30 August 2011

Joy is Born of Ordinary Moments - - - The Care Communities

Mamma Jamma Beneficiary #4
"A Burden, when shared, is cut in half. A Joy that is shared ... is doubled." 
                                                               --- a Care Partner

It is a very basic principle: No one should have to face a serious illness alone, and no one should have to die alone. It is the vision of The Care Communities
to make this a reality. Volunteers go through a short training session and learn the importance of unconditional care. A personal community is then formed when 3 to 6 of these volunteers, the Care Team, are paired up with the person who is ill, the Care Partner. This video highlights 3 such caring communities:

Haley is a 34 year old single mother with a 12 year old son, struggling just to get by. In 2010, she lost her job and a month later was diagnosed with breast cancer. After her treatment began, not only did she lose her hair but radiation caused an infection in her teeth. She cannot get dental care because her emergency Medicaid does not pay for it. Two months ago, Haley found out her cancer medication caused her heart to go into congestive failure. Her treatment was put on hold and she was told to limit her activities to keep her heart rate down. Doctors told her after a month of being on new heart medication her heart would heal, but it has not. She still needs 6 more months of her cancer medication, but the heart issue prevents this. 

Fortunately, Haley has had a Care Team from The Care Communities. They help keep her house clean, ensure there are clean clothes, do grocery
shopping when she is too tired, run errands and help maintain her yard. The team also plans to clean out her garage and help with a garage sale. These are ordinary things, but the Care Team is the lifeline that keeps things as normal as possible for her and her son. Haley is a mentally strong woman who is fighting to keep herself healthy and provide for her family. Knowing she has help allows her to spend her energy recovering. Who knows where she would be today if she did not have a Care Team?

Generally, each Care Team volunteer commits to 4 hours a month. They offer non-medical assistance such as:
  • Light Housekeeping
  • Shopping
  • Meal Preparation
  • Supportive Child Services
  • Yard Work
  • Transportation
  • Pet Care
A first time volunteer might expect a somber situation, but soon find themselves laughing and having a good time. They become part of their Care Partner's life at a deep level and find it a privilege to walk with them on their illness journey. These volunteers find joy, a journey of joy, daily amidst ordinary moments. As Care Partner Dory so eloquently states, "I can LIVE the rest of my life, not DIE the rest of my life".

You might think it is unusual for anyone to need a Care Team. Unfortunately this is not the case. "Do People Write You Off?" - was the title of a post in a cancer forum I frequented during my treatment. Reading the replies, I was stunned to see this was more common than I expected. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, "Terminally ill cancer patients have a higher-than-average divorce rate, and it's almost always the husband leaving his sick wife." It is one thing to learn you have cancer, it is even worse to face this disease alone.

The Care Communities celebrated their 20th anniversary of unconditional care in 2011. They started informally, within the faith community in 1991, to provide compassionate, end-of-life support to AIDS patients in Austin. This was a time when many were shunned by their families and had no one to care for them. In 1997, encouraged by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, they expanded their services to the cancer community. They now provide Care Team Services, free of charge, to over 120 Care Partners each year with a waiting list for 30 more. If you live in Austin, please consider volunteering your time to this very worthy organization. For volunteer opportunities, contact Roger Temme at roger@thecarecommunities.org.

"Every human being has a great, yet often unknown gift: to care, to be compassionate, to become present to the other, to listen, to hear and receive-- If that gift would be set free and made available -- Miracles could take place"  - Henri Nouwen

The Care Communities is just one of the
10 Beneficiaries of the Texas Mamma Jamma Ride
THIS, is why I ride

You can support my fundraising efforts here

27 August 2011

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Last weekend was tax-free shopping in Texas for back-to-school items. Families were busy buying the necessary school supplies, new clothes and backpacks - and saving a little bit of money. I was thinking of my mom.

Mom & I in 1998
I was in town for her birthday AND and Astros Playoff game!!

I don't need the local news station to remind me when the first tax-free weekend was. It happened in 1999 - the same weekend we drove to Houston because a heart attack had put the girls' Grandma in the hospital. We got a little shopping done but our hearts weren't in it. As it turned out, it would be the last time that Mark & the girls would see her, she would pass away less than 2 weeks later. I was fortunate enough to be by her bedside.

There is one other thing that always reminds me of Mom, and that is her Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies. If I had a bad day at school, she would cheer me up with their aroma and a welcome homework break. They were my favorite and it was the first thing she taught me to bake.

This time, I decided to change them up a bit by adding pretzel m&m's instead of chocolate chips. However, before I could get the cookies baked, some of the pretzel m&m's had disappeared!! So, I made half a batch with chocolate chips and the other half with the m&m's. I really liked the bit of saltiness the pretzel m&m's gave to the cookies.

Cream the shortening and brown sugar

Add eggs one at a time

Add flour & 1/2 of the milk/vanilla

Add the oatmeal and remaining milk/vanilla

Beat well after each addition

I divided the dough in half and added m&m's to one
and chocolate chips to the other.

Grandma Larson's Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup  Brown Sugar
1 cup  Shortening
2  Eggs
1 pinch of Salt
1  teaspoon Baking Soda
1  teaspoon Vanilla
4  tablespoons Milk
2  cups Flour
2  cups Oatmeal
2  cups  Chocolate Chips (I used 1 cup chocolate chips, and 1 cup Pretzel m&m's)

Cream together the shortening and the brown sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time. Beat until fluffy. Add the salt, baking soda and vanilla to the milk. Stir well until dissolved. Add 1/2 of the flour, and 1/4 of the milk mixture. Add the rest of the flour and another 1/4 of the milk. Add 1/2 of the oatmeal, 1/4 of the milk, the remaining oatmeal and the rest of the milk. Be sure and beat well after each addition. Stir in the chocolate chips. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Bake 12-14 minutes at 350 on a Silpat or parchment paper.

There's one other thing I love about making this recipe. Every time I make them, I feel like Mom is right there in the kitchen with me.

17 August 2011

Cancer Connection - You are NOT Alone

Mamma Jamma Beneficiary #3

Karen Greif was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2000. Like so many before, an unwanted door was opened in front of her and she stepped across the threshold into a frightening world of uncertainty. Chemotherapy and its side effects became her reality. As the days went by, Karen realized she was fortunate, "Family and friends provided emotional support, offered encouragement, and surrounded me with the healing power of love". Her primary caregiver was her husband Bill. Once Karen's treatment was behind them, they dreamed of a cancer support network that would model the care and compassion they experienced as patient and as caregiver. The Greif's decided to model their program after CanCare of Houston - as a result, in 2004, The Cancer Connection came to life.

Over 400 volunteers have stepped forward to help Karen & Bill fulfill their vision and have given thousands of hours of their time. These volunteers for The Cancer Connection have a special quality - they are either a cancer survivor or a cancer caregiver. After completing a 10 hour training class, they serve the Central Texas community in one, two or all three of the following ways:
  • One-on-One Matching Program; survivor to survivor & caregiver to caregiver
  • Oncology Visitation Program
  • Hospital Visitation Program
    One of the Volunteer Classes
In February 2011, Julie McLeod was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer -
"A week after my diagnosis, I was recovering from surgery, scared that it had possibly spread to more lymph nodes than just one. My family surrounded me and we prayed for the best, though the mood was a forced cheerfulness. In the midst of our darkness, we were visited by two angels from Cancer Connection. They brought hope in a time of fear…hope that was deeply instilled in my being. I treasure that hope even to this day and look forward to passing it on with love through my Cancer Connection participation. I can happily say I am a Survivor, ready to celebrate my first year in remission. I can't wait to give back what Cancer Connection gave to me...HOPE!"                                                     – Julie  
As I mentioned in my post Why Volunteer?, I have a goal to increase my volunteer commitment to my community. Like Karen, I was blessed to have several women - all of them survivors - as my mentors throughout my treatment: 
  • Long time friends, Kay & Evelyn, and my sister-in-law Lynn, were just a phone call away. When I was first diagnosed, they gave me a sense of calm - I had watched them go through their cancer. It was doable.
  • Helen was a physician, I turned to her to interpret the language of my biopsy report, among other things.
  • Kathy shared her lumpectomy & radiation experiences with me, fortunately I ended up not needing radiation.
  • When I needed a mastectomy & reconstruction, Dolise and Laura became new friends - referred to me by my surgeon. We talked for hours on the phone, and they checked in with me both before and after my surgery. We met face to face for the first time in the infusion room when they brought me care packages on my first day of chemotherapy.
  • Sally came into my life one month before I knew I would need chemo. When a surprise 2 cm tumor was found, and I needed chemo after all, I gave her a call. It turned out she had the exact same treatment one year earlier. She prepared me for what was coming and gave me lots of tips that helped me deal with my side effects. Talking with her took away the fear more than any video I watched at the oncologist's office.
My friends would tell me how well I was handling everything, they weren't aware of my secret weapon. These women were my angels and looking back, perhaps I had more than my fair share. Not every cancer patient is so fortunate, many face the diagnosis alone. Even if they know someone who has had breast cancer, it could be completely different by stage, type or treatment. I had good matches throughout my journey, but my husband Mark did not. He worried about me more than he let on, I believe my cancer was harder on him than it was on me. When he let his defenses down, I could see it in his eyes.  A caregiver connection could have helped him. That is the beauty of The Cancer Connection - they get to know both the patient or caregiver AND the volunteer so that a good match can be made for everyone involved.

What a blessing Bill & Karen Greif, and The Cancer Connection have been to the Austin community. A diagnosis of cancer is a time when no one should be alone, and thanks to them, no one has to be. They do need more volunteers, so if you are a survivor or a caregiver, don't wait ... contact them today.

(UPDATE: went through their volunteer training program in the fall of 2011. Since then I have volunteered at a local oncology infusion room and have been a mentor to several women. What a joy to pay it forward!)

is just one of the10 Beneficiaries of
the Texas Mamma Jamma Ride.
THIS is why I ride.
Please support my fundraising efforts here

12 August 2011

Doors of France

My last post about our bike tour of Paris has me reminiscing about the two weeks we spent there in 2008. I've decided to share a video I made about our trip, but first there is a little background story to tell.

I am a faux finisher, trompe l'oeil artist wannabe. I've taken classes at Vigini Studios in San Antonio, but for whatever reason, lack of confidence perhaps more than likely, I have not put this passion into action (outside my own home). I love the artistry of Nicola Vigini, Pascal Amblard, and Michel Nadai.

 (L) Door Knock by Michel Nadai -- (R) Wine Cellar by Nicola Vigini

These paintings (yes they ARE paintings), are two of my favorites. I'd love to be able to paint something even 1/10 this beautiful some day. Should I ever even attempt a trompe l'oeil painting like this, I'd need to have something real to look at. That takes me back to our France trip. As we traveled around the countryside, I was surrounded by beautiful doors and architecture and began taking pictures for reference ... LOTS of pictures. It became a joke between myself, and Mark & Laura. I would either hear "Hey Mom, there's a door, do you have a picture of that one yet?" or "Really, another one, don't you have enough YET?". Well, the answer to both was usually "NO!". Halfway through the trip Paul McCartney's song, "Let 'Em In" popped into my head, ( someone's knockin' at the door ... somebody's ringin' the bell ♫), and an idea started brewing. I began taking specific pictures of "open doors" with this in mind. When we got home, I put together my video.

A few artistic notes:
  • Pay attention to the words, "knockin' at the door'' & "open the door, and let 'em in" - I tried to match up a closed door with an open door that leads to one of the many places we visited.
  • The last montage of pictures takes you up the pathway & stairs we climbed to the top of the abbey on Mont St. Michel.
  • One of the last pictures is of the doors of Notre Dame being refinished, which to me represented the future.
  • The picture of me in front of a blue door was taken at the end of our trip when Laura said, "Wait, Mom, you don't have a picture of THAT door"!

TIPS: Double click on the link to view it and that will take you to YouTube. It is best watched full screen, and be sure to have your sound on (it starts after 15 seconds). All this being said, it's not anything spectacular, but it is kind of quirky and I like it. I hope you do too, please leave comments!  :)
Here's the video, ENJOY!:

One more thing of note, we would plan the next day's events in our hotel each evening. The night before we visited the Hotel Dieu in Beaune (a former hospital) in the Burgundy region, I learned we would be seeing an old fashioned Pharmacy. Laura was interested not because she's a chemist, but because the guidebook suggested we look for "Poudre de Noix Vomiques"! That explains the pictures of both Laura quizically searching & Mark excitedly finding their "Vomit Nut Powder"!!

Tour de Paris

I wanted to post this 3 weeks ago when the REAL Tour de France ended but I didn't have access to my photos. Better late than never is what I say!!

Though the race is usually decided the next to the last day, the ride into Paris and the laps around the Champs-Elysees are thrilling to watch. That is why, after reading about the Fat Tire Bike Tours of Paris  for a trip there to see our oldest daughter Laura in the summer of 2008, it moved to the top of the list of things to do. Laura is not an avid cyclist and took a little convincing. In the end, she agreed and we chose the night bike tour that included a boat ride on the Seine. Let me just say that aside from my marriage and the birth of my children, this has got to be in the top 3 of my All-Time Favorite life moments. We all had a magical evening and it was MUCH better than walking!

 No reservations were required, we just met our tour guide at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Then we walked a few blocks to where they kept the bikes.

This was our wonderful guide. I wish I could remember her name. 
She was spending the summer in Paris 
and would return home to Texas A&M in the fall!!

She noticed the Longhorn on Mark's shirt right away!!

After a few safety instructions, and a review of the plan for the evening we began our tour. I KNOW, it's not safe to use a camera while you are riding a bike, but c'mon! I was riding a bike in the streets of downtown PARIS!!!

The tour included a "mandatory" stop for ice cream 
at Berthillon Ice Cream, the most famous ice cream shop in Paris.

Views from the bridge

View on the bridge - myself, Laura & Mark

 An impromptu street performance. They casually walked past us,
set down their boom box, and just began dancing.

Every bike had a name, mine was "Lil' Bandit".

Some of the Tour Stops

A June sunset on the Seine

So here I'm thinking "Oh My GOSH!!" 
"We're riding into the Louvre Courtyard!!"
Of COURSE I had to take another picture while riding one handed. 

Proof that we were there. It took a couple of loops around 
the courtyard for the guide to snap the picture just right!

I Love this picture! It was like we had the Louvre to ourselves.

Yes, we just rode down this street - part of the route 
for the final laps on the Champs Elysees!
I pretended I was Lance.....until we had to stop & wait for traffic to clear. 

"The Champs Elysees"
Down the road is the Arc de Triomphe & the finish line for the Tour de France.
I was channeling the voices of Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett right about here.

Looking back at more of the tour route

We parked our bikes and boarded the tour boat.
Our evening ride on the Seine began - it even included wine!

It doesn't get any more romantic!!
(Thanks, Laura, for taking the picture!)

Each bridge we passed under was different but equally stunning. 
This is definitely one of the best ways to tour Paris.

Notre Dame coming and going - equally gorgeous

 The Conciergerie - 
This former prison sits on the Ile de la Cite. Over 2,300 prisoners were sent to the guillotine from here - including Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVII.

Our boat passing under a bridge

 A perfect ending to a perfect night.

As we rode our bikes back to our starting point, as if on cue,
the Eiffel Tower started sparkling like a glittering diamond.

If you have never been there, I hope you can make it to Paris some day. We were fortunate that Laura was there for the summer doing research at the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie and we could stay in her apartment. You MUST put the Fat Tire Bike Tours of Paris on your bucket list. The company belongs to some Texas A&M graduates and is quality through and through. You don't have to be an expert bike rider, but you can imagine that you are a cyclist in the Tour de France!!