Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

All my friends know it, because they’ve heard it from me for years…since 2006…November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. What does that mean? To some folks it means nothing. To me, it means a lot. My daddy died eight months after he was diagnosed with this terrible disease. He had been suffering for months, though, without a diagnosis…I’ll get to that in a minute.

When I was in my thirties, I had heard very little about pancreatic cancer. I knew nothing about it…nothing. In 2006, I had been married for six years, and I had a two-year-old daughter. Life was moving along swimmingly, and then my daddy got sick. And it was bad. He was 67 years old when he was diagnosed on February 9, and he died on October 2, three weeks after his 68th birthday…the birthday he declared his happiest ever, because all his family members were there to celebrate with him.

Without getting into the details of his illness, let me tell you this…it never occurred to us he would get pancreatic cancer. There was no history of it in his family, except one aunt, and she was considerably older when she was diagnosed, so we tend to think “we’re all going to die of something.” But when Daddy was diagnosed, it hit us like a ton of bricks. The survival rate is terrible, and after doing some research, we were fully aware of his prognosis, but like Alex Trebek, we tried to have a positive outlook. Without hope, what do you have?!?

Detecting pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult, and that is, in part, why the survival rate is low. My daddy was having symptoms for some time before he was diagnosed, but sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees. When he was finally diagnosed, it was too late to do much about it. I’m hoping research funding will help find better, easier ways of detecting it.

There are two things I want you to take away from this…

  • Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths, but the funding for its research doesn’t match up. There are lots of ways to help. You can donate directly to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCan) here. You can host a fundraiser for the organization too. You can walk in a Purple Stride event in your town. You can purchase purple (the color for pancreatic cancer awareness) gear through PanCan here. You can wear purple in memory of someone you know…and tell people why you’re wearing it. You can write to your representatives in Congress, asking them to do more to fund the fight against pancreatic cancer. I recently hosted a fundraiser for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network on Facebook, and I am grateful to all who donated. I was thrilled that so many people donated, and I was overwhelmed by their generosity.
  • Live your life. We never know what will happen. My daddy was always telling us, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” He encouraged us to live our lives to the fullest…enjoy time with friends and family, see places and things we want to see, give back to the community, etc. Soon after I turned 50, I told my mother (who has since passed away), “I probably only have 20 more years that I can move around really well.” I was looking ahead and thinking it might not be as easy for me to travel when I’m over 70. She looked at me with a sweet smile on her face and said, “When your daddy was your age, he didn’t have that long. [When he was 50, he only had 18 more years ahead of him.] Do the things you want to do.” Perspective. She was right. And so that’s what I’m encouraging you to do. It doesn’t mean you have to go into debt taking a gigantic whirlwind trip, but get busy ticking things off your bucket list.

And while you’re ticking things off your bucket list, wear purple every now and then.

FYI: World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day is November 21, 2019. Please wear purple and support the fight.

Favorite College Care Packages

I had lunch recently with a friend from college. She has lived just about 45 minutes from me for years, and we didn’t even realize it till about three years ago. Last month, we finally went to lunch after talking about it for a long time, and now, we’ve decided to make it a monthly thing. She has four children, and her oldest is a freshman in college. She told me she is putting together a Halloween-themed care package to send him, including lots of his favorite little treats, and it reminded me of care packages my own mother used to send me…over thirty years ago, when I was in college. She was really good about sending boxes of fun, silly things, and sometimes, she would just send something as simple as a sweatshirt or a pair of fuzzy socks, but it always made me smile.

These days, it’s easier than ever to send care packages, and I’ll get into the easy ones later, but Mother used to send me things she had bundled herself, and those care packages were hard to beat. Don’t all college students love to get mail and packages? Sometimes, she would send small packages just for me, and sometimes, she would send a bigger bundle for me and a roommate. Here are a few examples of things she did:

  • Halloween Care Package in October. It included silly Halloween socks, the kind you get in the Dollar Spot at Target; my favorite Halloween candies; a few favorite snacks (chips, cereal bars, etc); plastic spiders; rubber snakes; glow-in-the dark plastic teeth; wax teeth; Halloween hair ties; Halloween t-shirt (you can get some pretty inexpensive ones in Walmart and Target); and if she were sending it now, she would have definitely included some gift cards to local eateries.Exam Care Package. At the end of November, she would send a big box as a care package for final exams. She would include lots of favorite snacks: Toastchee Crackers,Microwave Popcorn, Chips, Breakfast Bars, and some favorite candy. She might also include a MadLibs book…great stress-relieve entertainment for silly college students. A couple of People and Us Magazines were good for taking a break from studying. And she might have included some silly childhood toys like YoYos, Jacks, a Gyro-Wheel, an Etch A Sketch, and even a Wooly Willy…see below. Oh…and temporary tattoos…always fun. Squirt guns were a big hit! Childhood toys were always fun, because they were good for a laugh. Friends from all over the hall would take study breaks and come to my room to play with those silly toys.
  • Winter Care Package. In late January, she would send a Winter Care Package that included cheap gloves for me and my roommate, warm socks for both of us, cheap sock hats, a warm sweatshirt for each of us, packages of powdered hot chocolate, cheap ear muffs, and maybe some travel magazines that showed sunny destinations.

You get the picture. As the year progressed, she tried to put together thoughtful bundles. Sometimes they were all very similar, but she would include just one or two special items for a holiday….like those packages of Valentines you get in elementary school…she knew it would be fun for us to tape those on the doors of friends on our hall.

And after I graduated from college and moved to Atlanta, she would still send me care packages. My favorite was one she sent to me and my roommate in December. It was an Advent calendar in a box. The days weren’t on it, but there were two of the same wrapped gifts for every day of Advent, and she had the gifts numbered. I wish I could remember everything she sent. On the first day of Advent, we opened Christmas stockings. We didn’t have a fireplace, so I think we just hung them on the bar. The next day, we likely opened…you guessed it…socks. Big fat candy canes might have been day 3. Light-up antlers might have been day 4. Lights to hang in our apartment could have been day 5. You get the picture. She wrapped anything Christmas-themed she could find and put it into the box. 

Nowadays, though, if you don’t want to take the time to put together a care package, you can simply order online and have them shipped to your student. Simply go to Amazon.com and find regular care packages, but if you want themed packages, simply input what you’re looking for. I entered “Halloween Care Package” on the Amazon search, and I got several options. You can see them here. Another option is a monthly subscription to care packages through College Care Packages…see their options here. I have also found a fun company called Hip Kits that puts together care packages for college students, and they are a little different than the ones on Amazon. See Hip Kits here. 

And for some other unique care package ideas, go to Etsy.com and enter “care packages,” and you’ll get lots of unique results. Click here to see some of the options.

Also, don’t forget restaurant gift cards make great surprises for college students. Sometimes, too, I’ll just Venmo a little money to college students I know, and when I do, I say it’s for WAM (walking around money) and I add the emoji of the person walking plus the emoji showing a bag of money.

 

When I was in college and in my 20s, any time I left my parents’ house, Daddy would give me some “walking around money,” which we also called “WAM.” If you aren’t familiar with the Venmo app, it’s time to get with the program. It’s super easy to send money to friends/family with Venmo. If my daughter picks up the tab for her friend at Starbucks, the friend will send her $5 via Venmo. Get it?

But no matter what little happy surprise you choose to send your child…or someone else’s…they will be grateful. College is fun, but it can be stressful, and it’s always fun to receive a package or some walking around money.

Don’t Make Me Get My Voodoo Doll

I’ve been volunteering at my daughter’s school since she enrolled there in 2008. It’s a TK-12 school, and she is in tenth grade. It’s a fabulous school, and we are very fortunate to have a large volunteer base…lots of moms, dads, and grandparents who pitch in all the time to help make sure everything runs smoothly.

I’ve volunteered in lots of different ways…helping with art classes in elementary school; helping make costumes in lower school; helping with various events; helping coordinate volunteers for admissions; working with the music department; volunteering in the library; volunteering as room mom or team mom; taking tickets at carnivals; recruiting other volunteers…lots of different things that I have enjoyed. And while I’m doing whatever job I might be doing, I take it seriously.

I take it seriously, but I still have fun, and I always remember we are support for the system. We are supposed to support the school, the administrators, and the teachers in what they want us to do. We don’t run the place. I do things the way I think the people for whom I am working want it done.

Do I think it’s important to volunteer? Yes, for any number of reasons, the first being that I can volunteer. I am able. I have time. Another reason? I feel it’s important for my daughter to see that I think her education is important enough for me to invest my time. And another reason is that I know the school needs volunteers. Many hands make light work! I am one of those 20 percent of the people who do 80 percent of the work.

And even though I feel it’s important, it’s not the most important thing in my life. It’s not even near the top of the list. I enjoy it, and I want to do it, but I don’t place it above everything else I do. Want to know why?

I realized a long time ago that the work I do for free falls in far behind the stuff I need to do for my family and for myself. I have a small immediate family…just me, my husband, and our daughter…but doing for them comes ahead of doing for everyone else. Do I let myself get stressed out about volunteer work? Heck no! It’s supposed to be fun! I’m working for free, for Pete’s sake! And when someone tries to make it stressful for me, I pluck a strand of their hair to take home with me for making a voodoo doll. That’s all it takes…one strand of hair attached to a voodoo doll.

Of course, I’m kidding (or am I?), but seriously, there have been times I’ve wanted to make some voodoo dolls. Not gonna lie. And usually, it’s because someone takes themselves way too seriously. Or maybe someone has a high anxiety personality…something I don’t jibe with. Maybe someone is just downright disagreeable…or thinks they know everything…or they create drama…or can’t smile. Yep…I have actually given up volunteer positions because someone I was working with couldn’t smile. Girl, I’m funny…if you aren’t laughing when you’re with me, you are a hopeless, unhappy creature. As I’ve heard someone say somewhere: Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Here’s how I look at it. I volunteer at school when it works for me and my family. I enjoy it, and I take it seriously. Do I think anyone is going to remember what I’ve done ten or twenty years from now? Heck no! They aren’t even going to remember my name! After my daughter goes off to college, I will run into folks in the grocery store who will think I might look familiar from school, but they won’t be sure…and that’s one thing I know for sure. That is not my legacy!

So, I will continue to volunteer at my daughter’s school. And I will continue to laugh and be happy while I do it. And I hope everyone else is too! But don’t make me get my voodoo doll!

***You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.***

To order your own voodoo dolls, you can find them on Amazon.com here.

Louis Sherry Chocolates

This past weekend, I was in New York, celebrating some upcoming birthdays for family members. I’m funny about where I stay. The crowds in Times Square are a little too much for my brain, so I have always enjoyed staying around Central Park. This past weekend, we opted to stay at The Sherry-Netherland Hotel, a place I had stayed before and loved…and we loved it even more this time! In 2016, it was voted the number one hotel in America by TripAdvisor.

There are lots of reasons we love the hotel: the location, directly across the street from the main entrance to Central Park; great service; warm, friendly staff; large rooms and gigantic suites; gorgeous lobby frescoes; room service from Harry Cipriani; attention to detail; elevator operators; fresh flowers; individually decorated suites and rooms; and last but not least…Louis Sherry Chocolates.media-0002

I research hotels. I don’t just make reservations all willy-nilly, unless I’m traveling for my daughter’s sports team…then it’s all about convenience. But when I’m traveling for “leisure,” I do my homework. I research everything: the reviews on TripAdvisor; the location; the square footage of the rooms; the outdoor spaces; room service; rooms with views; special rates and packages; and any other amenities. I like to enjoy my stay to its fullest, and I’ve found that spending a little extra time checking reviews and specials is time well spent. And when I first researched The Sherry-Netherland, besides the outstanding reviews the hotel had, I noticed they put Louis Sherry Chocolates in every room. Sold! Chocolate waiting for me every day? You don’t have to tell me twice! I booked it right then! In all seriousness…the TripAdvisor reviews were glowing, and after reading more about the hotel’s history in Forbes Magazine (see it here), I was intrigued. I read more about the hotel’s celebrity history at gothamist.com (David Bowie, Diana Ross, Barbra Streissand, and more), and you can see that here. You can see the website for The Sherry-Netherland Hotel here.

So yes, we love The Sherry-Netherland Hotel (it was outside this very hotel where I once ran into one of the original Charlie’s Angels!), but we also love the chocolates.

If you’ve never had Louis Sherry Chocolates, you’re missing a treat. In the rooms at the hotel, they’ve always left small tins of chocolate almonds. They’re fantastic…chocolatey but not too sweet…a perfect treat after coming in from a night out. But since that first stay in 2018, I’ve sent Louis Sherry candies to friends on different occasions. You can order them from Neiman Marcus here, or you can order directly through the Louis Sherry website here.

The chocolates are of excellent quality, no doubt. But you know what I really love? The beautiful tins! They come in tins of 2, 12, or 24, and there are lots of tins from which to choose. Their original tins are offered in various solid with gold edges…beautiful and understated. But they also offer designer tins, with designs by interior designer Miles Redd, painter Harrison Howard, decoupage artist John Derrian, and more. My personal favorites of the designer tins are the Cubist design by Redd (see below), and the pink Orchid design. The original solid-color tins are gorgeous too. They’re all so beautiful, though, that it can be difficult to decide which one is most fitting for a friend when sending a gift. Make sure you have plenty of time to look through all the designs when you sit down to order.

Need a new idea for hostess gifts? The Louis Sherry Chocolates would be loved by any hostess! If you know you have some parties coming up, it might be a good idea to stock up on a few different designs. I’m placing my order now for a few hostesses I know.

And make sure you order one for yourself. I recommend the 12-piece tin.

 

Daddy’s Birthday

“Tough row to hoe.” I’ve heard it my whole life. My daddy loved idioms, and “tough row to hoe” was one of his favorites, and sometimes he would say it as “long row to hoe.” Either way, it means someone is facing a difficult situation. If you’ve never been on a farm, you might not get it, but to “hoe a row” on a farm means you’re turning the soil in a row for planting.

Someone might say, “They have a long/tough row to hoe cleaning up the Bahamas after the recent hurricane.” You get it.

I thought of that just now, because I’m watching a news show, and one of the commenters said “tough ROAD to hoe.” That would have driven Daddy crazy. Who ever heard of using a hoe (the farm implement) on a ROAD?!? It is clear that commenter hasn’t ever spent any time on a farm.

Daddy’s birthday is today…his 81st birthday, but he is no longer with us. He died 2 1/2 weeks after his 68th birthday….pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about him before, and I’ve written about the misery we all experienced as he suffered. I don’t like to dwell on that, though. I like to think about the things Daddy taught me and the things we all learned from his illness.

For many years, on his birthday, I remembered the illness, the suffering, the sadness, but I am finally at the point that I remember happy, healthy times. I remember how he laughed…something I couldn’t recall for a long time. He did love to laugh, and he loved to tell stories. Most of all, he loved to tell stories that made us laugh.

And that’s one thing we learned from Daddy during his illness: laughter can cure a lot of ills. It can’t cure cancer, but it sure can make it easier. He said it. He wanted us to keep laughing with him as much as we could. We talked about old times. We laughed about old stories. My brother told his usual crazy stories. Having my then-two-year-old daughter and my brother’s then-eight-year-old twins around helped too. They gave him something to smile about. He loved those grandchildren. When we were growing up, he had to travel for work a lot, so he wasn’t able to enjoy us as much, but after he retired, he got to spend time with his grandchildren…and that brought him great joy.

Incredibly, we have a lot of happy memories from his illness. He turned 68 a few weeks before he died. His brothers and sister came over to Alabama from Florida to be with him on his birthday. He didn’t know they were coming, and when we awoke from a nap to find them standing in his room, he looked around and said, “Well, this is a motley crew!” We have laughed about that for years. In fact, I recently visited his oldest brother in a rehab facility (he broke a hip) in Florida, and I reminded him of that moment…and we laughed again.

But I have lots of happy memories of Daddy in general. When we were little and living in Brewton, Alabama, he would take us to the “candy store” on Saturdays. It was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s. In fact, now that I think about it, we only called it the “candy store” on Saturdays. The rest of the time, we called it “Murphy’s.”  Sometimes, he would take us to fly kites in a nearby pasture. I remember holding the kite string one time, and of course, I accidentally let it go. I can still see Daddy chasing it and catching it! He took us fishing at the pond in our neighborhood and cleaned the fish we caught. Mother would fry it up in the kitchen afterward. He helped us climb high up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. He rode a tandem bicycle with us. We had a lot of fun.

And when I was an adult, he helped me whenever I needed it. Heartbreak? Call Daddy. Bad day at work? Call Daddy. Stressed out about a test in college? Call Daddy. Sometimes, I just needed to talk. Sometimes, I needed him to “rescue” me when I had a flat tire or a car accident. And whenever I visited my parents, he always gave me WAM (walking around money) as I left. It was usually $20 or $40, but I was happy to have it, and he was happy to give it to me. In truth, we were always fortunate to know Daddy was our safety net…emotionally and financially.

Just like Mother, Daddy loved the happy faces of sunflowers. Most of my Mammoth Sunflowers have already bloomed this year, but there is one that’s holding out. Incredibly, one of my Evening Sun Sunflowers started opening today…the first of that variety to open. I’m in New York, but I called my husband in Charlotte and asked him to walk outside and see if it was opening, and it is…on Daddy’s Birthday. It made my day when he sent the picture of the bloom just beginning to open.

We have lots of great memories of Daddy. His laughter was contagious, and his sense of humor was awesome. His strength was unrivaled, and his love for his family was great.  I hope God lets him get little glimpses of his beautiful grandchildren. He would be so proud of them. And I remind them all the time that Big Ken (as they called him) would want them to enjoy life…sure, save for a rainy day, but enjoy today.

Happy 81st Birthday to Daddy in Heaven.

 

*****

Would You Eat This?

I have had a great time trying my hand at gardening for the past two summers. My husband helps me get everything started, and then, I tend the garden and harvest everything. This year, we have some beautiful sunflowers (three different types!), some zinnias, some delicious tomatoes, two varieties of sweet corn, and huitlacoche (also known as corn smut, a fungus on corn ears). While I’m proud of the flowers, tomatoes, and corn, I am just as excited about the huitlacoche (pronounced wheetlacochay).

For those who don’t know, in the US, huitlacoche, or corn smut, is considered a blight on a corn crop. It’s ugly…no doubt about it. And it certainly doesn’t look like something you should eat. The first time I saw it, in fact, I felt a little sick just from looking at it. But for centuries in Mexico, dating back to the Aztec culture, they have eaten it. Basically, it is a fungus that invades the corn plant, and as a result, the corn kernels grow into bulbous galls, which contain the spores of the fungus. It renders the corn useless, but if you know how to cook huitlacoche, it can be a delicious mistake in your garden!

Last year, I found a little on one ear, but this year, I found a lot on two ears, so I harvested it Monday, and yesterday, I cooked it. After finding it, I texted a friend from Mexico, who sent me several recipes for a few different ways to cook huitlacoche, and I opted to make tacos using a combination of some recipes…using onions, garlic, chilies, corn and cheese. You can learn more about huitlacoche here.

I know what you’re thinking. Is huitlacoche safe to eat? Trust me when I say I did a lot of reading before I cooked it. I talked extensively with a friend from Mexico, who assured me I would not die from eating the corn truffles, as they are sometimes called.

For research, a friend went to lunch with me at a Charlotte restaurant called Bakersfield. See its website here. It’s located on the corner of East Boulevard and Kenilworth…right across from Berry Brook Farms. I wanted to see what it was supposed to look like and find out how it is supposed to taste before trying to cook it. After having a Huitlacoche Taco at Bakersfield, I was completely sold! I could hardly wait to make my own at home!

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Bakersfield’s Huitlacoche Taco

Many of my friends couldn’t believe I would cook it…and they really couldn’t believe I would eat it! They saw the “before” pictures of the corn smut and decided they would not be eating it. But I cooked it with some chilies, corn, garlic onions, a little oil, and some cheese, and I ate it!Huitlacoche tastes a little like smokey corn…like a mushroom and corn mixed, and cooked with the other ingredients in the recipe, the flavor is amazing. So I was excited to cook it myself! While I’m sure there are some who would not like it, I found it delicious…and I was so proud of myself for not only harvesting it, but also cooking something really good with it. That being said, the rest of my family would not eat it, but they aren’t very adventurous eaters anyway. I’m not sure they believed me when I told them it was safe. Maybe they thought they shouldn’t eat it in case I needed to go to the hospital. But their worries proved unfounded.

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Huitlacoche Taco at my home! Success!

And frankly, they missed out on a culinary adventure. I’m sure my friends from Mexico would know my version of huitlacoche tacos wasn’t perfect, but they’re impressed I tried. And I’ve impressed myself this time! My friend, Cesar, who grew up in Mexico City, said, “You’re the only American woman I know who can grow it!” Of course, it was purely accidental that I became a huitlacoche farmer, but I’m so glad I did!

If you would like to try huitlacoche but don’t want to do any corn farming, you can get huitlacoche tacos at Bakersfield.

Or maybe next year I will harvest my own huitlacoche again, and you can come over and help me cook them!

 

 

Eat Corn Fungus? You Bet!

I have had a great time trying my hand at gardening for the past two summers. My husband helps me get everything started, and then, I tend the garden and harvest everything. This year, we have some beautiful sunflowers (three different types!), some zinnias, some delicious tomatoes, two varieties of sweet corn, and huitlacoche (also known as corn smut, a fungus on corn ears). While I’m proud of the flowers, tomatoes, and corn, I am just as excited about the huitlacoche (pronounced wheetlacochay).

For those who don’t know, in the US, huitlacoche, or corn smut, is considered a blight on a corn crop. It’s ugly…no doubt about it. And it certainly doesn’t look like something you should eat. The first time I saw it, in fact, I felt a little sick just from looking at it. But for centuries in Mexico, dating back to the Aztec culture, they have eaten it. Basically, it is a fungus that invades the corn plant, and as a result, the corn kernels grow into bulbous galls, which contain the spores of the fungus. It renders the corn useless, but if you know how to cook huitlacoche, it can be a delicious mistake in your garden!

Last year, I found a little on one ear, but this year, I found a lot on two ears, so I harvested it Monday, and yesterday, I cooked it. After finding it, I texted a friend from Mexico, who sent me several recipes for a few different ways to cook huitlacoche, and I opted to make tacos using a combination of some recipes…using onions, garlic, chilies, corn and cheese. You can learn more about huitlacoche here.

I know what you’re thinking. Is huitlacoche safe to eat? Trust me when I say I did a lot of reading before I cooked it. I talked extensively with a friend from Mexico, who assured me I would not die from eating the corn truffles, as they are sometimes called.

For research, a friend went to lunch with me at a Charlotte restaurant called Bakersfield. See its website here. It’s located on the corner of East Boulevard and Kenilworth…right across from Berry Brook Farms. I wanted to see what it was supposed to look like and find out how it is supposed to taste before trying to cook it. After having a Huitlacoche Taco at Bakersfield, I was completely sold! I could hardly wait to make my own at home!

img_9869.jpg

Bakersfield’s Huitlacoche Taco

Many of my friends couldn’t believe I would cook it…and they really couldn’t believe I would eat it! They saw the “before” pictures of the corn smut and decided they would not be eating it. But I cooked it with some chilies, corn, garlic onions, a little oil, and some cheese, and I ate it!Huitlacoche tastes a little like smokey corn…like a mushroom and corn mixed, and cooked with the other ingredients in the recipe, the flavor is amazing. So I was excited to cook it myself! While I’m sure there are some who would not like it, I found it delicious…and I was so proud of myself for not only harvesting it, but also cooking something really good with it. That being said, the rest of my family would not eat it, but they aren’t very adventurous eaters anyway. I’m not sure they believed me when I told them it was safe. Maybe they thought they shouldn’t eat it in case I needed to go to the hospital. But their worries proved unfounded.

img_9996

Huitlacoche Taco at my home! Success!

And frankly, they missed out on a culinary adventure. I’m sure my friends from Mexico would know my version of huitlacoche tacos wasn’t perfect, but they’re impressed I tried. And I’ve impressed myself this time! My friend, Cesar, who grew up in Mexico City, said, “You’re the only American woman I know who can grow it!” Of course, it was purely accidental that I became a huitlacoche farmer, but I’m so glad I did!

If you would like to try huitlacoche but don’t want to do any corn farming, you can get huitlacoche tacos at Bakersfield.

Or maybe next year I will harvest my own huitlacoche again, and you can come over and help me cook them!