Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! I am SO excited for the spooky festivities tonight. Our neighborhood throws the most spectacular party and I am beyond excited for the kiddos to trick-or-treat this year! In honor of Halloween, today I'm showcasing our pumpkin carving party!
Happy Halloween!

See previous pumpkin carving parties here.


Friday, October 28, 2016

Sausage, Bean & Kale Soup

Matt recently requested a "healthy" soup for dinner. I did a little research, presented some options and together we landed on a kale soup! Honestly I wasn't that excited about it at first but since Matt was all about it I decided to go with it. Spoiler alert - it was fabulous, which means I needed to share it!
Kale White Bean and Sausage Soup
Recipe from Cooking Classy

1 Tbsp olive oil
12 oz beef Kielbasa Sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots (about 3)
1 1/3 cups chopped yellow onion (1 medium)
1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 (14.5 oz cans) low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 oz kale, thick ribs removed, chopped (about 1 1/2 bunches. 5 oz if using pre-cut)
2 (14.5 oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Shredded parmesan cheese, for serving

*I recommend doubling the recipe and freezing for later!

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add sausage and cook until slightly browned, tossing occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove sausage, while leaving oil in pan, and drain sausage on a plate lined with paper towels and set aside. Return pot with oil to medium heat, add carrots, onion, and celery and saute 3 minutes (while scraping bottom of pan to get the browned bits), add garlic and saute 1 minute longer. Stir in chicken broth, water, parsley, rosemary, oregano and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and allow to gently boil 10 minutes. Add kale and allow to boil 10 minutes longer until kale and veggies are tender. Stir in cooked sausage and cannellini beans (you can add more broth at this point to thin if desired). Serve warm, top each serving with parmesan cheese.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Post-Mastectomy Life {1st Boobiversary}

Today marks ONE YEAR since I had my tatas removed and 8 months since I got my new ones! Every now and then I read back through my mastectomy posts and honestly can't believe how intense my whirlwind journey was. First there was the decision. Then lots of appointments. A Ta-Ta to the TATAS party. The surgery. The relief from the surgical drain removal. The first tissue expander fill. Then more fills. The highly anticipated exchange surgery. And the recovery.   

I can't describe how thankful and relieved I am to have this is all behind me now. I couldn't be more excited to celebrate my first boobiversary! 

So what does life look like now?
Well, if you are a regular reader you have a pretty good idea, but for those of you who landed here for my "mastectomy tab" you probably want an update! One thing I really struggled with while prepping for this journey was finding blogs that posted updates beyond the surgery and recovery. I felt like I read every single post from these brave women and then they disappeared after their reconstruction surgery and I often wondered "Well, what happened afterwards? Did normal life resume? Were there any complications? Did you experience any other emotions? Do you like your new boobs?" So today I want to give a progress report on life 365 days later...

**Note, my experience comes exclusively from a prophylactic decision. I know many of you are facing a different journey with chemo, radiation and more so your experience may look different.

First, I am excited to inform you all that normal life has completely resumed! I don't even think about the mastectomy very much anymore and it already feels like it was forever ago. During the thickest part of the journey it seems like you'll never feel normal again but I promise each day gets better and the worst parts of the journey fade into a distant memory with each passing day.

Stomach sleeping: I absolutely prefer to sleep on my tummy at night and adjusting to this position after my surgeries took a very long time. With your new boobs you'll feel like there is a large foreign object between your chest and your bed. It is very awkward and uncomfortable for awhile (for me this was about 10 months). However, I found that laying a mini pillow under my chest helped me slowly transition back into tummy sleeping. 

I also received some really great advice for massages! When you need to lay on your tummy for a massage just roll up a towel and lay it under your chest to take the pressure off your breasts. Works like a charm.

Nipples: My doctor gave me the option to keep or remove my nipples. Keeping them increased my risk of cancer to less than 1% and after lots of thought I made the decision to keep them. Although it's not often, there have been several times since my surgery where I've been glad to have nipples to avoid the awkward stares or questions from strangers who don't know your story. For example, getting a custom spray tan, changing in the gym locker room, etc.

Loss of Sensation: Probably the most annoying part of the process, not being able to feel my breasts is very, very weird. The doctor told me I had a highly unlikely chance that any of my nerves would grow back and so far that remains true. He said I'll know for certain right around one year post-op. As of now, I have minimal feeling around the base of my breasts. For the most part it isn't a big deal but being at the pool all summer with little ones tugging on my bathing suit definitely kept me on strap patrol worrying about my suit slipping and not recognizing it. (And yes, this has definitely happened)! 

Bra Shopping: One amazing benefit I discovered post surgery was that most insurance companies are required to cover your bras after your mastectomy. Shockingly my insurance covers an unlimited amount of bras for life. So off to Nordstrom I went...with a one year old...which I don't recommend...
The New TaTas: First, I am extremely grateful for my new (forever cancer-free) girls. During my pre-op consultation with my doctor, Matt and I went with my surgeons recommendation -- Allergan Natrelle Inspira silicone implants aka "gummy bear implants!" Apparently the cohesive silicone on the inside of the implant is very similar to Gummy Bear candy. But we selected them for reasons beyond that. These implants are actually specifically designed for women who have undergone a mastectomy or have very little breast tissue. With the Natrelle implants, I don't have to worry about leaking silicone, they hold their shape much better than saline implants and there is only a 3% chance they'll ever need to be replaced. 

Since we didn't know exactly what size implant would fit the pocket the expander had created, my doctor tested out a variety of implants during the procedure to see which one looks best. With each implant option he literally sat me up on the operating table like a puppet to examine the size (height and width), projection (how far they stick out), fullness (volume of cc's), evenness, etc. Since he is the breast expert, we told him to shoot for a full C cup and he took it from there.

You can read more about the implant/reconstruction process here.
BEFORE pictures on left, AFTER pictures on right
Honestly, this upgrade is definitely something I am still getting used to. Some days I love them and some days I still feel a little awkward by the size. I am 4'11" and I swear they turned out way bigger than I had anticipated. Also, despite the fat grafting I have some minor rippling (that absolutely no one but me would ever notice), which is very common for this procedure. 

Also, after a few months after my exchange surgery I began to notice my left breast was settling lower than my right by about an inch. This is also common in mastectomy surgery and I knew this risk going into the procedure. The implants are heavy and are being held in place by surgical mesh. However, over the following months I became more and more self-conscious by the misalignment. Most people wouldn't ever notice but I notice and it drives me crazy, especially when I'm wearing something with a lower cut there's only cleavage on one side or if my shirt is fitted you can kind of see the unevenness (if you're looking for it). But the most obvious misalignment is when I'm wearing something with a plunging neckline...
So, I wasn't going to do anything about it because the end goal was truly a cancer-free life, but my girlfriends have been pushing me to get them fixed. And Matt agrees only because he knows it bothers me. So off I went to my plastic surgeon (who I really love) to have him take a look and he informed me that 1. yep, totally common 2. it's a super easy fix and 3. insurance will cover any and all future adjustments for life! So that pretty much sealed the deal. 

On December 1st I will have a revision surgery. 

Although the recovery is no big deal for this one, the downside (which is actually pretty terrible) is that there is a very strong possibility that I'll require two weeks of drains (again) which as you remember was my worst experience throughout the entire journey. Because my revision will require more surgical mesh, the doctor will insert drains to remove any fluid build up as a precaution against infection. I'm trying not to think too much about that part though!

Also, I have the option to change my size during this surgery and despite my girlfriends strongly advising me against it (what can I say, I have very close, opinionated besties) I am leaning towards swapping out my implants for a smaller size. Verdict is still out.
TaTa party cake!
 So there you have it -- life is pretty darn fantastic 365 days post mastectomy!!!!! 

I recently celebrated my 30th birthday which was the age my mother was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I can't imagine the fear she faced as she prepared for chemo treatments and radiation followed by the devastation of learning she would be leaving her husband and two baby girls behind shortly after her diagnosis. By choosing this surgery I was able to fight cancer before it could even begin and have proactively reduced my breast cancer risk down to 1%. If my mom would have had this opportunity, I know she'd still be alive. And I know she's proud of me for making this brave decision to stop the trend of breast cancer in my family

The journey was definitely one of the hardest things I've ever been through but I would do it again and again and again, without hesitation, to be where I am today -- healthy and cancer-free. Happy 1st Boobiversary to me!


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tom Tom at 15 Months

I posted a brief update on Tom Tom to Instagram recently but wanted to share some additional highlights for his (online) baby book! A few weeks ago Thomas turned 15 months old and he is more wild than ever. We always thought Caroline was our wild child. And then we had Thomas. He keeps us on our toes Whether it's eating dog food out of the container, jumping off the back of the couch, pushing chairs around the house to use as step stools to gain access to higher furniture and more, Thomas is 100% wild boy and we love him so.
Leggings // Tom's Shoes // Tom's Shirt
Since Thomas's strabismus surgery we have seen a tremendous improvement in his verbal and physical development. In a matter of days following the surgery his vocabulary increased by a handful of words, some of the cutest being "up," "walk" and "more." He also went from a wobbly walker to a wild sprinter. We are so dang proud of him and are extremely grateful for his progress. 
Some other fun 15 month highlights include:
  • 22 pounds!
  • Favorite word is "cheese!" 
  • Biting. Yes, we have our first biter in the fam and it's absolutely horrific. If Thomas and Caroline are squabbling over who gets to play with a toy he just isn't afraid to take a bite out of her cheek and let her know who is boss.
  • Such a good eater. Tom Tom loves pancakes (prefers them frozen), must have a banana within 30 seconds of waking up in the morning, loves milk and eats way more junk food than Caroline ever did at this age. He is always hungry and signing and saying "more" constantly. He can take a packet of applesauce down in under a minute, can clear several boxes of raisins and especially loves string cheese, mandarin oranges and frozen blueberries.
  • Fights us SO miserably hard on the changing table or getting into his car seat.
  • Climbs everything -- the couch, tables, steps, etc. 
  • Wears 12 month clothes comfortably. 18 month clothes fit but loosely.
  • Uses a paci at bedtime. 
  • Loves bath time and brushing his teeth
  • Already lost one of his tubes.
  • Verdict out on hair color but appears blonde. 
  • Obsessed with music and loves to dance.
15 month favorites: Dance & Move BeatBo // Mickey Activity Ride On // Drill // Stacking Blocks // Kitchen + Play Food // Pull-Back Cars // Dump Truck // CAT Rumbling Truck // Train Bath Buddies // Wagon // House // Table // Sippy Cups // Bibs // Pacis
Skeleton Jammies
Day after surgery!
Gosh, he is growing so fast. If you need me I'll be buried in some tissues.


Monday, October 24, 2016

HelloFresh vs. Blue Apron

I have to get something off my chest...

I recently cheated on HelloFresh (HF) with Blue Apron (BA). Ever since I subscribed to HF I've been peppered with BA emails, mailers and weekly promotions. I finally caved and gave it a shot to see if I should make a switch.

Before I go into a full review of both meal subscription services I want to say that this post isn't sponsored and neither BA or HF have reached out to me to review their delivery service -- although I'd totally be excited if they did! But the good news is that you get my truly honest opinion on both services.
WEEKLY PLAN PRICING: For both services I chose the two-person box which comes with 3 generous portion recipes (I found both services leave just enough leftovers to feed my toddlers or pack a lunch for the following day). However, if you're looking to feed a larger family you should consider the family plan. Here is how the plans stack up against each other in terms of pricing...
 Both plans offer free shipping, the option to skip weeks whenever you want and cancel any time.

MEAL & DELIVERY CUSTOMIZATION: Both services allow you to customize your boxes by choosing from a menu of weekly chef-curated recipes (including vegetarian options) either on the website or on the mobile app. However, HF offers a little bit more flexibility with six menu options to pick from and you can further customize your recipe preferences by adding a filter to your account such as quick, variety, pork-free, beef-free, seafood-free or fit (meals 500 calories or less). BA picks the default meals for you based on your saved preferences but gives you an option to swap out dishes from another menu. However, not all substitute options may be available so choices can be limited.

You can also customize your delivery schedule. For both services, you can skip a delivery (or multiple deliveries) with at least a week in advance notice. If you aren't home during delivery your box is left on your doorstep. Both systems use the same frozen gel packs for insulated shipping so your box is packaged to stay fresh for the entire delivery day. The packaging is also modified depending on the season or your location.
PACKAGING: I found this to be the biggest difference between the services.

HF has the best packaging stratagem - everything I need for each meal is contained in three cardboard boxes, inside the larger shipping box.

BA throws ALL of the ingredients into one large box. Additionally, most of the ingredients come in individual shrink wraps or paper bags. The extra packaging seemed wasteful but I did appreciate BA taking up less precious space in my fridge. Also, one thing I had to be extra careful about with BA was some of my recipes required the same ingredients in different amounts (mainly spices), and in a hurry one evening I used the incorrect portion with the incorrect meal so you need to pay extra attention when sorting out your ingredients!
RECIPE CARDS: Both services include full color recipe cards on card stock with photo demonstrations and easy step by step instructions to prepare the meal. Personally, I like HF cards better because they are smaller so they fit better in the stack inside my kitchen drawer and I love that HF includes a kitchen tools list and estimated nutrition (not just calories, but carbs, fat, protein, and fiber).

THE FOOD: With BA and HF all of the ingredients are super fresh, locally sourced and arrive in pre-measured quantities. You receive everything you need (down to pinches of chili flakes and one-ounce bottles of vinegar) with the exception of olive oil, salt and pepper. With HF I feel the ingredients are prepped one step further than with BA. For example, an annoyance I had with BA was the garlic wasn't peeled and it added a ton of extra prep time to my meal. For me, this basically canceled out some of the promised convenience.
Both services consistently produce flavorful meals but the BA Pork Chops & Spicy Chow Chow was hands down one of the best meals I've ever made. The BA recipes were a little more experimental which I enjoyed because I'm always looking to improve my cooking skills. The HF recipes are a little bit healthier with simple mainstream dishes that balance the right amount of flavor and complexity.
My favorite recipe from HF has been a tie between the Caramelized Onion Burger (Matt's pick) and Feisty Fiesta Fish Tacos (my pick).

I also can't rave enough about how both systems offer the highest quality meats and seafoods. In fact, my experience with HF ingredients has somewhat made me a meat and seafood snob now when grocery shopping. I love how fresh the seafood is, how the chicken comes trimmed with no fat and the portion size of beef/pork is always so generous.
THE VERDICT: Both services do a terrific job of delivering amazingly fresh ingredients and offering a variety of dishes and easy-to-read recipes. I felt the deliciousness of the BA meals canceled out the inconvenient and wasteful packaging. And the HF ingredient prep, fewer steps and simplified packaging cancel out the higher pricing (a few dollars more than BA).

While meal delivery services aren't for everyone and can be more expensive than your normal meals, I suggest trying it out as a treat from time to time if you want a free pass on meal planning, the luxury of having your groceries delivered to your door and learning new skills.

Want to try HelloFresh? Use promo code MG8GKD for $40 off your first box! That means you can try out HelloFresh for $29 and then cancel after your box arrives or keep on going. I don't have a code for Blue Apron but I would suggest trying both services out to see which one you like best!

Bon Appetit!

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