Monthly Archives: May 2010

My Love of Pockets

Stuff that grows on docks (not really) part VII

I guess I have a thing for pockets. I was mining my notebook for nuggets of entertainment, humor or trivia (slim, very slim) when I came across this little bit about things I carry in my pockets (Elmo undies, sleep caps, dog poop bags, tissue).

A Pocket for Corduroy was my favorite book as a child (so glad I could solve that little mystery for you).

There are times in life when pocket space is at a particular premium, like when I travel. When Paul and I were on our 8-month, round-the-world honeymoon, my pockets were always stuffed. In hot climates I carried a sweat rag. I carried room keys, luggage locks, bits of paper with addresses and locations, translations for cab drivers, bus tickets. The most valuable tool was the compass that Paul carried. We both have a terrible sense of direction. We got very good at reading maps, retracing our steps and communicating with locals in hand gestures and puppetry when all else failed (little games of charades all over the world!). Anyway, where was I?

Yes, parenthood is another one of those times when pocket space is at a premium. There are snacks to carry and sippy cups, barrettes and beads that are pulled out of hair on long car rides. There are little toys, mini monkeys that little girls get from coin machines at diners where their daddies take them. There is lip balm for the chapped-lip types like myself. There are napkins and used bandages and some unstuck stickers in case a certain little girl uses the potty. You get the idea. There’s a lot of stuff to carry but that’s not my point. There’s another point I’m getting to here…

The most valuable pocket tool of all time: the Environmental Working Group’s list of the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. The top of the list contains produce that, even when grown conventionally, doesn’t carry a heavy load of pesticides. The bottom of the list contains the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables. You can lower your pesticide intake by 4/5ths if you avoid the conventionally-grown versions of the 12 most contaminated items on this list.

Take a look. Do you see peaches, apples, strawberries and blueberries at the bottom? Berry season is here and the peaches, the peaches are coming. Print it off. You don’t really have to carry it in your pocket but I would recommend carrying it in your purse, or your wallet, or wherever else you carry things because it’s important.

A New Story

We have things to do.

The past few months, when I’ve thought about my approaching five year cancerversary (anniversary of diagnosis), I’ve considered all kinds of ways to celebrate. But the truth is, that week, that whole month in fact, was busy. Real busy. I could see it coming well ahead of time with the events/commitments/fun all piling on top of each other on the calendar – Paul’s ship party, my mother’s birthday party, my mother’s back surgery, a night of sailing, a friend to pick up from the airport, a writing retreat.

Then there was a blog post to write. At first I thought I would tell the story of the breast cancer diagnosis and of the day I found out it was Inflammatory Breast Cancer and the sensational article I stumbled across, during my first terrifying breast cancer awareness month, that stated in simple terms it wasn’t an issue of if but when the cancer would come back and that there was a 90% chance I’d be dead in 5 years. But I don’t want to tell these stories again. They’ve all been written and told. Instead I want to tell new stories.

I want to tell the story of my mother’s birthday party. There’s my great husband who struggles with a punctuality problem who, of course, forgets he’s supposed to leave work early. There’s his meeting that runs long. There’s the changing of the child into her party dress in the parking lot of my grandmother’s retirement home. There’s our late arrival. There’s my daughter’s uncharacteristic disinterest in her grandparents, her inability to eat dinner, her intense dislike of her own chair. Then there’s my daughter’s barf, all over my great husband, all over the table and the carpet. There’s the rushing to the bathroom and changing out of her party dress and into the ugly and too-small backup outfit. There’s the rinsing of the party dress in the sink and the janitor cleaning up the carpet. There’s our return to the dining room for just long enough to say our goodbyes and go home and feed our dog who is starving and exhausted after a weekend of long-distance swimming adventures.  

The next day there’s a sick baby (and I do mean ‘baby’ here, not toddler, because when she’s sick, she will always be my baby) and soup to be made and my mother’s surgery and flowers to be gathered to be taken to the hospital, and hospital rooms to be visited and doctor’s appointments to be made and none of this. None of it is for me.

This story, and my life right now, is exactly as it should be.

This Weekend: The Mountains

Have I told you lately how much I love living in the Northwest?

Last weekend I was on the beach. This weekend I’m in the mountains with a few other writers and photographers and two gigantic dogs. I’ve been writing for multiple days in a row now and I’ve got a stable full of new blog posts and ideas.

Look out blogosphere. Consider yourself warned.

Blue Skies

Cool Weather

Purty Flowers


On Not Being Shipwrecked

Stuff that grows on docks part V.

Doug and I have been racing small sailboats on and off together for about twelve years, since right after I moved back from Chicago, a punk kid talking trash about roll tacks and gybe angles. (No, you don’t need to know what these things mean to understand this post, just appreciate how those words sound together.)

We went through a period where we bickered like teenage sisters – yelling at each other at starts and mark roundings, anytime things got a little stressy. Then something happened. Maybe it was maturity. Maybe we’d learned how to communicate from our significant others. Maybe we started talking to each other on and off the water. Maybe it was all of these things.

He’d tell me what he expected as the skipper, the decisions I should make, the information he needed about wind shifts, compass headings and fleet position. I told him how much notice I needed and the tone of voice I required.

We’d just started the sailing season five years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer. My oncologist told me I should try to keep doing things that brought me joy, even while (especially while) I was in chemo. Since I sailed every Tuesday night, I scheduled chemo for Wednesday mornings so Tuesdays would be my best, strongest, least nauseous day. I marched through the summer, a freaked-out skeleton, covered in sun screen and topped with a wide-brimmed hat. Sailing was, and has always been, my thing. It was one of the few things I held on to.

I don’t remember talking about cancer on the boat. I couldn’t. I had to sail. When we’re on the boat it’s all about wind pressure, sail trim and right of way. It‘s complete immersion that demands physical and mental devotion. It was my only escape, the only time when my long-term survival drifted to the back of my mind. I didn’t miss a single night that season.

I happened to be having coffee with Doug this winter when his doctor called to tell him he had Medullary Thyroid Cancer. We talked and emailed over the following weeks and months through his surgery and follow up scans and blood work, about the world of cancer in general and his cancer in particular. Our diseases were different but the ever-present fear of recurrence is now something we share.

The 2010 season started a few weeks ago. Doug is through with treatment and cancer-free. He’s light a thyroid now, his upper body strength isn’t what it used to be, and his vocal cords were jimmied enough during surgery that he has a hard time speaking loudly, but we were out there. We didn’t talk at all about tumor markers, scans or surgeons, only about lifts and headers, lay lines and mark roundings. We spent some time working on the coordination of our roll tacks – pushing all our combined weight to one rail to turn the boat then jumping to the other side to flatten as the boat accelerated. Even when our coordination was completely off, everything felt right. We were doing exactly what we should be doing, watching the wind move across the water, and holding down the rail of that boat.

Too pretty for just one picture.

A Story for Wednesday

No! Not this cute girl.

So let’s say there’s this toddler, a sweet little thing with braids held in place with multi-colored flower clips, who walks up to her little friend at preschool, grabs her by the collar and pushes her to the floor. No words are exchanged; there is no fight over a toy, just bam. Smack-down.

Then let’s say, a day later, the mother and daughter make a cake. The toddler is standing on a chair and while they’re holding the beater, this same toddler slips her arm around her mother’s waist, looks up and says “I wuv you Mommy.” Sweet as pie.

Yes, this child is two-and-a-half. Yes, she is a force of nature. Her mother knows these things, but she still can’t help but wonder what causes her sweet child with the braids and flowered clips and all to decide she’s a WWF wrestling super-star. Was she tired? Coming down with the flu? Had she eaten something that didn’t agree with her, had she had too much sugar, too little sugar, too much exercise or not enough exercise, too much time with other toddlers, not enough, too many hunks of cheese, raisins, granola bars or things that stick in her teeth or don’t, she must need more things that stick in her teeth or maybe it’s that new toothpaste with the fluoride or the fact that she isn’t flossing or or or… Picture this mother holding out the ends of her hair going “ACK!” like Andy Samberg playing Cathy from the comic strip on Saturday Night Live. Sweat drops, sweat drops, sweat drops.

Let’s just say this mother is always looking for causes, triggers, patterns, consequences. She knows sometimes she takes the speculation too far, but she also knows what she puts in her child does affect her child’s behavior.

The big health news this week is about a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics that shows kids with above average amounts of organophosphate pesticides in their urine are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

“Detectable levels of pesticides are present in a large number of fruits and vegetables sold in the U.S., according to a 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited in the study. In a representative sample of produce tested by the agency, 28 percent of frozen blueberries, 20 percent of celery, and 25 percent of strawberries contained traces of one type of organophosphate. Other types of organophosphates were found in 27 percent of green beans, 17 percent of peaches, and 8 percent of broccoli.”

Another reason to buy organic produce. All this stuff that goes into this mother’s body and this child’s body… It does matter.

Turns out this particular toddler had a virus and two canker sores in the back of her mouth. As far as her mother can tell, her WWF-style take down had nothing to do with organophosphates and everything to do with being miserable. But this mother can never be too sure.

I can't keep my lips off those cheeks!

The Cook’s Fingerprint

Perfect Weekend

“When I tasted it, that’s when I realized that my mother was dead,” he said. “I realized that I was never going to taste that dish again the way my mother made it. The person who makes the food – his physique, his soul – is unique. It’s like fingerprints, or handwriting.” – Musa Dagdeviren, quoted in “The Memory Kitchen” by Elif Batuman in the New Yorker, April 19, 2010.

The article was about a man (Musa) who is trying to resurrect the food culture of Turkey. I thought about this quote on and off all weekend.

I’ll always remember the taste of my mother’s homemade baguettes, even though I haven’t tasted bread in years. I hope Josie remembers me for my soup – turkey rice, chicken noodle, curried squash, carrot orange, split pea – all made from scratch with homemade stock.

What food will you remember your mother or father for? What food will your children remember you for?

Hermit crabs?

The joy of throwing rocks never ends.

The Plan

Too sick to go to school, but too healthy to stay home.

After the last meal-related post a friend told me that she wanted to eat more vegetables and she wanted to feed her family better but she just didn’t know how. She thought she should take a cooking class. She seemed to think that at the end of the day she should be able to come home and take whatever staples, leftovers, condiments and spices were available and throw something together.

Dude, it’s not like you’re on Top Chef. There’s this place with tables and shelves and aisles filled with food. All kinds of food. It’s called a supermarket or a grocery store or a co-op. Whatever. Go there.

Here’s what I told her to do:

  1. Get a few good cookbooks, favorite recipe website or cooking magazine.
  2. Over the weekend sit down with them and your calendar.
  3. Choose 3 recipes with lots of veggies. Don’t skimp on the butter, olive oil, cheese, whatever it takes to make those veggies taste good.
  4. Make a grocery list and plan to buy enough food to feed your family for at least two nights. If it’s freezable (like soup or stew), cook extra extra and put it in a glass canning jar in the freezer.
  5. Look at your schedule and plan what nights you’ll cook and what nights you’ll have leftovers.
  6. Go to the store or order groceries online and have them delivered.
  7. Cook. Eat. Sleep.

Now, lest you think I’m a total, perfect, know-it-all blogger, I’m going to take a minute to tell you all the things I don’t do well. I do not clean bathtubs. When Paul used my bathroom while we were dating and accidentally looked in my shower, he was horrified. He says now that it was a jungle filled with monkeys swinging on vines. I barely keep my few houseplants alive (just ask my mother). I do not knit, quilt, sew or scrapbook. I do not make any pretty or thoughtful presents for my friends and family when they are ill or have babies. There are many other things I do not do well, but I think that’s enough for today. Oh, and I’m totally tone deaf.

I know some of you are organizational marvels who quilt and bake and have bags of homemade meatballs and soups in the freezer just waiting to be eaten. You know who you are. Will you share some of your tips?

And even if you aren’t an organizational marvel what are your favorite tricks for getting food on the table? (Did I REALLY just write that last sentence? I sincerely apologize. When did I step off the set of Mad Men? If I’m going to have to cook this dinner, someone better bring me a high-ball full of bourbon and a cigarette, pronto!).

Good News for the Hystericals

Stuff that grows on docks (or doesn't anymore) part IV.

Breaking news: John Oliver of the Daily Show reports chilly neck breezes to be the leading killer of British people.

I could write a post about the importance of scarves or, as John Oliver argued, ascots, for everyone, not just the British. Some days it seems like almost anything can be proven hazardous or healthful if the right study is conducted by the right (or wrong) people.

But I’m not going to write that post because I can write about this: last week, President Obama’s cancer panel  filed a report stating that the contribution of chemicals and pollutants to the growing rate of cancers has been “grossly underestimated.” New hope and validation in the land of the hysterical.

The report also said that “With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action.” Appropriate national action… That would be so awesome.

This from a Washington Post article: “Children are particularly vulnerable because they are smaller and are developing faster than adults, the panel found. The report noted unexplained rising rates of some cancers in children, and it referred to recent studies that have found industrial chemicals in umbilical-cord blood, which supplies nutrients to fetuses. ‘To a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted,’ the panel wrote.”

The end result was a recommendation that the government overhaul the laws regulating the chemical industry. Wouldn’t that be something? 

Keep Those Gremlins Out of My Garden

I’ve been chipping away at a vegetable garden for the last two years. I had one in the last house. Then we moved with a six-month old baby. It wasn’t at the top of my to-do list. Last summer for my birthday, I asked my husband and my dad to build 3, 4’x10’ raised beds (in 97F heat). Then we had dirt delivered. What a way to celebrate!

For Christmas my mother made a donation to my drip irrigation system. Then it had to be designed, ordered and installed.

Then veggie starts had to be purchased. Then they had to be planted. Of course, I planted peas. I have to have peas, but it didn’t take me long to realize they had nothing to climb. For the last two weeks, a melee of birthdays and Mother’s Day celebrations, a voice in my head has been screaming your peas have nothing to climb! Get on it woman! Of course this thought was written on post-its and lists everywhere. Then finally, Mother’s Day, the peas got something to climb and I bought a few more starts to fill in the first bed. Isn’t it lovely?

I hope the peas like it.

Then I read this – Rx From the Cursing Mommy. I loved the whole thing but the end/byline was my favorite part:

Looking for new ideas in the garden? Get the Cursing Mommy’s yard-and-garden manual, “I’m Going to Kill Those Fucking Deer with My Bare Hands, I Swear I Am: A Guide to Seasonal Plantings,” possibly available at many stores.

Deer aren’t a problem at my house but so help me if one of those little rats, cats, possums, bunnies, weevils, muchkins, leprechauns, dogs, gremlins, chipmunks, hamsters, birds, squirrels eats a leaf off my lettuce or a strawberry from a vine, I think I will track down the cursing mommies garden manual (or maybe I’ll write my own). I swear I will.

Happy Birthday Babe!

Murky at Best

It's even brighter in real life.

On Tuesday our tiny, jail cell of a powder room was painted. It’s navy blue stripes with matte and gloss finishes except for an apple green ceiling and accent wall. It’s awesome. I’ve been snickering to myself, like I have a secret, all week. I have an apple green wall. It’s not a big one but it’s bright green. I’m so clever, artistic, daring. I’m so damn pleased with myself.

It’s a good thing my bathroom is making me so happy because every time I turn on the news and listen to the reports of the oil spilling into the gulf, I have to hold back sobs. And this Tylenol recall business… Hey, Johnson & Johnson, what the hell is going on over there?

In April, FDA inspectors stopped by the manufacturing plant for Children’s Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and Zyrtec for a routine inspection and found problems with “quality-control methods and manufacturing processes, including a failure to track customer complaints and spot trends that may signal systemic problems, a lack of written procedures and a failure to adequately train employees.” A routine inspection? You’d think they’d get things in order for the inspectors; you know, tidy the place up and make it look real nice. Maybe they did, maybe this was the plant looking its best. 

Also this: “Federal investigators found that raw materials had ‘known contamination’ with unspecified bacteria and ‘were approved for use to manufacture several finished lots of Children’s and Infant’s Tylenol drug products.’”

Apparently they’ve been receiving complaints about a moldy, musty, or mildew-like odor, murkiness and complaints of nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea since 2008. “The company said the smell was caused by a chemical called ‘2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA),’ which is applied to wooden pallets that are used to transport and store packaging materials.” Super.

Here’s what all this means: (1) throw away all your infant and children’s Motrin, Tylenol, Benadryl and Zyrtec. It’s all been recalled. (2) It’s time to hoard generic children’s pain reliever. Buy some while you can because who knows when J&J will get their act together and start manufacturing again. For more info…

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my happy place.