Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spinach Smoothie

You may be thinking that a spinach smoothie sounds gross, but this drink is sooooo delicious!  It is a great way to get in your nutrient-packed spinach if you don't like the taste of it, because you can't taste the spinach at all.  Anybody who likes peanut butter and bananas will love this!  It can easily be taken on-the-go when you are in a hurry.  And, it is very filling... enough to be a meal.  You must try this and see for yourself!

1 frozen sliced banana

1 tablespoon peanut butter

1/2 cup Vanilla Greek yogurt

1 cup skim milk

4 cups baby spinach (or add as much or as little spinach as you want)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

(Recipe adapted from Iowagirleats)


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February Recipes

Here are some of my favorite foods that I made this month:

Vegetarian Quinoa Chili


1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
3 (15 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Optional toppings: green onions, avocado slices, cheese, sour cream, Greek yogurt, tortilla chips.


1. In a medium sauce pan, combine the quinoa and water. Cook over medium heat until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, jalapeƱo, carrot, celery, peppers, and zucchini. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Stir in the cooked quinoa. Season with chili powder, cumin, salt, and black pepper. Simmer chili on low for about 30 minutes. Serve warm.

4. Garnish the chili with green onions, avocado slices, cheese, sour cream/Greek yogurt, tortilla chips, if desired.

(Recipe from Twopeasintheirpod)

Hard Boiled Egg Whites with Avocado Mix

Hard boil the eggs. Mix together avocado, lime juice, salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro.

(Recipe from Withstyle)

Eggplant and Goat Cheese with Tomato Tarragon Sauce


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cups fresh or canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree (one 28-ounce can)
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon
1- 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 eggplants, peeled and cut to make sixteen 1/2-inch-thick slices in all
4 eggs, beaten to mix
Cooking oil, for frying
1/2 pound mild goat cheese, cut into 8 rounds


1. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tarragon, 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, and the sugar and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
3. Dip each slice of eggplant in the eggs and then in the bread-crumb mixture, coating well. In a large frying pan, heat about half an inch of cooking oil over moderate heat until very hot. Fry the eggplant in the hot oil, in batches, turning once, until golden and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
4. Arrange half of the eggplant slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Put a slice of goat cheese on top of each and then top with the remaining eggplant slices. Bake until the cheese melts, about 10 minutes. Put the sauce on plates and top with the eggplant.

(Recipe from Whatdidyoueat)

Black Bean Quinoa


1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen corn kernels
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro


Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, and saute until lightly browned.
Mix quinoa into the saucepan and cover with vegetable broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes,
Stir frozen corn into the saucepan, and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans and cilantro.

(Recipe from Allrecipes)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Post Chemo Hair Extensions

Yesterday, I had my first hair appointment since I lost all my hair to chemo exactly one year ago.  My hairdresser said that my hair was finally long enough to get highlights and extensions!   As you can see in the first picture, it took a whole year for my hair to grow just enough to cover my ears, and it grew back much darker than before.  I am super excited to finally look like my old self again (the last picture was taken today).

I absolutely love having long hair again.   I am so happy that the extensions seem to blend nicely, and don't look too fake.  (Well, anything looks natural after wearing a wig for a year.)  I think that my hairdresser did a great job!  I definitely do not miss wearing a wig, hats, or having short hair. Bleh!

This time last year: no hair at all.
December 2011: trying to look less like a boy by wearing a headband with a bow.

What's even better than a new hair style?  Vacations to Florida and North Carolina!  I can't wait to relax in the warm sun.  These are all such great rewards after a rough year!

 *Update* here is my follow-up post (written 3 months later) about my extensions.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

17 Months Already

As of last Tuesday, we have a 17 month old boy!  As much as I loved the whole newborn and baby stage, this age is by far my favorite.  Being a mommy is better than I ever imagined.  It is so wonderful to be able to interact with this amazing little guy who just grows smarter each day, and can show us love in return.  (As opposed to young babies, who don’t really give much feedback yet).  Ryan makes sure that every moment is filled with excitement and fun!

Favorite things: trucks, dogs, balloons, and Elmo

Weight: 19lbs 8 oz

Says: go, door, ball, bubble, mommy, daddy, Ra Ra, clock, light, bath, book, wa-wa, uh-oh, dog, that, hi, bye, back, hat, baby, truck, socks, car, up, diaper, thank you, hot, yummy, bowl, duck, boy, girl, Elmo, shoes, balloon, shirt, no, bee, apple, why

What Ryan has been up to:

-dances when he hears music (even if its just someone humming)

-likes to take everything in and out of containers

-lifts up his shirt to show his belly button when he is in a silly mood

-brings me his bib when he is hungry

-points to his diaper and brings me a clean one when he needs changed

-brushes his own hair

-wipes his own nose with a tissue

-plays peekaboo through the window when I put his stroller in the trunk of the car

-giggles at words that sound funny

-is fascinated with dogs and all other animals

-jumps really high (I think that he learned that from Lucky)

-blows on his dinner and says "hot! hot!"

-is very good at imitating mommy and daddy

-puts his sippy cup in his stroller and waits near the door when he hears the word “go”

-runs away and giggles when it is time to put on his jam jams because he doesn’t want to go to bed

- says “back” when somebody goes into another room because he is remembering not to get upset because they will be right back

-says “uh oh” when something falls or doesn’t work like he thinks it should

-collects things off the floor that he thinks should go in the trash and says “yuck”

-says “no” when he starts to do something that he knows that he shouldn’t, and then catches himself

-enjoys seeing his toddler friends at our Wednesday and Friday playgroups...

-likes to throw balls through the mini basketball hoop...

-was very brave last week and got his second haircut ever...

Here are the before and after shots of Ryan’s "big boy haircut"...  I think that he is so handsome!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Truck Fanatic

Our little guy is completely obsessed with trucks.

This is not a hobby that we influenced in any way (I’m extremely girly and my husband is more into cars than trucks) but a passion that Ryan discovered on his own.  It started with him somehow learning the word “truck” and applying it to everything with wheels.  Each day, I would hear excited shrieks coming from the back of the car whenever Ryan noticed another vehicle on the road.  Then, he began wanting to hold/play with/sit on/drive any type of truck that he could find.

Interested in playing dress-up with mommy?  Nope.  Just looking for more trucks.

Now it has gotten to the point that if Ryan is completely focused on trucks all the time, wherever we go, and whatever we are doing.  His little dreams probably consist of nothing but trucks.  Ryan can spot a truck from a mile away, whether it be a tiny symbol on a milk carton or a toy tucked into the back corner of an aisle.  His favorite puzzle is this new truck one (thanks, Emi!) and he picked out this truck shirt for himself at the store just yesterday:

As soon as Ryan spotted the shirt, his little finger started pointing and his whole body was shaking with excitement.  When I let him hold it, Ryan gripped the shirt tightly as if he was guarding it with his life.  He had a huge smile on his face the rest of the time, until it was time to go and I tried to pry it out of his hands.  I never imagined that my one year old would be begging me for a shirt, of all things.

Ryan and I had a lunch date together on Valentine's Day, and of course, his mind was on trucks.  (He is also at that stage where everything is "no".)  We still managed to enjoy our date, and we even learned how to blow kisses!

I sure do love this sweet little boy! <3

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Cards

We had fun making homemade Valentine’s Day cards this year.  Ryan worked really hard trying to stamp the hearts like mommy showed him.  I expected him to just spread the paint everywhere and make a mess, but he actually cared about trying to get those hearts onto the paper!

All we needed was: red fingerpaint, paper, a heart shaped cookie cutter, a heart shaped jello mold, and TP rolls with the ends folded to be shaped like hearts.

I demonstrated with the cookie cutter, however, the TP roll was definitely the easiest for Ryan to manage.  I love his concentration!

Since we made about twenty-something cards, I had new trays lined up and ready to go for whenever Ryan was finished with a set of cards.  I taped the paper onto the trays, to prevent the cards from getting thrown onto the floor (accidentally, of course!)

The paper dried quickly, pretty much during the time that it took me to give Ryan a bath.  Then, I just folded the pieces of paper in half to make cards…

added a note and a picture…

and sent them off in the mail.  Here is a better quality picture of our little all-star:

And, of course, the week wouldn’t be complete without baking some Valentine’s treats:

I think that I am completely done with sugar for a while, because these were a little too sweet for my taste.  At least other people seemed to enjoy them.

Ryan and I will be attending a tiny tots Valentine's Day party tomorrow while Barry is at work.  Then I have class (which is quite a long drive in rush hour) so we decided to save our "valentine" dinner for another night that is not so busy.  Barry did already bring me home roses though... I love him so much!

A few day after my mom passed, I found an envelope in her drawer.  I opened it and found that it was a Valentine’s Day card for me.  For this year.  It made me smile and cry at the same time.  How thoughtful was she!  She always got me a card and small gift on Valentine’s Day every year when I was little, and I think that is a tradition that I want to start with Ryan.  (Well, maybe just the card part.)

Happy Valentine’s Day!  xoxo!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Montessori for 15 to 16 Month Olds

The past couple of months, I have been gradually introducing Ryan to some Montessori-inspired activities.  He really seems to enjoy focusing on each task and is self-motivated to learn the new skills.

Lately, whenever Ryan sees mommy or daddy doing something around the house, he wants to try it too.  The other day, I was cleaning up a spill on the floor.  Without even being asked, Ryan got his own rag, imitated my movement, and actually helped.  I was so proud of him for feeling self-confident and independent enough to want to do that on his own!

Most of the activities that we have tried so far are very basic and serve the purpose of developing fine motor movements, which is a precursor to writing.  The activities are always child-led:  Ryan decides when he starts and when he stops.  In our experience, most of the materials keep Ryan busy for a relatively long chunk of time.  He enjoys doing them over and over again, figuring out everything at his own pace.  Ryan eventually lets me know when he is finished, and then I model how to put the materials away.  (I think that it will be a while before he can do this part on his own, but we are continuing to work on it).

The greatest thing is that these materials can probably be found laying around the house, so you can give these opportunities to your children without spending a penny (and even if you do need to purchase a few of the supplies, they are inexpensive).

Colander and Pipe Cleaners
Exploring how the pipe cleaners can be put in and out of the holes, twisted, and tangled up.

Wipes Container and Pom Poms
Making a game out of this by stuffing the pom poms through the hole as fast as he can.

Cheese Shaker and Lollipop Sticks 
(or you can use toothpicks)
This is challenging, but definitely Ryan's favorite activity this month.  He chooses to do this one often.

Spools of Thread and Chopsticks
This is the first in a series of activities.  The next will be threading the spools onto a pipe cleaner, and then finally threading the spools onto a shoelace.

Ryan is so proud of all his hard work, and now he's ready for story-time with mommy
Ryan loves to pick out which stories we read each day.  He LOVES his books.

While I agree with most aspects of the Montessori philosophy, I also believe that children need time to use their imaginations and creativity through free play with their toys and the natural environment. After doing our Montessori work for the day, Ryan and I usually spend our afternoons at playgroups, library events, kid gyms, etc.  These are enjoyable social outlets for both of us, and also provide Ryan with plenty of time for free play.  I absolutely love spending time with this little guy, and I feel like this age is extremely fun!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Paper Grandma

It will be three weeks tomorrow since my mommy went home to heaven to be with God.  I have been trying to let myself grieve in a healthy way.  Of course, grief is a complicated and difficult process.  It is certainly not a series of stages that follow neatly in sequential order until you are finally “through” them.  Instead, it is a range of emotions that change unpredictably and range in intensity.

Most of the time, I am able to think logically: that death is just as natural as life, that everybody will die at some point, and that my mom is finally no longer suffering or feeling pain.  I should enjoy the time spent with my loved ones who are still here, because any one of us could die at any given moment.  I have faith that everything happened for a reason, even if we are unable to comprehend that reason right now.  I am motivated to make the most of the rest of my life and to make my mom proud of me.  I realize that I am blessed to even be here today.

When I was little, I liked to play make-believe.  I always missed grandma Jean (my mom’s mom) tremendously during the time between our visits with her.  So, I did what any imaginative five-year-old would do:  I drew a picture that looked like my grandma, cut it out, and pretended that it was her.  I realize how silly this sounds, but I actually had a lot of fun playing with that paper doll.  I brought my “paper grandma” to the park, pushed her down the slide, gave her a seat at the dinner table, talked to her, and even answered myself back my best grandma-sounding voice.  Although I knew that she was physically far away, I was still able to feel like I had a little piece of her with me.  In the same way, I continue to feel my mom’s presence all around me since the day that she passed. I like to imagine what she would say and do in a situation, appreciate the things that she would value, and even smile at jokes that she would find funny.  I can feel her looking down on us, watching everything, and reassuring me that it is all going to be okay.  I know how much she loves me and treasures me.

But sometimes it is very, very hard.  A particular event or unintentional comment can make me feel like bursting into tears because it reminds me of her.  I feel jealous when I see older grandparents with their grandchildren.  I just feel like my mom and Ryan deserved that relationship too, but they will both have to miss out on something so special.  When I try to sleep, I have nightmares of hospitals, chemotherapy, surgeries, suffering, and dying.  When I wake up, I realize that those things are real and actually did happen.  I will just have to experience them over and over again until my subconscious comes to terms with it.  But despite everything, I am trying my best to stay positive for the sake of Ryan, my husband, and the rest of my family.

I like how this poem keeps things in perspective:

“You can shed tears that she is gone, or you can smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back,
 or you can open your eyes and see all she's left.

Your heart can be empty because you can't see her,
 or you can be full of the memories you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
 or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her only that she is gone,
 or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind, 
be empty and turn your back.

Or you can do what she'd wanted:
 smile, open your eyes, love, and go on.” 
~ C. Brent

On vacation Ocean City, Maryland (left); The morning of my wedding in Key Biscayne, Florida (right)

Although my mom is no longer physically with us, it is my goal to make sure that Ryan (and any other future children) will get to know her, honor her, and love her.  I would like to find some activities for young children that will help them to learn about and value lost loved ones.

On a final note, next month, my husband and I will be participating in the 2012 Raleigh Get Your Rear In Gear 5K Run/Walk.  This is an event to benefit the Colon Cancer Coalition.  Any donations in memory of my mom would be greatly appreciated.  I want to help others who are diagnosed by raising money for research, prevention, and treatments.  Please take a look at my fundraising page for more details.  Thank you all of our friends and family for your overwhelming support these past few weeks.

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