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Curls Just Want to Have Fun

As a vegan, sometimes I still want a nice sloppy barbecue sandwich. Something like a pork bbq, minus the pork, of course! That’s why I was so happy to discover soy curls a few years ago.

Soy curls are an excellent meat substitute. Made from non-GMO soybeans, soy curls have a meaty, chewy texture (very different from tofu, which is what most people think of when you mention soy). They come in a dry form and must be rehydrated through soaking before cooking. I am only aware of the Butler brand of soy curls, and I order them through Amazon.

Today was a lazy Sunday and a perfect day for a bbq sandwich. I love this recipe from Shane & Simple: Soy Curls BBQ Sandwich, which includes this homemade bbq sauce. It’s better than bottled, but if you have a favorite store-bought, you can use that instead for an even speedier meal.

Since I never got a round to making my black-eyed peas on New Years Day, I threw together this yummy salad: Black-Eyed Peas Salad. You could add whatever veggies in it you would like!

A perfect combo for a lazy football kind of day!

Enjoy!

IMDb: Curls Just Want to Have Fun (2015)

Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas Evb, everyone!

No, that isn’t a typo. Christmas Evb is actually a family joke. It goes back to the days when Ethan was younger and my husband used to do an Advent calendar for him. (He did this with his kids when they were smaller, as well.) Every day, after all his school work was done and all his practicing completed, Ethan would be allowed to open the Advent calendar for the day. (Santa was very strict about responsibilities first!)

Each day presented a puzzle to solve and each answer was a clue to where the day’s gift was hidden. As the years went on and Ethan got a bit older, the puzzles became more and more complex/complicated. David developed a series of “codes”, and clues led to other clues which led to other clues. It was a lot of fun and yielded great memories, despite being a lot of work to come up with daily puzzles. (Example: Abraham Lincoln was our ___ President. Multiply this by the number of Congressmen from Pennsylvania. Use the last digit to determine which set of codes to use. Or something like that!) I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I had to call David at work to ask (secretly) “what does this clue even mean?” 🙂

One of our favorite memories was the time that the decoded message included “on this Christmas Evb”. Yep. We couldn’t quite understand how Santa messed that one up, considering the “E” was used already a mere two letters prior… So I started the story that Santa’s elves often helped, and they were prone to getting a bit tipsy around Christmas, with all the work they had going on!

Christmas Eve has always been my favorite day. Growing up, our family traditions always focused more on Christmas Eve, with a traditional Polish meal of pirogies, fish, seafood, and stuffed mushrooms; decorating the tree; and attending midnight mass. When we were very small, Santa actually decorated the tree after we went to bed (I did always wonder why my parents were so tired on Christmas Day…) and the day was filled with great anticipation and excitement.

Over the years, our traditions evolved. The tree went up right after Thanksgiving. Midnight mass moved to 10 pm, and then we changed churches, so Christmas services were at various different times. But the traditional meal always stayed the same. This is the first year that we’ll be doing this meal with just the three of us, so we have modified the menu a bit more. Generally, I would split the cooking duties with my brother and sister-in-law, and we would enjoy the meal with my brother’s family. We always exchanged gifts afterwards and shared many laughs. I will miss that fellowship and laughter the most this Christmas Eve.

And yet, it is not traditions denied, only delayed. We will get through these strange times, find happiness and peace where we can, and still celebrate. Some of the traditions might get celebrated in January, or June, or whenever, but they will happen!

Whatever you celebrate this season, whatever your traditions (new, modified, delayed, or otherwise), I hope you are able to find joy and peace, on this Merry Christmas Evb, and throughout the New Year!

IMDb: Christmas Eve (1947)

Make the Best of It

Five years ago, when my husband’s company stopped having annual holiday parties, we decided we would start throwing our own Christmas party. It’s something that we look forward to every year, and we start planning the next year as soon as the current year finishes. It is the highlight of our year, filled with tons of laughs, lots of games, and a healthy dose of booze and hugs.

With a pandemic raging across our country, I have been thinking about 2020’s party since at least the summer. I tried to devise some way that we could have an in-person party. Could we do it early? Outside? What games could we play that were distanced? How would we handle keeping food safe? and so on. I thought of a variety of options, but at the end of the day, none of it was worth the risk. Our guests, obviously, are people we love and would not want to put in harm’s way.

Then one day, back in August or September, I was having a socially-distanced, outdoor lunch with my friend, Chris. She was telling me about a scavenger hunt fundraiser that she was organizing for a local charity. Hmm. Scavenger hunt…? Could this be the solution…? And from that moment forward, my brain started devising a plan.

I am sharing this here because I do think it’s important to try to bring people together during these difficult times. We are craving human interaction, laughter, connection. Even if it’s virtual, it’s necessary and important. The following information is how I structured my Christmas scavenger hunt. It’s December 14th. There’s plenty of time to do your own thing. Take these ideas and run with them. Find a way to connect and have fun. I can tell you we had a BLAST! And, in some ways, I feel closer to my friends now than before our event. I do ask that if you do something (all or part of it), that you come back here and share what you did. What was your own take? How did it go? I’d love to hear about it.

Virtual Christmas Scavenger Hunt

  • First, you need a way to keep everyone connected in one place. I ended up using a private Facebook group and it worked pretty well. Of course, that means at least one member of all your teams has to be on Facebook.
  • I created rules that outlined everything from time frame (we did Thanksgiving through December 12th), how to earn points, how to submit items “found”, how voting would be conducted, etc. This was pinned to the top of the FB group for easy reference.
  • Items “found” were submitted to me via texting or messaging me photos.
  • Mini-contests were handled through the Facebook group. I created threads where participants would post their entries for the mini-contests.
  • I created a series of ten activities, as follows:
    1. A list of indoor Christmas items to be “found”.
    2. A list of outdoor Christmas items to be “found” (Both the indoor and outdoor items were submitted to me by texting or messaging me pictures of said items. Points were awarded for each item submitted.)
    3. Outdoor decorations contest – Participants earned points for submitting a picture of their home’s holiday decorations. We then voted on our favorites (voting covered below).
    4. Ugly Christmas Sweater contest – Participants earned points for posting photos of themselves in ugly Christmas sweaters. At our parties each year, we have a variety of subcategories, like funniest, prettiest, most disturbing, and most fitting for 2020.
    5. Christmas Cookie Recipe contest – Participants earned points for posting their favorite Christmas cookie recipes. Extra points for posting a photo!
    6. Weirdest Christmas Ornament contest – Participants earned points for posting a picture of the weirdest ornament on their tree.
    7. Cutest Santa Photo contest – Participants earned points for posting a picture of themselves with Santa (or in some cases, AS Santa!). Bonus points were given if the photo was from 2020.
    8. Best Holiday Cocktail Recipe contest – Again, participants earned points for posting the information for making their favorite holiday cocktail.
    9. Favorite Christmas Music Video contest – this was, by far, my favorite category. Teams had to be very creative, including costumes and special effects. They had to perform a Christmas song and earned big points for posting the video to the group.
    10. Donations to a local food pantry – Participants earned points for dropping off donations to our local food pantry. We had people in other states, so they got points for showing evidence that they donated in some way to their own local food pantry. This was a great way to feel like we were making a difference in our community! This is an idea our friends, Sheryl & Jay, started at their own Christmas parties in the past, and we incorporated it into our virtual event.
  • Voting on all the mini-contests was done through a free online survey tool. (You could definitely low-tech it with text messages, etc.) There was a deadline for submissions and participants had two days to submit their votes in each category. I then calculated a score (using a “rank the top 3” system).
  • In addition to the 10 activities above, I added a daily post to the Facebook group. Points were awards for participants to interact with each other. We shared our favorite childhood Christmas memories, debated whether Die Hard is really a Christmas movie, and shared what our favorite holiday movies are (amongst other things).
  • I tracked points in an Excel spreadsheet.
  • At the end, we had a virtual event (on the date that would have been our in-person party) and we announced the winners of each contest, as well as the grand prize winners of the overall scavenger hunt. I added some fun awards based on things that were going on in the daily interactions (best cheerleaders, biggest suck up, first team to ____, and so on).
  • The whole 2+ weeks was a blast! Feedback from our friends was that it was tons of fun, that they looked forward to the daily interaction, and that it was a great diversion from the mess that is 2020! The competition was FIERCE!! We might actually do something like this every year now, with prizes awarded in person, we hope!
  • FYI – our prizes are always fun/silly/stupid items that we find on sale throughout the year. This year we added masks, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer!

Hopefully this triggers some ideas for all of you.

Make the best of it. Find ways to connect and have fun. Our souls NEED this! (I also have a list of new cookies & drinks to make, and a few movies to watch!)

(p.s. If you want to borrow any of my lists or need any additional details, let me know! I’m happy to share!)

IMDb: Make the Best of It (2003)

About Time

Where has the time gone?

This crazy pandemic has all sense of time out of whack for me. How about you? I think the past seven-ish months have flown by. How could that be when so much of the world has slowed down, or even stopped? The days, weeks, and months are quickly passing.

The last time I wrote was July 2nd! July. 2nd. My plan was to write frequently, particularly in regards to my weekly CSA and discovery of new recipes. But I only made it to week 3! We are presently on week 21, and next week is our last week. So I’ve got some catching up to do, and certainly some new recipes to share. I wish I could promise to be more consistent in my writing, but all sense of time is lost. I’ll certainly do my best!

I’ve been keep plenty busy, now babysitting our grandson one day a week, and getting many household projects done. With the cooler weather, I’ve moved more indoors with crafting, resumption of my photos scanning project, continued exercise, and a bit of activism and volunteerism from home.

Back in mid-August (I meant to write then, too…), we traveled to Philadelphia for my 6-month check up post surgery. It was an odd trip in a Covid world, with lots of restrictions, temperature taking, and not much traffic. The appointment went well. My oncologist was pleased with the amount of exercising I have been doing, confirming that it’s one of the best things to counteract the side effects of the Aromasin. She spent about an hour talking with me, and then performed a physical exam of my chest wall. This exam is the best mitigation I have, since I can’t do mammograms, so it’s an important part of the visit.

Surprisingly, my oncologist noticed a small lump (for lack of a better word), in the area between my chest wall (where my breast would have been) and my arm pit. It was not something I had felt before, so I was a bit taken aback. The best way I can describe the lump is that it felt like a hard grain of rice in terms of size, shape, and texture. The doctor’s first thought was that it was a surgical clip left behind, so she immediately got my oncology surgeon on the phone. The surgeon indicated that she doesn’t leave clips behind on breast cancer patients, for the very reason that they might think it was a forming tumor, if noticed. It was possible, however, that my plastic surgeon left it behind, since he did the closing. It was decided that the best course of action was an ultrasound.

Being a Monday and given reduced staff counts because of Covid, my doctor had difficulty getting in touch with radiology. So she did something not quite heard of locally… she walked down to radiology to speak with someone directly! And, she was able to get me in.

I was hoping that the ultrasound would very clearly show a clip. It’s a metal object and would show up pretty definitively. But that’s not what happened. The resident doctor who initially did the ultrasound actually had the attending physician also take a look. I didn’t get a clear answer other than it is “probably” a “surgical remnant” (such as a suture). They did not seem concerned but it wasn’t something I could automatically remove from my worry-about list. For now, it’s just a watch and wait thing, with a repeat ultrasound when I return in February.

I’m doing a good job of not thinking about it too much. When I do think of it, I feel for the lump. Still there, and still a grain of rice, so I think all is well.

To put the time issue into some perspective, it’s been exactly a year since my whole recurrence issue started. Blink. Where has the time gone?

IMDb: About Time (2013)

Safety Procedures

Today I had my first in-person doctor’s visit since my endometrial biopsy on March 6th. In the mid-pandemic world we live in, there were certainly a lot more safety precautions taken. At entry, there was a hand sanitizer and a desk where I was required to fill out a questionnaire on my health: fever, cough, travel, etc. in the past 14 days? And then they took my temperature before I was allowed to move through the next set of doors. No one was allowed in except that patients.

I was surprised that check-in still required entering your name on the touch pad. I used the stylus, but saw others using their hands. There was hand sanitizer nearby (which I used before and after entering my name), but no signage nudging patients to use it. I moved to the waiting area where there was ample distance between chairs. When my name was called, I was instructed to stay behind the green line on the floor. However, I still had to step forward to sign my credit card receipt, and we still exchanged my credit card, so I thought that was odd. I expected maybe the option to enter my own card into the machine and/or not having to sign the receipt…Hmm.

I moved to the next waiting room and sat down instinctively, but then wondered who had been in that chair before me. Overthinking? Perhaps! But it was freaky! I had my blood work done and then moved to the third waiting area, where I opted to stand until called. I’m sure all the appropriate sanitizing is occurring; it is, after all, an oncology center where a majority of people are immunocompromised. But it was hard not to be a bit paranoid. I mean, if we could actually SEE germs, would we be totally freaked out?

All staff was wearing protective gear, which was good. My struggle, as a hearing impaired individual, was not being able to read lips while listening. I managed ok, though.

My appointment went well. Vitals all good. Blood work good. All my questions answered. Good physical exam. Good discussion on next steps. I have a number of things that I have been putting off, since I deemed them “non-urgent”. But my oncologist did say that I shouldn’t put them off forever, so she helped me prioritize. First up? Annual exam / pap. Then my repeat thyroid ultrasound (my Penn doctors reviewed the last one but found it insufficient, so I have to re-do). Then my dermatology follow up in July, and then a dexascan. I’m thinking I’ll just do one a month! By then it will be time to return for my quarterly visit.

In all, I feel pretty good about things. My blood pressure was a lovely 106/62, so I think all my exercise is improving my overall health! I even got up at 6am to exercise before my appointment this morning. Not doing that again! LOL! (…much to my husband’s dismay… he’s up at the crack of dawn every single day and was happy to have a work out buddy)!

I hope everyone is healthy and safe!

woman-applying-hand-sanitizer-3987150

IMDb: Safety Procedures (2004)

 

Make the Best of Every Moment

Having to travel to Philadelphia the Friday for Christmas wasn’t on the list of our busy to-do list, but if we had to go, I was determined to make the best of it! We knew we had a long day of doctors’ appointments on Friday, but we were able to make the trip Thursday night and squeeze a few holiday things in!

Traffic was horrible (Philadelphia. Rush hour. Totally expected!), so we didn’t arrive until about 6:45 pm. There wasn’t a lot of time, but I had intentionally booked a hotel in center city so we could walk to a few sites. The man checking us into the hotel (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown) asked me the purpose of our visit. When I explained that I had doctors’ appointments the following day at University of Pennsylvania, he promptly booked us with a corner room on the 19th floor, with a lovely view of City Hall.


After getting settled, we walked down to City Hall to catch the sites. Unfortunately, the marketplace was closed and the carousel and ferris wheel were not running, but we did get to see this beautiful tree

and also caught the 7:30 pm light show on the facade of City Hall. Pretty cool, if you’ve never seen it. It reminded me a bit of how Disney changes the castle during fireworks. It was worth standing out in the 25 degree temps!

At the conclusion of that show, we headed down to Macy’s to catch their light show and hear the Wanamaker Organ at the Grand Court. (Someone told us it was just a recording, and I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it was still pretty impressive!) I’d love to hear more or catch a tour!

We ended our night with dinner and drinks at the Iron Hill Brewery, after unsuccessfully attempting to get into one of the many vegan restaurants in Philadelphia. We’ll plan better for that part next time!

The beer was pretty good… we definitely recommend!

On Friday, we had a delicious gourmet breakfast in 13 Restaurant at the hotel and we lunched a White Dog Cafe in University City between appointments. Delicious vegan food for me, and non-vegan food for the others. We got to spend some time with cousin, Cassidy, for lunch, and I’d definitely go back. I need to figure out how to prepare tofu like they do! 🙂

My appointments went great, and I’m so happy I ended up at UPenn. I’ll provide more details tomorrow. We need to run back down in the a.m. (yes, on Christmas Eve), for a 9 am appointment with the plastic surgeon!

So, make the best of it, my friends! Every moment! That doesn’t mean it has to be perfect, and “best” means different things based on the situation, but you can certainly find joy in the small things at any moment.

IMDb: Make the Best of Every Moment (2011)

6 Years

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Today I mark 6 years of being cancer free.

August 31, 2012 was the date of my double mastectomy – the day I consider myself to be cancer free, even though I would still need 3+ months of chemo and 8 weeks of radiation. I documented my mastectomy adventures in this blog post.

In reviewing that post this morning, I am transported back to that day. I didn’t know how many years, or months, or days I would have left (do we ever?) and I am grateful for every day since my breast cancer diagnosis.

Some random thoughts this morning, as I reflect on these six years…

  • I spent a lot of time waiting on the day of my surgery. We had to be there so early, to sit around and do nothing. I have wasted so much time just waiting in doctor’s offices in the ensuing years.  Some doctors are better than others, but in addition to waiting the morning of my surgery, I also waited 90 minutes on my first day of chemo. These are pretty nerve-racking events and I’m just not sure that all doctors understand what they are doing to patients’ mental states by having us just sit there — waiting to have parts removed or poison injected into our bodies.  I think there needs to be more awareness on the emotional toll that is taken on cancer patients.
  • When I re-read my description of the sentinel node biopsy that day, I laugh. It seems so tame compared to my actual experience. There are truly no words to describe exactly how painful that experience was. It hurt like HELL! Not even childbirth ranked as high in my books. I always say if men had to have that done, they would a) numb the area and/or b) knock us out! Radioactive bee stings in your nipple. Yep. Good times!
  • I still have no regrets on not reconstructing, although I do wish I had emphatically stated “flat”, so that what remained was not lop-sided, bumpy and dog-eared. But doctors always assume that you will change your mind and will eventually see clear to get implants. My logical brain could not wrap itself around implanting foreign substances into my body, putting it through more surgeries and pain and inconvenience, risking infection, and more… just to satisfy a social norm. And especially considering this was my second cancer. I know it’s a very personal choice and I’m not criticizing those who make that decision. We all have our reasons for our choices and those are mine.
  • I still live with the daily reminders — scars, hearing loss, memory loss, thinning hair, fear — of cancer. But those reminders encourage me to try to make the most of each day. To not worry so much. To take care of myself so I’m here for the long-haul (however “long haul” gets defined). To eat right and get enough sleep. To focus on what’s truly important, and not get caught up in petty worries. To forgive and forget. To keep away from physical and emotional toxins. To help influence others to be healthier. To be grateful for every. single. day.

And here I am, six years later. Appreciative. Healthy. Imperfect. Doing the best I can every day. Content.

Grateful. Here’s to the next six!

IMDb: 6 Years (2015)

 

Parade’s End

I have blogged about this before, but when I received the official word that I had breast cancer, I was at EPCOT in DisneyWorld. I remember vividly where I was standing when the call came from the doctor.  That was in 2012.

When I visited Disney again in 2014, I had my husband take my picture to celebrate my return.

Disney China

Last week, I had the privilege of chaperoning my son’s band trip to Disney and I took the opportunity to take another photo. Yes, I’m still alive and well!

Disney China 2018

(Apparently I like the color pink, but it’s not because of the ubiquitous pink ribbons!)

Disney trips are always hard work, even as they are loads of fun. The temperature was hot (85-90), the humidity high, and my feet have never hurt so bad from all the walking and standing! But it was a great trip — our students are awesome and we couldn’t be prouder of their march down Main Street in Magic Kingdom!

One thing I realized on this trip? That I’m in better shape than I give myself credit for!

On the day the students marched in Magic Kingdom, I got in roughly 20,000+ steps in the heat (“86/feels like 92” kind of day…), and this included some serious running along the parade route to get ahead of the band for purposes of video and photos, and then running back to the back lot gate at Pirates of the Caribbean. It also included unloading/loading the van with some of the other chaperones in the back lot in the blazing sun. (Note: at least I was wearing shorts… our poor kids were wearing their wool uniforms, so I’m not really complaining!)

I was exhausted at the end of the day, and maybe a little faint at the parade’s end, but I did it! At least I know my heart and lungs are pretty solid, and considering where I was just a mere 6 years ago, I’m incredibly grateful!

This photo op will be part of every trip I take to Disney because it’s a reminder of where I was, and just how far I’ve come!

IMDb: Parade’s End (2012)

Aware

Well, I made it to the end of October without talking about Pinktober, aka breast cancer awareness month. I have to admit that this month didn’t bother me as much as in other years. Were the pink ribbons not that noticeable, or have I become immune?

I fully understand the point of Pinktober, but many survivors get frustrated that the message has been pink-washed. I mean, how much “awareness” does one need? Is there anyone out there who isn’t “aware” that breast cancer exists? And what of those companies that don the pink ribbons, and yet, sell products that contribute to cancer? I won’t even get into all of the awareness messages that are all about “saving the ta-tas” and what not. Shouldn’t we be focusing on saving the person? I just ask that you be sensitive to survivors on some of these awareness campaigns. While good intentioned, just consider them from the point of view of survivor… who may not actually have been able to save her ta-tas…

Anyway, soapbox done.

Instead of continuing my rant, I thought I would share some facts to help improve your awareness. You know breast cancer exists, but do you know….

  • We lump (pun intended) all breast cancer into one category, but there are actually many different types, depending on where they are located (ductal versus lobular), sensitivity to hormones (estrogen/progesterone positive/negative), genetic makeup, etc. Some have better success rates than others, so be mindful of this when talking to your BC friends. For example: I had invasive lobular carcinoma, ER & PR positive.
  • There are multiple stages of breast cancer development, depending on size, lymph node invasion and metastasis. I was Stage IIIA, T3 N1 M0.
  • There are ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer! (Wouldn’t you rather prevent it in the first place? Or at least try?) These include: nutrition, exercise, weight management, not smoking, watching alcohol intake, and avoiding environmental toxins).
  • The best foods to stave off cancer? Greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds. (Known as “G-BOMBS” by Dr Fuhrman).
  • Mammograms do not find 1 in 5 cancers and do not improve mortality. (I went faithfully and mammograms completely missed my tumor, which was stage III / 8 cm at removal.)  Read: Limitations of Mammograms
  • There are alternatives to mammograms, such as ultrasounds (it was an ultrasound that eventually found my tumor), MRIs, and thermograms. Do your homework to determine which is best/safest for you, what your insurance will pay for, and the benefits/risks of each.
  • Men can get breast cancer, too — about 2100 cases a year, with almost 500 deaths.
  • There are also alternatives to breast reconstruction. More and more women are opting to “go flat”, but many women are not presented with this as an option at diagnosis and regret it later. I’ve been lucky to connect with women across the country as part of the My Flat Friends Facebook group. Here are a few articles about how many women are trying to spread the word about this option!
    CBS News: A Matter of Choice
    NBC Today: Living Flat and Fabulous

Hopefully you learned something new and are more aware as we close out Pinktober!

Peace!

IMDb: Aware (2016)

The Bucket List

I was never one to have keep a bucket list and I always thought the concept was silly.  Why would you need such a thing? Just enjoy your life!

And then I had cancer. Twice. And I really started thinking differently about the whole bucket list concept. If I was living on borrowed time, what were the things I really wanted to do and see?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m feeling pretty healthy these days but the idea of a bucket list seemed more appealing. I don’t have anything formal or written down; it’s all just in my head.

One of the things on my list is whale watching. We just returned from vacation in Maine where whale watching was part of the plan. Alas, Mother Nature was not cooperative and unrelenting dense fog resulted in excursion cancellations multiple days in a row. This was the closest I got to an actual whale (we were on the lookout everywhere!):

 

Better luck next time. While disappointed, we did find other great things to do in Maine and we had a fabulous trip. Maine is truly gorgeous and, if you’ve never gone, you might want to add it to your bucket list!

Most of my list is made up of experiences and trips — and are family-focused. None of it involves acquisition of stuff (quite the contrary, if you know me!). And maybe the idea of writing a book!

How about you? Do you have a bucket list? What’s on it?

IMDb: The Bucket List (2007)