Monday, October 8, 2018

Three cheers for adopting pets!

This post is sponsored by Nakturnal. All expressed opinions are mine.

Confession: I am a dog lover. When I was a kid, I desperately wanted a dog of my own, but my parents insisted for years that it just wasn't going to happen.

Then, one day, when I was about eight years old, the perfect opportunity to adopt a dog fell into our lap. A friend of my uncle found herself unable to give her 3-year-old black Labrador retriever the type of life she felt she deserved, and she was looking for a family to take care of her sweet dog. We happened to fit the bill, so Isabel joined our home!

adopting-pets
Isabel, chilling in her baby pool. She loved the water!

Isabel was the most perfect dog. So happy, friendly, quiet and gentle. She never barked or growled at anyone. She didn't ever need a leash when we would take her out because she would faithfully stay near us. She adored children, which was essential considering there were five in my family. I always felt like she was a loyal friend to me. I spent many days telling her all my problems, and she always provided a listening ear.

The best part about Isabel's story is that we were able to adopt her instead of buying her from a breeder or a pricey pet store. Truth is, there are so many pets out there already that need homes. Pet adoption is both an ethical and inexpensive way to add a furry friend to your family.

If Isabel had been taken to a shelter, she may have never been adopted and could've missed out on a wonderful life. According to the Humane Society, 2.7 million shelter dogs and cats are euthanized in the United States every year because there aren't enough people adopting the numerous pets that come into the shelters. What a sad fact!

Besides the opportunity to save an animal's life, there are plenty of other reasons to adopt a pet. They help you maintain a healthy, active lifestyle, for one thing. You also don't have to house-train them since most shelter animals are adults, and you likely won't need to spay or neuter your pet since shelters often take care of the procedure for you.

Today, there are also numerous sites which allow for direct pet adoption, meaning you don't even have to go search the shelters for your new companion. You can pull up your browser and see if any cats or dogs look like a good fit for your family without even leaving the house.

rehoming-pets

Last year, we added a pet to our own family through adoption, too! Her name is Tilly, and she's a miniature schnauzer. She's spunky, energetic, cuddly and so much fun. We can't imagine life without her, and we're so grateful we were able to give her a loving home.

rehoming-pets

If you're thinking about bringing a pet into your family, please consider adoption. So many pets with a variety of personalities fill the animal shelters, and you can be the one to rescue a pet who might not otherwise get the chance to have a loving home!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The reality of metastatic breast cancer.

It's October, which means it's breast cancer awareness month. Those aggravating pink ribbon shirts have already started popping up in stores. I'm now to the point where I only grit my teeth and walk briskly by when I see them. Before, my eyes would fill with tears of rage at the mere thought of them. Progress, I suppose.

Unfortunately, my family members and I are more aware of what breast cancer means than most people. And while many might think it's a "cute" cancer, I'm here to tell you it's not. It's ugly, it's painful, it's humiliating and it's very often deadly. And on that last point -- you're not as in control of your fate as you think you are. The cancer is in charge. Make no mistake about it.

When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2014, the initial prognosis wasn't too bad. Stage 2, they'd told her. She'd need a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, etc. The usual. It would be terrifying and brutally hard, but she'd get through it. We'd all help her. Family, friends and strangers rallied around her, bringing care packages and meals. Wigs were in her future. Maybe I'd shave my head to show support as she lost her hair.

We'd seen this story play out time and time again for many other women, and it would be the same for my mom.

Except, there was this lingering feeling I couldn't shake -- my maternal grandmother had already succumbed to the disease nearly five years prior. Her mother, my great-grandmother, died from breast cancer at age 56. Deep down, I knew where this was really going. I just didn't expect it to happen so quickly.

A few weeks after my parents gathered us in their family room to break the news the first time, I got a call from my mom -- it was actually stage IV cancer. It had metastasized, and not in a way that is treatable. It was all over her skeletal system.

There would be no surgery. No chemo. No hair loss, no nausea and vomiting, no debilitating side effects from the treatments which make cancer notoriously unbearable. A cruelly ironic silver lining we'd all have gladly traded for a cancer that could be treated.

Instead, her oncologist attempted to prolong her life by prescribing hormone blockers to prevent the cancer from spreading as quickly as it would otherwise. That was the best they could do. They gave her 2 - 5 years to live.

The first year was almost normal. Aside from knowing she had terminal cancer, my mom frequently expressed that she felt no different than she had before. She even saw her markers go down, and some of the cancerous lesions shrank.

Then, around the beginning of the second year, the hormone blockers stopped working, and that was that. Slowly but surely, the disease progressed, sapping the life out of my mom day by day. Radiation -- the only treatment option to help with the excruciating pain in her hips -- fried her bowels to the point she couldn't keep any food down. (So much for avoiding the nausea and vomiting that come with chemotherapy.) She spent a lot of time in the hospital trying to rehydrate and regain the ability to be nourished, but for every step forward, it seemed she'd take several back.

My mom wasted away. She starved. Within months, she lost the ability to speak correctly and she lost her vision. She couldn't control her bowels anymore. She got thinner and thinner until there was nearly nothing left of her. She couldn't walk anymore. She was in a hospital bed. She couldn't answer calls or respond to texts. She was on pain killers around the clock. She was asleep more than she was awake.

And then, she died. Just like her mother and grandmother before her.

My family in December 2016, less than one month before my mom passed away.

This is what breast cancer awareness month fails to address -- metastatic breast cancer. Did you know breast cancer can spread to other parts of your body? I can't tell you how many times people I'd discuss my mom's case with would say to me, "It was in her bones? I thought your mom had breast cancer."

That's the thing about cancer -- it's complicated. It starts in one place and then spreads to other organs and parts of the body in different ways. You can't fix it by simply removing the breast tissue and replacing it with implants. It's not as easy as going through chemo, losing your hair for a few months and then happily ringing a congratulatory bell to signify you're in remission.

But the weird thing is, in the worst case, it is simple. Stupidly simple:

When you're stage IV, you're terminal. There's nothing left to do but die. Slowly. In diverse, painful ways. But, you're going to die, and that's that.

You don't get to buy a wig or a cute scarf. You don't get to ring a bell. People don't know how to help you. They don't know what to say. You are a ticking time bomb.

This is a chapter of the breast cancer story many people aren't even aware of. So, I write this blog post not to be morbid, but to help you understand -- to bring awareness.

Here's what you need to know: 1 in 8 women develop breast cancer during their lifetime. If you don't detect breast cancer early, you could die. So, make sure you conduct regular self-exams. The provided link tells you what to feel AND look for, because it's more than just lumps (with my mom, the cancer presented as an odd fold in her breast tissue).

And, if you feel a lump that doesn't show up on a mammogram, pursue further testing. This is KEY. My mom's lump never showed up on routine mammograms, and actually, 10 percent of breast cancers don't. It was eventually found through an ultrasound exam, and far too late.

I HATE that I lost my mother to breast cancer. I hate it. It's been almost 21 months that she's been gone. I miss her even more now than I did the day she left this earth, which is kind of weird to imagine if you've never lost someone.

But, I've learned some things from this real-life nightmare. One of those things is breast cancer isn't fancy, cute, or sexy -- it's serious, and it can kill you. It's devastating. So please, take care of yourselves. If something feels off or looks strange, go to the doctor. Don't wait or think it will resolve itself. It won't.

And if you don't care if you get cancer or not? Perform your checks for someone who does care -- your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your friends. I wouldn't wish the loss of a loved one to cancer on anyone.

This October, there will be no pink ribbons for me; just the painful reality that my vibrant, hilarious and beautiful mother's life was cut short by breast cancer. But if I can help even one person avoid dying this way, then telling this sad story is worthwhile to me. Do your checks, and if you see something, say something. That's all I ask.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Mother's Day can be hard.

My mom with my brother Josh and me.

Over a decade ago, when I first became a mother at the young age of 20, I couldn't fathom why anyone would feel pain on Mother's Day. Sure, some people struggle with their fertility, I thought, but why can't they just celebrate their own mom, or any other mother figures they know?

As life went on, I met single women who longed to have a family. Women who had lost children. Women who had spent tens of thousands of dollars to get pregnant, only to come up empty-wombed again and again. Women whose mothers abandoned them or mistreated them. I began to see how the second Sunday in May could be hard for some.

Then, my mom got sick and died. And last year, Mother's Day became incredibly difficult for me.

It's not that I don't have other mother figures to honor. It's not that I don't appreciate my own role as a mother. It's just ... complicated.

The day is filled with memories of happier times which cancer later ripped away from me. There's also an accompanying dread that I, too, could die early and leave my family behind to pick up all the pieces.

And, there are those nagging reminders of my own inadequacy as a mother -- I don't spend enough time with my kids, not a good enough example to them, not as kind as I should be, not teaching them well enough ... and, the list goes on.

And then, there's church. I love my church with all my heart and I love the people in my congregation. But, I've found that well-meaning church people make really insensitive comments sometimes.

A common one I hear is that I shouldn't despair because I'll get to be with my mom again someday. Well, the truth is, I do have a lot of faith that I'll be reunited with my mother, and the gospel gives me so much hope. But, it doesn't make me miss her less. In fact, this idea that she's in spirit form "just around the corner" or on the other side of a thin veil actually makes me miss her more!

It frustrates me that even though she's so close, I can't talk to her. I can't reach her whenever I want. Three of my mom's five children got married after she died. Was she there? In spirit -- probably. But, she couldn't help her daughters put on their wedding dresses and freshen up their makeup, she couldn't greet loved ones with big hugs in a receiving line at the reception, she couldn't fret about all the preparations with the rest of us ... none of that. It's heartbreaking.

When people say, "It's so sad your mom died! But, aren't you grateful for the plan of salvation?!" Well, I am! But, I also miss my mom, especially on Mother's Day, and her death still brings me great sorrow. I CAN FEEL MANY EMOTIONS AT ONCE I AM NOT A ROBOT.

It's unfortunate to me that Mormons especially seem so averse to suffering that they feel the need to annihilate it for everyone else with trite comments like this. For one thing, you can't wipe out someone's troubles with a canned statement about a gospel principle. Healing the hearts of others requires you to get down in the trenches with them, understand their pain, mourn with them, carry their burdens and comfort them.

And though the sender might intend to comfort with their comments, hearing them can actually hurt the receiver quite a bit, especially on days when they may already feel sensitive. The anxiety and discomfort caused by those remarks is a big reason women like me don't want to attend church on Mother's Day.

Church should be a safe, warm, judgment-free place for everyone. So, if you're prone to saying things that could be hurtful -- even if you don't intend to -- take a second to think before you speak. What you can say to someone you suspect might be struggling is, "Hey (insert name here), happy Mother's Day. I hope it hasn't been too difficult for you. I love you and appreciate you." Look them in the eye. Be sincere.

Since my mom first got sick, the one thing that has always brought me comfort is the assurance that people are aware of me and care about me. Be it a simple smile or hug, a text, a call, a thoughtful gift, a treat ... any effort to reach out has given me strength and mended my heart in some way.

I also appreciate when people acknowledge how sad it is that my mom's not here. It shows that they see my pain and they aren't trying to dismiss it. It also helps me process the loss. Yes, bringing it up is actually healing for me.

I don't want to forget my mom, and I don't want anyone else to forget her. When I saw Coco for the first time, I sobbed pretty violently at the end -- not because it was so beautiful, but because of how tragic it is when people are forgotten in death. Hearing others talk of my mom reassures me that her memory will live on. I have heard others who have lost children or other close loved ones express the same. They cherish those tokens of remembrance that others give them.

I don't think Mother's Day will ever be easy for me again. But, I do look forward to remembering my mom on that day, as well as spending time with my own precious children and reflecting on my Mother in Heaven.

Just remember -- Mother's Day can be hard for some people. Give hugs and say kind words. Share a memory with them. Those are the best gifts.

(And also, treats and sleep.)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

On choosing compassion.

Photo credit

As a youth, I was very sensitive to others' needs. If I saw someone with a disability or a health issue, or a homeless person, it would bring me to tears. I couldn't bear the thought of people or animals suffering. I cried, a lot, and it didn't take much to get the waterworks going. I shied away from arguments. Simply existing was exhausting for me because I felt EVERYTHING on such a grand scale.

Somewhere along the line, I became convinced I needed to shut that down and toughen up. I believed logic is king and anything else is heresy. I felt ashamed of my emotional vulnerability, and I trained myself to perceive the world logically, tuning out any emotional components. If people were suffering, it was sad, but I believed was ultimately their fault. I would readily engage in civic discussions, but only to defend my positions, not to actually hear what others had to say. I viewed anyone who disagreed with me as an enemy to the cause of freedom.

But, I was born an empath, and living this way was taxing on my tender heart. I hated how I felt when people seemed hurt by my assertions, or when rude comments crossed my path. But in response to my discomfort, I continually chose to close myself off to any sort of emotion. Disregard. Ignore. Unfriend. Block. Don't you dare cry, I admonished myself.

As I married and had children, I found this cold approach contradicted the sensitive compassion the roles of spouse and parent required of me, and it also contradicted my faith. I believed the Savior wanted us to love our neighbor, and I believed charity was God's ultimate commandment. But, my heart was hardened, and I couldn't make it soft again.

And then, my mom died.

Her death changed me in so many ways, but the best way was that it gave me back my empathy. It once again allowed me to "mourn with those that mourn." I've stopped trying to hold back my tears. I've warmed up again to showing and receiving affection. I no longer care about being right.

I care about being compassionate.

Two weeks ago, on Valentine's Day, my nephew Austin was in a regular day of class when a shooter entered his school and ruthlessly took the lives of 17, including four of his close friends and his coach/teacher. It has been absolutely devastating for him, as you can expect. The press is focusing on those who are channeling their grief into revolution -- which is commendable -- but so many students from Stoneman Douglas High are suffering privately in the aftermath of this tragedy, and Austin is one of them.

Every student, teacher, administrator and staff member at that school lost people to whom they were close on February 14. Parents and siblings of the victims didn't get the chance to embrace them or say "I love you" one last time before the ammunition ripped through the victims' bodies and ended their lives.

Yet, if you take a quick glimpse at the comments on various news articles and social media outlets, you'll see many who seem to have forgotten that REAL PEOPLE are in the worst kind of pain imaginable because of this senseless horror. Instead, they are hellbent on defending their positions -- even to the point of insulting those who disagree and callously questioning the credibility of the outspoken victims. It's ugly and heartbreaking.

Politics should act as guiding principles in civil matters. I do believe it's important to know where you stand on the issues and why you stand there. Yet too often, we hide behind our political philosophies, or even wield them as weapons. The become the end and not just a means to it. We insist our way is the smartest way, the only way for our country to be successful. And we completely throw compassion to the wind.

Logic is not king. Love is.

Yes, logic is important to a well-functioning society. We should learn to think rationally and not allow our emotions to totally run the show. But God gave us emotions so that we could connect with one another. As His children, we are all spiritually related, but we forget this. Our anger and determination to best each other extinguishes any inkling of the innate compassion we hold in our hearts. Emotion has a place in reconnecting us to one another; it allows us to truly "see" each other and to put our hard-line stances aside to work together.

As I have allowed kindness to guide my political beliefs, some of my positions on matters have migrated toward the center. For instance, I no longer believe guns should be completely unregulated. I do not support a total ban on guns, but I advocate regulative measures such as the taxation of weapons and ammunition, a higher legal age requirement for the purchase of weapons and ammunition, and proper training and licensing. This shift in my beliefs has come as I have realized the unencumbered right to bear whatever arms and as many arms as you want at whatever age or mental capacity is not as important as the right to life and safety.

As I've softened on my political stances, allowing my empathetic side to appropriately weigh in, I've actually become more confident in my convictions. I no longer feel the need to bend to a specific party's platform or ideals. I have taken a reasonable approach, and it's no longer tiring to engage in discussions about what I believe. Yes, I still support a system of limited government, and I believe in the science of economics. But I acknowledge kindness needs a place at the table, too. Without it, we just aren't human.

I imagine how different the world would be if we could all come together at times like these, put our differences aside and work towards something bigger than all of us. The scriptures tell of how the people of Enoch attained this state: "And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. (Moses 7:18)" I look around and see how broken we are, and I wonder if achieving Zion is even possible today. I actually believe it is, but it would require us ALL to cast aside our pride and embrace our compassion for one another. We'd need to fully see each other, spirit to spirit.

At the end of my life, I don't want to be known for being RIGHT all the time. I want to be like my mom, who people always remember as kind and giving. Yes, she had her beliefs, and she was strong in them. But she followed the Savior's example and let love lead the way. And though I am still heartbroken to have lost her, I am grateful that her death has reminded me I can, too.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mom cooks: seashell soup

Well, I told you all I was going to cook more in this the Year of our Lord 2018, and ... I know it's only been 25 days since the 1st, but I'll have you know I've actually done really well with this resolution so far! We've only eaten out maybe three times, and I've even tried some new recipes. 

Please applaud my success.

Thank you.

If you're in the "I want to cook more but I need easy, fool-proof recipes HALP" camp, I'm sharing one of my favorites today -- seashell soup. My mom often made a very similar soup when I was young, especially on cold and dreary days. You call it "seashell soup" to get kids to eat it, and then the name sticks, and you just keep calling it that until you're old and gray. At least, I plan to.

Let's just cut to the chase, shall we?


Seashell Soup
1 lb ground beef or turkey
1/4 c. onion, roughly chopped
3 tsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 32 oz carton beef broth + 1 c. water
1 can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can corn, drained (or 1 1/2 c. frozen corn)
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 medium potatoes, diced
1 lb small shell pasta
2 tsp dried parsley flakes
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Sautee meat, onions and garlic until well browned. Drain, and set aside.

In a large stockpot, combine all remaining ingredients except for the shells. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Add meat, onions and garlic. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add shells and simmer for an additional 5 - 10 minutes (or until shells are just soft).

PRO-TIPS:

I chop my onions real big so my picky eaters can take them out if they want. You could also use onion powder to avoid complaints, but as to how much? Your guess is as good as mine.

I dice the potatoes and carrots fairly small so they cook faster (though this photo is deceiving, cuz that carrot looks GIMONGOUS). Also, I use Yukon gold potatoes so I don't have to peel them.

Could you do this in an Instant Pot? Probably, but I have yet to try. Will report back if I ever do.

The leftovers of this soup tend to soak up all the water and it turns into a (delicious) goulash. If you don't like goulash and want actual soup goshdangit, just add some water back to it before reheating and it's good as new!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

365.

365 days
without you here.
It happened in the winter --
cold
dark
and sad.
The sky was crying
the day we put your body in the ground.
I slowly trudged to spring,
trying to remember
who I was
before we lost you.
(It's all a blur)
Then, summer came --
that reliable, blistering Arizona heat.
You used to say
"It's better than being cold"
(it is)
The warmth seemed to thaw me out
and recollect some parts of me
that froze when you died.
As the days grew shorter again
and the morning air
chilled,
the days
and weeks
turned into months;
the fear of forgetting loomed.
(it still does)
Fear of forgetting
your voice, your smile, your laugh.
I keep an old kitchen towel
you once bought for me,
stained and worn,
because it reminds me of you.
Now it is winter again,
and on this 365th day without you,
the sky cried again
and so did I.
But just the thought of seeing you again someday
makes tomorrow
more bearable.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New Year's Resolution: cook more, eat out less!

This post contains affiliate links. All prices subject to change.

When I was first embracing stay-at-home parenthood, I LOVED to cook! I was eager to try all the recipes my mom had made before and enjoyed looking up new ones, too. I was keen on using fresh ingredients and a variety of flavors and textures. I even made my own bread for several months after Carson was born!

Then, the kids got older, and this mom got busier. Still, I would find it within myself to cook at least five nights a week, even if it was something simple. I was bound and determined to save money and keep our family healthy.

Well, the combination of suffering from depression/anxiety related to the death of my mother and getting a new part-time job playing piano for a high school choral program made 2017 the Year of Taco Bell 'round these parts. Every day around 4:00 in the afternoon, I would run into a massive brick wall of fatigue accompanied by a headache and joint pain, and cooking was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. So, take-out was the answer.

At first, I considered eating out as a form of self-care -- I was grieving and needed to be gentle with myself! And yes, that was true, but eating fast food on a regular basis is NOT self-care. In fact, it was making me feel worse. And my family was suffering, too. My kids stopped enjoying fruits and vegetables as much as they had before.

So this year, I am resolving to cook MORE and eat out LESS, and I am inviting you to join me!


Now, I'm not going to assign any specific requirements to this resolution here on the blog, because everyone is different. It's up to you to determine the details of your own cooking goals. But, allow me to offer some suggestions -- things that have encouraged me to cook for my family more often instead of relying on the nearest fast food chain for dinner.

1) Plan your meals. Have you ever decided you'd like to make dinner, only to realize all you have in your pantry is a half-rotten potato and can of soup? Yeah, we've all been there! Success in regular meal-making requires you begin with the end in mind. Write the meals you want to cook on the calendar, make a list of the ingredients you need to purchase for each meal and add it to your weekly shopping list. Or, if you'd rather use the power of technology, there are TONS of apps designed to help with meal planning! Try Yummly, MealPlan or Pepper Plate.

2) Ease into full-time meal preparation with 'hybrid meals.' You don't want to eat out so frequently, but you also aren't quite read to jump into from-scratch Martha Stewart mode just yet. Understandable! Luckily, there are a lot of options to help you prepare a meal so you don't have to do all the work. For example, you can buy a rotisserie chicken from the store, but make your side dishes at home. Or, do the reverse -- make the lasagna yourself, but buy a loaf of sliced French bread and a bag of salad to go with it.

There are also meal kits you can use. My favorites are the Street Kitchen Scratch Kits which you can get at Walmart for under $3! They basically come with all the spices and sauces you need to make various ethnic foods (curry, stir fry, Korean barbeque, etc.) -- you provide the meat and anything that accompanies the dish, such as rice. The package tells you what is included and what you need. It's simple and YUMMY! We are big fans around here.

3). Use a slow cooker or Instant Pot. I recently mentioned I got an Instant Pot on Black Friday, and boy, has it really helped me out! So far, I've made pasta, rice, chicken and a tri-tip roast in my Instant Pot. Because it's a pressure cooker, it cooks food VERY quickly -- the tri-tip went from raw to beautifully cooked in under an hour! It's so efficient and the food turns out wonderfully.


The Instant Pot also has a slow-cooker function, but if you don't already have an Instant Pot, you can use a good ol' Crock Pot instead! Put your meal in the pot in the morning, forget about it, and have it ready to eat by dinnertime. A time-tested cooking method for the busy parent!

4) Enlist the help of your family. Making an entire meal is a daunting task, but many hands make light work.

My friend Tiffany at A Family Team is an amazing example of this. She teaches her children from a very young age how to cut produce, make meatballs and do all sorts of grown-up tasks around the kitchen so she never has to cook alone. And as a wonderful bonus benefit, she gets to spend that time bonding with her kids!

Image via: A Family Team blog

On both her blog and YouTube channel, Tiffany offers tons of suggestions for teaching kids to safely complete various kitchen tasks, and she also has a lot of family-friendly recipes to try. Additionally, she talks a lot about grief because she delivered two stillborn babies during 2017. She has been such an example to me of how to persevere through the sorrow of loss while also being kind and gentle with yourself. I am so grateful to call her my friend!

So, what will your 2018 cooking goal look like? Perhaps it will be to eat out only once a week. Maybe you will resolve to use more fresh ingredients in your cooking, or more whole grains. Or, you could resolve to learn one new recipe every month! Share your ideas in the comments.

Thanks for joining this New Year's Resolution Blog Tour, hosted by Cheryl at GraceFull Parenting! Be sure to follow the link to her blog for more goal ideas from other bloggers. Happy new year!