Countdown to Thanksgiving!

I love everything about Thanksgiving: food, friends, and my little family all together under one roof for 4 whole days.  Those of you that know me, know that I love to cook.  Thanksgiving gives me an excuse to take it to the extreme.  I’ve been baking since Saturday and Thanksgiving is still 3 days away! Food is definitely one of my favorite ways to show the people around me how much I love them.  I love to find new recipes, the best ingredients, and then share the final product with anyone who wants to come into our home.  (Don’t let the love for cooking fool you…there have been some major cooking flops, hopefully not this Thursday though)

Gratitude takes some people a lifetime to appreciate.  Believe me, now that I am raising a 9-year-old girl, it is a daily topic of conversation around here.  I do believe that most people love Thanksgiving for all the reasons that I’ve already mentioned.  But also because two commonly shared values among most religions are forgiveness and gratitude.  Really being grateful and celebrating it this holiday season makes people feel good. And if you are a spiritual person the ability to turn those values into actions, to forgive and to be grateful, are the keys to life renewed or inner peace.

Strive to be a good example for your children. Thank the people around you that make your life, your most wonderful life. Do small acts of kindness that might make someone’s day a little bit brighter.  Hug your children when they are being their worst selves.

Marilyn and I are so appreciative of all of our customers, our amazing friends that enthusiastically like and share all of our news on Facebook, our loving families, good fortune and health. In appreciation of all of you, we are proudly donating a portion of our TaTaTopper sales to the Massey Cancer Center through the Women & Wellness Forum Series.  100% of the donation will be used for women’s cancer research at Massey.

 

Back to School

img_9251-1-300x225September is the month when moms do their spring cleaning. We’ve held onto summer as long as we can and slowly one by one, our babies go back to school. Our ‘fun-mom’ disposition retreats and our rule following selves reappear. The calendars are out. The groceries are stocked. The sports schedules are set. The holidays are marked. The carpools are organized. The house is clean and our hair appointments are finally kept. My ‘mom friends’, as I like to admiringly refer to them as, raise their children as well as anyone would manage a Fortune 500 company.

I’m happy that my son still holds my hand and if we get disconnected he looks around for me to make sure I’m close to him. I’m cautious that my daughter doesn’t quite know how to reintroduce herself to old friends. And I adore my baby, who is shockingly turning 4 next week, but sits in my lap and talks to me like a peer. I’m also proud that I can put myself in situations to make new ‘mom friends’ in a town I’ve lived most of my life. My friends have children of all ages and we seem to all have the timeless struggle between being satisfied that we have raised our little ones to be strong, independent, social, intelligent people and mourning their separation from us all at the same time.  It is an anxiousness that I can’t describe well but moms get it. We help others when we can and steal a few heavenly hours away together when we can find them!

I’m the first one to admit that I’m not the perfect parent. Every decision we make seems to have a positive and negative affect on our family and I’m just hoping for a net positive at the end of the day. It’s not just a balance with our children but with our spouses, jobs, friends and family too. I’m so appreciative to all of the lovelies in my life that forgive my shortcomings and praise my small successes.

We feel really good about having a product, the TaTaTopper, that supports women because we all live our lives for so many other people. Sleeping well is actually something we can and need to do for ourselves.

In addition to our families, our company is regrouping for the fall as well.  We have accomplished a lot this summer. Our patent getting approved was probably the highlight but we also spent countless hours trying to figure out how to package the TummyTopper.  After many conversations with several companies, we are proud that a  local company, not only can make our retail box but can package the topper inside it almost as small as the TaTaTopper. We’ve also learned about the vast world of Search Engine Optimization.  Today an online campaign launched between Google, Amazon and Facebook to let more people know about the TaTaTopper and how it can help women after mastectomies and breast surgeries.  We are hoping that this will help get the toppers to women that need them.

Food to bring your favorite patient

Some of our favorite foods to bring your favorite patients

Soups

Chicken Noodle

In a stockpot add enough water to cover a whole chicken
Add 3 chicken bouillon cubes
Cover and let boil for an hour
Remove chicken and place on cutting board
Add a chop of chopped celery and carrots to the broth and let simmer
Pull meat from chicken and add it back to the broth
Add a bag of egg noodles to the soup and let boil for 10 minutes
Ready to serve or let stand and you can easily freeze it for later

Maryland Crab

2 (14.5 ounces) cans of diced jalapeno tomatoes
4 cups of beef broth
2 cups water
1 cup frozen lima beans
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup of fresh green beans
1/2 pound of claw meet
1 pound of back fin or jumbo lump meat
3 Tablespoons of Old bay
Hot Sauce

Combine and cook for at least 30 minutes

Corn Chowder

Boil 5 ears of corn for about 10 minutes, then remove kernels from the cob and set aside
Boil 2 Yukon Potatoes for about 10 minutes, remove skin and dice, and then set aside
Half 2 Anaheim chilies and remove the seeds, set on a rack and broil for 10 minutes until
skin starts to flake off, peel the skin off, chop the chilies and set aside.

In a large saucepan, sauté ½ small chopped onion, ¼ cup of diced celery and ½ cup of diced
red pepper for about 8 minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt.

Stir in chilies, potatoes, corn, 2 cups of vegetable stock, 1 cup of milk and pepper.

Simmer 25 minutes

Top with cilantro and oregano before serving.

Vegetable Beef

In a crockpot, cook roast over night. Remove excess fat before adding the following
1 teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of pepper
¼ teaspoon of parsley
¼ teaspoon of marjoram
¼ teaspoon of celery salt
¼ teaspoon of basil
¼ teaspoon of hot sauce
5 beef bouillon cubes
2 large cans of stewed tomatoes
1 can of corn
1 can of lima beans
1 can of green beans
2 diced Yukon potatoes
1 small can of peas and carrots
Add water as needed
Cook for about 6 hours on low heat

Other Meals

Shrimp Tacos

Sauté together 1 seeded chopped jalapeno, 3 chopped garlic cloves, and 2 Tablespoons of
chopped onion in a skillet with 1 Tablespoon of olive oil.

Add 1tsp of Coriander, 1tsp cumin, 1 teaspoon of chili pepper and a dash of salt after they
are cooked.

In a 9×13 backing dish spread 2 pounds of peeled and deveined shrimp in one layer. Spread
the sauté of the top evenly.

Squeeze juice from four tomatoes and 2 limes over the top and sprinkle with cilantro.

Bake 10-15 minutes at 350 stirring occasionally. When they are pink and the backs split they
are done.

Serve with taco shells and any toppings you like

Chicken Casserole

Cook 4 chicken breasts

Pull the meat apart and place on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish

Cook 1 cup of white rice according to instructions and place the cooked rice over the
chicken

In a pan, sauté 3 Tablespoons of chopped sweet onion

After the onion cooks, place in bowl with 10 1/2 ounces of condensed cream of chicken soup,
½ cup of grated cheese, 1 bunch of broccoli chopped

Stir together and layer over chicken and rice

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes

Mac N Cheese

Boil a box of elbow pasta

In a pot, heat together a bag of grated cheddar cheese, ¼ cup of flower, garlic salt, 1 cup of
milk

Combine cheese mixture and noodles in a mixing bowl

Spread into a 9×13 bake dish

Sprinkle with Panko

Cook for 10 minutes at 350 degrees

Sides

Easy Corn Bread

1 package of Jiffy Corn Bread mix
8 ounces of cream corn
2 eggs
¼ cup milk (might not need that much)
Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes

Veggie Explosion

Through it all together…

6 cooked ears of corn, remove from cob
16 ounces of frozen edamame
2 cups of cooked green beans cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes
½ cup of chopped red onion
1 seeded jalapeño chopped
10 chopped basil leaves
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
salt and pepper to taste

Salads

Arugula
Goat cheese
Candied pecans
Grilled chicken

Spinach
Strawberries
Blue cheese
Salmon

Kale
Gorgonzola Cheese
Sliced Steak

Cubed French bread
Diced tomato
Chopped basil
Tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Spring Mix
Cubed roasted beets
Goat cheese
Scallions

Food to Bring the Kids

Breakfast
Bagels
Cereal
Doughnuts
Quiche
Cut Fruit
Pastry

Lunch
Sandwich bread: Deli Meat and cheese or peanut butter and jelly
Platter of Chick-fil-A nuggets
Frozen Iindividual pizzas

Dinner
Rotisserie Chicken
Ready to Cook Pizza
Spaghetti
Chopped up Fruit
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Bread

Gift Basket Ideas

“Snacks”
Chips
Pretzels
Cheese-Its
Chocolate
Peanuts
Cookies

“Morning”
Muffins
Pastries
Bagels and Cream Cheese

“Fruit”
Apples
Oranges
Pears
Grapefruit
Bananas

“Lunch”
Cut up Fruit
Rolls
Chicken or Tuna Salad
Chips
Cheese
Crackers

“Favorite Things”
Magazines
Chocolate Covered Pretzels
Music
Tiny Wine Bottle
Blanket
Journal

5 Years

It’s been five years since the passing of my dear friend Carolyn Moeller.  I will never forget driving home from our family vacation for her funeral.  As we were driving, I received a call from my doctor’s office telling me I had a suspicious mammogram.  I couldn’t even consider me being diagnosed with breast cancer at the time. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other and keep going for my family and hers.  Her life and death has had such an impact on my life.  My memories of her are so precious and bring me such happiness.  At the same time not having her here to talk to, walk with, play tennis or golf with, or go on adventures with our kids is something that leaves me feeling empty.  She had so much to offer and understood the importance of living life to the fullest.  She knew how to make me see the importance of just having fun and not to sweat the small stuff.  She knew the importance of spending time with her children and making every moment count.  She didn’t get caught up in gossip or drama.  She was just happy and always found a way to make things special for our kids.

In the following weeks, I was diagnosed with breast cancer too.  While I was going through treatment, I couldn’t help but think Carolyn must be mad at me.  Maybe I didn’t do enough to help her, or maybe I wasn’t doing enough for her kids.  Why else would this be happening? But then after sharing my fears with my sweet friend Teri, she said something I will never forget, something that I always hold on to.  She said, “Marilyn, she’s not mad at you, she’s saving you”.  As tears flowed down my cheeks, I finally found a sense of relief.  I also found courage and strength.

I had a talk with my oldest son recently.  It was the first time we really talked about her in detail since her passing and the impact her death and my diagnosis had on his life.  To see his face as he talked about what a sad time that was and how much pain it caused him broke my heart.  He was 15 at the time and kept quiet about everything.  I tried to talk to him, but he said he was fine.  I tried to keep things “normal”, but there was no normal.  Things would never be the same and my children had to learn what it meant to lose someone they loved and cared about.  They also had to deal with the fact that their own mother had the same diagnosis that killed their best friends mother.  There was nothing I could really say except that I was sorry.

How do we find the right words to help our children through horribly difficult issues of life and death?  How do we comfort them, and assure them it will all be okay when it’s really not?  I can remember my younger son crying one night shortly after I told him about my cancer.  I asked him if he was afraid I would die.  He cried out, “yes”, and I told him the only thing I knew to be true.  “I know you’re scared.  I know there’s no guarantee, but I also know this Adam.  I’m not going to die today and I’m not going to die tomorrow.  I’m going to do everything I can to make sure the cancer is gone.  And with the knowledge I have from what Mrs. Moeller went through I’m going to make good decisions and fight with all the strength I have to be here.”

It’s been five years since her passing and my diagnosis.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of her.  I’m grateful for the time we had and for the opportunity I had to know her and call her my friend.  I’m grateful my children had that opportunity too.  She was one of a kind and one of the few people I could call an angel here on earth and mean it.
Marilyn Collins
www.tatatopper.com

 

Great Breast Cancer Post Op Quesion!

Today we received a question from a woman diagnosed with Breast Cancer about to have a Mastectomy wanting to know how soon after surgery she could lie down on the TaTaTopper.  I felt like this was an important question so I decided to write a blog about it.

The first thing Michelle and I would say is to check with your doctor and your comfort level before using the TaTaTopper.  Everyone’s surgery progress and recovery are different.

We created the TaTaTopper after Michelle had her second surgery and she was able to lie down on it right away.  Sometimes there is tenderness right under your breasts at your ribs so you kind of have to try different ways of lying on it to see what is comfortable for you. My surgeon put in what I like to call a “hammock” under the bottom of the newly reconstructed breast to help support the implant.  This “hammock” is sewn into the ribs.  I wasn’t aware of this before my surgery, but afterwards my ribs were so tender that I could barely touch them and an underwire bra was painful to wear for years.  I asked the doctor why I had so much pain there and he explained what they did.

The other concern is that using your arms to push up can be tricky right after surgery. Michelle would climb up on her husband’s side of the bed and lie down on her back.  She tucked the drain closest to the topper in the cut out area and then rolled onto it.

The other great thing about the cut out area is that you can lie on your side and tuck a drain right in the hole.  Nothing touches the sensitive areas where the drains are inserted into your skin. The drain just sits in the hole, and doesn’t pull on your skin.

My surgery was before i thought about this product so I had to try to sleep sitting up with my arms propped up on pillows.  Two weeks of that was just plain depressing.  At least I get to use it now to get a massage, which is heavenly.

http://tatatopper.comI hope this information is helpful.  Michelle and I are always willing to answer questions, but we are not doctors so we can only speak to our own personal experiences.

 

TaTaTopper Update

What a year for the TaTaTopper! We have been incredibly busy this past year and let the time slip away. It appears that we haven’t written a blog in quite a while! So we decided we would update all of you who helped launch our company. We found out quickly that most people buy the TaTaTopper as a gift for friends either who are breastfeeding or recovering from a mastectomy. Because of this, we have rebranded and created a new package that is perfect for retail stores. It looks like a cute little gift box! We have also worked hard to create a sales kit that is both informative and attractive to give to retailers along with new brochures for a quick look at the TaTaTopper. In addition to our retail sales, Elements Massage in Short Pump has dedicated a massage room to women who want to use a TaTaTopper while getting a massage. We have also attended two trade shows, one in Atlanta and one in Dallas and continue to build awareness for our product. With more people shopping online, we have spoken to several people about SEO’s (Search Engine Optimization), which will help people find us online. Holy cow, that is a whole new world for us. But, it also has allowed us to expand globally. THE VEDP assisted us in translating our website into 3 different languages, German, French and Spanish! Our story is also in a college textbook that comes out this year. As you can see it has been a busy year for us. We wanted to send a quick update to everyone that so graciously supported us when we did the Indiegogo campaign as well as to our friends and family that provide us continued support and patience as we work to produce this product.

 

Thanks for a great year!

Marilyn & Michelle

Doing Good

I just read a quote on Facebook that a friend posted about “doing good”.  It struck a nerve with me because that tends to be my motto in life, and I know for certain Michelle feels the same way.  As a matter of fact, most women I know feel this way.

When we started our business our main goal was to “do good”!  We both had a strong desire to help other women recover more comfortably after having a mastectomy.  After all, the surgery is scary enough and being diagnosed with cancer, well, I think anyone can imagine how frightening that is.  The ability to rest while recovering is so important to the healing process, yet most women will just try to suffer through it and pray they get to live long enough to see their children grow up, get married and have grandbabies.

While on our journey to help other women, we have come to realize that women will suffer through pain and discomfort before helping themselves.  But if someone they love is in pain, they will move heaven and earth to help them.  As Michelle stated in an earlier blog, we have seen friends buy the TaTa Topper for friends, because they just want to help the ones they love.  But, we have yet to see a woman purchase one for herself.  We are told how important it is to take care of ourselves and put ourselves first so we can be here for the ones we love.  But putting others first is what we do.  I don’t think this is a quality that will ever change.  It is an innate behavior and it’s what makes us special.  We love deeply, and we take care of others.  That is what Michelle and I try to do each day.  We are blessed and grateful to have the opportunity, and to be here to see our children grow.

Workiversary

A lot can happen in a year

The other day, my LinkedIn account informed me that I had a work anniversary. I’m not sure what is worse, that I didn’t know for which company or that I had no idea how to check LinkedIn to see for which company. June is a big month for me in terms of anniversaries. I got married in June, had my first baby in June, started my first two businesses in June and now it turns out Marilyn and I have been in business for a year.

In some ways, it feels like we just started this whirlwind adventure and in other ways it feels like we’ve been working on this forever. Last June, we had a friendship, a prototype, and I was down to only one boob. Over the course of the summer we researched a lot of production options and talked to other breast cancer survivors and members of the breast cancer community.

By the Fall, we had entered into the StartupNextRVA competition. We were fortunate enough to receive exceptional help from local mentors and business owners. Winning that competition threw us into a spotlight we never expected to find. Many people have helped us since the fall. It’s almost silly to try to thank everyone. Winning that competition really gave us the confidence to launch a successful crowd funding campaign in turn giving us the ability to produce and package our first round of TaTa Toppers. This spring brought on tradeshows, two more high profile pitch competitions, a whole lot of press, and meetings after meetings.   At the end of our first year: we have learned more than we ever knew we needed to learn; I’m back to having two boobs; and we now kind of understand what web analytics means. We have had some ups and downs but as we set off on our summer of selling we continue to be motivated by the fact that we are helping women sleep better after a mastectomy.

Girlfriends

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Giving gifts is one of my secret loves. It’s exciting. I feel like I’m on a hunt. Finding the right gift for the right person brings me so much joy. I don’t always buy gifts, many times I make them or if you are lucky I’ll even cook for you. I prefer random gifts to birthdays or Christmas but giving a gift really is more than a custom to me. It’s all the things that I want to eloquently say but can’t ever find the perfect words: I love you, I admire you, I am proud of you, I respect you, or I want to help you.   So instead, I settle for a gift that I hope conveys how I feel.

Over the last couple of years, the word gift has popped up many times between Marilyn and me. Sometimes it’s unexpected but more often it flashes into a conversation when we are talking about the intangible kinds of gifts that we both seem so fortunate to receive from so many and each other.

That all being said, I don’t know why I am surprised that when Marilyn and I look over our sales of the TaTa Topper this year, almost 100% of our sales have been to women buying them for a friend. The power of girlfriends should never be underestimated. Every time we sell a TaTa Topper we have a moment of rewarding excitement that is always followed by a sinking feeling that makes us sad that another woman has to go through this. Mastectomies are tough but it totally rocks that girlfriends are the ones that step up to the plate and take care of their friends. And I love that we have created the perfect gift that women are choosing to give their friends to help them sleep after a breast cancer surgery. It’s truly the gift of comfort.

Gratitude

It has been said that a lot can happen in a year. It was about this time last year that I was weaning my baby girl and talking to my oncologist about what the best age would be to have a preventative mastectomy. For someone that grew up in a family of breastless women, it was a decision that I made many years ago. Perhaps, looking back I should have prepared myself better, but how could someone really prepare for a mastectomy. In two weeks, I will have my 7th and hopefully my final surgery in less than a year. After a long year, what I am most confident about is that this was the best decision for me. Not only, because I feel that I saved my life but also through the struggle my family has evolved and our priorities have changed.

Thanksgiving Day seems to be an appropriate time to reflect on the wonderful people in my life and to express the sincere gratitude I feel for the gifts that have been given to me.

I have these wonderful glimpses of memories from this year that make my heart just explode with love: standing in the shower as my sister washed my hair, my dad sleeping outside the bathroom door because I was too sick to come out, my sweet little boy running to me, laughing so hard at my brother that I had to kick him out of the recovery room, shaking with fear while a friend’s calm voice soothed me, friends convincing me that having no boobs made me look like a model, my mom loving my children, the stranger that snapped a picture of me with my drains to show his wife so that she too could get out of bed, the day that I could pick up my baby girl again, the countless women that noticed my drains or my breastless self that smiled warmly at me, the friends that were patient with me when I was not being such a great friend, the acquaintance that shouted across my gym “Michelle you look f*ing amazing” even though I only had one boob, being able to talk to my daughter about how lucky I am to be with her, and the countless people that have touched them and seen them now that there are two.

And there are two, two very important people. I can’t even express my gratitude except to say that the two of them held me up when I didn’t have the strength to do it myself.   As far as I’m concerned they are angels living among us. I have this amazing husband that not only survived this year but totally rocked it. He loves me; and lord I don’t know how sometimes. But whatever made him choose me makes me the luckiest girl in the world. Not only has he supported this decision, but cared for our children, and now knows how to be a both a mother and a father all at the same time. And then there is Marilyn, I am fortunate to have her as a partner in our new venture. For all of you that know her, know that she is kind and selfless beyond words. But to me, she guided me through this experience allowing me to only see the positives in this world. She is my person, my go to, just an amazing friend. And as far as our business, she is super creative, a brilliant public speaker and genuinely cares about every women we are helping. To say thank you will never be enough.

It has been exactly 324 days since my mastectomy. During that time, I’ve learned how important it is to be a better mom, better wife, and better friend. I feel so fortunate to have so much love around me and I am going to spend the rest of my life paying it forward. Our company, Marilyn and Michelle, and first product, the TaTa Topper, is the first step in our effort to make other women’s lives better. You all give me motivation everyday because of your love and support. I’m living a very full life. Thank you for being so much a part of it.

6 more days to reach our goal, Please consider donating to Our Crowd Funding Campaign