12 April 2016

Daisy's Diagnosis

The day we found out that Daisy has cancer, we cuddled her and coddled her on the couch. She actually seemed more herself that night than she had in a few days. She'd had 250 ml of fluid drained from her chest cavity at the vet. She could finally breathe again! Her ears were perky! She could eat and drink! She barked when Sergio went out the back door and looked for him from her post at the side door! It was like she didn't even know she had cancer.

April 6, 2016

We began to come to terms with the inevitable. The tumor (the size of a lemon) is too big and she (a 12-pound dog, who has lost a lot of weight) is too small. They will not operate. But they gave us some medicine which we started her on right away. Medicine that was supposed to keep the fluid at bay and that might reduce the size of the tumor. But it might also have some unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects, the likes of which I ought not to recount in decent company.

She was doing well for a couple of days before those side effects kicked in and during that time, while I was wondering how long doggie hospice was going to last, I was also thinking about Jetta.

Three years ago, Jetta was diagnosed with terminal, inoperable cancer during the first week of April - same timing as Daisy's diagnosis. Jetta presented with many of the same symptoms. Jetta also had to have fluid drained from her lungs. Jetta also started medicine with everyone eagerly hoping it'd help, only to find out that the medicine was as difficult to live with as the disease. Just like Daisy. After we started the meds, Daisy began to eat and drink less and less - just like Jetta had - and we wondered "How long does she have?"

The uncanny parallels have created what my friend Pam called a "disturbing emotional echo." Fresh, new sadness with an extra tinge of old, weathered sadness. I know Daisy's just a dog. But she's not. She's Daisy.

Not too sick to do her "prewash" duty.
After a rough weekend, we were advised to take Daisy off the anti-cancer meds and to give her different medicine to help with the nausea and diarrhea instead. Today she's rallying; eating again (and eating a lot!), barking, sniffing, licking the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. She even jumped up onto the couch!

But the cancer is still there. Doing who knows what. Only time will tell. And I have no idea how much of that we have.

We will enjoy however much of it we get.

He's her favorite.

I'm happy to be second fiddle.
Our Girls

27 March 2016

How to Make Your Own Natural Easter Egg Dye while also Struggling with Doubt - in 14 easy steps!

1) Find a recipe for all-natural dyes using any of the bajillion links on Pinterest. Choose whichever recipe you can find quickly before your demanding children distract you from your quest with an urgent need. (I used this one from kitchn.com. Because it was the first one that popped up in my Google search.)

2) Stop by the store to get an assortment of vegetables to make dyes (assuming you weren't able to grow and harvest all your own organic vegetables in your backyard).

3) Gather every single pot or lidded pan that you own and boil every drop of water you can find. Boil all your farm fresh brown and green eggs. (I used eggs from Green Gate Family Farm located in Wheatland, Missouri.) Don't watch the pot.

4) Start peeling, chopping, shredding. Get your first batch of dye material onto the stove top (and fast since you'll have to do this again to make 3 more colors. Since apparently you only have 3 pots and pans with lids).

5) Find an activity for your children to keep them busy while your dyes are cooking (and while you figure out what in the sam hill to do with 4 whole, peeled onions and half a cabbage). May I suggest the following activity for your kids: dying Easter eggs with artificial colors from PAAS. Why not a bit of nostalgia, right? You know you love it - that octagon-shaped bendable egg tool, those little tablets (especially that orange tablet that strangely makes green dye). Memories! I know, I know. It's artificial. (Gasp!) But isn't that part of growing up? Realizing just how much artifice there is around you? And looking for something a little more real even while you hold on to your past because it's simple and comforting?

6) Go ahead and get factory farm eggs for the PAAS project - you know - the white eggs sold in grocery stores that come from undisclosed locations.

7) Trade some of your brown eggs for some of the white eggs from your children's batch - that way you can really test both the artificial and the natural dyes. Kids always love a good experiment.

8) Marvel at how little time the artificial dye project takes while you are using your bare hands to wring "blue" dye from a hot wad of boiled purple cabbage.

9) Hustle all your eggs (brown and white) into their little dye baths in mason jars. Because seriously - what else would you use for a project like this. And also because if you're interested in natural dyes you probably already have a supply of mason jars that multiplies constantly in your cabinets (not unlike bunnies - Easter bunnies, perhaps). Leave the bathing eggs in the fridge for hours on end.

10) Spend some time while you wait thinking about the enormity of the Easter message and about how joyous Easter is supposed to be but also recognizing how sometimes Easter arrives in a cloud of bad news and about how sometimes that joy doesn't come out just right.

11) Check on the natural eggs and see how strange and weak their colors are compared to the bright, confident, unwavering, familiar pinks and blues, etc. of the PAAS project. Put the natural ones back in the fridge for more dye bathing. Keep trying, okay? Don't give up!

12) Wait a few more hours for things to sink in (including the colors). Look to some deep thinkers while you process what Easter means for someone like you. (I used some work by Rachel Held Evans whose chapter on Easter in Searching for Sunday is spot-on perfect.)

13) Unveil the naturally dyed eggs at last - remark on how well the colors actually worked! Combine these eggs with their artificially dyed friends and be amazed at what a rich array of character this motley crew exhibits - even though, quite frankly, none of it looks like the pictures on the Pinterest board or the PAAS packaging. Notice how downright lovely your family's Easter eggs look - irregularities and all.

14) Remember that even if things don't turn out exactly as expected, there is joy to embrace and beauty to behold and so much to be grateful for. And you'd better do that whenever and wherever you can.

Happy Easter. 

06 February 2016

Valentine's Day

In one of my last conversations with Mema last year, less than a week before she died, she gave me her ideas for valentines. She must have known that very soon I would be assigned to the Valentine's Day line at work and that I would, in fact, be making valentines. Her ideas were as follows: "a heart with a heart, a heart on top of a heart stacked high, a heart with a hole in it, a heart with a bundle on it." I don't know what "bundle" meant. But today - on the one year anniversary of her death - we are making a bundle of all sorts of valentines. 

Mema always did think that love could solve any problem. Or as my mother phrased it last year, Mema "lived her life as if unconditional love is the cure for everything. And she's right."

30 January 2016

New Year's Resolution

This year for my New Year's Resolution I'm doing something I've never done before. I'm reusing last year's New Year's Resolution. Exactly as I used it last year. No change. No update.

Am I doing this because I failed at it so miserably? No. I'm doing it because it was a smashing success.

In a sense I guess I'm not doing something I've never done before - I'm doing something that I have already been doing.

So here it is: last year my resolution was to never say anything about someone behind their back that I wouldn't say to their face.

It was hard. But it was so good. If I'm honest, I just did it so I wouldn't get myself in trouble. But it went way deeper than that. I found myself not only striving to say things that are kind ... but I found myself feeling more gracious and compassionate. I spent a whole year really challenging myself - and not always succeeding - to think the best of people, to assume positive intent, and to not let pettiness get in the way of a more charitable worldview.

I didn't do it 100% of the time, but I still feel like I succeeded. So I'm renewing it for 2016

05 January 2016

The Holidays

Daisy is undeterred by a diagnosis of depression
in the house but super sad about those little antlers.

We had a good Christmas and Thanksgiving. That seems unremarkable, doesn't it? Or obvious, perhaps? But that is sort of a triumphant statement given the context. I had some moments where I thought for sure this holiday season wouldn't go well at all. 

We were completely sideswiped the last two months of 2015. Sergio was diagnosed with depression the first week of November. He writes eloquently and earnestly about it here. He is in a dark place that I can't even begin to imagine. All I can do is to crawl in there with him and try to bring him some light.

It turns out that what he's going through is frighteningly common. But that doesn't mean it's not new to us. It is still very new for us and still fairly unpredictable. We were right in the thick of it from Halloween on. Neither of us quite knew what to expect.

So when I say we had a good Christmas and Thanksgiving, it's remarkable to me. He managed to avoid the darkness enough to do well on the important days - like Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve and Christmas and our anniversary and our anniversary (observed).

And he did well on several "unimportant" days, too; but let's be honest - aren't those unimportant days kind of important, too?

Like the day that we had a pristine picnic in the park where Sergio soaked in lots of missing vitamin D while the girls and I played imaginary frisbee.

Or the day when we took the girls to see The Peanuts Movie, their first movie in a theater, and the girls had such a good time and we did too. And in the movie, Charlie Brown, who is clearly on his own mental health journey, is told by Linus - "maybe it's time you explore the wild possibility that you're a good person and people like you."

Yes, let's explore that.

Happy New Year

Visiting Santa!
Christmas Cuties

vitamin D

First Movie
grateful on Thanksgiving

celebrating 13 years - for better and for worse

11 November 2015

A good week to be an English major

Last week was a good week to be an English major in my world.

First there was Word Week, an event that Hallmark hosts every fall, organized by the Writing and Editorial community, in order to celebrate and venerate the craft of the writers and editors. We showcase our own skills and talents and we invite guest speakers to come enlighten us on their particular work. And each year I come away from Word Week with a keen appreciation for the work that my colleagues and I do.

Then, I left Word Week and headed to OKC for the weekend to attend homecoming at my alma mater, Southern Nazarene University. I typically don't attend homecoming but this year the school is honoring the Division of Cultural and Communication Studies so I made the trip down. Back when I was in school it wasn't called that; it was called the English Department. But nowadays the school has an entire division devoted to modern languages, literature, mass communication, and graphic design.

Since the homecoming focus was on the English department and our ilk, and since Word Week had just wrapped up at Hallmark, I found myself ruminating on all of us in that department - the storytellers of our day; the hard working word people wielding our rhetorical powers for good, not evil.

The writers and editors, yes, but also the broadcasters and bloggers ... the translators and interpreters ... the lyricists, the poets, the playwrights ... the advertising copy writers, the graphic designers ... the debaters, the PR folks, the speech writers and lawyers ... the professors and the presenters ... the VPs of corporate communications and the heads of foreign languages departments.

We are the ones who see the stories that others miss. Or we write the stories that others need to hear. We are the observant ones that find the patterns, the analytical ones that make you think. And the funny ones who make you laugh. We are the ones who ask the unanswerable questions and who don't shy away from trying to answer them. We are the ones that tell the narratives that help people find their place. We are the ones that make sense of a senseless world and find beauty in the darkest moments; we process the confusion and smooth out the rough spots and bridge the gap. We are the ones who write your greeting cards and who write the things you share on Facebook. We are the ones that write the songs, sermons, poems or prayers. We are the ones that know that just the right well-crafted message can make all the difference.

Everyone has the same set of 26 letters to work with. But we are the ones, the alchemists who take those same 26 letters and make some magic.

From the commercials that go viral for all to see ... to the blog posts that only a few people read - writing that matters is everywhere. Maybe we don't sign 4 year contracts for 80 million dollars, nor will we be welcomed home with a ticker tape parade and 800,000 attendees. But we know how hard we work and we know how important it is that we celebrate our skills.

Here's to all my fellow word people. Thank you for what you do.

03 November 2015

Halloween: the Colorful and the Contemplative

Halloween - 2015
Halloween is a little bit of a high holiday around here. I have been really getting into it since we moved to Brookside and since the girls have gotten old enough to love it. This year's preparations have been underway for a while.

Honey offered to make the Halloween costumes for the girls (certainly not the only time recently that my mom has brought Halloween to life) - a rainbow fairy, sometimes called Brite Rainbow, for Julia and "Clara Caterpillar" for Clara (from the book by the same name). The costumes were superb and I could tell that the girls felt like a million bucks as they embodied their alter egos. "I'm a cabbage caterpillar!" Clara declared many times with a winning grin (a frightening costume for all my farmers, I'm sure). And Julia with her rainbow fairy wand, abracadabra-ing everyone and everything. Because rainbows give you powers. Obviously.

We carved our pumpkins weeks ago; they had long since been consumed by decay and squirrels by the time the actual day arrived. But we've been decorating the house in other ways since early October. Ghosts in the trees and skulls on the mantel. We are slowly building a collection.

pumpkin carving
We're also talking a lot about Samhain these days, not just Halloween. Samhain (pronounced "sah-win") is a Gaelic festival (October 31 - November 1) that celebrates the changing of the seasons. Many of our modern Halloween traditions are rooted in Samhain traditions (for example, pumpkin carving came from making lanterns out of turnips with faces carved in them). Samhain also focuses on gratitude for the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.

altar or memorial

Sergio's recent interfaith work (and his familiarity with Day of the Dead traditions) spurred him on to create what in Mexican, Catholic, or Pagan tradition would be called an altar. You might also call it a memorial. This year felt like the right time to bring this element into the mix. Not only have we lost several close family members in the last year, but the girls are old enough to know about these losses and are certainly old enough to talk about them.

Having pictures of our loved ones out for us all to see was a wonderful reminder. And the beautiful white display that Sergio created was a striking spot of clarity and calm that encouraged a pause and a moment of contemplation. Halloween goes hand in hand with All Saints' Day (November 1 on the liturgical calendar in the Episcopal church - a day to recognize those who have gone before). In Day of the Dead tradition (as well as in the Jewish Yarzheit tradition) you light a candle as the spirit of your departed loved ones returns for just a moment. As we discussed each photo with the girls, we brought everyone back if only for just a moment. 

Halloween day arrived and we had way too much to do, far too little time, a major distraction threatening to spoil everything, and a hell-bent determination on our parts to have a fun Halloween party despite it all. Miraculously we pulled through. Friends and family gathered and we joined the entourage of little ghosts and ghouls and Annas and Elsas all traipsing up and down the sidewalks of Morningside. We came back home and put Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin on for the kids, and we ate chili, taking turns handing out candy at the front door.

There's nothing like a Halloween party to infuse your life with delight and to entice you to be like your children who don't have to try very hard to be happy. After the revelers had all gone home (or fallen asleep on the floor next to a pile of legos), I began cleaning up and discovered a drawing that Julia had made in the early morning when Sergio and I were far too preoccupied with worry and concern to have a clue what she was doing. It is a drawing of a rainbow (not surprising these days; she does a lot of those) but this one came with a caption. Some days we don't have to try very hard to be happy. But there are other days when we need all the rainbows we can get.