My last Blog post ended with the following paragraphs:
'My next post will not be about cancer. It is time I wrote about something else. Before I sign off though I have some messages.
To my friends and family who have recently lost someone to cancer, there are no words. Not everyone beats it and my heart goes out to you. Stay strong. Life is for living and you have to carry on. Your memories will never die but you are here and you have a life to lead. Please cherish every moment of it.
To those of you who are fighting the cancer now, you can do it. It is hard but you can do it. You are strong, inside and out. The cancer can be shrunk, tamed and spat out. Take strength from wherever you need it. Ask for the help that you need. Do it your way and only your way. Only you know what is best for you.'
Now I feel like a fraud. I need to write about cancer one more time.
Three months after his wedding and 2 months before I got my all clear, my brother was diagnosed with oesophagal cancer. He was 31 years old. It had already spread to other organs. Until the moment he told me about his cancer I never understood what it meant to be heartbroken. Something changed for me forever that day. I knew what it was like to fight cancer and now my beloved newlywed brother, ten years my junior, was going to have to fight it too. The difference this time was that he was going to need a miracle. Being so far away, in another country, seemed to make it even harder. I wasn't going to be on hand to help. I wasn't going to be able to support him in person.
My brother never asked for a prognosis. He only ever asked 'What do we do to fight it?'. He told only his closest friends about the cancer and he never gave them any indication of the danger he was in or what the future may hold for him. He didn't want pity. He didn't want to be treated like an ill person. He didn't want to live like he was dying. Two months later he flew to Israel to celebrate my son's barmitzvah with us and make some memories. Three months later and significantly weaker, he flew to Israel again. He took us to watch basketball which was his passion. We made some more memories.
In the last week of May, before my own surgery, I went to spend a week with him in London. I wanted to spend time with him while I could and I didn't want to risk not being able to fly if I didn't recover quickly. He was positive about his treatment and about the future but when I left him, I was worried that I wouldn't see him again. Actually, I wasn't worried, I was terrified. Hugging his thinner frame and saying goodbye, while trying not to show how scared I was, was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
I am so grateful that I got the chance to spend that week with him. My parents came down from Manchester and we spent the Sunday all together making more memories.
On Sunday July 17th, my beautiful strong and determined brother died. His family and friends spent over a week at the hospital with him, night and day. Despite the horrendous situation, he gave us the gift of making many beautiful memories together even in his last days. His friends from childhood, his teenage years, university and beyond came together to celebrate him and each other. He gave me the gift of catching up with his friends that I hadn't seen for many years. Kids that I met when they were 3, now grown and with families of their own. I met girlfriends and wives and children. I was given the gift of meeting friends that had not crossed with my own life but meant so much to my brother. Food, drink, comfort and friendship arrived in abundance daily. Accommodation was offered freely to my family and rides a plenty. Friends smuggled in the family's new puppy to meet him. We brought in Shabbat at his bedside and had dinner for 25 in a room nearby. In the week before he died, we helped each other come to terms with what was going to happen. For most, the shock was huge because he had hidden the extent of the illness from them to shield them. For others, they had only just found out he was ill at all!
George had a huge capacity to love his friends and to keep friendships alive. The number of people that seemed to have been touched by his friendship is phenomenal. I estimated that there were close to 300 people at his funeral. Similar numbers of people came to comfort the mourners while we were all together. Even when I returned home to my community in Modi'in people contacted me who knew him and didn't realise we were siblings. I expected to find it difficult to watch my sister in law and my parents dealing with the loss. I knew I would find my own loss difficult but I didn't expect to be so touched by watching his friends dealing with their loss. Many of them don't remember a time before George. This had a profound effect on me because I realised that he was such an integral part of their lives, not just our lives. George meant so much to so many people.
By now you have probably realised that those paragraphs at the end of my last post, were about my friends and family. A number of my friends and family had recently lost siblings, friends and cousins to cancer. The message about fighting cancer was directly to my brother. He knew it was for him. I promised to tell only my closest friends and only in his final days when he said he was happy for everyone to know, did I go 'public' about what was happening. Despite so many friendships he was a proud and private person. I felt like a fraud when I got the all clear because with my cancer being so public, people were constantly telling me how amazing it was that my cancer was gone and that my family must be so relieved. I just wanted to shout 'Actually no - my brother has cancer and I am worried that he will die!'.
Almost six years ago we moved from England to Israel. I thought that taking our son away from my parents was the hardest thing I had ever done. We are all mobile and can travel but we all work and have restrictions on time and we just can't pop in for a cuppa anymore. Then I thought that telling my son that I had cancer was the hardest thing I had ever done. Next, I thought that telling my son that his beloved uncle had cancer was the hardest thing I had ever done. In reality, being so far away and having to work and deal with everyday life, while my brother was fighting his cancer was harder. It nearly broke me. I can't count the number of times I found myself shaking so hard I couldn't communicate or sat in a heap on the floor of the shower. I didn't do it in public. I didn't do it at work. I didn't allow it to break me because he wouldn't have approved. It wasn't his style. Don't mistake my coping mechanism for lack of feeling. Functionalitydoesn't always equal strength.
Now we have started the grieving process. We are not together. We are separated by the sea and the air. This is something else that is going to be done with many miles between us. My sister in law is in London. My parents are in Manchester. We are here in Israel, so very far away. The separate grieving started during the shiva week when I sat for three nights in London and then flew home to finish the week. This separate grieving process will be familiar to so many but for us, it is new. This wasn't something we planned for when we emigrated.
George loved life.
George loved his wife and his wife's family.
George loved our parents.
George loved his nephew.
George loved me and my husband.
George loved his friends and relatives. I never thought that when I wrote the words, "Not everyone beats it and my heart goes out to you. Stay strong. Life is for living and you have to carry on. Your memories will never die but you are here and you have a life to lead. Please cherish every moment of it." that I would be writing them to myself. Maybe my words knew something that I didn't.
George loved life. He understood that life is for living. Our lives will never be the same. My life will never be the same. I lost my sibling and I will miss him forever. It will hurt, forever. I remember the day that he was born and I remember the day that he died. I'm immensely proud of what he did in between and that he was my brother. He led a rich life and he would want his friends and family to do the same. Those of us that knew him can probably hear him now saying "I don't want to hear anything negative just go and enjoy yourselves!".
So that is what I am going to do. Life is indeed for living. George is never going to be forgotten and he will be forever in my heart but life does go on. I may not understand why I am still here and he is not but that is no excuse not to live my life to the full. I will do it for me and for George.
I started this Blog before I had cancer and it took on a direction that I could never have envisaged. I never meant to write about my health but as my health is what I have been dealing with in every spare moment, it made sense that I wrote about it.
I have refrained from writing for quite a while because it felt frivolous to write about something else, without updating you about the cancer but at the same time, I really didn't want my blog to become a treatment update blog. I haven't given you every gory detail of my treatment. You don't need it and I don't want to write about it. Living through it once was more than enough. I'm sorry that I have been away so long but I'm back and I am here to stay.
The reason that I am back and that I am here to stay, is that today I received the news that I have been waiting for. The news that my friends and my family have been waiting for too. My MRI results came back clear. I have beaten the breast cancer. I can finally say that 'I had cancer' rather than 'I have cancer' and the feeling I get when I think about that is impossible to describe. It is a mix of joy, relief and regret. When I stop shaking and crying I am hoping that my feelings will be clearer but I really didn't want to wait to update the Blog. I wanted to let you know that I am still here.
I have had surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and biological therapy. I have two more IV treatments left and then biological therapy will end at the end of January. I am now taking Tamoxifen tablets and I will take this for 5 years to give me the best chance of non re-occurrence. Thanks to great people, The Israeli health system and modern medicine I have beaten cancer for the time being. I have beaten it. It has spat me out the other side just like I said it would.
Last week we celebrated my son's 13th Birthday and his Barmitzvah. There was once a time where I wasn't sure I would see it. I genuinely don't have the words to describe the gift that was given to me, both in my child and in being alive to celebrate with him. We should never forget to celebrate - life is for living. As my hair has grown a little, I thought it was time to do something with the new hair. Blue and Silver is the new Grey!
My journey isn't over. A chapter has closed but another one has opened. Many people thought me strong because I wrote about my experience and shared it widely rather than hiding and dealing with it in private. I feel very strongly that it is only just, that I continue to share the journey, even though what I write may be 'taboo' for some people. I am not worried by that. I refuse to hide behind closed doors as this journey continues and I get on with living my life to the full.
I had genetic testing a little while ago and it revealed that I do have a mutated gene that means my risk of ovarian cancer is massive and my risk of getting breast cancer in the previously unaffected breast is high. For these reasons, I need to take action to keep me safe. The first thing that will happen is that I will have surgery to remove my ovaries. This is keyhole surgery and fairly routine. I have a pre-op appointment at the end of March and I think it will probably be done soon after. Although the surgery is routine, the effect of doing this surgery means that my hormone levels will drop suddenly and fiercely and I will enter what is known as 'surgical menopause' This can be a nasty experience because it doesn't give the natural transition in to menopause that we were designed to have. It just hits you. Well as far as I am concerned I have done the hot sweats thing during chemo and if I have to do them again to keep me safe, so be it. BRING IT ON.
That just leaves the things that my son dreams of not hearing about in our home, just for one day - Breasts, Boobs, Tits. Ok I said it. We talk about boobs here an awful lot. It really went past being funny some time ago yet we still do it. It is very likely that I will have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. For those who are lucky enough not to know the term, it means the removal of both breasts and the creation of new ones, most probably using my own tissue (yay tummy tuck!). I can't have this kind of surgery for at least two years after radiotherapy as it affects the outcome and healing so I have plenty of time to decide if this is what I want to do. The recommendation is that my breasts are removed as this will give me the best chance of not getting another breast cancer. It isn't foolproof and there are no guarantees. It is cancer and with cancer there simply are no guarantees.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer I didn't know too many people that had gone through the treatment. As time went by, many people revealed their 'secret' cancers and I learned a lot about how people deal with things in a very personal way. I want you to know that I am not sharing these 'taboo' subjects lightly. I am writing about what comes next for me because I have seen too many people go through these experiences quietly, secretly and without proper support. If my Blog makes just one person feel that they can talk to someone about their experience or can reach out to someone or talk about something openly that they thought had to be a secret, then something good has come of my sharing. I know that the moment people talk about 'ladyparts' the room goes quiet. It shouldn't be like that. We are not living in medieval times. These are literally lifesaving operations, designed to keep us safe. It is about time we talked about them loud and proud. Can they take my breasts to keep me alive - HELL YES and once again BRING IT ON.
My next post will not be about cancer. It is time I wrote about something else. Before I sign off though I have some messages.
To my friends and family who have recently lost someone to cancer, there are no words. Not everyone beats it and my heart goes out to you. Stay strong. Life is for living and you have to carry on. Your memories will never die but you are here and you have a life to lead. Please cherish every moment of it.
To those of you who are fighting the cancer now, you can do it. It is hard but you can do it. You are strong, inside and out. The cancer can be shrunk, tamed and spat out. Take strength from wherever you need it. Ask for the help that you need. Do it your way and only your way. Only you know what is best for you.
It may sound ridiculous both to those that have gone through chemotherapy and to those that have not, that chemo' makes me feel like Wonderwoman but I kid you not, in some ways, it really does. Don't misunderstand me, it comes with side effects and they are not pleasant. I have been lucky enough to have a month off work to give my body the best possible chance of coping and it has been a good move suggested strongly by my family doctor. I will go back to work in some capacity shortly though and take it one day (if not one hour) at a time. I will do what I can do and no more. My health comes first and when I work I want to be able to give 100%, both during and after treatment.
I have been hit by many of the effects that are the norm' for my first 4 treatments (the second of which was yesterday) and also by the effects of the injection that I receive the next day to increase my immunity which is knocked down by the treatment. What I have been able to achieve though on the good and not so good days and how I managing so far, has made me feel like Wonderwoman. I know others think of me as strong but the unknown is frightening and I had no idea how I would cope. I have found that the care, the drug regime and the support of those around me is enabling me to draw power from places I didn't know it lay and for that I am most thankful.
The chemo' ward is great and my nurse Tzialla is lovely. We communicate in a rudimentary way as my Hebrew really isn't up to the same level as hers but she makes sure that I am confident with exactly what I need to know and makes it a very pleasant experience. She is warm and caring and this doesn't change because she knows I don't understand every word. Her patience and empathy is also giving me strength. I love the fact that the hospital staff deliver free soup to patients and those accompanying them, free coffee and tea is on the ward and people from numerous charities come round giving out sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and all sorts of treats! Not forgetting of course the clown, who is the highlight of my chemo' trips. He plays guitar, stops and chats with people and plays them tunes and sings, tells jokes, he even answered my husband's work phone and sang to his colleague, which in no uncertain terms had us almost on the floor in hysterics. I would love to have seen her face! He has a special sense of style.
This was yesterday as he entered the ward. he stopped to serenade an older Spanish speaking woman. He sang her a Spanish song and she sang along with gusto! The joy he brings to the chemo' patients is really hard to describe but very obvious to see.
This one was from last time! He really cracks me up.
The last month has been a whirlwind as I expected but I have had a lot of fun and done some amazing things. Two nights after my first chemo' I went on a work's night out. It was great to put faces to some of the names that I work with. We work remotely and only see each other during training and night's out so meeting new faces was great fun. I had a headache throughout but as I would have had a headache if I had stayed home, out I went.
On day 3 I had my hair cut very very short. It was an inch long at its longest point. I know that with my treatments total hairloss is a certainly. I was worried that if it fell out during my planned trip to the UK I would be distressed and it would be hard to deal with. I was offered the chance to have my hair cut for free by a young hairdresser whose mother had suffered the same before me and he sent off my hair to make wigs and refused to charge me! I hated the idea of it falling out over my pillow or in my food and having short hair really made me feel more in control with what I knew was about to happen.
On day five I flew with my husband and son to England. The flight wasn't great because I wasn't feeling good but we made it and the alternative was staying home alone, something I wasn't going to do. I spent a few days with my parents while my husband and son went up north to visit his sister and our nephews and then the three of us went to Limmud, a five day conference that we go to most years. I was able to participate at a different level to usual but participate nevertheless. The inclusion team made sure that I had access to the mobility bus so I didn't have to walk around the campus when too tired or when I hurt too much. There was our resident conference paramedic on site at all times and with Zeb around, I had no fear of becoming suddenly ill or needing help. I did miss a morning where I couldn't move and an afternoon where I had to nap but I still got to spend time with friends that I don't see often enough, enjoy music and comedy and workshops and lectures and crafting and bar time. I even had a bottle of lovely locally brewed beer - a real treat. I rested a lot and spent a lot of time just sitting in chilled surroundings and chatting or reading but it was a great break and I am so happy that we managed to sort out the insurance required so that I could leave the country and go. It also came with the benefit of not having to cook for 5 days.
On day 14, just as predicted my hair started to fall out. When the chemo' attacks the fast moving cancer cells it also attacks other fast moving cells in the body and this is why hair dies and falls out. It is only a side effect during the treatment and usually hair starts to grow once the treatment is finished. I was ready for it to happen and as I ran my fingers through my hair, or pinched it lightly, out it came. Strange again as it may sound I was so happy when this started to happen. To me, it meant that the chemo' was actually doing something. Up until that point, all the things that had happened to me were simply side effects of the chemo' treatment but no indication as to if the chemo' was busy doing its job. To me, this is a sign that it is doing just that and it really made me feel better, not worse, as I had expected it to do. What I didn't realise is that has the hair dies, parts of the head become painful. I didn't like this at all. As I touched my hair and the hair moved direction on my head, the pain was worse. Over the next couple of days, with hair falling in food, sinks, on to me and my pillow I knew I couldn't cope with it for a prolonged period and asked my friend to shave my head. After a little convincing that I really meant it, he did it for me the very next day. My friend (his wife), videoed it and we had a really good laugh. I enjoyed the experience immensely despite it being a little strange.
On day 14 we also flew home. The flight was easy and fast and I managed to go out for a friend's birthday that evening straight after we landed and dumped the cases.
On day 17 my head was shaved and I felt so much better. My head is still tingling and hurting a little but as the hair isn't moving on my head, the pain is improved. As it is winter I get to wear my favourite hats. To strangers, I look normal as I have eyebrows and eyelashes right now. Inside the house, when too cold for the nudy head look I wear a Buff to keep it warm, or a pirate hat as my son calls it. They are great to sleep in too so I don't become an icicle by morning!
I should have had my second treatment on day 14 but due my trip I had a week's respite which has given me even more strength for this time. I had my second blast yesterday on day 21 and followed it with a great veggie curry. It is my firm belief that good times should be had while they can be so off we went for lunch. today I had my injections, did a couple of hours of batch cooking and I am now plonked on the sofa with a cup of lovely English tea writing the blog.
I won't pretend chemo' hasn't and won't hit me hard. Each drug will effect me differently and once weekly on the new drug it will be a whole new learning curve. I do feel like Wonderwoman though. I wondered what it would be like and now I know. I wondered how the first treatments would effect me and now I know. I wondered how my family and friends would feel and now I know. I wondered if I could cope and now I know. I can cope and I will cope. I am not the strong person that people think that I am. Being prepared to be outspoken should never be confused with being strong. The chemo' has made me feel like Wonderwoman because I am coping and I am doing things I didn't think I could do, when and only when I can, if I can and only if I want to. I have superpowers. The only difference between me and Wonderwoman is that mine don't appear on demand, just in the good moments and I have to take advantage when they appear.
My tumour has been removed and the area around it is clear of cancer cells.
My lymph node biopsy showed that as yet, there is no sign of cancer in the lymph nodes.
As the cancer is very aggressive, I will start receiving chemotherapy next week, followed by biological therapy (herceptin) after the chemotherapy, to give me the best possible chance of non occurrence. The entire treatment is going to last in excess of a year.
Miraculously, despite it being very deep, I felt the lump.
The surgeon got everything out.
I am recovering well.
I can move my arm freely again.
My pain is hugely reduced.
I am back at work.
I made it to my brother's engagement party in England.
Friends have shown their friendship over and over.
I know that my chemo' is precautionary.
My cancer is receptive to herceptin, the drug that gives me the best chance of non-occurrence.
I am forbidden from dieting.
Hair grows back after chemo so I may manage short hair for my brother's wedding in June.
I have ordered three great wigs in Red, Purple and Ginger.
I am going to England between the 1st and 2nd treatment no matter what!
I am still going to crush this cancer but it may take longer than expected.
The first chemo' drug will be given 2 weekly, four times.
The second chemo' drug will be given weekly, twelve times.
Herceptin will then be given 3 weekly, thirteen times.
The above amounts to 'a lot of times'!
I have been advised to take a month off work at the start to give my body the best chance of dealing with the drugs.
This time next month I may well be bald.
I despise needles and always have done. This is not improving with time.
My family have to go through this with me.
I will still be receiving treatment when I fly for my brother's wedding in June. This isn't something I was expecting. I will not have finished treatment when my son has his Bar Mitzvah, this time next year. This is something I never even contemplated.
Ridiculous News (things that didn't occur to me in advance)
Brushing ones hair with ones left hand (when right handed) is most awkward.
Certain other daily aspects of living pose similar issues (see photo to the photo directly above).
Knitting, one handed, is a technique I have not learned.
I can't cook left handed!
Three handed cuddles are odd.
I have always slept on my front, face down, hiding from the monsters. I don't remember a time when I didn't do this. When face down, the monsters can't see you and the burglars don't know you are there. I can't sleep on my side or my back and this has been the most frustrating part of recovering from the operation.
I approached the age of 40 with joy. It didn't scare me. I don't look 40. I certainly don't feel 40. I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.
I wanted to start my forties being silly with friends and family. I had never before had a birthday party as an adult so I decided it was about time I changed that fact. After a quick think I chose to put on a '4th Birthday Party" and the silliness began. The entertainment consisted of children's games, including Twister, Connect 4, magnetic fishing in a large tub of water on the balcony, puzzles and other assorted childish endeavours. The menu was pizza , popcorn, fairy cakes and ice cream. There were balloons and silly hats and it was a great party. I was ready for my forties.
My cake was supplied by the very talented Taryn at Bakers Inn
It was quite a year. We moved areas within our city, moving further from great friends and meeting new ones. We had a war over the summer and spent part of our time in our secure rooms and bomb shelters. We were far less affected than those further south but affected we were. I even managed to spend this special time on crutches. This was my first introduction to the world of crutches and it isn't something I hope to repeat any-time soon. These events have meant that although we moved to our forever home it still looks like we are living out of boxes three months on. The world went a little mad as terrorist organisations seemed to be springing up left right and centre and the world's slow and laboured response to these was more frightening than the proposed terror itself. All over Europe including in my home city waves of Anti Semitism rose and memories of times gone by and thoughts of 'never again' were in our minds.
The most exciting thing to happen while I was 40 (and the thing that does start to make me feel just a little closer to my age) was my baby leaving primary school and starting high school. I still can't quite get my head around that one. I remember his first day at nursery, primary school and his first day at his new post immigration school where he didn't speak the language, like they were yesterday. Four years on he speaks fluently and has started high school. There is nothing in my life that I am more proud of than my baby. He bursts my heart every day. My husband does this too of course!
As my 41st birthday approached, my life changed. Something happened to me that only happens to other people. It only happens on TV, in books and in a world where people Blog about it - except this time it didn't. This time it was me. It is now my turn.
Late September, I found a lump. Suddenly, life became a whirlwind. First the mammogram, then the ultrasound, then the biopsy. Then came the wait. The wait was short and I was grateful. It is cancer. It should have been a shock but somehow it wasn't. Then the whirlwind began again. The race to find out if it was one cancer only, how it was working, where it had spread to and what we were going to do about it.
There was an MRI to get a clear picture of exactly what the issue was. It is a solitary tumor from what they can see. There was a PetCT scan to check my whole body and make sure that it is a primary and solitary cancer and that the rest of my body, is at this point, clear. I got the all clear on that one today and it has been the biggest relief so far. The two week wait for this has been the most difficult wait. This was in no uncertain terms, terrifying. I can deal with cancer. I can't deal with cancers.
This week I celebrated my 41st birthday. I really celebrated. We spent it doing something my son wanted us to do as a family. It's going to be a different year and I wanted it to start well. We went to an alligator farm - the only one in the Middle East, We enjoyed bathing in ancient hot springs and we finished the evening with friends, eating under the stars.
In under a week, Tommy the Tumor, as my son has named him, is going to be removed. Yesterday I had more blood tests, a chest xray and an ECG and I am ready to go. There will also be a sentinel node biopsy frozen section done. I don't really know much about this. I just know its my best chance to find out exactly what the treatment should be afterwards. I will be taking a few weeks to recover from the surgery, by which time, I am hoping that the exploration and the pathology from it will be able to tell us what the next step is. I may need radiotherapy, or hormone treatment, or chemotherapy or other targeted therapy. There are so many 'ifs' at this stage. I am finding the 'ifs' quite hard.
What I do know is that I will be travelling overseas for my brother's engagement party 5 weeks after surgery. I won't be carrying a suitcase but boy will I be there. I will fly alone and I will be fit enough.
From here on in I suspect that whirlwind is just going to keep spinning and I am planning on it spitting me out at the other end, fixed and fighting. The cancer is a primary cancer. I can fight it. I will fight it. I will survive it. Others have done it and so shall I.
I have my brother's wedding, in June, to be fit and well for and a talented, beautiful and warm hearted new sister in law to welcome in to my family. If I end up having chemo' and my hair falls out, so be it. It's just hair. I will look fabulous and fit for the wedding though and here is my secret plan.
Many years ago a very special friend told me that life was not a rehearsal. It took me many years to really understand why he thought that and what he meant by it. My friend was right. Everyone makes mistakes and if we are lucky, then we learn from these mistakes but there is no time for regret. Regret is destructive and demoralising. Regret takes time. Time is a precious commodity that should be used to enjoy life, rather than to dwell on any bad times gone by.
With 417 Days a Year, what would you do in the next year? What would be on your To Do list?
In the next year I would love to;
1. Welcome as many friends and family into our new 'forever home' as possible.
2. Get back to a weight at which I am comfortable.
3, Travel to somewhere far away to meet long lost relatives that I have never met before.
4. Improve my second language.
5. Be proud of the things I achieve during the year.
Do any of these feature in your Top 5 things to do this year? What would your Top 5 be? Please feel free to comment with your inspirational Top 5 for the year to come.
With 417 Days A Year I think that perhaps I would learn to bake. Baking is one of the many things in life for which I have no real talent. This list is long and I shall not bore you with it here. I never learned to bake as a child and it isn't something which I have really taken the time to learn to do as an adult either. I do love to cook but because I am not a great fan of the rules and regulations associated with recipes, baking recipes tend not to be my 'go to' place when I need to make desserts.
I mastered the Chocolate Brownie some time ago but after that success I was somewhat reluctant to move forward. After-all you can't really beat Chocolate Brownies. This was, until I had a guest that didn't eat chocolate. This snippet of information (something that I still find most unusual) caused a last minute panic. The sort of panic that can only be solved by friendship. I reached out to a friend and received a 'fool-proof' recipe.
My friend asked me what ingredients I had in the kitchen and promptly suggested her 'fool-proof' recipe for Lemon Cake. This recipe wasn't hers but came from her husband's aunt and was apparently guaranteed to work and to be a success both in its appearance, taste and ability to be appreciated every time. I wasn't convinced but I tried it and to my amazement it was perfect. It became my non chocolate 'go to' recipe and it has since been shared with many friends, who have in turn, passed on the recipe.
I think of the Lemon Cake as a friendship cake. The recipe was given to me by a friend in my time of need. I have baked it for friends both at home and away and I have passed it on to friends as well. I have found it very hard to 'kill' this cake. When I forgot to add baking powder, it made delicious Lemon Bars. When I used a tin that was too large, we had a thin and delicate cake. This friendship cake always worked like a little miracle - until today.
Today I burned the Lemon Cake. Despite the right ingredients, the right oven temperature and the right amount of time on the timer, I burned the cake. I didn't do anything differently today in the way that I prepared or baked the cake. The only change was how I felt when I was making the cake. While excited about making the cake and taking it to a lovely friend tonight I was very aware of another friendship that has been struggling recently. I am actually rather scared that this friendship may be burning out and this has been a difficult and unwanted thought. It was on my mind when I made the cake. I am not sure that I will make it again, despite its recent success because now it feels like my Burned Friendship Cake and I think it may be time for a new recipe.
Friendships are delicate relationships that require just the right mix of ingredients and care. Some friendships come to a natural end. Sometimes we are lucky and our friendships change as we change, maturing with us. Sometimes, I am taken by suprise as a new friendship springs up from nowhere reminding me how wonderful friendship can be.
The year ahead will bring many changes in our friendships and much staying the same. My wish is that however this works out, it will be advantageous for everyone. If you would like to share your 'go to' cake recipe then please do so in the comments. That would be really wonderful.
Meanwhile, in the loosely translated (and never formally attributed to) words of Marie Antoinette, "Let them eat cake".
By the age of seven I had lived in 8 homes and two countries and I had realised that I wasn't the same as my friends, who had never moved house at all. Of course at that time I didn't really know that it was strange to move so often. I suppose I was young and while I understood that we were moving again, the next house, in my mind, would always be our 'forever home' and so I wasn't particularly disturbed by the moves.
When I left my 10th family home to go to University, unlike my friends, moving really didn't seem like such a big deal. In fact, in the four years that I spent there, I lived in another 5 homes (yes we really are at 15 already!). My places of residence during this time, really were homes rather than student houses. I had my own personal things around me, my photographs, soft toys, books, clothes, music and all sorts of other things that made me feel at home. I understood by then, that for me, a house became a home when it was filled with the familiar. Up until now, this had been my family and our possessions. I carefully packed and unpacked my things and with each move my system improved.
Almost 4 years ago I left my birth country for a third country. This time I was with my own family. While we did sell and give away many many possessions, the majority of what we had accumulated came with us, including everything of a personal or sentimental nature. I knew just how important this would be for my child for the move to be a success. This move was different though and not just because it was such a big move. This time, I was waving goodbye to a house, not a home. My parents had always done me the great favour of not allowing me to see a home we were leaving, once it was empty, so that I could always remember it as filled with our things, the way it should be remembered. This wasn't a gift that I was able to give to our child on that occasion because our things were going on ahead of us. We did make sure that we took lots of photographs before the big pack up though as a next best solution. As all of our worldly goods were packed into a container and ready to sail the seas, my 22nd home, became a house again, before our eyes. I still own it but it isn't my home. It is someone else's home now, filled with their love and their trinkets and all their worldly goods. That door is closed and I know that it shall never be my home again.
I knew when we made this move, from my own experiences as a child, just how important these material possessions would be in making a new home. While people are often simplistic in saying that it is just the people that make a house a home, when you have moved as much as I have, this just doesn't hold true. Yes, of course, if my family is with me, where I live starts to become a home, but when you have moved a lot, you need something extra, something familiar and comforting. You need things!
We have recently been looking for a new place to live. This will be my 25th home. There is very little suitable accommodation available and therefore compromises are going to have to be made. Many of the viewings that we have done so far were for places much smaller than where we live now, which in turn is infinitely smaller than the house we left behind. The search for our next place to live has really opened my eyes to how many people see this whole possessions issue very differently to me. Perhaps its cultural but I am not so sure. While we have seen a number of places, all very different from each other, there has been one remarkably similar theme to each viewing. Either the owner, or the current tenant, when noticing us trying to mentally 'place' our things and see if they will fit, has immediately told us that of course, we can just downsize our things. This has been suggested to us each time without even a thought, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Things, being just things, seem to have no part in building a home for these people.
Realistically, I knew in some ways that I would indeed have to downsize a little. I sold a desk, a few books that were never going to be reread and I cleared out 15000 emails so at least my inbox is downsized. Everything else stays - from the piano that my parents bought, second hand, when I was 7 to the ridiculous Alien Citrus Juicer that I am never going to use but nevertheless, love dearly. It was a present. It is important to me. It is called Martian because it was given to me by my friend Martin and it looks like an Alien. These things and everything in between are the things that allow us to make where we live feel like home.
I have thought an awful lot about what makes a home over the last few weeks, since this search began. Interestingly the language of the country that I live in, has no separate words for a house or a home. I hope that when we find our new 'house' (and to be fair, it is going to be a flat but let's not be pedantic), we will be able to make it our home. We want to fill it with family and friends and things that evoke memories and give us the feeling of security. We want to turn it from a house to a home, even if we can't say it in the native language. Maybe someone that has only lived a few homes, or never moved from where they started, will feel very differently about what makes a home.
The only thing that I am of certain of, is that home number 25, will be my 'forever home' (until next time).
Sometimes I find life rather overwhelming. I think perhaps that most people feel the same way, at least every now and then.
For me, this time of year, comes with many restrictions and rules as a result of my religion and the religions of others, school and work schedules and National days of 'rest'. For many, the regulation and enforced routines are a welcome change and are embraced wholeheartedly. I'm afraid that I get rather bogged down with it all and it is at times like these that I feel the need to do things that are not dictated by rules or regulations. I think that it will certainly be a hair dying week. This is how I look at the moment but change is imminent:-
If you recognise me in the street please do say hi! I just love it when fans recognise me.
Over the last week I have watched as friends, acquaintances and strangers from many continents have posted photographs of and recipes for, the wonderful and traditional foods that they are preparing as part of their celebrations. Many people have simply posted photographs online showing their amazing creations but not given instructions as to how to create these miracles. These photographs were without exception followed by people asking as to how the creations should be made and what the exact recipes should be.
Some of the amazing recipes that I have seen this week have included my good friend Maurice's Potato and Caramelized Onion Spanish Omelette Style Kugel (OK he is a Chef), Suzanne's family recipe for Sweet Chremzels (something I have only ever experienced in their savoury form), Dean's beautiful Huevos Haminados, Sophie's cheese filled home made beef burgers, Elisheva's Orange Juice, Katie's Stuffed Aubergine and Chilli, Alexandra's Cereal and Lisa's family recipe for her Picnic Slice.
I saw many culinary concoctions that I may have liked to try creating both now and in the future but as I read these recipes a feeling of dread came over me. From my desire to make something lovely for my family to eat, inspired by these photographs and mouth watering descriptions, came an overwhelming feeling of constraint and restriction! I knew that anything that I cooked this week would have to have the the element of freehand - no recipes, no weights and measures - just plain old throw it in and see what happens.
So in the spirit of 'non-recipes' - tonight's meal was the following;
Spinach Gnocci with Sour Cream and Tomato Sauce, sprinkled with a little cheese.
The Ingredient List
No weights, measures or recipe was used in the making of this dish.
Chocolate Coconut Crunchies - inspired by Lisa's Picnic Slice
The Ingredients List
No weights, measures or recipe was used in the making of this dish.
With the preparation of this meal, I feel like my path from Slavery to Freedom has at least begun.