Passing notes

Shortly after Rich’s own birthday in 2015 (when his fistula returned), he and I went to Target and bought birthday cards for Ian for his 7th through 18th birthday. I took a picture of the receipt, because I take pictures of everything, and I felt like there was a story on that piece of thermal paper.

 Birthday cards for years to come

Birthday cards for years to come

Rich wrote out notes on all of the cards, closed them in envelopes, and put them in the fire box. About a year later, he handed them over to Travis to be their custodian. 

This year, Ian wanted to have a birthday adventure versus a standard party, so we spent the weekend in Luray going to the caverns, playing around the log cabin we rented, trying out a canoe on the pond, and zip lining in the trees. However, we made sure to be home on Sunday evening in time to have pizza dinner with Travis and Zoe.

As we were unpacking the truck from our trip in anticipation of their arrival, Ian said, “It’s kinda messed up that Daddy wrote all these cards and expects me to read them when he couldn’t even bother to read all the notes that I wrote for him when he was dying.”

That’s my kid, dropping truth bombs in the driveway. 

I agreed that it’s disappointing that Daddy didn’t read the notes that Ian wrote. I reminded Ian that Daddy didn’t feel very good then. “Well, yeah, but he could at least have had you read them to him if he was too sick to read them himself. I put a lot of thought and effort into those notes.” 

I asked him if he knew what it meant to be in denial. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that. But it’s still messed up.” I nodded. 

We went inside, had pizza with Travis and Zoe, opened his present from them, opened his card from Daddy, and played a board game together. Not a bad way to spend the evening.

Last night, I reminded Ian that he needed to finish his chores before we headed out to Atlantis Games for Tabletop Tuesday. As he put the vacuum away, I heard some rustling in the front room. He walked out with the stack of notes he had written to Daddy from the fire box and just handed them to me. “Here.”

I asked him what he wanted me to do with them. “I dunno. I just want you to see them. To read them. I want you to know what I wrote. I want someone else to know.” 

And so, even though we were about to walk out the door, I went to the dining room table and read every note again, lovingly turning them over to see the illustrations and noting the dates I had penciled into the corners. I put his 7th and 8th birthday cards from Daddy with them and put them back in the fire box. 

 Passing notes

Passing notes

As we drove to Atlantis, Ian asked me, “What did Daddy do to get cancer anyways?” I explained that in some cases cancer is directly because of something you did (like smoking cigarettes or being exposed to chemicals) but a lot of time it’s just bad luck. 

“Yeah, like, oh I know, here’s this kid who has a great relationship with his dad so let’s just give his dad cancer and ruin that kid’s life.” 

I actually laughed out loud at that. I’m not sure if that’s an appropriate response but it was just so matter of fact about how shit happens and it’s not fair. 

We talked about life being unfair (I mentioned this super great dude named Buddha who talks about suffering) and he pontificated about how “they” should have picked somebody without a kid to get cancer and die. Somebody that nobody would miss. 

Sweet potato zucchini casserole

I could have sworn I saw a recipe recently for baked sweet potatoes topped with zucchini and other goodies but now it's lost in the ether of the Internet. What I did find was a recipe for sweet potato zucchini casserole and it was amazing! I didn't have turkey or mozzarella cheese when I made mine so I winged it with sausage and mexican blend cheese. Delicious. I also doubled the garlic and cheese from the original recipe because let's be real. 

 It looks even better than this when it's fresh from the oven and not my leftover lunch four days later.

It looks even better than this when it's fresh from the oven and not my leftover lunch four days later.

Sweet Potato Zucchini Casserole


  • 1 tablespoon oil of choice (coconut, olive, vegetable)
  • 2 medium zucchinis, diced
  • 1 lb ground turkey (or Jimmy Dean sausage)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, sliced (A mandolin slicer is great for this.)
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded (or Mexican shredded cheese)
  • Fresh parsley, chopped (optional if you wanna be fancy)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tbs of oil over medium high heat.
  3. Add zucchini, salt and pepper. Stir occasionally and cook for about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  4. In the same skillet, add onions, garlic and cook until the onions are softened.
  5. Add the ground meat and cook until no longer pink, making sure to break apart the meat with a spoon as it cooks.
  6. Add tomato sauce, the cooked zucchini, salt and pepper. Cook for more 3-5 minutes.
  7. In a greased baking casserole place the slices of sweet potato in an even layer.
  8. Pour into baking dish the ground meat/zucchini mixture.
  9. Top with grated cheese.
  10. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender.
  11. Before serving sprinkle some fresh parsley.

Finding my bliss

I have always been a slightly anxious person. I think all those internet articles call it "high functioning anxiety." My doctor calls is general anxiety disorder.

I recall being in school and thinking how great it would be to be done with tests and essays and projects because then my stomach might not hurt so much every day. I wish I could go back in time to that girl and pat her on the head, "oh, Sugar ..."

I got pregnant in 2009 (#thanksobama). The pregnancy itself was pretty easy, despite a LOT of diabetes maintenance. Labor and delivery was lengthy but ultimately a huge success. I delivered a perfect human, surrounded by my loved ones. Everything was aces. 

And then I started crying, right about the time I had to go back to work. Ian was eight weeks old and all I wanted to do was hold him. I would walk to the daycare next door at lunch to nurse him and cry for 45 minutes every day. The lovely Hispanic women would just nod and lovingly hand me tissues. I would bring Ian home and sit in the recliner, nursing and weeping. Rich was dumbfounded. "You know he's ok, right? Like, everything is ok?" 

No, baby, everything is not ok. I'm going to have to give this child away again in the morning and it will rip my heart out of my chest. I am Not. OK. 

My therapist and I talked about trying Zoloft for postpartum depression. I started taking 50mg a day and things got much better. I remember the first time something was mildly stressful (like being 10 minutes late to something) and I didn't feel like I was going to throw up. "Woah! This must be how everyone else feels! This is amazing!"

Since I had lost that constant knot in my stomach, I felt like things were "fine." That may have been true, but it was much like the dog in the fire kind of fine. 

 This is fine.

This is fine.

Then Rich got cancer. And we had a child to raise. And everything just got a little bit harder each day. 

Once Rich died, I went to my beloved witch doctor (Dr. Marion Constantinides at Applied Health). She suggested we do an "anxiety marker" test. Sure. Whatever. I'm fine. I can't pull my shoulders out of my ears, but I'm sure that's normal. 

The test is a urine sample that you mail away. It came back with several results, but specifically we'll talk about serotonin and dopamine. The normal range for seratonin is 34 to 208 somethings. Mine was 42. The normal range for dopamine is 72-297 somethings. Mine was 86. So while I was technically in range, I had a D- in happy.

Side effects from having levels that low include anxiousness, fatigue, sleep difficulties, mood issues, weight management problems, and constipation. In other words, my adult life. 

I started taking some supplements to boost those numbers. The plan was to take a regimen for eight weeks, retest, then adjust as needed. 

I started taking the pills. I felt better. Things actually really did seem ok. Eight weeks passed and it was time for a retest. Unfortunately, we didn't time that as well as we should. I took the re-test but then ran out of pills. But that should be no big deal because I felt great.

Two weeks later, I got the results back from the lab (there were some unusual delays). My dopamine had risen to 141 somethings so I was solidly in the middle zone of chill. My serotonin, however, was 623. When your serotonin is three times the max, the only symptom listed is "low libido." I presume this is because one already feels so blissed out just from sitting around that the idea of seeking out hot lovin' seems superfluous.

The wrinkle in all of this was that I had run out of "bliss out" pills. On Labor Day, I spent the majority of the day in the fetal position on the couch sleeping or crying. I wasn't sure why it was happening, but I was clear that something changed. 

I'm happy to report that I'm back on a reduced dose of "bliss" while I'm waiting for a new regimen of different pills to try out this week. Things are feeling normal again. 

I love my witch doctor. I'm grateful that some simple supplements can help my body have the right good vibes to make me a joy to be around. These pills are more complicated to manage than my previous routine of just throwing a few things down my throat before bed. I have to take some 30 minutes before breakfast, some with breakfast, some 30 minutes before dinner, and some an hour before bed. I now own a pill organizer from Amazon listed under the category "Stuff Seniors Want." 

 Taste the rainbow!

Taste the rainbow!

I can tell you that if there's a fire, after everything with a heartbeat is safe, I'm grabbing this pill organizer to get me through a few days until I can restock.

It's amazing what we get used to as normal until we learn differently. I watched a video recently of a 66 year old man getting EnChroma glasses to correct his color blindness. He was grinning and weeping and vibrating at the sight of grass. Grass, people.

I feel like that now about my emotions. I don't have to identify as an anxious person. I can recognize the triggers and patterns and I now have the tools to navigate them. 

The witch doctor told me a few months ago that I was covered in tape. Anything unpleasant that happened to me just stuck to me and I couldn't shake them off. Here's to finally feeling less sticky.