value. This is echoed in the marvelously over-the-top Sweet Potato Queens who didn't wait around for someone else to give them a sash and a tiara. Very clever women, and their recipe for "Chocolate Stuff" is one treat everyone should try this holiday season.

Anyway, I bought my own box of stars (I really did - the local dollar store stocks them. I also write myself gift notes when I order things for myself off of Amazon. Why not? It's free and I like saying nice things to myself) and I give them to myself as I decide I deserve them. Some days it's because I completed grading an entire stack of papers or because I finished writing a chapter. Other days, it's because I didn't stab anyone with a fork - it's a flexible scale. I really do suggest trying this. Is it a little whimsical? Sure it is, and the world needs all the whimsy it can get these days.

Whether 2016 has you "going French" or not, I wish you the very best in the coming trip around the sun! Just try to be a little kinder when you don't want to be. If enough of us do that often enough, we'll see a change that will make the world sit up and take notice! Your best is good enough. Put forth that effort, then allow things to simply be - at least as much as you can.

Joyeux Noël, mes amis!*

* Yes, I do not speak French. Maybe I'll learn.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tending Your Garden

Any changes you make in your life really need to be part of all your life, if you intend for those changes to stick. So how does this work with my efforts (nearly five months in right now) to "become more French"? If this just an "at home" thing, or does it carry over?

So glad you asked!

Keep in mind that what I'm trying to do here is change my thinking, not just my wardrobe. It's easy to switch clothes - the real trick is to figure out what clothes are truly a reflection of you. In order to do that successfully, there's a great deal of "interior work" to do.

For instance, today my work outfit consisted of a white T-shirt, khakis with a black braided belt, black ballet flats (comfortable as bedroom slippers, by the way), a black ruffly jacket with three-quarter sleeves, and a red patterned scarf knotted into a necklace. My hair was in a French braid (my attempt today at a Dutch braid looking weirdly as if Belgium had invaded - there's a reason I don't post all my attempts at updos!) and I was rocking redredred lipstick and a discreet puff of Chanel perfume. I certainly looked French, but far more importantly, I felt like Mockingbird. I was comfortable, pulled together, and confident.

Yay, me. Not all days are like that, though. Some days it's a real effort to not just toss on a turtleneck and a college sweatshirt (which has been my go-to for far too long!) and just lumber in to work. Some days the world seems like a kind place populated by thoughtful people; other days it seems like humanity is a bad case of global lice that the planet ought to shake off as quickly as it can mange to do so.

What to do on those days?

As Voltaire might say, "Tend your garden." Thoughtfully consider what you have done to enrich your life and your outlook. Take a few minutes to check - have you tended to yourself? Have you had water? Enough sleep? Eaten real food, instead of processed faux-food? Gone for a walk? Read something non-work related? Cleaned your face? Washed your hair? Taken a bubble bath? Had a cup of tea and told the world to just hang on for a few minutes? You simply must take care of yourself to have the energy and focus to take care of others. So, first things first - how's your garden?

Voltaire's quote (from his satirical novella Candide), also refers to doing some actual work in the garden. You can't just watch it and hope for the best; you need to go tend it. Optimism is all well and good, but it must not be a substitute for purposeful action. Not all purposeful action will work. This is very important to understand. Do not be afraid to ask yourself, "When's the last time I failed at something?" In fact, ask yourself this question regularly, for if you haven't failed at something lately, you haven't tried anything new lately. 

Now, I'm not suggesting you fail at skydiving or heart surgery. But try new things - not all of them will work, or be to your taste, but you'll never know that if you stay safe and secure. That's the same thing as constantly outlining your paper instead of actually writing it (as an example). It's by knowing what you like and what suits you that you learn who you are. So what follows is a list of a dozen things I've failed at lately. Note that many of these are just not that big a deal. I learn by failing, but I get another chance to use what I've learned.
  • I hesitated and a pair of flat-out gorgeous dark red boots I was already half in love with were purchased by someone else. Carpe caligae, friends!
  • I didn't want to bother the barista so I didn't ask for the pumpkin pie spice when I really wanted it for my coffee.
  • I skipped the time in the morning that I set aside to pray and meditate then wondered why I was out of sorts all day. (That's a practice that really does help me brace my feet for the day.)
  • I tried an orange nail polish for Halloween and it chipped off in less than a day because I applied it in a rush. (Lots of my failures have to do with rushing, I've noticed.)
  • I desperately needed to take a few minutes and reset my mood instead of reveling in being angry, which is (quite frankly) a luxury I can't afford.
  • I allowed myself to get dragged into a Facebook argument - you never win those.
  • I thought I could fix a problem that, when I really thought about it, I realize will take many people working together to address and solve.
  • Because it's what I wanted, I thought things would simply unfold the way I had it scripted in my head, forgetting that other people have their own scripts.
  • Turns out that sometimes you need more than an extra two bobby pins to make a hairstyle work.
  • I gave in and had popcorn and movie candy for dinner. 
  • I let myself think that chores were more important than spending time with those I love.
  • I didn't look through my travel supplies and ran out of contact solution while out of town at a conference.
I hope to add to this list as the month continues. What about you? What have you failed at lately? And if you haven't, get hopping!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A French Day

Any time you begin a huge shift in procedure and policy, you can expect that the path of progress won't be an unending march toward the light. When the "procedure and policy" basically involves a major reset of The Entire Way of Doing Things in your personal life, this is even more true. Sad, but it's a universal truth. Change requires challenge. And yes, I'd gotten off the French road a bit. Therefore, I took Sunday as a "reset day" to get me re-committed to these positive lifestyle changes. How did I get back on the horse?
The color really DOES wash out!
  • First, I decided I wanted to. If the changes are working, you ought to stick with them. These are working for me, but I wasn't working the changes.
  • Next, I decided on a "reset day." This was to be a day in which I really made a conscious, ongoing effort to live according to the principles that had been working for me.
  • I started by sleeping in. There's something deliciously French about one day a week when you don't have to set an alarm and can just snuggle under the covers with the one you've chosen to spend your life with.
  • Next was a day-old croissant from Dunkin' Donuts. Don't judge me - I live in a small town and croissants are hard to come by. I'd picked one up yesterday (along with an eclair!) prior to my 5K untimed Color Dash. (Note the new tutu - my original one became a nest for a family of wrens this summer and - well, there's just no coming back from that.) The eclair was eaten and the croissant was saved. I reheated it, sliced a perfectly ripe pear, added a dollop of actual butter and put the whole shebang on one of the good china plates. Then I poured a cup of hazelnut-flavored cafe au lait and added a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. By the way, at this point, I was still in my Turkish robe. 
  • After breakfast, I showered and took care to be nice to myself, even though I didn't really plan on going out and visiting with anyone. Good quality lotion, perfume, a touch of mascara and lipstick. Remember to brush the hair, even if it's just going into a ponytail. There, now. I feel better.
  • Got some fresh water and took a deep breath. Time to apply the KonMari Method to bookcases. This was harder than it was with clothes, but then again, I'm a bibliophile. Still, I tried to stay true to the core concept - don't concentrate on what you're discarding; instead, focus on what you truly want to keep. I lost count after my 70th book in the "go bless someone else" pile.
  • After a lovely lunch of homemade potato-onion-ham soup, fresh yogurt, and a juicy apple, I divided the books that were leaving the house into categories and then worked to reshelve what was staying. I then loaded up the car before I was tempted to change my mind.
  • I dug out my old bread machine (I'd already shopped for the ingredients) and started a loaf of French bread.
  • I finished grading a project for two of my classes. I took my time and read their responses carefully - they really are starting to get it, which feels great, although it's far more them feeling confident enough to get a little real than anything that I've done.
  • I made plans to meet a running friend for coffee - we didn't run today; I needed a day off after yesterday's Color Dash. I had a book that I needed to pass on to her and I'd left some things in her car yesterday, so a meet-up was a good idea. I touched up my lipstick and left the house. 
    Not beignets, but pretty good bread!
  • On the way to the coffee shop, I dropped off books at two Little Free Library sites. Another batch went to the "free books" shelf at the coffee shop.
  • I visited with my friend, enjoyed an afternoon pick-me-up of milky coffee and a freshly-made (and warm!) chocolate croissant.
  • Then it was back home. I walked the Spooky-dog in the blissfully welcome sunshine. It was a short walk, but that's all either of us needed today.
  • Just as we walked in the door, the bread machine started beeping. Although the crust could be darker, it seems to have created a decent French loaf.
  • A simple supper of fresh bread and a chef salad followed, along with a pear and yogurt for dessert. More water, this time seltzer with lemon.
  • Along with dinner, FryDaddy and I watched The Babadook for an upcoming podcast. Truly a scary, not-sure-what's-happening, the-human-psyche-is-whacked film. I completely loved it.
  • I ended the day with a soak in a warm tub with good soap and soft music. Another tumbler of water.
  • Then it was time to end the day, feeling accomplished, but not rushed and out of sorts, and behind.
And there you have it! A day with a balance of work, good food, exercise, water, and thoughtful activity. Now to string together several of them . . . 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ooh La La!

It's been about three months since I started my quest to "become more French" in my attitudes. I've read half a dozen books on the topic, made some small changes (and a few large ones!) and am ready to report on my research.

Executive Summary - You should really do this!

Lengthier Explanation - As I explained in an earlier post, when I started this journey, I didn't think anything would change. I've made enough trips around the sun to know that I'm headstrong, set in my ways, and don't do well with down time. But I also knew that my methods weren't bringing me calm and a cancer diagnosis (even as mild a one as I had about this time last year) will scare you into making some changes.

It started with the idea of dieting. I've wanted to lose ten pounds for years, but nothing ever seemed to work and hey - it was "only" ten pounds. I was fine, right? Then I hit that magic birthday and the weight began to creep up. Still nothing to worry about; the doctor was quite happy with my bloodwork results and my various test numbers. However, radiation treatment meant a lengthy time of being very sedentary and eating whatever I wanted (and I didn't want salads and kale chips, let me tell you!) because - well, cancer and you're so consumed with dealing with that mess that everyone tells you to not worry about the scale (and they're right, by the way). So in June, I stepped on the scale and was horrified to discover that I weighed about 30 pounds more than I wanted to and that nothing - repeat, NOTHING - in my closet fit properly.

At this point, Something Had to Be Done. Having heard about the "French paradox" and having tried far crazier things in my life, I decided to look into this and maybe sort of "go French."

 Oddly enough, this did not include dieting. And yet, over the last three months, I've lost 12 pounds and I've done it without tracking my food or denying myself much of anything. I eat a lot more soup (homemade, which is another plus since prepared ones tend to be full of sodium) and don't go anywhere without a water bottle. I eat real food (which includes butter, sugar, and chocolate, along with huge salads, fruit smoothies, and plenty of vegetables) instead of sad, flavorless, packed-with-preservatives frozen whosits, and I watch my portions. It's interesting - it takes less "real food" to make me feel full and satisfied. I'm not totally virtuous - I occasionally eat the "bad stuff" but overall, my habits are much better than they've been. I also weigh myself often - I've heard conflicting reports on the advisability of doing this, but it works for me.

OK, that's all well and good. I still have 20+ pounds I want to lose and it's likely to take months. That's all right. Clothes that I bought when I was in "ohmigod, what can I wear to work when it gets cold?" mode are now slightly large on me, which is fantastic.

Which brings me to my next point - shopping.

As a general rule, I don't pay full retail for much of anything (read about that here) and I fretted over the French idea of fewer clothes, but better quality. Like many Americans, I had overflowing drawers stuffed with cheap clothes. I took several deep breaths and culled ruthlessly. (When much doesn't fit, it's easier, which is perhaps the only plus side to my balloon journey.) There's an axiom that says that you can't bring more into your life (stuff, love, etc.) unless there's room for it. Perhaps that's true - once I made room and committed to not buying anything unless it fit, I loved it, it was versatile, and the price was right for me - it's as if a celestial door opened. Consignment shops - that's where it's at. Go - and go often! - with patience and a spirit of adventure and buy NOTHING that doesn't fit ALL of these criteria. And, of course, be willing to haggle good-naturedly. (I also keep a list of what I'm looking for so I don't wind up buying things I don't need.)

I've been amazed at what I've found - classic, timeless pieces that will last me decades, if I properly care for them. Also, by having fewer items that go with more things, it's both easier to decide what to wear and I'm discovering new ways to put things together and I'm more confident about trying new things. I'm even experimenting with scarves!

I think the biggest takeaway from the last three months is that it's good to take care of yourself. I work full-time and still struggle to find that "sweet spot" of balance between work, family, the new book, and self-care, but I like using the "good stuff" (such as wearing the good pearl earrings on a random Tuesday or taking a 20-minute bath instead of a 5-minute shower) and it's good to try to have more fun everyday. Some of my steps in that direction include prepping a "bad day" box, getting a decent fountain pen to use instead of just cheap stick pens, using sidewalk chalk, and using fewer disposable paper cups at the coffee shop - carry your own mug instead. By the way, this really isn't a question of money - my finances are such that even shopping at Target right now is something that must be planned for. Budgets are actually your friend - tell your money where to go instead of just wondering where it all went - it's hard at first but it gets better. And you acquire things piece by piece.

I'm nowhere near done with this and, quite frankly, I hope it takes me years. I still have too much stuff and I still have tendencies to overwork and view time off as being wasted time. These are not good attitudes. (Common, yes, but good - no.) It is good to treat ourselves well - to drink fresh water and eat real food, to laugh and play, to get ourselves winded from running and then have Gatorade and a graham cracker, to nap and pet animals, to leaf through catalogs and magazines and to remember that the very seasons of the year itself include quiet time for growth and reflection. We could learn a lot from that.

Vive la France!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Moveable Feast

Not this!
As you know, I've been on a quest to "become more French" in my attitudes. No, I'm not sporting a beret, quoting Sartre, and smoking Gitanes (or smoking at all, actually), but I'm trying to incorporate some of the "pleasure principles" I've been reading about into my daily life.

So how's it going? Can a recovering perfectionist raised with an overabundance of the Calvinist work ethic find contentment in self-care? Or does she wind up wracked by guilt at not being productive 24/7 and go around in a constant state of apology?

Let us draw back the curtain and take a peek . . .

The whole adventure started around the end of June. For years, I'd heard about the "French paradox" and read accounts of the generous attitudes toward family time in French society. Well, that's fine, I thought. Wouldn't work here. Now, let me get back to replying to e-mails at 7 am. But this year, I was pulled up short - I had a diagnosis of Junior Auxiliary Cancer and my dad needed heart surgery. (Both of us are now doing fine, by the way.) That will change your perspective on things in a hurry. Just why exactly was I working so hard? Personal satisfaction? A paycheck? So I could say, "Working real hard, boss!" and hope for a paternal pat of approval as if I were a beagle? Hmm. This needed to be examined. (Besides, it's worth noting that French workers are more productive than Americans.)

Over the last two months, I've been trying some things that - to be candid - I never thought would work. The problem as I saw it was that I just didn't have time for that sort of thing. (I just realized - wow! I was Shere Khan!)

I can be so stubborn that it seems my spirit animal should be a mule.

I started small, convinced that (a) it was frivolous, (b) even if it wasn't frivolous, it wouldn't work and (c) even if it did work, it wouldn't matter. But, fine. I'd try and then you'd see it was useless. I started with a little thing that took me less than ten minutes to set up - I organized my cosmetics, tossing the old, cakey stuff and moving the "good stuff" (samples I'd gotten and was "saving") front and center so I'd use them every single day. A funny thing happened. Taking better care of myself through small things made me feel better about myself. I was worth using the fancy eye cream and moisturizer that had just been sitting there unopened! Imagine that! 

Then the universe conspired to help me and I started finding amazing things at incredible prices. The "hunt" was often more fun than the finding, but I couldn't help it - I started to find! I've pared down my wardrobe (still have a ways to go on that) and added a few high-quality pieces that I've found at good consignment shops (on sale! ON SALE!). I have quality skincare products that practically fell into my lap. I'm discovering my "signature scent" and taking the time to wear clothes that make me feel good. I'm drinking water by the tumbler and I'm not stuffing myself with sub-par food. I'm taking the time to read and going to sleep at a respectable hour. I also stop working at a decent hour and focus time and attention on my family. (By the way, I've also lost eight pounds of the weight I put on during my illness and treatment, so there's that.)

Two quick stories to try to convince you to give this a try. First -  since 2011, my hometown has been the host city for the American Legion World Series. My dad went to college on a baseball/football scholarship and played catcher for the only ACC team to win the College World Series,* so baseball is pretty important to us. My parents almost always come down for at least part of the Series, which falls just as my college is starting the fall semester. Therefore, I've always been "too busy" to go see a game with my parents, which resulted in them watching the games and probably wondering why their youngest daughter insisted on behaving like a headless chicken.

Sometimes, my intelligence can be measured deeply on the idiot scale.

So this year, I said, "Come on down!" and I worked hard to wrap up things so I'd have the free time to visit and play with my folks. No, I didn't have everything ready to go and neatly squared off before they arrived. But I saw game after game with my parents, I had a marvelous time, and I wouldn't trade those days in the hot sunshine for a gold monkey. And the first day of class went just fine!

Second - from the time she was a young woman, my mother has had an oval gold bangle bracelet that she wears so often it's a "signature piece" of hers. Now, this bangle is a solid piece - there's no hinge or latch - so you touch your pinkie and your thumb together and scrunch your hand a bit to slide it on. We call it her "gypsy bracelet" and we've never found another one. Round bangles, sure. Ovals with latches, no problem. But not a solid oval.

Yesterday, I got back to take a second look at a local consignment shop - there was a costume jewelry brooch I wanted to get another look at. And what gleams at me from the jewelry case but a silver bangle bracelet. Oval. No latch. Solid. Excited, I barely remembered to haggle. (But I did. They knocked off a few dollars and gave me the brooch for half off.)

This is what I mean. Once you decide to make changes - I mean, REALLY DECIDE - I've noticed that things mysteriously line up to help you; you just have to pay attention.

Also yesterday, I went to work to tie up some loose ends from the first week, then left to keep a massage appointment I'd made. (I've gone to the same masseuse for about a dozen years now and I really can't recommend it enough. In town, try her [tell her Mockingbird sent you!] - out of town, find one!) I then ran a couple of errands (dropped off bills, found the bracelet!, that sort of thing) and realized it was a gorgeous day and I hadn't really played with the Spooky-dog in ages. So I went home, changed clothes, left a message for FryDaddy (who has been wonderful about supporting my French attitudes as a "moveable feast" experiment), and my Dixie Dingo and I went to our favorite coffee shop. She had a bowl of water and got petted by many passers-by and I had a lovingly-made cortadito while I sat in the sunshine with my getting-longish hair held back with a scarf and hand-wrote a note to my parents. FryDaddy got my message and joined us, so we had an unexpected stroll through uptown and checked out a couple of shops we'd been meaning to explore in sort of an impromptu date night.

Now, not every day is like that, but why not open yourself to the idea of setting things up so it could be? Life doesn't have to be an unending trial and you (yes, you!) can decide to change it! Don't tell me it can't happen - you deserve to take care of yourself. Start today!

* Sorry, UVA won the Series in 2015. So the record stood for 60 years.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Relief, Rest, & Resilience

Earlier this week, I had my first post-surgical mammogram. I tried very hard to just not think about it ahead of time, but it kept sneaking back into my head. After all, this would be the first definitive proof that all the bad cells had been eradicated through the surgery in December and the radiation earlier this year. I'm delighted beyond belief to report that everything was clean and I'm considered to be well on my way to recovery!

Now, any woman who's being honest will tell you that mammograms aren't exactly a whirligig of fun. They're distinctly uncomfortable but they provide crucial information - the entire reason my outcome has been so positive stems from having regular exams. Catching things at Stage Zero (where, technically, it's "just" junior auxiliary cancer since the disease is so encapsulated) is SO MUCH BETTER than catching it later. So - ladies, make that phone call today. Gentlemen, encourage the women in your life to make that phone call today. No kidding. Call. If insurance and funds are an issue, look into alternative low-cost programs. There are many that take mammogram equipment on the road - a "Breastmobile," if you will.

I'm continuing with my 30 Day Challenge to treat myself like company. It's been a good thing, so far, although I'm noticing how often my "treats" involve sweets and I'm trying to find other rewards. In this, I think the French in particular and Europeans in general are way ahead of us. America still holds tightly on to our puritanical roots - if we're not working, sweating, and exerting, well - we're just shameless lollygaggers. We view pleasure with suspicion. Think about it - how often have you heard a woman order dessert and then say that she's being "bad"? Or that she'll "work it off" at the gym the next day?

There's nothing but guilt in that approach.

As the wise and wry Tasha Tudor would remind us, life is meant to be enjoyed, not saddled with.

So treat yourself well! Eat food that will keep you humming along, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, spend time with friends, delight in your family and quit putting your own needs so low on the list that you have to turn the list over to find your name! Pet a cat, walk around your block, pick up a book, take the time to brew a real cup of tea. Use the good crystal, wear your pearl earrings on a Monday, spend your lunch hour testing perfumes to find your "signature scent."

Frivolous? Not a bit! Who knows? Maybe if we all treated ourselves a bit more kindly, we'd be quicker to extend that kindness to others. So smile at the cashier, let a car merge in front of you, wave at the garbage truck driver who's there to pick up your trash.

To quote Bluto in Animal House, "Don't cost nothin'." Sure, he's talking about something else, but still . . .

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Company's Coming!

Coloring - not just for kids!
I have to say that I like the results of my "French experiment" so far. It's been nice to start culling my closet (much, MUCH work to do there - I'd like to eventually get to a "capsule wardrobe," but that's likely to take a while) and I've enjoyed taking better care of myself through what - and when! - I eat. I'm going to continue on this road, with the ultimate goal being happier and more comfortable in my own skin (which, I have learned, is "bien dans sa peau" in French. Lovely, but with my North Cackalacky accent, I'm sticking with the English) .

So my next step is to spread the love of this idea. I've started the "30 Day 'Treat Yourself Like Company' Challenge" - every day, you are to do two nice things for yourself, the sort of thing that you'd do for company without a second thought, but don't often take the time to do for yourself. Let me explain - the idea here is not that you're running off to Bora Bora and abandoning your responsibilities. Instead, by taking care of yourself in multiple small ways throughout every day, you're actually setting yourself up to be better able to take care of others. This isn't about you becoming a diva and demanding that the world stop spinning to acknowledge your gloriousness; but it IS about you taking a few extra minutes to reset and value yourself. Examples might involve the indulgences you do on vacation, such as having ice cream for lunch or taking a good long soak in the tub. Or they might include using the "good stuff" on an ordinary day - the fancy guest soaps, the wedding china, or your best perfume. Maybe it's food - taking the time to make a perfect summer tomato sandwich or making soup from scratch and letting it simmer all day. Maybe it's skin care or makeup or jewelry or taking time to color or to just read for fun. It can be all of these things, some of these things, or none of these things. But for 30 days, go a little easy on yourself. Plan two treats per day - and no days off!

I've gotten a few friends to agree to do this with me and we'd love to have more - it doesn't matter where you start - just go ahead and jump in wherever. I'd love to hear what you're doing! Leave a comment here or use the hashtag #companycoming on Twitter.

Now go do something nice for yourself!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Becoming French

My ongoing quest to continue downshifting both hit a few bumps in the road and found new urgency since last we spoke. A few days after we left for vacation, I received word that my father had been taken to the hospital. Several days of tests and much worry later, it was determined that my dad needed some serious heart surgery. Serious to my mind, but practically routine these days - serious, though. Dad came through surgery like a champ (I had a screaming fit in a parking lot, but at least I didn't scare horses or children) and is back home now. According to his doctors, he's recovering nicely and should be just fine - even better than that, since now his heart is working without three blockages.

Let me tell you - something like that will snap you into focus pretty darned quick. Maybe even more so than my own diagnosis. There, I was concentrating on myself and what I could do; in this situation there wasn't anything I could do, other than burn up the road between my "now home" and my childhood home, which I did. I'm no good at sitting still, so I came up with the hare-brained idea to build Dad an elevated summer garden so he'd have something to look at from his bedroom/study while he recovers. It's good to stay busy and the final result was something that Dad seems to like quite a bit. Maybe this gardening thing is going to stick, after all.

It's a crazy time - this weekend is the second Joss in June conference and I have the privilege of delivering the keynote at that conference. My topic (dealing with Pinocchio and the new Age of Ultron movie) is one that I selected before the film came out, so I haven't had the time I'd have preferred to have had, but I dug this hole myself, so it's up to me to shovel my way out. I think I like where the presentation goes, but I'm a little too close to tell.

On top of that, my two summer classes begin for me next week, so I had to get those set up before we leave for the conference. Yeah, it's not exactly been a time of gentle musing and contemplation.

So - becoming French. I picked up a book when we last visited one of our favorite used book stores in Tennessee that was all about "finding your inner French girl." Sounds silly and fluffy, but it had some good advice about slowing down, taking care of yourself, eating real food (not at your desk, where I eat far too often), and there were some recommendations for movies to watch to soak in domestic details. I started trying to do some of these things - not drink my morning coffee standing over the sink, actually use the good stuff (we used the good china tonight, for example), take a few extra minutes to consider things before leaping off into something I don't really want to do and have fewer things, but of excellent quality. I even went through my closet to pare things down and finally got rid of clothes that simply don't fit any longer. Nope, I'm not hanging onto them until I lose the 20 pounds I've put on this year from stress eating. (My sweet tooth is my downfall and it must be reined in.) I'm not buying stuff just because it's on sale, either. To get in my closet from now on, a thing has to be something I need, something I can wear often, something beautiful, and something of high quality at a good price. Taking this attitude has already paid off, as I found an item I'd been looking for off and on for years in a consignment shop that has become a sort of haven for me. (And that's all I'll say about that, lest you think I've turned totally materialistic.)

While I haven't turned into a beret-wearing, baguette-chomping clotheshorse, already I see some progress in achieving my own level of je ne sais quoi. I'm taking the extra few minutes to take care of my skin, instead of just slapping on soap and scrubbing like a deckhand; I take time to relax in the evening (including taking the time to actually make tea instead of just heating a random mug in the microwave), I'm working to remember that family is more important that work, and I'm also trying to enjoy my work more instead of feeling constantly behind.

The French just may be on to something.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Taking the Phone Off the Hook

A long, long time ago, I heard a song by Billy Joel that was never one of his hits, but one that deeply resonated with me - "Vienna" from The Stranger album. It's a song in which an older person is giving some hard-won advice to a younger person (maybe they're even the same person), and you just know that Youngster isn't listening, being in far too much a hurry to get going to Somewhere. And you also know that Oldster knows that Youngster isn't listening, but Oldster's going to try anyway.

I like it. A lot.

I've been away from the blog for longer than I really mean to - at first, it was "well, I'll write after "X" happens" and then I missed writing after "X," so I figured I might as well wait until "Y" happened, and so on and so on and now I find myself here. Lots has happened - FryDaddy and I celebrated our 5th anniversary to much loving and little fanfare; the semester finally ended (seriously - too many medical appointments and too much self-inflicted pressure on this one); Mother's Day and my mother's birthday; and also our slightly-delayed anniversary trip that we'd saved up for so FryDaddy and I could go hog-wild in a used bookstore. (Look, I don't judge your relationship, do I? And we revel in the printed page.)

Clearly, that's too much to try to cover here, so I won't. Suffice it to say that I'm working hard on not working hard. The silver lining to the last seven months has been discovering that I really need to ease up - that not everything's a forest fire in need of my immediate and undivided attention every second. And that it's okay to not get everything done. Yes, the house has "hot spots" that need some attention (you know "hot spots" - those places where stuff just gets dumped and never sorted through. I'd been doing really well about keeping those under control; now I need to start over), and that'll happen. I'm also ready to start pushing myself with jobbling again. But I'm also ready to spend some time reading for fun (how is it I never read Little Women? Well, I didn't and I'm fixing that now). I'm also conducting experiments in testing the best spot in the backyard for the hammock and watching the herb garden take root.

Yes, I've got the beginnings of a lovely garden thanks to generous friends and a willingness to work the business end of a shovel. Gardens take time, so even if everything takes hold (unlikely; I'm working in Carolina red clay here and my technique tends to be a bit - well, let's say enthusiasm wins out over skill most days), it'll be a year before you can really tell. That's okay - good things take time and I've had some hard-won lessons in the futility of rushing things. Speaking of which, I've got a keynote to write for a conference I'm thrilled to be invited to. The research is done (mostly) and I've finally reached that time where I'm itching to get words on paper. 

Plus, I've had three days away with my love where we had nothing to do at any particular time and slept so late that we missed housekeeping making up the room one day. We came home to pets who had missed us and a cozy house that takes care of those under her roof.

And our "long vacation" - our first one since our honeymoon - is coming up in a couple of weeks. There's some serious work to get done between here and there, but when we pull out of the driveway, I expect it to be with the "phone off the hook."

Yes, I've been to Vienna. But I know that there are other places that wait for me.

This is from Joel's performance in November 2014 at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. He was honored at the 2014 recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Music. The arrangement is a tad different from the album, and Joel's voice has changed a bit from the 1970s, but it works so very well.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

So Now What?

After being brought to the realization that yes, I'm through with radiation treatments but also yes, I'm sick from them, things have (oddly enough) gotten much easier. It has to do with not fighting so hard to be better when I'm not and instead just accepting that I'm not quite there yet. I know - elementary, dear Watson, but I'm a hard-headed mule sometimes.

So over the last two weeks, I've been trying very hard to just listen to my body instead of my head (that thing has proven that it just Can't Be Trusted sometimes). As a result, I'm getting stronger more quickly. My days aren't back to "normal" just yet - basically, I'm good in the mornings and I work until I get tired, which I recognize by my loss of concentration, then I go home. I nap, then usually I can finish what I left unfinished earlier in the day. I had a check-up with my regular doctor (as opposed to my oncologist and radiation doc; those are scheduled for later) who reassured me that this is my new normal; at least for now. It won't stay here forever - I will get stronger and have more stamina - but this is where I am for now and that's to be expected.

I was strangely buoyed by this news.

And what I'm seeing now is that I can have one really strong day, but it's usually followed by a day of being pretty wiped out. Therefore, it was with great nervousness that I approached yesterday's Gold Rush 5K, which was held as part of my college's 50th anniversary celebration. FryDaddy had made it clear that I was to take it easy and I reassured him that I would, but that I really wanted to do this event. It would be my first post-radiation timed jobble and it was important to me to see that I could finish it. I've canceled two events already - and those decisions were the right ones for me to make at the time. But this race was super-close to home and non-competitive. (Oh, there are the serious-minded ones, but they're so far out in front of me that I don't have to fret about that.)

 With all that in mind, I donned my "let's not take this too seriously" race tutu, posed for pictures in the Very Fetching Hat (which was swapped out for my trusty ballcap for the actual race) and positioned myself at the back of the pack. I'm still not completely sure of my exact time - it was somewhere around 40 minutes, which is slowslowslow, but thrilled me. Plus - get this! - I somehow managed to win second place in my age group! I wore that medal most of the day! I had a number of friends in the race - some doing their first 5K, some old hands, and one - let's call her PiMaster - came in first among all the women competing. It was a wonderful morning and I was surrounded by support and was able to give a little support as well.

So it seems that I'm getting closer to being back. I've got goals over the next month - get some plants in (both flowers and food), get the house back closer to order, and so on - and I'm so very pleased to announce that I'm much, much closer to learning to not overdo. One of the greatest tools in that? So easy a child can do it, but we forget as we get taller.

Ask. Just ask. (This is in no way to be confused with whining. Asking is more "Can I have?" and whining is more "But I want.")

Ask for what you need, be that encouragement, coffee, an afternoon off, the name of a good therapist, grace to just get through the day until you can throw the covers over your head. Ask. People want to help and the Universe is really not out to get you; no matter how it seems some days. And for the love of heaven, help someone else out! Let someone cut ahead of you in the grocery line, hold the door for someone whose hands are full, smile at someone. Because - no kidding - we all have it rough and we're all in this together.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Truce & Realization

The title isn't as quite as zippy as "truth & reconciliation," but it'll do, it'll do. Which is, in large part, what this post is all about. Ever since the tour through the suburbs of Cancer Town started about five months ago, I've tried my best to look for the good parts; the lessons of kindness and grace that could be learned. In large part, I've had success with that - friends have been unfailingly kind, my medical team has made me feel that we're actually a team instead of me being Chart #17, my family has been just incredible, and even acquaintances and near-strangers have been beacons of support for me and for FryDaddy through all of this.

I can say with honesty that I wish I hadn't had to learn any of it, or at least I wish I hadn't been put into this class. But I can also say that I'm glad I have learned some things along the way. What follows are personal lessons; actual mileage may vary and heaven knows, the contents may have settled during shipping.

My stint of radiation treatment has concluded and I didn't expect/prepare for the aftermath. Even though I'd been told what to expect, I didn't listen. I truly thought that I was different and that while it might take other people a month or more to get back to about 80% energy-wise, well - that wasn't going to be me. Fewmets, I say. I've been out of treatment for a touch over a week and I get tired very easily. It took me about a week to recognize the obvious. (Speaking of which, I passed on Saturday's Color Vibe run - a decision I'm convinced was the right one due to my physical state and the weather that day [clear but quite cold], but a decision I agonized over far more than a sane person would have.) It also helped that FryDaddy said something that actually got through the butcher's block of my head. Yes, he said, it's true that I'm not vomiting or feverish, but I'm recovering from a super-mild case of radiation sickness. Somehow, that term made an impact that nothing else (including his [joking?] threat to go to the vet and get a tranq gun) had made. From that epiphany, a number of others have sprouted, all of which can be summed up with this:

I'm not what I was before the diagnosis but I have the ability to be magnificent in this new skin.

To me, this is completely eye-opening. As I've gotten older, I've struggled with - well, with getting older. I spent much of my growing-up years being the youngest in my crowd - I'm the baby of the family (both immediate and extended) and was the last of my friends to get my license and pass the other markers of teenhood. Also, I read the roles of my family as the pretty one, the athletic one, then me. (Don't bother telling me anything about that isn't accurate; I know it's screwy, but there it is.) Mind you, I never thought I needed plastic surgery to avoid scaring the livestock, but I always saw myself as plain, clumsy, and bookish. (Funny, though. I always thought I was funny.) Over the years, I made peace with that and even modified my opinions a bit, but there's my baseline; that's the skin I lived in.

And now my skin is different. The texture is different and the color is different - the treated area is both burned and peeling at the moment. My overall body is different - due in part to aging and due in part to dramatic changes (read: not the good kind) in the last few months in my diet and exercise habits. Things aren't tight and jiggle-free. My clothes are larger, which I spent a good deal of time hating, feeling that I was "letting myself go." (God, what an awful phrase, as if I need to be tightly controlled at all times instead of inhabiting my own body.) The fact of the matter is that yes, I'm different physically than I was twenty, ten, or even five years ago. I'm not willowy or waifish. I like a good, dense cheesecake and I long for the day when I can tie on my shoes and slowly jobble to the end of my road again, huffing and covered in the honest sweat that comes with exertion.

We had some tree work done over the last few weeks. Now that it's completed, the yard looks different. Messy in some places where leaves weren't raked due to the brush and also sort of raw where the trees and brush are cleared out. I'm looking forward to figuring out what to do with the space, determining what will best grow there and preparing the ground.

You know what? I feel the same way about my body. It's different than it was. In a way, brush has been cleared out and that's left changes on the landscape. And - it's true - I'll never, ever look like I did 20 years ago.

I'm so much better. 

Even on the days when I feel frumpy or tired or overwhelmed or like an impostor. I worked hard to look like this - to be upright and breathing and of at least a reasonable amount of usefulness to others and whether I do that with shiny hair and mascara-ed lashes or mismatched socks and a well-used ballcap jammed over pink hair - well, as Billie Holiday would saucily remind me, ain't nobody's business if I do.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


As in, "How many radiation treatments are left?" That's right - today is Day 3 post-radiation of my DCIS journey. On the final day, FryDaddy came with me to meet my treatment team (who really were just fabulous throughout the entire process) and see me ring the bell that they have for folks on their final day of active treatment. My techs gave me a glowstick necklace to simulate the superpowers that (sadly) never manifested - turns out that comic books lie about that part - and drew a funny picture on me that made the (ahem) affected area look an awful lot like Jeff Dunham's puppet Peanut. And there was, of course, cake and celebration.

So yes - 33 treatments over six-and-a-half weeks have come to an end. (Yay! Cheers! And the crowd goes wild!) I'm not done yet - I have frequent follow-ups and five years of tamoxifen ahead of me, but this endeth the active stage of treatment. It'll take a little while for me to heal from it all - I'm burned and the healing involves itching, peeling and overcoming the fatigue that comes with 33 doses of radiation dangerous enough to the healthy to be delivered in a room that could withstand a nuclear attack - seriously, the door to the treatment room is a good foot-and-a-half thick. Therefore, I'm not planning on doing much beyond my day job for at least the next two weeks (and I hope to do large chunks of that from home). I'm using Easter as my marker. It seems appropriate to use that day of joy and resurrection as my new starting point.

Back before I realized that I was like everybody else, and would therefore have side effects from radiation treatment (seriously, I'm not always the brightest bulb in the chandelier), I signed up for a 5K Color Vibe run with a friend who's never done a 5K before. That seemed like a great thing to do. The Color Run was my first 5K a year ago, it's untimed and tremendous fun, and it was the official "coming out" of my jobbling persona, the Dancing Sloth - I was eager to share that experience. But the event is next weekend and I'm not in any kind of shape for running. Well, that's okay. There will be very little running from this Sloth, but I expect to walk the route and get doused with color and cheer on my friend. No doubt about it, I'm starting my training over pretty much from scratch (and I'm not really starting anything until Easter), but that's okay. I understand things differently now and part of what I understand is that I'm still a runner, even if I haven't run in a while. You have to take time off to heal from injuries, whether those injuries are running-related or not, and by my calculation, cancer treatment counts.

Other changes are also indicated, especially in diet and stress reduction, and these are areas FryDaddy and I plan to work on together. Much work remains to be done but wow! am I glad to be moving forward! Let me once again give a shout-out to everyone, everywhere who's been part of this with us. Whether it was your willingness to wear a colander on your head, whip up dinner for us, tend to the Spookinator, rake the yard, pray, meet for coffee, send cards - the list of kindnesses that let us know that it wasn't just us against the world goes on and on and on and on. And I don't know that I can adequately express how much it all matters. It really, really did - and does! I've learned so much about kindness, compassion, and (weird as it sounds) joy over the last few months and I'm grateful for the lessons, although I still dislike the teacher.

Be kind. Everybody needs it - especially the ones you don't think deserve it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


I'm pleased to report that I'm on the home stretch! Yesterday was my last "big" radiation treatment and I had my "field check" to mark the area that would be involved in these last eight treatments. These "boost treatments" are more narrowly focused than the previous treatments and focus more on the actual surgical site instead of on the entire breast. The good news (aside from the fact that this means the end is in sight - YAY!!) is that I'll no longer be getting radiation on the area that has been most affected by the radiation. While my side effects haven't been that bad, there has been some burning and irritation, as well as noticeable fatigue. Not exhaustion, mind you - it's not that I can't get out of bed, but it takes a bit longer to do things, running is a pale memory right now, and I conk out by the time television considers "prime." This too shall pass, although it may take the better part of a month post-treatment for me to really feel like myself again.

Of course, the end of radiation treatments is not the end of this whole thing. I'll still have check-ups and there's a medical regime I'll be on for five years. FIVE YEARS. Then again, post-surgical radiation statistically cuts my chances of recurrence in half and following this regime cuts that number in half again, and even I can do that math.

Another one of the common side effects of even a brush with cancer is increased anxiety and boy, did I get that one in spades. Stupid ol' brain just wouldn't settle down and look at reality. Oh, no, it had to spinandspinandspin. Lack of sleep led to more fretfulness over a wide variety of things - my Calvinist work ethic makes me think fatigue is laziness and I should just "buck up." Also, like many academics, I suffer from "impostor syndrome" from time to time, feeling that my writing, ideas, and observations aren't really original and that people are just being kind - ideas like that went into overdrive.

After a few weeks of trying to think my way out of it, I used the common sense God gave geese and made an appointment with my doctor, who patiently informed me that, at this juncture, not feeling normal was - well, normal. So we came up with a plan to work on that issue. Seriously, people - check your headspace. You don't have to feel rainbows & roses constantly (in fact, that's pretty off-the-normal-scale), but you wouldn't "tough it out" with a compound fracture, would you? Same idea. You're worth taking care of, but you have to be willing to do it.

Let me repeat that - you're worth taking care of.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Silver Linings

It was going to be far too easy to make this a very whiny post. However, if I've learned one thing in the last four months through my dealings with Cousin Cancer, it's that attitude really does matter. No, it's not going to turn a horrible diagnosis into a garden party, but I need to sometimes remember that I drew the best draft number available in this war - my diagnosis was made earlyearlyearly and my treatment has (so far) been far more inconvenient than tragic. So let's look at a few weeks of silver linings here.

DOWNSIDE - as you know from my previous post, right as I started radiation treatment (I'm not quite half-way through right now), we had a bad windstorm which knocked a tree down into the fence around the dog pen, scaring all of us (especially the Spookster!) and causing quite a mess. Well, the tree is cut off the fence and we have to have fence work done. To be on the safe side, we had a friend who's a professional arborist (let's call him "Big Tree") come and inspect the rest of those ivy-covered trees. Upshot - wow! Tuesday, we're having about half a dozen trees taken out. So a hefty bill for both tree removal and fence replacement.

UPSIDE - I'd trust Big Tree if he told me to dance counter-clockwise around an oak. He inspected my trees when I first moved into this house - which was nearly ten years ago. (Side note - wow! Ten years!) And trees are beautiful, but less so when they've smashed through your roof and are in your living room. Having one tree come down prompted us to do some "what if?" work, which in the long run, is likely to save us from a much worse scenario than having a couple of bills for tree removal and fence work.

DOWNSIDE - Like all rational people, I hate Carolina ice storms. They aren't especially pretty and they cause havoc for days after the storm itself moves through. We had record low temperatures here over the last few days, which has a tendency to make me move at sloth-pace, so I got a little behind at work. Nothing bad, but we had to re-arrange our weekend a bit. Making plans is a surefire way to make God laugh - yesterday, when it finally warmed up above freezing, FryDaddy and I had to deal with our first (and please, last!) burst water pipe. Sigh.  Huge mess, and a plumbing bill on top of the other expenses.

UPSIDE - Aside from a ten-minute period during which I was a full-scale raving lunatic, we came through this one pretty well. I found the water cut-off under the house without too much trouble, although it took FryDaddy's Hulk-like strength to actually get the valve to turn. We went to my gracious mother-in-law's house for showers and laundry facilities and our faithful plumber (seriously - a great guy!), Piping Hot, had us up and running (water) within three hours. Also, it was an outside pipe leading to the washing machine, so no flooded kitchen. We got the mess dealt with toot-sweet and I just flipped over our first post-broken-pipe load of laundry, so we're all good.

ALSO UPSIDE - Being stuck in the house waiting for the Big Thaw, I moused around one of my favorite Websites and located a Little Free Library near me. (It even has dog treats!) A friend had pointed it out to me, but I couldn't remember exactly where it was - the roads get rather twisty in that area. I dropped off about ten books yesterday and picked up a light chick-lit read. Now that I know where it is (about a mile from the house and again - dog treats!), Spooky and I will visit regularly.

ALSO ALSO UPSIDE - People are kind. Coming home from radiation this week, I stopped by my favorite coffee shop in town and realized that the trees ringing the old courthouse square were festooned with scarves. Seems a local chapter of a women's service organization had done that to provide warm scarves for anyone who needed one in the bitter cold weather.

DOWNSIDE - Radiation treatments five times a week.

UPSIDE - By going to the treatment center, I learned about a great organization in my hometown called "Because We Care" that raises money for cancer patients undergoing treatment to cover the auxiliary costs, such as medications, transportation, utilities, etc. They had a big fundraiser last night and I received two tickets, so FryDaddy and I got ourselves slicked up and went out on the town. It was a New Orleans-themed masquerade party with wonderful food (avoiding the sweets table and the roving trays of beignets was hard, but Lent calls), Mardi Gras style decor, and dancing. Yes, FryDaddy and I danced - a little 80s funk, a little shag (I'm a bit short for him with that, but we still managed to twirl a little), even a touch of contemporary whatever-it-is-the-kids-are-listening-to-these-days.

We had a marvelous time - although our assigned seats were purloined by several women who apparently are still stuck in junior high. Ladies - all the sequins in the world can't cover up that type of ugly. I suppose I should thank them, as we wound up at the table with the band, who were undoubtedly more fun anyway. It was huge fun to dress up and see other people all gussied up - I learned that my college president is a huge Dexter fan (hmm??), his wife goes all out for the Oscars, and my oncologist can well and truly bust a move.

It really is all in how you look at things. And my overarching resolution to "be kinder to myself" seems to be intact and even growing!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Bzzzz - Zap!

I waited until today to post so I could give you the Very Latest. Today was not only Punxsutawney Phil's big day, it also marked the beginning of my six-and-a-half week journey through radiation treatment. Over the last couple of weeks, everything has been done to get me ready for today - sample films were taken, a personally-molded headrest was made, and I've even gotten three teensy "triangulation" tattoos that are used by the radiation techs to make sure that I'm properly aligned for each treatment. After all, radiation is useful stuff, but it's also very strong stuff and you want to focus the beam as narrowly as possible. After all of that, today was actually a little anti-climatic. It's not like Steve Rogers getting bombarded by Vita-Rays and screaming as he transforms from a skinny Brooklyn underdog into Captain America - instead, it's actually a lot of lying still on a VERY hard table while a couple of techs fuss over getting you into position and then a machine moves around you and you hear some buzzing sounds.

Then you're done for the day!

Seriously, I know it's a cumulative thing and that I'm likely to experience some slight sunburn-like effects and some fatigue, but if this is anything to go by, it's not bad. It certainly doesn't hurt (aside from the tattooing, which isn't awful, but definitely stings) and it's fairly quick.

Then I came home to this. It's been very windy here today and a mature, covered-in-ivy pine tree couldn't take it. It smashed down across the back fence of the outdoor pen (if you look hard, you can see bits of the chain link peeking through the branches), no doubt scaring the bejeezus out of Spooky-the-Delightful. We're working on how to get it cut up and removed - it's a BIG tree - and we'll probably have to replace at least the back part of the fence, but no one got hurt. It's solvable.

I'm learning that phrase - "It's solvable" - can be applied to a number of things in my everyday life. I'm still working on my yearly resolution to "be gentle with myself," and I can report some progress in that area. FryDaddy and I are still working the fine details, but if we organize our time and work (and I mean work HARD!) six days a week, we can actually have a real, non-working Sabbath. We've done it for two weeks now and it seems to be something that we both really want to continue. Honestly, it's not easy. We've gotten these great opportunities outside of "regular" work and those involve us coming home and/or starting on those projects extra early in the day, but again, it's solvable and we really enjoy having one day that's ours to do with as we see fit. So we'll keep working at it.

Now, about that tree . . .

Sunday, January 18, 2015

In Praise of Sabbath

Instead of taking on huge resolutions as I did with last year's mania, I boiled things down to their essence this year and resolved to "be kind to myself." (You can read about what that means in this post.) It turns out that this isn't quite as simple as it first appears, but hope springs eternal. My approach to this umbrella goal, which I hope will eventually include changes in my diet, exercise, work, and home habits, is to start slow and go slow, but keep progressing.  With that in mind, since I've last checked in here, I've done three things:

  1. Worked to incorporate waterwaterwater into each day. I hadn't swapped water out for soft drinks; I just wasn't hydrating much at all. Drinking plain ol', life-sustaining water isn't actually that hard once you commit to carrying a water bottle with you everywhere you go. I use a 24 oz. one I picked up at Connemara, which was the home of the magnificent poet Carl Sandburg. It's not that far from where I live and it's well worth the drive (and hey - they have the descendants of his wife's prize-winning dairy goat herd!), but you can, of course, use anything you want. 
  2. Tried to expand my diet by including new foods. I've never been much of one for eggs, so I started with that. They're not expensive, can be fixed in a hundred ways, and are chock-full of nutrition, so it seemed like a sensible starting place. I found a frittata recipe and discovered that adding salsa - YUM! I can make a batch and eat off of it all week, thus guaranteeing to start the day with protein.
  3. I've gotten serious about keeping a "Sabbath day." Traditionally, Sabbath is a rest day, generally used for worship. Denominations get (to go Southern on you) "all tore up" about what day Sabbath should properly be and there can be all sorts of rules and regs about just what's okay to do on that day. I cut through all of that, although I respect the conclusions others come to in that regard. FryDaddy and I talked this one over and what we're striving for is a day during which we do not work, beyond simple household chores. "Simple" being the key here - a load of laundry and making the bed is fine; raking the yard is not. Puttering around with flowers would be fine for me, since I enjoy that, but digging a new flower bed is BSS ("beyond the scope of Sabbath"). If we manage to pull this off consistently, I'll rank it among the highest achievements of my adult life - thanks to electricity and computers, it's far too easy to blur work and home. I have to actually make an effort to NOT check work messages from home and with a new book project, I constantly feel like I should be getting more done. But I've seen the results of regular breaks and I'm determined to do this. In fact, the reason I didn't post yesterday was because it was Sabbath for us this week and blog posts are BSS.

In Very Fetching Hat news, I've been cleared by the oncologist to begin radiation treatments, which will be followed by a five-year course of tamoxifen (that treatment may, of course, be altered once we see how I tolerate the drug). Later this week, I'll go for my "simulation" - I won't actually receive radiation therapy on this visit, but will get measured and prepped and even tattooed so the radiation can be very narrowly targeted. It's actually a fascinating thing - my medical team will now include a physicist! So at the moment, I'm post-surgery, pre-radiation, but this will shift in the next two weeks. It's not as scary as I thought it would be, no doubt due to the marvelous care I've been received and the outpouring of love, concern, and well wishes I continue to receive. I'm interested in making some dietary changes to increase my energy level and keep my mood stable as I go through this next stage and I've gotten some excellent advice on how to do that without totally breaking the bank. (Oddly enough, molasses is strongly suggested.) So it's "Onward Sloth!" at this point!