Another fun Thanksgiving

Did it again, used the easy, no fuss turkey recipe. For the 3rd time it did not let us down. I wonder if I’ll ever try another turkey recipe, would there be a reason to? Maybe just for the adventure of it. We will find out in the years to come.


Thanksgiving at the hotel continues to be my favorite day for all of us who live here. It’s a humble holiday, no fan fare required. The only structure is that the turkey will be ready around 4:00 so others plan their cooking around that. Black kitty, Brenda, got about ten meals throughout the day, turkey, turkey innards, and her regular kitty food. She still tried to tell me she was hungry before we snuggled up for bed!

Once we fill our plates with all the fixings, sat down to stuff our faces, any little irks (believe me they come up when you have fifteen people living under one roof, sharing bathrooms and kitchens) are long forgotten and we are thankful to be under the same roof, happy and mostly healthy. They even made a community toast to our group effort in beating f—ing anal cancer. They all have been so sweet, always checking in to see if I needed anything, hanging in my room for a cup of tea and a visit.


Honestly, it was the first day in a few weeks that I had energy and an appetite. At one point in the afternoon, I thought I was down for the count, but after a short rest, some food and hydration I made it for dinner time, dessert, followed by nerf gun wars in the hallways.
Maybe I’ve turned a corner. For the past two weeks I have hardly gotten out of bed, felt like I had lead in my legs and no food sounded good. It was a bit depressing. They, the nurses, had warned though, saying it will get worse before it gets better. It’s still not comfortable to sit directly on my bottom, but that’s getting better too.


The sun is shining today in Missoula and I’m thankful not to be going to any Black Friday sales. I’ve got a project or two to keep my busy and a bit of clean up from yesterday.


It’s helping my spirits, knowing I’m getting back to my pet sitting gigs. I got even better news when I went by to get last minute instructions for my dog sit starting Monday. Rafa, the dog, has the same routine as me. In the mornings, he gets up for breakfast then demands everyone get back in bed for a bit. We will get along beautifully.


One more piece of good news, I revised an essay I wrote last year, submitted it to Insider and it was accepted, my first paid piece of writing. Once it’s live, you will be the first to know.

Thanks for reading. Have a peaceful day.

View from back balcony

Week 5 of cancer treatment

This is the hard part. They warned me these last two weeks may be the worse. I’ve been nauseated since Friday. Can’t eat. No energy. I make myself go outside and stand in the sun. It’s lonely. It’s unsettling. I fear I will die alone, but many of us do.
I want to hear my family’s voices.

That’s today and the past few days. This too shall pass.

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

Ode to October

Her voice was soft and smooth as she sang quietly into the audio text I received early this morning.
A comforting made up jingle reminding me it is October 1st.
We can feel it in the air, in how the light is low in the morning and stunning in the afternoon, showing off oranges and reds, purples and pinks just before it leaves for the day.

October gives such a lovely reprieve.
The oppressive heat has lifted, school has commenced, many tourist have returned to their work/school life.
It begins to quiet down, a prelude to the peaceful stillness a winter day can bring.

Diagnosis

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered I have something in common with Farah Fawcett and Marcia Cross (red head from Desperate Housewives) – anal cancer.
Marcia Cross has become a spokesperson for this becoming more common cancer. It stems from the HPV virus which 80% of us are walking around with. She speaks openly, encouraging others to do the same after learning that many hide their true diagnosis due to embarrassment.
I knew something wasn’t right for a few months. Thought it was hemorrhoids but the pain kept getting worse. My primary care doctor sent me to a surgeon after attempting to do an exam but I almost flew off the table. She did feel a little something. I almost flew off the surgeon’s table too. He scheduled to put me under in order to do the exam.
After the procedure, the person who phoned my friend, who was picking me up, told her the doctor would be talking to me saying, “he did a biopsy and it could be cancer.” Whoever he was needs to read up on his HIPAA – yes I will let the doctor know this happened. The doctor did not speak to me before I left. My friend felt terrible after telling me this. The results I received via email one evening confirmed it. Dr. Acher, the surgeon, phoned the next morning. In his compassionate doctor voice he let me know the treatment is a combo of radiation and chemo. No surgery since it sits right on the sphincter. “The oncologist will be calling to set up your appointment. I will see you for your follow up mid September.”
I’ve met with the chemo doctor, I had her for my iron infusions a year ago. Love her. Later the same day met with my radiation doctor. Love her too. In her southern accent, we discussed dogs, the complexities of the South and photography as much as we talked of treatment.
This Wednesday I have a pet scan with results on Thursday to assure the cancer is contained.
Radiation begins the next Monday, every weekday for about 25 treatments. A port for chemo will be implanted in my chest receiving continuous chemo. (not sure for how long)
There is great success with this combination. Since learning my diagnosis I am learning of others who had this and came out the other side. Though, they all say the process is brutal: digestive issues, fatigue, maybe mouth sores and loss of hair.
I’m getting my ducks in a row in order to rest when needed.

Before my diagnosis, I had registered to hear Mark Nepo speak on his new book, Surviving Storms this past Sunday online. Almost everything he said I needed to hear.
Conversation with Mark Nepo, Surviving Storms

Mind as a Keyhole by Mark Nepo

Beneath the cloud,
everything is grey.

Above the cloud,
everything is light.

Calling the cloud unfair
is being a victim.

Trying to conquer the cloud
is being a hero.

Calling the cloud a cloud
is the beginning of peace.

May we all love each other forward as Mark suggest.
Thanks 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.

In the footsteps of Norman Maclean

Sunday afternoon, I sat alone in a theater, surrounded by people and cried. There is a lot of sadness in the world. I was listening to writers speak of this sadness, expressing it so eloquently. The power of words and people who craft them perfectly is enough to bring me to tears.

The In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean festival, free to the public, brought Timothy Egan, Shane Morigeau, Debra Magpie Earling, Terry Tempest Williams, Rick Bass, Doug Peacock and more to the stage.
Rick Bass, who I adore, introduced Terry Tempest Williams with humor and tenderness. They are long time friends.

Terry in turn, told a story of how Rick had been there for her when her brother committed suicide a couple of years ago. He rang, she said and started telling me a story. He didn’t say, “I’m sorry for your loss” nor try to say the right thing. He just told story until they hung up.

In keeping with the theme, public lands and sacred ground, Terry shared a story of Willie Grayeyes, a Navajo Utah commissioner candidate who went to court to prove his residency. You can read more of his case in the Salt Lake Tribune. He did win. Terry asked Willie, “what do we do with our anger?”
“Terry, it can no longer be about anger. It has to be about healing.” Willie Grayeyes


I missed the speakers on Saturday. Heard it was excellent, with a tribute to the late William Kittredge. Terry shared a passage from Bill’s book, Hole in the Sky,
“We tell stories to talk out the troubles in our lives, trouble otherwise so often unspeakable. It is one of our main ways of making our lives sensible. Trying to live without stories can make us crazy. They help us to recognize what we believe to be the most valuable in the world, and help us identify what we hold demonic.” William Kittredge

Doug Peacock shared stories and read from his books. I confess I have not read them yet. Listening to him, I’m inclined to read them. Rick mentioned he requires his students to read, The Grizzly Years. That’s now on my “must read” list.

Another take away was a reminder of the work that needs to be done to save Yaak Valley Forest.
“In addition to being the stronghold of the last 25 grizzlies in the Yaak Valley, the northwest corner of Montana holds one of the great stalwarts for any successful plan for the western United States to successfully weather the rising tide of global warming.” Rick Bass, Black Ram Project.

As a high school friend of Rick’s ex-wife, I had the good fortune to visit and stay with them in the Yaak on several occasions. We’ve floated the river, passing moose, walked in the forest, watched the northern lights from a fire tower and sat atop a mountain ridge with the taste of Rick’s freshly baked pie in our mouths as shooting stars were the free of charge showing for the night.
It is, as many places are, a place worth saving.

“The cruel things I did I took to the river.
I begged the current: make me better.” Richard Hugo “The Towns We Know and Leave Behind, The Rivers We Carry With Us”

As always, thanks for reading.

Morning Prayer, Padraig O’Tuama

Good morning,

The dog and I are cuddled up, coffee in hand, listening to a conversation between Krista Tippett and Padraig O’Tuama, On Being.
It is aired from Ireland. The scenery around me at my week long pet sit, could be in Ireland.
Padraig gives hope for unimaginable repair. It’s worth a listen.

His morning prayer:

“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder.
     
     “I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. 

     “I recognize and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day.

     “I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet. Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast. Hello.”