The moment I learned I’m solely the hand that feeds her


Dog curled up fast asleep on her dog bed.

I’ll be with you in a while.

We adopted Jelly over 7 years ago. The little waif was found wandering, abandoned by her human family. Peanut Butter welcomed Jelly warmly into our home–more accurately, over time they developed an understanding–and J. and I embraced her. Now Jelly is our one and only and the focus of our excessive attention.

J. has always been Jelly’s Mother Superior, as you know. J. is the fun parent, and I’m all discipline. Jelly and I have our special times but I’m clearly not as loveable as J. Sadly, I can’t walk Jelly as much as I used to. Our special mother-daughter outings are now primarily our PALS visits.

This brings me to my sad awakening this week. We have an unspoken rule in our house: whosoever is coughing her guts out relocates to the basement bedroom at night. Currently, that would be me.

When she was younger, Jelly did not like to have her pack separated at night. She’d pace in the wee hours of the morning searching for the missing parent, alert for sounds of movement downstairs, and she’d rush to the basement door when she heard the absentee parent climbing the stairs in the morning.

Now that she is getting older, she takes these separations in stride. She does not react excitedly when the banished one resurfaces from the basement. By this I mean she’s too busy sleeping to say hello.

Last Tuesday morning, however, when we needed to arise early to get to the cancer centre, Jelly did not get kibbled immediately upon awakening as she normally does; she had to wait half an hour for her repast. While she was waiting, I arrived upstairs from my seclusion. The dog who is usually fast asleep when I resurface was wagging her tail furiously at the basement door. She greeted me effusively for the first time in the three mornings I’d been absent. I asked J., “Has she been fed?” (Consider this an excellent example of a rhetorical question.)

Petless people, don’t pretend you can’t relate to this scenario. I’m sure your teenager has never ignored you for days, only to be all lovey dovey when he wants something, like a lift across town or a later curfew that night or cold hard cash. And when you indulge him, I’m sure he remains sweet as pie for weeks afterward. Or maybe not, until he needs something again, that is.

The only difference for me is that food is my only bargaining chip. Jelly has never seemed interested in the car keys or a later curfew. And have I mentioned she’s started putting herself to bed early in recent weeks? Around 9 p.m., she saunters down the hall and looks back to see if we’re following. When we don’t budge, she shrugs and continues on to the bedroom. Of course her earlier bedtime is unrelated to her wanting her nighttime treat.

I told you, Jelly loves me for my capacity to feed her and that’s all. I’m hurt but I accept that parenting is often a thankless job. Except for the occasional tail wag and snuggle, and the unbridled adoration when she hears the treat bag crinkle.


Baby Come Back Thick as a Brick

Hand holding brick

My visits to the cancer centre are full of surprises these days. I never know what I’m going to find out and how it’s going to affect my palliative plan, i.e., that plan my medical team has to keep me feeling as well as I can for as long as I can. I can count on being surprised, elated, frustrated, confused, and overwhelmed over the course of an appointment. My body is so very complicated.

It is three weeks now that I have been injecting myself with EPO, that miraculous hormone intended to help my body produce more red blood cells. The injections were to start taking effect after about 6 weeks. Imagine my surprise when I learned that my hemoglobin had risen over the past 2 weeks. I was elated! I had noticed that my fatigue had been lifting somewhat, despite my nasty cold. My nurse practitioner explained that exhaustion from lack of sleep is qualitatively different than anemia-related exhaustion. Yes, siree.

My elation didn’t last for long. After months of barely noticing the size of my belly, I’d recently felt like I had ballooned to the second-trimester pregnancy of my past. I was confused. What was causing my baby to grow at such a rapid pace? When the body has no space to create blood cells in the marrow, it contracts the spleen to do the work. With more work to do, the spleen expands to manage the production site.

In addition to my ballooning belly, I’d noticed I was short of breath and I wasn’t hungry. (I know, the lack of appetite is hard for you to believe.) This is because my stomach and lungs are being compressed by my humungous spleen. Dr. Blood Lite ordered an urgent ultrasound. Yes, I was overwhelmed.

The ultrasonographer confirmed that the problem was my ginormous spleen. Whereas a normal spleen is the size of a fist, mine is the size of a brick. No wonder I feel like I’m going to explode.

I could accept being thick as a brick but my doctor can’t. When the spleen grows, it also gets hungrier, with a particular appetite for platelets. So while my hemoglobin has risen, my platelet count remains very very very low. While I was awaiting my ultrasound, I underwent a platelet transfusion–maybe my spleen could eat somebody else’s platelets instead of my own. The team also decided I should forgo this week’s EPO injection. The intervention is working but I have to slow it down even before I get to compete in the Olympics? I was confused and frustrated and overwhelmed all at once.

We return next week to see where I’m at. I’ll bring the baby along; I don’t have much choice. If my platelets aren’t any higher, I may have to quit the EPO altogether, let my spleen shrink back to its lesser but still enlarged size and rely solely on red blood cell transfusions, which would not be the end of the world. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep me above ground. You would too, wouldn’t you?

Is it time to change my outdated blog title?

twisted cord with beginning and end untwisted, muddling in middle twisted

Dear Powers That Be:

In addition to the death sentence you handed me a few months back, you had the gall to give me a post-vacation cold? Do you really think I want to spend any of my remaining time blowing my nose and coughing through the night? I’ve accepted the deadly illness. Least you could do is give the cold to someone healthy.

With heartfelt irritation,


Now that that’s off my chest, we can return to the matter at hand. My blog was first published under its current name, Muddling Through Leukemia. The name came to me in a dream (not really) and it’s worked. I’ve had no desire to alter it in any way for four years. But times have changed, as you know.

I’m not really muddling through leukemia anymore. CML is the least of my worries. Nor am I muddling through polycythemia. In fact, what I’m dealing with is a rare bone marrow disorder known as myelofibrosis. Ever heard of that?

Myelofibrosis and polycythemia fall in the category of bone-marrow disorders known as myeloproliferative neoplasms. (Try saying that quickly three times.) Polycythemia may transform into myelofibrosis over time. Myeloproliferative disorders are a subtype of blood cancers treated by hematologists using the cancer-fighting arsenal. More internet research might help me better define this category of disorders for you, but you know how much I abhor internet health research, especially since everything I’d look up now would be dire. I do know that people with these disorders all have wonky bone marrow, so that’s enough for me.

I have described myelofibrosis to you previously; I simply neglected to name it. Remember that day I received my one-year notice, when Dr. Blood Lite confirmed the increase in fibrous tissue in my bone marrow? He was telling me that my polycythemia had transformed into myelofibrosis.

I must say that Muddling Through Myelofibrosis has a nice alliterative ring to it, and you know how I love my alliteration. Muddling Through Myeloproliferative Neoplasms almost rolls off the tongue, but no one would have any idea what I was talking about. Also, there are several disorders that fall in this category so it’s a bit broad.

I’ve decided, despite what I’m dealing with, that I’m too attached to my blog title to change it now. Muddling is what I’ve been doing for years, through life and anxiety and health crises and now even through dying. If I change the blog’s name, I’ll be abandoning all those people who search the blog by title. If they can’t locate me, they’ll think I’ve died already, and I’m not dead yet. Plus no one will have any idea what myelofibrosis is, except for you, my faithful readers, so who’d want to read about something they’d never heard of?

That’s why I’ve decided to stick with my inaccurate blog title for the duration, trusting you can make the leap to my current reality. Sadly, it’s also possible that my title will regain its accuracy some day, if I am one of the 12% of patients with myelofibrosis whose illness becomes Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). I’m told AML is no party, so let’s not even go there yet. One step at a time.

Twenty-four hours in the life of a medically fragile patient

Shot inside infinity room, lots of mirrored glowing lights, by Yayoi Kusama

Did I happen to mention that we almost didn’t make it to Toronto? After a month of planning, scheduling doctors’ appointments and transfusions, and corralling the whole family together in one place, we almost bailed.

Last Friday morning, a few hours before our flight, my nose started bleeding, which is not unusual given my critically low platelets. It wasn’t a gusher, but a slow leak that I couldn’t seem to stop, despite my best efforts. I wasn’t worried about the little blood I was losing( although it seemed a waste of the precious transfusion I’d received the previous day), but I was worried about the impact the pressure change on the plane might have. Over the course of the morning, I was becoming increasingly panicked, which I’m sure wasn’t helping.

As the time for our departure neared, J. called on our on-call nurse friend Karen, who wisely suggested ice. The ice added glamour to my appearance and slowed my leak significantly, until I removed it for fear of frostbite, only to restart the bleeding. Tick tock tick tock.

We were at a loss, so J. called the cancer centre for advice. Dr. Blood Lite responded to our 9-1-1 call, confirming that we were safe to fly if: a) I kept icing; b) I used a nasal decongestant to shrink the vessels in my nasal passages (why didn’t I think of that?); c)  I lowered my head during take off and landing. With his okay, J. haphazardly threw our clothes into a suitcase so our dear friend Triple D could whisk us to the airport.

Once we finally arrived at our departure gate, who greeted us but two PALS dogs. Of course I cried when I saw them. I wasn’t expecting to see any PALS because we were at the airport outside their usual visiting times. Their kind humans had arranged a special visit especially for us, although we reluctantly shared the dogs with those around us. Boy did I need a little doggy calming by then. They were the perfect antidote to my frenzied morning.

Finally we boarded the plane and I set myself up in my window seat with ice and tissues, trying to hide my bloodiness as best I could. The stewards were attentive to us throughout the flight, replenishing my ice as needed, and even offering me free potato chips as if that would help. Ah, the unexpected perks granted a dying person.

We arrived and my bleeding tapered off so we could carry on with our weekend. I needed this trip, not only to see family, but also to attend a special visit to an art exhibit I’d expressed interest in. Free chips are one thing, but a highly coveted entry to an art exhibit? My sis contacted someone she knew at the gallery and explained my situation, whereupon he granted her two golden tickets to the show. Because of these tickets, we were treated like royalty. What a spectacular experience.

People have shown no end of unexpected kindnesses when they’ve learned I am dying. Given all the challenges I am up against daily, I am so appreciative of their generosity. Their gestures are the perfect distraction from my daily challenges.

Room of big pink spotted spheres by yayoi kusama

The Five-Year Rule: Absence makes the heart grow indifferent

If you know anything about me, you know that I love structure. I crave rules and boundaries and knowing where I (and others) stand. Structure allows me to get through my day and my month and my life. In some ways, dying has helped me let go of some boundaries, while other boundaries I have firmed up.

For example, because my medical needs are so high of late, some days I have to skip yoga. In the past, skipping yoga would have been a near-death experience for me, but I am getting better at letting such intrusions roll off my back. That may be a slight overstatement. Maybe they’re rolling off my back, but my back is like a washboard: each bump, I say, “I wish I could go. I resent being sick. I hate losing control over my day-to-day life.” By the time the annoyance reaches the drop off point at my tailbone, I am resigned to my mediocre home yoga practice.

Then there are those rules I’ve firmed up. Curiously, once word got out that I was dying, I started hearing from long-lost souls eager to meet. Perhaps they wanted to rekindle our friendship, or maybe they wanted to say their good byes. This phenomenon, the return of the disappeared, has led to some difficult interactions and tough decisions, but only for them, not me. I know where I stand in these cases.

At the risk of offending some, (or many, as I often do), I have no plans to make time for people who have already absented themselves from my life for a significant period of time. Your definition of this time period may differ from mine, but I arbitrarily picked 5 years, figuring that was more than fair. If I haven’t seen you in the past five years, I’m not hanging out with you in my final year. However hard you try, you won’t be able to score tickets to my Farewell Tour. The people I will spend time with are those who have been in my life through thick and thin; they’re the ones I didn’t have to tell I was dying for them to surface. I am blessed with many less-than-half-decaders in my life; they are my priority now.

Believe it or not, I feel absolutely no guilt applying this rule far and wide. At the risk of further offending you, I don’t care if I hurt your feelings by rejecting your eleventh-hour advances. You missed your chance, buddy. I’m a decent person and I’m fun to be around, despite my looming death. The people I want in my life have met and exceeded expectations thus far, even with my death approaching. If you didn’t appreciate my finer attributes before, I don’t care that you’ll never experience the pleasure of my company again.

All requests are considered on a case-by-case basis. That’s why some may be permitted a 10-year lapse, while others’ absenteeism cutoff is 2 years or 6 months or even yesterday. You’d have to have really messed up for the Yesterday Rule to apply, though. Thus far it has not been employed.

So no need to fret: if you’re on the A List now, you’ll most likely remain there for the duration. Unless you really blow it, but there’s not much time left for that.

Out of sight out of mind printed on top of picture of shoreline

Bowling is always the answer.

Glow in the dark bowling lanes

My first stop on the Farewell Tour was Toronto, where J. and I flew to visit with my family. Relatives bought tickets for the show, flying in from near and far so we could spend time together, despite the fact that we hadn’t been able to give them much lead time.

“Farewell Tour” may sound foreboding, but really it’s not. Despite what you might think, it does not involve sitting around and weeping about my impending death, although I can understand why your mind would go there. Rather, this tour provides an opportunity to catch up with the people that matter to me so I can tell them as much.

There has been a lot of Jewish brunch food involved. I made an advance request for cheese blintzes, whole smoked fish, and chopped liver, which awaited me upon my arrival. There were even a few other items that other relatives might enjoy eating. That’s when I learned this tour was not all about me, and I was okay with that.

Even I can’t spend a whole weekend eating Jewish brunch food. In fact, I’ve been oddly disinterested in food this past while. So we had to come up with a different plan. J.’s creative inspiration led us to the idea of bowling together. My local administrative assistant offered to book two lanes for an hour of 5-pin bowling, and everyone readily, sportingly, agreed to attend.

Bowler getting ready to let go of ballThe proprietors of the bowling alley were gruff initially but we let that go; nothing would interfere with our happy hour. It turns out that bowling is the great equalizer (unless you have friends who bowl in a competitive league). None of us had set foot in a bowling alley in years. Except for J.’s magnificent performance–once an athlete, always an athlete–the rest of us fumbled our way through one game. Even the grande dame (or is that la grand-mère) joined us and, although she chose not to shame anyone by outplaying us all, she closely monitored the scorekeeping to ensure there was no cheating.

I can’t speak for the others, but I had a great time, athletic humiliation aside. We all had a chance to be together and enjoy one another’s company for a full hour. Pictures were taken and there were no winners (maybe there was one, who shall remain nameless, as she always has) and no losers. Today my poor left buttock may be unexpectedly sore from all that lunging, but I consider that pain a good reminder of the special day too.

Any Farewell Tour is not all fun and games, however; it also has its sad moments. We enjoyed our hour of frivolity, but the reason for this get together was always on my mind. Over the weekend together, heartrending sentiments were shared, hugs were exchanged, and tears were shed. Because we are spread so far and wide, I may not see some of these lovely people again, except perhaps over Skype.

In the meantime, I will hold onto the memories of our time together when I am missing my people, and trust they will do the same when the time comes to miss me. Sometimes memories are all we have. Hopefully an afternoon of bowling has created some happy ones. That and those delicious blintzes.

Neglecting my practice of gratitude

Scrabble letters randomly thrown saying

While I’ve been whining and snivelling, I’ve been forgetting to share all that I’m grateful for, because there is so much. Gratitude is the best distraction.

First, there’s Marie, the vein magician. The nurses have been struggling to insert my IVs of late, but not Marie. She always finds a vein on the first try, after everyone else has failed. I don’t know how she does it. One attempt means fewer pokes and fewer bruises. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

I’d be a mess without Canadian Blood Services and the generous donors that give the gift of life. I’ve had four platelet transfusions and three units of red blood cells in recent weeks and, without them, I’d be sunk. The difference between anemia and a unit of red blood cells is profound. I’m veritably perky, for a few days at least.

Then there’s Dr. Blood Lite, and Stephanie, my nurse practitioner, who have both supported me tremendously through this downslide. First, recall the compassion with which Dr. B.L. told me I was dying. He and Stephanie both have been by my side in the following weeks. When my body was misbehaving last week, Stephanie called me daily. Then Dr. B.L. and I crossed paths unexpectedly in the hospital corridor. He asked me how I was, and took the time for a quick consultation, calling the next day to follow up. I have been a high-needs patient over the past while, and my team has provided incredible support.

Our dear friends have been keeping in close touch, offering to help whenever we need them, and sharing their love and support and concern. They have not shied away from us despite my doom and gloom. The dog recently had a last-minute sleepover when we left town for the funeral. We were gifted with a delicious homemade lasagna, and. with it, the relief of two meals we didn’t have to cook ourselves. I’ve had friends hang out with me during my transfusions, some even bearing edible gifts. We could not ask for better day-to-day support.

Finally, now that the people close to us know about my prognosis, I’ve had to start telling those people who are a part of my life but more on the periphery. My acquaintances, for lack of a better descriptor. People whose paths I cross on a regular basis, but who are not as close. Some didn’t even know I was sick because I’d been so stable for so long, I’d stopped telling the world.

The warmth and caring and concern I’ve received from these people I’m less close to has been unbelievable, and largely no different than our friends. “What exactly can I do to help you?” they’ve said over and over again. I’ve even had very specific offers from people to make my life easier. I am in awe of the kindness of these people, who have blurred the line between friends and acquaintances.

Dying is not the path I’d have chosen, but I’m so grateful for all the generous support I, and we, have received since my health has turned. I don’t know what we’d do without it.

Now we head off on the first leg of my Farewell Tour. I hope you’ve bought tickets. It should be a blast.

I’m not me when I’m cranky

Thanks to all who have volunteered to take over nagging J. for me. She was thrilled to learn there will be no lapse in the endless well-meaning harassment directed toward her.

Today I am writing to you from my new headquarters at the hospital, where as we speak I am having first platelets and then red blood cells infused into a vein in my right hand. Dr. Blood Lite arranged these transfusions upon reviewing my blood counts this week. Needless to say, they weren’t so hot.

Another week, another transfusion or two. I am hoping that once my newly started performance-enhancing drugs kick in, my need for red blood cells may diminish, at least for a little while. I can only hope. But my dropping platelets are another problem.

If a lab test result is out of whack, it may be too high (as indicated by an H) or too low (L). Hs and Ls sprinkle my lab results every time I’m tested. This week I hit the critical (C) range for my platelets for the first time. This drop called for a significant change in symptom management.

First, I will be stopping one of my chemotherapies, the nonessential one that was initiated solely to help me feel better. This chemotherapy, like many others, suppresses blood cell production. Since I’m having enough trouble making my own blood cells as it is, I don’t need my drugs to suppress my production even more.

Rather, I need a way to promote my platelet production specifically, and that’s where steroids come in. In my 54 years, I have managed to avoid being on steroids except for brief periods, but Dr. Blood Lite informed me that they have helped people like me create platelets. I have two options: either I endure the aversive side effects of steroids or I bleed out. Which would you choose?

Why have I thrown a tantrum whenever a doctor has tried to suggest steroids in the past? Because steroids are drugs no one wants to be on. They can make people chubby and moody–of course I’ll get moody if I get chubby!–and they can challenge sleep. The potential mood changes range from euphoria to irritability. I’m praying for the euphoria.

Over longer periods, steroids can affect bone density, but I don’t much care about my bones breaking anymore. Why worry about long-term health concerns if I’m only going to be here over the short term?

Steroids may also suppress my immune functioning, rendering me more vulnerable to bacterial and viral infections. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, but viral infections are more challenging. Shingles anyone? For this reason, I will concurrently be starting anti-viral medication, which, thankfully, is easily tolerated.

Maybe I should consider the potential positive effects. With a bit of weight lifting, I could look like this:

Picture of back of woman flexing on steroids

I’d need anabolic steroids, not corticosteroids, you say? Alas.

So I was thinking, if you want to get together, we should probably do it sooner rather than later. I may not be pleasant company once the corticosteroids kick in, and I’d hate to subject you to irritable me. As J. can attest, I’m not me when I’m cranky. If I am a grump when we do get together, remember that I warned you. 🙂

The last time I [insert activity here]

Woman holding dental floss in front of blurry face

I bet you can imagine how little I want to complete my taxes this year. Why would I want to devote my time to such an annoying, exhausting task? My usual search for distractions has been less successful this year. There are so many activities that I no longer need to do, ever.

For example, last Friday, to avoid my paperwork, I accompanied J. to the optometrist. She had an appointment, and my glasses needed adjusting. Then I ordered 6 months’ worth of contact lenses since I’m running low. Will I need 6 months’ worth? I’ve been awfully tired lately, and when I’m bushed, the last thing I want to do is shove plastic disks in my eyes, knowing I’ll be removing them within a few hours so I can nap.

As I was at the optometry office, I didn’t even look at all the new frames. Why would I now? I have two perfectly suitable pairs of glasses that will not need to be replaced before I die. My frame search is over, forever, for me.

That’s only one of the activities I have no more need for. I have enough clothes in various sizes to get me through, so clothes shopping is officially in my past. I think I’ve stocked piled enough toiletries to last for the duration. I have scheduled a hair cut this week. How many more of those will I need?

Then there are my trips to the beloved library. I have limited time left to read, so what should I take out? For sure no more self-help books to guide me through death and dying. I think I’m dying quite well without help. Should I cancel the high-demand books I’ve placed on hold behind 300 other avid readers, knowing I’ll never reach the top of the list before I expire?

I am filling a small portion of this reclaimed time by considering who to bequeath my remaining possessions to (I’m speaking here of the items that J. will not need). I’ll never use up my remaining dental floss, and J. is not a flosser, so is anyone running low? I have several tubes of sunscreen. Since skin cancer can’t possibly kill me faster than my bone marrow will, maybe someone could use my stash? J. refuses to use sunscreen, despite my persistent nagging.

Come to think of it, will someone be willing to remind J. to use sunscreen, and keep herself well in other ways, since I won’t be around much longer to guide her? (I’m speaking ironically since you must know by now that J. is 100% self guiding.) She’d never admit it, but I think J. will miss my nagging. Imagine the time I’d save if I gave up nagging before I die, accepting my defeat….

Then I was thinking that maybe not needing new clothes or haircuts will free up some time for me to nap as I need to. Is this nature’s way of easing me into this last phase of my life? Without these distractions, my taxes will surely become the perfect respite from my reality. Just kidding.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to rip my contact lenses out. Then I’ll get started on my taxes. Maybe tomorrow?

Yet another Jewish delicacy: hamantaschen

Triangular baked goods with two fillings called hamantaschen

You may not be aware that this week, Jews celebrated Purim, the happiest holiday in the Jewish calendar. I too might have forgotten without diligent prompting from the better Jews around me. You haven’t heard of Purim? The story, in short, is of good conquering evil. No wonder we celebrate.

Haman is the evil one. He happens to wear a three-cornered hat, which prompted a special-for-Purim baked good called hamantaschen, traditionally filled with jam or dried fruits or poppy seeds or nuts. These days, some adventurous bakers catering to their grandchildren and middle-aged nieces fill theirs with with speculoos spread or sour gummy bears.

One of the Purim traditions is not only to bake these delicious treats but to deliver them to loved ones. The special delivery is known as shalach manos.

Imagine my surprise when I received an unexpected package from my dear doting aunt on Wednesday. I wondered why she would be sending me something since I would see her  in Toronto the following week when J. and I visited. I ripped open the envelope to discover it was filled with freshly baked hamentaschen, which she orchestrated to arrive on Purim.

These hamantaschen came in handy yesterday as I was sitting for almost 3 hours receiving my last iron infusion. What does one do while wedded to an IV for hours except to eat? I had had trouble dragging myself out of bed that morning, so J. had made me a lunch with a salad and a variety of treats so I would not starve. Thank goodness she remembered to pack me a special speculoos-filled hamantasch.

But wait, it doesn’t end there. Thanks to the multicultural curriculum at a local preschool, a friend’s daughter learned all about Purim this week. Armed with this knowledge, her mother, Ms. Artisan Baker, baked a special batch of date-orange hamantaschen for her Jewish friend (that would be me).

I’m not sure if Ms. Baker was aware of shalach manos, but she participated in the tradition nonetheless. Imagine my surprise when J. came back from walking the dog yesterday holding a container of hamantaschen still warm from the oven, procured from Ms. Baker while she was on her special delivery.

I was amazed by Ms. Baker’s wares, especially since they were her first attempt. She must have weeded through the various heated debates amongst Jewish bakers about the recipe for the perfect hamantasch. There are doughs that are shortbread like and those that are softer and more pliable. Then there are no end of fillings. There are strong opinions about how to fold the dough so the filling does not leak out during the baking. Somehow Ms. Baker reviewed all this hamentasch lore and came up with a recipe rivalling that of my experienced aunt. And Ms. Baker is not even Jewish!

Within two days, I was the recipient of two batches of special treats baked and delivered with love. How lucky I am to have two people (three if I count the excellent lunch J. packed me) gracing me with shalach manos. Consider this one of the many benefits of being Jewish. I highly recommend my religion. The baked goods are simply a bonus.