Category Archives: family

I left my scarf in San Francisco

Last week was the kids’ school vacation, and we headed out to California to visit my mother, my sister, and my sister’s family. It was a really great, if exhausting, trip.

We really lucked out with the weather, on both ends of the trip. It’s been a rough winter here in Massachusetts, with many a snow storm interfering with travel plans. We know a family whose Florida vacation fell through due to a blizzard the day of their scheduled departure. Another snowstorm the day before we left caused many cancellations and delays and complications (ask me about John’s car getting stuck in our driveway). Remarkably, however, our own flight was only slightly delayed.

Travelling with 2 young children is never uncomplicated, though, and the airline threw us a bit of an adventure by not giving us seats together. (They actually had Theo, the 5 year-old, sitting off on his own.) But after much runaround and wasted time on the phone and at the airport with airline employees who claimed to be unable to help, the gate agent gave me a free upgrade to a better seat at the front of the plane, in a section with more legroom, thus giving me better leverage to ask to exchange seats with one of the passengers assigned seats next to Theo. (There was that moment when John and I looked at this sweet seat, and thought that Theo might just be fine on his own…) In any case, the man seated next to Theo jumped at the chance to change seats, practically leaping out of his seat before we even had a chance to finish making the offer. (Oddly, he apparently didn’t want to spend the 6-hour flight sitting next to an unattended 5-year-old.)

In all, the trip out went very smoothly. Our luggage all arrived, we rented a car, we drove out to my sister’s house. We were, however, totally exhausted. The flight was scheduled for 8 a.m., and (living an hour from the airport) we had arranged for a car to collect us at 5. John and I were up so late getting things in order for the trip that ultimately, we didn’t end up going to bed. (There comes that moment when you can decide to go bed for a 2-hour rest to get up feeling like death, or just keep barreling through to get more stuff done.) Given the exhaustion, and the complications of getting there, it shouldn’t surprise me too much that I managed to lose something along the way: my favorite scarf.

Before having realized that I lost it, I might not have identified that particular scarf as my favorite. It was a scarf that I bought on my trip to London with John in 2005, our delayed sort-of honeymoon. I found it in a sale bin at Harrod’s while on a quest to find black and charcoal gray striped scarf. This particular scarf was not quite what I was looking for, being plaid with black and varying shades of gray. However, I quite liked it, and over the years, I found that it became my go-to winter scarf. It went with so many of my various black and gray clothing choices. It was also a very soft cashmere. I contacted a range of lost-and-found departments (airline, airport and car rental), but had no luck finding it.

In the end, the loss felt a bit like I had made a sacrifice to the travel gods for an otherwise safe and successful trip.

So, enough about the scarf, and more about the trip, which was mostly unaffected by my not having a winter scarf with me. Because the weather was perfectly gorgeous¹. It was mostly sunny and clear, with high temps ranging from the low to high 60s. (This after coming out of a New England winter with many days when the high didn’t get up past 20.) We had lots of fun excursions, big and small. We had quality family time, with lots of cousin playing and bonding time. We got to see my aunt and uncle who were passing through town, visiting my mother. We had lots of birthday celebrations (for my sister, my 2 nephews, and for Phoebe). The week rushed by in a blur of kid-wrangling and meal-planning and catching up with my family. I had actually hoped to be able to see some friends who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, some of whom I haven’t seen in many years, but never managed to make any arrangements. (So I did bring back some guilt for having missed those opportunities. However, it is always a very different thing to be travelling with my family than when I travel alone.)

Now we have been back almost a full week in the land of ice and snow, and our hectic over-scheduled schedule. I miss the relaxed mornings of vacation. I miss my family and the warm sunshine. And I also miss my scarf.

¹ This gorgeous weather, unfortunately, is not what California needs right now, as there is an ongoing record-breaking drought. Happily they did get a bit of rain after we left.

Harvest Home

With the big changes that have happened in our family this past year have come smaller changes. For as long as I can remember, we have spent Thanksgiving down at my in-laws’ in New York.¹ It seems quite likely that we have never before had Thanksgiving here in our own house.

This year, as I said, things changed. Since she is no longer taking care of my father-in-law full-time, my mother-in-law is now free to travel. John’s siblings, who all 3 live in Texas for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, invited their mom to spend Thanksgiving in Texas. This meant that, amazingly, we had no plans to travel ourselves for Thanksgiving. We would have the holiday at home.

While I have enjoyed the times visiting my in-laws for Thanksgiving, I was quite happy about the idea of staying home. I usually do all the cooking for our subset of the family for Thanksgiving anyhow, so that part was not a change. I was particularly happy about the idea of using our own dining room, and using our good china.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of holiday meals at my grandmother’s house. She had an extensive collection of china and serving ware, from a variety of family sources. The china cabinet covered one whole wall of the dining room in her house, with floor-to ceiling shelves hidden away by 3 wooden sliding doors. Setting the table with the fancy dishes was something of a cross between a ceremony and a reunion with much loved friends.

My children will never get to visit my grandmother’s house, but I am quite taken with the idea of starting the tradition of the holiday table here at home with them. (Holiday meals at my in-laws’ had become increasingly simplified and informal in recent years, with dinners typically eaten up in my in-laws’ bedroom at a card table.)

Today, we spent time clearing the dining room of the detritus of various projects, and we set the table in earnest: heirloom linen table cloth, cloth table runner and napkins, glass goblets, special silver, and candles. And, of course, the good china. We donned our fancy clothes and celebrated our bounty and our thankfulness for our family and our home.


The spread. Phoebe is here wearing a dress that had been my sister’s in the late 70s, and then my cousin’s.


Our turkey-less turkey day feast: Tofurkey with roasted root vegetables, stuffing, green beans. Not shown in this photo: fresh baked bread, cranberry sauce that Phoebe made, and mashed potatoes. Everyone participated in the preparation of the meal.


Our feast wasn’t entirely turkey-free: Phoebe made this little guy to grace our table.


Ready to dig in.


My pie. (With a rather sad frozen gluten-free crust, but the pumpkin part was very tasty.)

Hours later, I am still feeling full. And also rather fulfilled.²

¹ There may have been a few years when my work schedule interfered. I vaguely remember working Thanksgiving the one year I worked as a waitress, and then it’s possible that it was sometimes hard to travel on the day before Black Friday in the years I worked in retail. But even that was a long time ago, as I quit my retail job almost 14 years ago.
² But also somewhat daunted by the thought of all the hand-washing of fragile and heirloom dishes that is yet to be done.

twists and turns

The last week has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride.

After a week off from commuting, I had an extra day of meetings in Boston. I also was busy getting ready for Phoebe’s birthday party, which was on Saturday. (Yes, Phoebe’s birthday was in February. We’re a little behind.) The party came and went on Saturday, and it all went well, though it was quite a lot of work. (We had it at our local playground, so there was lots of stuff to be transported, especially since (me being me) I had to make things complicated.)

Saturday night came, and I was pretty zonked, but happy with how things turned out with the party. I thought about calling my mother, but decided to wait until Sunday. As it turns out, she wasn’t home Saturday night, anyhow.

My mother went into the hospital on Saturday with acute G.I. distress , which had started on Friday, and was diagnosed with a bowel obstruction. There was talk of surgery, and she wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything until the blockage in her small intestines was cleared. She went through tons of tests and procedures, and there was talk of new diagnoses. The short story is that by Tuesday, it was determined that she didn’t need surgery. X-rays showed that the obstruction had resolved, and further tests confirmed. By Tuesday evening she was allowed to have clear liquids again, and by Tuesday night she could eat (soft) solid food. I was elated!

More good news is that no evidence of cancer was found, and no new disease. The doctors now think that there was an adhesion related to her 2011 surgery. As of yesterday, she is home and recovering.

As you might imagine, the last few days were on the stressful and busy side. There were lots of phone calls and emails with friends and family. There were flashbacks to so many of the previous crises, including my mother’s cancer scare of 2011, and of course my little nephew’s ordeals with cancer and all the surgeries related to that. (Including, you may remember, 2 surgeries for bowel obstructions.) My own insides felt like they were twisted into knots. I checked out flights to California, and started to try to figure out my schedule for a trip out there to help with my mother’s recovery. It looked like things might go on for many days if not weeks, and recovery from surgery is never easy.

Now I’m feeling a bit dizzy from the week’s crazy ride. I’m so relieved that my mother didn’t need surgery, but sorry that I’m not out there. I’m so glad that my sister lives near enough to be there to help, but I wish I could be there, too. I don’t get to see my mother, my sister, or my sister’s family nearly enough. It’s times like this that the country feels entirely too large.

On Monday night, when John and Phoebe were out at their karate classes, Theo asked me to sit and draw with him. I drew the doodle above with colored pencils on a large index card, and found it to be very relaxing. I must have spent over an hour just drawing and coloring it, transferring much of the tension of the day into pressure of the pencils as I lay down the swirls and twists of color. It was only later that night that I realized how very intestine-like my drawing turned out to be! Twisty, turny, tangled and complicated. Much like life.


Here is Theo’s version of the squiggly doodle.

The past tense, and other grammatical implications of death

One of the things that often strikes us, after someone’s death, is that we have to make a shift in how we speak of that person. It suddenly becomes an error to say “he loves popcorn.” Indpendent of the subject’s history of affinity for popcorn, there is that crossover point between loving popcorn, and having loved popcorn. Survivors undergo a transition where they find themselves using the wrong tense, and self-correcting. The realization that we have erred nags at our minds like the red ink marks of a high school English teacher urging consistency in an essay.

Then there is the loss of conjunction. For years, you go to visit Grammy and Grampa. The conjunction and serves to join two noun phrases [Grammy]NP and [Grampa]NP into a single noun phrase. That noun phrase can then serve in a variety of grammatical functions: subject, with nominative case ([Grammy and Grampa]NP called), or various object positions, with accusative (Let’s visit [Grammy and Grampa]NP), or genitive case (We need to remember to bring that book to [Grammy and Grampa]NP‘s house.) With the absence of one referent, the conjoined noun phrase loses both the conjunction and the second noun phrase. It is a simplification of structure that belies the complicated nature of the end of almost 6 decades of married life, a conjunction of law and love and life together that are only hinted at by the word and.

With this loss of the conjunction, too, comes a shift from the plural to the singular, which of course brings its own implications for subject-verb agreement. In the present tense, English requires a different verb inflection for most third person singular subjects than for plural ones. Grammy and Grampa love it when we visit must change to Grammy loves it when we visit, with the inflectional affix -s added to the verb to reflect that singularity. This, of course, reminds us once more that there is only one of the two members of that former conjoined phrase whose actions, affinities and attributes will, by and large, be discussed using the present tense.

We mustn’t forget, though, that we can hold onto the present tense, and even the future; A whole host of constructions are available to us by keeping Grampa in object positions. I miss Grampa. It’s okay to be sad about Grampa. We will hold onto Grampa’s memory.

heat (friday foto finder)

This is the gas heater from my grandmother’s house, in the mountains of Colorado.

I took this photo in 2004. (It was years after my grandmother died, when my mother lived in the house. But in my memory, it is always my grandmother’s house.) This visit was in August, so the heat was off.

I wish I had photos of it lit, so I could show you the gas flames.

I wish I could share with you the pictures in my head of my sister and I huddled in front of the heater on cold winter mornings.

The house was an old one, with the merest nods to insulation. It had been originally built as a summer house, and then enlarged to become a year-round home. My memories of the house are warm, but in the winter most of the house was cold. The room my sister and I shared upstairs, on visits to our grandmother and for the one year when we lived with her, had a smaller gas heater in it, a wall unit that connected to our grandmother’s room next door. That heater was rarely lit, though, and mornings (especially mornings) in the bedrooms were cold. Frost-on-the-window-panes cold. I remember getting up out of the cozy double bed my sister and I shared (the bed that had once belonged to my great grandmother), climbing out from under the blankets and heavy comforter, and emerging into the chill of the bedroom. We’d rush downstairs, seeking out the relative warmth (and the house’s only bathroom). We’d sit on the floor in our nightgowns those cold dark mornings right in front of the heater, bathed in its warmth and glow. I remember leaning back against the short hallway wall the heater faced, and stretching out with icy hands or feet to warm my fingers and toes, holding them as close to the heater as I dared, my eyes transfixed by the glowing patterns of the ceramic grates and the dancing blues and oranges of the flickering gas flames.


This rather chilly post was brought to you by this week’s prompt for friday foto finder: heat. Please go see what heat others have to share.

p.s. I just noticed that my post title read “friday foot finder,” thanks to autocorrect. This makes me giggle, but I have changed it anyhow.¹

¹ Really, this needed to be a footnote.

I heart NED

Tomorrow I head back home to Massachusetts. As always, the trip went by too fast on this end, though I feel like I’ve been away from my people too long.

I’m gathering my things together, and packing up my miscellaneous items. By far the best thing that I get to take back with me is peace of mind. My mother heard from the surgeon today, and got the run-down on the pathology report. Things look good. Really good. No cancer was found in any of the lymph nodes biopsied. While there is one last test result that will take a bit longer, all the evidence points to the cancer having been completely removed. Things are looking very good for my mother not needing to have chemo treatments.

This news came a few days behind some other very welcome news: Diego’s latest scan showed NED: No Evidence of Disease. (He had his quarterly scan on Monday morning.) Diego has now passed the one year mark off treatment, and that is something worth celebrating. What’s more, nothing beats getting to see how well he is doing with my own eyes.

The big bonus for me for this trip is that I’ve gotten in some quality time with my sister and adorable nephews, who live only a few minutes walk from my mother’s. (Unfortunately, I’ve barely gotten to see my brother-in-law, as he had to travel for work this week. He left Monday morning, on the heels of my Sunday night arrival, and then isn’t coming home till tonight, on the heels of my Saturday morning departure. I’m trying not to take it personally.)

I’ve had a really great visit with my mother, and she’s continuing to recover well. (I know that she will sleep easier after the good news on the pathology.) Since she has to take things easy and stay close to base, we’ve had time to chat and enjoy each other’s company. I’ve also gotten to meet and spend some time with some of my mother’s many wonderful friends who live nearby. It’s been moving to see how many people really care about her–there have been lots of phone calls, visits, emails and notes.

Tonight being my last night here, we had some tasty Indian food delivered for dinner. Among other topics, we talked a bit about Thanksgiving plans, and my sister remembered how she spent last Thanksgiving. I got a little choked up in my Chana Masala thinking about all the scares we’ve had these past 18 months or so, and how thankful I am that we seem to have made it through.


I saw this water-beaded purple petal on my sister’s front steps this morning. It reminds me a bit of the purple heart beads that kids get from Beads of Courage at the end of treatment.

here I come

It was a long day today, and I am pretty well wiped out. I need to get packing and go to bed, as I fly out to California in the morning.

I was born in California, and even though I’ve now lived far longer in New England than I ever lived in California, it always feels a like going home when I visit. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that my sister and then my mother moved back there, either.)

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of my personal icons, a symbol of a place and a time of my life. (Funny to realize that it was the first bridge I ever crossed, as I was born in San Francisco, but lived in Sausalito.) I remember crossing the bridge many times as a kid and teenager, and always being a little thrilled by it.

When I go out to visit these days, it’s rare that I cross that bridge. As my mother and sister live in the East Bay now, the Bay Bridge is the one we most often take. But I always seek out the Golden Gate Bridge from afar when I can, even if it’s just a glimpse from the airplane.


This is a painting of mine from back in the days when I took painting classes. It’s based on a dream I had when I was 4 years old. In the dream, my mother and sister and I were fish, and swam across the San Francisco Bay from Sausalito. It was a rather complex and very bizarre dream, involving Coit tower and an improbable system of elevators. Somehow I remembered many details of the dream up through my mid-20s when I painted this. The memories are much fainter now.


This post was brought to you by nostalgia, a glass of red wine, and mental exhaustion after a day of doing laundry and nagging children to pick up their toys.

P.S. I just noticed that all the links from my happy song post were broken. I fixed them. Didn’t I say I need to be packing?