As part of my clearing out, I had to evaluate things I've been holding on to but not using. One was a piece of embroidered fabric my stepmother's husband had given us from his travels. It was lovely, but in colors (lots of purple) that we don't use in our decorating. I overdyed it in brown, and sewed it into a pillow cushion. There are snaps along the bottom and inside is a Christmas pillow I can take out and use, then return to its cover. No storage needed!
Höðr feels it is a fine place to take a nap.
And while I was making pillow covers, I took a gorgeous embroidered cashmere sweater that had belonged to my great aunt. It doesn't fit me at all, but was too beautiful to get rid of.
Turns out it made a perfect pillow for our bed.
One last recycling project - I wanted to add a wire cover to the existing glass globe ceiling lamp in the dining room. I spent a fair amount of time thinking this one through before getting to work. First, a big balloon, strips of newspaper, and a batch of flour and water glue.
Papier mâché is a messy process. Finally, I had the balloon all coated and drying on the sunporch.
Then I painstakingly cut the sphere into wedges and reassembled it around the glass globe. It was a brilliant idea: I would wrap copper wire around the form and then pull the wedges out through the opening at the bottom. Except it didn't work AT ALL. Major craft fail. The wire gauge had to be pretty rigid to hold its form and it kept knocking the wedges askew and sproinging all over the place. So I threw the wedges out and just started free-form wrapping the wire in the general area around the glass. It wasn't easy. Actually, it's was maddeningly difficult and there was some cursing involved.
Finally, this is what I ended up with. My younger son pronounced it "whimsical." It is definitely that. But I like how the copper picks up the glow from the Edison bulb inside the glass.
It was America Recycles Day on Saturday, and the local nature center was hosting an event with an interesting premise - trade in glass and plastic bags for a beer. We were in.
But first a hike. This place has miles of trails and it was warmer than it has been lately, and sunny.
We took a path that wound up along the river.
I could have stayed out all day, but we didn't want to miss the free beer.
We traded in our tickets for IPAs and got some balsamic tofu tacos from the Captain Muchacho's food truck.
It was just too gorgeous to go home and do the housework we'd planned, so we headed back downtown.
As we were driving to the parking garage, I spotted several gravestones through the window with my last name! No idea how they might be related to me but I'm guessing they are. First, it's a Presbyterian graveyard, which matches up with other ancestors and secondly, my surname was given to French Normans who migrated to England and Ireland. I think we're all related somehow.
After looking around in the graveyard, we walked over to the square. There was a Garth Brooks concert happening that night so there were LOTS of folks dressed in cowboy hats and boots.
We stopped at a restaurant and had some Weller and the hummus and vegetable plate as an early dinner. On days like this, I really love my city.
When my husband moved in with me, I was happy to make room for this huntboard that was part of his household growing up. It sits along the wall in the dining room and holds napkins, placemats, candles and the like. Also games in the bottom drawer. It used to hold all our liquor, as well.
After my MIL's funeral, we brought home with us the one item my husband had really wanted from the house. It was this very cool bar. The top flips open and there are places for glasses inside.
Originally we put it on the sunporch but it partially obstructed the window. So we moved a glass-fronted attorney's bookcase to the opposite side of the living room and moved the bar in here (the walls aren't that bright - I added a little fill light so you could see the pattern in the wood more clearly.).
We were encouraged to consider whether we wanted any of the other furniture that had not been claimed. Interestingly, the other sibs mostly liked the more formal and newer pieces. But we decided to bring home this beautiful old icebox and put it on the sunporch where a book shelf used to be.
The book shelf contents of vases and candles and so on are inside. The main compartment had been painted a garish yellow, so my husband got some enamel paint and painted it white to match the other side.
On the inside of the door we hung the old sign that came with it.
As I helped clear things out at my MIL's house, I nudged my husband one day and said, "You know, there's a really cool old trunk in your mom's room that would make a great coffee table..." We already had a coffee table, of course, but it was bought for my much larger previous house and was just awkwardly big. We ordered some short hairpin legs to match the ones on our dining room table and my husband made a base for the trunk from a piece of wood we had. I painted the whole thing a metallic bronze.
Et voilà, our new coffee table. I plan to store our Christmas ornaments in it.
We had to do a little shuffling to make the new pieces work. The bookshelf that used to be by the television is now next to the front door. We shifted the couch down a bit to fit in the bar.
And the old attorney's bookcase is where the shelf used to be. My older son laughs at my love of earthy colors and says it's very '70's. In the past he's described my style as "obnoxious modern hippie." But it's warm and comforting to my husband and me. And I like having more of his past included in the house. Personally, I think we got the best pieces in his childhood home.
The average American household has $144,000 in debt. And yet the median income is only $59,000. And I'm not judging - there was a time in graduate school when I took out a student loan to buy a computer. And, um, a stereo system. Around the same time, I bought my first new car, making monthly payments on grad student pittance wages. But then I started reading - Personal Finance for Dummies, the Dave Ramsey books, books on voluntary simplicity - and I changed my outlook. Gradually I developed an increasing distaste for owing people money and got out from under all loans other than a mortgage. I used my credit card for its airline points but payedg the balance in full each month. When my husband and I got engaged in 2015, he came with a whomping post-divorce credit card debt. No worries - eliminating debt is my jam. And so we tore into it, throwing every spare penny at it until it was gone. Fortunately, my husband was happy to let me be the money manager in the household. We both have jobs that aren't well compensated for what we do. I made the conscious decision to serve a poor Appalachian population which means a lot of Medicaid/Medicare work. And my husband is a medical assistant with low pay but health insurance that we have cause to be most grateful for. Doing some good in the world just matters more to both of us than making a lot of money. Which is why we do things like last year's no-spend challenge and throwing our spare change into a "Dom fund" container - with the idea that one day we'd buy a bottle of Dom Perignon to celebrate a special occasion.
So how do we reconcile modest incomes, an appetite for good food and travel, and an intense debt aversion? We decided that a little house suits us fine. We pay cash for used cars and drive them until they die. We never darken the doors of salons and instead cut our own hair (well, except for that one time when I paid thousands for chemo to cut it for me). We think hard about every purchase, deciding if it's a need or a want. We take passes on most expensive outings, looking for free music and festivals and hikes. And in the meantime, we have been adding extra to the mortgage payment every single month until this month. We mailed off the last check and I called Friday to verify - only 5 ½ years into a 15-year mortgage, we are now zeroed out. The house is ours and we don't owe anyone anything. We burned the monthly mortgage statements outside in the firepit.
If there was an occasion for really good champagne, it was this. We cracked open a bottle of the 2008 vintage and made lobster tails, new potatoes with sour cream and caviar, zucchini with sun-dried tomatoes, and feta and onion tarts.
We had chocolate champagne truffles for dessert and talked about plans for future travel. Loving our small house and old cars and being content with what we already have has become second nature to both of us. There's something wonderfully freeing about deciding you don't have to be on the consumer treadmill. And that Dom Perignon? It was damned good and perfect for our toast to being debt-free.
Last night we got invited to the watch party for the mayoral candidate we supported. I'd never been to one, but it sounded like fun. Quiet at first, and then as more people arrived and results started rolling in, it became very festive. We milled around drinking wine, eating snacks, and meeting new people.
People anxiously watched the live streaming results, first from the absentee and early voters and then a long, tense delay before the day's results started being posted. A huge cheer went up when our candidate took the lead.
And then way sooner than I would have expected, the candidate announced that the other candidate had conceded and she was our our new mayor! Only two of the city council members that I'd voted for were elected, but it is still a positive change. And interestingly, of the 5 positions up for voting, 4 were filled by women. That means the city council has a female majority for the first time in its history - 7 women and 2 men. Rock on, powerful women!
A year ago yesterday, I was finishing my last round of chemo. Although it's a strange anniversary to celebrate, we wanted to do just that. We went to a restaurant that occupies what used to be possibly the nicest restaurant in our city. And we weren't disappointed with the new incarnation. We ordered the market seafood special, barramundi with lump crabmeat and vegetables.
And the duck in madeira sauce with figs, squash and red quinoa. Both were delicious. One little off note only: the sommelier came out with a bottle of wine and said the pinot noir we'd ordered was unfortunately out, so could he recommend this one instead? That got him a narrow-eyed look from me, and I asked if it was a different price. Why, um, yes, actually, um, more than twice the price of the bottle we'd ordered. That kind of thing is irksome to me. We asked for the wine list again and picked a bottle of 1000 Stories bourbon barrel red zin, a favorite of ours. But we liked our waiter, who was attentive and friendly, and the food and atmosphere were wonderful.
The host had asked if we were celebrating a special occasion so we told her about the anniversary. She looked surprised but said she was so happy that I was doing well. And at the end of dinner, our waiter offered us a dessert on the house. It was an easy choice for me - the "millionaire's cake" - dark chocolate and bourbon. So good.
Exactly a year ago yesterday, bald, sick, dreading the last round of chemo side effects but still smiling because of the drugs they pump you full of before the poison.
And yesterday, a year later, ready to hit the town and no ativan boost required. This smile is because I'm enjoying feeling healthy again.
There's nothing quite like helping to clear out someone's house after their death to bring it to your attention that you likely have too much stuff. I'd actually started this project of going through my clothes and then blah blah cancer blah blah blah. When I was finally healed up from the last of my surgeries, I did a pretty big purge of clothes that no longer worked with my rebuilt self. I got as far as Marie Kondo-ing my dresser drawers, and ran out of steam.
But my Mother-in Law's house was so filled with stuff, much of it randomly distributed, that it renewed my energy. I came home and piled everything in my closet onto my bed and dresser and started sorting. Summery clothes got packed away to be dealt with next spring. I will never do the capsule wardrobe thing because I don't see the point in getting rid of clothes I like and wear and then having to buy new ones. My hope is that I don't have to buy any new work clothes before I retire, and then I can get rid of most of them at that point and a year-round wardrobe will fit easily in the closet.
Everything else was organized and hanging clothes all put on hangers facing the wrong way. As I've been wearing them, they go back in with the hanger facing the right way. At the end of winter, anything still on a backwards hangers goes into the donation bag.
Sweaters on the little shelves, with a bit of masking tape on each, which gets pulled off as I wear them. I have to force myself not to just jam sweaters back in there and instead fold them into little bundles. That's right, I'm a jammer by nature.
Jeans on the other side on a little wire shelf, also taped. I just didn't feel like trying them on to see which ones I might wear, so same rule as with the hangers - anything with tape still on it come spring, goes. I didn't bother putting a piece of tape on my gardening jeans, since I wear them all the time.
And there you have it - everything neatly organized and easy to get to. I'd rather be working in the yard, but it wasn't a bad use of a rainy weekend day.
Pink is everywhere right now. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and that means a lot of corporations profiting off this disease. Pink ribbons on cosmetics, on yogurt, on spatulas, on every sort of merchandise imaginable. Company after company promising money to raise awareness and find a cure. And yet, a tiny fraction of that promised money (and sometimes, none of it at all), actually goes toward research aimed at making treatment more effective and, most importantly, finding a cure. Don't even get me started on the Susan G. Komen foundation which manages to pay big fat salaries but gives only 20% of donated money to research. Breast Cancer Awareness month feels like such a sham that I avoid most things associated with it. So I was torn when I got this invitation.
Ultimately, I decided it would be a nice way to spend time with a friend who is a fellow breast cancer survivor. Although, I hate that word, too. At any rate, a mutual friend got us together when I had to make a decision about chemo. She met with me for lunch to answer the questions that the first oncologist had little patience for, and then was there for me as a support. She even took me to get my port implanted, bringing me a box of tegaderm and telling me how to use it with EMLA cream to make accessing my port more tolerable. She waited for me through my surgery, dressed me when I woke up from the anesthesia, and sat with me at home for a while. She and the mutual friend also visited me at the infusion center when I was getting my first round of chemo. I invited her to join me for the event.
We were given bags with some goodies. Inside was a silly gift (a radiology department coozie) and a nice gift (a leather folding binder with a notepad inside). There was pretty good food but a sad lack of wine, and activities. I actually picked up an offered craft kit, remembered later that I just don't do crafts, and now it's in the Goodwill pile. As we were eating, I saw my breast surgeon and she came over to give me a hug. I adore that woman. But it was a little surreal being at a festive event in a setting rife with traumatic memories. We ate in the waiting room of the cancer center while a remarkably old woman played jazzy tunes on the piano. There were beauty school students giving manicures at the booths where you check in for procedures. They handed out moisturizer samples and offered chair massages in the halls of the place where I had mammograms and my biopsies. Incidentally, there were three massage chairs and the third woman getting a massage while we were there responded to her massage therapist's compliment on her hair by saying, "That's one reason I was thankful not to have to do chemo! I told my daughter we could go to Party City and buy some fun, colorful wigs and she was actually disappointed when I didn't have to have chemo! Ha ha ha!" Yeah, ha ha ha. I bit my lip to keep from saying, "There's nothing fucking fun about chemo or losing your hair."
But you know, there's a general air of whimsy around breast cancer awareness. And a fair degree of infantilization. "Girl" is consistently used instead of "woman." At events you see lots of pink boas and tutus because woohoo breast cancer! Just a brief but still happy inconvenience that we strong warrior women laugh our way through!! Well, no. Try that approach with the families of the 42,000 woman who will die from it this year just in this country and see how receptive they are to the hilarity.
Because with any invasive breast cancer, no matter the stage, it doesn't end. Just last month, I had pain that didn't seem to be healing in my tailbone and rib cage. My oncologist ordered a nuclear medicine bone scan, which didn't show any current metastases in my bones. But there was a suspicious finding in the area of my skull behind my ear. I got a call from the oncologist's office as I was in the airport headed for Iceland to schedule a brain CT as soon as I got back. That, too, thankfully, was negative. But here's what I know: A large percentage of people with breast cancer have a recurrence at some point. And some 25-40% (depending on which study you're looking at) of women with breast cancer already have cancer cells in their bone marrow by the time they have their surgery. They just don't know it yet - cancer cells can lie dormant for years and women with my type of breast cancer can develop metasteses as late as twenty years out. And for women and men with invasive breast cancer, there is no known cure. If you become metastatic, all they can do is try different treatments until they stop working and you die. There is just nothing cute or sexy or uplifting about breast cancer. The rates are rising, it’s hitting women at an increasingly young age, and women and men are dying from it at an alarming rate. So I’m here to tell you that if anyone goes all “Save the Tatas” on me, I may well punch them in the throat.
I'm not actually bitter about my cancer as long as people aren't expecting me to be jolly about it. I'm a realist but not a pessimist, and I love my life. What that leaves me with is always reminding myself to live as fully and fiercely as possible right up until I die. That is why, in spite of my general dislike of Pinktober and all the pink ribbon bullshit, I was unable to resist this shirt. It’s a Game of Thrones reference (and I know I am one of the few people who never watched that show) where the sword teacher tells the girl, “There is only one god and his name is Death, and there is only one thing we say to Death: ‘Not today.’”