Friday, January 30, 2015


Boy, life around Streicherville has been pretty rough lately. 

First, there was Christmas and the return of two prodigal daughters. So many special occasions and unexpected complications in daily life. That was disruptive.

Then, in an instant, the holidays ended and life returned to its normal routines. Okay, that was an adjustment.

Finally, disease struck. Again, the schedule went topsy turvy with a trip to the ER, various doctor visits, and then fell all to pieces last week in an unexpected three-day stay at the hospital.

All of these changes have been awfully tough on a certain member of the family.

And I don't mean me.

My poor Rangey has been walking an emotional tightrope.

You can see for yourself how anxious and agitated he's become.

Oh, if only there was some way to calm him down and encourage him to relax.

The truth is that Ranger is a man of strong habits, and he's not been too fond of all the changes we have endured in the past month. In fact, he's been as jumpy as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. 

Or maybe as jumpy as a dog in a room full of rocking chairs and cats. I can't be sure.

But my point is this. Now that the dust has settled, and I am home again, none the worse for wear, and settling back in our familiar routines, Ranger is ecstatic. Add to that the fact that I've been logging big chunks of down time on the family room couch, as I nurse myself back to full health. Which means that finally, FINALLY, Ranger can allow himself drift off for a blissfully long and soul-deep nap, content in the knowledge that I will remain faithfully at his side.

Until the sun sinks low in the afternoon sky.

And then he will wake up, stretch luxuriously, look at me with that mischievous Irish sparkle in his eye, and demand that I take him for a walk

Yep, life is definitely back to normal for Ranger and me. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Root Stew

BOOM. It happened in a flash.

I was wandering through the produce department, looking for some dinner inspiration, when my eye caught ahold of this triumphant beauty.

Between the vibrant colors and the pleasing geometric shapes, I never know whether to cook with these rooties, or just whip out some watercolors and paint them instead.

Root vegetables!

I know, I know. 

These are not exactly the Lamborghinis of the veggie world; the truffles and white asparagus.

They don't have the snob appeal of an up-market Audi, such as the sophisticated leek, or a hipster-friendly Prius-esque Brussels sprout.

I put back a few of the carrots and grabbed a sweet onion and set myself to chopping. The parsnips and carrots were transformed into circles, but I did my best to cube the turnips. 

Because, you know, I am super fond of square roots. Ba-dum-CHING.

No, no. These underground-grown gremlins are at the humble end of the vegetable spectrum. Ain't nothing fancy about them at all. But dang, when it's time for some no-nonsense work to be getting done, they're your boys. 

This sprig of rosemary was left over from our Christmas dinner. That was quite a few weeks back. But hey, it looked fine to me so into the pot it went.

So I bought 'em.
I took 'em home

And I used 'em to make me a good ol' weekday stew.

Browned stew beef.  Chopped veggies. 
Black pepper rosemary, and enough vegetable stock to fill in the gaps. 
And before serving, I blended in about a tablespoon of flour to thicken.

Trust me. This was no fancy, fussy, midweek feast.

But it was fast and filling and chock full of good nutrition.

Not to mention flavor. The root vegetables lent a predictably earthy but surprisingly sweet vibe to the savory stew and all of my diners expressed satisfaction.

With a crusty bit of bread and my ever-present go-with of sliced apples (not pictured), this root stew was a meal sure to please everyone, just like the trusty Toyota parked in my garage. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

House Tours

Don't you just love having a good look around someone else's house?

I do.

I'll gladly admit it. I first perfected the art form when I was a little girl at my grandmother's house.

Whenever I got tired of playing out back with my brothers - which mostly consisted of us beating each other over the head with wooden croquet mallets, so honestly, I was done with that pretty quickly - I would go back inside by myself and explore.

Touching and examining every knick-knack within reach.
Pulling open the drawers.
Checking inside the cupboards
Inspecting the bookcases.

And if I was feeling particularly brave, opening up the closets and exploring all the way to the back.

My third-born's Vietnamese bedroom. 
Better believe I snoop at my daughter's house too. 

I'll be honest. I still love going to visit people in their homes.

Not only is it interesting to see whatever is there to see, but I learn so much about the people who live there. Wandering around in a person's little slice of terra firma tells so much about who they are and what they value, and I really enjoy that intimate experience.

And you know, if I am down for noodling around other people's homes, then it's only fair that I let my visitors explore my house too.

Okay, so maybe these shapes might be the first clue that a geometry teacher lives here.

So this week has been really fun. As I am getting back on my feet after surgery, I've invited most of my students to come work here at my house for a session or two. In normal life, I meet with my students either in their homes or on neutral territory, so hosting our sessions at my house is a novelty indeed.

Now some of my students have known me for quite a while, and have already had a chance to come over and see what I'm all about.

But many of my newer students have never seen, or probably even imagined, my life outside of a math textbook.

where we work on math and get distracted by the cats who sit outside the door and stare at us. 

You know how that goes. Seeing your teacher outside the classroom is always so weird. My third-grade teacher lived in my neighborhood, and I felt wildly uncomfortable whenever I rode my bike past her house. Once I saw her looking out at me. Creepy.

And since my mom was a fifth-grade teacher in our local schools, many was the time that she and I would encounter her students around town, usually at the grocery store.  I found it such a fascination to watch them first adjust to the concept of "Whaaaaaaaat, my teacher eats real food??" and then stare at me in wide-eyed wonder while my mom introduced me as her actual human offspring.

Now, I'll be honest. High school math teachers are probably the bottom feeders of this phenomenon. We don't exactly stir up notions of excitement and colorful living; most of my students probably assume that in my spare time, I sharpen pencils, measure things with my protractor, and eat stale bread crumbs.

My origami twinkle lights. A worthy distraction.

So I love to watch my students as they walk into my home for the first time, and attempt to integrate the surroundings with their existing notions of who I am.

My two darling seventh graders today were a perfect example. In the midst of our scintillating discussion about solving systems of equations by elimination, I noticed that one of the girls was distractedly staring off in the direction of my kitchen sink.

"Do you have a question?" I gently nudged.

"Yes," she tentatively began. "Are those paper boxes over your twinkle lights actually origami balloons?"

"Go see for yourself," I encouraged. "Both of you. And while you're up, go check out the paper snowflakes in the living room."

My paper snowflakes. I love them madly.

Several minutes later, the girls returned, full of questions and comments about their explorations. After a bit more conversation about the pros and cons of organizing books by color, we settled back into our routine and finished our work.

But as the girls were leaving, I noticed that something had shifted between us. Sure, I was still their boring old math teacher but now they had a glimpse of me as a person. Certainly, they had always treated me with polite respect, but now, they seemed genuinely interested in finding out maybe a little bit more about what makes me tick.

So in the interests of forging human connections and taking our partnership to the next level, I hereby offer the girls a link to my blog, where now they will be able to digitally step inside my house and explore to their hearts' content.

Huzzah! Welcome, girls.

* * * * *

If you would like to wander around my house, please be my guest. 

Click here to begin.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dear John

One good thing about my stay at the hospital: more wristbands than a weekend at Coachella. 

Dear John, my Gallbladder,

I'm sorry but there is only one way to say this. We are finished. 

And I have to be honest. It's not my fault.

I blame you entirely for ruining our relationship. 

Sure, in the beginning, we had a great time together. Soft and pliable, you were so easy to get along with. Patiently storing up your magically helpful bile and discretely secreting it into my small intestine at just the right moments, you helped me break down all the yummy fats in my diet and extract the maximum nutrients. You were the strong, silent type back then, and I fell for you right away.

But there, deep in the dark quiet of my abdomen, you betrayed me. Behind my back, you began to process that innocent bile into evil gallstones. Year after year - for decades! - you deceived me into thinking that everything was fine between us. But secretly, you stockpiled those square-sided, sickly yellow stones until there were literally hundreds and hundreds crammed into your smooth gray-green pouch.

Oh sure, looking back now, I can see the warning signs that I missed along the way. All those screaming cramps in my abdomen and ribs - accompanied by radiating pain up into my shoulders and back - repeatedly struck me down with unrelenting agony. I blamed everyone and everything else for my problems - my food choices, my touchy stomach, even my stress level. But I gave you a free pass, never suspecting that you would be the one to hurt me so cruelly.

It was early this month that I could no longer make excuses for you. After 48 hours of torment, I dragged myself to an emergency room, still breezily blaming others for your transgressions. Could be a stomach ulcer, I rationalized, or maybe my appendix. But the ER doc took one look at me and with the instincts of a practiced marriage counselor, guessed exactly what was wrong. Pressing just so on the right upper quadrant of my abdomen, he watched knowingly as I gasped in pain and suddenly realized the truth.

"That," the doctor said to me, "means that you probably have a sick gallbladder."

I was shocked.
I was speechless.
I was utterly and completely caught off guard.

Because I never suspected this treachery of you, my gall bladder. Never in my wildest dreams.

Fifteen minutes later, hopped up on oxycodone and whirling with heartbreak and confusion, I saw with my own two eyes the proof of your deception.

An ultrasound image. A wavering grey outline of your shadowy shape, apparently filled to the half-way mark with bright, gleaming stones. Far too many to count.

My unquestioning love for you changed in that moment, instantly and forever.

A week later, I sat down with a surgeon who told me, "It's time. You need to get rid of your gallbladder right away." And I knew he spoke the truth, even though his words cut me like a knife.

With the reassuring ease of a good divorce lawyer, he explained that our incompatibility most likely went back to the days of my first pregnancy, when wild waves of estrogen changed the chemical composition of my bile and influenced you to begin stone production. And when I noted that there seemed to be a family propensity for gall bladder disease, he clucked his tongue in sympathy and consoled me. "This surgery has been a long time coming. You'll feel so much better when it's done."

Deep in my heart, I knew he was right.

But on the night before my laparoscopic procedure, I mourned for the end of our relationship. I wasn't sure if I was ready to let you go. But as I fought to make my peace with your leaving, I held on to one last, comforting thought. At least, I reminded myself, the pain is finally over. After tonight, my gallbladder will never have the power to hurt me again.

Little did I know that you had more agony in store for me. During the surgery, my good doctor discovered that your cursed supply of stones not only filled the inflamed and acutely sick gallbladder to the very top, but also spilled out into my swollen and distorted cystic duct and even on into the adjoining common bile duct.

A second procedure would be required to clean out every last trace of your damage. And so, even though your diseased pouch had already been unceremoniously removed and whisked off to a pathology lab, the final remains of your treachery would remain in my body for one more afternoon and evening of torment.

In those last twelve hours of misery, I came to hate you with every fiber of my being.

Thankfully, my miracle-working medical team eventually got a handle of my pain, and the next day, removed every last trace of your handiwork. I am now permanently free of you, my gallbladder, and every wicked stone that you ever created.

Our relationship is over.


I forgive you for what you did to me, but only because I choose not to carry any memories of our sad and broken relationship forward into my bright and shining future.

I am so much better off without you.

And I wish you plenty of luck in your new life as a lab specimen. Have fun with that.



Saturday, January 24, 2015


I'm good at handling lots of pain.

I excel at managing trauma, dealing with the unexpected, and responding to a crisis. 

And I keep a very calm and cool head in a state of emergency. 

But when the dust has settled, and all that remains is to quietly rest, while the body is allowed to repair its wounds and the psyche recovers from the wild ups and downs, I am at a loss. 

I struggle with the slow stillness of recovery. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015


The past 24 hours have been a wild ride. 

My first surgery. 
My fist experience with general anesthesia. 
A rare complication that caused a lot of unexpected pain and held me over for my first overnight stay in the hospital. 

But a new day has dawned. My medical team has wrestled my pain into submission and expects to resolve my complication this morning. 

And I am very grateful. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hearing Voices

Today was a rough day to be my mother's daughter.

Mom dialed me up this afternoon, an extra phone call between our two regularly scheduled daily check-ins.

This is rarely a good sign.

^ My maternal grandmother, Clara Minnie Marie Belz Lewis, with a toddler version of me. I always loved and admired her pretty house dresses and braided German up-dos. 

^ My brothers and I made up an amazing game, called "Squeeze Grandma's Earring." I wonder if she enjoyed it half as much as we did.

Sure, enough, her dementia-fueled anger and anxiety were clearly raging, but Mom's two grievances were soundly grounded in fact.

Did I, or did I not, tell all of her good friends to go away? 

Well, in a manner of speaking, that is true. The aides who have served Mom for the past thirteen months are nice ladies who ran her errands, tidied her house, cooked some of her meals and kept her company for a few hours a week. But these women have no training in how to care for people with dementia, and as Mom's disease has progressed from moderate to severe, their lack of expertise was no longer acceptable. So this was their last week for serving her, and Mom is now in the infinitely more capable hands of her qualified caregivers, whom she has also come to know and love over the last three months.

Did I know that my brother has withdrawn a very large sum of money from her savings account and is using it to pay for all these @#$%^ aides?

Hmm. Yes, it's true that my brother has had to cash out some of Mom's investments in order to pay for her home care. But that care is absolutely essential to Mom's well-being, and sadly, that's just the way life has to be.

* * * * *

Rather than argue or disagree or try to parse these fine points of logic with her, I simply sat quietly and let my mother rage at me.

And boy, did she ever let me have it.

She said that I had ruined her life.
She hoped I was happy that all her money was being wasted on aides she does not want or need.
And she told me, at least ten times, that she never, ever wants to see me again.

Goodness. This isn't the first time that my mom has spoken such harsh words to me, but it's not the sort of thing that one gets used to hearing.

I know this isn't really my mother.
This is her illness.
This outburst was the work of an insidious disease, and I am not to take it to heart.

Still, these words are hard to bear.

^ Carl Allen Rex Lewis (yes, his initials spell out his first name) was a mid-century gadget guy with a special passion for Polaroid cameras. This photo was taken by the clerk at the drug store who was selling Grandpa the first of several models he would eventually own.

^ In a shockingly rare moment, Grandpa agreed to let someone else operate the camera so he could pose in the shot with me (the thumb-sucker) and my older brother. This is the only photo I have that shows my grandpa and me together. 

But in the midst of this mad chaos, there is a quiet, still voice that calms me. Two voices, in fact.

This may sound trippy and weird, but they are the voices of my grandparents. My mother's parents, Clara and Carl, who have long since passed from this world into the next.

In the small spaces between my mother's hateful words, my grandparents whisper to me.

Thank you, they say.
Thank you for protecting our little girl.
Thank you for doing what is best for her.
Thank you for taking care of her when we cannot take care of her ourselves.

Now, I can't be sure if this is truly communication from the spirit world, my active imagination, or just wishful thinking, but I can understand how a parent's love for their child might be that powerful and transformational and real.

I'll be honest. The idea that my grandparents are sending loving support not only to my mom but also to me is a source of great peace and comfort.

And on days like today, I am grateful for all the help I can get.