Friday, May 30, 2008


Phew is a little trite, but there it is.

I got a message today from my oncologist's office (lovely Betsy) to say that my tumor markers are all excellent, well within normal ranges, and that everything looks normal. I was told "See you at your next regular check up - have a great summer!" and this, needless to say, is excellent news.

But when I heard Betsy's voice on the phone, and she said she had an update for me, in those two seconds before I heard the good news, my stomach clenched and my blood pressure shot through the roof and my brain shut down. The good news helped me to breathe again, but the physical effects of the fear are real, and they will take a while to go away.

This, in the middle of a good day. Tessa and I spent the day at "Grandma Dorothy's house" - Grandma Dorothy is the preschool teacher's mother, and she comes every Friday to the school to read stories and deliver home made cookies made in the shape of the theme of the week (a bat, or a salmon, or a spider, etc.). All of the children adore her, and going to her house was a real treat. Dozens of children, with almost an equal number of parents, played on the beach, BBQd, and enjoyed the day.

Once home, Tessa and I ran errands (including a fun stop at the used book store to pick up some new books for Tessa - bargains because we have store credit) and went grocery shopping.

And now we're waiting for Ryan to come home, and the weekend to begin. Dave Matthews is singing on the radio, the sun is shining, and the grill is waiting to cook our burgers. Maybe we'll go to Ercolini Park after dinner, or maybe we'll sit in the hammock, or maybe we'll play Go Fish at the outdoor table....but whatever it is, I'm looking forward to it.

And I'm trying to remember to breathe again, to not focus on the fact that I actually HAVE an oncologist, or why, but instead to focus on the good message.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

More green commentary

I'm certainly not alone in my commentary on trying not to drive; though some days I feel cutting edge, sometimes I feel downright behind the curve.

Today I did not drive my car. We stayed home in the morning, and the Tessa, Shep and I walked to preschool. I walked Shep home, leaving him there, and then I walked to Heather's to care for Camille. Another preschool mom brought Tessa to Heather's so I wouldn't have to wake Camille from her nap to get Tessa, and then Tessa and I walked home together with a little stop in at Beth & Anna's on the way. I figure I walked about three miles, or a smidge more, and Shep got two of those miles.

I like this lifestyle when the weather cooperates.

Tonight, I'm going to a girls' night, and we're carpooling, so there will be a mini-van full of us. Yes, that's driving, but with 6 to a vehicle I'm feeling pretty good about it.

It would have been SO much easier to drive today for all of this. And I'm so glad I didn't.

(I'm not blogging all of my no-car days, but maybe I should. This weekend we had a no car day and a 2 mile car day - that to church, because we were running late - and I'm getting better at it. Some days it's easy - just stay home! - but when I want to be active, social, and productive out in the community, it's a bit harder, and I'm proud of myself when I don't wimp out on those days.)

Green Update

I am continuing to learn, edit, and work towards a green lifestyle.

New habits are becoming second nature: the bucket in the shower gets filled and used to water our outdoor potted plants; the laptop gets completely unplugged after use; the cell phone chargers go into a drawer near the outlet when not in use. I continue to make my own bread, to use environmentally friendly cleaners, to use the cold water cycles on the washing machine for all but the worst stains. I never found a shower timer but I'm being conscious of shower duration, and though I'm not timing, I'm convinced that my showers are shorter. We unplugged our downstairs fridge (and don't miss it). We're walking more than ever (easy to do in our neighborhood, when so many shops are close by). We're turning off lights. We're not shopping for stuff as much. We're spending more time outdoors - gardening, going to parks - than before (and the weather is cooperating on this one, thankfully).

Our garden is growing (I should take new pictures soon), and it's apparent that the crops are well on their way to being edible. I have six tomato plants in, including two that I grew from seed, and I actually wish I had more room so that I could put more in. Our strawberries are covered in green fruit, and it won't be long until they are ready. I've planted parsley at the base of the rose bushes because the packet told me that would help them both to grow (?), and I've got squash coming up in those garden beds, as well. Needless to say, the garden is all organic, using heirloom seeds/plants, vermicompost, compost, and natural fertilizers. We are using soaker hoses covered in mulch, so hopefully they will be water-efficient (we'll find out when we get our summer water bill!).

Transportation is a tough one; for all of our walking, we still drive more than I'd like to. Tessa's endurance is improving all the time, but walking with her takes a lot more time than I tend to allocate, and so I still rely on the car a lot. The walk-not-drive campaign is a way of helping us to slow down....if I plan walking trips, by definition, we can't plan back-to-back activities, and I think that is a good thing. Still, it's an adjustment.

I am thinking about buying a bus pass for the month of July and trying to avoid all single-adult car trips except travel (camping etc). Tessa's only activity in July is soccer class; maybe we could carpool to that or even bus (it's only a couple of miles away, but I think if we walked Tessa would be too tired to play soccer!). With gas at $4.13 in some places (I saw a sign in Seattle for that amount - crazy!) the $63 bus pass for me sounds really darned cheap, especially if I use it all the time. I found out how Tessa and I can take Metro from our house to Alki Elementary, and so I'm hoping to experiment with bussing more often to see if I can justify buying an annual bus pass and parking the car more. Quite obviously, a car produces a lot more carbon emissions than just about anything else I do.

I am trying more than ever to carpool, and to make it the expectation rather than the exception. I'm willing to drive, or to chip in for gas, or to trade off....but there is no reason to avoid carpooling, especially since Tessa is in a booster seat that easily goes from one car to the next.

I'm also trying to shop/eat greener. PCC has become my primary grocery store (supplemented mainly by Trader Joe's, with meat from Thriftway or Costco because they have good organic specials, as well as the farmer's market when we're in town) and I'm really reading labels to buy local. I'm buying items in glass instead of plastic (with honey, for example, I have a choice) when possible, I'm buying bulk and re-using my own containers to do so. I'm replacing cosmetic items (shampoo, soap, etc.) as they run out with "healthier" ones (though I still haven't found a decent deodorant, so I'm relying on my old stuff).

One of my biggest changes, intellectually, is that I'm staying out of stores. I love Carmelia's (for example), but I'm not even popping in to browse for five minutes, because I don't need anything. No more checking out what is on sale at Marshall's, because I just don't need it. This is my "reduce" part of "reduce, reuse, recycle" and I am certain that it lowers my carbon footprint substantially.

I went to Starbucks with Lori the other day (she had a gift card) and because we'd been walking for miles I wanted water instead of coffee. I made a point of asking for tap water to go with my breakfast roll-up, instead of buying bottled, and I asked for it in a re-usable cup. The woman behind the counter didn't understand at all what I meant; I finally had to point at the large ceramic coffee cup behind her and say, "That kind! Like a 'for here grande coffee' but with water in it!" and she let me have it but her confusion ("why would anybody ask for that?") was evident. On our road trip to Spokane, we all managed to avoid buying a single bottle of water because we refilled our Kleen Kanteens along the way. (Rest stop water from a drinking fountain worked, although it wasn't the tastiest we'd ever had. It's amazing how water can taste so different from one place to another.) I would like to believe that I will never again drink from a plastic bottle of water, but I realize that is unlikely....but I know that I've changed my habit immensely and the change is in the right direction.

I am also working on developing more vegetarian habits. I will probably always be an omnivore, but I'm trying to reduce the amount of meat I eat. We're doing more vegetarian dishes, and more seafood dishes, and more dishes that have meat as a flavoring more than as the main caloric portion. I used to serve 6-8oz of meat per person regularly, and now I'm moving to 3-4 oz of meat per person for many entrees. I'm still working on this, and I have a long ways to go, but I know I'm moving in the right direction.

I'm reading library books every day. (I'm about to start "Assault on Reason" by Al Gore.....doesn't sound like light reading, but I'm up for it.) I'm trading books with friends (Sarah loaned me "Tender at the Bone" by Ruth Reichl and I am laughing out loud with it; it's much lighter than the other things I've been reading).

And all of this is causing me to use my spare time in better ways. I'm walking more, listening to interesting downloads from iTunes (did you know that several speeches by the Dalai Lama are available for free?); I'm reading more; I'm watching less TV than ever (maybe an hour per month?). I'm writing in my journal more regularly. I have plans to spend every available summer weekend camping. For me, these things are wonderful improvements - they are soul satisfying (and that is what it's all about for me).

I have so much to learn. I have so much to improve upon. I still crave all kinds of things - too much food (weight issues....sigh), pretty clothes, household miscellany. My instinct is still to jump in the car and get the errands over with quickly, to grab a bottle of water off the shelf, to turn on the TV to unwind, to grill a big steak, to eat strawberries in February, to buy the cheap stuff from China. But I'm learning, and I am content with my learning. I feel like I've come a long way, and I know that I have. Sure, there's a long way to go, but with a lot of luck maybe I'll have 60+ years to figure out the rest of these things, so I don't have to have it all worked out now.

And you? Does anyone reading this want to tell me about their green adventures? Any tips or tricks to teach me? Any suggestions for green experiments? Any philosophy to share? I'm all ears - let me know!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Are you a West Seattle CoolMom?

I'm copying this from the Cool Moms website: we're new and open to new members. Interested in joining us? Read below.

June CoolMom Meeting
Next MeetingWest Seattle CoolMom meetings are held on the First Wednesday of every month from 7-8:30 pm at the C & P Coffee Company (directions). Our next meeting on June 4th will include a presentation by Meg Gluckman from Seattle City Light. Meg is from West Seattle and will discuss some insightful home energy conservation tips as well as hand out some "green goodies". Come armed with any questions you may have!

Update About the CoolMom Format:
The mission of CoolMoms is to mobilize moms to combat global warming. We've organized to be able to share resources, learn something new and band together to attack key issues. The latter currently manifests itself in action groups. The action groups meet briefly after the general meeting adjourns. You do not need to join an action group to be part of the CoolMom community. However, if you would like to participate in this month's tip of a fuel free family day, or a "no drive day" (either one day a week or just one day!) - you can share any successes or challenges that you experienced with the rest of the group at the next meeting.

Deep thoughts about "Deep Economy"

Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
by Bill McKibben (2007)

I have been struggling with this book for a couple of weeks, and just finished it this morning (I woke up early to do so, and Tessa is obliging me by sleeping in!).

I recommend it highly. HIGHLY.

The book is about global markets, personal economies, the environment, communities, and happiness. Well, that's my take on it, anyway. The book jacket reads:

In this powerful and provocative manifesto, Bill McKibben offers the biggest challenge in a generation to the prevailing view of our economy. For the first time in human history, he observes, "more" is no longer synonymous with "better" - indeed, for many of us, they have become almost opposites. McKibben puts forward a new way to think abouut the things we buy, the food we eat, the energy we use, and the money that pays for it all.

The animating idea of Deep Economy is that we need to move beyond "growth" as the paramount economic ideal and pursue prosperity in a more local direction....

Every page is filled with data, statistics, and anecdotal information about the world we live in, with suggestions of how to use this data in useful ways to change our lives for the better.

Of course, this is right up my alley. I am convinced that the current way in which we live our lives doesn't make us happy. I want to be happy - I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Pretty much everything I want in the world (peace, compassion, health, love, joy) can be summed up in that word: happiness.

And it's pretty clear that as Americans, as a whole, we are NOT happy. It's also clear that in our desire for more, we are becoming less happy. More and better are not the same thing.

Look at the country of Bhuton, which has replaced GNP with a happiness index. This tiny, poor nation has managed to "increase life expectancy by nineteen years since the mid-1980s, and it spends what money it has on education, health care, and the environment..." (p. 217)

But bringing it back home, the book talks about simple examples. The Scandanavian countries have an incredibly high standard of living (unemployment, health care, literacy, humanitarian work, poverty rates....). But Americans don't "get it." Here's another excerpt from the book:

For Americans caught up in the orthodoxy of getting and spending.... A writer based in Oslo, for instance, recently wrote a piece for the New York Times with the lovely title, "We're Rich, You're Not. End of Story." He pointed out that while Americans had $32,900 per person to devote to "private consumption," the European averages ranged between $13,850 and $23,500. That is inedeed a big difference; the Europeans were definitely "poorer" than we, and the writer delighted in listing the ways. "They hang on to old appliances and furniture that we would throw out," for instance. And this: "One image in particular sticks in my mind. In a Norwegian language class, my teacher illustrated the meaning of the word matpakke - 'packed lunch' - by reaching into her backpack and pulling out a hero sandwich wrapped in wax paper. It was her lunch. She held it up for all to see. Yes, teachers are underpaid everywhere. But in Norway the matpakke is ubiquitous, from classroom to boardroom. In New York, an office worker might pop out at lunchtime to a deli....In Norway she will sit at her desk with a sandwich from home." (pp. 223-224)

But Europeans work, on average, 40 weeks per year, and Americans work 46 weeks per year. (This statistic is quoted somewhere in the book; I've heard it before this, as well. Sorry for being too lazy to look it up to cite here - this isn't an academic article, it's my un-edited blog.)And I would gladly trade in six weeks at the office for a whole year of home made sandwiches.

The metaphor of the sandwich is quite clear to me. I would rather make my own sandwich (out of local, fresh, organic ingredients when possible) than spend an extra six weeks in an office. I would rather play on the beach with my family (we're fortunate in that it's walking distance from home, as long as we have a bit of extra time) and have old furniture than I would spend time in an office preparing to buy new furniture.

Tessa is up and asking for breakfast now, so it's time for me to get on with the day. I hope you do something today to add to your own personal happiness, and that these thoughts encourage you to do something about your own path to happiness.


PS Tessa's favorite breakfast is now "Mama's Oatmeal."
- organic whole grain oats from PCC's bulk bins (Bob's Red Mill, from Milwalkie, OR)
- organic non-fat plain yogurt (from Trader Joe's)
- organic frozen berries (also from Trader Joe's; we'll do fresh when they're in season)
- organic maple syrup (also Trader Joe's)
Cook oatmeal according to directions. About 1-2 minutes before it is finished cooking, when not quite all of the water is absorbed, add the frozen berries and finish cooking until the berries are defrosted and the water is absorbed. Remove from heat, and add yogurt and maple syrup. Serve immediately. (When the berries are fresh, we'll cook the oatmeal, then add the berries with the yogurt and syrup.)
Total cost: less than $1 (pennies worth of oatmeal, perhaps $.25 worth of yogurt, $.40 of berries and $.20 worth of maple syrup)
Preservatives and artificial ingredients: Zero
Nutrition: Oodles! (no, I'm not going to look it up)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Flying Solo

Today I visited with my wonderful therapist (psychiatrist, to be more precise) Dr. Baer for the last time. Dr. Baer is moving to another state, and I for one am sad to see her go. She has been instrumental in helping me to learn and grow and come to new levels of acceptance about my path, and I am extraordinarily grateful to her.

I am going to miss her.

I am trying to reach the acceptance stage of my grief over the changes in my life that have occured since my diagnosis. I am trying to move on, recognizing that I am forever changed, and accepting those changes.

Some of those changes are physical. I am coming to terms, very slowly, with the fact that my reconstruction is not going well, and may never go well. Perhaps if I did another ten surgeries I could get to the place I thought I'd get...but I don't have it in me. I am making the choice to stop having surgery after the next surgery, however flawed my results may be. I am not going to be whole, complete, and pieced back together physically. In order to become mentally whole, I am going to have to learn to accept these physical flaws.

I can no longer delude myself that "one day this will be better." I promised Tessa that one day Mommy would have new nipples, but I forgot to say "in the right place" or "nipples that actually protrude." I thought I'd have a matched pair of breasts - sisters, if not identical twins - but instead I have distant cousins who don't even appear to know one another. Of course, the next surgery (October) might improve those things, but I am no longer counting on that. Anything that goes right in that regard will be a bonus, not an expectation.

And the physical symptoms that go along with treatment....I am learning to accept them, too. I have hot flashes so bad that I soak the bedsheets and find myself shivering in my sweaty, wet pajamas, unable to sleep I'm so cold. I'm accepting that a normal part of my life needs to be changing my pajamas once or twice in the middle of the night, just to be able to sleep. I am accepting that I am permanently fatigued, requiring MUCH more sleep than I used to (10 hours a night no longer refreshes me). I am accepting that I can not lift my arm straight up in the air. I am accepting that whenever I lift something, I get a simultaneously dull-sharp (don't ask, I can't explain it) pain in my chest where the surgeries have occurred. I am accepting that my menopausal skin is dry, flakey, and prone to acne (you've gotta be kidding me! - wait, I'm supposed to be accepting here....). I am accepting that I am well on the way to osteoporosis.

Or am I? I'm not so sure. When I write about this list, I realize I have to stop before I remember the rest of the list (achy joints, thin eyebrows, new facial hair NOT in my eyebrows, a keloid (?) scar on my eye from the surgery to make nipples, difficulty opening jars or doing other simple tasks because of lost upper body strength/damage.....shall I keep going? there's more!) because I don't really accept it. Who could? But I'm trying. I am really, really trying. And I"m closer than I used to be.

(I can not yet learn to accept or embrace my forgetfulness. Mid-sentence, I lose track. I am told things, and I forget them. I have a harder time following complex ideas, or tracking lists of ideas, or even managing my calendar. This, I do not accept. "Chemobrain" implies chemo, and chemo ended 2.5 years ago for me. I am horribly disappointed in my lack of brainpower since chemo.)

People ask me, regularly, "How are you doing?" with that look of concern in their eyes. I try to answer truthfully, and I also try to be positive. I AM grateful to be alive - more grateful each day. I have overcome so much. I am grateful to be out of the worst parts of treatment. I am grateful to have whole weeks pass without doctor's appointments. I am grateful to have enough energy to be involved with things other than cancer.

I am grateful to be Tessa's mother, and to be Ryan's wife.

It's been almost three years. I am ready to move on to something new, and to take on different challenges, and to set aside the old challenges.

I am trying to be compassionate at myself, and to not judge myself too harshly that I have learned so little in three years. I am trying to be patient with myself that three long years have passed, but I still (mentally) reside in Cancerland. I am trying to be compassionate with myself so that I do not feel ashamed of my failure to escape Cancerland when so much is going well. I am trying to focus on the positive.

Tough stuff.

I am learning, though, and proud of that learning. My work on my personal environmental impact, my work in charity, my spiritual explorings, my involvement with community...all are part of finding my new normal.

Tonight Ryan's out having a bit of down time, and Tessa and I baked together after dinner: banana bread with chocolate chips (gotta use those bananas!), herb garlic bread (a nice change of pace from the whole wheat flax bread we're so used to), and strawberry jam popovers. Tessa helped to measure, stir, and blend, and got to sample the popovers for dessert. We had PEPS in the morning, and this afternoon Tessa went to preschool while I visited the doc. After preschool, we had some friends over for a playdate (and they brought their puppy, who looks just like Shep did when he was small).

Lots to be grateful for. I have moved ahead; despite my frustration with fatigue, I couldn't have managed this one day two and a half years ago.

I will miss Dr. Baer; she is bright, articulate, and compassionate, and she has helped me so much. I wish her well in her new adventures with family.

Wish me well without her - I've done so much growing in the past six months, I hope that I can keep momentum without her guidance.


(PS Yes, I'll find another therapist. But those who follow me know that I've had TERRIBLE luck with therapists. They're expensive, and some have been harmful more than helpful. When I have to, I"ll find a new one. But right now it's too much effort.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Finishing up the weekend

I'm finishing this weekend tired but happy.

It was such a treat to spend Fri/Sat/early Sun with the Landahl family, and to see our children laughing and playing together.

Today (after a long walk with Lori) we did loads of gardening and house projects, and it's so nice to have further work done. The vegetable bed got weeded (again!) - I'm very careful not to let anything take over because I really, truly want to get a healthy crop, and I've put too much work into it to let it fall apart now. I planted two more tomatoes (grown from seeds!), weeded the front bed, put out the soaker hose in the flower garden and buried it in mulch (although calling it a flower garden is a bit of a misnomer now that i have planted squash as well), and other such things. There is still so much work to do, but progress is made almost daily and I'm pleased.

We have gotten into the habit of filling a shower bucket each day (twice a day, becasue of the two of us) and watering our pots and plants. We didn't drive the car at all today (Tessa, Sarah and I walked to the nursery to buy potting soil and took the wagon to carry it).

Again, my body is sore. That's okay. I"m going to do a few indoor chores, stare out at my garden for a moment, and then crawl in under fresh sheets.

Maybe tomorrow I'll have time to reflect more, but today I am content.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Three years

Three years ago today I discovered a lump in my breast.

I wasn't diagnosed until June 1, but it's been three years since I've lived with the aftermath of that finding.

I'm too tired to say more tonight. I just needed to say something.

Out living life

I'm updating to say that I can not update today.

The Landahl's spent two lovely nights here so that our families could bond and hang out; we took the water taxi, went to the aquarium, grilled in the back yard, drank morning coffee at C&P....lovely.

Church was particularly inspiring to me today, and filled me with all kinds of thoughts of the future, and hope and optimism. Then, afterwards, we walked all over West Seattle (Farmer's Market, Husky Deli ice cream, and new Ercolini Park) and ran into all kinds of friends and visited.

And now we're a bit quiet - Ryan's on a bike ride in this incredible weather, Tessa and I are enjoying a little down time, and Shep and Mo are having lazy naps.

I'd say so much more, but I must enjoy the weather, marinate the chicken for the grill, sit in the hammock and read. It's that kind of weekend.

I hope your weekend is going this well. :-) It is just such a bonus that it's a long weekend and we get another full day - wahooooooooooooooooooooooooo!