Pioneer Woman’s Husband And Ellen DeGeneres

I know you are probably thinking … what in the world does Pioneer Woman’s husband, Marlboro Man have in common with Ellen DeGeneres? That is exactly what I thought when they both showed up in the same dream the other night. After all, it’s not like Pioneer Woman and I are big buddies or anything even though we did meet briefly along with about 799 other women in Atlanta one night. You may remember when I wrote about the experience in my post, I’m No Pioneer Woman.

Pioneer Woman & Elizabeth Harper

Strange dreams are not that unusual for me, but I’m generally not dreaming about other people’s husbands or celebrities like Ellen. This one was so weird that I had to think about it a day or so before I decided to mention it to John, my own sweet husband pictured below.

I’m not sure why Marlboro Man decided to spend some time with me while I was trying to catch up on my rest, but my friend Tina and I did have a little chat about him while out on a run earlier in the day so maybe he was trapped in my subconscious somewhere.


I can’t remember how he came up in conversation, but we were discussing his assets and how they are so frequently highlighted by Pioneer Woman in her blog. We were completely appropriate and only briefly touched on her pictures like the one here, before moving on to new topics.

One of the most endearing things about Pioneer Woman is how much in love she is with her husband and I know just how she feels especially when I see pictures of my darling man like the one below.

Or this one taken during a visit to Scotland.

Pioneer Woman occasionally likes to show you pictures of Marlboro Man in his younger years and I have some favorites of John from his mid-thirties that do it for me too, like this one at the beach in 1979.

And I just love this picture taken with his girls in 1972.

I have to say though that I really fell for him when he emailed the picture below during our early online dating days. Seeing him playing bouncy ball on the lawn with his little granddaughter was just about the cutest thing and is part of what I find so attractive about him.

So I know how Pioneer Woman feels when she shares pictures like this one of Marlboro Man in his daddy role or this tender one , because they are the kind I tend to like best.

But getting back to that dream I mentioned … It seems Marlboro Man came for a visit and he had a bunch of tiny cow bells with him. It makes no sense to me either as I know they don’t raise dairy cows. What made it even more interesting than seeing him show up in Cornwall was the reason for his trip. He explained that every time he saw a person doing something kind for someone else, he was there to give them a tiny cow bell to acknowledge it. I am not sure how to connect it all, kindness and cow bells and Marlboro Man, but even more confusing was when Ellen came dancing into my dream to pick up her bell. Maybe it was because she has been so kind in her comments on American Idol this season, but I could not say for sure.  Although I am usually pretty good with dream interpretation, this one has me stumped. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to what it might mean?

Off Kilter

There is about a six week period each year that is usually a hurdle for me. It always falls during the time period between Lent and Easter. It is when I am generally the hardest on myself and whatever I perceive to be areas needing improvement in my life and behavior. Instead of thinking about the goals I am accomplishing, I tend to get stuck in my head with a litany of my imperfections on repeat mode like a song you can’t silence when you wish it would end.

My way to pull out of that vortex of self criticism is founded in physical movement which is generally a combination of exercise and cleaning. For me, a good deep scrubbing of the places that get tend to be overlooked in everyday cleanups is the secret to reestablishing a bit of balance in my energy. I am intrigued by the timing and wonder why the need to do a deep cleaning strikes when does each year. I would call it spring cleaning although it falls in the same time frame every year no matter what my geographic location or if spring is actually at the door. Spring still feels a long way off here with today being the same as it has been for the last week, a wet and windy grey day with the only hint of the changing season seen in the daffodils that are just beginning to bloom.

I googled the words,Spring Cleaning to find a few things I did not know about the correlation between different religious faiths and the seasonal ritual. Also interesting was how spring cleaning led me to spring fever, a term made popular in a poem by Samuel Clemens better known as Mark Twain and how it appears many people feel as I do at this time of year.

I am not one to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. In fact, I actually love winter and grey days so I never really considered the weather connection as a reason for my desire to clean my way back into a more settled and balanced feeling. After reading some of the links above, it appears I may not be alone in this.

How about you … if you have experienced a similar feeling of being off kilter, could you share your tips on working through it. I’ll  be back to check in with you in a little while, but right now I have a backsplash and a bunch of kitchen shelves that need my attention.

The Decisions Of Others

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

~ William Shakespeare

John and I had a conversation this past weekend that begin with … oh, I’m not even sure how it began, but basically it left me thinking about the impact certain decisions have on our lives and in particular, decisions made by others. In this case, I was initially referring to King Edward’s abdication of the throne of England for Wallis Simpson, the woman he loved.

I wondered aloud about how his decision had changed the life of Elizabeth who would be Queen and all of her line to follow. I thought about who Diana would have been and what kind of life she might have lived if she had said no to Prince Charles and gone on with her life.

For some reason, I found myself fixated on Queen Elizabeth and could not get it out of my head that she has spent her life in service, in what appears to have been a joyless existence with duty at the center of everything. I hope I am wrong. I hope she kicks off her heels at the end of the day and enjoys a good laugh over how hard it was to look proper and Queenly at whatever event she attended that day. I’m good with duty up to a point, but I tend to lead with my heart and I know without a doubt that had I been Edward, I would have walked away from it all too.

My crown is called content, a crown that seldom kings enjoy.

~ William Shakespeare

Choosing Civility

Choosing Civility – If only wishing could make it so.

I wanted to say how much I appreciated the civil and compassionate comments exchanged here over the last few days on the subject of the recent health care reform vote in America. Looking at my stats from Monday, about 350 or so people stopped by to read, Life After Cancer – Now. Of those 350 people, 24 left a comment and several sent me private emails.

Reading them, I saw people with similar feelings and in some cases, similar experiences with the American health care system and insurance companies. While we did not all share the same opinions, the civil exchange of ideas helped buffer some of the animosity I keep seeing on American news.

While there is no way the American people will agree on every issue regarding health care reform, choosing civility when dealing with the difficult decisions ahead will go a long way in accomplishing something positive with lasting results. Sarah Fain had this to say over at her place on Monday. It’s short and sweet and links to a great article at the New York Times that outlines what this new law will mean to consumers..

If you have not had a chance to read through the comments from my post on Monday, I encourage you take a minute to see what others are saying. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts in the way you have around such an explosive topic.

Life After Cancer – Now

When I was 31, I went to a dermatologist for a reason I can’t remember now and during course of my visit, she took a close look at the moles that dotted my physical landscape. There was one in particular that looked a bit iffy to her and she said that it might be problematic in the future. Her suggesting to remove it to avoid an issue later was re-adjusted after discovering the limitations of my insurance coverage.

With a husband in a Ph.D program, we were lucky to have any coverage, even the bare bones policy he was able to get through the University. It did not cover mole removal that ” might ” be a problem in the future and as I was working a job that provided no health insurance and frankly not enough money to spare for the out of pocket costs involved in the procedure, I walked out of her office thinking I would just keep an eye on it.

Even though I was concerned, the pressures of a husband in graduate school, the needs of a young child, and the struggle involved in trying to pay for what was a very lean living, I looked at the mole a time or two and then forgot about the spot I had been warned to watch. Had it been in a more obvious place like my face, it would have been easier to see the future before it happened.

By 33, I was divorced and struggling to build a career in pharmaceutical sales while juggling parenting roles and the early beginnings of a social life as a single woman again. I was also unknowingly on the edge of something bigger than I had ever faced. On the morning of Christmas Eve, I felt a strange compulsion to check the mole I had not thought about for months. I was rushing around trying to get ready for the evening ahead and the next day with all of the places my daughter and I would need on be Christmas Day when I suddenly felt compelled to stop and look at the spot on my back.

After twisting myself into a position I where could see the shaded place on my shoulder in the bedroom mirror, I found that I needed more light to see it properly and went into the only bathroom in the house to try to get a clearer look. Standing on the toilet, I twisted myself once again so that I might see my reflection in the mirror of the old medicine chest on the wall.

I knew in the moment I saw it that I was looking at cancer. That’s a melanoma, I said to myself and wondered who I might call. No one was taking new patients that day and I could not be seen by a physician until a week into the new year. The doctor who saw me would not commit to a cancer diagnosis and seemed to take it off just to give me some peace of mind almost going so far as to suggest it was probably nothing.

I was standing in a phone booth in south Georgia a few days later when I got news. Having called the office to find out the results of the biopsy, the receptionist unknowingly gave me the results when she said, ” We don’t know yet, they’re checking it for levels.” I knew enough even then to know that if they were checking it for levels then it was not going to be good  In 1994, I had no cell phone or internet access and I even though I had known intuitively what I was seeing on the day I found it, her words scared me so I could not think clearly beyond asking the woman on the phone to please have the doctor call me as soon as possible. I was barely in my car before my pager went off and when I called the office, my doctor said, ” I don’t usually do this over the phone, but it is malignant and we should know what level we are looking at within about 24 hours.” I kept it together while we scheduled a office visit to discuss the results and she finished by saying we would talk when I came in about what our next steps would be.

All work for me stopped at that point even though I tried to go on with my next sales call. I left the office before seeing the doctor unable to stay focused on whatever drug I was there to discuss. During the two hour drive back to Marietta where I lived with my daughter, I worried the whole way about questions with no answers and stopped at the first library I came across on my way home. For the next hour or so I skimmed over the pages in the stack of books I had pulled  from the shelves trying to absorb as much information about melanoma as my distracted brain could take in. It wasn’t long before I began to consider that my  future might now be defined by terms like, ” five-year survival rates.”

My daughter was barely six and I was painfully aware while reading that there was a chance that I might not live long enough for her to remember me or to know how much I loved her. I carried those thoughts along the information from my visit to the library with me for the next day or so, stressed as you might expect until I met with my doctor who said something I remember now as, ” It is the best it can be, a Clark’s Level I.”

I had read enough to have a decent idea of what that meant, but even after she took more tissue from my back and the margins came back clear, I still lived in the shadow of a diagnosis that could have killed me if I had I not felt compelled to check the mole that day.

Additionally, there were occasions during my work history that I had to provide my own health coverage as my employer didn’t offer it or I was between positions. My premiums would start out high, but manageable and I would pay everything out of pocket while maintaining a painfully high deductible. Like many in the same position, I thought if I avoided making claims, my premiums might stay reasonable, but they still increased by obscene amounts every year.

Even while I was working for a major pharmaceutical company that had over 100,000 employees all with one particular insurance company, there was still no way that I could intimidate them into behaving with integrity. On one occasion, I tried to do battle the health insurance company to pay for an office visit that clearly fell with the parameters of coverage. They kept denying they had received the claims even though the office had filed it three times and I had filed the same information twice. Multiple phone calls later, including a conference call between the insurance company representative and someone from the doctor’s staff and myself, we both confronted the insurance employe, but got no results. In the end, the office then threatened to send my account to collections which forced me to have to pay the whole bill myself. I was never reimbursed for the office visit and their reason for not paying was that they maintained they had never received a claim. After wasting hours of my time, I gave up, which I ‘m sure is just what the insurance company hoped I would do.

Health insurance companies have held the American people hostage for far too long. Canceling the coverage of people who have struggled to pay crippling premiums for catastrophic coverage only to be told when they receive something like a cancer diagnosis, that they are not covered based on whatever obtuse bit of fabricated nonsense the insurer can cite. By the time the policy holder fights for what they paid for all those years, they’ve either lost everything they own or have died.

I myself was always afraid to admit to my doctor during visits that I’d had cancer. My oncology visits were paid for out of pocket so the paper trail for me was limited. After 10 years of being cancer free, some physicians assured me that I would not lose coverage and encouraged me to be open about it. There were times when I had to tell my doctors, but begged them not to include it in my medical records because I was afraid of being denied future coverage or having my premiums be raised so high that I could not afford healthcare insurance at all. Even without knowing my cancer history, during one of the last times I provided my own coverage, my rates increased so quickly after the first year that I was forced to raise my deductible to $5,000 in order to pay the premiums.

I don’t know what the future will hold with passage of health care reform, but I do know that is an embarrassment to me that so many Americans have responded in such vitriolic ways in the days leading up to the vote. I can only imagine what people will be saying later today as America wakes up. While it may not be a perfect solution, it will make it possible for hard working people to have access to health care coverage with stricter controls on the corrupt power that has been wielded too long by health insurance companies.

Taking the paragraph below from the British Times Online which is not noted for its liberal attitude, you can see how their observations confirm what many have experienced in the US.

” It will also outlaw the worst abuses for which the US health insurance industry has become notorious, including dropping coverage when patients become ill and discriminating against those with pre-existing medical conditions.”

Currently, I live in the UK with my British husband and have coverage under the NHS. So for the first time in my adult life since leaving the Army, I don’t have to worry about my own healthcare coverage. I do still have family in the US and I worry about them a great deal.

I have heard the comments of Americans who have been saying that they don’t want a medical system like the one in place in the UK. They cite negative conditions and situations that I have not experienced here. Quite the contrary, my every experience with the NHS, both personally and by observation involving the care given to family and neighbors has remarkable.

A few months ago during a visit home to America, I tried to share these truths with someone I had been friends with for 31 years. I told him in detail about my own experience with the NHS and what I had witnessed with others here. He argued with me each step of the way, going so far as to say, ” I know that’s what you believe happened, ” while refusing to acknowledge that there might be some benefit to having a similar healthcare model.

He couldn’t tell me what was in the healthcare reform proposal having not read it. All of his energy came from listening to the interpretations of talk radio hosts intent on keeping their listeners passions stirred up over a topic that most seemed disinterested in reading about themselves. His comment this morning on his Facebook page was just as I expected,

” Welcome to the new U.S.S.R.-United States Socialist Republic. “

I am actually surprised to see something so mild after the things he has said in the past.

I understand that many in America will not be happy this morning, but for me this is what life after cancer looks like now that one fear has been removed. Access to healthcare should be for all Americans and thanks to efforts of people who do more than shout about freedom, it now will be.

I Married Superman

Last night I emailed the image below from Target, to my husband John.

Some of you may remember that our original building plans for the the extension also included adding an en-suite bath for the master bedroom.

In the beginning

Adding the bath meant that we had to steal a few feet from the master bedroom for a corridor leading to my space. Along with the extension, the master bedroom got a new look as well and part of that involved new bedroom furniture. While we did not have to do such a major renovation or build out, this space has gone through a fair amount of change as well. Part of that change involved redecorating. We are down to just one or two changes in the master before it’s complete and the bedside tables are a topic of conversation lately.

Since John is so good with building things, we have talked about how he might build the bedside tables and occasionally, as I have about 599 times over the last nine months, I’ve emailed him examples of things I like from the internet. Some of my favorite resource sites during the renovation have been places like, Young House Love, Design Sponge, and the always inspiring, Poppytalk. In addition, Design Therapy, Bloom Studio, and Apartment Therapy gave me tons of ideas as I was planning my space.

Last night as John was checking his email, I heard him say, ‘You must be joking!’ I knew when I heard him that he was talking about the bedside table and went to his study in time to hear him say, ‘I can’t make that!’ Of course, I had not really expected him to make it, but was only sending him another in a long series of images that had caught my eye.

Now to fully explain the title for this post … a few weeks ago, John ordered a pulley with the intention of hauling a five and half foot unvented hot water tank up into the attic (loft) to provide hot water to the two new en-suites. When he suggested that he and I could lift it up through the smallish opening for the attic space using the pulley, I thought to myself that it might be a difficult task, but being my father’s daughter and having never shirked from heavy lifting, I thought we would manage, especially when John said our next door neighbor would help if necessary.

A few days after that conversation, I came down the corridor from my studio and noticed the attic door was open and the pull-down stairs pushed way back out of the way. When I saw that I knew immediately that something was up and up it certainly was. It seems while I had busied myself with something out of hearing range, the pulley had been delivered and John had used it to hoist the cumbersome tank all by himself. I was both shocked and impressed to find I had been living all this time with … Superman! That man continues to amaze me.

Coming Out Of The Closet

Right! Here goes with something you don’t know about me even with all the secrets I spilled yesterday. I know what you’re thinking … can there really be something more?

Today I’m coming out about clutter. My closets have never been organized places where clothes hang neatly or where you could open a door and know that something was exactly where you left it. In fact, there have been times when whole rooms began to resemble a big walk in closet and were so bad that even my closest family members were bared from entering.

There are quite a few people who would agree with what I have said here going as far back as my roommate Diane who shared an apartment space with me when we were university students. More recently, my daughter Miranda would not hesitate to confirm that as late as 2007 there was at least one room in our house that looked like more like someone’s storage building out back than it’s intended purpose.

Three guesses which one looked like a ” tip. ” (a British expression I’ve come to love)

rubbish tip (n.) dumping ground, garbage dump, garbage heap, refuse dump, rubbish dump, tip

It was … my home office space. That’s right, the very place I had always had in mind would be my retreat, a place of peaceful serenity where I could write uninterrupted by everyday life. I dreamed of a space like the one I have now while I was working for corporate America. I was fortunate over the years to have three homes where there was enough room for me to have a space designated as my office.

It is no surprise that my writing life was given the least amount of attention and my ” offices ” always reflected that lack of priority and focus. While the rest of the house might have been fairly tidy, my office was always unfinished, over-cluttered, and completely unwelcoming for any creative energy. It was plainly as I said before, a tip. More than a time or two I found myself channeling Bette Davis as I tried to pick my way through the junk pausing in frustration to utter her famous movie line, ” What a dump! “

The day I saw my  home in Atlanta for the first time, I walked upstairs into a delightful space that felt more like a sweetly decorated little treehouse than an upstairs room in a downtown bungalow. The windows were open and outside a light rain was falling creating a happy sound through the trees that formed a canopy of leaves all around the house.

I was enchanted from the moment I stepped inside and the owners who were selling it themselves, were near enough so that the husband volunteered that the room I had fallen in love with was his wife’s office space, and that she was a writer. Of course I was interested in hearing more and asked what she had written, never guessing the connection we already had.

When he picked up a copy of her book from the shelf, The Truth Shall Set You Free, I was stunned as I had read it only a few months earlier. While working a medical conference at St. Simons Island off the coast of Georgia, I walked into a used bookstore and found her book signed with a personal inscription and I snapped up the first edition which had been published only three years earlier.

The book is under the owl and on top of Virginia Wolf

Sally Lowe Whitehead had accomplished a great deal in her office space, writing a book that had a tight hold on me from the beginning and I saw our book connection as a sign that I might also find a way to put the ideas I had on scraps of paper into a book or two of my own.

Standing there recalling the contents, I shared with Sally how I had read her memoir and knew her story, which must have been a bit disconcerting. I remembered enough of the inscription for her to glean that she had known the person who owned it. It turns out that this man had died of an AIDS related illness and that knowledge pretty much sealed it for me. Working as I was in HIV, I thought the universe could not be any more clear. This was surely the place I would write all the books I had dreamed of writing.

When I closed on the house, I took my copy of her book with me to the attorney’s office and Sally signed it with the words below.

To Elizabeth,

What a journey we’ve come to share.

I am so pleased our paths have crossed.

Enjoy your new home!

It is waiting for you with open arms.

Blessings always,

Sally Lowe Whitehead

I was excited to move in and set up my office in what had been the space where she had completed her book. Here is what my office looked like in late 2007. You be the judge … tip or not?

You’re probably thinking … messy, but not really a tip, but what you don’t know is in order to have it look as it does in the three photos above, I had to spill over into another room down the hall.

Again, not awful from this angle, but what you can’t see is all the junk on the other side of the room. All I can say now is, never again!

I’ve shown you my new space and now I want to show you one more thing … the closet! Let me expose what I keep hidden behind closed doors. Once again, John did all the work and built the interiors according to my specifications.

I wanted my closet (wardrobe) space to be divided into three distinct areas. Not only do I write in this room, but I use it as my dressing room too. There are four mirrored doors the length of the wall to bring in as much light as my sliding glass doors will allow.

The first thing I wanted was to be able to hide my chest of drawers so I asked John to build a section that would accommodate the piece of furniture I had already purchased. I keep shoes I rarely wear in little travel bags underneath. Because our small refrigerator has a wooden cabinet front there was no place to put my magnetic collectables so I bought a metal board from Ikea to put some of my favorite quotes and things that I used to stick on the frig in Atlanta. You can see it just above the chest at the back of the closet.

At the far right you can see my hanging clothes with a shoe rack at the bottom and laundry basket under the longer clothing. Notice the pillow color on the daybed.

Now for the business side of life. The left side of the closet holds things related to cameras and computers and business related papers. I have my sewing machine and sewing box tucked in there too. The chest is also from Ikea and has dividers inside that keep all the bits separate and organized. When I put it together, I left the bottom panel out of the second to the last drawer and John fixed it so the last two drawers slide out as one deep drawer that is perfect place for files. Notice the pillows now on the daybed … I did as some of you suggested and made two with orange backing and two with green.

So here ends our week-long tour … please feel free to sign the comment book on your way out and thanks so much for your kind attention.