Sunday, September 21, 2014

22/40 in 40: Take Care of Yourself

I had my appendix out in mid-August.

I had my yearly bloodwork done about a week later, which Gretchen tells me is a big waste of time because surgery screws up your numbers for a while. But I still did, and I went to my doctor to review the numbers and get another year's worth of thyroid medication. And sitting there, she glanced at her computer screen and then at my face, back and forth.

"How much are you drinking?" she asked.

And I got really, really honest. Including the fact that I hadn't had anything to drink since I had my appendix out, what, with the whole surgery thing followed up with prescription narcotics.

"Good. Let's not, say, for a year or so?"

"Ok," I answered quietly.

"And how about losing 30 pounds?"

"Oh, sure, I'll get right on that," because who wouldn't want to do that? But my voice betrayed my frustration with my health, my being 40 and all my warranties expiring.

"You're extremely hypothyroid," she admitted. "And that'll make it hard. How much do you exercise?"

And I made it clear that I'd pretty much replaced exercise with drinking. She laughed and I had to as well.

"Thirty minutes a day, let's try."

So I joined the gym I'd been taking Fiona to, since she's 13 and needs some lifelong habits. And then I got the phone call about the ultrasound. And the news about the biopsy. I kept up the habits. I didn't drink. I worked out. And frankly, I didn't give a shit what I put in my mouth for about a week, but baby steps...

Now my tumor is officially benign. I'm sleeping more at night. I'm eating better and I just got back from the gym for the first time since the biopsy. Back on track. Because I'm going to be 40 in mere weeks and my warranty is in fact expiring--and so I need to go ahead and shell out for the extended warranty. Because I sat in that waiting room at the breast center thinking of my 5 year old. Because I fear those bloodwork numbers, however inaccurate they might be. Because life is so amazingly beautiful, especially in autumn, and I don't want to be tired and depressed and sick.  Because that's where I was headed. Because I watch my neighbor, ten years older than me, walk to the park, still recovering from her stroke 5 years ago. Because I know knee replacement is probably inevitable due to my genes and I want to be healthy enough in 15 years to be able to get it done.

I have to take care of myself. I cannot be Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose. I don't have antlers to shed. I have a lot of people under my wing and a lot of things left to do. I have to do this right.

My tumor is benign

More later. Just wanted to update that my tumor is indeed benign, a fibroadenoma, and does not need to be removed unless it grows over the course of the next year. In which case we may (we being me and my doctor) decide to excise it--but it would be a simple tumor removal, not needing clear margins and so forth. Simple. Simple is good.

And thus ends that little saga. I pulled the card out one last time today when a parishioner mentioned that I'd missed worship commission this past week. I think she was getting ready to chastise me. And so I said, "I had a biopsy" and that changed that tune.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ten on Tuesday: 10 things I do to get my house ready for fall

1. I switch out the candle. I have a candle in my living room because my house, if left to its own devices, smells like cats and old ladies. This is because we have cats, and there have been many old ladies who have lived and aged in my house. A candle keeps this at bay. In the summer it's all cucumber melon seabreeze fresh cotton. Fall? Apples and pumpkins and candy corn.

2. Storm door becomes screen door. Only to very soon become storm door again.

3. I clean up my back porch, the secret screened in porch off my bedroom. Some summers (like most of this one), my Jeffersonian door is open to it, but some are scorchers. Either way, round about mid-September I vacuum, fluff pillows or toss them in the wash, and enjoy the space.

4. Take the pool down. We have an inflatable kiddie pool, about 8 feet in diameter, that sits right off our deck. And we're done.

5. Mow the grass. My goal is to rarely mow the grass, frankly, but by this time of year it is a scraggly mess. Time to mow.

6. Take down most of the garden. The cucumbers are diseased. The basil is limping along and it's time for one final harvest. The tomatoes I let go until the first freeze warning. And, alas, my appendectomy made me miss my garlic. I will have to hunt this week to find the bulbs, since most of the stalks are dead and gone.

7. Put afghans in the bottom drawer of the dresser where our TV lives. It's time for coziness and we need enough blankets.

8. Start the semi-annual kid room clean out. Which I hate.

9. Look around at what needs cleaning and painting and so forth. I can usually get about one project done because my energy peaks in the fall.

10. Start thinking about what Christmas will look like. Yes. I said that.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


I have a tumor in my breast the size of a small olive. I've seen the olive I'm thinking of at Whole Foods in their fancy little olive bar. I think it was labeled "Spanish" but I can't recall right now. A google search gives me Arbequina olives as a small Spanish olive. Maybe that's the kind. I just know that when I think about it, I think about olives.

I have a biopsy next week. It is almost definitely a benign tumor called a fibroadenoma. It is a tumor. But it's a benign tumor that will remain benign and just hang out in my 36H with me until perhaps menopause when it will shrink, maybe to the size of a kidney bean. Or a shelling pea. Or it may disappear for good. My mother has had several over the course of her life. My 28 year old sister has one tagged for future reference after her biopsy revealed the same thing we're hoping for with my olive. Hers was a barbell. Mine is more hopeful than that, and hers was still ok.

If it's not a fibroadenoma, it's a malignant tumor that will lead to more decisions. Most of my decisions will involve the fact that I'm 39 years old and frankly I'd like to live a lot more than I'd like to have size 36H breasts. But we're a long time from there.

I was at Whole Foods today before my ultrasound, which I had no idea was looking for a tumor the size of a small olive. But I didn't visit the olive bar. I got a chicken salad wrap and an iced coffee in a jar, with almond milk. I ate it in the parking lot of the breast center. And then I got to go learn a lot of new vocabulary words. Like fibroadenoma.

I prefer arbequina.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

21/40 in 40: Honor Your Feelings

21st in a series of 40 posts about the 40 things I've learned in 40 years

As I became an adult, there were key moments when I didn't honor my feelings, and those were moments that taught me hard lessons. I should have refused to be induced for Fiona's birth. I should have switched pediatricians earlier. I should have--actually, there was a lot of failure to honor my feelings during the first few months of Fiona's life, now that I think on it. And Fiona's birth disaster and the year and a half that followed made me listen to my feelings very closely.

The other day a friend, Tony, who vacillates in his belief in God and the whole Church "thing", and in fact has good reason and lots of therapy under his belt in regards to all of that, told me about running into an old friend on the street, and in the process of catching up, the friend said to him, "Can we just pray together right here about what's going on in your life?"

"Surely you told him no, that it would kind of make you uncomfortable, right?" I asked. I'm kind of a blurter and I was laughing at the absurdity of the moment.

"No, I did it. I held his hands and we prayed," Tony sighed.

"That's like," I am suddenly brought back to high school, to a moment in Junior Hall after school and George Bourgeois stalking me and the moment when I finally just gave in and let him feel me up and push his tongue into my mouth and I so did not honor any of my feelings that day or any of the days afterward while he made lewd gestures towards me, up until the day he was kicked out of school for sexually assaulting a freshman and then I came forward and that damned principal blamed me and the other girls for not telling him, and he cried, that fat old priest cried in front of us and something clicked inside my head that never again I would just stay silent and meek.

"That's like," I start again, "having an abusive boyfriend ask you for just one more kiss and giving in."

"Yeah," he agreed. "But it was just easier."

And I realized that while I don't have a lot of boundaries about my time and my heart, while I love and let people be and forgive again and again, all of that, I realized that fuck that. I listen to my heart and I do say no. I do.

When that voice in my head says run, I run.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

20/40 in 40: Be Game for Whatever

20th in a series of 40 posts about the 40 things I have learned in 40 years

Be game for whatever. Put your agenda on pause. Let someone else take the reins and guide the horse somewhere else.

Last week Jake turned to me and asked if I wanted to go out. Of course I did, and I didn't have any ideas. I didn't want to drink, I wasn't hungry for anything in particular. But I wanted to go out with Jake and just get away for a short time.

"Do you want to go to the Art Bar?" he asks. Then he reveals his motives: the proprietor plays the same online capture-the-flag game, Ingress, that Jake does, and they're on the same team. "And he's recruited like, 40 people from Cherokee," he adds.

Cherokee is where my sister-in-law's bakery is. It is also an antique row, a Mexican-American enclave, and home to things like tattoo parlors and burlesque dance studios (which my sister participates in). It's an odd mix of everything. South Grand, where I live, is stoic and gentrified in comparison to Cherokee.

And I was hesitant. I didn't want to sit in a bar on Cherokee and have Jake go on and on ad nauseum about the game he plays. Art Bar was a new thing, I'd never been there, and I fear changes sometimes.

"Sure," I answer him. "Let's go."

So we do. The owner recognizes Jake from his online posts--Jake is a longterm player and organizer in the St. Louis area with this game. They chat, and I notice the pads of paper, the colored pencils and crayons. The owner makes me a fancy soda and I sit there and draw while Jake talks, just like I thought he would.

Then the owner's girlfriend comes in, having made it to Level 8 in the game. She's a burlesque dancer with makeup I covet, and it turns out she knows my sister. Worked for her at the vintage and used clothing store. She has two friends, covered in tattoos, the guy wearing a kilt, who have also leveled-up. The owner brings out a bottle of champagne.

We go outside onto the street and he opens the bottle with a sabre.

After sharing the champagne and chatting up more folks, Jake asks where we might get decent tacos. Fingers are pointed down the street to a couple of places. Jake and I finish the night with house specialties off a menu written in Spanish. We sit outside on the patio and watch all the south city people walk past us, drive low-riders, play rap music, laugh and talk.

If I'd not been game for whatever, we would have gone to the same Irish pub, I would have had the same burger with rarebit, the same chips, and that would have been fine. But there wouldn't have been a bottle of champagne opened with a sabre.

I try to be game for whatever.

Friday, August 22, 2014

19/40 in 40: Know Where You Come From

19th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years

Recently I read a brief article summarizing a scientific study on fear. It seems that we can inherit fear from our elders. Not that we are trained to fear those things by our elders, but that we actually come with them pre-programmed. I don't know if this is so, but it rings true.

It is important to know where you're from. I can trace my genealogy back a long way on several sides of my family, fewer generations on others. And I know my stories aren't unique, I know that life is rough and hard and short all over the world and refugees and immigrants come burdened with sadness, loss, and fear. And so I look at all of us, some days, and wonder how much of that we carry with us, generations later. The Vietnamese I worked with at St. Pius. The Bosnians who came into the store where I worked before that. First and second generation folks from all over who sit in the pews with me at mass. Here are some pieces of my story, though, that I'm glad I have, because they inform me about my own situation. As a friend told me one time, they tell me about the milieu I've found myself caught in.

My grandmother(my mother's side of the family) grew up on a hardscrabble Ozark farm until her brother Harold was found drowned in a shallow creek. Her older brothers found him. Her father failed to revive him on the kitchen table. They moved away soon after. I'm still hypervigilant about water.

My grandfather (my father's side of the family) lived in a house a few blocks from me, which at one time was owned by a fellow parishioner. I played scrabble at her table. I drank in her living room while sorting girl scout cookies. I taught her children. I had no idea Rich had lived there as a teenager, but the house had a good lived-in feel (like my own).

The family story about that grandfather's grandmother echo the constructs of European folktales. She was a witch, Jenny was (actually probably the daughter of an English gypsy), and there are three instances that prove it, each occurring over the course of three days. Power of three. She had three rings, and after she died, her daughter-in-law buried them in the backyard to try to rid herself of Jenny's ghost. Three days later they were on the kitchen table. Then she threw them away. Three days later, there they were again. She put them in some sort of acid or lye, and three days later the metal was untouched (probably because it was gold and relatively inert). Power of three. Billy Goats Gruff. Huff and Puff three little pigs. She wouldn't have two rings. There wouldn't be four stories of trying to destroy them. Three. Makes me wonder what runs through our veins as northern English, Irish, and northern Germans. The Brothers Grimm didn't write in a vacuum. Three is important.

Jenny also had 11 children and watched all but two of them die. One died in childbirth but the other 8 died before the age of 15, of tuberculosis or premature birth. Francis made it the longest, dying at 15 on the north side of St. Louis. My grandfather's father was one of the survivors, obviously. She was pregnant with the other survivor when she got married at 16 to a drunk, a liquor distributor.

Her father, like I said, was most likely an English gypsy; his last name fits the rolls of those families, his first occupation listed was horse trader, and he was a liar, like one who mistrusted government officials would be. Later he and his sons would run the bricklayers union out of Granite City. Jenny's older brother was the union leader when he was shot and killed by his stepson for beating the boy's mother into submission.

Jenny's husband's family, her inlaws, were the Irish immigrants on that side. They fled famine, met and married in Kansas City, and mysteriously moved eastward to St. Louis, where he opened a bar on the East Side. He killed a man in his bar and when it appeared that he would probably be charged with the murder, he killed himself with rat poison standing up at his bar with a friend, toasting to each other's health. He died two days later. His wife, Bridget Blake, was a renowned liar, I think they all were, the power of the spoken word being so strong to illiterate people. She was the daughter of at least 3 different women in three different documents, and the mother to 4 different people, only two of whom I think were actually her children.

I can trace Daisy's low seizure threshold back 5 generations on that side as well. I feel like the Blakes, Kidneys, and Dawes families give me such a rich background, but also a layer of tragedy.

My dad's mother came by my house back a few years back and gave me a Mary statue that she'd been given as a young girl by her grandmother, who had received it as a gift from the nuns where she had lived in an orphanage after the Civil War when her father, a widower, placed her and her siblings there to keep them safe in Cape Girardeau while he went to stake a claim in Texas. Maria never joined him, marrying a St. Louisan and leaving her family behind. Aloysius, her father, had been disowned by his German draft-dodging family for joining up with the army. He left his family behind as well. These stories, and Bridget and Edward abandoning their sons and starting a bar? A lot of moving. A lot. It's 6 generations later, at the very most, and I'm still a nomad at heart.

There are probably happy people back there too--some on my mother's side had a little more money, far fewer child deaths. Mostly rural farm owners instead of illiterate manual laborers in the dirty city. Their stories are my stories too, but you know that it's either a good time or a good story, and it seems like perhaps theirs was a good time.

I don't know if we inherit fear. Or the tendency to fudge the truth or wanderlust. But their stories resonate with mine, inform mine. Make me see the world as something full of connections between people, even people whom I've never met but whose DNA I carry within me. I am imprinted by Maria, Bridget, Josephine, Jenny, all those Edwards, Harold, Mazie, and so many others. They are my milieu

Thursday, August 21, 2014

18/40 in 40: The Bohr Model of the Atom

I've known Jake for 21 years this week. He was the freshman adviser on my dorm floor when I showed up as the only freshman who picked that floor (others were assigned, but I was the only one initially happy about it). We became friends quickly, although we were each dating other people.

We started dating 20 years ago next month. Easy friendship turned relationship, well matched, lots of friends seeing it coming from a mile off. We had great first dates--our specialty was a take out thin crust pizza from Pantera's for $4.99 and 52 ounce QuikTrip mug of Dr. Pepper, consumed in the front seat of his Dodge Colt or my Chevy Cavalier.

We got married 18 years ago last month, in sort of an inevitable conclusion to our dating. His mom was standing in the kitchen my junior year, when we'd been together 18 months, and asked if, after I graduated, we planned to get married.

We shrugged at each other and said, "well, probably."

That's how we got engaged.

It's all been like that. Easy. So easy. Sometimes we (meaning I) make it harder than it has to be, but it's never hard. It was never hard. The closest it got to hard was when Fiona was a year old and her lead level spiked and the city was coming to investigate our house and I was so ashamed that I'd put this tiny creature in harm's way out of, what? Laziness? I didn't even know how to name it. All these reassurances that things would be fine, but in the meantime that summer we frantically painted and cleaned until her lead level got high enough (classic catch-22) that the city investigated and found the lead, on the outside of our windows, and we'd been blowing lead dust across us with a box fan all night long, all summer long, and that? THAT WAS THE HARDEST.

But even then, it was just hard, together. I never thought, hmm, I should leave (I did leave the HOUSE, with Fiona, and stay at my inlaws for several weeks that summer while they worked on abating the lead, but I didn't leave).

I have fallen in love, once. Fallen like into a hole. Fallen in love with the wrong person from the wrong side of the tracks, someone I was going to need to drag into adulthood and probably fix a lot of the broken parts of in order to be in a relationship with, and you know that doesn't work. You can't fix what you can't see, and you can't see what isn't revealed and even though you love someone so much, you can't do it.

I didn't fall in love with Jake. Ever, really. I grew in love with him. We learned to love. We practiced love. We sometimes relied on the easy friendship because love grows slowly. But I didn't fall. Ever. I never lost myself in him, in his personality, friends, hobbies, life. I never changed who I was for him. Or vice versa. Yes, he knows a lot about quilt patterns because he's married to me, and I learned to eat deer and be ok with hunting because I'm married to him. But those were growing times. Those were easy. We're just easy.

We've been doing some light arguing about the unrest in St. Louis the past week. My opinions change back and forth constantly, and his are pretty firmly set in one place. I'm kind of orbiting. Sometimes he orbits me, of course, but lately I've been vacillating and changing my mind and showing up here and there and everywhere in between. But we're stable. We're easy. And eventually I'll come around. Or I won't. Like how electrons really work, as opposed to the more static original Bohr model of the atom, actually. But that's not what I'm talking about when I say that one of the things I've learned in 40 years is the Bohr Model.

In the van, the old Chevy Venture we drove into the ground over 10 years, on our way to my inlaws for a weekend about 12 or 14 years ago, I was staring out the window at the limestone cliffs formed by the highway, and I laughed to myself. Jake asked, "What are you laughing about?" I realized I'd done that out loud, and I sighed.

"Oh, I was just thinking about the Bohr Model of the Atom," I told him.

"I can dig it," he replied.

Easy. He just accepted, understood, that something about Niels' Bohr's model struck me as amusing. There as no scorn, no derision. There never is. We're both geeks, too, so that helps. He didn't ask me to explain.

I'm not a chemist, although I did make it through Chem I and II in college before I realized I didn't have to prove how smart I was anymore. The Bohr Model, for me, a non-chemist, is just one of those things you learn about and then store in the back of your brain or put down on a shelf one day and never pick back up. What strikes me about it is that it is wrong. There are things about it that are right, but a lot of it is wrong. We have a better understanding of how atoms really work now, with better tools and microscopes (and lots of math, I'm relatively sure).

But like many things in science, we get to learn how layers of knowledge build up to our current understanding. As opposed to folk beliefs about sympathetic magic, which aren't taught in medical school because they are patently false, we still look to the Bohr Model because it has truth in it, even though the view was partially obscured. It works for Hydrogen, after all. It was a good start.

I thought love was a feeling, for instance, but now I know it's a decision. It is a decision to feel, however, and therefore it is still partially correct to see it as an emotion.

As opposed to, say, the flat earth theory being taught in a plate tectonics course or spontaneous generation being given its due time in a biology course, the Bohr model is still taught even though it is flawed and simplistic. I'm glad it is, because sometimes our own understanding of things is flawed and simplistic, and as we grow, it changes. But that original idea is still worthy of mention because it brought us where we are now.

I thought I had life sewn up for myself as a 17 1/2 year old engaged to a boy I'd fallen in love with. I was wrong. Deeply wrong. But it is still part of my story of how I came to be where I am, with Jake, in St. Louis, with these three kids and this wonderful life.

In comparison to eugenics or medical experiments on prisoners or the poor, Niels Bohr came up with his theory (at least I assume, based on his brief biography) without doing anything immoral. What we learn from the Bohr Model is not tainted by politics or hatred or fervent religious misinterpretation of righteousness. Niels Bohr himself knew it was flawed, and worked tirelessly to improve understanding instead of clinging to an idea that didn't work, simply because it was HIS idea.

That's what made me laugh in the car that day. How confident we can be that we have a good thing going, a good theory, a good start, and how we can be wrong, but still be intrinsically right. We all muddle through our lives and hope we have the right path. We set up constructs to explain our lives, the behaviors of others, and to further our dreams. Sometimes these things don't work out. But that doesn't mean we are lessened by our fumbling. It means we are human.

There are so many things I know now that I didn't know when I was 17 1/2. And there are things I fumble with now that will hopefully become less obscured as I get older. I don't know what my Bohr Model of the Atom is right now, what I have wrong, what I need to tweak and change and improve upon. But I know I have a Bohr Model. We all do.