Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Keeping Company with a Mutant Dog and Cunning Cat

My Christmas tree is still up. I'll take it down this weekend if I get an energy burst. In the meantime, if you were to get close to it, you would see long, white feathery stuff gracefully setting atop each artificial limb. Sort of like a snow effect. Very charming.

But upon closer inspection, you would realize that it is dog hair.

Our almost 15-year old terrier mutt, Jack the Wonder Dog, leaves a trail with every step. It's as though he has been exposed to radiation, causing handfuls of fur to fall out at his slightest movement. But he doesn't go bald. Like the X-Men, Jack has mutated and his special skill is that can blind you in an instant with flying fur, which his follicles immediately replace.

Our cat doesn't have any mad mutant skills. Well, maybe she does. This morning my husband found her behind the bar in our den, after she had completed amazing gymnastic feats to climb on top of the bar to steal her packet of kitty treats. She then batted the packet to the floor, where she was subsequently caught obsessively shredding the plastic to get to the contents. The manufacturers of kitty treats lace their recipes with powerful, addictive drugs. Do not try to tell me otherwise.

The mutant dog and cunning cat are my only source of company this week. My husband cannot break away from TV, and our son - home from college - spends his hours sleeping or out with his buddies.

Oh, I have plenty of things to do. Errands to run, closets to clean, piles of laundry awaiting attention. But the weather is dreary and I am in hibernation mode. I don't mind some quiet days before the new year, and before my husband's chemotherapy begins.

Yes, this is our lull week. The eye of the storm that follows Christmas and precedes the arrival of the new year. A new year that, for my family, will be characterized by long-term uncertainty as we battle cancer. Having grown up in the tropics, I know all about the eye of the storm. It's a welcome opportunity to catch your breath and batten down the hatches before all hell breaks loose again.

My family could certainly use some X-Men skills right now. But in the absence of mutant powers, we'll look to each other for strength to weather the storm.

And be assured that one hairy dog and cunning cat will play a big role in lifting our spirits. After all, they are a part of our family life and are quite practiced at keeping us company during the best and the worst of times.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Wish for Resilience This New Year

Read my latest Patch article and recommend it to others. Don't make me beg (but I will, if it helps).


Turkey Traumas

I under cooked my Thanksgiving turkey and had to throw it out. Then on Christmas Day, I went to cook a turkey breast and discovered after unwrapping it that one entire side was... let's just say damaged tissue. As though the poultry people had gone really medieval on it. Skin flaps and torn meat hanging everywhere AND the dang thing had green membrane all over.

So we wrapped it in multiple trash bags and put it in the garbage. We did this gently, in an ironic gesture of respect for what that poor bird must have gone through during final processing. This in spite of the fact that we were fully prepared to eat it.

Curiosity led me to Google traumatized turkey tissue and similar terms. Nothing surfaced that fit my partial bird's mangled condition, but I did learn interesting facts about deep pectoral myothapy and other bad stuff that happens to poultry raised in intensive conditions.

To my fellow animal rights advocates, I apologize. Perhaps this blog post should be about staging an Occupy All Slaughterhouses protest. I really do care about humane treatment of animals, including those raised and processed for human consumption. There is nothing humorous about current global practices, and I applaud activists for their work in this area.

Like millions of others, I blindly assume that my personal piece of Christmas fowl grew up roaming corn-strewn open fields and was humanely "processed" after living a quality life. Aren't many of you similarly deluded? And now, having spied with my own two eyes some pummeled poultry, I feel all guilty about the plight of farm animals that are at our mercy. We can't take care of each other, much less the animals who - after a couple of millenia of domestication - depend upon us.

PETA urges us to abandon all use of animals for food. I understand their worldview, and could easily adopt a vegetarian lifestyle fairly. But the reality is that my husband of almost a quarter of a century would never give up six decades of carnivorous behavior. And our son is cut from the same cloth. I am outnumbered and not up to fighting them about this. There are other battles that require my attention.

In my ideal world, we would treat well all creatures of the earth. We would not hunt for sport, poach until a species' extinction, kill without mercy, or abandon pets who depend on us for survival and companionship. We would not cage birds or contain beta fish in bowls smaller than a martini glass.

We would, however, continue to consume animals for sustenance. Too many species have become way too domesticated at this point to turn the evolutionary tide. But we would use the power of market forces to ensure that animals be killed using only the most humane methods. It is possible. We simply need to practice zero tolerance for anything less than best practice.

Who knows why turkey tissue caused me to turn so serious tonight. Just pensive, I guess. We haven't seen the sun for days and my husband and son are lost to Monday Night Football. I'm alone in the kitchen where I can't resist the urge to wipe counter tops, rearrange stuff in the cabinets, and do other obsessive-compulsive things.

I'm a typical spouse of a husband who happens to have cancer. Calm on the outside - by God's grace - but constantly churning on the inside. Thus, tonight finds me pondering the problems of poultry processing.

Oh, don't worry. I'll get my mojo back. And maybe I'll successfully cook a turkey breast sometime soon. In the meantime, I'll dang sure read up on the best and worst of poultry farms and processing plants, and purchase more wisely in the days to come.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Musings From a Cluttered Life: Living With a Lizard

Musings From a Cluttered Life: Living With a Lizard: Temperatures are unbelievably in the 70's where we live. And my husband has the heater on. HE HAS THE HEATER ON. Normally, I would boot his ...

Living With a Lizard

Temperatures are unbelievably in the 70's where we live. And my husband has the heater on. HE HAS THE HEATER ON. Normally, I would boot his cold-blooded butt out the door and point him to the nearest hot sauna, but given that he is now my husband-who-happens-to-have-cancer, I guess that would be considered rude.

Oh, don't fuss at me and brand me as a wicked wife. His inability to stay warm pre-dates the cancer.

Indeed, our battle of the body thermostats started about five seconds after we said "I do," and has been the cause of many dramatic moments over the past 22 years. Once he woke to find me sleeping naked under a thin sheet on the back deck, where I took refuge after awaking soaked in sweat from the forty pounds of down comforters he had piled on our bed. 

And, yes, I am aware of the physiological phenomenon known as menopause. Yes, my blood runs a tad warm. But my husband's reptilian blood has been a 59 year menopause in reverse and it will never, ever end. 

Lewis the Lizard. Cold-blooded, constantly chilled. He refuses to take a vacation to any location in which the temperature might drop below 78 degrees. He was actually cold during most of our Caribbean cruise last year. 

But now that we are on the cancer journey, I will indulge him any way I can. If he wants to set the heater on 95, so be it. I have an automatic ice cube maker and a really big garden tub in which I can loll in chilled bliss. I have thermal underwear and ski gear boxed in the basement, which I can use to insulate my-husband-who-happens-to-have-cancer at the first sign of a chill.

I don't know how we'll afford the heating bill, but we aren't going on any cruises this year, so we'll get by.

Life with the Lizard includes immeasurable perks. The least I can do is sweat a bit.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Begging for Birthday Gifts

My December 21st birthday was never ideal.

As a child, the school holiday break robbed me of the opportunity to hear my classmates sing “Happy Birthday” prior to devouring a huge birthday cake hypothetically hand-delivered to the classroom by my mother. For the most part, family and friends have been too pre-occupied with the countdown to Christmas to put much energy into my little old birthday. Though, I will say that my most loyal friends, and my sweet sister, consistently went out of their way over the years to help me feel as special as possible.

But let’s face it. I was born on the day of the Winter Solstice. It’s the shortest and often dreariest day of the year. Most people are in a bad mood because they aren’t ready for the 25th, they are already tired of out-of-town company, or they are just plain worn out from the holiday hoopla.

Thus, I found ways over the years to celebrate my birthday alone. I learned to actually enjoy my birthdays in solitude. Who doesn’t appreciate some down time?

My favorite birthday ritual is to drive around town soliciting free birthday gifts from local shops and restaurants. After years of practice, my technique is enviable. And the older I get, the harder it I for merchants to say no. I’m that pitiful.

Here is a sample from today’s rounds:

I started at the local car wash, which usually isn’t much of a challenge because they traditionally offer a free wash for birthday guys and gals. But the car wash bay was closed today due to the dang rain. Undeterred, I drove right up to the front door and told the oil change guy I needed to speak to the manager. I was polite but determined. A twenty-something with rhinestone earrings appeared and I explained to him, in my best syrup-of the-South voice, that the highlight of my birthday each year was my free car wash at his establishment. Surely he could give me a rain check? He was new to the business, and a bit stumped because they no longer offer birthday freebies, but I got out of there with coupons in hand for several discounts to be used throughout 2012.  

My friend Ashley joined me for my next stop – the nail salon. My last pedicure was probably July, so the toenails were beginning to curl under and my heels could reduce diamonds to dust. I informed the salon owner, a patient man named Tu who has put up with me for years, that it was my birthday and I expected gifts. He offered free floral designs on my big toes. My facial expression prompted him to sweeten the pot. Double stamps on my Frequent Customer Card. Deal closed.

Next stop? Kroger for groceries. My checkout clerk asked me if I wanted to use my senior discount, since it was Wednesday. I asked her how old I had to be to get the senior discount.

“Sixty,” she replied.

I smiled ever so sweetly and told her that today was my birthday and I just turned 54. Did I, by any chance, earn a birthday discount?

You bet I did, because no one in my 'hood gets away with mistaking a 54 year old of being 60. Of course, the entire transaction involved the sweetest of smiles on both sides of the aisle. And that's what I love about the South.

Kill them with kindness and you inherit the world. Or maybe it's merely about getting old enough for people to feel really sorry for you.

Either way, I feel like an extreme birthday coupon queen tonight. Yes, I qualified for a free meal at a local Italian restaurant, and tons of desserts at other eateries. But those freebies always involve servers hovering over you, singing horribly at the top of their lungs, and generally embarrassing everyone. 

Besides, my sweet husband-who-happens-to-have-cancer awaited me at home. Surely the ideal birthday begins and ends with his company. 

A Chaotic and Cluttered Birthday Blog

Today is my birthday. Hooray for me! I'm now 54, and that is just fine because at this age I finally see the world with a clarity that eluded me for decades. 

For too many years I believed the world was responsible for revealing its secrets to me, being accountable to my every wish, yielding to my whims. So imagine the number of times the world snickered in amusement as I flopped and floundered and tantrumed in the most frantic and dramatic of ways, until I finally discovered that no one was really interested in my angst.

After turning 50, I woke up and learned to live with chaos and clutter - to actually revel in it when needed. And it is a good thing I did, because most days I can be heard exclaiming "All hell done broke loose now."

My husband of 22 years and I are parents to an amazing son, who is spoiled, spoiled, spoiled. Love the Monkey dearly, of course, but we indulged his every whim and he now believes, as I did in my youth, that the world is his personal oyster. Nature or nurture? Does it matter?

Guiding our Monkey through high school, and a recently-completed first semester in college, required mad skills in deep breathing and Earth Mother calmness. I mastered neither, and often backslid into tantrums. But no one on the planet is as disinterested in a mother's angst as a teenager. So I turned to grown up tactics, seizing car keys and cutting off bank account funds. Subsequent blog posts may detail why these were really, really bad ideas. Eventually, I simply told my son that if he got arrested, he was not to call me because as far as I was concerned, he could rot in jail if he used bad judgment. So far, this has worked. The Monkey's character seems in tact, and that's a good thing because he will need his moral compass as he flops and flounders his way in the world. He can trust me about this. I speak from experience.

2011 was the year from hell. Yeah, all hell done broke loose. After a 30 year career, I retired in April. A chronic and progressive health condition forced my exit. And I have not looked back. Not once. No need to. You may or may not hear more about that later. Retirement is not necessarily a bad thing, except that early retirement means you go from a mega salary to, well, not so much. And all the Suze Orman planning in the world doesn't soften the blow. Send that blonde to me and I'll enlighten her about the realities of financial planning in the post-2008 economy. 

We were doing fine, though, and settled into a suburban family life with visuals worthy of Good Housekeeping and Redbook. Not quite Martha Stewart or Southern Living, but holding our own. I didn't bake cookies or anything, but I actually had time to plan meals eight hours in advance and pay the electric bill before disconnection. Believe me; this was a milestone. Given the demands of my previous career, which involved extensive travel, I barely had time to go to the bathroom before retirement. 

Coasting along, finding a new family balance, my husband was then unexpectantly diagnosed in November with Stage III colon cancer. All hell done broke loose. Our days are now spent shuffling from one medical appointment to another. My life partner has been reduced to a pin cushion and I am his file-toting health advocate. Believe me; it takes two to maneuver the medical system.

Oh, don't worry. We are optimistic about his future, and some cool things happened this year as well. 

Thanks to social networking and retirement, I am finally getting to know my extended family members. Who knew I had such amazing relatives? And I have a to-die-for circle of gal pals who love eating as much as I do, which breaks my bank account but ensures I am satiated in comfort food when needed.

My son is happy and healthy, my husband and I are more in sync than ever, and we wake each morning thankful for one more day, one more opportunity to live our lives one day at a time.

And my writing. Cathartic beyond belief. Thanks to my editor and the encouragement of loyal readers who understand chaotic and cluttered lives, I have an apparently successful column called Family Matters, published each Monday on woodstock.patch.com. Each week I write about the things that matter to my family and, hopefully, families everywhere. Our current challenges, our lessons learned -our many foibles as parents, spouses, careerists, and clutter-proned people who do the best we can, every day, one day at a time. 

As I launch this new blog, I invite you to be a part of the dialogue. At this time, I envision the posts to match the tone of my Patch pieces, but they may be a bit more casual. Who knows? I may rant or throw a tantrum or two. After all, it is my blog, my angst, my hell that done broke loose.  

So read the posts and let me know if they resonate. Share the pieces with your friends. Help me spread the word that chaos and clutter prevail, so we might as well lean in.