Saturday, July 31, 2010

Some history on Old Mission Peninsula

This is a terrible map that I lifted from Wikipedia, but let's pretend it's a good map for a second. See the bay up where the "pinky" of Michigan is? That's Grand Traverse Bay. It's separated by that little red line, the Old Mission Peninsula, into the East and West bays. Traverse City is on the west bay, right next to the Old Mission Peninsula, and the other peninsula between Lake Michigan and the West Bay is the Leelenau Peninsula. Old Mission Peninsula is where the wineries we visited are located. Got it?

On Saturday we drove all the way up Old Mission Peninsula to visit the Old Mission Point Lighthouse and found a bunch of very interesting historical sites while we were there. The residents of Old Mission are really proud of their history and very keen to preserve it.

The lighthouse was built in 1870 and decommissioned in 1933. Did you know that Michigan has the second longest coastline in the US? Alaska has the longest.

Michigan has the most lighthouses of any state! Some are still used but are now automated, some have been reopened as museums, and some have been abandoned. Many of the abandoned lighthouses have dedicated groups trying to raise money to renovate them. If you're familiar with the Gordon Lightfoot song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," you know why lighthouses were so vital on the Great Lakes. It was an extremely important shipping route with lots of dangerous shallow shoals, bad storms, and little islands. Lighthouses played a vital role in keeping the sailors (and cargo, of course) safe.

This was taken from a mud flat close to the coast. See how shallow the water is here?

In the same park as the lighthouse is the Hessler Log House, a log cabin that was built between 1854 and 1856 by Joseph and Mary Hessler, some of the first white settlers on Old Mission. They have a really nice audio piece that explains about the cabin and the household items that have been put in it. It's like a mini-museum of the lives of early settlers in this part of the country.

This one was taken behind glass so it isn't very clear but you can see the sort of household implements they would have used. The stove was used mostly for heating. Settlers usually put the kitchen in a separate building or in a separate room so that the house wouldn't get too hot in the summer.

Next we went to the Dougherty House. Reverend Peter Dougherty arrived on Old Mission in 1839 to provide education and religion to the local Odawa and Ojibwa (also known as the Ottawa and Chippewa), who had signed a deal with the government to give up their land to be settled by whites. The house was built in 1842 with help from the local tribes.

The house has been continually used, either as an inn, private residence, or storage, since it was built. The Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society is currently renovating the house and preparing to open it as a museum. We were there on a Saturday so there wasn't any work going on, but I did get to snoop around the property and take pictures.

The back of the house showing the summer kitchen and the storage shed. You can see the ongoing renovation work. There are still a lot of old barns in the area so they often use period wood from those old barns in restoration work.

The outhouse. They made a big deal out of the fact that it's a three seater - two adults and one kiddie seat. One of the few three seaters in Grand Traverse County!

Next stop was the replica of the church and school that Dougherty and the Native Americans built together for his mission work. Eventually the mission was moved to the Leelenau Peninsula on the other side of the bay and the church was moved there too, log by log. If I remember correctly that church still stands and is still used.

Next to the replica of the church is the Old Mission General Store, which has been in this building since 1839! It's very cute on the inside, kind of dark, very old-timey and rather cluttered with things like old lanterns, coon skins, candies, and their homemade cherry salsa and preserves.

We also stopped briefly at Haserot Beach, a small, very picturesque beach located pretty far up the peninsula. You have to know about it to end up there.

There was also a cute playground for the little kids there.

Friday, July 30, 2010

It's been a busy, tiring week. Chemo, ECP, PET and CT scans and a bone marrow biopsy. Yikes! Obviously that hasn't left me a lot of time to post.

But I did want to share that all my scans were clean! I was so worried but it all turned out well. What a relief! Now I get to relax for a few months until the next set of scans....

Monday, July 26, 2010

Moomers and Tall Ships

Moomers is the legendary local ice cream place in Traverse City. They were voted best ice cream shop by Good Morning America Weekend for their signature flavor, featuring - what else? - cherries!

Moomers is actually a few miles out of Traverse City and their adorable shop is right next to the fields where their dairy cows live.

Unfortunately Moomers only has this one little store, but you can buy their ice cream at other shops in the Traverse City area. Otherwise you can order it online and have it shipped to you. We can't figure out why they don't expand and sell their ice cream more widely because it is delicious! Super creamy, not artificially sugary at all, and the flavors are super creative.

The Traverse Tall Ship Company has several different themed cruises around the West Grand Traverse Bay in their tall ship Manitou, which is a replication of an 1800s schooner, complete with masts and sails and everything. They even offer a Moomers cruise where you can sample five different flavors and have a relaxing sail around the bay. This was hands down our favorite part of the trip! The sail/cruise/whatever you want to call it was so relaxing and enjoyable, the weather couldn't have been more perfect, the scenery was gorgeous, and we got to spy on the enormous multi-million dollar homes on Old Mission Peninsula.

On the Manitou

Nice views, huh?

One of the five samples. This one is chocolate peanut butter chunk. We also sampled blue moon (like a blue raspberry flavor), cookies and cream, black cherry, and a special flavor they make for the cruise called Manitou. It's coconut, chocolate chips, almond, and marshmellow swirl.

The pirate in the Tall Ship offices. Arrrrggg!!!

Wouldn't you like to live in one of these?

Cherry Capital

Traverse City calls itself the "Cherry Capital." Even the airport (a few short runways for tiny planes and private jets) is called the Cherry Capital Airport. The northwest corner of Michigan is the headquarters of cherry production in the state, and more specifically tart cherries. We produce 75% of the nation's tart cherry crop and also a significant part of the sweet cherry crop. Basically, cherries are a big deal here and we passed countless cherry orchards on our way up Old Mission Peninsula.

Traverse City even has the National Cherry Festival every summer to celebrate all things cherry. We were there for the cherry festival three years ago. It's a very cute summer festival with golf tournaments, activities for kids, an air show, cherry pie eating contests, cherry pit spitting contests, and of course a parade featuring the Cherry Queen!

You can buy just about anything with cherries on it up here. Literally anything.

This is from The Cherry Stop, where you can buy clothing and household items with cherries on them, cherry lotions and bath products, and of course a variety of cherry food things. They also have a cherry wine tasting room.

Cherry Republic is a company that produces an enormous variety of cherry food things. Cherry jams and jellies mixed with every other fruit you can think of, cherry barbecue sauces, cherry salsas, cherry peanut butter, dried cherries with or without chocolate... lots of stuff.

If you're coming to Traverse City, come hungry!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

So far...

... we've done a couple of wine tastings. Yes, there are vineyards in Michigan! Traverse City is almost exactly at the 45th parallel, which apparently is where some of the world's best wine regions (like Bordeaux) are located. Unfortunately Michigan can't boast any wines like that, but we have some that are pretty good! I do not, however, recommend any of our red wines, and not just because I prefer white, but because they are not good. Don't waste your money. The best wines from the area are reislings or specialty cherry flavored wines and liquors.

We drove up Old Mission Point Peninsula and stopped at two different vineyards. There are probably a dozen different ones in the area, but the two we stopped at are supposed to be the best. We started at Chateau Grand Traverse and were not at all impressed with their offerings. We tried wines that had won all different awards but honestly, most of them weren't that good! We ended up buying a cherry riesling and a regular riesling.

We also stopped at Chateau Chantal, which is on a hill in the middle of the peninsula with fantastic views on both sides to the East and West Grand Traverse Bays.

Antique wine pressing equipment

We were much more impressed by the offerings at Chantal and bought a riesling, a pinot blanc, a sparkling cherry wine, and a cherry port. I'm glad that we supported Michigan businesses and that we have all these good wines to drink!

Michigan is the number one producer of tart cherries in the US, and the cherries are mostly grown in the Traverse City area, which prides itself on being the "cherry capital." That's why all of these cherry wines and other cherry products are such a big draw. More on that in another post. We ended our trip by stopping at a roadside cherry stand and buying these amazing cherries, some of the best I've ever had. Fresh and local really is better! The owner told us it's the oldest fruit stand on the peninsula.

The bright red cherries are tart cherries and you use them to make pies

Sweet cherries and golden cherries. I'd never had golden cherries before. They're a little bit tart, very delicious!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

On the road again!

This time to Traverse City, Michigan! For a whole week!

I took this picture from the top of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse waaayyyy up at the tip of the "pinky" when we were there three years ago.

Yes, Michigan is shaped like a mitten (the lower peninsula is, at least). Look it up on a map if you don't believe me! Michiganders are famous for using our hands to show you where we're from and where different cities in our fine state are located.

And I realized tonight that this will be the first week since the end of September that I don't have anything to scheduled at the hospital! (knock on wood) Of course if I were in town I would have had scans and appointments and things, but I am going away on vacation, so we put all of those off until next week. Another river crossed!

Hope you all have a good week, and we'll see if I'm motivated enough to post photos while I'm up there.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Happy birthday to me!

A bit of shameless self promotion, but it is kind of a big deal that I'm able to celebrate another birthday today! I'm very happy to make it to 26!

And of course, what kind of celebration would it be without a little ICE CREAM?

Hope all of you have wonderful days today!

Monday, July 12, 2010


July hasn't been the best month for me over the past six years. Here's a quick summary of why, with the rest of my cancer timeline:

July 6 2004 - diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

July 7 - admitted to the hospital. Port placed.

July 8 - first day of weeklong 7+3 induction chemo

July 15 - last day of chemo. 20th birthday. Party in the hospital, complete with balloons.

Rest of July - inpatient. One central line infection, antibiotics, collapsed veins, fun times. Remission.

September through January - weeklong inpatient chemo sessions each month, followed by two clinic visits plus blood and platelet transfusions a week

January 2005 through early July - back to school for second semester junior year

July 15th 2005 - 21st birthday. Had the appropriate amount of 21st birthday fun :D

July 18th 2005 - prompted by no concrete symptoms but just a general feeling of something being wrong I schedule a clinic visit. Decide to stick around for my blood draw results despite the fact that everyone told me I was fine. Platelets came back abnormally low. Had a bone marrow biopsy. I know I've relapsed (platelets don't drop that low for no reason) but I don't get the official results until...

July 22nd - results come back showing an early relapse.

I enter the hospital for another month in August to get salvage chemo. Have to get a transplant this time. Brother and sister don't match. In October I recieve the good news that they've found a match for me. Another relapse, but early enough that we decide to proceed with transplant. Move to Boston with my mom for transplant.

November 4th - transplant day, second birthday. Goes very well even though it was very hard. Return home to Michigan in March.

July 2006 - Live in dread the whole month that something terrible is going to happen. Paranoid searching of entire body every day for bruises, petechiae, anything. Miraculously nothing happens and I make it through the month.

Go back to finish up school in January 2007, graduate in May a year behind schedule. Thanks AP test scores, you gave me a semester's worth of credit and enabled graduation only a year late. Best $300 I ever spent!

July 2007 - my transplant buddy Tali passes away from severe GHVD. I'm fat and crazy from steroids.

September 2007 through July 2009 - move to France to teach English

And then you know the rest of the story - relapse in October, transplant in December, recovery since then, blah blah blah.

Nothing really terrible happened in July of 2008 or 2009, but I feel like I got away with something.

I have dreaded the arrival of July since my first relapse. It's a little more than just an unlucky coincidence to get cancer in the same month two times, and only a year apart! Plus my friend Tali passing away during July. That's three years out of four where really bad stuff happened during the month of July. So every year when July rolls around, I get pretty nervous. I worry about relapsing, I worry about my friends relapsing, I worry about anything else bad that might happen. I don't even want to celebrate my birthday because I'm afraid of attracting the evil eye. Don't get me wrong, I'm always very, very happy to pass another birthday, but Jews are a very superstitious people, so I was raised believing in the evil eye and the ability to attract bad luck to yourself, and it seemed better to quietly mark the day with myself rather than making a big deal of it. You know, let it pass under the radar.

July just makes me nervous.

This year my attitude is a little bit different. I feel like I should celebrate my birthday. I'm turning 26! That's amazing. Who knows how many birthdays I will have left to celebrate, first of all, and second of all, I've been beating off this very aggressive leukemia all year, I think it's a good time to celebrate life and living. I would like to do something nice for my birthday, but again, nothing too elaborate, just something enjoyable. I'm not totally sure what I'll do yet. My mom always makes a special birthday dinner and cake, and maybe we'll go to the zoo together during the day. I like the zoo.

But I still have this sinking feeling because it's July, and because I have PET and CT scans and a bone marrow biopsy coming up at the end of the month. I wish I had thought earlier to ask my doctor if I could schedule them a week later. I would be nervous about my upcoming tests no matter what, but because it's the dreaded month of July I'm more nervous than I would be otherwise. I have no reason to think there is anything wrong. My blood work looks good, I'm feeling good, I don't have any symptoms..... but I didn't before, either. The first time I relapsed everyone thought I was being paranoid, and when I relapsed in October everyone was shocked.

So, I don't know, when I think about the scans I get upset, when I think about celebrating my birthday the little voice in my head says "are you sure that's a good idea?" but when I think about not doing anything I feel like that's wrong because I should celebrate getting older. Man am I going to be happy to get gray hair and wrinkles!

I try to not think about any of this as much as possible. Nothing like avoidance and denial to improve your mental state! The scans are going to happen no matter what, so there's no point in worrying about them until I'm getting the results from my doctor the next day. Easier said than done!

Now to find a way to turn off my brain because once I start thinking about being nervous I can't stop thinking about it!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fashion diapers and stories from the baldies

I absolutely love this commercial. I laugh every time I see it!

On TV they say "full of fashion" instead of "full of shit." I think full of fashion is much funnier, but the TV-safe version isn't on youtube.

I'm starting to get a little worried because my hair is taking a really long time to grow back. They say it takes 2-3 months to fully regrow after chemotherapy and that has been my experience in the past, but this time around it's been seven months since my transplant and I'm still waiting for full regrowth! About a third to half of my hair has regrown, so I have hair all over my head, it's just really thin and doesn't fully cover up my scalp. It's actually getting relatively long now, long enough that if I had full regrowth I would no longer be wearing scarves to cover my head. I'm getting nervous that the rest is never going to come back! I have heard from other patients that one of the chemo drugs I got before my transplant makes your hair take a really long time to come back, and I am getting chemo now (although normally the drugs I'm getting shouldn't affect hair growth), but it is also possible to have gvhd that prevents your hair from growing. Obviously that wouldn't be the worst tragedy of my life, things could be a lot worse, but I really just want my hair back already! I have enough other crap to deal with, it would be nice to not have to worry about hair gvhd and being half bald for the rest of my life!

So, when I went to the doctor on Tuesday I brought the hair problem up. My nurse practitioner took a look at my head and said it would probably be worth trying some drug called minoxidil, which is available as a topical liquid that you apply to your head. I'm thinking okay, minoxidil, this sounds like a good thing, hopefully this will help stimulate those little follicles to start working again. The nurse writes me a prescription for the minoxidil and I go to the pharmacy to pick it up. Turns out minoxidil is Rogaine!!! So now I'm using Rogaine, hopefully it will work and within another few months I'll have a full coverage.

I reached my peace a long time ago with the fact that I have to lose my hair to save my life. It's honestly not such a big sacrifice to make in the grand scheme of things. It doesn't bother me that much to be bald, and a lot of that is due to my dad always being totally fine with his baldness and making it a joke. The regrowing phase is annoying because you end up with so many terrible, terrible hair lengths and weird frizzy Jewfros. The change in appearance is hard to deal with because not only are you trying to process everything medical that cancer involves, you have to look in the mirror every day and see a stranger staring back at you. It's dehumanizing and can make you lose your sense of self on top of everything else you have to deal with. But like I said, keeping the big picture in mind, it's worth it, it's not a big deal, it happens and you get over it. It saves time getting ready in the morning, I save money on hair products. If I'm ever on the run from the police I can hide out in the melons at the grocery store.

I really don't like to wallow in self pity or be all "woe is me" even though my situation is admittedly very shitty, but it would be nice to catch a break with the hair situation. Although again, if it's a trade off between life and hair, life wins every time. How fun to have to make that choice and qualify everything that happens as living vs terrible side effect. I should be getting a fun summer hair cut, but no, instead because it's been so hot out I am debating going without a scarf and feeling like even more of a freak than I already do.

But Rogaine is funny! I can get mileage out of that joke for at least a couple of months.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Six Years

Six years ago today I walked into an exam room and a doctor told me that I had leukemia. I was admitted to the hospital the next day for the first of many month-long hospital stays, and the day after I started chemotherapy. A week later I finished my first ever round of chemo and celebrated my 20th birthday.

A lot has happened health-wise in six years. I relapsed a few times, had a couple of transplants, got all kinds of crazy treatments, racked up several more stays in the hospital, had lots of blood and platelet transfusions, spent countless hours with various healthcare providers. But the most important thing that has happened in the past six years is that I LIVED. Despite leukemia's ongoing efforts to get rid of me, I am still here.

Up yours, jackass.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mackinac Island Part Two: The Grand Hotel

The longest porch in the world! I think it is 600 feet long.

Another shot of the porch, this time with a little sun shining on it. I had to cleverly use the branches to shade the camera from getting too much sun. Most of the time we were on the island the weather was cloudy and/or rainy, but on Saturday afternoon we had a lovely few hours!

View looking off the porch towards downtown (which you can't see because the Grand is on a big hill and surrounded by a lovely garden).

As part of our Arts Weekend package we had a lovely reception every evening before dinner. They offered lots of different types of alcohol, including champagne, fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, crackers, shrimp, chicken skewers, and these absolutely scrumptious little spinach, sundried tomato, and feta mini quiches. They were so good I was forced to have about five!

The view looking down the porch. We were serenaded by classical jazz during our reception hour, and always served by an impeccably dressed wait staff. As my dad says, it is all very civilized - you are served a full five course meal by uniformed waiters, there's a special wine staff, the food was delicious and elegant. I especially loved the fact that there were always activities in the hotel, which made it feel like an old time vacation resort for the very wealthy. There is afternoon tea, and after dinner you can have an espresso, there's dancing with live jazz music, and of course more cocktails. The jazz band plays during dinner too. There are shops in the hotel where you can buy all kinds of knicknacks, and lots of public areas where families liked to play card and board games or just relax. Did I mention that after 6 PM you have to be dressed in your finest? Oooh la la!

The dining room at break fast on our last day. Aren't the mirrors wonderful?

Looking out the window from the dining room onto the porch.

Shots of the parlor, where afternoon tea, espresso, and the evening cocktail take place.

The room. It was quite large and perfectly set up for my parents and me. You can see we had a nice living area as well as two good sized beds. The only thing that I found a little disappointing was the decoration of the hotel. I was expecting more of a Victorian influence but it was more modern English cottage with big, bold prints and colors that sometimes clashed. But this is a minor criticism. The service is really the big selling point and it was really fantastic.

Commemorative pictures from the filming of "Somewhere in Time" in on of the lobbies.

Shots of the garden in front of the Grand.

A shot of the Mackinac Bridge (The Mighty Mac) at sunset from the porch of The Grand. The Mighty Mac links the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan and is the third longest suspension bridge in the world and the longest in the western hemisphere.