30 June 2009


Perhaps it’s my inner hypochondriac, or maybe it’s the little voice that sometimes whispers “you should have been a doctor” – in either case, I find myself poking around the health pages of the Times website a lot. Not so long ago, there was a slide show with audio, called “Voices of Lung Cancer”. In the way that one needs to pick at a scab, I clicked through, only to find a woman, one Dr. Woody, with a diagnosis and visage that were eerily similar to my mother’s.

My mother was diagnosed with inoperable stage IV NSCLC in the winter of 2005 - she’d gone to the doctor complaining of back pain, and an x-ray showed lesions on her spine and in both lungs. She had radiation, endured several rounds of chemo, continued to live her life, until a mild seizure in January 2008 indicated brain metastases. She then had whole brain radiation, which debilitated her to such a degree that she could no longer live at home alone. At that point, she entered hospice, at home. She died at the beginning of April, after a YEAR in hospice care, a year of an inexorable decline.

By one measure, Moky did really well - median survival time following a diagnosis at stage IV is about 8 months, and she lived more than four years from that first x-ray. She was basically strong and healthy and tolerated most of the treatment very well.

But I wonder - could something different have been done?

Last week, after the announcement that Steve Jobs had had a liver transplant, there was a flurry of chatter: Should he talk about his treatment? What's the prognosis for pancreatic cancer? Why'd he have a liver transplant anyway?

In my poking-around-the-intertubes-at-lunch surfing, I ended up back at a Times blog post from over a year ago, talking about cancer research funding:

The big loser in the cancer funding race is lung cancer. It is the biggest cancer killer in the country, yet on a per-death basis receives the least N.C.I. funding among major cancers. In 2006, the N.C.I. spent $1,518 for each new case of lung cancer and $1,630 for each lung cancer death, according to data from the institute and the American Cancer Society.

The natural conclusion is that lung cancer suffers in the research dollar pool, because the lung cancer victims brought it upon themselves. They smoked cigarettes, period, end of story. Stigmatized.

But, but, but. Butt. Why'd they smoke cigarettes? Because they were addicted. Why? Because, because, because they couldn't quit.

You know what? The whole thing sucks.

* * * * * * * * *

A couple of weeks ago, and with the help of some of my blog pals, my sister participated in her town's Relay for Life - and raised about $3500 for the American Cancer Society. Thank you. I hope it helps kick cancer's ass.

29 June 2009

Get Your Hands Dirty

First, we stained our fingers and shorts and tongues
handful of strawberries
while picking four quarts of strawberries.
girl in strawberry field

Then, we got our fingers dirty with the blue fabric paint while
stenciling with fabric paint
stenciling the girl's name on towels
towel stenciled with name
to take to day camp.
first day of camp
Ah, summer. Wet towels, ripe berries. What more could one want?

26 June 2009

And There Was Dancing In the Street

Yesterday was the last day of kindergarten.

last day of kindergartenI'm now the mother of a first grader.

24 June 2009

Dinner For One, for Two People

Cast of Characters
1 child who wants plain buttered pasta
1 husband who had a late lunch and doesn’t want any dinner at all
1 self who is craving vegetables

1 bunch of almost over the hill Asian braising greens from the CSA
1 bunch of similarly almost over the hill turnip tops from the CSA
3 garlic scapes from the backyard garden
2 springs of flat leaf parsley from the CSA
2 potatoes, because they’re there
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Balsamic vinegar (the dregs of a fancy bottle rinsed out with the cheap stuff)

  1. Pour glass of wine.
  2. Put pot of water on to boil the child’s pasta.
  3. Wash and chop the greens, tossing out all the really over the hill bits.
  4. Decide that sautéed greens isn’t really enough dinner, and boil another pot of water for some potatoes.
  5. Peel and dice the potatoes, and toss ‘em in the pot for 10 minutes.
  6. Heat up a little olive oil in a skillet with a lid, and toss in the chopped garlic scapes.
  7. Remember that you forgot to salt the now boiling potatoes and the pasta water.
  8. Cook the child’s pasta.
  9. Rescue the garlic scapes before they start to brown, and toss in the still wet chopped greens. Slap a lid on the pot.
  10. Mince the parsley and put it someplace where you won’t forget to add it later.
  11. Drain the potatoes and mash ‘em with a pat of butter.
  12. Drain the child’s pasta and toss with a pat of butter. Serve.
  13. Scoop the greens onto the mashed potatoes and mix it all up, gently, with another pat of butter.
  14. Serve up the demented colcannon in a bowl, sprinkled with a little rubbed kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, the minced parsley and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
  15. Eat. With more wine, as necessary.
  16. Don’t share when husband says “I didn’t know you were making that. It looks good.” Because it’s just enough for one.

22 June 2009

End of the Year

The school year is winding down. Today, Miss M. brought home her art portfolio, all the best works from the whole year, the ones that hung on the walls of the classroom and outside in the hallway. She was beyond proud - "when we get home, I'm going to spread them out all over and show them to you, but Daddy, one of them has glitter". And when we got home, we spread them out all over and she told us all about them.

girl surrounded by her kindergarten art
I think I'll frame the one of forsythia on a pale blue background. And then I'll pour myself a stiff drink and think about the next twelve years.

Onward, sigh.

19 June 2009

Kindergarten Haiku

Like a lightbulb in the sky,
Moonlight on the pond.

Okay, maybe it's not really a haiku, but it is poetry, at least in the eyes of the author's mother.

18 June 2009

Museum Quality Thrift

My mother was nothing if not frugal. She kept everything. And if it wasn't right just then, it would someday have a use.

She also did a lot of gardening. And painting. And you need work clothes for gardening and painting. So a pair of pants that couldn't be worn to the ballet, or to work, or to the supermarket became gardening or painting pants. And if they didn't fit, they got altered, cut down to size.

Most of the time, the alteration was just a quick and dirty v-shaped dart at the center back. But I found a pair of jeans with a genius alteration - an external, integral, elastic belt, the belt made from the elastic of a pair of men's underwear.

It's a little like an external fixator for the jeans. I think they belong in a museum.

17 June 2009

Scenes from a weekend

Last Sunday, we had a picnic for the Jamaican ladies who took care of our mother. My brother made curried goat, my brother-in-law made jerk chicken, and we rounded it out with yellow rice, coleslaw, and tabouli. Yeah, tabouli isn't exactly Jamaican, but I had lots of parsley going begging.

There were screaming balloons, board games, water-drenched children and badminton. My sister-in-law gets some kind of prize for playing badminton with her 10 week old baby strapped onto her chest.

And there was homemade ice cream, tutti-frutti, because that's what we always make. Everyone cranked, especially the children. Child labor is a good thing when ice cream is involved.

This coming weekend, my sister will again walk in the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life. It's her way of honoring our mother, and her father-in-law, both of whom recently died of cancer.

If you have a reason to do so - and who doesn't - won't you support Relay For Life? Clicking on the luminaria to the right will take you to my sister's page. I'll thank you, and she will, and maybe your donation will help kick cancer's ass.

16 June 2009

Grace #27: Found Dialogue

I amuse myself. Or the folks that choose the movies for the theater downstairs, coupled with the worker dude who climbs up and moves the little plastic letters around, they amuse me.

Scene: Manhattan street corner

Joe, dejected: "Hangover."
Jane, mocking: "Imagine that!"
Joe, irritated: "Drag me to hell, terminator."

12 June 2009

More Evidence That I Am A Crank

Last week, three weeks before the school year is to end*, the PTA sent out an email with a link to order school supplies for next year. Being the cussed disestablishmentarianist that I am, my first thought was "the hell with that, I'll buy the stuff myself". But I clicked through to see what was on the list, and found, to my enormous irritation, that the first grade supply lists were divided by gender - different lists for boys and girls.

There is one difference between the boxes: the boy's box has one box of 20 gallon sized zippered plastic bags, the girl's box has one box of 50 sandwich sized zippered plastic bags.**

But what thoroughly chaps my hide is that the girl supply list costs twenty cents more! What insidious form of discrimination is this? Isn't it bad enough that women earn less than men? Now it costs more to be a girl, too?

I can't imagine why they didn't split the difference, ten cents more to the boys, and ten cents less to the girls.

And in the end, I just bought the stuff - so I wouldn't have to think about it again - but not without leaving a comment about the pricing.

*Here in New York, school starts immediately after Labor Day and runs to the end of June. Anything else just seems weird to me.

**They're classroom supplies - it's not that boys need fewer bigger bags and girls need more smaller bags.

11 June 2009

CSA Week 1, Year 3

It must actually be summer, because we picked up our first load of CSA vegetables yesterday (and Niobe's getting hers tonight). It looked like a huge amount, but it's mostly salad ingredients, not that there's anything wrong with that!

  • Salad greens
  • Sorrel
  • Japanese turnips, with greens attached
  • Head of red leaf lettuce
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Asian greens braising mix
  • Broccoli rabe
  • Scallions
  • Radishes

For dinner last night, we had sorrel soup and a chopped salad.

I made Ilina's turnip salad - a tangy mix of turnip, cucumber and avocado (even though the cuke and the avocado had to come from the supermarket).

The soup was more or less invented: I simmered three potatoes (peeled and chopped) in a quart of chicken stock until done, then buzzed them with the hand blender. I then added the sorrel, which I'd cut into ribbons, and a chopped scallion, and cooked it just until the sorrel was wilted (and army green). To finish it, I poured in about a half cup of heavy cream, along with salt and pepper. Simple, easy, and tasty. And the best part might be that there was enough left for my lunch today.

We'll probably do some kind of pasta with the broccoli rabe, and braise the braising greens as a side for some meat. And the salad ingredients? We'll be having salad.

The project for the summer will be to get the girl to eat more vegetables. Any ideas?

10 June 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Eek!

Yes, we found it in the cellar. Actually the girlie found it and freaked out. And her grandmother thought it was a rubber toy. We thought they were exaggerating, until we saw it.

PS I'm pretty sure that it was a harmless-to-humans fishing spider.

09 June 2009

Sometimes You Have To Go On A Picnic

Sometimes you have to stop everything and go on a picnic in the backyard with your child.

Sometimes you have to let her pack the snacks, rice cakes and blueberries and cheese sticks, though you pour the milk into a straw cup for her, and some gin and limeade into a glass for yourself.

Sometimes you have to let her find the right spot for the blanket.

Sometimes you have to let her cut the rice cakes with a plastic knife.

Sometimes you have to let her pick the wild white flowers with the egg yolk yellow stamens, and sometimes you have to let her paint it like makeup all over your face.

Because sometimes, that's all that's important in the world.

08 June 2009

Where I Sleep

Last month, the kindergarten class was working on non-fiction. The girlie came home with a book called "All About Houses" - describing our "gra" house, the "tv rm", and "omo a dad rm" (complete with a drawing of three people in the bed: mom, dad and girlie).

Here's her room:

The bed that she mostly sleeps in (when she's not in with "omo a dad") does have round brass balls at the head and foot, and she does have blue polka dots on her sheets.

And someday, she'll learn to spell better and form her letters correctly, but right now? This is just perfect.

07 June 2009

When the Words Come Alive

The girlie is seriously on the verge of reading. I've known it for a while, but she's been resistant to sharing her progress, preferring that we read to her and only slipping up and revealing her ability on occasion.

One day last month, I was reading in bed - a grown-up book - and she was supposed to be falling asleep next to me. Instead, she was reading over my shoulder and showing me all of the words that she knows. She pointed to moment, and said "if you take the end part off, it spells mom". Oh, bestill my heart - that half of moment is mom slays me.

Yesterday, at the library book sale - where I got a box full of books for $25, a box that previously and amusingly once held a case of Ex Libris cabernet - she actually picked up a Dora book aand started reading it out loud. She stumbled quickly on words she couldn't figure out, but holy hell - she's reading.

05 June 2009

Reading Aloud Crankiness

Pretty much every night, I read three books to the girlie before bed. Most of the books in rotation are ones I love and I appreciate - after all, as long as I'm doing the reading, I'd better like the books.

But there are a handful that push my buttons, even some of the ones I really like. Madeline, for example, is a great kid's book. The illustrations are charming, the protagonist is plucky, the text is fun to read. In it, as you must know, twelve little girls live in an old house in Paris, until Madeline gets carted off to the hospital to have her appendix removed. Twelve minus one is eleven. So why are there twelve girls eating dinner when Madeline is still in the hospital? It irks me when I see it - I like accuracy at all times.

Not too long ago, I won a copy of a book called Princess Bubble in a contest on The Girl Revolution. It's good - it's all about showing girls that they don't need a prince to live happily ever after. But there's one sentence that curdles my blood every time I see it - so much so that I leave the offending two words out (though I haven't yet gotten out a Sharpie). I ask you, why was it necessary to include "loving god" in a statement as to how to find true happiness? I realize that I'm a heathen pagan atheist, but that gratuitous "loving god" bit rankles me.

What gets your goat in your kid's books?

04 June 2009


If it's not one thing, it's another, and these days, it all seems to be medically related.

  • My father's been in the hospital since Monday, as a result of internal bleeding. He's going to have surgery - but I don't know when, tomorrow maybe?

  • My husband can't see out of one eye, because of idiopathic chorioretinopathy.He's got a little bit of peripheral vision in that eye, but reading is a chore, climbing stairs requires concentration, and driving at night is impossible. It might get better, but it's been three months since it happened.

  • I need to have a colonoscopy next week. Oh, and I have a sore throat.

Yesterday we were having birthday cake in the office for a woman whose husband just graduated from nursing school. One thing led to another, and we ended up in an animated conversation about the word "nurse" - namely, does the word itself imply that the person with that job is a woman? My 67 year old male boss thinks that, as stewardess became flight attendant, "nurse" needs a new word without a gender connotation. I think it's sociological and generational - there was a time when nearly all nurses were women, and nearly all doctors were men. But today, if I introduced you to "his wife the doctor", you wouldn't bat an eyelash.  And if you'd been hanging out in the emergency room the other night, while they tried to figure out what was going on with my father, you'd have noticed that nearly half of the ER nurses were male.

Granted, the etymology of the word "nurse" comes from breastfeeding and the nourishment of the young. So, a man can't nurse but can be a nurse.

What do you think? Do you assume that a nurse is going to be female?

01 June 2009

More Wicker

I want this. It belonged to Maria Callas. Now it's owned by Philippe Starck.

Between this car and my bicycle basket, maybe I have a thing about wicker?