Wednesday, December 31, 2014

See ya, 2014, wouldn't wanna be ya

I think by now you all know that my answer to the above questions is an emphatic yes.

This was the year that I found out I had cancer. Four surgeries and nine months later, I'm cancer-free and on my way to being healthy. I'm extremely fortunate and grateful, but still... cancer is cancer and it sucks immensely.

This was the year that too many people close to me lost loved ones much too soon. I believe that even though the end of a life is sad, it's part of life. We will all experience the death of a friend or family member. But I'm not sure I can count the number of tragedies that hit my circle of friends and neighbors in 2014. And of course, there was the one that hit me the hardest and turned my life upside down in more ways than one.

But there were some good moments, too.

  • Aaron and I escaped the nasty winter and went to Jamaica for the first (but not last) time!
  • Bella took over the blog and became even more popular (look for the other two to get their turns in 2015).
  • We participated in the Crawl for Cancer as usual, but this time it meant more.
  • I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love from friends near and far during my recovery and grief.
  • I got to meet some bloggers in real life at a brunch in February, and then StephG visited me in late June!
  • Aaron biked 328 miles from Cleveland to Cincinnati in the Pan Ohio Hope Ride.
  • I went to Myrtle Beach with my brother.
  • I took two work trips to places I'd never been before: Denver in April and Portland in November.
  • Our nephew Jeremy graduated from high school. We couldn't go as it was three days after my "big" surgery but my mom was there.

So no, 2014 wasn't all bad, but I'm still done with it.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Not Letting the Terrorists Win

If you're on The Facebook you've no doubt seen the "year in review" montages floating around. The canned post to go along with them starts with "It's been a great year..." Well, fuck that. It's been a shitty year. There have been some good moments, but overall I'm ready to kick 2014 out the fucking door.

But Aaron and I have kept business as usual when it comes to the holidays. We still hosted Thanksgiving for 20, we'll see my family on Christmas, and we're hosting Aaron's family for Christmas this weekend. We've also had a Christmas party every year since 2008, which has grown to epic proportions. We discussed whether or not to do it this year, but decided to keep up the tradition. I can't remember exactly what was said, but it translated to "if we don't have the party, the terrorists win." So my mantra for getting through the season has been "don't let the terrorists (of life) win." I didn't take pictures at the party; I just wanted to be part of it. But here are a few festive pics:

Cocktail napkins

Mom's ceramic tree; the angel that I painted when I was 9

The morning after. (Mom made the poinsettia afghan.)

I'm not always successful at beating away the terrorists. Crying jags come out of nowhere, and sometimes I just want to be alone. And that's OK, too.

The second half of that Facebook post says "...Thanks for being a part of it." Now that I can get on board with. Through all the peaks and valleys of this year, I've had some incredible people holding me close and supporting me, whether in person or from afar. Thank you all so very much.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thanksgiving Weekend Recap

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Mine had its ups and down, as expected, but we got through it. On Wednesday I met up with my brother to pick up Jacqueline and James. The rest of the family couldn't get away this year, so I was extra happy to have these two with us. (Pardon my shitty selfie skills.)

And Jackie gave me my traditional birthday portrait:

Thanksgiving Eve a/k/a the best Gwensday of the year always brings neighbors and friends to the house, and this year we also had Aaron's sister Stephanie and her family.

Julia (with Steph and Aaron) gets in on the brine injection.
Jackie making green bean casserole.
Julia and Kate are ready to go back to the hotel for some swimming.

On Thanksgiving we had 19 at the table (actually, tableS), including some friends who otherwise would have been home alone. We did two turkeys in the oil-less deep fryer and they were yumptious.

Turkey #1 cooling off. Fortunately no critters came by.
As far as we know.

Kate, Lauren and Julia

The tradition of raiding Aunt Gila's "shoe room" continues.

Friday was super chill. Aaron put the kids to work putting up our ceiling ornaments. James wanted deep dish pizza for dinner so we went out and had this deliciousness:

Lasagna pizza from Fabian's

Saturday I met up with my brother again to drop off the kids (I say "kids" even though Jackie is 21 and James at 15 kept declaring himself to be a "grown man.") On my way home I engaged in some retail therapy and even bought a couple Christmas gifts. Then I went to Jen and Jason's house for football and Friendsgiving (no turkey; they did barbecue).

I can't even believe it's December already. Crazy!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Birthday Hangover

But not a real hangover. For those who don't know, yesterday was my birthday. Last year I did a whole birthday week series of posts and if you missed those, you can go back and check out some great pictures of me as a kid:

This year's birthday was pretty low key, which was lovely. Saturday we went to Cray, a fairly new restaurant/bar in walking distance. I started off with this, a spiced apple cider. Yum.

Saturday night we had a wonderful homemade dinner with friends, complete with candles on the dessert (not ALL the candles, thankfully).

Sunday we sang at church and had a rehearsal, then Aaron dropped me off at home so I could nap while he went to the store to get dinner supplies.

Settling in for the birthday nap with Bella

My dinner request was Aaron's homemade mac & cheese and it was perfection on a rainy night!

Thank you to everyone who sent birthday greetings, whether by Facebook, phone call, text or tweet! Even Google got in the action:

Kinda cute, kinda creepy

But of course, this was also a bittersweet birthday. There's that phone call that will never come again. This begins the year of firsts and it hit me harder than I thought it would, so again I thank all of you even more for showering me with good wishes and love. xoxo

Thursday, November 20, 2014

All about that beer

I've laid a lot of heavy stuff on y'all lately, so how about something fun? Last week I was in Portland, Oregon for a software user conference. Sounds boring, right? Wrong. Don't forget that I work for a brewery. This is brewery-specific software, so when we broke for lunch, in addition to coffee, water and iced tea, there was beer. And for me, at least, the conference was super useful. AND, we had a good amount of free time, which I'll focus on now.

I traveled with my coworker Beth and neither of us had ever been to Portland. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and the conference started Wednesday. We stayed at Hotel Monaco, which I can't recommend enough. It's unique, the staff is lovely, it's dog-friendly, and they have a happy hour every day from 5 to 6 with free beer and wine.

Yes, that's a stuffed bear on the bed. They also had animal print bathrobes in the room.

Tuesday night we went to Deschutes Brewery. My beer of choice was the Fresh Hop Saison. For dinner I had the Steak and Blue Cheese Caesar Salad, which was good but was nothing compared to the Paprika Fries (which don't show up on the online menu). Um, amazing. Fries with smoked paprika, a garlic rosemary aioli and manchego cheese. We debated between those and the Curry Fries, which I bet are also incredible.

Wednesday night we had a conference welcome reception at Henry's Tavern. This place is huge and we had an area all to ourselves with free beer (they have over 100 taps - I had Full Sail's Amber Ale) and a buffet dinner. Afterward we went to Fathead's, which is a Cleveland brewery that just opened a Portland location two weeks ago. I had the Sunshine Daydream Session IPA (you'll notice that I don't drink dark beers; I like the flavor but it's just a little too much for me).

Thursday evening Beth and I went to dinner at Jake's Famous Crawfish, which has been around more than 110 years and is now part of the McCormick and Schmick's family. We shared the Dungeness Crab and Bay Shrimp Cakes as an appetizer (fantastic) and for my entree I had Horseradish Crusted Pacific Salmon, which was OMG-amahzing. No beer for me at this dinner; I drank wine.

Friday - our conference ended at 11:30 and we weren't leaving town until Saturday so off we went for food and beer! First stop: Lardo's for lunch. We loved this place and it would be dangerous for my waistline if I had one close to me. I mean, they have salads on the menu but if I'm eating here I'm not getting a damn salad. I had the current Chefwich, which you can see below and it was delicious, as were the Lardo Fries, with herbs and parmesan. I had a couple different drinks, including Rev. Nat's Hallelujah Hopricot Cider (forget any preconceived notions you might have about cider; this isn't grossly sweet and the apricot flavor is very subtle). I also had Arch Rock's Gold Beach Lager, which won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in October (oh by the way, our brewery also won 2 medals - a gold and a bronze).

After wandering around the Pearl District, visiting an art gallery and grabbing some coffee at Stumptown, we rode a bus across the river to Cascade Brewing Barrel House. Cascade specializes in sour beers, which I first enjoyed in Denver last April and I have now confirmed how much I love sour beer. We did a flight of tasters and our bartender was so friendly and helpful, giving us suggestions on which order to taste the beers, then we tried the Glueh Kriek, a hot spiced mulled sour cherry ale (which sounds strange but was kind of the best thing ever. We could have stayed there all evening but wanted to spread out our patronage. In another example of how fantastic the staff at Cascade are, they recommended some other breweries to try.

We walked to The Commons Brewery, which is kind of hard to find in the dark, but so worth it. It's a tasting room - no food or even seating to speak of, but they have eight taps and it's some damn good beer. I had the Aji Citron Reserve, which isn't on their online beer list, but it's a Saison beer with citrus and chilis so it's got a kick. I loved it. Also, I left my purse in the restroom and someone brought it and made sure I got it back. Seriously, Portland in general is so polite and friendly!

1. Glueh Kriek at Cascade
2. The tasting room at The Commons
3. The Commons' tap lineup
4. Flight of sours at Cascade

Then I got to have a reunion dinner with my college friend Michelle who lives in Portland. She's my sorority sister (Gamma Phi Beta) and fellow choir nerd and we hadn't seen each other since college. We had a lovely dinner at Paley's Place and tried to catch up 20-odd years in 3 hours.

Saturday our flight didn't leave until after 1:00 so we went to breakfast at Fuller's Coffee Shop, which is a diner in every way, and paid a visit to Powell's Books - a perfect end to our stay.

I can't wait to go back to Portland and explore even more of the area!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Time to get back at it

I often get annoyed when, after someone has died, people say "he/she would have wanted us to [insert anything from the important to the ridiculous here]." But I can say with absolute certainty that my mom would have been on my case for not writing blog posts for so long. She would call me and tell me that she missed the blog if I hadn't written for several days. Well, it's been over six weeks, but I'm finally ready to get back on the blogging horse.

A lot has happened in the past couple months and many times I've thought "that deserves a whole blog post," and some of these events may someday get their own posts, but for now I'll just do a quick recap.

The night of my mom's calling hours, our sweet goddaughter Lauren died peacefully with her parents and sister right there with her. She was nine months old, and this was expected, as she'd been struggling with a neurological condition her whole short life. I was blessed to have spent many hours with her as I would sit with her and hold her so her parents could take care of other things. Rest in peace, precious girl.

The weekend of Lauren's memorial service, one of our neighbors died very unexpectedly at 32. His name was Lincoln and while we weren't super close friends, he was a great neighbor and will be missed. We had a bonfire in his honor and check out this crazy picture from that night.

The reason we were able to have a bonfire is that we had to tear down our community garden and bocce court because the lots were sold and houses are currently under construction.

Left: a view from upstairs earlier this year.
Right: the view this morning, complete with port-a-john.

We were fortunate this year to be able to watch our niece Lauren run cross country twice.

I visited our niece Jackie at college. I even slept in the dorm! I can't believe we failed to take a selfie that weekend, but we did visit the tattoo parlor. Here's my new ink (on my left shoulder):

In October my brother and I went to Myrtle Beach for a week. Our parents had a time share there. Three years ago our dad was too sick for them to go. Two years ago I went with our mom and last year John Mark went with her. I'm so glad we each got to go there with Mom and now we've created new memories. It was a wonderful, relaxing week.

The sunrise photo was taken by John Mark, as I never woke up early enough to do such a thing.

That's enough catching up for now. Now I just need to catch up with reading my friends' blogs!

Thursday, September 18, 2014


If you only know me through blogging, you may be wondering where I've been the past three weeks. And if you haven't been wondering, just throw me a bone and pretend, OK? Cool.

I last posted the day before a little outpatient nip/tuck surgery. That all went well, but I did wake up with two drains which no one was expecting. Aaron told the surgeon "that won't be popular." And no, I wasn't thrilled but what can you do? That was Friday. Saturday I rested at home and watched some college football while alternately napping. Sunday I mostly rested but I did get out of the house to go to the 3rd birthday party for a special little girl in our life.

Need some cuteness to balance the rest of this post.

Monday was Labor Day and Aaron and I had a date to binge watch House of Cards. Around 3 pm, our world turned upside down when we found out that my mom died. I won't go in to the nightmare that was the notification process in which we literally had a police officer knock on the door but then it still took 45 minutes for us to know what had happened.

My mom, Patty, was 71 years old and while she wasn't the portrait of health, she wasn't ill either. But for a couple months she had been the primary caregiver for her 96-year-old mother (Grandma Elmo) and that had taken quite a toll, physically and emotionally. On that Monday, Mom went to her room to take a nap and just didn't wake up. I think we would all hope to go that way, but damn it sucks for those left behind.

My dad died almost three years ago, so my brother John Mark and I are orphans. I don't care how old you are, it's a hard thing to realize that there's no adult to take care of the arrangements or the house or the insurance. We were it. And we have to figure out how best to take care of Grandma Elmo. I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I don't even know what I don't know.

I've sung for many funerals, including Aaron's grandfather, my grandfather and even my dad. But my dad had cancer and even though death is still hard, we knew it was coming. For my mom, there was no way I could sing, which makes me sad because she was my first musical influence. She taught me to play piano and she supported me in all of my musical pursuits.

I couldn't even speak for Mom's funeral; none of us could. But if I could have done her eulogy, here's some of what I would have said (and some of this was said during her service, which was beautiful if I do say so myself).


One of the best things I can say about Mom is that she was so welcoming. She was inclusive because she just didn't know there was another option. When John Mark and I were growing up, she really was a second mom to so many of our friends, and in fact those friends have mentioned that to us recently.

Mom loved to bake and truthfully she had a bit of an addiction to cookbooks. But John Mark loved her blueberry pie and she would make it for him for his birthday, or anytime really. She once made six different kinds of chocolate chip cookies and had Aaron and I taste test them to choose our favorite. Just a couple weeks before she died, our neighborhood had a block party. Mom had found a baklava recipe that she wanted to try and once she knew it turned out well, she gave it to us to take as our contribution to the party.

She had so many talents. Of course, she was musical and she was a church organist for so many years, sometimes also leading a bell choir or serving as the choir director. She had such a thirst for trying new crafts, and she always threw herself completely into them. She made the most beautiful cards. Years ago, she was really into knitting and if anyone she knew had a baby, that baby received a handmade sweater. In more recent years, she was involved in the church's quilting group. And she was modest. I always complimented her on her creativity and she would pooh-pooh it, saying that she wasn't creative; she just did the work.

People knew her as Pat, Patty, Mrs. Tickner, Mom T, but the role she was born for was Grandma. She adored her three grandchildren and the feeling was mutual. Mom and Jacqueline would talk on the phone every week. She texted with Jeremy and James -- how many grandmas text regularly with their teenage grandsons? She played video games with them. She loved to go the movies, and she'd go to pretty much any movie the kids wanted to see. She was willing to try anything (except flying - I don't think she'd been on a plane since 1980).

The day after Mom died, after we had met with the funeral home and ordered flowers and cried, some of us went to Applebees for lunch. Of course the server was being friendly and asking how we were and it was awkward. It reminded me of one of my favorite stories with Mom even though it happened at a sad time. Dad died in the middle of the night and after the funeral home and hospice all did their thing, it was 4:30 am and Mom and I were hungry. We had a hard time finding a place to get breakfast at that hour, but ended up at TeeJay's. We both ordered biscuits and gravy but then our server came back and said she couldn't serve it to us because it just wasn't looking good. She apologized over and over and after we reordered and she left, Mom said "if she knew why we were here, she'd really be sorry." It was one of those moments that was probably only funny to the two of us, but I'll treasure it always.

Mom, I hope you're having biscuits and gravy, and baklava, and chocolate chip cookies, and anything else your heart desires.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Medical Update and other stuff

I haven't talked too much about my surgery recovery in a while. It's been smooth sailing for the most part although I still get tired very easily. Last weekend Aaron and I walked about 2 1/2 miles and it wiped me out for the rest of the weekend.

Tomorrow I'm having another surgery. It's Stage 2 of the reconstruction. The first part was all about making sure the transplanted tissue survived. This time is where the magic happens, as I like to say. I'll have scar revision on my stomach from where the incision had opened up, and some nipping and tucking on the new boobs. It's outpatient surgery and should last maybe a couple hours. The bummer is that we were supposed to go away for the long weekend with friends, but if I didn't have this surgery now I'd have to wait until October.

I'm sorry that some of you (including family) are finding this out for the first time by reading this. It came up pretty quickly and honestly, I didn't want to say too much until I had my pre-op appointment this week because part of me was nervous that they'd make me wait. The rule of thumb between Stage 1 and Stage 2 seems to be 3 months, and I'm just barely there. But it seems that we're a go so send me some good vibes tomorrow!

I've stayed away from talking about the Ferguson situation, but if you haven't seen Jon Stewart's take, watch it now.

In the case of his story about the producer and the correspondent, I would have been suspicious of the white guy because to be honest, I do tend to judge people based on their appearance. We all have our prejudices. And while I don't know what happened specifically in Ferguson, we cannot pretend that race is not an issue in this country.

On a lighter note, if you don't follow me on Instagram or my personal Facebook, you missed this gem:

I might have to frame that one.

And today I saw this:

Of course, I won't be drinking much wine for a little while, but this suits me for sure!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Faves 8/22

I've been so busy this week that I haven't even read any blogs, nevermind writing my own. But yesterday I took time to read Steph's post and I highly suggest you do the same. It's pretty deep and touches on a bunch of current topics, including Ferguson and the ice bucket challenge.

I didn't do a recap of last weekend but I must share a couple things we did. Last Friday we went to Goodale Park for Screen on the Green to watch Dirty Dancing. If you don't already know how much I love that movie, you should read about how people used to tell me I looked like Jennifer Grey. Prior to the movie, there was a trivia contest. Our friend Dru answered one of the questions, and so did I. We each won a free movie ticket so I guess we have a movie date sometime. I also got a shout-out because I was wearing this:

Blurry, but you get the idea.

One of the ladies in our group brought these watermelon cookies so she could legitimately say "I carried a watermelon."

Last Saturday was our annual block party. Two of our peeps were getting married that very day. The wedding was in Albany, NY so most of us were not there, but we wanted to extend our best wishes.

Someone needs to photoshop them sitting in the chair!

One of our neighbors is a landscape designer and last night he and his significant other had a gathering to show off some of his creations. He does incredible work and specializes in vertical gardens. This picture is of a garden wall in their courtyard. It's across the alley from us and you'd never know it's there. It's literally a secret garden!

Yesterday I wished our oldest niece a happy birthday. Tomorrow is our youngest niece's 6th birthday. Here's a picture of Kate and me from just a few weeks ago. Love those snuggles!

Happy Weekend!