gardening and cancer

June 23, 2011


yes, i know.  it’s so beautiful in my little brooklyn backyard.  from the wet, muddy pit that it was about 22 years ago when i first moved in to the beautiful quirky yard filled with roses, basil and burgeoning tomatoes and cucumbers not to mention overgrown patches of irises – my backyard is our own little oasis.  when i was just out of treatment – 5 years ago this summer – i wasn’t up for much.  i remember walking down the street in park slope, brooklyn near my work, and seeing a beautiful flowering vine.  it wasn’t clematis…which are vines i have many of against the fences.  i bought it immediately and sometime in the next week, planted it near the foot of my climbing yellow roses.   i don’t remember much of that summer but i remember sitting on the back rocker just watching my garden and thinking that so few people took the time to sit in their garden.   late that fall, i finally looked up the vine that i planted and, much to my horror, found out that the red trumpet vine that i had purchased and planted was deemed to be one of the most invasive vines around…it would take over and strangle all else.  without a moment’s hesitation, i went to my yard, dug up the vine, and discarded it. 

last week, i took time out from a busy work schedule to delay heading into the office – i gave myself an hour in the cool morning to get down on my knees and really focus on weeding out a patch of the garden.  one by one i plucked out the usual offenders…the rain had made them easy to grab so that their roots came out – giving me hope that i was winning the weeding game.  then i looked over and stared.  there it was.  at the foot of the yellow climbing roses…the telltale green vine that said that my excavation 4.5 years earlier was a fool’s errand.  invasive vine.  it seemed the very definition of invasive.  it was still there.  and growing.  and probably spreading.  and i started crying.  in my own garden.  a cruel reminder that you never know that what you think has been taken out of  you isn’t still growing.  i hate cancer.   i’ve gone back into my garden … but it took a few days.  i hate cancer. 



big grocery lists

November 15, 2010

if a bit absent on this blog lately, we’re entering a period of almost non-stop visitors.  i’m not complaining.  i am trying to embrace the 5 years of insanity behind me (while still staying on top of regular checks) and start to use and meld with our almost-completed kitchen.  i guess no one ever thought we’d actually redo our kitchen and they are all coming to witness what must be a modern miracle!  it’s an interesting mix as we get used to what is where in the cabinets … every day something gets moved from one side to the other in an attempt to make our every day tasks feel well-placed.  seems silly to schlepp the cut bread across the room to the toaster…why not move the toaster to where we always cut bread?!  duh. 

sleeping arrangements in our little brooklyn house are a little harder…guests have to be ok with airbeds and the possibility that at least one of them will be on the airbed in the front of the living room.  the kitchen got bigger.  the available sleeping areas did not.  our visiting vancouverites – 2 adults and 2 kids – are enjoying their nyc visit and it was almost a practice run for my parents and a camp bunkie at thanksgiving (tho we’ll be 9 at dinner at our house) and then my brother-in-law and family at …. it’s neither christmas nor hanukah for us…ummm….winter dec. break!  in between we’re hosting a visiting student from winnipeg for 3 days while teenage daughter and this girl are attending and participating in the u.n. international conference on children’s rights in early december followed by a weekend with a visit by my husband’s aunt and her partner.  BUSY!!!!  am turning into the super-queen-of-lists and costco and fairway will be happy to see me coming this season. 

worrying about someone i don’t really know

October 22, 2010

it was an internet-driven six degrees of separation kind of thing except this had only 1 degree.  my friend lisa – whom i have ‘known’ now for easily 10 years through an online email loop that started in the aol moms bb boards and has honed itself  to 8 or 9 women emailing daily for many years now – had a friend sean – who used to work with her as a journalist and who was diagnosed with brain cancer … gioblastoma multiforme…and was writing a blog.  i was writing a blog.  and starting to reach out in my reading to listen to other people.  i wasn’t looking for cancer blogs.  i wasn’t looking for a fellow cancer patient.  i usually haunt cooking and kitchen blogs.  but lisa wrote about him a few times and once quoted something sean wrote in a post and i was intrigued.  so i peeked.  i was so freaked out by the intense nature of his cancer and writing that i bookmarked the page but it took me weeks to come back and read it.  but i did go back and what i found past the ‘this is what is happening to me’ was a deeply smart witty writer who was capable of taking his own personal dire circumstances and fashioning posts that were far-reaching in their content.  and then i kept reading.  and posted a bit…mostly with bits of support from a stranger in brooklyn, new york to an ailing journalist in florida…one of many caring voices urging him on and wishing him more than well.  but now, the posts have stopped.  i noticed right after 9/11 when he posted a poem written by a friend of his that i was the only comment on that post.  as if everyone else knew something.  i hear from lisa that the chemo is kicking his ass.  i wish there was a way that i could do more than sit at my laptop in my bedroom hoping that he finds his way to a better place.  it’s odd that it hurts to feel for someone i’ve never actually met. 

in a cruel irony, one of the sweetest teachers at my daughter’s school was just diagnosed with the same cancer and perhaps sean’s blog has given me insight into this path so that i can understand her journey better and help my daughter cope with worrying about her beloved mentor and teacher.

i hope you read through his blog.  his writing is wonderful.  i hope he and i ‘meet’ again when and if he starts writing again. 

sean holton’s blog is ‘SAME TIME TOMORROW’ –   

(How Sean Holton Learned To Stop Worrying And Just Have Brain Cancer Instead)

and can be found at:   

my 09/11/01

September 9, 2010

as a new yorker and a brooklynite, i have my story of september 11th, 2001.  that i’m here to tell that story is a privilege that so many others do not have.  i often think about that day…that week…that year…and i often think about all the undulating waves of families and friends whose hearts are still waiting for the father or sister or husband or wife or friend who will not return.

i was in a foul mood that morning and i had a walkthrough – the traditional walkthrough for a property (an apartment) that was going to close that afternoon – 12 noon in fact on williams street…4 blocks from the world trade center.  our daughter was in her first week of 1st grade in a new building.  i was running late – perhaps that accounted for my frustration.  i had become friendly with the woman who was purchasing and looked at my cell phone in frustration when it rang, smack in the middle of our inspection.  “What??? I told you I was busy with work.”  snapped.  i snapped at my husband.  all he said was: “something is really wrong.  a plane hit the world trade center.’   karen and i happened to be on the 4th floor of a 6 story building on plaza street in prospect heights, brooklyn and we raced up the internal staircase to the roof.  i remember tumbling out onto the sunny roof – and we were a straight line looking across at the two towers…directly across the east river and up the hill from it.  and something was terribly wrong.  there was a huge black…hole?  like someone had smeared a giant black smoking …not even sure…just back with the edges expanding as we watched…and it made no sense.  i grabbed my cell phone but all the circuits were busy and i couldn’t reach my husband who was just across prospect park at home in midwood.  a few other people were running up onto the roof and some had binoculars.   i was lent someone’s binoculars and tried to focus through them…it took me 2 years to make sense of the fact that i was watching things…people…falling…bits and chunks of things tumbling…it was incomprehensible.  i just stood there saying:  oh god…oh god…oh my god… and then somehow just needing to talk to anyone i knew i also called my parents but no luck and then reached my brother-in-law in albuquerque …but mostly all i said was: oh my god…this is unbelievable.   i eventually did reach my husband but the conversation didn’t change.  and then i realized that all i wanted to do was to get to our daughter … about 15 blocks away.  in the meantime, you could hear the streets filling with the screams of sirens.  more than i’ve ever heard at one time.  they were hurtling right down flatbush avenue – a straight line to the brooklyn and manhattan bridges and over to the world trade center.  so  many things happened at once – i realized just how much i  needed to get to my daughter and i saw something.   one moment there was one giant black hole in one tower and i saw a bright sharp glint in the clear sky -and then with no warning there was another giant black hole in the other tower.  i think i screamed.  turns out all i can say in a major crisis is:  oh my god.    and then i ran…down 6 flights of stairs and around the corner to the parking lot of the preschool where my daughter had previously attended and where i occasionally still parked my car when i had business in this neighborhood.  i got in and all i had to do was to get across flatbush avenue and i would be near to her.  but that took…i don’t know…i’ve never really pieced it together.  as i drove there were people walking about as if it were a normal day…they had no idea what horrors were happening past the buildings that were shielding their views.  it was surreal.  they must have been looking at my face in the car and, if they noticed, wondering what a sad tragic day i was having.  and then, as i inched across flatbush avenue onto 6th avenue, the reporter on 1010wins started screaming:  “THE TOWERS.  THE TOWER IS FALLING.  IT’S FALLING.  OH MY GOD IT’S FALLING” and i was sobbing – really heaving and sobbing – and trying not to throw up and still somehow drive my car across. 

on the park slope/6th avenue side it was eerily still – most people were at work and i zoomed the 10 blocks to my daughter’s school.  i’m sure i drove right through red lights on my way.  i turned up the street and threw my car into the space in front of the school…a no no for any driving new yorker but i just didn’t care.  i raced into the school…i was the first one there.  so quiet.  so calm.  except that the lower school secretary knew something awful was happening.   she told me that they heard on the radio that the pentagon had been attacked.  and would i wait outside and as soon as they knew anything they’d come out but that they were trying to keep the lower school kids blissfully ignorant for the moment.  and so i waited.  slowly, some parents came.  my husband arrived about 40 minutes later – having gotten on our one rinky bike and frantically riding the 6 or 7 miles to school as fast as he could.  he told me later that at one point, he rode through white ash filtering down in the air.   we didn’t know what was happening.  i thought we were being bombed.  in what seemed like hours later, 2 parents came trudging up the street – filthy and with streaks of black on their faces and clothes….they both worked right there and got out and had walked over the bridge and right to school – miles away from the brooklyn bridge.  the mom quit her job months later and never went back.  our school lost a parent in the towers.  my daughter’s 1st grade teacher’s husband worked in the towers but was late that morning and was coming up out of the subway as the towers were hit and was spared.  another parent was on the subway just coming out of the tunnels into manhattan and someone stuck their head in the train and said something about a huge fire and she got worried and went across the platform and got right on the train going back to brooklyn.  she became frantic while waiting at the school because her husband worked next to the towers and she couldn’t reach him on his cell.  she found out much later in the day that he was further uptown at a doctor’s appointment and ended up having to walk over the williamsburg bridge and then find his way home miles and miles away on foot.   like any other new yorker, as the days and weeks went on, we all learned of a friend of a friend or the husband or wife of a friend of a friend who never made it out.  my heart broke again today hearing about a woman who lost dozens of friends and colleagues – she survived and they did not. 

eventually the head of the lower school came out to tell us that they were releasing the children whose parents were there.  we stuffed the bike into the trunk and offered a ride home to a mom and her son who lived near us.  it was an eerie quiet ride home…no adult wanted to scare the kids.  while one adult was talking to the 2 kids in the back seat, one of us in the front was leaning with our ear against the radio – playing extremely low trying to find out what was happening.  did we need to take shelter?  could we even drive?  we dropped them off and went home. one of us would hang out with our daughter downstairs playing and the other upstairs with the door closed listening to the radio.  we didn’t have any cable at the time and there was no cableless tv – with the tower knocked out it was gone.  it was a blur of worry and phone calls.  

somehow we all got through it.  we lived with our windows shut for weeks.   3 weeks later the closing was rescheduled.  i got off the subway at fulton street and as i got out onto the street, i turned instinctively to the left – to the towers.  it looked like a war zone.  the smell of burnt hung everywhere.  black charcoal outlines peeking through untouched buildings.  huge water hoses laid down the middle of fulton street.  new yorkers walking but so subdued.  i promptly burst into tears and had to walk 4 blocks away to get some composure to go and do what i needed to do.  we sat in that room – about 6 of the most disparate new yorkers ever – and practically hugged each other to be there.  just to be there. 

my daughter started 10th grade this week.   i don’t pray any more.  but i hold all those people in my heart of hearts.  so much hate in the name of religion.  such a waste.

the end of an odd – but not bad – summer

September 6, 2010


i know…it’s not officially the end of summer but with school fast approaching on wednesday for my now-10th grader, it essentially is.  and for lovely husband and myself it was an odd summer.  one short trip to visit our daughter at camp and then the aforementioned ‘trip’ which was essentially a holding-pattern overnight to the canceled family reunion.  but with the kitchen reno hubby and i went into full-attention mode for most of it.  i have never made so many decisions in so short a time – one right after the other.  some of them have been dizzyingly wonderful and others are awaiting a verdict.  it seems that renovations – especially gut renovations – are the quintessential hurry-up-and-wait project.  a flurry of activity for 4 days and then nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, order-appliances, nothing, nothing, and then more in one day than anyone thought possible.  the good part – at the moment – about the quiet spaces is that we have been able to walk around with the floor, windows and cabinets in place and get used to it.  it is starting to feel like it’s ours now…even though it’s nowhere near ready –  no countertops nor appliances.  and over the summer, i get to take a break from the scheduled doctors’ visits – don’t get me wrong, i appreciate them watching out for me – and the steady stream of needle pricks coming my way  for oncology labs, annual labs, and the end of the year mri.   i cannot wait to have my basement back and, with it, my elliptical.  i’ve gained 5 pounds with this reno – eating out is hard on my waistline.   i let myself mostly not work at work and had time to reclaim – or refind – a friendship that i thought was lost a few years back – and now is so happily back with enthusiasm on both our parts.  that has made me the happiest, i think.  more than the cabinets or even the amazing wood floor 😉 

10th grader is sad to see summer behind her…she just rocked her summer hard and was nestled in with a group of amazing people who liked and respected her.  she blossomed.  i hope she finds her social niche at school this year.  

and, as always – being a true fall baby – i cannot wait for the first day i can wear my deep flannel grey cashmere cardigan sweater.  ( i just realized, i’ll match the countertops.)

the vacation-that-wasn’t

August 25, 2010


the perfect storm:  leaving very early and driving 3 1/2 hours from brooklyn to new london, ct.; driving through sections of connecticut along the merritt parkway with less-than-wonderful cellphone reception so that messages went directly to voicemail and were discovered later; and an actual storm.  all added up to arriving at the block island ferry only to find out that, by 11am, all ferries were canceled due to bad weather.  so as the first 6 of us gathered at that location, we heard from another 2 who were unable to arrive from martha’s vineyard because their ferry out was canceled, and the last 2 who had taken a car up to the point judith, rhode island, ferry and – not knowing we’d be canceled, went onto the 10:30am ferry (car needed due to 2 senior citizens coming with us).  it all added up to a comedy of errors and a little sheer terror.  the 2 who bravely sailed forth called us 1.5 hours later to say that they had never been quite so scared nor quite so sick from the 8-10 foot waves hammering the barrier between the sound and the open ocean.  and 2 days later, they are still there…on the island having an enforced mother-daughter vacation even if part of the vacation entailed walking in gale force winds (the mother being one of our seniors) to get some dinner the first night.  rumor has it they are finding their way back on the last ferry tonite.  the rest of us took shelter in connecticut overnight in an attempt to make another attempt but that was quickly squashed when we got a call at 8pm from the ferry company politely informing us that no ferries would run the next day either.  sadly, we all end up having to pay a good portion of the hotel bill which we did not use.  didn’t like that innkeeper or her nasty attitude cloaked in righteousness.

good news: came home to sheet rock going up in the bare kitchen and actual insulation going into the cavity of the exterior walls – something that does not exist in the rest of my 1925 house. 

oh well, i’m oddly ambivalent about it all.  it just seemed like it was meant to not be. 

the calm before the dusty storm

August 4, 2010


sluggy summer days – wonderful husband and i are enjoying our ‘quiet’ time together whilst teenage daughter is at camp.  tho there are the nights (and days) when we ache for her – each phone call from her tells us that she is rockin’ her summer with happiness and great friends but we surely miss her.  we’re continuing our summer tradition of taking long brooklyn walks together – often in the early morning before the worst of the summer heat sets in.  we like to walk past the houses – some in enormous disrepair and others looking like they were renovated with no regard to the historic nature of their neighborhood (really: ionic columns on a vinyl-sided 2 story house???).   the garden is churning out more tomatoes and cucumbers than we can eat in a week.  my contractor is thrilled to be the recipient of edible gifts each time he visits to remeasure some corner of the kitchen.

mostly, we’re getting ready for the big rip-out.  final contract signing with our contractor today.  appliances ordered, sink and faucet ordered (all after enormous research and even then, i know something won’t feel right or work right) and now, still worrying through the choice of flooring – but hoping that decision … no, giving ourselves the deadline that that decision will be made by friday.  a backsplash and some lights and we’re almost in the end-run of the gabillion decisions we’ve had to make.  phew.  now we just have to live through the dust, noise, and lack of actual kitchen floor.   

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