Thursday, April 30, 2009

Home from Disney

We're home safe, undoubtedly because of the daily phone calls from my mother reminding us to use hand sanitizer, as she watched CNN nonstop.

Growing up, it was aloe vera from her and WD40 from my dad. To paraphrase an old joke, there could be a 10 car pileup outside the house, they'd go out with a leaf of aloe and a can of WD, and everyone would walk away in better shape than they'd arrived in. So now add hand sanitizer (or as Little Warrior calls it, "Hanitizer") to the list.

Anyway ... I've got loads to tell, but I have a final exam on Monday that, needless to say, I haven't been studying for. But for now ...

Little Warrior gets in a staring contest with Lady Tremaine. I'm pretty sure LW won.

And a hug with Cinderella.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


A quick "Hello, having a great time," and an instruction to go give someone a hug just like this.

That Tigger. He knows how to hug.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Jolly Holiday

Well my bags are packed, I'm ready to go ...

I like a good turn of phrase and I vastly prefer the Brits' going on holiday to our vacation. Of course, holiday is one of my favorite words and you are forgiven for thinking I'm a UU because it opens up a world of holidays. It's not quite true, but it is an excellent perk, I'll give you that.

I still have a few odds and ends to pack, CoolMax socks and gel insoles to pick up. A last Weight Watchers meeting before I go to The Land of a Million Points.

But we are ready to go on holiday, ready for Little Warrior's wish to come true. Ever since learning that we would be going to Disney-Universal-Sea-World, I've been studying for it, as if it's a class I can get graded on. My head and my multitudinous lists are full of hints and tips. If they work out, I'll post them all here. Things like, "If there are several lines, go to the left, it'll be shorter. Americans instinctively go right."


So here we go, Snow White, Prince Charming, and the Four Dwarfs -- Freaky, Silly, Quirky and Wacky. Just your average family.

When Make-a-Wish comes calling, usually the first conversation involves explaining that sorry, but Make-a-Wish can't make the kid's biggest wish come true -- to be well.

For Little Warrior, this wasn't an issue. She was off-chemo and as she told everyone including strangers in the grocery store, "Cancer is over." But we still had to have A Conversation with her because her biggest wish was "to be a grownup." Not in any sort of sad, plucky, "I want to grow up" way. No, she wants to be a grownup NOW. Give me the keys, Mom. When I explained that MAW couldn't do that, ooo-eee, she cut her eyes at me. She knew they could, I just wasn't letting them. There goes Mom again, harshing her buzz.

Regular life is a holiday and I'm enjoying living it. I'm enjoying going to the grocery store and watching LW walk her siblings down the driveway each morning. (She seems to change the goodbye every week. Last week, it was "Goodbye, Lollipops!" This week, it's "Goodbye, Pirates!")

Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


The year LW was going through cancer the first time, my family planted a gardenia bush outside my front door for me for mother's day. It wasn't much of a bush, pretty small, but though it was too new to bloom, it sent out roots and grew strong.

The year after, LW was also strong, and we were out of CancerLand. The gardenia really was a bush now, and covered with blooms. LW and I would go to the YMCA every day. Most days, I would pick one of the almost-spent blooms and put it in my car, where I could enjoy the fragrance.

Last spring, the gardenia bloomed more profusely. The morning that I took LW to the hospital, to see if the "spots" on her CT were cancer, I picked a blossom. During the long drive to the medical center, I enjoyed its smell, occasionally picking it up off the dashboard so that I could breathe it in more deeply. As I parked the car, I left it on the dashboard. I knew that it would be several days before I was in the vehicle again. When I see you again, you will be wilted, I mentally told it. And I will know something. I will know if my normal life can continue, or if ...

By the time I got in the car to drive home again, laden with pain, information sheets, and appointments with specialists, the gardenia blossom had dried into a crackly, shrunken knob. Getting out of the car at home, I crumbled it into the grass, before turning to take LW -- gently, very gently! -- out of her car seat.

Through the summer, I picked the gardenia blossoms, putting them on the dashboard as we drove back and forth to radiation, to chemo, to the hospital.

Tonight, I left my house to go to a covenant group meeting at my church. Surprise! The first gardenia of the season, open and fragrant. I plucked it and tucked it next to my readings, candle, matches.

At the church, I lay it next to the chalice as I lit the flame and did the reading. One of the group members picked it up and inhaled deeply, smiling with pleasure. Throughout the meeting, we enjoyed its heady perfume. Our topic was Hope ... when it's hard to find, where do you look? More than once, we referenced the gardenia, our emblem that life goes on.

Throughout it all, gym or hospital, happiness or despair, the gardenia kept blooming. Today, I am full of joy and excitement about our upcoming trip. But there is also enough room inside for a not small bit of fear, at the scans upcoming in May.

And the gardenia continues to bloom.

After our meeting, after our closing words were said, our chalice extinguished, I picked up the gardenia. There is a homeless man, Alex, who sleeps in the vestibule of our church. We keep a blanket folded there for him.

I left the gardenia on top.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

No Pedi for Me

I had planned to have a once-every-five-years splurge of a pedicure a couple of days before we left on our trip, since I'll be Teva-ing through Orlando. Luckily, I happened upon a thread from more experienced Disney-ites. Non, non, said they. Never get a pedicure right before your trip, they file away your calluses, making your feet butter soft and oh so tender.

Not what you want when you'll be walking all day, every day, for 7 days.

It's an interesting way to think about those calluses. You worked for them, you earned them, and they will offer you some protection from blisters.

I play guitar, so this is an easy concept for me. Once you have those calluses built up on your fingertips, you can pick all night long. But if you haven't been playing in a while ... ouch. Those calluses are treated with reverence. Some folks even use a special finger exerciser, ridged for your non-comfort, to keep their calluses thick.

I won't go into all the metaphors -- it's obvious, and you can draw your own conclusions, as to whether its good to have calluses on your soul, if they make you stronger, or if it is better to be callus-free, and tender.

No metaphor is perfect. By all rights, my soul should be callused, and I should have some protection from the stories that just keep coming, the stories of heartbreak and pain. But I don't. I'm probably more vulnerable than ever.

But I know that I can survive way more than I thought I could. Even with a heart broken and bleeding, I can pick all through the long night. Maybe that's my callus.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cleaning out my head

I am just all over the place about this upcoming Make-a-Wish trip, so 'scuse me whilst I dump all my feelings out on the floor and sort through them.

I feel guilty because Little Warrior is healthy and energetic and hopefully, hopefully, hopefully, the bad stuff is behind us. So why should we be getting an expensive trip?

I feel like maybe I made a wrong choice, letting her get her wish now. Maybe she will be okay, in which case she could get her wish granted in another year or two, when she could remember it.

Nipping all around me is the fear that we really should take the trip right now. In May, it's scan time. And everything could change. And wouldn't I rather she enjoy this while feeling healthy than being sick from chemo?

A real-life friend of mine, a church friend, lost her son years ago to leukemia. I asked about their Wish trip (also to Disney). Oh, she said sadly, he was so sick, he just really couldn't enjoy it. And when they were there, she knew it would be the last time.

I'm apprehensive about being emotional all the time. Heck, that viral video of the people dancing to Do-Re-Mi in Central Station makes me tear up. Walking into this ... a world of amazing volunteers at Give Kids the World, park employees who apparently are very tender with Wish families, watching Little Warrior as her wish comes true ... well, let's just say I'm not packing mascara. We're taking ponchos, ostensibly for the wet rides and in case of rain, but really, it's because of the Niagara Falls sure to flow from my eyes.

Going on the Make-A-Wish trip makes me struggle with my two realities. One reality is that we're leading a very normal life, and even cancer became normal, and it's no longer the thing you think about cancer, where it's all in big neon lights with a swell of dramatic music: "Join us for a very special episode -- CANCER!" It's just life, and you get it, and you deal with it, and you move on.

And the second reality, that I don't often see, thank God, is that it is cancer, and it is big and neon. You're not being overly dramatic, LE ... your 3 year old daughter has had cancer. Twice. This isn't an ear infection. She wasn't getting tubes put in her ears. This was freakin' cancer.

When I was younger, I tended toward the dramatic. Even before I answered The Call, I began deliberately working on cultivating a non-anxious presence, not that I knew to call it that. The truth is, it's easy to blow things way out of proportion, and I try to bring them down, realize it's not that big a deal.

But this kinda is.

So now, I project onto others the critical voices I hear in my head -- "Oh, puhleeeaze. She's doing fine. Get over it! God, why should your family get an all-expense-paid trip to Disney? What about me and my family? You're so lucky!"

And the fact that I realize those voices are ridiculous ... well, this eyes looks with love, this eye looks with judgment, free me, take the sight out of this eye.

When people don't say anything, it's not necessarily because they are critical of you, it could just be that they don't know what to say. It is not necessary for my brain to "fill in the blanks." Because my brain can only speak for me. And right at the moment, it's not even doing a great job at that.

And then there's the practical, that every planner has to face ... but I think I've gotten past that this week, when I took a deep breath, looked up from all the tour guide books around me, the websites I'd been memorizing, the lists I've made, and said out loud, "I am not responsible for making sure each member of my family has an ecstatic time. This will not be a perfect vacation. There isn't such a thing. I will make plans so that everyone can experience one or two things at the top of their lists, and then just let it go. If it rains, it rains. I will trust in the Universe that good stuff will happen."

Lastly, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Not in a platitudinous way, but literally, overwhelmed with gratitude. Total strangers, doing amazing acts of love, for us. Handmaking dresses. Sending money to Make-A-Wish and Give Kids the World, so that families like us can have this adventure. Volunteering their time to serve. Ministering to us.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude. And that is a cross I'm willing to bear. Total strangers, demonstrating love. I am surrounded by teachers. And so I may not have answers to all the rest of my questions, and my feelings of guilt, and my guilt at feeling guilt, because it's not about me, and all the swirling inside as my brain tries to process too much information. But I can commit myself to learning. I can commit myself to learning how to love with big open arms. Limitless undying love. And I can commit myself to being the one to give the love, when it's my turn.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I'm thinking about dignity today. Specifically, acting with dignity.

Dignity: bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation. -- Random House

Last night, our doorbell was repeatedly rung. Check, no one there. 15 minutes later, another ring. Ah, ding dong ditch. At 2:00 am, not so funny. We chatted with our neighbors today and apparently a couple of adolescents were left home alone. They got drunk, then did this for hours. And it was the two kids whose parents send them to parochial school so that they are away from the bad influences of public school.

In talking about it with my kids, what I couldn't help but emphasize was the lack of class this shows. The lack of dignity. I love pranks, but dude, have some timing and elegance!

Apparently, there is (deservedly) an uproar about a scene in Observe and Report in which a young woman under several influences is raped by Seth Rogen's character. But really, she wants it, isn't that funny?

Of course, I don't think that most people look at Seth Rogen and think "dignified."

Contrast that with Jimmy Stewart, and his character in "The Philadelphia Story." He is with an inebriated Katherine Hepburn. They talk about it the next day:

Mike: You were extremely attractive ... but you also were a little the worse-- or better--for wine, and there are rules about that.

Tracy: Thank you, Mike. I think men are wonderful.

I think men are wonderful, too. Especially the dignified ones.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Rev. John Crestwell Changes Endorsement to Morales

Rev. Crestwell's sermons are part of my regular podcast routine. Today, on the UUA Election discussion list, he posted the below endorsement. I found it quite interesting, especially the quandry that he faced about changing his endorsement, so with his permission, I'm reposting it here.


Early in December 2007, I spoke at a workshop promoting my book at the Reverend Dr. Laurel Hallman's church in Dallas, Texas. My experience with her and her congregation was memorable. The workshop went extremely well and my lunch conversation with her and a few others was good. It was my first time meeting Laurel and I was very impressed! She is graceful, humorous, charming, insightful and witty. It was easy for me to endorse her as a candidate for the UUA presidency; and I did. However, at that time, there was no one else running against her. It was easy to endorse her from my first impression and because she was the only candidate.

I had heard a few months earlier that there may be another candidate and that was confirmed when I met the Rev. Peter Morales at the "Listening to Experience" Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. I did not know Peter Morales, but he began sharing with a few of the select participants that he was "thinking strongly" about challenging Laurel for the office. I did not think anything of it. Months later, in March 2008, I attended a Ministers of Color gathering. Peter attended as well and was a very active participant (unlike myself) and I watched him having several personal and group conversations with attendees about his now serious run for UUA President. Weeks later, he called me on the phone and has since called several times to share his vision for the UUA. In March 2009, Peter again attended the Ministers of Color gathering and was a full participant. He shared his vision once more, with me personally, and with several others. His vision was passionate, real, timely, and it spoke to me deeply. I began feeling conflicted. I had already endorsed a candidate but what I believed was more in line with what Peter was saying. I had to do some serious thinking...

It took me many months to finally realize that I had to follow my conscience. Both candidates are incredible people. However, the candidate that most resonates with what I support is the Rev. Peter Morales. So today, I have switched my support from Rev. Hallman to Rev. Morales, not only because of his agenda for the UUA which makes more sense for where we are today in America as a faith, but also because he showed me, by example, what it means to grow our faith, to live our faith, and how to move our faith forward in the 21st century. We grow and live out our faith with personal touches-- with reaching out to others consistently; and we move our religion forward by calling those involved to see a higher vision--that
vision that moves us "onward and upward" so we can secure our faith's legacy, lest we become more irrelevant in this new age of multiculturalism and spiritual awakening.

For me, Peter exemplifies his platform in the way he lives and that says more about the man than anything else. I proudly endorse the Rev. Peter Morales as the next President of the Unitarian Universalist Association!

Rev. John T. Crestwell, Jr.
Davies Memorial UUC
Camp Springs, MD

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Year

A year ago today, we went in for a routine scan, and as we waited for LW to be done, I told The Husband, You know, I've finally gotten to the point where I would be surprised if anything showed up.

A year ago tomorrow, I blithely said that if there were something to worry about, we'd have heard from the doctor.

A year ago Friday, I got a phone call from the doctor. A year ago Friday, I physically dropped to my knees and screamed.

A year ago this month, I was frantically writing papers that I needed to turn in early, and packing for a trip to the hospital, where it would be confirmed that yes, the cancer was back.

Today, I am calmly writing a paper that I need to turn in early, and packing for a whirlwind trip through the Disney, Universal, and Sea Worlds, with my husband and four children, which includes a pink and plumping up almost 4-year old.

I have no idea what my life will be like in a year. And I hate to break the news to you, but you don't know what yours will be like, either.

But you know what? It might be really great.

edited to include these pictures:

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Chili, beans, and marriage

I will begin by explaining, bluntly, that on one issue, I am completely dogmatic, utterly intolerant. With great effort, I can be polite on the topic, but my opinion is unwavering.


I am a Texan, all the way back to the Texas Revolution, with real live cowboys for kinfolk, and have been taught my whole life, "Anybody who knows beans about chili, knows you don't make chili with beans!" Tomatoes neither. Beef. Chiles. Not a whole lot else.

My personal rules for life now include, along with "never order fried shrimp in a waffle house,":

87. Never enter a chili competition in a UU Church.

Vegetarian chili? There's no such thing! That's like saying, "vegetable fajitas." Fajitas, by definition of the word, refer to beef skirt steak.

And yet ... I make chicken fajitas. Which are also an oxymoron. I am not dogmatic about fajitas. And everyone knows the best part is the grilled onions and peppers.

But the chili ... now, I have tasted some might fine stews with beans. And some delicious Mexican-spiced vegetable soups. But those aren't chili.

"You can call it a civil union, a domestic partnership, a commitment ceremony, but unless it's between a man and a woman, it's not a marriage."

Hey, there! Now, none of that intolerance! We were talking chili, remember?

So, where is the line on making a definition? Do we want to make it majority rule? Well, no, if we did that, it'd be a long time before gays and lesbians could have their marriages validated by the state. And how long would segregation lasted?

Well, how about going state by state?
Oh, please, just think of all those people in Cincinnati trying to pass off what they do as chili! Cinnamon? Spaghetti?

Die, heretic scum!

Definitions. There's a line somewhere, something akin to a public acknowledgment. If I make a giant pot of clam chowder and call it a chocolate cake, that does not make it a chocolate cake.

Okay, so communities make their own rules. For instance, the International Chili Society states:
Traditional Red Chili is defined by the International Chili Society as any kind of meat or combination of meats,cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of BEANS and PASTA which are strictly forbidden.


I'm sorry, I had a point. It's easy to see how our emotions allow us to go off-topic.

So, that's their rule. Kind of like the Catholic Church saying you can only get married in their church community if you're Catholic. And straight. Or the Baptist Church down the road who says they won't marry you if you're openly living in sin. They have that right, within their community.

However, as far as I know, the International Chili Society has not been picketing Wendy's, which brazenly puts beans in their chili. Or suing the city of Cincinnati for validating the chili crimes rampant in that city.

On the subject of chili, I am a self-confessed, self-righteous, bean-bigoted jerk. And the state should have no province in supporting my discrimination. The state's job is to protect the rights of those poor, deluded souls (with inherent worth and dignity, God luv 'em), who insist on putting beans, tomatoes, zucchini, macaroni, and mushrooms in a pot and calling it chili. The state's job is to protect the free exercise of religion on its own property when those crazy Unitarians award vegetarian "chili" first place.

Maybe my heart will change one day, and I'll dig a spoon into a bowl resplendent with squash, beans, and TVP and say, "Mmmm, this is delicious chili!"

And maybe I won't.

But that doesn't mean that the two men who live next door to me should have to wait on my change of heart, should be denied the right to serve lentil chili at the reception of their marriage.

Marriage, not commitment ceremony.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Rotate RE to the center of the church

This year, we did something different in our religious education program. Based on a term paper I wrote for my "Intro to Liberal Religious Education" class at Starr-King, we got rid of age divisions in setting up classes, and structured our classes around the rotational model, with each class addressing the same theme. Then, to try and bring religious education into the center of the congregation, rather than some mystery that happens on the fringes, we structured our worship, covenant groups, and faith in action around that same theme.

So, here's how it works.

You walk into our church and the first thing you see is a prominent easel. At the top, it reads:

September 14, 2008
Theme: Respect
Today’s sermon: “Inherent Worth and Dignity – Why It Matters”
Religious Education workshops, 11:15:
Emerson Team – Drama Channing Team – Art
Parker Team – Music Alcott Team – History
Big Questions covenant groups: “What must be done to earn respect?”
Faith In Action: Interfaith Feast – Shared Dinner and Discussion

Each RE team is made up of children/youths, ages 5 – 18, divided so that there's a fairly even distribution of ages on each team. Each Sunday for September, they'll learn about the concept of "respect" (one of the 6 Pillars of Character), through drama, music, art, or history (emphasis on UU history).

Since we were changing so many things, we decided to keep the curriculum to something fairly simple, but expandable, to see how this model of interage-rotational classes would work.

Kids, teachers, and parents seem to be so enthusiastic over how this has worked, next year's RE Chair is using it again next year, with a different curriculum.

Why the teachers like it: you create one lesson plan per month, just one, then repeat it every Sunday for a new team that rotates into your class. Teachers were picked for their passions, e.g. the aspiring playwright/director teaches the drama class, the drummer teaches the music class. And we have adult "journey guides" for each team, who stay with their team each week. They provide the continuity of an adult relationship with the kids, and they take care of the discipline of the team, so the teacher can just focus on leading the class.

The kids seem to love it. I even heard a report of a teen forcing his parents to go to church one Sunday when they really wanted to sleep in. My kids told me they love it because a) they're with friends of all ages and b) "We're doing something fun every week." The Boy reported that amongst themselves, a couple of the older youths said they liked it except for the little kids "cramping their style." However, one of those youths was the same teen mentioned above, so, you know, maybe a bit of posturing going on.

(We haven't had an active YRUU group going on this year. I think if you have that, this becomes less of an issue.)

Other fun stuff: the kids get a bead every week, in a particular color for that month's theme, for attendance. And if an adult catches a student in the act of exemplifying one of the pillars, they get a special bead. You would not believe what a big deal these bead necklaces have become.

Real life check: the above breakdown of classes was the ideal. In early September, we realized we didn't have enough kids for 4 decent sized classes. So, we dropped to two teams. Around December-ish, we realized that our classes were really waxing and waning based on the visitation schedules of our divorced parents. So we combined them all in one big class. By conventional logic, that shouldn't work. But it has, for us. Maybe because we have an enormous multipurpose room. Whatever, YMMV. I still think the ideal is smaller classes, if you can manage it.

If this interests you, get:

Armstrong-Hansche, Melissa; MacQueen, Nell. Workshop Rotation: A New Model for Sunday School. Louisville: Geneva Press, 2000.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

April Fool's Day Dinner

Even with the angst over my dear, departed hard drive, I did still manage to do a little sumpin' for April Fool's Day.

Above, was dinner.

Meatloaf, cooked in a muffin tin, put into cupcake wrappers, and topped with pink-tinted mashed potatoes.

Goodbye, Old Friend

There is a beatification that happens with cancer parents. We are often thought to be sanctified, to be made holy, by our trip through what is for so many, their worst nightmare.

I think I've probably made it clear through this blog that though I've gained lessons, I still remain irreverent, petty, and frequently shallow.

"No, no, that wasn't a question." -- Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada

If you know anyone traveling through CancerLand, who is irreverent, be sure and send them a copy of Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person. Heeelarious.

Anyway, just because I've taken two no-expense-paid trips through CancerLand with LW, doesn't mean that the little things don't bring me down.

I am in mourning.

I am in mourning for my MacBook.

And despite learning, in a dramatic way, that things happen for no reason, I've still been going through all the stages of grief.

On Tuesday ... exactly one week after I wrote Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to turn off the computer, turn off the tv ... partially because I know I need it, and partially because I'm afraid the universe is going to strike both with lightning if I don't take the hint ... my laptop was hit by lightning. Okay, not literal lightning. I was ... love the irony! ... going through and backing up my computer, which I have to admit, I never do, because other than the one time when my computer was actually stolen, I've never lost info on a Mac.

Til now. As I was copying video files (WHYYYYYY didn't I start with my document files?) onto an external firewire hard drive ... everything froze. And done stayed froze. So I finally pressed the off button.

"Goodbye, Cruel World!" called my hard drive.


Denial. Those of you who have had a non-backed-up computer know ALL about that stage. Blaming myself. If I hadn't tried to close an open program while I was copying files ... If I had everything backed up ... If I had cleaned my house and done my laundry and begun a displine of spending an hour in meditation every morning ...

I've grieved. Been in a bad mood. Over a computer!

No, traveling through the Valley of the Shadow of Death does not necessarily turn one into a wise soul, who shrugs and says, "It's only a computer."

Though I might have come closer to that, had I done regular backups. Thank God-of-Computers my midterm was the night before!

So ... for me ... right now ... go back up your computer, willya?