Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Visit to The Mount - Edith Wharton's Estate in Lenox, Massachusetts

I recently had the chance to visit The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in Lenox, Massachusetts.  The estate is beautiful and we happened to have some of the best weather of the entire summer for our weekend.  

Until this trip, I didn't realize how prolific Edith Wharton was; she wrote over 30 works of fiction and 85 short stories over the course of her life.  I also didn't know that she was the first woman to be honored with the Pulitzer prize for literature in 1921 for The Age of Innocence, which has always been one of my favorite novels.

She was an incredibly interesting and independent woman; way ahead of her time. Edith's mother convinced her to enter into a marriage of convenience at the age of 23, but she and her husband weren't very compatible. They divorced in 1911 and Edith lived the balance of her life alone in Paris, much like her character, Countess Olenska in The Age of Innocence.  When in Paris during the 1st World War, Edith was involved in many charitable efforts for refugees and was one of the only foreigners in France allowed to visit the front lines during the war.

Below is the side view of The Mount, my favorite view of this gorgeous estate as it showcases the beautiful gardens along the side of the home.

Behind the home is this formal garden with a fountain in the center and a variety of colorful flower beds.

These pink flowers were at their peak the day we visited.

I love how these flowers below look like they're reaching towards the sun.

Here's the front entrance to The Mount.  Apparently Edith was a bit anti-social and didn't welcome too many visitors.  You can see from the high walls surrounding the estate that she sure protected her privacy.

I always love to see what type of library writers have and this one didn't disappoint.  Look at the beautiful built-in book shelves with their gorgeous wood work and the colorful book spines.

According to our tour guide, Edith did most of her writing in bed each morning. The bed was covered with hand written pages of her actual, original writings.

If you're a fan of Wharton and get a chance to visit Lenox, Massachusetts, you have to visit The Mount - it's such a treat!

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Book to Help You Prepare for Chemotherapy: "Getting Past the Fear" by Nancy Stordahl

One of the things that scared me the most during my breast cancer process was the fact that I was going to have to go through chemotherapy.  When I first found out that I'd need chemo, I panicked and spent hours and hours on the phone with friends and family members who all generously helped calm me down by offering words of support and strength.

But I'm a big reader and researcher and I love to have as much information on hand as possible about every decision I need to make so I wish I'd had a guide book to help me through the process.

Now there is a book available for anyone who will be going through chemotherapy, which was written by a fellow breast cancer blogger, Nancy Stordahl who writes about her breast cancer experience at Nancy's Point.

Nancy recently published the book "Getting Past the Fear" which is a guide to help you mentally and emotionally prepare for the process of going through chemotherapy.  In Nancy's words:
"My hope is that all who read "Getting Past the Fear" will be able to face chemo for the first time feeling a bit more empowered and a bit less fearful."
The book offers both practical and emotional advice on how to face the process of going through chemotherapy, including these topics:

  • Questions to ask your oncologist before starting chemo
  • Processing through the news that you need chemo and acknowledging your true feelings
  • What to expect on your first chemo day (this was a big concern for me as I had no idea what would happen)
  • Tips for how to take care of yourself throughout the duration of your chemo treatments 
  • How to tend to your partners needs during the process
  • How to cope with losing your hair (not losing your hair is also addressed)
  • How to calm yourself down during this overwhelming process
  • How to find support during chemo
  • Looking forward to life after treatment

Most importantly, Nancy explains all of this in a very comforting way as if you were talking to a close friend about the whole daunting process.  

If you or anyone you know has been diagnosed with breast cancer and will be going through chemotherapy, I would recommend this book as a helpful and caring resource to help you navigate the waters.

It would also be great if you would consider buying a copy of the book and donating it to your local cancer center or hospital.  I know that my cancer center had a reading center with books and pamphlets for anyone to check out, which I took full advantage of.  "Getting Past the Fear" would be a great addition to any cancer center and would be a valuable resource for anyone going through chemotherapy treatments.

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

How To Get A Teenager To Clean Their Room (Or Not)

Ah, to be a 16 year old boy.  My son dislikes cleaning his room, and in fact seems to prefer to live amidst a state of constant chaos. can he find anything in here?
When I was young, I was really messy and my mother, who lived by the rule that "Cleanliness is next to godliness" used to do crazy, periodic room cleanings where she'd upend everything in my room and throw it all in a big pile on the floor and then leave me to restore order.  She'd literally take all my dresser drawers out and dump them in a big pile in the middle of my room (yes -- reminiscent of Joan Crawford in "Mommy Dearest").

It used to completely freak me out and was extremely overwhelming and has undoubtedly contributed in some part to the many years of therapy that I've gone through so far in my life.

When I had kids of my own I resolved not to foist such lunacy on them, and have been (I believe) extremely generous and non-judgemental about how they keep their rooms.  I've decided that I'm more interested in them getting good grades and being kind, generous and caring people than clean freaks.

But every other Monday my cleaning lady comes and so I have a firm rule that whatever is on the floor of their rooms must be removed and put in either the laundry room, the recycling bin (note the many water bottles) or in the garbage bin on every other Sunday night before Maricel comes to restore order to our home.  This way she can actually get in there to vacuum the floor.

Recently I went into my son's room and found this note taped to his book shelf.

This note is strategically taped to his book case, wonder where in the world he found this?
After I snort laughed out loud for a while, I gotta' say I was kind of impressed that he took the time and effort to find this little scientific discourse, print it out and tape it up there without telling me, assuming that the next time I went in his room to straighten it out, I'd see it (which of course is exactly what happened).

And, I was more than a little impressed by the fact that he knows what the word "entropy" means.  I mean, I was an English major and all, so the fact that he knows what entropy means makes me a lot happier than a clean room ever would.

So I guess I'll just leave his disordered room to it's entropic state.

What about you guys, are your kids as messy as my son?  Do you just give in to it, or do you have firm rules about how they keep their rooms?

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Makeup For Women 40+

For about 10 years I've been using Lauren Hutton's makeup line.  I don't know if you've ever heard of it, she doesn't do a tremendous amount of marketing, but I heard about it somewhere (maybe More magazine, I'm not sure) several years ago and decided her theory of makeup made sense so I tried it and have been hooked ever since.

Lauren Hutton is now in her early 70's and looks so natural and lovely 

Her basic story is that when she returned to modeling at the age of 46, none of the makeup she found on the market worked on a 40+ woman; there were too many heavy products with added shimmer, shine and fillers that weren't right for a 40+ year old's skin, as they got stuck in the creases and just added lines and wrinkles to an already older face.

I've found her makeup to be very light and sheer and it includes the very best concealer I've ever used.  EVER.  And I've tried a lot of concealers for under eye circles.

Here's the deal.  She has this very simple system which looks like this:

Lauren Hutton Face Disc Classic which is $60.00 and lasts me about 4-6 months
This little disc above includes the entire system.  Every one of the individual discs above are color coded to a corresponding brush so that you know exactly which brush to use with which type of makeup.  (She also sells a complete set of 6 very high quality brushes that correspond to each element for $29.00.  Mine have lasted years).  There's also a booklet that Lauren includes which gives you exact instructions on where to place each different shade or shadow and it's super easy and super effective.

I thought I would never learn how to use shading on my cheeks, but her system is so simple that I do it every day and you can't see it; it adds depth and definition to my face while I look relatively natural and makeup free.

The system is really easy and very portable, so it's wonderful for travel.  I don't wear full face makeup, as I don't like how it looks or feels on me, so this is just enough for me.  If you DO wear face makeup, she has one and you can incorporate that into the system easily.

The key is that the makeup is sheer so you use it sparingly but can layer it to create more or less depth if you want it, say when you're going from day to night.  You can't really put too much of it on your face, the color is very sheer with just the right amount of depth of color.

As I've turned 50+, I've noticed that "less is more" for me when it comes to makeup.  If I wear too much, or wear heavier makeup, I just look old and garish and so this line with its subtle color palette has been perfect for me.

I used Lauren's makeup all through my chemo and it really helped me feel like I could help myself look healthier while feeling pretty miserable.  It was important to me to present a healthy exterior as I didn't want to look sick, and wanted to look as healthy as possible, which in turn made me feel healthier throughout the whole breast cancer process.

NOTE:  This is NOT a paid sponsored post, I have no affiliation with Lauren Hutton, and don't do paid endorsements.  I just happen to love this stuff and thought I'd share with anyone else who might be struggling with the current makeup on the market.

This stuff is made specifically for women 40+ and it works!  I'd love to hear if any of you readers have ever used it, and what you thought.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Cleaning The Pool

Tonight I back-washed and vacuumed our in-ground pool all by myself.

I know, it may not sound like that big of a deal to all of you, but let me tell you, vacuuming a pool after a bilateral mastectomy is no small feat.  To vacuum a pool you need to use your chest muscles to push the vacuum all the way down into the bottom of the pool against the pressure of the water, and it's way harder than you'd think under normal circumstances, let alone after a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.

Let me just say: Ouch.

After all my vacuuming and back washing, the pool is pretty sparkly, don't you think?
So, I feel like I've accomplished a huge task today.  In case you haven't read my previous two posts about it, when I was going through my chemotherapy, which started in April of 2010, I just suddenly decided one day that I wanted to put in a built-in swimming pool in our backyard.

Yeah.  Weird, I'd never really wanted one before, but all of a sudden I was surer than anything I've ever been before that I wanted and needed to get a built-in pool that summer.

I had some theories about why we should do it.  I figured it would be a lot of fun for the kids and would keep them interested in hanging around at our house with their friends as they got older.  I had some theoretical ideas about having a lot of pool parties out there and inviting people over to barbecue and swim and sun by the pool.

I also attribute some of it to the chemo and what it was doing to my brain. I've never really been one to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a whim like that, but something about going through all that chemo seemed to inspire me to throw caution to the wind.

So, we spent the entire next year putting in a pool (if you read the posts you'll see why it took a whole year, it was quite a crazy saga) and finally in 2011 we had a lovely built-in pool in the backyard after many months of back and forth phone calls, letters, arguments and discussions with the pool installation company (who had forgotten to get a permit during one of the most critical stages of the installation process!).

And for the first couple of summers the kids spent a lot of time in it, and it was wonderful.  But then by the 3rd year, as they got a little older, they spent less and less time in it and for a while the pool was just sitting out there in its cool, pristine beauty with no one actually going in it.  And I felt kind of bad about it.

And then last summer I decided to start having bi-weekly "Friday is BFF's Hangin' By the Pool Days" with my girl friends and let me tell you, I have so much fun with that pool, now! I've been blocking out my Friday afternoons and refuse to book any client meetings after 12:00 noon on Friday's, for (most of) the rest of the summer.

It is so relaxing to sit by the side of a pool with your closest friends who could care less how you look these days in a bathing suit; drinking wine, eating cheese and crackers and talking trash.  Hello, Summer!

Tomorrow is my first "Friday is BFF's Hangin' By the Pool Day" of the year.  I'm all stocked up with snacks and a couple of bottles of Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio. If you're in the area, come on over!

Hope you all have something fun planned for your weekend!

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Breast Cancer Rant

Be forewarned:  This is a breast cancer rant.

I don't usually give in to the level of fear and obsession I've been feeling lately, but I want to get it out and onto paper so that I can move on.

I think about cancer every day.  I worry that I'll have a recurrence every day.

The fear sits in the back of my mind, lurking in a corner, coming out to haunt me right as I'm about to fall asleep or when I'm feeling most vulnerable when I wake up in the middle of the night.  I am so sick of thinking about cancer and the possibility of a recurrence, that I have to put it into words to get it out of my head.

Fear is a strange companion.  It's been growing in me, kind of like the cancer that started in my left breast 4 1/2 years ago, and is festering in my mind.

I can't seem to avoid thinking about cancer.  I see it around me every day, everywhere.  There are articles about cancer every day in the news, there are multiple postings about it every day on Facebook, Twitter and online.

It seems every day there's another article about how to prevent cancer, or what causes cancer, or what you should eat to prevent cancer, or what you shouldn't eat to prevent cancer, or what age you should have your kids so that you won't get cancer, or where you should live so that you won't get cancer, or where you shouldn't live so that you won't get cancer.  There's so much information overload that it's overwhelming.

Before I had breast cancer, I thought I was healthy.  I ate well, never had a weight problem, kept active, didn't drink or smoke, had tons of energy and hardly ever got sick with anything more serious than a cold or sore throat.  So I was really surprised when I found the lump that turned out to be breast cancer.

But in retrospect, I realize that when I was younger, my life wasn't as balanced. During college, I spent one entire summer stripping toxic paints (and breathing in  toxic fumes) off the walls in the dorms as a summer job.  Those same dorm rooms had asbestos (a carcinogen) ceilings which I breathed in for a full year in my junior year.

I drank alcohol about 3 nights a week in my 20's and 30's, which could have contributed to my getting breast cancer.  I smoked almost a pack of cigarettes a day for about 2 years in my mid 30's; no explanation needed.

I had my kids late in life, which has been shown to have a direct correlation to breast cancer.  I live in New Jersey, one of the most polluted states in the union, with who knows what kind of toxins floating in the air that we breathe and I currently live in an area of the state known for the high incidence of radon (another known carcinogen) naturally found in the earth.

I obviously did something, ate something, ingested something, smoked something, or imbibed something to get cancer.  It's a slippery slope trying to figure out why my body turned on itself but I can't stop my brain from trying to figure out what I did or what I didn't do, that contributed to my getting breast cancer.

I guess what I'm saying is that I somehow feel responsible and at fault for having breast cancer.  And afraid, because now, 4 1/2 years post treatment, I really don't feel like I have a clear understanding of what I should be doing to try and prevent it from ever coming back because there are so many conflicting schools of thought.

As a layman, I have no real understanding about what causes breast cancer, other than what I read. And after all the reading, what's clear to me is that no one really knows with any certainty what causes cancer or how to cure it. In a hundred years, we'll probably talk about chemotherapy, radiation and mastectomy the way people now talk about blood-letting and leeches.

So I try to do the right thing, although I'm not exactly clear on what the right thing is.  I eat pretty healthily but I never feel like I'm eating exactly the right foods, I'm always second guessing myself.  When ever I eat something "bad" for me, like ice cream which I adore, I feel guilty.  Or if I have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, which I also love, I feel like I'm tempting fate.

Man, it's exhausting.  I've been trying to stop thinking about it, but it's been really in my face lately.

In the last week, I've finally come to a sense of calm about it.  I am who I am.  I live the way I live.  I have tried and will continue to try to live as healthily as I can, but I can't monitor every single thing I eat, or restrict myself from never having a glass of wine with dinner or completely cut all sugar, dairy, meat and wheat out of my diet.

I finally decided this week that I'm just going to cut myself a break and realize that I didn't technically bring this on myself, it's a pretty random occurrence; stuff just happens.  Life is short, I'd rather spend my time enjoying it than worrying about every single thing I do, or eat, or don't do or don't eat.

It reminds me of this song "Cancer" by Joe Jackson, with the lyrics "Everything gives you cancer."  For your viewing pleasure:

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

On Saturday we watched the 2014 Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.  It was filled with a gold mine of icons from my youth like Peter Gabriel, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens, Hall & Oates, The E Street Band and Nirvana.  OK, so Kiss was also inducted, but I've never been too big on Kiss.

Man, those guys are getting old!  Peter Gabriel acknowledged all of the many other musicians he'd collaborated with over the years, saying, " Music should come with a health warning; it can be so dangerous; it can make you feel so connected, and can make you think the world could and should be a much better place.  And it can occasionally make you very, very happy."  He brought out Youssou N'Dour to perform "In Your Eyes" and they both brought a sweet, ethereal passion to the stage.

Cat Stevens seemed a bit embarrassed to be honored, but watching his performance reminded me of how much his music spoke to me when I was in my teens.  I wrote a paper on "But I Might Die Tonight" in High School and had a long discussion with my English teacher at the time about the meaning of life, which I can still remember fondly.

Linda Ronstadt is ill with Parkinson's disease which is a huge loss and she wasn't able to attend but the all star group of women performing her songs sounded awesome: Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Emmy Lou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Carrie Underwood.  Carrie sang her heart out, impressive for someone so young, collaborating with such a group of heavy hitters.  It gave me a new found respect for her. These women have all weathered life as older rockers pretty well, considering the smoking, drinking and hard partying rock 'n roll lives I'm sure they've all experienced, their voices are still strong and full of emotion.

Hall & Oates were great with their Philly soul sound, as always, although I had no idea that John Oates was quite that short.  He's an eloquent and gracious speaker, more so than Daryl Hall.  The E Street Band was, of course, wonderful and stupendous.  I'm a long time fan of Bruce Springsteen, ever since my younger brother turned me on to his poetic lyrics in my 20's.  Bruce gave an honest and moving speech about the controversy behind his initial induction without the band and then they showcased each of the members of the band solo, against a backdrop of "Kitty's Back." The most intense moments in their set were when they talked about missing Clarence Clemmons, and how he would have loved being inducted into the Hall of Fame.  His widow gave a sweet little speech about how he was known for being "the Big Man" for many reasons, which brought the house down.

The Nirvana set was really fun.  I thought I'd hate it, it's sort of the antithesis of what Kurt Cobain stood for, but the young performers who joined Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic on stage were fantastic and you could tell they were all having the time of their lives.  Dave Grohl has become one of my favorite performers, his honesty and obvious passion for what he does comes through and he was a beast on those drums!  Novoselic reminded me of a big bear, playing away soulfully on the accordion, of all instruments, for "All Apologies."  Lorde sang a version of it that gave me goosebumps.  I suspect Kurt would have been happy to have her do the honors.

And of course, Courtney Love had to show up, spewing inanities into the mike and trying to get everyone on the stage to hug her.  Dave and Krist graciously, but uncomfortably, hugged her back.  Man, she's still a wreck.

I love the music of that time, it made such an impression on me growing up.  The passion and rebellion were so linked to my own life as I grew up rebelling against my parents and my Catholic upbringing.  Last night reminded me of how much music meant to me at that age, and still does. I hope you all get a chance to watch it!

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

RIP Maya Angelou

RIP, Maya Angelou.  Your words are so beautiful and raw and powerful and honest.  
Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you? 
Why are you beset with gloom? 
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken? 
Bowed head and lowered eyes? 
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you? 
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you? 
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs? 

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
  I rise. 

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Mansions In May: Blairsden House

This Friday I went with friends to "Mansions in May" at Blairsden House in Peapack Gladstone, New Jersey.  This huge mansion is tucked away in the hills, far from view, not even visible from the nearby town.

Blairsden is a 62,000 square foot Beaux-Arts home (yikes, can you believe one family lived in a place that large?!) on 20 acres of formally landscaped surrounding gardens.  The home was built in 1903 for a New York financier named C. Rudyard Blair, a grandson of a multimillionaire railroad baron.

Blairsden was designed by the New York architecture firm of Carrere and Hastings, which also designed the New York Public Library and the Frick Mansion (now Museum) in Manhattan.

This gorgeous reflecting pool view is from the landing window.  I love the 2 stags guarding the entry.
The Blair family had four children, and did a LOT of entertaining, hence the 62,000 square feet.  They lived there until 1949, when it was sold to the Sisters of St. John the Baptist.  The money raised from the Mansions in May tours goes towards the Morristown Medical Center to support their Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and Autism and Child Development Center.

It was a cold, windy, rainy day but the home is just gorgeous.  I felt like I was on the set of Downton Abbey!  Each of the 50 rooms for viewing were decorated by a local designer.  Here are some of my favorites.

I love how this peacock was placed in between the drapes.  You can also see the views outside the window of the surrounding grounds.
There were so many fireplaces with detailed surrounds.  I love the hydrangeas!

Since I love blue and yellow, this sitting room was a favorite of mine.
Another set of gorgeous drapes - I love the pops of color!
This stunning floor to ceiling Moroccan mirror graced the blue sitting room wall.
It was pouring, so we didn't get to see much of the 20 acres of landscaping, but you can get a sense of the grandeur of the gardens by this pathway to the parking lot.
Oh, how I would love to live in this room!
This beauty was on the landing of the staircase leading to the 2nd floor.

Another beautiful fireplace filled with flowers.

Even though it was pouring and cold, the day was wonderful.  It was like escaping to a fantasy world hidden in the hills.  If you get a chance and live in or near New Jersey, I highly recommend a visit! 

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Inspiring Breast Cancer Quotes

The website Healthline is a great resource for anyone going through a breast cancer diagnosis. Their stated mission is "to make the people of the world healthier through the power of information" - a wonderful goal.

Healthline has just published a series of quotes from celebrity women who have also experienced breast cancer and asked if I would include a link on my blog.  I'm personally inspired by many of these women so was happy to share them with you - they're all very moving to me.

I think my favorite of the 14 quotes is the one from Robin Roberts below.  To me, she epitomizes strength and grace under pressure.

You can view all of the 14 inspirational quotes by clicking on this link.  They include quotes from women like Melissa Etheridge, Christina Applegate, Cynthia Nixon and Janet Napolitano who have all experienced breast cancer.

In addition to many other health topics, Healthline has a section of their site devoted to breast cancer which you can find here.  It's broken into 6 comprehensive sections that cover topics such as:
  1. A General Understanding of Breast Cancer
  2. Types of Breast Cancer
  3. Treatment Options
  4. Procedures
  5. Community and Support
  6. Advice for Living With Breast Cancer 
And let me close with this quote from Sheryl Crow which echoes what I've said so many times -- you need to be your own personal advocate!

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