December 2010

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By Don Voss. ravencirclecreations

Hello, Bright Stars!

Happiest new year to you.

I don’t know about you, but I’m dreaming big for 2011. And speaking of dreaming, please enjoy the following gorgeousness. It’s from a book my brother gave me for Christmas.

A Toltec is an artist of Love,

an artist of the Spirit,

someone who is creating every moment,

every second, the most beautiful art–

the Art of Dreaming.

Life is nothing but a dream,

and if we are artists,

then we can create our own life with Love,

and our dream becomes

a masterpiece of art.

~Don Miguel Ruiz, The Mastery of Love




Happy New Year’s Eve Eve, everyone!

I wanted to update you all on my journey as Mouse #8 in trial codename Stayinremissionforever.

My most recent shot was two Fridays ago. It was injection number three of either:

1. super-immune-boosting Chilean tree bark alone or

2. tree bark plus anti-tumor vaccine.

I arrived at the Cancer Center to find out that my white cell count (taken two days prior) was too low to receive the shot. During chemo treatment, low white cells just means you simply delay treatment a week. But when you’re part of a study, low white cells means you’re kicked out of the program. Just like that. No delays.

I was told I would have my blood redrawn and that there was a good chance the white cells had increased in the previous forty-eight hours. I had a gut feeling that all would be well. But still.

The Doc and her assistants asked me to get dressed and go straight down to the lab. I squeezed back some tears, and then some leaked out. The ladies were sympathetic, which caused more leakage, but I avoided a gusher by repeating my internal gusher-stopping mantra, “Whatever happens, there’s Bravo TV tonight.”

I went downstairs to the lab and had my blood drawn. Then I sent out a few panicked texts and emails, then went across the street for some Pho to calm my nerves. I had an hour to wait for my results. I decided I would defer any freaking out until after I had the results, and only if they were bad. Of course, right? But easier said than done.

I sat in the tiny Pho restaurant which was (honestly) called something like “My Grandfather’s Comfort Food Cafe”. I sympathized with the soggy umbrellas slumped in the corner by the door. The rain sheeted down outside.

After an eternity, I finished my soup and went back to the cancer center. It had only been thirty minutes. I called the coordinator to make sure she had my cell number right. Just in case. She did.

A few minutes later, the coordinator called back to tell me my white cell numbers were good. We were back on. I’d never been so excited to be getting a shot that hurts worse than a bee sting.

I headed upstairs with a huge grin, happily prepared to wait the half hour necessary for the shot substance to THAW and then another half hour for the nurses to observe me after the injection.  All went well. In fact, Doc C actually came up to the infusion room to let me know that, not only were my white cell numbers good, but my immune system seems to be benefiting from the shots.


So now I’m in the middle of a three-week reprieve from all doctor appointments. Then the shots will start again. I’ll be getting them once per month.

For now, we are holiday central here in Sugartown. Our rooms and walls are soaked with the good energy and warmth of guests and visitors. Little J has had nothing but time to play with friends and family. Dennis and I have even gotten dressed up and gone on a few dates (thanks to Debbie and Grandma).

It’s turning out to be a joyous end to an adventure-filled year, friends. I hope you’re ringing in the new one with the ones you love.

Love, love, and love,


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There’s been no shortage of love fests this holiday season.

Grandma visited, and there was rollerskating on the driveway-just like it was 1976 in SoCal all over again.

Sugartown had its annual Christmas party. Almost all of the neighbors were in attendance, including the Sugartown gang, who tore through the house making spirits bright.

Technically this isn't a pic from the party, but they were all moving too fast for anyone to capture them on film, so I had to use this one from a few days before. Behold the costumes!

And Santa left quite a haul at our house, as we were nice this year. At least we tried to be. As often as we could be.

Little J and me engaged in a smiling contest. J's sweater, a gift from grandma, renders the boy impossible-not-to-cuddle.

Later that day, visits by uncles Mike and Tom were icing on the gingerbread house.

But Christmas with the family across the bridge was the most spectacular. Just ask little J, who was smothered with love from his talented and gorgeous cousins.

And for those of you who know Little J, you will recognize the following as nothing less than evidence of a true Christmas miracle:

You see, he does poop out. Only once a year, though.

We’ve had so many visits from friends and fun outings (bowling!), as well as quiet time by the fire and good ‘ole playing on the cul-de-sac. I want to capture all the fun and love in a snow globe and save it for later. Give it a good shake right before bed and dream it all over again, whenever I want to.



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Guess which cup it's under.

1. Kuhng Zu World. “If Santa can hear me, he’ll know what it is.”

2. A 3-D book that you can touch and feel the future.

3. A stuffy that can come to life when you push a button. Specifically, an iguana with real spikes on it.

4. Float boots that float you right up and over the house when you put them on. And float gloves so you can say, “Follow the gloves,” and the boots will float you where you move your hands.

For Princess T:

A ring that grows into a necklace then back to a ring if she wants. It can glow blue when she wants to use it to walk through walls.

For Princess M:

Same as Princess T, but also a science kit.

For Nafe:

A marc-mo-bot, so if he misses his brother, he can play with it.

For Dad:

A new computer for work that tells him what someone is thinking when they are about to walk into his office. Then he can turn his head and talk to the person and already know what to say. And the computer will keep working for him while he’s talking to the person. Then he can leave the computer at work to keep working and come home and play with me.

For Mom:

“I can’t tell you, then you’d know.”


The kiss-mo-bot. A robot that has soft cheeks and looks like me, so you can give it kisses while I’m at school. And it will laugh at your jokes.

Merry Christmas,




It’s early October. The ER doctor asks,

“After your husband, who do you want to make the big decisions for you, if something goes wrong?”

“Her,” I answer, nodding toward Mari.

She doesn’t flinch. But after fifteen years of knowing Mari, I can read her stillness the way a sailor reads the moon. She’s thinking, “Um, for reals? Are you sure?”

In the last couple of years, Mari and I have spent more time together in hospitals than outside of them, which is why I was so happy to be out in The City last night, under a gorgeously full moon, celebrating her “twice-the-legal-drinking-age” birthday.

Just outside the window of the restaurant where we sat nestled in a corner table, chilly dark SF streets slanted up away from us. Phantoms of the two of us from years ago still traipse up and down those North Beach hills, I’m sure. They laugh about a waiter known only as, “The Pahck-ahhjj.” They sit for hours in the North End Caffe. They eat at Cafe Trieste and drink at Specs. They re-tell stories, glorifying and embellishing. Okay, that’s mostly me.

“Yes, it was at Tosca’s. We were there and we saw John Stewart, drunk, leaning on his girlfriend…” I brag.

“No it wasn’t,” Mari remembers more honestly, ” it was Rob Schneider at the Steps of Rome Cafe.”

“Oh yeah,” I admit. But I still like to blow the stories out of proportion. There’s no other way to capture the feeling of those now-illusory events.

Last night, we huddled around Mari, bonfire of joie de vivre that she is, and feted her as she deserved to be. As always, I felt it wasn’t enough, could never be enough.

It’s early 2009.

“How do they look?” Mari asks me. She’s modeling hospital-issue pajamas, sneaked to her by the charge nurse who, within moments of meeting Mari, fell in love with her.

“They look big,” I say. I’m laughing, even though this hospital visit is a tough one. Dennis had finally agreed to go home and be with Little J, only because Mari could be there with me.

“They’re huge!” Mari laughs, pulling the hospital pj’s up to her chest. I’m laughing so hard I can’t breathe because  she’s now Ed Grimly with the over-sized pants.

Last night, after the birthday dinner, we all stood shivering on the edge of Washington Square Park. I kissed Mari goodbye on the cheek. I could see she’d had a good birthday, and I wished I could have given her more: a year of birthdays strung together like pearls, an apartment in Paris above a creperie, mauve roses and  stacks of the best books she has not yet read, days and days to write and laugh and travel with friends. James Franco.

All of this would still not be enough. And not just because she’s been there for me through the happiest and unhappiest days and nights of my life. And not just because she helped me manage my dress in the powder room on my wedding day. But because she shows me how to laugh and to live with joy, to see the world for how ridiculously funny it is, especially when it is trying so hard not to be. For reals.

Forkab, Wamster P. Vinigh

Love you, Mari


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Little J keeps certain toys in the car so that, when I am running my “seriously boring” errands, he can keep himself busy by imagining far more interesting worlds. His current favorite vehicle for imaginary transport during chore time is his toy pirate ship.

Yesterday, we took a trip to the local health food store, where apparently licensed products are as foreign as processed foods. The clerk took one look at Little J’s Pirates of the Caribbean ship and said, “Oh, look at that. Is that the Mayflower?”

Little J looks at me, dumbfounded. I immediately want to point out that he’s a Kindergartner even though he looks six or seven. But before I can, the clerk is leaning into his imaginary playspace and asking, “Do you know what the Mayflower is? Do you know who came over on the Mayfloowwweeer?” Because really, if she says it slowly, he might have an answer.

Turns out he does. Out of nowhere, Little J begins to expound:

“Oh, yeah. Those bossy pirates came over on the Mayflower. They told those American Indians (I swear) that they couldn’t have their place on the ground anymore and those Indians said, ‘Aw hey, no fair, you guys don’t even have a president.’ And so the bossy pirates made a president and they  came back and said, ‘Look. We have a president and you have to go to our church now and the American Indians said, ‘Aw, hey, no fair.’ And then they fought a huge battle and a lot people got dead. So they had a big feast to talk about it and they ate and ate, and they got really fat.”

Blank stares all around.

“Well, there you are,” I say. Little J disappears back into his imaginary world, and I am left feeling happy to have seen it intersect with American history for brief moment. Can’t wait for the next installment.




Waltz No. 1

Also known as the holiday shuffle…

I’ve been thinking a lot about Chopin lately. Not shoppin’, which I guess I should be thinking about.

Chopin’s Waltz No. 1, in particular,  has been running around in my head. Running up and down stairs, big fat clumsy-but-precise fingers tripping over and skipping several stairs at a time.

I listened to the Waltz a lot when I was preggers with Little J. While I edited giant sheets of textbook pages at the kitchen table, my pencil kept time with the rain drumming its clumsy-but-precise fingers on the window of our tiny, dark apartment in Berkeley. Little J kicked at my tummy as I raced through the papers, chasing deadlines, the plinkety-plinking piano trailing up and down the stairs all around me.

Now Little J kicks, but it’s the back of my chair in the Jetta when the Waltz comes on the radio. I crank it and ask him for the hundredth time, “Do you recognize this piece, honey? I listened to it all the time when you were in my belly.”

“No. I still don’t remember it, mommy.” Kick.

Fair enough.

When I hear the Waltz these days, I still see the stairs, the scene Escher-esque in my mind’s eye:

Escher's Dream, by ClaireJones.

But these days, as the fingers race up and down the keys, I see glimpses of a lady, dashing through the rain to get her little one to school, or the same little one with his dad untangling Christmas lights decorating the tree licking frosting off the knife the sprinkles on the fingers the tape the ribbon and the floor… a jumble of glittering scenes of ritual holiday preparations.



Conspiring with Santa, and maybe waiting for something else.

Unlike the usual Christmas tunes, the Waltz is my little soundtrack for the hustling and the bustling and the getting-it-all-done and the making-sure-to-enjoy-it at the same time.



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Snabby took this of Little J in a redwood at Muir Woods

As though any of us needed a reminder that things can turn ON A DIME. I just found out that my PetCt was clear. The thing that one group of radiologists saw on the previous scan had no metabolic activity, no blood supply, no life, no potency. Nada. Remission confirmed (again).

So the trial to keep me healthy and strong should start tomorrow with one little benign injection. Wahoo.

Let’s celebrate with pictures of J and Lil’ Salty being fly at Muir Woods. (Pictures by Snabby).

Those are shinguards on Lil J’s arms. He uses them as Superhero arm bands. I think Lil Salty is flashing some signs, perhaps Sugartown signs?

Hope your week has been calm, lovely, and non-nail-bitingly terrific.



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