Archive for the 'my family novela' Category

Home is where the Hope is

We flew up to Oregon this past weekend to see Mamacusa and The Love Muscle.  Now, I’ve flown enough times to know that, in the event of an aeronautical disaster, the best strategy is to chug your alcoholic beverage, dramatically clutch your carry-ons that have invariably shifted during turbulence,  and in the calmest way possible (so as not to upset your neighbors), scream bloody murder.   So, needless to say, I rarely pay much attention to the monotone drone of whichever flight attendant has drawn the short straw and has to read the emergency instructions…usually a fantastically boring piece of literature in and of itself. 

But on Friday afternoon, as I sat in between two strangers several rows behind The Brit (who sat between two other strangers) on a packed flight, our lead flight attendant commanded our attention with one simple thing:  his humor. 

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen…I have something personal to share with you today.  Today, I have the extreme pleasure of being able to fly with my beautiful and lovely wife, Julie.”  

Julie, slightly embarrassed, smiled sweetly at the passengers from her position in the aisle. 

“And now my beautiful wife Julie, together with my ex-wife Jennifer, will demonstrate the safety features of this Boeing 737 for you!” 

The entire plane laughed (some, I won’t say who, may have even snorted), and, as if we were a single head attached to one neck, turned simultaneously toward the back of the plane to get a good gander at Jennifer.  Well accustomed to the gag, she was smiling sweetly back at all of us.  (And if it wasn’t a gag, the guy had definitely made a lateral move.)

He kept going, “In the event of a loss in cabin pressure, four oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling.  First step?  Stop screaming.  Second is to put on your face mask.  Third is to resume screaming.”  See?  He’s in the know. 

“In the event that this flight becomes a cruise, simply reach under your seats for your life vests.  There should be enough for everyone.  Should we remain airborne for the anticipated duration of the flight, please do not smoke in any of the lavatories…and do not tamper with or dismantle any of the lavatory smoke detectors or webcams as this is a federal offense.”

Later, as we were landing, the wheels of the plane just touching down on the runway, “Whoa Nelly! WHOOOOOOOOAAAA Nelly!!!” he screamed into the intercom.  He followed this with his best imitation of the clip-clopping noises of horse hooves, getting slower and slower as the plane broke harder and harder. Then, as the plane docked at the gate,  “We’d like to be the first to welcome you to the beautiful, wonderful, world-famous entertainment capital of the United States:  Portland!”

And here I thought it was Boca Raton, Florida this whole time.

Our flight crew made the trip up a funny one, which is always a good thing…especially considering that it seems like planes have been crashing into things and/or landing in the Hudson River these days almost as often as they’ve been landing safely.  If I was going to die, I’d rather die laughing at the thought of my last ever piss going viral on youtube via aircraft webcam.  At least I wore cute panties.

The weekend visit was a good one, though brief.  TLM is thinner than when I last saw him but then again, so is Mamacusa.  TLM’s excuse:  no stomach.  Mamacusa’s:  the little-known Cardio-Rectal Nerve of Exasperrhia, an anatomic anomaly that shows a predominance amongst hispanic mothers and wives.  I’ve written about this before.  All it takes is the slightest bit of emotional upset and voila!  Throw a husband diagnosed with stomach cancer in there and she gets many, many voila’s.  The upside of all of this?  They’ll both look great in tomorrow’s professional photo shoot.

All humor aside, considering the circumstances, Mamacusa and TLM are holding up well.  TLM is recovering from his February gastrectomy and has been, just in the last couple weeks, working solid food back into his diet.  For those of you wondering how one without a stomach goes about eating, the anatomic connections have gone from this (pre-surgery):


To this (post-surgery):


So, simply put, his food just goes straight through to his small intestines now…something that takes a body a bit of time to adjust to.  Among the many small miracles that I witness daily in my work, though, is the ability of the human body to adapt to what we subject it to.  Even more miraculous than that is the strength of the human spirit.  And boy does TLM have spirit.  Cancer hasn’t robbed him of even an inch of it.  And while we all grasp at the few straws of control that any of us have in this…while I comb the traditional medical literature and call in favors to med school friends, TLM reads books & searches the internet for alternative medicine options, Mamacusa busies herself with her newfound religion of dutifully counting/calculating/cataloguing TLM’s caloric intake (for his nutritionist)…we all keep our spirits lifted and hopeful.  Hopeful that there’s a miracle out there with TLM’s name on it. 

So if you have a religion…next time you pray, or chant, or meditate, or yogatate, or levitate, (or even flatulate…beggers can’t be choosey)…send my peeps some positive energy.


Head above water. Most days, at least.

Usually when I piss and moan, there’s at least some humor to be found in what I am pissing and moaning about.  I usually discover it somewhere between the piss and the moan.  And then I laugh it off.  Pick up The Self.  And move on. 

That was before The Love Muscle was diagnosed with Stage IV Stomach Cancer…a blindsiding event that made 2009 the first of my 31 years in which I, not the least bit jokingly, asked God for a do-over.  (Which, not surprisingly, didn’t work.)  It’s been devastatingly sad.  If there’s anything that can make you feel helpless, it’s the sound of your mother sobbing on the other end of the phone, where you can’t reach her to hug her, hold her, and silently agree with her that, yes, it’s true, it’s absolutely not fair that her 50 year old, amazing husband, who she’s been blissfully married to for the last six years, has cancer.  I’ve been up to Oregon to see them three times (the weekend after he was diagnosed, the weekend he had a complication and ended up in the ICU, and the week of his gastrectomy) and I’ll be there again in a couple weeks, but it’s not the same as just being there.

There’s been a lot of love and support and prayer for which I, and Mamacusa & TLM, have been grateful.  And if you’ve been a part of that thus far, I thank you.  About the only thing that’s been a comfort in the last few months is the simple fact that we are surrounded by concentric circles of love that reach all the way around the globe.  And in a situation where there is nothing that can be said to solve the problem at the root of it all, love is what saves us.  So thank you for saving us. 

I’ve thought about ditching this blog.  Or going private and keeping it all to myself.  Or going back to journal writing.  And I may decide, in the end, to do one of the above.  Or none.  But for now, I’ll just write when I can.  Because never more than this precise time in my life has the name of this blog ever been more true.  And someone has to keep track of all this madness. 

I’ll try to make my way back around to writing about The Brit’s and my wedding in October, our brilliant honeymoon, and all the other big and little things that I want to remember.   But for now, I’ll end with the story behind the one tiny slice of good news I’ve had since January 6th.  The photographer who shot our amazing photographs (coming soon-ish) (or maybe not, with my track record lately) had a contest for a free photo shoot (professional hair and makeup included) for the couple with the best love story.  I wrote Mamacusa & TLM’s love story and entered it.  And it won.  Here it is, with names changed, of course…


Mamacusa will be the first to admit that she wasn’t TLM’s biggest fan when she first met him. He’d squeezed onto the plane mere minutes before takeoff and claimed the empty seat next to hers…the very one she’d been planning to put her feet up onto. Bastard! Not only did he steal her legroom but he insisted on talking to her. At first, she nodded politely and quietly plotted her escape (there are parachutes on commercial flights, right?) but then he mentioned that he’d just taken a sabbatical from his engineering job, bought an RV, and was planning on traveling around the US for a year. Now, Mamacusa’s not a camper (as there’s usually an abundance of dirt and a paucity of showering involved) but she’d always wanted to travel the US. They got to chatting and realized they had a lot in common, namely that they’d each kicked a bad habit some years back (hers: a miserable 26 year marriage, his: an 8 year tumultuous relationship with alcohol). Their different paths of loss and triumph had brought them not only to the same plane but also to similar places in life, something they continued to talk and email about for weeks after parting ways at the airport. So what if TLM was a Gringo! He was thoughtful, intelligent, funny and, perhaps most importantly, easy going and honest. He was the antithesis of Mamacusa’s Hispanic ex and a refreshing change from the few disappointing specimens she’d been on dates with lately. They discovered that they lived an hour away from each other so, after a few more weeks of chatting, they met for dinner. From then on, Mamacusa insisted that TLM take the empty seat next to hers.

To borrow an admittedly overused cliché, Mamacusa just knew it was right. TLM had a way of dealing with things (good and bad) that she’d never experienced in her Cuban upbringing. Everything was okay. And if it wasn’t, it would be eventually because he would make it so. She liked that about him. He made her feel safe and at peace. And he made her laugh. He didn’t speak any Spanish beyond the standard “yo quiero taco bell” but he’d quickly pick words up. “Besitos!” (“little kisses”) he’d started saying to her whenever they’d say goodbye. When he didn’t know the meaning of a word, he’d invent one. He once overheard Mamacusa say ‘pobresito’ (“poor little guy”) and said to her, “Poor besitos? Little kisses with no money?”

Their relationship evolved quickly. It would have happened quicker if Mamacusa’s daughter (then 24 years old and far more experienced at dating than her) hadn’t provided a reality check: “WHAT? You’re about to quit your job and run off with an unemployed engineer who lives in a Winnebago? He could be a traveling murderer for all you know!” She had a point. So instead of marrying him after three months, Mamacusa married him after six. (Because it’s a well established fact that traveling murderers declare themselves by six months!) It was a simple wedding in Monterey, California with close family and friends. Mamacusa’s daughter and son, despite their reservations about the whirlwind relationship, were there for them. It was a perfect day…sunshine, love, and tiramisu!

One month into marriage found Mamacusa and TLM packing up Mamacusa’s apartment, putting everything into storage, and readying for a year-long RV-ing honeymoon. Then, in an unexpected turn of events, Mamacusa’s mother in Miami was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Any lingering concerns anyone might have had about TLM’s true character were obliterated with his next move: he put Mamacusa on the next flight to Miami and then spent the next four days driving the RV down there. They stayed and took care of her mother for the last three months of her life. TLM did this not just for Mamacusa but with her and without reservation or protest. It was an act of unconditional love that some married couples don’t share even after 50 years…and TLM shared it selflessly after one month. Mamacusa was devastated to lose her mother but blessed to have TLM there to help her through it.

They eventually got on the road and, in the end, spent two wonderful years in the RV traveling around the country. They sent postcards from their varied destinations and jokingly signed them “Your favorite trailer trash, Mamacusa & TLM!” Many thought that two years on the road would tear any couple apart, but they’d already passed a difficult test so everything else was a breeze.

They’ve spent the last few years making a happy home in Oregon. Mamacusa & TLM spend their evenings getting pruney fingers and toes in their jacuzzi and they spend their holidays contriving new Cuban/American traditions. TLM, who long ago won Mamacusa’s kids over, only solidified his standing with them when he invented the Cuban Burrito…basically the day old leftovers of a traditional Cuban Christmas meal wrapped in a tortilla. They make it every year now.

Mamacusa would be perfectly happy to spend the rest of her life listening to TLM butcher the Spanish language and watching him concoct the next great meal from leftovers. But, heartbreakingly, she most certainly won’t get to. In a seemingly unfair twist of fate that has blindsided the whole family, TLM has been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. It’s a sobering and terrifying fact that Mamacusa’s still struggling to grasp. She knows that life is a gift and that dying is part of living, but she only just found him six years ago and she can’t imagine life without him. But the time will come when she’ll have to and when it does, she wants to remember TLM exactly as he is right now, while he still has both hair and humor, and before chemoradiation transforms their life into something different than it has been for past blissfully happy six years. They’ve never had professional photographs taken, not even on their wedding day…and I can’t imagine a better photographer to take their picture.


Mamacusa and TLM will have their photos taken on March 24th.

Another plus: He can get that nose ring he’s always wanted

Cancer.  It’s an ugly, frightening word and even uglier still when it’s associated with someone you love.  Unless that someone you love is my 82 year old grandfather…my Abuelito  chooses to look Ugly and Frightening in the face and, instead of running and crying, he craftily slips a whoopee cushion onto their seat and a fake pile of plastic poo onto their dinner plate.  That’s how he rolls.  And he called me today to tell me about it:

Abuelito:  Hola, mi doctora!!!

La Cubana Gringa:  Hi Abuelito!  

Abuelito:  I’m calling you to tell you I have cancer!!  Ha!


Abuelito:  Oh, the dermatologist found a little something on my nose.  No big deal.  He’s going to whack it out in a couple weeks.

LCG:  Well, what kind of cancer is it?

Abuelito:  Oh, I don’t know.  Can’t remember the name.  

LCG:  Well, it’s important to know!  There are several different types and all of them have different prognoses.

Abuelito:  Well, start naming all the skin cancers you know and I’ll tell you if any of them sound familiar.

LCG:  Well, there’s Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Melanoma…and then there are things like Seborrheic Kerratoses or Acanthomas that are usually benign…

Abuelito:  Yeah, it’s one of those whatchamaloma’s. 

LCG:  Abuelito…they ALL end in “-oma” come on!  Some of these metastasize…they can get into your liver or your lungs…this is serious!

Abuelito:  No, no no…don’t worry mi doctora!  My cancer hasn’t metastasized!

LCG:  Oh yeah?  How do you know?

Abuelito:  Have you SEEN the size of my nose!  There’s no way it’s gotten through that thing!*

LCG:  …

Abuelito:  Listen.  Don’t worry.  Look on the bright side…if they have to cut a big hole out of my nose…it’ll be an improvement!  One more hole to breathe through! 

*  As you can imagine, this highly scientific hypothesis of his didn’t satisfy my need to know his diagnosis.  I’m going to call his doctor first thing in the morning.  Let’s all pray for Basal Cell. 

UPDATE:  Our prayers worked!  It IS, indeed, Basal Cell Carcinoma…invades locally but rarely ever metastasizes.  Phew!  I’m going shopping for celebratory nose rings right now!

All in all, it was far more complimentary than that time she told me I was a “good eater”

The other day I got quite a lovely card from The Brit’s Mum, Lulu, who lives in the far away land of England where we don’t get to see her nearly as much as we’d like. She wrote the card to me on the anniversary of her daughter, Dani’s, untimely death and said many wonderful things about how she’s certain that Dani and I would have gotten along very well. That I am like a ray of sunshine and they’re very happy to have me joining the family. And, in a gesture of generosity and thoughtfulness that I’m beginning to see is not uncommon to The Brit’s family, she offered to buy my wedding bouquet for me in memory of Dani who she said would have “surely been out to catch it with some US hunk in mind.”

I know I usually write about the shits and giggles of life on here, but this was just too sweet not to document. Here’s to having a mother-in-law who will surely rank higher than cheese on my list of favorite things! And Dani, if you’re reading this in heaven (surely they have wifi up there?), know that you’ll very much be with us in spirit on our wedding day…as you are every other day of the year. xoxo

This is how behind in blogging I am: I’m still talking about Christmas!

Please don’t hold it against me. (Though if you do, could you hold it against my temples and rub in a slow, circular, soothing motion?) Because I can’t really talk about current January happenings without my head exploding into a searing tension headache. Then, naturally, I would subsequently need to take a nap. Which is just another way to waste time! (Were you aware of this? Also in this category? Long, hot showers! Who knew?) So much to do. Which reminds me of these cute napkins we had at our Christmas Party…they had a quote on them: “So many boys, so little mistletoe.” Oh, how I wish January were about trivial things like boys and mistletoe. Really, there should be an 8th day of the week. (Just in January, though.) Bear with me dear readers reader1, I promise February will be much, much better. I think.

Til I can manage to sneak away from the Things Of January That Occupy All Of My Time, I leave you with a Christmas story that still makes me chuckle. (And it kinda makes me want to watch X-Men 3 again…except I HAVE NO TIME FOR SUCH FANTASTICAL THEATRICAL CRAP! I’ve mentioned that, right?)


One afternoon in Oregon over Christmas, Mamacusa walked into the living room three-quarters of the way through the movie we were watching and she paused, squinting at the TV, trying her best to ascertain what the storyline was. (Squinting has been scientifically proven to help with this. Brow furrowing has too.) It was at that part in X-Men 3 when what’s-his-name is engaging in a mind-over-mutant battle of cosmic proportions with what’s-her-name. You know the part.2

With a quizzically furrowed brow, she said, “So…hang on. Is this…like…Good fighting Evil or something?”

Without looking away from the TV, Homeslice answered, “No Ma, it’s just two neutral forces duking it out over who gets the employee of the month parking spot.”

1. Let’s be honest, we’re talking about my mother here.
2. And if you don’t, I won’t think any less of you…I’ve SEEN the movie and I don’t even remember that part.

Sound marriage advice from an expert

Yesterday was my Abuelito’s 82nd birthday. So I gave him a call and accidentally interrupted his dinner. Or, alternatively, I saved my Aunt and Uncle (who’d taken him to a Japanese Restaurant for “something new”) the embarrassment of having Abuelito demand that the waiter take his sashimi back to the kitchen to be either cooked or made into ceviche. You can’t teach an old Cuban to eat proper Japanese.

In our conversation, he confirmed that he’d received the Christmas card that The Brit and I sent him. We sent out an obnoxious (go figure) photocard this year. In it, there was an image of The Brit and I decorating our Christmas tree…The Brit leaning over the top to put the star on (with a speech bubble photoshopped into the photo near his ass saying “PFFFFFT!!”) and me, standing next to the tree looking more than a little alarmed (and with a thought bubble photoshopped in near my head, reading: “Do you hear what I hear?”)

“Yes, I got it,” he said in Spanish, “but one word of advice…if you plan on marrying and STAYING married to this man.”

“Yes, Abuelito?”

“Stand BY your man.  Not behind him.”

The secret active ingredient: their innocence

Mamacusa called me the other morning to check in on how I’m recovering from having temporarily become one large booger.

“I’m beginning to resemble myself again,” I told her, “and I can breathe…somewhat.”

“Good, glad to hear it. Everyone at work’s been sick lately, so I’ve been trying to avoid it by taking that Newborn stuff.”


“OH! I mean the airborne stuff…THE AIRBORNE STUFF! HA HA!!”

“Ahhh…that makes better sense. Though, now that I think of it, I have heard that a healthy little newborn, when crushed with a mortar and pestle and pressed into tablet form, does wonders for cold prevention!”


The madness featured here is mine and mine alone. It does not, in any way, reflect the madness of my employers, colleagues, patients, nutty family, or my colorful friends. The privacy of my employers, colleagues, patients, nutty family and colorful friends is sacred & deeply respected, so no names. All words Copyright © la cubana gringa, no method, just madness 2006-2010. All comments © their authors. Don't steal; it's not nice. (And my Grandfather knows people.)

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