A whole new ball game

I’m as nervous as a cat. On a hot tin roof.

Payton’s All Star team was one game away from being district champions last night, and they went down in flames. We’d already beaten the West University team but they came back with a vengeance (and their best pitcher). As a seasoned baseball mom who’s used to watching a confident & uber-talented team, I can usually get a read on the game and have a sense of how it’s going to end. Last night I didn’t have my usual “sixth sense” before the game, and even when our boys launched 2 homers in their first at-bat to take a 3-0 lead, I didn’t settle in with my usual feel-good feeling about the outcome.

My kid got hit by a pitch during his first at-bat. Not a wimpy pitch, either, but a smokin’ fastball. That fastball thumped his thigh, just above the knee, quite audibly. My mama- bear instinct kicked in and I was on my feet, wondering if my boy would crumple in a heap on top of home plate. Then my rational brain kicked in and reminded me that my boy is tough as nails and meaner than a red hog on the field. He takes pain like it’s a cool summer breeze, as if it’s a “woonty” on the shore of Salisbury Beach. His pain tolerance is incredible, and yes, he gets that from me. He’s the ideal football player — a coach’s dream — because he’d rather take a beating than admit he’s hurt. Most kids take a “test jog” down the right-field line after being hit by a pitch, to make sure they can still run without a hitch in their giddy-up. Not my kid. After being pounded, my kid just casually tossed his bat and trotted to first base. Not a wince or a whimper from him.

Here’s the after-effect. I expect it to become much more colorful in the coming days. 

Payton’s teammate Gus responded to the bean-ball by hitting a homer off the pitcher who pegged my kid. Way to go, Gus!

Sadly, the First Colony bats weren’t as hot for the rest of the game, and we came up short. Errors in the field added insult to injury, and the boys in red got a long, stern talking-to from their coaches instead of a celebratory toast at the local pizza joint.

We face West U again tonight, and will likely bring a renewed vigor for victory. It’s winner take all tonight, so the stakes are high. Whichever team goes home tonight with a victory moves on to the sectional tournament, with hopes of progressing through that and onto the State Championship. Last year, that team was ours, and we’re all hoping for a repeat performance.

No one wants this more than me, since I missed every bit of it last summer. Thanks to a post-mastectomy infection, I was in the hospital instead of in the stands.  The team honored me by wearing pink sweatbands throughout the summer, and Payton still wears his. We had to get a new pair, though, because the original pair was filthy. The kind of filth that repeated washings and soakings and pre-treating can’t remove. Lots of sweat but no tears last summer.

Apparently I’m a bit nervous , as I was awake at 4:20 a.m. thinking about tonight’s game. Someone asked me at the gym the other day if I’m one of “those baseball moms.” I wasn’t sure what she meant — the kind of baseball mom who attends all the games and cheers for everyone on the team? Or the kind of baseball mom who gripes at the coach and yells at the umpire about being unfair toward her baby? I’ve seen both kinds. I like to think of myself as the former, but I have been known to yell at an ump a time or two over a particularly egregious call. I am the kind of baseball mom who wears my kid’s jersey to the games, proudly displaying #11 on my back just as my kid does. I am the kind of baseball mom who decorates the car windows, as is tradition around here, so that everyone on the road and in the parking lot know that there’s an All Star on board. 

I am the kind of baseball mom who feels deep pride at my kid being selected for All Stars. 20 players are chosen, then that group is whittled down to 11 or 12 for the traveling team. Lots of players — and lots of moms — would give their eye teeth to be a part of this team. Missing the games and the camaraderie last summer was hard. Really hard. I was able to follow along with the games via an iPad app that allows a user at the game to enter the pitch-by-pitch action so a user on the other end can follow the play-by-play. One of the moms asked me last night if it’s more nerve-wracking to follow along or to watch the game live. I said watching live is way more nerve-wracking. Sitting in a hospital bed staring at the iPad screen isn’t nearly as complete an experience as being in the stands, in the heat, with the roar of the crowd and the sounds of the game. I do have fond memories, though, of the nurses who were constantly in and out of my room getting involved and asking for updates on the game. And I distinctly remember forgoing pain medicine so I could be lucid enough to follow the game. This summer is a whole new ball game, for me.

Back to reality

Home from my girls’ trip to SPI and have been flung back into the grind. No more lazy days on the balcony and beach, whiling the day away with a great book and fantastic company.

Because of the rigors of the grind, I’ve got a long list of things to do, so this will be short and sweet. I have a hard time focusing until my suitcase is unpacked and my house is in order, but first things first, I needed to get to the gym. Too many days had passed since I got my burn on, and while the girlfriends and I kept it healthy on our trip, enjoying the phenomenal produce and seafood from the Gulf, I also ate this:

Yes, a taco as big as my head. Bigger, actually. The handmade flour tortilla was 18 inches in diameter, and more likely than not fattened up with lard and lots of it.

We dined at Manuel’s in Port Isabel, just on the inland side of the causeway leading to South Padre. This place is legendary in a land chock-full of great Mexican food.

It’s a family-run place, a hole in the wall with friendly service, passionate employees, and a-ma-zing food. Abuela was in the back, rolling out the Texas-sized tortillas and gave me a mostly-toothless grin as I asked her if she minded me taking a photo of her work. 

I’m glad she said yes, because this stack of gigantic tortillas has to be seen to be believed.

I’m a bit of a guacamole purist, and Manuel’s is by far the best I’ve tasted. With apologies to my buddy Abundio at Escalante’s in Sugar Land, whose customized, tableside guac is my favorite, I must say the guac at Manuel’s had it beat, by a slim margin. And only because the avocados were grown right there, practically on site. The Rio Grande Valley is home to some of the best produce on Earth, and the avocados are good enough to make you weep with joy. As they say at the Goode Company restaurants in this neck of the woods, “You might give some serious thought to thanking your lucky stars that you’re in Texas.” Nowhere is this more true than at Manuel’s. They don’t even have a liquor license and I still believe that. I’m glad I got a photo of the guac before it was devoured (mainly by me).

Amateur and professional foodies alike have sung Manuel’s praises and given thanks for the authentic, yummy food made there. Texas Monthly bestowed a most-prestigious award upon Manuel’s when it was added to the bible of taco-eaters, The 63 Tacos You Must Try Before You Die list. Why 63? Why not? Because this is Texas, and we do things the way we please, pardner. If you don’t like it, scurry on back to one of the other states.

Manuel’s is particularly praised for its chilaquiles. If you’ve never sampled this little piece of heaven on a plate, get thee to a Mexican hole in the wall, pronto. Ask for extra queso fresco. You can thank me later. 

One thing I do not recommend, however, is the menudo. Neither the band

nor the soup. Yuk.

Why the menudo is in a plastic tub inside a plastic bin rather than in a refrigerator is a mystery that I won’t be solving, because I won’t be anywhere near that tub. Or the bin. Maybe it’s because menudo smells so bad, it will contaminate anything and everything else in the fridge. And the county.  I’m going to think about the out-of-this world guacamole instead. And plan my next trip to Manuel’s.

Meanwhile, back in suburban Houston

Hi, this is Trevor. Nancy said it would be OK for me to fill in a little about how we are coping for the weekend with Mom not around. To sum up, we are getting by but there’s no doubt we are all ready for her to come home.

For me it means struggling to coordinate logistics and that isn’t made any easier by the cold I developed Thursday night (I am much improved this morning, thanks for asking). Everybody is so busy and has so many places to go, it’s tough to track. Fortunately Nancy is very organized and left a nice list. And very, very fortunately there are plenty of people around us to help pick up the slack whether it’s Macy being invited for a sleepover or one of Payton’s coaches getting him home from practice. And then there’s Ed who is the most selfless and helpful beer drinking buddy ever. Thanks to all of you.

It’s tough to get a read on Payton, still waters run deep and all that. He misses his mama but would never show it outwardly. Besides, he’s much too preoccupied with baseball at this time of year. If you are interested, the First Colony American 11’s are rolling again this year, winning their first three games by a combined margin of 41-6. I realize that I’m now venturing into bragging territory, but Payton is really playing well, as are his teammates. Some stats in three games against the all-stars from around Houston: 6 for 9 with two doubles, two walks, 7 RBI. The boy can play a little and he did not inherit a lick of this talent from me. But the competition gets tougher as they advance and we will definitely need all of our Greek mamas in the stands to cheer them on in the next round against West University which is the only other undefeated team left in the District 16 tournament.

Macy has had plenty of activities to keep her busy in Nancy’s absence. There’s been a humane society camp, a sewing camp, the aforementioned sleepover and tennis lesson this afternoon. Click to her blog to get her take if you dare. Be forewarned she has a pretty warped sense of humor, I’m pretty sure she did inherit that from me. She did mention her favorite part of Mom being out of town is the fact that Dad isn’t as punitive towards those who pass gas.

So all is well here. We want to strike that balance of being capable of coping without Nancy so she can relax and enjoy her long weekend yet being grateful that the absence is not too long. We can keep it together for a long weekend, but any more than that requires a bigger village. And to all of you reading from that village, I want to express my sincere appreciation for all that you’ve done for us over the past year. I think one of the best tributes to Nancy and what she means to so many people around her is the fact that dozens of people rallied to our side and got us through the worst of her “journey” if I can borrow her scare quotes. Thank you very much.

Life’s a beach!

I’m on the 7th-floor balcony overlooking the beach at South Padre. The weather isn’t great, but the air is salty, the breeze is cool, the seagulls & pelicans are flying, and the sound of the ocean is magical. The most important part: I’M HERE! Cancer has no place on this balcony.

I’ve been here almost 24 hours and have yet to step on the beach, but no worries. Yesterday was consumed with airport transportation, procuring supplies, and waiting for the bridge to the island to re-open. While stuck in traffic, we noticed an older man riding a kitted-out scooter of sorts, bright yellow with “Granpa’s Hog” painted on the back. It has a lawnmower engine and he zips along pretty quickly. He had no traffic issues on the sidewalk. The best part: we saw him pull into the drive-through liquor store! Brilliant.


Editor’s update: Nancy texted me the pic and I’ve inserted above.
[I have a photo but can’t download it from my phone and upload it to my iPad. Advanced technology also has no place on this balcony; the photo can wait.]

Last night, Payton’s All Star team had another stunning win in game 2 of the District Tournament. The 18-3 game included a 3-run homer and some stellar plays by the boys in red. Next game, tomorrow night. I’ll be there in spirit, but like Zac Brown, I hope to have my toes in the water, ass in the sand, not a care in the world, a cold beer in my hand. Life is good today, indeed.

Rain, rain go away

Many thanks to my friends who saw the weather forecast but didn’t mention it to me. Imagine my surprise when I awoke this a.m. to the drip-drip-drop of little raindrops falling. With my trusty iPad by my side, I looked at the island locale to which we’ll be traveling today and saw some ugly stuff on the radar. I feel like Sandy from Grease, lamenting about it raining on prom night.

After umpteen days with no rain, the heavens have opened and the deluge has come. My yard and flowers need it, as do the woodland creatures around here who’ve been spotted out in the open, foraging for a drink.

I too will be foraging for a drink if the sun doesn’t come out on SPI.

Well, at least I don’t have to worry about my precious little babies missing me. Gone are the days in which I had to prepare activities out the wazoo to keep them entertained in my absence. Payton went to bed last night without even saying good-bye, so funked-out was he over the baseball game rain-out last night. When I went up to tell him good-night and good-bye, as I will be gone this a.m. before he awakens, he said, “Have fun!” Macy at least hugged me, but there were no tears this time, and when I walked into my bathroom, I saw she’d been in there to  leave me a message: See Ya Later on my mirror. 

My kids rock!

girls’ trip

Once upon a time, in a city far, far from Houston, there was a group of young-ish women. All had relocated from every corner of the country with young kids in tow to help fulfill their husbands’ dream of getting an MBA from a top-10 business school. None of the women knew anyone in the new city, and all were a long way from home. For two long years, without paychecks and luxuries like babysitters, the women bonded while the hubs crammed their brains with all things MBA-related. Once the menfolk had diplomas in hand, the group of women dispersed, to new homes in new corners of the country.One night before going separate ways, the women left the hubs and kids at home and went out for a nice dinner. There the plans were laid and a vow was made: let neither distance nor the rigors of child-rearing sever the bond created by hardship and the shared need for breaks from their preschoolers. The solution: come together for an annual girls’ trip, to reconnect and recharge. 

The first trip was to San Francisco, then Sanibel Island in Florida. Next came Captiva Island, then Scottsdale. Park City was next, followed by Lake Tahoe. Every year was a different locale, but the theme was the same: reconnecting.  

The women had gone their separate ways, and a few left the domestic scene to pursue careers in law and medicine. The others continued to toil on the homefront, trading preschool and playdates for elementary school and homework. The kids grew up, and a few new babies joined the fold. One thing remained the same, however: the women’s commitment to the annual trip.

The End

Well, not really the end. Just the end of my little story.

It’s the eve of the 7th annual Duke girls’ trip, and my suitcase is packed. My boarding pass is printed. My Kindle is full of new books to be read uninterrupted by young children. My house is stocked for my peeps to exist in relative ease in my absence. I’m going, I’m really going.

After 7 years, you’d think that preparations for the trip would be somewhat by rote. Decide on the locale, find lodging, book flights, pack a bag, kiss the fam good-bye, and vamoose.

But not for me. See, last year I was ready for Tahoe. That trip was to have taken place 4 weeks post-mastectomy. As I described it this time last year, the trip was “my goal, a partial finish-line, and my sanity-saver since my diagnosis.” One of the first things I asked my superstar breast surgeon, Dr Dempsey, upon diagnosis, was if I’d still be able to take my girls’ trip. Tahoe with my Duke girls gave me something concrete to work toward in  my recovery from surgery, from being diagnosed with cancer at age 40.

Instead of stocking the fridge and packing my bags this time last year, I was in the hospital, sick–really sick–with a nasty infection. I was admitted to the hospital unexpectedly when symptoms of the infection appeared out of nowhere. I literally had seen Dr S the day before the symptoms cropped up; fine one day, sick the next. The day I was hospitalized, I was still clinging to the hope that I’d be in & out of there quickly and still be able to go on my trip. Silly, silly girl. My mind was willing, but my body said “No can do.”

After countless IV bags full of different antibiotics, my fever kept spiking and I got worse instead of better. While the scarier bugs like anthrax were quickly ruled out, the specific infection remained elusive. My infectious disease doc told me that the cultures grow at their own pace, and the culturing is done old-school: in a Petrie dish in an incubator in the lab downstairs. I was confined to the hospital bed until the growth was complete, and no one knew when that would occur. The day before the Tahoe trip, I had to concede that I wasn’t going to make it. Rotten luck.

While it broke my heart and seriously injured my fighting spirit to tell my Duke girls I wouldn’t be joining them, untold hard times followed. Missing the trip was chump changed compared to what was to come. Looking back at my Caring Bridge journal entry for June 10th of last year yielded this:

“I should be on a plane right now, en route to Tahoe, but instead I’m in an ugly gown, sitting on scratchy sheets in an uncomfortable bed (most definitely not a Tempurpedic mattress). Looks like I’ll be here a while yet.”

I don’t recall this part, but it must have happened:

“They moved me across the hall last night to a new room. My new neighbor is an older Asian man who talks louder than anyone I know, and so do all of his relatives. In fact, I just got up my scratchy sheets & walked across the hall in my ugly gown to shut his door. Sheesh. This hospital has an entire floor for Asian patients, which is pretty cool and indicative of this huge city we live in, but I’m wondering why he’s not on that floor.”

Tonight, on the eve of the 7th annual Duke girls’ trip, there are no scratchy sheets and there is no ugly gown. There’s a not-so-youngish-anymore woman who’s had one helluva year, who’s ready to get on that plane and make up for lost time. SPI, here I come. Now that’s a happy ending!


At the ballpark, again

Last summer was pretty bad for me and my family. It started innocently enough, with a bilateral mastectomy at age 40 on May 13th, and while I healed quickly and nicely from that, it all went downhill fast.

Just after my 41st birthday, I got a nasty post-surgery infection. No one saw it coming, and to say it took us all by surprise would be a gross understatement. The odds of contracting a nosocomial infection are not small, but my infection is somewhat rare, quite wily, and super slow to treat. In the scope of inconvenient infections, I won the lottery.

Last night was the first game of the All Star tournament for Payton’s team–something I missed entirely last summer. Being present last night to watch my boy do what he does best with his team of like-minded and uber-talented buddies was one of the simplest yet deepest thrills of all time. We take a lot of things for granted in this life of ours, and being able to sit on metal bleachers in the Texas heat in June to watch youth baseball is one of those things. I’ve sat through thousands of games for my little ball player, and hardly thought twice about it beyond the random, mundane thoughts associated with this endeavor: who are we “versing” (as our catcher, #10 Carl says)? Where is Payton in the line-up? Are we on the shady side of the field? Did I remember my stadium seat? How many times will Macy hit the concession stand? How many pieces of bubble gum does Pay have in his mouth at once?

Those are the thoughts that traverse my brain during a game, along with the usual baseball stuff: What’s the run rule in this tournament?; How did we fare against this team last time we met? If the ball hits the bat then hits the batter, he’s out, right? Rules and regulations course through my head as I follow the many games my boy has played.

Last night was different, though. As I was ready to walk out the door, our bestie Ed reminded me that I’ve come a long way since this time last year. Several of the parents on our team remarked at the park that it’s nice to have me there this year. A couple of the coaches said something about having missed me and my big mouth last summer; once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader.

I have come a long way since last summer, and watching my kid play ball is something to be savored, something to most definitely not take for granted. The metal bleachers, the roar of the crowd, the (gross) smell of hot dogs, the infield dirt blowing in my eyes…every bit of it is special to me on a whole ‘nother level.

Last night also marked the first time a newspaper reporter has covered the game, and seeing my boy’s name in print in association with his rock-star team’s blowout and his personal success is something I’ll be savoring for a while. Before cancer came into my life, I would have enjoyed reading the article, and likely would have forwarded it to our nearest & dearest, but this time, I’m carrying the feeling of that article along with me, inside my heart, in that little space where the gratitude lies.

I was flipping through my old Caring Bridge blog, and happened upon this entry, which seems even more prescient a year later. I wrote this on the morning of my mastectomy, before leaving for the hospital. No doubt I was antsy, preoccupied, and ready to get the show on the road that morning. It seems appropriate to reprint it today, in light of the theme of today’s blog.

I realize that when cancer comes into one’s life it disrupts everything and changes “the normal” forever. Dr Dempsey, my superstar breast surgeon, told me you  no longer schedule cancer around your life, you schedule your life around your cancer. Life takes a backseat to war. 

 With cancer, I join a club that I never signed up for and for which I never wanted to become a member. 

No matter, I now have a new normal. The new normal is all about taking care of what’s most important. We hear this all the time, but when you really put it into play in your own life, you know exactly what it means. For me, it means facing this beast head on and telling the bastard repeatedly that it doesn’t stand a chance. It means never once, not even once, considering that this cancer will win. It’s not even in the game. 

It also  means all the pithy stuff you hear about, like savor every day, make the most our of whatever you’ve got. That’s also true. For me it means truly embracing and enjoying my kids and my family, and letting my friends into my life — warts & all — on a whole new level. Y’all may well see my house a mess, which doesn’t happen much. You may see me in a grumpy mood (ok, you’ve seen that, esp on the tennis court!). You  may see me just a teensy bit vulnerable, but only for a short time so don’t expect a repeat performance. No matter what, there is a new normal, and I’m all over it.

Uncle Tom

Just had a major blast from the past — no, I wasn’t listening to the best of the 80s station on my satellite radio; some things are best left in the past.

I was driving down the street, minding my own business, when I saw this:

A Tom’s truck.

Yes, I pulled over to take pictures. If I’d had more time, I would have accosted the driver and told him my story. That guy lucked out today. Talk about dodging a bullet.

Don’t know Tom’s? Let me tell you about it. Not the shoes, either; the snacks.

When I was a kid, my Uncle Wilford drove a Tom’s truck. He was my mom’s older brother, and I adored him. Some jackass drunk driver blew through a stop sign going 105 mph on his way to a Tejano beer fest and killed him a few summers ago.

But the Tom’s live on.

Uncle Wilford was sweet and generous and mild-mannered. My mom used to say that the only thing she could find wrong with him was that he was a Yellow-Dog democrat (not that there’s anything wrong with that). She loved her brother despite their differing political views.

Occasionally Uncle Wilford would be working near us, even though he lived an hour and a half away. I have no idea why he drove his Tom’s truck our way; it never occurred to me to ask. I was just happy to see him. And his truck.

See, Uncle Wilford would park his Tom’s truck in our driveway, open up the back doors, and let all the neighborhood kids climb in and eat to their hearts’ content. I always got to go first, of course, and I always chose a bag of Hot Fries. In my day, the bag had a picture of Andy Capp on them. Apparently this is what they look like now. 

Tom’s had a much bigger product line back in the day, with not just chips but candy, too. My mom was a bit of a stickler when it came to junk food, being the queen of all things homemade, so we didn’t have a lot of crunchy, salty snacks that came out of a bag. Nowadays, with the prevalence of snack foods, this seems weird but it was how I was raised, and it made it that much more special to have free reign in the back of a snack-foods truck.

This is what the back of the truck looks like now:

Maybe my  memory is faulty, but it seems like there were a lot fewer boxes back then. I don’t recall Uncle Wilford every having to open a box to let my friends and me get our mitts on the goods. As I remember, the snacks were neatly organized but not boxed up; ready for the taking, as a snack should be.

Imagine the scene with a dozen or so kids turned loose in the back of a truck full of snacks and being told “Have at it.” I can remember some kids seeing that truck pull onto our street and running full-speed to our house. Barefoot and breathless, and ready for a snack.

Here’s what’s funny: I guess none of the kids bothered to learn my uncle’s name, and they called him “Uncle Tom.” Or maybe they knew his name but conflated him with the Tom’s snacks. (That’s one of the many things I wish I could ask my mom about today — how sweet it would be to have seen the Tom’s truck today, and dialed my mom right up to say, remember when we were kids, and Uncle Wilford parked his Tom’s truck in the driveway, and all the kids called him Uncle Tom?)

Of course at the time, none of us kids knew of the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I bet my mom and my uncle snickered behind their hands when they heard the innocent children’s voices hollering, “UNCLE TOM IS HERE!!” I know I would be. 


Cruel, cruel world

“Every death is a wakeup call to live more fully, more completely and more presently.” — Oprah

How ironic that I came across this quote today, the same day that I came across this on my patio (Julie A, stop reading now because here comes the icky part; Christy and all my tender-hearted animal-loving friends, I apologize in advance for the graphic nature of this post and the photos:

I consulted the Houston Audubon Society website and it appears to be American Crow. It’s smaller than a Grackle, which are very common around here, especially on the patios of Mexican restaurants where they beg for chips.

Payton and I came home from the gym but didn’t notice the crow on the ground. He went back into the garage to carry in the loot from Academy, and as he walked up to the back door I heard him say, “Ewwww, gross!” I asked what was gross and he said there’s a dead bird on the patio, and before I could get out there, Harry had the bird in his mouth (he is a retriever, after all).

I don’t think Harry killed the bird — he barks a good game, but when push came to shove, I think he’d be too squeamish. He prefers to do his hunting on the kitchen counters when he’s all alone, and no one can see him scarf down a loaf of bread. If Payton and I had happened upon a downed loaf of bread, I would convict Harry in a heartbeat. 

Is this face of a bird killer? I think not.

True, Harry has little patience for birds and barks his fool head off at them. He especially gets rattled by the ones that perch on the peak of our roof. They pause there to rest a minute or sing a little song, and he goes bonkers. If we say “bird” to Harry, he’ll start barking, lifting his two front paws off the ground for emphasis. However, I don’t think he’s a cold-blooded killer.

I think that unfortunate crow hit one of the plate-glass windows that line the family room and overlook the backyard. This has happened once before, and the bird was stunned and knocked for a loop, but eventually recovered enough to fly away and hopefully live a long, happy, song-filled life. That time, I heard the thump of bird body colliding with glass. This time, I did not.

Nevertheless, I left the crow when he was for a while, hoping the fluttering of his tail feathers meant he was coming to and rallying. Alas, it was not to be. There would be no rally for that crow.

Sad, sad, sad.

And also troubling, because with 2 dogs in residence and others who visit regularly, that dead bird could easily become a mess of feathers and innards if left too long. It might also scare the tar out of Pedey the Weasel Dog, who is regularly frightened by his own shadow. If left too long in the intense Houston heat, it would start to stink to high heaven sooner rather than later. And, last but not least, I did not want Macy to see that dead bird. My little zookeeper has a heart as big as Texas, and her love of animals is legendary. In fact, she is at this moment at the Houston Humane Society’s Companion Camp, where she is no doubt loving on every animal in the building.

So how to dispose of the dead bird on my patio? It seemed somehow wrong and not befitting to just pick it up in a plastic bag and dump it in the trash. Wrong and smelly, too, since the trashmen don’t come for another couple of days. I can imagine that a dead bird inside a black trash barrel in the 90+ degree heat would be plenty nasty come trash day. I think the trashmen would have to take the whole barrel.

Enter “The Scoop.”

Anyone who has a dog knows what “The Scoop” is for, and those of you unfortunate souls who don’t have a dog can probably figure it out quite easily. Our Scoop gets plenty of use in our yard, and I’m kinda nutsy about cleaning it real carefully after each use, so I figured this was the best option. 

Poor little crow. He fit quite nicely in “The Scoop” and as much as I tried to avoid looking right at him, I couldn’t help but notice how delicate yet sturdy his feet were. 

He looks like he’s just sleeping in “The Scoop,” right?

The Houston Audubon Society says the American Crow is “highly intelligent” and leads a “complex life.” They hang together, forming large communities, and don’t breed until they are 4 or 5 years old. They have strong family ties and tend to stay together.

Great, I can now picture a crow family worried sick about their relative who hasn’t returned to the nest. They may be doing a fly-over right now, fanning out across the neighborhood searching for their lost guy.

Now I’m really glad I didn’t just dump him in the trash barrel. I carried him, in “The Scoop,” across the street and laid him in the shady grassy area next to the lake. It’s under a big tree, so maybe the search party will spot him, and their worry can morph into sorrow.

Or maybe the vultures will get to him before then. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and vultures gotta eat. Circle of life, I suppose, but it still makes me sad. I won’t go so far as to say that this crow’s death is a wake-up call that makes me want to live more fully, more completely, and more presently, as Oprah advises. No, I have cancer to thank for that. But having been through the “cancer journey” myself and having watched my sweet mama go through it, my heart is just a little more tender. Just a teensy bit broken. While joyful about survival and proud of having triumphed, going through such an immense experience produces little fissures, tiny cracks.

Yet, as Harold Duante-Bernardt so poetically pointed out, “We are all broken and wounded in this world. Some choose to grow strong at the broken places.”

So while I keep peeking out the front windows to the shady spot across the street, under the big tree by the lake, watching for a crow family in mourning or a gaggle of hungry vultures, I will resolve to grow stronger at the broken places.


Dad’s Day

I write a lot in this space about my sweet mama, and how much I miss her since cancer snatched her away in October 2006. I don’t write as much about my dad, and today, on Father’s Day, it’s high time I remedied that inequity.

My dad and I are a lot alike: opinionated, confident, and possessing a strong sense of right & wrong. He was the originator of the “it’s just what you do” idea. He lived it and preached it. One of his many sayings is “Good things happen to people who get up and go to work every day.” He instilled a rock-solid work ethic in my brother and me, and that is one of the many things for which I’m grateful to him.

It all started, I guess, when my dad’s dad, Elias “Louis” Katapodis, was born on July 20, 1893 in the village of Haradiatika, on the island of Levkas, in western Greece off the Ionian Sea. Life was hard, and Louie wanted more.

At age 21, Louie emigrated from Greece to the United States in pursuit of a better life. He and his brother John (for whom my brother is named) departed the port of Patras, Greece, on the passenger ship Patris and arrived at Ellis Island April 5, 1914. I have copies of their ship’s passenger list as well as Louie’s Petition for U.S. Citizenship, dated January 19, 1925. After landing at Ellis Island, Louie and Uncle John traveled to Iowa to work on the railroad, and Louie ended up in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, where he met Mona Mae. He married her and they and had 3 boys. My dad, Leon, was the middle child, on the far right.Louie was immensely proud of his U.S. citizenship, and apparently hung the framed document in his bedroom. He had just enough formal education to read the newspaper and pass the citizenship test, but  he could never read cursive writing, and neither he nor Mona Mae ever learned to drive a car. Louie learned enough math to work a cash register, and worked hard. He had a reputation as a prankster and was always smiling.

Sadly, Louis died before I was born so I never met him but I’ve heard about what a great man he was. He came to the Unites States speaking little English and with very little money, but with hard work and determination–the typical immigrant story–he prospered. He raised his boys to love their family and their country, and he instilled the value of a good education. He taught my dad how important it is “to keep your nose clean” and he wasn’t talking about hygiene. My dad passed that lesson on to my brother and me, and I distinctly remember him talking about how his greatest fear as a child was that he would disappoint his dad. Me, too.

One of my great regrets is that circumstances never allowed me to meet Louie, my Papou, but I’ve been told my entire life that he would have loved me, and I’m sure the feeling would have been mutual.

My dad was a star athlete, excelling in both baseball and football. He passed that trait on to his grandkids, no doubt. In fact, my dad taught Payton to hit a pitched ball at age 2, and perhaps started Pay’s lifelong baseball love affair. Thanks to my dad’s genes and tutelage, Payton looked like this on the ball field, even at a young age. 

My dad not only passed on the baseball legacy but also loves watching Payton’s games. He thinks nothing of traveling 525 miles one way to be in the stands for Pay’s Little League games and for Pay’s year-round team’s many tournaments. Last year, Dad traveled to watch Pay’s All Star team in the State Championship in Tyler, TX, cheering them on while I was stuck in yet another hospital room.

Watching Payton play baseball is one of my dad’s favorite things, followed closely by hanging out with his grandkids. He’s been there from Day One in each of his 4 grandkids’ lives, and in fact, on the day that Payton was born, Dad was visiting my nephew Andrew in Kansas. When he got the word that Pay was making his appearance into this world a few weeks early, he jumped in the car and high-tailed it across 3 states to meet his second grandson. When Macy was born, he kept Payton for us and when the coast was clear and she was safely delivered into the world, Dad brought Pay up to the hospital. I will never forget watching him standing over her incubator with a tear of joy rolling down his cheek.  Wish I had a photo of that!

He never got tired of holding his grandbabies, and he’s logged a lot of hours chasing them around playgrounds, taking them to the zoo, and relishing their company.

I love how you can see Dad just over Andrew’s shoulder in the left corner of this photo. Three cousins having a snack while their Papou watches over them is pretty good stuff.

My parents loved their grandparent role immensely, and I know my dad is as sad as I am that YaYa didn’t get to see her grandkids grow up.

Dad has spent a lot of time hanging with my kids in the pool,

and he’s been around for the first day of school. 

He was proud to be a featured guest for kindergarten read-aloud, and Macy was so happy to have him there. 

Holidays are a special time for my dad, and he loves to have everyone gathered around a table laden with good food. That first Thanksgiving after my mom died was brutal, but even though it had only been a few weeks since he lost his beloved Bride, he insisted that the show must go on and he proudly presided from the head of the table. My mom would have liked that.

Every Christmas, the biggest and best gift comes from Papou, and he’s always there to gather up the trash, insert batteries into new toys, and open the wine and carve the roast beast. 

My dad has taught me a lot of things over the years, from looking both ways before crossing the street to the satisfaction of a job well done. He’s been a guiding influence for my brother and me in how we raise our families. He set the example we follow in parenting: love your kids, teach them well, call them out on their wrongdoings, and have lots of fun. He used to give me his chewed piece of Juicy Fruit gum every evening when he got home from work. The germ-o-phobe I grew up to become would never chew someone else’s already-chewed gum, but as a kid I didn’t think twice about it, and it seemed like a special ritual between the two of us, one of many special things we shared. He sang “You Are My Sunshine” to me every night before bed as he tucked me in.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, he was by her side every step of the way. When it became evident that her cancer battle was one she would not win, he faced that cruel truth head-on; a great and important lesson for me and one that I would employ just a handful of years after her death. If it freaked out my dad to learn that his little girl also had cancer, he never let on. He simply told me that he had every confidence that I would map out a plan to deal with it and execute that plan. He has supported and encouraged me, never missing an opportunity to tell me how proud he is of how I’ve waged my battle, and reminding me that my mama would be proud, too.

While I no longer need my nightly song and tuck-in, I still love my daddy and feel so grateful to have him in my life.

Happy Father’s Day to all the daddies out there.