Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Action Plan for today

I need to slip away to my Happy Place. ("Happy Place"; Folly Beach view of Morris Island light house. Mixed Media. 2016)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

But what happened to The Chair

I tend to cross-post to various blogs. as was the case with Resting in the Arms of Love. I've since been asked by several people "what happened to the original Chair"?

The Chair eventually went to chair heaven, but not before every spring was sprung, upholstery (second time round) completely worn, strange lumps that conformed to no one's body developed, and the recliner function became useless for even the most stout-hearted. Bumma replaced it with a white recliner, scaled once again for diminutive folks. After she went on to that comfy reading chair in the sky, our daughter got it, where it was promptly claimed by her then (now ex) husband who dragged it to his man shack in the back yard. It turned dark gray from the smoke and general grime. When they split, it was too filthy to reclaim so it remained with him. I still feel guilty I let it go to such a fate.

My mother in her throne, the last month of her life.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Resting in the arms of Love

My father used to say he was a trendsetter. After all, he'd called people meatheads for years before Archie Bunker nicknamed his son-in-law that on  All in the Family. He also had a chair, a throne, that no one else was supposed to sit in besides him. One of the first purchases he and my mother made in 1968, when the family finally moved out of the little house that had been our home for 17 years, was a recliner just for him. I remember sitting on the arm of the chair, or on the floor near by, talking with Daddy about his life as a child actor, and growing up in the Bronx.  But to sit in it, myself? Never! (except if he wasn't home and I wouldn't get caught!)

An aside: My favorite story was when he was cast as "the pest" in a silent movie called Womanhandled, and the cast had to go on a road trip to Texas to film scenes where Richard Dix was pretending to be a cowboy. My father was a little kid, maybe 6 or 7 (though he was diminutive, as I am) and was playing the part of a 4 year old brat. Regardless, he couldn't travel alone, so my grandmother accompanied him. She, however, kept strict kosher, and refused to let him eat what the rest of the cast did. She bought food and prepared meals for the two of them. And when there was a barbecue in the cast's honor, she held fast and refused to let him eat all that wonderful food-- which was why my little Jewish grandmother and her son were the only two people in the entire production that did not come down with food poisoning afterwards. Sometimes religious dietary laws really come in handy.

By the time I'd gone off to college, the rules had relaxed. We all knew, though, that once my father got home from work, The Chair was his, and we had to park our bottoms elsewhere. He even co-opted  a hand signal that was actually a punchline to a joke -- a hand signal in the joke that meant "enough of that shit". 

(Left: that's me, in 1977, with our mutt Patonka and my flute, and some very stylish glasses, in The Chair. It's hard to describe the fabric. A modern weave that was kinda scratchy, enough so that you never wanted to sit in it in shorts. )

That chair traveled with the family from St Louis to Charleston, back to St Louis. After my dad died, the chair became my mother's throne. It travelled with her one more time, back to Charleston when we joined households. By this time, it was a bit tattered, so she had it reupholstered. Javaczuk marveled that she was able to find another fabric just as scratchy. 

At some point, my mother decided that though she loved The Chair, it was becoming hard for her to get in and out,  or to push it back to recline in, so she got another chair. The Other Chair wasn't allowed in the living room, because The Chair ruled there. But later, when we'd shifted to the house on the lake, the Other Chair, emerged and became part of the room we all spent the most time. I remember my nephew, who now is in high school, crawling all over it when he was under two, and delighting that he could make the seat of Other Chair shift into a reclining mode. After a bit, Other Chair, shifted again up to the cabin, so my mother could have a comfy spot there. Most of the pictures I have of her in it are really terrible, but I like this one,  because I love how she's bundled up inside the cabin, during winter (yes there was a fire going, maybe 5 feet away from her). As one who also is always cold, it makes me realize I come by my tendencies honestly.
The other picture, which I also love,  though it is not of my mother, was taken in 2006 or 2007. (The dating of it comes from the knowledge that we changed the curtains in 2007 and painted the door, but it was in the fall and this visit was spring.) Heatherico came up to the cabin with me for a visit. You can see who claimed the green chair in a characteristic arms over head pose.

We are now talking about selling the cabin, moving into yet another new phase of life. Some of the furniture will convey, some we'll sell, and some we'll keep. When the fires threatened the area, it was a lesson in "what would I miss the most? " There aren't that many things I really want to keep:  a painting or two, a gift from Heatherico I treasure, a picture, some things Javaczuk wants, and, the chair. But I was resigned that it might not be a possibility. Luckily, the forest fires, though they were close, didn't directly threaten our little haven. And when my sweetheart went up to winterize the place (there still was too much smoke in the area for me to safely go), he came back with what he could fit in the car from our list, including the chair.

We have it set up in our room, where Javaczuk has a reading nook in one corner and I now have one in the opposite corner. I started meditating in an effort to help improve my breathing and health, and the chair is my place of choice. I delight in curling up in it to read, or to have my tea. It's comfy, designed for diminuitve folks, and is stuffed full of memories. And every time I sink into it, I feel I am resting in the loving arms of dear ones now gone.

Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

I found this to be a powerful story of a single mother struggling to to right, to raise her young child, and to build memories for him as her own death from ovarian cancer draws nearer.  The characters rang true for me, and Grodstein made it easy for the reader to glimpse the struggles of Karen, as she struggles to find the right path to point her son, when she's gone, and to provide him with support and memories he can take on his own life journey when his mother is no longer there. I normally steer clear of politics, but Karen's job as a consultant was fascinating. The elements of her work that were wound into the story really were fascinating, and illuminating about the business of politics. However, the true strength of this book was the business of parenting and of creating a family.

Thank you to LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program and to the fine folks at Algonquin (who have yet to disappoint me in any book I've read that they've published) for sending this copy of the book to me.

From the Publisher: Karen Neulander, a successful New York political consultant, has always been fiercely protective of her son, Jacob, now six. She’s had to be: when Jacob’s father, Dave, found out Karen was pregnant and made it clear that fatherhood wasn’t in his plans, Karen walked out of the relationship, never telling Dave her intention was to raise their child alone.

But now Jake is asking to meet his dad, and with good reason: Karen is dying. When she finally calls her ex, she’s shocked to find Dave ecstatic about the son he never knew he had. First, he can’t meet Jake fast enough, and then, he can’t seem to leave him alone.

With just a few more months to live, Karen resists allowing Dave to insinuate himself into Jake’s life. As she tries to play out her last days in the “right” way, Karen wrestles with the truth that the only thing she cannot bring herself to do for her son--let his father become a permanent part of his life--is the thing he needs from her the most. With heart-wrenching poignancy, unexpected wit, and mordant humor, Lauren Grodstein has created an unforgettable story about parenthood, sacrifice, and life itself.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Know Thyself, and know thy Girls, whether they're lemons or melons

As Breast Cancer awareness and prevention month approaches, I've been inundated by requests to do one of those coy little games to raise awareness without actually saying anything.

Dammit, NO! Breast cancer is not a game. I lost my mother to it, and far too many other fabulous people, both women and men. 

So, instead, being the sort of nurse who always liked to teach, and who found that visuals were far more effective than I could be with my words, I've posted above The 12 signs of breast cancer, revealed. It's an amazing teaching tool developed a few years back by Corrine Ellsworth Beaumont (whose webpage lemomland.org appears to be down, but luckily the image was captured many times over on the internet).  It's easy to comprehend, and has been translated into loads of languages. 

12 signs of breast cancer, revealed
B. Pinching
C. Erosion
D. Red & Hot
E. New fluid
F. Dimpling
G. Puckering
H. Growing vein
I. Nipple retraction
J. Asymmetry
K. Orange skin
L.Invisible lump
With this, self-examine, and true awareness, we can make inroads on early detection of breast cancer. Outcomes are linked to how early the disease is found. 
This chart wasn't available when my mother was alive. Her first mass wasn't visible to the naked eye. When it recurred, she didn't know lemons, and dismissed the changes in her breast to all sorts of harmless things. It was only one of those happenstance embarrassments, (walking in on my mother while she was in deshabille) that allowed me to see her breast, notice the signs, and get her to treatment as soon as possible. 
Do yourself, and those who love you a favor: use all that you were given when you entered this life: your eyes, your hands, your brain, and more. Be aware; take care.
This post is dedicated to Ruthe Nadel, who made lemonade from lemons her whole life, but didn't know other uses for them to save that life. I wish she had. Miss you, Mama.
Ruthe, after her first radiation treatment. "Look at me! I'm  radiant!"


Thursday, January 12, 2017

From crockpot to cracked pot

Funny what strikes that sentimental spot in the heart. I've been thinking about my parents a lot lately, and mulling over the words for a post, but something else, equally sentimental, jumped queue.  Of all things, it is a crock pot that is pulling at my heartstrings.

When I moved out of the dorm, during my University years, my mother gifted me with a crock pot. (For the uninitiated, a slow cooker, that essentially let you heap lots of stuff into its maw, turn it on, and let it cook all day.) Yes, you can do the same thing with an oven, but this had the air of convenience about it. In essence, it was an electric bean cooker, that clever cogs over at Rival turned on to those of us who didn't have bean pots simmering on the back of our stoves. I used mine for stews, small roasts and fowl, and glorious soups. I still have that crockpot-- it's up at the cabin, with an ill-fitting lid from the days when I was at MUSC Children's and our division would do fundraisers which involved a lot of chili, hot dogs, and other sundry food items. (Somewhere out there, one of the other pediatric nurses has a crock pot with an ill fitting lid, because she got mine, instead.) I loved the meals that pot made, but honestly, it was a pain to clean. When my mother moved in with us, and brought her newer crock pot, with a removable crock lining, I switched loyalties and never looked back.

Mama's crock pot cooked up some great meals for us. I can't speak to what it did prior to 1988, when we all moved into a home together, but from that point on, that crockpot and I earned a heap of praise. (A token of how much I preferred it, is that it never had to make the trek to the MUSC Maternal-Child  Nursing lunches mentioned above. Little red was expendable once my mother's crock pot came into our lives.)

I used it weekly now, especially with just the two of us here at home. I can take a whole chicken from  the butcher, to roasted, to stew, and then use the bones for bone broth, all with the same kitchen helper. And the "set it and forget it" mode has always appealed to me, especially when I've had a day full of medical visits and appointments, and then walk into a home filled with the aroma of something roasting in the crock pot.

But a few days ago, as I cleaned the crock (as opposed to cleaning someone's clock) I noticed that after 35 years, there's a crack forming in the bottom of the crock. And, sadly, it goes clear through, though nothing has leaked yet. But, it's not long, I fear. Plus, I worry about the integrity of the crock and if whatever's under the glaze might not be safe if the glaze isn't intact.(There was a "Lead in slow cookers!" scare a few years back.)

Today, I retired my mother's crock pot. I did a lot of looking for a replacement, and while there are ones out there with bells, whistles, timers, and all sorts of extras. I'm not taking it tailgating, or serving dips or meatballs from it at parties. I didn't need handles, or vacuum sealed, or a carrying case. I didn't need a special slot to slip a meat thermometer.  No temperature control or timed settings.. I just wanted simple-- and a removable crock for cleaning.

Most places I checked locally (before resorting to Amazon or big box stores) only had the fancy ones. But I found my simple little crock pot, on/off with a few stops in between, and a removable liner. The woman who helped me at the store was delighted in my choice. She and I each showered praise on the simple crock pot, sharing recipes and memories (we'd each cared for our mother, each had one son, each worked full days which were often rescued by coming home and smelling the fragrance from the pot we'd set to cooking before we left for work.) Sure this one is a little 2017-- it's got a stainless exterior, but it's the innards that hold the real beauty. I'll put it through its paces this weekend. Prepare for some good smells and good eating... and a toast to my mother.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Thanks from Harry, and the rest of us, too

A few weeks ago, a neighbor I was quite fond of died. He was born the same year as my mother, which put him at 95, three years younger than my father would have been. In the aftermath of my neighbor's passing, others have spent time sharing small stories of him. At one point, someone praised the fortitude and remarkable nature of so many of my parent's generation, remarking they weren't called "the Greatest Generation" for nothing. 

In going through some more memorabilia, I found this letter from Harry Truman. I like to think it shows a certain class and dignity I have long associated with the Office of the President. 

 I've now looked up the birth year range of The Greatest Generation (formerly the GI Generation) and see that it spans from 1910 to 1924.  And though the youngest would be 93 and the oldest 107, I, for one, am still grateful for their service and sacrifice.