You are currently browsing articles tagged Dennis.

The last three weeks without chemo have been so full.

Dennis and I dined with Uncle Mike at our new favorite spot atop a hill here in Sugartown. We also feasted on Ted’s famous eggplant Parmesan, whose ingredients came entirely from Ted’s garden. I lunched with Linda in the city, a lovely and belated birthday treat. I shared lattes in a bowl with a dear friend and Peet’s treats with a new friend (and her gorgeous baby). I walked with Marina, and brunched with Mari in Tiburon.

Little J conquered the diving board at the club.

I went to my first PTA meeting, did some yard duty (!), and attended our first parent-teacher conference. Other school events included the walk-a-thon, the ice cream social, and a support-the-school night at a local restaurant. Turns out the parents at our neighborhood school know how to socialize for a cause, let me tell you. Count me in!

On Labor Day, we went on an impromptu adventure to Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay. Little J got to play with his buddy C, who he hadn’t seen in a while. Silliness was the order of the day.

And speaking of silly:

On Tuesday, I took these same two to feed the ducks at a pond near our neighborhood.

Yesterday I took Little J and a pal from his class to their first 3-D movie.

Of course tea with the ladies on the street and a visiting cousin from England was sweetness in a glass poured over ice with some lemon.

Phew, like I said: it’s been a full three weeks of no chemo. And it looks like I may have a fourth. While my platelets have made a heroic comeback from 40 to 190, my white cells are still pooped out. I’ll find out tomorrow whether we can do treatment with the help of some bone crusher marrow stimulating shots or whether we’ll have to wait another week.

If we have to wait, it could be a good thing. We’re going camping this weekend, so it would be nice to have a little more energy. On the other hand, as you all know, I want to get this done! So it’s a little frustrating to be stalled out an inch from the finish line.

But somewhere nearby in Sugartown, church bells are ringing. Down the street, in a classroom, Little J is sitting and maybe singing. In Los Angeles, Dennis is winging his way back home to us.

There is so much sweetness for the reaping in these near-harvest days. It makes it a little easier not to pine for things to be different.

Hugs, Jennifer

Tags: , , , ,


I’m really excited about tomatoes right now.

For the last ten years, since the first year we lived together, Dennis has been planting tomatoes. The first few years, when we had a spectacular garden behind our little rented cottage in Rockridge, the tomatoes were amazing and plentiful. The next several years, we moved a lot, and the tomatoes really never ripened as well as those East Bay stunners. This season brings our first crop of tomatoes in our Sugartown house. And they are scrumptious.

I’m so inspired by the taste of this fruit, by the fact that, when I pick one in the heat of the day, I can taste the spirit of the California sun in each bite. So I’m going to make sauce. Lots of sauce.

I called a local organic farm that is expecting a bumper of San Marzanos later this month.

Zoe from the farm is going to call me when they have the tomatoes that won’t sell at market because they are too ripe or less than perfect. I’m going to drive up and get those tomatoes, and with a little advice and equipment borrowed from Leigh’s chef friend, Ingrid, I’m going to jar sauce. This way, I can feed the family on the California sunshine all winter long. How pioneerish, right? Like I said, I’m excited. I’ll let you know when the call comes from Zoe and take pictures of the process.

In the meantime, I want to share a sauce recipe I made up the other day.

I went out to the tomato vines with my bright red colander and picked a handful of Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes (vine selected and planted by Dennis) and a few Early Boys (selected and planted by Little J). I pulled off the greens and put the tomatoes right into the slow cooker. I drizzled olive oil and about a quarter cup of red wine over them. I added some sauteed onion, garlic and red pepper. I sprinkled on salt, pepper and oregano. Then I cooked them on low for four hours.

When Little J and I came back from the pool, the house smelled heavenly. The tomatoes had released a lot of liquid, but were still whole (!?). I smashed them up with a wooden spoon and added a small can of Muir Glenn organic tomato paste. Then I let them simmer for another hour. The smell was intoxicating.

I blended the sauce with my Braun immersion blender, which is the best cooking tool ever because you don’t have to transfer hot contents to a blender. Then, I pressed the liquid through a fine mesh colander to separate out all the skins and seeds. The result was a creamy, delicious sauce that looked like a too thick tomato soup and tasted like  a balmy evening in southern Spain.

We dined alfresco that evening as it was the hottest night of the year. Little J ate shirtless and shoeless. He devoured a plate of ravioli smothered in the sauce made from the tomatoes he grew. Then he played in the back yard while Dennis and I ate the sauce over shredded spaghetti squash (which looks like pasta. Have you cooked this? It’s amazing).

I’d added some fresh basil during the last ten minutes of cooking and a little chevre to gild the lilly. Wow. What a satisfying meal.

A little bit of heaven from a little red fruit and a gorgeous end-of-summer night. Dennis and I sat outside later with a glass of wine and drank in the stars for dessert. Perfection.



Tags: , , , ,

This morning, I was so inspired by Dennis’s playing music, then I read this poem from one of my favorite books, The Illuminated Rumi:

(Click on the image to enlarge.)

Tags: , ,

On the way home from post-treatment-then-post-healthy-five-yr-check-up for J,  we stopped for our usual frozen yogurt. After that, Little J was tuuuckered. “Daddy WHEN are we going to be back in Sugartown?”

“By the time you count to thirty, we’ll be off the freeway,” Dennis answered.

Immediately and predictably, Little J started to count as fast as he could. To get the off-ramp there faster.

When he realized he was going to finish before the off-ramp came, he slowed down. When he realized he couldn’t control how quickly the off-ramp was going to come, he let it go and started to do something more fun. “Let’s all count to one hundred.” We were home before we knew it. The kid’s been in kindergarten for three whole days, but he already knows the most important lesson of all, one that Joan Didion taught me: “Play it as it Lays.”

Speaking of Kindergarten, here’s Little J on the first day.

We agree as a family that we’ve accomplished our goal set back in May to have a great summer in spite of the cancer treatments. The last few weeks were no exception. With my birthday celebrations followed by a super-amazing blood-transfusion, and James tearing it up at summer camp, how could they not be great weeks. Here for you, the five senses tour:


Uncle Mike turned 50 two days after I turned 41, so he treated us all to brunch at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville. Yum is not enough. Family-style delicious fare shared with Coopers, their BFFs, their lovelies, and their little ones is about as much perfection as one can take. Then there was the local pub for Fish ‘n Chips on my actual bday with my Sugartown girls. Finally, Central Market with the BFFs Mari and Carolyn.

Watermelon salad with feta cheese and lavender-infused honey. MMM.

*Romantic dinner in SF with Dennis after quick jaunt to Tiffany left out to preserve sweetness and mystery.


Chlorine, spray-on sunscreen, and victory as Little J and his swim coach Mason engage in a smile-off. J has just swum half the length of a full-length pool.


The crunching and slurping and satisfied mmms of the long-awaited last-day-before-school-homemade ice cream sandwiches. There were even some bees buzzing nearby. And maybe a cat yawning in the sunshine.


The last hug and kiss before school.


Before this happened:

Sixth sense?

Well, the last thoughts of summer leave us so grateful for my successful treatment and our healthy, happy kid. I have one more round, possibly two (if my bone marrow can take it, visualize strong marrow!) but I’m not counting the seconds to the off-ramp, either. I’m walking to school each day with J and D and playing “I spy with my little eye” and secretly fantasizing about being a part of the PTA when I have the strength. Playing it as it Lays.



Tags: , , , , , ,

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

Tags: , ,

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,


Tags: , ,

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.



Tags: , , , ,

Guess who had an amazing weekend.

On Sunday, Dennis took Little J fishing at a stocked lake north of Sugartown. J caught five fish and was beyond proud of himself.

Those cheeks are soo kissable.

I stayed home to rest and read poems by Dan Whyte, a new book Ryan sent which seemed to be written for me, for that exact afternoon.  Not just this/aromatic cup/from which to drink/but the flavor/of a life made whole/and lovely/through the/imagination/seeking its way.

Try as I did to wrap myself in the perfection of the lines, symptoms started to pile up quickly and out of the blue. I couldn’t get out of bed and just gave into the heave of it.

When the boys got home, the burst of excitement from “the catch” revived me. Little J was beyond thrilled and ready to go swimming. D took him to the pool, and they cooled and splashed for hours.

That night, as little J shoveled down pizza, D called the on-call doc. There was just too much turning toward the worst: nosebleeds, swelling belly, etc. We were ordered to the ER. Neighbor Debbie came over in her cloud pajamas (because she is an angel) and held the fort, comforting little J who was so tired from his thrilling day, but still processing that mama had to go to the doctor at night.

Hours and hours went by with blood tests and hydration and x-rays and waiting, and D telling stories of  “the catch” and trying to stay alert and focused on getting home. The news was just that the chemo is really, really taking a toll. Blood Pressure 70/55, platelets 30, etc. etc. And with the swelling and the pain, it’s just about having a cancer that takes over the belly. It’s either the chemo getting in there and working, or something else. We’re going for the former. We were released near midnight and raced home to shower little J’s sleeping cheeks with kisses.

Memorial Day was better, much better. Christina came over with magical Austrian bone soup with marrow dumplings. “This broth is my mother’s medicine.” I sipped it on the back deck while we talked of angels and the wind whirled around us. Then she cut my hair short, like last time. Really short. When she left, I felt so renewed and my spirits lifted.

After a long, peaceful nap, neighbor H invited me for tea in a new little space she created in her backyard. “A little Zen place behind the lemon tree I want to show you.” It was so lovely to just sit out there and sip some Earl Grey and smell the lemon tree flowers while she talked about her garden, her boy’s new teen-ish ways, and the coming summer.

In the evening, D made his famous ribs, and we had neighbor D and her husband T over. Ribs, the trout that J caught, and talk of easier times when D and I traveled to Australia, got engaged, and lived like hopeless romantics. Later, texting with Ms. Miller about love, I realized D and I still live like romantics, but not hopeless. Hopeful. If love is what’s needed for what’s bad to go away, then the three of us: Little J, D, and I are in good shape. In fact, we’re blessed.

Dennis’s mother, who passed away on Memorial Day when D was eighteen, would be so proud of her son, the way he cares for his family, the way his heart is so open. The way he draws such good people into his life. The way his son beams and beams with inner light.

A memorable weekend. Difficult and full of blessings at the same time.



Tags: , , ,

The weekend in the trenches is best left un-discussed. Let’s just say if discomfort is any indication, the ditzels are turning to empty, burned-out craters. But thanks to D, who did EVERYTHING this weekend while shouldering a rucksack of concern the size of Montana, Little J had an awesome weekend.

Ice cream Friday (above) was followed by Hot Tub Saturday:

and Gardening-with-Daddy Sunday:

We are hanging onto these sweet smiles while battening the hatches for dose two tomorrow.



Tags: , , ,

Vintage McCall's pattern

The last time I posted here, my CA-125 (the blood marker for Ovarian Cancer) was up to 19, from its usual awesome 3. Anything above 35 is bad, but for ladies who are in remission, single digits is the goal.

Last week, we found out my number is 353. Yikes.

D was in Europe on business when I emailed him the news from the parking lot of the doctor’s office. It was one a.m. where he was, so I knew it would be about five hours before  I could talk to him. I felt like I needed that much time to gather the strength to hear his voice on the other line, to tell him we had to start chemo again.

I drove the twenty minutes home thinking about how I was going to break the news to my mom who was at home with little J. I couldn’t think of the right words. As it turned out, I didn’t need to say anything. She knew the minute I walked in the door, as moms do. We sat down at the table and looked at each other in shock. The same table, by the way, where she helped me with my math homework, served our family the best dinners imaginable, and planned my birthday parties. We cried a bit, discussed logistics, then got dressed up and took little J out for a burger at our local favorite pub.

While we’d been talking, D’s Blackberry had beeped him late at night in Stuttgart. He packed and gotten in a cab. Before we’d walked out the door for Finn’s Pub, his assistant had gotten him on the next flight for SFO. (Thank you forever, Amy.)

Since then, I have been scanned (again!) and am now assuredly visible from space: a warbly green radioactive glow in the outline of a woman’s body, her two hands held by the bravest guys on the planet, an army of friends and family behind her.

The scan showed a little tumor on my left lower inner side and a “sprinkling” of ditzels of disease on my lower inner right side. The pain is worse than when I was first diagnosed for some inexplicable reason, and the rogue cells are more aggressive than they were the first time, which is hard to fathom given how fierce they were before.

But, as Ms. Miller says, they are a house of cards waiting to be toppled. Treatment starts tomorrow. I’ll be getting a powerhouse combination of cisplatin and gemzar. I’ll get another dose the following Tuesday, a week off, then start again. This will repeat for six to nine sessions, depending on how quickly the house of cards falls.

I know. I can’t believe I’m typing these words either. But here is the silver lining (and it is a thick and shiny one). Because of my BRCA-1 gene mutation, the combo of chemo drugs I’m getting has a very high chance of working. In my mind, it will absolutely work and has, in fact even started to work. The rogue cells are shaking in their boots and stomping in protest. Also, it’s not going to be cold and flu season. And finally, we are all determined to have a lovely summer in spite of this slight inconvenience.

We won’t be setting up a CaringBridge page. We’ll be posting here about our lovely summer: swimming lessons, trips to the beach, and with occasional updates on that other thing.

Love and hugs,


Tags: , ,

Newer entries »