Favorite Things II


Snow.  Beautiful, beautiful snow.

Once again, without specifically intending to, I found myself in NH just before a treatment.  It feels like there’s something in my DNA, akin to whatever it is that sends the Monarch butterflies to the fir trees in Mexico, that sends me north to a place of peace and beauty, just when I need it most.

My weekend escape wasn’t intended to lapse beyond Sunday.  And the front part of my stay was, once again, brought on by my big guy’s ski racing schedule, and the opportunity to house and feed his college ski team one more time.  It’s so nice to have these young men, appreciative of my cooking, quick to clean up, some even willing to tell me about their classes and the books they’re reading, sitting around our dining table.  That was what got me up there, happy to provide room and board.  The weather and lousy driving kept me up there one more day.

And oh, what I day I got.

Remember that quote I mentioned from Narnia, about the sad time of year when the cold gray part of the year drags on,  “Always winter and never Christmas”? Well, for me, my little corner of NH stays holiday festive, every month, every season.  Our sparkly little lights never come down, nor do the stockings by the chimney.  The Tibetan prayer flags feel jubilant, year in, year out.  And when we get one of those February storms, with some moisture in the air, and wake up to every branch, every twig, every wire, every edge of everything, frosted white and lovely as wedding cake….well.  That was a holiday of its very own, to cherish.

IMG-20130224-00487I wasn’t kidding.  The stockings stay hung by the chimney with care.

Oh, and did I mention the blue, blue sky?


My back was feeling tweaky, my feet are weirdly inflicted with tingly-ness in my heels, a form of neuropathy that was predicted but is nevertheless disconcerting.  Part of me thought my best plan might be a warm tub and some yoga stretches before I got in the car for the long drive south.  But the smarter part of my brain knew that I needed to get out and do my sacred walk, cranky joints and all.

Here are some highlights.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I love this walk.

IMG-20130225-0053616B is my all-time favorite loop.  It goes up one side of the falls and comes down the other, five miles plus.  It starts out steep, gets me sweaty in no time flat, then meanders for a few miles, up, down, over, around.  There are glorious views at every turn.  I’ve done this walk so many times, I have a memory for every turn, every vista.  That’s where I saw the bobcat.  That’s where I saw the double rainbow.  That’s where I heard a black bear, who was so busy eating berries, he didn’t even notice me.  Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk, just like in Blueberries for Sal.  Here’s what I got to see on my bonus Monday.

IMG-20130225-00509My favorite bridge.  It was built in 1903.  The names of the members of the town council are on a marker, under the snow.


The view down over the snow-covered falls.

IMG-20130225-00510One of the few remaining old inns, from back in the day when people came for the summer with steamer trunks on the train. Back when there was a Saks Fifth Avenue in our little NH berg.  Who’d ever believe that?

IMG-20130225-00531A favorite old farmhouse, named OverLook, with a grand assortment of porch chairs.

IMG-20130225-00508Every branch, frosted.

IMG-20130225-00541And amidst the sparkle of winter, this harbinger of springtime.  The first taps of the maple trees, a most elaborate system of tubes and taps and joints, all taking advantage of gravity to feed the large plastic buckets at the bottom of the hill.  A far cry from the individual cans on each tree, back in the days of old.  Oddly enough, this sight makes me think of the tubes that will be dripping into me, later on…

Needless to say, my decision to skip the tub and take the walk was the right one.  I was ache-y when I got out of the car, 3 hours later, but so so glad that I’d taken advantage of a glorious, delicious, spectacular day.

* * * * *

Three chemos down, only one more to go.  Again, my oncology nurses sing my praises of good health.  They were even amazed that I’m still sporting as much hair as I have, though none were taking bets on how long I’ll keep what I’ve got.  Which is a sort of Donald Trump affair, light and poofy and wide of part, but not long enough to do the full across-the-bow swoop.  And yet, I keep leaving that wig in the bag, waiting for a time when I can actually imagine being more interested in having something resembling a full head of hair than I am certain I would want to pull the wig off at the first sign of a hot flash. Which are pretty frequent events these days, courtesy of the whole cocktail of chemicals in my system and general slow-down on my whole hormonal life cycle.  I had a hopeful moment, while watching the Oscars, when the short-shorn Charlize Theron was describing her transformation from having shaved her head for a part, to having her current do, three months out.  She looked fabulous, needless to say.  Three months…March, April, May…I might have some hair, come June.  That’s my hope, to be neither bald nor sweating under a wig for my big guy’s college graduation.  I can dream, can’t I?


My Favorite Things

Most of you loyal readers by now have gotten a re-commissioned holiday greeting card from me and mine.  Hey, Valentine’s Day is a holiday, right?  And it’s still The Season, yes?  Even absent my current excuse for all things left undone, I’ve always been a big advocate of sending out Christmas cards long after the rush.  There’s too much to attend to in December, is my way of thinking. And who’s not happy to get a card in the mail in January, February…maybe even March?  When there’s nothing dropping through the mailslot but bills and flyers for post-holiday sales events?  You know I’m right.  Plus, it’s always a bonus to get to respond to the cards I get, while I’m still mindful of the gifts they bestowed upon me.  Says the procrastinator/rationalizer…

Well, whatever my excuse, I’m sticking to my guns.  Greetings timed to arrive during the time of year that’s Always Winter and Never Christmas, as described in Narnia, have always deserved a little extra cheerfulness in my book.

In addition to being a bit behind schedule, my written holiday update this year was short on factoids, and came out more a list of lovely moments and memories from the year past.  Which, for me, made all the sense in the world, to commemorate the delightful. The exquisite.  The surprising.  My Favorites.

Truth be told, I don’t think Oscar Hammerstein II gets anywhere near enough credit for having come up with a lyrical list of favorite things that remains forever cheerful.  I’m guessing that right now, on my cellphone, there are at least 20 photos of whiskers on kittens, and multiple close-ups of roses, with or without raindrops.   I don’t tend to get the shot of the wild geese with the moon on their wings, but I’ve got more images of evening skies and wispy clouds and lengthening shadows and bright white contrails than practically anything else.  Lord knows we don’t get enough apple strudel in our life, but I suspect I could search a bit and come up with a photo or two of some jars of applesauce, from Julia Child’s perfect recipe.  All favorite things of mine, and Oscar’s, too, apparently.

Anyhow, between the weather and the lovely generosity of multiple hosts over the past few weekends, I’ve taken a lot of photos of things that just plain make me happy.  All simple things, all things that make me smile or laugh out loud, in some cases.  The things that get me through the rough patches.  The things that make life worth living, and loving, and sharing.

So, here you go:


The view from my most recent weekend home-away-from-home.  Thank you, Dia and Story.


A circus-performer mother ewe (she jumps over fences!) and her lovely lamb, who kept me company in Lyme NH.  Thank you, Joanie and Scott!


The sky, as the storm departed from Hanover NH.  A lovely day, a gorgeous hue.


A Happy Day in Middlebury VT.  Yes, I am short.  That’s nephew Sam on the left, and Ian on the right.


Here’s what I came home to.  From a windswept walk in My Fair City.


A photo was emailed to me from Eric, subject line, “Oh, were you reading this?”  Our cats love to sit on whatever you might be reading.  This, Eric informs me, is from the State Archives of Dubrovnik, circa the 15th century.  “Some things never change.”  Footprints from kittens, a variation on the whiskers theme.


The view of my sacred Dawn Redwood, out the grand Palladian  window of the college chapel down the street. Worth fifteen minutes of something approaching holiness, any weekday morning that school’s in session.


Shoveling Out

Like everyone in the northeast, I’ve spent the past week arranging my life around the weather.  Which included an early getaway to NH, way back last Thursday, when the sun was shining and there was no snow anywhere, back when kids were out playing pond hockey on black ice, all up and down I-89.  The motivating factor for my departure to the north was that my eldest son finally got his home hill college ski racing start, and would be competing on Friday and Saturday.  After four years of showing up, doing all the weightlifting and interval training, being there for every practice, schlepping to Quebec and even Wisconsin when there were FIS races and the opportunity to improve his points while the varsity guys raced for glory on the college circuit…well, someone needed to be there to bear witness to this accomplishment.


The timing was good, oncology-wise.  I planned my drive north for the window when I was feeling most fit, before the post-steroid downer kicked in.  The idea was that J would bus up Friday and be available to spectate Saturday, and drive us both home thereafter.   In the meantime, my hosts were happy to care for me, for however long I needed caring.  Nothing like first-rate friends to drop in on, who made me endless cups of herbal tea and baked me muffins with delicious roughage and piled my bed with all varieties of pillows and covers.  That, and a cozy house with multiple dogs and cats, which made my non-stop hair loss a little less noticeable.  


Clearly, we hadn’t really looked at the weather forecast before I headed north.  Oh, yeah, there’s a storm coming, that I knew.  But I didn’t really foresee it as a repeat of the Blizzard of ’78.  During which, amusingly, I snuck out of town to race in these very same college carnival races, a mere 35 years ago.  This time around, a driving ban was put in place before Route 128 became a parking lot, which left my beloved marooned on the homefront. It also turned him into a one-man army in charge of snow removal and rooftop cornice abatement and pesky furnace maintenance , poor fellow.  That, plus he actually taught on the day when the Commonwealth was shut down, since most of his B-school students were on campus and happy to not have to miss a class. 


Which left me to be the representative spectator on race day.  I had the fun of seeing people I knew from every era of my life—fellow current parents, friends I raced with from grade school to college, families my son has overlapped with over the years.  It really is a lovely little world, ski racing, and there was more than one friend my age who just came because she knew she’d see people she wanted to see, even without a child of her own on the running order. 


Blessedly, from my perspective, the weather made bundling up the norm.  While my newly coiffed wig sat in the back seat of my car, I was outfitted myself for the conditions. With fleece and down and wool, I was scarfed and goggled and ready for all the snow and the wind could throw at me.  My thinning hair, and with it my blasted diagnosis, I got to keep under my hat.


* * * * *


I drove back home on Sunday morning, pulling into our driveway just as the front end loader was finally making some headway on our dead end road.  And upon my arrival, I marveled at all the work that had been done in my absence.  I am, after all, the snow removal czarina in our little realm.  I’m the first responder, the prophylactic salter of sidewalks, the plow guy contractee, the one who makes sure that our little fifedom won’t be hearing from the mailman about uncleared walks.  I confess, I fret about it.  J knows that when the day comes that we need to bust a move to another domicile, it will be snow and ice that will push me over to the land of underground parking and full time maintenance staffs. 


But to come home to a job already done…well.  That’s a new concept.  And in some ways, it was, by force of geography and driving ban, the only thing that would make me actually do what everyone keeps telling me to do:  Take it easy.  Let others do for me.  Let go and let…well, if not god, at least my dear Valentine, bless his heart.


And yet, by Monday, I was ready.  The day dawned warm.  The rain would be coming.  There were snowbanks that needed winging back, sidewalks that could use another pass.  So out I went. 


There’s getting the help you need, and there’s doing what you know you can do.  If the first step to helping someone is knowing NOT to do what he/she can do for him/herself, well then, I was left with exactly what I needed.  The meditative trance of slicing off a chunk of snow, breaking it into shovel-able bits, pitching them up and over the snowbanks, step by step, shovelful by shovelful, making what just minutes ago had been a thick blanket into a clear path, a wider berth, an extra parking spot—that, to me, was a little bit of bliss.  To shovel, to stop, to look upon that little accomplishment, to stretch my back and say to myself, Yes, that will do for now…that made me feel good and whole and useful and normal. 


I’ve been keeping at it, bit by bit, all this week.  A little more off the corner here, a little wider on the path there.  It’s been a satisfying way to be out of doors, to make my muscles ache a little, to take that deserved bath and enjoy that earned nap.  I’ve had friends checking in to see if I need help with the snow, and I even got the loveliest delivery of chicken soup—some frozen, some ready for immediate consumption.  I’m grateful for every act of kindness, I really truly am.  But more than anything, I’m  relieved to find these little bits of myself in small acts of normalcy, in taking care of what needs taking care of, that I can make happen, all on my own. 

A day in the life

Someone pointed out to me that I’ve been skirting around the actual “action” of my little adventure here in the oncology realm, giving only between-treatment expository updates.  So, without further ado, here’s something a little more informative: a blow-by-blow update of Chemo Day #2.


First off, my dear husband wanted to accompany me today.  I suspect he was feeling a bit guilty, given that he was in India when I had my first round.  Never mind that it didn’t really matter that much to me—remember, I drove him to the airport. Mostly, I just wanted him to meet the team, check out the venue, know the drill. I was also hoping that he’d understand why I really didn’t need him to come babysit me through the process more than once.  It took all of ten minutes for him to realize that it really would be totally okay for him to sit in the corner and answer emails and plan his day. 


So that’s what we did; parallel attention to everything other than what we were actually there for, him to his laptop, me to my Kindle.  Kathy, my wonderful nurse, pops in whenever something beeps, but other than that, it’s mostly just a lot of sitting around in a nice little private room, with a view of the nurses coming and going and answering other beeps from other corners.  The place beeps and hums and is really so much less depressing than you might expect.  I sneeze; someone shows up with a box of tissues.  Everyone’s so encouraging.  “Hey, your numbers are great!  Your pulse and blood pressure are wonderfully low!  No nausea, you’re so lucky!”  In that little world, it turns out, I’m a champ.


But really, here’s the thing you need to know: with chemo, there’s no pain involved, other than a momentary prick with the IV insertion.  And trust me, these gals are pros.  There’s no immediate side effects, beyond the delightful wooziness of the pre-medication IV Benadryl.  There’s only the curious wonder around how you can possibly need to get up and pee when you haven’t had anything to drink…then you look at all those empty bags that were full of fluids that have since have entered your system and realize, ah, that explains that.  And given that the one thing I would have been grateful for was for someone to be able to go to the bathroom for me, and since no one, not even my beloved, could do that, well…he’s done his time, and is off the hook for now.  When we get to the radiation chapter, he can check in again. 


So, a couple hours later, unhooked and ready to get on with my day, I meandered down the street to visit my buddy Lenny, who’s been cutting my hair for almost two decades.  I wanted to see if he had time to squeeze in a quick trim on that wig of mine, the one I got and stuck in the closet a few weeks ago.  


Okay, I’ve officially buried the lead here: my hair is falling out in clumps. Which, while entirely predictable, completely sucks.  No level of comprehension around the fact that this was going to happen makes it any more tolerable when it actually starts happening. It is the outward proof of my situation that I was so hoping to avoid, and yet, well, here we are.  That Japanese doll of mine?  Her pixie has it all over what I’ve got going.  And she’s been in a holding pattern for forty-five years.  I’m not sure how much hair I’ll have come Saturday.  Hair today.  Gone tomorrow?


Then there’s the weekend I have coming up. It will be chock-a-block full of people I know and like, who don’t know about my growling lapdog.  There will be lots of hanging around and socializing and catching up, how’re the kids, what’s up with you.  So clearly, this was the time to get that hairy thing out of the closet and make sure I could stand to wear it.   I had the sense that Lenny would be a better guy for the job than the woman at the wig shop, and, bless him, he completely was.  His able assistant, Maria, was positively swoony when he was done.  “You look just like you!  You look great!”  Which in my mind are two entirely different accomplishments, even on my best day, but hey, I’ll take it. 


So, here I am, home again after a brief stop at the drug store to pick up those things that keep me ahead of the curve on my ongoing project to stay eternally “regular.”  I have a pile of Valentine’s cards to stamp, I have a Red Sox schedule sprawled across the dining room table that I’m having fun putting little color-coded post-it notes for my baseball subscribers to our season ticket deal.  I’m looking at the weather coming up, wondering who I can get to shovel while we’re up north…and am exceedingly happy that I am feeling fine, for now.  I know that when the steroids wear off,  and in a few days I’ll be in that hazy place of tiredness and inexplicable odd little ailments, tingles in my toes, the roof of my mouth feeling grainy, achy joints.  But for now…all’s well. 


Just wanted you to know.