Monday, June 19, 2017

STOP PUSHING!

Here's my reflection for this week. It struck me--with some help from my Buddhist younger brother, from my favorite new book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F..k, and from my brother, Jesus--that I torment myself every time I resist my life, push back against sorrow, suffering, and things out of my control. Like:

--swollen ticks on my dog;
--my second accessory stomach;
--slow, erratic drivers;
--the fact that at 71 years I no longer have forever.

In the wonderful book cited above, the author writes: Wanting positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one's negative experience is itself a positive experience."

I thoughtfully scratched my one-inch curly, apres chemo hair (uh, oh, another push back!) and wondered--how much energy do I waste resisting things I don't like in my life? And conversely, when I DON'T resist hard times, how much better is that for all of us?

I remember my surprising cancer diagnosis in the fall of 2015. Not fun. Scary, of course. But my attitude then was essentially: BRING IT ON, BABY! Do the two surgeries; give me the poison that will kill those damn, marauding cells; give me the Rx to help wobbly legs; and, oh, yeah, give me some legal dope to smoke for hard days. Though I admit to far preferring a good, crisp, cold Chardonnay (Toasted Head, are ya listening?) to vaping, which makes me cough.  The point is that by not pushing back against incoming suffering, worry, and pain, it actually made the whole experience easier on me, my husband and kids, and friends. Possibly my dog. 

I need to remember this when I am behind an impossible driver who is talking on a hand-held phone, texting, and petting his dog. All at the same time. I have to breathe deeply and feel some compassion for how crazed he is.

When my legs get wobbly again, just pop some Gabapentin and smoke a little weed. Read my fabulous, entertaining Jane Yellowrock series (by Faith Hunter) on my kindle and just relax, not complaining: I wish this had never happened to me. How could I get cancer? Me, who exercised regularly and actually ate OATMEAL for breakfast (instead of chocolate croissants)?

When I confront the fact that my daughter (who is still beautiful on the inside and once was quite glamorous) is now transitioning to the male gender, I think: "How cool is this. This is about him, not me. And the person I birthed and loved for so many years is still there. They have not gone away." And now I have two sons! Amazing.

When I bemoan my pooching-out stomach I catch myself and think, "At least you've got a stomach, babe. Remember that woman at Baystate undergoing chemo for her stomach cancer. She lost 75% of her stomach to surgery and can hardly eat
." Be grateful. Stop complaining. You are upright, breathing, laughing, making great food, loving up your honey, surrounded by friends and family, embedded in a faith community, held by God, and living in a place where the beauty of nature surrounds you every single moment of the day. Remember.




Thursday, May 25, 2017

YEARNING TO BE ILL?


If anyone had told me a year ago that there would be times when I wished I were still sick, I would have stared at them in dismay, fallen to my knees, laughed hysterically, then sobbed.

Are you f...ing KIDDING me?  Why would anyone still want to be hauling down to Baystate for weekly infusions, going to NETA for more weed (see earlier post about my wild confusion between ounces and grams, sigh), crashing on the couch, and drinking gallons of water per day to flush out my kidneys.

When I had my last infusion, I thought--I'll be doing the tango in the parking lot. I'll throw confetti out the car windows. I'll go to La Strada and buy a pair of 4" black stiletto heels to celebrate. Who cares if I can't walk in them?

I had a friend on FB who commented that when her treatments for breast cancer ended, she kind of missed them, "Because I felt we were fighting my disease, we were doing something!"  I didn't get it then, but I do now.

The toddler part of me still wants my beloved husband to bring me tea (milk and sugar, please) at the drop of a hat; to make me a thin, lean hamburger which I could digest; to pour me a small glass of white wine (who cares if the protocol says no alcohol when getting infusions!); and to spread a fuzzy throw over my legs on cold nights.

I don't need that any more, but I sometimes want it--that feeling of being held in someone else's care, in loving, tender hands, surrounded by wishes for my comfort and good health.

I think that once you have had cancer, you ever quite lose the desire to be cared for and nurtured. Because who the hell knows what the future holds?  I remember when my step-mom was in a near-fatal accident years ago and was in ICU in Baystate. As we entered her room she was wailing, "I want my Mommy, I want my Mommy!" (Note to self: never bring a ten year-old daughter to visit distraught grandma in hospital. Ever.)

I get it. I want my mommy at times, also my dad. When I was at the beginning of the cancer journey and talking with my adult son, Ben, on the phone, I burst into tears and wailed, "I want my Dad. I wish he were still here!"

If we had great parents--and I did--then I'm not sure we ever stop missing them completely. If we are lucky, we have partners and friends who can wrap us in this kind of comfort. And if we are REALLY lucky, we believe in an all-merciful, grace-filled, loving, abundant God who holds us in her/his hands, always and forever.




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

ARE WE THERE YET???

Those of us who have had the amazing gift and grace to be parents will remember car trips with our kids. We once had a ginormous van with bucket seats, individual lights, heat, and air-conditioning controls front and back seats--perfect for long trips. But despite the luxury I remember the dreaded phrase, "Are we THERE yet? How much longer? I have to pee. I need a new action figure, I'm hungry."

I would hand out books to read, snack bars, and sometimes throw little riddles written on scraps of paper rolled up in an old film container to my kids in the back. Wonderful days. Tiring days. Days when you shoveled everyone into bed, hoping you hadn't damaged their tiny psyches for life and longing for the oblivion of bed.

But now I am in the "Recovery" stage from cancer; from 3 separate kinds (in case you are interested), 2 cancer surgeries (in case you want to know,) and many months of chemo--carbo/taxol (in case you are interested).  Things are better, no question about it. I am not kvetching about where I am now. Far from it. I am grateful for: the marvelous medical treatment I received; the support of friends, family, and faith community; the love of my dog; the beauty outside our decks; God's love; and the fact that I am upright, walking around, and still cooking and praying, two of my favorite activities. Outside of sex and talking with my honey. 

But here's the thing--I am an impatient broad, and I want it to be OVER already. I am so done with fatigue, wobbly legs, foggy brain, strange hair, and the sense that my life is still on hold until I know if the cancer is really gone.  I feel like someone who has begun a conversation on the phone when suddenly a voice interrupts, "Can you please hold?" I am on hold, waiting for someone to pick up the phone and resume the conversation. I realize I am mixing my metaphors here, but I have chemo brain.  I have a free Hall Pass for the next, oh, two years, maybe five.

I had lunch recently with a close woman friend who is recovering from major surgery who complained, "I can't believe I still have to take naps. I get so tired. I can't even grocery shop." I get it.

We both want to be beyond the recovery stage. We want our old lives back, whatever that means. I'd like to take up running again, but suspect that won't happen. I'd like to think about writing a book about cancer and tarting up my blog, but I don't have the spoons for it yet. (Remember: www.butyoudontlooksick.com)  My friend would like to go for long walks on the bike path, make luscious dinners, sing in the church choir, and generally have way more energy and strength.

Me too.  I am like my kids from long ago, waiting restlessly in the back seat, kicking my heels and sucking up the dregs of
my Micky D's pepsi, asking, "Are we there yet? When will we be THERE?"

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I AM A WW FAIL!

No, that is not World War II. Though in some ways, I wish it were. Because then we would be talking about bravery, courage, sacrifice, and friendships that survive catastrophe.

No, I am talking about Weight Watchers. Every 3-4 years, I decide that I weigh too much, that my stomach is pooching on out, and it is time to get serious about losing weight.  No one knows I do this except for my best woman friend and my husband, both of whom say--"You are fine as you are, don't worry!" But I do. Because I am am a 1950s-60s broad who grew up with an insane idea of female beauty. I thought I should look like Ginger Rogers, wearing a swirling dress, high heels, and dancing about the room with the seriously cool Fred Astaire.

So--despite surgeries and cancer--I think my body needs to be whipped into shape. Steroids will do that to you.

Alors, I rejoined Weight Watchers, but this time using the Online Plus, because I hate, loathe, and cringe at WW meetings. Simply awful. Kind of like AA meetings without the bad coffee and cigarettes. Just with all the expensive WW food they try to sell you and the insanely cheerful leader who has lost 100 pounds. God bless 'em, but I will avoid the meetings.

I signed up, full of anticipation, resolution, and a kind of shaky courage. THIS time I will do it right. THIS time I shall lose the 6+ pounds I have accumulated, like a bad Federal loan debt. With this new system I find it is fun typing in the points for the food I eat; then registering the steps I've taken during the day, as I have a Fitbit 2 which tracks my steps, even in the shower, saints preserve us!

All goes swimmingly for the first month or so. I lose about 3 pounds and feel virtuous and sanctified.  Then I begin to waffle--cheating on the amount of Smart Points I log in (that mouthful of granola surely doesn't count...), minimizing the count for mini muffins I bake at home. (Turns out, you have to use THEIR recipes if you want to put in 2 points for mini muffins. Mine classify as being soaked in vodka or something, as I stir in granola, nuts, raisins, and all kinds of goodies. They are "mini" only in my imagination.)

The next steps is to start cheating on the Smart Points for my wine at night. I have even ordered--at great expense--little wine glasses with lines incised on them from WW, so I will know how many ounces I have consumed.

God save us, the whole  point of drinking wine is to enjoy and become mellow as you eat fabulous food. So I log

8 points for 2 glasses of 5 ounces of wine, but I suspect I am fooling no one but myself. Or, as my husband gaily puts in, "You are seeing other calories."

Do ya think this is why my weight stays stubbornly at 143.3?  Sigh. I either need to get way more serious about this (1 glass of wine, 1, 1, 1) or give it up, even though I've paid for 3 months of WW. It is a struggle, and I wish it weren't, but here I am once again--a WW fail.






Wednesday, March 22, 2017

WELCOME THE STRANGER

If you are listening at Mass and not scrolling through messages on your iPhone, you will eventually hear about welcoming the stranger during Old Testament readings. Deuteronomy reminds us that "You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 10:19) Therefore, we are to extend to others the welcome we once received in a new land.

As we have seen, the current administration seems to have no connection to either the Old Testament or the New. "Welcoming the stranger" has been changed to--"Expel anyone who does not look like us." (Meaning, with brown skin.) Or, "Forbid anyone to enter this country who has a different religion." (Meaning, Muslims.)  It is beyond belief and deeply saddening that a country which was built on the skill and talent of immigrants should be closing its doors. But let me share a small, cheerful story in the midst of this chaos and worry.

Yesterday's Writers' Meeting was held at my house, high on the windy hill with clouds scudding by the windows and finally, sun appearing as we sipped tea, talked, and shared our writing news and manuscripts. My husband had wisely taken himself off to a nearby upscale coffee house with WiFi access, but as soon as he walked in, he saw it was crowded and noisy. As a man with ADD, noise short-circuits any kind of focus or work.

Driving into Northampton, he seated himself inside McDonald's, where all kinds of folks make themselves at home for a time. Nearby a man talked to himself, not into a phone, carrying on a solo conversation. At another table, a mother and father spoke European Spanish to their little girl, who responded in perfect Castilian Spanish. "The diction was so clear," Rick said, "I could understand most everything."

A few other folks looked as if they had either been sleeping rough or bunking at a homeless shelter in town. All of their belongings were stuffed into plastic bags at their feet, and they nursed a cup of coffee and sometimes a donut to pass the time.

As Rick recounted this, I thought--this is the way to welcome the stranger. Come on in. Sit yourself down. Have some hot coffee and maybe a donut. Put your belongings by your feet, and no one will ask you to leave.  If you are starring in a narrative within your head, that's fine, as long as you don't scare the customers. No one will bar you from entering due to skin color, religion, shapeless bundles, or mumbled words. Come on DOWN, my sister, my brother!

We have come to a pretty pass when McDonald's exemplifies biblical values far more than our government. I think we should invite The Donald to visit the fast food place, seat him with some coffee and fries and say, "Look around, honey. Open your heart to the stranger."

I wish. I suspect the only way I am going to survive the next 4 years with sanity intact is by remembering that The Donald's story is not God's story, and @realDonald will not have the last word. Or, as God so mercifully told me when I was in despair over the election, "My story is bigger than this story."

Keep the faith: remember that grace is God's breath; do whatever you need to do to resist, work for change, help the marginalized, the immigrant, the refugee, and know--this is not forever. Even if it feels like that sometimes.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

CATHOLIC BROAD COOKS--2

SIMPLE MADE HARD

Could be the title for this blog piece. Honestly. I am a danger to myself. Here I am on a damn cold and windy day, wondering what house project to tackle, or perhaps, an old novel that could be taken out and dusted off. Making comments in the margins counts as writing, right?

But, no, the lure of the kitchen sucked me in. As usual. I got out my Weight Watchers cookbook to see if they had a decent recipe for tuna casserole. Side note: My husband and I have been cooking ridiculously complicated and often undigestible meals (for me, at any rate) from--Blue Apron, then Plated, and soon to be given a try--GreenChef, vegetarian. Because of this spate of fancy-dancy, elite cooking (Trump would hate it), I couldn't just make a simple tuna casserole.  

If you've ever done Blue Apron, you know that any recipe will use every single bowl in the household, every utensil, each chopping board, and at least 4 pans. So--I got out two cans of albacore tuna, assessing how seriously dead the meat looked inside and thinking I really should never, ever buy this stuff again which is ravaging our oceans. Then, laden with guilt and staggering slightly I found some egg noodles which had only expired 2 years ago, set the kettle to boil, and got ready to make noodles.

Meanwhile, I looked at the WW recipe, which was rather loathsome as they were using frozen peas, frozen corn, and a can of mushroom soup (mushroom soup! Are you kidding???) and more. I couldn't do it. My gourmet heart would shrivel to the size of a walnut. I remembered I had some fennel stalks in the fridge, from when I made the Mediterranean Shrimp recipe, and I got those out and chopped them into smallish pieces. As the noodles were boiling, I cooked for 5 minutes some chopped fresh carrots to use in the vegetable layer of the casserole which I was rapidly inventing. I also toasted 2 slices of my home made sourdough wheat bread to use for breadcrumbs later on.

Vegetable Layer: swoosh a tad of butter, a splash of olive oil, turn on the heat, and WE'RE OFF, sauteing onion and garlic, fennel, later adding the carrots for 10-15 min., and giving all a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end, along with a handful of fresh spinach for kicks.

Sauce: melt 2 tablespoons in a medium size saucepan; heat to boiling point almost 2 cups of 2% milk in microwave. When butter is melted, stir in 2 heaping tablespoons of white flour--stir--then add heated milk, whisking steadily until thick. 

Spices: Add about 2 tsp. of za'atar (I can't help it, it's my favorite new spice), a pinch of curry, and mix. Put in handful of fresh, chopped parsley and delicately sprinkle a small amount of "Chrystal Louisiana Hot Sauce" into the mix.  Turn off heat. All burners are turned off now as I drain the cooked noodles. Then I took my home made toasted sourdough wheat bread and grated it into small crumbs against a box grater, trying to avoid shredding the blue plastic gloves I am wearing, to protect my recent manicure with "Bodega something." By now I can feel sweat beginning to accumulate above my eyes, and I think my nose is about to run. Perhaps I am allergic to complicated recipes?

Assemble: spray Pam on inside of 4-quart casserole: spread layer of noodles on bottom. Top with half of cooked veggie mixture; then half of tuna, and pour half of sauce on top. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a bit of cheese. Next layer do the same, topping it all with more breadcrumbs and cheese. Cook in 350 degree oven for at least 1/2 hour, while you stagger to the couch, drink cold tea from this morning, and groan softly. Really, I needed to make it so damn complicated? Bet it will be good, though. I'm ready for comfort food. And clearly I have no spoons left to drive through windy, freezing weather to go to Mass. Sorry, God. Out of spoons.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

CATHOLIC BROAD COOKS

In my old blog, which was fancier and niftier, I had a place where I could post recipes 'cause I am such a devoted, at times frenetic cook. (Ask my husband. He will tell you the warp speed I achieve in sneakers in the kitchen while cooking.)

Ever since posting a picture on FB and Instagram (what? I have no life?) of the "One-Pan Dinner--Mediterranean Shrimp" (from "Cook's Country issue, Dec./Jan. 2017), a number of folks have asked for this recipe. Since it takes too many spoons (reference spoon theory at www.butyoudontlooksick.com) to type it up and email it, I had the brilliant, perhaps even sacred idea of posting it on my blog. For all to see. If I'm lucky, I might even manage to post the picture of the dish as it was completed. 

INGREDIENTS:
--2 lbs. fresh jumbo shrimp (16-20 per pound), peeled, deveined, tails removed & defrosted if frozen. (They prefer natural shrimp, no sodium or preservatives.)
--1,1/2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2" thick. (This is about 3 cups, and you can use red organic, unpeeled.)
--1 Fennel bulb, stalks discarded, cut into 1/2" thick wedges thru stem end by 2" long.  
--3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, & extra for drizzling.
--salt & pepper
--2 tsp. dried oregano
--1 tsp. grated lemon zest, plus lemon wedges for serving. (I use 2 whole organic lemons & grate them for more flavor.)
--1 cup of crumbled feta cheese
--1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
--2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley.

PREPARATION: AT LEAST 45 MIN. TOTAL (I prep all veggies first, bag them up, and put in pan in fridge; same with shrimp--defrosted & tails cut off.)

1/ Put oven rack in lower-middle position and preheat to 450 degrees. Toss potatoes, fennel, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper in large bowl. Spread vegetables evenly in single layer in baking pan and roast about 25 minutes, until tender. I tucked 9-10 lemon slices in between veggies for flavor. (I poke potatoes with fork to test for doneness.)

2/ Pat shrimp dry with paper towels. Toss shrimp in bowl with oregano, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1/4 tsp. pepper.(I usually omit both pepper and salt, as feta is salty.)

3/ Remove roasting veggies from oven and flip them with spatula so browned sides face up. Spread shrimp & feta over the top. Return to oven and roast until shrimp are cooked, about 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle olives & parsley over top and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges.
Serves 4-6, probably will have left-overs.

This goes well with a fairly robust Chardonnay, like Toasted Head, or a milder Sauvignon Blanc, like Wither Hills. You only need bread to complete this.