Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Help for Mr. Trildok

My friend, Brian, is a theatre geek like me. Unlike me, he is a comic book nerd. His nerdiness is not limited to reading though. Oh, no, he writes them too.

Actually, I shouldn't call him a nerd. Well, I should, cause he totally is (love ya Bri!) but it's not because of his writing. He's a very talented writer and story teller, and an all around awesome guy, which is why you should help him.

You see, Brian's very witty comic, Mr Trildok Sings the Blues, is a contestant in the current Zuda Comics contest. Winning will bring him fame, fortune, and a bevy of women at his disposal. Ok, not really, but it will boost his ego and enable him to provide more entertainment via Mr Trildok. Which is why you should vote for him. Here's how:

1) Go to
2) Register with a valid email address. Very important that it be valid.
3) Wait for the email from Zuda. Be patient, it might take a few minutes.
4) Click on second link in the email. That'd be the insanely long one that you're glad is hyperlinked cause you'd never remember the whole thing if you had to type it into your browser.
5) Once you are logged in, click on the Mr Trildok Sings the Blues icon and then

A) Vote for Mr Trildok.
B) Make it one of your favorites
C) Give it 5 out of 5 stars

It is important that you do all of steps A, B and C. All three things add together to give them their rank, so doing all three will help propel them forward that much faster.

They've been jockeying for first with Eldritch and trading positions for a few days now. Your vote, rank and favoritizing will help put them solidly in first, ensuring that Bri---I mean, Mr Trildok --- will live to terrorize another day.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Controlling the controllables

One of the things that was drilled into my head as a softball player is to "control the controllables." We cannot control the weather, the field conditions, the umpire, the other team....but we can control our own actions, thoughts, and preparation. I cannot control the holes in the outfield, but I can control whether or not I know where they are. I cannot control the umps zone, but I can control where I put the ball. It's all about adapting and adjusting to the conditions of the day that are beyong our control, and controlling things that are controllable.

Ricky and I have decided to begin applying this to our lives. Before, we were kind of living by the "we're all going to die anyway!" philosophy of living. After watching how painful it is to die, or live, with cancer, we've decided that it's time to change that attitude. We have begun controlling the controllables when it comes to what we put into our bodies and our environment.

I cannot control the cancer genes in my family. On my dad's side alone I can count 8 blood related cancer victims. Some beat their cancer, some had multiple episodes, some lost their battle, but all of them are blood relations and most of those cancers were lung or breast. Yikes. I can't change that. Nor can I change the fact that there is a significant history of heart disease in my family. Since I can't change my genes, I'm changing my habits.

I've done a ton of reading on "clean eating" and we've made the switch to eat as many things as possible with as few preservatives or chemicals as we can. This means lots (and lots and lots and lots) of label reading, but it's so worth it. We found delicious crackers at Trader Joe's that are much like Triscuits but so much tastier - and I can pronounce every ingredient in those crackers. In fact, I know where to find all of the ingredients in a grocery store.

It's amazing how much of the food we consume has preservatives and chemicals in it. We would never put those things in if we were making a recipe from a cookbook, so why do we accept it in our store bought foods?

I've also been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. What a great show! He's right - we need to change the way we eat in America. So no more processed cheese foods. No more Chicken nugget shaped patties. Just cheese, and chicken, and everything else that I can pronounce. As Jamie said on the last episode of his show, "If you read the ingredient list and it sounds like a NASA experiment, don't buy it! If it sounds like your nana's pantry - eggs, flour, that sort of thing - then rock and roll!"

So that's what we're trying to do. And now, a list of some of the products that we think "rock and roll."

  • Newman-O's Hint of Mint Cookies
  • Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Brownies
  • Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Woven Wheat Crackers
  • Haagen Dazs Five Ice Cream
  • Trader Joe's Organic Cinnamon Spice Instant Oatmeal
  • Whole Wheat Pasta (any brand, just be sure it's truly whole wheat pasta; the only ingredient should be Whole Wheat or Semolina flour)
  • Spinach Pasta (same deal as the wheat, but the ingredient should be spinach)
  • Trader Joe's Crushers Fruit Sauce in Apple Carrot

We're new at this, so we're still trying various products, but so far so good. We have yet to try something we didn't like. Thankfully, we were already fairly wholesome in our dinner foods, it was breakfast and lunch that needed some help, as well as our snacks and sweets. I was pretty much living off of Jimmy Dean D-Lites bowls and sandwiches for breakfast and Lean Cuisines or Smart Ones for lunch. Those 100 Calorie packs were pretty much an every day staple, and I just don't think it was good. Now I have a higher calorie dessert, but I know the ingredients going into my body are natural and much higher quality. Plus, a little bit of something really good goes a long way (and those 100 calorie packs aren't really all that good, in comparison).

We've still got a ways to go, but it's been fun so far. We're not going to be hardcore about it - if we want to go out to eat, we will, and if we decide we want a delctable chemical filled snack, then we'll have it. After tasting all these great new choices, though, I can honestly say I have no desire for any of that stuff. The new things are much tastier.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"How're you doing?"

Everyday, people ask "how're you doing?" with that little smile that says "I'm so sorry for you." While I appreciate the thoughts, how I'm doing is a little hard to explain. Everyday, having lost my grandma is there in the back of my mind. It's not like it's something I ever am not thinking about, it's always there. But sometimes, it suddenly hits me. Like, when I realize I no longer have to clarify when I tell my mom I talked to Grandma. Or when I hear an ad for something and think, "ooh, Grandma would love that." Or when I log on to my FTD account and look at my order history and see a bouquet I sent her in September. It hits me, as if from out of nowhere, even though it's always lurking in the back of my mind.

Someone posted this poem on facebook today. It made me cry because it is so true. It is completely how I feel, and maybe it will answer the question, "How're you doing?"

I wish Heaven had a phone so I could hear your voice again.
I thought of you today, but that is nothing new.
I thought about you yesterday, and days before that too.
I think of you in silence, I often speak your name.
All I have are memories and a picture in a frame.
Your memory is a keepsake, from which I'll never part.
God has you in his arms, I have you in my heart.

Friday, April 9, 2010


As far back as I can remember, my grandma and I spent time together. Whether they lived in the house in the valley, the apartment, or the house next door to us, Grandma always had everything just so, with a place for everything and everything neat and tidy in it's place. There was once a tshirt that was popular in those silly gift catalogs that showed a woman with a vacuum cleaner, vacuuming the leaves off the trees in the fall. I laughed every time I saw it because it was my grandma to a tee.

When I was little, I would often spend the night at Grandmd and Grandpa's. At bath time Gramma would pull out a small bottle with blue liquid. Somehow this was both bubble bath and shampoo. I have no idea what it was, but it was part of our bathtime ritual. Once I was in the bubble bath we would sing “Little Sir Echo” together. After washing my hair and rinsing it in running water from the tap of the bathtub, I would get out and Grandma would wrap me in two towel; one for my hair, the other for my body. How I loved those big, soft, fluffy burnt orange towels with the butterfly emblems!

Grandma loved music and performing, and she passed that love onto me. I loved to see the costumes she wore when she sang with the Sweet Adeline’s, and she loved to recount the stories of her time in the group. It was not uncommon to find the two of us around the piano, playing and singing for hours. It is because of her that I know songs like “Mairzy Doats” and all of the words to "You Are My Sunshine". I learned how to play the piano, though I never loved it the way Grandma did, and to read music. I can remember being at their house and paging through her books, looking for a song that was my skill level. I always found things to play, and Grandma never seemed to mind that I played such simple songs or that I often only played the right hand part. Of course, she had to harmonize anytime we sang anything, including “Happy Birthday.” I can’t hear that song without hearing her soprano voice harmonizing with the rest of ours.

Grandma loved food and loved to feed other people. It was impossible to go hungry when you were with my grandma. Once they moved in next door I would go to Grandma and Grandpa's after school. Grandma would call out “Hi Sweetie!” as she always did, and immediately ask me two things – did I have homework, and would I like something to eat? Now, the thing with my grandma is that even if you didn’t want something to eat, you ended up eating anyway. The line of questioning usually went like this:

Grandma: Do you want something to eat?
Me: No thanks, Grandma.
Grandma: Are you sure? It’s no trouble.
Me: No, it’s ok.
Grandma: You really should eat something.
Me: No, really, I’m not hungry.
Grandma: Sure you are! How about some toast? Or an English muffin?

The next thing I knew, I’d be stuffing my face with Oroweat toast or a peanut butter and honey sandwich, sipping on a Pepsi using a licorice straw. How did the woman do it?? I have no idea, but she always won. I blame her for my carb addiction!

After Grandma and Grandpa moved in next door to us, I spent even more time with them, and after Grandpa died my Grandma and I became even closer. I loved being able to look out the sliding glass door at home to see if there was a light on at Grandma’s. If there was, I knew she was home and still up (although who am I kidding, of course she was up - I got my late night hours from her!). I would go down just to visit and end up staying so long that Mom or Dad would have to call to tell me to come home. Grandma and I would talk for hours. Sometimes she would teach me new things, like how to knit or the steps to various styles of ballroom dances. I’ll never forget the two of us waltzing around her house, sliding more than anything because we were both in socks on a hardwood floor.

As much as we had in common, we could also be like oil and water. A tomboy as a girl and athletic her whole life, somehow my grandma grew into a woman who loved floral prints and froofy stuff. I hated that she always wanted me to wear dresses and keep my hair down, and she was mortified when she found out that I’d be wearing tennis shoes for my wedding. Everyone else who knew me well said, “that sounds like you!” but Grandma never gave up trying to make me more feminine.

Even so, she never stopped loving me or supporting me. She came to almost as many of my softball games as my parents, even traveling to California, Montana and Illinois for tournaments. She was there for my high school, college, and graduate school graduations, and the huge smile on her face showed me just how proud she was of me at those times. I’ll never forget how supportive she was when I was down about not being able to find a job, or how excited she was when I finally did find a job that I loved. She would always ask about my students and was genuinely interested in how school was going. She loved to hear about the things I loved, and that made me feel special.

Since she died, I’ve been thinking that you can’t put the essence of a person on paper, but I think that might be it. My grandma knew how to make everyone feel special and loved. She was herself a very special person, and she will be greatly missed by all those who knew and loved her.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

She's gone, take 2

I tried to write this last night, but nights are hard. I'm finding that in the light of day I'm mostly able to think about the good times and remember my grandma with fondness. In the dark of night, though, the sorrow creeps in and I can't stop the tears. I do, however, want to get this down before I forget the intensity of that night. While it is so incredibly hard and emotional, it is also an amazing thing to be able to comfort someone as they prepare to leave earth, and I don't want to forget.

With that, I issue this warning - This post is for me, not you. You may read it, and please do if you are interested, but know that it may be somewhat graphic, it will certainly be sad, and it may make you uncomfortable. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Mom, Dad and I left Portland about 8:30 am and flew to Missoula via Seattle. We landed in Missoula around 12:40, so I suppose we got to Grandma and Frank's around 1 or 1:15. When we got there my Uncle Bob and Aunt Donna, Grandma's brother and his wife, were already there. When we prepared to go into the bedroom to see Grandma, Aunt Donna said, "be prepared." I thought, yeah right, how bad can it be? As of Friday, she was wheelchair bound, but she was still able to go to her doctor appointment, ask questions, etc. Mom and Dad had just been there one week ago to the day and she was sitting in a chair in the living room chatting with them at 10 oclock at night. How much difference could a few days make?

Apparently, a ton. When I walked into the bedroom I saw a shadow of my grandma. She was in bed, with her head on a pillow. Those of you who knew her well will understand how bizarre that is. My grandma hated pillows. She had this teeny tiny little thing that she used, all wadded up in a pillow case that dwarfed the pillow. I believe this was the first time I saw her with her head on a real pillow while lying in her own bed.

On Monday the hospice nurses put her on a morphine pump, and she was incredibly drugged up by the time we got there Tuesday afternoon. She knew who we were - when I walked in and said, "Hi Grandma!" (loudly, so as to break through the drug induced fog), she looked at me and managed to whisper, "Hi sweetie," the way I remember her greeting me all my life. She asked after my puppy, which made me laugh - my grandmother, who loved animals but was anti-house pet until she met her second husband, wanted to know where my dog was! - and I told her Ricky was at home with him, as Ricky had to work and couldn't come visit.

I sat with her for a few minutes, talking with her. Well, talking to her is more like it. She really couldn't hold a conversation, but she would respond now and again with "oh, that's nice" or a smile. Finally I told her I was going to let her rest. As I got up to leave the room she reached up for a hug. I told her I loved her and she whispered, or perhaps mouthed is a better description, "I love you too." I kissed her on the cheek and she kissed me, and I left to have a good cry.

Throughout the afternoon, I told her stories of things she and I had done together. She smiled and said, "That's nice." I teased her about her hair. There are very few things about which I am vain, but my hair is one of them, and I get it from my grandma. I remember when I was little and she'd go to get a permanent. When she'd get back my grandpa would say, "What's the matter, they couldn't get you in?" She'd get so mad at him! When I saw how little hair she had, I said, "Grandma, I love your new hairdo!" She laughed and patted her head.

Several times she tried to tell me something. First she started with, "I wish..." Another time she said, "I got to..." She never was strong enough to tell me what she wished or what she got to, though.

The final time that she was responsive and talkative that I was with her, I told her I was going to go and let her rest. She glommed onto the word "go" and said, "I'm leaving?" I told her that no, she wasn't going anywhere. Then she said, "You're leaving?" "No grandma, I'm just going to the living room. I'm staying here. I'm going to sleep here, if that's ok with you." She smiled and said something affirmative, "good" or "I'm glad" or something along those lines, though I can't remember her exact words right now. She gave him a hug and didn't want to let me go. I told her one more time that I loved her and she told me she loved me too. That turned out to be the last thing she'd say to me.

The hospice nurses came sometime after that and checked on her. They cleaned her up, changed her clothing, and did various other hospicey things. I don't remember how long it was, but it seemed like it took them hours. The next time I saw her, it was obvious all that work had worn her out. From then on, she only responded to us with smiles, head nods, and hand squeezes.

Her breathing had been fairly ragged and wheezy the whole day, but it continued to get worse. The hospice nurses told us that it would continue to get worse and would get gurgly. They left some things to help with that and upped her morphone, giving her a button to push for extra morphine doses. Of course, she wasn't strong enough to push it so we had to do it for her.

As the night went on, we realized just how bad things were getting. We decided to all tell her we loved her and give her permission to go. I'm not sure what everyone else said to her, but when I went in I told her that I loved her, that we all did, and that we didn't want to lose her but we also didn't want her to hurt anymore. At this point she hadn't been responding to us for a while, except to hold tight to our hands, so I didn't expect any kind of acknowledgement of what I was saying. I went on to tell her that it was ok to go, and that I wanted her to give Grandpa a big hug for me and tell him I love him and I missed him. When I said that, she very obviously nodded. It was the only response I got from her while I was talking to her, but it was very clear that she was saying yes, she would hug Grandpa and tell him for me.

By this point, Uncle Bob and Aunt Donna had retired to their hotel room for the night. Frank, Mom, Dad and I took turns sitting with Grandma. From the time hospice left until she passed, we didn't leave her alone. For a while, when we'd try to switch seats, she'd grab on tight to the hand she was holding, apparently not wanting us to leave. We'd switch and she'd be fine. Later, though, there was absolutely no response from her when we'd switch.

Sometime around 11 or 11:15, Dad noticed there was blood coming from her mouth. We called the hospice nurse on call, and she gave us some tips on what to do. We tried to roll Grandma onto her side, but it seemed to hurt her far too much. We did the best we could, and Dad swabbed the blood from her mouth. Soon Grandma started spitting it out with each breath. It was very clear that the end was near.

Grandma's breathing got more and more ragged, and soon her pulse was so faint that it was hard to feel with consistency. She'd breathe out and several seconds later Dad would say, "I think she's gone." Suddenly, she'd take one more breath. This went on for a few minutes, until just after midnight when she did truly expel her final breath. It was just after midnight, something we'd all been hoping for. Grandma had managed to make it to the next day, so she wouldn't pass on my cousin's 12th birthday.

The rest of the night, or morning as it were, is a blur of tears and hugs and sadness. I know the hospice nurse came and took Grandma's medicines away. I remember that we couldn't get Grandma's mouth to close, which struck me as funny since she always was talkative and she wouldn't close her mouth in death either. The funeral home people came and took her away, and we all said goodbye one more time. I was crying too much and couldn't actually say anything to her, but I gave her a kiss.

The rest of the trip was a whirlwind of emotions. We made funerary arrangements, chose a date for a memorial here at home, and went through countless and files of things to begin the process of dealing with the estate. It wore me out, and I got home yesterday afternoon completely exhausted.

I am so glad I was able to be with my grandma one more time. I'm extremely grateful that she knew who we were and could understand what we were saying and even respond to some extent. As ever when you lose someone, the whatifs and regrets are bombarding me from every direction. I want to pass on what my friend Leigh wrote to me:

Forgive yourself for your regrets. You did the best you could at the time and that is really all you could do. You didn't knowingly hurt your grandmother's feelings or not go visit when you knew you wouldn't have much time. We all do the best we can and that is what you did. Your grandmother knew how much you love her and you got there in time to say goodbye. You did the most important things right.

So now it's back to life, I guess. I feel like that isn't right, that I shouldn't be preparing to go back to work tomorrow. Not yet, it's too soon! But I need to. I just hate that part of my life has ended, but the world continues on as if nothing has happened. Shouldn't everyone's world stop like mine has? Shouldn't everyone's heart be shattered? Why can't people tell by looking at me that I've been through something terrible this week? I don't want to have to keep explaining!

The other thing I am struggling with is wrapping my brain around the fact that one minute she was breathing and the next, she wasn't. One second she was alive...and then she wasn't. We were talking about her in present tense, and then suddenly she became past tense. It's hard to remember that she is now a "was" instead of an "is." As real and as raw as it all is, even Saturday night I found myself thinking, "oh, I should call gramma and see..."

Somehow, someway, we will all get through this time. It will get easier, I know. That doesn't make these feelings any less real, but it does give me hope that there will be a time when I won't cry myself to sleep, a time when I can go through the day without tears springing to my eyes without warning. I've been through this twice before, I can do it again. I am strong. I am my grandmother's granddaughter, after all.

She's gone

Mary Carolyn Barlow Steenson Bretz passed away March 31st, surrounded by her family. Cancer is evil. The end.

More later. I thought I could write this post but I just can't right now.