Easter Holiday Round Up

So we are nearly at the end of the Easter holidays and we have been BUSY!

We went to the annual easter fair and rode loads of rides.

and got headaches..
We ate candy floss:

and got really sticky

really, really sticky
It was the first time we have done the fair and not had one too small, or one too scared, to go on the rides we wanted to go on and it was SO NICE to not have to negotiate or commiserate or console, we didn’t even have the mandatory fights over how much is reasonable to spend on rubbish fair ‘win a prize’ games (me: 0€ the kids: however much is needed to win the prize they want).  Even the moaning at home time was minimal and quickly forgotten. It was perfect.

The next day we went to a Port village near us,  you get there on an old style train with wooden carriages and then get an old wooden tram to the port. No pictures of train or tram as they were pretty jam packed and keeping hold of kids who wanted to stand outside took priority.  It makes a pretty easy day trip as the trip there and back is the biggest part for them at least.  Sandwiched in between is coffee in the square before catching the tram then picnic lunch on the beach followed by some paddling and rock climbing.   Due to my ‘delicate state’ (snicker) I still get away with lounging around while my poor long suffering H tries to stop them killing themselves (success!) and getting wet (fail!).  Then ice creams and home. What’s not to love.

  

Day 3 was a quick morning excursion up a hill behind our house (look at that sky. Sigh) with some friends and lots of kids.     Followed by a family lunch.. 
Which I have mentioned before is never a small affair…   

(this was just the adults´table)

We went to see H finish his marathon 

And hunted for easter eggs:

 


Went on ANOTHER excursion to this amazing beach:   
We crammed it all in because the last few days the boys have had easter sports camps and I also had my last IV session! Woot!  I was determined to get some mileage out of that first long weekend of the holidays and I think we managed it.

Right now I am on day 3 post chemo and feeling quite rubbish but in another day or two I will be coming out the other side and in another 10 days I finish the rest of the medication. I feel like I should have something more momentous to say about that but, well, I guess I will wait until I get there and see how I actually feel about it all.  Right now I feel like… SLEEP!

All is very well with the world.

Moving on

I am sat here in my bed, Sunday morning, listening to ´Serial´ on podcast, sipping my tea, and wondering how long I will get away with it for.  H is off running 20, 30? kms through the mountains in the rain and the kids are watching Ratatouille downstairs.  A good hour you reckon?  You would be so wrong.  My kids have ´high needs´,lets say, when it comes to adult company.  I routinely feel like a terrible mother when surely, especially now, I should be savouring every moment of their delightful company?  Except they seem to need me, and to a lesser extent my husband, pretty much constantly.  They are 5 and 8.  We ARE making progress, it is not like it used to be, and yes, yes I know, one day they won´t want to be in the same room as me, let alone talk to me, so I should savour it.  I find that people who say this fall broadly into 3 categories; those who do not have children, those whose children have grown and whose memories of these days are tinted by that sweet filter nostalgia, and those who have children who regularly and frequently play independantly.

Is it my fault? Probably partly, but not entirely.  O has always been a kid who needed adult interaction, he didn´t ever like to be alone, play alone, I don´t mean preferred not to be alone, I mean terrified to be alone.  And so the parenting pattern, as is so often the case, got set with the first.  Y is a much more independant kid but of course he watches and learns and does, to an extent, mimic the behaviour.

Of course I don´t know what really happens in other homes, probably much the same, mainly.  The kids asked for pancakes for breakfast, last night, so I made up the batter before I went to bed.  This was a well thought out time saving device however it also lead to me cooking up pancake batter before the kettle had even boiled the water for my first cup of tea.  Pancakes eaten and at least a dozen  “Mummmmmmmy”s later I threw on a dvd, grabbed my tea, phone and laptop and hightailed it outta there.  Judge if you will.

It has been a lovely week.  A super normal week. I am feeling fine, great even, and again as my week off approaches, full of positivity about the future.  In another week I have my LAST IV CHEMO session.  I can´t wait. Next week I have an appointment with anesthesia so, fingers crossed, surgery to reverse my ileostomy won´t be too many months away.  Yay to that.  I have had so much time to think over these last few months.  A lot of time on the sofa, lying in bed, with barely enough energy to watch tv and certainly not enough to crochet or read, leads to a lot of thinking, when not sleeping.  A lot of this has been about work.  Where I am, where I want to be, how to achieve the many things I still want out of life.

OOPS. That has been  20 mins. I hear feet on the stairs.

Party´s over, I am now installed on the sofa.  My physical absence too much to bear.  Apparently.   Y, the crazy strong willed, hardy youngest, is super sensitive to sad storylines in films.  It is kinda weird.  O, the sensitive, kind hearted, oldest, is rarely bothered by the saddest scenes in films. He doesn´t connect with the emotions shown on screen at all.  Y, on the other hand, bawled his eyes out when (SPOILERS – if you can spoil mainly old films) Groot dies in Guardians of the Galaxy, when E.T. returned home, when BingBong leaves in Inside Out.   Hence the appearance in my doorway (quivering lip) “Ratatouille has lost his family”.  So here I am.

Where was I?  Right. Work. God, keeping a train of thought going while raising young children should be considered an accomplishment of its own.

I won´t bore you with the details of my job, suffice to say I have been with the company for 12 years now and am in a really good position.  I like my work, often there is little distinction between home life and work life and although that can be annoying it actually largely makes me happy, because I never feel dread about going to work, I never really feel like it is a chore. I love my job and it fits my life. On and off over the years I have wondered where it is going.  There is nowhere really ´up´ from here.  The only person above me is the boss.  There isn´t really anyone below me either, before you start thinking I am head of some major corporation, but that is irrelevant as I am not looking to move DOWN the ladder. In recent years I have just been glad that I am trusted enough to be left to my own devices.  I give a lot to the company and it gives a lot of freedom to me, to be with my kids, choose my hours, move the puzzle pieces of my life around as needed to make them fit.  So I put thoughts of grander plans to the back of my mind, decided to be happy with my lot, which in a small place dominated by seasonal work or hard-to-come-by jobs in the civil service, is really a very good one.

And then.  And.  then.

Cancer.

I expect there are mainly two responses to this life changing event.  One, eminently sensible, would be to batten down the hatches, secure your current position and hold tight.  This has its appeal.  I am absolutely confident that my boss would make sure I and my family were taken care of in the event of this battle becoming long and protracted, or if it should return. Many people would take a step back.  Scale back the demands in life, turn their focus on the sweeter things; hobbies, time with family.  Stop and smell the roses etc etc.

But there is another option and, quite unwittingly, it has become apparent that this is the camp I fall into.  This whole experience has awoken in me a drive to move forward.  Shake off the dust of the last few years, the baby/small child years where the overwhelming priority is family time. I am not suddenly going to become some high powered career woman, but I don´t want to stagnate either. I am not even 40!  Sometimes I wonder if THAT looming milestone is having more effect on me than these months of treatment.  There is a whole lot of life ahead of me. There are things I still hope for.  My own house, for a start.  We own a small flat in the city which we rent out and we currently rent the house we live in.  I would love to own the house I live in and to be honest in today´s economic climate it sometimes seems like an impossible dream.  Around here you can still get a mortgage but only  if you have a 30% deposit.  And with homes around here selling for 200K and up, that is a chunk of money that I can´t see coming my way in the near future.  And it isn´t just the house.  I want to travel more, with the kids, and travel x 4 is never cheap especially when you live on an island which means you can´t just do long weekends in the car but have to get planes or ferries in order to go anywhere.  

I have discussed this at length with H.  He is diametrically opposed to me on the work/life scale.  He is not at all work shy, he is a hard worker and would never see us go without.  But work is a necessity to him.  Something that takes time away from his running, which he loves with a passion.  I don´t have that passion for an activity outside of work. He finds this kind of strange but I get a lot of satisfaction from work. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment.  I don´t know if it would always have worked out this way or if it has just arisen from necessity.

I always thought I would be a stay at home mum, in an ideal world.  My mum was and I loved having her constant presence at home. But it just didn´t work out that way. Maybe if I had been less impatient.  Planned for longer, put a little savings aside to cover time off before having kids.  But I didn´t.  Having kids was super important to me. It is the only thing I have ALWAYS wanted.  Ever since I was very young, and right through my teenage years and on, I knew that having kids was the main thing I wanted from life.  I remember at school everyone talking about what careers they wanted. I said ´teacher´ because I was too embarrassed to say; I just want to be a mum.  So not a year after we were married we started trying for kids. I was 29 and overwhelmingly felt I had to crack on in the face of fears of potential fertility problems, advancing reproductive age etc.  At the time I earnt more than H and when it came down to it there was no way I could leave my job, we simply wouldn´t survive on one income. In the end we decided that after my 6 months leave I would return part time initially, moving to full time after O turned 1.  H then reduced his hours to part time  to minimise nursery time.  When Y was born my intention was to do the same but with one thing and another I returned to work when he was 4 months old.  So H left his job to look after him so we could hold off on childcare until he too turned 1.  And so bit by bit, slowly slowly, I found myself, more by circumstance than anything, in the role of sole breadwinner.  For the most part it was fine. I occasionally wished I could stay at home but I am nothing if not highly practical and it simply wasn´t possible.  My kids had a stay at home parent and were very happy.  It didn´t matter so much that it wasn´t me.  Besides, I work part time about 5 months of the year and the rest of the time it is mainly 9-5 so I still get a LOT of time with them.   

And so it is that I find myself here.   I have sometimes struggled with H´s lack of career drive but in the end it is a large part of what attracted me to him. Not the lack of career drive per se but where it comes from.  He just wants to be happy and have a simple, straightforward life, spend time with people he loves, doing things he loves.   In a world obsessed with material possessions and career advancement at all costs I really like that he promotes the ‘work to live’ vs ‘live to work’ side of things.  It is all about balance, right? Work/Life, Him/Me. 

Which has all been a REALLY long winded way of saying; I have done a lot of thinking and I think maybe things might be about to change. I am not sure when or how but I am putting the wheels in motion and I feel so excited about the future. 

   

    
 

A trip to the spa

I want to share my favourite game with the kids. I stress this is a game they ‘invented’ and they initiate. Every time. 

It is called ‘Spa’ and it is hands down my favourite game EVER. It goes like this;

I am welcomed into the spa area (cushions on the floor) and invited to lie down (covering blanket optional). From here on I am poked and prodded, have wet wipes slapped on me and various creams and potions applied. My hair is brushed and sometimes covered in wet cottonwool balls sprayed with superman cologne.  The most important bit? I must lie very still and very quiet and keep my eyes closed. 

Best. Game. Ever. I highly recommend you try it. 

Easter means…Empanadas!

Another weekend, another family get-together and this week, for Easter, we made Empanadas.  Well, the girls made the empanadas and the boys made the Paella.   Luckily the ingredients came prepared by one of my sister in laws so we just had to shape, fill and cook the pies. 

  
Above we have (left to right) peas, lamb, balls of dough and a mix of chicken and pork. The peas and meat mixture are seasoned with salt, pepper and pimenton. The peas also have spring onions chopped in. The sausage type thing at the top is sobrasada a spicy soft meat sausage which is a staple around here, and in the small tub there are lardons.     

gather your helpers
   
grab a doughball, set a wee bit aside to make the lid, and start shaping
 

Then add ingredients:    

  
  
  
 Now roll out the lid, place it on top and squish the edges of the bottom and top part together:   

 

look at that pleating!
 

pile them on trays
And eat! (With paella and a lot of company if possible)

the little ones helped…
 
the big ones, not so much…
 

Empanadas are not my favourite. They are quite rich and heavy and one small one is quite enough as a meal by itself, for me, let alone accompanied by a heavy main meal. But any food which involves communal making and eating is about so much more than the food itself, right? It is the whole day of sitting and chatting, shouting and noise, gossip and company. Kids surrounded by family, playing hide and seek inside or football outside or joining in the cooking.  We make enough to each have a bite on the day and for everyone to take home and freeze.  Last year we had the empanada-rama only a month or so after my mother in law died.  At that time we still gathered in her house for our weekly meals and it was one of those times that was full of the usual noise and laughter but also heavy with the absence of a loved one.   She was so much in our hearts as we kneaded and poked and filled and pleated. Months and months later my brother in law messaged us all to say he had finally cooked the last ones of the batch (so much later in fact that we were all doubtful of their edibleness) and how it had reminded him of those times and that house, so many other memories of countless other meals made and shared together.  

In my family it was only us 5 and it was Sunday mornings. Thick american style pancakes and thin crepes, bacon, eggs, sausages and garlic mushrooms, orange juice and strawberries with cream.  Slipping the dog scraps under the table. Noise and shouting, fighting, joking as my Dad prepared the feast and we prepared the table.  

Different countries thousands of miles apart, different cultures, different food, language, time but essentially the same. Family connecting in a shared space, just for a while before they all scatter back to their separate lives.  Beautiful, ordinary, moments that hold us together. 

 Crochet crochet all day crochet

So I finished the mouse heads I posted about a while ago. Unfortunately although they were nearly done for a couple of weeks I still managed to find myself frantically adding eyes and whiskers the night before my parents left. They are the couriers who will deliver my obra maestro (hahaha) to my sister for her birthday. This also means I was too up against the clock to do any final photos (boooo) but when she receives her delightful, slightly Godfather-horse-head-in-the-bed, present I will ask her to mail me some pics. They came out rather cute I must say. God know what she will do with them but HEY that is not my problem. Something something thoughts that count amright?

Because I am now clearly a crochet QUEEN I have decided instead of the 60s inspired blanket I wanted to make and gift as a wedding present I am going to gift an animal head. Because what better way that to say Happy Marriage than the faux decapitated head of a fox?  I seriously have no idea what they will make of it. But as with all handmade gifts they will surely appreciate the time and love that went in. Right? RIGHT? I mean this is no infant school half assed ‘art’ that they were forced to do as part of ’emotions week’. Well I hope it isn’t. I am slightly worried she will think it is really freaky. Sigh. Such doubt.  If it goes down well I tell you it is going to be animal heads ALL AROUND. Everyone I love will receive these for their next birthdays until they have the full menagerie. My mum is already eyeing up the zebra, I saw the glint in her eye. 

No pic of work in progress because right now it looks more like an armadillo wearing a visor and will not inspire anyone. Actually now I have made that comparison I HAVE to post the pic so you can agree that it is highly accurate:

   
This is what I am aiming for. It will get there…

 
In other crochet news I have also just been approved as an  Awesome Breastforms volunteer. I heard about them on another wordpress blog My little bs have the big c a few weeks ago and was inspired to sign up. Volunteers crochet or knit breastforms that women who have had mastectomies can wear inside their bra to ‘give them their curves back’. It seems like a really worthwhile cause and I am proud to be getting involved.  

   
    

 Reflections, as we near the end

I had my penultimate IV chemo treatment yesterday.  Last one was suspended due to unfavorable blood test results i.e. My body needed to rest and recuperate before trying again.  I was half hoping they would suspend the last two sessions. I am so over it. In that last week before the next session, when the poison has finally left my body and I have my energy back, I feel full of excitement about moving forward. Plans to slowly increase the exercise, do more work, meet up with friends more and bigger plans for the future in general. Then BOOM knocked back down to zero. Feeling like I am on the longest, biggest, crappiest comedown ever.  4 or 5 days where the only place I feel comfortable and warm, albeit bored out of my mind, is in my bed.  Then a slow week of venturing out for short trips to stretch my aching muscles and finally Normal Week. Before starting over.  It feels like a mental challenge, keeping up the motivation to pick yourself up and try to reclaim normality when you know it will only be fleeting.  But I am almost there.  I will keep going. The end is so close.  

It is all very low key, no dramatic vomiting or violent illness,  I am just quieter and more tired and I sleep on the sofa or sneak off to my room when the noise gets too much.   All in all it hasn’t been so bad really. Sure I can think of better ways to have spent the last 10 months but there have also been beautiful moments of seeing how people rally round to help each other when they need it most and that is something you only experience when you go theough hard times.  So though I never thought I would write this, here is a brief list of positives that have come out of all this shit:

1. Facing a fear (cancer) head on and coming out on top.  It was a big fear of mine. I thought it was for everyone but not so, speaking to friends others are more worried about other illnesses or accidents that have afflicted their families. Mine was cancer.  The period of unknowns in the first month or so when we didn’t know how bad it was or how far it had spread, that was tough. But once initial tests were done and treatment started it was just a process. One step at a time. Don’t look too far ahead, one foot in front of the other. Yes I do worry about it coming back but it is not the same as the fear of the unknown. I have been through it now. I don’t want to do it again but if I have to I can, and I will.  As many times as I have to.  

2. Feeling the love and support not just from family and close friends but our wider community. It has been really amazing. Hands down the best thing anyone has done for us during this time was when my neighbour handed me a note with all the afternoons she was free to collect my kids from school and give them lunch when I was having daily radiotherapy.  I could have cried.  If you know anyone needing help, take note, because I have; offering concrete help rather than vague ‘let me know what you need’ can make all the difference to someone. 

3. Realising our amazing capacity to adapt to new challenges.  Before all this I would have thought having an ileostomy was a major drama. It really isn’t that big a deal. Again, I am not doing backflips about it but it doesn’t depress me. It is the result of an intervention that saved my life. How can I feel negative about that?  Many people do ask me how I am managing with it, full of sympathy but in all honesty IT IS FINE. It is just how I go to the loo at the moment. I don’t mind the questions and I know some people really struggle but for me it is akin to asking ‘how do you find pooing?’ A weird question, right? You just do it. You probably never even think hmmm is there a more dignified way we could eliminate waste?  Its been a process of learning and I have had frustrating moments but the positive is that WE ADAPT. I should have a reversal in a few months and all will hopefully go back to normal. But reversals can go wrong and if I ever end up with a permanent stoma I will deal. Because I will be ALIVE and anything that keeps that truth going is a winner in my book. 

4. The acute awareness of the frailty of life.  BORING. I know. CHEESY. Correct. But no less true for it. I would have spouted that phrase before all this but I didn’t KNOW it.  Not until I spent a few weeks wondering if they were going to tell me it was super early stage easy to cure or that it had spread and I had weeks to live. Either were possible (in the end it was stage IIIb). And in those weeks I looked at all I had and was acutely aware that it could so easily all come tumbling down.  I hope I can hold on to this. I have ALWAYS been grateful for my life but this experience has motivated me to try to seize the day, just a wee bit more. Lets not play it so safe, throw caution to the wind a little bit more. I am still me. I am a worrier and incredibly cautious by nature so I am not about to start going to extremes. But I can try to breathe out a bit more. Leave the worries for another day. It can all be over in a second. In the last couple of weeks I have heard two stories of lives lost unexpectedly, in a flash, from close friends.  Here one day, gone the next.  It is so hard to comprehend how that is possible. I am grateful to have been given a chance to face up to my own mortality and think about what I would like to leave behind for my kids because although I hope to live a long life there will still come a time when they might appreciate small snippets from when they, and we, were young.  

5. My husband. I have never loved him more. Seeing him face this head on with me, facing his own fears of the possibility of a life without me, raising two young boys alone, yet being an absolute tower of unwavering strength for us all.  He keeps it all going. 

6. My kids. Y sits next to me and strokes my face or climbs into bed to cuddle for a moment before racing off to the next adventure.  O tidies up toys and helps his brother more than usual and with less fuss. Yes it sucks for them to see me low, but I am proud to see how compassionate they can be.

7. My close friends and sisters  My two best friends from school and my sisters all flew out to see me within months of my diagnosis, separately and it made me feel so loved and cherished and  made me realise yet again how lucky I am to have them in my life, no matter how far apart we are. 

Overall it has been almost a year of pushing aside daily life. Work, Exercise routines, all routines, and just BEING. In the moment. Being with friends, being looked after and cared for.  Just STOPPING and really being forced to look deeply at my beautiful, beautiful life. I feel so blessed for it all.