Since my last post was filled with despair and misery, this post will hopefully bring you tidings of good cheer. As much as there are bad days during chemo there are also good days. In fact, they have been some of the best days I´ve ever had. I´m sure that at the end of this journey, like many of the more difficult periods of my life, I will remember only the good times. I find this selective memory to be especially true with romantic relationships. No matter how many blow-out fights you had or moments where you felt utterly alone and vulnerable… after the relationship is over you yearn for those tender moments: the fancy steak dinners, the inside jokes, the walks along shady moonlit streets, hand in hand planning out the future. Yes, the mind is so good at blocking out the painful moments.
Luckily this past week was filled with relatively few painful moments and many that genuinely made me smile. In addition to the general jolliness that tends to accompany the holiday season, this week Jon and I celebrated the beginning of his summer break and the birth of our friend´s first baby. To kick off the Christmas celebrations, Jon and I hosted a White Elephant party on the 20th for our Nido friends. If you didn´t know already, one of my favorite things to do is plan a party. Six years ago when I quit teaching to attend the New School of Cooking in Los Angeles, I envisioned making a career out of it. However, after one year half-heartedly attempting to get Swift Catering off the ground, I realized that when you make a hobby your job, it becomes a whole lot less fun. These days, I enjoy teaching for a living and throwing parties for free. After an invitation for a party has been sent out, I spend hours upon happy hours flipping through cookbooks and browsing the web, trying to find the perfect combination of food and drinks to accompany the party´s theme. Christmas parties are the easiest to plan because the theme and accompanying eats are usually pretty obvious. Christmas in the southern hemisphere does throw a small wrench in the party planning, however, since no one really wants to drink mulled wine or wear ugly sweaters in the middle of summer. So Jon and I settled on the following menu for our last-day-of-school White Elephant gathering: (Yes, this is meant to make you drool…)
Spiced Roasted Nuts
Baked Brie with Raspberry Glaze and Assorted Cheese Platter
Veggies and Horseradish Dip
Swiss Bacon Dip with Chives
Israeli Couscous Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Feta
And the piece de resistance…
Bourbon Peach Glazed Brisket
The desserts were brought by guests since I ran out of time to make the chocolate pudding cups, and also because I prefer making and eating savory food. In order to complete our fantasy menu, Jon and I searched the entire Vitacura area for anything remotely resembling brisket. We finally found something similar in a fancy meat store where the owner spoke English. Even though I speak Spanish pretty well, it is difficult to translate that you are looking for the fatty, slow-cooking meat from the breast of a cow. Our search was made more difficult by two factors: a) the people working the meat counter had no knowledge about cuts of beef in English OR Spanish and b) had absolutely no desire to help the customer. There is no such thing as service with a smile in Chile! Regardless, we found a brisket-like cut of meat, Jon labored over it for three straight days, rubbing, and grilling, and braising, and broiling…. and luckily, it was spectacularly delicious. Yum! I´m still thinking about it…
The party was a grand time as White Elephant parties often incite a great deal of laughter. When I lived in Los Angeles, my friends and I used to have a girly Christmas party every year where we did a White Elephant gift exchange, and I longed to recreate that experience. Some of the Nido guests had never done a party of this sort before, so the gifts ranged from actual presents like scented candles and sets of champagne glasses to used DVD players without the remote, cookie tins with no cookies inside, and aprons with a painted-on male body wearing a Chilean flag speedo. Now that we´ve all had experience with White Elephant, I´m sure the gifts next year will be even uglier and funnier. After the party most of us headed to a bar in Providencia where the Nido band, A lo Gringo, was playing a gig. I was invited onto the stage to reprise my performance of “Hit Me with Your Best Shot“, and it turned out to be even more fun than the first time. Don´t worry, folks: as much as I´ve enjoyed living out my fantasy of becoming a world-famous singer, I respect the music industry enough not to quit my day job!
The holiday celebration continued on into the weekend when Jon and I decided to make use of my gift certificate to a great little bed and breakfast in Zapallar. Thank you, history department!!!! Zapallar is the most beautiful beach that I´ve been to in Chile. Part Newport, R.I, part La Jolla, part Italian coast: Jon and I both fell in love with this perfect little cove of beach, crystal blue water, rocky outcrops, forested hills, and beautiful, New England style mansions. Jon and I haven´t spent a whole lot of time by ourselves over the last three months so it was nice just to relax together, have a romantic meal, and enjoy the sunshine. While in Zapallar we also got the fantastic news that the Chile Pepper had finally arrived. On the 22nd our friend, Erin, gave birth to a tiny baby girl named Lucia Antonia Flannagan. Erin and I have spent a lot of time together the last few months as Chile has a mandatory 6 week pre-baby maternity leave. We spent many an afternoon wallowing on the couch watching Homeland (highly recommended!) and attempting to make Christmas cookies. It was my first up-close-and-personal experience with pregnant ladies or babies. Although many of my friends and family back home have had kids, I haven´t been around to see their pregnancies or to meet their newborns. Being able to ask Erin questions about her backaches and pains and to feel the baby kick in her belly was definitely an interesting experience for me.
It´s no secret that I´ve never been much of a baby person. I´ve never spent time around them, and I don´t think they´re all that cute. (Sorry!) Most of all, I have never really had the urge to join the mommy club. I remember becoming inexplicably upset and a bit perplexed when friend after friend announced their pregnancies. I couldn´t believe that we were old enough to be having children. I still have trouble realizing that it is actually normal for people my age to be on their second child. I did not feel ready to take that plunge. I still had so much traveling to do, I was still too selfish, too immature… I also had decided long ago that if some day I finally felt ready to have a family, I would like to adopt. My first husband was adopted from Korea at age three, and I saw how much he appreciated the opportunities he was given by his American family. They loved him, supported him, and allowed him to lead a life that he wouldn´t have been able to back in Korea. Luckily Jon is keen on adopting as well, since it will be impossible for me to have children after chemo. There are drugs you can take to keep your eggs in sort of a holding pattern during chemo treatment, but the drugs have horrible side effects and aren´t necessarily that effective. In addition, there is no way I could knowingly pass my cancer gene on to my children. But I won´t lie, the medical realization that I may never have a family of my own has sort of made me want to have a family. You know that saying, “You always want what you can´t have?” Well, it´s definitely true. Since my diagnosis both Jon and I have found it hard to be around people with babies who are so happy about starting their lives together as a family. It seemed so unfair. I am very grateful, however, that Tom and Erin have let us share in their journey as new parents. I´m pretty sure that first hand experience with diapers and crying fits will cure any of my romanticized feelings about having a baby. I do have to admit that Lucia is a darn cute baby, though, and for me that´s saying a lot…
After my baby-holding experience, Jon and I spent Christmas Eve at a friend´s house with other Nido people who had decided to stay in town and had no family around. Expat communities are always so good at including “orphans” in their holiday gatherings. It´s something I really love about living abroad. Everybody takes care of each other, just like family would do. Christmas day, itself, was pretty nice, although much different from my holiday memories at Grandma Doft´s house filled with noisy dinners and lots of presents. This year it was just me and Jon; so we opened our stockings and the six presents under the tree that we had purchased for each other the day before, and we were done. We spent the rest of the day at the park with our dogs and later cooked a roast tenderloin meal for some more Christmas orphans. All in all, a pleasant day, filled with lots of laughter, but not your typical snowy white Christmas Bing Crosby wistfully crooned about so many years ago. But, you know what, I couldn´t have asked for a better day given the circumstance. During this journey I have learned not to complain (as much) about what might have been and just try to make the most of what you are given. Sometimes it´s been hard and I know I´ve done my fair share of complaining, but so far, it´s been do-able. So…thank you, Santa, for bringing me a hard dose of reality and wisdom this year for Christmas. Next year, though, I wouldn´t mind it if you brought me something frivolous…I´ve had just about as much reality as I can take.