Monday, August 31, 2009

Take note

Note to self: yelling at the computer may feel good, but it rarely accomplishes any worthwhile goal. Doubly true in the classroom.

Note to my daughter: the rhubarb crisp was terrific, but even more wonderful was the opportunity to see you tackling a whole new life with joy and finesse.

Note to the student who left class "to use the bathroom" and returned with a late homework assignment printed out (what, they have printers in the rest rooms now?) and tried to sneak it into the stack on my desk: I may be many things, but I'm not blind and I'm not stupid. Better learn this now before it's too late.

Note to whoever's in charge of today's weather: 49 degrees in August? What are you drinking?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hair today, gone tomorrow

My daughter was born with a thick mop of fine black hair all over her head, but it didn't last long. Within a week she had a bald spot in back where the hair had rubbed off, and within a month she was pretty much bald.

I've been following her lead this week. I started Monday morning with a head of thick dark hair, but it grew thinner each day until I had to cover the bald spot with a scarf on Friday. I've been trailing clouds of glorious hair everywhere I go--in the shower, in my office, in my food--and my car looks as if some woodland creature has been nesting in it. All I did was lean my head on my hand while driving home. When I took my hand away, a bunch of hair came with it.

Today I'm losing the rest of my hair. I'm tired of the mess, so my husband will shave off what little remains: a fine fringe around the edges, a few lonely strands on top. Meanwhile, I'm practicing my scarf-tying skills. The cancer center gave me a catalog featuring a variety of methods for disguising baldness, including clown-like chenille beanies and wigs that evoke Dolly Parton. There's a gold lame turban that looks as if it belongs on a 1940s movie star, but that's really not the look for me.

But what will be my signature look? Rosie the Riveter, Aunt Jemima, Russian Babushka, or Katie Kerchief? (Did I once have a doll called Katie Kerchief or am I making that up?) I can't quite pull off the Jackie O look, which requires certain accessories: sunglasses, sailboats, and Greek shipping magnates. I can't teach in sunglasses, and where would I stash my students on the boat?

Maybe there's a fedora in my future. I've always admired the fedora. It looks so Humphrey Bogart. I could be the middle-aged-bald-woman Bogart. Temporarily.

My daughter's dark hair never grew back, replaced instead by beautiful fine golden-brown hair that twisted into thick curls at adolescence. Someday, when I'm all done with cancer and chemotherapy, my hair will come back too, but it may be different: straighter or curlier, thicker or thinner, maybe all gray, maybe not. Perhaps my inner Dolly Parton will finally be unleashed. Meanwhile, I'm tying scarves, dreaming about hats, and trying not to lose my head over losing my hair.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday poetry challenge: Machines 'n' me

Elegant Elekta
the linear accelerator
peers from the ceiling
with sublime unconcern.
She groans, beeps, and buzzes,
rotates, repositions,
to beam radiation
'til I'm feeling the burn.

Your turn: immortalize in verse your interactions with a machine.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The view from the throne

One of the great things about having an office is the library is arriving early: there's no one in the building except me and the custodians, no sounds except the books murmuring to one another in the stacks. That's when I get things done.

I've also enjoyed discovering the library's hidden secrets. Yesterday I went wandering around looking for a paper cutter, but the people I would normally ask were otherwise occupied. So I asked myself, "If I were a paper cutter, where would I be?" That's exactly where I went, and there it was.

The round shape of the building results in some odd little corners tucked away here and there, like the wedge-shaped workroom near my office and the reading room with the fireplace and curved wall. The most unusual, though, is the handicapped stall in the women's rest room near my office: it's like any other rest-room stall except for its size (huge) and view. Yes, there's a large window inside the stall. The view from the throne features a stretch of the campus mall where people are always milling about, and anyone sitting there would naturally wonder, "If I can see them, does that mean they can see me?" I hope the window blind proves opaque to outside viewers. After all, if all secrets are revealed, where's the mystery?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hopeful's happy dance

I noticed yesterday that my dog and I are pursuing opposite trajectories: she's growing more hair while I'm losing mine.

A week or so ago Hopeful came home from her usual wanderings with a bald spot on her head about the size of a silver dollar. It looked awful at first, raw and oozing, but as we've cleaned it and put on some soothing salve, it has healed up well. Now the hair is coming back thick and black.

The wound, whatever its source, has not slowed her down any. Every time I walk out the door, she comes running to see whether we're going for a walk, and if I say the word "walk," she does her happy dance all over the front porch and down the driveway. During the long weeks after my surgery when walking on our local hills was simply not possible, she spent a lot of time sitting outside the big front window and looking in wistfully, as if wondering what could be keeping me from our usual rambles. Now, though, on the days when side effects don't have me flattened by midafternoon, I'm walking whenever I can with Hopeful by my side.

Yesterday we walked all the way up the big hill near our house, which I used to do daily but I've managed only three times since June. She runs on ahead and then looks back to make sure I'm following, and if I whistle, she comes running for a treat and does her happy dance right at my feet. If I have to turn back sooner than usual, she doesn't complain. She's just happy to be out walking with me--and she makes me happy too.

Five years ago when our former dog died, I thought I was done with dogs, so when Hopeful wandered into our lives a little over a year ago, I had no intention of adopting another pet--and yet here she still is, doing her little happy dance and making me smile even when I can't manage much of a walk.

I don't want to get all sappy here, but I'm just saying: someone knew I needed a dog.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Imagine a world without fart jokes

My honors students in the humor theory class are writing right now in response to an intentionally vague prompt: "What is humor for?" It's not a graded essay; I just want to see where their writing skills are, how they organize ideas, what kind of work they can produce in 30 minutes without advance preparation.

But I'm also interested in their answers. I've taught variations on this humor theory class three or four times and every time I hope students will come to some understanding of the function of humor in human societies, but let's face it: I'd be hard pressed to answer the question myself. What is humor for? Does it confer some sort of survival advantage for the species? If some strange cataclysm somehow wiped out the human capacity for humor, what would happen? How long could the human race survive without fart jokes?

This semester we'll read a variety of humorous essays and essays on humor, many of them shockingly unfunny, and we'll discuss a variety of approaches to answering the question. First, though, we have to ask the question. What is humor for?

You've got thirty minutes, starting now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Brave new world

This morning I met my fall classes for the first time and this afternoon I met the machine that will shoot radiation into me every weekday for the next five weeks. In both cases, I felt as if I had crossed an invisible border.

My classes are great--I love the material and the students seem responsive (so far). Everyone writes on the first day of class, and even though I've only skimmed today's writing, I can tell already that this is going to be an engaging semester.

I went through the usual syllabus spiel with one important difference: in order to explain why my office hours are limited and why we'll occasionally move class discussions online (sometimes with advance warning, sometimes without), I told my classes briefly about my recent medical adventures. It would have become obvious soon anyway since my hairline is receding at a rapid pace, but I tried to focus primarily on how my treatment regimen will affect the class.

My hands were shaking the first time I went through the spiel, but by the third time, I was more relaxed. I like being in control, especially in front of the classroom, so it's not easy to admit how little power I can exert in my life right now. I felt naked.

I felt even more naked this afternoon--but even if I'd kept all my clothes on and donned a suit of armor, it wouldn't have prevented the radiation from beaming into my inner parts. The big white radiation machine named Elekta beeped and buzzed and flashed at me, sounding sometimes like a blender whipping up a smoothie, sometimes like a toilet flushing, and sometimes like a doctor clearing his throat.

Radiation therapy isn't nearly as immediately disruptive as chemotherapy: there are no needles, no nasty chemicals, no side effects for the first few weeks. And yet it felt momentous, like an entrance into a brave new world. I'm not sure I'm ready for this, or for what it will mean for my classes. But one thing is certain: there's no turning back now.

Weekend visitors

Saturday afternoon I walked to the upper meadow in search of butterflies, but I found larger game first. This deer stood watching me as I walked up the hill snapping photos, but as soon as I got one step too close, it leapt toward the woods. The butterfly population has been low this summer thanks to unseasonably cool nights, but I still found a few to photograph.

I noticed minor damage from last Thursday's heavy storms. An old rusty antenna tower up in the butterfly meadow has now snapped two out of three guy wires and has been nudged a good way out of vertical. We need to knock that thing down before it falls on someone. Meanwhile, down in the garden, the storm knocked down our most mature corn stalks, but they're already starting to reach for the sky.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Twinkle twinkle

I thought I had heard about every possible side effect of chemotherapy, but yesterday my oncologist sprung new one on me. In the same tone you or I might use to say "Don't be surprised if it rains this afternoon," he said, "Don't be surprised if your fingernails fall off."


I'm pretty good at complying with Doctor's Orders, but I'm having a little trouble with this one. I like my fingernails--I've grown rather attached to them over the years, trimming and filing and polishing them to a high gloss--so if they suddenly decide to leap off my hands and pursue other interests, I think I'm entitled to be a wee bit surprised. The little ingrates.

I appreciate my doctor's warning, but what I really need is for someone to warn me when the oncologist is about to casually drop some new alarming information into the conversation. For instance, yesterday before my appointment the nurse could have taken me aside and said, "Don't be surprised if the doctor says, 'Don't be surprised if your fingernails fall off." And then maybe the receptionist could cushion the blow even more by warning me, "Don't be surprised if the nurse says, 'Don't be surprised if the doctor says, "Don't be surprised if your fingernails fall off."'"

I imagine a long series of warnings, an infinite regress going back to the time when I was a mere twinkle in my father's eye. Some kind person should have looked squarely into that twinkle and said, "Yo, Twink, one of these days a doctor is going to rock your world and usher you into a new dimension in which it is perfectly normal for your fingernails to fall off. But whatever you do, don't be surprised."

What sense would I have made of the information at that point? I probably would have kept on twinkling. Which, I suppose, is what I'll try to do if my fingernails fall off. I'll be surprised, yes, but I'll just have to accept the fingernail mutiny as yet another ordinary aspect of The New Normal.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday poetry challenge: first-day nightmares

Students await my
entrance, shifting in their seats.
But where are my clothes?

Where is my classroom?
Why are my teeth falling so
freely from my mouth?

Your turn: what are your worst first-day nightmares?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


My office this morning smells like alcohol--not so much a morning-after-the-bash smell as an antiseptic-medical-office smell.

First thing this morning I used Q-tips and rubbing alcohol to remove sticky white lint from my laptop computer keyboard, which worked just fine, thank you very much. My computer is now up and running and apparently none the worse for its baptism by ginger ale, which I was sipping yesterday afternoon to hold down some mild nausea while finishing up my final fall syllabus, when the phone rang and I reached to answer it and tipped the ginger ale bottle onto the keyboard.

It was my favorite kind of ginger ale, too: Reed's Extra Strong. Pity to waste it on a keyboard.

So there I was trying to absorb information about my radiation schedule, one hand holding the phone and the other grabbing a wad of tissues and trying to sop up spilled ginger ale. Do you know what happens to tissues when they get soaked in ginger ale and rubbed across a bumpy keyboard? When I was done, my keyboard appeared to be growing white hair.

So I called my favorite IT guy and followed instructions: unplug the computer, dry it off, turn it upside down to let it drain, walk away and hope for the best. I'm getting pretty good at that last bit. Lots of practice.

And the hope paid off: after gingerly cleaning the sticky white lint off the keyboard, I am now ready to get back to what I was doing before I was so rudely interrupted...but if I'm going to tackle that last syllabus, I really need a drink.

Anyone have any ginger ale?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Happy Tomato

It's a banner year for tomatoes. Some of them are almost too pretty to eat.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Dietary dilemma

Under siege by The Side Effect That Dares Not Speak Its Name (TSETDNSIN), I have sought assistance in a book called Eating Well Through Cancer, which offers dietary suggestions and recipes for each stage of treatment.

Right now I have a garden bursting with all my favorite fresh veggies--tomatoes, hot peppers, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage, and onions--but do you know what this book wants me to eat?

Dry toast. Boiled pasta with no sauce. White bread. Bananas. Peanut butter.

No fresh fruits or veggies until TSETDNSIN subsides. No hot or spicy foods. No caffeine (which is a pain since TSETDNSIN keeps me up at night). Nothing I really like, in other words.


Anyone need some cabbage?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ambulatory and unremarkable

Last week I ran into my car insurance guy at the grocery store. "What's new?" he asked, and I didn't know how to answer. This is one of the awkward side effects of my current condition: there's just no easy answer to simple questions like "How are you?"

"I'm okay," I say, "And you?"

But "okay" doesn't really cover the situation. I have cancer! Cancer is not okay! My own cells are trying to kill me! The treatments make me sick! And I have side effects that can't really be discussed in polite society!

But that's not the kind of thing I can say in a casual conversation at the grocery store, so "okay" it is.

Sometimes, though, "okay" won't do, so I offer more details--which is like inviting the Grim Reaper into the room. No one wants the Grim Reaper at the party. He's a lousy conversationalist, for one thing, and if he keeps swinging that sickle around, he's bound to hurt someone.

So we eventually circle back to "I'm okay." Which is true enough, as far as it goes. I'm okay, considering. Okay, under the circumstances. Okay, provided that you stretch the definition of "okay" past the breaking point.

Last week when I was in the hospital to get my port installed, the anesthesiologist was reviewing my medical history and reading aloud snippets of information he found in my file: "Patient ambulatory....liver, spleen, and kidneys unremarkable....uterus surgically absent" (to which I wanted to reply: it had better be absent or someone's getting sued).

Maybe I'll adopt some of that medical language in everyday conversation:

"How are you?"

"Ambulatory. And you?"

"Great! How was your summer?"

"Well, parts of it were pretty unremarkable."

Blank look.

"The liver, spleen, and kidneys, to be precise."

Slowly backing away.

"But hey, I'm okay!"

The sound you've just heard is the door shutting as the Grim Reaper leaves the room.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday poetry challenge: sound escapes

I'm feeling pretty slow today so I'm doing something simple--loading piles of good music onto my new iPod Shuffle. I need a variety--happy music, soothing music, mindless music, music to distract me from horrible side effects--and I'm accepting suggestions. What do you listen to when you need to escape? As usual, comments written in verse count double.

(I would write a silly limerick if I could figure out what rhymes with Michael Buble.)

Mystery solved

A helpful colleague has identified yesterday's mystery wildflower as a variety of Tick Trefoil, which is a pea-like legume. It had me stymied because I looked at it early in the morning when the blossoms were still closed tight; a little later, they would have looked like this photo. I also overlooked the tiny notched pods growing along the stem.

Mystery solved, thanks to a botanist.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wet and wild (flowers)

Early this morning while the spider webs still dripped with dew, I toddled up the hill to the butterfly meadow just to see what's growing. The paths up there haven't been mowed for a while, and the weeds were so tall and wet that my pants soaked through clear up to the thigh before I was halfway up the hill and Hopeful's head barely poked out above the Queen Anne's Lace, but it was worth the effort. These days the butterfly meadow glistens with color and growth.

This year for the first time ever we hired some lawn and garden help, a former classmate of my daughter's who has been coming over twice a week to pull weeds, pick tomatoes, and do all the weed-eating and mowing I can't quite manage. She's a hard worker and she's doing a terrific job, but the butterfly meadow is pretty low on the priority list. No one goes up there these days except deer, birds, bugs, and butterflies, and they don't care whether the paths get mowed.

I saw signs of deer and a red-tailed hawk but no butterflies--too early in the day. Immense purple ironweed blooms alongside bright yellow goldenrod, orange butterfly weed, and vast expanses of Queen Anne's Lace. I found an unfamiliar wildflower--always a treat to see something new! It has tiny white-to-pink slipper-shaped blossoms with a touch of blue, but it's surrounded by poison ivy so I had trouble getting a clear photo. I haven't been able to find it in my wildflower book so far.

Up at the top under the pine trees I found some lovely brown mushrooms, and on the way down I stopped by a patch of brilliant yellow and orange jewelweed. It looks so pretty I'd love to take it inside, but I tried that once and it was a mistake: it may look like precious jewels, but when you cut it, it smells like garbage.

No, the only way to enjoy jewelweed and its wild cousins is to visit them where they grow, no matter how steep and wet the climb. At least I can bring back some photos.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Gifts that keep giving

The FedEx guy pulled up to deliver a gift. I was pretty excited about the gift (a teeny-tiny iPod Shuffle! In fuchsia! With my name engraved on the front!), but he was more excited about my car:

"That your Volvo?"


"How much you want for it?"

"It's not for sale."

"Come on, how much would you sell it for?"

"Well, I got it for free...but you couldn't possibly pay me what it's worth."

Then he wanted to know the whole remarkable story, which I told him. (In case you missed it, read it here.)

"Huh," he said. "But if you got it for free, you could sell it for anything and make a profit."

"Trust me," I said, "Some gifts carry a value far beyond the pricetag, and that Volvo is one of them."

"Well," he said, "if you ever change your mind...."

But I'm holding on to my Volvo. It's not as cute as my new iPod Shuffle, but every time I see it, it makes me want to sing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

To sleep, perchance

What happens when you fall asleep on the sofa with a full glass of water in your hand--and then the phone rings right next to your ear?

Time to change your pants.

I blame the drugs. Anti-nausea drugs accompanying chemotherapy make the border between waking and sleep so thin that I can fall soundly asleep in the time it takes to move the glass from my lips to the table, except this time it never made it to the table.

But the chemotherapy went well: I had visits from two of my favorite people, a ride home from a wonderful colleague (although I didn't get to ride home in a convertible with the top down as I did on Friday, a very therapeutic experience!), and no bad reactions. Best of all, the blood tests indicated that the number of tumor markers (a toxic name, that) in my blood has been cut in half. So the treatment is working.

I'll be sleeping well tonight. In fact, I may be asleep before the end of this sen

Monday, August 10, 2009

Natural high

It's ridiculous to drive an hour each way just to find a pleasant place to go for a walk, but that's what we did yesterday. I've been working on steeling myself for the struggles ahead by filling my senses with beauty, so yesterday we drove to Black Hand Gorge, a state nature preserve featuring a paved bike path that stretches for seven miles along the lovely Licking River.

We visited there years ago when both of our kids were still at home, hauling four bikes an hour north to ride the full length of the trail. But we haven't really used our bikes since we moved out to the woods where the roads are steep and curvy and largely unpaved, so the bikes are in bad repair.

This time we used our feet instead. It's a level path (which is great because I'm still struggling on uphills) that runs through shady woods and large rock outcrops, with the river on one side and abandoned quarries filled with water and lilies on the other. A few canoes and kayaks slipped past on the river and we encountered about a half dozen bikers and walkers on the path, but mostly it was calm and quiet and full of peaceful green beauty, like the rotting log covered with brilliant orange fungus and the doe and two fawns splashing through the lily pads in one of the ponds.

We walked to the two-mile marker, took a little rest near a rock that looks like a beaver swimming downstream, and then walked back. Baby steps. That's how we'll get through the next few months.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The invasive Lego

Imagine that some prankster with a sharp knife knocks you out, slashes your skin just above the collar bone, inserts a large Lego block, and sews you back up again. How do you feel when you wake up?

I'm still getting accustomed to the feeling of the medi-port a surgeon installed in my chest on Friday. It's a sophisticated piece of medical technology designed to deliver chemotherapy infusions with ease, but it looks like an errant piece of Lego block--I can even feel the bumps through the skin. It feels like a juvenile prank gone horribly wrong.

I might have welcomed my new port a little more robustly if I'd had a more pleasant experience with the anesthesia. Friday morning I read an article in the New York Times about propofol, the drug Michael Jackson was taking, which is supposed to provide sedation without nausea and leave one with a feeling of mild euphoria, a feeling so pleasant that even doctors, who ought to know better, are getting hooked. (Read it here.)

I could use a little euphoria in my life right now, but no such luck: my propofol drip delivered a bad case of vertigo and nausea. Where's my euphoria? Whom shall I sue? And how does anyone ever get addicted to this horrible stuff?

Maybe my dose of euphoria was delivered to someone else by accident. I'd like to find that person and make a trade: for a full dose of euphoria, I'll trade one Lego block, slightly used. All you have to do is get it out.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Balancing birds

Tiny goldfinches and chickadees are adept at perching on sunflowers and pulling out the seeds, but the bigger cardinals have more trouble. The cardinal's weight makes the flower sway and dip, and eventually the cardinal loses footing and flips off the flower in a flurry of wings.

I had to take these photos through a window because I'm a bit incapacitated today and the birds refuse to approach the sunflowers in my presence. It's hard to get good pictures through a window because the exposure is never quite right and the window may be dirty and distort the image. One of these days I'll figure out a way to make them ignore me; meanwhile, I'll put up with what I've got.

Friday poetry challenge: love songs to food

In "Keep Your Hands Off Our Haggis," an article in today's New York Times, Alexander McCall Smith debunks recent claims that haggis originated in England rather than in Scotland (read it here), boldly asserting that "If one's national bard writes a poem to a dish consisting of chopped-up offal cooked in a sheep's stomach together with oatmeal and spices and secured with a curious pin, then the dish must be authentically national."

He refers, of course, to the Robert Burns poem "Address to a Haggis," which begins thus:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!

Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye wordy o' a grace

As lang's my arm.

Lurking somewhere behind all that auld lang syne is the sort of passion for food that one does not often see in classical poetry. Sure, William Carlos Williams put those wonderful plums into free verse, but imagine if old man Frost had been inspired by a passion for mashed potatoes:

Whose spuds these are I think I know;
His house is in the village, though.

He will not see me stopping here
To steal his lovely potato.

Or how about Joyce Kilmer:

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as kim-chee....

Or Emily Dickinson:

A bird came down the walk:
He did not know I saw;

I clapped a net over his head

And ate the fellow, raw.

Clearly, some of our great poets have missed their calling--but that doesn't mean you have to. Today's challenge: write a paean in verse to a particular food item. You may alter an existing poem or produce something entirely new. I'll start:

The staff of life would fall down flat
Without a boost from yeast.
But let those microbes do their work
And bread becomes a feast.

Rats, now I'm hungry.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I think we're gonna need a bigger bag

The oncology nurse told me last week that cancer treatment is "a journey," but what I really need is not another cliche but some advice about how to pack for the trip.

Already I've sacrificed my decades-long purse-free status to purchase a colorful spacious tote bag and fill it with stuff I'll need on my many visits to the cancer center for radiation and chemotherapy. So far, my tote holds pen and paper, books, a tiny electronic sudoku game a friend sent before my surgery (thanks!), a little photo album full of pictures from my daughter's wedding, trail mix, chapstick, and hand lotion. After my most recent visit, I added a travel mug and some good tea bags so I won't have to resort to what's on offer at the cancer center: styrofoam cups and decaf Lipton, which as far as I'm concerned doesn't even qualify as tea.

What else do I need? I ought to pack some earplugs so that I won't be forced to listen the next time a fellow sufferer feels the need to loudly describe her ghastly side effects in intimate detail on her cell phone in the waiting room. I wish I could pack some extra patience, especially given the number of hours I'll spend driving around in circles in that horrible cave-like parking garage where all the arrows seem to point the wrong way.

A sense of humor will also be essential. The first time I met with my oncologist, he said, "That was one angry carcinoma," which made me wonder: Angry at what? At me? What did I ever do to make a carcinoma angry?

Laughter, though, defuses anger, depriving it of potency. I'm trying to leave my anger out of the tote bag and pack instead a healthy dose of humor. It may not be the only medicine but it's certainly among the best.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

That's xviii to you, buster!

I've just finished reading a manuscript that cites sources via endnotes marked with superscript Roman numerals, a text that looks as if it's been invaded by refugees from a remaindered algebra textbook. Endnotes are annoying enough, but when nearly every sentence is embedded with one or more tiny strings of xiv or xvi or xxxviii, I wonder who ever thought this was a good idea. What would compel a Citation Guru to prefer Roman numerals? For what problem are Roman numerals the solution?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Growth spurt

First thing this morning I went down to the garden to pick tomatoes, which is about the best way I can possibly imagine to start the day. Our tomatoes are just reddening up, but in a week we'll be drowning in them; in fact, the tomatoes are so big and abundant that the tomato cages have been crashing to the ground under all that weight.

Last week's torrential downpours caused a burst of growth all over the garden. We've been picking pretty white eggplants and we're preparing to pick great big purple ones, and the squash patch is out of control. We've discovered that those lovely little patty-pan squashes, which taste delicious and look like little UFOs under the leaves, simply don't sell well at the Farmers' Market, which is a pity because we'll have another bushel to pick by the end of the week.

I picked a handful of okra this morning but it's a little behind. A week of blistering hot weather would do the okra patch a world of good, but I'm not sure when we'll get that. More rain is on the way, which means that by the end of the week we'll be once again suffering from every gardener's worst nightmare: MMZ syndrome. Many Massive Zucchinis.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Meandering right along

A colleague was curious about my treatment plan, so I told her about six-hour IV drips, drugs that make everything taste like tin, and a radiation schedule that requires daily office visits for five weeks straight. "How can you stand to go through all that?" she asked. "You're so brave!"

Brave? Pragmatic is more like it. I mean, consider the options:

You're standing at a crossroads near the edge of a deep canyon. One path is straight and level and easy but it leads you fairly quickly right over the edge; the other path is rough and steep and charges a heavy toll, but it skirts the edge for a while before disappearing in the distance, where it might just go ahead and dump you into the canyon or it might meander off inland for miles before returning eventually to the edge.

Which would you choose?

Me, I'd rather meander.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Revenge of the lizard

I knew it was a mistake to turn my back on the lizard but nevertheless I blithely walked away, wondering all the while whether the lizard in my living room would come back to haunt me. Forty-eight hours later, I can only hope that its revenge is complete. Who knew that a dead lizard could cause so much commotion?

Let the record show that I am not afraid of lizards. I grew up in Florida with a brother who collected snakes, lizards, and other creeping things, keeping them in terraria all over the house so that we could simultaneously watch a re-run of Gilligan's Island and a snake swallowing whole a live mouse.

I have gone swimming and waterskiing in alligator-infested lakes!

I have eaten fried alligator nuggets while surrounded by my lunch's cousins at Gatorland!

I have peacefully coexisted with lizards that found their way into kitchens, bathrooms, and even bedrooms!

But that was in Florida, where creeping things are the price you pay for never needing to scrape ice from a windshield at 12 below. Lizards belong in Florida--and even if some lizards do belong in Ohio, they certainly don't belong in my living room.

At first I thought it was a grasshopper, the slim green thing moving swiftly across the wood floor. I grabbed automatically for something close at hand to smash it with and it was only as I was bringing the DVD case down hard on the creature that I realized that it was a lizard.

I smashed it all right, but then what could I do? A smudge of smashed lizard is the last thing I want to see on my living room-floor, particularly when I'm hovering on the edge of nausea already. Clean up the mess myself or leave it for the husband?

I left it--but only after attaching a sticky note to the DVD case. "Remove carefully," I wrote. "Creature beneath."

And then I turned my back on the lizard, walked out the door, and drove to campus to catch up on some important tasks I've been avoiding since June.

Except to complete those tasks I needed my laptop, which I realized I didn't have only after I arrived on campus. Where was my laptop?

Back home in the living room. With the lizard.

A wasted afternoon: the lizard's revenge. If only that had been the end of it.

The husband arrived home and saw on the floor a DVD case sporting a yellow sticky note right smack in the middle of the grim face of Inspector Frost. Look, a note! Better pick it up and read it!

So the note didn't quite fulfill its intended purpose, but eventually he removed lizard guts from all the places where they don't belong and we put the incident behind us. Except when we didn't.

Last night my sleep was interrupted about once each hour by blood-curdling screams--my own. The lizards were after me, big long green things with stilleto-sharp teeth. I saw them everywhere and I tried to make my husband see them too. The persistent presence of imaginary creatures in one's bedroom is bound to put undue stress on any relationship (see James Thurber, "The Unicorn in the Garden"), but somehow we held on until morning, when the lizards dissipated with the first light.

I have now sacrificed an afternoon and a long night to the revenge of the lizard and I think that's quite enough. Sleep, unquiet spirit! Go back from whence you came! Because frankly, this living room isn't big enough for the two of us.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


I saw six or eight goldfinches perched on sunflowers to pull out the seeds this afternoon, but do you think they'd go near those sunflowers while I was out there with the camera? Of course not. I had to settle for finches attacking the thistle sock.

Got to love those exercise endorphins

I woke up this morning and felt no pain. This is good.

Yesterday I ventured into the rec center for the first time since my surgery just to see if I can still get up the steps. I can. I did a slow and easy light workout--a few weight machines, 10 minutes on the rowing machine, 10 minutes on the step machine--and felt great. I was concerned about whether my muscles might complain this morning, but I feel, as I've mentioned, no pain. This is very very good.

My oncologist tells me that eventually chemotherapy will weaken my immune system so that I'll need to avoid places where germs congregate, like locker rooms and exercise equipment shared by many sweating students. Right now, though, the rec center is empty and clean and ready to release in me those wonderful exercise endorphins. And this, as I've mentioned, is very very very good.