Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Category: Travels

Although It Was a School Night

Out and About Although It Was a School Night

Recently, I was invited to a free movie event in Pasadena and although it was a school night, I decided to attend. Sitting home or working late every day is a not the ideal way to meet people and to settle into a new area. So I hurried from work to the event, without stopping for dinner or even time to stop and buy popcorn before slipping into my seat before the movie began.

The charming and poignant film captured my attention staving off hunger pangs for the duration. However, on the way out the tantalizing smell of freshly popped buttery popcorn teased out my appetite and I found myself queueing up for an individual-sized portion without extra butter to go. Popping savory kernels into my mouth as I ambled along famed Colorado Boulevard toward my car, a small flying object with green and red lights flew down the street and landed on the sidewalk of a busy street corner diagonally from where I was crossing the street.

Although it was a school night, my puzzlement got the better of me and I loitered on the street corner watching to see if the craft would take to the air again or remain at rest on the wide cement walkway outside a local, upscale eatery. Munching contentedly from my vantage point under the glowing street light across the intersection, my mind flipped through its virtual Rolodex attempting to identify this curiosity. I simply found myself without any frame of reference for identifying this flying object, except for those colored lights. Could it be a drone I had heard so much buzz  about?  Did drones even have lights? What was it doing in this trendy section of Pasadena at this time of the evening. And, why had it come to rest on the sidewalk?

Still caught up in crunchy rumination, a 45-ish man in t-shirt and cargo shorts approached asking in an orator’s voice, “Did you see my helicopter?”

Pointing it out in its resting place just across the street, although it was a school night, I started across the street because he couldn’t see it across the street where I pointed to it resting on the sidewalk. Second-guessing my role as good Samaritan, I breathed a sigh of relief when my serendipitous companion suddenly spied his craft.

Accepting his thanks as I spun around and headed back toward the corner I recently had occupied, I continued on my way to the parking structure, munching my buttered snack and thankful I had made the effort to go out–although it was a school night.


The New, New Normal, or How Life Was Before Chemo

This week I tried to understand the new, new normal, or how life was before chemo. For such a long time, chemo affected how my body functioned, either slowing down or completely stopping things like hair growth. Now that my body is rebounding, remembering what a fuller head of hair is like to style, or any number of pre-chemo norms, became necessary. It seems strange to have to force myself to remember and readjust to how life used to be before chemo, but thank goodness it is my current necessity. And, I still have hope that the peripheral neuropathy, which seems to almost disappear for a week or so, only to return a little more unpleasantly at some later point, will completely disappear.

Another adjustment to the new, new normal, or how life was before chemo, is starting up a new school year. Last year, the cancer detour interrupted getting back into the swing of the new school year. Because I had been so fatigued, I didn’t get the classroom fully set up and hadn’t thoroughly taught my customary classroom routines and procedures.

Thankfully, this year I had lots of hands to help me set up before school started and have had help from my new grade level peers to understand the new school culture and grade level expectations.  And, this year I have enjoyed the challenge of teaching  my new students the routines and procedures they need to know to be successful in school. However, since I moved to kindergarten this year, the process has been completely different.

Although this is my fifth year teaching kindergarteners, I forgot that I had always taught a multiage or combination class where there were older students who understood the words, “Line up” or “Raise your hand.” So, this is my first experience teaching a class full of nothing but kindergarteners. And, boy, are they adorable and sweet and truly interested in almost everything about life, except what I am supposed to teach them. They are interested in each other, in their new shoes, in making friends, in asking a question (which is really telling you something they are simply dying to say), in asking what the bumps on my feet are (prominent veins that I also have on my hands and for which I am thankful when I remember the many IVs and blood draws I have had), in being the line leader or the door helper, in telling you their nose has boogers (true story), and an infinite number of quotidian things to ponder.

More than once, I have heard the beginning of kindergarten likened to herding cats, but I think it might be more like herding gnats because they are simply all over the place, including sometimes in a swarm. The initial effort to teach students how to line up, walk around campus in a somewhat orderly fashion while looking forward and following the person ahead without bumping into, touching, or lagging far behind that person and keeping the noise to a minimum. This  might conjure up visions of silence for some, but with my exuberant young students means less than a sixth of them yelling or talking loudly as we move along.

Wednesday a flood of emotions, including a momentary feeling of utter failure overwhelmed me after a morning of constantly reminding, cajoling, and commending kindergarten students for sitting criss cross applesauce on the carpet with their hands in their laps for a short lesson before taking a singing break or moving to sit at desks for independent practice of a letter or a number we had learned. At snack recess, only two hours into our day, a dam of emotion broke. Then, after a reassuring conversation with a colleague, I pulled myself together, ate a banana, and went back to my darling kinder kids again when the bell rang. Oddly enough, my students and I were all in a better frame of mind. They settled and followed directions much more successfully and I was able to think of many routines they already had adapted to and the progress they were making toward internalizing the remaining routines and procedures introduced since the first day of school.

After receiving the uplifting pep talk and bracing hug offered by my colleague, she sent me a link to an article about what teaching kindergarten is like. The description of the world that is kindergarten was so spot on that I decided I had to share the link to the article. It humorously paints the picture that has become my everyday life. While sometimes it can be frustrating to work so arduously to gain the attention of the class for a well thought out lesson only to have some little thing sidetrack the flow, I envy the wonder at simple things in life that my students experience moment by moment. The world where politics, international relations, natural disasters, and tragedies claim center stage is irrelevant in my kinder world because the simple joy of learning to tie shoes or write one’s first name is much more momentous.

Thankfully, getting used to the new, new normal, or how life was before chemo, is something like being in kindergarten; It isn’t anything a hug or eating a healthy snack can’t fix.


Celebrating a Lifetime of Love

A couple of weeks after my parents’ wedding anniversary, my sisters and I organized a dinner and family get together celebrating a lifetime of love. My parents’ love for each other and for each of us who was born into this microcosm of loving commitment.

Celebrating a Lifetime of Love

Celebrating a Lifetime of Love with a sparkling cider toast to Mom and Dad – Photograph courtesy of Catherine Leanne Photography

I have watched my parents for a lifetime and made some observations. Frankly, I think that 53 years is a pretty amazing benchmark and I hope that the people in my life that I love will benefit from the lessons I have learned from my dad and mom.

Something I have learned from Dad and Mom is that you must care about and take care of one another.  My mom fixes my dad’s favorite meals just because he likes them and it makes him happy, even if they aren’t her favorites, too. Dad always carries in the groceries and other heavy cargo to and from the car for Mom. Their relationship is symbiotic. They look out for one another and show their care and affection in these simple, yet meaningful ways. Simply put, they are a great team.

Dad and Mom also remember why they fell in love in the first place. But, even more than the memories of the love at first or second sight, is the lifetime of shared experiences, the highs and lows, the stresses and accomplishments that glue them together. After 53 years, sometimes it is hard to see who one is without the other. They complement one another.

I might even dare write, although they might take issue with my choice of words, that my parents are unabashed feminists. During my lifetime of family memories, I only remember my dad supporting and encouraging my mom to follow her interests and reach her goals. He always believed she could do whatever she put her mind to do. It never diminished who he was and he never felt threatened by her achievements or by hearing her opinions. They made decisions together. They discussed things as equal partners and proceeded down agreed upon, sometimes heatedly agreed upon, paths. This model of sharing life together and joint decision making is an aspect of their relationship that I am proud to have as part of my heritage. It helped to shape me as the independent and confident person I have become.

Likewise, Dad never set limits on what he thought we, his four daughters, could do. He taught me to change a tire when I was old enough to drive a car, but urged me to get a good job so I could be in a position to have someone else change it for me. Dad told us we could do anything we wanted. There were no boundaries Dad put on our dreams. I am grateful for Dad, who affirmed and believed we could do the amazing.

Mom was always the heart of our home. She is the one who greeted us when we came home from school, taught us to cook, bake, sew and other lost arts of homemaking. Mom read us bedtime stories and colored in our coloring books with us. She is the one who faced down teachers when we came home in tears and later explained to us why we were in the wrong once she understood the grown up version of events. Mom demonstrated how to be a loving, protective caregiver, while modeling how to be a competent, capable woman, worthy of being listened to with respect for her wisdom, knowledge and experience.

Celebrating a Lifetime of Love

The Original Six Crowes – Photograph courtesy of Catherine Leanne Photography

At the center of their relationship, Dad and Mom have faith in God and that anchors them and the rest of us, too. Through dark and difficult days, Dad and Mom are quick to reassure us that God is faithful and that he hears our prayers, even when we do not see it played out immediately in daily life.

In recent years, our family has faced daunting, unexpected challenges, the latest being my detour with cancer. Yet in the midst of it all, Mom and Dad pull together, lean on one another, and become the oaken strength needed to pull us all through. Their unshakable faith in God and in each of us steers us all through the deep waters of the unknown with the assurance that we will be okay. Things may not end up how we thought or wanted, but we will still be okay.

One of the fears I had for my parents as they grew older was that they would find retirement boring and become antiquated and dated in their thinking. Throughout my life, I had heard of people who could not figure out what to do with themselves and their health deteriorated. Or, they lost touch with the technological advancements of the times and unwittingly ostracized themselves by becoming difficult to include because of their inflexible ways.

Celebrating a Lifetime of Love

Family Celebrating a Lifetime of Love – Photograph courtesy of Catherine Leanne Photography

This has certainly not been the case with my parents. In their retirement years, they have disproved the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” While I could comment on that being due to them being Crowes and not dogs, I will resist the temptation and simply say I think it is inspiring.

Since retiring, my parents have each developed new and unique interests they pursue individually. I can imagine how hard it would be to have dinner conversation with someone every night if both did the same thing all day everyday. Their pastimes give them something novel and interesting to share with one another and with the rest of us. Mom has developed her knowledge of technology and helps Dad with his projects when needed. It is exciting to see them craft their skills in new areas.

As you can see, we had compelling reasons to be celebrating a lifetime of love with our parents and boy, did we have fun! My sisters and I decided to put Dad and Mom through all the traditional paces of young love, like cutting the cake together, linking arms to drink to a teetotaler’s toast, and kissing on demand. They good naturedly played along, making the evening all the more festive.

But, we also planned activities that we had shared with Dad and Mom over the years. We played games, sang gathered around the piano while Mom played, and ate a delicious meal together, all of which was an integral part of our family life when we were growing up. And, I remembered how much fun we were together! I smiled and laughed and enjoyed celebrating a lifetime of love because I am a result of that love and commitment. I would not be the person I am today without that specific set of parents and those smart, multitalented, wild, and crazy sisters.

Surrounded by this great throng of people, I was struck by the many and varied talents represented. And to think, it all started with a young couple in love. Each of my sisters is intelligent, articulate, artistic, and funny. Their children have benefited from their unique talents and developed their individual expression of the innate artist within.

My eldest niece, Catie, has developed one of her great talents into a successful photography business and has graciously allowed me to use her photos in this post. Please check out more of her work in the following links:   Catherine Leanne Photography and Catherine Leanne Photography Blog . If you know of anyone in need of a creative photographer for an upcoming event in Northern California and beyond, I encourage you to contact Catie.

Celebrating a Lifetime of Love

Two Original Crowes’ Anniversary Cake – Photograph courtesy of Catherine Leanne Photography

Each one of my sisters used their gifts and talents to organize this celebration. Alice planned the menu and delivered food from Tantardini’s, a European Bakery-Deli. Absolutely delicious. She also spearheaded the keepsake picture frame we all signed for a picture taken by Catie to commemorate the celebration. Leanne coordinated the upcoming not-so-secret-now getaway we decided they needed as a break from the stress of chemotherapy and other daily pressures. Lynnette oversaw the creation of the balloon bouquets by her teenaged sons, designed the table centerpiece, and created a cake that was both delicious and beautiful (assisted in the final touches by her twin sister, of course.) There were other things they did, but my sometimes unreliable, chemo affected brain cannot recall it all now.

Forgive me if I have crowed enthusiastically over my family, but I feel enormously blessed to have been born to these parents and to have grown up with such witty and interesting sisters. As we were celebrating a lifetime of love, first and foremost, we celebrated our parents’ love for each other, but I couldn’t help but reflect on how much love over our lifetime they have lavished on us.

I think that’s an incredible reason to celebrate.

Ice Cream | Chemotherapy side effects: cold sensitivity

Coffee Beans, my quiet chemo room companion.

Coffee Beans, my quiet chemo room companion.

Since I started chemotherapy, I have noticed I do many everyday things without a second thought. One of the most persistent side effects I have is cold sensitivity. If I am outside where it is cold, if I touch something cold, or if I consume something cold, I feel pinpricks where I am exposed to cold. I found that I have even been taking ice cream for granted.

Several times a day, I have to compensate for my cold sensitivity. When I wash my hands, I have to be careful to let the water warm up before putting my hands under a faucet running chilly water. If I take one of the meals my mom has made for me out of the freezer, I have to remember to put on my gloves to prevent the shooting pain from smarting my fingers. If I forget to microwave my glass of water or juice, I have an unpleasant reminder that flows down my throat with the liquid.

An oncology nurse warned me that I would have to let ice cream melt if I wanted to eat it while on chemotherapy. This was not welcome news.

One of my great loves in life is ice cream. I have happily made many dietary adjustments  to maximize my health and my chances of beating cancer. But,  ice cream or frozen yogurt are treats are hard to let go.

When I lived in Ecuador, I indulged myself in the plentiful boutique ice cream shops that offered economical and scrumptious specialty ice cream. For an incorrigible ice cream connoisseur, it was something like heaven.

While on chemo it have realized I was taking ice cream for granted. When chemo was unexpectedly pushed back for a few of weeks, I noticed my cold sensitivity disappeared and I spent the entire week trying out various local boutique ice cream shops.

Although I wish chemo had not been pushed back, I was just this side of heaven as I enjoyed different flavors of my frosty favorite.

Decking the Halls in October

imageThat’s right! I’m decking the halls in October. My Christmas tree is decorated and the house is mostly decked with holiday ornamentation. A friend came over last weekend and we decided some Christmas cheer would really cheer us through this autumn. We put on some Christmas music and dug through storage totes looking for just the right things to brighten things up.

Some of you may be shaking your heads and saying it is too early. And, your anti-materialist sentiment might equate my premature decking of the tree with overspending and an overemphasis on material goods. However, those of you who know me will remember rightly that I am not all about material things.

The simple reality is that this time of the year gets really busy. I turn around once and it is Halloween. I turn around again and it is Thanksgiving. I turn around yet again and it is New Year’s Day. Christmas is a mere memory and I have missed it.

On top of my exuberance for all things Christmas, I find that life experiences have also shaped why I feel the need to have my Christmas Tree decorated already. For a number of years I lived in Ecuador, where neither Halloween nor Thanksgiving is celebrated. So, everyone, not just stores trying to boost lagging sales, puts up Christmas décor with soaring Holiday cheer and expectation.

In that tradition, my premature Christmas tree is lighting the way to a brighter and more promising winter.

Crows Like Cookies

IMG_1525On a trip to the Central Coast region of California earlier this year, I found myself near Hearst’s famed Castle at San Simeon. Opting not to repeat the historical tour of Hearst Castle, I browsed through the visitor’s center, stopping to take full advantage of the observation areas. After a leisurely walkthrough, admiring the lovely grounds and galloping zebras, I drove down toward the Sebastian Store in San Simeon.

In my preparation for my brief getaway, I had read about the Sebastian Store that offers sandwiches made with Hearst Beef. I decided it was definitely a site worth savoring. So, after standing in line and getting my Classic Beef sandwich, I headed down to the Hearst State Beach to sit at a picnic table and admire the view of the crashing surf while enjoying the local fare. As I soaked up sun, was lulled by the waves, and savored my classic sandwich, I took care to spook off the numerous birds attracted by my tasty lunch.

Not long after I began enjoying my lunch, I noticed the vehicle that had parked in front of my car at Sebastian’s had also pulled into the beach parking area. The driver hopped out and placed his to go box from Sebastian’s on the table before returning to the vehicle to retrieve something.

Intrigued by the box, a couple of crows took control of the table top in the diner’s absence. Watching from a safe distance, I assumed the driver would return before the crows could figure out how to open the box. Little did I know that there was a cookie in a white paper bag right next to the box! Much to my surprise, before I could startle the crows away one of them had grabbed the bag with its beak and carried it several feet before dropping it over a fence that separated the picnic area from the dangerous cliff above the ocean. Safely over the fence, the crow and its fellows could eat the cookie in apparent safety.

Chuckling at the ingenuity of the crows I reported the cookie’s loss to my fellow diner, who had returned with a second box of takeout food. Although one cookie down, my fellow diner seemed unconcerned and still seemed to have plenty to eat.

Who would have thought that crows like cookies!

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