Being Well

The other day I had my final phone session with my “Be Well” health coach. This is a well-intentioned employer-sponsored program, which encourages you to scamper on a hamster wheel for a tiny handful of (taxable) hamster pellets. You are supposed to set two goals for the year – a health goal such as: “I will exercise for 30 minutes three times a week,” and a more holistic “fun” goal such as: “I will read three books a month.” My coach and I had been in touch throughout the year. He always seemed to call when I was in the midst of a catastrophic crisis. I suppose this isn’t so surprising, considering the fact that there seemed to be a fresh disaster every other day this year…In any case, he was well aware that I was far from meeting any of the goals we had made together.

“So, obviously I didn’t meet any of the goals I set back when I thought ‘working on music’ was something I was going to have the luxury to do this year. But I helped my sister weather a serious health crisis; I lost my beloved dog; I got diagnosed with cancer; I had two major surgeries; my kids got in a scary car accident on their second day of school, which totaled the car; and my dad is now facing his own serious health issues.”

There was a triumphant quaver in my voice as I concluded my speech: “But I still managed to be productive at work, to take care of my family, and I didn’t fall apart. Given the circumstances, I think that’s far more impressive than expanding my musical repertoire.”

I still didn’t get my handful of hamster pellets.

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After a month in the ICU, my sister was finally able to move to rehab. It happened to be on the same weekend I had been planning to be in NYC with my daughter, her quartet buddies, and their moms.

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It was a happy reunion with my daughter, whom I hadn’t seen in a month. My son spent the weekend with us too, and helped us navigate the city and transportation.

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Evening stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge

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At Dear Evan Hansen

By March I was back home…

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In like a lion, out like a lamb.

Our sweet dog Tallis had been sick for quite some time. We finally had to say goodbye.

IMG_6985.jpegOver spring break, we took a sleeper train to Chicago with our son. IMG_7765.jpeg

 

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Cloud Gate, “The Bean”

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In my parents’ garden

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Pre-Easter Hunt Warm-up

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Easter Egg Hunt

IMG_8053.jpegIMG_8060.jpegIn May I was diagnosed with breast cancer.IMG_8122.jpegIMG_8289.jpeg

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Upping her game with Pre-Formal warm-up in high heels.

 

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Middle School graduate

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My dear old Dad

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Chiles Peach Orchard in Crozet, Virginia

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The cat was rechristened Paloma, although she is still mostly called “The Cat.” She still rules the roost with a velvet fist.

In July I had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.

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My parents came to visit after my first surgery.

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Look, Ma, no braces!

 

 

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1st day of school

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2nd day of school. The car hydroplaned off the road on the way home from school.

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We took a pic a day to document her recovery.

 

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Thank goodness for young skin!

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My boys

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My #1 Goalie

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Back to work after a couple months off to recuperate after surgery.

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Chloe

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I made it to half a century!

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Checking in on my New Yorker…

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We take Halloween very seriously at work.

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Apple picking at Carter Mountain Orchard

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Beautiful fall sunrise from my bedroom window

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Working on the FAFSA…

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After trying and failing to convince my husband to get me a puppy, I finally had to take matters into my own hands.

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My husband’s annual Christmas concert with his early music ensemble.

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The wolf shall lie down with the lamb…one day?!  To date, Chloe continues to ignore Gingersnap’s bouncy puppy overtures with icy disdain.

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They say people and their pups often resemble each other…

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Christmas with all the cousins in Princeton, NJ

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This may have been the best ten minutes of 2019 for me…

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On our way home from NJ, we stopped in Philly to check out Drexel.

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Happy New Year, Everyone! Be well!

Fall Memories

It’s been a gorgeous fall…

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It’s been a busy Fall…

I made a quick visit to Arlington to see my parents and brother…

My friend and I took a weekend trip to New York to see our kids…IMG_9191

I’m always amazed at how much Morningside Heights has changed since I was a graduate student. It’s a little disconcerting, (but awesome)! that there’s a farmer’s market right on Broadway.

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The Guggenheim has always been my favorite New York museum. The scale of it is just right for an afternoon visit…But first we had to wait in a line that literally went around the block for Pay What You Wish admission.

We caught a two-day art installation projected onto the side of Rockefeller Center by neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer.IMG_9234

Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” statue has just moved to its permanent home in Richmond, Virginia at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, but we got a sneak peak while it was still in the middle of Times Square:

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Back home…OKAX4117

I tried (and tried and tried) to convince my husband that the perfect I-survived-cancer, 50th birthday gift would be a puppy…IMG_9263

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Will he cave?

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“Heart of stone”

For now I’ll have to settle for visiting my friend’s adorable new pup.

I took the kids to see Adam Silver talk about The Business of Sports…

My book group buddies and I went to Pennsylvania for the weekend. We sat by a campfire, made terrariums, and befriended the local fauna.

A weekend visit from a dear friend and a trip to Carter Mountain apple orchard inspired two more trips to pick the most delicious Fuji apples!IMG_9351

We went through shocking quantities of Fujis this Fall..

IMG_9501IMG_9500IMG_9497IMG_9533Working on college applications and the dreaded FAFSA…

Halloween!IMG_9464

We’re always running a little behind…hence my daughter’s Halloween party in November:

A too-short but sweet visit from my California girls:

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Signing off for now. Hope to be back in this space a little more regularly.

This weekend…

I turned a half century.

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I did NOT get my birthday wish, despite being completely unsubtle about what I wanted…I figured SURELY turning 50 and surviving cancer would mean my husband would get me a puppy.

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He did not. But that’s ok, because now I know exactly what I’m getting him for Christmas!

I got to celebrate a huge win for my daughter’s team and did not drop dead of a heart attack despite all the stress. (Being the mother of a goalie is no joke).

And I got to spend precious time with my family, including my oldest son who was home from New York for a long weekend…

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Phew! I’ve managed to survive my first half century!

 

 

2019 is kicking my ass, but I’m still standing

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Cor. 4

The last time I visited this space I was posting a video my sister and I made to make our sister Annabelle laugh. Let me explain…It was January, and we were road-tripping to New Jersey to take her to her 6th and last round of chemo. Annabelle had handled chemo, like she handles everything in life, like a Boss. We were giddy with the thought that our sister was almost through her ordeal. We deliberately made my already messy car even messier, chortling as we imagined Annabelle’s reaction when she watched the video. (I have to admit though, I really did happen to have a rubber horse mask and a can of green beans in the car, because, I mean…doesn’t everyone travel with those essentials)?

That week my sister crammed the fridge and freezer with food so Annabelle’s family wouldn’t have to worry about meals until the End Times. I got the easy gig. I drove Annabelle to her appointment to keep her company during her day-long chemo infusion. We talked, we laughed, we napped. I’m pretty sure it was the longest time I got to spend one-on-one with my sister ever. The circumstances were lousy, but I will always remember that day with Annabelle as a gift.

On Saturday, my sister and I drove back to Virginia in a celebratory mood. Annabelle was done with chemo! The next morning when my sister called to tell me that Annabelle was at that very moment lying in an ambulance being stabilized after having a stroke, I could hear the words she was saying, but could not process them. By the end of the day, I was back in New Jersey with my sisters and my parents. My brother flew in the next morning. My sister and I stayed in New Jersey, keeping vigil over Annabelle, who would be in the ICU for more than a month. Bleak, dark winter days bled into dark nights and weeks. Later, doctors, nurses, and social workers would tell us that they hadn’t expected our sister to survive. That thought never once occurred to my sister and me. In May, just in time for Mother’s Day, Annabelle finally made it back to her own house, where she continues to fight like the badass she has been since the day she was born.

Life hasn’t been the same since. I’ve been driving up to New Jersey as often as possible to take my parents up to see Annabelle on weekends. In March we lost a dear family friend to cancer. At the end of that same month we came to the bitter realization that it was time to put our sweet dog Tallis to sleep. IMG_6985Another friend was diagnosed with cancer shortly before I too was diagnosed with…you guessed it: cancer. By that time I was so numb, I wasn’t even surprised. I tried to avoid telling my poor, beleaguered parents for as long as I could, but finally had to break the news when I drove up to Arlington to take them to visit my sister with an ice pack tucked under my arm after the lymph node biopsy I’d had the day before. The jig was up. Having to tell them I have cancer was far worse than getting the diagnosis, and, (hopefully), worse than the double mastectomy I’m having next week.

During those terrible weeks when my sister and I sat in the hospital with Annabelle I was tortured by the question of suffering. Why? What was the point of this all? Why should people be born into this world to suffer? One earnest student chaplain trotted out a trite answer…something along the lines of, “If we didn’t have bad times in our life, would we truly be able to appreciate the good times?” I abruptly ended our conversation by telling him that I could truthfully say that I have never in my life needed to suffer in order to appreciate good times. My husband, a professional philosopher, gave me a couple alternative justifications from the academic canon that left me cold. When I turned to Annabelle’s pastor, who visited her faithfully every single day she was in the hospital and at rehab, he looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t have a good reason why people suffer. I’ve never understood why they should have to myself.” For some reason, that honest, painful answer was what I needed to hear.

Life has been so pointlessly cruel lately, but to my surprise, I find that I am not drowning in a quagmire of despair. I can’t begin to understand the point of suffering, but what I know with blinding clarity is that human kindness is a force stronger than illness, or even death itself. My family and I have been sustained through this year by the thousand acts of kindness shown to us by family, friends, and perfect strangers who have become friends.

My sisters and I could not have survived the harrowing weeks in the hospital without each other. There were so many others who helped us get through each day. Debbie, who worked in the hospital cafeteria and was caring for her own very sick mother, would bring my sister and me trays of food whenever she noticed we hadn’t been able to leave Annabelle to eat. One day, she came in on her day off just to check in on us. A friend whose own husband was in the hospital in his final days kept emailing me to see how I was doing. Once I got back home to Charlottesville, friends came with me to my own medical appointments when my husband was out of the country. We have been awash in a steady stream of texts, cards, flowers, casseroles: the currency of kindness. Lately life has been heartbreaking, but people, people have been amazing…proof that there is love and goodness and beauty in the world still,

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Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned. Song of Solomon 8:6