Thursday, August 26, 2010

I love a (warm) cloudy day

Yesterday was a great day for exercising.

It was cooler (around 70 degrees), cloudy and damp, with light showers and sprinkles. The precipitation waited long enough for me to play so-called doubles on the clay courts with Korby, Kit and Deb. Once again my tennis friends put up with me, giving me three (and once, just once, even four) serves. But I needed less coddling. I moved better and connected for some good shots down the line and at the net.

The prednisone baby demanded feeding, so afterwards we went to a restaurant where I ordered lasagna. I needed (OK, I wanted) dessert, so I went with Korby to her house, where we ate her speciality, crack-ups, and talked for more than an hour. She brings crack-ups to matches; they are melted butter and chocolate on saltines, an irresistible combination of sweet and salty.

Afterwards I went home to walk Maddie around the lake. I felt so good that I did some so-called jogging three times between trees, going pretty far for me. Thanks to physical therapy, my two-pound ankle weights and the reduction in my prednisone, I am able to lift my feet up better.

I thought about how I often feel better on cloudy, damp days; not the biting kind of November or the overheated kind of summer, but the calming kind of spring, late summer and fall. The words "negative ions" come to mind.

Years and years ago, my cousin from California showed up at my house in Northampton (Mass.) with her pony-tailed boyfriend and their negative ion generator. They explained that the machine created feel-good molecules like the ones that are naturally present in humid air and around water. I thought it sounded kind of kooky, but ever since then I noticed that my mood and energy were often better in such air.

I looked it up and found an interesting article on Web MD, which read in part,

Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in certain environments. Think mountains, waterfalls, and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost our daytime energy... For a whopping one in three of us who are sensitive to their effects, negative ions can make us feel like we are walking on air. You are one of them if you feel instantly refreshed the moment you open a window and breathe in fresh, humid air."

Today it was sunny, and although I love a beautiful day, I didn't feel as perky. (Maybe that's because I overdid it yesterday. Duh.)

I had my penultimate physical therapy session, where my left arm continued to take a beating. This is the arm I fell on twice. It never fully recovered from the last fall. It hurts on and off all the time, and I have limited motion in it. (Which doesn't help my already weak serve.) I am going to get it x-rayed that next time I go to Dana-Farber. In the meantime, it already looks like a mess, suffering more of those red blobs than the right arm, for some reason.

Today I was having fun tossing a small basketball back and forth with Susan, my therapist for the day. She moved the ball around so I was never sure which side to move to, thereby challenging my balance. We didn't have enough space, and one time I lunged when she tossed it way to my left. Wham! I slammed right into the corner of a high counter where they keep their computers.

She asked if it hurt, and while it did, I didn't want to stop to acknowledge it, because I only had a little over half an hour. So I said no, I was fine, and we continued. When my time was over, we took a peek, and it was already turning black and blue, so I iced it for 15 minutes before leaving.

By tomorrow it should be nice and purple.

Oh well. Could be worse.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Aug. 24

Today is my birthday.

A year ago, I celebrated with platelets and sparkling grape juice and cake brought to me by singing nurses in the infusion room where I went every week, and sometimes twice a week, for blood or platelets.

Now, I feel removed from the days of needing transfusions and all that went with them: the fatigue, the fear (platelets in the single digits...yikes!) and the time commitment (often all day).

Thanks to my donor and to everyone who helped me get back on my feet to where I am now – not quite "normal," but so much better.

Today was pleasant: lunch with Mary and Deb; walk with Joe and Maddie; lots of phone calls and then dinner with Joe.

Yesterday I had my clinic visit. My hematocrit is still low (26.9), but as I've said, I seem to have adjusted, and today and yesterday I even slow-jogged a little. White blood count was fine (7.8), and platelets went up a little (91). Everything looked good, and Melissa said I could return in three weeks. A promotion!

Sunday was a long but successful day of moving Katie in to Brandeis. I went in one fully-loaded car with Katie, while Joe went with Jim. We met Katie's roommate, Beth, and her parents; Beth and Katie seemed like they would get along well.

The room got a little crowded, what with Katie and us and Beth and her parents. I stepped out a few times when too much was going on. Overall, people were on their best behavior.

The New York Times ran a Page One story yesterday headlined "Students, Welcome to College; Parents, Go Home." It talked about ways that on drop-off day, schools are instituting activities to give "Velcro Parents" (who, me?) the hint that it's time to let go so students can develop independence.

The story explains how anxiety about letting go usually begins a year earlier when touring colleges. I was glad to hear this because it showed that I had company. One mother is quoted as saying, "I think the pressure starts when the umbilical cord is cut off."

Like schools mentioned in the story, Brandeis gave a hint of things to come by separating students and parents at convocation. The students sat in chairs on the floor while the parents sat in the bleachers. Afterwards, the students headed for a barbecue with their orientation leaders while the parents went home.

Katie and I hugged. And hugged, and hugged. I teared up and got on the shuttle to the parking lot; I noticed that a lot of the other mothers looked like me.

I talked to her this morning – she called to say happy birthday – and she sounded great.

Nervous breakdown, nervous shmakedown.

"Nobody's leaving, we're just going to school," Joe said.

"We're all coming back," Joe said. You done good."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coming soon: The empty nest

The living room resembles a loading dock.

It's wall-to-wall school supplies and stuff for Katie's dorm room at Brandeis. There's hardly any open floor space in the room; the spot under and around the piano has been occupied by Joe's hockey equipment since he came home in May.

I don't remember taking so many things when I went to college, but then again, times have changed.

Tomorrow is move-in day. (It's early because new undergraduates have orientation.)
On and off during Katie's senior year of high school, I talked, only half-jokingly, about the nervous breakdown I planned to have once she was gone. She is the last bird to fly from the nest. It was hard when Ben left, but I had two at home. It was hard when Joe left, but I had one.

Soon, it will just be me and the dog.

Joe leaves the week after Katie does, and then I'll really feel alone.

But I don't think the nervous breakdown will happen. While I was worrying all those months about her departure, I told myself that worry is a waste of time. I made myself stop, told myself to stay in the here and now, but eventually the thoughts returned.

Instead of worrying myself sick, I got sick of worrying.

The past couple of weeks, I found myself going with the flow, with the whirlwind of activity: the shopping, the planning, the talking, the little yellow stickies covered with reminders.

I thought about a Nora Ephron essay that resonated for me when a friend brought Ephron's newest collection to the hospital. (I remember lying in bed, cracking up over some of the essays in her book, "I Feel Bad About My Neck...and other thoughts on being a woman."

The essay I've been thinking of lately is "Parenting in Three Stages" and, in particular, "Stage Three: The Child is Gone."

It begins, "Oh, the drama of the empty nest. The anxiety. The apprehension. What will life be like? ... The day finally comes. Your child goes off to college. You wait for the melancholy. But before it strikes – before it even has time to strike – a shocking thing happens. Your child comes right back. The academic year in American colleges seems to consist of a series of short episodes of classroom attendance interrupted by long vacations."

I remembered this from Ben and Joe. When they're in college, they're not really gone.

But Ephron's thoughts on the topic don't end with college. College ends, and they're gone for good. She writes that you wonder what to do. Her answer: there is nothing, except, perhaps, getting a dog if you're nostalgic for the day-to-day activities of being a parent.

I guess I'm well-prepared, because I already have the dog.

Her essay takes us through the years after college, when the children visit:
"They are, amazingly, completely charming people. You can't believe you're lucky enough to know them. They make you laugh. They make you proud. You love them madly. They survived you. You survived them."

She continues that there's no point in dwelling on the past.

"There's no point. It's over.
"Except for the worrying.
"The worrying is forever."

Ah, there's that word again. I know it's true, because I worry about Ben, the one who's out of school. I'm sure that when the other two graduate from college, I'll continue worrying about them also.

But for now, I have my little worry-free zone.

Let's see how tomorrow goes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Silly me

I played almost-real doubles today with Donna, Korby and Deb.

Real in the sense that we kept score and I served (a puffball, but it went in) and moved around more and hit better. "Almost" in the sense that they coached me, tried not to cream me with the ball and sometimes hit me easy put-aways at the net. They seemed to sense the right balance. They didn't baby me so much that I was insulted (they did want to win their points, after all), but when opposite me, they didn't play so hard that I was humiliated. It was all done in good humor. I felt great.

I was pretty tired at the end, but a Starbucks got me home. Joe was making dinner and Katie was cleaning her room. I went up to my bedroom, still carrying my coffee, and called Ben. Joe called up that it was almost time for me to come down and cut and cook the broccoli. (The vegetables were my job.)

We had a combination of local farm-stand broccoli and store-bought. Katie did a taste-test. She said there was no question that the local broccoli was fresher and tastier. We should make a commercial for the "buy local" campaign.

Anyway, I wanted to keep talking to Ben. I also wanted to hold on to my coffee. So since I was in the process of changing from my tennis shoes to my sneakers, I threw the sneakers downstairs.

Joe rightfully panicked, thinking I had fallen. "Mom," he shouted, "how many times have we talked about not throwing your sneakers down the stairs?"

I apologized and said I was fine...and then, breaking my "stuff in one hand only" rule, I prepared to head downstairs with my coffee in one hand and the phone in the other. I slipped on the wood floor and fell. The precious few sips of coffee flew onto the off-white rug, and there I was, on hands and knees, still talking to Ben.

"Hold on a minute, I just fell and I need to get up," I said to Ben. We kept talking while I maneuvered myself to standing: something I am still working on.

It made me think of stories we heard as kids about the incorrigible Robbie Cohen, a family legend who broke his arm because he jumped over a fence while refusing to let go of his ice cream cone.

I went downstairs and joked about it to Katie and Joe. I said it didn't really count as fall number three because it was so harmless. Joe said it did count because I could have toppled down the stairs.

He's right. Reminder to self: Just because you feel better, don't think you can multi-task like you used to. Put the damn coffee down or finish it upstairs. Don't talk on the phone while doing other things. Remember your limits.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Love those Kisses

Sorry to be a lazy blogger.

Life continues to be busy. Katie leaves for Brandeis next Sunday, and what with vacation, dorm room shopping, Monday's visit to Dana-Farber (all-day affair no matter how you cut it), coffee and walks with friends, a beautiful evening at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket and a pleasant long lunch-time visit today with my cousin Betsy and her husband Michael (who I see only about once a year), I haven't had time or energy to sit down and post.

Lunch by the way was nice. The humidity has passed, and it was a sunny, comfortable day, with the sun streaming through the windows. I served a big salad, a pasta salad, local peaches and blueberries and a homemade blueberry/peach pie. (No, I didn't make it. My talent lies in having found, in my opinion, the best farm stand selling it.) I ordered it from Evelyn, co-owner with her husband and baker extraordinaire at Breezy Acres Farm in Granby.)

Anyway, I wanted to report on Monday's clinic visit. Donna drove me (thanks, Donna!). When I get a ride, I feel so much better than when I go alone.

The wait at the clinic was relatively short. My counts were about the same as two weeks ago. On paper, I didn't love some of the numbers, but Melissa said everything looked fine.

As I predicted when eating plate-fulls of fish and chips on Cape Cod the previous weekend, my sodium went up, although it is still low. Unlike for most people who want to reduce their sodium, my sodium has been low, so up is the right direction.

My energy is better. I've been talking longer walks and have pretty much, thanks to physical therapy, learned to stop zig-zagging. My balance has improved, too. I was surprised that my hematocrit remained at 25.7 (out of a normal range of 34.8-43.6). In other words, I'm still very anemic. Usually I can feel the low, but I don't. I guess my body has adapted.

My platelets were stuck at 76 (normal=155-410). But that is not dangerously low. And my white count, at 9.4, was basically normal (normal=3.8-9.2).

After this hassle- and drama-free visit, we had a few hours before heading back. After taking the "T" downtown to check in with Donna's daughter at work, we returned to Brookline, where we had both lived, though at different times and when we didn't know each other.

Procuring a tin box of Barton's Almond Kisses was the highlight of my day. We got it in a very Jewish section of the area called Coolidge Corner, at the Israel Book Shop. As I discussed with the woman behind the counter, most everyone's Jewish grandmother had these gooey candies on her coffee table. The description on the tin reads "Smooth and creamy chocolate caramel kissed with whole almonds."

They are relatively easily found in New York, but harder to get elsewhere. The woman at the Israeli Book Shop said shoppers come from all over. The allure isn't so much in the candies as in the tin itself: black background with colorful figures. My grandmother actually kept the candies on her coffee table in a cut glass container with silver tongs. She kept the box in the kitchen.

When I told my friend Deb about my find, she knew exactly what I meant and practically squealed with delight. She didn't want the candy, just the tin. I told her I'd bring her one. Actually, the candy doesn't seem to taste as good as it used to (it's very sweet), but that doesn't stop me from eating it and enjoying the tin.

We keep the dog biscuits in one of the tins now. I have to be careful what I grab.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cape Cod mini-vacation II

Joe, Katie, me and Ben at Race Point
in Provincetown, waiting for the sunset.



Almost gone.

Joe, Katie, Ben and Meghan
on the walk along the harbor.

The kids and me in the same spot

Sorry to have been absent for a while.

Last week was busy. We left for Cape Cod Wednesday afternoon, and before that I ran errands, took the usual dog walks, had physical therapy and met some friends for coffee. It took me a while to get organized and to pack. I know, it was a short stay, but still...I'm famous for being slow.

This year's mini-vacation was a planning puzzle with the pieces being moved several times. We kept changing weeks. As the kids grow up, it gets harder and harder to coordinate schedules. I finally managed to get all three and Ben's girlfriend together for four short but sweet days.We stayed at my sister and brother-in-law's beautiful new house in Wellfleet and squeezed in as many of our favorite things as possible.

These included dinner at the Beachcomber, a lively restaurant at the beach; a visit to a calm bay beach where you could get in the water; a few hours at an ocean beach with frigid water but a glorious shoreline perfect for a long walk; a stroll along the harbor and a swim in Great Pond. One afternoon the kids went to a Cape Cod Baseball League game. I stayed behind and read on the deck. The house is in the woods but close to many beaches. With the branches gently swaying in the breeze, you feel like you're in a tree house.

For the opposite effect, we walked through jam-packed Provincetown at night. The crowd ranged from tourists to drag queens. Before that, we drove to Race Point, at the tip of Provincetown, and watched the sun set.

I enjoyed my morning routine of going out for muffins and newspapers, and then, in my mother's mode, making a large bowl of fruit salad.

Our diet was not very well-rounded. (When we got home, I served a large plate of broccoli with our meal.) I, for one, devoured multiple meals of fish and chips. I figured I would get a good return in my sodium going up. (As I've written before, since I like to do things differently, my sodium is low while for many others it's too high.)

Out on the Cape, you can burn through a 20-dollar bill in a breeze. Back at home, I drove to a farm stand and got half a dozen ears of corn, a tomato, a few apples and a yellow squash and a zucchini. Cost: Around $4.

"I guess I'm not in Wellfleet anymore," I said to myself.

Vacation is wonderful, but coming home isn't so bad.