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

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.

Hard Truths

The judge did not grant me time with my grandchildren. I was prepared for that. Even so, the tears are there, as well as the need for quiet and reflection.
Bottom line:
I was not the mother my daughter needed me to be. That is my sorrow.

This thread popped up on twitter. A friend is writing about the repair of her marriage through her husband’s addiction and sobriety. It is a remarkable story. She often post thought provoking questions.
What is true for my daughter is she remembers things I did, that I don’t. She felt fear when she saw my anger. She did not have the mother she deserved. That is truth.
Yes, I am a different person today, recovered. Even with the news of the court ruling, nothing in me wanted to go get drunk. That is what I would have done in the past. I would have lashed out at someone and lost their trust and respect.
My emotions are with me today. What I do with them is what is different.
This weekend is Mother’s Day. I plan to walk among the trees and find some water to sit by.

He has risen!

He has risen. Yes, Jesus did. But Robert, who owns the hotel, went through a bad bout of shingles, got hit by a car and had two cataract surgeries this past year, will turn 83 on Easter Sunday.
The second cataract surgery was this past week, so eye drops are still happening four times a day until the first of May. He refuses to do them himself. He knows his short term memory is going and could forget. Also, I know he loves all the attention, as he hears the latest of any goings on in the house, telling a joke or stories of his past (which he has begun to repeat often). I usually do the drops. When I am away pet sitting I stop by to help when I can. Otherwise, someone created a group text to organize the giving of the drops.
Robert still stays active each day. He plays cards regularly and goes for walks. He stays upbeat and positive.
One evening he said, “I am feeling discouraged.” I replied, “Oh, how so?”
His come back was “I didn’t say anything.” That was the end of that.

Sunday, someone is cooking a ham. Housemates will potluck around that. The birthday man loves mashed potatoes, they will be my contribution. Certainly, we will fill the house with flowers. Robert with his dutch heritage loves his flowers.

Just last week, I showed Robert a picture of a great horned owl, I captured on camera. He loves it and wants a print. We looked through some of my photos from other potlucks, etc at the hotel. I’ve printed those as well and will add to the photo albums of past years at the hotel. Those will be his gifts.

It will be a simple, yet sweet celebration of an 83 year old Dutch man who continues to rise.

Reading Brian Doyle is a Spiritual Experience

The hotel smelled of perfume when I came home after a week of pet sitting. On tables, kitchen counters, bathroom counters, and window sills, purple hyacinths sat bringing the hope of spring. This same scent and color came to the hotel last year at this time. Robert is dutch. He loves flowers. Throughout the year, he brings home bouquets. We are lucky to have a farmer’s market across the street in the spring and summer. Each Saturday, he brings us fresh flowers for the community dining area. Otherwise, he picks up a bunch at the grocery store. But he goes all out with the hyacinths. Once we have enjoyed the blooms, Robert gathers all the bulbs to take to a friend who plants them in his garden.
Thankfully, I don’t have any pet sitting for a couple of weeks. Robert will have cataract surgery on Friday. Thursday I’ll make sure he gets the eye drops that have to administered four times that day, then drops each day for a week. He will be seeing the world through a new lens.
I woke up at 6:00 AM to the sound of wind pushing at my windows, the dumpster being pushed with it’s force in the alley and Brenda the cat meowing to be fed. My 3rd floor windows are practically at the mouth of the Hellgate Canyon, which is notorious for its winds that blow into Missoula from the northeast. An arctic front has blown in with temperatures in the teens. Thank goodness we have hyacinths to remind us this will pass. So Brenda and I are snuggled up under my down comforter going nowhere. At least not until 2:00 this afternoon for a physical therapy appointment.
Before I turned on my computer to write, check email and before I went to social media land for all it’s good and bad, I opened Brian Doyle‘s book of essays, One Long River of Song, Notes on Wonder. Reading his words are a spiritual experience. We lost him too soon to cancer.
I am making it a habit to not turn on my computer until I have done some reading each morning. As always I grabble with social media. Twitter has become my media of choice as of late as I follow and connect with writers. However, it can feel a bit overwhelming in the pressure to keep up with tweets.


For now I will leave you with the last paragraph of Brian Doyle’s essay,
The Greatest Nature Essay Ever:
“And finally the last paragraph. It turns out that the perfect nature essay is quite short, it’s a lean taut thing, an arrow and not a cannon, and here at the end there’s a flash of humor and hint or tone or subtext of sadness, a touch of rue, you can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s there, a dark thread in the fabric, and there’s also a shot of expresso hope, hope against all odds and sense, but riveting there’s no call to arms, no clarion brassy trumpet blast, no website to which you are directed, no hint that you, yes you, should be ashamed of how much water you use or the car you drive or the fact that you just turned the thermostat up to seventy, or that you actually have not voted in the past two elections despite what you told the kids and the goat. Nor is there a rimshot ending, a bang, a last twist of the dagger. Oddly, sweetly, the essay just ends with a feeling eerily like a warm hand brushed against your cheek, and you sit there, near tears, smiling, and then you stand up. Changed.” Brian Doyle

Rememberings

Well two covid tests came back negative. However, I’m not convinced. Someone I know felt terrible, tested three times. It didn’t show up positive until the 3rd test. I’d be curious to have my antibodies checked.
I’m back at the hotel for a couple of weeks. Feels good to be home. Back to helping Robert, who needs eye drops four times a day to clear an eye infection. Once it’s cleared they will schedule his cataract surgery.
Next Wednesday, I’ll have outpatient meniscus surgery. Supposedly, not too big a deal. You walk out of surgery, then need to keep knee elevated and iced for 2-3 days. I’ll hunker down with some books and writing.
At the library, I picked up Rememberings, Sinead O’Connor’s memoir, which was on my wish list. Five chapters in, I’m loving it. Another testimony to human resilience.
From her forward: “You’ll see in this book a girl who does find herself, not by success in the music industry but by taking the opportunity to sensibly and truly lose her marbles. The thing being that after losing them, one finds them and plays the game better.”
In speaking of her Aunt Frances, ten years older with Down syndrome, “She is like a big walking heart; she loves everything and everyone.” I love the analogy of someone being a big walking heart!
This morning I googled Sinead and learned that her seventeen year old son, Shane O’Connor committed suicide in early January. News I missed and so sad, damn it.
I think I’ll stop there.
Until next time. Thanks for reading. Go gently and seriously be kind.

Nothing Compares 2U

Books To Read in 2022

This is my short list for now. It will grow.

Lit by Mary Karr – the last of her memoir trilogy, completing my read of her memoirs.

The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan – an avid reader friend who works with many writers, feels this is one of the most beautifully written classic westerns set in Montana. When I met Kim, he struck me a kind man, and yes kindness influences me.

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay – A New York Times bestseller, a collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation.

Chris LaTray’s One Sentence Journal, Short Poems and Essay on the World at Large. Chris is a local Missoulian and member of Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians His newsletter, An Irritable Metis, is always a gift in my email. I encourage you to subscribe. He has a new book, Becoming Little Shell coming in 2022 that I very much look forward to reading.

Lily Dancyger’s Negative Space,  A memoir from the editor of Burn It Down: Women Writing About AngerNegative Space explores Dancyger’s own anger, grief, and artistic inheritance as she sets out to illuminate the darkness that was hidden from her.

Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos – available March, 2022. “The most necessary book about memoir I’ve read. Daring, honest, psychologically insightful, and absolutely whip smart. A must read for anybody shoving a pen across paper or staring into a screen or a past.”          —Mary Karr

If you have books you are looking forward to reading, suggest them in the comments.

I’m in a doing mode, cooking, walking dogs, etc and reading of course. Writing is taking a nap and will wake up at some point.

Thanks for reading and subscribing to my blog. Stay safe for sure.

Books to Mark The Past and New Year

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions nor do I enjoy a big celebration. Tonight, you will find me settled in with the two sweet chocolate labs I am pet sitting; the wood stove roaring, reading one of the two books I have going, actually three if you count the one I’m listening to on audible. Listening to books is my best company on trips and driving to pet sitting jobs that are miles away from town. Yesterday, I spent the afternoon cooking (the kitchen is a great cooking kitchen, where I am pet sitting) with my audible book going, a soul enriching experience.
I’ll mark the end of the year with a list of books I have read and a list of books on my “to read” list for the new year.

For Christmas I bought myself at the local bookstore, Fact and Fiction, Heart Radical: A Search for Language, Love and Belonging by Anne Liu Kellor. I took a writing class from Anne, enjoyed her, enjoyed the class and her memoir is taking me on a journey that I am eager to continue on.
From the library, I am reading: Good Morning, Monster: Five Heroic Journeys to Recovery by Catherine Gildiner. Stories of five memorable patients and their journey of recovery. I’d consider myself lucky to have a therapist such as Catherine, as she guides people through and out the other side of trauma. Forgiveness is key to healing.
On Audible, I’m listening to Dear William: A Father’s Memoir of Addiction, Recovery and Loss by David Magee. David lost his son to an overdose. David, a Mississippi boy, struggled with his own addictions. Already, I’m only on chapter two, I can relate to how David grew up in a home that looks happy on the outside but not so much on the inside. His drinking journey is familiar as he starts to drink in high school, finding some relief from his sad home and before you know it, has a drinking problem. He is now a change maker at the University of Mississippi on the education of drug and alcohol use.

Throughout the year I have mainly read memoirs, they are great teachers when writing your own:
Mary Karr’s, The Liar’s Club, Cherry, as well as The Art of Memoir.
Kiese Layman’s Heavy, this was a re-read. Kiese grew up in my hometown of Jackson, MS. I’ll read anything of his!
Rick Bragg’s It’s All Over But the Shoutin’, story of growing up dirt poor in Alabama. Just started this one.
Maya Shanbhag Lang’s What We Carry: A Memoir Maya writes with efficiency about her experience caring for her mother who develops dementia. I loved this quick read.
Tena Clark’s Southern Discomfort: A Memoir, set in rural Mississippi during the Civil Rights era about a white girl coming of age in a repressive society and the woman who gave her the strength to forge her own path—the black nanny who cared for her. You bet I could relate to this one!
Ingrid Rick’s Hippy Boy: A Girl’s Story, about growing up in a dysfunctional Mormon family. (Ingrid has helped me map out my memoir, which she is very skilled at.)
Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, In five years, Jesmyn lost five men in her life, she revisits their lives and the agonizing loss. Again, I’d read anything of Jesmyn’s.
Kate Moore’s The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom and The Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear, set in 1806, true story of Elizabeth Packard whose husband was threatened by her independence and intellect, had her committed to an insane asylum. When one is conveniently labeled as “crazy” one loses their power and their voices are ignored. (one reason I want to write my own memoir) Elizabeth was later released and went on to free millions and changed the system. A great history lesson and very empowering to read this. I highly recommend.
Ashley Ford’s Somebody’s Daughter, of growing up a poor Black girl in Indiana with a family fragmented by incarceration, exploring how isolating and complex such a childhood can be. Loved and highly recommend.
Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights, uplifting and entertaining. I listened to this on audible which is fun to “hear” him tell his stories. Don’t think it would be as fun to read it.
Chanel Miller’s Know My Name, whew that was a tough one. Her memoir about her famous rape case on Standford’s campus. I listened to this on audible during a trip.
I’ve read some tough, sad stories, but I think it’s important to learn about other’s trauma in hopes that we can be educated and empathetic.
I needed something a little lighter after Chanel’s story. I chose,
Tiffany Haddish’s The Last Black Unicorn, a sidesplitting, hysterical, edgy, and unflinching collection of (extremely) personal essays, as fearless as the author herself.

I started a couple of novels, but haven’t finished them. I will.
Kiese Laymon’s Long Division
Caroline Patterson’s The Stone Sister

I may have left out some books, but I’m not with my bookshelves at the moment. Coming soon, books I look forward to reading in 2022.
Thanks for reading, and may the New Year bring you happiness and something you’ve been wishing for.

Stories Help Us to Understand

Robert came to Missoula in 1979, and shortly after bought the hotel. I mentioned in an earlier blog, that recently I have had the opportunity to get to know him, learn his habits and some of the reasons behind them.
At the end of this summer, he was walking downtown and was hit be a car. We learned about it when he was brought back home after a visit to the emergency room, showing us stitches along one calf.
As several of us circled around him, checking for other injuries, he insisted he was fine. In fact, after he was hit, he told the policeman he would just walk home. Thankfully, the policeman insisted that ambulance take him to the hospital.
They gave him a strong pain killer and I believe he was full of adrenaline. He insisted on climbing up the ladder to his loft bed in spite of our conclave presenting our best arguments. I in turn, insisted on sleeping in the room across the hall from him as it is kept as a guest room. One of the guys brought him something to pee into. As Robert raised a hammer, he reminded us that he and John who lives in the room directly above him, have a system. If Robert has an emergency, needs help in the middle of the night, he bangs on the radiator with the hammer. That was the signal for John to come running.
Sure’nuf around four in the morning, the banging started. John and I flew into his room. Robert, blurry eyed, stared down at us asking for help in getting down from the loft.
After he came back from the restroom, John and I stepped into the hall as Robert changed his clothes. But he hollered for help. He fell as he was changing pants and couldn’t get up. “That’s it.” I said, “you are sleeping in the room across the hall from now on.” It has a twin bed that is not a loft. He didn’t argue this time.
Thankfully, I had a break in my house/pet sitting jobs for a few weeks and could give Robert the attention he needed. I mean it’s something for anyone to be hit by a car, but even more so when you are 82 years old.
During the first week, the ankle on the leg that didn’t have stitches continued to swell up and it was painful for him to walk. After carefully nudging, I took him back to the ER. Yep, he had a fracture and needed to wear an orthopedic boot.
We spent quiet mornings visiting, drinking coffee and getting some food in him. Robert is a very independent person and has his routine. He is used to getting out everyday for a walk and his card game with friends. He appreciated my company.
I got to hear stories of his childhood in Holland during World War II. How his father buried a car, I suppose to keep the enemy from confiscating it, then unearthing it after the war. How they went without water. “That’s why I have bottles of water stored up, it’s terrible to not have water” he told me. Now, I understood, why his empty juice bottles were filled with water and tucked away.

I love that stories, listening help us to understand each other and our ways. Stories bring us closer, they open our hearts.

Robert is well on the mend. He and a fellow house mate took off yesterday for a trip to Spokane. I miss our quiet story telling mornings. However, we do go out for lunch, take a walk and I still make him oatmeal in the morning every now and then.

Thanks for reading.