Thankful

I know it seems like I’m all about grieving over here, and I guess I kind of am. But there are a number of things I’m thankful for this year which I feel need individual acknowledgment.

This year I’m most thankful for…

1. Every moment I had with my mother. No matter how difficult or emotionally heartbreaking, I wouldn’t trade a moment of it for anything.

2. My aunt Karen who pretty much moved right into my house for nearly a week. Without her there is no way I would have been able to honor my mother’s wish to die at home. Without her teaching me how to care for someone in a bed, I would have had to hire strangers to take care of mom at the end, and I’m so grateful, so INCREDIBLY grateful that Karen’s help allowed me to keep mom at home and be cared for by family and not in a cold hospital bed surrounded by strangers. Karen was a rock and I will be forever grateful for all she did, without me even having to ask. She just called one night and said “why don’t I spend the night,” and then stayed. And for making sure I’m “doing things” and not just wallowing here at the house.

3. My uncle Jimmy and cousin Allison. Without their support of Karen, without their help with things like grocery shopping for popsicles and bringing whatever Karen needed from home, without them stepping up, again without being asked, things would have ended differently. Especially Allison who makes sure to drag me out to lunch on a regular basis. Even if she doesn’t listen for a YEAR when I tell her she’ll love the Kowalskis.

4. My cousin Chris for flying in for mom’s funeral. I wasn’t sure he’d get the time off, but he did, and it meant a lot to me that he was there. Congrats on your promotion!

5. My mom’s best friend of 40 some odd years. When Karen couldn’t stay any longer because she had to work, I called Susie and all I said was “I need help. Can you come?” She was camping in Mammoth that night, and without hesitation said “I’ll leave in the morning.” She drove from Mammoth down to Irvine to pack and then back to my house. She was with me when mom passed away, and I will forever be grateful she was. She was able to help me in ways I’m not even sure my family could have, because they were dealing with their own massive grief. I will always be grateful for Susie’s presence and support that night.

6. Janie and Robbie, my Godparents, for giving me a place to go when I want to run away from home. For treating me like another daughter and just doing normal things while I’m there and not making me feel like I’m a guest. Also, thanks for letting me cuddle the grandbaby Kalea. She’s adorable and will be the wooliest baby in town. LOL I know how hard it is for grandparents to hand over the grandkid, so thanks.

7. Heather for the Day of Kittens.

8. Barbra for the Day of Puppies. (Yes, the same day.)

9. My knitters Barbra, Heather, Amy, Maridee, Kara, Alyson, Robyn Robin (Sorry!), Elizabeth and Thom for being willing to listen no matter what. For not telling me to be quiet because they’re tired of hearing about my craziness. For taking time off from work to come to my mom’s funeral and when I said it wasn’t necessary, all looking at me like I was crazy and replying “Well, of COURSE we’re coming.” Thanks, too, for not vocalizing the implied “you idiot!” For being there through good, bad, and moths.

10. Alyson and Bob. OMG, dudes. You have done SO MUCH for me through the years I can’t even begin to repay you both.

11. Marilyn. For everything. For making me quilts, for taking me on vacation, for making sure I get out of the house once in a while, for volunteering to help me with anything I need help with and for not judging when “my” house isn’t as clean as “mom’s” house. Yes, I cleaned the kitty litter today. *grin*

12. Cynthia for…well…being Cynthia. For giving me space when I ask for it and realizing I’m not snubbing her. I just need space. For the tissues at the graveside and for the herding of people when I needed a few minutes. For listening when I call her crying because of an e-mail and being ready to rip people’s faces off because they made me cry.

13. Nat. My “sister”. She knows why.

14. The Magnolias. When I said I couldn’t review books for a while EVERY ONE OF THEM stepped up and asked what they could do to help. They listened when I wanted to talk, and didn’t even hate me when I made them cry. LOL. Love you, girls!

15. For all the friends I’ve made this year, both online or IRL. You have all made this year so much more bearable. You’ve made me feel like I’m not alone and have entertained me while my life seemed to be out of control. You’ve all kept me busy with new books and have made me laugh on days that truly sucked.

Lynda the Guppy
aka A Grateful Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks

Call Me The Bag Lady (2 of 30)

I have a confession to make. I was a Ziploc Knitter. You know the kind. Someone who has a ton of different little bags and pouches in That Drawer every knitter has. The one filled with little bags and pouches and 17 tape measures you can never find and a half-dozen yarn cutters even though you usually end up hand-breaking the yarn because you never have one with you. That Drawer. 

Even though I had all those little bags and pouches, the only one I really used with any regularity was the Stuff It Sack from Tom Bihn. And I did like it. It was a good size, shape, had a cord lock on the drawstring so it wouldn’t accidentally open and dump everything out in your purse. Let’s face it, though. It was boring. Just plain grey fabric. Snooze. 

Last Christmas my Tuesday Knitting Group had gift exchange. The rules were spend less than $10 and/or feel free to stash dive. I don’t remember who gave me my first Slipped Stitch Studios project bag, (Maridee?), but it was this great, but subtle, Day of the Dead fabric. It didn’t scream LOOK! SKULLS! It was perfect. It was an excellent size and shape. It held what I was working on easily. I could toss it in my purse and not worry about the contents. I totally and completely fell in love. Next I bought myself a couple that had movie monsters like Werewolves and Frankenstein’s monster. I picked up one in the sock size and one in the 2-skein size, which was the size Maridee(?) had given me. 

At this point I had come to realize nearly everyone in my knitting group had AT LEAST one bag from Laura, and mom was trying to steal the Day of the Dead bag every time I wasn’t looking. 

 Then…The L.A. Yarn Crawl. I might have sort of maybe gone a little insane. A little bit.

14.

I bought 14 bags. 

You heard me. 14. 

Now, before you all flip out, not ALL of them were for me. In self-defense, I had purchased a number of them for mom so she would stop trying to steal mine. It didn’t work. She kept trying. LOL. 

Since then, I’ve added a Halloween bag, and then here’s where Laura knows how to get me. 

BAG OF THE MONTH: DOCTOR WHO EDITION.

My geeky little knitter’s heart nearly exploded.

Here’s all my goodies. Feel free to click to make them bigger…on the outside this time. LOL

Sock bag… 

2-skein bag…

Pattern Wallet…

And magnets for the Pattern Wallet…

Stitch Markers. How cute are these?!…

Tin Box…

And since Van Gogh is my favorite artist EVER, and Starry Night is one of my favorite paintings EVER, and I found out Laura’s doing a “Vincent and Doctor Who” Bag of the Month? Oh, dude. I’m SOOOOO THERE. I’m so there I put in my order with her before she ever announced what was included or the prices. LOL.

Fabric gimmicks aside, I really love these bags. I haven’t used any ziplocs since I bought enough bags for my “regular” projects. They’re well made and the perfect sizes for your different knitting projects. 

 Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks
aka The Fish With The Bag Addiction

Once More Unto the Breach… (1 of 30)

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” Ah, Henry V. How I love this play. It’s really my favorite, I think, of all the Shakespeare plays. This, the St. Crispin’s Day speech, at the end when Henry begs Katharine to love him, the man, as well as the King? Excellent romance writing right there. I also love Richard III. Winters of discontent and Kingdoms for horses.  Hmm. It appears I’m an Historical guppy. Who knew?

ANYway…

I’ve been encouraged (loudly) by a number of friends to WRITE MORE, DAMN IT! It appears I have some friends who believe I’m wasting my talents. LOL. I never got into the habit of writing regularly, because, well, I never thought I was that good at it. Sure, I can string sentences together well, and write essays and that sort of thing, but creating something from scratch? I’m just not that creative. LOL. It has been pointed out to me (again, loudly) that I can write, and write often without writing fiction. Oddly that never really occurred to me. LOL And in these days of 140-character tweets and expansive blogs, both of which I’ve used for years, I’m not sure why it didn’t.

So, without any further ado, and with my friends shoving me off the cliff while cheering me on, here we go again. Once more it is NaNoWriMo* November, and so once more I’m going to try for NaBloPoMo.** Last year I did 16 posts during the month of November, which I think is a record for me. I’m hoping to beat it, especially as I’m going to spend today playing with ideas.

WARNING! There may be Mom Stories this month as her birthday is Sunday, and some talk about my grief, too, but I’ll try to not be too much of a little black cloud.

Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks
aka A *gulp* Writing Guppy

*NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month. Write like a demon for a month, and at the end of the month, good or bad, you have a first draft of a full-length novel. IOW Crazysauce with a side of OMG What Did I DO?! for writers.

**NaBloPoMo = National Blog Writing Month. A blog post a day for the entire month of November. IOW crazy town for bloggers.

 

Guppy Talks Grief at WLP

As some of you may know, before mom died I had started reviewing contemporary romance books over at WickedLilPixie for my friend Nat. Nat and I lost our moms within days of each other. It’s amazing how something that traumatic could bring about such a wonderful source of comfort.

I wrote about our mutual grief and things people can do or say to help, and you can read my post HEREYou might want to grab a tissue. It seems I’ve made everyone cry. Not my intention! I swear! 

In the meantime, my dad came over for dinner last night and we talked about everything, as we usually do. This morning he called me and we had this conversation:

Dad: How are you doing today?

Me: I’m doing okay, I guesss.

Dad: I’m going to keep calling you every day until you answer “I’m doing GREAT!”

Best. Dad. Ever. He’s been my rock through this entire ordeal. One day I’ll tell the story about getting my mom Last Rites. LOL. Believe it or not, that’s a funny story. ESPECIALLY if you know my dad. 

Love,
Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks
aka A Still-Grieving Guppy

Questions Without Answers

I’m sitting here on the sofa and I took a look around and thought…where do I start? This house is filled with my mother, and I don’t know what to do or where to begin. Yeah, I know where to take her clothes, and I can find a home for all her books, and she told me what to do with important things like her jewelry and certain family heirlooms, but…what about the rest of it?

What about the blue vases in the cabinet in the dining room? Should I get rid of those and put my cows in there? Or maybe my music box collection? Do I keep the porcelain cat which is by the stove because I bought it for her one year for Mother’s Day? Should I leave the copper molds hanging in the kitchen? Or find something to replace them with? 

Do I take down the antique mirror over the fireplace and put up an original piece of art of my own I’ve had for years? Can I replace the sheets for her bed? Her duvet covers? What about the opera glasses she bought herself after giving me my own pair for my 16th birthday, should I give them away? What do I do with her high school yearbooks? Her DVDs?  

What do I do with all her genealogy books? Her half-finished needlepoint canvases? Her purses? What about her christmas ornaments? What should I do about the fabric sample hanging over the kitchen sink that she put there 3 years ago to “live with” before she made a valance out of it? 

We had the same coloring and often bought the same makeup. Is it okay if I use hers? Or should I just toss it all? Can I wash the makeup brushes and use them? What about the carpet in the living room? The silver eyeglass case on her bedside table? The dresser in the entryway? Do I keep her dishes because they’re better than mine, even though I’m not crazy about the pattern? What do I do with the antique doilies she bought to make into pillows? The shawl I knit her which she never wore because it was too big? 

Do I keep these things? Do I give them away? To whom? Do I take them to Goodwill or The Salvation Army? Do I sell them on E-bay or take them to a consignment shop? Do I put all these things in one room and have family and friends come and take stuff?

Do I try and do a little each day? or try and cut swathes through this all in large chunks? Should I try and do some on my own? Should I call my friends or her friends and have them come help? 

How will I know what to keep and what to let go of? What to change and what to leave?

How do I get rid of all her things and not feel like I’m getting rid of her?

And how do I do it all without missing her so much it hurts to breathe?

Love,
Lynda the Guppy
aka A Grieving Guppy
aka A Fish With Sticks

Yesterday

Yesterday I buried my mother. She was 63.

Nearly 2 1/2 years ago, on February 12, 2010, the same evening as the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics my mother went to the emergency room.

And on July 27, 2012, the same evening as the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics, my mother took her last breath.

She went to the emergency room that long ago February for what she suspected was a hernia. “Oh, it’s nothing,” she told me. “I’ll be in and out in no time. Won’t even have to spend the night….Well, unless it’s cancer. Ha ha ha.”

It was cancer.

And it had metastasized.

By the time they caught it, her body was riddled with tumors and she had 8 POUNDS of tumors in her liver alone. And not one large tumor, but lots of little tiny inoperable tumors.

Did I mention my mother was a big muckety-muck at a major University and was Director of a world-renown cancer research network? And her boss was one of the top cancer researches in the WORLD. If you go to a cancer research lab and mention his name, they practically genuflect.  

And there was nothing they could do.

They tried everything. Her Oncologist was AMAZING. He was also my grandmother’s oncologist for many years, and he worked directly with mom professionally for nearly 13 years. He threw everything at this cancer. And I mean EVERYTHING. If he could get it for her, and if he thought it had even the tiniest chance of working, he gave it to her. And I know it wasn’t because of her connection to him. Cancer offends him, and I think he does that for all his patients. 

At her funeral yesterday, I told him that I thought he was incredible. I told him there was no way…NO WAY…she would have lasted as long as she did if it wasn’t for him. You know what he said to me?

“We didn’t do nearly enough. We should have been able to do more.”

Mom did everything she could. Her tentative diagnosis was 6 weeks. Her confirmed diagnosis said 6 months. She lived 2 1/2 years. And I do mean LIVED.

We went on a month-long trip to Vermont last summer, and drove home back to California after making it through Hurricane Irene.

She saw Niagara Falls for the first time.

We went on an Alaskan cruise with the entire family.

She went and visited with friends more frequently.

She made time for everything she thought was important.

And she fought for her life. Every moment of every day.

A few weeks before she died she asked me if I resented having to take her to the doctor every week and spend so much time taking her here and there all the time, having to do everything because she was too weak to help. Did I wish it had been fast like her original diagnosis had suggested? 

I had to think about it for a minute. Not because I didn’t know my answer, but because I wanted to be sure to say it correctly. For her sake, and the amount of constant pain she was in? Yeah, I wish she hadn’t had to live through that. For me? I would do every day of those 2 1/2 years over and over and over again without complaint if it meant I could spend more time with her. Resent it? Not a second of it. I wish I still had to take her every Monday for treatment. But I’m so grateful she’s no longer suffering.

Watching her fade away these last few months has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to witness, and I’m so glad I was able to be there. It meant she never had to go into a facility. She was able to live at home the entire time. She could die at home with me and one of her best friends by her side. I was able to tell her I loved her one last time. I could kiss her and stroke her hair and tell her it was okay to let go. She had fought so hard and it was time for her to stop fighting.

I was there to hold her when she took her last breath.

Yesterday was a day to share my grief with those who loved us both. Yesterday was a day to wear the outfit she loved me in best. Yesterday was a day to wear her pearls so I could feel closer to her during one of the hardest days of my life.

Today is the day after. And it was a lonely day. Those who love me have checked in to see if I’m okay. Really I’m not, but I pretend I am, and they pretend I’m not pretending. I know eventually I will be okay, but not today. Today was a day to recover. Today was a day to really feel her loss. Today was a day to wander around and poke into closets and open drawers and touch the pieces of her life.

Today was a day for me to remember her. Privately.

I know it sounds like I just moped around the house, but really I didn’t. I slept and read and watched some Olympics, too. I just felt like today was a day I needed to be alone and take a break from everything going on “outside” and really just let myself feel what I needed to feel when and how I needed to, without worrying about anyone or anything else.

Tomorrow…Tomorrow will be better, or so I’ve been told. Maybe it will be. Maybe it won’t, but either way, eventually I’ll be okay.

After all, I’m my mother’s daughter.

I’m too strong not to be.

Love,
Lynda the Guppy
aka The Bear’s Daughter
aka A Grieving Guppy

Alaska Day 4: Mush! Mush!

My entire family (me, mom, 2 aunts, 2 uncles, and 1 cousin) all took a cruise recently to Alaska. Now that we are home and have a stable internet connection, here are long travelogues from the trip, complete with pictures.

~Lynda

Today was FAN-FREAKIN’-TASTIC. Today was the one excursion I was DYING to go on. The Dog Sled Experience. I had to be on the pier at 7:20 to meet my group, and, once again, no one at Princess or with the tour groups had ANY idea what the heck is going on or where anyone was supposed to be. 

Once on the tram though…

I met Tim. Tim was our driver. He was funny and friendly and made everyone feel comfortable and welcome, and gave the impression he really loved what he does. He picked us up in the tram, and we headed to “base 1.” 

 

Base 1 is the lowest of the area owned by this dog sled group. It is a small camp with pens for the puppies (OMG THE PUPPIES!), a lecture area, and a small gift shop, and a couple of bathrooms. That’s pretty much it.  From there we took this weird vehicle. I never got the name of it, but it looks like all those military transport vehicles you see in movies. You know the ones. Where the Big Evils go and pull back the tarps to reveal the crates of guns, but instead…BIG DAMN HEROES WITH GUNS! Yeah, that. But without the tarps. And OMG was it COLD. So up another 900 feet of altitude, to the next area. 

 

From here we get off the off-road vehicle and get into this thing that looks like a 6-seater dune buggy or golf cart, but without the engine. Attached are 16-17 dogs. SMALL dogs. I KNOW! I was as surprised as you, but these dogs only weighed about 50 pounds or so EACH. My aunt’s Springer is probably larger than these dogs. I KNOW my uncle’s Goldens are. But these dogs just whipped us around like we weighed nothing. And they did it laughing. These dogs wanted nothing more than to RUN FAST! RUN FAR! CAN WE PULL SOMETHING?? HUH?? HUH?? CAN WE?? PLEEEEEEEEEEASE?????

 

After the run, we got to meet our dogs, and they were beautiful, and you could see such personality in their eyes. I do have to say, though…it was FREEZING!!!! And after the ride up the hill, I was already cold, so this didn’t help. LOL. 

 

Once back down the road, again freezing my butt off, we got to hear one of the women talk about the Iditerod and what equipment they’re all required to carry, and what the dogs eat, how often they rest, etc. I also got to “meet” an Iditerod veteran. He was very sweet and willing to pose for pictures.

And then the puppies. OMG THE PUPPIES!!!! SO FREAKIN’ CUTE. They were about 8 weeks old, and into EVERYTHING. If they could reach it and bite it, they were gonna keep it, even if they had to pull it off you to do so. LOLOL. At one point I had a dog chewing on each leg of my jeans. LOL. They were adorable, though. The whole litter (5? 6? of them) were named after chess pieces. So we had Rook, Bishop, Knight, King, and (the only girl) Queen. I think that’s all of them. I may have missed one in the OMG THE PUPPIES!!!! frothing. 

 

Here’s Tour Guide Tim with one of the puppies.

On the way back to the ship, I saw a few interesting things. One is this street sign. Apparently when you pay for a street in Alaska, you get to  name it. This one was done years ago, and, unbelievably, the sign isn’t stolen that often!

Then a little bit farther down the road we saw this guy. All I could think was how much he looked like Sam the Eagle. LOL 

I was back on the ship by about 11:00. We waited around and all went to lunch, then back to the cabin for a well-deserved nap. 

Once again we ate in “our” dining room (Bernini) and once again I’m kind of unimpressed. The selection is decent, they have interesting things, and the wait staff is unparalleled, but the problem is almost everything has nuts (which will kill me) or chicken (which will make me wish I had eaten the nuts). Tonight was the spaghetti & meatballs which was okay. Liked the pasta at Sabatini’s so much better. After dinner it was another pina colada for me, and back to the room for a bit.

The ORIGINAL plan was for Aunt K and Uncle J and Uncle Dr J to meet us in front of the Vista Lounge for this song and dance muscial thing. Sounded like fun! Until…Aunt K called our cabin and said something to mom about Cousin A falling getting out of the jacuzzi and she had to go to medical. That was it. All we heard. So Uncle Dr J and mom and I went on to Vista ALLLL the way at the very end of the ship. Our rooms are near the FRONT of the ship. It was a long hike…only to find out there was no second performance of the show. 

Greaaaat. I called Uncle J and Aunt K and Cousin A’s room, but no answer, so I left a message and we went on to the comedy show…which was in the Princess Theater…2 floors directly under our stateroom. *sigh* He was funnier than I expected, even though he, like most male comedians, think the best jokes are centered around dicks or Viagra.

We cut out a few minutes before the end, because we knew from experience if we didn’t get to the elevator right away we’d be there for another half hour at least. When we got back to the room, I called Cousin A’s room, but no answer, so I left a message for them to call no matter what time. I called down to Medical and she said she left a few minutes ago.

I hang up the phone, and it rings immediately. My Aunt K. Apparently my Cousin, Miss Grace herself, was getting out of the jacuzzi and walking down the wooden stairs next to it, when she tripped or slipped or something on the last step. Now, for most people, this wouldn’t be a problem, but she managed to step on something and slice open the bottom of her toe, scrape up a few other toes, and even break one of them. Two days before she’s supposed to go salmon fishing. LOL. She’s mobile and okay, which is why I can mock her mercilessly.

But you can bet her mother, who broke her foot on the last cruise they went on together, will have one or two things to say to her as payback for all the rude comments and lack of sympathy Cousin A gave Aunt K back then. LOL

Okay, it’s now 11:30 and I have to get up at 5:45. *gulp* Glacier Bay tomorrow, so it’ll be worth it, but still…5:45!!! AM!!!! That’s MORNING!!!!!! I’m so glad I bought an extra Diet Dr Pepper the other day. It’s gonna be one of those mornings. LOL.

Lynda the Guppy
aka Fish Out Of On The Water
aka Fish With Sticks 

Alaska Day 3: Juneau & The Whales

My entire family (me, mom, 2 aunts, 2 uncles, and 1 cousin) all took a cruise recently to Alaska. Now that we are home and have a stable internet connection, here are long travelogues from the trip, complete with pictures.

~Lynda

Today was an adventure! It started with mom, Uncle Dr J and I heading to the dock in Juneau at about 11:00 a.m. We were REALLY early for our excursions, but wanted to make sure we got where we were going. Found a nice bench to sit on, and just people watched. I ran into the “general store” there and found some Christmas ornaments (I collect them when I travel) and some bottles of water and soda. STILL no Diet Dr Pepper, though. *sigh* I’m starting to wonder if I have a teensy tiny addiction? Maybe?

After a while, Uncle Dr J left for his excursion. He had a variation on ours. We were just doing a whale watching tour on Juneau Bay, but he was doing a Mendenhall Glacier “Photo Safari” first, so he was on a different boat. 

Mom and I found where were supposed to go, with no help from the Princess employees or the tour guides *rolls eyes*, but we got there in the end. We met a really nice couple (Brad and Barb) who were both charming and helpful. The whale watching tour was, for the most part, uneventful. We did get to see a number of Humpback whales come up and then flip their tales (or show their flukes, according to the naturalist on board).

Photo courtesy of Uncle Dr J

Lots of pretty scenery, though, and a great look at how large the bay really is. We also got to see a couple of glaciers (Howard and…um….yeah….) and a whole PILE of seals. Literally. A pile. And they are LOUD. They weigh up to 800 pounds EACH, so ow you have an idea of scale. LOL.

Once we got back to the dock, Uncle J and Cousin A picked up mom and took her back to her room, and I went on to the Mt. Roberts Tramway. It was a $29 “excursion” which is just an aerial tram that takes you up the side of the mountain in front of the pier. There’s a fantastic gift shop up there, as well as some other things to do, including hiking, but I really just went for the photo ops and the shopping. *grin* and I scored on both counts. 

 

On the walk back from the Tramway, I found the Alaska Commercial Fishermen’s Memorial. It was a really wonderful memorial. It’s this little half-circle with a few stone benches and names engraved in the wall. It’s a quiet, peaceful little spot which looks out over the water. 

As I turned to leave, I spotted this wonderful cross. It hangs on the railing facing the very center of the memorial, and, while I’m not usually a big fan of religious icons of any sort, I thought this was beautiful and perfect.

Tonight’s dinner was at Sabatini’s. Italian all the way. Very tasty, and excellent service, but really, I have yet to find anything to top the Crown Grill and their S’mores desserts. Although, I DID find something that would be a very close second. It was the Peanut Butter Cup at the International Cafe. It’s a little espresso cup filled with the lightest, creamiest peanut butter pudding EVER, and topped with this really delicate chocolate mousse. OMG YUM.

Next up: DOG SLEDS! 

Lynda the Guppy
aka Fish With Sticks
aka Fish Out of On the Water