Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Moment in Time

The day I took this Polaroid picture back in 1980-- I was 12 years old and my cousin Christie was 19. We are in my pool in Phoenix, Arizona. She would let me brush her hair while we talked when she didn't have a perm, but not this day; here she is sporting her new perm. We’d both seen the movie Private Benjamin and we talked about Goldie Hawn’s perm in the movie that partly inspired this one. Christie repeated she for sure didn’t want to get her hair wet in the pool that day. We waited for the photo to develop- instant camera pictures in those days took two or three minutes. We both liked the new perm… though they always came out a little different than she had in mind. I always loved her hair.  She wanted to see it in the picture. And voila!- Looks good! Then, she asked me if it was safe to get on the raft and not get her hair wet. I advised her as best I could as we worked on our tans. Then she couldn’t resist floating on the raft as we laid out. Soon to discover, “Oh no, Tommy!” -the back of her hair got a little wet anyway! Then we went back to sit out of the water- over by the jar of sun tea, while she scrunched her hair dry. We found her perm still looked great anyway. Christie had a lot of perms back then.

Well, now I’m carrying this old Polaroid with me everywhere since last week when I got the news that Christie was dead at age 56. I loved her and I’m grieving this loss. The rest of my pictures of our times together- I mailed off to her a few months ago for her family to enjoy; but this one stays with me. Her death wasn’t a surprise, but for me it comes as a shock. I’ve been flooded with memories and words cannot express how sorry I am that she had to leave her life. I felt my memories of our times together should be shared and that's when I remembered to write.

Back in the summer of 1979, my family flew home to Iowa for Christie’s wedding. I was the kind of kid who thought I’d already learned it all from reading books and watching TV. I knew I was an oddball watching old black and white movies and listening to my Helen Reddy albums alone in my room. Still, I always looked up to Christie and her sister, Susie when they came annually for Spring Break Phoenix visits to our house.  I envied their long telephone calls in the back bedroom home to boyfriends.  I noted their savvy in getting sunburned and knowing how to goop on the Noxzema for the best healing. Only, up to that time, I felt they thought I was just a little kid- like other ten year olds, only weirder. Soon, Christie was going to be moving down to Phoenix where her husband, Greg would go to ASU. That’s how she came to be the person in my extended family I spent the most time with.

Christie took a leap of faith leaving her family behind in Iowa after she got married. Even then, I admired how strong she was, she was the oldest of my cousins. Now we had Christie and Greg to our house almost every weekend and soon became a big part of our family life. Our gatherings would include a meal- usually something on the grill; Nobody minded that my mother wasn’t a fancy cook. Mom never enjoyed cooking- she would put a can of peaches into Jello to set, slice a banana on top, throw it in the fridge and then leave the kitchen. And me, I took over and would bake a cake, our Grandma Rissler had taught me well how to bake all kinds of cakes and make delicious frosting too. Sometimes, when Grandma came, we’d have two cakes! Either way, I would anticipate what Christie might bring, like a memorably fancy Jello concoction or mixed up Cool Whip treat. If Christie made it, I loved it.

Then I’d anticipate whether she might join me in the living room where we could talk. In those days, I would tire quickly of the collective focus turning to the television for the game. Christie had her teams- if Iowa was playing… Forget it! Christie was going to cheer the TV on! She and Greg really brought a lot of fun and energy to our house. Other times she came planning to read her Self magazine in the other room, or would get her fill of the offerings on TV and find her way in to sit with me in the living room. I loved girl-talk and reading magazines with her- it made me feel grown up and helped me form my vision of the future.

Christie and Greg loved the climate, especially as it cooled a bit after the summer. For them, it meant no more winters. We swam a lot when they first moved down. Some days our pool would really get rocking when my brother Freddy, Greg and I got our family dog, Gandy, playing his chase-around-the-pool game. Christie got a kick out of it all, but she’d go into the house when it got wild out there.  She liked Gandy better when he was being his sweet self. Sometimes Gandy would ride on the raft with Christie then she might accidentally get her perm wet, and so on and so forth.

Christie inspired me. I don’t know what I would have done without her back then. She was making it in life and planning to start a family.  I cherished her personal stories. For one, Christie had spotted Greg back in high school. I think he was a year older. They had yet to meet, but she picked him out. He was
a great guy- and she felt he would make a great catch even before meeting him. It's sweet to think she knew he was the one.- She laughed when she told me how she had even told some other girls she had gone out with him before they did! I was always a dreamer and this slice of life really stuck with me. Maybe it was possible for life to work out, to believe in dreams, and for dreams to come true. 

For me, Christie and Greg, were an exciting example of a young married couple in love. They continued to come over at least a couple of weekends every month through the early 80’s. It was such a blessing to have them bring all that life to our house! I gained so much through knowing them and through all that they shared. They were important to me and as they met life's challenges, I learned my way along with them in my own way too.

Summer 1982, Christie and I sat out by the pool passing around my mom’s Good Housekeeping magazines.  One issue featured the actress Loni Anderson. In the article, Loni revealed having had a breast reduction surgery to normalize her life.  As we talked Christie spoke of the time that she had anticipated her own reduction surgery.  She had felt uncomfortable with her development at an early age.  Besides, large breasts were an inconvenience, and her folks helped her make a plan to reduce.  I think she’d waited to turn 18, then had the surgery.  By now, I was 14 and we shared enough intimacy that she didn’t mind my laughing that her breasts were still big enough. I probably asked every possible rude question about it. She even showed me her minute surgical scars. I can’t help looking back to her actualized example of self-improvement opening my mind to believing we could improve the world around us by improving ourselves.

We saw the movie, The World According to Garp at Metro Center that summer. The movie had all kinds of themes about lust and sexuality and Christie wanted to discuss it with me. I don’t specifically remember Christie’s views about the complexities in the movie, but she inspired me through her questioning and uniquely respectful tone. Most of our conversations about what I was going through at that age of discovery for me are gone from memory. Still at that age, I wasn’t ready to accept or admit my own fears that I was gay. More and more, it was becoming clear that my safety zone of turning to girls or women for friendship was established.

Over the next few years, we got busier and grew apart. I found the total acceptance I needed through friends I’d make at after-school jobs and was growing more independent. Meanwhile, Christie started having babies. I shared everyone’s excitement through her first pregnancy. Then, Baby Zac came along and he was our Grandma’s first Great-Grandchild, etc., and it really was a thrill to be part of it.  He was naturally funny. I joked that I thought he would grow up to be a comedian. Then, a year and a half later, their second, Jenna was a beautiful baby girl. The two of them kept sleep-deprived Christie very busy. My mom sympathized as her pregnancies with my brother and I had come 14 months apart. One of the first times Christie took baby and toddler out together was with my mom and me to the Restaurant attached to Smitty’s grocery store. It was a bit of a wild lunch with socks flying up in the air and screaming. I don’t think Christie found it all as funny as I did at the time.

I do not recall if Christie’s third baby, Stephanie was also born in Phoenix, or if they were back visiting after their move to Palm Springs when I first met her that day back at my parent’s house. I remember Christie encouraged me to hold her, as I had her other babies. I don’t think she knew how much it meant to me. I believe she showed great wisdom in continuing to generously reach out to me through my teenage years, when the passing of a few years seemed like a long time at that age. That’s probably part of how for my part I let myself forget how important and dear she was to me.

I saw Christie again years later during her move to Texas in 1993. She was in the midst of another leap of faith in her life- moving her family. I guess Greg must have taken a favorable job opportunity in Texas. Now, I was attending ASU and just changed my major again, to Psychology, but still didn’t understand how I was going to make it in the world. Christie was travelling alone that day, staying the night, and my mom said she wanted to see me. So I went to my parents’ house that evening. Christie mentioned that Gandy was getting old and had been a nice dog all those years. I think I was only half listening the first time Christie had answered questions about if she thought about what kind of work she might look for when settled in Texas. Our conversation continued, she felt good about the move for her family and being a little closer not only to Sue, but also to Iowa, etc. When, I chimed in and asked her if she planned to work, her distress showed in her voice when she replied, “Tommy, I don’t know!” I understand now, her priority was to get her kids settled and then face that uncertainty. I was probably looking for inspiration for my own career direction. I liked that she was still Christie to me, and to her, I was still Tommy.

Then we had a missed connection a few years ago. We had an agreement and vague plan to connect when she and Greg came for a New England visit and then they ran out of time. I regret not pushing harder to make one more reunion happen. I know that she really did want to see me too.

I spoke to her on the phone a handful of times in recent years. I’m especially grateful to think of the memorable day she telephoned me after reading one of my blog posts! Yes, Christie called me up after reading my little piece named Grandma’s Piano on my blog. -It stirred emotions in her! I had written it as a second-hand storyteller of the day when a bon-fire was made out of our Grandma’s green piano!  Christie expressed that she felt a better tribute would have been to chop off pieces of it for all of us to get a piece of wood from the piano body with that unforgettable green paint on it. She was actually upset about it. I think partially because I shared that I was crying as I wrote. And now, it warms my heart to think she heard my voice through reading it! I don’t know if Christie might have had a better idea too. I do know that I love that we talked that day about the notion of another moment in time and how, if only, it could have been different. Ah but, if only then, and if only now.

Needless to say, I have shed many tears in piecing together my tribute to my Christie. Over the years, I've learned the hard way my belief that every tribute bears fruit. I know Christie’s life was a great success in continuing to build a family. I am deeply sorry for what this loss means to them. I will for sure be thinking of her this Christmas and every Christmas when I get out the needlepoint squares that she taught me to make back in 1980 when we were getting ready for the holidays. My tributes to Christie, in heaven, will go on and on. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Friday, March 22, 2013

I Always Believed in Music

Me and my big brother, 1970

“You live your life in the songs you hear on the rock and roll radio. And when a young girl doesn’t have any friends, that’s a really nice place to go.” –Angie Baby (O’Day, 1974)

Chris and I arrived in Troy, NY last night just in time to get a table for a nice dinner at Daisy Baker’s across the street from the Troy Music Hall before the concert. I was happy to have made it. I could relax and breathe in the relief of being on the eve of a well-earned four-day weekend. As we ate, my husband asked me if I was excited about the show. Yes, I was, but it’s more than that I told him. I feel like we are here to see someone really important. I knew words couldn’t express it, I felt a lump in my throat as I tried to speak of it. Yes, anyway I told him- I am thrilled. I didn’t think she’d ever sing again.

 Helen Reddy came out of retirement this year and we were about to see her “Intimate Evening With” show right across the street. I knew she would still be good 40 years after her string of hit songs dominated the radio waves of my childhood in the early seventies. I should say- I knew, but I didn’t know. I didn’t know Helen would be so enchanting that I would completely lose myself in that theatre seat. This was special. This was one of those rare experiences when theatre magically made time stand still as performance transcended reality.

 Toward the end of the evening, Helen said she would like to share a poem that she wrote 40 years ago, I snapped to the reality that the show would be coming to an end. She meaningfully recited I Am Woman in its entirety, before singing it. “Yes, I am Wise, but it’s Wisdom born of pain. Yes, I paid the price, but look how much I’ve Gained. If I have to, I can do anything. I am strong. I am invincible. I am Woman.” (Reddy, 1971) 

Vegas, 1977, No I didn't see the show.
I thought about what I’d tried to express to my husband over dinner earlier. Helen Reddy’s importance was never all about I Am Woman for me. I know it’s what she’s remembered for, but I loved all of her songs. One of my earliest memories in life is carrying the “Free and Easy” album up to the register at K-Mart in Des Moines in 1974. I already had some of her other records at home that I’d play on my little blue record player, but this was exciting! I discovered a new Helen Reddy record in K-Mart! My mom said yes and she bought it for me! I then brought it into McDonald’s with me and stared at her illustrated portrait on the cover where we went for lunch across the street that day.

I loved all of her records when I was kid. First, it was records, then I switched over to buying music on 8-track format after my dad convinced me they’d be better… eventually cd’s, now something else… -So much for the ways of the world making sense, let alone human emotion. I’m just glad Helen Reddy is singing again! Maybe it never made sense that I loved her. Maybe it never made sense that she was important to me. Maybe it doesn’t make sense that every song made me cry last night, but I’m so glad they did and I’m so grateful that I do.

 Angie Baby, you’re a special lady. Living in a world of make-believe… Well, maybe… Well, maybe… (O’Day, 1974)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lina's Tale

Last night I was looking at random videos on my computer, most of them shared a common subject- Lina, our extra-special basenji. I found a very personal one I'd taken with my old phone where I could be heard talking behind the camera filming Lina on the sofa. It was January 2009, a time when we were dealing with sadness and navigating options a few weeks after her cancer diagnosis.  I’m telling Lina not to worry, that we are going to have a great year and that I would just follow her lead. She is seen confirming with her eyes and nodding in agreement. Lina nods and blinks and wrinkles her forehead in the most understanding ways when she is listening. I tell her I think she is very wise, and in watching her response, there is little room for doubt. All we really had to do was follow her lead.

Lina has impressed everyone with her continuing good health. She's been a living miracle for years now.  Generally, vets and professionals say they've never seen a dog do this well with her type of cancer. Dr. Margo Roman, Lina's holistic vet told me she believes Lina's story should be shared- people should know about this and benefit from it. She asked me to write, and I recognized that I had been waiting for her to ask.

I want to share something amazing here, the thing is, every time I start to write about Lina, I’m reminded that I thought she was amazing long before she became a medical miracle. It’s so easy to blurt out her status, she remains strong and happy and healthy, even though over 3 years ago, several vets and Tufts Veterinary Hospital gave her 3 months to live after they did a biopsy on her nasty cancer- TCC. We figured we’d do our best to beat it and figured out how to beat canine cancer by being so smart, etc., blah blah blah. It’s harder to actually know that what we’ve done is so right. Besides I only take credit for being the one to give Lina all the credit. Through the seeking of professional help and finding ourselves offered terrible options, I was empowered to find something else to do. By following my instincts and taking the lead in Lina’s care, I thought, well at least I would be trying something. I wanted our efforts to be a success, but I’ll get to that later. The thing is, the story I really want to tell about Lina is the love story.

Two times in my life, I hugged someone when we first met and recognized a feeling of destiny. I will always remember that night Lina gave me a hug, back before she was even our dog. The only other “first hug” I hold a memory of was when I met Chris, my husband, Lina’s other daddy back in 1995. By the night we met Lina in 2003, Chris and I had just bought a house so we could get a dog. Our first project after moving in was fencing in the backyard so we’d be ready when the right one came along. We scanned the listings on a basenji rescue website. One contact led us to Lina. She was four years old. I saw her and I knew, but Lina wasn’t even the dog that her owner, Angel Smith wanted to give up for adoption that night.  She had two female basenjis and had to let one go. They were feuding such that there would be physical violence if one or the other dog wasn’t crated. The dog up for adoption was the black and white basenji -another female… We’d already heard their story on the phone. On sight, I knew the red and white one with the sensitive expression- Lina, was our dog.

Angel said that someone would have to offer a really perfect home for her to give Lina up as a "golden opportunity dog" again. You see, Angel had placed Lina a few months earlier with some woman who changed her mind after a month and didn’t like Lina and returned her (which I will never understand, but am forever grateful.) Lina had been given back. I told Angel with no hesitation that we could offer Lina the perfect home, I agreed to every stipulation, including keeping ours a one-dog house.

We were granted the privilege of taking Lina out for our first date that night. As we drove away from Angel’s house for our ice cream date, Lina wrapped her head and arm around my shoulder and sighed the sweetest sigh in my ear. I will never forget that hug. It was a rare moment of expression. We went on with the evening and afterward we all agreed on our return at the end of the week to bring her home with us for a trial weekend.

Over the next few days I thought how funny that Chris and I had been having an ongoing discussion of dog names all summer and one of our female name favorites was “Angelina”-  I was having thoughts of destiny…

Lina came for the weekend, it went well and I called Angel that Sunday and told her I really didn’t see the point in returning Lina only to begin the transition later. We were ready to offer Lina a “forever home”. Instead of returning her, we agreed that Angel would visit our house the following week and we could work out all the details for Lina. That’s how she became our girl.

Since then, Lina is central to our family, including our holidays- especially Christmas, vacations- especially going to Provincetown. She is comically well behaved dining out at patio restaurants. She loves the sun and sand on the beach. She relishes the change of pace and togetherness of vacationing together- truly a shining example of openness to the blessings of a good vacation. We’ve already booked our rental for June 2012. We always enjoy sharing the anticipation of holidays with her. Lina knows that we are grateful to have her, thankful for presence, and appreciate her specialness. There are many details to share about our life together and the role she fills in our lives, but I want to be clear about Lina’s confidence and sense of importance in our family. She is loved and appreciated and she knows it.

January 2009, the shattering news came from the Oncologist at Tufts Veterinary Hospital confirming Lina’s diagnosis of TCC- transitional cell carcinoma. The biopsy results left no question about it she had inoperable cancer in the bladder and it was likely to spread. They gave her 3 to 5 months to live- without chemotherapy, or with chemotherapy- best case scenario, 5 to 7 months. Possible treatment options were unpromising and risky with inevitable side-effects.

The vets at Tufts left little room for hope. It was going to be terrible. I told them I just couldn’t believe it. She was so healthy- the only indication was a slight change in pattern when she urinates. She didn’t seem sick in any way. She was 9 years old at the time and energetic and had never been sick a day in her life. The vet said, "I know it's hard to believe, she does seem strong and healthy, we’ve seen this many times. She'll live for as long as she can pee- for as long as she can get her urine out. Then, at some point the tumors will grow too large, block the flow and she won't be able to pee. Then she dies in 3 days. As cancer’s go, this is a really terrible one."

What could I say but no? No all around- no to everything they offered, no to 3 months, and no to this being everything we could do. I accepted a prescription for meloxicam, an anti-inflamatory medication. After adjusting the dosage down, it didn’t seem to hurt anything. Chris and I went over and over all their treatment options for months, sometimes agreeing about what to do, sometimes not. We considered everything that Western Veterinary medicine had to offer and nothing ever sounded right to me for Lina.

How could I opt to make a choice like chemotherapy or radiation or inserting a urethra tube that would have risks and side-effects and immediately weaken her when she was strong and healthy and seemed fine? I just wanted to keep her that way. No matter what I did, it sounded like it was to be the end of a lot of things for us (-but it wasn’t.) How could it be that we weren’t going to have a great summer together? (-but we did.) Chris and I were stunned and hurt by the news. We left in tears. The vets at Tufts were very convincing. Do I wish I'd covered my ears? -Maybe it was the harshness of the news that sprung us into action to find a better way to give Lina every advantage. Could we have done as well without fear?

I was going to ensure her the perfect diet and exercise- walks 2x a day. One thing was clear. Lina hated going to the vet, she was going to tremble and show her misery every time we took her to an appointment. All along I was gaining a wealth of information and advice online. Different things had worked for different dogs. It was clear that Lina would benefit from a mostly grain-free diet. Beyond that, I wanted to follow my instincts but I didn't know where to start. I scheduled a consult at MASH with a holistic/homeopathic veterinarian to point us in the right direction. I was hoping Lina would show her wisdom and appear more relaxed through the appointment, but no such luck. She shook and trembled in horror as we entered the door.

However, we left with renewed confidence along with Lina's first bottles of natural supplements and began adding them to her every meal. We also learned about some alternative optional therapies for Lina. I knew that I needed to do something. Doing nothing would have felt terribly wrong to me.

I don’t know why I asked Dr. Kabler at that visit about the little figure on the wall shelf marked with acupuncture points. It was for tong ren she told me- "really out there"- an energetic form of acupuncture. It sounded very strange to me, but in the coming days I found that I kept thinking about it. I was glad that I had grabbed a business card for it on the way out. I was intrigued at the possibility of tong ren as part of the spiritual piece of helping Lina face cancer. Not only did it fit the criteria of treating Lina at home, but I read some remarkable testimonials about successful results in treatment. So we contacted the name on the card- Marcia Zais. I could tell Lina responded to tong ren from the very first treatment. We started with one or two times a week. About a year later the tools for tong ren fell into my hands and I learned enough to participate in the practice. It’s so normal for us now that I tend to forget that it’s “really out there”. We have a relaxing routine doing her therapy while listening to animal healing music.

So, over three years of all of this now, it’s hard to call to mind all aspects of the journey. I’ve learned invaluable lessons about fear and dealing with fear and working through fear. Lina’s symptoms have varied from little or nothing and to very concerning at times. For much of the second year she appeared to drip blood in her urine, but she never acted sick or uncomfortable or weak. I often say that we are doing what we can but when it comes right down to it, Lina gets the credit. Whatever it is she has to deal with, she is dealing with it.

Then one day last fall, Lina was sick. She appeared swollen and weak after we'd left her home with a babysitter for a two-night getaway. I could see that she wasn’t doing so well on our return and she worsened through a sleepless night. Chris wanted to take her to Tufts in the middle of the night, which I just couldn’t see as productive or helpful for her. I wanted to hold her through the night and call Marcia Zais (animal communicator) in the morning. My plan worked out well for Lina, Marcia identified Lina’s discomfort as not being the cancer, but an infection. We got her in to see Dr. Roman (holistic vet) later that morning and it took little convincing to start her on antibiotics. Lina responded almost immediately and hasn’t been sick since.

As for the specifics with changing up treatments and supplements over time- I leave it to instinct. One supplement with multiple types of algae in it that was effective in treating survivors of the Chernobyl disaster, as well as cancer survivors was central for a long time. Now we’re doing cranberry extract with a couple of nutritional ones and regular drops of “Tinkle Tonic”, before that it was an essiac tincture. Certain recommended healthy options appealed to me as they sounded like they would taste good for her. Her after-walkies snack every morning consists of 2% yogurt with fish oil. Lina has always loved to eat a variety of healthy foods including fruits and vegetables and I didn’t want to get to adding so much stuff to her food to compromise her pleasure of eating. She loves real food and she gets it. Meat, fish, eggs and vegetables (although we also use high-quality canned sometimes), fresh vegetables (raw green beans are her favorite) combined with rotating supplements, two walks per day along with regular tong ren treatments.

I’ve learned a lot about love and energy, visualization and anticipation, and faith and belief too. Every event becomes a milestone. Birthdays. Holidays. Christmas. Summer Vacation. I’d never have guessed it, but these really were to be the best years. Lina has blown away her odds for survival and continues to live a very happy life. I will forever be inspired by her success and her energy.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Like the Weather

The Weather Channel says we’ve got a major hurricane hitting tonight. I believe them, I’m just not buying into belief that I personally have anything to worry about. I think we’re going to be ok. Could this kind of weather really be so much worse than anything we’ve seen before? I can accept the weather. I can accept it as mood. Changes in weather once played a part in a much needed lesson for me.

Concepts of weather and mood were coming to the forefront when I first made the big move from Phoenix to Boston after I graduated from ASU in 1994. Growing up in Phoenix, I wasn’t accustomed to seeing much variety in the weather. It would get to the point each year when it went from hot to hotter and so on. Rain in Phoenix was kind of a big deal, not only because it was wet, but because it was something of a rarity for any day to day variations to factor in. In Phoenix, the weather was rarely a consideration, and in New England it always is. Locals here would say to me with a laugh, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a few minutes!”

I arrived in Massachusetts in September of 1994 in my old Toyota. The season was turning to fall and I soon learned that I had not much use for my summer clothes already. The weather was a constant factor in approaching the beginning of a day, because anything could happen. One day could be very different than the next in every way and all the possibilities for change within. I wasn’t used to that.

I took all of it in over the next few months, watching the weather through my window, driving around and watching the leaves fall from the trees, or taking the train into Boston through the wind and rain. The weather was always creating some kind of scenery and although hidden parts of me missed the constant sunlight, I was intrigued. What beauty!- but it was more than that, depression was creeping up on me and it was more than homesickness.

One mid-October day, I was winding down a tree-lined road up on the North Shore with the colorful leaves falling all around. It was like a scene from a movie, and I felt I had an epiphany. I’ll never forget it because I built inspiration and concepts from these thoughts for years. There was an emotional connection in art and movies that people generally understood and drew from that I had been missing from lack of experience. A connection that I recognized- I got it, but I never felt it.

Which Woody Allen movie were these falling leaves reminding me of, setting a depressing tone? It didn’t matter which one really, movies and books would often set a tone through weather. As a Phoenician I lacked the context to relate! Here I was
settling into my new home in denial of my depression- likely caused by lack of sunlight and short days and, boy oh boy could I ever relate now. I was too stubborn to turn around and go back to Phoenix- I was going to tuff it out. I had made myself a promise that I would stay at least 6 months before I even considered surrender.

Fall turned to winter, then soon I was waiting for winter to end, I was aware of having given it my six months. I’d come this far, why stop now- in truth, I’m sure, I was too depressed to even consider turning around and moving anywhere to change my life. In March, I learned that in New England, winter isn’t over in March and when the scenery isn’t white, it’s gray. It wasn’t all bad. I loved the snow- I still do. I loved my apartment in Salem. I was forming new relationships and the truth was, I didn’t know that parts of my being missed the sun. If anything, I was enjoying a break from it. However, the soggy gray days of winter were becoming harder to accept as the long end of winter continued. Besides feeling homesick for my old boyfriend, my old friends and my family in Phoenix, the result of all these weather considerations was stifling! Good conditions some days, and others bad. -That I could accept. Some days happy, others sad- harder to accept. Still I was bogged down with these short-term judgments. In effect, I was clouding my ability to see the richness of possibilities in my future.

If I could accept the ever-changing weather, couldn’t I simply accept my own moods and feelings like the weather? Couldn’t I just look at the day and accept what was being presented inside and out and prepare and go on with it? If I could enjoy a stormy snowy day, how about accepting one on the inside? How about letting choice to accept be a major factor? I didn’t have to add to any of it by labeling any of it as unacceptable! In other words, on top of feeling sad, I didn’t have to feel bad about feeling that way!

In retrospect, I was too young to simply choose to have a good attitude everyday. I had to get to that point in stages. Letting attitude take the lead wouldn’t become my goal until years later, but it was powerful to me to let acceptance be a factor all those years ago. I still look back on my time in Salem in my late 20’s and early 30’s as the end of my adolescence. Some really great things happened through my struggles there.

Hurricane or tropical storm? Who knows what the weather has in store for us this weekend? Power outages? At least I know how to translate a power outage to my mood. That sounds pretty good actually. I think I’m due for one. Only please, on the inside, not so much on the outside.

Monday, August 30, 2010


"I've never been this impressed with anyone in my whole life."

I imagined myself saying the words as I relaxed in my hammock watching Lina. We were having a perfect weather weekend and I took advantage of a little hammock-time out on the back porch. I always knew Lina would do better than her doctors predicted, but she is so amazing. I was exactly where I wanted to be, and grateful to have my little dog with me. When I plan my weekends, I build-in reasons to stay home. Gardening. Reading. Cooking. Hammock time. Care of Lina. Getting out with Lina. Time with Lina.

Twenty months ago, the Oncologist at Tufts Veterinary Hospital confirmed the diagnosis of TCC (transitional cell carcinoma- bladder cancer) through a biopsy. The results came back with inoperable TCC cancerous tumors. They gave her 3 to 5 months to live- without chemotherapy, or with therapy- 5 to 7 months, best case scenario. The vet said, "I know it's hard to believe, she seems so strong and healthy- but she'll live for as long as she can pee- for as long as she can get her urine out. Then, at some point the tumors will grow too large, block the flow and she won't be able to. Then she dies in 3 days."

Chris and I were stunned and hurt by the news. Do I wish I'd covered my ears? Maybe it was the harshness of the news that sprung us into action to give Lina every advantage. Could we have done as well without fear? Perfect diet. Walks 2x a day. One thing was clear. Lina hated going to the vet, she was going to tremble and show her misery every time we took her to an appointment. Western medicine hadn't thown us much of a bone- surgery wasn't possible, and it was clear that the option of dropping Lina off for weekly chemo appointments would stress her out, and wasn't going to enhance her happiness and quality of life. I said no to chemotherapy and radiation. We were going to have to see the homeopathic vet.

Meanwhile, I was swimming in online information. So many success stories! Different things had worked for different dogs. It was clear that Lina would benefit from a grain-free diet, beyond that, I wanted to rely on my instincts but I didn't know where to start. I consulted a homeopathic veterinarian to point us in the right direction. I was hoping Lina would show her wisdom and appear more relaxed through the appointment, but no such luck. She shook and trembled in horror as we entered the door.

However, we left with renewed confidence along with Lina's first bottles of natural supplements and began adding them to her every meal. We also learned about some alternative optional therapies for Lina, including one that the vet referred to as "really out there"- an energetic form of acupuncture called "tong ren." It sounded very strange to me, but in the coming days I found that I kept thinking about it. So, I prayed about it and I was soon considering the possibility of tong ren as part of the spiritual piece of helping Lina face cancer. Not only did it fit the criteria of treating Lina at home, but I read some remarkable testimonials about successful results in treatment. In fact a very good friend's mother turned out to be an active practitioner for her cancer diagnosis. So we contacted Marcia Zais and I could tell Lina responded to tong ren from the very first treatment. We've kept up with it once or twice a week, throughout.

We've watched Lina very closely these 20 months. I don't often like to admit that fear has been a part of all this, for me. However, I seriously doubt that Lina has dealt with it through fear. I am so impressed with her, she has never appeared in any way sick or tired. She is simply amazing. Last night, I was clicking through videos on my computer of Lina.
I found a very personal one I'd taken with my phone where I was behind the camera a few weeks following her diagnosis. Lina was sitting on the couch and I was talking to her. I love talking to her, she nods and blinks and wrinkles her forehead in the most wise, understanding ways when she is listening. I spoke, telling her not to worry, that we were going to have a great year and that I would just follow her lead.

Lina has blown away her odds for survival and continues to live a very happy life. The homeopathic vet recently asked me to write up a paper about the steps I take in Lina's care to help other people. Maybe this entry is a start. As for the specifics with changing up treatments and supplements- I leave it to instinct. Right now she's taking a supplement with multiple types of algae in it that was effective in treating survivors of the Chernobyl disaster, as well as cancer survivors. We'd stopped this one for a while, but I think she does well with it. Perfect diet combined with at least a dozen rotating supplements along with regular tong ren treatments. Grateful all around.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Grandma's Piano

"Ain't she sweet?
See her coming down the street.
Now I ask you very confidentially,
Ain't she sweet?"

I hold a vivid memory of Grandma sitting at her piano in Corydon, Iowa, 1975, playing and singing her song for me. I can still hear her voice in my mind and I can still see her smiling eyes and face as she did her little song. I was six years old. I never heard the song before or since, but as I write here, the next verse of Ain't She Sweet seems to want to come out. "Oh me, oh my! Ain't that perfection!" Maybe I remember this song best because Grandma Rissler would more often play and sing hymns. As a child, I guess I felt that her Christian/church-going side was less fun than her card-playing/ musical side. I always had a much greater appreciation of her fun side.

Grandma Rissler was the first to teach me to play piano. She had a duet that she taught me the parts to in stages over the years. I always enjoyed it and our little song came to have a rockin' feel to it when we played it together in later years. It's still the song that I'll play every chance I have to sit down at a piano. She first taught me the song on her upright piano. I think my mom said she also learned to play on that upright piano of Grandma's, but that must have been before someone painted it green. I always knew it as the green piano. I remember it so well in Grandma's old house, but she and Grandpa must have moved out of that house when I was about 8 years old. Then the piano went to my Aunt Ginus's house where it remained until now.

Over the 4th of July weekend, my brother and I played parts of Grandma's duet together when we had a quiet moment in my Uncle Jimmy's house in Chicago. Our families had met there for Cousin Emily's wedding celebration. My time at Uncle Jimmy's house was just a stop on the way to the airport for me. Chris and I were on our way home to New England. Freddy was going to stay another night before traveling to Iowa to visit Aunt Ginus's farm the following day. I was a bit envious, I could have used some more family time. Besides, I always loved Ginus's old farmhouse and I'd love to see it again.

I spoke to Freddy on the phone some days later when we were both home. He filled me in on the rest of his midwest trip. He also told me that he learned that Ginus and Uncle Stan had tried to give Grandma's piano away for some years, to no avail. Nobody wanted it. I guess the green paint along with some permanently out of tune keys made it less than desirable to people. They wanted it out of their house now to make room for a pool table and were considering burning the piano! Freddy responded to Uncle Stan that his only feeling about it was that if he was going to burn the piano in a bonfire, he'd like him to do it while Freddy and his family were there for the July 4th Holiday! -So they did it! Uncle Stan built a big bonfire and dumped the piano on top and they all watched it burn to ashes!

I took this news in and it all felt like really big news to me. I must admit, I hadn't thought of that old piano for years, I didn't even really know that Ginus still had it. I found myself thinking sentimentally of that piano often as the next few days passed. It was just a piano, but I felt a sense of mourning for its demise and a real longing came with the memories that were popping up. I smile when I think of all these feelings now, my emotions were probably still cooking from Emily's wedding. I'd had a bit of quality family time and it wasn't enough, and I knew I had wanted more. My time in Chicago had been wonderful and filled with rare and special moments and feelings. It was all over now, and coming down from it left me depressed. I'd also looked forward to seeing my mom in Chicago for months of anticipation and was deeply disappointed by her last minute cancellation. Now this talk about the piano and I guess I probably wanted my Grandma back too. It seems I'd fallen into a bummer of an exercise in sentimentality. What did I need to care about Grandma's old worthless piano anyway?

Then a few days later, my sister-in law posted the pictures of the event. (Thank you, Jordel- I love these pictures.) I was surprised at the emotion I felt as I looked at the photos of the piano in flames. I put my hands over my face as my eyes swelled with tears and I just gave into it and sobbed for a few moments.

Then I let it all go. When it's time, its time. It was beautiful and sad. It was a treat to celebrate these thoughts of my Grandma Rissler whom I will always hold dear in my heart. I have to say, wasn't she sweet? Wasn't she really, really sweet.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lina Takes Us Away

Now join your hands, and with your hands, your hearts.
-William Shakespeare

Coming back to Provincetown at dusk one evening, we took Commercial Street from Route 6A in the far West End. Chris, Lina and I were on our way "home" to our quaint old summer rental for the week -The Old Homestead. We were about to head in for the night. After a few blocks, Lina stood up and indicated that she needed to get out of the car to do some business. Chris pulled over to let Lina and I out to walk while he went on up the road to find parking. I figured Lina needed to go potty. She took the lead, walking me up the street. I'm thinking she was just finding the perfect spot to do her business, or rather, I was probably not thinking. I was just following along. Lina was taking me through an old familiar territory and I hadn't realized it. She knew this walk, this is why she wanted out of the car! She was taking us back to another nearby favorite summer home on the bay that we'd rented a few years ago.

Chris soon caught up with us and Lina took us to a special private garden- a place that we knew. Lina is so funny when she gets in one of her moods to lead us on an adventure- revealing her wisdom. Usually she'll take a routine trek on our walks. However, just occasionally enough to be surprising, she'll get motivated to think outside the box! More often, she finds inspiration when we take a family walk. Perhaps having our "pack" together motivates her to get creative and explore more, or maybe she just wants to show us what a creative leader can do. We don't know, but she knows. She'll choose the way and break in a new route for us. It always makes me smile when I realize that she's doing it. This time was extra special. We were on vacation, and we were all feeling it. Besides, she wanted to visit her old familiar place.

We had been invited to this amazing garden some years ago when staying here on the far West End of Commercial Street. We visited the garden daily during those holidays. I still love this place and it's hard to explain how I felt explicitly welcome just walking my little dog right into this beautiful garden. All the while maintaining a feeling of serenity. Welcome.

Lina took us in at dusk and I made up my mind that we'd have to come back in the daytime for a better viewing. Lina was loving it and she was taking her time, lingering in the growing darkness. I was happy to follow. She led me through the crushed seashell paths. Feeling some bug bites, I told myself I didn't mind- this is just something that happens on a June night. After some time we'd circled back to the front and we were about ready to exit. We paused, a feeling of deja vu came over me and all at once I knew why and turned around. I looked at the garden behind me. I gazed across the now dark scene and saw the lightning bugs. "Fireflies!" They were lighting up all over the garden. This was one of only a handful of times that we've ever seen them. They were putting on quite a display on this special June evening. I took my husband's hand and we watched them lighting up throughout the expanse in the darkness.

We all love this garden, it truly is a special place for us. We visited again a few days later to take it in under the spectacular morning light. I cherish our memories going into this peaceful setting.