Bittersweet

Six months without posting to my blog … I wish I could say I have just been too busy making shiny, happy memories with our new son, Teddy. While these past months have been filled with many beautiful moments, they have also been tremendously difficult.

My son was born the day before my father turned 50 years old.

IMG_1815

My father holding Teddy.

One month later, we were on a plane to Chicago for my beloved grandfather’s funeral. A month after that, my father was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer.

Your life can change in an instant. A cancer diagnosis is terrifying and forces you to face the mortality of a loved one. For me, it was impossible to even entertain the idea of a future without my sweet daddy in it.

270862_556756544718_115863152_n

From the very beginning we were doggedly optimistic. They had caught the cancer early and started dad on chemo right away. During his treatments, we looked for many ways to keep up dad’s spirits (and our own). We asked family and friends to send cards and gifts, to share favorite memories and photographs — anything to let dad know how dearly he is loved.

I started a campaign called Operation Johnny 5 and asked people to wear bowties or fake mustaches in support of dad.

10553882_643846760228_7241203618378403306_o

Image

Our eyes were set on a CT scan in January, which would reveal if the chemo had worked, and we were stubbornly and fiercely optimistic. Dad’s blood work looked good; his cancer markers were low. Everything seemed to point towards a positive outcome. We went into the holiday season full of hope!

Just before Christmas, my sister got engaged. Another wonderful reason to celebrate. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were busy with multiple family celebrations, car trips back and forth, and presents galore. We tried to make the most of every moment, acknowledging reluctantly that it could be our last Christmas with dad. We made so many special memories, but even our best moments were tainted by the debilitating effects of the chemo on dad.

1973239_10152959998855699_3455239056712646568_o

We looked to 2015 with hearts so hungry for good news. When we found out that dad’s tumors had grown and the cancer had spread, it was devastating. We pushed forward immediately to a new kind of chemo, trying to rally hope again, but our momentum was derailed quickly.

While on a business trip to Charlotte, Dad took a turn for the worse. After vomiting blood, he was admitted to the hospital where it was discovered that an important vein had been blocked by the tumors. An emergency stent procedure was required to prevent a rupture that would cause him to bleed to death.

I spent three days in a hospital room with my dad, mom, and sister. We clung to each other, trying our best to grapple with this sudden brush with death. The procedure was a success. Our family and friends, near and far, let out a collective sigh of relief. Dad and mom were even able to leave the hospital in time to celebrate their 28th wedding anniversary … with a pizza picnic on my living room floor since they were too tired to make the drive home in one trip.

These were small victories but desperately needed.

Dad was able to have another chemo treatment, but that next week he was back in the hospital for severe dehydration and jaundice. Another week later, he was in the hospital again for severe pain. That was when the doctors confirmed our worst fears: the cancer was progressing aggressively. There were no longer any medical options to save his life. All they could do was keep him comfortable and give him more time.

It was Valentine’s Day weekend. They told us to prepare for 4-6 weeks. How can you possibly prepare to say goodbye in such a short amount of time? You can’t.

In the midst of our heartbreak, life goes on. Jobs and household tasks still need to be done. Bills must be paid. It all seems so mundane and pointless: the charade of pretending to be a functioning human being when you are falling apart inside.

Coming to terms with this tragedy was hard enough, but watching my mother’s anxiety about the numerous financial mountains she will face after my father’s death and even now during his last weeks has been unbearable. Even worse is seeing the heartbreak in my father at leaving her in that position.

My parents always put others first. For 15 years, my father volunteered as a volleyball coach. They put me and my sister through private school and contributed generously towards our college educations. Three years ago, they helped pay for our wedding. Then they helped us with the down payment on our house. If anyone ever came to them in need, they helped.

Two years ago, my mother had both her hips replaced, surgeries and rehab that cost them $22,000 out of pocket. All of these sacrifices were made while they were also paying for mom to finally finish her degree so she could pursue her lifelong dream of being an artist.

1559508_10152383174655699_4245171495166569705_o

Mom graduated from college in May 2014, and I have never seen my dad so proud. They thought they had time to build back their reserves and save more for retirement. Little did they know that dad’s cancer was looming in the future and would burden them with over $25,000 in medical bills.

As a fundraiser by profession, I knew I could do something to help. On Sunday, March 8th, I started a website for dad and mom on GiveForward. We raised over $11,000 on the first day. On the second day, we raised $6,000 more. By day three, we had raised 76% of our goal with 136 donations.

Seeing the gifts and heartfelt messages pour in from all over has been overwhelming. It is a testament to the life my parents built and my father’s wonderful ability to touch people’s hearts.

I can’t save my father. I can’t stop this cancer from taking his life. But I can make sure he knows he is loved and that his life was well-lived; and I can remove some of the worry from his heart about my mother’s financial stability after he is gone.

There are going to be good days and bad days. I’m not sure I will ever adjust to the new bittersweet taste of my life. This summer, the excitement of my son’s first birthday will be tempered by the absence of his grandfather, who would have been 51 the next day. In October, my tears will fall in joy and in sorrow when I watch my sister walk down the aisle without our father on her arm.

But today is a good day. Today, I feel less helpless and less broken because I have made a difference in my father’s life and my mother’s future.

My father and mother with my son.

My father and mother with my son.


How You Can Help:

We just found out that our fundraiser has been selected to receive a $500 donation from GiveForward if we reach our goal of $25,000 by midnight on Friday, March 13.

Please try to donate by Friday so we can receive these extra funds! If you have already donated, please share the website with your family, friends, offices, churches, etc. During this difficult journey, we are continually amazed by the kindness of strangers!

DONATE NOW

Share the webpage: http://gfwd.at/1DXiBOa

Advertisements

Chicken Cordon Bleu Crescent Rolls

Sorry for the dry spell, folks! I’ve been busy making a baby and nesting like a maniac. Three weeks until our due date, and my checklist is shrinking. All the showers are over. The nursery is almost done. My hospital bag is packed. We even traded in the hubby’s convertible for a mommy car!

These last few weeks, I’ve been focused on getting ready to be out of work on maternity leave, but I’ve also been trying to mentally prepare for life with Baby Peebles. I know we will be so happy and in love, but we will also be unsure, overwhelmed, stressed, confused, disgusted, sleep deprived … life will be both wonderful and chaotic.

Our priorities, our habits, our schedules – everything will change. How do you prepare for that?

Aside from lots of organizing and simplifying around the house, I have begun collecting easy, quick recipes like this little gem from Mom on Timeout. Finding time to cook will be hard, so simple and fast meals will be needed.

I only tweaked a few things, like using good deli chicken instead of roasting and slicing your own. The recipes has zero mixing, doesn’t dirty up pots or pans, and takes no time to prepare! You could even make them the night before and just pop them in the oven when you get home from work.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
  • 8 slices Swiss cheese
  • 6 slices Boar’s Head Black Forest Ham, cut thin
  • 3 slices Boar’s Head EverRoast Chicken, cut thick
  • Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper

You could use whatever deli brand you prefer; I just love Boar’s Head.

Directions:

(1) Preheat oven to 375°F. While the oven is preheating, lay out the crescent rolls in one large rectangle on a cutting board and press the seams together.

(2) Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and a little salt and pepper. Layer the Swiss cheese, then ham, and finally the chicken. Roll it all up, starting with a long side, and cut into 8 rolls.

Just FYI, in the picture, the chicken slices are straight up and down, but you actually need to angle them so there’s an even amount of chicken in each roll.

Image

(4) Place the rolls in a 9-inch pan, evenly spaced, and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

My hubby’s not big on sauces. Sadly, I am. Oh, the compromises of marriage! 😉 Instead of mixing up honey with Dijon mustard like the original recipe, I just bought some Honey Dijon Mustard at the grocery store. It’s nice the dip the rolls into, but they are equally as delicious without the sauce!

Chicken Cordon Bleu Crescent Rolls

Chicken Cordon Bleu Crescent Rolls

I’m a big fan of cooking to have leftovers for lunches, so I doubled up the recipe. Most packages of sliced cheese have 12 or more slices, so just get two cans of crescent rolls and ask the deli for 1/2 pound of chicken and 1/2 pound of ham.

¡Pura Vida!

I know this is a detour from my normal content, but I just have to share this blog from a group of Columbia College students who are traveling in Costa Rica right now. I backpacked across Costa Rica when I was a student at CC, so I’m thrilled to read about these young ladies!

I’m always amazed how bits and pieces of our past and present can intersect. Thanks especially to the sense of sisterhood at my alma mater, I feel connected to these girls and proud of them. Leaving your comfort zone and experiencing the great, big world takes courage, and it is a journey that will change you forever … which brings to mind one of my favorite quotes on travel:

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Mary Ritter Beard

My trip to Costa Rica made a big impact on me … mentally and physically! I carry a reminder of what I learned there in the form of a tattoo: Pura Vida. It means “pure life” and is a popular saying in that country. I could write an entire blog post about the natural beauty I saw or the kindness and warmth of the people I met, but for now I just want to wish these young women a beautiful and transformational adventure. Pura Vida, Koalas!

Learn more about Columbia College at http://www.columbiasc.edu.

koalastocostarica2014

The boat ride was amazing, and it led to the most incredible little hotel tucked away in the depths of the rain forest. The shade provides a nice break from the heat and the trees are home to howler monkeys and more sloths!

A three-toed sloth! A three-toed sloth!

After checking into the rooms and a bit of pool time, we took a boat again to the town of Tortuguero, which is full of fascinating history. We learned about the work being done to conserve the sea turtle, and Columbia College adopted a sea turtle!

Our adopted sea turtle! Our adopted sea turtle!

The town of Tortuguero is gorgeous and friendly. The people were nice, the stores were interesting, and there were so many precious dogs running around. There are no cars allowed in the town, so it was lovely to meander from store to store without traffic to bother us.

We were also able to visit…

View original post 85 more words

Creamy Garlic Pasta with Chicken

Just a quickie post!

I’ve had this recipe from The Cheese Pusher pinned for a long time but haven’t gotten around to trying it. Well, I finally had the perfect opportunity last week: our semi-regular Sunday dinners with my husband’s brother, wife, and wonderful daughter!

I needed something easy and something cheesy because everyone loves cheese. 🙂 The original recipe is pretty much perfect; I didn’t change a thing, other than using fettuccine noodles and cooking up some cubed chicken in a skillet with butter, garlic, and poultry seasoning.

Obviously, it was delicious because I’ve made it again already!

Creamy Garlic Pasta with Chicken

Creamy Garlic Pasta with Chicken

 

Enough

Five years ago, I was a senior at Columbia College, frantically searching for a “big girl” job before graduation and terrified that no one would ever give me a chance to prove myself. Come graduation, I still had no job offers. Amidst all the excitement of celebrating my achievement with family and friends, I was burdened with this awful feeling of inadequacy.

Luckily, the commencement speakers for my graduation were famous author Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor, also an author and a CC alum. They challenged us to “find our fire” and pursue our passions instead of a paycheck, and it filled me with such inspiration and buoyant hope! Truly, those words became the mantra that got me through the following six months of job-hunting and unemployment.

Now, just weeks away from my five-year reunion, I am gainfully employed at my alma mater and pretty darn good at my job. In so many ways, my work does kindle my fire but I cannot say for sure that I have met their challenge. Am I pursuing my passion? Or am I settling for a paycheck?

It is exhausting to try and answer these types of black and white philosophical questions. Life is always more complicated, more muddled in shades of gray. Most days, I would say I am floating somewhere in the middle: I am fulfilled by my work, even if my work is not fulfilling my life’s purpose.

I suppose it’s a happy medium, but even as I type that last sentence, the little fire inside of me grumbles with ambition. Already, my personal expectations are mutating into a six-armed wonder mom/wife/daughter/sister/friend/super-successful-professional. How do you even begin to balance the urgency of living with the pursuit of your life’s calling?

Thankfully, Sue Monk Kidd has given me a new mantra for this next stage of my life, via an interview with Oprah:

“We have to acknowledge sometimes that this moment is enough, this place is enough, I am enough … and if I never seek another thing, it’s enough. It grounds us in our own being. It grounds us in home.”

Ain’t it funny how three little words can hit you like a brick wall?

I am enough.

Lasagna Roll Ups

When it comes to food, pregnancy makes you fickle. When I pinned a recipe for Chicken & Bacon Lasagna Roll Ups, I fully intended to make this dish as soon as possible and devour every last bite … until we were grocery shopping for the ingredients, and it suddenly sounded awful to me.

No biggie. I decided to just make regular lasagna instead. The problem is when I make lasagna, there are enough leftovers to feed a family of five for an entire week. And right now, we’re sitting pretty at two and a half Peebles, if you count the kiddo I’m making as we speak.

So, I improvised! What I liked about the original roll up recipe was the smaller portions, using only 8 lasagna noodles, instead of a whole box. I know there are plenty of recipes out there for lasagna roll ups, but I’m glad I worked from the SimplyGloria version because my new creation turned out so delicious!

Main Ingredients

  • 10 lasagna noodles
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cups spaghetti sauce (make it or buy it, as you prefer)

Filling

  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon parsley
  • salt and pepper, to taste

My Go-To Spaghetti Sauce

  • 15 oz organic tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup champagne
  • 1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Start a large pot of water boiling and add 1 tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking together. Add the pasta noodles and cook for 8 minutes (about 2 minutes less than the directions).

(2) In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together for the filling. Easy-peasy. By the way, I really love how the sour cream pairs with the ricotta! Set aside.

(3) Start making your spaghetti sauce. For my recipe, you literally just dump everything in a saucepan and warm on medium heat for about 5 minutes. When the sauce is done, pour about half of it into the bottom of a baking dish.

(4) In a skillet, cook up the sweet Italian sausage, breaking into small pieces. Make sure to drain off the excess fat. I usually also take a paper towel and dab off as much residual grease as I can. Set aside.

(5) When the pasta is done, drain and lay flat onto cutting board. Use paper towels to dry off excess water. I found I could get 5 noodles on one board and get all the rolls done in two batches.

(6) Divide and spread the filling onto the cooked pasta evenly. Add the sweet Italian sausage onto each noodle. Roll the noodles jelly-roll style and add to the baking dish, seam side down. I make two columns with five noodles in each. It’s a tight fit, but try putting the rolls open-end to open-end so the filling doesn’t spill out.

Lasagna Roll Ups

The filling.

How to arrange your roll ups.

How to arrange your roll ups.

(7) Cover the rolls with the remaining sauce. Then sprinkle the entire thing with mozzarella cheese and throw it into the oven for about 30 minutes. Let the roll ups sit for about 5 minutes after they’re done.

Lasagna Roll Ups

Lasagna Roll Ups

I think these Lasagna Roll Ups are being added to the Big Red Cookbook as a family favorite. The hubby really loves this recipe, and I really love not having to eat lasagna for two weeks. Sometimes pregnancy symptoms work out in your favor! 🙂