Sunday, January 31, 2010

It's A Major Award!!!

Check it out!! I've been awarded!! I received this fantastic honor from my new friend Megs, who pens her own awesome blog, Box of Tricks. Stop by and give it a read, it's terrific!

You know, I initially began this blog when my husband suggested it might be a creative way to practice my writing while also receiving helpful feedback and constructive criticism. What I didn't expect, was that I would be introduced to this whole wonderful "blogosphere" of sites that are delightfully funny, heartwarming, and thought-provoking. Some of them are daily journals, others are pictorials, ALL of them are lovely. When I first began to timidly reach out to some of the authors, I found them to be tremendously helpful and encouraging, and I'll never, ever be able to appropriately express how grateful I am for their indispensable support. This award is an example of that kindness. Thanks, Megs, you made my day!!

Ok, so the way this works, apparently, is that I now have to list seven interesting things about myself, then tag seven more blogs that I'm currently following. I feel like I've "revealed" facts about myself ad nauseum throughout this blog, and I'm not sure how interesting this will be, but, I like a challenge! So, here goes:

1. When I was twenty-three, I was a chorus girl in the national touring company of South Pacific, starring Robert Goulet. We toured all over the US and Canada, and professionally, it was THE greatest time of my life. Mr. Goulet was a consummate professional and has since passed away, but his deep, melodic rendition of "This Nearly Was Mine" will be with me always!

2. Although I am a performer and an extrovert, I can get very nervous and tongue-tied when talking with strangers on the phone (ex: repairmen, doctor's offices, etc.). If prompted to leave a message, I usually babble-on needlessly, leaving out pertinent information or using the wrong words to describe something. I have NO idea why.

3. When I lived in NYC, I was once mugged by three men just a few steps from the front door of my apartment building. I should probably tell that story in my blog one day!!

4. I have XM satellite radio in my car, which broadcasts hundreds of channels, with categories including talk, sports, comedy, country, rap, christian, new age, pop, heavy metal, and much, much more! Yet I rarely move the dial from "The 40's" channel. I LOVE big band music, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Rosemary Clooney. Their music makes my ears happy!!

5. That being said, my favorite song of all time is "She's Got A Way" by Billy Joel. I love how honest and simple it is. I can't imagine being the girl he wrote this song for, nor hearing him sing it to me for the first time. Swoon!

6. When I'm driving and see a dead animal on the side of the road, I immediately say a prayer for it. I know "the jury" is still out on whether or not animals get to abide in heaven, but I figure a prayer said on their behalf can't hurt, right? I love the idea of someday making it to heaven myself and being greeted by all those creatures I've prayed for over the years. Nice, huh?

7. I take great pride in the fact that I have the self-discipline to drag my sleepy self onto the treadmill every morning and pound-out 3-5 miles, yet that discipline is basically non-existent by the evening. That's the time when I am consumed with an intense craving for a glass of red wine, cheese, and crackers. The food usually wins! So back on the treadmill I climb the next see a pattern forming here?

So, there you have it! Hope that was along-the-lines of what was expected. Now I'm required to tag seven other sites that I'm following, so you can check them out as well. The first two listed are authored by two good friends of mine, the rest are all part of my new blogging community friends! I know you'll enjoy them all!

Thanks for Reading!!

Friday, January 29, 2010


When my sister Kathy's four kids were small, she couldn't watch any television show or movie that depicted a child or parent in peril. It didn't matter if it was fiction, non-fiction, comedy or drama, watching a young boy or girl suffer was completely unbearable for her. Remember the delightful 1988 comedy blockbuster "Big," starring Tom Hanks? One of the earlier scenes of this movie involves Hank's thirteen year old character, Josh Baskin, waking up a "full-sized" man after making a wish on a carnival machine the night before. He descends the stairs of his home and is confronted by his mother, played by Mercedes Ruehl, who believes he is a man who has kidnapped her son. She chases him around her kitchen with a knife, screaming "What have you done with my son?!!" Kathy got as far as that scene and turned the movie off. She couldn't stand watching Mrs. Baskin suffer over the loss of her child, even for a few seconds in an otherwise heartwarming, lovely comedy. Once Laura and I tried to simply EXPLAIN the plot of "Sophie's Choice" to her, and got about two sentences in before she grabbed her ears, squeezed her eyes shut and shouted, "Shut up, shut up, shut UP!! I can't hear you, la-la-la-la-la."

I could make fun of my sister, but I'm actually even more pathetic. I can't bear to watch ANY scene depicting an animal in distress. I mean ANY animal. A possum could get a splinter in a scene from the movie-of-the-week, and I am immediately reduced to tears. The image will stay with me for days, and will ultimately be the object of countless nightmares. "Old Yeller" is my "Sophie's Choice." I will never, ever view it. I watch scenes portraying historical civil war battles in which hundreds of yankee and rebel soldiers are being shot, cannon-balled in the gut, and bayonetted, yet I cringe and cover my eyes only when the horses on which they are riding are fatally wounded. Like I said, pathetic.

Alan is very aware of my disability and has developed a fantastic system for surviving these disturbing scenes. When the scene in question begins, I immediately cover my eyes and focus my hearing on his voice. He continues to watch and lets me know when the coast is clear to rejoin the viewing. Eyes closed, I hear Alan say, "Not yet...not yet...OK." It's not perfect, but at least I can enjoy the REST of the movie without my soul feeling crushed for the remainder of the evening.

It's not just movies, either. The other morning, Alan retrieved the newspaper from the driveway and scanned the headline on his walk back to the house. Apparently, some local stupid, evil, shit-for-brains, waste-of-space, repulsive, vicious, vile, worthless teenagers got bored one night and decided to physically beat a mixed-breed stray dog within an inch of his life. Someone discovered the poor thing clinging to life at the bottom of a trash bin. Alan scanned the article as he entered the house and met me in the kitchen where my arm was outstretched to accept the paper. "I don't think you should read this," he told me, "Why don't you let me cut out the front article before I give this to you?" It was only after Alan finished the article, which reported the dog survived and was now recovering nicely, that it was determined I could "handle" the morning paper.

So, with this ridiculous disability in mind, you can imagine my intense distress these past two weeks as my sweet, dear, sixteen year old companion, my dog Trixie, became very ill. We started noticing something was wrong when her trips outside to relieve herself were very frequent and produced only a small substance resembling blood. This was followed by complete loss of appetite, vomiting, and lethargy.

Unlike Kathy, I'm not a parent. Trixie (with the exception of two small birds) is my only charge. I apologize in advance to all parents who read this and might be insulted that I am comparing my distress over my dog's health to that of what they may feel for their own ill children. I know the intensity of the parent/child bond is far greater than that of mine to Trixie. But she is mine, and the idea of her suffering is simply unbearable to me.

For the past two weeks, we have spent many sleepless nights on the couch together, her looking at me to "fix" her, me looking back in complete helplessness. Three trips to the vet and many tests have revealed perfect blood work and a normal x-ray. He administers penicillin, gives us some drugs equalling doggie Maalox, and sends us on our way. Her health improves slightly, then slowly slides back down again a few days later, so back to the vet we go.

On our last visit (the third in two weeks), the vet very gently explained that he felt the need to "prepare me for the worst." He pointed out that at Trixie's advanced age, illnesses that can't be diagnosed often just mean her body is simply shutting down.

I appreciate his candor, but I don't believe I can comply. How do I "prepare" for life without this precious dog of mine? How do I "prepare" to say good-bye to a companion who has seen me through countless weeks when Alan was out of town (or the country) on business trips, accompanied me on visits to nursing homes to cheer up the elderly, and entertained me hour upon hour frolicking in the pool? Trixie's been with us as we've lived in three different homes, always panicking when the packing of boxes began, but ultimately relieved and content when she realized she was coming with us. She's celebrated job gains and promotions with us. She sat on my lap and let me bury my face in her neck that evening of March 19, 2007 (Worst Day Ever), the day that we simultaneously learned that Alan was being laid-off and that my tests were positive for lymphoma. She's traveled with us on several misadventures, staying in flea-bag motels and air condition-free cabins. Trixie never cared, as long as she was with us.

So, my dear vet, I really do appreciate your warning, but there will be no preparing. I will fight for this treasured charge of mine with every fiber of my being, until her last breath. If the time arrives when all attempts at fighting this mystery illness have failed, and she is in visible pain, I promise I will do the right thing and end her suffering. But if sheer will and the intense power of prayer have anything to do with it, that last breath will not be exhaled for a long, long time to come.

Thanks for Reading!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I recently had the immense privilege of holding a microphone in my hand once again. "Joan!" you may exclaim, "Was it Open-Mike-Night at a Karaoke Bar?" or "Are you performing a singing gig at a local nightclub?" Not even close! It's actually WAY cooler! My friends, you are reading the writing of the brand new BINGO CALLER at the Susquehanna Senior Center! Can you believe it? It was a RIOT! Want to hear about it?

I decided recently that I needed to get busy contributing to my new community, so I started by volunteering to be a deliverer for the local Meals on Wheels program. Treena, the perky, blond, no-frills, raspy-voiced Program Director asked me to come in early on my first day so she could "show me the ropes." When I arrived at the Senior Center, a rousing game of bingo was already in progress. When I reached Treena's office in the back, I told her, "That looks like they're having fun out there!" Her reply was a casual, "Would you like to call bingo numbers next Friday?" Because I was filled with so much pure joy, it's hard to remember my exact response, but I think I performed one of those Little-Rascal-esque, bright-eyed, fist-pump-scoop-across-the-chest maneuvers and shouted something like, "WOULD I?!!!" (Meaning, "Yes!")

I worked on my material all week. I had a couple of ideas for jokes, but I thought I'd gage "the room" first and get a good feel for my audience. I spent hours picking just the right outfit to wear on my big day. I settled on my pink jeans, white turtleneck, and fuschia v-neck sweater (Always wear bright colors when standing in front of a crowd that might have poor vision!).

On my big day, I arrived early at the Center to "mentally prepare." The prize table was already set up and, quite frankly, it broke my heart a little. The "prizes" were mostly canned goods. Canned goods, bags of spaghetti and flour, Rice-a-Roni, and pie crusts. They were playing for groceries. Treena pointed out that many of the seniors were living on fixed incomes, and times were pretty tough. Hence, she explained, several of the bingo games we played each week always included "All Wins." These were the games in which I was to call numbers until EVERYONE got a bingo, and therefore claimed their "prize."

Treena sat me down by the mike and rotating basket of numbers, and I excitedly watched as my "contestants" slowly meandered in. The women were all dressed similarly: orthopedic sneakers, cotton stretch pants, and turtlenecks under brightly decorated sweatshirts. Some of the sweatshirts were Christmas themed -- cardinals perched on snow-capped evergreen boughs. The men wore a combination of button down, tucked-in flannel shirts, eyeglass cases peeking out over the left hand pockets, or brand new Penn State sweatshirts, Christmas presents from their grandchildren.

I smiled broadly and greeted them with a nod as they poured their cups of coffee, grabbed a slice of vanilla-iced cake and a bingo card, then took their usual places at the many tables. Treena began with a few announcements: Craft day was to be this wednesday, anyone interested should bring a pair of scissors and arrive promptly at 9:00 a.m. sharp. Also, a field trip was being planned to attend a matinee performance of "Nana's Naughty Knickers" at the local dinner theater. When the announcements were completed, Treena placed a hand on my shoulder, introduced me, and handed me the mike.

We had a BLAST!! I said hello, told them I accepted any and all bribes (they thought that was HILARIOUS!), and the games began. My treasure-trove of jokes were a huge hit! When I called "B-4," I followed with, "Like my dress size!" Or, when the number was "I-24," I'd add, "Like my age!" They were in stitches, I tell ya! When we got to the next game and I again called "I-24," I yelled to the crowd, "Say it with me..." and they all replied in unison, "Like your age!!!" LOVE those seniors!!

In the blink of an eye, the hour was up and the prizes had all been awarded. I helped Treena return the unclaimed prizes to the pantry in the kitchen, and placed the number wheel and cards in their appropriate cabinet. When I returned to the room, I saw a game of bridge was being played in one corner, in another, two men sat hunched over a card table assembling a jigsaw puzzle. At the center table sat four women exchanging recipes and pictures of grandchildren. They made me wish I was one of them.

As I stood observing my new friends, I wondered if my own generation, when we reach this age, will ever gather like this, playing cards and enjoying each other's company? Probably not. We're so disconnected, aren't we? We'll probably grow old sitting in our empty, lonely houses, facebooking each other about favorite TV programs and recent trips to the doctor. Oh, I hope not! I hope we have a wonderful place like the Susquehanna Senior Center where we can brew a big pot of coffee, play trivial pursuit and reminisce about Bruce Springsteen concerts, puffy hair, and fashions containing enormous shoulder pads. Wouldn't that be great?

I grabbed my coat and purse and was heading towards the door when an older gentleman in a Penn State shirt looked up from his cards, raised his hand and yelled, "Take care, Joan! Nice meeting you!" I turned back to him and replied, "You too! Thanks for letting me be here today!" That's the thing I've noticed about volunteering to work with senior citizens. You start-off thinking you're doing them this enormous favor, but you always end up being the one thanking THEM in the end!

Thanks for Reading!!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Get Your "Freak" On!!

It's three o'clock in the afternoon at the orthopedic surgeon's office in Syracuse, NY. With great anticipation, we co-workers reach for the radios on our desks and carefully turn the "volume" knobs a click to the right. Judie, our office manager and expert phone dialer, picks up her receiver and punches in all but the last digit of the radio station's number, finger poised over the remaining button. Finally, the car dealership commercial ends and the D.J.'s voice is heard. "Ok, everybody. It's three o'clock, time for our 'Movie Madness Trivia' contest. Here's how it works: we're about to play a short, five second clip from a movie. The first caller who can accurately name that movie will be our winner!" We girls all make the rolling "get on with it" gesture with our hands, we know the rules. We play this game every day. My coworkers turn to me, I lean into my radio as the clip begins. I identify the voice immediately as that of Sam Shepard. "Do all men make your nervous, or is it just me?"

"BABY BOOM!!" I shout to Judie, even before the clip has finished. She presses the final button on her phone and, as always, immediately gets through to the station. "Baby Boom!" she tells the D.J. I don't wait to hear his response, I already know I'm right. We won this contest many, many times, thanks to Judie's dialing and my freakish talent for identifying movies after hearing only a short clip played. In fact, we won so often, we had to start passing the phone to other girls once we got through, so the station wouldn't realize it was the same office that was collecting all of the "bling." Honestly, I have no recollection of the prizes we won, only of the supreme pleasure I gained from realizing there was something at which I was really good, without even trying! I never subscribed to People magazine nor watched Entertainment Tonight, I just have this weird ability to identify the actor's voice, then name the movie within seconds. My coworkers were in awe, I just shrugged.

So, it is with my bizarre talent in mind that I offer-up today's blog topic. I can't believe I didn't do this long, long ago. Are you ready? Here goes: I proclaim today officially "BONDING QUESTION DAY (Hold for gasps of disbelief followed by thunderous applause)!!" Those of you who've been with me since the beginning of this, my first blogging venture, might remember my entry entitled "Tubsy." In it, I explained how much I have LOVED to ask "bonding questions" at my places of employment through the years. These questions can be anything from "What was your BEST day, EVER?" to "Whom from history would you most love to have dinner with?" I have deeply enjoyed the responses I've received, once everyone stops groaning and eye-rolling and realizes I'm unrelenting. The answers always manage to stir-up a mixture of heartwarming and fun stories, to say the least!

So let's do this! I'm going to present you, my readers, with a bonding question and ask you to respond in the "comment section" at the end of the page. You can be anonymous if you like, but I promise if you tell me who you are, I won't hunt you down or stalk your children. Really, I promise!

OK, ready? Like my "movie identification" talent, what special, weird "Rain Man"-like gift do you posses that stuns and amazes others? Is there something silly for which you've had no training, no lessons, but you just do really well naturally? Tell us!

Need some help identifying your talent? I posed this question to my family recently. Some responded with things I never knew, others I remembered from our shared past together. Here's what we came up with:

My Husband, Alan: Alan has been nicknamed "The Human Calculator" by his co-workers. He can accurately add, multiply, and divide any number in his head, including percentages. No paper needed, his freakish noggin is the only tool he requires.

My Brother, Jack: Jack says he can hear a song once, then, upon hearing it played the second time through, can sing along, word for word, EVERY lyric. He says he doesn't try to memorize the words or anything, he just seems to "know" them the second time through. Cool, huh?

My Sister, Kathy: I've actually seen this one for myself. You can drop Kathy in the middle of the city, country, or suburbs, anyplace she's never been before, and she will immediately know her way around. We've nicknamed her "The Homing Pigeon." It's amazing. She has some kind of grid in her head that expertly guides her along. When she visits me, she navigates her way through my new hometown of York FAR better than I. It's awesome, astounding, and GROSSLY unfair!

My Mother, Sandy: Mom taught all her girls to knit, crochet, embroider and sew, all from a very young age. Although we became fairly good at all of these crafts, you can imagine the trials and errors that occurred during the learning process. I remember coming to Mom with two knitting needles and a pile of knots that was supposed to be the first row of a scarf I was making. I handed Mom the mess in a fit of frustration, then plopped down in front of a Looney Tunes episode on TV to ease my stress. In the time it took for the Roadrunner to elude the Coyote's only second murder attempt, my mother returned, perfectly stitched knitting in hand. Mom can fix ANY snarl. The Gordian knot would've trembled in her presence. No matter how tight or tangled they are, knots are no match for my mother's nimble, excruciatingly patient fingers.

My Nephew, Brett: Brett's talent may be my favorite of all. I've seen this one first hand, as well. We'll be watching the Browns game together (Brett is an INTENSE sports fan) and there will be only two minutes left, with the Browns losing by three touchdowns (surprise!). Hopeless, right? In these instances, I would turn to Brett and ask, "Can we still win this?" Brett's optimistic response was ALWAYS the same, "Absolutely! This is DEFINITELY not over!" He'd then proceed to tell me how all that had to happen was a Browns drive for a touchdown, followed by a recovered onside kick, returned for a touchdown, followed by an interception and "hail-mary" pass, caught in the end zone, then going for two instead of the extra point and BOOM, Browns win!! I really love that boy!!

My Brother-in-Law, Bryan: Bryan was the hit of his Sunday school classes growing up because he could tell you not only what hymn was on what page in the hymnal, but also the composer and the year it was written! His classmates would take turns quizzing him, yelling in delight at his (always!) accurate response!

See, wasn't that fun? OK, now it's your turn! Tell me what talent you posses that makes others gasp in amazement! Click on the comment button below and brag to the cyber world about your awesome "Rain Man" ability! I can't wait to applaud you!

Thanks for Reading!!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"DON'T" You Dare!!

When I was in college, there was a class all us freshmen musical theater majors were required to take, specifically designed to address the intricate process of auditioning for a musical. The first few weeks were devoted primarily to picking the perfect audition song, or more accurately, eliminating all of the ones which were considered "forbidden." There were even several categories in which to place the many "DON'T" songs. It's been a few years, but I think I can still remember the majority of them:

*DON'T pick a "signature song." Signature songs are those performed so expertly by celebrities, you should never, EVER attempt to do them yourself. These songs include, but are not limited to, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (Judy Garland), "People," (Barbara Streisand), and "New York, New York" (Frank Sinatra). The premise is that these legends have made the songs their own, thereby making your auditioner recall the celebrity, not you, when you attempt to perform them. Our professor told us that unless we felt we were better singers than Barbara, Judy, and Frank, we'd best leave those songs be.

*DON'T pick a "list song." A list song is pretty much what it sounds like, one that doesn't really contain any character progression, just "lists things." For example, here are the lyrics to "You're the Top" by Cole Porter, a classic "lister:"

"You're the Top, you're the Coliseum.
You're the Top, you're the Louvre Museum.
You're a melody in a symphony by Strauss.
You're a Bendel bonnet,
A Shakespeare's sonnet,
You're Mickey Mouse..."

You get the idea, lots of items, but the singer doesn't actually get to express the character's FEELINGS. Our professor stressed that it is imperative that your feelings are expressed when auditioning, so list songs were definitely OUT!

*DON'T pick any songs from the hit show currently running on Broadway. This is audition suicide, our instructor noted, only because EVERYONE will be singing them. This will cause your auditioner, after hearing the same song sung for the 800th time that day, to go slightly insane when you begin YOUR version. Therefore, the chances of him wanting to hurt and/or kill you are extremely high. If you are injured or dead, this greatly reduces the possibility of your being cast in the show for which you are auditioning. So, DON'T!

*DON'T pick a song that is out of your age group or gender type. You wouldn't want to embarrass yourself by singing "I Enjoy Being a Girl" if you're a fifty year old man, nor "Old Man River" if you're white, sixteen, and female. You get the idea.

*DON'T pick a song different from the style of show in which you are trying to get cast. For instance, if you're trying out for a role in the 60's rock opera, "Jesus Christ Superstar," you probably don't what to sing a selection from Roger's and Hammerstein's plucky 1940's western, "Oklahoma."

There were others, I'm sure, but this is all I can recall off the top of my head. Pretty impressive list, huh? By the end of a few weeks, we students had a pretty clear understanding of what NOT to sing.

Here's the problem, there was nothing left on the "DO" list. Literally, nothing. Every tune we considered would inevitably fall into at least ONE of the above specified, forbidden categories. So, with no other options, we chose them anyway, usually adding something like, "Well, it's a 'list song,' but I guess it won't be TOO offensive." My self-confidence was pretty crushed. Where I used to walk confidently into the audition room, blissful in my ignorance of the horrific audition faux pas I was committing, now I approached my "mark" apologetically, armed with the knowledge that my performance was fatally flawed.

So, that in mind, here I sit with my many "How to Write" books, trying to learn about this new world in which I have just, so far, dipped my toe. I see a whole lot of "DON'Ts" staring back at me: DON'T write a memoir, everybody does that. The market is saturated. Your manuscript will get lost in the piles already written that contain the same. DON'T try to publish a book of short stories about your life. David Sedaris already did it -- well. Why should you try to compete, do you actually think you can compete? And so on.

I'm not naive. I know the amount I have to learn about the craft and business of writing would fill (excuse the pun) VOLUMES of books. But I've got to tell you, I worry about my "creative soul" a tiny bit. I mourn what that professor did to my innocent, inspired audition confidence. I never got it back. I don't want that to happen again.

I begin my first writing class this thursday. While I'm both excited about this new beginning and hopeful for the knowledge I will obtain, I'm also just a tad wary. But, on the other hand, there's a noticeable difference between that nineteen year old musical theater major and the middle-aged, battle-scarred, cancer-fighting, divorce survivor I am today. I've become a little more protective of this sensitive soul of mine, and I've gotten pretty good at defending it. I don't respond to "DON'Ts" quite the same as I used to.

So, I'm amending my class preparedness procedure just a bit this week. Along with my spiral notebook, my #2 pencil, and my cool new Trapper Keeper, I'm also packing a large mental filter. I will work hard to absorb the helpful lessons that will make me better, but I will immediately release any attempts at promoting self-doubt or unworthiness and let them fall right through that filter, straight to the floor. Then, I'll sweep them away with the other garbage...

Thanks for Reading!!

Sunday, January 17, 2010


My husband Alan can expertly perform seventeen jobs all at once. Seriously, I've seen it. I'll walk by his office on any given day, stick my head around the corner and ask, "Hey, have you seen my yellow sweater?" That's usually when I notice that he is on the phone, leading his fifteen area directors in a conference call discussion regarding topics like Guest Loyalty and Financial Results. As he talks, he checks his e-mail, responds to a friend's college football predictions on facebook and buys a tie online. He is also shining his shoes for tomorrow's business meeting. Because I never seem to remember that 90% of the time when Alan is in his office, he is on his phone, I clamp my hand over my mouth and whisper "Sorry!" Still talking, Alan waves away my apology, then gestures for me to follow him. Together, as he scolds one of his managers for "bad food cost," we descend the stairs to the laundry room where he fingers a stack of folded clothes and produces my sweater (he washed and folded it while he was on the phone with his secretary at the home office that morning). He kisses my cheek and heads back to his office, probably to solve world hunger and global warming while simultaneously filling out an expense report. It's like watching Barishnikov perform an intricate pas de deux, sheer poetry in motion.

Although he's the best I've ever seen, Alan's definitely not the only person who excels at multitasking. A few days ago, when leaving the check-out at the supermarket, the receipt showed that our "super-saver" card did not scan properly, thereby causing us to lose-out on valuable members-only discounts and gas points. We brought the receipt to the customer service window at the front of the store where a heavily mascaraed, high school-aged girl stood leaning on the counter, cracking her gum. "This ought to be excruciating," I thought as I approached her. I don't know exactly what "crow" is, but you can bet I was eating it shortly after I handed "Elvira" my receipt and explained the problem. She said it was easily fixed, asked for my card, and began an extremely involved, yet machine-like efficient process of typing, swiping cards, stapling receipts, filing, and making change. That, in itself, would have been impressive, except that in the middle of her lightning-fast keyboard tapping, she answered the phone, addressed the caller's multiple questions, gestured to a nearby employee to begin her break, and formed a really impressive pink bubble with her gum. I was entranced!! I told her so.

"That...was...AMAZING!!" I exclaimed when she had finished.
"What?" She looked afraid.
"How you did that...with...EVERYTHING!!"
"Ok," she responded, then rolled her eyes, smacked her gum once more and disappeared in the back.

I guess I admire this particular skill when I notice it because I am blessed with absolutely NONE of it myself. When I talk on the phone, even with a friend or family member, I must (MUST) be sitting down, doing absolutely NOTHING else, usually with one finger in my opposing ear so I won't be distracted. If Alan approaches to ask a question, I must hold up a "wait a minute" finger, ask my phone friend to "hold on," then turn back to Alan. Sometimes I'm able to drive and talk, but when I do, I frequently end up lost. It's quite sad, actually. When I was in school, I hated that I could never study with the radio on. Unless I had complete silence, it was all too distracting. Even now, when I read a book or even write this post, I can only have soft, instrumental music playing in the background.

I've always wondered if, like my lack of direction, this is just a genetic deficiency, or if it's actually something I can work to improve. Is there some kind of exercise I can perform daily that will strengthen my talking-while-emailing-and-listening-to-Aerosmith skills? I honestly don't know. Maybe there's a support group for the tasking-challenged that I can join. We can discuss how hard it is to schedule a doctor's appointment when the dog is scratching on the door and whining to go outside -- maddening!

There IS a bright side to my disability, however: remedial tasks are seldom boring to me. When I worked as a temp in NYC, my favorite jobs were the ones where my boss would place several stacks of paper on my desk, along with a stapler. Then, he/she'd say, "These need to be collated, then stapled. Should be about 300 copies there, probably take you all day." I'd usually respond by rubbing my hands together in delight, then proclaiming, "I'm ON it!!" Easy task + no distraction = Joan Heaven! You can say it, I already know...pathetic! But here's the other silver lining to my freak story: if you were to call me right now and wanted to talk, you may rest assured that you will have my full and undivided attention. I will sit down, plug my other ear, and listen intently to every word you speak. I am all YOURS. All yours, of course, until Trixie has to pee...

Thanks for Reading!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Joan - 9, Cancer - 0

The wait is over, "Cancer Day" is behind me, and I am happy and relieved to report that all is (thankfully) well! Here's how the day went:

After a sleepless night and a frustrating, nervous breakdown-inducing, Baltimore-rush-hour commute, Alan and I arrived at Johns Hopkins Hospital with several minutes to spare and quickly registered. I was immediately sent to the lab, where I scanned my ID card and was preparing to take a seat when a young girl in scrubs appeared. "Donnelly-Emery?" she yelled. "Wow," I responded, "You're quick!" She seemed confused. I was brought to the back area and told to sit in one of those chairs with a built-in "shelf" for one's arm to rest. A sweet, older African-American woman appeared sporting a teddy bear scrub shirt. She went about her duties of wrapping the rubber band around my arm and swabbing it with alcohol, chatting away and calling me "Baby" about seventeen times. After finding a vein that actually hadn't been poked yet (yay!), she inserted the IV port with ease, filled enough vials of my blood to nourish the entire cast of "Twilight," then gauzed and taped the still-inserted port to my arm. She sent me on my way with a friendly wave and a cheery, "Bye, Baby. Good luck!" I liked her!

Next we ascended the stairs to the radiology/CT scan waiting room. We actually got a little turned around at first and ended up in an unfamiliar room. Alan quickly sensed this, saying, "I don't think this is right." That's when we noticed the sign over the receptionist's desk: "Chemotherapy." (YIKES!) We quickly and quietly backed out of THAT room, and found the appropriate desk. I tried to reassure myself that this wasn't some kind of weird, foreboding sign of things to come.

After I scanned my ID and signed-in, a friendly woman behind the desk, sporting a gold front tooth and sharp business suit introduced herself, checked my insurance card, and fastened a white paper bracelet around my wrist. "Wow, jewelry!" I exclaimed. She gave me a smile and said, "Yes!" then quickly retreated behind her desk. This was the point last time where Alan and I waited upwards of three hours before I was actually scanned. So, we both got comfortable, me with my Runner's World magazine and Alan, inexplicably, with a People he found sitting on the end table. He had just finished the first paragraph describing "Jessica Simpson's heartache over Nick's new love" when a new woman appeared carrying a clipboard and two large styrofoam cups. "Donnelly-Emery?" she yelled to the room. "NO WAY!" Alan quietly exclaimed. We had only been waiting a few minutes! I raised my hand and said, "Here!"

I knew the two cups contained the Kool aid-like substance that is the contrast I must drink before the scan. I knew this, but I still said, "Yay, refreshments!" when she handed them to me (don't ask me, I make jokes when I'm nervous!). She didn't respond to my hilarity, only placed the drinks and clipboard in front of me and said, "Drink these, and fill out the top three forms." So, Alan continued his Simpson/Lachey drama while I daintily sipped my swill and tried to remember and document how many milligrams of fish, flax, and borage oil my daily vitamins contain, then signed by the x's.

Soon, she came to collect me, my completed forms and empty cups and we headed to the scan area. She asked me to wait in a chair outside the scan room, which was near a break area where three nurses were leaning on cabinets, arms crossed. Their easy talk about car trouble, commutes in the snow, and cell phones expertly served to lull my nerves, and soon I was whisked away once again. I dutifully laid down on the "conveyor belt" that would insert me into the machine's "mouth" and watched as the radiologist hooked me up to the IV bag. I held my breath, raised my arms and exhaled with great expertise as I rode back and forth on the moving belt. Before I knew it my radiologist chirped "All done," removed the IV port and wrapped my arm in a hot pink bandage. I was on my way to the next stop.

We had some time to kill before my appointment with my oncologist (the guy I've nicknamed "Dr. Toast" to match his personality!) who would read the results of the scans. We descended the stairs, sat down in the waiting room, and I pulled out my writing pad. Here is what I wrote:

"Blood drawn. Scans complete. Pink gauze around my arm. Now, more waiting. Alan and I sit in a large, long waiting room. Almost all the chairs are taken. So many people with cancer. I look around at all the faces, they all appear so old and sick. I don't belong here. There are three separate doors, one on each end, and one directly in the middle. Different men and women carrying clipboards intermittently appear in the doorways. Everyone looks at them hopefully. "Smith?" one of them shouts loudly, perusing the room for acknowledgement. "Smith?" she repeats, louder. In the corner, a feeble hand is raised and the rest of us gaze enviously at Mrs. Smith as she disappears with her "scrubbed" companion behind the door. The rest of us return to our magazines and books, pretending to read them, trying not to acknowledge that the results we are about to hear could drastically change our lives.

Alan, God bless him, tries to distract me by pointing out potential hotel options in his Travel and Leisure magazine. I pretend to be interested. We talk about returning to Ireland. I try not to notice the "Wig Shop" located at the far corner of the waiting room. A man and his wife appear. He is hooked-up to a rolling IV cart. The bag contains clear fluid. Two young, hopelessly pale, bald people walk by with surgical masks on. It is impossible to distinguish if they are male or female. What am I doing here? Dr. Toast, please tell me I'm healthy so we can get out of this terrible place and I can get on with LIVING."

Finally, my name was called and we were escorted to an exam room. Alan tried to keep me entertained by pointing out the ridiculously long name displayed on the blood pressure meter (sphygmomenometer!!). I mentally prepared for Dr. Toast's personality-free entrance, reminding myself it's his BRAIN I'm here for.

Suddenly, a knock, and there he stood, SMILING!! He bounded up to me and shook my hand. "Hello!" he said, then asked, "How are you feeling? How was your Christmas? Are you enjoying the cold here, or missing your former home in Florida?" He remembered I moved from Florida? Neither Alan nor I answered, because our jaws had hit the floor and we were vigorously scanning his name badge, making sure THIS jovial man, in fact, was really my doctor. I think I managed "YES!" That's about it.

He sat down in front of the waiting computer to pull-up my results. OK. This is it. Instead of attempting to read the screen, I studied his face, trying to interpret his response to what he was seeing. "Hmm," he said, "They aren't posted yet. No matter, we'll check in a minute." He patted the exam table and I took my place on it. He proceed to palpate my neck, underarms and bikini area, listened to my heart and checked my throat. All the while, he chatted, "You're from Cleveland, right? My son was in Cleveland recently looking at schools there. He liked it very much..." When he turned his back to us at one point to write on my chart, I looked at Alan, eyebrows raised, making a "chatty" motion with my left hand and pointing back to the doc. Alan nodded, smiled and shrugged. When did Chatty Cathy posses my boring oncologist?

But then he sat back down at the computer and tried again to pull up my results: Not Available. Geez! He didn't seem concerned, but clearly didn't want to wait anymore, so he asked for a cell phone number and said he'd call later that day...or TOMORROW!!! No, no, NO!! No more waiting!! Defeated, I gave him Alan's cell number. Truth is, I'd rather hear bad news from him than any brilliant doctor, anyway.

But several hours later, Dr. Chatty Cathy DID call. I watched as Alan looked down, phone to ear, ingesting the news. Suddenly he looked up, smiled, and gave me a firm and definite "thumbs up." Apparently, my tumors have actually SHRUNK a tad since my last scan! I exhaled for the first time in five days. Alan thanked my doctor and hung up. We high-fived, hugged, and talked about how completely I am kicking cancer's ass!

But here's the thing, just like when I initially got my diagnosis, I haven't done a thing to physically defeat cancer. I've always exercised and eaten healthy, but I got it anyway. Now, inexplicably, it stays at bay. Although I'm absolutely not complaining and am thrilled with my latest results, I know cancer holds all the cards. However, so far, in this life-long war in which cancer and I are engaged, I have won all the battles. In fact, based on all my former scans, here's how the score stands: Joan - 9, Cancer - 0.

As I write this, I'm still wearing my Johns Hopkins paper ID bracelet. I twirl it around and study the writing displayed on it. I'm not sure why I haven't removed it yet. I guess it feels a little like a badge, a personal medal of bravery for having made it through today. It reminds me that cancer is scary and these appointments will most likely never become easier, but today, I am victorious. And THAT, as Dad would appropriately say, is "not too shabby!"

Thanks for reading!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

One Hundred Yards to Go

I distinctly remember a certain monday morning in April, several years ago when I was seven. My siblings and I were gathered at the breakfast table when Mom informed me that on friday of that week, I would be going to Grandma Simmons' house BY MYSELF to spend my birthday weekend with her. Now, you may remember reading in one of my earlier posts that spending your birthday weekend at Grandma's house ranked extremely high on the "most awesome, wonderful things to happen in a Donnelly child's life" meter. In fact, the only instance that I can think of where "Birthday at Grandma's" could be topped was possibly our yearly trip to Cedar Point. It was big.

So it was that monday morning, as I sat spooning Quisp cereal into my seven year old mouth, that I contemplated the enormous, foreboding, five day wait ahead of me. How was I ever going to make it? The week was endless. The clock on my classroom wall became my sworn enemy. I'd spend my days staring at it, trying to will it to speed up. It trudged along. When friday arrived and my bus FINALLY pulled up to my stop on Hawthorne Drive, I elbowed seventeen children out of my way, hopped down (steps took-up precious time) onto the gravel road, and SPRINTED the 100 yards to my house, where I knew Grandma and Grandpa were waiting to whisk me away. I was fast, too.

Since then, I don't think I've ever experienced such a long, seemingly endless week like that one when I was seven. Sure, there have been vacations or events that I've anticipated, but when I have, I'm always reminded of those five days of my youth and say, "At least it's not as bad as THAT time!"

Until now. Because now I have lymphoma, and every six months (it used to be every three months), I'm forced to acknowledge this fact, get scanned, and wait to hear the results. The results can go only one of two ways: #1. Everything is stable. There's little or no growth of the tumors. No treatment is necessary. Or, #2. Your cancer is active, your tumors are growing. Time for chemotherapy.

I will have to have these scans for the rest of my life because I will have this lymphoma for the rest of my life. I can never really call myself a "Survivor" because I will always have cancer. It's just the lazy kind. It could be much, much worse. I know that I'm very lucky. Except...

My appointment and scan are five days away, on thursday. I've been doing this since I got my diagnosis on Worst Day Ever, March 19, 2007 (see earlier post), so you'd think I'd be better at handling the anticipation. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. I should really feel exceedingly more confident than I do, because all of my previous scans have come back with #1's results. I had one second-opinion doctor that scared me by insisting that chemo was necessary, but my primary doctor disagreed, and I gladly followed her advice. I've undergone no chemo at all so far. Maybe that's why I always get a little nervous before each visit. Here is a small sample of the inner dialogue that will be taking place in my over-active brain over the next five days:

"I think I can definitely feel that they've grown" (said while palpating lumps in my neck.)
"You say that EVERY time and they've never grown."
"I've been too lucky, THIS is going to be the visit where the pendulum swings the other way."
"But you don't feel any worse. That's a good sign, right?"
"But I felt fine when it was forming, too. I ALWAYS feel fine. It doesn't mean anything."
"OK, even if you DO need chemo, it won't be bad. You're tough, you can handle it."
"Sure, pumping liquid poison into my veins will be a blast."
"I hate this."
"How many more days?"

I'm actually a fantastic patient, if I do say so myself. I don't complain when I have to drink the gallons of nasty, vile contrast required before the CT scan. I smile and crack jokes with the phlebotomist as she inserts the IV, even though it's become increasingly more painful each time because that poor vein's been poked so much, there's actual scar tissue surrounding it. I obey all of the "hold your breath," "exhale," and "arms above your head" instructions and follow them to the letter. When they hit the button that sends the contents of the IV bag into my vein during the scan, I don't say a word, even though it makes my mouth immediately taste like metal and for some still unknown reason, gives me the distinct sensation that I've just urinated!

I don't even complain that my new doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital, although brilliant, has the personality of burnt toast, and it terrifies me that if he DOES have bad news for me, he will deliver it with great lack of gentleness and respect. But I say nothing. I remind myself that his brain is enormous and he is THE specialist for my particular form of lymphoma (follicular) and I'm lucky to have him.

It's just the wait. I'm not very good at waiting. I don't remember what I did to make the time pass back when I was seven, but I'm frankly clueless now. I try to focus my thoughts and imagine positive scenarios. I envision "Dr. Toast" glancing down at my chart, casually looking up at me and stating matter-of-factly, "You're fine. No growth. See you in six months. Heck, let's make it a year." Then, I picture Alan and I shaking his hand, thanking him for his time, and driving home. But this time, I ask Alan to pull over about one hundred yards from home. I want to sprint the rest of the way...

Thanks for reading!!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tropical Nights

I was at a loss for a topic today, so I consulted my "Writers Book of Days." The writing suggestion for January 8th? "It's What I Do in the Middle of the Night." Here is what I came up with:

I open my eyes at 3:00a.m., wondering why I'm awake. Then it starts, subtle at first. I can actually sense the heat begin from within my chest, then travel to my head and limbs. I physically feel the sweat forming under my skin, then flow out my pores. Within minutes, I'm drenched. I throw my down comforter off me, fan my pajama top, and wait for it all to subside. After a few minutes, it does, and I'm suddenly cold. So I crawl back under the covers, smooth my wet hair, and try to catch a few winks, before the whole episode plays itself out again a mere thirty minutes later. Then again. And again.

This is what I do in the middle of the night. Sweat. I hate it.
Interruption of sleep aside, I feel gypped somehow. I thought when I left Florida, my "days of perspiration" were far behind me. I thought that once I moved back up North, during the snowy winter months, things would be different. I could finally don flannel pajamas each night, drink hot tea by the fireplace, then sleepily retire to my cozy warm bed, covered with a fluffy white down comforter, the kind that Julie Andrews had displayed on her bed in The Sound of Music. Now, instead, my body nightly sends me to the equator in July, five or six times over.

My doctor tells me it's my hormones, part of growing older, and has placed me on medication that makes the nightly ordeal a little less fierce, but still existent. I know there are far worse maladies with which to be stricken, and there are many who are much, much worse off than I. I'm sure, if they were reading this, they'd tell me to suck it up and quit whining. They're absolutely right. But, truth is, I'd give just about everything I own for just one, peaceful night on my Julie Andrews bed...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

For the Birds

I wish you could see the birds in my backyard. It's early morning, and I'm supposed to be lacing up my Nikes and cranking out another 3.5 miles on the treadmill. Instead, I'm standing at my kitchen window, staring at the sublime feathered loveliness being displayed on our back deck. A family of house finches arrive all at once, each of them claiming a spot on the hanging feeder. The tufted titmouse is a little braver. He comes right up to the feeder attached to the window, grabs a nut from the stash, then holds it between his feet and hits it repeatedly with his beak, creating a knocking sound to let me know he's there. I smile and take another sip from my warm coffee mug.

We hadn't even unpacked the last box in our new home here in York when I excitedly hung a few feeders on that back deck. I was hoping to attract a sparrow, maybe a morning dove or two. Literally, within minutes of placing the feeders and suets in their chosen spots, the perches were filled with cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, goldfinches, nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, wrens, woodpeckers, and even an occasional bluebird.

I've had a blast observing my new feathered friends all spring and summer long, bringing their babies to the feeder and "showing" them how to get food for themselves (a few "mama's boys" still insist on HER feeding them!) and fighting over perches. But winter has brought a whole new fascination with these tiny creatures. It was twenty degrees outside last night. The wind howls, gusty and frigid. The snow has piled-up several inches deep, making their landings on the deck railing impossible. Still, they manage. They're here every morning.

I think of them as I bundle up; scarf, boots, hat, ridiculously heavy coat, all just to walk to the end of the driveway to retrieve the mail. All they have are feathers. Feathers and tiny, skinny legs and feet, completely exposed to the harsh elements. How do they survive? I watch as a big gust of wind kicks up, they brace themselves, growing puffier, heads down to absorb the blow. Day after frozen day. I'm amazed and humbled by these tiny, resilient creatures. The Bible says, "His eye is on the sparrow..." As I observe my stalwart, hardy friends standing their ground and surviving on my back deck, I believe with all my heart that this is true.

Suddenly, the treadmill really doesn't seem all that insurmountable...

Thanks for reading!!

Sunday, January 3, 2010


When I grabbed my cell phone from the guest room at my in-laws on Christmas day, I noticed several "missed call" notifications, all from my Mom and brother, Jack, in Ohio. Mom was pet sitting our dog Trixie at Jack's house until we joined them the following day for the family's Christmas party. As I quickly dialed my mother and listened to the rings, only one thought entered my mind: Trixie's dead. I tried to prepare myself for the absorption of these words once my mom spoke them, and gripped the phone tighter. Mom's first sentence? "Trixie's fine." I love that woman. I exhaled, then asked what was up. "It's your Dad. He's in the hospital. We think he had a stroke. He can't move his right arm." It's funny, you'd think that my reaction to this news would be deep concern followed by enormous weeping. This was not the case. Instead, I listened as Mom gave the details: Dad arose in the middle of the night, unable to move his arm and feeling disoriented, but didn't want to wake anyone. When he fell trying to get to the bathroom the following morning, my brother heard the crash and insisted they go to the ER immediately.

I calmly thanked her, asked her to keep me posted, hung up, and took my place at Alan's family's Christmas dinner table. I told them "Dad had a stroke. It's just his arm. He'll be OK," and passed the potatoes. I was confused by how everyone at the table stared at me, forks poised, mouths open, as I took another bite of Christmas ham. Then it hit me, they were concerned about my Dad's condition. I reassured them all that my Dad was going to be just fine. Clearly, they didn't know what a tough, tenacious man my father was. "He's going to bury us all, don't worry!" They seemed to remain unconvinced.

Here's a brief synopsis of the life of Jack Donnelly, and why I wasn't worried about my Dad:

John Edward (Jack) was born and raised in a tiny house in Maple Heights, Ohio, the oldest and only boy of five children. His is the typical tragic Irish family story; that of a father who was a hopeless alcoholic, drinking away his weekly paycheck, and a saintly, over-burdened mother who cried and screamed at her good-for-nothing husband, holding the family together as best she could. I'm no psychiatrist, but I'm positive that at one point during his tumultuous childhood, my dad vowed he would never be the disappointment of a man his father was. He has spent the remainder of his life fulfilling this promise to himself and to those he loves.

I think he began working when he was around fourteen, performing jobs too numerous to mention. Even today, when we're sitting around the Thanksgiving table trading stories, Dad will talk about a job he held that I never knew about before, "I remember that one summer I worked as a garbage man..." He did it all, anything that paid. He worked at first to help his mother, then, when his father finally sobered-up and re-joined the employed world, Dad worked to pay his way through college. This didn't stop him from participating in his high school athletics, however. Even though a bad bout with scarlet fever in his youth stunted his growth, his 5'8" frame never kept him from lettering in baseball, basketball, and football at Maple Heights High School. He did make enough money to earn an education degree from Kent State University, and after a brief stint serving in the army, he was hired to be the new shop teacher (he preferred the term "Industrial Arts") at his old alma mater, Maple Heights High. He later became the department head and taught there over thirty years. It was at Maple that he met a pretty student teacher, Sandy. After a brief courtship and my mother's conversion to Catholicism, the two were married.

Dad coached baseball and football at the school, refereed basketball games and even started his own carpentry business on the side to provide for his rapidly-growing family. I'm sure it was exhausting, but because he was so driven to be the provider his father never was, Dad pressed on. And on. Jack Donnelly was all about routine, everything the same every day. His two best friends to this day are two men he met the first day of Kindergarden in 1940. He awoke at the same time every day, ate toast and coffee for breakfast, went to school, ate a bologna sandwich on white bread for lunch. Every. Day. Bowling night was tuesday, basketball referee season was in winter, carpentry jobs took up weekends and summers. We never, ever missed Sunday mass, even when we were on vacation. Each year in June, at the conclusion of the last day of school, he and a gang of fellow teacher buddies would take their boats up to a cabin on the Key River in Ontario, Canada and do nothing but fish for one straight week. I truly believe that single week was the only time when my father completely relaxed.

But mostly, Dad was about work and discipline. And not drinking. Dad never had a sip of alcohol. Ever. He kept the fridge in our basement stocked with Budweiser for his buddies when they visited, but Pepsi was as hard-core as he ever got. It was imperative to Dad that his children turn out the same way. He knew we carried Grandpa's "drinking" gene, and he was determined to protect us from it. I distinctly remember he and Mom returning from a New Year's Eve Party with his fellow teachers and picking us kids up at Grandma Simmon's house the next morning. In the car on the way home, he told us, "You know, your Mom and I didn't have ANY alcohol last night at the party, and we still had a TERRIFIC time. You don't have to drink to enjoy yourself, remember that!" We did. Although some of us enjoy a glass of wine or a beer at the Browns game now that we've reached adulthood, none of us did it until long after we were out of school. For me, it just seemed too important to Dad that I abstain, so I did.

But Dad was far, far from what you would call a saint. I must state with deep honesty that he wasn't a perfect father. He had a terrible, nasty Irish temper that could be set-off with the simple act of spilling your milk at the dinner table. He is the most impatient human being I've ever known. Waiting in line, even for a few minutes, is unbearable for him and he quickly lets everyone around him know of his supreme distaste for it. He never missed a bowling night with his buddies, but he never (NEVER!) gave my mom a break from us to do the same with her friends. Although he and Mom worked intensely hard to raise respectful, rule-abiding children, Dad never seemed to trust the strict lessons he taught us. He always seemed convinced, when we were out on dates, that we were all out boozing around and becoming pregnant. The thought drove him crazy and he made life a living hell for any boy that dared to try and ask us out (Someday I will ask Alan to post an entry about HIS experiences with my dad!).

Those hard times with Dad can sometimes cloud the truly good ones, but they were there too. There were family trips he worked his ass off to finance, trips to Canada, Kentucky, and even a six week trek out West with a Shasta camper and Grandma Simmons in tow. There were evening tape sessions where he'd pull-out his reel-to-reel recorder, hold the microphone to our faces, and introduce each of us before we sang our selections for posterity. When we joined a girls softball league, he took us out back, hit us some balls, and showed us how not to "throw like a girl." If you got hurt, he'd tell you to "shake it off," or "quit acting like a pansy." When my sister and I decided we wanted to pursue careers in theater, he was very concerned with the thought of us entering such a competitive field, but he truly believed in our talent. He drove us both to visit several colleges, always stopping by the financial aid offices to see how he could make it work. By the end of my senior year, I arrived home to find that he had sold his beloved boat, all to help finance my education. I was devastated, he shrugged it off.

So, all this in mind, I knew Dad would be just fine when we all piled into his hospital room, presents in hand, on December 26th. He was in great spirits, happy to see his children and grandchildren, and making jokes. His immobile arm was hidden underneath his bed covers, but he expertly opened his presents with his good hand (and our help) and thanked us for each one. We visited for awhile, then left him to get some rest and continued our party at my brother's house (the home in which we all grew up). I was serenely content that Dad would soon be returned to us, good as new, and all would be normal and "routine" once again. Crisis averted, just as I thought.

The next day I arrived just when he was about to begin physical therapy. I sat in a chair at the foot of my father's bed while the nice, pretty physical therapist asked him to push, pull, and wiggle the fingers of his good arm. I watched as he expertly performed all the tasks that were asked of him. Then she uncovered his right arm. She asked him to raise it. With great difficulty, he lifted it, maybe an inch. "Good!" she chirped. Good? Then she held up his limp arm and asked him to make a fist. I watched as this hard-working, disciplined athlete stared intensely at his lifeless hand, pressing his lips together like he was bench-pressing hundreds of pounds. Nothing. She asked him to perform a few more tasks, all with the same result. After a few minutes, I walked to the window, pretending I was gazing at the snow falling outside of it. Truth was, I didn't want Dad to see my tears. I kept thinking about the man that taught a classroom of teenagers all day, then ran up and down a basketball court for hours that evening, all so he could pay for my ballet lessons and trips to Cedar Point. I wanted to run over to his hospital bed and shake him, saying, "Knock it off, stop being a pansy and make a fist, dammit!!" But I didn't say anything, and Dad didn't make a fist, and here we are in this new world of "Post Stroke."

So, together, my siblings, our spouses, and my parents enter this new chapter of our lives, hopeful but uncertain about the future. The funny thing is this: Dad seems to be having no trouble accepting this change. The man who lived life under a strict schedule of routine and order is adjusting to this new challenge with acceptance and dedication. He's never complained since he's been hospitalized, even when asked to undergo dozens of uncomfortable tests at odd hours of the day. His physical therapy is long and intense. He does what he is told. When a therapist once leaned over to help him up, her ID tag dangled in front of his face. He grabbed it and read her name, "Erin Hoolihan, a fellow Irishman!" he exclaimed with a smile. Who is this cheerful man?

Ironically, I'm more like my old man than I like to admit. I'm terribly impatient, quick tempered, and I hate change. Mostly, I hate this change he, and the rest of us, are being forced to accept. I'm trying to learn from the supreme example he is setting and press on, as he is doing. You know, I recently planted pansies in my garden here in my new home in York, PA. I've learned that they are actually incredibly resilient flowers, often blooming in extremely cold temperatures, even when covered with several inches of snow. They're also the first plants to rebound from the cold in the Spring. Don't tell my Dad this, but I think he's an INTENSE pansy!!

Actually, maybe things aren't so different after all. Once again, like in his childhood, Dad's being asked to rise above the difficult circumstances he's been dealt, work hard, and show them who's boss. If that's truly the case, then this damn stroke doesn't stand a chance...

Thanks for Reading!!