Monthly Archives: January 2015


Two months before my favorite curmudgeon went home to see his lovely Joanna, by the banks of a serene lake, somewhere in eternity, he gave a demonstration at Brighton Gardens of his famous flan.  This flan sealed my fate as my favorite curmudgeon’s daughter-in-law. He served this at the first meal which I ate at his table, and I found myself hooked.

At Brighton Gardens, he gave instructions as a friend’s husband did the cooking.  That evening, he had me take charge of the recipe and type it, for distributing to some of the residents and employees who had requested the recipe.  I did that, and left copies for him.  I don’t know if anyone ever got them.

This evening when I logged into my email, I had an email from myself.  Gmail advised me that my “email was ready to send”, and attached to that email was the DOC file with Jay’s flan recipe.  I have no idea why my email decided to send the recipe to me today.  I have not looked at, or thought about that recipe since Jay died.

Now I’m thinking about flan.  I have a women’s dinner scheduled for January 24th, and I am wondering if  Jay wants me to try my hand at his signature dessert.  Or, perhaps, he has something else he wants me to do; some other forward-thinking movement he hopes to inspire me to envision and pursue.

I’m listening, Jay.  Keep talking.

In the meantime:  Anyone who knew Jay and would like a copy of his flan recipe, let me know.  Apparently, it’s ready to be e-mailed.

The flan pictured here closely resembles Jay MacLaughlin's finished dessert. No guarantee that yours will look like this, but if you successfully follow his recipe, yours will be delicious.

The flan pictured here closely resembles Jay MacLaughlin’s finished dessert. No guarantee that yours will look like this, but if you successfully follow his recipe, yours will be delicious.

Time to Think

There’s something about lying on a cold concrete floor in a quiet house that inspires me to contemplate the course of my destiny.

In the twenty minutes between this morning’s fall and my figuring out how to pull myself upright, I surveyed the filthy floor, the cluttered shelves, and the wads of lint, and thought, Holy Cat-feathers, I’ve got to clean this basement.

I spewed a chain of childish curses at everyone who’s left their mark on the Holmes house, the ones who didn’t clean, the ones who dined-and-dashed, the ones whose forgotten boxes sit on the shelves and whose old suitcases now litter the garage.  Children, spouses, workers, friends.  Then the non-violent communication training kicked in, and I took responsibility for myself.  I dragged my son’s old three-step stool toward me, braced it on the dryer, hoisted my skinny body to its first step and then hauled myself vertical.

In the process, while my life didn’t flash before my eyes, I did engage in a healthy dose of taking stock.  The fall itself resulted from the wild twinge of my thrown degenerated disks, spasms which I expected after a day of cleaning and clutter-busting with Jenny Rosen, teacher, certified-organizer, Master of Special Ed and dog-walking-supervisor.  Jenny and I became friends through the lady Jessica, Holmes house basement-dweller, artist, writer, and Island Girl.  I met Jessica at Cafe Caliban, the now-defunct vegan coffee bar at the short-lived Prospero’s Uptown Bookstore & Cafe, owned and run by Will Leatham. Bringing this full-circle, Will and I became friends after I complained to the city, when he moved Prospero’s into a non-accessible building, a hundred years ago when complaining permeated my existence.

Thanks to Jenny, my kitchen shelves gleam and two bags of trash testify to the start of a new year free of stale cereal, broken containers, and the useless leftover pieces of long-forgotten projects.  I’ve got homework assignments for today:  Taking down the Christmas tree, straightening the keeping shelves, figuring out where the secretary which I’m inheriting from my in-laws will be situated.  Between projects, I will sip hot tea, freshly brewed from a large collection from which I can easily select, now that all the stale, old boxes have been purged.  In the quiet of the house, I’ll have plenty more time to think.




The line for the one drive-up ATM at the Commerce Bank in Brookside stalled behind a green Honda pulled to the right-hand curb.  The car in front of mine stopped, its driver baffled at the lack of brake lights displayed at the rear of the Honda.  I tapped my horn, just a small sound, barely discernible amidst the afternoon noise.  But the wagon in front of me started forward.

As I passed the stalled car, the driver bent his head to the edge of his iPhone and closed his eyes.  I pulled beside him, looked into his car, and rolled down my passenger window.  He saw me watching and waved, adding a little smile to let me know that I didn’t need to worry.  I raised my eyebrows and he smiled again, and nodded.  So I drove on.

The ATM refused my cash.  I tried three times before noticing the red light bar across the cash deposit terminal.  A brief clutch of annoyance gripped my stomach, but I drove around and parked in the handicapped space,  open the  car door, and swung my legs out, my right hand still holding my cash and ATM card.  At that instant, a  little blue car whipped into the space beside mine, nipping my car door and scattering the ten twenty-dollar bills in my hand.

The driver leaped out of her car and started at a brisk pace toward the doors to the bank.  Did you not see what you did, I asked her.  She halted on the walk and immediately snapped, I did not do anything!  We stood looking at one another while my cash flew around in the light breeze.

I started scrambling, calling to her, please!  catch that money! A girl came out of the bank and saw us, speaking to the woman who still stood motionless on the sidewalk.  What’s wrong, Mom? she asked, and I answered for the mute observer:  My money, can you please help me gather it? and then the three of us crouched on the ground while a small crowd gathered and I worried about how ridiculous I must look, in my heavy boots, my leggings and my short denim skirt.

The two of them chased my money, snatching the last missing twenties from under my car.  They consolidated their findings into one pile and handed it to me, the older woman still muttering that she had certainly not done anything.  I counted the bills and said, Oh, good, it’s all here!  I reached out my hand to shake each of theirs, and told them how much I appreciated their help.  I couldn’t have gotten it without the two of you!  And I smiled.  The daughter had no idea how the money had found its way out of my hand and onto the ground; she beamed at me, radiant, happy, and got into the passenger’s door of her mother’s car.

I gave the mother one last grin and turned away from them both, and walked towards the building.  The rest of the customers scattered, the impromptu show over.  As a teenager held open the door for me, the woman slowly backed out of her space, crept forward to the edge of the lot, and, signalling, moved into traffic.



The refrigerator holds dribs and drabs, none of which appeal to me.  I’ve been lying down for hours, typing texts, posts, and e-mails with the tips of my fingers.  The war rages within me.  The strongest anti-viral known to humankind seems to be whipping the world’s stupidest virus into shape at the expense of my immediate comfort.  But I don’t care.  If the outcome yielded can be measured in days of quality life, I’m holding on and letting the rampage take me where it will.

Last Saturday, my friend Brenda and I dined at Cafe Gratitude.  It’s impossible to be gloomy there.  The waitstaff assails you with cheerfulness.  They seem genuinely pleased that you crossed their threshold.  They describe the specials with lilting, awe-tinged voices.  I took my leftovers home in one of their boxes just for the pleasure of having a bit of that joy in my kitchen.  I could use a dose of their fare now.

The dog snuffles at my door and I realize she probably needs to go out.  I’m sitting in my antique rocker, the one I talked the auctioneer into selling me for ten bucks because it’s got broken webbing in the seat.  I’ve got my little feet on my great-grandmother Corinne’s footstool, and silence surrounds me.  I hear nothing save the perennial ringing in my ears.  It’s a symphony for one.

But I’m hungry; and I’ll bet my dog is, too.  So I’m going down for dinner.  Let the war go on with out me for a few minutes; I’ll turn my head to something more pleasant, like the evening news or this week’s Tiny Desk concert.  There must be a hundred things that I could do besides wait for the battle to end.

Take-out box from Cafe Gratitude.

Take-out box from Cafe Gratitude.

One Moment In Time

I loaded my cart at Target, a stack of the various tools of clean, organized, daily life:  spray bottles, dog chews, paper towels.  I pulled the buggy into an open lane and greeted the cashier.  Do you want to save 5% today and every day, she started, but I shook my head.  Strange as it might seem, I don’t.

She began ringing the items which I had selected — the hand sanitizer, the cough drops, the vitamins.  As she worked, she slid each item into a floppy plastic bag, one, two, three and I began to regret deciding to get all of this stuff bought before the polar vortex settled on the city.  I pictured myself carrying those five plastic bags, heavy with supplies, from car to door.  Maybe I better get one of your re-useable cloth bags, I told her.  As she filled the first 99 cent cloth bag, I added,  I guess I’ll need two.

I turned to swing the loaded bag into my cart and then it happened.  I fell backward, through the opening where she had just rung my purchases above the scanner.  I did not twist my ankle.  I did not hit the counter.  No one bumped me.  My legs just gave way, as the weakened legs of a disabled person will do, sometimes.

She caught me, easily, without hesitation.  Her hands held my arms and she let my body rest against hers for the briefest of moments.  Then, easily, with the strength of youth, she righted me.  She continued ringing my purchases while I fidgeted with my wallet and tried not to let on how embarrassed I was.  I kept my face down as I scanned my debit card.  She stood straight and steady, never said a word, as she handed the receipt to me.  I looked up, then; and felt her liquid brown eyes warm and soft on my pale blue gaze with its hovering tears.  She said, softly:  Would you like some help to the car, Ma’am? and I replied: No, no, thank you, I’ll be fine.

Then I left.  I felt this one moment in time settle into a quiet space, beside all the other moments when someone has touched my heart with their gentleness.


BAM. Bad news, GOOD NEWS.

How to explain the exuberance?  Good news, bad news:  The good news is there’s a war going on in my body!  The bad news?  My clotting time is through the roof!  Oh, wait! Isn’t that good news?

Indulge me, won’t you?

So, flashback to 1997, the year of the Death and Dying Picture. A few of you might remember it:  A haunting black-and-white shot that Ross Taggart took of yours truly, on the deck of the Taggart hacienda.  Staring out over the yard below, unaware of his lens, my long hair flowing; my lean body still.  Oh, wait, did I say “lean”?  I meant skinny.  As in, is she anorexic? No, she wasn’t.  She was sick.

Later the same night, the night of that surreal Death and Dying Picture, I called Katrina Taggart.  “There’s something wrong with me,” I said.  “I cannot breathe.”

Katrina came.  She always responded to any summons.  Someone took Patrick, then five, back to her house.  Nick, I suppose?  Was Nick there yet?  I don’t remember. At some point he was, my nephew Nick; but those years are a blur.  That night marked my first emergency room trip for not being able to breathe.

Over the next four years, I spent hours in the ER, out on the porch at 3:00 a.m. taking great gulps of cold winter air, in the Cardiac Unit (the ‘new’ one — which no longer exists, having given way to the Heart Institute), in the Neuro Unit, in ICU, at the doctor’s office.  One doctor, two doctors.  One, two, buckle my shoe — which I couldn’t do, actually, now that I think of it.  So someone did it for me, as I declined further and further, the long slow slide to nowhere land.  Six months, said the pulmonologist.  A year, tops, said the neurologist.  Your body is just wearing out, they both intoned.

Then into my hospital room bounced Joseph Brewer, M.D., and the initials might as well have been G.O.D. though he would scoff if he heard me say that.  “Oh no, you’re not dying,” he explained.  “You’re just hypercoagulable.”  He explained that “my” virus, HHV-6, to which most people respond with a mild case of measles and a shrug, had gotten a grip on my clotting time.  “You’ve got sludge-blood,” he said.  “You just need it thinned.”

By mid-2001, now practiced wielding a heparin needle twice a day, I went back work full-time. Later, I could switch to an oral blood thinner.   So we monitor clotting time.  Normal, non-hypercoagulable clotting time number, and the goal for me on medication is  about 2.5.  Mine unmedicated:  About .8.  Ouch.  So I take the pill, as faithfully as my brain allows every day, shooting for that 2.5. Once a month, I go see the nice lab lady at the doctor’s office, who these days also draws to make sure my kidneys and blood count aren’t impacted by the new drug.

Last Friday, I had that blood draw.  Thirty days after starting The New Medication.  My clotting time is an absolutely astounding 6.6!!!!!!  What does this mean?  We suspected, and the I.D. guru at Stanford has now confirmed, that it means the war is on and the NEW MEDICATION IS WORKING!

Now, it must be said:  Having a clotting time of 6.6 is a bit scary.  One can, conceivably, bleed to death quite quickly and there actually have been a few problems in the last few days.  But my doctor got on it right away.  We’ve made the necessary adjustments, and I’m staying away from sharp objects.  My body struggles with viral symptoms right now — either a cold or “my” virus fighting back, resisting the Valcyte, who knows?  But one thing we can say for certain:  something is happening.

Take THAT, you pesky little virus!  I ain’t done with you YET.  Booyah!






Peace in the morning

I braved the cold and wind, clad in Jessica’s sweater, a flannel nightgown, and the Puma’s Fitclops, to take a photo of the Holmes house in the snippet of snow which fell on Kansas City last evening.  Here is that photo; feel the peace.

The Holmes house, 04 January 2015, 6:30 a.m.

The Holmes house, 04 January 2015, 6:30 a.m.

Friends:  Angela Garrett-Carmack shared a post from JJ Heller and her husband Dave Heller.  I’d like to share that with each of you, as well.  This beautiful song pulled me from bed today, to take the photo for you.  I can think of no greater gift than inspiration.  So, here’s a cup of inspiration for you, from me, through JJ and Dave Heller.  Happy New Year, Live.

Grateful for Genes

It’s ironic that I would say this, but I’m grateful that I got the genetic make-up that I did.  While I habituated to narcotics, I’m not an addict and weaned  myself off of them after 45 years of being prescribed them for pain.  My father was a serious alcoholic.  If that was a genetic predisposition, I didn’t get it.  Events of the night just past include calls from someone about whom I care a great deal.  He had discharged a weapon while under the influence and needed help.  I could do little but call someone else who could help him, given our distance.  As I talked with the person whom I called to go help our mutual friend, I heard in my head the voice of my friend Alan, talking to a drunken comrade one night years ago when the three of us were together.  Said Alan to Mark:  “Alcohol will never be half the friend to you that I am.”

Amen.  My prayers go out to this most recent fallen angel.  If any who reads this can determine about whom I am talking, please hold him in your prayers and positive thoughts.  For the rest of you:  Put the glass, bottle, or flask down and hug your children, wife, partner, self.  Just do it.


Happy New Year

In the late-1990s, I spent a lot of time worrying about dying.  A pulmonologist had predicted that my lungs would soon fail from exhaustion.  My breathing grew labored and ragged; my skin eternally pale and dry; my movements stilted and slow.  Death seemed to lurk around the corner, leering, jeering, waiting to pounce.

During that time, Yahoo chat rooms provided a place for people to meet others and endlessly converse in rapidly scrolling sequences.  Since sleep eluded me, I found my way to such chat rooms.  There, I adopted the nom de plume which I still sometimes use, the Lady Gardenia.  I also discovered ICQ, a real-time, split-screen messaging system.  In a Yahoo chatroom, I met Dennis Lisenby whom I later married and with whom I remain close, despite our divorce after ten years of marriage.  I also met Dave (“don’t call me ‘David’ “) Littlehales, a computer wonk and musician in England with whom I still remain friends as well.  Dave once visited my household, and routinely trounces me in Words With Friends.

My story unfolded quite differently than the doctor’s prognosis.  I proved to be one tough cookie (read about it here).  Those nights at the keyboard in my breakfast nook, the bi-fold doors closed to keep the light from waking my son, now seem like part of a hazy, half-remembered dream.  I  know they  happened; and i vividly recall telling Dave Littlehales to keep typing, keep talking; I feared sleep because I might not waken and my young child would find my dead body and be forever alone, forever scarred.  He typed far into his day, six hours ahead of me, getting me through to sunrise in Kansas City.

One Christmas, Dave sent me a beautiful cloisonne brooch.  It came wrapped in tissue, inside an envelope, in a little packet.  I still have it; still wear it; and still consider it one of the sweetest gifts anyone has ever sent — because it came with no strings attached, tendered without any sense of obligation on the part of the giver.

I find myself at the brink of 2015, which I entered, smiling, having received several texts and messages from 11:00 p.m. far into the morning, from people around the country.  Like Dave, they reached out purely from the desire to do so, with no hint that their greetings had been prompted from any sense of duty.  That purity of spirit gives me hope for this new year.  When a woman has so many people in her life who will take time from whatever occupies them to send greetings, how can that woman not look upon the new year with hope, and joy, and eagerness?

My brooch from Dave Littlehales.

My brooch from Dave Littlehales.