Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Finish Line!

Sometimes, I just feel lucky.
 Well, tomorrow is the big day for my final breast reconstruction. For those of you who have stumbled on this blog, I had breast cancer, they managed to suck out every single morsel of cancer in my biopsy, and then when they cut off my boobs, the techs were like "Hey? Why'd this lady have her boobs cut off?" Okay, it was significantly more professional than that. You might ask, "so, do you regret having your boobs cut off when you could have just gone for the lumpectomy?" NOPE.

Those bitches were ticking time bombs (see my previous post if you want to argue with me). Not to mention, my nipple was going regardless, so why leave one rotten tomato when I could just get rid of both. Matching set right?
The night before my surgery with my dad and sister.
Kelly just had HER boobs cut off too. All the Newsom girls are doing it.
Waiting and waiting and waiting at the hospital. To be honest,
I had a good time, except for the crippling hunger and the fact that
they wouldn't let me wear underwear.
P.S. I'm not wearing underwear in this photo.

At the hospital. I did two miles around the hallway
before they finally kicked me out. Also, notice my
adorable little ballerina boobies.

God damn drain tubes.

Tomorrow around 11-ish, I report to the surgery center to have these ridiculously uncomfortable tissue expanders removed from under my pecs and replaced with heavenly squishy soft silicone boobies. I try not to complain a lot about them, but since they are leaving tomorrow, let me take a second to tell you how I really feel. When they placed the tissue expanders under my pecs, I assume they thought I wanted the worlds biggest boobs, because these stupid things are roomy. And by roomy I mean they are entirely too big for the tiny space they shoved them in, not to mention they can go up to 700cc each! I can feel their edges, their weird plastic-y edges. It's creepy. When I run, they gurgle. It feels like I have phlegm rattling in my lungs when in reality, it's saline sloshing around in my breast mounds - that's what they call them, breast mounds. They currently contain about 350cc of fluid each. When I run, my pecs tighten (because apparently I flex them constantly) and it makes it extremely difficult to push those water bags in and out. I can swim about two laps before I am gasping for air because I can't take a full breath when my arms are extended while swimming; ironically, I can breast stroke fine. After running or swimming or actually even wearing clothes all day, my skin is so tender it feels like it is simultaneously being burned and twisted. There are these one inch metal discs on the front of them into which the doctor would stab a giant needle to inject more saline, which feel like they are slowly pushing their way through the muscle to the surface. All of the running and swimming and lifting I have been doing has woken the muscle and skin over the front of my previously numb breast mound which really just means it whines and hurts all of the time. And to be honest perfectly honest, my boob things sort of look like poofy hamburger buns right now, but those hamburger bun boob things don't have cancer.
60CC all around! They fill them 60CC each at a time.
When I was diagnosed, in addition to feeling terrified and worried, I was really pissed. Not at the world, not at any one specific deity for throwing me this curve ball, but at the fact that this dumb cancer was going to get in my way. My husband can vouch for the fact that I HATE it when people slow me down. My way to deal with that was to do all of the things I had planned to do anyway. One of those things was to run Dam to Dam again this year. Last year I ran it three months after my shoulder surgery. I trained for weeks strapping my gimpy arm tightly into a sling while I ran mile after mile. Last year I ran it in 2:30, just so you aren't too impressed, its a HALF marathon, the fastest guy finished in 1:07, but I felt AWESOME about that time. In October, I ran the Des Moines Half and shaved another 10 minutes off my time (2:20:52). Going into this spring, I had every intention to run Dam to Dam and to set another PR doing it, and then they found the cancer.

So I decided to run it anyway. My initial surgery was February 12th. I had a bilateral mastectomy with primary rebuild; they cut off both my boobs and shoved some fancy painful baggies under my pecs. I was told not to run for 6 weeks. SIX WEEKS! So I did everything else I could. I "ran" on the elliptical. I "ran" the bleachers daily for a couple of weeks. I did squats and lunges and frankensteins. I couldn't do arm work aside from stretching, and it hurt like hell to work my abs. When I started back in on my abs, I could barely do five crunches. The surgery strained the tendons that connect my upper abs to my rib cage (or where ever they attach), so I had to take that slow too. I got released a week early from my running hiatus, which was amazing, until I started running again and realized exactly how hard it was. Every time my boob things got filled, it made it even harder to breathe. I finally told them to stop just so I wouldn't have to deal with any more expansions.  I'll have a decent B cup when we're all done, and I'm fine with that, my previous DD was just too much anyway.
Close to perfect tape job. I used less white tape for the final round,
it gets hot having your feet taped for two hours!

Training for the race wasn't easy. Every time I added a mile, it felt like I was dying. The other complicating factor was that since I started my new job in October, I've been sitting more, which my butt doesn't like, so I started having serious hip, glute, hamstring, and heel issues. I saw Shane McClinton at Des Moines University's Running Clinic and he helped me determine the source of my issue, and he gave me some exercises and release points to work out the kinks. I also made my desk a standing desk permanently. After figuring out the best foot taping method and working on a faster cadence, I had a couple of decent training runs. But the bad runs were so bad, I really didn't think I could finish Dam to Dam. But I got on the bus anyway (you know, because the bus took me to the dam to start the race).
The buses. In the dark. Because it was

My friends Nicole and Stephanie. We are way colder than we look.
The race was this Saturday. It was great running weather, cool, tail wind, misty rain. The race started out pretty good. The first mile I ran in 10:43. Meh, not TOO  bad considering my last training run included a few 13 minute miles. The second mile 10:18. "HOT DAM!" I thought. Third 10:34 Fourth 10:19, the fifth 10:07, the sixth 9:54! And THAT is when I started thinking that MAYBE I COULD get that PR I had planned back in January. I really only flirted with the idea, because I have a tendency to crash hard. But every mile after that was spot on the pace I needed. Somehow I was doing it. My lungs were feeling okay, the gurgling had finally stopped, my hip was loose, my heel felt great, the weather was pleasant. I hit mile 11 and turned into the "whine out loud giant baby" that I always seem to become at mile 11, but I told myself that I could either slow down or just keep going, so I just kept going. The miles after that are a bit of a blur. I did a lot of math just to be sure I always understood that I COULD still walk and beat my previous course time, but really, would I be happy with that when I was SO CLOSE? I remember feeling so happy to turn the corner into downtown, if my glucose deprived brain was doing the math right, I stood a very good chance of at least matching my PR from October. When I saw my husband and my girls, they waved and I turned the corner into the final 200m. They were running alongside me to try to catch me at the finish line. I gave every little bit I had left to push to the finish line. I truly was the robot who not only couldn't feel pain, but also didn't really need oxygen. As I crossed the finishing mat, I stopped my Garmin and looked at it in total shock. It said 2:18:56. 2:18:56!!! The lady at the finish line thought I needed some medical attention, but I pushed past told her I was ok and tried to comprehend that in spite of EVERYTHING I had dealt with in the last three months, all that stupid shit, I finished my race and I beat my best time. I fucking WON. When I finally found Scott and the girls, I was an emotional wreck until my overwhelming desire to drink copious amounts of chocolate milk took over.
I'm DOING IT!!! This was around mile 8.
I had already eaten FOUR energy gels.

This is my happy crying face. My "You Guys! I DID IT!" face.

My little people. I run so i can be a better mom.
So I drank my weight in chocolate milk, took the girls camping with some friends that night (because why the hell not), and dealt with the traditional post Dam to Dam quad soreness. Today I got out and ran a 5k, and specifically to toot my own horn, I ran it 12 seconds faster than my previous best time.
See. Camping. We also did hiking.
I hurt like hell the next day.
 I think I am ready for this surgery. I'm glad this time around I only have to take three weeks off (I'll see if I can sweet talk my surgeon down to two...), because frankly, I've got some big goals for this year, you know, like growing my stash of tube tops in time for the state fair, getting my first tattoos - of nipples - on my boob things, and training hard so I can beat the pants off my next race time, because i don't see any reason why I can't run it faster.

Monday, February 09, 2015

A Farewell to Bras

So some of you may know that my little sister was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma in late October of 2014. She has been amazing through her chemotherapy and her tumor is shrinking nicely. When she was diagnosed, I was encouraged to go get a mammogram, so early this year, I did.

My baby sister is totally fancy.

I had my mammogram on a Tuesday in early January. That Wednesday, they called me back for some magnified scans on my left breast. It seemed that there were just a few micro calcifications present, and they wanted a closer look. So I had that done as well. The radiologist who reviewed my magnified scans decided that since my little sister had breast cancer, that they would go ahead an biopsy the spot, it did not look "highly suspicious" and I got her to admit that if my sister hadn't had breast cancer, they would have taken a "wait and see" approach.

So I got to show up the next week for a stereotactic needle biopsy. I will not lie to you, it was one of the more horrible medical experiences I have ever had. They had me lie face down on a table with my breast dangling through a hole while they smashed my boob and programmed the computer to stab me in just the right spot. It was done under local anesthesia, so I really felt no pain from the actual procedure, what really made it suck was that the table I was lying on was not well padded, and the hole was way too big, so my lower ribs were being crushed the entire time, and my arms were going numb, but I COULD NOT MOVE OR THE COMPUTER WOULD STAB ME IN THE WRONG PLACE. So I summoned my favorite coping mechanism, the "Robot Who Can Not Feel Pain", and this time I also programmed her to enjoy strange medical procedures. It totally worked until they informed me they needed to go in for just one more sample and would squirt in a little more lidocaine, which my nerve addled brain decided would immediately stop my heart (complete nonsense) so I had a mild panic attack which set off my adrenaline, which sparked an even bigger panic attack ("why am i getting an adrenaline rush?!?!?!?!"). I talked myself down, turned the robot back on, and made it through the rest of the procedure. I'm pretty sure they were just out of lollipops, because i TOTALLY earned one. 

Partial results came back the next day (a Friday), "There were some abnormal cells". So I ask, "what does abnormal cells mean?" To which the radiologist replies "cancer". Well FUCK. Just say cancer if you mean cancer.

See those tiny white specks in the red circle?
That's what cancer looks like...
Also, that's what an X-ray of my boob looks like.
You are welcome.

The results turned up a triple POSITIVE 2mm "single locus" of intermediate grade ductal carcinoma in situ.  This means that the cancer was still in the ducts (not freely roaming around) and it was growing not fast but not slow. It has hormone receptors and the unfortunate HER2 receptors, but I'll take the positive hormone receptors. They also turned up a 1mm low grade lobular neoplasia. The fucking thing was sitting directly behind my nipple which meant I would at very least lose the nipple (boobs without nipples are still boobs right??) Lobular neoplasia means that I am now at a much higher risk of developing cancer in my other breast as well. So guess what? I'm cutting the traitors off.

We had a good run, my boobs and I. I can never thank them enough for feeding both of my children for 2 years each. They have nicely, if not excessively, filled out my tops since I was a teenager. But seriously ladies, cancer? Fucking cancer? It's time for us to break up. This won't eliminate my risk, but it sure as hell reduces it.

I am scheduled for a double mastectomy on February 12th. That's in just a few days. My guts have been in turmoil ever since that first call back on my mammogram. The good news is that I can be the trial run of the surgery for my sister, I am just that thoughtful! I am anxious to get this over with, and terrified by what else they will find hiding in my overly abundant breast tissue. I won't get the complete results until after the surgery. They will check my lymph nodes with a sentinel node biopsy at the time of the surgery, and hopefully we will find that my little tiny DCIS has stayed put.

I'll be having a rebuild at the time of the surgery. They claim they will put my boobs back even better than before and they promise I will never have to wear a bra again, and seriously, they better not be lying, because that is a major silver lining in this whole thing for me... and I get nipple tattoos. Who's jealous? Seriously, google nipple tattoos.

We are hoping that after the surgery, there will not be much else to do treatment wise, but I won't meet with the oncologist until they've rummaged through my breast tissue. If I do need further treatment, I should be spared chemotherapy, and may instead receive hormone treatments. I just have to wait and see. Wait and see is my favorite...

I'm nervous, and scared, and super duper pissed off, but mostly I am in awe of how my little sister has been dealing with this since October. This shit is scary. My stomach hurts constantly. It's hard to not see everything I feel in my body as a sure sign of more cancer. It's hard not to worry that I'll miss one of those major events my girls are sure to have in the future. I'm being tested for a genetic factor that could explain our family's recent flurry of cancer, and should i test positive for any of those, I'll get to have a hysterectomy as well. At which point I will cease to be a woman and can therefore use whichever restroom I want, which is actually awesome, because ladies take WAY too long to pee.

Me after finishing Dam to Dam spot on my goal time of 2:30,
not yet three months after my Bankhart Repair on my right shoulder.
I'm running the pants off this thing this year,
current half marathon PR stands at 2:20...

All I can do is keep moving forward. I plan to get up out of that hospital bed running (or at least briskly walking) and get back to work as soon as I can. I WILL run Dam to Dam (Half marathon 13.1 miles) again this year, i did promise my surgeon not to run for six weeks, but there is plenty of cross training I can do in the meantime. The race is in late MAY, which will give me about 8 weeks after I get the all clear to get trained up, AND I've asked for faster boobs, so look for a PR people. Before you declare me insane, remember I did it last year after my shoulder surgery, AND hit my goal time.

Excellent example of vintage motivational cat poster.

I am not looking forward to my new hobby of hanging out in oncology for the next five years, but I am very hopeful that I will put this stupid bullshit behind me. You can ask me questions about my cancer, I might answer you. My answers lately have been sarcastic and snarky, so try not to get your feelings hurt. If you want to pray for me or any of that, feel free, but promise to add my sister in as well,  her treatment is way more intense than mine. And seriously, SERIOUSLY, anyone who tags me in one of those breast cancer memes gets immediately blocked and unfriended and I might tee-pee your house, in a totally mean way, like a "I might also put sugar in your gas tank" kind of way... The only encouraging posts I am accepting are vintage motivational cat posters.

Also, don't feel bad if I didn't tell you until now. I barely told anyone, and honestly I still wouldn't have told you if I thought you wouldn't notice me running around with smaller perkier boobs, which you will totally notice, because I'm only wearing tube tops from here on out.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Around Our House: The Shoulder Incident Bankart Repair Part 2

A few hours after surgery.
On March 3rd, 2014, I had a Bankart Repair to my right anterior glenoid labrum. For those of you who know me, you may remember me having the same procedure done four years ago on my left arm. Here is the post I wrote about that repair:

I wanted to write about this repair because the recovery was so much different.

To start, my right shoulder was not as bad as my left. My left shoulder was coming out so easily which was scary and unpredictable. After the surgery and PT, I worked very hard to strengthen both shoulders to keep the muscles strong, therefore reducing the chances that dislocations would happen again, particularly to my unrepaired right shoulder.

The history on my right shoulder is that it would dislocate when I was in my early 20s. I specifically remember it dislocating while playing air hockey, getting up off the couch, and swimming. I had a capsular shrinkage done on the shoulder in 1999 which stopped the dislocations, and since I was NOT active, the surgery worked fine for me. This type of surgery did nothing to repair the labral tears that were a result of the recurrent dislocations.

The labrum is a ring of cartilage that sits atop the scapula where the head of the humerus connects to the body. Its function is to add surface area to the joint to stabilize an otherwise very unstable joint. Attached to the labrum at the top is the biceps tendon and off the edge surrounding the entire shoulder joint, the capsule. When shoulders dislocate, the humerus slips past this ring potentially tearing the cartilage away from the scapula. The more often the shoulder dislocates, the worse the tear and the weaker the cartilage become. The head of the humerus can bump up against the scapula and damage the smooth soft surface of the humeral head (known as a Hill-Sachs defect) and wear the cartilage off of the backside of the bone. Labral tears can lead to recurrent dislocations or in my case significant pain.

Fast forward 15 years, After my last surgery, I started swimming, lifting weights, and running. My left arm was strong and I could tell the different between the two. My right arm couldn't keep up. I was experiencing pain with certain movements (like front crawl, triceps dips, push ups, etc). The more I worked my arm, the weaker it became. Being in my mid 30s, I wasn't ready to stop doing these things. Dr. Honkamp did a contrast dye MRI on the joint and discovered a labral tear. There was also some fraying to my rotator cuff due to the inherent instability caused by the tear. It was a hard decision this time because is was NOT dislocating again, but my activities were being limited, and I decided to go for it.
My inner shoulder before. The pen marks on the labral tear photo indicate how tall the cartilage SHOULD be.

The After. The penmarks show how the labrum was gathered up and reattached to the bone with anchors and sutures.
The stitches. There is another matching hole on the back.

Going into the surgery, I was working out 4-6 times a week. Typically running at least 5 miles at a time, swimming for a hour, or taking weight lifting classes like Body Flex at the gym. I was in really good shape and my arm was as strong as it could be.

I had the surgery. During my surgery, they completely detached the labrum from my scapula and anchored it back with four sutures. It was painful as expected for a few days. Then, I became allergic to the Vicodin (severly itchy skin, hallucinations, and urinary problems) so I stopped taking it. Unfortunately, this was a weekend, so I went the whole weekend only using Advil for pain (I also tried Tramadol which made me CRAZY so I couldn't sleep). I spent a few awful nights, but by early the next week, I was doing ok. The doctor gave me a Percocet prescription which I used sparingly at night. Once I switched off the Vicodin, my head was clearer, which allowed me to get to the gym.

One week out, I went to the gym. I took it easy, did some walking, rode a recumbent bike, did some more walking. A few days later, I went back. This time, being completely pent up and unable to sleep (keep in mind I had been exercising very regularly, so my body wasn't used to resting so much!), I did a few test laps at a very slow easy jog. I had been grilling my doctor and physical therapist regarding running. The verdict was that running would not damage the repair so long as I was tightly restrained in my sling, but that it would likely hurt so bad that I wouldn't want to do it. The running did not really hurt. I ran about a quarter mile, and then finished up on the elliptical ( this was about a week and a half past surgery).
One challenge: how to tie a shoe when you can't reach it... I ended up pulling my foot in to my chest and tying it upside down.
All strapped in and ready for a run. My hand had an unfortunate resting spot!
The more attractive/comfortable immobilizer I wore at night and during the day, allowing my forearm to move freely while pinning my upper arm to my side to protect the repair. My pain was worse if I kept my forearm bent all day long.

Each time I went to the gym I did a little more. I found that if I strapped my arm in tight with my immobilizing sling, I could run ok. The body mechanics were off, but it felt good to sweat. At two weeks I ran two miles. At three weeks I ran three. I was running once or twice a weeks with strength training exercises and elliptical in between. I could do lunges, high knees, frankensteins, butt kickers, speed skaters, and squats. I was occasionally taking Advil at night to sleep, but nothing during the day. Since I had started running and exercising, my pain tolerance has significantly improved, so I am not sure how I would have handled this pain four years ago.

I decided to go ahead an sign up for Dam to Dam on May 31st, 2014. It is a half marathon that was happening exactly three months post surgery. My goal was to be running six miles at the six week post surgery mark. I made it. At six weeks out, I stopped running in my sling. At 6 weeks, we also started working on my range of motion in PT. This made my shoulder sore, but I found that running actually made it feel better.

I am currently about 7 1/2 weeks post surgery. So far this week I have done two 4 milers, a 2 mile tempo run, an 8 mile long run, and an hour long session on the high school bleachers. I can do a very slow one armed breaststroke in the pool (which I do to keep my hips happy). My pain is manageable. My range of motion is about 75% back, my proprioception is good, and I JUST started using weights in PT. My therapist thinks the running has significantly helped me bounce back from the surgery.
7 weeks post surgery, i can raise my arm!!!
Most information on the web says NO RUNNING for 8-12 weeks, so if you are facing this type of surgery, definitely talk to your doctor before taking off. If I were going into this again with the goal of running in the first six weeks, I would look into getting a sling from this website: They are designed to hold the arm in tight to avoid jarring the joint.

In contrast, the last surgery, it took me six weeks just to get back to the gym to WALK!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

DIY Cat Hotel

The kitties giving it a good sniffing!
 So last summer, my girls (6 and 9) and I started to volunteer once a week at the local animal shelter, Furry Friends Refuge. Furry Friends is a local non-profit no-kill shelter that deals with all sorts of small animals but we specifically go to see the cats. It's been a wonderful thing for both of my girls, especially my oldest who was having problems dealing with her OCD all last school year (long story short, she was terrified to go to school because she was afraid she would get sick). When she would start to worry, we would change the subject by talking about the cats at the shelter. We are happy for the cats when they get adopted, and we do what we can to help the animals at the shelter to feel happy, safe, and comfortable. The girls brush, pet, hold, play with, and talk to the cats, and occasionally, I can get them to help me clean up their litter boxes. What I never realized is how happy it would make ME to go to the animal shelter. Nothing will wipe away your worries like sitting in a room full of fuzzy purring baby kittens, or to be greeted by a furry friend with a good solid head butt.
Seriously, kitten therapy works EVERY TIME!

To be fair, Juniper LOVED this. So did Beatrice.

Sylvia and Valentine with his stylish lion haircut.
With Spring Break approaching, we were looking for a fun project that we could do together. Both of my girls are in Girl Scouts so we thought it would be fun to earn one of their badges over the break. They chose to earn their pet badges. Most of the requirements they had already filled with our visits to the shelter and by caring for our two cats. But one requirement remained, make a comfy place for an animal to sleep. So we decided to make a comfy place for a BUNCH of animals to sleep!

Here it is as we found it at the thrift store.
We thought of way we could make a structure that the cats could sleep and play on. Initially we wanted to find a second hand bookshelf, but we ended up finding a small TV entertainment center. It was sturdy, it had several cat sized openings, but it had a big center area we needed to think about. We did a little searching online and found the perfect solution, cat hammocks!

Before we could add the hammocks and paint the shelf, we needed to make a few adaptations to the original shelf. I had just had shoulder surgery on my right (dominant) arm, so we needed to call grandpa Tom for some help.

He helped us to cut some cat sized holes in the sides, on one of the front doors, and one on the top. We removed the narrow door to open up the small side nooks, and he helped us add two posts to the center of the large opening.
After we cut some holes, removed a door, and added two posts.

He used a hand jigjaw to cut the circles (it's exactly coffee can sized if you notice). He added a few screws to stabilize one of pieces that stops the large doors from pushing in, and he helped us to add the posts to support the hammocks. Luckily, grandma Sandy was there to help us carry the shelf back to our van, since I was out for the count.
The Carry-Van, because they carried it to the van...
Once we got it home it was time to figure out paint colors and the pattern for the hammocks.

We found an article online written by Oakland Animal Services that showed the hammocks they use in their shelter, we modeled ours after theirs. I found some small carabiner clips on ebay for 90 pc for $23.00, and had the fabric on hand. The eyehooks we bought at the hardware store when we bought the paint.
The hammock test.

Once the hammock test was complete, we started to paint. We sanded it lightly since it was a finished wood veneer, and then we applied a spray on primer coat.
Yes, I let my kids use spray paint with supervision. They are really quite capable! 

After the white coat dried, we rolled and brushed on the base color. The girls chose light green.  We masked off the area we intended to put carpet for climbing so the carpet glue had a better chance of sticking.
Be prepared to say good-bye to whatever clothes your kids paint in... 

Once the green coat dried, we penciled in the drawings and started to paint the cute designs. My girls are great little artists so the cat drawings are theirs.
Working on the details.

The finished art with the paper mask removed. 

Once we removed the paper, and the painting was finished, we applied the eye hooks where we wanted them, then we applied the scratching rope on the posts (we used 3/8" sisal rope attached with carpet glue), and remnant carpet with carpet glue on the sides. To start the rope, we tacked one end at the bottom with two carpet tacks, spread the carpet glue up the posts about four inches and started wrapping our way up. I tacked the rope each time I stopped to apply more glue.  It took two packages of rope, one for each post. To adhere the carpet, I first cut the piece to the approximate size we needed and then spread a thick coat of carpet glue on one side, stuck the carpet, and then laid the shelf down on that size to press the carpet into the glue. I did the same on the otherside only I used my folding tables to weigh down the carpet. We waited 24 hours and then trimmed the carpet and cut out the holes with a box cutter.

We cut small pieces of carpet to go inside each of the animal cubbies, but left these so they could be removed in case they got dirty. We had an old neglected pet bed that fit perfectly inside the large cabinet space at the bottom, so we donated that with the Cat Hotel.

When we brought our cat hotel to the shelter, it was an instant hit! The cats were so curious (perhaps because the remnant was our old living room rug that smelled like toddlers and cats). They tried every cubby and Mustard immediately got cozy in one of the hammocks. The girls were absolutely thrilled! If you would like to go see our Cat Hotel in action, it currently resides at 9 Lives Boutique and Thrift which is a fundraising thrift store for Furry Friends Refuge.

Pumpkin, Poinsettia, Beatrice, Mustard and Sylvia take a moment to pose with the Cat Hotel.

Mustard had dibs on this hammock. Just so you know. 

Mustard, Butterscotch, and Pumpkin give the Cat Hotel a good sniffing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Recipe: Organic Cocoa Wheats

Mornings are hard. I work late nights creating Handmade Pretties, so when the alarm goes off, I have to be ready to spring into action, feed the kids, encourage them to get dressed, and head out the door in less than 40 minutes. To help me with this process, I have a handful of easy yet nutritious breakfasts for which I keep the ingredients on hand. 

My eight year old's favorite is CoCo Wheats. Now chocolate hot cereal may not sound all that nutritious, but a breakdown of the ingredients reveals that the two necessary ingredients are Farina and unsweetened cocoa powder. I control how much and which kind of sweetener is used in the cereal. I serve it to her made with grass-fed local milk and a small dish of frozen berries. 

Once I realized how much she liked CoCo Wheats, I started searching for an organic option, to no avail. Apparently, putting chocolate in hot cereal is a whole food no-no, so I created my own.

To start, you will need:
1 box of Farina (we like wheat farina, but rice farina would work for a gluten free option)
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Our box of Wheat Farina was 24 oz. it needed 3 Tablespoons of Cocoa Powder. 

For every 8 ounces of cereal, add 1 Tablespoon of cocoa powder. Mix well and store in a sealed container.

Hang onto the instructions for preparation from the box, as this is the same method you will use to make your hot cereal. Sylvia likes hers slightly sweetened so we use about 1/2 T of raw sugar or 1/2 T of honey for the single serving size. I prefer to cook hers in milk (it's creamy delicious).

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do It Yourself: Disco Ball Pinata

The finished disco ball pinata!

Sylvia turned 8 years old this week, and for her birthday she asked for a Girls Only Dance Party. Luckily enough, my mother owns her own DJ and Karaoke business, so we had the lights and the music covered. This left me with a little time to think about the decorations! 

We found small and large sized disco ball ornaments which we hung around the room, but the centerpiece of the decorations was our homemade disco ball pinata!

Here are some directions so you can make you own!

Disco Ball Pinata   
1 Large Paper Lantern (or 36" balloon or large beach ball)
1 batch of wheat paste (see below for a link)
newsprint (either newspaper or actual newsprint)
black paint
tacky glue
5 - 12" x 12" sheets of silver reflective cardstock cut into 1" squares

I made our pinata on a paper lantern. While this made it easier to hang and a little faster to make, if I were to do it again, I would use a 36" balloon or a beach ball for the base shape because the paper lantern didn't break well    

Whichever base form you use, start by applying two to three coats of paper mache. There is a fine line between not enough and too much. Too few layers will make a very weak pinata, while too many layers will require a wrecking ball to break open. I try to keep the paper mache to two-three layers because this seems about right. Leave a hand sized hole at the top of the ball for filling and hanging. If you are using a balloon or beach ball, reinforce the top of the pinata with several extra layers of paper mache as this will be where the weight of the pinata is borne. Allow the paper mache to dry COMPLETELY before proceeding to the next step.
 If you are using a balloon or beach ball, carefully deflate and remove it from the center of the pinata. I usually slip my hand inside and help ease the balloons away from the sides so as to prevent the paper mache from sticking to the balloon and collapsing as the balloon deflates.  If you have used a paper lantern, continue to the next step without removing the lantern.  
Paint the entire ball black (or whatever color you would prefer to see sticking out between the mirror "tiles"
After the paint is completely dry (wet paint will encourage the mirror paper to curl), using tacky glue (or hot glue) begin applying the mirror tiles in a straight row around the middle of the ball. The tacky glue was much easier to use but did cause minor curling of the paper. Hot glue may work better if you are experiencing a lot of curling. 
Keep adding rows until you reach the top and bottom. 
I found it useful to cut some of the squares in half as I got to the final rows on the bottom of the ball. I also looked at the bottoms of pre-made disco balls to get an idea of how the tiles would best fit together. 

The paper lantern will have two hanging tabs built into the lantern. Otherwise,  made three holes at least an inch into the ball to hang the pinata. 

Here is our finished pinata as the centerpiece at the dance party! We rigged it up so that it could be lowered down at the end of the party.

Wheat Paste Link:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Recipes: Tasty Yogurt Pancakes

I grew up eating pancakes for breakfast at least twice a week. I liked them plain (I HATED syrup and my mom refused to buy REAL butter) so the taste was really important to me. As an adult, I searched for YEARS to find the perfect recipe but could stand up to my refusal to use white flour, refined sugars, or tons of oil. A few years ago, I found it.

This recipe started out as the Silver Dollar Pancake Recipe from the Joy of Cooking. I have adapted it to use whole grain flour, raw sugar, and greek yogurt (in place of sour cream). What I like about this recipe is that it uses very little flour, and no added fats (except for the oil on the griddle and the fats in the eggs and yogurt). The bulk of the batter is yogurt and eggs, yet the result is a really delicious pancake.

Dry Ingredients:
1/2 C whole wheat flour
1 1/2 T raw sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda

Wet ingredients:
1 C greek yogurt
2 eggs
1 t vanilla

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (for the pan)

Combine the dry ingredients and set aside. Combine the wet ingredients. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until just mixed. This batter is thick.

Using a large spoon, drop small sized pancakes onto a hot skillet coated in virgin coconut oil. Cook on one side until you see bubbles forming along the edges of the batter, flip with a spatula. Due to the thick nature of this batter, I use the "wiggle" test to be sure they are cooked through. Using the spatula I press gently on the middle of the pancake. If it moves side to side, it is not yet cooked through.

If I am cooking for myself and my two little girls (5 and 7) I make one batch and usually have a few left over. If I am also cooking for my husband, I make two batches and usually have enough leftover to store in the refrigerator for one more breakfast for the girls.