These are memories from a journey of just a few years ago. I am hoping for a time to visit again - soon!
Life is quiet in San Miguel de Allende. It's early June and many ex-pats have retreated until autumn. Well above the 6,000-foot elevation and dry, evening brings blessed relief in the the way of cool breezes.
A gentle swing in the garden. The hum of traffic. Occasionally, we hear the sounds of nearby steeples chime and the hammering of construction. Dogs are barking, a lone hummingbird drinks from a pomegranate blossom, and my tequila shot glass is empty.
In the rain forests there is complete silence. The fog is creeping into the mountains. Fireflies are dancing through the darkness. Bugs and birds serenade us during our dinner as daylight retreats behind the peaks.
It has been ten years since the call came...cancer. A decade! You always know exactly where you were. The date, December 28, 2010. Hard to believe. To honor this decade milestone (a day I always cherish), I am republishing this story and remembering all the people who came into my life and followed on that journey. Plus, the sidebar article recounting those days that seem like a dream to me now. The Diagnosis. It's true that throughout this journey I said more than once, "I was so lucky!" In October 2015, I went in for my fourth annual check-up. The letter came days later, the opening sentence said it all, "We are pleased to inform you that your Breast Imaging exam shows no evidence of cancer." So lucky.
Breast Cancer Survivors Retreat & Renew
Photo Credits Peg Miskin & Barbara L. Steinberg
California is vast. Even with today’s sprawling communities, breathtaking open spaces are abundant in far-reaching corners of northeastern California. Envision serene places and natural beauty that can heal body and spirit near ancient and ritual temples such as Mt. Shasta and Burney Falls. Imagine, too, being presented the gift of a weekend retreat at a historic lodge near rushing rivers and world-class fly-fishing including river guides! All of this at no cost other than a little gas money.
Sound too good to be true? Not so. Just fill out an application. If the stars align, they draw your name. You could be one of 14 lucky women chosen to enjoy this tranquil haven. What’s the catch? There’s just one. You must be a breast cancer survivor! An elite club, breast cancer survivors are treated to this life-altering experience. As if breast cancer weren’t that, too.
Casting for Recovery, a nonprofit organization, along with a cadre of compassionate sponsors are the benefactors of this generous offering. Headquartered in Vermont, Casting for Recovery provided 47 retreats in 33 states in 2011. Their Santa Rosa office facilitates two retreats in northern California. This past August, 14 remarkable and beautiful women – different ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds – gathered at Clearwater Lodge at the Pit River to share their stories of despair, hope, recovery, and survival. The weekend focuses on the fine art of fly-fishing. It’s an excellent therapy for anyone recovering from the rigors of breast cancer surgeries and treatments; a Zen moment.
One-by-one women arrive on a Friday afternoon. Greeted by CFR staff, they tell each women, “We are here to serve you!” For most of us, this is a foreign concept – to be served instead of serving. As we wait to check-in, there’s an exchange of pleasantries, “Hi, My name is _____, from _____.” Soon we are chatting like old acquaintances. Rooms are assigned, some shared. We settle in and then gather to be fully-garbed in the finest Orvis waders, fly-fishing vests, and boots. Before long, everyone is laughing and looking like fly-fishing professionals. The moment is light. An open book whose pages we have yet to turn. Not one among us could possibly predict the outcome.
A jar of endless homemade cookies and the most divine gourmet cuisine is another highlight. Chef Noel Wright is celebrating her 17th season at the Lodge. Over the weekend, we will gorge on Mahi Mahi, grilled asparagus, strawberry scones, whole wheat pancakes, fresh fruit, cheesecake with blueberries, and more of those famous cookies. No guest at Clearwater Lodge ever left hungry! The dining room is a cacophony of voices at every meal. Everyone is talking at once and you would think we had been together for years.
From early Saturday morning to mid-afternoon on Sunday a fly-fishing course, free time, meals, and discussions are adeptly orchestrated into our stay. We learn the basics of casting, knot tying, what fish eat, and more casting. Some have fished before. Some not at all. We all start as beginners guided by accomplished women fly-fisher staff. They are patient and giving. And while our casts may not be perfect, we receive big doses of positive reinforcement and many hugs. Training is interspersed with sharing of history. What kind of breast cancer. When? Surgeries. Which drugs and treatments. How many years? Family issues. Relapse. The stories are as varied as our ages and circumstances. The common thread, the double-surgeon’s knot that binds us together, is that we are all survivors.
During two discussion sessions each woman shares her story. The most poignant and powerful moments spent as friends and survivors. There is more laughter and tears. Nodding and shaking of heads; breathlessly listening to tales of strength and optimism. We hear over and over, not just about fears but about the blessings. And the good luck that brought us to this magical place.
Sunday, the moment of truth arrives! We gather to read poetry and prayers, and sing songs. At breakfast, we are joined by volunteer River Helpers who, one-on-one, will guide us to fly-fish. We climb into our fishing regalia and head-off to Hat Creek. The energy is palpable. Each two-some must establish a relationship of trust and communication. The Helpers support us as we navigate the rushing waters and provide guidance on fly-fishing techniques. Secretly, I think, we all hoped to catch something – some did – but for those few hours cancer was left behind and we were all fly-fishers together.
It’s hard to leave the river. The retreat is coming to an end and we will disperse to our various lives. At a brief graduation ceremony there are more hugs and tears. Words of thanks and gratitude for gifts we cannot even begin to describe. Only 48 hours, departing is truly the hardest part.
You don’t have to be a breast cancer survivor to enjoy the wilds of Clearwater Lodge, fly-fishing, or the beauty of northern California. To quote Sally Stoner, an extraordinary teacher and fly-fisher, “A lot of it is just being there. You being part of it, and feeling it.”
Go…and be there!
The Whole Story in Photos
Casting for Recovery still provides these retreats in various locations throughout the United States. During the time of COIVD, like so many things, retreats are on hold. Check online for the Casting for Recovery Northern California Retreat or Casting for Recovery Southern California Retreat dates. If you or someone you qualifies, please apply. It will change your life.
Make a donation and designate northern or southern California as the recipient.
The idea for this story has been brewing for some time. Today, on the feast of Thanksgiving, it seemed like the perfect moment to begin. Preparing traditional dishes — learned from my parents and grandparents — the memories and the love of cooking was instilled long ago. The reminders filling my kitchen temple. Not just the recipes or skills passed from generation to generation, but those treasured implements handed down as well,
Not well-schooled at the art of "selfisims", I managed to capture this photo. This reversible apron — tied at the waist and reminiscent of an art smock — belonged to my mother-in-law Wallie Holmes. OMG could she cook! Loving every minute and every smile she brought to family and friends. I always looked forward to those holiday and family feasts. I only own two other aprons both connected to her memory, one frilly hostess-type and another she handmade for me. They hold special places in my cooking wardrobe. I won't dress in any others.
Josephine (Jo to everyone who knew her and my father-in-law's mother) was my neighbor and friend after I moved next door in 1987. We spent summer evenings on her front porch where she would share stories about Sacramento's past along with pizza and soda -- her choice! She fed my cat, Domino, who literally knocked on her screen door to be let in for snacks. In the early 1990s, Jo passed away at the blessed age of 94. Among her many prized possessions, I inherited some depression glass plates, two old potato mashers, and, the gem of all gems, the Hamilton Beach Model "D" mixer, blender, juicer, meat grinder circa 1937. All pieces intact including the original bowls and juicer. Score! The only part I ever replaced was the cracked and dangerous electrical cord.
This holiday season, two batches of cornbread ingredients were mixed and blended in these bowls. Fresh mandarins and Meyer lemons were easily juiced and transformed into salad dressing. State-of-the-art back in the '30s, this behemoth will outlive, outlast all comers. Replacing it is out of the question. While I sometime o-o-o-oh and a-h-h-h-h over slicker, newer models, this HB M"D" is a loving reminder of those who have blended and cooked before me and will be with me to the end. No drama here, but 'she' will likely outlive us all.
Sautéing, simmering, and mixing were very much part of this loving food process which included my father's Dru Enamel Cookware Dutch Oven #4126-32. Vintage? Yes, absolutely. No longer manufactured, but available online. As far back as the '70s, I remember this dear friend. My father's absolute "go-to" for his world-famous Sloppy Joes (weigh-in if you ever had the pleasure to enjoy them)! Or his beef brisket a Chanukah favorite alongside his latkes. I have recipes for both, but fear of falling short has kept me from ever attempting either.
This Dutch oven was his faithful companion until my father passed away in 2005. There was little discussion among siblings as to where the Tulip DRU would go to live. It has served me well these 10-plus years. For Thanksgiving, cornbread stuffing was assembled and mixed. To save time washing, I used it to toss salad greens before putting them in their appropriate glass bowl. Have I cherished this culinary heirloom? Yes, 1,000 times yes! Soups, casseroles, and stews have started and finished here. Not one meal or creation has passed without remembering with deep love, and sometimes tears, my father's love for cooking. Food was his way of showing love -- as is often the case. He was masterful in the kitchen. Both parents were skilled chefs, but Dad really sparked my own love for cooking. Generations past would bequeath such treasures. And, yes, my own living trust must deliver this old family friend to another generation. The question remains, "Who?"
On my first journey to England, I fell in love with Royal Worcester Evesham Gold. I was just 17 years old; I think the writing was already on the wall. Shortly after, my mother began buying and collecting the same china with a vengeance. Stubborn 20-something, I decided to go another direction though I still had a hankering for Evesham. When mom passed away in 1991, she left behind dozens of pieces of this china including plates, bowls, tea cups and saucers, and many serving pieces. With little storage in my bungalow, it was necessary to sell most of the china. I really didn't want or need much of her collection, but still loved the pattern's simple elegance and the memories of England.
Naturally, the reminders of her were/are very strong. Whenever Evesham graces my stove, oven or table the come memories flooding back. This two-piece casserole was front and center this Thanksgiving. Made-from-scratch, my cornbread stuffing was elegantly framed. This "for the love of food" memory had double meaning given that I learned the fine art of cornbread stuffing from my mother. Like so many recipes handed down, there's nothing in writing for this family favorite. The cornbread recipe is courtesy of Moosewood Cookbook, but the stuffing itself is all mom; though I have tweaked it over the years. This year I wasn't able to get the much savored fresh chestnuts, but the final product wasn't lacking. Taste buds were dancing. I know my mother was smiling. She nourished my cooking DNA and while we didn't always agree, I am still my mother's daughter!
So, this ends round one of "for the love of cooking". I hope in time, other memorable items will come to life as they touch me at every morsel of my soul. I know there are many people out there sharing the same memories. Please do!
July 28, 2020 - Wow time passes and 11 years later, the introduction of this Tin Box memory is more meaningful than ever. The rest of the story equally important as we look to stay connected and close to our past, present, and future! Hoping when the dust settles, we'll find time to create a new memory for the next 11 years.
After an evening with dear friends, who are also colleagues, I came home and was overwhelmed by the experience. I felt compelled to do what I have been doing my whole life, write.
I am learning more and more about the importance of friends in my life and the need to cherish times together. Not to let too much time lapse between gatherings or communication. The history and memories we share are part of the fabric of our lives. And though we can always make new friends, there's something wonderful about the sharing of history when you can turn to someone and say, "Remember when....?"
Over and over I've said, "I believe in kismet." Fate! People ask how I became a writer and got into tourism and writing. I always say that this is what I was meant to do. Kismet. When it comes to history, I remember so many details...moments in time that others often forget. I am a keeper of history. It's crazy but it ties me to people who have brought meaning to my life— part of my past and present and, without question, the future.
The friends who gathered on this particular evening, each has a place in my history banks. Lucy Steffens was the first to cross my path when I did the "internship from Hell" at Visit Sacramento back in 1990. I can still see the old office space and the desk where I sat in the middle of the room. Who could imagine that 21 years later we would be sharing drinks? I am pretty certain I cried on Lucy's shoulder more than once and envied her intern who seemed to be having better luck than me. While my internship "boss" at Visit Sacramento didn't deliver on any of her promises to write for and be published in the bureau’s magazine, I did learn about one very important thing: The California Office of Tourism (COT).
I interviewed for a job with a very young Joe D'Alessandro and a REALLY young Terry Selk. It was a contract position with the California Tourism Corporation, a consulting firm. It was something to do with international travel and sounded very exotic. Terry wanted to hire me. Joe didn't and he had the final say. (Thanks Joe!) They hired an equally young Tom Horman. That was the best thing that ever happened to me—them hiring Tom— though I didn’t realize it at the time. Some months later the contract budget was reduced and Tom was out of a job.
Meanwhile, I applied for a job as an office assistant for the State of California. Where? Why the California Office of Tourism! Go figure. I remember being interviewed by senior staffers Flo, Diane, and Tiffany in a claustrophobic conference room with no windows. Kismet intervened again because Flo (Director) lived next door to my mom's best friend. While I like to think it was my charm and good looks that landed me the job, I still thank Bernice Slater for getting my foot in the door. Little did I know.
On September 4, 1990, I started my first day with COT at the glamorous and historic Senator Hotel. No one warned me about the lunacy I was entering. But there I was with program managers Sharon, Tom, Fred, Terry, and Joe. Even then their pranks were what kept us going. I remember Sharon. I can see exactly where you were sitting. Dahlynn and I were at the front phones with Pat guarding the passage to Flo's office. Bonnie was back in the corner. God, what insanity!
Over the years, I worked with each of you -- giving and taking experiences that have helped shape my life (and yours) and guide me as a better writer. Especially Sharon who so generously gave of her time and "raised me up" before she got out of Dodge and moved to Tennessee.
It was great to be together the other night. Laughing, remembering, sharing, and hoping that it won't be too many years before we do this again. Or even one on one. I want to say thank you for the gift of your presence in my life. (Okay I will stop now....me and my sentimental ways).
Barbara L. Steinberg
July 28, 2011
Snow is falling down,
Covering all the ground.
It covers the earth like
a tiny white mouse,
roof and house.
Do you like snow
in the face?
Sure, I like it anyplace.
January 30, 1966
A short story: People often ask me how I came to be a writer. The fact is, I've been writing my entire life. Mostly poetry when I was younger, but also journals. Keeping every little piece of lined notebook paper and pencil- and pen-written to paper napkins and place mats from restaurants where I often spent time writing. My Tin Box of Poetry & Prose which contains so many things from my childhood and teen years, is witness to this truth. This prized possession from 1966 - 4th grade at Little Run Elementary, Fairfax, Virginia - clearly speaks to my love of snow and the photo taken in the Eastern Sierra circa 2006, 40 years later. Either my mother or I - or both - believed this early attempt at rhyme was something to be saved. So very glad!
You possess a beauty
uncommon to most
it radiates from
within to without.
It goes beyond any
and truly there can be
no greater treasure.
And there's your fragile frame
which you feel surely
makes us laugh but only
endears you to us.
And when you are smiling
fairy sparkle lights
sprinkle across your face
with childish delights.
Naturally you are
oh, those poor souls who can't
They cannot understand
one so free as you,
but I'm the richer one
simply because I do.
Barbara L. Steinberg
April 19, 1974