To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here.
I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

My Mastectomy and Other Amazing Things

I Have Gone Flat. This is the word used to describe someone who has a bilateral mastectomy and elects to not have reconstructive surgery.  
My new flat look! I love it!

At Dan's cabin
I have successfully navigated the months of May, June, July, and August since my last blog entry, and I wanted to get in touch and bring you up to date with all the amazing things that have befallen me.  
Cousin Shelly and I at Mt. Ashland
I admit to having had a remarkably good time, given the circumstances for my trip to the US this spring (the mastectomy) having gotten a chance to catch up with old friends and neighbors during visits to their houses and during potlucks at Diana’s. 

Diana, by the way, was my "cancer doula," providing lodging and taking care of me throughout this potentially traumatic experience, and making it, instead, an amazing and transforming adventure. 
My cancer doula, Diana

Other cool things happened, too. My cousin Shelly, who was traversing the Pacific Crest Trail, interrupted her journey to stop by Callahan's restaurant at Mt. Ashland for a cozy lunch with Diana and me. 

Daniel, my long-time friend and companion, generously provided a little car for me to use, which made life easier as I worked my way through all the appointments, meetings, and other things related to major surgery.  
Lunch with Libby (above) and
Anna (below). 
Friends creating Celtic Jam
There were lunches and dinners with friends, a visit to Daniel’s delightful mountain cabin on his 4-wheeler, an afternoon and evening of Celtic music, sewing with Diana in her workshop, as well as a cloth dyeing workshop and shopping for fabrics, a visit to the beautiful Jackson County Extension demonstration gardens, an estate sale, John’s art show in Medford, and taking delivery of shoes, shoes, shoes (well, only 6 pairs, but it’s a great start!) for teens to wear for gym class here in Benque. If kids can’t afford gym shoes, they sometimes drop out of school because they can’t go barefoot or wear street shoes in the gym.  Several people were able to find extra walking/hiking shoes in their closets, and we took them with us to Idaho to pack up and send to Belize.
Around the first of June, a couple of weeks after my mastectomy (which was on May 18, commemorating the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, which, if you look at it in a certain way, was similarly the occasion of the removal of a conical lump) I traveled by car with Diana and John from Oregon to David and Marcia’s place in Eagle Idaho, near Boise.  
David plays his Diddly Bo
After depositing me there and staying the night, Diana and John went on to a family reunion in Nebraska, while I stayed to enjoy the company of my sibs, including David and Marcia, my sister Elsie, who lives nearby, and other assorted relatives.  
While there, I rested a lot, drank beer and talked philosophy with David, played with the gorgeous “diddly bo” he had constructed, and we worked together several evenings to install all the programs I needed into the computer Daniel gave me while I was in Oregon.  My old computer here in Belize was starting to sputter and stall, but with the new computer I can return to working on my sketchbook journal compilations, and other projects. 
Marcia painting dragonflies
on a silk scarf
Marcia and I some lovely long chats, too, and I got to watch her producing one of her amazing painted silk scarves. 

My final task of the six-week trip was to pack the donated shoes (freshly laundered!) and items I couldn’t get into my luggage into three big poly tubs to ship to Belize.  David took them to the PO to mail to Texas, where they went on a container ship to Belize, then by truck to a nearby town here where I picked them up, finally, just last week.
Some of the donated shoes.
I recovered from the operation amazingly well and fast (my doctor was impressed), including the expected retention of fluids once the drains were removed. The fluid was drawn by the surgeon once in Oregon and once again by another surgeon in Boise (a simple office call each time).  And that was the last time I saw a doctor.  I feel great.
my tubs arrived
You can almost see the house
My flight home was on June 12, a little less than two months ago, and at this point, ten weeks after surgery, I feel close to completely healed.  I’m doing all the things I normally would do, lifting coke cases with (empty) bottles into the pickup, hanging out the wash, putting things onto top shelves, sweeping the floor, doing minor landscaping tasks, and sleeping comfortably in all positions without pain or stiffness. My friends and family were wonderful to visit, but It is lovely to be home.
Me, post-op flat
A point of interest -- none of the doctors mentioned that the areas where Muriel and Janet (left and right breasts, respectively) had perched would be numb after the operation. If I’d thought about it, I might have guessed, but I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t really do much research at all on my condition before the operation. I decided that I would live one day at a time as well as possible, and not focus on what was to come – and the best way to do that was to not know too much about it. That approach served me well, keeping me upbeat and disgustingly cheerful throughout the whole thing. The numbness is just a cosmetic effect, and while it feels a bit peculiar, it has no bearing on how well or how healthy I feel. 
Full-moon dinner cruise with neighbors
on Laz's pontoon boat.  $10 each.
While I was in the US, my young friend José kept my house safe, and I returned to a clean, orderly, sweet-smelling home, compliments of Millie, who came in the day before I arrived to spiff things up to welcome me back.
Now I’m back to my usual tasks, providing cokes and chips for the construction crew; doing the footwork for our Belize Scholarships program for the local kiddies; joining in on community celebrations – most recently, a full-moon cruise on the lake with Laz on his pontoon boat; and tying up loose ends with the Lights for Students program. 
Laz pilots the pontoon boat
Thanks to so many of you who made donations to my Lights for Students gig, nearly all of the local families with kids now have lights at night, and the children are consequently able to do their homework after dark so that they don't fall behind the town kids in their studies.
sweet scholarship kids
So now I have turned my efforts to creating a Study Center in my spare room so the kids who come to use the internet after school will have a comfortable and warm place to study.  If the “warm” concept puzzles you, keep in mind that with the high humidity here, a week of cloudy, rainy weather can have us shivering in our boots sandals. I often loan kids jackets and sweaters to wear home after dark.
So to launch the Study Center, I’m now trying to get money together for a 6’ folding table (you know, those nice durable plastic ones), four chairs, and a printer.  My friend Jenny, who lives here at BIB, donated most of the cost for a computer for the kids, and we have that now, but a printer is essential.  

Freddy, my friend who is foreman on the construction crew, still owes me a couple of days work to pay off the cell phone I brought him from the US, so he’ll make me some shelves and help me wire the lights over the table.  
This katydid looks exactly like a leaf and twigs.
I think another $700 should do the trick, so if you are one of the people who asked me to tell you what is needed here, there ya go! Any amount is welcome, and any money left over (if we get extra) will be used to buy printer ink, paper, and school supplies! Jenny and I are headed to Spanish Lookout to buy the table and chairs next week, so if you're thinking of helping out, now is the time to do it. You can send donations via PayPal -- it's very easy. And hey, if a donation is not on your agenda, this paragraph wasn’t aimed at you. 😊
Moving right along.....The latest event in my MIcasa saga (my teeny jungle shack) was somewhere between hilarious and horrible.  After ten weeks of neglect, I finally made it to my little house in the big woods, only to be greeted by an ominous termite trail leading out of the forest, across the veranda, and under the front door.  
Termite wings everywhere!
Opening the door, I discovered that there had been a termite hatch inside, and the entire inside of the house was coated with discarded termite wings (termites ditch their wings after mating). Wings were on every surface and even clinging to all the walls. They are like tiny bits of cellophane, somewhat electrostatic, and elude clean-up efforts easily. But it wasn't only termites...

The entire interior space was swagged like a Halloween horror house with dusty gray spiderwebs, festooned from one end of the house to the other. My very first act was to get a long stick and wave it around in the air until it was swirled with webs and it was possible to walk cross the room without getting strands of silk stuck to my eyelids and lips.
Mouse nest under pot
Then I noticed a chewed towel, and jute twine trailing across the room, and discovered, under an upturned pot in the dish drainer (my final cleaning act of the previous visit) a well-stuffed mouse nest made of bits of towel and jute twine, and – oh NO! – heavy white string that could only have come from my hammock, which was hanging from a nail over by the door…..Aughhhhh!   
my mouse-chewed hammock
You can imagine how the next few hours were spent. Since the hammock is where I relax after doing scrubbing or carpentering tasks, mending the hammock was high on my to-do list. The mice had chewed off most of the support strings on both ends, and gnawed seven gaping holes in the body of the hammock.  Fortunately, I had a roll of nylon string used for carpentry jobs, and after only six hours of labor, my hammock was reassembled. 

Every string had to be tied off, and the end support strings had to be replaced, but by the time I was exhausted from cleaning and scrubbing and dusting (and mending!), I had a hammock to rest in again.  But like I said, it was really kind of humorous, with no major harm done (except to the hammock) and it makes a great story.  

Heliconia plant
However, I’ll try not to let ten weeks pass between visits again – the wildlife had every right to think I’d abandoned the place.
 Millie and I have been working on my landscaping here at Casa de la Tierra (yeah, yeah, I know, that sounds horribly pretentious, but in Spanish-speaking countries people name their houses). Right now it looks really pretty, with the wet season well begun and greenery flourishing. Here's one of my heliconia plants.
Crayola Katydid
And of course, there is the usual parade of amazing insects – I’d never seen one of these Crayola Katydids until José spotted this one on a tree just off the veranda, then went down and caught it for me to sketch (nope, haven’t sketched it yet, but I took lots of photos and I PLAN to sketch it).  
Wow! My very own
And LO! my banana tree is producing fruit!  I asked Millie when to harvest the bunch (called “a hand of bananas”) and she said when all the leaves die, you chop off the hand of bananas with a machete, then chop the tree down (O horrors!). A new sprout at the base of the chopped-down tree will rise up to become a new tree in short order (well, okay).
All righty, enough blathering.  I hope you have enjoyed this little tour of recent happenings in my life.  But if you didn’t, why on earth did you read this far?!
Big hugs for you, my friend! 


Unknown said...

you are such an amazing woman....I always enjoy reading your blog.
I look forward to the next chapter.

Emily said...

Thank you for the lovely update. I thourly enjoyed getting to visit with you here in the states. So thrilled you got to visit with so many wonderful friends/family. Every time you post your wonderful journeys I feel as if I’m right along side you even though we are miles and miles apart. Love to you. Beautiful photos as well. I got a nice little laugh out of the hammock story. As I was reading I could imagine the little mouse chewing right through the string making himself happy. Hehe. Do you have a picture of the hammock all mended up?

Nancy said...

I have missed you and was concerned! Welcome back. How do I make a PayPal for your school room? ❤️

bluemistlizzi said...

Well done on your great recovery and going on in your life.
Hey, are you interested in blogging on my new website? I'll be putting up your books. There's a lady in the south of NZ here who LOVES Doodlebug. :)
She's how I found you.
You can find me via the website.
Take care,
Lizzi Tremayne

Iris said...

I admit to being sad for you at first, going through your health ordeal. I can't imagine what it would be like to be in a whole other country and needing major surgery. But then, you have such a pleasant outlook about it all, even giving "the.girls" names! If something like that ever happens to me, I hope imI as brave. You remain an inspiration!

Unknown said...

Wow, how encouraging you are!
I was feeling a little down after getting up this morning, day 6 after ankle surgery, week 3 after breaking the ankle in 2 places. I especially enjoyed the little brain getaway to Belize. My husband and I traveled there and even talked of retiring there one day. It's so beautiful!
I found your blog when my daughter brought me your Illustrating Nature book after her trip to Yellowstone in June. I love to sketch but no formal training and my daughter is a high school art teacher who knows my love of nature and art. I was excited to begin your book. It has been so much fun and I am learning a lot!
I am a preschool teacher so reading how you are impacting little ones was also exciting!
I know your work will be a blessing to others as it already has been to me.
I pray you continue to stay healthy and that you know the Creator of the things you illustrate!

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