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Picking Up The Pieces

I think we can all agree we are done with 2020. It dredged up a whole mess of rage, hate, disappointment, emptiness, hopelessness and fear. We’ve been on this ride now the majority of the last ten months, and like a smoker ready to ditch the cigs, it’s time to put the year down and snuff it out of our collective misery.

The last large group setting I recall was in January for a company holiday party. Still undergoing chemo, I managed to step into fun, new culottes, make up my face and head out for the festivities. My hair was in high shed Charlie Brown Christmas tree mode. Instead of hugs, I maneuvered air hugs – Covid foreshadowing? – since a tight embrace could release strands primed for falling onto someone’s lapel, and the jig of presenting any modicum of normality would be up. 

It’s time to put the year down.

March had my older son on a midnight train to Georgia, and the comfort and gratitude of our family together again. Leaving Covid’s NYC stronghold, he rode home to resume college classes online, as his high school senior brother would be doing. Virtual meetings would have to do, despite the inconvenience and sterility of experiences on-screen. Imagine those navigating their own pandemic, 100 years ago, without these human connection work arounds! 

The virus took center stage for much of 2020, but as NBC’s Lester Holt noted, “All was not well in our pre-Covid days.” So much needed our attention and still does: hunger, voting rights, climate change, gun violence, systemic racism, and a political divide so deep that the two sides can’t even agree on what they disagree on. 

The year’s setbacks and challenges were relentless. The chief challenger, Covid-19, was no joke, no hoax. It didn’t care if you looked away. It didn’t care if you didn’t care for masks. It could and can still find you. It’s taken loved ones, jobs, it’s taken an enormous toll. Covid and its ensuing fatigue rages on, but we must keep going.

All was not well in our pre-Covid days.

Wives are missing husbands, sisters missing brothers, and our overly scrubbed hands are tied: we can’t hug one another or say a proper goodbye when it’s time. Still, there are helpers, quiet peacemakers, tireless frontline workers taking the hit, restaurants remaking themselves to feed their staff and us, staying alive for all our sakes. 

For all its challenges, 2020 brought us an election, a chance to let our choices be counted and count they did. Again and again and again. We voted, and here in Georgia we voted a second time. We’ve got ourselves a new president –  Bye Don, Hello Joe – and in the weeks before his inauguration, he has been rolling up his sleeves and facing this mess head on. 

The year challenged us each personally and our fellow humans globally. There were businesses to grow, yourself to know, college acceptances to see, the promise of chemo’s IV. Ring the bell, your tale to tell, keep evictions on hold, people out of the cold. Empty nests are full again, yet so many people are hungry, walking around with faces covered, hiding fear, loneliness, regret.

There’s a vaccine too, several of them, and despite underwhelming distribution, we see movement and actual potential, a path to immunity. 🎶 Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vac-c-i-ne, 🎶, I’m begging of you, please don’t take your time. We’re not getting our old normal back, but I think something better and brighter is coming. 

Even our poinsettias, many hibernating during 2019, decided this year to make a go of it, bursting open as early as Halloween. We took to social media, posting without delay, should those buds realize it’s 2020 and suddenly call off the show, retreating until a respectable year comes around.

In lieu of lingering into the new year, some folks are packing up their Christmas cheer, clearing the decks to free up space for whatever it is 2021 will need. My own tree issued a DNR, so once it stops drinking water, I know it will be time.

We’re not getting our old normal back, but I think something better and brighter is coming. 

We’re dangling and we can feel it, this pivot before us is real, though shifting us into what, we aren’t exactly sure. For now, simply into something else seems enough of a gift. For months, yard signs begging for an all-encompassing, Please Make It (2020) Go Away, seem to be granting us our wish: 2021 will arrive on schedule.

On the 2020 list of positives are several reassuring constants, challenges, and improvisations, which have brought light and resilience and comfort. With so much loss, we still have sunrises and sunsets, full moons, the scent of magnolias, holidays, changing seasons, good foods to cook, to taste and to share, and the natural world out there. You can still lose yourself in the soothing stillness of Yo Yo Ma, cheer on front line workers, marvel at and join in those who have carried on making music, building things, championing science, sticking with that puzzle until every piece is in place. Every day is a reset, a day where you can adjust your swing, pick a better club, walk versus ride. I’m heartened by how we can all adapt — our kids, our colleagues, our businesses and hospitals. We are all in this together, and there will come a day when we can once again hug each other the right way. 

Until then, so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night, the year will end, and all its crazy fright. I bit you adieu, adios, addio, 2020. You are going, have no doubt, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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In Suspense…

It’s the day after Christmas, 2:42pm and having gotten up at 9am, I have returned to bed surrounded by a new book, my laptop, an occasional cat, and a cup of chowder with which to wash it all down. Decadent and divine, it’s the day after and exactly what I need to be doing. A neighbor friend and I are texting and my sister and I are, too. I love watching blinking ellipses as friends real-time type, and then getting that rewarding toaster oven “ding!”, the sound that your toast or text is ready. As it turns out, a watched ellipse does a text produce. 

It’s the day after and exactly what I need to be doing.

The end of the year has me thinking about waiting for things, as we do as children for Santa at Christmas, and as adults for the better part of the year, anticipating things we want to have happen or acquire, or feelings of hope that a pleasant surprise might be around the corner. It seems we all want something to look forward to.

For days now I’ve been waiting on USPS. I adore sending my sister her Christmas box filled with little things – some she wants and others she doesn’t know she does… yet. Normally perfectionistic with wrapping details, for 2020, I felt incredibly accomplished to have even found a box to fit it all and emerged from the long PO line Covid-free and victorious, tracking number in hand. I’ve signed up for text alerts, little dings to sound along her package’s journey to Chicago, but so far there are no sounds, just a vague “in transit” status each time I check. I’m certain the magic is still swirling inside that box, but the failed by Christmas arrival has taken some of the pressure off all the wondering and tracking.

I couldn’t wait for Lucie – at 13.5 dog years (mid ’80s people years) and hobbling along as best she can – to see her gorgeous pale blue memory foam bed, the one I drove to the far recesses of Smyrna for, the falling snow and sunset more than making up for the trip. I kept nudging her to try it, even putting her in it several times, but she wasn’t having it, preferring the smushed limp one she’s so accustomed to.

Upstairs enjoying post-Christmas lounging, I let the sleeping dog lie where she wanted and just look what happened! She explored the new setup and on her own terms found a comfortable position. My son did tuck the cat under her paw to amp up the cuteness factor, but the dog’s position in the bed is entirely her own doing. People and pets happen on their own time.

With all the fun and glow of the holidays, there are plenty of omissions and unfinished business, expectations unmet, people you’ve lost and now miss, and pressure about the new year, the new chance, the new slate. Every year end, I hear John Lennon’s song Happy Xmas and linger over these lines: “So this is Christmas, and what have you done, another year over, a new one just begun… Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fears.” 

I always think about the past year and year ahead and wonder, aside from all my busyness, what is it that I have done? What is it I am supposed to be doing? Some people are eager to dive into the next year, already filling their slates with a flurry of appointments, zoom calls, reminders. Others on the sidelines are waiting on a nudge from the Universe to direct them where to go. I suppose I’m a combination, additionally weighed down by the ever nagging question, “Will I stay healthy in the year to come? And the year after that?” 

A few days before Christmas I felt a tenderness and twitch in my thigh which I’d noticed for a few days. I had resumed running and wondered if maybe that explained it. And I had stood in my kitchen in my fabulous yet unsupportive new Old Navy boots baking three days in a row. Despite this, my brain jumped to the unknown: Is this how breast cancer returns, showing up right here, right now on my left thigh? Writing this now, it all seems ridiculous, but at the time, that theory felt logical. 

So logical in fact that I called my oncologist and after pressing his triage nurse on the issue, I learned if cancer did return my symptoms would not be how it would manifest, and my dull aching leg is very likely from multiple days of standing. Instead I might see a rash, swollen ankles or other larger noticeable things that don’t necessarily bring pain. Through my now tears, I told the nurse what my oncologist had initially said, that surgery (lumpectomy) was the cure and treatments (chemo, radiation) were the insurance. But is that really even true? In that moment I needed her to ask the doctor whether he says this to all his cancer patients or if these words were particularly suited for me.

Given that it was Christmastime during a pandemic with likely a full actual and virtual waiting room of cancer patients, it was a bit much for me to interrupt the doctor’s day to ask that he qualify a statement he’d already made, all so I could get off the anxiety track — especially since I caught the lump early, have a good prognosis and for the most part have taken terrific care of myself. Ten minutes later she called to tell me that he confirmed his words were unique to me, he does still believe my surgery was the cure and my treatments were the insurance. 

This information helped immensely. Now my two cups of coffee brain (turns out one cup is plenty for the generalized anxiety set; two and a caffeinated panic settles in) could begin to mentally fill in the upcoming calendar since I could clearly envision myself living in it. Every twitch, every throb, every everything on a difficult day can flood me right back to that initial fear surrounding my diagnosis. I remind myself I’ve done all the right things, but then turn around and question why is it I can’t get some assurance that it will be enough? I need that plus a little faith too. I know this uneasiness is going to lessen with time. It is just taking a while…

Every twitch, every throb… can flood me right back

2021 is coming at long last, and I expect to step into it confidently and gushing with good health. And like a flower waiting to bloom, I’ll just keep stretching out in the sun and taking in nourishment, knowing it’s what I need. Instead of watching for signs of hope and surety, and wondering what exactly it will or should look like, I think I’ll just stand tall and see what happens.

appetite, Atlanta, Food, pets

Whetting The Appetite

My mom used to pack a few fun-sized Milky Ways in our lunchboxes on test days. You know, “for energy?” The idea of treats accompanying challenges started a long time ago in my family, and seems I’ve perpetuated the tradition. Today I needed a similar salve, for reasons detailed below and having left the house quickly this morning with nothing but a cup of coffee and slice of pear in my belly. 

The larger of our two cats, Bo, had been scooting across the rug for weeks, and if you’ve ever owned cats, you’d know this as a sign of clogged anal glands and time to schedule an anal sac expression. It’s an awful visual, I know, but how do you think the poor techs feel who get to drain these squirming felines out their back end? A love bug at home, at the vet Bo is a member of the “Possible Caution” patient group, since crossing the threshold, he morphs into a monster, with fangs and bad breath to boot. 

Bo is a member of the “Possible Caution” patient group

Preparation for today’s appointment was a series of steps. You can opt for twilight sedation during the procedure which costs more and leaves your cat pissy and groggy much of the day, or you can take the edge off his anxiety with a few strategically timed Gabapentin pills, the night before and morning of. I took the latter route and last night after dinner started crushing a few pills into wet dog food, Bo’s favorite. In retrospect I should have pulled his dry food and left him hungrier so he would have finished the pea sized meatballs I’d made. Once he tired of the dog food, I rolled bits of cheddar around the Gabapentin dust, making little balls which I hoped would also tempt him. Bo found this impressive energy for an atypical après dinner snack suspect and left the room, likely already full from the dog food he’d inhaled. We added in a little turkey to the mix thinking over the course of the night he could nibble on this extravagant smorgasbord and by morning, transform into a floppy ragdoll, ready for his final two chill pills and a successful sac expression.

For ingesting his breakfast pills, I had the bright idea to tear open a pouch of solid white tuna, which I typically reserve for my tuna fish sandwiches. I twisted the two remaining Gabapentin capsules on a plate and cut their dust into ¾ tsp of tuna. A little tuna juice for binding and you’ve got yourself quite a breakfast, with a nice slice of calm on the side. As I had pulled Bo’s food during the night, he awoke hungry and lapped up every bit of the tuna and juice. At sixteen pounds, Bo can pack in a lot, and feeling sorry for him with the upcoming anal attention, I brought his kibble back out and he continued with the eating.

Bo can pack in a lot

When it was time to leave, Bo was that very ragdoll I envisioned, and it was a cinch to lower him into his vinyl mesh carrying case. I think he must have slept the nearly entire 6.5 miles there, drifting in and out of catnip dreams as my Spotify Christmas playlist hummed along. With ¾ of a mile left to go and in the exact same location on Amsterdam Avenue where my previous cats have also decided to call it quits, Bo let out a loud grown or two and then vomited up an impressive pile. He had the wherewithal to step back from the shocking regurgitation mound and I pulled over quickly figuring out a plan. Obviously, there was a mess in his carrier to clean, but at least it was contained on the fleece pad liner which I could easily pull out. With my trusty roll of paper towels I always keep in my car (and which I instruct my husband and sons to also always keep), I formed a wad to both blot and slide the mess to the outer edge of the mat, all the while trying to keep this slowly but steadily waking lion from climbing out of his cage. It was too much to clean parked on the side of the road and approaching our appointment time, so I zipped the carrier closed and finished the drive. 

Once at the vet, I called them to alert them to my situation, being that there was a pile of vomit, a crazy cat beginning to wake up and they’d best come quickly to the passenger door and grab him if we’re to pull off this scheme. Meanwhile, I continued to try and clean the mess, soon realizing the cat needed to come out of the carrier. I pulled him out and by some miracle, his fur was vomit-free (cats are remarkably clean creatures) and he snuggled in my lap settling in and resuming his nap. Some fourteen minutes later a tech emerged at my driver’s side window, and despite the detailed instructions I already gave, I had to lower my window letting in gushing cold air and retell the story trying my best to speak in a whisper (waking cat, remember?) and instruct them on what to do: walk over to the passenger side, lift the soiled mat out of the carrier so I can lower Bo in it and run like hell inside and get moving on his butt procedure. At this point, Bo is awake and coming out of that sleepy sweet mode, lifting his strong curious periscope head with a “What? Who is this? Where are we?” alert mode I know all too well. I released Bo to them, and they came back out three minutes later – still carrying him in his carrier – to find me scraping cat vomit from his fleece liner and into their outside trash can, to ask what time he last had his Gabapentin. I quickly answered, “8:15am,” and satisfied, they turned around and headed in, leaving me to continue with my cleanup.

Autumn merges with Christmas in downtown Decatur

I felt encouraged as I waited some 15 minutes in the parking lot, busying myself with my Spotify Christmas playlist, alternating songs and marveling at my great memory of Henry Mancini childhood carols and nice variety of current favorites to mix in. I then noticed the vet tech walking toward my car, and I’m feeling good about it all. I’d done the tough work, gotten all the sleepy pill dust in this crazy cat and the vet did their job, the routine expression of yet another cat’s bile. With a new lighter load, we’d head back home together joyfully noticing holiday lights along the way. 

Instead, all I got was “It was a no go,” the tech shaking her head at my optimistic naivete and handing over the carrier, lopsided from the 16lb orange bundle cowered in one corner. I couldn’t just drive off defeated so instead I pleaded, “Can’t you then just drug him and get it done? Can I come inside to the back and hold him for you while you do it?” She half-heartedly said she’d go check with the doctor. Another ten minutes in the car, trying not to look Bo in the eyes because Mommy at this point, was livid, and the phone rang, the tech’s voice returning an, “I’m sorry I talked to the doctor and you can’t come back, no one can unless they’re saying goodbye to their pets (don’t tempt me). The doctor will call you and discuss next steps.” 

At this point it’s well after 11am and I’m not going to just drive home defeated. I needed something for all my efforts – multiple unsuccessful attempts at pilling a large stubborn pet, swirling wet dogfood into bb sized balls, the interminable wait for the water to turn hot so said dogfood smell, after intense scrubbing with soap, can leave my skin, the tearing of beautiful Tillamook cheddar into bits for rolling into Gabapentin dust, the morning’s pre coffee tuna juice wafting over the kitchen, the victory of the tuna disappearing into the cat’s belly and the confidence I had pulled it off. The smooth roller coaster ride followed by bottoming out in ill-fated vomit, from which we would never recover. 

Flat white and egg bites.

What I needed was a Starbucks cheddar ham egg bite and a short flat white with one raw sugar stirred in. Intent on avoiding the Ansley Mall Starbucks which hasn’t a drive through, I began yelling into the air, “Starbucks near here!” and then found myself understandably pissed that no one’s answered me. A few more times, and still nothing, and it dawns on me that Siri’s requisite “Hey Siri” salutation had not occurred, and therefore she wasn’t going to do squat. I then greeted her appropriately and she obliged. We found another Starbucks a mile away. The map showed a few crazy hairpin turns and if one were a map reader, they would simply understand to turn around on Piedmont and proceed in the opposite direction. However, if one is map challenged, that person might make a slew of wrong turns only to aggravate Siri who is trying her damnedest to stay level-headed. Finally, as if mocking me like some mirage across the dessert, a Starbucks shop appeared on my right and I followed its signs to cue up in the drive-through. Big orange on my right at this point is realizing he is trapped and is determined to throw his weight around in hopes of breaking free. I, meanwhile, have placed my order and am beyond excited to now have it in hand. The cheddar bacon egg bites, their virtues long ago extolled in a magazine interview by Hoda Kotb which turned me onto them, are nothing short of sublime. And my Turkish friend introduced me to my now favorite coffee there, a flat white. I ordered the smallest, an 8oz short, with a packet of raw sugar (a treat I reserve for coffee out). I pulled out of the parking lot and into a neighborhood to park and enjoy it all. Bo lifted his nostrils smelling the lusciousness overtaking the car, but I ignored him, turned up my Christmas carols and savored every morsel and drop. I still haven’t heard from the doctor, but I know it’s going to be a good day.