Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's the price you pay for the gifts you get

When I was a kid this phrase occurred to me whenever I seemed to have more stress than I wanted in life (especially doing homework!). It's come to mind lately when I think of Adam and Evan going through the transition from 'ordinary' times to 3rd yr med students with 36 hour shifts starting at 6 AM. As Evan said 'Damn, this is really hard!' You can't know beforehand exactly what it's like to be a doctor. Marika also has gone through tough times recently in simultaneously taking a heavy course load and studying for the medical college admission test.
Yesterday, I thought of this phrase also during Bonnie Opper's funeral. The turnout was enormous and it was obvious that she had touched so many people. The entire experience has left me thoughtful about what we leave behind. Since we had our transplants the same day, it naturally reminded me that my longevity is not great.
I've received a lot of gifts in my life. I've mentioned 3 already and a 4th (Karen) many times. I need to add my sisters (Genie and Meryl)and my cousins, who have given me so much, including new bone marrow. Taking photos is another...I don't have to work at it very hard, and the results seem to give a lot of pleasure to people. The books I wrote in 1995 and 2000 were similar; I don't know exactly where they came from. I'd put medical research in the same category; it wasn't something I expected and it's been very rewarding.
Having leukemia and surviving is also a gift, believe it or not. When my friend Jim Goldstein asked me if this changed my perspective, I said no. That was soon after I returned to work and my mind was filled with the urgency to pick up all the pieces. But gradually I realized that I do see the world differently. For one thing, I'm happier. This is it for me; I don't have forever so I'd better pay attention to how beautiful the world is. In one of his books, Carlos Castenada's character Don Juan told him to 'take death as your advisor'.
Bonnie's death was sad for about 1 day. Then I realized that it's the price you pay for the gifts you get.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Losing Bonnie

Our friend and fellow stem cell transplant recipient, Bonnie Opper, died this morning. We are devastated. We did not get to say "goodbye" to her. Our community has lost a gentle, loving, devoted wife, mother, daughter, sister and human being.

This photo was taken on October 14th, 2010.

We were having our monthly dinner at Outback Steakhouse in Lansing. We were celebrating our one year anniversary of stem cell transplant. Bonnie and Steve brought their daughter, Callie, who ordered her favorite "macaroni and cheese." I had just handed out a photo album of our past year year of recovery to Bonnie and to Mark Cornell, our other transplant recipient.

They turned the pages, recalling the moments we all shared together on the hospital unit during the transplantation and the months of recovery that followed. We laughed. We cried. We rejoiced.

We had a wonderful evening together that night and Bonnie brought the "carrot cake" which we also had at our "100 Days" celebration dinner together. It seemed as if it was going to become a "tradition." It seemed as if it was going to be another good year for all three of us.

It wasn't to be.

We have lost a comrade, a friend, a survivor who did not survive.

We will remember her.
You were one of us
'Til you were taken away
Life won't be the same.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thanksgiving Gratitude and Beyond

Goodness. It's been a long time since I've updated our Raff Update blog site. My apologies.

I'm showing two photos of our family over the Thanksgiving weekend. Marika and Evan and my mom and my brother all arrived for our four-day celebration of cooking, eating, and enjoying our time together. Our house is just the right size for our family reunions. Adam and Laura couldn't join us but hosted their own feast in LA with some invited friends.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, we look ahead to the Winter Holiday vacation. Marika arrives tonight (!) at the Detroit airport for a long four week rest -- although it will be filled with MCAT study time mixed with visiting friends and relaxing.

Evan is in NYC doing a general medicine rotation until next week. He flies back to LA for a required medical school exam but will be here in Michigan on December 19th for a couple of weeks with us. Adam is coming on December 19th (coming in on the same flight from LA) for less than a week when he'll leave Michigan and head to Boston to meet up with Laura.

My mom is coming here in a few days from Kentucky and will drive with me to Rochester, NY for four days to help my brother get his new apartment set up. He moved to Rochester a month ago for a new job and I offered to help him make his apartment into a "home."

Gil is working happily at the hospital and here in his Milford office. He loves having the kids around and he is enjoying good health. He also has become intensely interested in the stock market and can spend hours of his free time reading books written by successful traders and comparing various trading systems. He still loves photography but the weather is not conducive, so reading inside next to the fireplace is the winter activity of choice.

I'm staying healthy and working out at Pilates or at our local YMCA five days a week. I still spend a lot of time working with Willow to make her into the kind of dog we can love and take anywhere without worrying that she'll misbehave. She is one sweet girl. Jamie continues to be a good role model and mentor.

Hunkering down for another long Michigan winter but I can gladly report that it's been a rather sunny month of December so far. Nothing dreary or too gray.

Yes, the sun sets early (5:02 pm today) these days and the sun reappears after our morning has already started (7:52 am today) but it's been a good beginning to the season so far and we're rather used to using our winter months as a time to sit, relax, reflect, cook and eat good healthy meals together.


Once the sun goes down
We hunker down and savor
The quiet moments.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Two Lucky Ducks

The first "lucky duck" is Gil. He's made it through Year One of his stem cell transplant with only a few minor glitches. He's happy. He's healthy. And judging from his most recent post on this blog site, he's in love! (Thank you for the lovely mention, Gil.)

The first photo above is of Gil standing in front of the sliding glass doors (10 Webber North at Karmanos) beyond which the carefully protected stem cell recipients are either preparing for their transplants or recovering from them.

As a celebration of Gil's one year anniversary, we went up to the unit to visit the nurses and staff who took care of him during his illness. We came bearing gifts of food (chocolate drizzled pretzel rods!) and a scrapbook I had made of photos of the transplant and Gil's recovery and his year at home since resuming his normal life.

The second "lucky duck" is Willow's favorite toy -- aptly named Ducky -- a squeaky little yellow companion who has agreed to curl up snugly anywhere, anytime with her now-best-friend.

Willow is a regular at Camp Bow Wow (doggy daycare!) in nearby Brighton a couple of times a week when I have plans for the day and cannot be around to "watch" her and prevent puppy-chew-damage. She and her canine pals are referred to as campers, they take their noon-time naps in their assigned cabins (separate kennel runs with little doggy cots), and the human playmates/caregivers at the camp are their counselors!

Tonight we set our clocks back. This is a good thing because both Gil and I are very early risers. We have had to wait for HOURS for the sun to come up and get our days started. We get up early because we both have our best energy surges in the early part of the day, and our puppy is ready to get going on her day's plans as well.

I spent the day cleaning out my garden of summer's spent blooms and readying it for winter. I'll be spreading the fallen raked leaves among the plantings to protect them from the winter cold and give them the micronutrients they need to come back strong and healthy in the spring.

Dark turns into light
Fall back. It's that time of year.
Everything slows down now.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My anniversary

This week is the anniversary of my stem cell transplant. It certainly makes me thoughtful about what’s important to me. First, there are all of you who showed your ‘true colors’ when I was so sick. That’s unforgettable.

Equally unforgettable are the colors of autumn that are returning this week; at one point I wasn’t sure if I would see them again. However, it would be wrong to say I was downcast about it. At that point I was ready to ‘move on’ if that was what lay in the cards.

I’ve spent a lot of time with my family this year; certainly more than in decades. Instead of only traveling to a work conference, I’ve specifically traveled to see the kids and my dear sister, Genie the transplant donor. My sister Meryl came all the way from Israel and camped out with us for weeks to get me through it all. She even sent her son, Dov Baer, to represent her 31 children and grandchildren. Add to that Peter, and Lois...and I wish I could name everyone....

I’ve seen friends like Ron Fishbein whom I hadn’t seen in 30 years and Barry Mennen who has been a fixture in my life (and lived between Ron and me on our ‘booming Brooklyn block’).

I started back swimming this month, which doesn’t sound like much but since the transplant prevented it for a year, it was a big landmark and I missed it.

I’ve returned to work with full force and enthusiasm, and for me, like many, that is a touchstone of what I do and who I am in the world. I can't thank my friends from work enough, at Beaumont and around the world, for having faith that I would return (and keeping my seat warm).

Most of all, I love my wife Karen and owe everything to her. She was with me every day and night throughout some very long and dreary months. You should have someone like her…I strongly recommend it. This photo from our recent New Hampshire vacation is dedicated to her.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Milford Street Scene

Pictured above are Gil and his sister, Genie, having lunch at a sidewalk table at The Main Street Tavern and Grill in downtown Milford.

After Gil and I returned from our trip to the White Mountains last weekend, we had a few days to spend with Genie who had graciously flown in the week before from Petaluma to "puppy-sit" for Willow while we were on our vacation.

On Sunday, we happened upon the Antique Car Show lining Milford's Main Street. We had brought the dogs with us to socialize the puppy and to meet Gil for lunch. The weather was perfect for eating outdoors and the dogs got their share of attention by passersby.

Genie and I proceeded on to the Milford Home Tour which was also happening that weekend and which featured six houses that are in the Milford Village's Historic Register. The home owners had painstakingly renovated these homes and followed strict guidelines about what could and could not be removed, replaced, refurbished and resurrected. I had walked by these homes many times and always wondered what they looked like inside. Now was my chance. I was not disappointed.

We took Genie to the airport for her return flight to California at the beginning of this week. Since then I have been the main caregiver for Willow -- no easy task. She's combined her "terrible twos," her "adolescent agitation," and her "senior senility" all into one glorious "I'm planning to rule the roost around here and you'd better get used to it!" hellfire attitude.

She's a handful these days. Up at 4:30 am ready to start her day. Not going to bed until 10:30 pm at night. Where does she get the energy?

We have a quiet weekend planned. Rest. Rest. And more rest.

Willow's energy
Should be harnessed and sold to
Reduce oil dependence!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Heading Back to California

You're witnessing a very poignant moment. Gil and I were driving Marika to the airport after six weeks of having her with us this summer. She is holding Willow who has fallen asleep in her arms. She has raised this puppy for the last six weeks into the loving, gentle creature we have come to love and adore.

Gil and I are packed and leaving for the airport for our New Hampshire vacation. Genie is here with the puppy and they should become good friends by the time we get back.

Short but sweet today. More later when we return.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Three Generations on Rosh Hashanah

You are viewing a photo of three generations of my family near the end of our erev Rosh Hashanah dinner on Wednesday. Marika is on the left, my mom Helen is in the middle, and yours truly is on the right.

We've had a busy week.

Gil's sister, Genie, is here visiting for two weeks. We have asked her to "dog sit" while we go on a short vacation. And we all thought it would be best if Genie spent the week before we leave learning "the ways of the Willow."

Last week I had emailed my mom and brother that they should consider driving up from Kentucky and spending part of a week visiting. I was thinking of sometime after Gil and I got back from our vacation, but they answered right away, "How about tomorrow?"

And so they arrived and we have a full house with all three of the upstairs bedrooms occupied.

On the third day of my mom's visit, after a very busy, hectic day of taking care of the puppy and cooking and visiting, my mom complained of "not feeling well" which earned her a trip to the local emergency room.

Long story short: She did not have a heart attack. However, there was EKG and cardiac enzyme evidence of heart muscle damage and it was decided she should undergo a cardiac catheterization.

We were all prepared for her to get an intervention during the procedure -- placement of a stent or an angioplasty -- but surprise of surprises! She had no coronary blockages at all. Her coronary arteries were absolutely clear.

It was determined that the symptoms she was experiencing mimicked a heart attack but was not caused by a coronary obstruction. The symptoms were caused by a microvasculature event. She and my brother will be driving home tomorrow and she is as healthy as when she arrived.

And she's going home knowing that she has clean coronary arteries and doesn't need to worry about cholesterol-laden, artery-clogging foods anymore.

I've taken lots of photos of the puppy and will upload those to a new blog entry in the next few days.

Lots of family
Cooking, eating, laughing,
Together again.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dinner with Karmanos Friends

Finally a blog entry without the word "puppy" in it. (Oops! Oh well!)

Pictured above from left to right: Gil, me, Bonnie Opper, Mark Cornell and Kim Cornell.

(Missing is Steve Opper who spends way too much time out-of-town on business related matters. We missed you, Steve!)

Once again we met our friends from Karmanos Cancer Center for our monthly dinner get-together socializing and comparing the progress from the stem cell transplants last fall. It's almost been a full year (October) and all three of the recipients (Gil, Bonnie and Mark) have been remarkably lucky to have come through it all with hearty appetites, a sense of humor and a heartfelt appreciation for life-lived-to-its-fullest.

Mark was telling us that he is almost ready to get his "baby vaccinations" and Gil and Bonnie will be close behind. Immunizations against all those childhood diseases are important for this newly transplanted group but it doesn't happen until you are one year out from the transplant.

Marika has been doing something she really loves these past couple of weeks. No, it's not studying for the MCAT! She's been riding horses at a favorite barn (Fox Meadow) in Toledo and coming home each afternoon sore and tired and thrilled.

She rides with one of her dearest friends, Lindey, and the two of them are so much fun to be around when they are together and relating tales about riding or movies or friends.

She's also been doing Pilates at our local studio and finding it is a great way to get back in good physical shape before schools starts again the end of September. (Remember the University of California schools are on the quarter system. They start and end later than most schools across the nation.)

Our boys are staying sleep-deprived during their clinical rotations. Evan is doing trauma surgery and Adam is doing pediatrics. I don't hear from them nearly enough but I do remember so well when I was active in hospital nursing the tired and beleaguered faces of the medical students as they made rounds in the mornings and signed their patients out in the evening to the next shift of medical students.

Michigan is having a most wonderful end of summer climate. Cool nights. Sunny warm days. I think global warming may make Michigan the next "preferred spot" to relocate to if you're wanting to escape the heat in the West, South, East and Northeast. Try the Great Lakes region.

We're loving it here!

Dog-day afternoons
Filled with yelps and nips and barks
What could be better?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Three Months Old and Already a Little Rebel

Welcome to my world! Raising a puppy has required the utmost in patience, compassion and energy level. Marika and I share the brunt of the "pup raising" responsibilities. Gil gets to enjoy Willow when she is at her best -- recently fed, walked and played with -- so that she is fairly settled and ready to be loved. He is quite taken with her, as we all are.

Jamie has been an admirable companion to Willow. Jamie has taught her to sit, lie down, chase a frisbee and walk comfortably on a leash.

Fitting in all the rest of life when you're training a new puppy is a challenge. My to-do list doesn't have too many check marks because what I've scheduled to get done today usually has to wait for tomorrow's list.

Marika is winding up her short summer vacation with us. She's only got three more weeks here in Michigan and is visiting friends, riding horses, spending quality time with the parents and being very, very helpful with Willow. Marika "gets up" for the 6 am "let the puppy out to use the bathroom" duty and then somehow encourages Willow to go back to sleep for a few more hours.

This blog entry is short. Willow is sleeping and it means I can head off to my Pilates session knowing she will wait in the crate for me until I get back.

So without further ado. I'm off to my workout!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Willow Makes Herself at Home

Hello everyone. Meet Willow. The newest addition to the Raff family. New friend and companion to Jamie. She's our long-awaited Border Collie puppy and we brought her home from Traverse City on Monday afternoon.

Since then, it's been 24/7 puppy-mania. It is taking "a village" to give this puppy what she needs and wants. Gil and Marika and I are the caregivers. I insisted that we all watch the Cesar Millan DVD titled "Raising the Perfect Puppy" before bringing her home and so far, I think we're doing everything "right."

Which is to say, we haven't created an anxious, neurotic dog yet. We are loving but firm. We reward good behavior and redirect unwanted behavior. We use lots of rawhide chew sticks to redirect behavior.

Jamie has welcomed Willow into the family with "open paws." They play together, sleep together and eat together. The puppy hasn't learned to respect Jamie's boundaries yet but Jamie has shown herself to be remarkably patient and understanding.

We struggled for weeks trying to find the right name for Willow. Those of you who have ever had to name a pet or a baby know how important choosing the right name can be. We made lists of favorite names, showed them to one another, the names got vetoed and at one point, each of us was afraid to even mention a "favorite puppy name" we had found, knowing that one of us would nix it and it would be relegated to the cutting-room floor.

Amazingly, when we had finally worn each other down to a frazzle, Marika was thumbing through a furniture catalog and cautiously suggested, "What about Willow?"

Gil and I looked at each other and without pausing said, "Yes. That's it! Willow!"

Willow comes to stay
Made herself at home Day One
Now the fun begins.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Border Collies

Okay. We're obsessed with border collies. But everyone holds a special place in their hearts for their "first love" whether it was a girlfriend or boyfriend or a first dog.

This will be a relatively short entry because I intend to update the blog early next week when we have real pictures of our new puppy to show and hopefully know her new name.

We've had quite a time trying to come up with the right name. It has to "fit" her look and personality and we haven't even met her yet. The name has to work phonetically with Jamie. As in Haley and Jamie.

We each have our favorite names we're holding onto but in the end, you know we will need to compromise.

Marika takes her summer school final on Friday morning. She then heads to the airport to catch a flight to Michigan. I will pick her up at the Detroit airport at midnight. She claims she is going to get up early Saturday morning so we can drive up to Traverse City -- a four hour drive -- to get the puppy. We'll stay overnight and come back on Sunday.

Then the real fun begins!

What could be better
Than puppy breath on your face?
Nothing I know of.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Garden

It's the middle of July -- what I consider to be halfway through summer -- and my garden is thriving in spite of lots of hot weather and foraging deer. I wish the deep purple wave petunias in the foreground of the photo were perennials because of their rich color, but alas they are annuals and will need to be planted each year.

Gil and I are in Las Vegas this weekend as Gil attends the annual SCCT (Society for Cardiac Computed Tomography) where he is a Board Member, Fellow and Faculty presenter this week. It is REALLY hot here -- 112 degrees when we arrived yesterday at the airport. We'll be back home from this trip on Sunday.

Prior to this trip, I was in Kentucky for my high school's 40th reunion and I had a wonderful time catching up with everyone there. I stayed with my mom while I was there and those are always good visits for us.

While I was in Kentucky, Gil drove himself to Chicago for a national guidelines meeting on echocardiography for three days. Although we both enjoy traveling, and have only recently been allowed by the doctors to make these trips due to Gil's as yet immature immune system status, we'll be glad to get back to spending the remainder of summer in Michigan which is always so perfect this time of year.

Gil started back to work full-time the end of June with his only restriction that he not have patient contact at this time until his immune system is ready for that. He's happy to be pouring his full efforts back into research and contributing to radiation dose reduction in cardiac CT -- a metric that has been in the news a lot these days.

Marika is halfway through her Kaplan MCAT Review Course in Santa Barbara and will be coming back to Michigan to spend her last month of summer with us arriving July 31st.

Adam and Evan are getting the hang of their first clinical rotations and feeling sleep deprived, and stressed to be their best during the long and arduous days that dealing with sick patients requires. Everyone in medicine goes through those days of incredible tiredness and feelings of inadequacy -- after all, they're learning how to be doctors and that's complicated-- and it's going to take a while to fall into step. Laura tells me she is doing everything she can to help Adam and Evan get through these first trying weeks by offering her support, and healthy cooking and understanding.

Although we think of Haley every day and how much we miss her in our family, we have been looking around for another border collie puppy to bring home and we have found one! She will be eight weeks old the end of July. Marika and I will travel up to Traverse City here in Michigan to pick her up when Marika gets home for the summer in a few weeks.

The puppy is adorable and I'll be posting a blog entry with her picture when we bring her home on August 1st.

Gil got himself the iPad and the iPhone 4. He "bequeathed" his Kindle to me and I'm enjoying reading my books on it. (Do you remember when he was in hospital last year and we got him the new Kindle which he was so delighted to have?!) I'm reading The Black Swan now about uncertainty and liking its message.

This next Haiku is for Vanessa, a friend of Adam's and Evan's, who selflessly offered to pick Evan up from the LA airport when he flew home a couple of weeks ago.

Vanessa's taxi
Riding home in luxury
A traveler's friend.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Farewell to Haley

Sadly for the Raff family tonight, Haley left us for her next adventure in that big dog park in the sky. Hopefully, she is frolicking with her friends and chasing frisbees and tennis balls and eating carrots (her favorite dog treat) to her heart's content.

Thirteen years ago, our young children were asking us for a pet dog. I was fine with the idea because my family had always had dogs. But Gil had not grown up with dogs and kept putting off the decision. To this day, I don't know what persuaded him to change his mind.

But the minute he did, Marika (then 8 years old) and I headed to the dog adoption fair at the local pet store and found (and fell in love with) a little black and white bundle of fluff who became known as Haley -- named for the Hale-Bopp comet which was appearing that year. She was apparently a "rescued dog" from the back of a truck on the Navajo reservation and we felt sure she had chosen this moment and this time waiting for us to reach down and choose her from all the other puppies in the enclosure. In our family, she was going to get the love she deserved.

We thought we had simply chosen a very cute little mixed mutt -- half-this and half-that. She grew into a dead-ringer for a border collie. Unbeknownst at the time to Marika and me, Gil had particularly wanted a border collie when he agreed that we should get a dog. I don't know that the appeal was anything more than his wanting a very smart dog whose breed was famous for looking its owners directly in the eye -- something many breeds will not do -- but he had it in his mind to look for a border collie.

Border collies are always looking for direction from their owners and so stay focused on our faces for the next command. Herd the sheep? Chase the FedEx truck? Get the frisbee? Haley was no exception.

Haley surpassed all our expectations for a bright, engaging dog and Gil soon admitted that Haley needed a companion. That's when Marika and I drove from Albuquerque to southern Colorado to pick our next dog, Jamie, a pure-bred border collie, from among a litter of frisky black and white pups.

Jamie is very smart. She knows something is different tonight. She watches as tears pour down our faces and I'm quite certain she knows Haley is gone. Perhaps she doesn't know it's permanent but she knows that Haley is not in the house tonight and that she has never known a night without Haley sleeping at her side.

So now we will lavish our love and affection on Jamie and try to help her cope with the loss we are all feeling deeply tonight.

Fortunately, Marika and Evan were here this past week and saw for themselves as Haley's health took a turn for the worst. Although it was difficult, both said their goodbyes knowing that this would be the last time they would see Haley who taught them the joys of pet ownership and abiding trust between humans and animals.

Haley's life was good
She shared her best years with us
And we won't forget.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Week in Albuquerque

We just got back from a week long visit in Albuquerque and it was hot but pleasant in all other ways.

Our trip was planned to coincide with our friends' visit back to Albuquerque from their home in Paris. Our dear friends, Kit and Jean-Claude Desjacques, only travel back to New Mexico every two years so this was our one opportunity to get together while they were here in the states. We had a long leisurely breakfast visit one morning and later in the week attended a "Welcome Back" cocktail party hosted by one of their friends the last night we were in town.

Gil's sister, Genie (The Donor!), met up with us in Albuquerque for the entire week. We all enjoyed the hospitality and guest accommodations of my other dearest of friends, Terry Lee Heller, who usually hosts me by myself for "girl-time" but this time allowed the "family reunion" of Raffs to share the lodging.

We were able to see a number of people whom Gil had not seen for almost eight years. His physician colleagues and spouses. Our Jewish community friends. My past investment club women friends and their husbands. We got to the galleries in Santa Fe. We ate at The Shed and Tomasita's -- both serving authentic New Mexican food with hot and flavorful green chile smothering every dish. Such a treat.

Gil and Genie hiked through Bandelier National Monument one day.

We had planned a garden party at Terry's house (which actually did have a new garden recently installed) and spent one whole day food shopping, and prepping and cooking. Of course, ten minutes after the party started and the guests arrived, a thunderstorm came up over the mountains and chased us all inside for the remainder of the evening. But even rainstorms are welcomed in Albuquerque because this has been a very dry season for the city and state.

We had lunch with another dear friend, Elsie Berry, who helped keep our house neat and clean and cared for our kids when Gil and I were working and raising our young family in Albuquerque many years ago. I'm guessing she worked for us for 15 years while we lived in New Mexico.

Gil's one-time cardiology partners either had us to dinner at their home (Thank you, Neal and Susan) or treated us to dinner out at Season's (Thank you, Barry and Roberta) or met us at The Flying Star -- a favorite cafe -- for late afternoon coffee (Thank you, Kathy Blake).

Our plates were FULL! We were busy morning to night.

There are so many of you we did not get to contact or visit with. My apologies. Since this was Gil's first long distance trip, we had to carefully orchestrate a schedule that didn't leave him exhausted and vulnerable at the end of each day.

So we will plan a second trip and catch up with all of you we missed this time during our next visit.

Update on the kids:

Adam and Laura went to a lab-sponsored celebration over the weekend as a final congratulations party for all his years of hard work. He's finished in the lab now and has a week off (!) before starting third year medical school studies on July 6th.

Evan finished his medical boards last week -- an enormous relief -- and is coming to Michigan tomorrow for a week of rest and relaxation. He goes back to LA to start third year medical studies on July 6th, also.

Marika is back from her volunteer medical work in Panama and jumped right in to her MCAT Review Course with Kaplan and her summer school course. She's coming to Michigan for the Fourth of July weekend and will overlap with Evan's visit.

Gil got the iPad he had ordered earlier in the month and is, at this very moment, loading it up with all his apps and programs even before he unpacks his suitcase! He's addicted to the cool Apple products coming out of Cupertino. Has his iPhone 4 to replace his 3GS on order as well.

Okay. Vacation's over. Back to work!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Milford Garden Wannabe

"When I grow up, I wannabe a big, full, bountiful, blooming garden -- like Deb Peters' garden being featured on the Milford Garden Walk today," said my hopeful little garden surrounding our front porch.

"Okay," I said with a smile. "With a little love and sun and fertilizer, I think I can get you there."

Yesterday morning, when the morning light was just coming up, Gil and I headed over to (our friend) Deb's garden to photograph it at its height of display and before the throngs of garden gawkers come today to trample the grass, behold the blooms and get inspired to go home and try to get the same effect from similar planting ideas in their own gardens.

Gardeners get inspired by seeing what fellow gardeners can create -- unusual color groupings, intermingling of different heights of plants, and choosing foliage to serve as unique backgrounds for the more showy flowers.

Gil has an eye for the "detail hidden in the scene" and yesterday's photographic expedition was no exception. He found so many opportunities to capture just the right garden moment.

Yesterday's photo of leaves with morning dew above is one of my favorites.

Today is the Milford Garden Walk and includes six such gardens.

I plan to go and "trample the grass, behold the blooms and get inspired to go home and try to get the same effect from similar planting ideas in my own garden."

All things bloom in time
Given enough rain and sun
Late bloomers do, too!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

One Year Anniversary

It was exactly one year ago today that Gil was admitted to the ER at Beaumont Hospital.

Marika had just gotten home from Santa Barbara having finished her sophomore year at UCSB. She had completed a rigorous week of final exams and was ready for much needed time to catch up on sleep.

At the time, I was still taking antibiotics for a diagnosis of pneumonia which had landed me in the hospital the week before for a course of IV antibiotics.

Due to the pneumonia, we had just cancelled our trip to Santiago where Gil was going to give a talk and we were going to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. Surprisingly, at the time, Gil wasn't disappointed that we had to cancel our travel plans. "I'm really not feeling that well myself," he said.

When what we thought was a bad case of the flu worsened during the weekend, Gil's internist had him come to the ER. One look at the lab work and the diagnosis of leukemia only lacked final confirmation by a bone marrow biopsy.

That began the odyssey for the next seven weeks of diagnostic workups, identification of chromosomal defects, treatment options, insertion of a central venous line and the first of many weeks of chemotherapy, platelets and blood transfusions and total parenteral nutrition to keep...his...body...going.

A huge call-out to Dr. Zekman who directed Gil's treatment and gave hope when we were nearing despair. He directed Gil's care, called in specialists and coordinated all aspects of a very difficult situation.

Marika and I kept his spirits going in the early days. The boys and Laura arrived very early in the course of Gil's hospitalization to visit and buy the Kindle and the lightweight laptop that would keep him connected to the outside world. (He wouldn't be stepping out into the world again for seven weeks.)

Sisters Genie and Meryl came. We were all tested for donor matching potential. Genie drew the lucky number! Perfect match. She went back to California waiting to be called back when the time was right.

Childhood friend Barry Mennen came from NY to spend a weekend. Cousin Peter came from Seattle to lend support.

Fast forward. Gil came home in August for a month to get strong and regain his lost weight (all 35 pounds).

He had decided to seek the offered stem cell transplant here in Michigan at the Karmanos Cancer Center. In preparation for the transplant, he was readmitted to Beaumont for a second course of chemotherapy.

Adam came back to visit twice. Evan came. Marika left to go back to school as a Junior.

Admission to Karmanos in September was the beginning of the most hopeful of all treatments -- the final course of chemotherapy to destroy all his stem cells in preparation for the "rescue" Genie's stem cells would provide. Scary stuff.

The story, as you know, has a happy ending.

Gil is almost eight months post-transplant. He has the immune system of an eight month old baby. He is nearly off his immunosuppressive medications but it is not unusual for stem cell recipients to be on these medications for a full year. He is "looking good!"

We all learned a lot about blood cancers and neutrophils. We learned about the importance of family. About the generosity of friends. And we drew heavily on the karma points in the Raff spiritual bank.

We made good friends with fellow transplant patients who we continue to have dinners with each month celebrating our good fortune.

Thanks to each of you for your small part in Gil's recovery -- from neighbors who brought food, to friends who tended my garden, to visitors who kept up Gil's spirits, to nurses who gave great care, to colleagues at Beaumont who covered and kept things running smoothly.

With full gratitude and hope.
Knowing what it takes.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Summer: Cookout and Haircut

I guess we've officially embraced summer in Michigan. The first photo shows Gil's skills fanning the flames of the public grill in Kensington Metro Park a couple of weeks ago. The kids were here along with my mom and we had a cookout to mark the occasion.

The next photo is me just moments after I got my summer haircut. I was in the car leaving the salon and used the camera in my iPhone to snap the shot -- hence the seatbelt in the picture!

We've been busy making plans to visit our friends in Albuquerque near the end of this month. Flying is very expensive these days. There are no good "deals" to be had. We're fortunate to get free room and board with our dear friend Terry Lee while in Albuquerque. Her hospitality and accommodations are second to none.

Our longtime friend, Kit, and her husband, Jean Claude, are coming to Albuquerque from their home in Paris and will be in town the same time we are there. In fact, it's the main reason we chose to visit Albuquerque at that time. It's been ages since we've seen them. And we miss them.

Marika is in the midst of finals and will leave the day after she finishes her last exam to go to Panama for her Global Medical Brigades experience. She's been vaccinated for all the tropical diseases and is prepared for an extraordinary adventure with over 60 fellow volunteers from Santa Barbara.

The day she gets back from her 10 day travel experience, she jumps into her Kaplan Study Course for the MCAT exam (which she is scheduled to take in early September.) She'll stay in Santa Barbara during July taking a summer school class for the first UCSB summer quarter. Then she'll come to Michigan for the second half of the summer in August to finish studying and review for the MCAT on her own.

Adam and Laura are working through the summer in their respective labs. Adam will get one week off between his last day in lab and his first day of third year medical school. But the most important thing they're doing these next couple of weeks is cheering for their favorite NBA team -- the Celtics -- in this year's tournament.

Evan is rounding the corner and on his final lap as he continues to study for his required 2nd year Board exams. He's planning a vacation for the week immediately after. His plans for an exotic European trip may not materialize but he has scheduled one of his scheduled two weeks here in Michigan where he can sit on the porch, play with the dogs, do crossword puzzles, swim in our neighbors' pool, work out at our local gym, play some golf, eat good healthy food and sleep late. (Marika is coming home for the Fourth of July weekend and their time here will overlap.)

Gil and I went walking today on the Milford Bike Trail. He used the walking poles and I took Jamie on the leash. We've had a lot of rain lately so walks have been postponed. But we're getting back into it.

Gil is keeping busy with researching and writing a review article on radiation doses in cardiac CT scans. He says he's learning a lot by reading everything that's been published on the subject lately. He's splitting his work between the hospital and a 'virtual office'. Having an office in downtown Milford where he can read studies on his on-call days and otherwise work in a distraction free environment has made him very productive. He's feeling good about the amount of work he's getting accomplished.

I'm working out at the gym, doing all the cooking (it was quiche tonight!) and house maintenance, catching up on reading. I'm currently reading a great collection of short stories called The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis which I highly recommend. I first borrowed it from the library but bought my own copy soon after because I wanted to have it around. It's that good!

The garden is coming along beautifully. We've decided on a purple and white color scheme in one of the front beds and I'll take a photo of it in its full glory later this week to post on the blog.

We're coming up to Gil's one year anniversary of learning he had leukemia and all that would entail during the next (past) year. It was the end of May one year ago when I got pneumonia, we cancelled our trip to Spain and he started feeling sick. By June 13th, he had been admitted to the ER in pretty dire straits, and the following day, June 14th, his leukemia diagnosis had been confirmed via the first of many bone marrow biopsies.

Fortunately, this summer looks to be a lot healthier for all of us.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Celebration of a Birthday and Anniversary

Here we are sitting around the breakfast table at The French Laundry celebrating my birthday and our anniversary on May 26th. My mom had come up from Kentucky to visit for a week so she could overlap a planned visit with Adam and Laura who were stopping in Michigan before heading back to LA. They had been in NY at a family wedding and decided they couldn't fly "over" Detroit on route back to LA without stopping a few days with us.

Adam is still in the process of completing his PhD requirements. He must turn in the final version of the manuscript after incorporating comments from his committee, complete a few more lab experiments that his new lab mates will take over when he leaves the lab in late June and continue training his new colleagues to seamlessly continue the research he's tended for the past few years.

He'll barely have one week off when he re-enters his third year of medical school in early July. When he returned to LA a few days ago, he was scheduled for a two day review of clinical skills in preparation for the more clinically-oriented rotations that make up third year studies. Laura continues to be heavily involved in her own post-doctoral research at UCLA but finds time to be incredibly supportive of Adam's own demanding schedule. Funny thing: they seem to enjoy every minute they have together.

Evan continues to devote his time and energy to reviewing for his boards scheduled for mid-June. He'll have only a short time off before he starts his third year rotations, like Adam. Evan is our consummate traveler and he's hoping to put together some exotic foreign excursion before the early July start date for his medical school rotations. Otherwise he says he may come to Michigan where he claims that the room and board at The Raff Inn are luxurious and worth the price!

Marika is in her final weeks of classes and is a regular at the UCSB library. When I was in Santa Barbara visiting her recently, I asked her to take me into the library and let me sit in the place she always claims as "her spot" for studying. Up on the fourth floor. Next to the windows. With a view. And a balcony to go out on when she needs a quick break or to make a phone call. (The leather seat is well-worn!)

As soon as her last final is over, she heads to Panama with her Global Medical Brigades team for some "do good" volunteer work. On the day she gets back to Santa Barbara, she starts summer school and her MCAT Review Course (of which she will have missed the first week of review due to her Panama trip.) She will play "catch up" from the day she gets back.

Gil is at Karmanos today for his routine every-other-week appointment. He's very, very close to being off his immunosupressants completely. He feels good. Occasionally gets tired and needs an afternoon nap which seems only appropriate given that his body is finding its way back to equilibrium.

My next trip is going to be to Albuquerque for a week in late June. My dear friend from Paris is coming to the states (New Mexico) for a week and I want to visit with her. I'm encouraging Gil to come along since it has been way, way too long since he last visited Albuquerque. Our friends often see me visiting in Albuquerque and rarely see him, and I do believe they are wondering if Gil is still in the picture. I can assure them he is!

This is the Memorial Day weekend and it's going to be a real gardening extravaganza for me. Last year my garden was neglected due to Gil's sudden and unanticipated hospitalization in June. This year, God-willing, I will give the garden (which gives us both so much pleasure) my full and undivided attention.

Kids doing their thing
Keeping tabs from afar
Embracing life's joys!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What it's like to get your PhD

This is the first time I've posted three photos in the same blog entry. There were so many memorable aspects to the past week of celebrations in LA for the Raff Family.

I arrived on Mother's Day and my kids took me straight from the airport to lunch at Bungalow in Larchmont. The Farmer's Market was open and we wandered through it at closing time so there were bargains galore. (A dozen roses for $5.)

On Monday, I listened to 45 minutes of perfectly timed precision as Adam practiced his presentation on me. I loved it.

Adam's thesis defense was Tuesday and it went so well. The room was packed with 50 people and it was standing room only. Laura sat serenely while Adam explained the work he had done during their last three years together in the lab. We went to Campanille's for dinner that night for champagne.

The next day was USC's graduation commencement where Adam's mentor and principal investigator for his project "hooded" him in the glorious colors you see in the top photo. What a grand moment. The director for the PhD program at USC had us all over to dinner that night at her house in the LA hills with great views, camaraderie and conversation into the wee hours.

Laura and Adam were great hosts in their cozy and charming apartment. Our friend, Terry Lee Heller, came from Albuquerque to join the celebration in LA. Laura and Adam gave up their bed for us, and they slept on an Aero bed with their dog, Bodhi, in the living room while we were there.

Evan broke away from studying for his boards for each event and family meal. He didn't miss any event where we were all together. Loved visiting with him.

The next morning, Marika and I headed to Santa Barbara for some much needed "girl time" and we tried all the newest restaurants and some of the old favorites. I got to be in college all over again. The kids in her apartment complex love music -- and they love to listen to it LOUD! We slept with the fan on HIGH not so much to keep us cool but more to keep the noise at a tolerable level. I loved every minute I spent with her.

She was a trooper to get up so early this morning and drive me to LAX. I boarded the plane as scheduled at 11 am but thirty minutes into our flight, the pilot said we were turning around and heading back to LA because an onboard sensor indicated our plane could not fly higher than 25,000 feet. So we're all back in the gate area waiting for the mechanics to repair the problem and we're scheduled to reboard in a couple more hours.

Years of intense work
Recognized by all present
Way to go, Adam!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Washington, DC Reunion

Two happy guys! Gil and his boyhood friend (from the Brooklyn 'hood) met up yesterday afternoon after a long 30 year hiatus. They had lost track of one another over the years and were reunited when another boyhood friend (Barry Mennen) helped all three make the connection.

Ron Fishbein and Gil are pictured outside the Ritz-Carlton here in Washington, DC where we are staying this weekend for Gil's talk to the 32nd Annual Recent Advances in Clinical Nuclear Cardiology and Cardiac CT symposium.

Ron and his wife, Dana, had us to their home in Laytonsville where we spent the afternoon catching up and having dinner and enjoying the delights of their 2 year old granddaughter. What a wonderful way to learn about Gil's favorite and funny memories of growing up in Seagate -- the gated-community next to Coney Island -- where their days were filled with summers at the ocean as lifeguards, stickball on the stoop, walking to school past gangs of less than friendly kids in the projects and other shenanigans.

While Gil was putting together his talk in the hotel room yesterday morning, I took a tour of the city riding on the top of an open air tour bus on a 2-1/4 hour loop from Georgetown to Arlington Cemetery to the National Cathedral to the White House to Embassy Row learning all about our nation's capital.

We're headed back to Michigan this afternoon.

I practically turn right around and repack my suitcase because I leave again on Sunday morning heading to LA for Adam's thesis defense and graduation next week. And a weeklong visit with the kids. And a trip up the coast to Santa Barbara where Marika and I will have some "girl time."

Getting his PhD
Was long but rewarding work
Good going, Adam!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Out in Nature

We took our daily two mile walk along the Nature Preserve trail in Kensington this afternoon. The pictured Tufted Titmouse seemed very tame and curious and followed us for awhile. He (or she) seemed to be "smiling" for the photo.

Gil had his biweekly Karmanos appointment this morning. All went well. He is nearly off his low dose of steroids. His immunosuppressants have again been reduced. And he is symptom-free. He still has chronic GVH in his mouth but it's nothing more than a discomfort and does not require treatment beyond the immunosuppression he is already taking.

We are getting ready to fly to Washington, DC for a conference where Gil is speaking on radiation dose reduction. It's a quick trip but we always look forward to getting away and it's at the Ritz Carlton which always knows how to make you feel like a pampered guest.

It seems that all the nurseries and gardening stores are having big openings tomorrow on May 1st and if the weather cooperates, I'll be there surveying the offerings. It's a bit tricky to get plants this early. We could have another freeze. Yet if you wait for safer planting times, the selections are picked over. Dilemma!

Adam says he handed his PhD thesis out to his committee today -- it was 135 pages! Evan was reviewing flashcards for his upcoming Boards -- on a Friday afternoon! Marika was trying to remember the last place and time she saw her cell phone -- lost at one or another of the watering holes she visited last night.

Am spending time organizing and de-cluttering. Advice from a magazine on what to keep out and what to store off the countertops which I will pass along: "If you use it everyday, it may stay. Otherwise, put it away." (I have lots to put away.)

The Kentucky Derby is tomorrow so mix up a mint julep and enjoy. I always try to be somewhere I can watch it on TV and I always stand with hand over heart while they play My Old Kentucky Home. I'm a Kentuckian -- born and raised.

Checking my garden
Each morning when I get up
New blooms to see?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chicago in the Spring

We're enjoying a long, warm, relaxing weekend in Chicago.

The first photo above shows the view outside the Sheraton lobby atrium's window where we park ourselves for reading and people watching during sunny parts of the day.

The second photo shows me at lunch on the top floor of the Art Institute's Renzo Piano Cafe which is light infused, serves Italian lunches (I had a pomegranate sage Italian soda) and has fabulous views of the city.

The third photo shows Gil reading a light Janet Evanovich detective novel yesterday before we headed out for our daily adventures in the downtown area.

Drove in to Chicago on Friday morning and spent the afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago at the Matisse show. (We became Art Institute members on our last visit so admission fees are a thing of the past for the coming year.) We ate an amazing fixed price fish dinner at Catch 35 in downtown Chicago that night.

Yesterday we spent the morning at The Shedd Aquarium watching moray eels and seahorses and Beluga whales. By the time we left, the lines waiting for admission wrapped around the building and we were glad we were on our way "out!"

In the afternoon, we attended Stanford's Leading Matters "traveling lecture series for alumni" here at the hotel. It was an alumni event designed to capture the hearts (and philanthropic dollars) of Stanford alumni. We heard from the university's best professors in stimulating talks, followed by dinner and a not-to-be-missed media presentation that made me wish I was 35 years younger and smart enough to be considered for admission as a Stanford student.

We were seated at a table with other Stanford parents and we all gushed and gloated over our Stanford-graduated students -- each of whom has gone on seeking higher education degrees.

Today we are heading back to Michigan but not before we head up to the Chicago Botanic Garden for their 10th annual Antiques and Garden Fair which will feature currently blooming tulips and all sorts of other flowering plants. I know it will be be very crowded and I'm only hoping that once we get to the parking lot, we won't decide to abandon the plan.

We stayed here at the Sheraton which is convenient walking to practically everything downtown. Headed downstairs to breakfast now to get our day started.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Blooming Bradford Pear Trees

Finally we can walk out our front door and feel that winter is over.

I've been cleaning up our gardens and pulling up the winter debris that I left at the end of last season from the beds making room for the new fragile green shoots to come up. I love gardening. But there's always a lot to do in the spring.

I've gotten interested lately in learning more about the foods that are good for you and what I should be eating. I started out reading Food Rules by Michael Pollan. Then I consulted the writings of a nutritionist online to learn more about the glycemic index of various foods. Then I threw away my Splenda and CoffeeMate Creamer. Then I started reading food labels with a new intensity. And now I'm trying to replace the unhealthy foods in my pantry and refrigerator with healthy foods.

Many of my friends and our family members are already into very healthy eating so I am really just catching up to them at this point. I'm enjoying learning about it. I'm learning that soy is not so good for you but I don't know why. I'm going to Google that tonight. I'm becoming a rather annoying evangelist, I'm afraid!

Tomorrow night I'm going to our Milford Garden Club's monthly meeting and our speaker is going to be talking about Healing the Body and Spirit: Use of Plants, Trees and Stone Therapies. Sound interesting? I'm thinking that the stone therapy must be referring to massage with stones but, what the heck, it may be some kind of healthy stone soup!?

The past few days have been rainy so Gil and I have not been out walking. I keep up with Pilates and my personal trainer at the YMCA but Gil doesn't have any other outlets for his exercise when the weather outside doesn't allow walking. We found a great trail through the woods at the end of our street which I think will become a favorite because it takes about an hour to get all the way around it and back to the starting place. But we mix it up a lot so we don't get bored.

We're fans of watching The Masters golf tournament so will be well-engrossed the end of the week and into the weekend in "all things Tiger Woods." Neither of us play golf but we both love watching the tournaments when Tiger is playing.

Watched Inglourious Basterds on DVD and have waiting for us tonight Julie and Julia or Coco Before Chanel from Netflix.

It's been a wonderful, quiet, thoughtful week. Finished The Hidden Life of Deer and moving on to the new book about Dorothea Lange.

Food that's good for you
Chemical free and earthly
Makes a body smile.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Pie Brigade

This was the happy reunion last night with our Karmanos friends. We met at The Grand Traverse Pie Company in Lansing for our monthly dinner together. Gil, Mark and Bonnie continue their recoveries without complication and are nearing their six month post-stem cell transplant anniversary.

As you might remember from previous blog entries, we are pie lovers and so we all started our dinner with pie first. We then "progressed" to sandwiches, and finished off with soup and salad. (Hey, we do what we want!)

The spouses (me, Kim and Steve) happily support Gil, Mark and Bonnie's efforts at getting stronger each day, taking fewer naps (!) and getting more involved in the world at large. (As long as it's germ-free!)

Germs are the terrifying big topic these days. Gardening is absolutely forbidden -- too much bacteria in the soil and leaf mold is everywhere. And crowded places still need to be respected.

Gil heads into Karmanos tomorrow for an appointment and he's doing well. He's hoping for a reduction in his steroids again and that within two to four weeks, he might actually be able to discontinue them all together.

I've got a lot of books checked out from the library and reading as much and as fast as I can:
Dorothea Lange by Linda Gordon, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis, The Hidden Life of Deer by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Food Rules by Michael Thomas and The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. (I love having a book in every room in the house that I can browse or pick up and take with me to an appointment.)

A warm sunny day
Is winter really over?
Or is this a tease?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Breakfast before Passover Begins

We all went out for breakfast at The French Laundry this morning. It wasn't even a struggle to get Marika and her friend, Lindey, out of bed with the enticement of lox and bagels and fresh-squeezed orange juice.

It's raining today but there is the promise of warmer weather later this week -- apparently there is the potential for the temperature to reach into the 70's. (Due to the all-day rain, we didn't get to do our usual walking and we really missed it!)

Marika leaves for Santa Barbara tomorrow. She's had a week to visit with friends, take long walks with her parents and determine her summer plans. It looks like she'll stay in Santa Barbara this summer and take her MCAT study course there along with an academic summer school course. It will lighten her load as a senior next year.

Gil has reached the right balance of work and recovery. Most days he feels good and is regaining his past levels of endurance by walking three miles a day using those "sweet" hiking poles. (They say the workout is 45% more effective when you use them.) His mood is good although he admits to having some issues with the limitations that taking steroids and immunosuppressives impose on his lifestyle. Like no travel by air. Decreased energy levels. Logistical issues when he wants to be in crowded places. (All are surmountable.)

Our next planned trip is once again driving to Chicago for a weekend in mid-April. We'll hope to spend a day at the Art Institute of Chicago seeing the new Matisse show, a day at an alumni seminar which Stanford sponsors called Stanford Leading Matters (Evan is the alum. We were the financial enablers and as such are always invited to these events as "the parents"!), and a day at an Antiques and Gardens exhibition at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Evan Report: Evan has "informed" us that he has "officially" started studying for his medical boards which every student takes mid-June at the end of the second year. It requires months of very serious study and he is allowing himself very little "fun" time this spring. He warned us that he may not be as "warm and communicative with family" as usual!

Adam Report: Adam is giving his final push to finishing his PhD work. He defends his thesis on May 10th in front of his committee. He walks in the graduation procession and gets "hooded" the following day. I wish Gil could be there but he's not able to travel by air yet. I will go and visit with the kids in LA and drive up to Santa Barbara to visit with Marika for a few days during that trip. The wedding plans continue to evolve but there's plenty of time to get all the details right. It's scheduled now for May 2011 which is the first time that Adam will have the "time off" during his third year of medical school.

All for now. Looking forward to spring!


Spring Break is over
Sending Marika back home
To be with her friends.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Trekking through Kensington Park

Gil and I are spending time each day walking along one of the trails in Milford or along the paths in Kensington Metro Park just down the road.

I discovered the added benefits of walking with these trekking poles and Gil has adopted them for his walking routine, too. The poles add to the workout and give a good upper body workout along with the walking.

When you use the poles, you stand up straighter, walk faster, work your core muscles and have a swing to your gait. We get asked questions about the poles every time we're out. (I got them at REI which is an outdoor hiking/camping store.)

It feels good to be out in nature for an hour each day.

Marika comes home for Spring Break tomorrow night. She's just finishing finals for the quarter and will relax and visit friends while in Michigan.

Evan is in Buenes Aires visiting friends this week for his Spring Break.

Adam and Laura are holding their own in LA as they monitor the March Madness bracket competition that Adam organized and we've all entered. "The winner gets pizza and his beverage of choice, and an evening of Wii entertainment at the Raff/Fahey LA Residence," Adam says.

March Madness is here
I pick Kentucky to win
(My alma mater!)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chicago Getaway

Gil and I spent a long weekend in Chicago and got back home last night just in time to start the Daylight Savings morning darkness on this Monday morning! This photo was taken in front of Millenium Park with the Frank Gehry outdoor amphitheater and The Bean reflective sculpture in the background.

I had just gotten back from Albuquerque late last week and realized how uplifting it is to get away when you've faced several months of a Michigan winter.

And I realized that Gil would probably be needing to get away from it all as well -- but he wasn't going to be fortunate enough to be able to "fly off" to a sunny, warm place.

So we made a hotel reservation, jumped in the car and headed west to Chicago. Four hours later we were in the Windy City checking in and planning an afternoon visit to Millenium Park and the Chicago Art Institute.

Had a wonderful three days in Chicago and hope to go back again for theater, exhibits (Matisse is coming!) and Chicago outdoor events and festivals as the weather warms up.

Healthwise, all continues to go well. Gil's stem cells are maturing and taking greater responsibility for his immunity. He identifies his next challenge as returning his physical strength and stamina to pre-transplant levels.

I bought us both hiking/trekking poles so when we go out walking, we're getting a good upper body workout as well as legwork and endurance. I keep assuring him that it will all come back to him in good time.

Literally, "one foot in front of the other."

A road trip away
Just what the doctor ordered
(Dr. Raff, that is!)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Remembering When...

I'm leaving Albuquerque in the morning to head back to Michigan.

Marika was here with me for four of the last seven days. She went back to Santa Barbara on Sunday night.

The photo above shows Marika and Elsie (who, as I've mentioned before, raised the kids and kept our house in order) on an afternoon when I made quiche and pot de creme for a special lunch get-together. Lots of storytelling and remembering when....

It's been a week of:

1. visiting friends (I didn't get to all of you! Next time?)
2. seeing movies (I didn't like Alice in Wonderland.)
3. eating out (Albuquerque has some great new restaurants like The Grove.)
4. hiking (The hills in Sandia Heights provided great exercise. I used my new trekking/hiking poles which add to the workout.)
5. touring (Santa Fe galleries and The Glass Alliance of NM were highlights.)

I always try to help my hostess and dear friend, Terry Lee, to accomplish a couple of projects she has procrastinated about. I try to provide the motivation and execution. This time it was creating an indoor garden space. And buying and installing a new computer printer.


Gil had his Karmanos appointment this past Friday. His steroid dose is being reduced again and he has no new symptoms of graft vs. host disease. His doctors recommended he not work as much and he is trying to comply with their advice.

He loves being involved again in his department's activity and his research but he wants to find the right balance between his work involvement and the all-important efforts of healing and recovery from the bone marrow transplant he had five months ago.

Travel tomorrow
Exposed to recycled air
Sick people spread germs!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Tile House in Albuquerque

I'm in Albuquerque and have not been able to post to the blog as I had hoped. I don't know how this happened but I did not pack my camera and had to borrow one.

The house you're seeing in the photo above is an amazing place. If you want to see all the photos I took of the house, the album of photos is posted on my Facebook page.

This website tells the story of the house and its creation:

Today we took a full-day tour sponsored by The Glass Alliance of New Mexico and this house was one of the highlights. Every surface of the house inside and out is covered in ceramic tile.

We toured a modern glass tile studio and several homes of glass collectors in various parts of the city. It was a day filled with art-lovers and we learned more about glass collecting than we ever needed to know.

Marika arrived here two days ago and we've been having a wonderful vacation together with our friend, Terry Lee Heller, who is the best hostess imaginable!

Yesterday we went to Santa Fe for the day. We visited with a friend (Liz Kay) who works at The Andrew Smith Gallery. She was hanging a show of Annie Leibowitz' work for a fundraising event later that evening. The photos were some of her most famous images.

(One of her large format photos -- of John Lennon and Yoko Ono curled up and embracing one another naked on their bed -- was priced at $65,000.)

Leibovitz was in Santa Fe yesterday for a lecture.

Before leaving Santa Fe, we had margaritas at The Ore House which is a restaurant/bar in the plaza. We sat upstairs and finally satisfied our craving for authentic New Mexican tortilla chips and salsa and guacamole.

Tomorrow we've invited our most wonderful friend, Elsie Berry, for lunch. Elsie helped raise our kids and keep our house in order for over ten years when we were living in Albuquerque. I know we'll spend hours and hours reminiscing about all the good times and funny stories we remember about the kids growing up.

Then, late in the afternoon, we take Marika to the airport and she returns to Santa Barbara. The visit was all too short. (But we get to have her back for her Spring Break in two weeks.)

Keeping up with friends
So many I should contact
Not enough time here.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cross Country Skiing

I went cross country skiing with two good friends -- yes, Deb and Nora -- yesterday at Huron Metropark and we had so much fun. The weather conditions were perfect except for the lack of warm sunshine but the snow was ideal and the trails through the woods were picturesque. I loved it and want to incorporate this great exercise and adventure into my winter sports routine.

Deb, Nora and I also went out to lunch the other day (Forest Grill) and followed up with a matinee movie of It's Complicated. I didn't expect to like it as much as I did. All three of us really enjoyed it and we laughed at the "complicated" parts. We envied the gorgeous house and bakery and lifestyle of Meryl Streep's character. (It was set in Santa Barbara so naturally I am envious of Marika who gets to live there nine months out of every year!)

Gil and I went to breakfast at The French Laundry this morning. We are becoming real "regulars" there. It says something about our personalities that I always order the same thing (called Nancy's California proposal which is a crispy potato pancake topped with lox and a cucumber/tomato salsa) and Gil always gets the "special" of the day which is the chef's inspired creation. We're as different as night and day in many respects. And yet it works for us!

Today is one of the those rare weekend days when Gil is NOT on call for reading cardiac CTs so we are taking full advantage of the weekend day off. We're headed out for a matinee viewing of The Hurt Locker.

I'm excited about my week long trip to Albuquerque this coming Wednesday (March 3rd) through the following Wednesday (March 10th) where I'll stay with my dear friend, Terry Lee, and where Marika will join us for a long four-day weekend. Can't wait to see my darling daughter again. (I can now legally take her out for a drink to celebrate any and all of her accomplishments -- including getting the Greek Scholastic Award for highest grade point average in her sorority last quarter!)

I'll be posting to the blog daily during that week since there are so many things we will be doing that will be worthy of blog photos and entries.


When things go smoothly
Life can be such a pleasure
Savor each moment.