still_here_0

“It might make sense if I read my intro first, and then respond to your questions.”

“15 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer…” I continued with a condensed version of the last 15 years: cancer, food, cancer. Life distilled into 200 words or less.

“Now to answer your questions….my writing experience outside the blog is limited. Goals for this class? I need to get back to being me, but I can’t seem to do it on my own. I need help. I need someone to give me an assignment.”

I searched my teacher’s eyes for an acknowledgement of my situation. That at the very least, even if I couldn’t produce a level of work that I would be proud of, she would understand what it meant for me to be there. In this class, sharing my story with a group of strangers. Trying when trying is complicated.

I’d signed up for the class on a whim. A 10-week course on nonfiction writing that would help me communicate my feelings to the outside world. “Outside” meaning anyone who doesn’t live within the four walls of our home. The people – parents, siblings, friends – from whom I’ve slowly distanced myself.

I have a primal urge to be alone right now. Preferably in nature, where the blue sky yawns, the trees don’t pity, and you’re not required to talk about murky things. Heavy things. Things that exhaust. Life, death, fear, uncertainty.

The summer was a challenge. The ongoing recovery from surgery, immunotherapy, colitis, steroids, a white bread diet that would make low-carb disciples weak in the knees.

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“The summer from hell” as my family has dubbed it.

But, I remind Rodney, what if these are still the good days?

Occasional escapes to the lake have been my salvation despite my guilt about leaving the family. My therapist, who runs the Callanish cancer retreat near Vancouver, BC reframed things for me:

“You’re running towards the lake, not from the city. This isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength. You know how to make yourself happy in spite of everything. Keep doing it. This is your medicine too.”

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Good days can still be had.

Creativity is a life force. Making something with my hands, taking ingredients as ubiquitous as flour and eggs and turning them into a dish as unique as my own fingerprints. Photographing and editing are, no pun intended, the icing on the cake.

I can best tap into this creative energy when I’m alone. When nobody is around to observe me, disturb the flow, intrude on my thoughts with a well-intentioned question about what’s on the menu; witness how gamely obsessive I become with fixing image exposure, color, saturation, sharpness. I love this process. 

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Being creative is like stepping into a tunnel. Life and all of its chaos disappears behind me, leaving me with nothing but a searing hot skillet, cubed vegetables, fresh herbs from the garden, and a camera at the ready.

I’m happy in these moments. I hum and I dance. Physical pain subsides. I listen to the albums of my youth –Neil Young and Supertramp, The Grateful Dead and CCR. Music from a time when life – if not easier – was less cumbersome.

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I hope that I’ll be able to tap into this energy with writing too.

One summer night I stayed up late with a glass of wine, reading some of my old blog posts. It was like reacquainting myself with a long forgotten friend. The person who wrote those posts saw the humor in life, laughed at the absurdity of it all. She never took herself too seriously. She was honest. She was upbeat. I liked that person. I’d like to get to know her again, even if the relationship builds slowly.

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I have no idea what the future has in store: an arduous march forward or a swift recovery. But none of us know what the future holds. All we can do is live in the present, surround ourselves with good people, and run….sprint….gallop….toward happy places, wherever they may be.

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Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Phyllo cups with labneh, figs & honey
Yields 6
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Prep Time
24 hr
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
24 hr 30 min
Prep Time
24 hr
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
24 hr 30 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
  2. ½ teaspoon of salt
  3. 1 16-oz package of phyllo dough
  4. 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  5. 6-8 figs, quartered
  6. 2 tablespoons honey (I used an organic rose honey)
  7. 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  8. 1 teaspoon flaked salt (e.g. Maldon)
To make the labneh
  1. Stir the salt into the yogurt and mix well. Turn the yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and place in a larger bowl to drain. Leave the yogurt for 1-2 days to drain.
  2. You may not need all of the labneh, so feel free to spread the remainder on toast, crackers, etc.
To make the phyllo cups
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
  2. Take 3 sheets of phyllo pastry and stack them; cut the pastry into squares about 5 inches in diameter.
  3. Re-wrap the remaining phyllo and store for another use (fridge if you’ll use within a day; freezer otherwise)
  4. Using a 12-cup muffin tin, brush each square with melted butter, and press into each cup. You should end up with approximately 6 cups total, so if you're using a 12-cup tin, try to leave a space between each cup (as shown above).
  5. Finish the first layer of phyllo, then repeat with the second layer of phyllo, again brushing with butter, and arranging the square so that the corners don’t line up exactly (you’re aiming for a sort of flower pattern). Continue with the third layer of phyllo, brush with butter, and then bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the phyllo is brown and crispy. Set aside and let cool.
To assemble the cups
  1. When the cups have cooled, scoop a mound of labneh into each cup (I like to use about 1.5 tablespoons).
  2. Top the labneh with sliced figs, add a drizzle of honey and a few chopped rosemary leaves to each cup, and then scatter some flaked salt over the top (my preferred salt is Maldon.
Notes: Although the method is slightly different, the following link gives a good visual guide for making the phyllo cups
  1. http://www.chowhound.com/recipes/phyllo-cups-30118
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