Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Third birthday

Emily, me and Tami
Today is my third birthday, or re-birthday, three years from the bone marrow transplant (my fourth) that saved my life.

By whatever name, I'm very happy to celebrate it by just having a normal day: writing, walking the dog, playing tennis and even paying bills and going to the store.

Thank you, Denise.

I took a little trip over the weekend to mark the occasion. It wasn't specifically planned as a birthday weekend – and we hardly even mentioned it – but it just seemed like a good time to go.

I flew to Pittsburgh and then drove with Emily to her house in the mountains outside of the city. Her husband, Mike, chef extraordinaire, met us there, and Tami and husband John came from Philadelphia.

We took a couple of nice walks but mainly stayed warm inside by the fire, doing a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, reading, talking and eating. Nancy wasn't able to come, but we talked to her on speaker-phone. (I admit to making a very small contribution to the puzzle, putting a few pieces in here and there but leaving the rest to those with greater powers of concentration.)

On Sunday, I drove with Tami back to her house in Cherry Hill, N.J., and the next day took the train back from Philadelphia to Springfield.

There was a lot of travel time, but I didn't mind, because it gave me a chance to put a dent in the absorbing book I'm reading, Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom."

And so here I go, feeling good and toddling off into my fourth year.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Good/bad news on the beauty front

There are times when I look in the mirror and think I look OK, and other times when I think, "You really need a little something."

Sometimes this comes from looking too closely, say, a fraction of an inch from the mirror. My mother, who didn't have to worry about looking closely because she looked beautiful until the day she died, had an easy solution: Don't look so closely.

I never wore much makeup, but on and off I have fallen prey to that need to do something, which may result from a message the beauty industry has planted in my brain. I bet I am not alone in this. Once I sat at a department store makeup counter and let them "do" my face. Knowing that I was expected to buy something, I purchased an eyeliner, then went home and washed everything off.

After cancer, if I am having a bad day, I sometimes think, "You look like you've been through the wringer."

I was in the "you need something" phase during the recent New York trip I took with Katie, and I asked Serena, who always looks good, to take me to her favorite makeup place in Bloomingdale's. I was mostly interested in an eye shadow of hers that had a natural look. Several saleswomen converged on me. They were very nice, but one especially was so overly made up that she looked a little scary.

After choosing the eye shadow, I found myself being directed to an eyeliner and blush. A saleswoman applied the eyeliner, and I wavered. Katie, the voice of reason, whispered in my ear, "No, no, no." With their pretty packaging, these products draw you to them. But my own voice of reason kicked into gear, telling me I could get a similar, and much cheaper, product at a drug store.

I got out with "just" the eye shadow and some minimalist blush.

Which brings me to the point of my post: How encouraged I was to read the headline of last Thursday's main story in the New York Times' style section: "You Can Fall Out of Bed and Look Good."

The story began on a promising note: "Goodbye, lip liners, brow pencils, spackled-on foundations. The hottest beauty trend of 2012 is imperfection."

Finally, a look that sounds pretty good...and that is actually easy to accomplish.

But alas, the story quickly takes a turn into cosmetics-land, telling us about all the things to buy, and the special way to apply them, to accomplish this imperfect look.

Second paragraph: "The new look for the new year is effortless, minimalist, just-out-of-bed-with-your-lover, according to leading hair and makeup artists...Tousled hair, smudged eyeliner, dewy lips and luminous skin are in."

You are supposed to use your fingertips to "smudge eyeliner, smear bronzer, press bright stains into your cheeks and lips."

It is a little discouraging how much makeup it takes to achieve the non-made up look, but as I read on, I realized that I have actually been ahead of the game.

My eyeliner, on the rare occasions when I try to wear it, is usually smudged.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

If the slipper fits...

                ....and you're feeling tired and you've had a long day,
                then you put it on and think about getting ready for bed.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chefs for Jimmy: Good cause, good food

It was cold Friday night, and I was tempted to stay in sweatpants and sit on the couch watching "Washington Week."

But I gave myself a little push, got all gussied up (my mother's words) and went to Chez Josef in Agawam for the Chefs for Jimmy event to benefit the Jimmy Fund, which, as many people know, supports the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a very worthy place indeed.

I was glad I went. Like the "Taste" events held in different cities, restaurants set up stations offering samples of their signature dishes. There was a lot of good food, and I happily went around eating and talking to people who I knew...and some who I didn't know who made recommendations about good dishes they had found.

I talked for a while to Wendy Webber, one of my tennis teammates; you can see our photo in the seen@
section from yesterday's Republican or on MassLive.com. The event was held in honor of her late husband, Neal Webber, a big supporter of the Jimmy Fund.

I also bumped into my local doctor, Ronald Berger. When he asked how I was doing, I said I was great and approaching my third birthday on Jan. 31. Berger, a runner, said, "Good, just in time for the race," meaning, of course, the Saint Patrick's Race in March.

I told him I might not be ready to run it and said I was worried I would be so slow as to be left behind.

He said not to worry so much, adding, "You'll probably be the fastest bone marrow transplant recipient there."

I like that way of looking at it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ferberizing the dog

I knew all about Ferberizing (from the book by Richard Ferber) when one of my children (no names) cried and cried in his crib and just had to be left to cry it all out.

And now my vet has told me to Ferberize the dog.

This is not a baby dog. I expected Maddie to cry as a puppy. She is now a five-year-old dog who has developed a behavior problem which actually dates back some two years.

She was crate-trained, but when we let her out, she started having "accidents" around the house. The possibility was raised that she was not trained well because her first crate was too big, so I got her a smaller one.

The crate was a success. She has two toys in there and a soft place to sleep, and when she goes in, she gets a special treat. I lost track, but I think she slept in there for more than a year. She was so good that I decided she had earned her freedom.

Everything was fine for a couple of weeks, until she left a little something on the den floor.
The next day, it was a bigger something.

When our little dog Sam acted up, it was infuriating but not as much of a mess. When this affenpinscher-poodle mix got mad at my mother, he jumped up on her bed and left a present on her pillow. A very small present.

So what's up with Maddie?

I took her to the vet for her annual exam, where she drew praise by sitting very quietly while she got her shots.

The vet gave the answer to the dog in a question form, asking, "Why are you so mental?"

She said just to forget analyzing why she did it on the floor and just keep her in the crate. "You're going to have to Ferberize her," she said.

I had told the vet that some nights she is fine, but other nights she decides she'd rather sleep on the couch. I can hear her wailing away right under my room. She cried at 1 a.m. last week, right after she had gone into the crate, and I dutifully went down to see if she was OK. She gave me a quick look, grabbed a toy and made a beeline for the couch.

After the vet visit when Maddie sat there and heard that she should not be let out until a reasonable hour, she was fine for a few days. I thought maybe she had understood the plan and decided to just go with it.

But Saturday and Sunday she wailed away again. Katie was home and lent me a pair of earplugs. They didn't work. I tried sleeping in Ben's room because it is a little farther from the kitchen, but I could still hear the noise and eventually moved back to my room, where I toughed it out.

Last night she was quiet until 5:30, which was OK because I had to get up for tutoring at 6 anyway.

Now that Katie has gone back to school, if I hear a peep from downstairs, I'm going to move into her room, where Katie says she can't hear the dog at all.

Ferberizing is exhausting work.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Goodbye brown paper bag

I still have a brown paper bag that I got on April 1, 2009.

Who keeps a paper bag for almost three years?

Diane knows, because she's been joking with me about my attachment to this bag, which, alas, has got to go.

It's the bag from CVS that my nurse at Brigham and Women's Hospital gave me upon my discharge, filled with the many pills that I still take. This whole time, I've kept that bag in my closet, taking it down for weekly refills of my pill boxes or bringing it with me when I go somewhere overnight in case I forgot to put an important pill in its compartment.

I never really thought I would keep it so long, but the longer it's been with me, the more attached I have gotten. It's now as thin as parchment paper and has a few holes in it. I solved those problems by putting it in a larger bag, but it has just gotten too scrunched up to keep.

So I transferred the pills to another bag...and put the brown paper bag in a closet.

Perhaps I will need to give it a ceremonial good-bye.

It's not that I am fond of it. I guess it's mostly superstition: I've stayed well as long as I've kept my pills in that bag, so if I throw the bag out, will that jinx me?

Before you start thinking "Just get rid of it," let me remind you of the superstitions that are all around us. Baseball players perform their personal rituals before hitting the ball, goalies tap the goalposts in a particular pattern, tennis players use their lucky ball, and those are just examples of the superstitious behavior you can see. Fess up if you want to share your own.

Once when I was in a tennis tournament nearby and came home to change my sweaty top, one of my sons (I can't remember which) asked me if I had won, and when I said yes, he nearly had a fit at the idea that I might change, so off I went to the next match wearing the same gross shirt. (I can't remember if I won.)

My social worker, Mary Lou Hackett, once told me about a patient who wore the same pair of earrings to each checkup, figuring that since she hadn't relapsed while wearing the earrings, she didn't want to tempt fate by wearing any other pair when she went to Dana-Farber.

This New Year's, I got a little crazy when thinking about what to do, or rather what not to do. New Year's is, of course, in its own special category, bringing out all sorts of social anxieties in people.

The year after I came home I wasn't allowed to go anywhere, but the past two years I went to a party. The party wasn't happening this year, so I decided to stay home and watch a movie, which was really fine with me.

But I told Katie I was concerned about starting the year doing something different because the previous two years I had done the same thing and hadn't relapsed, so what if doing something different made me get sick again?

I knew this was magical thinking in a big way, but still, that didn't stop me from having a moment.

Voicing the wisdom that all of my children have, Katie pointed out that I had done many things differently in the past three years and they have not caused me any harm. (Unless you talk about direct cause and effect, such as running on a painful foot and getting a stress fracture.)

So it is time for me to repeat:

I can throw out the paper bag
I can throw out the paper bag
I can throw out the paper bag

...Or can I?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Good parking, good play in NY

Katie and I are back from three days in New York, where the first thing we did was walk with Serena along The High Line, a park built on an elevated rail line along the west side.

I had never been before, and it was just incredible. The sign above just cracked me up, because it spoke to the determination that I (and obviously many others) have with getting a spot.

I also had to laugh because we had just driven in and I had found the perfect spot without praying to anyone.

Katie and me on the High Line.
Saturday night we saw the revival of Stephen Sondheim's  "Follies" with Bernadette Peters. It was amazing, a combination of darkness and light not usually seen in Broadway musicals. We had heard many of the songs, such as "Broadway Baby," before in revues, but didn't realize that they came from this show first produced in 1971.

The weather was nice, so we walked around a lot, did a little shopping, saw family and one night went down to Brooklyn to hear some music. On Sunday morning, I ran four miles along the Hudson River Park and really enjoyed it. I'm used to Central Park and the reservoir on the upper east side, but the change of scene kept me interested.

Later that day, we did get up to the park, walking across it at nightfall to dinner with the city lights all around us.

On Monday, we stopped in Stamford, Conn., for a late lunch with Ben, getting back late and tired.

And now, it's back to the routine, starting with tutoring in 7:30 a.m. tomorrow.

But hey, as I write this I'm listening to "Broadway Baby," and it's bringing me back.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

When you need a jump start

The other day after I had walked a second time around the lake with Deborah, I asked, "I wonder if this gets me out of running today."

It was an odd comment coming from me, and she picked up on it, saying, "I thought you liked running." Well, most of the time I do, but I dislike starting again after taking time off. "It's sort of like giving a jump start to a car," I said. "Once I get going, it's fine."

I had restarted everything post-hernia except for the running, and I kept putting it off. Tennis has challenges (like getting the ball  over the net), but in a way it's easier because you put on your sneakers and tennis-face and then you just go, but you don't go and go and go.

Running is a commitment to constant movement. The day of the longer dog walk wasn't terribly cold, so I made myself change and and go back out. I thought of babying myself by starting really slowly, but I reasoned that since I had run six miles in November, I didn't need to start with one mile all over again now.

So off I went for a three-miler. My feet actually remembered what to do, and before I knew it I was almost floating along.

Yesterday I had tennis, so I wasn't planning on running. Even if I didn't have tennis, I'm not sure I would have gone, because it was super cold and I am a little older than I used to be. But Katie, who has been increasing her distance, was game. I lent her some of my cold-weather running stuff: a really warm long-sleeved wicking shirt and a fleece headband to cover her ears.

With her long ponytail, she looked like I used to, reminding me of days when I ran in such cold weather that there would be little pieces of ice on my eyelashes.

After she left, I put on my long puffy coat and a scarf, hat and mittens, bundling up as though it was the Arctic. I took Maddie once around the lake and was glad to get back in the warm house.

As for alternatives, I really hate the treadmill, aka the dreadmill, but I have discovered the Arc trainer  (a little more difficult and more interesting than the elliptical), so hopefully I will feel motivated and up to popping out the door when it gets warmer.

Sometimes, meanwhile, I jog around the house a little, and I mean a very little, like a few steps here and there, and Maddie looks at me as though I am a little bit crazy. Maybe it's my way of keeping the engine running.