The Butterfly Palace

In the Spring of 1997 my then boyfriend Jim Asbell, planned a romantic weekend getaway to a place I had always wanted to visit. The wine country of Napa Valley, CA. The valley was an old friend for him and he delighted in plotting all the wineries and fabulous restaurants he wanted to visit with me.

In the days before the internet and smart phones we picked a secluded B&B, sight unseen and crazy expensive, tucked in the hills. We never met the proprietress. Her minion escorted us to our suite. Every inch of the bedroom, sitting area and bathroom were covered in butterflies. OK, so maybe the toilet did not have a butterfly seat, but just about everything else was draped, festooned, or piled with butterfly trinkets. The effect was frightening, and so were the under-cooked Costco mini quiches that constituted breakfast.

While the Butterfly Palace as it came to be known, was heinous, the trip was a delightful mix of food, wine, and romance that included a mud bath for two. That spa treatment turned out to be two tubs filled with hot water, gritty sand, and excessive aroma therapy. We laughed our heads off.

Two years later we were back in that same valley to get married at Storybook Mountain Vineyards so I guess the whole weekend turned out to be something very special.

Today, on my 56th birthday, James surprised me with this beautiful necklace. He commissioned our very talented friend, Marj Berra, to make this copper and turquoise butterfly necklace to remind me of that wonderful time in our lives together. Butterfly necklaceAnd just for your viewing enjoyment, here is a younger version of my guy, snoozing away in the famous bedroom of the Butterfly Palace. Somehow he had accidentally bought black and white film for his camera, so your eyes will be spared the full blinding effect. Am I a lucky girl, or what?butterfly palace



Cinco de Mayo Ouch

Thursday afternoon at the Green Valley Hospital Emergency Dep’t. No, it’s not life-threatening, yes it is a bit of a bloody mess. Jim has an epic nosebleed. It’s a common side effect of the chemo cocktail he takes. 

It may take a while to see a doctor. Nachos and margaritas will have to wait. 

A Birthday Bash for Jim

If you live in the Tucson area you have probably already received an email invite from me for “Jim Asbell’s Ducky Birthday Fiesta.” I am posting it here just in case I omitted anyone, near or far, who might like to join us.

Friends and Neighbors, Ducks Fans and Winos,
We will be celebrating Jim’s birthday on Saturday, October 10th at 5:00PM. Please join us at Casa Asbell for appetizers, vino, and birthday cake.
RSVP to Lee Asbell at or 360-606-0620.
The Ducks will be playing WSU sometime that day, so expect lots of green and yellow. Look for the Big Duck at 521 N. Easter Lily Lane, Green Valley, AZ 85614.

A boy and his toy.
A boy and his toy.
catula (2)
The Duck fan and an annoyed Count Catula.
Please give me a holler if you are going to attend so I can get the catering sorted out. No need to bring gifts, just come and enjoy with the birthday boy.

Saguaro Summer Gifts

Sizzling hot mid-June in southern Arizona marks the transition to the rainy season. The monsoon rains have not arrived quite yet, but lightning over the mountains and a tease of a few fat drops splattered the windows late last night. Throughout the Sonoran desert, giant saguaro that began blooming in spring will begin to produce fruit in late June. The flowers start as tiny, alien bumps that sprout from the saguaro tops and arms. Birds, bats, and bees do their pollination work, mostly at night as the saguaro’s flowers usually last less than one full day. 

Last year our neighbors Buzz and Pat planted a magnificent giant saguaro in their front yard. Transplanting a ten foot tall saguaro is no small undertaking and is best left to experts. On my morning walk I noticed its blossoms have finally opened. A sure sign this sentinel of the desert, as native people once called them, is happy in its home here on Easter Lily Lane.  

In mid-July it will be two years since Jim and I moved to Quail Creek. When I reflect on all that has occurred in those two years, it makes my head spin. First, Jim’s thirty-one year career at Mitsubishi came to an abrupt end when the mother ship in Japan closed his division. A month later our sister-in-law Susie’s life nearly ended with a ruptured brain aneurysm. She remains profoundly disabled. Last July my sister Katherine died of ovarian cancer after a brutal seven year fight. She was only sixty. And then three months ago, Jim’s Stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis landed at our door.

For those of you who think we have weathered all these storms without difficulty, or assume that we have some special brand of wisdom, faith or philosophical outlook that keeps us from going bonkers, I assure we have no magic bullets. Heck, we don’t even have good wine to soothe our souls right now. Our fourth week of Prohibition has begun. Jim is off to the oncologist office right now for a weekly blood draw, preparing for Round 3 of chemo tomorrow. Right about the time we mark that two-year point next month, he will have a CT scan and tumor marker tests to see how well chemo is actually working on all those bad boys in his lungs and liver. 

For all of you who take the time to read this blog, send messages of support, prayers, cards, gifts, edible goodies and love, we thank you heartily. They really do help keep us strong.

In addition to all the other things going on in our lives in July, we will also pause to remember someone we never met. His name is Alex Newport-Berra. Last year, on a gorgeous July day in the Colorado Rockies, Alex lost his life in a fall. A gifted athlete and teacher, Alex was just thirty-three years old. For our neighbors Pat and Buzz and their family, on that day we will put aside our own troubles and remember Alex. We are grateful Pat and Buzz have shared Alex’s story with us. Sharing their grief helps us with our own burdens. 

When I look at photos of Alex with his strong body and handsome youthful face, I see something that reminds me of Jim Asbell that has nothing to do with age or physical abilities. Jim and Alex could not be more different in that regard. What I see is a twinkle in Alex’s eye. A playful sense of humor, a competitive spirit, a resilient nature. An ability to find joy in unlikely places and to live in the present. I think Jim and Alex would have liked each other quite well, despite their totally different lives.

Wherever Alex is at this moment, I am sure he’d be glad to know that giant saguaro in his Mom and Dad’s yard has put down roots and blossomed in its new home. So have we. 

Chemo Crud and Golf Cart Lust

it’s been a week since Jim ventured into chemotherapy land. He’s been taking it easy in the triple-digit heat, but today, despite a low-grade fever, nasty sore throat and drippy nose, he was certain he would win a drawing at the Green Valley Farmer’s Market for a shiny new golf cart, so off we went.

There were a total of ten finalists. Three had been drawn in advance. A good sized crowd waited while the remainder were selected at random from all the entries. It seemed to take forever. The lemon tartlet, croissant and bread I had just purchased from Madame at the Cafe Francais booth for fattening up chemo boy were starting to ooze in their white bakery bags from the heat. 

Much to my surprise, not only was Jim’s name called as a finalist, the eight people ahead of him were not winners when they tried to turn their keys. Two of my Quail Creek neighbors stood with me and waited for Jim’s turn. No golf cart joy for Jim, but a gift certificate to a local restaurant will buy a nice lunch.  

A lousy photo of Jim turning the key.
When the fun was over it was off for a chest x-ray, followed by hurry up and wait at the doctors office and the pharmacy. Antibiotics, cough medication and a secret potion of magic mouthwash are all at work now and should have him feeling better just in time for more chemo next week. Naughty Jimmy also learned he had overlooked a blood draw and had to visit the vampire. 

On a brighter note, the cat painter has begun a 16 X 20 image of kittens in a basket. Since he usually paints small, this larger canvas will keep him challenged. Here is the preliminary sketch:  


Sweet Sixteen

Most people take a day to celebrate important milestones like birthdays and anniversaries. In the Asbell world, the really important things take at least an entire weekend to savor and enjoy.

Sixteen years ago today, it was the day before our wedding. What were we doing? Wine tasting with family and friends, of course.

Sparkling wine fun at Mumm Napa.
Sparkling wine fun at Mumm Napa.

But how about exactly one year before the wedding? Even Jim would be hard-pressed to remember that. It took some digging. It turns out we were in Italy. Today while I was looking for something else, I came across this photo of Jim in Florence with the Ponte Vecchio behind him. Kindly ignore the stranger next to him with the man purse.

Florence, Italy. May 22nd, 1998.
Florence, Italy. May 22nd, 1998.

And what is on the agenda for this year’s wedding anniversary? An exotic trip? Fancy gifts for each other? Surely there must be some insanely good wine to drink as the window before Jim’s chemo gets shorter?

The truth is we rarely give each other “STUFF” anymore. My gift to Jim is this:

Cards from our wedding weekend.
Cards from our wedding weekend.

This year we will spend time together and revisit all the memories contained in these cards and notes from our wedding. The one on top is from my sister Anne and her family. They gave us a gorgeous set of pasta bowls. Her card says “Eat lots of pasta! Have a wonderful life!” Tonight, we will heed that sage advice and enjoy “Italian Night” with our host and native of Tuscany, Moreno Giannasi. How fitting is that?

Tomorrow night we are looking forward to dinner with two couples in our neighborhood. They will have no idea it is our anniversary until they read this mushy blog post. Sharing dinner with friends who enjoy good food and wine two nights in a row seems to me an ideal Asbell sweet sixteen wedding weekend.


Life in the Lily Pad

Although Jim still grumbles about the name of the street we live on, there’s no doubt that Easter Lily Lane is a great place to live. Adjoining Easter Lily Lane is Sweet Heather Way, which I have decided was named after my friend Heather Lewis, but that is another story. These two streets within Quail Creek comprise Unit 5, one of the smallest and newest neighborhood units. Today we are saluting all of our Unit 5 neighbors.

Yesterday we received a sweet “get well” card signed by darn near everyone in the neighborhood. I know I could call or email any of these folks and someone would be at my door lickety-split to give us a hand. That is something special. 

After a long trip to the Pacific Northwest, one of my neighbors returned home yesterday and delivered this amusing gift.  

Jello shooters in U of O molds anyone?
We are still giggling about the possibilities for this Duck goodie. Thanks, Carolyn and GO DUCKS!

From just beyond the Easter Lily pad, perennial Duck boosters Tom and Roxanne May delivered a gift to our  door yesterday too. The message on these T-shirts has new meaning for Jim and me. Former Ducks coach Chip Kelly is now working his magic in the NFL, but the slogan he coined is one that fans at Autzen Stadium still see, and a motto we live by. Win The Day. 

Win The Day. A motto for life.
Many of our Unit 5 snowbirds have flown the coop for the summer. Thanks to Dorothy and Bruce, some of us now have a baby from this gorgeous Easter Lily cactus. Cactus blossoms are spectacular, but often short-lived. Here is the Easter Lily cactus in all its glory, happy at home on Easter Lily Lane.  

Easter Lily cactus
The short scoop on the medical front for Jim is a bunch of testing and then a return trip to the oncologist on the 26th and the start of chemotherapy. In between now and then, we will take a brief trip to New Mexico and enjoy some time with old friends from central Oregon. Drinking the good stuff will continue for a bit too. Cheers.