Pics, as promised

I really missed my easy access to photos and images while posting from the road. Even though I had several tech-savvy traveling companions, there wasn’t time to set up a functional blogging station (or at least, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice wine-drinking time to getting techy). I had to make do with the cranky iPad, but now that I’m home and plugged in, I no longer have to rely solely on my words to portray the utter fabulousness of our trip to Napa.

The trip got off to a great start with an upgrade and Vueve Cliquot while awaiting our flight out of Houston. I love, love, love my seat assignment of row 1. And if there’s anything I love more than drinking Vueve at 8:00 in the morning at the airport, I can’t think what it is. Some of you who know me well have asked if both of those glasses were for me, and sadly, no one was Trevor’s but he was taking the picture so I didn’t try to steal his glass. Thought about it, though.

Before we got to Napa, we spent some time in San Francisco. Trevor and I arrived before the group gathered at the hotel, so after we checked in we explored the wharf area. A very reliable foodie couple recommended we eat at the Tadich Grill in the Financial District. It’s the oldest restaurant in all of San Francisco, which has no shortage of eateries.

Been in business since 1849, when it started as a coffeeshop. A Croatian immigrant named John Tadich worked at the coffeeshop after coming to San Fran in 1872, and he bought the place in 1887 and renamed it. It’s said to be the first restaurant to grill seafood over mesquite wood, starting that yummy tradition in the 1920s. So glad they thought of it, and that the practice made its way to The Lone Star State.

We walked to Tadich Grill, which I mentioned in a post last week, to find out if they truly do have the best cioppino in the city. The answer: yes. 

Hell, yes.

I could devote an entire blog to this bowl of stew. But I won’t.

This was by far the best ever. Especially after a long plane ride that started early. Especially after a 1.5 mile walk in cold, windy weather. Especially with some hot, fresh, crusty sourdough bread. San Francisco is known for its sourdough, and I tried it everywhere we went. Never had a bad piece, but this was some of the best. So good it didn’t even need butter. 

This scallop and its twin were floating in the tomato-based broth, minding their own business and likely oblivious to the fact that scallops are perhaps my all-time favorite food. I spied the two beauties and saved them for last. After the shrimps big & small, the whitefish, the mussels, the clams, and the crabs. Saved the best for last. And they did not disappoint. I’ve eaten a bunch of their friends over the years, and I can easily say they were the cream of the crop. I miss them. A lot.

Trevor had another yummy dish: shrimp and avocado mixed with rice and covered in a creamy sauce then broiled to a cheesy, bubbly state of bliss. The shrimp and avocado combined with the creaminess of the sauce made for one scrumptious combination. It didn’t sound all the special on the menu, but it came together to be pretty spectacular. Too bad the photo isn’t all that spectacular. It’s probably blurry because I couldn’t wait to tuck back into my cioppino.

On the walk to Tadich, we passed many restaurants, including one that claims to be the best Indian food in San Francisco (a ballsy claim, I’d say), and lots of shops. It’s always interesting to get to know a bustling, pedestrian-friendly urban area, since it’s very different from the life we lead in our SUV-driven suburbs. Pun intended. One shop we passed caught our attention because of the smell wafting out of its doors: buttery, brown-sugary, and mouthwatering. Ahh, a candy shop. Trevor vowed to hit it after lunch, and I’m glad he did. He chose some handmade fudge and we picked up some stuff for the kids, then noticed the source of the amazing smell: homemade caramel corn.

In an old-fashioned popcorn popper. Popcorn is one of the few snacks I can take or leave, but this stuff was of a whole different order. We weren’t going to buy any because we’d already ordered the fudge and were stuffed from lunch, but the heavily-inked salesman threw in a gratis bag, probably because I asked him a lot of questions about his tattoos and he assumed they were of the admiring sort of inquiry. I was really just curious to learn if the tattoo on his lip hurt when he got it. Yes, in fact, it did.

Candy in hand, we said adios to the tattooed candy man and headed back to the wharf. The caramel corn made it a few blocks.

After a short respite, The Birthday Girl arrived, so we hoofed it down to the wharf to meet her and Thad at The Franciscan, a huge, white boat-shaped restaurant overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf and sporting the best view of the water.  

We arrived before the crowds so were able to get a table with a view, and we soaked it in. Diana and Celeste, two more of our group, were already there enjoying the view and a snack. It was time for wine! We ordered a yummy bottle of Sauvginon Blanc and toasted our safe arrival and our good fortune to be in the Bay City, drinking wine and watching the maritime world go by.

Trevor and I were the only ones who had eaten, so the other 4 ordered some good stuff: a sizzling plate of crab legs, mussels and shrimp all perfectly seasoned on their cast-iron platter. It was similar to the sizzling fajitas platter that we all know & love in Texas — the sizzle gets the other diners’ attention, and the smell makes them think they ordered the wrong thing.

Once Lisa & Larry arrived, our group was almost complete, but since Jill & Keith weren’t landing until 10 pm, we went on to dinner without them. We needed 2 cabs to get from the wharf to the restaurant, and the girls all piled in the first cab to stop. That poor cabby was overwhelmed. At first he said he could only take 4, but we had 5 and didn’t want to split up, so we talked him into it. We “buddy buckled” 4 of us in the back, with Celeste in front to keep the driver company. We crested some of the city’s highest hills and squealed all the way down as if we were on a roller coaster. Our driver did not regret picking us up one bit, I’m sure; probably the wildest ride of his night. Sushi at the hip & happening Ryoko was delicious, and the place itself was unusual. Kind of a cross between a bedouin palace and a Japanese tea house, with funky music and chill people. We sat on cushions and ate at a low table. They serve sushi and beer until 2 a.m. but we had to get back to the hotel and drink champagne and await the arrival of Team Cremer.

The Birthday Girl had a conference room adjoining her hotel room, so with sushi-filled bellies we gathered there, ready to party. The bubbly was chilled and the music was loud. I’m sure the neighboring guests smiled happily at our raucous celebration. If anyone called to complain, we didn’t hear them. Once Team Cremer arrived, the party was complete. Because we had an early start to Napa in the morning, we shut it down around midnight.

Saying good-bye to San Francisco wasn’t too hard because we were on to bigger & better. Well, smaller & better. Or maybe equally good but different.

We checked into our Napa hotel and were greeted with the most friendly of things: a champagne cocktail. They must have heard I was coming. Yum! Normally, I like my champagne straight, and will even ask for my mimosas without the OJ. But this was delicious. A hint of lime syrup to complement, not overwhelm, the bubbly and a flower-shaped lime-peel garnish made for a perfect start to our visit to Napa. I meant to ask the bartender to tell me exactly how it is made, but we got busy heading to our first winery, and then I realized that even if I had the recipe, it wouldn’t be the same at home so I need to leave it where it is: in the rolodex section of my brain reserved for the fondest memories.

The flower-shaped lime-peel garnish was a harbinger of things to come: there were flowers everywhere in Napa. As we drove into town, I noticed huge hanging baskets of flowers on the streetlamps. I always love seeing that as it lends such beauty and serene feelings to a city street.

Our hotel had gorgeous gardens, from perfectly composed splashes of colorful perennials to lush greenery and everything in between. The poppies were my favorite. I’ve tried to grow them in my garden, but they don’t like the Texas heat as much as the Napa dappled sunshine. The Villagio had poppies in the most beautiful colors: yolky yellow, coral, delicate pink, and bold red.

I’m a sucker for flowers.

The wisteria-covered walkways were gorgeous, too. Walking underneath a canopy of green and smelling the unique scent of those fun purple flowers never got old. Reminded Trevor and me of the old Schlumberger building in Austin.

Most of the wineries had beautiful arrangements inside, too. This was my favorite, from Quintessa. The size was impressive, and the colors spoke to me. The forsythia was the best, though, because it reminds me of Big Ed, who loved that flowering shrub, because it screams “springtime!” and because of a funny story.

My Aunt Sophia’s sister Polly, may she rest in peace, was at our house a few years ago when we had received a gorgeous cut flower arrangement. It had tall branches of blooming forsythia and Polly told me that once the cut flowers were dead, I could stick the forsythia branches in the ground and they would grow. I thought that sounded kinda dubious, but decided to try it. What’s the worst that could happen — they didn’t take and I had a dead plant in the ground? 

Well, Polly was right. Here’s what those few ornamental branches look like now.

If she were here now, she would have every right to say “I told you so!”

That handful of branches turned into a full-blown tree. It anchors the far right corner of our back fence, near where the pool floats are stored. That tree provides some shade in our little backyard oasis, and its delicate foliage sways gracefully in the breezes. We have to hack it back every year, as it grows quite forcefully. I guess it likes its new home.

But back to the flowers of Napa. This was our first view of our hotel and its beautiful grounds. The fountain out front is ringed with colorful flowers: the poppies I love, tulips, daffodils, dianthus, and primrose in every color.

Such a lovely site, and I never got tired of seeing it. We were sometimes rushing to and from the hotel, to hop in the limo to start the day, or staggering out of it at the end of our tastings, but I savored the site of those flowers nonetheless.

The rest of the hotel grounds were equally stunning, and not just the flowers; there were some cool sculpture pieces. This was my favorite. She looks likes she found just the right spot in the soft grass just off the beaten path between rooms. She was about halfway between our room and Thad & Yvonne’s room, so we passed her several times and she was peaceful yet full of presence every time. I can really understand why she likes hanging around this place so much.

Just another day in paradise

To me, paradise looks something like this: 

Insert a comfy chaise lounge and a pitcher of perfectly mixed margaritas or a bottle of Vueve Cliquot, and I’m good. Add a compelling novel I’m really good.

I can’t conjure up a photo that shows the opposite of my version of paradise, but whatever it is, I’m smack-dab in the middle. Instead of sitting beachside on the chaise, staring out at a peaceful blue sea and feeling the warm rays of the sun on my skin, I’m still in my jammies, back in bed, feeling rotten with no end in sight. Not complaining, just explaining.

This is the portion of the program in which I make a quick mental run-down of all the things that are going right these days. The list is shorter than I’d like, but my expectations are high, and it’s good to have a little perspective.

Sadly, once my blessings have been counted and perspective delivered, the realization of my situation sinks in. Sure, it’s one more week of convalescence out of my entire life. One week isn’t much, right? But the days are long, and the frustrations grow with all the things I still can’t do. Add to that the fact that I still have the drains, when I really, really, really thought I’d get at least one of them pulled yesterday, and I’m blue. Knowing that I will have the drains for yet another week makes me bluer still.

It’s my own damn fault for setting the bar so high, for having the audacity to expect to be nearly well by the 3rd week. I was fully prepared to dedicate two full weeks to feeling crummy, walking hunched-over, aching all over, and feeling like a full-blown invalid. I could give up my independence and my car keys for two weeks, no problem. Those expectations were reasonable. The DIEP surgery was intense, but I was ok with that.

But then I snuck my Super Girl cape on over my hospital gown. After the agony of getting in and out of bed the first few times passed, I spread that cape across my shoulders and pulled it tight around the 17-inch-long scar on my belly (yes, I measured it and no I’m not exaggerating it. Those of you who have seen it know. And I apologize if your retinas were burned by the reality of my gutting).

My cape and I powered through the requisite hospital stay, and I got home a few days early. Once home, the progress rolled on and I was on the mend. This was do-able. This wasn’t so bad. Recovery was within my grasp. Every day got a little bit better, and I began to think the worst of it was behind me.

I packed up my cape, thinking I no longer needed superpowers and that I could return to “normal.”

Super Girl is not known for her brains.

That fast-tracked recovery came to a screeching halt with the appearance of the divot in the newly created right breast. This was troublesome because it was in the same spot as the post-mastectomy infection, aka my arch nemesis, mycobacterium fortuitum. Oh how I despise that bacteria. The only good thing about it has been the education it has forced me to undergo, and the addition of words like nosocomial and gram-positive will surely help my Scrabble game. The divot was followed by a fever, then hardening in the previously soft newly created right breast, and rounded out by some intense pain in the area around the remaining right drain.

In other words, paradise lost.

It has been widely reported that I’m a very impatient patient. These reports are true. I’m no good at convalescing and have no patience for the slow pace and endless days of non-productivity. The list of things I’m not getting done is long, very long. I try not to think about the process of digging out from under this period of doing nothing; that’s way too depressing. I don’t even look at the calendar anymore because there’s nothing on it but doctor’s appointments, and I don’t need the reminder of all the things I’m missing. My tennis team and Payton’s Little League team both forge on through their seasons without me. I haven’t seen a baseball game yet, and even though my poor boy is wearing the dreaded Yankees uniform this season, I’d still like to see him take the field, step up to the plate, and grace my favorite spectator sport with his presence. I would really like to be just another parent at just another game, bum aching from the metal bleachers. I miss the sights and sounds of the ballpark, and in my current state, there’s no telling when I’ll make it there. Opening Day ceremonies are Saturday, and my little boy gets to march with his All Star team from this past summer, with their Sectional and District champion banners. I missed the entire summer of baseball because of the post-mastectomy infection, and here we are in the midst of another season, and I’m still on the DL.

One step forward, two steps back.

Maybe I’d better unpack that cape. I think I’m going to need it. 

Away we go…

Of course I’m up early on my big surgery day…you didn’t think I would actually sleep until the alarm went off, throw on some clothes and jump in the car when I could post one last time, did you?

It’s 4:15 a.m. and we’re set to leave the house for the med center at 5:30 for my 6 a.m. arrival. I sure hope that when we pull up, Dr S and Dr Spiegel aren’t fighting it out about who gets to do which part of the surgery and who’s in charge of follow-up care. Of course they wouldn’t be, and I’m 100 percent sure that every aspect of this procedure has been planned, checked, and double-checked to ensure excellence will result.

The last few days have been a whirlwind, with last-minute preparations and socializing. Yesterday afternoon and evening, my phones both rang off the hook, with calls and texts full of good wishes and genuine love. Several people have asked if I can feel the love, and the answer is YES! And THANK YOU! A huge part of why I am going into this big ol’ surgery with such peace is knowing that my posse has got my back. I appreciate each and every one of you. If you happen to come to the hospital for a visit and see me wretching uncontrollably, don’t worry: I didn’t have too much champagne or margartitas. Coming out of the anesthesia tends to make me barfy. Don’t panic. It’ll pass. Last time around I puked in front of lots of visitors; the kids in the room thought it was neat.

Yesterday was another perfect day: my last tennis drill with my team was spectacular. Mid-seventies and sunny with just enough warmth to get a sweat going, and birds singing like crazy because it feels like springtime. I made some good shots and thoroughly enjoyed my teammates’ company. Love those girls.

Loved them extra hard after this: 

Surprise champagne in the back of Julie’s SUV after drill. We tailgated in high style. It was such a fun treat, and I adore you girls for having such a brilliant idea and for sending me off in the most perfect way. I will be counting down the days until I can get back on the court with you.  Meanwhile, Go Alley Cats! Beat Westheimer Indoors today. Hit it where they ain’t!

The rest of the day yesterday was fantastic. Busy, but fantastic. My dad arrived, and  he took Macy to the pet store to buy the daily allotment of crickets for Cincko. That little gecko is on a major growing tear and has been eating at least 12 crickets every day. My dad will be interrim assistant zookeeper while I’m out of commission, so Macy broke him in with on-the-job training right away.
We had our belated birthday dinner for Dad, after a bottle of Vueve Cliquot (yes, I know I had champagne twice yesterday; at the tennis courts and at dinner. Why do you think it was such a great day??). Our Tuesday night tradition of watching “The Biggest Loser” was fun, as always, and there’s something especially satisfying about watching that show after a most delicious dinner.

It was all going swimmingly until Macy‘s bedtime, when I went to tuck  her in and she started crying. The big, rolling tears that linger and pool in the eye before breaking free and trailing down her face. Her ginormous eyelashes were soaked and matted, and the look of utter desolation on her face made my heart crack right in two. She was trying to be brave, but that well of genuine emotion that makes her the astoundingly compassionate little girl she is came gushing out when it was time for her to tell me good-bye. She was trying to be brave, but struggling. We talked for a long time about how mommies always come back, and even when they’re away for a while, they carry their kiddos in their hearts. I told her about my favorite e.e. cummings poem, i carry your heart with me, and how the words can certainly apply to anyone you love, whether a pet or a friend or the most amazing little girl ever. We talked about how she wouldn’t get to talk to me today, but tomorrow I expected a phone call as soon as she got home from school, so she can tell me all about her day. She cheered up a little bit when I told her that I need her to be in charge around here, and help my dad find the jelly in the door of the refrigerator, stay on schedule when driving the carpool, etc. She is on the job. She sent me off with Baby Snoopy, one of her most prized stuffed animals, to take along with me for company. She’s thoughtful like that.

Payton was busy, busy ignoring a math project that’s due Thursday, so he didn’t have much to say in the way of good-bye. Not surprisingly, as he is a man of few words. He too has instructions to call me Thursday with a full report on his first Little League game of the season. I need to see how long it takes him to “lose” his Yankees hat and replace it with a Red Sox version. It’s hard enough on him to have his mom in the hospital, but to have to don the dreaded Yankees uniform too? Poor guy.

I’ll leave you with the “before” photos. Don’t worry, I won’t publish the “after” photos —  you may just have to see them in person.

This is one of my favorite tennis tops. I have it in at least 3 colors, maybe more. Wear it all the time, hence the funky tan lines. Every time I wear it, I notice how seriously flat my chest is. Maybe because of the “V” neck of the shirt, I don’t know. I’ve had this uber-flat chest since May 13 and am quite used to it. In fact, if not for the mess left by the post-mastectomy infection, I could have envisioned not doing reconstruction at all, or waiting a lot longer. But, the mess must be cleaned up, so away we go. And yes, my chest really is that flat in person…until tomorrow!

Turf wars

I wish I knew how to make this blog play music. I bet it can, since I’m pretty sure it’s smarter than I am, but I haven’t figured it out yet. I need a jazzy yet foreboding score to set the scene. Think Star Wars theme song combined with Indiana Jones theme Song with a little West Side Story mixed in.

I knew this was going to happen. I was partly dreading it, but a little curious too to see how it would play out. It played out, all right, and yesterday by 10:30 a.m. I was exhausted by it. Thanks to a beautiful bottle of Vueve Cliquot that Trevor presented at dinner last night, now I’m over it.

But it’s such a great story, I must share.

Those of you who’ve been along for the ride since this summer, when I was updating my trials & tribulations via Caring Bridge, know that I have an especially close relationship with my plastic surgeon. I’ve written a lot about the many ways I have tweaked him, and I hope to continue to do so here. In fact, I plan to. I will invent new ways to tweak him if they don’t present themselves organically, because I love him and really enjoy tweaking him. He likes it, too.  Trevor and I used to joke while endlessly waiting for Dr S during my multiple hospitalizations last summer that I would write a screenplay when this was all over entitled “Waiting for Dr S.” The title will be “The Tweaking of Dr S.” He always showed up, and he always brought his A-game to my bedside. I love that man.

I had great and ambitious ideas about transferring all my Caring Bridge posts over to this new, improved blogsite but it hasn’t happened. Yet. So for now, if you’re interested in reading (or re-reading) about the tweaking of Dr S, I’ve copied & pasted one of my faves at the end of this post.

As I’ve said before, surgeons and bedside manner don’t always go together. No peas & carrots there.

Because I don’t have enough on my plate or on my mind in the last few days before the big surgery, I had to go see Dr. S one last time. Personally, I though we had covered everything, and whatever we missed I certainly had covered with Dr Spiegel. But Dr S insisted I come back, one last time, to be extra sure everything is covered. I asked a simple question. I just wanted to know how he and Dr Spiegel are dividing up the work involved in this long, complicated surgery. Seems simple, right?

A little background: once we decided on the type of reconstruction surgery, Dr S referred me to Dr Spiegel. (Correction: once the post-mastectomy infection ruled out the easier option of tissue expanders to implants as my reconstruction, the option with which I was left was DIEP. Nitpicky? Perhaps, but I like full disclosure.) I did not want to go see Dr Spiegel. Nothing personal, I had just had it up to here with doctor’s visits, and I didn’t want to add another doc into my personal rotation. I’m 100 percent satisfied with the care I get from Dr S, and don’t feel the need for another doc. I was still under the mistaken idea that I could pretend to be a normal person in the interregnum between healing from the infection and reconstruction. Wrong! There is no “normal” anymore, so no interregnum.

I didn’t want to do it, but I did, and I have to admit, I’m glad I did, and Dr S was right. Yes, I said it: Dr S was right.

When Dr Spiegel told me that she and her assistant usually do the DIEP procedure themselves, but that Dr S was welcome to be involved, I got nervous. He doesn’t like to “be involved,” he likes to be in control; that’s why he’s so incredibly good at what he does.

It sounded so simple coming out of her mouth: She and Jenn usually handle the procedure but if another plastic surgeon refers a patient and wants to “be involved,” he is welcome.

I guess I envisioned two teams working together toward a common goal. Teamwork! Division of labor! Cooperation!

No, instead it might  be a little more animalistic than that. They are the dogs, and I am the soccer ball. Great.

Back to the simple question: Dr S didn’t quite answer me yesterday when I asked him exactly which part of the surgery he’ll be doing on Wednesday. See, Dr Spiegel may be a bit more experienced with microsurgery (the part of the DIEP procedure that involves harvesting blood vessels from my belly and reattaching them in my chest). This is presumably why he referred me to her. He is exceptionally good at the “artistic” side of plastic surgery, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he will do a phenomenal job.

To me, finding out which surgeon is doing which part of the surgery is a perfectly normal thing. If I hired two laborers to do work in my home, I would ask which one would be doing which part of the job.

Dr S understandably didn’t want to disclose too much, but my guess is that Dr Spiegel do the blood vessel part, and he would do the transferring of skin and sculpting that skin into a nice rack. He also said that any revision surgery and all my follow-up visits would be with him. Ok by me.