Monday, November 16, 2015

Another Cancerversary

Hi all,

Today, six years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  At the time the prognosis was not great:  I had an 80% chance of dying before 5 years.  I prayed and prayed that I would be able to see Natalie enter Kindergarten.  Now she is in 2nd grade.

I am thinking this morning about all the blessings in my life, especially those that have come to me through the cancer.  Things like really, truly appreciating my family and each day we have together (and yes, some days this is harder than others as the kids go through their various phases),  learning to ask for and accept help, understanding that I am truly in charge of virtually nothing, and most of all understanding how to calm down about the little things and rest in trust of God.

My kids are old enough now to remember me (for good or bad!).  I have learned to say no to things that stress me out.  I have learned to accept my own weaknesses and how to apologize (and really mean it) when I know I have made a mistake.  I now understand that my house can be "lived in" and reasonably cluttered, yet I can still have guests.  I wasted a lot of time and opportunities over the years before I learned these things.

I still have a lot to learn, though, and many more memories to make with my kids, so  I am still praying and praying...but now it is that I will get to meet my grandchildren!  Please?  Yet, as Jay's Grandma used to say in her thick Italian accent, "Whatever Godawants".

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Peace, Faith, Hope and Love

I am experiencing a "double dip" on the roller coaster right now, so I thought I would let you know what is happening so you can ride along with me!

My recent brain scan showed that the tumor we radiated in July shrunk by about half.  Great news.  The not-so-great news is that a tumor that we treated in February 2014 is growing again.  Theoretically, since I had whole brain radiation in 2011, I am safely allowed one more direct treatment to each new tumor that pops up.   As this has already been treated, there is not much we can do here if we want to be totally safe.  The tumor is too far interior for surgical intervention, so we are trying a couple of other things.  First, I have another brain MRI in a few weeks that adds a special process which will allow my neuro oncologist to see what portion of the area is new tumor and what is scar tissue from the last treatment by the blood flowing in the area.  This is important information for him, as necrosis (scarring) can keep growing for some time after treatment and without the blood flow information it is hard to know what is what.  The second thing is to try to treat with chemos that cross the blood/brain barrier.  One of my two new ones does cross, so we will see if that helps over the next few months.

This is the first time in a long time we have had a genuine concern so I am definitely asking for prayers.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I also wanted to share with everyone how completely peaceful I am about this development.  As you know, I have a very strong faith and I truly believe that whatever happens here will be for the best according to God's will, even if we can't see it right away.  I am his daughter and he loves me.  I trust him completely and this brings me such great peace.  I don't spend time worrying about what I can't control (which is basically everything!), and I am not afraid.  So I also ask that, as you pray for me, that you will ask God for this same peace and trust in your own life.  It has made such a difference in mine and I want everyone to experience it.

I thank my family and dear friends who have stepped up their care for me during this dip, especially as I get used to my new drugs.  I love you all so much!

I am very optimistic that we will clear this hurdle and that I will have many more years here on earth to enjoy.  Hope is a beautiful thing.

On a related note, I urge all of you to go as soon as you can to Governor Brown's web site and ask him to Veto the bill now on his desk that would approve Assisted Suicide in California.  We have until October 7th, but he could move sooner.

This is a very personal issue for me as I don't want this to open the door for my insurance company to decide I am too expensive to keep alive and that now we have a "better" option for those of us with terminal illnesses.  I believe there is great value in suffering if we learn how to direct it properly, for the benefit of others.  I don't want anyone but God to decide when my life ends.  If you agree with even a part of this, please take a minute to follow these instructions:

2. Click the "Have Comment" circle
3. Type your First Name, Last Name, and Email address
4. Under "Choose Your Subject" scroll down to bottom and select: X2AB00015 
5. Check the "Reply" box
6. Click continue
7. Click the "Con" circle
8. Type in a brief comment 
9. Click "Send Email"

Thank you!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Another Exciting Dip on the Roller Coster of Cancer

I used to love roller coasters.  Especially Colossus at Magic Mountain.  How fun it was to go up, up, up, knowing that the first drop, the best one, was coming.  What a thrill it was to tear down the track with my hair whipping behind me and my stomach in my throat.  Just when it was almost too much, up we went again and the cycle started over.

Fast forward thirty-some years.  I am still on this roller coaster, but this time it is not Colossus.  It is cancer.

It is still thrilling to go up, up, up, even knowing that a drop will come again.  However, now there is no hair whipping in the wind, and every bump on the track hurts.  I remember my dad (who took me to Magic Mountain many times) saying that the bumpy tracks hurt his back, but he kept going with me because the benefit outweighed the pain.  I keep riding for the same reason.

Just like on Colossus, with cancer the first dip was the biggest.  The shock of diagnosis, the understanding of how bad things were, plunging in to treatment.  Since then, the rest have been smaller rises and falls, with a few surprises in between.

After a year of mostly up, I am once again flying down the track.  But don't worry, I am not falling too far.  I feel the safety harness around me and know that I will soon hear the click-click-click of the track pulling me back up for another go.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have had a couple of hospital stays and some brain radiation over the summer.  A recent PET scan showed significant activity in my bones, particularly in my right hip area, spine and sacrum.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that the major soft tissue organs, lungs and liver are still clear.  I have often repeated the wisdom of my first oncologist Dr. John Glaspy of UCLA, "The bones won't kill you." This gives me great hope.

Nevertheless, we want to keep the tumor load under control and we especially don't want the weight bearing upper femur to crack, so that is the first thing we are attacking.  Today I have the 6th of 10 fractions of radiation to my right upper leg.  The super good news about this is that I get to have these treatments right here in the Antelope Valley at the City of Hope and do not have to drive to Beverly Hills 10 days in a row!  The other good news about this is that I am on break from most of my chemos while on radiation, so I am feeling pretty good, although, of course, tired from the radiation.

When this course is over, we will not be going back to Taxol.  It worked for a long time, but with this activity we can assume that the cancer has outsmarted it.  I will start Carboplatin and Gemzar with hopes this will buy me more time going up, up, up.  By the time the inevitable dip comes, surely there will be something else to try.

In order to qualify as a thrill ride, it has to be the right combination of scary and exhilarating.  I'd say I'm still riding Colossus, but perhaps now on the new "twisted" track.  Hopefully it will be a little less bumpy now.  Wheeeee!!!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

3-2-1-0, No Football?!

Football season is starting and somehow, we have no players.  What?!  But we have three boys who have always loved football!  How can this be?

Here's how it shakes out...

We lost Joey as a player last year when, after 9 years of playing, he decided he was done.  Ok, we get it.  If you're happy, we're happy.

Tony decided to take a break from the Rebels after learning his team would start practicing earlier than ever.  We get that too, the kid wants his summer.  We are pretty sure he will get back to it in the future after a bit of a rest and an anticipated growth spurt.

But Sam?  Sam was quite enthusiastic about football and practiced all summer with the Paraclete High School JV team.  As an incoming freshman who has played every year since he was seven years old with the Rebels, he was ready to go.  After conditioning all summer he finally got in pads and spend two glorious days ramming into kids and demonstrating his true love for the game.  We were all looking forward to his first game just a few weeks away.

As an aside, several months ago, Joey began dating a beautiful girl named Rylee.  We love her and she fits right in to our crazy family.   She shares his love for Jeeps and classic cars in general, and they have a lot of fun together within a larger group of really great kids.  We have gotten to know her family and the families of her friends and we feel very blessed to have new friends in our own lives.

Rylee brought over her ATV a few days ago because Sam challenged her to a race against his Pocket Bike.  Somehow, Sam ended up riding on the ATV (even though he knew he wasn't supposed to) and here is how it went...

When his turn didn't go as planned and he couldn't find the brake, he froze with the throttle on full.  If he had just let it go, all would have been fine.  But instead, here we are:

Wedged improbably in between the house and the palm tree, his friend Noah trying to assess the damage to the house (minimal).  By the way, the video above is courtesy of Noah.  He missed the very end because he was running to see if Sam was OK.  Here is the partial result of the crash...


There are three cracked metatarsal bones (fancy word for upper toe) which you can see pretty clearly here and two other small chips/contusions on the ankle and tibia.

Poor kid.  He may have parked his common sense by getting on the ATV, but I know that panic is a real thing (whisky throttle, look it up!) and he is suffering greatly for missing out on his first high school football season, not to mention the pain and swelling associated with the breaks.  I am so grateful he was wearing a good helmet as his head took a pretty good blow into the house.  I was out with the girls when it happened, but Jay was upstairs working and told me it was the loudest sound he had ever heard.

Luckily, it is Sam, and nothing keeps Sam down for long.  He continues to go to practice in hopes he will get cleared for at least part of the season (a real possibility).  He has been generally cheerful about his loss and doesn't complain about his crutches and boot, even in 100+ degree weather.  He tries to do most things on his own even though we are all willing to help him with just about anything.  Tomorrow he will go to his first day at Paraclete High school in all this glory, God bless him.

Perhaps its a good thing that summer ends today...

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Ups and Downs

I always picture summer as this time of oasis for our family.  A time to get things done around the house, to get out of the endless cycle of driving the kids around, a time with little to no nagging about homework...

I don't know how I keep getting it so wrong.

Summer, though I still enjoy it more than the school year, has been no sort of oasis.  If anything, it has been even crazier than the school year (is that possible?!).

We've backed down to one football player and no cheerleaders this year, so that is something.  However, we've added on to Julia's and Bella's gym time so it might behoove us to move somewhere next door to the place with the number of times I drive back and forth each week.

My medical needs have stepped up a bit lately and I have been in the hospital twice this month for seemingly ridiculous things, but apparently when you have stage IV cancer, and especially when it is in your brain, even the most ridiculous things can be serious.  I spent one night at Cedar's in July when I vomited and got severe chills right after my Taxol treatment (Jay laughed at that one, telling anyone who would listen that I am ALWAYS cold).  This past week I spend two nights after I had a scary episode of not being able to find words or make them come out in a coherent way, coupled with an "auora"which I would have called an ocular migraine, except it did not come from my eyes.  I have a new brain tumor in my right frontal lobe which seems to be causing this trouble, so I ended my stay with a large but very targeted blast of radiation which will hopefully take the wind out of its sails.  As of now I feel completely normal after sleeping for three straight days.  I realize that I may have been taking my fairly good health for granted and need to remember that every day is a gift.

Lindsey just got her learner's permit which might scare some parents, but I am thrilled to have a fourth driver coming on board.  Believe me, we need it.

School will be starting on August 17th with three kids at Paraclete High School (Joey is a senior, Lindsey a sophomore and Sam a freshman) and four at Sacred Heart School (grades 2,3,4 and 7).  As always, we have employed a "each child each year" assessment as to where we think they will thrive.

My mom has had her share of hospital time this summer as well, scaring us all to death with a pulmonary embolism (in English, a blood clot in her lungs).  She stayed 5 days, the first few days in the ICU, but I was very happy with the ER docs at Palmdale Regional Medical Center who diagnosed and treated her correctly right away.  We could have easily lost her.  She will be on blood thinners indefinitely.

Julia had four permanent molars removed (not wisdom teeth, those go later) as one of her teeth was completely sideways in her jaw and rotated 180 degrees to boot.  After reviewing the options and how crowded her mouth is in general, we opted to take the four as opposed to taking years to try to coax that tooth down and around orthodontically.  She has healed well and was a great sport about the whole thing.

We had a visitor from Spain throughout July, a 14 year old girl named Camino (translated, her name means "the way" as in "the way of the cross").  Her sister Maria was with us last summer and we had a chance to visit her family in Valencia last fall when we went to Spain for the Beatification of Don Alvaro.  We had a great time with her and hope she enjoyed her first visit to the United States.

In other summer news, Lindsey and her friend went to VidCon in Anaheim and had the time of her life.  She is interested in pursuing a career in electronic media (i.e. YouTube) and she got to meet many of her favorite "You Tubers".  It is a whole new world out there, let me tell you.  Currently, she is interested specifically in working for BuzzFeed.  If you know what that is, you are hipper than I am, but I am learning.

Tony has set up a You Tube channel of his own, specifically dedicated to helping people with MineCraft.  Apparently there is a MineCon on the horizon and guess who wants to go?  We will have to see about that one.  

So, all is well at Casa Di Silvestri, but as usual nothing went as planned this summer.  I am already looking at school supplies and uniforms and wondering why my garage organization project is still only half done.  Maybe someday!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

This Says It All

When you have a minute, take a look at this roughly three minute You Tube video made by a woman who has been living with metastatic breast cancer for 17 years (!).

She is trying to educate people who don't understand that metastatic cancer is quite different from Stage I-III cancer, and she covers it very nicely.

Lots of people ask me if I am in remission and it is hard to explain that I can never really be done with treatment.  It kind of deflates people who are enthusiastic about beating this disease.  So, I offer you Holley Kitchen to explain how it is.

Holley is a great example of someone like me who is living a fairly normal life with metastatic cancer.  She, like me, fights for her kids.  And they are SO worth it!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How Do I Do It?

People ask me this question a lot.  They ask me when they learn I have seven children.  Then they REALLY ask me when they hear I have seven children AND Stage IV cancer.

My response is more or less always the same:  I don't do it well all the time, I rely on God's grace to do anything well at all, and what else can I do when I have a family that needs me besides soldier on?  Then I tell them that they would do the same if they were me.  

That always makes them stop and think for a minute.  The response I usually get at the end of the pause is something to the effect of:  Well, I guess you're right.  What else can you do?

Some people go so far as to say that I am some sort of saint.  Hardly!  I struggle just like everyone else does.  Yes, I want to be a saint and I want my children to be saints (hence the name raisingsaints), but working toward that every day does not mean that I have or ever will reach that goal on earth.

I know a few real saints-to-be here on earth, and I am not that.  Try as I might, I get crabby with my kids and snap at my husband from time to time without real cause.  I am quite lazy and like to sleep as much as possible.  I tend to put off my work until the last minute which is not saint-like at all!  I forget to think outside of my family some days and have a hard time saying no to foods I like.  I could go on and on...

I write this because I want everyone to know that I am a regular person just like all of you are and the only remarkable think about me is that I have survived Stage IV cancer and its treatments for 5 and a half years, and you must know this has been completely out of my control!  God has been very good to me and my faith in him is strong.  I worry about very little and trust anything that is out of my control to him, and that is working well for me.

Some days I do well, but only because of the energy I have prayed for.  Some days not so well.  But every day I try and try again to be what God wants me to be and as long as I keep trying I am doing alright.

So, in a nutshell...THAT'S how I do it!  And you can do it too.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


A few years ago I participated in a cancer survivor program as part of my treatment at Cedars-Sinai.  It was for people who were mostly done with their treatments and needed some help getting back into the swing of things.  It specifically addressed issues such as chemo brain (i.e. forgetting things), physical effects (neuropathy, nutrition, balance), nutrition going forward, dealing with mood changes, etc.  We met once a week for six weeks and were a group of six people.

Since the class ended, we have kept up via email and shared our successes and setbacks from time to time.  Only one other person besides me was dealing with metastatic cancer long-term, so the attitude of the group was, "we made it through, so now what".  No one in our group embodied that attitude as fiercely as Shanee.

She was young, had started her own business, and was very ready to get on with her life.  Her cancer experience had been, in my interpretation of her view, an inconvenience or a side step on her way.  She was very positive and full of ideas and plans.

Shanee "completed" her cancer experience in January with her long-awaited breast reconstruction, and off she went to conquer the world.

I first heard something was wrong from another group member about a month and a half ago.  She told me Shanee's cancer had returned and that she was in the hospital, but that she was in good spirits and would like visitors.  Three weeks ago I went to visit her after my treatment and found her just leaving her room for a procedure.  I spoke with her briefly, she was very happy to see me and I told her I would try to come back on my next treatment day.

A week or so later I heard she had been moved out of the critical care tower where I saw her and was in a regular room.  She appeared to be doing better.

After another week she was moved back, but this time into ICU, was intubated and on oxygen, and needed to have her lungs drained periodically.  A tumor ruptured a major artery and she was bleeding internally.  She slipped into a coma and stayed there.

Shanee died early yesterday morning in the intensive care unit of Cedars-Sinai.  Lord, receive her soul.  I heard the news while I was driving to my chemo appointment.

This loss hit me very hard, although I did not know her well.  She was so full of life and plans and she never saw this coming.  I was attending the class with a very different perspective and was wistful that she was going to get to return to her normal life and I never would.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

Cancer is a nasty, sneaky disease.  No matter the stage a person is diagnosed, the experience is really never over.  You always are on guard.  In some ways, I am grateful for my stage IV diagnosis right off the bat because I will always be monitored regularly and will have a chance to get on top of anything new before it gets out of control.  No, this doesn't make me totally safe, but it certainly helps.

I can honestly say that I am at peace with whatever comes my way. I understand that I am not in control of any of this and God's will is always what is best for me.  In the meantime, I am trying to make the most of every day I have (as we all should).

The doctors who led our group are planning a get together for us to remember Shanee and to share some coping strategies with us.

In the meantime, please pray for her soul and for her family and friends.  Rest in peace, Shanee.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Further Proof Kids Are Worth Having

When I picked the kids up from school a few days ago, Natalie had something to tell me.

"Mom," she said.  "We finished Family Life today."

Family life, in Catholic Schools, is a euphamism for the facts of life.  It starts out quite simply in the early grades, but gets more complicated as the kids get older.  In 5th grade the truths of the body come out, and from there it gets to bigger issues that kids need to know and some parents are reluctant to talk about.  I have seen the materials and have no problem with the program or how it is presented, and none of my kids have had anything to say about it at any level.  We talk about most of these things at home before they get to them in school, and I like that it is taught from a purely Catholic perspective and focuses on building faithful, happy families.

Given that Natalie is in first grade, I couldn't imagine she heard anything she couldn't handle, but I could tell that something was bothering her.

She began to explain that there was a section on vocations and everyone had to check a box next to what they think might be their vocation as adults.  The list included being married, discovering a religious vocation, etc.

With complete dismay, she went on, "There was no box for 'I want to stay home with my mommy',  so I had to check the 'become a religious sister' box."

How sweet it is to be loved by Natalie.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

She Did It!

After mentioning a few posts ago that Julia had not had her best competitive season this year, it is my absolute delight to tell you that she had the best meet of her life today!  It was her state meet, the last of the season, and she turned it around in a big way.

She hit all of her routines, nailed her often-troublesome back handspring on beam, and scored a 37.125 all around, which earned her 7th place in her age bracket.  She also medaled in beam (9.5) and vault (9.375), and scored well on floor (9.2) and bars (9.050).

I was praying she would get a 36.0 all around and that she would make her back handspring on beam.  Clearly, that prayer was answered and more!  I really wanted her scores to show what I know she is able to do and does in practice, and they certainly did today.  I wanted her to see her consistently hard work and conditioning pay off and that they were not in vain.  I am so glad she was able to see this and can begin her off-season with the confidence of a job well done.

Congratulations to my beautiful and determined daughter who, starting tomorrow, will be training level 7!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Joey's Jeep Justified

Jay has always wanted to have a "project car".  He is always on the lookout for something that he can work on with the kids in order to teach them about automotive repair, money management, satisfaction in doing work well, independence, perseverance, etc.  He still hasn't found the car that he hopes Sam will eventually drive after working on it for a few years, but when Joey got his 1990 Jeep Wrangler in January it ended up fitting the bill.

A few weeks ago, the drive shaft cracked in the Jeep, rendering it undrivable.  (Luckily, we still have the truck Joey drove before the Jeep entered his life, so he was able to carry on.)  Joey and Jay assessed the damage, watched some videos on YouTube, and ordered the necessary parts.  While waiting for the parts, Joey read the Jeep repair manual and figured out what he needed to do.

The last part arrived today.  When Jay was unable to help him get started right away, Joey began the work himself.  Sam and Tony watched (and assisted when needed).  After three hours or so, long after the younger boys abandoned ship, he came upstairs and happily showed us his repair.  This was not a simple replacement.  Please understand that I know very little about car engines, but it involved U Joints, grease, transfer case housing, bushings and other assorted parts.

Joey had little experience before today with complex auto repair, so needless to say we were very impressed by his motivation and tenacity.  When he ran into a problem with some roller bearings he figured it out on his own.  Now he understands that he can learn how to fix pretty much anything by finding a "how-to" YouTube video on the subject, and that is a gift that keeps on giving.Joey's

Monday, March 30, 2015

Movin' on Up

We just finished registering Sam for Paraclete High School.  Gulp.

Next year we will have three kids in high school at once.  Joey will be a senior, Lindsey will be a sophomore and Sam will be a freshman.

The other four will remain at Sacred Heart (provided I find the time to re-register them before the deadline tomorrow).

Now, you might think this is a story about how I can't believe how fast this time came about.  After all, wasn't it just yesterday that I captured a video of Sam scootering in the front yard in his overalls, wearing Lindsey's pink sparkly princess sandals, crashing, then getting up with a big smile and starting again?  It's not.

Actually, it's a story about "oh my goodness, how can we afford this"?!  Turns out, it is quite a chunk of change to send three kids to a private high school.  The elementary tuition we have been used to for awhile, but this jump is going to hurt.

Is it worth it?  Believe me, we ask ourselves that question all the time.  We think so.

Quartz Hill High School is a massive community over 4000 students.  That is the population of many small towns.  There are all sorts of kids that go there and, while many kids do well, I am afraid my kids might be lost there.  Paraclete is under 1000 (7 hundred something I think) and pretty much everyone knows everyone else, yet it isn't so small that you feel trapped with the same people all the time.

Ironically, Paraclete is a focused college prep school, and we are highly encouraging the kids to do two years at a JC before they go to a university.  With a couple of exceptions our kids are fairly average academically, and we honestly believe they will have a better high school experience (not so much pressure) and a better college experience (can get into better universities after two years with a good record at a JC).  Plus, they will know better what they want to do by then, whereas I basically wasted my first two years at UCSB messing around with changing my major and being distracted socially.  A bonus of this is that we will save 14 years of college tuition if they take that path.  Which justifies the expense of a private high school.

Of course we are open to individual children who have different plans, and we are willing to work with them however we can.  But at the end of the day, this is the path we would choose for them.

An example of how close-knit the Paraclete community is just happened today.  I called the pediatrician this morning to make appointments for Bella and Tony.  Naturally, I know everyone that works there.  Sandy answered the phone, who happens to live on my street and whose kids all went to Paraclete.  She told me how when Jay brought the registration papers on Saturday that he forgot Sam's immunization card (which I already knew because even though I filled it out I missed putting it in the pile of papers I gave him).  This is not something I expect to hear when I call the pediatrician for an appointment, but you know what?  I love it.

Most of the reason why it is worth it for us, though, is the faith factor.  Even though many kids who go to Paraclete aren't Catholic, there are plenty who are. Very few students have been raised with no faith at all.  We are happy with the religious instruction and that Jesus is ever present in whatever the school does.  I am definitely not a Pollyanna who believes there are no drugs, parties, or sex happening at Paraclete.  But when you know the families of the kids your kids are friends with, there is a much better chance of getting your children through unscathed.

So, we will pay out the nose for it.  And eat a lot more pasta. :-)

Whales and Dolphins and Seals, Oh My!

Our family went whale watching on Saturday!  We had a wonderful time cruising out of the Santa Barbara harbor on a 50' catamaran called the Double Dolphin on an absolutely perfect day.

All of us were aboard, even grandma, except for Lindsey who has a strong aversion to deep ocean water and a significant fear of whales.  After trying to convince her for many days, we ended up leaving her at the harbor with a friend and the two of them were perfectly happy to go to the beach and the pier. Although we certainly would have preferred to be all together on the boat, at least we had the ride.

Here are some pictures of our day...we saw about seven Pacific Grey Whales, a seal and a pod of about 100+ dolphins who played in our wake and delighted us all.

Really, the only bummer of the day was that Natalie was sick.  She had been feverish on Friday but when she woke up Saturday I thought she was better.  About an hour after the boat left she got very cold and up went the fever again.  I didn't bring any kid's Tylenol with me, so for about an hour of the cruise she was bundled up sleeping on my lap.  But she did see the whales and dolphins and got a good deal of the experience before she went down.  Oh, and also, my mom lost her phone.  That was another bummer.  I'm still hoping it will show up, but it wasn't left on the boat nor in in our car and it is "offline" on Find my iPhone even though it had nearly a full charge.  Therefore, I'm afraid it might have gone overboard in the excitement.

After the cruise we went to the Palm Sunday vigil mass at the Santa Barbara Mission (so beautiful!) and out to dinner at Giovanni's in Isla Vista.  We had a chance to drive the kids through the UCSB campus, show them where Jay and I met, and relive our favorite pizza place ever.  I was a little dismayed to realize it had been 25 years since I had been there.  Hard to believe.

Anyway, we had a wonderful time and would like to thank Grandpa Marty for gifting our family the money to "do something fun together" at Christmas time.  We spent it well!

P.S.  If you ever want to whale watch out of Santa Barbara, I highly recommend Santa Barbara Sailing Co.  They were fantastic, low key with all the small kids aboard and super talented in finding the aquatic mammals!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Julia the "Giant"

Julia has grown very tall very quickly.  She is not yet twelve but is already taller than Lindsey who is 15.  I am happy to see my children growing healthy and strong, yet for a gymnast it can be problematic.

Her body has changed so much that she has had to re-learn how to do a few things in the gym.  A taller body has to be stronger in order for it to turn itself around.  I would imagine that many people in her situation would slow down or give up, but not her!  She is in the gym 13.5 hours a week and conditions at home every day on her own accord.  This girl is strong!  Instead of slowing down, she is speeding up, learning new skills nearly every week.

April 12th will be the last meet of her Level 6 season, the State Championship in San Diego.  This has not been her best competitive season, partly due to a fractured big toe, and partly due to her rapid growth, both of which caused her to lose some skills she had at the beginning of the season.  My guess is that she lost some confidence along the way, but she has persevered and is coming back strong.  I loved seeing her character come through, both when she received solid scores and not-so-great scores.  She was fairly unruffled by the bad and never bragged about the good.  I am very proud of how even-keeled she is and how she doesn't get down on herself when she posts a bad routine.  She just resolves to do better next time and immediately wants to know what we are going to eat after the awards.

Her coach sent me this video of her doing her first independent GIANTS on the bar without being strapped to it.  I am constantly amazed at what she can do.

Go Julia!

Monday, March 23, 2015

My Little Woman

Lindsey just finished her second play as part of the Drama Club at Paraclete High School...Little Women!  

Her first play was in the fall, Damn Yankees, in which she had a minor part.  This time, however, she had a much larger role.  She played Amy March, the youngest March sister.  If you are familiar with the tale, you will know that she is the daughter who ends up marrying Laurie, the rich boy next door.

If I do say so myself, she was wonderful!  She has a natural stage presence, doesn't overact and can be wickedly funny.  She also sings beautifully, although this play was not a musical.  Here are some photos of the event:

Lindsey with her cast
(she is in the middle with the pink dress)
((if you look closely you can see Julia and Natalie in the front row))

With her hubby, Laurie

With the other March girls, Meg, Jo and Beth

Lindsey has really transitioned well to high school and the school's amazing drama department is a huge part of why that is.  She "found her people" there and made a new group of friends that will see her through her years at Paraclete, to go along with the friends that came with her from her nine years at Sacred Heart.

Jay and I feel very blessed to see her so happy and confident at 15, an age that everyone knows can be very challenging to pass through.  We are proud of how she went after drama with such gusto that she was able to secure a main role as a freshman in a mostly senior cast.

She is now learning the songs for her spring musical, The Heights.  This one is new to me, but I am enjoying the modern music and plot.  I can't wait to see it!  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Maternal Blessings

Last fall my mother moved in with us.  She had fallen at her house while ill and dehydrated and could not get up.  Thanks be to God she had the presence of mind to push the medic alert button which she always wears around her neck, and the paramedics came and took her to the ER.  They called both Jay and I right away, so I was with her at the hospital during her rehydration until she was stable enough to leave.  I spent that night by her bedside asking God what to do.

It was very clear to me that she should no longer be living by herself.  Luckily, I chose a wonderful husband 20 years ago who totally agreed and encouraged the move.  Just as wonderful, after that scare, my fiercely independent mom readily agreed and we began the process right away.

Needless to say, we had to juggle a few things around the make this work.  First, we had to move Lindsey out of her downstairs suite where she was quite comfortable, slightly separated from the family and with her own bathroom.  Fortunately, she understood and the disruption was minimal.

We have a large house with 5 real bedrooms and we have also converted the "media room" and the "loft" into bedrooms.  Given that we have that much space, I think it is important that my oldest four children (ages almost 12 to almost 17) have their own rooms.  The three smaller ones have to make do until the older ones move out.

Next dilemma:  The three youngest are two girls and a boy, ages 6, 8 and 9 respectively.  We had only one room left for the three of them,  so what to do?  It turns out that we had a master closet the size of a bedroom that was mostly wasted space for us.  With a little organizing and a little more purging I was able to move my half of the closet into a nook in the bedroom where Jay was formerly working.  We moved some furniture around and, voila!  Jay has a workspace that he is very happy with, I have a closet that I have to keep very neat since it is in plain view (which is really good for me) and Tony has a space of his own.  I only wish it had a window, but he doesn't really spend that much time in there anyway.

We have had to plan things a little in terms of changing and showering since the bathroom is in the middle, but so far it is going quite well and he is quite respectful of our privacy.  He is happy to have his own space (although at one time he had his own room, he was quite generous in welcoming grandma and is content to wait until another room opens up).  His bed, dresser, toys and trophies are all there and that walls are decorated with his favorite things.  So, no "in the closet" jokes, OK?

Anyway, I got a little sidetracked there because the point of this post was to talk about what a blessing it is to have my mom living with us.  She gets to spend lots of time with the kids and helps me with pick ups and drop offs.  She accomplished the amazing task of taking her 3 bedroom 2 bath house with garage down to a single, albeit large, room and one bathroom.  Some things were hard to part with but I think she is happy with her new, condensed lifestyle.  She doesn't have to worry anymore about much of anything.  She joins us for dinner every night, we know when she is feeling poorly, and we are much better equipped to help her now.  Plus, she brings some of the joy of my childhood into the house and I love to see her playing games with the kids the way she did with me when I was a child.

I know that for many people this would be a difficult situation.  With tensions common among in-laws and even within families I am well aware of how fortunate we are to have her and for everyone to be happy about it!  She and Jay have gotten to know each other better and I am very happy for her to know what a great husband I have.

Her house is almost ready to rent.  We just replaced flooring where needed and have a few other little things left to do.  Please pray that we secure good, respectful people who will treat the house well.  Thank you!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Favorite Thing

Tonight was one of the rare times our family was all together on an evening that is not a Sunday.  It seems like someone is always missing due to work travel, sports practice, drama or other social activities.  However, there we were, all of us sitting together watching American Restoration on a Tuesday evening!

I felt a deep contentment as I looked around at all the faces I love so much and wished for a moment to freeze time right where it is.

It is very much on my mind that we have only a little over a year before Joey graduates from high school.  The are only 14 precious months left to have us all living together under one roof.  Or maybe longer if Joey goes to AVC for his first two years, but even so it will be different because he will be officially an adult.  We are almost to the part where everything is going to start changing.

I am desperately trying to hold on to this unity as long as I can, but it is going quickly.  Tick tock...make it stop!

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Three Month Cold/Flu

It started in December with Joey.  He came down with the worst cough I have ever heard and missed a full week of school.  He is still coughing, though it is not nearly as bad as it was.  He has a sore throat still or again today but is "powering through it."  Yes, he has been to the doctor.

The last two weeks it has been Lindsey.  She was out two days last week, seemed to recover, then got slammed again last night and is absolutely miserable.

Today I got a call from Tony's school.  He was out two days last week, seemed better, but was not at school for even two hours before I got the call to come get him.  He spent the day sleeping and watching movies wrapped in a blanket in our very warm house.  If you know Tony, he never stops moving so if he is still most of the day on the couch, he is not well.  His came with a fever.

Bella has been out during the last month but seems to be fine now. Natalie has picked up a little cough but keeps going like the Energizer Bunny.  Jay has been grounded for a week with an infection.  Julia and Sam have both missed a day or two during this time period as well.  I haven't had this much company at home during the day since Natalie began school two years ago!

This has been a particularly nasty cold and flu season for our family and the worst part is that is comes then goes and comes back again.  I am starting to think the kids are passing it around and around, that we have a bug that has learned to morph itself just enough to present the bodies with a fresh illness every other week.

I, myself, have so far stayed out of the fray.  I, the immunosuppressed member of the family.  In fact, I have been remarkably free of colds and flus for the last five years or so.  It is my theory that any virus that enters my body is immediately crushed by the constant bath of chemicals that my blood transports.  But that is just my theory and I'm sure there is no medical support for this idea at all.

At any rate, I am not really complaining, but rather reporting on our family life as it is.  Although I have had to skip some regular activities that take me out of town to stay close to the sickies at home, it is a blessing to spend some extra time (and mellow time!) with them. individually or in pairs as was the case today.

Stay healthy, y'all!  (Spent too much time with Jennifer-from-Texas last weekend, apparently.)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Phonics According to Natalie

After a bit of a rough start with reading in 1st grade, Natalie is suddenly on fire.  She reads everything and anything she can.  She is reading at least one Dr. Seuss book to me every night and reads them to herself when I am not available.  She reads signs, labels and anything else she can find.  Along with this jump in reading, she has begun writing independent notes including big words that I can usually understand, even with the often phonetic spelling.

Tonight, after she cruised through a Dr. Seuss book she actually had not heard or read before (The Foot Book) she read The Pigeon Has Feelings Too, something I have read to her several times in the past.  She got hung up on the word 'wait'.  I reminded her of the rule, "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking."  She looked at me silently for a minute, so I prompted her, "Which vowel does the talking in this word?"

Without hesitation, she announced proudly, "W!"

Hmmm, I guess we still have some work to do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Latest Scan News

I had my bi-monthly brain scan yesterday.  I am happy to report that things are more or less still stable in my gray matter.  I still have three "spots" that grow and shrink over time.  This time, one shrunk and two stayed the same.  My doctor remains pleased and will see me again in May.

Aside from a reappearance of a previously squelched tumor on my sacrum (no one is stressing at all about this), all appears quiet and peaceful in the battleground of my body.  I am sure that the situation is quite different on a molecular level, as a constant flow of chemicals stays busy chasing down cancer cells 24/7, but, as they say, a picture tells a thousand words!

A Few More Photos from Savannah

Jen, Lori and me in Forsyth Park

The outside of the building we stayed in ("Lucky Lincoln" VBO)

A typical historical residential neighborhood

The inside of our abode...beautiful!

Best breakfast ever at Clary's...corned beef hash, fluffy biscuits, YUMMY!


Altogether a fantastic weekend with my dear friends...where shall we go next year?

Friday, March 06, 2015

Savannah Day 1

It's our annual girls getaway weekend!  I suppose at some point we are going to have to stop using the word "girls", but let's not talk about that now.

At any rate, Jennifer, Lori and I are having a great time so far in lovely, historic Savannah, Georgia. Here are some pictures of our first day's adventures...

Mass and Stations of the  Cross at St. John the Baptist Cathedral

This photo doesn't do justice to the amazing interior.

Me with a statue of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts 
at her family home and birthplace

All three of us in her garden

On the river walk...yes it was very cold here today, but at least it finished raining last night!

Juliette and I, wearing our classic Girl Scout duds

Tomorrow we will be visiting the Pirate's House (circa 1754), Forest Gump's bus stop bench, Forsyth Park, City Market and Paula Deen's Lady and Son's restaurant for dinner.  Fun, fun, fun!

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The San Francisco Fire of 2015

San Francisco's Archbishop Cordileone has done something shocking.

He has asked the teachers and staff at the four Catholic high schools in his diocese to refrain from promoting anti-Catholic doctrine in the work place.

Can you believe how radical this is?  To ask someone employed at a Catholic High School in a very influential role to avoid expressing personal opinions in the classroom when they are contrary to church teaching?

These are Catholic schools.  Of course they should be teaching Catholic morality!  The church's position on issues such as abortion, same sex marriage and contraception has not changed in 2000 years.  I truly don't understand why someone who doesn't agree with the church in these areas or any others would even apply for a job at a Catholic school unless they specifically wanted to influence the youth against it.

I further cannot understand why a parent would enroll their child in a Catholic school if they didn't want them to receive a Catholic education.  There have been countless parents opposed to the Archbishop's request and this simply doesn't make sense.  If you enroll your child in a Jewish school you don't expect him to learn about Christ, do you?  The are plenty of secular private high schools in the Bay Area that give parents the benefits of a private school but the secularism of a school without any faith education at all.  If you don't agree with church teaching, please don't involve yourself with a Catholic school and try to strip it of the items you don't believe in.  The Catholic church is very straightforward about what it stands for, and the last time I checked we still live in a nation that supports religious freedom.  We are free to practice whatever it is we believe in and free to choose and education for our children that is in alignment with our own values.

This firestorm has made me so very sad because it highlights for me exactly how disconnected people have become with our beautiful faith.   Archbishop Cordileone, I thank you for trying to keep your Catholic Schools Catholic!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Just Say NO!

I guess you could call me a "yes" girl.  I want to say yes to everyone about everything.  Yes, I can attend the thing you want me to go to, yes I can have lunch next week, yes we can get ice cream after school, yes I can serve on this or that board or committee, yes I will get you the school supplies or clothing you need tonight, right now, etc., etc., etc.

Because of this tendency I have, my life has become far too busy.  Each week I find myself out of the house (always for a "good" reason) 3 or more nights a week.  When Jay is traveling, as he often does, that leaves the older kids or grandma in charge, and that is not fair to any of us.  My kids need me home more, and I want to spend my time with them rather than driving all over or out of the valley to do something that likely won't matter a few months from now.

I kid you not, THREE times in the last several weeks from THREE different people I trust very much to lead me down the right path have independently told me to learn to say "NO!".  And to not feel guilty about it.

This is easier said than done because all the things I do feel important to me.  Most of them I do for my children or for their schools, but at least two are for me: weekly choir practice and once a month faith formation.

Nonetheless, I see my children growing up so rapidly and, thinking about the time I miss with them while I am fulfilling parent hours or inefficiently reacting to an individual's needs, makes me want to cry.  God has given me a true second chance at life and I want to spend every minute I can with my family.

This Lent I am trying to not make any new commitments, trying to scale down to reasonable the ones I already have and am arranging them to take place as much as possible when the kids are in school. I am also working on bringing as many of my children with me as want to come when I go to the grocery store or bank or anywhere else I would prefer to just go myself.  I am trying to say yes to the requests of the children to read with them or play a board game with them, and am forcing myself to stop what I am doing to look at them when they are telling me something.  I know these things sound like basic courtesy, but some days they are a real struggle for me.

Please know that my intention in declining an invitation to a social event or meeting, to be a team mom, a leader of any kind or even a participant in a new group or club or sport is a good one.  It's not that I don't want to join you...I just want to be at home with my kids before they grow up and don't want to snuggle or play board games with me anymore.  I'll have plenty of time, God willing, to do all those extracurricular things when my children are grown and gone.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Do What You Love

Joey has a job.  He has spent the last three months employed as a ski/snowboard instructor at Mountain High, a ski resort about an hour away from our house.

My first job was at Kentucky Fried Chicken.  For real.

Needless to say, he is very happy with his situation.  He teaches 7-10 year olds of various levels how to learn or improve in their chosen snow genre.  Before this season, he didn't understand why anyone would ski, as snowboarding was so clearly superior to skiing, but now he has discovered an equal appreciation for both.

He really is the perfect man-child for the job.  He is passionate about mountain snow sports, he has always had a particular talent for them, and as the oldest of our seven children he has plenty of experience applicable to rounding up a class full of kids.  It has become his habit to spend his weekends lunching with his young proteges, and has consumed many a plate of dino-shaped chicken nuggets with carrots and ranch dressing.  I love picturing this.

Along with this job has come a bank account and a debit card, so things are changing a bit around here.  He fully funds his own account and has access to the money he has earned.  Mostly he is saving for accessories for his Jeep, but I know it is nice for him to be able to get food when he wants without having to ask us for money.  The statement comes to us every month and we can always check online to see how he is managing his money.  It is a good first step to financial freedom.

Today Tony took Joey's beginning ski class.  It is the first time this season he has made it up the mountain, so he was very excited.  He had the choice between taking the beginning ski class or the higher level snowboarding class with another instructor.  Tony is a devoted snowboarder and his choice reflected his admiration and love for his big brother.  It really made me happy.

What made me even happier was that his lesson was free and his lift ticket was free based on Joey's work credits.  Every certain number of hours worked earns Joey a free lift ticket and he used this one on Tony.  Good boy!

Sam, by the way, doesn't need any lessons.  Joey taught him long before he was a pro.  I doubt Sam will ever try skis.  Julia and Bella also prefer to snowboard while Lindsey, Jay and I are sticking with what we know--skis. Natalie has yet to give snow sports a try...she'd rather build a snowman.

The only problem with a job like Joey's is that it is dependent on the weather.  In a state dealing with a serious drought, it has been a year with little snow.  What snow we have received has melted quickly and it is too warm most days to blow snow.  Last week the Winter Sports school was closed due to poor conditions and Joey thought the season was over, but lo and behold a decent storm showed up this weekend and dumped fresh powder just in time.  The snow was so good today that after his classes he stayed up and skied several hours with friends.  (Don't worry, we remembered to pick Tony up at the end of his lesson.)

Jay and I are happy to see him getting work experience (especially the kind that makes him get out of the house on time because he is accountable to his students), and the fact that he is doing what he loves to do is really beautiful.  The way he has figured out how to get to mass each weekend at various times and places according to his schedule makes us proud.

Jobs are a part of life and so much of how we perceive ourselves comes from our success in employment.  if you can find a way to do what really inspires you and get paid for it too, that is about as good as it gets.  I hope his future career will give him as much satisfaction as this first job has!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Family Movie Night

For the first time in forever...there'll be music, there'll be lights.

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.  The movie Frozen has infiltrated our lives so completely that I hear the lyrics in all sorts of unexpected places.

Anyway, what I meant to say is that for the first time in forever, we were all home this evening!  (Well, except for Joey who was home for awhile but then went to a basketball playoff game, but 9 out of 10 is not bad!).

Normally, Friday nights are our family movie nights, but tonight we decided to watch Big Hero 6 since we were (mostly) all together.  I made Pasta e Fagioli in the slow cooker and everyone got homework done early so we were ready to go.

This is a very cute family movie.  Everyone enjoyed it, from Natalie (who fell soundly asleep about half way through) to Grandma.  Some of us had seen it before but some hadn't.  And others of us, (specifically those who have had way too much brain radiation), couldn't quite remember the details, or even the basic plot, so it was just like seeing it for the first time!

The movie's plot is totally original, the setting is fun and creative, and the message is a good one.
Plus, Baymax is far more endearing than Olaf (sorry, but it had to be said).  But best of all?  No catchy lyrics or songs of any kind!  Most of you know how much I love to sing, but seriously, enough is enough.  No more Frozen songs!

In conclusion, our family recommendation is:  9 thumbs up!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Valentine's Day Tony Style and a Newly Minted 8 Year Old

For Valentine's Day, a few of my kids were asked to take shoeboxes and create a receptacles for their in-class valentines.  Over the years we have had some exceptionally creative ones come from the boys in the family.  I wish I had a picture of the one Sam did a few years ago.  He cut a big hole in the top and attached a flexible dryer vent and painted the whole thing red and silver.  It looked like a valentine vacuum.

I do, however have a picture to share of Tony's.  He asked for a shoebox, banged around for awhile looking for supplies and a hot glue gun, and then came back an hour or so later with this:

The detail is difficult to see, but there is a pink tongue at the bottom and blood-tinged teeth all around.  Seriously, the kid is 9 and does WAY better crafts than I do.  He found all the supplies, figured out how to glue the lid so that it stayed open, and only suffered a minor finger burn from a drip of the glue gun. The result was a tie for the cutest valentine box I have ever seen come out of our family.

The girls' boxes have been nice too, don't get me wrong.  Hearts, flowers, love, lace, etc.  Just a tad more predictable.

Speaking of the girls, we have a new 8 year old in the family!  Bella successfully completed her 8th year of life yesterday.  Yay Bella!  If you can recall that far back, I posted a photo of her each month during her first year...seems I had more time back then!  Anyway, check out 2007 blogs for her first year progression if you are interested.  Here she is at 8 years:

Time does fly.  Happy birthday, Bella, and I look forward to celebrating many more birthdays with you!