Saturday, December 29, 2012

A feast for the eyes

In front of La Sagrada Familia
I must confess that when people told me that I should see as much Gaudi as possible in Barcelona, I really didn't understand what they were talking about.

But the minute you see this Catalan architect's work, you can say for certain that the word "unique" is truly justified here.

On Thursday Katie and I started out our day by visiting La Sagrada Familia, the large Roman Catholic church that he designed. Construction of the church began in 1882 but was not completed in his lifetime, and work is still under way.

This sandcastle in the sky takes you by surprise when you come up out of the nearest Barcelona train station, looming over everything else in the vicinity. We ate lunch across the street at a restaurant with outside tables and sat transfixed.

Katie had already been with her study-abroad friends, but I don't think her amazement was tempered by a return visit.

Next we climbed...and climbed, and climbed...up to Parc Guell, where the tile work many associate with Gaudi, is equally eye-catching. I wouldn't have made it up or down without Katie's arm.

Crowds of people took photos all over the place as though intoxicated by the shapes and colors. It was impossible to stay out of everyone's way. We got a little crazy too.
Up at Parc Guell

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

From Granada to Barcelona

On the plaza overlooking the Alhambra
View of the Alhambra
We had a couple of beautiful days in Granada, where the sky was a perfect blue.

Sunday was our big day, when we toured the Alhambra, the palace and fortress that looks down on the city of Granada. The gardens are amazing, with some flowers still in bloom. The design, with fountains and water flowing all around, are designed to inspire meditation. We sat on a bench and took it all in.

There were steps everywhere. Our admission ticket allowed us to wander in the gardens until 6 p.m. if we wanted, but after about two hours I couldn't move anymore. I looked up at a steep flight of stairs which I'm sure led to an inviting garden, but I froze. We found the salida and ended that part of the day.

But later, after I lay down for a while, we headed for the old Jewish neighborhood, where the view of the Alhambra was promised to be awe-inspiring, and it was. We went up up up more stairs through  narrow streets until we finally got to the top. A band played flamenco music, and so-called hippies playing flutes laid out their wares on blankets while dogs wandered around. As the sun set, making the Alhambra look more and more unreal, I didn't want to leave, but it was getting dark and we had a long way down.

At right is the street that we took to get to the plaza with the view.

Monday, a short day because we had to catch a flight, we went to a tetería, an Arabic tea house where you can relax and have a choice of many teas. We think we might open one in Northampton. If you don't drink, it's an excellent place to hang out instead of the bar scene.

But that venture will be hard to realize if we move to Andalucía, which is another possibility that we have discussed.

Christmas in Barcelona has been pretty quiet. We walked along La Rambla, the main street, and spent some time in our hotel, having coffee (me) and hot chocolate (Katie) and sharing a chocolate chip cookie and talking.

Last night, Katie watched "A Christmas Story" ("You'll shoot your eye out!") and I watched it with her until I fell asleep sitting up. I think I'll watch the end tonight after we eat Chinese food and take a stroll to see the lights at night.

I said before that I have been introduced to many things. One is Principe cookies, sort of like an oreo but not as intense, with a chocolate filling inside two plain wafers. I have to admit that I just ate quite a few while I was writing this. I also have to admit that we had breakfast at Starbucks, which is just as ubiquitous as in the U.S.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Goodbye Seville, hello Granada

Katie at the entry to Granada center.
Me walking down the hill from our hotel.
I was sorry to leave Seville this morning, but I'm happy with the taste of Granada that I got this afternoon.

I still can't believe what a beautiful city Sevilla is. I knew Katie loved her program, but I didn't understand how much being in the city played such a big role. Yesterday we didn't go to any attractions except an artisans' showcase where we admired the beautiful work and bought a few things.

But most of the day we walked around. "Un paseo," they call it. We walked past the cathedral several times, and each time I just wanted to stop and look at it in all its grandeur. At night, photographers with fancy cameras stood in a group, trying to capture the Giralda, or tower, as it glowed in the night. ("You were up there!" Katie said.)

People shopped, but many stood or sat and enjoyed each other and watched people. Well into the night, the crowds of people having a drink or eating grew. It was unlike in New York or Boston, where everyone always has to be going someplace.

At night, we went to a flamenco performance and then had dinner outside around 10 p.m. If you go too much earlier, they look at you like you are uncivilized.

Our hotel in Granada is on top of a long steep hill, next to the Alhambra, where we will go tomorrow. We walked down the hill (and later, back up...thank you Michael, my physical therapist, for helping me get stronger). Then we went into the cathedral and chapel, a monument to Queen Isabel and her husband, Fernando, and into the adjoining museum.

Katie, an excellent tour guide and interpreter, had already been there and explained the history. We stood at the grand, intricately sculpted monuments to the monarchs lying in rest and went below to the crypts where they are buried. Eeeew.

John the Baptist's head has been another fascinating and somewhat creepy sight. We saw it in the Seville cathedral and later today in the Granada cathedral, and I looked up the story of the demise of this major New Testament figure.

In Seville, a sculpture of his head lay in a glass case, the sinews and tendons of his neck exposed. In the Granada cathedral, we stood in awe of a large altarpiece of scenes in the life of Jesus Christ, including his birth and his baptism by John the Baptist and then John's head on a platter.

I looked it up and learned that Herod, subking of Galilee during the Roman Empire, drunkenly promised Salome, the daughter of his wife, Herodias, anything she wanted. Herodias, jealous of John's influence and angry about his criticism of her unlawful marriage to Herod, told her daughter to ask for John's head on a platter.

I never knew that while having fun I would learn so much history.

Above, Katie stands next to a sculpture of Queen Isabel.

Left, John the Baptist loses his head, which is about to be placed on a platter.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Magic and mystery

Yesterday we went to the Plaza de Espana, built in 1929 for the Exposition Iberoamerica. An impressive, fairytale-like building abuts a plaza with fountains and little canals; around it is intricate tilework used to create a map and a scene for each province.

There is tile-work all around, so that everywhere you look there is something to admire. If you are from Western Mass, think the states buildings at The Big E. ONLY KIDDING.

We walked around the Plaza and the gardens across the street in the twilight, a time when everything glowed magically.

It's great to walk around Seville, not a CVS or big box store in sight. There are actually old-fashioned drug stores.

At this time of year, you also run into Santa Claus scaling the walls and the Three Kings hanging from terraces.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hola from Seville

On one of the bridges across the Guadalquivir River
 I am having a wonderful time in this beautiful city with my beautiful daughter as my tour guide and excellent companion.

The flight on Sunday was fine, six hours on the plane. The six hours in the Madrid airport waiting for my connection to Seville were harder.  I saw what some other people were doing at 6:30 a.m. local time   (12:30 a.m. my time) and did the same – I put my coat down on a table, dropped my head down onto it, and fell asleep. For a change of scenery, I saw down at a gate and fell asleep in a chair.

I picked up some Spanish just by being at the airport. When I got to Seville and asked where I could get a cab to the B&B, I learned that the airport taxis were on strike and I would have to take two buses or one bus to the bus terminal and then a cab to the B&B.

I got the correct change and got in line for the bus. After a few minutes everyone ran to the other end end of the pick-up area to where the taxis line up, calling out, "The strike is off!" I guess I was getting my first taste of Spanish culture.

Yesterday, on my first full day after getting over jet lag, we went to the Seville's awe-inspiring Cathedral, said by some to be the largest cathedral in the world. We saw some amazing things, such as Christopher Columbus' tomb. After walking around, we climbed the Giralda, the decorative brick tower on the side of the cathedral. It seemed like it might be hard, but it really wasn't because a series of ramps leads to the top, built that way so that the guards could ride to the top on horseback.

From the top, there is an incredible view of Seville.

We also went across the street to the Alcazar, the royal palace surrounded by beautiful gardens.

People in the city walk everywhere and eat outside even if it's a little cool. We walked a lot, and it was tiring, but our daily siesta is refreshing. This is just my kind of lifestyle, with a late dinner eaten at a leisurely pace. Restaurants don't even open until 8:30 p.m. We have been eating a lot of tapas, a good way to try different kinds of food. Orange trees and palm trees line the streets.

Our hosts, Rosa and Carlo, are especially friendly and helpful and give us a good breakfast of fresh orange juice, coffee and typical Spanish fare: toast with salt and olive oil, tomatoes, Spanish ham and good cheese. That's what I'll want to eat when I get home. You can't get the ham in the U.S., and I hear that people try to smuggle it out of the country wrapped in clothes.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Leaving on a jet plane

"Have a great trip to Spain and BE SMART."

"Pace yourself and remember, less is more."

"Don't overdo it."

"I don't want you to call me from the hospital."

This is some of the advice that well-wishers have given me about the trip.

What, me overdo it?

I guess my friends know me well.

I am leaving at noon tomorrow to get to Diane's around 2. She'll drive me to the airport (as Joe Biden says, "Bless her soul" for carting me around) and I should get there around 3 for a 5:25 p.m. flight.

I'm not packed, but I do have piles which are about to go into the suitcase. Last night I had a "packer's nightmare" that only a woman, and maybe a few men, could have. I wasn't fully packed, but the bus (bus to where?) was about to leave, so I had to throw everything in my suitcase and dash out the door. When we were on our way I realized I had forgotten to wear or pack a necklace.

I was devastated. How could I enjoy a trip without a necklace?

I am truly my mother's daughter. For those who don't know, she was a jewelry designer and a firm believer in being properly accessorized.

I better go pack my necklaces now.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Drink up...your water, that is

I fell on my rear end while playing tennis today, finished the set and then ran into the bathroom and threw up.

The sore rear will take care of itself, although at this minute it hurts to sit, and I hope it's better before I take a seven-hour plane ride on Sunday. It wasn't that bad, and actually it was kind of funny. We were playing a round robin on three courts. A man on the court to the left of me fell and got up. Then I fell. It was kind of like the wave. We glanced over at the third court to see who would fall next, but it was only the two of us.

The throwing up has actually been happening on and off after tennis for a couple of months. I asked Melissa about it and she said it was probably dehydration. Then I looked up on the internet "Why do I vomit after exercise?" and was surprised to see quite a few entries all with the same conclusion: It's due to dehydration.

I talked to someone else about it today and she pointed out that while in the warm weather we just naturally drink a lot, in the winter we sometimes forget to. I thought I was drinking enough water, but when I paused to consider it, I realized that probably I wasn't. I came in from running errands this afternoon and saw a 3/4-full glass of water sitting on the counter. You have to do more than pour it; you actually have to drink it.

Here are some tips that I found in various places on the web:
  • The conventional wisdom of drinking eight 8-ounce glasses a day still holds. If you don't think you can keep up with that at random times during the day, drink a glass before each meal to make a dent in it.
  • Eat raw fruit and vegetables, which are mostly made of water; fruit juices don't count.
  • Adjust for exercise by adding 4-8 oz. of water for 1/2 hour of low-intensity exercise and 10-16 ounces for 1/2 hour of high-intensity exercise.
  • Avoid or limit caffeinated drinks and carbonated drinks, including seltzer, or if you are a coffee-drinker, try to switch to decaf in the afternoon. Also, drink extra water each time you have caffeine or a carbonated drink.
  • Limit or avoid sugary food and drinks, which cause dehydration.
Staying well-hydrated will also help with dry, cracked skin and lips.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Laments of a pill-popper

One down, 21 to go.

When I learned that my insurance no longer covers magnesium, I thought it was a good time to ask Melissa if I still needed to take it. She said I could stop.

My 21 pills does not include the once-weekly solution of Kayexalate, the grainy stuff I dissolve in water to keep my once-high potassium within normal limits. It's not as nauseating as the Exjade I take to lower my ferritin, but it's pretty gross.

Organizing my meds for my trip to Spain, and making sure I have enough plus extras, is a bit of a task.

If I read all the side effects of all my pills, I would probably freak out.

I take several drugs as preventatives because the prednisone inhibits my immune system.

When I saw the infectious disease specialist Dr. Marty on Monday, I asked him, "When can I stop taking the Valtrex (an anti-viral)"?

Answer: "When you stop taking prednisone."

 I already knew what he would say because I have asked before, yet I couldn't help but ask again. Dr. Marty just smiled.

I suppose I would get the same answer to the question, "When can I stop taking the Bactrim (an anti-bacterial used to prevent pneumonia)"?

And "When will little things stop popping up on my hands and face (and tongue) that sometimes turn into skin cancers?"

OK, so, the big question: "When can I stop taking prednisone?"

Answer: When my liver function returns to normal.

Melissa said on Monday that although my numbers were a little lower (a good direction in this instance), they were not low enough to change my prednisone dose.

It's only five mg. a day, down from a high of 20 when I was all puffed up, but still, you can see the effect it has on everything else, including weakening the muscles in my legs.

I shouldn't complain. I am alive and well and going to Spain on Sunday, toting my pills minus one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Counts are good

I read a very hopeful story yesterday about a young girl with leukemia, near death after chemotherapy had failed to keep her in remission, who received an experimental treatment that gave her a new chance at life.

Last April, when Emma Whitehead was six, doctors at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia gave her a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS in an attempt to reprogram her immune system. The experiment worked, and seven months later she remains cancer free.

The New York Times ran a beautiful photo of Emma and her mother smiling together. It's always encouraging to read about promising new cancer treatments, and it caught my eye especially because it was about leukemia.

Coincidentally, I read the story while waiting to be called in for my two-month checkup at Dana-Farber. I had driven to Boston that morning through fog and pouring rain, fueled by glazed Munchkins and coffee.

My counts were good – about the same as last time – except that my platelets went down a little, to 86, out of a normal range of 155-410. But they have bounced around in the same vicinity for a long time, and my doctors remain unconcerned.

My hematocrit – 35.7 – was normal for the third time in a row, qualifying me for getting a pint of blood taken out to lower my ferritin. In an odd way, I was looking forward to it. Anything to take even a little less of the nauseating Exjade, which is the main way of lowering ferritin.

Melissa was about to schedule the "blood-letting" but then said I should wait until the next time because the procedure would make me a little anemic, which would not be good right before I go away.

I'm leaving on Sunday.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Flight to Spain in the balance

If the customer service at Iberia is any reflection of the management at the troubled Spanish airline, I can see why the carrier has so many problems.

I spent about an hour on the phone with the airline today, getting disconnected three times. I have been calling every day and checking the website to find out if there is an update on my flight Dec. 17 to Spain. The flight is still confirmed although a strike is planned for Dec. 14 and Dec. 17-21 to protest cutbacks at the airline.

You can understand why they can't change flights that aren't canceled, but still, it's frustrating that they have no information on when they would notify passengers. They said they would make other arrangements, but I can just see the chaos of all these people trying to rebook with limited notice. I guess that is the point.

So....I decided to buy some peace of mind by changing my flight to Dec. 16. The cost is pretty wild, and there is always the possibility that they won't strike, but I don't want to take the chance. And there is a lot to say about limiting stress, for anyone, of course, but especially for someone like me operating with a compromised immune system.

In the meantime I'll watch my expenditures to see if I can make up some of the difference. I could start by skipping Starbucks, but I'm not sure how that would work out.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

More on my mind

Emily and I outside her house in Pittsburgh.

The rest of my stay in Pittsburgh was wonderful. We went to a lecture, ate out, hung around and walked in a large neighborhood park where Emily and her friend tricked me into walking four miles.

Well, they didn't actually trick me, they just forgot to tell me how far we were going, and by the last uphill I was zigzagging across the path. I guess it was good for getting me in shape for my trip to Spain, coming up fast in two weeks.

When I had to show my license in the airport, it was nice to finally have a new one showing me the way I look now as opposed to the one I had for four years showing me in a scarf. I had the picture taken when I had just finished chemotherapy, and although I could have gotten a new picture taken after my hair grew in, I would have had to pay $25 unless I waited four years, and I wasn't vain enough  for that.

Only one person asked me about my license in all that time, and that was a sales clerk who needed to see it when I opened up an account. "What kind of cancer did you have?" she asked.


Moving along, my next thing to worry about is the possibility of a strike at Iberia Airlines Dec. 14 and Dec. 17 through Dec. 21 to protest cutbacks at the struggling Spanish airline.

Guess when I'm flying?

Dec. 17.

I have called the airline and been told that if flights are canceled, they will book alternate flights either two days before or two days after. With Katie waiting at the other end and B&B reservations prepaid, two days after is a pretty bad option.

The person I spoke to today said they might have more information on Friday.

Joe pointed out that worrying won't help since there's nothing I can do about it.

I guess that when you're wired for worry, you need to be reminded of these things.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the road

The discombobulated traveler (me) arrived safely in Pittsburgh yesterday after a plane ride of an hour and a half that took less time than the bus ride from the airport, which took so long I thought I was going to Ohio.

In this age of Nooks and Kindles, I might have been the only one lugging a 100-pound book (David McCullough's "The Greater Journey, Americans in Paris") in my already overflowing oversize purse. And I didn't see anyone else take their suitcase off the belt in security and drop it on their shoeless foot.

But seriously, everything really went fine, and I'm glad to be here visiting my friend Emily. You could see the airport experience as a trial run for the big trip I'm taking with Katie in a few weeks. I've gotten kind of slow (my brother-in-law correctly calls me "Pokey"), and it was a good exercise to keep up with the crowds.

I started the day with tennis, then made my traditional stop at Starbucks and headed down to Bradley Airport with plenty of time to spare, unlike my usual running around.

Whenever I go anyplace with Emily or go to visit her, she monitors my progress. "Are you awake?" "Are you on the way to the airport?" "Are you at the gate?"

Now why she would think I'd have trouble getting to the plane on time, I have no idea.

In any case, I did text her from the gate that I was sitting calmly. It's really much better than my usual mode of getting everyplace at the last minute, or the minute after.

Today her friend Davida joined us for a walk in the woods. I was happy to find two walking sticks which enabled me to stay relatively steady on the path and soak in the soothing quality of the water below. I walked about three miles,with intermittent help from Emily or Davida giving me a hand up or down a tricky spot.

Tonight we're going to see Tony Kushner's "Angels in America," with dinner before in a neighborhood restaurant. The restaurant is about two miles away, and since it's nice out, I think we're going to walk. Too bad I tossed the walking sticks. They probably don't grow on trees in the city.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Don't exercise before bed

Here's proof that exercise wakes you up, sometimes too much so.

Yesterday (OK, and the day before and the day before) I hadn't been able to fit in Joanne's home exercise routine, so I finally did it at night, after Chinese food, cleaning up the kitchen, talking on the phone and doing other little things to procrastinate.

At about 10 p.m., I lifted weights, did my version of pushups and my pathetic jumping jacks, worked my quads and ran up and down the stairs, the confused dog going up and down with me. (By running up and down the stairs, I mean walking as fast as I can without tripping.)

Afterwards, I felt like I had had several cups of coffee. I stayed up past midnight, puttering around and eating chocolate chip ice cream. I think I read someplace that you shouldn't exercise right before bed. Now I know why.

I'm seeing Jo at our book group tomorrow, and I wanted to report that I made some progress. Bottom line: Exercise during the day.

Today I have physical therapy and tennis, so I'm going to skip Jo's workout. At physical therapy, they think I still need more help with balance and strength.

I'm going to Pittsburgh Friday for a weekend with my friend Emily. Among other things, we might go to her country place for a hike in the woods, and I want to be able to stay on my feet. Too bad I can't take my walking stick with me, but I bet they have sticks in the woods there. Or maybe take my cane? That would get me good treatment on the airplane, but I don't think so. I hate that thing.

Now that I have looked it up, I understand why it's not good to exercise before sleep. Here's what the National Sleep Foundation says:

Sleep experts have cautioned people to avoid strenuous exercise right before sleep and even up to three hours before bedtime. That's because exercise has an alerting effect and raises your body temperature. This rise leads to a corresponding fall in temperature five to six hours later, which makes sleep easier then. If you've been exercising close to bedtime and having trouble falling or staying asleep, try to arrange your workout earlier in the day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Displacement of the couch potatoes

The feng shui of our house is all out of whack.

This is because the couch in our den is temporarily gone. At first I thought I'd buy a new couch The fabric on the top of the cushions was ripped. For a time I covered the tears with afghans draped over the top, but I realized this looked totally pathetic and something needed to be done.

I shopped for a small sectional to fit into the small room but couldn't find anything. Obviously they've been made, because I did get the one we have. But that was years ago, and if there's an affordable one out there, I couldn't find it.

Plan B went into effect: I am getting it recovered. I chose a family company that I found on google and felt good about it because they had done work for a neighbor whose taste I value.

So I went through books and found a fabric that I like. It is chocolate, the same color as the dog.

They took the couch out last week and this is what was underneath it:

Two dog toys
Several pencils
A couple of Sports Illustrated magazines, and
A check that someone had accused me of throwing out, which I obviously didn't do, unless I tossed it under the couch.

The feng shui problem is that we hang out on that couch, and Maddie sits on a corner of it. The TV is in that room, and Joe and I usually watch "Jeopardy" or whatever in there.

The living room is nicer and bigger, but everyone sits in the den where the TV is. I don't watch much TV, but I do like a couple of shows, mostly "The Good Wife," the news and MSNBC.

I brought a dining room chair in the den to watch something, but it wasn't the same.

The room feels very strange and empty, and we have had to revise our ways. For the first couple of days, Maddie was so disoriented that she paced from room to room or sat down looking at me.

The other day I was cleaning up in the kitchen and noticed she wasn't on her bed in there. I looked in the dining room and still couldn't find her...until I walked into the living room and found her settled onto a corner of the good couch.

I yelled at her to get down but felt so bad that I went and found the blanket that she used on the other couch and put in the corner of the living room couch. She jumped right back up. Talk about lax parenting.

Now we have a new routine. She takes her corner of the couch and I take the other one and read. It's not as restful as stretching out on the sectional, but it works for now.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


If you've had a bone marrow transplant, on Thanksgiving you're probably like me, feeling grateful for our  donors, those incredibly generous people who gave us another chance at life. Not that we aren't grateful every day, but when we pause to give thanks for everyone we love and all the good things we have, our donors are right up there at the top of our list.

So a shout-out to Denise. Today on Thanksgiving I am thinking about you.

Our Thanksgiving was different this year. Instead of having it here as is our tradition, Joe and I went to Ben and Meg's in Stamford for a dinner bringing together parents and siblings from both sides of their families. I brought my mother's beautiful serving pieces, symbolically placing my mother (and my father) at the table. Katie was there too, via Skype in Spain.

Everything was wonderful, from the delicious food to the turkey-shaped butter to the festive mood centering around Ben and Meg's upcoming wedding. I enjoyed talking to everyone, including to Jane, Meghan's mother, my future machatunista (Yiddish for the mother of your child's spouse).

It is in many ways a difficult time of year. My mother died six years ago on Nov. 26. Right before Thanksgiving I had been in New York, and I was torn about whether to stay or to go home and have Thanksgiving with my family. My mother was fading fast, in and out of consciousness and unable to get out of bed, so it would have meant sitting in her  room with my aunt and my cousin.

She told me she wanted me to go home, so I did. After she died I thought I would never stop crying, of course about her death but also from thinking I should have been there for Thanksgiving. My cousin Joanne told me that I had given my mother the best gift possible by complying with her wishes and allowing her to think of me at home with my kids.

I don't have regrets anymore, just good memories and the feeling that they are still here. So I am thankful for that too.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Strength training for hobbled runners

Back around 2002 or 2003, I used to run a big loop around the area, up and down hills, with my friend Joann. That all stopped when I was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003 after noticing that I was having trouble finishing the St. Patrick's Road Race.

Afterwards, she said she had noticed that I was having trouble keeping up with her. I had chalked it up to her superior fitness level, but it was obviously more than that.

Though we're no longer running partners, we're in the same book group. She's a nurse and a personal trainer, so I value her opinion about fitness. As the last meeting wound down, I told her that I really want to get back into running shape but don't seem to "have it" ever since my falls over the summer. Tennis is OK because there is not the constant motion.

This time last year, I was training for the Turkey Trot, held the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Holyoke, and soon after that for the St. Patrick's race, which I ran in March. Those are the rhythms of the local running scene, but not for me this year.

Jo told me about a client who was no longer able to run, and who, despite initial reservations, grew to like the strength training she did instead.

"What you need is strength training," Jo said.

So on Saturday, I went to the exercise room that she has in her house and she gave me a program.

When I got to the stop of her stairs, I paused and said, "I'm walking like a little old lady."

"You're too young for that. Let's get to work," Jo said.

We started with jumping jacks (jumping jacks?") and went through three circuits, with aerobics in between. She wants me to use free weights, and she made a good point: It's fine to use the machines at the gym as I've been doing (erratically), but machines provide all the stability, while using free weights makes you work on your balance.

At one point she got down on the floor and did some push-ups, telling me to do the same thing.

I stood there and looked at her.

OK, she said, put your knees down, lower yourself towards the floor, and do the intention of a push-up.  That I could do. I wonder, is there such a thing as the intention of strength-training without actually doing it? It's so much more fun to open the door and head out running. But that is not to be for now.

We'll see how it goes. I am going to walk the dog and then come home and get to it...unless I am too tired.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sweet memories

While walking after school from P.S. 6 to my mother's jewelry store on 86th street and Lexington Ave. – seven or so blocks – I usually stopped for a Nestles Crunch or a Ring Ding.

I loved the taste of Nestles Crunch (still do), but Ring Dings provided a more total experience. After unwrapping the cellophane, I admired the perfect swirl of chocolate on a Ring Ding. The devil's food cake, chocolate frosting and creme filling were delicious. Never mind that the Ring Ding landed in my stomach like the hockey puck that it resembled. I don't think we considered that it was bad for us. This was perfect junk food before there even was such a label.

Twinkies, on the other hand, were always a bit too much. So were Sno Balls. And let's not leave out Hostess cupcakes and Wonder Bread.

Were you a Paul or John person, a George or Ringo person, a Twinkies, cupcake, or a Ring Ding person? These were important questions. (Hardly anyone picked poor Ringo.)

These musings are inspired by the closing of Hostess Brands, which, based in Irving, Tex., announced yesterday that it was stopping production after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after being unable to negotiate its labor contracts with unions, including one that went on strike.

If we were to eat a Hostess treat now (or maybe you're still eating them), perhaps it would be like Proust and his madeleine, opening up our remembrance of sticky fingers and school days.

You could go to right now to the supermarket, buy one of the last Hostess brands available and keep it on your shelf forever due to the plethora of chemical compounds that don't go bad, although the company says that the shelf life of Twinkies, Ring Dings, Sno Balls and cupcakes  is only about 20 days.

But I am happier to hold the Ring Ding in memory and eat my Nestles Crunch.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Geography lesson

I made a whopping $60 Tuesday substituting in a sixth grade social studies class and then spent way too much of it on Chinese food for Joe and me.

One of the eternal questions about Chinese food is why we often buy too much and still not end up feeling full. Joe was watching something, so I ate in the kitchen. I nearly fell off my chair and hardly ate my food as I caught up with the last three episodes of Season 4 of "Breaking Bad." What an incredibly interesting and addictive – and gruesome – show.

But back to reality. The sixth-graders were a well-behaved bunch, in contrast to the rowdy fifth-graders I had last week. We worked on longitude and latitude, taking coordinates and finding the corresponding country on the map.

We had a little fun pronouncing difficult country names such as Papua New Guinea. They found the pronunciation hard to believe.

As a bonus, the teacher left me some Hershey kisses. That made my day

I have been reading about the turmoil in Spain, where Katie is and I am going in a month. Yesterday there were strikes in Spain as part of a coordinated effort in Europe protesting austerity measures. There were also cancellations of flights by the troubled airline Iberia, which I am supposed to take.

Well I just Skyped with Katie and she said all was peaceful. She went to see the demonstration in Seville, where there were throngs of people, many handing out leaflets espousing views of various parties, unlike here where the political landscape is dominated by just the two parties.

She is learning so much, not just in the classroom...and she's having fun!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A good day in the sunshine

Ten things that made me happy:

1. A bag of Swedish fish.

2: On an unseasonably warm day, a walk in the woods with a friend and the dog.

3: Watching the stream flow by.

4: Finding a sturdy walking stick, just my size and polished by nature.

5. Going to used book stores and finding some bargains to add to the pile.

6. Eating lunch outside in Northampton, the dog tied next to the table.

7. Doing errands downtown...and buying the bag of Swedish fish.

8. Back home, lying on the couch and talking to friends in New York.

9. Getting picked up by another friend to go back to Northampton for a delicious dinner.

10. Flopping into bed.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It's cold in here

Got a call from the Middle School early this morning about subbing in a computer technology class today, and I replied, from underneath a pile of quilts, that I would do it as long as I didn't have to answer too many questions.

Then I remembered that I have no heat and need to wait here for the gas company, so I reluctantly called back and canceled the sub job.

Given all the devastation from Hurricane Sandy, I can't really complain. Still, it is pretty cold in here. I am wearing a shirt, a sweatshirt and a fleece vest. Maddie will have to wait for her walk until the problem is resolved. This has happened for no apparent reason.

I am still on a high from election night. Joe and I watched together, all the way to 2 a.m. and Obama's incredible speech. We stood and applauded. What a moment.

There is a "good" side of the couch where you can lie down facing the TV, while on the other side you have to sit up or displace the dog and lie sideways.

Joe started out on the good side, and midway through the evening I got up and switched while he was out of the room. He practically freaked out. Obama was starting to win in the battleground states, and Joe said that if we changed I would jinx it and it would be my fault if Obama lost.

I suspect he just wanted to stay on the good side, but I wasn't taking any chances. Somewhere around 1 a.m., I pushed Maddie off and lay down on the "bad" side and dozed.

I had been eating grapes, and I asked if it would thwart Obama's momentum should I stop eating them. Joe didn't think so. You can only take these things so far.

I had my own superstition. For weeks, I drank out of my Obama mug, figuring that it would be bad luck if I switched. Then I worried that I might drop the mug and bring on bad luck.

Now I am drinking out of my I "heart" NY mug.

My hometown needs all the love I can send it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Just when I thought it was safe to go out...

...I get knocked over by a big red dog.

Maddie and I went on another walk yesterday sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Dogs group.

 It was a beautiful walk on one of the paths at Mt. Toby in Sunderland. I was holding up the rear with a new friend, Kirsten, who traded war stories with me. Her golden and Maddie were running around, when along came an Irish setter that was not part of our group. The dog began dashing around...and dashed right into me, knocking me to the ground. I fell hard on my rear.

The owners each took a hand and pulled me up, and after I assured them that I was OK, they went on their way. Kirsten and I continued to climb the hill, but I realized that I was a little lightheaded, so I decided to not go all the way.

Kirsten was going to walk back down with me, but her dog had disappeared up ahead, so she went to get the dog, and I sat down on a rock to wait. Maddie had been going ahead with the pack, but she always turned around to check in with me. When she saw I had stopped walking, she came all the way back and sat with me. Good dog.

She wandered around the woods a little and at one point got bored enough that she played with a big stick, one of her favorite things to do. Like so:

Kirsten returned with her dog, and we headed down, joined by Michelle, one of the group's organizers, who had come to check on us.

It's a nice group, and as you walk you touch on all kinds of topics. Kirsten and I talked about how we each had been through a lot and were both just glad to be there.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Back to school

Last year, to supplement my income from freelance writing, I tutored Springfield fourth graders in English. But this year the company that ran the program, E.nopi, is no longer offering it in Massachusetts.

When the friend who recommended the job to me said it paid for her tennis, I thought it sounded like a good idea, so I signed up. This year I need something else.

I signed up for substitute teaching (a glutton for punishment?) but hadn't been called, so I followed a teacher-friend's advice and went to the South Hadley Middle School and Mosier Elementary yesterday to introduce myself. My kids went to these schools, and I saw a lot of familiar faces. Apparently I was familiar too; a staffer in the Middle School office said, "Oh, you're the newspaper writer!"

My friend told me not to go to the high school because they would grind me up there. She was probably right. I remember how we treated subs.

My freelance assignments come in spurts. Some weeks I am working on a few things and other weeks, like this one, are quiet. At work, some weeks were busier than others too, but at least I was being paid in the slower times.

Anyway, I was surprised to get a call at 6:50 this morning saying that there was a spot for me in a fifth grade class at the Middle School if I wanted it, and that I should be there at 7:30. People who know me are aware that I can be a slow-poke; they never saw me move so quickly.

The day was exhausting. I went upstairs, downstairs, upstairs, downstairs and back again throughout the day. I had to cancel physical therapy, but I got a workout anyway.

I knew teachers work hard, but now I appreciate their efforts even more.

The classroom teacher hadn't left very thorough instructions, so other teachers helped me figure some things out. This is not a very good situation when you have a room of restless fifth-graders waiting for instructions.

I kept a list of rule-breakers for the teacher to write up when she came back. So and so twisted so and so's arm. Three boys kicked so and so at recess. Etc.

I was grateful to one girl who offered to be my guide about when certain things needed to be done and where supplies were kept. She was a sweetie.

And hey, I learned a thing or two as we read about the Mayans and the Incas.

I ended the day by being a bus monitor.

Who knew?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The waiting game

There is a lot of waiting going on around here these days.

Waiting for the storm, which may or may not come here, and waiting for the election, which definitely will come.

I haven't done much about the storm except to buy two half-gallon jugs of water (the gallons were sold out), ask Joe to bring in the lawn furniture and clean out the garage, buy more chocolate and salvage the last springs of mint from the garden, which make my iced tea-lemonade taste like summer.

As for the election, I have just about had enough.

You cannot watch the local news without dueling ads by Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren. Rival candidates always make photos of their opponent look bad in their ads, but you have to laugh at the overkill in the witch-like Warren visage that Brown is using in his ads, cropped to make her look like all she has a ghoulish face floating in the air. And Scott, would you stop it with the truck already?

I guess you can see who I'm for, but honestly, I'm tired of them both.

As for the presidential race, I thought it was funny the other day to be at the gym riding a bike in front of the MSNBC and Fox News channels side by each. Talk about dueling perspectives.

Having almost reached the saturation point, I have actually skipped "Hardball" a couple of times. But the past couple of days I have succumbed again. By the way, I don't only watch MSNBC. Today, I watched "Meet the Press," in which round-table participants weighed in from both sides.

But for the most part I subsist on a daily diet of MSNBC and Nate Silver, checking daily. Click, click, click.

Anne Lamott posted on Facebook that a daily diet of MSNBC and Nate Silver was getting to be too much for her delicate "princess self." I laughed. She said that candy corn was the only thing getting her through, and that her grandson kept asking why the bags were empty.

The only difference is that for me, it's been Hershey's miniatures.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Doctor a pioneer in bone marrow transplants

A headline caught my eye as I was reading the New York Times earlier this week:

E. Donnall Thomas, who advanced bone marrow transplants, dies at 92

As the grateful recipient of a bone marrow transplant, I read this obituary with interest.

And I learned that like all transplant recipients, I owe my life to this pioneer who persevered with his research into bone marrow transplants despite skepticism from other physicians who believed that transplants would never be safe enough to be practiced.

It's hard to believe that it wasn't so long ago – the late 1950s – when transplants were seen as only a last desperate resort for patients with blood cancers. The patients usually didn't make it: Either their immune system destroyed the transplanted marrow as foreign matter or the transplanted marrow would destroy the recipient's organs.

Through years of research, Thomas and his team learned to match tissue types and use drugs to suppress the immune system.

The team performed the first matched transplant from an unrelated donor, an allogenic transplant like I had, in 1977.

In 1990, Thomas received the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Today, of course, bone marrow transplants are an accepted treatment for leukemia and other blood cancers. When you are in line to get one, you don't think about those doctors who worked so hard to make it happen.

None of us wanted to get cancer, but we are lucky to be alive today when so many advances have been made thanks to the work of dedicated physicians like Thomas.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wellfleet in the fall

I went to Wellfleet with Diane and David this weekend as most places were shutting down.

Some already had. The Beachcomber was boarded up, as was Mac's down at the harbor. It was the last weekend at Mac's Shack, where Diane and I had dinner Friday night. It can make you kind of melancholy.

But some things never change. The salty sea air was like a tonic. I took deep breaths as though I could store it for later.

It was gray on Saturday, but the sun came out on Sunday. We walked through the woods to Gull Pond on the right and Higgins on the left. Then we sat at a small sandy beach and watched the sun glisten on the water. A few people were out in their canoes. We also went to the ocean and parked at the dunes to take a look.

One benefit of going off-season was that we could actually get into the French bakery, which during the summer is so crowded that nobody goes there. I went at 7:30 a.m. in August to get their famed almond croissants, but the line was so long that I gave up. We went Saturday around 8:30, and there was no line...but, alas, they had just sold the last almond croissant.

I got regular croissants instead, along with their homemade blueberry jam and a blueberry muffin. Along with fruit, it was a delicious breakfast. And at least I saw the inside of the place. They said I could order almond croissants for the next day, but I took a pass.

Diane and David don't have a TV there, so in a way we felt removed from the election, although we did read the papers and check Just being at their beautiful house in the woods, off the beaten track, helped me to get a little break from it.

And now, on to the debate.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Upstairs downstairs

Q: Why do wild turkeys cross the road?
A: They are just strolling around Boston, looking for peanut shells, trash and whatever else they can find to eat.

I began to wonder about this Monday when I was driving to my appointment at Dana-Farber and four turkeys crossed in front of me, right in downtown Boston, causing me to stop short in traffic. The first one saw me coming and turned around, but three were oblivious and kept going, so the first one joined them.

Luckily the driver behind me stopped soon enough that he did not rear-end me. The turkeys took their time getting to the other side, and, puzzled at the sighting, I took the next turn to Dana-Farber. This naturally took my mind off the usual check-up anxiety.

I googled "why do turkeys live in downtown Boston?" and sure enough there was a story in about turkeys having gotten used to residential and urban living in the past few years. Who knew?

Anyway, I got to Dana-Farber without hitting any turkeys.

After getting my blood drawn, I went to the 11th floor and got my tongue checked by the doctor who had removed a small scoop of it. She gave my mouth a clean bill of health.

I went down to the eighth floor for my appointment with Melissa, who was running late, so it was back to the 11th floor for my flu shot, then back down to the eighth. I was getting used to the elevators.

Everything was good. First of all, I gained seven pounds in a month. If you're just stopping by the blog, I need to say that is a good thing. People are not usually happy about gaining weight, but in my case that was the goal since I had lost about 15 pounds in four months.

My hematocrit was normal (35.6) for the first time in ages, earning me the opportunity, if it stays normal, to have a "blood letting" (sans leaches) next time to lower my ferritin. I'm not sure what the technical term is. I take a nauseating medicine called Exjade every morning, and the level – which is high from all the transfusions I got – has gone down some, but it is still way above normal.

I was happy to see that my platelets had inched up to 95 (normal is 155-410), which is still low but high for me.

In my body's topsy turvy way, my potassium level has been high; many people eat potassium-rich foods and drink potassium-rich beverages so they can get enough potassium. I take another potion to lower it and keep in with normal range. It was a little high, possibly due to too many tomatoes over the summer and fall.

Due to still-elevated though steady liver enzymes, I need to stay on prednisone. It's a low dose, 5 mgs a day, but still, it would be nice to get off.

I stayed over at Diane and David's so I could see my dermatologist, Dr. Lin, in the morning. She said my skin had cleared up well after the PDT (face fry) and suggested we keep ahead of the game and do another one in six months before little scaly things appear again.

Lucky me!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A beautiful walk in Whately

Maddie and I joined some 10 other dog lovers yesterday on a beautiful walk in Whateley (Mass.). We walked – and the dogs ran – along a path that winds through farm fields.

The outing was organized by a group that plans different dog walks throughout the year. It was a little blustery yesterday, but the sky was a gorgeous blue, and the air was crisp. It's a good way to spend a morning for dogs and people alike. The conversations don't always focus on dogs, but it's a good starting point for people who have a common interest. The big dogs ran ahead and played while the small dogs held up the rear on their leashes.

There were a few hills, but the walk wasn't very strenuous. Still, as soon as we got home, Maddie fell asleep on one side of the couch while I fell asleep on the other. It was a good tired.

Tomorrow I am going to Dana-Farber for two appointments, one a regular checkup and the other with the surgeon who operated on my tongue. I'm sleeping over at Diane's and getting together tomorrow night with my friend Saul from Dana-Farber. On Tuesday morning, I have a checkup with my dermatologist. That will make for two busy days.

Here are some more photos taken during the dog walk. Notice that Maddie decided to park herself in a puddle. I guess labs will be labs. Thanks Michelle for downloading some of these photos.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sampling a 'President Obama Grinder'

It's funny how a day can start out one way and end up on a totally different note.

First I decided that I wanted to try a run again. I approached this little run with the anticipation of someone preparing for a race. It meant something to me; after all, the name of my blog is Running for My Life.

I went a little over a mile, from my house to the lake and around. I felt OK, although my pace was only a little faster than a walk. I thought I'd just loop around the other lake, but all of a sudden I began to feel shaky. "Time to stop!" I said out loud. So I walked the rest of the way back to the house, zig-zagging unsteadily. I really want to get back to running and I'm frustrated that my body won't cooperate. I guess I'll keep doing my physical therapy strengthening exercises and try again some other time.

On the cusp of being late, as usual, I ate a quick lunch and made myself presentable for an interview   in Springfield for a story I'm writing. I rushed downtown and, driving past The Republican, felt a little nostalgic. (When I called upstairs later and asked a friend who's still in the trenches  if I should be sorry I'm not there anymore, I received an emphatic "No!")

Anyway, when I got to where I needed to be I had trouble parking, so I called the person I was going to interview and said it might take me a few minutes to find a spot.

Oooops. He had mistakenly thought we were getting together today. He was very apologetic, and we rescheduled for today in South Hadley. I don't want to embarrass anyone by naming names or for that matter, the publication for which I'm writing. Anyway, there I was on a damp day in what's left of the South End of Springfield.

The reasonable next step would have been to turn around, drive to the Chicopee Jiffy Lube (which gives a discount on Tuesday) and get the oil change I needed. But after a wobbly run and a no-show, I was in the mood for something else. I had pulled in across the street from La Fiorentina and went into the pastry shop.

A couple of older people sat at a table, speaking Italian. The cases filled with pastries were a thing of beauty. I got my favorite treat, a strawberry/peach cake with whipped cream layers. Then I got a cappuccino served in a white cup and saucer with a small spoon, and I sat down at a table with the book that I had brought in from the car.

After finishing, I walked next door to Mom and Rico's, a South End fixture, and saw that their menu included a President Obama Grinder. (Also, Divorce Soup instead of Wedding Soup....ha ha.) I went in to ask exactly what a President Obama Grinder was, and the owner pointed to the description under the president's photo.

He gave me a sample of the sandwich made of turkey, cheese, and sapostini (an Italian salami) on a grinder roll. It was so good that I bought some for lunch today. As a bonus, I took home a PLAYBOCCE bumper sticker that goes in everyone's bag.

I did eventually get to Jiffy Lube, memories of cake, cappuccino and sapostini dancing in my head.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Running around

I was going to break out and try running today, but instead I walked to the Common for the South Hadley Columbus Day Fair. I ate a baked potato with sour cream and cheese, bought a scarf, talked to people and then walked Maddie around the lake with two friends. Then, I ran to buy a chair to take advantage of a Columbus Day sale.

I also spent a lot of time on the Internet making arrangements for when I join Katie in Seville on Dec. 17. We're going to travel for 12 days; I haven't done much except get my plane ticket and reserve a room in a B&B in Seville, and now all of a sudden the trip is drawing near.

We are going to spend a few days in Seville so she can show me around, and then go to Granada, Barcelona and Paris. After I settled on a place to stay in Paris, I looked at a map of the surrounding area and saw the hospital. Oh, the hospital! Not Oh, the Eiffel Tower. I wonder if there will always be that little voice that says, "Just in case."

Anyway, it's very exciting to be realizing I'm actually going.

But first things first.

The election is maybe taking up too much space in my brain. I "have to" watch the MSNBC politics shows and I have to read the New York Times and on-line sites. On one of the news shows, a panel was debating whether the good jobs report on Friday – unemployment dropped to 7.8 percent – would give Obama a bounce that could neutralize the negative effect of his poor debate performance in Denver. Some thought that it could, but one panelist wondered how many people actually felt that the lower number made their day.

Well, I was one of those people. I heard it on the radio driving down to tennis and immediately felt buoyed after actually being depressed by Obama's lackluster performance. I went on to play some decent tennis.

Meanwhile, I hope that tomorrow I will get that run in.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Busy day

I had a busy day yesterday, with physical therapy that wore me out, followed by two assignments that made it feel like a full work day in the old days of having a regular job.

First I attended a seminar at Holyoke Community College on women and criminal justice, followed by an interview with the professor for a faculty profile. It was an interesting seminar, focusing on prostitution.

Next I went to the Sixteen Acres section of Springfield to meet with a young man who is one of four community college students from unsettled home situations now living in a nice house where they are receiving all kinds of support through a new endeavor called the Millbrook Scholars Program. That one's for the new on-line magazine, Speaking of Springfield.

I could have written it last night, but I thought that first I'd read a little of our book club book, Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken." Before I knew it, it was 11:30 p.m.

So today I am writing. Back at the paper, some of us were known for eating our way through a story, which meant frequent trips to the vending machine. My version today was coming to the Thirsty Mind and eating a piece of cake with coffee.

I have to finish so I can go to tennis, and then to a debate watching party!

The polls showing a tighter race are making me a little nervous, so I could use some support.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

It's the little things

News flash: Yesterday I tripped and almost fell but didn't.

This might seem like a post about nothing, along the lines of "Seinfeld" being a show about nothing. But when you have a weakness, i.e. "I almost (fill in the blank) but then it passed," you can be thankful for that small accomplishment.

I walked Maddie twice around the lake to get some extra exercise yesterday, taking a different route back to stop at the ATM. When I stepped off the curb, my foot caught in a crack in the pavement, my ankle twisted a little, and I felt like I might lose my balance just as a car approached. I jumped back onto the sidewalk, and feeling a little wobbly, regained my balance back and walked back home.

Whew. Of course Joe would say I shouldn't be almost falling and that I should look where I'm going, which is true, but I was glad that at least I could stop the fall.

I tried jogging a little the other day, but since I had the dog with me, it wasn't a good gauge because I was concentrating more on her than on myself. I will have to try it again without her, but I am having trouble with the idea of "getting back on the horse," applying in my case both to running and biking. My bike remains in quarantine at Rook's house, and I think that when he brings it back I shouldn't try again until the spring. But it wouldn't hurt to give running a try, except that have fear of falling.

Tennis is working out better. I went to George's outside clinic Wednesday, and since I was the only one who showed up, I got a private for the price of a group lesson. We hit a lot of balls, and George said  my strokes were the best he's seen in a long time. I brought up my father's comment that you shouldn't kid yourself about how good you are when you're hitting with the pro. George said that still, it takes some doing to hit the ball back so many times.

I said it must have been all that lying on the couch. Either that or the hand grips I used, one upstairs and one downstairs. George said that could have kept my arm strong.

"When you're sidelined, there's usually some little thing you can do even if you're not moving around," he said.

Words of wisdom from a tennis pro and something to think of if you're laid up. Just do a little something, whatever you can do, and it's better than nothing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tiptoeing into fall

With the kids all grown, there's no more playing in pumpkin patches, no more picking out three pumpkins in small, medium and large, and no more annual discussions about the preferability of oblong vs. round. I miss those days.

They're obviously long past pumpkin picking – unless I drag Joe out of the house and get him to return to our favorite family-owned place, the one where the owners fill their driveway and barn with pumpkins and sit outside and where people pull their purchases to their cars in red wagons. (That's where we took the accompanying photo of Katie taking a break.)

With the smell of fall in the air, a lot of people have already decorated their houses with pumpkins, scarecrows, etc. There seem to be pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere. It's not as much fun without kids involved, but..

Today as I did my rounds of farm stands, one for bread, another for corn and the third for coffee cake, I stopped at some beautiful big mums and thought, why not? I bought a nicely shaped purple one and had to put my arms around it to carry it to the car.

In the garage, I found an old planter that fit the plant perfectly and put it on the porch. I stood back and admired it. This is my idea of minimalist seasonal decorating! You just need one thing to make you feel like you're partaking. And I guess you don't need to have a kid around to do a little something.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mitt Romney, under my skin

This is not a political blog, but since I am a politics junkie (42 days until the election!), I must take a minute to report on a peculiar dream I had last night about Mitt Romney.

I was walking along Main Street in Springfield towards my old job at the newspaper when I came upon Romney and an assistant doing coin tricks for a sparse crowd. Romney's hair was out of place, his nose looked particularly large, and his skin looked bad. (The skin thing probably relates to coverage of Romney's darker complexion during an interview with Univision addressing concerns for Latino voters; some say he applied a quick tan to look more like them.)

In the dream, he approached me and asked what I thought of his campaign, and I sidestepped, saying, "It's too early in the morning for me to have an opinion."

Then I shook his hand and moved on, desperately seeking coffee to clear my head.

When I got to work, I told people that I had really given Romney a piece of my mind. "You did?" they asked. "No, not really," I replied. "I chickened out."

Dreaming about Mitt Romney is a little eeuw. At least I didn't dream about him in bed, a possibility given publicity about a TV interview in which, when asked what he wears to bed, he replied, "As little as possible." Puleese. Couldn't he pivot away from the question?

This is all taking up too much space in my brain. Maybe I should stop reading so much about the election or stop watching so much politics TV. (I can't wait for "Hardball" tonight!)

But I can't stop. I am sure I'm not alone.

Early voting has started!

Sunday, September 23, 2012


The face fry, aka PDT, or photodynamic therapy, wasn't as bad as it was the two previous times, but it still wasn't as much fun as lying on the beach when it comes to getting a burned face.

Dr. Lin said it is more tolerable each time because there are fewer pre-cancerous spots. She puts a chemical over suspicious spots and the light reacts to them. After the potion goes on, her assistant seals it in by first applying plastic wrap to your face and then covering that with silver foil. She cuts little holes for the eyes, nose and mouth and then you sit there for about an hour.

I was perfectly happy sitting there reading The New York Times through the eye slits, but as the time approached I could feel myself tensing up. It's interesting how you can observe your own body language. I crossed my arms and hugged myself and began to feel cold. They didn't have a blanket, so the assistant covered me with two towels, which didn't help much.

After it was over, I had a good distraction from the burning on my skin: dinner at Margaret and Nick's house, where we had delicious homemade pizza and watched the Scott Brown/Elizabeth Warren debate. Margaret and Nick are just as consumed as I am with the upcoming election, and since we're on the same page, we had a good time talking to each other and to the TV and watching the post-debate coverage.

Back home, my face is still burning, though less so each day. My skin has turned blotchy, making me look as though I have a bad case of acne.

I bumped into a woman yesterday who was in one of my baby play groups. Our babies had the same birthdate, Sept. 13, 1985, and there was her "baby," Leah, with her looking over the photos of her recent wedding. To me, Debbie, the mother, looked pretty much the same. But oh vanity of vanities, I imagined her looking at me and wondering, "What happened to her?" Actually she's a nice woman and was probably thinking no such thing, but a little self-consciousness and can a long way.

In a few days, my skin will begin to peel, and I'll have new skin.

Dr. Lin wants to repeat the procedure once a year. I can't wait! But hey, in terms of other things they've done to me (most notably bone barrow biopsies) this is a piece of cake.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Back to Boston

In keeping with the theme "it's always something," I am heading back to Boston today – after being there a week ago – to see my dermatologist for photodynamic therapy, or PDT, in which the top layer of your skin is burned off to remove precancerous cells.

I try to coordinate appointments, but it didn't work out this time.

This is my third PDT. Maybe, like the third Caesarean section, it will be easier than before because my body will not be quite as freaked out as the first time. Maybe not.

The procedure consists of having a medication applied to your face (or wherever) and then sitting under a scorching hot light that feels like the worst sunburn magnified. Afterwards, your face is bright red. After a while, the skin peels off and voila, you have new skin.

This, of course, is better than getting the skin cancers that I have had twice. And your skin looks oh so beautiful.

I am staying at Margaret's tonight and coming back tomorrow. I have already warned Margaret that I might whine. She said it was OK, but just to make sure that it is not too bad, I have packed a little of my favorite pain medication.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Happy New Year

Hello from New York and l'shana tova, with best wishes for a sweet New Year filled with good health and no sharp edges.

I arrived in the city yesterday, my first Rosh Hashanah visit to the old country without Katie, sweetened by the fact that I would meet Ben at services at the 92nd Street Y today and then go out to lunch. We feel a deep connection with the services we all attended since childhood, geography and health permitting.

I parked in Fairfield and took the train to Grand Central, where, I must admit, I felt somewhat fragile and unsteady schlepping my bag up and down stairs in a throng of people. Wanting to avoid the cost of a cab, I went up and down more stairs to get the subway to Jeanne's. When I got on the train I must have had the bug-eyed look of someone out of her element, and a man immediately offered me his seat. Back up on the street, there was more schlepping.

Nothing bad happened, although perhaps I should have just taken a cab. (Duh.)

As soon as I got settled, out to the park I went. I put on my running clothes, although I'm still not up to my usual run. That made me kind of sad, although I am alive and well and walking around taking in the sights, so I really don't have much to complain about.

Last night I went to Marge and Bill's for dinner. The family dinners at a restaurant are over, with Marge not feeling well enough to go out. But we had a nice meal of delicious food ordered from a nearby restaurant and eaten picnic style in Marge and Bill's bedroom.

It was great to go to the Y with Ben, such a handsome grownup. I told him it seemed like only yesterday that  my parents, Katie and I remarked how cute the two little brothers walking in front of us were in their khaki pants, blue shirts and blue blazers slung over their shoulders.

During the point in the service where the rabbi encouraged us to feel the presence of those who are gone and to see them clearly, a teared up, as I did after services as Ben and I headed to the old neighborhood for lunch and as I think now about our beautiful Rosh Hashanah dinners at a table that my mother so lovingly set, with a honey dew melon at every place (for a sweet year) and small bowls of honey in which we would dip our challah. And of course I think about the round challah over which my father said, "No sharp edges!"

All good memories, so again, no complaining.

And now for one more thought about transportation, one of my little obsessions: I got a free ride on the bus back down to Jeanne's because the Metro Card machine was broken, so with the $2.25 I saved, I can probably afford to take a cab back to Grand Central. I should take a cab anyway, so that I can start the year on good footing, so to speak, instead of tripping or stumbling, which, given my recent patterns, I might very well do.

Friday, September 14, 2012

It can be hard to get out of your own head

Melissa was an hour and a half late in seeing me for my Dana-Farber appointment yesterday.

So? They're always late.

But I had gotten it into my head that there was something wrong with me, which is why I had moved up my appointment despite evidence that my fatigue and occasional lightheadedness resulted from two falls and the energy my body had devoted to healing from the falls and from the Mohs surgery which was a real pain in the neck.

I fell asleep sitting in the waiting room. I read my book. I congratulated the 90-year-old patient who was wearing a button with blinking lights and the words "It's My Birthday" on it.

And then I catastrophized in a way I hadn't done in ages, like so: My counts are bad, and Melissa has gone to talk to Dr. Alyea about what to do with me. I am no longer a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. They put me on an experimental drug. I shrivel up and prepare to die. Whoa!

Diane calls to ask about my results, and I tell her that I haven't been seen and that I am getting nervous.

"Why?" she asks.

I tell her about my crazy mind.

"They are not sitting back there plotting your demise," she reminds me.

Finally I am called. Melissa, who is wearing a mask over her nose and mouth, tells me she has a cold.

"You, on the other hand, are fine," she says, printing out my counts.

Sigh of relief.

And I gained a couple of pounds. Woo hoo!
I guess I went into that tailspin because I was feeling vulnerable, my mental defenses were down, and none of the techniques that I practice had worked.

Probably other cancer survivors go through the same thing. So you call your doctor or nurse, and if they say there is nothing to worry about, you try to let it go. If that doesn't work, you make an appointment, and hopefully you are fine. Then you get a new lease on life.

I celebrated with a Tootsie Roll and three miniature Krakel bars.

Today I played doubles and moved around the court a little better.

When I got home, I leaned back into the couch and fell asleep, the dog's head on my lap. And when I woke up, I didn't worry about why I had been tired.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I get by with a little help from my friends

I don't mean my regular friends, who of course have helped me immeasurably.

I'm talking about my neighborhood acquaintances, who offer help in ways that make me feel extra cared for.

For example:

Yesterday I went to our local deli, Tailgate Picnic, looking for something for lunch because I didn't feel like eating anything in the house. I stood at the counter indecisively and asked Alicia Magri, who owns the deli with husband Jack, what was good if you're trying to gain weight.

"Are you hungry?" she asked. "Not really," I replied.

"Give her the chicken stew," she told the girl working at the counter. She also said I should try Ensure, which has helped Jack, who had a brain tumor, put on weight after surgery. Jack got into the conversation and went into the back to get two bottles of Ensure, which he said to take back home (free) and try. Mary, Alicia's sister, said I should mix it with ice cream and make a shake. Anna, at the cash register, chimed in and said I should drink a lot of milk.

Well, the chicken stew was delicious and the Ensure not so much, but I felt good about this group of people – who all know my story just as I know theirs – doing their little bit to look after me.

It goes both ways. After Jack came out of the hospital, we talked about how crummy you can feel when you first return to work. He said at the time that he was having trouble eating, so I brought him one of the smoothies that had been working for me.

And then there is Wayne Gilbert, the carpenter, who is in the midst of fixing some little things I saw, and who also fixes the things I don't see.

A few months ago, I heard hammering and came downstairs to find Wayne, who had noticed something that needed to be fixed and had just stopped by to take care of it (free). Obviously I see the big things, but having grown up in an apartment where you just call the super, and being divorced from someone who knew how to manage the property, I sometimes don't see the big picture. It's reassuring to know that someone else is looking at it for me.

Anne, who owns the bed and breakfast across the street, says to come on over and pick the hydrangeas that turn pretty shades of pink at this time of year. She has a couple of really big flower bushes. Sometimes we chat. My mother started this tradition, talking to Anne and clipping the hydrangeas that she said cost a ton of money in New York. The hydrangeas provide a different kind of nourishment.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stopping and smelling the flowers

I garden like I cook: throw everything together and end up pleasantly surprised at success.

So it is that I find myself happy with the late-summer surprises in my garden, abloom with colorful flowers that I didn't expect to see at this time of year.

The garden usually looks good in spring but has fizzled out by mid-summer. It's a challenge to plant because although one part gets a decent amount of sun, it is laid out under pine trees that create acidic and shady conditions.

This year a friend helped choose and plant flowers that would do well in the shade and provide blooms late into the summer. If you don't look too closely at the weeds that I have been unable to keep up with, the garden looks pretty good.

I like to sit at my kitchen table and look out at the flowers. I got a desk for an upstairs office space, but I am happiest downstairs writing while I look out through French doors. And it's especially rewarding to easily find enough flowers to make a colorful arrangement for the kitchen table.

I went out the other day and was happy to have so many choices. After putting the flowers in a vase, I channeled my mother, who always thought her arrangements were not full enough. And using as a guide and inspiration a framed photo of her arranging flowers for my 50th birthday party, I went out and added some more flowers until I was satisfied.

Just as Diane and I appreciated my mother's arrangements, Katie appreciates mine. I missed being able to show her. But due to the wonders of Facebook, she'll see this post when she wakes up and, I hope, appreciate the garden from all the way in Spain.