Monday, March 28, 2011

My Neighbor's Opossum

See this nice old lady? That is Miss Terry. She is holding Louise. In case you're too polite to mention it, yes, Louise is an opossum.  She is Miss Terry's pet.

Miss Terry would love to talk to you about that possum.

I snapped this picture today when Miss Terry sidled up to my car window to chat.  I was bringing Normal Neighbor home from chemotherapy, and Miss T lives right across the street from her.  She was standing at the end of her driveway like someone who wanted very badly to be chatted with, so I obliged.  I kept the engine running because otherwise I would still be there, God love her.

This is actually the second possum that Miss Terry has kept as a pet.  This story is now engraved in the book of neighborhood lore: Some children were playing in the creek down behind Miss Terry's house and found a little half-drowned baby possum. They brought it to her and she nursed it and raised it, in the process learning quite a bit about the thriving subculture of people who keep possums as pets. Or she tells me it's a thriving subculture. I have yet to perform the first google search.

The first possum and Miss Terry shared several happy years together, until one day, it got out of the house and went missing.  For more information, call 1-800-COYOTE.

We moved into the neighborhood in the dark days following First Possum's disappearance.  These days, in neighborhood chronicles, this is referred to as the Interpossum Era.  I heard all about First Possum from Miss Terry herself, when she cornered me at a cocktail party at my next-door neighbor's house. She was so distraught when telling about losing that possum, we both cried.

But word spread throughout the land that Miss Terry loved having that opossum and would be thrilled to get another one.  You can't exactly buy them at Petsmart though, that was the problem. At length, somehow, another baby possum turned up. I think someone rescued it from a roadkill situation. (A mother possum on the side of the road may have babies in her pouch; the possum lovers always stop to check.)

So Louise came into Miss Terry's life and neither one of them could be happier. Or Miss Terry couldn't be happier, I am not that sure about Louise.  Seems like a pretty nice life.  Miss T says that they are trainable, about like a cat, and make very agreeable house companions. Her fur is very soft, and if you can get over the long, long, ratlike tail, she is cute.  Her little nose is quite mobile and her ears remind me of bats' wings.

Laura told me that she went to Miss Terry's house and fed grapes to Louise while Louise climbed all over her. I only have to suppress the tiniest of shudders when thinking of that.

It is a measure of the crazy stuff that goes on in this neighborhood that I have never blogged about Miss Terry.  You can see why I need this forum for working through these things.

Shortly after I snapped this photo, Miss Terry convinced me to open my car door and let a Basset hound climb in.  The dog was roaming around loose and Miss T wanted to take Louise for a walk. I wish I were making this up.  I wanted to tell her that I would rather hang around and watch the Basset hound eat the possum.  But instead I collected the dog and drove it to its house, the home of the Mystery People. Figures.

Dog's name is Bess.

I hope you've enjoyed this slice of life in my 'hood.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How Is Normal Neighbor Doing?

I had lunch with Normal Neighbor today. Several of you blog friends have asked me how she is doing since her colon cancer diagnosis. Thank you for thinking of her. She's had two cycles of chemotherapy now, and this week she's well enough to play tennis. She was at practice this morning and is playing a match tomorrow, despite being so ill last week that she had to go get IV fluids two days in a row. And her doctor had told her that "this wouldn't be the kind of chemo that makes you really sick." It just goes to show, there is no telling how a person will react to treatment. I am worried about her, because she has to have ten more cycles of this stuff. I'm hoping they will get better at managing her side effects.

I was hoping to play doubles with her this week, but the captain didn't put me in the lineup.  I think because I am the worst tennis player in the world, and nobody wants to be my partner. Pouty lip. Or sure, maybe it's because not everybody can play every week, whatever.

Also, today I hit my practice partner in the back of the head with my serve.  Thwack. Smacked her square on the head.  She was fine and of course I apologized profusely, but in my defense, she is tall!  And she needs to scooch over! That ball was going in until it ran into her head.

So it was an awesome tennis morning.

But then it got better 'cause I got to catch up with Normal Neighbor. We talk regularly, of course, but she hasn't really been up to doing too much. And it was nice to have a chat with no child hangers-on. It is truly amazing the way our neighborhood has turned out in support of her family.  I mean, when I had my surgery and treatment last year, we were well taken care of, but nothing like this.  There are probably fifty people on the meal roster; their family has had meals since January. At first every weeknight, now a few times a week.  The K(C)athies and I got her a massage.  And there's a fund everyone is pitching into to pay for her house to be cleaned twice a month.  NN has lived here a long time and everybody loves her.  It is really something. This coming Monday is my day to bring her lunch during her chemo infusion, sit with her, and drive her home. I had to throw some elbows in the neighborhood to get that gig. I might have pissed off the tennis captain, and I don't think Laura will ever be welcome in Girl Scouts, but I'm in.

It's funny though, Normal Neighbor was telling me about how a woman she has known a long time--not a close friend but a neighborhood acquaintance--won't see her since her diagnosis. She's cooked two meals for NN's family, but delivers them to the house of a mutual friend, and NN has to go get them.  NN thinks she is simply uncomfortable and doesn't know what to say. She said, "I think she expects me to be on my deathbed."

I agreed that it's surprising how some people just get weird in the face of illness.  I told her how, last year, there were a couple of people who avoided me all summer.  People I'd been friendly with, whose children Laura had played with, just suddenly had this strange blindness to my existence.

This one chick would see me across the pool, studiously avoid me (and I was fine with that because she's the world's most tedious bore), and then later would tell Pretty Neighbor, "I saw Becky today but I didn't get to talk to her."  Oh, because there was that river of radioactive slime between us, of course you couldn't come over to say hi. And I was at the freaking pool. So it wasn't going to be some awkward hospital bedside conversation. It's me, reading Us Weekly.  I'm fine, really.

Not to make this all about me.

So we had a nice lunch and a chat and then we went to TJ Maxx, where I bought a workout top and Normal Neighbor bought her dog a new set of food and water bowls, fretting that they weren't exactly the right shade of pink. Not the right shade of pink. For a dog to eat out of.  Because getting the pink just right is who she is.  I tried to reassure her that any dog would be lucky to put its snout in those peachy/coral pink bowls, and we called it a successful outing.

I hope y'all are well. Weather is gorgeous here. So gorgeous. It's hard not to feel like everything is going to be a-okay.

Monday, March 21, 2011

We All Kept Our Dignity This Time

My mother-in-law Betty and I went to Ikea today. She is visiting for a couple of days, and we were drinking coffee in my sunroom this morning when she espied a little footed bowl in an issue of Country Living. We had just gotten Hank off to school, so we agreed we should go down there in search of this footed bowl that would probably solve all our problems and make us better people. The desert would bloom if we only had this footed bowl.

So we rolled down there.  Then we each had the meatball plate.  Then I tweeted that we were at Ikea because I am all about the examined life.  @SuburbanHaiku responded with her usual pith:

Ikea field trip
Overwhelmed! I always choke.
I'll just have meatballs.

Yes, exactly. But Betty and I ate our meatballs.  I was feeling good. I was feeling the pleasure known only by a woman in the middle of the morning while her children are in school, miles away.  A woman wearing tall wooden clogs and comfortable jeans. I was ready to put the hurt on some Ikea. But then I got serious. "Listen," I said. "No matter what I say to you later, no matter what you hear, don't let me buy pillows or textiles.  No matter how I beg. I need you to be firm."  Betty promised to throw her body between me and the Annamoa fabric-by-the-yard.  I still haven't done anything with the two yards I bought the last time, the time my sister threatened to punch a guy.

In the end I kept myself pretty well in hand. There was one close moment, down in the downstairs section where they have all the dishes.  That's where I can sometimes just lose my shit.  I don't need a thing in there, but when faced with decorative trays in graphic patterns or whimsical highball glasses, I kind of black out and start buying presents for people I don't even like. I'm highly aware that this is a trouble spot. So I confined myself to taking a picture.

See? Nothing I couldn't resist, even if they did have the most adorable tablecloths and dishes to match that blue floral pattern. I just remembered my mantra: I already have nice things. I already have nice things. I already have nice things?

In the end, I kept myself in hand. I bought:

roll of easel paper
taper candles in celery green
tealight candles
CF lightbulbs
doormat to replace the one the dog barfed on
a small sheepskin

I know, BORING. But I already have nice things. I already have nice things.

Betty bought tab-top curtains, a small sheepskin, scissors, and casual silverware. She said, "I'm tired of polishing my silver all the time."  I was just impressed that she polishes her silver. I never do that because I am slatternly.  I tell myself it's a beautiful patina.

We couldn't find that footed bowl anywhere. And we didn't even get any cinnamon rolls.  I already have nice calories.  I already have nice calories.

Then we headed back north. I like to just pop in to Ikea from time to time and see what is going on in there. It was a nice morning for us.

Do you have a shopping mantra? If so, tell me what it is and I'll put it in my rotation. xoxo-B

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I'm Back at It, Baby

This morning I played in my first ever tennis match.  This is huge for me.

Despite being generally active (and liking the outdoors), I've never been what you would call athletic. And team sports? My sister can corroborate: the Odom girls do not do team sports. Too much chance of jamming a finger or somebody ending up crying. Yes, there are moments from my brief childhood church softball career that still haunt me.  Like the time I was in the outfield and managed to catch a fly ball.  I was so surprised and thrilled that I just stood out there doing a special little dance instead of throwing to second base.  It was awkward.  Watching adults try to restrain themselves from pointing out my mistakes was not my idea of a good time.  Better to go inside and play Trivial Pursuit.

Yet last winter, I let Normal Neighbor talk me into getting on a beginners' tennis team she was starting.  During my first team practice, I pulled a muscle in my butt.  I felt like such a jock!  Glutes!  GLOOTS!  I practiced for several weeks before getting sidetracked by the whole breast cancer shebang.  I had to quit before I ever got to play.

But spring doubles has started back up, and we got together for practice yesterday and had our first match today. Boy did I miss Normal Neighbor at the first practice. She was our team captain before she had to quit and deal with her own cancer stuff, and I needed her out there to put up with my shaky serve and gossip during water breaks.

And today we had our first match.  I was put in line 5, which means I'm mathematically the worst player on the team. My partner was very sweet, though, and our opponents, Misty and Christy (no joke) were also newbies.

Y'all, it was really fun.  We lost, but I had some good moments, I really did.  I'm not uniformly bad in all areas.  I think the 30 Day Shred really helped me. I ran around and didn't get tired.

One especially super awesome moment was when I had to yell out to our team captain, across another court, "HEY WENDY, IS IT OKAY IF I SERVE UNDERHAND? THAT'S LEGAL, RIGHT?"  Everyone from the other team paused and looked over to see the Venus Williams in their midst.

Then I served underhanded, the ball was in, and we played the point.  I heard my name being called.  I turned back to see the captain and my other teammates shaking their heads.  "No, Becky," they called out. "You can't bounce it for a serve."  Oops.

You see, at an earlier point in my life that might have been embarrassing.  But somehow my self-image is unassailable by that kind of thing. We all laughed.  

Live and/or learn.  

It was really fun. I was happy just to play and I can't wait to get better.  Another plus is that, in this league, there is major food after the match.  I already hold a Grand Slam title in women's snacking and I will be defending it vigorously.

Friday, March 11, 2011

One Year Out

Wednesday was one year from when I got diagnosed with breast cancer.  I noted it, and I'm glad to have put it a whole year behind me, but I don't really want to see that date etched in marble.  It's funny, I can think about and remember my surgery, which was March 30, or the weeks and months of chemo, or having 28 days of radiation treatments, without any pain.  By the time we were doing those things, we were in a state of purposeful action. I don't feel bad thinking of those times. I even feel proud. After all, everything went well, and a lot of good things happened too. Like, I don't think about chemo without remembering what a great summer we had--so many fun mountain weekends and so many tubing trips down the river--but when I think about the shock and newness of that diagnosis, and the time leading up to my surgery, where every day lasted a week, I shrink up a little inside.

To celebrate (?) I had to go down to the surgeon's office yesterday for a mammogram. I knew she wanted to see me in March, so like a good girl, I scheduled the appointment. As soon as I'd done it, I felt fear. I knew everything would be fine, but I just didn't want to go.  That night I had this conversation with Matt.  I paraphrase:

Me: Why does everything suck so much?

Matt: Um, which things honey? Because actually everything is awesome.

Me: I don't know. Things.

Matt:  This is about having to go get a mammogram.

Me: Yes. I guess that's what is sucking. I'm cool with everything else.

So it had me in a funk. But guess what? I went and it was fine.  When you're having a mammogram of only one side, it doesn't take as long. Bonus.  And the radiologist read it right there and then the nurse came and told me it was all clear.  Then she said the radiologist wanted to meet me.  I was like, "Of course he does! Having seen that, come on!"  But it was a chick and she was very sweet. Then I was on my way, relieved.

I'm not really worried about the other breast anyway.  I'm worried about having a metastatic recurrence somewhere else in my body.  I say I'm "worried," but it's not that I'm losing sleep. More that this possibility, sometimes a dread, is now part of my new normal mental landscape.

I have several magical beliefs, though, about keeping the cancer from coming back that I'm acting on:

1) I feel that if I exercise regularly, the cancer won't come back.
2) I feel that if I eat good whole foods, the cancer won't come back.

Those are the two main ones.  Then we get into a still more magical realm.  I have lots of beliefs about things like green tea, a robust social network, cabbage, and having a grateful heart that I will not inflict upon you right now, but we can talk about it if you want to.

One that might interest you is my now almost paranoid avoidance of BPA.  You know, the stuff that is everywhere in plastics and can linings? Okay, avoiding it in cans is not paranoid, it's just good sense.  We don't eat anything out of cans anymore unless I know the canning process to be BPA-free (very few of them are). But lately I've been reading about how BPA is present in much greater amounts on cash register receipts.  The thermal printing process that a lot of stores use has a powdered form of BPA coating the paper, activating the ink.  Have we gone crazy that we are putting this stuff everywhere?

Anyway, so when the cashier says, "Would you like your receipt?" I say no thanks. And if they automatically hand it to me with my change or whatever?

I drop it on the floor.  Yes.

I just haven't figured out a way to say, "You know, no thanks, that is covered with a toxic endocrine disruptor and I don't want to touch it, but you hang on to it."  So I just let it flutter to the floor.

Now you know everything, reader.  At the beginning of this post you were probably all on my side and now you think I'm a litterbug.  I have some good qualities though. I hope you'll stick around for another year at least.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Teacher Appreciation Week: Mo' Appreciatin'

Sunday night, after the kids were in bed, I was mentally surveying the week to come. Imagine an old-time riverboat captain, very grizzled, dueling pistol tucked into his belt, studying the river ahead of him for logs, outlying shoals, or maybe one of those little Huck Finn-type rafts. I am like that Captain. So I was scanning the week in my mind, wondering what needed navigating around and what hazards lay hidden, waiting to swamp us.

Do you get cheery like that on Sunday night?

Then I saw it: Great Caesar's Ghost, Teacher Appreciation Week. Helm hard alee! BACKPADDLE!!!

I have held forth in this space before about the phenomenon of the suburban Teacher Appreciation Week and how it offers unparalleled opportunities for moms to outdo each other while adding extra items to your domestic to-do list, every single day, for a week. Sure, I'd gotten about twenty emails from the room mom about this event, but somehow, when I saw Teacher Appreciation Week looming up out of the fog, it gave me a nasty turn.

My first fearful thought was that Monday was Handmade Card Day.  Laura had gone to bed, so I was already planning to lay out the card-making supplies and have her tackle it before getting on the school bus. Then I double checked and breathed a huge sigh of relief: Flower Day.

"I hope she likes daffodils," I thought.

I went out into the dark and cut the only two daffodils I'd managed to protect from Hank's predations.  (You know the adorable way that little children bring you a flower that they've torn from the stem about two inches below the bloom? Let's just say I have lots of bud vases.) I bundled them up with the old wet-paper-towel-in-a-sandwich-baggie trick and called it a night.

There are other goodies for each day of the week, and every morning a different mom is bringing the teacher an iced, nonfat, no-whip chai latte.  I am not one of those moms.  I guess I have given myself a pass this year.

Today was handmade card day, and Laura wrote this note:

She thanks her teacher for being "good-natured and respectful."  I don't know what to make of that.

She also wrote a poem which I will not inflict on you, as asking other people to appreciate your child's poetical offerings is like wanting them to listen to the dream you had last night. Suffice it to say that it included the lines:
In Autumn, leaves fall like colorful tears,
Color strikes the world like a prodigious ray,
The outdoor design is different each day. 
Hmm, if that don't make her feel appreciated, then I don't know what will?  But just in case, I'm sending in a gift card for Ann Taylor.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Last week when Matt was preparing to go to his Granddad in Little Rock, I packed a bag for him.  I do this sometimes to ensure that he arrives at his destination with more than boardgames and socks that were packed to cushion the boardgames. I only packed casual clothes, though, so when he was leaving, he got his suit out of the closet and checked to be sure he had tie, belt, etc.

A couple days later, I was in our closet getting my own things ready, when I happened to look over at Matt's side, where I espied his suit pants.  I thought, "Hmm, I wonder what pants Matt took with him?" He is a one blue suit and one tuxedo guy, so there were not lots of options. I grabbed the pants and took them along. 

Then we were in Little Rock, in our hotel room, getting dressed to go to Granddad's funeral.  The shirt he'd brought was a new one.  After taking the pins out, he said, "Should we iron this, or should I just keep my jacket on?"  I love that question.  And his liberal use of the word "we."  So he whipped the iron out and I did a quick but okay job.  I just hit the fold lines, you know.

Then he put it on and said, "Uh oh, this is a tuxedo shirt."  It had French cuffs and he hadn't brought any cufflinks. I could not think of anything to substitute for those, so I invoked Tim Gunn and told him to put on his jacket and make it work.

In the lobby, I asked his dapper cousin, Michael, if he had any cuff links. I mean, Michael had tied his own bowtie that morning. He looked like the guy to ask.  He had no cuff links, but he told me I could create some out of hair elastics. He produced two of them from his wife's stash and told me to tie them in little knots.  "They'll look just like the ones from Brooks Brothers!" he said. I was skeptical, but I did my best. And look, not bad!

You just tie a knot in the end of one of the skinnier kinds of hair elastics, and then put the little loop left hanging out over the knot you've made.  Thread it through the buttonholes and do the same on the other side. It got the job done. True, they were olive green, but I am practically certain nobody cared.

And in case you would like more narratives of people getting dressed, I wore The Hardest Working Dress in Show Business, a black floral number that I wore to my cousin's wedding.  This dress has truly been to four weddings and a funeral. It's good to have something you can always reach for, you know? For this occasion I added a black sweater and pearls.

And Laura wore an Easter dress and a white cardigan. I don't think anyone puts children in dark clothes for funerals, do they? I mean, unless you find yourself attending a service before 1901? This could be a regional thing. 

We trekked up to Hector, Arkansas, for a wonderful graveside service led by a close family friend, then back down to Little Rock for a memorial.  There were many happy, celebratory moments.  I loved seeing all the family.

And I think that how nice we looked is the reason that the state trooper who pulled us over for speeding between the burial and the memorial did not give us a ticket.  I like to think those hairband cuff links played a role.