Are you watching “This Is Us” yet? You should. They have ‘the big three’ and I wanted to share some recent pictures of my big three…can you believe these beautiful creatures are mine?
Are you watching “This Is Us” yet? You should. They have ‘the big three’ and I wanted to share some recent pictures of my big three…can you believe these beautiful creatures are mine?
I have a two-hour delay this morning! Which means I am taking the time to blog!!! That makes me very happy!
I went to a soccer tournament with Matthew this weekend. It was just him and I. It was so nice to have some one-on-one time and connect with other parents.
Olivia is finally having good days at school and enjoying it. It’s been a long 7-week transition!
Gabe is LOVING high school and doing very well. I’m so proud of him!
Pumpkin spice lattes are back! I know that makes me basic but I don’t care!
I received texts from former students last week. I miss them so much and it made me ridiculously happy!
My students this year are awesome. They are very hard workers and polite and respectful. What more could I ask for??
I got my hair cut and colored. I love my haircut, the relaxing time and spending time with my hairdresser!
New TV definitely puts a smile on my face. I am really loving This Is Us and Speechless. Are you watching those? I think Grey’s has been really good and Project Runway is still my favorite. I want to be Heidi Klum or Tim Gunn in my next life.
My BFF texted me on Wednesday to see if I could workout and…I could! We are never on the same schedule and BFF therapy is always a happy thing.
I went to watch my girls play volleyball last week and my wonderful friend Sherrie was there watching her niece. It was such a nice surprise to hang out with her and her daughter during the game. I LOVE them!! I also got to see a bunch of my former students who play volleyball and were there watching the game. It’s so nice to see them grown up and catch up on how they’re doing.
What made you happy this week?
Before I write today, I just wanted to say that I’ve missed you so. I’ve discovered that I really miss writing and interacting with you all. I’m going to make a more concerted effort to devote more of my time to this space. It means so much to me and it helps me and, I hope, sometimes it helps you. Thank you for hanging in there with me.
I see your face and I know you’re not ok. I know you, remember? You’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders right now and it’s too heavy. I see you. My heart hurts for you. I am here for you.
I know sometimes you keep things from me because I have a daughter with special needs and I had cancer and everyone’s favorite saying is “Well at least it’s not cancer!” but I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. Everyone has their worries. Everyone has their pain. There is no worse pain or “better” pain. Pain is pain. And you are in pain and I can see it.
Did you read that carefully? Go back and read it again. When you think about it in terms of happy, it’s ridiculous to think you can’t be sad because someone else might have it worse, isn’t it? Do you think for one second that I ever think “what she’s sad about is stupid”? No. Never. Because there are so many things in the world that can make us sad, overwhelmed, frustrated and everyone feels their own pain for their own reasons. Any pain that you feel is not minor. It’s YOUR pain and it’s important.
I know we are always trying to be everything for everyone. We’re perfectionists. We love deeply and we want to make sure everyone knows that we love them and care for them and are there for them. We’re trying to be the best wife, mother, sister, teacher, friend that we can be. All the time. Every day. I’ve been through a lot in my life and I will tell you this: there are times when you have to feel and be sad and let someone else take care of you. It’s not easy to do. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s necessary.
Here’s what I want you to do. Cry. Cry. Cry. Scream into a pillow. Cry some more. Feel sad. Feel blue. Be in a funk for as long as you need. Talk to whoever will listen. Talk to someone who’s JUST going to listen and not try to solve the problem. Do something that gives you comfort. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Sometimes all I do is put on my favorite ratty sweatshirt from college and make a cup of coffee and cry. Do WHATEVER you need to do to give your soul some comfort right now because you need it. Don’t fight it. Fighting your feelings and telling yourself you shouldn’t be sad will just make it worse. So what if you’re sad for a day, a week, a month? So what if you’re in a funk for a bit. Just don’t make that your permanent residence, ok? But stay as long as you need and then pick up your sword and fight again.
Did you read that? You’ll be ok. You will. Just not today. You’re not ok today and it’s F-I-N-E. Feel it. Give into it.
There have been many, many days when I struggled just to get out of bed. Some days I just stayed there. I gave into it. Other days I pulled a “fake it til you make it” and managed to have a good day. Sometimes I bought myself a Starbucks because that was the only thing I could think of that would help. Other times I called you. Or texted you. Or asked for an extra hug. Or made an appointment to get my nails done. Or vegged on Netflix. I did whatever it took to make me feel better in that moment. But did you read that carefully? I did whatever it took to make ME feel better. I had to be selfish. I had to not feel guilty about my pain or what I needed. I just took care of me.
So, please, feel your pain. Don’t fight it. Ask for comfort if that helps you. Stay in bed all day if that will help you. You’re not ok right now and that’s ok.
You will be ok. I promise. And remember that I’m here for you and I love you. You feel deeply, you love deeply and that’s what makes you amazing. So go ahead. Feel it.
I post this every year…because I love it…and I think it’s worth repeating. Here’s hoping that this year is even better than last year!
The Transfer of a Trust by Susan Wojciechowski
The syndrome hits me every year right after Labor Day. It’s always the same. At 9:34 a.m. the school bus wheezes to a stop at the end of my driveway. My child waves an uncertain goodbye and climbs aboard. The door shooshes shut and the bus rumbles slowly out of sight.
I go onto the back porch for another cup of tea, a peaceful cup at last. I spread the paper open in front of me and start to cry. I snap the paper to attention and pretend to read Sidney Harris. My tears blur the words into a muddy jumble. This is nonsense. I should be glad school is back in session. No more sticky kitchen floor, no more sliding door left open, no more trail of Kool-Aid across the rug. It’s no use. I want to jump in the car and follow bus 158 to school. I want to peek around the corner of the building to make sure my baby has found the right classroom, has not gotten knocked over by bullies, has remembered to carry her lunch box off the bus.
But more than that, I want to glimpse into her classroom. I have no need to check the bulletin boards or the lesson plans. I want to look into the teacher’s soul. I want to find some hint of assurance that she is worthy to continue what I have these past few years begun. For, when each of my children turned 5, they were suddenly snatched from me. I had, up till then, been the overwhelming influence on their development. Their values were my values; their world was shaped by what I wanted them to see, hear, experience. All at once a teacher, a stranger, was taking my place.
And so I cry on the first day of school. I cry because my child is entering a world into which I cannot, no matter how desperately I long to intrude. I cry because some stranger is taking over the job, not of teaching my child math or reading, but of nurturing his development of self. And I wonder if she’ll do it with the dedication I demand.
Each September I fight an overwhelming urge to rush to school to remind the teacher what a very special little person my child is: that he is not just one of a roomful of pupils–he is MY CHILD and would she please, please treat him accordingly. Would she be so kind as to try to get to know his complex personality, his weaknesses, his childish vulnerabilities; would she try never to humiliate him or belittle him; would she notice his bad days and on those days treat him ever so gently because his is, after all, not just one of a sea of little bodies–he is special. He’s mine.
But of course I can’t do that, can’t dictate caring to every teacher my children will encounter. I only can hope that each one of them will know that for all the fantastic educational tools a teacher might use and for all her mastery of subject matter and exciting lesson plans, and for all her intelligence, her most basic responsibility will be unfulfilled if the element of caring is missing. And the key to that, in my mind, lies in seeing each pupil as somebody’s precious child.
So I sit on my back porch, drinking a peaceful cup of tea and pretending to read Sidney Harris and hope that my children’s teachers see them as unique, complex, fragile, vulnerable beings. I only can hope that the reason they are teachers, after all, is to bring each student ever closer to his potential, not just as a mind, but as a heart and soul as well.
I’ve got a bit of the blues about school starting…and it’s not for the reason you think. It’s not because summer is over and I have to go back to work. I absolutely love my job and am actually excited about the new year. Even though I’m nervous for Olivia and Gabe to start high school, that’s not why I have the blues either.
I have the blues this year for the same reason I do every year.
My students from last year have gone on to the high school.
They won’t even be in my building anymore, let alone in my room.
And I’m going to miss them like crazy.
My friend Kelley and I had coffee the other day and we honest-to-God got teary talking about and thinking about how the kids won’t be coming back and how much we will miss them. This happens every year. It’s one of the bad parts about teaching 8th grade. It’s one of the reasons I’m ridiculously excited to teach two classes of 7th graders this year because I’ll get to see them one more year before they go.
I spend all day with these lovely humans for 9 months and then they’re gone. They probably have no idea how much they inch their way into my heart over the year. Usually, at some point in the year, they start calling me “Mom” or “Mama T” and I absolutely love it. I truly feel like their Mom during the year. I care about them deeply. I enjoy their personalities, their drama, their conversations, their interests. I enjoy THEM. I may be tired, I may be overwhelmed, but when they walk in, I am happy. It is very hard for me when they leave.
I am lucky enough that many of my students stay in touch. I love seeing them grow up. I love seeing them fall in love, get married, have babies, get their dream jobs. When one of them emails or texts me, it makes my day. The only reason I have Snapchat is so that I can keep in touch with them and see what they’re up to. But it’s not the same as seeing them every day. Not at all.
So every year, around back-to-school time, it really hits me that they won’t be there. And I get the blues. But then I remember that a new crop of students is coming and they will be awesome too. I remember that my heart has plenty of room to grow and love a new bunch. I remember that there are 150 children coming in my room who want to be loved and cherished and cared for and I will be that person for them. And that makes me happy.
We have had a very low key and relaxing with nothing much to do summer and so I’ve had lots of time to read some awesome books! I hope you can enjoy some of these as well.
Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories by R.J. Palacio
If you haven’t read Wonder yet, go get it right now and read it. Make your kids read it too! It’s an amazing book that I reviewed earlier. This is a spin-off or companion book to Wonder. It is separated into three stories that represent three different people’s points of view: Charlotte, one of the girls who is on the “welcoming” committee at August’s new school; Julian, August’s nemesis and Christopher, August’s former best friend. It was great to read deeper into these characters and read their take on their interactions with August.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I absolutely loved it. It was quick, fun and very unique. A.J. is a bookstore owner on an island on the east coast. He’s a widower who’s struggling to live happily. One day a toddler girl is left in his store with a note asking him to care for her. A.J. adopts her and his life changes. There are many interesting characters throughout the book. Detective Lambiase is the local sheriff who befriends A.J. and becomes an avid reader. Ismay is A.J.’s former sister-in-law and teacher on the island who is married to a major cheater and famous author, Daniel Parish. Amelia is a book sales rep who visits the island a few times a year and can’t quite figure out A.J. and his quirky personality. Zevin does a wonderful job of weaving everyone’s stories together. She makes you fall in love with the characters. I was sad when it was over and wanted more. That’s the sign of a good book!
Midair by Kodi Scheer
(This hasn’t been released yet. It’s available August 1st.) I really enjoyed this book. It is pretty short and very enjoyable. Four classmates take a post-graduation trip to France as part of their French class. Nessa is the main character who has plans to commit suicide by jumping off the Eiffel Tower. She is joined on the trip by Kat, her nemesis, and Kiran and Whitney who are likable enough but not considered friends. Kat has betrayed Nessa in a major way and Nessa has plans for revenge before she leaps. It is very interesting, moves quickly and provides a couple of twists and turns along the way. You should try it!
The One I Was by Eliza Graham
Rosamund Hunter has been running from her past for years. She finally takes a job that will return her to the place where she lost her mother and suffered at the hands of a terrible man. She is working as a nurse for Benny Gault who has a fascinating story of his own. As a child, he fled Nazi Germany and stayed at the same estate that Rosamund did in her childhood. Their stories intertwine in many different ways that are fascinating and entertaining. It’s a great story that you will enjoy.
Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes by Karin Slaughter
You know I L-O-V-E Slaughter’s books. She is amazing and I wish she would write one every day! I found this novella on Amazon and couldn’t believe I hadn’t read it yet. Julie is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed college girl who is very upset by the recent disappearance of a girl in her town. It follows Julie as she goes through her days while trying to discover what happened to the missing girl. For a very short little novella, it was terrifying and awesome! You should check it out, especially if you’re a Slaughter fan.
My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni
This is the first in a series about detective Tracy Crosswhite. I liked it so much that I plan on reading the other books in the series. Tracy’s sister, Sarah, went missing many years ago. Edmund House was convicted of her murder but Tracy was never 100% convinced that he was guilty. She has never stopped looking for her sister’s killer or proof that House indeed did it. The discovery of Sarah’s body brings Tracy back to her hometown and lands her right in the middle of the investigation. She gets help from a childhood friend who is now a lawyer. Tracy finds herself in the middle of a nightmare but is determined to find out what happened to Sarah. It’s awesome!
The Fever by Megan Abbott
This book was unique and interesting. Deenie is a teenager from a close-knit family with a gorgeous hockey star for a brother. When her best friend has an unexplained seizure, Deenie is thrown into the middle of a chaotic mess. Other girls start having unexplained seizures and no one can figure out what is going on in their town. When the reason behind “the fever” is revealed, you won’t believe it!
Intrusion by Mary McCluskey
This book was OK but not great. Here’s the description from Amazon: “A loving couple, grieving the loss of their son, finds their marriage in free fall when a beautiful, long-lost acquaintance inserts herself into their lives.” That about sums it up! It kept my attention but I found it predictable. A predictable book automatically goes down a notch in my opinion.
For my teacher friends, some inspiring and interesting teaching books:
Make It Stick by Brown, Roediger, McDaniel
This was a great book with research-backed ideas on how to help kids learn and retain their knowledge. I skimmed parts of it (the research parts) but found many tips I think will be helpful. I’m always looking for ways to improve my teaching and their learning!
Mindset: The Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
This has ideas for how to have a growth mindset in your classroom. I found many good ideas that I will be implementing this year.
Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess
By reading this book, I discovered that I am a pirate! PIRATE is Burgess’s acronym that stands for all of the qualities an amazing teacher should have and implement in their classroom. I was happy to see that I do 99.9% of the things Burgess discusses in his book and I was able to get even more ideas to make my class an even better place!
What have you read lately? Please share!
Having cancer is a weird and crazy ride. Just when I think I’m doing really well, BAM!, something hits me that messes with my head for a while. I’m starting to wonder if I’m ever going to stop thinking that every ache and pain is cancer returning. I suppose that’s totally normal but I’m pretty sure I’m driving Matt crazy. I’m hesitant to say I’ve beaten it or call myself a survivor because I’m afraid to jinx myself. I’ve figured out that I’m not going to go back to “normal” or who I was before and that’s ok. But it’s still scary.
I also feel a lot of pressure from myself, not anyone else, to do something big now that I’m done with treatment. Lots of women start charities or write books or something else huge after they’ve battled cancer. Should I do that? Is that the point of me getting cancer? To do something huge with my life? To help others in a major way? The Little Pink Houses of Hope organization is starting this new campaign called “Look at me now!” where you post the amazing things you’re doing after you’ve finished treatment. I think it’s a wonderful idea but, again, the pressure! What am I doing to do now? I’ve been driving myself insane thinking about this.
You know what I’ve decided? I am going to do something major. Not major as in changing the world major, but major in my world. I’m going to live in the moment. I’m going to finally let go of my eating disorder. I’m going to feel great about myself. I’m going to enjoy my family. I’m going to appreciate the small things. I’m going to love my family to pieces and enjoy every minute I am lucky enough to be with them. I’m not wasting any more time worrying about my weight or if I’m doing enough with my life. I’m going to try really hard to not worry about getting cancer again. I’m going to live healthily and exercise and be happy. For anyone who knows me intimately, you know this is huge for me. I’m enough just the way I am and that’s going to be my “look at me now”. I am going to take care of myself and, most importantly, love myself.
What do you think about that?
I have really missed blogging and am determined to get back into it. It’s July 1st and I finally feel like I’m getting into the swing of summer! I hope you’re enjoying summer too.
I have been following this 8-week body transformation weight lifting program and I love it. I really enjoy lifting weights but hate coming up with my own workouts so I’m always looking for stuff on Pinterest. It’s a really hard workout but I’m loving it.
I went off one of my cancer medicines that was making me M-I-S-E-R-A-B-L-E and I am feeling so much better.
Olivia has been in summer school for 2 weeks (only 4 hours M-R) and she is finally getting used to it and having good days. Yippee!
Olivia and I have been watching the Brady Bunch on Hulu. I love this show and it’s fun to share it with her. She loves it!
It’s summer which means weekly golf nights with my BFF. The kids play, we eat good food and drink wine and talk. I love it. I look forward to it all week long.
I enjoy my long bike rides in the summer. I enjoy it so much it doesn’t even feel like a workout!
My Mom got a pool this spring and we’ve been enjoying it almost every day.
The weather in Ohio has been amazing!
I’ve read some great books that I will share with you soon.
What made you happy this week?
I’ve read quite a few great books lately that I wanted to share with you…here it goes! (I’ll keep the reviews short so this doesn’t go on forever. 😉 )
The Shining by Stephen King
I forgot how creepy and scary this book is! (Sorry English teachers…I know I’m not supposed to end a sentence that way…but these posts will take me FOR-E-VER if I have to worry about that too!) If you haven’t read it in a while, give it another go. Or, if you’ve never read it, and like horror books, go grab it right now.
The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle
My Mom recommended this book to me and it was very good. So far I’ve read two of Kittle’s books and liked them both. Cam is a veterinarian whose husband has just left her. She is devastated and trying to figure out how to navigate life with her teenage daughter as a single mom. It’s definitely mainly a love story but it’s not too sappy and the ending wasn’t typical which I liked.
The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight
I really enjoyed this book. It was so different from any other book I’ve read lately. This is written by the same author who wrote Reconstructing Amelia. Wiley is an agoraphobic 16-year-old girl whose mother has just died in a terrible accident. She is miserable and trying to figure out how to make it through the day. Her best friend, Cassie, has gone missing. Even though they’re estranged, Wiley heads out with Cassie’s boyfriend to find her. They end up in a very messy situation that they were not prepared for at all. I can’t tell you much more without giving anything away. It was a quick read, exciting and unusual. Give it a try!
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Before you freak out like my BFF did, this has NOTHING to do with 50 Shades of Grey! She was appalled that I would recommend this book for her 14-year-old daughter until I explained that it has nothing to do with that other series. LOL!!! I will admit that it’s an unfortunate title! A bunch of my girls at school were reading it and said it was very good so I decided to give it a try. It is set during Stalin and Hitler’s reign of terror and follows 16-year-old Lina and her family through their deportation to a forced-labor camp in Siberia. It is a harrowing tale, to be sure, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t like the ending at all. It’s very abrupt. You are involved in this family’s struggles and then, boom, it’s over and not really wrapped up. So, if you’re ok with a sudden ending, it’s worth reading.
Grace by T. Greenwood
I am embarrassed to say that my friend, Katrina, gave this to me a year ago to read during chemo and I put it in my chemo bag where it went to the bottom and was promptly forgotten about until I cleaned out my bag this spring! It was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s a web of different plotlines that all come together perfectly. Trevor is a 13-year-old boy who doesn’t fit in and is miserable at school. With the help of his sweet and caring art teacher, he discovers a love for photography. His mother has a bad habit of shoplifting when she takes her 5-year-old daughter, Grace, to the store. The store clerk, Crystal, is dealing with her own demons and can’t help but get obsessed with the shoplifting mom. It’s a fascinating and riveting story that has a great ending. You’ll love it!
The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen
This was one of the strangest, creepiest but best books I’ve read in a while. A family (Mom, Dad, Grandma, Brother, Sister and Boy) is living in a basement with no sunlight. They’ve been there for years. They never leave. Did I mention all but the Boy have been disfigured by a fire? The Boy (no one has formal names) was born in the basement and is struggling with wanting to stay with his family but also wanting to see what it’s like “out there”. When his sister has a baby in the basement, he starts to question all of the stories he’s been told by his family and becomes even more curious about leaving. I can’t really tell you much more than that without giving all the twists and turns away, but let me tell you it’s an awesome read. It got very creepy and scary in parts, so if that will bother you, give it a pass. But I enjoy that type of story so I loved it!
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
I started this book over the winter and couldn’t finish it. My friend read it and said it was worth reading so I gave it another try. I didn’t like it. It does have a very surprising twist in the middle but I still didn’t think it made it worth reading. Basically it’s a love story and a story on marriage from different perspectives. But I found it boring and very drawn out. Like I said, the twist and the ending are good, but I’m not sure it’s worth the rest just to get to that part.
The Widow by Fiona Barton
I would give this book 3 out of 5 stars. It was good, and worth reading, but pretty predictable if you’ve read a lot of books like I have. Jean Taylor’s husband has been killed in an accident and now she’s the focus of much media attention. Her husband was a suspect in the kidnapping and murder of a 3-year-old girl years before and, now that he’s dead, they are hoping to get the truth. Like I said, it’s interesting but predictable.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
This is a great YA novel about first love. Eleanor is a strange, fiery red-head teenager who is new to Park’s school and doesn’t fit in. Park ends up sitting next to her on the bus where they slowly fall in love. Eleanor’s life is very complicated and Park struggles to help Eleanor and understand her. It’s a simple love story that perfectly captures that first teenage love.
Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
I typically love Genova’s books and definitely liked this one, although it wasn’t one of my favorites. The main character of the story, Joe O’Brien, is a 43-year-old police officer who discovers he has Huntington’s Disease. The book is about how a devastating illness affects the entire family. The character development is good, the story is interesting, but, to me, it felt too much like Still Alice and I was a little bored. It’s very sad but also hopeful.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Oh, how I LOVED this book. I am anxious to see the movie even though I doubt it will be half as good as this book. Will Traynor is a rich, handsome adventurist who is now a paraplegic and miserable. His mother hires Louisa, a quirky and loving woman, to be his personal caregiver. Unbeknownst to Louisa, Will has decided that he’s going to commit medically-assisted suicide in 6 months. His mother is hoping that Louisa will change his mind. Of course, Louisa and Will fall in love, but is that enough to make Will want to live? You’ll have to read to find out!
***This is a long post but I desperately need to tell you about all of the amazing and wonderful things that happened to Matt and I last week!***
About a year ago, I had a really bad day. I was mad because I had cancer. I was mad because I was sick of all of my hats and scarves and I didn’t want to shell out another $20 for a new one. So I googled “free stuff for cancer patients” to see if I could get a free hat or scarf. I was pissed, remember? I didn’t think it was fair that I had cancer and it definitely wasn’t fair that I had to spend money on a stupid scarf. I found a blog that had a whole list of things for breast cancer patients specifically. So I explored. I found a free scarf. And I also, thankfully, stumbled upon Little Pink Houses of Hope.
LPHOH provides week-long beach retreats for breast cancer patients and their families. It was too late for me to apply last year so I marked my calendar for when applications would open this year. I applied for the couples only retreat in the Virgin Islands and the family retreat in Key West. I knew our chances were small of being selected but I figured it was worth a shot. Imagine my surprise when I got a call on my last day of treatment that a couple that had been selected for the Virgin Islands retreat weren’t going to be able to attend and, as alternates, Matt and I were now selected to go. I couldn’t believe it. We scrambled to find care for the kids, asked our schools for the time off and bought plane tickets. It was surreal. We were selected for a trip of a lifetime and we were actually going to be able to go.
Our plane touched down on St. Thomas two weeks ago. We took a cab ride across the island to the ferry that took us to St. John where we attended the retreat that truly changed our lives. We spent the week with 9 other couples who had been through what we’ve been through, who truly have been in our shoes and whom we grew to love like family. The people on the island spoiled us rotten. We were taken care of like precious jewels and loved like family. It was the best week of my life.
On our first day, we were met at the ferry dock by our lovely hosts, Jeanine and Terry and Mike and Sherry. They hugged us and welcomed us and then showed us to our home for the week. We had the privilege of staying at the Grande Bay Resort in a condo donated either by an individual owner or the resort itself. It is a gorgeous place that we would have never been able to afford on our own. We met our “roomies” for the week, Shari and Pete, and couldn’t have been more pleased to have such fun and kind people with whom to spend the week. We enjoyed cocktails at Drink and dinner at the Tap Room. All 20 of us got to know each other, laughed, ate delicious food and enjoyed yummy cocktails. The Tap Room and St. John’s Brewery are owned and run by Tim who also planned and coordinated the entire retreat. He is simply amazing. He provided us with a once-in-a-lifetime week and we are forever grateful. He’s also one of the sweetest and most genuine people I’ve ever met.
Monday started out dark and rainy. Matt and I are used to getting up at 4:45, and as it was our first day on the island, we were excited and ready to go by 6:30. Our scheduled plans had been pushed back a few hours to avoid the rain, so Matt and I grabbed our umbrellas and headed out to explore the island. We ended up hiking for two hours and quickly realized that we were truly in paradise. I hesitate to even show pictures because it just doesn’t do the island and its beauty justice. We then met our group for an island taxi tour once the rain stopped. Our guide, Leon, showed us all of the highlights of the island and let us out at certain breathtaking spots to take pictures. Sherry, one of our volunteers, took pictures the entire week. That in itself was such a blessing because I didn’t have to worry about taking pictures and I was actually in a few myself! We then went to Maho Bay for snorkeling and enjoying the beach. Snorkeling equipment was generously provided by Beach Bum. Matt and I couldn’t believe this quiet and calm and gorgeous beach was real. Matt and I ended up snorkeling the entire time because we were bound and determined to see a sea turtle. Just when we were about to head back, we saw four of them swimming and eating sea grass. Matt was even able to touch one! It was crazy good. We also saw a barracuda which was a little scary but very cool. We immediately knew we needed to figure out a way to come back to this place with the kids. The boys would love the water and the snorkeling and Olivia would be able to splash like crazy without us worrying about riptides and tons of other people. That night we enjoyed shuffleboard, cocktails and dinner provided by Cruz Bay Landing.
The rest of the week there wasn’t a raindrop in sight. It was 85-90 degrees and sunny every day and unbelievably gorgeous. Tuesday we learned how to stand up paddleboard with an instructor and equipment provided by Arawak Expeditions. I had never done this before but was excited to try. The first time up on the board was a little shaky but then I got the hang of it and really enjoyed it. Everyone in the group tried it and had a blast. We then had lunch provided by Doghouse Pub. Matt and I enjoyed a cheeseburger on a Krispy Kreme donut (the Glazed and Confused) that was out of this world. We had the afternoon to ourselves so Matt and I headed out on a hike to Honeymoon Beach where we swam and napped and relaxed. That night we had dinner on the beach provided by Beach Bar. I had the most amazing seafood all week long!
Wednesday was our relaxing day. The survivors enjoyed mimosas by the pool and massages provided by local masseuses. We were able to relax and chat and share stories and, most importantly, laugh. The caregivers enjoyed boating and snorkeling at Waterlemon Cay and had a chance to connect. We ate lunch at the pool and then had the afternoon to ourselves. A few of us rented snorkeling equipment and went to a rocky beach (I can’t remember the name!) to explore. That night each couple enjoyed a date night at a different restaurant. Matt and I were given the opportunity to eat at Waterfront Bistro. The view was amazing and the food was delicious. We celebrated our 18th anniversary a little early and enjoyed the chance to relax and connect. Other date night dinners were provided by LaTapa, Ocean Grille, Zozo’s, The Terrace, Extra Virgin and Oceans 3.
Thursday was a blast. We enjoyed a beach day at Hawk’s Nest. We snorkeled and swam and hung out in the water and chatted. For me, it sunk in that the trip was almost over and I just wanted to soak in every minute with my new family. We had lunch at the beach provided by North Shore Deli. Matt and I took the afternoon to shop. We had been provided with gift cards from local businesses (how awesome is that?) and headed out to explore the shops at Mongoose Junction. We had gift cards to Best of Both Worlds, Big Planet, Caravan Gallery, Island Fancy and Nest & Co. We bought jewelry, soaps, a stuffed sea turtle for Olivia and Under Armour St. John’s shirts for the boys. All of these shops were so happy to see us and some even took pictures with us like we were famous! The people of the island really look forward to the week when LPHOH comes and enjoys their hospitality. It was a fun afternoon. When we were in Island Fancy, we saw an Ohio State hat hanging on the wall. Turns out the couple who owns the store was from Maumee which is about 20 minutes from us! Sometimes the world is so small. That night we had dinner provided by High Tides which was, of course, delicious.
Friday was our final day of fun. We spent the day at a luxurious villa called Villa Marea. Spending the day here felt like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”…remember that show? It was out of this world. Check out this video to see the awesomeness. I still can’t believe we were able to spend the day there. We did yoga provided by Do Yoga St. John. We swam in the gorgeous pool, had a delicious lunch, listened to Louie sing and play guitar on Steely Dan’s guitar, took in the unbelievable views and had our pictures taken by a professional photographer, Anne Bequette. She put us at ease and even made my husband smile for a picture! I can’t wait to see the results. That night we enjoyed a sunset cruise on the Kekoa Luxury Sailboat. This sailboat charter company is a family-owned charter and they even build their own boats! We enjoyed cocktails and appetizers and music and the ocean breeze. We hula-hooped, danced and shared our favorite moments of the week. We cried as we shared how the week had changed our lives. We cried because we had become family and would be leaving the next day. The sailboat took us right back to the beach where we had dinner provided by Rum Hut. We said our goodbyes, gave final hugs and headed back to our room for our last night of sleep before we headed home.
The best part of the week, besides the amazing adventures and beauty, was the people. Jeanine is the survivor who started LPHOH. She was energetic and genuine and my new bestie. Terry, her husband, was hilarious and gentle and sweet. Mike and Sherry, the other volunteer couple for the week, were fun and funny and kind. There were five women on the retreat with stage 4 breast cancer: Lisa, Robin, Jolene, Miriam and Elaine. If I’m honest, at first it was difficult for me to hear their stories because they started out just like me. But as I got to know them, and listened to their stories, I was empowered and inspired by all of them. Lisa with her spunk, Robin with her quiet strength, Jolene with her zest for life, Miriam with her inner and outer beauty shining through and Elaine with her optimism and kindness. They are fighting each day, they are vivacious and full of life. To me, each and every one of them is so beautiful, so full of life, so courageous. Shannon, so young and beautiful, has the exact same type of cancer as me and it was nice to talk with her about treatments and side effects and life. Shari, my “roomie”, is a mother of two who discovered her cancer when her daughter was only 7 months old. It was comforting to talk cancer with someone who had been through it too. The caregivers, Alyssa, John, Joe, Louie, John, Earl and Pete were so kind and sweet and genuine and obviously very in love with their wives. The love in St. John was palpable and comforting.
I can’t even put into words what this week meant to me. It was exactly what we needed to rejuvenate and relax and enjoy some serious fun. It was a chance for us to connect with others who truly knew what we have been through. We discovered a new family that I know will be forever a part of our lives. Matt and I were able to reconnect in a way that seems impossible at home. I was able to realize that I’m not alone and was able to connect with other survivors in a way I hadn’t been able to on my own. Matt was able to connect with other caregivers and have fun. We were spoiled and cherished and taken care of completely. There will never be enough thank-yous for what we were given.
If you are a survivor or know someone who is, I highly encourage you to apply. If you are interested, please consider visiting Little Pink and making a donation to this wonderful organization. I know there are so many worthy charities, and helping people enjoy a week in paradise might not seem life-changing, but I promise you it is. I am forever changed for the better and healed mentally by the week LPHOH provided to Matt and me.
Thank you, LPHOH, from the bottom of my heart. I am forever grateful.