Tag: family

Update

For those who still have me on their reader list despite my long absence, here is a fast version of major life events since my last real posts in 2010.

1. My “heart cat” Calvin died suddenly in Summer 2011. He developed sudden liver disease and despite a week in the hospital and multiple surgeries, he did not make it. I still miss him tons.

2. We bought a house in august 2011. My dad was super excited to be a part of the process as our “professional expert” and voice of reason. We bought a home with about 8000 sqft of land, so it’s just big enough to make it a small urban farm, and we’ve spent much of the last three years making that dream happen. Still a long ways to go, but I’ll be starting up another blog at littlecityfarmseattle.com for the urban farming stuff if you are interested. A few pictures of the house from early spring as well are below.

3. My little bro got married the day after we closed on the house. That was a happy week in our family. My sister in law is a good balance for my brother, and it’s nice to see him so happy and centered.

4. My dad died December 21, 2011. He stuck around long enough to see his kids settled into their lives and then I think he decided he was done fighting so hard. It’s the most devastating thing I’ve ever been through. I miss him every single day, and I’ll write more about my thoughts and experiences at a later time.

5. My brother and his wife bought a house about two miles from ours in February 2012, and announced they were expecting. They had been trying for a long time, so this was a very big deal. I have no idea if my dad was able to influence that happening in any way from wherever he is now, but I’m sure that if he could have, he would have, because he wanted grand kids more than anything, and would have been an exceptional grandfather.

6. We got conned into another cat. Vinnie Van GoghGo is a one-eared, heart-nosed 25 lb nutjob who was thrown from a car on the freeway and rescued. He has two thumbs on each front paw and can use them opposably. No kidding. He can get into everything and we have child locks on all cabinets or else he will help himself to food and treats and whatever else he can find. He is extremely food-motivated and will do anything for a treat. His former owners taught him to sit up and beg. That was what got us. He say up and begged at us when we were saying we couldn’t take him. Sigh. I’ve taught him to shake paws. He is apparently half dog. He has his own YouTube channel, and is quite the ham. http://youtu.be/w31rpSMQH2k

7. My niece was born 11/27/12 and is the light of my life. Her expressions are so much like my dad’s sometimes, and she has his eyes, which is pretty cool. I love that little girl more than life.

8. I had major spinal surgery in December 2012 due to the disease I have. The disease created new bony growth which interfered with normal function and caused a disc to blow out into the nerve root as well as the spinal cord. The osteophyte (new bone spur) was in danger of severing the nerve root where the nerve exited to my left arm. It was essentially en emergency as I had lost all involuntary reflexes in that arm and had numbness, tingling in my hand and severe pain in my neck and shoulder. Surgery went well, took about 8 weeks to heal, though I went back to work after four weeks (which in hindsight was stupid!) I feel a ton better now but do have a bit of permanent damage as well as donor bone and a titanium plate in my neck.

9. Work is still work for me. A couple of promotions and I’m fairly happy, though I’m aware I’d make 150% or more of my current salary by going elsewhere. It’s hard to give up the five weeks vacation a year and other benefits that come with long-term seniority, though.

10. My husband is no longer with Child Protective Services. After 20+ years, it was time to be done with being on call 24/7 and being in crisis mode 100% of the time. The stress was killing him. He now works for the county, in the court system, supervising those who advocate for kids whose families are struggling with substance abuse. They work hard to make sure the kids’ best interests are represented to the courts.

11. I’m on a new combination of treatments that are really making a huge difference for my autoimmune disease, though I’ve collected a new one since we last spoke – diverticulitis. I’m not the typical at-risk person for diverticulitis, as I eat lots of fresh raw produce and high fiber, low inflammatory foods, and not a McDonalds eater. It’s the opinion of my doctor that one medication we tried may have caused it, as it can be a very rare side effect for some people. It was horrible at first, but has become manageable as long as I eat properly (not an issue) and don’t get over-stressed (working on it.)

12. We are making a big life change. Huge! The biggest! More detail on that coming very soon.

Here are a few pics of the house and yard. The first is when we bought it. The ornamental plum in front had been butchered so we had to remove it. The other pics are from late this spring. I’ll take some updated pictures tomorrow as the garden is in riotous bloom and growth for summer.

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Recipe: Best Chicken Pot Pie

It got incredibly cold here today (high of 32) and we were craving comfort food, so I whipped up this chicken pot pie. This recipe can be prepared ahead of time and assembled just prior to baking.

Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 60 min
16 Servings

Ingredients

crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t cinnamon sticks, ground in spice grinder
1/4 t whole nutmeg, ground in spice grinder
1/2 cup plain crisco, frozen and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup butter, frozen and cut into 1/2″ cubes
6-8 tablespoons ice water

Filling:
3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
2 carrots, diced
2 cups frozen petite peas
2 stalks celery, diced (about 1 cup)
3 medium (2-3″) potatoes, peeled and diced to approx 1/4″ cubes – approximately 1 cup yield
1/2 large onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 T butter
2 t chicken bouillon paste/cubes (or chicken stock demi-glace)
2 T flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 t dried sage, chopped
1/2 t dried thyme, chopped

Crust:
Sift dry ingredients together in large mixing bowl.
Add butter and crisco. Using a pastry cutter, two forks, or a fork and knife, cut and slice through mixture until it resembles coarse bread crumbs with some chunks the size of peas. Sprinkle one tablespoon of ice water at a time over top. After each tablespoon, give the mixture a quick toss with two forks. Do NOT overwork. This is the key to a super light, flakey crust. After half the water has been incorporated, watch closely, as mixture will come together suddenly. Once it begins to stick together, gather into a ball, divide in half and roll each ball out to 1/4″ thickness, adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Shape crust into 9x9x3” lightly oiled casserole dish, covering bottom and sides completely.

Filling:
Preheat oven to 365 degrees F
In a pan, dry-sear chicken until browned, turning once. Cube and set aside in large mixing bowl.
Add carrots, celery, and half the diced onion to same pan. Sauté until veggies begin to sweat. Pour into bowl with chicken.
Deglaze the pan with 1 cup water to create a rich stock. Once stock begins to boil, pour into a cup and put aside.
Add onion, minced garlic, and butter to pan and saute until onions begin to brown. Sift flour over top and stir until all onion is coated.
Add reserved liquid, spices and bouillon, and cook down to thick gravy, stirring constantly.
Pour over bowl of vegetables and chicken, and allow to cool.
Once cooled, pour filling into prepared crust, and top with second crust. Pinch edges shut to seal, and cut slits in top to vent. DO NOT use an egg wash – it makes crust gummy.
Bake at 365 F for one hour or until crust is golden brown and gravy bubbles through slightly.
Cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.

**hint: When making pie dough, always double your recipe and stash half of the dough in a freezer-safe ziploc bag. Date the dough and make note of any special ingredients (butter dough, shortening dough, any additional spices, etc)

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Dad’s Journey, continued.

After my long hiatus, I’m going to try to catch you all up on what’s been going on. Definitely it’s been a LOT, and again I apologize for being gone so long!

So in mid-July, we got the news after an exploratory laparoscopy that the tumor was indeed Pancreatic Cancer. In addition, it was adenocarcinoma, which is the most fast-moving, aggressive form of what’s commonly known to be a 100% fatal cancer. Most people receive a Pancreatic Cancer diagnosis and have weeks or months to live. This is mostly because it is a very silent cancer, and really doesn’t produce symptoms, other than some general fatigue, until it’s metastasized into other organs.

Fortunately, the location of dad’s tumor was at the end of the pancreas, and was donut-shaped, wrapped around the main artery as well as the ducts that carry bile and insulin between the pancreas and the rest of the body. Apparently he has an abnormality in where the artery is located. In most people the artery would be nowhere near this location, and the tumor would be operable. In him, it was quickly determined to be much too dangerous to try to operate. The tumor was squeezing the artery and the ducts closed. While he was producing insulin, it wasn’t getting out into his body, so he had severe diabetic symptoms.

Backing up a little bit, for about two weeks he was drinking a gallon a day of very sugary juices because he was craving them so badly. This caused his blood sugar level to spike up over 600 – normal is just under 100 or thereabouts. So he felt like utter hell, and was also beginning to look a bit jaundiced (we later found out this was due to the backup of bile.) Mom got him in to see the doctor right away, and they instantly knew something much more serious was going on and ordered a CT scan. This was when they found the tumor and prepared us for the worst.

My parents are lucky enough to live near Virginia Mason Medical Center, where some of the most advanced Pancreatic Cancer research is currently happening. They decided that they’d be insane not to take advantage of it, as VMMC was showing 95% one-year survival rates, and around 10% 5 year survival rates. This is DOUBLE what anyone else in the US is getting for results.

We’ve had a number of ups and downs – good bloodwork one week, bad the next. Thinking it was maybe not the aggressive sort of tumor, and then being told by the doctors that they just hadn’t been able to biopsy inside it due to the small size and difficult location. Finally, the news that it was the aggressive kind, and he’d have to start chemo immediately. So toward the end of July he started chemo. He’s on once a week treatment with the Gemcitabine & Docetaxel protocol that Virginia Mason is using with such good results. He has had chemo two weeks, off one week, rinse repeat for coming up on three months now.

At two months, they did bloodwork. His original CA-19 marker was at 1400 when he was diagnosed. It’s now down to 60. This is a really good predictor of long term outcome. Apparently with that dramatic a reaction to the chemo, that quickly, he is pushing himself into those very small numbers of people who make it. And a couple of weeks later, last week, he had another CT scan. They can no longer see the tumor on CT. It’s shrunken that much.

The plan now is to keep on doing what they’ve been doing, at least through December for a total of about 6 months. Then for another six months they will POSSIBLY cut down the amount of chemo, depending on hos he’s doing. If all continues to go well, they’ll hit it with a hard dose of radiation in May, and see where we end up.

So that’s the deal.

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My Absence Explained

Sorry for my long absence. There’s a lot going on.
First, L’s surgery went beautifully. I documented it all in Word, and will eventually post it here, back-dated, so you can read it “as it happened” so to speak.

The current stuff is not good news.
My Dad is sick. He has a tumor in his pancreas. Chances are VERY high that it’s malignant. It’s blocking the duct, and there’s a second spot in the body of the pancreas as well. Surgical consult is Wednesday and my understanding is they’ll go in pretty much immediately if it’s operable. He’ll be treated at Virginia Mason, where there is a Pancreatic Cancer specialty program that has a 55% 5 year survival rate. Anywhere else it’s 5%. He’s “under” right this moment, undergoing an endoscopic ultrasound in order to stage it. It looks like Stage 1 from the CT scans, but we’ll know more in about an hour.

The good news is that each tumor is only 1.5cm in size, and they’re not usually found until they’re about five times that. He had cut out soda and cookies and started walking, and had lost 60 pounds. About 2 weeks ago he started craving fruit juice, and was drinking over a gallon a day. Since the duct is blocked he isn’t getting any insulin, so his blood sugar was well over 500 and it made him really sick right away. His cholesterol was also off the charts and potassium was really high as well. He was terribly jaundiced, and generally felt awful.

Thank God he gave in to those juice cravings and made himself so very sick so fast. It means he has a higher chance that he’ll survive this.

Keep him in your prayers please. The surgery will have some tough consequences either way.

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