Sunday, October 31, 2010

I've Never Seen the Northern Lights

In which our Lady of the Skies looks upward

                Tonight, I froze my toosh off standing outside my house and looking up at the sky.  The clouds were so beautiful that for the first few seconds I actually thought they might be the northern lights, but there was no color to them other than what they reflected back of the city lights, and after a minute I could see them moving with the wind.  The evenings are finally dark here in Alaska.  Over my head the clouds looked similar to spidery cobwebs—like the fake kind people use to decorate on Halloween.  How fitting for the evening, it being All Hallows Eve and all.  Farther away they began to look like the frothy waves of the ocean, complete with spume and spray, as well as the dark underbelly of a few larger waves.  Mysterious creatures dwell beneath those kind of waves.  Then they drifted and transformed into dry sand dunes during a dust storm (as seen in movies, of course, when the hero must protect a beautiful woman by shielding her body under his cloak as they hug the side of a cuddly camel).  Dust streaked from the tops of the mounds as the wind whistled over the distant landscape of dunes.  I could almost smell the dryness wafting over from the clouds into Anchorage’s brittle, sharp, and cuttingly cold stillness.  I shivered deeper into the cocooning warmth of my coat and boots and knew gratitude for the gift of the perfect view from my house here in this specific time and place.  Someday I will finally see the Northern Lights, but until then, I will be content to contemplate vistas of spider silk, stormy sea and baked sand. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Case of the Unsold Child

In which our Lady attempts to rid herself of the Thing she loves most. 

                Is it terrible that I tried to sell my helpless, innocent daughter off this morning on the internet?  It is true.  I felt devastatingly tired, and it seemed that finding a babysitter on Facebook would solve all my problems.  My usual Saturday morning plan is to let my husband take over with Eva.  Unfortunately, I married an Eagle Scout, and that seems to mean that he will forever be at Scout campouts on the weekends.  Mothers, quit telling your daughters to marry an Eagle Scout!  It is an overrated thing on a Saturday morning.  Anyway, there were no in-state offers.  Poor Eva had to hang out with her tired and therefore boring mother.  Next time, my plan is to demand money for the child.  I’m sure people will take it more seriously. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Losing Effort

In which our Heroine refuses to go down gracefully.

The main question here today is: What is a person willing to go through to win?  Pain, humiliation? Desperate exhaustion? Yesterday, I put my consummate Samurai skills to the test and felt all these things in a heart-stopping one minute game at a Halloween party.  The game involved using rubber bands to shoot empty soda cans off a table (see Minute-to-Win-It on nbc.com—very fun minute-long games that should be played at all future parties, regardless of theme).  I thought that I knew how to flick a rubber band, but dag-nabit, the things kept hitting the knuckle of my pointer finger before flipping off in unknown directions.  OW.  Every single time.  No, I did not give up, but kept on painfully flicking my own finger off.  Unfortunately, my Samurai armor (which I was wearing, yes) did nothing to protect me in this instance.  Or later, in a competition that involved stacking up plastic cups into a pyramid and then sliding them back down into a neat little stack in practically no time flat.  I found that I was definitely running with some serious imposition as my slightly gimpy left hand began to shake a little under the effort of prying apart my stuck together cups while holding the stack at the same time.  I felt like a drug addict without her fix as I shakily stacked stupid household items toward a nearly meaningless purpose.  I hoped no one was noticing my inability to stand and stack without trembling exhaustedly and continued to pursue the win like you wouldn’t believe.  I was winning… and then one of the other competitors crippled my cup pyramid because he could see that he was clearly losing.  It was funny when it happened.  But there was also a kind of mental thud as I came back to myself and realized I needed to sit down from all this futile effort.
It is possible that much of my effort is passed in futility.  I expend effort to finish a book or a movie that will have no bearing on future events of any great moment.  I painstakingly write a blog post every day so friends won’t have to ask me all the same questions all the time, only to have them ask at parties, thus making it clear that they haven’t looked at my blog since the first week.  I make food for my child that she will not eat.  I carefully file my paperwork only to find I can't find a single thing when I need it. I go for walks every day with no goal in mind other than finding a route that doesn’t completely overlap itself.  I spend an hour and a half making a Samurai Halloween costume out of a cardboard box. Because my energy and my time are very finite right now, I find this expending of futile energy particularly frustrating.  So, the follow-up question: how to make my life more meaningful and fulfilled—especially now that I do indeed have a second chance at it?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Had to Become a Samurai to Use a Bo-Staff

In which our Heroine learns the Tricks of the Hero-Trade.

Last night, I spent several hours cutting and bending cardboard in the hopes of making a homemade Halloween costume.   My idea was a cardboard Samurai, and my daring hope that I’d look good even though I’m running on a budget of zero.  Today I had an auspicious occurrence at physical therapy—one that I’m sure indicates that my cardboard Samurai armor is virtually meant to be.  Again, it felt like a video game (except minus the Wii) as I squatted atop these squishy rubber pillow-things with a bo-staff in my hands, exerting great effort at maintaining my balance along with my high-blown sense of dignity.  I faced myself in a giant mirror as I held the pole out in front of me and moved from rubbery foot thingy to rubbery foot thingy smacking cones off of foam or rubber pillars.   I stared myself down and it felt like the best Samurai or martial art training movie I’d ever seen as I watched myself swing the pole across in front of me and neatly sweep the cone off its base.  Now all I need to complete my traditional Samurai training is a Japanese tea ceremony and an evil army out to get my favorite Emperor.  Oh—and a finished Halloween costume.  I've included a photo of me below so you get the idea.  I'm the one on the right, with my physical therapist standing on left.  The hairy guy is my husband.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why Insurance Companies Hate Me

In which our Lady uses her insurance—and how.

There’s nothing like getting a bill in the mail for $76,066.85.  And it doesn’t even include my ER venture at Mat-su Regional, any check-ups and Dr.’s visits, or even the actual surgery.  76 K for a week long stay, including an expensive ACC visit for 24 hours (21 K—and for what? The Bolshevik Revolution, apparently) Remember, I didn’t have to go through chemo and radiation, so none of those would-be expenses are included either.   Thankfully, my out of pocket maximum is only $1000, so as soon as I convince my dubious health insurance company that they are indeed my primary and only hope for coverage, I should be able to keep out of the poorhouse a little longer.  This is why you have good insurance, people.  Sadly, this summer Jon and I had made the goal to take out a life insurance policy under my name during this October (now), which is PFD season (free money!) here in Alaska.  Just a little 100,000 policy in case Jon should need to pay for day-care in the event of my death.  It was next in line after doing such grown-up things as buying a house and getting a new(er) car, things we’d done in the spring.  I’d even already had a friendly chat with an insurance agent.  Somehow, I doubt MetLife will insure me now.  So much for that idea…

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

THe Evil Mr. Casein

In which our Heroine tries Raw Milk. 

There is a little devil of a protein in milky products that continually defies my body’s ability to digest it.  It’s name is casein, and it has an evil vendetta against me personally.  When I unwittingly (or stubbornly) eat something of the dairy persuasion, Mr. Casein will generously give me a rash.  You would think I would hate him, but I don’t.  On the contrary, I love milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, half and half, chocolate, and whipped cream.  They are so tasty.  But that devilish protein exists in every single one of those lovely but not so innocent foods.  Thankfully, I can eat moderate portions of dairy, but tall glasses of cold milk are out.  In its place, I’ve become a regular drinker of organic soymilk over the past several years.  I am fast learning that soy milk is less than ideal, deemed by some to be a ‘non-food.’  The conundrum: which evil product do I eat my cereal with in the morning?
A good friend of mine had what I hoped might be a solution.  She buys raw milk from a co-op up here in the Anchorage area.  I’ve heard a lot of people swear by this stuff: non-hydrogenated and also non-pasteurized—both processes that can damage the proteins or enzymes within—it comes straight out of the cow in all its unadulterated creaminess.  Because of said mutilation, many of us who think we are allergic to dairy products actually aren’t, but rather have trouble digesting mutilated proteins.  Of course, I’ve also heard a lot of argument against raw milk, and some states are or have considered banning it permanently.  However, if my main soy fix is bad too, then what to do?  Where does a girl like me turn?  I decided to give raw milk a trial run. 
You can’t buy raw milk in stores, so my friend generously offered me a pint.  There was something really lovely about standing at my front door to take the mason jar filled with creamy milk and capped in white.  It reminded me of those scenes in old movies when housewives pick up the clanking jars of fresh milk outside their front door (and pay the milkman in pocket change).  I sat the proud little thing in the center of the top shelf in my fridge.  My husband, who seems to think processed food the best part of our society's civilized modernity, was freaked out by it every time he opened the fridge and it stared him in the face.  But I thought it had a homey feel. 
For one whole day, I guzzled the stuff.  I was surprised upon opening the cap by a really milky smell that hit my nostrils in a powerful wave.  You just don't get that in a regular jug of milk. Creamy parts floated separately (and naturally) apart from the thinner.  The first taste was wonderful.  There’s just something about soy milk that doesn’t satisfy—and now I know that it’s missing that pure dairy yumminess.  Breakfast was amazing, down to the last drop.  That evening I warmed a huge mug up for some hot cocoa.  “Ah…this is the life,” I thought, as I snuggled deeper into my warmest blanket and took a giant swig.
That night and the next day, I felt absolutely ill.  Unfortunately, some of us in the world are still allergic to the demonic Mr. Casein, even when he’s in his whole and unmaimed state.  One more experiment a failure, but it was a lovely tall glass of milk.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

When on the Lower Ketchup Level

In which our Lady Looks at Things Aslant. 

                The post two days about me being on an operating table reminds me of a few of the ways I’ve seen the world from a new viewpoint lately.  The particular one mentioned in all it’s blogness two days ago was the interesting view of looking at things from the top of the gurney/operating table.  (As we previously learned, this is the position aliens use to run tests on human beings and one of the prime ways that they gain supremacy over the human race).  There are usually bright fluorescent lights over head that burn shapes into your cataracts so you can't see your doctor clearly, and the bed is inevitably uncomfortable.  Even worse is the strange angle from which you greet people in this position.   Just think, normally a person stands across in a position of equality from the other: two strong vertical lines able at any point to move how they will.  As seen from bed position, the nurses and doctors look literally down on you from above, their heads haloed by fluorescent glow.  Meanwhile, you lie prone in sleeping position—the most vulnerable of all poses.  Being wheeled around the hospital on a bed is bad too.  You end up coming against people for the first time in that utterly powerless position.  Maybe at that point you shouldn’t be surprised because you know you’re there in the first place because you are sick and therefore defenseless anyway.  (Either that, or you’ve been beamed up and are now residing on a spaceshipin which case you are still defenseless). It reminds me of the dentist’s office, except that all those pointy and scrapey tools jab into just your mouth rather than all over every other part of you.
                Not that the table on wheels is always terrible.  Your caretakers are usually kind and happy to say nice things.  Sometimes you get heated blankets thrown over you when you’re in shock.  Although even then my tangential brain waves wondered whether there was some giant blanket microwave oven in the linens closet.  Still wish I knew the answer to that. 
                Giant microwaves aside, the wheelchair is also an interesting place from which to look, especially when grocery shopping.  Suddenly you’re down on a new level.  Are there really different products down there, you might ask.  Yes.  Toys live down here, along with the most tooth-rotting of all candies—huge bags of them in one place, and strange combinations of toy and candy in another (Pez, etc…).  Meanwhile, back in the condiment isle, you realize you’ll never again reach the vinegar on the top shelf and are hereby relegated to a life of ketchup and mustard.  Grocery stores are no place for the wheelchair-bound (or for midgets).  And unless you’re willing to jump into one of those huge grocery cart cars, which rarely have fully-charged batteries and only have brakes on the left hand grip, you’ll have to use your lap as a grocery basket.  There’s nothing like balancing two boxes of cereal, really cold ice cream, cleaning supplies, tortillas, bananas, and a jug of milk on your lap as you wheel through the store.  But the best part by far is when you get to the counter to pay and have to apologize and explain to everyone around you that you are going to stand now so you can slide the card and pay as a feeble excuse for the miracle that you are suddenly able to stand whereas you could not do it before!  You know, people are never in awe, but only cynical at those moments.      

Friday, October 22, 2010

Real, or Not?

In which our Heroine plays Video Games for a Workout. 

It is amusing to me that I get to play Wii Fit sometimes at physical therapy sessions.  Yesterday, I won the top ranking (but the game still deemed me as unbalanced).  Despite the good marks, I have no delusions that I am really the best—rather I believe I am simply healthier than the other gimpy players.  I don’t think the games get used all that much because I catch other patients looking on curiously from other areas of the gym.  The employees often look a little envious.  As for me, I was relieved to play the Wii instead of doing squats again.  I only get to play for 10 minutes at a time.  I think my therapist is wisely aware that I stop blinking and that can cause some nasty headaches.  The fatigue is all in the head too—not in the body I’m trying so hard to strengthen. 
So far, my only experience with Wii Fit happened last Christmas in a busy mall as I stood slack-jawed in front of an inviting display.  I like the Wii, but Fit was something else entirely, marketed very well toward a portly American public just at resolution season.  There it was in all its glory: Wii Fit.  Just think!  You and I could be fitter, healthier, and more productive people just by playing a video game once a day!  Oh, miraculous machine let me spend money on thee… Fortunately, I caught sight of some very overweight people out of the corner of my eye and remembered that Wii Fit is probably not the marvelous solution we all desire.  Once I managed to tear my eyes off the display, rational thought came back to me and I said to myself, “Tara, a video game is the last thing you need to compete with your limited time.  Besides, if you want to get fitter, go for a walk or a jog.  You’ll get fresh air too (what a concept!).  At last Jon and I managed to walk away. 
You see, for some time I’ve had views about all this glorious technology.  Mothers everywhere are right that the Wii is much more interactive than other video game systems, but I had no intention of playing one regularly, or of spending that kind of money on it.  In fact, I was becoming more and more skeptical about all the time people spend on the computer blogging or facebooking, etc…  Not that I don’t love what it can do for all of us, but the number of hours a person can spend online or surrounded by such constant noise and flashing lights is alarming.  (How do they listen to themselves think?)  Thus the reason why I didn’t start a blog until I pretty much had to.  Until surgery, it didn’t seem like it would add enough to my life and I realized it would be easy to fall into the trap of following other interesting blogs for hours (which I have, incidentally). 
Most these technological wonders, things such as internet conversations, TV shows, computer and video games—Wii Fit included—simulate real life in such a way that the marketed product may sometimes actually seem more intriguing, worthwhile, and rewarding than reality.  We can fall into a pattern of living that resembles these simulations in regular life.  Men and women fall in “love” through the internet, boys begin to think that violence is a normal and healthy way to fix an argument (see Prince of Persia, Grand Theft Auto), and teen girls see themselves as fatter and less brassy (or do I mean busty here?) than Laura Croft, Tomb Raider. 
As I learned from a master’s degree in art history, visual simulacra can be confusing, persuading, and deluding even to the most aware viewer.  You may not realize this, but wars have effectively been started using this stuff.  See below for a number of Hitler and Goebbel’s most terrible propagandist posters denouncing the Jewish nation.  I’ve studied this a lot—and trust me, from my end it is pretty clear that Hitler and friends basically created a new reality for the German people—one where an enemy was clearly defined as despicable and where there could be no expected punishment for the hero, who was, after all, just living out his “hereditary destiny”.  They were given a blonde and blue-eyed model on which to gaze adoringly, boys and girls were tutored while still young about the proud excitement of war, and women were actually awarded prizes for giving birth to “German” looking children.  I cannot help but feel pity for a people surrounded by such constant and effective media.  The German people had no idea what had hit them—and neither did the Jews. 









Do I go too far in raising a cry of alarm against video games?  Yes and no.  Yes because there is certainly no cause to destroy the computer I’m typing on—it makes a lot of good things possible too.  But there is the other side.  Every week, new movies, or TV shows, or music, or games come out that have constructed a new reality from which we are simply meant to take amusement.  But any time a new world (and the rules it runs by) is formed, we as viewers/readers/listeners must be on guard for the values that media creates, exploits, or even takes for granted.  (For more info on the concept of simulating reality, see Elder Bednar’s CES fireside: Things as They Really Are).   
               

Thursday, October 21, 2010

If there was an X-file for Facebook...

In which our Heroine unearths an Alien takeover. 

                I consider Facebook to be the ultimate spy network.  Several times I’ve found long lost friends in the ever-expanding computer universe that I couldn’t possibly find any other way—especially all those college roommates who inevitably end up marrying and changing their last names to something difficult to spell.  Then there are the friends from high school who five years ago I knew nothing about and have since spied on.  All it takes is a little peek at their profile page.  A wonderful tool, that page.  For instance, I find out that so and so did in fact marry her crush, or that what’s-his-name went into the army—and survived it, what my old friend’s jobs are, how many children they now have.  I come away with much more information that I should for the little amount of effort I’ve put into maintaining our friendships. 
I’ve noticed some interesting trends about these people (you).  For one, I find that they are all living a healthy suburban lifestyle despite other demographic differences.  That’s right—they probably all live in cookie-cutter neighborhoods and are involved in the PTA.  They work out regularly, go on weekend road trips, and read each other’s blogs.  Some of you may recognize yourselves as subject here.  It is a spectacularly suspicious scenario to suddenly find that nearly everyone I’ve ever known is living in or aspires to the same suburban lifestyle.  Is it because of government funding, or perhaps pop culture?  Are we all zombies?  Or do the aliens really have us in their clutches and they are taking the human race over one by one?  If they are, I’m sure that they would use Facebook as their ultimate tool. 
In fact, if the X-files were still running today, I think there could be a season finale about it.  I’m sure we would find that the government, through the FBI, is secretly funding Facebook.  Then, various X-agents and their techno-wizard friends would find unexplainable glitches in the system, and set up intriguing although sometimes cryptic dialogue with the enemy.  These interactions would inevitably point us toward a clandestine meeting at the South Pole.  I would be the heroine because I have a titanium plate in my head and that makes me trustworthy in some indefinable way.  It is possible that I can block alien takeover rays with my titanium shield.  (Thank goodness I had seven hours of brain surgery that I can’t fully remember, and then lost several days worth of memory afterward.  I’m sure this has made me the perfect protagonist—my flickering and insubstantial memories will surely serve us well in the fight against aliens.)  As heroine-with-implant I invite you all to share your private information with me on Facebook.  Just go ahead and use the main page—I won’t tell anyone what you put on there. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Smell and the Fury

In which our Lady exhibits true Femininity. 

Okay, I’m not really furious, but isn't the title catchy?  Rather, I am smelly.  This blog post is about organic deodorant, and (can you guess?) how I don’t like it.  In my anti-cancer book there are some suggestions about how to rid excess chemicals from my life.  One way is by quitting all deodorants with aluminum in them and switching to “organic” brands.  It just so happens that I have a brother who lives in Phoenix, Arizona who swears by this stuff.  His argument is that we are meant to sweat in the armpit area and if we block that up, then it will just come out of our pores somewhere else, like the upper lip.  The book, on the other hand, suggests that we non-French women who regularly shave pits are daily wiping deodorizers on our skin that leach into our bloodstream and poison our systems bit by bit. 
After visiting for a short time, my brother flew back to Phoenix and left some organic deodorant sitting by my sink.  I decided to try it.  Why not?  I should have known it wasn’t for me when I put it on and felt slimier for it.  It was not powder dry, but slippery and damp feeling.  But I felt like the experiment was worthwhile, so I kept it on.  Unfortunately I wasn’t smart enough to choose a non-physical therapy day.  I was on my hands and knees—what we fondly call dog position—on top of a padded table when I happened to bend my head down to look under me to check if my flabby core was strong when I caught a serious whiff of body odor.  “Man,” I thought, “Is there a comment box somewhere for this?  Shouldn’t therapists know better—it is their job to be in close quarters, after all.  Wait— Ugh!  Could that be me???”  I spent the rest of the hour afraid to lift my arms from my side.  Not one of my more effective therapy sessions. 
I swore never to go back (to the deodorant that is).  The next morning after a ridiculously soapy shower, I proudly lifted my arm sky-high and slathered monstrous amounts of aluminum up and down my armpit.  But then I read the book and realized that there were more and more compelling reasons to try again.  So I did.  I lasted all day on Monday—feeling icky the whole time.  Then I woke at 3 am and actually couldn’t sleep because my armpits felt sticky and were even starting to itch.  Do you know, or can you imagine how noxious your sleeping space can get when you’re scratching at something that smells like the inside of an unwashed high-school football uniform after the big game that’s been trapped inside an airless locker for a month?  I had to get up and get some of the deadly kind of deodorant.  Deadly, but effective.  Afterward I slept like a lamb.  I give organic deodorant an F for failure.  May the other organic stuff work better. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Cellar

In which our Young Heroine escapes Death (long before cancer). 

There was an old potato cellar a quarter of a mile down the road from my house as I was growing up.  In the halcyon days of the Scott family farm, it may have actually stored potatoes, but in my day it had long been converted into an overly large trash bin.  Potatoes like sandy soil best (I think) and we had heavy clay.  I will say that “The Cellar,” as it came to be called, was long in disuse, but not long abandoned because it was the best place ever for a kid to play. The family adults tended to use it as a junk yard for various items that they either were too lazy to get rid of properly or for which they still had some strange affinity (a couple of old beloved cars, for instance, minus the glass, engine, and back seat, but with important things like a stick shift and gas pedal).    The junky area was known to be dangerous, but to an 8 or a 10 year old looking for the perfect spot for her imagination to run rampant, safety is overrated.
The cellar looked like a long low triangle running back from the road between fields.  It had some (I think) useful farm equipment parked in the one safe end near the road and then yards of interesting garbage scattered throughout the end you would normally store potatoes.  It was cool and shady inside.  Where the roof was falling apart, great beams of sunlight would slice down to the earth, illuminating dusty motes as they swirled around in front of you and creating great lines from the shadowy wooden slats still intact above.  I am sure that my older brothers and cousins have great tales of daring adventure there at the cellar because every now and then I would find the strangest collection of unrelated junk propped together to make a rocket ship, or a cockpit there on the floor.  These mounds of garbage held memories. None of the following images are the actually cellar, but will hopefully illustrate what I’m talking about:


There was an old potato harvester machine that sat a little out from the open side of the cellar.  It was the best toy yet.  It had metal stairs that led to a “front door” that led to a “hallway” with “rooms” off the side.  When I first began playing there I found some junk (old music keyboard, etc) that seemed to indicate some kind of control center here.  My brother Todd later told me it was a space ship with a tone in his voice that said “if you weren’t a girl, you’d know that”.  Another room was deemed the “kitchen” by me.  It had a rubber counter top (where potatoes once rolled) and what looked to me to be a large window just above the sink.  If you crawled onto the “counter-top” and out the window, you could then mount some rubber “stairs” that led up the “second story.”  It was trickier here though because there was no floor.  You had to balance on the thin pieces of metal that acted as upper perimeter to the “rooms” below.   An old friend and distant cousin named B.J. helped me lay some found wood down to make a floor once, but we knew it was old and rotting, so we still didn’t step on it (much).  {Death-defying miracle 1} Below: Again, not the actual machinery.  Picture the arm close to the side of the harvester rather than sticking out and no cabin for a driver as it was pulled behind a tractor:

Closer to the cellar itself, there was also an old piece of equipment, nameless to me, that had razor-sharp discs on one side and an old seat with holes in it on the back.  Sometimes I would try to balance like a gymnast on the metal bits poking out from the side of the discs.  Dangerous, but delightful.  {Death-defying miracle 2} Right next to it were some old metal barrels and drums.  Complete with a few other found objects, it made the best and loudest drum set ever.  Clash! Clang! And Ding! Sounds that vibrated over the quiet afternoon desert on a regular basis.   
These and other wonders spilled out the open back of the cellar around a large colony of beehives—not wild, but set there on purpose to feast on the clover-like blossoms that grow on alfalfa hay.  The hives looked like a scuffed-up version of the thin, white dresser drawers sold at Walmart.  The people in my home town always had free honey from similar hives.  In front of the long side of the cellar, dirt had been mounded up here and there.  Earlier children of the Scott lineage—massive in number—had created a bike path of sorts throughout the dirt mounds.   It was great legacy of bike-riding territory, as long as you were good at avoiding all the darkly menacing badger holes.  Unfortunately, the last big hill of dirt on the path led straight through the bees, probably because the path pre-dated the bees themselves.  I had two bikes: an odd-looking and girly turquoise banana-seat bike and also an ancient but sturdy blue dirt-bike—a hand-me-down from my unwitting brothers. 
I always chose the dirt bike on those dare-devil days.  It had thick tires with rubbery nubs sticking out of them that would clench onto the loose soil on the way up the hills.  Down was always exhilarating.  On the last hill, sometimes I would pause and shade my eyes with my open hand, the other hand still on the bumpy and permanently dirty grip, and stare penetratingly into the distant mirages.  Then my eyes would move closer to the beehives, directly on the trail in front of me.  Only one more danger to live through to prove I was AWESOME!  Deep breath, and then down the steep incline fast—so fast that I almost couldn’t maneuver the bike in and out of the hives.  The sound of bees filled my ears, and then I was out and free.  And somehow, still alive to tell the tale.  {Death-defying miracle 3}

Monday, October 18, 2010

What's the Word, Bird?

In which our Heroine embodies the word Miracle. 

Every morning I wake expecting a normal and healthy day.  Contrary to what you might think, I don’t open my eyes to cancer-tinted daylight.  The first thing I hear is generally the happy cooing of my child in contrast to bells tolling sorrowfully for my imminent Poe-like death.  In my daily activities, I am careful of not exerting myself too much, but generally feel quite well.  In fact, there is still a part of me that is surprised when friends see me at church and ask how I’m doing.  Every single time it happens, the VCR in my mind has to spin the tape back to a certain surgical event.  And then it automatically stops and plays a specific scene—mostly imaginary—showing my cancer cells now sitting stagnant against my brain, but with the potential for virulent, burgeoning growth. 
I appreciate every expressed worry, every heartfelt interest in what’s going on in my life, but I have to admit that it’s a bit of a jolt.  It must be that I am an adept at creating my own “just fine” reality.  The real surprise came yesterday when I met someone new.  I began explaining that I’d had a brain tumor and surgery recently.  He didn’t understand what I was saying.  There I was, looking as normal as anyone else, standing straight and tall on sturdy legs saying that I had cancer.  “Oh wait, the surgery is still coming?” he said.  “No.  I had it already…” my mind traced furiously back trying to come up with a date, “maybe seven, eight weeks ago?”  Okay, the date is actually closer to nine, I think, but you get the picture.  The man’s mouth literally dropped open in astonishment.  Still gaping, he turned to his wife, already a friend of mine, for confirmation.  All she said was, “It’s a miracle.”  Yes, that’s the word: Miracle.
In case you were wondering, I don’t feel different even though I know my life is miraculous. I still wake feeling the same as before everything happened: relaxed, warm, a little drowsy, eager for a shower and a new day, and ultimately human.  Is it a part of the human condition to wake this way rather than to open our eyes feeling like a miracle?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Creepy Crawlies are (almost) a Medical Condition

In which our Lady scratches an Itch. 

                It is not quite a diagnosis, but almost.  I have the creepy crawlies.  Brilliant neurosurgeon ‘A’ actually used this term a few weeks ago to describe what he knew was coming: the creepy crawlies (but not the heeby jeebies or the antsy pantsies).  No, what I have is the irritating sensation that constantly roams across the former dead strip on the top of my head.  I thought it was itchy before where the stitches were coming out, but this is different.  If there is an itch scale, I'd call it a 7, for "there are ants (but not fire ants) foraging on top of my head!"  ( 8 being fireants: itch and sting; 9 being I can't concentrate and I'm going to scratch my scalp off; 10 being am I bleeding down my face yet?)  Vocabulary wise, I’d say that the itch is less impactful but more invasive, perhaps.  The thing is, when I reach up to scratch, there’s no place to actually do it—no way to relieve the itchiness.  There’s no spot to focus in on.  It just flutters back and forth on top of my head.  And I end up rubbing down my whole hairdo just as an attempt to get it to stop.  I am quite sure that the people in church today thought I had lice.  Why else would I be scratching so much?  Which brings up a good point: Why am I writing about this? And why am I so darned itchy? It seems that my formerly dead nerves are reawakening. (Honestly, my nerves are more fickle than the artist formerly known as Prince). The top of my head is a high nerve center, and just needed some time to heal apparently.  So, cross the top of my head off the (small) list of things I’ve lost, because it was only temporary.  In memory of my gratitude list yesterday: I am grateful for an itchy head?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ten Things for Which to Live

In which our Heroine expressed Gratitude, and not necessarily in order.

1.       I am grateful to be alive.  We had yet another earthquake up here a few weeks ago.  I know it is ridiculous after all that I’ve been through, but a primal terror gripped me as the house shook.  It does every time.  How can I still fear death even though I’ve been so close?  I know it is not my time to die, and I know that there is an afterlife and that things will be okay.  Yet I still feel that primeval panic.  I don’t know why I still feel so frightened at a mere earthquake—these do happen all the time up here, after all.  The only thing I do understand about the whole thing is that I truly want to be alive and to do and experience more and more and more! 
2.       I am grateful to have a large base of family and friends.  I am an introvert at heart, but there is also a part of me that really likes knowing them all.  (That’s right—I mean you!) It is nice to know you.
3.        I am grateful for the sunshine. 
4.       I am grateful for my husband and my child.  They are precious to me.   
5.       I am grateful to belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I know who I am and I know there is a plan for me and a purpose for everything in my life.  It gives me strength.
6.       I am grateful for a warm home on a chilly night.
7.       I am grateful for all five of my senses.  Isn’t it nice that food—something we have to eat to stay alive—tastes good?
8.       I am grateful that I can use my left arm.  I express here my fondness for its individual awesomeness. 
9.       I am grateful for good music, books, and artwork.  It makes living so zesty.
10.   I am grateful for opportunities to serve others, touch their lives, and hopefully make a difference.  I’m with Emily Dickinson:
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Angels the Fifth: the Christmas House

In which our Lady Gratefully welcomes an Honored Guest into her Home

Last night I had the rare privilege of welcoming my Stake Relief Society President and the wife of our area authority—here for Stake Conference this weekend—into my home for a brief visit.  She is one of those genuinely lovely women who holds an incredible awareness of the good she can do.  She is filled with sunshine and the kind of good smells and hominess that accompany Thanksgiving and Christmas, but without the sense of lethargy that follows Thanksgiving dinner.  On the contrary, our home was alive with the lightning-quick thinking and comforting sharpness that accompanies the Holy Ghost. 
The call ran much like a Visiting Teaching appointment, they asking me to flesh out my recent experiences, with Sister S— sharing a message largely on gratitude.  If I were to sum the message up: The Lord has things in hand and is waiting to bless us, but we need to acknowledge His hand first to allow those blessings to come.  Yes.  I’d already been thinking about this concept a little, and enjoyed getting her very wise take on it. 
It felt good in my home last night.  Of course we’d cleaned the place well, but it was much more than that.  My mind felt sharp—smarter than usual these tired days.  I felt at peace and there was an expansive sense of being loved.  The Spirit was present.  There was great peace pervading every corner of my house.  It swept around Eva’s toy corner, played lightly around the kitchen sink, hid underneath my couch, and even arched into the vaulted ceilings.  For a long time I’ve wanted what I will call “a Christmas house.” This is the place we all imagine spending Christmas Eve—surrounded by good food, tantalizing smells, warm colors, and your favorite people. 
At one point, this angelic woman paused and said there were angels present in our home.  It was a place they could dwell.  She should know.  I did not expect to write an Angels the V, but there it is.  Perhaps they wanted to be a part of the discussion.  Personally, I dislike watching a good conversation without being allowed to put in my own two cents worth of participation.  I wonder if they ever feel the same.  It has been a long time coming, but I hope my home has finally reached the ‘my-home-is-like-a-temple’ status, which I now realize matches my idea of the “Christmas House.”    
 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stupidly Stupendous

In which our Heroine increases her Vocabulary.

First, a note: I hadn’t realized that I’d set the comments parameters so only blogspot/google users could write comments.  Oops.  Well, I changed it and now it is open to all readers.  No excuses, I claim stupidity on this one. What a stupendous mistake.  I hope this change opens things up to all my Latvian, German, Ukrainian, Tawainese, and Venzuelan readers out theremultilingual, but small in numbers though they be…
Secondly, a word about language.  Today at physical therapy I had the rare privilege of playing the Wii for a few minutes, playing games that focused on balance.  I received amateur status at best and was deemed “unbalanced” by the invisible God of the Wii universe.  I believe it was last week that my therapist used the word “unstable” to describe my uber-flexible wrists as they hyper extended yet again.   She is from Chile, and I have the feeling this word’s usage may have more to do with an unwieldy translation from Spanish.  Then again, maybe she has a degree in psychiatry too… Who knows.  I will say this though: Why is the word invalid (as in one who is ill, sick, ailing…) spelled the same as invalid (useless, worthless, unsound)?  I understand that both words indicate faultiness in the object or subject, but really, why does our society have to evaluate the sick on the same plane as the worthless? Also, what’s up with stupendous and stupid?  From alphadictionary.com, as refers to the word “stupendous”:
“Today's Good Word comes from Late Latin stupendus "stunning", the gerundive of Latin stupere "to be stunned". Stun is a semantically ambivalent creature in English, so it should come as no surprise that the Latin correlate was, too. Both words refer to a state of senselessness, as to stun fish, but both also allow the cause of the stunning to be something marvelous rather than insidious. Latin stupidus comes from the literal meaning, the mental condition resulting from a blow to the head. Today's Good Word is a result of the figurative meaning.”
You know, I had a blow to the head once tooliterally. It was not stupendous. 


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Heist

In which our Lady of the Pocketbook discovers two Things

1.        My mom flew away on a big jet plane last night.  This morning I woke feeling energetic but a bit frightened.  Could I be a lone parent all day long until Jon got home tonight at six?  I determined I was up to the challenge.  Besides, what choice did I have?  So, I showered, got Eva up and dressed, and pretended I could handle it.  My mother’s lifelong motto is “fake it ‘til you make it,” and that’s just what I was doing.  It was somewhere in the middle of making pancakes while loading the dishwasher while stabbing my syrupy pancake with a fork that I realized I might want to take a step back for a few days/weeks/months and “fake it” less.  Most of my pancakes burned and I was still hungry by the time I managed to push the dishwasher’s ON button.  I think my cancerous archenemy has stolen my ability to multi-task. 

2.       Evil antagonist Cancer is also a money thief.  I received yet another bill yesterday, this time for expenses in the amount of $3,280 for a Dr. Madden.  Confusion set in as I realized I had no idea who this man was.  Not my brilliant neurosurgeon.  Not my anesthetist, who I spoke with for a total of 2 seconds before I passed out cold.  And then I saw the details: “Electrode Stim, Brain Add-on; Electrode Stimulation, Brain.” Huh.  Apparently I have been the victim of electrocution by expensive faceless person.  Dear me.  The plot thickens.  I imagine myself lying prone while being zapped and poked as different parts of my body jerk reflexively into the air.  Wait a minute—I suddenly remember peeling A LOT of odd looking patches off of my body a week later… Could that have been my first clue, easily missed because of the opiates?  Perhaps we’ll never know… I might expend some of my flagging energy and do some research into electrode stimulation if I actually had to pay the bill, but luckily I have fantastic insurance.  I will not press charges.   

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Muse the Brain Surgery

In which our Heroine practices the ancient and venerated art of Creative Therapy.

Here are my first two finished paintings in what I hope will be a long series of work.  It is true that I have little time and energy.  However, I now have the useful excuse that I need creative therapy to deal with my issues, as if I weren’t writing enough already.  My weakness in art classes was often my lack of originality—I’m an excellent and natural copyist.  I suddenly find that I have a plethora of original material from which to choose.  See, brain surgery is slowly becoming more and more worthwhile… Anyway, I hope you enjoy the fruits of my time-consuming and expensive past-time. 

   

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Kissing Caper

In which our Lady trains her Child to become a cage-fighter




This is my child.  I asked her to smile, but instead she pulled a kissy face.  Every night before bed, Jon and I hold Eva up before a picture of Jesus and she kisses his representation with just this face—not irreligiously, but with true ardor.  Fantastic, is it not? I’m not yet sure who else she does this to on a regular basis instead of smiling.  The thing is, if she thinks you’re going in for a kiss but you’re taking your time about it, she’ll get this waiting look on her face and part her lips slightly.  It reminds me of the kissing advice they give on the movie Hitch. Yesterday she got to attend Nursery at church for the first time and I’m a little worried about her love of kissing, given all the slobbery and runny-nosed children adventuring about. 
Maybe I shouldn’t be though.  The only incident I actually heard of from Nursery was that Eva had a basketball and got backed into a corner by all the little boys as they tried to take it away (most of these boys are quite a bit larger than she is.  Little Eva would have none of that, and apparently fought or scared them off eventually.  My child the cage fighter.  I first saw her terrorize a 2 year old at 11 months.  Apparently like her mother, Eva’s ready response to difficult situations is “Boo!”

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Angels the Fourth

In which the Air is Thick with Angels.

Did I say earlier that my opiates produced no visions?  “The air is thick with angels,” I said to my husband and (I think) to a few visiting friends as I lay in my hospital bed.  I don’t know.  I was still pretty out of it and I bet they thought I was partially insane.  But I do distinctly remember a certain thickness in the air, as if I could pass my arm to the side of my bed and hit something unexpected.  (Think of Kershisnik image from earlier angel post). After the other angel incidents, I can honestly say that I believe it to be more than opium.  (Although I do admit that it is like opiates in that often with the angels I would close my eyes and then that’s when I could see them).  You just can’t see these things with your waking eyes, but with the spiritual. 
When I closed my physical eyes I could see or sense people I knew drawing close around me.  And not just my forebears, but Jon’s as well.  I am certain that both his Grandpa Melvin’s were there.  I know this because Jon and I had been reading through family history stories for family home evening this summer and these angelic people seemed familiar to me.  There were both men and women, and as I said, the air was THICK with angelic presence, hoping to see me regain my physical and emotional strength.  Looking back, I feel as though the very powers of heaven were clustered around me just to give me support and to watch over Jon and me in our extremity, even as we slept.  It occurs to me that this very same thing happened with my support and friends here in the Stake.  Angels, all of them.  (Also my family and friends not here in Alaska—but you are far away, so you can’t “cluster” around me en masse). 
I should mention that the angelic visits were before I had made my peace with this whole brain tumor and cancer thing.  I was not yet resolved to the Lord’s will on this.  Indeed, as yet I had little idea of how this thing was about to spiral out of control.  I assure you that I already had no grip on the situation.  But it was comforting to have them there looking out for me.  I wish I understood more what exactly my angels could do for a sick girl stuck in bed.  Do they whisper certain necessary hymns inside your ears?  Do they catch you when your physical therapist isn’t paying quite enough attention if you list to the left too quickly?  Do they get out the pom-poms and cheer?  Do they pray?  I don’t know as much as I’d like to about who these people are or what they can do.
However in all my angel experiences, I am reminded of, and will heavily paraphrase, that pioneer story from the Martin Hancock Company and the testimony of a man as he said that he would never regret being on that journey.  He declared gladness and willingness to do it all over again.  He would fix his eyes on a certain point on the road ahead and think, “If I can just pull my cart to that spot, then I will be done and can go no further—but then when he got there he felt the cart pushing him along.   Let me be clear, I am not a glutton for punishment.  I have no desire to go through my trials again.  But I know what he’s saying about the extra help. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My Life as Shown in a Line Chart

In which our Protagonist realizes her story is badly planned.

It seems my devastatingly interesting tale is badly planned. As a result, I’ve decided to add a little tension by further postponing the conclusion to this week’s dramatic episode—so—Angels the IV tomorrow.  Besides, tomorrow is Sunday and you can read it and feel all warm and fuzzy inside on the Sabbath. 
It is true about the anti-climactic nature of my narrative. I began with a truly harrowing beginning, but by the fourth blog posting had told you the end of the story—that I would live.  So much for keeping you hanging.  Nope.  None of my readers sit on the edges of their seats.  There is no climactic sense of the dramatic as I get zapped with radiation, no mind-boggling chemotherapy, no endless and painful torture.  Such literary elements as plot, foreshadowing, and conflict are missing. I’m already married and have a child, so where’s the romantic element?  My evil archenemy, Mr. Cancer, has proven a dudd.  The whole thing is a sham, a misrepresentation!  And just to continue this evil trend of falsehood, I will hereby fib to you all by apologizing abjectly for my complete and utter failure. 

Here is a graph, showing not a mountain range, but the supposed climax of my story.  The red line looks somewhat like the graph on my Stats page showing the number of hits and thus the interest of my readership.  The red line is my actual story line.  (Not that I want the red line to get higher—that might indicate my life getting worse...) The blue is what I think I remember learning about how a book/story should be written in high school English class.  Notice the contrast.