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!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Another Boob Surgery

Tomorrow I will be having my second surgery for breast reconstruction.  After my last surgery (a double mastectomy) I had tissue expanders placed in order to make room for the implants.  It has been about three months since then, so now I can finally have the regular silicone implants put in.  This one is called an exchange surgery. 

It will feel soooo good to have the tissue expanders taken out.  Although they look fine from the outside, they actually feel like heavy rocks that can’t move.  Also, they poke me whenever I lay down.  So I should feel much more comfortable once I recover from this surgery.  Luckily, it won’t be anywhere near as painful as the double mastectomy, and is probably more equivalent to a boob job.  It is an estimated 2 to 3 week recovery, maybe sooner.  So I am not as scared/anxious as I was before the other surgery.  Please pray for me that everything goes smoothly. 

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

For the past week (and then again for a few days following the surgery) my husband has been giving me Lovenox shots in my tummy, because I am not allowed to be on Coumadin during this time.  My oncologist says that I will hopefully be able to stop taking the Coumadin in December, as long as my blood clots are completely dissolved.  Last time it was checked, I still had one in my left arm.

On a lighter note, Ryan had so much fun at his cousin’s birthday party last weekend.  Nothing warms my heart more than to see my little guy enjoying himself and loving life!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Down on the Farm- part 2

Yesterday we took Ryan to pick out a pumpkin.

Of course, he played in the hay and dirt (such a boy)…

got really excited about the selection of pumpkins…

and helped us pick out the perfect one.  (and two, and three.)

He even got to ride a tractor…

and a horse…

and play with his friend, P.

All in all, a perfect little Saturday.  I think that I am beginning to like fall even more than summer, because of this beautiful weather and the festive holidays.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Down on the Farm- part 1

Last week, this city girl decided to drive out to the country to take her almost-toddler apple picking and to see a farm for the first time.  We went during a weekday, just the two of us, so we practically had the place to ourselves.  It was just what we needed to get away from the hustle and bustle and to enjoy the fresh air and serenity.  Everything was so peaceful, from the simple farm animals to the quiet pond to the beautiful apple orchards.  I know that Ryan was also feeling at peace because he didn’t cry or fuss the whole three hours that we were there.  (And trust me, this is a rare occasion).

I think it was this cow that motivated Ryan to start “mooing” and walking (still holding on, of course).

He was mesmerized by a chicken and liked hearing the goats make loud, sudden noises.    

Apple picking was the best part, because Ryan kept giggling every time that he heard me drop an apple into the bucket.  Then he would try to find it and dig it out himself.

Our little guy is definitely on the verge of walking.  Every chance that he gets to hold on to something, he pulls himself up and cruises.  

But so far, he has only taken two steps without holding on to anything.  (And he has only done this twice).  I love the proud look that he gets on his face when he walks while hanging on to my hand.  I am excited for Ryan start walking on his own, but I am not exactly looking forward to chasing him around even more than I do now.  (He is a very fast crawler/knee-walker)

For now, I will be enjoying this last stage of babyhood and the sleepy, blissful look on my little guy’s face while I lug him around in his wagon. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Homemade Sushi (Vegetarian)

I had a lot of fun with this one!  I do need more practice with the sushi mat, since my rolls came out kinda messy (but still delicious).


2 cups short grain rice
2 ½ cups water
3 tablespoons water, extra
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
5 sheets toasted nori
1 cucumber
½ medium carrot
½ medium avocado
2 slices cheddar cheese, cut into thin strips


Place rice and water in a large saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low, cover with tight fitting lid and cook for 10 minutes.

Place rice, extra water, vinegar and sugar in a bowl and mix well.

Place nori sheet onto a bamboo sushi mat. Spread warm rice over nori sheet.

Cut and prepare the fillings.

Layer cucumber, carrot, avocado and cheese at narrow end, and roll up from narrow end using the sushi mat.

Repeat process with remaining ingredients to make more rolls. Cut each roll and serve with wasabi sauce.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

Jack's Mannequin- "People and Things"

I am so excited that my favorite musician/songwriter, Andrew McMahon, is releasing his new album tomorrow. I pre-ordered “People and Things” on itunes and I am just counting down the hours until I finally get to listen to it.

I have been a fan of Andrew since his Something Corporate days and I actually got to meet him and take pictures with him at one of his concerts in 2003.  I was completely hooked on his music after hearing the song Konstantine:

I continued listening when Andrew started his new project called Jack’s Mannequin. The songs Rescued, Bruised, and Hammers and Strings became the soundtrack to my life during college and after.  I went to a bunch of Jack's Mannequin concerts throughout the following years, never wanting to miss a chance to hear a live performance.

I have always been enamored by this music, but it wasn’t until I was going through cancer treatments that it saved me.  You see, Andrew McMahon also battled cancer himself, and he continued to write songs and film a documentary while he was in the hospital receiving chemotherapy treatments.  These songs spoke directly to me when I was in the hospital for weeks at a time, feeling completely cut off from the outside world.  The songs Swim and There There Katie (among others) gave me a sense of comfort because they were so familiar yet so hauntingly relevant to this dark, other side of my life.

Andrew and I were both considered to be too young for cancer, but we fought it and came out as stronger people because of it.  Dear Jack is Andrew’s phenomenal documentary film that I would highly recommend for anyone to watch.  It really makes you stop and appreciate what you have in your own life.  Not only is Andrew McMahon inspirational as a cancer survivor, he is also an extremely talented musician and a lyrical genius.

As if the new Jack’s Mannequin album wasn’t enough, Mayday Parade (my other favorite band) is also releasing their newest album on the exact same day.  I’m sure that I will be listening non-stop for the next few weeks!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Becoming a Smart Consumer

Being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatments has completely changed me as a person.  I have become more patient, appreciative, spiritual, and confident.  I also place greater value on my health and realize the importance of taking care of my body.

We make decisions each day that contribute to our health.  The obvious one is in the amount and types of food we consume.  I used to think that healthy eating involved just eating as few calories as possible.  But I have learned that this idea is very far from the truth. 

What is true is that nutrient-dense foods, rather than “empty” calorie foods, can do wonders for our health.  A natural, plant-based diet is favorable to eating pre-packaged, processed, and fatty foods.  Many processed meats (lunch meat, ham, hot dogs, etc.) contain nitrites that are used as preservatives, which form carcinogenic compounds when they are cooked.  Carcinogens are directly linked to cancer.

Another serious issue to think about is the way that the food industry has allowed animals to be raised on modern-day, corporate farms.  The majority of our cows, chickens, etc. are being pumped with hormones, spending their lives in stress, and being confined to small, filthy places.  When most of us think of farms, we picture healthy animals peacefully roaming around and grazing in grass.  However, this is no longer the reality of the farms that produce most of the meat found in our grocery stores.  From a health standpoint, it is not good for the animals themselves or for the humans who eat them and ingest those hormones. 

Since all of the nutrients found in meats can be found in other foods (the one exception is B12, which can be taken as a supplement) I have decided to cut out most meats from my diet.  I do still eat chicken and turkey on occasion, yet I try to eat organic and free-range if possible.  My goal is to discover more vegetarian options and recipes and eventually eliminate all meat from my diet.  Here is a video advertisement for sustainable farming from Chipotle (I got this from a friend on facebook):

Okay, so it is kind of cheesy, but I like it!

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, I love supporting local farms by buying produce at farmer’s markets.  The healthiest choice is to avoid items that are grown with pesticides.  Fruits and vegetables that are sustainable, locally grown, and also in-season definitely taste the best!

The final change that I have made for my health involves my use of cosmetics and personal beauty products.  After learning about parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben) and their strong correlation to breast cancer, skin damage, and infertility, I no longer use products that contain these or other questionable ingredients.  I threw out almost all of my old products, and replaced them with only a few essentials that contain safe, natural ingredients.  It was a simple change, and I feel so much better knowing that my skin isn’t absorbing any of those harmful chemicals.

I realize that some people may think, “using a shampoo won’t hurt me, that is a bit extreme.”  But what if you use that shampoo (combined with conditioner, soap, deodorant, lotion, sunscreen, all containing harmful ingredients) every day for weeks, months, even years?  The combination and repeated use of these products is what becomes dangerous for your health.  Since there are other options available, why not just purchase the products that do not contain these chemicals?  They may cost a dollar or two more now, but think about the money that you may save in doctor’s bills down the road.

Many people are surprised to learn the meaning behind those long, hard-to-pronounce ingredients listed on the back of their products.  If you are interested, this website rates products according to health, environment, and society, giving them an overall score.  This video shows an informative cartoon about how the cosmetics industry is poorly regulated.  This book goes into detail about the chemicals/ingredients found in our products and it also recommends alternatives that listed by category.

In case anyone was wondering, here are some of my favorite natural products that I have recently started to use (and love):

Shampoo: Aubrey Organics Camomile Luxurious Volumizing Shampoo

Face Soap: Aubrey Organics Sea Buckthorn and Cucumber Facial Cleansing Cream

Body Soap: Aubrey Organics Herbal Liquid Everyday Body Soap

Toothpaste: Tom's of Maine Whole Care

Eyeshadow: Bare Escentuals: bareMinerals eyeshadow (color: Shantung)

Sunscreen: Kiss My Face Spf 30 for Face and Neck

Hand Sanitizer: Burt's Bees Aloe and Witch Hazel Hand Sanitizer

Baby Wash and Shampoo (for Ryan): Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash

What products/brands do you like to use?  Also, I am looking for new, yummy vegetarian/vegan recipes... do you have any favorites to share?  I know that there are a lot of healthy eaters! 

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