Sunday, April 29, 2012

April Recipes: Easy Ones

I spent every weekend of the past two months working on my 40-page clinical report (which I finally turned in this week, yay!) so my version of "cooking" has not been impressive at all lately.  We pretty much ate sandwiches, salads, boring pasta, and whatever was the quickest and easiest to grab.  Or we got take out.

This past Thursday night, we reached a new low point. We sat down for a late dinner of tortilla chips and fruit (me), a frozen pizza (hubby), and frozen waffles (Ryan). It was obviously quite sad, and so we resolved right then and there to start planning healthy meals again on a regular schedule.

I think that it is very important for us to prioritize having nutritious family dinners together every single night, especially since we have a growing toddler.  Our planning will also help us to save money because we won't be making multiple trips to the grocery store each week or picking up random lunches and dinners at restaurants. I am really looking forward to focusing on cooking more and trying a variety of different types of dishes.

In the midst of the hectic months, I did manage to throw together a couple of SUPER EASY things that ended up being delicious.  Here are my favorite:

Spinach leaves, edamame, carrots, avocado, a pinch of black pepper, and roasted red pepper hummus spread onto a wrap:  This takes practically no time at all to prepare.  You may want to switch it up on various days to include different veggies and/or flavors of hummus.

So this might not be the most healthy thing that I have ever made... but it sure is a yummy treat!  I got the idea from my cousin's wife who made this for their son's first birthday party. The ingredients include: 2 packs of cream cheese, 1 can of crushed pineapples with the juice, a pack of vanilla pudding mix, and crackers. Simply let the cream cheese come to room temperature, and then mix everything together using a hand mixer. Refrigerate and serve cold. Enjoy!

I was so enthused about being finished with grad school for the semester that I decided to spend my entire day in the kitchen making a bunch of recipes that I got from some of my mommy friends in our playgroups and also from my Aunt S.  I made: fresh guacamole, sweet potato cannellini bean veggie patties, deviled eggs, tomato and mango salsa, banana nut bread, and an old standby, couscous and feta stuffed peppers.

I absolutely love peeking into our fridge when it looks like this: organized and fully stocked with yummy leftovers, snacks, and fresh ingredients for more cooking.

I'm planning what to make next, and at the top of my list is an orzo salad and some goat cheese/pecan sandwiches that I have been craving since the day that H made them for our Wednesday playgroup.  Mmm hmm!

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Health Update: One Year After Chemo

About this time last year, I was physically paralyzed from chemo treatments and wondering if I would ever be able to walk again. I wasn’t eating because my mouth sores were bleeding too much. I was hooked up to machines when I was at the hospital and to iv poles even when I went home. The side effects from my chemo were cumulative with each round, so after a certain point, my body just started shutting down. My oncologist told me that quitting was not an option. I had to finish ALL of my treatments if I wanted to have any chance of living to be around for my husband and our seven-month-old son.

Fast forward twelve months later and here I am today: completely finished with chemo, surgeries, reconstruction, weekly blood draws, and even Coumadin. For the most part, my strength and energy have fully returned, and I feel like I am genuinely living. (Meaning not just going through the motions and trying to get past each day, but actively putting forth my best effort and enjoying each and every little moment as well as the people that I am blessed enough to have in my life).  I do still suffer from a frustrating “pin and needles” sensation (neuropathy) in my hands and feet. I’m not sure if this is because there is residual chemo in my body or if it is the result of permanent nerve damage. It may be something that I will always have to deal with, but I know that it is a small price to pay for me to be alive.

Some may think that being a survivor means that I am “cured”, but I am not completely out of the woods yet. The doctors will keep a very close eye on me, especially since my particular type of cancer has a high recurrence rate for the first couple of years. I am scheduled to have CT scans and PET scans every six months, and regular physical exams with my oncologist every three months.

At my doctor’s appointment this morning, they told me that I do currently have an ovarian cyst (which is scary because ovarian cancer is so closely related to breast cancer). We are hoping that it will dissolve itself between now and my next ultrasound in June. If it doesn’t, then I will insist that they perform surgery on me to remove the cyst, whether it appears to be cancerous or not.  Another concern has to do with my fertility for when we start trying to get pregnant again. Although we are extremely excited about having more children, we are told that we can’t even start trying until January, when it is considered to be “safe” (because the chemo will finally be out of my system). Even then, it is likely that my body may not be able to get pregnant easily or at all. We will just have to hope and pray for the best, and of course, wait and see what happens. This is especially challenging for me, because I am so very eager to have a brother or sister for Ryan.

Thankfully, my stressors lately have been much more lighthearted than they were last spring. I worry about getting enough sleep so that I can keep up with an extremely active toddler and trying not to over-schedule us with play dates, activities, and classes (which I have a tendency to do!) I feel pressure to do my very best job on my grad school work for a demanding class this semester. But I think that, overall, these are great problems to have! And I would much rather be too busy than not busy enough.

The other day, I took Ryan to see Amy's National Garden of Hope, which is a tulip garden that was planted as a tribute to 17-year-old breast cancer survivor, Amy Erickson of Caribou Coffee.  It was such a beautiful day and just perfect for our little picnic.

(For those who live in the area, this is a part of Brookside Gardens, which is one of my favorite local places to take Ryan because they have seasonal, nature-based events and exhibits year-round).

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday

Our morning began with Ryan eagerly rummaging through his Easter basket, and then both of us posing with bunny ears headbands.  Ryan's favorite item in his Easter basket this year was a wooden choo-choo train that "the Easter bunny" found at a consignment sale for just $2.  He also likes his little blue stuffed bunny that he calls Munny.

We went to church and saw a bunch of my old childhood friends, along with some of their babies and families.  It was great catching up with everyone!  One of the best things about going to the same church where you grew up in is that you get to see people when they come home to visit.  I am so glad that we have started going to church on a regular basis again, since last August.  Thanks to J for inviting me to come back and making it feel as though I never left.  I feel so much closer to God now than I have for a very long time, and I truly feel at peace with everything that has happened.

After church, Barry, Ryan, and I spent the rest of the day with my extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, etc) and my dad.  The holidays won't ever feel the same as they did when my mom was alive, but I feel blessed to have such wonderful people around me who love me and invite me to spend time with them.  I hope that everyone else had a great holiday weekend too!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” John 3:16-17

Friday, April 6, 2012

Montessori for 17 to 18 Month Olds

At this age, toddlers are working on figuring out how to communicate their wants and needs.  Real words and simple sentences are now mixed in with their babble.  These little guys are curious about everything!  Our role, as parents and teachers, is to thoughtfully prepare their environment and to encourage them to be as independent as possible.

Ryan has taken more of an active role this month when it comes to initiating his Montessori activities, picking them up, and choosing a what he wants to do next.  He is very deliberate about his choices. He understands that he must put one activity back into its proper place before getting out a new one. (This is a big change from what he was able to do two months ago.)  He knows that his Montessori work is different from his "free play", and is therefore much more serious and focused during these hours of day.

Fine Motor Development- Drawing and Scribbling

The Buddha Board is absolutely Ryan's #1 favorite thing to do this month.  In this picture, he told me that he was drawing "tees" (trees).  This activity helps to develop fine motor skills such as grasping, holding, and manipulating a paintbrush, and it also encourages creativity and artistic expression. There is virtually no mess at all, since he only paints with water.  The picture dries and disappears within a few minutes, which seems to encourage the child to draw even more.

Ryan also likes to scribble on his doodler.  Sometimes he tries to imitate me, after watching me write a grocery list or something.  I like how much effort and concentration he puts into his work, and especially how proud of himself he is afterwards.  His self-confidence is growing as he is able to do more and more things on his own.

Language Development- Letter Recognition

For a while now, Ryan has been able to identify and pronounce the letters "Y"and "O" (probably because he eats Joe's O's every morning as part of his breakfast).  This month, I have been trying to encourage him to learn the other letters of his name.  He knows what "R-Y-A-N" spells, but he still has some trouble pronouncing the letter "A".  After working with these jumbo magnetic letters at home, Ryan has also been noticing more letters when we go out to different places.  He gets very excited and talkative when we go down the cereal aisle at the grocery store.  I never before realized how literacy-rich that one aisle is!

Along with tracing these sandpaper letters with his fingers, Ryan has also been working on placing them in the correct order to spell his name.  And this morning, we made some Jello shapes of his letters.  I really tried to get him to focus on the letter shapes, and he did at first, until he realized how yummy they were!

Sensory Awareness- Olfactory

I want to encourage Ryan to smell various foods and spices in order to heighten his senses and awareness.  These smelling jars help toddlers to distinguish between different types of smells.  For this activity, I gave Ryan cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, and thyme to smell.  The goal is for him to match up the two bottles that have the same spices inside.  I think that he is still a little young to understand this concept completely, but I like that he was still able to experience and think about the different smells.

Sensory Awareness- Auditory

Whether its banging on pots and pans, shaking a bottle of pennies and stones, or playing the real instruments from his music basket, this little boy LOVES to make noise!  The more variety in the types of instruments and music that a child is exposed to, the more refined his/her senses become to the sounds in the environment.  I can tell that Ryan already enjoys and appreciates all different types of music because he likes to dance to practically anything, with or without a beat.

Sensory Awareness- Tactile

Sensory-tactile activities serve the purpose of allowing the child to focus on their sense of touch and what they can learn from it.

I made these rough and smooth boards out of sandpaper, foam, and small wood blocks.  Ryan is learning how to associate the feelings of these textures with the words "rough" and "smooth".  You can find texture boards and tablets at most Montessori suppliers, but it was easier and less expensive for me just to make these.

Play-doh is another great sensorial activity.  There are plenty of toddler-safe recipes for homemade play-doh, such as this Kool-Aid play-doh.


I have read several books about Montessori education, but there are two that stand out my favorite.  I constantly find myself looking back into these books and rereading them every few months for new ideas or simply to refresh my memory.

How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin provides a foundation for the Montessori philosophy and also inspires the reader to create a child-focused environment in their home.  This book is clearly written and has lots of helpful information about using Montessori principles with your child from infancy through elementary school-aged.

Teach Me to Do it Myself by Maja Pitamic is a great resource for specific activities that your child can work on in the areas of life skills, developing their senses, language development, numeracy skills, and science skills.  The book follows a logical order (developmentally) and breaks down the Montessori concepts into practical applications.

During the upcoming months, I plan to prepare more activities for Ryan that involve: transferring, sorting, and matching.  I would also like to give him the opportunities for more life skills activities so that he can become even more capable and independent.  This is such a great age.  They are constantly learning, figuring things out, and changing so much each and every week.

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