Sister weekend

I grew up with 3 sisters. We did not always get along – we absolutely had our fair share of fights. We shared rooms, sometimes beds, we had 1 bathroom and drove each other batty more often than not. But we were there for each other. Three of us were know as “so-n-so’s little sister” or “little B”. We had our moments of being close and not so much but we were always there for each other…and we always will be.

A few weeks back, my big sister asked in a group chat if we could have a sister weekend. I agreed, expecting it to take some time, thinking it was a pie-in-the-sky idea. When she suggested a weekend that was around the corner and looked up plane tickets, I knew she was serious. We all figured out the logistics and set everything in motion.

Our first ever sisters only weekend was on. My three sisters traveled to me, I snatched them up at the airport and we headed to my happy place – the beach. We stayed at a hotel where every room had a balcony facing the beach and where we were only steps from the ocean. Though Friday was windy, we bundled up and made the day fun. The rest of the weekend weather was pure Florida perfection. A slight breeze cooled the day while the sun shined brightly over our heads. Though the sun set early, the moon, stars and even a planet lit up the sky above us.

We spent the weekend having major belly laughs, swapping stories of the past, encouraging each other about future decisions and snapping photos on our disposable cameras (cannot wait to see how they come out!!!) We seriously laughed until we all cried, we walked arm in arm along the beach looking for shells and the four of us snuggled up on the two full beds and watched one of the movies we grew up watching (Labrynth – which just happened to be on TV last night!!).

We haven’t always gotten along, we all are guilty of “borrowing” each other’s clothes and I’m pretty sure we have annoyed each other at some point. But we are sisters -through thick & thin. This weekend was a wonderful and needed reminder of just how much we mean to each other. I don’t know what I would do without my sisters. They each offer a unique and inspirational perspective to me. I love them all so much.

Here’s to the next Sister Weekend!

“It’s Christmas!”

christmas-120116Growing up, we had one Christmas tree in our house. It always stood in front of the picture window facing out towards the street, for all to see. We would even rearrange our furniture if a couch or chair was in front of the window when we were setting up our tree.

When I moved to Florida, I learned that multiple Christmas trees in a home is quite common. This was the first that I had heard of it and over the years I’ve loved watching people have multiple trees in their homes that had different themes. It was like Christmas in every room – something that seemed so wonderful to me.

This week, we took Jacob to pick out a tree. Every year with him is fun and I love sharing traditions – new and old – with him. But this year…oh, this year is so wonderful. At this age, he is understanding and asking questions and making his own…fun in the world! We went to pick out a tree and he walked up and down the aisles, arms outstretch and head turning side to side saying “These are nice! Look how nice!” It made me laugh & smile & tear up all at once. He had a ball “hiding” in the trees and got very excited as Joe pulled out different ones to see which Jacob loved. Oh, it was all so wonderful.

After we had chosen a tree, we started to make our way up front towards the registers. To our left, we spotted mini Christmas trees. Jacob immediately ran up and started picking up the different trees because they were his height. They were so cool!! I don’t remember ever seeing “little” trees like that before and we couldn’t pass them up. Jacob picked out his own tree out and even helped carry it to out.

We typically put the big tree in front of the bay window because I love that it can be seen through the window. It causes such a beautiful blue and white glow. But we spend most of our time in the tv room, which is decorated but doesn’t typically house a tree. So, Jacob’s tree solved that dilemma! His tree fits perfectly in the room and helps to create the Christmas feel.

When unpacking the box that holds Christmas ornaments last night, Joe found a cd. Upon seeing it, it made my heart swell. Half a lifetime ago, my uncle used to make Christmas cd’s for us every year. It’s filled with the classics and he would make a new one for every year. With 10 brothers and sisters and tons of nieces and nephews, this wasn’t an easy task for him. But he did it without complaint every year and we would always listen to it in the car driving around upstate New York to get in the Christmas spirit. Joe immediately popped it into the cd player while we decorated the tree. We sang, we danced and we spun Jacob around to the music. He giggled & smiled & even picked out his own ornaments to help decorate his little tree.

When we were all done decorating the trees and the cd was over, it was time for bed. Despite that fact, Jacob refused to take off his Santa hat. The little munchkin fell asleep with it on. I can’t think of a better way to end November and start off this wonderful holiday just right.

As Jacob says, arms outstretched, “It’s Christmas!”

Thanksgiving…

I have been thinking about traditions and blessings today. I read my post from last year and couldn’t help but smile at the traditions we share and Joe’s first Thanksgiving with my family. I remember many Thanksgivings, though many meld together in one happy memory.

I remember my dad making popovers every year and if they didn’t come out just right, he would try again…and again…and again. We would often have a few dozen popovers half risen before dinner. I recall the first time that I made popovers for Joe and, though he thought me crazy at first since he had never heard of them, he enjoyed them so much that we ate them for dinner with gravy all by themselves for about a week straight.

My mom’s mom would always make fresh made biscuits from scratch and would let us grandkids cut out the circles. I remember being propped up on the counter or standing high on a stool while she rolled out the dough and showed me the best places to fit a circle.

I remember the first year that I sat at the “adult” table at my dad’s sister’s house and felt a little sad that I wasn’t at the kid’s table. The next time I sat at the kid’s table.

I made green bean casserole for Joe’s family one year and somehow managed to mess that up despite it being the canned kind. I have since learned to make it from scratch and that seems to come out alright.

I know how proud I was of Joe when he cooked our first turkey in our home. We hosted his parents and were determined to make it perfect. It was perfect because we were blessed with family by our side.

Opening the windows and letting in the beautiful fall breeze wasn’t an option in New York. But it’s something that I have grown quite fond of in Florida. The year that we served appetizers on the back porch while watching the birds play in the yard is one of those times that I was so grateful for Florida weather.

Pecan pie was always a staple in our house growing up. I would typically stay up late the night before with my dad making two pies for the next day. We made two this morning too.

One year at my aunt’s house, my cousins and I were jumping on the bed (a no-no) and I heard my older cousin come in from work and say “I need caffeine!”. I had no idea what caffeine was but I was parched from all that jumping and needed some. I expressed that to my parents, aunts and uncles upon walking downstairs and they looked at each other and laughed, knowing I had no clue what it was. I drank my water and smiled, oblivious to how big of a role caffeine would eventually have in my life!
When my baby sister ventured to Florida for her first Thanksgiving a few years ago, the Brown-Hall-Rivers-Thanksgiving-Extravaganza began. We have celebrated together each year since, taking turns between our states. Though this year was Florida’s turn, we were anxious for fall weather and with all of our recent travel, Georgia made sense. I imagine this is a tradition that will not ever end.

When Jacob was born he sat at the head of the table and we made hand turkeys on a table runner with him each year. It’s a new tradition that I love so much.

This year, we were surprised with wrapped gifts on our plates. Our brother-in-law has a family tradition of receiving a new Christmas ornament from his mom every Thanksgiving. This year, the three of us were blessed with this wonderful treat of a tradition – one that I may have to begin myself!

As I write out these few memories that make me smile and warm my heart, I cannot help but think about how blessed I am. This time last year, I was mid-IV chemo and completely bald. It seems like a lifetime ago and yet just the other day. This year, I have my family by my side as we celebrate this holiday and create new traditions.

As I see all of the smiling faces and delicious meals on social media, I smile at all of the wonderful traditions that surround us. We are so blessed to have the most amazing people in our lives, incredibly lucky to be here to celebrate this day and so loved as we acknowledge the lives that we have lived so far.  There have been many memories created and there are still so many to be made.

I hope you all enjoyed this holiday with your loved ones and snuggle them hard tonight. Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! 🦃❤

Happy Halloween!

Jacob has always made a face that looks exactly like his big cousin Jackson. It’s a face where he is so excited that he is not entirely sure how to contain his enthusiasm. He clenches his teeth, partially smiles and gets a slightly crazed look in his eyes. It always cracks us up, especially when the two of them do it together. Even cousin Jeremiah has the look!

When discussing what Jacob would be for Halloween, I remembered that Jackson was Thomas the Train when he was Jacob’s age and knew instantly that’s what Jacob should be. Unfortunately, we didn’t create his costume until the day before Halloween so it took all day. But it was totally worth it!

Jacob wanted nothing to do with the train at first. He actually cried hysterically everytime he saw it. Then around dinnertime, Joe and I were in the kitchen and glanced at Jacob…he had made his way into the train and was sitting and playing. I guess he liked it!

He kept waking up throughout the night asking for Thomas the Choo-Choo and when he would see his friend Vincenzo  (who we were trick or treating with). We kept reminding him that he had just 1 more sleep and then it was Halloween! He was so excited . 

When we brought him and his train to daycare, his class was so excited to see him and his outfit. And all the kids looked adorable! He couldn’t wait to put on his train for the parade. We helped him in it, secured him and he started walking. He made it about 5 steps and started crying. It was too heavy…oops! We took it off and he wanted it back on, which we did but he would only make it a few steps because it was too heavy. Eek! At least he was the cutest little conductor for the parade!

We brought the train home and tried to lighten it for him. He saw his friend Vincenzo in his train for trick or treating  (they were smart and made it proportionate!) and couldn’t wait to get in…well, after a little coaxing. 😉 A few pictures and wandering later and he was done. Train off and it was time for him to make a run for it while trick or treating!

The two boys were adorable together. They quickly caught on to how to ask for candy in their perfect toddler voices, they thanked everyone and even wished them a Happy Halloween! At one point, Vincenzo was a little ahead of Jacob and Vincenzo yelled for him to hurry up. Jacob replied, “I coming!” and took off running after him. Oh, the cuteness! 😍

The costume didn’t work out perfectly but we had fun making it and Jacob had fun putting it on and taking it off. We had a blast at the parade and trick or treating. The Halloween fun was what mattered and the memories are priceless. 🎃

Making Strides…

Some breast cancer fighters don’t like walks. And that’s ok. Last year when I did the Making Strides walk, I was still fighting this disease and anxious to be cured. This year, I debated on going. I wasn’t sure if I should because they celebrate survivors and I’m not sure how I feel about that. And I debated because I tire easily and it’s a long walk on my feet.

As I thought about it more, I remembered how much I enjoyed the company of fellow fighters, survivors and those who support us because they love us. I remember the tears that I fought back at being surrounded by thousands of people that are there in support of a cure.  And those memories of the people who stood by my side. That’s why I went. To feel pride that I fight to survive every day. And that people near and far support me – in so many ways.

It was an early morning that resulted in us forgetting to bring a stroller. That’s right, we are totally the family with a toddler that forgot a stroller for a 5k. Oops! Thankfully were able to share with Jacob’s BFF from the womb. They both wanted to walk most of the way anyway, so it worked out well! Plus they love copying each other. 😉

It was a wonderful day filled with love and support. Friends traveled to walk by our side and we had the chance to hug friends that we didn’t expect to see. I am so incredibly glad that we went and walked. Though my feet need a serious rest, it was absolutely worth the laughter, fun and memories that were made today.

Remembering Mike

mike-102816I started this post by talking about moving to Florida. I wrote about how Mike was my very first friend in Florida (aside from Joe, of course!), how he would come to keep me company when Joe worked, that he introduced us to all of his friends, how he taught me how to drive a stick shift and he is the reason why the three of us found our first house to rent.

Truth is, it’s hard to write about him. He would be 32 today – my age now. He would be an amazing uncle and Jacob would ask to see him constantly. He would be over for dinner regularly and filling up our weekends with impromptu beach trips (oh, how rough that would be!). We would have petty arguments over whether or not he drove on the grass and we would later laugh about the silly things that we fought about. Mike would be one of my biggest supporters in this journey and would be by our side every step of the way.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we all remember things differently. Something that I recall, clear as day, would be a reminder to someone else that the event even occurred. Or someone may have a distinct memory of me and I don’t recall that event and yet I love to hear the memory. We all have different perspectives and the fun is in sharing those perspectives and memories. That is something that I have been struggling with…ensuring that I share everything that I possibly can with those that I love. Big or small, it’s so important to share the memories that we have with each other. Passing on the traditions, reminiscing about the experiences and sharing your recollection allows each and every one of us to live on. Through those memories, each of us is allowed to live again even if we have passed.

One very late night when I first moved to Florida, Joe & I were playing cards at the kitchen table with Mike. He and I were having a very deep conversation about religion and God. I was passionately expressing my faith and he was trying to understand how and why there was purpose that was driven by God.

“Red, I don’t understand how something small and insignificant that I do has a bigger purpose. How is that driven by God’s will?”

“That’s just the point. Yes, you have free will – as we all do. But even the small things that you do impact those around you. They matter because whether you see the outcome or not, you are touching lives.”

He looked at me, put down the cards, stood up from the table and looked me in the eye.

“That’s it. That’s what I needed to hear. Thank you, Red.” And he went to bed.

I’ll never forget that night. It was just the three of us. And yet the intensity and simplicity of the night and the conversation is not lost on me. It’s a memory that deserves to be shared broadly…and an opportunity for Mike to continue living on through each of us.

In memory of Michael. We love you, always.

10.28.84 – 6.11.05

My weekend…

There has been a lot of travel, a ton of appointments and a bit of overall craziness these past few…weeks? Months? I’m not even sure. I can’t remember the last time I went to the beach just to be. 

Somehow the stars aligned and this weekend was beyond beautiful. We finally had our Florida fall weather and it was an incredible 75ish degrees outside as the high! Windows open? Oh, most definitely! 

Yesterday we spent the day with our dear friends and Jacob’s BFF from the womb (who is only a week away in age!). We ventured back to the pumpkin patch we visited together last year and my goodness, what a difference a year makes! The boys ran wild of course but had such a blast. They went to the petting zoo, checked out all of the pumpkins (seriously, I think they touched each one), and of course (Mom’s favorite) the hayride. It was gorgeous outside and such a blast!

Next up, we traveled back to the Choo-Choo train we rode in July and did a special ride that included a pumpkin patch visit. The boys adored the train and had fun running around the (relatively small but perfect for them) pumpkin patch. They had tons of energy (thanks to Jacob’s first Halloween cookie) and used most of it up in the playground afterwards. I am not entirely sure how that many laughs, that much fun and so many memories are allowed in just one day!

Then today. Jacob has been asking for the beach every single day this past week so we knew it was a must – it wasn’t just me getting antsy for a beach day! We enjoyed an awesome lunch with amazing company at one of our favorite places overlooking the beach. Somehow I forgot to take a picture with my in laws and Uncle Tyler. Jacob had so much fun with them and running away from the waves.

After they left for home, we drove down the beach for a bit. It wasn’t packed at all, which was super exciting for us. Though windy, the sun was shining brightly and the day was ridiculously gorgeous. I walked Jacob around for a while, looking for seashells and sand dollars. We found lots of jellyfish and made sure to stop and check each one out. He loved all the little birdies (tweet tweet!) so when he saw a big white bird, he wanted to stop and check it out (oohhhh!). This age is amazing to me. This little man loves to explore & learn and I am not quite sure who enjoys it more…Jacob learning about the world or Momma teaching him about it. It might just be one of the very best feelings ever. Especially when I get to share my own stories with him while teaching. ❤

Eventually he fell asleep, literally trying to hold his head up while his eyes were closing, my poor sweet boy – so tired!  While he slept, Joe & I enjoyed the ocean and each other. The smell, the sounds, the birds grabbing fish out of the ocean right in front of us…perfection. Just being there is calming and relaxing, especially on a day like today.

(Yes, little man totally stole my hat and wore it all day today!)

This weekend was perfect. It was exactly what I needed. A chance to enjoy this beautiful weather, make memories with family and friends and just…be. True perfection. 

Here’s to a fabulous week ahead! 💚 

Lunch with K92.3!

Today we were invited to join our local country station, K92.3, for lunch and a concert! It was in honor of people like myself who are fighting or have fought breast cancer. They treated us to a delicious lunch and a concert by Runaway June. The ladies were AMAZING and sang from the heart. It’s no wonder their recent single is making its way up the charts. They were incredibly sweet and told us it was their honor to be there today. One of the ladies, Jen, is the grand-daughter of John Wayne. How cool is that?!

We were also able to spend time with dear friends of ours that we met at the K92.3 function last year! The world seems to get smaller every time we see them too. 😉 I was even lucky to get a picture with the local morning show co-host (in pink), who put on the event.

Although the luncheon was short, we had a wonderful time with everyone and the concert was amazing!!

Fall fun…

When I was little, my mom always bought window clings for the holidays. Easter, St Patty’s Day, Christmas, you name it. If they made window clings, she bought them for us! I always looked forward to climbing up on the couch and decorating our big front window with them. I would come home from school and rearrange them just because. It never got old for me.

When we bought our home years ago, one of the things I was excited about was the bay window out front. I’ve always decorated it with window clings. Though I’ve missed a few holidays, I always look forward to putting them up on the window. I especially love when I find them on clearance and can stock up for the following year!

Jacob has watched me put up the clings each year but hasn’t shown a lot of interest. For some reason though, I knew this fall would be different. I forgot about the clings during our travel and when I decided to (finally) start decorating for fall today, I wanted Jacob to enjoy it. I remembered the clings and sat down by the front window with him. He was instantly hooked! He put up each one by one, making sure to describe them to me. He put some “up high!” and some “over here!” and I can’t help but smile at all the fun he is having.

The clings are “falling down” (aka he pulls them off and has to put them somewhere else) and he is loving the rearranging. He hasn’t left the window for at least half an hour and keeps showing me the different clings that he is putting up. He is moving them all around and playing with a random lizard (come here lizard!) that stumbled across the outside of our window.

At every age I say it’s the best. But something about this age and his sweet discoveries leaves me so speechless. He loves to learn, enjoys these traditions and will try mostly anything. I am blessed with such a wonderful little man!

A busy Friday ahead!

Today is day 1 of my 2nd round of chemo pills. The week off from them have been nice but each day I felt like I was missing something so I’m glad to be starting my week again. Combined with radiation and knowing it’s the 2nd cycle, I am curious of the side effects but remaining optimistic. I am armed with lots of lotions to help!

Yesterday at radiation the technicians, doctor and physicist came in again to align my 5 bolus-combo in the hopes of keeping it as one piece. Unfortunately, the air gaps near my skin are literally millimeters away but not close enough to my skin. While barely affecting treatment, it still has an impact since my skin is affected and that’s important. So starting today, they will align each bolus every day. It’ll take longer to align but will target the areas that much closer. I lay on the table with my arms up the entire time so although it’s uncomfortable, the technicians have the hardest job of all! My skin is doing well so far, though the redness has started.

I started taking melatonin 3 nights ago and it’s working great. I’m still exhausted each day but I’m getting an extra 2 – 3 hours each night. I’ll keep taking it!

Today, Joe & I are up early and on our way to Moffitt in Tampa again for genetic testing. They called me Monday to ask preliminary questions and I realize how little I actually know. I’ve been working with family all week trying to figure out as much as I can for the appointment. I expect there to be a lot of unanswered questions but I have a great start! They will do lots of blood work and I am super curious about it. They will be testing for genetic mutations that could predispose me (aside from BRCA 1 & 2) but also that could qualify me for a clinical trial.

So off we go! Enjoy your Friday, friends!