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Signs of Life (Ch. 8)

I have had a curious kind of Spring; topsy-turvy. Instead of new life growing in nature all around me, I found a lump in my breast and cancer growing within me. As I journeyed through the acceptance of my disease and the aggressive treatment I chose to undergo, my view of my future changed. Instead of assuming I would have decades to watch my kids grow up, I thought, “what if I don’t?!” and tried my best to be more loving and affectionate. Instead of waking up in the morning and wandering around in my pyjamas with my hair standing on end, I thought, “what if I lose this hair in a few months, and look shitty even if I try to look pretty?” and showered, styled my hair, and put on makeup. I looked at my enormous garden space and accepted that I would have times when I wouldn’t have the strength to dig in the dirt and pull the weeds. I begrudgingly admired the beautiful hanging baskets full of flowers that my furry man went out and chose (something I wanted to do desperately) because I knew if we waited until I was feeling up to it, the season might pass us by. All that time, I was waiting for the surgery incisions to heal, so I could meet the oncology team at the Cross Cancer Institute and forge ahead with the chemotherapy I was told I would need. All the while I wanted my body to heal quickly, I also wanted time to slow down before I had to head into a summer of unknown chemo side effects. There was nothing I dreaded more, now that I found out I could survive general anesthesia and Bodacious Ta-Ta Tuesday.

While I healed, we had follow-up visits in Edmonton, with my plastic surgeon. As the stitches on my breasts faded, and my transplanted tissue started to feel smoother and look as close to normal as I could hope for, and as my abdomen incision slowly closed, my doctor always asked the final question during our visits, “Do you have any questions or concerns?” And Markus would ask, “How soon can she travel?” Dr. Schembri’s eyes would crinkle as he smiled, and he would say, “If you promise to stay in your chair and not do any gymnastics while you are there, you should be just fine to go to your high school reunion.” We have been asking this question ever since we met him. The only high school reunion I would ever go to is not just for any old high school. The high school kids I always want to reunite with are from the Taipei American School. We were a tiny little school in Taiwan. Our experiences growing up there have cemented our friendships, and I am never quite as comfortable in my skin as I am when I am with a group of TAS graduates. This recent reunion was an idea that my friends Dacia and Kerri had come up with last year. Any time you bring a few TAS graduates together, anywhere in the world, we call it a reunion. Dacia planned the reunion at her parents’ B&B in Anacortes, Washington, a little spot of Heaven in the San Juan Islands. Through the winter, we put our heads together and had so much fun planning and chatting about it. When I got hit with Barnard in the Spring, I realized that surgery would probably take a huge bite out of my plans for the May reunion. One more shitty thing that I came to accept this Spring… Until Markus caught me reading the Facebook page for the Anacortes reunion wistfully, and told me, “We are going to get you there. This will be your reward for the surgery and kicking Barnard’s ass. You do your job and rest properly like the doctors order, and I PROMISE you we will get you to that reunion somehow. Being with your friends will be good for you. You’re going.” And that is where the Question came in during our visits with my surgeons, “How soon can she travel?” So ever since March, when I first met with the surgeons, we worked toward the May 24th goal of the Anacortes TAS Reunion. A better carrot, there never was. On May 24th, 1 week shy of the minimum 6 weeks recommended recuperation period, I hopped on an airplane in Edmonton and headed out to Anacortes. Missing only one piece of luggage, I met my best friend Duncan Hsu (I call him Punkin Poo and he calls me Poo Pest – my favourite nicknames from childhood) at the baggage carousel in Seattle, and spent the next 2 hours driving to Anacortes while catching up on the last 3 years we had missed together. Arriving on the sleepy little island of Anacortes, Dacia, Kerri, and my other friends tumbled out of the cozy little house, and their hugs took away all the residual pain of both the surgery and the worry of cancer. We spent the entire weekend laughing non-stop. There was crying, but only when it was time to say goodbye. My friend John made an announcement that he was going to join my CIBC Run For the Cure team, The Suepremes, and fundraise for the Canadian Breast Cancer Society. He passed around his hat and said that he would shave his head at the end of the weekend. He raised hundreds of dollars, and I did indeed shave his precious head at the end of Sunday evening. I had to catch an airport shuttle at 1:45 Monday morning, so I never went to sleep on Sunday. And when it was time to go, each friend hugged me and wished me well, knowing that I was flying home to meet with the oncologists in Edmonton, to face chemotherapy. Collectively, their love and support floated me out the door and up into the sky back to Canada.

When I landed in Edmonton on Monday afternoon, I took a taxi straight to Dr. Schembri’s office for another visit. He does a little victory dance every time he examines me and sees his precious babies, “They’re PERFECT! So PERFECT!” He told me that the sections on my abdominal incision would take some time to fully heal, as it was healing from the inside-out, but that I am indeed Wolverine, as Markus labeled me; my body is healing like a superhero. Knowing I was meeting with the Cross Cancer Institute the next day, to discuss chemo, he said to give him a call in 3-6 months and we could talk nipples. I can’t wait to make that call and get him on the line and say, “Hey there…let’s talk NIPPLES.” I don’t know anyone else who has ever made such a phone call. That one is going to give me a giggle, that’s for sure.

Markus and I rendezvous-ed at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald later that afternoon, and we braced ourselves for our afternoon at the Cross Cancer Institute the following afternoon. Actually, I mostly just slept, having exhausted myself during my reunion weekend. On Tuesday, we dilly-dallied our morning away, and reluctantly made our way to University Avenue and the Cross Cancer Institute. In the parking garage, we passed ladies on their way back to their cars, scarves covering their heads. I couldn’t swallow past the lump in my throat. Markus grabbed my hand and squeezed it tightly and we slowly walked into the lower level of the institute. The very first department we passed was the Wig Department and the rooms where they conduct makeup and beauty tips for those undergoing chemotherapy. I resisted the urge to peek into the door, thinking I would get the chance to see plenty later…

Upstairs at the main registration area, we realized that we were over an hour early, but I stood in line and filled out the paperwork anyway. They made me a special red plastic I.D. card that I would need to bring to every appointment or treatment. I did not like that card. That card was my fear made tangible. I stuffed it into my purse, hoping it would get lost among the mess of receipts and lipstick that lived in there. Then, the registration lady gave me to a volunteer, who was told to bring me to my appointment area. As we walked through the centre, the volunteer pointed out the various areas to us; the lending library, the information department that would be very helpful with resources for families, the 2 cafeterias, the gift shop, the pharmacy, and the labs. The facility is huge. Finally, he deposited us into our waiting area, where a nurse had me fill out more paperwork and instructed me to change into a trusty hospital gown and robe. Then, we were shown into a room where we were told to wait for our different visitors.

Our first visitor was a heavily pregnant young nurse named Magdalene. I kid you not. For someone who has recently lost some of her faith in this unfair scuffle with cancer (if good things happen to good people, and I try my best to be good my whole life, how the Hell did I get cancer, EH?! Explain THAT one, God…), this was a little bit of a punch in the stomach. I had to take an extra breath to answer her questions, as my mind kept whispering, “Mary Magdalene was a best friend to someone who had so much more to suffer than you, Sue.” After Nurse Magdalene left, Markus and I made silent eye contact until our next visitor. She was a soft-spoken representative of the Cross Cancer Institute Tumour Bank. After all of my tumour was removed during the mastectomy, and the appropriate amount was sliced and sent to pathology, the leftover bits had the potential to be deposited into the Tumour Bank to be used for research in the fight against breast cancer. She was there to ask my permission to use the tumour for research, and to make the deposit official. As I signed the papers, I wondered, who ever would NOT give permission? If they could make some use of Barnard and somehow benefit future cancer patients, why on earth wouldn’t I sign? I just had to give a few tubes of blood to accompany Barnard to his future home in the Tumour Bank, and GOOD RIDDANCE to Barnard! That was a very cool feeling, knowing a bit of me was going to stay in the institute and perhaps help others.

Our final visitor was a Nurse Practitioner by the name of Margaret Ann Vlahadamis. She was very dry and stood over by a white board across the room from us. Markus took my hand, and we held our breath. With a very stern look on her face, NP Vlahadamis said, “First of all, before I write all the details and numbers on this board, let me tell you this: based on your tumour’s stage and grade, the oncology team has determined that you will need no radiation and no chemotherapy.”

no. chemotherapy.

There was a ringing in my ears, and I shook my head…what was she saying? Focusing on her lips, I could see her saying, “Breast cancer is fought with several different types of treatments. There is surgery, there is radiation, and there are many types of chemotherapy. You should know that your double mastectomy was a major treatment by itself. Your cancer was completely removed. The pathology revealed that it was a 1.4cm Stage 1, Grade 1 tumour; very slow growing. Your 3 sentinel nodes revealed no lymphatic spread, and during surgery it was found that there was no lymph vascular infiltration within your breasts. It is hormone receptive, but HER2 negative and not Triple Negative cancer. You were very fortunate to catch your cancer early, and for the next five years, you will only need to take one Tamoxifen pill each day. You will have 6 month wellness visits with your family doctor throughout that time, where you will be checked for possible metastasis of the breast cancer into other parts of your body. And that is all.”

Stunned, not believing this could possibly be true, I actually ARGUED with the poor woman. What about my extensive family history?! Won’t that increase my odds of recurrence? My cancer surgeon had warned me to expect chemo. How could it be that I’m all done, that there is nothing further to suffer through?!

After patiently explaining that my family history of breast cancer has nothing to do with the treatment of the breast cancer we removed – WHAT?! (they focus on treating the cancer they hold in their hands – on its characteristics, not on what my future could develop). That my cancer was removed completely by my mastectomy and the Tamoxifen would starve any microscopic bits that might be floating around in my body. That my family history of breast cancer would only be a concern for my ovaries and fallopian tubes down the line, and I would need to approach that outside of this visit. Only then, did she patiently say, “This is GOOD news…”

And only then did her words sink in. No chemo and I am done with the fear of Barnard. I turned to Markus with a lost look on my face; all my anxiety was still built up inside – where was I supposed to put it? Markus repeated what NP Vlahadamis said, “This is GOOD news…” I decided to stop fighting it. Even though I was SURE they were mistaken, that this was too good to be true, I decided to play along. I was confident someone would catch the mistake in a few days and call me with the corrected news and tell me to get myself into chemo…So I turned back to her and smiled and asked what I should do next. She told me to take my new prescription to their pharmacy, and she would be calling me in a few weeks to see how the side effects of Tamoxifen were treating me.

In a daze, I changed back to my regular clothes, and joined Markus in the hallway. We kept looking at each other in disbelief, then he would grab me and laugh out loud and cheer. In the pharmacy waiting room, he sat across from me and kept asking, “What shall we do to celebrate?!” We giggled and said, “I can’t believe it!” too many times before I looked around and realized I was surrounded by people who were suffering from cancer, waiting for their prescriptions, who didn’t have any good news for themselves. Sobered, we listened to the pharmacist explain about the many side effects of Tamoxifen (Hello, Menopause) and grinned when she politely whispered about “vaginal dryness and discomfort” and the various solutions for that. I can buy a fix for vaginal dryness on the shelves of my local pharmacy…can’t say the same for cancer, right?

Tamoxifen grasped in my hands, we retraced our steps to the car; past the cafeterias, past the information centre, past the lending library, and finally past the wig department. I touched my hair and murmured, “I’m keeping my hair…” Markus whooped and hugged me.

In the car, he told me that he was getting dozens of responses to his good news post to my friends on Facebook. He urged me to tell my friends and family right away; that everyone would be so relieved and happy for me. How could I tell him that I secretly could not believe the good news? What if I made the announcement, and I got a phone call the next day, crushing me with the opposite news? I flapped my hands and told him I would write it later. I couldn’t even call my own children to speak the words out loud; I was so scared I would jinx things. We bought a feast at the T&T asian supermarket, and brought it home to the kids. The whole family was giddy with the news, while I sat there quietly wondering. Late that night, I cautiously wrote about my day, sharing the news on Facebook, then sat back and waited for the phone call I was dreading. I put off writing in my blog, thinking I would make it officially good news if nobody called me with bad news in a few weeks.

This week, I got a phone call from a private caller. A voice sounding just like my best friend asked for me…so I yelled, “PUNKIN!!!” and there was a long pause…then, “Uh um, no, my name is John Mackey. I am a medical oncologist from the Cross Cancer Institute.” I swallowed my immediate panic, and laughed and explained about Duncan/Punkin and that his voice was an exact match. With a smile in his voice, John Mackey replied, “Well, if Duncan has the same voice as me, then he must have a very nice voice indeed, haha! I was asked by Doug Goss to review your pathology and double check that you are having the appropriate treatment…he said you are a family friend? I just need your verbal permission over the phone before I open your medical file and read it” Still panicked, I mumbled yes and waited…This was the phone call I was waiting for – finally someone realized that they messed up and my cancer wasn’t all gone and I would have to go to chemo after all and lose all my hair and get sick and be tired and maybe maybe I wouldn’t live as long as I wanted to… There was total silence as he read over my file. I think I held my breath the entire time. When he started to speak, I still couldn’t breathe. He said these magic words, “Sue, based on what I am reading, you can be sure that the cancer has been removed and is gone from your body. The Tamoxifen is precautionary – 5 years of starving any possible cancer that could have been missed on a microscopic level. You should feel confident that you are well. Now, let’s talk about your family history and what that speaks to.” I floated as we discussed genetic testing and I complained that testing positive would endanger future life insurance for me and my children. He paused and said, “Um. You have already had breast cancer. That horse is out of the barn. Life insurance companies will discriminate against you and your children because of that, regardless of the genetic testing results.” I had to laugh when I realized I had totally forgotten that I have breast cancer. It feels good to forget. By the end of the phone call, he had recommended I discuss prophylactic removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes with my gynaecologist, and wondered if I was ok with that; with early onset menopause. I reassured him that I was done using my ovaries, that the Tamoxifen will imitate menopause for the next five years, and as my mom went through menopause early, I expected it was around the corner anyway. I thanked him for his time and hung up, posting the funny phone call on Facebook. Immediately, my friend Wendy, who lives in Edmonton and is wading through the cancer war like me and knows every doctor out there, posted, “Dr. Mackey is the best oncologist in Western Alberta. You are very lucky indeed!” Holy shit. So, another guardian angel has landed and now I have officially lost track of how many of them are in my life. How blessed am I.

Today, we went to pick up a friend from the hospital in Hinton, and took a little side trip to the garden centre in Canadian Tire. I chose new veggies to replace the ones that have been eaten by frost in our garden, new herbs, beautiful flowers, and seed potatoes. On the ride home, we listened as our friend told us how lucky she was that although she had fallen off of a 20 foot cliff while rappelling, she was wearing a helmet and managed to not break any bones. I shook my head in disbelief, and then I stopped myself. I need to stop this denying of good news. I told my friend that I was so happy that she was safe, and that I was amazed at what a great adventure she survived. How blessed was she!

After we brought our friend home, we settled into gardening. Markus worked on the flowers in the back yard, and I worked on planting pumpkins, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, and cabbages in our vegetable patch. The sun shone down warm on my shoulders, my knees got dirty, and I sweated. Every spadeful of dirt I dug up was rich with pink wriggling earthworms, and every leaf on every plant glowed green with life. I sat back on my heels and looked around me. My topsy-turvy Spring was over. As I breathed in the warm fresh air, I realized that Summer was here, and I was surrounded by new life. I can dig in the dirt and pull weeds and let my hair get messy. I can plant the vegetables that I know I will harvest in the Fall. And I can look at those hanging pots of flowers that Markus chose, and I can see that hummingbirds have come, attracted to the colourful blooms. Ganbaru feels extra good in the sunshine!

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Ganbaru 頑張る! (Ch.1)

I learned a few new words today. The first words were Infiltrating Duct Adenocarcinoma. In layman’s terms, it means breast cancer. Words that I have dreaded for 30 years, since my mom was diagnosed while I was in high school. Statistics told me that the chances of it striking me if my 2nd degree relatives (grandmother, Aunt Barby) had it, are higher than average. Statistics told me that chances of it striking me when a first degree relative (Mom) had it, are even higher. I think my sisters and I held our breaths for years, waiting for one of us to come forward with the awful news, because when you have our family history and you add a sister with breast cancer on top of that? It’s like really bad compound interest on a maxed out credit card; you’re probably going to get a call from that creditor for payment … So a few days before Valentine’s Day, I felt the lump, and the first thought was, “Oh no, JoJo and Annie…”

As I was out of town enjoying the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had, I ignored that lump like it was a whining child in the backseat of the car. I would deal with it when I got back home. As soon as I came home, I saw our family doctor and he sent me straight to Edmonton for a mammogram/ultrasound. My furry man and I kept telling each other, “This could be nothing. Let’s not freak out until someone officially tells us to freak out.” I called my Aunt Barby, since she has been a survivor for 14 years, and she briskly told me, “Now, don’t you go hanging crepe, Sue. Even if the worst is confirmed, so much has advanced in breast cancer treatment in the last 14 years. You can do this. You hang tough and you don’t forget to look out for your furry man. After all, you are Hess Tough. He has a slight disadvantage.”

Although there are many critics of some of the wait times in a national healthcare system, it is almost a magical thing to see how quickly people can move in such a system, when things are urgent. I went in for a mammogram/ultrasound (normally a several weeks – months wait), and after a closer look, they asked me to overnight in the city and come in first thing in the morning for a core needle biopsy (normally a few weeks wait) on the lump and a surprise lymph node that looked “suspicious.” I turned to the radiologist and asked in a shaky voice, “May I see what you see on the ultrasound? Why do you think it’s suspicious looking?” She obliged, showing me the lump, which looked icky and alien, and the lymph node, which turned out to look EXACTLY like the Death Star. I kid you not, complete with narrow alley that Luke Skywalker had to fly through to blow up the place. I thanked her and held it together until I reached the parking lot and melted into a blubbering mess behind my steering wheel while on speaker phone with Markus. After soothing me and letting me cry for a while, he waited until I calmed down a bit and said one very true thing, “Honey, we have been waiting for this for years, haven’t we? We always knew that this might come up, with your genes. Now that the moment is possibly here, I know we can do this together. Our family can do anything.” So I went back to the hotel room and for the first time in my life, raided the Honour Bar in the room. I binged on Pringles and chocolate, and ordered cheese from Room Service. Then I went to bed at 5pm to try to sleep away the time until my morning appointment with the giant needles. Had the craziest dreams from the chips, cheese, and chocolate, and woke up completely unrefreshed.

The needles were super big AND they had a spring-loaded trigger that reached out a mini-claw to snip off core samples of the lump and lymph node. I swear the trigger snapped exactly like my automatic cookie press at home. Each “SNAP” made me jump, and when the radiologist, Dr. Ling, muttered, “darn it” I knew she would have to try again. She apologized and said, “I’m so sorry. I need 4 core sample from each site, and these tumours and lymph nodes don’t just sit there nicely. They’re slippery little suckers…like..like…” and I blurted out, “Like bubble tea taro bubbles?” She burst out laughing and said, “YES, EXACTLY! I have never thought of that comparison, but they are JUST like bubble tea…now I don’t know if I ever will drink bubble tea again…” So laughing together and with me doing my lamaze breathing to stop panicking, I got through that procedure. We taped up the two little tunnels in my breast and armpit, and I drove 4 hours home into the arms of my loving family.

At first I thought I would wait to tell the kids anything, only sharing if the news was bad. But I made it back home in time to pick them up from school, and Hanna and Simon immediately started to cry, and asked me, “Mama, are you going to die?” I guess not knowing CAN be much worse than knowing. And they jumped to the worst case scenario when they found out I had to stay overnight in the city for more testing. So I decided to tell them absolutely everything. Of course, I had to give them the all the possibilities, which did include possible death, but considering I’ve been having annual mammograms since I was 30, the tumour could only be, at most, a year old. And I caught that sucker all by myself in a self-exam. And I reminded them, I am Hess Tough. We had a big cry, and a big hug, and luckily, they went back to being normal children.

The last week has been miserable, waiting and wondering. I used the time to read up on anything I could find about all the possible outcomes, all the types of breast cancer, all the potential treatments. I tried in vain to find cases of a negative biopsy on both a tumour and a lymph node. The very worst part of all was not telling anyone. I didn’t want to worry my dad if it turned out to be benign, I didn’t want to put my sister into a panic, I didn’t want to burden friends, and even though I am the first to share everything with friends and family on Facebook, I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud.

Normally I give up Facebook for Lent. Yesterday, I realized with a start, “TOMORROW IS ASH WEDNESDAY.” How was I supposed to go through this ordeal in this Godforsaken place, with most of my friends and family so far away, without my touchstone? With Facebook, I log in, and see that you’ve had your morning coffee, that you share my teenager problems, that you laugh at the jokes I love, and that you care about me. I have conversations and I give sympathy or lend a helpful shoulder for anyone to cry on. It could be 3am here in Canada, but my friends in Taiwan, my cousin, friends, and sister in Australia, my old friend in Turkey, and my other loved ones around the world, might be awake to have a chat. For the first time, I realize that this would be the wrong Lent to take a Facebook hiatus. This would be the time I would need my friends the most. I bargained with myself, “If the news is good, I’ll give up my FB connections for Lent. If the news is bad, I’m going to ask my friends and family to lend me their shoulders.”

So here I am, on Ash Wednesday, letting you know that you won’t be getting a Lenten break from Suzy Creamcheese this year. One of my closest friends, Laurie, called me from Arizona tonight, marvelling, “Sue, what timing you have. Here we are on Ash Wednesday, getting ready to begin a spiritual Lenten Journey, and you have ahead of you the biggest journey of all. Don’t forget that you are not alone, that you can glean strength from all those who love you, and from your faith.” And then I started reading some more and I learned the best new word of all: Ganbaru (頑張る). It’s a Japanese word which some say means “to do one’s best.” But to the Japanese people, it means more than that. It means to do more than survive; it means to “commit oneself fully to a task and to bring that task to an end.” And I hope my furry man, my sweet precious children, my family and my friends, will Ganbaru by my side. I’m going to do my usual oversharing. I understand that some of you don’t know me as intimately as most, so this might gross you out. Don’t worry if you need to bow out and block my feed for a few months. I will see you on the other side. And I am determined to do that – to get to the healthy side of summer. With you to keep me company on this journey, and Ganbaru and Hess Toughness…this shitty little disease hasn’t got a chance.

Blessed Be the Gluttons

Gluttony is Good.  At least it was today.  Just in case it really isn’t, Gaby and I decided to visit Basilique Notre-Dame-de-Montréal (Our Lady of Montréal Basilica) first.  We started by thoroughly sleeping-in this morning.  If you’ve never slept in a Fairmont Hotel before, you might want to scurry to the closest one as soon as you can.  The beds are the BEST and they make you want to stay in them all day.  Nevertheless, we dragged ourselves out at 9am, wrestled with the Nespresso machine, then promptly swooned when we tasted the creamy goodness of fine espresso in our cups.  After recovering, we made ourselves presentable, stopped at the hotel patisserie for almond croissants, and took the escalator down to the train station under the hotel.  Yes, there is a train station in the hotel basement (not your average basement – no pool table and moldy cement walls) – you could hop on a train to New York City if you felt like it.  We didn’t feel like going to New York, we felt like finding the Metro, so we wandered around in circles until a charitable lady took pity on us and turned us toward the tunnel we needed to follow.  We bought 3-day passes from the ticket booth, and hopped onto the train to eat our croissants.  2 stops later, we stepped out onto Place-d’Armes station, and walked up the street to the imposing Notre Dame Basilica.  When the enormous entry doors closed behind us, we were enveloped in the hushed silence of the cathedral; the smoky aroma of candles and incense swirling around us.  I’m Catholic, but Gaby is famous for saying that she stays away from churches because she will burst into flames if she enters.  Regardless, we both agreed that it was incredible to see the intricate carvings, the painting, and the painstaking details that went into the creation of churches like this.  Inspired by their spiritual beliefs, the builders made a tangible representation of their faith; awe-inspiring for all.  Columns made from entire trees, ceilings so high they seem to be the sky…I had to sit still in a pew just to absorb it all.  There was a door to the left of the alter that led us to the Chapelle Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart Chapel).  It seemed to be a hidden, secret place.  When we entered, the lighter wood that covered every surface glowed in the sunlight.  I followed the Stations of the Cross until I found my favorite one: #5 Simon reaching out to help carry the cross for Jesus, on the way to the Crucifixion. My little boy, Simon, always perks up during Mass, whenever Simon is mentioned in a reading, whispering, “Mama, Simon was Jesus’ friend!” I texted the photo to my son and had to smile.  Before we left, I needed to take a picture of Gaby inside the chapel – Proof of Life – to show she had survived and that we didn’t need a fire extinguisher.  

 

We wanted to also see Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours (Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel) and found it down the road with only a couple of turn arounds.  All my friends and family know I am the opposite of a GPS – I am guaranteed to get you lost if you follow me.  Gaby impressed me, pulling out her iPhone and looking at street signs…I followed like a little baby duck.  Only later in the afternoon did she surprise me by laughing and saying, “I’m horrible with directions!”  I’ve never had such fun getting lost before!  If I’m by myself, I’m crying.  With Gaby, we’re like, “woops!” and we’re moving on.  So we made it to the chapel (singing all the way – “Goin’ to the chapel and we’re Goin’ to get maaaarrrrriiied”) and were told by the lady inside the museum that we would need to climb an unGodly number of stairs (yeah, I said unGodly about chapel stairs – I bet if you’d ask Him, He would agree!) to the tower up above.  Deathly afraid of heights, I quaked inwardly and wondered just how high the tower was…but when we made it to the top, I was so busy trying to gasp air and grip my bum because it had met the worst Stairmaster of all time, that I was only slightly terrified of the height.  The little railing around the outside of the tower would stop us from falling to our deaths onto the passers-by in the street below—on a still day.  Today was a little too windy for our liking; some of my photos came out crooked because while taking the pictures, I would suddenly think about dropping the iPhone off the tower, and I would crazily grip it in reflex.  I need an off-switch for my brain.  Despite the gusts, we were still enchanted by the view of the St. Lawrence River and the 2 angels on the towers of the chapel, with their arms outstretched in the blue sky, welcoming all the seafarers home.  It’s good to ignore your fears sometimes.  

 

After we dizzily made our way down the spiral stairs to the street level, we realized that some of our light-headedness was caused by our growling stomachs.  A measly almond croissant is not sufficient fuel for cathedral-exploring.  Having read about a nice little cafe close by, we decided to finish touring the little museum below the chapel, and then go to lunch.  The museum had a very interesting display about the chapel’s founder, Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys.  There was a painting in the house of the religious order she founded, that many doubted was the true depiction of Saint Marguerite.  The painting was x-rayed and an entirely different style of portrait was revealed.  An olden day mystery solved. There was also a creepy little room filled with miniature dolls and dioramas made in the 1950‘s, illustrating the many events in the life of Saint Marguerite.  So many of the dolls had hilarious expressions on their faces – I think the Sisters of the order who made the dioramas just bought little plastic dolls from toy stores, dressed them up, and glued them into the dioramas.  It was an odd room, and I’m not sure I wasn’t hallucinating from hunger, so maybe it doesn’t actually exist.  Exiting the museum, faint with hunger, we consulted Gaby’s iPhone and set forth.  Getting lost in Old Montréal is actually quite lovely.  The cobblestone streets and the ancient buildings make you feel like you are walking in another time.  I kept staring at old wooden doorways, fully expecting little French people to come out, dressed in 19th century clothing.  The shop fronts were sometimes very deceiving – beautiful old windows with wooden frames…and then modern day souvenirs leapt out at us; t-shirts that screamed, “I ❤ POUTINE!”  We eventually found Olive et Gourmando, and entered the BEST lunch experience I have had in Montreal.  It was hopping inside – a line to the door, and people bustling all around.  On every wall, there were chalkboards with menu items, funny stories about the restaurant, and cute drawings.  There was an entire counter dedicated to coffee and pastries.  Did I mention I love Montreal?  If this is an imitation of France, then I might have to visit France so I can eat myself to death.  The hostess told us that we would be table #5 as soon as the current occupants finished up, then we would take the blank notecard she handed us and make our way to the back, where we would puzzle out the menu in French, and give our order.  I am on a lifelong quest to find the perfect Rueben sandwich, so I had to give the OG Rueben Panini a try, Gaby ordered a Cuban Panini, and because you must always say YES to truffle, we ordered the homemade mac & cheese with mushroom and truffles. Yes, we ordered 3 lunches.  We’re on vacation, don’t judge us.  The tables were so close together, I had to humiliate myself and squeeze my large American rear end between our table and our seated neighbors.  I shouldn’t have felt embarrassed – poor Gaby had to witness my neighbor eat her entire lunch with her mouth open.  People who haven’t been taught by their mommies to eat with their mouths closed should be more embarrassed than I am about my bum.  Seriously.  See-Food Lady beside us did nothing to take away from the sheer decadence of our lunch, however.  Even when the neighbor table accidently splashed their homemade ketchup on me, it didn’t bother me.  The paninis were perfect.  Slightly crispy, thin focaccia bread, melted swiss cheese, Montreal smoked meat, sauerkraut, whole-grain mustard, and a creamy sauce.  I almost screamed.  The mac & cheese came bubbling in a cast-iron pan.  All the food was so hot, we burned our greedy hands and mouths as we stuffed our faces.  Oh, the gluttony.  Oh, the glorious scent of truffles, wafting up to our quivering nostrils… We finished lunch with a good, strong, kick-in-the-ass double espresso (actually, Gaby enjoyed a creamy latte while I gulped the caffeine) so we could have the energy to visit one more museum: Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire Pointe-à-Callière (Pointe-à-Callière Archaeology and History Museum). We rolled our stuffed selves up and down a few windy streets, completely lost, until we re-oriented ourselves and found our way. We discovered that the museum was going to close in an hour, so we rushed down to the bottom level – one of the coolest parts of the city.  Archeologists had discovered, under the old building, the foundations and remains of the original settlements of the city – starting with the First Nations inhabitants.  The area’s first cemetary is actually right there as one of the displays – creepy.  The little river (St. Peter) that the settlement was built next to, was eventually overtaken, converted into an aqueduct for wastewater, and the city was built over it.  Now, the museum is excavating further, and future museum patrons will be able to take tunnel tours under that part of the city, following the route of that stone tunnel. I look forward to the new exhibit!

 

The whole day has been a bit of a blur, with us absorbing history and chasing food….somewhere along the line we decided to try again to find the famous Queues de Castor—Beaver Tails!  You would only understand our obsession if you’d ever tasted the fresh-from-the-fryer crispy, chewy goodness of this pastry, smeared with Nutella that is melting from the heat of the fried dough, maybe sprinkled with sliced bananas or strawberries…Heaven on Earth. Yesterday’s search for Beaver Tails was a bust.  Today, we found another address online, and tracked it down to the banks of the St. Lawrence River.  On the King Edward Pier, we pressed our noses to the glass doors of the Centre des Sciences de Montréal…and woefully read the sign on the Queues de Castor shop, “SEE YOU NEXT SPRING!”  We turned around and slowly dragged our weary asses up the hill to the Metro station, mumbling all the way, “But it IS Spring…why they no open? We want Beaver Tails…”  

 

As soon as we landed at our home station, we searched for a pharmacy in the underground city.  Nothing hurts more than middle-aged feet that have been pounding the pavement all day, after years of sedentary living.  One more thing I love about Canada?  We are not so Scroogey about our over-the-counter meds.  You can find Tylenol with muscle relaxants at any drugstore, no prescription needed.  Gaby snatched up 2 boxes for the road, and we bought the 2 biggest diet cokes we could get our hands on to wash them down.  A gajillion steps and a few ventures down the wrong tunnels later, and we were back in the blessed Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth.  We didn’t have the energy to make it to the elevators to crawl to our rooms, so we collapsed in the cushy armchairs in the lounge in the hotel lobby.  Slurping icy cold soda, popping Tylenol for our throbbing feet, we made noises of satisfaction that you normally shouldn’t make in public.  I neglected to mention that I am on Day #2 of treatment for Strep throat as well, so I had to gulp down some absolutely disgusting cough syrup.  Following it with a mouthful of diet coke, I realized too late that I really hate the taste of cherry coke. Bleah.  But our day was so good, and the food so fine, that even our complaining muscles and the foul taste of cherry coke could not drown out the pleasure we felt.  After about 30 minutes of recovery in the lobby, our fickle stomachs turned to thoughts of more food opportunities.  We explored the guidebook and the reviews online, and decided our feet would like to eat at the closest good restaurant.  We chose the Dominion Square Tavern.  We had just enough energy to return to our rooms and make ourselves presentable.  Then, we hit the streets.  We are getting better with our senses of directions; we only had to turn back once on this journey.  In just a few minutes, we were opening the doors to one of the best places I’ve ever been to for dinner.

 

Built in 1927, the Dominion Square Tavern has the golden feel of the Roaring Twenties, but somehow has become one of the hottest current spots for people to gather in and share a loud meal with friends.  The low roar of music, working bartenders and servers, and friends laughing and talking, was just as my husband once told me was his ultimate goal for his restaurants: loud enough so that you had to slightly lean in to your dinner companion for conversation, but you don’t have to yell.  Music in the background, but not imposing on your conversation.  The chatter of all the tables jumbled together so you don’t hear one particular voice or conversation.  A gentle roar. Gaby and I were seated at the bar (the place was crowded and busy) where we could watch the very cute bartenders mix drinks in their simple uniforms of tuxedo shirts tucked into blue jeans, white aprons tied on their waists.  I tried a Pimm’s Cup for the first time, and Gaby had a Royal Gin Fizz.  The menu had me drooling, so I ordered the Bone Marrow appetizer, and the Roasted Cod on Pureed Carrots and Kale.  Gaby ordered the Deviled Eggs appetizer, and the Braised Beef on Mashed Potatoes and Greens.  The appetizers arrived and mine almost rose up from the plate and beat me over the head.  There were 2 HUGE beef bones, the length of my forearm, sliced lengthwise, marrow broiled and glistening.  A tiny spoon stood straight up, stuck into the marrow.  On the side, there were 8 points of toast on which to spread the marrow, and a tiny silver bowl of course salt to sprinkle on the deliciousness.  Gaby’s deviled eggs looked like the stunted midget little brothers to my enormous appetizer. It was spectacular.  Of course, my greedy eyes were scolded by my wimpy stomach, and I only managed to down 1 1/2 of the bones of marrow.  It was like eating straight butter – beefy butter…Sinfully good.  The entrees made their appearance, and my stomach immediately rejoined the game.  The roasted cod was tender and creamy, the carrots silky, and the kale gave the dreamy mouthfuls the bite they needed to be well-rounded.  I cleaned my plate like a good little girl – no nagging necessary.  Gaby’s beef was fork-tender, and I think she regressed into her infancy, curling up on her barstool while she savored each morsel.  And since we were on a Romanesque roll, I thought we could ask around for a feather to take care of our full stomachs, and perhaps order desserts as well.  I am not a sweets kind of gal, but the lemon tart looked very nice.  Gaby is a sucker for sticky toffee pudding, and lo and behold there was one on the menu.  No feather needed – just the right amount of dessert came out on dainty plates, and my little lemon tart was presented with flakes of light sweet merengue chips scattered on top.  All of it was so light, I could almost fool myself into believing we hadn’t indulged in dessert.  Almost.  We definitely needed the walk home, to wiggle and shake that dinner down to our toes.  And the desserts must have had a healing influence on our inner GPSs.  We went straight back to the hotel, no problems.  I can’t recall much after that; the food coma lifted just enough for us to stumble into pajamas and Facetime my family, then we slurred, “Good Night, Sweet Dreams” and oozed our way to our rooms.  I lost track of Food vs. Exercise…I really wanted to justify all that gobbling we did all day.  Then I remembered how we like to resolve arguments or competition among the kids…”Let’s just call it a tie!”  Whattayasay?  Gluttons Indulging vs. Gluteus Maximus Toning…Let’s just call it a tie! 

 

Blessed Be the Gluttons, For They Shall Eat the Earth.Image

Flowers and Tea in the Winter Mountains

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During the past week, our house has been bustling with the arrival of our oldest daughter, visiting from university, and the departure of our youngest daughter on a French exchange program to Quebec.  Sitting down to write has been a luxury I couldn’t afford, so the words have been filling me to overflowing, inside.  A few days ago, while shopping in Safeway, those words had nowhere else to go, so they started spilling out of my ears.  In the floral section. Luckily, I carry a little notebook for just such occasions, and I caught them before they were lost (something Hashimoto’s has taught me – write it down or lose it forever).
 
Driving to Safeway takes an hour, so I usually take my time, wandering the aisles to make sure we have everything we need before making the long journey home.  At the end of the produce section, I found myself surrounded by flowers.  As I ventured further into the arrangements and noticed all the tulips and lilies,  my heart lifted with the realization that Spring was around the corner.  Living so far north, this is the time of year when it feels as if Winter will go on forever.  So I indulged myself by wandering around the flower section, picking up the heavy glass vases, picturing the long-stemmed blooms I could arrange, and where I would place them in my apartment.  I gently stroked the glossy leaves of the orchid plants, reminiscing about my house in Hawaii, filled with all varieties of those beauties that my husband would bring home to me every few weeks. Large baskets filled with luscious ferns, hung from iron hooks, green tendrils tickling my ears as I brushed by.   All around, the damp smell of healthy plants in rich soil made me feel homesick for something I couldn’t place my finger on…
 
Then I found wide pots filled with assorted bulbs; crocuses, tulips, and hyacinths.   They were slightly over-bloomed, the hyacinth stem drooping with the weight of the heavy blossom clusters. But I knew they would smell heavenly, so I leaned in and nestled my face amongst the petals.  A deep inhale of the heavy perfume…and I found myself in Bedfordshire, England, with my best friend, Connie.  We were taking one of our days off from working in the AAFES Base Exchange store on RAF Chicksands, and enjoying a day visiting garden centers.  Our lives as Air Force wives would have been very boring, if it weren’t for the small miracle of meeting each other.  When I interviewed her for a job in the Shoppette, I remember thinking how nice it would be to have such a fun friend.  She was just a young girl like me- barely 20 or 21, freshly returned from her honeymoon with her high school sweetheart, but smart as a whip, feisty, and quick to smile.  She had long, chestnut brown hair, that fell in wild waves of corkscrew curls, and startling blue eyes that never ever missed a thing.  It’s funny how appearances fooled me into thinking, “high school cheerleader, popular crowd – maybe not interested in being friends with an oboe-playing band geek who liked to read cookbooks for fun and prune roses for kicks.”  Lo and behold, both Connie AND her husband Dan had been band geeks, they loved to cook, and had the same goofy sense of humor I thought I was alone in possessing.  Our husbands worked crazy schedules on base; 3 days of day shifts (7am-3pm), 3 days of mid shifts (3pm-11pm), 3 days of swing shifts (11pm-7am), then 3 days off.  In the beginning, Connie had to wait for base housing, and she and Dan lived in a spider-infested townhouse in a village called Sandy, about 30 minutes from RAF Chicksands.  To escape the dark rooms filled with spiders, we would explore garden centers on our days off from the BX, where we both had transferred to work.  The garden centers were enchanted places where you could wander greenhouses filled to the rafters with plants of all varieties and sizes.  They also had gift shops stocked with gardening books and beautiful pottery to drool over.  But best of all, every garden center had a cozy little area where customers could enjoy high tea.  Some teas were fancy, with scones and clotted cream, and some just offered small sandwiches and strong, sweet, milky black tea from chipped teapots with knitted tea-cozies.  It didn’t matter what the weather was like outside (usually chilly and mostly wet), because inside we were warm in the greenhouse, surrounded by bright flowers and the pleasant muted clinking of our china cups in their saucers.  I  remember that we were always too poor to buy many things (our husbands were brand-new enlisted airmen – we would have had more income on Welfare), but we always had a few pounds to buy a pot of tea and maybe share a sandwich or some sausage rolls.  And wandering the garden centers, paging through the books and looking at, touching, and smelling the flowers were always free.  
 
Connie and Dan eventually secured base housing, and were given a unit just a few hundred yards behind my house.  With our husbands’ shifts keeping them in permanent sleep deprivation, Connie and I had to occupy ourselves with few resources. Living on the economy was very expensive, and simple things like going out to dinner or the movies weren’t luxuries we could all afford very often.  So we learned how to cross-stitch.  And we learned how to cook.  To this day, Connie’s Spaghetti Carbonara is the best sauce I have ever had.  Pancetta, red wine, beef,  sauteed onions, garlic and carrots, all married together for hours, then finished by pureeing and stirring in silky cream.  I could drink the whole pot of sauce if I didn’t have to share it… I tried to convince her that we could open a restaurant and only serve her spaghetti and my beef stroganoff and get RICH!  She would laugh and flap her oven mitts at my foolishness, but to this day, I know people would pay good money for our food – if only they could taste it first.  
 
Once in a while, if our husbands’ off days and swing shifts would coincide,  we would splurge and take the train to London. The 4 of us visited Madame Toussad’s Wax Museum, dallied in Harrod’s, and stood at the gates of Buckingham Palace.  I remember always having a difficult time breathing in those places, not quite believing I was actually travelling in a city that was older than my native country.
 
Every Saturday at 6:45pm or Sunday at 9:45am, Connie would say, “Okay, I’m running to Mass – I’ll be back in about an hour.”  Whether she was at my house or I was at hers, she went.  Her husband and I, both baptized but never raised by families to practice our faith, would wheedle and whine to keep her from going, but she would just smile and say, “I gotta go!  I’ll be right back!”  There was no Bible thumping or preaching – she went because she wanted to go.  My father is Agnostic (in my opinion, a very pretentious way of saying, “I dunno”) and my mother was just paranoid.  She was baptized as a baby (some Missionary must have convinced someone in her family, but never followed through with the rest of the faith lessons) but it meant nothing, as not one of them attended Mass or even discussed any faith in the household.  She also believed in Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, among other things.  Basically, it felt like my mother wanted all bases covered, in case she died and one of the faiths was actually true, so she had all of us children baptized at birth.  In any case, both parents were too lazy to physically bring us to churches to explore faiths, so they always told us, “You decide what you want to believe in when you grow up.”  I went to an Episcopal boarding school one year.  It was my first time in a church, and I was enthralled by the architecture, the acoustics (I sang in the school choir), and the hushed air when the minister spoke.  The hymns were my favorite part, though, which made me think that perhaps I wasn’t feeling the message I was meant to receive from the Episcopalians. So I asked Connie, “Why do you go to church?”  At first, she laughed and told me that when she was little, her mother would get tired of the kids whining about going to Mass on Sundays and would yell, “Get up and come to Mass, or you’re all going to Hell!”  Then I said, “Why do you keep going now?  You could sleep in, or we could keep watching that show on tv, or we could all have a glass of wine – why do you feel you have to go to Mass, now that you’re grown up and Mom doesn’t need to nag you?”  She grew still as she thought about it, a little crease forming between her eyebrows.  Then she said, “Well, I think I go to say thank you.  God gives me every day of my life – every minute of every day.  And I have a really good life.  I’m healthy and happy, and I have a wonderful husband and a good job.  For all those days in my life, I think it isn’t too much for God to ask me to go to Mass for just one hour. An hour is such a small amount of time to say thank-you for everything He gives.”
 
For weeks, Connie’s words rattled about in my head.  Finally, I worked up the courage to ask her if I could come with her one time, to see what Mass was like.  She agreed and said I was totally welcome, but there was a little rule that I wouldn’t be allowed to partake of Communion because I wasn’t a fully initiated member of the church.  I thought, “that’s okay.  I’m just curious.”  Following her to Saturday night Mass was curious, indeed.  Upon entering the small wooden, multipurpose chapel on base, Connie dipped her fingers in a little basin of water (Holy Water, she explained), and genuflected with her dampened fingers; gently touched forehead, then sternum, then left shoulder, then right. I imitated her, the water leaving a cooling spot on my forehead. There were only a few other people there, so the carpeted chapel was very quiet. We slid into the wooden pews, and Connie pulled out the padded kneeling bench by our feet, and knelt.  She bowed her head and became very still.  I looked around at others doing the same, looked up on the alter to the large crucifix, studied Jesus’ bowed head.  And the pianist asked us to open our Catholic Book of Worship (hymnals) to a certain number, and we began to sing.  The music was meh.  But then there were readings from the bible.  2, to be exact.  It was a bit difficult to understand, because I was slightly nervous from all the rising and the sitting, and the responses to prompts that I was a stranger to.  Then the priest began his homily.  I figured out that after a reading from the Gospel, the priest does a homily to explain the Gospel in layman’s terms.  I could never have prepared myself for Father Ryan, though.  Here was a spritely little man in his mid-fifties, glasses on his nose, talking about how great the Rolling Stones are…what?!  He had us laughing and answering questions, and next thing I knew, I felt a “click.”  I started tagging along after Connie to every weekly Mass.  Eventually, perhaps feeling left behind, her husband joined us. Not once did Connie nag us, not once did she preach.  She just lived her faith, and we lifted ourselves to reach the level she seemed to glow from. The rhythm of prayer and response, song, and readings, began to feel comfortable and easy.  Every week, we all gave each other a sign of Peace during Mass, by shaking hands after the Lord’s Prayer, and wishing each other, “Peace be with you.”  And every time that happened, I felt the peace wash over me and I felt strong and refreshed, ready for a new start to a new week.  Dan and I went through the RCIA program and were both given our First Communion and were Confirmed on Holy Saturday Night before Easter that year.  
 
Within one month of each other, Connie and I found ourselves expecting our first babies.  Soon after, however, our husbands were reassigned to the U.S.  Connie moved to Maryland, and I moved to the armpit of Texas: San Angelo.  The best part of living in San Angelo (the ONLY part) was that my daughter was born there.  The rest is a blur.  Connie’s baby boy was born 11/12/92, and my daughter was born on 12/13/92.  She made me the Godmother, and I made her and Dan the Godparents.  She and Dan came for a visit when the kids were 3 months old – we celebrated Easter together and for a few days it felt like no time had passed.  Luckily, it turns out we have that kind of friendship, because 17 years went by before we saw each other again.  We tried to keep in touch, but life gets busy with jobs and kids, divorce, and moving.  Years later, I found myself in Colorado for a high school reunion, and Connie and Dan drove to my hotel to bring me to their new home.  Connie’s hair was blond, Dan’s was all salt and pepper, and mine was falling out, but as soon as we started talking, we were in our 20’s again, laughing and joking and comparing kids. Their son and my daughter, although raised apart since they were 3 months old, have turned into mirror images of each other.  We alternate between wanting to hug them and wanting to strangle them.  Connie confides in me that she has had ups and downs with her son, as I have had with my daughter, but through it all, she maintains an inner peace I wish I could find.  She gets angry like a normal person, but she bears no resentment, like I do. For her, forgive and forget go hand-in-hand.  That’s something I need to work on…  They also got on a plane and flew out to Canada to visit me a couple of years ago.  It’s so strange and wonderful to me, each time we are reunited, to find that nothing has changed.  Connie is still the kind of person that I strive to be.  She is patient and kind, she is forgiving and loving.  As I age, I realize how important it is to surround myself with people that I look up to; people who teach by example.  But there are very few people I meet that inspire me to be a better person, while making me laugh and appreciate life at the same time. I’m sure I am describing every Best Friend in the world, but this is different, because this is my Best Friend.  Since I get more discerning as I age, I find myself choosing to be alone, rather than have shallow friendships. If it weren’t for Facebook and FaceTime, linking me to the friends I have held on to, and to my Best Friend, I think I might go crazy in this winterscape called Jasper.  I mentioned the Girl Scout organization on Facebook, a couple of weeks before Lent, praising it for its liberal views, and the next thing I know, a huge box arrives in the mail from Connie, full of Girl Scout Cookies (and other goodies).  All it was missing was a big pot of steaming tea, strong, sweet, and milky hot.  And Connie.  And a warm greenhouse full of flowering plants…
 
I blink, look down, and find myself holding a little pot of deep purple african violets.  The dark green leaves are impossibly soft, covered in velvet that begs to be touched.  I look up, and I’m in the flower section of the Hinton Safeway, thousands of miles away from England.  Connie and I both live in the Rocky Mountains now – she’s on the Colorado side, I’m on the Canadian side.  There are just a few really big hills between us.  I brought the little plant home and placed it on my kitchen table.  It keeps me company while I abstain from Facebook during Lent, it’s cheerful purple petals reminding me that Easter is around the corner.  It stands in for the garden centres in my memories, while I raise a cup of strong, sweet, milky black tea towards the snow-covered mountains, to my best friend on the other side.  Cheers, Connie!
 

Lenten Lentils, LaLaLa

So far, resolutions are still surviving, although there are signs of rebellion everywhere.  My family was really big on making Lenten promises – my husband decided to discipline his potty mouth, younger daughter had a laundry list of promises (including running outside for 30 minutes everyday and no gaming/social media/texting for fun), and my son gave up gaming and vowed to run outside every day for 30 minutes.  Well.  Yesterday was Ash Wednesday – Day #1.  First thing in the morning, as the children are thundering around upstairs, and my husband is waiting impatiently downstairs to drive them to school, he yells, “What the F**K is going on?!”  sigh.  And the kiddies come home from school, full of excuses as to why they are too tired to go out and suck in some fresh air.  FINE.  I will be perfect and do everything I promised, right? HA.

Well, I gave up my favorite thing in the world (besides the actual people I love), Facebook.  So to prevent temptation, I deleted the apps from my phone and my ipad, after changing the notification settings so I don’t get any emails telling me what I’m missing.  But then I found myself checking my phone every hour yesterday…only to find the app missing, boo.  So then I would do something lame like open up CNN or check my email.  And I wandered aimlessly for much of the day.  Withdrawal is not so fun.

I also made a quiet promise to myself that I would give this Godforsaken town a 2nd chance by doing something new every day.  Yesterday was supposed to be my day to visit the town museum.  I went.  Twice.  Both times it was closed for some unexplained reason. Attendant in the bathroom? Who knows.  And because I also promised myself I would not swear anymore, I was forced to sound ridiculous by saying out loud, “Tsk. Tsk.”  That’s it.  “Tsk. Tsk.”  And you KNOW what I really wanted to do was yell what my husband yelled up the stairs this morning.  sigh.  So I went to pick up my son from the elementary school, and he jumps into the car and exclaims, “MAMA, can we make Valentines cards for tomorrow?!  Homemade!  With like, chocolate Kisses stuck inside?!”  I haven’t done arts and crafts with the kids since we moved away from Hawaii, 4 years ago.  After all, my youngest is in 6th grade now, and tying them down to the kitchen table is like trying to wash a cat.  Possible, but not so fun.  So I thought, “why not?”  it was something new for us in Canada, I could rationalize.  Luckily, I’m a pack rat so our art supplies were in great abundance.  We bought some chocolate covered caramels wrapped in gold at the grocery store, and cut out the prettiest valentines out of contruction paper on the kitchen table.  Simon wrote out and decorated all of them, and carefully taped a candy inside each one. It was the best hour I had all day. 

So then we all bundled up and went to Ash Wednesday Mass at 7pm.  There was good news and bad news.  The good news was that our Nigerian priest from last year (who was a lovely man but whose English was incomprehensible) had been replaced with a sweet little Indian man with a very understandable sing-song accent.  The kids perked up to be able to understand the homily, and his enthusiasm brought smiles to our faces.  The bad news was that the choir still consisted of a lead singer with a microphone, and her warbling backups (3 little old ladies who loved trilling vibratto off-tuned harmony…very loudly).  My mother never taught me this, but I learned it from my friends with manners:  if you have nothing nice to say, do not say anything at all.  Well, I am trying to follow that advice with my spoken word (my written word is out-of-bounds…anything goes), so I was verrrry verrrry quiet during Mass.  We all held hands, I whispered explanations to my youngest son during the readings, and before we knew it, we were released into the cold night air.  Surprisingly, both the children, my husband, and I felt glad that we attended.  When we returned home, I found 6 emails in my inbox – all personal, from my big sister and friends – and I didn’t have to think about Facebook while I read them. My big sister, who is a proud Birkie-Lovin’ Pagan, called me a Lentil, and I am still laughing. It’s the new me: Lentil Sue. I might give you gas, but I am good for you!

Heavens to Murgatroyd, She’s Talking Religion…

It is rapidly approaching that time of year for me to temporarily put down the excess in my life – the things I think I NEED when in reality they are things that I just desperately WANT – and to use that time to do the best I can to explore and improve my Faith. For Lent (beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 13th), I will be giving up my daily touchstone: Facebook. For those of you who use FB as a business contact list, or a place to play online games, this might seem like a trivial sacrifice; something akin to giving up chocolate. For me, I will be giving up the small window of joy I receive when I can see a friend, or a sister, or a cousin, from across the world, post a photo of themselves or their child, or post an update to their day as they are maybe waking up and I am going to bed. I will be giving up that warm feeling when my family and friends comment, laugh, or commiserate about my day. Living, as I have for the last year, in such an isolated place, Facebook has become my main link to my small extended family living in Australia, Germany, Hawaii, Florida, and Taiwan, and the only way to get all my busy friends who live in dozens of other countries, to come to one virtual meeting place to visit. It is truly the only thing that I love so much (other than my family), that I will miss keenly. Honestly, I’ve been living without wine for weeks now, have lived without coffee/caffeine before, and have given up different food groups with no problem. Facebook is my one connection to every single one of my friends and family who do not live in Jasper (pretty much the rest of the world). And while I crave that human connection, leaving it for 40 days will give me clarity and focus. I will email, text, call, write letters, and make a renewed effort to write my blog.

Easter will be on March 31st. I have been a shitty Christian for most of the year, and I need to contemplate why that is, and what I can do about it. It’s not so cool or popular to admit that I am grateful for the love that has come into my life and that I truly believe much of my good fortune came from God answering the only two wishes I ever wished in my whole life. Wish #1 was prayed on every first star I saw, every night from when I was a sad, unwanted 13 years old until I was 25: “Please Lord, give me a family that will love me as much as I love them.” It began to come true when Emily was born, through my meeting Markus, continued with the arrival of Hanna, and was finally complete upon the birth of Simon. Wish #2 began 19 years ago, and is still whispered up to the first star every night, including tonight: “Dear Lord, please watch over my family, and keep us safe and happy, and in love, and healthy, and kind to eachother, and having fun every day.” And as my prayers are answered, I think it’s only appropriate for me to say Thank You and return some of that love.

So, on February 13th, I will delete the Facebook app from my computer and phone, and I will ask that you email or snailmail or just go on enjoying your life for the remainder of the 40 days until Easter. I will also be enjoying my time away, living life and being present and prepared to listen to any messages to my soul.

Whoever your God is, or whatever you choose to believe, I wish you Peace. And here, help yourself to a slice of love. I have plenty to share.

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