Dutch & Company

I love to cook.  But what I really love, is to eat food prepared by people who have dedicated their lives to culinary artistry.  Cooking really is an art and when done well it’s the ultimate feast for ALL the senses.  I should also add that I really appreciate a man, or indeed anyone, who understands that about me and researches and makes reservations in advance, at a place they think I’d enjoy.  Andy did just that last night, picking Dutch & Company in Church Hill for a early dinner.  My first visit and definitely not my last.

While I sipped on a glass of Rose at our corner table by the window, I perused the menu and knew we were in for a treat.  When visiting a restaurant for the first time, I like to try and eat a variety of small plates so that I can get a feel for what the place does well and what style of food they are presenting.  I rarely eat meat now so I was happy to see a number of vegetarian and seafood options here.  We made our selections and so began our little culinary journey…

The presentation of the bread was a great start, delicious grainy wholewheat bread wrapped like a parcel in a linen napkin held together with a clothes peg.  Gorgeous!

IMG_1173

Next up were half a dozen Ruby Salts, already dressed with a dot of mignonette and a tiny slice of chive.  I love it when a chef is essentially telling you how to eat your oysters, as creatures of habit, people tend to eat them the same way each time.  Here, you are eating them in the way the kitchen wants you to experience them.  Briny, plump oysters with the slight sharpness of the dot of mignonette and a cool chive.  Just lovely.

IMG_1174

Our excellent server suggested enjoying the small plates two at a time.  She was right, the flavors might have been too overwhelming otherwise.  The Smoked Salmon Rillette was served with warm Salmon Skin Blinis and the saltiness of the fish was perfectly cut by the cool Chive Yoghurt served with it.

IMG_1175

I eat a lot of Almond butter these days so the next dish caught my attention right away.  Figs with Marcona Almond, Chili Threads, Lemon Curd, Smoked Almond Butter and Smoked Salt.  It was fascinating.  It was, in my opinion, essentially figs with a deconstructed Peanut Sauce.  I loved it and I particularly loved the presentation.  The chili threads were a beautiful touch in both taste and looks.

IMG_1176

Our next duo included what I believe is a signature dish here, “The Perfect Egg”.  Rye Crusted Cured Salmon, Herbs, Sprouted Quinoa, Braised Cabbage, Cumin Yogurt.  So much texture, color and flavor in one dish.  It was beautiful.  The egg was encased in breading which, when punctured, caused the yolk to pour out onto the plate.  They’re right, it is the perfect egg.

IMG_1178

Our other plate consisted of Fried Cauliflour with Chili Sauce, Cucumber, Sesame, Basil and Scallions.  Yet another lovely combination of color, texture and flavor.  I was delighted.

IMG_1177

 

I don’t always order dessert but this is the kind of place that you really have to, and I’m glad we did!  Chocolate Semifreddo with balsamic soaked blackberries, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.  Heavenly.  The richness didn’t come from the flavor of chocolate but more from the creamy texture and the addition of olive oil.  It was a spectacular marriage of flavors.

IMG_1179

This is not the kind of place for people who must have ice in their water, request endless substitutions or insist on food being prepared in a particular way.  It’s a place to challenge your tastebuds and enjoy a mini-adventure, throw caution to the wind and trust that you will be well fed.  Definitely my kind of place.

Next time I go, I’ll likely take others and enjoy their $29 three-course prix-fixe dinner.  It would be fun for everyone to order different dishes to allow more opportunity for tasting.  It looks like they have great craft cocktails too.  The decor has a very RVA vibe to it, being located in a historic neighborhood.  It’s comfortable, not pretentious but at the same time possesses a subtley high level of sophistication.    The service was flawless, as was every bite.  There is some serious artistry going on in that kitchen and I felt lucky to have had the opportunity to enjoy such a fabulous experience there.  I’m ready to go back anytime!

Quebec! Je me souviens

It was around Thanksgiving of 2015 that I looked at my calendar and realized that I wouldn’t have the boys from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day and that I also had the week off work.  Maybe I should take a trip somewhere, I asked myself.  By myself. Yes, that’s exactly what I needed to do.  It had been a really difficult year and why not end it in a fabulous way?

I decided that a bucket list trip was needed.  Quebec.  I could practice my French (I have a degree in it), eat fabulous food and enjoy the architecture and culture.  I booked a flight to Montreal, then a train to Quebec City and a flight back to Richmond.  Six days, on my own, in a place where I didn’t know a soul and I could wander the streets anonymously, with my camera in hand and no specific agenda.  In freezing cold weather.  I ordered a long thick coat from Land’s End.

I was a little nervous when it came to leave for the airport but little did I know that I was about to embark on a magical 6 days of discovery.  After touching down in Montreal, I got a taxi to my hotel which was tucked behind the Notre Dame Basilica.  The Hotel Saint-Sulpice is located in Old Montreal.  Despite the historic location, the interior is modern, the rooms accented with pops of red amongst the predominantly black and brown decor.  After getting settled, I decided to venture out into the cold and take a walk.  It was late but I didn’t care.  I rounded a corner and there stood the Basilica which momentarily took my breath away, little did I know that the interior would have me in tears the next day.

DSC_1130

It was a Sunday the next day and I decided to attend Mass at the Notre Dame Basilica.  I joined the crowds of regular worshippers as well as fellow tourists and entered what has to be one of the most beautiful buildings that I have ever seen.  I was born and raised in the Catholic faith but lost my way as a teenager and never quite found my way back to it.  However, the Cathedrals, churches and rituals never fail to draw me in and bring me peace.  Mass was said in French, with a brief welcome in English from the Bishop.  There was a full choir with the organ and I was moved to tears.  The indescribable beauty, the sound of the music, the haven of warmth from the frigid outdoors, the feeling of being somewhere so very safe….I’ll always carry that from this experience.

DSC_1133

Thoroughly moved by my experience here, I left the rich warmth for the frigid grey outdoors and made my way to Restaurant Holder for a classic Bistro brunch of Eggs Benedict and a Kir Royale.  Perfect.  The afternoon was spent exploring Old Montreal, admiring the buildings, people-watching, and eventually finding myself in another place of worship, the Chappelle Notre Dame de Bonsecours, also known as the Sailors’ Church, a gorgeous church right by the river.

Without a doubt, one of the goals of this trip was to learn to happily be alone, to enjoy my own company and be comfortable with that.  As a lover of food, that meant learning to walk into a restaurant and asking for a table for one.  It’s not easy when you start out but now I have no problem with it.  That evening, I just decided to go for it.  I didn’t just go into a casual restaurant, I booked a six-course tasting dinner at the highly rated Bonaparte in Old Montreal.  I was pretty nervous as it was quite posh and I was to be the only solo diner there.  However, they put me at a lovely table beside a wall with a view of the window overlooking the street.  It’s astonishing to me that I have no pictures of that evening nor can I remember what exactly I ate.  But boy do I remember how I felt.  I knew that the waiter had warmed to me when he found out I wanted the full hit of courses and asked him to pick wines to go with them.  I had swiped the pad of paper from my hotel room along with a pen and wrote notes, not about the food, but about future plans, goals for my boys, catering ideas…I think everyone there thought I was a restaurant critic because I received the best service ever!  The delicious wine and food relaxed me and I found myself lost in my own thoughts and pleasure, pretty much oblivious to the surrounding diners.  Mission accomplished.

On a daily basis, I posted pictures on Facebook and got such great feedback that it really helped push myself out of my comfort zone.  My people needed stories!  They had signed up for the experience and each morning, it helped me to get out of bed and go in search of adventure so that I’d have something to report at the end of the day.  This particular day was frigidly cold and I walked to the Plateau Mont-Royal, the famous park overlooking the city.  I have never been so cold but also have never needed such a long walk, “miles and miles of therapy” I believe my friend Tina commented.  The walk took me through the more business part of the city and once again, I found myself ducking into a Cathedral nestled amongst the modern buildings, this time the Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, a smaller version of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

It’s a steep walk up Mont-Royale and particularly tough in such cold temperatures and ice.  The steps to the viewing area were cordoned off due to the ice but most people decided to ignore that and take them anyway.  Being by myself, I decided to not risk falling and literally take the road less travelled.  And I’m glad I did.  The road gently wound up and around and I was able to take in lovely views with no crowds.  By the time I reached the top, I was absolutely freezing but the view and sense of accomplishment was worth it.

I walked about 10 miles that day and didn’t eat until 4, I remember collapsing into a small Bistro, ordering Lamb Shank and red wine and devouring it like I hadn’t eaten in weeks.  What a day, one I’ll never forget.

A snowstorm hit that night and I woke up to a very white Montreal.  It was the day I was catching a train to Quebec City, but unlike other places in the world, the train left right on time!

For only about $40 more than Coach, I treated myself to a Business Class ticket.  A great value.  While we hurtled through the Province, I was served drinks from the bar and a hot lunch by the most charming staff you can imagine.  The Canadians really are lovely.  There was a full blown blizzard going on outside but the warmth and camaraderie inside the train served as a lovely contrast.  A delightful way to spend three or four hours.

Arriving in Quebec City was almost comical.  Almost.  The blizzard conditions were such that the snow and wind were pounding me horizontally as I left the station.  I couldn’t see beyond about 2 ft.  My hotel was just 500 ft from the station but I went in the wrong direction at first.  It was one of those “what the f$&@ was I thinking?!” moments but I eventually made it to the lovely Hotel des Coutellier where the receptionist happily didn’t laugh at my completely disheveled appearance.  I checked in to my delightful room and congratulated myself on not only making it there but also having booked a bar seat in the restaurant, Legende, attached to the hotel.  Upon entering the restaurant, my best French came out all of a sudden, finally!  The Maitre D’ replied to me so fast that I lost it immediately and he switched to English saying, “Oh, I thought you were French”.  I could have kissed him.

I was led to my spot at the bar, seated between a lovely Midwestern American couple and a charming young couple from Montreal.  They immediately started chatting with me and making recommendations.  The bartender was a total foodie, in fact I was surrounded by people who were all about the menu.  Paradise!  I proceeded to have one of the best culinary experiences of my life:  Oysters and champagne, a Smoked Artic Char Brussels Caesar then Bison.  I finished off with the strangest dessert; a parsley and cilantro sorbet with meringue, herb cake and maple cream.  It worked.

I slept well that night and woke up to my continental breakfast hanging in a bag on the door handle.  I opted to spend my mornings leisurely, usually ready for a late morning walk, a search for lunch, then happily meandering through this lovely walled city.  Montreal was fabulous, but Quebec City stole my heart.  There was something about the unploughed narrow streets, the Christmas lights, the little shops and restaurants.  I loved all of it!  Of course, you can’t forget the imposing presence of the Chateau Frontenac.  I will stay there one day, I really will.

The contrast between the grey and white outside with the rich colors and warmth inside, did not escape me.  I loved it, in fact.  The colors and textures in the food and inside churches and shops were so rich and made for even more of a sensory experience.  I took a food tour one day that was so much fun.  I tasted cheese at the Chateau Frontenac, sampled chocolate at La Fudgerie, toasted marshmallows on a patio and visited the big indoor market near my hotel.

At night, the city became even more magical with the snow and the lights.  I would eat out early so as to not to have to walk back to the hotel by myself late at night.  A particularly memorable dinner was at a restaurant close to the hotel, I forget the name of it, but I had a blind tasting menu.  It was fabulous!

New Year’s Eve was my last full day.  I had read about a restaurant called Le Clocher Penche in an neighborhood that was more local than touristy.  They served brunch that day and it was absolutely worth the half hour trudge through the snow to get there.  My Eggs Benedict with the twist of Duck Rillettes and a Blueberry Sauce was a culinary masterpiece.  Topped with the freshest greens imaginable, I was in heaven.

IMG_0032After the countless calories I had consumed, a hearty walk to the Musee des Beaux Arts was much needed.  On the map it was a straight shot.  In reality, it was a steep climb which resulted in my scariest experience of the trip.  Climbing a seemingly endless flight of steps.  I hate heights and I detest steep steps.  But, this trip was all about conquering fear so up I went.  Heart pounding, knees shaking, I froze half way up but ultimately kept going.  The relief at reaching the top of this ascent of terror, was overwhelming.  When I looked back down, I felt pretty proud of myself.

Whilst I can’t claim to be an art expert, I love and appreciate it in my own way.  I spent a blissful couple of hours at the museum.  When I came across two paintings side by side, one red and one white, I sighed.  I’ve just never taken the time to understand it.  Then I read the description and lo and behold, I had a revelation.  It wasn’t just a canvas with some white paint slapped on it…. moving closer to the painting I saw different shades, varying textures.  Wow.  Now I get it, albeit in my own special way.

When I left the museum, it was dark outside and time to trek back “home”, with dinner on the way there.  I passed by a street near the museum that has carried the artwork outside, in the form of giant lanterns.  Such a great idea that brought a wonderful character to the street.

My journey back took me through where all the festivities would occur for the countdown to midnight and the New Year.  I loved seeing all the lights, the outside ice bars being set up, the Ferris Wheel in the Centre, all so festive.  One thing I knew for sure was that I would be tucked up in bed by midnight!

I stopped off at Le Cochon Dingue for a Steak Frites dinner which was just what I wanted.  I also enjoyed the lovely views in around the Chateau.  I vowed I’d be back to this lovely city and couldn’t believe it was almost time to go home.  When I got back to the hotel, I popped open a bottle of Québécois bubbly and watched the festivities on the television.

After 6 days of grey, I woke up to sunshine on New Year’s Day.  I like to think it was symbolic of a new era.

I wanted to both end this trip and start 2016 with a bang.  My flight home didn’t leave until late afternoon so I made a reservation for one at Le Bistro Sam at the Chateau Frontenac, for a very long lunch.  Pure pleasure.  I ordered one of their cocktails, an amazing apple martini, that had steam coming from it!  Gorgeous presentation and a hefty price tag.  I ordered the cheese and charcuterie board which consisted of local cheeses and house cured meats.  For the next couple of hours I just picked away at this plethora of goodness, soaking in the luxurious atmosphere and rejoicing in the memories of a most fabulous week.

It’s been interesting writing this piece over 18 months later as life is quite different now, in a good way.  I will always remember this trip as being a springboard to my new, more independent life.  I would be fine by myself.  I enjoyed the time alone.  I planned this trip only 5 weeks before I took it and I loved every second.  Traveling solo is eye opening.  I think it heightens your senses and liberates you to soak in the experience catering for you, and you alone.  You get to create and enjoy an experience that is wholly yours.  Is it better to have someone by your side saying “hey, look at that”?  Sure.  That’s nice too.  But, I’d travel by myself again anytime.  And as for Quebec?  I’d go back in a heartbeat.

IMG_0031

Weekend in Wintergreen

I have had the fortune to have traveled to many countries all over the world and have seen a multitude of stunningly beautiful places.  But, few have captured my heart quite like the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  After a week that involved surgery recovery, often a bit of a blur thanks to painkillers, a weekend in the mountains was just what the doctor ordered.  It’s one of my happy places, for sure, and the closer I get to them, the calmer I am.  I took this photo on my phone near Charlottesville, the first glimpse of the mountains was accompanied by the sunset….just lovely.

20170714_210335.jpg

Before heading up the mountain to Wintergreen, Andy and I stopped in Charlottesville for dinner at Bella’s, a delightful Italian restaurant downtown.  A Limoncello Martini seemed like a great way to start and then it didn’t take long to decide on Gorgonzola Grilled Salad (grilled romaine hearts topped with Gorgonzola dressing, tomatoes, pancetta and scallions with a balsamic drizzle) and Arancini (fresh mozzarella stuffed inside lemon risotto, breaded and fried).  We followed this with Zuppa Di Pesce, a mound of fettuccine with fennel scented tomato sauce with all kinds of seafood.  Heavenly.  I clearly decided to eschew my newly adopted mostly plant-based diet, just for the weekend.  Every bite was fabulous and I loved the setting, exposed brick in a likely 19th century building.  It’s clearly a popular place and you can tell the staff enjoy it as much as the customers.

With a Tiramisu “to go”, we headed up the mountain to the condo that had very kindly been lent to us for the weekend.  Sitting on the deck in about 65 degrees under a clear starry sky was just perfect and a much needed respite from the almost triple digit temperatures back in Petersburg.

I woke up early the next morning, it’s a bit of a struggle to sleep comfortably as I’m still sore from the surgery.  I was rewarded with seeing the latter part of the sunrise over the mountains.  A spectacular sight given the amazing vantage point from the deck.  It was so quiet and apparently the only living things up this early were me, and a groundhog having its breakfast.  I think living in an urban area intensifies my appreciation of beautiful rural spaces.

First up on the schedule was Wimbledon, of course.  No way I’m missing the finals!  Afterwards, a decision was made to go to Devils Grill, the Golf clubhouse restaurant that has a gorgeous porch overlooking the 18th hole where we scored a great corner table with an uninterrupted view.  We watched as deer and golfers enjoyed the stunning course while we ate a delightful lunch of Salmon Sliders and a Lamb Meatball Naan with Tsatsiki.  Yum.  To be able to sit on a porch in July in Virginia, with a cool breeze and the absence of bugs, was a veritable treat.  I could have sat there all afternoon!

Just to prepare for the unlikely chance I might win the lottery one day and be able to buy a second home here, we stopped by an Open House and then the Realty office.  I represent the opposite of the average Wintergreen homeowner as I’d want to be there anytime other than the ski season.  The Open House was a fully refurbished 3 bedroom condo with SPECTACULAR views but for some bizarre reason they only built a tiny deck which would barely fit two bistro chairs.  Simply not good enough for this porch lover.  And neither was the $360,000 listing price.  But a girl can dream, right?

I hadn’t been to Afton Mountain Vineyard in almost 20 years and wow has it changed since then!  I remember a small tasting room with a selection of cheeses and snacks in a refrigerator that could be enjoyed outside with a glass or bottle of their wine.  The basic concept is still there but it’s all grown up now.  A “terrace room” provides a weather resistant tasting space, and I presume a private event venue.  A lovely porch surrounds the actual tasting room with lots of seating.  We were greeted at the door and informed there was a wait for our tasting.  The offerings were quite lovely and being a fairly hot day, we picked the crisp and delicious Rose to take outside.  Here we were entertained by two women, a few glasses in, gossiping about the antics of their friends.  Then, a bachelorette party arrived and the delightful civility of the setting was momentarily and hilariously interrupted by the bride and her very enthusiastic group of bridesmaids.  It would be a fair guess to say that they were probably on about their fifth vineyard of the day. One of them was practically begging for someone to ask her to take her top off…..  Despite the distractions, the setting is lovely and surely there are few better ways to spend an afternoon?

Bold Rock Cider was on our way “home” and what an impressive place it is!  And clearly very popular especially with younger folks.  I was a cider drinker back in the day in England so it’s great to see this delicious drink being taken a lot more seriously over here now.  We took the free tasting of two of their signature ciders and then purchased their 4 cider flight.  We carried our little trays outside onto the deck  and sipped on some seriously good cider.  A great visit to an impressive place.

We decided to have dinner up at The Copper Mine, the main restaurant at The Mountain Inn up at Wintergreen.  No culinary boundaries were smashed through and the service was a little painful but we really did enjoy the food, opting for a flatbread, great honey balsalmic chicken wings, asparagus, a gorgeous watermelon and feta salad and shrimp cocktail.  Tapas style, always a favorite way to eat.

I didn’t quite wake up early enough for the full sunrise again on Sunday but almost did… it was stunning regardless.  I love the peace that emanates from the view, the silence except for birdsong, and the endless waves of shades of blue.  Just beautiful.

Another lazy morning included watching Federer make Wimbledon history by claiming yet another title, he’s amazing!  Watching him play is like poetry in motion. Unfortunately it was time to leave this lovely place so we packed up and drove to one more stop before heading back home.  Veritas Winery is a favorite, not only is their wine great, but they also have a gourmet snack bar now.  So, we enjoyed a Goat  Cheese and Fig Panini and a Pear and Arugula Salad along with their Sauvignon Blanc whilst sitting on the large covered porch overlooking the Vineyard.

It was a perfect end to a fabulous weekend.  The goal having been to relax, recuperate and enjoy this gorgeous area.  The fact that I felt thoroughly peaceful and pampered, was the icing on the cake.

IMG_1143

 

 

 

Portrait of a Lumpectomy

I can highly recommend going on vacation just before a surgery.  Just four days after returning from one of the most relaxing weeks ever, I did just that.  Of course, I felt a tad stupid going in for cancer surgery with a serious tan….but I really did inherit my father’s dark complexion….and I do tan very easily….excuses, excuses.  My mother and Heather showed up at my door at 8:30am on Friday, 7th July and I certainly appreciated the civility of the time that I had to show up despite the fact that I was starving and oh so thirsty especially as it was about a gazillion degrees that day.  Chin up, buttercup.  Time to get this tumor out.

It’s quite the rollercoaster getting diagnosed with cancer although I’ve now definitely got used to the idea and quickly realized that it wasn’t necessarily a death sentence.  I’ve heard from so many people with similar, very encouraging stories, with great outcomes.  I’ve also noticed that on my Facebook newsfeed, I’m inundated now with cancer center ads and articles about the subject.  There’s so much research and new findings that you can’t help but question how you should be treating it.  There’s talk of freezing out tumors like mine, or even leaving them alone.  When I was in my serious 48 hour period of perhaps believing I should go a more holistic route, I was snapped out of it by sister-in-law Heather who said “get it out and treat it conventionally and THEN start your plant-based diet and more healthy lifestyle”.  My longtime best friend Alex, a doctor in England, agreed.  As did a Surgeon friend of my brother’s who has also had breast cancer.  I think it’s healthy to question it all and there are doubtless many merits to all of it.  I just decided to go ahead with convention and then sharpen up my lifestyle big time.

We arrived at the Surgery Center at Johnston Willis, early.  There’s a nice big airy waiting room where the seating is arranged in groupings so that families and friends can wait comfortably.  My mother and Heather settled in at a table by a big window, equipped with iPads and magazines, ready for a several hours-long wait.  They have a shared love/addiction/fascination with The Daily Mail app (oops, they may kill me for revealing that…) so I hoped there would be plenty of celebrity gossip to keep them entertained!  A nice tea/coffee volunteer came by, saw my wristband and lamented the fact that she couldn’t serve me.  I would have given anything for a nice cuppa….but I was soon called back by a very nice nurse and my vitals were taken.  I had come in two days beforehand for pre-admission testing so didn’t need much done initially.

My next stop was the Nuclear Medicine department….yikes, that sounds really intimidating, doesn’t it?  I was accompanied there by a hospital volunteer who was a delightful retired elementary school teacher.  I asked her why she did this and she told me that she had spent 18 months at home after retiring before deciding to volunteer, and had now been doing so for 6 years.  She enjoys helping out and meeting people.  I’ve always been a little fascinated by hospital volunteers and think it’s pretty darn awesome that people choose to do it.  There’s something quite charming and calming about being taken care of by someone who has chosen to be there rather than being paid to be there.  The waiting room in this particular department was small and overseen by another volunteer who fascinated me.  He sat at his little desk with his Reader’s Digest in the corner, but meticulously dealt with and organized my file.  I couldn’t help but wonder what he did as a career and wished I had asked him.  When the tea and coffee volunteer lady came by, I could swear that she was flirting with him.  Love it.  My companions in this very small waiting room consisted of a man who looked like he had just stepped out of Margaritaville, obviously waiting for his wife, but passing the time talking to another patient about fishing.  On my row, there was a man whose skin was yellow and when called back, it was agonizing to watch him try and get up and shuffle back there.  Right next to me, was a man with such a pronounced stoop who was taking a snooze while holding on to his wife’s wheelchair, who was also doubled over.  They both had to be in their late eighties or nineties. While they both looked like they could be patients, she was the one on this day and despite being faced away from him she instinctively knew he was asleep.  “Jimmy, stay awake until I’m done, please”, he immediately stirred and responded “yes, yes, of course I will”.  For the few minutes that I was there, I couldn’t help but feel completely humbled by them.  They were once young, healthy, vibrant people but yet in their latter and clearly toughest health years, remain utterly devoted to one another.  I hope that doesn’t sound condescending, I truly find it heartening.  When it was time for me to be called back, I was there for just minutes.  The first of many needles that day was poked into me, this one injecting blue dye into the side of my breast.  Ouch.

I had to find Mammography myself,  it wasn’t difficult and it was kind of nice to have a bit of freedom and a walk for a few minutes.  I was ushered straight in and given one of the lovely soft gowns to change into and then waited my turn.  I was distinct in the fact that I had no make-up on, everyone else was there for a regular Mammogram, just as I had been just a few short weeks ago.  An HGTV program was on the TV, about a couple trying to decide on their second home in the Caribbean.  My heart bleeds…. they had a budget of $650,000.  I both reveled in the fantasy and abhorred the first world problems of a pool feeling a “little crowded by the walls around it”, while sitting waiting to deal with this annoying disease.

They warned me it wouldn’t exactly be pleasant.  But it wasn’t as bad as the original biopsy.  This time they injected a metal wire into my breast, down to the tumor which already had a marker from the biopsy.  They tried to do it from the side, but it just wasn’t working.  My tumor was really deep and far back.  So they went from above, I should also mention that my boob was squished into that bloody contraption again.  “Wow, what a great patient you are”, said the Radiologist.  “Yes, she’s great” said the technicians.  “Definitely wouldn’t have found this without a Mammogram, would I?” I replied. “It would have taken a few years before it was big enough to feel, most likely”, they responded.  I did see the original Nurse Navigator in the distance at one point who gave me a thumbs up and asked if I was ready to get it done.  “YESSS….I am”!!!

With the wire finally inserted, my transportation changed to a wheelchair with warm towels and a trip to my pre-surgery room.  The anesthesiologist met with me and then a series of three nurses attempted to insert the IV needle in me.  I think this was the most stressful part of the day.  As someone who takes blood thinners all the time, and who has had three DVTs, I take my blood management seriously!  The first attempt resulted in hitting a valve, the second, something that caused blood to spurt all over the floor (sorry!) and then a warning to my posse, at this point, Cherry, Heather and Cindy, that if anyone was going to faint, we didn’t need any trips to the Neurology Department today…. The third nurse was the winner and finally I was ready.

During all of this, we were informed that Dr. Cox was running late, luckily enough, at which point Cindy started to worry that she wouldn’t have had time to eat lunch which wasn’t good if she was going to perform surgery!  When Dr. Cox arrived at around 1:00, Cindy, never one to hold back, asked if she had eaten lunch because it was important to do so before operating on me.  “Um, I had breakfast?” she responded.  Cindy replied, “Well I have a granola bar in my purse if you need a snack”.  I love me some Cindy.  Dr. Cox explained what was going to happen and put us at ease, then told us she was going to get changed and get started, gesturing to Cindy that she would eat something too.

When the anesthesia nurse arrived, we joked that a glass of wine would do, and she let me know that she was about to give me a double pour of a top shelf Cabernet that I would feel instantly.  A quick farewell to my posse was followed by my feeling the hit before I had even fully been wheeled out of the room.  “Whoa!!!!” I loudly exclaimed.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel awesome.  I remember reaching the operating theater and moving onto the table and that’s it.

I came to, in the recovery area, drugged up to the nines.  It was 3:10 and I was so thirsty.  Thankfully I was eventually offered a ginger ale which tasted like the best drink ever.  When I was considered stable, and after having taken up the offer of the remaining pain medication in the syringe, I was moved to outpatient recovery where  my mother and Heather were able to come and see me.  Dr. Cox had visited with them right after surgery and declared it a great success, that she had only had to make one incision to get the tumor AND a couple of lymph nodes and that the nodes had absorbed so much dye that it was looking like cancer was unlikely to be in them.  Fingers crossed!

Armed with pain meds, I was discharged and wheeled out to the car, just as loopy as I could be, and starving.  They had a leftover cookie from the delicious lunch that Cindy had kindly toted to them, and I devoured it.  We were home by 5:00 and I sat on my porch immediately.  Cheese and fruit were produced, friends arrived and I sipped on chilled water in a wine glass while everyone else enjoyed stronger libations.

20170707_182757

 

The following couple of days were a bit of a blur, part of my boob was electric blue, as was my pee which was both alarming and amusing!  I took the pain meds and rested but really made an effort to walk around the circle to get my blood circulating, accompanied by a string of lovely friends.  It’s amazing how walking one circle can seem like the biggest challenge….but check out the sights….the huge crepe myrtles are in bloom and are just lovely.

20170710_114042

And who couldn’t be cheered up by a visit from the cutest twins around??!

20170708_160426

Wanting to spare my own boys seeing me groggy and incoherent, they went and spent the surgery day and subsequent weekend with Steve, although I was thrilled to have a visit from them all on Sunday as I know they were anxious to see for themselves that I was fine.

For some reason I had googled “recovery time from a lumpectomy” at some point and read about a woman who went grocery shopping straight after hers and I stupidly stuck that in my head.  Guess what?  It takes a couple of days just to get over anesthesia.  Then you really have to be off pain meds for a couple of days too.  My recovery was rudely interrupted at about day 3 with the worst case of sciatica I’ve ever had.  I imagine it must have been from the twisting and overcompensating I had been doing with the other side of my body.  It hurt like hell and suddenly my incision seemed like nothing.  I graduated to Oxycodone which thankfully I only needed for a couple of days.  I will also be eternally grateful for the arrival of Silvia, one of my yoga teacher friends who rescued me by showing me some great pain alleviating poses.  In fact I think she’s checked up on me on a daily basis.  I remember one morning her sitting on my bed getting teary-eyed, talking about how hard this must be to go through alone.  Agreed.  I may not have a spouse at home anymore but I’ve got an army of support that can deploy within minutes!

So how do I feel now?  Extraordinarily lucky to be surrounded by so many of the best kind of people you can imagine.  Happy to have got through this big first step.  Suddenly intimidated by the likely 33 days of radiation that seemed like nothing at diagnosis.  But, also revitalized by my newly adopted “mostly” plant based diet.  Ready to get this over with.  Ready to pre-order the new Lonely Planet Morocco Guide available on Amazon on August 15th.  Ready to practice yoga again.  Ready to be able to lift more than 10lbs.  Ready to go back to the Y.  Ready to be something other than a cancer patient.

To end this on a funny note, I have to report that I was happy to discover that my 3 inch incision was thankfully under my arm, or so I thought….take my bra off and it’s a wee bit lower than that.  Darn gravity.  I’ll spare you the photographic evidence.

 

 

Canaveral National Seashore

The last time the boys and I were down here in Florida, was for Ed’s Memorial Service.  Today’s adventure was a trip to the Canaveral National Seashore, a beautiful protected area with a gorgeous beach.  The Canaveral National Cemetery is just north of this area so we decided to go and pay a visit to “Grandpa Ed”.  We had no idea where his marker was located but the two veterans manning the entrance couldn’t have been nicer and told us exactly where to go.  They even sent someone to check on us in a golf cart.  It was nice to see the marker and I love the simplicity, but ultimately the depth of how he is described.  Those descriptors carry a lot of meaning over a period of 80 years.

 

After our visit, we headed for a trip down memory lane by carrying out the tradition of stopping at The Moonlight Diner in Titusville for burgers before heading to the Seashore.  Like many families; ritual, tradition and familiarity are important to us, along with a healthy dose of new experiences.  Doing things you used to do with someone who has passed away, helps keep them alive in your memory, it’s comforting.  Well, in my humble opinion anyway.

 

The Canaveral National Seashore sits adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center, the combination of NASA and a beautiful beach in its shadow was enough to make Kerry’s day, if not her week!  The sand is almost white and the sea, varying shades of rich blues and turquoise.  Due to the heat, our stay only lasted an hour or two but we had a blast swimming and playing in the crashing waves.

 

 

We drove back home with dramatic views of storm clouds gathering and visible rain in the distance.

 

We finished the day reuniting with family at Fishlips, so nice to see everyone!

IMG_1129

 

Kennedy Space Center

DSC_0237

This morning we achieved the previously impossible task of all being up, ready, dressed and out the door by 9:00 am.  Our previous record for this week was noon I believe.  Our mission today?  To visit The Kennedy Space Center.  My last visit there was 30 years ago, my boys went with Steve, Ed and Polly 18 months ago, and for Kerry and JV, this was a first.  In fact, this has always been on Kerry’s bucket list so it was an exciting day for her!  We are so fortunate to be staying just 20 minutes away, so getting an early start would allow us pool time later on.

The Space Center is located out by itself surrounded by the Merrit Island Wild Life Refuge and the Canaveral National Seashore.  Prime real estate that protects both the natural habitat and hosts the place where NASA is on a constant quest to break even more barriers in Space.

Upon arrival, we were happy to see that the place was not mobbed.  We headed for the bus tour first, getting straight on the first one.  We were taken out to the NASA Space Center where we saw launch pads and the iconic Vehicule Assembly Building building, with the world’s largest doors.  Most people know that I’m not exactly one to remember or retain many historical or scientific facts, but what I can tell you is the astronauts ate hearty breakfasts before launches, including steak and eggs!

 

We were dropped off at the Apollo/Saturn V Center where our visit began with a presentation about the Apollo 8 shuttle launch.  It was a very cool experience that had Kerry and I in tears at the end of it.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On exiting the presentation, we entered the Saturn V hall, the largest rocket ever flown and there it was, suspended from the ceiling.  An awesome sight!

 

Kerry just had to visit the gift shop and now she’s the proud owner of a NASA T-shirt.   And a Shuttle pendant.  An avid reader regardless, she has read several books to do with NASA and the space program so she was fascinated by it all.  It’s always a great feeling to cross something off your bucket list.

We returned to the Visitor’s Center complex and ate some overpriced forgettable food which at least gave us fuel to finish up our visit.  We visited the Atlantis exhibit which was spectacular as it starts with a film about it and then the doors open and there it is!

A visit to the Journey to Mars exhibit was the last thing on our list before ice-cream and a walk through the Rocket Garden.  At 50 bucks a piece, it’s not a cheap day out but we all loved it and we’re definitely glad to have made the trip out here.

 

DSC_0235

After our space adventure, it was time to relax by the pool and cool off.  It felt great and was the perfect end to a fabulous day.  Hungry for good food, we decided to get take-out from the local restaurant Flavors of India.  We ordered Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Biryani, Tandoori Shrimp, Mango Chutney and Raita.  Kerry and I went to pick it up and loved the amazing aroma as soon as we walked in.  We couldn’t wait to try it.  It was really good.  I miss having easy access to great Indian food so it was a real treat.  Everything was great until Rory suddenly declared that his throat was starting to itch….with not a single Benadryl dose to be found, I rushed round to the 7 Eleven to get some, dodging some interesting after-dark characters on my way.  All was well and his condition didn’t worsen thankfully, just all part of the adventure.  What a day!

Sunny Florida

Once again we drove through some torrential rain during the journey from Savannah to Cape Canaveral but our reward was the welcoming familiarity of Polly’s  home, albeit without her being here to greet us.  The three boys were happy to plug in devices and chill out while Kerry and I made a beeline for the beach.  The walk was just what we needed after a couple of days driving.  One of the nice things about Cape Canaveral Beach is that it’s predominantly residential which means it’s not super packed and as it was the end of the day anyway, it was pretty deserted.

Before collapsing with a cocktail, we hit the local Publix for essential supplies for the week.  An older lady insisted on helping us out with our cart and on the way to the car asked us where we were from.  When we told her that we were from Petersburg, VA, she said “Oh, I know that area, great strip clubs”.  Kerry and I tried to contain our surprise at her response and then she went on to say “Yeah, a place called Pure Pleasure.  I loved it.  Can’t find a decent Club around here though, you have to go all the way to Miami to find good looking men.”  Well, that’s some interesting advice.  “I lived in Sandston, near the airport.  Then I moved down here with my husband but he died three years ago.  Publix is my family now.”  Wow, I’m glad she has a sense of family at her work.  Must be so hard to move somewhere without that kind of support.

We came back to the condo and mixed up a dirty martini for Kerry and Vodka Tonic for me.  The boys were thrilled to bits that we had actually followed through with their requests for candy and sugar in various forms.  Time to relax.  That’s what this week is all about.

IMG_1699

We all slept in late.  It was going to be a “let’s do nothing” kind of day.  I was determined to write my blog piece “Kindness” but was struggling with it.  I spent most of the day trying to write it.   The boys and Kerry enjoyed some pool time and by the time I was ready for some too, it was pouring with rain.  Eventually we found ourselves at the port for dinner at Fishlips.  The boys’ favorite place to eat.  It was Margarita time and we enjoyed a casual dinner of mussels, salad, fish tacos, calamari and wings.  JV and Ben, not to be outdone by one another, asked for the hottest sauce with their wings which pretty much ruined their dinner.  Boys will be boys…

We stayed up late that night.  I suddenly decided that I was heading the wrong way with my Kindness blog piece and scrapped the first draft realizing the direction it really had to go in.  I woke up early the next morning and hit the beach for a four mile walk to get my mind straight.  There are few things more restorative than an early morning stroll on the beach, especially alone.  Thanks to some cloud cover, the sun wasn’t too harsh.  I’ve walked this same walk numerous times over the last few years and each time was different due to what was on my mind.  Today I found a sense of peace and a respite from all the “noise”.  It was lovely and just what I needed.

I returned to the house to find everyone slowly emerging from their beds.  With a cup of tea by my side, I finally finished writing the piece.  It had been hard work, especially emotionally,  but a really good challenge.

We decided that today was the day that we should go in search of alligators so we hit the road for a place that does Air Boat rides.  It also has a restaurant called the “Lone Cabbage” that Kerry instantly fell in love with.  When purchasing our tickets they advised us that we were welcome to purchase a drink at the bar to take on the ride.  Sold!  I had to snap this photo, the guy sitting on the left in the booth was such a character.

20170628_140619

Two margaritas and three cokes accompanied us on the ride and Kerry declared that she had never needed a drink more than then when the boat got going!   Most of the time we traveled at high speed, twisting and turning dramatically until an alligator was spotted ahead and suddenly we would slow to a stop.  Somehow I ended up on the side of the boat which meant that I was within a couple of feet of the water which for this non-reptile lover, added a certain level of terror to the ride.  A couple of times we stopped for what seemed like forever and I sat paralyzed, praying that a gator wouldn’t suddenly spring from the water…..it was an awesome ride and for Kerry and I, FAR more fun than any amusement park ride.  After all, we got to drink a margarita at the same time…..

And yes, we saw what we came looking for:

DSC_0157DSC_0158DSC_0183

Despite it being just a flat swamp landscape, it was pretty especially with the interesting cloud formations, birds and even some beef cattle.

When the ride was over, we simply had to eat in the Lone Cabbage and ordered burgers except for me, I picked a Mahi sandwich.  This meat lover has been unable to eat beef since my diagnosis.  It was delicious and we loved the place!

JV really needed some flip flops so we decided to pay a visit to Ron Jon Surf Shop on our way.  A first for all of us, what a place!

Once back at the Condo it was time for a swim and then drinks, snacks and relaxation.  We’re loving this lifestyle.

 

 

A quick stop in Savannah

We had planned this vacation time perfectly when we got out our calendars months ago.  We just didn’t know it back then.  My Surgeon was happy to let me keep my plans and felt that it was a great idea to have some downtime with my boys before my lumpectomy on July 7th.  When Nelson suddenly and tragically passed away 2 weeks ago, Kerry got caught up in a whirlwind of activity and hadn’t had a minute to even think since then.  So, on Saturday night we both, in our respective houses, threw a bunch of clothes in a suitcase and along with JV, loaded up the car and hit I-95 early on Sunday morning.  With Bart heading to Portland to be with his family, we were ready and able to keep our plans.  While leaving town doesn’t change a diagnosis or relieve the burden of grief, it does somehow allow a small respite.  As we headed south, we slowly but surely started to decompress.  As my boys were just finishing up a week with Steve in South Carolina, we had agreed to meet just north of Charleston to pick them up.  At about hour 3, I suggested to Kerry that we play a CD after we had talked non stop, rehashing the events of the last few weeks.  I reached to press “play” and she said, “did you bring Adele?”  It was exactly what I was about to play.  I think it took two songs before Kerry started to sob.  A much needed release of emotion that lasted for the entire CD.  I think we actually listened to it twice.

After about 5 hours of driving, we met up with Steve, Rory and Ben and they regaled us with stories of their travels over the last few days….a night at South of the Border, Columbia, Congaree and Charleston.  We ate lunch at McDonalds and then hit the road again, driving into torrential rain.  Not exactly the way you want to approach the beautiful city of Savannah but oh well…. we had booked our hotel just an hour beforehand, something that is most unlike me!  Kerry jokes about trying to make me a more spontaneous traveler, and she succeeds a lot of the time!  We ended up getting a great rate at The Embassy Suites, a favorite chain of the boys and I as it’s ridiculously good value.  The fact that all 5 of us could stay comfortably in a two-room suite with a free cocktail hour and full breakfast, is awesome!  It’s a relatively new hotel and located right on the edge of the historic district but still walkable.

Naturally the boys would have been perfectly content to stay in the room the entire time, well at least JV and Ben anyway.  However being the horrible Mothers that we are, we forced them out of their comfort zones and on to a trolley that would give us a 90 minute tour of Savannah.  These two photos sum up perfectly how they felt about it:

As this was Kerry’s first trip to Savannah and we were here just overnight, it gave her a great, quick overview of this lovely city.  I have to say, Rory did enjoy the tour too.  Our two thirteen year olds?  Not so much…..until half a dozen drunk girls in their twenties boarded our trolley and thanks to seating themselves right by the boys, provided them with quite the education which was in no way historical, and pure entertainment.  Wow.

By the time the tour had ended, it was raining again and we were exhausted!  While it seems criminal not to go out during our one night here, we were happy to let the boys scurry back to the room while we enjoyed the free Manager’s Reception where we sipped on a couple of Vodka and Tonics and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the hotel bar.

We were happy that the hotel restaurant which was a French-style bistro, provided the room service.  We ordered up a Duck Confit Sandwich, a Chicken Caesar Salad and 3 cheeseburgers for the boys.  We have brought a plentiful supply of wine with us.  It seemed like the most lovely luxury to eat in our pajamas then finally crash for the night.

We slept soundly and slept in.  But we did make it for the big breakfast buffet.  After breakfast, as the rain had finally stopped and the sun was out, Kerry and I headed out to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.  Having been raised in the Catholic faith, I’m always drawn to Catholic Cathedrals and this one was no exception.  Kerry also grew up in a Catholic family.

We gasped as we entered the Cathedral and wandered around soaking up all the beautiful details in the architecture, art and artifacts.  It’s simply stunning.

Kerry was so moved by being here that the tears flowed again and she lit a candle for Nelson.

We took a leisurely stroll back to the hotel, wandering through some of the lovely Squares and enjoying the architecture and lush vegetation and gardens.  It was sticky and humid which somehow felt appropriate for a truly Southern experience.  One of my favorite things to do when visiting a city, is to wander around taking pictures and so I did.

We both regretted that we couldn’t stay longer in this gorgeous place but we are determined to return!  We headed back to the hotel, loaded the car with luggage and teenagers and hit the road for Florida!

Kindness

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’  – Fred Rogers

I have wanted to write about the last two weeks for a few days now and have struggled with how to approach it.  I love the above quote from Mr. Rogers and think it’s enormously helpful.  It is totally in line with the notion of practicing gratitude even in the midst of tough times and tragedy.

I have been humbled by the love, concern, prayers, cards and messages that have been showered upon me since being diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  My prognosis is great and it’s amazing how after the initial shock of hearing the big C word, you quickly realize that this is totally beatable.  My heart is so full of gratitude for all the kindness that has been shown to me through words and actions.  Freshly baked scones on my porch on a Monday morning, offers of fast tracking me to appointments at prestigious Cancer hospitals, the gift of a special bracelet from someone I have never met who reads my blog, the offers of rides to my appointments, offers to help with my boys, lovely cards, sweet texts, phone calls, reassurance from women who have been there and done that.  The list is endless.  Even if I wanted to be alone, I wouldn’t be allowed to be!

June 14th, 2017 is a date that  Kerry and I now refer to as the “Longest Day”.  She had kindly offered to take me to my MRI at 7:30 that morning which would determine if my tumor had company and potentially alter my current diagnosis which my son Rory refers to as “hitting the jackpot of breast cancer”.  This makes me smile as I know it brings him comfort.  As Kerry and I sat together in the waiting room, we remarked on how lovely it was that there was a volunteer coming around with coffee and tea.  It was nice and soothing to enjoy a cup of tea before my procedure and Kerry and I chatted away until my name was called.  We had been so immersed in conversation that I had neglected to read the flyer about the procedure….oops!  So in I go to lie face down on the bed, boobs hanging through two holes and preparing to be moved into a narrow tube.  The lovely technician lamented about how surely a man had invented this machine as she produced various towels to pad certain areas to make me feel more comfortable.  I think the feel of the towels and the position she put me in with my arms stretched over my head made me feel like I was lying on the beach enjoying the sun, so that’s where I took my mind.  I hadn’t realized it would take 40 minutes so as the buzzing, clicking and beeping continued (thankfully muffled by the ear plugs they provided), I started to wonder if they were finding more tumors.  This is where yoga breathing kicked in and I got through the rest of it with no problem.  Despite being a little disoriented at the end, I gave myself a chance to feel a bit better then Kerry and I hit the now go-to spot of Wegmans as our post-appointment treat.  Food paradise, and supplier of my new and far healthier diet.  Nothing like a cancer diagnosis to make you think about how you fuel and treat your body.  More on that another day…. I should add that I have since discovered that my MRI was clean.  Great news.

After Kerry and I both returned to work in the afternoon, it was time for the usual Ladies Night on my porch.  A surprise delivery of a chilled bottle of bubbly from Judith (yet another act of kindness) added a festive atmosphere to the evening and camaraderie, warmth and support was in bountiful supply.  I even posted a photo on Facebook commenting on how it was such a delightful end to the day.

20170614_203527

But this is where the tragedy starts for it was not the end of the day.  Just as I was clearing up the last remnants of our lovely evening, a car raced up to the porch and out jumped Derek who was in a complete panic trying to locate Kerry.  “Bart’s brother is dead” he exclaimed, “I have to find Kerry”.  Bart is her longtime boyfriend.  I told him that she had just gone home and he could find her there.  After a couple of phone calls that confirmed that Bart’s brother, Nelson, had tragically taken his own life, I found myself driving over to the house in Colonial Heights to be with Bart, Kerry, Bart’s sister Teresa and her husband as well as some of Nelson’s Library coworkers and neighbors.  I won’t go into a lot of detail, but, after sitting in the warm glow of the porch, now standing in the street in darkness, weighed down by damp air in mostly silence that was occasionally punctuated by cries of despair, sobbing and whispers, while we all watched the police officers from a distance complete their work, was something I will never forget.  I witnessed raw grief, emotion, love and loss firsthand.  I hope the hugs I dispensed were helpful, I know I’m grateful for the opportunity to be there and I do remember saying to Bart the exact same thing that he has said to me just 4 days before, “I love you and I’m here to support you in any way that I can”.

The next morning I think we all woke up thinking we had endured a horrific nightmare but alas, it was all a reality.  I did not have the pleasure of knowing Nelson well, I had seen him from afar but knew how close he was to Bart.  I’m grateful to live in such a close community because it’s amazing how quickly folks rally around those who are hurting.  We all found ourselves at Ammo that evening, Terry and Ann fully aware of the circumstances and about 40 people showing up, not to crowd Bart but to simply be there.  It was a lovely evening.  Many of us sat outside enjoying the craft beers, wine and delicious food while supporting not only Bart, but each other.  Nelson worked at the Petersburg Library and one of the most poignant moments of the evening was watching half a dozen of his coworkers say goodbye to each other.  No superficial hugs or air kissing, only hearty, I-really-mean- it embraces.  If Nelson’s passing had inspired this, then let’s be grateful.

Nelson suffered from depression and had done so for many years.  I’m no stranger to this as I’ve known people close to me who have suffered both the situational and the clinical types.  I’ve employed people who endure it, I’m related to some and I’ve been a friend and neighbor to others.   Indeed, three years ago, I actually remember feeling such searing emotional pain that whilst driving down I-95 one day, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a huge tractor trailer truck barreling towards me in the next lane and for just a second I thought, if I just swerved into that lane right now, I wouldn’t have to feel like this anymore.  I didn’t, of course.  I possess an internal switch that prevented this and the feeling was so temporary and so situational.  I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be consumed with thoughts like this all the time, to live your life in a constant battle with mental illness, to have to deal and manage it every day.

The days that followed produced more acts of kindness. Kerry’s brother Tom came home from his family vacation to support Bart and Kerry.  Our Ladies Night group produced food and wine when the family was finally all together after some had to fly in from the West Coast.  We delivered Chicken Divan, Pasta Bolognese, salads, cheeses and fruit, cookies and and then a gorgeous Apple Tart made by Alain.   Friends appeared from all over and everyone was available whenever needed.  Photos and old video footage were produced and Nelson’s music was played and remembered.  Kerry and I have talked a lot since then about how lovely it is to have a house full of people gathered together and how sad it is that we all tend to feel most bonded at times like these.  Why don’t we all get together more?  We get too immersed and busy in our everyday lives…something to think about.

The last time I attended a Memorial Service for someone who committed suicide, it was for another lovely sweet soul who lived locally, Whit Blake.  I’ve thought a lot of him over the last few days as Nelson’s Service reminded me of his.  At Whit’s, friends recalled him as one of the kindest people they had ever known.  We were all urged to honor his memory by committing a random act of kindness.  I took that to heart and a couple of weeks later, committed mine.  While bearing the immense burden of their grief, his parents asked for his legacy to be kindness.  Amazing.

Just one month ago I spent an evening up in Wintergreen with a couple of people including a widower who had lost his wife 5 years ago.  Our conversation had started with the subject of midlife dating and I had asked if he was divorced and he replied that no, his wife had committed suicide 5 years ago and that she had left not only him, but their two children who I believe were middle school age at the time.  We went on to talk for hours about what it had been like for him.  I believe his wife genuinely thought her children would be better off.  She too had fought depression her entire life.  It was fascinating and of course, completely heartbreaking to hear his story and I was grateful for his honesty and the insight he provided.

At Nelson’s service on Friday, all three of his siblings spoke.  They spoke with such love, candor and raw emotion that you just wanted to reach out and hug them.  My mother and I had one square of toilet paper each to mop our tears and it was entirely inadequate.  We left dearly wishing we had known him as we now felt we did.  He was a brilliant musician, an amazing employee, he looked out for his elderly neighbors, he loved his friends, he made people feel important and worthy, he was always helping people.  He apparently made the best Paprika Chicken and was the kind of person who didn’t just look forward to having dessert, he savored it when the time came.  He was an utterly devoted and beloved Uncle.  Witnessing the depth of their loss and love for their brother and seeing his 8 year old nephew who is named after him, made you beg for an explanation as to why he could possibly have done this.  But such is the vice-grip-like and paralyzingly malignant nature of depression.  As one person after another talked of Nelson’s kindness, Kerry summed it up when she finished her tribute by saying “he really was perhaps too kind for this world”.

After the service, the large crowd moved to Saucy’s where Tom, Liz, Eric and Christina and the crew had worked hard to put on a huge spread.  It was an act of love and caring and there is nothing like great food and drink to bring people together whether in happy or sad times.   Saucy’s was Nelson’s favorite place to eat and he would often play his guitar there.

I would like to think we all came away from all of this with the inspiration to live life more simply and certainly, more kindly.  I know I got a healthy dose of perspective along with the heaps of kindness that had preceded this.  Rest In Peace Nelson, we’ll do our best to honor your legacy and take care of your loved ones.

20170628_012334

 

 

 

 

A Hiccup in my Journey

I have great big boobs.  But I just discovered on Tuesday that lurking inside of my left one, is a malignant tumor.

It seems like it was no mistake that my biopsy results appointment was on the anniversary of D-Day.  As I distracted myself beforehand by posting a tribute on Facebook to my grandfather Hugh, I couldn’t help feeling buoyed by his spirit.  As my eyes stung with tears, I found myself thinking, “if he could survive landing on the beaches on D-Day, surely I can survive whatever is thrown at me today?”

I’m pretty good at coping with big news but walking into a room and being told by a Radiologist,  “Sorry, wish I had better news for you, but it’s cancer” was quite something.  To punish these words, I told him how much the biopsy had hurt, because it really had.  I had to wait 5 whole days for the results of last Thursday’s procedure, which had felt like 5 weeks.  The Nurse Navigator who was also in the room was lovely and had all of the information ready for me and an appointment lined up to see a Breast Surgeon the very next day.  Not sure how much of what she had to say actually registered….I hadn’t taken anyone with me as I wanted to be alone for the result.  She promised they would take good care of me and get me back to normal life as soon as possible.  Armed with Your Guide to Breast Cancer and an envelope of information for the Surgeon I headed back to my car, pretty stunned.

I went and parked under a tree and texted my sister-in-law Heather, whom I had promised would be the first to know.  She has just gone through breast cancer herself and I remember clearly her text when she was diagnosed, “F$&k, it’s Cancer”, and it was my turn to text the same to her.  She was still at the school she teaches at out in Oregon and promised to call me in 15.  I took that time to call Kerry and (friend) Heather who were driving back from the beach.  I think this was the only time I really cried.  Sitting in the parking lot of Johnston Willis Hospital wondering what on earth had just happened.  By the time I got around to talking to the other Heather, I was in better shape.  She talked to me for over an hour including getting me through the drive back home and got me ready to tell my boys and Steve who were waiting at the house.  I was strong and firm in my delivery but the looks on their faces made me want to fold.  I didn’t though and told them that I had no intention of dying, that I didn’t know what stage it was and that I wasn’t sure if I’d lose my hair.  The only big positive thing I could tell them was that it was a slow moving type.  They had highlighted the type in my big book and I couldn’t get past the word “invasive”.  I’m usually a researcher but decided that I would wait.

Instead, I grabbed a glass of wine and called my mother.  Not an easy conversation especially as she’s out West now traveling with my mother-in-law.  “It should be me”, she said in despair.  Then, before I knew it, texts came in from friends with talk of the imminent arrival on the porch of more wine and food, and boy did it flow….until very late that night.  Heather had picked up Saucy’s sandwiches for the boys and then a bunch of the yummy Bowls from Local Vibe Cafe here in Old Towne.  So, so good!  Cindy had arrived too and having just lost her father on Sunday, we both sat on the porch, happy to be served food and wine by the others.  It was a great evening, we have the best damn group of friends you could ask for.

20170607_074754

I managed some more texts and emails before calling it a night.  Both boys were late for school the next day and I still struggled to look at the information that had been given to me.  I was supposed to be at The Siegel Center that morning to witness my half-sister Charlie’s High School graduation.  I had been looking forward to celebrating her special day.  My Dad texted me to tell me where they were seated and they had a seat saved.  He then tried to call too but I had to ignore them.  I didn’t want Charlie’s big day ruined by my news, but knew also that they were all wondering why I just wouldn’t show up.  I had a date with the Surgeon.

My friend Heather had offered to take me to my appointment and came to pick me up armed with a notebook, cold bottled water and a cheery smile.  We kept the drive up to the hospital light for the most part but I remember saying at one point, “I have two boys, I haven’t been to Morroco yet and what will all the Ladies do without my porch?  I haven’t got time for cancer”.  We laughed when we arrived early….something unheard of for both of us!

We both instantly liked my Surgeon.  The first thing she addressed was my Factor V Leiden issue and the fact that I take Coumadin, a big deal when having surgery.  She has dealt with it before.  Phew.  Then she declared that she had great news for me and unleashed a series of lovely sounding words…..”well behaved lazy tumor”, “it’s growth rate is 5% so it’s really slow moving”, then the really magic words “stage 1” and “this is just a hiccup in your journey and it won’t kill you”.  We took a deep exhale.  Best possible news.  Right now, with the information we have, I’m looking at a lumpectomy and 33 days of radiation.  The MRI results next week along with genetic testing that I’ll undergo could possibly change this course, but for now I’ll take this.  Our love for this Surgeon was confirmed when she said “You guys should go and have a nice late lunch now with a big glass of wine”.

Under Doctor’s orders at this point, we obliged with a delightful lunch on the patio of Tazza.  Wine, an appetizer of delicious bread with warm marinara and goat cheese followed by quiche and tacos was a perfect celebration.  We were quite giddy and had fun texting friends and family with the good news!   Being able to call my boys and tell them was the best because I knew that they had been at school worrying all day.

It was Wednesday so it was Ladies Night anyway, so I found myself on the porch with some of the usual suspects….a much lighter mood this time!  Marie produced yummy homemade barbecue and we enjoyed the cooler evening.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love my friends?!

For the record:  this was caught on my first ever mammogram.  Yes, I was so busy concentrating on my emotional health over the last couple of years that I neglected my physical health to a certain degree.  I kept meaning to have my first mammogram from the age of 40 but it took me four years….not exactly smart given the result.  I would not have found this through self examination either.  It’s ironic that over the years I have helped raise a ton of money for the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, firstly attending, then hosting, their annual fundraising dinners.  I have worn a pink ribbon more times than I can count and I even own a scarf and sparkly t-shirt with that symbol.

My forties have proven to be extremely challenging.  Selling the business, the demise of my marriage and now this??!!!  But one thing I’ve learned over the past couple of years is to practice gratitude on a daily basis.  I’m not alone, I’ve joined a club (or two) that I really didn’t want to join, but I am so very lucky in so many ways.  It could have been a worse diagnosis, I could feel lonely, I could not have access to good healthcare…..the list goes on.  Why me?  Why not…. why should I wish this in someone else?  I’ll tell you something, the last 48 hours have shown me how much I am loved and that’s a beautiful and precious thing.

I’m tough.  I’ve got this.  Just a hiccup in my journey.