Monday, April 29, 2013

Big MAC Attack

Those of you who have read the Gypsy for a long time know that I deal with a chronic and incurable lung disease called bronchiectasis. The past few months have ranked high on the challenge list for me.
This winter it seemed like things were getting worse. In the winter I had bronchial pneumonia and was on IVs for three weeks. The exhaustion started long before. I chalked it up to the holidays. I don't think that's it anymore.

At long last my pulmonologist referred me to an infectious disease specialist. After giving up 10 vials of blood, spitting in one cup and peeing in another, then getting a chest X-ray, I just had to wait. For eight long weeks.
The results are in. I haven't quite figured out quite how to process all this but the diagnosis is something called "mycobacterium avium complex" or MAC. Yes, I have a big MAC attack. It is related to the tuberculosis germ and it is very serious, but is not contagious.I was totally freaked when I tested positive on one of the TB tests (which is also used to diagnose MAC, but I didn't know that at the time.) I was frantic that I was contagious, so this is a great gift.

MAC appears to come from the environment (water, soil, air) and lands in people who are immune-suppressed and have lung disease. In fact, I came to learn that women 60+ with bronchiectasis are targets.
In other words, I could be swimming in the same ocean as Rick, walk the same dusty road or fly in the same airplane and if the bacteria was there, I would be likely to attract it, while it would roll off him like water on a duck's back.
The literature says treatment is long and arduous, involving a three-drug regimen of oral antibiotics for 15-18 months. The side effects of the drugs appear to be nausea and gastro-related, as many chemo symptoms are. A loss or radical change in vision is another even more disturbing one. Or, as my doc said, the cure may be worse than the disease. For a visual person, one who does art and loves to read, this is almost more frightening than puking is annoying. Apart from the coughing and yuck, one of the key effects of the disease itself is chronic fatigue. Which explains a lot.

To add to the mix (and to add insult to injury), the debilitating headache I've had for a week on only one side of the head appears to be shingles. I'll get that confirmed later today. But it sure looks likely.

I've just had it. I don't know whether I'm angry, tired, frustrated, defiant or conquered. A little bit of all, I think. And definitely depressed.

For those of you who have hung in here this long, I apologize for too much information. But I did so for a couple of reasons.
First, most of you who comment (and with whom I've established warm friendships despite the miles between us) do indeed live far away. But through sharing our stories over time, I have found a great network of support and encouragement. We cheer each other's successes, whether they relate to family or career, art challenges or sports achievement. And we bolster one another when we are down -- when we are sick, stressed, under too many pressures from work or school or illness or family issues or all of the above. 

I need that support right now.

Also, I know from my stats that a lot of people who visit the Gypsy don't comment. I wish they would! They may be colleagues or family members or old friends who see the post link on FB. Still, you can be part of that support system and I need you, too.

Until I am set up with a treatment plan, I don't quite know what is in store for me. I'll find that out very soon. I have a lot of questions for the docs and more pop into my head every day. I will always wonder if they could have tested me for this sooner (and why they didn't) and where it came from in the first place. Those are things I don't know that they can answer.

I have to let that go and focus on the road ahead, not the one behind. There are lots more that they can and those are the ones I  must focus on.
I talk a good game but that doesn't mean that I'm pretty darned scared, at times a bit emotional and I'm certainly not unaware of the life changes that this could bring. I do a lot of things and I love them all. I love working with community groups, going to art classes, savoring my friendships at book club and wine group and those things matter to me. As I have anticipated retirement, I've thought of things I'm excited to do -- travel, write, meet new people, make art, go beachcombing, take cooking classes, hang at the lake, get a new job or pick up part time or freelance work.
I know I may be able to do some of those things. I'm not quite sure at this point what is really possible, at least for awhile.

What I am holding in my heart right now is the example of so many people I love who have faced something I suspect is far scarier and more life threatening than this. The women in my world who have had cancer, breast, brain, bone. The men who have had prostate and other cancers. Our own Greg and others in Rick's family with thyroid cancer. Cousins who deal with ongoing pain or have experienced major surgeries. The friends who deal every day with chronic disease. And so many others who just deal with "it." Whatever "it" is.

I have role models in my mind -- some of you are among them; strong human beings who have looked physical and emotional challenges in the face and said, "You don't get me yet."

I didn't go through all the labs and appointments to get to this point and say, "Well, thanks for looking into it, but that sounds a little yucky, so I think I'll take a pass."
I'm in it to win it. 

Thanks for being there.
(And I promise that The Marmelade Gypsy won't be a daily journal of progress or back step. I'll keep you posted, of course. But it will be what it has always been -- a little bit of art, a little bit of life, a little bit of photography, a little bit of travel, a little bit of the joys, a little bit of the challenges. Join me for the ride.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Trying to Keep the Boogie Man Away

You don't want to be in my head right now, so let me share a few thoughts I try to keep running through it to keep me from thinking about what's really flying around in there! This one makes me smile -- a year ago today, we were in Paris!
Actually, a year ago today we were in Montmartre, with Peter Olson of Peter's Paris.
It was one of the most delightful days of our journey. Montmartre is a captivating place, steeped in history, the lore of its famous inhabitants and boasting a fabulous view of Paris.
Peter was a wonderful guide, taking us throughout this historic area, reminding us to look up and telling us stories about the area's famous and less famous residents.
What made it extra fun for both of us was that I knew I would enjoy Peter because I'd been reading his blog for a long while, but I was extra pleased that Rick and Peter hit it off, sharing a love of music, among other things.
Our lunch included champagne and was simply divine. A wonderful memory for this gloomy day here. (Oh, yes -- it rained there. But that was different. We were in Paris!)
April brings up some melancholy thoughts for me, because two people who were a big part of my life died in April. My mom died 36 years ago on April 21.
You'd think by now it would just be another day, and it becomes more normal over time. But still, her loss -- the idea that she isn't around now when I need her most, that she didn't get to know and love the things I know and love most -- sometimes takes me to a dark place.
I don't stay there as long as I used to, but it's still there.
April also marks another year since my good friend Patricia died. Patricia was a role model, confidante, one on that quest of life during the same time I was -- when our worlds were changing, we were finally growing up, women with decisions to make. Both of us mourned the loss of our mothers and we helped one another through tough times.
I love this picture of Patricia -- head high, smiling, and you can tell -- she was going to find her spot in the world and live it to the best of her ability. She remains a role model to this day. She was one of the bravest woman I've ever known, like my mom. I think of her often.

Another April moment happened during the recent Spartan Sports Journalism Classic, when I had the opportunity to finally meet former MSU basketball and NBA player Greg Kelser, who was part of the event panels.
Back in the late 1970s, MSU's basketball was at the top of its game (there was this kid named Earvin on the team -- we'd later know him as Magic). I was in grad school at the time and usually once a week my dad and I would go to the student Union for dinner. It was basically a cafeteria and apart from the brownies the food wasn't too hot, but dad loved it. He was at the time in his life where his health was beginning to fail but he was still pretty good, getting around. It was a few years after mom died and I'm not sure which of us most looked forward to those dinners.

The basketball team often came in after practice for dinner and of course you couldn't miss this group of tall guys. Often we were there before they arrived. But one time, we were in the food area at the same time. I don't know if Dad bumped into Greg Kelser or if it was the other way around, or if they just exchanged a moment. But greetings were spoken and dad was over the moon. From that moment on, Special K became our favorite player. To us, these kids were stars. We forgot they were just kids.

Well, I got to tell Greg Kelser that silly story. And he was such a nice guy. It really made my day.

So many years have passed and in that time I've had the opportunity to meet dozens of really famous people (mostly PBS types), sometimes sharing lunch or drinks with them, mostly in meet-and-greet lines or receptions. And they are very real -- they goof up, they make mistakes, they have families, there are things they are proud of and things they'd rather forget. They are real.

In my own little town, people come up to me all the time because they've seen me on TV. I'm used to it now, but it still always surprises me a little. But then I remember another Dad incident years ago at a local restaurant when he and I were having lunch. Our news anchor, Jane Aldrich, was eating there. Jane and I knew each other professionally, so it didn't surprise me when she stopped by and said hello. But Dad had never met her. And Jane was a star. Maybe bigger than Greg Kelser. (That's Jane with her husband Kip.)
That made his day, too -- and every time we watched the news together, I heard about it.
Jane and I have become genuine (not just work) friends in the years that followed. And one thing I know for sure -- she is as "real people" as real people get.

Which actually makes my day.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Drawing with Joanne and Jill -- Again!

Here are a few more images from my "Drawing with Joanne and Jill" challenge. The first two were done looking at a line drawing of a shape -- in this case, a balloon. It is definitely "from the past."
All the coloring, detail and depth is mine. (We are basically talking a circle connected to a square as a starter.

This one, "Spring is Really Here" also started with a line drawing of a cart as inspiration. 
I added the flowers, color and detail.

"Free and Easy" was done from a photo. 
Here's the original -- as you can see, I had trouble with the facial coloring! All that natural light and shadow was a challenge.
The background was the challenge for this one. It's for the challenge "Small Pleasures" and I call it "Tara's Swan."
"Tara's Swan" is from this photo of Tara Bradford's swan from the canal behind her Netherlands home. I was fortunate to have a spotting on my last day visiting a year ago.
I felt pretty good about the swan -- less so with the background.

The last time I posted, some of you asked what media I used. These are watercolor pencils. Basically you draw your work, then wet it and blend the colors. It's an easy way to start water color. I am longing for  little more time and space so I can start using "real" watercolors. I've been reading Vivian Swift's blog regularly and in each post she has a painting lesson. That'll have to wait till summer, but it is on the horizon!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pack It Up! An Altered Vintage Train Case

Headed out on a holiday anytime soon? Next time I go, I'll be taking a weekend's worth of art supplies in my new altered train case!
Dusty DeHaven of SmittenDust has opened a wonderful new studio in mid-Michigan and bringing in a variety of local and out-of-towners to teach (including Kari McKnight Holbrook and Jen Crossley in May!).
I was fortunate to attend the first workshop in her new studio, where we altered vintage hard surfaced train cases, the kind people our mom's ages (well, my mom's age!) used to use!

Dusty is a good teacher. She brought several of her own to inspire us, gave us a great supply list prior to the class, and we were ready to go.
It also helped having her bring several samples she already did. There was variety and you could see all the ways one might go.
The case I had was blue and had nice pockets within. I covered the bottom with an Asian cat fabric (thank you, Jane Rosemont's Garage Sale!). We used polymer medium to stick the fabric to the case.
The top was covered with pages from several French books and some additional collaged bits.
I wasn't pleased with how some of the polymer medium was showing through the light fabric. Thanks to good suggestions from the class, a light and gently tinted polymer glaze was strategically placed. It pulled in the green in the fabric as well as covering the trouble spots!
Dusty helped us with putting cork on the bottom of the case to keep the fabric tidy.
And a caution -- if you are using a fabric with a specific pattern, matching can be a challenge. Here's the back of mine.
Of course you do the inside, too!
What's fun is that everyone's was different. Here's a photo of Jan who used bright and cheery colors. Very different from mine and Dusty's, which of course is the point!
Because I didn't have all the embellishments I needed from home, I finished mine later. But basically, the class (which was $47) went from 10-4 and because I couldn't finish I was done with the lion's share of  the project at 3:30. That time frame (and cost) included a very nice lunch.
At home I finished off the plastic handle, wrapping it with silk ribbon and added several buttons inside and out.
And when it's good to go -- it looks just like this!
Three cheers to Dusty for creating a space filled with mixed media opportunities right here in mid-Michigan.
If you're in the mid-Michigan area and interested in learning about upcoming SmittenDust classes, visit the site HERE. There are several good ones coming up (including workshops with Kari McKnight Holbrook!)

For more detailed instructions on how to create your own train case, and to get to know Dusty better, check out Dusty's this Detroit News article HERE.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lizzie Cosette Welcomes Spring

Sometimes Lizzie Cosette (aka Mlle. Good and Plenty) says it all with her face.
Welcome spring!
We'll keep looking out the window till that red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin' along!
And then we'll invite him to lunch.

NOTE: I have finally posted more on Chopsticks and String, my book blog -- so stop by if you're interested in seeing what has (and hasn't) taken my fancy lately!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


I love Claudine Hellmuth's work and enjoyed an online class with her last year. (I had less time than I thought to put into the work, but I still learned a lot!) So, when I saw her freebie tutorial for a paper bird's nest in my email box, I decided I had to give it a go.
If you click on Claudine's link, you see this nice full nest into which she put pretty eggs.Mine is a little different. Here are a few of the pitfalls I noticed. Nothing major, but worth keeping in mind if you try this!

First, Claudine says cut up brown paper bags and text for the paper bits. Then you glue them over the back of a protected bowl to make your nest. (I'm giving vague instructions because I want you to visit her!)
So I did. Note to self. It is best to use the paper bags. I had some cool brown shred which I thought would look all nest-like and it does. But it was a pain to work with.
Note 2. Use enough paper. My nest is pretty thin and I think it suffers for it. If you look at mine and then Claudine's, you'll see how hers is fuller and probably stronger. More layers.

Note 3. This takes a lot more matte medium than you think it will. Just be prepared.
Note 4. Make sure you use more brown than white. Otherwise it looks like the photo above, which isn't too "nesty."
Note 5. Other materials can help. I used a little green moss to darken things up and I also added a thin layer of medium to the inside of the nest and sprinkled oregano gently within. It helped.
Note 6. I still wasn't thrilled by the white look so I did a thin raw umber wash. You can see it a bit in the above photo. It helped. A lot.
Note 7. Fill can help all around. I added a few feathers, some inside moss and ...
Voila! I was very happy!
These are delicate and I suspect mine is more so because I didn't use enough layers of paper. But it's pretty darned cute and I'm sure I will make another! Thanks, Claudine!

Note: I have just updated my book blog, Chopsticks and String, so if you're looking for a good read (or one to ignore), stop by!

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