Monday, December 31, 2012

Organizing the sock drawer

Want to go to the movies?
Sorry, I'm just in the middle of organizing my sock drawer.

No, you will never hear this conversation from me, but here on the last day of 2012, I thought it would be significant to take on this task.

Why?  I'm not a terribly organized person, but while Christmas shopping this year, I stopped at the Container Store and was amazed at all the things you can buy to keep your things organized and reduce the hassle and rummaging that eats up a lot of time. Of course you have to factor in the organizing and maintenance time, which I've always thought would equal out the equation, but it would save on the frustration factor--hand me my scientific calculator while I work this out.

Apparently a new trend with teenagers is to wear colorfully mismatched socks. You actually buy them that way, but it's a statement, not an embarrassing mistake, like inadvertently wearing one black and one blue sock or one lowcut white sock and one mid ankle.

I have to admit I found over 50 pairs of socks, some of which hadn't been worn in the last 5 years. I immediately threw out half because I would never wear them now--too tight, too gray looking, stained from various creams and concoctions I put on my feet from henna to Bag Balm (thick petroleum jelly developed in Vermont to prevent cow udders from chafing-great for hot, swollen feet.) I then whittled down the 'maybe' pile, which included dress socks from my working days. Once you started tossing them out, it quickly accelerated to a sock frenzy.

I now have a very lean sock drawer and either need to restock or do laundry every 5 days. I know you're impressed because, after all, if someone bothers organizing their socks, they couldn't possibly be the same person that shoves credit card slips into zip loc bags or throws bills into one file cabinet drawer labeled 2012 or stuffs Christmas decorations in black garbage bags.

Well, tomorrow is for resolutions, but today, socks or not, I'm going to the movies.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Texas Time

Yee-ha! breakfast
What better way to start the day than with a Texas shaped, make your own waffle at La Quinta Inn in San Antonio?

My colleague, Shirley, and I were at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) for four days this past week. SABCS is the premier breast cancer conference for oncologists and attracts over 7,000 attendees--oncology clinicians, surgeons, researchers, pharmas, and advocates.

It was my first time there, but Shirley is a veteran with five previous conferences under her belt. We manned an advocate table during the day for the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN) and took turns attending some of the sessions. I particularly liked the end of day Hot Topics for Advocates (aka the Cliff Notes version), which featured a panel of oncologists who summarized the main proceedings of the day in layman language. (h'ors d'oeuvres included)

Remember the Alamo
I did slip away one morning for quick tour of The Alamo. Very interesting - a handful of visitors, one school group and a homeless man, dragging his blanket, who seemed to always be in the same room as I was. The Alamo was almost torn don for a hotel, until the Daughters of Texas intervened to save the site, which is sandwiched in among the city buildings and hotels, but nicely preserved. For those Pee Wee Herman fans out there who loved the movie Pee Wee's Great Adventure, I asked the crucial question. And, yes, it's true. "There's no basement at the Alamo!" 

I took in the beautifully lit, tree-lined Riverwalk in San Antonio, the other 'must-see', every day as it meandered along my walking route past the hotels and the convention center.

Shirley and I at SABCS
As for the Conference, I have to admit I'm a bit of a bc groupie and I like to see the "big name" people in the field. My favorite evening presentation  (more free food!) was on a particular subset of breast cancer called Her2 Positive. Dr. Dennis Slamon is the rock star of Her2, having worked on the original research for a widely used drug called herceptin, laboring in his lab for many years when pharma and the oncology leaders had dismissed his research as inconsequential and funding was limited.

If you ever want to read a fascinating and inspirational story, pick up HER-2: The Making of Herceptin, a Revolutionary Treatment for Breast Cancer  by respected science correspondent Robert Bazell. The book came out in 1998 and reads like a novel with intrigue, politics, love, sorrow, good guys and bad, as well as the science and frustration of bc research. It was followed by a Lifetime movie, Living Proof, in which Harry Connick, Jr plays Dr. Slamon.

When I shook hands with Dr. Slamon on Thursday night, I thanked him for all he's done for metastatic bc and said, "I hope there's someone with your perseverance and dedication out there, working on TNBC - Triple Negative Breast Cancer." (my subtype). "Oh, there is, " he replied. "There definitely is."

I pin my hopes on that and see myself as the long time survivor, the role that Bernadette Peters had in the movie. The only real question then becomes who will play me in the TNBC movie?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Wyckoff Woman Debuts on Broadway

Now here's a story worthy of Wyckoff Patch breaking news--far more interesting than the usual reports that the mayor has a toothache or snow is predicted in the weather forecast.

Yes, it's true. An ordinary middle-aged Wyckoff Woman (WW) was sitting in the audience, enjoying the Alvin Ailey Dance Company performance at New York City Center, when she was invited up on stage for the rousing, final number. Was it the way she was nodding her head or tapping her foot to the music that caught the attention of one of the dancers in a troupe of about 16 who fanned across the theatre in search of talent? Dressed in black suits with gangster type fedoras, the company escorted the chosen participants up on stage and the wildness began. Ordinary, mild mannered people were suddenly strutting their stuff and attempting to keep up with their new partners. Who was that heavyset woman flapping her arms like a rooster or that bleach blonde who immediately shed her shoes and pranced around like a demented reindeer? No one knew.

Meanwhile, WW had the audience holding their breath, as she twisted slowly downward, faltered and swayed, but did not tip over, rebounding with a glorious jump into the air. The Ailey dancers kept in character, serious and unsmiling. The first exuberant dance was followed by a tango number and ended with the tallest dancer carrying his partner around the stage. The stocky woman in a festive red suit was a crowd favorite and their seductive stroll through the honor guard of their fellow dancers brought down the house.

It ended as politely and formally as it began with the dancers holding their partners' hands and thanking them. Slowly the participants walked into the footlights and down the stairs. WW, temporarily blinded, almost tripped. Wellwishers from the audience applauded and yelled, "You were great" to perfect strangers, as if they were teammates returning to the bench.

When asked if she would be sitting by the phone waiting for a casting call, WW smiled and said her brief flirtation with the big stage was "exhausting, exhilarating and extraordinary."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I got stuck in the car wash today

Wow! I can't believe I haven't posted anything in the last two months! I've got to get my priorities straight--too much time on breast cancer advocacy and not enough on fun, quirky observations.

Today, armed with my list of the 99 things that I still must do for the Thanksgiving holiday, I ran into a roadblock. I got stuck in the car wash. It was one of those drive-throughs where you sit with the car in neutral as spongy tentacles of a soapy octopus apparatus envelop your car and a track slowly pulls you along from spraying to sponging to brushing to the final phase of an air jetted wind tunnel. Many years ago, vying for parent of the year award,  I remember being quite oblivious to the potential fright this could engender in a small child and being rewarded by the screams of a terrified toddler, as if this was indeed the attack of a giant octopus.

As I drove around behind the gas station to the car wash entrance, I had a bad feeling. The distracted attendant was in a side lot, busy cleaning the windows on his own car and clearly annoyed that I interrupted his paper toweling ritual. He took my $5 dollar bill, hosed off the car and hit the conveyor belt buttons, returning to his post of wiping water marks from his car. I sat there a minute and then blew the horn. Lots of machinery clanging and moving but I was still sitting in my car going nowhere.

He shuffled over and hit a few more buttons and then I was off and running, embracing the monster. A few feet into the tunnel and I stopped again. I assumed a vigilant employee would have been monitoring my progress, but--- No. He had returned to his own work. I blew the horn again and this time he returned with a large mallet and proceeded to bang around the general area of the tires. I was hoping two things: One that he was actually hitting the conveyor track and not my tires or hubcaps and two that he would not slip and be crushed by the rotating brushes. Perhaps, too many episodes of Dexter, but I watched closely for spurts of red instead of soapy residue. I'm not claustrophobic, but I was starting to sweat and plotted my own escape. What if the car suddenly popped a tire, jammed the machinery and the entire track twisted and threatened to crush me?

He managed to get the car moving again and the yellow mallet disappeared from sight. Wildly, I was checking my side mirrors which had already retracted and swiveling my head around to see where he had disappeared. For a rather tall, lumpy youth, he slid easily back out of the narrow confines. I'd be lying if I didn't point out that the entire car wash ride normally traverses the distance of about three car lengths, but I viewed the light at the end as a beacon of salvation. I was so close... Then the car jolted to a stop again, I beeped the horn several times and the mallet wielding attendant mysteriously re-appeared. Was this the twilight zone? Was I doomed to travel forever in a small car with the enormous black rolling brushes thwacking against the trunk of the car. I imagined the paint slowly chipping off, worn down by the incessant scraping. "Shut down the line!"

The mallet didn't work this time and he slouched past my window in search of help. The other attendant then proceeded to gesture to me in an absurd game of charades. He motioned to move the wheel left and right. I hesitated. The sign had been quite clear: foot off the brake; hands off the wheel, put it in neutral. I was suddenly an overexcited child driving my imaginary car on the kiddie rides, turning the wheel, beeping the horn, waving to Mom and Dad. I was so close to the end, the exasperated senior attendant finally gestured to put it in gear. With visions of my tires shredding, I eased into drive and tentatively lurched forward.

Freedom at last. I inspected the hubcaps and yelled to attendant #1--"Look what happened." He looked, I looked, but on closer examination most of the hubcaps had a few scrapes, as did the car in general. he shrugged and said,
"I hate this car wash."
"Roger that, buddy."

Attendant #2 asked if I had paid.
"Yes, can I have my $5 back?"
"Well, you did get your car wash," he said as he handed me the owner's number to call if I wanted to complain.
"They don't listen to us," he said. "We've been having a lot of trouble."
 But two other cars were parked by the vacuum machines, their owners whistling while they busily cleaned the interior. The sun was shining, their cars gleamed.

I hurried home, satisfied at least that the attendant never would get the water drop marks off his car. And, oh yeah, completing that list of the 99 things to guarantee a successful Thanksgiving?--not even close.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fantasy Football

Never thought I would see the day when I was in a Fantasy Football League--The Jersey Bowl. Son Eric decided it would be great for Thanksgiving dinner conversation (and now he's not coming home), but the game has taken on a life of its own.

The two football newbies fought over the sports page a few days before the draft.

I was worried about how the draft would work and then I discovered Auto Pick. I already had my team name--Ginny's Giants, but the computer did not pick even one Giant, so reshuffling of plans. We are a league skewed toward Giants-Jets fans, so the favorite quarterback was passed over until it came to me. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots--boo, hiss--I got  a lot of smack talk for that, changed the team name to The Brady Bunch and now must (secretly) check the Patriots game score to see how I'm doing.

This is week 3 and I finally printed out my team roster. I knew I had Brady and Mike Wallace (not the newsman), but couldn't remember anyone else. I even made a few switches in the lineup since my RB was injured.Also put in a WR from the bench and contemplated changing my W/R/T. What am I talking about? By end of season I may know what these all stand for and at least I'll recognize a lot of player names.

My favorite part so far has been the creative team names and the smack talk.
Rough Riders (can you guess the Teddy R fan?)
Gangrene (the perfect blend of Gang Green and Infectious Disease)
Flux Capacitors (back to the future)
Stella Flippers (high school team name)
Clint Eastwood (who invited the Republican?)
The Big Blue Sack (who invited the pervert?)
H.A.G.S (have a good summer)

See if you can match these quotes to the correct team:
1. oh no--they play on Thursdays, too? 
2. having two fantasy football teams basically makes every NFL game important to you. Should be a fun season!  
3. I hate this. My team sucks. 
4. Giants rule!
5. Are there really 15 more weeks to go?
6. Auto pick rules!
7. HAGA- have a good autumn?
8. My team needs antibiotics-stat.

I am labelled the "underdog" this week against H.A.G.S. but I'm hoping he doesn't update his roster before tonight. I know he doesn't read this blog right away, so here's hoping he misses the potential injury problems he has--players recovering from ruptured spleens and bad knees. Don't tell him!

I'm still betting on Brady and Auto Pick to take my team to the FF Super Bowl. (I hear Bruce might appear along with Toby Keith)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Gary!

Best wishes from a few of your friends:

relax and read a book today---Abe

have some rip roaring fun---the cowboys
wear your cowboy hat and get outside!- Ron

remember the buck stops here--Harry

watch out for the raven-- Ed
fight for freedom ---Fred

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stage IV ad for Komen - Is this a crack in the pink wall?

I copied below a blog entry I wrote this week for the MBCN blog.

I was absolutely shocked to see this ad in the October issue of Prevention magazine:

This has to be the first time that Komen has publicly acknowledged Stage IV as part of their marketing campaign. Hopefully, Komen will have more ads about Stage IV in October.

Organizations are slow to change and whether this is partly due to the Komen organizational shakeup or the Metastatic Roundtable Komen hosted last February to seek information from 10 metastatic breast cancer patients, it is a welcome, small step forward and one that many of us would never have anticipated.

The ad, of course, is certainly not perfect, as it seems to imply that Bridget would not be surviving 7 years without her active, hopeful personality or her doctor’s ‘fighting’ for her.  Does that mean that those who died sooner had the wrong medical team or the wrong personal attitude? Certainly not.

Call me crazy, but maybe some day we’ll actually see a Komen ad that says this:
“The true source of HOPE for metastatic disease is research. That’s why we at Komen are dramatically increasing funding for research into the cause of metastases (the spread of cancer) to stop it in its tracks and save the lives of the estimated 155,000 women and men living with metastatic or stage IV breast cancer in the US, as well as the lives of 30% of early stage survivors who will have metastatic recurrences in the future.”

What should be our reaction now? I think we should be open and supportive of the change at Komen. Contact your local Komen organization and let them know you are metastatic (or Stage IV) and appreciate the metastatic support cited in the ads and hope Komen will be increasing funds for research into the causes and process of metastasis.

I know this will be particularly difficult for many of us who have deep feelings of estrangement and resentment toward Komen and the pink ribbon culture. But some within the Komen organization are trying to change things and that needs to be encouraged and supported.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
(Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher)

Ginny Knackmuhs
MBCN Board member

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Olympic Spirit

To anyone who is finally emerging from withdrawal symptoms due to the disappearance of Olympic coverage, I offer this short story of Olympic Spirit.

My kids were always amazed that I had never been on a sports team, not uncommon for my generation of pre-Title IX women. Especially those of us with a solid Catholic education knew that phys ed was considered a frivolous subject, excluded from most parochial school curriculums. In my Catholic girls high school, we did finally have gym class with Mrs. Betty B, tall and knock-kneed, her silver whistle dangling from her neck and her annoying voice exhorting us to run or play ball, so we could return to class a sweaty mess. I hated her because she did not recognize my innate potential Sport teams were limited to basketball, and after being cut the first round of freshman tryouts, I harbored ill feelings to Betty B for the rest of my four years. I still went to the basketball games, where one of our fiercest rivals was St. Ann's Home for Wayward Girls. Games were played after school and spectators from the neighboring boys Catholic school were banned from the gym for fear of inappropriate comments.

My sad sports career continued, as I flirted with suburban tennis in my younger days and was happy to have mastered the scoring and where I was supposed to stand on the court when playing doubles. Now I'm tackling golf.

On a recent vacation Gary and I were golfing in North Carolina at 2 pm on a sweltering 97 degree day.  It seemed we had the course to ourselves--All the Carolinians were probably relaxing at the beach or sipping drinks by a pool. But, we finally caught up to a foursome of men who must have been tourists, too. They had all already teed off on the par 3 hole, but marked their balls and waved us to play through.

Gary went first, landing just off the green and I miraculously had a similar shot from the ladies' tee, landing my ball within a few inches of his. Gary chipped his ball too hard and it rolled about 15 feet past the hole. My turn. I could feel four pairs of eyes on me, but managed to put the ball about three feet from the hole. My gallery of men chuckled.

Gary missed his long putt and I stepped up to the green. Sweat was rolling down the middle of my back. Should I line up the shot in every direction? Walk around and pick up the stray leaf ? Squat down and eyeball that shot into submission? No, I just wanted to get it over with. I concentrated on my pendulum swing and tapped the ball. It wobbled over the 3 foot span and disappeared into the hole!

The gents erupted in laughter and applause and I gave them a smile and nod. I wasn't quite ready for a Tiger Woods fist pump, but echoes of legendary Olympic announcer Jim McKay's voice rang in my ears--"the thrill of victory!" So this is why people play sports. Wouldn't Betty B be proud of me-- that gawky girl in a scratchy white gym uniform, complete with skirt and bloomers had grown up to actually do something right in sports!

I could get used to this feeling and I crowed about it all day (poor Gary), even as my game deteriorated and McKay's "agony of defeat" kicked in. But, oh, how sweet it was!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Anger Management at the Stop n Shop

My youngest brother always enjoys these little rants from me---like the time at Thanksgiving, when I was ready to punch out the attendant at the YMCA. I'll never live that one down. I had my foot firmly in the door, blocking her attempt to shut us out and send us into the rain because, after all, it was 7:56, not 8:00 when the Y officially opened.

Well, this time it was the Stop n Shop deli on a Friday night at the shore. The store seemed pretty empty and I just wanted to pick up a few cold cuts for sandwiches on the beach the next day. Two young women employees, suntanned and ponytailed, manned the counter and only one other customer was already having her order filled, so I figured I didn't need to print out a number.

First bad sign was that neither employee made eye contact--no problem for me--long day, sick of customers, watching the clock? I didn't need to be Chatty Cathy with the local deli girls. The dark haired employee was waiting on the one customer, while the blonde employee was very busy, slicing meat, rewrapping it, tidying up, so I called out. "We're not together here", gesturing to Customer #1, a short older woman sporting a gray haired Dorothy Hamil wedge hairdo and a handbag embroidered with beach umbrellas and seagulls. She had just replied affirmatively for the 6th time to the inquiry of "Anything else?" I wanted to ask her: "Do you ever cook? You now have a quarter pound of just about every meat or cheese on sale." Maybe one more and her weekly shopping would be done.

Meanwhile, the cone of silence surrounded the blonde employee and she continued robotically slicing, wrapping and puttering around.  I scrutinized her for earbuds, but found none. She was just customer deaf, until I wandered over to the completed orders shelf, where shoppers who had left an order while they cruised the rest of the store, could return to pick up their order--no waiting. I poked around the 5 orders, wondering if I could find one close enough to what I wanted, when the formerly deaf employee found her voice.

"Do you have a ticket, ma'am?"

I took a deep breath, but then heard Customer #1 saying : "I'd just like a large dill pickle and that will do it," so I gathered in all my anger management skills and continued waiting politely. The end was in sight.

Deli Girl #2 disappeared into the back room for quite a while. Was she rooting around refrigerators for the pickle or perhaps catching a quick smoke? She finally emerged with pickle in hand, only to confront a line of 5 more people awaiting service. I moved aggressively to the middle area of the counter and looked customer #3 ( I considered myself #2) squarely in the eye. "I'm next. I've been standing here for 10 minutes." She was easily cowed but Deli Girl #2 decided to explain to me in detail the numbered ticket system. She pointed to Customer #4 who had now abandoned the line in favor of the ordering kiosk. He unwittingly became part of her defense team. "See," says DG2, we take the customers in number order, even the ones who fill out an order to be be filled while they're shopping.

"Ah," I say sarcastically "so you could have 5 or even 10 people in line here, but instead you will continue to fill orders for those shopping around the store?" I gestured wildly toward DG #1 who was cramming yet another pick up order into the shelf cubbyholes, as the rest of the line shifted weight and sighed. "And," I continued, "these customers won't be back for at least 15 or 20 minutes?"

That's ridiculous.
Yes, but I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't.
Oh, so you have to avoid eye contact with customers. That must be the #1 rule.
Yes. It's company policy.
Not to make eye contact?
No, but to fill all orders by number. We hate it. Go complain to the manager. They don't listen to us.

I looked at her more closely now and the telltale lines around her eyes and slightly leathered skin made me revise my initial estimate of her age. Definitely approaching 40 and not a young, bored, apathetic kid like deaf blondie next to her.

I stalked off to find the manager, but now I felt some empathy for the deli girls and a job that sucks. The previously empty store was jumping and the earnest manager was scurrying around, looking for help he could assign to open another register and finally settling for bagging groceries himself.

I was suddenly very tired and slipped into the self check out lane. I would fight another day.

My bad luck continued, however, as I was behind another senior buying 2 Rollo bars with cash. I didn't think that was even possible at self checkout, but she was shoving quarters in like it was an old time slot machine. I had to wonder what kind of Rollo craving she had that she had to pop out to the grocery store on a Friday night. No milk, no bread on the conveyor belt, just 2 lonely Rollo Bars spilled down toward the bagging area. I turned to the woman behind me and rolled my eyes. "It's madness," she said. I smiled--a kindred spirit--took a deep, 'serenity now' breath and waited patiently. The night air was cool and refreshing, as I finally strolled across the parking lot and into my car.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Peter Yarrow

When I first saw the announcement in the community bulletin I was conflicted. Should I be really happy at the opportunity to see Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, for $10 on a Tuesday night? Or should I be sad that a former folk legend was reduced to playing in a senior village community center at the Jersey shore? I felt better when I learned that Peter is good friends with one of the residents and does the program as a favor to her. I still had doubts, though, about the fan base among the community. They just didn't seem like veterans of the tumultuous protest movements from Civil Rights to Vietnam, in which Peter, Paul and Mary were prominent voices. Here, for example, is the entrance to the center:

I felt I should add an addenda to the sign: .....and Damn the Leaders who Commit Us to Unworthy Wars. Or perhaps, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

I settled into an aisle seat and surveyed the crowd filing in. The chairs were a random assortment of upholstered maroon ballroom chairs (preferred) and hard white plastic ones (avoided). I figured choosing a white chair with several others in a row would isolate me from the crowd, who nodded inquiringly at me, as if to say How did you get in here?  But, I was wrong. A lady asked if I were saving seats and then plopped down next to me. "Hi, I'm Helen. I live at 22 Boulevard--you know, the house with the controversial wheelchair ramp." I responded in kind.  "Hi, I'm Ginny-- from the Boulevard, too." I remember my mother talking years ago about "the controversy," which was a staple at the neighborhood meetings. Apparently residents were dismayed that the ramp, because of the steepness of the driveway, had to zig zag up the front lawn in an unsightly manner. My mom loved to hear the old biddies complain about it because it added a little zest to the meetings and also steered her away from the more vociferous complainers. I felt bad this woman, years later, still felt compelled to wear this as her scarlet A.

Helen was a talker and I kept turning slightly to my left to see what Peter Yarrow was doing. He was dressed in a maroon tee shirt, slacks and senior oxfords, chatting with people in the back corner. Helen barely came up for air and the saga now included more people than I could keep track of. Was Keith her husband or son or the son's friend or the mason who did the work?

At last Peter Yarrow approached the stage and sat on the stool, guitar in hand. At age 74 he knows his peers. "Do you remember your first love?" he asked the crowd of about 80 residents and then sang Lemon Tree, a sweet ballad of love found and lost. He followed up with The Wedding Song, which I was surprised many people didn't know. It was one of the songs at my own wedding, so I was happy to hear it and a little smug that I was more of a PPM fan than most that were there. This was later confirmed when someone requested he play Stewball and only three hands went up as knowing the song.

The beauty of folk music is that it's easy to sing along and most people joined in--in fact they loved that part. Peter joked that he would signal when it was the chorus, so we would know when to sing, but he also added that he knew some would sing chorus and verse because they didn't know the difference or because they just wanted to!  That was also OK with him.

Yarrow has a comfortable stage presence. I wondered if he had ever tried to calculate how many times he had sung If I Had a Hammer or Blowin in the Wind. He joked with the audience, mimicked a heavy Jewish accent at times, sang the Colonoscopy Song and had an amusing anecdote for each song. You have to love the senior crowd, because toward the end, one older woman on a walker said a bit too loudly, "He's talking again; I can't sit this long." She was shushed as she headed out the door. Another lady had stage whispered earlier to her friend: "That's John Denver's song, not his." (Turns out she was half right: John Denver wrote Leaving on a Jet Plane, but it became a signature hit for Mary Travers and PPM)

He got serious at times, talking about the civil rights movement and about performing in Veteran's hospitals, but did not mention Vietnam protests specifically. I think he knew his audience. After singing the requested antiwar anthem, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, he opened his Apple computer to share a recent recording of the song in English and Ukrainian. He marvelled how that would have been unimaginable in the height of the Cold War. He also talked about his current initiative, an antibullying program for schools in the US and around the world that uses music and song to build a foundation of acceptance for all kinds of kids.

I was not the youngest one there. Two twenty-something French girls had been visiting one of the residents. Hard to imagine what kind of exchange program that was, but the girls seemed nice and friendly and not bitter that they had been sent to live in a retirement community. Afterwards, they spoke to Yarrow, and together they sang a few lines of different songs in French. Peter speaks some French, but his daughter, he said, is fluent in both French and Spanish. Behind me in the crowd of autograph seekers, one woman remarked, "Well, you'll need Spanish the way this country is going." "Hey, what about all that singing of peace and brotherhood?" I wanted to ask her. I shook hands with Yarrow, told him I first saw them at Cornell in 1969 and had The Wedding Song when I got married in 1973 and had really enjoyed the evening. As I left, my new friend Helen called over to me, "Hope to see you again--Ginny of the Boulevard." What a great evening and it was still only 8:30.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

CSI: New Jersey

Looks like a pretty bad crime scene, doesn't it? And from my bedroom! Call in Dexter to do the blood splatter analysis on this one.

Actually I was overtired the other night, but thought I should fix up my toenails in anticipation of a visit to the beach. I must have loosened the cap on the polish, then turned to do something else. When I swooped the bottle up,  I got a nice spray on myself, the rug, the bed skirt and sheet. I hurried into the bathroom and returned with nail polish remover, half expecting to see a Dexter-like web of red strings tracing the origin and pattern of the spill. But Dexter wasn't there; only in my imagination and I vowed not to watch any more episodes.

I had started season one on Netflix and got through two and a half episodes on the recommendation of my son, who wanted me to catch up on all four seasons, so we could watch season five together. Too much blood for me and now I have a constant reminder. Here's the real crime scene mystery: anyone have a suggestion for removing dark scarlet nail polish from a light blue rug?

Monday, July 9, 2012

the 42 dollar dilemma

I spent a wonderful, hot week at the shore. We went out to a lovely, small French restaurant one night where the food was excellent and the owner made a point of visiting each table for a pleasant chat. After the meal, I sought out the restroom at the end of a narrow hall, past the kitchen. As I opened the door marked Femmes, I noticed a scrunched up wad of money on the floor. It could have fallen out of my own mini phone purse which I use constantly, since I overstuff the inside slots with cash, credit cards and driver's license. I like to travel lightly, although I know big bags are en vogue, and it's not uncommon for me to slide out my phone and spew a trail of cards and dollars with it. I was startled for a moment, as I fingered the roll of 2 twenties and 2 singles. Of course, my brain is not that addled and I realized I had just stepped into the room, with purse still securely zipped, so the bills could not possibly be mine.

Or could they? "Finders keepers," I smiled and shoved the bills into my purse. On second thought I had a vague recollection of two women at a neighboring table visiting the restroom before they started to eat and speculated that it may belong to one of them. I clutched the money in the palm of my hand and when I saw the waiter, standing by the kitchen door, I took that as a sign to turn over my prize. He said he would pass it on to the owner who would discreetly canvass the customers.

Returning to my table, I felt Girl Scout proud of myself, until I related the story to my party. Did I do the right thing or was I just stupid?  
"I hope you didn't give it to our waitress!" (She was not a favorite---reserved and slightly snooty or maybe just defensive, since my brother began the meal with a few pointed comments.)
"No, the waiter." I replied. (Four sets of eyes turned on him with laserlike intensity, as if we had collective xray vision to scan his pockets for the $42.)

The poll was inconclusive: one vote for finders keepers; one non-committal; one for doing the "right thing", accompanied by a similar story involving money found floating in the ocean years earlier. I learned in that incident, the police held the money, a considerable sum, for six months and then returned it to the finder, a young friend of my nephew. You have to wonder who goes swimming with a fistful of big bills in their pocket, but this is New Jersey.

It became the question of the weekend. What would you do if you found $42 in the restroom of a restaurant? A no-brainer for most, but I feel somehow that I'm golden now. Should I head to AC, play the 4 and the 2 on the roulette wheel and let it ride? Are these my new lucky numbers? Today I followed a van that was vehicle #42--coincidence or karma? Or was the $42 my good luck that I gave away? One request: the next time we eat out, please don't quiz me when I return from the bathroom to see how much money I found this time. It gets old quickly and besides, how do you know I didn't make this all up?

Friday, June 29, 2012

RIP Nora Ephron

I didn't realize what a Nora Ephron fan I was, until I read her obituary in the New York Times this week. Like many people, especially women, I liked her romantic comedy movies and her essays and rumination on topics ranging from getting breasts and 'what she wore' to death and aging. When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie and Julia, Silkwood, and writings I Feel Bad about My Neck, I Remember Nothing, Crazy Salad--an impressive list.

But what really struck me was her view of life, which was reflected in all her work. As Meryl Streep said in the article: "Nora just looked at every situation and cocked her head and thought, 'Hmm, how can I make this more fun?'" So, no matter what the crisis (divorce, love, everyday annoyances) she was always thinking of how to turn the disaster into a humorous piece.

I was raised somewhat similarly to render life as a good story, (but not, of course, to include the family's dirty laundry or anything too personal.) I remember working one summer as a postal clerk, a decidedly boring job, and staying with my aunt. I usually worked past the family's dinner hour, so my aunt would have a plate warmed up for me when I got home. She was not a good cook, but creative, folding rice and leftover vegetables into orange jello or pouring thousand island dressing over pork chops. She'd pull up a chair, settle in and then say, "Tell me what funny things happened today."  Luckily for me, although the job was mundane, my fellow employees at the post office, with very little exaggeration, were right out of central casting for a sit com.

As for the dirty laundry, you'll find none of us in my family writing plays about their ugly divorce from husband #2 or revealing adolescent angst about body changes.

The other great quote in the obituary was from writer Sally Quinn, explaining why so few people knew that Nora had leukemia for several years. "She had this thing about not wanting to whine. She didn't like self-pity. It was always, you know, 'Suck it up' ".

I believe my grandma's translation of this was "this is my cross to bear" but it included the same fundamental belief that everyone had something and it was best to know this and carry on--quietly. I talk to a lot of people about breast cancer and I'm always amazed at people and their stories: some are resilient and others mired in deep despair. Of course, circumstances may be different: the amount of disease progression, degree of support from family and friends, the person's age and role in life. But looking for humor and sucking it up should be vital ingredients in anyone's arsenal for coping and living well. Few have the talent and work ethic of a Nora Ephron, but all of us have benefitted from her perceptive wit that made us laugh and made everything in life a little easier to take.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reunion thoughts

Just celebrated my 40th reunion from college, which included seeing a core of old friends, dancing to the rock music of the 60's and 70's and ziplining across a gorge.  Pretty nice mix of activities! I've been thinking about the weekend since returning and here are the really interesting things.

The times we lived through! Our reunion tshirt said it all and dubbed the Class of 72 Reunion the Forever Young tour. Events from our four years were printed on the back of the shirts and ranged from end of women's curfew and parietal hours (restrictions on visits to dorms by members of the opposite sex) to building takeovers and Viet Nam war protests. Turbulent times that defined our generation and also resulted in a few pass/fail semesters. I think it would have been interesting to have a discussion group on how these times really influenced our political and social world views or choice of profession. Given the preponderance of NY lawyers in the crowd, many working for large corporations, had the four years of political activism and long, philosophical discussions on justice and war and inequality just been a blip in our lives? Chalk it up to youthful idealism and naivete? Or had we made choices in life true to that initial activism? Maybe we hadn't gone to jail or joined the underground, but how different were we because of our experiences?

Memory is a tricky thing. I read somewhere that we remember most those things that are associated in our minds with an emotional component. So, if we are emotionally invested, the memory will remain clearer, although all memory gets filtered through the perspective of time. One of the events listed under senior year was the Collegetown Block Party/Riot. Returning home from somewhere else, we passed through Collegetown quickly that night, sensing that the Ithaca Police in full riot gear lined up along the side of the street would be only too happy to try out their new toys, given the least provocation. Sure enough, the rumblings began and as we ran through the side streets and backyards off College Avenue, the sting of tear gas seaped through the air. My partner in crime that evening does not remember it at all. Did I fantasize about the whole event, insert myself as an unwitting player just for bragging rights or had we each processed the night in totally different ways, one of us filing it away as stories of an almost-rebellious life and the other simply discarding it as a minor inconvenience?

Was I really so clueless? Seeing the innocent faces posted along the walls of our reunion dorm was sweet. Clean cut young men, girls with long straight hair and flashing white toothed smiles--the fresh faces of a promising group of new students. I had one conversation with a woman from my freshman floor who was also from upstate NY but I had always thought of her as sophisticated and assertive. We compared notes about our freshmen roommates. Mine was a California girl, whose father was an alum. She spent a week in New York City shopping before descending on campus with her Vidal Sassoon hairstyle and a wardrobe that included a leather skirt and a fur skirt. When my parents and I arrived at the double bedded room, clothes were piled on both beds and I had a sinking feeling this may not work out. My floormate had a similar experience: "I felt the same way," she said, "like I was an upstate clod next to my glamorous roommate. Don't you remember that white fun fur jacket she had?" I laughed because I had envied that coat, but I had never thought it bothered her because in my eyes she was extroverted and self confident. We had more in common than I imagined and wasn't that a wasted opportunity that we had never shared it or become better friends?

Did we really need the reunion? By the time you hit the 40 year mark, there aren't a lot of new people you expect to see at reunions. It tends to be the same crowd with the women looking predictably better than the men, many of whom sported sizable guts and gray hair. You stick to your small group of friends. Add to that the grousing about long buffet lines, too many appeals for donations, limited activities and music that was too loud. (Yes, we're getting old!) and you wonder if you should just pick any weekend to return, enjoy the beautiful campus, eat in the better restaurants in town and sit and talk as long as you want without shouting over the DJ. It's an interesting possibility, assuming all could agree on a date, but return we must. It's a good thing, even for one weekend to relive those years, to catch up on where we are, to stare at our innocent freshman eyes looking out to the future and try to divine if those eyes recognize the women and men we've become.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The end of "A pink ribbon race, years long"

In January 2011, New York Times reporter, Roni Caryn Rabin, wrote about the compelling story of Suzanne Hebert, entitled "A Pink Ribbon Race, Years Long." A young mother of 40 discovers a lump while nursing her new baby. Doctors tell her it's nothing to worry about and wait months later to biopsy it, but it's already too late. It's stage IV metastatic breast cancer and has spread to her bones and liver.

Suzanne Hebert, wife, mother of two, optometrist, friend, colleague, mbc advocate and vice president of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN), died on May 30 after living with mbc for over seven years.

The Times article was not the first or the last time that Suzanne shared her story, speaking out for all of us with mbc, advocating for more treatments and more research on metastases.
"People like the pretty story with the happy ending,” she said. “We don’t have the happy ending.
You always hear stories about women who ‘battled it’ and ‘how courageous’ they were. Cancer doesn’t care if you’re courageous. It’s an injustice to all of us who have this. There are women who are no less strong and no less determined to be here, and they’ll be dead in two years.”

In December 2011 Suzanne appeared on ABC Nightly News and talked about the clinical trial for Afinitor that she was on, traveling from her home in Connecticut to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas once a month."I never thought my liver would be a national TV star," she quipped to me, referring to the 'before' and 'after' scans of her liver tumors broadcast that evening.

But the initial reduction in tumors did not last and soon after that, Suzanne stepped back from her involvement with MBCN, wanting to spend more time with her family. I was surprised in April to read about her again in Cancer Today magazine, but her previous optimism and unflagging hope were gone, replaced by the cold, hard facts of reality and the grim statistics of this disease.

 Asked about some new research, she expressed 'guarded' optimism. “After more than eight years of living with this, I’ve seen so many things that sound like the next great thing,” she says. “You never hear anything else.” In reality, hope arrives “in very tiny increments,” says Suzanne. On the release of the newest 'successful' metastatic cancer drug, which extends life by 2 and a half months, Suzanne said: “That’s not really something to bring the trumpets out about, but that’s the best that we get,” she says. Still, it’s better than nothing. “I’m 46 and the mother of two,” says Hebert. “I’ll take it.”

Sobering words, especially from Suzanne, who lived and breathed lightness and hope. Was it succumbing to despair and frustration or was it resignation and final acceptance of the cruelty of this disease?  I reread the article and felt the sadness settle upon me.

The last time I spoke with Suzanne, she was in hospice. We laughed a little, cried a little and she said "You know you're going to get to this point, but it seems unreal. And all the work we did doesn't matter anymore."
"I know, I know," I replied, although I didn't really know or didn't want to understand and accept it.

I'm a better person for knowing Suzanne, working with her and living in her light. Her race should have been longer, much longer, but it did matter, Suzanne, and we thank you for that.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Low Plains Drifter

More on our odyssey to the great prairie states. We spent five days in five states last week: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa; drove 1000 miles, averaging 200 miles per day which is about ten times as far as a covered wagon traveled in the late 1800's. Gary is now a member of the exclusive 50 state club.
50th state he visited!
With this trip I could check off Oklahoma (47), Nebraska (48) and Iowa (49). And the last state will be......Kentucky! Anyone interested in going to the Derby next year? I have a friend born in Louisville who also insisted that my Kentucky celebration include eating a fried baloney sandwich at Louisville Slugger Field. Ah, things to look forward to...

Things we learned on this trip:
  1. there are over a 1000 different types of barbed wire...and the Cowboy Museum has a whole room full of them
  2. Only 40% of the pioneers were able to last 5 years to claim the land offered under the Homestead Act
  3. Jesse James had a wife and 2 kids
  4. Ginny normally sleeps 12 hours a day, so she missed seeing a lot of grain elevators
  5. Gary went through five boxes of tissues and coughed 849 times, but Ginny was so patient she didn't yell at him once. (well, maybe once...or twice...)

Here's a little quiz from our Heartland adventure across the low plains. See if you can guess our choices:

Best lunch:
  1. Chuck wagon buffet at the Cowboy Museum, Oklahoma City  Yee-ha!
  2. Sonic Burger sitting at a picnic table near Abilene, KS on a very windy day
  3. German restaurant in Independence, MO - hot German potato salad with sauerkraut
  4. Back Alley luncheonette in Beatrice, NE "Want a refill of your <32 oz> soda, Hon?"
  5. Sandwiches in the park in Council Bluff, IA
Best dinner:
  1. Tapas bar in Wichita KS waiting for a rope tornado to descend and our waitress to appear (the first never happened; the second eventually did)
  2. Topeka KS brew pub. "Want a refill of your <32 oz> soda, Hon?"
  3. Majestic Chophouse, Kansas City MO majestic big beef with a side of KC jazz
  4. Omaha NB 801 Steakhouse-- Beef-it's what's for dinner!
  5. Des Moines Airport--burgers all around.
Best attraction:
  1. OK City Memorial
  2. OK City Cowboy Museum - Gary shakes hands with bronze statues of John Wayne and Ronald Reagan
  3. KS Tallgrass National Preserve - a bus ride to the middle of a field of prairie grass (and weeds)
  4. Abilene KS- Eisenhower home and museum - interesting, but museum had same displays as when it opened in the 60s. What was with the 50's and Mamie's hats and arguably the worst hairstyle of any first lady? Gary takes picture of 11 foot high bronze statue of Ike.
  5. Independence MO - home and presidential library of Harry S. Truman (he added the S). Gary shakes hand with bronze statue of Harry. (They are the same height)
  6. St. Joseph, MO - home where Jesse James was shot--also in the running for hokiest exhibit, as it included an extensive showcase on the exhuming of his body in 1995, including the skull and his teeth
  7. Homestead National Monument - 150 year celebration of the Homestead Act included display from the National Archive; better prairie than Tallgrass! Very cool visitor center that looked like a prairie schooner.
  8. Squirrel Jail, Council Bluffs, IA-- a cylindrical county jail that rotated (like a squirrel cage), allowing only one cell door to line up with the exit at a time.  (Not a great design if there was a fire)
Favorite gas stations:
  1. Quick Trip
  2. Finish Line
  3. Cenex
  4. Shamrock
  5. Kum n go
  6. Valero - boring- we have that in the East
Best quote:
  1. Windy, today--mighty windy
  2. Can I have the tissue box? 
  3. Want a refill, Hon?
  4. Is it always this windy?
Favorite state:
  1. OK- best attractions
  2. NE- because we were in the "big O!" (it's how they market Omaha)
  3. IA- most grain elevators
  4. KS- closest to a real tornado
  5. MO- 'cause Gary kept saying "Missoura" like he was a native. Gracious!
  6. Gee, I keep getting them mixed up
And the answers!!
Best lunch:
Ginny #5- picnic in this city park: 90 degrees and lots of kids running through the sprinklers near this fountain

Gary #3: German restaurant across from this National Park visitor center--pass the Pepto bismol, please.

Best dinner:
Philips Hotel, KC, art deco lobby
We agreed: #3 Can't beat the combo of good food and jazz at the Majestic, which was near our beautiful art deco hotel and the KC rejuvenated downtown area called the Power and Light district

Best attraction:  the ballots are still being counted!
Favorite gas: loved them all, except Valero--no brand name Exxons or Mobils here
Best Quote: #1- Yup, it was windy.
and...drum roll please... Favorite State ....  it's got to be #6!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Advice from a Prairie

Explore new horizons

Keep a sunny outlook

Be patient through the dry spells

Stay open

Listen to the wind

Give yourself space

Be natural

      2009  www,

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas

Bison separated from the herd. Ranger thought she might be in labor.
White flowers known as New Jersey tea
Homestead National Monument, Nebraska

Sun salutation from the New Agey me

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Las Vegas

Spent four days in Vegas last week and did no gambling other than a dollar in a poker machine, while waiting for our dinner group to assemble. (I know, Scott, such a wasted opportunity!) The K family vacation with Gary's siblings is golf centric--36 holes a day. I slept in and joined the afternoon sessions of 18 holes one day and 9 the next.

We had a great time. Beautiful courses, desert starkness.

i-Phone takes terrible pix or is it me?
Hate to say it, but the group seems to be aging a bit. I heard some complaints of tight back muscles, windburn, and an admission that the best day was the one where they played a mere 27 holes. One thing about not seeing relatives too often is they get stuck in your mind at a younger age and you're truly surprised that time marches on. I laughed at dinner one night at what must be a genetic K weakness.  "No garlic, no onion", the voice boomed to the waiter. Was that my father-in-law talking from beyond the grave?  No, the anti-garlic gene had surfaced in the next generation.

Although we stayed about 20 minutes from the strip, we ventured down to see the Cirque du Soleil Elvis show and enjoyed a wonderful tapas dinner in the newer Aria casino. Amazing that they've sandwiched in several new casinos around the Bellagio, including the Aria and the Cosmopolitan.

On my own I checked out the Mob Museum, in downtown LV, which opened February 14, 2012--anniversary of Capone's Valentine Day massacre. The museum is located in the historic Federal Courthouse/Post Office where the organized crime Kefauver hearings were heard in 1950, acknowledgement that the mob truly did exist and the first steps to bringing them to justice. The museum tries to tell both sides of the story: the mob and the law enforcement. It has a number of  interactive exhibits and photo opps.

Here I am in the police lineup; also fired a tommy gun and stalked a criminal through some dark alleys before our showdown. (I think he got me)  I loved the Las Vegas section with the celebrity and mobster pictures: glamorous Hollywood days with Bugsy Siegel, Frank Sinatra's rat pack, Kennedys and more.  It definitely was not an unbiased National Park Service site--the museum took the position that the mob wiped out President Kennedy, no opposing views aired in that video. And Las Vegas itself got off lightly -- sure, a history of mob influence, but that was looong ago.

Not so squeaky clean was the Catholic Church and our own dear Manhattan College:
Bishops and mobsters at the dedication of Guardian Angel Church on land donated from the Desert Inn (Moe Dalitz and Cleveland mob)
Video on the mob and sports referenced the 1951 point shaving basketball scandal with Junius Kellogg at Manhattan College.

I could tell you a lot more, but as the slogan goes:  "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

Monday, April 30, 2012

Vinny G and Mindfulness

I’ve been digitally disconnected—sort of—for the past 4 days, on vacation in Vegas with my husband's golfing siblings.(more on that coming!) I am so addicted to my i-Phone, that, of course, I checked my email, but have not been using my laptop and my back pain suddenly has disappeared. Could it be that hunching over the keyboard 8 hours a day has been causing my problems?  Need to bring in the “ergonomic advisor” (Roche actually had one who would come to your desk and evaluate your posture, positioning, chair height,etc.)  Ah, sometimes I miss those nice little corporate touches.

Back on topic—Mindfulness—a popular subject in the breast cancer community. When you see that Vinny G from Jersey Shore has written a book which includes meditation, you know Mindfulness has arrived. Never mind that the Times also ran a story last week, Putting Meditation Back on the Mat, which chronicled a return to the mind part of yoga over the strictly physical emphasis, the big news was Vinny making the rounds of B&N stores including Clifton to talk about his book: Control the Crazy: My Plan to Stop Stressing, Avoid Drama and Maintain Inner Cool.

Most cancer patients are introduced at some point to the idea of mindful meditation to control their own crazies. Cure magazine’s Spring 2012 article on Stressed during Cancer Treatment? Try Meditating. quotes mindfulness coach Elena Rosenbaum …"there is more right with you than wrong and that your attitude does make a difference. There is so much fear around what is happening, but if you stop struggling against what you cannot control, you’re more able to find that peace and strength inside of you that allows you to manage and cope."

So what is Mindfulness exactly? According to Saki Santorelli, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts: “mindfulness meditation is paying attention on purpose, the present moment, nonjudgmentally." Ooh, there's a therapy word for you—nonjudgmentally—but simply means not denying your negative thoughts, just deciding at this moment that you are going to purposefully set them aside and concentrate on breathing and “what is before us at the moment, such as the beautiful sky or the feeling of being alive.”

I’m not a New Ager by any means, but through Yoga and now Tai-chi, I’ve been trying to focus on breathing and slowing things down, being grounded in the present. I imagine what my mother‘s comment would be, if she were still here:  "Well, just say a rosary, you don’t need to say 'om shanti shanti' or some such nonsense.” She’d probably go on to remind me of the Serenity Prayer, which hung over her kitchen sink:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. 

It’s not a religious competition, of course, and although related to Buddhism, mindfulness can stand on its own non sectarian basis. 

I have to admit I haven’t even skimmed Vinny’s book, couldn’t pick him out of a lineup and don’t watch Jersey Shore, but maybe this year there will be an episode where Vinny gets up early (or maybe never goes to bed), wanders down to the beautiful Jersey beach, pre-dawn, lays out his towel and breathes deeply, as the sun rises and a new day begins.