July 2010

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Frog Hollow Peaches from The Frog Hollow website (Can you smell them?)

File this one under “Things that Make me Go Mmm …”

Peaches. Lately I’ve been harassing encouraging anyone who will listen to try Frog Hollow Farms peaches. They are the best in orange, fuzzy goodness that California has to offer. Farmer Al Courchesne has been growing these beauties on his farm near the Sacramento Delta for over thirty years.  In the Bay Area, you can get them from Whole Foods Market or at the Frog Hollow Market at the Embarcadero Ferry Building.

If you’re like my friend Leigh, or me, and you grew up with peaches or nectarines in your backyard, you knew what summer fruit was supposed to taste like, to smell like. But maybe because it’s been so long since you tasted fruit that wasn’t picked before it was ripe, that was sprayed with stuff to keep it from ripening until it got to the store. It’s understandable. I love the kind of peaches we had as kids, the kind you could smell in the bowl on the counter before you even touched them, that were juicy but not squishy, the kind that filled your entire head with the nectar of sweet summer after one bite. If you love these too, or if you’re reading this and realizing you’ve never had the experience of California’s finest fuzzy gold, then you must (here I go again!) track down some Frog Hollow Peaches in the next few weeks. I think they even ship them across the U.S. I know there are lots of readers around the world. Don’t fret. I’m sure you have your yummy fruits that  I can’t even imagine. Please share in comments.

I’m not working for Frog Hollow, I swear.  It’s just that this year, their crop really sent me over the edge. With my chemo treatments, I can barely taste anything. I’m so grateful to be able to taste the peaches. So grateful. I know that I’m known for hyperbole and, even at the age of forty, often use more than one “o” for the word so. As in, the peaches are soooo good. But this time  I mean it.

When you try the peaches, let me know how you like them. Below is a salad I like to make with peaches, romaine, and herbs straight from the garden. I’m still trying to get the recipe for Heather’s “Disappearing” Peach Crisp. I’ll post that soon too. Oh, and below the salad is a picture of my very own newly shorn head, in keeping with the peach-fuzz theme.

Hugs,

Jennifer

Peachy Keen Romaine and Chevre’

Toss crisp Romaine hearts with a tbs each of mint and basil

Crumble a good Chevre’ over all

Place Frog Hollow peach chunks over all

Drizzle olive oil and a good dark balsamic

Add a touch of black pepper and sea salt or better yet, fleur de sel

viva the fuzz!!

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This photo sort of says it all. Our camping trip to Spring Lake in Santa Rosa was perfect. We were not expecting to feel so far away from it all, but we did. Little J took to it like a squirrel to a pile of acorns, which he collected and left outside little squirrel holes.

The three of us spent hours at the picnic table building the Lego fire truck Uncle Mike had gotten him for his birthday. Then it was down to the swimming pond for splashing and paddling and ice cream sandwiches. My favorite was lying on my warm beach towel and watching Little J play with Dennis in the water, J’s summer-bleached hair drenched in sun like a halo.

I did get into the water myself, and Little J said, “Mommy, I can’t believe it’s your first time swimming since your medicine.” Just when you think kids couldn’t possibly be keeping track of such things.

At night, after glorious bbq’d meals by Dennis, we ate s’mores and counted stars. Then we all piled into the tent to sleep. It’s a three-man tent, but with J sleeping at a diagonal between us, his face smashed against mine (bliss) and his feet tangled up in D’s knees (not so much), we barely fit. This arrangement was well-worth the sleeping in til 8:30 each morning, though.

In the end, Little J missed his cat and his friends, but Dennis and I felt we could have stayed another week. We’ll definitely be going back there soon. I’d lost track of my supposed illness the whole time, all the walking and playing and breathing fresh air. It’s magic. And it reminds me of our family’s favorite summer anthem: California Stars, written by Woody Guthrie and performed by Wilco and Billy Bragg. Enjoy.

Hugs, Jennifer

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Yesterday, after chemo, we unfurled Little J’s new slip-n-slide and discovered it was a deluxe  dual-lane race slide with a checkered flag at the end. Perfect! We’d been talking about checkered flags all morning.

Yesterday’s treatment marked the turn around the half-way bend in the road. I now have more treatments behind me than in front of me. And YES!! My numbers continue to plummet. The CA-125 is down nearly another 80% at 25, which is, WNR (within normal range). Fabulous.

I still have Thursday’s dose, then two more rounds, but I can see that checkered flag already. Can’t you? Flapping in the wind, welcoming me back to remission.

The camping trip was a huge success, more on that tomorrow.

Hugs and happy weekend!

Jennifer

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A Bigger Splash, David Hockney, 1967

On Wednesday, Little J walked into our bedroom after his swim lesson, and suddenly I saw him as this kid who’d grown up while I wasn’t looking. His sun-bleached hair in his eyes, his tanned skin, his hoodie zipped half way. The smell of chlorine. I was looking ten years into the future when he’ll be this tall, athletic teenager who walks around without a care.

“Mom, I have somesing to tell you. Your are going to blow away by this.”

And then he was little J again. I pulled him into my arms. I could feel the sunshine lingering on his his cheeks, his warm back.

“What is it, my sweet?”

“I passed the swim test at the club.  I can go off the diving board now.”

I look at Dennis for some confirmation. This seems far fetched, coming from the kid who was barely dog paddling last week.

Dennis nods, all grins. Proud papa.

“That’s amazing!” I squeeze Little J tight, trying to picture him full-out swimming, and honestly I can’t.

There have been patches of this summer that have gone by, small bits of time, two weeks, one week, where I’ve been flat out with chemo fatigue, and Little J has unfurled a whole new part of himself. Then during my week off, we spend every second together, and I catch up. This was one of those times.

We took J to Finn’s to celebrate the completion of his swim lessons and his diving-board test. He doesn’t want to go off the diving board, by the way. But he’s ready if, for some reason, he has to. He told us this over dinner, during which he ate two meals from the kids’ menu.

And after polishing off his sundae, he hands me the cup of crayons and paper. We’re ready to pay up, but he wants me to draw him a picture first.

“Mommy. Draw a pink castle because that’s your favorite color. And draw you as the princess inside.”   I do.

“Now draw daddy as the prince, and he needs a crown and a big, big sword.”   I do.

“Now draw the super-hero kid flying over everything with a giant knock-out-punch fist. In case the other people can’t kill the dragon, and he has to.”    I do.

He thinks it’s perfect and is finally ready to go home. He doesn’t want to have to kill the dragon himself, by the way, but he’s ready, if for some reason, he has to.

Today we’re celebrating Little J’s birthday with a small group of friends, and tomorrow we’re headed off for our first camping trip as a family. I’ve never seen a happier, more excited kid. And the fact that he didn’t have me draw this dragon that he might have to tangle with is giving me hope that his summer is as carefree as we’re trying to make it. Hope yours is too, so far.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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The early courting days (a.k.a. the Chet Baker Days)

Last night, I lay in bed, exhausted after a long day in the chemo chair. I listened to Dennis sweetly singing Little J to sleep in the next room. Softly and gently, he croons, “Look for the Silver Lining,” a Chet Baker favorite that father and son sing together every night. It was the first song Dennis played for me in his house in Oakland when we started dating. I remember that, at the time, the moment made me think of a line from one of my favorite Bossa Nova songs. Like a message from above it sang, “Follow the fellow who follows a dream.”

And I did. Dennis follows his dreams and defends the silver lining against all odds to this day.

After Little J fell asleep, Dennis came into our room where Virgil rested with me. I had a little cry, then tried to pull myself together. Dennis just pet Virgil’s belly, gently pulling out hairballs and brambles from the garden, and said, “No go ahead and cry. You deserve it. Get it out.” So I indulged in a few more tears about why-can’t-PARP inhibitors-be -ready-for-me-now-so-we-don’t-ever-have-to-go-through-this-again. And then quiet cuddling. And moments later, Dennis suggests a plan of action (always about the solution, this guy). People we could write to, ways we could advocate for me and the thousands of women in my position right now.

The tears were good. The hope and promise, even better.

Look for the silver lining,

Jennifer

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Blossom Umbrella, Erte' (1892-1990)

Alright. I’ll admit it. Sometimes it’s hard, even when overall, things are going really, really well.

Last time I was in treatment, Little J was three. He couldn’t express how he felt about what was happening to me, so when he was scared, he would hit me or refuse to leave my side. This time, he can verbalize his fear, and it comes out as anger.

“Mommy, get OUT of bed and come to the fair! Mommy, I am mad that you are sick. It is YOUR fault.”

Heartbreaking as it is, this is actually a good thing. The fact that he knows he is mad and why, and isn’t afraid to say it, means that he is processing his emotions, not stuffing them down somewhere. In these moments of fury, he’s a little storm that has been brewing and, when it finally hits, leaves you feeling relieved,  if drenched and little sad.

After his outbursts, I pull him on my lap and hug him and kiss him until his tiny fists unclench. I tell him that it’s okay he’s mad at me, that I’m sorry I’m sick, and that I WILL get better.  He presses his cheek on my forehead and hugs me, then brings me his favorite stuffed dog, ruff-ruff.

He and Dennis had an action-packed fourth-of-July weekend. They went to the Sugartown parade, the Company picnic, the fair, swimming, the neighborhood cook-out, an outdoor movie-night, even bowling. Dennis sent me pictures of  Little J having a blast: on the Finn’s float, riding a horse, on  a carnival ride, watching fireworks, and we texted constantly,  saying how much we missed each other.

I made it to the parade and the cook-out, but missed the other events. This last round of chemo, my red blood cell count was really low, so I have weakness, fatigue, and heart palpitations. I think this might be adding to my sense of vulnerability. I was going to avoid posting until it passed. But taking a lesson from Little J, I figure it’s good to get it out, to share.

Thanks for being here.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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I have a friend whose name sounds like Mandy. She is a warrior. She’s a couple decades my senior, but you would never know it looking at her, or walking with her. Several months ago, when I was in remission and she was nearing the one year mark of chemo to treat a particularly stubborn recurrence of ovarian cancer, we went for a walk. She lives south of Sugartown, in a beautiful neighborhood by the water.

Halfway through the walk, I was getting pooped.

“We can sit down and rest if you like,” she offered, pointing to a bench.

“I’d better not,” I answered, “if I sit down, I won’t want to get back up.”

Mandy is still getting chemo for her recurrence, and it’s been over a year. She’s doing better. The treatment is working, and she has the upper-hand.

We talk often. She’s one of my greatest inspirations. She’s so strong, positive, and is lucky enough to have a pain threshold the likes of which I can’t even imagine. During my treatments in 2009, some of you might remember I had intrapertioneal chemo, which goes straight into your abdominal cavity and sits there, bathing the organs and tissues. I barely made it through two treatments. Mandy did six treatments with no pain, and very few side effects.

“Everyone is different,” she offered me kindly when I was making the difficult decision to stop the IP chemo and to go back to IV infusions.

“Yes, you are superhuman, Mandy, a warrior.”

Recently Mandy called me to check in on how I was doing with my treatments.

“They’re going well,” I told her. “My numbers are dropping and the chemo itself is not as hard to bear as I thought it would be. “But there’s the pain, always the pain. It seems like I can feel each cancer cell dying.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Pain has been your thing with these treatments.”

“Yes, that’s for sure. And how about you? How are you doing?” I ask her.

“Me? I’m slowing down. Instead of walking three miles a day, I’m only walking two.”

That’s right. Over one year of chemo treatments, and walking two miles a day, or nearly every day. I don’t know about you, but I find that inspiring.

At the BBQ the other night at Heather’s, I was telling Bob and Debbie this story. Debbie was as impressed as I was. Bob was impressed, too. But when I said, “I couldn’t do that,” he answered, “It’s all in your head.” Then he told the story of running the New York Marathon at age 60, nine months after running the LA marathon at 59.

I was inspired by this to walk Little J to Preschool the next day. It’s about a mile total, there and back, and I was exhausted. Baby steps. Baby steps. And don’t you worry, mom and Ms. Miller, I will be taking it slowly, a little bit each day, remembering the strength of the Bobs and Mandies out there who are ignoring obstacles every day.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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Ikkyu

In the summer months, the moon shines right into our bedroom and bathes me with its gorgeous light. I feel so lucky when I wake up in the middle of the night and see it covering me, protecting me. It makes me think of this poem by Ikkyu:

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law

And endlessly chant complicated sutras.

Before doing that, though, they should learn

How to read the love letters sent by the wind

and rain, the snow and moon.

–Ikkyu

(Ikkyu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology, translated by Sonya Arutzen)

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