This Jam is My Jam!!!

I am currently involved in a torrid love affair with these tiny, green, spicy, smoky, abundant, little hotties… jalapeno peppers!!!!

They are just SO cute!!!  And so sadly underrated!  Every time I mention that I had jalapeno peppers literally pouring out of my garden all summer, the average Midwesterner that I am sharing a conversation with always proudly blurts out their solution to this problem… “Duh!!!  Jalapeno Poppers!  Hello!?”  Ugggghhhhh.  I know they are so good, but c’mon!  I’m not always at a bar, my phantom gall bladder doesn’t cooperate with deep-fried anything, and I don’t eat cheese.  Not that Velveeta is actually cheese, but whatever.  Okay, sometimes I eat cheese.  Not Velveeta, but real cheese.

Give my little green man some credit people – the jalapeno can totally step it up to a variety of recipes and palettes.  It’s not just about the heat either.  I mean, it’s true, these cute guys are HOT.  But, there is so much more to them just a deep-fried bar app ordered by “Belly Up Bill” (I can use the name Bill because that is my husband’s name.)  Jalapeno peppers are literally on fire with health benefits!  They are small-but-mighty and packed with Vitamin C, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, and antioxidants, just to name a few.  Read more about their super powers here!  Also, they are inexpensive $$$$$$, and super-simple to grow!  Proof – I grew them!!!

So, I have SO many little green dudes that I want to make something in a big batch that I can add to TONS of snacks and recipes and freeze.  Hmmmm….  how about JAM!!!!  Yes!!!  And now a new addiction has begun.  Let’s see… what haven’t I been putting this on!?!?  It is topping my morning toast and avocado, crackers and hummus, mixed into salad dressing, tacos, marinades, nachos, quesadillas, dips, ahhhhhhh!!!!!  I am in love!!!!

And this jam is SO my jam…

Jalapeno This Jam is My Jam Recipe

1 1/2 C Fresh Jalapeno Peppers, chopped (Remove a portion of the ribs and seeds to decrease heat as preferred)

1 Green Apple, peeled, cored, and chopped

1/2 White Onion, chopped

1/2 C Agave Syrup

1/3 C Apple Cider Vinegar

1 tsp. Sea Salt

Juice of 1/2 -1 Lemon

Directions

Combine the apple, peppers, and onion in a food processor until well-blended.

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a saucepan.  Simmer until mixture thickens, stirring occasionally.

Once the jam is thick, remove from heat.  Usually 30-40 minutes.  Store in glass ball jars.

Jam Notes

A little of this jam goes a LONG way!  This is not something you want to load on a cracker and pop in your mouth.  Unless you like to torture your tongue.

You may choose to remove the core and seeds of a portion of the jalapenos to lessen the heat factor.  Wimp.

This mixture lasts up to 2 weeks in the fridge or can freeze up to 6 months!

Recipe Ideas

A thin layer of Jalapeno Jam over humus makes for a quick and easy dip.  Add black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and green onion.

Whisk Jalapeno Jam with extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar and some fresh squeezed lemon juice for a bright and light salad dressing!  This can also work great as a marinade for fish or shrimp!

Thin Jalapeno Jam with warm water and used as a drizzle to add a little heat on top of chicken, quesadilla, enchiladas, burritos.

I’m just going to stop now.  I don’t want you all thinking I have an actual, legit jalapeno jam problem.

Happy Jamming!

Jalapeno

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One Year of Remission!!!!

Today, November 7, is officially my one year anniversary of being declared,

“IN COMPLETE REMISSION!!!!”

Yeah!!!!  So what does that mean?  Well, a year ago this morning my hematology-oncology nurse, Jennifer, called at 7:23 am and said, “You are in complete remission.”  That means that my PET scan from the day before showed no active cancer in my body.  Complete remission.  In other words, “Chemo worked!  Good job and good luck!” A year of remission is a huge accomplishment and I certainly feel like celebrating, but I don’t feel like celebrating beating cancer.  I feel like celebrating what I accomplished in the year that followed “Destroying The Hodge.”  It was a year full of more hardships than I could ever have expected.  There is still lots of healing and reflection yet to be done.  And many, many, many blog post that I need to write.  But, for today, I will celebrate this 1st year of surviving being a cancer survivor.  It was certainly far more difficult than I ever imagined, and the “cancer hangover” is still lingering.  It was full of ups and downs, and some days that were just plain sideways.  But, I am here.  A year later.  I’m alive.  I’m healthy.  I’m doing my best.  So today is all smiles!

A year ago I surprised by big boys at lunch to share the good news!  And then I packed and left the following morning with Bill to Dove Mountain, Arizona.  I relaxed. I did yoga. I prayed.  I goofed around on the slide.  I had a massage.  I climbed mountains.

Real ones, this time.

My initial remission celebration was short-lived, but I’m not worrying about the details of that today.  Today is about accomplishment.  It is about choosing faith over fear.  It is about all that has happened to me in the last 365 days, and how I didn’t let anything steal my joy.  It is about God and grit.  It is about the simple, wonderful fact, that I’m just a regular person who faced a crisis, beat a disease, tackled that first scary year of survivor-ship head on, and did it the best way I know how… with heart and humor.  It’s about my family, my 4 children, my friends, and all my wonderful blessings.

I’m still a little scared.  And still quite a bit scarred.  But, that is what happens to warriors.  I’ll always have my armor ready for when I need it.  But, today especially, I am just wearing what I always do… comfy yoga gear, a faithful heart, and a big, fat, giant, extra-huge GRATEFUL SMILE 🙂

Vegan Happy Soup

It was a dark and stormy night.  And I was cold. And I had a sore throat.  And all the kids were asleep and my husband was out of town.  And I really wanted soup.  So, in between claps of thunder, I raided the pantry and threw together this super-comfy, cozy, toasty soup.

This Asian-inspired bowl of goodness has a hint of sweetness, the healing power of tumeric, a punch of vitamin C from the red pepper, and a dash of protein.  It tastes even the better the next day.  And as for the 3rd day – I don’t know – I slurped it up before that.  The ingredients I used are what I had on hand, so get crazy and sub in whatever you have in your pantry (I will note some yummy substitution ideas)…

Ingredients

2 quarts of vegetable broth

1 box Pad Thai brown rice noodles (or pasta noodles, soba noodles)

1 red pepper sliced very thin (or any pepper:)

1/2 C diced chives (or green onion)

1/2 C edamame (or peas, sugar snap peas)

4 cloves crushed garlic

2 T Rice Vinegar

2T agave syrup (sugar or honey could work here too)

1 T Liquid Aminos (soy sauce)

1/2 t ground tumeric (or more depending how robust you want the flavor)

1/2 t ground fresh ginger (or dried ginger)

Dash of crushed red pepper flakes (or spice it up!)

Splash of olive oil

Directions

Put the vegetable broth and sliced pepper in a stock pot and bring to a boil.

Add the noodles and cook according to the box.

Add all the remaining ingredients.

Let the flavors combine at least 10 minutes.

Pour in your favorite soup bowl. Or, as in my case, my trusty Colts mug. Pair with a little red vino, a quiet porch, and some soothing rain.

A Survivor Finds Balance. On a Playground.

It’s been 8 months since I was officially declared to be “in remission” from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma!  Yippee!!!  Awesome!!! Everything is great!!!  Just kidding, it doesn’t quite work like that. So, what does one do with their new health status?  What’s it like to be considered a “cancer survivor”?  I can’t say that I’ve truly had enough time or experience to have much to explain.  I am still in the thick of it all.  I’m a little out of whack. There is so much to sort out, and relive, and work through.  There are new feelings that come up that were never present before.  There is new hair that I have absolutely no idea what to do with.  There’s just A LOT.  All kinds of muck and mess that cannot, and maybe will not ever clear.  It’s the “new normal”.  It’s the daily fear of remission.  It’s the constant reminders of the changes that happened to my body.  Scars all over my abdomen and back from the Bleomycin known as “tiger stripes”.  My brain fog and fatigue.  My port site that is still a little bit sore.  I don’t necessarily dislike these changes, but I don’t really feel super-affectionate about them either.

So what do I do now? Well, with 4 little kids, life has been crazy busy, in a good way!  There have been family trips, countless events and programs, sports, First Communions, birthday parties, you know – a lot of stuff that is really the essence of life as a family with young children.  There have been pool parties, fireworks, beach days, rainy days, good days, bad days, and the most evident occurrence in our life – CHANGE.  That is the one thing that always stays the same, oddly, the presence of “change”.  Some changes appear to be good, some are clearly bad.  But, as time moves on and the result of these changes becomes evident, one may learn that the “bad” change led to something good and perhaps molded the person you have become.  I am not even thinking about cancer, but about all the little things in life that disrupt a balance.  And it’s so funny, because that seems to be everyone’s goal in life – attaining “balance”.  And OH! how elusive that state of living is.  Is it even attainable at all?  I don’t actually think so.  Not that having it at as a goal is a bad thing, it’s just unlikely you will ever have a moment where you can boldly declare to the world, “I AM SO FREAKIN’ BALANCED!!!!”

bal·ance
ˈbaləns/
noun
1. an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady

And boy do we have a lot of weight to try to evenly distribute!  We don’t have to eliminate every stress, fear, activity, joy, goal, regret – we just have to move with them and through them.  We can get rid of what doesn’t serve us and our well-being, but we can NEVER get rid of every single balance-threatening part of our life!  C’est impossible!!!

So, this idea of “evenly distributing” makes me think that I belong at a playground.  I see myself on more of a teeter totter than trying to climb a big mountain toward balance.  Some days I’m up, some days I’m down, and sometimes I am just right in the middle.  But, being there in the middle of a teeter totter doesn’t mean I’m taking a break and relaxing in all my balanced splendor.  Achieving this state involves constant movement, strength, give and take, adjustment, and awareness.

Mama on the seesaw, and OH, the irony of my shirt…

Perhaps my little yogi mind is subconsciously leading me to accept this form of balance that I try to attain.  The constant give and take, the yin and yang, the flex and breathe.  But, even in my beloved yoga the goal is never to hold the position forever!  You flow, you move, you grow, and you take that with you into your day.  I like teeter totters!  They are fun!  I can totally do this whole “seesaw balance thing”.  I got this.  Some days up.  Some days down.  Most of the time, quite content in the middle, and working quite hard to be there.

So I never have to expect a perfect state of balance.  I can accept the imperfect state of balance.  I am upright.  I am steady.  And, frankly, it’s quite perfect. Namaste.

How I Faced Those Final ‘Diagnosis Day’ Fears!

So, I did it!!!!  I faced my final fears surrounding my diagnosis a year ago!!!!  If you missed my previous post about the pesky anxiety I still had about D Day (Diagnosis Day), you can check that out here… One Year Ago They Told Me I Had Cancer.  

The morning of March 7, I woke up with a slight case of the stomach bug, but since this was my only day to get out on my own and face my fear head-on, I wasn’t about to crawl back in bed!  I put on a little extra armor (and a lot of extra makeup)  and headed out into the sunshine!  Plus after 9 months of pregnancy, followed by 6 months of chemotherapy, followed by gall bladder issues and surgery – a little stomach bug is like ‘whatever’.  

A little nervous, but mostly determined, I pulled into the parking lot of the pathology office and plopped my minivan down in the exact same spot from a year ago.  I walked on in, through the shabby lobby and into the room that had been giving me the “heebee jeebies” for a year.  Inhale.  Exhale….  Oh!  They redecorated!  It looks much more cheerful!  I chatted with the assistant and told her I was really weird and was wondering if she could snap some pics of me by the fish tank.  I found it was helpful for her to know my explanation.  “So, my name is Megan Morton, and I was here a year ago and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  And I beat that Hodge out and now I am just facing my final fears.  I really don’t like your fish tank so I would like a picture by it so that it doesn’t scare me anymore.”

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So I posed and smiled in my “miracles” shirt, and didn’t really care if everyone in the waiting room thought I was nuts.  The very sweet assistant then brought the pathologist out that diagnosed me!  We chatted, and hugged, and looked at pictures of my baby, and she cried.  It was a very special and healing moment for me.  And I am sure it was nice for her to see that I was indeed strong and happy, and had destroyed cancer just like I had so boldly told her I would a year ago.

Having done what I needed to do, I walked back outside.  Retracing the silent steps my husband and I took together a year ago – shock and fear forcing us to just sort of float out of the building.  I paused for a moment where we had hugged and I let that horrible, sickening feeling of seeing my husband cry leave me.  I just let it go.  And now it was my turn for tears to sting my eyes.  So I turned them up to God and the bright, blue Heavens and said, “Thank you God!!!  Thank you for healing me!!!  Thank you SO SO SO much!!!”  I’m not so great at selfies, but…

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Next stop – Fish tacos and Dr. Pepper.  As fate would have it, the hostess seated me in the EXACT SAME BOOTH!  “Is this alright?” She asked me.  I just had to laugh out loud, “Hahah!  Yes, it’s perfect!”  Of course, she is probably not used to customers being so thrilled with their seat selection.  But, once again, I didn’t care if she thought I was loony tunes.  Nor did I care that I spent part of my meal crying, and laughing by myself and taking selfies.  I freakin’ crushed cancer and I can do whatever I feel like people!!!!!  

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I couldn’t eat the fish tacos due to the pesky stomach bug issue.  So, I just boxed them up and took them home. But, I sure did enjoy my Dr. Pepper by golly!!!!

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Exhale.  Fears are purged out!  Now that scary fish tank is just like any other in a shabby (or newly refurbished) waiting room.  That doctor’s office is just a building, no longer an anxiety-inducing monolith every time I drive by in my minivan.  Dr. Pepper is just a drink, and one I can have on occasion and not feel nervous (who gets nervous about soda anyways? Geez.)  I feel like I can move on with the D Day fear at my back.  And look forward to a life-time of family and fun and my 4 crazy kiddos and crushing cancer with courage, humor, and faith!!!

And fish tacos.

One Year Ago They Told Me I Had Cancer.

March 7, 2017.  It was a Tuesday.  It was overcast.  It was the day that changed our lives forever.  The week leading up to this particular Tuesday was filled with fear and trepidation.  I already knew something was wrong.  Really, really wrong.  I felt the swollen lymph node above my clavicle.  I saw the swelling on both sides of my neck.  I googled.  I saw the look in my OBGYN’s eyes and felt the sense of urgency from my ENT.  I knew.  I waited for March 7, when I could get a biopsy and find out what was going on.  It was torture to wait, and wonder, and google.

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Tuesday finally came and I can remember everything about that day.  Getting dressed that morning.  Killing time at CVS.  Meeting my husband for lunch before the biopsy.  I had shrimp tacos.  And a Dr. Pepper.  I never drink soda, but when I’m pregnant and queasy – Mama wants Dr. Pepper!  I haven’t ever been back to that restaurant.  I haven’t had a sip of Dr. Pepper since that day.  I can picture myself walking into the office. I remember the shabby waiting room and the sound of the fish tank.  I remember how they had double-booked the pathologist so I had to wait for an hour.  I was zenned out.  I watched the fish and took deep breaths.  But, underneath my calm appearance – I knew.  The fine needle aspiration took about 30 minutes and then the pathologist came back in to say that she was 99% sure from viewing my sample that, “You have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Cancer.”

Woah.

The pathologist, and my husband, and the nurse carefully laid me back on the exam table so that they could get some more extensive samples.  I was shaking.  I’m shaking just typing this out right now.  This was THE worst moment of my life in THE worst day of my life.  The look on my husband’s face.  I wish I could erase it from my memory.  Then thoughts that began to swirl out of the shock-fog I was in.  “I’m a mom.  I’m a mom.  I’m a mom.  Nothing can happen to me.  I can’t die.  I’m 28 weeks pregnant.  I’m a mom.  I’m a mom.”  I laid as still as I could as they finished the second round of the aspiration biopsy.  And then I slowly sat up and the pathologist gave us as much information as she could about this disease she believed that I had.  At some point I could feel things begin to change.  I was moving from “fear mode” to “fight mode”.  She told me, “Don’t ever, ever give cancer the advantage.  Don’t ever, ever back down.  Don’t ever, ever stop fighting.”

Lady.  You don’t know who you are talking to.  Stop fighting?  Back down?  That would never cross my mind.  I’m a mom.  I don’t have an option.  Fight.  For them.

Immediately, I was ready to go.  “What next?”  I said.  “What do I do?  I’m ready to get started.”  I told the pathologist that I wasn’t scared of what would happen to me physically or what I would go through.  I have to live.  That’s all I care about.  Bring it on.  And I never did care about what happened to me.  That didn’t scare me.  But, what still scares me – is that doctor’s office.  I am still scared of that restaurant.  I am still scared of that moment when my husband and I walked through the door, into the shabby hallway, and out onto the sidewalk.  The sun was shining then, as we stepped outside into our new life.  We sort of stood there in shock.  And then we embraced.  And he cried.  In 16 years, I have never seen him cry.  He looked so scared.  I hate that moment.  I hate it more than I hate anything else, ever.  Even more than cancer.  Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is just a disease, and it can be treated, and cured.  But, how do we cure what it did to us?

These past few weeks of 2018 have been freaking me out a little bit.  My usual zen-like state has been thrown out of whack.  I keep remembering “a year ago”.  All the uncertainty and fear.  That time of limbo was the worst part of my whole experience with cancer.  I don’t “hate” cancer.  I’m not “mad I got cancer”.  But, I hate March 7.  And I don’t want to hate anything!  Anniversaries hold great significance, no matter how hard you try to make them ordinary.  “It’s just another day,” I try to lie to myself.  I don’t like thinking about having to break the news to my family that afternoon.  I don’t like thinking about the look of absolute pity on the nurse’s face.  But, the change that happened when the pathologist spoke to me did continue into the evening of March 7, 2017.  The anxiety started to be replaced by something stronger.  A fierceness settled over me.  I quit feeling so afraid and started feeling determined.  I think as I lay in bed that night, trying to sleep, my new skin was growing.  And it was armor.

I’ve worn that armor every day since.  I powered through waiting for weeks to have my baby, wondering if the cancer was growing.  I forged on through his week in the NICU and my first of many scans and tests.  I laughed after my port surgery and through my first chemo.  And I kept on marching and laughing through 11 more chemos, or “Hodge Blasters” as liked to call them.  I made it through the uncertainty of waiting to hear if I was “in remission” and the unexpected emotional trauma that hit me when my treatment was finally over.  I somehow managed to go on and recover from gall bladder surgery without the help of my mom who had fallen and broken one foot and severely broken the other ankle.  My father-in-law was also hospitalized at the time and we were tossed into a time of not having our usual support system available.  It was tough, sure, but we are stronger for it.  And even though I could waste time wishing things had been different, that wouldn’t accomplish one single thing.

My year of fighting “The Hodge” did give me some great opportunities.  Topping the list would be the chance to meet Chuck Pagano, who at the time was the Colt’s head coach.  He is a leukemia survivor and gave me a copy of his book written about his experience.  Inside the cover he wrote, “Circumstances don’t make you.  They reveal you.”  Woah.  So all these things that happened to me, and the misfortune that seemed to befall my family – all that garbage was just simply circumstance.  It’s just what happened to us.  There is no explanation or reason why, it just “is what it is”.  There is nothing anyone could have done to derail the train that came crashing into our world on March 7.  The only thing we had control over was how we reacted to our circumstances.  And I have to say – and I feel that it is totally acceptable to brag in the situation – I’m really proud of myself.  And I’m really proud of my family too, and my super-resilient 4 children.  I completely understand what Chuck Pagano meant when he wrote that amazing quote.  Cancer didn’t “make” me one thing or the other.  It revealed who I truly am.  It revealed things about us we would never have known.  And I am really proud of what we did, how we did it, and the strength, courage, and faith we didn’t even know we had.

The only thing I am not proud of is this lingering fear that revolves around March 7th and the little-big things that happened that day.

So, now that a crazy, chaotic year has passed, I’m ready to finally throw out the remaining fear.  I don’t need it dragging me down.  It is the last thing I have to face head-on.  Just like I did everything else.  I am going to go back into that dark, dank waiting room and look at that fish tank.  I am going to stand on the concrete where I saw tears in my husband’s eyes.  I am going to go to that restaurant and have some shrimp tacos.  And I am going to purge the nauseating feeling of fear out for good!  Now, I’m not fool enough to think I will never be afraid again or experience anxiety about cancer or my “circumstances”.  But, my faith is stronger than fear.  My grit is greater than any obstacle.  So I am going to go strut in there in my comfy armor, and you better believe that this cancer crusher is going to enjoy a big, fat, ice-cold Dr. Pepper.  Take that, fear!!!

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It’s My Birthday!

So, today is my birthday!  And I’m sitting at my little “office”, the bar corner seat at Cafe Patachou.  The usual staff had to do a few double takes when I sat down.  Yep.  It’s me.  Long blonde and lavender hair long gone.  And in its place, very, very, very short brown hair.  It’s been months since I’ve been in here; eating, sipping coffee, and working on my computer.  My ultimate happy place.  Besides the beach.  In fact, I think its been about 8 months since I was last in this exact spot.  And woah, what an 8 months that was!!!!  In fact, I found this journal entry from the last time I was here.  And what a prediction I was making about the next time I would be at my little corner seat.  I was right for the most part, and a little wrong.  And here I am, sitting in my usual bar stool.  The battle behind me and the cancer dust just beginning to settle…

Cancer Crusher Journal, April 13, 2017

So, there she sits at the table next to my little, bar perch at my favorite café.  The cancer patient.  The wrap covering her hairless head and her pale skin give her away.  Nothing gives me away.  For now.  Gazing upon her is like a glimpse into my future.  I will be just like her soon, sitting here in this café.  Just as I am now, but soon I will boast my own head wrap and lots of bronzer.  I wonder how I will deal with the looks from strangers.  Will they pity me?  It’s funny how I am so afraid of people pitying me.  I don’t feel sorry for myself and so I don’t think they should either.  But, they will.  And I can’t stop it.  That is just basic human compassion.  So, I plan on exerting my strength.  It will be as obvious as my hairless head.  I know it’s not important what other people think or feel about my situation, but what IS important is how I feel about myself.  And feeling pity or the dull sadness wafting my way from strangers does not make me feel good.  So I will send out my super badass cancer killer energy waves and everyone will know that the girl with the cute head wrap and overly bronzed cheeks is not messing around.  So back off people!!!  Just kidding, you can come and give me a hug or a high five because I am awesome!  Then I may leave and go cry in my car.  But, maybe I won’t.  I don’t know how much strength it will take to be strong during treatment.  Soon, very soon I will know.

Now it’s December 20, 2017.  And how soon that all passed.  How quickly the battle seemed to go.  The 12 chemotherapy “Hodge Blaster” treatments flew by.  And oh, what I know now.  I know that I did in fact feel strong and powerful as a bald woman.  I know that I didn’t feel anyone pity me, because I don’t think I gave them anything to feel that way about.  I know I did wear a wrap, sometimes.  But, I always wore bronzer.  And I was strong.  And, somedays I didn’t feel very mighty.  I know that I never really felt sorry for myself.  But, I did cry in my car a few times.  And sometimes I “happy” cried.  Because even when it’s a time that cancer is basically your whole life, you can still have a happy life.  And I did.

So, today is a happy day.  It’s the end of a crazy year.  It’s a happy season.  It’s another day, an extra special day, to say “Thank you God for my many, many blessings”.  Happy birthday to me!  And, I will keep on being a warrior for my family and for others.  One. Happy. Day. At. A. Time.

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