Bless Your Heart

Sometime in December, I found myself browsing the shops downtown… a rare and special escape.  I was wandering around one of my favorite galleries and came across a little bowl full of wooden hearts.

Now when I was a kid, I didn’t like hearts.  Too girlie.  No i’s dotted with hearts in my name thank you very much.  I did have a favorite rainbow heart shirt that I remember wanting to wear every day, but I think that spoke more to my second grade love of rainbows…

Now these hearts, these hearts were different.  They were smooth and warm and like a perfect pebble.  They called out to be held tight in the palm of my hand.  On a whim, I chose a big one for James and a matching littler one for myself.

Since then, these two little pocket hearts have carried us through a lot of hard days.  Hospital rooms.  Terrifying tests.  Lobbies.  Long car rides.  Rooms full of huge machines and laser beams.  Hundreds of miles and weeks of nights alone.  Through endless days of waiting and hours of praying.  They’ve protected us and connected us.  A comforting little reminder that we’re co-captains of Team James and the huge crowd of teammates behind us.

James’ heart is now kind of indigo, as one would expect from the Baron of Blue Jeans, the Sultan of Selvedge.  Mine has a warm patina from hours of centering all of my positive thoughts and energy and love.  We still carry our little pocket hearts on especially important days.  Otherwise they’re at home.  In a dish next to my alarm clock, by James’ keys, on the sunny windowsill above the kitchen sink.  A gentle and reassuring reminder of what matters.

We are so deeply grateful to have the love and support of so many friends and family.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Bless Your Heart

Chicken Nugget Fucillo

It is with deep sadness that the family of Chicken Nugget Fucillo, of San Luis Obispo, announces her passing after a sudden and tragic snatching by an unidentified wild canine, on Friday, June 16, 2017 at 10:36am. Chicken, or as her friends called her, “Nugget,” will be lovingly remembered by her adopted family, as well as her dear step-sisters, Chicken Sando and Chicken Death Destroyer.

A native of Santa Cruz, Nugget grew-up in the mountains.  The offspring of a broken home, she was raised by her working mother and never knew her absentee father.  Just three months ago, she set-off with her step-sisters to pursue their lifelong dream of moving to the Central Coast.   All three sisters prefer to go by their middle names— Nugget based on her beautiful McGolden coloring.  Her successful career as an entomologist earned her deep admiration by numerous experts in the field.  In her spare time, Nugget enjoyed rolling in the dust under the deck, eating lizards, mothering, and taking relaxing bubble baths.  She was a great lover of meal worms, and known for her sweet disposition and knack for taming human children.  As her brother Jacob reflected, “She was too nice if you ask me.  And a leisurely runner.”

Nugget served on the boards of numerous organizations including Indian Knob’s Early Risers, the SLO Chapter of Poultry Entomologists, and chaired the Neighborhood Watch for two and a half months.

A celebration of Chicken Nugget’s life will be held at 7 pm on Sunday, June 18, at the Squire Canyon Coop with the good Reverend James officiating.  In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to BRUNCH: Buk-buks Rallying United AgaiNst Chicken Homicide.

Chicken Nugget

Chicken Nugget Fucillo
? – June 16, 2017

What About Bob

When I was in high school, one of my best friends, Kristen, had this thing for the name Bob.  Honestly, I never understood it.  She just loved Bob things and Bob people and Bobby pins.

Then I went to college and I met another Bob lover.  His name was Brian and he drove a motorcycle and liked being called Bob.  I set him up on a double date with my other Bob lover but shockingly, Bob love is not enough to guarantee a love connection.

Then our uncle Bryan started “Bobbing” the boys.  It became this irresistible bit between them— Uncle Bob and his Bob nephews.  Come to find out, he also had an Uncle Bob.  And it’s his go-to name for kids with names he can’t remember.  Unfortunately it was just too catchy… I showed-up to one of Jake’s first baseball games and the team and all the coaches are cheering for Bob.  Who’s Bob?

Wait what?!  My son with the thoughtfully chosen, classically strong name with a simple modern nickname, has asked his entire team to call him Bob?

When asked, Jakey just told me, “It’s just my funny jokester name Mom.”

I had to introduce myself to other baseball moms as “Bob’s mom,” otherwise they had no idea who I was talking about.

This weekend I told my original Bob-lover about my new Bob-lover.  She thought it was brilliant— some sort of sign of his intelligence and powers of persuasion.  She uses the name Bob daily in her job— her go-to example.  I, on the other hand, am hoping the Bob fad will fade.  Perhaps just a coping mechanism during a year of significant upheaval and change?

A few weeks ago, Jacob forgot his hat at the beach house when the van der Schalies and the Palms and the Bullock were visiting.  Sarah says she figured out it was ours because “Cora said Nate and Jake call things Bob.”  A few hours with them and bam, Cora’s got their number.

Now Nate’s hat has the name Bob under the bill… the fad is not fading.  It’s spreading.

June 7

This past Thursday, James drove up for his first PET/CT scan in awhile.  It’s hard not to feel easily distracted and sick to my stomach leading up to these tests, and then waiting an undetermined amount of time for the results.  And then *poof*, they show-up in the Stanford app… cryptically written in a language reminiscent of English, primarily to be interpreted by the level of the person who finally calls.  You know things are good when the call comes from someone with a desk job.  That’s the best.

This morning my spidey sense kicked-in as I was walking from the break room to my office.  My backpack buzzed—James texting me.  Somehow I knew it was about the results of the scan.  Coincidentally, today marks six months to the day from when all this began.

Gratefully, the report was good news: No abnormal FDG activity to suggest recurrent or metastatic disease.

Thank efFingDG.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Grand Slam

Tonight marked our final baseball party in a series of 54 events spanning four months.  Signing-up for baseball is essentially taking on a second, part-time job.  Even when you consider that there is no mandatory San Luis Snack Shack Duty.

Nate’s Team, Cal Poly Red, celebrated the end of the season tonight with a game of kids versus parents, followed by a round of kickball and a water balloon fight.  I don’t know when I’ve laughed so much.

Unfortunately Jacob’s team, the Hooks, got knocked out of the playoffs by the Grasshoppers last weekend.  Jakey enjoyed the season and got on base most times he was at bat.  His strength is speed.  He had his team calling him Bob the entire season… but that’s a story for another blog.

It was probably for the best as all of us, except Nate, were a bit worn-out from baseball four nights a week.  Nate is still up for hours of catch and practicing his swing on the baseball tetherball practice pole.  This week we found out Grandma never learned to use a mitt.  And she’s not about to start now…

There was one game at Sinsheimer where I shivered on the sidelines, right through the dinner hour, famished from a light lunch and what seemed to be an interminable number of innings.

Two other families with impeccable foresight and enviable planning laid out a beautiful, fluffy picnic blanket.  There were chips, salsa and guacamole as the first course.  Then, then they unveiled a lovingly wrapped basket of piping hot taquitos.  I don’t know what was served as the third course, I had to get up and move behind the other team’s dugout to escape the mouth-watering torture…

At that moment I actually missed the Snack Shack.  In a moment of ravenous weakness, I almost regretted writing Nacho Cheese, The Shack, Keeping Kosher, Dirty Jobs, and Home Stretch.  An entire body of work criticizing plasticized dairy.  Years of lamenting my Saturdays hocking inedible junk food and, in an instant, my food snobbery evaporated and I would have emptied my wallet for a paper boat of salty, stale chips and orange cheese…

Nate the Great received his trophy today with great pride and an admirable solemnity during Coach Matthew’s team speech.  He was recognized for his two home runs and gained a reputation as a big hitter.  There’s definitely a little spring in his step.  I’m just bummed we missed his second homer while we were out of town for our anniversary weekend.

I’m told it was so exciting, he passed his teammate at second before rounding third and bringing it home.  That’s my boy.

Broody

This Sunday I had such a special Mother’s Day.  I actually slept past 5:45am… probably because Saturday’s combination of baseball plus birthday party bounce house plus beach with besties equaled beat for everybody.  I awoke to a perfect cup of tea in bed while the boys made me a beautiful bowl of yogurt and berries.  Then I was showered with presents.  Ice cream shaped bath bombs to use in the new barn bathtub, a travel mug, and an array of talking, whirling, buzzing cards that instilled endless anticipation and giggles from the boys.  Mysteriously, a few days prior, Jacob had plied me with information on how to give a foot massage.  One of the cards had an exciting mechanical wonder with a circus announcer’s voice— as I opened it, the wheel would spin, landing on all sorts of “mom” gifts like back rubs and breakfast in bed.  Somehow I got all the prizes.

Jacob made me a special clay caterpillar that holds a little portrait of his smiling second grade face.  It has a circle that says “feel better” to represent the “hole in our family from Daddy’s sickness.”  The caterpillar has an unidentifiable little friend with feet stuck to it because he had extra time.  Nate made a little ceramic heart box that he gave me at Friday’s Dia de la Familia.  It was a surprise lunchtime celebration where the kids sang songs in Spanish, served us cinnamon cake, strawberries and lemonade, and then walked us each through their best art and a heartfelt letter.  Jakey also made me a little bouquet of flowers from the yard and put them by my alarm clock.

If that wasn’t enough, we walked the Bob Jones trail while the boys rode their bikes, enjoyed some beautiful coffee at the new shop in Avila, and then had lunch at Rooster Creek with the best service I’ve experienced in over a year.  That afternoon I got to take a nap, look at my iPad, and spend an hour visiting one of my favorite little shops downtown…

The day ended with a tasty dinner, chocolate-covered strawberries and a relaxing bath.

I tried not to think about Chicken Nugget as the last occupant of our tub… we’re now pretty sure she’s not dying and she’s just broody.

After a day like Sunday, it’s no wonder she wants to be a mommy.  There’s really nothing better.

Death Destroyer

Chickens.  We go way back.

It started when I was six or seven and my dad took my brother and me on one of the greatest adventures of our childhood— a multi-week road trip in an unreliable pea-green VW camper van, all the way to visit his cousin’s family on Whidbey Island.  They had this fantastic county fair where the main attraction involved a full-sized arena where various farm animals were freed to run around in sheer panic.  Kids then lined-up by age and were time-released into the arena to chase the panicked farm animals.  The objective?: You catch it, you keep it.  Unfortunately, the littlest kids got first dibs at the biggest animals… the lambs and the goats and the bunnies.  My brother didn’t like to get his hands dirty, so by the time I joined him, all that remained was poultry.

I grabbed a little black Bantam with a showy headdress, a gentle duck, and a handsome, intimidating red rooster later anointed Chanticleer.  We camped all the way back to California with our poultry barnyard and a tiny white feral kitten I coaxed out of the rafters of the barn.

From that trip forward, I spent many a day taking care of chickens.  My favorite memory was when my brother and I thought it would be fun to throw some of the eggs against a tree.  Geoff veered from the tree and threw his next egg against the chicken wire, only to have it sort of bounce back at him and splatter his face and chest.  As luck would have it, that one was rotten.

So when Granddad brought us three chickens and a little coop to start our own flock, I had some experience to fall back on.  On our first weekday morning of chicken ownership, I found myself dressed for work, summoning my previous confidence in poultry seizure and grabbing Death Destroyer and depositing her back in her quarters.

By the way, our new flock consists of a beautiful Buff Orpington named Chicken Nugget, a black and white speckled hen named Chicken Sando, and a black Orpington whose feathers shine like an oily rainbow.  Nate aptly coined her Death Destroyer.

My mornings now consist of drinking my tea, making breakfast and lunches, and letting the chickens out like a flock of puppies.  They are impatient and clumsy and endearingly friendly.  Jacob has been taming them every morning while Nate mostly watches.

Yesterday evening, Jake sounded the alarm bells— something is wrong with Nugget.  She won’t leave her nest and when he puts her on the ground, she falls down.  She couldn’t walk, her tail was down and she was hobbling right back into the nesting box.  I went to sleep deeply anxious about poor little Chicken Nugget.  She’s our sweetest, gentlest hen.

When I woke-up this morning she didn’t clamor out of the coop.  At 6:30am I’m googling what to do about an egg bound hen and it involves soaking her in our bathtub.  I wait until the Chicken Whisperer wakes-up and Jacob and I get little Nugget upstairs into a warm tub.  I don’t have Epsom salts.  I sure hope this works as despite my years of chicken husbandry, I’m not really ready for the internet recommendation involving KY Jelly…

Nugget stays pretty calm.  She only jumps out of the tub twice— a blur of wet chicken flapping.  The warm water is supposed to relax her, but I’m concerned that being surrounded by plastic dragons and a seven-year-old with quick, unpredictable movements is just tensing her up even more… after about twenty minutes we get her back outside, perk her up with her favorite chicken crack cocaine, meal worms, and she hobbles back into the coop.  I head to work, but am plagued by a dull undercurrent of imminent chicken danger all day.

I arrive home this evening and Jacob declares her better.  He brings up two eggs and says Chicken Nugget ran down the hill to be with her girlfriends.  I check and it’s true.  What a relief!  I’m sure she’d agree.  We’ve gotta keep a close eye on her, but I think we’re all sleeping better tonight…

Meanwhile when I asked the boys if they wanted hot lunch at school today they were adamant.  Some sick, ironic twist of fate— today was chicken nugget and mashed potato day.

Absolutely not.

What’s Next

It’s been a loooong five months.  Those of you that are still reading these posts every now and then… thank you thank you thank you.  I’ve endured mudslides and forest fires and earthquakes, but the immediate threat has always passed.  This has been different.  A chronic crisis.  And we all know how hard it is to stay present.  To stay engaged with uncertainty.  To hope that it will all just go back to normal.

We’re certainly hopeful that the worst is behind us.  James is in great health and cancer-free (knocking on blog wood as I type this with one hand)… so the big question from everyone these days… What’s next?

Well, we need a year of clean scans.  Preferably two years of clean scans.  Make it five.  I believe he’ll have them quarterly at this point, as we need to keep a very close watch.  His next scan will be in June.

And then we need to get back to life in between.  A wise doctor at UCLA counseled us that the patients that do the best don’t spend day in and day out ruminating on the “what if’s” and the “if only’s.”  Of course you think about it every day, that won’t change.  But the moments spread out.  The fist in your chest relaxes a little.  The dread goes into hibernation and the thoughts quiet down.

We need to continue practicing our mindful meditation and drinking our green drinks and moving our bodies and soaking up every moment of these beautiful boys and this beautiful place and this beautiful life.  We need time.  And we need to stay connected to Team James.  We’ve deepened our connections and revived latent friendships and whether we wanted or needed this wake-up call, I don’t know, but we got it.

So, thank you for continuing to keep our little family in your thoughts.  For your check-ins and cards and text messages and calls.  You can never bother us.  We’re just a little more tired than we used to be.  A little dazed.  A bit unsteady on our feet.

And now to close this post with a quote from a Portland lighting catalog.  Because who doesn’t love a good quote from a purveyor of fine house parts when they’re feeling all cheeseball and philosophical?

Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive,
and go do it.  Because what the
world needs is people who have come alive.
— Howard Thurman

seven 8 nine

My dearest Jacob James,

You turned 8 years old on March fourteenth and are a smart, funny, industrious, resourceful, feisty eight-year-old.  The past eight years are truly brimming with Jacob stories— you’ve gone from three to eight in a heartbeat.  My sincerest apologies that your annual letter is six weeks delayed.  And your birthday party was a month behind schedule.  Maybe we’ve had a lot going on for the past five months.  Or maybe I just don’t want you getting any older…  In my annual tradition, this letter is meant to capture and preserve just a little glimpse into eight-year-old Jake.

Over the past few months, you’ve settled into life in San Luis.  I’m sure you still miss Truman (and Gavin and Stuart), but you haven’t dissolved into a “whhhhhy did we moooove heeeeere” puddle in several months.  Although you have such fond memories of Trace, I don’t really remember any mornings where you didn’t want to go to school this year.  In the mornings, you help me drop Nate off at his classroom where you’re greeted by your five-year-old fan club— especially Kai and Cruz.  You basque in their little boy adoration.

And speaking of little boys… you like to hang with Ethan and Evan and Logan.  You have a number of other friends but you don’t always know their names.  You’re still one of those kids that walks across the blacktop and about town and boys of roughly the same height smile and wave and give you a “Hi Jacob.”  You give them the ‘sup head nod and, when prodded for names, just smile and shrug.

On the topic of friends, we recently held your joint birthday party at an enormous gymnastics gymnasium with ten other rambunctious youngsters.  You were thrilled to see Russel— your buddy from Y Camp.  After months of sleuthing, I was able to track down one of your favorite second graders through a google search and a friend from high school.  This is most certainly a small town.  The second you saw him the entire crowd launched into a rendition of “My name is Joe, I live in Costcoooo…”  Such a heartfelt reunion.

We spent that afternoon watching you all jump and tumble and bounce through a “parkour” course created and led by two young coaches: Ashley and Mark.  Mark dazzled you all with his flips and spins and skateboardy vibe.  He couldn’t have been more perfect.  Some barbecue ribs, lemonade and chocolate cupcakes and you buzzed, flipped and tumbled all the way back to our house where you and your brother dove into gift bags and detonated a Lego explosion.

Half our living room is dedicated to Jake’s Lego Land.  You set-up acres of miniature worlds with vehicles and headless guys and wars on every level— tabletops, chairs, floors, shelves brimming with Lego landmines.  No, literally.  You take the little button Legos and tell me they’re landmines.  I recently found a slightly threatening note you wrote to the cleaning team warning them not to touch your Legos.  The “skull and cross bones” was especially effective.

You got a giant bag of army guys at Supercuts last week and created a new game.  It’s like Harry Potter wizarding chess.  All I know is that the rules are always changing and my guys’ weapons are clearly short-range whereas your guys can leap onto boxes, blast me and then take cover.  I hate to admit it, but your machine-gun sound effects are rather impressive.  My guys are just sitting ducks.

And while we’re talking fowl, you are the family Chicken Whisperer.  Granddad brought us three “trial chickens” and you have risen to your new responsibilities like the mini-Granddad that you are.  You’ve been wearing my Hunter boots as you check on them every chance you get.  Your chicken training regimen has really made a difference.  Chicken Nugget, Chicken Sando and Death Destroyer are like a flock of feathered puppies.

Speaking of pets, you’re not a teacher’s pet, but I can tell Maestra Koch has a special fondness for you.  She is the opposite of last year’s Maestra Gonzales.  Where Gonzales was short and loud and always barking orders, Koch is tall and soft-spoken.  You’re one of only two native English speakers in your class and you’ve risen to the challenge like a champ.  You love math and science and recreo.  I’m not sure I’ve ever felt prouder than our two parent-teacher conferences this year.

While we’re talking teachers, you idolize your substitute teacher, Mr. Santos.  We spent an afternoon searching for his rock shop and found it by my work.  You strode confidently into his shop, ready to receive your free prize as a proud Pacheco Panther.  When we went into the back to meet Mr. Santos in person, we immediately knew each other.  It took a few minutes, but we finally placed ourselves as cast members during my freshman year in Cal Poly’s acclaimed big stage performance of Neil Simon’s Fools.  Mr. Santos had Jacobo’s number right away— recognizing the path to your devoted loyalty was laid with rock knowledge and prizes.  He nonchalantly let you hold his several thousand dollar Megalodon tooth.

Which reminds me, you are still mega into Pokémon, Minecraft and video games.  Maestra Koch and Mr. Guardado probably think you play video games all day given how much you write about them.  Hopefully they recognize the majority of your writing as fantasy.

And you still have a fantastical imagination.  This past year we’ve spent hours upon hours together in the wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter.  We both are so sad it is over.  We read How to Eat Fried Worms, but it wasn’t as good as I remembered.  And we read every single Calvin and Hobbes collection.  Even though the majority of its nuanced humor went over your head, it inspired a renewed interest in outdoor adventures and snowmen.  You’re now re-reading it on the couch at night when I go to bed.

You’re still having a tough time getting to sleep at night, but it’s getting better every night that Daddy’s home.  You may always be a stealthy night ninja… priding yourself in your cat-like ability to sneak up on unsuspecting prey watching subtitled episodes of the Americans.  You have always been busy.  Busy with the world of things you want to build and see and do.

You are generally bare chested and barefoot.  You are all elbows and big front teeth and freckles and ripped knees.  You give me “back hugs” at school and squirm from my air kisses.  You’re known for your affinity for jokes involving plays on words.  I’d say you deserve all the credit for tapping your little Cousin Devon’s interests in stand-up comedy.

I can’t wait to watch you continue to grow and learn and become exactly who you already are.  I love you Jakey Cakes.  Every little funny, stubborn bit of you.  We are so proud of you and are doing our best to savor every single second.

Love,
Mom

Chopped

On Monday night it was just Jakey and me.  Poor Nate went to bed at 6:45PM with a temperature of almost 104.  Meanwhile James was putting another few hundred miles on his car as he drove home from Stanford.

It sounds like his follow-up check-ups with the radiation doctor and the surgeon went really well this week.  The radiation doctor was amazed that the outside of his neck was completely healed and that he doesn’t really have any pain anymore (he’s been eating tortilla chips for several weeks).  He said most people have pain for six months!  It’s probably a good thing we didn’t know that was possible…

This week I was checking my email and I had a question from Sarah on our recent meal-prep experiences.  I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts for weeks now while our research and know-how is still cutting-edge.  And I use that adjective aptly as the six weeks James was gone are almost entirely a blur of putting Jacob to bed multiple times a night and…. CHOPPING.

But first, some backstory…

Long, long ago, when in hindsight I had all the time in the world, I started to hear about these places where you would go for a few hours, assemble a bunch of meals, and then bring them home and put them in your freezer.  Everything was already planned and chopped and decided and all you had to do was measure and mix and label.  I went to a place in Menlo Park and another one in Santa Cruz.  I steered clear of a chain called Dream Dinners that reviewers described as “assembling TV dinners.”  And then Chef Dane’s opened up near our house in Santa Clara.  He was an experienced chef who clearly enjoyed his own cooking.  Exactly what I’m looking for in a chef.  A stout angel from heaven.

As his business evolved, he realized that none of us wanted to assemble our meals.  We didn’t want to plan.  We didn’t want to grocery shop.  And most importantly, we didn’t want to CHOP.  We wanted to take the little white bowls full of little diced goodness and dump them into the sauté pan like on television cooking shows.

Chef Dane quickly realized that what we actually wanted was for him to assemble our meals and for us to just pick them up and put them in our freezers.  Well, if he would have just put them in our freezers I would have paid extra for that, too.  James’ tagline was… “It’s like money in the bank.”  Honestly, Chef Dane cooked the best Christmas dinner I’ve ever had.  But like many small businesses, he couldn’t make the economics work and they closed their doors.  One of the darkest days of my life.  It was March 29, 2010— Black Monday.  Worse than the year we lost Long’s Drugs.

After the closure of Chef Dane’s, we never really got back into the meal-making industry.  There were a few weeks where we tried Blue Apron.  But we deemed it TOO MUCH CHOPPING and canceled.  James became our meal prep service, supplemented by Door Dash, where we could have anything delivered for free to our doorstep from a hundred restaurants.

Then the Millennials came of age and started the monthly Care Package bubble of the 20-teens.  You can have curated outfits, organic skin care products, affordable razors, educational toys, manly bespoke accessories, and healthy dinner ingredients, all delivered to your doorstep.

While James was gone for treatment, we were the extremely fortunate recipients of a relatively new service called Sunbasket.  Our deepest thanks goes out to so many caring and generous friends and family who recognized that the boys and I could very well starve without James.  We had all of this amazing food show-up on our porch every Wednesday.

Sunbasket’s claim to fame is the chef from San Francisco’s Slanted Door and celebrity chef Tyler Florence.  The food was beautiful.  Absolutely perfect and organic and fresh and delicious.  But the CHOPPING!  Every night I would come home to my chopping project of onions and garlic and chives and purple potatoes and yellow potatoes and three kinds of fresh herbs.  And then I’d chop ingredients for the salad.  It took me twice as long as the estimates which may be commentary on Sunbasket estimators, or me as Chief Chopper.  In hindsight, it was a good distraction from the realities of the situation and of single parenting.

I’ve heard good things about Munchery, but we don’t seem to live in their service area where they ship their “ready-to-heat” meals.  We live in the “meal kit” area which sounds like a 15-minute prep version of Blue Apron and Sunbasket.

I’m now considering trying the next Millennial brain child: The Daily Harvest.  It’s just soups and smoothies, which James is pretty tired of after his eight week soups and smoothies diet, but sounds kind of good to me.

I finally went back to Dad’s tried and true dinners.  The last week before James came home, Jacob was hunched over his steaming plate of “Daddy spaghetti” and declared, “Good job Mom.  Your dinners are back in business!”

If only Chef Dane was, too.