Saturday, February 28, 2015

2015 Goals: February Update

Since it's the last day of the month, that means that it's time to go over the goals I've set for myself this year!

This is really more for me than for you. It's a great way to help keep me on track and good motivation to get things done!

1. Make a granny square every weekday of 2015: Still going. The pile of squares is getting bigger and bigger!

2. Read 40 books, with 30 of them being from the Rory Gilmore Reading List: Four books this month, and three were off of the RGRL. That puts me at 10 books with 6 of them from RGRL!

3. Organize three years worth of digital pictures: Yep, still working on the pictures. It's been fun to look back and see them. I got through 4 months of picture, which is good, because some of the months coming up have a LOT of pictures in them

5. Finish a train embroidery project: Still chugging a long on this one! I stitch and stitch and I only get small sections done at a time, but I'm working on it!

6. Make money from my knitting: Not this month, but I have finished a LOT of projects on my to do list, and once those are done, I'm hoping to get some jobs!

7. On the blogging side of things, it's to blog twice a week: Still not doing two a week on a regular basis! But I think there less days between posts and I'm posting more regularly than last year, so forward progress? Also, I have 17 posts in 8 weeks. So technically I'm averaging twice a week, even if I'm not actually posting twice a week, so that still counts, right?

8. Also related to blogging, I need to be a better commenter on other blogs: Yep, still doing a good job on this!

Overall, I'm pleased with what I'm doing. In addition to this, I've been doing a much better job of not letting laundry pile up, and I've got a pretty good schedule with the cleaning down. I've also worked on organizing the kitchen and feel like it's in pretty good shape. Which is good. I've never been so organized in my life. I still don't have the energy to accomplish a million things each day, but it's amazing how much I can get done just by doing 3-5 things each day!

How about you? Still going with your 2015 goals and resolutions?

Friday, February 27, 2015

House of Cards

*As a reminder, I am part of the Netflix Stream Team. I am being compensated for sharing about Netflix with you. However, as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own!

Do you know what today is? Today is February 27.

I have been counting down to this day.

Today, well, early this am, the next season of Netflix's original show House of Cards comes out.

And so, I will attempt to watch as many episodes as possible to get through them all.

I LOVE binge watching things. And I especially love binge watching House of Cards!

I watched the first season when it came out, in a few weeks.

Last year, I watched the second season in a week. I considered it my Valentine's Day gift to myself!

This year, I will attempt to do the same thing.

Here's how I've prepared:

  • I've already warned my family that momma will be a bit preoccupied until all episodes have been watched.
  • I've got drinks lined up: water, tea, and Izze.
  • I've got a secret stash of chocolate. And a box of Girl Scout Cookies just for me. 
  • I've also got chips, veggies, hummus, and other yummy snacks on hand as well! 
  • I've planned simple dinners that will allow me more watching time. 
  • The tablet and computer will be charged since I will stream it through one of those devices.
  • My headphones have become unlost (related: I always lose them! Why are they so easy to lose?) so that if I can watch if someone else wants to be in the same room and not hear it. NOTE: Not the children though. This isn't a show I'd watch with my children in the room ... I mean the husband or the granny!
  • I've got two knitting projects to keep my hands busy as I watch. 
  • I rewatched the last episode of season 2 last night to remind myself of what exactly was going on
  • I've already noted who of my friends will be watching as well so we can discuss, discuss, and gasp in awe at what happens together.
Speaking of friends, I have a "date" with a friend in New Jersey. We're going to video chat and watch the first episode together! I'm so excited to do this. No one else in my house watches this show so it will be fun to have someone to watch it with. It'd be better if she were coming over in person, but I'll take the video chat.

I'm just so excited to see what Frank and Claire have in store for us!

Now pardon me while I run ... I'm sure I can squeeze in one more episode right now!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

World War I Quilts

*Note: I received this book through Net Galley, with the expectation that I would review it. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own! 

In World War I Quilts, Sue Reich takes us on a journey of the quilts of the rather short time period.

The book is a mix of information, gorgeous pictures, and newspaper stories from the time of the Great War.

The book opens by telling us what the quilt trends were going into the war: red work, tobacco flannel, crazy quilts, etc. These were the quilts women and med were making in America at the time.

But then comes The Great War and the Spanish Flu, and things take a different course.

When we think of women making things during the war, we often picture them knitting socks or rolling bandages. Which many did. But there was also a great deal of quilt making going on.

Quilts were made and auctioned to earn money to get supplies, send care packages, help support the local Red Cross. Quilts were made and sent to soldiers when they could be. Quilts were a way to be creative and to help out.

The quilts pictured in World War I quilts are gorgeous. These quilts that were handmade, hand embroidered, machine pieced, machine stitched. There were crazy quilts, red work quilts, many quilts with the Red Cross symbol. Women were busy stitching their quilts together ... stitch by stitch.

And not just women. Men participated, boys participated, girls participated. The whole country came together to do what they could to support the troops on the battlefront.

Many quilts were made by groups and quilted during quilting bees.  Though, the Spanish Flu paused this as people were encouraged to not be in groups. The Spanish Flu also had some devastating consequences: many quilts of the time were burned in an effort to stop the spread of the flu further. I was unaware of quilts (and clothing and other various pieces of cloth) being burned and I kind of want to weep about how many lovingly-made quilts were lost this way.

After the war, quilts continued to be made. These were known as Poppy Quilts (yes, like the poppies we wear for Memorial Day). Poppies became an important motif in many quilts, and some were auctioned off to support local VFW's.

In addition to the information presented in the book, there were many photographs of some gorgeous quilts. I think I could flip through and just look at the pictures many times and still never tire of them. A couple of them, I'd love to print out for my own creative inspiration wall as well!

I also thought the newspaper snippets were so interesting as well and added an extra something to the book. They gave me a good understanding of just how important these quilts were to so many, how much good they brought to people, and allowed me to see how whole communities rallied around these quilts. I also appreciate any documents from the time period when reading historical books!

I really enjoyed reading this book and learned a few things I had been unaware of previously. Now that I'm through it, my fingers are itching to start a redwork patriotic themed quilt. Naturally, I'll have to finish the million and one other projects I've got started!

If you'd like to see a couple of the quilts in this book, head on over to Reich's website!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Things I Wish I Didn't Have To Say

Miss 12 and myself
Sometimes I have to have conversations with my children that I wish I didn't have to.

We've talked about sex, puberty, drinking, drugs, violence, injustice in the world, bullying, stranger danger, what's appropriate/inappropriate to post on-line, etc, etc.

There's a part of me that just wants to shield them from all the bad in the world. To pretend that nothing bad ever happens to anyone ever.

Of course, we all know that it doesn't work that way. And so we talk about all sorts of things. I don't shield them from things - but will present topics at what I feel are appropriate levels for them.

Last week though, I had one of the hardest talks I've ever had to have.

My 12 year old started crying and told me she didn't know what she would do if I died.


I didn't know what to say.

I'm sure she's thought about it before. I've thought about it before. But we have never talked about it before.

And pardon my language, but fuck. I never want to have to talk to my kids, until they are much much older, about how they will handle my death.

I suppose, no matter what I think now, I'll never be ready to talk about it. I don't want to think about losing my mother, and I'm 35.

But there she was, looking at me, tears in her eyes, asking me what she will do if I die.

And so I had to swallow that huge lump in my throat and talk to her about it. Openly and honestly.

I don't know if I said the right things. But I spoke from my heart, and I have to hope that that is enough.

I told her that if I were to pass away, it would be awful. That she would be very sad and it would probably be a difficult time in her life.

We talked about how she would have a lot of people rally around her (and my husband and the other kids). That a lot of people would be there to support her and love her. And I told her to not push these people away, because sometimes grief makes you want to do that.

I told her that I imagined that it would be hard to feel happy. Or that sometimes when we lose a loved one and something good happens, we feel guilty for being happy. That sometimes we think that doing something fun is the wrong thing to do, or that we shouldn't laugh.

And so I told her that I wanted nothing but happiness for her, and that being happy, or laughing, or having fun is exactly what I would want for her. That doing that shouldn't make her feel guilty or sad, but should make her smile more because wherever I am, I'd be smiling when seeing her happy.

I told her that I wanted the same thing for her dad and for her siblings. And that some people grieve quickly and some need more time. That some people grieve loudly, and some silently. Some people seem to move on quickly and some do not. Sometimes people hide their grief and some people wear it on their sleeve for everyone to see, and that no matter how the other people in her life grieve ... she should NOT feel that she must grieve the same. Nor should she judge them for how they grieve.

I told her that some days things would feel totally normal and other days, it might feel like the world has ended. I told her that sometimes grief would sneak up on her and feel like a punch in the stomach when she wasn't expecting it.

I told her random things will happen that will remind her of something we did, or that I said, and she would just smile and feel all warm and fuzzy inside. That it might feel like I was coming to visit her and say hi, and that she should hold onto that feeling, even if someone else things it's strange.

I told her that every year, when the first snowball fell, she should run outside and make a snowball and think of the snowball song I sing at least once a winter, if not too many times!

I also told her that if losing me was just too hard and felt too overwhelming, that she should ask for help, cry out for it if she needed too. That she should talk to her father, her sister, her brother, a best friend, a counselor, someone, anyone. That it wouldn't make her weak or mean that she was grieving in a "wrong" way.

And then I made a lot of stupid jokes to try to lighten the mood. I said that I hoped I would pass away so far in the future, that we'd both be old ladies by then and that she would forget everything I had just said.

She wasn't ready to smile yet, so we talked some more and I reiterated that I wanted her to be happy. That life was going to bring some really awesome moments and it's also going to bring her moments that weren't so great and that all she can do is what she can do (which is something I say often in every day moments).

I also told her that the sun will always rise the next morning - another thing I say to my kids a lot ... not to downplay what they are feeling, but as a way to say, hey, feel/mad/angry/etc now, but just also keep in mind the sun will rise tomorrow. And I joked that I know tomorrow will come because it's already tomorrow in Australia, so it already came!

She then told me that in parts of the North Pole it's night for months at a time. And she smiled again. She stopped tearing up. And she even managed to giggle a little bit.

We hugged and I told her that no matter what happened, everything would be okay. Maybe not right away, maybe we won't even realize it at first, but it will be okay. And that I knew she was a strong person because she showed it to me all the time (even when she probably didn't think she was).

She smiled. And was ready to get up and do the things she needed to do.

I, on the other hand, had to sit for a while and just breath.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Catching My Breath

Not often, but every once in  a while, there are moments where I feel like I can't breathe.

Chest tightness.

Gasping for air.

Heart starts racing.

Ears start to ring.

It is frightening.

I dislike it very much.

Sometimes it's just a moment. A brief fleeting moment.

Other times it lasts just a bit longer.

I know these are very mild panic attacks.

I know that in a few minutes my heart rate will return to normal. I will be able to take a deep breath.

I'm not a stranger to panic attacks.

I had my first one when I was 18. And I didn't know what was happening. I thought maybe it was a heart attack. It was in the middle of a football game at the high school I had graduated from a few months prior. I freaked someone out. I was embarrassed and not quite sure what had happened, but tucked it away and hoped it would never happen again.

But life happens, and I started to have them.

With help, I was able to get them under control. I had, okay, I still do have, a lot of anxiety. And it had reached a point where it was getting in the way of life. But I faced it, admitted what was happened and sought out help with it.

I managed to get the anxiety mostly under control and the panic attacks stopped.

But then came cancer.

I had my first one at one of my check-ups. It was my 6 month check-up with the breast surgeon. I hadn't seen her since one quick follow-up from the initial mastectomy and while I was waiting for her to come in, just out of the blue, I had a panic attack.

I suppose in some ways, this is a very mild form of PTSD. I was back in the office of the doctor who found my cancer. No one had warned me that a strong reaction might happen. To be fair, if someone had, I'm not sure I would listen.

Another 6 months, in the same office, I was prepared this time. So I focused on my breathing and I made it through. But then she found another lump and she ultrasounded it and then told me it had to be biopsied.

Panic attack.

Thyroid biopsy - panic attack.

Getting some lumps in my armpit ultrasounded - panic attack.

Recently I had to take granny in to get a Dexa scan. It just so happens they do the Dexa scans in the same place they do mammograms and breast ultrasounds.

You guess it, once they wheeled granny away (in her wheelchair) to get a scan, panic attack.

It was awful. I never want to go back into that area of the hospital again.

I had to remind myself we were there for something routine, that I wasn't even there for myself, that granny would come out of there okay.

It was horrible.

I came home and told my husband I would never go there again unless there was no other option. That for the next Dexa scan, he had to take granny. And if I needed another one, then I would do it at the secondary location I did it over the summer at. And if I ever needed my breast or armpit ultrasounded, he could drug me with xanax and maybe get me to agree to go.

I know, I know. Sometimes you have to face your anxiety head on. But I'm not there yet. I'm not ready. I don't want to face it. I want to never have to deal with it again.

And I'm totally okay with not being ready to face it. I've got enough on my plate, and it's not like I have to go to this room all the time. This is my third time ever having to be there.

So for now, I'm going to try to just keep going. And cross my fingers that no more panic attacks sneak up on me. But if they do come, I'm going to try to just breathe and catch my breath.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Repost

In 2013, during the month of October, I asked people to write for me about breast cancer and how it has touched their lives.

One of the people who wrote that month, was my friend Ginnie. I met her on a First Descents trip and learned that we didn't actually live that far apart. We were able to get together a few more times before she moved from this area. But even still we kept in contact through the internet.

It is with a heavy heart that I tell you I learned yesterday Ginnie passed away. While I know that she is no longer in pain, and am grateful for that, I'm very sad and angry that she has passed.

It is in moments such as these that I think how incredibly unfair life can be sometimes. And even though I know the phrase memento mori (remember you must die), death still sucks, and losing friends is still hard.

Anyway, with this in mind, I'm going to reprint the words Ginnie shared on this blog a year and a half ago.

Random Sputterings by Ginnie

Ginnie and I bonding over our compression sleeves!
It’s October again and we all know what that means, it’s all about me!  And by me of course I mean all of us that have been affected by this super awesome and popular disease called breast cancer.  Aren’t I lucky? I have a whole month of people telling me all about how “aware” they are of breast cancer and giving me statistics about it.  Well I have to say I really don’t care about any of those statistics.  I am one of the “lucky” few that is metastatic, meaning that the breast cancer has already spread into another area of my body.  For me it is my liver and abdominal lymph nodes, for others it could be somewhere else like bones or brain.  So the only statistic I care about was back in January when my oncologist said I could die in two months or maybe make it to two years.

So before I ramble on let me give you a little background on me.  I was 29 when I went to my doctor about this weird lump in my armpit that I had noticed off and on for at least a year.  I was in nursing school and we were learning how to do breast exams and what lumps felt like.  I guess I got more experience than anyone else that day because I got to feel a real lump.  I saw my GP’s resident who told me not to worry about it because it was probably nothing but let’s just schedule an ultrasound to be sure.  Well the ultrasound wasn’t too bad and the doctor then said let’s schedule a mammogram and biopsy to look at my breast to check again.  Later that evening the breast surgeon called me at home and told me that I did in fact have breast cancer and I needed to do an MRI that night to check if it had spread at all.  It had, but only into the lymph nodes in my armpit. So I immediately started the most intense chemo that they had because I was young and “healthy”. Within a week of my first dose of chemo I went to the ER with the most awful pain I have ever felt to this day.  I was admitted to the hospital and then promptly coded and almost died.   

Luckily that staff was all over me and I woke up to a lot of strange people all around me and my mom crying in the corner of my room.  After that it just got more interesting but I’ll skip all the details and tell you that I did chemo, a bilateral mastectomy with lymph node dissection, more chemo, radiation and more surgeries.  Throughout all of this I was totally fine with having cancer.  It never bothered me and people always told me how positive I was or what a great attitude I had.  I have to say though it just never occurred to me to be upset about it.  Except once, the day it sank in that I was never going to have biological children.  I remember talking with my mom about it and sobbing hysterically.  We even talked about going to a fertility doctor and getting inseminated so I could have a baby before I started all my treatment.  I visited a fertility expert to find out what my options were, but I was not comfortable with the risks associated with those options so I decided to do nothing.  My doctor was insistent that I have my ovaries removed to lower my risk of recurrence but I refused in the hope that maybe, just maybe I could get pregnant when this was all over. 
So fast forward two years later and I discovered that there is never going to be an “all over”, I am going to die.  I am never going to have a child.  I am never going to get married and have a normal life.  I find that I can’t even really think of dating now, because how to you tell someone that you want to get to know them but oh wait I might die this year or next if I’m lucky.  That’s just not a conversation I want to have.  So I know that most women and men that have terminal cancer are older than I am.  Sure there are people like me that are younger, but for the most part people have already lived a long life and made a family and have people who love them more than anything.  I can’t help but be bitter over the fact that I waited to start my life and now I don’t get to have one.  I struggle with this pretty much every day in some way.  I am lucky in that I have a father who tries to help me when he can and two older brothers and sisters-in-law that have tried to be supportive.  My main support was always my mom, she was my best friend and rock until she died from Stage IV pancreatic cancer.  I am still dealing with issues that have resulted from that.

The only thing keeping me sane at this point is my bucket list.  There have been things I have always planned on doing but never did because life got in the way and now that I have lost my job thanks to cancer, I have plenty of time to do things.  I would tell any terminal patient or even anyone in general to do the things that will make you happy.  If there is a trip you always wanted to take but couldn’t, take it now.  Don’t wait.  I realize that I have been lucky because the chemo I was on all year didn’t make me very sick and that that isn’t the case with everyone.  I really believe that the reason I still feel great is that I have taken the time away to do these things.  I went skydiving in Ottawa and it was fantastic!  I left Chicago in June to drive old Route 66 to Los Angeles and had a great time discovering things along the way.  I spent time with cousins I hadn’t seen in years.  I drove up the California coast.  I visited wine county and went to a wine tasting.  I hiked Yosemite and ran into a bear that thankfully didn’t think I looked like dinner.  I drove through the desert of Nevada all by myself in my little car with more than a hundred miles of not seeing another person.  I visited the most beautiful National Parks and saw the most amazing scenery God ever created.  I met up with an aunt I hadn’t seen in years. I got to drive through the midwest and feel the breeze on my face and just enjoy my time without any thought for my disease.  I made it back to Chicago at the end of July.  After that I flew to Austin to visit my cousin and cross off some more things off of my list.  Then in August I drove out to Washington, D.C. to participate in a kayaking retreat for young adult cancer survivors.  It was awesome being able to meet more people that have gone through the same things I have and that I could relate to.  The next place I went was South Carolina to see the Atlantic ocean.  I figured since I drove all the way to the Pacific I had to finish my journey by crossing the entire continent.  I am looking forward to my next adventure even though I have no idea what I want to do next.  Hopefully I will figure out something soon. 

So what, you ask was the point of this blog? I have no idea.  I have chemo-brain.

P.S. If you'd like to learn more about MBC, here is what I shared about it 2 years ago.

Friday, February 06, 2015

I'm exhausted, but it could be worse.

I'm exhausted a lot.

Which is no surprise, because I've pretty much been exhausted for, oh well, for ever at this point.

But it could be worse.

I know this because it has been worse. For that I'm grateful.

I'm still learning about chronic fatigue syndrome. I get flare-ups - days in which I'm not sure I have enough energy to get out of bed, let alone get things done.

But it's not as bad as it's been.

I'm sleeping better. The sleeping pills I took worked like they were supposed to! I took them for a few weeks. I started getting tired earlier, and after 3/4ish weeks, I didn't need them anymore.

I go to bed almost every night before midnight, without taking anything.

I know, I know, for some of you midnight is really late. For me, it's a gift. I was going to be bed before at around 3 to 4am. Sometimes I didn't even go to bed until after the sun rose in the morning, so when I tell you that I am THRILLED to be going to bed at 11:30, reading a bit, and out by midnight, I am not exaggerating.

Would a 10pm bedtime or an 11pm bedtime be ever better, probably, but I'm not going to split hairs. As long as I can get to bed by midnight, I'm happy. If I can go to sleep on the same day that I last woke up on, that's a good day.

Getting 7 hours straight of sleep a night is awesome and I love it.

I still have to nap most days. And that's okay.

I am definitely much more productive on a good day. Of course, I'm next to useless on a bad day.

The steroids I took have kept the migraines at bay, but they are coming back. Boo. I was crossing my fingers that they wouldn't but was warned that it would probably work for about 3 months. Well, I got about 6 weeks, and so that is what it is!

I am assuming (but don't know) that my iron levels are still low. But I won't get it retested for a while. Given there's not much we can do, there's no need to check it too often.

My shoulder and chest are better and aside for one more check-in with the occupational therapist and I'm strengthening things up at home, which is good.

There's a part of me that still wishes for things to be even better, for less pain, more energy, but I'm also trying really hard to remind myself that today is today. It can't be what yesterday was (or 300 yesterday's ago or 1000 yesterday's ago).

Because really, things are (mostly) going well right now. I hope saying that doesn't jinx me. The rest of winter and spring should be pretty boring for me - there is nothing major coming up, which I'll take - no surgery, no procedure, no therapy. Of course, we all know too well that can change quickly, but I hope it won't. Granny has a procedure coming up (nothing major) and I want to be there to support her as much as possible.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Leaving Before The Rains Come

As I mentioned in my January round-up post, I have been doing quite a bit of reading lately! So I thought today, I would leave a review of something I've read recently! 

*Please note, I was given an electronic copy of this book for free with the expectation that I would review it. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own!

Alexandra Fuller's new book, Leaving Before the Rains Come, weaves stories of her childhood in Africa amongst the story of her marriage.

Fuller's childhood was no stranger to adversity. Growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) she saw several wars take place, lost siblings, watched her mother spiral into depression, and relied on her older sister Vanessa to help care for her.

Life was chaotic, accidents happened, pain was felt, and yet, the family kept going - with a fair amount of alcohol to get them through.

As Fuller grew she longed for more, and in her early twenties, met Charlie. Charlie. A man from America. A man who seemed stable. Who didn't drink. Who understood more than most visitors, the area Fuller grew up in. And she was in love.

After a brief courtship, they two were married. And from there, Fuller pretty much starts to drown. She can't get work. She can't manage the help they have hired. Adulthood is nothing like she had imagined it. And despite knowing her parents relationship was not perfect, there was a charm in how they had stuck together all these years and were in love through it all.

After the birth of their first child, Charlie and Alexandra pack up and move to America. A place that was wonderful and crazy, and fast-paced, and not what she expected. As she learns to live in this country, where as a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl most took for granted she was born and raised here until she talked, she has to juggle the demands of a growing family, and maintaining a marriage while knowing that something is missing.

As she tells the tale of her marriage, she intertwines stories from her childhood, and often stories that involve her father. Charlie, a man she picked in part because he was so opposite of her family, had no chance to live up to the standards her father had set.

As the marriage is spiraling, the financial crisis hits. Money is tight. Alexandra doesn't understand money and mortgages and second mortgages and money is yet another strain on her.

This book is often heartbreaking to read. The ending is clear from the beginning, despite pulling for the marriage to succeed, for money to magically fall from the sky. But this is a work of non-fiction, not a happily-ever-after fiction story. And while a few miracles are thrown into the mix, none that can save a drowning marriage.

I love Fuller's writing. I enjoyed reading her views on America, and our need to constantly be busy and our concept of time.

The story is not an uplifting one, though, and left me feeling sad. But I suppose this is real life - there are ups and downs, and it is nice to read about a life that isn't sugar-coated. Fuller's honesty and rawness radiated through the pages. Despite having not been in her shoes, I felt her story to the core.