August 29, 2008

New kitchen floor

Home owning can be more of a bear that we ever suspected. In our efforts to improve our 1921 bungalow, we have done a little something every year for the past five years -- new wiring; handrail to the basement; new refrigerator; new dishwasher; paved path from driveway to house; motion detecting outdoor lighting along said path; new range; washer and dryer. We managed to replace each appliance before it actually went kaput (except the dryer, which necessitated spending this spring's taxpayers' rebate).

This year's end-of-summer project was to replace the kitchen floor. To prep we had to move everything out of the kitchen. The fridge is in the dining room. (The dining room table is against one wall, covered with several cloths, and the microwave, toaster, electric kettle, etc. sit atop it.) The range is in the living room, along with the desk, the computer, and boxes of stuff that was on the counters and in the bookshelf. The bookshelf is in front of the stereo. When you look at it like this, we have an unbelievable amount of stuff.

On Wednesday American Environmental, an asbestos abatement company, came out to remove four layers of kitchen flooring: vinyl, 1/4" plywood, tile, more vinyl and fir wood. Yes, there was asbestos in one layer, but now it's gone. The "car decking" (subfloor) planks are set close together but not evenly, so that one can look down into the basement through the cracks.

Today Decor Carpet One, the flooring company, installed marmoleum. Marmoleum is an environmentally friendly flooring, a natural product made from linseed oil, wood flour, rosin, jute and limestone. The Golden Saffron color (above) should pick up nicely on the decorative Armenian pottery tiles at the sink backsplash. The sample looked great next to the wine-red painted wall in the dining room that abuts the kitchen.

BTW, we found both firms through the Home Owner's Club, (HOC) which friends who just completed a remodel recommended. For the $48 annual membership fee, the HOC send you one or two firms to bid on your project. You pay the Club, and the Club pays the firm when you are happy with the result. We also got second estimates on flooring and asbestos abatement before going with the HOC recommended firms, and they each gave competitive bids, sent professional workers, and did a thorough cleanup job when finished.

I'll be glad when we move everything back into the kitchen and dance on the new floor!

August 27, 2008

The best oncologist in Seattle

Dr. Sheldon Goldberg has been treating me since my first round with early-stage breast cancer in 1999. I got him by chance: I was given the option of one of two oncologists, so I chose the one with the Jewish name. Little did I know that in addition to getting a terrific doctor, I would meet one of the smartest men I've ever known.

Dr. G, as his staff affectionately calls him, treated me as a total person from the day we met. I was never just a diagnosis or a disease to him. We connected as people. We talk Torah as well as about my medical issues. He has graciously invited Rik and I to join his family on several occasions. Every time I see him, Dr. G tells me that he remembers me in his daily prayers and proves it by reminding me that he knows my Hebrew name (Yachna Maryam bat Masha Leah, for the curious).

Today Dr. G has offered to link my blog to his home page on the Minor & James Medical web site, so I am doing him the same favor in return. And while I am giving kudos, Seattle Metropolitan just named Dr. G one of Seattle's top doctors. M&J Medical also recognized his office as the best team of 2008.

I will vouch for them all -- although I hope you never need an oncology or hematology specialist, Dr. Goldberg and his team are a truly excellent choice!

Scan results

The results from yesterday's repeat CT scan are good. The lung lesion is stable at 5 mm (same as in July's PET/CT scan; 1 mm larger than the May CT scan). Dr. G is going to keep me on tamoxifen for the time being and re-scan again in November.

We discussed some alternatives, including Herceptin (trastuzumab). Since my cancer tested HER-2/neu negative, Herceptin has not been an option before. However, he found a recent article in The Oncologist about a study which looked at trastuzumab in "patients with conventionally HER-2 negative disease but with expression of HER-2 ECD [extra cellular domain] above the normal limit." So when I get my zometa next month, I'll be tested for HER-2 ECD to see if Herceptin presents a possibility.

Whew, that was a mouthful!

August 25, 2008

The "Beer Butt" Chicken

We have been eating the "beer butt" chicken regularly for two summers now. Last night I introduced it to friends who also raved about it. It's so easy! I am going to share my recipe so that more people can enjoy this amazing way to prepare chicken.

Jill's "Beer Butt" Grilled Chicken Recipe

Use a grill with a tall enough lid to cook a chicken standing upright, like my Weber kettle grill.


1 can beer
2 bay leaves, crumbled

Dry Spice Rub (Use this one or your personal favorite)

1 tablespoon sumac or za'atar or 1 teaspoon each
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground sea salt (WARNING: do not use salt on kosher chickens)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Soaked pieces of fruitwood

Mix the spices in a small bowl. Wash, dry and season the chicken generously inside and out with the rub. Work the mixture well into the skin and under the skin wherever possible. Stand upright in a bowl and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, soak pieces of fruitwood in water (I use apple wood Rik trimmed from our trees). Light the charcoal. I use a full chimney starter placed over the lower rack in my grill.

Pour out half the contents of a 12-oz. can of your favorite beer. (It's okay to drink it.) Punch two more holes in the top of the open can. Crumble the bay leaves into the beer left in the can. You can also use fruit juice or wine instead of beer, and an clean, empty metal can from another beverage.

Place the chicken's large cavity over the beer can and stand upright on the grill over indirect heat. The bird’s legs create a pedestal. To prevent flare ups on the grill place a disposable aluminum pan on the lower rack under the bird and add 1/4 cup of water.

Place coals on two sides of the barbecue grill. Cook chicken in the center with legs facing the coals (not back and breast).

(I believe this can be made on a gas grill. On a three-burner grill, light the two outside burners and place the chicken in the center over the unlit burner. On a two-burner grill, light one side and place the chicken over the other, unlit burner. Turn the chicken halfway through the cooking time.

I've also made it in the oven. Stand chicken in an oven-proof pan and add 1/4 cup of water. Cook at 350° until done.)

Cook for about 1-1/4 hours. The chicken is done when it is dark golden brown and the temperature measures 180° degrees in the thigh with an instant-read thermometer. Take off the grill and place on a heatproof cutting board to rest for 5-10 minutes. Remove the beer can from the chicken with tongs. (Be careful, the aluminum can and the liquid in it are very hot and can burn you.) Carve and enjoy!

My recipe is adapted from the version by America's Test Kitchen. Rik was watching TV one weekend afternoon and yelled for me to come see this amazing beer butt chicken demo. And here is the original recipe by Rick Browne from his book "Grilling America" (2003 ReganBooks).

PS Last week Rik found this great "beer butt" chicken cooking gadget that eliminates the need for a can and does a better job of balancing the chicken on it's legs. Ours is non-stick, not stainless steel, and we only paid $5 at TJ Maxx for it. Such a deal!

Scan tomorrow

Tomorrow I have a CT scan scheduled to check for growth or changes in the lung lesion found in late May. I am ambivalent as usual about this scan, mostly because my cancer has always been symptomatic (even if I didn't recognize the symptoms). That is, if I had pain, it was likely from mets.

The lung thing hasn't been symptomatic at all. I continue to occasionally wheeze but all the docs assure me that the lung lesion doesn't cause the wheeze. So with no impact on how I feel, I can't tell if having found the lung lesion is a good thing or a bad thing. I guess I'll find out later this week.

August 21, 2008

Young Judaea memories

I spent wonderful teen years in the Zionist youth group Young Judaea. It was the first place I remember being accepted for myself without qualification. After much prodding from my mother, who dragged me to my first YJ meeting in Cincinnati in 1972 or so, I became very active in the city club and in the region. I spent three summers as a camper at the national leadership camp, Tel Yehudah. And after graduating from high school, I represented YJ to the Machon lemadrichei chutz la'aretz (Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad) in Israel in 1977. After returning from Israel, I worked at Tel Yehudah for two summers as a camper and as the Israeli dance instructor.

Last month a YJ alumni employee asked me if I wanted to be profiled in the upcoming issue of Vatikim, the online alumni newsletter.Of course I said yes -- YJ was such a formative part of the adult I became. The profile appeared yesterday. You can see it by clicking here. Almost immediately I received an email from a former camper, who sent me these photos taken at Tel Yehudah in 1979.

Here is a song we sang in the 70s --

Forward together, we're building Young Judaea
Hand in hand we'll proudly sing our cheer.
Ruach shall lead us, surging forever forward
Love of Zion lives throughout the years.

We stand ready to serve, each in his own way
Eretz Yisrael, and the USA.

Shout out our praises, long let our voices ring
Young Judaea, now we cast our lots
Always our spirit serves as an inspiration,
Young Judaea -- Chazak! v'Amatz! Judaea is the tops!

August 20, 2008

Film: My Left Hand

My friend Josh Isaac's film My Left Hand will be screened at the Northwest Film Forum on Monday, September 8th, at 7 pm. This powerful documentary chronicles Josh's experiences with rare epithelioid sarcoma and the loss of his left hand. Anyone who wants to really see what it's like to live with cancer should buy a ticket to see this film.

Northwest Film Forum, 1515-12th Ave, Seattle

Monday, Sept 8, 2008

Cost: $5/advance; $8/at door. Scholarships available. Space is limited and advance tickets strongly recommended. Tickets available through Brown Paper Tickets or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

You can read more about Josh at his blog, Joshua's Space.

Jury duty

I was called to jury duty in King County Court for today. The notice arrived a few weeks ago, and since I had a CT test scheduled for Monday and a doctor's appointment to get the results today, I asked to reschedule the jury duty. No problem, we set it up for August 25.

Come back from vacation to find that the oncologist is out of town this week and has rescheduled my appointment to guess when? August 27. So I reschedule the CT test for August 25, then contact the jury duty people to try to reschedule jury duty a second time. They recommend moving back to August 20. But wait! I have my monthly zometa infusion on August 21, and jury duty in King County is for two consecutive days, regardless of whether a juror is called to serve on a trial. "Jury duty is a 2-day minimum. The average length that our citizens spend with us is about 2.25 days and the average trial is about 1.5 weeks."

Now I have to try to reach someone in the jury duty office to see if I should reschedule for a week when I have two consecutive days without medical appointments. Then I realize that I have so much medical stuff in my life that I can never guarantee I have a week or longer without some kind of medical appointment. So I can't serve as a juror.

I left three telephone messages on the emergency jury duty line (to be used in case of illness or death in the family), plus tried to reach the people I had been corresponding with via email. Today I received an email from Greg Wheeler asking me to request a letter from my physician supporting an exemption (which the doctor's office was happy to do). Greg was a mensch too, and closed his message with "Best wishes." And someone telephoned at 2 PM to say they had received my phone message.

The saddest part of this whole experience was my realization that I can't predict going a week or more without some kind of medical necessity coming up. That's what life with advanced cancer is like. As Gilda Radner used to say, "It's always something."

Chocolate Pudding Graham Cracker Pie

My favorite childhood dessert was chocolate pudding graham cracker pie. Both my mother and grandmother used to make this and I just had to recreate it for my "metsiversary" this year. In our house, chocolate is known as Vitamin CH -- gotta have your daily dose!

The night before the party I made two batches of the New-Style Old-fashioned Chocolate Pudding recipe from the April 1997 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, adding 2 teaspoons of instant espresso powder. I didn't use the almond extract.

In a square pan I layered graham crackers, then poured half the pudding into the pan. Then more graham crackers and more pudding. The final layer was graham crackers. I covered the pan with foil and chilled it in the fridge until we were ready to eat.

The final outcome tasted just like childhood, although it wasn't as firm as Mom and I remembered. Possibly the Jello brand pudding we used to use firms up more than the homemade version.

I also made the Bittersweet Chocolate Tart found on page 892 of The Joy of Cooking (1997 version).

I served both desserts topped with freshly whipped cream, made with no sugar and lots of vanilla. Now that's a celebration!

Six years today

Today is the sixth anniversary of the day I got the news that my cancer had spread, fell and broke my leg and began to learn to live with metastatic breast cancer.

The past year has been pretty good health-wise, although I am still waiting to get another scan and see if the new lung lesion has recently grown. More on that next week, I hope.

Every year I do two things to celebrate my "metsiversary" -- I have a party and I buy amethyst jewelry. This year's party was small, because I am still in mourning for my father, zichrono l'vracha (may his memory be a blessing). My mother came to town for a visit, her first airplane trip in four years and her first solo trip in nine years (she came alone for my first round of chemo long ago). Also her first trip since my dad died in June. We had a lovely visit, culminating in a party with my closest friends.

This year's party theme reflected my personal four food groups:
1) Potato chips (Tim's Cascade Sea Salt and Vinegar)
2) Champagne (Zonin Prosecco Brut)
3) Chocolate (Bittersweet Chocolate Tart and Chocolate-Graham Cracker Pudding Pie)
4) Whipped cream

We crowded around the dining table and toasted our good health with the sparkling wine, which goes well with potato chips, believe it or not. It also went spectacularly well with the chocolate and whipped cream!

The amethyst jewelry comes from the belief that certain stones have certain powers. I had read that amethysts are said to promote healing, love the color purple, and decided that it could only help me to wear healing jewelry. In past years I have acquired amethyst pendants. Last year I took an amethyst from a charm bracelet that belonged to my grandmother and had it put into a new setting. This year I went all out and bought a necklace with so many amethysts, it should keep me in good health for many years to come!

August 18, 2008

More beach

Other Moclips highlights include a truly excellent meal at the Ocean Crest Resort. This year they offered a wine sampler and the Maryhill Rose of Sangiovese was particularly tasty.

We also drove into Ocean Shores to check out the beach action there (it's a much bigger town than Moclips). Another day we went to the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah, where we bought delicious silver salmon caught the night before.

Our final beach celebration was at the new Cafe Tashtego in Seabrook, where the management will happily pour two glasses of any wine in the place. They want you to feel free to try new things, which is very much in line with my own philosophy.

It was a great way to end our perfect get-away!

At the beach

For the past few years Rik and I have spent some time at the beach in Moclips on the Olympic Peninsula. Here the Pacific Ocean is not as peaceful as it's name would indicate. The waves crash against the sand, the wind blows fierce, and even in the sunshine it helps to wear fleece (or wrap up in a blanket). We love it and find it very relaxing to get away from the paraphernalia of modern life.

Every year our stay in Moclips has gotten longer and longer. Now we are staying a week. We invite friends to join us for part of the time and we read books, eat good food, take long walks on the beach every day with the dog, nap every afternoon and generally relax.

We rent at The Beach House, which is famous for being in the final chase scene of an old John Wayne movie called "McQ" (which Rik likes to watch every summer). The house is dog-friendly, cozy and well-equipped.

August 16, 2008

Back from the beach

Rik, Pumpkin and I just spent a week at the beach in Moclips on the Olympic Peninsula. I'll put up some posts as soon as we unpack!

August 07, 2008

The Zen of Shabbat

Today we visited with Dr. Judy. At one time Judy was my shrink; she later became a good friend. While we were catching up, Judy told me that since 2003 she has carried in her calendar the "prescription" I once wrote her on how to give oneself the gift of Shabbat. I offer it here for you:

"Give yourself the gift of time. One day per week --

No internet
No errands
No chores

Good food
Good friends
Good times

Increase as tolerated to full dose. May repeat PRN.

Refill: Forever"

Comforting another mourner

Last night I attended a shiva minyan at the home of a friend who lost her mother late last week. When I went to comfort her, I tried to use the traditional phrase -- HaMakom yinachem otach b'toch sha'a'r avelei Tzion v'Yerushalayim -- May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

I suddenly had a epiphany: I was one of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem! The sheer speed and sudden depth of this realization brought tears to my eyes as I flashed on a memory of the shiva minyanim we held for my father.

It was an unexpectedly powerful moment.

August 04, 2008

Summer in Seattle

66 degrees in the house, cool and cloudy if not raining outright: that's summer in Seattle. I've had to put on the heat several times in the past few weeks. We had 20 days' worth (a long run) of sunshine in June and July, but it didn't last. Rik told me he read that the final weekend in July, which is usually the most dependably sunny weekend of the year, was the coldest in about 100 years. So I have been watching movies, reading books, taking naps under a blanket with a warm dog at my feet and hoping for more summer.

Today summer arrived again, with a gorgeous 80+ degrees. My roma and cherry tomato plants are showing fruit that I hope will ripen soon. I harvested most of the basil today and made some yummy pesto sauce, half of which I froze for winter use. I picked the first yellow crookneck squash and still have a little lettuce. The snow peas are blossoming a second time. We're still getting raspberries. The roses are blooming all over the yard, the potatoes have begun to flower, and the marionberries are reddening up (they're like blackberries without the thorns).

Now that's what I call summer in Seattle!