Monday, September 29, 2014


Boy#1 had the first emailed reply after the update to him and his brothers Friday afternoon.

"Whooooooo! I haven't been this relieved about something I didn't know was a potential crisis in quite a while. Excellent news". 

I couldn't have said it better myself. 

And now I'm traveling and meeting with trustees and greeting alumni until I collapse in an exhausted heap Saturday night. Behave yourself until I see you again next week.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Friday Morning

These are the first initials of dear friends who are currently fighting breast cancer:

G., who will get her portacath Tuesday to begin chemo. G. is taking care of her aging mother who can no longer get out of her wheelchair unassisted.

S., whose early treatment plan of lumpectomy plus radiation has been altered to include mastectomy plus 12 weeks of chemo, the hair-loss variety of chemo. S. is the mother of three teenagers.

R., who had beaten her breast cancer several years ago but is back in treatment after a recurrence.  R. is funny and energetic and keeps the trains running on time.

And Mary Ann. I'm using Mary Ann's full name--I'm pretty sure she won't mind. Mary Ann was my roommate when I was in the Peace Corps, and she's one tough cookie. The kind of tough cookie who rides a horse over mountain roads in pouring rain to meet with her nutrition group when we were in Costa Rica. The kind of tough cookie who took over when our house was robbed, cleaned up the mess, sedated me (yeah, I thought it was an aspirin), and sat next to the broken window all night just waiting for the thieves to come back. For the record, I don't condone giving people sleeping pills so they'll calm down after their house is robbed even if those people are shrieking about their lost cassette deck, but hey, I kind of can't blame her.

I describe Mary Ann in full because she was the one who let me know a month ago that she's been diagnosed with breast cancer, Stage 4, and is halfway through chemo.

"I'm tough, and I'm going to beat this," she told me then, "but would you pray for me? And get a mammogram."

I got that mammogram. And I flunked.

The form letter from the hospital clearly was designed to not induce panic but to make it clear that its recipients needed to act immediately.  "Irregularities in your mammogram make it necessary for you to come back for more testing. Many of  these irregularities turn out to be benign."

To my surprise, my first reaction to the news was not panic but irritation. There is no history of breast cancer in my family. I have been compulsively punctual about getting my annual mammograms--until two years ago, when some government agency announced it was okay to go two years between testing, and the two years stretched into three. But gynecologist had checked me every year (while chiding me that I should ignore the government and be tested every year).

I had always been fine so I wasn't panicked, I was irritated. I have too much going on to have breast cancer. In the next few weeks I had calendared a three-day trip to Minneapolis for a national denominational meeting, Small College's Homecoming, trustee meeting, the start-up of two different women's groups after summer hiatus, and being at the piano for a friend at her first gig as a lounge singer.

"Dang!" I thought as I read the lines. "I don't have time for this."

But then reality set in. I knew that no person is immune to breast cancer, no woman and no man. I had seen my boss and mentor, Susan, die of breast cancer at age 42. Strong women? She was a national age-group racketball champion. She was strong and awesome and she died.

So the next morning I called to schedule the recommended follow-up mammogram and diagnostic ultrasound. The earliest I could get in was 10 days later. Ten days. That's nothing in the eyes of eternity, but 10 days of wondering what the first mammogram had found. What was it? Was it a shadow, or a lump? Right breast or left? Was it bigger or smaller than the lump that had led to a biopsy after my very first mammogram 20 years ago that turned out to be the aftermath of breastfeeding four babies?

I didn't tell many people, not even tell the Boys, not at this stage. But Husband, of course. My two sisters. Another dear friend from Bible study who has had breast cancer and is officially deemed cured. My work buddy to whom I Skype prayer requests before I go into tough meetings. G. And Mary Ann.

I wanted people on my team who could pray for me, but pray in a way that harmonizes with my own prayers. A few weeks ago we worshiped in a different church and the pastor clarified this so perfectly that it had been ringing through my mind every day, every hour:
"We know that prayer works," he said. "We know it because we have experienced prayer working, and we know it works because the Bible tells us that 'the prayer of a righteous person availeth much.' But we also know that God is not a vending machine. You don't put in your dollar's-worth of prayer and out pops what YOU want to happen. No, prayer is a matter of aligning ourselves with the will of God, of reflecting His will back to Him."
The week was long and I was cranky. On Thursday I had no patience for anyone. "You think you have problems because your brochure isn't printed yet? I may have CANCER." It was like being newly pregnant, before you tell anyone. "You think your life is wonderful? I am PREGNANT!" Yes, just like that, except on Opposite Day.

Husband followed my lead in talking about What Was Happening. We didn't verbalize what ifs. We didn't jump ahead of the following step into the unknown. But on Friday before I left for the hospital he let slip that he had researched the subject on WebMD. I had told him that the sonogram would only be done if something untoward was found on the next mammogram. "No, I think a sonogram is standard in this case," he told me. To my own amazement, I had not Googled "abnormal mammogram." This is unlike me; I am normally into the tenth screen deep before I make a follow-up appointment.

Husband and sisters and friends offered to stay with me during the mammogram, but I told them no. I didn't want to be responsible for anyone's emotions but my own, and from long experience as a middle child I knew I would worry about how each of them was holding up.

As I sat in the waiting room, I pecked out lines into my iPad's Notes program.
"I have so many people praying for me. I feel it. I laughed as I walked out of the door to come here. They're praying for God's will to be done.And what is God's will? That I do not fear. That I am kind to those I encounter. That I seek him. That I glorify him. All of these I know are indisputably His will because He repeated those things over and over in the Bible. That I have perfect, perky boobs? If the past 60 years is any indication, not so much."
Since this post is already book-length and I'm sure any of the men in my life are squicked out by all this talk of my breasts, I'll fast-forward over the ensuing hour.

I called Husband from the ultrasound room, my shirt halfway back over my head. I broke the no-cell-phones rule because I couldn't wait a moment longer to hear his voice.

"I'm fine. They didn't find anything wrong. They said to come back in a year for a well woman check." His sigh was so deep it sounded like a sob. "Are you breathing?" he asked me with a laugh, "because I just started again."

Then I left the hospital grinning so widely that my cheeks hurt. I stepped into the street in a daze before noticed a car was coming half a block away, and this made me laugh out loud. Wouldn't that be ironic? If I were hit by a car just as I felt so invincible?

I texted my other prayer warriors, and the joy and relief spilled out of the iPhone screen. Much Older Sister, when she heard that the abnormality on the first mammogram may have been a digitally-captured wrinkle, reminded me of our Great Aunt Gladys, who claimed that in her later years her once-sexy bras were just "a handy way to roll 'em up and tuck 'em in." (Great Aunt Gladys was a character.)

This morning I woke up early, something that never happens on the rare unscheduled Saturday. I couldn't get back to sleep, thinking about the days between when Mary Ann urged me to get a mammogram and yesterday.  I'll get up and go about my day without having to temper my joy about the Royals play-offs (woo-hoooooo!) with the knowledge that "I might have CANCER."

G., S., and R. do not have that luxury. Nor does Mary Ann. They are all strong women and tough cookies, and they plan to be with us for many, many more years. Please, in their honor, make sure your mammograms are current. I will be praying for God's will in their lives, His good and perfect will that is peace and kindness and grace during suffering.

Because my initials are not among them, but until Friday morning they could have been.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Zap You! and You! and You!

Back in much less sensitive days when these things still could be joked about, I had a colleague who told me about a previous workplace where they had played the One Shot game. This game was played on days when everyone was supremely irritating and demanding, so supremely irritating and demanding that it was became unclear who would be the recipient if you had a gun but only one bullet.

Today, of course, that seems horrible to even discuss. I mean, shootings aren't something to be taken lightly. They happen.

But today, if I had an imaginary Taser and only enough zapping power to incapacitate one person, it would be a close race as to who would be left twitching on the ground.

I am a complete Mrs. Crankypants, and several colleagues have had perfectly normal and reasonable requests which at the moment struck me as so abnormal and unreasonable that my blood pressure spiked precipitously. Then I realized that I was being a crankypants and calmed down, but in that one moment, hoo-eeeee.

I mentioned this to one of the Boys in a chat, and he cautioned me against doing anything untoward.

"You know, don't you, that if you're willing to spend your one tase on several different people you're probably treating them in a way that they're more than willing to spend their one bullet on you?"

He was, of course, right on target (so to speak) so don't be surprised if you come upon me later in the afternoon, my bullet-riddled body slumped beside the open door of a 1932 Packard a la Bonnie Parker.

I probably deserved it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Not That Hot

Celebrity in Sunglasses
I read a fashion blog that claims that everyone looks hotter in sunglasses. Although I realize you're probably saying "Hold on, MomQueenBee, did you just say you read a fashion blog?" Yes, yes, yes, I do. But that's not what this post is about and looking hotter in sunglasses is not the reason I went to my optometrist to order shades yesterday.

No, that was for a way more practical reason: Said optometrist had told me over the years that eyes get sunburned, too, and that I should put on sunglasses every time I put on sunblock. Also, due to the happy fluke of being mostly well during the past year, Husband and I had not spent our medical savings account down to zero and there are only seven days left in the use-it-or-lose-it fiscal year.

So, yay! "Free" sunglasses to replace the ones I had lost at the football game four years ago sent me to my optometrist's office in a good mood.

I picked out a modest-priced set of frames, then sat happily waiting for the optician to tell me how much I would have left over to spend on vitamins and Band-Aids in order to wipe out that flexible spending account.

This led to an instant message conversation with Boy#2 this morning.

Do you know how much sunglasses cost in Small Town?


Try again.


Try again.

$1, Mom!

Because we were not actually playing Price Is Right, I was able to tell him that sunglasses in Small Town cost $613. 





Not only did I not get money back for vitamins and Band-Aids, I had to write a check for $213 in order to get both lenses. 

Now, let's just do a little comparison. For $613, I could have bought a new iPad. I could have extended my Scribd subscription for six years. I could have bought as many shoes as I will need  for the next decade (based on current wearing out rate of my shoes). I could have paid for a cleaning lady to come twice a month until next Easter. 

I could have done so, so, so many things I'd rather do than cover my eyeballs. But I gulped, wrote the check, and crept home to stare into the mirror and tell my retinas they'd better be worth it. 

Because everyone looks hotter in sunglasses, but I'm pretty sure I won't look that hot.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Trash Majal

Over the years the Boys have often occasionally never asked my advice on choosing a life partner. I have, however, made a list of things that I would have told them if they had asked, just in case my not-yet-in-existence grandchildren someday ask how I managed to live with Grampsy so long, what with his tendency to appear halfway through a television show and ask me explain the plot line even though I am in the middle of WATCHING the show.

The answer is this: He's a guy who does things right.

And I will offer as evidence the structure pictured in today's post. Not the garage, which was built in 1927 at the same time as the House on the Corner and frankly, will not be included in the itinerary when the HoC is part of the celebrity home bus tour. No, the structure I reference is the trash can holder.

Several weeks ago it suddenly dawned on us (in the sense that this particular sun has been rising for 27 years) that more of our visitors use the back door than the front door. All of these visitors have walked past our trash cans, which had been conveniently located right outside that back door since we moved into the house almost three decades ago. We're come-right-in-into-the-kitchen type of folks and I guess we thought ripening chicken bones gave a special olfactory welcome note. Besides the trash cans, the basement steps were full of old shoes (for lawn mowing purposes) and the whole foyer needed paint.

So we decided to spiffy up that entrance. I cleaned all the junk out of the down-to-the-basement stairs and got ready to paint. Then I ran out of steam and went back to knitting and Netflix.

Husband began to build the new home for the trash cans. And unlike his lazy wife, he did not run out of steam. For three solid weeks he has spent every spare minute either mentally drawing plans, visiting the lumberyard, or fretting over the squareness of the construction. He measured twice and cut once, countersunk the bolts, matched lattices with the precision of a quilter. Every so often he would call on me to hold the end of the chalk line while he snapped a guide rule or to support a board too long to fit on the work bench while it was being cut to length.

Saturday was the grand unveiling, and people, this thing is a masterpiece. Notice the front corner with the beveled insert that covers the raw joint between the side and the end boards? And the eight-inch top railing? This is the Rolls-Royce of trash can holders.

It is also, unfortunately, behind the garage, hidden by a tree, on the side of the house that is away from the public.

You know that old saying about how you can judge someone's character by how he treats people when no one is watching? That, my not-yet-in-existence grandchildren, is why Grampsy is a keeper: He built the Trash Majal behind the garage.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Orts and a Blurb

I post today's picture not (solely) to make you jealous of what I eat, although that is a nice side benefit. (Jealous, aren't you?) The point of this picture is that I have become the kind of person who has all the ingredients for a fancy feast on hand when I needed a last-minute meal:

Naan. Fire-roasted peppers. Pesto. Feta cheese. Shaved Parmesan cheese. Sliced olives. Free-range diced chicken. And basil grown on my own little plant in the back yard.

Who is this woman and what has she done with the macaroni-and-cheese queen who lived here a few years ago?

Today is my younger sister's birthday. Although I talk about her less here than I do about Much Older Sister, she is equally spectacular in a totally different way. Because I wanted her to know how much I hoped her Big Day went well, I sent her a text:

"May cartoon bluebirds wake you and singing mice make you a gown!"

Later it occurred to me that this may be the creepiest birthday wish ever wished upon someone.

If you have not yet seen the following video, it may be because a) like me,  you do not stay up late enough to watch the Tonight show in spite of your delight in Jimmy Fallon, or b) like me, you had never heard this song before even though it was the song of the summer (or so "they"say). But if hear it once, you will never un-hear it, especially if c) like me, you are completely unable to get it out of your head. You're welcome! Also, The Roots rock.
Homeright SteamMachine
This week's blurb is for a self-indulgent purchase that turned out to be a pretty good investment. The Homeright Steam Machine people do a fine job of peppering the internet with free samples of their product, which they have given to every blogger in the world except me. I read the glowing testimonials to its ability to clean anything and remove everything from wallpaper to warts (well, maybe not warts) until I finally broke down and bought one.

That's because my kitchen cabinets were gross. In spite of hours and hours worth of attempts to clean them with everything from vinegar to expensive chemicals, I could not get the greasy/grime accumulation of the years off  the oak doors. We were even thinking of replacing the cabinets, which ain't cheap. But after one tankful of steam and a wipe-off with an old towel, now I have cupboard doors that are no longer sticky and icky. (Although Husband tells me that if I don't quit running my hands over them them and saying "You're so smooooth!" they won't stay clean long.)

Nice job, Homeright SteamMachine. And just think what a great review I would have written if you had actually given me one of these instead of requiring that I shell out my own hard-earned American cash for it. Hrmph.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ach du Lieber!

Boy#2 is in the downhill slope of the long haul that will allow me to call him "My son the doctor," even if he can't tell me what this funny ache in my shoulder is. Being on the downhill rather than the uphill means he is finished with the required classes that have allowed him explain to me in great detail mathematical things that make my eyes glaze well before the first equals sign appears.

Instead, he is able to take a break from the lab and this semester he's taking German 101. This is a class that will come in handy if...well, I can't think of any reasons it would come in handy, but he's enjoying it.

This morning Husband and I received an email from him.
"For an assignment, we were supposed to write a postcard to a family member. I decided to write one to you guys! For the record, it's incredibly hard to write a postcard when you only know the simple present tense and about 10 verbs."
Then he wrote his message:
Liebe Mutti, lieber Vati,
Guten Tag von Durham! Wie geht es ihr? In diesem Semester, lerne ich Deutsch. Ich studiere oft, aber ich spreche gern Deutsch! Ich nicht mache Party. Mein Freund heißt John. Er trinkt viel Bier aber nicht mit mir. Heute, es ist sonnig und es ist schön. Ich jogge gern. Morgen, fahre ich Fahrrad. Ich vermisse (Boy#1, Boy#3, and Boy#4)!
Alles Liebe,
Now, I've never taken a German class in my life. I speak blathering non-stop English, fairly proficient Spanish, and Pig Latin like a son-of-a-gun, but German? 

You would think I wouldn't understand a word of Two's postcard, but you would be WRONG! I returned it to him with my translation:
Good morning, Von Trapp Family Singers!  Did you get this here? In this semester, I’m learning Dutch. I study it often, but ick! Dutch is gosh-derned. It is definitely not a party. My friend is John. He drank vile beer last night as he looked in the mirror. This morning, he is snoring and shiny. (He ran into some germs.) Morgan Fairchild was a fair actress. Ick! My brothers are vermin!
Always loving, 
 And to those people who say German is difficult I can only say: Pfffft. Nicht.