Sunday, February 28, 2010


(Warning: This post relates heavily to previous posts so, if it makes no sense to you, that's why! Sorry it's not a literary masterpiece but I'm just where I am today!)

Another important lesson I learned from my mother's death is this: if no one is actually, physically, immediately DEAD or DYING, how bad can it really be?

I spent today estranged from the whole fairy dust principle. I cried my way through church and then wrestled all afternoon with hopelessness and some pretty staunch bitterness at God (among others) about circumstances in my present situation.

I finished my open house, went home, and took to my bed. Turns out God had a correspondence course waiting for me on TV. I don't really know how it happened, but I found myself watching a show about two young college women who were involved in an horrific car wreck. One died. The other suffered a brain injury and significant facial swelling. Their identities were switched at the scene of the accident and their families mourned/nursed the wrong person for over a month.

Who can watch such a thing without trying to imagine how all the parties involved might feel and what it would be like to get a second chance like that? In the course of this mental process of empathy, I was walked, step-by-step to the conclusion I've come to before, to the lesson I've learned before but that is easy to forget:

Really now -- no one is dying here!

Next up: the "anything and everything" principle

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

As She Lay Dying

The summer I was 23 my mother was busy dying. It's an intricate thing, this prolonged method of dying. The demon in our midst was cancer. Cancer of liver or pancreatic origin. No one ever decided for sure. It didn't matter anyway because it was far-flung and out of control by the time they found it.

To harbor hope or to dissolve into despair? To live or to die? To make a big deal out of every moment or just live in an ordinary day? Those were the existenialities we wrestled with that summer. Every moment, waking or sleeping, was steeped in a surreal kind of terror. We walked a tightrope of agony.

But you soon learn the necessity of just going on with the ordinary. To try to infuse every pregnant moment with importance and meaning is just plain exhausting. Mother wasn't into resolving issues, reconciling relationships, or making moments. She was just trying not to throw up and wishing that something would make the pain subside. It was hell and none of us wanted to live in our hell. We all just wanted to find a way to pass through it.

But we, the onlookers, the family, suffered only emotional agony. Mother's emotional agony was compounded by her impending doom and by the cruelty of her physcial agony.

It had started with digestive problems over the course of a year and a half or so. She knew something was very wrong but could get no diagnosis. Then one day she awoke with a circle of burning skin on the side of her ribcage. It burned like fire, felt like sunburn only worse, she told me. Turns out it was a spot of wayward cancer trying to eat itself out from the inside.

There were other spots too: on her lung, on her liver, in her spine. Silly little "spots". They sound so innoncent. But they aren't. They mean there's very little hope to be had. They mean the cancer has taken over. But you fight it anyway. Even Mother, who always swore (in theory) that she would never do chemotherapy, did chemotherapy.

The first day of chemo felt strangely exciting -- like the first day of kindergarten or something. I guess it allowed us to feel like there was something we could do. We could march into the hospital all smiles and joviality and fight back. It was the most active attack we could launch.

They weighed her (114 that would drop to maybe 80 by the end) and took her blood pressure (having blood pressure meant that some things were still in working order, right?). And then they sat her in a high-backed turquoise vinyl recliner across from a soap opera on tv and started filling out forms.

She had to sign papers to promise not to sue the hospital if they spilled any of the chemotherapy drugs on her skin. They would burn her skin on contact. And they were cheerfully about to pump this poison into my mother's frail body. That's when the bottom fell out for me.

I wanted to run away. I wanted to call in the adults to handle this. Oh wait -- we were the only adults there were. Twenty-three counts as adult. But twenty-three is still WAY to young to have to think about pumping poison in to your beloved mother to try to kill the evil thing inside her that is even stronger than burn-on-contact poison.

She threw up for a week. Sleep. Throw-up. Sleep. Throw-up. The cycle just repeated itself. Day and night. Every day we hoped it would be over. Every day it just continued. I had to shut off the empathy function of my brain. I couldn't bear to think how she must feel.

It was early afternoon on Thursday when I took the grocery list and drove 25 minutes into town to the store. The small-town Oklahoma grocery store was dim and dank. Focusing on the products lined neatly on the shelves was difficult. I had to push aside the shroud of despair that enveloped me and fight back tears at times to concentrate on the task. Peaches. Cottage cheese.Monterrey Jack cheese. Brisket. Most of the food wasn't for mother. It was for the rest of us -- those who had to keep up our strength to take care of her. Those of us who got to be normal but felt crushing guilt for being so. Pudding cups (for mother). Pedialyte (to try to keep her hydrated). Toilet paper. For normality. Even though I couldn't have felt more detached from normality, swirling as I was in a surreal place where life and death clash,while walking among people who were existing in the presence of life, blissfully detached from of death, consumed by their trivial day-to-day concerns.

About halfway though the store I came to the end of an aisle. Parked at the end of the aisle, two women in their late 20's stood talking over their carts.

"MY mother is driving me crazy!" one of them bitched to the other. "She blah blah blah."

"Oh, MINE is worse!" the other countered, "She blah blah blah.

They laughed and shook their heads at the burden of the mothers involved in their lives, healthy enough to be irritating.

I made a wide circle around them, annoyed, gave them an bit of an evil eye, listened to their continued complaining about the women who had give birth to and raised them as I worked my way down the next aisle, forming a speech to them in my head. It began with, "MY mother is at home in bed on chemo" and ended with "You ought to appreciate that your mother is alive!" In between was the crazed rant that kept me from saying anything to them. I didn't want to shame them and I didn't want to unload my heavy baggage on their blessed, ordinary day.

In rhetrospect, I should have said something to them. My words, my situation, the message I had for them was important. I did them a disservice by not delivering the lesson. In the two decades since, I have tried to make up for my omission by telling this story anytime it was applicable. I hope it's proven important to some. It's a lesson you can never truly absorb until you've lived it. But I hope today I can give someone a new appreciation.

My mother died on October 15, 1989. Five months after her diagnosis. Two years after her symptoms began. She was 48 years old.

I still miss my mother desperately. Even the passage of twenty years has not dulled the cruel agony of that time or the depth of the loss. My daughters never got to meet the grandmother who had SO looked forward to having grandchildren, who saved a big basket of building blocks from my childhood for them, who had envisioned summers full of grandkids at her house on the lake. We all lost SO much.

Now, go call your mother if you can! Or make your kids read this!

To see a photo of my mother, Carol Baker Cromwell, scroll down to the end of the previous post "Mortality in a Box"

Footnote: Today, February 25th would have been Mother's 69th birthday. Happy Birthday Mother!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Socks and Dust Bunnies vs. Alpha Cat

If you read my previous post "Fairy Dust" then you know that snow sprinkled and sparkled onto my car. And that God has given me His divine blessing. Now my socks have confirmed it!

You know all those missing socks that we accuse the poor, innocent dryer of eating? Sure you do! (Especially you, my dear cousin who reads my blog -- you seem particularly obsessed with it!)

I was REALLY starting to wonder if the secret sock society hated me because I have a whole basket full of single socks. A big basket, I might add. Most sane people would have thrown them all out and bought more by now but it was the principle of the thing for me (and perhaps I'm not a sane person anyway!). I knew that all those socks were in this house SOMEWHERE! And I was going to find them (ok, wait for them to turn up eventually -- but it's idealogically the same process)!


I spent most of the day cleaning (read: unearthing) Sara-Grace's room. Under her chair I found a dozen socks! I recognized them as the runaways because I have futilely tried to match up their lonely mates many times and had thus developed an uneasy familiarity with them. I think the missing faction had formed an alliance with the dust bunnies there under the chair and I suspect they were plotting to overthrow the Alpha cat in the house and launch a hostile takeover of the game cabinet -- just for something to do.

And then, as if finding one batch of missing socks weren't joy enough, I came across ANOTHER batch! Twenty or so socks were camped out in the bottom of a basket of laundry that an eight-year-old (who shall remain nameless) had never put away. Why she had my socks in her basket I can't say, but who cares? Now I can wear a DIFFERENT pair of socks EVERY day! Oh JOY!

So, as you can see. Great, miraculous things are beginning to happen to me. I have God and the socks on my side (and maybe the dust bunnies too -- no, I swept them all up. Too bad!)

To find your own missing socks, go to the most cluttered, neglected, procrastinated spot in your house. If you listen carefully, you can probably hear them laughing at you and giggling like a bunch of six-year-olds playing hide-and-seek! Good luck!

And now I must go conquer the world!

Delicacies for Monsters

This is one of my favorite stories! This is how I traumatize my children!

One night, a year or so ago, Sara-Grace (then 7) appeared, sheepish and wide-eyed at the side of my bed, spooked (probably from watching "A Haunting" on TV with one of her sisters!) and insisting on sleeping with the big people.

Clearly, blessed sleep would be a long way off if I tried to force her to sleep alone in her obviously haunted, possessed, erie, and just plain EVIL bedroom (cute and pink-laden though it was). So, without even openning my eyes, I relented. "Get in", I said, pulling back the covers beside me.

Little heels dug into the wooden floor beside the bed. That wouldn't do. She wanted to sleep BETWEEN us (because grown-ups make very excellent protective barriers, you know).

But Mark is warm and all, well, you-know, Mark-like, so I told her she had to sleep on the outside. At this, her fear-widened little eyes just got wider and her hands clenched tighter around the stuffed dolphin she carried with her for protection.
On one side of the bed was the big scary window and on the other was the big scary door to the bathroom. Her little head ping-ponged back and forth between the greater evils, looking for a lesser one.

"WHY do I have to sleep on the outside?", she queried. This was followed by WAY too many logical reasonings about marital rights, parental omniscience, the duties of children from her over-explaining mother.

Undaunted and un-swayed, Sara-Grace repeated, "WHY do I have to sleep on the outside?"

I was fresh out of logic on the subject at this point but I guess the usually-elusive "funny switch" in my brain was still awakeand tripped, because, already tickled by my comic genius, I blurted out, in a burst of great humor and unconscionable parental insensitivity, "BECAUSE WE WANT THE MONSTER TO EAT YOU FIRST!"

Mark (who had been watching quietly to see if I would protect the sanctity of our marital spoon) and I dissolved into uncontrolable laughter. Sara-Grace, on the other hand, to this day does not think this was the least bit funny (though I suspect that mature perspective and family lore will combine to bring about the use of this line on her own poor, defenseless children someday).

By the way, she settled for sleeping on the window side (because a window offers slightly less accsessiblity to monsters than an easily-openable door, you know).

Sara-Grace's "Scary" Room!

Friday, February 19, 2010


I have a curious relationship with the color brown. For years -- ok DECADES -- I HATED it.

To me, brown was the color of dog poop and the naugahyde on a Lazy-Boy and ugly panelling and DIRT. Brown is the color you get when you get carried away and mix too many other, colorful colors together -- the color of the water you rinse your brush in while painting rainbows and butterflies. It is the color of mud. And old stations wagons. We had a brown station wagon when I was a kid. With fake wood panels on the sides. Actually, we had TWO of them!

My aversion to brown was so ingrained that my husband (Matt, the first one) always joked that he was going to buy me a brown dually truck (also something I detest) -- with brown interior, of course.

I'm completely oblivious to when the courtship started. Insidious little gestures in unexpected places, I suppose. I'm not sure what year it was that deep dark brown was voted "the color of the year" but I remember being aghast about it. But then I saw it used, and used well, here and there. In catalogs. In decorating magazines. In retail decor and products.

There's something delicious and alluring about shades called "chocolate" and "expresso" and "sable". Maybe it's all in the presentation. There's a lot of persuasion in nuance and association. If they came up with a name that made the color of dog poop attractive, what might we be won over by next?

Those luxurious shades of brown... they lured me. They charmed and romanced me. Their bold drama. Their sophistication. Their deliciousness.

Maybe I just finally climbed onto the bandwagon. I'm like that. I'm usually the last one to come around to a trend. But come around I did. In a big way. When I finally hoist myself onto the bandwagon, I can suddenly see very plainly that everyone else was right.

If you had told me anytime in the 40 years before 2006 that my wedding colors would be pink and white AND BROWN I would probably have fainted dead away. But, indeed, brown was the dominant color at my 2008 wedding. Pink and white were just the accent colors. And all that brown was GORGEOUS, if I do say so myself! (Pictured are my girls and I getting ready to walk down the aisle.)

And I painted my master bathroom an exquisite shade called "chocolate truffle". And there are photos to prove it! Every time I walk into that bathroom I LOVE it. The sparkle still hasn't worn off. I've had to restrain myself from painting the rest of the walls in the house brown as well. I painted our master sunporch bedroom in our little house in Enid "chocolate truffle" too. One room per house -- that's what I'm allowing myself.

When I think back, I remember that my mother hired a decorator once, long ago, to re-do our dining room and the adjacent tv room. The walls were deep, chocolate brown with white trim and white wainscotting. The furniture and curtains were in shades of creme and tan and the accent fabric was a plaid of black, brown, tan, and creme. It was gorgeous. I was very proud to have it be seen by my friends when I brought them home with me from school. I would have the exact same decor today if given the option -- and that was 1977! What else in 1977, stylewise, would I gladly embrace today? Not much!

Now I have to be very careful not to have the all-brown wardrobe. I could wear brown every day. It's the new neutral. It even matches my hair. And I LOVE it. Recently I bought three new tops at my favorite thrift store (for $3 each, I might add). Two of them were brown. One was a designer that I totally covet -- a long-sleeved, brown velvet, v-neck, button-down shirt by Eileen Fisher. For THREE DOLLARS! It probably would have sold new for about $129.00. The other was also orignally expensive -- Banana Republic. I made myself buy a gorgeous green cableknit cardigan too -- just for a little variety in my closest.

So I'm a complete (yes, COMPLETE!) convert to brown. A traitor to my previous staunch position. What really worries me though, is that, lately, I have REALLY come to hate burgundy. Will burgundy come to be my new favorite? Will it overtake my closet? Will I drive a burgundy car? Or maybe even a burgundy DUALLY TRUCK!

P.S. I just read this to Emily (who, by the way, is wearing a burgundy Hollister t-shirt at this very moment). She says that burgundy -- and another of my least favorite colors, navy blue -- are THE new colors! I should have known. I already drive a navy blue car. I guess I'm on my way! Maybe this time I won't be the last one on the bandwagon!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fairy Dust

Launching a career in real estate in the midst of our present economic condition (won't I be glad to retire THAT overused phrase as soon as possible?) may not be the most optimal timing possible. Skip the champagne and the big send-off and just get the ship in the water, captain! Ya know?

A few friends have been more concerned than supportive. One, in particular, basically told me (in so many words) that I'm just plain stupid -- TWICE! I'm pretty sure my dad has decided there's no hope for me and what he sees as my constant stream of "unwise" decisions!

But I've done enough soul searching to know I'm where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to be doing. Houses are just "my thing"! Besides, it's intriguing, sanctioned, voyeuristic trespassing! Too fun! And it doesn't even clutter up the house like my beloved decorating magazines do!

I've been reading quite a bit lately -- hyping myself up on lots of personal success and real estate strategy books. Trying to keep the right attitude. Trying to do it all "right". Trying to be as successful at real estate as are my idols and mentors who have demonstrated for me that it can be done -- even now, in this recession.

Wrapped in a swarm of enthusiastic thoughts, I drove home from work one day last week, sort of communing with and talking along the way to God (such a tiny word for such a HUGE, awesome, ungraspable concept, isn't it?).

"Ok God, like I really need this to go well. I'm doing everything I can think of to bring about my own success but a little divine guidance or a Godly tip or two would go a long way." That sort of thing. I guess I'm a little confrontational and not too terribly reverent with God. But that's just me. I've concluded that He probably understands that (cuz I am the way he made me, right?).

This long miserable winter has been a very overdone production, in my opinion. Snow that loiters for days on end is a rare occurance around here. But the white(turning to gray and black!) stuff has persistently lingered -- like the smell of ripe sneakers! And then every few days (and sometimes several times a day) the flakes start to swirl down again -- just for extra seasoning I suppose! I've even forgotten what that big fireball in the sky is called. But I do believe that, even as we suffer and shiver, God is up to something, conjuring up blessings for us. "All things work together for good..." and all that variety of unfathomable grace!

On this particular day, that yellow thing up above had made a brief appearance and there was even blue stuff up there with it! As I drove along in the winter-drab landscape, communing with the Higher Power on the subject of real estate success, I flung out to the universe something of a challenge. "Ok... so what's the magic formula that can make this all work?"

The instant the thought germinated in my mind, faster than an answer could have been spoken, a cloud of sparkling, shimmering, "fairy dust" the size of a small swarm of bees flittered down onto my windshield. Woosh! God's glitter! I froze, looked around, and waited hopefully to see if anything else would happen. Nothing did, but the fairy dust had been enough.

I know that a gust of wind came along and blew the snow off a tree branch and it settled down toward my car with sunshine illuminating the sparkle factor, but the timing was too perfect NOT to just KNOW that it was an answer to my thought. I believe that, while capable of dramatic miracles, God tends to work quietly within the systems He created most of the time. Why wouldn't he use snow and wind and sunlight to encourage us?

Simply, subtly, I had been granted the magic I requested -- by God, by the trees, by the snow and the wind and the sunshine. I was shown, in a magical moment words really can't capture, that benevolent cosmic forces want good for me. I was granted confirmation that my "foolish" path is really the RIGHT path. God endorsed me. I know it.

Now, all you naysayers, GET OUT OF MY WAY! YOU JUST WATCH ME!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Just in case you were wondering why I'm REALLY lousy at formatting, I want you to know that Blogger has REALLY weird formatting defaults. I have re-spaced and indented every paragraph in "Making Ends Meat" several times to no avail. Funny, it used to ADD spaces. Now it subtracts them. ARGH!

Making Ends Meat

I spent much of my childhood with an awareness that there was a dish that I had never tasted. Like paella and ratatouille, my family never made this recipe. But then, there were lots of dishes I'd heard of that we never ate, so this type of dietary omission wasn't unusual.
Now and then and here and there I would hear people say they "couldn't make ends meat". I always wondered exactly what "ends meat" was.
To my best estimation, it sounded like some type of meat loaf to me. Or maybe it had something to do with rump roast (that's just a horrible term, isn't it)? Or was it what one did with the end of the meat, the dregs -- I pictured the last of the ground beef clinging to the sausage grinder.
I wondered what could be in "ends meat" that was so costly or difficult to make that people couldn't make it and why they valued it so much that they pouted and complained, world-weary, at the deprivation.
I remembered a few of my mother's specialty dishes -- cheese gritz souffle, homemade baked macaroni and cheese, and "Thelma's" (we've long since lost track of who Thelma was!) special oatmeal chocolate chip cookies -- that were only made on rare occasions due to labor-intensity.
Then one day (probably well into my 30's!) it dawned on me... "ends MEET"! Oh.
An image of a large, intertwined segment of thick, heavy rope with it's cut ends touching came to mind. I get it!
Aren't "kid-isms" cute (even in one's 30's!)? Around here we still say "girl cheese sandwich" (grilled cheese sandwich) (unless there are boys around!), "robin noodles" (raman noodles), and "strawbabies" (strawberries). We like these so much that we have chosen them over the correct term!

In an effort to save face, I have decided to call my turkey meat loaf recipe "Ends Meat" from now on. Here's the recipe:

Ends Meat

2 lbs. ground turkey (best, for texture purposes, if it comes frozen in a tube rather than fresh in a tray)
1 small zuchini
1-3 carrots
3/4 cup frozen (thawed) spinach (be sure to remove as much liquid as possible before adding)
4-8 mushrooms
1/4-1/2 onion
1/4 cup sour cream
1-2 eggs
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup cheddar cheese
bread crumbs (completely optional)
garlic to taste
salt and pepper to taste
season to taste with oregano, basil, tarragon, or Italian seasoning or a combination (about 1 teaspoon total)

top with:
grated cheddar cheese

Grate zuchini, carrots, onion, mushrooms, and cheese. Dump all ingredients into a big bowl and smoosh it up with your hands until mixed. Move to a loaf pan (or two -- usually two). Top with ketchup and cheddar cheese. Bake at 375 for about an hour. Be sure to take it out every 20 minutes or so and pour off the excess liquid (created by the vegetables).
This is a good way to use up random vegetables that are languishing in the veggie drawer. You can alter the quantities and types of the veggies as needed.
I created this recipe to smuggle vegetables into little veggie-haters, so it's a wonderful way to hide veggies so the kids don't know they're eating them (I always explain any perceived spinach as "parsley" or "spices"). No one knows they just ate four vegetables (or five, if onions count as a vegetable)!