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Ice Blocks and Luminaries

We are having so much fun with ice this winter! We have made ice blocks for building and luminaries for lighting!

Ice blocks are super easy and quick! You can basically use whatever you have on hand that has wells in it. We have used ice cube trays, muffin tins, yogurt containers, plastic freezer jam jars, and even plastic egg cartons to make a variety of shapes!

I placed all of the filled containers on the back deck and let them freeze. Then popped all the blocks out and divided them among the kids.

The kids had such a fun time playing with them (while it was cold enough to keep them frozen). I gave them each a sprayer of water to help them with their building. Simply build, then spritz with water. When it’s cold enough (close to 0°F), the spritzed water will instantly freeze the blocks together!

We’ll definitely be doing this if it gets super cold again this winter!

Ice luminaries are just as fun, they just can’t be played with!

We have saved all of our Costco size yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, and dishwasher tablet containers to use for these creations.

These are also very simple to make. In temperatures between 20° and 30°F these size containers will need to freeze for around 10-12 hours outdoors. Sit containers on a flat surface (we use our back deck), fill with water to just below rim, and allow to freeze. I typically do these before going to bed if the temperature won’t drop too low during the night. They’re ready about 8am when I do it this way.

Bring them in, invert the container in the sink, and run water over it to loosen the ice block so it slips out of the container. Once it has fallen out, the bottom (the part that’s actually facing you now) should be still slightly unfrozen and there should be water sloshing inside. Chip through that thin layer of ice, then pour all the water out.

That’s it! Your luminary should be hollow now.

Place the luminary outside and put a candle in it**! Now it’s ready for lighting once it’s dark outside!

If it isn’t super cold, the heat from the candles will eventually melt down the walls of the luminaries meaning you’ll need to stop using it so it doesn’t cause a fire, but the great thing is, it’s very easy to make more!

**Be sure your luminary is in a place where it won’t be knocked over or children won’t bother it. We like to put ours on the front porch and steps!

Eli’s 4 month post-op update

If you’ve only been reading here for the last year or two, you probably think I really don’t write about anything other than cancer… In reality, I had taken a break from blogging for the two years prior to having been diagnosed with breast cancer, but before that, I posted fairly consistently. The tag line on this blog is “Finding the joy in homemaking, in a natural, simple, Christ centered way” for a reason. Those are my top priorities in life. Christ, family, homeschool, and natural living are the things I focus on in my daily life. Those four areas are multi-faceted, but they encompass most of what my life is centered around.

Having dealt with cancer left me really only able to focus on that during those months. I’m happy to be past that very intense phase of my life, and though I do deal with some things that are simply things I’ll be dealing with for many years to come, I have the ability to focus on all the other things in my lie that matter. I do plan to continue posting here. It won’t be at the near daily frequency it once was, but I’ll definitely be around. And this here place I reside on the interwebz will be getting a little facelift pretty soon, too!

Anyway, back to the actual title of the post.

In September Eli had a fairly major surgery on his leg and it’s time for an update.

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The surgery went very well and he was discharged a few hours later. He had a very rough first day with pain being absolutely out of control. He’s SUPER tough and for him to be in as much pain as he was was torture to my mama heart. With the help of his surgeon, pain meds, and our beloved essential oils we were able to get him leveled out after about 24 hours and he progressed very well afterward.  He was such a sweet patient!

He needed nearly a solid week on the couch, with the exception of necessary outings, to get to a point where he had enough strength and control over the crutches to be able to get around without giving me mini heart attacks every time he moved! With the help of his beloved physical therapist, Mrs. Carrie, he has regained full mobility and strength in his leg and has been back to all of his normal activities for more than a month now.

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This is a close up of his hardware just after it was placed during surgery.

As of early December, Eli’s right leg has grown 2mm and his left leg has done exactly what it was suppose to do and hasn’t grown any! I know 2mm doesn’t seem like a lot, but it it really is a good sign!

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The goal is to make up between 4 and 5cm over the next couple of years. That’s 40-50mm, so 2mm is definitely something worth counting!!

Among the physical anomalies the growth will correct is his need for a passive stretching brace.

For the last 5 years, Eli has worn a brace to sleep about 50% of nights. He has dealt with a very tight Achilles on his right side due to the way he walks as a result the overgrowth on his left side. He has been in physical therapy for this (along with the torticollis he was also born with) since he was 4 months old. The Achilles has to be continually stretched and manipulated through PT and home exercise to enable it to stay loose enough for him to stand flat on his right foot.

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These are all of the braces he has worn over the years. We will pick up his newest (and hopefully last ever) brace tomorrow. As I was adding that bottom one, the one he’s just outgrown, to the group for his keepsake box today, we spent a few minutes reminiscing about these braces. We talked about how much he’s gown and changed since that first brace with his tiny 4 year old foot, how his color choices haven’t really changed much over the years (though his new brace will be quite different!), and how he really dislikes wearing the thing!

He has another two months before he needs to go back to PT and a 5 month break before he has to go back for another orthopedic checkup so I’ll update you again in June!

One Year of Hair Growth

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It’s really pretty incredible the capabilities God gave our bodies.

A year ago I couldn’t have really predicted what state my hair would be in at this point. But here I am exactly one year later and I have very curly hair that is quite a bit darker than it ever has been before.

I have yet to need a haircut, but have done a lot of research on who will cut my hair when I finally do get to that stage.

I began using the curly girl method for taking care of my hair as soon as I realized it was going to be curly and have really enjoyed this method. If you have curly hair and struggle with it, I definitely recommend starting with the book “Curly Girl: The Handbook.” The book is very well written and easy to follow. The authors, give us an up close view of each different type of curl (yes, there are several) and the methods to which each responds best. The biggest changes curly girls usually need to make are ditching conventional shampoos and conditioners, in favor of those that are natural and do not contain any non-water soluble ingredients, switching to a non-terry cloth type towel (I actually use an old athletic shirt), and no straightening.  My scalp and hair haven’t had a drop of shampoo or conventional conditioner on them since I lost my hair to the effects of chemo 14 months ago. My new hair is healthy and I can tell! I am learning to really embrace this new me.

I guess since this new hair is probably here to stay, I should update my avatars all over the internet at some point!

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Short, curly hair is actually a bit deceptive. It’s quite a bit longer and fuller than it appears. I tried to capture some of that in these photos. The bulk of my hair is actually about 5 inches in length when curls are uncoiled from my scalp!

The status of my eyebrows is a sad affair, though. I really think they are about at their max for returning, but they’re not what they use to be. Still quite thin and so light in color they they are almost unnoticeable. So, unless that changes, they get painted on (it’s actually just eye shadow!) everyday.

My eyelashes seem to also be about at their max, but they’ve come back in fairly well. I’m happy to just throw some mascara on my natural lashes now and not have to take time to apply false lashes.

I am so incredibly thankful that I no longer look sick. I think that was one of the hardest parts of this battle I’ve been fighting, looking like I had cancer even on the days I didn’t feel like I had cancer.

One Year Later - A Mastectomy Journey, Part 3

If you’re just coming into this series, you’ll want to read Part 1 and Part 2 before coming back here for today’s post.

Reconstruction:

I have a couple of options for reconstruction, an implant or a flap procedure, but to be honest, I find it incredibly difficult to make a decision on this. I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t want an implant, but would go with a DIEP FLAP reconstruction.

There are pros and cons to both of these, but personally, I feel like the balance leans toward the flap procedure for me. They are both a multiple surgery process, but the long term risk analysis leads me to the flap procedure, even thought it’s a much more major undertaking.

No matter what I decide, I will not have my reconstruction done in Alaska. That is one of the reasons I am not in a big hurry to get the ball rolling on it. I’ve done some preliminary research and found four surgeons in the Florida panhandle (where my family lives) who perform this procedure and come with high recommendations and success rates. However, I’m not ready to commit to being away for a few months with Michael having to fly back and forth for surgeries. That’s too much time apart, quite a large financial commitment, and emotionally draining.

We are hoping to learn something at the end of this year about where we might be stationed next. That information could be a catalyst in helping me decide what to do and where to do it. If we find out that we will be moving to a major city in the lower 48 or even in Europe, that would give me further research opportunities.

What I really want you to take away from this mini-series is this – just because my hair is growing back and I’m no longer receiving intense treatments, doesn’t mean my battle is over.

There are a couple other things I want you to know.

The most important is that I serve a mighty God. He does exceedingly more than I could ever come up with on my own. He has this entire thing in His hands. I have admitted sometimes having difficulties trusting His plan, but that’s mostly because I don’t know what it is. But, I’m not sure I would want to know what it is, if given the opportunity. I think knowing the plan would be a bit like spoiling a really great surprise. I don’t know why I have had to battle these things. It could be to change my heart, to help another fighter, for my childrens’ sake, to help a family member’s faith, to spread Christ’s love even further than I could have otherwise, or any number of things I’m not smart enough to even think of. But I do know that in the end, all will be well and exactly as it should be.

This last thing cannot be skipped over and also deserves a prominent place here in writing. My dear husband, Michael, plainly put, is a hero. All the nice words in the world could not do justice to the support he has been – not just this past year, but for the entirety of the time we have loved each other, which is 17 years! This past year has been the hardest year we have faced together and he has been a rock star. Michael has endured more than his fair share of my bad attitude and steroid rages. He has held me while I cried, and stayed up late as I needed to talk about just one more thing. Michael has also mostly suffered in silence in my presence. He had the wisdom to see that I needed him to carry me through this storm, and protect me from some junk. He did all this while working (though we are blessed that he was able to work at home much of the time), completing the last couple of classes and earning his Bachelor’s degree, being mostly responsible for the kids, homeschool, and the house, and shining a light into our lives that we were not capable of seeing on our own.

Michael, I love you and could not do this life without you.

 

 

One Year Later - A Mastectomy Journey, Part 2

This is the second post in a three part series. You can find Part 1 here.

Scars – they are not just physical, there are many emotional scars when you have been through a major, life changing illness such as cancer.

The obvious physical changes were/are pretty drastic. But the emotional things you don’t see are even more drastic.

For many weeks after the mastectomy, I couldn’t look at my scars or chest without nearly vomiting. It seriously made me feel ill. I still don’t look at that area more than I need to, or when I shower. If I think too much about it (right now as I’m typing this), I am still affected.

Warning: I’m about to talk about my under garments!

To appear ‘normal’, I wear a prosthesis. Yes, there really is such a thing. Beyond outward appearances (and the confidence it gives me to not be gawked at), there isn’t much that’s natural about this prosthesis. It’s silicone and made to feel as close to the real thing as possible, but it is not the real thing. It requires a special bra with a pocket in the cup to hold the prosthesis in place. It’s moderately uncomfortable after a long day’s wear. It has no sensation – meaning, unless I can feel the pressure on my skin beneath, I don’t recognize when I’ve bumped up against something or I’m squashing it/myself (that might be a hard to follow scenario, if you’re not a woman!). On days when I won’t be out in public, I don’t always wear a prosthesis, but even that requires a different bra. A simple pull over stretchy bra works well for those days.

Things that should be simple no brainers, aren’t. Recently, I was planning to lap swim while my children were all in their swim classes, however, my locker room anxiety got the best of me. Swimming requires a different prosthesis that is safe for fresh water, salt water, and chemically treated pool water. Then there’s also a special swimsuit that is made with pockets to hold the prosthesis. It’s no fun to drive home in the cold with a wet swimsuit on and even though I’ve done it a few times over the recent months, changing in the locker room is quite stressful. Especially if it’s at a busy time and the two privacy stalls are occupied.

Exercising also has its differences. I wear the same prosthesis for swimming and exercising, but a special sports bra is required.

Also, just as an added anxiety inducing bonus, my insurance will only cover these items in lieu of a reconstruction. How ridiculous is that? Basically they are saying they will pay a few hundred dollars every couple of years for medical equipment (prostheses and bras) OR I can have a reconstruction (including follow ups, touch ups, fix ups, making the other breast match, etc.) that could cost $100k+. Since I haven’t decided if I’m going to have a reconstruction (thankfully there’s no statute of limitations on that), I’ve decided to pay for these items out of pocket and not risk losing my reconstruction over it. I doubt they’ll reimburse me down the road if I decide not to have a reconstruction and so far I’ve probably spent $500+ in bras and prostheses.

Other things you may not know about my mastectomy:

I had a skin sparing simple mastectomy. My breast tissue, areola, nipple, some of my skin, and two lymph nodes were removed. I have one large and one small scar from that surgery. Since it was skin sparing, I also have extra skin, leaving it looking lumpy and wrinkly, rather than smooth. As with any surgical scar, the skin in the area had no sensation for many months. In the last few months, I have regained a bit of skin sensation, some pectoral muscle, and chest wall sensation. This sensation is very different and strange, though. Leaving me even still hesitant with the area. I don’t even like to touch it because of the way it feels when I do. I can definitely feel pressure, but since most of my nerve endings are gone, it’s so very different.

I also had two drains that stayed in for 10 days. Those drains had to be emptied several times a day. There are two small scars high on my side left by those drains.

Due to having lymph nodes removed, even thought it was only two, I am at increased risk for lymphedema – for which there is no cure. In an effort to combat this risk, I can have no IVs, blood draws, or blood pressure taken on my left arm. I wear a {pretty} medical alert bracelet that says “Left arm: No IVs, blood draws, or BPs” it also has my husband’s contact number on it. I have two alert tags, one on a plain stainless bracelet that can be worn at all times, and another interchangeable one that can go on specially made pretty bracelets.

Some of my favorite clothes just don’t work anymore. I know it’s probably not as obvious to others as it is to me, but I do want to feel comfortable and not self conscious in my clothing. It has been necessary for me to buy some new clothing, but that’s also a bit stressful.

To be continued . . .

One Year Later - A Mastectomy Journey, Part 1

This post has been difficult for me to write. I have written, deleted, re-written, shifted text around, started over, and then some. It still isn’t completely well put together, so I would appreciate if you would follow my rabbit trails. I really feel like these things need to be said.

I have struggled with some pretty [...]

9 Months of Hair Growth

Eli's Growth Plates

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One Year Ago

One year ago today, my life was forever changed by words no one ever imagines they’ll hear.

On August 12, 2014, I entered an exam room to receive the pathology results from a biopsy of a tumor in my left breast. A biopsy that had been performed exactly a week prior. As I sat there alone [...]

Seven Months of Hair Growth

Well, I missed getting an updated posted in July. But I have a really good reason!  Our family just returned from 5 weeks away visiting Michael’s family in Australia!

 

We had such a wonderful trip. We were able to spend lots of time with family, attend the weddings of two of Michael’s sisters, do [...]

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