Friday, November 5, 2010

Never Let It Be Said That We Are Not a Classy Family

So how classy are we?

I’m glad you asked!

Our family is so classy that we think it’s perfectly fine and dandy to use an old box spring for a front door.


Because after all, it does lend a sort of golden, shiny, fresh, outdoor ambience to the inside of the house. Now doesn’t it?

Just look at all that outdoor ambience that is pouring into the house. (Along with every housefly within a 75-mile mile radius.)


I thought that the whole tableau looked especially charming from the outside.

Can you see how much effort we expended making sure that the wood on the bottom of the box spring would exactly match the wood in the chair? Martha Stewart has nuthin’ on this family when it comes to classy decorating, no sirree, Bob!


And how about this collection of color that so charmingly complements the wood?

The bright blue, the dashing red, the splash of contrast they provide to the brown tones in the wood—well, what can I say? When you’re good, you’re good.


But wait. What’s this? It seems as though a member of the household would like to egress using the front door. But alas (and lo! and behold!) yon household member seems to be beset by an onslaught of puzzlement.

“What is this?” he thinks. “Could this possibly be an old box spring sitting in front of our front door?”


He thinks about the puzzle intently (which doesn’t very long) and then turns around to inquire of his sister who, according to his small brain, is the Knower Of All Things.


However, said sister is too busy posing for (yet another) picture to listen to her bewildered dog’s plea for illumination on the matter.


So he looks up at me instead. “Mom? Is there something going on here I should know about?”


Well, I guess since he asked so very nicely, I will shed a little light on the subject. A little natural, outdoorsy light, where Steve is busy painting doors and shutters . . .


. . . and I am busy waving good-bye.


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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Little Ol’ Cancer Treatment Update

When I last saw my oncologist in early May (post mastectomy surgery), he scheduled me for a follow-up visit in six months.

I looked at my calendar a couple days ago and noticed the appointment was coming up.  I thought, “Okay.  I know exactly what is going to happen.  I’m going to walk into the exam room and don the lovely, fabulous, flattering gown. Then the doctor will come in, shake my hand, ask how I am, spend four minutes with me, tell me everything looks fine, and proceed to charge me my $50 co-pay for the privilege of hearing what I already know.

I mean, I’ve seen my plastic surgeon eleventeebillion times this summer so it’s not like my progress isn’t being followed by a medical professional, or anything!

So I got it into my little head that I would just call the oncologist and cancel my  appointment with him.  No biggie, right? I’ve had my mastectomy, I’m cancer free, and so why, oh, why do I need to spend another $50 to go back to see him?

Turns out I have a lot to learn.

When I happily made my “I would like to cancel my appointment” speech, the receptionist said in her perkiest voice, “And when would you like to reschedule?”

I replied blithely, “I’m really not planning to reschedule.”

She said, “Well, just so you know, we’ll have to follow up in a week or so and get you back on the schedule for this appointment.”

I said, “Just out of curiosity, what does this appointment consist of?”

She said, “Well, the doctor will want to do a breast exam.”

Excuse me?  I have two silicone implants and I need a breast exam? What?  Are they looking for lumps? Silicone lumps? Do they think I’m going to get silicone cancer?!?

(Did I already say I have a lot to learn?)

As it turns out, my oncologist will want to see me every six months for a couple years and then every year for a while after that.  Having a mastectomy doesn’t mean you can’t get breast cancer in your chest wall or in other spots surrounding the area where ones embattled breasts used to reside.

So even though I am cancer free, I am not done with oncology visits and breast exams.

Plus, every 2-3 years, I will have to have an MRI to make sure the implants are doing well. (And we all know how much I love breast MRI’s.)

On the bright side, I was able to schedule both the oncology visit and the plastic surgeon visit for next Monday so at least I won’t have to make a separate trip.

I have just a few more visits (although no more surgeries) to go with the plastic surgeon before he and I are (temporarily) done.  But with my luck, he will also no doubt want to see me on a regular basis until I turn 102. 

Bottom line?   Breast cancer is never really “over.”  I had originally thought that once a woman has a mastectomy and gets rid of all that troublesome tissue, the doctors would lose all interest. 

Not so much.  It appears that my car will continue to follow its familiar route to Greenville for a long time to come.

Thankfully, Greenville has a Chick-Fil-A.  And a couple great thrift stores.

Guess I can’t complain.


A few more pictures from Sunday night . . .








Monday, November 1, 2010

How Snowy Changed My Life

When I was thirteen years old, my friend, Lorrie, and I were walking to her house which was on a peaceful side street in our small Wisconsin town.  It was almost dark and we weren’t paying a whole of attention to a whole lot of anything as we talked and giggled as teenage girls are wont to do.

In fact, we were so preoccupied we didn’t even notice that as we neared the house next door to hers, the front door was opened to let a dog out.  A big dog.  A big, unfriendly, aggressive dog.

He came shooting toward us out of the dusk and before I knew what was happening, he had whipped around behind me and clamped the back of my left knee into his huge, angry mouth, filled with huge, powerful teeth. 

As those teeth sank deeper and deeper into my skin, puncturing flesh and drawing blood, I screamed and tried to get away.  Lorrie did her best to help, but what could a petite teenage girl do in the face of such aggressiveness?

And then, as quickly as he had appeared, the dog let go of my leg and turned and disappeared back into the darkness.

Thirty seconds from start to finish.  Not a real big dose of trauma, compared to what other people have faced with dog attacks.

However, from that moment on, I became afraid of dogs. Really, really afraid.

My family had had various dogs while I was growing up, so I had definitely seen their fun and loving side.  And yet after that traumatic encounter, whenever I saw an unfamiliar dog, my legs turned weak and I immediately flashed back to that angry dog attacking me so unexpectedly out of the darkness.

After Steve and I got married and started traveling around the country, we ended up taking our evening walks in a lot of different towns and neighborhoods.  Steve would sometimes kid me that I possessed a Dog Radar that would rival the best radar equipment produced by the military.

Every single time we walked, every single place we walked, my eyes would be constantly scanning our surroundings.  I would look beside me, I would look behind me, and I would look way, way ahead--always searching for any telltale flash of a tail or a furry snout that might appear anywhere within twenty miles of where I was.

And if I did spot a dog?  Especially one that was big?  I would freeze in my steps and quaveringly whisper, “Steve!  There’s a dog! Do you see him? Do we need to run?” 

I mean, really and truly, I could spot a dog in the vicinity before the dog himself even knew he was there. I was just that paranoid and that fearful and that vigilant.

And then. Enter Snowy.

Snowy came into our lives as a two month old, roly poly ball of the cutest fluffiness you have ever seen; he weighed just two pounds when we got him and was in that darling, clumsy, floppy puppy stage. At that particular time, I wore a pair of fluffy, white socks when I was indoors and everywhere I walked, Snowy faithfully and steadfastly followed those socks around, quite certain that they just had to be his mother.

As he grew out of that early Sock Following Stage of life, he managed to figure out that the human whose feet those socks were attached to was not his birth mother but his adoptive mother.  And better yet, he discovered that this new mother of his was a person who spent time in a special room called a kitchen where something delectable called food was prepared. And occasionally (accidentally!) it was even dropped to the floor where he hung out.

It was a revelation.

Snowy bravely traveled around the country with his crazy new family, logging more road miles in four years of full time travel than most dogs see in several lifetimes.

When Sarah was diagnosed with cancer and started treatment, Snowy immediately christened himself as Nurse Doggie.  He was always on the alert and when Sarah was feeling especially bad, he was especially there for her, curling up near her, snuggling close, emitting waves of friendly, happy, compassionate dogginess.

When she got better, he once again divided his attentions between the four us; however, his most fervent attentions were always directed my way whenever I stepped anywhere near the kitchen.

And when I started to blog several years ago?  He realized that I couldn’t possibly think of the words I needed unless he came and lay beside me in the chair while I typed.  Even today when I headed to the chair to start writing, he was already circling the area with anticipation, tossing his head and throwing glances at me like, “Come on, already! We’ve got work to do!'”

So. How exactly did this small dog change my life?

Well, to tell you the truth, I didn’t fully realize what had happened until several months ago when Steve and I were out on one of our frequent bike rides. It suddenly occurred to me that it had been a long time since I had even thought about scoping out a neighborhood to spot any lurking canines.  And now, when I do happen to spot a dog?  My immediate thought is no longer, “Oh no. That dog is going to run right over here and maim and kill me.”  Instead, my first thought is, “Oh, what a handsome dog.  I wonder what his name is.”

And these days, if I go to someone’s house and they have a dog, instead of shying away from it like I used to do (pre-Snowy), I’m anxious to pet it and talk to it and make all sorts of annoying “doggie conversational noises” with it.

My heart has truly been changed by one single ball of fluff.   In his eleven years of being a Smith family member, Snowy has slowly but most certainly replaced the fear I’ve felt with joy. 

Sure he’s annoying and expensive and inconvenient.  But our family has often commented that we have laughed 45.78 percent more (a rough estimate) with him in our lives than we ever would have without him.

Because dogs are funny.  And they’re loving.  And they’re sweet.

And only a very few of them are as mean as the one that slammed into my life as a 13-year old girl.

And speaking of that long ago incident, Snowy has faithfully taught me that it’s never wise to judge a whole group  (whether canine or human) by the actions of just one member.  

And he’s taught me that unconditional love and acceptance are a dogs’s greatest gift to the people in his life.

And lastly, he’s taught me that any food item that falls to the floor is automatically is.

Snowy turned eleven years old yesterday.  In dog years that means he’s entering the middle aged/elderly stage of life.  And even though we’ll miss him when he’s gone, he’ll be be able to leave us knowing that he did an excellent job of raising his family. 

He made his dad laugh in the middle of stressful seasons of life. He welcomed his brother home from college with tail wagging displays befitting a hero.  He sat by his bald sister’s side and comforted her after she was sick.  And he took his mother’s dog-fearing heart and, little by little, caused it to be replaced with the heart of a true dog lover.

In short?  During the past eleven years? Snowy has done doggoned good.

Happy birthday, little guy.


Every year on Snowy’s birthday, we make him a “cheese cake” which is just a half piece of cheese folded up with a candle added.  And we sing to him.  Which I’m sure he really appreciates.




A few pictures of Nurse Snowy in action.

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Some of my favorite Snowy/Sarah pictures.

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And a few Nathan/Snowy shots.

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And lastly, a comment was left inquiring as to whether it was better to have round or square pretzels in the recent recipe I posted.

From what I can tell from some of the other comments suggesting alterations to that recipe, you can use use any shape pretzels you want and put a variety of candies together to make the concoction your own.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hospital Halloween

(October 2002--written five months after Sarah’s cancer diagnosis)

This past Thursday, the hospital staff put together a little Halloween celebration for its young patients. Sarah joined the other kids as they went to several nursing stations on the three pediatric floors collecting toys, stickers and crayons in a plastic pumpkin bucket.

In preparation for the big hospital tour, Sarah donned a huge smile along with the Sponge Bob outfit she had been given earlier in the week. She added this pink wig to her ensemble but after a few minutes decided she didn't like it after all, since it clashed with the Sponge Bob yellow.

She cheerily took off down the hall with her cancer cronies, swinging her orange bucket with great enthusiasm. There were only a few kids well enough to participate but they all seemed determined to have as much fun as a hospitalized child possibly can, while another autumn day of their childhood disappeared forever outside the window.

The children were accompanied by various poles, medical personnel, and hovering parents. As we all moved at a snail's pace toward the first nursing station, I decided to walk on ahead so I could snap a few pictures. Up until that point I had only seen the gathering from within, but when I turned around I had to wipe away unexpected tears as I caught a glimpse of the group as a whole.

I saw a bald 3-year old ballerina who in a few hours, would be violently throwing up as her fifth round of chemo began. I saw a small boy in a wagon, too weak to walk, but jauntily sporting an orange scarecrow wig. Beside him was a mother with a sad, weary face, holding tightly to the hand of a daughter she may never get to see grow into womanhood.

There were tiny kids hooked up to huge poles and little trick-or-treaters pulling oxygen carts. There were children who could barely walk and kids with enough suffering written on their faces to last a lifetime. There was also a compassionate, gifted nurse who willingly risks having her heart broken every day in order to minister to her special kids.

In short, what I saw was a hall full of heroes.

Although each hero's face told a different story, I still noticed many things they had in common. I glimpsed courage and humor despite childish grief over childhoods lost. I saw smiles behind suffering and excitement behind eyes that had seen too much.

And smack dab in the middle of it all, I saw a certain bald Sponge Bob, pale face covered with a yellow hospital mask, bright eyes eagerly peering over the top.

This was not just any Sponge Bob, mind you. This was the Sponge Bob of my heart, perfectly at rest in the halls of suffering, perfectly at home inside her own ailing skin, perfectly at peace with the simple joy of holding up an orange bucket and a smile to a nurse and receiving a treat in exchange.

When I got back to the group, I took Sponge Bob's hand as we walked, my heart so thankful for the simple joy of just being with her.

After about fifteen minutes of going from station to station, Sarah announced wearily from behind her mask, "Mommy, my steam just ran out!" I said, "That's okay, Sarah. I'll just pick you up and carry you."

And so we continued on with our stalwart companions on our journey through the hospital, on our journey through the valley of the shadow of death.

Some members from our little group will soon come out whole on the other side of this valley; others will travel on to a place where there are no tears, no cancer, no bald children, no death, and no sounds of small hearts breaking. The only sound heard in that place will be the music of children’s voices laughing and the glory of children’s voices singing.

And many years--or a few months--from now, Sarah "Sponge Bob" Smith will add her voice to the choir. She will look trustingly into the face of heaven and say, "God, my steam just ran out!"

And He'll say, "That's okay, Sarah. I'll just pick you up and carry you."


(Note: Occasionally I like to “cross pollinate” the family’s two blogs and bring pieces over here from Sarah's web site. This is one of those occasions.

A few more pictures from that day . .

(With her "Ped's Pal," Dr. Tracy Manuck.),

Sarah with Mr. Jeff, the pediatric oncology psychologist. Sarah thought it was an ever livin' hoot that she and Mr. Jeff had the same outfits.