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breast cancer, connection, Encouragement, Health, hope, Uncategorized

Two down, looking up.

It’s here! November 21. Finally, and forever in my head as a threshold I get to cross: the day I had that lumpectomy surgery. I had already put this day behind me when I was wheeled into that operating room two years ago, and now, I am grateful and looking forward.

Here I am. I’ve hit two years and then there’ll be three, five and that mother of all finish lines, ten, where they’ll hand me a “cured” ribbon. You don’t really get a ribbon, I don’t think, but, actually better, you get to drop off of your oncologist’s schedule. If there is a ribbon, I picture it a bright sunny yellow one vs pink and screaming all kinds of hope and happy. The pink doesn’t do that for me. Blood can be pink, Pepto Bismol is pink, calamine lotion is pink, and at the center of the storm, nipples, are pink, unless you radiate them 21 times, and then they turn closer to the color of your skin. Yellow, however, is hope, the sun, happy lemonade on a summer day, my hair keeping my head warm, the color of urine when it’s telling you to hydrate more, the circle of French knots in the center of a daisy. I vote yellow.

For this award, there are people to thank:

General gratitude goes out to people who show kindness. The nurses have it going on. The one standing close to my feet while I was getting biopsied initially, who took it upon herself to lovingly stroke my ankles and drape a warm towel over them. The others, who during office visits continue to hear me and my endless concerns, and help me get to the answers I need. The others during chemo who, like labor and delivery nurses, treat you like a queen when you didn’t think you needed or deserved it, and then like a regular person when you most do. They listen to your wired incessant jokes, as the steroids you’ve had to take for days surge through your veins, and they really laugh, the belly kind when you know you’ve struck a chord with someone. The ones who, after chemo and radiation is through, nudge you to ring that bell, and gather others around to cheer you on, noisemakers in hand, beaming ’til their sweet faces must hurt, and then sending you on your way. 

Hair stylists have it, too. When you go in with a crazy combination of long strung out strands and new little sprouts appearing on your scalp, and you leave with a legitimate cut, you know there are angels out there. You return every few months to lessen the gulf between long hair and short and, two years in, it’s just a head of hair now, like everyone else.

The friends you either don’t know well or else don’t see often, but who know what happened. They see me now and they always seem happy that they can. I worry, sometimes, if my brand is too bright, if this little health emergency I had to tend to might forever define me. Sometimes when I see these people, I wonder if there’s a little curiosity going on, like I’ve had myself with the few people I knew who had “it.” Maybe it’s a little hesitation to stand too close to that lady who saw things. Did she see a white light, you know getting so near to the other side? What were they like, those bags of poison, four of which ran through her veins?  Did she lose hair everywhere, I mean, even down there? And what has become of that poor boob, now that the show is over and the scaffolding has been removed? Is this girl now cloaked in a hopeful gratitude blanket skipping along pink meadows through her journey, or does that why did this happen to me bitterness ever come calling? To which I can answer: I was of course joking about a white light. The IV hurt like any IV does going in, but as for the poison itself, you wouldn’t know that’s what you’re getting. Days later, though, it definitely brought skin and taste and stomach annoyances as it worked its magic. Hair left all the different parts of my body in waves and returned in a similar staggered fashion, but now it’s all back and glorious. The boob is just dandy, thank you very much, and all things considered, seems quite normal and happy for its future still here with me. Gratitude is brighter and I literally must stop and smell every rose I see.  And I do. The small stuff, however, can definitely still grate on my nerves, but any bitter taste in my mouth, literally from chemo and figuratively from all this existential stuff I’ve been wading through, has given way to staying on the hunt for improvements in every area of my life. 

To those individuals, friends of mine, not naming names, but you know who you are, you did things, good things, that I won’t forget. 

-You were with me when I got the call, and only had love – not worry – on your face when I later told you.

-You sent emails telling me I was on your mind.

-You bought cards and mailed them to me, sweet words lifting me up, cards I’ll always keep. 

-You hugged me tight, that yummy long embrace that came out of nowhere, but I so needed, and which still lingers.

-You thoughtfully read my blog and commented, cheered me on, sometimes even remembering important milestones I was about to meet. 

-You helped me get curious about meditation even though, like my only occasional church visits, I’m a sometimes meditator. Still, you let me break down and cry and sent me home with some wonderful books, each with its own accessible, healing approach.

-You cooked for me, all of it handmade with love: chicken with broccoli, kale stew, broiled shrimp and roasted vegetables, vegetable and kale soup.

– You were going through your own similar slice of hell at the same time, yet you were open to meeting me and sharing your story with me over coffee, emails and visits, and we got to root each other on.

-You sent flowers and sweet notes.

-You called.

-You sent love in a blanket with hopeful words embellished in its fabric.

-You sent socks with treads on them that I still wear, ginger lozenges for chemo, special shampoos and other helpful goodies you lovingly researched to carry me.

-You joined me on some of those 21 days, walking to radiation, the six miles there and back. What fun that was noticing things, catching up, laughing too.

-You went to a long day of chemo with me where we hunkered down and where you helped ice my fingers and toes, so chemo’s poison wouldn’t bring on neuropathy. We caught up, killed the time, and we lunched, and I learned that this is what friends do. 

-You checked in.

-You showed up. 

-You loved me as if nothing had changed.

To my family: you continue to dilute my worries and reset me in the direction of everything’s going to be okay. Two of you flew down to be with me for my last chemo. How special that was! Another one of you sat with me and watched TV as I lolled in bed wrung out from that one beast of a nausea episode. You walked with me to radiation that gorgeous early spring day. You all continue supporting and encouraging me as I’ve changed things up and largely lessened my alcohol intake, dropped beef off my menu, and continue to try and make healthier choices. For those of you who pray, you prayed. All of you loved me and listened and cared, and you still do. I know this has been a long haul, exhausting for you, too, but you went through this with me, and we came out the other side together, now with two years under our belts. Now, it’s that much farther behind all of us, thank god, and thank 💛you💛 from the bottom of my heart. 

Uncategorized

Toast Points

This morning, I attended a virtual Creative Mornings event titled Street Wisdom, the idea being a little tune-up we can all give ourselves, this first one guided by David Pearl, author at http://www.streetwisdom.org. We were given three tasks:

The light

1) Look around where you are. What attracts you and what doesn’t? I looked up from my bed from where I was participating–I determined my bedroom’s cream curtains made for a better Zoom background as opposed to the construction plastic draped from the ceiling in the other option for a Zoom call–and settled my eyes on a lamp on my dresser. This lamp and I go way back, 50+ years, actually. It was in my room growing up and always on my dresser, and now it sits on a different dresser wearing a new linen shade. The lamp base is the same, and offers a reliable consistency, like a good friend does, who knew you way back when. How is it that this pretty pink English calico lamp came to mind and into view? It attracts me on so many levels: its beauty, elegance, quietness and femininity, and especially its connection to my childhood and that little girl who walked up to it every day as she rifled through her dresser for something to wear, barely noticing it, really. It has stayed exactly the same while everything around it has changed. These artifacts from my past validate that this other life I had–which seems as if from a fading dream–really existed. The parents I had who left me nearly three decades ago, my mother who likely purchased this lamp. Was it for her living room initially, or was it always bought with her younger daughter in mind? If this lamp could talk, what would it tell my earlier self? It sits there ever so steady and peaceful; I want even a fraction of its unflappable grace. All the moves I’ve made, all the tabletops it’s sat on, the people who’ve touched it, moved it, dusted it, and here it still stands, not terribly tall, but proud and elegant, confident of its place in the room. This is what attracts me. 

The heap

What doesn’t? The pile of clothes heaped on the slipper chair next to the dresser where the lamp sits. They are haphazard, a cacophony of colors and wrinkles and not, some folded from clean laundry brought up days ago, some dress shirts, still unhung and flung over the chair’s back to keep more wrinkles at bay. The two dark pieces of luggage on the floor next to it, one perpendicular to the wall, one parallel. The disarray, the tasks needing doing, the darkness, the bold swaths of colors and shapes sloppily bleeding into one another, the visual stimulation that corner brings is a detraction and is what doesn’t attract me.

2) Our next task in this tune up was to “slow right down.” If I had a clean corner for every time someone told me to slow down, well, I’d have a tidier house and mind than I do now. This exercise involved getting up and moving about, wherever you are inside or out, and slowing down your thoughts, your pace, your breathing as you move. Noticing each step, a changing environment or a cat walking by, took me away from my predictable looping brain reel and into a reality outside my head, which replaced my usual thoughts, if only for a few minutes. It changed my vision from a wide frame taking in all stimuli at once, a busy horizon stretched to its edges, to a narrow aperture seeing single things in a slide show style succession. The external world felt smaller, but each item was bigger and more beautiful, and the overwhelm of tasks was delightfully at bay.

3) The last tune-up task was to see (and sense) the beauty in everything and everyone. The instruction was to see gratitude as a wallpaper in bright colors. Participants had 15 minutes to move about and do this. Many lived in trendy Brooklyn, donned in black with contrasting white AirPods in their ears, and they moved about soaking up those high rpms that are signature New York. During most of this Zoom call, I had wrestled with keeping my camera on and then off, rinse and repeat, distracted and a bit discouraged seeing my pale morning face, glasses and floppy pillows behind me. The jig is up, folks: this girl is wearing the same tank top she slept in, she’s propped up in bed for God’s sake, and hasn’t bothered to turn a light on, so of course her Zoom background is a dull, just woke up shade of grey! After the back and forth of video on/off indecision and background adjustments, I was relieved to simply turn my camera off and go downstairs. If something doesn’t work, unplug it for a while. Passing a laundry basket, I’d moments earlier filled with soaked towels catching rainwater (from poorly tarped renovated spaces, an entire other story, but did you SEE last night’s rain?), hungry, I made my way to the kitchen.

A logo so pretty you can practically smell the bread baking

To kill my fifteen minutes, I chose to do something useful, like moving a load of towels to the dryer and making myself some toast. The bread I’d be toasting was a gorgeous hand-crafted country sourdough loaf I bought yesterday from Evergreen Butcher and Baker. I told them they need to rent the place next door, where they could employ the third member of their holy trinity, the “Candlestick Maker.” The girl in the bakery laughed and told me her roommate had said that, too. The bread has that homemade substance you envision in an artisan loaf, but is light and airy, too. I forced the toast up from the toaster after what I determined was an interminable wait. I had two thin pats of butter ready to go and minced them for easy dispersing over the hot bread. I sprinkled a little salt over the top as I stood there watching the butter slowly melt, and helped it along with a knife, so I could eat it quicker and to uniformly spread the salt. I stood at the counter to deliberately eat the toast, one luscious bite at a time, salt and butter finding its way into the cavernous pockets of this sumptuous slice. I heard the dryer spinning on the other side of the wall and I heard the crunch of warm toast bites in stereo inside my head. I had thought to pop in two slices, but I don’t think a second slice would have compared, and my toast fascination and amazement would have been largely diluted. Sated, I slowly wandered back upstairs, back to the Brooklyn, Sydney, Paris and even a handful of Georgia Creative Mornings Zoomers. The screen slowly woke up and the chats began to flow. We’d each noticed different things, me, the hypnotic quality of towels tumbling in a dryer as slowly melting butter and salt sank into toast air pockets. We each were revived from this quarter of an hour, which offered a fascinating meditative hyper-focus where we could find a simple pocket of stillness and become reacquainted with our wide-open hearts, and minds, and eyes. 

Throughout the session, a few quotes were offered up, and I jotted them down. 

1) Whatever interests you is your future self-seeking to manifest itself in the present.

2) Sometimes you have to turn something off to turn something on.

3) Don’t stick with what we know.

4) Be patient with yourself.

5) Sit with your discomfort.

6) New things can be built up around the things we already have. 

7) How am I moving forward for myself?

8) You know where to go. You can steer.

9) Put what’s inside you outside you so you can see it. 

10) Creativity is that rare phenomenon where teacher and student reside in the same human.

Have yourself a wondrous weekend and maybe some toast.

xo

breast cancer, Family, Food, hope, Travel

It’s fall, y’all.

Fall assembled outside our hotel

Sometimes you have to leave to come back home. We had a little weekend getaway, something new. That you must fly six states away to enjoy daily walks, yummy dinners, and family time together is nuts, but turns out I needed it and I’ll take it. The cats notice the suitcases when they come out and each time deliver a fuck you side eye as they collapse on the floor watching the inevitable unfold. I turn on the radio to NPR so if nothing else, they’ll have good radio to listen to. Often as our vacations wind down, I’m tempted–and have actually done this before–to call the house and reassure the cats through the answering machine’s speaker, “We’re coming home soon! Hang on!”

Dahlias in the northeast think it’s still summer

I’m not so good at letting go and delegating, and it’s hard to leave these nests we’ve loved on for so many years. As it turns out, our new pet sitter has it together and even checked in with a newsy and thankfully uneventful update while we were away. Peace of mind goes a long way. The tenants at our other house are happy to water the newly seeded lawn for a few days. With the recent collapsed sewer line replacement there, things are now smooth and humming along, and they now get to use both toilets as often as they’d like. (It really is the small things.) At our own house, the tarps over the new spaces are neither secure nor numerous enough, and a heavy rain brings little trickles inside. Seems there are fair skies ahead, but until the contractor returns, we’ve got pots and towels and the hum of humidifiers in place to absorb it all. 

Just before leaving, there’s always that final rushed sweep of the house, giving surfaces a quick once over, cleaning out the fridge, even watering the ferns again–the same ones you lovingly tended all summer, but days earlier callously left for dead, justifying Kimberly Queens don’t do winter inside. The anticipation often is even better than the trip. Like a new year rolling in, for me it’s always a reset. Instead of habitually pulling leggings or jeans off the chair to slide on for a new day, travelling with a single suitcase, you arrive with actual outfits to wear and a few unpredictable consecutive days to unfold as you wish.

Taking off with Evan by my side

On the plane there’s still that slight apprehension at takeoff and landing, so you text family that you love them because should, heaven forbid, flight #DL0431 not reach its destination, you’ve at least said your peace.  And, of course, for take-off and landing, you grab the hand of family next to you. I’m thankful they are willing to humor me in this superstitious ritual. 

After settling in with a beverage, you invariably make your way to the toilette. That cortisol-spiking jolt you get in those few seconds after flushing is the stuff heart attacks are made of. You must wait a bit and then it comes on quick and loud, surprising you each time. The lavatory has a gentler song, and the door lock performs as you’d expect, that reliable solid securing sound as you slide the lever, but, oh, that toilet!

A little magic out our hotel window

This last trip, along with the usual negotiations about how we will fill our time, where we will eat and whether a taxi or Uber or walking is most cost and time effective, brought some simple unexpected high notes. Seeing your older son in his own apartment nesting with his girlfriend in a space they found and made into a home sure makes a mom proud. Full of bright light, modern mostly found furniture, and an older sweet rescued cat, it’s happy here, and with a deli, laundry and the subway a block away and a straight shot to school, it’s perfect. Plus there’s a hatch in the hall outside his door and a twinkling rooftop to enjoy. Having your younger son visit too and stay there gives your boys that unscripted time together we’re all short on. Using hotel points, Joe managed to score free nights at three different hotels for this three-night stay, so we moved around a bit this trip, but got the variety of experiences in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. 

New York requires proof of vaccination and an ID if you want to eat at a restaurant here.  As far as I’m concerned that’s the way it should be–no drama, no whine, no politics. Just smart, fueled by the science, and might I add, effective. No soup for you if you leave that vaccine card back at the hotel, so bring it because the soup and everything else is consistently good. The Thai restaurant on our last night was fantastic and as I often do, I documented the entrees and their eaters in this video, below. 

Biking in Brooklyn

We rode Citi Bikes this trip, the regular vs pedal-assist kind, which are more plentiful and less expensive, and the four of us meandered around Brooklyn following Benjamin, who toured us around his old and new neighborhoods. There are numerous bike lanes and despite the many cars, scooters and people, I felt safer riding here than I do in Atlanta because motorists and pedestrians expect to see you and make room. The boys eventually rode back to the apartment, and Joe and I to our Brooklyn hotel to check out before heading to our Manhattan hotel.

The yellow basket

On the way there, whizzing past a park on the right, I noticed a basket vendor set up on the sidewalk. A gorgeous yellow basket caught my eye and I couldn’t stop looking at it, still cycling and now craning my neck to study it. We turned around and I went and bought the thing for a price the seller reduced, and after he bagged it, I flung it over my handlebar for the bike ride home. It’s here now home with me, and I love its story and the happenstance of finding it. It has notes of yellow, my favorite color, and against the blue wall in my bedroom, it feels like a happy summer day. 

Sure was fun while it lasted!

The season is changing and so is my hair. For six months, I’ve had the hair I’ve always dreamed of. You can feel it in the shower, that thick plumped up cuticle, that cocky energized hair follicle oozing oomph in spades. The only downside is it takes forever to dry, yet when it does there are loose ringlets forming exactly where you want them (in the very places chemo left bald). You can go to bed with it wet and wake up with natural tousled tresses requiring zero brushing, and if you bother to pull out a hair dryer, there are countless more versions of goodness you can create. 

That gorgeous soufflé that’s been rising on my head for months, however, is now falling. Not sure who opened the oven door, but suddenly gravity has pulled that light spirited dollop of a do down. There are plenty of strands still but seems we’re back to my former head of hair, to the scalp and ears peep show behind the whisper soft strands hanging close to my head. I’m told those chemo curls eventually go away, and by my December haircut or the one after that, they will be nearly gone. 

What to make of it all? When I found myself fresh off of chemo and radiation and with a bald head in places (which surprised me how cold that would feel in winter), I think the Universe decided to give me a little boost with thicker hair. The same thing happened after birthing babies, when lost in the haze of fatigue, a colicky baby and breast pumping, there was that gift of cleavage, a “Here’s the cup size you thought you’d always be, happy dressing with your new look” little bonus. When you’ve had enough time with this new do and physique and gotten caught up on your sleep and distanced yourself from treatment, the Universe reminds you, “I’m gonna take it back now because you don’t need it anymore. Someone else could use this little perk.” I chalk it up to it is to better to have had curls and cleavage and lost them than to have never had them at all. Besides, in the midst of so much change, returning to who you were physically is surprisingly reassuring. 

Show me a better lunch.
Waiting on a show, and the show is the street below

We made the most of our last day away walking miles around Chelsea and up on the Highline, followed by lunch at Chelsea Market. It was in the 50s and windy on our long walk and we earned that lunch, one of those decadent meals you shouldn’t splurge on, but you do, because why not? The Lobster Place Fish Market had it all and we had the lobster roll, a folded crispy buttery bun chock full of lobster meat tossed in a light lemony mayo, clam chowder and lobster bisque, and Zapp’s chips. I swallowed mine down with a glass of champagne. A delicious finish to this little getaway as we headed toward home. 

View below from the High Line. Hopeful.

Uncategorized

Sans Souci : without worry : free of care

That unmistakable September light

I started this post weeks ago when the month was brand new. New month, new energy and that smidgeon of crispness you get in the morning. Even though we’re a week away from October, it seems only fitting to recognize this gorgeous month. Hello September! Some months, a select few for me, sparkle more, and I’m more inclined to sift through whatever is heavy, break it up, and move it out. This is that time.

You know it’s fall and summer has surely slipped away when you get that pool eSplash notifying you that pool hours have now been reduced. For at least a second year in a row, we visited all of one time this year, making that lone visit a several hundred-dollar swim. Why do we keep signing up for this steep madness? 

Ben’s cat, Rufus

My boys’ rooms are now morphing into storage areas for various things – linens, clothes, and all that other stuff you put into bins. Some of their belongings are still in there – swim ribbons and soccer trophies, clothing they never chose to wear, little figurines a child keeps on a dresser, wopsy pillows, and long-ago bedtime books still tucked away in Pier I and Ikea Billy bookcases. My babies, now men, are both in college and settled into their own apartments, and one even just adopted his first pet, a cat named Rufus.

But it is here that their rooms remain, albeit picked over and missing an energy, unless a cat chooses to nap in there. Aside from the rooms’ storage utility, the beds are at least made, but my younger son’s is missing its pillows. He returned the other day, the Grinch from Ga Tech, plucking the remaining ones to join his other two. I get it, it’s easier to study when you’re all propped up, but whenever I pass that room, the naked bed calls out, “Get me some pillows, will you?”

This void isn’t sad, it’s just airy, especially now, since off each bedroom is the construction start of a bath and closet. The timing for this renovation is ironic, though not unique. Kids leave and only now do time and resources present. For the cats, the open air behind those plywood doors is fascinating, and sometimes when the 16-pounder’s paw succeeds in prying it loose, exposed is all manner of goodness for both to explore. I’m not always sure when they’ve snuck in there, but when they show up for mealtime, exhausted, and with cobwebbed whiskers and filthy paws, you can tell how they spent their day. 

The void isn’t sad, it’s just airy.

This month has me taking care of things. My laptop was throwing fits, so I dialed up the nice folks at AppleCare. They patiently hear me out each time, logically break down my problems, and leave me restored and empowered. The AppleCare guy wanted to share my screen, which I allowed, but not without first apologizing for the embarrassingly large mess of icons littering my desktop. I’m cluttered, and this busy screen is a sampling of my world.  Sure, we’re in the midst of a house renovation, but who are we kidding? I was no minimalist before. I once read somewhere that clutter is dodging decisions, and along these lines, there’s a movie called Minimalism http://minimalismfilm.com/watch, with Dan Harris (author, Ten Percent Happier), that I want to watch. It’s going to change things up and push me to ask that illuminating, simple question: Is This Useful? Stay tuned for the transformation.

Clutter is dodging decisions.

I’ve begun working part-time from home, a little editing gig which, if consistent, will help offset one of our boys’ apartment rents each month. I do love details and this job unquestionably challenges that hunger. Other than sharpening my eye for detail, on the list of things to learn if I’m going to function in this working world is a way to stop spell check from flying away with my email the second it has completed scanning it for errors. There is always that other thing I wanted to look at or fix, but once spell check is complete, from my laptop’s speakers emanates a flock of birds gleefully flying away with my message as fast as their wings can carry them. Without that final review, any remaining errors are carelessly flapping in the wind.

The house where we live and work has little storage, and flat surfaces fill up quickly, mantles included, all seven of them. I once had some tenants who were remarkably reductive – no labels visible anywhere. Pasta pulled from its box to stand vertically in tall glass canisters. Same for laundry detergent, shampoo, coffee beans, all of it. Unlike me, these people were calm, too. There’s a connection there. Clean, airy rooms open up space in your head. I know this to be true. Every time I load the car and head to a donations place, I never look back. I always leave lighter, happier someone else can use these items, and proud of myself for driving them to their next chapter.

Clean, airy rooms open up space in your head.

Heading home and still cloaked in calm, I typically come upon an insane intersection near my house where, to turn left, you must cross oncoming traffic and merge into two lanes of traffic. Merging puts you on the left, and next you must creep over to the right if you’re going to head in the direction of home. I scan the drivers’ faces – are they friendly, or pretending to ignore me, or will they choose to floor it at the precise moment I could slip in front of them? I take great care to lock eyes with that one driver who will feel my struggle and do the right thing. I read them wrong most times, yet still assuming the best of these people, I attempt to inch in front of them only to have them close the gap the instant the light turns. But there, lurking in the sea of motorists, is that occasional driver who surprises me and motions me to tuck in and join the procession. 

And so, I keep going, one thing at a time. Lately it’s washing dog beds. Lucie was spoiled silly, a comfy bed always a few paces away. From the looks of things, you’d presume I was a canine inn-keeper, fluffing up for the next guest, but for now, I’m dog-less, and simply cleaning and storing. My favorite bed I bought her last year right before Christmas was a plush sage green orthopedic one. I was thrilled to find I’d scored the last one, plucking it from its high shelf and hauling it out of the store just as a light snow began to fall. I knew it would quiet her arthritis and bring on solid sleep. Instead, her paws got stuck in the deep plush quilted panels between the tufts, making it hard to get up, offering little incentive to get back in. She didn’t mind this waste of a gift taking up space, and instead just plunked back down on her familiar half-inch gel mat. 

And so, I keep going, one thing at a time.

This clutter thing has been interesting. I know the way out is a place for everything and everything in its place, but there’s just too much stuff that sends my brain spinning. Where can it all go? I’m learning for most of it, the answer is “out!” I’m getting there, but, still, with no real closet to call my own, but for the Ikea armoire in the hall, any wardrobe additions find themselves homeless. Closets, plural, are coming. I recently sold a pair of lamps, and the lady who bought them texted me the next day, thrilled with her find, including a photo of how her living room was shaping up. For me, this made the sale. 

In the spirit of taking care, I’ve been justifiably consistent with medical visits. Recently, during an ultrasound, I found myself once again in an exam room undressed from the waist up and waiting to be seen. Why is it they always barely knock and simultaneously open the door? How do they determine how much time to allow before going in? Is there a set time it takes a woman to get topless and into a gown, opening to the front? Mind you, I’m no slow undresser, but am certain for those who are, that scant knock and immediate open door affords an awkward zero time to respond. Makes you wonder.

At another appointment – the annual bilateral mammogram – after a long stint in the waiting room where I loved comparing notes with a lovely woman waiting on her own results, a gentleman wearing a dress shirt and tie (you can be sure getting assigned the well-dressed male is never a good sign) came to get me. He had a question, and on the walk to find a room for our Q&A session, the only question I could envision was, “Ma’am, why is it you have such astonishingly shitty luck?” I soon learned he was confused why my scans showed a second pin in my breast. They knew about the first marker they’d placed from an earlier biopsy but didn’t know I’d had another one at a different hospital. All this was long ago, but new to him. Nothing to see here, just a little shrapnel from the war zone. I assured him that was it, and it was then that I was released back into the world of regular people. At least for another year. 

Sans Souci, Jekyll Island Club

Last weekend we got to go to Jekyll Island for my husband’s conference. Our stay at the Sans Souci was true to its name, quiet and with the quirky combination of Covid and mid-September, the hotel was at just two thirds occupancy. It’s refined and grand in its well-built simplicity and old, 1896 old. I studied every bit, soaking in the rich details: the moldings, buttery soft bannister, heart pine floors, stained glass transoms, porch floor paint colors, curved trim, all of it. With our 1860s house getting its own loving care, I imagined the many people who built this place with their own hands. There were framed pictures to prove it. 

Cuttlefish clatch?

I got in a little beach time, too, and concluded late September is the sweet spot for getting to the Georgia coast when the glaring hot sun is replaced with a sweeter, gentler one, and the beaches aren’t crowded. You notice more in that dappled light and without all the people – sandpipers, flitting, looking for lunch, their curving paths skirting the foam at the water’s edge, seagulls parked on the sand, chatting it up and flying further down the beach as I approach, and sand dollars, lots of them, sweet round perforated miracles, dotting my walk. The next day there were no sand dollars, but instead, a livelier surf and sky chock full of sun, and even a sweet dog who let me toss him a tennis ball. Every new beach day is so very different from the last. Every any day is.

Dog Love, Family, Grace, pets

All Dogs Go To Heaven

We had a dentist growing up I couldn’t stand. From upstairs, my sister Anne and I could hear our mom scheduling the appointment for this twice a year misery, and the weeks leading up to it were tinged with dread. We could be having a perfectly lovely summer day and one of us – maybe as a joke to freak the other out, I don’t know – would throw out those two words, “Dr. Pike”, and instantly fun turned to fear. 

Dr. Pike didn’t wiggle the inside of our cheek when he gave us Novocain like my dentist does now, so it hurt more than it needed to. He didn’t wait long enough for our mouths to get numb either before he filled our cavities. His one room two-chair office had a strange smell, a foul cocktail of toothpaste, that burnt metallic drill smell and the sour cup of liquid fluoride he’d sloppily smear across our teeth with a Q-tip. 

One time I shared an appointment with a boy around my age – we were maybe 12 at the time. Dr. Pike asked him if he had a girlfriend and, sheepishly, he shook his head no. Then Dr. Pike asked me and got another no. He wrapped up his taunt with the proposition that maybe we could be boyfriend and girlfriend, and did we each want that? Mortified and blushing so badly my face burned, I had nowhere to go in that one open room that I had decided surely was hell.

This week brought traces of Dr. Pike dread, but this time I’m the mom making the appointment – not for a dental, but instead for a loving goodbye. I set it up from my car in our driveway, not that Lucie can even hear me since her hearing went a few years ago, but she needn’t be saddled with that same dread. She still tracks me with her sweet eyes from across the room, still gorgeous and eating well and smiling when she can, but she is painfully uncomfortable moving around, especially sitting down. I see her struggle more each day, yet I have to move past my own pain with this decision as I know it’s the right thing and the right time. She will be comfortable and at home with all her family near and with her dignity, and without a trace of shame or fear or pain. Of course, I want her to live with me forever, but if you love someone, sometimes you have to let them go. 

Lucie and I are so in tune I sometimes forget she’s an entirely different species, one that I knew intellectually going in would have a shorter lifespan. Yet now, despite an impressive 14 ½ years together, it still seems too short. In our house growing up, our pets got such royal treatment and my mom always said that in her next life she’d like to return as a pet in our household. On hearing this and knowing how close she and I were, my boys used to suggest that maybe Lucie is my late mom who’s returned as our husky/shepherd? Each time I offered Lucie a lamb bone and she’d happily whittle it down as effortlessly as if it were a flaky croissant, they’d ask, “Did your mom like lamb?” “Why yes! Yes, in fact she did!” I’d exclaim. This happened with countless other foods and we’d smile and laugh knowingly at each other and Lucie, happy we’d found a way for the kids to meet my mom.

I could have easily named her Grace for her beauty and elegance and the way she soared like a gazelle over the ravine at the dog park, and also how she tenderly sniffed and snuggled the cats. She never showed any food aggression and I could be on the floor with my face in her bowl and she would have gladly shared her kibble with me. Same with hand feeding her scraps which she gingerly took from my hand, never once biting; she knew I’d keep my fingers outstretched until she got it all.

People moving around unpredictably made her nervous, and the few times she nipped friends and family at our house, it was so sudden and secretive and upsetting. Her DNA test came up as half Husky, half German Shepherd, with trace amounts of Australian Shepherd, so it made sense that she was a herder. After learning that,  we secured her when company came over.

She sometimes lifted her leg to pee, odd behavior for this gorgeous girly girl who was still all dog rolling outside in stinky things, sniffing cats’ butts and other dogs’ too. Dogs smell for the same reasons we read – to gather information or get caught up in a story – and Lucie was a voracious reader, often rereading her favorites, stopping to sniff a familiar tree or shove her snout down the same chipmunk hole. 

The Siberian Husky in her loved when it snowed, and her little paws left the cutest imprints in the pristine sparkling blanket outside. A few times we connected her leash to the sled and the kids shouted “mush!” curious if she’d instinctively take off pulling them. Instead, Lucie just stood there and smiled, clueless, lapping up the incredible white wonderland. Car rides were another favorite and keys jangling would find her at the door, hopeful, patiently waiting. I taught her to shake, lie down, roll over, and kiss. Her kisses were licks on our arms and faces or we’d get the snout bump, nose bumping against our mouth, getting it done and more importantly, getting the treat.

She loved her walks but her Husky “I’ll do what I want” attitude made training a challenge, and often she pulled. One night after dark on their first walk together, she broke Joe in when she happened on a dead squirrel, and he got the pleasure of plucking it from her jaws. Her wanderlust kept her mostly leashed except during the occasional tennis ball toss in the yard. If the ball went deep, she’d take off running for a catch me if you can game toward the street behind us, terrifying me each time.

We walked a lot around our little town and its surrounding neighborhoods. She’d go where I wanted, the leash a tiller I could adjust ever so slightly for a change in direction. Some shop keepers knew her and invited her in and gave her treats. Her beauty – that striking white wolf face with perfectly applied eyeliner and a plush creamy apricot coat – was extraordinary, and people wanted to get near her. In the first weeks I had her, walking downtown near the subway station, we came upon an elderly woman who ambled over to us, stopped for a moment, hands on hips, and proclaimed, “That dog is pretty as shit.” That was all and she walked away, satisfied she’d told us what was on her mind.

Lucie was a great car rider and we took her on short trips – to parks and to the mountains and once to the beach near Charleston. We had never taken her swimming before and were delighted to see what fun she had dog paddling in the surf, and watching her soaked little wet chicken legs trotting down the beach. She was game for most anything, walking when I wanted to, resting when I rested, and one morning waking up in the dark with Ben and me to watch the sun come up. I felt safe with her by my side and honored to introduce her to the majesty of a sunrise over the ocean.

She used to follow us room to room and upstairs in the evenings to sleep on the floor beside me. These days, she watches me in the kitchen from her corner spot on the floor, and now with severe arthritis, only gets up to eat or go outside. This has been our little world together for weeks now. 

She’s grown bored with her usual fare and she’s all over the new change in menu. Sometimes sweet potatoes and broccoli mix in with her kibble and a little bone broth to bind it, or even better, crumbled ground beef. The other night it was Costco seared tuna – a huge hit. I wrap her medicines in deli meat, which goes down easy. She still loves rice and I always let her lick the pot, and cut up fruits too – watermelon, strawberries, bananas. Good food and big bowls of ice water, rest and medicine fill her days, and while she’s never been a hugger, she’s allowing it. Oh, how I’ll miss her!

Mornings are sweet. I come downstairs and wipe her face with a hot cloth, cleaning her crusty eyes and wiping down her forehead, snout and cheeks. I often whisper, “How was your flight?” as these gentle towels take me back to my first trip to Europe flying Lufthansa. In that quiet cabin at the beginning of dawn, the nicest flight attendant handed me a hot towel, whispering, “I hope you slept well.” I felt so loved and cared for waking up in this way, and Lucie is getting that same sweet care.

I know our situation is not unique and so many go through this but still, it’s tough. You’re in that no man’s land between feeling guilty and all the while seeing your baby struggle. You have to grow up, be the adult and make hard choices. These days, these 14½ years, this life with Lucie has been wonderful, and I’m doing all I can to keep it together and honor her with a dignified loving sendoff. I’ve recorded a hymn for her, Amazing Grace, which seems right for this moment. I’ve added in some of my favorite photos too. 

She’s going to a place where there will be spectacular sunrises and sunsets, car rides with the windows rolled down, fluffy mashed potatoes and turkey that’s juicy for a change, tennis balls to run after where you don’t have to bring them back, endless meadows of monkey grass to wade through, walks in the rain and magical snowfalls. She will be free to roam untethered. I love her to pieces and am lucky to have found her and she me. Lightness and love, my sweet girl, fly high.