Sunday, March 11, 2018

Vacation Was All We Ever Wanted

Some friends from college invited us to join them at the Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach (PBSB) in Cabo San Lucas last week. They and a couple other family members own time shares at the resort. We have been to Cabo only one other time, and that was a day stop on a cruise of the Mexican Riviera that we took a couple years ago. As we went on a snorkeling excursion at that time, we saw little of Cabo other than the marina.

To be fair, PBSB is not actually in Cabo, but is instead perched on the side of a hill west of town on the Pacific Ocean, about a 20 minute cab ride from the center of Cabo. We flew early February 27th to Phoenix, and from there to Los Cabos International Airport in San Jose del Cabo. The airport is about 30 minutes north of Cabo. Everything went smoothly, and we waited at one of the bars outside the terminal for our friends to arrive. Their flight was scheduled to land an hour after ours, so that gave us time for our first margarita.
San Jose del Cabo Airport, Mexico
The taxi ride to the resort took about an hour, and we arrived early enough in the afternoon to see the sweeping views of the ocean and the lush landscaping on the immense property. It is absolutely gorgeous! We were both put in rooms in building 26, us on the fifth floor and them on the sixth. Our friend's dad and his wife were already there, and they were on the second floor of our building. We had easy access to the pool outside our building, and though the walk to the lobby, market and restaurants was all up hill, it was doable. Golf carts were always available if you were going farther or just didn't want to walk.

Our room was huge with a galley kitchen and a lovely balcony. All rooms face the ocean, so you are guaranteed a view. It was one of the nicest rooms we have ever stayed in. We did not select the all inclusive package, but it is offered. We wanted the flexibility to be able to eat in town or on the road. With several restaurants and a market, there is no need to leave the resort if one doesn't want to, however. Though the resort has a beach and is on the Pacific, there is absolutely no swimming in the ocean. The riptides there are very dangerous, and the water drops off quickly. While that meant whales would come swimming very close to shore, and boats hovered close for fishing, it was a bit of a bummer not to be able to enter the water and snorkel or swim.
Pueblo Bonito at Sunset Beach
The day of our arrival we hung around the pool for awhile before having dinner at the resort. The next morning we walked up to the market for breakfast, then explored the resort for a bit before heading to the pool. The water was a bit too cool for me, so I enjoyed reading my book under an umbrella. Later we took a shuttle to the Pueblo Bonito Rose resort, which was also beautiful. From there we could walk on Medano Beach to the more touristy area of Cabo. We found a fun restaurant called The Office, where you can have your feet buried in the sand while you dine under their blue umbrellas. When we were finished we grabbed a cab and had the driver wait for us while we picked up provisions at a massive grocery store.
Medano Beach, Cabo
By Thursday I had connected with a man I met online (and doesn't that just sound wrong!), and Jim and I joined two couples for a few pickleball games. They were way out of our league, but were very kind in letting us play with them. The couple from San Diego was leaving the next day, but the couple from Seattle was staying until Monday, so we managed to play with them two additional times. It was so great, and we appreciated their gentle instruction on how to improve our games.

That night we took a cab into San Jose del Cabo for an Art Walk. It was colorful and fun, with many galleries open and serving wine and traditional music and dance going on in the town square. Our driver took us to a favorite restaurant of his for dinner, and we had a great evening.

Friday was Jim's birthday, and we celebrated at the resort as we could not get reservations for a sunset catamaran cruise until the following night. We played pickleball in the morning, and hung around the pool in the afternoon. While the temperature was in the 70's the whole time we were there, the pool water did not warm up enough for me to get in until Friday. It was very pleasant from then on.

We had dinner at The Bistro on site, sitting outside at a lovely table overlooking the ocean. While it was dark and we couldn't see the water, it was lovely to hear the waves crashing down below us. The wait staff brought Jim a piece of celebratory cheesecake, and sang happy birthday to him. He was only missing a sombrero. Ha!

Saturday we finally made the trek down to the beach. The sand is not as fine as Jamaica, and I found myself being thankful I had my flip flops on to protect my feet. In all fairness, I'm not sure what the sand was like before the hurricane took away the beach several years ago. They had to replace the beaches in the area. From there we made our way to the pool before getting ready for yet another cab ride into Cabo. Once we arrived at the marina we had some time to kill while waiting in line for the sunset cruise, so Jim and I walked the boardwalk to get some pictures.
Marina Cabo San Lucas
The cruise itself was very fun, with drinks and snacks served on board. We saw an amazing show put on by a couple of whales, who seemed to think it was their job to provide entertainment for the boats. I've never seen them so active. The sunset somehow seemed anticlimactic, but it was beautiful as well.
sunset catamaran cruise
We began Sunday with a light breakfast followed by an hour and a half of pickleball. The rest of the day was spent around the resort. Late in the afternoon we all took a cab into Cabo to have dinner at a nice restaurant called Alexanders. We were celebrating the birthday of our friend's dad.

Monday was our last full day, and we took a private tour vehicle that our friends had used before. Our driver Daniel picked us up at the resort, and took us first to a glass blowing factory in Cabo so we could watch the artisans work.
Glass Factory
From there we headed north along the coast, with our final destination being Todos Santos. Along the way we found the Blanket Factory, where blankets, rugs and other items are woven on site. The colors are just magnificent!
Blanket Factory
Our next stop was at Playa Los Cerritos, a well-known surf spot south of Todos Santos. It was fun to watch the surfers trying to catch a wave, though I suspect the surf was pretty tame the day we visited.
Playa Los Cerritos
Finally we arrived at Todos Santos, an artsy community on the Pacific Ocean. The driver gave us a tour of the town, and then we stopped at the Tequila Sunrise restaurant for a late lunch. As we had to wait for a table, we popped across the street to visit the Hotel California. While it is actually not the inspiration for the song of the same name by the Eagles, it was still an interesting place to explore. Jim and I thought our meal at the Tequila Sunrise was the best we had in Mexico, with the exception of the steak and lobster dinner at Alexanders in Cabo.
Todos Santos
After lunch we headed back to our resort. All in all, it was a fabulous day and we appreciated being able to see a little more of Mexico than the touristy spots we had been to so far.

Tuesday was our travel day, and we got a shuttle back to the airport at 10:20. We arrived with enough time to catch an earlier flight back to Phoenix. As we originally had a short one hour window in which to go through customs and catch our next flight, we appreciated having the additional time in Phoenix.

And so the sun sets on another wonderful vacation. Adios, Mexico!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Don't Stop Believin'

We were invited to the see the Rock Pack at the Family Arena last Friday night. I've heard of the Rat Pack, but the Rock Pack? Time for Google. The show bills itself as "a unique concert experience featuring the greatest classic rock singers of all times". Apparently there is a rotating cast of "iconic" singers. For the St. Charles show, the group consisted of Lou Gramm from Foreigner, John Payne from Asia, Kelly Keagy from Night Ranger, and Steve Augeri from Journey. So I could take a Journey to Asia dressed as Night Ranger, but would probably be considered a Foreigner. Bah!

Rock Pack
Invited through a friend of a friend, we had the VIP experience, with free parking, food and drinks in a nicely-located suite. There were only eight of us, so that provided an opportunity to get to know the others. It was my first time in a suite at the Arena, as well as my first concert in the venue.

We had a blast! Listening to the music from the 70s and 80s, you couldn't help but think back on where you were and what you were doing when the songs were hits. In some cases we weren't even married yet but still living the college high life, and in many others we had not yet started our family. I love how music can easily transport you to a different time. It was a great evening, all the way around.

Another first for us this weekend was trying the Shake Shack. This chain was started in 2004 by St. Louis native Daniel Meyer, but it took him until November of 2017 to open a location here. The restaurant has been hopping since day one. Many people reported standing in line outside for an hour. As no food is worth that to us, especially in the dead of winter, we went in the middle of the afternoon on Sunday. There was a short line inside, but it moved quickly. They have an app you can download, so you can order and pay for your food through the app, and set up a pick up time. That way you can avoid the line altogether. I downloaded the app but didn't use it on Sunday since we were going at on off time. If there had been a line outside, I would have ordered from the car through the app.

All the employees were very friendly, and they keep the dining area neat. We each got the single ShackBurger and a shake - chocolate for Jim and Salted Caramel for me - and we split an order of fries. The burgers are like Steak'nShakes, but with better buns. The shakes are like the ones at Crown Candy Kitchen, but much smaller. The frozen custard is supposedly like Ted Drewe's, but we didn't try any. We thought the burgers and shakes were great, but the fries were pretty ordinary. We'll skip those next time. The bill came to around $25, so they are on the pricier side for St. Louis. Because the restaurant is located in the Central West End, you have to pay to park as well, though we found a free meter since it was Sunday. There is no drive-thru, so between the cost of the food and parking, that could make your evening of dining out pretty expensive.
Shake Shack

Friday, February 9, 2018

Shooting the Breeze

Audubon Center at Riverlands
Last weekend was somewhat gray, cold and windy as has been the case January heading into February. On Saturday a photographer friend joined Jim and me as we set out to go hunting (with our cameras) for eagles along Illinois Route 100. We stopped first at the Audubon Center at Riverlands, a wintering spot for a number of migratory birds. While we saw a few, it was nothing like the number of birds I had seen back in December.

We continued on our journey north through Alton. Normally teeming with traffic this time of year, the Great River Road was relatively empty - and so were the trees. Of leaves and birds. For a change of pace, we took the Brussels Ferry across the Illinois River to Brussels. After leaving the ferry, we spied what appeared to be a large gathering of birds. Driving down a gravel road to get closer, were we ever surprised! It was a decoy spread. What the flock?
In Brussels we found several interesting buildings to photograph. The first was a barn just as you entered town. The second one was an abandoned "duplex", and the third a barn quilt. It is always a good day for me when I find a new barn quilt!

Brussels, Illinois
Following lunch at a local dive in Brussels (not a good choice, unfortunately) we decided to change up the scenery by taking a different ferry back home. I found a couple things to photograph while waiting for the ferry to return to our side of the Mississippi River.
Mississippi River
Alas, for all our driving there was not an eagle in sight. Well, except for this one - ha!
Golden Eagle Ferry

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Boob Redo

Yesterday morning I had the repeat right breast core biopsy done. This time I went to the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University. What a class act, all the way around! The staff, particularly in the treatment room, were exceptional friendly and kind. I had asked the radiologist to show me the film that was taken three weeks ago at the other hospital, and she pointed out the marker that had been left in. She then showed me where the architectural distortion is located, and that marker was nowhere near the distortion. I could see why that had all the radiologists and the breast surgeon concerned.

Unlike the first biopsy in July in which the radiologist was guided by an ultrasound, this time I laid face down on a table with my breast dropping through a square opening in the table. From there the breast was compressed in a 3D mammography machine while the doctors and technician made sure they were getting the correct spot. It felt like the skin from my neck was getting sucked down into the hole as they tightened the machine.

Then the injections were given to numb the breast, and the probe was inserted like last time. Unlike last time, however, I felt it. Ouch! They quickly administered more medicine, and I only felt pressure after that. In the previous biopsy a ceramic marker was left to mark where the tissue had been removed. The doctor had stayed away from a metal marker due to some allergies that I have with pierced earrings. Yesterday they placed a titanium marker as that is all they ever use, and it has a low rate of reaction. It is what is used in knee and hip replacements, so I guess I might as well find out now if I am going to react to it. They said I'll make the medical journals if it ends up being a problem for me. 🎶I am titanium...🎶

ice pack and cover
Adhesives also bother me, so they decided to try putting a liquid bandage over the small hole made by the probe. It should stay on for five or so days, and so far I am not reacting to it. I'm a little sore today, but keeping ahead of things with Tylenol and the cute ice pack they sent home with me home made a huge difference, I think.

When we left I was told that it would probably be Friday before I got the results of the biopsy back. But late this afternoon the breast surgeon called with the great news that the tissue came back benign! She added that we are officially not worrying about this spot any more, and I don't have to have a mammogram for twelve months. I'll need to follow up with my primary care doctor about that, though, as the other breast is due for a mammogram in June. As Scarlett would say, I'll worry about that tomorrow. Tonight I will sleep much easier.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Women's March 2018

St. Louis Women's March 2018
The second Women's March was held in St. Louis on Saturday, in conjunction with many more all across the United States and around the world. The event burst into existence last year, fueled largely by the election of Donald Trump as President, taking place the day after he was sworn into office. Over 400 marches were held in the U.S. with an estimated 3-5 million people taking part on that day. Ironically, the crowd in Washington, D.C. was three times the number of people who showed up for Trump's inauguration.

Women's Marchers
The estimate for this year's number of participants is much smaller, but the enthusiasm of the attendees has not waned. Men, women and children attended, many bearing signs summarizing their hopes, dreams or fears. Here in St. Louis the large crowd was friendly, well-behaved, and vocal in following chants led by volunteers.

Women's March signs
I did not attend last year, so I don't have anything to compare this year's march to, but it was moving and powerful to stroll through the crowds, listen to people talk, and take photos of the action. My Women in Focus group has an upcoming show, and the theme is "Social Justice." The march seemed like a perfect opportunity to capture something for the show. While I think I accomplished that, I also changed my pre-conceived notions about large political gatherings and the people who attend them. While there were signs and causes I don't particularly agree with or support, isn't it great to live in a country where everyone has the right to gather, speak, and demonstrate their beliefs?

March to the Arch

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What a Boob!

On the 8th I had the six month follow-up 3D mammogram as requested by the radiologist after the breast biopsy which was done on July 5th. After the test was done, I met with the radiologist to review the new scan. She is not the one who did my biopsy, but she works in the same breast healthcare center as Dr. H. She looked a little concerned, and proceeded to tell me that she thinks I should have a surgical biopsy done on the same spot that was detected six months ago. The same area (not a lump) that pathology ruled a stromal fibrosis. A fibrosis is not cancer, not even pre-cancerous, nor does it lead to cancer. So why another biopsy?

When I asked her that question, she answered in "what ifs". What if there are bad cells behind the ones that were taken? What if cancerous cells are hiding farther back? Really? The ultrasound-guided needle biopsy couldn't tell them that? When am I ever supposed to breathe a sigh of relief following a negative biopsy report?

She wanted me to go right down the hall and make an appointment with their breast surgeon for a consultation. She then proceeded to tell me how the surgical biopsy would go. I told her I would go home and check my calendar, then call the doctor. What I really meant was that I would take some time to think about it, and then make my decision. She had obviously planted seeds of doubt in my mind, so I knew that I would consult with a breast surgeon. But it would be one of my own choosing, not hers. Several of my friends have had breast cancer, so I talked with them and found they had all seen the same surgeon. After reading up on her and looking at online reviews, I decided she is the one I wanted to take care of me.

Jim and I met with Dr. J. yesterday for the consult. She had reviewed all of my mammograms and had met with the Washington University radiologists regarding them. They concurred that I need an additional biopsy. I asked her if there had been any change from the mammogram taken six months ago to the one taken last week, and she said nothing had changed. So why is everyone all of a sudden concerned?

Dr. J. explained that they were worried about the fact that the marker, which is left in the breast following any biopsy, was not placed in the exact location of the distortion that was seen on the mammogram. That indicates that perhaps the four tissue samples did not come from the actual distortion but instead were nearby tissue. That's when the lightbulb went off for me. No wonder the radiologist on Monday looked worried. But she didn't express her major "what if". What if Dr. H. took the wrong tissue???

Obviously I can choose to roll the dice and do nothing, but that is not how I want to play the game of life. Dr. J. offered two options - 1) have an additional needle biopsy done, this time a 3D mammogram-guided biopsy as opposed to an ultrasound-guided one, or 2) have a surgical biopsy done where more tissue would be removed. Obviously #2 is more invasive, and she said she really doesn't want to cut on me if she doesn't have to do so. She feels that a needle biopsy will be sufficient. And she added that if the results come back negative on this test, we can put this matter to rest.

So, I'm scheduled for the needle biopsy on January 30th. This time I know what to expect, so I'm not looking forward to it. Especially since my breast will be squished in the mammogram machine while they are taking six pieces of tissue out. On the other hand, the recovery time will not be as long, so there is that. Any positive thoughts and prayers you can send my way will be most appreciated!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ice Age

Like most areas of the United States, St. Louis has been in a long, drawn out cold spell. We were sick of being stuck inside, so last Saturday my husband, one of our friends and I set out to take some photographs. Though the temperature was under 20 degrees, the sun was out and there was little wind. So we bundled up in long underwear, hats and scarves and headed first to nearby Clayton. Jim's company had designed a new plaza in the downtown area, and while I had seen it under construction I had not been back once it was completed. The ice on the waterfalls and pond made the spot very picturesque.
Once we left Clayton, we drove to Forest Park. We were quite surprised to see ice skaters on the Emerson Grand Basin. There is a designated ice rink in Forest Park, but perhaps the open waters called to these folks. We were able to snap a few pictures of them before the park rangers came along and told them to move to a safer area. With the fountains still functioning, ice around them can be thin to non-existent. Having said that, after testing the ice near the edge of the basin and finding it to be several inches thick, I couldn't resist getting a quick picture of myself on the ice as well.

We then continued driving through the park, and found a couple other areas to shoot as well. The Muny bandstand is pretty in all seasons, but this was the first time I have photographed it with the lake completely frozen over.
Forest Park
By then we were quite chilled, so we headed to nearby Seamus McDaniels for lunch and to warm up. It was great to get out of the house for a bit.