Friday, May 27, 2011

Yummy Spinach

Last night, I accomplished putting together yet another meal.  My husband teases me that I’m becoming so domestic.  I made a strawberry, walnut and spinach salad (I would have added feta cheese, but we were out)…

With the extra spinach, I decided to make “Chicken Rollatini with Spinach alla Parmigiana.”  (Sounds tricky, but its not.)  I started by making a spinach and cheese mixture, and spreading it onto some chicken cutlets…

 Then I rolled, breaded, and baked the chicken in the oven…

Added marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese on top…

And that was it!  One chicken roll is only about 195 calories, and was plenty filling (for me!) along with the salad that I had made.  My husband had two chicken rolls and salad, which is still a relatively low-calorie meal.  And there were plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day.

For the complete recipe and ingredients, see

Hmmm... I think I actually like being a domestic housewife/mommy!  Who would have guessed?

Mommy and Me Class

I have had the best week because I got to spend tons of quality time with my baby boy!  Today we tried a free introductory “mommy and me” class at The Little Gym...

Ryan is learning to walk while holding onto an object (or our hands) and “cruising”.  I was so proud that he was actually social with the other babies in this class.  He crawled right over to the babies, sat in front of them, stared at them, and played with toys next to them.  When a big, 11-month-old baby took away Ryan’s toy, he didn’t even protest; he just crawled over and got another ball.  He also didn’t shy away, like some of the other ones did.  (That is usually what he does around older kids).

A new thing with Ryan is that he likes to pretend to be shy/bashful around me.  When I look at him, he gives me a smile and then buries his head, like he thinks I can’t see him (because he can’t see me!).  Then he looks up, giggles, and does it again.  That sweet little guy!

Since Ryan liked the pool at the hotel so much, I blew up a mini baby pool for him and put it on our balcony.  It was perfect for a hot day!  Ryan splashed around and stuck out his tongue the same way that he did before.  He absolutely loves water, which is why he also enjoys his baths so much.  (And I love baths too, because nothing smells better than a fresh, clean baby!) 

It’s so interesting how Ryan’s personality is developing.  He reveals more to us each day, like he's choosing to let us into his world just a little bit at a time.  Ryan is very active, but also observant.  If he finds someone/something interesting, he will quietly stare and think.  But if there is nothing for his mind to “do”, then he is busy moving around, getting into something else.  He sure does require a lot of energy to look after!  To me, he is perfection.

Today we got to stop by my parents house for some quality grandma/grandpa time.  They are always delighted anytime that we come to visit, and they gladly give Ryan all of the attention that he wants.  They honestly believe that a grandparent's job is to spoil their grandchild.  It's so cute to watch Ryan interact with them! 

I have felt more energetic the past two days than I have in months!  I have been running around, trying to do as much as possible!  It feels SO GREAT!!!!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ryan's First Beach Trip

This past weekend, I took a mini-vacation to Virginia Beach with Barry, Ryan, and my mom.  Ryan had his first experiences with sand, ocean, and the swimming pool.  I’m so thankful that my mom could be there for that!  She was very energetic the whole time, and got to spend lots of time with Ryan.

I’ve noticed that when Ryan experiences something new, he gets a very serious and thoughtful look on his face.  I can just see the wheels in his head spinning as he takes in all of the new sensations.  Ryan was amazed by the sand as he kept grabbing handfuls then watching it slip through his little fingers.  He didn’t fully understand the function of the beach toys.  He banged them together and put them in his mouth.  At least that was a source of entertainment.  When we put him inside the little raft in the pool, he kept sticking out his tongue and biting his lip.

But, he didn’t cry... not even once!  I think that he actually enjoyed it!  Here's his "serious" face:

We had great weather the whole time, except that it was cold at night.  Somehow, after laying out in the bright sun for two whole days, I did not get any trace of a tan.  I guess pasty skin and the inability to tan are chemo side effects that they don’t bother telling you about.  Maybe next time I shouldn’t slather on sunscreen, but I was afraid of the opposite happening.  I am thankful that I didn’t get a sunburn.

On the drive home, we stopped at the Williamsburg outlets for some shopping.  I was excited to find some stores that I have never seen as outlets before (Janie and Jack, True Religion) and also the usual ones (Coach, Burberry, Banana Republic, Carters).  I mostly bought stuff for Ryan, since that’s so much more fun than picking out things for myself… it’s like dressing up a little doll!

We certainly had an unforgettable vacation, but coming home was a bit of a reality check.  The date of my mastectomy has now been changed to June 23 (a week later than we had originally scheduled) because of a time conflict with one of the surgeons.  The whole week before the surgery will be filled with pre-op appointments, Ryan’s doctor appointments, vet appointments, and any other appointments I need to squeeze in.  At least, getting all of this stuff out of the way beforehand will allow me the time that I need to recover slowly without worrying about it.  We also have tons of fun things on the calendar between now and June 23, so I am ready to make the most of each day and enjoy being active and productive!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My 27th Birthday

Today I turned 27...

I used to be somewhat intimidated by getting older and older each year.  I dreaded turning 30.  Well, not anymore!  I'm so thankful to be alive, and every year that I am closer to 30 feels like an accomplishment.  I want to fully enjoy and appreciate every single year that I am given.  So many people die too young, and I know that I am blessed to be here on my 27th birthday!

Today I was given the best surprise by my co-workers at my old school.  They all coordinated to wear pink today (in my honor!) and took pictures with a Happy Birthday banner.  How lucky am I to have such a great group of teachers and staff supporting me?!

I bet most people don't have co-workers as AMAZING as that!!!  It brought tears to my eyes to see the faces of my old friends recognizing me in such a spirited way.  Even S, who moved to Kansas City last year, wore a pink shirt for me today and took a picture at her home.  They all posted the pictures onto facebook.  It's so rare to find such a sweet, caring group of people at work!  I love and miss you all!

Tonight, I got to have dinner at Seasons 52 with my husband, son, and best friends.  We enjoyed our dinner and Ryan behaved extremely well for such a little guy.  I got some thoughtful gifts from E, K, and J (my other best friend who currently lives in Ohio for med school).  They all got me button down shirts, because after my surgery I won't be able to lift my arms up to put on regular shirts for a while.  The shirts are adorable, and they all got me different styles.  At least I'll get to look cute while recovering this summer!  Of course, I had my camera out the whole night, as usual...

At the restaurant tonight...

I received so many cards and gifts today that I am overwhelmed!  I feel so loved... thank you to everyone!  I want to especially thank Barry for making sure that my birthday was perfect and that I enjoyed every minute of my day.  I'm looking forward to having some more fun this weekend!  We may as well celebrate as much as possible, right?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Baked Chicken Nuggets and Zucchini Sticks

Last night, I cooked a complete dinner by myself for the first time.  I have decided that I want to be able to prepare healthy meals for my family, especially since Ryan will eventually be moving on from baby food to solid food.  Home-cooked, fresh foods are so much better for you than packaged foods or eating out at restaurants all of the time.  I also have been reading about the benefits of a low saturated fat diet in reducing the risk of triple negative cancer recurrence.

Although I have never been the kind of person to eat a lot of red meats or fatty foods, I realize now that I also want to avoid anything processed (which contain carcinogens), sugars and white starches (which affect insulin levels), caffeine, and alcohol.  Instead, my goal will be to eat more plants and vegetables, including these superfoods (which are also great for your kids).  Other powerful cancer-fighting foods include watercress, raw carrots, fiber, fish, flaxseed, and walnuts.  I hope to encourage Ryan to eat as healthy as possible and to develop a taste for these kinds of foods while he is still young.  I have been searching for delicious, healthy recipes that aren’t too difficult to cook. 

I recently found, which features recipes and also includes the calories and Weight Watchers points for each one.  I decided to cook the “Baked Zucchini Sticks with Marinara Sauce” and the “Healthy Baked Chicken Nuggets” along with mashed potatoes for dinner last night.  I chose these recipes because they seemed easy and kid-friendly, and hopefully one day Ryan will like them too.

Baked Zucchini Sticks (before)…

 (After) with marinara sauce on the side…

Baked Chicken Nuggets…

I thought that everything came out pretty well, for my first attempt at cooking.  The worst part was cutting the uncooked chicken.  I guess that everything gets easier the more often that you do it!

Do you have a favorite healthy recipe for a beginning cook?  I’d love for you to share!  =)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wordless (Sorta) Wednesday

Teaching Second Grade

When I was little, I learned how to be very creative in order to entertain myself as an only child.  I pretended that my dolls and stuffed animals had “come to life” and I gave them their own individual personalities.  I lined them up, taught them school lessons, graded their work, and wrote detailed report card comments for each of them.  I literally did this for hours, not even wanting to stop to eat or go to bed.  I just wanted to “play school”.  I guess you could say that I was born a teacher.  Or weird.

Later in life, I realized that being a teacher was not going to make me a lot of money.  It wasn’t going to be an easy nine-to-five job where you get to take long lunch breaks and pretend to be working at your desk when you are actually just wasting time and watching the clock.  I found out that it takes a lot more to be a good teacher.  It requires working long hours that you don’t get paid for, taking work home with you regularly, and being highly enthusiastic/focused on your students the entire day.  It depletes most of your time and energy. You won’t always get the recognition or respect that you deserve.  But you ARE helping people and making a difference in all of those students’ lives.  And to me, that is worth much more than a high salary or a status symbol any day.

Some people “work to live” while others “live to work”.  Everyone has different values, and that is understandable.  But there are some people who hate their jobs, yet continue to live each day being miserable and complaining rather than actively pursuing something that could make them happy.  I know that there are not a lot of options in the job market today, but surely everyone can at least find a hobby or charity that they are passionate about.  Whatever you personally find rewarding should play a large role in your life.  I most highly value my family, friends, and my relationship with God.  I also find fulfillment in small hobbies and simple everyday things.  I’m blessed to have chosen a career that has been extremely rewarding for me throughout the past four years. 

I really miss being a second grade teacher: the students, the daily classroom routines, and teaching my reading groups.  (When I tell Ryan to use his "context clues” he just stares at me with big blue eyes).  I especially miss the other teachers at my old school.  Over time, we became more than just co-workers, but also friends who care about each other.  This was shown today when three of my old teammates stopped by for a visit.  As we sat there talking, I felt like I could go back to work tomorrow and pick up right where I left off.  But, at the same time, it feels like years and years have passed between then and now.  I guess chemo really does make each month feel like a year.  It’s hard to believe that just last year, life was completely normal.  I know that I will go back to teaching eventually.  I just don’t know when, where, or what position.  I trust that things always do work out for the best and according to God’s plan for my life.

I want to thank P, B, and J for taking the time out of your day to drive all the way down to see me and Ryan!  I am very appreciative of the staff members who wrote me thoughtful cards and included gift cards to some of my favorite (yummy!) places.  I don’t even work there anymore, and these ladies continue to show their compassion and love towards me.  That is definitely exceptional characterThank you all for making me still feel like part of the elementary school family!

It was great to catch up with my old second grade team!  Such pretty teachers!  <3

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes/Playdate

Ryan is officially 8 months old as of yesterday. Long gone are the days of frequent naps, playing with toys while laying on his back, and staying in the same spot where I left him. Instead of enticing him to crawl forward with a toy, I’m now chasing after him as he finds all sorts of “non-toys” to get into.

He is well aware of people, places, and even the topic of conversation. Meaning: if our attention is not focused on him, baby will do whatever it takes to get it!  He may just be the teensiest tiny bit spoiled. But I will deny it to the end, as any mother would. ;-) Ryan has so many expressions, my favorite being his “proud smile” that he gives after standing up all by himself or making us laugh spontaneously. He has got mommy and daddy wrapped around his little finger!

Last week, I received a package in the mail that came as a complete surprise. An old childhood friend of mine, J, who had just recently found out about my diagnosis, sent me a “pink ribbon” baking set. Complete with cookie cutters, cupcake sleeves, a spatula, and sprinkles. How incredibly sweet and thoughtful, right? So I decided to make red velvet cupcakes with vanilla cream cheese frosting. I got my recipe from Pastries of a Chocoholic and they turned out to be very easy to make!
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup light buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon red food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 packages cream cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1. Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder and sugar. In a large bowl, gently beat the oil, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, vinegar, and food coloring. Then gradually add the dry ingredients until smooth and thoroughly combined.
3. Fill 2/3 of the cupcake holders with the batter. Bake for about 20 minutes. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick. Remove and cool completely before frosting. Makes about 24 cupcakes.
4. Frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla on low speed until smooth. Then increase to high speed until very light and fluffy. Pipe the frosting on the cupcakes or spread on with a spatula.

Along with the cupcakes, I made chocolate chip cookies. I found out that it is very hard to keep them in a ribbon shape, even with the cookie cutters.

I thought that everything tasted yummy. I liked how the cupcake icing wasn't excessively sweet, like the store bought kind usually is. My next goal will be to move on from baking to cooking “real” food. I already have some recipes in mind.  I'm planning on starting out by cooking one new recipe a week, and then eventually more, once I get the hang of it!

It turns out that J has a little baby girl, P, who is only five and a half months older than Ryan. And they live just a couple minutes down the road. So, of course we decided to get together and hang out! We had a great time catching up on each others lives (from the past decade!) and watching our babies “interact”. Well, at this age, more like play next to each other. Except that Ryan got really fussy, as he’s still going through the “stranger anxiety” phase, and this was his first experience being around another baby for longer than a few minutes. With everything going on these past few months, Ryan never really had the opportunity to meet any "friends". We need to give him more experiences with babies, because he has to develop his social skills. Anyone up for a playdate?  I promise to bring cupcakes! (hehe).

Ryan eventually cheered up, thanks to a little extra comforting and Baby Signing Time. I’m so glad that J reached out to me and that we got to reunite after all these years! She even brought Ryan a cute pair of swim trunks and matching hat. Thanks for everything, J! I’m amazed at her generosity and, as always, I'm so thankful to have such wonderful people in my life!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Day at the Park

Earlier this week, Barry and I took Ryan to a nearby park.  Up until then, his outdoor experiences had been somewhat limited to long walks in his stroller.  But this time, he was out of the stroller and busy interacting with everything around him.

Ryan seemed perfectly content swinging all by himself.

Is that… (gasp!) embarrassment on my baby’s face when I kiss him?

Okay, now we are really having fun… this little boy is fearless!  =)

Cuddle up?  Sure, I’ll take baby cuddles any time, any day!

I think that it was good for all of us to get out for some fresh air.  The park was a better alternative to the malls or other crowded public places.  I’m still being careful this week because my immune system is at its lowest point right now from the chemo.  I have to admit that I was completely exhausted after our busy day.  But it just felt so good to be outside, taking everything in.  It felt about a million times more amazing than I ever remembered it being. 

Yesterday I had lab work done at the oncologist’s office.  Since I don’t have a port or picc line, now they take my blood the old-fashioned way:  with a needle.  BUT, I’m not really needle phobic anymore!  Or at least, not to the same extent that I was before.  I did still use the numbing cream, which helped a lot.  But I had no feelings of severe anxiety, panic attack, weakness, or fainting while the needle was inserted or afterwards.  I noticed a HUGE difference from what it used to feel like.  I am so relieved!  Then… I got some more good news.  My oncologist doesn’t need to see me again for three whole weeks.  That sounds too good to be true… three weeks of being completely free and normal!  =)

Tomorrow I will be taking my mom to her chemo treatment.  I plan on spending most of my time over the next few days with my parents, since they will be needing some help.  My dad is also in the process of recovering from his own surgery.  I hope that I have enough energy to run some errands for them, bring them food, or whatever else they might need.  I love my parents so much, and I feel bad for what they are going through right now.  I want to help them so much more now that I’m not as sick as I was before.

I think that there has been too much attention on me and my treatments lately, and I just want to focus on what I can do for others.  First and foremost, I want to be a wife, mother, and daughter who lovingly serves her family.  I want to show the people I love how much they mean to me.  I want to be the type of friend who will go above and beyond (just like my friends have done for me!)  I want to use my life to help others.  I am so pleased and honored to hear people say that my blog has made a difference for them.  I hope to help/serve others in an even bigger way in the future, and I’m praying that God will reveal, in time, what that way may be.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hug Your Mommy and/or Babies Today!

In honor of Mother’s Day, I decided to dig up some pictures of my mom when she was young… 
 (the little girl on her lap is Aunt S)

Uncle M, Aunt S, Aunt G, Grandma, Mommy, and Grandpa in 1966

As a teenager… (that’s my dad)

Then she had ME! (notice the red handbag: addictions start young!)

This year is special because not only do I get to celebrate my own beautiful, strong, and talented mother… but it’s also my very first Mother’s Day as a mommy myself.  I’ve waited my whole life for this!  My mom has set the bar high, as far as mothers go.  I can only hope to be as loving and dedicated to Ryan as she has been to me.  She's such a giving and selfless person that I want to model my life after her.  Don’t forget to celebrate your own mothers today… treasure them while they are here!  Mommies are so special and unique, and remember, she’s the only one you got!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Goodbye Chemo, You WON'T be Missed!

I thought this day would never come.

I’m officially done with chemo treatments and ready to move on! 

Has it really only been four months?  Today I woke up with a feeling of accomplishment.  I never thought that I would make it through all six chemo cycles at full dosage.  I barely remember what its like to be normal.  I took a long, relaxing shower without having to worry about any tubes/catheters getting wet (picc line is out, as of yesterday!)  I did not get hooked up to any machine, IV, meds, or antibiotics.  I did not need anybody to give me heparin/saline injections.  I went to the doctor and only got ONE shot, and it wasn’t even a bad one.  I am dealing with chemo side effects, but I know that if I can just get through these, I’ll never have to experience worse ones.  In reality, I will probably have chemo side effects for about a full year out from treatments.  It takes that long for your body to restore its energy.  But right now, I’m just so excited to never have to watch that poison go into my body and to not feel completely sick all the time!  Honestly, chemotherapy is absolutely, definitely, 100% as bad as “they say” that it is.  But it saved my life.  I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to receive it and that I am alive at a time when technology and medicine are so advanced. 

Today I found out that my MRI results were normal, along with my PET/CT scan being clear.  The one last thing to check off my list will be the pathology report from my upcoming surgery in June.  If that shows clean margins, with no evidence of cancer anywhere (including lymph nodes) then I will be ready to celebrate!  It will be like a dream!  I will know in just a little over a month.

The type of cancer that I had (triple negative) is fast-growing and the greatest risk of recurrence occurs early on.  If I can survive the next 3 years without cancer coming back, then the risk goes down for me later in life.  The challenge is to make it to the 3 year mark.  Instead of worrying, I’ll find comfort in the fact that I’m doing every single treatment option recommended, including the most aggressive ones.  Because of this, I have no regrets.  If there’s one thing that I have learned, it’s the importance of setting your priorities and enjoying every moment of life that you possibly can.  The good times are so much more precious than they used to be.  If you can just have this perspective, then nothing in life will seem THAT bad anymore.  I hope that everyone can appreciate their lives more, and realize how good we actually have it!

K and E brought me roses and chocolate covered strawberries to celebrate my last chemo! (#6)
Ryan got to meet some other babies, whose mommies were actually my nurses.  They were so sweet.
I'm so thankful to everyone who helped support me these past months, especially my mom and wonderful husband!

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." James 1:2-3 

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