Sunday, December 21, 2014

Learning to be a Friend is a Lifelong Endeavor

Although I have not read Letty Cottin Pogrebin's book about being a good friend to someone who is ill, I've learned a few dos and don'ts in the last few months.  In no particular order, here are some of them:
  1. Do check in from time to time.  Snail mail, email, and texts are best, and, if you're not sure about what to say, you need not say anything more than "I'm thinking about you."
  2. Don't necessarily expect a reply to your message, and definitely don't end with "Let me know how you're doing," or "I'd love to hear from you," or even, "Drop me a line when you're up to it."  Your friend is exhausted and just reading your message may take all the energy he has available.
  3. Don't ask to get together for coffee or a drink.  Often, alcohol isn't an option for someone who's ill or undergoing chemotherapy (and she misses it, even if it's only a glass a day), but more to the point, your friend's energy level will be near zero, and she will need to conserve it for whatever she's deemed most important in her life at the moment.  Meeting you for coffee or a drink likely isn't at the top of the list.
  4. Don't ask, "What can I do for you?"  Now is not the time for open-ended questions.
  5. In fact, don't ask anything at all of your friend.
  6. If you live nearby, do say, "I'm going to the grocery store, the drug store, etc.  Is there anything I can pick up for you?"
  7. Do offer to do specific things that will expedite your friend's ability to take off her wig, put on her jammies, and crawl into bed:  "I'm picking up Zack from the bar mitzvah reception at 4.  I'll drop Ian at home."
  8. As well meaning as it is to send a gift, do make sure that it's something the recipient will appreciate.  A cozy fleece throw for the couch is a winner, as is a gift card for a restaurant or coffee shop you know is a part of your friend's routine.
  9. Don't presume that the things you'd appreciate -- a Netflix subscription, ingredients for complex gourmet meals that have to be assembled by the recipient, or an at-home massage -- will be as enthusiastically welcomed by others.
  10. Don't offer to go to chemotherapy unless you're willing to make the nearly full-day time commitment it requires.  Although your friend will be tethered to a chair for several hours, It would be great if you could meet her for coffee beforehand and go with her for blood work 30 minutes before the chemo appointment itself.  You'll also need to run out to get lunch and be present throughout (even when there are unexpected delays in the process).  Once she's untethered, you'll need to accompany her home, get her settled on the couch, and pick up an afternoon snack. Ideally,  you'll also be able to hang out in her apartment into the early evening as a reassuring presence in case she doesn't feel well.
I know that Amy is extremely grateful for the many good wishes and  prayers that have been sent her way, and for the wonderful, thoughtful ways that friends -- near and far -- have demonstrated their care, concern, and love for her.

As she noted in a recent Facebook post, "So happy to report that the hard sessions of chemo are over as of yesterday. [Easier-to-tolerate chemo and antibody therapy will begin in early January.]... Here's to a joyous and healthy 2015 and my thanks to all of you for your kindest gestures and words of encouragement. Onward.

Onward, indeed!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Exaclair Papers: Two Weeks' Samples For the Price of One

I've fallen behind in my review of the Exaclair paper products that arrive regularly in my mailbox.

The Week 7 samples are:
  • The Classic Rhodia Meeting Book 
  • The Rhodia Meeting Book 90 
To my untrained eye, the two pages look identical.  Furthermore, despite the difference in weight, to my untrained fingers, they feel identical as well.  Desiring a better understanding of paper weights, I found this website, and now understand that a paper's weight has little if anything to do with its texture, which is how I was trying to discern the difference between the two sheets. Rather, it's all about the thickness and, indeed, when I attempted to judge the two samples that way, the Meeting Book 90 (90g) did feel slightly thicker and sturdier to the touch than the Meeting Book Classic (80g).

Although I like the size and shape of the paper, I don't think I necessarily appreciate the Notes and Action layout pre-printed on each sheet. I do, however, appreciate the perforations that allow removal of the scraggly edges -- and the clean edge that gets left behind.

As far as the "ink tests" go, most of the pens -- even the less expensive, drugstore pens -- took to the paper well, leaving a clean, smooth line behind.  The exceptions were the InkJoy pens, which were scratchy and less than pleasant to use on these particular paper samples (although I suspect it's the pens, not the paper that's to blame here).

Moving on to the Week 8 samples, which include:
  • 2 6×8″ sheets of Clairefontaine Graf-It paper in blank ruling (90g)
  • 2 6×8″ sheets of Clairefontaine Graf-It paper in dot ruling  
I must admit that I've never quite gotten the hang of dot ruling paper and tend to avoid it, preferring blank or ruled formats instead.

As I've noted in previous reviews, my personal preference is for thicker gel and fountain pen inks and these all tested extremely well on these two samples.  The one exception was the Paper Mate Profile Elite, which didn't seem nearly as smooth as it did on the Meeting Book paper samples from Week 7.  And, as I suspected, the InkJoy pens were as scratchy and unpleasant on the Graf-It samples as they have been on numerous other Exaclair papers.  It's definitely those pens...

I'm delighted that there were two sheets of each Graf-It paper because now that I've used one to test various inks, I still have two clean sheets which I surmise I'll use for doodling and sketching -- with thick gel and fountain pen inks, of course!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How I Spent My Two Days Off

I have a friend who regularly tells me I need to get out more.  He's right.

Last week, my sister had business in Washington, DC, and I went along for the ride.  I can't wait for a chance to go back.

For starters, the three hours on Amtrak to relax, read, listen to music, and enjoy the passing scene from the window were a true gift.  How often does that happen?

Our accommodations were in what another friend described as a "swanky" hotel, which became even "swankier" when we were upgraded to a suite.  (Your tax dollars at work.) Indeed, the building used to be a post office and both the architectural features and the amenities were terrific.

The National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum (both housed in the same building) are directly across the street and before dinner, we took a quick spin through -- mostly so Amy could make sure that each piece of art she planned to use the next day in her training session for intelligence analysts was still on exhibit.  I loved the works by Richard Estes and wish there had been more time to spend with them, but, alas, we had dinner plans with a few of her friends in the hotel's restaurant and didn't want to keep them waiting.  We passed the evening enjoying delicious food and great company, and it couldn't have been more lovely.

After breakfast the next morning -- which included the smoothest, most delicious coffee I've ever had -- she headed off to her teaching session and I walked to the Metro a few blocks away.  Two stops on the red line and I came up right opposite Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, with an hour to spare.  Does it get much better than that?

When I left the bookstore, I rounded Dupont Circle, picked up lunch for a friend and me, and headed to the RAC, just a few blocks away.  Is there any better place to spend part of an afternoon?

Once I'd caught up with the social justice gurus (and taken this picture from David Saperstein's office), I returned to the Metro, rode back to MetroCenter, walked to the hotel, picked up my sister (and our bags), and headed to Union Station.

Back on Amtrak (we got a red cap so Amy could skip standing in line and board early), we again had three hours to relax, read, listen to music, and enjoy the passing scene from the window -- this time with a freshly baked, homemade challah to enjoy.  How often does that happen?!

Yes, as my friend regularly tells me, I need to get out more -- and I hope to make it back to DC again soon!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I Remember…

Last year, December 14 was Shabbat at the URJ Biennial in San Diego.

I was up early, eager to fulfill my Biennial responsibility as a Torah guardian.  In this role, I was responsible for carrying one of the many scrolls that would be used in the service from the storage room to the site of the service, keeping an eye on it throughout, and, afterward, returning it safely to the room where it would remain with the others under lock and key until it was returned to the local congregation from which it had been borrowed.

I know I fulfilled those responsibilities, but they are not what I remember most about that morning.

I remember that as I gulped the last bit of a much-needed cup of coffee on my way to pick up my Torah scroll, a colleague told me that Sam had died.

I remember that as I carried the scroll from the storage room, I couldn’t see where I was going because the tears, hot bubbles of grief, gripped my eyelids. 

I remember that I tried to read this blog post on the small screen of the phone that belongs to the blogger’s father, but my tears dripped onto the screen, and I couldn't see the words, much less comprehend their meaning.  

I remember that I skipped Shabbat lunch and called United Airlines instead, trying to add a stop in Chicago to my return trip, scheduled for the next day. (Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it work, and I still haven’t made it to the Windy City.)

Mostly, I remember Sam.

Although we never met, I remember a spunky, snarky, funny, turtle-loving kid.

I remember a kid who loved mac-and-cheese, drawing, watching movies, wearing stick-on moustaches, and making funny faces.

Thanks to his parents’ generosity in sharing their family's story, I remember the lessons he taught us all about how to live.

Today and everyday, I remember Sam, a kid whose life was snuffed out before it barely had begun, and whose memory is -- and always will be -- a sweet and treasured blessing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Clairefontaine Classic Notebook Paper: Pros and Cons

As they have for the last six weeks, a number of different paper samples once again arrived in my inbox from Karen Doherty, vice president of marketing at Exaclair, USA, as part of the Rhodia Paper Project.  Included were three different pages of Clairefontaine Classic 90g bright white paper from spiral bound notebooks.


Most appealing was the silky smooth feel of the paper, which had a solid weightiness to it, without being too heavy.  It stood up well to thick, liquidy inks (fountain pen, liquid Flair and Bic Atlantis), which were the most pleasant to use.  Requiring more "push" -- and least appealing of the writing instruments -- were a Paper Mate mechanical pencil and a Bic four-color retractable medium point ballpoint.  Squarely in the middle on the ease-of-use scale were a Marvy LePen and a Uniball Jetstream ballpoint pen.

Although the paper itself was the same in all three samples, my favorite was the lined version because of its perforation to remove the scraggly left-hand edge when pages are torn from the notebook.  Neither the lined paper with the margin nor the French ruled sample includes this perforation.  Least appealing was the French ruled sample.  I found its many vertical and horizontal lines to be a distraction -- both when writing on it and, later, when reading what had been written.

Looking forward to receiving the next batch of paper samples, which should be on their way to me shortly.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

(Paper) Size Does Matter

This week's Rhodia Paper Project brought me one sheet each of 80g white Rhodia line ruled paper in these sizes:
  • No. 8, (3 x 8 ¼”)
  • No. 10 (2 x 3″) 
  • No.16 (6 x 8 ¼ “)
  • No. 19 (8 ¼ x 12 ½ “)
The paper itself is a crisp white with horizontal violet lines.  The No. 16 and 19 samples also include a red vertical line indented from the left margin, making it reminiscent of the filler paper I used in elementary school -- minus the holes.

Smooth to the touch -- without being glossy -- the sample paper took a variety of inks extremely well, from no-name ballpoints to medium point felt-tip and liquid Flair pens, and from Marvy's LePen to Bic's four-color, medium point retractable ballpoint pen.  None -- not even the Pilot Varsity fountain pen -- showed through on the reverse side.

My personal preference with regard to size is the No. 8, which would be extremely useful for all kinds of lists:  wish lists, to-do lists, grocery lists...and more.  I'm sure I could find countless uses for the No. 16 -- in the office for recording meeting notes, phone conversations and like, or as a catch-all paper source in my tote bag for notes, lists and observations on the go. The dimensions of the No. 19, I think, are too large for anything but a stay-on-the desk pad. Originally, I thought the dimensions of the No. 10 made it too small to be useful, but in reconsidering the sample, I'd love to see this size as a sticky note -- in both lined and unlined versions -- which would make it endlessly useful.

Once again, the Rhodia Paper Project has provided interesting and unique paper samples to test, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to offer thoughts and feedback.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chemo's Silver Linings

Even though I'm not the one with cancer (pu, pu, pu), I can tell you that there's not much to like about chemotherapy.  In fact, it epitomizes "#cancersucks."

And yet, Amy and I have managed to find a few silver linings in the chemo routine we've established in recent weeks:
  1. Java Girl, a wonderfully cozy and comfortable coffee shop that's quickly becoming our standard "I'll meet you there" spot.  Where else can you get brewed chocolate pretzel flavored coffee?  Yum!
  2. The opportunity to shut out the world for a while -- just because we can.  
  3. The hard-working chemo nurses, ever willing to answer questions and kibitz, even as they carry out their serious (and lifesaving) work.
  4. Panera  Bread's comfort food-filled, "Pick Two" lunch that we sandwich (pun intended!) between the chemo session and our hunkering down for an afternoon of quiet togetherness -- reading, chatting, and answering friends' emails and texts, all from the comfort of the couch.
When they're finally over, sometime in March, I doubt that either of us will miss the chemo sessions themselves.  We may, however, miss some of the simple pleasures and human connections -- the silver linings -- that we've made a part of the process.