Friday, November 26, 2010

A Family Thanksgiving

Gary and I celebrated Thanksgiving this year with my entire extended Italian family (with the exception of my sister and mom - who we "skyped" in from San Diego, CA via laptop computer). The meal was a typical 5-course Italian holiday dinner:

Antipasto (my contribution - pictured)
Primo: lasagna
Secondo: organic turkey (Griggstown Farm)
Contorni: yams and marshmallows, two types of stuffing, green beans, breaded asparagus, spaghetti squash, mash potatoes, cranberry jello, stuffed mushrooms
Dolce: cannoli, chocolate cake, pie (apple and blueberry), cookies, pumpkin cheesecake

The nicest part of the dinner, however, wasn't the incredible food - rather it was the people around the dinner table who made it a day I'll always treasure - Gary, my uncle, my aunt, my grandparents, my cousins...we were all together, in one place, simultaneously sharing memories and making them.

Of course, one dinner table topic of conversation was my health - everyone wanted to know: is the cancer gone? I guess you could say that I'm in remission, since technically that means that you aren't showing signs or symptoms of the cancer. Remission, however, does not mean "cured" - even if you do not show signs or symptoms, cancer cells may still be growing like crazy. Also, my neuroendocrine system has been forever effected as a result of the cancer- and fevers and pain are still a daily struggle. So I guess I just don't have a solid answer. There is part of me that wants to say, "yup - 100% A-OK, don't worry - nothing to see here - everything is perfect"... and then there is the other part of me that wants to say, "it's too early to tell so don't leave my side for too long"... Regardless of what the cancer may or may not do in the future, right now - I am so very grateful for the time I have.

A Pre-Dinner Read
Three Generations: my grandmother, aunt and cousin

Watching Thanksgiving Football
Three Generations: my grandfather, uncle and cousins
Bonus: a picture of my great grandfather and his father playing bocce ball

Double Bonus: Gary!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Evolution of Toys

I bought a new car; it is the first new car that I have ever owned.

It is green ... the kind of green that prompted my grandmother, the day after she first saw it, to write me an email asking permission to name it the Green Hornet; permission granted.

When I picked up the Green Hornet from the dealer, I was struck by the irony of the situation; here I was buying a brand new bright green car while simultaneously teaching Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in senior honors English. Gatsby is a symbolic novel, and may be best remembered for the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, which serves as a beacon for Gatsby's romantic, albeit naive, optimism. The 1920s American automobile is also used in symbolic fashion as a metaphoric vehicle for rebellious self-indulgence - speeding past landscapes of the materially wealthy and spiritually poor until all that is left is a blur of moral irresponsibility. In the end, Gatsby's rose-tinged longing for the past spectacularly crashes head-first into an ash-grey wall of reality, constructed from the burnt-up reminents of the American dream.

As Americans, our fascination with "stuff" starts at an early age. When I was growing up in the 1980s, every kid wanted a "Green Machine" - a three wheeler by Huffy with serious pizazz. Thinking back, I can almost hear those oversized black plastic wheels chewing up driveway concrete, and the joyful squeels of excitement from rider and onlookers alike. I think somehow we have misinterpreted those childhood memories - we remember the toys more than the experiences, and try to regain those innocent delightful feelings by acquiring things rather than enjoying moments.

Cars can be symbols for traveling back to the past or hurrying into the future; both trips however have the same destination: to transport us away from the hurts and insecurities of the present. So as I set out for new adventures in my Green Hornet, I will try my best to drive toward a place of fresh possibilities rather than following detours back to a land of worn-out dreams.

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther ... And one fine morning -- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past" The Great Gatsby

Friday, November 12, 2010

PC Students Join the Fight Against Carcinoid Cancer

PC Students Advocate for Carcinoid Cancer Awareness

Last year, I made the difficult decision of sharing my Carcinoid cancer diagnosis with the students, faculty and staff of Paramus Catholic High School (PC), where I teach 11th and 12th grade English. Since then, the outpouring of care and concern from the PC community has been overwhelming; and when I mentioned that this year was the first ever Worldwide NET Cancer Awareness Day (WNCAD), my students were eager to advocate for an increased awareness of this rare disease. Below are just a few of the ways that PC joined the fight against Carcinoid cancer:

Paladin News Network Anchors

Every morning, the students, faculty and staff of Paramus Catholic High School tune into a live broadcast over Paladin News Network (PNN) for prayer, the pledge, and announcements. During the month of November, the students of PNN decided to help raise awareness about neuroendocrine tumors by delivering their telecast in front of a greenscreen featuring zebra stripes and a Carcinoid Cancer Awareness logo.

Paladin Awareness Cancer Team Table

On November 10th, the students of PACT - PC's cancer awareness club - set up a table outside of the cafeteria to distribute information about NET cancers. They also created and administered a quiz on Carcinoid cancer, which over 300 students took in order to win prizes such as zebra striped pins, stickers, and bracelets. PACT also decorated their bulletin board with zebras and facts about Carcinoid cancer.

792 Signatures: WNCAD Proclamation

In addition to student-sponsored advocacy, on November 10th my colleagues in the English department took a break from vocabulary, grammar, composition, and literature to talk about my story and encourage students to sign the WNCAD Proclamation, which acknowledges the need for increased awareness about NET cancers and better access to treatment for Carcinoid cancer patients. Because of their efforts, we gathered 792 signatures in a single day.

Our school's mascot, a Paladin, is a knight of uncommon valor and virtue who fights injustices in the world - I'd say that the students and faculty of PC have certainly lived up to the Paladin legend through their incredible efforts in supporting the Carcinoid cancer community.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Wait is OVER: WNCAD is Here!


What is WNCAD you ask? Only the first ever Worldwide NET Cancer Awareness Day (Nov 10th). Wear zebra print (or at least black and white) tomorrow to show your support for the Carcinoid Cancer community.

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." ~Jane Howard

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bike Race in Thompson Park

10/31/10: Thompson Park, Jamesburg NJ

I do not know how to ride a bike. When I tell people this, inevitably the next question is: "Can you swim"? I never got the connection between the two sports - but yes, I can swim.

While I have never balanced on two wheels, one of our dearest friends, Chris Gozick (orange jersey), is a top-notch cyclist who competes all over the State. On Halloween, Chris was racing close by, so it was the perfect excuse to go spend a beautiful day outside with Gary and my best friend Christine (Chris's wife) ... we even got an added bonus when our friend Alastair joined us with his new rescue bull terrier, Frank.

Spending time with Gary in the crisp fall air, with our friends and Frank, obliterated any lingering aches and pains October had been harboring, and left me refreshed and renewed - ready for anything.


"The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love." - Hubert Humphrey

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Treat: Dinner at Elements

Elements, Princeton NJ

Gary and I love amazing food, and have flown everywhere in search of it; from celebrity-chef-owned restaurants like Moto in Chicago that use molecular gastronomy to create avante-garde cuisine, to historical restaurants like The Olde Pink House in Savannah that improve upon quintessential comfort food. For obvious reasons, we haven't indulged in such gastric delights in a long time.

One of our favorite restaurants in New Jersey is Elements in Princeton. When we learned that they had a tasting menu during the month of October to celebrate their 2-year anniversary, we decided to take the dive back into fine dining.

If you've never eaten at Elements and you live anywhere near New Jersey - go. Firstly, the space is unbelievable; they actually transformed part of a garage into an architectural marvel. Secondly, the food is incredible. Dinner was perfect, and I've done my best to remember all seven courses, listed below.

Amuse Bouche - Champagne, Coconut-Broccoli Cream Soup, Winter Barley Salad
First Course - Hamachi Tartare with Cilantro
Second Course - Squash Soup with Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Caraway Ice Cream
Third Course - Pacific Halibut with Chopped Geoduck, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Broccoli, and Pumpkin Puree
Fourth Course - Wild New Jersey Mushroom Risotto with Mushroom Froth
Fifth Course - 48-hour Short Ribs with Red Potatoes and Kale
Sixth Course - MY FAVORITE - Bacon and Eggs
Seventh Course - Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingerbread Sorbet
Complimentary Dessert - Chocolate Plate (6 homemade chocolates...the best being caramel peanut-butter filled dark chocolate truffle)

"Bacon and Eggs" at Elements

Ok - that sixth course deserves a pause and further description. It is the chef's signature dish that serves as a bridge between the savory and sweet courses. On one side of the plate is a hollowed out eggshell with three layers of gooey goodness inside: the bottom is brioche French toast, the middle is bacon custard, the top is maple foam with smoked sea salt. On the other side of the plate is a mini French toast with homemade bacon and bourbon maple syrup. It's insane.

Although my appetite is much smaller than it used to be, I took my time and managed to at least savor a little of everything. It was an absolutely wonderful night.