Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ordinary Days I Miss You

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, treasure you, before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest for some rare and perfect tomorrow.
-Mary Jean Iron-

I just wanted to give an update-I didn't ever intend to abruptly stop blogging but I felt in my heart it was time.  I don't know that I have anything else to say, and I feel like God might be calling me in other directions but now is not the time to make that decision.  Thank you so much for all your kind emails and comments over the years and I have loved the friendships that have developed (kindred spirits!) through this avenue.

But also why I've been absent-in October I found a lump in my breast quite accidentally.  I never did self-breast exams because I thought since I had no risk factors to speak of, that was one cross I wouldn't have to bear in my life.  But I found a lump one day-and found out soon afterwards that it was cancer.  A rare kind of aggressive breast cancer (triple negative) that spreads and grows quickly.  I had a "good" mammogram in January but the lump was large enough to be obvious by October.  I just finished 16 rounds of hard core chemo and will follow up with a couple surgeries and hope to avoid radiation but that will be determined later.  And then I will continue to do a lot of praying and deep breaths and crying and doctor appointments and pray pray pray that it doesn't come back.  Because I really love life.

I meant to write this post several times but just couldn't.  I still don't know if I am doing the right thing by sharing it since it seems like a very very personal private journey.  After a cancer diagnosis like this, you feel like cancer takes over your entire life.  And it does really.  And I can't tell you how many times I have said, "I want my life back.  I don't even remember who I am and what my routine was like."  Many times I just don't want to talk about it.  The mirror reminds me every day.  (Never complain about your hair!  Hair is wonderful and keeps you warm. :)

Here are a few things I have learned and would like to share:

1. My breast surgeon told me that the week I was diagnosed she had two other women around my age (48) in the office with  same "rare" diagnosis as me-NO risk factors to speak of, healthy fit women who "did everything right". No one gets a free pass from breast cancer. Check your breasts every month.  Go to THE BEST hospital with the best equipment every time you need a mammogram.

2. If you feel off in any way with your health do not neglect finding out why.  I had been exhausted for close to a year or more and should have taken more time to find out why.  Maybe it had nothing to do with cancer, but maybe it did.  Don't give up on getting answers even if it is hard to find the time to do so.

3. Treasure your days.  You never know how life will change.  Slow down.  REALLY slow down. Although I have talked endlessly about doing that on this blog, I was a hypocrite in ways, because I was a bundle of energy and stress trying to do too much sometimes even if just for my own family.  I have realized I process stress terribly.  I hold it all inside and have worried way way too much about things.  Don't do that.  Don't be strong all the time.  It is ok and good to cry.  It is ok to say "I am struggling with life" to your husband, your friends, or a therapist, and take time for yourself and to pray and journal and be calm.  If you struggle with anxiety, get help.  Take care of yourself. Totally reject the culture of perfectionism, competitiveness, and comparison and illusion that is so easy to find everywhere today. Get enough sleep.  Take walks.  Say no.  Or if whatever it is helps calm and center you say yes.  Grow closer to God.  Build your faith.  Take time to pray every day.   

4. Work hard to find gifts in struggles.  God Almighty, this is so difficult when you are in the middle of crap.  Really it is and some days I just couldn't (and can't).   Sometimes I would set a timer to force myself out of bed.  I have been lower than I ever have experienced in my life.  I have seen and experienced a whole other level of suffering and hope and pain and strength in that damn chemo room.  Often I have heard how strong I am-this is what you say to people facing cancer.  But I have always been uncomfortable with that, although I know it is a form of encouragement and I would say the same thing.  Let me tell you,  I have seen strength through this experience from my fellow companions in the journey through cancer.  But what does not being strong look like?  It's ok to cry your heart out, and say you can't do it (with whatever you are facing) and don't want to and be mad and angry and sometimes hopeless and desperate.

I  couldn't go to church because of low immunity and instead found a few priest's homilies on podcasts and one quote I keep on my phone from Father Ricardo (or maybe it was Father Hudgins) is, "Find meaning in suffering.  Do you see what the Lord is up to?  The greater the suffering we endure the more beautiful plan He is unfolding before us.  See it, know it, believe it."  I have read that 1000 times.  When I look back on other struggles in my life, incredible growth comes through suffering, even though it was always always hard to believe that in the thick of it.  I also think as silly as this is, of Dori from Nemo-"Just keep swimming, just keep swimming."  It reminds me to just keep walking through the pain and suffering, keep praying for strength through the journey.  I have changed and grown so so much in the last six months, even though I sometimes fought against it and wished it away (and still do!) I know I have learned too many things to even list.

5. What is the most important thing in life?  Your relationships with people around you.  First with God, and then with your family and your friends.  I can't even tell you how grateful I am for the undying love and dedication I have experienced through this journey from my husband, my children, my friends and extended family and even strangers.  It has been an incredible experience that way-I have felt like I have moved up to a whole other plane of love-a perfect example of growth through struggles.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Encouragement For The Week


Let me not wrap, stack, box, bag, tie, tag, bundle, seal keep Christmas.
Christmas kept is liable to mold.
     Let me give Christmas away, unwrapped, by exuberant armfuls. 
Let me share, dance, live Christmas unpretentiously, merrily, responsibly with overflowing hands, tireless steps and sparkling eyes.

     Christmas given away will stay fresh—even until it comes again."

Friday, December 15, 2017

Some Teen Gift Ideas

Favorite Toys here.
Favorite Games here.
Book Gift Ideas here.

Ok, ready?  Boys and girls mixed in, junior high into college, here's a list of ideas from Abbey and some of her good friends. (I begged only a few suggestions out of my boys.)  Also at the bottom, is a cute post my daughter wrote when a few years ago with more ideas.

These are GREAT inexpensive headphones.

Nike socks-girls and boys wear them. I have bought so many pairs of these! Where do they all go?

Very popular right now, lots of different choices.

Makeup brushes. I am told they don't have to expensive to be quality.

Sanuk flip-flops.

Soft PJ's.  The Aerie brand is popular.

Crocodile clips.  Can be found at any drug store

Not Your Mother's Beach Spray and Dry Shampoo

These Lush bath bombs are a perfect gift and have a five star rating and are very popular.

Personalized Coffee Mug
This cute one is from Anthro for $8, but you can find these everywhere.

YogaAccessories (TM) 1/4'' Extra Thick High Density Yoga Mat (Phthalate Free) - Jasmine Green
Earth Therapeutics Aloe Socks, Pink

Electric Blanket-Abbey LOVES her electric blanket (and boy did it come in handy early this year when Janey and I had a terrible bout of pneumonia.)  I bought her one at Kohl's on sale.

Fuzzy Blankets
We have this one and this one-these are found everywhere, the softer the better.

IPhone Cases
My niece uses the Otter Box  Commuter Series and really likes it-they are affordable too.
Abbey uses a LifeProof (after having to replace the screen because of a breakage she decided it was in her best interest to spend a little more.

neff Men's Daily Pipe Glove, Cyan, Medium
neff gloves-boys or girls!

neff Men's Daily Beanie, Green, One Size
neff beanies-again, boys or girls, lots of cute colors.

Duffel bags-especially for college kids-Lands End has great ones, I love their sales, and you can get them monogrammed.

Quad copters. This is the brand we chose and you can read about this fun toy here.

Here is a list from a couple years ago, written by my daughter:
Shopping for teenagers is definitely harder than other ages (I would know, I am one) and one of the biggest problems is not knowing exactly what they want.  If you're stuck on this and need a few ideas, these are some of my favorite things that I have gotten, and some things I am asking for this year!

Headphones. Definitely a broad topic. My favorite are the brand Skullcandy .  Lots of styles, affordable, and great quality! Pink and purple are my go-to colors.

Something that I am in desperate need (okay, want, sorry Mom) of this year, this iPod adapter thingy for an older car like the one Isaac and I share.  Because radio music can get old too fast when they play the same songs over and over...

The Wet Brush Detangle Brush . Last time I went to the salon, the lady who trimmed my hair suggested this because my hair is so long and gets tangled so easy. It works wonders.

OPI and Essie nail polish. great quality and true to color. New favorite colors: Gargantuan Green Grape by OPI (minty green) and Mango Bango by Essie. You can find Essie at Target and OPI at salons and makeup stores like Sephora and Ulta.

Image result for mauve opi nail polish

A subscription to InStyle magazine.  Full of great ideas, new trends, fashion advice, cool pictures, and classy clothes!  Once I am finished reading a magazine, I look through it and cut out pictures that inspire me and my style and collage them onto my doors.

Every girl needs something Vera Bradley! Such cute patterns and very durable. I use my bag for everything, school, shopping, etc. (Sometimes I see these at TJ Maxx for a great price.)

Robin Hood Kate Wristlet
And when I don't feel the need to lug around my big purse, I love a wristlet. This one comes in tons of different patterns.

Also I put my cards in a pouch on the back of my phone.

One of my absolute favorite Christmas presents last year from my grandma was this Color Daze Blockbuster from Sephora.  (NOTE: This is crazy expensive now, this is a similar kit at a price close to what was paid for the above kit.)  For girls that love experimenting with makeup and trying new techniques, this set comes with it all: Mascara, blush, eyeliners, lip gloss, eyeshadow, luminizer, and brushes. It could also be a good starter kit.

A jewelry organizer is a must-have for a cluttery closet! This one hangs anywhere and is two-sided.

Hope this helps!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Easy Holiday Recipes

Food, food, food-my life seems to revolve around it, it seems, especially at this time of year.  Here are some simple recipes that make my life easier this holiday season.

If I need to bring an appetizer to a party, my feta dip is super easy and I know it will be gone in seconds.  (It is my most viewed post, no kidding.)  No oven, no bowls, no mixer, no stove top.  Here is the easy step by step recipe.

If I need to bring a dessert, I know Kitty's Brownies will be a huge hit.  I am telling you, these things are divine-and it's just brownie mix and 3 candy bars.  They are ooey and gooey and chocolately and taste like you slaved over them for hours.

Caramel corn or shortbread cookies are usually my old standbys if I want to bake a gift.

These pretzels are fun to make with kids and make a great snack.  My blog friend Sarah made them with her kids and they turned out prettier than mine ever do.  You can check them out here.

My favorite cut out cookies are from an old-fashioned recipe my mom used every Christmas when we were kids.  The recipe uses granulated brown sugar-they are sweet, but not too sweet, look like gingerbread, but not too gingery.  My kids love them. Here is the recipe for Butterscotch Rolled Cookies.

I have talked about meal planning and how it really saves me time and money and my sanity also-more than ever this season.  Sometimes I just about hate doing it, but if I don't we will end up eating take out pizza every night.  Here is an example of my menu for the week-I just want to prove that it does NOT have to be fancy-I always think "meal planning" just sounds overwhelming. I use notebook paper and tape it up where I can see it every morning. Grilled cheese and soup one night-or pizza night on Saturday-no gourmet dinners or five course meals here.  (Lots of my recipes are here and I've been adding new ones every week.)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas Guidance for Moms


I know I have posted some of this before years ago in different essays but I wanted to set it out again. (I sometimes I just wish I could tell my younger self these things.)  

Christmas is what we decide it will be and that means there is a need to guard our hearts and homes a little-relatives, the media, the neighbors, friends, stores, your church, etc, will all come into play as an influence so it is right and good to set out in our heads what we want Christmas to look like for our family.

---If we want to keep it simple and religious, then deciding ahead of time how we will go about "guarding our hearts and homes" is a necessity.  What we allow into our home, is what will influence those little ones in our home-from the gabs of toy magazines, and commercials vs. the Advent calendar and Nativity.  We will be the thoughtful filter, the idea-shaper for how we want our Christmas season to look for our families.

---Start small, very very small.  We all know a one year old will play with the box.  (And I have had eight year olds have just as much fun with a box too?:)  The more gifts equals the more shopping and wrapping and planning and DOING (and the more stuff in your house to clutter it!).  And when children start remembering what last year was like there is a certain expectation (not ill-willed-we all have expectations) to look forward to.  Things get more costly, and life gets busier as one adds children to the family.

It is much easier just to start as you mean to go along. There are SO many great ideas of how to keep things simple and the expectations in check, and all of them are neat traditions like the three gifts to represent the gifts of the Magi, or something to read, wear and play with, etc.  I've learned most of these cute little tidbits of genius through friends, but wish I would have learned them 22 years ago when I first started out.

---Find a way to make it relatively peaceful and fun.  It SHOULD be fun!  As I added babies in with toddlers and older children, my idea of fun had to become very simple I learned, because chaos day after day is NOT fun and the daily needs of children and the household still existed and must be met first. That means weeding out what made things chaotic, and narrowing it to a few traditions that really counted. We don't have to bake and craft and go to parties every day, maybe just once the entire month. If there is anything that we all have to struggle with today, it's too many choices, and opportunities and then there is Pinterest.  

---And expectations!  It isn't a requirement to make gifts for the entire neighborhood, and teacher's gifts can be very very simple and then after all guess what?  I have the best news!  There is NO Christmas elf that will come and arrest us and throw us in jail if we don't do teacher gifts or neighbor gifts or postman gifts or Elf on the Shelf, or if we skip taking your kids to visit mall Santa, etc etc etc.  We won't go to Christmas jail (but a day in solitary confinement might sound ok on December 26th? Will they serve hot cocoa and let us bring a book?:)

So we must learn to let it go if we can't do it, or don't want to do it, or can't afford to do it, or just had a colicky baby (hello Andrew!) or are due on Christmas Eve with your fifth baby (hello Patrick!). 

All of this extra stuff, like most of life, has gone hog wild in the last decade to the point where it's all almost laughable.  Such high expectations, such busyness, it's no wonder we feel overwhelmed. It should not be one bit about stress, but about peace and that comes in simplicity and discretion and thoughtfulness.  That is where the Christmas magic is found in the first place.

And last, the most important thing:

One day a mother's Christmas will change. And it hurts our hearts I assure you. It will make us shed tears of reminiscence and nostalgia and sadness for what will never be again.  PLEASE, if you have little ones, just enjoy it.  Soak it all up.  Don't run yourself ragged and miss the "sparkly eyes" because you are too busy and tired.  Don't waste time striving for perfection or stressing about incidentals. If you have believers in your home, treasure it.  If you have shouts of joy on Christmas morning as a child unwraps a present that cost $7.99, revel in it. One day things will change-and not change for the terribly worse, but it will change.  Surprise and joy and wonder are at their height in the young childhood years and one day you will wish them desperately back if just for a moment. 

Set the path before you, walk slowly and carefully, and keep your head clear and focused and have a simple vision.  

Some past thoughts on Christmas here and here.