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.
….And…. we’re back. I’m keenly aware that the Team James updates have been few and far between and for that I am sincerely sorry. During the six weeks of radiation I was just keeping my head above water. And I was always cooking. And putting Jake to bed one hundred times a night. Until finally I gave up and just started going to bed in an attempt to get Jacob to go to sleep. Instead I’d mostly just see the slightly eerie bobbing of a headlamp downstairs as he wandered around in the dark, looking for Legos and reading his Minecraft books and sorting Pokémon cards.
Since James got back we haven’t been able to watch TV or blog or sit in the living room unless we want our little shadow to stay up until 10PM. Which we certainly don’t.
This past Thursday, James and I drove up to Santa Cruz in preparation for his surgery on Friday morning. We had to be in Palo Alto by 6:30AM Friday morning and Granddad was driving. We all went to bed early, even though Jakey was still in San Luis with Nate and Nonna and Papa. It stormed all night long, because when James is in Santa Cruz… it pours.
We left the house early Friday morning piled into the truck. It was dark, it was raining. We made it to Stanford after an eventful ride. James wore his protective double threat— his Superman shirt and socks. He was in a great mood, laughing and smiling. The laminated poster of the unexplained Mepilex never fails to lighten the mood in a fit of suppressed giggles.
Our surgeon wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do, but he wanted a closer look at the “granularity” and to make sure he knew exactly what the small bump was at the base of James’ vocal cords. We appreciate that he’s taking a conservative yet measured approach to treatment. In this case, there just isn’t a “usually” to fall back on.
Fortunately the surgery was relatively short. James said there weren’t any observers— a good sign given all the medical looky-loos are generally hanging around to rubberneck unusual and rare surgeries. Much better to be uninteresting and ho-hum this time around.
Kristen joined Granddad and Grandma Suzy and me in our corner of the waiting room. We looked at old pictures and caught-up on life and discussed the merits of present-day Detroit. Post-surgery, our doctor found us in the waiting room and took us to the special “cushier” conference room so he could share his before and after pictures. He loves to show us before and after pictures. I could tell by his smile that everything went well.
And it did. He told us that the little bump was much smaller than it was two weeks ago— just a teeny tiny little blister. He said there was almost nothing for the pathologist to test and nothing looked suspicious or malignant. We packed-up Superman and took his happy, healthy vocal cords straight to Smitten for a big bowl of extra creamy lemon gingersnap ice cream and then a long nap.
The weekend before James’ final radiation treatments, the sky was filled with a clear, vividl rainbow… in the same exact spot it had appeared just over six weeks before.
Coincidence that we’ve witnessed more rainbows in the last four months than we’ve seen in the last four decades? I think not.
Words. I’ve always loved words. Loved understanding their meanings, their history, and the way sayings can be so different across languages. One of my favorites in Spanish is that someone thinks they’re the “ombligo del mundo” or “the bellybutton of the world.” In English we’d say they think they’re the center of the universe… but there’s just something so much more poetic about bellybuttons.
Over the last four months, certain words have taken on new meaning, or become more pronounced in some way. I never spent much time contemplating the word scan, until it became a somewhat ominous addition to our vocabulary. I’d never given much thought to margins, until I was in the audience at a live performance of A Christmas Story and Miss Shields kept shrieking her line about watching your margins. Radiant and radiation come from the same root, yet conjure such different feelings. I still remember when I was a child and I found out my mom’s astrological sign was cancer. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. And then years later, I married another zodiac crab.
This week the latest word is granularity. Maybe I’ve used some such word when describing a bad photograph… or the qualities of sugar? Maybe? In any case it seems to be like scar tissue. And unfortunately, James’ last surgery has healed with a bit of granularity that is preventing his vocal cords from closing entirely. So his surgeon has him scheduled for his third surgery on Friday, April 7th.
James was pretty disappointed today after his appointment at Stanford– he was really hoping to avoid another surgery. The poor guy has been poked and prodded and has been trying to heal and recover for the last four months. Hopefully this one will be much quicker with just a few days of voice rest. Otherwise his throat is healing beautifully and he is feeling better day by day. Which is good news since he’s most certainly our ombligo del mundo.
My sweet sweet Nate,
You turned 6 years old on March first and are a strong, smart, sweet and sassy, Spanish-speaking six-year-old. The past six years have gone much too fast. For all the lamentations of the terrible twos, the tantrumy threes, the feisty fours, the effing fives and now, the sassy sixes… we are loving every, single, second. In my annual tradition, this letter is meant to capture and preserve just a little bit of six-year-old Nate.
Over the past six months, you’ve settled into life at the “mountain house” with little angst and a solid Kindergarten fan club. Every morning when I drop you off at Maestra Irion’s class, you’re greeted by a spirited, schoolmate swarm: Kai, Jackson, Eddie and Cruz. Kai is your best buddy and very outgoing. He was recently apprehended by the police during a solo stunt asking strangers for money in the park behind his house. Jackson is all smiles and hugs. He’s group bodyguard. Eddie invited you to his birthday party where he had a pool, cupcakes, a trampoline, and a car-racing ramp… and firmly established his position as sovereign of Little Boy Paradise. And Cruz is cool. How could you not be with a name like Cruz and surfer hair?
Speaking of cool, a few weeks ago, you woke-up one morning and decided you were going to take a spin without training wheels. And you did. You rode all the way to the beach that day like it was no big deal. You got a big bike for your birthday and a Pokémon wallet and a Pokémon hat and you were happy as a Clamperl… of course that’s a reference to the Clam Pokémon. I didn’t even know there was a Clam Pokémon but of course you do… You dig Minecraft and Legos and Super Mario and Star Wars and forbidden curses. Tonight I asked you what you want to achieve most in the world and you said “Infiniti Pokémon.” Your laughter while playing Pie Face is deliriously euphoric.
And when it comes to laughter, nothing is funnier to you than potty talk. You’re a connoisseur. And now in both English and Spanish. Only six months and you’ve achieved fluency in your primary language in your tertiary language… impressive. You’ve completely embraced your Spanish-speaking self and are reading like a champ, recently winning an award for being a “Super Lector” (Super Reader). You’ve conquered Level C. Maestra Irion tells me you have a natural talent for language and that maybe you got it from me… maybe you did? I’m sure I’d like to think so. You’re constantly asking me things in Spanish and counting and singing and requesting “Mas cereal por favor.” Last night you initiated the construction of an entire Lego boat for at least an hour and a half, completely in Spanish. It was the perfect exercise for shapes and colors and positions, and was fascinating to watch your little gears turn.
While we’re on the topic of gears turning, baseball is in full swing and you are the model little leaguer. You are excited and attentive and have a swing that even I can tell is good. You want to play catch all the time and you never resist practice. Last week you made two catches and two outs at first base. You were last to bat and hit a real doozy. Luckily you didn’t notice that the last batter gets to run all the bases. You were so proud of your home run. I’m sure it would have been a homer regardless.
And while we’re talking home runs… sometime between June and December you learned how to swim. For real. Not just instructor-led swimming, but you’re now playing in the deep end and doing cannonballs. Just this past June you wouldn’t leave the steps. Seriously. Land Rover is long gone and now you beg to go swimming.
Beyond swimming, your survival skills continue to include a diet primarily consisting of oranges, fruit twists and Honey Nut Cheerios. You ordered ribs and chocolate cake for your birthday, but your favorites are hamburgers and chocolate fondue. You still use your clothes as napkins and perch on your chair like a bird, or a monkey, or a frog. Your outfit of choice is matching fluorescent athleisure wear. Your teacher tells Daddy, “Nate nunca frio.” You appear to be impervious to cold.
And despite the cold, your two grown-up bottom front teeth never chatter. You like picture books and science and math and are on the fence about being a fireman or a policeman when you grow-up. You’re responsibly contemplating the risks and dangers of death by robbers or fire. Oh, and you also want to be an artist.
You are artistically inclined toward creating special nicknames for everyone. You’re still Jakey’s most loyal sidekick and you call him Jake Jake. Dad is Dada. I’m Mamacita, which the urban dictionary defines as a “really hot babe.” I have no objections.
And speaking of babes, you’ve recently stopped talking and singing about the fictitious “Mrs. Doonay.” We don’t know where she came from and now, she’s seems to have gone about her merry way. You’ve grown-out of Mrs. Doonay, but you still love your baybit, and crawl into my lap at the breakfast table, and want to ‘nuggle every night.
I love you Baby Nake, exactly the way you are. Every little sweet and sassy bit of you. We are so proud of you and are doing our best to savor every single second.
We are eyeball-deep in schoolyard humor.
Gone are the days of that catchy My Little Pony rhyme. We’ve almost forgotten the Y camp sing-along mantra of Hell-o. My name is Joe. I live at Cost-co, I play the ban-jo, and I own Michael Ange-lo. Or the ever more popular: My name is Geoff. I live at Costco. I don’t know the rest… Hawlalucha I guess.
When we bump it, we still go through my fist as a gearshift, a Star Wars TIE fighter, and a snail.
For weeks I had to endure the decades old, “Hey Mom.”
“The eighties called and they want their joke back.”
There’s been a new one recently that somehow takes Donald Duck but riffs off of Donald Trump? It escapes me at the moment. (Jacob has just informed me that it goes: Donald Duck picked his butt, all the way to Pizza Hut. Don’t tell this one to Granddad…)
They are constantly seeking new victims for the “Spell iCUP” gig. Or the even funnier “Spell iCUP rainbows.” The best humor always involves getting your mom to unknowingly walk straight into a potty talk trap. I’m fairly certain that after he learned to spell N-A-T-E, he immediately graduated to B-U-T-T. He is constantly spelling it with that ever-mischievous sparkle in his eye.
This weekend we were still debating the theme of our upcoming joint birthday party. I finally found one of two places in this entire town that hosts birthday parties. (Note to all you gluttons for self-punishment entrepreneurs.) It’s a well-equipped gymnastics gym that will throw a “parkour party” complete with trampoline, ball pit and trained instructors. What’s parkour you ask? Come back soon and I’ll bring you up-to-speed on the latest playground vocab. Dab.
So we’re debating whether we should stick with Pokémon Parkour or make-it Minecraft Parkour, or maybe Pokémon Minecraft Legos Nintendo 3DS Playstation Star Wars Baby Boss Parkour, when I try to make the obvious point: “Pokémon starts with P and Parkour starts with P, so it just seems better than going with Minecraft, you know?”
And Jake enthusiastically emphasizes to his brother, like a light has gone on, “Yeah, P and P. They go together. P.P.!”
And I ask slyly, “Why are you saying pee pee?”
And they both totally lose it in a fit of appreciative giggles.
My oh my, I haven’t provided an update in quite some time. We’ve been holding down the fort for the past six weeks. And boy this fort has some vulnerabilities. The good news is that James has finished his six weeks of radiation, as of Tuesday, and is now home with the troops!
He’s pretty banged-up, but despite it all, the picture of strength. Poor guy has just about the worst sunburn you can imagine, the size of a large envelope, across the front of his neck. And that’s just on the outside. One can’t really imagine how bad that sunburn feels on the inside.
He’s surviving on homemade Grandma Suzy soups, yogurt, ice cream and hugs.
We expect it will probably take at least another six weeks before he’s beginning to feel better again. So in the meantime we’re encouraging him to continue resting and meditating and eating ice cream…
We are so so glad Daddy is home.
The Scotts Valley Purnells brought James home this weekend for a little R&R. I was so so excited to see him on Friday I felt jittery as I left work.
Mostly we took it easy this weekend. We had lots of cups of hot tea and several sessions of “barn inspection.” This is where we walk around the barn and make decisions and lists and nudge our way toward the finish line. We spent time at Tom’s Toys and watched a movie and read lots of Calvin and Hobbes. We walked our favorite Bob Jones trail and Nate rode his two-wheeler for the first time without training wheels, all the way to the beach. We had a beautiful lunch at Ocean Grill.
James seems to be doing pretty well. He’s on a mostly liquids and Advil diet, but his spirits are high and we feel like we’re nearing the home stretch, knowing that the weeks after treatment may be the toughest yet. And speaking of the home stretch, baseball starts this week.
It took me over two hours to get both boys’ practice and game schedules added to my calendar last night. I’m not sure if I was tired or the third night of NyQuil is affecting me… logic and patterns be damned! Nate has practices on Tuesdays and sometimes Thursdays and games on Wednesdays and sometimes Saturdays… at four different locations. Some of these locations come up as “tennis courts” on Google maps. Meanwhile, Jake has practices on Mondays and Wednesdays and games on Saturdays, and sometimes Wednesdays and Mondays. Maybe whoever made these schedules is also on NyQuil.
With baseball starting, it reminded me of the amazing season we had last year. James was the best tee ball coach on record. And Jake’s team had an unbelievable roster of names destined for the major league. I loved to announce the line-up in my best Renel Brooks-Moon voice: Car-son Feathers, Colin Fiiinley, Eli Rrrrios, Evan Escobar, Gavin Neilson… Jake Fucillo and Jake Telucci, Llluca Papoulias, Ossi Carrico, Stuart Raaawnsley, and Micah Mack.
One day we most certainly will see that Micah Mack in the Majors.
So baseball has started and ends in 45 weeks. Although the schedule has my head spinning, there has been zero, I repeat zero veiled oral or written threats about required Snack Shack duty and requisite nacho cheese. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. I’m cautiously optimistic, yet wary. Can I finally hang-up my plastic food safety gloves?
2017 may just be looking up…
I had a rough day today. I woke-up after a sleepless night with a body-racking cough. Stumbled downstairs in the dark, only to be faced with Nate’s balled-up white shirt and sock on the counter… a reminder of the dinnertime “ketchup explosion” two nights ago. The new box of cold delivered food never made it into the refrigerator. My calendar reminds me that today and tomorrow are minimum days at school, as are five days the week after next. I’ve lost the flier and missed the deadline that requires 7 x’s and some initials to ensure my children aren’t dumped on the sidewalk at 1pm today. The garbage can hasn’t been rolled to the curb for three weeks. The driveway culvert is overflowing. We’re out of milk and eggs. Nate’s birthday is in eight days and I have no presents and no plan. His friend Eddie’s birthday party is in three days… no present, semblance of a plan. The boys are exhausted from their experimental bedtime coup and the library books are overdue.
My deficiencies smack me in the face and I feel like I’m failing.
Of course, we made it through the day. Some OxiClean, a few desperate tears at Parks and Rec, and now just hoping my nighttime cold medicine kicks-in soon.
As I coughed my guts out on the couch tonight, Jakey held me tight so it wouldn’t hurt so much. At least I got one thing right.
Sometime in November, Jacob experienced his first case of heartburn. I’m not exactly sure what we had for dinner that night, but he came to me on the couch, complaining that his heart hurt. He was pressing on his chest and breathing deeply and anxiously pacing back and forth. I explained what heart burn was and rummaged through some drawers until I found a bottle of Tums. A few chalky chews later and he was back in his bed, snug as a bug.
A week or two later and we were in the initial throws of the diagnosis. That Saturday morning our house was completely enveloped in fog, and it was raining. I woke-up gripped with fear. The anguish was truly unbearable; gut-wrenching. It was a panic attack. The closest I’ve ever come to something like it were those twenty minutes of labor sans drugs, when Baby Nate was born.
Jakey found me in my bed. He hugged me and rubbed my back and repeated comfortingly, “Deep breaths Mama. Deep breaths… Just clear your mind. Clear your mind.”
Once it had passed he nodded knowingly, “Heartburn, Mama? Heartburn?”
“Yes, definitely heartburn.”
Despite Jake’s emotional volatility, sometimes he is so unbelievably mature and wise. As he was rubbing my back he asked me, “What are you afraid of Mama… are you afraid of being alone?”
And there it was.
A week or two later, Nate found me crying after a particularly difficult day. His brother climbed the stairs to our room and Nate quietly consults him, “Mama’s sad. About Dada.”
Jacob goes downstairs to make me a cup of hot tea and Nate climbs into my bed and just hugs me. His bare little chest against mine. He doesn’t talk. He just lets me cry. He kisses my brow. And my arm. And my shoulder. He knows exactly what I need. He is loving presence.
This weekend we received the most beautiful, special gift from my dearest high school friends. It’s a handmade bowl overflowing with rolled-up jokes, drawings, comics, quotes and words of encouragement wrapped in ribbons and rainbows. I’ve never seen anything like it— it is profoundly creative, beautiful and special.
I must admit, when I first opened it, I was overwhelmed. I mentally labeled it the Bowl of Tears and was anxious about unwrapping the little scrolls. But the boys dove right in and after several “kid” jokes like: “What seafood goes well with peanut butter? Jellyfish!” I knew I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is the most precious Bowl of Love.
Yes, there’s some heartburn, how could there not be? But more than anything, it’s a daily dose of what matters most.
My sincerest thanks to my most special Pirates and their crew. I love you with all my hearrrt.
Crazy to think that this past autumn, almost exactly twenty years ago, I met James in college here in San Luis. And it took us all that time to strategize and plan and finally make it back… We still laugh about the Valentine’s Day when he took me to dinner at an ocean view resort in Pismo Beach.
We had a reservation, but still waited hours for our table. Apparently he’d taken a bunch of money out of the ATM and it was meant to last the entire weekend. Flush with cash, he made the mistake of ordering lobster <MP> that night. He was totally mortified when he abandoned the entire contents of his wallet with the bill, and we had to stiff the waitress her tip.
We absconded, both giddy and guilty, like we were dining and dashing.
James has always been one of those guys that’s somewhat anti-Valentine’s Day. (Or Valentimes, as Nate still calls it.) No, he doesn’t wear solid black and march against Hallmark, but he’s been pretty *meh* about the whole thing in all the time I’ve known him. So let’s just say I was certainly surprised when he chose Valentine’s Day to propose sixteen years ago.
I was sick as a dog.
I remember we went to the movies– I think we saw Chocolat. And then we went to dinner in downtown Mountain View. He proposed to me on our hand-me-down couch in the middle of our little apartment. I was profoundly happy and surprised and congested. I didn’t cry. And he’ll never let me live that down. Though I’m pretty sure I’ve more than made-up for my previous reputation these last ten weeks.
His rationale? Maybe if something important, like proposing, happened on Valentine’s Day, then he’d be more inclined to celebrate. Well… that was his theory anyway. I do have to say that Jacob confidently asserts he likes lobster more than crab (yes, he’s a seven-year-old with definitive opinions on lobster), primarily because his dad has been known to cook us a romantic February 14th family dinner, including chocolate fondue for dessert.
James’ throat is hurting pretty badly this week and he’s graduating almost entirely to soups and smoothies. I’m thinking this weekend I should make lobster bisque and fondue. We’re pretty sure he’ll have no problem choking down melted chocolate…
My little late night creeper is back. Sneaking up on me while I try to blog on the couch. I quickly pause the TV and serendipitously, it freezes on a Bravo ad, one moment before an open-mouthed kiss.