No More Pity Parties For Me

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It was Sunday night and my husband was packing his bags for yet another week away. I felt a small pity party coming on. He has a job that requires him to travel a lot. Typically he is away for at least three weeks a month and often that involves being away for the weekends too. It’s hard on all of us. He practically lives in a hotel and misses out on so many little things that happen at home. Our seven-year old misses him like crazy and knows exactly how many minutes it takes for him to get home once his plane has landed. But, as he packed and I felt the typical Sunday evening disappointment of being alone again creeping in, I stopped for a moment. The night before we had enjoyed dinner with our friend Nicole and her son Jacob. Jacob is three weeks younger than my daughter. The love of Nicole’s life and Jacob’s father died four years ago. They are alone all the time.

Lucas was only 29 in late 2005 when he was first diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. It wasn’t found in his lungs though. The first tumor was found in his nasal passages. After a horrific surgery Lucas and Nicole thought they were in the clear. Wrong. During the appointment to have his surgical staples removed they were given some literature and an appointment date with the BC Cancer Agency. They asked why and were told “Oh, it’s cancer. You didn’t know that?”  They were shocked but still weren’t particularly worried though as the doctor didn’t seem to be. But after meeting with an oncologist and doing what every sick person does, googling his condition, Lucas and Nicole realized just how bad things were. The doctors were now saying “we will do all we can” but the odds were not in their favor. Somehow in that horrific, stress filled time of radiation and chemo and sickness there was a bright spot. Early in 2007 Nicole discovered that she was pregnant.

Jacob was born on September 26, 2007. Fortunately, the next eighteen months were free of treatment for Lucas. It was a welcome change from all they had been through so far. I remember those times well. My daughter and Jacob as babies. Lucas playing Lego with the two of them at one of Jacob’s birthday parties. Comparing milestones, as all new parents do. The joy that Lucas had for being a dad. It wouldn’t last though. Over the course of six years the cancer came back 7 times and Lucas had 5 rounds of radiation, 3 rounds of intense chemo, 2 brain surgeries, a hip replacement, and countless other appointments and tests. Sadly on January 30, 2011 Lucas passed away. Aside from losing her husband, Nicole was now the sole provider for her family and at the young age of 38, a widow. Your not supposed to be a widow at that age. But she was and despite the fact that she has an amazing family and support group, she and Jacob were now on their own.

Feb 25 Jacob and Olivia...aren't we cute!

It’s not a particularly fun thing to do, but try to imagine your life right now if your husband was gone. Not just for a week-long business trip, but forever. Think of all the things that you rely on when your spouse walks through the door at the end of the day. I know that I struggle with things when my husband is away. Typically it revolves around discipline. Was I too hard on her? Should I have let that one go? Maybe I should have been stricter? Not having your spouse there to bounce things off of can make you question yourself. It breaks my heart to hear Nicole say. “I would give anything to have him by my side to tell me I’m doing alright. Even if just for one minute”. She often finds herself wondering in those times “What would Lucas do? To Nicole’s credit, Jacob is the sweetest little boy. He does well in school, loves to swim, loves Lego and can keep up with my crazy daughter on the dance floor. No small feat.

Liv and Jacob

Jacob is seven now and a great kid. He is a mini Lucas. Kind, funny, smart and energetic. But he is having a bit of a hard time right now understanding why all the other kids in school have dads and he doesn’t? He’s even gone so far as to ask Nicole “will I ever have a new daddy”. If that doesn’t break your heart then I don’t know what will. Can’t even imagine how you would answer that question. Nicole keeps Lucas’ memory alive as best she can for Jacob. They look at pictures and she shares stories of Lucas. His love of sports and the Miami Dolphins. Most stories, she says, include the word “fart.” Its a boy thing. Lucas liked a good “fart” story too. He was a big kid with a huge smile and a positive attitude about everything. Mostly she tells Jacob how proud Lucas would be of him.

I’m pretty sure that if all of this happened to me that I would find a dark closet corner somewhere and curl up into a ball. I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to not only lose the love of your life but to then be a single mom and entrusted with raising a little boy without his father. Nicole doesn’t understand how people see her as an inspiration but if you met her and saw the love in her eyes for that little boy and the smile that is on her face every day, you would understand. When I asked her if she had any advice for somebody else going through this she said. “Be easy on yourself. It’s a tough journey”.  What keeps her going?

Jacob-the reason she gets up each day
Family-her mom and brothers
Friends
Lucas’ strength of never giving up
Wine-it’s not an answer but some days it sure helps!

So going forward I will not hold pity parties. Whenever I am feeling like the world has dealt me a poor hand or if I feel like I just can’t quite make it through a difficult time, I will think of Lucas, Nicole and Jacob. They were all short-changed in the game of life but somehow have managed to move on and are seeing all that is good in what they do have. Beautiful memories, love and family. The Best Things in Life.

 

Easter Memories

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My parents sold their house last fall. They had lived there for 50 years. It was the home they brought me home from the hospital to. So many great memories came from that house and the garden that surrounded it. So many amazing family gatherings, birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings (a few fairly wild parties in their younger years) and anniversaries. For me the best memories always seemed to revolve around Easter. With Easter just around the corner and my daughter asking about the Easter bunny I am reminded of those great times.

My earliest memories of Easter are of my mom getting us ready for church in pastel coloured dresses with white gloves and white wicker purses covered in fake flowers. Even though we were the Christmas , Easter and Thanksgiving only church family, my mom ensured that when we did go, we were dressed appropriately. I remember her inspecting our hands to be sure that we didn’t have any chocolate on our sticky little fingers. In those days the Easter Bunny came very early in the morning and left a beautiful egg on our breakfast plate. Hollow in the middle and decorated with our names in royal icing. “How did that bunny know our names?” I wondered. I learned later on that my mom would get the big chocolate Easter eggs from Woodwards.

When we were a bit older the best memories are of Easter Sunday bonfires. It was Spring, the weather was getting better and my mom and dad would have been working in the yard to get ready for the summer. The yard waste needed to be disposed of and for us that meant a great big bonfire at the bottom of the yard. Usually a couple of other families would come over for the day and there would be a dozen kids standing around the fire roasting hot dogs and burning marshmallows for lunch. Yup, that’s when destroying the ozone, processed meats and sugar were all good.

The big draw for the kids was the tire swing. A large tree stood at the top of a grassy hill and dad had hung a rope from the tree and then attached it to an old tire. When pushed properly you would swing out over the hill and hang 20 feet over the back lawn. I can not even count the number of times I fell off and had the breath knocked out of me. How none of us ended up in the emergency room is a mystery. Every year we had a contest to see how many of us could get on the swing at the same time without falling. Again, can’t believe we all live through it every year.

And then there was the egg hunt. The only acceptable candy was foil wrapped mini chocolate Easter eggs, mainly because they could withstand being tucked into crevices and hidden under logs or rocks in the garden and could survive being transplanted by squirrels if the hiding had been done the day before. Frantically we would search for those little eggs in every inch of that 3/4 acre space. I remember hitting pay dirt at the bottom of the tree that my sister fell out of when she broke her arm. I guess whoever was hiding the eggs got tired and dumped the last dozen or so in a hollow at the bottom of the tree. Score!

As the years passed and my sister, brother and I each got married and had our own kids, things changed. Nobody goes to church anymore, bonfires are now prohibited and the tree that held the tire swing died and the swing was lost. That may have been a good thing as my mom and dad ended up with six grandsons who I can say, without hesitation, would not have been as fortunate as us in not getting injured. But with that change and those grandchildren came different traditions.

I’m not sure how or when it happened but at some point the chaotic search for foil covered Easter eggs in the garden became an Easter scavenger hunt. The Easter egg hunt evolved into my mom and dad creating elaborate clues that took the grandkids around the house and garden. The little ones had pictures to follow and usually an older cousins to help them out. The older ones had the task of not only following the clues but deciphering Granny’s handwriting. If you stood on the front doorstep you would see them standing scratching their heads, looking at the clue and then suddenly tearing around the side of the house when they realized that “Minki’s Flowers” meant the patch of daffodils that bloomed every year where my mom and dad had buried their cat’s ashes. Creepy but really pretty.

Easter at Granny and PoppasMatthew finds his eggs

So now the house stand empty and the yard is a series of little holes where my parent’s friends have dug up my dad’s lilies, roses and yes, the daffodils. We will all go on to create our own Best Things in Life and memories for our kids around the holidays in our own homes. I can only hope that they are half as good as the ones my parents created for us.

Rob

In the business world no endeavor is riskier than opening a restaurant. Few make it. Expensive start up, transient staff, fickle customers and changing trends make it a tough go. So when an establishment makes it, you know you’ve got a good thing. Verdicchio’s Deli was one of those establishments. So why did it close last June?  My friend Rob Verdicchio owned Verdicchio’s for 15 years. When I spotted his new business, Homewatch North Shore, on line, I had to know how and why he made such a huge change in his life.

If you grew up in West Vancouver in the 1970s and 1980s and didn’t know a member of the Verdicchio family, chances are you were living under a rock. “How many cousins do you have?” I asked. “Lots.” Not only where they a large Italian family but they also owned Peppi’s. At the time it was probably one, if not the only, fine dining restaurant in West Vancouver. On the beach at the foot of 25th Street, it was the quintessential Italian restaurant. Red and white checkered table cloths, Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling and more spaghetti and meatballs than you can shake a stick at. Oh, and even if you were underage, chances are you could get still get a glass of wine with your dinner. So I heard.

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Peppi’s Restaurant

I can’t remember when I first met Rob. I think it was 1981. Rob and I bussed tables at the Ambleside Inn. It was my first job at a high end restaurant and thank god for Rob helping me out or that butter whipper may have gotten the best of me. Both being in the restaurant business on the North Shore, we ran into each other a lot over the years. Many great times. Many late nights at Holidays or Tommy Africa’s. The time Rosemary and I moved all of his furniture out of his basement suite onto his back lawn. That pistachio suit. And of course late nights at Milieu. Good times. So how did he end up owning a successful deli?

Orazio Scaldaferri and his wife Rosana (Rob’s cousin) first opened the deli under the name Scaldaferri’s in Dundarave sometime in the 70’s. Along with another cousin, who came over from Italy, they operated the deli for many years. Rob, at the time, was managing the Beachouse, an upscale restaurant in the building that had housed his families beloved Peppi’s.  When an opportunity presented itself in 1998, Rob purchased the deli and changed the name to Verdicchio’s. It took a few years to re-establish the clientele after things had slipped a bit, but from there business took off. Rob was even able to secure the lucrative, but intensive, hot lunch program for numerous West and North Vancouver schools.

But a few years ago things started to change.  Four years ago Rob gave up drinking. “It was time to end the Verdicchio curse”. Working in the restaurant business and being Italian can be a death sentence apparently. Additionally, his chef was battling cancer.  His kids were getting older, his wife was getting back into her career.  It made Rob realize that life is short.  Owning a restaurant is a hard go on a day to day basis.  Long hours, difficult suppliers and constant upkeep.  So at the end of the day, it was time to move on from Verdicchio’s. A tough decision I would imagine. When you put your heart into something, it is never easy to let go.

So now he’s at home (for now) and his wife is working on her career. “The house has never been cleaner, the laundry is done everyday and heaven help anybody who gets in “my” kitchen.” Rob says with a laugh. After a few attempts at getting back into the restaurant management field, he thought maybe he would try a completely different direction. And so Homewatch North Shore was born. Homewatch is a personalized home watch for absentee owners. As any good businessman would do, Rob has done his homework and the market is certainly there for this service. Homeowners who travel or live oversees can leave their property in the hands of a responsible company and know that it will be looked after.  Check it out.

The last question I asked Rob was if he had an unlimited supply of cash would he resurrect Peppi’s, the family restaurant? “…I would love to. But an updated version.” How great would that be? I think that as we both head into our fifties, we have the Best Things in Life ahead of us. Although, that pistachio suit was quite spectacular.