Category Archives: Beautiful things

People, places, ideas

Oh Daddy

He was a whistler and a whittler, and I miss him so.

Most nights, after we ate dinner, dad would sit in his chair, pick up a piece of wood and, depending on the point in its creation, would either sand or whittle with sharp as a razor knives.  Whales.  Birds.  Strange objects.  To my right on my desk is a interlinked set of ovals whittled out of some light wood.  His knife strokes are right there for me to see.

These links are symbolic.  I was born on my dad’s 41st birthday.

He was a fisherman and a tinkerer.  He taught me both.   I can still picture in my mind all the different fishing holes we visited. Our neighborhood had Square Pond, arrived at after a walk through the Connecticut woods and across a simple, open meadow.  While he would go fly fishing for Big Mama, the bass he was sure lurked in the deep, I would flit along the shore,  trying to catch bullfrogs or successfully catching tennis ball-sized Sunnies.  A longer car ride away was the place where we tried for carp, one from an overpass and another down by the river.  When I grew to be in middle and high school, we would try for salmon in Washington State, a long windy drive out to Fox Island until the road dead ended, and then an equally long windy walk past the blackberry and raspberry bushes down to the huge dock overhanging the Narrows.  Instead of the light poles with a red and white bobber, we used long, heavy salmon rods laden with herring that took all you had to whip it out there into the current.  We’d catch dog fish (which I believe were a kind of shark) that the Vietnamese fisherman who squatted for hours while they fished would take home, and every so often we would land a salmon. On every fishing trip there was a lot of casting and reeling in.  Casting and reeling in.  “Something’s out there, Sue,” he’d say.  “Just got to be patient.”  He was ever the optimist when it came to fishing.

He showed me the value of working hard.  Of trying to fix things yourself.  Of being creative in your down time.   Of telling good stories.  Of reading.

He could carve a beautiful turn down any ski hill, and perhaps his greatest gift to me, other than making me in the first place, was teaching me the same love for skiing.  He started me at 4, as I have done with my son, first in between his legs going down the almost flat hills, then watching as I shusshed down the slopes and doing the inevitable sweep of the hill behind me.

He carved me a small wooden mouse with a tiny leather tail that was pinned to my jacket or hat when I skied.  He told me it was a mogul mouse, that would help me navigate through a mogul field and not fall down.  There was nothing, he admitted, to be done about the snow snakes.  You just had to carve those turns and hope for the best.

We worked together to bring back to life a 1971 MGB-GT.  That meant many evenings after school and on the weekend, after he had played his round of golf with his buddies, we would attack a certain part of the car with the Chilton’s manual by our side and a whole heap of good intentions.  I learned to gap spark plugs.  Fiddle with duel carbs.  The crazy make-up of a disk brake system with all it’s little “shoes” and moving parts, and how to apply Bondo.  I learned with him that the electrical system on a British car is a thing of mystery, no matter what the pages of the manual say.  And that the simple touches, like the rear view mirror affixed to the right front fender, are both necessary and rakish.

He called me Chatterbox and Finella.  And George, sometimes.  You see, I was the son my dad never had.  How I wish I could hug and kiss him today.

 

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Being Present for a Present

In an age where convenience can strip away creativity, I’d like to make a plea for thoughtful presents.  You see, I’m faced with buying a 12-year-old boy a gift, and I’ve been guilty recently of taking the easy way out.  The gift card.   A present is reduced to a strict exchange of dollars.  It feels hollow, in a way, but it does get the job done.  Safeway has a kiosk right by the check-out stand that is 6 feet of colorful gift cards from every retail business around.  Certainly every giftee  – man, woman, child from infantcy to seniorhood – could use something from one of those stores.

Yeah.  But.

I’m here to tell you about a certain salad bowl that I received as a gift.  A woodworker named Lloyd General lovingly turned (literally, he hand turned it on a lathe) a massive chunk of California walnut into a work of functional art.  I just ate a salad out of that gorgeous striated brown bowl.  I have eaten or served items out of that bowl for close to 20 years.  And when I do, a tiny piece of my heart goes out to the woman who thought enough of the importance of gift buying to get it for me:  my mother-in-law Lou Ann.   It is, simply put, a five-star gift that my son will inherit when my salad eating days are done.

Now, I’ve given some wacky presents in my day.  A worm composter to my sister-in-law was an abject failure.  (I mean, who hates worms?)  But to a girlfriend mourning the loss of her husband, I gave a pair of soft-as-a-kitten cashmere socks.  I told her that if everything else was going sideways, at least her feet would feel loved.  And she could think of me, in those dark, cold days of winter, when she pulled them on and felt the warmth from my heart.

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What Pablo Neruda Said

People say things all the time.  Others write a whole hell of a lot of words.  Pablo Neruda, the poet, loves words as much as I do.  Probably more, I’d reckon.  From his Memoir, the last sentence has stayed with me since the moment I read it close to 20 years ago.

Savor this morsel:

“You can say anything you want, yessir, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and descend … I bow to them … I love them, I cling to them, I fun them down, I bite into them, I melt them down … I love words so much … The unexpected ones … The ones I wait for greedily or stalk until, suddenly, they drop … Vowels I love … They glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew … I run after certain words … They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem. … I catch them in mid-flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them, I set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily, like fruit, like algae, like agates, like olives… And then I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go … I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves … Everything exists in the word …  An idea goes through a compete change because one word shifted its place, or because another settled down like a spoiled little thing inside a phrase that was not expected her but obeys her.”

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C4YW First Timer

My dad, Jack.

I was asked to write a blog about my attendance at the Conference For Young Women being offered by the Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Young Survival Coalition Groups in Orlando, Florida in February.  This is what I wrote BEFORE I went.  Stay tuned for the follow-up.

A First Timer:  Why I’m Going to Orlando

Cancer scares me.  It probably scares you, too.  We don’t know why it came when it came (in my case at 33), and whether it will ever come back.  I’ve spent 11 years trying to distance myself from this ugly word.  Force it from my consciousness.  Expel it from my daily routine.  Impossible at first, obviously, and ridiculously close for too many years, the sting of the connection between cancer and me has dissolved into the shadows.

So why in the world have I voluntarily plopped myself back into the froth?  Because now that it doesn’t haunt me, I’m compelled to help others wade through it with some grace, dignity and peace of mind.  How?

First, I’ve written and self-published on my own dime a children’s book explaining cancer of a loved one to young kids called Nowhere Hair.  I wrote it because I wanted to offer young women a book that helps them find the words to explain their baldness to their kids.  I wrote it to say, “You’re still hip, strong, brave, beautiful. You’re still an amazing mother.  And oh yeah, you’re bald.”  I wrote it to say to kids, “You’re confused.  Scared.  You have questions.  But yeah, you’re still a kid who will appreciate if cancer can be approached in an honest, yet whimsical way.”  I’ve been told this little book does the heavy lifting without being heavy.  Kelly Corrigan, New York Times bestselling author of The Middle Place and Lift, who I share both a diagnosis, surgeon, and life outlook with, has also said that my words “put it all in the proper perspective.  A wonderful tool for families.”

So second, armed with this kind of validation, I’ve signed up for C4YW.  I’m anxious to meet those women brave enough to face their cancer head on and see if I can help them find the right words that are so elusive when you are in the midst of it all.  Perhaps they’ll see an 11-year survivor turning an ugly diagnosis into something beautiful.  Perhaps I’ll find inspiration from their stories.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m a bit wobbly about how this will feel.  After all, C4YW is three days of being surrounded by all things breast cancer, including young women (and perhaps some men?) who have been handed a pretty heavy load.  Will they be hopeful?  Angry?  Will all this talk of cancer feel overwhelming or empowering?  Will cancer descend upon my shoulders and wrap around me again?

I don’t know.  I’ve never been to something like this.  I’ll just have to see.  (And honestly, this conference grows in attendance every year, so I’m putting my money on the joyful/hopeful outcome.)  I plan on sharing with you when it’s over.

While I’ll be there with my author hat on, I’m also attending as a young survivor.  I can’t wait to hear Sandra Steinberger’s talk: The Case for a Greener World: Breast Cancer and the Environment.  I live in Marin County, California, which happens to be the breast cancer epicenter of the world.   You better believe I’ve been paying attention to how I live and what I put around and on this body of mine.  She promises to teach me how to “protect myself from the many harmful chemical exposures plaguing our environment today.”  Well, right on sister.  I’m all ears.

Of course, I’m also interested in hearing Dr. Shenin Sachedina’s talk, “The ABC’s of Talking to Your Child about Breast Cancer.”  Perhaps I can glean some new information, or offer some feedback from the women who have written to me.  This topic is my passion.  And like me, Dr. Sachedina’s written a children’s book to help explain the seemingly unexplainable, and there is nothing so wonderful as to meet a kindred soul.

So here’s to jumping into the great unknown.  Along with more than 800 other young women with cancer and the people who love them and dedicate their professional lives to care for them and cure them, I will be in Orlando with my arms open wide.

Sue Glader is a writer, mother and breast cancer survivor living in Mill Valley, California.  Her book, Nowhere Hair, is available at her website www.NowhereHair.com and through Amazon.   Her blog, Poking Around Life, can be found at www.SueGlader.wordpress.com.  Join Nowhere Hair’s Beautifully Bald Initiative at www.facebook.com/NowhereHair.

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Oh, Those Shoes!

The little old lady had killer shoes on.  Grey high heel booties, sculptural and sleekly modern.  They weren’t stilettos, but I’m telling you, they were up there and I coveted them on the spot.  I couldn’t help but notice them because one, she was walking across the street right in front of me, and two, she also had on a pretty car coat and some sort of dress without stockings, so the booties stood out at the end of her legs.   She walked into the Tyler Florence kitchen/food store, and I was t-h-i-s close to parking the car and going in after her to ask for a photograph.

You see, I have a thing for shoes, but even more than that, I have a thing for people being interesting.  Going their own way.  Being lemmingless.  This was one interesting woman, I could just tell, because what kind of footwear she had chosen.

There are a few things in life that make you happy just by donning them, and shoes, my people, are one of those things.

I can’t help juxatapose another little old lady viewing in town, but this time she was sitting on the sidewalk, surrounded by young men in uniforms.  She was right there near the pedestrian walkway that links the Safeway to the Redwoods where a whole lot of interesting older people live.  Every Friday a whole heap of them come out with folding chairs and tambourines and drums and guitars and signs and ask people to honk for peace.  The split second snapshot I got of this woman (as I drove by in my car) was a frail little old lady looking relieved as a fireman cradled her head.  She either had wilted or fallen on the spot, and the siren from the approaching paramedics meant more help was on the way.

As I turned my car towards home, I had one of those moments when I considered what it would be like to be both the woman down on the street and then in the next moment, the stylish gal with the crazy boots on.  You can guess who I wanted to be.  And how, when I erased that vision and realized I have a lot of living between now and either of those two scenarios, that in homage to the one lady, I should always embrace wearing stylish shoes.

As if I needed another reason.

(And those shoes?  Why John Fluevog, my hero.)

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The View From the Top

This blog is about inspiration, basically.  I write about what moves me, whether it is something beautiful, silly, tragic, or just … well … something.  I hope that my mutterings are interesting, and I try to keep them concise.  After all, writing should be enjoyed, not endured.

So it’s the beginning of the year, and I am full of promise and promises.  Yes, that means I worked out this morning, by taking the dog up to the ridge after I dropped my boy at school.   Actually he jumped out of the car at the stoplight, hopped on his skateboard, and pumped toward the middle school.

All action.  All the time.  It’s what boys do.

I tried to mimic his energy up on the ridge, with the idea that I would run up the hills and walk down the back side.  You know, get the steep awful stuff out of the way as fast as possible by putting my head down and trying to forget, for a brief period, that everything in my body hurt.  The pay off, if you can call it that, comes at the top, when the pumping is over but the pain is not.   I look at my shoes a lot during this period.  And pant.

But then the pain passes.   Disintegrates like a foggy windshield heated by the defroster.   That’s when I look up and enjoy the leisurely walk down the back side, taking in the view of Mt. Tam and the houses snuggled in the green trees.

Janine and Alan are running up some steep hills lately.   And they inspire me because of it.  My wish for them in this new year – and for all of us really – is that the inexplicable grace of life sets on their shoulders and allows them, and their sweet son Mason, to walk leisurely down the back side, taking in the view.

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The Giving Spirit

This is a story of a woman taking things into her own hands.  I like women like this.  I particular like this woman, because what she took into her own hands was my book.  And specifically, getting my book into other people’s hands.

I want to share this story for a few reasons.  Because this woman is so cool, and she deserves the props.  But more importantly, I’m sharing this because I hear every day from people who say they love the book … wait for it … but they have no funding.

I had such a conversation not very long ago with Sharon Leslie, a onco physical therapist from the Bay Area.   She had found out about my book when a girlfriend she works with showed her the copy I had dropped off.  Sharon listens to women “constantly” talking about their anguish over their treatment and their children.  So she did something to bring together the women in need with the book she thought got it so right.

Here is what she did.

  1. Sharon hosted a party at her home one night.  You know, a couple bottles of wine, some very nice nibbles and sweet things.  (She even invited me over for dinner beforehand, so I got to meet her whole family!)
  2. She invited to this party her girlfriend Liz who sells Silpada jewelry (www.silpada.com), which is just like www.stellaanddot.com.
  3. She asked if that girlfriend would donate 25% of her receipts from that night to buying my book.  The jewelry saleswoman was delighted to do that.  After all, she was going to sell a bunch of jewelry that night, and who wouldn’t want to help support other women going through a tough time.
  4. She then invited about 100+ girlfriends to the party (about 50 did come).    A night out.  Shopping for themselves.  Or for gifts for birthdays or holidays.  And knowing that their shopping is going to help support other women.
  5. She also put out a basket for straight donations, if people just wanted to support the idea of giving money to purchase books.

I went to the party that night, because it was in Los Altos, about an hour away from my house.  I signed 14 books that night for different guests who wanted to give them to personal friends.   Combining the $1,285 from the “straight donation” basket, and the 25% of jewelry sales resulted in 181 MORE books.    Sharon now gets the pleasure of handing out my book to anyone she thinks could use it.  No strings attached.

It’s such a fantastic idea and a 5-way win that I just had to share it.  May it inspire more such events!

Win:  for the books.  They get to work.

Win:  for Sharon because she gets to hand out a book to someone in need RIGHT THEN AND THERE when the need arises.

Win: for the Liz, because she gets to sell her goods and feel really good about donating some of that windfall to a great cause.

Win: for the friends shopping, because not only do they get the chance to go shopping in a unique way, but a portion of their purchase goes to help other women.  That they’ve never met.  But could be just like them.

And finally a big ‘ol win:  for the women with cancer.  Because there is nothing so wonderful as an unanticipated gift that will help you deal with something so very important and difficult.

So three cheers for Sharon Leslie, who took life into her own hands and has made a huge difference in the lives of close to 200 women and their families.

 

 

 

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