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…And I Could Not Ask For More (An Open Letter To My Child)

 

My Dearest Erin,

Today, you graduated with high honors from middle school.  My heart was aflutter with emotion as I watched you and your friends share in this momentous millisecond in time, rich with the joys of your successes and the excitement for the new paths you will take.  Your father and I and your grandparents and extended family are beyond proud, both of your accomplishments, but, most importantly, of the beautiful young woman you have become.  Your kindness, generosity, spirit, and humor make you a sheer delight to know.  Clearly I am not alone in my belief, as your circle of affection, wide for as many years as I can remember, continues to grow and broaden each year as new people come to know and love you and share their lives and hearts with you as well.

Throughout your entire life, you have never known a challenge to be too great, nor have you ever walked away when the road ahead was uncertain or unstable.  With each new experience, I have marveled at your ability to see the opportunity in adversity and your willingness to take the first steps forward even when the path before you was long or rocky.  I’m so clearly remember a night many years ago when you, determined and focused, tried and tried and tried to get up and down the one big carpeted step leading in to your grandparents’ living room.  Each fall made you only more determined to succeed.  This same determination, courage, and strength typify your life, and it has been such a source of joy for your family to watch as you tackle, seemingly unafraid, every challenge you encounter.  Your road has not always been easy, and this past year presented particular challenges, both to you and to our family.  Yet, you never wavered when the winds grew strong.  You kept working, kept loving.  Your commitment to your studies continued unblemished and, yet again, you finished the academic year with honors bestowed.  Your dedication to performance art and love for the stage shone brightly, with three brilliant performances in three separate plays and numerous musical concerts and a beautiful solo in the school talent show.  You kept your eyes future-focused, your heart open, and your spirit illuminated.  You made new friends, deepened old friendships, stood up for what you believed in, defended those who needed a friend, and illuminated the paths of everyone whose lives you touched.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that you, a fifth grade girl, was starting middle school and leaving behind the familiar and comfortable walls and voices of the only school you had ever known.  And just like that, four years passed by in a heartbeat.  Just like that, my baby isn’t a baby anymore.  She’s a beautiful, courageous, strong, exceptionally kind, talented, beautiful person who has just begun to make her mark on the world.  I am so thrilled for you as you take these next steps in to your future, and can only imagine the joys and successes that await you in the years to come.

I am so honored and proud to be your mother, and sharing in the journey of your life has been the greatest honor and joy of my life.  This afternoon, I heard an old song, “I Could Not Ask For More,” the refrain of which simply and beautifully illustrated everything that I was feeling in my heart:

“And these are the moments,

I thank God that I’m alive.

And these are the moments,

I’ll remember all my life.

I’ve found all I’ve waited for…

…and I could not ask for more.”

My beautiful Erin, thank you so much for the gift of you.  You are the love of my life and I am so, so grateful for you.  God bless you each and every day of your life. 

I love you,

Momma

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The Jennifer Stays In The Picture

“I avoid photographic evidence of my existence these days.”

In 2012, Allison Slater Tate wrote a wonderful piece for the Huffington Post.  The Mom Stays in the Picture tells Allison’s story of feeling less than beautiful and recoiling in horror when her young son asked her to pose with him for a picture at a family event.  The story shows an evolution in her thought processes.  A woman who once cringed at the thought of being photographed because of her supposed imperfections came to realize that, “we really need to make an effort to get in the picture.”  She correctly asserted that our children had the right to have documented proof that we were once alive, and she recalled that in looking at pictures of her own mother, she saw nothing but love and light.  No flaws.  Only beauty.  She went on to say,

“Our sons need to see how young and beautiful and human their mamas were.  Our daughters need to see us vulnerable and open and just being ourselves — women, mamas, people living lives.  Avoiding the camera because we don’t like to see our own pictures? How can that be okay?”

This amazing article had a beautiful yet unintended consequence.  Women from all walks of life and of all shapes and sizes wrote in to confess feeling very similarly about their bodies, and not wanting there to be any tangible or visual documentation indicant of the fact that they had physical imperfections.  They started taking family pictures, and shared those with the Internet community.  What began as a tiny article ballooned into a beautiful notion.  The mom gets in the picture and she stays there.

I remember reading this article when it was first published and being in awe of both Allison and the other courageous women who set aside their own insecurities, even if only for a moment, and took and shared those family photographs and selfies.  I admired their courage, and wished that I too could abandon my own hesitancies about my appearance long enough to walk along their road of courage.  In this day of instant digital imagery and selfies abounding, I found myself absolutely hating any footprint, digital or otherwise, of my appearance.  The thought of anyone seeing proof of my size was just horrifying to me,  Sure, people knew I was heavy.  That’s not a fact that’s easily masked,  But what about the people of my long ago, I wondered.  What if they saw that I was still heavy now, even heavier than I was when I was younger?  What would they think?  What about the people who knew me just before my wedding…who knew that I had lost an extraordinary amount of weight only to put almost every pound back on?  Certainly, I thought, they’d look at me with either contempt or tremendous pity.  It was only recently, just this year actually, that I started feeling a little more comfortable posing for selfies and other funny and goofy photos, but those poses always came with careful planning and sometimes, multiple re-shots to hide a double chin or my large torso or other flaws that so glaringly stood out to me.  These re-shots were sometimes tedious to those sharing the camera lens with me, and they often did not understand why I was so consumed with worry about how the photo looked or how I looked in it.

A family friend is a wonderful photographer, and for the last year, I talked with her about taking family photos and triedtriedandtried to work up the courage to do it.  It’s strange.  I don’t know what I was afraid of, yet I know it distinctly.  What if my weight made me look bad and blemished these mementos?  What if I was an embarrassment to my family by being in them?  What if we posted them online and other people saw with photographic certainty just how heavy I am?  What if, what if, what if?  For many reasons, I swallowed hard and did it.  I committed to the date, I made sure my hair looked pretty(-ish?), and I showed up at the shoot.  I did so because my daughter and her daughters and their daughters deserve proof that I was once alive.  I did so because of the extreme hypocrisy I was demonstrating for my daughter and her friends by telling them how beautiful they were and how they should believe in their own beautiful worthiness when I myself couldn’t echo the same sentiment.  Because I envy the photographic Christmas cards my friends send every year and because I’ve secretly always wanted to do one.  Because my amazing husband and wonderful friends and family tell me that I am beautiful for no reason other than to do so, and surely these people wouldn’t lie to me.  Maybe, just maybe, there is a chance that they see something I don’t.  And maybe, just maybe, that chance weighs more than any fear, any double chin, any fat roll.  So I did it.  We took photos as a family and they are beautiful.  Yes, the photos show that I am heavy, but more than that, they show that I am alive.  My face is alit in joy and love and that joy and love are so clearly illustrated in these beautiful photos.  I posted them on Facebook today, and was thrilled and overwhelmed by the love and kind comments that followed.  Thank you to all of you who sent messages and posted such wonderful comments.  Those of you who know me know that this was a huge step for me, and I am so grateful for your outpouring of support and love.  You sure know how to make a girl feel ten feet tall.  You know, I might just make this family photo thing (and sharing the photos as well) an annual thing.

My right to feel beautiful and happy in my own skin weighs more than any self-doubt I may have.  It certainly weighs more than any ugly or hateful thoughts people have or comments that they may make.

My daughter’s right to have photos of me to share with her children and great-grandchildren weighs even more.

And so, the Jennifer got in the picture.  She’s gonna stay there, too.

(images courtesy Cheryl Singers from Cheryl’s Shutter Photography)

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Sometimes, The Heart Just Hurts

“Accept what is.  Let go of what was.  Have faith in what will be.”

Sometimes, the enormity of the human condition is just too much for me to bear.  Certainly no one likes seeing the suffering of others.  It is unpleasant, unsettling, difficult.  It challenges our collective sense of safety and control and inevitably leads us to thoughts about the potential for our own discomfort and eventual mortality.  For me, though, it’s something different.  Something deeper.  I will admit that for a woman of 41, I have an almost childlike sense of innocence when it comes to the well-being of those I love.  I ache when others hurt.  I always have.  I remember my mother telling me when I was younger that, while admirable and beautiful to love and want good for everyone, I simply didn’t have the power to enact that lofty goal.  God has His plan for us, and it’s our responsibility to believe and trust in that plan.  She told me as well that, sadly, suffering is a very real part of life, and that I should focus on living and living well, loving those around me, and trusting and believing in God.  As a grown woman, wife, and mother, I today worry all the time about the safety and health of the people I love.  I see stories on the news about violence and I want more than anything to lock my loved ones away someplace safe, someplace where harm will never find them and where I can be assured of their continued well-being.  I read stories online about little ones with cancer and I want nothing more than to wrap my arms around my daughter and to hold her.  Certainly, with the loving arms of her mother about her, there is no way that illness could find my daughter.  See?  Childlike innocence.  I know conceptually that I can’t protect the people I love from life and its happenings, but for to pray for them and to be there for them.  But that feels wholly insufficient and so, I continue to worry.  And this?  This is all hypothetical.  This is all “what if?” and “maybe.”  This doesn’t begin to scratch the surface when pain and suffering actually find the people I love.

A very dear friend of mine learned last May that she has breast cancer.  This friend, this wonderful person, is quite possibly the most beautiful and kind person I have ever known.  With each adversity she has faced, and she has faced more than her share, she has walked in light and grace and with a dignity that makes me proud to be her friend.  Her double mastectomy has long been scheduled for this Thursday, but she learned just a few days ago that her cancer is now stage four.  It has metastasized to her lungs.  Some friends and I put together a gift basket for her to make her hospital stay more comfortable, and we stopped by to see her this evening to wish her well.  In her characteristically loving and wonderful fashion, she was all smiles and happy, genuinely so.  Her smile was beautiful, and I know she was grateful for our love and our visit.  I came home and promptly fell to pieces.  Why her?  Her only, and I do mean only, crime was having been born to a mother who would later die of breast cancer.  In all the years I have known her, she has been nothing but kind and warm and loving to everyone she has encountered.  It eludes my human understanding why this horrible disease would find acceptable its invasion into the body of someone so undeserving of suffering while others, selfish and cruel and hatred-filled others seemingly walk through life unscathed.  As I prepared a late dinner for my husband and I, the tears just fell from my eyes and continue to do so now.  It was hard to breathe there for a little while.  I ache that this beautiful, innocent person has been made to suffer and I pray and hope with all that I am that her surgery is successful and that the doctors, who are optimistic now (thank God!), will deliver good news after her surgery is over.  My friend’s name is Jill, and it would mean the world to me if you would keep her in your hearts and your prayers this Thursday and in the weeks after as she recovers and begins this new, hopefully much healthier, chapter of her life.  I am so proud to be her friend, and hope that if her situation or something similar should ever befall me, that I could walk through that fire with half the grace and dignity that she has.

I hopped on Facebook after dinner and saw several posts about today being National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  Ever have one of those moments where you’re upset and sad anyway, and then something you encounter just makes it worse?  Childlike innocence rears its ugly head again.  My heart broke as I thought of the five women I know who have lost children.  My mother miscarried a baby after I was born.  My mother-in-law lost her baby daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Three of my friends bore and buried their babies.  The pain that they suffered and continue to suffer breaks my heart wide open.  We bark platitudes all the time about how God is in control (and the Catholic in me believes that) and that everything happens for a reason, but my human heart finds it impossible to understand why the loss of a child is ever good, ever acceptable, ever just.  On top of thinking about my friend, I am thinking now about the little girl that my parents-in-law lost.  Tracy.  She was a year younger than I was, and I have these grand visions of she and I being great friends and having this wonderful sisterhood had she not left this world so early.  I was an only child, my only sisters being the women whose Greek letters I shared on a sweatshirt or bookbag.  Tracy wouldn’t have had sisters, either.  She would have had two brothers, my husband and brother-in-law.  I love the notion of her being my maid of honor and spending hours together talking and raising our families together.  I ache tonight for the sister and dear friend that time and circumstance took from me.

In the midst of my tears and sadness, a beautiful quote found its way to me – “Accept what is.  Let go of what was.  Have faith in what will be.”  That is the challenge God has given me this evening, but my human heart is having trouble measuring up.  Sometimes, I think I just have to accept the fact that the heart just hurts.

 

“They Live In Darkness. You Be The Light.”

Sometimes, the enormity of the human condition is overwhelming to me.  It just hurts my spirit.  Stays inside me.  Affects me.

This weekend, the Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing at three churches in my tiny little town.  I was browsing through Facebook on my lunch hour and I came across a story published by the Gardner News about this horrible organization’s plans to come to our little town and spew their message of hatred.  Why they chose us, no one knows.  We aren’t burying a soldier this weekend.  There have been no high-profile crimes or deaths in our area (in, like, ages), and none of us can figure out why they have chosen these three particular churches in our peaceful community.  All day long, the sadness and enormity of this has weighed heavily inside me.  I made the immediate decision to react with love, and to encourage the same in those I care for here in Gardner.  These people simply thrive on any attention given to them, and they relish in any negativity shown to them or any efforts made by the well-intentioned to change their hearts and their souls.  Heartbroken for the leaders and parishoners at the churches targeted for picketing, I called two of them today and spoke with members of their staff.  I offered my love and support and prayers to them as a sister in Christ, and I told them that they were cared for here in our community.  One woman asked me how she would explain all of this to her children, and I told her to treat this as a teachable moment.  To use this opportunity to clearly explain the difference between love and hate.  I thought that the very best way that we could respond to their presence was to continue on with our lives as if they were not here.  Show them no consideration.  Give their voices no room within our spirits.  Refuse their efforts to engage us in dialogue or hateful discourse.  Walk with dignity and show them by example the way God wants us to treat one another.  As the day wore on, I had another thought.  Each and every Gardner resident should take a few hours Sunday to give back.  To volunteer.  To do something kind for someone in need.  To combat hatred with love and to bring peace and goodness to others.  Please consider talking with your family tonight and tomorrow and making a quick plan to show kindness to others on Sunday.  It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.  Sure, if you have the time and are able to schedule a session, go ahead and volunteer at the charitable organization of your choice.  Write letters and make cards for our men and women fighting for our freedom and the freedom of others halfway across the world.  Rally a few friends together and buy canned goods to donate to a local food pantry.  Just a few hours of your time can make a tremendous difference.  Your love and your good works triumph over any hatred shown by others.  As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing in this world greater than love.  Nothing.

I shared my sadness about this situation with a colleague today, and he said something so incredible to me.  “They live in darkness.  You be the light.”  Be the light, my friends.  We cannot do anything to impede this hateful organization’s right to picket and to say the horrible and heartbreaking things that they say.  We can, however, give of ourselves to others and lead with love.

It Never Gets Any Easier

So tonight was my parents’ last evening here in town.  They head back home tomorrow.  Because they were both exhausted and still had some packing to do, we had an early dinner this evening and parted ways after several hugs and kisses, a plethora of “thanks” for a wonderful last few days, and their promise to drive safely.  Almost immediately after we got in the car to leave, the tears came.  Bidding them farewell never gets any easier.  I was always the girl who never understood why children grew up and moved away from their families.  Even when I was very young, the thought of not being geographically close to my parents would make me heartsick and I would cry.  I vowed never to leave Indianapolis, and even in to my professional career, I had absolutely no desire to find a life anywhere else.  In 1999, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime – a human resources internship with the Department of Defense.  My duties took me all over, but my first stop was here in Kansas City.  Within a week of my arrival (and just immediately after signing a two-year mobility agreement promising the DoD that I’d not set up roots anywhere), I met my amazing husband.  Our love story began, as did the journey of my leaving home and finding a new one.  I was heartbroken to leave Kansas City, but headed on in the summer of 1999 to my other assignments.  And when the opportunity for a permanent placement back in Kansas City came in October of 2000, I was thrilled and jumped (with joy!) at the chance.  Curtis was thrilled.  Finally, a job in the new city I dearly loved with the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with!  Moving away was an odd mix of exhilaration and heartbreak, and I remember crying, quite often, and missing home and my parents so, so much.  The hole I felt in my heart was tremendous.  Curtis was so incredible.  So supportive.  So incredibly worth it.  (And he still is…another story for another day…)  With return visits home came the same heartbreak.  Saying “goodbye” and returning to my new home in KC was difficult.  That was 12 years ago, and the ache is the same even now.  Having them in my home for these last several days and sharing with them in this amazing life I’ve created and then seeing them walk away is just heartbreaking.  I wish they could stay.  I wish Indianapolis and Kansas City were closer.  I wish Facebook and phone calls were enough to make us feel as close as close can be, and that this kind of heartache didn’t envelope me.  I am not sorry I moved to Kansas City and built this amazing life.  I love it here so much.  I love the life Curtis and I have created.  This is the only home our Erin has ever known.  But a (very, very large) piece of my heart will always be wherever my parents are.  I miss them and Indianapolis so incredibly much.

Have you ever had a thought that you were too afraid to share?  Maybe a thought that you figured would go away or be less weighty if you just kept it to yourself?  I am afraid to give this horrible thought a voice here on my blog (or anywhere), because once those words are said, they are out there.  They become part of the lives of the people who read them.  They can’t be taken back.  But, I have to get this pervasively ugly thought out of my heart, and saying it aloud is just too painful.  My amazing father is 70 years old.  I am so afraid that this is the last time I will see him.  His health is good, vision notwithstanding.  Curtis thinks I am very premature in having this worry (and God, I so hope he’s right), but what if?  Visiting with them each year for Erin’s birthday, I see the signs of their aging.  The loss of the vitality and energy I so clearly remember them to have had.  It hurts and it’s heartbreaking.  I know aging is part of life.  I just don’t want it to happen to my parents.

Please keep my parents in your prayers as they drive to St. Louis tomorrow, and on home to Indianapolis on Friday.  Also, please love your parents.  Call them.  If you are blessed enough to have a close relationship with them, continue cultivating that relationship and share in their lives.  If not, make a concerted effort to extend your hand and establish a tie.

Happy Birthday Erin!!!

Eleven years ago this day, our beautiful daughter Erin was born!  As you know, we’ve been celebrating this big birthday for the last several days.  My parents came to visit from Indianapolis (they’re still here…hate the thought of them going back), and my parents-in-law came down and spent the day with us Saturday.  Today was wonderful.  Erin specifically asked me to wake her up at 6:00 a.m.  She knew that she “officially” turned 11 at 6:34 this morning, and I think she wanted to make sure she didn’t miss the moment!  We watched the clock, and as we got closer (read: 6:32), she got so excited (“Two more minutes, Momma!”)  6:34 a.m. came and our excited girl was thrilled to be 11 years old.  We are so happy.  She is an incredible young lady and we feel so tremendously blessed to have her in our lives.  Happy birthday to my beautiful Erin.  Momma loves you so incredibly much.

We had a great lunch at school with Erin and her friends today.  In elementary school, we’d always make it a big to-do to come and bring treats and spend time in the classroom.  My mom loved to read to the students, and we really enjoyed spending time with Erin and her friends in the classroom.  Now that she is in middle school (*sniff*), they don’t do that any longer.  Rather, parents and grandparents are invited to come for lunch and to bring treats.  At Erin’s request, Grandma Gotshall made some of her awesome pumpkin bread (recipe at the end of this blog post):

We sliced up pieces of bread and took them to school to give out to Erin’s classmates and friends.  Erin was allowed to invite two friends to sit with us, and other friends came by later to say hello and pose for photos:

After lunch, the kids had recess and we made our way down to the fifth grade hallway so I could show my parents her classrooms and introduce them to her teachers.  We gave them the rest of the pumpkin bread, and sailed out of her school on cloud nine.  I was so happy.  It was a wonderful lunch to celebrate an even more wonderful girl.  She has met some great new friends this year, and really seems to be loving her new school!

Erin asked for chicken cordon bleu (that recipe’s below, too) for her big birthday dinner.  Chef Daddy was on the case!

We spent the evening together and enjoyed one another’s company.  Erin played her trumpet for us.  We laughed and just spent time loving and being together.  Being a family.  Erin opened two last birthday gifts…a “Just About Me” journal and a gift card from her all-time favorite store, Justice!  Those were from us.  :)

These last few days have been wonderful.  My heart is full and I feel so incredibly blessed.  My beautiful little girl is a young lady now!  My wish and dream for her is that the rest of her life is spent in love…growing and learning and laughing and loving.  Every mother’s wish, I suppose.

And now for the recipes!

Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread

1 can (15 ounces) of pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup of vegetable oil
2/3 cup of water
3 cups of white sugar
3 & 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 & 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon  of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon  of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon  of ground ginger

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 7″-by-3″ loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water, and sugar until well blended.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.  Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended (we used the KitchenAid mixer, and added small bits of the powder mixture and blended, one at a time).  Pour the mixture into the prepared pans.

Bake the loaves for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each loaf comes out clean. 

Chicken Cordon Bleu

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (we increased the recipe since there were five of us dining!)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of ground black pepper
6 slices of Swiss cheese
4 slices of cooked ham
1/2 cup of seasoned bread crumbs

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 7″-by-11″ baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Pound chicken breasts to 1/4″ thickness.

Sprinkle each piece of chicken (front and back sides) with the salt and pepper.  Place one cheese slice and one slice of ham on each chicken breast.  Roll up each breast, and secure with a toothpick.  Place in the prepared baking dish, and sprinkle the chicken evenly with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink.  Remove the chicken from the oven, and place 1/2 slice of cheese on top of each chicken breast.  Return the chicken to the oven for 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.  Remove the toothpicks, and serve immediately.


 

Birthday Party Awesomeness…With CAKE!

Hi everyone!  Erin’s birthday celebration is in full swing.  We were so exhausted last night after the party and the evening of family festivities and I zonked out straight away and didn’t get out here to Blogville and share the story and the photos (sorry!)  Erin had a wonderful party at SkateCity, followed by a fun afternoon of opening presents with her grandparents and dinner at the restaurant of her choosing (this year, she chose Old Chicago Pizza – so, so good!)

So, here we are at Skate City…

One of Erin’s best friends, Logan, came with us to the party.  Here’s a shot of the girls goofing off before the party:

It was a “Shake It Up” party through and through, complete with sweet party favor swag bags and awesome tableware…

At Erin’s request, Grandma Gotshall made a homemade chocolate cake (see recipe at the end of this blog post!)

They broadcasted Erin’s name on the big screen out on the skating floor, which was awesome.

Lots and lots of photos were taken…of Erin and her friends, of the cake eating and gift opening, and two shots of the entire group of kiddos before everyone went home.  Here’s one of them:

She got so many awesome gifts from her amazing friends.  “Shake It Up” shirts, CD. and doll, two (!!) gift cards from Claire’s, money, Big Time Rush stickers (Erin’s all-time favorite band!), candy, nail polish, and all sorts of other amazing gifts.  I really loved getting to know some of her new friends, and it’s always great seeing the friends she’s had for so many years and their families.  It was a great party, and she really, really enjoyed it!

Afterward, we went back to our house to open gifts from Grandma and Grandpa Gotshall and Grandma and Grandpa Smith.  Unfortunately. the photos I got of the gifts from Grandma and Grandpa Smith didn’t turn out (grrr!!!).  Grandma and Grandpa Gotshall got Erin something very special.  A trumpet of her very own.  She’s been playing trumpet in band, and the trumpet we have is a rental.  This one is a trumpet of her very own, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.  Here she is awaiting the big surprise…

What is it, Grandpa?

Check it out!

She even played “Mary Had A Little Lamb” to test it out!

Afterward, we went to Old Chicago and the staff there, as always, was wonderful.  (By the way, get their Three Cheese, Tomato, and Green Onion Artisan Pizza!  SO GOOD!!)  Our server brought us a HUGE cookie cake to wish Erin a happy birthday.

It was a wonderful day, and Erin was very happy.  The celebration continued today.  Shopping and spending time with Grandma and Grandpa Gotshall and dinner at 54th Street Grill (sweartaGawd, I am gonna gain 10 pounds by the time Mom and Dad go home!)  We’ll spend more time together tomorrow and Tuesday, which is her actual birthday, and pumpkin bread and school festivities will follow.  :)

As promised, here is the recipe for Grandma Gotshall’s Mexican Chocolate Cake, which received rave reviews from the kiddos and adults at the party.  Enjoy!

Grandma Gotshall’s Mexican Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup of butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup of shortening
4 tablespoons of cocoa (we used Nestle Toll House)
1 cup of water
2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup of buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon  of baking soda

Mix the butter, shortening, cocoa, and water together in a medium-sized saucepan.  Bring to a boil.

Sift the flour and sugar together in a large bowl.  Pour the cocoa mixture over the flour/sugar mixture and mix well (we used my awesome stand-up KitchenAid mixer).  Add the cinnamon, vanilla, eggs, baking soda, and buttermilk and mix well.  Pour this in a greased 10″-by-14″ pan (I used a 9″-by-13″ pan and it was OK).  Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Make the frosting while there’s about 10 minutes left on the cake.  Believe it or not, you actually frost this cake while it’s hot!  Melt 1/2 cup of butter (room temperature) in a small pan.  Add 4 tablespoons of cocoa and 6 tablespoons of milk.  Bring to a boil.  Place 1 box of powdered sugar into a mixer bowl.  Pour the cocoa mixture over the powdered sugar and mix well (KitchenAid again!)  Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 cup of chopped pecans (totally optional, and I didn’t use them for this cake) and mix again.  Ice the cake while it’s hot!


A Wonderful Weekend…

Hi everyone!  So I’ve been giving this blogging thing some thought, and I’ve decided to give it another go.  No more talk about hyperplasia and being sick.  Only good stuff.  Family.  Friends.  Recipes.  Knitting.  Laughter.  Joy.  You know, life!  I can’t promise to be faithful and to write every day, but I can promise to give it (another) try and to see how it all works.  Hope that you’ll continue to read and enjoy the things I share.

This is a pretty big weekend for our family.  My beautiful daughter turns 11 (!!!!) on Tuesday of next week, and our family traditionally has a big family to-do for several days beginning the weekend before her special day.  My amazing parents are here from Indianapolis, and I have taken the next several days off work to relax and enjoy the festivities with the people I love the most.  Today was a quiet day.  A little shopping, a little chocolate birthday cake making (woo hoo!), and treat-bag stuffing in advance of my sweet girl’s big birthday party tomorrow.  Having my parents here has been wonderful, and I am so looking forward to spending the next several days with them.  Since Mom always cooks for us when we come home, I thought I’d return the favor and make dinner for her and Daddy tonight!  Yummy lasagna and Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.  :)

I’ll share the recipe (for the lasagna, not the Crescent Rolls – ha!) below.  I’ll also blog tomorrow night and share photos and the story of Erin’s big birthday celebration,  Stay tuned! :)

OK…now the recipe for the lasagna!  It comes from my dear friend Amy Rogers, who has a fledgling recipes blog of her own.  Stop by and check it out and make some of her recipes.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!

Amy’s Awesome Lasagna

1 box of oven ready lasagna noodles
1 pound of ground beef
1 large can of tomato sauce (use this can first)
1 or 2 medium cans of tomato sauce (open as necessary, but I usually use both!)
1/2 of a medium yellow onion, finely chopped (we’re not big onion people, so I usually skip this ingredient)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of pepper
1 teaspoon of garlic powder (or 3 cloves of finely chopped fresh garlic)
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
5 cups of shredded mozarella cheese

Brown the ground beef with the salt, pepper, onion, and garlic until the beef is cooked through.

Mix the cheeses together in a big bowl.  Feel free to add more cheese than the recipe calls for.  :)

In a 9″-by-12″ baking dish, spoon a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish and place one layer of noodles on top.  Then spoon 1/3 of the ground beef on top of the noodles.  Spoon or pour tomato sauce on this layer until the noodles and the meat are covered.  Then take a handful of cheese and place it on top of the beef/noodles/tomato sauce mixture.  Pour a little more tomato sauce over the cheese. Repeat these layers two more times so you have three total layers of beef and cheese. For final layer (on top of the third layer of beef), place the noodles and then cover completely with tomato sauce.  Place the remaining cheese on top.  Refrigerate overnight, then bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes (or until done) at 350 degrees with a foil tent on top.  With ten minutes left, remove the foil so the cheese can melt on top.

“Accept Your Miracle”

Hi Internet.  It’s me again.  I’ve been deliberately holding off on writing this blog post since March 2oth (an incredibly l-o-n-g time ago, yes, I know).  As you know, I had D&C #3 in mid-March.  It was to be the end of my “hyperplasia uncertainty” journey, and its results would tell me if medication and weight loss alone would be the forces strong enough to combat my atypical complex simple endometrial hyperplasia, or if a hysterectomy would be the only option to prevent me from getting uterine cancer.  As you know, my emotions ran the gamut over this last year.  I came out fighting from the very beginning, unwilling to give cancer any sanctuary inside me, and determined to do all in my power to ensure that I’d live a long and happy life, filled with the laughter and love of the family and friends God had so richly blessed me with.  As I got farther along on my journey, the fear crept in.  And as 2011 left us and the new year began, I became more and more convinced (and terrified) that I’d fail on this journey and that I’d have to have a hysterectomy.  The dreaded “H word.”  I feared it and did all I could to will it not to happen….and finally came to accept the fact that perhaps it was the smartest and most succinct way to end this journey and to get on with the rest of my life.  No more worry.  No more talk about my uterus (because really, isn’t that everyone’s favorite topic?) and hysterectomies and cancer.  Just a future-focus and laughter and love.  In the last moments before last month’s D&C, I told my doctor that I thought perhaps we had done this wrong.  By “we,” I mean “me.”  My OB/GYN and my gynecologic oncologist were right to do all they could medically to preserve my uterus.  Hysterectomies are risky surgeries, and being overweight adds additional complications.  They were right to try to treat me with medication.  But I was absolutely convinced that I was wrong to have been so married to my uterus…so strong an advocate to keep it.  In the end, I felt positive that a hysterectomy was the best decision…and, too, that the results of my D&C would show that I hadn’t beaten this disease on my own.  I had no idea just how wonderfully wrong I was…

…On March 20th, I could no longer waitwaitwait for my doctor’s office to call me with the results of the D&C.  (Oh, and this may be old news, I went for my first-ever mammogram the day after my D&C.  Your Jennifer, ever the glutton for medical punishment – ha!)  I called and left a message for Sherry, my doctor’s nurse, who almost immediately called me back.  She said, and I quote:

“Dr. Eckert wanted me to call and give you the good news.  You are negative for any hyperplasia or malignancies.  And your mammogram was normal.”

I didn’t believe her.  I made her repeat her sentence.  I wrote down the words as she said them:

And then I went completely numb.  Insanity, right?  Why wasn’t I dancing in the streets?  Tears, then numbness.  My husband and mother and bosses were thrilled.  Hugs, and many of them.  And still, I was numb.  When was Sherry going to call me back and tell me that she had given me someone else’s test results?  When was the other shoe going to drop?  I had a follow-up appointment scheduled for two weeks post-op, and I figured it would be at that time that that “other shoe” would drop and that any excitement and happiness I felt would be immediately extinguished and replaced by new fears.  I cancelled an evening out with girlfriends that night, deciding that I needed to spend the evening at home with my family.  I posted my good news on Facebook, and the very lot of people who have been here all along cheering for me and praying for me and loving me were right there to delight in the good news.  When I told my dear friend Donna that I was numb and couldn’t feel this joy, at least not yet, she said, “Jennifer, accept your miracle.”  She was right.  That “follow-up” appointment was today, having been rescheduled from Wednesday of last week so I could represent my agency at a veterans’ career fair in downtown Kansas City.  I told my doctor today that I was worried and waiting for the other shoe to drop, and she smiled and said that there isn’t any other shoe.  It’s truly, truly over.  You may recall that she told me early on that while endometrial hyperplasia does respond to medication, she didn’t think I’d overcome it with medicine alone (see here for a refresher).  She took responsibility for that today, and apologized.  Medicine isn’t always an exact science.  I was so afraid to believe, and now, it’s time for me to accept my miracle.  She said that of all her patients who have come this far, none have gotten sick again.  I have to continue taking the medicine, but I can handle that.  If it means I won’t get cancer…if it means there’s no risk of me dying on the table during a risky hysterectomy…I’ll do it.  It’s finally over.  I’m not sick anymore.  And it’s finally OK to believe that.

I made the decision very early on to take this journey in a very public manner, and I’ll never regret it.  I did so for two reasons.  Well, three reasons, if I’m being honest.  I love to write, and I’m good at it.  Very good at it.  It’s a catharsis for me, and I love using the written word to spin the stories of my heart and my life, and to share those stories with those who will read and embrace them.  I also wanted to be an advocate for women to take charge of their health care, and to not be neglectful of their bodies like I was for so, so many years.  We’ll never know for certain, but the likelihood is very good that I would never have gotten sick if I had gone for my annual exams and if I had kept on top of my polycystic ovary disease.  What better example than a living, breathing one?  I didn’t want any other woman to risk the loss of her health through carelessness or neglect.  I wanted the men in my life to take a second look at the women they loved, and to press them to make smarter health care decisions and to be more careful with their bodies.  Finally, I knew myself well enough to know that I’d need support in order to make it through.  My amazing husband and family were with me every step of the way, but the prayers and hugs and love and support of one’s friends can’t ever be underestimated.  I figured I’d get one or two, maybe five (tops!) people wishing me well and keeping me in their prayers.  I had no idea the outpouring of love that would come my way.  From phone calls and EMAIL messages to hugs and dinners and yummy desserts being brought to our home to dear friends caring for our daughter so I could be at the hospital for three early surgeries to COUNTLESS posts on Facebook and Twitter expressing love, sharing prayers, and listening and responding when fear and sadness made several days on my journey hard to endure.  I have no way to thank all of you with the limits placed on the human language we speak.  I am living proof of the fact that, as I’ve said many times throughout this journey, there is NOTHING stronger than love.  NOTHING stronger than prayers.  To each and every one of you who have followed my journey and cheered me on and helped to make the hard days more bearable, thank you.  For listening and reading VERY long (sorry!) blog posts and sending up prayers and for laughing with me and loving me, thank you so incredibly much.  I am so unbelievably blessed to have had your love and support.  And I’ll never forget it.

So, I guess that’s it.  The journey’s really over.  Time for me now to accept my miracle.  Thank you for being a tremendous part of that miracle.

 

How Else Do You Explain It?

Yet another blog post opens with an apology for the long delay since my last writing.  I suppose I should give up the notion of ever being a paid writer!  I have this silly pipe dream of someone somewhere…some big conglomeration of social media fabulousness…happening by chance upon this blog or my earlier blog and thinking my wit and bloviations worthy of a paid bloggership.  Kiss the nine-to-five goodbye and stay home in my PJs while my adoring e-public waits with baited breath for my next (very well) paid blog post.  Alas, while a wonderful dream, I don’t think that this will ever happen to me.  If, however, you are someone of social media fabulousness who does indeed find my writing witty and wonderful, yes, I’ll accept your six-figure salary to write for your site and will gladly leave behind the desk and the drama and the everydays of office living.  Have your people call my people.  We’ll do lunch.

All joking aside, lots has happened since we last spoke.  As you know, my last D&C went very, very well.  We found out that even though I was taking (by sheer accident) half the recommended dose of Megace, my atypical complex endometrial hyperplasia was “upgraded,” if you will, to atypical simple endometrial hyperplasia.  Still pre-cancerous, but now two steps away from uterine cancer and not one.  My doctor wanted me to go and see my oncologist again for her take on the news, and to see if she thought we should go forth with the hysterectomy, or if one more round of medication was worth a fighting chance.  Everyone in my life, to include family and friends and colleagues, all knew that I wanted one more shot at the meds.  Look at how far I’d come.  Even in taking a smaller dose than recommended (still can’t believe I did that…note to self, that label on the medicine bottle is there for a reason), I still got better.  My plan of attack today was simple…convince my amazing oncologist to give me six more months on the meds (at the full dose this time!), with a repeat D&C in February.  My bargaining chip?  If I’m still sick in February, you can have my uterus and cervix.  I won’t fight you.  I went in to today’s appointment with so many emotions, not having any way of knowing just how wonderful the news would be…

After being weighed and processed in, my oncologist laughed her way in to my room with a comment about how I am her fastest shrinking patient.  I guess having lost over 50 pounds since seeing her last might have something to do with that!  She did a brief exam, and told me that since my weight loss, my organs were easier to both feel and see.  Everything looks great.  As we were finishing the exam, she said something akin to, “I’m very _____ by the results of your last D&C.”  I tried so hard to remember that word, but right now, it’s just not comin’ to me.  When I got dressed and met her in her office, she and I had another epically fabulous conversation.  (Side note:  is it me, or is it absolutely wonderful when your doctor is someone who is easy to talk to?  Relatively certain it’d break medical ethics rules, but she’s someone I’d love to have drinks with sometime.  So easy to talk to.)  Where was I…?  Office conversation.  She was over the moon for me.  For my weight loss.  For having given up soda.  For having done so well on the medication, even at half the dose.  She bought off on my “six months of more meds” idea hook, line, and sinker.  She was so incredibly positive and excited about my progress.  I laughed and asked her what her word was…what did she say in the exam room?  That she was “encouraged” my the results of my last D&C?  She snickered and laughed and said, “No, my word was much stronger than ‘encouraged!”  I told her I’d come in to this appointment armed with my “six months” idea and dreading “the H word” in the worst possible way.  She smiled and shook her head and said, “Hysterectomy?  Absolutely not.  Not right now.”  And then she said something that took my breath away.  She said, and I quote, “Jennifer, this may even resolve itself.”  I’d read that hyperplasia does, on occasion, go away with medication, but my doctor had previously told me that she didn’t think that was possible in my case.  I was so over the moon today…so happy.  Happy.  Wow.  That’s an emotion I’d not felt to date about this situation.  You’ve read this blog.  You know the evolution of my feelings.  Fear, guilt, sadness, shame, worry, regret, and eventually. a peace of sorts.  But never happy.  Today, I was happy.  For the first time in a very long time, I didn’t self-identify as “sick.”  Instead, I thought of myself as “healing” and “on the mend.”  I know I am not out of the woods yet, but I’m a heck of a lot closer.

I am overwhelmingly blessed to be surrounded at my left and at my right by wonderful, beautiful people who love me and who care for me.  I’ve said it time after time…that I feel so incredibly lucky to have so many prayers and hugs and so much good energy and positivity around me all the time.  I’ve taken this journey in a very public manner, and it’s paid off beautifully.  Yesterday and today both, the hugs and the love and the prayers and the good wishes were all around me.  And look what happened.  I’m better, and I blame all of you.  How many times have I written here or said aloud that there is nothing bigger than love?  No disease.  No condition.  No pain.  No hurt.  Nothing is bigger than love.  My hyperplasia doesn’t have a chance against me because of all of you.  How else do you explain me getting better, especially in light of the fact that I took a lower dose of the medication than was prescribed for me?  It’s love.  You’ve given it from the start and it’s worked.  Some people would rather die than share this level of intimacy with the whole world.  I didn’t think twice about it, and that decision has paid off in spades.  Again and for the zillionth time, thank you.  The words seem wholly inadequate to illustrate the gratefulness I feel.  I am so blessed to have all of you in my life.  Bring it, cancer.  My people are bigger and stronger than you are, even if I’m not.  Even on those days when I feel most afraid, they’re right there, being positive and believing and praying.  You don’t have a fighting chance against them.