It’s World Juggler’s Day

WARNING: If you have any aversion to bodily functions DO NOT READ TODAY’S POST!

It peeves me to say this but I can’t juggle. I cannot control the direction and speed of any three items simultaneously. I’ve tried. My step-dad is an excellent juggler and in my wanting to be just like him I asked him to teach me. But I never caught on.

This certainly runs over into my daily life, this not being able to juggle. I try but my mind cannot handle more than one thing at a time. I think in today’s world this is called ADD.

Wait. I guess I have done a little juggling in the past. I don’t know how successful I was, but I did have to juggle. During Ben’s illness I was juggling a bowling ball, a water balloon and a chainsaw. The bowling ball was my emotional state, the water balloon was my newborn infant that needed her mother, and the chainsaw was Ben’s cancer that demanded everything I had – and didn’t have.

Now that I think of it, I can recall a specific day that I tried to juggle these three items. It’s funny now when I look back on it, but my emotional state then nearly pushed me off the cliff.

September, 2004. We were at Children’s Hospital. Ben was one week into his bone marrow transplant. He had just finished his introductory chemo, which is designed to kill everything in him. The way it was explained to us was that they had to kill him in order to save him. Okie Dokie. Process THAT without completely shutting down! Anyway, he had just finished his last round of chemo before they reintroduced the new stem cells. He was technically having a “day of rest” before taking the next step. We were in strict isolation, meaning he could not leave the room until his new stem cells found their way into his bones and started making new red and white blood cells as well as platelets (this is where I wished I would have paid more attention in science class).

When we initially met with the bone marrow transplant (BMT) team, they advised us to find alternate care for Madeline. She was five months old at the time. Up until then she had been able to stay with us on the oncology unit, mainly because I was breast feeding her. In a transplant scenario, there is no set time of when the patient will begin to recover. The average kiddo is in transplant for three months. Ben’s was a bit different so they didn’t expect him to need three months to recover but there was just no way of knowing how long it would take (ultimately, we were in there for 31 days). So, not wanting to be away from Madeline for any length of time, we asked that Madeline be able to stay in the room with us. She would have to follow the same precautions, meaning that she wouldn’t get to leave the unit until Ben was discharged. So, we buckled down for the duration.

Honestly, Madeline was the perfect age for this scenario. She was strong enough to sit in an exer-saucer yet not fully interested in crawling around. Ben slept in his hospital bed and Madeline and I slept on the couch (the first few days of Ben’s transplant, Matt had a sinus infection and was not allowed in the room with us). When we woke up each morning, I placed Madeline in her exer-saucer, gave her some toys, and tended to Ben.

This particular morning was very quiet. Ben was finished with chemo and the transplant would take place the following day. Since he wasn’t receiving any meds that day we didn’t have many doctors or nurses stopping by. He was sound asleep and Madeline was content in her exer-saucer. I decided to pop in a Pilates DVD that I had brought along – just in case I had the opportunity to “relax”. I was about 10 minutes into it when Ben shot up in his bed, pointing at his mouth and crying. I knew this was his “warning” that he was about to throw up. I grabbed the yellow pan and quickly ran over to him. I can’t even explain what it was that came out of him except that it was green and challenged my own gag reflexes. From behind me, Madeline started crying. I was patting Ben’s bald head as he was throwing up, attempting not to throw up myself, and trying to soothe Madeline with my “calming” voice over my shoulder. “I’ll be right there, baby. Right after your brother stops puking up this green bile and I get myself under control.” Right.

Ben threw up for several minutes. I kept having to turn my head to try to stop gagging, which was the point where I tried to soothe Madeline. Cue circus music. Once Ben was finished I put the pan on the floor by his bed (we had to save everything for the nurses to document… eeewwww.) Whew. One thing down. This is when I turned to find Madeline, in her exer-saucer, covered in poop. Evidently, she had pooped about the same time that Ben had started to throw up. Several minutes later, it was all over her and her footed pajamas, all over the exer-saucer, just all over everything. My gag reflexes went into overdrive. Circus music gets louder.

I picked Madeline up – *gross* – and started to clean up poo. Developmentally, she was not at a point where I could put her down, so I had to hold her the entire time I was trying to clean everything up. The exer-saucer would have to be dismantled. Right in the middle of this, Ben shot up in bed again, pointing at his mouth. Oh no. With his immune system compromised, there was no way I could take Poopy Madeline anywhere near him. I tried to fling another yellow pan at him without much luck. That’s when I stepped into the first yellow pan that was sitting on the floor. With my bare feet. Holding a poopy daughter. Watching my son throw up more of the same that was covering my feet.

I’m done. There will be no more circus music. No more juggling. Done. I’ve gone over the edge. I dropped the ball. I’m never doing Pilates again.

A nurse walked in about that time, and with a quick assessment of the situation, took over with Ben. I cleaned up Poopy Madeline and her exer-saucer. I got around to cleaning up myself after having a mini-mental breakdown.

I think with continued therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I can once again try Pilates. But I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to juggle again.

More tomorrow. 🙂

It’s National Eat Your Vegetables Day.

I like vegetables. A lot. I’m a fan of corn on the cob, okra, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and even brussel sprouts. I prefer vegetables to meat. It’s a fact that I didn’t have my first hamburger until I was seven and to this day I am completely grossed out by any meat still on the bone. *Shudder*. I’ve dabbled in being a vegetarian but could never meet my protein requirements through beans and eggs and tofu.

One vegetable that I’m not crazy about in its natural state is the cucumber. They’re OK in a salad but I can’t say that I’ve ever craved them on their own. However, stick a cucumber in a barrel filled with brine and extra garlic and I just can’t get enough. I love pickles. And, believe it or not, I have a story about a pickle.

The year was 1997. It was June and I was in Hawaii on my honeymoon. Oh, there’s nothing like being in Hawaii when you’re in love. Everyone on the island was either just married, celebrating an anniversary, or in the service industry. I think if you take an aerial photo of Maui there is a strong resemblance to a heart shape. And that heart shape is wrapped in a warm crust of love with a creamy lava center. Love, love, love. Everyone was in love. And I wanted to shoot them all. Because I was on my love-filled honeymoon by myself. That’s right. My jerky fiance broke up with me three days before we were to be married. Oh, he still volunteered to go on the “trip” with me, and that’s when I told him to, well, you can guess the expletives I used.

So. Everywhere I turned people were hand in hand, kissing, taking photos with their post-nuptial glow, just generally happy. It burned my butt. I decided to take surfing lessons every day because that was an activity that demanded you be solo. Party of one. My lonely self with shaking legs trying to find my balance again. “Here, Jaws. Come and get me.” Much to my dismay, Jaws never came to put me out of my misery.

I know, what does any of this have to do with a pickle? Patience, my friends.

My family was there (the plan was for them to come to the wedding on the beach, celebrate at a luau, and then they’d go on a tour of other islands while we enjoyed our wedded bliss). They didn’t want me to be completely alone. So, while my mom and sister were out doing touristy stuff, my step-dad and I decided it would be good to start drinking. Immediately. We found a nice place where we could sit outside and at least enjoy the weather. I can’t tell you how much beer we put away but at one point our server said “I can’t remember ever serving as much beer as I’ve served to you two.” It was a moment to preserve in my wedding scrapbook.

We decided it would be a good idea (and with our server urging us to do the same) to get some food. I got a sandwich of some sort that came with some chips and a very sad looking pickle. I ate about 1/2 of what I was served but just couldn’t eat that pickle. It was just as sad as me. I poked at it, stared at it, considered talking to it. You know, drunk talk. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had”. Me and that pickle, we were two peas in a pod. Sad. Miserable looking. Lonely. I could probably surf better than it could though. At least I had that going for me.

My step-dad was trying hard to cheer me up. We ordered more beer. Our server came to take our plates but I wouldn’t let him take my sad little friend away. Then, out of the corner of my eye, two elderly couples rounded the corner and were walking down the sidewalk towards our table. I love to people-watch but there was something about these two couples that made me stop and stare. Each couple was perfectly matched in their Hawaiian garb – a very colorful muumuu matched with their respective spouses’ Hawaiian shirt. The sight was overwhelming. All four of them were looking at me and smiling, walking hand-in-hand with their spouses. I wanted to start crying. They represented everything that I didn’t have. Someone to hold on to, to enjoy life with, to grow old with. Damn Jaws. Why didn’t he come get me? I watched them start to pass by our table. I looked up, tears threatening to spill over, and locked eyes with one of the men. It honestly felt like he could look straight into my soul and see that I was hurting beyond belief. At that point, his smile brightened a bit more. He looked down at my plate, looked back up at me and said “eat your pickle”. Then they were gone.

I am confident that this was his purpose in life, to tell me to eat that pickle. I took his advice. And I felt a bit better.

I married that jerk anyway once I got back to the mainland. We were married just under two years before getting a divorce. I can’t say that I have much of a desire to go back to Hawaii. I do, however, replay the pickle scene during times of great duress. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I wonder if that man is still alive? I wonder if he recalls that moment? I wish I could tell him the impact it had on me.

I think I’ll go have a pickle.

Flag Day

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Flag Day is not an obscure holiday, but here are some facts that everyone should know:  the flag is one of the most complicated in the world. It needs 64 pieces of fabric to make. The current flag has 13 red and white alternating stripes (representing the original 13 states) and 50 stars (each star represents one of the states of the Union) on a blue background. The national flag cannot be used for advertising. It cannot cover a monument or any ceilings. It must not be folded while being displayed. No one should write on an American flag. Ships can lower their flags slightly in greeting each other, but otherwise should not be dipped for any other object or person. (Information taken from

Today is also my Grandma’s birthday. Her name was Sarah Margaret Young. She was born in West Virginia in 1919, the youngest of 22 children. There were many multiple births in this family. In fact, Grandma was a twin but her twin died shortly after birth. I can’t say I know anything about Grandma’s upbringing other than she was given to my Grandfather when she was 13 years old. My Grandfather, Jacob Clayton Phillips, was 20 when he picked out his 13-year-old bride and moved her to Ohio. (You are allowed to say “Eeewwww” at this point of the story.)

When I was five, I basically lived with my Grandma and Grandpa while my parents were getting a divorce. My Grandma got me off to Kindergarten each day and played with me in the afternoons. Having been robbed of her own childhood she took great delight in making me paper dolls out of brown paper grocery bags. She colored with me. We watched Captain Kangaroo together. We’d sit for hours and dream of what I’d be when I grew up. She just knew that I’d be famous at whatever I eventually ended up doing (!) and that I’d be able to buy her a house in Hawaii where we would live together for the rest of our days. I loved my Grandma so much. I wish I could have given her the world.

The man who was supposed to give her the world never even attempted to. My Grandfather, known as “Jake”, was a master carpenter but had his PhD in alcoholism. He was a raging drunk. There was not a set time that rang in “cocktail hour”, he’d start as soon as he got up. I think the phrase he used the most was “Sarah, get me a beer” followed by “Lordy, Lordy, Lordy” when he was close to passing out. I wanted to like my Grandpa. He took me fishing at Buckeye Lake. He grew incredible tomatoes. But he was an incredible jerk.

One day, and I can’t remember my exact age but I know I was still in the “single digits” (under 10), I was back in my room reading a comic book when I heard them start to fight. This was not uncommon given my Grandfather’s constant drunken state but it just sounded different to me. I ran out to find my Grandfather holding a knife to my Grandmother. He started yelling at me saying that he was going to kill her. At that point, she fell to the ground, breaking a coffee cup on the table as she fell.  I can still see the coffee running over the side of the table, pooling on the floor near my Grandmother’s body. I thought she was dead. My Grandfather then took off into the kitchen, sat on the floor, rocked back and forth, repeating over and over that he was going to kill himself. I just stood there in the middle of it, completely stunned. As I was heading towards the phone, my dad walked in. He wasn’t due to pick me up. I don’t know why he stopped by at that particular time. But as he sprung into action and pried the knife away from my Grandfather, I walked back into my room. Dazed. And proceeded to pinch myself up and down my arm because I knew I must be having a bad dream that I needed to wake up from.

Grandpa didn’t kill anybody that day. Grandma had fainted and was treated for a bump on the head. My Dad had stopped by to borrow money, not to pick me up. We brushed the event under the rug and never spoke of it again.

My Grandfather died in 1987. I thought that Grandma might try to live a little after he died, but she didn’t. I think she probably didn’t know what to do with herself after being a prisoner for so long. She died in 1990. Some of you might be shaking your heads and thinking that hers was a life completely wasted. I’d agree to some degree, but I like to think her purpose was to love me when nobody else had the time to. And she did an incredible job at that.

Happy Birthday, Grandma. I miss you.


It’s National Sewing Machine Day

Sorry. I missed two National Days. Hug holiday (the 11th) and Red Rose Day (the 12th). I don’t know that I would have had too much to say about those days other than I’ll hug just about anybody and I’m not a fan of perishable gifts.

I’ve been busy over the last couple of days. Picking Ben up from camp and loving on him has been very time consuming. Ben reportedly had a fabulous time at camp. Chris, Ben’s companion for the week, said that Ben went up in a hot air balloon, rode a zip line (!!!), and made lots of new friends. As we were leaving camp, Ben cried great big tears and waved to all of his buddies. He had an excellent time and can’t wait to go back next year. I’ll post pictures as soon as Chris sends them to me.

So. It’s Saturday. I’m behind on so much stuff but I don’t want to miss today’s holiday. It’s National Sewing Machine Day. As I type this, my sewing machine is sitting on my dining room table. Over this past week, I made Ben some Star Wars pajama bottoms and Madeline a Hannah Montana nightgown. I’ve bought several 1950’s retro patterns for myself and am currently making a really beautiful linen dress. I don’t really have anywhere to wear this dress other than church but I’m thinking a trip to the grocery store with my hair swept up in a twist wearing a pair of kitten heels will make picking out produce more exciting. I’ll pretend I’m one of those housewives from a 1950’s black and white sitcom.

My mom used to sew all the time. She mostly made nightgowns but there were a few times that she made my sister and I matching outfits. We’re six-and-a-half years apart with me being the younger of the two. I’m confident that my sister had no desire to be dressed like her younger sister and even more horrified that these matching outfits were preserved in countless Olan Mills portraits. And it was the 70’s. It doesn’t get much worse than that. Although, I’m remembering a nightgown my mother made for me that was pretty bad. I loved the fabric (pink gingham) and the length (all the way to the floor) but the neckline was a drawstring. That’s right. When my step-brother realized he could make me turn blue with a simple tug of the drawstrings, well, the party was over and the pink nightgown was “retired”. I wonder who manufactured that particular pattern and can I get reparations for my pain and suffering? Seriously. With all the warnings on products now I sincerely wonder how we ever survived the days of lead-based paint, lack of child safety in cars, no helmets, nightgowns with drawstring necklines, open containers, etc.

So. Sew. I think sewing is becoming a lost art. I, for one, am happy to embrace my sewing machine and celebrate its own National Holiday. I think I’ll go finish my dress. Watch out, produce. Here I come.


It’s National Iced Tea Day

I recently printed off a list of “obscure holidays” and have decided that I’m going to write about whatever is being celebrated on that particular day and how it applies to my life. I believe you’ll be thoroughly entertained. I’m not sure how, but I’m willing to guarantee it.

So, the only Obscure Holiday that I paid attention to in the past was September 19, which is National Speak Like a Pirate Day. There’s something about pirate speak that intrigues me. I think we’d be happier as a Nation if we’d let go of current obscenities and latch on to the pirate vernacular. Road rage would actually be welcomed if we could shout out “Ahoy, Scallywag! Ye’ll meet the rope’s end for that, me bucko!” instead of the more common string of expletives worthy of a Jerry Springer show.

But I digress.

It’s National Iced Tea Day. I don’t drink a lot of iced tea. In fact, hardly ever. This could be a problem seeing that I am officially a Southern Girl (born in North Carolina to a Southern Belle mama). OK, truth be told, we moved to Ohio before I turned two. That’s my Yankee Father’s fault (and he moved us near LANCASTER of all places, birthplace of that dreaded scoundrel William T. Sherman). However, it’s only proper for a Southern Girl to say “Yes, ma’am”, “No, sir”, and “Could I get some sweet tea, please?”. Heck. I’m sure if I’d lived back in the Civil War era I’d have offered General Sherman himself a glass of iced sweet tea. But, of course, I would have had to dump it over his head instead of serving it to him. I use this excuse as my reason for failing in the food service industry today. Oh, OK, I’m just not a good waitress.

Remember that Chevy commercial from the 70’s? Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet. (C’mon, you KNOW you’re singing it!) Apparently, these are the basics of “What’s American”.  If the War of Northern Aggression would have had a different outcome, this commercial would have undoubtedly listed sweet tea as what’s truly American. Since things have turned out differently, the only respect Iced Tea gets now is having its own obscure holiday. I’m NOT promoting a different outcome of the Civil War. I’m just sayin’. Iced Tea got the shaft.

Today I challenge you to find a way to celebrate Iced Tea. If you’re an Ohioan I know Skyline Chili serves some SWEET sweet tea. And tonight just happens to be Family Night – kiddos eat for free! Oh, how I miss Skyline. Anyway, I’m off to brew some tea and put at least a cup of sugar in it. And all that sugar makes it truly American.

More tomorrow 🙂

Today is my favorite day!

Why? Because I’m finally starting a blog? No. Because I pulled my butt out of bed earlier than noon? No. Today is my favorite day because it’s the anniversary of hearing those incredible words: BEN SHOWS NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE. Yes. Four years ago today we received the official results that Ben, a world renowned Dragon Slayer, had slain the beast named Neuroblastoma. My hero.

How will we be celebrating this event? Well, Ben will be celebrating at Camp Wapiyapi. We dropped him off on Sunday and will be picking him up on Friday. I am going to do everything in my power to NOT call the camp today to check in on him. Last year I called every day. Crying. Sobbing. Not once did I speak directly to Ben but the nurses consoled me daily. “He’s fine, Mrs. Brewer. Don’t worry about a thing. He’s having a great time.”  It helped. A little. And then when I went to pick him up at the end of the week I was shaking with excitement. When I caught that first glimpse of him hanging out with friends my heart leapt in my chest. Oh! He’s going to be so excited to see me! I thought to myself. Nope. He didn’t say “Hi, Mom!” with great enthusiasm. He didn’t jump into my arms. His response was “Is it over already?”. He was clearly bummed. And my heart flip-flopped because I understood how awesome this experience had been for him. He’d had a blast and he didn’t want to come home. Bittersweet that he didn’t miss me? Sure. But I would get over it.

This year I haven’t called. I know he’s having a great time. And I’ll be celebrating today in my heart because it doesn’t mean that much to Ben — at least in his little seven-year-old world. He’s got other things to think about. And I’m desperate for him to think about THOSE things as opposed to IV’s and needles and scans and chemo and blood transfusions and fevers and all that other crap that dominated his life for too long. He’s doing a great job of letting it go. Maybe someday I will, too.

So, I’m giving you an assignment. Go celebrate your life! Here are some suggestions: Skip work. Eat an entire bag of potato chips. Call an old friend. Tell someone what they mean to you. Do SOMETHING that states you’re glad to be alive! Do it in Ben’s honor. Do it for all the little friends we’ve lost along the way. Appreciate what you have. Celebrate who you are. Be thankful for your life.

More tomorrow. 🙂

My Dragon Slayer