Survivor: Vicki Dees

At our company, Multiplicity Media, we quite a few profiles of cancer survivors.  We also produce a lot of cancer research and information from conferences all over the globe.  You will probably never see any of the cancer research and information videos here, but how we choose to survive is a universal theme we can all relate to.  You can learn a thing or two about grace under pressure from watching and reading Vicki Dees.

I had the honor of interviewing Vicki in her home this past July.  In a short time Vicki and her devoted husband, Kerwin, secured a special place in my heart.  I am enamored at how they handle their journey one day at a time.  They have an unending well of love to give, and a unwavering commitment to inspiring and bringing hope to others.

It’s a short video, and if you have the time — it’s well worth viewing.

Unfortunately, Vicki Dees lost her battle with cancer on March 4, 2011.

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Review: Next to Normal National Tour – Los Angeles

Next to Normal

Last night I attended opening night of Next to Normal at the Ahmanson Theatre here in Los Angeles.  I went with my mother-in-law, which is something we enjoy doing together several times a year.

Next to Normal is a musical about mental illness and how it plays out in this family’s dynamics.  Diana’s (played by Tony Award Winning, Alice Ripley) mental outbreaks, manic episodes, delusions, pill-popping, and wrist-slitting consume both her long-suffering husband Dan (played by the the soulful and earnest, Asa Somers) and her “invisible” daughter Natalie (the amazingly talented, Emma Hunton) for more than sixteen years.

Natalie refers to herself as the “Invisible Girl” because her parents lost their first child, Gabe, (the chilling, Curt Hansen) when he was eight months old.  However, Gabe has never left Diana.  He has grown up in her mind for the past eighteen years, leaving Natalie feeling invisible.  It is heavy subject matter, that, as you watch it, can only be described as a labor of love, though producer, David Stone, describes it as “only love.”  The score is a contemporary rock opera by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.  The six-person ensemble cast rounds out with the incredible talents of Preston Sadleir (playing Natalie’s boyfriend, Henry) and Jeremy Kushneir (Dr. Madden).

“Most people who think they’re happy just haven’t thought about it enough,” Diana tells her shrink, Dr. Madden, “Most people who think they’re happy are actually just stupid.” This line got a huge laugh from the audience, including me.  It was scenes like this one, where we could all look in and see a little bit of our own life, bringing out the universal appeal of Next to Normal despite the crazy.  There are moments where we can all relate to it, if only tangentially.

Most of us are not living with someone who has a debilitating mental illness, but I am quite certain I could poll a sampling of people and very few would say, “Yes, I grew up in a normal house.” Most would say, “What do you mean by normal?” and laugh as if they had an inside joke in their head.  They do.  Their own family.  When two or more people inhabit a confined, shared space for decades, they’re all going to see sides of each other that are certainly not normal, just ask my husband.  As human beings we need a place to let go, for most of us, that place is our home.  Normal is all relative when it comes to family.  Natalie longs for this as she tells Diana in their final scene together:

I don’t need a life that’s normal
That’s way too far away
But something next to normal
Would be okay
Yeah, something next to normal
That’s the thing I’d like to try
Close enough to normal
To get by

Most of us, certainly not all, grew up in “something next to normal,” next to normal is the stuff of great universal comedy.  Where would we all be without our “crazy family” stories at parties and on our blogs?  After sitting through Next to Normal, you’ll be grateful you were next to it and not longing for it.

When we drove home last night, as always, my mother-in-law asked me what I thought?  Would people go see it?  Despite the fact that I have a BFA in Musical Theater from the Boston Conservatory, I have no idea.  I am continually amazed at what people will flock to go and see and often what I think is wonderful passes without a blip.

My hunch is it will have a great run here in Los Angeles, and on the tour.  If you live in one of the cities where it is playing, I highly recommend it.  The audience at the opening in Los Angeles last night gave the cast a standing ovation.

I came home and bought the album off of itunes.  Some great new belting songs for my shower singing.  Is that normal?

~ Terrilox

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The Conflicted Jew

I was not raised with any real religious conviction to speak of.  I remember attending Sunday School at St. Maria Goretti in Arlington, TX.  I sang Jesus Loves the Little Children and colored pictures of the snake tempting Eve with the apple, and other biblical scenes.   By the time I started first grade I had a working knowledge of Bible stories all children should know. Occasionally I would go to the same church with my Memom where I would skip Sunday School and instead get to kneel in pews and play with her rosary.

Looking back on this, I laugh, because after the service Memom and I would often go shopping at Buddies (the local grocery store at the time, which is now Tom Thumb, I think).  I loved shopping at Buddies with Memom because she lived by the rule that all of the Brach’s candy was free while we were in the store.  I would put three shiny, wrapped candies in my pocket (or her pocket) and while we were shopping I would savor the delicious orange, vanilla and butter rum caramels.  I am not sure if God agreed with her interpretation of  “Thou shalt not steal.”  She was a kid from the depression, perhaps in Kulpmont, PA they were allowed to test the candy?

I tried this same “free while in the store” line of reasoning with my Mom when we went shopping.  She was not amused.  It became a private thing I shared with Memom on Sundays or whenever we happened to be shopping at Buddies.

Terry Merrill Wilcox, Alma Terry Merrill and Kay Frazer

Me, Memom and Mom Before Wedding Day – August 2007

Religion and overly religious people have always freaked me out a little bit because it’s so unfamiliar.  I would attend  Bible camp with various friends growing up and there was often swaying and crying during the religious gatherings.  I was always on the outside looking in.  I am inherently skeptical of outward displays of religion, even now, though as I have gotten older I am much more at ease around it, provided they are not blowing anything up in the name of it.

My great-grandfather was a preacher for the Disciples of Christ, but I never saw my Gran Gran pray or set foot in a church.  Somehow all that churchin’ growing up had turned him away from God, at least that I could tell.  The only stories he ever told were about his Mom putting cloves in a Spam for Sunday supper.  Given how much my Gran Gran liked to eat, a life of preaching, praying and eating canned “ham” on Sundays was not going to be for him.   I often wondered if it became a private thing for him?  This was not anything we ever discussed, though now I wish we had.

Despite my unfamiliarity with religious expression, I have always felt there is something much greater.  The fact that there is something greater cannot be proven, but the fact that there is not can’t either.  Ultimately, I live by what feels authentic to me, and God has become a very private, yet very important part of my life.  It’s not something I will blog about often, but it is Sunday and Christmas is upon us … so my inner religious conflicts are at the forefront of my mind.

In 2007, I converted to Judaism before I got married.  I did this because I wanted to give our children (children we do not have yet) a foundation I always felt I was lacking.  I jumped into the conversion with both feet and joined a local conservative synagogue in Studio City, CA.  Before I met my husband I was already headed towards Judaism.  I had started the conversion process when I was attending a reform synagogue in Hollywood, but stopped after 9/11.  That horrible day turned me away from God for awhile.  Eventually, I found myself silently praying again, and ultimately back on my Jewish track.  I love the ritual of Judaism and being musically inclined, I love all of the singing, even if it is in Hebrew.

My husband and I attended services on Friday nights for awhile, but he is not a fan of all the singing in Hebrew.  He wants to hear an intellectually enlightening sermon.  When the rabbi he liked left our small synagogue, that was it for him … at least for now. Without a synagogue and a community I have never been able to develop my Jewish roots, so to speak.  When all is said and done, I feel no different than before.  There is no real interest in the ritual of Judaism from my Jewish family, though we do celebrate the major Jewish holidays at the family rabbi’s house.  But ultimately, the conversion feels phony and empty.

My new family simply is Jewish, regardless of their practice or lack of it, being Jewish is inherently a part of them.  They have never not felt Jewish.  Judaism is a faith and a culture all rolled into one (though some would argue this point), and if you are born into it, you can be one without the other.  For converts like me, it is a difficult journey to take alone when you are married to someone not inclined to take the journey with you.  I converted so my children would be Jewish, but what does being Jewish mean if there is no practice of the faith?  I struggle with this and my love of pork …

A Homemade Huppah Quilt

Our Wedding Huppah Quilt – Squares Decorated By Family and Friends

Terry Merrill Wilcox & Jonathan Wilcox Wedding Day

Under the Huppah on our Wedding Day

My internal religious conflict becomes more pronounced this time of year because the only ritual I know is Christmas.  My husband loves Christmas. and he actually had a tree in his house growing up.  He doesn’t mind if I put up a tree and present my snowman collection to the world, but in doing this I feel I am betraying an oath I took when I converted.  They say as Jews we cannot celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah simultaneously as it is a confusion of faith.  Intellectually, I know it is, but my heart longs for Christmas.

This year, I have decided to fully do both.  I know what the naysayers say, and I respect it, but there is a spirit of this season that only comes once a year.  Strict Christians will tell me, “He’s the reason for the season” and Jews will tell me “You can’t celebrate both.”

At this juncture, I am not confusing any young minds, I am enriching my soul.  The holiday season is a time to reflect, give, receive and evaluate your life as you enter a new year.  (Yes, Judaism has its own new year with Rosh Hashanah.  We get to evaluate our lives twice within the span of a few months!)  Holidays should be celebrated how they feel most authentic to you and your family, while honoring their meaning, warmth and magic as you light candles, trim trees, bake cookies, give gifts and receive the grace that comes from the spirit of the season that is upon us.

I hope you and yours are getting ready for a beautiful, meaningful and reflective holiday!

Many Blessings ~

Terrilox

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Adventures in Pumpkin Bread Pudding – Part 2 (and other Thanksgiving Tales)

Below is a list of things I did not own the night before Thanksgiving that I now own.  There are many utensils I come across in my cooking adventures I have literally never used.  Like, a rolling pin.  So, I get to make trips to Target.  I love Target.

After an evening run to Whole Foods and Target, I now own:

  • Nutmeg
  • Whole vanilla bean (which, I had to ask for because who knew it came in a jar in the spice section?)
  • A large rolling pin (I do own a small rolling pin I got at a Pampered Chef party … I have no idea)
  • A strainer (I am told I need this to strain the custard … who knew?)
  • Whole milk
  • Plastic wrap (not from the 99 cent store)
  • Aluminum foil (not from the 99 cent store)

Those last two are a point of contention between my husband and me.  The 99 cent store plastic wrap will actually maim you, or give you a paper cut that bleeds for three days — either way I am not using it.

It is now the morning after Thanksgiving as I finish this, and all I can say is I love Bobby Flay and The Pioneer Woman.  They made me look like I can cook.  I am in need of reinforcements since the only things my husband thinks I cook are chili and tacos.  I make great chili and tacos, by the way.

The picture below is Bobby’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding before going into the oven.  I used Crown Royal for the Bourbon in the pumpkin custard and it was great.  I made the Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise for the topping and skipped the Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce.  The Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise was AMAZING.  I baked the pudding for 45 minutes at home and heated it an additional 15 minutes before serving.  It was a huge hit!

Bobby Flay’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding Pre-Oven

My other cooking adventure for Thanksgiving was The Pioneer Woman’s Parker House Rolls.  I think my husband fell in love with me all over again.  I was extremely scared about baking bread from scratch.  I had literally never done it, not even in my unused bread machine.  I don’t want to say this too loudly, but I actually loved it.  It was relaxing.  I did ever step of the recipe, except I used bread flour and a fast-rising yeast packet because it was what I had.  If there was a difference, I couldn’t tell you what it was.  They were literally the best rolls I have ever had.

The Pioneer Woman’s Parker House Rolls Pre-Oven

I did not bake the rolls in this pan.  This is how I brought them to my in-laws where I baked them on an air cookie sheet.   They came out looking like like little Pac Men, and we chomped them right up!  I said I was going to get picture of people eating them, but I was too busy eating them to take pictures.  In fact, I was a lazy photographer this Thanksgiving.  I need to get more diligent about that.

Thanksgiving Meal 2010

For the meal we had a turkey breast, spiral ham with my mother-in-law’s amazing ham sauce — sourdough dressing, sweet potato pudding (this rocks!) and cranberry jello mold topped with a dab of sour cream (really good!).  For dessert, in addition to the pumpkin bread pudding, our friend Jordan brought a homemade pumpkin cheesecake and my mother-in-law baked a homemade apple pie.

I wish I had gotten a picture of all of us, but alas, I did not.

Erik and Becky. Erik is a Wine Connoisseur Extraordinaire!

Boomer in front of his fire. He loves his grandparents house.

Another Thanksgiving has come to an end.  I am grateful for the gathering with family and friends, and excited about the leftovers!

When my husband, Boomer and I drove home last night we decided to take a peek at all of the shoppers waiting in line to start shopping.  I have really never seen anything like it.  What a scene!  People were sitting in lawn chairs, behind barricades with their laptops and large cups of coffee.  People even brought their dogs and frisbees to pass the time.  It was 46 degrees in Los Angeles last night.  Cold.  Very cold.  I have never shopped for sport, but those who do know exactly what they are doing!  Would not want to get in their way in a Walmart aisle at 2:00am!

I hope you and yours had a great Thanksgiving this year.  Thanks for letting me share my Thanksgiving adventures with you.

Many Blessings ~

Terrilox

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Adventures in Pumpkin Bread Pudding – Part 1

I created a cooking section here at Terrilox, not because I consider myself a cook, but because I want to be a better cook.  I love reading cooking blogs like Three Many Cooks, Gluten-Free Girl and My Diary of a Foodie (by one of my friends from college, Paula).  These are just a few of the many I steal from on a weekly basis, including the Food Network, Epicurious and Cooks Illustrated!

FYI, I am not a “gluten-free girl”, I just happen to think her blog is beautiful and there so much love and joy in every post.  It’s such a pleasure to read and she and her husband make a lots of delicious, beautiful food!

The Terrilox cooking section is more of a personal journey to find my inner cook and not meant to impart any great cooking knowledge you can easily  find so many other places on the web.  I hope you enjoy my meanderings and most likely, my mistakes as the adventure unfolds.  My husband is the test kitchen, and trust me, he is one tough cookie.  He says he does not like ten things, but really it is ten food groups.  I have my work cut out for me.

I am not in charge of the Thanksgiving meal this year, nor have I ever been.  I am sure my day will come, but tomorrow is not it.  For the time being I sure do enjoy eating it.  My husbands parents really know how to cook!  I always tell them their house is one of my favorite restaurants in town, they like that.

I may not be cooking up the whole meal, but I am in charge of rolls and dessert.  Honestly, if the whole meal was rolls and dessert I would be happy.  I decided to copy The Pioneer Woman’s daughter, Petunia (and most likely thousands of other people across the country) and make Bobby Flay’ Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce and Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise. Like Petunia, I am going to skip the Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce because I am not a big fan of star anise and sometimes with my crew, the simpler it is, the better.  You can find the great pictures of her baking extravaganza here.  For the pumpkin bread, the only changes I made were skipping the nutmeg (because I did not realize I was out) and I sifted all of the dry ingredients together.  I like the sifter, what can I say?

I just pulled the Pumpkin Bread out of the oven and boy does it smell good!  I am a wee bit scared it might not make it to the pudding tomorrow given I am home alone tonight with no one watching except Boomer.  Boomer is our cat, you will hear lots about him as time goes by.

Boomer’s Fall School Picture — He is 15 this year.

I will let the bread sit overnight and prepare the actual pudding tomorrow  before we head over to my in-laws.  I am a messy cook, so you won’t get a lot of pictures of the actual process, but I’ll take a few.

Please notice the Emilie Henry ceramic bread pan that I absolutely had to have when I got married because I was going to bake in style!  I have used once since I got married.  But the one time I used it, I did it with style!

My husband loves to look at me and say, “Do you cook?” every time I get ready to cook.  Honestly, he has a point.

The first step in Bobby Flay’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding

It is official.  I cannot be trusted with warm, delicious, moist, scrumptious pumpkin bread in my kitchen.  I think I should make another on just in case.  But first, off to the store to get whole milk and the missing nutmeg.  Though I cannot imagine making it taste any better!

Adventures continued tomorrow as I prepare the actual bread pudding and bake The Pioneer Woman’s Parker House Rolls. There are lots of great recipes for rolls, but I just had to try one with all that butter.  Yummy!

Happy Thanksgiving Eve Everyone!

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