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This is a re-post from 9/20/13, which I wrote (and sang) as a gift for my mom’s birthday. Mom has been fretting about me a bit because I’ve been writing about worry and stress. She is asking me what she can do to help. I am reposting this 1) to remind her that I know that I am resilient even if my life is complicated at this time and 2) to remind her that she has already and continues to do so much for me, just by being herself.

 

Martha MacKenzie is my wonderful mom. And today is her birthday. In addition to being a mother of six and a wife for nearly 59 years, my mom is a singer. She has a glorious voice. Mom has almost no formal vocal training but comes from a family of musicians, especially singers. Her singing style can best be described as sacred classical. In other words, she is a church singer. Mom has been singing in church choir since she was six years old. Her oldest sister, Gloria, sang for KIRO radio’s Uncle Frank’s Kiddie’s Hour for a number of years, until she was about 12. Mom and her middle sister auditioned for and were accepted into the children’s choir for an opera production in Seattle, starring Metropolitan Opera’s Rise Stevens. Mom still remembers what she was asked to sing for the audition.

Mom  was SMART and graduated from high school at age 16, after which she took a music performance class, along with her older sister, Barbara at Seattle University. We have recordings from those times of my mom’s clear soprano and my aunt’s animated mezzo-soprano singing songs from 1950’s musicals. Shortly after, Barbara moved to New York City to try to make it on Broadway. She was an amazing performer but like many talented performers did not make it in the Big Apple. During the Koren war, Mom was in a singing trio with Barbara and their cousin, Betty. They wore glamorous dresses and pulled off those unbelievably dark lip stick shades that were popular in the early 50’s, while performing for the USO.

Mom continued to sing in church choirs all of this time through marriage, rearing six children, and throughout my father’s post-retirement years. She is a member of the St. James’ Cathedral Choir in Seattle. It is a wonderful choir, which has toured Europe singing at noted cathedrals such as Notre Dame in France. They also sang at the Vatican and had an audience with Pope Benedict. My mom likes to tell us how she was trying to hike up the waistband of her support hose just as Pope Benedict walked by.

Wow, Elizabeth your mom sounds great. And you’ve talked about being a musician in your youth. You must have sung. You must have sung for your mother.

Well, it’s complicated. I was in band but did belong to the choir during 7th grade. Our claim to fame was performing, “The Sound of Music” during a middle school JAZZ competition. And no, it wasn’t a jazzy rendition of the song. I don’t know what that teacher was thinking. Then I stopped singing except for a few months during college when my mom convinced me to come to St. James to rehearse for a special community choir mass. (Regular choir members must audition. Soloists are professional opera singers.) I remember singing “A Mighty Fortress” and learning a piece based on Psalm 84 (“Yeah the sparrow hath found a house…”). I learned how to articulate words differently for singing than for speaking. It was a lot of work but was really fun.

So I did a little singing in groups. But NEVER alone in front of people. (Okay, one time five years ago I sang “Goody Goody” for my neighbors Jim and Deana. I’m not sure why I did it.) Not even for my mom except for a few bars of something and even then that was when I was much older, like 35 years old. People, singing in front of people is even more mortifying to me than wearing a swim suit in public! Zoe is the only one I have ever sung to and I sang to her a lot when she was little. I would sing with her now except that she only likes to sing alone. (Annoying teen.)

My mom used to sneak next to the bathroom door to try to hear me sing in the shower. (Watch the comments section, she will deny it!) If we were in church together and standing next to each other, she would sing really quietly so that she could listen to ME. I knew that it was really important to my mom to hear me sing but it was so hard for me to do this and I’m not sure why. She wanted to know if I had “a voice”. I performed frequently as a flutist, despite my nerves, and even performed in two master classes. (A master class is when some well-known musician comes to town and students are selected to get a lesson by that person in front of an audience of a bunch of students and music teachers. I did it twice as a college student.)

My singing anxiety does not just apply to my mom. Objectively, I have a pleasant, untrained alto voice with limited range. I think I could have been an excellent singer if I had trained to do so as I had with the flute. Perhaps the difficulties started as a combination of my perfectionism and the fact that my mom’s eagerness stressed me out a bit. And then as irrational anxieties do, it gathered its own steam from my continued avoidance, and took on a life of its own.

Last July, I wrote about the co-existence of grief and joy as being part of resilience in the post, How Can I Keep from Singing? The post title is the name of one of my favorite Christian hymns. I included the lyrics in the post followed by a little message to my mom asking her to record the hymn so I could post it on this blog. She offered me the deal that she would record it if I sang WITH her. I replied to her comments with a “definite maybe” type reply. I don’t think she ever saw that reply because she hasn’t mentioned the topic even once in the last almost two months. Or perhaps she has been playing it REALLY COOL.

I subsequently decided that I wanted to record the song both for my mom and for myself, to face my fear of public singing. Unlike going on loop de loop roller coasters, I actually enjoy singing quite a bit. It’s the only kind of music I still make. My original vision was for my mom, Zoe, and I to sing one verse apiece and the last verse together. However, Zoe was not at all interested in participating at the time I asked. My mom kept going camping with my dad all summer. I ended up not talking to her about it.

I decided to go solo and a cappella. Actually, a cappella is my favorite for this hymn. Plus, I don’t play piano and ukulele accompaniment by Zoe would probably not sound right.To me, the hymn sounds a little Irish. However, it is American and although there is a somewhat complicated history behind it, the authorship for the music is attributed to a Baptist minister, Robert Wadsworth Lowry. There are a number of different versions of the lyrics. I chose the one that was closest to the one I’ve sung in church many times as a member of the congregation.

I started practicing the song on and off about three weeks ago. Then I had to figure out how to audio record myself. (No way would I have a videotape made. This audio recording is a big enough step as it is.) I finally decided, as time was passing quickly, that I just needed to get it done. So I downloaded a free recording app onto my smartphone and started recording myself. I spent enough time on it to give myself a few tries but not so many as to activate my perfectionism.

Happy Birthday, Mom! Here is a song for you. I am posting it on my blog as my kind of “performance” so you can have a cyber stage mother experience.

How Can I Keep from Singing?

My life goes on in endless song
above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear it’s music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

Oh though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
Oh though the darkness ’round me close,
songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble sick with fear
and hear their death knell ringing,
when friends rejoice both far and near
how can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?

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This post is from 4/11/13. It’s perhaps one of the silliest things I’ve ever written. But I like silly so that’s okay. Silly has gotten me far in life. A hidden meaning of this post is my great love for my husband. Soylent Green is a film that I would NEVER have seen if I had not married a man who adores cheesy low budget cinema and begged me to watch it with him. (He had already seen it but he wanted me to see it.) Actually, watching a movie was one of our first dates. He asked me if I wanted to join he and his roommate in watching Terror in the Aisles, a compilation of scenes from horror films. I HATE HORROR FILMS. I MEAN I REALLY HATE THEM BECAUSE THEY TERRIFY ME! But I had already fallen in love with John, which was not yet reciprocated. This was my chance to impress. I would gut my way through it. We got to the scene where Cujo’s face exploded and I started screaming, “Turn it off, turn it off, turn it off!!!!!!!!!!” Not our best date but he never tried to get me to watch horror again. But he did get me to see Soylent Green.

 

I finally got around to making the very healthy chia pudding recipe I posted from my dear friend, Mike, who practices Chinese medicine in New York City. Helen of My Lymph Node Transplant had made it a few days earlier and kindly noted that it was a bit on the bland side, so she had added extra dates to it. At that point Helen declared it, “very nice”. So I doubled the dates. I also ended up roasting my raw cashews after my husband reminded me that he is allergic to raw nuts. I also substituted olive oil for coconut oil. I couldn’t find the latter and I suspect my daughter has absconded with it to use as wax for some project she is doing in her room, perhaps making a surf board out of a tree branch or something. (I exaggerate her mad scientist shenanigans only slightly. Only this morning, I found a seafood fork in the shower.)

After I blended the pudding in the my food processor, I gave it a sniff. It had a pleasant, nutty aroma. The appearance is a nutty tan color. I did not think it looked bad. However, my husband, who will eat ANYTHING, wouldn’t even try a bite. I ate a little spoonful and it tasted good and the texture was similar to tapioca pudding, just as Mike had described in his introduction to the recipe. Wait, a minute. I just remembered something. I don’t like tapioca pudding because of the texture. Actually, I find the texture to be somewhat disgusting. Did I think the fact that this pudding has healthy ingredients was going to change this for me? Aaaah! I have become my grandmother. Unlike the stereotypical expectations of a first generation Italian immigrant, my nonna was a pretty lousy cook. I remember how incredulous she was when her soups didn’t turn out tasty. She would say, “But I put a whole stick of good butter in it and a wedge of good cheese.” She thought the quality of the ingredient trumped all. And grandma, why did you put all of that butter in the soup. Yuck! (My mother has read this post and believes I may have confused her mother with Paula Deen, the famous butter loving chef.)

So, I took all of this time and energy, not to mention the expense of the very healthy ingredients and ended up with Soylent Green! You don’t know what soylent green is? It’s the “plankton based” food that people had to eat in the dystopian future sci-fi movie of 1973 starring Charlton Heston. You see the world had ruined the environment and was running out of food. Charlton played a rugged and “sexy” cop whose wardrobe looked like a mash-up of Oliver Twist and Mork of Mork and Mindy. The masses in this society had to eat processed “plankton” crackers. But as Charlton learns by the end of the movie, there’s no plankton. “Soylent Green, it’s people, it’s people!”

Okay, so my initial batch of chia pudding reminded me of a film about cannibal crackers. That is not a good start. But I had put this much time into it and put lots of good ingredients in. So, like Katie Torlai before me, I started combining it with stuff. I added a couple of tablespoons of pudding to 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons flax seed meal, and 3/4 of a peeled apple, sliced into small chunks. This concoction was to be my breakfast, which I have adopted as my “medicinal meal”, that is the way I get 2 tablespoons of flax seed meal into my diet each day. Consequently, my expectations for breakfast are low.

As I mixed up my small vat of chunky, seedy, goo, the appearance points for the dish dropped from 1/4 of a star to zero stars. It looked really unappealing. I took a taste, fully expecting to exclaim, “Soylent Green, it’s chia, it’s chunky, yogurty, seedy chia!”

To my surprise, the added ingredients actually improved the dish’s texture score from 0 stars to 1 star. It no longer reminded me of the goo from badly cooked okra. The flavor rating was bumped up to 1 1/2 stars.

Ding, ding, ding! Marginally palatable breakfast is served!

Photo from Wikipedia

I just offered Charlton a spoonful of pudding. Coward!!!!
Photo from Wikipedia

P.S. I almost forgot that it is Health Activist Writers’ Challenge month. Today, my health activist sign reads as follows:

You are what you eat, especially if you live in a dystopian future complete with Soylent Green as the only food option.

This post is from 4/6/13. I had been home for nearly a month following my TRAM surgery. I was bored.  I was trying to do a daily post following the Health Activist Writers’ Month Challenge. I decided to do it before I read the writing prompts. I didn’t like them. But I appreciated the purpose of the challenge and tried to give include some kind of health related message in each post.

 

For today’s Health Activist Writers’ challenge post, I have a challenge for YOU.

I challenge you to join the WRF, the World Resting Federation. Yes, you read right, the World Resting Federation. Yeah, we get confused with another world federation. We have a similar name plus we also wear really cool costumes and have cool names. My resting name is Googly Eyes. We also engage in bouts to see who is the hardest rester. I am able to use the mesmerizing power of my cattywampus bosoms to render my opponents wide-eyed while I catch some major zz’s.

Are you ready to rest with the best?

Come see my next match.

It’s on Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

Limited edition commemorative pj’s will be on sale.

smiley t shirt small

I have been meaning to write a post about the impact of the whole cancer experience (stress, treatment, side effects, etc) on my cognition. It has not been pretty. This is one of the reasons I have so many errors in my posts. (The other reason is that I still don’t understand proper comma usage.) In reading back through my posts, I realize that I’ve written about this with some frequency.

 

2/25/13: L’eggo my Ergo!

Just as in the commercials for Eggo waffles, someone keeps trying to take something that’s mine. That someone is cancer stress of course. Stress has taken my “ergo”. As I told my husband yesterday, my brain still holds facts (not as many as before) but what is a bigger loss is that I am so infrequently unable to integrate the facts into a conclusion.

Here’s a fictional example to illustrate my point:

“Hmm, I have a patient tomorrow from 1:30 to 2:30 in my office. I have another meeting at 2:30 at Random Elementary School. Since Random Elementary is not my office and I can’t be in two places at the same time, I need to reschedule one of my meetings.”

Here’s how it goes now:

“Hmm, I have a patient tomorrow from 1:30 to 2:30 in my office. I have another meeting at 2:30 at Random Elementary School. I wonder if I have any new email?”

Yes, fortunately, the above was a fictional example. I did not actually schedule myself this way. But I have a jumble of facts in my head at any one time and they are just noise when I can’t make meaning from them. I’ve made lots of other mistakes. With friends and family, I make a lot of comments along the lines of, “Oh yeah” but several minutes to days after I should have made the connection. A couple of weekends ago, my mom mentioned that she was going to go visit her friend at a rehab facility. I understood what she said. I was even aware that the rehab facility is not only in my city but about two miles from my house. I even understood that my parents live in another town. I like my parents. A few days later I told my mom, “Oh yeah, when you were visiting June, I should have invited you over for a visit afterwards.”

Yes, I should have but stupid cancer took my ergo.

L’eggo my ergo!

 

3/28/13: Like ball bearings in the back of an empty moving van

I have so many thoughts, meaningful ones, and I just can’t get them organized into a post. Boo, brain! Oh, I take that back. Brain, you’ve been through a lot and it’s okay for you to take a rest. Remember when this happened after our last major surgery, the mastectomy? Other body parts need a lot more energy now for healing. Frontal lobes, you are low on the priority list right now. I’ve had a very expensive and extensive stabbing by a highly trained surgeon. Parts were rearranged. My spare tire was made into a headlight. It’s only natural that there would be less energy for thoughts other than self-preserving ones, like “Hey, Self, remember no drunken table dancing until six weeks past surgery!”

I have the ingredients for a meaningful, uplifting, and moving post but neither a bowl nor spoon by which I can mix them into blog magic.

This reminds me of something. I remember when I lived in North Carolina, there was column in the local paper that was meant to be a place holder. However, the real article never made it to the published edition of the paper. So there was a column that read something along the lines of, “This article will be of interest to a wide variety of readers, blah, blah, blah.”

So until I can get my ball bearing thoughts organized, here’s a placeholder:

This blog post will be so absorbing, humorous, and meaningful that each reader will be ever happy and ever healthy. And neither the reader, the reader’s children, or the reader’s children’s children, will ever again experience being stuck in traffic. Finally, drunken table dancing will always result in only positive consequences.

You’re welcome.

One of the ball bearings that would have made your life perfect.
One of the ball bearings that would have made your life perfect.

 

This post is from 1/31/13. Now that I’ve complained about my kin’s untidy habits, I’m putting up a repeat of post in which I complain about Hubby’s subclinical hypochrondria. Girly has it, too. Interestingly, it has improved for both of them over the last six months. Hmm…

Yesterday, my hubby complained of being hot and not feeling well. I thought that perhaps he had caught menopause from me and was having hot flashes. Given that I contracted menopause from a hypodermic needle (full of Lupron), it makes sense if you think about it. Today, he feels much better.

As a former university researcher, I conclude that menopause in males is a 24 hour condition. I think I will write a paper on this and submit it to the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity. (See an example of one of their premier articles, Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality.)

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This post is dated 11/4/12. I remember being really proud of the title for it. Kitty was pretty sick when I wrote this but was still acting relatively healthy. As many of you know, he died the following spring. I miss my weird handsome kitty.

 

Okay, I took a little tiny bit of creative license with the title of my post. My cat, Ollie, is actually male and he is neutered, not spayed. “Neutered” just doesn’t have the right sound. Fortunately, I am not planning to apply to veterinary school any time soon. Or any time for that matter. I’ve had enough advanced education in my life. I absolutely love my job. It’s a good thing I didn’t fully know what I was getting into with graduate school because if I’d known, I probably would have skipped getting a Ph.D.

But back to another infertile member of the family, Oliie the cat. Ollie has been seeking a LOT of attention from me lately. He climbs up on me to purr and sleep, several times a morning, and what I mean by the morning is any time followed by the letters “am.” Ollie is exacerbating my sleep problems by waking me up a lot. He is also warm, which compounds my hot flashes.

Since Ollie has treated John as his favorite for years, I have been perplexed by this change in his habits. At first, I thought it was because he is getting older and has a number of ailments. I thought that maybe he is just needing more attention from every body. This is true, to a certain extent as he has been asking for more attention from John as well. John thinks Ollie is actually feeling better from his liver medicine (he has a liver disease, pancreatitis, and hyperthyroidism) so he has been seeking more attention. The hyperthyroidism also makes him hungrier so he is bugging us for food more frequently. (And yes, there is a treatment for hyperthyroidism but we tried the cheap route, twice daily medication, and he was unable to tolerate it. The alternative treatment costs $1000. We just paid $1500 in diagnostic tests to find out about all of these ailments so we need a couple of weeks to recover.)

I have another hypothesis as to why I have become Ollie’s favorite. You know how cats love to be warm? How they lie in the sun in the summer and on the heater vents in the winter? I think the cat is seeking me out because of my hot flashes!

I do love my kitty but perhaps I will start sleeping with an ice pack on my chest to discourage him.

Another time I tried to turn Ollie into a girl. I put a tiara on him to try to submit a photo to the site, “Cute Overload.” Then I never sent it in because I was embarrassed about trying to take a funny cat picture.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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