Monday, February 29, 2016

Visitors Bearing Treats!

Sure -  the scratches from Aunt MC are fun but LOOK - Someone brought truffles from the Chocolate Garden in Coloma, Michigan!


About The Chocolate Garden


Check out their website - my best friend MC and her fella Mr. B stopped by yesterday to help us pull out the stamped steel 40's countertop for the kitchen remodel and she brought a goodie bag.  The truffles were incredible! (Ginger Citrus - OH MY!)

(And the Red Wine Vinegar Italian Dressing from St. Julian Winery and the Hammond chocolate bars from Denver were also much appreciated).  Thanks my friends!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Birthday Thoughts


Today would have been my older and only brother's 60th birthday  - so today, just a story of family, a brother and sister and memories of childhood.
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On one of two very recent trips to visit Dad, an Honor Flight was arriving as I did.  How wonderful to see the crowds of people who stood up and clapped as these brave Veterans were wheeled past, and the line of officers that shook their hands and thanked them for their service. I had brought a tiny little point and shoot out on this trip and got one discreet picture, even as a tear ran down my cheek.

Good people honor their Veterans as we are taught to honor our parents.  That is why my vacations the last 20 years have been back and forth to Dad's house to care for him and my step-mom when she had Alzheimer's, My big brother, who lived two hours away, made sure the house stayed in good condition, with  both of us making sure there was enough money in his account to handle it's upkeep (you can't see it from this angle but Bro and I got him one of those recliners that lifts him up to a standing position). I handled cooking and cleaning, canning and freezing, so meals when I was gone were easy. Clothes were mended and gutters were cleaned
My last trip was just to check on him as he's been hospitalized two times in the last two weeks.He's home now where he wants to be with a home health aide there for a few hours every morning to help  him up and around and in the afternoon and evening, helping him into bed after making him a hot meal.  He might be there another year, it might be a day-- it's in God's hands at this point.

My family is from Montana. but they moved West, but for a small home back there that ended up a rental and an occasional vacation stop. Dad's house  is the one I grew up in, my room virtually unchanged from childhood. When I came home this last time, he did something that Big Bro always did for me, leave a couple of balloons tied to one of my stuffed animals (yes, they are still in my room) on the bed.


My bedroom looks just the same as when I was a teen, with the rainbows painted when I was 14 our out of the horrid colored 70's leftover paint (I do NOT want to remember which room the aqua one was, but I remember the awful salmon color as my childhood bedroom paint scheme).  The rest of the house has been repainted, a kitchen fire a couple of years ago when someone Dad hired to help with the cleaning and cooking (instead of the licensed and bonded one I had hired because "this one is cheaper", even though I was the one paying for it) set fire to the place while out smoking and talking on the phone while something was cooking on high near flammables.

Though, other than the fresh paint on most of the walls, it looks just the same.  Around the house, are always things that make me smile.  Big Bro's frog. The photo frames he made as he was dying and put up all over the house, reminding himself each day of the life he had lived, and how lucky he was.
Something else had changed - the bathroom.

In our house we had what was known as the Girl's Bathroom and the Boy's bathroom, which of course, now would be politically incorrect. The "Girl's bathroom" was where Mom and I could take our time with hair and curlers and what not and the boy's bathroom was just a half bath that was painted blue and decorated with a little ceramic skunk Mom made named Stinky. The tub and the shower though were in the "Girl's bathroom"

Everything in there was pink, walls, towels, shower curtain, etc. On the wall were these ceramic tropical fish Mom made (she was really into crafts) that were a Daddy and Mommy tropical fish, with two little baby fish. They were stuck to the wall with adhesive stuff, Mom and baby fish following the Daddy fish with little ceramic bubbles  that would perch above them as if rising to the surface.  I was the smallest fish, there at the end of the little line of swimming fish. Big Bro used to take the bubbles from our two fish and position them so they'd be coming out of the little sister fish's butt.

 Big Brothers are like that.

Being in that house, 50 years later, brings back so many memories. The houses on this block were all were erected in the 50's, sprawling across what used to be farm fields, rich soil that lay at the foothills of the mountains, small squares of cedar and brick, laying in the shadows of tall unaxed trees and the log train that serenaded a little girl to sleep.
The neighborhood back then was different then the dynamics of a neighborhood now.  Families moved in and didn't move out. There weren't foreclosures popping up every few houses, and kids tended to live in the same home from the time they came home from the hospital until they went off to the lumber mills or college. It was a small mill town, most of the kids ended up there, drawn by the lure of a log mill wage at 18 that seemed like a fortune, until you saw the brutal tax on your bones and your spirit after 40 years of it. Only a few of us made our way out beyond those snow capped mountains.
We knew all of our neighbors, the other Mom's home during the day, welcoming in the noise and the occasional dirty footprint onto linoleum.  We knew which Mom made the best chocolate chip cookie, and which one would be as stern a taskmaster as our own Mom when it came to playing quietly in the house.  (Look it's NOT a hallway, it's a Hot Wheels racetrack and I needed 6 extra kids as a pit crew).

The town's only grocery was across a two lane 50 mph roadway that lead to the mountains. We were NOT allowed across it on our bikes without a parent, even if there was four way traffic light at the intersection with the grocery and the gas station. There was no even THINKING of breaking that rule. We knew the consequences of being reckless, and it was not a slap on the wrist or a taxpayer funded 'stimulus'. Outside of that, there were all kinds of places to roam, and in summer time we were pretty much outdoors from breakfast to supper, no helmets, no sunscreen if we could help it, no hand sanitizer, no shin guards.
We'd ride up and down the block, usually playing Man From Uncle (I always got to be Ilya Kuryakin whom I'm sure started out his Secret Agent stuff, like I, with training wheels).  We'd play soldier and spy or cowboys and Indians in our back yard where Dad and my favorite Uncle, an engineer, built a cool A-frame play house for me.  I could usually squirrel away some of the Hostess products from the kitchen, inside it's structure for the Indians to run raids on. I was ready, I had my cereal box Colt six-shooter and a BUS (back-up slingshot).

But, like the examples of our parents, and the lessons of TV, which did not yet involve drugs and spandex, we were careful with our weapons, even if they were plastic.   Besides, should those rules be broken, we knew who the Sheriff in town was, and it was Mom, even if she gave up her actual Deputy Sheriff badge and an 18 year career in Law Enforcement, when they adopted both of us.

Those were glorious days.  We'd drink from the hose or come in for KoolAid, and a hug, soda pop being something not in a budget of a single income family, reserved for a treat while on vacation to my Aunt and Uncle's ranch. We'd count marbles, candy money and coup, and we'd roam as far as we could without crossing that highway.
Many of the houses had fences, many did not, but there was an alleyway of grass that ran behind our house where we could run covert missions into a neighbor's place. The ones without kids were off limits, we were taught to respect others' property, but we did raid one retired couple's little decorative pond at the back corner of their place for the occasional frog which we'd use to scare some sissy kid, and then return it safely. (Seriously, if I ever give you a shoe box with holes in it with a big bow on top, don't open it).

On Saturdays, the cars came out to be washed, and sometimes waxed. I could earn spending money for candy by washing the station wagon for Dad, and gladly did so, learning early the correlation between labor and putting food on the table. Our Dads  would mow, and our Moms would get groceries and bake cookies for the week.
In the late afternoon, Dad would curl up with some sports on TV for a couple of hours, his only break in a long week of work and family. Mom would go to her needlework or crafts while the neighborhood kids continued to play those glorious summer games that were relegated to single days off during the school year for us. For Sunday was a day of worship, of rest, reading, board games and music, not raids on a local fort or trying to blow something up in the garage.

Now when I go back, so much of the area has changed  I see houses down the street where there's no money to repair a roof, moss taking over, plants growing in the gutter, but there's a new fishing boat and Hummer in the driveway of the very modest home. On others, there are bars on the front doors of the homes we'd run up to to ring the doorbell on Halloween, without any adult in trail.

But Dad's  house - it's virtually unchanged from my childhood, but for the apple tree that had to be cut down
I love my Dad, as I think we all do our parents, even when we don't see eye to eye with them, both sides occasionally causing hurt even to someone they love dearly. Such is human nature.  But I also admire him even as I tease him a little that he  has a picture of Ronald Reagan riding a horse on his desk.
So I do all I can to keep some continuity in his life. Having buried two wives and two children, a daughter they lost in their late 20's  and my brother, Dad needs that sense of stability, even if the martini making duties have been inherited by  my husband.
But one thing that did need a change, and he'd tried to do it, but just made a mess with some paint. The ever so pink bathroom.  It's the one Dad uses most of the time, as it has the tub that we added bars and a chair too.  It's also larger and easier to navigate in. But it was still pink. So while he was in away, it was updated to be a little less "girly"

Nothing fancy, a light greyish-blue paint,  a new shower curtain, and grey towels to match the tile. The fish, long since living at my house, were replaced by an old, old  photo of of our childhood vacation stomping ground, and Dad's favorite memories.

Everything else but for the bathroom was left alone.  Dad asked that everything else, including my brothers things, be left exactly where they are, until he too, is gone. Though, that empty spot where Bro's recliner in  the family room had been, is painful to look at (it had to be taken to the dump, being soiled from where they brought my brother in from where he collapsed.)

The span of that empty space is as wide as our grief..

I wish my brother been here long enough to see it, but I'm glad I wrote The Book of Barkley.  I know some people looked at it and said "oh, another dog book"  or "I don't have a dog" and then click past the page to the more exciting genres.  But it's more than a book about a dog, it's about my brother and I, how our lives grew together, then apart, then back again, into that house where there were so many memories. Barkley was simply the change that made this lonely road warrior look at my  life and my faith in a whole different manner, so that the end days, when they came, were sweetened by the joy that we have shared, and the joy that awaits us, together in heaven.
As I left the house that last time, I gave my Dad a big hug at the front door, told him I loved him, went to the car, climbed in and started the engine, then got out and ran back to him and gave him one last hug.  For it might well be the last one. We are not related by blood but we are, by life lived, commitment honored and memories made. He touched my check, with work weary, dry, thin hands, an old man's fingers, yet still his hands, my Daddy's hands, touching my rosy cheek where the strength of his blood still flows within me, will flow, even after his long journey back to his reward.

I looked at the house as I left it that last time, all of Big Bro's things on the wall.  All of those memories seemed to condense in it, as if the house alone were the source of them, shining from it from that big picture window, glimpsed just for a second as my rental car pulls away, like that 10 point whitetail you see the split second after he sees you, when he's already gone, even as you yearn for him to return.

Happy Birthday R. Allen D. - you are sorely missed and forever loved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

You Had Me At Woof

Photo from Frankie and Ernie's Blog

A couple of you that have my email asked where Abby the Lab got the pretty bracelet present (that said "you had me at woof") for Frankie Furter's Mom for Valentine's Day.

Here is a close up from the Etsy shop it was purchased  from.

The stuffed squirrel, like the stuffed snow freak and the fabric pizza slice from Christmas came from an etsy site called Wags and Wiggles, which I shop fairly often as I love their stuffies.

The bracelet was a NEW Etsy place I discovered and I was so happy I did.

I know a couple of you that would like THIS one.
Or how about. . 

It's called Harminy's Place

Just go to www.etsy.com and type Harminysplace in the search bar and their website will come up with all kinds of pretty silver bracelets with pet and other themes as well as some handmade fleece blankets that both two and four legged folks will love (Abby wants the Star Wars one).

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Dog's Home is Her. . . . . . .

SOMEBODY (not naming any names here) was apparently upset that Mommy was an hour and a half late getting home, EVEN if the dog walker came over and  gave her an extra walk and fed her since I knew I would have a long day.

Season 3 seems to have been opened (with teeth) and forensically examined.

(If any one you haven't seen Castle -  it's one of my favorite "crime" shows, with a lot of wit, romance, and humor).

You know Abby - our friend


said today's wacky holiday IS National Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day.

Do you think I should give you a biscuit for eating my movies?

OK, OK, We'll just say the squirrels did it. Just this once. Put those big brown eyes away and come get your biscuit.

And people wonder why Mommy drinks :-)


Monday, February 22, 2016

Scrabbled' Up

While Dad was on the road, Mom spent a few hours with a friend, and a game of Scrabble erupted. Scrabble rules are loose in our house.  Which is why we have DNA, ATC (air traffic control since Mom was a pilot) and Ho (hey, Mom said that word was just uttered on Law and Order SVU). And when your best friend lives a stone's throw from from Toto, Indiana the word Oz is always allowed.  But this was one of the few games where Mom played and used every single Scrabble tile, so she took a picture.

I think if you look at the titles it's very telling as to what Mom spends her days doing.  But if I could spell out some Scrabble words - they would be a LOT simpler.

Abby Lab

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday Black and White - Moving Days

A Chapter From The Book of Barkley  (Outskirts Press, Available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online)

CHAPTER 15 – Moving Days

The car was packed, and the moving truck was already on its way.  I’d been selected for a position in a Midwest city, one with the potential for promotion over time.  The house here was selling, at a huge loss given the market, but at least it had a buyer.

Things are changing; my Stepmom’s diagnosis of cancer, Dad's talk of moving in with me after she's gone, something he swore he'd never do.  I found a little ranch house in that Midwestern city I am moving to, bigger than I would have bought for myself, but a lot less fancy and still much smaller than this house. It will provide him his own rooms, and bath, with an entrance without steps for him.

The house stands empty. Only a few folks have been inside, a few neighbors, my parents, a couple of friends and a few dates, none of whom seemed to like dogs, which was becoming more important. We're better off moving on, even alone, I tell Barkley, there’s a big world out there with lots of things to do and people to meet.

He's only three years old.  I wonder if he will miss this place.

Barkley and I made one last trek around the neighborhood and the woods behind before we left for the first leg of our journey. The moving truck had another stop to make so we would have time to travel and catch up. So many trips we'd made around these blocks.  Barkley sniffed everything, pointing to the occasional piece of trash or blowing leaf, as I steered him toward the common area to do his business, rather than on someone's lawn.  He, of course, would only lift his leg, and then continue on, for Barkley was always looking for something, a bright picture window, a family seated in front of it at the dining room, enjoying dinner. He'd then dash over to their lawn and squat to do the rest of his business, all right in front of their dinner.  Kids squealed and giggled, adults shot me looks that were daggers, as I would wave an apology.  Then, I'd go clean up the pile, scolding him yet again, as we walked off, my cheeks blazing with embarrassment, his head held up proudly with a "that was the biggest one yet!"

We took one last walk out into the openly wooded area that runs for a half mile behind this new development, back to a little pond where he first learned to swim.  Tonight, I stood at the crest of the rise of sand and dirt that made up the lip of this water filled bowl.  Man made or nature made; it was hard to tell, for the perfect shape of the pond.  But given the location, it was probably man made. The moon cleaved the pale waste that was sky, the sun having left like low tide, leaving this place in the shadow, just the form of a red haired woman and the dark grieving of earth.

I looked down and saw it, the pale abandoned nest of a Canadian goose; the goslings long having been hatched if the eggs survived both rising waters and predators. I pictured the water moving, like slow waves, but it was as still as I.  We both seemingly waited for something, an act of fate, of destiny, the irrevocable sentence of time that's passed or perhaps, an invitation.

I wondered if I came back in ten years, if this place would still be here? Or would it be plowed into yet another row of Monopoly houses, another neighborhood of lives and love, fights and frustration and unborn children who can't wait to grow up so they can leave this place, then wish desperately that they could return.

They say you cannot go home again, and perhaps as far as a childhood home, that is true. But what of the memories of other places we hold firm in our mind's eye? Some of them we have a name for, our elementary school, the river where we dove as far out as we could into the dark water, a place where church bells rang. In the Book of Genesis, all was drawn out of the waters of chaos by its name, "God called the dry land Earth." Sometimes, the incredibly complex can be summed up in one word.  I read in a story that the Inuit Indians have one such word to bring to conceivable life the fear and the awe that possesses them when they see across the ice, the approach of a polar bear.  Some things have no words at all, their form remembered only in the etchings of tears.

But of those places, both named and unnamed, there are places you are drawn back to, years later, praying they are not changed, and knowing it will not be so.

I hope in ten years Barkley and I can come back here, if only to wave at the house in which I raised him to adulthood, as to an old friend.
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 Thanks to our hosts Nola and Sugar for the Blog Hop.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Pup-overs

Oh boy - Mom made Pup-overs!

She lets the steam out of mine first, but they are soooo eggy/custardy in the middle and crunchy around the edges.
I'm glad Dad made it home  - he was on the road for business all butt one day last week so Mom's going to spoil him (and me) this weekend.
Abby Lab

Friday, February 19, 2016

On Tonight's Episode of "Suicidal Squirrel"

There's a car coming, run into the road.

Car slows as you're 95% of the way across.  GO BACK!~

STOP.  

Run back across the road.  SCREEEECH!

Thanks for watching tonight. Our show sponsored by Midas Tires and Brakes.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thursday Eats - Pizza Bones!


posted a picture of a pizza on a romantic Valentine's evening out with her husband at the pizza place they had their first date (and congratulations on the two pounds recently lost)

I had a SERIOUS hankering for pizza after that. But I really didn't want to go out in the cold wind to the store, and I didn't want to clear and re-salt the steps for a delivery guy where snow melted today and then re-froze. Besides Abby could use a treat.  Her Dad's only been home one night this week between business trips and she misses him. (She sleeps by our bed which she never does when he is home, guarding me).

So I made a pizza we'd both like, not super heavy on sauce and cheese, some tasty toppings but not too heavy on them, and a dough that's slightly chewy but soft in the middle, baked long enough the cheese welds to the crust without burning.

Making your own pizza dough isn't as hard as you think, and you can control the quality of the ingredients and the amount of sodium.  So why not make my own and then top with lower sodium toppings from the deli. I love deep dish, but didn't want all the extra calories so I made traditional crust (not thick, not thin)

Easy as "Not Pie!" -Dough (makes two 12 inch pizzas)

2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon yeast (not rapid rise)
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 and 1/2 cups flour divided
4 Tablespoons olive oil

Mix water and yeast and let it sit 4-5 minutes so it foams up.

Add yeast to 1/2 of the flour and mix in your mixer with a dough hook.  Add the remaining flour and salt and knead by hand (or with hook) until smooth.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.  Have a glass of wine.  Think pizza thoughts.
Preheat oven to 400 F.

Pour 2 Tablespoons of oil per pizza stone (or baking pan) and spread to coat evenly.

After the 30 minutes are up, divide the dough in half, adding a few Tablespoons of flour to keep it from being too sticky, and pat out on oiled pizza stone (or pan) until an even thickness.

Top with a thin layer of marinara or pizza sauce, leaving an inch uncovered around the edge, adding toppings of your choice (I used a reduced sodium ham and pineapple) and 2-3 cups cheese per pizza,

Bake 18-20 minutes (Note this pizza and the sauce had NO Garlic - Garlic is VERY toxic to dogs).   So do not give your dog pizza crusts or crusts with sauce infused with garlic, they could get very ill, depending on the amount of garlic and their body weight. I did sprinkle a tiny bit of rosemary on it before baking, in place of my usual garlic.

Oh boy Pizza Bones!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Dog the Bounty Hunter

It was one of "those" days.  I was up late last night - Dad had taken a fall earlier in the week, and his dizziness was a mild UTI but I had to stay up late enough to ensure he got the right meds, and got into bed safely at which point his evening nurse goes home. My husband was gone overnight, so there was also snow to shovel and a dog to walk.

So 4:00 a.m. arrived way to early, and with my husband on the road, to roll in later, I had to walk Abby before work, which for me starts at 6 a.m. So I'm on the road before the sun peeks up from the horizon.  I do miss when I worked and lived in Indiana, when it was a short country drive to the office, with time for reflection and the occassional photo.  Now, I'm dodging IDOT specially placed potholes (to increase your maneuvering skills), people that drop into my lane without notice like Frogger, and the Chicago "it's legal for 6 cars to turn left after the light turns red, it's a state law I think.")

Then work, including a long polycom, a baby shower for a colleague on my lunch hour, followed by over  2 hours in traffic to get home (for a whole 15 miles), due to hitting all the trains running east to west and a car stalled in the clogged interchange to the freeway.  It was 6:30 when I rolled in, three hours later than normal.  I had 30 minutes to get dinner prepared from the crockpot with salad to go with it, eat and call my Dad, as he expects me to call at EXACTLY at 7:00 (or he gets worried/upset -  it's a "I'm 96 and this is the one thing I can control" issue which I TOTALLY get).

But it makes for a hectic arrival at home sometimes when either or both of us are late arriving.

So I wasn't happy to walk in to THIS on arrival home.  Abby T. Labrador had murdered a couple of rolls of paper towels, that were left wrapped by the back door when the groceries were brought in the other day.
It looked like a crime scene, with Christmas Big Bird sprayed out on the floor like a crime victim, two boys in blue combing the scene for clues and a red nosed reporter trying to get a scoop.

Sigh.
I turned the box so you could read the contact info.

But there was a couple bright notes - a call from the dog mom of
to catch up - such a sweet lady, and this box  from Simply Australian, which is like Chewy boxes for humans.   (By the way - if any of you are good enough with blogger to help Cookie's Mom add a sidebar link to her Go Fund Me for her dog's meds, difficult on a senior's income, I know she'd appreciate it, I tried and had no luck as her settings are different than mine).

Simply Australian.  Oh boy! Oh boy!  They're in Cincinnati so my order got here quick. (By way of explanation:  my grandfathers both died before I was born, and my grandmothers died before I was four.  Our next door neighbors, an older couple from Australia, unofficially "adopted" my brother and I as our "grandparents" and I still treasure a little book about a kangaroo they inscribed to me before they passed).  So, when I saw that sweet Roxie in Australia sent some to our friend Ernie for Valentine's Day I thought "it's been too long since I've had. . . 

Tim Tams".  You haven't lived until you've done the "Tim Tam Slam" where you bite off each chocolate covered end, exposing the delicate cookies and cream filled center and then sucked your coffee or tea though it, to then polish off the gooey remains.
My husband can eat the healthy stuff.  After my long day, I know what I'M having for dinner, a cuppa tea and a Tim Tam.  But given how my fingers and lips will probably look like when I'm done, I can't give Abby Lab a hard time for HER mess.

G'Day!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sweet Sarah Day

It's Sweet Sarah Day!

Yes,a day for our Blogville friend Sarah, Mona and Prissy's Mom at

 She had a liver biopsy to check out some lesions after her colon cancer was dealt with and with which she wrote about with such grace and strength.

Cancer touches all of us, almost all of us through family, some personally. I've been lucky with only a melanoma in my 20's from too much sun as a teen that left a good sized divot just above my left breast, but it was handled early. It took several stitches to close the wound when it, and the tissue surrounding it were removed, leaving a noticeable scar that looks exactly like a small human bite mark. In the occasional low cut little black dress, it gets some looks. If I find someone staring, I simply say "short Jewish ninja with overbite".
Another precancerous growth years later resulted in my converting from family station wagon to sports model, no chance of another child. But my body parts don't define me and I consider myself extremely blessed to have had only those issues.

But it's touched my family greatly and so many others among you. As my regular readers know, I lost my big brother, a heavy smoker, in 2014 to cancer, still in his 50's. Dad has been dealing with prostate cancer since his late 60's, as he went for less aggressive, non-surgical treatment. My stepmom battled oral cancer followed by Alzheimer's, just when she went into remission.  But with my Mom, it was an ever present part of her life, as I can remember it, her originally being diagnosed with colon cancer when I was four years old.

I thought about Mona and Prissy's Mom and my own, as I took Abby Lab out in the yard this morning. My husband is gone for a couple of days on business, and we're just puttering around together. The wind off of the Great Lake is bringing with it a chill, which I enjoy. People tease me about it, but I don't particularly like summer, but I love a winter landscape.  I will probably be "that weirdo that built the cabin up north instead of going to Florida". I love bundling up on a cold clear day, walking through snow upon snow, the earth standing hard as iron, the waters like stone.
We may have some some sun today but it won't be long before storm clouds ease in upon us, the pale sun imperceptibly in their trail, the cool breeze a lover's kiss of betrayal. Strangely, I always feel safe and secure when it's cloudy and still, especially when the snow or rain is coming down. I savor the slow creep into summer; the chill flurries of March--those deceptive days in April when the breeze is the cool conceit of a lingering winter.
Mom was diagnosed in early Winter in the 1960's. The survival rate for colon cancer back then was only about 1 in 7. She was in her 40's but was also a heavy smoker. It couldn't have come at a worse time for her, because life had just come full circle. She had enjoyed her 18 year career in law enforcement as a Deputy Sheriff but was thrilled to be a mother again, after losing her first child; raising my brother and I, whom they had adopted.  That the cancer showed up uninvited, when she finally had the family she wanted, was as cruel a blow as could be imagined. But cancer, like any tragedy, know no compassion for a life well lived.

I didn't visit her in the hospital as Dad thought it might be too upsetting. But I now have a picture of my older brother there with her. It was Christmas. That small Catholic hospital room had all the ambiance of imprisonment, with stark white walls, no decorations but for tubes and occasionally blood. It was the d├ęcor of a jail cell, a bleak asceticism and emptiness that can drive a frightened mind to look inward, too easily seeing only the dark. So Dad brought in a tiny and colorful little Christmas tree, complete with lights, and put it on her side table. I see it in the picture with my brother as she holds up a warm but lacy nightgown from a gift wrapped box.
While she was at the hospital I would take a fuzzy white blanket that smelled of her perfume, Chanel No. 5, and drape it over the card table to make a fort. That was my refuge, my safety zone. Unable at that age to process the fear in my father's eyes or my mom's sudden absence I made a little world for myself, with a small lamp to do puzzles by and a couple beloved toys. For that time, I withdrew into that white ecosphere of make believe warmth. She came home after Christmas, chemo shunt in place, and did everything in her power to make our  childhoods as normal as possible.

There is a brief moment when one has cheated death, be it in a hospital or perhaps an airplane, a fleeting feeling of being utterly alive which occurs in times of danger or great physical intensity. In Zen Buddhism it is reached through meditation and is called kensho, a moment of feeling one with the universe. It's a life altering change, and often one that makes a person wholly appreciative of all the gift's of God.  Mom not only recognized this, she made sure we understood it as well.  I am not sure where she got the courage for that, but she did, telling us each day, we will always be a family, like the words of an evening's prayer, for a child to repeat.
I remember mornings at the breakfast table. We'd look out at the fog shrouded trees behind our house, as the geese foraged for their breakfast on their seasonal stop. The sun acted as if it is preparing to take on a Broadway stage, first peeking from behind the closed curtain of clouds, then coming out to bow upon the new fallen snow to the thunderous applause of the neighborhood snow blowers. We cherished the beginning of another day together. She'd feed us sweet Danish rolls and sugary Bear Claws instead of sensible oatmeal and we'd laugh. Oh how we'd laugh.

We weren't deluding ourselves. My parents had laid things out for us as best they could and we knew that she was very sick. Our breakfast may have been sugar coated, but the truth wasn't. But we learned early on that even after cancer, or other tragedies that life later drops on you, that there is a normal, it's just a NEW normal. So with a smile, Mom would hand us our snow gear and off we'd go, another day of childhood, stuffing our fear into our pocket with a homemade cookie, our Mom waiting for us with treats when we got home, refusing to let us see when she was worried, when she was in pain.
But Mom was also human, and there was one thing for which she let her guard slip.  That was the disfigurement from the surgery. Mom was a tall and strikingly beautiful woman. The cancer surgery left her feeling less than beautiful. At the time I was too young to understand that, but a few short years later, when the colostomy had became an ileostomy, to be followed by a total hysterectomy, I overheard a conversation, her voice tinged with tears as to how she hated to be "cut open" again. I don't recall what Dad said, as I left them in that private moment. But I remember coming home from grade school the next day, and on the fridge was a colorful little note with a poem my Dad had written on it.

"Pieces and Parts
May Have to Depart
But You and Me
Will always be WE"

After that, I never heard her feel sorry for herself, for what she perceived had changed, what HAD changed. She simply gathered to her that which she loved, her family, her faith, her books and the beloved flowers she grew and tended. Those things then became part of her, part of her very physical being, an invisible prosthetic, stronger and more beautiful than what had been the earlier heritage of flesh.

With that, she sat down at the table with the doctors and Dad, to play out her next course of treatment, with the mind of a well equipped general, planning their next field campaign.
Cancer changed how we all looked at life. Before cancer, our list of "should do's was really quite long. And like other families that cope with tragedy or disease, we quit using the work "should" quite so much and enjoyed every day, as if it was our last, because, quite frankly, we were never sure it wasn't. But she lived many more years, years in which she made each and every day precious.

As I look out my window this afternoon, I notice a white quickening far away on the horizon; small clouds scurrying as in first defense of the eventual band of warrior winter white. I can almost see the promise of a quiet quilt of snow to be spread across the landscape during the night sometime soon,

I think back to those small comforts, the safe refuge formed by a old blanket and a card table as I waited for my Mom to come home. The afternoons building forts and futures out in the snow. As an adult now, I look into the grey cocoon of the advancing low overcast and feel, not grief, but comfort as the brisk wind through the trees carries the memory of love to me
Sarah -  I hope this day finds you resting comfortably, surrounded by those you love. I hope that when you look in the mirror, you will not dwell on any physical scars, on the bandages that can't cover fear. I hope you will only see the visage of a fighter, the countenance of strength, the invincible repudiation of failure as you look at this battle like any other in your life. And though it is an intimately personal battle, never forget those around you, who will support you, pray for you and hold you up when needed. For there is great, abiding strength in the power of "WE".