Monday, October 14, 2013

The "C" Word

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month where you see pink everywhere, from NFL players sporting pink wristbands to pink ribbons on various products. This effort and campaign started twenty-five years ago and is headed up by the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Organization.

Great strides have been made 
over those twenty-five years to educate, prevent and treat women, but sadly science has yet been able to eradicate breast cancer. What's telling about this disease is that we can all probably name someone within our own circles that have been impacted.  About 1 in 8 (12%) of women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.  Currently, there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States (this includes women still being treated and those who have completed treatment).* The key that is starting to turn the tide is early decection. The NBCAM offers low-cost screening options on their website to help provide the medical services needed for early detention and promotes all women over the age of 40 have an annual mammogram.

As foodies, we admire the companies willing to put a pink label on their products for October
and donate a portion of their proceeds to this worthy cause.  Having made a trip to our local grocery store yesterday, it was impressive how many companies are getting behind this campaign and can hopefully raise some very important funds to continue the research and education that have made a difference in the past decade.

Although, it was confusing watching football with all the pink towels on Sunday because you couldn't tell when a referee was throwing a penalty flag or a player had inadvertently dropped a towel, it was worth the confusion to see the support of these big burly guys.  It was even more incredible during one of the NFL's promotional spots to learn that a New Jersey woman, while watching the Jets game last October was reminded of the importance of breast exams.  She made an appointment and was able to detect early enough for treatment that she had breast cancer.  During October, the Seattle Seahawks are donating 10% of all pink ribbon merchandise to a local Bellevue non-profit, the Pink Daisy Project, which aims to support young women with their treatment journey.

We asked our friend Karri what she found helpful from her support team while she went through chemo and her treatment journey.  She said chemo was difficult and new for her, but also for her friends and family.  They were shocked to see Karri lose her hair, and the patient found herself becoming the caretaker to help them accept this new look and battle. Having the chemo treatments left her bald, feeling nauseated most of the time and caused her to gain weight.  She really didn't feel like socializing even though a lot of her friends offered to come visit or sit and watch movies.  What Karri really wanted however, was very limited visits and for short amounts of time.   Like many, it was hard for her to turn people away and ask for what she really wanted or needed.  What she found the most helpful and supportive was people cooking good, healthy food for her and her family and just bringing it by, staying for a few minutes to say hi, but not lingering.  Even in times of sickness, it's amazing the comfort that nutritious food made and shared with love gives.

Sadly, while gathering information about this post and starting a draft, a former work colleague and friend was diagnosed with another type of the C word, leukemia.  She and her partner are very strong people, but a diagnosis like this can test the strongest foundations.  It's been incredible to watch their social network (work, personal, family and friends) team up to shower them with an outpouring of love and encouragement. This has seemed to go a very long way in keeping the patient optimistic and in touch with how many people are really cheering for her in the background.  Jaime and Ferris have a long road ahead of them, but watching their unity in this tough time has inspired many of us around them.  We are learning even little acts matter in this battle with cancer.  Posting a message of hope to Facebook, sending a funny card, taking care of daily chores, giving rides to the hospital or even a small monetary donation to help with medical costs.  Jaime's support team has set up a fundraising site Team Jaime to help organize donations for her medical care that will include a bone marrow transplant.

We had a couple of friends participate in the Susan G. Komen Three Day Walk to help raise money for further breast cancer research and education.  

Jennifer and her sister Tanya helped raise over $2,300.  They were an inspired sister act determined to help this cause along, even though they are fortunate to not personally know that many people with the disease.   They finished day one strong, #207 & #208 out of 1,100 walkers.  The sixty miles however, took it's toll on Jennifer and her day three was cut short due to an infection from day two's blisters, which caused her leg to swell.  To finish was the goal, but not really the point.  Both sisters DID what they set out to do and that was to DO something to help fight this disease.

Christina raised over $4,000 and walked in honor of her mother Edith who is a survivor. Christina was just seventeen when her mother told her she had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.  Her mom had felt pain in her shoulder for months, but didn't think much of it until she found a lump and that's when she went to the doctor.  This was Christina's first exposure to the disease and it couldn't have gotten any closer or more personal.  Her mom has fought hard to still be here, and Christina realizes not everyone diagnosed with the disease wins this battle so she feels extremely grateful that her mom is here almost twenty years from the original diagnosis.  Sadly though, Christina's life has been touched by too many people with a similar diagnosis.  She really thought there would be a cure found by now.  For all of these very personal reasons Christina chose to undertake walking 60 miles in three days.  She mentioned how humbling it was to see people of all ages and predicaments (pregnant, undergoing chemo, etc.) participating in the walk to show their support.  What she found amazing as well, was a group called the "walker stalkers."  These were people not registered for the walk, but following the entire 60 miles to cheer and provide encouragement.  There were people along the route that set up stands in their front yards with treats and water.  Families had painted signs with words of encouragement and put them up along the walk route.  Seeing these efforts gave Christina strength and determination as she walked because she knew these people were supporting the walk because their lives had been touched in one way by cancer.  

FloJo's mother also received a breast cancer diagnosis.  You never forget the day, when the news is shared.  The sickening, sinking, feeling that hits when the word cancer is uttered aloud.  Luckily, it was detected early and removed.  Her mom continues to get regular mammograms to ensure that it doesn't return and is proof that early detection saves lives.

You just don't know what small or big effort is going to make the difference in somebody's life that has just been diagnosed, is battling the disease, living in remission or has a loved one they are caring for.  The point is to DO-- do something even if it seems small and insignificant.

Lets never take our health, blessings and lives for granted.

Live Life With Flavor and Fun

*"What are the key statistics about breast cancer?" American Cancer Society, Last revised: 10/1/2013. Article accessed: 10/3/2013.

Christina's 3-Day Fundraising page

Carlson's Fundraising page

More Inspiring Stories from the 3-Day Blog

If you'd like to donate to the cause please visit the Susan G. Komen website.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Amalfi Coast: Living & Driving the Good Life

Ro and the Fiat 500
We had managed to avoid driving a car to this point in our Italian adventure, but that was about to change.  The driving adventure started when we took a taxi to the Ciampino airport to pick up our rental car.  We had planned to add a GPS to our rental, but the rental car agent quoted a price of $700 Euro to rent a GPS.  Upon further inquiry, for some bizarre reason, his records showed we were going to be renting for approximately 70 plus days.  Now wouldn’t that be fun?  But, even the cost of a three day GPS rental and returning it to another location he did not recommend.  "You can buy one much cheaper in Rome," he suggested (of course we had just come from there with no plans to return).  So neadless to say we set off in our sexy Fiat 500 white on white edition (JLo style) and headed South.  This has to be one of our biggest feats to date, actually navigating data and GPS free, old school style, in a foreign country.  We have to believe many a marriage could have ended attempting this and we definitely do not recommend it.

We made it successfully to our first stop, the ancient preserved city of Pompeii, incredulously preserved under layers of ash for centuries.  We found it enchanting, retracing the footsteps of this ancient civilization that dated to the first century A.D.   We left the ancient city and continued our trip farther South to Salerno. 

One of the items at the top of Flo-Jo's bucket list (you know all those things you swear you are going to do before you kick the bucket) was to drive the Amalfi Coast in a convertible Ferrari with her hair being blown gently by the warm Mediterranean trade winds. This drive is famous for villages literally carved into the side of steep cliffs overlooking gorgeous views of the deep blue sea.  With those villages being just at the edge of cliffs it does not leave much extra room for a highway.  There is a harrowing two-lane road that hugs the edge or the curvy mountain, but the reward for the traveler is you are on the edge of what has to be one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

So substitute the Ferrari for a Fiat 500 and place a check-mark next to Amalfi Coast on the old bucket list.  

We then put our own lives on the edge literally of risking life and death as we drove around the steep, 'don’t look over the edge,' cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. Immediately we knew this was going to be a challenge and were very thankful we had one of the smallest cars on the planet to navigate the less than generous lane space.   We had several near head on collisions with drivers more interested in showing off their ability to drive fast on this famous corridor vs. actually staying on their side of the narrow two-lane cliff hugging road.  

FloJo at the wheel
We were left wondering how the Italian engineers were able to build such a feat allowing just enough room to navigate.  Come to find out these roads were built in the 1800s even before cars were invented.  Probably the most incredlous feat we witnessed was how the local buses made it up and down the coast.  Of course, they took up more than their own lane and forced us even closer to the cliff wall.  We faced one head on coming around one of the tight corners and had to stop while the bus carefully used every available inch of space to make the hairpin corner.

The online pictures and descriptions in guide books did not do the scenery justice.  We ended up arriving as the sun was setting, which only amplified the colors bouncing off the cliffs and onto the blue water.  There were not many places to pull off to take pictures so we took mental pictures that will stay in our heads for the rest of our lives.  We neared Atrani, the small town on the coast we would be staying at for the night, just as the sun had completely set and darkness was beginning shroud the scenery.

After we found the hotel (by asking locals where it was) and then by pure accident parking by the water in front of the hotel sign. Who needs a GPS when you have that kind of luck?  We hiked like mountain goats up the steep steps to the hotel which was carved into the side of the coast.  The rooms were all named after actresses and had modern art replicas of said actress in the room.  The front desk had cubby holes with actual keys to each of the rooms and small pictures of the room's featured actor or actress.  Perhaps by coincidence we got assigned the American actress, Julia Robert’s, namesake room overlooking the beach and the famous Amalfi Coast.  She, like us, was enamored with Italian food in the movie Eat, Pray, Love.

After we settled into our room, we hiked back down the hill literally within a stones throw of the fishing boats.   We knew we would be having a lot of fresh, delicious local fish for dinner.  

The meal started off on the right foot when the waiter brought us a “welcome gift” of orange liquor we believe to be aperol.  We were intriqued by the "taste every fish on the menu" option for 40 Euro, but took a more conservative and less glutinous approach.  We began with a mixed salad of shrimp, cucumber, radichio and lemon.  We dressed the salad ourselves with the Italian staple olive oil and vinegar.  Simple, but delicious and we needed the green veggies, which had been very lacking in our travel diet.  

Next we moved on to the pasta course comprised of Italian parsley pasta and tomatoes with mixed seafood (mussels, clams and shrimp).  The mussels were our favorite which paired nicely with the house white.  The main course was a stunner, a whole local fish that was listed on the menu as, “the best local fish.”  Seriously, how do you pass that up?  Our cute Italian waiter put on a show table side de-boning the fish.  He carefully removed the spine, the dorsal fin, the head and then the tail.  He put all the bones onto FloJo’s plate and reconstructed the skeleton to look like it’s former fish self, telling her when he was finished with the reconstruction, this was her serving, while Ro got the real fish.  Not fair!  Luckily there was an extra plate hidden and we shared the real fish, which was, as advertised, the best local fish.  

The evening ended on a high note, literally, with a visit to the restaurant by the local traveling band.  Comprised of a clarinet, guitar, violin and FloJo’s favorite a tambourine player (there may be a career for her yet in music).  They had an eclectic playlist stretching from LaBamba (a crowd favorite), but a little out of place in Italy to Volaré (a little more appropriate).  We ate our molten lava chocolate cake, which reminded us both of the city we had just visited.  Too bad Pompeiii had not been covered in chocolate instead of volcanic ash.  We sipped our “good-bye present,” the best lemoncello we’ll probably ever have (although FloJo has plans to try to make a house version).   

Happy, full and content that we had witnessed an ancient civilization almost completely preserved for thousands of years, survived the harrowing drive down the Amalfi Coast and enjoyed a feast of amazing seafood a stones throw from the water.  The real feather in our cap to end this day was we navigated with no digital assistance.  The ancients would be proud!

Live Life with Lemoncello, Fiats and Fun!


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ashes to Ashes: Preservation of Pompeii

One of the most interesting parts of our trip to Italy was our visit to the remains of the once vibrant Roman city of Pompeii. It felt as if we had entered a time vortex and were suddenly in an ancient city that had been preserved exactly as it was 2,000 years ago.  It was our mission to explore the exotic remains of the city and its inhabitants over the next few hours.  It felt like watching an episode of Land of the Lost as a kid.
Mt. Vesuvius looms behind the ruins of Pompeii

Photo: Artist's depiction of the eruption which
buried Pompeii (from BBC's Pompeii: The Last Day).
On a fateful summer day in A.D. 79 Mount Vesuvius erupted catching the nearly 20,000 inhabitants of nearby Pompeii completely off guard.  They had no idea they were living so close to a volcano as it had not erupted for over a 1,000 years.   Some residents chose to quickly abandon their homes and flee to safety.  Others made a less wise decision and chose to remain in the city. They unfortunately did not survive as the city was buried in thirty feet of ash and rock.  

The still active volcano, (last eruption was in 1944) eerily looms today in the background behind the once vibrant Roman city. The eruption, although a terrible disaster, also had a silver lining.  It preserved the buildings, frescos painted on the walls, tools and even bodies frozen in time.  Thus, giving  the modern world a window into what ancient Roman life was like. 

The buried city remained undiscovered in the ashen cloak until it was re-discovered in the 1600s.  Excavations didn't begin until 1748. Approximately a third of the city still remains buried despite the hundreds of years of excavation work.

Mt. St Helens 1980 eruption
Source:  Seattle P.I.
The Pompeii eruption is similar to a modern-day eruption, that of Mount St Helen's here in Washington state on May 18th, 1980. When this volcano erupted, it spewed ash hundreds of miles away. Several residents living close to the volcano (although they had been warned the volcano was going to erupt) chose not to leave their homes by the mountain and they eventually were killed by the eruption. 

This eruption was the most deadly and economically destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the United States. Fifty-seven people were killed, 200 houses, 27 bridges, 15 miles (24 km) of railways and 185 miles (298 km) of highway were destroyed. [1]

FloJo remembers her aunt Callie sending her family a mason jar full of that volcanic ash, which she took to show and tell at school. 

Gladiator training grounds
Back in Pompeii, Italy, we had somehow managed to not get a map when we paid our admission fee.  Luckily we had downloaded the Rick Steves audio guide before our visit.  We used his audio to help us know where we were, what we were seeing with color commentary and where we should go next.  TIP:  learn from our mistake and make sure to get a map (the visual would help navigation through the city immensely).   Also, the Rick Steves audio guide is free and we highly recommend downloading this ahead of your visit.

We entered through what used to be the gladiator training grounds and their barracks. 

We started our exploration at the theatre.  In true Roman form there were different pricing tiers.  The white marble seats up close were the premium seats, there was a main section and like in our stadiums and theaters today, the cheap seats in the nosebleed section.  The theatre was large enough to accommodate 5,000 guests.

We left the theatre and followed the city street that led to the main town square known as the Forum.  The Forum was where the residents went to worship, do their shopping and socializing as well as where the government offices were located.

The streets alone had a story and were fascinating to look at.  We could see grooves created by chariot wheels that had worn them into the streets of Pompeii similar to what large semi-trucks do to our interstate highways today. 

The city work crews would flood the streets each day with sea water to keep the city clean (we have to give the Pompeiians credit for this).  Some clever engineer built three stepping stones across the street so towns people could cross the street without getting their sandal clad feet wet.    
Remains of the Temple of Jupiter

Bust of Jupiter
The Temple of Jupiter located on the North side of the Forum was the religious center of the city. The Temple of Jupiter has little remaining these days besides some ruined columns on top of a base with stairs leading up to it. There is also a small, white marble head which represents Jupiter. It was not uncommon for cities of Roman rule to build a temple honoring Jupiter, the most important God in ancient Rome.
Temple of Vaspian

The Temple of Vaspian has a white altar that remains and a raised pedestal behind it that probably would have housed a statue of the deity the temple was built for.

The Curia

The Curia was Pompeii's city hall.  It was built out of brick with a marble facade.  As you face Vesuvius it's on the left side of the Forum.  This is the building where elected representatives came to vote and conduct their political business.  

The basilica, also on the left, was the city's courthouse. The word was originally used to describe a Roman public building, usually located in the forum of a Roman town. By extension it was applied to Christian buildings of the same form and continues to be used in an architectural sense to describe those buildings with a central nave and aisles. It's outlined now by column stumps. There is still some remaining evidence that marble used to line the walls, indicating the importance of this building.[2]

Wall with preserved frescoes of Pompeiian life
On the right hand side of the Forum is the marketplace.  This was the center of economic trading for the city.  Archeologists have found clues to ancient Roman food, everyday tools and banking from remains found here.  There are also a few fairly well preserved frescos on one wall.  

Housed within the marketplace, lest those visiting forget the 2,000 citizens that died being buried under the ash, there are two glass cases holding the casts of two of those that perished that day.  Although very creepy to look at, it's also a preservation miracle.  A modern archaeologist detected hollow spaces underfoot created when victims' bodies decomposed.  The archaeologist had the ingenious idea to fill the spaces with plaster and was able to create these molds of several Pompeiians who were buried in the ash that fateful day.

 After leaving the marketplace we headed to one of Pompeii's six public bath houses.  Only the rich were able to afford privately built rooms with this function.  These baths were divided into a men's and women's zone.  Once we entered we could easily imagine what a Roman spa day was like.  The rooms were surrounded with preserved art and tile on the walls.  They took full advantage of the Roman ingenuity and used a system of aqueducts engineered to pump water into huge caldrons that were either hot, warm or cold.  Massages were also given here along with a gymnasium for working out (had to keep those gladiators ). 

Beautiful frescoes preserved in the baths

One of the bath tubs

Roman design that channeled water
from condensation down the walls

Spa Benches
Ancient skylight

Caldron where water was heated

Exiting the baths we crossed the street to what used to be Pompeii's version of McDonald's.  Like today, many ancients preferred to dine out rather than cooking at home.  Again, we had to admire the intelligence of these early business people knowing that once you hit the spa no one wants to go home and slave over a fire.  What's left are long marble counters with holes in them that held pots full of their food products.

Stick with your day job Ro
The House of the Tragic Poet is just a few steps away and gave us a giggle.  The owners had created what may be one of the first documented "Beware of Dog" signs ever.  The mosaic is placed squarely in the entryway and is a clear message to people passing by.  Speaking of dogs there were several stray dogs wandering around the ruins.  Like most strays they were thin and not very clean and appeared to live off the generosity of tourists.  However, we learned that the tour guides of Pompeii actually have taken responsibility for the dog's care.  They pool tip money to pay for proper food and care for these dogs.  Very cool!

Slightly downhill from the fast-food joint was this aqueduct arch which was part of the water delivery system for the city of Pompeii. 

We continued downhill to see Pompeii's largest home, the House of the Faun.  You know every town has one of these homes that the residents just love to take a stroll by and dream about someday owning something similar.  The home has a small bronze statue known as the Dancing Faun.  The home itself is believed to have had approximately 27,000 square feet (an entire city block) with about 40 rooms.  There are beautiful floor mosaics inside the home.

There were more than 40 bakeries in the city.  We stumbled upon several of them as we meandered through the the various neighborhoods.  One was a bakery and mill with a brick oven that was pretty much the same as our modern day pizza ovens.  

We learned on Rick's audio commentary that the huge column stones were actually what they used to grind flour.  The grain was put into the top and then mules or slaves would push wooden handles that were put in the holes in the side that turned the stones and ground the grain into flour.  

One of the local bars

Water Break!

Ro standing excitedly in the exit from the brothel
The hardest thing to find and the business Ro was most intent on finding was one of the thirty brothels in Pompeii.  We finally came upon it after squeezing through a modern chain link fence that said we were not supposed to go any farther.   We had not come this far however, to be denied seeing the true epicenter of the city.

The brothel itself consisted of a few tiny rooms that had very hard and uncomfortable looking beds made of stone in them. Perhaps the intent was so the customers didn't get too comfortable.   In the first pass, we missed the naughty frescoes that were preserved on the walls and ceilings of the brothel.  But, upon the second pass through Ro caught site of one of them.  One more example of not much changing between then and now.

The colorful walls of the brothel

It was amazing how we literally stepped back to 79 AD and could easily envision what life must have been like back then. Surprisingly, these ancient lives didn't seem that different from ours, minus modern technology.  Our visit to Pompeii provided us with an intimate connection with these Pompeiians who died during the eruption.  The day trip from Rome is one we highly recommend as it provides a poignant link from past to present.

Live life with flavor and fun!

[1] Robert I., Topinka, Lyn and Swanson, Donald A. (1990). "Eruptions of Mount St. Helens: Past, Present, and Future". The Climactic Eruption of May 18, 1980. U.S. Geological Survey (Special Interest Publication). Retrieved December 5, 2010.(adapted public domain text)

[2] Wikipedia, Basilica, 1st paragraph, retrieved from here.