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photo by Sheri Dixon

Sunday, February 26, 2012

You May Now Resume Your Regularly Scheduled Life

"Mr. Dixon- I am happy to report that there is nothing of note in your head".

That Dr. Hanna- he cracks himself up.

But we all laugh- every single time. Out of relief, out of joy, and just because it IS funny.

Dr. Hanna commented as he always does on the very coolness of Ward's Hawaiian shirts- in front of the student teachers- "How can you not comment? I mean, LOOK AT HIM!"

Then he thought a minute, consulted the chart and said, "You've been cancer-free for 4 years now...how about we move to yearly scans?"

Which is very very good.

Dr. Bruel, the pain management doctor said, "Boy, everything looks good- the graft looks great and *consulting the chart* since it's been almost 2 years..."

SHHHHH!

I cut him off sharply.

Puzzled, he tried again.

"Since it's been almost 2 years since..."

SHHHHHH!!!

Louder and not as politely.

He stopped and looked at me.

I told him the LAST graft (the SECOND graft) had looked great for 2 years...and 3 months.

And then he understood.

We're so very thankful that Ward is cancer-free, and we credit Dr. Hanna's brilliance for that.

But we won't rest easy about the graft for another (?) year (?) or so, if ever. We'll always be watching the edges, scrutinizing every fleck of dirt, every inadvertent scratch, every teensy mosquito bite for the unthinkable.

That tiny. Little. Almost-not-there. Hole that means the graft is compromised.

Not thinking about the unthinkable = Easier said than done.

I'd like to think that even if our lives had been perfect without a cloud in the sky we'd be grateful for the lives we lead. But I guess we'll never know.

I do know because of...everything we tend to cling to each other a little more closely, love our surroundings a little more fiercely and never take a single good thing for granted.

Or a single minute.

Not a one of us would ever even consider uttering "I'm bored".

Because life is too damn short. No matter how long it lasts.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

...It's Merely Routine

Routines can be comforting things.

They bring stability to life even when everything else seems out of control, even when everything else seems off-kilter, the smallest routine- making coffee, doing chores, taking the trash to the road because it's Wednesday- all those little things add up to center and ground a soul being tossed hither and yon by the winds of life.

Daily routines straighten and strengthen the backbone of a body when everything else is "to be determined" depending on a million other variables.

Other routines are more ritual in essence.

Attending church. I did that at one time- for years. It was comforting to sit in the same pew and repeat the same litany holding the same old worn hymnal- not needing it because everyone knew the Apostles' Creed and the call and response between pastor and congregation by heart. Those things had never been learned, they'd soaked in like the very tears of Jesus straight through our skins by osmosis sitting in that same pew when we were 1, and 10, and 20- surrounded by relatives who were 40, and 60, and 80. At the end of service the organist played the same recessional as we filed out...knowing right then and there that THIS was where last week ended and a new one began.

Taking out holiday decorations from my grandmother's nativity scene to the Chrismouse advent calendar...routine. No matter what the calendar on the wall says Christmas season starts when the tree gets plugged in and the Protective Elf is set next to the Baby Jesus- not a second before.

Planning vacations- from conception to map-questing to reservations to packing- all a set routine even though the destinations are ever-changing. Every step executed as carefully as a recipe, and STILL the boys know within an hour of leaving the house they'll hear "OH SHIT!" from me and wonder what I've forgotten...this time.

Today's routine is well-known but not well-loved, and has actually been preceded with another routine- about a week ago all three of us ceased sleeping well. We've been uneasy and tense and terse. There's a floating possibly foreboding atmosphere in our normally happy yet chaotic home.

In May of 2006 we headed our new (to us) car towards Houston and MD Anderson Cancer Hospital- we'd been referred there by Ward's plastic surgeon here in Tyler. We are entering our 2nd decade as a Cancer Family- they'd mucked around with it for 4 years here in Tyler not knowing the type he had is all to often mis-diagnosed and under-excised because the cells still look suspiciously normal- its very name being "morpheoform".

I don't know how many trips we've made there and back by now. I do know our car had under 50,000 miles on it when we bought it and now has just shy of 173,000.

I do know the hotel staff knows my voice on the phone.

I do know the way there and back without a map, by heart, with my eyes closed.

I do know we're so very grateful for the staff at MD Anderson, who attempt to do the impossible within the confines of an enormously cumbersome institution.

I do know that we're so very grateful for our family and friends who take up the slack- monetarily and physically- when we have to be gone whether it's several days or many weeks.

I do know that I so appreciate my employers and my employees who literally support me when I need to be gone- allowing much to be done via phone and computer and being my eyes and my feet when I'm not there.

I do know that after I finish writing this (drinking my morning coffee), I'll make our toast and we'll go feed the critters.

I know that I'll cherish every moment and sight and sound of what we do every single day- just as we do every day. We'll finish up as always on the bridge over the creek where I'll turn and say "Hey, Gomez- guess what?" and Ward will patiently and obediently ask "What?" and I'll look up at him and say "We live here now". Because for so many years it seemed as though that would never happen, my routine is to reaffirm that every single day.

And I know that after that, we'll be taking out the suitcases and packing them with things we know by heart- so many changes of clothes, bathroom items, medicines, books and computers. The car will get packed in the same arrangement as always- suitcases in the back and snacks next to Alec, who has his own way he arranges his domain in the back seat.

And we'll point the car towards Houston, where tomorrow Ward has tests and scans and Friday he has appointments with the dermatologist, and the pain management doctor, and the very important one with the cancer doctor who WILL perform the most important step of this particular routine- where he says "Mr. Dixon- I am happy to report that there is nothing of note in your head".

And we'll all laugh and he'll say "See you in about 6 months", shake our hands and we'll come home.

He will. He has to. I so decree.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

We were super busy today.

Cleaned the guinea pig house, did laundry, re-did the floor in Alec's shower (that involved me mixing several batches of cement while Alec laid the rocks), I managed to take a little walk after putting the pork roast in the oven and before helping Edna write out her bills, and now after a good dinner I'm writing.

Oh. And I cut Joey's hair.

Speaking of Joey...

...Sometime after Tractor Supply closed, we realized we'd forgotten to go get dog food. No matter- Joe uses the same kind as we do. So I sent Joe a text.

Me- "Hey- could we please borrow some dog food?"

Joe- "Sure"

Me- "Thanks :)"

Joe- "I'll be getting some tomorrow and I'll get you some too"

Me- "Thanks :)"

Joe's a good guy. Joe went right outside with a brown paper sack from Fresh and filled it halfway up with dog food, then put it on a big box on the porch. Joe does not normally HAVE paper sacks from Fresh, but he'd bought his mom some candy there for Valentine's Day. See? Joe's a good guy.

I scrounged around the pantry for something to carry dog food in, looking for a plastic sack that didn't have holes in it. I decided instead to carry it home in...a brown paper sack from Fresh.

I walked next door (all 50 feet away) and onto Joe's porch. I saw the bag full of food.

Joe was nowhere in sight. Joe was "indisposed".

I looked at Joe's Fresh sack full of food and then at MY empty Fresh sack.

When God gives you such a direct and obvious gift it's a sin to not take it and run.

With only the slightest twinge of "Golly this is an awful thing to do to such a good guy", I took the sack of food and replaced it carefully with the empty sack- open and setting the exact same way as the other one had been and hightailed it back to my house where I texted

"I'll come get it in a minute :)"

To which he replied

"OK :)"

Cheerfully I went over to the barn to help Ward feed and told him what I'd done, prefacing it with "Gomez- I'm going straight to hell, but it was so worth it".

Gomez agreed on both counts.

Later, after the truth was out, I was talking to Joe on chat.

Joe- "I guess you told Ward about what you did"

Me- "Duh"

Joe- "So, is it on Facebook yet?"

Me- "Of course not"

Joe- "When will you tell the whole world of Facebook?"

Me- "Nevah"

And I won't, either. Because I'm just that sorta sensitive and trustworthy person.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Very Nature of Snakes

A big deal, a magic phrase, a slam dunk in political conversations is the cry of "States' Rights". States' Rights supposedly trump anything those evil doers in DC want to shove down the throats of the innocent masses (who voted them into their cushy DC offices in the first place).

Things like public schools, an interstate road system, centralized postal service, safety standards for work places, helping those in need, NOT helping those in need- all that stuff is better served by states instead of nationally.

Fine. Great. Lets see what happens when you give the states more power.

Like in Michigan.

The state of Michigan's current politicians voted to allow the actual takeover of municipalities by the state. On the face of it, it means that if there is trouble resulting from a local election that must be nipped in the bud without causing chaos, the state can come in and yank a duly-elected public local official out, and assign a governor-chosen person in his/her place without recourse and indefinitely.

In practice, it means that if a city is not doing what the state thinks is right (or has the possibility of making a shitload of money for someone who has state politicians in their pocket), the state can usurp the entire city council and put someone in there more friendly to their cause.

Surely not?

Ask Benton Harbor.

Benton Harbor is a little town that has the (mis)fortune to be sitting on a lovely Lake Michigan-side park that was gifted to the town by a local family- to be used by the people of the town for free forever. A developer would LOVE to have that piece of property for "improvement"- making it into a resort complete with golf course, swimming pools, clubhouse, and surrounded by pricey little homes for wealthy retirees.

The people of Benton Harbor would be welcome to buy memberships at the schmancy club. For thousands of dollars a year. AND just look at all the jobs the new resort would supply for them. Not surprisingly, the people of Benton Harbor said "Thanks, but no thanks" after laughing their asses off.

They like their park the way it is. They are aware that all the new jobs would be as caddies or bartenders or maids and that none of them can afford membership to the club even if they wanted to rub shoulders with a bunch of old white people.

Or that they would even be allowed to.

Benton Harbor is mainly black.

Benton Harbor stood firmly in the way of someone's plan to make a shitload of money.

So Benton Harbor had to go.

The state stepped in and ousted the entire slate of locally elected officials and assigned a "City Manager" who, astoundingly and amazingly, is much more warm to the idea of the planned resort.

What to do?

Many of the same folks who holler "States' Rights!" also holler "2nd Amendment!" saying that if We the People have the right to bear arms, we'll always be free and no one can take our rights away from us.

So what happens in Benton Harbor?

They can't vote the new guy out- he's a state-appointed manager and CAN'T be voted out.

Can they take up arms and storm the state capitol?

Really? How will THAT be spun? When the entire BLACK population of Benton Harbor storms the state capitol demanding THEIR city park be left the hell alone?

What will happen ESPECIALLY if they're armed (legally and rightfully armed) when an angry mob comes up against say...the National Guard called in by the oh so terrified governor of Michigan cowering helpless and innocent in his mansion?

Remember Occupy?

It's still here- morphing and changing with the weather and the issues, but it's still here no matter what the Talking Heads like to tell you.

Occupy refuses to push back. And it pisses the hell out of those who just want it to go away.

We've already discussed the What, Who and Why of Occupy. Like them or not, they are not resorting to violence no matter how illegally their belongings are taken and destroyed, no matter how they are being herded into small areas and pepper sprayed, no matter how many are arrested without cause.

And I hold my breath and hope fervently that they don't. There are some who say they won't accomplish anything without violence. I say they are accomplishing much by the sharing of knowledge and the education of others.

Because what will happen if ONE Occupier throws a punch? Or a rock? Or brandishes a baseball bat much less a (legally carried)gun?

Benton Harbor suffers needlessly and without real-life recourse.

Occupy moves back and regroups instead of surging forward.

And the Other Side pushes and pushes and pushes in tiny measured increments, waiting for the moment someone somewhere can't stand the indignity and injustice and yells

"ENOUGH- this is bullshit!"

giving them reason to really show their stuff quickly, and precisely, and with deadly force.

My old neighbor, whom I loved dearly, came at my bidding one day. Ward was at work and Alec was tiny and the house wasn't yet renovated and there was a 5 ft. long rat snake winding his way up the wall and searching for a way in through the crack in the screen door.

I love snakes and am not afraid of them, but with a tiny baby I was irrationally squidgy.

I told Saint "You don't have to kill it- just get it off the house".

Saint said "Darlin'- if I come over there that snake will be dead".

So he came. With a hoe.

I stood there, baby in arms and watched Saint knock the snake off the house and proceed to hack away at it with the hoe. Because the soil here is mainly sand, even a mighty blow didn't make a clean kill.

After about 3 whacks, the snake, who'd just been trying to get away, turned and valiantly struck at the hoe (not Saint- just the hoe).

Saint said triumphantly "SEE??? See how aggressive it is?"

I said "Well, Saint- if you were trying to hack MY head off with a hoe I'd be a little annoyed, too!".

He never understood that reasoning.

Benton Harbor. Occupy. Rat snake.

I have a terrible feeling we will at some point be witness to "how aggressive they are" and it'll all be recorded and justified by the clips we see on TV.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hey, If I Don't Need It, Nobody Needs It

Disclaimer- my oldest female friend Cathy Sager is a devout Catholic. Actually my very first friend and neighbor Colleen Geraghty when I was just a wee toddler was Catholic. Oh, wait- and my best friend all through school Jodi Last was Catholic. So I got nuthin' against Catholics. Just sayin'...



So the Catholic church is pissed off because the big bad government is trying to FORCE them to offer employees of their churches and schools birth control- not on its own, not in little glass dishes on the desk of every teacher, not enclosed in the annual Christmas cards, but as one tiny part of coverage in health insurance policies. They're agin' it- even for those employees who are not Catholic.

This on the tail (the very very long and never-ending tail) of a group (not all) of Christians who violently oppose any abortion at any stage for any reason, any time- up to and including the morning after pill (or shot of estrogen administered by a doctor in say, the emergency room after a rape). Where it used to be "Abortion is wrong unless the woman was raped or in danger of losing her life by carrying a child to term", they've passed full throttle into the Crazytown of "Abortion for any reason is wrong- even if a woman/CHILD has been raped, even if they will die if they carry to term, wrong wrong wrong at any juncture.".

But, wait. There's more.

Laws are put up for votes saying that not only are embryos who are developed enough to survive outside the womb humans with human rights, but that every inhabitant of a womb on up from a fertilized egg is, too. Which makes the majority of birth control illegal.

There are laws pending saying that a woman who has a miscarriage must PROVE she didn't, yanno, drink a mugwort toddy or jump up and down or attack herself with a wire hanger.

Talk about a damn witch hunt.

Say all you want to about religious beliefs and following your conscience- this is still (I think) the United States of America- a country that is inhabited by a Christian majority (yes, I said that) but that is NOT A CHRISTIAN NATION. That is a very distinct and important difference.

Therefore- health insurance SHOULD include things like safe and affordable access to birth control, safe and affordable access to abortions, and safe and affordable access to vaccinations for children or safe and affordable surgery for those who need it.

What?

You think shots for kids and surgery if you need it are a good idea?

Wow. You must not be Seventh Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness or Amish.

If we're limiting access to health care based on religious preference, then I guess we need to not offer those things too.

So all you Catholics and other assorted fundamentalists who have children you'd rather not get chicken pox, or mumps, or tetanus or polio I guess you'll just have to suck it up and let 'em get sick and die. Because those other religions are vehemently opposed to vaccinations and it's an affront to them to offer them in any standard health insurance policy. Out of respect for their beliefs.

Same with surgeries for things like broken bones, appendicitis, cancer... Not allowed- sorry.

What?

Just because one segment of people doesn't approve of vaccinations and surgeries you should still be allowed access to protect your families and yourselves through health insurance? Those things are important to you regardless of their very personal and heartfelt and sincere religious beliefs? If they don't want to avail themselves of those things all they have to do is NOT USE THEM???

*Exactly*.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I'll Sit Down When I'm Good and Ready. OK- I'm Good and Ready.

Sunday is the only day of the week that doesn't belong to anyone but myself.

It's the only day I have to accomplish the many many things I need and want to do around this place, which means that by the end of my "day of rest" I'm exhausted.

That's OK, though. I start with a list and as I check each thing off I feel lighter and happier. Sometimes inside projects, sometimes outside projects, sometimes a little of both, I always end up with cooking and baking.

Cooking and baking are calming, grounding, visceral, a link to the past and literally feeding the future- there's something about a home cooked meal that can't be duplicated or equaled by scraping stuff out of a box or a can.

By the time I'm done cooking and baking the pain that starts in my right heel (my daughter the marathon runner says it's facia-something-itis) around lunch time and extends up the back of my leg during my various projects is sending shooting pains into my lower back. That's when I know it's time to sit down.

I'm not a spring chicken anymore. I won't go so far as to say I'm an old biddy (yet), but if I were in the meat case at the grocery store I would be unceremoniously bagged for stewing and not artfully arranged in a fryer tray to show off my legs, thighs and...WINGS- what did you THINK I was gonna say???

When I get up out of bed to pee in the middle of the night I can't straighten up at first, ditto in the morning on my way to the coffee pot. I look down at my hands and wonder why I'm wearing old lady skin gloves. I don't have double chins (yet)but maybe they would help hide the turkey neck I seem to have developed.

But it's fine. Really. This body has sprouted 3 children and weathered over half a century- of course it's gonna have a few dents and scratches.

So I tend to my projects and cross them off the list, trying not to notice that the list gets longer instead of shorter with every Sunday.

I cook and bake and delight in using fresh ordinary ingredients to make food for my family that's delicious and healthy for them.

Yesterday I made apple dumplings for the first time. None of the boys had had them before, which was great since they then had no idea of whether or not I'd done them correctly. Although most of the things I cook end up tasting just fine-to-scrumptious, one of the most often heard sentences at our dining table is "Oh yes- it IS supposed to look like that".

So I made the dumplings and they were easy and only mildly time consuming. Then I sat the hell down, which is what Ward is always telling me to do.

He's a wise man, with the patience of a saint and I seriously don't deserve him.

He loves anything apple- apple pie, apple cake...and I made these with him in mind.

Because yanno, he puts up with me day in and day out- it's the least I could do...

The Least I Could Do Apple Dumplings

Make the pastry-

3c baking mix (I use Pioneer)
1c (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2c sour cream plus milk enough to make into a soft dough

Mix the baking mix, butter and sour cream and just enough milk to make a soft dough.
Knead till it holds together on a floured surface, then roll out into an 8 X 12 inch rectangle. Starting at a short end, fold into 3 sections. Turn 90 degrees and do it again. And again. Chill in refrigerator while preparing the innards.

Innards-

3 medium apples
1 8 oz package of cream cheese

Peel apples and cut into thirds, discarding seeds and cores. Cut cream cheese into 9 equal parts.

Divide dough into 9 equal parts and roll each into a 6 inch square. Place apple third and a cream cheese chunk in center of the square and bring up corners to wrap it, pinching at the top. Place dumplings in a buttered 13 X 9 inch baking dish and preheat oven to 350.

Make Sauce-

In a small saucepan stir together 1 cup orange juice, 1 stick of butter and 1/2 cup water. boil and stir till reduced just a bit and pour over dumplings.

Sprinkle dumplings with 3 tbsp of sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon and bake for about 30 minutes or till done.

Serve warm. Receive hugs and smiles.

*the boys- Ward, Alec and Joe had never had them before and rated them 3 thumbs up each. Edna had had them before and said they were "much better than OK" and she's VERY particular about food.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Goodnight Moon...

Sitting at my desk, I look straight up and see the moon.

This house is our shelter from the elements, yet our love of the outdoors shaped the plan- where 1/3 of the under-roof footage is covered porches and 9 doors, 20 windows and 3 skylights barely allow for the walls of the less than 1,500 sq. ft. interior. In order to stand anywhere and NOT be able to see outside you need to be closed into a closet or the pantry. Or have your eyes shut.

Most of the year all the windows are open and the birdsong flows through on the wings of the never-ending springfed creek and pine needle scented breeze and we are living outside...inside. And I love it.

This morning we trundled 10 cartons of books over to Denton for the homeschool garage sale. When we moved from the big house to the little house we (and by "we" I mean Ward, mostly) had to winnow down the books that came. We all love books, but Ward is the most avid collector and has been the best at keeping his collection with him between moves. I left a lot of my books in Wisconsin, something I regret now.

Ward also inherited the majority of his parents' books when they passed over- a huge assortment of frankly horrifying psychiatric tomes from his dad, and an overwhelming amount of western romance novels from his mom. On his own he had cartons and cartons of paperbacks, along with many hundreds of hardcover books.

The hardcovers came to the new house along with a select group of his dad's books and paperbacks- in addition to his small but designated library we have bookshelves in the living room, dining room, bedrooms and Alec's study. We took most of the rest, along with the kids' books Alec outgrew to the rummage sale.

Tomorrow is Saturday- the day when Ward and Alec go to lunch and the bookstore. Sometimes Ward comes home with a new book (he mostly buys used from Amazon anymore) but it's an almost certainty Alec will have a new book. When we were in Denton today one of our options for the afternoon was to visit Recycled Books- a family favorite. After the rummage sale any leftover books will be sold to Recycled Books.

There's a very good chance the boys will end up buying a few of them back... and our recycled books will be recycled back to us. And I love it.

On the way home we drove through storms. Or they passed over us. I'm not sure. At one point the rain suddenly pounded the car and Ward was driving almost literally blind, the roar of the downpour drowning out the radio and then

nothing. We were out of it momentarily.

Alec said "How did THAT happen?" and I said it was the cloud that had been over us. He said "The entire sky is clouds, mom". I said, "Yes, but they're not all raining at once". I don't think he believed me. He's skeptical that way.

Alec will be 12 in a few weeks- my last baby. And with all three of them I've learned so much more than I've taught, been shown over and over again that babies and children are NOT empty vessels or lumps of clay to be molded and shaped into humans. They're born human and have innate gifts and powers and if we allow them, they remind us of all the wonders we overlook in our rush to grow up, our determination to attain and maintain that elusive illusion of adulthood.

I know I spent more time than I should've worrying about what other people (other adult-type people) were thinking and less time than I should've paying attention to the lessons my children were trying to teach me. I'm making a valiant (if sometimes failing) effort to pay very good attention with this last baby- the young man who is as tall as I am, as brilliant as his father, and who is a free yet critical thinker. He is a daily, constant yet constantly kind and funny reminder of how much I don't know about parenting, being adult... or even being human. And I love it.

I've been loved and hated, ignored and dismissed. Been married to the absolute wrong person and married to the absolute right person. I'm surrounded by people who need me, depend on me and count on me but all the while they're the ones who give me strength and support and a reason to get up in the mornings. My family- blood related and otherwise, human and otherwise are my treasures pure and simple, and I'm as fiercely loyal to them as they are to me.

All the bad bits (and there've been some heinous bad bits) are the glue that enable and encourage me to stick the good bits together, making damn sure I hold onto them and never let them go. If there had been no bad bits, I'm afraid I'd take the good bits for granted- letting them fall away like so much confetti, so many snowflakes glittering in the sun like they'll never melt and disappear. Until they do.

This is life. This is my life. All the inside is outside, released yet recycled, knowing less with every morsel learned, receiving blizzards of kindness and compassion for every snowflake given minute of it.

Sitting at my desk, I look straight up and see the moon...And I love it.

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