Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mission Impossible

My mission, if I chose to accept it (and I did), was to make 7 meals and a batch of cookies in one afternoon.  I almost was successful!  What I did do, was make 6 meals and the cookie dough Saturday afternoon.  While I was one meal (and the actual baking of the cookies) short, I thought it was a very productive afternoon!  Here's what I made:

- Chicken enchiladas
- Salsbury steaks
- Beef Pot Pie
- Chicken Pot Pie
- Leftover Roast Beef casserole
- Deep Dish Pizza (this was supper last night!)
- and the dough for my Mom's spectacular chocolate chip cookies!

The Leftover Roast Beef casserole and the Chicken Enchiladas are in the fridge for tonight's and tomorrow night's suppers. The rest of the dinners have all been put in the freezer for later this week and weekend!  I feel so prepared, so ready for the week now! Plus, almost all of the dinners (not the cookies) are figure-friendly (low-fat)  meals!   However, I don't think I could do this every Saturday.  It was a lot of work!  I was "pooped" when it was all over!  Wow!  That's why one of the intended dinners had to wait until today. 

This morning, I made Banana-Chocolate Chip Pancakes and turkey sausages for brunch.  Molly and I decided they were "all that!" 
This also, a figure-friendly meal!  Yahoo!

After getting my tummy full on pancakes and sausage, I made the final meal in my Mission Impossible project. I call it Barbara's Alternative Mac & Cheese with Ham added.  Yep. That's kind of a long name but it's all I could come up with at the time.  It is named after a co-worker who brought it to me when I was recovering from surgery last month.  I LOVE it and there is spinach hidden inside so Dennis gets his vegies...Sshh...don't tell him! 
Doesn't it look yummy!  And, it hasn't even been baked yet!  Can't wait! 

Then I baked the cookies!  As I mentioned earlier, this is my mom's yummy recipe and for some reason, they come out like hers only about fifty percent of the time.  This time, they came out perfect!  YES!
So, have you all started your Christmas shopping yet?  I have a very small start thanks to a whole lot of school fundraisers of co-worker's kids (and my own!)  I figure "Well, I want to support them and I have to Christmas shop anyway..."  This is how I decided to take care of some of those little gifts for people I never know what to give! 

Another thing that has me more excited about Christmas shopping is my Scribbless list.  If you are a list maker, you need to check this out!  It is a great website for making, organizing and accessing your lists!  "And you can find it on the World Wide Web".  (I just had to say that....I listen to a show on the radio and the host always says that....makes me laugh!) 

Okay...a few more cancer ramblings.  For the record, I think that cancer bites.  A friend from college designed a t-shirt for the school that she teaches at.  She was good enough to send me one!

It sums up my feelings about the subject in two words.  Period.  Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a woman who had battled pancreatic cancer for about four years.  I was reminded, once again, how many truly wonderful people are stolen from us thanks to this awful disease. 

My friend, Ann, asked me a week or so ago "How is it (my cancer diagnosis and everything since) with my soul?"  Wow...that is a deep question and really got me thinking.  This question was a result of all of my thoughts, observations and memories  I wrote about in my lost blog entry.  After some thought, I decided that all in all, it is well with my soul.  I am okay...even though I think that I could have been provided more and better support from my professional care givers at the time, I am okay with it now.  My last surgery will be a month from today. It will be the last step in my breast reconstruction and I'm hoping - NOW - I will be able to really put this behind me.  (By the way, four surgeries in 14 months is something I'd like to forget.)  However, while it is all well with my soul, my soul is not okay with the knowledge that there are women who are being diagnosed every day and who might not be getting the support they need.  I was fortunate to have the support of family and friends.  What about those women who might not have that?  My heart hurts for them. 

So, while I can't change the world, I do hope to be able to do something in MY little world....starting with our local hospital.  I don't have a plan (wow!  that's a first) but God does.  Quoting my pastor from church this morning (who was quoting someone else) "God does not call the equipped. He equips the called."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cancer ramblings....

It's been awhile...I know....and it was not my intention to take so much time.  While I felt like I had so much to write about, I also felt like I had nothing to write about.  I became overwhelmed with the amount of "stuff" I wanted to say!  This past week, I received an email from the Susan G Koman Foundation.  In the email, it linked to a study done by the Cancer Support Community's Research and Training Institute. The study showed that women diagnosed with breast cancer felt that their social and emotional issues were not adequately addressed by the professionals who treated them.  Wow!  A flood of emotions came rushing back to me! 

On September 28, 2010, my doctor from the breast care center that I had been going to for my annual mammograms for several years delivered the news that I had breast cancer.  Due to the nature of it, she recommended a double mastectomy.  She asked if I had a surgeon in mind to do the surgery.  I did and that was the last time I talked to her.  I was passed off to my surgeon who performed the surgery on October 14th.  After my follow-up appointment with him, I was passed off to an oncologist. And, then after a year's time, on to a plastic surgeon for breast reconstruction.  Each time, I felt like I was starting all over again; telling my story, giving details that I felt they should already know, and feeling like the whole process was very disconnected. 

This study described a Survivorship Care Plan (SCP) that is a tool that was introduced in 2005 and recommended for all people diagnosed with cancer.  However, in a study of 1,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer, 90% never had an SCP.  Plus, 87% of women diagnosed with breast cancer described experiencing moderate to severe social and emotional distress after their diagnosis, surgery and during treatment.  I was not given an SCP but I have no doubt in mind that much of the depression and emotional distress that I experienced after my mastectomy and during the weeks to follow could have been eliminated had I been given one!

While in the hospital after my mastectomy, I was flooded with love and support from family and friends.  I'm sure that is what got me through those days of recovery during the hospital stay.   While the nurses and my surgeon did a fine job of taking care of my physical needs while in the hospital and of course, I was asked the question "how are you?", no one really came to talk to me about how I was doing.  I left the hospital feeling scared about the future and physically mutilated.

I remember on our way home from the hospital, we stopped at the pharmacy so Dennis could run in and get the pain meds and anti-biotics that were prescribed to me.  I called my mom to tell her I was on my way home.  The minute I heard her voice, I broke down.  I recall saying "I have no idea why I am crying."  And she said, "I feel violated."  That was it.  I felt violated and I was completely unprepared for these feelings.  After I got home that day, if I was not sleeping, I was crying. 

One of the main reasons I think I was unprepared for these feelings is that I never thought I had any kind of attachment to my breasts.  The minute I received the news that cancer was found in them, I wanted them gone.  So why, after they were gone, did I miss them so much?  I was not ready for how I would look and I was not ready for drain bulbs to be hanging out of me for two weeks.  I was not ready to spend the next month on the phone daily just trying to get answers....when do I need to see the doctor for a follow -up visit (yep - BIG suggestion for anyone having any kind of surgery...don't leave the hospital without a follow-up appointment scheduled with your surgeon!), when can my drain bulbs come out, when will I get my results, when do I see the oncologist, do I need treatments, and on and on.  Phone calls were all made to a number of different receptionists and nurses.   It would have been divine to have one person - who knows the process - who I could call to get answers and to just generally talk with. 

My thoughts have been going back frequently to those days, asking myself how things could have gone better. What could have been done to decrease the social, physical and emotional distress at the time of diagnosis, surgery and the months following?  Why aren't women who are diagnosed with breast cancer being offered the Survivorship Care Plan?  While I was somewhat relieved to hear I wasn't alone in my experiences, I was also very saddened to hear that it is common.  I don't want anyone to experience what I did.  So, right now I am brainstorming ideas on what I can do?  I feel that my past experiences should be able to help women diagnosed in the future. 

More later.....

Monday, September 5, 2011

We did what?

Five days ago, my husband and I decided we wanted to go camping this weekend - Labor Day weekend.  But not the whole weekend - we just wanted to camp Sunday night.  If you know anything about camping, then you know that getting a decent camp spot in a campground over Labor Day weekend that late in the game is next to impossible.  Plus, Dennis and I are just not into the huge crowds of people that the holiday weekends bring. So, what to do?....what to do? 

It just so happens that we have a friend who owns some ground near to where we live.  Dennis said "it's really nice - near a river - with a campfire ring and everything!"  I wasn't so convinced but I was willing to try anything. By the time we rounded the last turn on the narrow, winding river road and I laid my eyes on the spot where we'd be spending that night, I was sold! 
We set up camp and started relaxing....aah!
Howie loved exploring....and made a friend with a deer stand that had been set up out there by the land owner:)
Campfire!  Yes, even out here we couldn't totally escape from the world.  We had a visitor...oh, well!  It was great to share our fire and some conversation:
 When we left the camp spot on Monday morning, my question was "Can we come back?" 
 When we got back home, I made us an amazing breakfast!  It was inspired by a breakfast that I read about on Iowa Girl Eats.  Kristin and her husband had gone to San Diego for the BlogHer convention and ate one morning at Cardiff by the Sea.  Kristin had the Vegetable Scramble and I fell in love!  Here is my version!
Scrambled eggs with green peppers, onions, mushrooms, tortilla strips (and a dollop of cream cheese right at the end for creaminess).  Eggs go on top of a bed of home-style hashbrowns and everything is smothered with sharp cheddar cheese.  Served, of course, with a side of Tiefenthaler Meats medium-cut bacon. Yummy! I think we have a new favorite breakfast choice!

What did we do with the rest of the weekend?  Thank you for asking!  It was wonderful!  On Saturday, we (meaning me, Molly and Ann) painted Miss Molly's room!  She wanted pink...and SHE GOT PINK!
Isn't it cute?  Waiting on some new blinds for the windows and we'll move a desk in there for her and it will be a done project....CHECK! 

Sunday morning, we went to Sioux City and took Erin and her boyfriend, Josh, to church at Grace United Methodist Church which is right by Morningside's campus.  Small-world story - the usher who showed us to our seats grew up in the town where we live!  We knew his mom before she passed away - she went to our church!  I love it when stuff like that happens!  After eating together at Perkin's Restaurant, Dennis and I went home (so we could go on our big camp-out) and Molly stayed the night with Erin at Morningside!  She was so excited to spend the night as "big college student!" 

Now - it's nearing the end of a fabulous Labor Day weekend - getting myself mentally ready to "labor" again tomorrow at work....sigh....if only we didn't need that little thing called "money."   Ha, ha!  Have a great week everyone!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jimmy Johns!

I lead a sheltered life...

I have never eaten at a Jimmy Johns before!  I have driven by their restaurants and not given them much thought until recently when I read about the love that Dave and Sarah from 1 Cup Awesome have for their sandwiches - the best gourmet sandwiches, I might add! 

Earlier this week, I was fortunate to have to (I know, the drudgery) go to the Iowa Great Lakes to visit one of our college's alumni for work.  After the visit, I searched out a place to have lunch....Jimmy John's!  I thought, "Why not?"   Looking at their menu board, I was struck with "Yes, this IS gourmet!"  Oh, the choices!  I finally settled on #6 - the Vegetarian.  I'll be honest; it was the promise of avocado spread that pulled me in.  However, the sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers and provolone cheese were ALL good! 
Now whenever I am in the Lakes area, I have to at least drive through Gull Point State Park.  I grew up camping there with my family on the weekends every summer.  As I drove into the park, it was like (once again) coming home...
This is such a beautiful state park and I have always been intrigued and awed by this shelter house that sits on West Lake in the park. It's so rugged and grand and is absolutely gorgeous when decorated for a wedding.  I sat here and ate my Jimmy Johns sandwich:)  A little bit of heaven.

And another new love...
Schwan's Tilapia Loins with a 7 herb/spice packet.....
The package gives several options for using the herb/spice packet but I chose to mix it with olive oil and lemon juice.  Spread it over the loins and bake them up....easy and so yummy!  I served it with Minute Rice Ready to Serve brown & wild rice and some cole slaw...
And score!
My local grocery store does not carry Chobani pineapple Greek yogurt (they carry other flavors but not pineapple and I LOVE pineapple) but I found it yesterday at Target!  Yay - Target!  Thank you!

Have a great weekend everyone!  We are going camping again at Lake View - smile:)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pumpkin Bar Update

Yesterday, was once again a top-down kind of day...
Ann, in her mid-life crisis car, picked me up yesterday and we went for a drive! To Twin Lakes and around both of the lakes.  It was a gorgeous day and to be honest, Ann wanted to get my mind off the fact that I had left my first-born at college the day before.
You worked-for awhile:)  Twin Lakes is a cute little area not far from Rockwell City.  It has a picturesque church camp and a quiet, clean campground.  Of course, there were also a number of gorgeous houses for us to ooh and aah over ...and dream about! 

Pumpkin Bar update

About a week ago, I made Paula Dean's Pumpkin BarsAs I wrote, they are to die for!  But, as promised, I worked on a low-fat, low sugar version of these bars.  Score!  I think this version is very, very close to the original and much more figure friendly...

No Guilt Pumpkin Bars
1 cup egg substitute
1 cup sugar & 2/3 cup Splenda
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
one 15 oz. can pumpkin
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 8 oz fat-free cream cheese
1 8 oz Cool Whip Free
1/2 cup Splenda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine egg substitute, sugar/Spenda, applesauce and pumpkin until light and fluffy.  Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth.

3. Spread the batter in the ungreased non-stick 13 X 9 inch baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.

4. To make the icing: Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Then add the Cool Whip, Splenda and vanilla until combined.  Spread on cooled pumpkin bars.

Enjoy with no guilt!

Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Go Mustangs!

Took Erin to college today...she is now a Morningside College Mustang. 
She is a great kid...not quite sure how Dennis and I raised such an independent, capable and self-confident young woman.  We are blessed and so proud of her.

I work in higher education and I am witness all the time to "helicopter parents."  You know what I am talking about.  Those parents who call faculty the minute their child runs into problems with a class.  Or who do all the talking at class registration while their child stands awkwardly behind them.  It's sad, really....and I vowed NEVER to be one of those parents. 

Well, I won't say it was easy.  In fact, it was really, really hard!  But I think I managed to allow, encourage and sometimes force Erin to make her own decisions.  Because as I said, she's very capable (sometimes I think she's more capable than I) of making good decisions.  It's our job as parents to give our kids the skills to make their own decisions - and that's not an easy task.  We want to help them and make their choices for them but that hurts them in the long run!

The Bible teaches us in Proverbs 22:6...
Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.

That is from the NIV but I read it from the The Message tonight too and it made me smile...
Point your kids in the right direction - 
when they're old, they won't be lost.

There were a few tears when we eventually said good-bye.  But I don't think it was due to any thoughts of homesickness or that being apart was going to be unbearable (she's only an hour away!).  I think it was because we both knew that a chapter in her life was ending and another was beginning.  And, this can be thrilling and scary!  I know she'll be just fine...

On a lighter note, moving in was a breeze thanks to a great orientation team at Morningside who grabbed boxes and bags out of our vehicles and carried them to Erin's room.  Once there, the unpacking was a little overwhelming...

But before long, she got mostly everything where she wanted it..
Thank you, Molly, for modeling how well the futon works:)

Her door...
And her roommate...

Her future.....looks very bright!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Coming Home

As you know...I have two beautiful daughters.  What you don't know is that I also have 17 other kids who I adore! 
These are our kids from the United Methodist Youth Fellowship (UMYF) and my husband and I, along with another couple, are their leaders...scary, right?  Not at all, I love every one of them...each with his or her own unique gifts and quirks. 

In August, we start gearing up for a new year of UMYF and this time of year always reminds me of coming home.  I don't know why exactly.   It must have to do with the feeling of getting back into routine after a busy summer or the wonderful scents, sights and sounds of the upcoming autumn season.  I do know that being back with "my kids" will feel like coming home. 

Recently, I heard a song on the radio.  You know me, I love turning lyrics of popular songs into something richer and deeper...and usually something grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So, anyway I heard "Coming Home" by Diddy (I know...right?) 

When listening to them with the meaning intended, the lyrics make me sad (living the life of a gang member with all its harsh realities), but the words in the chorus could be re-thought as a message of  hope and joy for those of us who have given our lives to Jesus...

"I'm coming home
I'm coming home
Tell the World I'm coming home
Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday.
I know my kingdom awaits and they've forgiven my mistakes
I'm coming home, I'm coming home
Tell the World that I'm coming..."

With these lyrics in mind, I started thumbing through the pages of my Bible for all of the passages on God's kingdom...and heaven....and home... I found many, of course.  But none touched my heart as deeply as one from Psalms - the words from  The Message Bible spoke loud and clear...

"God, it seems you've been our home forever; long before the mountains were born, 
Long before you brought earth itself to birth, 
from "once upon a time" to "kingdom come" - you are God." Psalms 90: 1-2

If we look at God as our home, what do the lyrics of "Coming Home," say to us?  It's says to me that I don't care what the world says....tell the world that I'm coming home....I know that heaven waits for me, that my sins have been forgiven and that all of my pain will someday be washed away. 

I'm pretty sure that's not what Diddy had in mind...but you know I'm pretty good at spinning things to my way of thinking!  Ha!  I might just have to tell "my kids" about this! 

What else has been going on?
Do any of you struggle with making meals on the weekend?  I mean...I love the fact that I usually have more time to devote to cooking meals on the weekend but when I do, it seems then there's no one around to eat it!  So, Saturday I decided to keep it light at lunch...a veggie/cracker tray with dip.  Then, my family could graze as their schedules allowed.  Guess what?  Everyone was home...and spent a lot of time giving me not-so-subtle hints to make this or that or for lunch. Well, this is what they got...And, I thought it was awesome...even though my husband, the anti-veggie eater, was not impressed. 

The star of the veggie/cracker tray is a Dill Pickle Wrap Dip that I learned about from Kristin at Iowa Girl Eats It is soooo simple!  Equal parts sour cream and cream cheese and then just add dill pickle relish and cut up corned beef to taste and to your liking!  Couldn't be simpler or yummier! 

With fall right around the corner, I also decided that I had to try Paula Dean's Pumpkin Bars  Now these are not for the dieting faint of heart.  There are lots of eggs, oil, sugar and butter in these bad boys.  But they are to die for! No, I did not get a picture of them because my family ate them too fast (in other words...I was too busy stuffing my face to get out my camera).  Anyway, the plan is to make  low-fat, low-sugar version of these.  I think I have it all figured out....I'll let you know how it turns out!


Friday, August 12, 2011

I Was There!

The first Republican presidential debate for the 2012 campaign was held last night.  And, I WAS THERE!  Thanks to my very well-connected friend, Ann, who was able to snag tickets, I was able to attend this super cool event! 
Plus, it was televised on Fox News so there was always the chance that I might show up in a crowd shot.  So, I was very careful not to pick my nose and to make sure I looked very interested and thoughtful the whole time!  I learned a whole lot about each of the candidates - like (and these are only my opinions):
* Ron Paul is a whack-job (and so are most of his supporters)
* Newt Gingrich is just an angry man
* Tim Pawlenty is kind of mean - but mostly desperate
* Jon Huntsman is really proud of his record
* Herman Cain has lots of great ideas - but doesn't have a chance of winning
* Mitt Romney seemed to rise above a lot of the bickering (I like him)
* Michelle Bachman really gets a bad rap from the press (and she is short!)
* Rick Santorum seems to have a lot of good ideas and is very passionate (I like him too)

There you have it!  My expert political commentary - just what you've been waiting for!  Not only was the night informative but it was fun to spend time with Ann and my other awesome (if not wee-bit liberal) friend, Lisa:)

More time spent with friends...
Every six weeks or so, I get together with seven of my best friends from Early and we go somewhere fabulous to eat!  Last Tuesday night, we chose to go to Carroll to Santa Maria Winery and we sat and enjoyed our wine and meals in the courtyard!  It was beautiful because gone were the 100 plus temps of the week before!  I actually had to put on a jacket!  Lovely!  
Aren't they all just such pretty ladies!  Love them all dearly!  And, down to business....I had their yummmmy Turkey Artichoke Panini with a side of Rabbit....NO! I did not order rabbit as my literal-thinking friend, Jill, thought I had:)  It is rabbit food!  Carrots, tomatoes and celery with ranch dressing!  Hee, Hee!  But Santa Maria calls it Rabbit - too funny!
I also enjoyed a glass of their own Riesling Reserve.  Wonderful!  I would have to say, though, that my favorite wine of theirs is their Petite Syrah - Yup!

A Molly Moment
Molly got her ears pierced this past Monday.  I gave in...  against my better judgment... but I did it.  Mostly because when Molly wants something, she is the master at wearing me down with constant talk about it...
* I sure can't wait until I get my ears pierced.
* When can I get my ears pierced?
* I can wear these kind of earrings when my ears are pierced.
* Emily thinks my ears will look nice pierced.
* This juice is good....I think it will match the earrings I get.

Aagh!  Okay, Molly!  Let's do this!  Erin and I took her to a cosmetology school near to us (yup...they're cheap.)  We laughed when they called a gal over and she got a real scared look on her face...aaah! Obviously, she had never pierced ears before...  Oh, Molly, you have no idea what you are getting yourself into:)

Of course, the instructor is there the entire time and demonstrates much of it and coaches the student through the rest.  I had my camera at the ready to catch the moment the "CLICK" happened so I could catch the look on her face for posterity. 
She didn't flinch!  What?  Not fair!  Everyone jumps when they get that first hole shot through their ear! 

Not Molly...she was the true example of calm...obviously I was a little movement!

Truly happy to be done:)  Me TOO!  Back to peace and quiet....

Happy Friday everyone!  Straw Poll tomorrow in Iowa!  Stay Tuned!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What summer's all about!

Summer is......Camping!

For the past several years, we have camped in a fold-down camper.  We've loved it but, you know, we're getting older and lazier:)  And, we just thought that maybe it would be nice to have a camper that we didn't have to fold down when we weren't using it and one with...aaahhh....air conditioning!   Well, earlier this summer we were lucky enough that my hubby's dad gave us his camper trailer! 

Last weekend, we camped near Des Moines by Lake Saylorville.  Bob Shetler campground is below the Saylorville Dam on the channel.  The best thing about the campground is watching the water rush through the channel.  Oh...and the campsites are pull-throughs on cement slabs...Hello?  Uptown!
And, yes, this guy is actually trying to catch fish with a bow and arrow! We never actually did see him get anything.
The weekend was made even better by a visit from wonderful friends!
 Hannah!    Oh, yeah...her masters were there too!
Lisa and Steve....along with us! was pretty hot that day:)

This weekend, we camped at our all-time favorite campground!  Black Hawk State Park campground in Lake View.  Howie just loves looking out at the lake....
It was a beautiful weekend, but no matter what the temps - you have got to have a campfire...and Dennis is the absolute campfire-building champion!  He's very precise about how he chops the wood and kindling starter..
and then how he stacks it all in the ring... aaaahhhh.....the start to the perfect fire!

Bring on the s'mores!
We have one more camping weekend planned and if I have ANYTHING to say about it, there will be at least one more in addition to that.  Because what is better than summer camping?  Autumn camping!  Can't wait!

Happy Sunday Night everyone!  Hope your week is everything you want it to be:)