Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Sure has been a year, hasn't it?

From the AeroGarden antics to the stove that tried to kill me to my stereotactic breast biopsy to the continuing kitchen renovations, it's been a series of interesting adventures.

Probably the biggest change is yet to come. Starting in a few weeks, I'll be pursuing a masters of library and information science at Rutgers, not far down the road. It's a bit of a career change, but it appears that there is a generation of librarians who are in the process of retiring. So, when I graduate in 2 years, there should be some interesting new jobs out there.

It's pretty exciting, and I'm very much looking forward to it -- especially the hard work, studying, and tests! :)

So, wish me luck as I ring in the new year as a new student (once again)!

Hope you all have a marvelous new year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Best Latkes Ever

From Love Letter to a Carob Cake Baker

Seldom do I ever follow a recipe to the letter, but for these I did. And, I wasn't let down in the least by Mr. Wolfgang Puck's recipe. These latkes are light, yet crispy, fluffy, yet substantial, and potato-y in the best possible way.

From Love Letter to a Carob Cake Baker

I'm never making another potato latke recipe again. These were truly the best latkes I've ever tasted (if I do say so myself). Even my brother Jorden said they were AWESOME.

With that, I wish all my Jewish brethren and sistren a very happy Channukah! Hope your latkes are all you could ever imagine.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Most of the Way There, But with Issues

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

We're about 80% of the way toward a finished kitchen, but it will be a while until the floor is removed and a new one installed. We decided to take a little economic break before we launch into the flooring bit because John's building me a custom spice cabinet to go into the little tray cabinet between the oven and the refrigerator. To fabricate the cabinet, he's had to buy a few new power tools amongst other items, and we didn't budget for those.

We'll also be buying a new refrigerator and storing the old one in the garage, but that will probably happen in early 2009. Additionally, I will repaint the walls, and, as you can see under the large cabinet on the left, we've found our color -- a nice gold from Benjamin Moore. I'll be doing the painting myself, so that should save a little cash. Although the paint itself is expensive. Oh well.

After Joe had installed all the doors and handles, John spent an entire day straightening out Joe's faulty work. It was highly disappointing. We also found several spots where Joe had damaged the cabinets in the way he screwed them into the walls and to each other.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

Having a sink and running water in the kitchen is a blessing, but it didn't come without a major drawback.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

Turns out that when the inspector came, we discovered that Joe had written my name and address (erroneously spelled, mind you -- a tipoff to the inspector) as the person who did the work. The first thing the inspector asked was "Who did the work?" I told him Joe did. Bam! We failed because Joe doesn't have a plumbing license and wanted me to be the fall guy. I was so angry that I left a message telling Joe that he had to call the inspector, and he's called many times, but I'm still not talking to him. John's delaying a call as well because he's using power tools and wants to keep his cool.

The inspector told us (thankfully John was home at the time to help calm me down) that what Joe did constituted fraud and he could fine him $2000. I'm not sure exactly what will happen, but what the inspector said was that Joe had to get a licensed plumber to do the work and then get it re-inspected. This also becomes public record, so when people look at the house to buy it, they'll find this in the township files. Suffice to say, I'm pretty peeved.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

Otherwise, yesterday, I lined the drawers and the shelves with cork contact paper. It cushions well, but the plates won't slide in easily.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

We seem to be able to fit more than we had previously in some areas, but I lost some space overall.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

I fit as much as I could into the new cabinets, but I think I'll need to store some of the extra stuff in the garage.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

There were some serious issues with the base cabinets not being level (Joe's fault), and the counter guys not fixing it better (or refusing to install) when they put in the counter. That caused a lot of problems with the cabinet doors, but John did the very best he could (better than Joe's work), and we agreed that we would do anything else like this ourselves.

Word to the wise, really investigate your contractor before agreeing and paying. Ugh.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Yay! The Counter Is In.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

We still need doors on the cabinets as well as the new faucet and garbage disposal installed, but we're getting ever closer.

This is the pattern of our new quartz countertop:

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

It's really nice. I can't wait to use it to roll out pie and cookie dough.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

The guys had some challenges getting the counter installed because Joe the contractor hadn't leveled all the cabinets. John said he was disappointed in both the counter installers and Joe because 1. Joe should have leveled the cabinets, and 2. the counter guys should not have installed it without Joe having done a better job. However, they shimmed and did magic to make the countertop level.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

I wish the seams weren't as visible as they are, especially at the sink, but I guess it's just the nature of the color of the counterop.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

There also was an issue with the little 9-in. cabinet to the right of the stove. It seems that it's now not nailed/screwed into a stud. The counter guys used silicone to glue the back of the cabinet to the sheet rock, as well as glued the backsplash to the sheet rock to make the little cabinet secure. John and I aren't sure that it's supposed to be that close to the stove, so when the inspector comes to look at the plumbing, I'll ask if that's up to code. It might be, but it makes it awfully tough to get the stove out without opening the door of the oven and pulling by the interior of the oven to get the stove out.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

Ahhh. The new sink. The new sink is now more than 3 in. deeper than the previous sink. We also had to buy a new faucet because the main counter guy discovered that my old faucet was cracked. It was another $225 we didn't expect to spend, but John and I found a nice new faucet that will match our new cabinet hardware (to be installed whenever Joe makes his final visit) much better than the old faucet would. All said and done, I can't wait to use the new, much deeper, slightly wider and longer sink.

In the meantime, we're still making decisions about the new flooring and paint. I'm leaning toward a gold-colored paint, which will really brighten up the place. John and I agree that a much darker flooring will have to be our choice because it will add depth and make the rest of the kitchen really pop. It also seems that we've decided upon laminates instead of vinyl since the vinyl really doesn't look that great.

While I won't be cooking anything to bring to Mom's Thanksgiving dinner, I'm sure that she'll be making a great menu of tasty dishes. Hope you all have a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Kitchen Update: The Cabinets Are in, Sort of

It started on Saturday morning, a bit later than scheduled (ok, 1.5 hours later than scheduled), but I'd already emptied the kitchen and covered the remaining pieces with plastic.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

I'd also divided the kitchen from the living room with plastic smart idea because there was sawdust EVERYWHERE).

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

Joe the Contractor began by removing the cabinets from the wall above the stove (as well as the range hood).

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

There he is removing the awful countertop.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

There was a lot of this (standing and staring, then working, then cursing. Loudly.).

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

Which brings us to where we are today.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

The cabinets are in, although not hung completely, tightened up and straightened. Joe will return to finish the job when the counter goes in, which is expected to happen in about two weeks. The counter guy was here on Tuesday to measure and create a template. He was an enormous Russian fellow with a great big smile. He also gave us lots of information about what to expect and what will happen as the counter is fitted.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

In the meantime, John and I will have to order flooring pretty quickly because the footprint of the previous cabinets was larger than these, so there's a tile gap on two walls. We're thinking vinyl because we originally wanted laminate, but it seems that it's not recommended for kitchens due to its susceptibility to moisture. We'll also have to paint soon, but I still haven't picked out a new color yet. Fun!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Kitchen Update

All the boxes are still in the garage, paired with another set of boxes with some replacement parts. Incidentally, some of the replacement cabinets and doors were worse than the originals, and we compromised on the new sink cabinet, which has a dark mark down by the bottom (which you really won't be able to see with the doors closed). However, Joe the contractor is scheduled to arrive at the crack of dawn (or thereabouts, thanks to daylight savings time) on Friday morning -- just two days and some change away. I'm planning to take photos while he's demolishing the old cabinets and emptying out the kitchen.

By the time Joe the contractor finishes installing the cabinets and the doors that were acceptable to us, the third round of replacements should arrive. We asked for a quote on a quartz counter top yesterday, but haven't heard back yet. We were trying to time it all so that we get our kitchen back, all shiny and new, by the end of the month. I will be without a kitchen on and before Thanksgiving, I predict, so I might just be helping Mom out for a change (HA!) instead of bringing some yummy thing along. Oh well.

Meanwhile, the contents of all the cabinets and drawers, along with the items formerly on the counter top, have been boxed and placed in the living room behind the couch. It hardly looks like I'm having any work done except if you look in the kitchen to see that the island and bookshelves are covered in plastic.

Tomorrow, I'm going to hang a plastic drop cloth between the kitchen and dining room to keep as much dust/dirt in the kitchen as possible. It worked when we sanded and repainted, so I'll use the same technique. I wish I could say it will all be over soon, but after all this is done, John and I plan to replace all the flooring in the house and, more than likely, replace the fridge with a new, EnergyStar version. Looking forward to that.

By the way, I've put up a fun little post you might enjoy on Altered Plates -- that is if you're happy about the way the presidential election turned out. If not, smile anyway. I'm happy you came to visit online.

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Kitchen Is in My Garage

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

Well, that's not exactly true. My new kitchen cabinets, sink, and range hood are in the garage. Waiting. What for? Not the contractor, surprisingly. He's eager to start.

When the new cabinets arrived two weeks ago, John and I found many inconsistencies, cracks, and other damage. So, a rep from the cabinet manufacturer came to see exactly what these unsatisfied customers were seeing for himself.

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

John, the rep, and I spent a few hours in the garage as the sun set and darkness fell, examining the cabinets. Even the rep found a few issues we didn't spot during our looks at the cabinets. We were pretty disappointed, however, not entirely surprised either.

We had joined Direct Buy a few months ago, and ordered a few light fixtures right away. They took a long time to arrive, and when I went down to Edison to pick them up, I was very surprised and dismayed to see how damaged the lights were. It was if they had skipped quality control. I was only able to keep one of the three fixtures. So, I had Direct Buy send them back to the manufacturer. They did, and six weeks later when the second set arrived, they too were in poor shape. Scratched and generally pretty beat up. John had gone with me this time to see for himself. I'm glad he did.

So, when he and I opened up all the kitchen cabinets we had ordered from Direct Buy, our expectations were pretty low. However, we didn't expect it to be THAT bad.

Although I have an entire collection of photos of the cabinets up at my Picasa Web Album (feel free to take a look), I just share a few of the worst offenders here:

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

That entire cabinet will be replaced. It had cracks in the pull-out drawers along with a few other structural issues.

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

All of the shelves arrived with their laminate cracked and damaged. The rep said that the fabricators probably didn't change their saw blades between sessions. I'm not sure, but the way they arrived, they weren't well protected from shipping damage, either.

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

This was interesting. We had a couple of cabinets that had red marks on them -- as if they shouldn't have gone out the door. This one revealed a pretty sizable crack.

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

There are quite a few more, but the take-home message is that the rep was very decent about the whole thing and said he'd put a rush on the replacement cabinets, doors, and other parts. We should get the new ones next week. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Island Beach State Park, NJ

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

Well, that's how much gas costs in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Or at least what it cost as we drove down to Island Beach State Park on Saturday. Just thought I'd record it before it jumps back up to $4.00. My condolences to my friends in other states with higher gas prices.

But I'm not posting now about gas or politics or any other un-fun topic. I'm writing about my recent visit to the beach. Or the Shore, if you're from Joisey, which I never feel like I am despite the fact I've lived here most of my life.

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

John and I had been to Island Beach State Park before, but had yet to drive all the way out to the end. Above is a photo of what you see when you get all the way to the end. Before I go any further, I have to impress upon you how incredibly windy it was on Saturday. Well, not gale-force winds, but probably around 40-45 mph winds. We walked up the beach first because the wind would be in our faces, then, we walked back with the winds pushing us along.

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

Surprisingly, there were no surfers. However, there were plenty of people (mostly men) fishing for what we assumed would be bass. We saw one fellow wearing waders with neoprene socks, but no boots, catch a couple of nice fish that he threw back because they were too small. There were no fly-fishers due to the insane winds.

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

We came at low tide, so we walked along what looked like a sand shelf with shells stuck half inside it. The wind was so noisy that when I pulled my hood back to straighten my hat and sunglasses, I was amazed that John could hear me over it.

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

Above is a shell I found and took with me. It's interior is rimmed with different shades of purple. It's exterior is striped in many different colors. I'm not sure where I'll put it yet, but it will always remind me of the very windy day we spent at the beach in October.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

GE Loves Polish Pottery Too!

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

OK, I grant you that it might not be GE who loves Polish pottery, but rather, their ad team. However, it's great exposure for it. And, they're using my pattern, the classic Peacock! This ad, by the way, is from the October 2008 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. I asked GE for an "official" copy, but they never responded to my email. Oh well. I can scan with the best of them.

For those of you who might be new to the blog, I'm an avid collector and user of Polish pottery. (That ugly cabinet will soon be a lovely new cabinet. Well, "soon" is a relative term.) Here's a search of all my Polish pottery posts, if you want to see even more of my collection.

And, if you want a close-up of the inside that very dish she's holding (albeit with food inside), here it is.

In other topics, I'm so glad to be up and running on my computer again. Big, big thanks to my hero, John, who came to my rescue and replaced the errant hard drive. Now it works better than ever before! Yay! Best of all, I don't have to plunk down another $1500 for a new laptop!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Not The Best of Situations, But Not Dire, Either

My hard drive died a pretty rough death over the weekend, so I'm using John's laptop just to let y'all know I probably won't be posting until I'm up and running with either a new hard drive in my old laptop or new computer.

While I'm pretty bummed about the situation, I'm not terribly depressed since I saved mostly everything a few weeks ago. So I lose some emails and some photos. There are far worse fates. In fact, generally speaking, I'm pretty darn lucky.

Wishing you all the best until my next post.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

One Purple Boob Later...

Today I had a visit from a reader named CreativeCarryout who said,

I stumbled across your blog today as my sister and I were googling stereotactic breast biopsy. I just had the procedure yesterday and was curious to see if we could find what to expect for the next couple of days. And your blog came up, which was great to share w/ my sister - esp. since you had pictures to help you explain the procedure.
I also had so much kindness and gentleness showered upon me by the doctor, radiologist and nurse. The environment was very caring, even if the procedure was just plain strange.
Congratulations on your good test results. We don't expect to hear mine until Friday or Monday. I know you must be very relieved - I'm happy for you!
And thank you for sharing your experience...

I'm always glad to hear this blog (or Altered Plates, for that matter) has been helpful in any way. Since it's been 1 week to the hour, actually, and Ms. CreativeCarryout just had her stereotactic biopsy yesterday, I thought I'd share with you all what life has been like in the week post-biopsy.

From the time I arrived home last Thursday until around noon on Saturday, I had an ice pack in my bra every 30 minutes. I moved as little as possible since the radiologist had made the incisions on my left side, near where my breast hits my left arm. Because I have a bit up front, it was tough avoiding accidentally brushing against my breast. But, I spent most of my time in bed, trying to find a comfortable position.

I didn't actually see the bruising until Friday evening when I removed the bandage to shower. That was pretty painful -- pulling the tape off my already very sensitive skin and trying very hard not to put any pressure on my very swollen breast. Having the bandage off was a great relief, since I'd swollen some and the tape had been pulling quite a bit. After the bandage was off, I could see the steri-strips placed like Xes over the incisions. They're still on, by the way. The nurse said they'd fall off, so I'm not fussing with them at all.

Cathy at University Radiology had warned me that the bruising might seem a bit weird due to gravity. I didn't know what she meant until Wednesday of this week when the bruise moved around a bit and my nipple turned green. Now, that's not something I'd normally share, but if it's in the least bit helpful, there it is. But, for the first couple of days, the whole left side and some of the front of my left breast was a range of purples and deep reds.

I still wore a bra to bed for a couple of days because it provided some relief, but couldn't take anything more than tylenol because I could start bleeding internally if I took something like alleve or advil. Overall, I was pretty uncomfortable for about 5 days. Yesterday, I felt much more like myself, although as I mentioned, the bruising's pretty strange.

I'm most grateful for all the support and kindness I've been shown during this time. I'm also very grateful that my breast doesn't feel like it weighs 15 lbs anymore. It really felt like something other than mine. But that passed, thankfully.

Finally, I'm glad that the first week is over, and I can ramp (slowly) back up to my workout routine. This weekend, I'm spending time with some friends in upstate NY, and am looking forward to hiking and biking a little bit.

So, just like you did for me, please send Ms. CreativeCarryout your most positive energy for her good news too. Thanks!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Very Good News

University Radiology just phoned to say my results were benign. YAY!

Thanks to everyone who sent positive energy out into the universe, prayed, and sent their support. I really appreciate it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Actual Stereotactic Breast Biopsy Procedure and Afterward

If you've been following along, you may remember my last (and first) post on this topic mentioned that I was scheduled for a stereotactic breast biopsy yesterday. As it turns out, what the radiologist and the scheduler had told me would happen matched up pretty well. Although actually experiencing it is far different than having an intellectual understanding of what would happen.

Leading up to the procedure, I had been sharing with friends and family my anxiety and answering any questions they had. By the time yesterday morning rolled around, I was in a pretty good head space and ready to forge ahead, facing my fears. So many kind folks called to wish me well, and that was just the most helpful and loving thing they could do. Many others called afterward with love and kind wishes for my speedy recovery. It makes me a bit misty to think of all the love that's been shown to me during times of need. It's hard to express how grateful I feel for all of it. So, I'll just move on and tell you how it went without moving my left arm too much because I'm pretty sore.

John had taken a work-from-home day, and had been typing away on his laptop until we had to go. He packed away the computer and took it with him because the biopsy was expected to take about 2 hours. It took much longer than that. My appointment was at 12:30, but I didn't get into the actual room where the procedure would take place until 1:30. I was so nervous I must have peed at least 5 times while waiting. In fact, when I finally was called into the room, I had to go again.

When I returned, the two women who were assisting the radiologist (Cathy and Stephanie) asked me a few questions, set up the room, took my vitals, and had me sign a few forms. Then, in walks the same radiologist who had given me the bad news in Hillsboro, NJ, Dr. Paster. The facility where I had the biopsy was in East Brunswick, NJ, but the original mammogram was taken in Hillsboro. I was very comforted by the fact that it would be someone who already knew my history, had seen all my films, and had explained the procedure to me in the first place.

When it was time, I climbed up onto the table with the hole on it. The table isn't completely horizontal; it dips about an inch or so where the hole is. I had a feeling I'd be having back spasms later, and I was right. That hole was pretty uncomfortable for a hole. The edge of it was not cushioned, and it pressed up against my already tender ribs (the reason I started this mammogram business in the first place -- we still don't know why I have rib pain). Cathy told me that they were then going to take some images of my breast and that I'd have to get into a position that would help get the best images. I had to turn my head to the right and keep my left arm at my side. In that position, I faced a wall for the entire procedure. Mainly I just kept my eyes shut and tried not to move. I've never wanted to take a deep breath more than I did during the biopsy.

Image from Visalia Imaging.

Meanwhile, under the table, Cathy was positioning my breast between what seemed to be a vertical steel plate and a much smaller and thinner steel plate that looked like a window about 2 inches square. Her goal was to get my microcalcifications within that window so that the computer taking the images (essentially mammograms) could exactly position the needle for Dr. Paster to take the samples. This positioning involved compression, but it wasn't nearly as bad as any I'd experienced in mammograms. However, it was a bit unsettling to have a stranger moving my boob around through a hole in a table. But Cathy and Stephanie kept up a conversation with me the entire time, asking me questions about myself and telling me what they were doing as they were doing it.

Just as an aside, when I described the procedure to my friend Rich, it was he who said it must have been a man who designed the procedure. I replied, "An angry man."

After all the images had been taken for the first set of microcalcifications (there were two sets, so the procedure would be duplicated because the two sets weren't close enough together to fit them into the same window -- which is not to say they didn't try), and everything was ready to go, they called Dr. Paster back into the room. That's when my anxiety level spiked again. But she warned me about exactly what would happen, "You're going to feel a pinch and then a burn when I give you the numbing agent (lidocaine)."

It didn't hurt/burn anywhere nearly as much as I'd expected or experienced previously in all the dental surgeries I've had. However, because I have a reaction to epinephrine, Dr. Paster gave me the straight stuff, and a LOT of it. So much of it, in fact, that I could see the clouds of it in my breast later when Cathy took me for a post-procedure mammogram and I came around to her side of the machine to see the images. More about the lidocaine later...

After I was numbed up, they began the first biopsy. Now, I'm not sure exactly what happened because I couldn't see under the table. I told them that I wish I could have filmed it, but they said I wouldn't have been able to due to legal reasons. Oh well. But, what I do know is that once the coordinates were all checked and double checked, Dr. Paster used a needle like the one below to take samples of the calcifications and then used the vacuum setting to capture extraneous tissue afterward for a second or two.

Image from Ethicon.

When I told John about the needle, he said it was like an auger with a sheath around it. I'm not sure if that's how I would describe it, but my understanding is that the point is solid, but there's an inch-long hole on the top of the needle that has tiny blades within it so that it can cut and capture tissue when it's taking samples and vacuuming tissue. Either way, I was so numb that I couldn't feel it. I could hear the vacuum machine, but it wasn't that loud.

The procedure was repeated so that Dr. Paster could get samples from the second area of microcalcifications. During both procedures, she gave me a lot of lidocaine. Also, Cathy held my hand, and sometimes, Dr. Paster put her hand on my arm. Both were very comforting.

After each biopsy, Dr. Paster inserted a tiny (about 1/16 inch long and a millimeter deep) marker into each spot where she took samples. One marker was in the shape of an M and the other, an O. Cathy had shown me the M marker prior to the procedure, which I thought was pretty neat. Good thing I didn't have more spots to biopsy, I might have been able to spell something.

By the end of the procedure (which took about an hour and 15 minutes), I was having a tough time answering their questions. Meanwhile, Cathy had cleaned me up, put steri-strips over the 1/8 inch long incisions, and taped some gauze over my breast. I didn't understand why I was thinking alright, but couldn't put a sentence together until after I'd gotten up off the table. I had a tough time focusing my eyes and felt, well, high. More accurately, I felt drunk, but without the warmth and goofiness. Just the weird lack of physical control. I had felt a similar weirdness after my last dental surgery, but not to the same degree.

My lips and tongue felt numb. When I finally could go pee again, I nearly fell off the toilet from lack of balance. However, I played it cool because it was already 3 pm, and I wanted to go home. Suddenly, I was exhausted. Then, after I'd changed back into my clothes, Cathy recited the post-biopsy instructions and gave me a copy. I'm so glad she told me what to expect as far as bruising -- gravity will cause the bruising to show up in unexpected places, like under my breast. Finally, she told me I can't work out with weights for a week, although I can go walking. Then, she gave me a small ice pack to stick in my bra. That was a surprise. I was told that I needed to sleep in my bra and keep ice packs in there on and off for 30 minutes at a time. I thought I'd be braless for a few days. No dice. :(

I struggled to walk out to John because I just felt so weird, and told him so as soon as I saw him. He quickly saved the work he had been doing and got me out into the fresh air. I told him that I felt drunk and was very chatty the whole ride home, drinking as much water as I could. By the time we arrived home, I was ready to crawl into bed and fall asleep. But, I had to phone a few folks who were on pins and needles. Then, I turned on the TV and vegged out for a while until the lidocaine wore off. That when the pain started. It wasn't unbearable, but I had to send John out for some Tylenol. I wish I could have taken some Alleve, but that seems to cause bleeding, so no dice. I toughed it out, though, as I've done so many times with pain before.

This morning, I'm pretty sore and it hurts to lift my left arm, but I'm sure that will pass. I have one of John's homemade ice packs (a water-soaked washcloth frozen in a ziplock bag, warmed enough to shape into a breast-friendly pack) in my bra, giving me some comfort. I had a lot of trouble sleeping since (as I discovered in January when I had the foot surgery), I sleep on my left side, and that's where the biopsies were done. Otherwise, Stephanie has already called to check on me and to remind me if there was any bleeding to call them. I haven't checked yet, but my guess is that there isn't any because I would have seen it through the gauze.

So, that's the story so far. I should get the results either Monday or Tuesday. I'm sure that whatever the results, I'll be fine. In the meantime, I'm going to get some rest.

Thanks again to Cathy, Stephanie, and Dr. Paster, who made a tough procedure much less icky than it could have been, and who did a good job helping me through my anxiety. They get high marks in my Patient Survey. ;D

Thanks also to everyone who put John and me in their thoughts and prayers and who continue to send positive energy out into the universe about my results. I am truly grateful to you and am overwhelmed by your generosity of spirit.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pancakes on the Grill, or My Neighbors Think I Have a Grilling Fetish

From co-op, vegan pancakes on the grill

I love the smell of grilled fake bacon and pancakes in the morning. It smells like victory. OK, it doesn't smell like victory, but it smells good enough to bring out the spying neighbors who always want to see what we're up to on the grill.

Just for laughs, John and I decided that we would have pancakes and Gunga Din (yes, the classic movie) breakfast as part of a very relaxing weekend. Actually, due to a bunch of things that had to be done first (plant watering, kitchen cleaning, etc.), the grilling was done a bit later, and it became brunch. All that aside, it was a good excuse to get out in the beautiful weather and enjoy my grill.

From co-op, vegan pancakes on the grill

To make the pancakes, I used the buttermilk pancake mix from Arrowhead Mills that we sell at the co-op. Usually I like to make these things from scratch, but I mentioned that we had it at the store, and that piqued John's curiosity enough to try it. Lucky for him, he liked it just fine. I'd prefer something more multi-grained, but at least the flours were organic.

I cooked the pancakes on a cast-iron griddle I picked up from Macy's a while back when Martha Stewart started offering her wares there. It cooks like a dream, especially on the grill. The pancakes were uniformly cooked, golden brown on each side.

I served the pancakes with some fake bacon that we both enjoy. We don't eat it very often, probably about once a month just for variety. The fake bacon grilled up very nicely (and quickly!), with crispy edges and chewy interiors.

Finally, I topped my pancakes with a little agave nectar, and John made a mixture of real maple syrup and agave nectar for extra sweetness. I highly recommend grilled breakfast, especially during these early fall days.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A New Topic for Here and There: My Stereotactic Breast Biopsy

Well, I should back up a bit. In July, when I had my annual mammogram, I received a letter from the radiologist saying that their results were abnormal and that they recommended a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. Because the same type of thing happened to me last year, I thought I knew what to expect -- another more rigorous mammogram and ultrasound of the breast with the offending abnormalities, then another check in six months, and that would be that -- just like last time.

Unfortunately, things inside my left breast have changed. After the diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound were taken, I had a long wait for the radiologist. At the facility where I have my mammograms, they use a triple-check procedure. The tests are examined by two radiologists, then run through a computer test that finds whatever they don't. It's a pretty sophisticated system, so they tend to find things very early.

Things like microcalcifications. So, when the radiologist who examined my films called me into a dimly lit room with nothing in it but two chairs and a small table, I felt a little panicky.

She told me they had found calcifications in two areas of my left breast. Then, she explained that calcifications are normally benign, but because the ones in my breast are clustered in two specific regions, they would need to biopsy the two areas. Then, I glazed over for a while.

Eventually, I was able to focus on what she was saying and started writing things down. The first thing I'd need to do would be to see a breast surgeon. She recommended one right down the road from me at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, UMDNJ. Then, I'd need to have the biopsies done. The radiologist began to explain how they would perform the biopsies at their other facility.

She said the stereotactic biopsy (see the photo at the beginning of this post) takes place in a sterile environment, but is not surgical. I would lie face down on a table, with my head turned to one side, while my breast would hang through a hole in the table and the interventional radiologist and her assistants would perform the procedure. While I'm on the table, they will compress my breast into a different kind of mammography machine that will pinpoint exactly where the microcalcifications are. Then, they numb my breast.

After the breast is numb, they will use the coordinates from the computer attached to the mammography machine to take the samples. First, they make a tiny nick in the skin. Then, using a hollow needle attached to a vacuum, they will take 10-12 tissue samples from each section of microcalcifications. Next, they insert tiny steel markers where they extracted samples. If the surgeon has to go back in and take something out, she'll know exactly where to find it. Then, they send the samples to the lab, and I'll get a call from the surgeon in a few days with the results.

I was pretty discombobulated when I thought about the procedure. My first thought: "That's so barbaric!" Then, I realized I'd have to make some calls. I had time though, since the radiologist had to make copies of all my films to take to the breast surgeon.

While she was making prints of the digital mammographies and ultrasound results, I went out to my car and called my awesome gynecologist. One of her nurses recommended the same breast surgeon the radiologist recommended, so I needed to find out if she was in our health plan. Next, I called John.

John was at work, but he did a lot of research while we were on the phone. He found me the info on Dr. Kirstein at the Cancer Institute and listened while I explained as much as I could remember from the radiologist. He also gave me alternatives in our health care plan if I was unable to schedule an appointment with her. I was fortunate though, I scheduled an appointment for a few weeks after my call.

By the time I'd finished using up my cel anytime minutes, the films were copied and I could be on my way. What I really wanted to do was go home, turn on my computer and find out exactly what this all meant. That, and cry.

What I found out was microcalcifications could mean a variety of different things including cancer, benign cysts, evidence of old breast injuries, or other benign conditions. Last week, when I met with the breast surgeon, she told me that as cells die, they leave behind calcium deposits. When many cells die and microcalcifications form (especially in clusters), we need to find out why they are dying. Hence, the biopsies.

All that to say, my procedure is scheduled in two weeks. And, I'm a bit nervous about it. First of all, I'm really afraid of needles. I've gotten more accustomed to people taking my blood since I've had quite a few blood tests this year (for another, very treatable condition). But it all still freaks me out.

Second, it's going to suck. Two hours of being uncomfortable, needles, potential hematoma (read: bruised, purple boob for a week), and discomfort afterward for up to 48 hours. Ugh.

Oh, and there's the waiting for the results. But at the moment, I'm more anxious about the procedure itself. The doctor was pretty confident that the results will be benign, and I'm with her. Positive thinking. Now, if I could apply that to the stereotactic biopsy, I'd be in good shape. I'm just not there yet.

However, I'm glad I know what's involved so I know what to expect. The scheduler at the facility said that they will talk to me the entire time, telling me what's happening and what will happen next. I found that profoundly comforting. These folks are professionals. They do this procedure all the time. I keep telling myself that.

John, very soundly I thought, pointed out that it's just two hours. I've been through much worse over longer periods of time. He's right. I need to remember that. In the meantime, I've made a commitment to share my experience on this blog. It's not just for me though. What I continue to find is that the more I talk about this, the more women say they've been through some measure of breast biopsy, lumpectomy, cancer, or other situation.

My cousin Cynthia explained that because mammography devices have become so sensitive, they are picking up much more than they used to and have increased the number of procedures exponentially. The good news is that if, God forbid, it does turn out to be the worst-case scenario, they will have caught it very early. At this point, my calcifications are tiny, only millimeters in size. And, early detection is the key to breast conservation and survival.

On that happy note, I'll close with one last thought. Self-examination is great, but you can't feel calcifications like mine. If you're like me, in your late 30s and think you might be too young for a mammogram, think again. Go get checked.

If you've been through this or anything similar, please leave a comment and let me know. I'd really like to hear your experiences.

Photo credit: Provena St. Mary's Hospital

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"Before" Photos of the Kitchen

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

The good news is that we're getting most of the kitchen re-done. The bad news is that the cabinets won't come in for another three weeks or so. In the meantime, I've taken a few "before" photos to remember how things have been for the last five years (with the exceptions of the stove, dishwasher, and kitchen island/bookshelf area).

The photo above shows the view of the kitchen walking in from the living room. You can see our (ehem) wonderful cabinets (gag), new stove, and old fridge. Our most-used appliances are there as well -- the toaster oven, which we use at least once a day; the microwave, which John uses more often than I do; and the rice cooker (on top of the fridge), which we probably use every other week.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

This photo shows the sink and relatively new dishwasher. The sink also will be replaced with a larger, deeper model. Ours is only 7 inches deep, which leads to a lot of spill-overs when cleaning lots of dishes, deep pots, and cookie sheets. We will be glad to be rid of it. Freecyclers, keep your eyes open for it.

You can also see that we enjoy a half-wall between the kitchen and the tiny dining room. To the left is the doorway to the living room. On the empty wee wall between the living room and the kitchen is where the new spice cabinet will go. Can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to that! Right now, they eat up space sitting on a lazy Susan in the corner and in a drawer in the dining room.

Above the green dish drain, you can see the bag dryer that John made for me with his own two hands! I'm always impressed by his handiness. That comes in handy if you're like me and re-use ziplock bags.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

This is how pitiful it is. I have to stack some of my favorite cooking items in a bookshelf in the dining room. Gotta love the slow-cooker! Some of John's fly-fishing stuff is on the bottom shelf because he has even less room for his items in the desk he made himself. He'll be getting lots more space when the new kitchen cabinets come!

What I really should have done was take photos of all the boxes in the garage and in storage of all the kitchen stuff I'm not using because we don't have room for it. I'm sure Mom would chime in that there are some boxes in her attic with my Grandmother's china in them as well.

From Before and After Photos of the Kitchen

Finally, here's the dining room, with the half-wall to the kitchen on the right. On the cabinet, I keep the AeroGarden (which is now growing delicious Italian herbs), snacks, and boxes of cereal and mac and cheese. Inside the Ikea cabinet is my pantry. I keep canned goods; jars of nut butters; bags of pastas, rices, and beans; John's favorite soups and snacks; baking ingredients that don't need refrigeration for long-term storage; spices; and teas.

To the left of the cabinet is a half-sized refrigerator that I used to use for all the Deb's Delectables ingredients that weren't chocolate. These days, it holds bags of flours, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and other baking ingredients.

I'd like to have a full-sized extra fridge or freezer (especially an energy-star-rated one), but that will have to wait. Most likely for the second house.

Now that you've seen the before photos, you'll have to wait with me until next month for the afters. In the meantime, please show me your kitchen!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Garden Update: 1 September

Prior to my visit to Rutgers Gardens earlier this year for the plant sale, I wasn't a big fan of marigolds. However, this striped beauty changed my mind.

This year has been a year of changes for me in general -- try new things, reach out to new people, do things differently. For instance, I've never grown plants from seed outside before this year. Although most of the seeds didn't make it, thanks to the evil squirrels in my neighborhood, some really lovely seeds did. Take, for instance, these sweet peas. These ramblers have come up in lavender, bright purple, fuschia, red, and white. Because I had to move several plants due to our townhouse being painted, I now have sweet peas climbing up fencing that used to hold the clematis.

You can tell fall is on her way from all the buds on the mums in the front. These plants were hearty mums I'd picked up at the grocery store a few years ago for $3 a piece at the end of the season. They were scrawny characters, with little to show for them. A few years, lots of organic potting soil and water later, and these look more like shrubbery than the tiny end-of-season buys they were. Can't wait until they are in full bloom. The praying manti who live in our gardens love the mums.

I bought this specimen when our townhouse association told us that we couldn't have visible hose holders. So, I found a fern that was bigger than the hose caddy and kept it in front of the hose caddy until recently, when the powerwashers came to spray the house in preparation for the painting.

Here's another view of the fern.

During the painting, I'm sitting the fern in the garden -- most likely on top of some unfortunate forget-me-nots and columbines. They're pretty tough. I'm sure they'll recover when I move the fern next week. In the meantime, the coleus really enjoy the shade of the fern and the larger mums in the front of the bed closest to the house. It's been a while since those mums bloomed. So long, in fact, that I can't remember what colors they are!

Stay tuned. In a couple of weeks, all the mums should be wearing their fall finery. What's blooming in your garden now?