New Year

My smaller glass can’t contain both complacent happiness and purpose at the same time.

January 1, 2018

One of the things about being twice-diagnosed as terminal is the almost automatic change in perspective.  How can it not change?  There is now a “use-by date” on life, as opposed to some mysterious date way out in the future.  And even if medicine, or drugs, or holistic treatments such as turmeric or cannabis oil retract the terminal tag…it is impossible to un-see  the end.

I have been uncomfortable with wishing anyone “Happy New Year”, because, frankly, happiness is not first on the list of things I wish for anyone.  It might not even be in the top ten.

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As it turns out, the Rabbi got tripped up by the numbers.  2018 is actually the nineteenth year of the century.  Be that as it may, the rest of this quote resonates with me.  She speaks of a life with purpose, not happiness.  Thus my earlier grocery-store quote of a use-by date.  Happiness may come.  But more likely it will be exhaustion from what is required to live life with empathy and purpose, resilience and compassion.

And purpose can show up when it is least expected.

I believe I have earlier mentioned the appeal to me of being a lab rat when I had my stem cell transplant.  None of the doctors expected me to survive it.  But they pre-treated me with a type of drug that had never been used before in preparation for the transplant.  Whatever happened to me, others would benefit from the knowledge gained.  As a side benefit…I survived.  I cannot say I have always been happy about that.  Recovery from a sct is horrific…grueling…and seemingly never-ending.  I am four-plus years into recovery.  More new knowledge for the doctors.  More exhaustion for me.

I would be happy to be living a comfortable life of retirement with Bob.  Not going to happen.  Comfortable becomes less and less likely, for a variety of reasons.

I would be happy to spend my days with my granddaughter, Sophie, like my mother did with my children.  But geography and our finances make that impossible.

I would be happy to have my family and friends not having to roll their eyes when I go on a political rant.  But I will fight to my dying breath for Sophie’s rights when she is a woman, to be secure.

I’m not saying that it is immoral to seek happiness.  I do believe that pursuit must be kept in better balance than it is currently, in a culture of reality television, plastic surgery, and unbridled greed.  <cue eye rolls>


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My smaller glass can’t contain both complacent happiness and purpose at the same time.

My wish for all is that you find a life of satisfaction, and it fills your smaller glass to overflowing.  And if there is some happiness – good for you!



On my 8th birthday, I put all the pieces together and figured out that my father was an alcoholic.  He was more than an alcoholic.  He was a falling-down drunk.  But I was 8, and such distinctions were beyond me.

This will surprise some, but my salvation at the time was that I was a Catholic school kid.  To this day, no one in my family admits to knowing what was going on.  The religious sisters sensed something, but never asked for specifics from their obviously distraught student.  His drinking was a secret that must be kept at all cost – and the cost to me was enormous.  But there was daily Mass.  There was something about the music – both pre- and post Vatican II.  The candles.  The incense.  The regularity of the liturgy and the liturgical seasons.  These were constants in a life of chaos.  For that hour, I was safe and succored.

Fast forward.

When I entered a doctoral program in an ecumenical seminary – one of two Roman Catholic women students – the head of the seminary was the retired head of the World Council of Churches.  He led us through our first week, and was a big fan of meditation from a psychological perspective, as well as brain function.  The benefits of moving from an alpha state to a beta state.  Try as I might, the beta state was elusive to me most of the time.  A few moments, here and there.  Rarely.

I was working in parishes as a pastoral minister during and after those studies.  I used to bring in a priest from India, to do adult education sessions on meditation.  He was well-known in the Detroit Archdiocese, and good at what he did with the topic.  For everyone but me.  Meditation was just not going to happen.  No beta state.  No letting go of the brain chatter.

Years later.  Once.  While as campus minister at Catholic high school.  In total despair and desperation during the senior retreat, I took the pyx (small container for a consecrated host) and knelt during one of the most frustrating sessions.  Four hours later, the leader of the session tapped me on the shoulder and brought me back to an alpha state.  I have no idea where my mind had been, but it certainly wasn’t in a room full of bitchy teenage girls, taking our their cattyness on each other.


This comes up now, because of recent Me Too revelations.  I did not experience sexual harassment in the workplace of the church.  The one kiss was from a pastor/boss.  On the cheek.  In public.  My response was “I don’t know whether to never wash my cheek, or get a tetanus shot”.  Also in public.  Those gathered laughed.  The priest was confused.

But the lack of support…the lack of credit…wore on me.  The statements.  “…so-and-so thinks you’re too severe”…”I won’t fire you, but you will quit”…”Hey girlie, come here”…”A baby threw up in the entrance – clean it up”…”We don’t need to pay her; her husband is a dentist”.


And then there was cancer.

All my priest friends deserted me.  All my ultra-religious friends deserted me.

And I’m pretty sure God – if there is a god – also deserted me.

But the music, the “smells and bells” – as my Protestant fellow-students teased about – can still reach a place that nothing else can.  My favorite liturgy of the year is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter). and once a year I still miss it.  When life is too much, I still run back to that music – easily obtainable online – for comfort.

Like that 8-year-old kid, who found comfort from chaos in the liturgy.


This wasn’t what I had planned

There will shortly be a blog about ambivalence and meditation.  But this morning’s firing of Matt Lauer made me change my plans.

Are rational men listening?  Are rational men amazed?  And do rational men realize why the mere existence of non-disclosure agreements imposed on victims of harassment should mute any giddy enthusiasm for supposed progress?  “Let it out; let it out now.”

I, for one, am skeptical about lasting progress.  And I want the women in my life, as well as the women who may read this whom I don’t know, to understand that I remain vigilant.  For them.  For my 6-year-old granddaughter.  For myself.

I’m certain that it feels good to finally express what, for many, is a decades-old murder of their soul.  What we need to see now, however, is a cessation of the behavior that caused these killings.  “No one knows me.  No one ever will.  If I don’t say something.  If I just lie still.”

How?  How do we do that in the culture which has an abuser in the White House, completely supported by Evangelical Christians?  Are they not complicit?  And if complicit, how do we change that behavior.

The brief dialog that begins Milck’s song brings up many forms of harassment.  Listen to it again.  Sexual harassment, to be certain, and probably most public right now.  And also the dismissal of contributions of women in the workplace.  I am intimately acquainted with being told to know my place; to shut up and smile.  As a retired pastoral minister in the Roman Catholic Church…well…there is no ceiling more impossible to break through than that of the Sistine Chapel.

And lest I fall into the Black Lives Matter/All Lives Matter trap, I will stop here.  Because I want my daughter and my dearest friend – both sexually abused – to know that their “Me, too” is not easily dismissed by being lumped into the category of “bad things that happen to women”.  It is their unique pain, and I stand with them.

“I Can’t Keep Quiet.”

Black Friday, 2017

First cancer diagnosis in July of 2012, so this is the sixth Thanksgiving I should not have seen.  And I have learned a few things:

  • Under no circumstances bring home a Jenny O “freezer to table” turkey breast, no matter how dire the need, and how empty the turkey coolers are in the grocery store.
  • It is impossible to cook a Thanksgiving dinner without getting grease on your clothes.  Dress accordingly.
  • Smart phone cameras are not smart enough to capture the exact moment canned whipped cream is being squirted into the mouth of a greyhound.
  • The Detroit Lions always find a way to make their opposition for this holiday game look like world-beaters.
  • No matter how much everyone around you at dinner is smiling, there are some – possibly many – who are pretending.  There is not enough tryptophan in the meal to overcome their sorrow and emptiness.
  • “Do we have to do Christmas again this year?” never goes away, no matter how grateful to be alive I am supposed to be.

There are other things I have learned, specific to this year:

  • Although she will be 7 in a few weeks, Sophie can still be conned about fairies and their wings.
  • Watching “The Great Wall” for the first time yesterday morning, I am saddened by how the Trump Era has forcibly expanded my definition of racism.
  • I continue to forget to look for Punkin’ Chunkin’ on the tube, on Thanksgiving evening.  (Did they have it this year?)
  • I made a public statement on FaceBook that I would not shop during this long holiday weekend, and am now wondering if my purchase of an audio book last night makes me a hypocrite.
  • Left over Jenny O turkey breast makes crummy sandwiches.

Next year……….Detroit-style coney dogs, Vernor’s Ginger Ale, and Sander’s Bumpy Cake.

I confess…

…that I have far less tolerance for frustration than I did previously.  Is it age?  Cancer treatments?  Neurologic damage?  The general mood of the country?  Genetics?  I can’t say that I can nail it down to one specific thing or event.  All I know is, more people than previously feel my verbal wrath.

Today, for instance.  Several months ago, I ordered a small bracelet from a Buddhist monastery.  Picture the size of that package.  Being in a semi-rural area, our mail is delivered at the street, in groups of mailboxes.  I received a notice that it was delivered to our box.  No package.  Contacted the company.  They generously sent another.  Same message.  Still no package.  The local Post Office can show the vehicle delivering and scanning the tracking number at my box, with their GPS.  My conclusion is that the two packages have been stolen.  I posted a warning on the neighborhood Nextdoor discussion list.  Suddenly, I am the one at fault, say my neighbors, for not understanding the local postal rules.   What I understand is that the Post Office did its job.  And so did a thief.

I repeat and repeat and repeat to myself: Don’t feed the trolls.  If I were not the daughter of an alcoholic…amend that…falling-down drunk, I would actually act upon the “It must be 5 o’clock somewhere” saying.  But I am the daughter of a falling-down drunk.  So I skip the booze until there is an occasion when it would be entertaining, not tranquilizing.


Well-meaning family and friends tell me to not watch the news, because it upsets me so.  It’s difficult to explain our need for Social Security and Medicare to someone not in our situation.  Yet I must not feed the trolls.  This frustration/fear I must keep to myself, which only increases its vigor.

And these are the days that I wonder – to myself – why I would ever even consider treating another illness.

These few precious days?

How many Mickeys and Minnies?

Although I was city-born and raised, for the last fifteen years we have lived on an island in the Great Lakes.  Don’t be too impressed.  Access is by car ferry, but the trip across only takes two minutes.  From the tip of the island, the Detroit skyline is clearly visible.

I have what I consider a live-and-let-live attitude about the wildlife here.  When I am outside, I give them the space they seem to desire.  In return, I ask that they not invade my space.  We have coexisted this way for the entire fifteen years – except for the bat that lived inside for a few days.  But that became a successful catch-and-release.

Late in this summer, we had a cricket infestation.  I discovered what happens when the sole of a shoe is placed in the exact right place on a cricket exoskeleton.  It isn’t pretty.

This natural invasion of my space has moved up to a whole new level, however, with a mating pair of mice and their litter.  At first, I just saw one mouse.  Not being overly familiar with them in a house, I expected that one was it.  Ha!

We set some traps which we purchased at the grocery store.  Two traps.  It seemed enough.  Bait them in with peanut butter, and their hunt for water will lead them outside to die.

Yesterday was a mouse rodeo.  Mama and babies, scurrying willy nilly.

We have a greyhound.  Sheik.  Greyhounds are supposed to be from the canine category of “sight hounds”, meaning that they see something and then chase it.  I watched the dog stare down a baby, then walk away.  Totally disinterested.  No chase.  No help.


A bit later, while cooking dinner, I saw the mother mouse, either dead or dying.  With my compromised immune system, I decided to leave it for Bob to pick up.  A short while later, however, a baby came to the mama, and tried to nurse.

I was devastated by what I saw as a tragic scene.

And immediately became aware of my hypocrisy.  I’m not “live-and-let-live”.  I’m passive-aggressive.  Passive in their environment.  Murderous in mine.  Frankly, I still want them out of my house, and the only way to achieve that seems to be a rather ruthless death.

But I can’t get the picture of the baby trying to nurse from a dead mother out of my mind.

This morning while making the coffee, Bob found the daddy mouse, dead or nearly so.  He gave it our version of a Viking funeral.  All water, no fire.  The question now is, how long before any remaining babies begin an incestuous relationship with each other, and we start this process all over again?  How many more babies will I witness try to nurse from a dead mother.

When will I get over myself and overthinking?

Grandma, seeks reindeer

I suppose real bloggers post on a more regular schedule.  But I’m not a real blogger, am I?

Some periods of life just don’t result in material for a blog.  Sometimes, not even enough for a short Facebook post.  Either this is one of those times, or my chemo brain is worse right now than I thought.  If you are not aware, chemo brain is both real and sporadic.

This is the time of year I hate.  The period of November that is cold, grey, and rainy.  I would so much prefer snow.  These November days just feel like I do – blah.  And then it leads to December.

So much perkiness all around.  Really?  Is it real, or is everyone just better at pretending than I am?

I hate Christmas.

I have since I was a child.  With my alcoholic father, alternating between extreme depression because it would be his “last Christmas”…and then driving my mom and me while drunk, down icy streets.  My cousins all seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I don’t know if they really were.  I remained on the sidelines at my Babcia’s (Polish for grandmother) house, waiting for the whiskey to make my father totally obnoxious, and praying that some adult – any adult – would pull me aside and tell me everything would be okay.  (To this day, no one from my family will admit they had any idea my father was an alcoholic.  Yeah.  Right.)

So, if you like Christmas, please continue to do so.  At 68, I am pretty good at just gritting my teeth through December 26.  Then I self-medicate with hours and hours of college football.

I didn’t anticipate this topic when I started typing.  But.  Here we are.  I wish I could promise you future perkiness.  But as I wrote in the beginning, I don’t know how many – or few – precious days I have, and there are thoughts that need to be preserved.  Well.  Maybe they don’t really need to be.  I just want them to be, for whatever posterity there is.

And now I am going to seach for the recipe for Thompson turkey, to see if I think it could be adapted to a crock pot.  I can hope.

A funny thing happened on the way to healthy lymph nodes…

Twelve hours after my mother died, in April of 2013, my oncologist told me my remission had failed, and the only thing left was a stem cell transplant.  Getting from his diagnosis to the actual transplant was an arduous process.  Meetings.  Paperwork.  Dealings with health insurance companies.  Blood work.  Pulmonary tests.  “Salvage” chemo.  Harvesting my stem cells.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.  The most important of which was whether or not I would actually go ahead with the transplant.  The transplant doctor – a man with an uptight personality so very, very different from the sweetness of my oncologist – was, nevertheless, honest with me when I asked the ultimate question: What are my chances?  Not very good.  Not good at all.

Hmmmm…What to do.`

Many discussions with family.  One email conversation with a priest.  In a casual conversation with Bob, he mentioned that the brother of our neighbor across the street had undergone a transplant with similar odds.  He chose to proceed for an amazing (to me) reason: to be a lab rat.  He knew he would not survive the transplant.  He was right.  But he did it for the knowledge that would be gained and useful to future patients.

Bingo!  Completely captured my heart and imagination.  My decision was made.

In mid-August of 2013, I entered the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit.  Eight days of “conditioning” with some of the strongest chemo known to humankind, then two days of transplantation.  Then all hell broke loose.  I have very little memory of those days.  I was that out of it.  I apparently had conversations with Bob.  I don’t know.

Here was the knowledge they had not had before.

Multiple times per day, a neurologist or neurological resident or intern came into my room to question me.  What day is this?  Do you know where you are?  What county?  Who’s the President?  They always, always ended with “Can you spell ‘world’ backwards?”

Well.  No, actually.  Not only could I not spell world backwards, but I couldn’t even put together the words to say that I couldn’t.

This went on for days.

Finally, one morning when Bob was visiting me, the entire Neurology department of Wayne State University walked into my room, along with my transplant doctor – Head of the Department of Haematology and Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Transplants.  About 15 people in all.  Again, with the questions.  I.  Was.  Pissed.  When we got to world-spelled-backwards, I could no longer contain my frustration.  I said “I’m tempted to say:              W O R L D   B A C K W A R D S”.  I caught the notoriously humorless Karmanos staff off guard.  Some needed to leave my room to have a laughing fit.  I was deemed on the mend.

But that wasn’t – and isn’t – true.

After about 5 weeks in Karmanos, I was allowed to go home.  But four+ years later, I continue to have random “bad world-spelled-backwards days”.  Sometimes it will be totally losing the words I need to express a simple thought.  Sometimes it is trying to make sense of something I have read.  Some days, I know driving my beloved Mustang convertible would be a bad idea.  Today, I couldn’t for the life of me remember how to stitch binding to wind up with mitered corners on a quilt.

You cannot imagine how totally discouraging and frustrating that is for me.  And I’m not going to go into the TIA (mini stroke) I had last summer, which further exacerbated the whole situation.

Most of my family and friends know not to expect too much from me when I tell them I am having a bad world-spelled-backwards day.  But no one really knows what it is like.

This is part of my suck-y “new normal”.  And I know this sounds like whining.  When you can’t spell a five-letter word backwards, maybe you will understand.

I try


My house is loaded with quilts.  Some I made, some I purchased, some were made by friends, some were made by women far across the sea.  Some are on beds; some are draped across chairs or couches; some are used as table coverings; some are hanging in various ways, in various rooms.  A few are strictly for the use of Sheiky…the dog.  And then, there are numerous UFOs – the quilting term for those projects that made it to a certain point, and reside there, possibly forever – UnFinished Objects.

I am an enthusiastic quilter, as my fabric stash demonstrates.  I have made incredibly complex patterns, and turned simple patterns into something complex due to my fabric choices.

I’m good at choosing fabric and stitching the quilt tops.  At least, I was, prior to a brain problem during the stem cell transplant in 2013, and the TIA last summer.  What I am not good at is putting the top together with the batting and the backing – called the quilt sandwich, and then stitching it all together – called the quilting.

Truthfully, when it comes to the actual quilting………………I suck.

Once or twice, I have taken my quilt top and backing to a quilt shop, and had them quilt it for me, on a machine called a longarm.  And I foresee this happening more frequently, although it is a pricey option, because:

I still want to quilt.

I’m not good at one major part of the process.  But the parts that I can do make me happy, most of the time.  Notice that I said “most” of the time.  I have been working on a monthly sew-along.  The pattern is extremely complex, and sometimes my brain just can’t figure it out.  Then, quilting doesn’t make me happy.

Sometimes I need to take a break, and pick up a totally different craft.  Most of those I do with an amateurish outcome.

Nevertheless, she persisted.


Time Changes

I hear, or read of, people who have had some life-threatening experience – be it illness or accident or natural disaster – who then see time completely differently.  I confess.  I am one of them…sorta.

I am married to an ardent amateur astronomer.  I gave birth to a daughter whose Bachelor DegreeS were in Astronomy, Physics, and Astrophysics.  Both of them are good teachers.  But I just cannot understand (insert deep male echo chamber voice):


I frequently fall asleep to the bedroom television tuned to the Science Channel, only to wake in the middle of the night to some world-class astronomer talking about some facet of (spooky voice again):


It’s not space.  It’s not time.  It’s both.  At the same time.  Or neither.  Or, or, or…

Or my alarm clock.

Mine died several months ago, and Bob bought one for me from K Mart.  From the first time we plugged it in, the time it displayed was inexplicable.  Hours fast, then slow.  Changing by tens of minutes one way or another, then back to hours.  Other than when we first set it, it has never maintained the correct time.

The obvious solution would have been to take it back for a new one.  Nope.  I have decided that my alarm clock actually exists in some other dimension, and the time it displays is actually (voice):


While Bob and Clair would discuss something scientific, Bob3 (son – I’ll explain another time) and I would invent fantasies or poetry.  Allegory and metaphor.  It was, and continues to be, the only way he and I could make sense of the science and math.

So “September Song”, whose lyrics name this blog.  (And please excuse the commercial at the beginning of the video.  I’m just learning this stuff – oh, Sophie!  Where are you when I need your 6-year-old computer expertise?)

I have always found it poignant.  More so, since the cancer.  But, is it a “long, long time” or do the “days dwindle down”?

As snobby as it sounds, time is just a human construct.  Otherwise, we would keep time based on sunrise and sunset – without segmenting the seasonal differences.  Parts of my life speed on.  I was told the average survival for my type of cancer was 5 years, and the average survival for the stem cell transplant was 4 years.  I am beyond both deadlines, and still here.  On the other hand, worries about my family, my country, the planet seem to go on and on, endlessly.  My life is fading fast and ploddingly slow at one and the same time.