At the end of last year, I decided to be a marginally responsible adult; I downloaded all of our credit and debit card transactions for the year, sorted them into categories, and made a huge pivot table so I could figure out what was going on. My initial reaction was, I’m hoping, a normal one, when I stared at the numbers in disbelief.

After the initial shock wore off, I decided that it was time to take charge of two of our highest spend categories: Eating Out and Groceries/Toiletries/Other Household Goods, aka ‘The Walmart Bucket’. It turns out that Duke’s House is single-handedly keeping both Walmart and our local restaurants in business. It was time to make a change. In that vein, I have started doing this crazy thing that other people have reportedly been doing for years. I have been meal planning.

So far meal planning has been working. For the most part my grocery lists have been quite accurate. I can only think of one instance where we needed to go back out to the store for one more item and we have been avoiding weekly trips to Sam’s Club, which we all know can get expensive in a hurry. In short, not only is meal planning working, but it is going really well.

When I plan our meals for the week, there are a few critical factors that I keep in mind:

  • We usually get home from work, more or less, at 6pm. Dinner must be on the table by 6:20.
  • The meal must be Kai-friendly.
  • Bonus points if it can be frozen. (I can make a double batch and have less work to do during a future week.)
  • Dinners that can, in large part, be cooked or prepped on the weekend are a plus.
  • All meals must be “from scratch”. No processed foods allowed, with the exception of “good” lunch meats three times per week.

Sounds simple enough, right?

I didn’t think so at first, but it is going really well so far. Most weeks, I have been able to cook double batches of about four of our dinners for the week on Sunday then freeze them in two portions, one for later that week and one for the future. Kai has been much more open to eating foods than I expected her to be. She has tried and loved all kinds of things from Chicken Curry to Tofu Pad Thai to, Chris’ all time favorite, Fish Tacos. There has only been one night so far that I just could not get dinner on the table before Kai went to bed (don’t worry, we fed her something else) and that was a result of me being at work too late, not the meal I chose for that night.

(If you are super curious, click to enlarge.)


I am still working to expand our breakfast and lunch items, but I think I have the dinners solidly in place. You’ll notice that not all of the lunches are populated, the basic plan is to have turkey, chicken, roast beef, veggie (usually mashed white bean), and peanut butter (except for Kai) sandwiches with fruit (and veggies for Kai) each week for lunch. Our breakfasts are super boring, Green Monsters for me, bagels for Chris, and either a bagel with sunbutter or a bagel with ricotta cheese for Kai. As I get more adept at planning, I think I can expand the breakfast and lunch menus some, for now, I think we’re doing pretty well with it.

For the first time in years, I finally feel like we are able to eat “real” foods without me sacrificing entire evenings to making dinner and the next day’s breakfast and lunch. It has been pretty amazing so far. I will do another post to get into the how, for now, here is a peek at our menu from the past two weeks.

January has been a very cold, but good month of running. Indiana has had some beautiful, warm days this winter, but most of the month has seen temperatures far below freezing, often with winds greater than 20 MPH. Somehow, in spite of the weather, I made it out running 16 times last month, 60% more times in January than in December. I’m hopeful that I will top that number in February as I slacked pretty hard on running for the first week or so of January.

Also exciting, I finally seem to be getting a bit faster. I was beginning to get frustrated with my lack of progress. I think that doing a lot of my runs on the treadmill at the end of last year was holding me back. It is a lot easier to run faster when you don’t have to consciously turn the speed up. I have a feeling that I can achieve some quick, but significant improvement in speed if I concentrate on doing some longer run and just overall higher mileage. Sometimes that is easier said than done, but I need to make a more conscious effort to stay on track each week because it is far too easy to let one day off slip into three days off.

Run January

My goals for February are pretty simple: Run More. Run Faster.

    After leaving Porto, we began to make our way down the Portuguese coast visiting a few beach towns along the way. Chris was hoping for a chance to surf, but it never worked out. It was pretty cold out and, with no wetsuit, I don’t know how enjoyable it would have been anyway.
    Portugal Coast 1
    One of the towns on our “must see” list was Nazare. Up until fairly recently, it was a very traditional, somewhat untouched, fishing village and I was really curious to see it. Unfortunately, when we got there it looked more like a typical American boardwalk than a Portuguese fishing village. Lining the beach was store after store selling the same generic trinkets. Nearly gone were the old women in plaid skirts, knee socks, and fisherman’s sweaters that I had heard about. It is hard to say if people like me are the problem, “invading” the village to visit the ocean or if tourism is a huge benefit to the local economy. I’m guessing the latter. While the curiosity of seeing a traditional village is gone, I sensed that tourism was important to the locals.
    Portugal Coast 2
    We did not spend much time in Nazare because we were pretty crunched for time by that point in the trip and we had committed to a hotel room in Lisbon that evening.

    The next morning, we got started bright and early exploring Lisbon and Chris was feeling super enthusiastic, practically dancing in the streets.
    Lisbon 1
    One of the things that I was especially drawn to in Lisbon were the mosaic sidewalks. Most of the city was destroyed by fires that started as a result of the Great Earthquake of 1755 and, when the city was rebuilt, this type of sidewalk was installed with beautiful and intricate patterns. I can’t even imagine the work that must go into making one of these!
    Lisbon 2
    Our first stop in Lisbon was the Tagus River waterfront. It was sunny and warm there with a great musician playing for tips. We might have stayed there for hours had Kai not gotten impatient for us to keep going. By this point in the trip, I think she was starting to get a bit tired of riding around in the stroller so much. I don’t blame her, in fact, I was delighted that she tolerated it for this long.
    Lisbon 3Lisbon 4
    Next stop was to see the “World’s Sexiest Bathroom” before we continued our journey through the winding streets of Lisbon. Obviously I needed to see why it was so great. I paid my 50 Euro cents and went in. It was nice and clean and had some pretty cool wood paneling on the walls, but I don’t know that it was deserving of such a bold title.
    Lisbon 5Lisbon 6
    After climbing many hills and carrying the stroller up more staircases than I can count, we arrived at the top of the city. A whole neighborhood full of breathtaking views and plenty of cafes to enjoy them from.
    Lisbon 7
    We tooled around there for a bit and grabbed some lunch before heading back down the hill and over to the Belém neighborhood to taste pastries from the most famous pastry shop in Lisbon. In many ways, it reminded me of going to Cafe du Monde in New Orleans for beignets. The Pasteis de Belém is a pastry shop that was opened by a group of monks who needed to fund their monastery. The shop has been in business since 1837; it sounds like this gig is working out for them.

    Lisbon 8Lisbon 9
    Next up was the Jeronimos Monastery, home of the famous pastry making monks. Of all the monasteries that we visited on our trip, I think this one was my favorite. I did like the frescoes that we saw in Madrid, but I had much more appreciation for the architecture at Jeronimos.
    Lisbon 10
    After hitting a few more sights, it was clear that Kai was finished and, quite honestly, I think we were too. We took a cab back to Baixa for dinner, but first there was the matter of getting Kai to sleep so we could eat in peace. I had high hopes that she would easily fall asleep after riding a few bumpy blocks on the mosaic sidewalks, but no such luck. We had to employ more advanced techniques. A pashmina from a street vendor and an ultra pasteurized “milk box” later, she was zonked out, I was eating more grilled fish, and Chris was eating yet another “tipico” meal of octopus over rice.

Porto 1

The first thing that struck me about Portugal was how welcoming the people were. It is one of the friendliest countries that I have ever visited.

Our first night in Portugal, we ate dinner at a small family run restaurant in Porto. Although the proprietor and his sons spoke very little English, it was clear that we were welcome, Kai was even more welcome, and they were excited for us to taste and enjoy their food. I played it safe by ordering grilled fish, I think I had dorado, while Chris asked for a house specialty. The tripe stew.

If you have ever been in the kitchen with Chris, you have probably seen that he can be a little bit over the top with food safety precautions, so I was pretty surprised to hear that he was going to eat tripe that he did not prepare himself.

Porto 3Porto 2

We started dinner with bread, then salad, chouriço, and soup. So that we could taste both of the traditional soups on the menu, I had ordered the Sopa de Legumes, while Chris tried a Caldo Verde, a creamy kale and potato soup. Not being a huge fan of soup to begin with, Chris left about half of his soup in his bowl. As he was clearing our dishes, the restaurateur’s son asked if Chris liked the soup. Always honest, Chris tried to politely explain that it wasn’t really his thing. I’m not sure how much of that was lost in translation, but suddenly our consumption, or not, of every morsel of food that was delivered to the table was being scrutinized. It was clear that this family took their food seriously and that, as their guests, our opinions mattered.

Porto 4

Remember the tripe on order?

Finally, my fish and Chris’ tripe arrived at the table. After his first bite, his face said it all. Luckily, Kai saved the day. It was probably the first time that Chris has ever been eager to hear her cry during dinner. He immediately took on the role of doting dad, entertaining Kai while I ate every bit of food on my plate as fast as I could. All the while, the restaurant’s owner was checking on us and how Chris liked his dinner. At the very least, we needed to take Chris’ meal to go and make a huge fuss over how good it was. On cue, Kai’s tantrum escalated and we were able to get Chris’ meal boxed and gracefully leave without eating any additional tripe.

Although he was left hungry, I’m sure Chris felt quite relieved.

Porto 5

Looking back on this experience, I am recalling that much of our stay in Portugal involved eating things that were new, different, or unexpected and breakfast the following morning was another example of this. We set out for the day with an eye out for somewhere to eat breakfast and quickly found a small bakery/cafe that was packed with people, taking that as a good sign, we grabbed a table and ordered two Americanos and the server’s two favorite items out of the deli case. A few minutes later, our breakfast arrived. A fried salted cod sandwich for me and a pastry of meat, cheese, and phyllo dough for Chris. Initially, I was rather turned off by the idea of a cod sandwich for breakfast, but by the time I finished it, I was vowing to cook more fish for breakfast at home. Don’t knock it until you try it, I guess. 

I’m a huge fan of smoked salmon for breakfast, why not salted cod?

Porto 6

It was time to continue on to the most important part of the day. We were on a mission to walk across town and cross the River Duoro to visit the port cellars on the other side.

I did not realize how much I had to learn about port wine until we toured a cellar. In fact, I would have told you that I did not even like port wine until we did a tasting. It turns out that I love it, unfortunately, I seem to prefer very fine port wines, aged 40 years. Needless to say, I will not be taking up port drinking on the regular anytime soon.

While Porto might be an interesting city for wine enthusiasts to visit, I didn’t feel like it offered a whole lot in terms of general tourism. Perhaps we missed some hidden gems, who knows. I was glad that we visited, but would probably not rush to go back there.

Next up: Nazare and Lisbon

We pulled into Toledo after dark and somehow managed to find our hotel without getting lost. The city stood up on its hill, still having a striking resemblance to El Greco’s famous painting of its dramatic skyline. I was excited about visiting Toledo for many reasons, the most prominent of which is because it is the marzipan capital of the world and I absolutely love those overly sweet nuggets of almond paste; they remind me of a favorite Dutch dessert that my grandma used to make and give me a feeling of happiness and warmth that can only be evoked by super sweet almond confections.

Toledo 1

After checking into our hotel, we ventured down the street to make our second attempt of the day at eating tapas. Once again, we found ourselves in the hands of a barkeep who spoke very little English. Fortunately we know the word for cervesa and we were able to muddle through a few sentences asking him to serve us his favorite items from the menu. This time, the cervesa and tapas flowed. The three of us ate and ate until finally, when the barkeep asked ‘Mas?’ Chris and I both replied ‘No mas. Gracias!’

Toledo 2

The next morning we awoke to chilly temperatures and frosty windows. As we wound our way through the city, I was super bummed that I left my Uggs at home and crazy jealous of Kai getting carted around town in a sleeping bag.

Toledo 3

Pretty quickly, we found out that, in spite of what appeared to be booming tourism, many of the restaurant and shop owners in Toledo did not speak much English. Yet again we ended up ordering a tipico breakfast, which, strangely, was paella; clearly not a breakfast food. No worries, it was tasty and it got the job done. After breakfast, we strolled through the narrow, hilly streets of Toledo taking in the sights, and, of course, munching on marzipan along the way.

Toledo 4

By the time we had crossed town to see the last “must see” on our list, The Cathedral of Toledo, my fingers and toes were completely numb from the cold. I couldn’t wait to go inside and bask in the heat of the second largest church in Spain. Sadly, and I should have expected this, there was no heat. It was nearly as cold inside as out. I think this sealed the fate of the rest of our trip. It was time to bail on frigid Spain and head for more temperate coastal Portugal. A few hours later, after we declared Toledo “done”, we began our walk back across town, across Puente San Martin, and to our car.

Toledo 5

Our early evening was spent driving through Spanish, and then Portugese countryside on our way to Porto.

Next up: Porto, port wine, and tripe

Our time in Madrid, although well spent, was probably a bit too short. I, for one, was feeling a bit lazy while in Madrid, so I did not do a great job of pushing the agenda. It didn’t help matters that the agenda was pretty open; I accidentally left the Spain travel guide in our car at the airport when we flew to Morocco, so I wasn’t able to pre-read much before we got to Madrid. Yes, I realize that most people pre-read weeks, or even months in advance of their trips, but I was and always have been a huge failure at planning my vacations ahead of time.

The first thing we “did” in Madrid was sit down to an awesome breakfast on Gran Via where Chris and I ate Eggs Benedict, Kai ate fruit and yogurt, and the three of us plotted out our day. After wrapping up our breakfast, we set out for the Monasterio Las Descalzas Reales, which was just a few blocks away. We got there just in time to join an English speaking tour of the old monastery. Of the limited things that we saw in Madrid, this was probably my favorite. Chris and I got married in an old Italian monastery that had beautiful frescoes on the walls. Similar to Villa Grazioli, our wedding venue, this monastery also had some amazing frescoes.

Madrid 1

After spending the next part of the day visiting the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, and Plaza Espana to name a few places, we realized that lunch time had come and gone and that we were starving. We decided to get tapas for a late afternoon meal and took great care in selecting a bar that felt authentic, not too touristy, and appropriate to bring Kai into. After what felt like miles of walking, and much deliberation, we were finally seated in a bar with drinks in front of us and tapas on the way. In keeping with the stereotype of the fat American over consumer, we ordered entirely too much food and couldn’t wait for it to arrive so we could devour it all.

The first thing that came out was two breaded hunks of brie melted around some Serrano ham. It sounds kind of gross when I describe it that way, but the little nibble of it that I had was pretty tasty. I fed most of mine to Kai as she seemed hungry too and this was totally a food that she could get on board with. Another little plate with two bite-sized pieces of food came out. I can’t remember what this was anymore, but I remember snarfing it down quickly, eager to fill my hungry, rumbling tummy.

We waited and waited, no more tiny plates arrived.

Kai became restless.

We passed her back and forth, trying to entertain her with silly faces and nonsense chatter as we continued to wait for more tiny plates to arrive.

I decided that Kai’s restlessness might be because her diaper was a little wet, so we crammed into a shoebox sized bathroom to attempt a “standing” diaper change. There was no surface in the bathroom that could be used for baby changing, so I found myself holding a wriggling baby in one hand while changing her diaper with the other. If you have ever done this, you understand the enormous level of stress involved with doing it. I was sure that I would get an unwanted shower, or worse. Somehow, I emerged from the bathroom with a happy baby and clean clothes.

Kai sat on Chris’ lap as we made even more silly faces and even more nonsense chatter and continued to wait for more tiny plates carrying bite sized morsels of fried yumminess to arrive.

At some point, we realized that the rest of our food wasn’t coming. As Chris stood up to re-order our food, I saw that my mid-air diaper change didn’t work out so well. Kai’s pants were soaked. I must not have unfolded the leg gussets properly. Madrid 2Lucky for Chris, Kai’s pants seemed to have absorbed the bulk of the fluid. We decided that it was time to bail on our meal. Chris paid our tab as I got Kai cleaned up again. For the second time on this trip, Kai was going to go pantless, this time to The Prado. Fortunately we have one of those stroller sleeping bags, so I doubt that anyone except for us knew about her escapade. Surprisingly, we were able to see nearly all of The Prado before Kai determined that it was time to leave. I was quite impressed with her endurance.

After the museum, we made our way back towards Gran Via, stopping along the way for a few sandwiches and some free internet so we could find a hotel room for that night. Kai needed a nap, so we reserved a hotel room in Toledo, piled back into the car, and made the drive about an hour south to the famous city on the hill.

Next up: Toledo

Marrakech 1Visiting Marrakech ended up being my favorite part of our trip. Going into it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I think we all know someone who has a horror story about the time they took a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain to Tangiers. I know no less than five people who have competingly colorful stories about that exploit and, as adventurous as I like to think that I am, I was not prepared to sign up for that kind of excitement with Kai in tow. Instead, I did a bit of research and concluded that while visitors to Tangiers do not always love Morocco, people who venture to Marrakech generally have positive experiences. Somewhat anecdotal evidence, but compelling enough to sway our decision.

We arrived in Marrakech to one of the most beautiful hotel rooms that I have ever stayed in, a lavish suite with two bathrooms, a master bedroom, and a three-part living area. Typically, we stick to more modest accommodations, but since we would be here on Christmas Eve and Christmas, and since we wanted to be sure that we had a safe haven where Kai could run wild if Marrakech was too much excitement, we chose a much nicer room than usual. Ultimately, we had so much fun in Marrakech that we barely saw the inside of our swanky hotel room and that’s ok, after all, that is probably the best possible scenario.

Marrakech 2

On our way to breakfast, we made our first stop in Marrakech to see the Koutoubia, probably the most iconic landmark in the city. We decided to eat breakfast on the balcony of a café overlooking the souks and the edge of the Djemaa al Fina. Marrakech 4After breakfast, we wandered through the souks for a bit where we met many “free guides”, who were, of course, not really free. At some point a young man asked us to come with him into the Jewish Quarter to see the fixed price spice market. Always curious and eager to get a good price on typical Moroccan wares, we agreed to go with him. He led us to a stall where another man began explaining what was in each of the giant burlap sacks and glass jars. We learned about Moroccan lipstick, deodorant, soaps, teas, and spices. It was absolutely fascinating. At the end of his spiel, I told him that I would buy one of each of his six types of soap. He bagged each one in its own cellophane bag and then put his hand out: “That will be 500 dirhams.” I nearly choked. That’s about $60. Excuse me? We could not bring ourselves to buy $10 bars of soap, let alone that many $10 bars of soap. We tried to negotiate, but, as the guy who brought us there mentioned, it was a fixed price market. We paid him 50 dirhams or so for his time and thanked him for his thoughtful explanation. Yikes.

Marrakech 3As we meandered back out of the Jewish Quarter and began heading for an ancient madrassa that we wanted to visit, we got stopped again by another “free guide”. He wanted to take us to the leather tanneries and suddenly we were hoofing it to the north edge of the old city walls trying to keep up with our latest friend. Without question, I could smell that we were getting much closer to the tanneries. Unfortunately, tanning leather does not produce the most wonderful smell. Finally, we arrived at a small wooden door. We paid several dirhams, were handed sprigs of mint to hold under our noses, and headed inside. The pungent smell of tanning leather all but stopped me in my tracks. I took a few steps, carefully trying to maneuver the stroller around puddles of an unknown fluid while alternately holding the mint under Kai’s nose, then mine. Almost as quickly as we entered the tannery, we were back outside again. The smell, pools of who knows what all over the ground, and an image of the bottom of the stroller getting sprayed by the puddles as we crossed through them was just too much for me. I wimped out.

Back outside, I was able to get it together again, but I did not have the mental fortitude necessary to tour the tannery. I probably would have stuck it out without Kai, but the combination of Kai and the tannery and tannery cooties, whatever those may be, was just too much. Chris was disappointed, he was genuinely curious about the process, and I felt bad that he was missing out on it also, but I suppose that I did not feel quite bad enough to go back in there.

Marrakech 7In addition to the souks, the Jewish Quarter, Koutoubia, and the tannery, we visited several palaces, museums, a madrassa, and many other sights, but our return to Djemaa al Fina as it was coming alive at dusk was probably one of the most thrilling things that we saw. There were merchants of all kinds selling food, shoes, textiles, and services such as open-air, on the spot, dentistry. Djemaa al Fina was also packed full of entertainers including guys with monkeys, and, Chris’ favorite, snake charmers. I was photographing into the sun while simultaneously trying to keep an eye on Kai in the busy market and keep a man with a different snake from getting too close to us, needless to say, the snake charmer pictures are profoundly disappointing to Chris. I did not come close to capturing the essence of what he experienced. Nonetheless, he says this was the best $12 he ever spent.

We ended our visit to Marrakech with an alfresco dinner on the square in Djemaa al Fina followed by a horse drawn carriage ride back to the Sofitel. What a day!

 All in all, I loved Marrakech and I would jump at the opportunity to return. Somehow, it is always much more fulfilling to me to visit places that are so different from what I am accustomed to. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Spain, and I was looking forward to seeing more of Spain, but Morocco provided a much more deep, rich experience for me.

Marrakech 6Marrakech 5

Next up: Madrid

After our detour to Andorra, we rolled into the Madrid airport a few hours before our flight to Morocco. The first thing that struck me was the amount of trash on the floor of the airport. It was unreal. The airport garbage collectors were on strike and the appeared to be supplementing the typical trash with confettied newspaper. We stood among massive piles of garbage for nearly two hours as we waited to be checked in for our Royal Air Maroc flight to Casablanca. It was a bit of a turn off, to say the least.


20130110-143112.jpgA few hours later, we arrived in Casablanca where we would transfer to a flight to Marrakech. When we landed in Casablanca, we deplaned onto the tarmac and, as we stood there in the dark waiting for our gate checked stroller to come off of the plane, I thought about that dramatic scene from ‘Casablanca’ where Rick and Ilsa are standing on the tarmac. That daydream was quickly abandoned when I realized that the stroller was not coming. Chris and I both began to frantically ask anyone and everyone we could find what happened to our stroller and what the proper course of action was. Almost unanimously, the answer was to forget about it, if it wasn’t there, it wasn’t coming. Fortunately, we decided to pull a Ken and Christine in Italy circa 2007 and find the stroller ourselves. After hauling our luggage and nearly 30 lbs of baby through customs and all over that airport, I am delighted to report that we found our stroller. I briefly considered parading it past all of the naysayers to stick it to them, but by then I did not have the energy or the drive to carry the baby and the stroller up that many flights of stairs just to rub it in their faces. 

In retrospect, I was really lucky that I didn’t waste my layover parading my recovered stroller all over the airport because, as we sat in the gate area, we noticed something funny going on. There were two late night flights scheduled to Marrakech, but only one gate assigned and more people at the gate than could possibly fit on one plane. Feeling more than a little skeptical about the situation, we decided to use Kai to our advantage and board as early as possible. When we got onto the plane and settled, a couple came up to us “I think you may be in our seats”. We all had the same seat numbers on our tickets (because Royal Air Maroc had sold tickets for two flights and then elected to only fly one plane). This happened to the people in front of us, behind us, across the aisle from us. You get the idea. Ultimately, nearly 40 people were left behind when the plane reached capacity. I feel bad for them, but I’m sure glad that I wasn’t one of them.

Finally, nearly 24 hours after we left Barcelona that morning, we landed in Marrakech and could not be more excited to see our driver and, eventually, our hotel room.

Next up: Marrakech

As I alluded to in my last post, Chris, Kai, and I took a little trip at the end of December. We set off to Spain with a very loose itinerary in mind and filled in the gaps with our standard “winging it” mode of travel.

Our trip started off with a bit more excitement than we hoped for as I checked the flight status on our way to the airport. Our flight from Indy to Newark was delayed and it was almost guaranteed that we would miss our connection to Barcelona. Within seconds we had called up the United 1K line asking about our options. They were able to get us onto another flight to Newark, which, fortunately, was also delayed. It is ironic how a delay that probably caused problems for many people’s travel schedules was just what was needed to save our trip.

A few hours later we rolled up to the gate of our Barcelona-bound flight just in time for the boarding announcement. Perfect timing.

Barcelona 1Within minutes after take-off, Kai was comfortably asleep on the floor under Chris’ legs. It was quite possibly her most awesome flight ever. We flew overnight, and when the breakfast cart came around and I asked for a carton of milk for the baby on the floor, the flight attendant looked stunned. “You have a baby?” Kai had slept nearly the whole way from Newark to Barcelona.

Upon landing, we quickly made it out of the airport, through the rental car line, and off into the city to begin sight seeing. In Barcelona, we saw sights such as the Gothic Quarter, La Sagrada Familia, and Las Ramblas, but my very favorite thing was La Boqueria market which was situated ajacent to Las Ramblas. I am a sucker for markets, especially food markets, and this was among my favorites of all time. It was alive with the sound of merchants and their customers completing their transactions, full of brightly colored fruit, sickeningly anatomical meat stalls, and a new aroma around each corner.

Barcelona 2Our hotel in Barcelona was actually a two bedroom apartment. When I booked it, I thought that we would want two rooms, plus a living space so that we would have enough room to get over our jeg lag without disturbing each other. Naturally, Kai had other plans. Her jet lag did not even approximate a US or a Spanish schedule. Early on the morning that we planned to drive to Madrid, Kai woke up just after midnight, ready to go for the day. Chris headed out into the street to get us a midnight snack at a Turkish food stall outside of our hotel while I tried to get Kai back to sleep. By the time Chris came back, I was quite sure that Kai would be awake for the remainder of the morning and suggested that we make the most of it and go have breakfast in Andorra.

“In where?”

A side trip to Andorra would add about three hours to our drive to Madrid, but when else would we have the opportunity to go? Plus, having a midnight wakeup call is almost equivalent to gaining an extra six hours of “day”, right? Before I knew it, we were cramming suitcases back into our tiny A3 hatchback and making our best effort to head northwest out of the city.

Barcelona 3Within hours, we were winding through the Pyrenees to the Andorra border crossing, which, as far as I can tell, is entrusted to the EU Border Control in France and Spain. The border guard did not so much as slide his window open before waving us through to Andorra. Since it was still pretty early, we elected to drive completely through the tiny municipality and on into France before turning around, proceeding through another uninterested border crossing, and backtracking to Andorra la Vella for breakfast. After a “tipico” breakfast, our standard order when we can’t speak the local language, we needed to jam to Madrid to catch a flight to Morocco.

As we wound our way towards the border, we heard a wretching noise coming from the back seat. When we pulled over to see what was going on, Kai was covered in milk and yogurt vomit, which looked essentially like she dumped a huge tub of yogurt all over herself, her car seat, and the whole backseat and smelled like it was curdled, months old yogurt that might have been aging in my college-era refrigerator. I was not convinced that our 90-pack of baby wipes would be nearly enough to tackle this mess, but, without another choice, Chris got to work stripping and cleaning Kai while I began scooping giant handfuls of vomit onto the side of the road.

In a bold maneuver, we decided not to dress Kai again until we got to the airport. We did not have a ton of extra changes of clothes for her and we were not sure if the wretching would continue. After strapping her back into the car seat naked and cranking up the heat, we were once again enroute to the Andorra/Spain border. This time, the border agents did care about the crossing, but their interest quickly waned after we opened the hatch back for them to poke around and they got a whiff of our car; they quickly sent us on our way again.

Minutes later, the wretching resumed. Once more, everything was covered in a foul yogurt-esque slime. This time we were patting ourselves on the back for the genius decision not to get Kai dressed again. Finally, we were on the road to Madrid again.

Next up: A trip to Marrakech

A little more than three months after my final radiation treatment, it was finally time this week to head back to New York for a CT scan, blood work, and an appointment with my favorite oncologist. The punchline: Everything looked good. I’m off the hook until my next checkup, sometime in April.

Since my last post in early December I have been pretty MIA. I started to write about how I was really busy with work and how I went on vacation and how I had a zillion other things going on that precluded me from blogging, but that wouldn’t exactly be true. The truth is that I was scared. I was absolutely terrified of getting scanned.

I did a really good job of not psyching myself out throughout my treatments. Perhaps while I was actively attending chemo and radiation treatments I felt like I was doing something to fight the disease. Maybe it was just the weekly doctor visits that were reassuring me. When I was first turned loose at the end of September, free from doctors, treatments, IVs, and linear particle accelerators, I was pretty ecstatic about the prospect of freedom and a return to normalcy. For most of October and November, I was able to pretend that the cancer thing never even happened, but, by December, my confidence in my treatments waned. Every ache or pain was due to a tumor pressing on a nerve. If woke up sweaty because our heat was turned up too high I would panic for days, unable to grasp something that just a year ago would have seemed so obvious; I needed to turn down the heat. My already short attention span became all but nonexistent.

As I counted down the weeks, then days, until my scan I began contingency planning in my head. I considered all of the possibilities for Kai-care, work, grocery shopping, exercise, and entertainment in the event that I had relapsed and would need a stem cell transplant and the associated 100 days of quarantine. Who would I want to be in lockdown in my “clean zone” with me? Who would be willing and able to do it? Does post-stem cell transplant isolation even work that way? I hope I never know.

About two weeks before my scan, we went on vacation, which was a welcome distraction that I will post more about another time. By the time I went back to work again in the new year, I had just three (marginally productive) work days remaining until scan day. Last Friday we headed to New Jersey and my family acted as a huge diversion for me as I waited out those last few days. On Sunday, six of us went skiing and snowboarding up at Hunter Mountain in what was likely the best non-bilzzard ski conditions that I have ever experienced there. That was quite possibly the most effective diversion possible the day before a CT scan.

Finally, Monday rolled around and with it came more worry and more second guessing. Just minutes after I finished my scan, my oncologist’s nurse called my cell phone. When I saw her number come up, a few choice words ran through my head. In summary, I was thinking “Uh, oh, it was that bad?”

She asked if I was still at the hospital. ::My heart pounded.::

I was. Could I go get my blood drawn before I went home? I sure could.

Again, I spent the night contingency planning.

Tuesday morning, as we sat in traffic on the approach to the George Washington Bridge, my phone rang again. Once again it was my oncologist’s office. “Brittany, you are still coming to your appointment today, right?”

Of course, why wouldn’t I be? Why are you checking? “Yes.”

“Ok, good.”

My stomach did flip flops for the next three hours or so until my doctor delivered the good news. There has to be a way to do this without experiencing so much anxiety.

By Tuesday afternoon, Chris, Kai, and I were headed back to Indiana and my doctor visit seemed anti-climatic somehow. Obviously I am elated that I received good results, but, at the same time, it is difficult for me to get my mind around this paradox of being 31 and otherwise healthy with some inherent expectation that I will be around doing my thing for a long time without major medical intervention, but, at the same time, I find myself making preparatory checklists for what I will do if the sky is falling. In talking with others who have gone through this, it sounds like pre-scan anxiety lessens with time, but, for me, at least this first time around, it was pretty profound.

Anyway, I got the all clear this week and I am stoked to be able to confidently plan the next three months of my life.