A Christmas Tradition

At our house, it wouldn't be Christmas without Monkey Bread for breakfast.  This year Katherine asked me to share the recipe with Colby's mom.  I told her there's really not a recipe so much as a suggestion.  Here then is the suggestion, complete with photos to guide you (and Colby's mom) along the way.

This is what you will need:

3 cans of buttermilk biscuits (any brand)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 -3 Tbsp. (or more) cinnamon
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup (or more) brown sugar

Put your granulated sugar and cinnamon in a gallon Ziploc bag.  You could use a bowl if you wanted to, but the bag is easy and disposable.

Shake it up well.  We like lots of cinnamon - you can use however much you like.  I love Pampered Chef Korintje Cinnamon, but use whatever you have. Now unroll your biscuits.  These are from Aldi and they work just as well as the name brand ones. If you are Katherine, jump in startled surprise every time you pop a can open.  Cut each biscuit into quarters.  We like to use our Pampered Chef scissors for this.

Drop the biscuit pieces into the bag of cinnamon sugar and give them a good shake, coating each piece thoroughly.  Then, pile all of the pieces into your Bundt pan.  (If you do not have a non-stick pan, you'll want to spray it with Pam first).  When you are through, it should look like this:

I sprinkled some of the leftover cinnamon sugar on top.

Now you're ready to make what my husband likes to call sludge.  Melt a stick of butter (yes, a whole stick) and stir in about a cup of brown sugar.

 I say "about" a cup because I really have never measured it.  You'll want to keep adding and stirring until it looks like this:

Now, spoon your sludge all over the biscuit pieces in the Bundt pan.  It should look like this when you are through:

At this point, you can either bake your monkey bread or cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it over night.  That's what we do - it lets us get to the presents faster on Christmas morning.

Bake the bread at whatever temperature is specified on the biscuit can for about 25-30 minutes.  Check the pieces with a fork to be sure that they are cooked through.  (Check one just under the top layer)

Unmold onto a plate to serve, and you will see something like this:

You could easily add nuts to this recipe if you wanted to, but Katherine and David prefer it without, so that's the way we do it.  This bread is delicious with a big cup of coffee or a big glass of cold milk.  The leftovers (if there are any) can be microwaved for 15-20 seconds, and they'll be as good as when they were first baked.


Cancer is like an ogre....er....onion

It's got layers.  Cancer is huge, and when it gets dropped on you, initially you feel the whole crushing weight of it.    Friends tell me they don't know how I handle it.  Well, the thing is.. you don't handle all of it at once.  You peel off the layers, and you deal with each one as it comes.  Sometimes they make you cry.

The first layer of my onion was the diagnosis and the tests and the surgery.  They all came together in one big thick layer.  I was still reeling from having the whole thing dropped on me and I stumbled through it blindly, feeling my way, putting one foot in front of the other cautiously, trying not to fall off the edge of the earth.

Chemo was one of the next layers. And chemo itself is an onion... lots of layers of it's own.  Side effects - the ones you expected and the ones you had no clue about.  I expected my hair to fall out - something that really hasn't happened to any great extent yet.  Every morning I get into the shower and give it the Dirty Harry treatment - I rough it up and ask it "Do you feel lucky, hair?  Well, do you?  Are you gonna hang on to the scalp for one more day?"  So far, it's proved to be as tough as the rest of me.  We're all hanging in there.

The side effect I didn't expect was the peripheral neuropathy.  Nerve damage.  One of my chemo drugs is causing it.  The side effects?

  • pain
  • burning
  • tingling (or a "pins and needles" feeling)
  • muscle shrinkage
  • weakness
  • balance problems
  • trouble with tripping and stumbling while walking
  • loss of feeling (numbness)
  • decreased or no reflexes
  • increased sensitivity to temperature (usually cold) or pressure, so that things hurt more than usual
  • constipation
  • trouble passing urine
  • blood pressure changes
  • trouble swallowing 
Nice, huh?  And I'm having... oh, let's see...  all but the last three and the decreased reflexes.  In other words, I'm limping, stumbling, tripping, stiff, in pain and constipated (when I don't have diarrhea).  Medication helps a little, as do the electric zippy carts in the store.  (Plus, they're just so darned much fun to drive!) Today I got back into the gym which helped a little too.

Okay.. so the next layer.  This is the one I peeled off recently.  Length of remission.  Somewhere along the line, David and I both "heard" that a standard remission period for my disease would be 3-5 years. (Non-hodgkins follicular lymphoma is incurable.)  Last week, my oncologist told me that he would consider a "good, long remission" for me to be a year to a year and a half.  Wow.  It took me several days to process that information.  I couldn't even ask anything else after hearing that because it filled my whole consciousness, pushing out every other rational thought I might have had.  The rest of the day kind of passed in a haze, and I spent a fair amount of time reflecting on my own mortality.

Let me say here that I am a Christian.  I have been born again in Christ and am assured of my place in Heaven with my Lord and Savior.  I know without a doubt that this life is not all there is. That said, I am not ready to die.  I am not nearly through with this life, and I intend to fight like a tiger to grab as much time as I possibly can.  So, I tossed that layer aside and went out for coffee with my girlfriends.  Girlfriends and caffeine are gifts from God.  Never doubt that.

The next layer?  We're waiting until after the holidays to peel that one off.  It's going to be a consult with the doctor in Greenville who will one day do my stem cell transplant.  But that's another layer for another day.

They could've danced all night...

Well... Colby could have, but Katherine, as she will tell you, does not dance.  Funny, but she used to.  I have fond memories of her enthusiastically doing the chicken dance, the Electric Slide or whatever else you were willing to get out on the floor and do with her.  She won a dance contest at the cheerleading banquet when she was in fifth grade.  You could take her to a wedding and she'd dance with anyone - with everyone!  "I was little then." she would tell you if you brought this up.  She's not little any more and now she does not dance.

So... she and Colby went to the band dance in all their finery.  And Katherine spent twenty minutes texting her mother.  And trying to get the chaperones to let her go outside and get her Chapstick.  Because apparently her lips hurt real bad.  Ah, mad youth.  That's why it's best left to the young.

She sure did look pretty though.

A baby Gamecock is born!

From the moment Katherine toured the USC Columbia campus, she knew she was destined to be a Gamecock.  Was it the Strom Thurmond Fitness Center?  Was it the spacious dorms?  Was it the twenty seven on campus dining options?  Was it the cute guys jogging across campus in their shorts?  Maybe it was a little bit of all of the above.   Anyway, she applied.  And she waited.  Acceptances and scholarship money poured in from other colleges anxious to woo her, but she held fast.  She waited.

One December day, her friend Nicole from down the street went to get the mail.  When she saw her acceptance envelope, she raced down to our house to alert us.  Katherine and I flew to the mailbox.  Yeah, I totally beat her.  I'm fast like that.

And there it was - the long-awaited envelope!  Yes!

And that's how Gamecocks are born.

The Christmas Party

Yeesh!  I was just looking back over some older posts to see where we left off, and boy howdy is that an unattractive picture of me back there!  Apparently when I am semi-conscious and lying down, all of my neck fat slides over to the side in a big bunch.  Bleah.  Oh, well -- you've all seen it by now, no sense in deleting it.  I DO look better when I'm awake and upright.

Anyhow.... when we talked last, I was having some problems with a pinched nerve in my leg.  I found that as long as I didn't try to do too much, it was manageable if painful.  Last Friday was David's Christmas party for work and I rested up so that I'd be reasonably pain free, because I did NOT want to miss Casino Night.  We went, we gambled (not for real money) and we had a ball.  I played roulette perched on a bar stool and hit on lucky number 27 (my birthday) at 35-to-one odds!

We ate delicious food and I got to discuss deep cerebral issues with Mr. Biggs, who also shared with me a wonderful iPhone app that I was previously unaware of, but that is so useful in SO many situations.  (I love talking to you, Jeff - you always make me laugh!) I also got to meet the lovely Stephanie who told me that she reads my blog and loves it!  Thanks, Stephanie - you made my night.  I'm so glad they didn't card you at the door and find you were under age!    Also - a shout out to Dan, who arrived late because he was at an event for the Lymphoma & Leukemia Society - I wish we'd had more of a chance to talk, and thanks so much for raising money for the cause!

By Saturday, the pain was back with a vengeance, and I could no longer get out of bed or to the bathroom by myself.  I wasn't sleeping well - every time I moved, the pain woke me up.  David was due to go out of town on Monday and we were both a little concerned about how long I might be able to go without peeing, eating or moving while he was gone.  We figured that 18 hours was likely to be pushing it a little.  I'd called my family doc's office Friday morning, and was told that they couldn't call in a prescription without seeing me (although the doctor had just seen me that week and we had just discussed this issue), and couldn't see me until Monday.

David took a chance and called the oncologist's office.  One of the docs in the practice (not my doctor) called us back and SAID THAT HE WOULD SEE US IN THE OFFICE ON SUNDAY.  Yes, on Sunday.  I am overwhelmed and amazed at the level of care that the Carolina Blood and Cancer Care center provides.  I don't know if cancer patients everywhere receive this kind of care, but they should.  I am blessed indeed.

Dr. Patel met us at his office on Sunday morning.  He was thorough, gentle, kind, caring and every other good adjective I can heap upon him.  Upon examining me, he determined that I do have sciatica; probably aggravated by one of my chemo meds - Vincristine.  He started me back on some Prednisone and gave me a prescription for Lyrica.  I'm still in pain, but I can get out of bed again, and trips to the bathroom have once again become a solitary activity.

Dr. Naidu and I talked on Tuesday when I went in for my second round of chemo.  He asked if I wanted to continue the Vincristine or try something else.  I opted to go for one more round of it before making a decision.  I want to see how well the pain is managed by the Prednisone and Lyrica before changing what seems to be the best treatment protocol for my condition. I can deal with some pain if it's for the greater good.

Cancer goes on holiday!

Last year, I didn't do much baking because I had just started Weight Watchers (for the third time) and did NOT want temptation in the house.  I found that I sorely missed the baking - not just the eating.  This year, I decided I would make some goodies to share with friends.  I'm finding that chemo makes sugary treats less of a temptation, so it's all good.

On Monday, I made up a batch of White Chocolate Peppermint Oreo cookie bark to take to the nurses at the Chemo Palace. So easy and so good.

Start with some peppermint candy.  Doesn't really matter what kind.  I used ribbon candy, but you could use candy canes or whatever you happen to have on hand.  Put them in a Ziploc bag, take something heavy (like the can of delicious Virginia peanuts your husband's boss sent home) and smash them up good.

This, by the way, is way too much.  I'm not sure what I was thinking.

Next, take 14 Oreo cookies (or thereabouts), put them into another Ziploc bag and break them up.  Don't mash the heck out of them like I did... it makes the bark kind of grey looking.  It still tastes good, but doesn't look all that great.  Just break them up into small pieces.

See what I mean about having way too much peppermint candy?  I have enough left over for at least two more batches.

Now, take a package of vanilla candy melt (I think it's called Candy Quick).  It comes right in it's own microwaveable tray - I found it at Bi-lo, but at this time of year, I'd imagine they have it everywhere.  Melt according to the package directions, and pour over your broken Oreo cookies. Dump a big handful of peppermint candy in too, and stir to combine.

Pour out onto a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper and allow to set until firm.  Cut into squares and share!

See what I mean about the over-smashing of the Oreos making the bark a little dark looking?  Don't do that.  Now, grab a cellophane bag and some ribbon, add a cute, hand-stamped tag and you've got a great little gift to share!

The nurses loved it, and asked for the recipe yesterday, and pretty soon all of us ladies there at the Chemo Palace were sharing recipes and baking tips and having a grand ole time while the chemo dripped on.

Catch Up Day

Okay, it's been a while since I posted, and I have lots to catch up on - look for multiple posts today!  

First though - my prayer this morning.

Thank You, Lord that I have the energy to do my laundry and scrub my sink.
Thank You for allowing me to bless my family by making our home a place of comfort and sanctuary where they can return at the end of their long days to be refreshed and renewed.

Thank You for being there at night when I need You most; when I can confess my deepest fears and doubts and know that You are there to hear them and remind me that You have a plan for my life.  You knew that this day would come for me while I was yet in the womb, and You will see me through it. You care for me as no one else can, and I can lean on You, count on You, seek respite and comfort in You.  Always.  

Lord, if it be Your will, allow me to use my experience to somehow bless others who  may be struggling; to know that they are not alone, and that there is so much life and love even in the midst of illness, that each day and each small victory is a cause for celebration!  


Celebrate this day.

Some days it's hard to be funny...

As hard as I try to stay upbeat and positive, there are days when it's hard.  Days when I want more than anything to be able to DO things, and I'm just not able to.  Yesterday was one of those days.

I've been having some persistent hip and leg trouble since before my diagnosis.  It's been hanging on for about two months now and worsened pretty dramatically over the last few days, to the point where standing, sitting and walking are all pretty painful.  I wake myself up at night because it hurts to roll over - even more to get up to go to the bathroom.  David is having to fill Fred's water bowl because I cannot bend over to pick it up off of the floor.

I saw my family practice doc yesterday, and he says I've pinched a nerve.  He also thinks my swollen lymph nodes may be contributing to the stiffness and soreness. He suggests I'll feel better when I start back on Prednisone next week, and then probably worse again when I am off it.  In the meantime, I'm coping with the help of some muscle relaxants and the Vicodin they gave me on Monday.  My chest is tight too, due to swelling from the port placement.  That's actually a good thing - I was afraid my chest was congested - I really do NOT want to get sick the week before chemo starts again. My lungs are clear though, so that's not a concern.

Anyway, I'm kind of a wreck physically right now.  I went to the grocery store yesterday after my doctor's appointment with a relatively short list.  I didn't even make it through the produce section when I knew I'd made a mistake.  My right leg was dragging, my weight balanced on the handle of the shopping cart as pain shot through my hip.  I waited for my order at the deli, doing some deep breathing and trying to focus on anything other than how badly I was hurting.  I was also trying to look as normal as possible, not wanting to draw attention to myself.  The woman at the deli counter asked "How are you today?" and I responded brightly "Great, thanks!"  while thinking "I don't know if I can stand here long enough for you to slice my half pound of ham and provolone.  Would it be wrong to lie down on the floor?"

I did manage to get all of my groceries in the cart, through the checkout line and into the car.  I had to physically lift my leg into the car before closing the door, and then sat there shaking and sweating for a few minutes before driving home. I got the perishables in the house and put away, leaving the rest in the car for Katherine to get later and collapsed on the couch.  That's it.  Done for the day.  One lousy trip to the grocery store and I'm drained.  How about the laundry that needs doing?  The sink that needs scrubbing?  The dog that needs walking?  Forget it.

I know that this is temporary.  I know that.  That doesn't make me feel better right now, though.  This is my JOB we're talking about here.  Taking care of my family and my home.  Lately, I am not doing a stellar job of either one.  That makes me angry.  Anyhow... some days it's just hard to be funny.

And playing the part of the Bride of Frankenstein...

Another day, another surgery.  This makes three if you're counting.  Which I am.

I got my port put in yesterday so that I don't have to keep getting stuck every time I have chemo or a procedure or a blood draw.  It was an outpatient procedure done at the surgical center by the same doctor who did my lymph node biopsy.  I like his neat, precise stitching so I decided to let him cut me again. It's not like I had anything else planned for the day. (Like eating, which I did not get to do until about 4:30 pm).

The port, which is properly known as a PowerPort, is triangular in shape, purple in color, and about the size of a small matchbox.  It is a catheter that is implanted under the skin of the chest and inserted into a blood vessel. That's where they will put in a needle to give me chemo or to take blood.   I also got a nifty key chain and a purple rubber bracelet to go with the port.  These are to remind me to tell my docs I have a port.  You know, just in case I should forget that there's a big purple thing stuck in my chest. They told me that I would be able to see a small bump under my skin where the access point is, but I still have the area bandaged, so I haven't seen anything yet.

What I do know is that this sucker hurts worse than anything they have done to me thus far.  The memory of the procedure itself is lost somewhere in the land of Versed.  I remember nothing.  What I feel, however, is pain.  Ow.  I'm glad they put the port on my left side instead of my right, because I can barely lift my left arm.  And today is better than yesterday.  I have a big bandage from my left armpit, up to my shoulder and across to my cleavage.  There is no hiding it under anything but a turtleneck, and I could not possibly care less.  There's a big wad of bandage peeking out of the neckline of my shirt.  Only slightly more distracting is the odd one-handed hairdo I created this morning.  The right side looks normal, but I couldn't really reach the left side, so it's looking a little (lot) flat.  Whatever.  I didn't shave my legs this morning either, in case you were wondering.  Please - do not email me and ask me out.  I know I sound irresistible, but I am married.