Archive for April, 2010

Miracle on Holcombe Blvd.
April 30, 2010

Wonder of wonders, miracle of  miracles!   – Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick from “Fiddler on the Roof”

During our last episode, we were all gearing up for the big day, April 28, when our dear Bobby was to have brain surgery to remove an aggressive cancerous tumor. Anxiety was high all around, with many “what if” questions floating through everyone’s minds. 

Sleep deprivation was the norm in that week before the surgery, especially in the wee hours. But with the dawn would come glimmers of hope, as fervent prayers were being said on his behalf by people all over the country. Then very early on that Wednesday morning, we put him in the good hands of the wonderful people over at MD Anderson (and in the hands of God, I am fully convinced) and prayed some more. 

After that came the waiting. From start to finish, the process took almost 12 hours. People came and went, some bearing food (LOTS of food), all bearing positive attitudes and huge doses of hope. 

Personally, I arrived about noon, bearing food (of course). But I had gone off without my book and was ruing that oversight, thinking what was I going to do to while away the hours? As it turned out, I had no need of a book; our gathering of family and friends came and went all afternoon; it was as if we were attending an open house! 

Stories and laughter abounded, and then when the time for updates drew near (every two hours), a certain tension would arise until Bobby’s name was called. Mary and his sister and mother would spring up and go get the latest news; happily, all seemed to be going well. 

My prayers had been for “a miracle that defied expectations”. I was thinking that maybe I should be more specific, so I actually looked up the definition. Here’s what it said:

Miracle: mir·a·cle [ mírrək’l ]   

  1. act of God: an event that appears to be contrary to the laws of nature and is regarded as an act of God
  2. amazing event: an event or action that is amazing, extraordinary, or unexpected
  3. marvelous example: something admired as a marvelous creation or example of a particular type of science or skill

And then I marveled at how God answered my general prayer for a miracle with all three of these specific definitions!

When faced with the magnitude of  such a devastating diagnosis, it is natural to want to find the best doctor at the best hospital and hope for the best treatment.  Look at definition number 3. The miracle that is MD Anderson (its physicians, staff and equipment) was a gift to us, and to all who cross through its threshold. 

(note about that threshold: MD Anderson has lots of buildings. Be sure you know which one you are going into before parking miles away! Guess who didn’t?) 

Miracle number 2 was the actual surgery in what’s called the “Brain Suite”, a high tech room filled with the latest equipment to allow the physicians to perform this delicate, precise surgery. From what I was told, there were nine physicians and staff members attending Bobby that day, and that extraordinary team did produce an amazing event. The head surgeon said that they got 99% of the tumor “and then some”. Mary says that on a scale of 1 – 10, they considered it an 11. 

Dare I say that miracle number 1 was answered? No one can predict what the future holds, and in truth, all our days are numbered. But I am convinced that Bobby has years of good living ahead, against the odds of this diagnosis. Combining all three of the definitions of the word “miracle”, I truly believe my prayer HAS been answered.

Praise be to God from whom all blessings flow!

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Family Matters (a verb, not a noun)
April 23, 2010

Lord, hear our prayers, And let our cry come to thee.  Book of Common Prayer 

As the old saying goes, “you get to choose your friends, but not your family.” The people who raise you up and with whom you live until you flutter out of the nest are the ones who share your DNA and your history, but who also celebrate your achievements, milestones and holidays, help you with major life issues (such as moving across the country) and support each other when sad occasions present themselves. 

I am most fortunate to have been blessed with a family that fiercely loves one another. One of six children, I was raised up in an atmosphere of self-reliance; we were all expected to pitch in and help out with whatever needed doing to run the household, and so we did. There were rules, expectations and chores, which I think bonded us kids, and molded us into the adults that we are today. 

There is no rivalry amongst us; I love being with any and all of my siblings. We laugh and laugh until we snort, then we laugh some more. Our children also love being with their cousins; what a wonderful testament to love our family is. 

And then there are the in-laws. Five of us siblings married into a most motley crew of spouses from France, California, Texas and Argentina. Years later, we subtracted Argentina and added another Texan to the mix, who fit right into the Simpson clan. 

Bobby is the epitome of a gentleman. He is a gentle man. He is interesting, interested and one of the most gracious, generous and loving people I know. When you meet such a person as Bobby, you feel like you are the most important person in the room. 

There is no topic of conversation that Bobby can’t converse about. None. I absolutely adore him. He has made my sister so happy; the love just radiates from that house (which is the one we grew up in, re-modeled into the perfect gathering place). 

And so we were all absolutely devastated to learn of his diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor just this past weekend. It feels as if all the joy has been sucked out of our family. 

But we Simpsons are nothing but determined, and we are ready for this fight. With the support of our church family and other friends, we will surround Bobby with love and prayers, and whatever is the outcome, we will be there for him (and Mary, it goes without saying). 

Life is a journey with both valleys and mountaintops. Sometimes the valleys make us step back and focus on what is most important, and we should all learn from them in order to appreciate them. Nobody likes them. But they are a reality, and in order to ascend back to the mountaintop, we must travel through them. 

At this point, Bobby and Mary are in the “fear of the unknown” stage. They are setting their faces towards the future, and are gathering strength, knowing that their families have their backs. Both Bobby’s family and ours will see them through whatever will be. 

Just knowing that the prayers of many are being sent on their behalf is enormous, and we are so grateful for yours… prayers for strength, courage, comfort, healing, exquisite perfection by the surgeons on April 28, and a miracle that defies all expectations.

Here We Go Again!
April 16, 2010

The Shadow knows…           -Detective Story Hour (1930) 

One month ago, Bailey was suffering with a messy gastrointestinal upset that ultimately found us at the vet’s office for tests. Happily, he recovered with no major damage (well, except to my credit card balance). Things went back to normal, and life was good. 

But now it’s Shadow’s turn! Let’s gloss over the description of his problem; suffice it to say, it was really yucky, and when unable to get outside, he would have no option but to download by the front door. Happily, the floor is brick, so it’s easy to clean, but oh!! What a foul mess it was. 

He felt so bad that he refused to eat at all, and was literally shaking with weakness. Of COURSE, stuff like this always happens on a weekend, so we kept vigil and tried every trick in the book until Monday morning when I could make an appointment at the vet’s office. Again. 

When I lifted him into the car, I was shocked at how light he was. He still has a thick, beautiful coat, so it was hard to see that beneath it, he was literally skin and bones. The doctor said he’d lost FIVE pounds! Proportionate to me, it would be as if I had lost 24 pounds. Not a pretty sight. 

Joel and I had visions of cancer or some obstruction that would require surgery, and so I agreed to tests that included x-rays, blood and lab work. Goodbye more money! I think they should name the new wing of the veterinarian’s office after us. 

Happily, just as in Bailey’s case, Shadow’s x-rays didn’t indicate any major internal issues, but his lab work showed a bacteria level off the charts. Dr. Young surmised that he may have eaten something foul (like a dead bird or other creature), and thus his distress. 

That sounded entirely plausible, given that birds smack into our large window pretty regularly this time of year. Sometimes they are merely stunned, but other times, alas poor birdie. I did go take a look later, and found a dismembered wing, so it appears pretty clear that’s what happened. 

Instructions were to feed him bland food like rice or cottage cheese, so I dutifully cooked some rice and drizzled a little broth on it. Lo and behold, he scarfed it right down! Small portions are the key, and now that he feels so much better, I am vastly relieved.

Except that now he seems to expect three meals a day. He doesn’t like cut up chicken in his rice, nor does he like cottage cheese. I tried scrambling an egg and adding it this morning. No dice. He ate all around the egg.  Thankfully, he takes his medicine with no drama; now he’s up to two pills and two doses of liquid each day. Almost as much as I take! 

I’m not sure how much longer I’ll need to keep up this new regime. I guess I’ll just let him guide things. After all, when one is almost 14 in dog years, one deserves a little extra TLC!  

The funny part is how bossy he’s become; my mother swears that Shadow can talk, and he is definitely saying to me, “FEED me!” or “Let me OUT!” or “Let me IN!” as he wags his head in the direction he wants me to go. Bailey is watching all this with more than a little envy as I indulge the old dear. I hope he isn’t taking notes.

We loved my dad through his Alzheimer’s journey, and just like that experience was, this one has been a good exercise in resisting impatience. I hope that if I am privileged to grow old enough to be feeble that someone will feed me whatever I want and love me regardless if I’m a mess or bossy or cranky! 

Forget Bailey… Shannon, I hope YOU are taking notes!

Then, Now and When
April 10, 2010

Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past.                   -T.S. Eliot (1936) 

The plus side of an empty nest is not having to plan travels around the school year calendar. Go to Florida in February? No problem! Well, except having to book the dogs in the kennel and getting someone to come check on the cats. Once that was done, away we went!

Hoping for some warmer climes, I was sadly disappointed that FL was having as cold a winter as we were. The fact that we were staying on Disney property wasn’t the main draw (been there, done that), but rather seeing our dear ex-pat Houston friends who now live in Tampa was why I wanted to go. 

Just being together was the fun part; Ginny and I walked miles that first afternoon, exploring the various Disney communities. We enjoyed shopping a farmers’ market, and then later in Tampa, watched the space shuttle liftoff (albeit from far away, but it was still a cool sight in the early morning darkness). Ginny took us to see manatees and Ybor City (historic Cuban district where cigars are still made) among other sights, and we enjoyed watching the Super Bowl together and boating on Tampa Bay (all bundled up from the cold!).   

One month later, off I went to CO to visit Shannon and Kat, totally not anticipating warm weather, so I was somewhat surprised to find it not AS cold as I thought it would be. But still… it was NOT warm, although we did go get pedicures on Saturday, and wore our flip flops comfortably afterwards (thanks to the sunshine, which made all the difference). 

Just as being with Ginny in Florida was fun, being in Colorado with my kids was, too. We didn’t do anything really special, rather we just did ordinary things together, like going to the grocery store, gathering up and delivering the recycling to the town center, cooking Chinese food together and enjoying some dinners out on the town. It was a nice, relaxing break away from my desk for me. 

All this to say that lately I’ve been thinking about how easy it is for us to take off and travel these days. Just a click online is all it takes to make a reservation, whether it be a plane, hotel, rental car or restaurant, and bingo! We’re good to go. 

But back in the olden days it wasn’t such an easy thing to do (which is why travel agents used to be such a necessity!). For instance, here is a letter written by my mother from exactly 50 years ago, dated April 10, 1960: 

The Disneyland Hotel                                                                                                                                                                                        Anaheim, California 

Gentlemen: 

We would like to reserve a $19/day room for June 22, 23 and 24. There will be four of us- two adults, two children. (note, one of them was me!) 

Friends from New Orleans, Dr. and Mrs. Dan Beacham and family will be at the Hotel these same days, and we would appreciate it if our room could be as close to theirs as possible. 

We enjoyed our stay with you three years ago and are looking forward to being with you again. I am enclosing a check to cover the first day’s payment. Please let me know if more advance is needed. 

Very truly yours,                                                                                                                                                                                                       Mrs. Ray Simpson, Jr. 

Isn’t this a quaint concept! To write a letter to a real person and politely make a request for a reservation! Nowadays, we may be more connected to the world, but not so much to the PEOPLE of the world, as we prefer to use the internet instead of speaking or writing to someone. We are spoiled because we want instant results; the thought of waiting days before knowing whether or not a room is available would drive us nuts! 

Of course, we drove to California back in 1960; we seldom, if ever, took planes when we traveled. I mean, how would you ever see the sights of the countryside if you flew? 

I wonder what the future holds? How will we be making travel arrangements in the year 2060? I’ll probably not live long enough to find out, but it sure is interesting to think about! Maybe we’ll all just have individual solar powered travel pods (like an RV) that we can zip around the world in and tether wherever we stop. 

All you young readers, mark this essay to recall 50 years from now and laugh about when you remember how quaint the travelling process was in 2010. I predict that all the hassles we deal with now will be eliminated, and that your children will be amazed at how inconvenient it all was. 

One can only hope.

Brain Worms (or songs that get stuck in our heads)
April 2, 2010

Extraordinary how potent cheap music is…   –Noel Coward (1930)

Pewperson reader, Gregory Poynter commented on the “Spring” poem that I alluded to weeks ago, correctly attributing it to Hal Ketcham in a Dennis the Menace comic book from the 1960’s. Certainly the timing is right, given my vintage, although I don’t recall being much of a comic book reader (heavenly days! My mother would not have approved… she was more a Great Books aficionado). 

But his remembering begs the question, “Why can’t we remember what we did two days ago, but can distinctly remember songs, poems and such from years ago?” 

Take radio jingles… Here’s one from my New Orleans years, circa the early 1960’s: “At the beach, at the beach, down at Ponchartrain Beach, You’ll have fun, you’ll have fun every day of the week! You’ll love the thrilling rides, laugh ’til you split your sides, At Ponchartrain Beach! ”

Are you familiar with that one, and if so, can you sing it with me? Last week my sister was visiting, and as we were out running one morning, we talked about this very subject. Both of us perfectly recalled that song, and we sang it as we ran (laughing all the way, ha ha ha!); anyone who may have overheard us must have thought we were total lunatics! 

Or how about one from the late 1960’s in Houston/Galveston? Recently we went down to Galveston with some friends, and as we passed the spot where Sea Arama used to be, I regaled us all with my version of their radio ad: “Sea Arama Marine World! On sunny Galveston Isle! Where the citizens of the sea entertain for you and me, With cute and funny ways to make us Smile Smile Smile Smile!” 

I can just hear my young readers asking, “what’s a radio jingle?” Back in the olden days, one could only listen to local stations; there just wasn’t the proliferation of options that are now available, whether locally, nationally and internationally. With the internet and/or satellites to broadcast thousands of radio stations to any corner of the world, it’s no wonder that local jingles have gone the way of the dinosaur. 

The power of music to help us learn and remember has been well documented, and the fact that my sister and I both recall such obscure songs is proof of that. Early childhood music lessons give children a huge leg up on those who don’t have the option. 

Our church offers a fun music experience for infants and toddlers that uses old fashioned songplay (it’s actually called SongPlay! http://www.stlukesmethodist.org/programs/children/music/ for more information) to develop word/movement associations to playful songs that both moms and children enjoy. But even older children can benefit. For instance, take the alphabet song… or the one that taught  my daughter the US states and capitals. I’ll be she can still remember it… Examples like this go on and on. 

So take note, all you advertisers and parents. Sing a song! Sing a song over and over. It may just get stuck in someone’s head for them to recall years from now, thank you very much.  And that, my friends, is a powerful concept.