Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How I Gave My Blog a Free Makeover

I have been wanting to give my blog a makeover for months! But...I didn't want to pay someone to do it and DIY blog design just seemed so intimidating. Finally, after I spent some time pinning all sorts of blogging design tutorials to my Blogging Pinterest Board, I decided to buckle down and give it a try!


First, I redid my header. There are literally dozens of tutorials out there about creating your own header and you don't need fancy software to do it! I found a helpful tutorial that shows how to use PicMonkey to create a header. You can check it out here! I also used a little bit of Paint.net to incorporate the fonts I wanted because as far as I know, PicMonkey doesn't let you add fonts.
 BEFORE:

AFTER:

After I created my header, I was stumped. I hadn't really thought out how I wanted my blog to look. So, I took a step back and did some brainstorming. I decided to create a new "test" blog with private settings so only I could see it. Why? So I could experiment with my blog design ideas without screwing up this blog! This made my life a lot easier :) 

Once I'd added my header to my test blog, I started to create other blog elements, beginning with something very simple. I found a tutorial entitled How to Customize your Search Bar in Blogger. Before, my search bar was standard and boring. Now I think it's pretty cute! For being a search bar :)

Next, I created sidebar gadget titles! 


Again, I used PicMonkey and found this tutorial by Something Swanky to be very helpful!

Linkable photos on my sidebar came next. I've been dying to have those on my blog for so long! This tutorial from Living Laughing and Loving is the one that I used as a guide. 

I also added a custom menu bar! I had NO idea you could even do that until I found this tutorial from Living Laughing and Loving. It was so easy and I love the way it turned out :)

A few months ago, I made my craft closet. I wasn't super pleased with the way it looked, but it did the job. While I was working on my nifty sidebar titles, it occurred to me that I could just have my tech savvy husband make the format more appealing! He did a wonderful job, and I only wish I could tell you how he accomplished it. 

There are still a few things I'd like to change/add (like social media buttons, for example) but right now I'm feeling pleased with my little blog!

Do you like it??

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Cancer Series: Final Thoughts

You know, when my sister was going through treatments, my family and I made a point to keep her mostly off of all social media. Personally, I had two main reasons for this.
  1. It hurt. It was hard. I could barely process what was happening to my sister most days. And I didn't want the entire world of social media to get so much as a glimpse of what she was going through because the way I felt about watching her suffer like she did was very personal and close to my heart. Keeping her off of social media was my way of defending my already raw emotions.
  2. Social media, particularly Facebook, is a very effective way to accidentally start rumors. And if I, Nicole's sister, felt like I could share updates regarding her condition on Facebook, that would make other people feel that they too could post all about my sister. And non-family members usually didn't get all their facts straight so I didn't want them posting about it! Also, I didn't feel like having old acquaintances gossiping with each other about how Kersten has a sister with cancer and how they read this or that about it on Facebook. Blech!
But now that Nicole is home, happy and healthy, it's easier for me to talk about what she went through. Not only that, I keep thinking that "all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7) And a little voice keeps whispering to me that those experiences I had concerning watching my sister endure cancer can and should be for the good of others too. Reading about other babies who survived cancer gave me hope. Reading about how other families felt when their loved one was going through cancer could help me face how I was feeling instead of burying those emotions. Hearing stories of neighbors reaching out to childhood cancer victims brought me comfort and reminded me of how much support my sister had.

It's been kind of hard for me to publish each of these posts, but every time I do I think of how other people opening up about their cancer experience helped me. 



  To read more about my cute little sister, check out these posts:
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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cancer Series: Nicole's Future

Occasionally, people will still ask about Nicole. When I tell them that she is in remission, a lot of them smile really big and assume that everything is just peachy now.

Yes, Nicole is in remission. Yes, she's off her feeding tube and seems to be developing very well. And my whole family is so grateful for that. But that doesn't mean her road to recovery is over. She still has regular hospital visits. She has several therapists come visit her in her home. And there are so many side effects of chemo and radiation she will have to face for the rest of her life.

If she wants to have children, she will most likely have to adopt. Adoption is a beautiful thing, but infertility would be such a difficult and painful reality to face.

It is likely that she will have to be on hormone meds to develop properly.

Learning, vision, dental, breathing, and hearing problems are some things she may face.

And, of course, there is a chance that her cancer could come back someday.

I could keep listing possible side effects, but for the sake of not depressing myself, I will just stop there :)


But for now, when people smile big and assume everything is just perfect now that Nicole is in remission, I will smile back. I want to focus on the positive. I want to enjoy my sister's life and I want my sister to enjoy her life, too. Because her life is a miracle.

  To read more about my cute little sister, check out these posts:

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cancer Series: My Parents Are Amazing!

When Nicole was living at Primary Children's Hospital, I never, ever felt forgotten by my parents. I never felt like I was pushed to the back burner of their lives. Yes, Nicole had cancer. Yes, that took a lot of their time and attention. But they still remembered they had 6 other children. 

 

When I first went to visit Nicole in the hospital, I remember my dad putting his hand on my shoulder while saying, "You need to remember to take care of yourself. Your baby is important too."
 
His baby, my sister, was two feet away. She was hooked up to so many tubes and was completely sedated. She was in critical condition and my parents were told to be looking into funeral options for her. My health was at the bottom of my list of concerns, but not his. My dad still remembered that his pregnant daughter and unborn grandson were important too.
 
Later that same day, my mom brought me a banana and a drink and told me to remember to feed myself. 
 
A few weeks later, when my sister was still doing badly, my mom did something that my husband Tyson still mentions. She must have been so tired and so worn out, but she remembered Tyson's birthday. Not only did she remember it, she bought cupcakes and sang to him and threw him a little party after a long day at the hospital.
 
She still bought her coming grandson I Love Grandma bibs. Both my parents were there for me when I needed them after I gave birth to my son. 
 
My parents could have easily brushed my siblings and I aside at that time. Nicole needed them so much and they must have been so overwhelmed and so tired. But they didn't. They remembered that although their other kids' lives weren't at risk, their other kids needed them too.
 
Sometimes, I wonder how they did it all. But then I realize how. They didn't ever seem to really dwell on themselves and how hard things were for them. 

 
I know I've mostly shared how they remembered me, but I watched them remember my other siblings. They remembered other family members and neighbors, too. And I believe that's the biggest factor in why they didn't completely fall apart during that hard time.
 
My parent's are an inspiration to me, and I hope that by sharing this little post they an be an inspiration to you, too!

To read more about my cute little sister, check out these posts:

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cancer Series: How Others Helped

After Nicole was diagnosed, I quickly figured out there were four types of people (in my experience) when it came to the whole cancer business. I hope that as I list these "types," you can recognize how to be a helpful type!
  1. The people who sincerely cared and were gonna be there for you. They were the people who texted me to ask how my sister was doing regularly. Who whenever they saw me asked about Nicole and really, truly listened. The people who remembered the big upcoming treatments. The people who really cared about me and my sister. I'll never forget how loving and sweet those people were!
  2. Then there were the people who cared because it was their responsibility to care. Or who clearly only asked how your sister was doing to be polite. Those people were annoying and I usually didn't want to chat about my sister with them. Don't be that person. Ever.
  3. The people who knew what was going on with my sister, but for whatever reason never or barely acknowledged it. I get it. People have their own lives and don't want to dwell on other people's problems. Unfortunately, I know I've been guilty of being that way. But you know what? Sometimes I appreciated talking to those people, because sometimes I felt like a broken record answering questions about Nicole and talking to people who didn't bring it up gave me a nice break from it!
  4. The people who wanted to help, but didn't know how. The people who I could see cared, but shied away from me because they didn't want to "bother" me more or felt unsure of how to react or help me or what to say. I understand that, too. It can be so hard to know how to help, how to not offend, how to be there without being overbearing. 
Now, I would like to share some things that I found helped me and my family the most, so that hopefully those of you reading that can better know how to help people going through hard medical trials.
  1. Just ask and listen. The people who regularly asked me how my sister was and really listened to my response...oh my gosh. I'll never forget those people. I really believe that is the best thing you can do for someone going through something hard.
  2. Act with being asked. Because sometimes, it's hard to ask for help. Every family will need different things, but here's a very small list of some things that helped us out.
    • One of my mom's sweet friends decided to put on a fundraiser for my sister. Of course, she enlisted the help of neighbors and it ended up being so well put together! It meant so much for me to show up to that fundraiser and see how much support my family had. The woman who spearheaded the event runs a very cute blog, and you can check out pictures from the fundraiser here.
    • People brought meals in without my mom having to call and ask them to.
    • talented photographer took our family pictures at no cost.
    • After my sister was in remission, another fabulous photographer insisted on taking her 2 year old pictures free of charge.
    • My parents received a few gas gift cards from neighbors because our home was about a 2 hour commute from the hospital where Nicole stayed. (I thought that was a really good idea- I never would have thought of it!)
    • After I had my baby, members of my parent's ward reached out to me. They brought me meals and an old young women leader even drove out to my house to watch my son because I needed to go to a doctor's appointment and my mom was at the hospital. I know this was partly because they loved me anyway, but I think part of it was because they knew how hard it was for my mom to try to be everywhere at once and they wanted to give her peace of mind that I was taken care of.
    • Visit the cancer patient. It meant the world to me when I heard of someone just going to sit with my sweet sister. And I know she loved the company!
  3. There were some people who really wanted to help, but were maybe a little overbearing/overzealous at times. Or wanted to help in ways that didn't help. Don't, don't, don't be offended if what you think you are doing to help someone is actually making things worse and you are asked to stop or your offers are declined. Just stop. Listen. Pray. Ask. And try to find a helpful way to help! If your heart it in the right place, you'll be able to find the right way to make a difference.

There are other ways people helped that I have not listed, but those are the ones that stand out the most! If anyone else has any ideas on how to make a difference for someone who is going through a hard time, I'd love to hear it because I know I need the advice, too!

I would also like to point out that in many cancer cases, such as my sister's, are long and drawn out. My family needed help just as much when they finally were able to bring my sister home as they did when she was first diagnosed. Nicole was very high maintenance when she came home. (She was on a feeding tube that had to be regularly refilled and that my parents had to administer tons of drugs to her through it both day and night, my parents had to hook her up to an IV, she had tons of hospital visits and in home therapists, etc.) It means a lot when people are there from the beginning to the end!

P.S. I'd like to send out a huge shout out to everyone who helped us in any way during that time. You know who you are and we love you!




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Monday, January 20, 2014

Cancer Series: All Things Denote There is a God

When my sister Nicole was diagnosed with leukemia, I was five and a half months pregnant.

When my mom told me how the doctors had diagnosed her, I cried. When I went to visit her for the first time, I cried again. I cried a lot those first few days. But when the PICU nurse told me that I needed to be prepared to help my parent's bury a child, I didn't cry. I couldn't. I stared at him. I didn't know how to respond, so I just thanked him for taking care of my sister.

That same day, Tyson and I went to stay at my aunt's house for the night. I didn't sleep hardly at all. I couldn't get the nurse's words out of my head. Before that, I'd sort of clung to the reality that cancer is curable nowadays. But Nicole's case was not an average case. Her case was so unheard of that you couldn't even Google it. There weren't statistics to go on. Her doctors didn't even know how to proceed. She was a worst case scenario. And I couldn't ignore that anymore. 

Before, I'd cried because she was my sister and I didn't want her to have cancer. I cried because I hated seeing my parents go through it. I cried because she was hooked up to more machines than I could count. I cried because I was scared. I also cried because I was just plain hormonal. But that night, sitting on my aunt's couch bed, I cried for different reasons.

I was going to have a baby. That baby and Nicole were supposed to be best friends. How were they going to be best friends if Nicole was dead?

I had big plans for the two of them. Coordinating Halloween costumes, playing in the sprinklers in my parent's backyard, sticking them in the tub together, etc. I know those things don't seem that important when compared to the other effects her possible death could have had, but they were important to me. And I cried because I suddenly didn't know if those things were going to happen. 

Not too long ago, Jace and Nicole had coordinating Halloween costumes. Last week, they sat in the bathtub together. They know each other's names and talk about each other even when they're not together. They play together. They also scream at and hit each other. Sometimes they share, sometimes they don't. When Nicole is sad, Jace will stick her binky in her mouth. When Jace is sad, Nicole will tell me to get his blanket. They share cups and steal each other's food. 

Everything and more that I wanted to happen already has, and they are only toddlers. 

Sometimes, when I see them together I'm overcome with happiness. Sometimes in those moments I remember Nicole lying in that hospital covered in bruises and tubes and I can't believe how blessed my family is to still have her here.

All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator. Alma 30:44


All things. From the miraculous medical technology and intelligent medical staff that saved Nicole's life to the little rocks and sticks that Jace collects outside, all things denote there is a God. Everything around us is proof that we have a Heavenly Father. And moments like the one in the picture below denote that God is mindful of us and loves us.


When I look at this picture, I think of that scripture. Jace and Nicole are both little miracles in my life, and I can't help but see God's hand in moments like these. 
To read more about my cute little sister, check out these posts:
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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Cancer Series: Bone Marrow Transplant Anniversary


*I posted this several months ago on my family blog, so today is not her actual BMT anniversary*

Cancer happens to other people and their families. You read about it in sad books, watch about it in movies and you get asked to donate to cancer research funds. It's a sad thing, but it's not part of your life. You don't give it much thought because you don't think you'll ever have to...

December 7, 2011. My baby sister Nicole had been sick with an ear infection. That night, she spit up blood. My dad took her to the ER and she was then life flighted to Primary Children's. I'll never forget the text from my mom the next morning that told me Nicole had both AML and ALL leukemia. Having both of those leukemias is pretty much unheard of, especially in a baby. Her chances of survival were less than 10%. She was only four and a half months old.



I'll never forget when Tyson and I went to visit her for the first time. It was unquestionably the worst weekend of my life. I'll never forget watching my dad holding her tiny, lifeless hand and crying his eyes out. I'll never forget her PICU nurse telling me I needed to be prepared to help my parent's bury a child. 

I'll never forget the smile she found for me when she was literally drooling and pooping blood. I'll never forget the heart wrenching bruises that covered her body. 

I'll never forget crying myself to sleep because I wished more than anything that there was a way that I could take her place. It hurt so bad to watch her suffer so much.

But there were angels in her room and she was aware of their presence. Jesus loves little children and I knew He was with her every step of the way, especially when her family couldn't be. And when I looked into Nicole's eyes, I knew that she could see Him beside her. Although I could not take her place or take away her pain, I knew that Christ had felt everything she was feeling. I knew that He could and would comfort her in ways I couldn't.

Doctrine and Covenants 84:88

Nicole's doctors were not confident that she would live long enough to undergo a bone marrow transplant. They had to set back the date for the transplant because her body just wouldn't get ready. But she made it. She received a bone marrow transplant on May 25, 2012. I am so grateful to the woman who was willing to go through the painful procedure of donating her bone marrow to a little baby she'd never met. Someday, probably not in this life, I will get to meet the woman who saved my sister. I hope I'll be able to find the words to express just how much I love her and appreciate her donation that saved my sister's life.

Nicole has made this entire leukemia thing more difficult than the average leukemia case. So, I guess it shouldn't have been a surprise when she took a severe turn for the worse in the months following her transplant. She was sick with the whooping couch, summer flu/cold, pneumonia and graft vs host disease. Each of those things individually had the potential to kill her. She had to be completely sedated and paralyzed. She was on respiratory life support. It was a very long summer. From a strictly medical standpoint, she really shouldn't have survived it. But she did. And she got to come home at last.

I'll never forget the first time I went to my parents' house and Nicole was there. It felt like home to see her there. It felt like our family was complete again.

My favorite part of Nicole being home? She and Jace can finally be best friends!


Side effects from radiation and chemotherapy are things Nicole will have to face her entire life, and even though she is doing so well, she needs time to fully recover. But still, Nicole is our little miracle. She is so sweet and so precious. She is beautiful. I am so thankful that she is still in our lives here on earth. I could go on and on about the miracles I've witnessed regarding my sister.




"I Am like a Star"

I am like a star shining brightly,
Smiling for the whole world to see.
I can do and say happy things each day,
For I know Heav’nly Father loves me.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cancer Series Introduction

So, I've decided that I'm going to share a series of posts about cancer. I know, I know. That's not at all my usual topic for this blog. But it is something that is very close to home.

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while have probably caught onto the fact that I have a toddler aged sister. She was a surprise package for my parents. A very big surprise. I was already married when my mom found out she was expecting! It was a little weird, I have to be honest. But then my sister Nicole was born. And I fell right in love with her.


And then, when sweet Nicole was only four and a half months old, she was diagnosed with both AML and ALL luekmeia. She almost died multiple times.

She's currently in remission now. :)

A lot of people didn't understand what my sister or my family was going through during the worst of times with her. A lot of people don't understand that although my sister is in remission, that doesn't mean all is just peachy. A lot of people want to understand, but are afraid to ask too many questions for fear of offending or bringing up hard topics. Or don't know what to ask. 

I used to shy away from the cancer topic. I didn't know what to say to people who were experiencing it. I didn't know how to "properly" react. Part of me wanted to understand, but part of me was happy to live my cancer-free life.

That's why I'm writing this series. I want people to understand. To get a glimpse of what having a loved one with cancer really means.

My experience with a sister having cancer is not the same as my mom's experience. Or my dad's. Or one of my other sister's. Nobody can have the same experience, thoughts and feelings about a loved one going through something so hard. No two cancer patients are really comparable. But I hope that by sharing my experience, people who haven't experienced cancer can understand just a little better. 


Here are the posts can you can expect to see over the next week or so:

  • Bone Marrow Transplant Anniversary. This post is a slightly modified version of one that I posted on my family blog a few months ago. It reviews our experience from the night she was life flighted until her one year transplant anniversary.

My LDS faith comes out in some of these posts because my religion and faith in Jesus Christ are what got me through this hard time in my life. I'm so grateful to have the gospel in my life!

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Crochet Bow Slippers



When I had my last baby, I threw these slipper sock things into my hospital bag on a whim as we were walking out the door. A friend had given them to me years ago, and I'd never really worn them. 

Seriously, they were the best things I brought with me to the hospital! 

My son was in the NICU for a few days, and at my hospital the NICU is on a completely different floor than where the moms stay. So, I was going up and down and walking the halls a lot and I definitely wanted something comfortable on my feet. Due to the lovely swelling of my feet (thanks to a gazillion hours of being pumped with IV fluids), the flip flops I'd also packed were too tight and awful. Those slipper socks were so comfortable and perfect for our hospital stay! Unfortunately, they were also thoroughly disgusting by the time we went home. They had to be burned. As I'm preparing for our next baby, I thought I'd treat myself to a new pair of hospital slippers! 

Materials:
  • Two coordinating colors in Vanna's Choice yarn. (I used chocolate and beige.)
  • Size G crochet hook
  • Tapestry needle

Notes:
  • I made these slippers to fit my feet. I am a size women's 5 (also a size 3 in girls) in U.S. sizing
  • You are welcome to make and sell products from this pattern but please link back to this post. Please do not copy this pattern and claim it as your own. Please do not republish any of my photos as your own.
  • Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Slipper Pattern: (Make 2)

Round 1: Ch 24. In 2nd ch from hook, *2 SC in next, SC in next* repeat from * to * 4 more times. HDC in next, DC in next 10, 2 DC in next, 5 DC in last. Working on the opposite side, DC in next, DC in next 10, HDC in next, *SC in next, 2 SC in next* repeat from * to * 4 more times. Join, ch 1. (61 stitches)

Round 2: SC in 1st, 2 SC in next, SC in next 13, HDC in next 14, 2 HDC in next, 3 HDC in next, 2 HDC in next, HDC in next 14, SC in next 13, 2 SC in next, SC in last, join, ch 1 (67 stitches)

Round 3: SC in 1st, 2 SC in next, SC in next, SC in next, 2 SC in next, skip next stitch, SC in next 18, 2 SC in next, SC in next, 2 SC in next, SC in next 18, skip next stitch, SC in next 12, SC in next, skip last stitch, join, ch 1. (60 stitches)

Round 4: Sc in 1st, 2 SC in next, SC in next 31, 2 SC in next, SC in next, 2 SC in next, SC in next 31, 2 SC in last, join, ch 1 (72 stitches)

Round 5: SC in 1st, 2 SC in next, SC in next 32, 2 SC in next, SC in next 2, 2 SC in next, SC in next 32, 2 SC in next, SC in last, join, ch 1 (76 stitches)

Round 6: SC in next 2, 2 SC in next, SC in next 31, 2 SC in next, SC in nest 6, 2 SC in next, SC in next 31, 2 SC in next, SC in next 2, join, ch 1 (80 stitches)

Round 7-9: SC around, join, ch 1 (80 stitches)

Round 10: *SC in next 3, SC DC in next* repeat from * to * around until 2 stitches remain. SC in last 2 stitches, join, ch 1 (64 stitches)

Round 11-13: *SC in next 2, SC DC in next* repeat from * to * around, join, ch 1 (48 stitches, 36 stitches, 27 stitches)

Round 14: Join brown, SC around, join, finish off.

Bow: (Make 2)

Row 1: Ch 17. In 3rd ch from hook, HDC and in each across. Ch 2, turn
Row 2-3: HDC across, ch 2, turn.
Row 4: HDC across, finish off

Then using a tapestry needle and some of the pink yarn, I stuck my needle through the center of the rectangle. 


I then wound the thread tightly around the center a few times and wove the thread into it to make it secure.



Finishing: Secure bow to top of slippers. Weave in all loose ends.



Per reader request, here's a photo of the bottom! 



They are so comfy and I really think I'll be very grateful for them while I'm in the hospital with my new baby girl!

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