Friday, February 24, 2017

Six Tips for Getting Along With Breast Cancer Radiation

(1) Be sure to have ten years of ballet or gymnastics under your belt so that you can hold poses for extreme lengths of time.
(2) Practice holding your arms over your head until they go numb. Hold them even longer.
(3) Don't be ticklish. 
(4) Don't be ticklish, part two: the technician is drawing permanent marker lines all over your boobs and side and you're supposed to avoid twitching or giggling.
(5) Your foot is not allowed its involuntary twitch while you're lying on that radiation table.
(6) Sun. Feels like sun. Sun zinging into the side of you. 

And that was just the FIRST radiation. One down, around twenty-seven to go. Think of the experience as going to a very kinky tanning salon.

Monday, February 20, 2017

My Post-Wig World

Once your hair really starts to grow after chemotherapy--not the horrible tack-like prickles, but this kinky, Little Orphan Annie hair, the wig starts getting itchier. When the weather's cold, you can stand wearing the thing, but on a warm sunny day, you'll feel as though a nest of lice was bedding down for a long season. 
So on the last day of the semester, I stopped at my friendly neighborhood hairdresser--hadn't seen her since early last summer, but she's been getting credit for the wig ever since I started wearing it. I told her she'd been getting credit for my hairdo and she looked puzzled, since she couldn't remember that style on me. I whipped off the wig and watched her eyebrows go up and her mouth go into a round "O" of shock.
I gestured to the poodle-gray mess creeping over my scalp like Kudzu over a landscape and asked, "Can you do anything with this?"
Fortunately, she laughed and asked to try on my wig. And yes, improvements could be made. I emerged from the salon an hour later with auburn hair, a shade too dark, but the gray is gone--slightly trimmed, too, so that it doesn't bush over my ears like a tonsure on an old monk. I can't say my current do is the fashion statement of my choice. But it's better than bald, folks--better than bald. 
To go with it, I have magic-markered lines and  few spiky little things with pentagram-like markings that I just got today from the technician who is arranging my radiation. I will get zapped along the markings, apparently, and I am not supposed to take a shower, so I will probably soon smell as creepy as this design looks (although I'm allowed to sponge off areas un-decorated by magic markers). Sid Vicious would be proud of me. At least I am on the home stretch: in five weeks I should be done with treatments, except, of course, for the pills. Buckets of 'em, over five years. On the bright side, I got to keep my breast, which has always been a big part of my fashion statement and many other statements.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Trump Hiding In Plain Sight

Even when Fox News is interviewing her, she's unbelievable. OH, and somebody keeps taking that video down, the one in which Conway is caught calling lies "alternative facts." I'm going to try to get this video back up. And you all know she said that. But oh, Saturday Night Live, thank you for supplying us with this:

But no matter how much fun it is to watch the original and the parody that feels so real, the RUSSIAN thing and the TAXES thing are still getting buried. Today's illegal plug for Ivanka's clothing line is yesterday's grab-'em-by-the-pussy. The SNL stuff is fun to watch, and the constant needling gets to Trump and his toadies, but I want reporters and comedians to devote all their spare time to uncovering Trump's ties to the Russians and Trump's tax returns.

Because he'd much rather we get angry about Kellyanne's latest illegal vulgarism than remember his ties to Russia or his taxes or whatever else, by the time I finish writing this sentence, will leave us all slack-jawed with disbelief and horror.

THE RUSSIANS. THE TAXES. All else is vanity.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ways To Stop Trump: Six Tips

This is not my guarantee that we can. Just a vision of how Americans might escape the anaconda grip of this heartless snake.

(1) America's rich have to unite in rejection of him. The very thing they won't do, since he's making them lots of money.

(2) Reporters have to stop asking "Is that appropriate?" when he says a respected jurist is a "so-called judge" or "disgraceful." Instead, they should say, "That language is not appropriate--and not allowed." No one sets limits with Trump. They question him. Set boundaries instead. The way the debate moderators should have set boundaries.

(3) Ramp up the ridicule. Saturday Night Live, good for you, but do more. Oh, much more. 

(4) Publish his old report cards. I want to see them almost more than I want to see his taxes.

(5) Wikileaks, where are you on those taxes? Roll 'em out. Yesterday!

(6) When all else fails, bite his tail. Wouldn't it be nice if Melania took care of that?

Monday, February 6, 2017

German Teachers of English and Native Speakers

My children--who have been talking to me, Mom, from Manhattan, all their lives, and listening to me reading them everybody from Harry Potter to Rick Riordan--got 2s on their report cards in English (the American equivalent is a B.) They bring home stories about their English class almost daily that have us all in stitches or in open-mouthed disbelief . . . and now their report cards tell me how much the teacher resents their command of the language. Yesterday's sample: My daughter's Nigerian classmate, who, like her, grew up in an English-speaking home, pronounces "three" as "tree."
"No, that's wrong!" said their teacher. "The word is pronounced 'Sssssreeeee!'" Now, I could post a You-Tube video tailored to native speakers of German who want to know where to place their tongues in order to pronounce the "th" sound in "three." But the point is the teacher ought to be doing that herself. She also ought to have some idea of Global English, and the wide range of pronunciations that appear on CNN and BBC. Nobody's doing "RP" or "received pronunciation" anymore except . . . well, the Nigerian father of one of my kids' classmates who said he wanted to learn American black English because people were telling him his British English sounded "affected." 
I did tell my daughter that if she wanted to get in even more trouble with her teacher she might toss around linguistic terms like "interdental fricative." 
But my kids never wanted trouble with the teacher. They just can't help rolling their eyes when she says the word "thrice" doesn't exist. 
Not that these gals speak English badly. They're teachers, after all! They'd get along fine in airports and restaurants anywhere in an English-speaking country. 
But they're also Germans. They like the feeling of authority when they believe it's due. They like to be sure of themselves, and they like the sound of the pronouncement, American English sounds like chewing gum, even though they all must know that just ain't so. I've heard 'em get all their pronouns wrong ("Children, look TO my mouth," pronounced "mouse") and I've heard 'em pronounce "lettuce" as "Let-oooose" (to rhyme with moose.) I admit to speaking German much, much worse than they speak English. But I do like to learn, and I do use You-Tube, and I do go to other Internet sites to at least try to get my pronunciations correct. I sure do wish the English teachers of Germany would do that. I also wish they'd enjoy students who already speak the language . . . even the ones who speak it much better than they do. Or especially. You know, teach, you'd have more fun that way. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hear Trump Yell (to the tune of Three Blind Mice)

Hear Trump yell!
Hear Trump yell!
See him flip the bird!
See him flip the bird!
He's always flailing his carving knife
He slices and stirs shit and rustles up strife
Did you ever see such a sight in your life
As Don's hard sell
As Don's hard sell . . . .

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Top Six Alternative Truths You Didn't Know About Donald Trump

1. His real name is Dawid Thaman"Donald Trump" is an Americanization.* 

2. He lives up to his original Arab name, Dawid, which means "Prince," and "Thaman," which means price or worth.

3. His real dad was a Saudi Oil executive who had a little trouble with, oh never mind who, I promised not to tell.

4. Little Donald, or rather Dawid, arrived on American shores a thin, undernourished refugee child, quickly picked up the Queens accent for which he is known, adopting rep ties and suits with padded shoulders, and shed his past like a snake his skin. 

5. A Presbyterian church sponsored him, but the pastor has begged me not to identify it ("We're so afraid he'll start banning Presbyterian immigrants!") 

6. Trump's traumatic childhood accounts for his tendency to forget his origins--let's make allowances. Send him love, adoration, prayers! All faiths welcome. We think you should get back to your true self, Donald, and recognize the faith into which you were born. Don't be a self-hater, or a self-inflater! Remember your origins. 

*Sources: two intrepid reporters, Deeper Throat and Deepest Throat, who moonlight as world championship fellators.

P.S. Here is my favorite European comment on our Trumpesque world:  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Trumpauguration: Made in America? Really? Three Things to Remember

I watched this strange performance under less than ideal circumstances--post-operatively, sitting on a hospital bed, gazing up at Trump's mouth, words emerging from it being simultaneously translated into German. I thought, when I heard him say he'd be building "Railways! Bridges, tunnels, roads!" that I was still too gorked out from the anesthesia. What planet were we on? Planet 1860-something? Those eighteen-sixties, they were good for "I Been Workin' On The Railroad," published 1894. Amtrak's been declining for years, Donald. But presumably you know that. So what's going on? Was I really hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Not that they don't sing well . . .but the point seems that they were made in upstate New York, not some foreign country--and the lobsters served were Maine lobsters, shrimp from the Gulf, the steak--apparently from Virgina, not New Zealand.  Of course Made in America extended to religions, too: a Jew, A Christian Evangelical, and a Catholic bishop, but no Imam. Never mind that Thomas Jefferson's bill establishing religious freedom was meant, in his words, "to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination." Could Trump not have brought in an Imam to speak of the value of human life? Could we have had more than one nonwhite person onstage? That we will never forget the day is correct, but not for the reasons Trump stated. That the people now have the power was the worst lie. Why were so many of the women--Ivanka, Tiffany, Hillary--wearing white? They are, comparatively speaking, the virgins. He's the whore. Remember the following:
(1) Isolationism has never worked: American history is immigration. 
(2) Economy is global.
(3) Never give up. America will be sane again. It may take a long time, but Trump, like Voldemort, won't last forever.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Consumer Genetic Testing: The Road Unfortunately Not Taken in Germany

Breast cancer patients should be as informed as possible about the causes--often myriad, often unknowable--of their illness. Although cancer can theoretically be caused by things as random as an accidental genetic mutation or consumption of sugar and wine, several known genetic causes can be determined with a simple saliva test (spit in a tube, pay a nominal fee, and FedEx the sample to a lab). For fees ranging from $149 or less up to around $500, American and British citizens can find out whether they have a statistical likelihood of developing cancer and a range of other ills. Personally, I'm interested in the $249 offer from Color Genomics for the following genes known to be involved in breast cancer and other ills:

PMS2**, POLD1*, POLE*, PTEN, RAD51C, RAD51D, SMAD4, STK11, TP53 

The thing is, I live in Germany, a nation devoted to rules and regulations. I can buy the Color Genomics test, or the 23andme test on the Internet and send back a saliva sample, but I can't get the results as long as I'm physically present in Germany. If I want a BRCA gene test in Germany, I have to pay a lab between three and four thousand dollars, because my health insurance company  pays for such tests only when two other female relatives have breast cancer. I'm statistically unlikely to have a gene that causes cancer because I'm the only woman in my family who has it. But I'd like to know for sure, and I'd like to be able to inform my twelve-year-old daughter whether we're free of cancer-causing genes. She'd like to know, too.
I sent emails to the German Federal Minister of Health, Hermann Gröhe, ccing my physicians, and to the Deutschkrebsforschungszentrum (German Cancer Research Center) detailing my reasons for wishing to be able to buy an inexpensive test. The Cancer Center replied at length, including many websites I've already toured, but here's the meat of the message:
In Germany, predictive genetic testing may only be performed by specialized physicians qualified in human genetics after a thorough adequate information and counselling of the patient. 
For more information, please see the German Genetic Diagnostics Act (Gendiagnostikgesetz): .

For a qualified counselling, patients can refer to one of the centers of the German Consortium of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (GCHBOC):

Contact details of the center in Düsseldorf are directly available at: 

There are special contracts between these centers and the health insurance companies concerning reimbursement of the costs for an interdisciplinary consultation, and, if applicable, for extensive genetic tests for identification of BRCA mutations.

The German Consortium of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (GCHBOC) urgently advises against so called "direct-to-consumer" tests which are offered for example in the USA because there is no neutral non-directive counselling of the patients and such tests are usually focusing on frequent BRCA mutations (i.e., rare mutations can be overlooked resulting in a false negative test result).
In other words, Germany likes to regulate. Why? The reasons given fall into one of two categories:
(1) Paternalism, as in doctors feel they are better qualified to receive and give information. They don't want patients to receive information that may lead to decisions doctors find unwise. 
There are always people who jump out a window or arrange for a body part to be removed when they get medical information they don't like. But that unhappy fact should not determine social policy. Just because some women choose prophylactic mastectomies doesn't mean that genetic testing should be restricted.
(2) Protectionism. Labs make lots of money selling tests. They'd make less money if companies like Color Genomics, 23andme,  Invitae . . . oh, there are others, too . . . were in on the game. 
So what's a girl with breast cancer who wants answers to do? Make an appointment with Dr. So-in-So at Hotshot hospital in New York. That's what.  

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Unexpected Side Effects: Four Tips for Breast Cancerians

(1) Chemotherapy curls your hair! After you lose it, that is, and after it starts to grow back as hard little stubbles that hurt when you lie down. One day you realize your hair's gotten soft again. Then comes the moth-eaten nun look, or the determined dyke or the Roman-emperor do. Then comes the curls. Or the cowlicks. Remember Tintin's big old cowlick? Lots of those, plus tight little curls.

(2) You start watching Grey's Anatomy. There's an episode somewhere in the fifth season that saved an Israeli woman's life. She'd found a lump while breast-feeding and her doctor said it was just a clogged milk duct. A character on Grey's Anatomy was told the same thing, had second thoughts, and got a second opinion. The Israeli woman got her own second opinion after watching that episode. TV saved her life. Besides, the spectacle of interns kissing attending surgeons in stairwells, anesthesiologists dozing off on duty while drunk, nutcases getting shot on purpose as performance art, is all so distracting that I hardly think about my own cancer. When I do, I'm more clearheaded about what to do next.

(3) You make a will. And it's about time, Sweetie.

(4) You learn to take one thing at a time. When you panic, as I did the other day upon learning that I had to have another surgery, you tend to do many things at a time, or to think frantically about doing many things. Now's the time to slow down, make a list, and focus on the first thing before moving nervously to the second.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Cookies with the Critical Mom

I make the kind you roll out and refrigerate: here's the recipe:

We've had some delightful results. My son produced a "Diabetes" cookie:
For a sugar rush, if not actual diabetes, eat some of these!!

My daughter made one with the four houses of Hogwarts:
Clockwise, from left: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff
And now for a glimpse of our other cookies:
One way we plan not to lose weight this holiday season

Have yourselves a yummy, yummy Christmas! I recommend cookies with red wine. Or milk.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

I Went to the Christmas Market

Because I wanted to smell the Glühwein and spices; because I wanted to see if I'd missed some one thing I wanted to buy my husband or children; because I have time, at least for the next few days, to feel lazy. Police presence was obvious, and a police car--lone barrier to any runaway trucks that might be around--flanked one end of the pedestrian walkway. Near the other end, I saw a truck slowly moving past a few booths, but it did not pick up speed and crash through anything or anyone. I bought nothing: I just walked around with the increasingly irate feeling that I had a right to be there, and damned if I'd stay home.
We all have a right to be at the Christmas market, to enjoy the season, to relax. Relaxation has never come naturally to me, even less so today as I looked over my shoulder and listened for slight changes in noise-and-laughter level. I thought of Berlin, I thought of Germany, I thought of a world grated at by Donald Trump--but our Christmas market is still standing, and people are still buying little wooden angels, sausages, and mittens. It's still Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The "Dear Lucky Agent" Writing Contest

Hey there, all you writers--here's a not-to-be missed opportunity:  the 28th (free!) “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This is a FREE recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here’s the deal: With every contest, the details are essentially the same, but the niche itself changes—meaning each contest is focused around a specific category or two. If you’re writing a memoir, then this 28th contest is for you! The contest is live through end of day, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. The contest is judged by agent Jennifer Wills of the The Seymour Agency.  Here's link to details:

The Critical Mom is entering of course, with--what else? A memoir called Divorcing Mom.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lumpectomy 101: How To Have One in Nine Not So Easy Steps

What's it like? Depends on how many lumps they're removing. The surgery's a big nothing if, like one friend of mine, you've just got a speck, "crystals" on a mammogram, no cancer, you're in and out the same day, "no big deal," an aspiration. Pain levels go up according to the number of lumps (lymph nodes, actually) removed. I was advised they'd be taking out eight-to-ten, and although I'm sore, I got out of the hospital on the same weekend I went in. Here's what to expect:
1. Doctor drawing magic marker lines where he or she is planning to cut. This is done while you're gooey with ultrasound gel.
2. Mammogram plus insertion of wire in breast (yeouch!) in order to help the surgeon find the tumor that chemotherapy shrunk.
3. Photo op: "just from chin to waist!" they said, but of course, you're naked and have a lot of tape and bandages on the breast with the wire dangling from it. 
4. Surgery. I don't remember too much about this part, except the slight bungle with anesthesia: while a large amount of it was being chugged into my arm, the nurse had neglected to remove the very tight blood pressure cuff on my upper arm. Result: the kind of pain you feel if your hand gets slammed in a car door. This problem was quickly remedied and I don't remember the rest.
5. Wake up very thirsty and hungry. Get fed. Discover that you are wearing two vacuum bottles attached to tubes extending from the incisions: this is your drainage system, and when there's the right amount of lymph, blood, and goo in there, you get to have the tubes removed and go home. 
6. Yes, it does hurt when those tubes are removed, but only for a moment, but yes, about three times as much as a shot.
7. Photo op two! The "after" shots.
8. You put on your compression bra, for which you were fitted back around step 2, and keep it on pretty much for the next three weeks, unless you're taking a shower. 
9. The black ones really have  dominatrix look. Smile back at your image: you've earned the look. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Why Doesn't Twitter Shut Down Trump's Account?

Well? Isn't Lauren Batchelder's story enough?
Way beyond enough! We are way, way beyond over-the-top enough. 
While I'm asking, why hasn't the FBI been investigated by the Justice Department? Why is Comey still walking around? Why are Trump's taxes still hidden? Why is the New York Times still not writing about business fraud, or any of the above? Where is the Deep Throat who can bring out the secret that will remove Trump from office before he takes it?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Critical Mom's Cold

I do seem not to be able to get through Winter without at least one cold. I keep a dispenser of hand sanitizer in my office. Despite religious use of the stuff, I can't escape the coughs of my students, who insist on handing me their bacteria-laden term papers. Or my children, who get every cup of tea they request from me. And despite gallons of tea made with honey, fresh ginger, and lemon, plus my comfort drink, the laryngitis got so bad I couldn't talk at all (shouldn't have gone in to teach on Monday and Tuesday) so I went to the doctor who has prescribed a three-day antibiotic. I took one this morning and crawled back into bed and damn, but the stuff is already working! I'm coughing up the green stuff that refused to emerge before, despite all healthier remedies, including loads of hot steam. These are the consequences of a childhood spent practically teething on antibiotics: I just can't seem to master one of these really bad colds without them. At any rate, recovery would take weeks of lying in bed and who's got weeks? I wonder what Hillary Clinton would have done. If I know her, she'd have chowed down on the antibiotics and then, through an effort of extreme will, kept going long past the point when I would have been collapsing in bed. This kind of infection does separate the girls from the goddesses . . .

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Comfort Drink: A Recipe

This one's seasonal--goes with colds as well as Christmas. Take a glass of sweet red wine--I used König Arthur Republik Moldau, or King Arthur Red Wine from Moldavia, available at our local Aldi's for one euro fifty-nine cents per bottle. Pour wine in small pot on stove. Add: a cinnamon stick (plain cinnamon as  powder will do), a chunk of fresh ginger, a few cloves (again, the powdered stuff will do) and two small tangerines or clementines (discard peels and add sections to wine). Put on medium heat, stirring constantly, until the liquid boils. Pour into huge mug. Add a teabag of fruit tea--hibiscus is nice, as is orange, but anything you like--and pour in a little boiling water. Add about a tablespoon of honey. Stir. Drink. Soothes a scratchy throat; allows one to stop worrying about Trump, at least for a few moments.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Comfort Food: Recipe Fast, Easy, Healthy

If you haven't come across spelt semolina, you'll find it a pleasant alternative to oatmeal. I pour half a coffee mug of the stuff (known in Germany as Dinkelgriess) into a pot and add a coffee mugful of whole milk and a dash of sea salt. Stir. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly--a whisk is best. When most of the milk is absorbed, pour the hot cereal into a bowl--you'll probably need a scraper to get every drop. You can add a bit more salt, butter, and milk--or you can add blueberries and cream. Or maple syrup. Or raw sugar and cream. Or a compote. A truly comforting winter food.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Trump and Messala: A Comparison

For those of you too young to remember the chariot race in the 1959 Ben Hur, in which the hero, Judah Ben-Hur, is betrayed by his best friend, Messala, there's always the 2016 version, but I'll always love the original Ben-Hur as underdog, winning even though Messala's chariot, with blades attached to the hubs, destroys a number of fine charioteers. Fitting out a chariot with these blades was definitely not sporting, but allowed. You're not sorry when Messala dies a lingering death. He's always been a smooth-talking backstabber. Besides, he beats his horses unmercifully before horsewhipping Ben-Hur, in a segment even the Roman spectators boo. (Never mind that in real life, Ben Hur, the handsome Charlton Heston became the NRA's best buddy, and Messala, the steamily masculine Stephen Boyd, cozied up to the Scientologists. Heston and Boyd were such great actors).
The scene makes me think of the Republican president-elect. His activities skirt the legalities in such invisible or suppressed ways that you'd think he was merely "not sporting." In today's New York Times, I read that President-elect Donald J. Trump has already built a wall — not on the border with Mexico, but on the border of his exclusive golf course in northeastern Scotland, blocking the sea view of local residents who refused to sell their homes. All this wall-building appears to be mildly on the side of legality, and local residents aren't pleased.
What a red herring, New York Times. Why not go after the bigger stories? Who's going to investigate the FBI? Who's going to go after Trump's taxes? His shady business dealings? Who's going to let the women at least continue to tell their stories instead of being frightened into silence? Is there a Charlotte Corday around who might tiptoe into Trump's bath? In my dreams she's Melania, and in gratitude, a Statue of Melania gets erected in New York Harbor. I hear myself whispering: Go, girl, go. He's not too nice to you and the kid, is he?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Hurrah for Hamilton!

I couldn't have been prouder seeing the cast of Hamilton out there on stage politely airing the concerns of anyone who didn't vote for Trump and of many who did. Brandon Victor Dixon, I love you. How I wish I'd been there to see your talk in person. 
But along comes the boogeyman demanding an apology. Please don't apologize, Mr. Dixon. Let him apologize for bullying Mrs. Clinton, for all those shouted insults and interruptions to her on the debate stage and elsewhere. If you got the boogeyman in his substantial gut, then good for you.  Now here are Mr. Dixon's words, the ones I want for my children to remember: 

"Thank you for joining us at Hamilton: An American Musical. We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values, and work on behalf of ALL of us. Thank you."

While I'm cheering him on again, let me ask why the FBI isn't going after the boogeyman? Are they already eating out of the palm of his hand? Sing on, Hamilton! 

Best case scenario: Mike Penn thanks Brandon Victor Dixon and says, "You've really made me think," and actually thinks. 

I don't even want to conjure up a worst-case. (Poor Megyn Kelly).
I can't believe Trump is still tweeting about this. I can't believe anyone takes him seriously. I can't believe the entire staff of the NY Times isn't saying to Trump, "Before you make such remarks to the cast of Hamilton, go apologize for your horrible treatment of Clinton and your racist, sexist remarks." I can't believe the entire staffs of the NY Times and other major newspapers, of  news networks, of CNN, of BBC,  are not actively, loudly, investigating Trump's tax fraud, business fraud, Trump university fraud, and horrible treatment of women. Why are these stories falling by the wayside in favor of hourly discussions of Trump's cabinet and conversation with the Times? I'm hearing from Boldpac and I was delighted to give NARAL $40. in Mike Pence's name. But why aren't news organizations covering Trump's shady, to put it mildly, dealings?