Salmon Summer Supper


I’m always amazed when guests say things like “you make entertaining look so easy” or “I could never have you over to my house”.  You know what?  I’m actually an exceptionally lazy cook and a lousy housekeeper.  But, I LOVE to entertain.  (I have a regular cleaning service which I consider an essential household expense and critical for my sanity).  I believe the most important part of entertaining is enjoying HUMAN CONNECTION!  Is this heightened by great food?  Sure!  But you don’t have to put on a gourmet feast to entertain successfully.

Tonight, it was just my brother Luke and my boys here for a Sunday night supper on the porch and I made my favorite summer dish.  Of course, it has to be served on a platter because that’s what I do…. serving food family-style creates a greater feeling of intimacy and connection around the table, in my humble opinion.  It also just looks pretty!

So, how do I go about this particular meal?  This is the menu:  Poached Salmon with steamed Asparagus, Roasted Baby Potatoes and a Horseradish Mustard Mayo.  I promise you that this is simple.

To serve 6 people you’ll need:

SALMON: 2 – 2.5 lb side of salmon, 1 bottle of white wine (prosecco works too), half a bottle of orange juice or more, water if needed to fully submerge salmon.  POTATOES:  1.5 – 2 lbs baby potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. ASPARAGUS: 2 lbs asparagus.  GARNISH: 1 orange thinly sliced in rounds, half a lemon cut in wedges, chopped parsley. SAUCE:  1/2 cup of Mayo, 1 TBSP Horseradish (or more), 2 TBSP Grainy Dijon mustard (or to taste).


Do you own a roasting pan?  I have a big oval one with a lid that was initially used exclusively for my Thanksgiving Turkey.  During the summer it’s my go-to pan for poaching salmon.  I have a GE Café Stove with an elongated middle burner which I think was really designed for the griddle pan for pancakes and the like.  I bought it because I knew it would be perfect for poaching salmon!  Don’t worry though, you can just place the pan over two burners on your stove if you don’t have the middle burner and you could actually cook it in the oven too.

So, for this dinner, I took a 2lb side of salmon (serves 6) and put it in a mix of orange juice, white wine, and water.  I’m not going to be exact about quantities.  If I’ve got a bottle of wine on hand that I’m not going to drink, I’ll throw that in the pan.  If I’ve got plenty of OJ, then the poaching liquid will be all wine and orange juice.  If I don’t have enough, I’ll add water.  No big deal. Anyway, I bring the liquid to a boil first and then place the side of salmon in it, bring it back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, preferably with a lid on, however if it’s fully submerged in the liquid then it’s not necessary.  If it’s done cooking before everything else, I’ll just turn it off and let it sit in the warm liquid while the vegetables are cooking.  To see if it’s done cooking – stick a knife into the thickest part to see how pink it is inside.



Meanwhile, as for the potatoes, I prefer the baby variety!  I’ll leave the tiny ones whole and halve the slightly larger ones.  Throw them in a roasting pan, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until they look like they are crispy enough for you!


While it’s totally possible to roast the asparagus, but because the potatoes are roasted, I like to steam it.  An inch or so of  boiling water underneath a steam basket with a lid, for 5 to around 7 mins depending on the thickness of the spears, should do the trick.  Depends on how al dente or soft you like your asparagus.


With everything cooked, it’s time to assemble it on the platter…. Salmon first.  In my case, it inevitably breaks up when I transfer it to the platter.  That’s why I garnish with sliced orange and parsley to hide the damage. Feel free to drizzle some of the poaching liquid on it too.  Then, I pile on the asparagus garnished with sliced lemon, then the roasted baby potatoes.  Because the salmon is quite sweet and silky, I love to serve it with a punchy Dijon Horseradish Mayo…literally made up of those 3 ingredients to your liking.

So, there it is!  Simple, pretty, with a variety of textures and flavors.  My kind of cooking.  If you are cooking for a bigger crowd, simply increase the quantities, I often will cook a couple of sides of salmon together in the same pan.

Enjoy!  Here’s to a fabulous summer!

2017: My Top Ten Food Experiences


I woke up on New Year’s Day 2017 in New York City.  My first meal of the year was Steak Frites at Le District by the waterfront in Lower Manhattan.  Little did I know that 2017 was going to take me to some places I had never been and encounters that I could never have imagined.   And I’m not talking about traveling.  I decided to review my year of food by picking 10 experiences/themes, in random order:

ONE:  @frommyporchtoperu

I embraced Instagram this year and have loved it.  Yes, I’m that obnoxious person that posts food photos.  I love it!  It’s fun and I have drawn endless inspiration from other foodies along the way.  After my Breast Cancer diagnosis this summer, one of the first things I thought about was: what could I take control of during treatment and in the future?  One evening, whilst grasping for inspiration, I found it on Netflix in the form of the documentary Forks Over Knives.  I was sold.  It all made so much sense.  Control what you put in your mouth and you can tackle what ails you.  It became my mission alongside the necessary medical treatments.  I found it fascinating to change the whole concept of what food meant to me.  Me….a vegan??!!!  Good grief.  A few months later, I can report that I’ve had lapses but ultimately it’s a lifestyle that works for me, in my unique way.  I kind of see a “Pesce-vegan” thing working.  I just can’t give up oysters.  They are just such a huge pleasure in life, right?  And lobster, crab, shrimp, mussels……. I used Instagram as a method of expressing my creativity, but also my accountability.  So for all of you who encouraged and acknowleged that, I thank you.  It meant an awful lot




Breast Cancer aside, 2017 also brought some romance into my life.  While it didn’t stay the course, I’ll be forever thankful that this lovely man came into my world.   We had been dating just four months when I received my diagnosis.  When I called to tell Andy the news, I told him that I absolutely didn’t expect him to stick around because it was too much to ask.  He was horrified and showed up at my appointment with the Surgeon the next day.  Yes, he is that kind of guy.  He breathed life into me while it momentarily felt like I was losing it.  We ate in lovely places, had some fabulous experiences and I think I can speak for us both when I say we learned a lot from each other.  The way to this girl’s heart is to make dinner reservations and that he did many times!  He even tolerated me taking pictures of our food.  There are many to choose from but I think my two favorites were these two.  The first was dinner at The Boathouse in Rockett’s Landing where we had a table on the deck overlooking the river.  We ate our oysters, the AMAZING Burratta Salad and perfectly Seared Scallops while watching a huge storm roll in.


The second restaurant was Dutch & Co, which I already dedicated a whole blog piece to, but it bears repeating.  Beautiful, innovative food in a great space.



FOUR:  Eating and sipping on my Porch

Despite being pretty gregarious and loving to entertain, I treasure my alone time on my porch.  During warmer months, I’ll sit there with a cup of tea in the morning and often I’ll come home for lunch and enjoy some quiet time.  As it’s west-facing, the evening sun hits it, which in the summer makes it brutal but on cooler spring and fall days, it’s perfect.  Below is a picture of a bowl from Local Vibe Cafe, a new favorite of mine that I plan to write about in more detail soon. The food is delicious, healthy and so beautifully colorful.  Eating it in the sunshine on my porch was just a delightful experience.  Also pictured is a glass of bubbly I enjoyed one warm Friday evening, the perfect way to start the weekend.



FIVE: Camden’s

Andy Howell, my longtime friend and catering partner is the owner of Camden’s Dogtown Market, so I feel a little bit like I’m a part of the place.  He has created beautiful food for many years in various different restaurants that he has owned.  I ate here a number of times this year, but one of my favorite dinners was the pre-Valentine’s Wine Tasting.  Another meal that already has a piece on here in its own right.  I had two truly “aha” moments when I drank two wines that I don’t normally care for on their own, but paired with the food, sprung to life for me.  That moment when you get schooled in the most fabulous way….yes!   The first wine was Complicated Chardonnay which he paired with a Crab Quesadilla with Peach Salsa, a glorious marriage of flavors.  The second was Rosa Regale which he paired with a dark chocolate pate, ricotta cheese and a pine nut cookie.  Quite possibly one of the loveliest dessert combinations I’ve ever had.


It was a tough year at Camden’s though, as Alix, the front-of-house manager, tragically passed away.  I spent many an evening at the bar, chatting to her, trading advice and gossip.  She loved fashion, hair, make-up, art, music and relished giving me dating advice over the couple of years that I knew her.  She even persuaded me to dye my hair red.  I like to think I was the older, wiser one dispensing words of advice, having more years behind me, but in retrospect, she was wiser than me in many ways.  She lived for the moment, spoke freely (often punctuated with profanity) and charmed everyone she served.   She made me laugh!  When she was suddenly taken from us, it was so shockingly sad and left such a painfully huge void.  So much so, that Andy stopped serving dinner for a few weeks.  You never know who might have a big impact on you and sometimes we sadly don’t realize it until they are gone.  Alix mattered, she touched many lives and I know I’m certainly the better for having known her.



I have been here many, many, times over the years.  So many great memories.  This time, it was just Polly and I, on a perfect warm Fall day.  Steamers, hardshell pound-and-a-quarter lobsters, a bottle of Chardonnay…..sitting on the dock.  Always my favorite culinary experience.  What a treat.




My birthday fell right in the middle of my radiation treatments, but I celebrated nonetheless with my lovely friends.  I turned 45.  Moving into the latter part of this decade, I know I’ll continue to face more challenges but hope that perhaps they may be a little less dramatic than those I’ve faced in the first half!  Ladies Night at home, then a weekend involving dinner at the The Brickhouse Run then a recovery brunch at Ammo with guava mimosas in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, was a great way to celebrate!




Radiation was a little more challenging than I thought it would be.  I’m still working on a blog piece about the experience as a whole.  My last treatment fell on Wednesday 1st November, our usual Ladies Night.  I had vowed to drink Veuve Cliquot to celebrate and that I did!  I was surprised with another delicious vegan chocolate cake from Buttermilk Bakery, decorated in the most appropriate way, with one red boob.  We drank plenty of good champagne and it was warm enough to sit on the porch.  Despite being exhausted, sore and so ready for healing, I felt buoyed once again by the love and support of these incredible women.  A night I’ll never forget!




When in the throes of divorce, it’s kind of strange to be involved in working in at least a dozen weddings a year!  But each is always different, lovely and interesting in its own way.  Andy and I catered three this year; a large outdoor wedding at Glenward Gates in Carson on a gorgeous Saturday in May, a lovely intimate small Fall wedding at Folly Castle, and last, but not least, our friends Kate and Mark’s party to celebrate their recent nuptials.  I have known Kate since she was a baby so to be part of this was really special.  No gifts, no formalities, they just wanted friends and family to gather and celebrate with them.  They had a couple of specific requests for food but otherwise left it to Andy and I to come up with a menu.  It’s always fun when you are given creative and artistic license.  It snowed that day but it was cosy, warm and festive inside the house.  Joan and Lawrence have traveled the world so we used a lot of the gorgeous pottery that they have collected.  A joyful occasion that was an honor to be a part of.




Our friends Alain and Aimee have, without a doubt, the coolest abode in Petersburg. Alain built a pizza oven this year and on a unusually warm evening a couple of weeks ago, they invited us over for pizza.  Just being in their house is an adventure but they are truly dear friends.  My cousin Georgia, Geoff and Jake had arrived for Christmas and so we all walked over there and were in for a treat..  I think what made this experience particularly memorable was the interaction with the youngest members of our party.  Jake at age 8 just loved the pizza making process, as did Rory and Ben.  But it was our conversations whilst eating it that really made an impression.  The emerging of powerful personalities with opinions and plenty to contribute.  I loved that Jake kept whispering to me, asking when and if the subject had changed.  He desperately wanted to keep up.  A delicious evening.




Having family join us from England for Christmas was the best gift ever.  My mother would tell you that Geoff taking over the cooking was the icing on the cake.  He produced a gorgeous dinner of Rib Roast, Yorkshire Pudding, Leeks in Bechemel Sauce, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots and Peas.  Finished off with Traditional Christmas pudding, of course!  There’s nothing like family and to have them here with us, especially after a tough year, made it joyful indeed.  The addition of dear friends, plenty of wine, Christmas Crackers and Charades by the fire completed our festivities.  I felt the most at peace this Christmas than I have in years.



It was a huge year!  But once again, I’m reminded of the pleasure of sitting around a table with great company eating fabulous food.  I’m grateful for the many wonderful experiences I had doing just that in 2017, with the host of phenomenal people I am surrounded by.  Here’s to a great 2018, cheers!


Upper Shirley Vineyards

Fall is undoubtedly my favorite season.  Crisp mornings, warm sunny days, the changing colors of the leaves and that gorgeous golden glow of the sun that casts a beautiful spell everywhere as it sets.   Typically I make my annual pilgrimage to the Blue Ridge Parkway at this time.  But, this year, I was deep into my radiation treatments and driving that far seemed a touch daunting.  I still wanted to take a drive out into the country so my mother, Heather and I headed to Upper Shirley Vineyards last Sunday afternoon.  It was a gorgeous fall sunny day and along with hundreds of other people who had the same idea, we arrived at the Vineyards ready to indulge.

20171022_170751The building itself is impressive and as someone who is a lover of fine porches, I’m in awe!  It’s interesting that the design is definitely modern given its location in a very historic corridor amongst the plantations that line the James River.  I don’t know what the design concept was intended to be, but it sure feels like a breath of fresh air with its clean lines and relative simplicity.

The hostess informed us that there was an hour and a half wait for lunch but that there was wine being sold outside and they would call us when our table was ready.  We had all been here previously, so opted out of doing the wine tasting again.  It’s definitely worth doing though!  When we were last here, we were a party of 12 and occupied a huge table in the center of the room and ordered the tasting along with two servings of every appetizer.  It was divine and we had been looking forward to returning.

As instructed, we headed outside to sit by the river for a while.  We decided on a bottle of their excellent Viognier and found a spot under a tree.  It was an absolutely perfect day; clear sunny skies and about sixty-five degrees.  Having worked hard the day before, catering a wedding, we all just enjoyed relaxing outside.  There was great people-watching that day;  groups of friends, couples, all enjoying this lovely place.

We were surprised, not even half an hour later, to be called for our table.  Seated inside, we enjoyed excellent service by Chris, our waiter, who was happy to make some great recommendations.  I really like the wine here, but I REALLY like the food.  We opted for 5 appetizers and another bottle of Viognier.

First up were 6 of the plumpest fried oysters I’ve ever had.  Perfectly fried and served with a Collard Green & Sweet Potato Slaw with Virginia Ham & Smoked Tomato Aioli.  Simply divine.


The next recommendation made was the Crispy Brussels & Pork Belly tossed in Sweet Chili Sauce with Japones Chilis.  It’s so funny how this often maligned vegetable has made such a comeback in the last few years.  Flash-fried and tossed in the sauce, these were ridiculously good!  I abandoned my plant based diet for the day and savored the way the Pork belly just took this dish to a new level with its saltiness complementing the sweetness of the sauce.


At a winery, you have to have some cheese, right?  I’m not kidding when I say I was prepared to abandon the vegan lifestyle for the day….  Warm Brie with Apple Walnut Compote with Crostini provided a subtle and comforting addition to our table.  Lovely soft, fall flavor and well balanced with the crispness of the crostini.


The three of us are lovers of French Fries, so when they involve truffle oil and Parmesan and Garlic Aioli…..we are ALL about it.  Decadency at its best and to hell with the calories.  Just best not to eat them every day!

20171022_184525So, with all this richness, we had to counteract with a fresh green salad.  And wow, it was the best I’ve had in a long, long time.  Beautifully fresh lettuces ever so lightly dressed with a champagne vinaigrette.  Exquisite.


There was absolutely no room for dessert but we all marveled at the glorious food, the setting and our impulse decision to come out here on such a beautiful day.  We still had wine left so we headed outside once again to lay in the grass and relax, and enjoy the start of that warm glow of the autumn sun setting.  Thank you, Chef Bannister, for allowing us to slip into a lovely food coma, in such a lovely location.  And thank you to all those responsible for this gem just a short drive from the Tri-cities, Williamsburg and Richmond.  We will be back, a lot.





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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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


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!



Kennedy Space Center


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.


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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.



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.


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.


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… 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:


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!


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.


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 died by suicide, 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 died by 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 died by 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.