Wednesday, March 28, 2012

CupCake Bites

I have recently started to enjoy making cake balls as a good way to use the remaining batter from cupcake orders... but I really suck at dipping them in chocolate and not making a huge mess. Then, my sister sent me a link to a blog that had a great idea: make the cake balls look like mini cupcakes! (Isn't is great what we find amusing?) Using candy molds that look like the outline of a peanut butter cup, this process is actually pretty simple and not nearly as messy as regular chocolate dipping (at least not in my house!)

For those who may be unaware, here's the cheater's way to make cake balls: using one box of cake mix, bake a cake following the directions. Crumble it into little pieces, then mix in one can of your favorite frosting. Form into little balls, chill for about two hours, then dip into chocolate coating. And yes, I call this the "cheater's way" because it involves using boxed mixes and fake frosting, both of which I try to avoid like the plague and the other artificial ingredients contained therein. (Yes, I am a bit snobby about that). To make homemade cake balls, it's the same concept but a little different because of the variety of cake and frosting textures (some cakes require more frosting, others less).

Now, for the cupcake bites, you fill the candy mold about 1/3 of the way with chocolate and pop the cake ball on top. Push it down enough so that the chocolate comes up to the sides/top of the mold. Let harden. Then, pop them out, turn them over, and dip them upside down into another type/color of chocolate, so the two chocolate colors meet. Hold upside down to let the excess drip off, and then flip back over and place on waxed paper to harden. You can also top it with sprinkles, chocolate drizzles, etc. for a little extra flair. Much less mess, and also cute:-) The one complaint I've gotten on these is that the cake part is smaller, so the ratio of cake to chocolate covering isn't as good as larger cake balls. But they still miraculously disappear whenever I put out a plate, so I'm taking that as a good sign.

Here are some pictures of my first few attempts:

Mint Chocolate Chip CupCake Bites

Mint Chocolate Chip CupCake Bites

Assorted Red Velvet & Carrot Cake CupCake Bites

Red Velvet CupCake Bites

Carrot Cake CupCake Bites
I make these whenever I'm making cupcakes and have leftover batter. I just bake it into a cake and freeze it until I'm ready to use it. It doesn't matter how much batter I have left over; even a little bit can make quite a few of these tasty bites! Enjoy:-)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Scar Tissue

For obvious reasons, my mind has been on things of the medical nature lately. One of the most fascinating things about the human body to me is its ability to scar. According to Wikipedia (an unreliable source for anything academic, but helpful when needing a quick description for blogging): "Scars are areas of fibrous tissue (fibrosis) that replace normal skin after injury. A scar results from the biological process of wound repair in the skin and other tissues of the body. Thus, scarring is a natural part of the healing process."

Physically, I have very few scars. I have a small one on my chin from falling off my bike; two thin lines on my arm from a blood clot test when I was five, and a small scar across my back from being tickled. D, however, has lots of scars (just ask him about the mark on his arm from his "barracuda attack"). The biggest one, of course, is on his abdomen. After his first three surgeries, he had a wide, ragged scar beginning at his Xiphoid process (thanks 11th grade anatomy class!) down to the button of his jeans. Half of his stomach was numb to the touch because this scar tissue lacked nerve endings.

Our bodies are amazing creations, able to heal in many ways. Some ways are more effective than others, but ultimately these healing processes exist for survival.

Whether your body is mapped with scars or you have been injury-free your entire life, there are other, sometimes less obvious, scars that can form. This is when we build up scar tissue in our spirit.

There are two causes for these types of scars. The first is because of an injury inflicted by others. Examples of this would be abuse, neglect, bullying, hurtful words, abandonment, loss, etc. The second cause is injury we inflict upon ourselves: addictions, low self-esteem, confinement, guilt, and so on. Interestingly, I think it is very common to inflict injuries upon ourselves in reaction to injuries inflicted upon us by others - a "healing" method that doesn't actually work and just goes to create more scar tissue. For example, someone might be inclined to withdraw from social interactions (confinement) because of hurtful words or bullying from others. Or someone might try to seek healing through addiction because of past abuse or loss. But let's be honest, and just acknowledge that we are all susceptible to any of these types of injuries, regardless of who we are, where we're from, how we were raised, etc.

So, an injury occurs. It's painful, and in an attempt to survive it, we build up scar tissue. This helps mask the pain, while also providing a way to continue on in daily life. We become a little numb around the heart, building up more and more scar tissue so that we won't feel any semblance of hurt.

During D's 4th and 5th surgeries this month, the surgeon had to do one major thing before he could even begin to attempt fixing the ailment: he had to remove all of the scar tissue from the previous abdominal operations. There was so much there that it was blocking the path to the problem, and ultimately to proper healing. So, normally, scar tissue is a good thing... but too much of it can actually cause more problems. Patients with myocardial infarction might have excess scar tissue build up around their hearts, which will ultimately lead to heart failure. This tissue, which is supposed to serve a good purpose, can end up causing more damage.

Sometimes, in order to heal, the scars must be removed.

As scar tissue forms in our (non-physical) hearts, it can end up blocking our hearts instead of protecting us. Scripture urges us to "guard our hearts" for they are "the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23). Sometimes, scarring is the fastest way to heal after a spiritual or emotional injury. Go numb. Let the tissues start to heal. But don't stay that way.

I am discovering the ramifications of a closed-off heart as I type this. As I have previously written, I am not a good nurse/caretaker/nurturer. With D home from the hospital, I try to make sure that his physical needs are met (getting him water, helping him up if he needs it, etc.), but after two years of trying to cope with various injuries, ailments, and recoveries, my heart has hardened to protect itself. This means that I close myself off to him emotionally, because if I don't, I'll just be a weeping puddle on the floor every time I can't help him manage his pain, or I am not around when he needs me, etc. So instead I become stone. I come home from work, do some housework, and then make myself as emotionally unavailable as I possibly can. This might be thinly veiled by my sudden interest in getting the closets cleaned out or vacuuming the car, or with excuses of being too tired to talk. I don't tell him about my day, my concerns, my hopes, etc. I don't ask about his. I try to go numb, because it hurts me to see him hurt so much and not be able to do anything about it. But, in reality, I am only causing us both more pain by locking off my heart like this. I am inflicting injuries upon myself and upon him. We both begin to feel very lonely and disconnected. Small issues become big issues. Resentment starts to grow. I realize the selfishness of this all, but I feel like I need to be completely honest here.

Here's the thing: when Scripture says to "guard your heart," it does not mean "close your heart." It does not mean to stop caring, stop loving, stop sharing, stop growing. These are the purposes for which our hearts were created! We must be diligent to protect them so that they can continue to function in these capacities, for the sake of others as well as ourselves.

So, how do we break down this scar tissue that ends up blocking our hearts? The first thing is: stop the injury! If it is at all within your control, you must remove yourself from these causes of pain. For example, I struggle with body image at times, and for a while had to make a concentrated effort not to watch a particular tv show that had a very attractive, hardcore female character to whom I kept (very negatively) comparing myself. This is a small example, but other examples would be to get out of addiction, out of an abusive relationship, away from influences that cause you doubt your self-worth. Of course, there are some injuries we can't necessarily stop (for example, the loss of a loved one), but we can control how much scar tissue we let take over our hearts in the aftermath.

The second step is: forgive. I think regardless of the type of injury, there is always somebody that needs to be forgiven in order for us to heal. It might be another person (an abuser, a bully, etc.). Sometimes, it might be God that you need to forgive, especially if you are angry at Him for "allowing" these injuries to occur. Most often, I think it is ourselves that need our own forgiveness. I carry a lot of guilt about not being the best caretaker of D during this difficult time, and that just contributes to me closing off my heart even more. I need to ask him to forgive me for my selfishness, but I also need to forgive myself. Guilt just builds up more scars, more numbness, more walls. 

The truth is, only God can clean out the scar tissue we've let build up. And he can only do it if we let Him. An oft-quoted and very popular verse was one of the first ones I ever memorized: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). We are not meant to go through life in excruciating pain. But we are also not meant to go through life numb. God can clean all of the junk out of our hearts and make them clean again. It can be painful for a time, and might involve sacrifice, but I promise - and I say this even as I go through one of these painful "cleansing" times - it is always worth it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Working with kids, I tend to see a lot of minor (and a few major) injuries. And I have discovered that I have two very specific ways of dealing with minor injuries that require nothing more than a band-aid: either tell the child that we're going to have to "cut it off," or explain the reason for their pain. The first method was effective enough on me as a child - "Daddy, I hurt my finger!" "Oh no! It looks like we'll have to cut it off!" And that always worked for me. Either it convinced me not to make a big deal out of an injury for fear of losing a limb, or it just seemed so absurd that it made me laugh and realize my paper cut was not that big of a deal. This is the same tactic I use with my nephews, and it usually works pretty well. But I've learned that there are some children who are a bit more sensitive, and don't laugh when I jokingly try to eat their fingers or start looking for the scissors. This is when I try the second method: education.

Two weeks ago, while hiking with a group of young students, one got a few thorns tangled around her leg. She untangled herself and came away with just some surface scratches - no blood. But she kept telling me how much her leg hurt from the thorns. I tried to be sympathetic, but in truth that is really hard for me. Instead, I just told her why scratches on the surface of the skin tend to hurt more than if the thorns had gone further in. And then I kept on hiking, feeling a sense of accomplishment for educating her on the reason for her pain. But the rest of the hike, she kept mentioning those thorns. Now, there was nothing I could do to ease her pain, and there was no risk of infection or further injury. I was at a loss: I had told her the reason for her pain, why was she still feeling it? What else did she want?

There is one instance where you'd think that I learned my lesson that not all people respond well to my "get well" methods. It was several years ago, and again, I was hiking with a group of students. There was a little boy who got a thorn prick on his finger. (Okay, seriously, what is it with thorns?) He howled like it was the end of the world. I looked at it, and there was no blood; just a small white speck where the very tip of the thorn had gone into this finger. I told him he'd be okay and we kept hiking. And he kept howling. And holding his finger like it was going to fall off. Every time I stopped to point something out, he distracted the whole group with his "I'm in pain" breathing and moaning. Still, I did not give him a bandaid. That would involve filling out paperwork, and there wasn't even a drip of blood. Finally, I submitted and gave him a bandana to hold over the "wound." It was pink. He held it there for the next two hours of the hike, and then didn't want to give it back once the hike was over. It was now his safety blanket. In hindsight, I realized I could have spared myself and all the other students hours of moaning if I had just given the kid a darn band-aid. But to me, that was legitimizing his "injury," which was so minor to begin with.

This might be the point where one begins to realize that I have a horrible bed-side manner. And that is true. If the "cut it off" jokes or the "let me tell you why it hurts" methods don't work, I'm out of ideas. Nurturing does not come naturally to me.

Today marks Day 6 in the hospital after D's fourth major surgery since 2010. He is a model patient - he does everything the doctors and nurses recommend, he doesn't complain about the pain, and he is always appreciative of the care he receives (he is the nurses' favorite).
I, however, am not the model caregiver.

I am awesome for the first twenty-four hours or so. Incidentally, this coincides with the time it takes the anesthesia to wear off. I am attentive and cheerful and do everything he could possibly need. Ice chips? Got it. Back rub? Sure thing. How about a cold cloth, a funny story, or the six-minute pain pump reminders? I am all over it.

Then, after the first whole day and night at the hospital, something inside me starts to scream. I don't know if it is just the monotony of being in the same room, or the uncomfortable sleeping conditions, or just trying so hard to be Super Wife, but I just crash. I get cranky. I stop anticipating his needs and just begin to zone out.

It is usually at this point that I need to get outside and do something different. But when I am gone, I want to be back at the hospital taking care of my husband. So then I go back, and after about an hour I get antsy again. I watch repeated episodes of Say Yes to the Dress and check Facebook obsessively, wondering why no one else is updating their status every three seconds. My walks down the hallway get longer and longer. My Super Wife title is officially gone. By the end of day two. And there are still many more days to go.

If my lack of a nurturing instict was not obvious enough through the various thorn incidents, it has become increasingly evident with each successive hospital stay. I go in telling myself that this time will be different. I will be patient, helpful, and I will not cry. I will be alert and responsive to his every need. I will be encouraging and loving and tender. And every time, I set myself up for failure. I wonder, where is the magic switch that will turn me into a great nurse for the man I love? No matter how intentional I am about my attitude, I always fail.

I can't make "cut it off" jokes, for obvious reasons (mainly: they already did - well, cut it out, not off). And the doctors and nurses are already great at explaining the various reasons for the pain or discomfort. Sometimes, I try to re-emphasize these reasons ("The doctor said it was normal to feel nauseated because..." or "The pain in your side is from ..."), but that never helps. So instead I flail around, doing my best not to annoy him or spill anything on him (both of which happen a lot more often that one would hope). With children, I struggle with helping them feel better about the thorns; with D, I work hard not to become the thorn. Sometimes, especially after days in the hospital, after days of wanting to be able to fix it, all I have left in me is the ability to say, "Hey, here's a bandana. I hope that helps."

It never does.

That is when I am blessed by an awesome nursing staff and caring doctors. Because they have the skills that I lack; they are able to be attentive and caring and supportive. They know when to push him, when to encourage him, and when to let him rest. And that kind of support (especially when you're stuck with a wife like me), is one of the most valuable gifts someone can give - to both of us.