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Lucky No. 7 on Friday the 13th (and some bad news, too)

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Big little Zuzu turned 7 on Friday the 13th – a lucky day for us.

Ah, me. I’ve been very remiss with The Lolly Diaries. So much going on, so much energy expended with the resistance, and so many appointments with Mother, partly because of a new serious new wrinkle in the fabric of our lives. And we’re still reeling a bit from the gaping hole left in our household by Tess’s departure, especially Zu. (She will get a baby sister for an early Christmas present – we hope she’s happy about that.)

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Zuzu has just never loved opening presents, as all our other dogs have. But she was intrigued by what might be inside.

I grieve for our country, and for the first time in my life, I start each day wondering what fresh new hell that man occupying the White House hath Twitter-wrought. But this is supposed to be a politics-free zone (my Twitter account is another story), so I’ll move on to other topics, mainly Mother’s newly diagnosed condition.

For tortuous weeks we’ve awaited a diagnosis, since we discovered in July, shortly after she turned 82, that Mother is losing her vision at an alarming rate. Now we know she has auto-immune retinopathy, which, in layman’s terms, means her body is rejecting her retinas. This is in addition to, and not caused by, her rheumatoid arthritis. AIR, as it’s called, is very, very rare – that’s how we do things in this family. No treatment for Mother, so we’ll just ride it out.

Of course she can’t drive anymore, but we’re making do. Wednesday she had back-to-back doctor’s appointments and my battery died in her garage (!), so she had her first Uber rides. She is a remarkably resilient woman – a wonder to behold. She intends to keep painting, though she’ll probably have to go rather impressionistic or abstract from now on. I just got her two packs of playing cards for the visually impaired, since she’s still in at least two bridge clubs and will host one at her house Thursday.

And fortunately and fortuitously (or maybe nothing’s by chance), my daughter finished her master’s degree this spring in orientation and mobility for the blind, so Mother has someone who loves her and looks like her to help her adapt as her vision worsens. We’re hoping it will go slowly. It’s already gone so far.

John and I did get away for two fabulous weeks in Sicily and Southern Italy last month, which I’ll talk about another time. I turned 62 in Marsala – a good place since it’s hard to feel old an area formerly populated by Phoenicians.

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That’s me looking through a street in old Pompeii toward Vesuvius. John, who took this photo, said he loves the juxtaposition of the little modern woman looking down a road to the past at the same distant view the ancients saw – I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the drift. (The three random black dots were permanent fixtures on the camera lens of his old iPhone, which he just replaced.)

 

 

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Every little thing

Just a little thing (and very first-world, I know), but when you haven't had one for a decade, a toilet paper holder is pretty damned exciting.

Just a little thing (and very first-world, I know), but when you haven’t had one for a decade, a toilet paper holder is pretty damned exciting.

Seven years ago today, 17 days after he turned 54, our dear friend Tom died of pancreatic cancer. He was a good-looking guy, but his short horrible time of dying was about as ugly as they get.

But through most of it, except for times of extreme pain, he maintained his chipper disposition and continued to appreciate and be grateful for every little good thing that happened.

That was one of his favorite mottos, one John likes to quote with each baby step we take in home improvement – “As my good buddy, Tom, would say,” John says, “it’s the little things that matter.”

How I wish he were here to see how all the little things have added up. Tom would totally appreciate my excitement at having a toilet paper holder attached to the wall, after 10 1/2 years of not having one. He would totally dig our fancy new Toto toilet in the downstairs bathroom (already have one in the fancy upstairs bath).

New Toto, next to new wall next to new shower. Before photo below.

New Toto, next to new wall next to new shower. We hired out the structural and tile work, but painting, all us. Toilet installation, all John. (Go ahead and laugh – that just came out that way. You can’t talk about toilets without potty humor, evidently.)

The old white tub was sinking from wood rot before we got it ripped out – and you can see the old bathroom colors.

The old white tub was sinking from wood rot before we got it ripped out – and you can see the old bathroom colors.

And things would’ve added up a lot faster if he were still here. Tom was as perfectionistic as John and I are – and since he had his own key to our house and knew our vision, he could come and go as he pleased. Though he spent long spells just at our house, we were also his fallback position in between big gigs and got the friends and family rate for his excellent work.

Sometimes we’d come home and find something finished, changed.

Tom stored things in our house – with or without our knowledge. Fed our dogs if we weren’t home. Would yell, “Laura? You decent?” Or, “Honey, I’m home,” before coming to the back of the house where I was.

Tom was a master remodeler – specializing in historic homes – but he also remodeled his life. Once a hard-partying, highly successful hair dresser and salon owner, the Tom we knew and loved had thrown that kind of artistry aside for resurrecting old houses, another form of artistry, one that he loved.

Though it still needs lots of grout removed, you can get the gist of the new shower floor.

Though it still needs lots of grout removed, you can get the gist of the new shower floor. Sadly, we had a communication gap with the crew on the grout to rock ratio. Tom would’ve done it perfectly. And he’d really dig it.

He needed peace, he said, and less stress. His health had been suffering in the fast lane.

Cancer got him anyway. Self-employed before the Affordable Care Act, Tom was also uninsured – as the custodial parent of a teen in private school, private health insurance was not in his budget. When he finally went to the doctor, as an uninsured patient, the doctor merely treated his symptoms, instead of doing any tests – despite knowing Tom’s father had died of pancreatic cancer.

That was during the summer. I was worried sick about him and told John repeatedly that Tom had cancer – I’d seen it before, and the sicker he got, the more he bore an eerie resemblance to Daddy. When he rushed to the emergency room in severe pain on Thanksgiving, he was finally diagnosed and it was too late.

Tom and John made a pact that IF Tom encountered something on the other side, he’d do his damnedest to communicate – to give some kind of sign. If anyone had a big enough personality to do it, it was Tom.

We waited and listened. No sign that we could detect. Then one day more than a year after he was gone, we suddenly noticed a bag of peanuts in the shell, partially gone, in an area where he’d been working and often left his tools. We still wonder.

Late last week, as I was getting ready for work in the upstairs bathroom (the downstairs remodel is still in process), I heard a man’s cough in John’s office. I thought he’d come back home, but when I went to see, no one was there. Hmmm. Honey, you home?

Tom was already a sick man when my now old iMac was new and I showed him the photo booth feature (and snapped this pic). Now the old iMac is mainly for the grandkids to watch videos and play games – and for storing photos. Tonight, pout of the blue, it tried to die on me – got that scary multi-language "You need to restart message." Tommy, is that you?

Tom was already a sick man when my now old iMac was new and I showed him the photo booth feature (and snapped this pic). Now the old iMac is mainly for the grandkids to watch videos and play games – and for storing photos. Tonight, out of the blue, it tried to die on me – I got that scary multi-language “You need to restart” message after the screen went gray. It started right back up, fortunately.
Tommy, is that you?

Abracadabra

The five little grandkids on Halloween: Only agreeable Luke is in posing mode; the girls are too busy talking and Silas is just not having it. Poor Jude tried.

The five little grandkids on Halloween.

Halloween has come and gone – and was fun as usual – but the scary season remains. How I wish I could wave a wand, say “Abracadabra” and have this election cycle behind us.

Even if it turns out to be a liberal’s (even moderate’s) worst nightmare, at least it will be over. The negativity is palpable and seems to have taken residence in my neck and shoulder. Ouch.

Ever the optimist, though, I’ll remain Pollyanna until the last vote has been tallied and the official results are in. Good conquers evil, right?

Guess that’s the No. 1 thing keeping this grandmother from sleeping well at night lately.

The No. 2 thing is much closer to home.

Little Silas has a serious condition that weighs heavy on my heart, eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), also referred to as “failure to thrive” in little ones because they can’t gain weight. If I could wave a magic wand and make that go away – or take it on myself to free him from it – I’d use every ounce of strength I’ve got to do it.

He’s Epi-pen allergic to milk – as in, he can get life-threatening anaphylaxis from dairy products – and also allergic to eggs and peanuts. If he doesn’t respond to being off those and on baby Prevacid, he may have to go off wheat and soy, which showed mild reactions on allergy testing.

I’m not going to go into how bad it can be, but you can follow the link above if you want to read more.

Again, we’re super-optimistic (well, hopeful, anyway) that he’ll do well and outgrow some of it – if people don’t feed him the wrong things. And if the medicine helps.

He’s bright and beautiful and funny. When he starts feeling better, there’s no telling what he can do. I see The Tonight Show in his future. (Look out, Jimmy Fallon. Your replacement has been born.)

We’re lucky to have Dempsey Bakery close by; not only do they have fabulous vegan products, but they love to share their knowledge and help others. What a resource!

We’re lucky Liz and I are already vegetarians – makes it easier to adapt recipes.

Even my little 79-year-old Mother is learning to bake vegan-style so Silas can have Grammy-made treats.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Mother and I didn’t truly go somewhere over the rainbow, but I did get to take her to the Emerald City and beyond.

Our trip to Seattle, Victoria and the Yakima Valley was perfect in every way. Mother enjoyed everything and blossomed before my eyes, turning from a grieving, lost lady into an older version of the feisty woman we’ve known and loved.

Mother and I along the waterfront in Seattle. She got to see just enough drizzle that morning to get the weather stereotype, but most of our trip was glorious sunshine and warmth.

Mother and I at the waterfront in Seattle. She got to see just enough drizzle that morning to get the weather stereotype, but most of our trip was glorious sunshine and warmth.

I’m going to let the pictures and captions tell most of the story, so you’ll see lots of them. But let me add that though Mother didn’t receive any ruby slippers, we both were given beautiful ruby earrings – Mother’s birthstone! – by my friend Julia’s cousin Alyce and her husband, Clay, two of the finest people we’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

Alyce has the fabulous Design Theory Jewelry, an online store that once was a store-store in Ballard, the very neighborhood in which our friends Dave and Nora Nehls live   – a store that our friend Nora and I have visited, which is now the website from which I ordered earrings before I knew Alyce was Julia’s cousin.

Small-world coincidence? Fabulous luck? Semi-charmed life? Good things come to open hearts? I hope the latter, but I will say we are lucky in friends and family.

Mother with Dave and Nora Nehls, our darling friends who put us up for two nights and devoted their time to making my mommy's every dream come true. This is a fabulous alley off Pike's Place Market.

Mother with Dave and Nora Nehls, our darling friends who put us up for two nights and devoted their time to making my mommy’s every dream come true. This is a fabulous alley off Pike’s Place Market.

In that alley, which is also the site of ghost tours, you'll find the gum wall, an impromptu art installation that grew out of what some would see as a nuisance, used chewing gum.

In that alley, which is also the site of ghost tours, you’ll find the gum wall, an impromptu art installation that grew out of what some would see as a nuisance, used chewing gum.

Which proves almost anything, no matter how gross, can become amazing, if not beautiful.

Which proves almost anything, no matter how gross, can become amazing, if not beautiful.

Dave Matthews Love

Dave Matthews Love, chewing gum style

We headed to Canada via the Victoria Clipper, leaving the drizzle behind. We disembarked and walked to our waterfront hotel, the Coast Victoria Harbourside, as the skies were clearing and awoke to this view the next morning.

Couldn't ask for any better.

Couldn’t ask for anything better. Looks like a Maxfield Parrish, huh?

We just happened to be there for the Victoria Classic Boat Festival, so this was also part of our view.

The boats just kept sailing in.

The boats just kept sailing in.

After an early afternoon at Butchart Gardens,

A beauty in the wildly beautiful.

A beauty in the wildly beautiful

Mother and daughter in the arch

Mother and daughter in the arch – a kind woman insisted upon taking our picture.

Grammy discovers gelato in the Garden.

Grammy discovers gelato in the Garden.

we hopped off the tour bus at The Empress for high tea. We couldn’t begin to finish the spread, but we took dessert back for a late night snack in our lovely room.

High tea for two – ever so civilized for two rowdyish southern girls.

High tea for two – ever so civilized for two rowdyish southern girls.

The next morning the Clipper left about 10 minutes late, for which the captain apologized and offered $2 off champagne, which meant we had to have some – and put us next to a pod of frolicking orcas! People pay big money to see what we happened upon by happy coincidence.

Back in Seattle, Dave and Nora met us at the pier and off to Seattle Central by monorail we went. Mother enjoyed seeing the Space Needle, but the coolest things were the singing solar flowers.

Dave among the singing flowers. They glow at night and make you feel as if you're in Oz – or a Dr. Seuss book.

Dave among the singing flowers. They glow at night and make you feel as if you’re in Oz – or a Dr. Seuss book.

The next day it was off to Selah, in the Yakima Valley, where John, Kitty, Dave and Nora grew up and where Kitty lives on a glorious piece of land on a hill. We visited a few wineries. Mother got to meet Lisette, Jeff and Emma (Kitty’s daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter #1) and Kitty and Norm’s friends Nancy and Ron and Pam and Wayne.

Mother outside Windy Point Winery in the Yakima Valley.

Mother outside Windy Point Winery in the Yakima Valley.

Most importantly, our mothers finally got to meet and visit twice. Doris may not remember it for long – she may not remember by now – but it was lovely and they truly enjoyed it in the moment.

Doris and Willette, mothers of Pop and Lolly, at long last.

Doris and Willette, mothers of Pop and Lolly, at long last.

Mother and Kitty on our last day there

Mother and Kitty on our last day there

And I got to meet our new nephew, Farmboy Westley, the precious labradoodle baby.

Young Westley is the apple of Kitty's and Norm's eyes. And that's in the heart of Washington apple country, no small love.

Young Westley is the apple of Kitty’s and Norm’s eyes. And that’s in the heart of Washington apple country, no small love.

So-long selfie to mark a magical time.

So-long selfie to mark a magical time.

Now we’re back. Mother’s doctor’s appointment upon return showed her blood work to be considerably worse in some areas, not so good in others. But she’s still perky, upbeat and seems to have turned a corner. We’ve discussed Italy for her 80th in two years, if her health allows.

But no matter what, our trip showed her to be out of the woods emotionally. She had it in her all along. All she had to do was visit the Emerald City and kick up her heels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I saw the light

An article on Page 1 of today’s Active Style section of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette immediately made me think of my very first column that ran across the bottom of the very first edition of the section’s predecessor, which was called “Health & Fitness.”

The article today is about whether skipping breakfast is a “good weight-loss strategy.” My column stated that diets don’t work and told how I saw the light after years of skewed thinking on the subject.

If you go on a diet, you go off a diet. Most people return to their previous eating habits and all that was lost is lost – i.e., gained back. That’s what I wrote in 1999? 2000? Whenever.

It’s still true, at least for me. You have to change your eating and exercise habits, which I did after watching Daddy die an excruciating death caused by colon cancer when he was 48 and I was 26.

And you have to stick with your changed habits forever.

For me it was about health – I’d been slim since losing my baby fat, as in pregnancy weight and full-faced youthful roundness (and was actually skinny, after the stress of my father’s 18-month illness and death).

At some point I threw our scale out and focused on eating healthy food in amounts that satisfied me, but also eating whatever I wanted in those smaller amounts. Beating cancer, while looking good, of course (I’m still a product of the mid-century South), was the real goal.

I remember well – and this speaks volumes about eating, girls and appearance, at least in our household and many others of the ’60s and ’70s – an episode of That Girl, one of my favorite TV shows when I was 11 and 12, in which Marlo Thomas’ character, Ann Marie, describes her daily weight regimen.

Marlo Thomas as "That Girl." Lots of us wanted to be her in the late 1960s.

Marlo Thomas as “That Girl.” Lots of us wanted to be her in the late 1960s.

I’m paraphrasing (I can’t find the clip), but it was something like, “Every morning I weigh. If my weight is [some crazy low number like 104 – which I might have weighed at 11 or 12], I have breakfast. If I weigh [1-pound heavier], I skip breakfast.”

Is it pathological that I remember that so well? Maybe.

Back to the article today – sort of – which spurred this train of thought. Breakfast played a large part in my change of habits. I’d stopped eating in the mornings when Mother stopped forcing me, sometime in my teens. I also thought I was fat as an adolescent (which I wasn’t, as you’ve seen in old pics if you’re a regular reader) and danced around an eating disorder in my late teens.

But in my later 20s I started eating breakfast almost every day – unless I’m not hungry at all or know I’ll be eating a huge early meal, like on a holiday. It all evens out.

For years it was high-fiber cereal with yogurt, but a few years back I realized I needed more fat in my diet – yes, we need some – and switched to Daddy’s go-to favorite breakfast (my version, anyway): crunchy peanut butter and raisins on whole-grain toast.

I fold it over into a little sandwich so I can walk around the house or work the crossword puzzle while I eat it – or take it with me and eat in the car if I’m running late.

And I eat some good dark chocolate every day.

EVERY day, unless something is bad wrong with me. I also remember well advice from former Arkansas Governor and Senator David Pryor’s mother that every meal, even breakfast, should end with a piece of chocolate. (Or something like that. Again, I’m paraphrasing.)

Oh, and in all honesty, I weigh daily on our Wii Fit. If my weight is up a pound or two, I figure it will go down. If it stays up for two or three days, I automatically eat a bit less and/or exercise more. But I don’t diet.

Because that doesn’t work.