Happy birthday to me!

Today’s my day.

All mine.

Happy birthday to me. 

It’s been pointed out to me that in addition to being my birthday, today is the official start of hurricane season. Coincidences are funny.

 

Birthdays were a big deal in my house when I was a kid. There was lots of celebration, and we always had homemade cake, decorated by my sweet Aunt Margie, my mom’s younger sister, who was diabetic but still made her Nanny Po a fancy cake every year. See, when I was a little kid, I couldn’t say my whole name: Nancy Katapodis. That was a mouthful for a little girl. The best I could manage was Nanny Po. Aunt Margie always called me that, even after I’d grown up. Dadgummit if pancreatic cancer didn’t strike her down 14 years ago. If she were here, she’d be making me the Barbie bowl cake right now, with lots and lots of frosting, and calling me Nanny Po. 

I don’t mind one bit that I’m growing older. Not one little bit. I might have B.C. (Before Cancer) but not now. There’s something so very sweet about coming out on the other side of a hellacious battle against a vicious beast and its equally nasty side-kick. Breast cancer and mycobacterium stole a lot from me, but they will not steal my birthday joy. Pre-B.C., I might have fretted about being on the wrong side of 40, about the crow’s feet and the less-than-smooth skin. But not anymore.

I’m planning to savor every second of my birthday. Growing older means I’m alive. I’m here to celebrate another year. I’m thrilled to bits to be 42 today.

I really hope that this year is better than last.

Not to tempt fate, but it can hardly be worse.

This time last year, I was recovering from a bilateral mastectomy. Ouch. Look at that chest — flat enough to play quarters upon if you wished.

Once cancer came to call,  I realized that each birthday is much more than the day of one’s birth; it’s another year of victory. It’s another year of walking upright as opposed to being tethered to a hospital bed. Triumphant and upright yet still scarred, I learned first-hand the Chinese proverb:

“The appearance of a disease is swift as an arrow; its disappearance slow like a thread.”

True, so true.

The utter suckiness of last year and the swiftly-appearing disease that is breast cancer, while totally sucky, taught me a lot. One of the big lessons, while completely corny, is to enjoy each day.

And today, on the day of my birth, I intend to do just that.

Let’s start at the very beginning; a very fine place to start, as Frauline Maria would say in The Sound of Music.

I don’t have a lot of baby pictures of myself. Those are still at my parents’ house; my mom kept a lot of pictures and a detailed baby book. Like everything else, she did the historical record-keeping of my life very well. In fact, I think most of my school pictures are hanging in the hallway at the old homestead.

I do have these pics, though, and will embarrass myself by sharing.

No idea whose parents owned the magical mystery bus that we decorated for cheer competition, but it was looking pretty festive. Oh, how I loved this particular cheer uniform. It was my favorite, and I hated to have to wear the other ones. I betcha it’s still in my parents’ attic. My mom never threw anything away. It may be moth-eaten and tattered, but I bet it’s still there. 

I’m almost afraid to post any pics of my lovely self from college, because my bangs were so big they’d take up this whole screen. Go ahead and laugh. I’m right in the middle, surrounded by ’80s bangs.

After college, my first real job was editing Usborne children’s books that were written in England but sold in the U.S. My job was to “Americanize” the books, i.e., change “biscuit” to “cookie,” etc. To this day, I have a hard time deciding if  the word “grey” is spelled with the “e” or an “a.” It looks more right to me as grey. Ditto “colour” vs “color.” It was a super fun job and when I had to leave, to move to Austin so Trevor could start grad school at the mighty University of Texas (HOOK ‘EM!!), my going-away party looked like this:

Randall White, the company president, and I cooked up a little show in which he pretended to insult me, and I shoved a piece of cake in his face. No one else was in on the joke, so it was a bit shocking. No wonder I have such a problem with authority, if Randall taught me these kinds of hi-jinks at my very first job.

Fast-forward through my next editing job, for Harcourt Brace, in Austin, and onto my next career: that of a mom.

Baby Payton got me out of the 9-to-5 lifestyle and into that of a full-time mommy. Keeping up with a hungry baby’s schedule and later chasing after a busy toddler made me wish I had an office to go to again, but only on some days.

Until Baby Macy arrived. 

Then I really wished I had an office to go to again!

Little did I know that chasing two kids around all day every day would be the adventure of a lifetime. 

Being responsible for the care & feeding — not to mention the character-molding — of two small kids was a big responsibility. Luckily, I had a great mentor. Just wish she’d have stuck around to help get me through my little darlings’ teenage years.

Raising my kids to love each other, enjoy each other’s company,

appreciate family ties,

savor family time,

exercise self-sufficiency,

and sit still for a photo shoot are important to me.

May not be all that important to them, but it’s my day, right?

Knowing that my kids are happy, healthy & safe is a great birthday gift. Knowing that they are pursuing their passions is the icing on the cake.

Watching my boy pursue his true love (baseball) is pretty great. It reminds me a lot of my childhood, in which I spent a whole lot of time at the ball fields watching my brother and shagging fly balls. Sharing an unabashed love of the Red Sox with my boy is one of my life’s true joys.

The day Macy met Mo Willems stands out as one of the all-time best. He was so entertaining, and we love his books so much. When it was Macy’s turn to visit with him, she told him she likes to write, too. Instead of asking him some goofy question, she asked for his phone number. In parting, he told her be sure to not let Pigeon drive the bus. She replied: “As if!” I predict those two will collaborate one day. 

On the day of my birth, I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that make me happy. Like my family (everyone says that, right? Unless you’re on Maury Povich, you say that).

Like my doggies. Maddy, sweet Maddy. My first dog as a grown-up. I saw her being born, and will never forget the shock of how easily the pups just slipped right out from their mama, the polar opposite of all the pushing, sweating & grunting I’d seen of births depicted on TV. Sweet Maddy entered the world easily and wormed her way into my heart. 6 pups were in her litter: 3 black, 2 blond, and 1 white. Everyone who came to look at those pups wanted the white one. But she was mine. I loved that dog all the way to the Moon and back. When she died just shy of her 15th birthday, my heart broke into a million little pieces. 

She was the best dog, and a really good sport. I guarantee she didn’t want to wear bunny ears — she was much too smart & sophisticated for that — but because her girl asked it of her, she complied. Sweet old thing.

My dogs bring me a lot of happiness. A lot of  dog hair, but happiness, too. Harry and Pedey make me smile every single day.

The day we picked out Harry from the Houston Humane Society, I swear he was smiling. And that made me smile.

Later, of course, we learned it’s because he’s insane. They don’t always tell you that at the Humane Society.

Pedey’s not crazy, but he is a weasel. A weasel who makes me smile. Who wouldn’t love a dog who wants to help with the chores?

Then there are the side-kicks. Harry & Pedey’s best friends, Sugar & Snoopy. Having 4 dogs around creates quite a ruckus, and I love it. 

Raising my kids with an all-consuming love for dogs is a very good thing for me. Little kids and puppies make me smile.

Appreciating traditions makes me happy, too. This one is a classic. Seeing my kids straddling the state line between Massachusetts and New Hampshire on our annual family vacation makes my heart sing. 

As does spending time with my tennis girls. Oh, how I love that. If I weren’t planning to drink so much champagne today, I’d have to get out on the court. Going to tennis camp and playing nonstop for an entire weekend was one of the best things ever. I need a re-do! Come on, girls — get your racquets and let’s go. 

It’s been a crazy year, for sure. When they say it’s all down hill after 40, they really mean it! Going from 40 to 41 brought more than the usual changes for me. But I’m on a roll now.

There’s been the influx of new friends

And the stability of old friends.

The past year brought me the finer points of home-health care and wound care–what a joy it is to not need either anymore!

Being 41 and a fledgling cancer survivor taught me to strut my stuff, both at the Couture for the Cause and every day.

As I strut my way into 42, I’ll hold my head high and my glass even higher. This is indeed a year for celebration.

Cheers to a cancer-free birthday! Cheers to the rest of my life!

 

 


Tomorrow is a big day

I’ve learned the hard way from all this stupid cancer business that every day truly is a gift, as hokey as it sounds, and that life is short, as cliched as that sounds, and that you gotta grab each day and milk it for all it’s worth (I think I just made that one up).

It’s pretty easy to get bogged down in these crazy-busy lives of ours, which by the way, are supposed to be made easier and more relaxing with all the time- and labour-saving devices we have, yet it seems that everyone is still rushed off their feet every single day. Which kinda makes it hard to unwrap the gift that is each day and to savor the little things that form a meaningful amalgamation of life as we know it. I know my to-do list is always a mile long, and some days I have to rewrite chores on the new list, since they didn’t get done on their appointed day.

My to-do list is again long today as I prepare to go out of town for the weekend.

Yes, you read that right: I’m leaving town.

Finally.

After an unfortunate series of non-starters all summer, in which no less than 3 much-anticipated trips erupted in a giant puff of post-mastectomy-infection-tinged smoke, I’m finally going on a trip. First it was the Duke girls’ trip to Tahoe. Gone. Then it was the All Star state baseball championship. Adios. And finally, the annual trek to Boston and Salisbury Beach. See ya. Missing one trip was a hard pill to swallow; missing 3 was just plain cruel. No way around the choking down of that horse pill.

But now, there’s Napa.

napavalley.com

My beacon of hope in a long, barren season of maladies. Could it be that the end to that dreadful season truly is in sight? I’m starting to believe that it is so. There is a part of me, a teensy part, that still fears a blow-up. But just a teensy part. Or a woonty part, as our friends at Salisbury Beach say. The rest of me is full-steam ahead, preparing for one fabulous weekend full of bottled poetry.

napavalley.com

Last time I was in Napa, I was pregnant with Payton, who will be 12 (gulp!) next month. Talk about needing a do-over. And what better reason for a do-over than a BFF’s birthday bash and a celebration of her “40 years of good living,” as the invitation states. I’m in. For celebrating my BFF, for getting a change of scenery, and for relishing this life of mine. 

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This “cancer journey” has turned out to be a bit more complicated than I thought. I’m still a destination girl rather than a journey girl, and I don’t think that’s going to change.

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But starting tomorrow, if only for the celebratory weekend, I’m going to savor every bit of the destination.

sterlingvineyard.com

Even if my titanium port-a-cath sets off the security alarms and I ended up getting frisked.

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Even if traffic is heavy and the plane is late.

peju winery, fineartamerica.com

Even if I’m stuck sitting next to a mouth-breather on the plane (no, I’m not talking about Trevor).

napavalley.com

Even if the weather turns yucky.

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Even if the ever-present antibiotics have killed off some of my wine-savoring tastebuds.

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I’m going to suck up every ounce of enjoyment from a trip that has been much anticipated, meticulously planned, and a very long time in coming.

 

Our first stop in Napa is Domaine Carneros, maker of one of my favorite champagnes.

domainecarneros.com

I may just skip all the other wineries and stay right there.

domainecarneros.com