My day of awe

Yoga class with overweight woman doing warrior II in forefront

I was in a yoga class the other day, holding my Warrior II pose, when I made the mistake of turning my head to look in the mirror ahead of me. Yes, the front wall of the yoga classroom at the gym is all mirrors.  I like being confronted with the shape of my body on a regular basis, but sometimes the honest feedback is a little much.

Over the years, as my spleen has expanded, I have stopped looking at myself from the side. I can look at my body straight on, but from the side all I notice is how disproportionately large my belly is relative to the rest of my body. When I glanced in the mirror the other day, I was confronted with a painful realization: despite my recent marked weight loss, my spleen has not gone down in size. Turns out my internal organs haven’t shrunk with the rest of me. I may no longer store much junk in my trunk, but I still look kinda pregnant.

Then I came to my senses. My recently transformed body is perfect for me. I have not an ounce left to lose, and still I am critical of myself. I should know better. I’m a psychologist, for God’s sake. I help people accept themselves as they are, and, hypocrite that I am, all I can see is my own room for improvement. Some role model.

Are women ever 100% satisfied with their bodies? Is it any surprise that they’re not? I recently met a young woman who used to skate professionally. Sk8tr grl spoke of the constant pressure on her and her fellow skaters to lose weight. One of her coaches actually insisted on weigh ins every two weeks. One day, as an act of protest, sk8tr grl stepped on the scale holding her bagged McDonald’s lunch. Eventually the skaters’ protests resulted in the end of the weigh ins, but in the meantime, many of sk8tr grl’s friends developed eating disorders, one even suffering a heart attack in her mid-twenties. Sk8tr grl was strong enough to resist these pressures, thank goodness.

After my recent lapse in body acceptance, I knew exactly how to whip myself back into shape, so to speak. I headed to Eddie Bauer. If you are ever questioning your body, especially if you should not be, I suggest a visit with Eddie. Eddie and I have never met, but I believe he must have a distorted body image because his sizing is so absurd. I can count on his clothes’ fitting me in a smaller size than I’d wear in any other clothing line. Might this be a marketing ploy? “You’re a size 10? I think a size 8 would more than suffice,” says the Eddie salesperson.

Eddie or not, here I come. I will stop hiding my body under layer upon layer of oversized clothing. (The worst habits die the hardest.) I will embrace my spleen in all its ginormous glory. I will look directly in the mirror at yoga, even during Warrior II, without wincing in shame. I will love my body as it is. Anyone want to join me?

 

 

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Saved by the neighbour

two apples with a bowl of honey and honey dipper

All is not lost. My whining and complaining about having no fresh apples for Rosh Hashanah did not fall on deaf ears. My dear neighbour, a virtual fount of knowledge, the information hub in the community, directed me to three fully loaded apple trees at a home in the ‘hood. Because the home is undergoing a renovation, the apples are free for the taking so take I did. I parked slyly in the alley, lurked over to the trees, and filled an empty poop bag with fruit of the tree. What is better than farmers market apples and honey? Fresh-picked apples with honey, of course. We now have what we need to have a happy and sweet year.

Except for the brisket. Brisket is the centrepiece of the Rosh Hashanah meal, at least in my family. Sure, chicken is a reasonable alternative, but chicken is so everyday. Our festive meal calls for something grand, like a big hunk of beef slow roasted in the oven with onions and garlic and a can of cola. The New Year’s meal I remember from my youth always had brisket and carrots tzimmes (that’s cooked carrots doused with yet more honey) and some sort of baked noodles or potatoes and, of course, fresh-baked challah. I also vaguely recall a salad, left largely uneaten, intended to cut through all that fat.

Don’t even talk about dessert. My friend grew up with honey cake, and swears by her recipe, but I’m firmly in the apple-cake camp. If honey cake were made with maple syrup, maybe I’d consider it, but just the thought of honey in a cake makes me. My mom tried to pass a few bakery honey cakes by me as a child but they were boring. A cake baked with nice tart fresh apples, that’s a festive dessert, and the leftovers make a fine breakfast or lunch or snack the next day.

We may have some traditional foods on hand but there will be no brisket tonight since we’re eating alone tonight. Making a brisket for two flexitarians would leave a lot of leftovers. So no brisket but I thought it would be nice to acknowledge the holiday in some way, apples in honey notwithstanding.

J. and I headed off to the supermarket this morning in search of a protein to welcome the New Year, except I hadn’t fully explained the mission to J. We went our separate ways briefly in search of items at opposite ends of the store, and when I returned, there was a package of an indeterminate meat product in our cart. I strained to see what it was. Of course, it was pork chops. J. said, “They’ll taste great with those nice tart apples sautéed on top!”

I may be a mediocre Jew at best but I nixed the pork chops for tonight. If we have any leftover apples, maybe I’ll reconsider tomorrow. I like well-cooked pork, bone in preferred, as much as the next gal. Maybe I shouldn’t have admitted that today of all days. Perhaps one of you synagogue goers could pray for me tonight.

Wishing you a good and sweet year.

So much for fresh-picked apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah

Very run down country home, holes in roof and walls, abandoned

I have an annual ritual before the Jewish New Year. I go to the market the weekend before the holiday and buy the best fresh-picked apples I can find for dipping into honey. This year my favourites, the crispy tart Macs, are in season. I had a busy weekend with few windows of opportunity but I thought Sunday afternoon was clear.

It wasn’t. Remember last year when I thought I’d found the house of my dreams but we who hesitated were lost? Since then, we’ve continued to keep our eyes open to homes in our neighbourhood. We have a very specific set of criteria and a price range, and when a house comes up, we’re checking it out. We are frequent attendees at open houses.

So far, we haven’t had much success. Each home we’ve viewed has been wanting: a bedroom short, yard deficient, run down, overpriced. J. loved one recent listing beyond our price range so much that she rushed out to buy a lottery ticket. She said, as she always does during her semi-annual lottery-ticket purchase, “We’re good people. We deserve to win the lottery, don’t we?” She wasn’t even hoping for the jackpot, just a few hundred thousand dollars to cover us. Guess how that panned out?

Sunday afternoon, smack in the middle of my scheduled apple picking, a home that looked absolutely perfect was open for viewing. The listing said it was the right size at the right price on the right street. Pictures suggested it had a nice yard and a spiffy kitchen and three decent-sized bedrooms. The separate entrance with stairs to the basement would even give it office potential.

(Did I happen to mention I have not one but two clients scheduled this week? Maybe if I worked a little more, J. could stop buying lottery tickets.)

Reluctantly, I set my annual apple buying ritual aside. Off we traipsed to check out the house, showing up at 2 p.m. alongside the realtor. The crowds were eager to enter as he changed his “Coming soon!” sign to “For Sale”. But J. and I weren’t waylaid by his tardiness: we went straight to the backyard first.

Somehow the gorgeous photos didn’t capture the many doggy deposits and the ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts. While we were watching our step, we met the friendly furry depositor, who’d been left at home to greet potential buyers. Had we only known it was a dog-friendly home, we’d have brought Jelly, who would have loved a tour of the home, especially if it involved racing around after the four-legged resident.

I regret to inform you that those gorgeous interior pictures must also have been Photoshopped. The inside of the home was in shambles. Counters were filthy, appliances were dented, blankets were strewn around couches, toothpaste dotted the washroom floor. I could go on, but I’ll spare you. Because I am infection prone, we didn’t linger.

Our look-and-dash left me time to go marketing, but my hopes were so profoundly dashed that I needed the time to mourn. All is not lost, however. Maybe the next house will be perfect, even without Photoshop or a lottery win. They say you gotta kiss a lot of frogs….

Oh the places we’ll go!

Picture of the Western Wall with men praying

Our fall vacation is quickly approaching. We have planned a trip to a far away land, a place we’d talked about going years ago. Then leukemia happened. Leukemia is still happening, but I’m so darn healthy that, in the words of a wise Jewish scholar, “If not now, when?” A self-indulgent vacation is not what he meant; I’m interpreting his words to my own advantage.

There are so many things I, and we, have put off since I got cancer. I ran my old car into the ground before buying a new one. I quit working, only to resume at a leukemic pace. I stopped buying clothes since I didn’t know how long I’d have to wear them. And we’ve travelled with trepidation since I’m utterly uninsurable. Throwing vacation caution to the wind is long overdue, don’t you think?

In late October, we’ll be flying to the Land of Milk and Honey, also now known as the Land of Learned Hematologists. Why all the hematologists? Because we Jews are prone to blood disorders, and who better to study those disorders than Jewish doctors? Were I to get sick while I was there, I’d be in many very good hands. There is some comfort in that.

I lived in Israel my second year of university, but I was so studious that I saw little of the country. Since then, I’ve always wanted to return. Finally I have my chance. J. is not Jewish, but she too loves a freshly fried falafel and a flaky cheese bureka and a fatty sufganiyah. Did you know that in Israel, there are hummuserias that only sell variations on everyone’s favourite ground-chickpea concoction? Somehow I believe the hummus there will taste significantly better than the lame facsimile from the deli. We’ll visit museums and see archaeological sites and maybe even visit a kibbutz while we’re there, but I can’t wait to eat the great food I remember. No wonder Dr. Blood Lite gave us his blessing.

The timing of this vacation involved some negotiation, however. J.’s wedding frenzy ends after Thanksgiving weekend. She wanted to leave promptly thereafter, but I said, “Whoa baby! I can’t skip the annual leukemia walk! How will I get my five-year pin?!”

What event do you anticipate every year? Maybe it’s Christmas with family or the home improvement show or the local jazz festival. I look forward to the annual Light the Night Walk for Leukemia and Lymphoma, which takes place this year on Saturday, October 21. (Save the date.) Not only do I get to commune with like-blooded people, I am surrounded by my own special community of support (that’s you, dear friends).

We are indeed going to Israel, but before we leave, we’re going for a short evening walk. Swanky team costumes (okay, they’re from the dollar store) are available to anyone who’d like to join us. If past years are any indication, hamburgers and hot chocolate will be free, speeches will be moving, and yours truly will provide the baked goods. As in previous years, I will cry many times over the course of the evening. Feel free to join the viewing party.

What’s that you said? They must have named the Wailing Wall after me? I’m not laughing.

My head may be in the sand but I can still hear you

Many people on a beach with their heads in the sand

While everyone else was back-to-school shopping, I was back-to-size-8 shopping. I wanted a few clothes that fit my new body, however temporary, so I scoured every sale rack I could find. I didn’t buy much since this petiter me may be fleeting, but I was tired of looking schlumpy while my body sorted itself out.

No, I haven’t gained all that weight back. Rather, I’ve lost another kilo in recent weeks. No wonder I was nervous about yesterday’s appointment with Dr. Blood Lite. “I have been eating more,” I told him, “but not enough to gain weight.” Although I feared his wrath, he is too kind to be angry.

After discussed my leukemia, which seems to be stable, he asked whether I’d ever reviewed the progression of my liver disease with Dr. Foie Gras. Where did that question come from? I told Dr. BL that, no, Dr. Fois Gras and I had not discussed my liver’s prognosis, but likely because I had never asked.

As much as I want all the information I need about my various ailments, I don’t want it before I need it. I may not ask the questions but I still know what the potential outcomes are. I told Dr. BL, as I’ve told you, my faithful readers, that I can only think of one of my illnesses at a time or my anxiety overwhelms me. Mostly I pretend I only have leukemia and forget about all that other potentially deadly stuff.

For many years, I have been low on my liver doctors’ totem poles; the patients they focus are often in acute liver failure or have more aggressive liver diseases. They need liver transplants or they are dying. I was one of them once, about five years ago to be exact, but I’m not right now. I only think of myself as someone with liver disease when my liver is malfunctioning. I know what a failing liver looks like, but I choose not to ask for details.

I see Dr. Fois Gras every six months or so, he takes a closer look inside me once a year, and he reviews my blood work quarterly. My blood test results have never garnered a telephone call from his office. No news is supposed to be good news, right?

Usually my denially approach works, but it failed last night between 12:30 and 3:30 a.m. when I stared at my ceiling, listening to both J. and the dog snoring, and wondered if something was terribly wrong with my body and no one was telling me. Maybe Dr. BL was afraid to share his concerns after I’d put on my blinders in front of him. Or maybe he was being thorough since he didn’t know me all that well. It must be the latter.

If he were that concerned, he would have told us to cancel a trip we’ve planned, but he didn’t. He encouraged us to go even though it’s very far away. He even mentioned that our destination country is known for many well-respected hematologists.

You might wonder where we’re going, but that will have to wait for another post. First, I need a good nap.

 

 

The sun will come out tomorrow.

Quote: Here, take my advice, I'm not using it.

I was not surprised when I found the newspaper on the landing the day following the muffin pickup. Even better, Mr. RAK wrote a note on it, thanking us for the muffins and signing it with his name. Thank goodness at least I can call him by name next time I see him.

Did you know that yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day? Neither did I, until I read a story on the news. Suicide seems as good a topic of discussion as any, don’t you think?

I recently saw a client who was chastising herself for feeling down because there were so many people around her dealing with much worse. She kept telling herself she had no reason to be depressed because her road was relatively easy. Can you hear her completely devaluing her own experiences and feelings? Why do we use others’ challenges as the benchmark for how we should feel? I do this all the time, and I should know better.

What could I do for this client but give her heck, gently of course. (I realize I was telling her to do as I say, not as I do. Please don’t tell her.) Who cares what other people are confronted with? All that matters is what’s on her plate and how she feels about it. If she was finding her challenges overwhelming, she needed to respect and acknowledge that. Then she could find her way through it.

As our session was ending, I asked her whether she felt it helped at all to talk. Her response was lukewarm, with reason. I didn’t say anything she didn’t already know, and she had no great eureka moment. She left the session looking as down as when she had arrived.

We all have bad days. I can wake up in a funk and have trouble pulling myself out of it, but thankfully my funks are usually short lived. The distraction of exercise and dog walks are probably my best funk abaters. Because of my own experiences, I appreciated my client’s despair, and wished I could have helped her more. By session’s end, I worried I had let her down.

This client contacted me the next day. She wanted me to know she’d woken up feeling a bit better. I was relieved for her and grateful that she’d contacted me. Clients are more likely to call when they’re feeling distressed than when they’re feeling better. I welcome the distressed calls, but I love the happy calls.

I often worry about my clients. When they come in feeling down and leave feeling downer, I fret the most. But I can’t forget that people are resourceful, and usually those who leave my office feeling the worst arrive at their next session feeling remarkably better. .

So next time you’re feeling down, I ask you to trust that tomorrow, or the next day, or even the next week, will be better. Give yourself time to muddle through, and get help if you can’t do it on your own. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend, call a crisis line or get yourself to the hospital. Whatever you’re struggling with, suicide is a crappy solution.

Never, ever lose hope

Picture with "Kindness starts with one."

Since this is a cancer blog, has this post title made you think I’m going to write about how a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence? I certainly haven’t died yet, and my dear friend with lung cancer is absolutely thriving. This week, her doctor gave her only good news at her check up, ending with, “Don’t come back for a year.” That indeed is grounds for hope, and we should all celebrate her fantastic news.

But I’ve misled you. I’m not writing about cancer today since I have something even more important to tell you. What could be more important than a life sentence [no, not that kind, the other kind]? Are my priorities skewed? Don’t think I can’t hear you questioning my judgement. (Occasionally I insert a double negative just for fun.)

Overnight, another huge weight in my shallow existence was lifted off my shoulders. Earlier this week, we had awoken to two gifted newspapers, and J. suspected we might be graced with another this morning. Last night, J. decided that she would repackage my excellent banana chocolate chip muffins in their tightly sealed container and leave them on our landing for a special someone. (She was trying to preempt freezer burn.) Since my educated neuroscientist friend informed me that squirrels are diurnal, I was much less worried about any overnight verminous interference.

Each morning, the less exhausted of us gets up with Jelly to take her out for her morning piddle. I was hoping J. would jump out of bed today since I despaired about finding the increasingly stale muffins sitting undisturbed on our landing. To my surprise and delight, Mr. Random Acts of Kindness had left us a newspaper and had taken the muffins. Maybe the big yellow sticky inscribed with “For You!!” in bold black ink helped.

Finally, after days of fretting and two previously unsuccessful attempts at gifting him, Mr. RAK had received his very small token of thanks. This made me so exceedingly happy that I yelled to J., who had likely fallen back to sleep, that the muffins were gone. What is more important, that she know the good news or that she get her much needed rest? That is truly a rhetorical question, since for days now I’ve been moping over my own failed efforts to acknowledge my thanks. I was sure my good news trumped a little sleep debt.

Of course, I could have let my anxiety diffuse my happiness in no time at all. I could have thought, “What if he doesn’t like my banana chocolate chip muffins?” or “What if he is a celiac?” or even “What if he’s sworn off sugar?” But I truly believe, in all situations, it’s the thought that counts. It has to be, or I’m sunk.

I had made my best effort to bake Mr. RAK something tasty, and I hope he enjoys them today. If he doesn’t, I trust there’s someone in his life that he can share them with, or that they will be welcomed by the other compost in his bin. More importantly, I hope I returned that moment of happiness he gives me whenever he drops an extra newspaper by our house. That was the point, wasn’t it?

 

Calling all impatient toddlers

I have bad news. I left the muffins out again for Mr. RAK, this time on our landing, but he didn’t come. He must have been spreading his good cheer to another neighbour, which is great. Upon realizing he was not coming, J. promptly put the muffins in the freezer, where they remain untouched. Anyone want a decent banana chocolate chip muffin? Let me know.

More than enough about that. Let’s move on to great news.

Since retiring, J. has been applying for volunteer opportunities far and wide. She readily jumps into one-time stints, including as PALS special events I cannot do, but she wanted a steady commitment of her own, preferably with kids. Kids love J.

Last year J. applied to the local children’s hospital, and was dismayed when there were no volunteer openings there. Because persistence is one of her middle names, along with punctual and efficient, J. applied a second time, got an interview, and, finally, a placement. She will be hanging out in the inpatient toddler playroom every Tuesday afternoon.

To prepare her for her duties, she practiced with a friend’s infant on the weekend. For four hours, this little tyke was all smiles. J. changed diapers flawlessly, and was a master with that baby’s bottle. That stint was only a warm up, since there won’t be any dirty diapers or bottles during her shifts with toddlers. There will only be unbridled fun in a well-outfitted playroom.

When we told our friend, who is sharper than any tack I know, about J.’s assignment, she asked, “Aren’t all toddlers impatient?” Well yes, Dr. Sharp, they are indeed, and I would be too if I were stuck in hospital. J. is the perfect playmate for them. She has no end of creative ideas, she can roll with the punches, and she’s fun. She can’t help it. She’ll make them relax and giggle and forget their worries, whether they want to or not. And she’ll probably make them clean up after themselves before they leave.

Last week, J. spent her first shift hanging out with the one toddler who was available for playtime, a little girl J. described as a bit shy. No wonder. This youngster hadn’t been in hospital long, and the disruption of a hospital stay, including sleeping away from home, must have been stressful. She was improving every day and was headed home soon. Before she left, she had time to play with J. Thank goodness, since J. would have been heartbroken if no one wanted to play with her on her first day.

I’m not sure who had more fun, J. or her little playmate. They spent most of their time shopping at the make-believe grocery store, until the girl suddenly realized she had to go. She told J., “I have to pee.” J. responded, “Well then, let’s go find the washroom.” To J.’s surprise, as they approached the playroom door, this shy one put her hand out for J. to hold.

Not all J.’s stories will be happy ones, yet I know there will be many sweet moments like this one. I can’t wait to hear what happened today. I know the kids will have fun. I hope J. does too.

 

Child's pretend groceries in two baskets

 

You’ll stand on guard for me?

No squirrels allowed sign

I’ve been remiss. I’ve been too busy reading the newspaper, and obsessing, to post. Since writing about Mr. Random Acts of Kindness, I’ve woken up to daily free newspapers on the front landing. I know Mr. RAK is leaving them because he’s kind, and hopefully he now knows he is appreciated. But, as I told you, saying thank you was not enough. Baking was in order.

This was no easy feat. First I had to obsess about what to bake him. I decided on banana chocolate chip muffins, which I thought would be a nice snack for his early-morning route. I meticulously followed the recipe. Then I carefully packaged the wares up in a new container with a see-through cover.

Then the obsessing began. Where to leave the stash? Imagine me making several trips to the neighbours’ house to sort this out. First I worried he wouldn’t be able to read my writing in the dark, and thus would not realize this package was for him. The porch light seemed excessive so I brought over a tiny flashlight to illuminate the gift.

I was happy with this arrangement when J. reminded me of the squirrel family that lives under our neighbours’ front stairs. In case you didn’t know, squirrels are the enemy. They bury peanuts in our yard which Jelly can’t help but dig up. They race carelessly through our spruce trees, releasing showers of pine cones on our driveway along the way. And they’ve been selfishly pillaging our garden all summer. A few days ago, a squirrel knocked our one and only thriving eggplant off the plant and took several chomps before we intervened. Do you need more proof that squirrels are not to be trusted?

J.’s reminder overwhelmed me with anxiety. A quick internet search determined that squirrels can eat through absolutely anything. I imagined that my tasty muffins would never survive the night.

By this point, I was exhausted and I wasn’t thinking straight. I couldn’t figure out how to leave the muffins out without disaster striking. The stoop was too unsafe. I moved the muffin container to our neighbours’ mailbox, which I believed would be squirrel proof, and it was. In fact, the mailbox was so safe that upon awakening, I saw that the muffins were still exactly where I’d left them. Mr. RAK delivered the paper to the neighbour’s porch and didn’t even notice his gift.

At that moment, I realized I should have taken J. up on her offer the previous night. In the midst of my late-night crisis, she had asked me whether I’d like her to stand sentry overnight to ensure that the squirrels didn’t interfere with the gift. Why did I say no?

Tonight I plan to leave the muffins prominently on our landing. I’ll turn on our motion-sensor porch light and post a “No Squirrels Allowed” sign. Then I will pray that Mr. RAK finds his package intact, assuming he drops by yet again. Maybe I should enlist Jelly as a watchdog. Who am I kidding? That dog would eat those muffins, container and all, faster than any squirrel.

Retriever balancing muffin on his snout

If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake.

Blue and white cake with flowers and "Thanks" written on it

I’m one of those old people who likes to read real books that I can hold in my hands. No e-books for me. I like to use my collection of actual bookmarks (FYI: bookmarks are not just a virtual phenomenon) and picking up my library holds brings me joy.

Of course I am also a holdout for actual paper subscriptions to magazines. I like flipping the pages and seeing the pictures and reading the stories. I used to buy them for my office waiting room–few clients translates to no need for waiting–so I buy them solely for myself.

And don’t forget newspapers, the newsprint kind with ink that blackens my fingers. There’s something to holding the paper in my hands, hearing it crinkle as I turn the page, and ripping out articles so I can refer back to them. (I’m joking. I reluctantly use those newfangled computer bookmarks for the keepers.)

In the internet age, by the time the daily paper arrives, everything already seems like old news. But I don’t really care since I’m reading them more for the commentary than for the actual news anyhow. Newspapers may be a dying breed but I’ve been a staunch supporter. Or at least I was, until J. and I finally cancelled our paper delivery about two years ago to save money.

I miss the morning paper, but even more I miss our last paper-delivery fellow, who is a lovely man. We’d cross paths with him every so often when we were taking Jelly out at dawn. He seemed to enjoy his work. He worked in the neighbourhood for years, and whenever we saw him, he was smiling, despite his early start to the day.

Since we’ve cancelled our newspaper for the last time, we haven’t necessarily stopped receiving it, however. Once every week or two, a newspaper appears silently at our doorstep. We know it’s from Mr. Random Acts of Kindness because he leaves it on the stoop in exactly the same place he always did. We never seem to catch him in the act because he’s finished working before we’re up these days. I’ve been overwhelmed with guilt at not having an opportunity to thank him for his kindness.

Except for last week, when, an hour later than usual, Mr. RAK stealthily drove his car down our street and stopped in front of our house as I was heading out with Jelly. He jumped out of the car smiling broadly and handed me a newspaper. I finally had a chance to thank him in person. He said, “If I don’t give the extras to my old customers, they will go in the garbage.”

I’m sure Mr. RAK spreads his good will through the neighbourhood, although I may have been the only recipient last week. For the two days following this early morning encounter, I awoke to the paper on our stoop. I guess my brief thank you inspired our newspaper angel to direct all his kindness toward us for a few days.

I may have thanked him but I still owe him a cake. Eureka! I can leave it at the neighbour’s where he still delivers daily. I hope it makes him smile.