Tag Archives: family

Food Bloggers Against Hunger: A Recipe from my Grandmother

pepper, onions, potatoes & beansWhen I make my weekly run to the grocery store, long list in hand, I rarely look at prices – and most days I take that luxury for granted.  For this day, for this post, I’m stopping to think about how truly lucky I am.


My grandmother.

Signing on to Food Bloggers Against Hunger (along with over 200 bloggers!) has made me pause, to take stock, to whittle down my grocery list to the bare essentials – to compare prices.  I went to the grocery store armed with $4 and a very short list.  When I thought about how I would stretch that $4, I immediately thought of this dish.  It’s one my Sicilian grandmother made for her family of five.  I’m sure that there were many nights when my grandmother had to stretch a few ingredients to feed her hungry kids – and this dish would’ve have filled their bellies.  She might have added scrambled eggs to this dish – and probably a handful of Parmesano Reggiano if she had it.  This recipe has stood the test of time – my father made it for his family and we kids always thought it was a treat.  Later, it became one of my go-to recipes as a singleton and it’s never failed to satisfy.

Incidentally, I came in under $4 – with nearly a whole whopping dollar to spare.  Here’s how my purchases added up:

Green bell pepper: $0.68
Potato: $0.78
Yellow onion: $0.63
15 oz. can great northern beans: $0.68
Tax: $0.27
Total: $3.04

Instead of eggs or tofu, I added a can of white beans – a bargain.  My grandmother probably would have used olive oil to prepare this dish, but since I run an oil-free kitchen, I’ve cooked mine in some vegetable broth, soy sauce and water.

A Place at the Table

I hope after reading this post you’ll click here and take 30 seconds and send a letter to Congress asking them to support anti-hunger legislation. Your participation will help protect nutrition programs that help kids get much-needed food into their bellies.  For more detailed information, visit Share Our Strength – and check out the documentary, A Place at the Table, via Amazon or iTunes.  Thank you, The Giving Table, for organizing this event.


Peppers, Potatoes, Beans & Onions
Serves 4

1 green bell pepper, stemmed, cored and sliced
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced and divided
1 large potato, scrubbed and peeled
1 15 oz. can great northern beans, rinsed and drained
splash of vegetable broth, water, and or soy sauce
ground black pepper, to taste

Peel and wash the potato, then cut into small cubes.  Pour a little water and soy sauce into a baking dish.  Add the potato, 1/3 of the minced garlic and plenty of ground black pepper.  Now – turn on the oven to 425F and put the pan with the potatoes in the oven.  I start with a cold oven for roasting potatoes because I discovered that they stick less to the pan this way.  Keep a close eye on these guys and add water/broth/soy sauce as necessary to prevent sticking.  They’ll soften and brown a little bit.  After about 20 minutes, they should be done.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat a little water/vegetable broth and add the bell pepper, onion and garlic.  Sauté for 10 minutes or until veggies are soft.  Add water/broth as necessary to prevent sticking.  Stir in the beans and the potatoes, and season with pepper.  Cook just enough to heat the beans through.  Serve immediately.


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(Cafe) Barcelona Soup and Sandwich

Sandwich and SaladOne of the things I really enjoy about cooking is trying to recreate restaurant meals.  Sometimes I even think that I’ve gotten a recipe just a little bit better than the original – but that’s probably because I believe the best meals are those made and eaten at home.

This quick and easy salad-and-sandwich combination was inspired by a delicious lunch shared with my mom, dad and Kel during a recent trip to Marco Island, Florida.  We cooked most of our meals at our rental house, but found this vegan-friendly restaurant right in the heart of Naples.  The food was simple and very fresh and the company couldn’t be beat.

I eliminated the olive oil in both the sandwich and the salad – they just don’t need it!  And I created a kind of chopped salad for the sandwich filling rather than keeping the ingredients whole.  I thought it would be easier to eat that way (plus you get a bit of everything in every bite), but it turns out, this sandwich is just messy.  Serve it open-faced if you aren’t eating this with family!

One year ago today: Best Friends Forever: Soup & A Sandwich
One year and one day ago today: Earl of Chai: Another Drink from the Slow Cooker

Cafe Barcelona Veggie Sandwich
Serves 2

1 baguette
1 roasted pepper, chopped
2 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
6 Spanish olives, chopped
a couple of slices of red onion, chopped
lemon zest
ground black pepper

Cut the baguette in two and then slice each piece in half.  Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the roasted pepper, lettuce, olives, red onion, lemon zest and black pepper.  Divide the mixture between the baguette slices.

Salad and Sandwich collage

Cafe Barcelona Wilted Spinach Salad with Pine Nuts, Apple and Golden Raisins
Serves 2

5 oz. fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 oz. pine nuts
1/2 tart-sweet apple, cored and chopped
splash veggie broth
splash fresh lemon juice

Lightly brown the pine nuts, raisins and apple in a dry skillet.  Stir often to prevent burning.  Add a splash of vegetable broth and put the spinach in the pan, turning to gently wilt it.

Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the burner and splash the spinach with lemon juice.  Stir and divide the mixture between two plates.

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A New Page Coming to AURV: A Terminal Illness Primer For Caregivers

Lily Pad, FlowerTotal heaviosity. I guess this is something that’s been rolling around my head for a long time – even though I didn’t know it. When one of my oldest friends (to give you an idea of how long we’ve know each other, we used to ride together on the school bus) asked me to share with her my experience as a caregiver to my brother, Charles, the floodgates opened. I spent an afternoon furiously writing down everything that I thought she would find useful in her own challenging situation. I’ve since expanded what I wrote and I’m still working on many parts of what promises to be a long document. I thought that it might be helpful to others.

To many, writing about terminal illness seems like a depressing thing to share and they are right. It is depressing. But others, like me, find strength in understanding and planning. It is easier to face challenges if we’ve done a little mental preparation and some legwork ahead of time. We may not have a firm grasp on our emotions, but we can control logistics. My hope is that this primer brings knowledge and thereby some comfort to those seeking guidance through difficult times. To my regular blog readers: I truly appreciate your loyalty and support – shown via your comments over the past year and half that this blog has existed. Many of you reached out to me after my brother’s passing and I was deeply touched by your tenderness and sympathy. This primer will appeal to a small portion of my readers so please do not feel that you need to Like and/or comment on each post.

The way this will work is, as I write sections, I will post them here on Sundays (a relatively quiet day in the blogosphere). Right now, the complete document is…well, still floating around in my head. When I’ve added something new to the Primer page, I will post the update here on the main page of my blog.

Here we go…

Starting at the Beginning: Why I’m Writing This
When my brother told me – via text message – that he’d been given six months to live after being diagnosed with brain cancer, I reacted by asking – via text message – if he was joking. I remember staring at his message, wondering how to respond. Needless to say, my reply was sorely lacking. My brother, at age 49, couldn’t die! It couldn’t be anything but a joke, right? I’d been conditioned by years of bad movies, books and overwrought television shows to regard the six-months-to-live diagnosis as a pathetic plot tool, a gimmick writers use to eliminate a character who needs to be written out of a storyline.

I was totally unprepared for how to react, process and function with a timer ticking off the last moments of my sibling’s life. I had never known life without him. Furthermore, death had never come close to me. Illness and death were something that happened in other people’s families. Death should be more orderly, more logical – if it must happen, it should happen peacefully and only after a long and fulfilling life and in the order into which we came into the world: first in, first out. Unfortunately, death observes its own rules. We must prepare for death because death will not wait patiently for us to be ready for it.

There was a brief period following my brother’s diagnosis when it seemed we all retreated – or more accurately, we all tried to return to the comfort of an illness-free past. Because my family is scattered to the four corners, with all four siblings living in different states, it was easy to slip back into old routines. This denial did nothing to slow the progression of my brother’s disease, of course, and it became apparent (thanks to the urgings of a concerned friend) that action needed to be taken. I hadn’t been totally idle during those surreal weeks. I had spent them researching (as did the other members of my family) glioblastoma multiforme, an extremely malignant and fast-moving type of brain cancer. It felt like a hopeless situation.

Despite what I was reading, I was determined that my brother would beat the odds. My brother was young, healthy and he loved his life. When Kel and I left home to help him, I had no clear plan, no idea of next steps and I was scared out of my mind to face my brother. I only had the vaguest idea of a plan, based solely on a book I had read written by a brain cancer survivor*. So, I went to Utah with the idea, if he’d let me, that I’d get my brother to follow a treatment path similar to the one described in the book. It was like finding myself on stage in front of a full house during amateur night at The Improv. Dressed only in my underwear.

I didn’t immediately assume the large role I was to play in his journey – he wouldn’t hear of it – and it felt initially as if I was just an observer of his fate. Eventually my family and I became more than bystanders and avid internet researchers. We became his advocates and caregivers and we were a formidable team. I realize how lucky we were to have each other’s support – to have our own strengths and talents to lend.

We were by no means perfect, but our aim was to provide love, care and guidance, and I think we succeeded. What follows is a description of our “on the job training,” what my family and I learned as we first tried to save my brother and then as we tried to make his last days as safe, comforting and loving as possible. The standout thing that I learned is that it is better to plan and be prepared. It is unpleasant to spend any moment out of our busy days planning for the end (of ourselves or of friends or loved ones) – but doing so makes the process easier on everyone, reduces stress, frees time for what is important (being with your loved one) and cushions a very hard blow.

*Ben Williams, author of Surviving “Terminal” Cancer: Clinical Trials, Drug Cocktails and Other Treatments Your Oncologist Won’t Tell You About

I am not a nurse, nor a physician, nor a therapist – and I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night. In other words, I’m not an expert. I’m writing strictly from my personal experience and from what I learned along the way of a two-year journey from diagnosis to death. It is offered as a guide and resource. Please read with care and always do your own research – it certainly is not exhaustive. Each person’s situation is different and calls for different methods and solutions. If you find any glaring errors or typos, please let me know and also feel free to add your own thoughts or experiences in the comment section below.

Some of this information may not be relevant to those living outside of the United States.

Finally, apologies to those closely involved in this experience for any errors caused by my faulty memory. Those were swift-moving and stressful times and I’m sure that I’ve forgotten some things and misremembered others.

To visit A Terminal Illness Primer for Caregivers Page, please click here or go to the header section of the blog.

Coming Up: After the Diagnosis

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Happy Birthday


How do you celebrate a birthday when the celebrant is no longer Here?  Though time has ceased to tock forward for him – my brother will stay 51 for as long as I am alive – it still feels right to honor the day that he came into the world.  His passing does not lessen his impact on my life.  New memories will not be made, but the old provide comfort and smiles and tears.  Happy birthday, Charles.

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Kristy’s Cookie Exchange: Molasses Crinkles

Cookies on a PlateEvery generation has its version of “the good old days.”  For some, the memories are sepia-toned or come in shades of black, white and gray.  For me they’re tinged with the yellow fade peculiar to photos from the late 60s to mid-70s.  The era of unenviable hairstyles, long lines at the gas station, The Brady Bunch and the game of Life

To read the rest of the story and get the recipe for these soft, spicy and delicious Molasses Crinkles, please visit my guest post at Keepin’ It Kind.  Kristy – a talented and creative vegan cook and one of the gentlest souls out there – is hosting a virtual cookie exchange with lots of great bloggers and the recipes so far have been print-worthy to say the least.  The fun started November 27 and continues through December.  Thank you, Kristy, for inviting me to the party!

One year ago today: Whole Wheat & Almond Meal Chocolate Chip Cookies 

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Happy (Turkeyless) Thanksgiving!

Happy ThanksgivingWishing you all a warm, convivial, cruelty-free and delicious Thanksgiving.  I’m thankful to be spending it with my life partner, Kel, and my dear friend Somer and her family and friends.  Exactly what celebrating Thanksgiving is all about.

One year ago today:  Three Little Juices

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From 10k to Ten Mile

Ten Mile Wash, EveningI thought that I’d have a lot to write about after the weekend memorial for my brother, but it turns out that I don’t. I feel emptied out instead. There are only the details, big and small, that make up a trip. I thought I’d take lots of photos as I made my way through the scenic 10k; I didn’t pause once. And I thought I’d walk at least half of the race, but I didn’t. I ran it straight through.

There were nine of us (plus Ike) who completed the 10k and a support team of three who shuttled cars from the Start to the Finish and who cheered us in as we crossed the finish line and reached for our medals.

Afterwards, there were my brother’s friends waiting for us at Ten Mile Wash to drive us down into the sand and rocks to show us the spaces that meant so much to my brother. It is stark down there. Stark and harsh and bleak but clean, beautiful and heartbreaking.

The first stop was the site where my brother’s dog (Pooper) was buried years ago. Each of us carried a rock to add to her cairn. The second was a hollow, a cathedral interior of swirling red scooped out of bare rock called The Fishbowl (renamed The Chuck Bowl). If it wasn’t before, it certainly is now a sacred site. Something of my brother remains in both places. I felt him very strongly that day and understand him just a little bit better.

Back up above the wash there was food and beer and scotch; a blazing sunset fading into orange and pink as a blazing fire reached into the sky. There were dirt bikes and trailers, four-wheelers and one porta-potty perched in the bed of a pick-up truck. There were tears and hugs and memories and the persistent gnaw of loss. But the next day, as the fragile light from the morning sun crept along the rocks and as we pulled away from camp, there was relief and calm and a kind of joy.

Little Grand CanyonNear the Finish Line, Buckhorn Wash.

Kel & Ike, Finish LineKel & Ike cross the Finish Line.

Family GroupThe family post-race.

Race Bibs, MedalsMy bib and medal; my brother’s bib and medal.

Ten Mile Wash OverlookOverlooking Ten Mile Wash.

Pooper's GravePooper’s grave site.

From Pooper's GraveLooking out at the Wash from Pooper’s Grave.

The FishbowlInside The Chuck Bowl.

Flowers & AshesDesert flowers and ashes.

The Wash, MorningThe Wash in the morning.


Tire Tread

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(Eating Vegan) Under the Sheltering Sky

Two Cookie-cookies

It can be challenging enough to feed Kel and me while we are on the road, but what about feeding 10 or 11 or 15?  In a place with (count them) zero restaurants, convenience stores or a bright and shiny Whole Foods stocked with vegan salads, hummus and whole grain bread?  Now consider that most of those I’ll be feeding are carnivores.

To celebrate my brother’s life, a big group of us – including many camping greenhorns (I’m among that number) – are heading south into the desert of Ten Mile Wash for a few days to spend time in a place my brother loved.  And before we do that, we’re running, walking or strolling The Little Grand Canyon 10k.  An army fights on its stomach; we have to eat.  By my count we’ll have two breakfasts, two lunches and one dinner out in the boonies.  I’ve cooked in small kitchens before, but the camper kitchen is a little snug, so I’m planning on bringing everything down in a nearly-finished or finished state.  Coolers will be clearly marked with “breakfast,” “lunch” and “dinner.”  Plastic bins will have almond butter, mixed grains, trail mix, dried fruit, utensils, kitchen towels, wet wipes, foil, freezer bags, a cutting board, knives and of course, lots of dog food for Ike.  He has to eat, too.

I planned out my menu several weeks in advance and in the week before the trip, I’ve been preparing and pre-baking and -making what I can.  I started with dessert first (makes sense, right?) with crazy Cookie Cookies from The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions.  Along with Double Chocolate Cookies with Blueberries and Mini Dark Chocolate Cashew Cheezcakes  (based on a recipe by Somer at Good Clean Food - who toiled away in her kitchen to develop these just for me; her selfless family did the taste-testing), our sweet teeth should be well-satisfied.

Mini Chocolate Cheezcakes

Mini CheezcakesBreakfasts will consist of mixed rolled grains with dried fruit and almond milk, whole grain bread with cashew and almond butters, apples, bananas and yummy raw bars featured in a previous post; plus the amazing Cookie Bites from a recipe by Erika at Good Clean Food.  My friend Sue specifically requested coffee so I’ll be bringing down a pound of Two Creek which serves up a proprietary blend from Jack Mormon Coffee.

Two Creeks Coffee

Cookie Bites

BBQ Tofu in TortillaFor lunch on the first day, we’ll have BBQ Baked Tofu Sandwiches from The Real Food Daily Cookbook, by Ann Gentry, served on Ezekial sprouted (wheat-free) tortillas (these are my new favorite thing) loaded with avocado, arugula, red onion and an amazing ranch dressing also from Real Food Daily.  Black bean potato salad with arugula pesto should compliment the sandwiches nicely.  That recipe is courtesy of the Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health cookbook.  We’ve got some gluten-intolerant folks coming along and I don’t want anyone to go hungry.

Macadamia Nut Cheez

Red Lentil Soup

We’ll start dinner off with a few slabs of Macadamia Nut Cheez, another recipe from the good folks at The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions.  It can get pretty chilly in the desert as the sun sets, so I’ll employ one of the camper’s burners to heat up a big pot of Red Lentil Soup also from the first Forks Over Knives cookbook.  I use green garbanzo beans instead of green beans and add mustard seeds and fresh spinach and cilantro.  It is such a flavorful and satisfying soup and I was able to freeze a big batch several days before the trip.  I’ll serve Curried Couscous Salad with the soup as well as whole grain rolls and the aforementioned mini Chocolate Cashew Cheezecakes.

I’m trying not to stress out too much, but there’s some pressure here.  Most of the people I will be feeding are not vegan and I want their eating experience to be satisfying, surprising (in a good way) and delicious.  I’d love to change some minds about what it means to eat plant-based.  I’d also like to be prepared enough that I can focus on why we are out in the desert.  This is all about remembering and celebrating my brother.

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Thankful & Thoughtful

Boots, Helmet, Ski Poles

What made him tick.

The things alive do not know the secret… Of late years, however, I have come to suspect that the mystery may just as well be solved in a carved and intricate seed case out of which life has flown, as in the seed itself.  – Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

My brother died at 3:25 am July 5.  The pop and sizzle of neighbors’ firecrackers kept him company that night, gray skies and a gentle rain in the morning broke the spell of heat and drought and sun; more soothing than melancholy.  Determined and independent in his dying days as he was as a vibrant, healthy man, I have no doubt his plan was to make it through July 4; July was his favorite month and Independence Day his favorite holiday.

In the hours and days after his death, little things took on weighted importance: the memory of the last meal together at a restaurant; the image of a sweet smile when at last voice and words, but not comprehension, were taken from him; the half-full glass of water by his bed; the backpack on the kitchen table containing bottles of aspirin, ear plugs and a bathing suit from the last trip he took (to California); the tube of toothpaste, indented in the middle by the squeeze of his hand; his beat-up work boots looking as if he’d stepped out of them mere moments before.  It is those things more than the profound and sobering permanence of passing that make me break down.  What is more poignant than the little, seemingly insignificant objects and moments that make up a human life?

Anyone who has suffered through an illness or has helped a family member or friend knows that it is not a solo project.  It is a team effort requiring tens of supporting and supportive roles.  And so I have many people to thank.  First and foremost among them, my family.  My mom and dad dug deep and called on reserves that any 20-year old would envy.  Their strength and dignity through that lonesome night of loss is an example I will carry with me.  My other brother whose advise and care steadied during moments of stress and uncertainty.  My sister was a rock, holding firm during times when I melted like a candle.  Love to my partner, Kel, for keeping the home fires stoked and for caring for our little (furry) one, Ike.  His support has never wavered.  He loved my brother.  The caring embrace of extended family was felt over the long miles.

It is impossible to imagine what this process would have been like without the guidance, knowledge and compassion of our hospice team.  There were many late night visits and phone calls – moments of doubt and fear made manageable by a comforting voice on the other end of the line.  Stacey, Robyn and Carolyn guided us down that very difficult road.  Special gratitude goes to John, the gentle aide who helped my brother maintain his pride and dignity up to that very last day of life.  We were also fortunate to meet Riley, a young man who made our nights easier by his patient presence and his willingness to be touched by a family’s saddest hours.

Thanks and love go to the many friends – old and new, near and far – who sent emails and called.  The comments both here and on Facebook were deeply appreciated.  In challenging times, the true and the false are shown in stark relief: some of my brother’s friends reached lovingly out to us, shared aspects of him we never knew and offered to help in any way that they could.  Fate or coincidence sent Somer into my life at just the right moment.  She shared her huge, loving, nurturing heart with my brother, but also loaded the back of her vehicle – several times – with plant-based deliciousness and made the trek to Bountiful to spend time with me and open her arms for much-needed hugs.  Her beautiful kids never failed to cheer me with their exuberance and their life and energy.  Along with her friends Amanda and Erika (who have never met me, by the way) she provided heart, soul and stomach nourishment.  Thank you ladies of the Good Clean Food Relief Society.

In a strange twist, Faye came into my life on the very day my brother died and at the very coffee shop where he and I would go after his appointments at the clinic.  Over mutual admiration for short haircuts, I learned that Faye has the same type of brain cancer as my brother.  I’m not one to linger long on the oddities the universe occasionally throws across my path, but one would have to be devoid of imagination not to think something rather huge was up.  I hope to spend a lot more time with Faye and to share with her the thin threads of knowledge gathered over the past couple of years.

Merck and Genentech earned my gratitude for providing their prohibitively costly chemo drugs gratis through their assistance programs; big pharmaceuticals aren’t all bad.  Novocure not only requires thanks for pursuing interesting cancer treatment options, I’m indebted to them for giving my brother – free – their Novocure TTF helmet, a recently FDA-approved alternative treatment using electric fields to disrupt cancer cell growth.  Dr. Santosh Kesari at his lab at UCSD prescribed the device and he also, up until the last weeks of my brother’s life, suggested other treatment options.

Lastly, thanks to my brother’s medical team at The Huntsman Cancer Institute, especially to sweet Crelley who has become a friend, and Sean, who spent hours with me on the phone over the past two years explaining complex issues and trying to figure out what made my brother tick.  From the beginning of this journey they provided hope and knowledge and gave my brother another year of life when all seemed lost on bleak November days in 2010.  I often wonder how they can work day after day knowing that many of their patients will live only a short time post-diagnosis.  I am grateful there are people willing to devote their lives to treating such a formidable disease.  May a cure be found soon.

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Down the Road Alone

Utah HighwayI’m lucky. I’m surrounded by beauty and cradled in love. At night the only sound is…nothing. Maybe a whippoorwill or the soft hooting of an owl. The air I breathe smells of warmth and earth and on certain days an indefinable “green.” I have a partner who supports me, makes me laugh and forgives my irritable moments, indulges my silliness and my crazy, roving need to create Something. My time is my own. Our animal companion brims with joy and energy and I can feel his love for us in every wiggle and every wet slurp. I am healthy and strong. I think, “Life is beautiful.”

But then I remember that I am heading down an unfamiliar road. A road which we will all one day take. If we can, we take the journey for as long as possible with someone at our side, but at a certain point, we go on alone. And then I think, “Life is hard.”

I’m traveling that road with my beloved brother. My friend. This time, I am the companion and he will continue on alone. I will walk beside him for as long as I can, for as long as it takes. I don’t want him to go, but I can do nothing to keep him here.

During this time I will be mostly absent from this blog and from the connections I’ve made here. Undoubtedly, I will from time to time come around to my blogging friends to feel the warmth and companionship that has been a bright spot in the past hard, heartbreaking year.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.
- “Ripple,” The Grateful Dead

(The photograph above was taken during a road trip I took with my brother in September 2011. A lonely highway that crosses Utah, through a salt flat. Our trip followed a 10k race we’ve done together for the past three years. For a long time I have clung to the hope that somehow we will run our fourth race through the canyon this September. I will run anyway – with him as my invisible companion on the road.)

My brother & Me

My brother, Charles, and me after our second 10k; 2 months before his brain surgery.

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