Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Monday, September 13, 2021

Kindling

 

“What are you looking at?” Jonah puzzled as I drove slowly down the driveway, leaning forward over the steering wheel, peering up at the brunches arching above the driveway to meet in the middle. 

“Nothing,” I said. 
Kindling, I thought. 

The Caldor Fire had its point of origin less than 20 miles away, which seems far until you see how fast and how far California fires have been traveling the last few years.  The fire is currently about 46 miles wide.  By morning, it had gone from 100 acres to 300, then quickly to 700, then 2,000 by that night, which seemed crazy then, and now is minuscule. On one day it grew 8 times in size.  At the time I write this, we stand at 219,267 acres, 65% contained.

We woke Sunday morning to heavy smoke and fear.  I got the kids up and had them pack. This is our first close-ish fire, and I wasn’t sure how concerned to be.  It hasn't felt that long since I drove to Santa Rosa to evacuate our friend Joyce, not once, but twice, with a year off in between. The smoke had been so thick, there were times I was following the tail lights ahead of me, hoping that driver could see the road better than I could. The flames on the hillsides were terrifying, as were stories of whole neighborhoods consumed with no warning.  The heartbreaking image my brain conjured of the elderly man who had held his wife in his arms in a neighbor’s swimming pool as the fire storm passed over them lingered with me for weeks. She didn’t make it. 

We piled our packs by the door and then began pulling photos from the walls -just the ones not saved digitally- and it felt strange to leave some of my babies' faces behind.  I began to gather a few precious keepsakes, and gave each child a box for their special things. Standing in the dining room, staring at the table scattered with an eclectic collection of medicines, photos, books and ancient bud vases, I heard a squabble between Natalie and Jonah. 

“What’s wrong, guys?”  

“Natalie is trying to bring more toys,” Jonah fussed. 

I called them to me. Natalie came around the corner with a red, tear streaked face. “I’m not going to tell her no, Jonah,” I said.  I looked into his face, and saw his rigid expression, the rims of his eyes also red.  I gathered them in my arms and they both burst into tears. I called Tessa and Adam from the other room, and with the Littles still in each arm, I said, “I know this is really scary.”

Tessa’s beautiful pale eyes filled with tears, which pushed mine over the edge.  I looked to Adam, who ducked his head to hide that he had joined us. “Com’mere. Everybody.”

I held the Littles, one on each side, and shuffled toward Adam, who was closest, beckoning Tessa over. I gathered them all in my arms together, more than a mama can hold, trying to pull myself together for them. “We can do this. It’s scary, but nothing bad is happening yet.  And as long as we are together, it can’t, because you guys are all that matters. The rest is just stuff, most of it just hand-me-downs.  

"But this is a defining moment. No matter what happens, the most important thing right now is how we treat each other.”  I wiped my cheeks and took a deep breath, then patted backs in the way you do when you are ready to move on. “Alright!" I said in a faked-cheery voice. "Let’s put some music on.”

Guy called to check in.  There had been way more than fire prep going on that morning.  It was the day after Jonah's birthday, I was dealing with a legal matter, the dishwasher had broken, again, we had a mysterious water leak somewhere that was making the meter spin like crazy, and homeschool was to start the next day.  "Do you want me to come home?" he asked in response to my trembly voice.  "No.  It's okay.  It's just scary.  It's a lot."  He wasn't fooled.

"I'm coming home."

My heart settled down almost immediately.  We powered through the next couple of hours, scooping up a tearful Ellie along the way. She had missed the family cry-fest earlier. “I’m not worried about me," she wept, "But you and Dad have been through so much, you don’t deserve this."

"No one ever does, sweetie."

We had calmed considerably by the time Guy made it home.  He seemed a little distressed that I had let him come home when everything seemed just fine, but I assured him that knowing he was on his way home was the one thing that had helped me hold it together.

Perhaps the strangest part of the day had been walking around the house selecting what few items to keep.  We had gathered the basics, along with the photos, hard drives and important papers.  But then I was wandering.  I gathered a little drawing by one child, knowing I couldn't grab them all.  I cradled a special ceramic pot Guy had given me on our first anniversary, a few books that had been gifts from dad, and my mom's porcelain bird, in my hands.  After a while, just thinking about it all made me so emotionally tired, that I just stopped caring.  The "stuff" all blurred together; a roll of paper towels and an antique bowl both vying for equal attention.  Is everything special?  Or nothing? Ellie came in and said, "It's strange to see how much stuff I have, and how much of it I don't really care that much about."  So true.  And not.

We weren't done, but we were done.  It had been such a long, strange day.  And stranger still than the random packing, was later cooking dinner and settling in for a movie that night.  It felt like we should go, but there was no reason to.  Yet.  And we hoped there wouldn't be.

****

The following Saturday was spent on more concentrated outdoor fireproofing (which seems like a silly word, but I can't think of anything better at the moment.  Fire resisting?).  It's like shaving,  No matter how good a job you do, you have to go back and do it all again later.  We had been working on clearing the dead trees from our tiny-but-dense acre+ patch of woods (which seems a little pointless when you see the other folk's woods all around us that are just as bad as, or worse, than ours), but we shifted our efforts to tight clean up around the house to renew our defensible space.


(The red arrow above points to me.  Looks like I'm hiding, but I was scooting down the slope on my bummy, clearing it from above, and trying not to break my neck.  It's steeper than it looks!)



There's this ratty plant that grows everywhere here.  I've heard it called deerweed, but it sorta looks like French broom, only totally dry and currently flowerless.  This stuff would burn like a ghost pepper.  It's scratchy and billowy and will grow right back when the rains come, but we cleared a whole slope of the stuff.


I have to mention here the awesome job Natalie did with these photos.  She weighs as much as a pair of clippers and is, in most ways, a bit useless when it comes to work, because she can't stay on task for two minutes before she is off in her make-believe land.  So I handed her my phone and told her to "document".  Oh, boy, did she!  And she got her dirty little finger on the lens, which created a strange, otherworldly glow.  Add a little movement, and these pix remind me of ones of my dad from the 70's.


You can't really tell, but Tessa is hauling a giant limb.  Adam helped by cheering.


How big sticks become little sticks.


Same slope as the deerweed pix above, minus a lot of fuel.


We were told by the fire chief that if fire came our way, they likely wouldn't even attempt to come down our lane, what with all the trees leaning over the top, and it being the only road in or out.  I get that.  It never occurred to me at the time we bought the house, though.  I just thought, "oh, what pretty trees."  They are still pretty, but I'll admit my heart has changed, yet again, about living in these woods.


The Caldor fire is well controlled at our end, though I still check the stats and wind direction every night.  And we pray.  A lot. We had a touch of rain the other night, but I read that the lightning from it started eight new fires, requiring crews to be diverted from the main fire to put them out.  Scary, scary, and more scary.

I haven't put our special things back.  There are a few bins by the door with our most precious belongings in them.  I'm waiting, because it's still the beginning of fire season, and we're not out of the woods, yet.

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

Incredible thanks to all who have reached out to us with offers of help and lodging, and who have held us in their hearts and in prayer.  We have such lovely friends.  Glad we didn't have to take you up on those offers, but so grateful to have had them.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Restoration



We have a little cabin. A very little cabin, here on our property. I believe that it was built to be lived in while the main house was being constructed. Later, a second room was added, then later still, the wall between the two rooms was removed to create a slightly larger space. It has been used for a workout room and a wood shop in the past, and when we moved here Adam slid in and made it his own. At the time, I had neither the time, the energy, nor the resources to fix it up for him, for which I will forever feel massive mother-guilt. He lived with spiders (which is pretty standard for here), lizards seeking warmer ground, and the occasional woodland mouse.  

 I’ve been feeling more energetic lately, and as long as that lasts, I’m going to ride the wave!  Adam has been living in Utah for the last year and a half, and for the past couple of months the kids and I have been working on fixing up the cabin for guests to use when they come to visit us.  In July we worked busily to try and fix it up for my dear Melissa and her family, but only got it part of the way finished. Then I had to paint a mural at the fairgrounds, which took up a couple of weeks. I thought I had more time to finish the cabin before Adam returned in late August to stay for a few months, however his lease ended sooner than he thought it would (due to bozos running the management office at his apartments, duh), so he returned home a month earlier than planned. Of course, I was thrilled to see him, but sad I didn’t have the cabin finished for him yet.  Now that he’s here, he said he’ll help, so it’s not all bad!

In future posts I’ll share the progress of the whole space, but tonight I thought I would give you a little peek. Last week Tessa and I refurbished this little leather loveseat I got for 80 bucks from Marketplace. The loveseat was sturdy but dirty, and the finish on the arms and seats was pretty well worn right off. I bought some leather “balm“, expecting that it would be a conditioner with some tint to it, and was a little bummed at the intensity of the color. But it was 25 bucks, and I had already opened the jar, so on it went! I will still work on the finish, trying to get a little more of its former charm and character back, but the balm really did a great job at covering the old scuffs and damage. Sadly, the sofa was robbed of its beautiful aged leather patina, something that can only be granted to the best little loveseats by the ancient patina fairy.

Before:





After:



Try to look past the patches of sunlight. It photographs a little better than it looks in real life, but I hope to get a visit from that patina fairy sometime soon as I work on it.

We will be tackling the floor this week. Wish us luck!


The cabin, when we first saw the house:








July of this year, patching and painting:


Leveling and patching the floor






More challenging with furniture in it!!!



Love the color! 



More to come!

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Unfiltered




A magical thing happened
a few weeks ago. On our family trip to the HOT states (because that is absolutely what they should be called; the North, the South, the East, the West, and the HOT) we drove sweated our way through Las Vegas, and there we had the amazing opportunity to visit with my dear friend and mentor, Sandra Hooven, lovingly known to me and several hundred, if not a thousand or more former students as Mrs. H. (tangent: in the many years I have taught art classes here and there, I have always introduced myself as Mrs. H, with a smile and a long-distance little nod, over both time and terrain, to the First and Best. THE Mrs. H.).  I want to and will write about the trip, and our visit with Mrs. H, and some of the other really special people who made this such an incredible adventure, but my thoughts all started tonight with something Mrs. H. said when we were together: "I really used to love reading your blog."
 
Used to love. Past tense. And I loved writing it. And I miss it. I like what it brings out in my head and heart, and the way it challenges me to examine myself, the way I think and the way live my life. It challenges me to review my days and the words I speak, and to squeeze those days through a juice press and filter, many filters, to see what comes out the other end. 

When I first started writing my blog I thought I would use the format to anonymously float my thoughts out into the ether without consequence, but low and behold, after my very first "anonymous" post, I got a message about it from someone I knew. The smarty-pants internet had sent my friend a message; "Hey, your sneaky buddy Laine thinks she can write whatever she wants and get away with it! Why don't you pop over and say hi and give her a heart attack?" It was my first lesson in social media (back before in the days before "friends" on Facebook began ruthlessly attacking grammar and life choices- lesson two, don't share if you care about it)). There is no anonymity online. Lucky for me I hadn't flown my freak flag too high yet during those first few posts, so it was just a wake up call; fortunately "no relationships were harmed in the making of this blog". 

Ever since, I have been doing that filter thing I mentioned. 
What will my dad think if he sees a post about my childhood through my eyes? 
How will my kids feel if I post about teenage angst and hormonal drama? 
What will the folks at church think if I use 23 different terms to describe my breasts in one post? (if you missed that one, go back and read it. I regret nothing.)

All that filtering has blessed and hindered. But mostly hindered. I squeezed the last three years through the filter of, "Nobody is going to want to know how sick I am. It will sound whiny, and attention seeking, and also, I don't want pity comments." There are people in my life who boldly state their distain for people who "have to broadcast their lives on the internet", so there's that filter, too. I was even criticized for a photo I once posted with my feet up on the dash board during a road trip ("that's dangerous" they said. Not as dangerous as another blood clot from my legs hanging down for hundreds of miles, I thought).  It made me start to question THE WAY I USE MY FEET.  Duh, I tell you.  Just, duh.

Filter, filter, filter.

And of course, you can't possibly anticipate all the ooble-dy-zillion ways your words will be processed by others.  And if you are defensive about it, you shouldn't share, right? 

So I haven't posted.  That's the long and short and scared of it. 

I just can't physically handle the confrontation, the correction, the judgement (and THAT, my friends, is a gene mutation thing, which I will over-share about later, and to which you will raise one dubious eyebrow, firmly square your jaw, and say in a British accent, Is that a thing?  Well, we always knew there was something a little off with her.  Like in those news interviews, when the neighbor says, "Bodies in the basement, ya’ say?  Well, I always 'spected there was somp'in wrong wiff Floyd").

This week, Guy and I had a talk about plans for a future trip that didn't go super well (there's that busy filter again, Will Guy be mad that I hinted at marital disharmony? Should I hide that we have the only imperfect marriage in California?), and in the aftermath, as I pulled at all the threads in the conversation to unravel where it had stepped off the happy track, I hit upon a powerful realization. Here it is as shown through many filters:

I have Hashimoto's (hello, overshare much? Like, dude, we get it already. You're sick. Waa waaa.  Move on). Everyone who has Hashimoto's experiences it differently, but for me it deeply impacts my ability to make and retrieve memories. Short term stuff is the hardest -in one synapse and out the other-  but it turns out that another tricky type are memories that are 'similar to each other in nature'. For example, I am really excited about this RV trip we just took, partly because the memories are so unique. They stand out starkly against the backdrop of all the other vacation memories I have from the last (choke) 26 years of marriage.  I mean, I remember our honeymoon (teehee). I remember the time we helped Kathi and her kids look for their lost dog in Colorado during a summer thunder storm while the cicadas screamed at a deafening pitch over our heads. I remember riding 4-wheelers through the Bone Yard with Jackie in Idaho, and floating in circles with Melissa at the Rec Center in Provo for hours. I remember playing Kettleball at Guy's parents 50th Anniversary/family reunion, and how all the ice cream was being left out to melt, and how I LOVE melty ice cream, and how I ate so much of it I nearly burst. But the memories of car travel, motels, stops at burger joints, all mostly blur together and then, heartbreakingly, disappear (the filter just told me there is really nothing special about this dilemma and I should delete this post!  Dang filter!).

One way I can keep my memories, I realized, is by making sure they vary from each other in the making (like maybe suggesting to my husband that we stay at Issis Oasis Egyptian Sanctuary instead of Travel Lodge, hello conversational misstep), and another is by writing them down. As I revisit them later, it is like writing over the top of fading pencil with a nice, thick, black ball-point pen. They become anchored, fixed, and easier to visit later. So the battle I face now is writing unfiltered. Or less filtered. Maybe not full-pulp OJ, but certainly not pulp-free. Because I won't remember things if I water them down as I write about them. And who am I kidding? Only twelve of you read this anyway, and all twelve of you know what a goofball I am, and somehow love me anyway.  

I'm starting to feel like I've told you all of this before, but I can't quite remember (the redundancy-alert filter just kicked on... robot voice: Bwoooop! Bwooop!  A-lert! A-lert!).  Also, it seems like I have posted about needing to write more A LOT, and it's feeling excusy.  Yes, excusy.

The filters just told me that maybe they are not really filters at all, and that I am just insecure.  Wow, they are so mean sometimes.  But maybe they're right.

Back in the early days of the blog, I would write each post directly to a few people in my mind, specifically because I always felt loved by them, more sure of myself, and like they just loved anything I wrote -Jackie, Rebekah, Steph, who I sure miss.  Jackie's sisters, all of them.  That one anonymous person who always reads my blog with in minutes of me posting (I love you so much, whoever you are!  I seriously say "Hi!" to you when that little notification pops up).

 And now, Mrs. H.  

So here's to you, and here's to living life unfiltered.

*the photo above happens to be unfiltered, because they don't make a filter that gets rid'a old!

Monday, March 8, 2021

Timing



Sometimes the timing is juuuust right. Or just, right.  I don’t know if you can feel the subtle difference there, but I can.

Nine years ago, I participated in an art show called the 20/20. Twenty paintings by each of twenty artists, displayed throughout a gallery in Midtown, Sacramento for one month. I was super excited when I got in. The workload was very heavy, but wow, what growth! What a great opportunity to push myself!  Individual artist's pieces were hung together in large grids, and participants were actually required to submit twenty-five paintings so that there would be back-ups in case works sold off the wall.  No gallery wants a big gap up there.

(Paintings from the 2012 show)

But a lot has happened in nine years... Natalie, clots, selling-then-buying a house, moving to a far off land (cuz, yah, an hour can be far), two promotions for Guy with accompanying challenges, two sons moving out, caring for dad and his passing, and good old Hashimoto's.  Art took a big step back. Like, back to the garage part of my brain.

But recently it stepped back up, and said, "hey!  Hey you!  Remember me?  I make you happy.  Move over a skootch and make some room for me."  I began to think about the 20/20 show, and to wonder if it was still going on.  Not three weeks later I received an email from the gallery inviting me to apply again.

Just right.

Do you ever get a little ping in your heart?  Like, a soft little elevator-door-opening-sound that says, yup, or, ooooh, yah, baby...?  It was like that, only less creepy.  The email made that little *ping* in me (I hope you are saying it in your head with the right sound.  Don't you dare just read "ping" like Kevin Costner is narrating your shopping list (he is by far the most boring narrator on the planet, and not just of shopping lists).  Together, now: *ping!*

Just, right.

I printed the application and let it sit around here for a couple of weeks, pondering.  I had to come up with a theme.  

My usual painting theme is, "Because That's What I Felt Like Painting Today.  Duh."  Probably that would not have gone over well with the guest judges.  The application said I needed a theeeeeme to tie all my works together.  I think last time I just made some lame thing up, like "Crap Around My House" without using the word crap.

I started really praying about what I -should, could, would want- to paint TWENTY FIVE paintings about.  I settled on making black and white hand carved s'graffito tiles (yes, that's a real word) and let that be the connective thread.  I did one (if I do say so...) gorgeous tile.  It took a booty-long time and I didn't get it fired in time (teeth stuff, darn it).  I realized there is no way I could make twenty four more in less than two months.  Nuh-uh.



Back to the drawing board (bwaaa-hahahaha, no, stop, I'm killing me) (but it was a painting board so now the joke isn't even funny).  I pondered my life's experiences and wondered if I should tap into some of the darker chapters.  Nope.  Didn't feel right.  Humor?  Figures?  Still-lifes? (that looks funny, and spell check is scolding me, but no, we don't paint 'still-lives', like sedentary old people.  It's still-lifes.  Still looks weird, though).

I finally prayed that God would help me paint something that would honor Him.  In that moment a picture I had seen online popped into my head.  It's of a little black and white bird with a golden breast, a warbler, that is mentioned in the book, "My Side of the Mountain".  Jonah is reading it to me now.  It's slow going, much harder than the last book, but boy - that kid is a trouper.  So I said, "Okay, Lord," and that night I started painting.




I went through the usual agony of my process, which includes plenty of self doubt and a little bit of loathing (why am I doing this?  I suck at this!  Who am I kidding?  Nevermind, I won't apply), and finally got through it.



I drove to Sacramento Friday afternoon.  I was all jittery and shaky, even though I knew I was just dropping the painting off, and probably it would be some employee who took it and set it to the side with an unenthusiastic thank you, and that the judging wouldn't be till at least Monday, and that the worst they could say was that it was trite and kitsch and lacked sophistication (nothing I hadn't already said to myself, and I wouldn't be there to hear them), and then I would get a call Tuesday that said thank-you-for-applying-we-went-a-different-direction-but-please-consider-trying-again-next-year, goodbye.  Why be nervous?

I stepped into the gallery but the front desk was empty, and I could hear voices in the back.  I wandered a little heavy-footed through the space (hello!  I'm here!) and then returned to the front.  Eventually, the muffled conversation lulled and a head popped around the corner.  It was the gallery owner, Misha (or Michael - his card says both, and I'm scared to get it wrong so I just said hi!), who recognized me a little, or is a good faker.  My application sat on top of my small painting, which felt like a little kindness it was doing for me, hiding my probably-shameful painting for a few moments more.  We made chit chat as he looked over my paperwork, then he pulled it aside to see the painting.  He gave a tiny gasp and softly said, "Oh, my God, that's beautiful".  

Instant relief.  I was high.  Just high.  I floated a little, while he said that since he is not on the selection committee, he couldn't say, of course, but that if he were, he would certainly let me in the show, and that he imagined I would have no problem getting in.  

I only have to wait a few more days, and after waiting for cancer test results three times this year, I hardly care.  No. Big. Deal.  Perspective, right?  I let myself have the night off and met my sweetie for dinner and a tootle through Hobby Lobby, which is an awesome date night these days.  But rather than wait to find out if I got in, I am going on a little hope, and last night I started the next few paintings.  After all, if I do get in, I only have 55 days to get it all done.  Timing, you know.

One down, twenty-four to go.





The last 20/20 in 2012 please don’t let her know how much weight she will gain in the next nine years!
  

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Of Mountains and Molehills


Gather round, darlings! If I recall correctly, I promised you a boobie story.  I shall not disappoint.  Though you may want to get a snack first, cuz’ this may take a while (haha, that will be funny later). In this story, my dangling participles will be played by themselves.  As for the role of me, please cast a slightly more endowed Julia Roberts in your mind, but don’t tell her.  I couldn’t afford the royalties.


First, Honeybuns, before we begin, you must know a simple fact.  I have lovely chesticles.  I do.  They are not perfect by any anatomical stretch - one looks Southeast, the other Southwest - and they lack the melon-like moundedness of my younger years, but they host a classical cleavage that any Roman statue would envy, and Ms. Barbara Streisand herself, possessor of THE most lovely cleavage on planet earth, might just nod in approval were she to glance my handsome hills and voluptuous valley.


Alas, now that I am no longer breastfeeding, only one human has the routine privilege of viewing my modest maidens (lucky Guy, that lucky guy), if you don’t count the occasional doctor.  That was, until I turned 50.


50 is the magic age at which the medical world collectively agrees that: 1. You will now begin to dismantle and disintegrate, piece by rusty piece, at an ever increasing trajectory, and 2. They will announce said deterioration to you on a semi-annual basis by beginning every sentence with the preamble, “Now that you are over 50...”.  


Cancer screening has become the new pass-time.  There have been many. Usually, they’re pretty straightforward; a simple needle into the neck, the typical swabbing of pink parts, a camera where a camera should never, never go. But this time, when they suspected breast cancer, they got out the big guns. 


First came the industrial mammogram. This isn’t the little cutie they use for the beginners. This one employs giant plates that could crush an old car, run by a severe woman who was raised by the descendants of Gengus Khan, on mountain goat milk she squoze herself.


Starting well above the shoulder and dragging all my skin from the chin down along with it, she began pressing my bucksome blobs into oblivion. But by far the best moment of the entire affair was when, not once, but twice, workMEN walked in during my partially nude photoshoot. Tool belts and all.  Apparently, the exam room had, until recently, been used as a thoroughfare and a storage space. Folks had gotten accustomed to passing through as a shortcut to a parallel hallway. However, on this particular day, it had become an exam room once again, only no one thought to tell Hank and Roy. 


When the first fellow walked in (yes, sweet cheeks, they came in separately), I was, as you can imagine, FLAT OUT shocked. Only, I’m not flat, and my “they” were definitely OUT.  So was he; he dashed out of the room with his clipboard as a face shield like he was taking fire in Nam.  But by the time the second fellow sauntered through (ya’ saw that guy coming, didn’t you?), I was irate. AYE AYE AYE RATE!


 “It’s OK! It’s OK!“ The technician placated in a thick accent from a country where apparently all breasts are the property of the commonwealth. 


NO!  It is most certainly NOT O-K! It’s not OK with me at all! Look, I am not a shy girl, but I reserve the right to decide to whom I show my Girls, and I did NOT choose them!“ (for the A-types in the audience, formal complaints were made and wimpy apologies given. Of course.)


Later, when the results of this second mammary-mashing were “concerning”, it was decided that one of my poor little lady lobes needed a looksie from the inside. However, because I was on blood thinners, I was prepped three times on three different days for the procedure before I actually was able to go through with it. Risk of internal bleeding and whatnot. Geez. 


Note, if you are the woozy-ish type, this is where you skip down to the last paragraph where we “look back and laugh”. Well, you might laugh. I might not. Too soon. Too soon. 


I sat gowned-up in a waiting nook in the hallway, with all my crap in a bag beside me, pretending I cared about the magazine in my lap, avoiding eye contact with passers-by, and waiting for my turn on what I had been boastfully told was their “New, state of the art, Stereotactic Core Biopsy machine”.


(Cue ominous, suspenseful music…)


Here’s the drill (pun so very intended)… (please read this part in the chipper voice of the the narrator from How Stuff Works):


They lay you down on a funny table with a hole in it, which sounds cozy but is totally not.  They suspend one of your tender twins through a hole in the table with an arm up by your head, with its sweet sibling sort of smashed along side of you. They try to arrange your limbs all akimbo so that you can tolerate being in this position for “just 45 minutes”. Of course, that doesn’t count the time for adjusting, or to identify the biopsy spot, etc.  But let’s pretend it’s 45 minutes. 


(This is where the storyteller starts giggling, because she knows the end of the story, and you do not yet.  Estimated time-frames are cute and super arbitrary.)


Next, they raise you up like a car on a mechanic’s lift so everyone can see under your chassis, then they kick on the booby smasher (yes, the table has one too!).  Your face is pressed into the table blocking your view from your sweet little peach, so you can’t see what is happening, but OH, honey, you know.  You. Know.  Now a random stranger with cold hands and no conscience is down there (maybe the maintenance man? Who knows!?), holding your fleshy friend like a wet rag that they are trying to wring water out of. They twist one way and then another, then close the peach-press, take a picture, twist again, smash, take a picture, twist again, smash, take a picture…


This continues until they believe they have their target lined up juuuust riiiiight. The reason being, they have to avoid major blood vessels while still navigating to the source of the concern to biopsy it, and everybody’s road map is different. Because of the blood thinners, it was particularly important that no major blood vessels get nicked; risk of hemorrhaging, yada yada.  Finally, someone official is satisfied, and then they tighten the vice beyond all human tolerance. I guess this is in case of an earthquake that might somehow jiggle your jello jug loose from the vice.  They know it’s tight enough when your toes curl and your eyes bulge.  You are told NOT TO MOVE as though the earth’s orbit depended on it.  Repeatedly.


A lot of clunking and cold wiping later, and some little voice from somewhere out there in the vastness casually says, “little sting”, while simultaneously unleashing a murder hornet on your pretty pressed pillow.   They numb you up at the point where the tools are to invade your person, and then they begin what can only be described as drilling a core sample to Antarctica.  Picture shoving a drinking straw through a watermelon and pulling out the fleshy section that gets jammed inside the tube. It’s not as big as a drinking straw, of course, more like a pencil lead, but being that I usually keep my fleshy bits on the INSIDE of my body, this process could be defined as FREAKING DISCONCERTING. Most fortunately, you are all numbed up for this part. But not to worry, little chickadees, you will get to feel it aaaaalllll later, when the drugs wear off.


Anyhoo, as they work, they remove a sample, leave you in the vice grip on your face, go into another room, examine the sample under a microscope, make sure they got what they were hoping for, and then perhaps come and get some more (of course, you know that means they came and got some more!). Then, once they have what they were looking for, they drop what is called a “clip” into your Gucci bag; a tiny metal marker that is left behind in the location where they removed the biopsy sample. This is so that, if results come back as cancerous, they know exactly where to head to find the location of the cancer (no, you do not get to set off airport alarms.  Dangit).  No guessing. This is precision machinery, people! 


Pretty smart, of course. That is, if your fancy machine is working on Tuesdays. 


Turns out, on the day that I was there, (do I need to say it?  Can’t you already tell what’s coming?  You can, because YOU my friend, are smart)  their machine suddenly... broke.  Yes, broke, like an elevator stuck between floors with a panicked passenger imprisoned within, only in this scenario our prisoner is my tender torso tuber!


Let’s just say things got pretty dicey from there. The marker wouldn’t drop. Try, and try, and try as they may, (and by “may”, that gentle, passive word that makes it seem like they were only considering it, like a polite British museum tour guide, when the word most certainly is DID, like a New York cab driver) the white coat brigade could not get the marker to drop. Discussion was had.  The new hoped-for solution was trying a part from a different machine. State-of-the-art, my friends. So I layed there whilst they went to rustle up spare parts from the old machine, all the while, the auger remained embedded deeply in my sad little pec sack. 


Alas, alas, my patient reader, Clip Dropper Number Two was faulty as well.  Now, when medical personnel have an idea that they don’t want a patient to know about, they think it is very clever to speak in a code that only edjumacated doctors and nurses can understand.  What they don’t realize, is that it is the same code moms and dads use when talking about waiting till the kids are in bed to have ice cream because there’s not enough for everyone, and parents have first dibs because Darwin said so (look it up).  It sounds like this: “Hey, after they… do you want…?  There’s only enough…” but in doctor talk it goes like this: “Hey, what if we extend the… then maybe it will…”  


Nothin’ makes me sit up and take notice (or lay really still to protect the earth’s gravitational pull on the moon) like someone talkin’ secret mom-code around me.  I then followed the process carefully as I heard and felt them take a third sample, or, in layman’s terms, DRILL OUT MORE OF MY MOMMYGLAND.


Yah.  Didn’t work.  More technical tool talk was had, and the words “manual drop”  floated to the surface of the jargon jar.  Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, nothing instills confidence like the professionals abandoning their precision robots to do it the old fashioned way.


In the meantime, we’ve been going on a couple of hours in the face-down, spine-arched, smashed-face position. My knees and shoulder were aching, my lower back was killing me, my neck was sore from being twisted to the side, and I was repeatedly told to “hold still“ every time I tried to create some modicum of comfort by moving just a millimeter or two.  It felt like they had forgotten that a living person was literally attached to the machine they were fussing over. I began to weep. Quiet tears rolled down my cheek as the white-coats continued to discuss strategy like football coaches on the sidelines.


At some point, a nurse realized that there was a tearful human being growing out of the little white whale they had harpooned.  With a puzzled tone, she simply asked, “What’s wrong?”


What’s wrong?!  I have a javelin through my left labradoodle and you guys can’t get it out! You can’t figure out your marevelous “State of the Art” machine, you won’t let me move, the medicine keeps wearing off and I have no idea when or how I’m going to get out!  OH. AND BY THE WAY.  YOU ARE LOOKING FOR CANCER!!!


Yah, I didn’t say all that then, but now I wish I had. Somewhere in the room, the code-talker asked, “What should we do with...?”


“Throw it away.”


Yah, sample #3, the one they took to try to jog the machine went... in the red bin. They didn’t even offer to let me take it home (what would I do with it??? I don’t know! Bury it, float it down the creek on a raft for a tiny Viking funeral! Anything but the garbage. Grrr).


Finally, the clip was “dropped”. Two and a half hours from the time they put me in the can crusher, I was finally done.


But OH HO HO HO NO!!! Hold the cell phone, sister, I wasn’t! (I’m so sorry. Yes, there’s more.  If you need a break, I understand.  It’s a lot to process).  It turns out that after a breast biopsy, they need to do a follow up mammogram immediately to discern the exact location of that thar’ lil’ marker; sort of a “before” pic for later comparison.  Also, they want to see if you have any unmacerated mammary matter left.  


When it was all well and truly over, they bandaged my little blowhole better, wrapped my chest in ace bandages and ice packs, and sent me out to the waiting room to my poor husband, who was perplexed at how long it had taken. Apparently, no one had bothered to tell him what was going on. Not the first time this has happened (like seriously. One time he thought I died in surgery when it was hours long and no one bothered to come tell him why). 


On the way home, I held my chest tightly over every bump in the road as feeling returned to my little buddy, and felt sorry for everyone who has ever, EVER had any sort of work done on her bosom friends. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like, and blessedly, I didn’t have to.  


Results were negative.  No cancer.  Blessed boobies. No insult to go with their injury. And while I am indeed grateful, it certainly was one of those mountain-out-of-my-molehills situations. 


So, that’s my boobie story. I know it was long, but not as long as the procedure itself, so now you have time to go make a sandwich. Oh, and for those of you who are deeply, I say, DEEPLY offended by the voyeuristic verbiage in this post all about my she-vage, I can only say, Darlings, don’t you know me by now? I always keep my promises. 



Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Outplant



I gotta admit, even with my history, I never imagined I’d actually lose the implant. 

I went for a quick recheck, since the abscess wasn’t resolving. Before I knew what was happening I was texting my husband that they were doing surgery. Once Dr. A. got in there, the news was grim.  The infection had moved fast and destroyed the bone around the implant. He removed the infected tissue and bone, and my long, long awaited implant. 

There will be no redo. No second chance. The doctor felt a second go would be unwise. He said in his experience, some things happen for a reason. I have to trust him, as I have for 18 years now. But I’m not going to pretend I’m not disappointed. Crushed. I have waited anxiously for 8 years, and I was so excited.  In five minutes it was all gone. 

I’m letting myself be sad today. And maybe tomorrow. 

Sunday, January 31, 2021

The OTHER Kind of Implants



I got an implant.  No. Not that kind.  My girls are of ample size, thank you.  Plus, only one implant is a little pointless unless you stand sideways all the time.  My friend, Denise, and I used to joke that we could only afford one surgery between the two of us, so we would each get one side done, and that would be our "show boob".  But I digress.  You should expect nothing less.

Uh oh.  I lost a few of ya there, didn't I? What with all that naughty, boobie talk.  Don't worry.  The rest of this post will be squeaky-clean and somewhat appropriate.  Ish.

My implant was for a tooth.  I have been waiting almost exactly 8 years for it.  When I was preggers with Natalie, one of my close-to-the-front, never-smile-in-public-again teeth broke right off.  It had been a really rough week.  In fact, that day I wrote on Facebook:

"I'm overwhelmed.  In the past 3 weeks I handled the cracked radiator, the broken starter, the crashed dryer, the fried washer, the speeding ticket (I never heard of a Senior Citizen Zone before!), 2-3 doctor or dentist appointments a week since the beginning of December, Ethan's toe surgery complications, gestational diabetes run-amok, a house full of sick people, tests for the mystery "mass" in Tessa's gal bladder, and constant negativity from Kaiser, but tonight when my front tooth broke off I think I may have reached my limit.  I am tryin' real hard to stay positive here, but this is getting old."

BWAAAHAHAHAHA!!!!  Wasn't she cute, that funny, na├»ve girl that wrote that?!... who, in just five short days, would start crankin' out three foot long blood clots like pancakes on a Saturday morning?  How adorable that she thought a washer, dryer and radiator were things to get upset about.  A broken tooth?  Ha! Child's play, daaaaah'ling.  

Slow-forward 7.92 years, after multitudes of financial, health and covid delays, and here we are, me, with a big lovely hole in my bone, stuffed up all tight with a fine metal screw (that felt quite like it would split my head in half going in).  But wait... have you met me?  Do you know that for some reason x-ray machines break down in my presence?  That not one, not two, but THREE doctors have told me I was "the hardest ____(fill in the blank)____" in their career?  Pleased ta' meet ya' (there's a boob story in there, but I have shocked you quite, yes QUITE enough for one evening.  I'll tell ya later.  Remind me).

Yah, so, "unusual response" were the words used to describe the two weeks of kicked-in-the-face style pain radiating from tooth to nose to cheek to eye socket to temple -and in a southward direction- from tooth through throat and neck from the new implant.  "Most unusual" is how one would lable the abscess that formed on day 14.  Gross is more to the point.  I'll spare you the ewie details.  My family has not been as lucky.  I am a very descriptive girl.

But, as we often say around here, "It's not a blood clot", so it ain't so bad.  Thank the Good Lord above for inspired medicines that I can take (sadly, because there goes my gut biome for a while).  It could be worse.  I'm praying I don't lose the implant.  Yes, we are praying, and it will probably be fine.

Cuz it's not a blood clot.

Ok, so now who wants to hear a boob story...?

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Last Bed


I knew it would come eventually. Dad's had a bad heart since way back when I was in college, when he started having heart attacks, and he’s had two just this year.  Add to that his many other health problems and 85 years of living, and we knew his time was coming.  But I guess things can still sneak up on you.

On a Tuesday, Dad had been upstairs to celebrate Adam‘s birthday with us. It was so sweet, and he had stayed a long time. Thursday he hadn’t felt up to coming upstairs for Thanksgiving. By Monday he was on hospice. 

When the young fellow from the medical supply company came that night to set up the adjustable hospital bed, I couldn’t help but think about it being the last. The last bed Dad would sleep on in this earth life. 

I can’t imagine how many there have been; Montana where he was born, a dozen or so stretching from San Diego to Northern California, and many more around the country used on trips, a few in Mexico even, not to mention Mother Earth, his mattress and pillow for a hundred nights under the stars. 


He didn’t use it long. 

I had been sleeping on a borrowed cot in his room for a few nights to be close for when he needed me. The first few days were a struggle, as we worked on balancing the medication to relieve his pain.  One day in particular had been terrible.  He was in so much pain, and though as a doula I am well trained to physically deal with someone in this state, my words failed me.  Digging deep into my mental tool kit, I came up empty.  When a mama is in labor,  I tell her the pain will be gone in less than a minute, and then she can rest.   I tell her that soon her prize will be here, and the pain will be gone. I remind her the pain is worth it; it's bringing her new joy to her waiting arms.

I had no carrot to dangle, no promise of relief, no light at the end of the tunnel for my dad.  We just rode the waves of his pain together for hours, me trying every position and comfort measure I knew, him tolerating it for 30 seconds or so before needing me to switch it up.  When the hospice meds finally came though, I had collapsed in relief to see him settled and pain free.

On his last night, by 3am I was well worn out.  Guy and I had sat up with him for hours into the night, listening as his breathing became more and more labored, but still he fought on.  He didn't want to go, and he was working hard to stay.  I finally began to fade and longed for my cot, but I couldn't let myself be that far away, so I pushed it up to the side of dad's bed.  I laid my head on his mattress and held my hand on his arm.  I whispered to him, "Dad, I'm so tired.  I am going to take a little nap. I'm sorry if I'm asleep when you need to go."  I drifted, listening to his heavy, rhythmic breaths.

An hour or so later, I suddenly awoke.  Strangely, Guy, who was sleeping in the recliner near by, woke as well.  It was the quiet that had called us out of sleep.  "I think he might be gone," I told Guy, feeling my dad's skin, but noting how warm he was.  I couldn't be sure.  When Mom passed, she would only take a breath or two every minute for a while. He might still be here.  Ellie and Tessa had wanted to be there when Grandpa left, so Guy went to get them.  As he headed out of the room, Dad moved his jaw a few times, and I calmed at the awareness that I had not been asleep when he left.  I sat holding his hand, staring, and waiting for the next breath.  

But there was none.  

That movement had been the last thing he would do in this life.  The hospice nurse told us later that it is quite common.  "The will to live is so strong," she said, "they try to take just one more breath."  By the time the girls came in with Guy, I said simply, "He's gone."  I had tried to feel for a pulse and listen with the stethoscope, but it's hard to know if you are just in the wrong spot, or if the silence is exactly that; silence.

Dad passed away in the hours just before dawn on Friday, barely four days after his bed had come.  There is something so strange in that kind of silence.  And things tricked me in the hours after.  Dad's overweight dog has quite a snore, and it kept fooling me.  I would reach to touch him as I passed his bed. My drive to care for him kept calling me back on duty.  

The sweetest nurse came and tended to my dad before he was taken away, and once he was gone, the silence was one you could actually see.  The beds were empty; his own bed, and the borrowed bed that had been his last.

A few days later, I helped carry that last bed, in separate pieces, out to the equipment truck.  It was the first of many things that have left his little place where he spent the last three and a half years.  For me it marked the moment strangely.  This bed, a harbinger of death, moving on to be used again, a universal wave running through it, connecting us all to that someday-end; that, the last of our many beds.

It's strange having Dad gone.  We moved here to be with him, and our days were structured and run by the clock that was set to his schedule.  Every time I looked at the clock for weeks since he passed, it was with the haunting habit of checking for dad's next need.  

His silence is so strong.