results

When Negative is a Positive

When looking for signs of malignancy in a pathology report, a negative result is a good thing. A positive result is a bad thing. My biopsy was positive for cancer. Bad. Treatment? Take it out. Done. 

This week I received the first pathology report that gave data on 3 things that were removed during surgery: Lymph Nodes, Right Breast and Left Breast. Since I knew that the Right Breast contained cancer cells, it wasn’t expecting any huge surprises, just more details. The Left Breast was removed prophylactically (for my convenience) so I wasn’t expecting anything there. But the Lymph Nodes? Now that data was going to be important. 

Path report snippet

Such great news! Negative! Woot Woot! 

Before we go too far along, let me explain a bit about the lymphatic system – that will give you an idea of why this is such a big fucking deal. 

The lymphatic system carries lymph – a clear fluid (from Latin lympha, meaning water). Lymph works in conjunction with the circulatory system (which carries blood). It travels along and filters through lymph nodes (we have between 500 and 600 in our bodies). Here’s a look at the area of interest to me:

Diagram
In other words, armpit. 

Lymph nodes and the lymphatic system are very important in the cancer world, because when you have cancer, the lymphatic system acts as a highway (to hell). It carries cancer cells all over the body where it can take root, grow and kill you. That process is called metastasis. I’m sure you’ve heard of metastatic cancer. Sucks. 

When cancer cells travel in lymph, they will get caught up in the lymph nodes. This is why, when looking for any spread of cancer, the surgeon first figures out which nodes the cancer tumor drains to, and then does a biopsy of those nodes. With breast cancer the surgeon takes out one or more axillary lymph nodes. They are in the armpit as you see in the diagram above. In an earlier post I told you a bit about how I was prepped for the sentinel node biopsy. I found out later that only one node “lit up”, which was a good thing since the surgeon only had to take one out.

sentinel node biopsy
This is what they do to figure out where the “hot” node is.

Of course, since it’s deep in the armpit, the surgery involves digging and scraping through the pectoral muscle so it’s a bit tender. But I digress. My “hot” node was negative, and that’s what’s important. No cancer in my lymphatic system. Phew!

The second set of results were details about the cancer in the right breast – which we knew a bit about already, mainly that it was Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) with microinvasions. That means that there was cancer in the duct with some invading out of the duct.  Details from the pathology report:

  • the cells are Stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma
  • there were multiple foci of microinvasion in the 4cm x 3.6cm area (as shown in the MRI … so mastectomy was the right call). 🙂
  • the two foci were 2.5mm and 2.1 mm
  • there were clear margins around the larger area
  • It is named “high grade comedonecrosis” or “Grade 3”, positive for EIC (extensive intraductal component) Which translates roughly to “really fucking bad”, as my surgeon pretty nearly said, but without the swearing. 
Pathology
Pretty easy to understand, all things considered.

The data revealed that it was bloody good that they did a mastectomy, rather than a partial mastectomy (otherwise known as a lumpectomy). It was a bit of a crap shoot to do it since MRI results can often be a “false positive”. I decided to err on the side of caution and had both breasts removed. Glad I did. 

Next step is to meet my oncologist. He / she will read the next pathology report that identifies my cancer cells’ receptors. These receptors indicate what makes my cancer cells grow, and so from that, they determine the treatment plan. But that’s for another blog post. 

Thanks for hanging in! 

sticky goo

Coming Unglued

I’m coming up to 3 weeks since having my breasts removed. Since I left the hospital I have subconsciously been measuring my progress by the amount of gluey bits that I’ve been able to remove from my body. I know this because now that it’s almost all gone, I’m still not healed. And I’m appalled. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

glue in the armpit
Just kidding – these are bruises from where they taped me to the table. (OMG, really? Yes.) But note the tape going WAY up into my armpit!! Seriously excessive.

I came home a few hours after surgery. I was hopped up on oxycodon and therefore didn’t care that the tape attaching the bandages to my body came high up my chest, straight around under my armpits and across my back. The next day, when I realized that the tape was preventing me from moving freely, I pulled back a few centimetres along the perimeter and tucked it in on itself, like a rebel. Thus began my journey into tape removal, and in my mind, recovery. 

big ass bandages
This first bandage was more like a halter top. Note my work on the edges to make a nicer finish.

I guess that my tape removal = healing theory came from the premise that this healing thing was going to continue on a predictable trajectory. Tubes out, big pad of bandages off, staples out, smaller bandages off, steri-strips on, steri-strips falling off, … no tape. Done! HA! How easy was that?? 

steri-strips
Look at how the glue turns black – even on the edges of the steri-strips! Yeech.

Now, as I have gone off all drugs except for the odd extra strength ibuprophen, I’m ALMOST glue free, and yet … what’s that I hear? Oh. It’s nerve endings yelling at me! Wearing a shirt hurts. Wearing anything hurts. That is, unless it’s really tight. I feel like a deep pressure junkie. I stand around pressing my hands flat against my chest to make the sensation go away. It’s not quite pain, it’s more like a humming, or the feeling when you’ve had frostbite and then you come into the heat. Burning. Pins and needles. It’s very distracting. Driving with an ice pack under the seat belt is distracting (but feels so great!). 

It’s actually fascinating to probe around the scar tissue and feel the edema in some areas (soft and pillowy) and scar tissue (?) in others (hard and unrelenting). I don’t know exactly where the surgeon dug and scraped to get at the sentinel lymph node, but I can guess. 

scar
This is a nicer section of the scar. (There are some very nasty spots!) Note the bits of glue. Sigh.

So ya, I’m almost 3 weeks from surgery and still unable to do basic stuff without wincing, such as:

  • wipe the table
  • pull open the cutlery drawer 
  • drive standard 
  • braid my hair
  • take off a shirt (how come it’s easy to put it on?? makes no sense)
  • sleep on my side 
  • push myself up from a seated position

At my last appointment my surgeon drew me a diagram to explain it. There are nerves that run up through the breast tissue from the chest wall to the skin on top of the breast. He’s cut all of that tissue out, and in the process cut the nerves. So now I like to think that they are talking to each other. “Hey!! Where are you??” Not sure how long it takes for the nerve endings to chill out and the swelling to subside so that the skin can meld with the chest. 

chest diagram.
This is my version of the doc’s drawing. Lou can weigh in on how well I did.

In the meantime, tomorrow I will work on removing the last few bits of glue. 

 

staples out

Staples Out, Chill Out

A couple of days ago nurse Bonnie took out my staples. I had to lay on the bed while she took them out. No standing allowed since some people pass out. (Oh great. Isn’t that foreshadowing??) She seemed to be struggling a bit with the disposable staple removal device … I think mainly because she had baggy rubber gloves on. I was close to asking her to take them off, but she looked so determined. She took out one or two staples that didn’t hurt at all and then the digging began. Now that was not so pleasant. “Oh this one is hard to get a hold of. We’ll come back to that later.” Oh great. 

remover
This little removal tool is pretty clever! Shove it under, squeeze. It crimps the staple in the middle, causing the tucked under part to shoot up and out.

When it was all said and done, 53 staples were out and 12 steri-strips were put on. Why? Well, “just in case the incision doesn’t hold”. Oh, ok. Great.

steri-strips
The staple holes will heal along with the incision. The breast-shaped bruise is pretty impressive don’t you think?

Any special instructions about the steri-strips? (I’ve learned to ask this.) Oh yes, says Bonnie… 

  • no lifting anything over 5 lbs
  • no pushing
  • no pulling
  • no reaching over your head
  • anytime you are doing exercises, stop when it hurts – don’t push past that (read: no shampooing the top of your head)
  • no baths

Piece of cake. I’ll just go ahead and do NOTHING. 

icing the chest
This is me going slowly bonkers. Keeps the swelling (and tenderness) down though…

She didn’t say no knitting, so I knit up this cowl (thanks to Dana for the wool). 

goofy cowl shot
Again with the crazy eyes…

It’s a basic pattern except that I added in a little triangular part on the bottom edge so that the wind doesn’t whistle into my coat above the top button. I HATE that about cowls! They are just a bit too short for coats that you don’t button right up to your chin.

cowl
This is the chilly spot… 

Next up – go to see the surgeon. I plan to ask him a whole lot about the surgery itself, such as:

  • Where exactly were the lymph nodes taken from … that really swollen and painful spot or is that something else?
  • How many were taken?
  • And do you realize that the left side of my chest looks a LOT different from the right? 
  • Did the resident do one side and you did the other? 
  • And what did you do with my gorgeous nipples? I should have donated them. Or bronzed them.

Of course I will also get the first set of results from the surgery – information about the lymph nodes. Big question – was there any cancer in them? If there was, then they will likely want to take out more nodes … but not necessarily. Or they may want to radiate the lymph node area … but not necessarily. If there is no cancer (obviously a good thing), they won’t take more nodes, but it doesn’t mean I’m done with treatment. That will depend on what the breast tissue says … and that’s another 2 – 3 weeks. Could be radiation, could be chemo.

One step at a time. 

In the meantime, knit. And make a plan for physio and massage therapy. (This surgery does quite the number on your shoulders and back.) And watch a little Netflix. Recommended last night are: Ozark, Shameless and Lion. Oh and Melissa implores me to watch Coronation Street, but then I’d drive people bonkers with my British accent.

staples

Stapled

The other day Ripley starting barking, so I knew I had company. I looked out to see a van coming up the lane. A man hopped out and headed toward the front door with a large paper bag. I’m thinking “Hey someone ordered Chinese Food for me!” Nope. It was a bag of medical supplies. The packing slip said “Staple removal kit.” 

paper bag
Looks like Chinese Food…

Of course I’ve been anticipating the procedure. It’s next, after all.

First though, let me tell you just a wee bit about how I survived nurse Amanda removing my drains. It was quite easy. She cut the suture, then I braced myself by putting my hand on her shoulder and followed her instructions. “Take a deep breath in, now breathe out …..” Then I swore a lot.

Here’s one of the drains that came out:

drain
The white flat part with holes is the section of drain that was inside my chest. No wonder I’m super swollen since she pulled them out!

At any rate, I got through that. No problem.

drain hole & bruising
This shows the drain hole that is healing, but check out the pattern of bruising! Turns out that tape affects bruising a LOT! The angled bruise marks above the hole are from tape, the rectangle around the hole is also the same shape as the bandage. I think that’s all rather weird.

So now, the staples. I have 26 staples across the left, 27 staples across the right. The surgeon explained that depending on the stretch / tension in the skin he would either be doing invisible stitches or staples. I got the staples. 

26 staples
Here’s a glimpse of my left chest (can’t really say it’s a breast anymore, but with the swelling it kind of looks like one…)

What exactly does that mean about my skin? It’s tighter? I’m more apt to be an idiot and do too much each day? I would NEVER do that! Anyway, I wonder about his choice. Because the staples are very very cruel. They look cruel and feel cruel. When the pain meds wear off they tingle and sometimes burn. I can’t sleep on my side or hug anyone. I know that they are doing their job and allowing the incisions to bond together. They’re just a bit much. 

At any rate, Amanda told me the date that the next nurse would be coming to take them out (day after next…) and I asked “soooo, how exactly do you take those out”? 

I of course was imagining the various staple removers that I have used – one that looks fairly sinister, with 4 fangs that come together when the hinge is squeezed, and other that seems to rely on a measured thrust under the staple. Neither of these seemed like good options for my chest. I waited with some dread as she rooted through her kit to find hers. Finally she pulled out a slim device and showed me. 

This one is from the paper bag (yes, I had to open it, what can I say?):

She explained it in simple terms which I will do my best to pass on here:  the device bites the staple in the middle, crimping the staple and forcing the curved ends (that are nicely tucked under my skin) to pull up and out. Just like that.   

I’d rather have Chinese Food. 

 

drain pic

Drains, Draining, am Drained.

It seems that when they take a pound of flesh, they must leave a drain. I have two.

What are drains? I will tell you. Drains are the collection agency for my chest wall fluids. I find them to be somewhat fascinating. If you don’t, you may want to stop reading. 

As I was saying, drains are like highways for all that must not remain. The drains in me are soft plastic tubes that are inserted into either side of my chest wall. Of course you can’t just have a drain springing out of your chest, it must be sewn into place (yes, that’s correct, note the thread). 

drain
When Annie was helping me change my dressing she was gaping … “Mom, that’s coming right out of your chest!” 

They work similar to a sprinkler system – but reversed. Where the tube goes into the chest wall, it changes into a flattened version of itself, with holes for the pools of blood to enter. (The nurse told me this info so I must believe her … although she’s taking them out tomorrow so I can check for myself.) The fluids then travel into the tube and make their way down down down to a plastic bulb that holds up to 100 cc of fluid. 

 

full
This was taken the day after surgery, when there was a lot of fluid behind the incision. It was ready to be emptied.
clipped on
This is a more manageable volume. Simply attach to stolen hospital pants and you’re good to go!

As you can see by the above photo, the bulbs at the bottom can be pinned to your pants or shoved in an inner jacket pocket. The tubes hang around looking for things to snag on so that you can swear regularly. It’s their job. Best to tuck the drain tubes away. 

Every 24 hours (or more often if they get heavy) you have to empty the bulbs, measure the fluid and record it. I will get my drains out once they produce less than 30 cc in a 24 hour period. After draining the bulb you must squeeze all the air out of it before you re-cap it. The suction in the bulb literally pulls the fluid out of the chest wall. Cool!  

charting
I love data.

Once in a while the fluids stop moving – a clot forms at the beginning of the drain and it needs to be persuaded to move down to the bulb. So you have to hold the top of the tube still (very important) and pull the clot down to the tube. It’s a process called milking. Takes a bit of time and can cramp up the shoulder as it’s a bit awkward. 

fresh dressing
See how that blood is just sitting up there? When it’s there for a long time it needs to be pulled down. Nice chest eh? Bruised and swollen … 

The drain site is covered with gauze and taped. The nurses use 4″x4″ gauze and a swath of tape (note the above photo). They don’t seem to give a shit that it hurts like hell to pull off the bandages – especially under the armpits. I felt compelled to amend the situation and make my own mini version. 

gauze square

The drain gauze is taped neatly, overlapping a long strip of gauze that is keeping the staples and incision protected. (Staples? They’re a topic for another day.) And that’s all you need to know about drains. 

Oh, and good for you for being brave and reading the entire post. Are you a fan of Grey’s? ER? Oh ya!!! Push the epi!

post it note

Feelings of Booblessness

It’s been a whirlwind getting to this state. 

dressing
Booblessness, staples, drains & nausea (and still smiling when I’m not bossing people around…)

September 14th was a routine mammogram, November 17th bi-lateral mastectomy … and all of the requisite appointments in between. It went like this… 

Routine mammogram, mag view mammogram, family doc appt to explain biopsy, biopsy, family doc appt to explain result of biopsy, surgeon, bloodwork, MRI, surgeon, surgeon, bloodwork, surgeon, surgery, recovery. All in 2 months. 

Lots of support along the way from Paul, my family, friends and staff, with helpful tips like this…

card
(I find that it always does.)

… and of course lots of chocolate, books, wine, knitting materials and tea. People know me. 

I only had to have the right breast off – as well as a sentinal node biopsy. I wanted the left breast off as well. It wasn’t having an “Angelina Jolie”, which everyone comments on me having – from friends to nurses to the anaesthesiologist. Her surgery was entirely preventative and she had reconstruction done at the same time. I wanted to have my left breast off purely for convenience. Sounds pretty vain, wanting to part with my own flesh because I’m too lazy to make a concerted effort every day to make the vacant space on the right look like the sagging boobie on the left. Truth. I didn’t want to have to put forth the effort involved to have a prosthetic boob handy in order to avoid putting anyone in a state of discomfort. I’d rather toss on a T-shirt when I want to. And put on a SET of IDENTICAL prosthestic breasts when I feel the need. 

So … here I am now. In recovery. Staples come out on day 10. After that I’ll be wearing this beauty that my loving sis got for me. I think it will be pretty much 24/7. 

cami
This camisole is built specifically for people who have had a mastectomy – there are little slits for the fake tits to go in… but it also hugs in super tight. 

After the healing I’ll find out the results of the sentinal node biopsy. (That’s where they inject isotopes in to the nipple area just before surgery, then track the nodes that they go to and mark them with a sharpie. The surgeon removed those nodes during surgery and now they are off to the lab where they will be dissected and searched for cancer cells.) And after that, I’ll find out the results of the breast tissues. The data that comes back from the lab will inform the next steps of treatment. One step at a time. 

And in the meantime, I need to go fake boob shopping and Annie & Bree and I will be designing mastectomy tattoos … 

 

Pink m&m

Into the Pink, Literally and Figuratively

This fall, as I took a bit of my spare time to finish up some projects that were “on the needles”, my world turned pink. I had a pink “pussy” hat to finish up and a pair of pink socks 3/4 finished. Funny how the things that sit so quietly in their little bags can cause so much noise in your brain! Knitting as a metaphor. Wait for it.  

With the pussy hat – my 6th, thanks to Deborah – I had to deal with a dropped a stitch in order to get it done. Just as speed bumps can influence you to take an alternate route, so can the dropped stitch influence the knitter to avoid the project. 

Dropped stitich
You just can’t live with a dropped stitch. Total speed bump.

I actually don’t mind fixing this problem – it’s so much like magic, after all. But it takes good lighting, concentration and a steady hand and those conditions are not always available (best not to do while passenging in the car, especially when Paul is driving JK). Rather than frog it (slang for rip out the knitting, FYI), you simply go back to the column containing the dropped stitch and unravel that column all the way down to the stitch that is waiting there patiently for you to notice it. Totally rewarding. And cool. 

Picking up the stitch
Pick up one stitch at a time. Heal that sucker! (Another metaphor. Wait for it!)

Once that’s done, carry on, do some ribbing, sew it together and you have a cool pussy hat. Handy when traveling in the States.  

The pussy hat
It’s a LOT of fun!!

Second pink project was a pair of socks knit from Zauberball, one of my favourite sock yarns because of the awesome colour, quality and knitability. I had one sock entirely done and the other was ready to turn the heel, so that only took a short while and a few Netflix movies. According to this blog post I started knitting these socks 10 months ago. GAH!  (And yes, I like them short. Metaphor? Oh sheesh.)

Socks
There’s nothing like a pair of hand knit socks.

Around this same time that I was knitting up these two pink projects I went for a regular breast screening mammogram, and then a second call back (for a “mag view mammogram”) that confirmed that there was something there. That led to a biopsy and before you knew it, I was in Pink Land. Yes it’s a place. Meeting with a surgeon, booking an MRI, having the MRI, seeing my undulating boobies on a big screen, discussing surgical options, figuring out recovery times… That has all happened. Breast cancer. I can barely say it since it puts me in a club that I don’t want to be in. But I’m in it. Sigh.

I’ve decided to write here so that I have a place to communicate to those who may want to hear my voice. Here I can talk about the pinkness of it all, in my own time and with my own crapload of crazy metaphors and likely swearing. Not necessarily the details – but maybe the details. Ya, probably the details. But I don’t know. All I know is that is that I really don’t have the energy to talk to everyone about it in person. There are just too many people who will want a quick update – with or without a concerned look, supportive hug, casserole or encouraging pink card. I don’t think that I can manage all of the updating – it’s just too much to face all of the time … all of the caring is overwhelming, and I’ve only just told my family, a couple of close friends and my staff. I sound ungrateful, I know, and I do feel guilty and apologetic (as all good Canadians do). But I have to manage other shit in my life – like my family and my work and my own self.

Of course feel free to add comments here as usual. And if you want more info, reach out to my “pink crew” for any more details. They are: my sibs, mom, best Aunt Donna, other besties Kerry, Wendy, Cath, Dana, and of course Paul.

Thanks and peace out for now.

Staff photo

My staff is awesome – organized this m&m group costume with me in pink – how great is that?? Love them. 

 

Finished cake

Always a Good Day for a Lemon Chiffon Cake

Yesterday was my mom’s 83rd birthday … and today we celebrated! Since one of her favourite flavours is lemon, I decided to whip up a light and not too sweet lemon chiffon cake for her. I found the recipe years ago in an LCBO magazine. Could be wrong. Likely am. Chiffon cake in an LCBO magazine? But the font looks right. Check it out. Am I wrong? 

LCBO?
Is it bad when you can recognize an alcohol focused magazine from its font?

Moving on. 

I posted a few pics of the cake a year or so ago, but I didn’t really pay homage to the cake in that post (it was mostly about my neighbour’s horrible fire).  So here’s a wee bit more about the cake.

  1. It is not very sweet. Therefore, folks who don’t generally partake in dessert tend to love this cake. Namely, my foggy friend. Hates sugar, eats the cake. 
  2. There three ingredients which you may not have just laying around your house:
    • A shit ton of eggs. 7 in the chiffon cake, 7 in the lemon topping. Be prepared.
    • 3 lemons – for the rind and juice (oh, no, don’t use the bottled lemon juice. dear god). 
    • A nice big hunk of white chocolate – making large and attractive curls is the best part of this whole enterprise. (Unless you’re like me and forget and end up using a little piece of white chocolate from the bulk food store…)
  3. There’s a lot of folding. And folding is not the same as stirring. Seriously. You must fold. There’s a technique. 
  4. The topping takes a lot of time. It has to cook and cool completely before folding in the whipping cream. Be warned. 

It’s dead easy to make the cake part. Prep a 9 or 10″ springform pan. Then prep 3 bowls worth of stuff: the dry, the eggy mixture, the egg whites. Done. A bit of stirring and whipping and folding and Bob’s your uncle. (I know, he is.)

Basic ingredients:

Ingredients for Cake
Normal stuff. And note the CANADIAN flour. Love that!!

Comes out like this: 

Lemon Chiffon Cake
Not that impressive, right now, I know. 

It’s also dead easy to make the topping … you just cook it all on the stovetop. (Maybe plan to clean out your fridge while it cooks for the 15 minutes. It’s a really long time when you’re not otherwise engaged in a task.) 

Once cooled, do the folding. Look at this technique… 

Folding
Up and over, rotate bowl. Up and over, rotate bowl.

Put the layers together … and then the curls.

The cake
Light and moist. Lovely.

Enjoy! You’ll only have this much leftover. 

Leftover Chiffon Cake
YUM

Happy Birthday mom!

Birthday Girl
(Of course we forgot a candle for the cake…)

 

Lemon Chiffon Birthday Cake
Yields 12
A deliciously light and tangy cake!
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Lemon Cake
  1. 2 cups flour
  2. 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  3. 1 Tbsp baking powder
  4. 1 tsp salt
  5. 7 eggs
  6. 1/2 cup water
  7. 1/4 cup lemon juice
  8. 1/2 cup canola oil
  9. 2 tsp grated lemon rind
  10. 1 tsp vanilla
  11. 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Lemon Filling / Frosting
  1. 1 cup granulated sugar
  2. 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  3. 2 Tbsp grated lemon rind
  4. 1/4 cup lemon juice
  5. 7 eggs, well beaten
  6. 1/2 - 3/4 cup whipping cream
  7. 8 oz white chocolate
Instructions
  1. For the Cake: Butter and line 10" springform pan with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 325º.
  2. Sift together flour, 1 cup of the sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Separate eggs, placing yolks in a bowl and whites in a larger bowl. Whisk water, lemon juice, oil, grated lemon rind and vanilla into egg yolks.
  4. Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture.
  5. With an electric mixer, whisk egg whites until foamy. Beat in cream of tartar. Slowly whisk in remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Take a large spoonful of egg whites and stir into flour mixture. Fold in the remaining whites.
  6. Place batter in pan and bake for 50-60 minutes (until cake is golden brown, springs back when touched and a cake tester comes out clean). Cool in cake pan. Remove. Carefully cut into 3 layers with a serrated knife.
Lemon Filling / Frosting
  1. Mix sugar, butter, lemon rind, lemon juice and eggs in a heavy pot. Stir gently over low heat until mixture is thick and coats the back of the spoon, about 15 minutes. You should be able todraw a path across the bottom of the pan.
  2. Cool completely. Whip the whipping cream.
  3. Stir one large spoonful into the curd to soften the mixture (important!! No lumps here, people!). Fold the remaining whipping cream in.
  4. Spread a thin layer of lemon filling on each layer. Frost the top with more filling and smooth onto sides. Shave white chocolate all over top. Chill to harden lemon mixture.
Making it Work http://pioneerintrees.com/

 

 

Got stuff?

Too Much Stuff and The Lure of Minimalism

As September approaches my pulse quickens and the list-making ramps up about 50 notches. So much coming at me at lightening speed, so much stuff to get organized!! Kids: get stuff for school; work: get stuff organized at work and pick up the stuff you said you would but forgot until this week; extra-curriculars: register for hockey and choir and make sure you have all the right sized stuff (Jesus god, you need new skates again?? Wtf.); farm: consider how much wood we will need to get split (ok, that’s a separate post…).

OMG we need so much stuff and we already have too much stuff! And what does it do? It causes me stress!! 

Coincidentally (or maybe it’s a cosmic intervention), I listened to a podcast this morning by The Minimalists. Basically The Minimalists are two 30 something American men who are making a living preaching about how to live a simpler life with less stuff. They have a lot to say, they have a lot of adulating fans. It’s a bit rich at times, but … I can learn from them. I DO have too much stuff. I hold on to old papers, memorabilia, art supplies, a few of the kids’ baby clothes (ya, I am going to make them a quilt, ok?), wool that is so scratchy or ugly that I’ll never make anything from it, scrapbooking tools (I was good at it …stop judging), CDs (sooooo many), electronics cables (in case I ever need a yellow / white / blue combo thingy), hot tub chemicals that I will NEVER use (jet cleaner? Whaaa??), gardening tools (ya, that’s funny I know), candle nubs … you get the picture. I have WAY WAY too much stuff in my house, my garage, my office … likely in the cabin too, which is pretty damned small. I have stuff that I don’t use or apparently need, … everywhere.  

Egads

So I have decided to get a grip on things by taking the 30 day Minimalist challenge. On the first day of September I have until midnight to throw away, donate or sell ONE item. On the second day, 2 items. On the third day, 3. You get the picture. If you do the math (and there is an algorithm for that…), that’s a shit ton of stuff that will be out of my life by the end of September. I know it will just be the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a way to start thinking about it and perhaps even making better choices (like stop buying so much stuff, ummmm ya think?).

Logistically I don’t know if I can ACTUALLY sell a few items on the day that I plan to sell them … but I can post them for sale. And logistically I’m not driving to Vinnie’s every day I when I decide what to donate – but I can box them and label them and put them in the garage. 

Wanna join me?? Comment if you’re in!! 

To demonstrate my commitment to the crusade for “less is more”, I tossed an old, ripped, and completely ineffective pair of oven mitts into the flames today. BE GONE, I SAY!! You will never cause me to burn my hands again!

Burning Oven Mitts
They burn so beautifully! (Only thing they ever did well…)
Blueberries

Blueberry Picking as a Competitive Sport

This summer has been a banner year for blueberries – lots of blackflies in the Spring to pollinate, and lots of rain to help them grow. As a consequence I have been involved in several blueberry picking expeditions here at the lake. Each time I was out there I thought about blogging about it – it’s a fascinating activity, after all…

If you’ve never picked blueberries, read on. You might learn something about the sport art of blueberry picking. If you have, well, you’re not going to learn anything, but you might have flashbacks. Sorry. 

It all starts when you pick up the elders others who are going to join you. Choose carefully. You must like them a lot, and they must either know “the code” or be able to pick up on “the code” without being told directly. (Ok, from now on just do air quotes whenever I say “the code”.) If they don’t know the code, you’re in for a very irritating experience. The two elders in this photo taught me the code, so they’re cool. 

Elders
Liz & mom – experienced elders! 

Then you have to go to the secret location. If it’s not secret, you’d better hope you’re first, otherwise, you’re pooched. The best berries will be long gone. After a few days of berry picking season, once others have also started, you really need to start to investigate the crown land (don’t ever pick on someone’s property, even if they’re related … picking someone else’s berries is tantamount to theft and you will go straight to hell). If your fellow pickers are a bit more lithe (under 65 is good) you can have them hop out of the boat and do a quick looksee. This is what you want them to see:

Bushes
Blueberry bushes at the beginning of the season – we knew there was lots of good picking to come!

There needs to be a LOT of berries to make it worthwhile – or at least a reasonable amount of BIG berries – otherwise it’s going to be a long berry picking session. 

Note: Leave your phone in the boat or you will be treated as a teenager, chastised for being tethered to your phone (and the temptation to take photos will slowly overpower your will to keep picking, let’s face it…). 

Once you’re out there picking, you’d better have a lot to think about, because it’s fucking boring as hell. It take a LONG time to pick blueberries, even when they’re big. And if the boredom doesn’t get you, there are other things that will:

– the incessant chatter of the person close to you

– the fact that someone has come along and has started picking IN YOUR PATCH (this only happens with rookies) – when that happens, try not to lose your mind – just move on gracefully, you can be mature! 

Quart basket
Everyone has a favourite picking container. Quart baskets do nicely. But no handle …

– the insidious heat (berries like the sun, and since part of the code is to wear long pants & shirts, shoes and a hat, you’re going to be dying)

– the ENORMOUS horseflies (ignore them or soon you’ll be thrashing about, increasing your body temp even more)

– the pain (deep squats or bending over happens every 15 seconds. If you haven’t worked out in a few months/years/decades, you start daydreaming about laying in savasana.) 

– dropping a berry that is PERFECT (do NOT search for it… omg such a rookie move) 

– knocking over your entire basket (this can lead to weeping so don’t be stupid and set your basket on a rock … always wedge it in somewhere)

– hearing rustling in the bushes (a bear? a snake?) – do not use your imagination – consider the creature to be your competition and pick on

Throughout the berry picking there is often lively banter from patch to patch. Don’t be distracted from the fact that people are in a masterfully discreet competition. Best patch, most berries. Period. You have to FOCUS.

And for Christ’s sake, don’t step on the berries! (Crucial part of the code – almost forgot to tell you this…)

Once you think that you have suffered picked enough, it’s time to see if the others are feeling the same way WITHOUT ASKING THEM OUTRIGHT. Part of the code is that you don’t complain and you can’t be the one who has had enough. So this is a careful move. Pick your way back to the boat. If you’re with an elder, one of them will likely be there already. But if you’re with folks in your generation, you want to navigate this next step fairly carefully. Of course, you also need to have more berries than them, so keep that in mind. If you’ve got more, then just go for a skinny dip or check your phone (to make sure the kids are ok). Someone will eventually suggest it’s time to go. If there’s thunder, that’s a perfectly legitimate reason to leave. Anything other than that and you’re a wuss. If you haven’t got more, you might want to double back and top up your basket. Depends on what you’re made of. 

Once you’re in the boat people invariably congratulate the best picker on their prowess (while secretly noting that they also have more leaves, red berries and stems in their basket).

Berries in the boat
Bottom of the boat comparison. Note the extra foliage in Paul’s basket. Demerit points. Just sayin’

And you leave.

Done picking
After a skinny dip we’re cool and ready to head back.

Go back to the cottage, take note of the location – maybe even mark it on the lake map so that you remember for next year – and start “cleaning” the berries for eating, baking or the freezer. 

Cleaning berries
When cleaning berries you have to pull out all of the purple & green berries, sticks, and leaves.
Garbage berries
This is the garbage that you have to pick out. It’s a total drag, actually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now you Bake Bake Bake! Here is one of my favorite things to bake with blueberries:  blueberry crumb cake (with a shit ton of berries in it).

Pretty much the best blueberry cake I’ve had.

I have also made a LOT of blueberry muffins (see a previous post). They are the same flavor as the crumb cake – just not as many berries or as much sugar. 

Blueberry muffins
These are pretty much the perfect recipe. Check out the link to my older blog post for details.

My most recent discovery is bluberry boy bait (buttery and seriously amazing). At the time it was too amazing to take a photo of. Try it out!

Note that ALL of these recipes are from my fav blog, the smittenkitchen.