Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My brother, the ball of yarn

So I turned in my Chinese homework today and remember that I was worried I would call my brother a monkey's uncle? It wasn't quite that bad but I did end up calling him a ball of yarn. Turns out that's what the Chinese characters that I wrote for mao quan meant.

I also messed up my father-in-law's name (and thus Len's name). What I wrote described something tiny and cute (neither my father-in-law nor my husband fit that description).

What I thought was interesting is that Lin is also the same character(s) that are found in his mother's name, Evelyn (Yi fu lin), with lin meaning forest. So although he was named after his father, in the land of Chinese characters, he shares part of his moniker with his mother.

There were a few other mistakes but those two were the most glaring. Still, a ball of yarn is better than a monkey's uncle, right?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A sense of purpose

Now that the girls are in school and my cancer research/care is relegated to 6 month checkups, I've had to find some way to get back to Lisa. I've had quite a few life-changing events in the span of 5 years (quit job, move to another part of country, birth of child, adoption of child, cancer diagnosis) and I've lost sight of what feeds my soul. I am happiest when my brain hurts at the end of the day...and not because I've been trying to stay ahead of 2 almost four-year-olds but because I've tasked it with learning something hard but enjoyable. Design and art classes used to do that for me. Since I'm not planning to return to full-time design work yet, I needed something to fill that void.

At first, I felt like I should take Chinese language lessons because my girls were in a Chinese immersion school. The thought of dealing with two teenage girls who speak a completely different language scared me into overcoming my fears and I signed up for one month of lessons. It took me about 3-4 lessons, right about the time when my instructor introduced me to the Chinese characters, before I started really enjoying and looking forward to class. Learning Chinese not only fulfills the need I have to work my brain but it is now filling the artistic void I've felt since quitting my job and my art classes. Chinese characters are beautiful and must be written in a certain order. It's not enough just to know the symbols but the strokes themselves are written in a certain order and alignment.

When I signed up for class I honestly thought I only wanted to learn how to speak and understand Chinese. The thought of learning the characters was just not even in my realm of possibility. By no means do I understand most of what I see unless I have my notes in front of me but I am starting to at least recognize them and know that I've seen them before. It's a start!

This weekend I was tasked with writing a short autobiography, first in English, then in pinyin and finally in characters. As you can see, I still need a lot of work on my characters to have them all in alignment and pretty.
 I left out number 6 because it was my phone number. Don't need that posted on here.

I confess that I had to use g**gle translate for the names as we did not cover most of them in class. I'm hoping they are correct and I haven't mistakenly called my brother, Terry, a monkey's uncle.

Studying and writing Chinese is one of those activities where time seems irrelevant. I spent a couple of hours in a coffee shop today working on my homework and was amazed when my time was up. It flew by. Now if only exercising my body for two hours felt as good as exercising my brain!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Seeing is believing

Although I received the news from my oncologist last week, I've hesitated to formally write about it until I had the scans and complete report in my hot little hands. I need visual confirmation for most things...my ability to have faith is still a work in progress.

The news was good. It has been almost one year since I finished radiation treatment and it was expected that my tumor would start to show some improvement around this time. Fortunately, back in May at the 6 month post-radiation mark, my tumor already showed signs of shrinkage. And it is still continuing to shrink!

Here is the report:
MRI with and without intravenous contrast, 11/14/13. There has been further decrease in the size of the heterogeneously enhancing multiobulated infiltrating soft tissue lesion involving the left obturator internus muscle and adjoining pelvic soft tissues. The lesion currently measures about 11.5cm x 7.3cm x 11.2cm, having decreased from 12.8cm x 8.0cm x 11.5cm in size on 5/21/13. The mass effect upon the bladder, vagina, and the uterus has also decreased over the interval. The left perineal fat is preserved. No suspicious osseous lesion is identified. No pathologically enlarged lymphadenopathy by size criteria is present.

Here is the best slide that I could find. The arrow is pointing to the tumor that had started to extend to my gluteus muscle a year ago last summer.
And here is the scan from May 2013. It is quite obvious how small the tumor has gotten. The measurement on this slide indicated the main portion of the tumor and it is quite a bit larger than the mass show above.
I don't think I fully realized the impact of waiting for the one year anniversary was having on me until it was over. My body was positively vibrating with stress for the past several weeks in anticipation of what the MRI would show. When Dr. Zagars walked in smiling and practically gleeful, I could feel the stress starting to lift. He said he loves this part of the job as it isn't always the case that he gets to deliver such good news. With that I was released until next May...he still wants to monitor me every 6 months just to be sure it is still headed in the right direction.

Whew. I feel SO MUCH BETTER.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lisa is amazing!

This is a guest post from Len.

Since Lisa was in Houston for a few days last week and Miss Julie was on vacation, I got a healthy dose of single parenthood.

All I can say is...wow.

I have a renewed and deepened respect for everything that Lisa does day in and day out. It was exhausting. And I made sure I told her how much I appreciate what she does with the girls every day. I don't think she had even fully closed the door to the car before I said something...right before I asked her to spell me when we got home so I could take a nap.

Here's a sample of the greatest hits.

On Wednesday, Lisa's cab arrived at 6:45 am, so I got the girls dressed and into the car for the ride to school. Let me just back up for a moment to point out that four year old girls tend to pick out outfits that even a guy can tell should not go together. And it's a lose-lose for the guy anyway. If I let them wear what they want, people will look at them and judge me. But if they leave the house with me and they look nice, people will assume that someone else dressed them.  So...whatever....

I dropped them at school, drove into the Loop and parked a few blocks from work (because it's half as much as in my building). Spent the morning in the office, ate lunch there and then back in the car to pick the girls up from school. Super productive mornings those were!

On Wednesday after school, we stopped at Target, had snacks and picked up a cart load of items for the house. And on Thursday after school, we went back to Target because it was too windy to have a picnic in the park near the school and because their parent-teacher conferences were scheduled for that afternoon.

They both fell asleep in the car on the way home on both days. So that involves a 40 mph ride up Lake Shore Drive toward our house to ensure they are really asleep and then an hour or more parked at the lakefront while they sleep. Luckily, the girls were sleeping, so they didn't notice the guys cruising me as they drove past verrrrry slooooowly or the cops slowing to see what suspicious activities were going on in my car. For the record, I was reading emails, surfing the web, playing Brickbreaker and listening to actual adult music (volume level 2).

We had to rush home on Wednesday, because some people were coming to buy our nursery chair and ottoman. The lovely couple who bought the items, Carlos & Elizabeth, are expecting their first child in a few weeks. They were overwhelmed by Kate & Lucy who showed them the chair, told them how much we enjoyed it and even suggested that Elizabeth sit in it before buying it. Then, while Carlos and I carried the chair downstairs, Elizabeth was treated to a medley of the girls' favorite Chinese songs, along with a running narrative of life in preschool. By the time we got back upstairs, the poor woman had that pasted-on smile that people get when they're either posing for the 156th photo at the wedding or when they're trying to be polite despite being so mentally exhausted that words escape them.

By then it was time for dinner. I had picked out a nice looking crusted cod from Costco, but Kate took the first bite, spit it out and said "IT'S TOO SWEET." Damn you sweet potato coating! This from the child who wanted to have candy as a treat after supper.

I don't know about you, but I am already exhausted just telling that little bit of the story. And that snippet doesn't even get us through Wednesday night, much less through Thursday and all day Friday when the girls were off of school.

Welcome to Lisa's reality on every weekday. It wore me slap out. And I didn't even have to fit in Mandarin lessons or errands or medical appointments or naps into my time with the girls, like Lisa does every week.

Have I mentioned how incredible Lisa is? Have I mentioned how much I am awed by what she does for our family? Have I mentioned zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Love Letter, Month 46

Dear Kate,

You are 46 months old today.
We started out your month at the circus which you L.O.V.E. loved! 
 You were captivated by every second of every performance.

Even to the point of volunteering for audience participation time. Alas, you were not picked but fortunately it did not diminish your enjoyment.
You have spent a good deal of time being sick this month. You had your first ear infection and it made you utterly miserable.
YiaYia and Pappou visited during part of your sick time which helped you rally for a bit.
We got dressed up to go trick-or-treating and at first you were pretty happy and excited.

That didn't last long, though, and we ended up coming home early so you could get some good YiaYia snuggles.
You spent most of your time plying her with books so she would read to you. You picked the right person for the job as she used to be Daddy's professor.
Did you know that? Waaaay back, long, long ago, Daddy was a student at UCF getting his Master's degree in English when he met YiaYia for the first time. 

The class was only a few weeks old when YiaYia was in a car accident and ended up in hospital for most of that semester. But YiaYia was such a good teacher that Daddy took another class with her after she recovered. We all stayed in touch after Mama & Daddy moved to Louisiana. Several years later, we moved to Washington, DC, and not long after that YiaYia moved there too with Pappou. 

We remained good friends and even traveled to Greece with them. As Mama & Daddy began trying to have children, YiaYia and Pappou were a great source of support and friendship to us. Soon after you were born, they came to visit and asked if they could be YiaYia and Pappou for you and later for Lucy too.

And that's how YiaYia and Pappou became such important people in all our lives. 

Teachers can become very important people in your life. Some of my favorite and most inspiring friends were once my teachers like Ms. Betty, your Aunt Kelly's mama, who we see every summer at the beach. I can already tell that you love your first teacher, Ms. Xiang. You talk about her all the time and you sit by her at circle time every chance you get.
You are learning so much. This month you counted to 29 in Chinese and I found out you know all the Chinese characters for numbers 1-10. I've lost track of how many words you know or how many songs you can sing all the way through but suffice to say, it boggles my mind how quickly you are learning another language.

We had our annual photo shoot this month and, as usual, you photograph quite well! 

We photographed at Winnemac Park where you love to play under the willow trees.

You still enjoy spinning, making yourself dizzy.
I'm so happy to have pictures from one of the first parks I ever took you to. We used to sit under the willow trees that first summer you were born. You practiced sitting and crawling on a blanket, nursing when you were hungry and napping when you were tired. It was a lovely time in our lives.

As usual, you said some funny and sweet things this month: 

I was scratching your back in the tub when you said, “This is why I don’t like to go to bed. You do such nice things for me and Lucy and I don’t want you to leave.”

I managed to catch your cold and have been coughing now for 2 weeks. On those days when I don't feel particularly well, you will give me a hug and say, "I'm sorry you don't feel well Mama."

Me (reading to you): “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jumped over the candlestick” 
You: "Why can’t he just walk around the candlestick?"
The biggest change we've had this month is moving to a shared bedroom again with Lucy. You both kept saying you wanted to share a room again so you could have a playroom and a place for Nana and Meme & Papa to stay when they visit. You both love your new beds.
You chose the bottom bunk but you climb up to Lucy's bed every day. Sometimes you two will play up there, other times you just like the novelty of a different view of the room. Your only complaint is that Lucy wakes you up when she climbs up and down for bathroom runs or when she wakes up before you. You were warned about that though so I don't have much sympathy. 

I love that you are now in a double bed so we can snuggle on those days when you want to rest and read. I used to hide under my covers with a book and a flashlight when I was little. I imagine that once you learn to read on your own, this bed will be one of your favorite places too. I'll buy you a flashlight. 



Monday, November 11, 2013


I've been awake for OVER 24 hours straight. I went to bed as usual but between my coughing fits (I caught Kate's cold) and restlessness, I gave up at 3am. Lucy came out at 3:30 for the bathroom and Kate followed at 4:30 and never went back to sleep. Both were up and out of their rooms by 5:15am.

I told them yesterday that I would be going back to Houston on Wednesday. My one year post-radiation MRI is on Thursday morning. I get the results on Friday. I went out with a couple of friends a few months ago and they asked me how I was feeling about having cancer that has no particular end in sight, just years of MRIs stretching before me. I really didn't know what to say. I think I've managed to "organize" my way out of feeling anything about it. As soon as I got the diagnosis I went into project manager mode and never looked back. I've yet to shed a tear.

And yet....

I have recurring insomnia. I've put on 10 lbs without changing my eating or activity level. My attention span and memory are minuscule. I'm irritable about things that never used to bother me. All of which could be chalked up to being post-menopausal (thank you again Mr. Radiation).

I told my therapist that I have been calling it Cancer Light. Because really, it doesn't have the same clout as say, breast cancer or lymphoma. It shouldn't kill me. So I don't feel I have the same right (perhaps) to complain or dwell on it. I feel like I should just move on. So that's what I've done.

How's that working out for me?

Not as well as I had hoped.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

This and That

November is gearing up to be the month of birthdays. We have already been to two parties and we have one every weekend right up until Lucy's on December 1. Welcome to preschool.

We went to Chinatown today for a late lunch and to pick up a workbook of Chinese character writing for me. In addition to speaking Chinese and learning pinyin, I'm also learning to read and write the characters. Interestingly, I discovered that Kate can read the characters for 1-10 today. We were in the store and I told them they could each pick out a book. She picked out a counting book and started saying the numbers in Chinese while pointing to the characters (there were no corresponding numerals that she could look at for comparison, it was all in Chinese characters).

While sorting laundry tonight, I cleaned out the girls' jacket pockets. This is what I found:
And finally, Fall is now almost officially over. There are still some leaves on the trees but most of them are here:
Our first measurable snow is forecast for tomorrow. I'm not ready for this and I don't think Kate is either. She keeps saying she wants to go live in Florida. Can't say I blame her.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Out like a light

Ms Julie picked up the girls from school on Wednesday...they didn't last long on the drive.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

*UPDATED: I didn't think this would be an issue for a few more years...

*Updated at bottom of post:

My little clown, Lucy, loves to make faces in the mirror. She deliberately rearranges her face to experiment with different expressions which is a great leap for her. She is only just now understanding how to read expressions and react appropriately to them. She still tries to "laugh and jolly" her way out of a situation where I am mad with her which, unfortunately for her, tends to make me madder. So it was good to see her trying out expressions.
Making faces from Lisa on Vimeo.

Sunday night, Kate started crying and saying she didn't want to go to school anymore. She has said this off and on over the past few weeks but this time was different. Her words came tumbling out:

"Nobody likes me. Nobody will play with me on the playground. They all play with Lucy, they like her but not me."

OMG my heart was in my throat. It was just so difficult to hear that. Lucy piped in that yes, the other kids do exclude her. When I asked if Lucy did too she said, "Sometimes I like to play by myself, not with Kate." I totally get that, I do. But that doesn't make it any easier to stomach. Kate thrives in the order of the classroom, especially if the teachers are working with her. Lucy, in contrast, shines on the playground where she can be more physical, running, chasing, climbing and being funny. Lucy is trying to have her moment in the sun, out from her sister's academic shadow. But my god, they are not even 4 yet!! I cannot believe I'm even talking about this!

So, with Kate's permission, we typed up an email to her teacher explaining how Kate feels and asking if she could meet with Ms. Xiang to work on a solution. Ms. Xiang wrote back and said she would be happy to. Kate was pretty unhappy on her way to school on Monday but was a changed child when I picked her up in the afternoon. She said she had spoken with Ms. Xiang and that they had worked out a plan to have her paired up more often and to do more group activities. She even told me that she wanted to stay in school instead of going home.

Later that afternoon, as Lucy napped, Kate and I were linking beads and I heard her counting in Mandarin. She repeated it for me on camera so we could share it. She loves learning.
Twenty Nine from Lisa on Vimeo.

She got stumped after 29 but I must say, I'm impressed that she can already count to 29. For the record, 30 is sān shí

*Update: So I heard back from her teacher and apparently Kate told her that it was only Lucy who was saying no to her. This falls in line with what has happened with our playgroup friends as well; Lucy asking other to only play with her, not Kate. So. Yeah. Not what a mother wants to hear. I have one daughter feeling excluded but not wanting to tell on her sister to me (a first I might add) and I have another daughter trying to forge an identity of her own, separate from her sister, but going about it all wrong.

Any suggestions out there from those of you with twins or siblings close in age that have experienced this? I need help in handling this one delicately.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Photo shoot 2013

We had our annual photo shoot last month. Our previous photographer moved to CA so she recommended Jaclyn Simpson who did a lovely job we think! We met her on a beautiful morning at Winnemac Park. Here are our favorite photos (settle in, there are a lot!).

It was a bit chilly at 8am but not so cold that we needed heavy coats thankfully.

I love the looks on their faces in this one!

 I think Lucy's feet are normally about 1-2 inches above the ground. She levitates a lot!

Kate practicing her co

I had to include one frowny face so it doesn't look like it's all sunshine and roses!

We played jump-rope with willow tree branches. The girls play under these trees every Sunday with their friends...the dad's soccer group we started oh-so-long ago.

This is a common look on Lucy's face..."I don't know!"

Love this moment with them...they were looking for a rock Lucy had dropped and Kate was comforting her as they looked for it.
Found it! Lucy is levitating again.

Had to include our signature upside down pose. I think we've done this every year except the first year we had Lucy.

We wrapped things up at the playground so they could burn off a bit more energy. Hard to believe they are exclusively in big kid swings now. Sigh.

Lucy loves to climb.
 And Kate loves to spin and get dizzy.

And that's a wrap!
With 96 pictures to choose from, it was hard to narrow it down! In case you are interested in seeing how the girls have grown, click here for the 2010 photos, click here for the 2011 photos and click here for the 2012 photos.


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