Christmas Goodies 2016 Version

After several years of making some of the same treats for Christmas (some of the favorites are posted here), I decided to make some new random treats along with some tried and true recipes.

I made Snickerdoodles from the classic Betty Crocker Cooky Book – these are a well loved family favorite with green and red sugar instead of cinnamon. The other regular treat that I couldn’t skip was the M&M pretzel hugs – they are easy and delicious.

I wanted a thick chocolate cookie so I made these Chocolate Crinkle cookies – prettier than I expected and just enough chocolate flavor.

mm-hubgs chocolate-crinkles

As a replacement for my favorite peppermint cookie, I found White Chocolate Peppermint Chip Cookies ( The recipe calls for Andes Peppermint Crunch which was impossible to find locally. I combed through the comment sections of this and similar recipes to find out what other people substituted for the Crunch. There were lots of suggestions and I decided to work with something I have used in the past – Hershey Candy Cane Kisses. I pulsed them in the food processor into tiny pieces and the resulting bits would be great in hot chocolate on as an ice cream topping.
peppermint-chocolate-chip peppermint-crumbs

To replace the classic toffee recipe, I made Heath Toffee Cookie Bars (

And finally I added another simple pretzel and chocolate recipe. I made pecan turtles last year and these were much easier and just as good. (
toffee-bar pecan-rolo

I spent a lot of the weekend in the kitchen and sometimes I even had a good little helper or two.

baking-buddies2 baking-buddies

October Went Falling Away

October is one of my favorite months – I love fall. It’s Juliana’s birthday month. The heat of the summer is replaced by cooler temperatures. It’s a lovely time of year.

But it’s also one of the busiest months of the year for our family. School is cruising along with early mornings, homework and activities. Soccer season takes up much of our weeks – this season Juliana had practice 2 nights a week and games on Sunday and the boys had practice another weeknight and games on Sundays. Add to that two weeks that I was traveling on business and a third week that Scott was traveling and things got more than a bit hectic. In fact the month was so busy that we moved Juliana’s birthday party to the first weekend in November so we would be able to prepare for and enjoy her celebration.

One of the activities that we always make time for each fall is an outing to a pumpkin farm with a group of friends (some favorites: 2015, 2013). It’s something that we started many years ago and the kids look forward to our annual trek. We aren’t the only ones who are busy this time of year and we had trouble finding a date to get the group together. We finally found a random Friday evening and met some friends.

Juliana spent lots of time picking corn and feeding the goats.
juliana-hay juliana-goat4

juliana-goat1 juliana-goat2

They climbed on the truck, ran through the corn maze and played in the pumpkin patch.
ruslan-truck ruslan-pumpkins
wyatt-patch wyatt-cute

As usual they spent the majority of our visit running back and forth from the tractors and other farm equipment to take turns “driving”.
ruslan-tractor1 ruslan-tractor
wyatt-tractor2 wyatt-tractor
boys-tractors wyatt-combine

As usual I tried to get some pictures of my crew together and failed. This picture sums up what it’s like trying to take a picture of this group and captures the moments that I hope they always remember.

Thyroid Cancer and What That Means for Me

I wrote about my thyroid surgery at the beginning of June and haven’t talked about it much since. A lot has happened since then and we finally have all of the answers that we will have for now.

It’s a long story…so here’s the short version. In the words of my surgeon – cancer is a scary word, you had thyroid cancer, we removed it and you are going to be ok… By definition, thyroid cancer is cancer, but it doesn’t spread as easily and is treated differently. Thyroid nodules are common and 95% of them are benign.

The beginning part of the summer and now the rest of the story.

When I scheduled the initial appointment with the surgeon they told me that they would need the slides from my fine needle aspiration biopsy. There wasn’t time to have them transferred so I had to pick them up. The pathology lab at the hospital where I had the initial procedure is in the basement…in the same hallway as the morgue. When you picking up your own biopsy slides to hand carry to a surgeon to discuss your future, let’s just say that experience didn’t make me feel any better.

Scott went to the surgeon with me and the appointment started with a brief exam and then she sat down and asked if anyone had discussed the pathology report with me (I only knew there were concerns, but nothing specific from the test). She went on to explain that the results were inconclusive but they were rated into percentages and I had some level of choice in how we would proceed.

For the samples on the left side where there were several 1 cm nodules, there was a 10-15% chance there was cancer so I could have done molecular testing to confirm and if the testing was negative I would have needed to be tested every year to ensure there weren’t any changes. However, there was a 3 cm nodule on the right with a 70% chance of cancer. And I could have still chosen additional testing at this point, but the risk wasn’t worth it. I quickly decided that surgery was the only choice that made sense.

The surgery went as well as it could – my entire thyroid was removed, along with a small sample of one parathyroid, and some lymph nodes to be tested. The surgeon talked to Scott after the surgery and told him that she would be surprised if it wasn’t cancer. The biggest risk factor in thyroid surgery is damage to one or both vocal chords – I was very happy to wake up and find that my voice had not been impacted. I spent one night in the hospital and went home the next day to rest and recover. I started my thyroid hormone replacement pills which I will take as soon as I wake up every day for the rest of my life.

One week after surgery I returned to the surgeon’s office for a follow-up. She assured me that my incision looked good and we went over the cytology report. None of us were surprised that the large nodule on the right was cancer, but I wasn’t expecting to hear how widespread it was – 8 samples throughout my thyroid. So removing it was 100% the right decision. On the positive side, the parathyroid and lymph node samples were clean.

I left that appointment with a plan to discuss next steps with my new endocrinologist.

Treatment for thyroid cancer can take two paths:
1 – Remove thyroid and treat with radioactive iodine – the iodine will be absorbed by any remaining thyroid cells and poison the cancer. Iodine is not absorbed by any other organs so it is an efficient method of dealing wth any remaining cells.
2 – Remove thyroid and monitor

My endocrinologist ran some blood tests including a thyroglobulin test to measure the amount of thyroid tissue remaining in my body. The levels came back incredibly low. That result combined with the fact that the cancer was discovered and removed before age 45 (barely) means that we are taking approach number two. My thyroglobulin levels will be monitored and I will have annual ultrasounds – if either of those tests indicate that thyroid tissue is increasing then radioactive iodine is still an option at that point.

I had my three month post-op appointment with my surgeon last week and she declared that my neck is healing as it should and discharged me as a patient. My TSH levels are on target which means the medication is working and my calcium levels are normal which means that my parathryoids are still functioning correctly. I have an ultrasound scheduled for next summer and in the meantime I get back to normal life.

jen jen-pirates
jen-kennywood jen-boys

Tales of Fourth Grade

Juliana could not be more excited to start fifth grade tomorrow. She cleaned out her locker in our front hallway without being asked. All of the summer stuff is put away and her backpack and new shoes are ready for tomorrow morning. I don’t know if there are children who love school more than she does.

Fourth grade was a challenging year for her. It started the week before school when we saw the class list…her best friends were all in the other class. She was very sad when the year started and there were times that those friendships were strained.

Over the past few years, Juliana had shifted from wearing dresses and skirts every day to wearing shorts in the summer and occasionally jeans in the winter. In Kindergarten she wore pants once, in first grade not at all. I bribed her to wear a jumper on the first day of fourth grade to match her other first day pictures. She wore shorts or pants the rest of the year. She also only wore tennis shoes, no more flats. So back-to-school shopping was much more simple this year. One new pair of tennis shoes, a few more pairs of pants and shorts, and new socks – everything from last year still fits.

juliana-first-day-fourth juliana-last-day-fourth

Juliana started to spend more time getting ready in the morning and put extra effort into her hair. Gone were the days of leaving the house without touching the hairbrush and there were fewer ponytails.

Sleepovers included giggles and whispers about boys…

After 4 years of gymnastics she decided to quit but continued to play soccer. Much to my delight she played her first season of basketball and loved it.

The biggest difference between fourth grade and the previous years was that she had to work for her A’s. It was the first year that she was frustrated with assignments, the first year that the perfect scores were no longer easy, and the first year that I ever saw her study at home for a test. She worked harder and continued to earn high marks.

Her love of reading continued. She was still done with her work before most of the class so she would complete an hour of reading for her daily log during school and another hour at night. She read the entire Harry Potter series within a few months. Her favorite genres are fantasy and mystery.

I had the opportunity to watch her introduce herself and give an overview of a school program to a room of over 100 strangers this year. She didn’t know that she would be asked to talk and I watched her stand up and speak loudly to the group. There was no shyness or fear in her voice. I was amazed because 10-year old me would have never spoken so clearly and confidently to a room full of people.

She has a vivid imagination and big dreams for her future.

She is still my little girl but solidly in the tween years. Growing up faster than I could have ever imagined.

juliana-me-beach juliana-beach

No One is Born a Racist

Like so many of my fellow parents, I woke up with a heavy heart today. I didn’t want to see the news and find out how many more lives were lost overnight as a result of racism and guns. Raising kids in a divided country is challenging. Raising kids in a country where I worry about mass shootings is painful. Raising kids in a country where their black friends might be treated differently because of the color of their skin is unacceptable.

Weeks like this I struggle to explain the news to my children because there is no reasonable explanation.

Babies are a blank slate when they are born, but they quickly form a world view based on what they see and hear from the adults in their life. The racist joke at the Thanksgiving table that causes someone to laugh or the uncomfortable silence by others – opinions are being formed. Once they are in school, they may see someone excluded from a group based purely on the color of their skin – opinions are being formed. The examples are everywhere.

This morning as I continued to think about the week’s events, I remembered a conversation from this past weekend.

We had spent most of the day at Kennywood and we decided to stop for Ice Cream on the way home. Along the way, we drove through the neighborhood where Scott grew up and continued past his elementary school. Scott mentioned that he and his brother (the one closest in age to him) had walked to school. Juliana was quiet and then said that Daddy only had one brother. In 2011, Scott and I made the choice to not expose our children to that brother for several reasons. So they haven’t seen him 5 years, and I had forgotten how long ago it was.

I started to explain why they don’t see that Uncle and Juliana calmly asked if he was a racist. And then she got mad. She yelled – “People have no choice over the color of the skin they are born with! Why would you treat someone different because they don’t look like you?” I remember when they talked about racism in a social justice unit at school. She came home for school so sad and confused. I feel the same way.

I don’t get to keep my children in a bubble and control everything that they see and hear. And I certainly don’t have all of the answers. But I hope that they learn enough about compassion and tolerance to grow up and help make this country a better place.

last-day-wyatt last-day-ruslan

Happy Father’s Day


Wyatt is currently terrified of bugs and especially mosquitos. I don’t know if it is the Zika virus news or not, but he is convinced that you will die if a mosquito bites you. There is no reasoning with him, because how do you have a reasonable conversation with a child who starts shaking . . . → Read More: Happy Father’s Day

His and Hers Neck Surgery Scars

This story started 5 weeks ago tonight when I slipped and fell on our stairs and landed hard on my right hip. Wednesday morning when I could still barely walk I called the Doctor’s office and they told me to go to the ER for x-rays. The x-rays were negative and they told me . . . → Read More: His and Hers Neck Surgery Scars

The Mansion House

This story started several months ago. The boys often talk about growing up and buying a house. Sometimes they decide that they will live together when they grow-up but Wyatt has a new plan now. One day he asked about really big houses and someone said, “you mean a mansion?” “YES, I am going . . . → Read More: The Mansion House

Wyatt has a Way with Words


Wyatt was asking for a pencil to work in his Word Search book in bed. My mom told him he shouldn’t take a pencil to bed in case he falls asleep with it. Wyatt: “You think I don’t know how to use a pencil? I use a pencil every day at school.”


Juliana . . . → Read More: Wyatt has a Way with Words

Wyatt and Giant Owl Went to the Dr Today – One of Them Has a Fracture


I didn’t think we would make it this long without a broken bone in our household. With the way the boys constantly roughhouse, climb and jump off of everything, and run full speed without a second thought of obstacles in their path…we are lucky that there have been few injuries over the years.

The . . . → Read More: Wyatt and Giant Owl Went to the Dr Today – One of Them Has a Fracture