The Names We Call Ourselves ~ Jen

For a long time I have thought about a tattoo to commemorate that I am a cancer survivor. But for four years, I haven’t done it. The hesitation came from something I read in an illness recovery book, that we have to be careful about the way we visualize our illness and our struggle against it. It makes so much sense not to use images of violence, domination, anger, loss. A sick person does not need to bring these energies into their life.

I didn’t battle my cancer. I told it to leave. And then I shut the door against its return. I guard the door carefully, with all the things that reduce my stress and keep me peaceful: food, exercise, God, family, friends and creating.

This is not new age-y philosophy. This is ancient wisdom, reflected in the scripture of Proverbs 17:22: A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.

So even though the symbol of thyroid cancer is a butterfly–and what could be more peaceful than a butterfly–I wasn’t sure this was good medicine.

Then last week I read this*:

If we stay survivors only without moving to thriving, we limit ourselves and we cut our energy to ourselves and our power in the world to less than half…once the threat is past, there is a potential trap in calling ourselves by names taken on during the most terrible times of our lives…it is not good to base the soul identity solely on the feats and losses and victories of the bad times”.

That’s it.

For a long time, every time I said out loud that I was a cancer survivor, a voice in my head yelled “GOOD LORD! I HAD CANCER! I COULD HAVE DIED A YOUNG WIFE AND LEFT BEHIND MY KIDS WHO WOULD HAVE NEVER REMEMBERED ME!!!!”

Every time, it was like hitting a wall. Or any other metaphor that describes the moment in a perfectly wonderful normal day when something makes you remember: I have been hurt. I have been abused. I have lost. I could have died.

It took me a long time to get past that place. It took a lot of work, prayer, reading and support. That time in my life is still framed in fear and anger and doubt, but those emotions are no longer with me on a daily basis.

If I marked my body with a symbol of that time, then those emotions would permanently be present. And for the love of all that is good, why would I do that to myself?

Whatever we have survived—cancer, sexual assault, violence, addiction, loss, our parent’s ugly divorce,  our own ugly divorce—it’s part of us, but not who we are. It’s a piece of our story, but not the whole story. The story isn’t over yet and we have to choose carefully which emotions and energies we are going to carry forward.

Not just for our mental and emotional health, but for our physical health as well. Because how we feel, and what’s inside of us deep, deep down will manifest itself physically. It will make us pay attention.

If you are in the midst of surviving, in the midst of the battle for your life and your heart, soldier on. Don’t be scared of the scars you are earning. Scars heal stronger than what was there before. I’m proud of my scars.

But if you are past the battle, like I am, then we have to consider the truth in the words: There is danger in calling ourselves by names we earn in the hardest times in our lives. We can get stuck there, in the pain, fear, anger, grief, bitterness, abandonment, addiction. Or worse, bring these things forward into our future where they will constantly demand our attention and make us sick in body and spirit.

I don’t want to manifest anger, fear, illness. I want to manifest joy and health. So no butterfly.

But that doesn’t mean no ink. It just means I am waiting for the right inspiration.


For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. How great are your works, Lord, how profound your thoughts!– Psalm 92:4-5

*From Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Dryer Balls

Update: Aaron is getting a dog! The Angel for Aaron page raised $12,000 in seven days. Seven. It wasn’t just money that made that happen, so thanks to everyone who donated, prayed and shared. The dog won’t be in the house for another 12-18 months, but we’ll keep you posted.


Two years ago Shea had enough State Farm points that we could get a new washer and dryer. Because I dream of appliances for years before I purchase, I already knew what I wanted: a Maytag Bravos top loader and dryer. I was going to wash twelve pairs of jeans at once. Watch my dust.

Then, at the last moment, I changed my mind and went with the trendy Whirlpool front loader and steam dryer.

There has not been one day since that I have been happy with this choice. Not. One. As my dad pointed out, there’s a reason they stopped making front loaders in the 70s.

The clothes smell. It’s because the water never fully drains from the drum, which lays on its side. The steam dryer does not help matters, even with the steam off. I have managed to conquer these issues one at a time: I use less detergent than recommended, I use vinegar as my fabric softener, I double spin the clothes and wash smaller loads at a time.

Our electric and gas bills have actually gone up with these newer more fuel efficient machines, because it takes two rounds to wash and dry every load.

So one day I searched “Make the clothes dry faster”, and found DIY Natural, which is a website founded by a husband and wife team looking to make the world a safer, cleaner place. They have an article about the power and magic of homemade dryer balls. You only need three things: 100% wool yarn, a hook and a pair of old or cheap tights.

All you do—and they have a video tutorial in case you need it—is wrap a skein of wool around and around and around until you have a ball somewhere between the size of a tennis ball and a softball. Then you stick it in the pantyhose, wash it in hot, hot, hot water, dry it on the hottest setting and poof! You have a felted dryer ball. Pop four or five of these suckers into your dryer with wet clothes and they dry the clothes faster by bouncing around and creating pockets for the hot air. They also eliminate static. And they aren’t poison, like every single dryer sheet on the market.

Dryer balls ready for felting
Dryer balls ready for felting

True story: Lesley and I were shopping at a craft fair before Christmas. A woman was selling safe cleaning products with a national brand. I was excited to see that she had dryer balls! They were white and the size of tennis balls! They were just like mine!

They were $29.

Cruise Etsy to see similarly priced balls. Yes, the ones with designs felted onto them are adorable and I wish I knew how to do that. But since no one sees my dryer balls and on more than one occasion Lizzie has mistaken a dryer ball for a chew toy, I am ok with my whatever wool was on sale dryer balls.

I gave them for Christmas presents, and people love them. My dad loves them.

So we want to give a set to one of our readers. All you have to do is comment on this post. Each post will get a number and then my kids will pull a number out of a hat.

Another true story, for a laugh before we go: after Christmas, we had a dinner party where I cooked Aunt Debbie’s ham. It made a mess in the pan, and one of our friends was trying to clean it. Finally she said “We need a dryer sheet! You put a dryer sheet in here and heat it up on the stove and this will come right off.”

My other friend leaned over to her and whispered “You aren’t going to find a dryer sheet in this house”.

How well she knows!

Best Use of Cheap Vodka

Six weeks ago, I rolled into Albertson’s before gym class with Annie in tow and bought a $9 plastic gallon of vodka.

The lady at the check-out processed my purchase in silence, but her eyebrows disappeared into her hairline. The girl bagging held the bottle up, shook her head and cut a look at the bagger in the next lane.

It was 8:45 am on a Tuesday. I was wearing sweats, my hair was in a bun and Annie had picked her own clothes, orange striped stretch pants and a puke green shirt that used to belong to Gabe.

I cleared my throat.

I feel like I have to explain why I am buying a gallon of vodka this early in the morning.

I expected them to laugh, but the idle checker in the next lane actually leaned across and said “Yes.”

Well, we make a lot of our household cleaners, to be safer and less toxic. We also have two dogs, so I’ve been looking for a fabric refresher that doesn’t have a ton of chemicals and fragrances, like Febreeze. I found this recipe online for Febooz. All it takes is a spray bottle, two cups of water, a cup of vodka and some drops of essential oil. Safe for all fabrics, carpets, clothes. And for kids and dogs, as long as they’re not drinking it.

They looked at each other. Then they started laughing.

“A few sprays for the couch, a few sprays for mama!”

“And if it doesn’t work, just pop off the top, have a few drinks and you won’t care what the couch smells like!”

The things we go through to bring you safe cleaning products.


All you need is a clean clearly labeled spray bottle, 2 cups of water (the original recipe calls for distilled. I don’t know why, but I used tap and it was fine), 1 cup of vodka and some drops of essential oil. Shake and spray.

Courtesy of

PS: have your husband buy the vodka. No one will bat an eye at a man buying bulk vodka in a plastic bottle. Even if he has all the kids with him and it’s 1 am. But that’s a whole other post.


Resolution Revolution~ Jen

It’s January and the TV and radio are full of ads for gyms and diets. I know that’s normal, but it’s grinding on me this year. Because even though Dana and I have been in the gym for almost a year, I have gained 15 lbs.

I know, I know, we’re not supposed to talk about actual lbs. We’re supposed to use euphemisms like “I ate a few too many Christmas cookies” or “It’s true what they say, eggnog goes right to your waist!”

But there’s no euphemism for “My synthetic thyroid hormone meds are jacked up.”

In case you didn’t know what your thyroid does, it regulates things like metabolism. Synthetic hormones have come a long way, but they can’t replace an organ. For whatever reason, my “normal” dose of hormones, which had done the job for over a year, stopped about six months ago and sent me into hypothyroid territory. My hair started to thin and I gained a fast nine pounds. My doctor upped my meds, which lowered my levels a bit, and made my hair thicken up, but I added another six pounds. So he upped them again. I’ve been at this level for three weeks now, and while my head is full of little tufts of baby hair when I pull it all back into a ponytail, the scale has not budged.

I am trying not to freak out. I keep hitting the gym and tracking what I eat on My Fitness Pal. But I have never weighed this much in my life. After Kate was born I worked really hard to lose an extra 15 pounds and I stayed there in the years between her and Annie. Now my clothes either don’t fit or don’t look right. I don’t look in the mirror. I don’t want to take pictures.

It’s enough to derail my determination to celebrate the wins.

Then yesterday I was driving along, listening to on the radio and Brenda was talking about why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. She had read somewhere that it’s because most of our resolutions are about ourselves. Losing weight, climbing a mountain, traveling somewhere exotic, eating better food, exercising—while none of these resolutions are bad, they are all self-serving. And since most of us drop them within days or weeks, they aren’t making us any happier, either.

But resolutions to serve others? Could be we’re much better at keeping those.

It got me thinking—I could fixate on the scale and my weight. I could live or die by the numbers every morning and let my days and sense of self-worth be dictated by whether the numbers go up or down.

Or. I could let it go. I could accept that my meds are off right now, and may never get right. I can feel thankful that this weight gain means I am alive and beat my cancer. I can stay on my eating plan and stay in the gym and be the healthiest heavy version of myself that I can be.

And. I can make a different kind of resolution this year, one that doesn’t serve myself. I will volunteer or donate or advocate for others.  I have to look around, because this idea just came to me yesterday, but I already know there’s no downside. Think of others before myself? Give some of my time, treasure or talent to help? Show my kids how to walk the talk? Yes, yes and yes.

I think this is part of learning to Be, too. Do less. But be grateful. Be giving. Be humble.


Not Your Mama’s Sauce ~ Jen

Cooking while drinking = blurry pictures...
Cooking while drinking = blurry pictures…

Fires, Family, Football and Food! We love Thanksgiving here at Full of Graces

We’re coming at you lots this week: Cranberries today, swiss beans tomorrow and spicy pumpkin pie on Wednesday. 

When I decided that I could be a scratch cooking diva in the kitchen, cranberries were my first throw down.

“How hard can it be?” I asked my cousin over a bottle of wine the night before Thanksgiving, 1998.

Well, you can buy a can of cranberry sauce—or worse, that jelly stuff—that may have been fresh six months ago. Or you can buy a bag of cranberries, throw them in a pot with a cup of water and a cup of sugar and cook for ten minutes. Viola! Cranberry sauce.

That’s all it takes. To make it more exciting, I recommend you ask someone in the house if they want to taste a raw cranberry. Those shiny red berries are hard to resist. My cousin is still mad about that one.

Since then, I found two go-to cranberry sauce recipes. I make one or both every year, whether we do turkey or ham. And it turns out that cranberries are super healthy and cancer fighting. Bonus!

The first is a cranberry apricot sauce to serve as a side dish:

California Apricot Cranberry Sauce

½ cup dried apricot halves, cut into strips

¾ cup cranberry juice cocktail

1 12 oz bag fresh cranberries

2/3 cup sugar

1 tbsp minced ginger (use fresh for a strong taste, dried for a lighter taste)

Soak apricots in cranberry juice in a saucepan for ten minutes to soften. Add cranberries, sugar and ginger. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium and cook uncovered for ten minutes until cranberries pop and sauce thickens.

Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, about 3 hours.

The second is an orange cranberry Dijon mustard to serve as a relish. This is unbelievable on a slice of ham or a turkey leftover sandwich:

Cranberry Mustard

12 oz bag fresh cranberries

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

½ cup orange juice

2 tsp grated orange zest

¼ cup Dijon mustard

2 tbsp unsalted butter

Place cranberries, sugar, water, orange juice and zest in saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce heat to medium low. Cook until berries pop and sauce thickens.

Remove from heat. Stir in mustard and butter. Cool and serve.

You could even make these tonight or tomorrow and put them in the fridge. They keep!