Monday, December 19, 2011

It's the holiday season... so whoop-de-doo and dickory doc.

And don't forget to hang up your socks.

'Cause just exactly at twelve o'clock... he'll be comin' down the chimney. Down.

I finally got my Christmas tree decorated, and thanks to our recent purchase of Scat Mats, the tree and its associated decorations and presents are safe from the prying paws (and teeth) of sundry cats.

I'm just going to put this out there: I love Christmas music. I could listen to Christmas music all year long, and have a tendency to sprinkle some of it through my average work week.

There's a whole lot of great Christmas music out there, and thanks to Spotify and my iTunes collection, I can listen to just about anything I want.

Some of my favorite Christmas albums this season are:

A Very She & Him Christmas by She and Him - The twee cuteness of Zooey Deschanel is tempered nicely by the raw talent of M. Ward.

In the Park: Christmas (Various) - A collection of instrumental and vocal jazz, as well as choral music, that's classic and timeless.

Joy to the World by Pink Martini - the modern lounge act performs both traditional and international holiday music that's as beautiful as it is interesting.

The Hotel Cafe Presents Winter Songs (Various) - talented women sing beautiful holiday songs.

A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas by Kristen Chenoweth - I'm a fan of her Broadway vocal style, which translates nicely to Christmas songs.

A Christmas Cornucopia by Annie Lennox - Annie Lennox has a voice that was forged for winter-flavored song.

Country Christmas (Various) - A nice compilation of songs by some excellent country artists.

Great stuff, all of these.

Did I mention I love Christmas music?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Updated authenticity.

We recently had a craving for Mexican food, but not the kind that's slathered in cheese and served with a side of gloppy beans. We wanted something a bit more authentic, but authentic isn't easy in the suburbs. However, there are a couple of local gems to be found here and there, and one of them is a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place in KC called Ixtapa. It's not the most authentic in the world, but it's not On The Border, either.

My favorite thing on their menu is a plate of these delicious open-faced tacos with caramelized onions, grilled chicken, guacamole, cilantro and salsa verde. To. Die. For. And simple. So I figured I could recreate these little discs of goodness at home.

And I was right, for the most part.

We started at the bottom with the tortilla, and bought some corn tortillas from the grocery store. Next, we looked on the jarred salsa isle for some salsa verde. I know, I know - the best salsa is that which you make yourself, but I wanted these to be as easy as possible, and finding all the right ingredients for fresh salsa verde in December in a Kansas City suburb isn't all that easy. I settled for Pace Salsa Verde and believe it or not, this stuff is really, really good.

Next was the chicken, which is where we get nice and creative. I got some espresso rub from Spices Inc. a few months ago, and it's a little spicy, a little sweet, a little savory, and just seemed perfect for our tacos. So I covered some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the rub, vacuumed sealed them, and popped the them in the Sous Vide Supreme for an hour at 146 degrees.

While the chicken was doing its thing, I caramelized some onions and Mr. Awesome chopped up some cilantro. When the chicken was done, we took it out of the vacuumed-sealed bags and tossed the breasts into a smokin' hot cast-iron skillet for a quick sear before slicing into strips/chunks.
Better-Than-Your-Average-Taco Tacos
Servings: 4

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Spices Inc. Espresso Rub (or another flavorful rub with a little heat)
2 large yellow onions, sliced
1/2 c. chopped cilantro
12 smallish corn tortillas
Salsa verde (we used Pace)
Guacamole (we used some store-bought organic guacamole)
Canola oil
Cooking spray
Salt and pepper
1 lime, for juice

Preheat the Sous Vide Supreme to 146 degrees F. Rub the chicken breasts with the espresso rub until sufficiently coated. Put the breasts in a food-safe plastic bag and vacuum seal on Medium. Put the bag into the Sous Vide Supreme and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove the chicken from the Sous Vide Supreme, take out of the bag, and let cool slightly.

When the chicken is almost done, heat a wide-bottomed skillet coated with canola oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and spread them out to cover the bottom of the pan. Let the onions cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. You want them to brown slowly, but not burn. If they stick, add a little bit of water. I keep a cup of water nearby and just splash some in there every once in a while. About halfway through cooking, season the onions with salt and pepper. The onions are done when they are very soft and caramel-colored.

Preheat a cast-iron skillet coated with canola oil over medium-high to high heat. When it's really hot, add the chicken and sear for 1 minute on each side. Remove from pan and slice into strips/chunks.

Preheat an indoor grill (like a Cuisinart or Foreman) to high heat. Spray a little cooking spray on each tortilla and grill for 1 to 2 minutes per side until warmed and soft. Don't overcook, or they'll harden up.

To assemble:
Place three tortillas on each of four plates. Top the tortillas with some caramelized onions, then chicken, the some guacamole, then cilantro. Squeeze a little lime juice on each taco. Put the salsa verde in a bowl on the table, and add a spoonful of salsa verde to each taco before eating it. You don't want to put the salsa verde on in advance or else the tacos will get soggy.

The biggest difference between my tacos and the ones served at Ixtapa is the tortillas. The Ixtapa tortillas are smaller and softer, and I like them better than the ones we found at the grocery store. I think I'll hunt around for a store that sells more Mexican products and would hopefully have a better tortilla selection. Better yet, maybe I can find a place that sells homemade tortillas... any thoughts?

As for my tacos, despite the not-perfect tortillas, they are really delicious. They go great with some red sangria and a little Latin-flavored chill-out music playing in the background.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The best? Yep. The BEST.

I watched an episode of America's Test Kitchen wherein the chefs made "the best blueberry muffins." Usually skeptical of such claims, I vowed to reserve judgement regarding the "bestness" of these muffins until I could make them myself. However, I know from experience that America's Test Kitchen recipes usually are as great as they claim.

We got back from Colorado on a Friday, and Sunday I whipped up some blueberry muffins.

I stuck fairly close to the Test Kitchen recipe, although I did make a modification in that I used some pre-made blueberry jam.

The finished product looked like this:
Lynn’s Best Blueberry Muffins
Servings: 12 muffins
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

For the Lemon-Sugar Topping:
1/3 c. sugar (2 1/3 ounces)
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated zest from 1 lemon

For the Muffins:
1 c. fresh blueberries (about 10 ounces), plus 1 Tbsp.
1 c. Trader Joe’s Blueberry Preserves
1 1/8 c. sugar (8 ounces)
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. table salt
2 large eggs
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
1/4 c. Canola oil
1 c. buttermilk (see note)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the topping:
Stir together sugar and lemon zest in small bowl until combined; set aside.

For the muffins:
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Bring 1 cup blueberry preserves and 1 Tbsp. blueberries to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with spoon several times and stirring frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened slightly, about 5 mi. Transfer to small bowl and cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl. Whisk sugar and eggs together in medium bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined. Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until combined. Using rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining cup blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened. (Batter will be very lumpy with few spots of dry flour; do not overmix.)

Use a large spoon to divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly). Spoon teaspoon of cooked berry mixture into center of each mound of batter. Using chopstick or skewer, gently swirl berry filling into batter using figure-eight motion. Sprinkle lemon sugar evenly over muffins.

Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, 17 to 19 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffins in muffin tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool 5 minutes before serving.
The result? These really are the best blueberry muffins. Hands down. For reals. The topping is crunchy and a little sticky, the texture of the cake is not too dry and not too moist, they're not too sweet and not too tart. These are the Mary Poppins of blueberry muffins - practically perfect in every way.

I ate one, Frank ate one, and I shared the rest with my co-workers for Treat Monday, who want to know when I'm bringing in muffins again. :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Donation Day! - 10/18/2011

Monday night I went to bed feeling a little achy. I slept well and woke up to the sound of a hotel alarm clock at 5:45am on Tuesday morning. I couldn't have anything to eat since I was getting a central line inserted, so I drank a couple of big glasses of water, put on my comfie clothes and Frank and I headed to the hospital for the last time. We made ourselves comfortable in our own private room, complete with a bed for me, a chair for Frank and a television. One of the nurses came in and drew several tubes of blood, then gave me one last filgrastim injection. The last sting! We waited for the radiology group to call me down to get my central line and as soon as they were ready I headed that way.

I had to put on a gown as four or five doctors and nurses moved around very fast doing doctor and nurse things. One of them put on some music and as I laid on the bed, with the commotion and movement and music that sounded like The Fray, I felt like I was in an episode of Grey's Anatomy and tried to stifle my nerves.

The young Dr. Horner talked to me about going to medical school at KU, then told me that inserting a central line was easy - the easiest, most routine thing they do all day - but that he knew it wasn't easy for me. He said that the hardest part would be the anticipation, not the procedure, and he was right. One of the nurses hung a sheet near my face so that I couldn't see what was going on, and Dr. Horner injected some lidocaine in the general area of my neck. That stung a little bit, but not as bad as that first filgrastim shot. I couldn't see what was going on, but I could feel pressure. Not pain, pressure. I felt like a clown's pocket - like I was getting stuffed full of handkerchiefs. I had no idea what was going on, but it felt weird. Then it was over.

Dr. Horner said something about the Coldplay song playing - that it was "safe - you can't offend anyone with Coldplay." He was right, but I asked him what he likes to listen to, if not the safety of Coldplay. He said - and I'm not kidding - 60's-era jazz organ records. I would have busted out laughing if I didn't have a thing sticking out of my neck. I asked the room in general if anyone had ever heard of The Mighty Boosh and one awesome nurse answered affirmatively and started laughing. I said that Dr. Horner was Howard Moon, then we talked about Old Gregg and the Crack Fox until it was time for me to go back to my room. I thanked Dr. Horner for stabbing me in the neck and wished them all well.

'Back in my room, it was donation time. The central line in my neck made it difficult to turn my head - the nurses told me it was fine, but I was scared the line would pop out and blood would gush out all over everywhere and next thing you know it looks like Night of the Living Dead all up in here. So I kept head movements to a minimum. I then got hooked up to this machine:

Sort of looks like some retro Atari rig, right? There were two tubes coming out of my neck, so they hooked an output tube to one and an input to another. Over the next five hours, my blood was sucked out, passed through this machine where the stem cells were separated out and filtered to a collection bag, then the rest of my blood was pumped back into my body. Since I could't (wouldn't) turn my head, I didn't really see much of this happening, but Mr. Awesome said it looked really cool, if not a bit freaky.

During the collection, I did the following:
  • Slept
  • Ate a Denver omelette
  • Read Cooking Light magazine
  • Slept
  • Watched an episode of America's Test Kitchen where they made the world's best blueberry muffins
When I wasn't sleeping, I looked pretty much like this:

That's multitasking, right there.

Then, around 2:30 pm, a nurse checked the progress of the collection and determined that I was all done. Not only was I done, they were able to collect TWICE as many stem cells as were needed, so the extras could be frozen for use by the patient if she needed more! How awesome is that?!

Here I am, during one of the proudest moments of my whole life:

Shortly after, a courier arrived to pick up my cells and rush them to the airport for a 3:30 flight. It was right about then that I started to get all teary. All the emotion of the day, of the whole experience, was compressed into that bag and the courier and the journey my cells would be taking over the next several hours. It's unfathomable, really. Ain't science grand?

It was now time to remove the central line from my neck. Long story short, the nurses pulled it out, and then held pressure to the hole in my neck for about 5 full minutes. Then they put a chunky white patch over the area and told me not to do anything to strain my neck for a couple of days (like lifting luggage, bending over, etc.) No problem, ladies. I didn't want to see the thing they pulled out of my neck right then, but Mr. Awesome took a picture so I could look at it later. I debated posting the picture here, but decided against it because it's pretty disturbing. Not that the picture above of me holding a bag of blood isn't disturbing, but you get the idea.

I got dressed, put on my shoes (without bending over - no easy task), then said farewell to the great nurses who took such good care of me and Mr. Awesome during our stay:

They're laughing because Mr. Awesome tried to get foam hand sanitizer out of a dispenser, and it sprayed all over him. I sort of laughed, but didn't because I was afraid of the whole Night of the Living Dead thing. You know how it is.

And that was it. I was officially a bone marrow donor!

The process wasn't completely painless, but it wasn't as bad as I expected, either. I didn't have lots of soreness due to the injections like some people report. I preemptively addressed some of that by having Tylenol at the ready just in case and by drinking lots of water. The donation process itself was very easy. Mine was a bit more complicated because of the central line, but I highly recommend a central line to other donors because it keeps your hands free and because they can collect more cells in a shorter period.

I would donate again tomorrow if I asked. No hesitation.

We went back to the hotel, freshened up a bit, then headed to a celebratory dinner. Yep - I felt good enough to go out to dinner. I wore a turtleneck and you couldn't even tell I had a huge patch on my neck covering a gaping clown hanky hole.

With dinner, our day went from AMAZING to OMFGAMAZING. How? We had the best sushi we've ever eaten. In landlocked Denver. A mile above sea level. On a Tuesday.

Sushi Den is the most incredible sushi restaurant we've ever experienced.  Operated by the Kizaki brothers, Toshi, Yasu & Koichi, this is sushi like no other. Toshi and Yasu live in Denver and run the restaurant. Koichi lives in Japan and buys fish in one of Japan's largest fish markets every morning, then ships it to his brothers the same day. The result is that there is fish on the menu in Denver that was swimming 24 hours before. That's not something you run into every day in the midwest or mountains. Among the incredible pieces we sampled was some seared fatty tuna. It was a flavor and texture that was entirely new to me and I could have eaten a whole plate of it. We're looking forward to a trip to Colorado next summer for lots of reasons, including a return visit to Sushi Den.

Donation done, dinner eaten, back to the hotel for a nice, long sleep.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The good stuff - 10/17/2011

Another good night's sleep, another morning sleeping in - but we almost slept in too much! We had arranged to be at the hospital at 9:30am on Monday morning instead of noon so we could have more time to spend in and around Denver, but we woke up at 8:30 and had no idea it was so late!

Another Starbucks breakfast, another visit with the nurses and another stinging (but not too bad) injection of filgrastim.

The weather on Monday was much cooler - in the mid-50s - and a little drizzly. Rather than go into the mountains again, we decided to spend the day in Denver, mostly indoors.

We headed to IKEA.

We had never been in an IKEA before. I'd never really even looked around the company's website. We were in for a very pleasant surprise.

Everything is awesome. Everything is inexpensive. I felt like we rubes in Kansas City are being cheated by the lack of an IKEA in our area. It's the best store I've ever been in. The upper level is room after decorated room of design ideas, including an entire 500-some-odd square foot "house" with multiple rooms filled entirely with IKEA goodness. I could totally live in that space and be blissfully happy. The lower level is room after room of stuff to buy. Kitchen stuff, bedroom stuff, bathroom and office stuff. Wall stuff, candles, picture frames, lamps, rugs - you name it, if it goes in a house, IKEA has the coolest version of it at the best price. As Mr. Awesome said while we were looking around, slack-jawed, "I used to think families on TV were inexplicably wealthy. Now I know they all shop at IKEA."

There were things in that store that I didn't even know we needed. And we needed them.

Aside from a Ställ shoe holder (yes, everything has cutesy-sounding faux-Swedish names), we bought a couple of awesome floor lamps, some glass paneled lights to hang on the wall, a blanket, some LED lights to mount behind our TV and a few sink brushes. You can never have enough sink brushes.

Then, we ate lunch at IKEA.

Full-on Swedish lunch - smoked salmon, Swedish meatballs and lingonberry juice. Bork, bork, bork!

After IKEA, we headed across the street to the Park Meadows Mall. What a beautiful shopping center! Lots of wood, vaulted ceilings, wide walkways, huge skylights. We walked around for a bit, and I bought a couple of sweaters.

Then, I started to feel pretty tired, and my back was fairly sore. This was really the first time I had some extended discomfort and I felt like resting for a little bit. So we headed back to the hotel and relaxed until dinner.

Ah, dinner. Another wonderful adventure. This time, we had reservations at one of Denver's best restaurants, Rioja. We split a black mission fig and goat cheese tart, then I had a delicious roasted squash salad, and Frank had a salad of candied beets and greens. For our entrees, I had veal saltimbocca with polenta and Frank had braised short ribs. We shared a cake pop from Starbucks from dessert before heading back to the hotel once more.

My donation was the next morning, so we went to bed fairly early. I had to be at the hospital at 7am the next day!

Up next - donation day and the best sushi we've ever had.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fugue for greenhorns - 10/16/2011

I slept really good on Saturday night.

Sunday morning we slept in a little, then got up, had breakfast at Starbucks, and went to Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center for my third injection. I met with the nurses who would be with me during the donation, and talked to them about how the donation would work.

They checked my vital signs, conducted a brief health history, and evaluated my veins to see what type of collection method would work best for me. When they asked whether I'd had any trouble with blood draws in the past, I told them that sometimes it takes lots of sticks to hit the right spot. One of the nurses said that it might be a better idea if, instead of collecting the cells from my arms, I would get a central line inserted in my neck. This way, there would be one port with two stems - one to collect the cells and one to put my blood back in. The nurse said it was an additional procedure, but that overall it was a better way to go - the cells collected this way were usually of better quality and quantity, and I would be more comfortable during the donation procedure. I was sold.

I got my third injection and again, it stung, but not nearly as much as that first time. Hurray for meaty arms! Again, the injection site itched a little, but I rubbed on it a bit and it stopped being noticeable after about 10 minutes. This part of the day completed, we headed for the hills!

I'd heard that elks like to roam around Estes Park, Colorado, this time of year, so we drove up that way to see what we could see. We stopped at Whole Foods for a quick bite (there's one on every corner, it seems) before heading north through Boulder then on to Estes Park. The drive was punctuated by sweeping ranch land and splashes of yellow aspen trees among wide swaths of green pines. Colorado may be most popular in winter and summer, but autumn is really a spectacular sight.

Upon arriving in Estes Park, we were greeted by a large bull elk in the center of an intersection. It was just like the opening scene of Northern Exposure, when the moose is walking through the center of town, only this was real. Also, elk are really, really large and we were glad we were in a vehicle. The elk looked around a bit before a policeman chased him off into a lawn. We then noticed a large group of people gathered around a fence by a golf course, and pulled into the Estes Park Visitor's Center next door to find out what they were looking at. Elk. Lots and lots of elk had taken over the golf course. There must have been 20 females, 5 or 6 young and one huge male. Occasionally other males would try to approach and the huge male would chase the interloper off into the hills.

Did I mention elk are huge? They are also loud - the males anyway. At one point as we were watching the action, the big bull male turned toward us spectators and let out this loud, long call. It started off low, then pitched higher and higher until it sounded like one of those obnoxious plastic horns found at sporting events. Local volunteers did a good job of keeping the crowd back and answering questions about the animals.

I had hoped we'd see one elk off in the distance. I had no idea we'd get up close and personal with dozens. So, so cool.

I had made dinner reservations at Jax Fish House in Boulder (where Top Chef Season 5 winner Hosea Rosenberg worked for a while) for that night, so we headed out of Estes Park and took the long way back to Boulder, through Boulder Canyon and stopped to see Boulder Falls. By this time, my lower back was hurting just a bit, and every once in a while I'd get these twinges in my back and thighs that lasted for just a couple of seconds but were sort of surprising each time they occurred.

Dinner at was just wonderful. The atmosphere in the restaurant was vibrant, but not too hipster, and even though it was Sunday night, the place was packed.We shared a Charcuterie Trio of smoked colorado trout pate, tuna confit and sockeye salmon pastrami. I had Char Grilled Alaskan Salmon with wild rice griddle cake, curried cauliflower, heirloom squash and pickled cherries. This dish tasted exactly like this rice dish my mom makes for holidays, so I planned on recreating the spirit of it when I returned home. Frank had Skinned Colorado Striped Bass with duck fat roasted yukon golds, eggplant agrodolce and cumin yogurt. For dessert, we split a slice of Key Lime Pie.

After dinner, we walked around Pearl Street Mall for a bit before heading back to the hotel for another good night's sleep.

Next up - Injection day 4 and the most wonderful store in the world.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On the road again - 10/15/2011

Friday evening we took Finnie to the kennel, packed our suitcases and went to bed nice and early.

I sort of tossed and turned during the night and didn't get a whole lot of sleep, but I can't attribute that to the filgrastim. It was more before-roadtrip nerves.

On Saturday, October 15th, we got up bright and early, packed up the car and drove to the downtown Denny's.

Although it was 6:30 in the morning, the parking lot was packed with all types of people, some scary and some not-so-scary. A Denny's in the dark is much more frightening than a Denny's by the light of day, and that's saying something. After a few minutes, the home health nurse arrived to give me my second filgrastim injection. The injections stung again, but not nearly as bad as they did before. I realized it was because the nurses on Friday gave me the injections towards the front of my arm, and the nurse at Denny's gave them to me in the meatier back part of my arm.

It was at this point that I began to examine the choices in my life that lead to me sitting in a stranger's van in a seedy Denny's parking lot with a needle in my arm. After a few seconds of thoughtful self-reflection, I thanked the nurse for meeting us and we headed out of town. The injection sites itched a tiny bit for about 30 minutes afterwards, but I just rubbed them a bit and it stopped pretty quickly.

The drive to Denver was a bit different than our trip over the summer. Because it's closer to winter, we drove our Jeep instead of our Camry. The Jeep is awesome, and better yet, it's paid for. But the Jeep doesn't have built-in navigation, so we bought a mount for Mr. Awesome's phone and used that for navigation. It took some getting used to, but it worked out really well. The other thing the Jeep doesn't have is a stereo system that will play MP3 discs. So instead of one CD with 20 This American Life episodes, I burned 20 CDs with one This American Life episode on each disc. That also ended up working out better than expected, since we didn't have to remember which track we were on.

During the drive, I was tired, but again, I can't attribute that to the filgrastim, since I didn't really sleep well the night before. Nothing a Starbucks couldn't fix.

We arrived in town around 4:30 (I love the whole "losing an hour" thing that happens when we go west - it's like a whole extra hour of vacation) and checked into our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn in Cherry Creek. Really nice place - valet parking! Comfortable beds! Great location! Highly recommended, this one.

We were both worn out from the long drive, so we decided to go to dinner someplace close. The Cherry Creek Shopping Center was right up the road so we headed there to look around and had dinner at Kona Grill. It was just okay. I realized while eating that I can make the same type of food much, much better. The portions were way too big, and the presentations were a little over the top. They try to please everyone and end up not pleasing us at all. After dinner we shared a bag of Doc Popcorn (the cinnamon and sweet butter mixed together is so good!) and tried not to spill it all over the mall as we walked around. Then it was back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

Next up - injection day 3 and and elk yells at us.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The sting - 10/14/2011

And... they're off!

This morning I had to go LabCorp to get more blood drawn - this time, it's to set a "baseline" of my chemical blood counts before the injections of filgrastim begin. My veins, while visible and pretty easy to find, are apparently "rolly" and don't particularly like getting stuck with needles. The lab tech had to stab me twice before she hit gold, so to speak. But - no bruise. YAY!

After the blood draw, I dropped Mr. Awesome off at work and headed to the Community Blood Center on Main street. I've driven past the blood center probably hundreds of times, but I'd never been inside until today. It's a big, two-story building with lots of rooms inside. It's obvious the place has been remodeled again and again - it had the same "I was once interesting and now I'm blah" feel that remodeled business spaces tend to have. But the furniture in the waiting area was modern and comfortable, and all of the people I met who worked at the center were nice.

A nurse took me into a small room and asked me general questions, like if I had any skin rashes, or had thrown up or fainted in the last 24 hours (So if I threw up for 6 hours two days ago, but not in the last 24 hours, all is well? Okie dokie!). They took my blood pressure and temperature (both normal) and then we headed to the second floor of the building.

I was weighed to see how much of the drug I needed to receive, then we headed into an "apheresis room" for the injection. The room had a couple of those big reclining leather dental-type chairs that are associated with blood donation, a couple of small televisions, and a conference table with some syringes and cotton balls and stuff on it. Those, it turned out, were for me.

I had a seat, and the nurse asked where I wanted to receive the shots - I would be getting two shots, because all of the dose wouldn't fit in one. I asked her where she recommended since she is the expert, and she said the upper arm. Alrighty.  I pulled up my sleeve, and she injected the filgrastim.

Honesty time again.

Filgrastim is, apparently, the consistency of corn syrup. It's thick. You know what that means? It means it hurts like a mutherclucker when it's injected into an arm. It puts up a fight. It felt like I was getting stung by a bee for about 7 seconds, and just when I thought I could take no more, it was over. The stinging stopped, and the pain was gone. Then I got to do it again in the other arm.

So, the truth is, this first injection of filgrastim hurt. But it only hurt for 7 seconds, then it was over. I'm not looking forward to hurting for 7 seconds on each of the next four mornings, but 35 seconds is practically nothing.

After the injections, I had to wait around for 20 minutes to make sure I didn't have a horrible allergic reaction that required the use of the EpiPen that the nurse carried with her from the first room upstairs into the apheresis room. Nothing terrible happened, so I was free to go.

It's been about three hours since I had my injection, and I feel a tiny, tiny bit fuzzyheaded. Sort of like how it feels when you wake up from a nap in the middle of the afternoon. I don't think I can attribute this to the filgrastim - I think it's because I didn't get to have my coffee as early as I normally do. The injection sites on my arm itch just a itty-bitty bit. Other than that, no issues. No bone pain, or nausea, or anything of concern. I hope I can still say that later on today.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tears for fears.

I made someone cry today.

There's a woman who works in the same place that I do who works closely with a person who needs a bone marrow transplant. We ran into each other a few months ago, and we talked about the registry, how our workplace had a drive, etc. and I told her I'd been registered for a couple of years and what a great thing the registry is. We talked about how difficult it is to find matches for certain ethnic groups, especially African-Americans and Hispanics, and how the co-worker, who is black, hasn't found a match yet. A couple of weeks after this conversation, I got called by Be The Match. Coincidence, huh?

I ran into her again today for the first time since that conversation months ago. I told her I'd been thinking about her and why, and that's when she started to tear up. She thanked me, told me what a great thing it is that I'm doing and hugged me. I wish I was donating to her co-worker, but that's not how things work in the world. Somewhere, a 58-year old woman has a co-worker that's glad their friend has found a match.

Speaking of the 58-year old woman...

This is about the time that things are getting very, very real for her. If she hasn't already, she'll soon start on strong doses of chemotherapy that will kill her immune system, so it can't attack when my transplanted cells enter her system in about a week. If something happens to me between now and then, and she can't get a transplant, she'll probably die. I'm being extra-careful this week. No walking under ladders or base-jumping for me!

In other news...

Last Friday, I received a package in the mail that contained a dose of the drug that I'll begin taking this Friday - Filgrastim. The dose I received is now safely in my refrigerator, where it will stay until next Saturday morning.

Filgrastim increases the amount of  hematopoietic stem cells that my body will produce, and that overabundance will be harvested during the donation procedure.

There are side effects to this drug, the most common of which are bone pain and headaches (because what's a headache but a big pain in the skull?). I keep reading that the pain is sort of like the aches associated with the flu, and are relieved with Tylenol. We'll see...

Last Friday night I went to a mini-family reunion where I saw some family members I hadn't seen in many, many (too many) years. We had a great time laughing and catching up.

My family is wonderful.

On Friday of this week, I have to go to a blood lab near my house (the same one I went to when I got my initial blood work done in September). They will draw lots more vials of blood, then will send those to Colorado for analysis in preparation for the donation procedure. After they take my blood, I head to the Community Blood Center on Main Street where I'll get my first dose of Filgrastim. I have to hang out there for a bit to make sure I don't have any allergic reactions to the drug, then I'll head off to work. Hopefully I'll make it to work in time to meet with a knitting group that's gathering around lunchtime - yarn therapy is so soothing!

Saturday morning, a home health aide will come to my house and give me the dose that's currently in my fridge. As soon as that's done, we hit the road for Denver, hopefully arriving in time to have some dinner. I've got my fingers crossed that the bone pain won't be so severe that I don't want to do anything other than rest in the hotel room, but if it is, it is. I'll have my computer and knitting and magazines and Frank to keep me from getting too bored. And Tylenol. Lots and lots of Tylenol, just in case.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Goodbye again, Colorado! Day 2.

On Wednesday, I woke up around 8am and decided to take a shower. I turned on the water, adjusted the temperature, and commenced to showering. After about 2 minutes, I noticed that the shower wasn't draining as well as it should, so I kicked at the drain stopper, thinking it must have been down. When I did so, I thought I noticed some orange spots in the water. I can't see anything but colored blurs without my glasses, but after a second the orange went away, but the water still wasn't draining. I washed my face and as I pulled my hand away, I noticed that my hand was completely covered in blood.

My first thought was that I must have hit my face on something and cut it, but I couldn't recall doing so, and my face felt fine. I finally realize that my nose is bleeding. A lot. Meanwhile, the tub isn't draining, and there's blood all over the water, and the towel, and my hand, and my face, and it looks like someone died in the bathroom.

My second thought was, I have to give a whole lot of blood today, and I can't spare any, so I have to get this to stop. So I stuff some Kleenex up my nose and search for "how to stop a nosebleed" on my phone. I learn that nosebleeds can occur in higher elevations, and to stop it I have to squeeze my nostrils together for 5 minutes. That did the trick, but the bathroom was still a crime scene. Even after 20 minutes, the water still hadn't drained completely.

This was how I started off on the day of my physical.

After we cleaned up as best we could, we headed down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. It was your standard hotel breakfast buffet, with greasy omelettes and strange-tasting pancakes, and it would have been passable for free. However, we paid $12 a person for this because we were hungry and there was no where else to go. Not a good deal. Even the coffee didn't cut it, so we walked across the street to a Target that thankfully had a Starbucks inside. Suitably caffeinated, we bought a couple of bottles of water and headed back to the hotel to rest until it was time to head to the hospital for my physical.

I drank two of these in two hours before we arrived at the hospital. I don't recommend doing that on a regular basis.

When we arrived at the hospital, we went to a place called the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. The staff was really nice and helpful, and I was introduced to Betsy, the person who works most with Be The Match at the facility. I also met another coordinator named Rebecca, and several really nice nurses and doctors. I had to fill out a little paperwork before things got going:

Note: my hair looks especially awesome in this photo because I didn't get to wash it thanks to the Great Nosebleed Disaster of 2011.

Once all the paperwork was in order, I had to get lots of blood drawn. First, they took my blood pressure, then prepared to suck my blood. Here's the pile of stuff for that before they started that process:

All the water helped a great deal, although I was left with a little bit bigger bruise (i.e. a bruise at all) than last time. Also, the nurse said that my vein, while big, was "insubstantial," meaning it was sort of shallow and she had to be careful. However, the actual blood draw didn't hurt and in the end it took about 5 minutes to get all this blood:

It looks like a lot, but the nurse assured me I still had plenty left in my body. Although I wasn't so sure, what with the preceding nosebleed and all. But I felt fine, if not just a tiny bit weak. Nothing that a Bit O' Honey candy, courtesy of the front-desk candy dish couldn't resolve.

After the blood draw, they took my height and weight, asked for a urine sample (another thing made easier with the ingestion of about a gallon of water) then led me to an exam room for my EKG. I'd never had an EKG before, so I didn't really know what to expect. It was an incredibly simple process. First, the nurse stuck these little "leads" about the size of a quarter on me - one on each calf, one on each upper arm, one on the right side of my chest and five on the left side of my chest. Then she clipped these cables that were attached to what looked like a small dot-matrix printer on a rolling card to each lead. She flipped a switch on the cart-thingie, told me to take a couple of deep breaths, then said my EKG looked great and removed the cables and sticky leads. Easy peasy! I could see where someone with lots of body hair would have a harder time with this than I did. Sorry, men (and hairy ladies)!

After the EKG, a doctor came into the room and asked about my health history. He talked to me about the PBSC collection process, the fact that some donors have to get a central line put in their neck if their veins aren't able to support the traditional apheresis procedure, and gave me some tips for dealing with the eventual bone pain and other side effects that could be caused by the filgrastim injections. He spent about 10 minutes talking to me and making sure I didn't have any questions before releasing me to get a chest x-ray.

For the x-ray we headed to the main part of the hospital. We had to meet with hospital Admitting, fill out a little bit more paperwork, then they took me to get the x-ray. Then that was it. It took about 2 1/2 hours from the time I arrived at the hospital at 12:45 until I was done with my chest x-ray and ready to leave.

The hotel shuttle picked us up, took us back to the hotel and we immediately jumped into another fancy Lincoln for the trip back to the Denver airport.

It took about 30 minutes to get through security (compared to about a minute and a half to get through security at KCI) and once through, we had some Wolfgang Puck pizza for dinner before boarding another plane for the return trip home.

The following day I had to go to Columbia, Missouri for training, so by the time Friday rolled around, I was pretty-well done for. Thankfully, Frank and I had reservations for dinner at Michael Smith Restaurant, and it was just what the doctor ordered. A great dinner, followed by a relatively quiet weekend at home. Lovely.

Paulette is already making arrangements for my return trip later this month. Frank and I are planning on driving so we can do some Colorado sight-seeing (provided I'm feeling up to it). I've got a break from donation stuff until the middle of next week, when I have to get some more tests. Then, if all proceeds as expected, I'll get my first injection on Friday, October 14th.

Hello again, Colorado! Day 1.

Last Tuesday, my mom and I boarded a plane and flew to Denver, Colorado.

We packed light for our overnight trip, limiting those liquids and gels to 3-ounce containers and making sure our baggage was security-ready. We flew in an Embraer ERJ 145 on both flights. I normally don't pay attention to such things, but Mr. Awesome let me know that the plane had an excellent safety record, so that was good :)

Upon landing in Denver, we maneuvered our way through the enormous airport (seriously - the airport makes KCI look like a bus stop) towards the Ground Transportation area, where a fancy black Lincoln was waiting for us. The driver was really nice - told us about how he used to live in Vail until he had kids and needed to move somewhere more "real" - and we were at our hotel in about 30 minutes.

Paulette from Be The Match had booked us at the Holiday Inn Select in Cherry Creek, just south of downtown Denver. The hotel was rather new, and had a comfortable and contemporary lobby. However, check-in was a bit... weird.

Does anyone remember the character Beverly Leslie from the show Boston Legal?

The front-desk clerk looked and sounded just like that character. I liked that character. All was well.

Until he asked me why we were in town and I told him I was a bone marrow donor here for a physical.

Front-desk Leslie, in a thick Southern drawl rather out-of-place for the high plains, proceeded to tell me that he wanted to be a bone marrow donor, but he has hepatitis and can't donate and that "really bothers" him. Actually, he goes on to say, he has two types of hepatitis and they won't let him donate blood, and he really wants to, and it "really bothers" him.

You know what "really bothers" me? Being told, loudly, at check-in, about your communicable diseases and made to feel a little guilty that I, by virtue of higher standards of discretion in the realms of sexual partners and/or shellfish, can still donate life-saving materials from my hepatitis-free self.

Strike one against the Holiday Inn Select in Cherry Creek.

The room was standard, but comfortable. The beds were more comfortable than I expected. After unpacking our few items and resting for a few minutes, my mom and I headed out for lunch. The hotel was a 1-mile walk down a very nice trail to one of the fanciest shopping malls ever. Sur La Table? Check. Apple Store? Check. Louis Vuitton? Check. Swanky.

We had a good lunch at Brio Tuscan Grill - I'd never eaten there before and love Italian food - where we had bruschetta and eggplant Parmesan and strawberry-basil lemonade. Delicious! For dessert, we shared a bag of cinnamon popcorn from a place in the mall. Also delicious! Then we headed back to the hotel for a nap.

When I was a kid, my mom and I would spend a week each summer at a Unity Church retreat at the YMCA of the Rockies. She would drive us from KC in the middle of the night to avoid heat and traffic, and we'd get to Denver sometime around sunrise on a Saturday. The retreat didn't start until Sunday, so we would check into the Brown Palace Hotel for one night before the retreat and for one night on the way home. We'd stay in a suite up on the 9th floor and order room service breakfast (Irish oatmeal) and wear fluffy robes and pretty much live like queens. For dinner, we'd eat in the Ship's Tavern, the bar and grill just off the hotel lobby. The last time I was in the Brown Palace was when I was maybe 14, so we decided we'd go back for dinner to see if anything has changed.

Thankfully, just about everything was exactly the same. Same big, beautiful lobby, same friendly and helpful doormen, same feel, same charm. We planned on eating at the Ship's Tavern, but that's one thing that was a bit different - it was full of businessmen watching sporting events. Not exactly the vibe we were going for, but luckily they serve drinks and appetizers in the lobby, where we were serenaded by an excellent pianist:

He even took a picture of my mom and me together:

Dinner was excellent. My mom had a martini that was made with honey from bees that have hives on the roof of the hotel! We shared crab cakes and a cheese plate, then made our way back to the hotel to call it a night.

I didn't really think much about the physical on this day. I just enjoyed being in Denver with my mom, with the mountains in the distance. The one thing I did do was drink lots of water throughout the day, since that's what saved me when I had to give blood the last time.

I slept really, really well, except for having to pee every 3 hours. Chalk that up to all the water-drinking. But my veins were hydrated!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Selfless or selfish?

Tomorrow, my mom and I board a plane headed for Denver, and on Wednesday I will have my physical. The last time I flew was in 2006, when I went by myself to New Jersey for training related to my job. It was, all in all, a good experience, and I don't expect this experience to be any different. However, I'm still nervous. Not really about the flying or the physical, but more about the logistics. What to pack and not pack. Making sure I make my appointment on time. Those sorts of things.

Tonight, we will have a information session via phone with the donor representative from Be The Match. She'll give me lots of information, and I'll probably have lots of questions. Most of the questions I can answer on my own with the help of Google, but I'm looking forward to talking to the rep anyway.

I'm a little out of sorts today. Not cranky or angry or anything. Here's the deal, and I don't know quite how to explain it, but I'll give it a go.

(Remember when I told you I would be really honest about this process?)

When I first found out I was a possible match, I was excited to tell people, to get people to join the registry. As the donation gets closer, I'm finding it harder to bring it up with people. I still want to tell people about it - very much so - but at the same time, I feel like they might think I'm looking for sympathy, or complements, or that I'm being selfish even bringing it up. I know this sounds crazy, but that's what's going on with me today. I haven't had a negative experience when talking to people - quite the opposite, really - everyone who has talked to me about it is so incredibly nice and complementary and encouraging and positive. And maybe that's the thing. From my perspective, it feels like I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do. It's strange to reconcile my sense of duty in this situation with everyone else's perception of selflessness, generosity and whatnot. I don't want to come across as preachy about bone marrow donation, and I don't want to come across as unappreciative of or ungrateful for support and encouragement - I need and welcome all of it. But the two sides are tugging within me today, and am out of sorts.

So what I have to work on is just being in the moment with this. Letting the good will and positive encouragement from others wash over me, take it in - I am doing a good thing, and it's okay to acknowledge that.

Do you know what I mean? Or am I really just being overly... weird ... on this one?

(this is a cross-post with my not-so-foodie site, Sit. Stay. Good Blog. It’s important, so I want as many people to learn about bone marrow donation as possible.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday, September 24th.

I've gotten a couple of questions about how much it will cost me to go to Denver for the donation. The answer: nothing.

The National Marrow Donation Program pays all travel expenses for me and a companion including airfare, mileage, hotel, meals and even dog boarding for Finnie. They book all the plane tickets and hotels, and I keep my receipts for the rest. I don't have to pay for one thing. Pretty cool, huh?

Today was just beautiful - sunny, 68 degrees, just a hint of autumn in the air. We don't get many of these days around here - it's either too hot or too cold or too wet - so we spent lots of time outside and doing errands around town. When we got back this afternoon, a large envelope from Be The Match was waiting on the porch. Inside was a book about the donation process, along with a stack of forms for me to read and sign.

I spent about an hour this evening reading through everything and signing where necessary. The booklet included was really informative and well done. You can read it in PDF form here: You're A Match PDF

I learned quite a bit while reading through the materials. First, I can exchange letters and small gifts with the patient, but under strict anonymity. I can tell her generally my occupation, but not where I work, for example. I can knit her a hat, but can't send her a bag of Roasterie coffee, as it's too local.

This is, of course, assuming that all goes well for her. Because another thing I read was that I have to be prepared for her to not survive. I hate this thought, but it's a very real possibility. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is really awful, and the older the patient is, the more difficult recovery becomes. So while I am sending good thoughts into the universe for the best possible outcome, I have to be prepared for the worst - if the worst happens, I've done all I can do.

An emotional roller coaster, I tell you.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday, September 23rd.

So moments after I posted that I am going to be a bone marrow donor, I got a call from Paulette in Omaha (from Be The Match) with some dates.

Next Tuesday I will fly to Denver with my mom and will have a physical on Wednesday. We'll fly home Wednesday evening.

I'm tentatively scheduled to do my donation on Tuesday, October 18th, so Frank and I will probably drive to Denver the weekend prior and drive back later that week.

Those two paragraphs are so small considering what's contained within them.

I promised to tell you about the donation process itself. Be The Match has a lot of information on the subject here, but I'll give you the 10-cent tour.

There are two types of donation: Bone marrow donation and peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation. The patient's doctor decides which donation method is best for the patient.

The type of donation most people have heard of is the bone marrow donation. That's the one where donors are knocked out while doctors use a needle to withdraw liquid marrow from the donor's pelvic bone. This method is kind of painful and has a bit of a recovery period for the donor.

The most popular type of donation (about 80% of donations), however, and the type I am doing is PBSC donation. This requires that for 5 mornings leading up to donation, I get injections of a drug called filgrastim to increase the number of blood-forming cells in my bloodstream. On the fifth day, my blood will be removed through a needle in one arm, passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells, and returned to my body through the other arm. It's a similar process to donating blood plasma.

The primary side effect of PBSC donation, according to the online reading I've done, is that during the 5 days of injections my bones will ache, like when you have the flu. Most people report that they have back aches, or headaches, but that these are eased by taking Tylenol.

There aren't any long-term effects of PBSC donation that I am aware of, and most people report feeling 100% back to normal in less than a week after donation.

That's the black-and-white. The grey is the part where I can read all of this stuff, and sort of be aware of what's going to happen, but still not have a clue, really. I won't know until I'm going through it. Most of the accounts of donation that I've read are almost comical in their lack of information about the reality of donation - "It doesn't hurt AT ALL!!" "It was a tiny bit uncomfortable, but no worse than a little headache..." "Shots are no picnic, but they weren't that bad." I'm trying to read between the lines and form an honest picture, but it's not easy.

That's why I'll really try to be honest here as I recount my experience.

Starting with this: I'm nervous. I don't care for shots. I'm kind of afraid of the actual donation process where they take out my blood and put it back in. What if someone trips over a hose and rips out my veins and then my blood gets spurted all over everywhere but inside my body where it belongs? The hotel could have bedbugs. The plane on the way to Denver could crash. The plane on the way back from Denver could crash. The cars to and from the airport could crash. What if a freak snowstorm hits Denver and we're trapped there and can't get back home for days and days? My cats are going to miss me when I'm not there. My bones are going to ache and its going to feel like I have the flu and I hate having the flu. What if my bones hurt so much I can't walk? I could be allergic to the filgrastim and go into anaphylactic shock and die when I get my first injection. Remember in my last post where I said I don't dwell on things I can't control? That's still true - I won't dwell on this stuff - but there's certainly no shame in giving my fears a name, is there?

And then there's this: All of my fears, my concerns, my questions, my possible pain and discomfort - all of this is nothing compared to what a 58-year old woman with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is going through. For four to ten days prior to me donating, she will be getting high doses of chemotherapy and possibly radiation to destroy the diseased cells in her body. The treatment also destroys the blood-forming cells in her bone marrow to make room for the ones I'll donate, and destroys her immune system so it can't attack my transplanted cells. This means that once she starts this regimen, if she doesn't get a transplant, she will probably die.

I'll get some bone aches that can be treated with Tylenol. She'll get her system wiped to the point of no return.

Which brings me to another confession: I have about fifty thousand emotions going through me at once. I'm legitimately scared, nervous, excited, proud, humbled, thrilled, sad, happy, worried, concerned, anxious and lots of other feelings that I can't find names for all at the same time. Sometimes, I feel like I want to cry because I'm overwhelmed at the idea that I am going to possibly save someone with a relatively small sacrifice of time and comfort. I want everyone I know to join the Be The Match registry, and start to feel holier-than-thou about it and think disparagingly about those who haven't joined. Then I snap back to reality and think of all the reasons someone might not want to or be able to donate and feel guilty for thinking those disparaging thoughts I thought moments ago. I'm a basket case, I tell ya. Up, down, happy, sad, bouncy, flouncy, pouncy, wouncy, fun fun fun fun fun!

That's out of my system... for now.

Happy Friday! :)

Stand and deliver.

There is a poem by Jane Kenyon that returns to me when things are going well. I've posted it before, but it warrants posting again:
Otherwise by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

I've been fortunate thus far in my life to not know too much of the otherwise. There have been times, yes, but all in all, I consider myself very lucky to not know much of the kind of pain or suffering or despair or sadness that many people experience all the time. I'm loved, I'm happy, and I'm healthy. Sort of the good-stuff trifecta, you might say.

That last one - healthy - is something I work at. I eat  well, I exercise regularly, I don't overindulge in anything. But for all my efforts, there are things that come along in life that don't give a you-know-what if you're health-conscious or not. These are things I can't control, and I'm really good at not dwelling on things I can't control. What's the point, right? It's not that I'm not scared of these things, it's that I don't put energy in being scared of these things. I don't think about them. Stuff happens, and you deal with after effects. I am good at moving on and through to the after.

I'm loved, I'm happy and I'm healthy, and because of some cosmic craps-shoot that has me in the right place at the right time, I am (probably) going to be a bone marrow donor for an anonymous stranger.

In the spring of 2009, Frank told me that he heard about this organization called Be The Match, which is a bone-marrow donor registry. Be The Match would send each of us a kit that contained everything necessary to gather a DNA tissue sample and send it back to Be The Match for inclusion in the registry. Our kits came a few weeks after we requested them, containing a Q-Tip, a vial and some forms for us to fill out.

Collection of the DNA sample was as easy as could be - I  just rubbed the Q-Tip on the inside of my cheek, put the Q-Tip in the vial and mailed it back in the pre-paid-and-addressed envelope. A few weeks later, I got an email saying they received my sample and I was now included in the registry. Then I promptly forgot all about it.

Until Tuesday, August 16th, 2011.

On that day, I received a call on my cell phone from a woman who identified herself as Caree from Be The Match. She asked if I remembered joining the registry, (I did). She then told me that I was identified as a potential match for a 58-year old woman with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and asked if I was still interested in donating. I said I was, so Caree told me briefly about the types of donation, the method of transplant they want to use for this patient, and other information about the donation process. Caree said that this was very early in the process, so they needed to run another test on my cheek swab, and I needed to fill out a health questionnaire that they sent to me via email. The information all came at me very fast, and was too much to absorb at once. All I could really remember was a "58-year old woman with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma" needed a transplant, I was a potential match, and I had to wait to find out if I was the best match possible.

For the next couple of weeks, I spent a great deal of time researching the bone marrow donation process, learning all I could about the procedure, the experiences of the donors, etc. At the same time, I learned that at this point in the process, it was unlikely that I would be the best match - there are typically several potential candidates for donation. It was most likely that I would be cut from the field as closer matches were identified.

But on Thursday, September 1st, I got another call from Caree. This time she told me I was a strong match for the patient, but they needed a blood sample to be sure. She asked that I give a sample the following Tuesday, and set up an appointment at a local lab for early Tuesday morning. She emailed me a consent form that I had to fill out and fax back to her, and asked that I take their health assessment survey again to make sure nothing had changed. I asked Caree what was the likelihood of me being the best possible match after the blood tests, and she told me that it was about 50/50.

I was no longer dealing with exclusively with forms and Q-Tips. We were about talking needles and blood and things started to get a little more real than before.

I should pause at this point in my story to tell you that I haven't had good experiences with blood draws. Typically, the technician has to stab me multiple times in multiple places before barely a vial of blood emerges from my sad little veins. I've never donated blood for this reason. Even checking my cholesterol using the finger-prick method is a painful, time-wasting chore. So I was not excited about the thought of getting several vials of blood drawn at all. But the last time I had to give a blood sample, the technician told me that drinking lots of water before the draw helps make the draw easier. I would take this advice to heart (and veins).

I drank about a gallon of water the day before my appointment with the lab. When I got to the lab, I told them I was a potential bone marrow donor and they were ready for my arrival. They had a box from Be The Match there with vials for my blood samples and forms for the lab to process. While waiting for my turn with the technician,

You know what? It totally worked! I spent about 5 minutes with the technician, who managed in that time to draw 5 vials of blood from me with one try. It was incredible. I've never had that sort of experience before. Not even a tiny bruise.

The next day, I got an email from Caree who told me we were in the "hurry up and wait" phase of the process. It usually takes about a month from the time of the blood draw until the right donor is identified, and Caree told me I could contact her for updates around that time if they hadn't contacted me yet.

I didn't have to wait that long.

On Wednesday, September 21st I received a call from Paulette, who works with Be The Match out of Omaha. Paulette told me that I was the best possible match for the patient, and that the doctor wants to move rather fast on this one.

I'll go into more details in future posts, but the short version of a long story is that there are two types of bone marrow donation and the type they need me to do can't be done in Kansas City. I have to travel to one of a few cities, and because we fell in love with the mountains in August, we chose to go to Denver.

I'll know more on Monday when I have an informational call with Paulette to go over all the details, but I will have to go to Denver once for a physical and once for my donation. Be The Match will cover all travel expenses for me and a companion, so we don't have to worry about any of that.

It's going to be an interesting October. All I get to know about the patient is age, gender and disease. 58-year old woman with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. She's the same age as my mom. There are no choices to be made. I have no doubt about what I am going to do, because my mom taught me to do the right thing.

Because this process has sort of been an emotional roller coaster, I want to write about it and share it with all of you. I'll give more details about the donation process and share some facts about donation that surprised me and I know will surprise you, too. I'll be as honest as possible, and if it hurts, I'll say so.

I hope you'll follow my story as it unfolds, and that maybe it will inspire you to join the Be The Match registry, too.

Here we go... I get to affect someone's otherwise.

That's entertainment.

Since we don't have cable, we watch a lot of movies and older or less-mainstream television series. Over the last few months, we've watched several of each, and I've meant to write about them here but then life happens and I forget.

Now I'm playing catch-up.

As far as television series go, our favorites in recent months have been The Mighty Boosh and Red Dwarf. If you like absurd, strange, sort-of-off comedy that has a hint (or, in the case of Red Dwarf, more than a hint) of science fiction, you'll like these shows.

Telling you all about my Mighty Boosh love allows me to post this:

Jazz, baby.

I recently watched the BBC miniseries Sherlock. It's a contemporary remake of the classic stories, incorporating modern science and gadgets and slick (but not overbearingly so) special effects. There are three movies in the miniseries, and all three are terrific. Telling you about my Sherlock love allows me to post this:

Other noteworthy shows:

Louie - the most underrated comedy on television. Every episode is brilliance personified.

The Whitest Kids U Know - the last season isn't all that great, but the first four are crazy-hilarious.

As for movies, I've tried to keep track of most of them, but undoubtedly neglected several. Here's a summary of those we've watched recently that I managed to remember:

Trust - Clive Owen and Catherine Keener deal with the effects of a relationship between their teenage daughter and a guy she meets on the scary, scary Internet. Realistic, and recommended watching for any kid who likes to chat online with people they  don't know. 3 out of 5.

Terri - John C. Reilly as a high school principal who tries to make a difference in the lives of "good hearted" kids, especially fat and socially-awkward Terri. The scenes between Reilly and the kid playing Terri are good, but overall this film feels like something is missing. 2 out of 5.

Meek's Cutoff - A western with Michelle Williams and Paul Dano sounded so promising. Too bad the film literally goes nowhere. It ended so abruptly I rewound 10 minutes just to make sure I didn't miss anything. Nope. 1 out of 5, just because I didn't turn it off before it ended.

Submarine - cute indie comedy directed by Richard Ayoade. Had a Wes Anderson feel to it. Kid falls in love, and tries to figure out what's up with his parents' relationship. 3.5 out of 5.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil - Rednecks torment college kids in the woods. Or do they? Well-made and really funny. 3.5 out of 5.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - A little too much snake action for Frank, but still terrific. 4 out of 5.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - Beautiful, exciting, entertaining, just like the book. 4.5 out of 5.

Bridesmaids - Kristen Wiig/Judd Apatow comedy. Funny, but not as great as other Apatow films. It might grow on me. I liked it more than Frank did. 3.5 out of 5.

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold - Morgan Spurlock documentary about product placement/brand integration in films. Started slow, but got better. 3 out of 5.

It's Kind of a Funny Story  - Depressed kid and the hospital ward. Very sweet, moving and entertaining. 4 out of 5.

Paul - Alien and Brits together on a road trip of sorts. Laugh-out loud funny, other times really sweet. I love just about anything with Jason Bateman, anyway. 4 out of 5.

Super - Rainn Wilson is a wannabe superhero. Gritty, funny, sweet and ultimately very touching. Ellen Page co-stars - love her. 3.5 out of 5.

Limitless - Bradley Cooper takes superpills, and Robert De Niro tries to bring him down. Fast-paced, great special effects, entertaining all the way through. 3 out of 5.

Your Highness - Someone said, "let's make a raunchy medieval comedy!" and this was the result. I was entertained. There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments, and James Franco is great, but the film is ultimately forgettable. 2 out of 5.

Source Code - Jake Gyllenhal lives a moment over and over. Good premise, good special effects, good, entertaining action movie. 3.5 out of 5.

The Adjustment Bureau - A romance disguised as an action movie. Excellent emotional connection with the characters. 4 out of 5.

Rubber - An absurdist story about a homicidal tire. You read that right. I really liked this movie, even though I can't really explain it. 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


When we were in Colorado several weeks ago, we ate dinner at PF Chang's because they have a really good happy hour. One of the items on their Happy Hour menu is an "Asian street taco" of spicy shrimp in a red curry sauce. I thought these were delicious, so when we got home, I set out to make my own version.

The result is a blend of Asian and Indian, in a Mexican wrapper. If that's not fusion, I don't know what is.

Lynn's Curry Shrimp Tacos
Servings: 2 servings of three tacos each

18 medium-sized raw, peeled, tail-on shrimp (like the ones sold frozen at Costco)
Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming spice blend
1 c. light coconut milk
1 1/2 Tbsp. red curry paste
1 Tbsp. lite soy sauce
1 Tbsp. mirin
2 tsp. fish sauce
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
Juice from one lime
1/2 cucumber, cut into very thin slices
1 1/2 c. shredded red cabbage
1/2 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
6 small soft flour tortilla shells, warmed (wrap in damp dishtowel and put in 250 degree oven for 20 minutes)
4 lime wedges

Preheat your grill.

Sprinkle the shrimp with the Arizona Dreaming, a little on each side of each shrimp. Thread the shrimp onto metal skewers.

Combine the coconut milk, curry paste, soy sauce, mirin, fish sauce and cayenne pepper in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil gently for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until sauce thickens. Add the lime juice and taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary. Reduce the heat to low to keep sauce warm while you grill the shrimp and assemble the tacos.

Grill the shrimp for about 2 minutes on each side, until done.

To assemble the tacos, place three or four cucumber slices in each taco shell. Add three shrimp to each taco, then cabbage, then cilantro, then sauce. Serve with additional lime wedges to hold up the tacos and to use for additional seasoning.

I love this sauce, which is similar to one I use in another recipe involving salmon, bok choy and peppers (I'll post that one soon) and thin sliced cucumbers in a taco are really, really good. I would never have thought cucumbers would work in a taco, but they're just perfect!

The meal comes together pretty quickly, so it's great for a weeknight. They beg for a fairly light and fresh side dish, so we've served these with watermelon and tomato salad, as well as corn on the cob.

What's an ingredient that you've had prepared in an unexpected way that worked out well?

Monday, August 15, 2011

This post sucks.

For my birthday, I got a new toy: the VacMaster VP112.

Still have no idea what this thing is? That's okay. My family and friends are confused, too.

The short version is that this 50lb contraption will let me vacuum-seal liquids and things with liquid components.

I received it on Friday and gave it an inaugural over the weekend. The first thing we made was compressed watermelon tequila bites.

First we cut up watermelon and put it in bags, along with some homemade tequila syrup.

The, we used the
Fruit Fucker 5000Vacmaster VP112 to compress the heck out of the watermelon and syrup.
Compressed Watermelon Tequila Bites

1/2 of a small seedless watermelon, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. tequila
1/4 c. lime juice

Divide watermelon cubes among two food-grade plastic bags and set aside.

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and set saucepan in an ice bath to rapidly chill. Once the syrup is cool, stir in tequila and lime juice.

Divide the tequila syrup between the two watermelon bags. Compress each bag on HIGH. Refrigerate at least an hour, but 2 days seems to be the magic number.

I totally winged this recipe, and it turned out really well.  The watermelon takes on a sort of meaty quality when compressed, and the tequila infusion packed quite a punch. These would make excellent party snacks, but be careful - it's easy to get boozy without realizing what's going on.

You'll have some watermelon-infused tequila left over in each bag, and with that we made a couple of martinis, adding in a bit of triple sec and vodka, plus a compressed watermelon cube (or two).

Absolutely delicious.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rocky Mountain Higher - part two.

We woke up early on Tuesday morning and after a so-so breakfast at the hotel restaurant (where we had - what else? - Denver omeletts) we headed to Garden of the Gods. The rocks are enormous.

After walking around for a while, we bid farewell to Colorado Springs and started our drive to Vail.

The normal route to Vail takes you along an interstate north to Denver, then west to Vail. We didn't want to take the interstate, so we headed west from Colorado Springs along 24 highway, then north to Vail. We were so glad we went this route. First off, you get lots more mountain scenery. Then, there's this big stretch of flat, high mountain plains where horses run and real cowboys drive around in old trucks. It was beautiful. Along this route we drove through the real South Park, Colorado, which commemorates its fame with one of those stand-up things where you can stick your face through a hole and pretend you're Cartman (we didn't do this). We also drove through what quickly became our favorite place in Colorado - Breckenridge.

Breckenridge is beautiful, full of lots of shops and restaurants. There's a mountain stream running right through town, and lots of flowers.

We were hungry by this time, so we got a snack at a cupcake shop. High-altitude pastries taste better. It must be the combination of sugar and the view.

One of the coolest things in Breckenridge - of the trip - is a free gondola that takes you to the top of the mountain. Just hop on and go!

On the ride up, we saw two huge moose eating lunch right below us! It was the coolest thing - I've never seen a real moose before!

When you get to the top of the mountain, there's lots to do in the summer - mini golf, an alpine slide and other activities. We spent a few minutes looking around and then headed back down the mountain. We said goodbye to Breckenridge (but swore we'd be back someday) and continued on to our destination, Vail Village.

What can I say about Vail? It's beautiful. That doesn't do it justice, nor do the pictures I took. The place is really, really, REALLY beautiful. Weirdly perfect. Almost uncomfortably so. It's like being in a European town if that town were run by Disney, and required proof of extreme wealth to enter. It's like the Renaissance Festival, but instead of hay and dirt, there's cobblestones and flowers, and instead of princess hats and swords, there's furs and jewels and wine stores. Many of the hotels don't have air conditioning, so most everyone sleeps with their windows open. There were goldendoodles and art everywhere. Souvenir shot glasses were $10 and sparkled as if they had just been Windexed.

Dinner in Vail was an event - we had reservations at Kelly Liken Restaurant. Kelly Liken was in the final four of Top Chef season 7, and cooks what she calls Colorado cuisine. We had a five-course tasting menu that included bone marrow, sweet breads, potato-crusted trout, elk fillet and watermelon soup among our samplings. Everything was incredibly delicious. When we arrived back at our hotel (The Lodge at Vail), our beds were turned down and there was Rocher on the pillows.

The next morning, we walked around Vail some more to take in the beauty before heading out towards Denver.

On the way to Denver, we decided to be adventurous and to drive up "the highest paved road in North America" - Mount Evans. The road up to the summit of Mount Evans makes the road up Pikes Peak seem like a four-lane superhighway. This was one scary drive, and I must commend Frank for not driving off the side of the mountain. Good work, Frank! The scary drive paid off in spades, though. We even saw some mountain goats along the way.

We took lunch up to the top, and on the way the pressure changes almost made my chips explode,

Once you get to the top of Mount Evans, you're not really at the top. You have to climb up a rocky path for about 20 minutes before you're really at the top. That was fun.

On the way back down, we stopped at Summit Lake.

After descending Mount Evans, we headed to Denver and checked into the Omni Interlocken Resort.

We had a pina colada from the pool bar, and swam a bit before turning in for the night.

The next day, we went to the Denver Zoo and saw some animals.

Around lunchtime, we went to the 16th Street Mall and walked a bit before catching one of the free buses back to a yarn store (where I got my souvenir - baby alpaca yarn from a Colorado ranch), then to lunch at a restaurant called Rioja. Lunch was outstanding - I had a beet and goat cheese salad and some pasta for lunch, and Frank had a compressed watermelon and tomato salad and gnocchi. For dessert we shared a lemon tart. Delicious!

That evening, we headed to Red Rocks Amphitheater to see My Morning Jacket. On the way we stopped for dinner in Golden, Colorado.

I had a southwest trout dish and Frank had fish tacos. The food was okay, but the atmosphere was better. The servers wore bolos, and everything moved at a relaxed pace.

The Red Rocks venue was gorgeous. We had to park about 1/4 mile from the amphitheater entrance, which was all downhill going in and uphill going out. When we got to the amphitheater, we had to go up about 200 stairs, with a crowd rushing behind.

It was an aerobic workout - good thing we are in shape!

The evening was perfect - great temperatures, great lighting - you can see Denver just over and behind the stage, and there was a nice little lightening storm going on over the city for much of the evening, while bright stars shone over our heads.

I wish I could say the concert was perfect. The opener, Amos Lee, was terrific. But most of the people around us talked through the whole concert, which was distracting. But the bigger issue is that we learned we're not jam band fans. I like My Morning Jacket's music, and they are very, very talented musicians, but I don't need 20-minute versions of every song. Part of the problem is that I'm only familiar with the most recent 2 of their 4 albums, and they played lots of stuff from the older albums. We ended up leaving about an hour and a half into the show, having heard about 6 songs. Six long, long songs, of which we were familiar with two. So, the show was a bust, but the venue was a hit.

The next morning we grabbed breakfast at Starbucks and headed towards home. Our trip was just wonderful and we can't wait to visit Colorado again, summer or winter.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rocky Mountain High - part one.

We're back from Colorado and can't wait to return again!

Our trip started in the usual way that a trip from Kansas City to Colorado usually begins: with a drive across Kansas. Luckily, the sunflowers were in bloom, so the scenery wasn't as boring as it could have been.

Upon arriving in Colorado Springs, we checked into our hotel - a Raddison. The chain prides itself on having Sleep Number beds in all the rooms. I'm sure Sleep Number technology is terrific if 1.) you're the only person in the bed, or 2.) you have two controls so each person can set their own Sleep Number. As it was for us, however, we had two full-sized beds and full beds only have one control. Two people can't sleep comfortably in a full-sized Sleep Number bed. End of story.

Anxious to explore, we left the hotel and visited the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. While it was a nice change of pace from the long drive, it wasn't worth the admission price, especially since these "authentic Anazazi cliff dwellings" are actually reproductions made from a collapsed portion of a real cliff dwelling several hundred miles away.

We followed that with dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant, the Lemongrass Bistro. It was really good. Vietnamese is such a good "road food" - it's always variations on the same dishes, and I love those dishes. After dinner, Frank bought some new sunglasses so he would look stylin' on the trip. You'll see plenty of them in the pictures that follow.

Our first full day in Colorado found us getting up early to drive to Canon City to catch the Royal Gorge Railway for a morning train ride through Royal Gorge.

This was a blast. We bought the cheapest Coach class tickets and spent much of the ride on the outside platform car, which was really the best place to see everything. We had a perfect day - not too hot, very clear, a slight breeze - and thought this was totally worth the money.

After the train ride, we had planned to go to Royal Gorge park, but decided that it was probably more of a kid-type place, and since we'd already seen the gorge, we drove back to Colorado Springs...

... and headed up Pikes Peak!

Frank drove the whole, scary way. I'd read horror stories about altitude sickness, so we went prepared with lots and lots of water. Any time we started to feel even a little off, we drank some water. It worked perfectly - no problems with the altitude whatsoever. The view from the top of Pikes Peak, and from the many scenic stops along the way, is spectacular.

We even saw a few yellow-bellied marmots towards the summit, which are super cute.

PROTIP: Drive the whole way up first, without stopping, then stop as much as you want on the way back down. It's easier on your car, and not nearly as scary a drive on the downward trek.

The next day we got up early again and headed to the Cave of the Winds. We have lots of caves in Missouri and while this one wasn't one of the most incredible we've seen, it's still worth a visit if you like caves. After the cave, we went to lunch at Adam's Mountain Cafe in Manitou Springs, Colorado. All I can say is yum-ee! The food was terrific - I had some Senegalese peanut soup and a chicken sandwich and Frank had Moroccan fish tacos - and the price was even better. The portion sizes are HUGE. The only negative is that the place smells a little... weird. We heard it's because of this special orange tea they brew, but whatever the reason, it was definitely off-putting.

After lunch we headed up Pike's Peak again - this time via the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.

The round trip takes a little over three hours, with about 40 minutes at the top....

... where Frank got a donut.

Along the way, we saw a herd of bighorn sheep - so cool!

On the drive back to the hotel, it rained a little. When it stopped, we were treated to a full-on Colorado Springs double rainbow.

What does it mean?

And so concludes our first days in Colorado. More to come!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Remember that week in the mountains...

Come next weekend, I'll remember that week in the mountains, because I would have just came back from a week in the mountains, which is to say I leave for a week in the mountains tomorrow.

On the agenda:

I think that's about enough to fill a week. We'll see.