Another Turn of the Page: I Love May

“At last came the golden month of the wild folk– honey-sweet May, when the birds come back, and the flowers come out, and the air is full of the sunrise scents
and songs of the dawning year.”

Samuel Scoville Jr., Wild Folk

What’s not to love? Everything turns green in May. Right now the lilacs and some of the fruit trees are plumping up their buds and we will soon have flowers everywhere. Bird migration gets into full swing in May. We just had the Big Bay Birdathon here in Northeastern Wisconsin. I could not participate fully this year but we did a shortened version and came home with a list of 57 birds. An osprey in an unusual place and a flock of over 400 Dunlins were two of the highlights. In our yard we have seen Indigo Buntings, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, a Catbird and a Brown Thrasher. Asparagus comes up in May! Our 40 year old patch is choked with weeds. No self respecting asparagus should still be growing there but I picked a large handful today for our dinner tonight. The daffodils and the tulips are in full bloom. Also my birthday is in May. So I say again, what’s not to love?

Our band of readers gathered to share their books. One member brought his sister along. She didn’t have a book to share but I guess he just wanted to share us with her. We are a feisty group so I hope she enjoyed herself and comes back next time and tells us what she has been reading.

So I will make this short so I can get out and enjoy May. Here is what we read:

  1. Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather by Mark Seal (2021) 432p. The story of how The Godfather was made is as dramatic, operatic, and entertaining as the film itself. During production of the movie, location permits were inexplicably revoked, author Mario Puzo got into a public brawl with an irate Frank Sinatra, producer Al Ruddy’s car was found riddled with bullets and men with “connections” vied to be in the cast. Our book group member is a great storyteller so when he was done we were all anxious to read this book.
  2. You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War by Elizabeth Becker (2021) 320p. The long-buried story of three extraordinary female journalists who permanently shattered the barriers to women covering war. Arriving in Vietnam at a time when women were considered unfit to be foreign reporters, American journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Frances Fitzgerald, French daredevil photographer Catherine Leroy, and Australian journalist Kate Webb, challenged the rules imposed on them by the military, ignored the belittlement of their male peers, and ultimately altered the craft of war reportage for generations.
  3. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016) 289p. Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison.
  4. The World Played Chess by Robert Dugoni (2021) 400p.The title is a take-off on the old saying “You were playing checkers while they were playing chess”. In other words, you were playing a more simple game while the world was involved in a strategic, complicated game. This title is appropriate since this book focuses on three time periods, all involving boys, just at the brink of manhood as they turn 18 in the years 1967, 1979 and 2015. All with connections to Vietnam.
  5. The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff (2019) 379p. A World War II thriller based on the missions of the real-life women of the Special Operations Executive. The setting is France and is inspired by true events.
  6. Dragonfly by Leila Meacham (2019) 563p. A World War II saga about a fictional team of young Americans (men and women) recruited as OSS agents to infiltrate German-occupied Paris. The team is code-named Dragonfly, and upon arrival in Paris, they are trained and then dropped behind enemy lines to carry out their missions. This is no small book but our reviewer said it was so compelling and well written, she couldn’t put it down.
  7. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016) 462p. This has got to be the 4th person in our group to read and review this book and many more have read it, just didn’t present it at group. Once again, it tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, who is sentenced to live out the rest of his life on “house arrest” in the Metropol hotel, following his “conviction” by a Bolshevik tribunal. He was convicted of being an unrepentant aristocrat and is stripped of his wealth by the new regime. From one of the hotel’s most prestigious guests, to a member of the wait staff, Count Rostov manages his fall from grace with poise and dignity. It’s a keeper!
  8. A Minute to Midnight (Atlee Pine #2) by David Baldacci (2019) 418p. Last month one of our members read #4 in this series. Now here is a review of #2 which of course takes place earlier. Hopefully all of this jumping around won’t spoil it for those just starting the series. In this one, FBI Agent Atlee Pine returns to her Georgia hometown to reopen the investigation of her twin sister’s abduction, only to encounter a serial killer beginning a reign of terror. (you should start with #1, Long Road to Mercy)
  9. When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash (2021) 290p. When the roar of a low-flying plane awakens him in the middle of the night, Sheriff Winston Barnes knows something strange is happening at the nearby airfield on the coast of North Carolina. But nothing can prepare him for what he finds: a large airplane has crash-landed and is now sitting sideways on the runway, and there are no signs of a pilot or cargo.
  10. The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (2021) 400p. This historical fiction is based on the creation of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. A team of learned scholars sat in a garden shed gathering and annotating words and their meanings. As they worked on each letter of the alphabet the words were stored on slips of paper in wooden pigeon holes. Each word was taken out and the meaning of it disputed endlessly until there was agreement on its definition(s). However, the main character, Esme, assistant and daughter of one of the lexicographers, realizes that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences, and also the lower classes, often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the OED, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Cat Scan Week

This past week was the moment I have been waiting for since my first scan on 1/3/2022. Followed by a biopsy on 1/12/2022 and finally a meeting on 1/18/2022, when the doctor told me the cancer was back. My first of six chemo treatments began on February 10. This scan came two and a half weeks after the 4th chemo on April 14th.

Hopefully it was going to show that all of this stuff I am going through was making a difference. To say I was apprehensive would be an understatement. What if there had been no change? What if the change wasn’t significant enough? Would additional treatments be added?

I knew that something had changed because the pain I was experiencing in the area of the mass had subsided. This pain was presumably caused by the mass pushing on my intestinal wall so the lack of pain seemed like a good sign. I had fingers and toes and eyes crossed.

Through my medical system I can communicate with my doctor online, make appts and see test results. The results pop in as soon as a technician reads them and puts them into the computer. So I usually see them way before the doctor who is not sitting and waiting for my results or any of the other 50 patients that had tests that day. My doctor did say to me that she really hates that in a way because the patient is then interpreting things that may not be true, or they are on the phone to the doctor before the results reach her. I can understand.

Did I look when the results came in? Yes.

Was there a reduction? Yes.

Here is my graphic interpretation. I had a hard time doing a 3D image so this is just length and width but the depth was also down about .5cm. All of the measurements are in cm. The longest length was 6.8cm

The pink area is the original size, the blue is the current size. Maybe 15-20% reduction? I was hoping for at least 50% but the doctor said ANY reduction is a positive sign. And I have since had another chemo treatment with a 6th scheduled for May 26th.

Where do I go from here? Well finishing the chemo and then another CT scan and then…to be determined. It is still going to be a long haul and I don’t think I will be seeing any hair till Fall so I ordered two new head coverings.

Onward!!

After the results!

Getting Away

I so want to travel again. Covid certainly stopped any plans we had for serious domestic travel and completely ended any international travel we had in mind. Once things started easing up I was diagnosed with cancer and my doctor strongly advised, well pretty much said no, no, no to being in large groups of people. Infections of any kind and chemotherapy do not mix well. However his past weekend we did get about 50 miles away to Egg Harbor, Wisconsin in Door County.

Door county Wisconsin is a big tourist area and they are hoping this year will bring them back from the black hole of Covid. Things really don’t get started up there till May, so traveling at the end of April means less tourists, less crowds, less traffic. Also fewer shops and restaurants are open but there still are some doing business because there are people who actually live there and there is also some Winter tourism. Bottom line it was a good time for a person with a compromised immune system to get out and have a little fun.

Very close friends of ours own a condo up there and since they were enjoying sun and surf in Florida they kindly said we could use their place. We gratefully accepted and made a long weekend of it by heading up on a Thursday. My birthday was the following Monday so it would be a mini vacation/birthday occasion. No big plans. A little shopping, some reading, some outdoor viewing, an art gallery or exhibit and a lot of eating. We combined the trip with a meeting with our financial advisor who has an office in Sturgeon Bay,WI and lives there. If we were looking for a fine dining type restaurant he suggested Barringer’s in Fish Creek. It became our birthday celebration destination. He also suggested making a reservation even though it was early in the season. Because of a shortage of servers many restaurants were limiting the number of diners they could handle at any one time. A good tip!

We had checked the menu online so we knew what to expect, sort of. Everything sounded good but the proof is in the eating. We were not disappointed just surprised, on one order.

We love carpaccio and were really happy to see it on the menu. So we put that order in immediately. Now look at the entry on the menu. Beef Carpaccio: capers, truffle, parmesan. Yes, we got our carpaccio, with capers and parmesan.

Beef Carpaccio

But right after the plate was put on the table this dish also arrived.

We told the waitress that we did not order fries but she said it comes with the carpaccio, it says it on the menu. Uh, no. It said truffle on the menu. Well I guess that was code for French fries with truffle oil aoili, which is also a side on the menu. They were very good and Curt ate most of them but I was trying to save room for my entree. Just weird.

My entree was Beef Stroganoff which was very good. Beef tips, mushrooms, brown sauce and a few cornichons here and there. Very good and plenty leftover for lunch the next day. Along with it I ordered a side of asparagus with Bearnaise sauce. Also very good.

Curt went with the special, Sole a la Meuniere with roasted seasonal vegetables. Also known as the Miller’s Wife, a meuniere is a classic French fish dish consisting of sole, that is dredged in flour, pan fried in butter and served with the resulting brown butter sauce, parsley and lemon. This preparation additionally had pea shoots and onions.

Along with a nice dry Sauvignon Blanc, dinner was complete and very filling. Sadly, no room for dessert. We both would recommend this restaurant and plan on going again one day with friends.

Another Turn of the Page: Wisconsin Reading Weather

“Snow in April is abominable,” said Anne.
“Like a slap in the face when you expected a kiss.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Ingleside

It is April 18th in NE Wisconsin. Yesterday was Easter and even though it didn’t get out of the 30’s it was clear and sunny. Spring birds were coming into the yard: robins, a warbler, lots of bright yellow goldfinches. It seemed like we had turned a corner. But the weatherman did warn us to not put our coats away yet and this morning the sky was gray, everything else was white and more huge snowflakes were still falling from the sky… they still are. The Tufted Titmouse in the picture says it all. But there is room for optimism because if this was February the temperature would drop to 20 degrees and we would have to wait a week for anything to melt. This is April, so I designate today a Wisconsin Reading Day. I will make a cup of tea, grab my book and curl up on the couch. By tomorrow the snow will melt and with any luck the sun will be back. In the meantime here is what my group read this month.

  1. The Beauty of Living Twice by Sharon Stone (2021) 244p. Sharon Stone, one of the most renowned actresses in the world, suffered a massive stroke that cost her not only her health, but her career, family, fortune, and global fame. In The Beauty of Living Twice, Stone chronicles her efforts to rebuild her life and writes about her slow road back to wholeness and health.
  2. Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult (2021) 310p. Can you remember what life was like before COVID-19? The dreams you had, the trips you wanted to take, the memories you thought you could make? Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, explores what life was like before and during the pandemic as her characters battle it from two entirely different perspectives.
  3. Daughters of War (The War Nurses #2) by Lizzie Page (2018) 366p. Set during World War I, this a story of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage. Her daughters are at boarding school and she needs to feel useful and of consequence. Even though she is untrained, she is encouraged to take a nursing position on the Somme, where her hospital is an active battle zone. This will be an experience she could never have imagined.
  4. WIN (Windsor Horne Lockwood III #1) by Harlan Coben (2021) 375p. Win is Windsor Horne Lockwood III, the billionaire friend of Myron Bolitar and this is the first in a series in which he is the central character. This is a complex thriller with multiple threads involving a radical group from the 1970’s, a Vermeer painting stolen from the Lockwood family many years ago and a monogrammed suitcase belonging to Win’s cousin Patricia which is discovered at an apartment of a murdered man.
  5. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2019) 462p. Our member has decided to read some of the books his fellows have recommended so we have reviewed this before. Briefly, it tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, who is sentenced to live out the rest of his life on “house arrest” in the Metropol hotel, following his “conviction” by a Bolshevik tribunal. He was convicted of being an unrepentant aristocrat and is stripped of his wealth by the new regime. From one of the hotel’s most prestigious guests, to a member of the wait staff, Count Rostov manages his fall from grace with poise and dignity. Excellent book. You can’t go wrong choosing this one.
  6. Mercy (Atlee Pine #4) by David Baldacci (2021) 416p. For her entire life, FBI agent Atlee Pine has been searching for her twin sister, Mercy, who was abducted at the age of six and never seen again. Now, after a perilous investigation that nearly proved fatal, Atlee has finally discovered not only the reason behind her parents’ abandonment and Mercy’s kidnapping, but also the most promising breakthrough yet: proof that Mercy survived her abduction and then escaped her captors many years ago. 
  7. The Sheep Queen by Thomas Savage (2001) 248p. “A Western family story at once intimate and epic, this rich, compelling novel tells the story of the Sweringen family of Idaho: Emma, the matriarch, known as the Sheep Queen; the daughter who disappoints her; the grandson who adores her; and the granddaughter, given up for adoption, who spends nearly half her life finding her way back to her family.” -Goodreads By the author of The Power of the Dog, which is a the author’s better book.
  8. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (2006) 461p. The author takes us on an extraordinary journey to understand the truth behind our most sacred national myth: the voyage of the Mayflower and the settlement of Plymouth Colony. As Philbrick reveals, the story of the Pilgrims does not end with the First Thanksgiving ( which is a myth in itself); instead, it is a fifty-five-year epic that is at once tragic and heroic, and still carries meaning for us today.
  9. The Cartographer’s Secret by Tea Cooper (2020) 400p. The Cartographer’s Secret follows a young woman’s quest to heal a family rift as she becomes entangled in one of Australia’s greatest historical puzzles. A puzzle, her great aunt Evie, tried to solve 30 years earlier before she disappeared.
  10. The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation;s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan (2017) 307p. The fascinating true story behind the magnificent Gilded Age mansion Biltmore—the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States.

Side Effects

One of the “joys” of chemotherapy is side effects. Please just quit reading if you don’t want to hear about any of this. It just helps me sometimes to write about what I am experiencing. Getting it out of my head helps me not dwell on it all night. I’ll be writing about books and reading next and you can come back for that.

Anyway …side effects. My side effects.

Fatigue

Fatigue: I usually feel this right away when I get home after I am done with my five hour infusion. I was told you won’t ever have experienced anything like this before and they were right. It isn’t just being tired, it is being whipped and dragged out. Once I get home I am drinking a lot of fluids and have found a good hardy dinner helps immensely. This time Curt made a beef stir fry with asparagus and onions and green beans. Protein and veggies are magic and I, fortunately, do not experience another one of the known side effects,

Nausea: I am so glad I don’t have this one. At the hospital before I get the chemo meds I get an infusion of pepcid and benedryl and then another infusion of dexamethasone which is an anti-nausea drug. Then once I am home I take dexamethasone tablets for three mornings. So far it has worked with my body just fine. No nausea means no loss of appetite, means more energy going in while I expend a lot of energy. My good supportive friend who had similar treatments had bad nausea and it made getting through this all the more difficult. I am grateful.

Ok, taken before I lost my hair but this is how I feel on Steroid Day.

Super Duper Steroid Energy: Yep, the day after the infusion and the extreme fatigue I get a day of wow! this feels great! Give me more! Well, there are steroids in the ‘juice’ they give me and they kick in the day after and that’s all you get, one day. I use that day to do the laundry, change sheets, fill the bird feeders and other little projects. None of which I could do today because I had the..

Wobblies: I don’t know what else to call it when I just can’t walk straight. That’s what happens to me on the Day 2. I hold on tight to the banister as I come down stairs from our bedroom. That even leaves me a bit winded. Once again a hardy breakfast helps a lot but I do notice that getting up too fast or doing too much is not in the cards. According to my journal entries tomorrow will be..

Muscle and Joint Aches: My particular pain goes to the back of my knees, top of my feet, shoulders sometimes. Tylenol doesn’t seem to attack it but I take it anyway just in case. It may be worse if I don’t take it. The pain isn’t so unbearable that I need strong meds, which I have been prescribed, but I don’t want to go there if I can help it. This pain will stay with me, off and on, for 2-3 days. Makes sleeping difficult.

Neuropathy: So far not much to report. I have been wearing my frozen booties and mittens when I get my chemo meds (see other blog post), and so far I have only experienced a little numbness in my toes lately. No pain. However, some nights my feet are so cold even two pairs of socks don’t do the trick but that might be something else. My fingers are good and I can type and sew which takes good finger touch.

And now the biggie!!!

Hair loss: To be perfectly honest, I hate this the most. Well I hate the fatigue the most but I don’t have to avoid mirrors because of fatigue or pain. I have a very difficult time viewing my head. Maybe because I have always been blessed with a lot of thick hair. I have purchased lots of hats and scarves. Decided against a wig because I heard they were hot and difficult to wash and ..a bother!! I still have eyebrows but the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin, thanks to hormonal changes, have all disappeared. With my luck, when everything grows back I’ll have a beard….oh no, don’t go there!!!!!

When all is said and done, I would go through this again rather than have cancer. I am lucky, my cancer is at Grade 1, it can be shrunk, it can be destroyed. Also side effects are different for everyone. This is just one woman’s experience. I believe good things will come out of this.

Halfway There

I am halfway into my chemotherapy treatments. I have decided to do a short report and update here. Maybe for anyone who might be curious or maybe just for me to look back on. I know all of this was a big mystery to me going in, never having had a family member really share what they went through. And it probably is different for everyone.

Before writing about the actual chemo I want to report that I have seen some positive changes in my body since I began this. Because of the location and nature of those changes I won’t get into details but trust me when I say that I am encouraged by what I am experiencing. So that makes me feel all of this is worth the time, the trouble and the pain.

Chemotherapy just baffles me. Basically I am putting poison in my body to kill the cancer and, I guess, hoping all the other cells and systems will just go about their business and bounce back once the cancer is gone. To do this I have to spend five hours hooked up to various needles, tubes and bags. The Cancer Center at the hospital I go to has individual rooms for the patients. I have been told the other hospital in our town has a communal room. When I arrive I always ask for a room with a window because it is nice to have outside light even on a cloudy day. The furnishings aren’t fancy. I sit in a lounge chair and Anne, the CMA, props my back with pillows and tucks me in with a warmed blanket. There is a little sink and counter in the room and I have a table where I put my cup, snacks, journal and book.

Through a drip I receive some preliminary meds for about 30 minutes but once those are finished I don my cold booties and mittens. One of the possible side effects to chemotherapy is neuropathy, tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes. Some very small studies have shown that keeping your fingers and toes cold during the the time you are getting the chemo can help prevent this from happening. A friend of mine had some of these mittens and booties and suggested I try them. So I put them in the freezer the night before and bring them to the hospital in a thermal bag. They look kind of funny but if it works, so what?

The middle ones are called Hot Gloves because you can also put them in the microwave
if you need warm hands for something.

Next comes the scary stuff and you know it is scary because my nurse, dons a heavy duty gown, puts on gloves, and is masked, of course. Before anything is started she calls in another nurse to verify that I am getting the right stuff and the correct dosage. Lots of hooking and clicking and switching and the dripping begins. Here is what the other side of my little room looks like.

And when I am done all of the tubes, bags, connectors, swabs, needles, gloves….go into the big yellow bucket and are incinerated. It is mind boggling, to say the least. So I sit there for my 5 hours and read, or nap or eat my lunch. Occasionally the monitor will start beeping and the nurse will have to come in and give the tube a flick because an air bubble has formed. Even modern medicine has its quirks.

Air Bubble

And there you have it. Is it fun? No, mostly boring. There is no pain, that comes in the days after as the medication fights with my cells. And there is fatigue but after a week things get better and I get two weeks to strengthen myself for the next session.

A big shout out to my nurses, Danielle, Cori and Chelsea. Everyone of them, compassionate, friendly, talkative, personable, professional and caring. I couldn’t do this without them.

Another Turn of the Page: In Like a Lamb

“My father was often impatient during March, waiting for winter to end, the cold to ease, the sun to reappear. March was an unpredictable month, when it was never clear what might happen. Warm days raised hopes until ice and grey skies shut over the town again.”
― Tracy Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring

March came in like a lamb. For us that was temps in the mid to upper 40s and a bright sunny sky. But as the quote above points out, March is unpredictable and just when you get all excited and start packing away your boots and heavy coat, it snows on your lamb and temperatures drop to the upper teens. Don’t put away your sweaters in March, sheep don’t get sheared till May and neither should you.

I have been noticing the not so warm air more this March because my protective covering, my hair, has taken leave of my head while I do a turn with chemo. But those sheep are good role models and I have made close friends with some wooly hats. I donned one of those hats and headed off to our book group this month. Masks are not required anymore in our state because Covid is not as much of a threat as it once was but I still have to mask because of a thin immune system. However everyone in the group was willing to mask. And I know they don’t even come if they are feeling ill. It was just so good to be with everyone in person. For a group of people who really got together by serendipity, we get along amazingly well and we read a fascinating array of books. But enough about us, on to the books.

  1. The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian (2018) 354p. Cassie is a flight attendant who drinks too much and has too many one night stands on layovers. After a long night of heavy partying in Dubai she wakes up in a hotel room next to an unknown man who happens to be dead and covered in blood. Did she do this during one of her blackouts or has someone entered the room while she was passed out?
  2. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014) 588p. Adichie takes on race, immigration and emigration, the politics of natural hair, interracial relationships, what it means to leave home, and what it means to return, all wrapped up in a love story.
  3. Take What You Can Carry by Gian Sardar (2021) 336p. Olivia, an American and an aspiring photojournalist, decides to accompany her Kurdish boyfriend Delan to his village in northern Iraq for a family wedding. While they both are aware of the dangers there, nothing can prepare them for the actual state of affairs and the visit upturns their lives forever. This novel will teach you much about the Kurdish struggles.
  4. The Women’s March: A Novel of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession
    by Jennifer Chiaverini (2021) 352p. The suffrage movement was a long and difficult fight and women did not get the right to vote till 1920. The Women’s March in January 1913 occurred the day before the presidential inauguration and is considered a key moment in helping sway the public’s opinion. This historical fiction novel features 3 suffragists: Alice Paul, Maud Malone, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett and follows each woman’s role in the movement as well as the famous march in Washington D.C..
  5. 2 Sisters Detective Agency by James Patterson and Candice Fox (2021) 416p. Rhonda Bird is called back to LA to bury her estranged father. But he has left some surprises for his daughter… she inherits not only his detective agency but is named the guardian of a half sister, Baby. As she gets used to this new life she has been forced into, she gets caught up in the line of fire of drug cartels, an ex-assassin out for revenge and a teenage half sister who wants her freedom.
  6. All About Me: My Remarkable Life in Show Business by Mel Brooks (2021) 480p. At 95, the legendary Mel Brooks shares the story of his working life.The most enjoyable aspects of this memoir are the stories about how each of his movies was conceived and then the production and filming of them. As one reviewer wrote, “It’s like sitting at your funniest oldest relative’s knee and having them tell you all their best stories.”
  7. The Dressmakers of Auschwitz: The True Story of Women who Sewed to Survive
    by Lucy Adlington (2021) 304p. The author spotlights a little known group of Auschwitz-Birkenau inmates who sewed in a ‘fashion salon’ established by Hedwig Höss, wife of Rudolf Höss, the SS Officer in charge of the death camp. Her exhaustive research includes an interview with Mrs Kohut (98) in San Francisco, the last surviving dressmaker of Auschwitz. The book explains how these 25 women came together through the most terrible circumstances of camp life.
  8. A Minute to Midnight (Atlee Oine #2) by David Baldacci (2019) 418p. FBI Agent Atlee Pine returns to her Georgia hometown to reopen the investigation of her twin sister’s abduction, only to encounter a serial killer beginning a reign of terror.
  9. Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin (2018) 476p. Violette is a caretaker of a cemetery in France. She has stories of almost all the graves she’s nurtured with love and grace over the last twenty years. She tells of lovers who visit by night to avoid family during the day. Of women who come to visit and leave their stories of love and life with her. The book is interspersed with her own tragedy of loss and regaining her strength to carry on. A beautiful story of love, death, grief and hope.
  10. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk (2022) Leisl, a head librarian at a major university must take over as interim director after her boss, Christopher, suffers a stroke and goes into a coma. One of her first responsibilities is the unveiling at a reception with the donors of a recently acquired prized manuscript. However when the safe is opened where it has been kept, it is missing. Later, more important books are discovered missing and so is one of the librarians.
  11. Mrs. Kennedy and Me: An Intimate Memoir by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin (2012) 343p. Jackie Kennedy’s personal Secret Service agent details his very close relationship with the First Lady during the four years leading up to and following President John F. Kennedy’s tragic assassination.

A New Fashion Statement

It is interesting what you first focus on when you are told your cancer is back. I think for me at first it was disbelief. After all, I was told we got it all back in 2014. But as my doctor pointed out, “Cancer doesn’t read the textbooks.” Next came fear, sadness, then acceptance, and now, resolve. I’ve got it, I’m going to get rid of it. End of story. I hope I can stay strong.

Once I got to that point I started concentrating on practical matters. I was having chemotherapy. I was going to lose my hair! I have always had a lot of thick hair. My hairdresser jokes that she is getting carpal tunnel from cutting my hair. And I admit, as shallow as it is, I am vain about my hair. So this was a blow. What to do?

The librarian in me went to the internet first and researched head coverings for chemo patients. I also consulted a close friend who had been through this same dilemma two years ago. The first search brought me to a site called Knots of Love. Knots of Love is a nonprofit organization that provides hand-knit and crocheted beanies and caps for free to people going through chemo. I contacted them and found out I just had to tell them I was going through chemo and I could use a hat. They asked me what colors I preferred and the size of my head (they also told me how to measure my head). In about a week, three,( yes, three!) hats arrived! This was February so they were for cold weather and they were beautiful. Very professionally made. Knots of Love provides hats to children’s hospitals and the military as well. I was astonished, pleased and I immediately sent them a donation. PS: They are always looking for knitters and crocheters to donate their time and talent.

Knots of Love hats. I added the pins. The middle cap is a sleep cap made of super soft yarn.

Next was the suggestion from my friend. She had ordered hats from a company called Headcovers Unlimited. They have hats, scarves and wigs in every shape, size and color imaginable. Also tips on how to wear and tie said scarves and hats. Since my chemo will take me into the Spring and possibly Summer I needed some head-covering that was of a lighter material. Also these hats were a bit more fashionable in case I wanted to go somewhere nice. Many are made of bamboo cloth which would be soft and gentle to my newly naked scalp. I started with these three.

The middle one is a Newsboy Cap with a bill, nice and slouchy on the back of my head.

Of course being a knitter and a crocheter myself I had to make a few of my own. At Christmas I received from Curt yarn that was dyed to match the colors of a King Eider Duck. I specifically had asked for some of this yarn (Songbird Yarn & Fibre) and left it to him to choose from three birds that I suggested. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the yarn then, but I knew now. I made a little tight cap and added a carved feather pin. I also had some bamboo yarn and made a slouchy hat in gray and another soft sleep cap in a sage color.

1. Sleep cap 2. Slouchy cap 3. King Eider cap

Lots of information I found on the internet is about scarves. Probably the easiest solution. So I started rummaging through my drawers and boxes and found a pretty good selection to tie around my head in various configurations. Not completely intuitive so if you are going this route find instructions, I did. I think if this goes too far into Spring I may be looking to purchase some more scarves because they are light and airy.

The scarf in the lower right is from Banned Books Week and
is printed with titles of challenged or banned books.

And finally the miscellaneous category. My friend Jean dyes and prints knit fabric and sews it into spiffy tubes. These can go around your neck like a scarf, become a headband OR popped onto a head needing protection. They are soft and super easy. I had two of these. I had only used them as neck scarves but now they were perfect to wear around the house and maybe out and about. The last head-covering in my miscellaneous batch I got at the Cancer Center in the hospital. They have a small boutique where people donate their handmade creations. This is kind of a bonnet style, or peasant scarf, which I will probably reserve for gardening.

Now you are probably wondering how all these look on me. I must admit I am a little shy about having my picture taken. One, I am terrible at selfies, I don’t think I have a very nice shaped head (that thick hair hid a lot of craziness) and even I can’t look in the mirror yet without being a bit sad. But if you really want to see how a cap and a scrunch tube look, take a peak below. Or not.

Revisiting Ottolenghi

Winter is getting old. I’ve knitted 2-3 hats. I’ve been journaling. Just finished my third jigsaw puzzle. My concentration for reading took a short pause but I am back at that again. But still it is winter and too cold or too nasty to go out. So I was browsing around the other day looking at the various piles of stuff that need attention around here and I spotted a cookbook that I had never really looked through. That is not unusual as Curt is the cookbook buyer and the main chef. The book I found is “Flavor” by Yotam Ottolenghi. From the introduction I discovered that this was “a next level approach to vegetables.” And in here I would find “more than one hundred innovative, super-delicious, plant-based recipes.” His cookbooks are always beautiful so even if I didn’t find anything I wanted to try, or I wanted Curt to try, it would be a fun browse.

On my second time through I started marking recipes that sounded really interesting like Za’atar Cacio e Pepe, Eggplant Dumplings alla Parmigiana, Spicy Mushroom Lasagna, and One-Pan Orecchiette Puttanesca. The last one intrigued me because puttanesca always looks good to me on restaurant menus until I read anchovies in the ingredients. But this puttanesca was minus the anchovies. On a quick read through I realized we were only missing two ingredients from our pantry and a grocery trip was in the plan for the day anyway. So I told Curt, dinner was on me tonight. It ended up be pretty easy and really good. The recipe I am posting serves 4 but it was very easy to cut in half for the two of us.

One-Pan Orecchiette Puttanesca

Ingredients:
5 Tbls olive oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 15oz. can chickpeas, drained and patted dry
2 tsp hot smoked paprika (I did not use hot, just smoked)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp tomato paste
2 C. parsley, roughly chopped
2 tsp lemon zest
3 Tbls capers
3/4 C green olives, pitted and roughly chopped in half
9 oz. cherry tomatoes
2 tsp superfine sugar (I used regular sugar)
1 1/2 tsp caraway seeds (lightly toasted and crushed)
9 oz. orecchiette pasta ( little ears)
2 C vegetable or chicken stock (I used chicken)
3/4 C plus 2 Tbls water

Step 1: In a large saute pan (I used a small wok), for which you have a lid, combine 3 Tbls olive oil, garlic, chickpeas, paprika, cumin, tomato paste, and 1/2 tsp salt. Place on medium heat and fry for about 12 minutes until chickpeas are slightly crisp. Decrease heat if they start to color too much. Remove 1/3 of the chickpea mixture and set aside.

Step 2: In a small bowl, combine the parsley, lemon zest, capers and olives.

Add two-thirds of the parsley mixture to the chickpeas in the saute pan, along with the cherry tomatoes, sugar, and caraway seeds. Cook for two minutes on medium-high heat, stirring often.

Add the pasta, stock, water and 1/2 tsp salt. Decrease heat to medium, cover and cook for 12-14 minutes or until pasta is al dente.

Step 3: Stir in the remaining parsley mixture, drizzle with the remaining olive oil and garnish with the reserved chickpeas and a good grind of pepper. Serve at once!

Half a recipe was perfect for the two of us. We didn’t add a salad or any other side and frankly neither of us saw the need to, unless you really have a craving for those absent anchovies. There were a ton of great flavors going on in here and I will make this again.

Bon Apetit!

Another Turn of the Page: The Lows and the Highs

“Sometimes,” said the horse. “Sometimes what?” asked the boy.
“Sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent.”

-Charlie Mackesy, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Artwork by Charlie Mackesy

I missed attending our book group this month. That doesn’t happen very often. I am either there in person whether it be at a bookstore, the library or out in the park. During the height of Covid I contacted everyone via email and found out what everyone was reading and published all their titles here just as if we had met in person. We have a really good group of eclectic readers. Through them I have been exposed to interesting fiction, biographies, nonfiction that runs the gamut between science, history and popular culture. Our little group has gone through a lot of highs and lows together. We’ve had knee and hip replacements, infections, Covid, cancers. Some of us are caregivers to loved ones. And some of our group have passed on. I imagine them in a huge library reading at all hours. But we have shared a lot of wonderful stuff too. This is a group who likes travel, movies, good food, lively politics. And much of that was shared at each meeting before we got to the books.

I missed this month because the cancer I had, back in 2014, the cancer my doctor and I thought was gone, has returned. It is in the form of a “mass” so it can be attacked. And that is what I have begun. I had my first chemo treatment last Thursday and I will have five more, each, three weeks apart. By Spring I plan to emerge as a bright new butterfly. But right now I face some ugly side effects that are followed by productive and hopeful days. Lows and highs. If you are a Facebook friend, I have not shared it there and have no plans right now to do so. I hesitated to discuss it here but it affects the book group so I felt it necessary.

I am hoping to attend the March meeting but we shall see. It depends where on the calendar my treatments fall. But I plan to be back in the Spring for sure. In the meantime the group will read, the group will meet, they will share their marvelous reading and I’ll report here. My book is “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy, which I have referenced above. It has been an inspiration.

And now, what we’ve been reading……….

  1. Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah (2006) 395p. The story follows Julia, a disgraced child psychiatrist living in Malibu, who’s called home to the small forest town of her childhood by her police chief sister, Ellie, to work with a wild feral girl who had been living in the untamed forests of the Pacific Northwest. (Ellie)
  2. The Sentence by Louise Erdrich ( 2021) 299p. “Not many authors could include all the things Erdrich does in this novel and make it work. A haunting, a bookstore, Covid, motherhood, George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests, marriage, quarantine, and more. Set in Minnesota she also keeps to her Objibwe roots with native lore and injustices.” –Goodreads (Barb)
  3. The Man Who Died Twice (Thursday Murder Club #2) by Richard Osman (2021) 369p. This time the intrepid elderly sleuths from the Kent retirement community of Coopers Chase, (The Thursday Murder Club), ex-spook Elizabeth, former nurse and journal writer, Joyce, logistics and details man, psychiatrist Ibrahim, and Ron, with his past life as a vociferous and committed union man, face the New York Mafia, and chase £20 million pounds of stolen diamonds, as the dead bodies just keep on coming. (Pete)
  4. Milwaukee Noir edited by Tim Hennessy (2019) 182p. Akashic Books continues its award-winning series of original noir anthologies, launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Each book comprises all new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the respective city. As with every edition in the series, a local is chosen to enlist writers in the project and shepherd their work to completion. For this one, it is Tim Hennessy, a used bookstore owner. (Rikki)
  5. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave (2021) 320p. A gripping mystery about a woman who thinks she has found the love of her life, until he disappears. Our reader gave it a 3.5 out of 5. (Linda)
  6. The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson (2020) 609p. A book about Winston Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister. On Churchill’s first day, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally–and willing to fight to the end. (Dan)
  7. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson ((2019) 282p. In 1936, tucked deep into the woods of Troublesome Creek, KY, lives blue-skinned 19-year-old Cussy Carter, the last living female of the rare Blue People ancestry. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian, riding across slippery creek beds and up treacherous mountains on her faithful mule to deliver books and other reading material to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky.(Nancy)
  8. Intrepid Laughter: Preston Sturges and the Movies by Andrew Dickus (2013) 192p. A biography of Preston Sturges, one of the most successful movie directors in the 1940’s both financially and artistically. In the mid 40’s he had the second highest salary in America but by the end of the decade he was bankrupt and forgotten. (Paul)
  9. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (2019) 128p. I first discovered this book when CBS Sunday Morning did an interview with the author. I was immediately drawn to the artwork and didn’t even know what it was about but I ordered it immediately. It is so much more than the artwork. Not religious, not political, not self-help. I find it hopeful, inspiring and comforting. Though I have to tell the mole I like pie better. (Jeanne)