Starbright’s Adventure, Prologue: San Diego – Houston – Tennessee

It’s official.

I have vacated my beach apartment in San Diego.

I have rehomed my sweet kitty.

I have given away and sold most of my belongings.

I’ve left my boyfriend.

The doctors say I have 2-3 years left, maximum. And they said that two months ago. I feel like I’m a ticking time bomb … I need to get on the road and start my bucket list trip before I can’t do it anymore.

I feel great right now, by the way. I have a few aches and twinges in my back, which could just as easily be from sitting for hours at a time in a van or just getting old as they could be from the tumors that are all over my spine.

The reason that this portion of the trip is the prologue is because I am not officially on my full RV adventure yet — this is just the preparatory part. I sold and gave away the majority of my things, and some stuff I will bring with me in my RV, but some I want to save, just in case I don’t die.

I am on my way to look at an RV for sale, and then I will keep on going to my mom’s house. If I don’t buy this RV I am going to see, then the search will continue. If I love it and buy it, then the adventure is really about to start.

But first, we gotta get to Tennessee.

Monday morning, we left San Diego. We packed the last of my food from the fridge and my blankets off of my bed. We got in the van at about 9:30 a.m., picked up a few beverages for the road, dropped off my keys with my property manager, and within an hour, we were out of San Diego.  (But not for the last time; I have a doctor’s appointment on September 2, so I can’t dillydally in the South for too long.)

If you’re not familiar with this drive (east of San Diego), there is basically an enormous desert mountain range at the east end of San Diego county, and to get to Imperial County (and on to Arizona) you have to go up to a 4,000+ elevation and back down again.

Through the desert.

With no air conditioning.

It’s brutal.

I drove to El Centro; a little less than three hours (because I was driving a fully-loaded cargo van), and then Mom took over.

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She basically did all of the driving through Arizona…

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New Mexico …

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and into west Texas.

This left me plenty of time to take pictures of everything we passed, and of course to put on my pink sunglasses and pretend we were driving through Bat Country.

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By the time we got past El Paso, it was late at night, and I took over driving the longest and most boring stretch of road ever. We probably could have stopped to rest, but frankly, it was finally not 100+ degrees because it was nighttime, so we figured we would keep going as long as we weren’t too tired.

And thanks to a well-timed sugar-free Red Bull, I was totally ready to keep going.

Seriously, if you’ve ever driven through West Texas, it’s not something you’d forget. It seems like it’s never going to end.

Mom took over driving again, and as the sun came up, we were just a few hours away from my sister’s house in Houston.

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Might as well keep on going, right?

Once we finally arrived in Houston, we were (understandably) wired, exhausted and hungry. We both took very long showers and very long naps, and generally recharged our batteries.

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We did the longest and most stressful stretch of the trip, and Gracie the cargo van performed beautifully.

We also went for a short drive around town (mercifully, my brother-in-law was driving his Suburban so we could give Gracie the cargo van a break).

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Houston is really quite lovely — when you have good air conditioning.

I got to check out some of Houston’s amazing public art and street art. It really is very impressive the way Houston has encouraged and subsidized art all over the city. (Check out my Instagram page for more.)

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Two nights in Houston was just what the doctor ordered … we were rested and ready to hit the road again Thursday morning.

We kept the drive interesting by listening to the Democratic convention speech of my favorite president…

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…. and I took tons of (not terribly bad) photos of the bayou and the lakes around New Orleans.

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We are making our way through Mississippi and Alabama tonight. I will update after I check out an RV for sale. Maybe this trip will start  for real this week!

Next stop, Tennessee!

(If you would like to donate to my bucket list road trip, please check out my GoFundMe campaign here.)

Freedom

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose …

-Janis Joplin

Janis wasn’t lying about freedom, but for me it seems like the freedom I need before I kick the bucket is coming at the price of losing everything else that I care about. Last night, my kitty (also named Janis, after the legendary singer) went on a road trip to stay with my brother and his family, probably forever.

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I am the only parent she’s ever known and my home is the only home she’s ever known. I know she will be in the best care and that this is the best option for us both. I know I can come visit her and see her every time I talk to my brother. But my house feels achingly empty this morning. I keep looking outside, expecting to see her walking up my stairs. There’s a hole in my heart.

I won’t see my boyfriend for at least two weeks, and while I don’t see him as often as I would like anyway, I feel like I can handle leaving him better than leaving Janis. At least he understands what’s happening. Janis must have been so confused and scared (and certainly mad) at first. Hopefully she will adapt and be happy there sooner rather than later.

But I really haven’t cried much, with my diagnosis and prognosis, and with all of the craziness of moving and buying an RV and planning an epic road trip that will literally be the last fun and crazy thing I do. I haven’t felt sorry for myself or blamed or denied or deflected or comforted myself with drugs or fallen into depression. But now, sitting here in a nearly empty apartment, I can’t stop crying.

And I’ve got to hit the road. Like, tomorrow.

My search for the perfect RV in southern California has not been fruitful. The market is crazy right now because of the pandemic – everyone wants an RV for a vacation instead of hitting up theme parks and crowded hotels. There’s never a good time to have cancer, but this is a singularly bad time to decide to take a kickass road trip, for sure.

So I decided to take (some of) my stuff to Tennessee, to my mom’s place, and try to find an RV from there. The market is better, the registration is cheaper, and I need to be out of this apartment in San Diego by end of business on Monday (i.e. tomorrow). Renting a one-way moving van is prohibitively expensive — seriously, $2,700 for the smallest moving truck, without gas, without insurance, and without the added mileage fees. I actually saved money by buying outright a used cargo van.

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Meet Gracie. She’s not much to look at, but she will get us from California to Tennessee.

Follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for instant updates from the road.

Please click here if you’d like to contribute to my RV/road trip GoFundMe.

 

Grandma’s Barley Soup — and views on karmic retribution

Once, my late grandmother and I were watching TV. I was about 13. I can’t remember the exact context of what we witnessed on the TV show we were watching, but it was basically a bad guy getting his comeuppance, by way of multiple well-deserved punches to the face.

My grandmother turned to me and said, “at some point, everyone needs the universe to kick them in the ass. Maybe it’s not an actual ass-kicking, maybe it’s just a lesson. But if you need it, God gives it to you. Sometimes right in the kisser.”

Grandma’s relationship with God, as far as I knew, was … tenable. She had converted to evangelical Christianity for like five minutes in Britain as a young woman, when she, along with millions of others, was captivated by Billy Graham. That didn’t last long. I know she believed in a higher power, but that was the first real time I had heard her speak about God that way.

I’ve thought about that a lot of times since I have been fighting cancer. Was breast cancer part of a karmic retribution? Was it karma paying me back for that time I didn’t recycle? Or maybe grandma finally having it out with me about that glass punch bowl I broke?

Grandma had a lot of interesting views about karma and dying – she once famously said that if she were ever told she had months left on earth, she would make a list of people she hated — even though I doubt she could count the number of enemies she had on one hand.

And being a murderous, avenging cancer patient kinda has a ring to it. (It would probably make a good movie (*Copyright!) —  but now that it’s happening to me, it’s not how I would have imagined it.

It’s heartbreaking. I have to leave my friends, my boyfriend, my family and my cat (not necessarily in that order). I have time to say goodbye, which is great, but also excruciating. 

It’s momentous. What if everything I read about heaven and hell is actually true? What can I do in my last months to really make the world a better place?

It’s stressful. I have to clean out my apartment, and sell or give away nearly everything I own. I have to find an RV that’s relatively small and easy to handle, yet within my price range.

I have to plan to die.

The last thing I want to waste my time on is hating someone and making my last days all about them instead of me. I know it sounds selfish, but if there’s anytime to say “hey, this is what I WANT so I am making it happen no matter what,” it’s now.

Knowing your time is short – but not knowing how short – is really difficult. Moving is stressful under any circumstances. Travelling the country is hard to plan under any circumstances. Preparing for your imminent demise adds a whole nother layer of weird.

And the clock is ticking.

Maybe I will be dead in six months and none of this will matter. But I can’t help feeling like I have to hit the road. Like, as soon as possible.

At this point, I am frustrated. It feels like that time before a plan comes together, when you feel like maybe you made a mistake in undertaking this huge project. Sometimes that part comes right before everything works out perfectly. Sometimes this part comes right before it all blows up in your face.

Either way, I have to be out of this apartment in just over a week. If I don’t get an RV in the next couple of days (I have a good feeling about one I am going to go see in the morning), I will be taking my stuff to my mom’s house in Tennessee, and then starting my RV search from there. I should be able to find something for a better price there, too.

But that’s Plan B. Plan A is still to hit the road in 8 days, in an RV that I currently do not have. Both seem pretty terrifying.

I don’t know if this stress and insanity is life kicking me in the teeth. I don’t know if cancer coming back, this time with a vengeance, is some sort of karmic retribution for something I did in a past life (or even God forbid, in this one). I don’t know why this is happening to me.

But I know I have to make it count for something.

My grandma was a strong, and slightly crazy, woman. She had left her home country of Scotland at barely 18 years old, escaping an abusive husband with a two-year old (my mother) and an infant. She raised 6 kids on a budget while working full-time and running a household. She doted on her grandchildren and became a Quaker late in life. If anyone knew the value of life, it was Grandma.

I hope that, for her sake, I can take this punch to the chin and remain standing.

Grandma was also an amazing cook. The last week before I went to the hospital, I was craving a big bowl of hot soup, so I adapted her barley beef stew for the Instant Pot. It was a great, hearty meal (actually many, many meals), and it in the IP, you can make it in the summer without heating up your kitchen too much.

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Grandma’s Barley Soup

(adapted for the Instant Pot)

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 6 oz. dried pearl barley (about half a bag)
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 2 stalks fresh celery, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2-3 tbsp. (minimum) diced garlic
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 liter water*
  • 2 tabs of beef bouillon or Bisto**

Put the Instant Pot on the sauté setting and add the onions, garlic, celery and carrot. Once the vegetables are slightly cooked (2-3 minutes) add the beef and brown thoroughly.

Turn the Instant Pot off, and add the spices, mushrooms, bouillon, barley and water. Mix thoroughly. Note: you do not need to pre-soak the barley; the Instant Pot will do all of the work.

Place the lid on the Instant Pot, and make sure the vent is closed. Set on High Pressure for 45 minutes. Release naturally.

*You may need to add extra water or broth at the end, Grandma always made a soup like a stew, and a stew practically like a casserole. It’s gonna be thick.

** Grandma was British so she loved Bisto, which is a popular brand that gives a particular flavor. It’s not as easy to find in the states, so any beef bouillon is perfectly fine for this recipe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day drinking and road tripping during a global pandemic

*Not at the same time.*

As people start to venture out of doors after sheltering in place, I have reluctantly tried to get some time at local restaurants and neighborhoods. For most of the pandemic, starting in early April, I was having back aches and spasms, so I stayed inside most of the time anyway. I was also a cancer survivor, so I was (and am) in a high-risk category for the Corona virus, so I didn’t take any chances while almost everything was shut down. It was all home cooking and deliveries for me.

Here in California, they opened up most businesses in May and June, just to have a huge wave of new Covid cases, and many things shut back down again. In San Diego, the restaurants are allowed to stay open, but with outdoor seating only (and other rules in place for social distancing, mask wearing, etc.).

Luckily, San Diego is a town with nice weather pretty much all of the time, so lots of places have a bit of outdoor seating already. Now the city is letting businesses build outdoor seating areas in their (already scarce) parking spots, and blocking off certain streets to vehicular traffic for several days to promote local businesses and allow them to expand into the street.

This week, since my mom informed me that she had never been day drinking before, we decided to venture to downtown San Diego and hit a couple of my favorite spots. Masks are not optional on public transportation, and we opted for gloves as well as extra sanitizing wipes.

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Aren’t we cute? In a way, it’s frustrating to have to decide between possibly getting sick and leaving your house. I was happy (sort of) to do it a few months ago, but summer weather makes it harder and harder to stay inside. I am glad San Diego found a solution most businesses can work with.

It was a beautiful day, even in a city where we have a lot of beautiful days.

And, it’s really quite ingenious the way businesses have adapted to the pandemic. This is Fifth Avenue, where several restaurants appear to have consolidated their outdoor space to accommodate some day drinking.

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So, yeah, about the day drinking. My mom has never really been a big drinker, especially with having kids pretty young and being a single mom with a lot on her plate, she basically didn’t have time to party. And while I am sure she had a drink during the day at least once, it wasn’t on the level of day drinking my girlfriends and I aspire to on a normal (non-cancer, non-pandemic) Sunday afternoon.

So we had to stop by Urban India, one of my favorite spots downtown. (You might remember them from a previous blog post when owner Surinder Singh taught me how to make Gobi Manchurian, one of my favorite spicy Indian/Chinese dishes.)

Urban India used to have the best lunch buffet in the Gaslamp District, but has taken a hit since the pandemic wiped out all buffets. They still have amazing food, even though they unfortunately had to switch from a successful buffet to a piecemeal situation with delivery apps, takeout orders, and a few patio diners. Their story is similar to millions of other restaurants nowadays.

We were only there for a while, so we ordered some samosas and some drinks. I got the boozy mango lassi.

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This is a perfect summer drink, especially when you are eating anything spicy. It’s made with yogurt, milk, fruit, and sweetener, and of course, a couple shots of vodka. You can theoretically use any type of fruit, but mango is the best, particularly for Indian food and spicy meals.

Boozy Mango Lassi

(serves 1-2)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup diced fresh mango or mango puree*
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1-2 tbsp. white sugar
  • 2 shots (or more) plain vodka
  • 2 cups ice
  • sprig of mint for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a blender for about a minute and pour into a glass of ice. Garnish with fresh mint and serve immediately.

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Day drinking, commence!

On to our next stop.  I don’t know if you guys feel like I do, but it just doesn’t feel … the same. No-touch menus. Masked servers. I like online ordering, but it seems to me that Murphy is enforcing his law extra-hard during the pandemic: anything that can go wrong is totally going wrong. We really wanted fancy hot dogs at the Dog Haus, but between their app failing, the Doordash connection not working, and the city for some reason removing the patio tables at the Dog Haus while allowing every other restaurant to expand their outdoor patio seating, we decided to scrap that plan.

We ended up at the Carnitas Snack Shack at Broadway and Harbor Drive, enjoying a local beer, a fancy burger and a slightly overcast sunset.

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By the way, that’s a triple threat sandwich: a pork schnitzel, pulled pork, delicious bacon, and fancy relish on top of a brioche bun. It’s amazing.

But it got me thinking: I am about to start a nationwide road trip. The last one I’ll ever take. Is the whole country going to be like this? Some businesses just closed, some drastically changed temporarily, some that will never be the same again? I guess there’s never a good time for a pandemic, but this seems unfair.

Come to think of it – there’s never a good time to get cancer, but dang, it really seems like this is a particularly bad time to have cancer.

I am going on this trip — like, no matter what — but I know that most of the cool things I want to do will be closed, cancelled, or cut short. It’s a shame to feel this way when thousands are dead … but this is harsh.

When I originally planned this trip as a kid, it played out much differently in my head. I planned to wait until I retire, buy a huge RV, fix it up, and go on a long, slow, mostly solo trip around the country.

Now it’s so different: it has to be now. Like, right now. I am a ticking time bomb and could get sicker at literally any moment. The RV has to be small and (hopefully) relatively fuel-efficient. I’ll need travel companions; both for general safety and also because I don’t know when or if I will get too sick to be on my own.

And since I will still need to come back to San Diego frequently for doctor’s appointments, scans, and picking up prescriptions – not to mention that all of my erstwhile travel companions probably can’t be on the road with me for more than a couple of weeks at a time – I will have to have multiple short trips (2-3 weeks max) instead of one huge, year-plus-long trip around the nation.

For the first short trip in late August, I plan to go to Montana. I am going to drive north to see some people in the Sacramento area and the Bay Area, and then I will go through Idaho and into Montana, then, if I have time, to the Dakotas and to see Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. I want to go to the cold northern states before winter hits, then when the weather is colder I can go south. I don’t have a specific itinerary – I just want to see everything – but I have a lot of people I want to visit.

Kicking the bucket is hard work.

Hopefully I will be buying my RV this week … I am still searching and I know that the perfect vehicle will present itself at the perfect time.

In the meantime, if you’d like to help me on my bucket list trip, you can donate to my GoFundMe here.

Boysenberry Baby Back Ribs and Planning for the trip of your life

I have just under 30 days before I vacate my apartment and hit the road in an RV — which I technically do not yet have.

I have given away most of my clothes, I have packed up half of my apartment, and I have organized an insane amount of schwag. I pick up some cool promotional things from just about every 5k, festival, fun run, concert and foodie event I attend, which leads to a truly astounding array of can koozies, cup coasters, hats, lighters, posters, ticket stubs, race medals, and other random accoutrements.

And don’t even get me started on my collection of cookbooks. This is maybe half of it.

I have, of course, had my mom here to help me. She was in my apartment before I was even discharged from the hospital (see previous post), and has been here since, helping me with cooking, cleaning, laundry, and all sorts of other things, while my broken back heals.

I have also had other family to come cheer me up and help out; my sister and her partner came from Texas, and my brother came from Ventura county with his wife. It has been wonderful to spend some time with them all, especially since I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around.

Aren’t we all adorable?

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To make a very long story very short, my brother and I, for reasons beyond our control as children, didn’t meet each other until we were adults. Since then we have developed a truly wonderful relationship, but it’s kind of a bummer that we weren’t given the chance to know each other for our whole lives.

Regardless, we are making up for lost time, in the best way ever: with BBQ.

Big brother writes a blog, too, check out his theme park blog at Park Journey. Because he goes on so many trips to theme parks, I get the benefit when he shows up with things like a big bottle of boysenberry concentrate from Knott’s Berry Farm.

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I made the most awesome Boysenberry Baby Back Ribs! (See the end of this post for the recipe.)

We also went out with another friend to check out some RV sales lots, so I can get an idea of what type of vehicle I want. I don’t have a truck (or even a car) so I don’t want something I have to haul, and I need something with a standard bed, i.e., not one I have to climb a ladder to get into, or unfold from a table or something. It’s too hard on my poor broken back!

Anyway, I think I narrowed it down to the type of Class C RV I need for this trip.

I will continue to update as I prepare to take off on this amazing trip of a lifetime. I do not yet have an itinerary; nor do I plan to have one. I have a lot of people I would like to see, and there are a lot of monuments and national parks and just beautiful areas of the country that I’ve never seen, and now that I am running out of time, I am very excited to see. I even splurged and bought myself the best travel gift ever: a brand new, spiral-bound, Adventure Edition road atlas!

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This baby even has a full section on all of the national parks! I probably won’t be driving to Alaska (although you never know), but other than that, I really want to see all of the national parks. This will be so fun!

And, yes. I am excited. I have something truly life-changing and amazing to look forward to. I know it might seem weird, in fact I got a few comments and messages about how happy I seem to be about a bucket list road trip. All I can say to that is, I learned a lot from when I had breast cancer before; and I learned a lot about control.

When you have cancer, it’s easy to feel like you have no control over your life … you’re told what to eat, what medicines to take, what horrible treatments to do to your body. You feel like your own body is betraying you; like no matter what you do, this cancer is the one in control, not you. And to a certain extent, that is true.

But.

But.

You always have control over your own reactions to things. Sure, you can be a jerk to the nurse treating you, and probably nobody would blame you, because you have cancer and you’re in pain or you’re sick. But being a jerk isn’t going to make you feel any better. It certainly won’t make your treatment any easier.

A positive attitude, sometimes, is all you have.

I’ve always been a happy person. Sure, I have problems like everyone else, but I am generally happy. I have (had) a great career, a house on the beach, a great boyfriend, a wonderful family, amazing friends .. I don’t have a lot to be angry at the world about. And I am sure not going to let cancer take anything else away from me.

Being sick; I can’t control that.

But I can control how I react to it.

I choose not to be afraid.

I choose not to be angry.

I choose to be happy despite the pain.

I choose to make every moment count.

I choose to live my life as I want to live it.

I choose to end it the way I want to end it.

I am going to ride out on the greatest bucket list trip ever. Hopefully I will see everything I want to see, live another five years, and write a great book about my adventures. Maybe I will have to cut my adventure short if I get too sick or am in too much pain. But I will ride as long as I can and see as much as I can for as long as I can.

It’s gonna be so rad!

 

Boysenberry Baby Back Ribs 

(Instant Pot Recipe)

Ingredients:

  • Two (2) baby back rib racks
  •  about 1/2 of 1 bottle of Knott’s Berry Farm Boysenberry Punch Concentrate, separated (you can purchase online here)
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 oz. tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • about 1/2 diced onion
  • 1-2 heads of crushed garlic
  • smoked salt* and fresh cracked pepper

To prepare:

  1. Place a rack in your Instant Pot inner pot. Add approx. 1/4 of the bottle of boysenberry concentrate and the water to the pot.
  2. Coat the ribs with salt and pepper, and arrange on the rack in the Instant Pot. Set on high pressure for between 15-25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat. (Don’t overcook, or the ribs will fall apart before you can eat them; more than 30 minutes will have all the meat falling off of the bone no matter how thick the ribs are.)
  3. While the ribs are in the Instant Pot, sauté the diced onion and garlic with the olive oil in a small pot on the stove. Once the onion is translucent, add the tomato paste and the brown sugar, as well as smoked salt and pepper.
  4. Whisk in about another 1/4 of the bottle of boysenberry concentrate VERY SLOWLY as the sauce simmers. Do not let the sauce get scorched.
  5. Allow the Instant Pot to depressurize naturally, which should take about 15 minutes, at the same time that you allow the sauce to gently simmer.
  6. Once the Instant Pot has depressurized, remove the ribs, coat them in the sauce, and place in your air fryer or under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes until the sauce gets caramelized. Serve and eat immediately.

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*Note: I do not believe in using Liquid Smoke, and smoked salt is an excellent substitute for actual smoked meats, etc. If you must (gulp) use Liquid Smoke, go easy on it.

 

 

 

Starbright’s Adventure

(Sorry, this is a long post. Bear with me.)

This is it.

It’s really happening.

A few weeks ago, I had every cancer survivor’s worst nightmare. I had been suffering from back spasms and backaches that would not go away after weeks and weeks. The pain kept getting worse. After two days of agonizing spasms, constant pain and being barely able to move, I finally asked a friend to take me to the ER.

A hospital under Covid-19 precautions is a crazy thing. They allow no visitors or outsiders of any kind. I arrived wearing a mask (this was just after Memorial Day 2020 when masks were required in most places) and they gave me a new one to wear. They asked a series of Coronavirus-related questions before getting to the reason why I was there.

I explained that my back had been hurting for weeks and the aches wouldn’t go away. I said that I was a breast cancer survivor, and sarcastically added that as a survivor, of course every time I get a stomach ache, I think it’s a tumor.

You gotta appreciate my follow-through. Even in pain, I am still making bad jokes.

They first did an EKG test; I also had chest pains, probably as a result of the spasms in my back, but they determined I wasn’t having a heart attack. They wheeled me into a slot in the emergency room. I was still having involuntary back spasms every few minutes. The doctors and nurses, who were amazing, explained that they would get me in to a CT scan as soon as they took my blood and did other various tests. They gave me a mild pain medication for my back, which was great since my attention was on my arms … since I had lymph nodes removed when I had breast cancer, I can’t have any blood draws, IVs, or pretty much anything, on my right arm.

That leaves my left, which after months of chemotherapy five years ago, is pretty shot. They literally stick me 3-4 times before finding a “good” vein (one that won’t collapse) – one of those tiny ones in my hand -to get an IV set up.

 

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A few minutes later, another technician comes in, and explains that the CT scan needs to include injections of contrast dye, so they will need a better vein, one higher up on my arm. The technician is packing an ultrasound machine, which she says she will use to locate a good vein in my arm, then she will use an extra-teeny needle, all to give me an IV with minimal discomfort.

 

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I get wheeled into a CT scan. As soon as they (very painfully) move me on to a slab for the machine, they realize that the extra-teeny needle is TOO teeny for the contrast dye, so they are sending me back to the ER for another IV.

Only I am running out of real estate on my arm, what with two IVs, several sticks for blood draws, and space needed to take blood pressure, etc. The doctor comes into my barely-concealed area of the ER to check out my arm and see where else they can put an IV. I jokingly (again, with the jokes) suggest that he find a good vein in my toes, like I saw on TV once.

The doctor chuckles. Then he has an idea! “Hey, we can put one in your neck! I do that all the time!”

“Paaaahahahah, yeah, that would be HILARIOUS!” I exclaimed. Damn, this doctor really knows how to take sarcasm and run with it.

But no. The man was serious.

“Just lie back and relax,” he said to me, as I am lying on my back, which is literally spasming violently and uncontrollably.

By some miracle, he manages to get the IV into me – yes, sticking out of my damn neck – and I get into (again, painfully) the CT scan machine.

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Once I am finished, they blessedly give me more pain medication. I call my mom and text my sister and my boyfriend to let them know I’m OK. My mom is already crying and I don’t even know what is wrong yet.

I am trying to calm her down, telling her it is probably a pulled muscle or something minor; they just did a scan but as soon as they come back with the results they will probably give me some medicine and send me home.

I hang up when a doctor walks into my curtained-off area with a social worker and another nurse. They have the results.

The doctor tells me that my cancer has come back.

They can’t tell yet if it’s my old breast cancer that has spread to my bones, or if it’s a whole new type of cancer. Regardless, my back is riddled with tumors, and one of them broke a vertebrae, which is why I was in so much pain. They admit me to the hospital and call my oncologist.

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I call my family back to let them know. I text my boyfriend to take care of my cat. I haven’t really comprehended what all of this really meant for me, because I was still in so much pain, and then I was so heavily medicated.

For the next four days, I went back and forth between extreme pain and extreme medication.

I wasn’t allowed to have visitors, not even family. Not even my boyfriend who is a registered nurse. My family was going nuts not being able to see me. The (masked) nurses and technicians were my only human companionship. I was able to do some FaceTime calls and Zoom meetings, but I was so woozy from drugs and tired and in pain … it just wasn’t the same. In between vital sign checks and doctor pop-ins, I was very, very alone.

Well … I was allowed to have flowers. For a few days.

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And the food wasn’t even that ridiculously terrible.

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FYI, this is what happens when you ask for “just some fruit.”

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Anyway, I had multiple MRIs and biopsies. I had a procedure where they injected bone cement into my shattered vertebrae to repair it. I had a port installed in my chest because it was so painful and difficult to get IVs and blood draws in my arm. I had lots and lots of painkillers, both oral and via the IV in my neck. I had shots of medicine to make my bones stronger, and chemotherapy shots to stop the tumor growth.

The tumors are too small and too populous to attack via surgery — my doctor said it looks like someone tossed salt over the floor. Tiny specks everywhere.

Finally, after 8 days, I was discharged. When I went into the ER, I thought they might keep me overnight or something, so luckily I had the foresight to bring a few things from home and pour out extra food for my cat. But I never thought I’d be away from home for so long.

When I finally made it home, my mother had arrived from Tennessee and cleaned up my house (of course). My mother also makes these cheesy scrambled eggs that have magical restorative properties, so that was my first breakfast back at home.

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Once I was able to see my family, pet my cat, sleep in my own bed and eat some good food, I felt a million times better. My kitty was very happy to have me back at home. She wouldn’t leave my side for days.

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Over the next few days, I was able to spend some good quality time with friends and family, and my health has improved exponentially. My chest has healed over my installed port.

As I sit here typing this, I have been back at home for a little over a month. My broken vertebrae has healed and my bones feel stronger. I am still moving around slowly, and I won’t be breakdancing any time soon, but I can get around my house without my walker, and walk pretty far with my walker to support me.

After the cement procedure, my back began to heal, and I have recently been able to switch to milder, non-narcotic painkillers only.

I should also mention that while my back was hurting so much, I wasn’t able to wash my long hair as much as I normally would. I didn’t wash it at all in the hospital – they gave me some dry shampoo that made my hair into one giant dreadlock, and it was pretty icky. I got my boyfriend to buzz it all off when I got home, and it was the best decision I have made all year.

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The “after” photo:

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My doctors have told me that my life expectancy is about 2-3 years maximum, but that is also assuming the cancer hasn’t spread any further. If it’s in my bones, chances are it has spread to other organs. No scans have shown any further spread, but if there is a tumor hiding out in my brain or my pancreas, my life expectancy will shoot down to like six months.

So what is left to do? Fight cancer, of course.

But I only have a small amount of time left on this earth. I better make it count.

Since I was a little girl, I have wanted to go on a nationwide road trip. I had originally planned to work 20 more years or so, retire, buy an RV, and travel the country. Now, I have to step my game up. I need to do it now.

Basically, I feel like a ticking time bomb.

I have been approved for permanent disability. I’ll never work again.

My brother will be adopting my beloved kitty.

I’m moving out of my apartment. I’m selling all of my stuff.

I won’t see the age of 45.

Starbright’s Kitchen will now be Starbrights’s Adventure. My blog is reborn.

I am working now on acquiring an RV. I have set up a GoFundMe campaign and started my plans in motion. I don’t know exactly where I will be and when.

All I know is that I HAVE to go.

I will update this space periodically with my preparations for the Great American Bucket List Road Trip. After I hit the road, I will be posting pictures, videos, live posts, tweets, Instagram stories and posts, detailing every step of my adventure.

I hope you’ll join me.

How can you join?

  • Check out my (very often updated) photos and videos from my trip. I will upload them to Google Photos, here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/28AoTVEYwq2xcNBT8
  • Donate to my GoFundMe campaign, here: gf.me/u/ycg4kt
  • Follow this blog
  • Follow me on Instagram (hillarystarbright)
  • Follow me on Twitter (starbright619)
  • Follow me on Facebook (starbrightskitchen – they will change it soon to starbrightsadventure and I will update it)

 

Chillin at Jimmy Carter’s

I think I have found my new favorite Mexican food spot, you guys. They’re authentic, they’re classy, and they’ve got lots and lots of soups. What more could you want?

This past week, I finally got to check out Jimmy Carter’s Mexican Café in the Hillcrest/Balboa Park neighborhood. It’s been there for decades, but I am behind; I know. I had no idea what a great place I was missing. The service isn’t just great; the servers treat you like you’re a guest in their home … because you practically are. Most of Jimmy’s employees have been working for him for decades. It is quite apparent that everyone there loves their jobs, and loves Jimmy himself.

The food is ALL homemade. It is ALL authentic. It is ALL Jimmy Carter approved. But for me, the best part is the soup list.

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Albondigas (meatball soup)

There are four soups that are on the permanent, daily menu – Creamy Black Bean, Chicken Tortilla, Albondigas, and Chicken Pozole.

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Green chicken pozole

There is menudo every weekend.

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But that’s not all! Every day, the chef picks 2-3 more soups to have on special that day (Check out Jimmy Carter’s Instagram page for daily special announcements). There are over two dozen rotating soups, from calabaza y elotes and caldo de res, to Mexican clam chowder and spicy pork guerrero.

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Chicken tortilla soup

Their soup list is INSANE. I managed to escape with their internal soup list, which details the ingredients and garnishes for each one.

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I mean, right?! And this is just the soup list.

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I’ll take one of each!

You could eat here every day for a month and never have the same meal twice. I love it!

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In addition to the albondigas and green chicken pozole, I also checked out some delicious wet tacos (above) and some mini quesadillas (below) stuffed with chicken and carnitas.

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I also would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about their sauces.

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Every item on the menu can be topped with one of their handmade and super-authentic spicy sauces.

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I got to try them all, and I think the Tlaquepaque is my favorite. I see why it’s the most popular … it’s creamy and spicy and good on literally everything.

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There is literally nothing I would not like to eat with this sauce, but Jimmy himself recommends the cheese enchiladas with this gorgeous stuff on top.

Don’t forget the drinks and dessert! In addition to a super-huge menu of authentic Mexican cuisine, Jimmy Carter’s offers a fun assortment of cocktails and other drinks. As you know, I recently discovered the beauty of the tequila mule for myself, so I sampled JCMC’s mezcal mule.

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Outstanding!

And, although I was definitely slowing down by this point (those soups were so good I was licking the bowl), I had to sneak in a few tastes of the coconut flan.

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All in all, I am so glad I finally visited. I will definitely be back to try more of those amazing soups and sauces.

Instant Pot Mexican Food Night

If you have an Instant Pot, you probably already know about all of the amazing things it can do, and all of the ways it makes cooking for your family a little bit easier. My boyfriend had a special request for dinner last week, so I used my IP to make it happen.

First, being that we both live in San Diego, we eat tons of Mexican food. There is a taco shop on nearly every block in this town. But, since my beloved is allergic to most kinds of beans, it totally cramps our taco shop style. So I decided to make him some refried beans with navy beans – the only type that won’t make him sick. This recipe can be adapted for whatever type of beans you prefer or are not allergic to. 🙂

Refried Beans

  • 4 cans beans (I used navy beans but you can use any type)
  • one onion, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2-3 tbsp. of (concentrated) tomato paste
  • 3 cups of GOOD vegetable stock*
  • salt and pepper
  • garlic powder
  • paprika
  • oregano
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • one jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)

Directions:

Put your IP on the sauté function and add the chopped onion, garlic, jalapeno (if applicable) and olive oil. Cook for 4-6 minutes or until the onions are somewhat translucent. Turn off heat.

Open the cans of beans, drain and rinse them, and add to the pot. Add the tomato paste and spices, and mix well. Slowly add the vegetable stock* and put the lid on with the valve closed.

Set on high pressure, and cook for 1-3 hours (the longer you cook it, the more the flavors will marry and get stronger, but cook it for at least one hour). Use natural release.

* About that vegetable stock… homemade is definitely best. Since you already have an Instant Pot (I assume, or you wouldn’t be reading this), I recommend doing this part first. Take all of the vegetable scraps that you have left over from a week of cooking … the ends of herbs and celery, the tops and peels of onions, the seeds from inside gourds, carrot tops and zucchini tips. Save them in a big baggie or mason jar. At the end of the week, empty that bag or jar into the IP, cover it with water, then add ANOTHER 2 cups of water, and cook on high pressure for at least 3-4 hours. If you open the lid and the stock doesn’t seem dank enough (you want it good and dark!), go for another 2 hours. Strain out the leftover vegetable scraps, and there you have some amazing vegetable stock. If you cannot do this, storebought is also OK. But honestly, the stock is where these beans get their flavor.

Of course, one cannot survive off of beans alone, so I also made some delicious chicken tinga … based on one of my favorite Del Real Foods recipes. I based it off of the recipe from A Pinch of Yum, but adapted it to a quick cook in the Instant Pot. This cooks up really fast, even using chicken that isn’t pre-cooked.

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Chicken Tinga

  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  •  1 head of garlic, chopped
  • 1 10-oz can of crushed tomatoes
  •  3-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  •  salt and pepper
  •  1 tbsp. cumin
  •  1 tbsp. dried Mexican oregano
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  •  1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see above for tips on how to make the best vegetable stock)

Put Instant Pot on sauté setting and add onions, garlic, and chipotle peppers. Once the onions are slightly translucent, add the chicken, stock, and spices. Make sure the chicken is covered. Switch to high pressure and cook for 35 minutes, with natural release. Shred chicken and serve immediately.

We made the chicken into a bunch of different dishes … enchiladas, tacos, burritos, even nachos.

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Don’t forget the cocktails … a couple of weeks ago I went to Fred’s Mexican Café in Old Town, and had my first tequila mule (they call it a Donkey Punch). It changed my life.

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So, for our homemade Mexican food night, I subbed my usual whiskey mule for a big tequila mule.

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Pour a generous shot of tequila over ice and add ginger beer or ginger-lime Boochcraft high alcohol kombucha, then add a shot of bitters and a squeeze of lime.

Salud!

 

 

 

Saturday at H Mart

This weekend I finally got to check out the newly-opened H Mart on Balboa Avenue (the one on Mira Mesa is still there, but this second one just opened in early June).

The second H Mart is considerably larger than the older store, and boasts a huge food hall with tons of amazing food.

After perusing the baked goods (that are waiting for you as soon as you walk in the entrance), it occurred to me: one must never go grocery shopping while hungry.

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Luckily, there were plenty of options.

First, I tried some kimchi fried rice from Bann Korean Cuisine. The kimchi was delicious but the dish itself was a little TOO packed with green onions for my taste.

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The busiest part of the food hall, by far, was the Myungrang Hot Dog stand, which features delicious sticked hot dogs coated in a tasty rice batter (and in some cases, squid ink, cheeses, or potato), then you have the option to have them rolled in sugar or coated in any one of a variety of yummy sauces.

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And, of course, you can’t go wrong with the hot dog coated in cheese.

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It was quite interesting … I expected them to be crunchy but I wasn’t prepared for the chewiness of the dough. Also the sugar topping was a great addition, despite how it sounds – the sweetness of the sugar balances perfectly with the saltiness of the hot dog.

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After a quick perusal of the grocery part of the store, and picking up a few essentials – sesame oil, Korean pancake mix, Korean BBQ sauce for grilling later (see below) and some ginger candies – I headed across the street to Cross Street Chicken and Beer for some after-shopping sustenance.

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There was a short wait … but it was worth it.

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I tried the soy garlic wings and the spicy corn poppers, plus a nice flight of IPA beers. I usually drink IPAs, but the beers here were specifically selected to complement the chicken and other dishes.

This place is a gem.

I kept the party going when I got home …I smoked some chicken legs and pork belly using that Korean BBQ sauce …

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… and I used smoked meats, that oniony kimchi fried rice, plus homemade sticky rice and savory Korean pancakes, as my meal prep for the week.

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AYCE Sushi FTW

This week I was a guest of the fine people at Onami, an all-you-can-eat Japanese seafood and sushi in the Mission Valley mall. I’ve seen this place a hundred times as I walk past on my way to the movie theater, but this was my first time eating there. And what an amazing meal it was!

Right when you walk in, you’re greeted with friendly service and a huge buffet table covered with salad fixings and every type of sushi roll you can imagine.

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I don’t know about you, but one of my least favorite things about sushi dinners are trying to decide what to order. Every selection means you get 6-10 pieces of whatever roll you choose. But AYCE sushi is the best because you can just grab a bite of whatever you feel like, and you don’t have to commit yourself to an entire roll.

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My favorite was the tuna tempura roll. Super spicy and stuffed with two kinds of tuna!

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Onami also has an amazing selection of hot food, like miso soup, tempura, stuffed mushrooms, teriyaki chicken, sautéed vegetables, and a delicious spicy tofu with eggplant.

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The seafood was also impeccable … try some crawfish, some crab legs, or some icy oysters on the half-shell!

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And don’t forget dessert!

Onami has a full fruit and dessert bar, with traditional Japanese flavors as well as good old American chocolate cake.

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All of this amazing food is also surprisingly reasonably priced … I don’t think I’ve ever spent less than $20-25 for a sushi dinner, and they definitely weren’t customized and all-you-can-eat. This can all be yours for $15.99 for lunch, $22.99 for weekend lunch, and $26.99 for dinner.

Onami is located at 1640 Camino del Rio North, in the Westfield Mission Valley mall.

I am told that Onami will soon be adding a “Lobster Day” special all weekend long. Be sure to check back with Starbright’s Kitchen for updates.