I Can’t Call My Mom

My Mother died of Stage IV pancreatic cancer at 8:49 p.m. on January 26, 2023, less than three months after her diagnosis.

For the first 10 weeks after learning the news she felt better than she had in years. Then 10 days before she died all of a sudden the cancer made itself known, and she started on the morphine and it was never enough. I gave her a double dose when the 0.25 milligrams wasn’t helping, and the hospice nurse called the social worker on me, fearing perhaps that I was trying to kill her. No, the cancer was killing her. I was trying to stop the pain.

I guess it’s good that it happened so swiftly. But there wasn’t time for me to adjust. When she first got the diagnosis she was doing so well that it seemed as if we’d have a long time to be together still, and plenty of time for final words. By the time I flew home for her last few days, the medicine meant she was either in too much pain for conversation, her mind too muddled to think clearly, or asleep.

It seems like every day something happens and I think, “I’ll call Mom.” To brag about her granddaughter’s grad school grads. To share with her grandson’s photo standing beside the fourth grade class he teaches. To ask which of the three chicken spaghetti recipes she gave me is the one she likes the best. To find out what it was like, to be home with me all day when I was three and she had left her full-time job to stay at home when no babysitting options seemed to work. I go to pick up the phone and then it hits me that she won’t be on the other end of the line. My Dad answers the phone now, and wants to talk. Which is weird, because he’s always been anxious to get off the phone — “Here’s your Mom,” he’d say as quickly as he could, passing the call to her. Now the silence makes him anxious to talk, instead of to hand off the phone. But he doesn’t know anything about the chicken spaghetti, or how it was with me and Mom, since he was at work all day. I still brag to him about the grandkids, but it isn’t the same.

I wish I could call my Mom.

Dryish January

I made it six days drinking non-alcoholic wine — basically, colored water in a wine bottle. I decided on Saturday nights I can have one white wine spritzer. So, less “dry” and more “dry-ish.” Fine, whatever … better than nothing, I say.

What about you? Have you tried to quit drinking for a month, or a week, or a day? I didn’t drink at all until freshman year of college and I haven’t stopped drinking since. Well, that’s not really true. I first knew I was pregnant when I got home from a long day at law school and sat down for dinner and a beer. My first sip of beer tasted off — metallic. Somehow, though I hadn’t been trying to get pregnant or thinking about it, really, at all, the thought that I might be pregnant popped into my head. The metallic-tasting beer had made me stop and think and as I scanned my body for what could be going on I realized that my boobs felt a little funny as well. I was only a few weeks pregnant, but my son was already making himself known.

Three positive pregnancy tests later, I called my husband (he lived in Dallas while I was in law school in Austin) and announced the news. He told me to go to CVS and get another test.

Still positive! I poured the beer down the drain and was sober for the next almost nine months. I started liking non-alcoholic beer actually better than the real thing. It was harder to give up Diet coke.

With my daughter, a few years later, I also gave up alcohol — but not diet coke — until the last few weeks when her being late when I was convinced she’d be at least two weeks early had me at wit’s end.

Then there were the 10 days of my Whole30 diet (the Halloween candy on day 11 put a stop to my clean eating), and again giving up candy and chips was harder than giving up my nightly glass of wine.

(On another note, it was interesting that while I can normally eat a candy bar and feel fine, after 10 days of clean eating, two mini Milky Ways had my stomach immediately upset. So, maybe sugar isn’t that good for me?)

Check back later this month to see if I stick with the A Wine Spritzer A Week Plan or just go back to my old, a glass of wine a day habit. I’m not placing any bets!

Release, Let Go, Get Into the Flow

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Releasing is my 2023 “Word.”

I’ve “released” before or, at least, I’ve tried. I’ve written down what no longer serves me on a tiny slip of paper, folded it up and burnt it in the fire. I’ve even publicly announced what I’m releasing in ceremonies designed to help us release what’s holding us back, and for the moment, I felt a weight off my shoulders.

But it’s still there the next day or the next week or the next time I find myself repeating my familiar habit — the very one I had seen burn to ashes in a fire but had made its way back inside anyway. Now, perhaps, angry with me for trying to rid myself of it, so more determined than ever to stick around. I suppose I should be flattered, that it likes me so.

Either I haven’t yet fully learned its lessons or I just am really, really bad at letting go.

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My Mom will die this year, her doctor tells us. He called to tell her she had Stage IV pancreatic cancer that had spread to her liver, her test results leaving no hope for any cure, unable to be stopped by any treatment. Oddly, the first two months after her “six months to live” diagnosis have been her healthiest in years, which has messed with my head. I was prepared to be there — flying in for long visits to help care for her — but I fly in and find her happier and more awake than she’s been at least since she broke her hip just as the pandemic began in early March of 2020. So I welcome this time with my healthier but somehow deathly ill mother, assuming that either the doctor is very, very wrong or having been told, finally, what has been making her feel bad has enabled her to feel better. I think she will live longer than six months, but she is resigned to ready and I believe 2023 will be the year I let go of my mother.

I’m definitely planning to work on letting go of the mother that has taken up residency in my head for as long as I can remember. The voice that tells me not to be a lazy-ass when I want to take a well-deserved break. The voice I carry around who is never satisfied with who I am, the one who feels more comfortable living small, the one who doesn’t feel she deserves to take up space. This year, I will take up space. I will try new things, I will let go of my tightly held reins.

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This month, I will let go of my need for wine with every dinner. I didn’t drink growing up. It was seen as a sin, and so even when my high school boyfriend tried everything he could think of to get me to drink, I refused. I was no rule-breaker, and drinking alcohol was against the rules. I was also no fun.

So in college I came to a decision. First, I was going to have sex before I got married (another rule I had been determined not to break). And if I was going to do that, I would have to first be well-fortified with alcohol. Second, I wanted to have fun, and the only way I could figure out how to do that was with a glass of Everclear and Hawaiian Punch. I didn’t like the taste of cheap beer or cheap wine, but I liked trashcan punch and I drank way, way too much of it.

In my 20s I replaced Everclear with whiskey sours and Kir Royale (thank the good lord) and assorted other cocktails. By my 40s I had settled into a routine of a glass of wine (or two) with dinner. And now it’s an ingrained habit it’s hard to stop, even when I want to lose weight or sleep well or just go a night without it. So it’s Dry January for me. I cheated last night and finished off the last of the champagne I had celebrated the end of 2022 with — finding it too hard to let those 4 ounces of nice French champagne go to waste. So, semi-Dry January, it seems?

Photo by Posawee Suwannaphati on Pexels.com

Release, let go, get into flow … that’s this year’s motto. This month, it’s alcohol I’m letting go, and my need for it. Check back to see if releasing what no longer serves me works better this time around!

Today, I am Grateful for … TEDx

I have mixed feelings about “Big TED,” but I love TEDxSanDiego and many of the individual TEDx events all over the world. The TEDx organizers give so much of themselves, for free, in order to put on an event that they hope will make the world just a little better, and so often they do just that.

I am biased, of course, because my husband organized the first few TEDxSanDiego events and I saw how hard he worked to raise funds, vet speakers, coach speakers, figure out the technical sound and video issues required to create the best videos for uploading onto the TED site, find volunteers to help before and during the event, etc. And I was able to do nothing more than give emotional support, have patience with his stress loads and crazy schedule, and then enjoy the amazing event when it all came together.

Jake Schimabukuro making his magic

Through TEDxSanDiego and the TEDx organizers’ network I’ve been able to meet and get to know some amazing people, including Jake Shimabukuro, a virtuoso on the ukulele whose heart is as huge as his musical talents.

Maya Fiennes

And, after practicing yoga with Maya Fiennes DVDs every morning for more than a year, we were thrilled to practice with her in person at a “baby TED” TED Active several years ago. We were even able to have her lead some yoga workshops in our living room as a result of meeting through TED (that’s Maya standing in front of our TEDx sign in our yard, above, after one of those workshops).

Jack introducing the musicians for a TEDxSanDiego event

Each year TEDxSanDiego had an eclectic mix of musicians, artists, scientists, and thought leaders spent their time sharing their gifts and their wisdom and being along for the ride as a spouse of the organizer has been a gift for which I am grateful today. TEDxSanDiego has had speakers like Richard Dreyfuss, Martha Beck, Dr. Edith Eva Eger, Tina Guo, Ken Blanchard, Ben Sollee, James Fowler and Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and many, many more who have touched my heart and inspired me to create community and give more of myself whenever I can.

This year’s TEDxSanDiego will take place at the end of March. The website should be updated in the next week or so to give more details about it — even before then you can scroll to the bottom of the website and sign up for the email newsletter and be the first to hear about the upcoming events. It’s sure to be another don’t-miss opportunity to connect, engage and transform your life!

Spices and The Oldest Café in Paris

Founded in 1686, where gentlemen of fashion came to drink the exotic beverage we know as coffee

Teas since 1692, and All the Colors of Pepper

Despite light rain all day, I wandered in search of Hôtel de Sully, missing it but finding the Place des Vosges as my consolation prize, and picked up some delicious tea from the people who have been providing tea to Parisians since 1692, as authorized by King Louis XIV, Dammann Frères. One tin of Christmas tea and one of Happy Dreams later, I picked up some gorgeous fresh strawberries and blueberries while wandering the streets towards home.

After a bit of work and checking of emails, Jack and I headed in search of a spice store we’d visited when we were last in town, Compagnie Française des Poivres et des Epices, an artisanal boutique of peppers, spices, salts and sugars in a beautiful square. There are 8 or so white peppers, several red, multiple black, four smoked, so a pepper for any meal. It is hard to choose, but we ended up with a white that’s great with chicken, a red to use for vegetables and a spicy black pepper for everything else. I have a cool antique-looking pepper grinder at home, but the saleswoman says the best way to grind the peppercorns is with a mortar and pestle. So at least I’ll get a little arm workout while preparing my pepper!

Restaurant Procope

The inside of restaurant Procope

Walking home from Saint-Germaine, we were searching around rue de Buci for a place for dinner when I realized we were standing in front of a restaurant we’d been looking for earlier — restaurant Procope, which started its life in 1686. On an earlier visit we’d done a Paris Walks focused on Revolutionary France where the guide mentioned the restaurant as one in which Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, many revolutionary leaders, as well as Voltaire and many philosophers and writers have gathered over the years. Napoleon apparently left one of his hats to guarantee payment of a bill, which he never came back to collect and which is now showcased on the stair landing.

The story of Napoleon and the restaurant holding his hat as a pledge
The infamous hat

In fact, I realized while eating that a letter signed by Napoleon was framed and hanging just behind my head. We had the fixed price menu, which was a DELICIOUS ravioli (seriously, it’s small but so, so good) and (for me) trout and (for Jack) beef. The trout was tender but served as a whole fish and I never enjoy eating the body of a fish when its head and tail are there making it impossible for me not to realize that a fish had to die to make my dinner. So, but for my idiosyncrasies, it was great. Jack enjoyed his beef.

Right behind me I find a letter signed by Napoleon

While we were eating, a group of men all dressed up showed up to gather at what I believe was a private dining area upstairs, and definitely added to the atmosphere.

This man was all in — the only one I saw carrying a sword
Love the hats

Walking Home On A Rainy Night And Enjoying The Sights

The walk home was lovely, strolling down streets strung with lights, crossing the Seine near the Notre Dame, still glorious despite the fire and rebuilding now underway.

Lights strung along a street add just the right ambiance
Yet another gorgeous Paris street
Notre Dame and the scaffolding that will help rebuild it
Another view of the great lady.

All in all, another lovely day in the City of Lights, love, wine, cheese, croissants, strolling, history, and so many other good and delicious wonders. We are only missing our little dog … and of course, our children!

Writing away … is it hopeless?

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I did not go outside my apartment today other than making a run to the pâtisserie for croissants for breakfast and a short stroll of the neighborhood on a very chilly evening after dinner. Otherwise, other than a short Yoga with Adriene session, I was struggling to write the opening scene of my hoped-for historical novel.

Image purportedly of Adela, Countess of Blois

I’ve wanted to write the story of Adela, Countess of Blois, Chartres and Meaux from the late 1080s until 1125 or so. I’ve read historical fiction all my life, and always have said I want to be a writer but the pressure from my family or my own inner critic or society — or fear or procrastination or all of the above — kept me on a different path. When I turned 50 (12 long years ago) I knew that the only regret I would have if I were to die then without having ever tried to write a book.

Finally, about six months ago, I decided to get serious, hired a book coach to help and then promptly have tried to postpone my calls with the book coach as often as possible because I haven’t actually taken the time to sit down and write, or plot, or whatever my assignment might be.

Well, today I spent hours struggling over the opening scene. I don’t know if I can do this…I really think I cannot, but I also do not want to give up without having put in the time actually writing.

I want the world to know Adela’s story. Plenty of books have been written about her father (William the Conqueror), mother (Queen Matilda), brothers (especially King Henry I), and son (King Stephen), but those books only mention one aspect of Adela, and it is not a flattering one. A brilliant historian wrote her doctoral thesis on Adela and that’s been a great source for the facts. Now I have to turn it into a story, with a character arc and obstacles and all the stuff. And it’s not coming easy to me. I have to turn off my attorney mind and my inner critic and reach deep down inside myself and be vulnerable. I am not good at vulnerable.

Tomorrow I will explore Paris again, but I hope to also explore my writing about Adela, a little every day, until I have a shitty first draft to edit, until I can finally say I didn’t give up without giving it my best effort. And maybe it will stay shitty because it’s not a book that’s meant for me to write, but at least I will have tried!

Two Weeks in Paris

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Continuing with yesterday’s theme, and to enhance my memories of my trip when I try to recall it years from now, my blog will serve as my diary of Two Weeks in Paris, Winter 2022 edition.

I was born in Beaumont, TX, which is not at all like Paris other than people live in both places. I dreamt of Europe all of my childhood. I’d put myself to sleep imaging myself living abroad — always a home in Paris, sometimes a chalet in Switzerland or an old mansion with big bay windows and a comfy window seat with a plush red curtain overlooking the English countryside.

And now, I’m here, in “my” apartment (well, me and 12 other owners), in the Marais. And it’s as lovely as I imagined it would be.

Our flight here arrived so early that we had to wait on the airport bus before entering the terminal for the Covid checkers to arrive. Once they did, we handed over our Covid vaccination cards, our negative Covid tests, and our sworn statements promising to get another antigen test within 24 hours and then on to the regular passport/customs/baggage lines. After the taxi from Paris Orly airport we settled into the apartment, then walked the neighborhood soaking it all in… and ate a croissant with all the flakes.

I didn’t like croissants before, but now I am addicted. The carbs and butter are not the best way to start my 2022 diet trying to lose my Covid weight, but they are delicious!

I don’t know what this is a photo of, but it reminds me of Beaumont, TX Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com
In contrast… Paris. Photo by Elina Sazonova on Pexels.com

After an afternoon of walking, capped off by Falafels to go and a bottle of wine, we slept. And slept. Intermittently, awaken by calls from the States unaware that we were on a different time zone, until 11:30 this morning. I still felt groggy.

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Nothing that a croissant and some Earl Grey couldn’t solve! Then we wandered the streets, coming across a clothing sale in a warehouse where 1 kilo of clothing was 10 euros and I got a dress and a shirt for 4 euros. They ended up not fitting (until I lose 10 pounds?), but it was fun to browse anyway.

Then work calls, and translating the French/Italian oven manual with the help of Google Translate so we could prepare chicken, veggies and baked sweet potato for dinner, accompanied by the last of last night’s wine, and then binge watching Emily in Paris for fun.

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And now, time for bed. Or, given my usually 9 p.m. bedtime, way past time (it’s 1 a.m.). I hate jet lag.

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Now, for Day Three!

Lit Up By “The City of Light”

Today’s gratitude thought is an easy one — I arrived safe and sound, despite Covid-19 and so many flight cancellations and delays, in Paris this morning. But, KN95 mask and safety googles on, we made it safely here. Today, I’m grateful for Paris.

We flew for the second time on La Compagnie, which is a lovely airline but a pain to use from San Diego, as they only have one flight to Paris, out of Newark, and getting to Newark on a different airline in order to make the flight in time is a bit of a challenge, but worth it.

View from my living room in the Marais

Late last year we sold one tiny fractional studio apartment down the street and purchased a slightly larger one-bedroom fractional with a sleeper sofa my kids can use when they are able to visit with us. Its remodel was just finished a week ago and we are the first of the owners to be able to visit, and love it! Above is a view from our living room; below is the view from our kitchen.

View from my kitchen, over looking the St Paul metro carousel
View of the kitchen into the dining area, with beautiful old wooden beams

It’s long been a dream to have an apartment in Paris and while I only own 1/13th of this one, it’s a start! And my neighborhood is lovely, with organic groceries, wine stores, boutiques, metros, and more.

And just a short walk away is some of the best falafel, and we were lucky enough to stop by when there was no line. Picked up our food, picked up a bottle of wine on the walk home and enjoyed a lovely dinner. Now on to get some sleep and recover from my jet lag.

Highly recommend L’As du Falafel!

In writing the headline for this blog post, I researched why Paris is called the City of Light. In 1667, King Louis XIV entrusted his police lieutenant to make Paris safer, in part by installing street lights. Lanterns were placed on almost every main street, and residents were asked to light their windows with candles or oil lamps. The idea was to prevent dark corners and alleyways criminals where criminals could hide.

I am so grateful to King Louis XIV, and to his police lieutenant, and to every single person who has contributed to make Paris the gorgeous city that I (and millions of others) love so.

Thank you Paris, for being you!

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Backup Singers

“20 Feet from Stardom”

By Derived from a digital capture (photo/scan) of the Film Poster/DVD Cover (creator of this digital version is irrelevant as the copyright in all equivalent images is still held by the same party). Copyright held by the film company or the artist. Claimed as fair use regardless., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39331832

Today I’m grateful for the unsung heroes of the music I dance, cry, relax and write to … the backup singers. I watched the movie “20 Feet from Stardom” on the plane from San Diego to NYC and it was moving to hear the stories of these (mostly) women (mostly) of color who lent their magic and invaluable gifts of their voices to create so much of the music I know and love. And yet I’ve never before thought of their contributions and certainly haven’t given them the credit for the songs I love.

It’s the people in the background who give so much of themselves that if all were right with the world would get the glory, acclaim and success — at least as much as the stars receive. As someone who has worked away, head down, hoping that producing good work, exceeding expectations, giving my all would be rewarded only to find that, usually, it is not, I should do my part to always seek out those behind the scenes, to thank them for their contributions, to acknowledge their efforts.

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My gratitude journal today, then, is filled with gratitude for the beauty and joy that these back-up singers have brought to our lives, for the sound they have created, for their bravely using their gifts to bless us with music that touches our souls.

Thank you, backup singers, with all my heart.


Today I’m grateful for buttermilk.

When he was just a toddler, my mother used to trick my little brother by handing him a glass of “milk” filled with buttermilk instead of the creamy sweet whole milk he was anticipating. He’d take the glass, smiling, looking forward to a delicious treat of slightly sweet, smooth, rich milk and then make the funniest face, twisted mouth and wide eyes, when the sour, tang of buttermilk touched his tongue instead. OK it was mean but it was funny. And don’t worry, he got me back plenty when he got a little older.

This is not my brother; we didn’t have cellphones to let us easily capture all the moments back in the day. But you get the idea.

In addition to bringing back a memory that still makes me smile, I’m also grateful to buttermilk for the tang and depth it brings to my brown sugar buttermilk waffles (so delicious), and so many of the Southern dishes that were staples of my East Texas childhood.

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Buttermilk reminds me of my grandmother, too. Not so much because of her cooking but because of all the work required of her to provide the basics for her family. There was no carton of buttermilk at a store to be picked up waiting for her. She (or my uncle) had to milk their cows, then she had to churn the milk, and only then would she have buttermilk and the other dairy necessities required to cook the meals over an old-fashioned stove in the heat of a Texas summer with no air conditioning other than a paper fan saved from some outdoor church event. But gratitude for my grandmother will be another post, for another day.

Photo by Jefferson Lucena on Pexels.com

Today, it’s buttermilk. Tangy, tart, with the ability to add just the “je ne sais quo” to so many meals. To the soil that grew the grass that fed the cows that produced the milk, as well as the farmers, factory workers, truck drivers, grocery shelf stockers and cashiers required for me to access it. The sun that shone to grow the grass, the rain that watered the fields. All the little actions required to put 1-3/4 cup of buttermilk into my soon-to-be-eaten waffles this morning. Buttermilk, I salute you.