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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ho-Hooooo! (7 Holiday Quick Takes)

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!  Here are some highlights from mine:

(1)

To kick things off, here is Lola's picture with Santa from this year.  About three seconds after this picture was taken, Lola whimpered to Santa that she wants a dinosaur.

The look of pure terror.
(2)

I went to an ugly sweater party this year (like most everyone else), and we did a white elephant gift exchange (a game where you swap wrapped presents that everyone brings to the party).  My favorite part of the night was either: (a) winning a box full of DVD sets like Gilmore Girls, the O.C., and Dawson's Creek or (b) seeing my friend Drew dressed in his mother's sweater vest and a dickey carrying around a hot pink Kaboodle.


Nevermind.  (B) is the winner.

(3)

I spent the night before Christmas at my brother's house so I could wake up Christmas morning and watch my two-year-old niece open her presents from Santa.  My brother and his wife did an amazing job with Lola's gifts.  Here is a picture of their living room before Lola woke up.

There were 5, yes 5, princess dresses hanging from the tree.
All month Lola has been asking for a "Mickey cake" for Christmas.  We have no idea where she got the idea from, but Santa brought her one.  Not only is this a Mickey Mouse cake, as requested, but it does not contain any egg or wheat, since Lola is allergic to both.  I found this incredibly endearing.


(4)

Lola was very polite while opening her presents, telling everyone "thank you."  Somewhere along the line, however, she got the idea that Santa Claus sounds like a rap artist.

video

(5)

As usual, we all ended up having a dance party upstairs.  Lola wanted to try out her new ballet skirt and gymnastics shirt.

video

(6)

We had dinner at my dad and Tammy's house.  Tammy had the place looking like something out of a magazine, as usual.  Dinner was delicious, and I loved getting to see the whole family together.  I was also excited to finally give my dad the Star Trek Next Generation Pez Collection I bought him.
















John (little bro) and my niece, Haylee, at dinner.
(7)


Today my friend Anna gave me the best Christmas present ever.  It is an entire book filled with potential lists you can make.  I love making lists!  The OCD in me is just dying to take this book for a test drive.  Giving me this gift is like taking a hoarder to a rummage sale.  Thanks Anna!

See Jen for more quick takes.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

One Blog Post to Rule Them All


“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien

I would hate to use my blog for something as apropos as a political rant, so instead I will merely lead a brief discussion on The Lord of the Rings.  A fantasy-filled literary discussion about hobbits and elves never offended anyone.

So, there was this Ring.  A Dark Lord named Sauron wanted to use it as an ultimate weapon in conquering all of Middle-earth.  If Sauron had the Ring, he would send the land into complete chaos and mayhem.  What could possibly be done to prevent this from happening?

Well, it fell onto the stout shoulders of a young hobbit named Frodo.  Frodo had to get rid of the ring.  He was tasked with throwing that son-of-a-bitch straight into the fire of Mount Doom.  You know why?  So bad people wouldn't get ahold of the ring and use it to hurt people.  Some things are just too powerful to have any practical use in the general public.

I'm sure this brings many questions to mind.  Questions that I will now address:

1.  What if some Middle-earthian just wanted to keep the Ring as an heirloom or for a collection?

I'm glad you asked.  A creature named Gollum tried to do just that.  He couldn't let go of his "precious" Ring because it made him feel powerful and protected, or else this nonsense could have been stopped a long time ago.  I mean, Gollum actually bit off Frodo's finger trying to get the Ring.  Let it go, man, it's just a Ring.  There are more important things.

2.  Shouldn't Middle-earth have gone to the root of the problem and tried to develop a system to rehabilitate Dark Lords and prevent new ones from rising up?  Then Frodo could have just kept the Ring.

That's an excellent idea.  But, what if a Dark Lord unexpectedly skirts the new system?  No, we have to be safe.  There is too much at stake.  The two solutions could both be effective, but they are not mutually exclusive; the Ring still has to go.

3.  But, what about horses?  They trampled people during the Battle for Middle Earth!  And that's not to mention the accidents horses cause when their riders are intoxicated!  By your logic, shouldn't the horses be thrown into Mount Doom, too, as they hold the potential to hurt people?

No, ass hat, because a horse's primary purpose is not to cause harm to other people.

4.  Okay, well what about other weapons like swords and bows and arrows?  What's the difference between those and the Ring?

Well, I'm glad you asked.  Those weapons could be needed for protection of Middle-earth or to hunt for food.   The main difference is that by their very design they are unable to inflict the quick and widespread harm that the One True Ring could.  True Rings are not used merely for hunting or protection.  If you must use something for protection, use a standard weapon like a normal person.

5.  Well, if the hobbits and elves had their own True Rings, they could have defeated the Dark Lord Sauron without destroying the Ring.

Maybe, if the Dark Lord didn't use his Ring for evil before the others even knew what was coming.  Also, more Rings just means a greater availability for other Dark Lords.

6.  Did you ever stop to think that maybe this trouble started because Eru Ilúvatar, the supreme being, was prohibited in Middle-earth schools?

No.  I never thought that.  Because it is nonsense.  First of all, Eru Ilúvatar is not prohibited in Middle-earth schools.  In fact is is welcome in the schools.  It just isn't mandated by the Middle-earth government or the school system itself.  Second, what does this have to do with a Dark Lord getting ahold of a weapon and wreaking havoc?

7.  But it is my right as a Middle-earthian to own a Ring!

It is not your right to own or do anything you want, especially if the harm to others outweighs the benefit.  It isn't your right to own underage hobbit pornography (as an aside, hobbits are underage if they are younger than 33).  You know why?  Because as a society we have decided that in the interest of public protection it is reasonable for that "right" to be denied.


Was I saying the Ring this whole time?  Bah.  I meant assault weapons.  Oh well, I'm too lazy to go back and change it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Who Doesn't Love Before and Afters?

Can I still call myself a blogger when it has been this long since my last post?  I'd say it's questionable.  At this point "Lawyer? I Hardly Know Her" could best be described as a blog that focuses on apologizing for not writing in my blog.

And the amount of loose ends I have left untied is just shameful.  For example, you might be wondering if I ever made the grand prize stuffed animal for my sweepstakes.  The answer is yes.  I made it out of a t-shirt, cotton balls, and love.  I neglected to post a picture, however, because the grand prize winner, Jackie, has been traveling the United States doing residency interviews and we have been unable to meet up as of yet.

However, now that I have shown her a picture of her new stuffed animal friend, I feel okay posting a picture.  She asked me to make her a stuffed pug (her choice, I swear!)  because it just so happens she has an adorable pug-mate named Duke.  I tried to make my pug resemble Duke as he looks in a picture from Jackie's wedding day.  First, here is the picture of Jackie and Duke that I used as inspiration:

Note the classy green polka dot bow tie.

Now meet t-shirt pug.  I added a top-hat in addition to the green bow tie,
only because I think Duke would look dashing in a top hat.

Next on the agenda is the renovation of my bathroom.  I decided to walk you through the arduous process with pictures.

 Before:


The theme was fish and Crayola wallpaper, which might work if I had kids.  But I don't.  So it doesn't.

Anyway, step one was wallpaper removal, which just so happens to be my personal hell.  Also, this particular bathroom had wallpaper on top of other wallpaper.  Twice the fun!

After removing the wallpaper and the towel racks, I spackled, sanded, and taped in preparation for painting.


Never use a sander without your respirator and Mr. Magoo goggles.
Next, I removed the old sink and countertop and repainted the vanity and wall-shelf.

Ye olde sink.

New wall-shelf color.
Then, as discussed in an earlier post, I picked out a new toilet.

Ye olde can.
The bolts were a little rusty.

Underneath the toilet.  This visual still
haunts me every time I close my eyes.
Naturally, I bleached the shower tile grout next.

Before
After
My friend Josh was kind enough to help me install the new floor.



Much better!
Finally, I nailed the base molding back in place, installed the new toilet, and reattached all of the water lines.  I still need to get a new mirror and shower curtain, but here is the current before and after!



Even if you don't think it's much of an improvement, feel free to tell me it is because I don't think I've ever worked so hard on anything else.  Except for the stuffed pug.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lawyer, Writer, Falconress.

This past Saturday I got to mark a very important item off of my bucket list:  take a falconry lesson.  God heard my plea for falconry training and presented the opportunity to me via a Living Social deal.  I used to think Living Social only provided deals for frivolous things like food, vacations, and spa pedicures.  I apologize Living Social, for I misjudged you.

My friend Sarah and I each bought a lesson, and then drove to the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulfur Springs on Saturday morning.  Neither of us had ever been to the Greenbrier, so we were excited to see it.  Once we were inside, I pictured myself sitting in the parlor drinking tea with white gloves on, giggling girlishly while saying things like "I do declare" or "why, he ain't got the good sense God gave a goose."  I can be high society as well as the next girl.
The resort was all decorated for Christmas, which 
included a tower made of 1 million presents.
As the shuttle pulled up to the "Falconry Academy," as it is called, I was so excited I could have peed my pants.  Before the demonstration, we learned about the history of falconry, and how the sport applies to all birds of prey, not just falcons.  That is when we met these guys:
That there is Mr. Eagle, Mr. Hawk, and Mr. Owl.
I laughed at the eagle because I thought he looked like a cartoon character.  Then he tried to eat me.  With his eyes.

"Step OFF before I wreck you!"
The instructor took us outside and did a demonstration with the hawk.  This included encouraging the hawk to fly so close to our heads that its feathers tickled my ears.  Then we walked through the trees with said hawk before watching it devour a (dead) baby chick.  My first most favorite part of the demonstration was getting to hold the falcon ourselves.  My second most favorite part was seeing the falcon with his "hood" on.  The hood is like a miniature leather helm that makes the falcon look like a tiny warrior.  Man, I love animals in hats.
Santa Baby, put a falcon under the tree for me.
That same night, my sister-in-law Brandy had a toy drive party at her house.  She is the world's best party planner, so of course the food was amazing.  She had crab cakes, pecan-crusted brie, and little brownies wearing strawberry santa hats.  Oh!  And chocolate liqueur in shot glasses made of peppermint.  Everything was edible.  It was the adult equivalent of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.  And the company was fantastic!  Plenty of woman attended who are inappropriate conversationalists like myself.  They taught me what vajazzling is.  It really opened my eyes.
Me with the hostess, and some of her delicious party fare.

Me with my friend Sarah.  Also, I threw in some pictures
of frosted marshmallows and the aforementioned
Santa hat brownies for good measure.



Friday, November 23, 2012

7 Random Craigslist Quick Takes (14)

As usual, check out Jen's quick takes as well

Once again I explored the local Craigslist page, and once again I found a treasure trove of material.  From romance to political rants, Craigslist has a little something for everyone.  Here are some of my favorites from November:

(1)

I found this little gem titled "BoyCott Frito Lays" on the Rants and Raves section:  

"Did you know Frito Lays potatoes are made in Mexico,they out source or jobs boycott them ,if we don't protect our own jobs who will the goverment LOL check your labels people by americna."

Thanks for bringing this travesty to our attention, Gumshoe.  Obviously, you would have been much better qualified to do this job.  Except you would have to leave your house to go to work, and might even have to pass a drug test.  Also, I just want to point out that it is disappointing that a true Patriot such as yourself neglected to spell American correctly or capitalize it.  Do I smell a Communist?  Anyway, keep up the good work!

(2)

Now how about a Missed Connection or two?  I personally like the one titled "Blue shirt Blue tee shirt Tuesday am in a Hospital room."  It states:  

"I met you via a person you were to talking about food,I like very much what I saw ,i was in blue shirt and blue tee, gray hair ,you were going to do something this weekend,if you see this and are interested what were you going to do."

I like this one for several reasons.  First, the writer is posting a Missed Connection from a hospital room. That in itself makes me giggle.  Second, I love the vivid detail.  "I met you.  Through a person.  You are a human being, and also eat food.  You were going to do something, probably at some place.  Interested?"

(3)

I get the distinct impression that this Missed Connection was written by a caveman:

"saturday,you handsome grey sweatshirt jeans me jeans,check shirt thought you were so handsome we both look at each other,me beefy guy you smiled"

You handsome.  Grunt.  Me beefy guy.

(4)

Here is one from the Strictly Platonic section:

"I am a very easy down to earth 50 year old female looking for friends someone to hang out with during the weekday from 8 am till noon I like been pampered and spoiled you must be between 50 and 80 years old just reply to this postersend me your name and phone number and ill get back to you "

This one outright confused me.  You want a friend between 50 and 80 who will pamper and spoil you between 8 a.m and noon on week days?  That is mighty specific.  What if I want to hang out at 3 on a Saturday?  What if I don't turn 50 until 3 weeks from this Tuesday?  I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

(5)
Another Strictly Platonic post:

"I have been studying and learning hypnosis but want to find someone to practice on. I am a clean normal guy looking for someone who might be trying to better them selves or stop a bad habit. I will do my best to help if you do your best to let me become better at this skill. If you are interested, write me with your name in the subject line."

This one makes my alarm bells go off.  Normal guys don't ask for hypnosis guinea pigs on Craigslist.  I learned that the hard way...

Joking.

(6)

One post asks for a ride from Huntington, WV to Los Angeles, CA:

"Looking for a ride out west my destination is Los Angeles but will ride as far West as your going. Ready to go when you are! Can buy food and as much Snacks as you like. Please email with a phone number to reach you."

Drive a stranger 2,300 miles in exchange for snacks?  Okay, but these snacks better be delicious!

(7)

For sale:

"selling 80+ monster energy gear tabs for $20 tabs are used to get gear from monster energy. email if interested."

Can you even imagine the possibilities?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cancer in III Acts: Act III


Act III: B.Y.O.B.


“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Only days after I left for Scotland, the doctors discovered that while Mom’s lungs were free of cancer, the disease had spread to her brain.  There were no more treatment options.  Mom made my family and Scott promise not to tell me anything until the end of my trip. 
“Jenna will come home and miss out on everything,” she argued.  “Let me be part of this experience with my daughter.”
My stomach lurched when I saw my mom, the strongest and most energetic person I’ve ever known, confined to a wheelchair.  There was no sign of defeat on her face, however; only love and excitement.
“I want to hear everything,” she told me, as we waited on my luggage.
I spent the next few days curled up beside Mom on the couch, showing her pictures and videos from my trip.  She had never traveled abroad, and wanted me to describe everything to her, from the food to the scenery.
My brother was finishing his final year of law school several hours away, so Dad and I divided up our time in order to care for Mom.  I moved back home and took only evening and online classes so I could take Mom to her early appointments, while Dad went to work in the mornings.  Often he decided not to go into work at all, so he could stay with Mom.  I remember walking into the living room one morning to find my mom and dad cuddling on the couch.
“What’s on the agenda for today?” I asked, as I went to the kitchen to start making Jell-O, one of the only foods Mom could still eat.
“Hanging out with your dad, I guess!” Mom laughed as Dad tickled her and pulled her close.  Everything I know about love, I learned from my parents.  As high school sweethearts who were still madly in love after being married for forty years, I considered them experts in the field.
Within a month of my return home, Mom had lost all feeling in her arms and legs.  She was confined to a hospital bed, which we set up in the living room so she could watch the deer out the window and be a part of our daily activity.  Despite her paralyzation, Mom insisted on having the graded art show that would complete her Masters Degree.
“I may be dying,” she said, “but I paid my damned tuition.  On with the show!”
The art show was held in my parents’ home and done at Mom’s direction.  It was incredible, moving, and well-attended.  Mom was awarded her Masters Degree six months later at graduation.  She was not there, but Dad, Matt, and I proudly accepted it on her behalf.
Mom never stopped smiling and laughing.  It was as if every word she spoke was meant to comfort us.  She was a caregiver, a nurturer, to her very core.  She often sat my family down to give us direction or pieces of wisdom. 
“When I die, and I am going to die, don’t bury me with this cancer in my body,” Mom told us one evening.  “I want to be cremated.  That way I can die knowing I will beat this disease one way or another.  And in my obituary, please just use the word ‘died.’  None of that ‘went to heaven in the arms of angels’ nonsense.  God knows I love Him, and I know He loves me, it doesn’t have to be spelled out in flowery verse in the newspaper.
Make sure you remember to take Uncle Jerry to the Wilderness Lodge at Disney World.  He has always wanted to go.  And will you buy a gift card for that nurse who was so nice to me during my hospital stay?  He always came in to show me pictures of his children.  And, Jenna, promise me you will keep taking your anxiety medication.  Your hands can’t withstand too many more washings.”
Once, Mom overheard Dad telling someone that he would always wear his wedding ring. 
“Bob,” she said, “when you start seeing another woman…” (Dad shook his head adamantly) “…and you will, make sure to treat her as well as you treated me.  How you treat her is a reflection of the expectations we had in our relationship, and what we taught one another about love.  You do not honor me with that ring, you honor me by the way you treat the one who comes after me.”  She paused and then added with a laugh, “You going on dates will be hilarious.  I only wish I could be there to see it.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Mom said, “When I am gone, I know you will miss me.  But, please don’t grieve for more than a few minutes at a time; after that you’re only feeling sorry for yourself.  I loved my life, and I will be in a better place, so you won’t be mourning for me.  You can still change the world.  Promise me you won’t waste that.”
My parents and I found comfort in making games out of everyday chores.  When Mom had to go to the bathroom she would call out “Pee party at my place!  B.Y.O.B.!”  The last “B” stood for “bedpan.”  Mom was unable to keep much food down, and her taste buds were on the fritz, so we experimented with exotic flavors of Jell-O and pudding to see what she still liked.  It became difficult for her to speak, so if she liked the food I was giving her she smiled, and if she didn’t, she gave me what she had previously dubbed the “Edvard Munch” face, based on his famous painting “The Scream.”  Once, when Mom no longer appeared responsive, my brother farted as he walked by her bed.  She started laughing.
For several excruciating days we watched while Mom’s body shut down.  I sang her “The Owl and the Pussycat” and wet her lips with a damp washcloth.  Every second with her was precious, and I didn’t want to waste it crying or mourning her as if she were already gone.  As I saw it, she still needed us, and I wasn’t giving up until after her last breath.
            Mom died several days before Thanksgiving in our living room surrounded by her family and closest friends.  I quickly learned that in these situations, perspective is everything; it can save you or bury you.  It would be dishonest of me to describe Mom’s death in all dark and morose terms.  It would contradict the way she handled her illness and the way she thought about death.
            Since the day she was diagnosed, Mom spent every minute preparing us for her departure.  She was strong and smiled when many would have fallen apart.  She made it clear that she had no regrets, and that her life was as fulfilling as she could ever have hoped.  She dedicated her life and death to making sacrifices for her family.  I hope to one day be half the wife and mother she was.
Shortly after her death, I wondered if Mom had left me a letter.  I desperately searched her closet and dressers for anything new I could read from her.  I wanted to hear her speaking to me one last time.  Then I realized how greedy that was.  Mom had already prepared me for everything as best she could.  Our last words to each other were “I love you.”  There were no loose ends, and no regrets; just pleasant memories of the love between a mother and her daughter.  I don’t need a letter to remind me that I had twenty-one years of nurturing and teaching from the most amazing woman I have ever known.  And I will be forever grateful for that time.

May 28, 1948 - November 20, 2006.  I love you, Mom.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cancer in III Acts: Act II


Act II: Regaining the Home Advantage


“I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind.
Some come from ahead and some come from behind.
But I've bought a big bat.  I'm all ready you see.
Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!”
— Dr. Seuss, I Had Trouble In Getting to Solla Sollew

            Mom, true to her word and her nature, fought the disease.  She refused to sit back and watch her hair fall out in handfuls, clogging the shower drain.  After her first chemotherapy treatment, I watched as she took an electric razor to her beautiful brown hair.
            “I am in control here,” she told me, though I think she was speaking more to the cancer itself.  “I will not be a victim.”  I looked at my mom’s bald head, and I didn’t see a cancer patient.  I saw a badass G.I. Jane, determined to regain the frontline of her body.
            The next day, we went wig shopping with my mom’s best friend, Jeannie, and her granddaughter, Cassie.  Mom turned a potentially depressing errand into an ironically fun social event.  At one point she tried on a platinum wig that could only be marketed to strippers and porn stars.  “Do blondes really have more fun?” she asked the store manager with a straight face.
            The chemotherapy ravaged my mom’s body, often leaving her tired and nauseated, while the experimental treatment caused her head to ache and her face to swell.  Even so, she refused to miss any of her graduate classes, and continued to craft her pottery, including a beautiful communion set for our church.
            Mom and I began meeting for lunch several times a week between classes.  She told me stories from her childhood that I had never heard before, and I wrote them down, more aware than ever of their value.
“I was eleven the first time I was asked to babysit,” Mom said.  “I watched my neighbors’ two kids every day for a week, and by the end of my last day I was thinking about what I would buy with my payment.  Instead of pulling out his billfold, however, my neighbor took me outside and presented me with my very own cow.”
            “A cow?” I asked surprised.  “In Tampa, Florida?”
“Yep.  A cow.  My neighbors had a field full of farm animals behind their house.  This was when the outskirts of Tampa were still mainly farmland and woods.  I had no idea what to do with my cow, so I led it home and put it in our family shed out back.  By the time I came back outside to check on it, the cow had eaten a pile of insulation and was lying dead on the floor.”
During some of our lunches, I asked Mom specific questions.  “Have you ever stolen anything?” I asked one afternoon.
“Yes.  But, only once that I can remember.  When I was six, my family went to our neighbors’ house for dinner.  Our neighbors had a two–year-old girl, and I was told to go play with her in her room while the adults finished getting dinner ready.  The girl had a black baby doll the size of my hand resting in a miniature cradle on the dresser in her room.  I had never seen a doll quite like it, and I desperately wanted it.  After we were done eating, I snuck back into her room, took the doll and cradle, and hid them under my jacket.  I stashed them in my bottom dresser drawer as soon as I got home, and after my parents went to sleep, I quietly opened the drawer just far enough to reach in and rock the baby doll back and forth.
The next day, our neighbors stopped by and asked Grandma if she knew what happened to their daughter’s doll.
‘We suspect that Linda took it after dinner the other night.’
 ‘My daughter would never steal!’ Grandma yelled and slammed the door in their faces.  I was ashamed once I realized how much trust my mother had in me, and I didn’t want to disappoint her.  That afternoon I snuck over to my neighbors’ and placed the doll and cradle on their front porch.  My family was never invited to eat at our neighbors’ house again.”
When Mom’s scans came back ten months after her diagnosis, there were no visible nodules in her lungs.  Even her doctor celebrated and hugged everyone in my family.  He immediately scheduled my mom’s double mastectomy, and told us that if the surgery went well she would be in remission.  Nearly a year after her diagnosis, my mom was defying every medical statistic.
            My brother and I went to the recovery room as soon as Mom was out of surgery.  Bald, breastless, and still loopy from the anesthesia, Mom looked up at us from the hospital bed and smiled. 
“Tell me the truth,” she said, “do I look like Uncle Frank?”
Several weeks later, the oncologists still couldn’t find any sign of cancer left in Mom’s body.  She insisted that I submit my application for a writing program I had hoped to attend in Scotland.  I was accepted into their poetry program, and in late July I flew to Edinburgh for a month of writing classes and workshops. 
Edinburgh was bursting with artists who were in town for the jazz, book, and fringe festivals.  The colorful bustle of the City and the passion and warmth of my classmates made me feel alive in a way I hadn’t since my mom’s diagnosis.  I saw “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed at Roslyn Chapel, and took a weekend trip with my new friends to the Scottish Highlands.  I drank at a Frankenstein themed bar, and had my copy of “Trainspotting” signed by Irvine Welsh at the Book Festival.  A group of girls from my class even had front and center seats for “Puppetry of the Penis,” a two man foray into the art of genital origami. 
One weekend I took a bus to Dundee, the hometown of my ancestors.  I kept my eyes peeled for any Walker family doppelgangers, but was unsuccessful in my search.  It was liberating, knowing that I was an ocean away from home and visiting a town without anyone aware of my whereabouts.  I sent postcards and letters to my family and boyfriend detailing each day’s adventures, and bought Mom the only souvenir she had specifically asked for—a plaid wool scarf. 
On my last day in Scotland, I hiked alone to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano overlooking Edinburgh.  The trail I chose was steep and my calves were cramping by the time I neared the top.  With each step, I kicked up new clouds of dry dirt.  Thin, dying weeds lined the trail, and an army of gnats continuously dove for my eyes and mouth.  I reached the top and a heavy wind blew my hair from my face as I admired the City that had given me what I so desperately needed:  time for reflection, inspiration to write, and a diverse group of new friends with a shared passion.  I scanned the view from Arthur’s Seat with my camera, so I could show Mom later how beautiful the City is.  I hoped to bring her to Edinburgh one day so I could share with her firsthand the things I had written about in my letters.
When my plane touched down in the States, it hit me that I was going to see Mom, Dad, and my boyfriend, Scott, for the first time in over a month.  Scott was waiting for me outside my gate and I ran to give him a hug.
“Where are my mom and dad?” I asked.
“They sent me ahead to meet you,” he said.  “We didn’t want you to be surprised when you see your mom.  She is in a wheelchair.”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cancer in III Acts: Act I


Obviously all of my posts are on really hard-hitting topics, but this week I'm posting something a bit heavier and much more personal.  This week makes six years since I lost my mom, and in celebration of her life I am posting a three-part essay I wrote in her memory.  I call it "Cancer in III Acts," and will post Act I today, Act II tomorrow, and Act III on Tuesday.  No writing can do her justice, but a story of someone as beautiful and inspirational as my mom needs to be shared.

Act I:  Waged War


“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune—without the words,
And never stops at all.”
— Emily Dickinson, “Hope”

My mom was the type of person who had trouble committing to one career because she was interested in everything.  She majored in Spanish at the University of Florida before later switching to education.  My dad, though he has an eclectic mix of hobbies, always knew he wanted to be a physician.  When Dad started medical school, Mom put her college education on hold to work as a long-distance telephone operator to help put him through.  After Dad finished his residency, and my parents moved to rural West Virginia, my mom became a certified EMT before starting nursing school.
My parents were thirty-one and had been married for eleven years when Dad’s older brother, Rod, asked if they had thought about having children.  The way Mom described it, she and Dad had talked about having kids, but were enjoying their time together so much that they hadn’t felt any urgency to do so.
“We will have children later,” Mom told my uncle.
“This is later,” he said.
Within a few months Mom was pregnant with my brother, Matt, and four years later, with me.  She put school on the backburner again, this time to devote herself to her children.  We flew kites at the park, rented boats at the local lake, and made picnic lunches.  She read us stories, took us to play baseball at the little league field, and volunteered at our schools.  She sang me “The Owl and the Pussycat” when I didn’t feel well or couldn’t fall asleep, and taught me to be kind, courteous, and forgiving.  Mom’s variety of interests made her an amazing parent, and while I often took her for granted, I loved her as much as any child could.
After my brother and I graduated from high school, Mom returned to college.  Once again she switched her focus, and after a brief stint as a geology major, she enrolled in the school of fine arts.  Mom and I attended Marshall University at the same time.  I studied history, while she worked on a degree in pottery.  She was a functional potter who made beautiful bowls, plates, platters, and tea sets.  She had a natural talent, and won several awards for her work.  Despite her prolonged and indirect path, Mom graduated from college, and re-enrolled as a graduate student.
            During my sophomore year of college, Mom’s doctor found a lump in her right breast, described in the medical report as “highly suspicious of malignancy.”  Mom was immediately scheduled for a biopsy, and my family tried, unsuccessfully, not to worry until we learned more.  When the results came back, the doctor called my mom personally to tell her that the tumor was benign.  That night, my family celebrated the good news at the nicest restaurant in town.  We spent the evening joking and laughing, enjoying the complete relief we felt.  I remember thinking I had been silly to even worry.
            Five months later, while I was driving six-hours back home from Washington, D.C. with a friend, Dad called. 
“Come over to the house as soon as you can.”  He sounded tired.  “We need to talk to you and Matt.”
I felt sick the rest of the drive home because I knew something wasn’t right.  When I walked into my parents’ house, Mom, Dad, and Matt were already standing in the kitchen.  Mom was the one who told us the news.  I went numb as she explained that the biopsy we celebrated five months earlier had been taken from the wrong section of her breast.  Mom noticed that the tumor had grown, and scheduled an appointment with a different doctor.  A chest x-ray showed nodules in both of her breasts, and a second biopsy confirmed it was cancer.
My chest tightened and it hurt to breathe.  “Are they going to cut the tumors out?” I asked.
“No.  By the time they did the second biopsy, the cancer had spread to my nodes and lungs.  It is already stage four.”  Mom’s voice cracked.  “I am going to fight it though.  I'm starting chemotherapy soon, and agreed to try an experimental treatment.”
“Did they give you a prognosis?”  Matt asked.
“Two to six months.”
            We stood quietly for several minutes, processing everything.  Then, for the first time I can remember, my family cried together.