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.


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.





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…..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:


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.






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.


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.



He has achieved success who has lived well,
laughed often and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.

Bessie A Stanley


There are a number of versions of this poem, another attributed to Emerson, was read at my grandfather’s funeral and this one, at my father-in-law’s memorial service last weekend in Cape Canaveral.  I think it beautifully sums up what it means to have lived a great life.  And that there are many ways to do so.

Edward Dickinson’s Memorial Service was on on a warm but breezy Florida Spring morning at the very new Cape Canaveral National Cemetery, an impressive, expansive, but peaceful place where many a hero now, and in the years to come, will be laid to rest.  Ed served in the Air Force for 6 years before dedicating his life to teaching and it was this service that lead to the honor of being at the Cemetery.  A gathering of about 40 friends and family under a shelter here, with Ed’s favorite hymns being played before and after the service, made for a perfectly lovely and intimate final goodbye.  It was great that his four grandsons, Rory, Ben, Luke and Finn were able to be there along with many other family members and close friends.   Steve delivered his heartfelt eulogy and we also witnessed the Flag Ceremony and the playing of Taps.  Those currently serving and the veterans in the group were all invited to give a final salute.  Beautiful.

In the eulogy Steve remembered the day 33 years ago when Ed woke him up to tell him that his own father had died and “expressed his loss by saying that his father’s death was the end of a chapter in a greater book that was his life”.  Wise and true words that give us all pause for thought as we contemplate our own chapters and how people weave in and out of them.

There are few more important things in life than friendship, in my opinion.  Longtime and lifetime ones are surely the best and some of life’s richest gifts.  Ed and Polly are fortunate to have enjoyed and nurtured plenty.  Many of their dear friends were present on this day, a testament to the strength of their friendships.  There’s something to be said for having a Memorial Service a few months after someone has passed because the raw grief has lessened and healing, acceptance and peace have begun to settle in so the Service can truly be a Celebration of Life.

Afterwards, we all got in our cars and headed to one of Ed’s favorite places, Fishlips, to eat drink and reminisce.  Everyone there had been a part of one or many chapters in Ed’s life story.  Shockingly, I opted not to take pictures of food, although it was a delicious buffet and it was delightful sitting overlooking the Port with cruise ships in the background.  Instead of pictures of food, I took ones of people, far more important on a day like this, and while doing so picked up little pieces of other people’s stories…

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While looking out at the cruise ships, I reminisced with Tony, Polly’s next door neighbor about how we had all been on the Disney one, four years ago to the day celebrating Polly’s 70th birthday.  He responded with his own memory of how he’d been spoilt forever by the Disney cruise experience as he had been on one with the Make a Wish Foundation years ago with his wife Priscilla and their son before he tragically passed away at a very young age.  Whilst few of us go through life unscathed, that’s something I don’t think most of us could even begin to imagine experiencing but here he was talking about that memory on a day off he’d taken to honor Ed and just a little while later was joking around with Steve about Football teams.  He and his wife delight in raising their sweet daughter Olivia and as a family they have shown incredible kindness to Ed and Polly.

Don and Lee sought me out to introduce themselves and to tell me how much Ed loved me.  I was very touched.  I was also in awe of their retirement lifestyle, they live in a penthouse condo in NYC but also love the great outdoors and take camping trips, apparently very basic ones.  What a fascinating contrast!  They tried retiring to Florida but missed all that the big city had to offer.  I could quite happily retire to NYC, but the camping part?  Not this girl…

Cliff and Ellen, newer friends who are neighbors recalled Ed’s love of singing and said he used to serenade them with renditions of “Roll me over in the Clover” when giving them a ride to the airport often at 3am when they were off on another of the many cruises they take all over the world.   Longtime friends were there too, folks like the Allens who have decades of history with the Dickinsons that included many a camping adventure as well as cross country trips.  Polly’s brother Marc, and his wife Alison were also present.  They are true adventure heros in my book, eschewing  corporate life way, way before normal retirement age, quitting their jobs and selling everything they had in order to live on a boat and travel on it wherever they could.  They’ve picked up jobs all over the place and a few years ago, traded the boat for an RV so that they now travel on land.  They’re off to volunteer at a park in Colorado this summer and when asked if they have had any regrets, the response is “not for a second”.

Do you detect a theme here?  Ed had a sense of adventure and was surrounded by like minded people.  Even his cancer diagnosis 15 years ago didn’t stop him and last summer, he drove across country then went on an Alaskan Cruise to celebrate his 80th birthday.  Just 2 months later he passed away.  Talk about living life to the fullest right until the end.  His absence on this day was sorely missed.  Many people remarked about how much he would have loved it.

The rest of the weekend was spent doing things that we would always do with Ed.  We had a gorgeous walk on the beach….

We enjoyed the pool…

And I once again cooked in Polly’s kitchen and served food on her platter.  Roasted Salmon, Cod with a garlic and citrus panko crust with roasted asparagus, a salad of field greens and strawberries, and baguette….

Sundays have always been started with brunch at Fishlips, especially when all the snowbird friends are down for the winter months.  This Sunday was no different.  We arrived right at 10:00 am and the early birds had already secured tables out on the deck.  Is there a more pleasant way to to have Sunday brunch than on a deck on a perfectly sunny day, looking over the water?  I think not.  To add to the experience, mimosas are included in the price of your dish but are limited to four per person, five if you ask nicely!   Great company, food and of course, the setting.

I’m grateful that weddings, funerals and other such occasions bring people and memories together.  They give you a reason to think. Especially at funerals where you can look back at a life as a whole story and you realize how much can happen to a person in a lifetime.  It also gives you a chance for some self reflection.  How’s the current chapter in your own life going?  Are you fully engrossed and captivated?  Are you suffering from writer’s block?  Is it time to turn the page and start a fresh one?  Of course, we can plan and come up with drafts about what our next chapter might look like but life can throw some surprises in our path.  However, that’s all part of the adventure, right?  Talking of which….what’s Polly, now a widow going to do in this new chapter of her life, one without her constant companion of over 5 decades?  Sit at home?  Oh no, no, no…. the adventure continues because she went and bought herself this van and she’s heading off on a cross country trip!  May this new chapter of your life be healing, rewarding and enriching, dear Polly.  Happy trails!


Showing up for 24 hours in Roanoke

“Call and Response” and “Every Shadow you Make”, Aimee Joyaux

I firmly believe in the philosophy that half of life is simply about showing up.

Our dear friend Aimee Joyaux, a brilliant artist, was selected to include two pieces of her work in the Homeward Bound exhibit at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, a juried show featuring only Virginia artists. The opening reception was on Friday night and what better reason than that to plan a quick jaunt to celebrate her, experience another city and enjoy great food, drinks and company.  Oh, and stay at the Hotel Roanoke.  A place I’d heard much about but had never been to.  Our party of 13 left for our destination at different times, our carload being the last, due to school pickup.  The drive down 460 was an easy one despite the 3 hour duration and as we approached Roanoke the sun was setting over the mountains.  Beautiful!  Upon arrival at the hotel,  we checked in to our lovely rooms on the Executive Level.  The advance party, Heather and Cherry, had stocked our room with wine so we were able to enjoy a quick glass before walking over to the Taubman.  On our way there we heard voices behind us and it was Alain’s son Daniel and his girlfriend Karin who had made the trip from D.C. to celebrate Aimee’s latest accolade of her amazing work.

Just seeing the Hotel Roanoke and experiencing the short stroll to the museum, I already knew that I loved this place!  The historic area is chock full of independently owned restaurants, shops and bars housed in historic and interesting buildings with a small town feel.  It was freezing outside so we happily entered the very warm museum, a thoroughly modern but not too imposing structure on the edge of the historic area.  Our tardiness meant that our time there was somewhat brief but we were thrilled to see Aimee’s pieces hanging in such a beautiful space.  Not only that, we got to see Ron Walton’s piece too!  Another Petersburg artist and owner of the Walton Gallery.  It was fascinating to see the different works of art, all by Virginia artists, all so distinctive and brilliant in their own way.  One of my favorite moments was when JV suddenly exclaimed to Kerry, “Mom, my favorite artist has work here!”  He had spotted the paintings by Richmond artist, Todd Hale, from a distance of about 50 feet and rushed over to admire them.  How many twelve year olds do you know like that?  Such a cool kid.


There was never any doubt that a great dinner was going to be part of our itinerary.  We were also joined by another of tonight’s honored artists, a friend of Aimee’s, Alyssa Salomon. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Roanoke and we had secured a reservation at Lucky, a restaurant that describes themselves as French Country and American Comfort. Heather had pooled her contacts in the city to find this gem.  Definitely my kind of place!  We were seated at 2 big tables by the entrance which essentially gave us a space all to ourselves.  We were then treated to one of the best servers ever, Lauren, who we initially assumed was the owner.  She looked amazing and wouldn’t have been out of place at a cocktail party but more importantly than that, she knew the menu inside and out.  Not only the food but the craft cocktails.  Tonight’s special cocktail was Rumming with the Devil which included two types of Rum, Apricot, Five-spice and a concoction that apparently involved overnight fermentation of some ingredients in a coke bottle… I ordered one and it was certainly interesting!  Not my favorite drink ever but fun to experience and as tonight was all about art, we appreciated the artistry and creative process that went into it. We ordered a Bread Plate, Mussels, Duck Pate and a Cheese Board to accompany our drinks and loved it all.  The bread was accompanied with divine roasted garlic olive oil, goat cheese, nicoise olive tapenade and Basque olives.  The PEI mussels were suitably garlic laden, the duck pate was divinely smooth and luxurious with baguette, sweet onion chutney, pickled red onions and Dijon.  The cheese board was perfect.  Four types of cheese with an onion jam, candied walnuts, olives, drizzles of honey and baguette slices.

Cocktails and appetizers demolished, we moved on to wine and a variety of entrees.  Buttermilk fried chicken for all three boys and Heather, Gnocchi with Kale and Pesto for Kerry, gorgeous salads with Goat Cheese and Beets for Chana and Cherry, and I opted for two small plates.  Roasted Marrow bones with Charred Lemon and Fava Bean Hummus along with four Roasted Oysters with lemon, garlic and scallion breadcrumbs.  All delicious!  Along with top notch service in a delightful space, we had a fabulous experience.

Ben and JV have a new passion for playing pool and had discovered that there was a table in the pub at the Hotel Roanoke.  They begged us to see if they could go and play after dinner.  So, we began the 10 minute stroll back to the hotel trying to explain why it might not be possible for them to play as it was late on a Friday night and kids might not be allowed in the pub. However, upon our arrival there, a quick chat with the bartender confirmed that it was fine for them to play.  And so began a hilarious couple of hours that involved martinis and more wine for us ladies and several rounds of pool with a group of ACC football referees in town for a conference.  The refs were all hanging out by the pool table and when they saw the boys starting to play, quickly became their tutors and ultimately competitors.  They could not have been nicer and we all had a blast chatting away and playing pool. Until 1 am.  I know, kids and their Moms should really go to bed a lot earlier than that but life is for living and this was a fun experience all round.  Not an everyday occurrence despite the fact that my kids spent the first decade or so of their lives living above our pub.

Staying on the Executive Level gave us access to a lounge with refreshments.  In the morning this included a breakfast that provided us with much needed delicious sustenance after our late night; sausages, scrambled eggs, fruit, pastries, yoghurt and all the caffeinated beverages that we needed.  The lounge was overseen by a woman who was ALL business!  We got a 5 minute warning when breakfast was over and we were in no way going to question her.  I highly recommend upgrading to this level as the services included provided excellent added value.

Feeling a little more alive, we showered, packed and then sat in the gorgeous lobby, chatting and relaxing while JV and Ben enjoyed the pool table once again, but this time all to themselves and in the light of day.  The Hotel Roanoke is definitely my kind of hotel.  Upscale but not stuffy, traditional but with modern touches.  For example, the furnishings in the lobby were mostly traditional in their colors but modern in their lines.  I’m no interior design expert but I noticed the details and really appreciated them.

With what felt like the fiftieth game of pool completed, we headed out to explore.  We went into the delightful city market, weaved through the stands and shops of Market Street, chatting with vendors along the way.  You get a genuine feeling that keeping business local here is serious business.  I love that.  We purchased gorgeous locally made soaps, had hysterics in the kitchen store at all the fun quotes on napkins and tea towels, tasted delicious baked goods, bought great jewelry in a store that imported African and Asian crafts, marveled at all the Virginia products being sold in Eli’s, drooled over furniture at Shabby Love…the list goes on.

In need of a snack, we headed to the well known Roanoke Weiner Stand for hotdogs.  What a cool place, simple concept, great service, lunch for 4 under $20.  You can even get a $2 can of Bud or Bud Light if you so desired.  I did not.


After enjoying our hotdogs, we headed back to the hotel to enjoy the lobby for just a little bit longer and yes, the boys played pool…again!  We decided to end our stay with a quick drive up the mountain to the Star monument where you can enjoy an amazing view over the city and valley.  Much to JV’s horror, when we reached the iconic landmark, Kerry recalled her last visit to it.  Back in her college days, she and her then boyfriend had a date there and she decided to declare her love for him in grand style, by shouting it from the mountaintop!

Just being up in the mountains feeds my soul.  Give me them over the beach any day. Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to climb them, but I love being surrounded by the majesty of them.  There are few places in the world that I have found more lovely than the mountains of Virginia.  I hadn’t explored this part of them before and it was a real treat.  I could quite easily live in Roanoke.  Beautiful scenery, great food, support of small businesses, a fabulous art museum and the essential requirement for any place I might even consider living in…an airport.  Can’t wait to go back.  We left the Star, winding our way back down the mountain and headed back along 460 on a lovely evening, happy to have experienced a terrific 24 hours in Roanoke.  Thanks, Aimee!

Like I said at the beginning, all kinds of things can happen in life when you simply show up.