November 2011

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Je t’aime

Nothing like an old-timey-sounding French pop song on a crisp fall day like today. I’ll take shots of the Eiffel Tower and love any time


Jane Birkin is playing at the Regency Ballroom with the Foxtails Brigade tonight. Lucky city people!

You’re welcome, Jon.




The trip down to the Charming-Town-By-The-Sea was wonderful in every way. Grandma and Grandpa were thrilled to see little J, and the feeling was mutual.

Though the weatherman threatened rain, gorgeous weather greeted us every day. And speaking of greeting, the moment we arrived, a deer crept up behind the house and allowed Little J to get nearly within hugging distance:
Little J was beside himself the whole time. Always on an adventure. Looking for wildlife around every corner, and for blue whales migrating South:
Dennis and I spent as much time as we could resting: watching the parade, doing puzzles and the LA Times crossword, and taking naps under a skylight overhung by oak trees. There’s something so idyllic about my parents place. It’s hard not to just drift off at odd times of day.

Before my mom came down with a terrible cold, we managed an outing all together:

But after mom was in bed sipping hot water and lemon, it was all about catching up with dad:

The best thing about being by the beach is the calm that comes with the waves and the sun and all that fresh air. Certain stolen moments, when your heartbeat slows to match the heartbeat of the one you hold close, you feel like the moment is forever:

Of course, when we returned, we had some explaining to do to Virge. Debbie had taken the very best care of him, but that didn’t stop him from giving us his usual dose of grief for having left him alone. No matter. He showed us that he wasn’t letting us out of his sight again by occupying our luggage:
Don’t worry, Vigil, It’s home sweet home for us for a while.



Tea Time

Chemo time in the infusion room doesn’t get cozier than this.

The four ladies at the front shout my name Cheers-style when I walk in. Kim stops to talk a while about holiday plans and to make sure I have all my refills before heading out of town.

Then Herb, oh Herb, he’s been making me laugh with his corny jokes for three years. Not to downplay his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and literature, but really it’s been his corny jokes that make me feel right at home.

Today, after painlessly accessing my port, he made me a perfect cup of tea so that I can relax and enjoy my book while the Avastin drips in:

I say, “What could be better?”

“Not being here, I suppose” he says, which has the wrong effect and makes me kind of sad.

But then I think of Friday:

And I think of how fantastically bad the Twilight movie was last night, how hard Mari, Leigh and I tried not to choke on our popcorn. Laughter, that much, was so good.

And I think of how nice it will be to visit my parents in Cambria and how I will be sending my brother love and missing him.

Drive carefully, everyone.



Little J and me. Cambria, Summer, '11

Three years ago today was a day just like this one. The sun shone, warming the places you might want to sit: on the porch, in the cafe window seat.

Auntie Mari and I sat at Peet’s. Your dad had just come back from his long trip to China and Singapore, and we’d had a good, long weekend reunitiing, eating at Finn’s, going to the movies.

But now it was Monday. You were at Miss Sandie’s, in the Orange Room with Gia and Corrina. You were three and probably painting something or glueing something with glitter. You didn’t like to get your hands too dirty or too sticky, though. Or maybe you and Siyamak or Jesse were on the playground, chasing each other until you got too hot in your hoodie that I made you wear, and zip up.

Auntie Mari and I were at Peet’s, like I said, sitting in the window seat, keeping warm. It was a working day. I worked a lot then, maybe too much. But I’d recently lost my contract with McGraw-Hill. The division I consulted for had closed down. After four years of contracting for them, I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to me. But at the same time, I was excited. I thought maybe this was the motivation I needed to try my hand at a different kind of writing, other than educational.

So in the mean time, I’d taken a small job editing some primary school readers for a publishing house in Boston. They’d emailed me tons of files to review before starting the project. I’d printed them out and made a big binder for this job that I would never even get started on.

I sat there, staring blankly at the pages.

“I just can’t get my head into it,” I said to Mari.

“I know, me either,” she said, closing her own notebook and taking my hand. “But everything’s going to be okay.”

I thought about the plan for that evening. Dennis would come home early, and Auntie Mari (Auntie Mawi, as you called her) would watch you while your Daddy and I met with the doctor. He wanted to see us both, after hours. I knew it wasn’t going to be good. I thought he was going to tell me that we couldn’t have a baby. Maybe that, at worst, I had to have a hysterectomy.

We wanted you to have a little sister. If there was going to be another baby, it was going to be a little girl. I knew this much was true.

Well, he did end up telling us we couldn’t have a baby and that I had to have a hysterectomy, but it got worse. He said I had ovarian cancer, and he didn’t know if I was going to survive.

“I really don’t know,” he said.

I looked at your Dad because I wanted him to tell me it wasn’t true. But he was looking straight at the doctor wanting him to tell him it wasn’t true.

But the doctor just kept saying, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

So I took my glasses off and set them on my lap. I moved the Doctor’s name plate out of the way and just lay my forehead on his desk. I sat just like that and did not want to ever pick up my head again because I could feel your Dad’s hand trembling in mine.

When we got home, you were sitting in your rocking horse, watching TV with Auntie Mari. You called out to me, but I couldn’t even look at you. Daddy picked you up and started getting you ready for bed. Then I did something I’d never done before. I poured two shots of whiskey. I handed one to Mari.

“Oh, no,” she said.

We went into the backyard, and I told her everything.

She cried and hugged me so hard. Then she started to blurt out everything she could do to help. “I’ll finish your project for you and just give you the money. They’ll think you did it. I won’t tell them. I’ll move in with you so I can take care of Little J. I’ll come to every chemo appointment.”

We decided then that I wasn’t going to die. We clinked our glasses to it.

I crumbled into bed that night, unsure how I was going to face you the next day. At three even, you were so wise. I didn’t want you to see my cry. I felt you would look at me and know everything. I knew you’d understand how terrible it was.

But the next morning, we cuddled as normal. We sang daddy Happy Birthday and gave him his presents. He could barely open them. He did it for the sake of keeping us moving forward.

Then I steeled myself to call Grandma and Grandpa. That was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. Grandma cried and said, “Oh, Jennifer, I just feel like this is a horrible dream.”

I couldn’t call your uncle Geoffrey and tell him myself. I kept picturing him at fifteen, the way he leaned against the pantry and closed his eyes when he got the news his best friend James had died in a car crash. I asked my mom to tell him instead, though part of me wished I’d been strong enough to do it myself.

I told my mom that I was going to be okay, and from that point on, that has been our family’s mantra.

I’m not sure who, maybe Gia or Corrina, told you that I had “stinky stuff in my belly” that the doctors had to get out, and that was the best thing ever, the best way for you to understand what was happening.

And I tried my best to hide all of my pain and fatigue from you. You must have just thought I loved our couch because I didn’t want you to see how I hobbled after the surgery. So I just sat there until the coast was clear.

And when the chemo made all of my hair fall out, I only let you see me in my wig or hats. For five months I hid my bald head. Finally, when it got too hot in the house for a wig, I took it off and showed you my baldness. You smiled and pulled my head to your face and kissed me. “You look beautiful, Mommy,” you said. You still weren’t even four yet.

You’re six now and you’ve forgotten what I looked like before cancer, and probably who I was back then. I’ve had cancer for more than half of your life. Gone are the days that we hide anything from you. Though there is still a part of me that wants to believe you don’t know that cancer is a life-threatening disease, I know you get that.

You led hundreds of people on a silent lap after dark at the Relay for Life last year, and you’ve even told me that you’re going to find a cure one day. Listen, I know you’re my kid and all, but I hope someone beats you to it.

And look at us now, three years later. We’re doing so well. The researchers and doctors I saw in LA on Tuesday are full of hope and excitement about new therapies and drugs in the testing phase and say that there is every reason to remain optimistic.

In these three years, I’ve had a total of fifteen months of remission. The rest of the time, I’ve had some kind of treatment. And you’ve been a trooper, to say the least. I know all Mommies say this, but you’re one of my two main reasons for pushing through each day.

I’m hoping the next three years will be a little bit smoother sailing, but as I always say, I will simply be glad enough to just have them to spend with you and Daddy.

This story is for you to have for keeps. I’m writing this in your journal for when you are older, but I’m also putting it on my blog. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve shared it with some friends.




One of the things I loved about growing up in and around Los Angeles was going to museums and seeing plays and musicals with my parents. I’m so grateful to my mom for taking us to the Norton Simon, the Getty, and to see shows at the Mark Taper and Pantages.

So yesterday I was feeling a little nostalgic when Sandra and I drove down LA’s broad, palm-line boulevards to get to LACMA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. When we parked, I could hear my mom saying, “I just love these old California homes.”

Once inside, works by Klee and Kandinsky made me think of my brother. And even though the museum website said they had none, a painting by Mark Rothko, (my favorite artist) surprised me as I rounded a corner and took my breath away.


I was so exhausted after viewing just one half of one wing of LACMA. Seriously, friends, nothing reminds me of my daily fatigue like walking and standing on concrete floors. I felt defeated and almost cried over not being able to take in any more art.

Thankfully Sandra was on hand to buck me up and talk me into a strong cup of tea at the outdoor cafe instead of calling it a day. Sure enough, after some caffeine and rest, I was ready to take on the California Design Retrospective which we’d heard was not to be missed.

Beautifully curated, the exhibit featured 1930-65 lifestyle accoutrement and furniture. From bathing suits:


To a full Eames livingroom:


The best thing about the exhibit, the thing that made me nearly faint, was seeing my car, the 1963 Studebaker, Avanti. White. On the day that I was born, my father drove my mother and me home from Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in the Avanti. And I drove the Avanti from the time I was 17, until I was 30, when I decided I needed something a little more reliable.


Ah, talk about nostalgia! Dennis and I have quite a history of driving the Avanti around San Francisco and the Wine Country when we were first dating. Maybe some day we’ll bring her up from my parents’ house to Sugartown and take Little J for a ride.

Meanwhile, let’s see what today in LA has to offer. Another trip down memory lane?





Sandra and I went for a walk along the canals near her condo in Venice. The sky looked as though it would crack open. It did. The minute we set foot back inside, the rain came down, dousing the city with an unexpected freshness that Sandra took in, seated on kitchen steps by the door that leads to the backyard.

“I love the smell,” she said, “right after the first rain.”

We’d gone out to meet a friend for lunch. I hadn’t seen Debbie for maybe twenty years. We laughed hysterically at the man who tried to bully our waitress by snapping his fingers at her vigorously. Sandra applauded the waitress’s cool response, turning on her heel and walking away from him, which made him snap louder. It felt like we were watching a movie. You know, a comedy about people being so mean that it’s farcical.


Meanwhile back in Sugartown, the boys are having fun. I miss them so much.





Fall Back

We woke to rain this morning and stayed snuggled in bed until the very last moment before getting off to the airport.

The boys are off to the science museum in The City to see sharks, and I’m off to LA to see friends and scientists.

The three-year anniversary of my personal interest in a cure for cancer looms. I’m happy to be here, to be nearing another November 17th. Always so cold and a little gloomy of an annual remembrance.

We’ve been filling the shorter, chillier days with projects, board games, and creativity, baking, fires, and playdates. Keep things moving, I say: the inspirational juices, the laughter.

Painting a ninja into life:


Making cupcakes from scratch with Twix (to make up for the “scratch”):


Having colorful picnics with friends:


Blogging on the road:


What are you doing to keep your heart happy and full as the days grow shorter?




Last time I posted, we were enjoying summery weather. Well the cold has set in. So suddenly and thoroughly. I admit, it feels good to be snuggling up to the cat for warmth, zipping little J into his puffy coat. Now if I could only find that other glove!

Halloween night was a hit around here. I even dressed up as the Mighty Bee. (Don’t worry, no one else got it either). The lighting in this picture isn’t ideal but it’s all I’ve got:


Little J and Dennis hit the streets while I passed out candy. We had fewer trick-or-treaters than normal, but the boy came back with an impressive haul:


Really impressive:


Before your teeth start to fall out just looking at this, please know that the Switch Witch (TM Monica!) swapped out his candy for a new toy a few days later.

One holiday in the bag, and several more coming down the pike. With D’s bday, Thanksgiving with my parents, Christmas, Cooper Christmas, etc, etc, we’ve got lots to celebrate, as do you all.

Speaking of, the Avastin-Cytoxin regimen continues to work as my CA-125 slips ever lower. If you don’t count the day in the ER last week (crushing migraine, CT scan for brain bleeding, all clear) the side-effects are really quite manageable.

I’m trying to get the Switch Witch to come take something (anything!) in exchange for a drama-free holiday season so we can keep on bumping along our merry way, snuggling up against the cold and counting our blessings like little pieces of wrapped candy.

Hugs and sweetness,