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Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: San Simeon, San Luis Obispo, Solvang and Santa Barbara

30 Sep

[Continued from Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur]

The next morning we set out in our sweet silver Camry for our next destination, Hearst Castle in San Simeon.  Now before I go any further, several folks have expressed much dismay and questioned why we didn’t rent a convertible for this road trip, and I hear you loud and clear.  It’s a fair question.  Initially, renting a convertible was our intention, because it’s just so darn picturesque to imagine, and as Chip can confirm, like most women, I do like to conjure up postcard images of what I think something should look like, but it was going to cost double, nearly $2,000, to rent a convertible for the week.  Some friends of ours had recently taken a similar road trip this past fall, so we sought their advice over whether driving a convertible was a must do or not.  They couldn’t stomach paying for a convertible either, so they, too, had rented a mid-size car, but when they landed in San Francisco, the rental car company offered them a great deal on an upgrade, so they took advantage of that but reported a convertible was fun but not at all necessary.  After hearing that, we decided to take our chances.

Fox Rent A Car is headquartered in California and has the largest supply of cars, so we went with them.  When we checked in, they did give us the option to upgrade, but since we traveled “in season,” it wasn’t a deal at all and again, I am not much of a car person so we opted out.  We were both a little bummed and hoped we hadn’t made a huge mistake, but over the course of driving the PCH for eight days, we passed a ton of convertibles on the road, and not once did we see anyone driving with the top down.  Actually, I take that back–we did see a convertible stopped at a lookout point, with two suitcases stuffed in the backseat because they wouldn’t fit in the trunk, putting the top back up.  The temperatures are quite cool in Central California along the coast, and I think riding with the top down would have been miserable, so we were glad we made the decision we did.  I never once regretted not having a convertible, but that’s just my two cents.

At some point along our two hour white-knuckle drive on curvy roads with 90 degree angle turns to San Simeon, we had to stop for gas to the tune of $5 something a gallon. I would be the worst contestant on the Price is Right, because I NEVER look at the price of groceries, gas, or stuff at Target, but I do know that $5+ a gallon is truly highway robbery, but what are you going to do?

We also stopped at a lookout point for elephant seals, and I am not sure what I expected to see, but I literally gasped out loud when I saw them.  They were absolutely ginormous in size and moved so little they almost looked dead and bloated just lying there on the beach.  Every now and then, one of these massive beasts would move by making this humping motion and after moving just a couple of feet, would just flop back down.  After learning the males can grow up to 5,000 pounds and 16 feet in length, I understood why it was so difficult for them to move.


As we approached San Simeon, we also saw zebras grazing in the pastures with the cows.  I knew zebras ran with the wildebeests in the Serengeti but they also ran with cows on the West Coast??  Mind.  Blown.

You didn’t need a sign to find Hearst Castle, because there’s not much of anything else in San Simeon and the Castle is so huge and perfectly placed on top of the mountain, that you simply can’t miss it.  I honestly didn’t know much about Hearst Castle other than it was the famed home of the media magnate, William Randolph Hearst, but since it was along the way, we stopped.

Wowzers!  You could literally make a day out of touring Hearst Castle and many were doing just that.  Hearst Castle ain’t no Graceland, let me tell you.  There was a Grand Rooms Tour, Upstairs Suites Tour, Cottages and Kitchen Tour, and Evening Tour all of which included access to the grounds.  We opted for the Cottages and Kitchen Tour simply because it was the tour that was running next, and we didn’t want to sit around with the hard core Hearst enthusiasts for an hour and a half waiting on a different tour to begin.


Hearst was an only child and inherited 240,000 acres of land after his parents passed away.  As a boy, his family used to camp on this hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, so at age 56, he supposedly walked into an architect’s office in San Francisco and declared he was too old to sleep on the ground anymore and wanted to build a house but the problem was, it was sort of like meth.  Once he started, he simply couldn’t stop.  His one cottage ended up turning in to three plus the main house, Casa Grande, which boasted 115 rooms alone, including 38 bedrooms, plus the grounds with tennis courts, swimming pools and terraces.

tk-sc-main-houseHearst was an avid collector of exotic animals and had one of the largest private zoos, but during the Great Depression, he could no longer afford the upkeep of the animals so he donated many to local zoos and uncaged many animals allowing them to freely roam on the ranch.  Very few of those animals still exist, but the zebras grazing with the cattle we saw on our drive in were actually descendants of Hearst’s menagerie.

One of the more fascinating things we learned about Hearst was he had a mistress for 32 years named Marion Davies.  His wife and mother of his five children refused to grant him a divorce.  When he died at age 88, he left 51% of the Hearst Corporation to Marion Davies.  In an effort to validate their relationship, she turned around and sold her majority trust in the Corporation back to the family for $1…and then married her driver.  Ha!

We then stopped in San Luis Obispo for a quick lunch, which is supposed to be a great little town and was also dubbed by Oprah as the “happiest place in America,” but it really didn’t do much for us.  I didn’t think the city was laid out well and I found the architecture dull, but it is a college town, and the climate is supposed to be mild year-round which allows for its residents to enjoy the outdoors which is definitely a bonus but still–not worth a stop unless you are interested in seeing the singular roadside attraction, the Madonna Inn, which offers 100 uniquely decorated “themed” rooms such as the “Love Nest” and “Caveman.”


Pismo Beach is a coastal town on the south end of San Luis Obispo, so there were some decent views of the ocean from there, but the next stretch of highway was totally unappealing.  The landscape suddenly turned flat, brown, dusty and desolate.  I was driving at this point, and so I was thankfully able to utilize my unique set of driving skills obtained in the Mississippi Delta.  I can pass three tractors in a row on a two-lane highway while staring at the oncoming car in the opposite lane without so much as flinching.  Chip was the one clutching the door handle this time.

Shortly before we reached our final destination of the day, Santa Barbara, we made a quick detour to Solvang, a mock-European tourist trap.  Solvang is a contrived Danish town, complete with fake windmills and unbelievable Danish pastry shops.  I kind of couldn’t stop ordering when it was my turn at the counter, and I didn’t regret it.  I do believe there are a few things in life worth being chubby over and the pastries in Solvang definitely fell into that category.  On the way to Solvang, we also passed the infamous Hitching Post II in the town of Buellton made famous in the movie “Sideways.”


Alas, we rolled into Santa Barbara on a Saturday night pretty wiped out.  I had made hotel reservations in Santa Barbara for Sunday and Monday nights weeks before, but everything semi-decent was booked for Saturday night, so literally the day before we arrived, I made reservations for us at a place called The Beach House Inn based on a recommendation from my friend, Melinda, who frequently travels to Santa Barbara for work.

Beating out all of the luxurious places we stayed on our trip, The Beach House Inn, was hands-down my favorite.  The Beach House Inn was a far cry from the Ventana Inn & Spa in Big Sur, but there was just something about it’s down home funkiness that I really loved.  I immediately knew we had stumbled upon something great because when we pulled up, we didn’t have two bellman bum rushing our car ripping our trunk and car doors open while simultaneously talking into their ear piece to the front desk that the Kennett party had arrived.  I am the girl still digging around in the floorboard for my shoes, scooping up empty water bottles, balled up napkins and banana peels from the console, stuffing magazines, iPhones, travel books and chargers into my bag while valet is standing there holding my door open for me, politely smiling while trying to thrust a glass of wine and green apple in my hands, telling me to take my time while the whole time I know they are secretly thinking “this poor girl hasn’t ever stayed anywhere this nice before.”  Au contraire!  I just haven’t learned to get my shit together in the car prior to arrival.

The Beach House Inn is located right across the street from the beach, and the owner, Tim, who no doubt lives “in the apartment above the carport,” was incredibly hospitable offering us the use of their complementary bicycles, umbrellas, chairs and beach towels even after time of check out the following morning since we were arriving so late in the day.  There were probably 20 rooms surrounding a central courtyard which looked like a scene straight out of “Singles” with plastic bins of DVDs sitting on a table outside free to guests which were replaced by carafes of fresh coffee in the mornings.  Tim also brought his parakeet out to the courtyard every day for some fresh air.

Staying there for the night made me nostalgic, because it reminded me of kicking it back old school vacationing with my family as a young kid.  Mom and Dad would throw my sisters and me in the back of the Buick which was half the size of the town of Marks while we slid around unbuckled, eating a can of Pringles on the drive to one of our various destinations like Destin or Washington, D.C. where we may or may not have had a reservation prior to arriving.  When we got hungry, we pulled over on the side of the road, popped the trunk and made a sandwich out of the ice chest.  It was awesome.  Considering Joe now judges hotels based on whether they place round or square chocolates on our pillows during turn down service, I wonder what he would think about swimming in a pool in the parking lot of a hotel.  Isn’t it interesting how you want to provide more for your kids than you had growing up, but then when you succeed in doing so, you fear they will then assume that is how the rest of the world lives?  Parenting is full of conundrums.

Years ago, I frequently traveled to Santa Barbara for work but never had a ton of free time when there, so I was excited to return and explore this beautiful, coastal town at my leisure.  Chip and I spent a wonderful couple of days enjoying the beach, the rooftop pool at the Canary Place Hotel once we moved over there, window shopping on State Street, eating at competing taquerias La Super Rica and Lily’s, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives local favorite, Norton’s, for their famous pastrami dog, sushi from Aragato and enjoying an amazing al fresco dinner at sunset on the terrace at San Ysidro Ranch’s Stonehouse restaurant.  My one dining regret is we never made it to Brophy Brothers on the water for seafood.  It came highly recommended by many, but we just ran out of time.

The very best part of being in Santa Barbara for me was getting to visit with my friend, Melinda.  Melinda and I were best friends when we were teeny tiny little girls.  As she describes it, we were in the church nursery together as babies.  When we were in the second grade, Melinda and her family moved to Oklahoma.  I distinctly remember signing her stuffed autograph doll and being devastated by her move.  Quite remarkably, she and I have remained friends all of these years through her annual visits back to Marks every summer, writing letters back and forth while we were kids and then later on, keeping in touch via e-mail and Facebook.  Over the years, work and personal travel have taken me to the West Coast and likewise for her to the East Coast, so we always see each other when we can.  Professionally, Melinda has always worked in the world of wellness, and now she is self-employed as a consultant for spas, salons and wellness centers.  One of her clients is the Alchemy Arts Center in Santa Barbara, so luckily, she happened to be in town the same time as us.

Alchemy Arts Center, which is amazing by the way, was within walking distance of both of the hotels we stayed, so we enjoyed fresh, cold pressed juices with different shots of health elixirs each morning.  Alchemy is a full-service wellness center complete with a cafe, spa and yoga studio.  Check it out at  After touring the center, I immediately texted Ginny and told her she and I had to open one of these places in D.C.  Chip declared if we did that, then he and Clete were going to open an In-N-Out Burger next door.  Not a bad business plan actually…

tk-alchemyWhen I was in Santa Barbara for work, we always stayed at the Four Season Biltmore Hotel, so we met Melinda at their lounge bar for a cocktail after our dinner at The Stonehouse.  The Ty Lounge holds a special place in my heart, because that is where Dave Matthews casually walked up to me and told me he had just met my mother, how much we looked alike and how meeting her had just made his night.  Yah.  Uh huh.  You just read that right.  I flew Lady Linda out to join me towards the end of a work trip where we spent the weekend along with several other colleagues who had done the exact same thing.  When we had first arrived, the concierge had told us Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds were playing the Santa Barbara Bowl that weekend, so we got him to get us tickets.  Well, it turned out they were also staying at the Four Seasons.  We were having drinks in the lounge after the concert, Mom left to go back to the room, bumped into Dave in the lobby and introduced herself as Linda Boyd from Marks, Mississippi, informed him her daughter had taken her to his show that night, and he had just done a wonderful job.  Ha!  Can you even imagine?  I get so tickled every time I imagine that encounter.  Anyway, we saw him again at breakfast the next morning and he introduced us to his wife and identified Mom as the lady he had told her about.  DMB really lost me when they released the album Everyday, but needless to say, I have been a hard core fan since that weekend, and I highly recommend Lady Linda as a “wing woman” if you ever find yourself in need of one.


To be continued…

– Sheila


Nine Months

14 Sep

Crosby recently celebrated 9 months. Join along in the fun!


Step 1: Joe gets Crosby and her 9-month sticker ready for the picture.


Step 2: Hmmm …


Step 3: Got it!


Step 4: … and I’m going to drool on it.


Step 5: Joe sings Happy Birthday, much to Crosby’s delight. (Click the photo for video.)


Step 6: Crash!

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur

31 Aug

[Continued from Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: San Francisco]

After an awful breakfast at this fake Jewish deli, David’s on Geary Street, across the street from our hotel, Hotel Monaco, we retrieved our sweet, silver Toyota Camry from valet and hit the road.  Just not exactly the right road.  I mean, the road we were on would have technically lead us to our first stop of the day, but singing along in the car…you the hottest bitch in this place…while sipping on my grande, skim, two-pump white mocha, no whip (which I had to stop for, because the fake Jewish deli didn’t even have skim milk!), I suddenly realized my iPhone was sending us to Santa Cruz via an inland highway…what rhymes with hug me?

Wait, STOP!  The whole point of this trip was to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, and that is not what we were doing.  I had a quick conversation with myself rationalizing that we could just stick to the shortest route there and pick up the Highway in Santa Cruz or figure out how to get over there STAT.  I admitted to Chip what I had done, and we both decided we had to find the coastal route, so we re-routed ourselves there by way of Half Moon Bay.  Chip and I had driven from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay several years ago after a trip to Napa, to visit my childhood friend, Melinda, who was the Spa Director at the Ritz-Carlton at the time, so we gave ourselves a pass for missing that portion of the Highway this time.

After reaching Half Moon Bay, we picked up California State Route 1, and I was so, so glad we did, because we passed by some beautiful nurseries with gorgeous flowers, Christmas tree farms and all of these rolling pastures filled with cows.  It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact I was seeing cows grazing in a pasture WITH the Pacific Ocean on the horizon.  Did these cows have any idea how lucky they were to be there instead of a pasture on the side of Charles Barnett Road in Panola County?   But hey, nothing against Panola County as my parents have a little cabin in the woods there.  I’m just saying these cows had probably never had a sinus infection a day in their life, because they had the privilege of smelling that healing, salty air every single day.

We had decided to stop in Santa Cruz for one reason and one reason only and that was to see the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  What a surreal experience to hear seals barking, waves crashing and music from the 1918 Wurlitzer 165 band organ at the carousel all at the same time.  We walked around for awhile just soaking it all in and people watching.  Oh, how I love watching people walking around drinking their favorite flavor ICEE out of a two-foot tall phallic-looking plastic cup.  I always like to imagine them trying to fit it in their dishwasher or kitchen cabinet when they get back home.  But it had seemed like such a great investment of their $14 at the time!


I am not much of a “rides” kind of person.  I have always been afraid of heights and a bit skeptical of the safety standards of rides at any place other than Disney World.  I prefer to get my thrills by ordering the chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings at a nice restaurant and not knowing what I am about to eat next.  Chip was indifferent on riding anything, so we had decided to just get back on the road, but on our walk back through the Boardwalk, there was this one ride that kept tugging at me–The Giant Dipper.


The Giant Dipper is this wooden roller coaster built in 1924 and is a National Historic Landmark.  Seizing the moment before I changed my mind, Chip bought 12 tickets from the closest ticket booth, and we got in line.  As we were crawling into our seat, I turned to Chip and asked him if I was going to die.  He said, “Yes, you are going to be the one person out of 12 who dies on this ride right now.”  The lap bar locked into place.  I had my eyes closed so tight and my heart was racing as we started to climb that first hill and then suddenly…WOOSH…off we went.  I could barely catch my breath before we would tear down the next hill or jerkily round the next turn.  And then, just like that, it was done.  I had tears streaming down my face from laughing so hard.  Riding that roller coaster was the most alive I have felt since Crosby was born.  I dare you to ride a roller coaster with the wind ripping through your hair at 55 mph and not be present in that moment.  It. was. awesome.


I treated myself to a bag of cotton candy, we hopped in the car and continued our drive to Monterey.  On our way, we passed acres and acres of fields filled with artichokes, avocados, strawberries, blueberries and migrant workers.  I had never seen an artichoke plant or avocado tree in my life.  We passed by roadside stands selling seven artichokes or avocados for a $1.  $1?!?  Damn, Whole Foods is raping us!   I wish I could have filled my suitcase full and brought some of that fresh produce home with me.

Monterey is best known for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and First Awakenings for breakfast, but neither of us had any interest in visiting the aquarium, and it was already mid-day, so we simply stopped for sandwiches for lunch and to hit an ATM machine, because between the two of us, we only had $7 cash and knew we needed $9.50 for the toll for the 17-Mile Drive up ahead.

The 17-Mile Drive is a scenic loop through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach largely hugging the Pacific Coast line.  The 17-Mile Drive has four primary entrances, and we entered at Pacific Grove.  We passed Spyglass golf course, beautiful Spanish-style mansions, and other scenic attractions such as the Lone Cypress, the official symbol of Pebble Beach Golf Links.


Since I am not a golfer, I shall refrain from writing about Pebble Beach because I wouldn’t do it justice, but I do know it’s the holy MFing grail of golf courses and Chip was very excited to be there, so I’ll just leave it at that.  Due to our trip incidentally coinciding with the 63rd annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, we were unable to find a place to park at The Lodge that day, so we returned the following morning and dropped a jaw dropping amount on a jaw dropping minuscule amount of logo’d paraphernalia, but Chip and Joe ARE going to look pretty cute in their matching sweat shirts this winter.


I am not exactly a car person either. I have had my driver’s license for 23 years now and have only owned three cars–a Honda Civic named “Peanut” which had no power steering or windows, a Ford Explorer named “Scout” and now a soul-sucking, kid-friendly Subaru Outback swagger wagon–so I shall also refrain from writing about the Concours d’Elegance, but every road and every parking lot was filled with either luxury antique or sports cars.  Did I even get that right??


We exited the 17-Mile Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea and drove around for a bit.  OMG.  What an adorable little town!  Carmel was a mix of downtown Greenwich, Connecticut and the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly in Tennessee.  We stopped at Mission Ranch, this old 1800s ranch restored by Carmel resident and former Mayor, Clint Eastwood.  I have kind of had an old man crush on Clint Eastwood since I saw him in that chick flick, Bridges of Madison County, ages ago.  We found a place to sit outside, but it was early yet for dinner.  The view of the old farmhouses and sheep grazing on the property against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean was so breathtaking and relaxing, we decided to at least stay for a drink.

While we were waiting, I slipped my shoes off, kicked my feet back and forth on the cool grass and imagined that scene from the movie where Meryl Streep had gone into town with her husband and she saw Clint Eastwood’s truck and he sees her and he gets out and just stands there in the pouring rain while the thunder is clapping but then her husband comes back and they all drive off and then they get behind Clint in that old GMC at the stop sign and he hangs the cross necklace she gave him up on his rearview mirror and she has her hand on the door handle just gripping it trying to decide if she should jump out of the truck to go be with him or not, and then our grilled artichoke and two glasses of wine arrived.

As the sun was going down, we made the drive from Carmel to our final destination of the day, Big Sur.  Wow.  Words cannot even describe the beauty of the Pacific Coast along that stretch of California Route 1.  Each turn delivered a breath-taking view of the ocean crashing against the side of the Santa Lucia Mountains.  We understood then that particular portion of the drive was exactly why we had made the trip.  It also made sense to me why every travel guide insisted upon driving the Pacific Coast Highway from North to South.  Other than the South simply being better than the North at least from an East Coast perspective, the folks driving from South to North were on the inside of the highway and could not easily pull over at the many lookout points along the way.


We were exhausted and starving once we arrived in Big Sur, so we drove directly to Nepenthe for dinner before checking into our hotel, Ventana Inn & Spa.


We quickly learned that Big Sur isn’t exactly known for its expert culinary skills at the sparse dining establishments.  The views at Nepenthe and Post Ranch Inn were inspiring but the food itself was underwhelming and ridiculously priced.  We had dinner one night at the restaurant at Ventana, and one of the courses brought to me was so disjointed it was as if someone had handed the chef a basket of mystery ingredients like it was the second round of Chopped.

The most notable meal from our two days spent in the Big Sur region was breakfast one morning at Katy’s Place in Carmel.  It’s a cash only establishment located in the heart of Carmel Village.  I have to give notable mention to the Juevos Rancheros Chip ordered.  The eggs were simmered in fresh salsa, served over what tasted like homemade corn tortillas and topped with a perfectly ripened avocado and sour cream.  I may never order that dish again as it would most certainly be a letdown after savoring this particular version.  My silver dollar pancakes, bacon and poached egged over toasted sour dough was also worth the gluten-induced coma I was in the remainder of that day which was probably best since we just spent the afternoon at the clothing optional pool at Ventana.

Photo not attached and to be continued…

– Sheila

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: San Francisco

22 Aug

This summer we have been fortunate to have taken several fun weekend trips with the kids, but Chip and I really wanted to take a longer trip together. Just the two of us. We plan our lives in six week increments–from one set of scans to the next–so we had identified and penciled in a week in August for us to travel if we could. Don’t get me wrong, our calendar is chock full of weddings, birthday parties, work trips, etc., but we don’t pull the trigger on booking flights, renting cars, arranging logistics for the kids, or requesting time off from work until we have passed our next set of scans. That’s not a complaint, just our reality. If scans go well, then we know we can set in motion our next six weeks of living. If not, we remain on stand-by to search for the next best treatment option for Chip wherever that may be.

As I have said before, I am a planner, a professional scheduler, so while this adjustment was initially jarring to my little system, it’s now quite liberating to not have to commit to anything so far out. In the past, I would look at our often fully booked calendar and feel suffocated by the fact we were fully committed for the next couple of months, but now? Well, our calendar still looks exactly the same but maybe we’ll be there, maybe we won’t, and I kind of like having that freedom now. As I have discovered with much of life, you just have to tweak your mindset a bit in order to find that silver lining I am always reaching for.

Two summers ago, Lady Linda and Joe Boyd drove up from Mississippi to keep Joe for the week for us. Initially, our intention was to either drive the Amalfi Coast in Italy or drive the Pacific Coast Highway in Central California. The itch to travel has always run deep in my veins, but our honeymoon to Greece was the first time Chip had ever traveled abroad. Chip couldn’t stand the thought of being so far away from Joe, who was only 1 1/2 years old at the time. Mind you when Joe was 14 months old, I spent two weeks in Mali and Tanzania, Africa traveling with my parents. Being fully respectful of Chip, we ended up spending a week in Georgia at Sea Island and visiting with our friends Berkley and David in Savannah on our drive back home. Even though it wasn’t originally what we had in mind, it was still an amazing and relaxing week. And we escaped the infamous D.C. earthquake! My poor parents really received the shock of their lives that day though. Literally.

When we decided we wanted to try to take another trip together this summer, we revisited our two “drive” itineraries from that summer. We both really wanted to go to Italy, but as adventurous as I am, neither of us felt comfortable leaving the States. At least in California, we had access to U.S. doctors and hospitals if we needed them plus had several friends up and down the coast which, subconsciously, was a huge source of comfort to me if something happened.

Chip’s previous set of scans performed seven weeks ago didn’t show the drastic improvement his first set of scans on his trial drug, LDK, had shown. Our friend Clete accompanied Chip on this particular overnight trip, and Clete’s wife, Ginny, spent the night with the kids and me. That set of scans showed all tumors were stable but this new “cloudiness” had appeared in one of Chip’s lungs. The staff at Fox Chase weren’t quite sure what that cloudiness was either. It could have been one of three things: a normal upper respiratory infection, pneumonitis (which is pneumonia-like symptoms and a common side effect of lung cancer treatments), or a spread of the disease. If Chip had contracted pneumonitis on Xalkori, his first treatment, he would have been permanently pulled from the drug. But on this trial, they would temporarily suspend the drug, treat the symptoms with steroids, and resume the treatment. Not ideal but something we could handle. The oncologist wanted to watch things and instructed Chip to return to Philadelphia immediately if he developed a bad cough or started to experience any shortness of breath. The results weren’t exactly bad but not exactly what we had hoped for either. It took us a couple of days to re-calibrate our expectations, but overall, we decided we were generally pleased with his progress.

Two weeks later, the weekend we spent as a family at Nemacolin, Chip developed this nasty cough. Let me tell you, your mind can race to some dark, dark places when you are instructed to “watch things” and then this happens. The entire family had been passing a cold and cough around so I knew it could just be that, but still, for the first time in two months, I became really scared. I mean, really. After we returned home that Sunday, I broke down that night. Sobbed like I hadn’t sobbed in months. We were already scheduled to go to Philadelphia that week for a day appointment we have every alternating six weeks, so we e-mailed our oncologist’s nurse, and she moved our appointment up and scheduled a chest x-ray for Chip.

We dropped the kids off at daycare early that morning and began our drive up. We were both anxious but in our typical style, also calm and most importantly, together. At our appointment, we began to tell the oncologist’s nurse the cough had been quite productive as they politely say in the industry. I guess “productive” is better than “coughing shit up.” We also told her Chip had been feeling quite well, had great energy and stamina, had been playing golf, swimming, doing yard work, etc., etc. Imagine our shock when she was relieved to learn it was a wet cough full of mucus! THAT was a good thing. A dry cough and steadily decreasing energy would have most likely indicated pneumonitis or a spread of the disease, and nothing abnormal showed up on the chest x-ray, so she congratulated us on having a chest cold and cough and prescribed good ol’ OTC Robitussin DM and sent us on our way. But before we left, I got up enough nerve to ask her if she thought we were in good enough shape to try to take a week-long trip in one month. She said yes as long as there were no surprises at our next set of scans scheduled in three weeks.

To say that we were giddy on our drive back home that afternoon is an understatement. So giddy that Chip took a wrong turn on our way home, which set us back about two hours. Asshole. By the way, did you know that even if your husband has stage IV lung cancer, he can still be an asshole? It’s true. It took me several weeks after Chip was diagnosed to realize that we could still be authentic in our marriage. I could still be a bitch, he could still get his own glass of water, we could still exchange knowing looks and talk to each other without ever having to say a word, we could still be mad at each other, we could still love each other passionately, he could still take out the trash, we could still stream Netflix and snuggle on the couch, we could still do all kinds of normal people things together. It was such relief to me when I figured that one out.

I had exactly four weeks to book flights for my parents to come up and plan a week-long trip in California–all while trying to finish up my job in the Senator’s office, train the new scheduler, and get myself somewhat settled in my new office. Oh, and Chip’s parents came up one weekend so we could travel to Chicago for work. Well, work for Chip but pleasure for me as I got to spend the weekend playing with one of my best friends from home, Charlotte. I usually savor the months leading up to a trip, because I find planning the trip to be nearly as exciting as taking the trip itself, but I just had to make do this time. I ordered a couple of books on Amazon, banged out a few e-mails to friends in the area or who had taken a similar trip for recommendations and would sit up at night, after everyone went to bed, on the Internet reading various reviews on different routes, hotels and restaurants. It may not have been my best work to date, but I thought I had crafted a pretty decent itinerary for us.

Lady Linda flew in the day before we were next due in Philadelphia for an overnight stay for our MRI and CT scan, scheduled bright and early the following morning. One of the great parts about being on a trial is you receive your test results within hours. We were euphoric to learn both scans revealed everything was stable. Boom! While we waited on his labs to come back and for our next round of meds from the pharmacy, we started texting our parents and e-mailing our friends with the great news and salivating at the thought of this amazing truffle and poached egg brick-oven pizza we always eat from this pizzeria called Stella’s, which has become a post-scan tradition of ours.

It seemed to be taking longer than normal, and we were both getting antsy and pretty hungry since Chip can’t eat anything after midnight pre-early morning scans. As nice as all of our nurses are, busting our way out of the double doors of Fox Chase Cancer Center is pretty damn exciting. A couple minutes later, the drug trial protocol nurse came in and informed us Chip’s liver enzyme levels had spiked and were high enough for them to have to temporarily suspend him from the trial again. Fuck! I was dizzy. She truly seemed as disappointed to deliver the news to us as we were to have received it. She immediately said she and the oncologist had discussed our upcoming trip, and they both really wanted us to go, so they had made a decision to go ahead and send us home with our next 21-day supply of chemo along with four prescriptions for blood work to be performed twice a week until the liver enzyme levels had gone down enough in order for Chip to resume the trial. Fuckity, fuckity, fuck. They were really working hard with us to help us maintain our quality of life, which we appreciated, the pizza was still delicious AND we could still go on our trip–but up and down, up and down the roller coaster we sure rode that day.

The day after we got home, Chip made a road trip with a friend down to Myrtle Beach for the weekend for another friend’s bachelor party. Chip doesn’t drink much anymore as alcohol turns into sugar, but considering he has a tumor on his liver and has now been pulled from the trial twice due to elevated liver enzyme levels, he really, really couldn’t afford to drink on this trip. Spending three days at the beach and on the golf course with your buddies sans alcohol isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do, but not being one to miss out, Chip still played flip cup and beer pong with water, so he was well hydrated by the time he returned home that Monday night.

The following day, as prescribed, Chip had blood work drawn locally. It would take 24 hours for the results to come back, which placed us in San Francisco at the airport standing in line for our rental car the next day when Chip received a call from our protocol nurse at Fox Chase with the news his enzyme levels had lowered enough for us to resume the trial. PTL and hallelujah!! He had only been off chemo for seven days, and we didn’t have to find random labs on our vacation. I immediately installed the In-N-Out Burger app on my iPhone, and luckily, there was one located less than a mile from the SFO exit. Maybe it was the good news or the fact we were finally on our trip that made it taste so good, but that cheeseburger, served up animal-style, with a side of home-cut fries and a vanilla milkshake, was pretty damn amazing. We would end up chasing that food high for the rest of our trip.

Since we had already done San Francisco together several years earlier and this trip was intended to be a scenic one, we crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge and headed straight to Muir Woods.


The drive up was quite steep and full of switchbacks, which Chip was just flying around as a boy from the Mt. Washington Valley could, but this girl from the Delta was about to have a heart attack. Much to Chip’s amusement, I was holding on to the door handle with one hand and the dashboard with the other while I leaned toward the center of the car with all of my might thinking that would help keep our car from toppling off the side of the mountain.

I had been to Muir Woods years ago but being quite honest, was too hungover at the time to enjoy it, so I was glad to be back–and out of the car! In the parking lot, we popped the trunk and dug our socks and tennis shoes out of our suitcases. I noticed that folks around us had walking sticks, cargo shorts and camel packs on and considering all the National Monument’s trails are either paved or covered with wooden planks, I made fun of their unnecessary aggressiveness. Damn American tourists with all of their fancy gadgetry.

Chip and I very much enjoyed our walk marveling at the beauty and height of the redwoods. The temperature was perfect as we were shaded by a canopy from the trees. On our walk, we were constantly surprised and awed by pockets of sunbeams periodically peering through the treetops at us. I marveled at our beautiful, beautiful world. It was so beautiful that when it was time to turn around and go back, I spotted a map of the grounds displayed on a wooden sign, and after briefly reviewing it, I suggested we take a different path back. During my brief review, I failed to notice this new path was actually a hiking trail–not a paved or covered pathway like we had walked in on. Holy crap! The trail was circuitous and steep and like 76 miles long, and I was wearing cropped silk pants with ruching on the sides and neither of us had any water! Who looked like the asshole now? I know that’s what I get for making fun of those people in the parking lot, and I am the first to admit, I am constantly eating my own words, but at least I looked cuter than they did so THERE!!


On mile what felt like #37, I started to panic over what I had gotten us into, fearing the hike was too strenuous for Chip to physically handle, but I soon realized I was the one unable to keep up with him. He absolutely loved it, and I ended up loving it, too, you know, once we had finally reached the visitor’s center back at the entrance. Don’t think I didn’t go back and hunt down another map on a wooden marquee, and much to my shock and disbelief, it only ended up being 2.6 miles in length, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t pick the most difficult hike there. They recommended allowing two hours for the hike. Ha! We had nailed it in 45 minutes!


Since it had been two hours since we had eaten lunch, Chip swallowed his pills down with a cup of watered down ice tea sitting in the car in the parking lot. I knew every cell in his body was tingling at that moment, so I have no doubt those cancer cells received an especially good water boarding that day. The thought of that sure felt good.

We later checked into our hotel located in Union Square, I took a quick nap since my body was still on East Coast time, and then we walked to this random, yet one of my favorite, Chinese restaurant located in the financial district called R&G Lounge where we devoured the house specialty, salt and pepper fried Dungeness crab. After dinner, I suggested we walk back to our hotel via Nob Hill, because I wanted to see Grace Cathedral lit up at night, so we walked up, up, up from Chinatown to Nob Hill. The walk was much longer and much more steep than I had remembered, but of course I acted like it was NBD, but it was 1 AM on our body-clocks, and for a brief second there, I literally thought Chip might kill me. I knew he at least wanted to, but thankfully, was a good sport about it. After two adventure walks in one day, he rightfully banned me from picking any more routes for the duration of the trip.

To be continued …

– Sheila

Eight Months

3 Aug

all smiles

happy 8 months, crosby!

happy 8 months, crosby!

Seven Months

30 Jun

happy 7 months, crosby! (note: sticker is intact.)

now the sticker knows who's boss.

now the sticker knows who’s boss.

In Pictures

8 Jun

Here are a few recent pictures of Team Kennett:

skinny dipping in florida

skinny dipping in florida

happy 6 months, crosby!

happy 6 months, crosby!


crosby’s first day at day care


sweet big brother

Also, many thanks to our dear friend Alison Hathaway, Red Shoes Photography, for sharing her time and talent with us.  Check us out on her blog: Team Kennett in Old Town.  What a perfect gift!


joe at our red shoes photography photo shoot!


4 May
miss cros celebrated 5 months at the end of april

miss cros celebrated 5 months at the end of april

joe and chip celebrated swimming in the rain, sea island, may 2013

joe and chip celebrated swimming in the rain, sea island, may 2013

another from joe's special weekend away, sea island, may 2013.

another one from joe’s special weekend away, sea island, may 2013


Soccer Saturday

14 Apr
back on the soccer field!

back on the soccer field!


3 Apr

Crosby celebrated her 4-month birthday at the end of March …

all smiles

All smiles

… and a happy (belated) Easter from the Kennetts!

easter day 2013

Easter Day 2013