Saturday, November 30, 2013

Indian Pudding

Written for the Oncology Memoir Group reading, Nov. 2013
Indian Pudding is dark and rich, all molasses and cornmeal and raisins. Although it's out of fashion today, when I was in grade school, Indian Pudding was a New England Thanksgiving favorite.  I lived on the north shore of Massachusetts surrounded by colonial history.  As a kid, when someone said "Indian Pudding" in my mind's eye I saw an Indian—or native American today-  standing among the trees with dark braided hair and one feather hanging down the braid. I'd never seen an Indian in the flesh, but I'd seen plenty of images of pilgrims and Indians sharing a Norman Rockwell meal. -- A long table under the trees. half-dressed  Indians  despite the November temperatures. Pilgrims in black with white collars, cuffs and aprons, and several big fat supermarket turkeys  on platters surrounded by vegetables arrayed down the middle of the table. I'm sure there was Indian Pudding on that table, too.

I'd never eaten Indian pudding. I'd never even seen it served. I only imagined it. Why wasn't Indian Pudding one of our family traditions? True, my father was a only a first generation Finn, but my mother was a DAR-eligible WASP. Her mother was about as genuine a New Englander as one could get, except for her divorce during the depression when her husband's company sent him to St. Louis to work and he fell in love with a woman there. But that's a whole other story. Anyway, Indian Pudding was a real new England tradition but I had no idea what it tasted like. 

It never occurred to me to ask my mother why we didn't have Indian Pudding  on Thanksgiving or any other day. I just knew it should be served warm with vanilla ice cream melting over it. It would be delicious and I felt deprived. I loved our family's Boston Cookies and apple pie made with Macs from the orchard on the hill where my father lived as a child. And, I'd even have a little bit of squash pie, which was pretty daring for the finicky eater I was then. In reality, I wasn't deprived of either desserts or tradition but it wasn't good enough for me. 

Years later, when I was a young hippie living in a small Cambridge communal house, I was going to spend the holiday with the family for the first Thanksgiving in some years. The dinner was planned for my parents’ log cabin on a quiet pond in New Hampshire. Yes, a great New England Thanksgiving setting.

What should I bring? AHA! Indian Pudding. I'd make traditional Indian Pudding as a surprise. I'd still never tasted it. I pulled out the Joy of Cooking, a gift from a bunch of campers and co-counselors one summer when they discovered I couldn't cook -- but that's another story.

My mother, who I was always trying, but failing, to please, wouldn't touch it. She hated even the smell of it. (You know something went wrong. Would I be writing this otherwise?) The Indian Pudding was delicious----- just as I'd imagined. Warm and rich, ice cream offsetting the molasses. I loved it, but my mother's disdain took the Joy right out it. I couldn't understand it.

I needed to know why. What's wrong with Indian Pudding I asked. She shrugged vaguely. "I served too much of it to ever want to see it, smell it, or taste it again," she said.
I didn't get it. What do you mean you served too much of it? We never had it. What did she mean?

During the depression, when she was in high school, one of her mother’s friends arranged for her to waitress at a popular and expensive restaurant in Framingham.  .
This job meant traveling for hours every weekend to get there, staying in a little room above the restaurant, and working long hours while missing her friends and their parties. Her family was dependent on her tips.

“ My father was gone,’ she said. “Gram needed the money to support us. And I was miserable. Indian Pudding was their most popular dessert. I served gallons of it every night. Gallons and gallons. I hate it. It reminds me of that terrible time in my life.
“You eat it. Enjoy it. But, she said, “please don't bring it again.”

I have never made it again, but I woke up thinking about it this week. 

What evokes these food memories? Why are they suddenly resurrected from the recesses of our brains? I still don't cook much. I no longer live in New England. But, I guess that's still who I am -- the little girl trying to find my identity through the foods I eat and the pictures evoked in my mind's eye. That Indian in the trees is still as vivid as he was fifty years ago.

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

50 Years Ago: MLK and the march

I’d never seen signs like this before. “Colored Entrance” “Whites Only” Rest Rooms and drinking fountains with arrows for “Whites” and “Colored.” These signs appeared at our rest stops more frequently as we moved further south. About 30 of us were traveling by chartered bus from Boston to North Carolina for a week-long conference. We couldn’t ignore the signs; they applied to our ragtag, multiracial group of teenagers.

I was sixteen and committed to the passage of civil rights. Idealistic.  Naive.  Most of us had never been south before. We were outraged at the signs and vowed to give them none of our business. If we couldn’t all eat together we wouldn’t eat.

Boston wasn’t the most liberal of places. Earlier that spring my mother told the folks at her hairdresser’s that our family would be hosting some kids overnight for a weekend church conference. Someone asked what she would do if one of the kids assigned to us was a negro? Mother had never thought about it but answered Make them feel at home. Sure enough, Wally, one of the two boys assigned to us, was black. The spare room had a double bed which Mother had expected two girls would share. Now we had two adolescent boys – one black and one white, Mother was initially freaked. Boys didn’t share beds. The boys didn’t care. And if there were repercussions from parents or neighbors, I never heard about them.

The summer conference was at a Quaker school, Guilford College, in Greensboro, NC. Guilford had voluntarily integrated the campus the year before -- 1962, They might have been the only southern college that would host our multiracial group and shared our commitment to civil rights. They had helped us arrange a day of service with the local black hospital. Our work crews spent the day cleaning, painting, and fixing things. Somehow, I always ended up on the paint crew.

I felt like we were trying to make a silk purse from the proverbial sow’s ear. The hospital was old and the patients poor. It was depressing and overcrowded. Our one day of work was a drop in the bucket, but this trip south was teaching me about life.

Most of us planned to spend our second week in Washington DC. Word about the March on Washington was spreading.  I was excited about exploring the Smithsonian, the zoo, the pawn shops and streets of the city. But most of all, I was excited by the March on Washington taking shape on Wednesday.

The city had a magic about it. People were arriving from everywhere by bus, train, hitchhiking, walking, driving. Everyone was friendly and interested in where you were from and why you came.
I like to pretend that when you look at that picture of the reflecting pool and the mall filled with people, you can see me. I’m right there on the left side, not far from the water, sitting with some of the best friends I’ve ever had. 

The day was hot, the program long, the sky perfectly blue.  Every celebrity and politician was introduced and it seemed like there were hundreds of them. Mahalia Jackson and Marion Anderson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul & Mary broke up the   speeches. ‘We shall overcome’ echoed throughout the city.

It was an amazing, peaceful day that changed many of our lives. Malcolm X, may have criticized the march, describing it as "a picnic" and "a circus".and, it was that. But that’s not bad. Fifty years later it’s still one of the most memorable days of my life. I listen to the MLK speech every year with mixed emotions and lots of tears. So much has changed for us all since 1963, But not enough
August 29, 2013

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Cancer Status: August 31, 2013

 I had a brain scan two weeks ago and got the results this Friday. My anxiety grew as Friday approached.. I was sure my health was deteriorating and bad news was on the way. That just goes to show how out of touch I am with my body.

Things either haven't changed or they are better. My lab values are good; tumor markers continue to improve. Physical exam revealed that the tumors are shrinking. My ankle and shoulder have healed. Many days it's hard to believe I'm so fortunate when NPR radio is broadcasting the deaths or hundreds and sometimes thousands.

Ruth's new body image
The only area of concern is my weight. I've lost too much. For those of you who have known me for a long time, this may be hard for you to imagine and it is a mixed blessing for me. I've lost a lot - I've given away many of my clothes gathered from years spent combing thru Good Will and the Salvation Army. I couldn't keep my pants up any more.  My jacket shoulders droop to my elbows. My shirts are like tents and my arms are like sticks. There's no apparent reason for the loss. My appetite is good. I'm not depressed. All my markers are good.

The next step is to check my thyroid. I'll get the lab work done next week. Meanwhile, I've added additional carbs to my diet. That's tricky to do while avoiding sugar, but it sure is fun!

The MD also shared his pessimism about me ever driving again. He knows what a loss this is for me. I ask him about  it every time I see him. I'll probably keep asking him, too.

But I'm relieved and grateful to be doing so well. I hope you are doing well, too, and look forward to your news.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Capacity to Heal

Yesterday I was liberated from my boot...the one that has protected and bullied my fractured ankle these past many weeks. The physician's assistant said both the shoulder and ankle were healing very well. The ordeal isn't quite over, though.

My leg has shriveled up from lack of use and it will take several weeks to get my muscles, ligaments, and tendons back to par. And several to match my pre-fracture half-hour on the treadmill. But, I am liberated. I hope to regain my independence on the stairs, soon. Glenn has been so gracious about running upstairs to get this  or that but I'd like to do it myself.

"Look at it this way," Glenn said on the way home. "At least you know now that you can still heal."

He's right. It did give me a boost to my confidence. Even these films  which have nothing to do with my cancer provoked anxiety. It was great to pass with flying colors.

Speaking of colors-- I just finished my second watercolor.(above) It's a copy of an Edward Hopper lighthouse painting. I'm including a copy for my brother Pete.  How does it compare to mother's painting?  OK, so the lighthouse may keel over. Not bad for my second effort.
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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Scan Anxiety

MRI machine at Seaside Imaging Center
MRI machine at Seaside Imaging Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've had another round of scans -- bone scan, pet scan, CT scan, angiography -- and then, just to mix things up a bit, I fell down a few stairs fracturing my ankle and shoulder. It was hard to take all this in stride. My fears got the best of me. I imagined the worst.

I gather that most people with metastases imagine the worst every time they schedule their scans. If they don't, their denial reflexes must work out at the gym every day.

Everything but the fractures turned out fine. For the time being I'm hobbling around with a hard boot and a sling, some pain, no treadmill, and new bars on the toilet so I can get up and down. One of my docs said he'd write me a prescription that said " Be more careful, Ruth." And how well could I  manage without Glenn to literally lend me a hand to get in and out of chairs and the car?

Between the cancer and my broken leg I have had plenty of time to do nothing but try to keep my anxiety under control. Writing helps, so here goes.

I broke my leg skiing when I was a junior in high school. Time and treatments sure have  changed. That year I spent four months in a plaster cast from my toes to my hip.  But I was young and not one to complain. Well, I didn't think of all that whining as complaining.

I spent the first week in the hospital. The doctor told me that  my discharge would depend on Friday's x-rays.  If the bones weren't set right he'd have to break and re-set them again. At least that's what I thought he said. Re-break my leg? That scared me silly AND there was a party I didn't want t miss Friday night. I guess I did complain.

The hospital was so full  they put me in a private room on the men's floor. (Yes, just like the help wanted ads, the wards were segregated by gender  then.) Every day a little Italian man walked the corridor in his johnny and slippers. Initially he ignored me--wouldn't even make eye contact as he passed my door-- but with each day that passed he became more chatty until he finally came right in and made himself at home. He wanted me to know all the things a young  girl with a broken leg would have to endure. It was quite an assortment of things.

Most distressing was his prediction that my leg would hurt for the rest of my life whenever the wind blew in the same direction it was blowing when I fell and heard that terrible crack.

Another fond memory of that spring hobbling around with cast and crutches was Stephen's high  school graduation. He was  my new boyfriend and graduating from a a proper New England prep school. He cared about what others thought of him and he wanted me, as an extension of him, to impress.

 I had a new chic yellow sheath dress  to wear to the graduation, which would be my first event without plaster. But In those days  people  autographed your cast and mine looked pretty grungy.  You know, roses are red, etc. But, the cast was scheduled to come off the week before his graduation.  I thought, let's give this blasted cast a royal send-off.  I invited friends to forsake their ballpoint pen quips, grab magic markers and go to it. My last week encased in plaster would be glorious.

Surprise, surprise. That same doctor let me down. The cast didn't come off as expected  It would stay for at least one more week of sponge baths, manipulating knitting needles inside the cast to scratch that incessant itching, and now wearing a cast that flaunted flowers, serpents, animals, dirt from four months of traipsing through the streets, off-color rhymes and crumbling plaster around the toes.   At graduation I looked lovely if you ignored my cast. I looked like tthe advent of the sixties if you ignored my lovely but  conservative dress. But, I must admit, either way we made a striking couple.

Last week while I waited and called and waited some morefor the results of my scans I thought about those adolescent years, chuckled at the memories and reflected on the changes. The heavy black plastic holding my ankle in place resists cast graffiti and comes off for a shower. The fall has complicated my life for the short term. But here's what I've learned in the intervening years:

  • That little Italian man was wrong. My leg doesn't hurt when the wind blows
  • No one at Stephen's graduation cared about the hippie-esque cast
  • The man you're with will always cares about how you look
  • This cancer and the fall/break are unrelated
So, given the circumstances I'm doing fine. I hope you're doing fine, too.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Status Update: Have a Cream Puff to celebrate this week

Yup, more good news.  Tumors shrinking. Blood pressure more stable.  The week ends with positive feedback from my oncologist. So, have a cream puff or maybe a napoleon.

Guess I'll get my seaweed snack. Umm, umm good.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Status Update- Celebrate with an Eclair

One doesn't know what's going on in your body. At least I don't know what's going on in mine. I'm just doing the best I can.  But, I did have good news recently. So, I thought I'd invite you to celebrate with me.

Last week was filled with scans, tests, MD appointments. The feedback was good.  Features of my brain MRI  are either unchanged or better. My"numbers" are good. Things are moving in the right direction.  

We're working on my blood pressure. I'we lost a fair amount of weight, so I'm watching that. I can't afford to lose too much. However, I can't revert to treating myself to sweets. Everyone seems to agree that cancer loves sugar so I'm staying away.  That doesn't mean you have to.

So, have an eclair for me to celebrate  I've got to get to the gym.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why get up in the morning?

Pondering the meaning of life, for sure.
Pondering the meaning of life, for sure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I guess you're waiting for me to report on something that's happening, something that tells me I'm getting better or worse. Something that tells me what  I can expect and what you can expect for me. Then, I"ll be able to tell you how I am.  But I'm learning that this disease doesn't happen that way. No news is good news. Symptoms mean treatment of some sort. Since there's no news to report, I better get on with my life.

I've been doing the things I can control -- regular exercise, diet, support group, writing group, stay busy...but I've been dancing around the critical question -- why do I want to live?

Prior to hospitalization my life meaning came from work. Let me use my writing skills to bring resources to non-profit agencies. Pursue the resources that will enable them to provide strong programs for their clients.  And, volunteer time? I worked for women's issues. 

Now, I'm rethinking. What's important to me? No children or grandchildren, which is what many of my friends care most about. I'm agnostic, so the spiritual life doesn't grab me. I'm interested in lots of things, but none that are shaking me by the shoulders saying I need you, I need you.

Glenn and I love each other and talk about our life together and things we'd like to do and places we'd like to go. Oh, here's an idea. Maybe I should make it my life work to turn him into a liberal. I'd have to live forever!

So what do you think? How do I sort through this? Do you have ideas? What makes you want to get up in the morning?

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Hurry up and wait

"Hurry up and wait. Imagine the best. Purge your thoughts of the worst. Keep the best. But when you discard the worst, don’t ignore what might be real symptoms," said the woman who ignored all the clues that something was wrong.

So since my last status report I’ve completed my brain radiation, spent time with my extended family who came from as far as Texas and Alaska to celebrate the life of my brother in law who died after a 5-year siege, joined Silver Sneakers and started to use the treadmill every day (today is day 5), attended my first metastatic support group and the Support Center’s memoir writing group (talk about talent…check out Carol's video here. ), and begun to change my diet. The time with my extended family made me feel like Wayne chose this time to die because he knew how much I needed their arms around me.

I turned down a work project. WOW! Turning down work? I don’t know the impact of my Christmas Day trauma and the radiation on my brain and don’t feel ready to handle the stress, despite the lure of additional income.

Yes, I'm bald.  I’ve watched many YouTube videos to learn to wrap and tuck turbans. And, I’ve been putting all those scarves from my hospital administration days to good use.

We're exploring juicing to see whether it will fit our lifestyle.  So far,thinking about it is the most we've done.. Do you juice? Have you done a juice fast? Any tips to share?

I’m off the steroids now so I expect my activity level will slow. This week I had my first day when I thought I’d just like to sleep all day. Or, at least keep my eyes closed while I hurried up taking control of my attitude, exercise, diet, and whatever else comes my way.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Cancer, eh? Ain't Life a Bitch?

On Christmas Day, at my sister's in New Hampshire, I had some kind of event, maybe a seizure -- net result: two weeks on the neuroscience unit at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Diagnosis: advanced breast cancer.

Neuroscience? Yes, my brain decided to be the organ to bring this to my attention. I'm doing well,though. And, after completing all the testing, everyone is optimistic about my prospects. I'm up and around. Can attempt do anything I've always done except drive. Everything depends on my stamina and current brain functioning. My energy level and concentration level have been improving daily.

 (Photo credit: Unknown)
So many people have asked to stay current on my journey that I decided a blog would work best.  You can decide what you want to read and when. This is the place. Directions for getting posts by email are in the right-hand navigation column.

Here's my current status:
  • I've a team of MDs helping me put a short term plan in place. The team in Albany  connects with the Kingston folks. 
  • I'm currently having  three weeks of brain radiation therapy to shrink this sucker. It has already helped control my immediate symptoms. I function better every day. I'm slow. Reading and research-- the core of my daily existence in the past-- is slow and challenging. I can't always trust my thinking (eg. I fought with the pharmacist. She,of course was right). Now the hard work starts. Learning about both conventional and non-conventional treatment alternatives and self-help.
  • The MD's are optimistic. They've started me on hormone therapy.They say my tumor type, which I don't understand, is receptive to new treatment protocols. This is an example of the research I need to do. 
I never realized the pressure that comes from trying to deal with business, income, and community responsibilities at the same time you're trying to cope with a catastrophic event which has triggered this.

Friends and colleagues have found alternatives for my business and community responsibilities. Glenn and I have found ways to deal with most of the business/financial issues. Ain't that a bitch dealing with the financial bureaucracy while in the midst of a medical and emotional crisis. 

I can't tell you how supportive Glenn has been. And, he frequently makes me laugh, he's so irreverent and we disagree about so much! Keeps us talking.

I am balancing this medical life with some entertainment, fun, socialization.  We've been going to lots of concerts and enjoying home-cooked meals. (Thank you, Richard and Joy, Doris and Irwin, and Irene Miller.) I'm beginning to see friends again. Everything is so new and my functioning so changeable. 

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

What we can learn from Lady Gaga

 I don't know a lot about Lady Gaga, but she's got my vote. I especially love her quote about the choice between pursuing a career vs. men! We can all learn a lot from how her team markets her.Thanks, C3/SelectNY.Paris10 Ways to be a Marketing Genius Like Lady Gaga
View more presentations from Powered by C3 / SelectNY. Paris.
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Celebrate Women in Science and Technology Today

Ellen Swallow Richards, First Woman to receive...Image via Wikipedia
It's Ada Lovelace Day - an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.

I posted about Ellen Swallow Richards on the AAUW Kingston Branch Blog. She's responsible for clean tap water and food safety standards; the first woman student and instructor at MIT. She also co-founded AAUW.

Later today I hope to spend some time surfing the list of woman people have chosen to celebrate. Maybe you'd like to read about a few, too.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Access, Access, Access - Kristof's Column

I'm tired of the health care debate. It's been going on for decades and I don't understand why. Please read Nicholas Kristof's NY Times op-ed column in its entirety. Are you weary, too?

Op-Ed Columnist - Access, Access, Access - "If Republicans succeed in killing Mr. Obama’s reform package, the share of Americans with medical coverage will continue to drop. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimated this month that if significant reforms do not pass, the number of uninsured Americans could grow by 10 million over just the next five years.

Partly because of lack of access, American health statistics are notorious: Our children are two-and-a-half times as likely to die before the age of 5 as children in Sweden. American women are 11 times as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as Irish women. The average person in Honduras or Vietnam is expected to live longer than the average African-American in New Orleans.

Opponents of health care reform claim that America’s health statistics are poor simply because of America’s racial diversity and large underclass. But there is one group of Americans who do fine in international comparisons — and that’s the 65-plus crowd. They have Medicare.

One careful study after another has shown that uninsured people are significantly more likely to die than insured people. That’s because diseases are caught at later stages on uninsured people, and they don’t get treated so well.

There’s one group that should be particularly passionate about supporting Mr. Obama’s efforts: opponents of abortions. There’s abundant cross-country evidence that the best way to hold down abortion numbers is to improve access to health care and thus prevent unwanted pregnancies."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Technologies that Empower Women: Tom Watson

Tom Watson, in his post Technologies that Empower Women, talks about the surprising ways that new technologies change the lives of women and their families for the better around the world.

"In most cases, it's not cool social-media widgets or super-wired gadgets that are making a difference. Much of the social change being driven by technology involves local innovation, local investment, and local custom. Technology that can be sustained at the country or regional level and through public-private partnerships—without massive international aid—is the kind that often brings the most lasting change. Often, this kind of transformation entails looking past the established solutions of the developed world and adopting canny new technological shortcuts."

Here are the technologies Watson cites. Are they the technologies you would have guessed? Used in the ways you would expect? Do read his article. It's fascinating.
  1. Video Everywhere
  2. Clean Cooking
  3. Birthing Kits -- 25 Cents each
  4. Electronic Election Monitoring (note: not electronic voting)
  5. E-learning
  6. Clean Water Nanotech
  7. Mobile Digital Banking
  8. Peer-to-Peer Funding Networks
  9. Micro-Agricultural Technologies
  10. Connected Communities
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Monday, March 01, 2010

Searching for Saddam: how the military mapped his social network

What could people learn about you by analyzing your photos on Facebook, Picasa, or Flickr? Well, our military learned enough about Saddam Husein's social network to capture him by analyzing the pictures in his family albums.

Slate has an interesting series about social networking and its role in searching for Saddam Husein.  The series underscores the difference between activity that is top-down directed -- Husein's government -- and networked -- his protectors after invasion.

The younger military interrogators knew the importance of understanding Husein's social network earlier than the leadership. In fact, they kept two diagrams -- one to show the brass, including the big names, the other, the real one,  that included his loyal friends, mostly bodyguards and nobodies in the former government power structure.

Here's a link to a brief video overview of the process to uncover Saddam Husein's social network. And here's a link to the series.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Iris Apfel -- Rare Bird of Fashion

If you like style, design,'s an interesting four minute video of Iris Apfel you might enjoy.

I don't know why the Peabody Essex Museum prepared this -- I'll have to investigate -- but it's a museum I remember fondly from my childhood. I grew up in the next town --Peabody. They had a wonderful feature article about the ancestral farmhouse they bought in China, took apart and reassembled at the museum. It's on my list to return the next time I'm back in Massachusetts.
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