Childhood Favorites

Your favorite childhood junk foods.  Have you tried them lately?

I recently told my kids about Circus Peanuts. How when I was a kid, my friend and I decided to eat a whole bag. We decided that they were, in fact, disgusting. We felt quite ill for the rest of the day.

Doubting my claims (as any strong-willed child does), my daughter insisted that she try them. Thus began the Great Circus Peanut Hunt of 2014. While they’re a classic (Me: WHY?) finding them in all of the usual places proved to be difficult. But with persistence and determination, we found some. In the sixth store (yes, I willingly went to 6 stores as any strong-willed mother would do to prove to my daughter that Circus Peanuts were not the delicious confection she was imagining in her mind) we finally found them…on sale. She had convinced herself that I was clearly wrong and decided that 2 bags were needed – they were on sale after all. It was after one bite of the first orange, ‘marshmallowy’ classic that she declared they were disgusting. I resisted my urge to gloat and tell her ‘I told you so!’ Instead, I just laughed.  Side note: if anyone wants 2 bags of Circus Peanuts – one opened, but still contains all but 2 ‘peanuts’ – let me know.

Speaking of sugary orange things… I also had a fondness for orange soda when I was young. So did my friend (different friend) and we took a couple of bottles to the playground with us. We thought we were pretty cool, sitting in the park drinking Orange Soda – which honestly tastes only vaguely like oranges and more like orange colored, bubbly sugar-water IMHO. Then we decided to go on the merry-go-round – not the kind with the horses, but the metal spinny kind that is powered by hanging on and running around to get it going before you jump on to enjoy the rapid whirly spin. Well, turns out that spinning in circles and orange soda don’t mix well for my friend. Up it came and I’ve never been able to drink Orange Soda since.

We’ve all probably had experiences like these that have destroyed our memories or experiences with favorite childhood treats. But there are others that we might look back upon fondly. BUT what if you tried them today? Would they be exactly like you remember? Or would you find them to be disgusting after your palate has matured over the years?

My son and I watched a series of videos about Americans trying junk food or local delicacies from around the world. It was an interesting way to kill an hour. Some were quite funny, some weren’t. But, I digress. One of these videos had the cast of characters trying their favorite childhood junk foods. Between the Circus Peanut Hunt of 2014, memories of Orange Soda vomit, and this series of videos I got to thinking…

We discussed it at dinner last night and discovered that our favorite childhood treats were the ones created and carefully prepared by our mothers and grandmothers (not to be sexist – that’s just who prepared them in our families). Peanut butter, rice crispy treats with a layer of chocolate on top. Corn Flake candy (corn flakes and chocolate.) Peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate. Apricot-coconut cookies. Ground raisin, oatmeal cookies. Strawberry rhubarb sauce. The list could go on and on. Disclaimer: both our mothers and grandmothers were from Minnesota – the land of delicious home made treats filled with love…and chocolate…and peanut butter.

We also discovered that some of our favorite (not home-baked) treats had special meaning to us or brought back fond memories of family, friends or first experiences.

What are some childhood treats or junk food do you recall and have you tried them recently?

We’ll be waiting for your replies while we’re making Corn Flake candy after school today.

 

My Mother’s Gifts For Life

I am very lucky to have parents who love and support me and my family, who have shown me that marriage can be hard but it’s worth the effort, that nothing is more important than family – blood or ‘adopted’. They’ve also supported me through bad decisions, good decisions, and the choices I’ve made about how to live my life – even if my views don’t always match theirs. I’ve written about what my Father has taught me and I think it’s time to talk about the valuable lessons I’ve learned from my Mom.

1. She taught me how to cook and enjoy both the process and eating the results. My mom taught many others how to cook, but my lessons were private.  One important lesson I got was that you should have at least 3 colors on the plate (ketchup doesn’t count). I still feel like I’ve done it wrong if I see nothing but beige on a dinner plate. She also taught me that sometimes pulling dinner out of the freezer is ok, baking isn’t for everyone, and cookbooks are for inspiration 90% of the time – use your imagination in the kitchen. Family recipes should be passed down and most can be modified to fit chosen dietary restrictions. This life skill has allowed me to make the change to being vegan without losing the joy of being creative in the kitchen.

2. Sit down as a family for meals. No one is too busy to NOT sit down for a good meal and connect with each other ever day – even if it’s a quick meal. As an aside, for bigger special occasion meals, get ‘fancy’ dish ware that can go in the dishwasher.

3. Create a garden – love, nurture and enjoy the bounty. Enjoy the process and take the time to prepare your soil – it’s the foundation for growing. (Yes, the implication was intentional)

4. Play with your children/grandchildren – even when you’d rather be napping, cleaning, or watching cat videos on the internet. They will feel valued and encouraged to continue their creativity. No matter how busy you think you are, there is always time to clean, do laundry, cook later. Love unconditionally now. Building Lego creations or tolerating crazy makeovers with children/grandchildren will always be more important than anything else on your list of to-dos. Let them wear a monkey costume out to dinner and be proud of them for doing it with aplomb.

5. Read as much as you can and escape into each book. Read what you enjoy and share books with friends. If a book isn’t catching your attention, leave it behind – there are too many good books to waste your time on any that you don’t connect with. Teach your children the magic of books, beginning with reading to them every day.

6. Give love and support to others – it may be the only kindness they have that day. Strangers need this kindness more than anyone. Don’t make assumptions about them or the choices that may have gotten them into a place of need. If they don’t accept your support, let them continue on the path they’ve chosen for themselves – sometimes people aren’t interested in what you can offer, even if it’s just a meal or a conversation. That’s ok, some people enjoy being the ‘victim’ of life or choose to live in a manner different from your own. Show them kindness and then let them go.

Your family may have needs at critical times in their lives. Do what you can to help take care of them. My mother saved me by taking care of my family, acting as my nurse when I went through chemo and radiation AND made the questionable decision to move forward with a kitchen remodel at the same time. You know your mother is a saint when she helps set up a temporary kitchen, continues to cook for your family, and washes any non-disposable dishes in a teeny bathroom sink.

7. Every child needs to learn how to cook some basic meals, clean, garden, do laundry (including ironing), and sew on a button before they leave home. Extra sewing, knitting, and gourmet meals are a bonus. These are critical life skills to have when living on your own. And every woman is impressed by a man who can sew and clean a toilet well.

8. You can show love to a child or grandchild when you create structure, establish rules, expectations, and consequences for bad choices. Love comes in teaching morals and responsibility, setting a good example, and understanding different points of view with respect and acceptance. Love comes in sharing time, showing generosity of spirit (rather than in physical things), and celebrating everyone’s unique self. Love comes in encouragement of success, displays of bravery and accomplishments big and small. This love creates confidence, a sense of security and an environment where your children/grandchildren feel safe telling you about their fears, problems, questions and discoveries.

9. People can grow when they’re exposed to new experiences, new ideas, and new points of view with an open mind. Living unwed with a dreadlocked reggae musician can sometimes work out well for all involved – you just may get a good story and a wonderful son-in-law. Traveling the world gives you a broader understanding of others’ experiences and culture than you’d ever get sitting on your couch and watching the travel channel. Sometimes your children need to learn by making their own decisions in life – support them, but let them learn through those choices and any consequences – don’t feel you need to ‘solve’ things. Good or bad, the lessons they learn will stick more than a lecture or having a solution handed to them based on YOUR opinions and life views. Allow them to grow and see the world through their own eyes.

10. Sometimes the ‘small’ things in life are the most important. Enjoy watching the birds at the feeders, the trees in bloom, the changing colors in fall, holding a baby, snuggling with a child, baking cookies – just because, or watching your children play harmoniously. Too many things can be overlooked in the hustle and bustle of life, sometimes you need to just stop and enjoy the journey.

Happy Birthday and thank you Mom for being the best role model a girl could ever have in life.

momciame

 

Every Day Moments

When the holidays come around, you’re likely to see some people you haven’t seen in a while. Even if they have some insight into how you’re doing through friends, posts, the general grapevine, they sometimes tread carefully. It means they look at you, searching for the ‘real’ clues of your condition. It means they ask how you’re doing, sometimes with a voice that’s tinged in pity and a touch of condescendence – desperately trying to make it come off as empathy. I understand that it’s hard to talk to a person with an often terminal brain tumor, so I don’t mean to be unkind.

You have gotten caught up in the bustle of the holidays and living every day life with your family, trying not to let the thoughts of ‘when will it come back?’ hover over you, pushing out the enjoyment of the moments. Sometimes the questions about your health catch you off guard.

When there’s nothing much going on health wise, you try to skip the details of living with short-term memory loss, the monthly vaccine trial shots, the need for naps when the activity gets to be too much. You skip the fact that your hair is nearly evened out (meaning the hair that grew back after your random baldness is almost the length of your other hair), or that you’re done ramping up on your new seizure medications and you live every day doing what you need to so you don’t have another life threatening ‘episode.’ You skip the fact that your children are showing their anxiety, even in the excitement of Christmas. The kids ask if they’re going to get sick like the kids they saw on the St. Jude’s ad on TV. They ask about things that people have said in front of them, thoughtlessly forgetting that kids hear every word they say, even if they don’t LOOK like they’re listening. They avoid books in which one parent has died.

So I’ll  just answer ‘I’m doing great!’ If they continue to look at you like, ‘No, really, how ARE you?’ I’ll throw in a ‘the tumor hasn’t returned yet.’ They still stare, expecting more details. Details that I’m tired of sharing and don’t want to share now, at this party I’m enjoying. I don’t want them harshing my mellow, as it were. So, I answer, ‘Well, I’m still alive, so I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.’ I appreciate the interest in my health, really, but please take the cues. I’m taking the opportunity to live my life ‘normally’, don’t take that away from me. It can all change in a heartbeat, so let me enjoy my very fortunate string of Between Days. Let me enjoy the beautiful moments I’m lucky to have every day while I’m still fighting to be legendary.

Beautiful moments of happiness. You too can have them if you stop and appreciate the world around you.

Mission: Almost Normal Childhood

Having young children, we’re always very conscious of what we say around them. We offer opportunities for them to talk and they have total freedom to ask any questions they want. We try to keep their day-to-day lives as normal as possible – homework, chores, lessons, etc. We don’t want them to worry or spend their days being anxious, we want them to live life and experience their childhood without fear of what might happen, what if… WE don’t even know, so how would you explain that uncertainty to a child?

They are pretty typical kids and siblings. They resist doing homework. They have messy rooms and leave their stuff all over the house.  They pester us to watch TV. They use their imaginations and create music, art, and cool dance moves. They fight and bicker about pretty much anything. They look out for each other and sneak in acts of love and kindness. They get silly and loud. They like to cuddle and read together. They throw fits when they can’t find the ‘right’ pants to wear on a cold morning. Pretty normal kid stuff.

But they’ve still seen their mom have seizures and be taken away in an ambulance. They’ve still seen their mom in the hospital with ~35 stitches in her scalp. They’ve seen their mom suffer through chemo and radiation, unable (or unwilling) to get out of bed some days. They know I have brain cancer and that it’s serious, though we’ve avoided discussing the ultimate risk of death. They’ve seen me going to Stanford for frequent appointments and taking a handful of medicine twice each day. They have gotten a little too comfortable with my memory loss and have learned to play it in their favor – well, at least the tween has tried.

While they lead pretty ‘normal’ lives, we can see the trauma and anxiety come through from time to time. If I pause in the middle of a sentence, I get a rapid, ‘Mom, are you ok?’ If I cough while I’m reading a story, I get a ‘Mom, are you ok?’ If I get lost in a thought, I get a close look-over and a ‘Mom, are you ok?’ My daughter often double checks that I’ve taken my medicine (after 2 alarms and text reminder have already occurred.) Occasionally, my son will tell me ‘that I’m going to live a very long time’ in our bedtime cuddling. I catch the hidden glances in my direction any time they sense something is out of the ordinary.

Unfortunately, a few people have made comments like ‘everyone with cancer dies’, which WE know is not true. Those who make these comments don’t think of the impact those four words can have since I’m not THEIR mom and they’ve not experienced what our kids have lived through in the last year. But to our 6 and 10-year-old it’s a scary thing to hear. It makes the fearful ‘what if’ come to their minds and we have to spend a few days talking them down from the fear and anxiety – to get them back to spending more of their time just being kids.

The brain cancer is perhaps a little harder for them to grasp, because it’s less visible. But the seizures are VERY real and VERY visible and VERY scary. Being able to talk about it helps, but sometimes it’s easier if you can write it down. This blog has been great therapy for me, and since my daughter also loves to write, I asked her if she’d like to write something about what it’s like to have a mom with brain cancer. She immediately said ‘yes.’ This is what she wrote:

It is sort of scary to have a mom who can have a seizure, but knowing what to do and that we have neighbors that will help makes it a lot less scary. It is annoying that we have to walk a lot of places, like soccer practice and home from school. I am still a little scared when I hear a siren. Now she has a special medicine or as I like to call it ‘miracle medicine’.

That ‘miracle medicine’ is Ativan. I got a prescription after my last seizure, which was a status epilepticus. I’m supposed to take it if I seize in an attempt to avoid another life threatening episode. We can only hope that the secondary seizure medicine I now take will work, and that potential emergency doesn’t happen.

A fire truck and ambulance came into the neighborhood last night after bed time. She called out for me and I had to reassure her that I was fine and they weren’t coming for me.

I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping our kids’ lives on track and ‘normal.’ We don’t coddle them or excuse any bad behavior, but it’s important to remember that they feel anxious and have experienced trauma too. Sometimes a little more patience and an extra hug are needed. Then they need to go finish their homework and clean their rooms, just like any other kid.

What Would You Want?

I often think about leaving my children behind, not at school…in life. I think about it and I’m terrified about it happening, of missing out on their lives, of them living those lives without a mother, feeling that loss at such a young age. That fear causes me to avoid doing anything to give them something to remember, to hold on to, to give them comfort when they need a mom – or a whole family – if I’m not there. If I write for them, record stories, put together photo albums or any of the other things I’ve heard suggested, what if it means I’m done? What if finishing that list of things triggers something?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was 4 days past her due date. It was 105 degrees outside and we had no air conditioning. I was desperate to get that baby out of me. I ate every spicy food we could get our hands on, I moved rocks in the back yard (we were going to start a landscaping project – it wasn’t just a random act), I walked a lot…pretty much anything that you hear can help spur on labor. I had a gardening project I was saving for after she was born and finally, I had run out of things to keep me busy so I just said ‘srew it’ and got started on it. It involved attaching galvanized containers to the fence and planting herbs in them. I had literally just finished planting the LAST herb (basil) and my water broke. Clearly, this is indisputable proof that if I’ve got planned projects and I just go ahead and finish them, big things will happen. Right?!

While I’m optimistic that I’ll be around for a while yet, I’m afraid that if I don’t write to them or do some of those things that will help them remember me and support them through their grief I may miss the chance and be too late. So, I have this conflict of finishing that list and triggering the worst OR finishing the list and feeling relief because it’s done if the worst should happen unexpectedly. While it may be a clear choice when written down like that, for some reason it’s one of my biggest struggles. It’s where my strength falters.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic, I think it’s more realistic. I will die – we all will at some point. I want my children to know they were everything to me, that I wouldn’t ever leave them if I had the choice. I want them to have memories as they grow, to have something that will wrap them in the warmth of a hug and make them feel safe, to have something that will remind them I’m there in those big moments in their lives – telling them all the things I would have said if I were standing in front of them as they graduate, marry, have children, save the world.

For those who have lost a parent, I don’t want to bring up feelings of loss that have already been worked through, but I want to get this right. In my connections in the cancer community (stupid cancer – there’s enough of it that we have a community), I’ve met young people who’ve lost their moms or dads to cancer. I would love to hear from some of them what helped with their grief, what did their parent leave behind to let them know they were loved beyond words, what helps them when they’re in need of a parent (advice, hugs… whatever) who is no longer around. What don’t you have that you wish you had? What would comfort you? What would help you move on from the grief with strength and confidence, knowing that parent is in your heart and with you always. What advice would you have for those of us at risk of leaving our children behind?

Everydayleft, Right, Left…

As we near the one year anniversary of my Brain Surprise, my family has decided to show their support and love by helping to raise funds for National Brain Tumor Society in our local Silicon Valley Brain Tumor Walk on October 26th. My husband and brother-in-law have started a team: EveryDayLeft, Right, Left…  Get it?

ABOUT NATIONAL BRAIN TUMOR SOCIETY

National Brain Tumor Society is fiercely committed to finding better treatments, and ultimately a cure, for people living with a brain tumor today and anyone who will be diagnosed tomorrow. This means effecting change in the system at all levels.

We have a rigorous and thoughtful agenda, integrating research and public policy to bridge critical gaps. Starting with discovery science, to clinical trial design and the development of new therapies, there are many opportunities to make improvements and speed the momentum of new findings.

National Brain Tumor Society is the largest brain tumor nonprofit organization in the country, hosting events, workshops, and scientific symposiums throughout the United States. Learn more at http://www.braintumor.org.

ABOUT BRAIN TUMORS
  • Each year over 210,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with a primary or metastatic brain tumor – that’s over 575 people every day.
  • Because brain tumors are located at the control center for thought, emotion, and movement, their effects on an individual’s physical and
    cognitive abilities can be devastating.
  • Among children under age 20, brain tumors are the most common form of solid tumor, and the second leading cause of cancer-related death, following leukemia.
  • Brain tumor research is underfunded. National Brain Tumor Society is the only organization that not only funds significant research, but also advocates for increased government funding.
  • No two brain tumors are alike. Prognosis, or expected outcome, is dependent on several factors including the type of tumor, location, response to treatment, an individual’s age, and overall health status.
  • There are more than 120 different types of brain tumors, making effective treatment very complicated.
If you’re local, consider joining us as we walk and raise awareness and desperately needed funding. If you’re not local, consider just spreading the word, helping us raise awareness and funding.   Just click here: EveryDayLeft Right Left 

Thank you for your support!

Karyn

An Amazing 100 Years

My husband’s grandmother turned 100 this year in January. She has passed away, leaving a legacy of love and a century’s worth of memories.

She was a powerful force – her brain still sharp as a tack, but her body quitting the game on her through her last years and days. She said, ‘It’s not much fun being 100, I’m not sure why anyone would want to do it.’

She lived a full and interesting life, one that demonstrated her determination, her intelligence, her generosity, her love of her family and her commitment to friends and community.

She went to college and graduated in 1933 with a degree in Chemistry. It was rare for a woman to go to college during that time, let alone study chemistry. Because there were so few jobs during the depression, she ended up teaching until she got married.

She moved her 2 eldest children from Kentucky to New Mexico during WWII to be closer to her husband – who’d been asked to participate in a top secret project in Los Alamos. There was no housing available for them (they weren’t supposed to be there, after all), so they bought and set up tents and lived in a Bandelier National Monument campground for the summer. Her youngest daughter was born in New Mexico, her birth certificate stating that she was born at a PO Box in Santa Fe – the only known address for the families associated with the project.

She survived two fights with breast cancer before modern medicine and treatments were fully formed. A mastectomy and radiation therapy were radical and new, but she made the brave decision to be aggressive with her treatment and showed the beast she was not to be reckoned with.

She had an incredible memory and was a great story teller. She had always been very athletic and taught exercise classes until her mid 80’s, at least. She left an indelible mark on her community, had lifelong friends, carried herself with confidence and grace, demanding respect without ever asking for it. We often use her as our guidepost for manners expectations – ‘would you sit like that in front of Grammie?’

I feel grateful to have had the chance to know her, learn from her, hear about her amazing life, and see the love her family had for her. I am also grateful that my children got to know their only surviving great grandparent.

She is survived by 3 children, 9 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. She was loved and will be missed greatly. She lived a full, interesting life and was able to leave this earth on her terms with as much dignity as possible.

Her family is remembering her today with immense love in their hearts.

Grammie

Wishes For My Daughter

My daughter turned 10 years old this week. It feels like a big milestone, she’s more independent, more mature, more attitude-prone.

I’d really like to be around for the next decade, or two, or three of her life to see her reach those milestones every child (because they’re always YOUR child) reaches on their journey in the world. I’d like to be there for the moments that she smiles bigger than ever, her heart bursting with joy.  I’d like to be there for the moments when she needs a mother more than anything – to tell me her fears, secrets, dreams, and wishes – just to hold her hand or hug her or encourage her to carry on because ‘this too, shall pass.’ I’d trade anything to just be there. With any luck, I will be.

She’ll make new friends and lose old friends, discovering what true friendship means and how valuable friends are in life. She’ll have first crushes, first boyfriends and have her heart soar and then broken. She’ll love unabashedly and find someone to love her unabashedly back. She’ll have adventures and mis-adventures. She’ll make mistakes and learn from most of them. She’ll read a million books and get lost in every one, going back to her favorites when she needs an escape. She’ll create – words, art, music – whatever inspires her soul. She’ll care for others and hopefully let others care for her. She’ll discover who she is as a person in this world, hopefully always being true to herself and celebrating her uniqueness.

Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes she drives me to tears. Sometimes she reminds me too much of myself. Sometimes I feel like a competent parent and other times a total failure. But she’s beautiful and strong-willed and I love her so much my heart will burst. No one said it was easy – parenting is hard and messy and a series of trial and error, but it’s the greatest job in the world.

I wish that I could easily find the words to teach her the lessons I hope she’ll learn along the way to becoming the strong, confident, compassionate, and loving woman I know she’ll be. I feel a little fraudulent sharing ‘words of wisdom’ using the words of others, but sometimes others find the right words for the wishes and thoughts that are hiding in my heart. One day soon (a dangerous promise in the world of GBM), I’ll start that journal I bought for her and use my own words – hopefully I’ll have enough courage to find them.

There are so many lessons to teach a daughter in a lifetime, but here are some that come to mind as she enters her second decade:

You will always be beautiful, inside and out – believe that you are and know that beauty comes from within

Live in a way that if anyone speaks badly of you, no one would believe it

Treat everyone with kindness and respect, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are

Don’t change so people will like you, be yourself and right people will love the real you

Creativity takes courage – never stop being courageous

Expect nothing and appreciate everything

Nobody’s perfect, accept others for who they are, the imperfections make them more interesting

Think too much and you’ll create a problem that wasn’t even there in the first place

Close your eyes, clear your heart, and let it go

If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together…there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think, but the most important thing is even if we’re apart…I’ll always be with you.

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