Sunday, November 22, 2015

Hey Joan Lunden

As many of you know, I have been living with metastatic breast cancer since 2009--6 and a half years of being in constant treatment, being scanned every 3 months, having 2 courses of radiation.  Amazingly I have done very well with the cancer confined to my bones for a long time, although it is now on the move. I have indeed been fortunate.

And yet, all this time I have never had the defining cancer moment of losing your hair. It is still the mark of cancer for the general public and one more misconception that there are a lot of chemotherapies and treatments where hair loss does not happen, but the cancer is just as serious.

So, hey Joan Lunden. Add me to the list!

Getting Wiggy
Great gobs of hair!
Keep the noggin warm

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Mr. Busy

Just spent a delightful week down the shore with my 1 and a half year old grandson, his parents and my brother. It's amazing to watch a toddler at this age. They are just busy all the time.

Alex loved the beach and sat quite contentedly playing in the sand, filling cups, pouring them out, filling the pail, pouring it out, rearranging cups, filling some with shells, deciding which ones went in the cupholder on the beach chair. We actually stayed on the beach till 6 o'clock because it was so relaxing and enjoyable.
 (Compare that to the day before: 10 minutes in the pool and then constantly following Alex around the pool, as he picked the flowers, examined the hose refilling the pool and stared at 2 chatty 4 year old twins who told us their life story!) I tried to demonstrate just smelling the pretty flowers instead of picking them, but got a big-eyed look in return where he was clearly wondering what was wrong with Grandma's nose.

Grandpa made a brief appearance Thursday night for the kiddie rides, and despite how serious they both look here, the rides were great fun. I think Alex liked the Carousel the best. He had been on one before--familiar territory and by then had grown accustomed to the lights, noise and crowds.

My favorite Alex-watching was at home. He would wake up happy, big grin on his face, ready to start the day. After breakfast his work began. We had jerry-rigged most of the kitchen cabinets shut with rubber bands, but left him one which contained big 1 liter bottles of seltzer water. Alex would peer in each morning, perhaps a little surprised that the bottles he had so patiently distributed around the house yesterday were now back in the cabinet. He gave me the old "time to make the donuts look" and started once again moving around his seltzer. (I have to say the first night I went to bed and found a bottle on my night stand, I thought, "What a thoughtful host--a bottle of seltzer in case I get thirsty during the night." Then I remembered it was my house!)

Time to mow the carpets!
Once the bottles were taken care of, he could move on to running his walker over every inch of carpet, as if it were a vacuum cleaner. Next, he'd pull out some of his toys.
Ahh, Grandma getting a drink of that well shaken seltzer while  Alex points out some local coupons!
 I sat on the lazy boy rocker and when he needed a rest we'd rock and read a book or two. Maybe sing a song like- "Rock, rock, rock, rock and roll high school" or "Rock-a-bye your baby with a Dixie melody." He had favorite pages in the books that he liked to go to immediately.  I don't know who conceived of this idea but one of his books takes the familiar nursery rhymes and substitutes construction words--Builder Goose. Alex loves it. After a few reads he remembers that just like the little pigs and dogs marching in to pick up bricks and lay them straight, he has more work to do.

I imagine him thinking:
"Oh, yeah, first I have to indulge Grandma with the Where's Alex game. I disappear behind the chair, then stick my head out the other side. She cracks up everytime.  I mean---everytime--- so of course, I do too. Well, she is getting on in years..."

When Alex gets very excited, he clenches his fists and arms and gives a big, shaking laugh that can turn into a pleasurable yell. As in: Yippee, Mom and Dad are back!

And guess what, after a few days, even Grandma got that reception!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Art Weekend

Art pals for many years!
I had so much fun this weekend, exploring the Whitney Museum in its new location in the 
meatpacking district on Saturday and then on Sunday participating  in the Art Walk in Paterson's Historic District in the old silk mill buildings. Having absolutely no artistic ability myself, I appreciate how others are able to view the world in fascinating new ways. Not that I always "get it", but I especially like the whimsical side of modern art. And, yes, sometimes I can't help but think the artist is trying to pull one over on us. (The minimalism of a painting of one or two solid colors brings out my cynical side)

Jersey City in the background
It was a beautiful day and the best part of the Whitney experience is the interplay between inside and outside. You start out taking a huge elevator to the 8th floor (looked like it could easily fit a few cars) and then proceed downward floor by floor. On the top 4 floors there is access to outdoor areas with different views of the city than you are used to. Is that the Empire State Building popping up in the background? Wow, the Highline begins right here at Gansevoort Street.

Installation of chairs called 'Sunset" as seen from above.
The exhibit was called "America is Hard to See" and was drawn exclusively from the museum's own collection. You proceed in chronological order from favorites like Georgia O'Keefe and her vagina flowers to the chillingly lonely streetscapes of Edward Hopper, to the soft plastic 'sculptures' of Claes Oldensburg. We saw his FagEnds- otherwise known as cigarette butts.  Alexander Calder's circus which was previously tucked away in the basement of the Madison Ave Whitney has a lovely open setting. The Circus is paired with a video of someone actually playing with the figures- moving the bike rider along, fluffing the lion's mane, giving the tightrope walker a push. Andy Warhol weighed in with a coke silk screen and then there were many unfamiliar artists like Marisol's Women and Dog wooden scuplture and some angry AIDS and antiVietnam works.

Since the "108 who die every day from breast cancer in the US alone" is never far from my mind, I spent a little time watching the video of Viet Nam military deaths accompanied by a picture of each soldier and background music of the pop song Bye, bye, love...Bye bye happiness. Moving and poignant.

Looking down on the lower end of the Highline as seen from the Whitney

Lunch was a New York classic - eating a Sabrett with sauerkraut and mustard, while sitting in the area with fluorescent green chairs actually under the Highline. We were tired, but took a short walk on the Highline. I don't remember the trees at that end of the walk being so tall!

Photo of the mural at Alexander's
Sunday, I decided on the spur of the moment to
hop in the car and go the Paterson Historic District near the Great Falls.The Sunday paper had run an article that the iconic mural which graced Alexander's Department Store at the intersection of routes 4 and 17 from 1961- 1992 had most of the 280 separate panels available for viewing. Each abstract panel seemed like it could stand alone, but together they told a story. I remember as a kid coming down to visit my grandmother and thinking it was just so cool to have what looked to me like a stylized map of the world in a shopping center. We didn't have that in upstate New York!

Parking for the Art Walk was free at the Paterson Museum and I was blown away with how big the
show was. My friend Lydia's son was exhibiting and I naively thought I would just run through a few rooms and easily find him. Not so! The art factory occupies several of the old mill warehouses and buildings and there was art around every corner and up each narrow staircase. One sign directed weary visitors to use the freight elevator, but I had visions of spending the very warm afternoon trapped.
One of the many factory buildings

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
A Will Brady Original
Luckily, just as I was ready to leave, I ran into Lydia and family on the stairs as they were going up and I was slowly descending. It was hot!  Will's work was displayed all the way at the end of a big room on the top floor. Talented guy and I hope he keeps at it!

Friday, June 5, 2015

That B & B feeling

I'm trying to make my vacation last by replicating a bed 'n breakfast. It doesn't take much really. I bought some shelled walnuts, grapefruit spoons and flowers.  Voila! My favorite meal of the day (which is sometimes eaten twice a day) was immediately upgraded.

I have to admit I am rethinking the grapefruit spoons. I remember my grandmother having one for her half grapefruit served on the summer bungalow porch, always with a maraschino cherry or at least red jello in the center.

Are my grapefruits just juicier? Everytime I poke the serrated edge of the spoon into a grapefruit section, I get squirted in the face or chest. So I still use a knife to loosen the sections, but daintily use my special spoon to get every single morsel out.

Gary may be enjoying the new additions to his coffee mug and tshirt collections, but I am perfectly happy with my breakfast. It does seem that the pastry chef is missing. Perhaps she'll show up next week.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Cape

We spent the week before Memorial Day visiting Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard and loving it--even though it was sweatshirt weather. I had never been to either place, so that's one more item checked off my non-existent bucket list. 
Marconi Beach
I was prepared not to be too easily seduced by "The Cape," since that might imply some disloyalty to my own Jersey Shore. I remember standing on a jetty in Ireland years ago with my Aunt Eleanor at an inlet reminiscent of Manasquan and my aunt simply stating: 'It's nice, but it's not Point Pleasant." But the Cape's combination of dunes and beaches, marshes and great sunrises and sunsets, the charm of New England villages and the slow, peaceful pace was very appealing. Part of it had to be that we were pre-season and didn't have to cope with crowds or excessive traffic on Route 6. The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, we both commented on the oddity of finally seeing non-senior citizens. Look, young people, families, kids!

I decided there's never been a beach I didn't like whether it was the Outer Banks or Florida, Capetown or St.Maarten. They each have their appeal and sometimes a downside. But there's nothing like being near the water and a lobster dinner never hurts! Growing up every summer on the Jersey shore has special memories for me and these easily translate whenever I see an ocean view.

Is this guy famous?
We saw no one famous on Martha's Vineyard, although I had sworn beforehand that I was going to capture a celebrity's photo in a baseball cap, oversized sunglasses or a gray hoodie.  It rained on and off most of the day we were there, so that may have been  a reason for celebrity hibernation.

We stayed at the Oak Bluffs Inn and went there immediately from the ferry. Our host greeted us and I commented that my son's name was also Eric. "With a C or a K?"  "C", I replied. "Wrong," he said. "It should always be a K.". Quirky guy, our Erik with a K, but we loved the insider map he gave us with scribbled notations on what not to miss while touring the island.
Gingerbread houses in Oak Bluffs

At one point on Chappaquiddick Island we were turning up an unmarked sandy, gravel road that Erik had assured us would lead to an impressive overlook of both sides of the bay without having to go the long way around and have a beach driving permit. We were skeptical at first, and a little nervous when a truck coming the other direction asked if we lived on the North Neck, but in the end Erik proved to be right.

Of course, we had to view the fateful Chappaquiddick Bridge and google the events of 1969. I clearly remembered my father back in the day, harping about it every night at the dinner table, but I had forgotten many of the details. The bridge now has guard rails and the water seemed too shallow to swallow a car, but it was eerie to be there.

Another highlight for us was the Province Lands area of the National Seashore. Gary biked through the dunes and scrub pines on one of the best bike trails he'd ever been on. I enjoyed Race Point Beach and the fact that the dune shacks from Eugene O'Neill's day still exist and are rented out to artists and writers who crave the wildness and solitude of the dunes for creative inspiration. There are still 19 shacks with no electricity or running water, locations not generally known, in order to maintain privacy. A few are visible via jeep tour or hiking, but I preferred my imagination's version to the real thing. Little known fact, but Eugene O'Neill had spent the winter of 1918-1919 in West Point Pleasant at his in-laws house and described the Jersey shore as flat and boring, compared to his beloved Cape Cod. I could appreciate the wildness O'Neill described.

We stayed in Provincetown at the Lands End Inn in the tower bay room which had magnificent views in every direction.
I was the Princess of the Tower, enjoying the late afternoon and a well deserved nap while Gary golfed after we had risen at dawn to see sunrise over the bay.

I'll end with my first BobbyPin map which will show you the highlights of our itinerary. (Bobby Pin is an offshoot of everyone's favorite scavenger/tour

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Back to the sixties!

Two recent weekends reminded me of the good old days. Back to the Sixties! I attended college from 1968-1972, which still ranks among the most controversial campus years -- with Vietnam demonstrations, black student protests and radical organizations staging sit-ins in administration buildings. It's interesting to speculate on how that has shaped my world view and political opinions.

Anne, Ginny, Roseanne.  Where's Barbara?
This past weekend I had a mini reunion with 3 of my college roommates. One legacy of a late 60's college education is a continued and acute interest in social and political issues. We covered most of them, along with a little reminiscing and catching up on the present -- kids, grandkids, husbands, careers and retirement. On Sunday, Gary remarked: I can't believe you are still talking!" "Not just talking," I said, "fixing the problems of the world!" 

If only it were so easy. I suppose now we have a more measured view of what can be accomplished and perhaps even a more cynical one. How have our life choices supported our early views and how much have they instead reflected the pressures of conforming and being successful? Racial discrimination and a permanent underclass seem as bad as ever. How have we helped solve that problem?  But I do love how we easily slipped back into our college roles. We sat around on deck chairs sipping mimosas, but could have easily been sprawled out on each other's narrow twin beds in Mary Donlon Hall, as we did 40 years ago.

A few weeks before, I attended the Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference in Philly, sponsored by an organization called Living Beyond Breast Cancer. They do a great job presenting topics of interest to patients with mbc and their caregivers. One new aspect of the conference this year was Hear My Voice Advocacy training held on Friday before the sessions started. The program presented factual information on mbc's biology, treatment and research as well as the needs of the mbc community as presented in the 2014 Landscape Report of the MBC Alliance. There were many young women attending and they were inspired to action. Some cited Metastatic Breast Cancer Network's President Shirley Mertz who spoke and compared the mbc statistics to those of the early days of the AIDS movement. Shirley cited the figure that 108 people die every day from breast cancer and asked why no one was making the media stand up and take notice.

108 die today and everyday from metastatic breast cancer
So the young advocates decided to stage a "Die-In" in the lobby of the Philadelphia Loew's Hotel. 108 women would lie down on the floor, while a eulogy was read to emphasize the lack of progress in this part of the breast cancer campaign. Yes, there are more treatments and early detection, but the fact remains that 40,000 women and men still die every year from mbc--breast cancer that has spread or metastasized to other parts of the body--and this number has not changed in the last two decades. No one knows what causes breast cancer or what causes it to spread.

I was just claiming my car from the parking garage, planning to detour to the shore before coming home, when I got the text from Shirley. Whoa! Back to the 60's! If there was a protest march on an issue I firmly believe in, I was all in. The die-in was moved to the third floor hallways where the conference was being held, but it was moving and emotional.

I was pumped."Back to the sixties!" I yelled and then realized that I was surrounded by some who had not even been born then. One young woman next to me said she had protested when she was in college, too. They were raising the drinking age from 18 to 21! "Oh," was all I could muster.  We may not have accomplished much, but at least my generation aimed higher.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Hoosier Holiday

Just back from a relaxing, enjoyable week in the Heartland, visiting son Eric at IU. Great meals, fun entertainment, sightseeing and re-exploring the college life with afternoon naps included! We did everything from a student Soul Revue to the museums and sights of Indianapolis and Bloomington and an afternoon in Nashville (alas, Indiana, not Tennessee!). We visited a few local parks and lakes and walked the beautiful IU campus, just coming into full springtime bloom, with redbud trees and ornamental cherry and plum.

Mario Andretti
A highlight definitely for Gary and Eric: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tour.  I poked fun at the exciting brochure description: see the Media Room, the luxury boxes, Gasoline Alley and.....the garages! Ride in a bus around the world famous track.  Really? I could hardly contain myself, having never even seen the race on TV and being unfamiliar with its history or traditions. And there are quite a few traditions. The winner kneels and kisses the bricks at the finish line, a narrow strip of Indiana brick, the last remnants of a now asphalt covered track that started out as a cinder track and evolved into a completely brick covered one. (That had to be a bumpy ride.) The winner also drinks milk on the victory platform-- a wise marketing move by the Dairy Council from the early days when a farmboy winner was caught on film drinking buttermilk. Mother knows best and she had impressed on her son the restorative value of a long drink of milk after an exhausting day at the race course. Today they keep on hand the milk preference of each of the 33 entrants, be it almond, buttermilk, skim or whole. The only requirement is it must be white--no strawberry flavored or chocolate allowed.

There's a speed demon hidden in all of us!

Our tour guide urged us to return some day to experience the 3 hour race, to feel the rumble of the sleek cars, the roar of the jet engines and bring your own picnic cooler lunch and drinks. All I could conjure up was an image of me slathered in suntan lotion, ear plugs in place, sitting uncomfortably on backless bleachers next to drunken fans. But, I will be tuning in Sunday May 24 to see what that media room looks like live and confirm that bricks are indeed kissed.

Another interesting site was Benjamin Harrison's house--a beautiful 3 story home that belonged to the 23rd president, the only one elected from Indiana. I dare you to name something he did during his 1 term from 1889-1893, sandwiched between the two Grover Cleveland terms. Are you stumped? His wife, Caroline Scott Harrison, actually seemed more accomplished--a water color  artist, first DAR president, only First Lady to create her own china pattern and personally resposible for rescuing other presidents' china from the basement of the White House to a place of honor. She was the Jackie Kennedy of the 19th Century.

Beautiful house and we managed to avoid the school groups!
Benjamin, grandson of President William Henry Harrison (who served exactly one month before dying from pneumonia), lost his 2nd election bid. His beautiful Caroline was dying of tuberculosis and the president restricted his campaigning. He returned to a law practice in Indianapolis and developed a close friendship with his deceased wife's devoted niece, who had been her White House social secretary. You guessed it-- after a few years, their friendship turned to love despite the 25 year age difference and the fact that it seems a bit creepy to marry your wife's niece.

Our two portly docents provided one on one attention to us--an hour and a half tour. They were lovely and well informed, and I felt guilty as they wheezed and groaned ascending to the 3rd floor ballroom. We saw it all!

I have to say my favorite part of the trip was seeing Eric teaching two classes and meeting his friends and professors at the departmental dinner. It's hard to believe that the little boy who was too shy to ring doorbells at Halloween now commands his student audience, mike in hand, regaling them with questions, stories and funny comments.

Gary and I slipped into comparing today's college students to our own experiences with perhaps a few too many sentences that began "Now back in my day..."  In today's lecture hall there wasn't a notebook in sight. Laptops and phones dominated the landscape and, of course, the ever present water bottle. I don't know how our generation managed to evade severe dehydration...back in the day.

OK there are 2 things!
Eric's teaching techniques were incredible.  He was able to get and hold their attention and stimulate some spirited discussion even though the lecture hall held over 170 students (not all present this late in the semester). I particularly liked how he exhorted them to hold up their phones over their heads and then put them away in their pockets, followed by a dramatic closing of the laptops. It works! I think we all know the addictive pull of our technological toys and I liked the discussion on this effect on communication, relationships and wellness.

It's so much fun to be a parent and see your child thriving in his own environment. Two years at IU have flown by quickly. I made reservations for graduation next May. Who else wants to come? The Heartland is calling!