Full Medical Coverage

I told you that I’ve had medical stuff on my mind lately. One of the reasons is that, among my collection of Adjunct Sisters (you didn’t know that was a Thing, did you? It is, and a very important one at that.), one member is battling a disease I’d never even heard of until her doctors diagnosed her: Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) or Devic’s Disease. Not funny, as you can tell if you look at the link. But the lady I know who is learning firsthand what that ugly condition is, she is funny. She’s fabulous in so many ways, and not least of them is her wildly adorable sense of humor, one of the many characteristics that has endeared her to our family since she joined the gang years ago as a friend and sometimes college-roommate of both of my younger sisters and laughed and loved her way into the whole family’s hearts.

So when I send her love and “advice,” since I am ill (no pun intended)-equipped to offer her anything of medical value, I try to give her, if not a belly laugh, at least a little smirk of silliness to help distract her way through the tough times. Today’s topic was medical masks and the myriad purposes they can serve. Perhaps those of you undergoing health challenges of your own can benefit from this utterly useless but well-meant meandering as well. And I do mean well. Forthwith! Here’s what I sent her today:

I think you know that Sister #3 is sharing your email updates with the other three of your sisters here, and I hope that you don’t mind terribly, because it’s so important for all of us to know what’s up with you and what we can be studying on your behalf and all of that. And of course, keeping you extra tightly in our arms, interwebbian though they may be. At least the latter makes us sound like friendly aliens, which of course is exactly what we are. You’ve known that all along.

Rituxan [the treatment proposed by her medical care team], as I understand it, is a chemotherapeutic drug. With that, I would guess it means that the intent is to kill off targeted invasive tissue, like those lesions of yours. I would also assume, especially with the liver toxicity warnings, that it means your immune system will be working extra-extra hard while you’re being treated, so I say, don’t be shy about watching out particularly vigilantly for your own health and protection during all of this time, whether it’s fending off a “mild” cold or dealing with any infusion side effects. Go ahead and take any old extreme prophylactic measure if your mood or the occasion warrants it.

Those who love you can and will support you in this adventure of yours if you let them learn how to be truly on your team by keeping them as informed as they can handle; I’m betting that those who do care about you deeply know or guess much more than they let on both that this is serious business and that it’s very stressful for you. No doubt everyone has frustrations and impatience that are surely exacerbated by seeing what stress you’re under. I can’t imagine there are too many parents, for example, no matter what the relationship with their kids, who don’t get a little extra crazy when they think their child is under attack and they can’t do that much about it.

As for protection, I can’t speak to the medicinal side of it, but I can offer my two (or two hundred) cents about some practical/tactical issues for protecting yourself from a few flying germs, and possibly, from a few unwanted attentions during the treatment and recovery process. Or how to get more attention, if that’s what you need.

In one word: masks. Medical masks aren’t as commonly used in the US as they maybe should be when what’s floating around us in our breathing air—whether of our making or someone else’s—poses a danger. Asia has been much more forward-thinking on this particular medical front, having had a couple of national crises with flus and other public health problems that resulted in some remarkably fashionable fashion shows, cultural events, and general public expressions of the usefulness of the mask.

A quick web search offers a wide range of options in this regard, and you may choose to consider using some of them either merely while hanging around in the clinic or hospital where you get your doses of Rituxan or as ways to visibly express your current state of being so you don’t have to make constant update reports to everybody when you’re already tired.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 1 If you want to go classic, there’s always the familiar rectangular style but with the slight upgrade of some dainty pastel colors for a little fashion flair. The shape and texture tell me that if you want to go classic but super cheap you could always find some vintage style maxi pads and tie them on around your head. This would, of course, have the bonus effect of startling others into leaving you alone.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 2

For the classic style with, well, more style, you can find lots of fashion prints online, or you could do as has many a stylish stagecoach robber or gang member of yore, and use your standard medical mask with a bandanna or scarf artfully covering it. This could provide an added benefit in making the nice people at the admitting desk respect you more, and possibly feel compelled to offer you a sudden, steep discount on your treatment, although eventually this latter effect could be hard to defend in court if the security cameras in the facility happen to show you in a poor light.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 3

Perhaps a more glamorous treatment of the above effect, and with good germ-averse coverage as well, this little combo can instantly turn you into the health-conscious chef/superspy you’ve always dreamt you could be.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 4

While designed to wear one at a time, these babies have the obvious secondary option of being combined as a uniquely-you bra or swimsuit after you’ve recovered from your illness, and for those of the younger set, the advantage of those screw-top central covers for infant-nursing convenience. Or a hot new pole-dancing uniform, should that be preferred.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 5

Sometimes just affecting a more cuddly mien (or meow) can help one to feel more cuddly. A touch of ‘kawaii,’ that delicate cuteness our Japanese friends treasure so deeply, could be just the solution. Hello Kitty is a good choice, although I personally would endorse the Hello Miss Kitty line in deference to my favorite writer-artist.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 6

There are lots of other cute options out there if you like the idea of others comforting you with a gentle pat on the head or scratch behind the ears, or perhaps a handful of immunity-boosting kibble.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 7

When you’re finding it hard to smile and put on a show of concern for your normal beauty regime, you can opt for the Marilyn look. Whether you choose Monroe or Manson is up to your taste and your mood, naturally.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 8

Other expressions may be more appropriate for some occasions than others. I like the bronze hat with which this is shown, as you can use it to bonk people over the head smartly if they should refuse to respect your feelings with appropriate alacrity. An alternative version of the hat would of course be one like the legendary bowler sported by Oddjob, who knew how to handle disrespect very directly and succinctly as well.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 9

Perhaps a little facial hair would serve to embolden you or divert attention from your sense of feminine vulnerability? Here’s your mask!Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 10

For those who might prefer to project other ideas than mere germicidal ones, there are numerous elegant choices on the market. Or the black market, depending on how other those ideas may be. The shaven head is not only a good-looking addition to this particular mask format but also offers an excellent location for attaching a temporary thought balloon if you have something on your mind but aren’t sure just how to say it aloud.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 11

Just want to embody a fierce opponent to your symptoms? Or to the nosy parkers who insist on offering medical advice like mine? A good wild beastie muzzle is sure to get you fired up and ready for battle.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe 13

And you should never underestimate the versatility and expressive power of a full face mask, if you want nothing more than to keep your real facial expressions to yourself, along with the veil of separation from the viral vicissitudes of the world. A traditional Plague Doctor mask can be ideal for some persons, but there are numerous other beautiful variants out there. Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 12

This one comes complete with eye patch in addition to the full-face coverage, a plus for optical injury and illness care, and remarkably self-explanatory facial presentation that says, “Yes, I’m feeling Fabulous, thank you, and I do so appreciate your contribution to the beauty of my day today!”

Well, that’s enough high-powered medical advice for today. If I can ever be of actual support, I hope you’ll let me know, but in the meantime, I wish you amazingly speedy and thorough healing, and lots of love and laughter along the way. All of you!

Foodie Tuesday: The Gingerbread Woman

The scent of cinnamon drifting out as I open the door invites me to plunge inside, but I can’t help taking my time. A deep, slow breath: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice. Ginger. A smack of icy air throws my collar up around my ears and gives me the final push to dash inside, the storm door slamming behind me.

Gingerbread.Photo: Gingerbread 1

Mama loves us. The school board thinks it better we all traipse home, damp and frost-speckled, through the sidewalk maze of shoveled snow than that we stay snugly tucked into the school with a sack lunch, and we kids complain at the bitter wind and the icy ground. Slipping sidelong into the snowdrifts isn’t as fun when we still have the slog back to afternoon class ahead, wet and miserable, blue around the nose and chin or not.

But some lucky few of us have the respite of bath-towel-wielding mothers, a pair of dry socks hanging over the back of the chair, and on top of it all, a homemade lunch waiting for us at home. Lunch with gingerbread. Sweet, so hot from the oven that clouds of spice envelop us at the threshold. So hot that even after we’ve gobbled our sandwiches and soup to get to it, the layer of homemade applesauce on top can’t keep the uppermost layer of whipped cream from melting faster than those last snowflakes in our hair.

Gingerbread. Mother’s love and blessed relief from the cold winter’s day all wrapped up in a helping of almost unbearably delicious goodness. Sigh. Back to school. Repeat. Maybe there will be enough gingerbread left over for after supper, if we hurry home fast enough.Photo: The Gingerbread WomanMy Own Gingerbread with Rum Caramel

Preheat oven to 350°F/177°C.  Blend dry ingredients gently with a whisk: 2 cups [gluten-free, in my case] flour, 1 cup packed brown sugar, 1 cup granulated sugar, a scant 1 1/5 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, spice mix [2 T ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp each cloves, nutmeg, and white pepper, + 1 hefty pinch each cardamom and salt]. In a saucepan, melt 3/4 cup coconut oil and add to it 1 cup molasses, 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt, and 1/2 cup dark rum (cane sugar cola, root beer, or ginger ale is a great non-alcoholic alternative), warming just until thoroughly blended. Add 3 large eggs and beat them in well, tempering the wet ingredients if the warmed ones are still at all hot so the eggs won’t curdle. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and pour into a heavily greased and floured (I used cocoa powder mixed with cinnamon, to keep from building up any unseemly white dust blooming on the finished goods) cake or loaf pan, cupcake tins, or a combination of these, allowing plenty of space for a bit of rising as the batter bakes.

For small portions like the cupcakes, start with no more than 18-20 minutes’ baking; larger batches like a Bundt pan can be checked later, allowing up to nearly an hour for full baking. Check occasionally, removing them from the oven when they seem nearly done; a very little under-baking keeps them nicely sticky and gooey, good cousins to the Britons’ glorious Sticky Toffee Pudding.

While I’m on the subject of toffee, there’s nothing at all wrong with the idea of a caramel kind of topping to accompany a nice, intensely spicy gingerbread like this. So I made some Rum Caramel Sauce: in a nonstick saucepan, I cooked together, until melted, 1 cup brown sugar (again!), 1/2 cup browned butter (I’d just made up a nice big batch of my beloved beurre noisette), 1/4 cup dark rum (see above note for non-alcoholic versions), plus a touch or two of cream to thin it as desired at the last. Terrible stuff; you wouldn’t like it at all. May I have your serving of it?

Lastly, of course, if one is feeling particularly indulgent-and-when-am-I-not, it’s good to top all of this with a heaping spoonful of cream whipped up with lots of vanilla and dark maple syrup. The resulting calorie-free, eternal-life-conferring dessert met with approval at snack time, after dinner, in the late evening, and for breakfast. So you can expect that my friends and I will be outliving all of you. Or at least, dying contented. I didn’t get any no-thank-yous when I offered thirds, anyway. As I’m sure my mama never did, back in the old days of snowy trudges and school lunches.

Dear Ones All

Photo: Bouquet of the Day 1I have my own Theory of Relativity, and I hope you’ll find it useful, too, as you grow from the tiniest curl of humanity to a venerable old woman. No claim of scientific knowledge here, only an observation on what I think really matters in my small corner of the universe: relationships between people.

Relationships, regardless of economic or social, religious or political status, can be begged, borrowed, and bought; they can be stolen, stumbled upon, forced or freely given; there are also, of course, the clearly genetic sort or the biologically driven. All are valid, and many of them necessary, but none of those fully encompasses the best of what I think defines Family.

For starters, none of those aspects can guarantee a relationship’s ultimate failure or success. Human connexions, like living creatures, can suffer from Failure to Thrive, whether through damaging acts or events or mere neglect. Estrangement is, I think, the perfect name for a lost relationship: what was familiar has somehow changed, become alien. Whether birth, common interests or goals, affinity, or contract is its basis, a relationship can still fail. Or it can flourish.

Family is, for me, the height of relationship, the pinnacle of human interaction. Bloodlines, religion, and legal bonds don’t own it. My view of the ideal, when it comes to family, is that it should spring from an ongoing will to maintain and foster the connection; just keeping it plugged in is useless unless all involved see that it’s well-oiled, reboot it when in need, and occasionally, polish it to a high gleam and rediscover its original beauty.

In my heart and mind, family as that highest form of relationship is an earned status, a privilege. If it doesn’t work in mutuality, with both parties contributing, it’s a different sort of transaction. I don’t see it as a constantly equal balance; in fact, the level of need versus the level of resource and capability in any individual varies greatly over time and situational changes, and the more people in the equation, the more the possible iterations. Sometimes the crisis is virtually universal, everyone called to extraordinary service for each other’s good. The established bond helps bridge those gaps between need and sparse resource in the moment. Happier times and better circumstances, when life is more gracious again, will replenish the void for more balanced give-and-take in days to come. Ebb. Flow.

The crucial elements in all of this have, for me, much more to do with respect, mutual values, friendship, and delight in one another’s company than with lineage, contracts, or societal expectations. I’m a rarity in having both born relatives and married ones that do meet and surpass my standards for true family. Further, I’ve a remarkably expansive extended family, acquired over the years through shared ideas and experiences and the love and respect that grow out of them. I know that with all of these joys, I’m beyond blessed. I have a world-sized circle of good people, both related by DNA and not, surrounding me and, through that, one of the largest and most wonderful of familial relationships possible. I’ve spent years discovering just how wide caring arms reach to embrace me, and how deep open hearts’, minds’, and hands’ resources go, regardless of physical proximity, when anyone anywhere treats me like family.

It is a wonderful world, my beloved, and there is always room in it for more like us, if you are willing to take on the role and cultivate the larger Family too.Photo: Bouquet of the Day 2

Death and Perfection

My friend said to me not long ago something that got me thinking about death, specifically about the way that love and other relationships are affected by it. What I was thinking about was, mainly, that until any of us dies, we not only cannot but perhaps should not be perfect; if it were possible, what would be the point of continuing? I hear people talking, often enough, about how there might be people alive today who will live to be 150 years old, perhaps even twice that, and my immediate reaction is Why?! Is there really so much important stuff any one of us is going to accomplish in two or three of our current life-spans that we ought to crave living several lifetimes?

I certainly have no desire to live extra long if it means that I will have to get another job or six in order to afford it, and retire, if I’m lucky, when I’m 215 years old. Or if it means that I outlive whole swaths of people I have liked or loved or admired and have to struggle to make friends over and over again. Or, most especially, if it means that my slow-aging compatriots and I live in a world full of people who can survive all sorts of diseases and previously life-threatening injuries, but not necessarily with a very desirable quality of life, or worse yet, we exist like crammed masses of crawling and buzzing insects in an ever-decreasing amount of space relative to our numbers, scrabbling and battling for resources that couldn’t possibly expand to enrich all of us, let alone with any sort of fair distribution or generosity. If the current chatter ever gets a whole lot more encouraging about the long-lifers spending equal attention and energy on making the world more peaceable and the people in it healthier, kinder, happier, more generous, and a whole lot wiser, then I might consider living “forever” of greater interest.

My friend’s comment also prodded me to think about how death has affected my own life and the relationships within it. To revisit the many what-ifs about whether I could be better than I am, had I cherished and understood my long-gone relatives and friends more wisely and profoundly. About whether I can still garner the strength and intelligence to improve if I pay attention to the lessons I did learn, or maybe can still learn, from them. Certainly, I have wondered enough times what my life’s sojourn, and I within it, would have looked like if various loved ones had lived longer, not to mention how different the whole world could have been. Something in me always eventually rebels at that thought, however sorrowfully, for there is a large part of me, too, that knows how easily I become fixed in my thinking about even living persons I know and forget to reevaluate our relationships, to renew my commitment to them. And I know very well that those who have died remain perpetually frozen ever after in the way that I perceived them and our living interactions. It’s so much easier to be a devil or a saint when you’ve ceased living and can never again do or be anything new to change the balance of the known and the imagined.

And this path of contemplation returns me, of course, to wondering whether it will matter especially to anyone else that I did exist. I have no children to carry on my genes in a direct line, for better or worse. Most of the people who fill my days, no matter how valued in the present time, will continue on their life paths and I on mine, and the majority of us will lose contact and even forget each other, and that is natural enough and no terrible thing, either. But when my dust rejoins the remaining carbon of this known planet, will it matter?

And will I live in memory as devil or saint, or simply and satisfyingly, as an ordinary mortal being, fixed, perhaps, in the amber of another person’s memory just as he or she knew me and never more or less? I can’t answer. I don’t need to answer. I’ll go the way of all living and dying things. I will mingle my dust with all of my fellows’, and with everyone who has gone before or after us, and if any spirit lingers on, may it be—for all of us—the best that is remembered, and the rest forgotten and trodden into our survivors’ own life paths, going wherever they, in turn, may go. If the mountains of our remains raise them up any higher, then so much the better that we both lived and died.Photo: Enfold Me in the Green

Enfold Me in the Green

Enfold me in the green breast of the earth

And gently speak my name with love once more,

Then turn and take your way to what’s before

You now, that all the world will know your worth

As I was blessed to know it in my time—

That hand, unstinting in its tender care,

The scent of rain around you everywhere,

Your slightest whisper in my ear sublime—

That now you’ll speak to other waiting ears.

For now I sleep; let earth be the embrace

To keep me kindly in my newer place

While yours will others bless in coming years.

I thank you, now I need no more the sun

That shall be yours until your day is done.

No Greater Gift

Digital illo: The Greatest GiftLove is the answer. Not romance, not lust, not preferential treatment; love. Real, tangible, spoken and expressed with clockwork regularity and with kindness and clarity. The sort of love that fills your car’s gas tank before you leave for work and gives you snow tires for an anniversary gift, that calls Tech Support and sits around on hold for forty minutes before the ninety-minute-long session of troubleshooting to fix your confounded computer’s latest case of the hiccups. The sort of love that silently reaches over and holds your hand when there are no possible words for the occasion, good or bad.

Love is forgetful and fretful, persistent to the point of irritating, deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other, and demands, without realizing it, a high percentage of return—and all of this is absolutely nothing in exchange for the comfort, companionship, reverence, and acceptance received before any of these minor shortcomings are called into account. This kind of love transcends human norms so far that I can only assume it derives from some larger, more stable and powerful force than our own desires and whims. Love is what makes me sorrowful for the sorrows of a kindred soul, joyful in her joys, and comforted by a deep sense of her presence when she’s absent.

Love is, too, the act of sending a hand-written note, in this age of technology, that says “I’m thinking of you” and carries with it great personal weight in and between the lines. My second mother, the one I acquired so fortuitously and blessedly through marrying her son, sent just such a note recently. It wasn’t long. It didn’t cover a lot of ground. It said little that she doesn’t say to us in our regular phone conversations. But it was so sweet, so heartfelt and unexpected, that it brought happy tears to my eyes and I was flooded with a renewed sense of how deeply glad I am to be immersed in such love. And it reminded me that I will be all the more deeply blessed if I can find ways to pass along such love, no matter how small or simple those ways might seem at the time, to all of the other people I possibly can, for as long as I possibly can. Amazing how these things can multiply. That, of course, is one of the reasons that love, in all its forms, is such a powerful gift.Digital illo: The Amazing Multiplier

Too Soon

Photo: Blurred by TearsStolen Away

Too soon, cold sorrow steals from me the light

Of promise, of the hope for growing love

Which I had longed to see his mastery of

Bring him to see such stars divide the night

That he might know it possible that day

Was his as much as anyone’s, and keep

Alive, alight, and not succumb to sleep

As refuge from an endlessly dark way,

But my poor strivings—anyone’s, I guess—

Could never generate the power he

Required to light enough so he could see

In such great bleakness any happiness,

And love and hope, invisible and far

From him as he from me, my distant star.Photo: Sorrowful

A Queen among Women

For one wonderfully sweet and lovely woman I know, I struggled to decide what to give her for a token of my respect and affection on her birthday. Then, because she is a superb singer and I, an admirer of her glorious singing, I decided to write her the lyric text for what might—with a composer’s help—become her own sort of theme song someday. For now, it’s simply Bea’s own poem. She said I could share it with you.Digital illo: A Queen Among Women

For a Lady of Great Beauty
For the song, bouquets of roses
For the day, a joyful start
For the labor, peaceful evenings
For the care, I give my heart—
For the wisdom, inspiration
For desire, a glorious year
For the wish, the starry heavens
For delight, companions dear—
For the sorrows, deepest comfort
For the friendships, never part—
For the moment that I met you,
You resided in my heart.


And since it’s her favorite of my other poems (so far, I hope), I’ll repost the following one. For good measure.

Digital illo: Grace Again

Text: Grace