Yet Another Milestone I’d Rather Avoid

tombstone2

 

According to the saying, “A diamond is forever.”  That’s why engagement rings have diamonds – they symbolize permanence.  But I know a rock that makes a diamond look as fleeting as a Popsicle on a summer sidewalk, and that’s a tombstone.

My husband and I just bought cemetery plots.

This shouldn’t be a big deal – after all, I’m on our church cemetery board.   But I must admit the experience has me a bit rattled.   When you buy a grave, you’re coming face-to-face with some major-league, weighty truths:

  • I am a grownup. I can think of a million things I’d rather spend our hard-earned cash on: designer clothes, exotic vacations or cosmetic surgery.  We could have bought a sophisticated condo in the city or a beach-front time-share in Waikiki.  Instead, our secondary residence is a little getaway in Forest Lawn.   I’m hoping 57-year-old Peg’s righteous glow of self-satisfaction will eventually outshine inner-21-year-old Peg’s disgust at such a sucky use of money.
  •  I am going to stay here forever.   My parents dragged us around the cemeteries in my hometown every Memorial Day when we were kids.   We weeded around the headstones while Mom told us how the people under them fit into our family tree.  Now we’ve got a place for our kids to weed and recite our lineage.  Nothing tethers you to an area like being permanently planted in the ground there.

Don’t get me wrong; I like it fine here.  But I’ve always held the secret fantasy of living somewhere a bit more exotic.  I could see myself in a hut on a tropical island, living off fish and coconuts (supplemented by a monthly supply boat full of Little Debbie Snack Cakes.)   Fat chance of that happening now.  We’ve done the last real estate deal you’ll ever do.

  • I am going to be with this person forever. Most of us mean it when we take our marriage vows; I certainly did, and after almost 35 years I think it’s safe to say this relationship is going to last.  But there’s always that teeny, tiny voice in the back of one’s head whispering, “If this doesn’t work, I’m outta here!”  No more.   You don’t know the meaning of the word “commitment” until you agree to lie side-by-side with someone for eternity.
  • I am going to die. We’re all going to die, obviously. I don’t have any immediate plans to do so, but who knows?   I believe that life is a preparation for eternal happiness with God, yet knowing something intellectually and believing in hazy euphemisms is entirely different from coming face-to-face with the reality that I am personally going to shuffle off this mortal coil.  My essence is going to flee my body (hopefully accompanied by angels singing me to my heavenly reward) and my earthly remains are going into a box for the final move to our cozy, little hideaway, complete with pastoral views.

Any one of these concepts is tough to handle; all of them stacked together makes a reality sandwich that’s hard to swallow.

I’ve become more reconciled to the idea now that we’ve signed on the dotted line.  I can even see a number of benefits to this arrangement.  Snow removal and yard maintenance are constant hassles at our current home in the country.  When we move to our new place, we’ll be able to lie back, relax, and let someone else mow the grass.  Right over our heads.

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Posted in General Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 65 Comments

America Needs More Taxes

I dusted off this once Freshly Pressed post and gussied it up a bit in honor of America’s fast-approaching day of financial angst.

Pass these fabulous ideas along to any elected officials you know, OK?

If you do the crime, you pay the fine.

What’s wrong with America is some of y’all need to pay more taxes.

Most of us are doing our tax returns right about now, and that usually involves complaining about how much we have to pay.  Don’t look at it as a bad thing.  Taxes raise money, sure, but the government also uses taxes to change our behavior.  We are encouraged to do some things like buy houses, solar panels and windmills, and not do others like smoking, drinking and driving gas-guzzling cars.

I’ve come up with a comprehensive tax plan that expands on that idea.  My plan will bring in much needed cash, and encourage everyone to follow the “right” path.

Here’s a partial list of proposed taxes:

Individuals

  • Me No Like-y Tax:  Each time the word “like” is used, except to express a preference, or to compare things, it will be taxed.  Tax collectors will be stationed in junior highs, high schools and malls on a Saturday afternoon.
  • Scanties Tax:  This fine is imposed each time we are forced to look at someone’s underwear because his or her pants are too low.  Also levied if the person is wearing what they call leggings, but which are clearly nothing more than pantyhose. The fine will be doubled if the low pants reveal an area that SHOULD be underwear-clad, but isn’t – the BCC addendum (Butt-Crack Cleavage).  The fine is waived if the person is a professional underwear model.
  • Tortoise Tax:  This is levied against anyone driving more than 5 miles below the speed limit.  Tax doubled if it is rush hour, if there is only one lane available, or if the offender is hanging out in the passing lane.
  • Gimme Shelter Tax: Fine levied on people who feel the need to attach the word “shelter” or “rescue” every time they talk about their pets, as if that were some type of breed, so that everyone knows what big-hearted humanitarians they are.  An invoice for ten times the usual fine will be  automatically generated for celebrities when interviewed by People, Us Weekly and similar magazines, as they are practically guaranteed to use these words.

Businesses

  • Murdering the King’s English Tax:  Imposed on businesses that deliberately misspell, misuse and generally slaughter the English language.  This will be levied for:
    • Using dumbed-down synonyms like: lite, rite, hunny, nu, ez
    • Adding “e” to words to make them looke olde
    • Substituting “k” for “c” to kompel kute alliteration
  • Nobody’s Home Tax:  Imposed on businesses that use computer telephone answering systems without the option to press zero to reach a human.  The tax is doubled if the phone recording is set for “folksy” and says things like “OK, let me look that up for you.”  Nobody is looking anything up.  Don’t you think we get that we’re talking to a computer?
  • Green Is The Color Of Money Tax:  Fines are levied on companies for changing the packaging or advertising on the same old stuff, solely to jump on the “green” bandwagon.  A corresponding tax will also be levied on the consumer who buys stuff to give the appearance of caring for the environment, without actually making any changes in how they live.

I was thinking of a flat 10 cents tax per infraction, but we can work out the details later.  I welcome input as we get the dialogue going.

I welcome constructive input, that is.  Some critics have said this is nothing more than a scheme to punish people who do things that bother me.  To these cynics I say; let me introduce you to the Smart Ass Tax.

That will be 10 cents each, please.

 

 

Posted in General Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , | 35 Comments

How Your Attitude Towards Socks Acts As A Rorschach Test Of Emotional Functionality. Yup. Yuppers.

Do you see what I see?

There are 2 kinds of people in the world:  those to whom life is an adventure to be seized and savored, and those who hold on to orphaned socks.

I keep mine in a laundry bag under my bed.

My sock bag contains:

  • 1 chunky, green, knit Christmas reindeer sock with a hole in the heel.
  • 10 basic, black trouser socks whose slightly different tone-on-tone patterns would be glaringly obvious in the cold, fluorescent light of an office day.
  • Enough mismatched hospital socks with the built-in rubber treads to indicate we’re not as healthy as I like to think.
  • More white cotton tube socks and tennis footies than I can count.  I swear they multiply in the dark.

This inventory doesn’t even include our kids’ socks.  The girls have moved up and out, but their orphans remain.

Every couple of months, while folding laundry on my bed on a Saturday morning, I get out the bag and play matchmaker.  Sometimes I call “good enough” on the footies -who sees them peeking out of tennis shoes?  Occasionally I decide my pants will hide the differences on the trouser socks.  But these are arranged marriages; an honest-to-goodness match is rare.  When that happens I feel an unreasonable thrill of accomplishment.  The newly reunited couple goes two-by-two with their matched-up brethren into my sock drawer ark, while the orphans go lonely back to their dusty hiding place.

My mom kept her mismatches in a basket permanently stationed on the farm table in the basement where she folded laundry.  The contents of that basket didn’t change one bit from my childhood until the folks sold the family home some years ago.  There was a well-darned muslin specimen at the bottom of the basket which probably came over from Ireland with my mom’s great-great-grandmother 150 years ago.  It’s at the bottom of my sock bag now, passed on like bread starter from home to home.

I started thinking about this topic because a friend posted on Facebook that she threw out all of her unmatched socks.

It’s almost inconceivable.  To throw them away… ALL of them?  A person who could do that could do anything.   They could quit their 9-5 job, write the book they always meant to, or hike the Appalachian Trail.  The sky’s the limit for someone with that kind of daring!

That could be me, I thought.  I could get rid of my orphan socks.  I could march to the trash can right damn now, throw them all in, and not even save them for rags.   There’s nothing to stop me – I could DO it!

The enormity of what I was considering struck me like an avalanche and left me quivering with anxiety.  It took hours of rocking in a fetal position cradling an empty coffee can before I felt calm again. (I’ve got a huge stash of coffee cans in the basement – you never know when you might need one.)

Holding on to orphaned socks may indicate I have a pitiful need for security and routine that manifests itself as an unnatural attachment to things.

Or not.

An alternative interpretation is that I’m an eternal optimist.  Maybe, instead of a neurotic psycho, I’m a hopeless romantic always looking for a happy ending.

I’d better not rush into anything with the socks.  Who knows?  After I’m dead and gone my kids might finally find the mate to my rainbow-striped toe sock.  I’ve been holding onto it  since 6th grade.

Posted in General Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

The Astonishingly Amazing Work-For-It Diet

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to lose weight.  Imagine that.    That’s why I found myself wrestling with half a grapefruit at lunch today.  Taming that grapefruit took a lot more effort than it ever did to wolf down my usual lunch; a Supersized Big Mac Value Meal.    I worked up a sweat digging out the juicy bits stubbornly clinging to the bottom, and, when one citric acid squirt got me square in the eye, must have burned off 200 calories doing the Angry Swearing Dance of Owwie Pain.

Foods in their natural states are generally both lower in calories and a whole lot more work to get mouth-ready.  Processed foods, by their very definition, have already been processed.  All you have to do is open the package. (1)  These facts are the building blocks for Peg-Co’s revolutionary new weight loss plan…

The Work-for-it Diet.

The nutritionistas at Peg-Co have done lots and lots of really scientific research to come up with this plan.   With the Work-for-it-Diet you avoid all processed foods.  You’ll lose weight naturally, organically, by eating only things you grow, hunt, gather and prepare yourself.  Our cardinal rule is:

  If you didn’t bag it, you can’t eat it. (2)

A couple of examples will dramatically illustrate how much more effort natural foods require than (practically) the exact same food in its processed state.


Zebra

zebra

  • Buy a big gun
  • Learn to shoot
  • Fly to Africa
  • Go on safari
  • Camp out in the bush
  • Shoot zebra
  • Skin zebra
  • Marinate zebra in a combination of soy sauce, garlic and olive oil for approximately 8 hours (15 minutes if no refrigeration available)
  • Gather wood
  • Make bonfire
  • Cook zebra
  • Eat zebra
  • Contract intestinal parasite resulting in the loss of zebra and rest of the contents of your digestive tract, from both ends, round the clock for the next 7 days

Calories gained: negative 30,000

 Little Debbie Zebra Cakes

zebracakes

 

  • Drive to store
  • Buy box of Little Debbie Zebra Cakes
  • Open box via EZ-rip perforated strip
  • Open cellophane wrapper on individually wrapped cake
  • Eat zebra cake
  • Repeat until box is empty

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calories gained: 4,000

 

 

 

Appleapple

  • Plant apple seed
  • Provide sun, rain and fertilizer for 10 years until you have an apple tree capable of bearing fruit
  • Spray pesticides like Alar so worms and bugs leave a little for you
  • Build, equip and maintain migrant housing that is fully compliant with all ADA, OSHA and INS regulations
  • Fail OSHA inspection, can’t hire workers, harvest apple yourself
  • Wash the hell out of apple to remove all traces of Alar which leading scientists like Meryl Streep say causes children to be born with 5 heads
  • Eat apple

Calories gained: 50

Appletini

appletini2

  • Go to bar
  • Order Appletini
  • Drink Appletini
  • Order Appletini #2
  • Drink Appletini
  • Order Appletini #3
  • Drink Appletini
  • Make bad food choice and single-handedly consume entire fried Blooming Onion
  • Order Appletini #…#… who’s counting?
  • Drink Appletini
  • Make bad life choice and hook up with loser you wouldn’t have given the time of day pre-Appletini

Calories gained: 5,400

 

With the Peg-Co diet, you’ll see dramatic results right away and will look like a high-fashion runway model in no time.   Heck, you’ll be lucky if you can take in enough calories to sustain basic human bodily functions!

One of our many, satisfied customers.

How much would you expect to pay to unlock the secrets of permanent weight loss forever – $100?  $1000?  $1,523,789???  Put away your wallet, because the Work-For-It Diet is FREE.  You read that right.  Motivated solely by concern for the well-being and health of  mankind, Peg-Co is providing this life-changing diet absolutely FREE. Call and the Work-For-it-Diet, printed on a sheet of high quality, 20-pound copy paper, will be rushed to you via 3rd class mail.  Just pay the separate low, low, shipping and handling charge in four EZ installments of $29.99 each.   You’re welcome.

Reserve your FREE copy of the Peg-Co Work-For-It Diet today.  Money back if you are not completely satisfied!  (Except for the separate low, low shipping and handling charge in four EZ installments of $29.99 each.  We keep that. ) Peg-Co operators are standing by, so call now!(3)

 

(1) Although still somewhat easier than tracking and bagging live prey, opening a modern package is often a challenge in and of itself.  Why do packages, especially those wrapped in cellophane, rip everywhere EXCEPT along the seam where you want it to, with the result that you have breakfast cereal, beef jerky or Little Debbie Zebra Cakes flying all over the place?  I have 2 nephews in the packaging business and a third in college studying to join them, and whenever I am foiled by a confounded package, I shake my fist at the sky and yell, “Curse you packaging nephews!”  Feel free to do the same – it helps to vent a little spleen.

(2) The one exception to the cardinal rule is that tap and bottled water are allowed.  The Peg-Co nutritionistas decided it might be unreasonable to require each dieter to dig their own well.

(3) Neither Peg-Co nor its parent company, Peg-o-Leg Industries, is responsible for any bad stuff that could possibly happen while on the Work-For-It Diet, including but not limited to:

  • being stranded in an unstable country during a military coup while on safari
  • getting sick from mushrooms you gathered which you thought were those yummy kind you’ve had sauteed in butter at nice restaurants, but it turns out there’s a poisonous kind that looks just like them
  • tickets and fines for taking down squirrels and assorted small animals in the neighborhood if hunting is not allowed within city limits.

Peg-Co is entitled to a 10% finders fee if dieter lands a contract as a high fashion model after their extreme weight loss.

Posted in General Ramblings, Peg-Co Catalog | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

We Go to Ireland

Newgrange

My sister Libby and I boarded a plane for Ireland eight years ago this St. Patrick’s Day.  It was definitely a bucket list trip.

Our adventure was also the impetus for my first foray into blogging, which was intended solely for my family, as you will gather if you read the entries.  It started out as a series of long, involved emails until a cousin suggested a blog would be a better way to let our extended family read about the trip.  She was either trying to free up her email inbox or encourage me to write even more – I have never decided which.   I put the blog away after the travelogue and didn’t resurrect it for general audiences until a year later.

I’m reprinting our travel blog in all its glory in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.   I’ve added photos (something I didn’t know how to do in 2009) and present links to each post at the bottom of this one.  They’re listed in the order written in case you want to travel along with us.

I should warn you that it is a loooong journey, literary-wise.  The trip didn’t take as long as the telling about it did, as one helpful sibling pointed out.  Several times.  It seems I hadn’t figured out editing back then, either.

************************************************************************************

We had a wonderful time in the land of our ancestors. We got in to the Dublin airport early in the morning, after about 3 hours of sleep, and decided to head north from the airport to see the sights and get used to the driving away from the city.

Lib and I went to an ancient burial site called Newgrange that is 1000 years older than Stonehenge and 100 years older than the pyramids. It was really impressive. The weather was lovely, sunny with blue skies and daffodils were in bloom everywhere. In fact, everyone we met wherever we went remarked that the weather the week we were in Ireland was the nicest it had been in 2 years.

After lunch at a pub in a charming little town, we decided mid-afternoon to head for the city and find our hotel.

See the street sign? Up on the second floor on the left, tiny and faded? Yeah. Try reading THAT while zipping around in a car.

Our first day in Dublin was taken straight from Dante’s 3rd circle of hell, the one with really narrow streets (none of them straight or grid-like), huge buses and suicidal bike riders all over. There are no visible street signs and traffic is moving too quickly to dare stop and ask anyone where you are. We later learned they have plaques mounted on the second story of the buildings that tell the street names. You can’t actually see them from the street – you have to stand right under them, and squint up through a telescope. But don’t get too attached to that street name, because it is sure to change in the next block. I’m not kidding. We hit Dublin the first day around rush hour, minus a map of the city and suffering from serious jet lag. It is a testament to our Christian upbringing that Lib and I were still on speaking terms when we finally dragged our spineless bodies into the hotel after a couple of hours of aimless, terror-filled city driving.

The next day, after a good night’s sleep, we set out to conquer Dublin on foot, armed with a good map. We toured a typical Georgian gentleman’s house on the square, went through the park, admired the architecture, went to Trinity College and looked at the beautiful illuminated manuscripts and their 2 story, vaulted library. We walked over the Liffey River to the historic post office, hit some shops for souvenirs, had breakfast in a little basement restaurant, coffee in a cafe and dinner in a pub right downtown. We split fish and chips and shepherds pie, served by a young Asian man with an Irish accent.

Kilmainham Gaol

We even braved the extensive bus system to get out to the old jail, Kilmainham. We arrived at 4 to be told that the last tour of the day was sold out. This was one of the few places Lib really wanted to see, so that was disappointing. We spend a few $ to get into the museum and strolled around in a desultory fashion trying to get a feel for the place before we had to head back out to try to figure out what bus would take us back to the city center. The tour group left from the museum and we asked the young woman holding the door if they possibly had any cancellations so we could join the tour. She looked around furtively and said “get along with you then; I didn’t see a thing” and motioned us after the departing tour group. So we got our tour after all!

It was a sobering place with a rich history. During the potato famine, the place swelled with people who preferred jail to freedom because they would at least have a roof and a little food. Later it was a political prison that saw the deaths of countless Irishmen who fought for centuries to get out from under the English thumb.

Yum!

When we stayed at B&Bs, we had the full Irish breakfast every morning. This consists of one egg, baked beans, 2 pieces of what they call bacon, which we would call ham, 2 large pieces of sausage, toast and black or white pudding. This is actually another kind of sausage, with or without blood. We took it without the blood, thank you very much. If you were lucky, they served brown bread. I developed a passion for Irish scones and chewy brown bread that rivals Mom’s baked goods obsession.

Some OTHER people recently visiting the country developed such a nose for the ale that she (I mean the mythical person) could tell from across the room whether the drops spilled on the pub floor were Guinness, Swithwick, Murphys or, God forbid, Heineken. She (I still mean the mythical person) could further place the source of the brew’s hops in the proper county, within 2 kilometers of the farm, and speculate intelligently on which of the farmer’s sheep had fertilized the field. That requires a level of dedicated study heretofore unheard of in one week’s time. But what happens in Ireland stays in Ireland, as they say.

Anyway, enough of a travelogue for now.

Hope all is well with all of you-
Lots of love,
Peg

Our travels continue…

Lib’s rebuttal

First Night

On To Cork

Still Bound For Cork

Finally, Cork

Hoary Bitch

From Cork to Cobh to Limerick

Wherein We Meet Our Cousin

The Craic

The Soul of Ireland

The Quiet Man

To Athlone and Beyond

Maynooth College

Farewell to Ireland

 

 

 

Posted in Ireland - Dublin and Publin' | Tagged , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Dancing Through the Raindrops

peginrain

Longfellow’s classic poem warns, “Into each life some rain must fall.”  But how are we supposed to cope when life seems to be a never-ending series of gully-washers?

A couple of months ago I took a trip to Washington state with two of my sisters, Carolyn and Libby.  A branch of our extended family migrated there 35 years ago and we were excited to see our cousins, their families, and the Seattle area.   Mother Nature was on her best behavior and it only rained once, despite the area’s well-earned reputation for drizzle.  Seattleites have had to master the art of dashing between the raindrops.

That sounds like a game plan for life.

Our trip to Seattle was both extra special and challenging to orchestrate because we had to plan around my sisters’ medical appointments.  They both have cancer.

That disease has brought more torrential storms to our family than anyone could have dreamt:

21 years ago my nephew Michael was diagnosed at birth with cancer of the eyes.
19 years ago my brother Pat, Michael’s father, was diagnosed with brain cancer.
9 years ago my husband Bill was diagnosed with melanoma.
7 years ago my sister Mary Kay was diagnosed with breast cancer.
6 years ago my sister Libby was diagnosed with brain cancer.
3 years ago my brother Bill was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue.
1 year ago my sister Carolyn was diagnosed with breast cancer.

This list doesn’t even include dear cousins, aunts and uncles who have also had cancer.  The big C is the big rainmaker in our family, but the bad weather doesn’t stop there.  2016 was also a banner year for non-cancerous deluges like my husband’s several trips to the hospital,  my dad’s failing strength, my niece Faith’s recurring health challenges, and my sister Terry’s house burning to the ground.

We need an ark.

For God’s sake, sometimes I think we should build an ark, march the people we love into it two-by-two, batten down the hatches and ride out the storms.  We could hide until the sun shines again and a white dove sent out as emissary returns with an olive branch in its beak.  Then we’ll know that dry land is near, and it will never rain again.  Except it will.

There will always be rain.  Life needs rain as much as it needs sun, and we don’t get to choose the weather; all we can control is how we handle it.  We can trudge through the rain in weary acceptance, head down, concentrating on the puddles at our feet.  We can dash through, blind to our surroundings and focused on a distant point where we hope to be safe and dry.  Or we can dance.

I want to dance.

I want to dance full out, arms a-twirling, holding nothing back.  I want to dance, not just between the showers, but right into the heart of the storm.  Life can’t be put on hold until we get the weather we want in some faraway future.  It happens whether we’re feelin’ it or not.  If we’re looking down or running blindly forward, we’ll miss the silver lining edging the clouds.  We’ll miss the sun peaking out at last, as it always does, turning the raindrops to sparkling diamonds.  We’ll miss the arcing promise of a rainbow.

We don’t want to miss any of it because, as I constantly have to remind myself, every moment of life is a gift worthy of celebration.

Libby, me and Carolyn. Up, up and away!

Libby, me and Carolyn. Up, up and away!

That’s why we boogied over to Seattle.  The scenery was spectacular, our cousins were fabulous, and we treasured every moment together.  That’s why Carolyn and I put on our dancing shoes again last month when she had a few weeks between surgery and radiation, beating the crowds down to New Orleans for a pre-Mardi Gras weekend tango.  We had a blast.

My family has had its share of sorrow, but we’ve also been blessed with silver linings enough to replate every tea service in Buckingham Palace.

We lost Pat when he was 35, but his wife and children are thriving, loving credits to him.  Michael will graduate from college this year.

Mary Kay, Bill and my husband are out of the woods and cancer free.

Carolyn had every possible nasty side effect from chemo and surgery, a track record we hope won’t continue during radiation, but her prognosis is good.

Terry and her husband lost almost everything they owned in the fire, but recently moved into a brand new house which is the envy of the neighborhood.

Faith, who was born with multiple health problems, continues to learn and grow.  At 6-years-old she has made developmental strides that many never thought possible.

img_20170124_120257459_burst002

Carolyn & I preparing to grab mint juleps and don hoop skirts at a New Orleans plantation.

Libby’s long-term prognosis is not great, but she responded miraculously to a new chemo last year and is still living her life.  She’s not giving up despite the challenges that have come along with cancer and radiation to the brain.   Libby makes every day count by helping others and seeking the Lord, and her determination inspires me no end.

Our family has drawn even closer through these storms.  The in-town siblings and our parents have gone above and beyond to help one another, while the out-of-towners have stepped up their visits and calls, pitching in wherever they can.  Witnessing this goodness is the brilliant silver shining through dark clouds, as are our children and now grandchildren who grow and flourish.  Life goes on.

None of us knows how many days we’ll get.  The weatherman is a notoriously lousy forecaster.  Life, with its ever-shifting patterns of joy and despair, is here – right here, and right now.  Whether we have thousands of tomorrows, or only today, whether in sunshine or in rain, let us vow to make every one of those days count.

Come on!  Let’s dance.

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I got a little present in the mail the day before our trip to Seattle.  It was a book I had been anticipating; “Beauty and the Breast” by Merrill Joan Gerber.

Merrill’s editor, Catherine, reached out to me last year to ask if they could use an illustration I’d crafted in Merrill’s upcoming memoir.   It was from a post, “Playing The Cancer Card,”   I was delighted to be included and not just because of the very kind plug she gave me in the book.  Merrill’s description of her journey through the strange, new world of cancer is warm and wise.  It’s by turn funny and despairing, but always heartrendingly personal.

Here’s an excerpt that showcases Merrill’s powerful writing.  She describes the moments right after her doctor said the word that changed her life forever:

“A nurse arrives with my husband.  “I have cancer,” I say.  He takes my hand.  He’s not the Joe he used to be either.  We are sliding on black ice straight down a steep mountain; we are about to crash and burn.”

Her story was all the more gripping because, as it turns out, Merrill had the same type of breast cancer as my sister, Carolyn.

This is a great read for anyone, especially those going through cancer treatment.    Don’t take my word for it.  Here are just a couple of the glowing reviews “Beauty and the Breast” has garnered from authors who certainly know more than I about good writing:

beauty-and-the-breast“An intimate, touching, moving portrait of the self in peril and in pain…” – Joyce Carol Oates

“I LOVE IT!! I could not put it down.” – Judy Blume

Click on the link to learn more about, “Beauty and the Breast” , buy it on Amazon, and travel with Merrill on her journey through the storm.  You won’t be sorry.

 

Posted in Cancer Schmancer | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 57 Comments

Freedom’s Just Another Word For, “What The Hell – I Already Look Like A Doofus”

freedommuddyhiking

 

I love to hike.  Scrambling up hill, down dale, fording streams and generally giving Mother Nature a run for her money, I like to think I’m as nimble as a young mountain goat.  Turns out I’m not.

In the natural order of things, right about now those of us in the Midwest would be slipping & sliding on ice, shivering & yearning for the first non-parka day of early spring, which won’t arrive for another month yet.  Instead we’ve got summer.  We had 68 sunny degrees here this weekend, while my kids were shivering in the mid-50s in San Francisco.  Bizarre.  I’m not complaining mind you, but it is none-the-less bizarre.

I woke early on Sunday planning to pack that gift-of-a-day with activities, including a hike in the Great Outdoors and some recreational shopping.  I got to Matthiessen State Park by 10:30 figuring I’d beat the throngs, but it was already too late.   I used to have the place to myself before tourists discovered it a few years ago.  Now the parking lot was full to bursting and they were repelling boarders.  Everyone and their dog had decided to commune with nature.

“Don’t people go to church on Sundays anymore?” I grumbled to myself as I drove through, back out to the highway, and considered plan B.  I didn’t even bother with the main parking lot at Starved Rock State Park– it’s even more popular than Matthiessen. Instead I went to a lesser-known trail on the outskirts on the park, and got one of the last open parking spots in the lot.

I wish everyone would get out and experience the joys of nature.  In theory.  In practice I wish they would wait to experience those joys when I’m not around.  People in general are an annoyance when one is seeking solitary contentment and screaming children are, in particular, a menace to peace. Helpful parenting tip here:  Why not keep your children at home until they are old enough to behave in polite society?  Around age 25 seems about right.

As usual, my first task upon hitting the trail was finding a suitable walking stick.   You never know when you’ll need one to help climb steep trails or ward off unfriendly dogs.  Or children.   Our way-too-early spring thaw drew moisture out of the frozen ground and turned most of the trails to muddy quagmires intersected by spontaneous streams, but I trudged on joyfully, accumulating ½ inch of mud on my shoes every yard, and breathing great, gulping lungsful of the fresh, warm air.

My first major obstacle was a stream that’s a problem in all but the driest times.  It is about 15 feet across, it spans the valley and there’s no way to get around it; the only options are up and over or through.  I wasn’t turning back this soon so I reconnoitered and found 3 likely spots to cross, each fraught with danger.   I chose a jumble of fallen branches and rocks at the far end of the stream up against a canyon wall.  I chose badly.

The walking stick came in handy here and I plunged it into foot-deep water to steady myself as I inched slowly across the 10-inch diameter log which formed most of my bridge.  But it was round and slick with mud and just as I reached the end and was considering which rock or branch to leap onto, gravity had her way with me.

I went over with an undignified flailing of arms.   I’m sure it looked pretty funny, and I would have laughed heartily had it happened to you.  I landed on one foot, teetering and tottering on the rocky, branch-strewn creek bed and managed to stay upright by sheer luck.  I trudged the remainder of the way through the water, through muddy quicksand aggressively trying to keep my aging sneakers, used a low-growing sapling to scramble inelegantly up the opposite bank of slick clay, and stopped to take stock.

My tennies wore mud overboots and the bottom eight inches of my pants were soaking wet.  A quick look around revealed nobody had witnessed my dunking, thankfully, but it’s not as if I could hide the evidence.  One look at the tell-tale ombré of my jeans, light blue at the top blending to indigo at the soaked bottoms, would tell all and sundry of my hiker’s shame.

I didn’t give up then, not precisely, but slow and careful seemed rather pointless.  This was just the first of the many streams I encountered, and I wound up with about a 30% failure rate.  Not impressive.   I wasn’t cold or uncomfortable, just a tad self-conscious.  I squelched when I walked.

On the way back I stopped at a stream I had safely navigated on the way out, and now found a line of people waiting to pick their way across a bridge improvised out of rocks and fallen limbs not big enough to be called trunks.  One young woman, obviously terrified, was moving as tentatively as if she was The Great Santini crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope without a net.

In the immortal words of Janis Joplin, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. “What the hell!” says I to me.  I skipped the line and splashed the 10 feet across the stream. The water was a measly schmeasly inch deep.

I didn’t mind about my wet pants after that.  That last dunking was my choice, and that choosing cancelled out all the inadvertent wettings, at least in my mind.

As I neared the parking lot a crop of fresh hikers came toward me on the trail.  They glanced at me, took in my wet pants and muddied shoes, and hastily averted their eyes.  “So what?”  I silently rebelled.  “At least I put myself out there.  If others think I’m a clumsy doofus, well, to hell with them.  I’ll bet good money more than one of these people will be similarly soaked on the way back.”  I held my head up high as I squelched by the pristine newbies.

I ended up skipping the shopping trip after the hike.  It’s not because I was ashamed of my soaked pants – I wore them proudly.   They were badges of honor.  They bore witness to my determination to get up off the couch, go out in the fresh air and enjoy the natural beauty that is one of God’s greatest accomplishments!

The thing is, I was exhausted.  What with the 5 gallons of water that had soaked into my jeans and 10 extra pounds of mud on each shoe, my little nature hike wound up being a total cardio workout.

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