Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas (Eve)!

Picture from our holiday card this year:

Mommy and Ryan at Brookside Gardens:

Super excited to see the trains display again (and again, and again!)

Our little "grinch" did not want to wear his Christmas hat.  hehe.

I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday and be sure to tell your loved ones how much you care about them while they are still here.  We are continuing to pray for my mom and trying to keep her as comfortable as possible, but it is very painful to watch her suffer and feel so helpless and sad.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Our Holiday Update

This holiday season is bittersweet for our family.  Ryan gives us so much excitement and joy, but my mom’s health has been rapidly declining.  I just wanted to post an update about what has been happening during this past month.

Ryan got his very first haircut and I was proud of him for acting like such a big boy and not even crying (except for about five seconds when he first saw the buzzer).

We became even more involved with our two playgroups, one that meets weekly on Fridays and the other that has events randomly throughout the month.  These are some of the sweetest mommies!

We participated in several mommy and me classes, visited a local holiday train display (which Ryan adored), attended a holiday cookie swap, and enjoyed many playdates with friends.

We also got to see a bunch of family members at the Christmas party.  There are so many little ones at our family gatherings now!  It reminds me of when my cousins and I used to play together as kids, and now it is our children doing the exact same things.

Unfortunately, this past week we were told that there are not any more treatment options available for my mom and that we needed to call hospice to prepare for the end.  After almost three years of fighting metastatic colon cancer, which had already spread to her liver and lungs at the time of diagnosis, my mom’s body is now shutting down.  She has suffered more than anyone should ever have to, and she did it all for the sole purpose of spending a longer time with her family.

We have tried to make my mom as comfortable as possible in her own home, and I have been spending the days and also nights with her, in order to give her medicines every 2 to 4 hours and to calm her down when she gets upset.  It is absolute torture for me to watch my beautiful mommy and best friend go through this amount of physical, mental, and emotional pain.  Sometimes she recognizes who we are and other times she doesn’t.  I am just praying for her to find peace, whether that be here on earth (in the form of a miracle recovery) or in heaven with God.  I just don't know how I will manage without her, I love her so very much.

Couscous and Feta-Stuffed Peppers

I just have to share this recipe that I found at Smitten Kitchen because it has become one of my favorite go-to dishes to make when I can't think of what else to eat.  It is easy and delicious!  The recipe can be made with or without chickpeas, depending on your preference.  I personally think that it tastes great either way.

Couscous and Feta-Stuffed Peppers

vegetable oil cooking spray
1 1/4 cups fat-free vegetable broth
2/3 cup couscous
5 large bell peppers
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
6 oz zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced across thinly
6 oz yellow squash, quartered lengthwise then sliced across thinly
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
15 oz canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 oz crumbled feta cheese (about 1 cup)
3 tablespoons tomato paste

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a small baking dish with cooking spray.
Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan, add the couscous, cover the pan and remove it from the heat.
Cut the stems and top half inch off the bell peppers and scoop out the seeds and membranes. Place peppers upright in a baking dish and roast them for 15 minutes or so, until they soften, then remove them from the oven until the filling is ready.
Heat oil in a nonstick skillet. Add onion, zucchini, yellow squash, fennel seeds, oregano, and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Remove from heat and stir in the tomatoes, chickpeas and tomato paste. Using a fork, scrape the couscous into the skillet and toss with the vegetables. Stir in the crumbled feta.
Fill peppers with the couscous mixture.
Bake for 15 minutes.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ryan's Dance Party

For everyone who thinks that Ryan is a shy, calm little boy... THIS is what he is really like!

I hope that you all have a 

Happy Thanksgiving!

We have so very much to be thankful for this year!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bad Haircuts

I took the dogs to Petsmart get groomed yesterday, and this is literally how they were returned:

Not only does Lucky look like a funny lion, but poor Lily has a big cut on the back of her leg where they nicked her.  We obviously won't be going back there for future haircuts.

Unfortunately, we have not found many places in the DC area that do a decent job with Yorkies and Malteses.  (Although we did find a place in Florida that is super fancy and all the dogs come out looking exactly like show dogs!)  I just wish that we could find a groomer nearby who knows what they are doing.

Ryan will probably be the next one who needs a haircut, since we are beginning to see the start of a mullet growing on his little head.

I love how this boy expresses so much happiness when he is outside and completely free to explore. He truly makes me look at life and nature in a whole new way. Watching him discover everything for the first time reminds me to also stop and enjoy the beauty in simple things.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dear Ryan

Dear Ryan,

Please always remember these words.

This is my advice to you, based in my experiences.

I love you so so so much, my little prince!


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Montessori-Style Education

Since I have been taking classes to become a reading specialist, I have also had the opportunity to learn about many different theories and perspectives on childhood education.  I have recently become enthralled with the work of Maria Montessori, who viewed teaching from a different approach than what is found in traditional classrooms.

*Of course, different styles of teaching are more/less suited for different learning types, and it is all about knowing your child and finding the best match for them.

Montessori Basics

Montessori believed that children learn best on their own, through exploration and discovery.  She said that children are not just what we make them, but they are unique individuals who think and learn very differently from adults.  The role of the teacher (or parent) is to step back and carefully observe children, becoming aware of their natural tendencies and internal states of readiness, while allowing children to work independently at their own pace.  Rather than being told what to think and learn, children can think and learn for themselves.  The teacher does not direct, instruct, give criticism or give external approval because a child’s motivation comes from within.

It is important that we recognize the difference between intellectual work (which should not be criticized or punished) and moral misbehavior (which should be corrected).  Children are expected to be respectful, and are never permitted to abuse materials or other people.  Montessori notes that misbehavior usually indicates that a child is unfulfilled in his or her work, and if this occurs, we should closely observe that child in order to introduce materials that may better meet their developmental needs.

Literacy Learning

The Montessori system focuses on writing before reading.  Children are first shown how to hold a pencil, then they practice drawing by staying within the outlines.  Next, they may trace their fingers over sandpaper letters while making the sounds.  Children might then use the moveable alphabet to try to form words with the letters.  These skills are later put together to transition to writing and then on to reading.

Sensitive Periods

Montessori believed that there are naturally programmed blocks of time when children are especially eager to master certain tasks.  During these “sensitive periods” it is important for children to be exposed to specific experiences that will give them an opportunity to develop these particular skills.

During the first three years of life, children learn about their orientation through their environments.  At this time, they are experiencing the sensitive period for order.  They love to organize, straighten things up, and put items where they are supposed to go.  Children at this age may even get upset when they see something that is out of order.  This is completely normal for this age, because they are experiencing the world different from us, as adults.

Between the ages of one and two, children enter into the sensitive period for details.  They are fascinated with small things that adults may not even notice.  Their attention may be on tiny insects or background pictures, rather than focusing on the big objects and bright colors that they once did when they were babies.  These details help children to understand their experiences as completely as possible.

From about eighteen months through three years, children are constantly using their hands for sensory development as they are in the sensitive period for the use of hands.  They reach out to touch objects and pay close attention to their textures.  They like to open and close containers, put things inside and take them back out.  They also enjoy pouring liquids and piling things on top of each other.  This is a period of time when children are extremely tactile.

During the sensitive period of walking, a child has a natural impulse to go from a helpless, stationary being to an independent, active being.  Between one and two years old, most children begin moving their legs and feet in order to take their first steps.  Rather than walking to for the purpose of getting somewhere, children at this age just enjoy walking for the sake of walking.

From birth to six years old, children are in the sensitive period for language.  They go from babbling to speaking words, to eventually putting short and long sentences together.  Not only do children continuously learn new vocabulary, but they also learn to master certain rules for forming parts of speech.  They go from unconsciously learning language to becoming more conscious of it as they get older.

Early Educational Materials 

Because children are naturally self-explorers, they should have many stimulating materials to keep them engaged in their work.  These materials should correspond to each child’s inner needs at sensitive periods and allow them to work towards mastering certain skills.  If the materials are appropriate, children will willingly work on these activities with enthusiasm.  If a child does not seem to be ready for a new task, it should be put aside for another day.

Here's what I have learned about Montessori materials...

the work/play area is child-friendly (child-sized furniture and cleaning tools, low shelves and baskets, low coat hooks, children’s artwork displayed)

allow for physical activity (plenty of room for movement, both indoors and outdoors)

materials are sensory-rich (matching different fabrics and textures, sandpaper tablets, containers that allow child to smell different things, ringing bells, sound cylinders, music, tasting foods/spices)
These are Ryan's sandpaper letters.  Right now he just feels the difference between the rough and smooth textures.  Eventually he will begin to recognize the shape of each letter based on not only what he sees, but also what he feels.

have a built-in control of error (knobbed and knobless cylinders, wooden puzzles)
Ryan likes to work on these wooden puzzles.  So far, he has only figured out two of the shapes.
This "locks" activity is definitely one of Ryan's favorites.  It helps him to develop his fine motor movements.

help to maintain order (photo labels on baskets, defined work/play areas: small carpets and trays, sorting objects, stacking blocks)
These will help Ryan learn how to distinguish between colors while addressing his sensitive period for order.

relate to practical life (dressing frames, pouring, cutting vegetables)
I will use this dressing frame with Ryan to help him learn how to lace and tie his shoes.  (Of course, he is not ready for this one quite yet!)

build an appreciation for nature (gardening activities, nature displays)

Montessori materials can be very expensive, so it is preferable to make them yourself.  This book provides ideas for Montessori activities that can be prepared by using things that you already have laying around your house.  This book gives a background to the Montessori philosophy, and also more ideas for activities.  I especially like that last one because it is geared towards both infants and toddlers.  Both of the books are so useful and I would highly recommend them.

I made this out of an old container and clothespins.  This activity is another way for Ryan to work on his fine motor movements.

My View of Montessori Education

Since I have the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mommy for another year or two (I am so thankful for this!) I plan to use Montessori’s methods while I work with Ryan at home.  Ideally, I would want to send him to a Montessori pre-school when I go back to work, but we will have to see about the cost and whether or not we think that Montessori is the right fit for him.

When I recently visited a nearby Montessori school, I noticed how very different it was from a typical school.   Each classroom had a range of age groups (2-3 year olds, 3-6 year olds, 6-9 year olds). The teachers did not lead whole group lessons, but instead they walked around, providing support while working one-on-one with students.  The students were engaged in nature exploration, music, and “hands-on” experiences.  They kept the materials extremely organized and worked individually on their mats or tables.

I generally like what I saw, but I realize that this environment might not be the best fit for all children. We will definitely have to wait and see how Ryan’s personality and learning style develop over the next few years before deciding on a pre-school program.  In the meantime, I think that the Montessori activities that we do at home will really help his development and (hopefully) make him eager to learn new things.

Clay, Marie M. (1991). Becoming literate: The construction of inner control. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
Crain, W. C. (2011). Theories of development: concepts and applications. (6th ed., pp. 157-165). Boston: Prentice Hall.
Pitamic, Maja (2004).  Teach Me To Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child. Hauppauge, New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.
Seldin, Tim (2006). How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way. New York, NY: DK Publishing.
Wolf, A. D. W. (2006). The challenge of teaching elementary reading. Montessori Life, (1), 38-45.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Our Halloween Costumes

Many of you know how much I love Halloween, and particularly, dressing up in costume.  This year, I wanted to be a mommy monster to match my little baby monster.

Throughout the past years, Barry and I have been a doctor & nurse, super heros, Sookie & Bill, and Katy Perry & Russell Brand.  

I'll admit that I had lots of fun planning Halloween costumes for Ryan back when I was pregnant with him in my tummy.  Since he was a tiny newborn this time last year (and slept through most of Halloween) I just had him wear skeleton and pumpkin onesies.  But this year, there were so many cute costumes to choose from that I couldn't possibly narrow it down to one.  So Ryan ended up being a spider, a monster, and a cow.

We started our festivities last week at the Tiny Tots Halloween Party.  This was the first time that Ryan really walked around somewhere besides at home, and he got so excited that it eventually led to running and even dancing.

The next day, I hosted a party at our place for our mommies/babies play group.  It ended up being a success because it was the perfect amount of people, not too large or overwhelming for the little ones.  And I was so glad that everyone enjoyed the Halloween treats.  I have finally gotten over my awkwardness in the kitchen and now I really love to bake and cook whenever I get the chance.

Ryan and I finished the week with a class at Gymboree (wearing "pumpkin butt" pants), at the mall for store-to-store trick-or-treating, and an event at our church with Grandma.  Afterwards, we did some regular trick-or-treating in my parents' neighborhood.  I am liking this new walking stage so far, because it is so much easier than carrying him!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Treats

Stressed? Spell it backwards... it's desserts! And who doesn't love a sweet treat this time of year? Here is what I have been baking:

Owl Cupcakes

You can make any type of cupcakes that you like, and just add oreos, m & m's, and reeces pieces.  I chose to make these because I hosted an owl themed Halloween party last week.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Brownies

I got this recipe from
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 whole egg
2 egg whites
1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Line an 11″- x 7″-inch pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine pumpkin puree, eggs and oil until smooth.  Set aside.
In a separate medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, spices, salt and brown sugar.  Add to the wet ingredients and mix until thoroughly incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips.
Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly.  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until passes toothpick test.  Cool completely before cutting.

Lemon Cookies

I got this recipe from
1 box lemon cake mix
1- 8 oz container cool whip
1 egg
1/3 cup powdered sugar (for rolling)

Preheat oven to 350°
In medium bowl, beat cool whip, egg and cake mix until well blended. Dough will be thick and sticky.
Drop by teaspoonfuls into a bowl of powdered sugar and roll to coat.
Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 10- 12  minutes

Chocolate Candy Pops

I simply bought a mold (owl-shaped), melted cooking chocolate in a pot on the stove, poured the chocolate into the mold, and let the it harden in the refrigerator overnight.

Caramel Apple Pie

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold butter, cut into chunks
4 to 5 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup thick caramel ice cream topping
6 medium (6 cups) tart cooking apples, peeled, sliced 1/4-inch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 400°F. Combine 2 cups flour and salt in large bowl; cut in butter with pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in enough water with fork just until flour is moistened. Divide dough in half; shape each half into ball. Flatten slightly. Wrap 1 ball of dough in plastic food wrap; refrigerate.
Roll out remaining ball of dough on lightly floured surface into 12-inch circle. Fold into quarters. Place dough into 9-inch pie pan; unfold, pressing firmly against bottom and sides. Trim crust to 1/2 inch from edge of pan; set aside.
Lightly toss together ice cream topping, apples and lemon juice in large bowl. Add 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon; toss lightly. Spoon apple mixture into prepared crust.
Roll out remaining ball of dough into 11-inch circle. Cut out 10 (1/2-inch) strips with sharp knife or pastry wheel. Place 5 strips, 1 inch apart, across filling in pie pan. Weave remaining 5 strips at right angles to strips already in place. Trim ends. Fold trimmed edge of bottom crust over strips; build up an edge. Crimp or flute edge. Brush strips with 1 tablespoon melted butter; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar. Cover edge of crust with 2-inch strip aluminum foil.
Bake for 35 minutes. Remove aluminum foil. Continue baking for 20 to 30 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and juice begins to bubble through slits in crust. Cool pie 30 to 45 minutes. Serve warm.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Grandma Sue

I would like to mention that I am so incredibly proud of my mom.  As many of you know, a little over three years ago she began having trouble with her health.  She was feeling extremely tired, and at first the doctors thought that there was something wrong with her heart.  Later, in April 2009, we found out that she had stage 4 colon cancer.  This means that the cancer had already metastasized (spread to her lungs and liver) before we even knew about it. 

My mom has been a fighter with a positive attitude from the very start.  She has put her loved ones before herself throughout her entire life, and this was no exception.  My mom decided that she would endure any type of pain and suffering from the cancer treatments in order to be here with us for as long as she possibly could.  Ever since, she has been on continuous cycles of chemotherapies, radiation procedures, and clinical trials.  She has gone through more horrible things than most people will ever have to face in their lifetime.  But when people see my mom, they can’t help but comment on how happy and healthy she looks.  She is truly amazing and has such a selfless, giving spirit.

When all of this began, Barry and I were newly engaged, and we were concerned that my mom might not make it to our wedding.  I was so scared that my mom (and best friend) would miss the most important parts of my life.  Well… not only did she attend our wedding, but she was here for my pregnancy, the birth of her first grandchild, my breast cancer diagnosis and year of treatments, and to celebrate Ryan’s first birthday.  Now she enjoys watching our little guy walk around on his wobbly legs and receives hugs, kisses, and snuggles from him every day when we visit her. 

Life is certainly beautiful and tragic at the same time.

This month, my mom has been in and out of the hospital, and she has been having a rough time with the chemotherapy’s side effects along with the pain from the cancer.  Please, please, please remember her in your prayers, because I know that God has a plan for us and my mom is such an inspiration to me.  She is my mom, sister, and best friend, all rolled into one.  I know that many people are not fortunate enough to have the kind of relationship that I have with my mom, and I am so very thankful for her every day.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday's Seven Things I Love

Ghost Footprints
I would really like to do this with our family and Ryan's tiny foot this year.

Gray Nail Polish
A nice change from the black that I usually wear this month.
(Even though I haven't even had the time to paint my nails lately)

Over-the-knee Boots
Cute, and most importantly, warm!

Comfy Socks
So cozy for those days when we are just relaxing around the house.

Colorful Fall Leaves
Pretty, and I absolutely love being outdoors this time of year!

Baby Clothes Quilt
I picked out some of my favorites from when Ryan was a newborn to go on this keepsake.

ToonCamera Iphone App
Turns my pictures into cartoons and drawings... just weird and fun. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ryan's First Steps

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a toddler on our hands!

Ryan was actually doing even better earlier today (getting up and down by himself) but this was all that I was able to catch on video.  We are so proud of him!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am sure that you have been seeing those little pink ribbons pop up in random places (clothing, bumper stickers, grocery bags, facebook profiles, etc).  Everybody knows what they are.  The ribbons have become so common that people don’t even stop to associate them with sickness, suffering, and death.  To many, they are simply a cute marketing scheme that does not affect them personally (thank goodness!)

But to cancer survivors and our loved ones, these ribbons symbolize strength, patience and bravery.  They represent our dark moments, despair and grief, and also our pride and accomplishment.  Although nobody thinks that they will be unlucky enough to get breast cancer, let these pink ribbons remind you to be your own advocate when it comes to your body and health.  Become educated, overly cautious, and persistent, because nobody else is going to fight for you.  This is true not just for this month, but throughout the entire year.

Lately I have been thinking about how much I have changed since my diagnosis/treatments, becoming a mommy, and supporting my mom through her own battle with cancer (all in the same year).  I think that the most important lesson for me has been to become at peace with the fact that I will never know what the future holds.  With true acceptance of this, I value each day for it’s miraculous beauty without feeling worry about what may or may not come.  The future isn’t an issue, because right now, in this moment, I am loving everything around me and everyone here with me.  When I leave the future up to God, I am free to fully enjoy the moments of my life as they happen.

The other night I actually gave myself my own Lovenox shot in the tummy.  Yes, it hurt and felt like bee stings for about ten minutes, but I barely noticed because I was so proud of myself for overcoming my biggest fear that I have had since childhood.  This personal accomplishment may not sound like much to some people, but I know that I have come a long way from being a needle phobic.

I strongly believe that anyone can do anything that they set their minds to.  I know it sounds cliché, but I have learned from experience that our minds are so much more powerful than we give them credit for.  Positive thoughts can make all the difference in determining whether your situation is a hopeless tragedy or a life-changing opportunity for personal growth.  I think that if we can gain this perspective while we are young, it will make the rest of our lives much more enjoyable and fulfilling.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Post Exchange Surgery

Yesterday’s surgery went extremely well and it also seems like recovery is going to be a breeze.  I feel a little achy and tired, but nothing really hurts.  I haven't even needed to take any pain medicine.  My boobs actually feel better than before, because they are now soft, squishy, and comfortable.  The worst part is having to wear this stiff, ugly support bra for the next week in order to reduce swelling:

Me at less than 24 hours post-operation
I am thankful that the surgeon was also able to sew up an open wound that was left over from my port infection.  This is what it looks like now, and after it heals, it should be nothing more than a faint little scar line:

This surgery was much easier than I expected, especially compared to what I have been through on this long journey of treatments.  I began this year with a lumpectomy surgery, which led to my shocking diagnosis.  I then went on through four months of chemotherapy, complete with a port infection, sepsis in my blood, clots in my arms, pulmonary embolisms, and terrible, unmentionable side effects.  I have been through dozens of bags of IV antibiotics, daily shots, pills, a picc line, and tons of medical testing.  Over the summer, I had a double mastectomy surgery with tissue expanders placed inside of me for the next three and a half months.  Now that I have completed my implant exchange surgery, the last thing for me will be a minor procedure in the office where the surgeon will make some final touch-ups to my scars and nipples. 

By the end of December, I should hopefully be finished with breast cancer forever and be able to close this chapter in my life.  Although it sounds like I have been through a lot, this has all made me stronger, more compassionate, and more aware of the beauty in life.  I love and value my family and friends more than ever.  I am so thankful to God for bringing me through this.  What a crazy and unforgettable year!

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