Safe as houses

Here’s something you may not know about me. I love a really good storm. The kind that wakes you up out of a deep sleep and practically rolls you right off the bed. I was laying in bed the other night, listening to an especially scary one, my eyes tightly shut, yet unable to block out the phosphorescent lightning strikes. The short-lived suspense of the massive BOOM! is the best part of course.

We learn when we are young that a storm is nearing you if the time between the lightning strikes and the huge noise becomes closer together and that it is receding when they get further apart. It gave my heart a little thrill, to know that all this was happening just outside my window. There was I, tucked in my bed, safe as houses, being secretly titillated. Just scary enough to keep me wondering when the next one would be, but not enough to send me running out to the living room as I would have as a child. Safe as houses.

There’s an expression you don’t hear all that often and one that, as just now, I have long used incorrectly. I’ll come back to that, if it’s okay.

I am sure that like me, you have been following the series of horrendous events that have been occurring in faraway places, yet simultaneously right in our living rooms. I keep thinking about about all the frightened families, the young children and babies who cannot possibly comprehend what is happening in their little worlds. I wonder what goes through their innocent minds. Was there any warning at all or were they maybe just sitting down to an evening meal and trying to recall if the weather had forecast a storm?

A few days ago, I read that it was estimated that a child was dying on average about once each hour since the onset. I’m sure that statistic has changed by now, but to tell you the truth, for better or worse, it’s not one that I care to track. Each of those deaths is one too many.

Before you think I’m going to turn political on you, let me assure that any real knowledge I may possess of world events is an embarassment and something I plan to work on. So, at least for now, I have no idea who is to “blame” and I don’t feel it’s my place to pass judgment. What does continue to assault my heart and my brain is that while I was enjoying my thunder storm the other night, at that very same time, others were listening to a similar din of their world falling apart. Alike, yet it couldn’t be more different. Theirs, not an expression of Mother Nature’s amazing powers, but an
unfolding expression of hatred so strong, that it can rain down blows on neighbourhoods and reduce everything to rubble in mere moments. It’s an intolerance so vicious that it can pluck an airplane out of the sky and attempt to obliterate 279 souls. Were the children in bed when it was happening? Were they watching a movie on that plane? Were they running to find the comfort of a parent; safe as houses in the harbour of loving arms?  I pray that I am right, and that as time will prove, those souls and the hundreds and thousands of other dead or maimed have not been erased from our hearts.

The images that have come unwanted, unwelcome into my home haunt me. Yes, I could turn the TV off, and ignorance being bliss, I can just go along my merry way. However, channel surfing can’t change the fact, that our world neighbours have the right to be seen and heard. Don’t erase the pictures of people devastated by loss too profound for most of us to even imagine. Express your opinions, impose your sanctions; that’s the beauty of living in a free world, but let’s find a way to work together to stop killing our future.  The best I can do is blog about it in the comfort of my room on my freshly purchased laptop. Who is going to go out and get these children new parents? Who is going to fill the arms that ache to hold that loved one, just one more time? Who decided that I get to sit down to dinner with my children this weekend while those families attend funerals?

I’ve been struggling with my own inner demons, trying to make sense of my own uncertain situation. Am I going to die? Well, certainly we all are. The real question in my mind though, is if God were to grant me my wish and give me more time, what would I do with it? Would I make a meaningful contribution or would I continue to observe my own personal status quo? I’d like to think that given a chance, I would try to do more. I won’t kid you – I am the last person you would ever find at a refugee camp, handing out supplies and caring for sick people. I wish I could be that person, but I know that I don’t have the kind of resilience it takes to adequately deal with others’ pain and suffering. So for this day, I blog about it. More blah, blah, but it’s all I’ve got in me right now.

Years ago, I read a book by Marina Nemat called Prisoner of Tehran. One of the most compelling parts of her story, to me anyway, was how  her world completely changed over the space of a normal teenage weekend. She went away to the country with her parents for what should have been a pretty homespun getaway and came home to find armed tanks lining her street. I have gone to listen to her speak about this, and of this, she is very certain. If it can happen in her cultured, progressive Iran, well, then it can happen anywhere. Is our guard down?  Canadians, we’re so polite. Will we come home
one day from a trip to the supermarket and find someone in our home telling us we must leave, we don’t belong here anymore?  Listen carefully, I think there may be a storm approaching.

Anyway, “Safe as Houses“.  What does it really mean? The link will explain, but  in a nutshell, it doesn’t mean that your home is your castle, it doesn’t mean that you are any safer there from harm than anywhere else, though one would like to think so. It just means that the word safe is being used to mean sure or likely, but not secure. I’ve read this expression many times, without really taking the time to find out what it really means. I will try not to use it incorrectly again.


I’m Every Woman


Bea Arthur

I always thought that as I grew older, my taste would become more discriminating. When I was younger, I pictured myself at this age, dressed elegantly day and night, in long flowing silk caftans, with my hair always done and my makeup just so. I suppose I watched a little too much Maude.
Don’t get me wrong, I do like to dress nice, but I’m just not willing to pay Holt Renfrew prices.

Before I continue, I need to introduce you to another valuable member of my crew here at Virtiginy. You’ve seen her hanging around, shall I call it my Mast Head? Maybe that’s a little too grand. Let’s just call it a mast head without the fancy capital letters. She’s the little flaxen-haired thing who always looks just a little overwhelmed by things. Her name is Virtignia or sometimes I call her Virtidge.


Ah! Here she is now.

Just so there’s no wondering about it, the name is pronounced Virtidgnia. Don’t you hate it when you’re three quarters of the way through a book and you’re still tyring to decide how to pronounce a main character’s name? Stuff like that sometimes makes me want to dig in my heels and draw a line. I will refuse to watch the Harry Potter movies, because then I might finally figure out if that little witch’s name is Hermyonee or Hermeeown, or is it even something else?  Let me just say that I started a new book while I was right smack in the middle of Half-Blood Prince, but I think for the general good of this whole blog, I will finish it, the last tome and maybe finally get over myself for having read the whole series at my great age.


The new book is called All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, in case you’re interested. It’s relatively short and I’m enjoying it so far.

Anyway, back to Virtignia. She may look discombobulated and somewhat befuddled but when Roaman Carcinoma isn’t all up in her face, she can be quite the little go getter. Recently, Vertidge and my friend Paulette got up a shopping trip together and of course, they asked me along. What an eye-opener. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve never been to a thrift shop before, nor will I try to have you believe that I’ve never been to a yard sale, because you may have seen some of my clothes. Heck, you may have owned some of my clothes. Seriously though, my previous visits were mainly saved for around Halloween time, so the kids could get their costumes. I always thought that the idea was to get real clothes and fix them up so that they looked creepy or funny but it seems the thoroughly modern thrift stores bring in brand new costumes, never been worn, still in the plastic ferheavensake!

Somehow I knew going it that this trip would be different. I decided to go deep, deep undercover at the Value Village. And why wouldn’t I, when they have all the name brands at a fraction of the cost?

The first thing I noticed was the rows and rows of clothing. Better, make a plan. Plan A; stop looking at stuff that’s not in your size. Just because you like it, doesn’t mean it’s going to shrink or stretch itself to fit you. Plan 2; am I looking for anything in particular? No, to heck with plan 2, no fun. Plan 3; fritter through the aisles picking things up willy nilly remembering that 10 years ago a size 8 fit more like today’s 4, so effectively, you throw out Plan A and just shop freely. So, after much looking and careful examination to find the flaws in my carefully selected items(there have to be flaws) I came home with two white tops and a designer dress. Okay, one of the tops had a tiny little stain on it, which didn’t come off in the wash as I assured Franco it would and the dress was seriously out of date. This is where the fun part comes in. Because the dress length was mid-calf, I thought that shortening it would be the update it needed. I spent an entire afternoon, pinning, unpinning, repinning, marking, ironing and then finally hand sewing a new hem. And there it was, a perfect new dress for only $12! Did I mention that I don’t sew very often? It’s a little bit too big and I completely ignored the fact that I don’t have the right body shape to wear horizontal patterns, but…$12! I wore it to a funeral the very next day. My very own, almost, creation from V.V.’s. That’s what my sister calls the store.

VV dress

I look like a box.

I can see why people get bitten by the thrift store bug. You go in and the possibilities are everywhere. Everything looks too good not to buy. While I was there, I was thinking that when one of my daughters gets married I could probably find something suitable among the racks. I’m not so foolish that I think it could all be from the same dress; but you take the sleeves from one, the bodice from another and the skirt from still another and you’ve got yourself a one-of-a-kind dress.


What was she thinking when she paired that dress with those shoes????

Here’s the scary part. Once you’ve spent sufficient time and energy working on something, no matter how it ends up looking, you actually think it looks amazing. Nobody will notice that the seams aren’t even. Even if you find a really close match in colour, the pieces will never match exactly, so better to just go with a different colour altogether. Red sleeves on a lilac dress. What a statement that would make! My daughters are always so supportive of my creative endeavours, I know that they would be thrilled if I added a bit of pizzazz and skipped the predictable array of mother-of-the-bride gowns.

When the wedding pictures are developed, people will certainly ask, “Which of these ladies is your mother?” And Julie or Jessica will proudly answer, “Oh you can see her head peeking over the shoulders of those two groomsmen. And you see this shoe here behind the big potted palm? That’s her! Oh you remember her now! Yes, that was a very unique dress…”

I missed the 50% off sale for card holders last Sunday because I was too sick to go. Stupid cancer! It takes all the fun out of things. I had my eye on a Jones New York dress that looked just like a lab coat, but in linen. I was going to shorten it, since I know I’m capable of that now. I’m sure some other lucky person snapped up that little gem.


Where’s my butt?

My derriere seems to have gone on walk about and I’m not even sure exactly when it left. Just so you know, I’m not asking any of you if you have anything to do with the disappearance of my butt. I’m pretty sure all you nice folks know exactly where your butts are and in the usual course of things, so do I! In fact, not so long ago, in these very blog pages, I was complaining that my ass may have been taking up a little too much prominence on the overall landscape of my body.

I began to suspect that something might be amiss a couple of weeks ago. I was sitting outside on my favourite lawn chair, doing a crossword puzzle, when I noticed that I could feel the mesh from the chair right through my clothes. Normally, there should be a cushy layer there that keeps everything comfy, cosy, but not so this time. I added a little pillow, the problem was solved and I didn’t give it much further thought.
But it does give one pause as to how this can happen. Do you sit down in a chair one day and then get up and leave it…er…behind? Perhaps I’ve been sitting on it too much and it just decided to give in to the pressure. Can’t blame it for that.

Like most people my age, I can get dressed and undressed in the dark and be pretty much oblivious to any mirrors that I’ve grown so used to having that I don’t even notice what’s in them anymore. However, while visiting at my brother’s house I was accosted by a full-length mirror in the guest room and that’s when the big truth hit home. I looked once, adjusted positions, turned around again, but there it was…gone! From the bottom of my shoulder blades to the tops of my calves, I could find no protuberance, no distention, no curve worth mentioning. Where did it go? Is there some kind of virass going around that we haven’t been warned about?

I started thinking about what I’ve been eating, and it’s true that my appetite hasn’t been as it was prior to the advent of Roaman Carcinoma. You remember him don’t you? He’s my new BFF who likes to trail around my body and leave behind little reminders. It’s also true that I have not been depriving myself of any of my favourites. This usually makes for a happy bum. No more “bran” muffins for me. Bring on the full-fat, lard-laden cranberry/blueberry calorie explosions please and then top it all off with a peanut butter cookie.

It wouldn’t be so bad, except that Franco professes to like this part of my anatomy. Seems to me I had to fight with him from putting something about chasing it ‘til death do us part in the wedding vows. Honestly, these Spanish guys, you know?
I’ve been trying to keep the ugly truth from him, but I think he’s starting to wonder why I always seem to be walking towards him and never away. At some point, he’s going to run up from behind me and grab a couple of fistfuls of air. The back pockets of my jeans are gaping ever so slightly and don’t think stuffing them with tissue will help. Had I been given the choice I would have parted (happily) with my tummy and kept the junk in the trunk.
I know, you probably think I’m an arse, an arse, a narcissist (darn stutter), but you kind of get used to where things are and how they fit. I’m getting older, set in my ways. So I’ve decided to launch a campaign to find myself and if you think you can help, well I will be sitting over here at my house perusing cheek implant magazines.


Of course this isn’t a picture of my own butt, however, if this one decides to claim me I’ll try to be a gracious host and I’m sure Franco will do the same.

Just thought I’d let you know that I’m also able to finally cut back on the steroids that I’ve been taking to keep Roaman on a leash and hoping that my moon face will convert to normal again. This makes me wonder. Do you suppose that my round butt has migrated to my moon…AAAAARGH!?!

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

OH NO !!!
My chest


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Home Sweet Home

After a week of trying to work exclusively with an iPod, the keyboard on my desktop seems humongous and unwieldy. All the letters are SO BIG. I had thought to attempt a blog post from the hospital, but I probably would have ended pulling out my already thinning hair.

I hadn’t expected to be in hospital when I showed up for a follow-up appointment with my oncologist, but she really wanted to get to work good and fast on the mass that had been found on my bone, so I was all for it. This particular mass required radiation therapy as opposed to the chemo which I hate so much. In my case, the radiation was much easier to deal with. Because it wasn’t affecting any surface tissues, there was no pain – at least not in the five days I had it – and all it left me with was a rather pleasant feeling of being relaxed and tired. It was like being in St. Michael’s Spa. The staff there is second to none; everyone who works there is committed to the wellbeing of their patients and you can just feel it like a vibe in the air. I can’t thank them enough for making me feel so much better. Couple that with my family and friends, and I found myself completely surrounded by a cushion of hope despite everything else. It makes me so proud to know that my husband is so well-liked and respected at the hospitals we go to. His caring and concern is palpable; other caregivers respond well to this and I am always the ultimate beneficiary.

Don’t let me mislead you. I received some awfully bad news while there – the worst possible I think. The cancer is in the bone and will shorten my life. By how much? I have no way of knowing that exactly, but the important thing is to make every day, week, month, year and yes maybe decade meaningful.

In among the bad news, was the good news that my chemo has been hard at work shrinking the tumours in my liver and a full body bone scan detected no other little masses of cancer on any other bones. With this news, I wanted to hurry along and continue with my chemo, but my doctor said that I must allow a couple of weeks for the radiation to flush from my system. Since the decision is out of my hands, I will just have to enjoy it!!

Have you ever noticed that when you’re talking to health care professionals, conversations take on a twist of their own? Nurses and doctors do want to know how you are feeling today, but they want to know it in very minute and often embarrassing detail. They really don’t care if your daughter’s boyfriend is sitting there. Being that I like to be a little silly, I do try to play the game and hopefully get a giggle or two. However, I should apoloize to the nurses I subject to this.

Nurse: Hi, Mrs. Rico. Did you evacuate today?
Me: Nobody told me there had been an emergency, so I just stayed here.
Nurse: No, did you evacuate your bladder?
Me: I was well outside my bladder, so I guess you could say “Yes?”
Nurse: I’m trying to find out if you peed!
Me: Yup
Nurse: Did your bowels move?
Me: I’m pretty sure they’re where they were the last time we checked, though I wish they would go away. They’re harbouring cancer you know.
Nurse: I’m trying to find out if you pooped!
Me: Have I introduced you to my daughter’s boyfriend yet?

You eventually get used to this sort of thing and try to pretend that no one else can hear you. Daughter’s boyfriend keeps offering to leave the room and I keep thinking the worst is over. Poor guy. Good think he’s such a love.

I was extremely lucky with my room for almost the whole week that I was there. I had a roommate admitted the first night, but she was from another floor and only stayed for a few hours and I ended up with a more or less private room for pretty much the entire time.

That is until the Portuguese family moved in. Yes, I realize there is only one bed, but it was definitely a family. The matriarch of the family appeared to be very ill and hence the rest of the family followed to make sure she had everything she could possibly want or need. They spoke very little English but the dad had a few words. At first I thought it was just Mom and Dad and they settled in at about 7:30 pm. I had the bed by the window, and they had closed their curtains for privacy, but when I walked by to go the washroom, I noticed that Papa had nothing to look at except the inside of his curtain. I felt sorry for him, so I offered to give up my own privacy by opening the curtain and sharing my window with him. It turns out he had no interest in sharing my window but what he really wanted was for me to turn out the one little light I kept on for reading and sit in the dark so that his wife could sleep. “Are you going to read ALL night?” he asked. By this time it’s 7:45 pm and I know I have to try to stay awake until about 11:00 when they bring my nighttime meds. I answer that no, I will not keep the lights on ALL night, but my tone lets escape the fact that HE might find it a tad late. I berate myself for once again opening my big mouth to try to do something nice and get bonked for my troubles.

I wanted to phone Franco to complain and have someone to commiserate with, but I knew that Mr. Portuguese spoke enough English to understand me and that if I tried speaking in Spanish to Franco, he was for sure going to get every word. So, I resorted to e-mailing Franco and my daughter Julie who had just left moments before. Franco eventually got the drift and told me to ignore him and Julie got insulted on my behalf. Thank you! That was the reaction I was going for. Now I felt vindicated and I was able to get myself into a proper little snit.

You may know from your own experience, that when you have people all around you taking care of every little thing, you can suddenly find yourself with nothing to bitch about at all! Horrors! So when something like the question of an offensive light bulb comes along, it’s almost a God send! It can offer hours of fodder for much stewing and plotting. I’m not too proud to admit it. ‘How dare that little man? Who does he think he is anyway?’ Yadda-yadda-yadda…

Doctors and nurses eventually came in to check on the dear lady and asked their usual bodily function questions, but because they were already aware that English was a problem, they skipped directly to pipi and poo-poo, so it was relatively quick. Then at about 8:15 when I was deciding that perhaps I would try to be a  good neighbour and grab a little snooze, that the remaining fam-damily walked in. A couple of daughters, some spouses, a sister, maybe others. The curtains stayed closed so it was hard for me to see, though I did try to peak in between the gaps in the curtains. Don’t look at me like that; you would have done the same thing. They turned on all the lights, including mine AND they brought with them a big family homestyle dinner, complete with china and flatware. I’m pretty sure I saw some Limoges come out of special carrying bags and lots of plates of various (delicious) smelling foods. I could hear the sound of expensive silver ware and you can bet they weren’t using paper napkins. And so the revelry began. They didn’t offer me anything and I sulked by my window, reading my Harry Potter.

I had been given dinner earlier. A nice healthy piece of chicken with vegetables.

carrot dinner

Just look at that healthy carrot!

Now compare this to the feast that was occuring on the bed next to me. No, I didn’t really take a picture. That would have been rude.


However, this is definitely what it looked like in my hungry imagination.

I must confess that they were very nice, though not very communicative, so I digested my carrots and my Harry Potter in relative equanimity. Most of the family departed with the exception of Papa at about 10:15 at which time I decided to use the patient washroom which had been temporarily commandeered for washing up and getting Mama ready for bed. I noticed that said Mama was comfortably ensconced in her bed, but not so Papa. He looked a little wretched, crooked up in the rocking chair by her bed. I knew I had an extra pillow in my locker and was trying to decide what to do. “If I offer him this pillow for his comfort, what will he want from me in return?” I risked it anyway and he told me had a pillow for later and just said thank you and good night. Nice man!!

Believe it or not, it was hard for me to leave the hospital. In just a little over a week, I had already come to think of it as my safe haven. However, I’m back to my reality again and have peacefully slept three nights in my husband’s arms and it feels really amazing to be here.

I know I don’t tell you you often enough what a comfort it is to have you with me on this scary journey, but thank you for letting me share my feelings and communicating yours back to me. I feel you every step of the way and take courage from your beautiful words and prayers.



Thank you Diane for the visit, conversation, beautiful flowers and the yummy white!! Thank you for being you!

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For Franco: