February 28, 2013

No Regrets

Two Thanksgivings ago, I stood in my kitchen with my older brother Matthew, waiting for my mom's pumpkin pies to finish baking. Matt explained to me a little of what the doctor had recently discovered, and I so clearly remember saying, 'Cancer cells? That's ridiculous. We don't have cancer in our family,' and I went back to checking on the pies.

This past Thanksgiving I stood in that same kitchen, and thought back to how different this holiday was from the last one. 

We did indeed have cancer in our family -- my brother was living proof. Christmas came and went, along with 2012, and Matt still trooped on. 

Over this past weekend though, my brother passed away at the age of 40. 

Cancer (and indeed any and all disease...) sucks. I'm not the first person to say it, nor will I be the last. Nearly every person I know has been touched in some way by a relative, friend or colleague who has had cancer. Some have lived, many have died.

When I first discovered Matt had cancer, I went for a walk with a childhood friend. Walking is, after all, the cheapest form of both exercise and therapy. She had recently listened to a radio special on cancer -- and she mentioned how many of the people they interviewed said the disease brought them closer together as a family. 

I was a little skeptical, but as 2012 carried on, those words stayed with me. My brother and I definitely had our differences, especially as we grew into adulthood. I wasn't totally convinced that him having cancer would cure us of our relationship woes. In fact, I thought it might make them worse. But in the end, while it was no doubt one of the most difficult years of my life, I am forever grateful for the extra time I got to spend with Matt. The radio broadcaster was right. Cancer had brought us closer. Cancer still sucked, but good can occasionally spring forth from a bad situation. 

While we continued to pray for a miracle of healing, I think the true miracle was the reconciliation that occurred in our family.

I told Matt how much I loved him while he was still alive. I even wrote him a letter (because I often stink at actually verbalizing my true feelings) and then I read it to him. The letter contained 10 things I wanted him to remember -- I'll share just one with you:

"You were always braver than me – whether it was with a roller coaster, bungee jumping, buying a house, fighting fires, pulling people out of vehicles and now going through cancer. You have definitely trumped me with guts. (I know I gave you some lame excuse about not wanting to hurt myself for an upcoming cross-country race when I didn't go bungee jumping with you, but really, I was scared sh*tless.) The only time I remember you being a chicken was when you had a spider in your room at the A-frame and you wanted me to get rid of it. Now that I think about it… maybe that was just your ploy to get me to do your dirty work?!"

We hugged through tears and sniffles and even a few giggles, and then we had eight more months to reminisce about our childhood. Those were the best moments I shared with him. They are the memories I will cherish in the years to come. And in the moments after he died, I thought to myself, "I'm so glad I gave him that letter so many months ago."   

No regrets about anything left unsaid.

But I know life will never quite be the same. C.S. Lewis says in his book, The Four Loves

"If, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A, but ‘A’s part in C’ and C loses not only A, but ‘A’s part in B’."

I have always appreciated this poignant quote, because whenever death occurs, it not only affects you, it affects those around you who also knew that person, and therefore it changes your relationship with those people, even if only slightly. 

I will feel my brother's absence not only in my own realm, but in the lives of those he touched throughout his life. 

Matt and me -- circa 80s

Watching my only sibling deal with cancer changed me. Life really is too short. Live with no regrets. Forgive. Move on. Get in touch with friends you have been meaning to get in touch with. Write a letter. Encourage someone. Tell and show others how much you love them. 

And the next time you encounter someone going through something as big as cancer, remind them of their bravery, and then let them know they are not alone. Matt would have liked that.

February 23, 2013

Drink Up

Last year, to celebrate the Sailor's success at passing a HUGE navigation exam, we went to Abu Dhabi. We met with friends, laid around the beach and the pool, and I drank far too many of the green slushy type beverage pictured below -- frozen mint lemonade. 


I haven't quite figured out how to make it yet, although I do know that fresh mint and lemonade (clearly) are involved.
This week, the Sailor ordered a frozen ginger lemonade at a coffee shop... and somehow he ended up with a frozen mint lemonade. I'm still not sure how that happened, since I didn't see that combo anywhere on the menu. The Sailor didn't share my passion for the drink, so needless to say, I enjoyed the rest of it.

I was definitely back in Abu Dhabi, if only for the few minutes it took me to slurp the drink. 

This photo was taken right before the Sailor arrived -- on a day out with two of my dearest friends (yes, I am blessed. A trip to Abu Dhabi AND my friends are there?!) I entered the photo in the most recent camera club competition -- it tied for second in the color category.

I only wish a frozen mint lemonade was the prize, rather than a red ribbon.  

February 21, 2013

Successful Socks

Sometime in between putting a hole in the blue cardigan and starting over on it, I knit a pair of socks. I need to diversify, especially in the middle of a knitting frustration (like the cardigan). I occasionally need to remind myself that I know how to knit. 

And while I know South Africa doesn't get the same crazy snow and weather that we get back home, I do know how cold it CAN get here -- especially at night. 

So I made my mother-in-law some fun socks for the winter. I used the same Paton's pattern book as before. I must confess that I haven't experiment much with any other new pattern for socks. (Why mess with what seems to work?)

I do think that I need to start branching out though -- I think my socks need a cable or lace pattern at some point. But for now, I'm sticking to the basic pattern. 

I should also confess that I never really thought much about socks before, especially to give as a gift. (I think I conjured up images of children ripping open gifts to discover plain blah socks, when they expected toys instead...)

However, since I learned to knit to make socks... and since I've gotten fairly good at this basic pattern, I've come to appreciate how wonderful hand knit socks feel on my feet. Now I feel I need to share the joy. They are definitely fun to give as gifts -- and I'm going to bet, just as fun to receive.

February 19, 2013

Stop and Stare

I mentioned in my last post that my father-in-law has some amazing peaches from his trees. What I didn't mention is that there is one growing right outside our window.

No matter the season, I have always loved looking at this tree. Now that it's summer here, the sun always seems to hit it spot on -- you know... that moment when you see the light hitting the leaves and all of the world seems just right. I need a little of that most days. (Oh, who am I kidding here -- I need that everyday!)

I'm trying to soak up as much of the blue sky and greenery surrounding me as I can. I know that in only days I will be back to a very snowy Northern Hemisphere. There, I will at least have Ted, Ned and Red (if they are still alive, that is...) to give me my daily dose of green until the trees start to bud. 

The old adage, 'stop and smell the roses' sometimes doesn't get my attention. I like to stop and stare at them instead. It's amazing what kind of beauty surrounds us on a daily basis.

It's not only roses either. My mother-in-law pointed this flower out to me my first evening here. I have no idea what kind of plant this is... but I love it. How can you not think that is cool?!

Stop and stare once in a while... and marvel at the wondrous details in nature. 
(And if anyone knows what this plant is actually called... please fill me in.)

February 17, 2013

Peach Smoothies

I'm making progress on the great cardigan remake. (This isn't the first time I've had to remake a sweater -- more on that later -- nor do I think this will be the last!)

This morning, while I was vigorously knitting the waist decreases, my father-in-law emerged from the garden and sat with me under the tree to cut up a giant bowl of peaches. 

Coffee, knitting, a cool breeze in the shade... and the smell of peaches -- what better way to spend a Sunday morning?

I couldn't resist eating a small bowl myself. While Pa peeled and chopped his way through what seemed to be about 55 peaches, I remembered a summer years ago in Ukraine, when I sat under a similar tree with Babka Dina. 

Dina wasn't related to me, but she was known as Grandma to anyone who came near her. 

She was large, and rather slow when moving about. She used a cane, but insisted that she didn't need help whenever someone would offer an arm to her. 

One of my first days in her town in Eastern Ukraine, we sat at a table (where we spent most of the time actually). An unusual number of bees swarmed us. Babka Dina was unfazed. She spent the latter part of the lunch we shared trying to capture bees in a cup, or smashing them with her spoon. Occasionally she dumped scalding hot tea onto them when they landed on the table. (I'm going to guess she never saw the Bee Movie...)

Watching Pa peel peaches reminded me of Babka Dina -- not because she was old, and hobbled about, or because she happened to be a bee killer -- but because one of the only photos I have of her, she is sitting cross-armed, very stoic, next to a bushel of peaches, not unlike the giant bowl Pa had beside him.  

The photo is a shoebox, in a closet, on the other side of the world at the moment, but I can still see her face.  

It's been years since I saw Babka Dina -- I don't know whatever happened to her. I like to think that she's still smashing bees with the same spoon she uses for the honey. And I hope her peach tree is still thriving. 

After we consumed enough peaches for the morning and left the rest in the fridge for a smoothie later, a bee started to hover around the Sailor. He too was unfazed, but unlike Babka Dina, he let the bee live. 

Because I've been eating so many peach smoothies lately, I thought I should share my recipe (which honestly just fluctuates depending on the fruit that I happen to have on hand, but this has been the standard for two weeks now.) 


2 ripe peaches, chopped (preferably just picked) 
1 apple, chopped
1 banana, peeled of course, and chopped
Either a few splashes of milk, or a few spoonfuls of plain or fruit yogurt 
A small handful of almonds *

Throw all together in a blender. 
Pour into a glass and enjoy! 

This smoothie is quite thick, so I like to use a spoon to scrape out the last of it from the glass. Or, you could just add more liquid. 
* Omit the almonds if you married a picky eater like the Sailor.