I baked a cake

I baked a cake, from scratch, a chocolate very moist cake. It was easy and I am quite proud. I was able to use the nasturtiums I planted to decorate it.
One of our housemates turned 29 yesterday. Her boyfriend, who caters with a local gourmet company, cooked up chicken enchiladas, made homemade chips and verde, salad, and simple veggie appetizers for our household as part of her celebration.
Another housemate had just rearranged and freshened up our community sitting area. It was all ready to be decorated with pom poms and streamers for the party.
Bob, asked me to order a cake earlier in the week. After several calls on Wednesday we were too late. Seems there were a lot of weddings this weekend, bakeries couldn’t take any more orders. Even though I can count on one hand how many cakes I’ve baked in my 63 years on the planet, I began my internet search for best chocolate cake recipe. I honed in on one, BBC easy chocolate cake recipe, gathered the ingredients, made the so easy, so delicious icing in the morning. Baked the cake around noon. Bob was looking at me with skeptical eyes as I put the very liquidity batter filled pans into the oven. The recipe stated once you add the boiling water, “the cake mixture will now be very liquid.” I was only a little worried about how they would come out.
30 minutes later, it was a very moist and perfectly formed cake. I iced it like a pro.
Dinner was delicious. I was happy to have a decent appetite.
The cake was donned with candles, lit, carryed out to the tune of, you know, “Happy Birthday to You.” I helped slice and serve a few pieces when my body suddenly told me to go lie down. There was no arguing with it. I did get to hear the rave reviews the cake was getting.
It was really a fun day, helping with the festivities. I love the people I live with.
As I laid down with my black kitty, since I was tired, the tears just came. I wish my child and I could share special moments, laugh together. I miss her, damn it.
Life is short, life is precious, hope springs eternal, forgiveness is possible, choose love not fear.

Thanks for reading.

3rd floor community room

Living for the Weekend

Friday they disconnected my chemo fanny pack for the weekend. I haven’t been that excited about a weekend since I was a teenager.
Even though I do have some side effects kicking in,
ie: nausea (under control if I stay on top of nausea medicine), low appetite, diarrhea started this weekend and mouth sores, I felt good enough to crank up the tunes, dance around my room and get some cleaning done.

To add to the excitement, at my Monday appointment to check everything; platelets, blood count, etc, I learned that I don’t have chemo for two weeks, only the daily radiation. I was dehydrated, so I sat for an hour relaxing receiving hydrating fluids. All that happens through the port. Hence, don’t have to get poked all the time.

Some of you have asked for clarification on the port and fanny pack of chemo. Below is a pic of me with the pack. I wear it over my shoulder. The tubing from the fanny pack is pretty long, runs under my shirt and into the port that’s in my chest. It’s with me 24/7 during the weeks I have it. I drive with it, sleep with, bath with it, occasionaly dance with it. Robert, the 83 year old owner of the building I live in, and I often greet each other with a jig when we meet in the hallway each morning. His positive attitude inspired me throughout his health issues during this past year. Now he is cheering me on, telling me, “well, you certainly are a trooper.”

My fellow housemates have been so sweet, offering to bring me anything, making extra mashed potatoes for me, the gift of a journal titled – 52 Lists for Calm. They didn’t even know I have a “list” writing group. My new room as of late spring is decorated, cleaned and organized. It took me all summer since I was pet sitting so much. Happy I bought the tv from the previous tenant, haven’t had a tv in years. Making good use of it now. There hasn’t been much energy to read or write. The adult coloring book that has been on my shelf for ten years is getting used for the first time and I’m cutting from magazines for collaging while watching tv. Back to the basics in the creativity department. They are comforting yet mindless activities.

That’s the update for Tuesday, October 4th.
Thanks for reading.

Appreciated the prayer posted in the hospital elevator today.

Me with chemo pack
Prayer on hospital elevator wall
Secret garden adult coloring book

Side effects came pretty quick

The first day of chemo and radiation left me exhausted and a bit overwhelmed. Lots of information to take in. They sent me home with folders of information, a good thing since my eyes glazed over and my thoughts traveled as the nurses talked. I wanted my mama! After chemo/radiation I was sent to Partners in Health to be adorned with a fanny pack carrying my chemo. We will be be together 24/7 sans the weekend.

Yesterday as nausea set in, the thought of food repulsed me. I reminded myself this is hopefully for only six weeks. I can do this. The strawberry popsicle for dinner hit the spot and I got a good night’s sleep. Meantime, I’m to drink eight glasses of water a day, brush my teeth at least three times to help ward off mouth sores, eat small amounts of nutritious food, cut back on fiber. Other precautions are to wear gloves if gardening and change the water in flower vases daily as it can harbor bacteria. Stay away for sick people – all the things we do to protect a weak immune system.

This morning I popped my nausea medicine immediately and it seems to be working. I was able to get down a breakfast bar. It’s a sunny fall day here in Missoula. At 2:00 I’ll walk the few blocks to St. Pats for radiation. That will be good medicine and plan to do that daily (radiation is at 2:15 M-F) A friend is coming for a visit this evening bringing soup. Another friend is bringing some foods to have on hand, ie: sausage which sounds appealing, something I can cook, cut up and nibble on when needing some protein.

Thankfully I’m at home until mid-October, then to a peaceful cat sit for the rest of the month. I won’t be taking on any dog sits, just kitties, until I am pass the treatment.

I’ve always had compassion and respect for those going through the cancer journey but that is even greater now.

Thanks for reading and all your support. Love, Frances

Keep a look out for love

Port has been implanted. It is a miracle that medicine has come this far, that I will not have to go get poked on regularly for chemo. For some reason, I was really nervous about the procedure. I’ve had a few surgeries: appendicitis, c-section, hysterectomy, knee surgery. For all those, I was out, under anesthesia.

I was awake for the port, given valium and numbed at the site (near right collarbone). The “cocktail” nurse was right by my side offering up any cocktail that might be needed. Another attending nurse, asked if I wanted music, “sure” I said. I was smiling, rocking my feet back and forth, taken back to good times with my high school/college sweetheart as Earth, Wind and Fire sang September. No telling how many times we danced to Earth, Wind and Fire even seeing them live in Memphis. My sweetheart is no longer alive. Maybe it was the valium, but I sensed he was with me, letting me know it would all be OK. I trust him, it was all fine.
Cancer has made me hyper aware of when love is present. Friends from as far back as elementary school have reached out offering support, my community of local friends check in regularly offering any help I may need, house mates take me out for a high protein meal before the pet scan. Packages of goodies show up from an out of town friend. Our house cat who prefers to sleep at the end of my bed (no snuggling) has been making a habit of laying right next to my bum.

Yesterday, a sunny fall day, I walked a few blocks to pick up my car at the hospital. From the middle of the crosswalk, I heard my name blaring out of a car. The boys I occasionally watch were waving arms, yelling, excited to see me in this random place, sharing they had been in the homecoming parade earlier. A couple of more blocks, I ran into a dear friend’s son. We hugged while he announced he would be bringing me houseplants to purify the air.

It’s another clear fall day. I think I’ll take a stroll, watch for love, feed a cat and head to Fact & Fiction at 5:00 for Second Wind reading with Chris LaTray and Mark Schoenfeld.

Chemo/radiation begin tomorrow. I’ve been told side effects may not take effect for a week. Maybe they won’t be too bad.
I have some low key cat sitting gigs lined up. They will be a welcomed distraction.

Thank you all for reading. Watch out for love out there.



Brenda healing my bum

Update: Pet scan results

Good news – the pet scan showed no spread of cancer, only stage 2 anal cancer.

I was to get chemo port implanted tomorrow but it is now on Thursday, September 22nd (some problem with the room they use, my chemo doctor was not happy about that). Chemo and radiation will begin Monday the 26th. Treatment should be for six weeks if all goes well. Radiation is daily Monday-Friday, only for about 15 minutes. It’s a 10 minute walk from where I live, which will make for a nice stroll.

Meantime, I often feel tired, dealing with some pain and digestive issues. Today, a doctor’s appointment and lots of phone calls with doctor’s office to reschedule everything. That takes it out of me.
Self care is resting, drinking lots of water, eating healthy, soaking in the bathtub, reading and streaming series and movies.

A couple of friends from Eugene came through Missoula this week. Our few hours together were filled with hugs, laughter and tears – good medicine. They took snapshots as I gave them a tour of the colorful, funky, one of a kind, historic community building I live in.

I am so thankful for my supportive community, friends and excellent team of medical care.

For ease of communication, I will continue to share updates here.

I’ll leave you with a link to Suleika Jaouad’s Isolation Journals newsletter including writing prompts from guest writers. She is an inspiration as she continues to create through her journey with leukemia.
Isolation Journals

Prompt from Sophie Blackall:

Make a list of things to look forward to. Include big things if you’d like, but also the small everyday things that buoy your spirits, make you laugh, make you feel alive.

She also suggest,

If you have an egg in your house, you can draw a face on it. No one will stop you. Then you will look forward to opening the fridge. 

“Hello, Egg!” you’ll say.

You will amuse yourself no end. Trust me.

Thanks as always for reading.
Frances




For the Love Books and Writing

I don’t remember ever being read to as a child. I don’t remember any children’s books around our house. Ask me my favorite book as a child, I don’t know. I do remember a few books stacked on tables for decoration and Mama sometimes reading a mass paperback book.

The first experience I remember with a book was in 3rd grade. Our teacher, Miss Aden, read aloud each day from the Secret Garden. I was transported into the mysterious world of the sick child, the discovery of the neglected garden and the miracle of transformation.

During high school, my older sisters read Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove and passed them down to me. They called them crotch burners, as when the character, Heather Simmons, seeks refuge in the arms of a virile and dangerous stranger.

It took me leaving my Southern home and culture to discover my love of books. My first couple of years at the University of Mississippi had been a social endeavor. I was to join a sorority and assure I would have a husband. I don’t remember my parents discussing what I’d like to major in, but I do remember that my mama didn’t speak to me for weeks when I dropped out of sorority rush.

My brother, eleven years older, became a professor at the University of Montana. After a visit, and falling in love with the rivers he took me on and the mountains we hiked, I decided to finish at U of M in 1981. I studied, became interested in books and learning. I discovered writers such as Tom McGuane, Richard Hugo, Ivan Doig and started reading Southern writers, Eudora Welty and Faulkner. I couldn’t get enough of this newly discovered pleasure.

No wonder when reading Welty’s One Writer’s Beginning, I wished I had grown up in her house:
“I learned from age two or three that any room in the house, at any time of day, was there to read in or to be read to. My mother read to me. She’d read to me in the big bedroom in the mornings, when we were in her rocker together, which ticked in rhythm as we rocked, as though we had a cricket accompanying the story. She’d read to me in the dining room on winter afternoons in front of the coal fire, with our cuckoo clock ending the story with “Cuckoo,” and at night when I’d go in my own bed.” Eudora Welty

Welty lived in the same town I grew up in, Jackson, MS. My parents never spoke of her. They were more concerned with our appearances and place in society. Once I had discovered Eudora Welty I remember though getting chills of excitement when Ms Welty and I were both buying underwear at McRaes department store.

In the 90’s, I moved back to Mississippi after a divorce, to be close to family. As fate would have it, Tom McGuane came to Lemuria Bookstore for a reading of Keep the Change. A little piece of Montana in Mississippi. After the signing, I said my hello’s to John, the bookstore owner. We knew each other from earlier years. Our reconnection landed me a job at his beautiful bookstore. John had recently moved his tiny bookstore into a brand new space with room for each genre, a children’s section that felt like its own store and a first editions room where John kept his office. He ran a smooth operation for author signings, promoting them, assuring we had plenty of their books and a special booth for them to sit, converse with readers and sign their books.

I was in heaven, surrounded by books, talking to customers about books, buying and reading so many books. (For the first time, I had to get prescription eye glasses) Meeting the personalities behind the writing was also a treat. I was struck by the kindness of writers I met such as Kaye Gibbons, Lori Moore, John Grisham, Mark Childress, Ellen Gilchrist, Rick Bass, Tim O’Brien, Jim Harrison, Jimmy Buffett and Willie Morris (I loved Willie, what a character) to name a few. If I were working there today, I’d be meeting Jesymn Ward, Kiese Laymon, Angie Thomas, Natasha Trethewey and Ralph Eubanks.

Books are what I spend my “extra” money on. Often buying more than I have time to read. I’m not a fast reader nor do I devour several books every few weeks, but I read consistently. I find delight in the craft of writing and the talent, along with hard work of writers.

I don’t know about God, but what about the miracle of making strokes on paper that become letters, then words, then paragraphs, an entire page, then a book, a story.

A writer has crafted the words and sentences in a way that makes a reader cry, laugh, empathize, feel connected and understood. Or one is taken on a journey, can feel the air, smell the scents, see the sky and all the surroundings described. They are educated about things they would have never know of before reading the book. Their eyes are opened. They see things differently now.

It is nothing short of a miracle.

As always, thanks for reading.

Appreciate the contrast

Sometimes we need contrast to appreciate what we have.
For 20 years, I have been a house/pet sitter. It just happened, those years ago, I cared for someone’s pets while they were away, they gave my name to someone else and so on and so on. Even when I’ve had full time jobs, I’ve house sat on the side.
It has allowed me to travel. A month in Baja caring for a dog and casa, a couple of weeks in Hawaii with a kitty. I’ve gone back to Eugene, OR, my previous home, where I have so many wonderful friends, to house sit. Now that I’m settled in Montana, my calendar stays booked. (but I’m still open to travel to care for pets!)
After an injury at a full time job that I loved, a few years ago, pet sitting in now my full time gig, with a few sidelines, cleaning airbnb, babysitting, selling my photo greeting cards. It works, I love it. It suits my care taking personality, my love of animals. There is variety, the companionship of pets, appreciative clients who if aren’t already friends often become friends, great places to care for. It’s going to be 100 degrees today and the house I’m in has air conditioning. (mine and many older homes in Montana do not)
Two corgis are at my feet as I write this. We will get out for a walk along the river before the heat sets in. There will be inside ball throwing this afternoon and of course, treats throughout the day. There will be reading and writing.
Caring for these corgis and my long time appreciative clients comes on the heals of pet sitting for a couple of dogs who’s owners treated me as if they owned me. I had only cared for these dogs once before, during the cold snowy, icy winter. They lived out from town. They required me to come the first day at 6AM, they demanded I snow shovel large areas, they asked for pictures each day (which I do anyway) but they often would take a day to reply to a question I may have about the house or pets.
I had already agreed to this last pet sit for them. But it will be the last. In a text, I asked their arrival time back home so I could meet with a client. They never responded, I twirled my thumbs all afternoon until they showed up.
I’m lucky, very lucky. I love “my” pets and their owners. I’m thankful many of them are friends. I apprecitate the contrast that keeps me in gratitude.

Daddy

Even though my daddy didn’t want another child when I came around, (I’ve been told) I knew he loved me. I can imagine that at 37 years old, he wanted to be done with having children. They already had three and two miscarriages. I can appreciate his practical thinking.
He wasn’t a hands on daddy, but when I did get his attention there was laughter and teasing. The kind of teasing that feels like love.
He was the youngest of four as I was. His father, Frank Scott, attorney, held positions such as chancery clerk and sheriff. His mother, Effie Lee, I understand was adored by many. She died a year before I was born, July 12, 1958.
Daddy’s family held high prestige and had to hold up appearances. But there was a lot of heartache and probably secrets.
I never remember a conversation with my grandfather who lived until 1985, but he had a strong presence when we gathered as family. In his later years he was known for sitting at the local park watching my high school’s cheerleaders and marching girls practice. (kinda creepy)
My grandmother, Effie Lee, lost her three old second son when he ran from her arms and was hit by a trolley car. The newspaper article of the event is graphic and heartbreaking. Her son, Walter Scott, awarded a Purple Heart, silver star and bronze star was killed by Germans. Her son, Charles Scott served, was captured and imprisoned in a Nazi prison camp for 18 months. He was never the same, an angry alcoholic for the remainder of days. My daddy served in the Navy as a pilot.
Effie Lee must have carried grief with grace until she died from stomach cancer at age 64.
Aside from having birth order in common, my daddy and I shared the disease of alcoholism. Only in the last ten years of his life was he sober. As I began to struggle, he was there for me. We went to AA meetings together, a place he was very loved and respected. Resentment was his main offender he shared with me. He never shared the details of that resentment. I can make some guesses. I think he was a creative man who never had a chance to pursue his own dreams. He was molded into who he should be in our Southern culture, becoming an attorney and president of a savings and loan. He was asked to resign from his presidency due to his drinking and manic episodes. He was still loved by those who worked with him. The letter asking him to resign was most kind and full of concern. He was not the disease.
When he took his own life in 1996, I only felt compassion, knowing how he had fought his diseases, alcoholism and manic depression, all of his adult life. As he said in his letter, he was tired.
I miss him. I miss his joking ways, when the phone was for me, he would reply “I think we left her in the monkey cage at the zoo!” I miss his love of dogs (another commonality) love of hunting and fishing, his fried corn, his antics in keeping the squirrels from climbing up the pole to the bird feeder by covering it with vaseline and watching them slide down, him climbing onto the roof setting up the sprinkler to keep the house cool. I love that he tried cross country skiing when he came to visit in Montana, all the while asking where we were going and stopping for a cigarette. How my friends all loved my daddy and thought he was so funny.
Yes, our house had a lot of chaos and dysfunction because of his diseases. He was not the disease. He was a kind, funny, flawed human being.

Salad

I giggle almost every time I tear pieces of lettuce for salad makings. It’s a memory that has stuck. As a young girl, I was proud to be given the task of making salads for family dinner. Mama told me, “make them bite size.” I did. As we all gathered at the table, she remarked, “why are the salads so small?” Of course she meant to tear the lettuce into bite size pieces!

That particular salad was a standard in our house:
In individual wooden bowls tear green leaf lettuce into bite size pieces, top with crumbled bacon and hard boiled eggs. Dress with vinegar and a dollop of my mama’s homemade mayonnaise.
I guess the lettuce made it a salad!
Her mayonnaise, with a strong lemon essence was another staple. First thing after school, my favorite snack was saltine crackers dipped in her mayo.
Instead of a salad, sometimes mama would serve half an avocado and fill the center with oil, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. It was yummy.

Salads have become an almost daily meal for me, now that I am dairy free and gluten free, they satisfy my hunger while replacing the go-to sandwiches I used to eat.
Green leaf lettuce, chopped carrots, celery, avocado and sesame seeds with homemade oil and vinegar dressing. Sometimes I cheat and put in a little grated cheddar cheese without any ill effects.
I have yet to find a bottled dressing that I love. Annie’s green goddess is pretty good.
Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a bit of honey, mustard and salt make a tasty dressing. My friend, Wendy, makes a good one, adding a little orange juice to it.

A favorite of mine and many of my friends since I have made it for them is feta salad:
In medium to large bowl, add olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. I never measure, just taste as I go. You can leave out the garlic if you don’t like it (Lola). Whisk or stir well, add green leaf lettuce, avocado and feta, and toss. Although I’m not a fan of the Athenos brand. Deli sections usually have a better selection of French or Greek fetas.

The dressing is what makes a good Caesar salad. My friend, Jane, who I met waitressing in a restaurant 40 years ago makes a mean one. She’s since been a baker, chef and worked as the family chef for three different Montana governors. She can cook for a crowd, make it look effortless and want you coming back for seconds. I texted her for her dressing recipe. Five minutes later the phone rang. After an hour of laughter and tears, she remembered to speak of her dressing before we had to hang up.

Caesar salad dressing:
1/3 white wine vinegar
1/3 oil (she likes to mix canola and olive)
garlic
anchovy paste
mustard
Worcestershire sauce
lemon

Salad:
Romaine lettuce
Homemade croutons
Parmesan cheese

Thanks for reading and happy salad making.

My Little Window Garden

How’s Your Heart?

A friend of mine asked, “how’s your heart?”
It’s many things: tender, grief stricken, achy, touched, forever hopeful, strong and beating. My heart and mind are gaining radical acceptance. It is what it is, and I will move forward. 

I was fortunate to have alone quiet time this week in my home, no pet sitting. Our house cat, Brenda, has not left my side sensing her comfort is needed. I left the house and found water to sit by. 

The outpouring of love, phone calls, texts, cards, invitations to dinner, flowers, someone brought me coffee, has wrapped me in comfort. I feel very loved. Thank you all!

It felt serendipitous, to have a conversation with Lee Rizzo about my idea of connecting the older generation with the younger generation. She has a CD release concert coming up on June 11th at the Dennison Theater here in Missoula. Part of the proceeds from the concert will go to Mother Moon Project, supporting mothers and babies in birth and postpartum. She encouraged me to reach out to them about the possibility of creating a network of “grandmothers” to help during infant hood. I’m waiting to hear back.

If you live in Missoula, I highly recommend Lee’s concert. Last year, she gave me one of the early release CDs. It’s a driving companion and I find myself singing her songs in my head. CD’s available at local record stores with a digital download available soon on her website.