2 Parties and a Funeral: Happy Birthday/ RIP Ginny Kane

The plan seemed simple enough: to organize a birthday party for a hundred year-old woman at the farm that was started by her great-great grandparents and schedule it for August instead of September so more of the 100 invited guests can attend. What could possibly go wrong?

When we arrived at the farm on the Wednesday before Sunday’s party, Ginny was in good form. Good enough to be interviewed by the local Times Herald and toss out a few quotes. It was also Tara’s birthday and mom enjoyed the bbq chicken dinner and the decadent chocolate birthday cake. Little did we know that would be her last lucid day.

On Thursday she went into decline. She slept the whole afternoon, and didn’t eat, so we put her back in her bed. She was awake for a while that night and we spoke about the party. I pointed out, “two more sleeps to go, mom.” She was very excited about seeing her friends and family. It was then that I fed her two corners of her uneaten egg sandwich and a slight piece of the chocolate cake. She said the cake was delicious. It was the last thing she ate. Later, I was told that that cake could have asphyxiated her. Oh great.

Tara Soren mom

By the next day, Friday, it became clear she would never get out of that bed again. She was done with solid or even liquid food. According to the Hospice nurses and her caregivers, Ginny’s body was shutting down. 

At this point, our closest family and friends had begun to descend upon the farm. That night they all went to the Stone Lodge for dinner, except Billy and me and not just because of the constant abdominal pain I had brought with me. One of her kids had to be here. Just. In. Case.

On Saturday it became apparent that this birthday party would not go to plan. Our idea of sequestering her at a quiet corner of the house and allowing people to come and sit with her ten minutes at a time – that was nixed. Instead, her bedroom would hold court for her.

So I cleaned the room and brought in two extra chairs for guests to sit. The caregivers brought in the Layze-Boy so they could sleep next to her at night. And then, in the early evening, Juli arrived from Vienna and managed to stick her face in front of mom during a rare moment when her eyes were open. With that, Ginny knew all of her kids were finally there under one roof.

Sunday arrived and brought with it some gorgeous summer weather: sunny with puffy clouds, not too warm, not too windy. Just perfect.

Guests arrived on time and were greeted by Tara, who encouraged relatives to fill in the family tree we’d enlarged. Soon, we were escorting people into mom’s bedroom to say their hellos and good-byes, but only one person had the satisfaction of getting her to open her eyes.

Pumped with pain meds, I was able to mingle with our guests. And with mom safely out of hearing range, and with the number of cancer survivors in the crowd, I was able to speak freely about my cancer. Hearing their stories, I was surprised at how much this disease runs in our family, even among the youngest members.

Later on, it became all about mom. I was all over the place between the backyard, her room, the breezeway – where people waited to see her – and the kitchen where I sat slumped in a wicker chair trying to catch my breath. The caregivers were all there, as was their boss, Patricia. Not to work, but to party. But mom’s condition kept them more involved with her care than expected.

Then the hospice nurse arrived. She evaluated mom and helped make her comfortable, which is all you can do at this point. After keeping the party guests waiting a long time to see mom, the nurse called us, Ginnys kids, into the sunroom for a talk. 

The time is coming, she said. Maybe tonight, but definitely this week. She’s mentally checked out, her body is shutting down, and her secretions have worsened. These were the words I tried to focus on while fending off the sounds of children playing and men laughing outside the window behind me. The juxtaposition was killing me. To think: My mother’s birthday might end up being her death day.

Well, it wasn’t. Not that night nor Monday. Monday morning found me nauseous all day, unable to find my As Needed proscription meds. Now I know how much wretching will drive my nieces running screaming downstairs.

Bill reads

By Tuesday almost everyone had gone home and on that morning Bill read all of mom’s birthday cards and described her numerous gifts to her. Someone gave her a hundred dollar bill; one dollar for each year of her life!

We started telling mom she could move on now, that we’ll all be fine, that dad and Cynthia are waiting for her. Just go. We played her music, including Sinead O’Connor singing Danny Boy. We sat with her all day and finally later, as we took a meal break at the dining table, the caregiver Jane came from mom’s room and said, “I think the time is coming. Her breathing is really flat.”

We sat by her side and coaxed her to go, and to take these 50 Hail Marys with her, as well a few Our Fathers. With more music and more talking we watched her chest rise and fall against the sound of her hated secretions, and we waited – breathless ourselves – until finally we saw her chest rise no more. Her breath had stopped and her pulse was non-existent. Virginia Kane had left the house. 

This was the second parent I have watched die. Ginny went more a bit more peacefully than dad, who thrashed a little on his way out. You might expect to see or feel something as a person is transitioning, a surprise breeze from nowhere, a glowing light, a strong vibration. We got none of that from either Bob or Ginny. She just went peacefully and quietly as if she were on a magic carpet to heaven. 

The next morning I had a hard time getting up. The hard mattress was doing a number on my back and the abdominal pain was killing me. Plus, my mom was dead. I could hear my siblings and hubby talking downstairs but could not keep my eyes open long enough to participate in their conversations. Mom’s body had been taken that morning and her air mattress beckoned to me. I thought, here’s nothing wrong with sleeping on the bed your mother died on the night before, right? So I went into moms room and laid on her bed for many hours, alternating between REM and a light doze, staring out the windows of her room, the windows through which she heard happy birthday sung to her by her party guests. Mom is gone. Never coming back. Upside being, she died not knowing about my cancer. 

But then again, now that she exists on the spiritual plane, won’t she hear us talking about it? If she learned about it in the after life, would she be pissed that she wasn’t informed when she was alive? She could have been praying for me all this time! Or will she understand the reasons for my secrecy and promise to work with Saint Anthony to help me? I don’t know yet as she still hasn’t given me a sign.

Ginny did give us – Tara, Bill, Juli and me – a sign a few nights later, as we sat in the sunroom, working on our Thank You/ Funeral Announcement list and talking about our cousin Brian, who came to the party from Pennsylvania with his nieces Ashly and Shana. He had expressed how much he wanted to learn about his dad, my uncle, Norbert Watson. So, as we were talking about him, Tara walked back into the sunroom holding a handsome wooden box. Inside were stuffed at least a hundred air mail letters from Norb to my grandmother from the ritziest hotels around the world during the 50s. Norb loved boats and he worked with the merchant marines before attending Annapolis. He worked on ships and saw the world all before Brian and his sister Suzanne were even born! And just as we were talking about him, Tara happened to open the same upstairs closet she had opened the day before and this box suddenly jumped to the front of the shelf like an over-enthusiastic student screaming, “pick me!”

We like think mom had something to do with it.

The time leading to the funeral, a whole 10 days, were the slowest in my memory. Nothing to do, no one visiting us, we were bored and exhausted at the same time. So I focused on my pain. It had gotten so bad by the weekend, we actually drove over to Sarnia, Ontario, across the bridge from Port Huron, for some good ol’ fashioned Canadian heath care. Because we could. They gave me a CT Scan and determined the pain was either constipation backing up my system and moving my organs around. Either that or the tumors are growing fast. By then it had been 3 weeks since my last chemo treatment so that last possibility was scary. So I did everything I could to relieve the constipation, but it didn’t help. When I had another CT Scan in Vancouver, my oncologist admitted it: the tumors were growing.

Anyway back in Michigan, I could not make it to mom’s viewing, stuck in bed as I was that day. Next morning I was given til’ 10:30 to sleep before the 11am mass at St Mary’s. Tara dressed me and Bill propped me up as we made our way to the church. When I saw mom in her casket, I got pretty emotional, though I thought the undertaker’s had done a really good job. We didn’t process down the aisle with my family, having alread nabbed a front row pew already. As you know about a Catholic mass, its all up, down, up, down, and …kneel, but I got to sit for most of the service, cuz… ya know.

The bagpiper kept up the Irishness all the way back down the aisle and out the door as he followed the casket to the hearse. Bill and I slipped out to the Lincoln where I laid in the backseat and he parked near the exit. So when it was time to follow the hearse to the cemetery we were right behind mom all the way. 

mom grave

The graveside ceremony was lovely, but I cut out asap so I could get home and back into bed. I skipped the lunch at my brother’s golf club and slept until Bill, Tara, Brian and baby Soren came home. Little Soren did so well throughout the ceremonies.

julia bill bday

That Friday night of the funeral happened to fall on the birthdays of both Bill and my niece Julia. Just like eleven years ago when Dad’s funeral landed on Anne’s birthday. So of course there had to be a double party for them at Anne’s beachfront house, just north of the port of Sanilac. The couch facing the lake became all mine. Anne and Katherine ordered up splendid BBQ from a place on Hwy 25 and David brought Vivue Cliquot champagne. I knew I shouldn’t, but I just couldn’t resist a glass or two. Hey, if it feels medicinal it must be, right?

With incredible timing, our friends Maureen and Kevin from Sonoma County dropped in on our second to last day at the farm, on their cross-country drive to New York. They kindly gave us a ride to the airport on Tuesday and I was able to sleep on the bench in their step van. Tell ya, I was never so glad (never am) to leave Michigan. This time, I was yearning for my own perfect mattress and my pillows and our cats and our friends and all our stuff and maybe even a little street noise to remind me the world is alive. Just home.

Looking back, this trip was a “vacation” like none other. From sitting around yakking with my nuke family, to experiencing the rush of putting on a really great party, to being with mom at her big finale, to witnessing the grief among family and friends and hearing so many kind words about mom, to dealing with my own debilitation – it was a crazy mix of experiences and emotions and I’m still trying to sort it out.

Also, I don’t expect be traveling much more, though it is sure nice to get the wheelchair and pre-board service at the airport. Flying is just too hard.

This was long, but thanks for reading. Posting is very therapeutic for me.

Update: The hated pain has abated, weeks after returning home. I’ve started a new chemo program and I am now convinced that chemo will be in my life forever. I feel much better now than in July when I was taking a break from chemo. For a while in early September, I was in such pain I thought this was the beginning of the end for me, that this is what decline felt like. But after a couple of chemo treatments, I feel better and I think I can maintain this regimine. 

There Goes That Idea

Been a while, got a lot to share. But first, I have to correct myself on something I wrote back in April. 

In Chemotherapy is Not as Bad as I Expected I posited that modern medicine has improved to point of making chemotherapy more tolerable and the side effects more minimal, that chemotherapy might become me. If this blog was printed on paper I would literally eat my words. Cuz now, I am so roiled with peripheral neuropathy, my feet feel like I’m walking barefoot on ice and my fingers feel close to paralyzed. Meanwhile, electricity courses through my veins like hot sauce, surging and vibrating at random moments. It was explained to me that this is because my body is working so hard to preserve my organs that it hasn’t got time to help my extremities. I hate neuropathy and, pleasant as the nurses are at BCCA, I hate chemotherapy. It sucks. And I want to get as far from it as possible.

Another startling side effect was the build up of fluid in my left lung that left me breathless for much of July and unable to breathe deep without clenching my chest. I should gone in sooner, but eventually I went to the ER at St. Paul’s for a CT scan and they told me about the fluid and set me up with the Radiology Dept to have it drained. I’d forgotten that in June my oncologist said that I had some fluid in my lung, but when she put the images side by side it was clear the small amount had become a large amount. So when I went for the drainage last Thursday, I was shocked to learn I was carrying around 900 millilitres of fluid in the organ I’m trying to breathe through. No wonder I couldn’t catch a breathe! My lung was flooded.

Ok, so that happened.

Way back in May my doctor proposed some surgery to scrape the tiny tumors off of my peritoneum once and for all, to release me from the grip of chemo. First though, they would perform a laporascopy to see the stomach wall from the inside. Apparently CT scans don’t pickup objects tinier than 3 mm and these puppies might only be 1 mm. The peritoneum surgeon (one of two in BC) told me I have many, many of these 1 mm tumors, which came as a shock. All this time I thought there were just a handful. Now, I’m hearing of a crowd scene. So that is what they will look at to determine my suitability for the big surgery to remove them all.

The upside of the laparoscopy was taking a break from chemo. They wanted to clear the drugs out of my system before going in. So, I got to enjoy a month without chemo drugs. But still, the neuropathy remained unabated, dammit.

The date for the laparoscopy was set – for my birthday, July 24. Actually, I had to check into VGH on my birthday to get prepped for the procedure the next day. Only one nurse wished me happy birthday so I had to contend myself with all the lovely best wishes I got on FaceBook.

Next day, the surgery went well. The diagnosis did not. Turns out, my surgeon (#2 of the two in BC) said it was not just a crowd of tiny tumors on my belly, but a vast field of tumors broadcast across the expanse of my peritoneum. Like a field of dandelions, she said. So many that the surgery would not work for me. Sorry.

dandelion field

If my tumors were dandelions they would look like this

But at least I got a free hospital stay for my birthday!

So, that shoe has dropped. Now, I’m re-thinking all my curative angles, coming up with more ways of keeping those tumors at bay. Re-examining my diet, various supplements, my cannabis program, and exercise to help me fight the buggers. I’m open to anything at this point.

The other shoe to drop, probably next week, is the results of tests from the lung fluid. My oncologist warned that it could contain cancer cells that traveled up from my gut. If that happens then I will have not one, but two cancers. Lucky me, I could start a collection!

So that’s it for me. Still here. Still fighting. Just trying to give myself a little more time on this earth.

I hope you are all well and happy.

(Hey, if you want to get alerts for my new posts, please sign up for my new email service. There’s a form in the footer.)

Giving Up is Not Hard to Do

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about giving up. No, not in the “good-bye cruel world “ sense, but in the moving on kind of way. Against how the writer’s world says, “Never give up” on your writing, no matter how many rejection letters you get. About this attitude of sticking with it no matter how much of your life you are possibly wasting. We don’t live in a Peter Gabrial/Kate Bush video, after all.

Well, I’ve been developing different ideas about giving up and it’s not advice anyone else will give you.

I think giving up is a healthy thing to do, especially when your endeavour brings no success. After pumping out a fresh blog post, it’s depressing when no one reads it, much less commenting, liking, or sharing your hard work. For years. And worse, Google ignores it and it never appears on the first page of Search Results no matter how you optimized the hell out of it. 

And, about the many times I’ve quit something and moved on. In my professional life I give my endeavours at least 5 years before rethinking the direction I’ve taken. Some things have lasted longer, but I still quit and moved on. It’s just too depressing to keep trying to keep aiming for success in something that is going nowhere.

What’s that you say? Shouldn’t I be engaging in creative pursuits just for the love of doing it? Yeah, that’s for amateurs. It’s not for those who seek recognition, repeat work, or a passable income. Lacking all that, I think it’s a waste of your life time to work unsuccessfully. In my own case, as a 63 year-old with cancer, I don’t know how much time I have left so I sure as hell don’t want to keep knocking my head against any walls. I just want to be happy and enjoy some satisfaction in what I do. 

And doing things just for myself doesn’t cut it. An art therapist once told me that creative works are not complete until they are seen, and I believe that. I don’t want to wait until I’m dead for my daughter to go through my closet or computer and publish something I wrote. I’d be proud, looking on as a ghost, but I don’t want to be like the guy who wrote Rent, who died just before the show opened. I want to be alive to hear how much my work sucks, or doesn’t suck.

Having cancer really makes you review your life to learn what worked and what was an abject failure. As someone who is more creative than talented, I often look back at what I’ve done and abandoned, looking for patterns. Here’s a (not so) brief recap.

The Photography Years

I got my first Instamatic at about age 10, but I really caught the shutterbug in high school. Needing more serious equipment, I lifted my dad’s old Konica with the sliding focus. He used that camera a lot up until his 3rd child came along, but probably not in the previous 20 years. Later, I bought a Minolta 201 SLR and used that for my photography classes. In college I bought a Mamiya 2 1/4 camera to work on my photo major. I continued studying photography at the San Francisco Academy of Art, but dropped out of the program after a year and a half after learning very little. I lived with my first husband/business partner and produced my daughter who became our best little model. (She actually worked as a model and got tear sheets from JC Penney and Emporium ads – in the days of paper newspapers – until the market for blonde, blue-eyed kids dried up.) In the 1980s, Keith and I developed a pretty successful wedding photography business and when he got into video, when VHS was the standard, he would shoot right alongside me. That was nice until I realized that our wedding couples were more into the video than the stills. And, I just got tired of the wedding industry.

After we separated, I went into business with a new boyfriend, Tony, who was a commercial photographer. We rented a shared studio South of Market near China Basin in a state-owned building that was eventually demolished to make way for the new Giants stadium. I worked as his assistant, but he did not enjoy being my assistant on gigs I got, which was annoying. I’d bought a second-hand Hasselblad which was such a pleasure to work with. For all the Polaroids we shot, we should have owned stock in the company! So much film was shot, we practically went broke supporting our local labs. 

Wine spectator Amelios cover june 20, 1993

Then, came the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 and San Francisco basically shut down. The country went into recession and suddenly New York photographers were moving to the west coast by the bus load it seemed, increasing the competition. We were late paying rent, we were maxed out on my credit cards, and fell into debt. Clearly, this photography business was failing.

This was just before digital photography became a reality and we were just a few years from shooting film-free. So close! Ultimately, we broke up over personal and professional differences and Tony moved to the Philippines. I sold him my Hasselblad and he later got angry that I cashed the check he wrote from our joint bank account!

Let’s Go Digital

I was toast at that point. Commercial shoots – with all the lighting and polaroid shooting and bending and lifting – was the hardest work I’ve ever done. Just exhausting! I used to sit in my bedroom working on an old Mac SE that a client traded for his unpaid invoice and dreamed of a having job sitting down at a desk. No more heavy lifting. No more setting up and breaking down. At 35, I felt too old for that kind of labor. 

This was a time when “desktop publishing” was a thing, especially niche newsletters. I started playing with the program, PageMaker, and found that I loved laying out digital pages. Aside from a brief course on Illustrator, I mostly taught myself how to use these programs. Again, this was before the Internet and video tutorials, so I had to rely on the Help portal in the program. By 1992, I was hooked on computers.

After Tony left, I cracked an idea to move to Sonoma County. Every year Tara and I summered at my family’s farm in Michigan and those times made me crave the countryside, with its clean air and quiet surroundings. By then, I had read Jack Herer’s seminal book, the Emperor Wears No Clothes, about industrial hemp. My research showed there was a nascent hemp industry growing and I wanted to be part of it. I tried making hemp pot holders (get it?) but soon realized that manufacturing was not for me. I wanted to write about the business. I wanted to be the publisher of HempWorld-The International Hemp Journal, the first and only publication of its kind in the world.

Publishing HempWorld

Once we moved into a little house on Pride Road in Forestville, I began making contacts in the local hemp business and working on mockups of a publication. But first, I had to find a job to support the $400 rent I paid for half the little house we rented. Wine Spectator had been one of our photography clients back in San Francisco and I felt I had accumulated enough wine knowledge to fool a winery into hiring me to pour in a tasting room. 

Davis Bynum Pinot

My first job was at Davis-Bynum on Westside Road and driving through the redwoods and vineyards I had to pinch myself at the luck of it being my commute. Once I got my wine legs I absolutely loved the job. I loved meeting people from around the world and I learned a ton about wine. Until they laid me off because one of the old men who worked there wanted my hours so he could get his car fixed. Is that a lame excuse for a layoff or what? I became convinced that Bynum the younger wanted me gone because he got tired of me asking for the return of my book proposal Tony and I worked on about microbreweries, which I loaned him in the hopes of doing wine photography for them. He later surmised it was thrown out when he moved. So that was my first wine job, but not my last.


Meanwhile at home I was putting the finishing touches on HempWorld and stupidly launched it in December, 1993. At Christmastime who wants to hear about hemp? But soon, the newsletter gained traction with the help of the newly formed Hemp Industries Association, whose administrator Candy Penn lived in nearby Occidental and referred any and all new hempsters (what we called ourselves) to me to subscribe and possibly get a write-up. 

I realize now that my mistake was in treating the newsletter more like an art project than a business. I was picky about who I wrote about and did not make enough room for ads. And I did not make the story subjects buy an ads to support the articles. Later, when the newsletter became a proper magazine I refused to use glossy paper, which I hated, even though it would have cut down on my shipping costs. And I refused to incorporate HempWorld, which put off the German publishers who wanted to partner with me. I didn’t trust anyone anyway. Always the loner, me.

Then there was the Dutch guy from Santa Barbara who trademarked the name HempWorld behind my back. He wanted to buy the magazine, with me as the publisher. After a weekend with him in Santa Barbara, I realized I couldn’t work with him. Hardly anyone in the industry liked him. We went to court to sue him about the trademark and managed to get $25K settlement, and he would own the name. I don’t know what happened with that, but today hempworld.com is “is parked free, courtesy of GoDaddy.com.”

Long story short, HempWorld lasted five years and came to a crashing end when a deal to buy HempWorld fell through. We didn’t even publish the last issue because that would have put us in fire engine red territory and I couldn’t deal with more debt. So, I wrote glowing letters of recommendations for my two staffers and closed the door on HempWorld as well as the annual, then bi-annual, Hemp Pages Directory, which turned out to be a flop. To use the millennial parlance, I failed spectacularly.

I used to work day and night on HempWorld and Hemp Pages, so when it wound up, I finally began to relax. One day, my tenant from next door walked in, saw me laying on my couch reading the Handmaids Tale, and said, “Wow, I’ve never seen you looking so relaxed!” And she was right. I was suddenly de-activated. Living in a paused mode. Waiting for the next big thing. It was a great feeling.

Freelance Writing and Web Design and More Wine

I thought that bringing HempWorld on line would save it. Oh, to have been just 5 years later, I could have designed the site in WordPress. In 1999, HTML was the standard and this thing called Cold Fusion came along that made headers and footers more easily uniform. I worked with all that in basic coding software, and then my friend gave me a copy of DreamWeaver, a new page builder, and I managed to learn it! Other more experienced designers, including my friend, admitted to being flummoxed by the software, but somehow newbie me managed to work with it. The site was short lived after I basically sold the rights to hemp world.com to Santa Barbara guy.

Meanwhile I began pitching stories to magazines and newspapers and was able to get stories into publications like Sonoma County’s left-wing weekly, The Bohemian, Marin County’s Pacific Sun, and editorials in Santa Rosa Press Democrat. 

Then in 2000, I was referred by a friend to Buyside Magazine, where I got a salary job as an editor. Stock market? What did I know about the stock market? Not much, but I managed to learn a lot. I also learned how to interview people properly and how to edit interviews for print. And, I was able to take my first stab at blogging (don’t ask me about the platform) and was able to master the 300-word post. I was laid off a year later,  which actually made me happy after spending 2 hours per day commuting to the City of Sonoma. They kept me on as a contributing editor for a couple more years, the worst time being after September 11 when a bunch of my contacts were killed.

I got a few jobs in wineries, but eventually realized, as much as I loved it, this was not the work for me. At the age of 40+ and coming, out of a long period of self-employment, I proved to be a terrible employee. I always had a different way of doing things and would proceed to do things my way until I got fired. Laughably, at my last winery, I had just secured a job at Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa and came to the winery that morning with the intention of quitting. The boss stopped me on the way in, handed me a check and an apology that it was just not working out for me. For the first time in my life I was able to declare, “you can’t fire me, I quit,” which felt so satisfying. Decent of her to let me leave with a case of the Sauv Blanc for 50% discount.

Bottle Barn was my first foray into wine retail and I brought so much to the table. I built their mailing list online, installed invoicing software, built them a website after negotiating the purchase of the domain name, reorganized a lot of merchandise, decorated the walls with winery posters, and more. And they still treated me like a dumb blonde who would fall down drunk if they let me taste wine. Working with these millennials and one big baby boomer, I experience more sexism that any of my previous jobs. I wasn’t looking to quit though, until Bill and I decided to move to Canada about a year later, in 2005. I think it made them happy not to have to fire me for being too assertive and making them look like shlumps.

Quitting the USA

It was not just because of the re-election of George W. Bush, but as it happens, election night 2004 was when we decided to pull the trigger. I was convinced that with Dick Cheney as puppet master, the country was headed for doom. Additionally, Bill’s mom was fighting cancer in Manitoba and we wanted to be closer to his folks. Canada looked better than ever. I had already started scoping out BC’s Lower Mainland soon after September 11, but suddenly I went into overdrive, looking for a teaching job for Bill. Nothing panned out in advance. So we cleaned out the Forestville house, found new renters, packed up the mighty Volvo 850, and drove north. The customs agents were super unfriendly, informing Bill that BC was firing teachers not hiring them, but we persisted and made our way to Vancouver’s West End, where we lived for two years before moving here to Mount Pleasant, which is very pleasant.

Wine Leads to WordPress

Continuing to write and pitch stories to magazines, I started a WordPress blog in 2009. Tasting Room Confidential was all about wine and beer, but it never really took off. Despite my attempts to post better content, optimize keywords and images, and generally improve the site’s performance, it never gained a following. What I gained was a knowledge of WordPress and blogging, so I started teaching people how to blog. By 2012 I was hanging up my shingle for Web Design and Tutorials. 

My web designing has lasted longer than the blogging. 2016 features Tasting Room’s last original posting. Afterward, I just republished articles I sold to Edible Vancouver, the last being 2018. Although I still like wine, I just lost my taste and enthusiasm for wine reporting and couldn’t stand to write one more wine description. 

I had also started a blog about blogging, on a site called Blogsite Studio, and was devoted to writing weekly technical posts for over five years. Then, it dropped to monthly posts. Then, never. The last post was in 2019 and I haven’t looked back. I just ran out of gas. Blogsite Studio did get some readership, but not enough, and it helped me promote my business, but not enough for me to take time away from web design work to blog more. 

As soon as I stopped blogging I felt a weight lifting from my shoulders. The weight of writing and posting blog posts is quite heavy and when I let it all go, I felt like school was out for summer, that I was free to pursue other passions, comfortable in the knowledge that no one would miss me.

Since moving to Vancouver I’ve written two books. Mouthfeel: Confessions of a Wine Slut is my memoir about my time working in wine jobs in Sonoma County. The concept got a lot of editors exited, but in the end they didn’t really like it. I wrote Paper World after Bill and I bought the house in Oliver, BC, where we found a trove of love letters to the former owner of the house. I thought the true story aspect would help it sell to a Canadian publisher, but none were interested. I guess it would have helped if I had been a more published writer and the book was less commercial.

Other things I gave up, even before the pandemic started, included my small weekly WordPress Workshop which I held as a Meetup to help people with their WordPress sites. It was too intimate to expand and didn’t make enough money.

For many years, I also held Meetups for the BC Association of Travel Writers, but I quit that when I quit the organization. I realized how bad travel is for the environment and I didn’t want to encourage anyone to pollute more.

I also used to attend conferences, like WordCamp, where I have spoken several times. Now, I have no desire to speak to a room full of geeks, nor hang out with them. I just don’t care anymore.

The Sum of It

So that is the summary of my life’s work: photographer, writer, publisher, blogger, web designer, tutor, and speaker, most of which I’ve turned by back on, happily. I haven’t sent a story pitch in years and find it a relief to not have headlines buzzing in my head.

Now that I’ve Marie Kondo’ed my life and eliminated everything that does not “spark joy,” while staring down the big “C”, all I want to do is write and get something published before I die so someone can add “author” to my obituary.

To sum up my philosophy of giving up, here are three reasons to leave your pursuit:

  1. It doesn’t interest you anymore. You just don’t care.
  2. It’s financially unsuccessful and is actually costing you money.
  3. It’s driving you crazy to pursue your goal and you are getting too old to be so frustrated all the time.

Thank you for reading to the end, and happy quitting, whatever you do!

Sweet Note From a Fellow Chemo Patient

Compared to the often funerial atmosphere of most chemo rooms, my last treatment felt like being at a party. While I was snoozing there was a change of chemo patients in two of the four occupied chairs, and encouraged by our very chatty nurse, Tina, the conversations among them and Bill just rippled. In my somnolence, I could hear everything, though I don’t remember the exact words.

Finally, I pulled off my eye covering and joined the party at the point which the single guy took off his headphones and said he was listening to Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian singer/songwriter who had just died the day before. Our nurse, in her thick Jamaican accent, admitted she had never heard of him. Groans of pity all around.

The guy in the chair next to me was with his wife and they told his story, that he was not helped by his previous treatments – including stem cell – and was now trying chemo. At some point I asked the question I rarely ask any fellow patients: what is your diagnosis?

Leukemia. A rare form of it I can’t remember now.

His journey was not going well and I sensed a bit of desperation in his voice. I told him about my sister and her leukemia from 24 years ago. I’m not sure it made him feel better.

After my bottle was detached and we were prepping to go him, the guy’s wife handed me an envelope and inside was this card written to me. Hard to know if he wrote it while I was in the bathroom or in advance to hand to people like me. Either way, I thought it was very touching that he would reach out this way to let me know, “I got this.”

This kind gesture made me think maybe I should go to some of the group cancer therapy sessions on offer. I’ve been kind of cloistered here at home these last five months and thinking I really should get out more, hang with other cancer patients, maybe learn a thing or four about how to live with cancer. Who knows? Couldn’t hurt.

Thanks to David, I feel like I can do this now.

Chemotherapy is Not as Bad as I Expected

“You’re really looking good,” Billy raved as we huffed and puffed uphill on Heather Street after a walk through the Olympic Village and along the seawall. Beneath my puffer jacket and fleece vest, I carried my baby bottle infuser now half full of chemo drugs as it fed into the porta-catheter in my chest. My ninth chemotherapy treatment was just yesterday, but I felt a sunny afternoon in Vancouver was too good to let pass without a long walk. Bill is quite attentive and offers to help me up the hill. I smile. “Thanks honey, I’m fine.”

And I do feel fine overall. At this point I feel like I’ve mastered this chemo thing with all the anti-nausea meds, symptoms, blood testing that goes on. However, on three different occasions I barfed while sitting in the chair, but I think that’s because I didn’t take the pre-session meds at the correct times. After the first session my intestines roiled excruciatingly and laid me up for a day and a half. Later that week, I got quite nauseous, but I recovered quickly after my grandson showed up. 

mari in chair
Greetings from BC Cancer Agency!

Other than that, my symptoms include what I call tingle fingers, toes, and nose known as peripheral neuropathy, which is worse in the cold weather. My digestion used to be quite lumpy, but has improved lately. I used to have diarrhea starting about 5 days post-treatment, but have been using Imodium to plug me up. I was told this drug cocktail would not make my hair fall out, but lately I’ve been pull it out in handfuls. I’ve had a few mouth sores. Every time, my palate is shot for the first week after treatment. And forget icy cold drinks and ice cream. They make my tongue sizzle. Sometimes my balance is thrown off and I get twinges of electricity from my feet. And my nose, oy! It’s running all the time. Sometimes it bleeds a little. On the upside, instead of the dry skin symptom, I think the chemo drugs are making my skin more supple and soft. I sleep for 10-12 hours a night, so no problem with fatigue. Chemo brain, yeah, got that.

What I do have is a fantastic appetite, the loss of which is a famous symptom of chemo. I would have thought the trauma of being starved in the hospital for a week would have worn off by now, but no. I can’t stop thinking about eating. My only problem is overeating and getting it digested. But I’ve gained about 5 pounds in the last month, so yay me! 

Ironically, I think chemotherapy rather becomes me.

My overall feeling of well-being I think is attributed to two things: The first is the advance in medical technology. I think the anti-nausea meds are better than, say 20 years ago, which was when my sister was fighting leukemia. And I believe the drug cocktails are milder and better able to target the tumors. And as my daughter Tara reminds me, I’m lucky to have a super common cancer that doctors know all about now and I believe it being how colon is second to lung in the top ten of cancers. I don’t know when they started with these baby bottle infusers, which I carry in a jaunty shoulder bag for two days after treatment, but it’s like a beer back to a tequila shot. Slower to consume, less strength. I’m spending three and half hours in the chair, twice a month. I remember Cynthia being in the hospital for at least a month, doing her treatments in 1998. So I think this is not your mama’s chemotherapy anymore.

The second thing I think is helping me is all the cannabis I’m consuming. Not smoke so much as dropping cannabis oil isolates of THC/CBD and CBG under my tongue. Coming from the cannabis/hemp industry I quickly got advice from old movement friends, Ruth Shamai and Mikki Norris, who inundated me with new information about cannabinoids (I’d never heard of CBG!) and they recommended bunches of resources.

I made an appointment with Dr. Jeffery Hergenrather in good ole Sebastopol, California, down the road from Forestville. His recommendation was for 150 mg of oil per day – 50mg CBG, 50 mg THC, and 50 mg CBD. He advised taking 50 mg 3 times per day, as in morning, afternoon and night, but I’m sorry. I don’t do mornings. Mornings are for sleep. So instead I do 75 mg twice per day and I have my bottles on my desk behind my computer so I can remember to take them.

my cannabis oils
I’m only working on the front two bottles right now, but for extra sleep I’ll have a bit of the Snake Oil THC.

When I followed up with Dr. Jeff about how good I felt, he said that was likely due to the effects of the cannabis. My sleeping well, good appetite, lack of nausea he said was all boosted by cannabis. But, what I wonder is what it’s doing to kill the tumors. Empirical evidence points to cannabis as a cancer curative, so there’s that possibility. My most recent CT scan showed my tumors are not growing and the cancer is “behaving itself.” My oncologist is exploring whether a little laparoscopy might scrape those well-behaving tumors off my perenium.

So, what’s helping me? Is it the chemo or the cannabis, or both? Who knows?

Again, I’m doing fine. Back to work on WordPress. Getting back to a new novel. Working with Petra on my ghost story. Trying to sell the house in Oliver. Those are all perfect distractions from the cloud on my horizon, and keeping busy helps me pass my days with a sense of hope.

Thanks again to all my friends and family who are rooting for me and helping me get through this. And especially Bill, who has been my warm, fuzzy rock. I wouldn’t feel as good as I do with out you all!

Still, my mom knows nothing about my cancer.

How a Wine Epiphany Showed Me Wine is Not Just For Rich People

Epiphany bottles are just that. Epiphanies. Every serious wine lover has one locked away in his or her mental cellar. It’s the one that sucked them into wine and makes them say, ‘I wish I knew how to quit you.’ 

My own epiphany bottle was a magnum of Bordeaux my photography partner Tony and had I absconded with after a studio shoot for the Chalone Wine Group. We shouldn’t have taken it, but as we left, Harold shouted from the car, “Grab the magnum!” So I did. We brought it home that evening and drank it with a pepperoni pizza – a very, very good pizza – and handily consumed the entire liter-and-a-half. In the process, the bottle prompted a sensory breakthrough that changed my life. 

Lafite Rothschild 1986.2

Before then, I had never experienced a wine that tasted so deep and expensive flavored. As I stared at the deep scarlet tint through our cheap Luminarc glasses, marveling at the wine’s near opacity, I realized this was no ordinary grape juice.

“Damn, this is good wine,” I said after almost every sip. It had the kind of pure fruit and balance I’d never noticed in a wine before, and I savored every drop. “Damn, this wine is good.” 

That catharsis made me realize that the appreciation of fabulous wines is not just for rich people. Little unsophisticated me can dig wine too, even if I can’t afford to buy it.

When our client from Chalone had asked about the magnum, we had no choice but to confess. My partner lied by telling her the wine had made a huge red mess all over our studio floor when it fell off the workbench. 

“Of course we’ll pay for it,” He told her. “We’re responsible.”

The wine? A Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1986 Pauillac, valued at ninety dollars. A lot of money in 1994, when you could get a Napa Cabernet for $8. So, although I may not have known exactly what I liked about this cabernet, at least I knew a great wine when I tasted it. 

Shooting Covers for Wine Spectator

Back in the early 1990’s I shot covers for Wine Spectator. The relationship started just as I was forming a business relationship with Tony Carlson, who I had recently fell in love with. He had been working for WS on and off for a while, mostly shooting bottles on a pretty table cloth. This was when the WS HQ was still located in San Francisco, when the magazine was the size of concert posters.

One day the art director Kathy McGilvery called to ask if we’d like to shoot their first ever swimsuit issue. We did, and the shoot happened at Jeremiah Tower’s Stars restaurant in downtown San Francisco. It was a hard shoot, occurring mostly at a crowded cocktail hour, but it was a big hit. I’ll post an image when I find a copy.

We shot a lot of covers for WS at this time. But after Tony completely threw his back out by helping to move a baby grand piano, Kathy asked me to fly down to Venice Beach in Southern California to shoot actor Dudley Moore. He was a big wine enthusiast at the time and contributor Thomas Matthews managed to arrange an interview. Tony was pissed not to be involved, but hey, he was the one who opted to help move a piano up the stairs.

The shoot went well and Dudley was prominently featured on the cover. I hung the cover on our office wall at the studio where we were partners at a state-owned building down on Second Street near China Basin. (The Giant’s ballpark is located there now.) One morning we noticed a bullet hole in one of our windows facing 2nd Street. Then, we saw that the bullet had hit Dudley’s WS cover, right between his eyes. How bizarre, we thought, that he would be hit that way. The story is better told in a video I made in 2006 to enter into WS’s first video contest. It did not even place.

Kathy continued to give me jobs, at one point saying that I was better with people than Tony. That did not make him happy, but I took the jobs.

Here are a couple more covers.

To Stop Mass Shootings, Show Us the Blood

It happened again today. Another mass shooting at a school. Three children died, as did three teachers. Thoughts and prayers abound, but also there are more calls to Do Something.

Of course the conservatives and gun lovers will find all kinds of fixes – bolting doors, hiring security, more good guys with guns – to offer. Everything, but the obvious to stop shootings, which logically is keeping guns out of people’s hands. Particularly automatic and semi-automatic rifles, like the AR variety so popular with murderers. 

But shooting after shooting brings little change in state legislatures and Congress because half of the members are bought and paid for by the gun industry. Cuz, guns are big money. The NRA serves the gun makers by keeping the public appraised of their legislators’ gun position by rating them, so they can vote for or against them. So, gun control issues are a big convoluted, corrupt mess in Congress and nothing major happens, and nothing is done to stop children from dying in schools, or adults in stores, churches and theatres.

What to do? How to stop the gun violence in the United States?

I suggest the media stop whitewashing these shooting stories and start showing us the blood. 

Not bodies, just the blood splattering the gold-stared homework assignments pinned to the wall, blood pooling around books fallen to the floor, blood covered desks and chairs. Seeing those images would definitely make an impact on the public.

Right now, all we see on the news is cops hunkering outside, children being led to parking lots, parents frantic, but that’s all. We never see the consequences of the shooters deed, the scene of the crime. The media approach is all so sanitized that I feel people don’t get the full impact of a shooting by how it looks. If they did, I think the public would be much more moved to demand action from their local, state and federal legislators.

Sounds gross, I know. But aren’t pictures worth a thousand words?

Image by Katherine Kane, Citizen Kane Art

Listen, this is a page from the “Pro-Life” playbook. After Roe vs Wade was decided and the anti-abortion forces rose, what did they post on their placards and posters? Dead, bloody fetuses. Gross yes, but it worked, didn’t it? Those pictures moved people to react and, although it 50 years, it worked. Roe was reversed.

So, why wouldn’t showing pictures of bloody classrooms move people to act for gun control? It’s just about the only tact that no one has tried. 

And, by the way, showing the crime scene in the media is not my idea. It was suggested by a reporter on the news.

Baby Magic is Real, and It’s a Pain Reliever

If you’ve never experienced baby magic, or scoffed at the idea, I’m here to tell you the effect is real. I felt the magic in December, about six weeks after my surgery, and will never forget how it relieved my pain.

That it was also Hannukah made it all the more magical

Recovering from major surgery is not a fun endeavor and it takes a long time. Aside from staying well-hydrated and rested, my most important task was to avoid pain. My surgeon said, you can’t have pain because it will interfere with your sleep; and if you don’t sleep you won’t heal. Sleep is when the healing happens. 

So I created a regimen of taking extra-strength Tylenol four times a day and stuck to it. I was told not to wait until the pain flares up, but to anticipate the pain and head it off at the pass. 

And pain, well, I had in quantities. It was this referred shoulder pain that first alerted me that something was wrong. I’m talking sharp, shooting pain on the top of both my shoulders that made it difficult to use my arms. That pain was bizarre, but after my abdominal pain started, I knew they were connected somehow. In fact, my first Emergency Room visit was over this referred pain. It was horrible.

Then there was the abdominal pain I felt as my newly stitched-together colon was learning how to do its business. Eating small amounts of soft foods was still a challenge for my poor system and I could feel my intestines trying like champs to pass my meals. 

I also had pain in my upper thighs and my back. There were times, in addition to taking Tylenol, I used a hot pad to soften my screaming muscles.

Pain had become my silent, but annoying friend.

By the time the baby arrived, I had started chemo and had been drugged for a week. Immediately following the removal of the infusion bottle, five days before Christmas, my intestines went crazy. My bowls acted like a washing machine on the spin cycle. Back and forth the waste flushed around as if there were no tubes enclosing them. At one point I imagine the excrement flowing freely among my organs, like waves washing in and out. This symptom laid me out for two days.

Soren couldn’t get enough of the cats, and I could not get enough of him

Later that week, I vomited after dinner and thought, boy did I overeat. I was miserable for two days prior to Christmas. And Christmas Eve was when our daughter, her husband, and baby were due to arrive! The house needed to be put in order and cleaned. And the suspicious rug needed to be 86’d. If it was emitting toxic dust then I didn’t want my grandson breathing around it.

We weren’t even sure the little family would make it from DC because a huge snowstorm was due to hit over the holiday was just getting started on the east coast. They did get out of DC, but they had to hustle to make their connection in Toronto, and wonder of wonders, the flight left in reasonable time. Miraculously, at 11:30 on Christmas Eve, they walked in while I was still prone on the couch, watching White Christmas.

And there was the baby. 1 year-old Ryan Soren shone like a golden light in our apartment, his blond hair standing on end like a mini Boris Johnston, who didn’t enjoy the journey but liked the destination. He walked around with Frankenstein arms, waving the tv remote control, reaching for ornaments on the Christmas tree, radiant in his enthusiasm and desperation to touch the kitties. I was totally delighted. 

I don’t remember if I took pain killers before bed that night but I want to say no. I was trying to wean myself, but the previous night’s barfing might have been a prompt.

Next day, on Christmas, little Soren looked super cute in his Christmas-themed pyjamas as he opened presents of yet more cute baby clothes. He was like a Christmas present on his own, why didn’t he just open himself? Still, the kitties wanted no part of him, no matter how much love and desire he threw at them. And I couldn’t get enough.

He helped me pick out new jeans

I spent the whole day feeling grateful to have this whirling dervish in my life. And, that my daughter is so happy with her baby, and with her husband. And, that they flew all the across the continent to see me, the post-surgical cancer patient, during the biggest Christmas snowstorm of this century. I felt so lucky to have these people with me on the schmatziest holiday on the calendar.

I hate the word, “blessed” but now I feel cornered to use it. I felt blessed.

That night, after everyone returned to their AirBnb, I got into bed and laid there for a while, thinking, what a beautiful day it was. So easy, so relaxed. The baby went down early and slept long while we dined, allowing us the ability to hang out and talk like adults. That’s how good he is. A totally chill baby.

And as I lay there revisiting my beautiful Christmas Day, I stared at my bare legs and had a sudden realization: I had no pain in my body. Where was the new pain in my thighs, the varied pain I still feel in my abdomen, the back pain, and most astounding of all, that burning pain in my shoulders. It was gone, kaput, AWOL! I felt no physical discomfort at all. And, I couldn’t remember when it went away.

This was bizarre. In 48 hours I went from being sick to my stomach to enjoying total physical comfort. Did the munchkin sprinkle healing fairy dust to make me well? Did the Christmas spirit fill me up so much it pushed out the pain? Christmas miracle or just a coinkydink? Who knows, but that’s what happened. 

My abdominal pain still comes and goes, but the other pains have not been felt since Christmas. 

I’m just going to chalk it up to baby magic.