Flying Solo

2016 Trip to Iowa

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve written, “I’m hoping to get back to blogging.” Well, here I go again. I’m just going to start writing and see what happens. No promises.

I recently took my first trip alone since my bout with cancer. I finally felt confident that my brain dysfunctions from cancer/chemo had improved enough so that I could manage on my own and I headed to Iowa for a family reunion. Here’s how my first day played out on Facebook:

8:30 am:  Yes I can

Yes I can

2:30 pm: Well I’ve already weirdly hurt my leg by simply standing up to get off a plane. Something popped mid calf. Hope the breakfast I just ordered for lunch turns my frown upside down!

8:30 pm: You have no idea how much it means to me today to have this right outside my door. Hot tea any time of day or night. And I found the perfect mug for my tea.
iowa-microiowa-peace-mug

9:32 pm:  Yes, I can. With limits. … I have wondered over the past 2 years if I have become guilty of using chemo brain as an excuse, or if I have become lazy, or if I over protect myself. While I may be guilty of any of those on a given day, I think today has answered the question for me. I have improved so much and manage in my comfortable little habitat pretty well these days. But take me out of that familiar routine and subject me to a variety of situations that I have to navigate and throw in a minor injury (which made feel fragile) – well, let’s just say that I nearly blubbered all over the car rental guy, have had several headaches, and found myself hugging a complete stranger as she opened the door and welcomed me into the B&B. So grateful to have this lovely, quiet space to give my brain a rest. And for the lessons I am learning.

And this: I can’t even tell you how many times I apologized to the car rental guy for not being able to choose a car, for changing my mind about the car he gave me, for not being able to figure out something so simple about the car, for asking him to help me with my bags because I hurt my leg, for him getting wet because he had to go outside with me and it started raining. Poor Kenny!!!

It wasn’t my best day.

But it sure wasn’t my worst.

Yes, I Could. And Yes, I Did. Even though it didn’t go off without a hitch. Even though I sat in my rental car and had a moment that included an ugly cry face while it was pouring down rain.

I said I was learning lessons in that Facebook post. I added that line to convince myself that something positive was happening. And there are a few lessons I hope to remember the next time I try traveling solo with chemo brain.

Make as many decisions ahead of time as possible.
Thank goodness I did this – even the kind of car I preferred. Yeah … that didn’t work out. I couldn’t get gate information for my plane change, but I already knew where I could eat lunch close to the Des Moines airport and even where I could get a Starbucks chai latte if I felt the need before heading off on my 90 minute drive to Ottumwa. Yay Me! Do this. Always.

Ask for help. Tell people exactly what you need and why you need it.
I wish I had been more clear with the car rental guy as soon as he told me they didn’t have the car I had preselected. I don’t know cars, so when he started flinging makes and models at me it was like a foreign language. It would have been better to say, “I’m dealing with chemo brain, I’ve hurt my leg, and I’m feeling overwhelmed. I need something small and simple. Four doors. I need to be able to see out of the back window.”

Give yourself time.
Things feel so rushed in an airport. Verbal directions don’t stick in my brain these days. If something doesn’t look familiar, I may not know how to use it at first glance. Sometimes I forget where something is that I need. Often the problem is that my brain simply processes some kinds of information more slowly than it used to. This causes me to panic. So take a minute to breathe and take that extra few seconds for your brain to process.

If something doesn’t work for you, make a change.
The GPS with the rental car died before I got to my destination, so I had to go the the rental company the next day to replace it. I wasn’t pleased with the two-door hatchback I drove away from the airport, so my husband told me to ask if I could exchange it. I did, and got a car I felt comfortable with.

Plan for what gives you peace and comfort and time to replenish.
I didn’t have many options for lodging. I don’t usually think about staying at a B&B, but a little angel must have whispered the idea in my ear. Oh my gosh! This saved my sanity! What a relief after my stressful day of travel. What a joy to go down stairs to this every morning!
iowa-bb-breakfast

This place was perfection for me. Having a quiet place to retreat to and rest was essential. Also a place that was clean and where I felt very safe. And access to things that comfort me – like hot tea, wifi, and television. A grocery store nearby where I could get chocolate in an emergency. I’m pretty sure I would have been a wreck by the end of my trip if I had stayed somewhere else. And it was cheaper than the cheap hotels!

You may not always find such a perfect haven, but look anyway. If you can’t find the perfect setting, do the best you can and then provide yourself with what will help you feel comfortable. It’s ok to spend a few bucks to have hot tea all day if that’s what you need.

And separate yourself from the crowd if you need to. Go back to your room. Go for a drive by yourself. Find a quiet place to sit.

Accept your emotions.
If you need a cleansing cry, go for it. If you feel that wave of panic, accept it, breathe, think for a moment about what is making you anxious and what might help. If that means finding a friendly face and saying out loud that you are falling apart, do it. Embarrassment be damned.

Acknowledge how well you have done so far. Remind yourself that you will handle it – whatever the next “it” is.
Hurting my leg before even getting off my first plane really started to throw me for a loop. After that, each step of the way I had to tell myself, “you did ____, now you can do the next thing.”

Keep it simple.
Once I started planning my trip, I kept adding more days and more people to see and more things to do. I started to feel anxious. Bless my dear friend who set me straight and told me to keep it short and simple.

If you don’t want to, then don’t.
‘Nuff said.

Don’t pack so much stuff!
I’m pretty sure one of the reasons I hurt my leg as I stood up to get off the plane is because I was also swinging my too-heavy backpack onto my shoulder as I stood. I am always guilty of over packing and I made things harder on myself because of it. On my return trip, my checked bag was heavier, but my backpack was lighter and easier on my body.

Use your support group.
Daily (or more) phone calls to my husband, as well as texts, helped keep me grounded. And my fabulous Facebook friends encouraged me throughout the day.

Accept yourself as you are today. Trust your self-knowledge and your instinct. It’s okay to protect yourself while also taking on a challenge.

Photographic Memory

2012 Mom eating tomato soup

Grilled cheese and tomato soup … One of her favorites

A few days ago my sister posted one of those “On this day” memories that Facebook suggests we look back on every day. It was a photograph that she took March 31, 2012. Her original post included the comment, “Grilled cheese and tomato soup…. One of her favorites.”

My sister’s comment with the reposted memory was: This is what I will always remember :) her favorite lunch!!!!!!! Most Saturdays in the winter, this is what we had :)

I loved seeing this picture of Mom and remembering that favorite lunch. Several of my sister’s friends commented that they grew up eating the same lunch and one said she had been introduced to tomato soup by our mom – but she didn’t like it. :)

This morning I learned from the Today Show that it is National Grilled Cheese Day and then I saw several posts on Facebook reinforcing the significance of the day.

Who knew?

Even the hosts on the Today Show said they needed some tomato soup to go with the grilled cheese sandwiches they were eating in celebration of this great day. Maybe it should be called National Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup Day. Seems more accurate.

I decided the only way to properly honor the day was to have grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch and pause to treasure a memory of Mom. I had to go buy a can of Campbell’s tomato soup in order to do it. A friend suggested I go to La Madeleine and get some of their yummy tomato soup, but that wouldn’t really do. I already knew I was going to cheat by using some sharp cheddar instead of Kraft Singles. I couldn’t break tradition on both counts!

2016 me recreating moms lunchAs I started to prepare my lunch, I had a whim to recreate Mom’s meal as depicted in my sister’s photograph. I got out a placemat, found some crackers to break into my soup, and went outside in the rain to cut two roses.

I see now that I missed a couple of details. I should have cut three roses rather than two. I substituted a Ritz crackers box for the Club crackers box because that’s what I had in the pantry. Now I see that there was an open sleeve of Ritz Crackers on the table and a couple of Ritz crackers on her placemat. I did something right without realizing it while also missing a detail.

The roses are also important to the memory. Dad(Jim) loves roses and planted rose beds every place we lived. He sought out new varieties and shared his abundance with friends who needed a pick-me-up… but he made Mom do the arranging. Mom loved his roses too and so there were always roses on the table and around the house when in season – and the season for roses is long in Louisiana. Unfortunately, it became too difficult for Dad to keep up with his roses when Mom needed so much care and he eventually took them all out.

I posted the photo of my lunch to Facebook with the message, “Bon Appetit, Mom!” (because I’m an oversharing nerd) and went back to perusing my Facebook feed… and what popped up immediately, but an article titled Embrace Loved Ones Who Have Passed to Have a Rich & Fulfilling Present .

I liked this quote from the article: “Absence and presence can coexist. Oddly and wonderfully, engaging with the past, and bringing memories into the present, is what gives us the greatest strength to move forward.”

The author, Allison Gilbert, wrote a book titled Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive. The blurb on her website gives this summary:

Passed and Present is a one-of-a-kind guide for discovering creative and meaningful ways to keep the memory of loved ones alive. Inspiring and empowering, this action-driven “how-to” manual teaches us how to remember those we miss most, no matter how long they’ve been gone.

Passed and Present is not about sadness and grieving — it is about happiness and remembering.  It is possible to look forward, to live a rich and joyful life, while keeping the memory of loved ones alive.

This much-needed, easy-to-use roadmap shares 85 imaginative ways to celebrate and honor family and friends we never want to forget.

Sounds like it is right up my alley.

What are your grilled cheese memories?
Have you recreated a photo from the past?

Happy Fabulous Fifty, Kristie!

Mom and Kristie

Mom and Kristie

I am twelve years older than my sister Kristie, so I thought I’d share the few memories I have about her birth on her birthday.

I was asleep in my bed in Joplin when dad (Jim) woke me up to tell me that he was taking mom to the hospital and that my new brother or sister was on the way. He promised to be back in time for me to get to school the next morning.

It doesn’t seem that it would be a problem to leave your 12-year-old at home in bed on such an occasion, or that said 12-year-old would be left in charge of her two much younger siblings – after all, I was used to taking care of my sisters and was already babysitting other people’s children.

But I spent the entire night awake – at least it seemed like the entire night – working out survival plans should an emergency happen on my watch. The imagined tragedy that I remember playing out most vividly was that there would be a fire. We had a new one-story, three-bedroom house with a front door, a sliding glass back door, and a garage. But what if the fire was in that part of the house and I couldn’t get the three of us out through one of the doors? The bedroom windows were short and wide and I wasn’t very tall. How could I get a preschooler and a toddler safely out of a high window? Could I throw a crib mattress out the window and then toss the girls out, hoping they would land on the mattress? What if the window didn’t open wide enough for the mattress to fit through? If I stood in the baby crib, could I direct their fall onto some pillows? What if one of them got hurt?

What if …?

What if …?

All night long. Over and over. I was a mess by the time morning rolled around.

We made it through the night and there were no fires nor any fatalities. Dad came home in time to report that I had a baby sister and that everyone was fine and that I needed to get ready for school.

I really didn’t want to.

I attended South Junior High and was suffering through a couple of years of social anxiety. It wasn’t long into the school day – probably while I was still in home room and hadn’t even gone to class yet – that I left the classroom, threw up, and found myself lying on the all-too-familiar cot in the nurse’s office. My stay there that day was a combination of a night of worry and lack of sleep and wanting to see my mother and hoping everyone was okay – made worse by knowing there was no one at home to go home to. It was also just a fairly common routine that year: go to school, start feeling anxious, throw up, go to nurse’s office, take temperature, no fever so lie here until you feel better, go back to class.

I don’t have any vivid memories about meeting Kristie for the first time or when she and mom came home from the hospital. :( But I do remember that I considered myself a second mother to Kristie. I spent many hours holding and rocking and feeding and burping and singing to her. Even though I helped with and played with my other sisters, being twelve at the time made this baby different. I felt like an adult and the time I spent caring for Kristie gave me my first inkling that maybe I could be a mother some day – although for the longest time I really wanted to skip the whole mother thing and go straight to grandmother! I also took pride in recording her firsts in her baby book, as Mom was pretty busy with three little ones.

Friends, Karla, Kristie

Friends, Karla, Kristie

Poor Kristie! Her birthday often gets lost in the Thanksgiving Day celebration and then it’s suddenly Christmas.

I found a couple of pictures of a birthday party with one of Mom’s special birthday cakes. It is tagged as 1973 – Kristie’s birthday, although Karla’s sleeveless dress in December makes one wonder. The family was in Texas by then (or was it New Mexico?), so it is entirely possible. I think the panda bear cakes Mom made were usually chocolate. And very cute!

Kristie, Kim, friends

Kristie, Kim, friends

So Happy Birthday Kristie! And thanks a lot for ruining my sleep 50 years ago.

Love you!