The Skin I’m In

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I’ve been hesitant to share this because of the infamous Facebook happy birthday syndrome. I don’t want everyone to go OMYGOSH! If you were to think positive thoughts, pray to your holy entities, or burn a swatch of herbs and dance naked on sacred stones in the light of the full moon to signify to the universe that healing vibes should come my way, then please do. Use your bandwidth to save the world, OK?

I don’t know how long this mole had been behind my right knee, but about two months ago I noticed it. I was holding up my leg doing a stretch and felt it when I clasped my hands behind my knee. Hmmm, a bump. You know how it goes: I guess I better get this checked out. And then you forget about it. About three weeks ago I thought it looked bigger, so I went in for a full-body skin check. The dermatologist used the CO2 can to freeze some spots and the treatment of other strange things were postponed because of the mole that stole the show. A punch biopsy was taken and it was determined to be a 1.13mm melanoma. My dermatologist stitched it up nice. Then she referred me for surgery. On Tuesday the stitches came out. I have a scar about the size of a dime.

Surgery is Monday. The newly healed skin will be cut back open and then some. Am I full of dread? Not really. As you might guess, I’ve been reading a lot of stories about melanoma, lymph nodes, the stages of cancer, alkaline vs. acidic diets, baking soda cocktails and tales of survival.

After having met my Kaiser Permanente surgeon, I am completely confident in how things will go. A nuclear medicine doctor will inject a dye to determine which lymph nodes are involved; I’ll meet with the anesthesiologist and get poked for general anesthesia; I’ll get a cut that might look like this: <===O===> (that’s an eye shape, in case you don’t see it). The procedure will end with a skin graft from my other thigh. Why? The site is too close to the bend in my knee and my skin is too taut for it to be sewn back together without limiting the movement of my knee. I wonder if I’ll need crutches? Maybe I can convince them to take a piece off my butt, where there is a little spare skin. J/K. #Triathleteproblems. #Muscularlegs. #Smoothskin.

It won’t be for another two weeks until we know if melanoma is in the surrounding skin or lymph nodes. My surgeon said I have an amazing 92-percent chance that it’s all gone. Isn’t that great? If I fall into the 8-percent realm, I will be placed in a clinical trial and/or immunotherapy.

Life is on hold, and admittedly, I have cabin fever. Not being able to work out, ride my bike or go for a swim is kind of driving me crazy. I go to the Boca Hawaii studio on Tuesdays for the turbo bike training so I can hang out with my friends, encourage them and fill their water bottles. Sometimes I dance. They let me be the DJ.

School is out, so I’m not missing work. I look around and see things I really should take care of, but, instead I have to find a happy place, ignore the weeds and enjoy this summer before the total high school experience happens with both girls at Kaiser HS.

Dark moments come and go. But more often than not I don’t even think about it. I feel pretty good. It would be great to surf along at “pretty good” while all this is going on, white knuckling through the bumps, and coming out stronger at the end of the ride. Stronger and wiser.

If you see me, chances are I’m in cooling-arm sleeves and capris. I wear a hat. Pretty soon I’ll shop for bottoms and tops with UV protection for swimming and riding. I’ll be that woman in the North Shore Swim Series next year covered from head to ankle.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a peeling nose and sunburns every summer in New Jersey. Here in Hawaii, I’ve surfed and swam sloppily smeared with sunscreen. I am sure this has its roots in small-kid-time summers in just a swim team suit at the pool or the beach from dawn till dinner.

This always happened to others. If you are fair like I am, or if you worked on your tan ever, then you should get your skin checked. What if this were somewhere else, like on my scalp? Things can go undetected for so long. Are you scared yet?

Italian Wedding Soup by a Non-Italian Jersey Gal


Foot-long cheesesteak Italiano: steak, provolone, broccoli raab, roasted peppers and onions. Take the canoli. Leave the sandwich!

Foot-long cheesesteak Italiano: steak, provolone, broccoli raab, roasted peppers and onions. Take the canoli. Leave the sandwich!

Many of you know by now that I’m a Jersey Gal in Hawaii. I’ve lived in the Islands since 1981. I left South Jersey in 1978 and spent two years in California before getting shipped here to Hickam by the USAF. But all that is another blog entry.

When I was a tween in 1970, I was one of those totally in demand babysitters. Back then parents were much younger than we are now, and most of them were still in their 30s by the time I became a professional at 12 years old for 50 cents an hour. I grew up in a neighborhood that had lots of Italian families and lots of Jewish families. Some people reserved me for the same day every week, and some of them did their best to book me as soon as they knew they’d be going to some splash party at the swim club.

As a result, I got to raid refrigerators that were stocked with the best stuff ever: Guess which houses had the pickled green tomatoes, Kosher pickles, tuna salad with mayo (mom didn’t have it in the house) fragrant onion bagels and pickled herring? Guess which houses had meatball sandwiches, Sicilian pizzas, eggplant parmigiana? So I learned a few things. If I’m only making 50 cents an hour in 1970, you can bet I did my research.

Fast forward. I’m an old mom, but my kids think I’m awesome. Except when I dance in public. But that’s OK. The whole point is to drive them crazy at the most inconvenient times. Like I said. I learned a few things.

Easy Italian Wedding Soup.

Easy Italian Wedding Soup.

No one’s getting married, but try this soup. Short cuts, kids. I take short cuts.

Easy Italian Wedding Soup

For the meatballs: 
To 1 pound of ground turkey add
1 cup of Ricotta cheese
1 cup of Progresso Italian bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten,
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese.
2 tbsp parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Like chili pepper flakes and there aren’t any crybaby kids around? Throw in some chili pepper flakes.

Mix into a big ball in a bowl and let rest.

For the stock:

Dice about a cup of onion, 3-4 carrots, and 2-3 celery stalks.
Add them to a stock pot and let them soften and get golden in some olive oil.
Like garlic? Throw in some minced garlic. 

Get it at Costco. We have both chicken and beef. Luv this stuff!

Get it at Costco. We have both chicken and beef. Luv this stuff!

Toss a scoop of “Better than Bouillon” low-sodium chicken stock base and pour in your water, as much as you like to taste. I added a quart or so of water to a big scoop of the base. Bring to a boil. 

Reduce heat to a simmer, and with two teaspoons shape little meatballs and drop them into the boiling stock. By the time you get to the last one, you might have been at it for like 20 minutes, especially if you’re sipping wine. What can I say? 

So give the soup at least another 20 minute so the last meatballs cook through. There’s no browning the meatballs, just let them cook and finish nice and soft in the pot. About four minutes or so before everything is done just right, toss in ribbons of your favorite greens. This time I used Swiss chard. Kale, spinach and basil leaves would work great. Mmmmmm. 

Ladle over rice or pasta. 

What about pasta? I didn’t put in pasta tonight. In Hawaii we have rice cookers and there’s always rice around. And I must confess that I loathe, LOATHE, LOATHE fat swollen pasta. ICK. When I make soup like minestrone or pho, I always make the pasta separately and put it in the bowl and pour the soup on top. Tonight I made basmati rice and ladled the soup on top. Like I said, the kids went back for more and more. And I made enough for John to have when he gets home from work tonight.

My work is done here. Wait. Dishes. Sigh.

When it’s not easy to write.


Like now. I prefer to write about positive things, and I don’t like to cloud the blog with an overcast atmosphere. I guess that results in everyone thinking I’m on top of the world all the time, but it’s not the case. Is it ever the case for everyone, all the time? Probably not.

I’ve lost a little momentum in getting our house in order. I think it’s the heat. We’ve taken bags to the nearby Goodwill kiosk, and we are preparing bicycles and bicycle gear for the Island Triathlon & Bike swap and shop on April 27. We’re selling 4-5 bikes, FYI. Tomorrow we’ll try to make one big sweep, vacuum, dust, and mop. Our dining room table will be clear. We’ll have a nice family meal.

My triathlon training saves me. I’m enjoying the 2,000-meter swims I’ve been logging in lately. I will ride tonight with my TryFitness teammates to the heights of Kahala, and I will gingerly walk or jog until my sports doctor decides what can be done about my plantar fasciitis. I’m pretty sure I can go all out for Honu on June 1. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a half-Ironman in  me. Every day I’m getting better and better at it.

Now that I’m a bonafide writer in the wild, I’m actively seeking work, projects, creative opportunities, and inspiration to start generating interest in me and paychecks. So, if you hear of anything, please keep me in mind. I think about describing soft breezes as they blow through the sheers at the French doors, the sweat that trickles between one’s shoulder blades when they rip old asphalt off a roof, the spring green potential of seed sprouts poking through the rich soil, the tickle of a tiny crab as it climbs up my thigh while I’m waiting for a wave on my surfboard. Writing that’s pretty much all over the map.

My friend Sue from New Jersey, whom I’ve known since we were both little kids, checks up on me from time to time. This morning she sent me a private message on Facebook, encouraging me to get my wish to the universe first thing in the morning and then forget about it. Fortunately for me I have friends and a husband who see me in a much better light than I see myself. And my children have so much faith in me. I go out to the yard and my cats watch for the lizards that jump when I clip a leaf of kale or inspect the eggplant.

Positives abound in my life. I might appear to be running off a cliff, but I have to believe I’ll stick the landing.

RECIPE: SCHIACCIATINA!


Turkey schiacciatina with baby kale, tricolor fingerling poatoes, and broccoli.

Turkey schiacciatina with baby kale, tricolor fingerling poatoes, and broccoli.

Had I known, I would have made these outside on the burner on my grill. At the end of this meal, I’ve got an oil slick to clean off the ceramic stove top, but I’ve also got two happy kids who asked for MORE. FTW.

I just discovered schiacciatina today on Pinterest. And then, as I often do, I repinned it to my Culinary Delights board and commented on the original blog that I was going to give it a go with ground turkey. So I did. Four thumbs up from the Benderettes.

Credit where credit is due. This recipe is from Manuela. AWESOME, Girlfriend!

Here’s the deal: This is as messy as making chicken piccata. If you can grill outside like me,

The ingredients.

The ingredients.

I suggest that’s what you do. I mean, if your grill has a side burner like mine does, I suggest you fry these up out there. If I know I’ve got a big splattering session ahead of me, I’ll set up the outdoor kitchen and go for it. If you’re on the East Coast or other frigid parts of the U.S. Mainland, maybe wait until the cold snap is over before you do this. But then again, maybe this is NO BIG DEAL to many of my friends.

How is it that a girl like me from New Jersey — with many Italian friends — never knew about this dish before today? HOW? The Fucco’s lived up the street! The Petti’s let me hang out with them! Sue Constantini was my Mom’s BFF! The Tartaglias, the LoPrestis, the D’Ascendis, Dimero, Giardineli, Manzano, and

In the skillet.

In the skillet.

Datalilio kids were our playmates! And I never knew about SHE A CHIA TINA? TINA DEFELICE! HAVE I FINALLY CRACKED THE CODE? In the name of the Father…

Flattened and dusted.

Flattened and dusted.

Recipe: Schiacciatina

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup fresh and finely grated Romano cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Flour for dredging (my buddy Wondra)

With your hand, mix meat with cheese, salt and pepper and smoosh, smoosh, smoosh, until it’s well homogenized. Divide into 4-6 balls. Sprinkle some Wondra or fine flour on parchment paper and flatten the balls one at a time, even pounding them till they’re about 1/4 inch thick. Lightly dust the patties with the flour, careful not to have too much. These are hard to pick up so use the parchment to help. Melt butter and olive oil on hot skillet and gently place patty into the sizzling oil and butter. It’ll sizzle. Give them a few minutes on each side, and remove them to a plate covered with foil to keep warm.

Ready for my closeup.

Ready for its closeup.

I served mine with sautéed tricolored fingerling potatoes, broccoli, and baby kale quickly fried in the pan where the meat fried.

Expect admiration for the rest of the night.

Distant Journaling on a Bad Storm.

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Stalled by Faded Photographs

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The FORCE of Jersey Gals.

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