Preparing for the storm

I love snowstorms…as long as I get to stay in a warm house with fresh food and maybe even a fire in the fireplace. I especially love the change in routine and the change in the air.

The changes begin a few days before and include stockpiling food. I needed to as well: Not only did we need snowstorm supplies like milk for hot chocolate and snacks for cozy movie times, I had just finished a chemo week so our supply of fresh food was low to non-existent. There was no way to avoid the packed parking lot and crowded shopping conditions.

I mentally prepared to circle the parking lot but, on my first pass, I was thrilled to score rock star parking close to the door.

Entering the store, I found – no carts. Hmmm. Well, this time I actually remembered to bring my reusable bags, so I decided that, given my close parking space, I could shop by filling my bags with what I could carry, paying for those items, dropping those bags off in my nearby car, and then returning to the store to repeat the process until I got everything I needed.

I had one bag filled and was working on bag #2 when I came across an empty cart with no apparent owner! I happily snagged that and slowly navigated the crowded aisles to finish the rest of my shopping.

My last stop was the deli counter. They didn’t have an number system, so I made a mental note of everyone who arrived ahead of me so that I didn’t miss my turn. Then, while I waited, I eyed the prepared foods. A nearby man was placing his order for slices of cooked beef.

“Not too rare,” he cheerily told the person behind the counter.

Normally, the conversation would end there, but he continued.

“My grandmother cooked it well-done, so I like it that way.” Clearly, he was not from around here. People generally aren’t chatty and even less likely to share personal information with strangers. It reminded me of Pittsburgh.

“It’s my midwestern roots,” he added.

He’s got to be from Pittsburgh, I thought. It is the only place I know where people talk with everyone about anything. But then, there could be other places…

The Pittsburgher in me couldn’t resist, so in my most friendly Pittsburgh-tone-of-voice I asked, “Where in the Midwest are you from?”

Smiling and slightly apologetic, he responded, “Well, not really the Midwest.”

I got excited – I knew it was coming.

“I’m from Pittsburgh.”

I almost jumped on him. “Nuh uh! I’m from Pittsburgh too!”

So as I waited for my turn and then placed my order, we shared stories of growing up in Pittsburgh and laughed about adjusting to New England culture. We remembered knowing and talking with everyone in our neighborhood. We thought nothing of dropping unannounced into friends’ homes and them into ours. Eventually, we hugged and went our separate ways.

Later, as I stood in the slow, long line to check out, I heard a voice behind me say, “I’m going to get in line behind my new friend!”

Happy to see him, I noticed that his cart held far fewer items than mine. So I pointed that out and said, “Do you want to go ahead of me?”

He brightened even more. “Really? That is such a Pittsburgh thing to do! If you are serious, I would love it, because I have a concert to go to and I don’t want to be late.”

“I’m singing in it,” he added.

Again I noticed the “more information than usual” but it was cool to have context. I realized that I wanted to ask a million questions, like “Really?” and “What kind of music do you sing?” and “Where is the concert?” I’m sure he would have been unfazed but my social radar causes me to automatically censor myself so as not to annoy everyone around me.

He moved ahead of me in line and we finished our chat as he finished paying. I was thrilled to meet someone from Pittsburgh and get to connect to my own culture for a bit. Totally made my day. I love snowstorms.

I hope that, if you are facing a storm, you are able to see the resources around you. Even if they aren’t ideal, I hope that they can work for you in a way that enables you to get what you need. I hope that you can find a friendly face along the way and feel amazingly uplifted. And when the storm does arrive, I hope that you are able to settle in a warm and cozy place filled with good food and love.

Blessings always,

Anything is possible!

It’s been a week when I didn’t have to do chemo, and, physically, I felt relatively good. Emotionally, I felt slightly off-center, almost like I am a beat behind on everything. Things feel confusing much of the time. I become hesitant to speak and, when I do, I say the wrong thing.

In this space, I wonder why I am doing all this to keep going, and going where? Will things get better or is this what my life will forever be like in the best case? And if it will forever be like this, would I prefer that it is longer or shorter?

To consider that shorter is acceptable becomes a step down a slippery slope. Then, instead of looking at all the things I CAN do, I look at the things I can’t: I tire more easily; my brain doesn’t work so well; I can be more scattered than focused. Those thoughts impact how I feel, and the downward spiral continues.

Then, one day this week, I received messages from two friends. One shared that there were clearly spots on her mammogram, but when she went for her biopsy, no one could find the spots. The spots were there, on the study, and then they were gone. Wow.

Another friend was just “fired” by his oncologist, meaning that the cancer (stage 4 colorectal, which many would say is incurable) has been gone for so long that he doesn’t have to go back for checkups.

These stories remind me that anything is possible. These people aren’t distant strangers; they are friends. I am grateful to my friends for sharing their stories, and grateful to God and the universe that they were shared at the perfect time to get through to me. Thank you.

Please know in your core that, whatever you are aiming for, anything is possible!


The things we need

In the Italian tradition, I was named after my grandmother, Maria. Our bonds are too numerous to mention, but they include these: She was there when I was born on her half-birthday, and, on my birthday 37 years later, I was honored to be present with her as she passed away.

After that, my grandfather wore her wedding band on a chain around his neck. About ten years ago, I was scheduled to have a mastectomy. The week before my surgery, we were celebrating his birthday at his home in Pittsburgh. He was in his 90’s so none of us told him about my upcoming surgery. I lived 600 miles away and could easily go through it without him knowing and worrying.

But as we sat around the table, he looked at me, took the chain from around his neck, slid my grandmother’s ring off the end and handed it to me.

“You need this,” he said simply. Stunned, I accepted it.

A few years later, when my own wedding band became too tight on my finger, I started wearing hers. I liked knowing that she wore this ring as she kneaded dough, gardened, and washed the dishes – all things I remember. I like that it makes me feel that she is near.

I am not someone who wears big, flashy jewelry. I never wanted and I don’t have a big diamond engagement ring, or any engagement ring at all. The rocks I prefer look more like stones than gems and they decorate my tabletops and windowsills rather than my body.

But one day, routinely deleting the countless emails from vendors, a message from Tiffany’s caught my eye. It showed three rings. One had a huge, rectangular, orange-ish gem in a gold setting, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I tried to talk myself out of it: The band was gold and (other than my grandmother’s wedding band) I wear silver or platinum. I don’t like showy jewelry. I use my hands too much to take care of a fancy ring.

Weeks passed and my obsession continued. I wasn’t comfortable with being so strongly drawn to an object like this. I decided to find out the price of the ring. Surely it would be overpriced, I thought, so I could then decide it was too expensive or unreasonable, and the desire would leave me alone.

I couldn’t find the ring on the website, and I suddenly felt panicky that they may no longer carry it. I called the store. The woman gave me the price – it was surprisingly within the range of what I would consider. She gave me the sku number – I was sure that I wouldn’t buy the ring but I wrote it down anyway so that I could find it more easily on the website and look at it when I wanted to.

My obsession did not abate, so I decided to see if the local store had it. Maybe if I looked at it, it wouldn’t live up to the hype in my mind and I would no longer want it. Calling one of the two Boston locations, I learned that Tiffany had only one of these rings left, and it was in the Boston Copley Place store. But I was busy and there was no way to see it soon.

The day before Thanksgiving brought crappy weather and we were doing nothing in particular. Again, the ring occupied my thoughts. I finally decided that I would see if it was still in the store. I drove with one of my sons into Boston to find that one ring and look at it.

The ring wasn’t in the case and it took awhile for the salesperson to find it. In the meantime, she kept showing me other rings. Pretty, sure, but nothing that I would want.

When she finally found the ring, it was like angels were singing. I tried it on my right hand – it fit perfectly. I tried it on my left hand – it went well with my grandmother’s wedding band.

I texted my husband. “Get it,” he said. “Now.” (It’s possible that he, too, was just tired of my obsessing.)

We decided that he should give it to me for Christmas, and I was as excited as a little kid waiting for Santa. I couldn’t wait to wear it.

On Christmas morning at my parents’ house, I quietly opened the tiny blue Tiffany box and was wearing it as we worked in the kitchen later that day.

“Is that a citrine stone?” my sister asked.

“How did you know that?” I was surprised.

“It’s Nonna’s birthstone,” she said. “Is that why you got it?”

No, I thought. But now I know why I needed it.