29 July 2007

birth day

Thirty-five years ago today, at 2:03 pm, my mother... became a mother.

My father took me out to dinner last night, just the two of us, to an Italian restaurant with a view of Tokyo Tower and the traditional summer fireworks over Sumida River.* There, he told me a little bit about that day -- stories I'd forgotten or never knew. Well, we talked about a lot of things, but inevitably my mother's physical absence at the table grew harder and harder to bear, until I found myself able to do nothing but push around a whipped-cream-covered cherry from the birthday cake on my plate, and I finally burst out crying. (My father held it together, bless his heart!) This should have been our day together, the day we became a family, the three of us, and it just wasn't fair she wasn't there.

Actually, it was my dad's birthday on the 20th. And in two days, on the 31st, Mark and I will toast (on the webcam for now) our third wedding anniversary. So July has really shaped up to be the "circle of life" month.

Oh my. I had all sorts of eloquent thoughts about birth and death and life and such, but I've lost it. And obviously there is so so so much more to share, or at least so much going on, that I don't know how to put into words at all. Or how to reach out. How to even begin replying to the kind words that have been sent our way. (This is my official public apology for not writing back yet!) I guess this entry is kind of like breaking the ice. Slowly. I think somehow talking about it is like admitting it's true. And it's just too scary to actually really dwell on that reality for more than a flash at a time.

So for now, I'll return to the thought of this being the anniversary of the day my mother brought me into this world. (Yes Daddy, you get credit too, but you know what I mean.) And I'll reiterate some of what I said to her over and over that last night.

Mama. Arigato ne. Thank you.

I love you.

*Good thing they were yesterday, because today (appropriately) a monstrous thunderstorm has been lighting up the sky since 2pm -- almost nine hours now, and still going strong!

28 July 2007

06 July 2007

rage, rage against the dying of the light

i am at the end of the most intense 36 hours of my life. been up since waking up for breakfast on the plane, not knowing whether my mother had passed away while mark & i were somewhere over the pacific ocean. but when we made it to narita airport, and i called, she was still hanging on, and another LONG two hours later, we ran into the hospital, family friends waving us in from the sidewalk. and when i fell on my knees by her bed, she saw me, and gave me the most brilliant, unforgettable smile. but that's not all: she hung on for another 16 hours, defying the doctors' expectations by more than 10 fold -- and under the constant vigil of my father, mark, and two close family friends, spent a whole night and daybreak with me/us until her last labored breath at 8:01am Pacific Time. it was the most torturous and beautiful experience i've ever survived. she is truly a formidable, courageous woman, and i learned more from her in the last three days than i ever imagined possible.

and i know it would never have happened were it not for the powerful prayers from all continents, filling her spirit with the precious extra strength. so thank you, everybody. you know who you are.

thank you.

03 July 2007

my mother is dying. mark & i are flying back to japan on the first available flight. there is almost no hope of getting there in time.

the cancer had perforated her intestines and she developed an aggressive, fatal infection.

she is in the hopsital, with my father, at least.

thank you.


24 June 2007

on a lighter note...

...it was Mark's birthday on Friday! We kicked off the weekend with a smashing dinner (starting with a kumquat mojito, left) at the New Leaf Café, up by the Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park. It's a non-profit restaurant where all the proceeds go to the upkeep of the park. One of my favorite spots in New York, especially for brunch in combination with a concert at the Cloisters. But this evening, we went for the live jazz they have on Thursday nights. Several thunderstorms passed through, but as you can see we had a few dry minutes to walk around, and once it was pouring, the rain just made the rustic restaurant even cozier.

While Mark's grown a sweet tooth since I started baking more often in the suburbs, I still figured the oysters were a better bet for the birthday candle. The kitchen gave us a bonus oyster for the occasion, which made it not a half dozen but a lucky seven!

It was a night -- and weekend -- of mixed emotions though. More on that to come...

first, from tokyo

Updates about my mom. Overall, things have not been very good. A few manageable days, but she is really able to eat so little, and is often in great discomfort. Our primary cancer care doctor, Dr. Hayashi, has assured us that she is not yet to the point of having an ileus, which would be an absolute emergency. But, seeing as attempts to resolve the problem internally have not been working, she will be checking into the hospital next Tuesday (June 26th) to get IV nutrition and to somehow, hopefully, address her blocked/scarred intestines (likely the combined effects of the cancer, her gastrointestinal surgeries, and being on opiates for pain control). I think the length of her stay will depend on the course of treatment. If she ends up undergoing surgery or anything like that, I'll probably fly back; otherwise, I'm still hoping to head there in August.

Really, she should have been checked in earlier, but Tuesday was the earliest bed they had available. Health care issues abound in every country. Meanwhile, dear family friends have visited my mom at home, providing massage and other personal care. One of the oddest, fun therapies is...ironing my mom. It's heat therapy, basically, using a special little iron. She and I both tend to get very cold, so I can imagine how good it must feel! And, wearing these socks apparently is also very comfortable.

My dad took all the pics on this blog. He calls this one the United Colors of Bennetoes...

For the time being, they've put chemotherapy on hold. Yesterday she hardly had the strength to put in her contact lenses, but somehow managed to smile brilliantly like she always does. My dad is sleeping less, it seems, but doing ok. He starts working only part time (Tuesday and Friday mornings) starting mid-July, so that will be good too that he can stay with my mom as needed.

More news to come this week.

faster than a speeding bullet

11 days since my last entry! I can't seem to keep up with everything that's been happening. Sorry to those who have been checking in and not finding more frequent updates. Feels like it's been nonstop since the Carngeie event and L.A. trip (for which I still need to report part 3). Hopefully this week will be a little more manageable and I'll be able to write a little more about each thread.

13 June 2007

call me jack bauer

I imagined today what it’s like to be hanging off a flying helicopter. Say off the bottom of the ladder, swaying as the chopper rises higher over cliffs and a churning ocean.

Sometimes I feel like all I can do is hang on. My hands hurt, I’m trying not to sweat, I’m looking up at the body of the helicopter, and through the roaring winds and blades my only coherent thought is that if I can somehow hold on, and climb up, there’s safety, sanity within reach.

But I’m at the mercy of this machine, this force that is barreling in directions I cannot control. And as the ladder swings, and I flail to get a foothold, fear like ice, I instinctively wrest my gaze from the helicopter.

Suddenly, I see.

The burning sunset. The emerging stars. The horizon, patient, gently curling beyond. And the ocean, the beautiful abyss breathing beneath a million bright lights.

Things I couldn’t see from any place else.

And it occurs to me: how lucky I am to be hanging from this helicopter.

12 June 2007

city of angels, pt.2


Friday, June 8th. I was supposed to meet Mark at 9am in Santa Monica to look at a property, but there was no way that would happen after the late night. Also woke up groggy with that feeling of having been on antihistamines that ran out (which is exactly what was happening). Still, perked up a bit when Hana crisped up some thin-crust pizza for breakfast before heading out to her office. I spent the morning crafting follow-up/networking emails and such, then headed out into the perpetual LA sun.

The goal was to take a Culver City tour with Lisa (my best friend from high school), then have lunch at Meltdown with Matt, my friend-slash-(full disclosure) ex-boyfriend who’s a writer-slash-editor, then make chocolate chip cookies in time to join Mark at Elliot’s by 5:30pm for the chicken roast-off. Sounds easy. So why did it feel so hectic?

[EM note: wait… I decided after writing DAY 1 that this is far too detailed… so I will try to cut down on facts and focus more on impressions…]

Part of it was insisting on getting GOOD chocolate chips from Surfas, a chef’s gourmet supply store in Culver City. But ccc’s suck when the cc’s suck. Then there was hunting down the secret ingredient to making them crisp: corn syrup (ultimately “borrowed” from Matt and his wife Juliane – thank you!). And, picking up other ingredients at Trader Joe’s, and (recycled material) paper plates from Ralph’s… Ah, how easily one relearns the art of taking left turns through yellow lights, and the constant scanning for parking spots! But in the company of friends, it was all good.

Skipping to the party itself – the only thing I can compare it to, really, is a wedding. It was all family* and close friends (and close friends of close friends), many of whom we don’t get to see more than once a year, and tons of mouthwatering comfort food, and just barely enough time to spread the love. Mark has since regaled me with tales of struggling to cook ten chickens on the grill in time for dinner, but they pulled it off… ok, my mind just wandered off there remembering how YUMMY every juicy morsel of meat was. When the birds and the three-cheese mac’n’cheese** came out, it just turned into a free for all, and any hope of conducting a survey on organic vs. regular, honey-mustard vs. margarita went out the window.

But ultimately, the evening was a smashing success – we got dozens of people excited about the store, and willing to not only spread the word but look into real estate questions, offer business advice, etc. There was heated debate (?) as to what neighborhood needs this store the most (I think we’re leaning heavily toward the Bluestone Market model, not the Firebird Roasting Company) – and downtown has emerged as an up-and-coming contender. Through much of this, I was running around keeping freshly baked chocolate chip cookies coming from the oven and didn’t actually sit down to eat until long after the rush. Note to self: don’t let store turn into a restaurant….

Didn't crawl into bed until about 4:30amET again. But I think the "high" from the evening and most excellent meal blew the cold away.

*At least 10% of the guests (i.e. 3 out of 30) were pregnant; one was my sister-in-law Beth, who was about to pop any minute -- but still made it to the roast-off! The countdown continues....but not for long?!

**Cheeses this time were goat, Comte and cheddar.

P.S. Photo credit for top picture: Hana C. Ogawa.

...and again

It's another downpour. And this too will pass. The day has been a perfect reflection of my emotional moods: clear skies, swift clouds, dark storms and violent, cleansing rain. Actually, it's a perfect encapsulation of life -- how one follows another, then shifts again.

A trite sentiment perhaps, but struck me this moment nonetheless, as another to-ri ame rolled through.

p.s. you may have guessed: I got my period again.

when it rains...

...it's a DOWNPOUR. I have a great view from my hard-won castle corner edit bay, and I love it. At one point I could see blue sky reflected on a skyscraper beyond, while huge drops of rain plummeted onto the stone terrace just outside my window. Now, the entire sky is silver gray, and the sounds of growling thunder and pounding rain are soothing, filtering in.

20 minutes ago, I was under the trees and sun with my friend Dave M, blissfully chomping down on the famous Shake Shack burger in Madison Square Park.

This is what I'd miss about New York.

11 June 2007

city of angeles, pt.1

It’s 2am ET, and we just got back from California. (Granted, we were up till at least 4amET for the past few days, so actually it’s “early.”) I had all sorts of grandiose ideas about diligently reporting from the front lines in Los Angeles. But truth be told – every minute there was too precious to spend writing on the computer. So, I’m going to cheat and do it now – as though we are still there. Stay with me.


We got up at a semi-ungodly hour (5:30am, me officially sick with a nasty sore throat) and pushed to get to Newark Airport in time (parked in P6-31, P6-31…) – only to then sit on the tarmac for close to an hour. But, these days airlines pad the estimated travel time so much that we landed at LAX technically only about 15 minutes late.

Still, our clock was ticking on a tight schedule: we were to meet Mark’s friend Elliot at his place by 1:30pm, go up to Santa Monica and check out a market/deli called Bay Cities and have a sandwich, and then split up into two cars – they would continue on to look at possible store fronts for rent, and existing gourmet markets, while I headed down to USC for a conveniently scheduled career seminar at 3pm.

Unfortunately, despite not checking any bags, the whole trip to the rental car agency, etc took as long as these things take, and I ended up scarfing down an avocado, cheese and baguette at Elliot’s before scooting onto the good ol’ 10 freeway. (Apparently I didn’t miss much at Bay Cities except an inexplicable spectacle – Mark says it was mobbed, despite serving mediocre sandwiches.)

I won’t go into the details of the seminar itself, which was fruitful, but I must say it was really… refreshing, to go back onto campus after a good 5 or 6 years. It’s summer vacation now, so the place was pretty empty, which allowed the shadows of my time there to bubble up wherever I looked: the walks down 34th street, the improvised lunches, the hanging out around the Lucas building and the sound stages, and mostly, the loading and unloading of C-stands, ARRIs, camera cases, sandbags, etc etc into the hatchback of my little blue Acura (which I totaled one day on the way to a sound mix) or giant cube trucks – whatever the shoot called for. I also felt young and excited again as I descended into the courtyard where I met and bonded with lifelong friends, and poked around the post production building, where I spent many many afternoons, nights and weekends either editing my own films or earning some tuition by “supervising” the joint. I suppose there’s always a sense of nostalgia when returning to a school or other place that defined you, but this had an unexpected effect – of reminding me how damn fun it is to make movies.

Anyway, after basking in the ticklish feeling of being old and young, wise and naive, jaded and dreamy-eyed all at once, I drove the natsukashii (memory-laden) circuit back to the 10 and up to my dear dear friend Hana’s place. She has been my partner in crime from the early days of film school… and had just gotten engaged last Saturday!!...to, um, some guy named Kyle (lol) I’d met for about five minutes (OK, one evening) about two years ago, when they first started dating. Granted, at the time, I’d immediately had a vision of their wedding, but the engagement was still surreal, considering that other than the fleeting meeting, this man was merely a construction of words Hana had told me over the phone. So it was absolutely the perfect time to be visiting her, and make sure this man actually still existed.

Unfortunately, Kyle had a work engagement that night (so Hana said…), so we headed for an LA girl’s night out to – wehre else? – Koreatown, land of smoky BBQs. (And, ok, soon tofu, but that was not the point this evening.) Normally, I insist on going to Soot Bul Jeep, which provides an authentic and delectable experience over flaming charcoal at the table, but we opted for her favorite new kalbi spot, Chosun Kalbi. And I must say, everything was top notch, from the fast but not overbearing service to the selection and sophistication of the panchan (side dishes)…. Not to mention the star of the show, the short ribs, which were incredibly tender and juicy.

Eating all this “stamina” food, including lots of garlic, gave me a boost of energy to go to downtown Los Angeles to check out Cicada – an art deco restaurant/event space, possibly for Hana’s WEDDING. There, I (think I) had a celebrity sighting: Mary Lynn Rajskub, aka “Chloe” from 24. Ran into her as she was coming out of the bathroom. Anyway, the place was gorgeous: old Hollywood glamour, lush, sexy, elegant, but not over the top. Considering it’s the first place she’s looked at, it seemed a real contender; my only concern is that it might be tough to photograph people in the low light during dinner/dancing. But what do I know…

Alas, at this point, jetlag and the cold (now attacking my sinuses) got the best of me. So we climbed back into the car and swung by a drug store, where I loaded up on a convenient half-and-half pack of daytime/nighttime meds, and some orange juice for the next day.

Meanwhile, across town, Mark and Elliot prepped 10 chickens for the roast-off the next evening (Friday). Six were regular chickens and four organic, half each of which were submerged in a margarita marinade, and the other half in a Dijon-mustard French sauce. When we spoke, he also told me about the highlight of their day: a visit to Le Sanctuaire, a high-end store that caters to chefs. Located in Santa Monica, a prime shopping/residential/beach district, this was actually a potential venue for our store, and apparently it’s perfect – exposed brick, walk-in refrigerator in the back – wouldn’t need any buildout. BUT, there is already an offer pending… and, it only has what’s called an incidental food permit, which allows for cooking/selling things like sandwiches but not much else. Elliot will go to town hall to find out more, but there seems to be little hope. The good news is that properties like this even exist in LA, amidst all the other horrible places they looked at.

Mark was staying at his brother Dave’s last night, while I bonded with Hana at her place (still no signs of Kyle), so we said goodnight – except THEN I found emails from my dad with recordings of the consult at the hospital, so I downloaded three files, listened to all of it, and learned that depending on how my mom does over the next couple of days, she may have to check into the hospital again. So then of course I tracked them down on the iSight, and got a hold of both of them – and thankfully, she was feeling (and looking) better! My dad and I both thought she should at least go back to the doctor on Saturday as scheduled for another scan, but…let’s just say it doesn’t look like she will. Which is good, I guess. This all got me to about 1:30am PT, meaning I’d been up for almost 24 hours, so it was time to finally crash, without reading Hana’s manga (shocking).

OK. Must post this now and sleep. To be continued….

06 June 2007

mini-aftermath, etc

Just so you're not left hanging as to what the hell happened after the last post:

1. I realized that my mom called not the hospital, but the at-home care medical group that she's registered with. Sneaky.

2. My mom had multiple visitors, including the nurse practitioner, and by the end of the day she was feeling a little better. She also took more oxycontin, but it hasn't "fixed" everything by far. The NP called the actual hospital but all THREE of her doctors were not around -- my mom says it's conference season or something. We'll have to find out what to do in such cases!

3. I didn't mention last night that she was also feverish and seems to have a cold. So that's probably part of the loss of appetite.

4. My dad got home, went to get watermelons for mom (she was craving the fluid) and also made soup which she managed to put down. This part definitely sounds like a bad cold.*

5. Tomorrow (i.e. tonight on the East Coast) they'll go earlier than usual to the hospital, and the main concern will be to address the rock-hard intestines. I really hope they can address her overall nutrition too.

6. Yes, I did get the expected email from my dad saying I should have called. Also had a heartwrenching description of what it's been like the last few days. I'll leave it at that. I wish I could hug him right now too.

OK. Have to work now. Thought about not coming in, but realized I left my cell phone on my desk and will need it for the LA trip. Sigh.

Thanks for listening.

*The tricky part is that because chemotherapy damages your immune system, we have to take and treat colds very seriously.

long-distance TLC

It’s 1 am and I’m watching my mom on the iSight, trying to sleep off her pain. A little over an hour ago, I called her as I climbed in to bed – hoping to finally catch up, get an update from her trip. I figured she’s been tired and we would just chat on the phone for now. But immediately her voice betrayed her suffering. She told me she’s had the web cam on, hoping I’d show up. So of course I immediately got my laptop and turned it on.

I don’t think she’s been so weak and in so much pain since maybe she was in the hospital. Or maybe it seems worse because I hadn’t seen her in a while and had been hoping (despite some hints from my father) that she’s doing pretty well. Basically, between the cancer and her meds, her digestive system is completely awry, and has now really put pressure on her intestines again, so she’s not only in tremendous pain, she can hardly eat or even drink water. Add to that the fact that she’s at risk of developing hydronephrosis. It’s all “normal” and yet of course not normal at all. She’s supposed to go to the hospital tomorrow for another chemo session and to consult with her doctor, Dr. Hayashi, so figured maybe she could just hang on till then. But he’s repeatedly advised against “hanging on,” and encouraged us to call him or the nurse practitioners with any concerns, so I immediately said she should try and talk to or see him.

Unfortunately, it’s the one day of the week that my dad is teaching all day – otherwise he would have been back by now, and possibly throwing my mom in the car and taking her to the doctor. (He will probably get mad at us both later for not calling him, but of course I would have if it seemed the only (or best) option.) At any rate, I managed to convince my mom to take just another dose of meds, and call the hospital while I stayed online. Which she did – and though Dr. Hayashi is just returning from a trip to the States today, and hence hard to get a hold of, the care center found her nurse practitioner and arranged for her to make a house call this afternoon. Meanwhile, she lay down on the couch, and is now fast asleep. (Oh: spoke too soon. She just leapt off the couch, because a family friend is supposed to stop by at 2:30.)

It kills me at times like this I’m not there myself, even just to stroke her hair. I’m just so so so glad that she got online and that we could make it work, and I could watch while she dozed off. It’s the second late night in a row for me (explanatory post will follow), but definitely worth it. I wish she’d let me hang out all day, and be there for the house call – maybe I can wake up again in an hour and a half?? That’s one sleep cycle, right?

Poor Mark tried to stay up with me but drifted off to sleep, despite the bedside lamp being on and my occasional burst of Japanese (I’m wearing headphones so he didn’t hear the noises and voice from Tokyo). So did my mom, again, until her friend arrived at 3p.

So it’s now after 2am here. The nurse practitioner will be there in less than an hour, so tempted to stay up – but won’t. Hopefully I can actually get to sleep.

04 June 2007

tokyo dispatch

When I started this blog, I never thought it would be so hard to begin writing about my parents. (Maybe it's knowing that they'll be reading this too? (Hi there!)) But, much of the impetus was to share information about how they're doing, so I'll just have to bite the bullet. Here goes...

First, a little background information that you may or may not know. My mother was first diagnosed with cancer in 1999. I remember that April, she and my dad were visiting me in Los Angeles, and she almost casually complained of severe stomach pains that kept her up at night. Apparently this had been going on for months, and finally it got to the point where she went to the hospital for a full check-up at the Tokyo Women's Medical University where she was teaching English to medical students. The day of my graduation from USC film school, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. A week later, she had major surgery -- and stayed in remission for seven years.

Then, about a year and a half ago, she started having problems again. But it had been so long since her first diagnosis, and various tests showed no indication of cancer -- so frankly, we never imaginged it was back. But it was. Is. Our doctors believe it's the same strain of stomach cancer, except now metastasized -- primarily in her peritoneum, or the lining of the abdominal cavity.

She had surgery again last August, and has been on a chemotherapy regimen since then. Aside from the cancer itself, the primary issue is pain control. She suffers from various types of pain, especially after eating; luckily, just a small dosage of medication will alleviate it, but not only does she hate taking pills, they often make her very very tired and unfocused. Lately, she's been trying a new painkiller patch that she just swaps out every three days, and I think she likes it better than oxycontin, which she was taking earlier. But the patch still makes her very drowsy.

Still -- she's often out and about. She teaches part-time every Monday through July; she sings every Sunday morning with a choir (they're preparing for a concert in August); the last two weekends, she's been on trips to the mountain (with her watercolor painting group) and the sea (with her French cooking class). I hardly ever get to see her!*

My dad, meanwhile, has been holding the fort at home, when he's not at school teaching English. Of course, he's worried sick about my mom, and her attempts to convince him to stop worrying have not gone far (particularly as he is the sensitive type). They love each other so much...

I think this is about all I can write right now. But now that the groundwork is there, hopefully I'll be able to post updates more easily.

*By "see," I mean on iSight -- a web cam. A couple of Christmases ago, Mark had the brilliant idea of getting them a camera, so now we have international video conferences on a regular basis. The picture above is from a chat last October. The other picture is a water color painting of kumquats that my mom did.

03 June 2007

and the winner is...

...we got a simple reply: "That's alright. You can stay until the end of February 08."

Mark replied: "Ok, thanks."

After all that angst... now I wish we'd sent the damn letter a long time ago! But then again, who knows how her state of mind at any point would affect her answer.

So at least for now, there is no rush to find a new home (or city!) this summer. And I'll have plenty of time (I think?) to start paring down our possessions for a move. The downside, of course, is that we could have used the savings -- especially with the business and IVF coming up, not to mention the unnerving layoffs starting to happen at both our companies.

One thing's for sure: story's far from over.

pic is of an iris in "our" front yard.

30 May 2007

our opening move

So, we sent off a letter to our landlady and her brother. (Long story on why her brother is involved.) Essentially, we laid out two options. First: if they give us two months' rent, plus use our security deposit as our last months' rent, we would agree to leave as early as September 30th. Second: we would give them two months' notice as soon as we know when we can move, which may be as late as the end of our lease (end of February 2008).

September 30th may seem really far off, but seeing as it's already June, and that I'll most likely be in Japan for at least six weeks around August, Mark & I agreed that's the earliest sane option. Still makes my stomach turn to think about it, but if we get those months paid for, maybe we can hire real movers for a change.

Anybody care to hazard a guess on their response?

P.S. The pic is of our oft-flooded basement.

29 May 2007

good question

Mark got an email from our landlady's brother this morning, asking (with no question mark, thank you): "Have you set your plans for moving."

Plans? What plans? ... Set plans??

They want to bring real estate people in ASAP. So now we'll have people coming in and out of the house all the time. Lovely.

28 May 2007

speeding up, slowing down

It's the end of a precious holiday weekend... and after 3 days of sleeping in all morning, reality is creeping in: pressure's cranking up at work (let's just say I got script notes at 11:54pm on Sunday night); next weekend's busy with rehearsals and an upcoming film project; the weekend after that, we're in LA; we'll also be out of town the last weekend in June -- for starters. You get the idea. I've also got to figure out when exactly to go back to Japan this summer. Really, when or how are we going to pack up and move any time soon? I suppose it will somehow happen whenever we need it to... Just feeling rather panicked. Summers always seem to fly by faster than other seasons, and this one in particular promises to be full of rather dramatic events. I feel dizzy just thinking about it.

Time to go out into the sun and take a few deep breaths. Need to stay focused on taking things slowly, easy, one step at a time. Thank god I have the cats to remind me how.

P.S. I had no idea Sumi had that pattern on the roof of her mouth...

26 May 2007

cameo at carnegie

Lest you think I spend all my days moping about rewrites and procreation, here's an entry about my most beloved activity in the Big Apple: singing with the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York.

You can read all about RCCNY on the website, so I won't go into it here. But suffice it to say that I've been in choirs for almost 30 years (yikes!?), and I've never, ever experienced singing as I have with our maestro Nikolai Kachanov. He's a philosopher, a teacher, a father-figure, and above all, of course, an incredible incredible musician. (And that description really does not do him justice...) The group is an eclectic little family. Every rehearsal is not only a mini vocal lesson but also a spiritual exploration, a salve to the all-consuming exhaustion of modern-day existence. My music sheets are filled with notes and quotes that apply to both how to sing and how to live.

I've lately started to think more and more about the power of the universe that draws us to the people and events that change our lives; certainly, finding RCCNY -- out of the billions of choirs in New York City -- was no coincidence. I firmly believe that. It's been an incredible 5 years of performances in Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, and some of the most beautiful churches in the city -- at times with some of the best orchestras, soloists and conductors in the world. But every rehearsal is just as intriguing and mysterious an adventure, and I couldn't imagine life in NYC without RCCNY.

There will be future musings about RCCNY and the life lessons therein; the actual point of this blog entry is to say that our next mysterious musical journey brings us to Carnegie Hall, on Monday June 4th, for a concert performance of Pietro Mascagni's Zanetto -- an opera that hasn't been performed in New York since 1902. It's perhaps the funniest little cameo we've ever made (at least in my 5-year tenure in the group): 4 minutes, off-stage, in a piece with no words. It's like the polar opposite of our all-night vigil performance of John Tavener's The Veil of the Temple, which involved much choreography and ran for 11 hours straight (no joke).

That's it. Just a little announcement, preceded by an effort to describe the inexplicable wonder that is RCCNY. Stay tuned.

22 May 2007

for example

Here's a piece of the fertility*-obsessed mind:

One of the stories I'm writing for work is about a young woman who dies from mysterious blood clots. Now, the series is a melodrama disguised as a medical mystery, so there's always a fine line between writing just the facts ma'am, and pumping up the drama. I tend to be rather subtle, and prefer to let things unfold naturally, but that often falls short when it comes to precisely structuring story points...for TV. Anyway, I unexpectedly got a bunch of rewrite notes from the network executive, which threw me off; of course it bothered me, despite knowing there's major upheaval going on at Discovery, and both my bosses telling me repeatedly that they never once thought this script was anything but brilliant.

So I'm doing these rewrites, which are coming along fine, and then I find myself staring down at the exec's comment: "Writing is too sterile." Sterile. I'm sterile.

I know I'm not, technically. Our baby-making predicament is not so dire. But it feels like I am, every month. Every month, when the blood begins.

So the tears came. Softly.

Like always.

*Apparently, the terms fertility and infertility are interchangeable for the most part: i.e. "fertility problem" and "infertility problem." So "they" suggest using "fertility" as much as possible, since it's more positive-minded. You be the judge.

21 May 2007

the highlights

Having promised to explore all the life issues above, I suppose I'm going to have to bite the bullet and start writing about this whole infertility thing. So here goes -- starting with the highlights to date:

Went off the Pill in January '05; started feeling a little inadequate by end of that year; got a slew of tests done in early '06, all of which were fine, and so were officially diagnosed with... "unexplained" infertility. Consulted a highly recommended doctor in the early summer, but then Mark and I were both traveling, then my mom wound up in the hospital, and I went to Japan for six weeks....so we didn't actually get around to treatment until October. By treatment, I mean going to acupuncture, as well as trying artificial insemination -- otherwise known as IUI, or intrauterine insemination -- which is essentially the process of stimulating my egg production, then turkeybasting in the sperm.

Unfortunately, we did this twice to no success, by which point I'd developed a cyst from the medication (a common side effect, apparently). And it was December and time to head back to Japan for family time and holidays, etc., so I focused on taking Chinese herbal medicines. The timing was such that there was the possibility we'd conceive right on Christmas Eve/Day....but didn't happen.

THEN, the insurance provider at my job changed... so I could no longer go to my regular doctor to continue treatment. In fact, this provider claims I'm not covered for ANY fertility treatment anywhere, which I'm still disputing. Meanwhile, I've done more acupuncture, yoga, herbal medication... still to no avail.

Now, there are still many options at this point: continue trying to naturally conceive; leave my insurance provider and find another one that will cover treatment here; look into adoption (?? we haven't really talked about that...) and our current top choice, try IVF -- in vitro fertilization -- in Japan. That could be as early as August, if we can figure out work & my cycle.

So, there it is, where it all stands. Now, it's time for bed, so I'll leave all the introspective stuff for later. Suffice it to say that these two and a half years have been full of hopes, tears, and general confusion.... all of which were tougher to handle without wine (well, at least for me). But, we have faith -- and we know we're not alone.

Hope that answers some questions you've always wanted to ask but never did. More to come.

20 May 2007

the sounds in my house

KCRW/Café LA on the radio downstairs. Mark's footsteps, confident in his flipflops. The rustling of newspapers. Birds outside. Sumi's nails skittering across the floor (I REALLY have to trim them...she's just hard to, um, nail down). The wind, rustling through our (overgrown) yard.

Sunday afternoon. Peace and quiet...without the silence.

off the bone

Went over to the Turks' last night for dinner. (Russ and Michele are Mark's best friends from Boston College, who now live about 3 minutes away). We celebrated the first farmer's market tomatoes, berries, and fiddlehead ferns, and the mushroom risotto was perfect for the sudden dip in temperature (it's mid-MAY and I pulled out a black turtleneck sweater). But the gold star goes to what is now officially Russ' signature dish: luscious, silky, fine-tuned osso buco. Bravo!

Frankly, I'm a little hung over today, but it was well worth it...

Note to Mark: don't forget to check out the storefront next to Fjord's that the Turks mentioned.

19 May 2007

pick a spot, any spot

Cast your vote by posting a comment to this entry. No holds barred...

chicken or cheese?

Planning a trip to Los Angeles for June 7th-10th. Airline prices keep bouncing around (and creeping up), though, which is never fun. What a mystery. It's going to be so weird going back to LA thinking we might be moving back there again. Wish we could stay longer than three nights, but we can't bear to use up all our vacation days just yet. God knows we'll need them later this year.

A little background info: LA is on the plate (no pun) as an option for the store, because Mark has a best friend there who would be the perfect business partner -- food-wise, experience-wise, personality-wise -- but he's got a wife and two kids who are rooted in SoCal and we couldn't ask them to pick up and move. Plus, LA could use a good gourmet store.

But -- the other question is: will this be a chicken store (specializing in real, organic, local-farm rotisserie chickens, marinated in a choice of gourmet flavors) -- or a cheese & homemade foods store (think: Boulette's Larder in San Francisco, or Little Next Door in LA, or Formaggio Kitchen in Boston)? The chicken joint, which we call Firebird Roasting Company for now, could turn into a money-making machine with possible franchising opportunities. But in the end... I think the food store, which we call Bluestone Market, is closer to our hearts. I can't wait to decorate that place.

So, we'll see. I doubt the answers will be clear even after the trip. But you never know.

gray days

A beautifully gray day outside and procrastinating to no end. (But this picture is from near the sand dunes in Colorado.)