Saturday, December 29, 2007

Verona – Piazza Bra, Liston, the Arena and the Piazza Delle Erbe

This is where we spent most of our time in Verona.

It was about a half hour stroll from our hotel.

We would walk along the street passing shops, wine bars , and smart cars parked up on the sidewalk; that never failed to make me laugh. When you live in a city that was designed something like two thousand years ago, you need to be a creative parker.

We would walk under the arches of a fortified wall that is a leftover from original Roman times, but has been updated a few times since then by ruling families and factions. After passing under the arch, we were in the Piazza Bra. The center of it is the Arena. This structure was built around 30 A.D. Contemporaries of Christ walked there! That’s a pretty staggering concept.

A small part of the fourth story remains, but the vast majority of it is three stories of arches. The inside has stone steps for seating, and the floor is just dirt. You can buy a ticket and walk around in there. We did not find any tours, or signs or information, which was a little disappointing because visiting a place like that makes you want to know everything you can about it. But we could still sit on one of the steps and imagine that we were there to watch a naval battle, and they had flooded the Arena for the occasion. We walked into the interior and could see the passages that they could have used to release lions, prisoners, and gladiators. We could see the drainage systems that are built into the stone. That drainage system is one of the reasons why they think the structure is still standing. The back passages were tall, I’d guess over 20 feet tall. That really made me think. Who on earth had the vision to design this thing? How hard was it to build something on this scale with your bare hands? Why make these arches so tall when that had to be an engineering nightmare and their beauty would only been seen by those behind the scenes?

It was very cold and misty on the day that we visited the Arena and that contributed to the atmosphere. It made it easier to imagine time slipping away, and to picture the building it its prime, filled with people.

During the summer, they stage operas there. We were there during the Santa Lucia Festival, and they erect a huge metal shooting star next to the Arena just for the festival. I goggled at that too. It was a heck of a structure to put up for a festival then take down again.

The Piazza Bra also has some impressive buildings that circle around the Arena, and a park area with a fountain.

The Piazza Bra also has the Liston, which is the most popular boulevard to stroll down. At the beginning, is it mostly restaurants, gelato places and tobacco shops, but as it goes on it turns into the Venetian version of Rodeo Drive. The streets change from cobblestones to flatter stone tiles, and the shops range from not too expensive hosiery stores to Burberry, Loius Vuitton and Gucci. The Liston is fairly crowded at all hours on any day. The other interesting thing is that it looks like it should be pedestrian only, but cars make their way down it all the time. Since we walked on the Liston on our way home from many a boozy dinner, dodging the cars became a pretty active exercise.

If we kept walking past all those shops, we came to the Piazza Delle Erbe. We spend a lot of time in this square. The first day, we came by and bought roasted chestnuts from one of the street vendors. They were a tasty treat, but more importantly, a bag of roasted chestnuts is a great hand warmer.

At the end of the square is a gorgeous building with statues all along the roof, and next to that is a clock tower. In front of the building is a sculpture of the Lion of St. Mark. This is a common theme through out Venice and the Veneto region. The carving is usually fairly large, very noble looking and is posed with a book. Whether the book is closed or open has meaning, one of them means that the statue was made during the time of war. But, of course, I can’t remember which one.

Down the center of the square are unbrella covered stalls for vendors that sell t-shirts, souvenirs and produce. I bought a little glass octopus and some souvenir calendars there. Along one side of the square are mostly residences. Those buildings were the typical tall boxy shape, with as many balconies as they could possibly put on it, all with beautiful, ornate metal railings. And even in winter, all the balconies that we saw were beautiful gardens, even the smallest spot would have a few artfully chosen plants. The other side of the square had a few shops, but was mostly café after café after café. This is where we sat on Saturday morning soaking up the sun and soaking up the spritzes with a couple hundred people who were all out doing the same.

I don’t think I will ever be able to describe just what a pleasure that was. After days of cold and mostly gray skies, here we sat at a little table in a sea of tables, surrounded by the gorgeous, rich colors of the buildings around us. Even with all the people there, it was fairly quiet, quiet enough that we could just soak in the beauty of the day, the surroundings, and the taste of the sparkling orange drink that I was trying for the first time.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Quick Trips to the Oncologist and the Radiology Ladies

I have been really tired this week. So tired that I went to bed at 6 right after I got home from work on Wednesday. I did a little better on Thursday. I went into work again, worked a full day, dropped by Trader Joe's for a few things, got home, went to dinner (Cheddar's), then came back home and went to bed.

The made my husband worry. I just keep being tired, and we don't see much improvement.

So I called my oncologist's office. They had me come in for a blood draw (which they do as a finger stick and you get the results right away - and I really appreciate that they don't have to tap a vein and you don't have to wait a day or so for the results). They weren't really expecting to find anything, they just thought they would check to rule out infection, anemia, or any other blood level problems. Everything looks great.

That was good news I guess. I'm glad of course that my blood levels look great, and I don't have some new problem that I need to take care of, but it is not fun to sit there and have the nurse tell you that it takes 3 to 6 months to return to baseline energy levels and that there is nothing they can to to help me feel better now, or get better faster. The nurse was terrific, and she was sorry that she could not do anything to help, and very helpful since she said that I'm pretty much right where I should be. But still! Who wants to hear that they may feel like this for a few more months?

Admittedly, I am always tired around the holidays and I did just get back from Europe, I'm keeping that in mind.

While I was there, I dropped off a great big shopping bag full of fun fur hats that my friend made. I'm so glad that I had some to donate, that helped distract me from being at the doctor's once again to have my blood drawn, and it gave me a happy reason to be there.

After that, we went down a floor to give the radiation ladies the pashminas that they asked me to buy for them while I was in Venice. I really enjoyed that. I loved having an assignment to go to the shop and pick out some scarves for them, and I loved bringing them back. It was fun being an international personal shopper!

I also had to call my surgeon today. I found a hard, sore lump in my armpit, under the incision. Turns out that the blue dye that they use for sentinal node mapping can pool in an area and make a hard knot. Huh. What's that doing there? This is months afterward. So now I'm supposed to rub it every day until it goes away. While I'm not looking forward to my daily armpit rubbing sessions, I'm relieved to hear that they see this all the time and it is nothing to worry about.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Italy – The People

The people there were fascinating.

The first thing I noticed is that they are slimmer than Americans. Pretty much everybody is slim and mobile. If I look at a crowd of Americans in the street, I typically see many who have mobility issues, I will see canes, wheelchairs, orthopedic boots… but not in Italy. The people that I saw of all ages were slim and active. I admit, I wondered if I was seeing a subset of the population. Maybe all the people with mobility issues stay home and don’t walk the streets as much as the other folks. Maybe I was only in affluent, touristy areas where the income levels are higher and the crowds reflected that.

I’m pretty tempted to decide that the real reason is that a slower pace of life, better quality food, and a more physical activity are the reason though. Their culture promotes leisurely conversation, love of nature and the outdoors, and a deep appreciation of beauty. Maybe that is reflected in their general health.

So, after that initial impression, I was surprised and amazed to see how many people over there smoke. They don’t smoke in public places like trains, museums, and restaurants which is a real godsend, because the rest of the time, just about everyone is smoking like a chimney. That was really the only annoyance that I had during the trip, I got tired of breathing in other people’s smoke all the time when I was out walking, I really could not get away from it.

The next thing that I noticed was fashion. For men and women. The men wore clothing that would definitely qualify as “queer eye” over here. They favored fancy shoes, bright colored pants, and scarves. They showed much more attention to quality, detail and color than American men do. They also wore very intricate glasses and sunglasses. Some of the frames were so outlandish that I had to conceal my surprise and amusement. The ornate eyewear was worn by women as well, but it was more surprising to see it on men.

The woman favored bare legs. It was cold there and I saw many women in very short minis and “winter” shorts. They were also wearing tights, that’s true, but for December, that still qualifies as bare legs. I also saw quite a few women wearing pants that I can only describe as very heavy tights. The ladies who wore them had the figures for it, but I was still amazed to see something so tight and so shear. Jeans were ubiquitous, I’d say more than 50% of any crowd and any gender was wearing jeans at any given time. If I saw a lady wearing any other pants, they would be more ornate in pattern and more brightly colored than what I see here. Intricate contrasting designs and patterns, or in one notable exception, snakeskin. Oh yes, the lady looked like a well fed python! Cracked me up.

For cover ups absolutely every one regardless of gender or age, had a scarf. Gloves were surprisingly absent. I did see a few people wearing them, but many of the women and children were otherwise bundled up, but their hands were bare. People wore coats that varied from full length fur and full length parkas to ski jackets. I was wearing a black and white ski jacket, so was my husband. That really made us stand out. Everyone’s jacket there is in one solid color, surprisingly plain considering their love of all things ornate and detailed.

Make up was also interesting. They seem to know only two extremes. Either they don’t wear it (that is not a criticism, many of those women were absolutely beautiful without the aid of any cosmetics) or they applied it with a trowel. Overly bright eye shadow, thick liner, and Tammy Fay style lip liner were prevalent.

One lady that I saw pretty much defined the style. She had to be in her late seventies. She had considerable wrinkles (the happy kind – laugh lines in abundance), bright turquoise eye shadow, a full length fur coat, a patent brown crocodile bag that looked like it cost more than my car when the prior owner bought it new, patterned stockings, and just over ankle height boots that were also patent brown crocodile with fur trim. If I wore that, I would look ridiculous. She did not. She looked peppy, in charge, and wonderful. She looked like 80 was not her age, baby, it was her speed.

Patterned tights and hose were very popular. There was also a look that I had not seen before. You start out with solid colored tights, then add a contrasting colored knee high stocking. I bought a few of the knee highs while I was there. I tried them out one day at work. I wore patterned purple knee highs over black tights with a grey dress. My colleagues were intrigued; I got comments from everyone who saw me, and I would say feed back was mostly negative. Doesn’t stop me for a minute though, I’ll dress more Italian every chance I get. It adds an element of fun and whimsy that our fashion doesn’t often show.

And, oh, I have not mentioned the lady’s shoes. Fabulous! Many wore boots and they were beautiful Italian leather boots with various flairs thrown in such as unusual stiching or hardware. Most people’s boots looked fabulously expensive. I also saw many ladies wearing various high heels, mules and sling backs. Not so unusual, you might think, until you consider that these ladies were out walking for hours on cobblestone streets. I have no idea why I was able to be there for eight days and no see a single woman break an ankle! So I started to observe them – their secret? The ladies with the high heels or looser shoes like mules always held onto the arm of their companion as they walked. Many times it was a man, but I also saw many groups of ladies all holding on to each other as they walked.

I also saw many pierced noses. Both men and women had their noses pierced on the side and wore a very small jewel, so tiny that you often had to look twice to see it.

I also saw many men with pierced ears, multiple pierced ears, and wearing pendant earrings. The guy who worked on one of the ferries in Venice wore a fabulous set of grey pendant pearl earrings. It is not often that I admire and want the jewelry that I see on a man! It did not make him look feminine though, it added a certain swagger. Beats the heck out of me how he pulled that off! I did not see anyone with those spacers in their ears that leave them with those big see through holes. I also did not see many tattoos. Granted, it was winter, so I did not see much bare flesh, but I did see plenty of arms and necks when we were indoors, and I can’t remember seeing a single tattoo.

In manner, the Italians talk much, gesture large, talk loudly and just seem to be enjoying life and each other. They have a dramatic flair. The volume of their voices and gestures did not seem too much for me, it I thought it showed vigor and enthusiasm. It was also very interesting to see how long they could talk between breaths – it was impressive. Even the weather guy that we saw on TV in the morning seemed to be able to talk for about a minute without drawing a breath.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Italy – The Food

Wow! These people know how to eat!

Sit down with a nice cup of tea to read this one - it is lengthy!

The first thing that I noticed was that the waiter never comes back after you get your food. You have to track them down to pay the bill. No one is in a hurry for you to leave. You can stay at your table chatting and drinking for hours if you like. I loved the leisurely pace.

Next thing I noticed is that everybody, tiny little slim girls included can really pack it away. Remember, I was eating out everyday, so I have no idea how they eat at home, but when they go out, everyone gets huge plates of food and eats it all. Each time I finished with something and there was still some left on my plate, the waiter would ask me what was wrong!

Let’s see. The first night there, we stumbled upon a restaurant in one of the many alleys off the main square near our hotel in Verona. I’d say it was about a 40 minute walk from our hotel. We ordered bruschetta (pronounced brus-ketta by the way, they always corrected me when I ordered without saying the “k” sound in the middle) which came with prosciutto on it. This was my first of what was to become pretty much daily doses of prosciutto, salami, or pancetta. The stuff is everywhere! Anyway, the bruschetta was served on a large piece of thin toasted bread with tomato sauce, tomatoes, melted cheese and pepperoni. I was used to just having fresh chopped tomatoes with basil. This stuff was really delicious. Then we had gnocchi with gorgonzola cheese sauce. This passed good right up and went all the way to transcendent. The gnocchi were light years lighter than the ones that I make at home, and the sauce was creamy and rich without being cloying. It was so flavorful that is should have been overwhelming, but it wasn’t. I ordered the house white wine which came in a little pitcher. It was also remarkable.

I noticed that the waiter seemed confused when my husband and I ordered one entrée to split. Everywhere we went that caused confusion, and I never saw any of the Italians order something to split. Huh.

The next day started with breakfast at the hotel. They had a nice spread every morning. One table had cereals. They had corn flakes, muesli, granola, the bran stuff that always looks like chicken poop to me (I eat it, but that is what it looks like), and a nice dried fruit, nut and coconut mix. They provided regular and soy milk which was nice since I prefer soy. That table also had a fresh fruit salad and a bowl of fruit. I often snagged an orange once I learned that at breakfast was the only time during the day that I would see any fresh fruit. They had stewed prunes too. Ever since they were part of our breakfast a few years ago when we vacationed in Bermuda, I have liked stewed prunes. Not enough to serve them at home, but I don’t pass them up when I find them at a breakfast buffet.

They had a second table that had pastries (apricot filled croissants and a couple of other things – there was so much there to eat that I rarely made it to the pastries), fruit juices, water (sparkling and still which are offered everywhere. When you order water in a restaurant, they ask you “with or without gas?” meaning bubbles. If you order with gas you get Pellegrino, if you order without, you still get bottled mineral water, but without bubbles.) and a large tray of sliced meat and cheese. The meats always included salami and prosciutto, once I saw mortadella too. A few times, I was not sure what the stuff was. They also had crispy rolls and a rustic bread so you could make a breakfast sandwich.

We had excellent food everywhere that we ate in Verona. One time we wanted truffles, and the lady at the hotel desk (who could seamlessly switch from Italian to English to French and back again) called a restaurant to see if they offered truffles since they are seasonal. They said yes, so off we went. When we got there, there were no truffles on the menu. We asked and they made us truffles and pasta. Truffles have a very unique flavor, they reminded me just a little of escargot with green onions, I don’t really know how to describe it. I really liked the taste. Another time, the restaurant was out of the soup I ordered, they had a vegetable cream soup. I talked with the waiter (whom I call “limoncello guy” since he offered me my first one of those), he asked what kind of soup I wanted. Turns out that he could serve me the vegetable soup before they blended it into a cream texture, and it was very good.

In addition to truffles, I also ate octopus (that was a rough one, they were very tiny and there were a few of them in my lobster pasta. I had trouble eating them since I think octopi are cute and fairly intelligent), and salt encrusted sea bass. The sea bass meal was something. For this one, we were being entertained for lunch by my husband’s colleagues and we had two customers with us. These two customers were the whole reason for the trip and we got to entertain them for a couple of days. They were just wonderful people and I had a great time with them. Anyway, the two Italians take us to this restaurant where there is no English on the menu and the waiter does not speak any. Prosecco (Italian yummy sparkling wine, their version of champagne) was served. So was a very good red wine that just kept coming.

We were trying to figure the menu out. They asked what kind of pasta did we like and did we like sea bass? So, a pasta dish comes for me with a red sauce, lobster bites and those tiny octopus. A pasta comes for my husband that has sea bass in it. We had something as an appetizer too, but I can’t remember what. My husband and I struggled to finish our pasta. We tried very hard to finish what was on our plates since we figured that was the end of the meal. We were so wrong! THEN they brought out this enormous fish that had been baked in a salt crust!! We were totally full! We ate what we could which was fabulous, but I hardly made a dent in it. Then they ordered Sgrippino for us. This is traditionally served after a fish course. It is lemon sorbet mixed with a little vodka and prosecco. Refreshing and fabulous. I was full to the rafters and not a little tipsy after all this. Then we headed off to the Bertani winery for our tour and tasting.

The grounds were gorgeous. It was a misty afternoon, and the building is a butter colored mansion owned by some baron or something a few hundred years ago. We had four generous tastes to try with a big tray of salami and bread and an amazing hard cheese that we spent the next few days fruitlessly trying to remember the name for. Anyway, after all that wine, we were fairly rushed out because it was the end of the day. The door clanged, I do mean clanged shut behind us, I put on my hat (it was very cold there the whole time) and realized that I had lost my gloves. We tried pounding on the door, but to no avail. Later in the car, I discovered that I was wearing my hat with my gloves folded up inside it!!! The customers thought that was hilarious and teased me for days about getting so toasted.

We also had sandwiches at both the most famous restaurants in St. Mark’s Square, the Café Quadri and the Café Florian. I think the Florian has been there as a restaurant for something like 600 years. Hard to fathom.

Food in Venice was not so great. The first time we went, we stopped to eat our dinner outside at a restaurant that faces the Rialto bridge. The view was amazing. Italians seem to love to be outdoors, so they are fine eating outside even in frosty weather. I was cold enough that the waiter moved one of the outdoor heaters to our table for me. We were not too hungry, so we both ordered pasta. Then the waiter said he had this amazing fresh flounder and we had to try it. We had visited the Rialto market that morning and they had an amazing display of fish there, so I had been wanting fish all day. So we decided to try it. The fish was good, but when the bill came, we discovered that the fish alone was over 60 Euro!!! That’s around $80!!! We tried to remember that getting rooked in Venice makes for a great story, but we are still complaining about the price of that dinner. Ouch!! And I would say that that sums up the food experience at every place that we ate over the two days that we spent in Venice, it was OK and ridiculously expensive. So if you go over, goggle at the wonders of Venice, but be sure to eat in Verona!

In addition to pastas, sandwiches, and soups, I also had quite a few salads. I usually ordered the Mediterranean. That is greens, capers, olives, tomatoes and tuna. Every time they brought me one, I marveled at the size of it – the salads were huge! They never brought dressing either, you use the olive oil and balsamic vinegar that are always on every table in every restaurant. They’ve completely converted me too, now olive oil and balsamic are the only dressing that I like!

And now to the beverages. I already told you about the bottled waters which we drank by the gallon. There was a grocery store called “Pam” on the way home, and we would stop there to get waters to keep in the hotel too. One thing I noticed is that Italians don’t fill any cup or glass, whether it is water, wine, or anything else, they always fill their cups and glasses only 1/3 to ½ full. They also don’t drink as they walk around. We saw people walking for hours, and no one had a soda or a bottle of water with them. If they get thirsty, they duck into a little wine bar for something to drink. I also never saw styrofoam or a paper cup the whole time I was there.

The first beverage I tried was a decaf espresso. Yes, I’ve had these before, years ago, but I never really cared for it. I’m not a coffee lover. I drink white tea and water. I did not like my first espresso much. The flavor was very strong, and I was horrified at the idea of dumping a packet of sugar into something before I drank it. Ah, but a few hours later I was craving another one. I was hooked! We walked and walked and walked all day everyday in really frigid weather, and stopping my a little shop to have a quick espresso and a couple of cookies turned into a real treat. I ended up drinking at least two a day. When we got home, my husband bought us an espresso maker for Christmas. Now the whole family is hooked. The machine was quite expensive and you have to join their club to get more coffee for it (how yuppie is that?), but the espresso is really wonderful and seeing my two kids at the table sipping from those tiny cups is worth the price of admission.

The next drink I tried was a limoncello. We had lunch at a restaurant that my husband goes to every time he is in Verona. The waiter recognized him, and gave us limoncellos to try after our meal. I looked the recipe up when I got home. Basically, you soak lemon peel in high proof vodka for up to 40 days. What you get is a refreshing lemon yellow liquid that is amazing when served chilled, appalling when served warm. I usually finished up my dinner every night with a limoncello.

I also tried a spritz Aperol which is a regional drink. They only make it in the Venice and Veneto region. I read about it in my guide book, and once I looked around, I realized they were right, tons of the natives were drinking this bright orange stuff. My husband found the recipe for it. It is Aperol, Prosecco and sparkling water. The taste is very light and refreshing with a slightly bitter fruity taste. They serve it in a very large wine glass, with a little ice floating just on the top and an orange slice. I had many of these little wonders too. My favorite was on Saturday late morning. We walked over to the square in Verona, where there were three restaurants all in a row that had tables outdoors. This was the warmest day and the sun was out. We sat at a table among a couple hundred other people who were all doing the exact same thing, drinking a spritz, munching on olives and enjoying the day.

Another notable dinner was at a restaurant called the Jazz Club. Sounds American doesn’t it? Well, not a person there spoke any English and the menu was a real puzzler. I had my phrase book out and we were all still having a hard time figuring out what anything was. I ended up just ordering soup. But my companions ordered the steak. That was after we quizzed the waitress and she had so much trouble trying to talk to us, that she gave up, pointed to an item on the menu and said "Moo!" LOL

We could see this enormous man in an open kitchen behind us cooking up these slabs of meat. With his size and the sparks flying around him, he reminded me of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. Well when the steak got to our table, it was not a steak, it was an entire roast. The waitress sliced it up and we were all horrified to see that it was close to raw, it had just been seared on the outside. We just looked at each other stunned because no one wanted to eat that. After she sliced the meat, she placed it into a tangine, and it sizzled when she did so we knew the tangine was hot. Well, the meat finished cooking in the tangine until it was rare, not raw. There were a couple little pieces that were more well done than the others, so I tried those. It was good!

As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed the food and drink! They are an entire culture of foodies like me who are obsessed with great fresh food!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Italy - the flight over and our hotel

Hours before our flight, as I was packing, I realized that I did not have the right shoes for this trip. I needed warm walking shoes.

So, I made an emergency trip to Dillard's and bought the only size 5 pair of Ugg boots that they had. Lucky me - they were ones that I liked. They are black and end about mid calf.

Buying those boots and my new ski jacket were the smartest thing I could have done. I lived in both of them all day every day during the trip. I have my husband to thank for that, he kept saying that we would be outdoors in the cold all day and walking for hours, and did I have the right gear for that?

OK, so I rushed home from Dillard's, packed my suitcases and off we went.

My niece drove us to the airport and my kids came along. I was hoping that they would not come to the airport since saying goodbye to them for several days is so hard for me. But, I was so excited about the trip that it was a little easier than I thought it would be and I got through it without making a scene on the curb.

We flew over on an Air France 767 that was less than half full. The flight was very easy. They fed us often and played two movies and a couple of TV shows. The only thing I watched was the last thing they showed, an episode of Smallville. It was surreal watching it as our plane touched down in Paris.

I snoozed most of the way through the flight, and remembered to get up and walk around every time I woke up. There was only one nervous moment when I woke up to hear the captain yelling (I don't think he was really yelling, it just sounded that way to me since it woke me up) that we were going to go through turbulance as we left the coast of Greenland, so everyone needed to buckle back up. We did have turbulance, but it wasn't bad. Many people were stretched out across three seats to sleep, one was even sleeping on the floor in front of a row of seats. When we all woke up to buckle our seat belts, it felt like a very strange slumber party.

We had a three hour layover in Charles de Gaulle airport. Enough time to buy myself an Eiffel Tower for my desk at work, and some souvenirs and postcards. I also ate a croissant. Not because I was hungry, because I was in PARIS!!!

We had an easy time changing flights. On the way over one time, my husband's luggage was all lost for days. So we had a strategy this time. We both had checked bags and carry ons. Our carry ons had a change of clothes and the toiletries that we don't want to live without, and whatever other little comforts that we would need to last a few days without the rest of our luggage. That plan worked great on the first plane. But the much smaller plane to Verona did not have much overhead space. They took my carry one when we checked in for the flight, and they took both of my husband's smaller ones away as we boarded. So much for planning ahead!!

The good news is that all of our luggage made it to Verona with us, so it didn't matter that they kept taking it all away until we had nothing left to carry on to the last plane.

We arrived in Verona mid day. We took a cab to our hotel and then went for a walk so I could see some of the city. I'll describe that later, first I want to describe our room.

We were on the second floor. Remember in Europe, the first floor is zero, so by our standards, we were really on the third floor. The elevator was tiny and said it could hold six people! My husband and I barely fit in it. I found this very comical and pretty much laughed every time we stuffed ourselves into it. I also laughed every time we selected the button for the basement which is where breakfast was served, that floor was called -1. Buttons that say "0" and "-1" for floors are enchanting somehow.

Our room had an entry hall and one wall of that hall was the nicest closet I have ever seen. The doors were made of heavy wood and slid open and closed so smoothly. One side had room to hang longer items, a shelf and a cubby area, the other side had room to hang short items, a shelf with a safe and built in drawers. Everything was made of such solid, beautiful wood and the layout worked perfectly to store all my clothes and shoes. I didn't get sick of trying to find my stuff or living out of a suitcase at all.

Once through the short entry, I could see a platform bed, two windows and a flat screen TV over a desk. The desk and chair became the place that we heaped all our stuff onto every night when we came back to the room, so after the first day, I did not see the surface of that desk again until we left to come back home.

The bathroom was very novel to me. First, the shower was even smaller than that elevator! Essentially, the shower was standing room only, and you could not spread your arms out from your sides either. The doors slid out from the front corner, and at first the spray was aimed in that direction, so until I figured out how to move the shower head, I got shot with cold water every morning and we had a flood on the floor.

Next to that was a scary looking bidet. I was intimidated by that thing! I've seen ones that had a spray coming from the bottom and I understand that, but this one just had a spigot on the back, or what I thought was the back. Logistically, I could not figure out what was supposed to go where and I was certainly not going to ask for instruction on that.

Then there was the toilet. It had no visible water tank, I guess they either don't need one, or it's built into the wall somehow, so we just had the seat portion of it. A few feet above it was a flat plastic panel that looked like the world's largest light switch. But I'd already found the light switches next to the sink. What was this thing and how did it work? Fortunately, my huband knew. It was a rocker switch to flush the toilet. Press the top to flush, press the bottom to stop the flushing. Huh.

Across from the bathroom, over the bed was those two windows. One was really a window, the other was french doors that led out onto the world's smallest balcony. They had ivy and twinkle lights hanging from the edge. I don't know if they always have twinkle lights or if it was for Christmas or if it was for the Santa Lucia festival that was going on while we were there.

Most of Verona was covered in twinkle lights which only added to the magical aspect of how the whole place looks night and day.

The colors! The architecture! The fountains and sculptures! The fashion! The food! VENICE!!

I promise to write more about all of that in the coming days.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Yes, I Am Back From Italy

So much to tell you!!

So little time!

We got back on Thursday night after 12 hours in a plane. I unpacked the suitcases and went to bed. I didn't get much sleep though since my son had a fever when we got home, and I kept getting up to check on him. My husband took him to the doctor the next day and it turns out that he had strep throat - poor guy!

Friday was a very hectic work day and a raging case of jet lag. Bad enough that I cried on my whole drive home, just from being so exhausted.

Saturday was all about my eldest son's 17th birthday party. He invited four friends (one of whom drove himself over, that was a first) for Chinese buffet, a movie (Golden Compass) and sleep over. My husband informed me that this is his last sleep over party because it is too wierd to have one of those when you are 18. I will miss it. I have known most of those kids since they were 5 and I really enjoy seeing them, and feeding them all breakfast the next day. He will still have a party I'm sure, but I'll miss their all night movie/video game thing.

Sunday was laundry, grocery shopping and getting and decorating the tree.

I have had NO time to post, my souvenirs are still in their bags on the floor next to my bed.

As soon as things ease up, I'll be sure to tell you all about Italy though - it was AMAZING!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Chemo Guy Follow Up

I had my three month follow up with my oncologist today.

I had a hat on since it is so cold. A wonderful lady in the waiting room complimented me on the hat and on my hair! Geez people are nice to say something positive about my "Victor/Victoria" 'do.

It was great to catch up with my chemo doc. It's nice to be feeling good so we could talk about other things like that he was sick over Thanksgiving. Poor guy was trying to keep up on his enormous patient load while he was deathly ill.

That reminds me that while it is certainly hard to be a patient, I need to remember that it can be hard to be a doctor too.

He gave me his all clear to go to Italy, he had already told me he was great with it before, but this time around he reminded me to move around on the plane since Tamoxifen has been linked with blood clots in the legs. He said other than that I'm free to go on over and eat, drink and be merry!

Oh yes, indeed, there are a few bottles of wine over there with my name on them and far too much Tiramisu as well. I might just have to have that for dessert every day. Since my husband was just reading me a menu that included donkey and cuttlefish (not in the same dish), heck, I might just have only the Tiramisu for dinner every night - LOL!

Another way cool thing. I mentioned to him that my friend, my niece and I are going to continue making hats, would he be OK with me bringing them into his office every time I have a bag full? Not only is he OK with it - he wants to give the hats out himself! I think that is wonderfully thoughtful. As he meets a new lady before her first chemo, he can give her a few hats to cheer her up. That is a wonderfully caring thing to do. And it makes me so happy. I didn't want the hats to just pile up in a bin and be forgotten, or maybe passed over because people didn't realize just how nice they look when you put them on. I also really wanted someone to have the pleasure of seeing a patient's face light up when they put a new hat on and look in the mirror. It's pretty exhilarating and not to be missed.

So, yeah! We get to brighten some patient's days and we get to make chemo guy smile too!

So, well, I'm off to get kids where they belong (everybody has something going on tonight), then I'm skipping contra dancing to stay home and pack!! I'm going to spend the evening folding sweaters and blasting the Dandy Warhols and Cake, and oh yah, Dean Martin singing "An Evening in Roma" will just have to be in there too.

Acupuncture Works, Blanket Update and Spa Day

I really did think acupuncture works for me.

But now I have evidence. My therapist is on a six week holiday, so I didn't have an appointment last week. I didn't notice any difference until this weekend when the arthritis in my thumbs came back with vigor. It really hurts! And I have to hold on until my appointment on January 14! I am comforting myself by thinking of all the money that I'm saving. LOL

I finished blanket number two last night - I've got one more to go. I might try to bring the yarn with me to Italy. I heard that you can't carry on a crochet hook though, so if I do it, I'll have to pack it in my checked baggage. Too bad, the plane ride is so long, I could almost finish it just on the way over.

I had a spa day over the weekend. My healer lady recommended a massage lady who has a spa in her home. I got an ayurvedic massage that is designed to increase circulation. I started by answering questions on a computer program that tells the therapist which kind of oil to use. The massage was fantastic, very soothing and warming. Then I did a steam treatment. I was on a table with this tent thing covering all of me but my head. It gets up to 130 degrees in the tent, and Iw ould not be able to tolerate it if m yhead was not outside, where she kept icy towels on my head and face. Sounds extreme, but I was quite comfortable. The idea behind the sweat lodge thing was to detoxify. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Other than that, I spend the weekend getting ready for the trip - I leave TOMORROW NIGHT!!!!

Thursday, November 29, 2007


I am one tired girl today. It's a good tired though - I earned it!

I ran non stop from 6 a.m. yesterday until after 10 p.m.

I got up around six and started to work for an hour or so before I had to get my youngest ready for school.

After I got him to school, I had a few hours to work (in my pajamas), when I got a call from the mom of the chemo patient that I gave hats to a month ago. Her daughter was back for her very last chemo treatment and they would love some more hats.

So, I did a quick work out (10 minutes on the rebounder, 20 on the treadmill at a turtle's pace, chuh!), hopped in the shower, and headed to chemo guy's place.

I was lucky enough to have a whole bag of hats from the weekend when my friend from Florida came to visit.

When I got there, her daughter was getting her pre-meds, so I went back to the chemo suite. Going back there didn't bother me a bit, I was so excited to give her the bag of hats that I could not even think about what it was like for me when I was getting chemo. And even if I had thought about it, there is so much gratitude mixed in with the sorrow that it's really not hard on me to go back there.

Her daughter loved them all and every one of them looked great on her. They were so sweet and so grateful. Even the mom took a hat just because she likes them! I thought that was great. It was a real heart warmer to be able to give a fellow chemo hottie all those cute, spunky hats to help her look and feel good.

I really can't wait to make more and give them out. I love doing this so much that I wish I could do it full time! I would love to create a real charity and find a way to teach so many people how to make the hats that every single chemo patient who wanted some could have a whole box full. I have no idea how to do that, but I'm going to keep dreaming. And in the meantime, my friend and niece and I will keep making hats and make sure that at least all the chemo ladies at my chemo guy's office can have all the hats they want.

I had so much fun talking with them and handing out hats that I ended up late to my hair appointment. It didn't take long, but she did clean up the back of my neck and around my ears. She wouldn't charge me for it either, isn't that wonderful? How kind! I made another appointment for 8 weeks from now, hoping that I will need one by then. My hair stylist is a cancer survivor too, so she knows what it's like and she make a big deal about seeing me for my first post-chemo haircut. She is also going to look for paraben and mineral oil free hair products for me. So that was glowy, heart warming event number two - what a way to spend an afternoon!

Then I rushed home to pick my youngest up to go to the chiropractor. He has the sniffles and headaches right now, so he needs to go regularly until he gets better. I admit that I'm worried that he will be sick while we are in Europe. My niece loves him and will take excellent care of him if that does happen, but I can't help but feel that his Mom should be there if he doesn't feel good.

From there is was straight to Old Navy. Like most 10 year old boys, my son grows like a sunflower and he always needs new clothes as the seasons change. He desperately needs some new long sleeve shirts. We only found a couple of thermals, but we hit the jackpot on pants. I think we got him five new pair. We also ran into our neighbor's daughter. I didn't know that she worked there. She is a doll and she took some time to catch up with us.

I realized that I still had to get to the library and I had not had lunch yet. Now it was 7! So I went home to pick up my other son and we went to the library and out for Chinese. I was planning to make dinner, but I realized that it was getting late and I was rapidly losing the energy to cook, eat and clean up.

We got home around 8:30, and I finally got to sit still and work on a blanket for an hour while we watched a new series that I got from Netflix. It's called the Dresden Files. It's based on a series of books that my niece, my eldest son and I are all addicted to. It's about a wizard for hire, a sort of magical whodunnit.

And in between all that rushing, I worked every chance I got so I could get in enough hours for the day. No wonder I didn't have any time to eat! I admit, I ended up working past10 last night. Thank heavens I have that kind of flexibility.

It was good to have a totally crazy rush around like a whirlwind day and be up for it!

Today will me much quieter though and I'm grateful for that too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I'm Supposed to be WHERE?!

Busy day yesterday.

First of all, I forgot to tell you that I took the steri strips off my portacath scar. Yah, I had to tug to get that last bit off, and yah, it hurt, and yah, maybe I should not have rushed it, but dang, it was time to be done with that. The scar is pretty small. About an inch across. It doesn't bother me at all (other than being an ugly thing that shows all the time). I rub vitamin E Scar Serum into it every morning. It is still very noticeable, but I have faith that it will fade in time. Even it it doesn't, it is kind of a badge of courage, so I don't try to hide it.

OK, so back to yesterday.

I went in to work. Got my fresh veggie juice at Wild Oats on the way up. The guy put too much lemon juice in this time, so I had a serious pucker going on. Oh, there is nothing quite like the taste of kale juice with too much lemon in it! LOL

I was going to the Russian restaurant with a group of friends, we had arranged it a couple of weeks ago. So we all pile into two cars and head over to find a sign on their door that they are still closed for Thanksgiving!! What? We never even thought to check that! What a bummer. So we decided to head down the street to German buffet. We don't go there very often. After going through the line, I swear that your plate weighs five pounds! We go there a few times a year for celebrations. It's been there since 1964 and they have a huge cuckoo clock, so it has a ton of atmosphere. Well, we pull up in front of that place to find out that it is closed and up for sale!! Ack! So, we ended up at a Mexican place that I had not tried before. The veggie burrito was good, but it could not hold a candle to Russian Feast. So as soon as we got back to work, we sent out invitations to go to Red Square when I get back from Italy. At this point, I'm just hoping that they are still open by then!

Even with all the restaurant confusion, it was nice to sit and have lunch with the crowd from work. The invitation got forwarded around, so I had the chance to eat with some people that I don't really know, that was fun too. The burrito that I ordered was huge, and I ate the whole thing, so my friends had a great time teasing me.

I bought sushi on the way home so I would not have to cook dinner. I got home, fed everyone, and had just settled in (oh yes, I was happily reclined on the new furniture) and started to crochet and watch the Gilmore Girls episode that I missed last night since my niece called and wanted some advice on work and apartment things the night before. So, the phone rang. It was my friend saying "We are here, where are you?" What? Huh? Where was I supposed to be? They were at the Governor's Scholar program. They had invited me last week, and I thought they said it was Monday, so when Monday came and went I figured I had missed it. So I bundle up and rush out the door. I got all breathless because I was rushing across the campus of the college where it was being held, but the cool thing is that I did it! After a full day of work, I could hustle somewhere! That's good!

So I got home late from that, settled back in to crochet my skien a day (Christmas is looming!) and talked with my niece. She and the kids are getting all excited about their time together while I am in Europe. They have lists started of all the things they want to do and places they want to eat.

Well, my hair cut is today. I still think they are going to fall down laughing when I show up for a hair cut with hardly any hair.

Oh, and, one week from today, I will be in Italy! Yep, it's that close.

Monday, November 26, 2007

First Hair Appointment and Don't Trust Me With A Bank Statement

Well, I did it. I spent about 4 hours yesterday working on bills, mail and my home desk.

I'm not done, there are still piles on my desk, and projects to do, but I did make a very nice dent in it.

As I worked on bank statements, credit card bills, correspondence, and piles of stuff that I needed to file, I was amazed by how well I kept up with this stuff while I was going through treatment.

I also found all kinds of little mistakes that I made during that time. A credit card that was zero interest had started to charge me interest a couple of months ago, and I had not even noticed. I called them and it turned out that the zero interest period had expired in September. It's not a big deal, I think it cost me $23, but it showed that for the last couple of statements, I had overlooked that entirely, and that a year or so ago when I signed up for the deal, I miscalculated the payment that I needed to make in order to get it paid off before it expired.

I was also four months behind on reconciling bank statements. In June, I walked to the shredder with some papers in my hand. I shredded them. Then I walked back to my desk to find that pile of stuff I meant to shred was still on my desk. So, what the heck did I just shred? Well, as near as I can tell, it was my bank statement for that month. So I called the bank and got them to send me a new one. That took quite a while before I figured out what was missing, made the call to get a new one, and had the time to go back and organize the statements. So, yesterday I balanced the missing statement, and had two others to go when I discovered that I'm missing the statement for July too! Where the heck did it go? I have no idea. Have I EVER lost even ONE bank statement before in my life? Nope. And now I've lost two.

For the statement that I did reconcile, I could see all the bills that I paid and checks that I wrote while I was on chemo.

It made me look back on that time again. I have really mixed feelings about that time and how much I tried to do and how well I coped. I tried to stay as "normal" as possible, I worked, I paid bills, I drove the kids to school. And those things gave my days rhythm and purpose. Many times I clung to those things like a lifeline. But, on the other hand, dang! Why did I push to do so hard? Why did I do so much?

So on one hand, I feel sorry for myself as I struggled to keep up, and on the other hand, I bet there are lots of people who have it much harder than I did, and who coped even better.

I don't think about how I feel all the time anymore, or think about having cancer, or what the treatments were like. But I do get these reminders. I'll see the copy of a check that I wrote in shaky handwriting, or a statement where check after check was to pay medical bills, and it will all come rushing back to me. And I never know how I will feel about it. Proud because I made it through and did my best? Sad because it was so hard? Scared because it could come back? Tired just at the thought of it all? Embarrassed because I see mistakes that I made? Grateful because I'm OK? Lucky because it really could have been so much worse? Yep, I feel all of those at times, sometimes I swear I feel all of those at once.

I also worked like crazy on blankets. One is done. The next one, I made too narrow. I have to decide between keeping it and starting a new one for my friend, or undoing three skiens of work. Chuh. Mostly it cracks me up that I could not figure out that is was too narrow until the dang thing was three feet long! That's pretty funny.

I got a cheap rebounder at KMart too. Bouncing on the trampoline is supposed to be especially good for your circulation, so I thought I would give it a try. So far, I like it. It's in front of the TV and I try to spend a few minutes on it when we watch something. That's a handy way to add some extra movement to my days that have become shockingly sedentary. So far, I like it because it is easy and convenient. I do have one problem that I need to solve though, and that's the girls. If I wear a normal bra, I end up crossing my arms to try to keep them still. So, I should wear a sports bra when I use the thing, but if I need to go change my clothes first, I know I'll use it less often. I cracked myself up by visualizing some kind of ceiling mounted support system! That would be way funny.

We also got some great news as we plowed through the mail. My son got his ACT score back, it's a 29! That's great! It also gives us the information that we need to have when applying for Governor's Scholar and as we look at different colleges.

I had to call and schedule a hair appointment too! Not because I have so very much of it, but I do have enough for it to start looking scruffy. The back of my neck needs some clean up, and I'm hoping she can recommend something to do with the top. Right now, I just finger comb it down. The other day, I put it up in a towel turban to dry and left it like that too long. It's just long enough to start curling and sticking out in all the wrong ways. Bad enough that my husband has been bugging me to make an appointment. So, we'll see if she can do anything for me while it is still so short. At least it's worth a try.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Thanksgiving here was picture perfect.

We all worked together to prepare the usual feast; turkey and a ridiculous number of side dishes. (My husband, niece and I didn't eat turkey, but the kids made sure we knew that it would NOT be Thanksgiving without one) We did pare down the side dishes some to make it less work, and we (you might want to sit down for this one) BOUGHT our pumpkin pie!! This has never happened. Usually, I make at least two pies for us, pumpkin and pecan, and I make a handful of others to give to our neighbors since we are the only bakers on the block. The past couple of years I have been too tired to do this by myself and my husband has always stepped up to the plate and made a boatload of pies for me. This year, we bought ours from the farmer's market lady that I met a few weeks back. I discovered something - a pie you purchased can be just a sweet as one you made. We did have homemade whipped cream on it though, I'm not willing to compromise on every single thing!

I am very protective of the holidays. My rule is that we don't travel, instead we all spend the whole day at home together. I am especially happy if at least some of us don't even make it out of our jammies on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had lovely holidays as a child, but we did spend many of them traveling to see relatives and as a kid, I just hated that. My favorite memories are of the holidays that we spent at home. So now that I have my own family, I try really hard to protect the holidays from the usual hustle and bustle of our lives.

Thanksgiving day was also like the holy grail for me this year as I went through all my treatments. I knew that by Thanksgiving I would be a month past all of them, and I could sit around the table with my family with even more reason than usual to get misty eyed. I pictured it in my mind many times when I was feeling bad. I'm happy to say that the reality was every bit as good as my imagination, down to the glow of candle light on the faces of my family.

We were done with eating and the dishes by 4:30. I had a couple of hours to do nothing but crochet and watch the snow that was gently falling outside. There is something magical about a gentle snow fall when your whole family is home safe and warm for a holiday. We waited that couple of hours before we had our pie, but of course, we were all still stuffed when the pie came around. We put forth a heroic effort and all ate large pieces anyway.

I also have a "Black Friday" tradition and that is to avoid it all together. I absolutely hate the idea of going out ridiculously early to queue up in lines and fight other people for bargains. As much as I love a good deal, I would honestly rather pay more and avoid all that hassle. This year we did go out some though. I went out (to Dick's) and got an amazing winter jacket (a Spyder that was on sale and of course I had a coupon), and some warm underthings for the trip to Italy. We also looked for luggage since we just had to throw our old set out and we need new bags for the trip. We waited until afternoon to do our shopping, so while there were crowds, it wasn't too bad. We looked for luggage at the mall (utter mob scene and totally not worth it) and Sam's Club - no luck there either.

We also went to Michael's for yarn. I finished the blanket for my younger son, and set myself the goal to make one for each of the three ladies that I work with. Here's the kicker, I have to get them done by our gift exchange on the 14th of December. I would have to call this the extreme sports version of crochet! My goal is a skein a day. I worked on it so much yesterday that my eyes hurt by the time I stopped! LOL - I am DRIVEN.

All in all, we visited about 5 stores as a leisurely pace. I got pretty tired, but I didn't give up, I'm in training for Italy, dang it! I gotta get some stamina here.

Today is a work day. We are all sitting around the kitchen table working on the Governor's Scholar packet for my eldest son. (An amazing Kentucky state program where the students that are selected attend a six week summer program at a local college, room, board and tuition are free and it looks amazing on college and scholarship applications, not to mention being an incredible experience). Pretty much nothing I have done in life has prepared me for this task. Yikes! So far, we found an electronic version of the forms (they require that you submit the package in printed and electronic form, but do they tell you where to get the electronic forms? No, of course not). We have filled out the first page, and we have listed 8 different extra curricular activities. Next, we need to do his community service page and his honors and award pages. This is quite an education for all of us. Great preparation for college applications, eye opening in that is shows us areas that we have been deficient too. We have the rest of his junior year and all of his senior year to work on those deficient areas though, so while we could have started earlier if we knew then what we know now, we are still in good time to make a difference.

I have been dreading it since I knew I would have to learn a lot and it would take time and be hard work, but now that we are knee deep into it, I'm enjoying it and learning a ton. I am also happy to see my husband, son, and I all sitting around the table working on it together. It is a worthwhile process just for that.

When I get done with that for the day, I'm supposed to spend hours going through the mail, paying bills, and cleaning my upstairs office desk. This is a goal that I set for myself. I want a clean desk!! Um, OK, I do have this goal around this time every year. But, as a dyed in the wool optimist, I don't see my failure to achieve it in years past as the least bit relavant. That was then, this is now! LOL

I hope you are having a wonderful, relaxing, magical holiday too. And, for course, that you've found yourself a bargain or two as well!!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Great News From My Surgeon And a Guilty Pleasure

I went to work two days in a row this week.

Monday, I went in with a trunk full of cub scout popcorn. My friends at work ordered over $300 of the stuff. I'm pretty overwhelmed by that generosity. They knew that I usually go and stand in front of Kroger's, Remke's and Kmart with my son to sell the stuff, and that there was no way I was up for that this year. So they all ordered from me. How sweet is that? And of course, when I got there, two of my friends came piling out of the building to help me get all that stuff inside and get it delivered.

That stuff is evil kind of good too. On Monday when I got home, I was too tired to be hungry, so I fed the kids and sipped a smoothie. My husband went to contra and I stayed home to get a few things done. I did laundry and picking up the house chores and it felt good to be able to do anything after a full day of work. But, I ran out of energy around 9 and got everyone settled in to watch a DVD. After the kids were in bed, my husband came home and we started to watch a Gilmore Girls episode. Around 11, I realized I was STARVING. So, oh horrors!, I broke into the tin of carmel popcorn that was oh so handy. It felt very decadent to be snugged in bed, watching a show and snacking on sweets. While that one act may disqualify me from being able to still say "chemo and Tamoxifen are making me chunky!", it was way fun.

Then I went into work on Tuesday too.

But, I went in for my 6 month follow up with my surgeon first. I just love her. First thing she did that had me laughing was this: she was giving me a breast exam when she noticed my shoes, so she took off for the end of the table to get a look at them! LOL I'm glad she did not find my naked chest as fascinating as a good pair of shoes! Then we talked about my going to Italy and she was as excited as I am and she heartily recommended drinking too much wine. She took a look at all my scars and was very proud of her work, I am too. She also gave me great news. I don't need a mammogram right away. I need to have one in six months from now. She said it is too close to radiation to do it yet. I told her that my radiologist said I should get one now and my surgeon's response was the same as mine, she said "Geez, that would HURT!!". So that's a big relief.

Then I went in to work. We are getting trained on a new software release, and I walked into the session just in time for it to finish, so that got everyone laughing. I only missed one session though, the training went on for the rest of the day and I was there for all the other sessions.

I headed home around 5 and got stuck in a horrible traffic jam. It took close to 2 hours for me to get home, and I had not planned for that, so I didn't have any food or drink in the car with me. I was trying to get to knitting group too, but I quickly realized that there was no way I would get home in time for that. My niece was already home and feeding the kids since she was going to go to knitting with me, so all the folks at home were covered. So I settled in for a long drive and caught up with a couple of friends on my cell since I was moving at all of three miles an hour.

I didn't realize how much that all tired me out until I got home though. My husband picked up some veggie spring rolls on his way home, so I had some for dinner, and then I got the shivers and shakes. I just could not warm up. So into the tub I went. After I warmed up, I went into the sunroom to hang with the kids (my eldest was trying DDR on the workout mode, he set a goal to work off 500 calories, and he did), and work on the blanket that I'm making. I was so worn out that is physically hurt.

When I went to bed, my husband was watching a show on the horrors of Darfur. I couldn't take it, so we switched to Gilmore Girls again. That was a very jarring contrast. I started to drift off, so my husband went back to TV, this time he found a documentary on the Jonestown Massacre. I tried to sleep through it, but I couldn't. Finally, I had to ask him to turn it off after I heard a mother shrieking as people carried off her kids. God!! I can't watch that! It's still bothering me today.

Sure put my own personal trials and tribulations in perspective.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

To Soy or Not to Soy

I'm mostly vegetarian, and have been off and on for a couple of decades.

It's partly a health decision (I don't think meat is a bad thing for you per se, but I do think factory farmed meat is a bad thing), partly a preference, I just never have liked meat, milk, or eggs all that much.

So, at home, we don't buy much of those things (the kids occasionally beg for chicken, so I do keep some in the freezer), and when I eat out, if there is a vegetarian option, that's what I get.

So that means, I eat a fair amount of tofu. I probably have it three or more times a week. I also use soy milk on my morning cereal (if I have cereal), and I used to start the day with a soy milk shake that had vitamins, flax seed oil and fiber in it. I stopped doing the soy shake when I started chemo, and I have not returned to it yet.

So, here's the question: should someone who has had an estrogen positive tumor eat soy?

I get varying answers. My surgeon says to avoid it. An oncologist from UCLA says eat all I want.

Since is does not convert directly into estrogen, but is rather estrogen-like, and I'm on Tamoxifen to take care of the estrogen issue anyway, I'm inclined to keep soy as a part of my diet.

What do you think?

DDR and Cosmopolitans

Let's see.

I finally have enough hair that I can walk around in public without drawing attention. I know because I was at the health food store yesterday. I mentioned that I was getting treated for cancer and the ladies looked shocked. Cool! I'm glad I mentioned it because it turns out that our local health food store has a cancer wellness club. They will give me a 10 to 20 percent discount on everything that I buy! I'm all excited about it since I go to health food stores pretty often.

I tried this stuff called kombucha tea. I got the mango flavor. It is a raw food that is supposed to be loaded with probiotics and enzymes, so I thought I would try it. I was driving so my husband opened it for me in the car, and it exploded all over him. Turns out that it is carbonated! We were running errands, so he ended up going all over town with orange spots all over his pants. It has a unique taste to be sure, but not bad, so try it if you want, but hold it away from your lap when you open the bottle!

I'm still doing the master cleanse drink twice a day too, when I don't run out of organic lemons. It turns out that one lemon is good for two drinks, or one day's worth. I drastically underestimated how many lemons to buy compared to how many jugs of distilled water and how much molasses. I found out that Kroger's does have organic lemons now, so at least I don't have to hike it up to Wild Oats to get more next time I run out.

The steri strips on my portacath scar are down to the size of a quarter. They should not last much longer because I can't quite playing with the edges. I wonder what it looks like under there.

My energy level goes through cycles during the day. I can pretty much count on spending some time at about 70% of normal, and some time around 30% or so. It doesn't seem to have anything to do with my activity level. I just get tired when I get tired. The great part is that I can rest a little then be ready to go again! Resting works now!

I had a fun week. I ordered Dance Dance Revolution for the Wii from Amazon and it got here the very next day. I am not usually very enthusiastic about video games, I make fun of my kids and my niece for looking like morons as they stare at the screen for hours. The Wii is a whole different thing though, and I love it.

DDR consists of a program that has pop music songs, and various levels of dances that go with the songs. You have a mat that you put on the floor, and you dance on the mat, following arrows that scroll on the screen. A friend came over Friday night and she and my niece and I had Cosmopolitans and danced until past midnight - it was hilarious. The kids have been having friends over and dancing for hours every day since it got here. That's what I like about the Wii, the games are physically active, and more fun if you play with others. This is the very first video game that I have ever ordered for myself. It has a workout mode too. Like I'll ever be able to get my kids and friends off the mat long enough for me to try it in workout mode.

The Gilmore Girls entire series pack arrived too. That was much awaited around here. I pre-ordered it, so we had to wait a couple of weeks for it to be released. We were stuck between season two and season three. My 10 year old called me at work to let me know when it got here, he was so excited. We have been having Gilmoregirlathons in the evening since it got here. We all settle in to watch a couple of episodes together and I crochet the blanket that I'm working on for my son. He picked the yarn out last weekend, and I am already more than half way done with it.

I love making this for him. As I crochet, I spent some time thinking about how much I love him and making wishes that he has this blanket for years, and that he will always feel safe and loved when he is wrapped up in it. I made it extra wide, so he should be able to really bundle up in it, even when as he grows. It is taking tons of yarn, I'm three skeins into it so far. Winter is a nice time to work on it too, I spread it out over my legs as I work on it.

We also bought some new furniture this weekend. A DVD cupboard (here's the cool thing, my son carried it into the sunroom for me, and I was able to empty out and dust the old cupboard and fill up the new one right away, after doing errands all morning! HA!), a glass table for the alcove in my front hall, and some theater seats for the sunroom. They pretty much violate my "I will NOT have barcalounger looking furniture with CUP HOLDERS" rule, but damn, they are comfortable, and we found them at a clearance warehouse, so the price was right. It is three recliner seats in a row, they are made of a putty colored suede and separated by brown leather arms that yes, have cup holders in them. They are way cushy and they recline all the way back, so you can really stretch out. I think they are fairly ugly, but soon to become the favorite place in the house. I can live with that! They will be delivered on Monday. I was laughing pretty hard at us as we all stood around the warehouse, debating if the chairs would fit in the sunroom without getting in the way of playing DDR!! We can't buy anything that will interfere with bustin a move!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thinking of Other Things

My inner dialog is finally changing.

Instead of thinking about how I'm feeling, wondering if I will be all right, and obsessing over what I can do to help myself, I'm starting to have large chunks of time when I'm just living, you know, focusing on what I have to do today, planning for the good things coming up like the holidays and my trip to Italy. Listening to the weather reports because I will be out in it, caring about traffic reports for the same reason.

Finally, my mind is turning outward.

I'm re-joining the rest of the world again.

Sure, I still have to think about taking care of myself, and I get little reminders of that through the day, but my entire perspective has changed, my physical wellbeing is not my entire focus, its just another piece in the mosaic of my day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Boris and Natasha

Progress is slow this week.

I have a little more hair which is very nice. I can't wait for the day that I look ill advised instead of just ill.

The strips on my portacth are smaller, I trim them every time they start to peel off. I can see a little bit of the stitches on both sides now. It feels great, no problems even with seat belts.

Hot flashes were doing better, but they returned to being out of control today. I was at work the whole time and by late afternoon I was exhausted. I don't know why they wear me out, but they do.

My energy level is much better than any treatment week, but I'm still not even close to my old self.

My brain and speech are still a problem. I have trouble remembering things many times a day, and I trip over my words. I'm hoping that it is endearing instead of frustrating!

Real life is flooding back fast, and I am mostly glad to see it. But I admit, I'm intimdated by it too. My days are starting to be long and jam packed and people are counting on me to do things again. I sure hope that I'm up for it. Currently, I just take it one day at a time and refuse to worry about or even think about the next day until it gets here.

I had a nice treat today. I went out to lunch with a friend from work, to a Russian restaurant.

The food was amazing. We started with a basket of bread that was so hearty that it was a challenge to chew. Then our lunch came with tea - red, black, or green. I had green which was very good. My friend had red which turned out to be hibiscus. He loved it. The tea was served with what I can only describe as Russian biscotti. Little hard toasts of some sweet fruit bread. It was fabulous. Lunch came with a choice of soups, we both had borsch, a beet and cabbage soup in an enormous bowl. It was terrific and surprisingly hearty since it was a clear soup. It was also very warming which was hard for me because I kept hot flashing while I was eating it. After soup came salad. A choice between two. I got the fresh one that had cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, red peppers and parsley. It was fantastic and of course, came in a huge bowl. My friend had the potato salad that had peas and sausage in it. I got a bite and it was very tasty.

OK, by now we had been eating for at least a half an hour straight and we had not even seen our entrees yet. By now I was already full. I got a huge plate that was half buttered pasta and half a cabbage roll that was enormous. I took a couple of bites that were very good, and gave the rest to my friend. He had beef stroganoff. I had a couple of the mushrooms. It was excellent, and had some kind of taste or spice that I've never had before.

We were both groaning by this time and joking that next time we get there we will wear pants with elastic.

After all that, the check came with a chocolate treat for each of us. There was only one lady there, I think she did everything including cook. She took your order then disappeared until she brought each course out. After we finished eating, she hovered to make sure we liked the food, you could tell that she was really hoping we would and she was proud of it. I want to eat there every day just to keep her in business because she clearly poured her heart into making all this food. It was kind of like visiting one of my Canadian aunties who work endless magic in the kitchen.

And what did we pay for this table that was covered with food?

$15!!! That's all! For both of us. Lunch there consists of six different choices, all for around $7 each.

Oh yah, and I forgot to mention, they were playing music that just had to come from a CD called "Favorite Russian 80's Party Tunes". I loved it. There was another party of two eating while we were there, they were speaking in Russian, which added a lot of atmosphere too. Only one other American couple was there.

I can't wait to go back there! I think I will just order some fantastic soup or a salad though, the lunch combo was way too much for me!

By the time I got home this evening, I felt pretty bad. I was tired and clammy from all the hot flashes, I also had this wierd pain in my right chest, above my breast. It bothered me off and on all day. That is not the one that was radiated, so who knows what that's about.

In an attempt to make myself feel better, I took a bath with "Tired Old Ass" bath salts. I bought them because I liked the smell and you really can't beat the name. Turns out that I do like them. I also sipped this master cleanse stuff. My chiropractor recommended that I do a week long detox. I said I didn't feel ready for something like that quite yet. She she recommended that I drink this master cleanse mixture twice a day for now. It is distilled water, organic molasses, organic lemon juice and some cayenne pepper. I sipped it while I was in the bath. It tastes every bit as interesting as you think it does, so it was rough going for the first half or so. I did get used to it, and found the last few sips easier.

Either the bath or the drink or the two together really helped though. I'm feeling much better now.

Monday, November 12, 2007

First Radiation Follow Up

I had my first radiation follow up appointment this morning.

She was not suprised to see how well my skin has healed. I thought she would be! She said everybody recovers quickly.

She said I can go back to my regularly scheduled life now. I do need one of my oncology doctors to see my every 3 months, but they don't have to overlap, so we scheduled my next appointment with her for six months from now.

She said it is also time for me to get a mammogram on the affected breast. I asked if it would hurt more than usual since I'm still a little sensitive from the radiation, she said that it shouldn't. I see my surgeon for a follow up next week, so I'm sure she will order one then. I admit I'm not looking forward to it. I'm not worried about the results, I've just been through a lot and I don't really want to add another medical appointment and a boob smash to all the rest.

I'm supposed to have mammograms every six months on the one side, every year on the other, so now my boobs are going to be out of sync.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Visiting Friend

As I said, I had to go to work on Friday while my friend from Florida stayed at my house. She surprised me by deep cleaning my kitchen!! What a thoughtful thing to do! She embarrassed my housekeeper when he came in because she did a better job than he does! I can't tell you how nice it was to walk in to a sparkling kitchen when I don't have the strength to get it that clean myself.

She was so helpful all weekend. She did tons of dishes so I didn't have to. She made breakfast for the kids on Sunday. She did so much, and I was so tired, that I'm sure she even did stuff that I don't know about.

I was pretty much speechless. I don't really know how to thank a friend who drops everything and flies up just to see me and to help me out! That was so generous, kind, thoughtful, wonderful.

She also brought all the supplies that my niece and I needed to learn how to make chemo hats.

It's a little harder than I anticipated, and there are quite a few rows where you really need to pay attention and count, but I am proud to say that I made two of them over the weekend! I made mine out of plain yarn, I have not tried to use the fun fur yet, that's the next step. I don't think I will ever be able to teach anyone like she did. She could just take a look at what I did and immediately see what I did wrong and explain how to fix it. She was really patient too. When I made the first one, I just blindly followed instruction. By the time I made the second one I started to understand more of why I was doing the different stitches and how they worked together to form the right shape.

My niece also made two and my friend made more than that. By the end of the weekend, I had a few new hats for myself and a whole bag of hats to give away.

It was great to see her again. And so sweet of her to help me around the house. And amazing of her to bring the supplies and patiently teach us to crochet hats. We spent most of our time sitting around the table together, and that was great.

In the early days after I was diagnosed, I was sitting with a friend who went through cancer years ago. He is doing great, and he really does not talk about it. I only know because he has a scar on his throat in the same place as my mom did so I was impertinant enough to ask about it. Well, after I told him what I had, he talked a little more about what he went through and tears welled up in his eyes as he talked about all the things that people did for him. At the time I asked him why it made him cry - didn't it make him feel good to know how many people loved him? What's sad about that?

I have the answer now. Oh, yes it does feel good to be so loved, but there is also the tinge of sadness that you can't escape when you see your friends going so far out of their way for you. While it is comforting and beautiful for them to rally round you, you can't help but wish that they did not need to, that you did not need so much help, and that they did not look at you with so much affection and concern. I'm not explaining it very well, but I sure do understand it now.

How Dry I Am

OK, the party was wonderful.

We had a room at a local bar/restaurant with pool tables, darts and plenty of places to sit. My friends got a cake and decorated with balloons.

I'd say there were about 25 people there. And they were wonderful people. All my friends from work, and few members of my family. All there to wish me well and show their support. That was an amazing feeling. It was cool to celebrate the end of all of this, and it was amazing to feel good enough to enjoy it.

I had FIVE drinks. Um, yep, I said five. Over five hours fortunately.

I had three Cosmopolitans and some dinner. After those three, I started walking around the room hugging everyone. That was fun. My husband is still teasing me about it. So is my niece. I guess we now know for sure that I am one of those affectionate drunks.

Then a couple of friends wanted me to try something called a "Washington Apple". It was good. Watch out though, it tastes like a Jolly Rancher, but it packs a punch.

We decided to move to another restaurant where a friend sings and plays guitar, so we all went to go see him.

Someone sent me a shot of tequila. I drank it. It tasted like paint thinner. I feel fairly safe in saying I will never drink that again. Ugh! It was foul, it sure was efficent though. Whew!

I got home around 10:30 (yes, I had a designated driver, in fact I had two of them). I drank a glass of water, and drank another one when I woke up at 4 a.m. I was too lazy to take a Tylenol.

My friend from Florida got here while I was at the party. She was here when I got home. She flew in too late to make it up to where the party was, and I didn't see much of her the next day either since I had to go to work.

I woke up feeling fine the next day. So I figured I got away with it. I didn't know that hangovers can be delayed. I felt fine the whole day, and got through work with no problems.

I started to feel awful on my drive home from work, and by the time I got home, I felt even worse. I had a headache and my stomach was very unhappy. My husband thought seeing me with a hangover was about the funniest thing in the world. I barely picked at my dinner, food just sounded awful!

I didn't mind it too much, I figure I can do this ONCE. I have no desire to do it again though, I can tell you that!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Chemo Brain Strikes Again

I didn't post it here, but a couple of weeks ago, I felt up for taking a "spa" shower.

I used to do those every Sunday morning. Spa shower just means that I put a mask on my face for a few minutes before I shower, I use a sugar scrub, I deep condition my hair, and I take a little extra time on any duties that arrive like shaving. Yah, yah, it's true, if I could polish my toes in the shower, you know I would!

Well, I was pretty excited to be up for doing all that, and I enjoyed it. When I got dressed afterwards is when I realized that I HAD ONLY SHAVED ONE LEG!! Holy crap, that's never happened! How could I forget that I have TWO legs?

Since then chemo brain has reared its goofy head a couple of times (parking in front of the bank when I went there to drive through the ATM, forgetting the name of a good friend WHILE I am talking to them, har har, that one is a ton of fun).

Today's might qualify as most funny though. As I was getting dressed this morning, I discovered that last night, instead of throwing my underwear into the dirty clothes bin, I threw it into the TRASH!!

That's just funny!! Though it does make me worry a little about what else I might have thrown out over the last few months....

My niece is starting to make chemo jokes now. She said she had invented a new game show, teach someone who is on chemo to do something, if they can still do it ten minutes later, you win a car!


This evening, my friends at work are throwing an end of treatment party for me at a bar up by work.

I can't wait!

They all make fun of me because when we go out for drinks I always have just one and a full glass of water. I didn't drink for years and years and I guess I have just never gotten the hang of it. And since I don't do it often anyway, I'm a real lightweight. For years, my husband has said if you want to take me drinking, I'm a cheap date, if you want to take me out for dinner, that's when it gets expensive.

But tonight I think I'll have TWO! LOL I have a designated driver lined up and everything.

I'm hoping to drink just enough to do something embarrassing. What should it be? Dance like Elaine? Recite naughty limericks? "Free Bird" air guitar? So many to choose from!

The cool thing is that I feel up for it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Things Are Looking Up

I had a great day on Monday.

I worked from home and was able to remember to handle some domestic stuff too like getting the bag full of give away items out on the front step for the Amvets (they yelled at me once when I forgot to leave it out - I was horrified and didn't donate anything to them for quite a while until I got over it) and to wrap a birthday present and another little pick me up present for friends at work.

I even went to contra, and I DANCED. True, my favorite partner was Bob who is at least 80 if not 90 and therefore totally my speed right now, but I was out there, I was dancing, and I was carefree and enjoying the music and my friends. We only stayed for an hour, but it was a glorious hour. I did not get out of breath quite as fast and for the first time since this all started, I didn't get dizzy when I swung around. Yippee! I feel like throwing a party every time I see any little sign of progress, and I've had lots of those little signs this week.

I had to rest after taking my shower on Tuesday, normally the first signs of an "uphill" kind of day. So I rested for about 20 minutes then hit the road to go to work. I got there earlier than usual and stayed later. My attention wandered pretty bad at one meeting, but I suspect that was more due to boring technical subject matter than to me being tired. I felt good all day.

I was even up for going to knitting group. My niece has totally showed me up by finishing her first project. It's a lovely dark grey crocheted scarf and it looks great. She donated it to a school last night and she was so proud. She started work on a prayer shawl using a gorgeous homespun yarn. One of the members of the group called her a natural. Meanwhile, I unraveled more than half of mine for the millionth time. She felt bad for me but I really don't mind. I enjoy it and I'm fine if I suck at it while I'm learning. If I'm still working on this same stupid scarf a year from now, well, then I'll get concerned.

We have not seen each other much lately so my niece and I gabbed at lightning speed the entire time we were working on our projects. I kind of feel sorry for the group. They don't know me yet and are probably seriously wondering what they got into when I joined now. It felt so good to feel like chatting and laughing that I just couldn't stop!

I also got a wonderful e-mail from my medical oncologist (for those of you who are lucky enough not to know the terminology, that means he is the chemo guy). He has a real gift for perfect timing and encouragement. He wrote to mention of a few things that I have to be thankful for and to say that I'll be in great shape for the trip to Italy in a month. I was so glad to hear that. My husband was so relieved that he booked the tickets.

We have different flights now. Air France with a plane change in PARIS!!! I won't see much of Paris other than the airport, but I will know that I was there, and my husband says that I will see the Eiffel Tower and the alps from the plane! AWESOME!! We will have three hours at de Gaulle so that should be time to get from one gate to another, buy a pastry and coffee and at least soak up some atmosphere. OK, I know I'm a dork for being excited about just seeing the airport in Paris, but so what, I'm still over the moon about it.

And when I woke up this morning, I wasn't exhausted, I was refreshed. I have not taken my shower yet which is first real test of how the day is going to go, but I have gotten both the kids to school and done some work already and I feel great.

I lost the little mohawk ridge at the top of my head a couple of days ago. I guess my hair is too "long" (har har, it is still less than half an inch at this point) to want to stand up in the middle any more. I kind of miss it. It didn't look good, but it sure was funny.

My hair is almost long enough to look like I might have cut it this way on purpose. Almost. I still wear caps a lot, but now I wear them for warmth, not to cover up the fact that I look like Telly Savalas.

My energy level is not up to normal yet, but it is the best it has been for MONTHS.

My radiated skin is healing quickly. It even feels like normal skin now and it almost back to normal color, not quite, but almost. I still have two sore spots, under my arm which is one of the places that the burns seemed worse, and under my breast on my ribcage which is part of the area that got the booster treatments. They are both sore in a different way. I'll bring it up when I see my radiologist for a follow up next week. I still put aloe vera and tamanu oil on the area every day. But I can put it on lightly so I don't feel all gooped up and gross. And I can wear a bra comfortably all day. That alone is reason to celebrate for me because I feel better, for my children because they can open their eyes again. LOL The site of mom without a bra all day was a little much for them.

The hot and cold flashes are still with me, but they happen less often and are mostly milder now. They have stopped being debilitating and settled for being merely annoying and tiring.

My portacath scar still has the steri strips on it. It is much less sensitive now. I don't carry my purse on that side, but I can sleep on it, and it doesn't bother me at all during the day. My younger son accidentally kicked it and then dropped a warmie on it one night when were were snuggled up watching a movie, that hurt at the time, but it didn't stay sore. I love being able to see my neck without seeing the little cord under my skin.

I am almost two months past my last chemo treatment, two weeks past my last radiation treatment and a week past my "smoky mountain" portacath removal.

Progress is slower than I'd like, but in the rare moment when I have some perspective, I think I am getting better at lightning speed.

I've even belly laughed, giggled and hooted lately. And boy, does it feel GREAT.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Buona Fortuna?

Lots going on here over the last three days.

On Friday, I asked my boss (via e-mail) if I could take a week off to go to Italy in December with my husband. He has to go for business, so most of the trip would be paid for by his company and he invited me along!

I was very concerned when I asked her. I'm not going into the office every day yet, and I was worried that she would wonder what the heck I think I'm doing going to another country when I can't drag my butt into the office.

It took her a while to reply, so I sent her a second e-mail pouring my heart out. I told her that if she thought I was an idiot for taxing myself too much, or if she thought I was taking advantage by using the time that way that I would understand and I would not go.

I didn't put this part in the e-mail, but I really would understand if she felt that way, and I could just use that week of time off to rest around the house at Christmas time which is what I had originally planned. I always save some time off for the holidays. For me it isn't Christmas if I don't have the time at home to make cookies with the kids and deliver them to friends and neighbors, and if I don't have time to sit in front of the fire sipping hot chocolate or even better, a Cosmopolitan, and look out the window at the snow. Christmas is about slow family time at home for me and always has been.

She sent back a reply that was so sweet that it made me cry. She was totally supportive, she recognized that for me the trip is a once in a lifetime experience and she did not want me to miss out. She said she was confident that I will return to the office as soon as I can, and until then, the rest of the team has me covered.

So, with a lot of tears and hiccups, I told my husband to book my ticket along with his.

I was so excited! I get to go to Italy! I get to shake my fist at cancer from Venice!! It feels amazing to be able to say that you can knock me down repeatedly for months on end and what do I do? I go to EUROPE!! That made me feel like no matter how hard the travel would be on me, it would be worth it. What an amazingly good thing after so many months of hard and painful things.

So that evening, I took a little walk with my husband and the kids, and I was pretty much soaring. As I walked, I saw all the pictures that I've ever seen of Venice and the canals, the museums, the fountains, St. Mark's, the winery in Verona that my husband visits on every trip, all those things that I've marveled over in books and travel videos in my mind and I realized that in a month, I will get to see them for myself.

The trip would be very low key. We would fly into Verona which is where our hotel is. We would get there 3 days before his clients, and we could just sit around or take day trips to Venice or Milan if I feel up to it. His clients would join us on Saturday. I would need to have dinner with them every night, and take them shopping if I'm up for it. If I'm not, my husband can take them into Venice, and I'll stay back in Verona. So since we could be so flexible and adjust the day according to how I'm doing, I felt that I really could make this trip.

On Saturday, a friend came over to work in the garden. I usually work along with him in the spring and fall to get all the chores done. This time around, I was not feeling well, so he did all the work while I rested and occasionally went outside to give him new things to do. I was very disappointed that it was so hard for me to move around, I had big plans for that day!

On Sunday, I felt better. I was able to get going and move around quite a bit. I even made a nice pot of soup, cleaned out the pantry and fridge, and made the grocery list. On Sunday evening, I went to the grocery store with my husband. Going there wears me out. We had a long list and ended up with a very full cart. We got it all home and the kids surprised us by putting it all away for us. I have been going along to the store every Sunday for the past few weeks, and I always come back totally worn out from it. But I think it's worth it. It keeps my day fairly normal, I feel like I'm doing something useful, and even when I feel bad, I think moving around is good for me. It's just hard is all. And it shows.

So my husband started to panic. He became very worried that I am not up for this trip and that it would be too hard on me and I would not get anything out and would just be miserable.

I share his concerns about my strength, but I don't agree. I have another whole month to build myself up before we leave. We have a long enough layover in New York that I should not have to do any running and rushing in the airport. I'll bring something to help me sleep on the plane. We have no rigid plans for any specific day, so I can rest pretty much whenever I need to. Plus, those canny Italians take a break in the middle of every day! Man, they are smart! I can plan to be resting every day when all the shops and restaurants are closed.

If I took the trip last year, I would have been much more ambitious. I would have tried to get to Rome as well, and I would have had a list as long as my arm of all the things that I just HAD to see. Heck, I would have jam packed in as much of that glorious boot shaped country as I possibly could! I want to see it all, taste it all, do it all.

But this time around my goals are much different. I want to see St. Mark's square, maybe sit outdoors and have a gelato there. I want to do a little Christmas shopping in Venice. I want to eat too much pasta, and drink too much wine. I want to take evening strolls. I'm also hoping to make it to Peggy Guggenheim's villa which is now a museum. I don't have to get much out of this trip to still get a ton out of it. Just being there sounds like enough to me. I plan to come home and be entirely obnoxious - saying ciao and scusi at totally inappropriate times and whining about how hard it is to get a good espresso around here. LOL

This is the first time that I would go to Europe. We have thought of it many times, and I've always put it off due to work, or the kids, or reluctance to spend the money. I also usually refuse to travel during the month of December. One of my sons has his birthday and there is just too much to do here between that and Christmas.

So going with only a month's notice, going in December, and going when I'm not feeling all that great would have been enough in the past to make me pass this trip up. But cancer has taught me not to put things off forever. Not all decisions should be entirely practical. I need to get out there and live a little! If anything, all the good reasons not to go just make me want to do it even more! I need to do something that flies in the face of caution! Take a little risk.

I think I need a t-shirt or a tattoo that says "If not now, when?" Or maybe I'll just learn how to say that in Italian.