Wednesday, September 29, 2010

At The Paws Of My Master

Deb: I am learning life lessons at the paws of my master. Her name is Bairn. Our wee Bairn, which in Scotland means baby or child. Cute has come to town and she’s peeing all over our hearts.
Wee Bairn
We get a new puppy and, like all of us when we get a new pup, we think of all the things we will have to teach her, but we forget just how much she is going to teach us. About life. She is going to remind us to be curious every single second of the day. She is going to show us how to play and play and play. She is going to demonstrate the importance of stretching every morning when we wake up and after every time we have been still for a while. She will amuse herself with a falling leaf or a butterfly or a piece of fluff backlit by the sunlight. She finds wonder in all things.

Every day is brand new to her like she just got here. She will show us how to follow our instincts, blindly sometimes, even if it means maybe getting hurt. She is going to hop hop hop on her way across the yard cause she is so damn happy to be here. She is going to react to our shouts of “owww” when she nips too hard. We will show her that we are hurt and eventually she will never ever hurt us again. Incredible. She is going to take a good long stare at her poo just to make sure it looks good and that everything is coming out okay. She is going to eat like it is her last minute on earth and cuddle like her life depended on it.

She is going to LIVE in the moment––demonstrated best when she pees and then walks through it. She pees. Then she’s over it. She walks through it to do something new and exciting.

She is going to stand tall, give over, make amends, submit, advance, frustrate and entertain. And she will do all that in the span of two minutes. Then she will do it all over again.

And best of all, she will cock her tiny head reminding us that the world is your oyster when you are too too cute. And she will delight as she watches her human make every sound known to man to try and get her to cock that tiny head again. 

Thank you, our darlin’ wee Bairn. You have reminded us.

Barbara: Deb, this is sooo true—this living in the moment through the eyes of a pup (or baby, for that matter). I remember it with my once-pup, Chaplin, and I remember it with my two once-babies.
Deb and Colin's big bairn with wee Bairn
The other day, watching wee Bairn discover a bumblebee in the bushes in your backyard while you dealt with some of the many hundreds of Deb’s-life interruptions was the sweetest, most calming thing I’d done in a long time. Because, truth be told, I am in a frenzy of work and obsessions and distractions right now, and Bairn––as you so beautifully said––made me stop and watch that bumblebee with her. And so I came to know that a bumblebee can seduce a plant for many many long and patient minutes. That a bumblebee will choose a flower-bud over here and then another one way over there, despite the fact that dozens of other, seemingly wonderful buds dangle between here and there. And that a bumblebee when left alone won’t mind that you watch her. And I also learned that a puppy like Bairn will be just as happy staring in wonder at a bumblebee as she is to discover a minute piece of bark on the walk that just begs to be pounced upon. Over and over again.

It is peaceful bliss when times are hurtling forward at breakneck speeds. Thanks, Deb, for writing this beautiful post, but also for letting me share Bairn’s precious babyhood with you.

Deb: Sadly Bairn is just as awed by the Russian bricklayers next door as she is the bumblebee.  Any port in a storm!

***stay tuned for the next video installment “Deb and Barb Try To Get Work Done With A Puppy Around”***

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Case For Amn't

Barbara: Have you ever had that thing happen where all of a sudden a word you’re using, or want to use, just doesn’t seem correct? Like a common, everyday word. “Potato”, say. You start to question if you got it right. Is it actually really “potato”? As opposed to, say, “pototo, or some completely different word that now eludes you––say, “podpotter”. And you say the word and say the word over and over and the more you wrestle with it, the less and less it makes sense. And suddenly the whole precarious mess of language—especially our illogical English language—just comes crashing down like a sandcastle at tide.

I think by now you know that this happens to me all the time. When you spend as much time writing as I do, this duel with words can get distracting. Debilitating even. It’s hard enough to put the right words in some kind of cohesive-enough “right” order so they make sense to other people, never mind now finding yourself second-guessing if the words are even legit.

Well, the other day, this frustrating brain-fart took on a completely new twist. In my language-wranglings, I found myself staring down a word (or words, really) that turned out to be more riddle than senility. My family and I were sitting around the dinner table weighing in on who was going to have seconds of the barbequed corn-on-the-cob. Went ‘round the table: “I am”, “I am”, “I am”. Got to me and I pulled out a favourite linguistic hiccup from one of my daughters when she was wee: “I amn’t.”

As cute as that is, I couldn’t help asking: why isn’t “amn’t” a proper contraction?! I mean, “do not” is “don’t”. “Would not” is “won’t”. Why can’t “am not” be “amn’t”? And if “am not” needs to contract to “I’m not”, why doesn’t “do not” contract to “I’d not” (as it stands, of course, “I’d not” means “I would not”, not “I don’t”. Why????).

I found myself in that weird world where the more I said the incorrect word, the more I wanted it to be the right one.

Any more word-conundrums out there?

Deb: Kay, I guess I’m sensitive to this one because it’s my profession and it doesn’t really exactly totally completely relate to your post, Barb, but why are women called actresses and not actors? We are actors. Not actresses. Are female dentist’s dentrissess? Female doctor’s doctressess? Plummettes? Writerettes? Bus driverettes? Would lawyers be lawyettes? Would accountants be accountable? Would teachers be teacholettes? Would the Prime Minister be the “Not ready for Prime Minister”? The President­­ Presidentette? Astronette, Cleaning Lady ... oh yeah, well that one’s okay.

But don’t call me an actress. I am an Actor, damn it. Don’t call me an actress cause I amn’t!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Deb and Barb Have A Three-Way

This week we’re going to start a new regular (maybe monthly) feature where we let one of our loyal reader-commenters and friends begin our blog conversation. As Rigel from Winter Light Blog inspired us with her pithy comment about digressions, we’ve asked her to pitch the first ball.

As always, the conversation will continue in the comment-section.

Deb And Barb Have A Three-Way With Rigel

Rigel: Deb, in your post the other day, you mentioned your booties purchase, and you said, "But I digress."

Please do! Yay for digressions and conversational tangents! Of course, I also realize that I will someday be banished to the Siberian gulag for writers who abuse parenthetical asides.

Conversational tangents just make the conversation rich and complex enough that it has its own trigonometry (my favorite subject in math)!

Digressions and tangents are conversational accessorizing. They are the earrings, necklaces, hair barrettes, and purses of conversation. Do you want your conversation to keep its hair out of its face with plain, black bobby pins or with a fabulous peacock feather fascinator?

I'd much rather interact with someone whose conversation is luxuriously draped, intricately embroidered sari silk than someone whose conversation is plain, cream muslin that hangs like a potato sack.
Photo by Rigel
Of course, there are times when conversation must wear its pantyhose, severe black suit, and plain pumps while slicking its hair back into a tight bun (without the cute hair chopsticks!). There are those situations when we must apply that most dreaded word: appropriate. Digressions and tangents would be floppy socks making us trip and fall (rather than cute booties) in cases such as the urgent, efficient patter of a trauma team, a stuffy corporate memo, or testifying on the witness stand!

But, in most circumstances, for me, the conversations that contain the most laughter, the most insight, and the most pleasure are the digressing and tangential ones that are accessorized like belly dancers with veils, bells, and bangles.

Barbara: Rigel, first off, I just love your analogies for “appropriate” conversation vs natural, “embroidered” conversation. As everyone saw in our video post on Wednesday, Deb and I are completely and thoroughly “belly dancer” conversationalists (even without the endless interruptions).

Don’t get me (us) wrong—there are many many days when we get LOADS written, but I don’t think a day goes by that isn’t peppered with a thousand different random tangents that trigger a thousand more, and so on and so on. In fact, “What were we saying?” is our constant go-to lament.

Of course, the comedy of errors really kicks in after “What were we saying?” That’s when we scramble desperately to tangent our way back to point A––because we’re absolutely CERTAIN that point A was of some really urgent, life-changing importance.

But, like you say, Rigel, it turns out that the glory and beauty of these rich discussions is that oodles of gold comes out of our tangents. Feelings not yet realized, experiences not yet shared, fears not yet examined. Sometimes––usually––it doesn’t matter at all that Point A got lost in the shuffle.

Deb: I agree with everything that both you girls say about this. I think tangents are necessary, but they can also hinder a forward motion when ... did I tell you we’re getting a new puppy tomorrow? Cannot wait. We went out to get the little pink leash and the little pink ... there was a gorgeous bulldog there that I wanted to steal he was so cute. My friends bulldog, Julie, used to dive in the pool at his house everytime one of them went off the diving board, but she couldn’t swim so she would just sink like a stone, stand there with her eyes open until someone rescued her ... I took swimming lessons a few years back to up my skills in the hopes that it would get me back in the pool and it did for one summer. Last summer, I went in twice and this summer, just my feet. I don’t know if it’s the pool or the prospect of seeing the sun reflected off of the cellu ... I have this weird tom-tom poundy thing in my left ear and it is really weird and I went online and so many people were talking about it and wondering what it was. My doctor said not to worry but is sending me to an ear, nose and ... throat thing is going around right now and I have to say that I have already fought off two colds since August with the Coldfx. But why? Why do I get so many colds? I am so healthy and I eat well and work out and take vitamins and still my nose starts to get stuffed and I can’t ... smells of Autumn are bliss with people’s fireplaces kicking in and the crisp air begging me to scarf down a caramel covered apple ... Honey Crisp apples?!? What the hell? Soooooooo good and so huge. It’s like an apple and a glass of apple juice in one ... I’ve never really been a juice person though ‘cause ... have I ever mentioned that I NEVER EVER EVER feel thirst? The only time was when I was in labour and it was as if all my thirsts saved up for that one 24-hour period. It was awful ... just like the thought of the boy going back to school. Awful. We have gotten used to him being up in his room since he got back from his summer job, having dinner with us and enjoying his company again and I am already stressing about him heading back in October ... the heavenly month in Ontario where everywhere you look is God’s canvas. I think God called it his colour phase.

Barbara: What were we saying?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Video Of A Typical Day In The Writing LIfe Of Deb And Barb

First of all, thanks to everyone for the fun and games over the last two days on our Fun And Games post. We just loved watching the story––and the computer-tweaks––unfold. 

Today we have something a little different for you. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did making it (that might be hard...).

And thanks, Luke Mochrie, for all the help! 

xo Deb and Barbara

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's All Fun And Games Until Someone Gets Hurt...

…is just our diabolical way of getting your attention so we can talk about an issue that is near and dear to us both: Comments.

Or more precisely: Commenter Problems. We beg you to bear with us as we sort this out with you. We love getting comments. Of course, every blogger does. But we’ve always seen our blog as a meeting-ground for likeminded (or at least, likeable) people and want the Chautauqua-members to keep chatting, as it were, and for them to not meet with frustrations as their comments seem to post then don’t, as the ugly captcha phrase at the bottom of the screen shows up out of sight and undermines their efforts, or as the Blogger boogeyman refuses to let them post at all because of obtuse i.d. issues. And all this inevitably happens after our (very dear) reader has gone to all the trouble to write a comment in real-time on the site.

Thanks to a resolute group of readers and friends, we have learned that there are two major issues: either getting a workable i.d. with which to post, or getting the post to stick.

For the first issue, it seems having a Google i.d. is the easiest. If the bugs continue, you can try another browser (Firefox seems to have the most compatibility problems with Blogger; Safari seems good for Mac users, and IE for PCs). Or (in one successful example) try re-setting your Google i.d. password.

For the second issue, we’ve tinkered extensively with the Blogger settings and hope this will help. There is no more captcha feature––which is designed to reduce spam. If we get a lot of spam, we may re-install, but for now we’re going to take our chances.

Here’s the fun and games part. Would you please please please humour us and come along for a bit of a ride so we can assess if any of you continue to have problems? Until our next post on Wednesday, would you mind trying to post just a one-line comment? We can fun it up by playing the comments like that old game where each sentence is a continuation of the last one, in a kind of random free-for-all story. If you need to try a few times to get it to post (like a few of our great readers), could you add that in parentheses to your post-attempts?

The more of you who participate, the more idea we have if we’ve worked out the kinks. If you’ve never posted before, think of it as a chance to break your commenting cherry. If you’re a regular, feel free to add to the story as many times as you’d like.

If it’s still no fun and nothing works, would you mind letting us know at “radeckiritesatgmaildotcom” (with the appropriate symbols, of course)?

And, please, nobody get hurt. Thank you so much.

Love, Deb and Barbara

Friday, September 17, 2010


Deb: This is something I have wanted to blog about for a while now. Staring. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been a big starer. I have always called it my “staring thing” and I can remember saying with some urgency “don’t wreck it!” whenever someone caught me in the throes of my stare.

When we were young, my brother would delight in wrecking my staring things and I would curse him round the bend for it. And as soon as he realized how much I loved a good “stare” he made it his life’s work to ruin it for me. Then I would desperately try to “fix” my eyes again, to no avail. The spell was broken. I realized early on that the staring thing controlled me, not the other way around.

When I was researching “staring thing” and “stare” and “fixed stare” online to give it a proper clinical name for this post, the answers scared the stare right out of me. MAN ALIVE, was it scary! From mini-strokes to mental disorder, it was enough to make me run to the safe haven of the Anthropologie website! As a result, got a really cute pair of booties (cream and brown with contrasting laces). But I digress.

So try though I might, I just can’t seem to find an official name for that thing we all do, that stare of solace, that fixed fixation. But I do know this. I love my staring things and, as God as my witness, I am actually staring right now as I type. I guess it was just enough to mention it and my brain said “stare!”.

As I get older, my staring time increases. I use an electric thumper for my bad neck and shoulders and I now find that I stare the entire time I am thumping (said the actress to the bishop!). Rigel left a comment on our blog a while ago about thinking and said that experts tell us that at no time are we thinking absolutely nothing. I would tend to agree, but for the deft skill of my friend, “staring thing”. I can stare and think nothing for minutes on end. Nothing. Nada. Not a thought. And I love it.

I feel that Starey is my pal. Starey slows me down and gives me a break from frantic thought. So, despite the internet warnings about what it could possibly be, I have decided exactly what it is––my buddy. I know that they say this is something all humans do at one time or another, so I would be curious to hear from any among you who don’t have the starey experience.

And btw, if you ever catch me fixed and staring, I would ask just one thing of you. DON’T WRECK IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Barbara: Well, let me weigh in first. I envy you!!!!!!! Oh, for a blank stare, a “stare of solace”, a “fixed fixation”, as you so deftly put it. I do the stare-thing, which is different in nature from “starey thing”, which sounds sweet and soulful and free. No, the stare-thing is a sidelong look at the sky, wide-eyed, intent, yearning, behind which is a veritable hamster-wheel of whirring, solving, dissecting, unraveling, despairing. It is my genie-in-a-bottle. It is my go-to when I need to thinkthinkthink.

But after so many decades of whirring brain, I want desperately to find a peaceful OUT. A blank stare. Deb, it sounds so like meditation to me, this thing you do. It IS a gift. A very precious one. I, for one, would never dream of wrecking it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gestures Of Love

Barbara: It feels like a natural segue for me to leapfrog from Happy Anniversary! to another favourite topic of mine: different expressions of love.

Many years ago, a friend lent me a non-fiction book she thought was really fascinating. I can’t for the life of me remember what the book was called, but I still very much remember the subject matter. It explored the relationship between how we express love to others and how we want love expressed to us. The authors pinpointed some classic expressions of love. If I remember correctly, they were: offering a helping hand or acts of kindness, giving gifts or love-tokens, uttering words of love and encouragement, and (apparently favourite expression for the average male) sex.

My friend, Charlotte––as well as being very loving with words and encouragement––is queen of the gifts or tokens. Something I’ve never been very good at myself. It doesn’t matter how small the event, Charlotte will find some sweet gift to acknowledge it. You had a good meeting with a producer? She’ll leave a card in the mailbox, patting you on the back. You feel a bit under-the-weather? A bouquet of flowers will land on the doorstep. In all our years of friendship, I don’t think I’ve ever even thought of making these kinds of gestures (beyond the obvious birthdays and hospital stays), although I am repeatedly touched and amazed that she does. Deb, while great with gifts too, is the fiercest encourager of anything you do, might do, think about doing, or have done (as you can see by her many welcome pats on the back here). My husband … well, you can just guess which gift he keeps on giving.

We know them all, right? The person who cooks a freezer-full of food when someone is in need; the strong silent type who putters around the house doing chores; the cheerleader who supports everything people do; the kisser and nuzzler; the leaver of little treasures on the bedside table and little notes of endearment in lunch boxes. What complicates the premise––according to the book––is that most of us offer our love in the exact way we most want to receive it, but often our love-gestures––surprise, surprise––don’t necessarily match up with our beloved’s ideals of love.

In all the years since I read this book, I still find myself thinking about this core idea. Is it true? Do we express outwardly what we most desire ourselves? Do we know the essence of love so well (the feeling of it, the missing it when it’s not there), but then not understand what actually makes it tick? Because it ticks on a slightly different metronome for each of us? And, maybe most importantly, do we sometimes not know it’s love because it’s offered up in a way we don’t “recognize”? I mean, let’s say someone’s ideal expression of love is sex, and this person and his beloved are in a tough situation, and this someone reaches out for sex to express love and be comforted by love, but his partner wants words, needs to talk it through, is repelled and offended by the thought of sex at this of all times, wonders how he can be so selfish right now, and he is left reeling, wondering how words can possibly ever soothe this pain or bring the two of them closer together. And they both find themselves hurt and disoriented because they each want to express love and, sadly, feel rejected by their lover’s gesture because … they don’t recognize it for what it is. I mean, does this sound familiar? Truth be told, it does to me … uh, I mean, to my friend * whistles nonchalantly *.

Anyway, I’ve thought about my own love expressions-slash-needs and, while I can see myself in the wordsmith and the cheerleader, these gestures don’t necessarily capture my personal idyll. I’ve actually come to realize that the love-gift that I offer most wholeheartedly, most lovingly and however imperfectly, is my gift of listening. When I realized this, I had to consider the idea for a while and ponder how it reflected back to me as a need. And then it hit me: it’s because it’s so important to me to be heard.

That, my friends, was a moment of truth. What’s yours?

Deb: And today I will call upon my dear Barb to give me the gift of not expecting me to respond in a coherent way to this. I love this post and I have so much to say in the face of it. But I have been suffering a migraine since noon and it is not giving way to words, I am afraid. So I will take a win on the fact that I could read this and comprehend this and be motivated to express myself around it. But given the givens, I will ask for Barb’s gift. Let me leave it at this. Inspired but unable to express. I am a bee-stung head looking for relief.

Barbara: I hear you, Deb!! Poor thing. (Maybe you can weigh in on the comments-section when you feel better.) In light of Deb’s migraine, I’d still love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

Deb: As I am writing this today, Friday, September 10th, Barbara and her husband, Phil, are celebrating their 22nd wedding anniversary. So I thought this might be a good time to give props to that oft-maligned institution––marriage.

Having witnessed Barb and Phil’s marriage up close, I can tell you this. They are very much in love. And love is grand as we all know. They love one another and they are in love, which is a necessary combination if a good marriage is going to age well with time.

But, as experts and marrieds alike will tell you, love is not enough. Not nearly enough. Marriage––and I don’t think anyone who has been married or divorced will find this shocking––is hard work. It takes teamwork, which requires a solid, loving, respectful, silly, giving, and attentive team.

Barb and Phil are just such a team. Their marriage works because they function as a team in every way. Yes, they also thrive as individuals with varied interests but always as cheerleaders for the other’s pursuits. I have seen them celebrate––champagne corks to the rafters––when they are winning, and I’ve seen them rally with support and understanding when they are in a slump.

This bride and groom understood from the very beginning the value of romance. I do not claim to be privy to this firsthand of course, but if you refer back to the last blog-post, you will see just who discovered the lump in the breast. But canoodling aside, they date. Often.

Heaven knows, you can never recreate that first kiss that poets wax on about. But you can find in that millionth kiss an unexpected thrill. A thrill that combines sexual chemistry long since honed with the easy touch of security and stability. It is the kiss that replaces longing with satisfaction and hope with gratitude, and it cannot be underestimated.

I understand this because I am happy to say that I have just such a marriage.

But this post is about Barbara and Phil’s 22-year marriage. May they continue to grow in love until they look into each other’s ancient eyes, still a team for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.

Happy Anniversary!

Barbara: Thank you, Deb! This is as beautiful an anniversary card as I’ve ever received. And I’m so glad you wrote about this because I do think successful long-term relationships bear celebrating––and also examining.

Not only have Phil and I been married for 22 years, but we’ve been together since I was 16 and he 18, making a grand total of 31 years. Deb and Colin might not have been together as long, but they’ve been married as long. So between us, we have some ideas on how and why a strong relationship works.

To echo Deb’s beautiful and heartfelt words, I definitely think the most important element by far is a sense of partnership. For which you obviously need two equally committed partners. If you think Phil and I or Deb and Colin have sailed on Aladdin’s magic carpet into the sunset for all these years, hate to break the movie ending, but there is no “happily ever after” in the real world. There is, as Deb reminded, hard work as you face your own demons, your partner’s demons, your children’s, relatives’, and close friends’ demons, never mind those of the world itself.

I think there’s also a part of us that expects our partners to follow some kind of life-script that we have in our heads, and when they don’t say their lines as they should, or if they play another scene entirely, we stumble around disoriented instead of improvising until we’re back on track. Or, conversely, one partner is fully committed to taking on any and all challenges only to find themselves the solitary cheerleader while their significant other stumbles around, not hearing (or caring enough to notice) that some lovable one is urging them back from the edge.

From the outside, I have seen Colin and Deb adapt and join forces at every major roadblock. From the inside, I can say Phil and I have done the same. Are we lucky? I think we certainly share the same amount of obstacles and heart-rending torments as any other couple. But we have also found ourselves––luckily––in relationships where the choice to adapt together is equally important to both partners.

And I think to make a partnership truly successful, you need to SPEAK TRULY and TRULY LISTEN.

I think you need to find a fruitful life outside your relationship, outside your home, and build your own happiness, then offer it up to your mate as the delicacy it is. And when offered a glimpse of your partner’s happiness, you should always celebrate it and never grimace, no matter how not to your taste it might be (um, provided it’s lawful and all).

I think you need to commit to waking up each day and looking at your beloved and realizing you do still love this person, would rather be snuggling with him or her than any other, and therefore will forgive transgressions, accept foibles, overlook annoyances, see beauty, celebrate strengths, and decide irrefutably: today, I choose again to choose you.

Happy anniversary, my love. As you well know, my choice is clear.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Taking My Lumps

Barbara: Deb, I have a confession to make: I have recently been through a medical experience, but I haven’t shared it with you. You were dealing with Frisker’s health and untimely death and I just couldn’t add more weight to your load. Dear readers, I have a confession for you too: I could’ve told Deb any time in the more recent past, but have pulled a kind of blogger’s conceit by waiting for this post to reveal my experience both to her and you. Call me manipulative. Hey, it’s storytelling at its most devious. I’m not proud.

First, I have to set this story up by telling you all that Deb and I have a kind of health dichotomy: if my health-care professional (doctor, naturopath, esthetician, whoever) tells me one thing, hers will tell her the complete and utter OPPOSITE. And vice versa. Never fails. It’s become a running joke between us. It’s gotten so bad that we can’t even get through the “But my doctor said…” without bursting into a fit of giggles.

Second, a proviso: I am not nor do I claim to be any kind of health professional. My wish is to share an experience, my assumption is that you will all do what’s best for you, and my hope is to open the floor to discussion.

Earlier this year, Deb and I were talking mammograms—I told her that I hadn’t had one yet. She balked—her doctors and everyone she knew recommended having regular mammograms when they turned 40 (I was 46 at the time). I said that neither of my two doctors had mentioned me needing one yet and that all the literature that I’d read (or skimmed, in truth) had always said mammograms for women without breast cancer histories should start after 50. Deb didn’t say much more about it that night—she seemed to accept my take on it. But the next day, I received a heartfelt and beautiful email plea from her. Would I please reconsider my stance? She knew so many friends whose breast lumps were discovered in their 40s. Cancer concerns were rampant. She supported any decision I made, of course, but please, oh please, would I think it over again.

Well, I did think it over. Have you ever noticed how when you have a weighty conundrum the universe suddenly inundates you with relevant information? If you haven’t noticed, start paying attention—I swear it’s a real phenomenon. After I got Deb’s email and while I was pondering her powerful words, not one but THREE articles came into my world (by way of my national paper and two respected magazines––here and here) and all of them weighed in on the side of starting mammograms after 50. The crux (bear with me here) is that the medical community is finding there are so many false positives on breast lumps and that, with the attendant procedures, more harm is being done than good. The problem with this logic is that there are also cases where early mammograms find lumps in women in their 40s that could have resulted in death had they not been found earlier.

So the dilemma was still: was I that more common woman who might have lumps that come and go and are of no medical concern but if found would begin a flurry of unnecessary medical activity, or was I that one in a million woman who might have a malignant tumour that needs to be found pronto?

I had my annual physical and discussed it with my doctor. With my family history, she still advised after 50. As usual, she also felt around for lumps and was satisfied with my general good health.

Flash forward three months. My affectionate husband stops in mid-nuzzle and says, “There’s a lump in your breast.” And then the world stopped.

What?! Yes, I could feel it. About the size of a nut. Mobile. Soft. We reassured ourselves that it was most certainly nothing. But, of course, the doctor appointments began. And, of course, the debate about the mammogram was officially over. A mammogram, by the way if you haven’t had one, isn’t really that bad. Firm, emphatic pressure, that’s about it.

And while I waited for results, the nut-sized lump got bigger. And bigger. Before I knew it, it was the size of a plum.

Then the dreaded phone call from the doctor’s office: the mammogram wasn’t conclusive; I would need a breast ultrasound. Okay, in all my personal drama herein, I never thought to ask anyone why breast ultrasounds don’t trump the mammogram. In an ultrasound, there is absolutely no discomfort; it was the second procedure in my case, so presumably it gives a better scan of the breast; and there’s no friggin’ megawattage of radiation! Any answers out there???

Anyway, I waited, waited, waited for the results of the ultrasound, all the while fingering this swelling, confusing, foreign ball inside my body. And, again, get the dreaded phone call that I need to talk to the doctor. This time she tells me the results show that the lump is not a cyst like we’d assumed, but a “benign-looking tumour”. I confess, I burst into tears. Didn’t hear (or care about, for that matter) the “benign-looking” part. All I heard was TUMOUR. Tumour, tumour, tumour. The kind of lump that needs to be surgically removed. The kind of lump that, in my world, has “malignant” written all over it.

For two weeks, while we waited for the appointment with the surgeon, my husband and I tried to be brave and optimistic. For me, this was very very hard. Deb’s beloved dog was dying and my mom was heading to Paris for two weeks. I decided to spare them the worry until I knew more. I had my husband, my sisters, and Charlotte to lean on. It was a quiet time of nervous introspection.

Then the date came for my husband and I to meet the surgeon. I was immediately reassured by his calm, sweet, and informed presence. It would be okay. Then he very carefully outlined all the next steps and possible outcomes, so that we would be prepared for every eventuality. “If we have to remove the lump and the area around it, there would be a significant change to the shape of your breast because they’re relatively small. Then we biopsy again and go from there,” he said. He told me to lay down on the examining table so he could extract some tissue from the lump. The room fell away. That was it––I was going to die.

As I fought to remember to breathe, the kind doctor inserted a needle—which I didn’t feel at all––into the lump. A thin film of sweat enveloped my body. I guess I was watching his face intently because I noticed him give the smallest possible doctorly reaction. “Well, that’s good,” he said. What was good? How could anything be good right now? Doctors don’t biopsy by sight, do they?

“This changes everything,” he said as he held up the needle. It wasn’t the hard tissue of a tumour, but the (sweetest, most wonderful) fluid of a cyst. And just like that the lump—and my stress and worries—was gone.

Mammogram or no? If I’d had one 3 months earlier, we would all have known that there was nothing in my breast at that time––and we would’ve been able to reassure ourselves that no tumour grows that fast. It would have been obvious that my lump was only a cyst. That said, I know my breasts, my husband knows my breasts, my doctor palpated my breasts, and all of us knew there was nothing there 3 months earlier. Same logic. The time while I waited for the results and debated the language (while relatively short) was horribly stressful. Enough to trigger one lump or two (I believe in stress triggering disease in our bodies). Could there have been a better way?

I will say this: I believe in positivity, of being proactive about your health, of learning as much as you can about your personal situation. I also believe that most of us get to sideswipe real health issues (90% of all breast lumps are benign tumours or cysts) while many of us, sadly, do not. So, is the biggest lump of all that our health is just one big crap-shoot?

Deb: First of all, to add to the dramatic tension, I only just found out about this when Barb sent me the blog-post this afternoon. True to her kind nature, she did not want me to deal with this as we were in the middle of our dog Frisker’s illness, which as you know, eventually killed him. I wish I had known so that I could have supported her in this tough time, but I totally understand why she did not tell me. I have read this post three times. Twice to grasp the reality that she was talking about herself and once more to come up with some sort of response.

Barb and I just had a very long chat on the phone about our different views on tests and mammograms and we both came out of it, I think, thinking that there are so many variables and so much conflicting information out there. There is good solid information and many of it contradicts the other side. To Barb’s point, is our health just a crap shoot? Maybe. I often think of people like Linda McCartney who did everything she could and lived so well and pesticide-free and yet still she died young. But all I know is, I am still reeling from this new information about my dear dear friend. So my response is this: thank you, dear God, for my darling Barb and this wonderful outcome. May it be the same for thousands of other women no matter how they find out.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Summer Lovin'

Deb: The tide, or rather the temp is turning. We have had a long hot summer here in Toronto, fraught with high temperatures and higher humid index. It has been a sexy sweaty summer, accompanied by heavy thunderstorms and buckets of rain. I can’t remember the last time a summer this hot was reflected by burgeoning plants and green green grass. The rain has come almost exactly when we have needed it, craved it, and it has come hard and mostly at night.

But suddenly, there is a slight nip in the air, an amuse-bouche of autumn’s considerable gifts. We are still getting mostly warm weather but the fade is on. The markets are full of autumnal mums and my fuchsia plants are starting to thin out just a tad. Shorts and tanks are still the order of the day, but I will grab a light jacket and throw it in the car just before rushing out the door. When I shower and leave the house, I stay showered, not like July where we resided in a traveling steam room. But I will wallow in perfect days like today––26 degrees and a slight breeze––and cling to them until the summer wanes.

I am usually ready by this point to say goodbye to summer, but the summer of 2010 has done its job, bless its steamy little heart. There will be no lamenting a missing summer this year. It showed up and got the job done. I am not one bit embarrassed for it. Lived up to its resumé, this summer did.

So as a reward of sorts, I shall not look ahead to the fall, my favourite season. I will stay right with summer for its final summery weeks and wave its sunny flag right to the last bumblebee. Thank you, summer of 2010! I will remember you fondly when in the coming months my nose hairs freeze.

Barbara: Oh, yes, this has been a glorious summer for those of us living in Ontario. Not sure how it’s been for the rest of you, but here it’s been just as Deb says, with steamy heat and lots of well-timed sun. Cocktail hour has never been so fair and sweet.

That said, every important weather day for me this summer has not come through. BabyFest? Steaming hot before and after, winter cold and stormy for those precious three days. Taking my niece to the local fair (otherwise known as The Ex)? Yup, hot and sunny the day before and after, unseasonably cold and rainy on that one day and night (it’s hard enough for me to face an amusement park ride as it is, never mind putting on a brave face for my sweet niece and shivering from frostbite as we rollercoastered and tilta-whirled). Told you I loved to complain about the weather.

And on that note––the biggest shiver induced by Deb’s lovely post has to be from her ode to fall. Um, not so much for me. I do love the colours and I can even bear the occasional cooler day. I do like the symbolism of the “fresh start”—and, funnily, this seems to manifest often in my life. Lots of fresh starts in fall. But knowing winter is coming after the season, with its cold and dark and forced indoor life, I can’t help but want to hang onto my summer porch, kicking and screaming and tantruming until winter concedes and pats my head and goes away. If only that would work *sigh*…

Deb: Well, you already know my thing on this as I have said in many a blog. I don’t let the weather define my life or the events therein negatively. I count my blessings that I do not live in a part of the world that weather can ruin your home or your life in a second. So for me, I love all weather and look for the beauty in each day. Corny maybe, but it is so true for me. I am a weather ho, a season’s slut, if you will.

I am so sorry, Barb, that the summer was ultimately defined for you by a few events. We had some of those moments ourselves, but we took it in its stride and chalked it up as Mother Nature’s crap-shoot. I have never counted on weather to make or break my fun. I have always taken it as it comes, moving inside when needed, like a picnic that gets a sudden downfall and ends up with a game of snakes and ladders on the deck.

This side of you is so unBarb to me as you are such a positive person who finds beauty in everything. But as you have said, I guess it is just the Weather Witch in you that you strive to control.

We live in a country of seasons and it is my blessing that we do. Autumn weather is like heaven in my view. I long for the “Boo Radley” nights with the leaves crackling and whipping in the snug autumn wind. Oh, dear me, it is like breath to me. Magic. And winter? Never do I feel so alive as when the frosty morning slaps me in the face and says, “What the hell are you staying indoors for??? Come out and walk with me till your fingers feel tingly and your cheeks are cherry red! Then come inside and circle your hand around a steamy hot chocolate. Now, look out your window. I’m out here all frozen, keeping it real for the sleeping earth till I choose the time to put back the spring in your step.” Seasons! Are you kidding me? Who loves ya, baby???

Barbara: Um, did Deb say something? ‘Cause all I heard was, “Blah blah weather blah slut blah blah.”

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labour and Gratitude

Barbara: Today is Labour Day so maybe that's why I suddenly found myself wanting to acknowledge the myriad things that we work at each day.

I am a hard-worker by nature. I truly love having some kind of purposeful work to occupy me (and right now, my favourite by far is writing). Don’t get me wrong—I’m also a Class A relaxer, but only when I “deserve” it. The problem is, I do have a bit of mean-streak when it comes to hard work. If I do something that is to the obvious benefit of others (a communal project or a closet cleaned), I’ll admit it, I expect some kind of acknowledgement at the least and gratitude at the best. Choirs singing and light radiating would be greatly appreciated.

Oh, the paroxysms of emotional stress I’ve put myself through if something I’d laboured over didn’t get the reaction I thought it deserved. The hours creating, editing, schlepping, sweating, cleaning, caring, finagling, organizing, listening, advising, workingworkingworking, without gratitude felt like they’d disappeared into some kind of black hole (if no one said thank you, did it actually happen?). I’ve tried to get over it, I really have. Craving gratitude is not something I believe is particularly righteous. After all, fundamentally I’m not working for others, I’m working for myself. Right? Right.

Even though I’ve gotten a lot better over the years, gratitude is still my Achilles Heal. So I’d like to take this holiday to acknowledge labour in all its glory.

Thanks to all you parents for your hours of invisible chores. Thanks to you children for growing up no matter how well or badly we do them. Thanks to those of you who put your life on the line to keep us safe. Thanks for teaching us, caring for us, researching for us, developing for us, managing, marketing, creating for us. Thanks to those of you who make the things we use everyday, and those things we might use one day in the future. Thanks to everyone for being part of a bigger picture. Thanks for being brave in millions of seemingly inconsequential ways every day. Thanks for all your efforts, whatever they may be, that help keep this world ticking and talking, humming and developing, changing and growing, fundamentally keeping us all connected through strands of interconnected work.

Closer to home, thanks for reading this blog, for commenting, entertaining, participating, considering (and thanks to all you patient readers who’ve tried repeatedly to post comments that haven’t stuck—this seems to happen quite a bit and we can’t figure out why!!). Thanks for writing your own brilliant blogs and sharing your lives and feelings with us with such honesty. It’s a blog world here and, without you and your efforts, it would be a Love’s Labour Lost. Instead it is a labour of love.

Happy Labour Day, everyone! Now get back to work.

Deb: Could not have said it better myself. And didn’t. So a final thanks to Barb. And on a related note, 20 years ago I spent Labour Day, in labour and had a beautiful boy on September 3rd, 1990, for which I am eternally grateful. His birthday has only fallen on Labour day twice since then, but in 1990, Labour Day took on a whole new meaning. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Slow-Moving Gal

Deb: I had thought of blogging about this before and was prompted to do so by the Emmys the other night. The woman that won Best Supporting Actress in a drama for The Good Wife is my inspiration for this blog. Her name is Archie Panjabi and she is fabulous-looking and a fabulous actress. But that is not what I most admire about her.

I am not a woman given to jealousy very much. I am happy with who I am. Sure there are prettier women, smarter woman, nicer woman, and certainly taller women. But whatever. I am who I am and I am constantly trying to make the best of it.

Archie has something I have always wanted, but it has eluded me all my life. She is a slow-moving gal. I watch her in The Good Wife and I marvel at her slow-moving ways. She is sooooooooooooo languid. There is not an emergency on earth that could force this woman to move quicker than a snail with her sassy snail steps. She does not even move fast enough for one hair on her head to move. I watch and I marvel.

I am a fast walker, you see. I come from a long line of fast walkers. We are people on the go, people with a purpose. If I wasn’t with the fast walking, I would never ever ever get anything done. In my home I scurry around like Edith Bunker shaving off those seconds while I gather precious time for chores. Crossing a crosswalk? I break into a trot. Walking to a store from the parking lot? I am a filly with the prize in my sights.

So I envy Archie. Not just because her name is Archie––which is so nifty––but because she accomplishes so much without even breaking a sweat. Yes, I know, it’s a television show, but I would lay money on the fact that she is a slow mover in life too. Yet she gets stuff done. Tons of stuff I bet. Important stuff too. She sways and sashays, putting one careful foot in front of the other like she had all the time in the world. She probably has time between steps to say five-syllable words. And I’m sure she does. Because she can. She’s not in a rush. She has time to breathe and look around.

So I am jealous of this slow-moving gal. And not to be outdone by Archie or any other slow movers, I tried it. I would go with the flow, yes I would. Looked like an idiot. And ... I panicked. With each slow step my mind speed-dialed to the next thing on my list. Ahhhhh, I thought, that’s the key. The mind has to match the pace. Hmmmnnn. Yeah. Ain’t gonna happen.

Barbara: I haven’t yet seen Archie Punjabi on screen (yowsa, she's a babe in her pics)––but I want her name, I can tell you that much. Ain’t nobody gonna rush an Archie Punjabi.

Ohhhh, Deb. I am so with you on this one. My husband is always appealing to me, begging me! to slow down. It’s not that he’s particularly slow, he just isn’t on some imaginary marathon where whoever walks the dog fastest gets a gold medal.

But you know who I’m most jealous of? Slow talkers. How refreshing it would be to take my time with words instead of firing them off with the velocity of a depraved Chipmunk.

Deb: Slow talking .... As if.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Old Friends

Barbara: My first blog-post ever was about friendship—how I was quite unfit to be a real friend for the longest time because I had gotten into a bad habit of only being a nurturer and caregiver. I had no idea how to just sit back and enjoy the reciprocity of a good friendship. When I discovered this, I committed myself to real change. Which is when and how I found Deb.

But the exceptions that prove this rule are the friendships that began before my earnest "helicopter-friending". I am lucky enough to have some lifelong friendships that somehow managed to bypass all my usual pitfalls. I think the reason is that these friends who I only saw once or twice a year didn't have a chance to be held hostage by my secret Super-Nurturer. I didn’t have time to sneak away, tear off my glasses and button-down sweater, and don my latex super-hero garb and and laser-bangles, then clasp them to my breast and heeeeaaal. I had to just … yeah, sit back and enjoy the reciprocity of good friendship.

Twenty years ago this year, two of these lifelong friends—Sean dates back with my husband and I to university, and his (very welcoming) wife, Ann—began a tradition that continues to this day. They invited us, along with another couple—John and Sandy, who were also great friends since university––to visit them at their home for a weekend. The catch? By some miracle of timing, we had all just had our first babies. Sean dubbed it BabyFest.

It was a fest indeed. We ate incredible food, drank as much as we could given our parental states, and shared stories (oh yeah, and we changed diapers, wiped drool, and snuck away with a baby when they wouldn’t settle). Two days later, we stumbled our respective ways, vowing to do it again the next year.

And twenty years later, we’ve never let a single thing get in the way of getting to our annual fete. Our kids have grown up together—despite rarely being able to see each other outside of our get-togethers. This fact never stopped them from forming enduring friendships with the BabyFest offspring, with whom they can always somehow share their deepest feelings. Kinda like their parents. While the growing children gamboled about in whatever retreat we had finagled (everything from a windswept house, to a gay man’s living homage to all things Christmas, to my sister’s cottage on an out-of-the-way lake), the adults forged their love and respect for each other through eating and drinking splurges that may rival ancient Roman feasting without the, you know, orgies and stuff (remember, not into that—see Just Your Average Swingers).

BabyFest lasts three to four days, during which each family hosts one adults’ dinner, one kids’ dinner, and one brunch and doesn’t do a thing the other meals. It’s lovely. This year some of the “kids” (the oldest are all now officially university-attending adults, argh) did a dinner retrospective of their most memorable kids’ dinners. I think hotdogs on skewers, tacos, and root beer floats figured large. The adults are all foodies and have covered just about every country’s fare in themed dinners, from Ethiopian to British to Hawaiian. Complete with costumes, mood-music, and party favours. We take our feasting very seriously.

And there is such solace and relief—especially when times are a little rough––in seeing our dear friends and knowing we can both relax and let loose. I think the kids think we’re a little off our rockers. But then again, apparently I don’t care what the kids think—not for the three days of BabyFest. That said, watching the seven BabyFest babies grow up has been a fascinating process—like the famous British doc, Seven Up, it’s like having a microcosm of people’s lives as they go from their youngest selves to grown-ups, always themselves, of course, but incrementally changed. And there is enormous gratitude that all seven of them have gone along for the ride, never rolling their eyes at our tradition and, in fact, embracing it with as much gusto as their parents. It turns out the BabyFest babies are prepared to go the distance with this holiday—vowing even to attend when their own parents need their diapers changed, their drool cleaned, and their to-do’s settled.

I swear to you, it’s worth trying. Although hard-hats are recommended.
 BabyFest photo from 1996 and then recreated in 2007

Deb: I have listened for nine years to Barb’s building excitement as BabyFest approaches. Not once has the event not lived up to the anticipation, which is pretty incredible. There is nothing like beautiful tradition. I love that the kids have never strayed from their devotion to it either. They have never gone through a phase where it was “lame” or where other things in their lives have taken priority. May it always be this way. Long live BabyFest!