The Hardest Year

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Me and Mom on our last Mother’s Day together 2016

I wrote and rewrote this sentence so many times I am sick of thinking how to say this, so I am just going to say it because there is no good way:

My mom passed away at the end of June after a 10 month battle with pancreatic cancer at 68 years old.

Writing that my mom passed away still takes my breath away.

I started this post many times over the past month and wasn’t ready yet. Grief is a giant roller coaster. The previous drafts were written when I was at the bottom of the coaster.  Today happens to be a day when I am at the top so I figured this was a good day to get this post done.

My blogging was really put on hold as we took on her illness as a family. I am starting to realize now how much I want to be back here, writing, although I am not the same person I was a year ago.

The Story

I am going to be brief and to the fact.  Mom was diagnosed with Stage III (could have possibly been IV) pancreatic cancer last August. At the time of diagnosis, her tumor was advanced and inoperable. She underwent chemo for six months and the beginning went as good as it can for chemo. We were very blessed that she got five “good” months during treatment where we were able to spend as much time together as possible.

After six months of treatment, scans and blood tests confirmed the chemo had stopped working and the cancer had spread. She was supposed to start a new chemo regimen when the pain escalated so much she was admitted to the ER where tests confirmed she had a blocked bile duct due to the cancer and a stent had to be replaced to open it up.

After the surgeon got in there he could see what the cancer had done. It had spread, it was aggressive, it was invasive. Not only on her pancreas but was eating away at her intestine so much that her stomach couldn’t empty. She was in so much pain.

He told us the words you never want to hear. “I’m so sorry. There’s nothing else medically we can do. It’s time to call in hospice. Get her home and keep her comfortable.”  My dad asked how long she had left. “Days to weeks.”

Days to Weeks

She lived for 27 days at home with hospice support. My dad, sister and I were there with her every day. Being a part of the death process is mystical; it transcends human understanding. It was a sacred time, equal parts beauty and love mixed with extreme grief and overwhelming anxiety. The people who work with hospice are truly extraordinary human beings with a calling.

We surrounded her with love, conversation, laughter. We watched old movies together. My sister sang to her. We prayed. She fought to get every last second with us here on this earth. She was SUCH a fighter. To live for 27 days in the state she was in was nothing short of a miracle.  Although it was by far the hardest thing I have ever experienced, I will always treasure this time with her.

Life After

When she did finally pass we all had a sense of relief that she was finally released from her pain and the disease that destroyed her body.  We are Christians, so we have our faith and believe her spirit lives on in heaven with God and we will see her again. Having a spiritual belief and faith has been so important to our family during the most difficult time.

That doesn’t change the fact that there is a huge hole in our family and in our lives.  She was our beacon, the rock of our entire family.  Figuring out our roles and how to exist without your beacon is a process, and a painful one, but one we are learning, baby steps at a time.

We let almost seven weeks pass before having her Celebration of Life memorial service, which was last weekend, and it was an overwhelmingly beautiful event filled with so much love.

Preparing for the service over those weeks was incredibly hard, but turned out to be an important part of the grieving process for me.  It was so painful I found myself wondering how people DO this?

We decided to do a slide show and at first I couldn’t even stand to look at photos of her, it was so hard.  But the more I did, the more my eyes were opened to how HAPPY she was. How HAPPY our family was. How much time we spent together. How much LOVE we shared. These images of her…. healthy, vibrant, sparkly….these images started to replace the ones I had of her at the end when she was so very, very sick. It was a gift to remember all the happy images.

I also decided I wanted to speak at the service. My mom was so awesome I wanted to share her awesomeness as a mother with everyone.

Writing has always been cathartic for me, and going through the process of writing my eulogy was healing.  I sobbed and sobbed for weeks while working on it, but through the pain, I was able to recognize just how BLESSED I was she was my mother. How special and close our relationship was. How wonderful my memories were. I was able to find joy in my words. And as a bonus, I cried so much writing it that I was able to get up there and deliver it without one tear. I was able to speak with a sense of gratitude instead of grief.

What I Know for Sure

In the midst of the darkest days when you are most shattered with pain and grief, opportunities also arise to see beauty and light and I now know these things for sure….

- Angels exist. They are the people God sends to take care of you and love you during the most difficult of times. People we knew who stepped up and showed up in such a way our hearts will be forever touched, and people we didn’t know yet who were there to help us through. From the moment she was diagnosed, people have been put in place all along the journey to see us through. We are on earth to love and care for each other.  There is no other time than in a crisis when you will see angels shine so brightly.

- Grief is too much to take on alone. My dad, sister and I are all in individual counseling and my dad has been regularly attending a bereavement support group, to which there are no words for how grateful I am he is getting help and support. Feelings of grief are so intense and so overwhelming, you need the help of professionals to navigate the emotions and give you tools to help you heal.

- There is no way around the grief, you have to move through it. I found myself saying, I wish I could just push a button and fast forward to next year.  I wish I didn’t have to live this upcoming year of “firsts.” You know, the first time I don’t call her to share which teachers my kids got, first time she misses my daughter’s soccer games and gymnastics meets, first birthday without her, first Thanksgiving, Christmas…the list goes on and on. It hurts. SO BADLY. But there is no short cut, this next year and likely the year after that are going to hurt, a lot. Some days hurt more than others. There is no recipe for getting through it, but you have to grieve. Some days hurt less than others, and some days it changes from moment to moment. My hope is for time to help heal.

- Her spirit is with us. People have said they feel the presence of their loved one after they passed and I never knew exactly what they meant, but I do now. I have felt her presence with me and have seen signs that she is very pouring out her love on us and her spirit lives on. I am certain of this.

- There is no time like the present. I don’t want to sound cliche… but each day with your loved ones is a gift! One year ago today we didn’t know my mom had cancer, today she is gone.  No one knows what the future holds so take the days when your loved ones are healthy and CELEBRATE. Tell people you love them, take lots of photos and videos of your loved ones, spend time with the people you love, heal stupid arguments or misunderstandings.  With the people that matter to you – live your life in such a way that you would feel like you had no regrets.

- Pancreatic cancer sucks. It’s horrendous. It’s often detected too late and the five year survival rate is in the single digits. Unacceptable. My family will fight for progress for pancreatic cancer until there is a cure.  In honor of my mom’s legacy, we have set up a fundraiser in her memory to benefit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. You can make a donation of any amount here – > http://support.pancan.org/goto/InMemoryofJulie

Please pray for me and my family. This is going to be a process for us all. I look back to getting back here more regularly. I miss you and I miss our community.  I will be back.  Once again, in baby steps, as we all adjust to our new normal.  So much love to you all….xoxoxo jen

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10 Ways to Save at the OC Fair

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Orange County’s beloved  OC Fair opened yesterday and will be entertaining kids and adults Wednesdays – Sundays now through  August 14th.

The OC Fair is a ton of fun, but can also end up being a ton of money if you don’t know about some of the OC Fair discounts so I wanted to highlight these 10 ways to save at the OC Fair for you.

From experience, if you have kids that  love the rides, by far the best deal is to go on a Wednesday or Thursday and get the $30 unlimited wristband. Then it’s just done and you don’t have to worry about reloading your ticket or running out of rides. Best value for sure.

If planning the day of the week, Thursdays are great because kids get free admission all day, you can get the unlimited wristband AND take advantage of the $2 Taste of Fair food noon – 4p.  Huge savings. We are going this Thursday (yay!) Follow our adventure on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

10 Ways to Save at the OC Fair 

1. Read & Ride

Kids ages 5-11 can read 2 books to earn 3 free carnival rides. Click here to download the book report form. Completed book report forms can be redeemed for ride tickets at the Centennial Farm Information Booth during Fair hours.

2. We Care Wednesdays

FREE admission and one (1) free carnival ride per person each Wednesday with appropriate donation (donation changes weekly.) Click here for the schedule.

3. $30 Unlimited Carnival Ride Wristband

Sold until 5p, valid until 8p on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Enjoy all the rides you can handle for one price plus 2 free games. Required Fair admission sold separately.

4.  $2 Taste of Fair Food

Thursdays Noon – 4p. Enjoy $2 samples of select Fair treats.

5. Kids Day

Thursdays all day children 12 & under receive FREE Fair admission.

6. $2 Rides and $2 Games

Fridays Noon – 4p. Rides and games are only $2 each in the Main Carnival and Kiddie Carnival.

7. Seniors Day (60+)

Bring grandma and grandpa to the Fair! Fridays all day $2 discount on Senior admission plus FREE Ferris wheel and merry-go-round rides.

8. Rise & Shine: Saturdays and Sundays

Early admission pricing every weekend of the Fair. $3 general admission for everyone 10 am – 11 am (Discounted tickets are sold until 11 am and must be used by Noon on the day of purchase.)

9. FREE Off-Site Parking (Weekends Only)

Free parking and shuttle service is available on Saturdays and Sundays from the Experian parking structure located off the Bristol Street exit of the 405 Freeway. Follow the signs to “Experian.” The shuttle operates from 10 am-1 am Saturday & Sunday only.

10. Active Military & Veterans 

Active-duty military and veterans receive free OC Fair admission and are eligible to purchase ½ price general admission tickets. Promotion is valid all 23 days of the 2016 OC Fair. Military ID required.

 For complete information on everything this year’s OC Fair has to offer visit www.ocfair.com

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21 Quotes and Sayings about Family

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These place cards with quotes and sayings about family were a hit at our family Mother’s Day party which is why I wanted to share them with you.  They would be perfect for any family gathering throughout the year.

quotesandsayingsaboutfamily

I wanted to make our Mother’s Day celebration a focus on family…the importance of family, and the bonds that connect us. We did a big family style table and I created individual place cards with quotes and sayings about family to include.

familyquotesandsayingsplacecards

I created the place cards using a website called PicMonkey.com, which is a free design site. It’s awesome. I use it all the time for photo editing and my blog graphics. Here’s the how-to on how to make your place cards:

Go to PicMonkey.com, then:

1. Click *t design icon at top, then select 8 x 10 and you should be brought to a blank white page 8 x 10 in size.

2. On the left column, click RESIZE, then uncheck “keep proportions” and change 3000 in second box to 3300, this will make your page roughly 8 x 11, or a letter size page you can run through your printer.

3. Click “Tt” icon on left, and add your text.  You can design 4 place cards to a page. Fonts I used are “De Walpergen Pica” and “CoffeeBreak” which is the scripty one and I am obsessed with it. That’s a Premium font for PicMonkey Royale members, but you can sign up for a free 30 trial and get it. If you want to continue using PicMonkey like I do, the $33 per year for all the Premium design perks is SO worth it!

4. When you are done designing, click “Save” and save as a JPG, always using “Sean” for the best quality.  Then you can open it from your computer and print like a normal letter, but on a white card stock.

Your finished design should look something like this:

familyquoteplacecards

5. Then you cut the squares out, and can decorate if you would like.  I cut little scrapbook design pages into strips to give them color, and added them either between the name and the quote, or at the bottom of the place card. I then rolled utensils in napkins, and adhered the place card to the utensil with a double stick tape tab.

And without further ado, here are the quotes and sayings about family I was able to pull off the internet after spending a gazillion hours on Pinterest searching things like quotes and sayings about family, quotes about family, quotes about mothers, cute quotes for kids, bible verses about family, etc.

Quotes and Sayings About Family 

familyquote1 familyquote2 familyquote3 familyquote4 familyquote5 familyquote6 familyquote7

Quotes and Sayings about Mothers 

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Bible and Faith Based Quotes about Family

religiousfamilyquote1 biblefamilyquote2 religiousfamilyquote3 biblefamilyquote4 biblefamilyquote5 biblefamilyquote6 prayerfamily7

Quotes for the Kids 

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And there you have it! Hope this has given you a cute idea on how to personalize your next family party. Everyone loved the quote, and my uncle had us all go around and read ours so we could hear them all. Enjoy!

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Help for Allergies with the Honeywell Air Purifier

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Disclosure: Product sent for review. All opinions are 100% my own (or actually 100% my daughter’s!)

Millions of people suffer from spring allergies, my daughter included.  This post includes tips on how to help spring allergies and a Honeywell air purifier review we recently tested to see if my daughter got any relief from her symptoms. Hint: she did. Big time! 

help for your spring allergies

I have never experienced nasal allergies and didn’t know just how miserable they can be until my oldest daughter suffered with them.

Mornings typically are the worst for her symptoms and breakfast is accompanied by lots of sneezes, Kleenex, coughs and the famous rub the back of the hand across her nose move.  Springtime seems to magnify the symptoms two fold.

There are however, some things you can try to help relieve spring allergies.  Here are some tips sent to me from Honeywell, the maker of air purifiers and other products to help make your home more comfortable.

Tips to Help Spring Allergies 

* Save outdoor exercise for the afternoon and evening

* Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes outdoors

* Shower and change clothes after being outside

* Keep windows closed and pollens out

* Try a HEPA Air Purifier

Honeywell Air Purifier Review 

Honeywell-Air-Purifier-Review-

Our family has never used an air purifier so the nice people at Honeywell sent us their Honeywell True HEPA Allergen Remover for medium sized rooms to see if it would help my daughter’s allergies.

I was a little skeptical that it would make a big difference. However, I was completely and very pleasantly surprised at how much better my daughter has been in the mornings after sleeping with the air purifier in her bedroom. She even noticed a difference after only one night!

Things We Like About the Honeywell True HEPA Allergen Remover

* Small, compact and energy efficient

* There are 4 different levels you can set for cleaning (Germ, General Clean, Allergen and Turbo) and a delayed shut off time of 2, 4, or 8 hours.

*  Quiet. We use the Allergen setting at night, and it sounds like a quiet air conditioner. She describes it as “soothing” – like a white noise.

* Dimmer option. This is huge. My daughter has to have the room COMPLETELY dark when she sleeps. Unusual I know for a kid. To have the option to have the light completely off was huge for us. If your child likes a night light however, the dimmer light would be perfect.

* Her room smells so good! It has made her room smell so clean and fresh! I will also be using this in our guest room before we have overnight guests because our guest room can tend to get a little musty.

* Electronic filter replacement reminders.  This will be good for me to be automatically reminded to replace the filter.

* It’s MOBILE! She has the worst allergies down at her grandparent’s house due to dog dander, which is one of her greatest offenders.  I am so excited to be able to take our Honeywell air purifier down to their house to give her relief when we visit.

I noticed the first morning after sleeping with it in her room that she seemed better at breakfast.  I asked her if she noticed a difference and she said she noticed a “big difference,” most noticeably she was not sneezing as much when she woke up.  She also said she has not been as stuffy in the mornings.

For anyone with spring allergies, or anytime allergies, I would highly recommend trying out one of Honeywell’s HEPA air purifiers.  I think you will notice a big difference too!

 www.HoneywellPluggedIn.com

Follow Honeywell on Twitter | Like Honeywell on Facebook

 

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Dry Divas

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Dry Divas Coupon Code

Colleen, the owner of Dry Divas, wants to treat all of you special mamas this Mother’s Day with Dry Divas coupon code MOM for 20% off!

drydivas

Many times in my busy mom life I ask myself, can I pull off my hair’s current state without washing it? Because let’s face it, some days there is just no time to blow dry. On those days, dry shampoo and my Dry Divas shower cap are my best friends.

Dry Divas Shower Caps

Dry Divas carries a darling assortment of high-quality and also high-fashion shower caps for those days when you need to rinse off and want to preserve your hair from getting wet.

The elastic stays put (doesn’t inch up) and will last up to 2 – 3 years.  This is no standard, find in the hotel room shower cap, this is a full on bathing accessory!

They are also machine washable and are made here with love in the good ‘ole USA.

These make the best gifts for girlfriends so I wanted to share the Dry Divas coupon code of MOM for 20% off so you can stock up on Mother’s Day gifts, birthday gifts, hostess gifts and any other occasion when you want to give something unique she will love.

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To complement the darling shower caps and to complete your beauty routine in style, you can also find matching cosmetic bags and spa bands.  The cosmetic bags are only a + $8 add on with your shower cap purchase.

The spa bands are perfect for keeping your hair dry when washing your face or putting on a mask.

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I hope you are all looking forward to Mother’s Day and I hope this post gave you some good new gift ideas! Have a wonderful weekend!

www.drydivas.com

xo

Jen

 

 

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