My Cancer Story

You ready for this?

When you clicked on this link to read about my cancer experience, you probably weren’t expecting for someone tell you a love story. But something you should know about me is that I love big, and I love hard. So a love story is what you’re getting.

I met my husband, Chad, when I was 19 years old. The night we met, he asked for my phone number, but the screen on his flip phone was cracked, so he asked me to write it down on a piece of paper he pulled out of his wallet. The piece of paper had two other girls’ names and phone numbers on it, so I threw it in the trash, wrote my name and number on a paper towel, and said something really smooth about how it was the only number he would ever need. That night, I knew two things: 1) neither one of us had any game, and 2) I was in love. That second thing took some more convincing on his part. (Probably because I do things like tell embarrassing stories to strangers.) But eventually I did, and we were married in June 2007. I was 24 years old.

Shortly after our wedding, we bought our first house in a suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we were both born and raised. We were so excited and couldn’t wait to entertain in our new home. At the beginning of November 2007, we threw a big housewarming party and invited all of our friends into our new home. We had so much fun…maybe a little too much fun. The next morning, I had a terrible headache, but I assumed it was from all that fun I mentioned before. But it didn’t go away. For several days, every day, I had a headache. And not just your typical, “I can take some Aspirin” type of headache, because believe me, I tried that. It was debilitating. It was hard to focus; it made me nauseous; I could barely make it through the day at work. But like so many of us have done before, I tried to power through, thinking it would get better. Finally, on a day off from work, I decided to go to the doctor. He asked very few questions and determined that I was having migraines. Made sense to me, so I took that answer, filled the prescription, and felt satisfied that I would wake up the next day feeling better. But I didn’t. In fact, the headaches got worse, and I was nauseous all the time. I would somehow make it through the day at work, come home, and immediately go to bed. Not a great way to spend our first few months of marriage.

I would call the doctor’s office almost every day, and I would get comments about how the medicine takes time to work, and if I didn’t feel better in 6-8 weeks, I could come back to explore other options. One day, I couldn’t handle it anymore, so I walked in the doors of my doctor’s office with no appointment, determined to get answers. I was told that my doctor was not in, but the Physician’s Assistant would be able to see me if I was okay to wait for a bit. It didn’t take long before I was in an exam room speaking with a nurse and eventually the PA. We went through my symptoms, and I finally felt like someone was listening. And then she asked, “Have we done a pregnancy test?” My first reaction was to laugh, but I said, “Oh no, I’m on birth control, and we just got married. I’m not pregnant.” (Apparently I slept through middle school biology with that answer.) Thankfully she persisted with having me take a test, “just in case.” A few short minutes later, she came in the room, smiling, “Congratulations!” But she must have seen the look of confusion, or fear, or whatever, on my face, because her smile faded. She told me that my test was positive, and I was pregnant. Of course Chad and I had planned to have children, just not this quick. But my bigger concern was the effect the migraine medicine might have had on this surprise of ours. Thankfully, the doctor shared my concern, spoke to my OBGYN, and was able to get me an appointment the following day.

At this time, Chad was working the night shift at work, so his days were spent catching up on sleep. After my appointment, I drove straight home and didn’t think twice about waking him up from his precious sleep. If I was going to be freaked out, he was along for the ride! I woke him up, and he listened to me and watched me cry through his groggy eyes. Always the calmer side of our relationship, he assured me that everything would be fine, and we would get some answers the following day.

We went to the doctor the next afternoon, and I was immediately taken to an ultrasound room with a tech. I will never forget this sweet girl’s face as she searched that small little screen for some good news to share. At the time, I didn’t know a thing about ultrasounds, but I knew her silence meant something was wrong. She said that I could go ahead and get dressed, and I would want to get my husband from the waiting room and meet her, and the doctor, in an exam room.

Chad and I waited in that room for what seemed like an eternity. When the doctor entered the room, her normal positive and upbeat demeanor seemed to have been left in the hall. The conversation that followed was, and still is, a blur. “You were pregnant, but you’re not, but we need to do surgery, and HcG levels, but chemo, but not, and 1 in 3 million women, but everything will be okay.” My head was spinning, but I was able to determine that my positive pregnancy test was caused by a tumor that had formed in my uterus, and I needed to have surgery the following morning to remove it. I made the necessary arrangements to have the day off from work, and I told them I would be back the following Monday morning.

The next morning, I had the surgery, everything went well, I went home to sleep it off, and I was back at work on Monday. The doctor did tell me that I would need to have bloodwork done every week for 4 weeks to ensure they “got it all.” I didn’t really know what that meant, but I knew I needed to do it. So I did. First week, fine. Second week, fine. Third week, I got the call.

I remember that I was sitting in the back room at work, eating my lunch, and I saw an incoming call from my doctor’s office. (By this time, it was the most recognizable number in my phonebook.) Honestly, I couldn’t really tell you what the nurse said. I didn’t understand anything she was saying. At the same time, my call waiting was beeping in my ear repeatedly, so I asked the nurse to please hold on. When I answered, the woman identified herself as calling from Cancer Care Associates and that she was needing to set up my treatment schedule. HUH? I asked if I could call her back, explaining that I was on another call. I went back to the original nurse, trying to get some clarity. Not understanding, I said, “Well I can’t do that, I have to work.” And her response was a statement that changed my entire life: “Molly, I don’t think you understand, you have cancer.”

The feeling in that moment, and in the 8 months that followed, can only be summed up with the word confusion. Through the pills, the injections, the PICC line, the infusions, the doctor’s appointments, the tests, the hair loss…confusion. I just went through the motions, arrived when and where I was supposed to, and prayed for an end. By the end of my treatment, I was going to the treatment center every single morning before work, receiving two hours of chemotherapy, and then driving straight to work to work a full day. The nights and weekends were hard. I was tired. I was sick. I was sad. I went through the unique experience of having my husband shave my head in the kitchen of that brand new home, which not really something I wish on any couple. But I also got to shave his head in an act of solidarity, and that was awesome! When we got married, I didn’t think I could love Chad any more than I did in that moment, but this experience proved me wrong. He cleaned my PICC line every single night, he attended every doctor’s appointment, he held my hand during every treatment that he could attend, he brought me a molten chocolate cake from Chili’s every single time I asked, because it was literally the only thing I wanted to eat. We celebrated his birthday, my birthday, and our 1-year wedding anniversary while holding hands in a chemo chair.

But I got better. After 8 months of treatment, I got another call, a nurse telling me that my tumor was gone! I would have to complete a couple of additional weeks of treatment and return periodically for bloodwork, but the end was near.

My life changed because of this experience.  It sounds really trite, and it wasn’t instant, but it did. That change intensifies every day, and I am truly a different person because of that experience.  I have experienced a lot of mixed emotion. I was angry for a while, trying to get back the time I lost. I felt guilty, so many suffering or losing their battle while I was cured. And ultimately, I’ve landed here. Grateful. Convicted. Faithful. Strong.

I could share many more love stories with you, but I would be remiss if I did not leave you with one more.  Although my treatment was completed many years ago, and I celebrated my 10-year anniversary of being cancer free on July 7, 2018, my journey did leave me with one lasting effect: the inability to conceive a child. Chad and I always knew that we wanted to adopt, so when we learned that we would not be able to conceive a child, we knew this was our direction. That led to us to adopting our son, Jack, one of the greatest love stories of my life.

I’ve told this story a lot of times, but I’ve never written it. There are so many additional nuances. Maybe I’ll go back and add them. Maybe I’ll leave it raw. It felt good to write this. To let out some tears and emotion. And to let you in on the story.

XOXO,
Molly B.

How to Build the Perfect Smoothie–With Template and 10 Recipes!

I recently posted a picture in my InstaStories of me making a midday smoothie, and I got a lot of requests for Smoothie recipes.  I’ve been making smoothies for years, and although I like to switch it up with different flavors, I do use the same basic formula for each one:

8-10 oz of Liquid (I typically use Unsweetened Almond Milk.)

1 cup of Greens (I typically use Spinach.)

1 cup of Fruit (I typically use a Banana or a combination of fruits.)

1 cup of Vegetables (I typically use Riced Cauliflower, because it has no flavor and makes it extra thick and creamy.)

1 tsp Herbs (I typically use 1/2 Cinnamon and 1/2 Ginger.)

2 tsp Healthy Fats (I typically use some sort of Nut Butter.)

2/3 cup of Protein (I typically use Arbonne Protein Powder and switch up the flavor.)

*** All of the fruit that I use is frozen, so that makes the consistency just right, but if your fruit is fresh, you will want to add ice as needed.  ***

Blend everything until smooth, adding more ice and/or liquid as needed.  Then pour it in a mason jar and drink it from a paper straw like a true hipster.  (Totally kidding.  Put it in your ugliest plastic cup from your favorite college bar and get a full on milk mustache.)

To make it even easier on you, I made this template with my formula and some suggestions for each category of ingredient:

How to Build the Perfect Smoothie 

So now that you’ve seen my basic Smoothie recipe, here are 9 more recipes for you!

PB&J:

1 scoop Chocolate Protein Powder

2 tsp Peanut Butter

8-10 oz Milk

1 cup Frozen Mixed Berries

1 cup Spinach

1 cup Frozen Riced Cauliflower

1 tsp Cinnamon

 

Gingerbread:

1 scoop Chocolate Protein Powder

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp Ginger

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

8-10 oz Milk

1 cup Spinach

1 cup Frozen Riced Cauliflower

1 cup Frozen Banana

 

Chocolate Covered Strawberry:

1 scoop Chocolate Protein Powder

2 tsp Coconut Oil

8-10 oz Milk

1 cup Frozen Strawberries

1 cup Spinach

1 cup Frozen Riced Cauliflower

1 tsp Cinnamon

 

Banana Bread:

1 scoop Vanilla Protein Powder

2 tsp Almond Butter

8-10 oz Milk

1 cup Frozen Banana

1 cup Spinach

1 cup Frozen Riced Cauliflower

1 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

2 tbsp Oats

 

Blue Moon:

1 scoop Chocolate Protein Powder

2 tsp Coconut Oil

8-10 oz Milk

1 cup Frozen Blueberries

1 cup Spinach

1 cup Frozen Riced Cauliflower

1 tsp Cinnamon

 

Neapolitan:

1 scoop Vanilla Protein Powder

2 tsp Cocoa Powder

8-10 oz Milk

1 cup Frozen Strawberries

1 cup Spinach

1 cup Frozen Riced Cauliflower

 

Lemon Bar:

1 scoop Vanilla Protein Powder

2 tsp Coconut Oil

8-10 oz Milk

1 cup Frozen Banana

1 cup Spinach

1 cup Frozen Riced Cauliflower

1 tsp Cinnamon

2 tbsp Lemon Juice

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

 

Thin Mint:

1 scoop Chocolate Protein Powder

2 tsp Avocado

8-10 oz Milk

1 cup Frozen Banana

1 cup Spinach

1 cup Frozen Riced Cauliflower

1 tsp Mint

1 tsp Mint Extract

 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip:

1 scoop Chocolate Protein Powder

2 tsp Peanut Butter

8-10 oz Chocolate Milk

1 cup Frozen Banana

1 cup Spinach

1 cup Frozen Riced Cauliflower

2 tsp Chocolate Chips

 

What are some of your favorite things to add to your Smoothie?  I’m always looking for new yummy ideas!

Enjoy!

 

XOXO,

Molly B.

 

PS–Don’t have time to blend up your own? I’ve got you!

I always keep a few Daily Harvest Smoothies in our freezer for when I want a yummy smoothie and don’t have time to make one. (They also have amazing Harvest Bowls, Overnight Oats, Chia Parfaits, and more!) That link will get you 3 Free Cups!

Also, there are some incredible grab-and-go smoothie places. My favorite is Nékter Juice Bar, and they are all over the country. My favorite smoothie is the Health Nut. (Pro Tip: Download their app for amazing discounts!)

 

A Weekend in Charleston

Chad and I try to take a trip for each of our birthdays every year, and this year, for mine, we spent the weekend in Charleston.  This city has been on my travel bucket list for a very long time, so it seemed like the perfect place to celebrate.

When we were booking our flights, we noticed that there was a significant price difference (over $1000!) if we flew in on a Saturday morning instead of Friday, so that was an easy choice–Saturday morning through Monday evening was the plan!

As soon as we landed in Charleston, we got an Uber to our hotel to drop our bags.  We are Marriott loyal, so we stayed at their downtown property, which was perfectly located.  We got cleaned up and got an Uber to King Street to start exploring.

Our first stop on King was the Stars Rooftop.  Charleston has many rooftop options, and this one was highly recommended above the others.  The views are fantastic, the drinks are tasty, and the vibe is relaxed.  It was a great kickoff to our weekend!

After our inaugural cocktail, we decided to walk around for a bit.  We dipped into several of the local stores, and I “may” have done a little birthday damage.

We decided it was time for a snack, so we stopped at Beer Works for a local brew and a snack.  Chad and I each selected one of the Charleston beer choices and some chips and salsa to share.  It was a fun spot to relax at the bar for a bit.

We walked around for a bit more before deciding that we were getting hungry for dinner.  King Street starts to get really crowded in the evening, so the waits at restaurants can be very long without a reservation.  There is any type of cuisine that you could want, but we decided that we were craving sushi.  We lucked out when we found O-KU!  The atmosphere is absolutely stunning, the service was fantastic, and the food was unique and delicious.

After dinner, we were exhausted!  But we couldn’t leave King without one more stop: Cupcake Downsouth.  As I’m sure you can imagine, I do my cupcake homework before I travel, and this one was at the top of every list.  We got our cupcakes to go, and I assure you, they tasted 100 times better in my pajamas.

We had a full day planned for Sunday, so I had to kick it off with a visit to Orangetheory.  It was a workout full of pushups and daydreams of the beach.  Before I got an Uber back to the hotel, I saw that there was a spot next door to the studio called Clean Juice, so I decided to check it out.  So glad I did!  Clean Juice is a juice, smoothie, bowl shop that is founded and grounded in Christian principles.  From their fun merch, to the prayer jar, I was instantly researching how close to home I could get a fix.  (Sadly not close, KC.)  I got some goodies for my ride home and was off to get cleaned up.

We asked several people for their recommendations, and Folly Beach was a common refrain.  That was our first stop, and we started by walking along the pier and taking in the breathtaking views of the ocean.  In March, the water is still very cold, so the beach and boardwalk are not very crowded yet, which made for a great opportunity to walk slow and enjoy.

After leaving the beach, we walked around for a bit before stopping in at Rita’s for a drink and a snack.  Another round of chips and salsa, a beer for him, and a super tasty Strawberry Basil Mimosa for me!

We were both craving something light for lunch, and we found Lost Dog around the corner from Rita’s.  Their brunch menu was just what we had in mind, and the dog décor throughout made it just our type of place!  I got this super fresh veggie wrap and fruit, and it was the fuel I needed to keep going with our day.

When we travel, we like to taste the local beers as much as possible.  In our research, we found Frothy Beard Brewery and decided to check it out.  Originally intrigued by the name (hello bearded husband…), we were really impressed by the beers.  Chad got a flight (smart dude), and I chose one of their amber selections.  Everything we tried was yummy, and nap-inducing.  With that said, we agreed that we could use a little downtime before our dinner reservation.

Sunday night was my birthday dinner celebration, and I had chosen Obstinate Daughter, based on many recommendations.  And I can see why!  The atmosphere is a beautiful mix of nautical and a Pottery Barn showroom.  The cocktail list is fun and creative, and everything we ate was spectacular!  I’m still having dreams about those brussles.

Obstinate Daughter is located on Sullivan Island, so it’s a neat little area of bars, restaurants, and other little shops, which is completely walkable.  After dinner, we walked down to Poe’s for a drink.  This place was the perfect nod to my English degree, writing-loving heart.  EAP is all over this place, including in the drink names.  (Enter my Lenore’s Lemonade.)

Now it was time for dessert, and I had already scoped out Beardcats Ice Cream.  It’s a cute little shop with all the basic flavors you love, plus some interesting additions.  Plus they will let you sample and shove multiple flavors into your cup or cone.  I did all of the above and was sufficiently full from the treats.

We were loving this part of Charleston, so we decided to hang out a little longer.  We stumbled upon Dunleavy’s pub, and it was one of the highlights of the trip.  We found a spot at the eclecticly decorated bar and ordered a couple of beers.  The older gentleman struck up a conversation with us, and our new best friend turned out to be the bar owner.  We wound up talking with him for a couple of hours, and he bought us far too many beers.  But we had so much fun hearing his story and learning more about the city.  Plus they had a popcorn machine, and every good bar has a popcorn machine.

It was way past our bedtime, so we got an Uber back to our hotel to rest up for our final day.

I started the day at the Orangetheory in Mt. Pleasant.  I was delighted to see another Clean Juice next door to this studio too!  I stopped in before getting my Uber to grab some juice and one of the oatmeal bowls I had my eye on the day before.

Chad and I had decided that our final day was all the touristy things.  We started with a carriage tour, which is one of the best ways to learn more about Charleston.  I loved hearing about all of the beautiful homes and their history.  Plus we got free hot hushpuppies, so duh.

After the tour, we walked around the City Market area.  We found Henry’s and had a tasty lunch on their incredible rooftop.  I wish that we’d found this spot earlier in the trip, because I could have spent so much time on that roof.  The views were some of the best, and the atmosphere was so beautiful and fun.  Plus those fish tacos…

After lunch, we walked down the street to Savannah’s, which was the candy store on my list.  It is an old-timey candy store with an ice cream counter.  I was deep into my no candy Lent, so I didn’t partake in any sampling.  But I did get a bag of gummies and an ice cream cone to go.

The weather while we were in town was perfection.  Temperature was spot on, no humidity, clear skies.  We wanted to take as much advantage of that as possible.  (Especially since it was SNOWING back home in KC!)  We walked around, found Rainbow Row, found the water again, found the cobblestones, found our dream homes.  It was the best end to our trip.

The official end to our trip was one last cheers on the Venue Rooftop while taking in the views, the sunshine, and the breeze.  We always end our trip by asking each other about our favorite parts so we can relive those moments.  This was one really hard to pinpoint.  We were ready to get home to our lil dude, but we weren’t ready to leave.  We’re already planning our next trip to South Carolina, and the list is getting long!

XOXO,

Molly B.

 

 

 

 

Five Ways to Rock Your Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi

My Instagram followers know that I have a pretty serious relationship with Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi. It’s just so easy to make, and I’ve perfected a few staple recipes that make me want to cook it on repeat. I recently joked about a blog post featuring 975 ways to make cauliflower gnocchi. But how about we start with Five?

1. BAE Cauli Gnocchi

Ingredients:

1 bag of Gnocchi

2 tbsp Cooking Oil of choice (I use Avocado Oil or EVOO)

1 tbsp Minced Garlic

1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes

1/4 tsp Onion Powder

1/4 tsp Basil (plus more for garnish)

1/4 cup Chopped Walnuts

1/4 cup Shredded Parmesan

Directions:

Put all ingredients in a nonstick pan. Sauté for 15 minutes or until gnocchi is crispy, flipping frequently.

Top with Shredded Parmesan and Basil.

2. Gnocchi with Red Sauce

Ingredients:

1 bag of Gnocchi

2 tbsp Cooking Oil of choice

Directions:

Sauté gnocchi in oil for 15 minutes or until crispy.

Set aside to prepare sauce.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp Cooking Oil of choice

2 tbsp Minced Garlic

1 28-ounce can Crushed Tomatoes

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

½ tsp Red Pepper Flakes

2 tbsp Butter (I use Earth Balance vegan butter)

⅓ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (I use non-dairy)

Basil, for serving

(To save time, 1 Jar of Red Pasta Sauce)

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.

Add the garlic and sauté about 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer; season with salt and pepper.

Mix in the Red Pepper Flakes and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in the butter and Parmesan.

Toss the gnocchi in the sauce until well coated.

Garnish with Parmesan and basil.

3. Gnocchi with Vegan Kale Pesto

Ingredients:

1 bag of Gnocchi

2 tbsp Cooking Oil of choice

1 tub Trader Joe’s Vegan Kale Pesto

Directions:

Sauté gnocchi in oil for 15 minutes or until crispy.

Empty pesto container into pan and coat gnocchi.

4. Gnocchi Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:

1 bag of Gnocchi

3 tablespoons butter

2 tbsp minced Garlic

3 tbsp flour

2½ cups milk (I use almond milk)

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I use non-dairy)

Salt and ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Add the gnocchi and cook until they float to the surface.

Drain the gnocchi, then set aside.

Return the pot to the stove.

In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat.

Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.

Add the flour to the pot and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the milk gradually, whisking to incorporate.

Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook until it thickens.

Stir in the cheese until it melts, then season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Stir in the gnocchi, tossing to coat well in the sauce.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Bake until the sauce is bubbly and has thickened slightly, 10 to 15 minutes.

5. Gnocchi Casserole

Ingredients:

Sauce

1 can coconut milk

2 large eggs (or egg replacer for vegan)

2 tablespoons flour (I used almond)

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1-2 teaspoons rosemary, minced

1-2 teaspoons sage, minced

Base

1 bag Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi

1 cup broccoli florets

2 sausages (I used veggie, but any will work. Or you can omit.)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Slice sausages in bite size pieces and layer ingredients for base in a casserole dish.
Whisk together eggs and coconut milk for sauce, then add spices and pour sauce over the base.
Bake on 350 for 50-60 minutes.

 

How about you…what’s your favorite way to make your Cauliflower Gnocchi? I can’t wait to hear!

XOXO,

Molly B.

Cauliflower and Lentil Tacos

“I couldn’t give up meat, because I would miss tacos too much.” Um ain’t nobody goin without tacos over here! Even though I don’t eat a lot of meat anymore, I still enjoy a lot of meatless meals that pass for the real deal.

One recipe that we’ve developed over the past few years is our beloved Cauliflower Lentil Tacos. They’re packed with all sorts of healthy ingredients, they’re super easy to make, and they are AMAZING!

Here’s the recipe for you to use on your Meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday!

Ingredients:

• 1 cup lentils

• 1 head cauliflower, cored and broken into florets (or 1 bag of riced cauliflower)

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 4 cloves garlic, minced

• 4 teaspoons chili powder

• 2 teaspoons ground cumin

• 1 teaspoon ground coriander

• (You can also skip the previous 4 ingredients and use 1 package of store-bought taco seasoning.)

• 1/2 cup canned tomato sauce

• 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

• 1 package taco shells and/or tortillas

• toppings of choice (lettuce, salsa, cheese, etc.)

 

Directions:

1. Rinse the lentils and drain well.

2. Combine the lentils and 4 cups water in a small saucepan.

3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.

4. Drain excess water and set the lentils aside.

5. Pulse the cauliflower in a food processor until reduced to pieces the size of rice. (If using pre-riced cauliflower, skip this step.)

6. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

7. Add the cauliflower, garlic, 2 teaspoons of the chili powder, 1 teaspoon of the cumin and 1/2 teaspoon of the coriander and cook for 4 minutes.

8. Stir in the tomato sauce and cook until the cauliflower is tender, another 3 minutes.

9. Add the cooked lentils to the cauliflower mixture.

10. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin and 1/2 teaspoon coriander. Stir in the salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes more to blend the flavors.

Put your filling in your taco shells, load it up with your favorite toppings, and enjoy!

Also toddler approved!

XOXO,

Molly B.

Sweet Potato, Black Bean, and Quinoa Casserole

I like to make quick, easy meals that can be reheated and repurposed throughout the week. This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and great for meal prep! I typically don’t eat a lot of meat, but Chad and Jack do, so I like to make things that can easily compliment or mix in any protein. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato, Black Bean, and Quinoa Casserole

 

Ingredients:

• 4 cups sweet potatoes (1/2-inch cubes) or 1 large can sweet potatoes

• 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed

• 1 cup uncooked quinoa

• 1 cup frozen corn, thawed

• 2 cups vegetable broth

• 1 tsp. chili powder

• 2 tsp. cumin

• 1 tbsp. minced garlic

• ½ tsp. dried thyme

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.

4. Combine all ingredients and bake, covered with tin foil, for 45 minutes.

5. Remove tin foil and continue baking for an additional 15 to 20 minutes until liquid is mostly absorbed and the potatoes are tender.

6. Remove from oven and let the casserole sit for 5 minutes so that any remaining liquid can be fully absorbed. Serve and enjoy!

I topped mine with cojita cheese and guacamole for more of a Mexican feel. Chad mixed in BBQ Chicken and loved that too. How did you eat yours?

XOXO,

Molly B.

Jack’s Arrival

After that meeting at Olive Garden on March 18th, I talked to Jack’s birth mother every single day. She would tell me about how he was really active at night. She would say, “I bet he has a lot of hair, because I have horrible heartburn!” She would update me on all of her doctor appointments. (And I would immediately Google everything she told me.)

What she gave me in those daily text messages was the second biggest gift she gave me. She knew that I would personally never experience those things. I will never know what it’s like to feel my little guy wiggling and kicking in my belly late at night. I will never sit in a doctor’s office and talk about due dates and inducing. So she gave me as much of that experience as she could.

So when people ask me if I was scared that she might change her mind, the answer? Not really. I mean sure, a tiny piece in the back of my mind would every once in a while whisper “what if,” but I trusted her, and I trusted in the Lord.

But if you’re keeping track, we had less than one month to prepare for our little dude. If we had the entire 9 months to prepare and sit with those emotions, I almost assuredly would have been more scared. But I simply didn’t have time to worry!

Jack was due on April 15th. The day before Easter. (God, I see you.)

On April 7th, I went to pick up my packet for the Rock the Parkway Half Marathon that I was running the next morning. I had to show my drivers license, and the volunteer said, “Did you know your ID is expired?” Say what?!

Y’all. I am the most Type A, hyper organized person, but this baby thing had apparently rocked my world. And to make matters worse, the ONE THING they drill into you while putting together your hospital plan is that you have to show your ID. (Kinda frowned upon to let a rando take home a baby.)

So here I was, on a Friday evening, baby due any day, no valid ID. Cool.

A quick Google search told me that the JOCO DMV did have Saturday hours, but they closed at 12:00. (Enter new motivation to run that race as fast as possible.)

I ran that morning, enjoying the beauty of our city, thinking about how the next race I run, my son would be waiting at the finish. It’s a moment I pictured in my head during so many races, and I had to choke back tears that entire run.

Crossed the finish line, jumped in my car, drove straight to the DMV, shockingly had no wait, took the most disgusting picture, got the license, and went home to wait.

On the morning of April 15th, at around 5:00 AM, I was running on our treadmill when my phone rang. Jack’s biological mother’s name on the screen. She said she was in labor and headed to the hospital. I ran upstairs, woke up Chad, took quick showers, and jumped in the car.

It is a five hour drive to Dodge City, where Jack was born, so this was one of the longest car rides of my life. My phone was going crazy, I was trying not to cry, I ate a ridiculous amount of candy.

We made it the whole way to Dodge City without our baby showing his face. But as we got closer to the hospital, she let me know that they were sending her home. Her status hadn’t changed, and she stopped having contractions, so they decided this wasn’t the day to deliver a baby.

So what do we do? Turn around and drive home? Wait it out? What if he doesn’t come for another week? We can’t live here for a week! We decided to grab some lunch and talk it over (also consulting with our adoption case worker). We ate some of the best Mexican food of my life and decided to spend the night and drive home the next morning. (Unless we had a baby.)

The next morning, Easter Sunday, we made the drive home. THAT was the longest drive of my life. I was just so sad and disappointed. I’d pictured us driving home with our baby boy, but instead we drove most of the way in silence.

We got home, did some laundry to restock the hospital bag, and got ready for the week ahead.

The next morning, 5:00 AM, same treadmill, phone rings, shower, haphazardly repack the bags, get in the car, head back to Dodge City. But this time, after only one hour of driving, I got a text message. A single picture of our baby boy. And all I could squeak out was “It’s Jack!”

I made Chad pull over so he could see the sweetest little face that I had ever seen. And then I told him to hurry!

When we got to the hospital, a nurse greeted us with a massive smile and a hug. She showed us to our room and said, “I’ll go get your son.” IS THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENING?!?!

There are moments in your life that you wish you could relive over and over. That you could bottle or box to revisit any time you want to feel that way again. When that cart came through the door and the nurse handed me our baby. Yea, I want that moment to play on a loop for as long as I live. Those precious moments where Chad, and Jack, and I cuddled on the tiny hospital room sofa. The feeling of my baby against my chest. Yea, gimme all that.

In the state of Kansas, a birth mother can sign her paperwork after 12 hours, so Jack’s birth mother was required to stay in the hospital for that time. She had elected not to see Jack, but she was open to seeing me. I left Chad alone with his new best friend, and went next door to talk to Jack’s birth mother.

I talked to her twice that day—once very shortly after we arrived at the hospital, and once to say goodbye. That was the last time I ever talked to her. You may notice that I don’t say her name or share her background, and I won’t. Her story is her story to tell, not mine. The thoughts and feelings that went into her decisions were hers and hers to share. Our close friends and family know the story, because they were there for all of it, but I don’t feel right sharing her story in a public place. But I will say two things:

1. I miss her. I talked to this person every day for a month, and she gave me the greatest gift I will ever receive. So yea, I unconditionally love her and miss her.

2. We talk about her every day. We pray for her (and Jack’s biological father), by name every night. Jack is still too little, but he will always know about them, their names, and his story.

After we said goodbye, I went back to our room and our new life began. We ate Chinese food, got zero sleep, had no idea what we were doing, and we were stupid in love.

We packed up the car the next morning with OUR BABY and drove home. Those first few days are such a dreamlike blur of smiles, and tears, and no sleep, and more love than we’ve ever known, felt, or received. And if you have children, you know those days well.

And that’s where I leave this part of our story. On any given day, I don’t even think about the fact that Jack is adopted. He’s just our son. He has my sense of humor, he weirdly looks like Chad, he mimics everything we do. He’s just ours.

Over the years, he will have questions. We will face challenges. This story will grow, expand, and become more nuanced. But it’s a story that I am so glad is ours.

XOXO,

Molly B.

Roxy

For nearly our entire dating relationship, I begged Chad for a puppy.  It was one of those silly things that we joked about–what would we get? what would we name it? who would it love more?  So basically the same conversations you have about babies when you don’t want a Stage 5 status.  We knew that we wanted a smaller breed, and the name “Roxy” existed for a long time before there was an actual dog.

So when Chad proposed, it went down something like, “Will you marry me?”  “Yes!  So now can we get a dog?!”  Maybe not exactly, but almost.  And within a couple of weeks, we were at the Tulsa Humane Society looking at dogs.

With our non-traditional schedules at that time, it was the middle of a weekday, so we–quite literally–had our pick of the litter.  We looked through every cage, and obviously I tried to convince Chad that we needed every single one of them.  But one of the volunteers told us that they had just gotten a couple of puppies, and we just had to see them.  Um yea we did!

We walked around the corner to a side room, and there were two little puppies jumping all over one another.  Again, I was instantly thinking of how I could convince Chad that we needed both, but we were both drawn to this sweet little girl that kept jumping at our legs.  I knew instantly that this little brown puppy was ours.

Xena.  Her names was Xena.  Not quite a warrior princess, she was a 6-week-old dachshund-pug mix that had been dumped on the doorstep of the agency.  All she wanted to do was lick everything in sight, and all I wanted to do was cuddle her for the rest of my life.

And that was it.  We filled out the paperwork.  We paid the adoption fee.  And we walked out the doors and told our new puppy, “By the way, your name is Roxy.”

No relationship is perfect, and ours is no exception.  I love my husband very much, and we really are very happy.  But when you get engaged at 24, and try to plan a wedding with small incomes and conflicting schedules, there’s a lot of stress.  It may sounds extreme, but I feel like Roxy saved our engagement.  There were times that we both questioned if we were doing the right thing, but we both had thoughts like, “If we break up, who would get Roxy?”  I can laugh about it now, but those were real thoughts in those moments.  (Coincidentally, I also fell more in love with Chad watching his sweetness with our puppy.)

A lot of you know about our first year of marriage and how I spent most of that time in treatment for uterine cancer.  On the weekends, I was so sick from treatment.  All I did was lay on the couch and watch TV or curl up in our bed and sleep.  Roxy never left my side.  She followed me around our house, and when I would lay on my side, she would curl right into my belly.

She was our sidekick.  It was just accepted that if the Buchanans were in attendance, that included Roxy.  She was begging for turkey at Thanksgiving, hiding from fireworks on 4th of July, eating popcorn with my parents, watching movies at Boulevard Drive-In, watching the Royals at Bark in the Park, sunbathing on the McCoy’s patio.  Our parents referred to her as their grand dog.  She was always there.

Over the years, she had a lot of nicknames.  Peanut, Squirt, Ruffy, most recently Ra Ra from her beloved Jack Attack.  One of the most frequently used was Nurse Roxy.  She could always sense when something was wrong–when you were sad, or sick, or hurt–and she always knew how to respond with her love and attention.

When we found out that we would be adopting a baby and our house got turned upside down with cribs, and bouncers, and swings, and boxes, she was always there.  I worried that she would feel neglected when we had a baby or that she would not be very welcoming to anyone disrupting her spoiled only child situation.  But she insisted on waking Jack up every morning, running to him when he cried, and of course closely monitoring his meals.

Sometimes God gives you moments that are special to prepare your heart for sadness. We had a beautiful start to our Saturday.   Chad and I both ran the Rock the Parkway Half Marathon.  Chad’s first Half Marathon!  (And he didn’t hate me at the end!) After the race, we came home, got cleaned up, and we had Jack’s 2nd birthday party.  So much fun with so many people we love!  After the party,  we came home, and Chad and I collapsed on the couch.

My mom was in town for Jack’s party, and she was upstairs reading while we were relaxing.  A little before 5:00, my mom came downstairs and said she thought something might be wrong with Roxy.  She had thrown up on the rug and was acting lethargic.  We rushed upstairs, and our little puppy was laying on the rug in the living room, looking so sad.  We knelt down to pet her and try to determine what was wrong.  I thought maybe she had eaten something that upset her stomach.  (We try to keep an eye on Jack, but he’s sneaky and loves to feed his puppy.)  We tried to give her something for her stomach, and our girl that never turns down a treat, refused the offer.  I put her water bowl in front of her , and she drank a bunch of water and seemed to perk up.  When her little brother got up from his nap and sat in his highchair to eat dinner, she was wagging her tail right below his chair.  We had no reason not to assume everything was now fine, so we decided to head out on our free grandma babysitting date night.  But we agreed not to go too far away, just in case.

We were finished with our meal and sat chatting at our restaurant table when my phone rang.  My mom.  She said that Roxy was having seizures, so we jumped in the car and came home.  We loaded our little baby into the car and drove her to the pet emergency room.

Neither Chad nor I could have been prepared for what we would hear from that doctor.  We both assumed she had eaten something she wasn’t supposed to, which caused this reaction.  We never assumed that we would hear that our little Roxy, our first baby, had a brain tumor.

I know a lot of you have lost your sweet furry friends, so I will spare you the turmoil that ensued in that next 3 hours as we were forced to make the most impossible decisions about our Roxy.  And honestly, I can’t even write about it.  We love her so much, and all that mattered was her comfort and her happiness.  So we walked out of that building with empty arms.

I don’t know that I’ve ever cried this much.  Yes, we have experienced loss and heartache, but this is hitting harder than anything I’ve ever felt.  Grief is very strange.  There are moments where I’m smiling thinking about her sweet little face, or the look in her eye when she was about to take off running for you to chase her, or the time that she bit Chad’s nipple when he was laying in bed after a shower.  And in the very next second, I can’t even breathe through my tears.

Jack is too little to understand anything that has happened, but when he wanders around the living room with his little questioning arms outstretched saying “Ra Ra?” I feel like my throat is on fire.  He loves her so much, and I actually hope his memory is short.

There are routines that you don’t even realize you have until you don’t.  When I get out of the shower in the morning, immediately looking to the right into our bedroom to see if she’s laying on the bed.  She’s not.  Saying “Roxy, can you get in your house?” before walking out the door.  Habits are hard to break.

I know it will get easier, but right now I feel so broken. One of my good friends shared a story with me a few weeks ago about a dog that helped guide a man through the NYC Marathon with a note that said “we don’t deserve dogs.” How true that statement is. I haven’t done anything even half deserving of the love I got from my sweet Roxy. But I sure am glad that God chose me to be her mama for the last (almost) 13 years.

XOXO,

Molly B.

Why Did I Start a Blog?

It’s what you want to know, right? Like what makes you so special? Nothing, really.

But I’ve done some stuff. Some really cool, some really mundane, some really sad, and some stuff in between. And I love to write.

I remember sitting in a college admissions office, having absolutely zero clue what to pick for a major. And he asked, “Well what do you like to do?” I didn’t think “party with my friends” was an acceptable answer (plus my mom was like right there!), so I said (truthfully), “I really like to write.” An English Writing major (later turned pre-Law) declared right there.

It’s no surprise that my grades in college were exponentially higher than those in high school, because I got to write. A lot. And I really enjoyed it. And I really flourished.

But then I graduated, and I became a Banker (that’s a really good story for another time). And man, I can craft a killer email, but the extent of my prose really ended there.

The past few years have been interesting, to say the very least. And words would rattle around in my head, but I didn’t know what to do with them.

When people hear about me having cancer, or about us adopting, or any of my ridiculous fitness endeavors, a common refrain is “I want to hear your story!” I’m very transparent, so I’m always happy to share my story, but I kept craving the avenue to write it!

As I have worked in a corporate environment for over 15 years, I have sat through countless meetings, seminars, and trainings that suggest having a mission statement. The focus was typically having one for your team, rarely on having one for yourself. Admittedly, it seemed like a broken record, and I just appeased the facilitator and moved on in the agenda. 

But a couple of years ago, I was listening to a podcast on the way to my office, and something must have struck a cord when she talked about having a personal mission statement. The host talked about having a mission statement in order to prioritize your life. When faced with decisions, you could ask yourself if it supports your mission. I liked it. 

So I spent the rest of my commute thinking about mine. 

What exactly is a mission statement? It is defined as a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual. 

So what exactly were my aims and values? I’m pretty sure something about cupcakes–although tempting–was not what she had in mind. I really gave it some thought and am pretty proud of where I landed. 

“Connecting people in an effort to make the world smaller and kinder.”

So I knew that I wanted to do more with this. Over the last couple of years, some friends kept saying, “When are you going to start a blog?” So when I finally wrote out this mission statement, it all kind of came together. Starting a blog was a way for me to write, to connect myself with others, and to connect others.

So what about you? What are your aims and values? What is your mission statement?

XOXO, 

Molly B. 

March 18th

“We have a match!”  When you go through the paperwork, the prayers, the tears, nothing can prepare you for the feelings that come with those four words.  Excitement, and terror, and hesitation, and protection, and gratitude, and feelings I’m convinced do not have words.

Okay so now what?

A woman in a small town in Western Kansas did a simple Google search in the early morning hours of a day in late February: “adoption in Kansas.”  Lucky for us, our agency did all their due diligence to ensure they were the first name on the list, so she clicked.  She filled out the inquiry, and our agency called her the next day.  During that conversation, she told them her story, she told them her struggles, and she asked for their help.

Our agency sent her 10 adoption profiles to review and potentially make a choice of who would adopt the little boy she was carrying.  She and her baby’s father reviewed the profiles separately, and they met back to compare their choices.  They both, independently, chose Chad and me.  Man, I can’t even type that without crying.  Chad and I laugh all the time, because we are frequently told, “Oh Jack looks just like you!” by people who don’t know our story.  But if anything ever shows you how much he was made for us, it’s that story about how we were selected.

After telling us that we were matched, and telling us the backstory, our case worker asked, “So are you interested?”  Like is that a real question?  Is “duh” an acceptable response in this scenario?

Jack’s birth parents were eager to meet us, and we were eager to meet them.  We planned to meet that Saturday.  It was Thursday.

In order to coordinate, our case worker gave me Jack’s birth mother’s phone number.  Y’all.  Does a more awkward moment exist?  What do you even say?  “Oh hey, this is Molly.  Glad you like us.  Can I have your baby?”  I rehearsed it over and over, and I finally just dialed.  I got a voicemail, and was instantly relieved and disappointed all at once.  But she texted me back within about 5 minutes, explaining that she had been right in the middle of something when I called.

We texted back and forth, and it was easier than I thought.  She was kind, and open, and honest, and responsive.  Everything I could hope for in this situation.  She was eager to meet us, and although we offered to drive the 5ish hours to them, they wanted to meet halfway.

Unfortunately, they had a change in their schedule, so we had to postpone our meeting to the following Saturday, March 18th.  I was a little disappointed for the delay, but I remained positive.

Although we had not met in person, we still texted every day.  She told me how she was feeling, she told me about how active this little guy was in her tummy, she told me she was certain he had a lot of hair due to her constant heartburn (nailed that one), she talked to me like we were old friends.

We agreed to meet at an Olive Garden in Hutchinson, Kansas for dinner on March 18th.  It’s about a 3-hour drive from our house, so naturally we left like 5 hours early.  I mean, what else are you going to do when you’re nervous and anxious and can’t wait for what could be the biggest moment in your life?  I don’t think I’ve analyzed an outfit choice so much in my life.  I remember saying, “Chad, does this make me look like a good mom?”  Side note, I also asked many people what would be an acceptable number of breadsticks to eat without causing major concerns.  (I’m a mess.)

We rolled into Hutch (as the locals call it) way too early, so we drove around town.  Welp, that didn’t take long, so we found the local Walmart and walked around for a while.  After we had wasted all the extra time we could, we decided to just get there early.  And I guess they were just as excited/anxious/nervous, because when we walked in the doors almost 30 minutes early, Jack’s birth mother and father were sitting on a bench in the lobby.

As soon as we sat down in our booth, Jack’s birth mother handed me a small, colorful, polka dot photo album.  I opened it up, and it was all of her ultrasound pictures.  Full disclosure, I have never in life been able to see anything on these.  When people show me, I usually just nod and smile and add an occasional, “oh yea!” but I really have no clue.  I flipped through it, lingering a little, mainly just appreciating what I was holding.  I have never had my own ultrasound pictures.  And although I undoubtedly wouldn’t have been able to see anything on my own either, it’s one of those things that you long to have when you want to be a mom.  I set the album on the table between us, and it stayed there throughout our meal.

We spent the next two hours telling our stories, getting to know each other, laughing, and sharing our thoughts.  And every time they spoke, they spoke in the present and assumptive tense.  I was trying not to get my hopes up, but they spoke like the decision had been made.  We agreed that the next steps were for each of us to check in with our case worker the following day and let her know how we would like to proceed.  And as we got up to leave, I picked up the photo album and handed it to her, and she said, “Oh no, that’s yours.”  What an incredibly generous human.

Chad and I got in the car, and I immediately started to cry in surrender of all of my built up emotions.  We got on the road home, and I looked at those ultrasound pictures (still no clue what I was actually seeing), returned the 800 text messages on our phones, and ate my weight in breadsticks that I’d been too nervous to eat at dinner.

I did check in with our case worker that evening to let her know how it went, but we were still required to wait until the following day to make a decision.  That statement usually takes people by surprise, the fact that it was also OUR decision, not just the birth parents.  No matter your adoption story, it will be your story and your child’s story for the rest of your and their life.  Every party has to agree that this is a relationship that you want in your life and a story you are ready to live and tell.

But as early as we could that Sunday morning, we confirmed that we wanted to move forward.  Our case worker contacted Jack’s birth parents, and they confirmed that they were on board too.  So it was official, we had a mutually agreed upon match for a little baby boy that was due on April 15th.  Yea, you got that right, LESS.THAN.ONE.MONTH.  But what you probably don’t know…we had nothing.  No crib, no clothes, no childcare, no nothin.

You know what I learned in that next couple of weeks?  There are some really incredible people in this world, and apparently we know all of them.  (Ah man, I’m crying again…)

You can find out you’re having a baby on a Sunday, and your best friend will be at your house on Monday night helping you make a registry with all the things you ACTUALLY need for your baby.  That same best friend will work with the rest of your local girlfriends to plan and execute a beautiful and perfect baby shower where you get more than you could ever need.  Your mom and mother-in-law will throw you a baby shower in your hometown with all your friends and family that puts your wedding shower to shame.  And beyond that, we were loved daily through text messages, emails, phone calls, prayers, and anything and everything people could throw on us.  It helped make the long wait feel shorter and so much sweeter.

The things that a lot of people take for granted are the things I prayed for years.  Watching my husband put together a crib is forever etched in my mind as one of my favorite visions of him.  Folding baby clothes and rolling up those tiny little socks was a labor of love.  (I remind myself now…)  A friend bought me a t-shirt that said “mama” on it, and I don’t think she knew just how much and how long I had longed for that.

And I talked with Jack’s birth mother every day, all day long.  We texted, usually about the pregnancy, but not always.  We truly became friends, and I cared about her and her day.  She was giving me the biggest gift I could ever receive, and because of that, I instantly loved her and cared for her as if I’d known her my whole life.  And staying in contact with her helped make the wait feel shorter too.  Since I was able to talk to her and hear how she was feeling and what he was doing late at night while she was trying to sleep was so helpful and made me feel as connected as I could to this baby that would hopefully be keeping us up at night soon enough.  I am forever grateful that she wanted to share these things with me and that she stayed in contact with me.

Jack will celebrate his 2nd Birthday on April 17th, so now you know that he didn’t show his face on the 15th as planned.  There’s more story to tell about that, but tonight, for the second year in a row, we celebrate March 18th with dinner at Olive Garden (in Olathe, not Hutch, y’all).  The day that two people met us and still decided to give us the gift of our favorite little guy, who will undoubtedly eat me under the table in breadsticks.

XOXO,

Molly B.