Wednesday, November 24, 2010


It took me a while to find the letter from my mother, typed by her shortly before Thanksgiving in 1984.  I knew it would, which is why I am writing this post well ahead of THE DAY.    The primary reason however, is that I still try to cook a turkey ever year. 

 I have probably mentioned in the past, my mother was not a cook, chose not to be.  She had way too many other things she was interested in, and one only had to consume enough calories to keep the machine going.  Her theory on the whole thing was,  it took more energy to cook all those fancy-schmanchy numbers that would qualify as gastronomical delights, than it did to eat them.  That would put one way behind in the energy intake column.  That would also mean fading fast on the BLACK DIAMOND run later in the day, or dragging the sled up the hill for a few more runs after dinner had been consumed.  Hence my sister and I had always attempted to cook more interesting meals, with not a lot of success I may add. 

Age has not improved my understanding of the chemical reactions of butter at certain temperatures,  though to my credit,  I can get out my little box of science equipment and tell you the specific gravity of any stone you may chance to find.   I know, sounds a bit strange but my kids and I always wanted to know exactly what that rock was we were bringing home just 'cause it was pretty.' 

We love to eat, though always in a hurry, on the way to something far more exciting,

which doesn't explain why I am descended from an extremely long line of chubby children.....

My Grandmother

My Mother

My Sister

My Sister Holding Me
(She would later say it had taken far too long for my mother to take the picture and as a result, due to my enormous weight on her thighs, her legs had gone numb and it took her ten minutes for the tingling to go away, which is when she could walk again.)

So every year on Thanksgiving, my mother would set the table for breakfast...

I still use her ruby red/clear glasses, my sister's ruby red vase, my grandfather's drink mixer, and my grandmother's glasses with little clear glass balls forming the bases.

We all always loved red, making up for not being able to wear it in every other way imaginable  (with the exception of red vehicles, show the dirt too fast).

...and make pancakes from a boxed mix, my sister and I watched the parades on TV,

while my father (if he was lucky enough to be home on leave) would finish up any paperwork he had brought home.

We'd eat breakfast, finish watching all the parades, and race off to my grandmother's house,

where we would feast on a perfectly baked turkey, along with all the fixin's, right down to homemade cranberry and orange sauce, on her embroidered tablecloth.

Later in life, my parents, my children, and I would migrate to my sister's house where her husband would do the dirty work ( AKA COOK), and loved it.  He was a great cook (he had even made his own trail mix to take with him on the A.T. for his last hike).

And soooo, when the time came that I would be baking my very own Thanksgiving dinner, I called my mother and asked her to send me not only the specific directions for stuffing and cooking the turkey, but the recipe for my grandmother's cranberry and orange sauce.

This is what she sent me....

"Remove Swanson's Frozen Turkey TV Dinner from freezer, then from box, in that order.
Place in oven at specified temperature on box.  Set the timer per directions on box, however, do not remove from oven until you see bubbling.
Remove from oven.
Eat the red stuff between the potatoes and peas while arranging other items in an attractive manner on your best china.

Do you have Christmas plates? I saw the prettiest set in Jordan Marsh for 50% off.  You ought to go look.  Will you be skiing Thanksgiving afternoon?    Your sister will be in Vermont at her sister-in-law's so I have made reservations.   Talk to you soon.          Mother "

She followed up with a short phone call.  "Are you still planning on cooking?  I taught you how to make reservations.  Your father and I are going to the Radisson for their buffet, would you like to drive up and join us?"    "No, Thank You, I am still cooking."     "Oh, well, make sure the fire extinguisher your father gave you is handy..."

I have since learned to cook a passable Thanksgiving turkey (Thanks to the Butterball Turkey Hot-Line ), as well as fit in all the other traditional activities.  The least of which would be saying a silent Thank You our ancestors John Alden, and his wife Priscilla Mullins.  If they had not gotten on that boat with John's father heaven only knows where I'd be now. I need to reside in a country where one can call for help  (specifically help that arrives in either pretty blue cars, or big red trucks....) and expect it to respond in a reasonable fashion.  

I have already had my first accidental fire of the season this afternoon while baking my mincemeat pie ( controversial pie, I know, ya either love it or hate it, I simply cannot live without it on Thanksgiving).  While attempting to remove the pie from the oven, an advertising flyer flew off the counter, into the oven, and landed perfectly in the bottom of the electric oven.  Directly on the element.   I thought I distinctly heard my mother saying "I told you to make reservations," while my sister was howling in the background...

When I get up at 4 AM to put the turkey in the oven (yes I am one of those, perish the thought the thing does not fully cook  (Thanks Mom, for instilling the fear of salmonella in the very heart of my being...), I will be watching my favorite dysfunctional family Thanksgiving movie...

...  and saying my silent Thank You's for all the things I am truly Thankful for, which includes you, dear reader, for your continuing encouragement in my quest to save the odd bits and pieces of my family and my life, for my children and my grandson. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

DECEMBER 29, 1995

It was a year of catastrophic events for me, so while I was preparing for my first very own - hopefully - lifesaving operation for cancer, I tried to prepare.   I tried to memorize this quote by Marcus Aurelius,

"As for pain, a pain that is intolerable carries us off, but that which lasts a long time is bearable, the mind maintains it's own tranquility by entering into itself, and the ruling faculty is not injured.  If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing which disturbs you, but your own judgement about it."

Yup, that's all well and good until you are consumed by an enormous controlled trauma like abdominal surgery.  The notebook I brought with me tells an altogether different story of consuming physical pain, combined with morphine... 

They call the day of the operation DAY ZERO.  If one survives, the next day is DAY ONE.  By DAY THREE I had not only watched the First Night New Year fireworks from my bed in a drug induced haze,  I had listened to a woman die across the hall from me, been awakened by the PA every time a doctor or nurse was needed somewhere in the hospital, my doctor - sweetheart that he was - had snuck in a cup of coffee with cream and sugar (absolutely VERBOTEN!), and my friend who was to drive me home on DAY TWELVE said there was an enormous snow storm due in on DAY FOUR.  

I told my doctor I needed to go home. They removed the large metal staples holding my abdominal cavity closed, replaced them with superglue and surgical tape, gave me a pillow to hold onto for the forty-five mile trip home, and wheeled me and my catheter out to the curb. 

THANK YOU RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE in Providence R.I. for the hospitality provided to my friend who came to be with me every waking moment.]

The next few weeks would be interesting.  Four hours after arriving home a nurse from my doctor's office called to make sure I had made it and was OK.  " I hear water running in the background, were you taking a shower? Should I call back? " she asked.    "No, I am cleaning my oven, its OK."  That's when they started calling me their miracle patient.   I spent a lot of time looking like I was nine months pregnant and ready to pop due to the swelling.  I owned no sweatpants so I rolled around the house with my jeans undone and covered with shirts.  My son dragged wood in and I sat in my sister's chair throwing logs into the old, non-air-tight Franklin.

January 1996

I tried to think of spring and did some really incredibly lame mediocre watercolors in my notebook.

My dad sent me funny pictures of himself in his Santa hat with one of his fellow Veteran friends volunteering to ring the bell for the Salvation Army.

In February I went to a wedding my daughter was a bridesmaid in, fueled by vicodin and slouching, it helped keep the pain somewhat at bay,  and ran into my surgeon at a basketball game in Providence in March.

My daughter is actually holding me up in this, notice her shoulder stratigically placed IN my back.

Thank You John A. E. Mattson, for taking me to the game, and running out during overtime to fetch more Pepsi.

At last I would return to work, flowers arrived...

A minor celebration, complete with fake champagne...

My partner of twelve years and I.

By the time spring and summer rolled around, I would be amazed at the journey I had gone through, one that was controlled by levels of pain, diminishing over time to be sure, but pain none the less.  It became obvious in years to follow, just how controlling that pain had been when I look at the photos of me, and the ones I took that summer.

Impossible to sit on hard chairs, still is, I sit on my feet.  I'm told it's common after abdominal surgeries.

Finding Peace in my surroundings.

My son humored me and took me for a ride in my sister's car he had inherited,

 to my favorite place, Pickery Place in Mason N.H.

I might add my kids were loving the pictures. They had always wanted to be as tall as me, if not taller.  My mother, had been mortified by the heights my sister and I attained.   [After we surpassed her 5'7" frame, she refused to be seen with us,  handing us the charge cards. "Go get your school clothes..."  oh, and  "How's the weather up there..."]    I have been six feet since I was about nineteen.  I was slouching right down to about five seven due to chronic pain, so they actually looked taller than me.

By the end of the summer I was back in the pool, getting ready for my diving vacation in Hawaii that coming  January.

So now, on the fifteenth aniversery of that adventure, I once again renew my vow to continue volunteering, helping others whenever I can, and by surviving, reasuring others there truly is hope.  In celebration, I am driving to my favorite seafood joint on the shore to have lobster, and their incredible lobster bisque.

And remember, no matter what befalls you in this unpredicable life, there is power in the mind, believe in it, and mind over matter will triumph.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010



She never spoke much. The schools had just gotten into the Big-Brother-Act and were taking  every teacher's concern that was brought to their attention seriously. When my daughter was in grade school the playground monitors had reported that she was getting 'picked on' for not 'fitting in' with the other children, and not joining any particular group, instead sitting alone on a swing and reading.

Eventually the more aggressive of the class decided my daughter would be the prime victim to take out their anger issues on, and began to get physical.  Things got a bit scary.  She would come home and ask me to cut gum out of her hair, she would have holes in her jeans and scrapes on her knees from being pushed to the cement.  I would ask her if she would like me to intercede.   She always declined, adding, "There's something wrong with their heads."    OK.

There would come a day, just after Christmas one year - the same year the photo above was taken - when she went to school in her new coat.  She had wanted a red coat for the longest time, I have no idea why, with the complexions we inherited we look like the walking dead in red.  Never the less, I gave her a red Woolrich coat, with toggle buttons, and a red plaid lining.   She loved it, wore it everyday right up until Christmas vacation was over, then to school. 

That first day back to school, I had gotten out of work at seven a.m., and after getting the kids off to school, went to bed.  The phone rang at 11:15.  It was the school principal.   Uh oh.  "We need you to come to school, there's been a problem with Julie, but she is alright."  Naturally thinking the worst, I raced off to the school.

When I was escorted into the Principal's office the first thing I did was scan the room looking for my daughter, expecting a beaten, disheveled mess.  Seeing her sitting there looking as placid as ever, I continued scanning the somewhat crowded room seeing two other mothers, with their sullen looking offspring.   One of said offspring had the biggest shiner I had ever seen on a kid (until later that year).

There were two teachers in the room as well, both outright beaming at me.  I sat. The principal began.  "As you know there have been problems with Julie being picked on during recess.  Up until now we have been unable to identify the culprits.  Today, shortly after recess began, these two - glaring at the sullen ones -  decided they would start picking on your daughter,  not knowing the playground monitors were watching. They approached Julie and started to grab at her coat, then one of them tried to mark her coat up with a magic marker.  At that point your daughter hauled off and hit that student - glancing glare at the shiner - with a roundhouse to the eye that would make Ali look like an amateur."   And she beamed, her smile appeared to reach the earlobes on each side of her head.  I glanced at the two teachers who had been the monitors. They were smiling and beaming at Julie and me.   Then one of the teachers said, "Finally, Julie had had it. She stuck up for herself and we are so proud of her!"       The principal continued, "These other two - GLARE - will be dealt with with detentions, as well as suspended bus privileges for the rest of the year. We all hope this will be the end of their horrible behaviour."   The teachers led my daughter and I out of the office, Julie returned to class, while the teacher absolutely gushed over how my daughter had finally done something to end it with her tormentors.  She praised Julie's strength of character in not doing anything drastic long before this, as she was such a quiet child. 

Which in no way explains why her personality blossomed out of of control in junior high, when she became this child... 

THE KID - In his grandfather's NAVY ISSUE  'Birth-Control' glasses.

Later that season I was once again summoned to the school, this time much earlier in the morning than the incident with my daughter.   There had been a fight between two boys on the school bus.   According to the bus driver, my son had tried to intervene in an attempt to stop the boys from fighting.  This is what I saw that morning.
He was so mortified  after everyone in the neighborhood, including his best friend's father who was a police Sgt. in town, couldn't resist the, "Whoa, what does the other guy look like?" 
 My kid started walking around like this after school...

Now, looking back, I can see, it's definitely in the DNA.  Between being the underdog, and trying to stick up for the underdog, my kids have it covered.   They maintain to this day. 

 My daughter rescues animals she finds abandoned in local parks, and volunteers for an animal rescue league that rehabilitates injured wild animals.   Recently my son went to his boss to inform him that a co-worker of his who was about to be fired, was not the culprit who made the error, resulting in the firing.  The worker who had actually committed the act, whatever it may have been, had lied and said it was another person.  The appropriate person was then let go.

I keep waiting for my son to arrive home with the second shiner of his life.  But it won't matter.  He did the right thing.