Saturday, September 29, 2012

Go Bo! A Fighter Until the End

The world lost an amazing kid in the early morning hours on September 28, 2012. Bo Johnson faced cancer full on, but eventually lost his battle against Extramedullary Acute Myeloid Leukemia (EM ALM) at 3:30 am on Thursday. He was only 13.

It's difficult to remain upbeat and positive at a time like this. My son asked me the unanswerable question, "Mom why do great kids like Bo have to die and all of these bad people continue to live?" I don't know. I just don't know. I cannot even offer an answer. Only that this courageous boy who fought so very hard is now finally at peace and not in pain. He made an impact in the short time he was here.

Bo's message of helping others, YOLO, and Pay It Forward will live on through The Go Bo! Foundation. Bo requested that the funds go toward finding a cure for childhood cancers and helping others. Hope is still alive through Bo's foundation that a cure will be found for EM ALM leukemia and no one will have to suffer like Bo. Go Bo!

To donate to the Go Bo! Foundation:

The Pay Forward Forever Wish
Associated Bank of Sister Bay, WI
PO Box 507
Sister Bay, WI  54234

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Go Bo! The Final Fight

Bo's story continues . . . I left off with Bo deciding to go through with the Total Body Irradiation (TBI) which game him his last shot at life. However Bo's Extramedullary Acute Myeloid Leukemia (EM ALM) leukemia has no medical research or clinical trials to rely on for information. Nothing to back up if this will work or not. The TBI was a shot in the dark. Bo went ahead with the TBI in late June and into July. Despite allergic reaction, fevers, suffering a Grand Maul seizure, and taking so many different kinds of meds, Bo new cells from his cord blood transplant started to grow at a rapid rate. Even exceeding all expectations, giving Bo and Annika a shimmer of hope.

By early August Bo was regaining his strength, eating everything he could, exercising, and on the right road to recovery. He was able to move out of the hospital and into the nearby Ronald McDonald house. His blood work and tests were all good until on August 11 he spiked a fever and ended up back in the HOT until of the Children's Hospital with sepsis (an infection of the blood).

Unfortunately things got progressively worse for Bo even though his tests were showing no signs of EM leukemia. On August 15—day 44 of his cell transplant—his doctors found a mass on his CT scan that looked like an infected tooth. It wasn't a bad tooth. The EM ALT was confirmed in his right jaw on August 26. Overnight Bo had too many painful EM spots popping up all over his body that he could not fight it off any longer, eventually becoming impossible to eliminate the aggressive EM ALM. The EM ALT had taken over and there was nothing more that could be medically done to help Bo.

As a mother, I cannot even imagine how Annika felt hearing there was no more hope for Bo. Somehow through all of this Bo remained strong and came to terms with his destiny. He told his mother when he was completing one of his final rounds of radiation the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow came on the radio. It's one of his Papa's (Bo's grandfather the late Al Johnson) favorite songs. As Annika shared on Bo's CaringBridge site, "it puts him at peace. He now knows where he is going and that he is going to be okay."

In early September Bo came back home for the last time, setting up his hospital bed in the living room of his grandmother's house that overlooks the sparkling waters of Green Bay. Visitor hours were set and Bo was flooded with friends and family. Through the Make a Wish Foundation, Bo was able to spend two days at Lambeau Field with his favorite team—the Green Bay Packers—living out the dream of meeting the players, visiting a practice session, and watching the home opener from a sky box.

When he was feeling up to it, Bo in his wheelchair went to the high school football game, out onto the dock to watch his friends jump into the bay, and over to the performing arts center to give an inspirational speech to his friends and the community.

In his last days Bo wants to teach us not about death, but about life. He wants to Pay It Forward and help others. In Bo's words:

Love each other. Help each other, have your neighbor's back, have your friend's back. If you see someone who needs help, even if they are a stranger, Help. This world can be a better place if we care, love, and help each other. I know that we cannot fix the entire world, but if we can start right here in our school, and in our own community, it would mean so much.

Bo has established the Go Bo! Foundation to help others in need and to help find a cure for cancer. If you are touched by Bo's story, his inner strength, and desire for a better world, visit the Go Bo! Foundation link on Facebook.

As I write this post tonight, I am sad to learn that Bo Johnson has just been moved into hospice at the local hospital. He does not have much time left in this world. If you believe in prayer, please pray for Bo and his family tonight. If you believe in positive energy, please send Bo and Annika an abundance of positivity. Go Bo!

September 28, 2012 (10 am): The Go Bo! Foundation posted on Facebook that Bo's pain ended when he passed away early this morning. Annika's pain continues though without Bo. In honor of Bo, do something kind today. Buy a coffee for a stranger, help someone in need. Pay it Forward.

To donate to the Go Bo! Foundation:

The Pay Forward Forever Wish
Associated Bank of Sister Bay, WI
PO Box 507
Sister Bay, WI 54234

Here are additional links to Bo's story:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Go Bo! The Bravest Boy I Know

The boy with the addictive grin in the photo is Bo who is the son of my friend Annika. Together they have spent the last year battling a very rare and extremely aggressive form of Extramedullary Acute Myeloid Leukemia (EM ALM). This is just a fraction of his inspirational story. It's not an easy story to write or an easy story for you to read, but I must share Bo's story.

My kids and I first met Bo five summers ago at one of his favorite haunts in Door County, Wisconsin. On a hot and sunny summer day on the shores of Green Bay at the Ephraim beach, hanging out with friends and his Mom, Annika. Bo was just like any other 8-year old boy, enjoying a July day at the beach. So much has changed for Bo and Annika since that sunny day. Now at the young age of 13, Bo has spent months in the hospital and fought unimaginably hard against a rare and incurable form of cancer. Bo has recently returned home to Door County to live out the final days of his life.

I'm not going to recite the extreme pain and agony Bo endured throughout his medical treatments. I'll not share the unfathomable emotional roller-coaster ride of going in and out of remission or divulge the detailed account of his months in the hospital. Annika has lived all of that and shared it diligently with everyone on Bo's CaringBridge site as well as on Facebook and now through the new Go Bo! Foundation.

It all started on Labor Day weekend 2011 with a jet skiing accident when Bo broke his pelvis, and he wouldn't heal properly. Early in October 2011, rounds of tests finally revealed that Bo had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (ALM). This triggered the first of numerous rounds of chemotherapy, too much time spent at the Milwaukee Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, and the inevitable side effects of the rounds of chemo.

But Bo is strong. His fight is strong and his spirit remains positive. In February 2012, Bo's tests came back clean. No cancer was found in Bo's bone marrow. He went home to Sister Bay, Wisconsin and into the loving and supportive community that had painted Door County orange and plastered the county in orange ribbons. (Orange ribbons are the symbol for supporting the fight against leukemia.)

In April, Bo and Annika took a much needed vacation to Florida where they visited Disney World, went fishing, relaxed as much as they could, and lived in remission. Bo was then able to take a 4-day trip to Washington, DC with other 7th and 8th graders. He was fine until on the third day of the trip, Bo discovered a lump on his elbow. Annika's stomach dropped when she heard. On May 6, 2012 Annika updated Bo's CaringBridge site from the "HOT unit chair that I thought I was never going to use again." Bo's ALM returned on his 13th birthday.

After more chemo and setbacks, on June 21 Annika found no comfort in the words uttered by Bo's doctor: "We have never seen this before." It was her worst nightmare confirmed. Bo's leukemia was not in the bone marrow but growing on the actual bone itself. The diagnosis was Extramedullary Acute Myeloid Leukemia (EM ALM)—a cancer that will not respond to chemo.

Survival chances from this extremely rare and aggressive cancer are slim. Even surviving the treatments is difficult. Bo was given three choices and one evening to talk this over with Annika and make a decision.
  1. Palietive Care. Go home and let the leukemia run its course while making him as comfortable as possible.
  2. Do a double cord blood transplant and hope the ALM doesn't return.
  3. Total Body Radiation (TBI) with Chemo. Hope TBI attacks and kills the bone leukemia that the chemo doesn't kill.
This unbelievably calm and brave boy, who should be choosing which friends to hang out with or which bat to use at his baseball game, had to make a life choice. Bo knew the odds were not in his favor, and he knew the TBI would be very painful. But Bo is a fighter. He doesn't give up easily, even to cancer. Most importantly Bo loves his mother, his family, and his friends. He loves life so very much that in the end he chose the small and extremely painful shot at life. One last brave try, and Bo chose life.

Bo's story continues in my upcoming post. Watch for it in a few days. Until then Go Bo! To learn more about Bo, Annika and the Go Bo! Foundation please visit:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

'Tis Not Quite the Season

While hunting down a grill cover to replace my current ratty cover, what to my wondering eyes did appear at Target this afternoon? Yes, a miniature sleigh with eight tiny and garishly illuminated  reindeer! Squashed alongside all of the Halloween costumes and decorations, the Christmas lights are up and ready for the holiday shoppers. It's official; the Christmas season has begun.
Get your credit cards ready!

I think that the stores push the Christmas season on us a little bit earlier every year. From what I can tell, Target gets the award for the earliest Christmas marketing. I wish they would at least let us get to the end of September or even a bit closer to Halloween. I just got the kids somewhat settled into their school routine. Halloween is looming, and I cannot even fathom Christmas.

Isn't it only September 20th after all? Does Target think people really want to think about buying Christmas lights even before the leaves have changed color? I guess they think shoppers cannot wait for the start of the holidays and must start shopping for those tacky Christmas lights while it's still summer. A pink flamingo wearing a Santa hat all lit up counts as tacky in my book. But Target probably has plenty of those tacky Christmas flamingos if you cannot live without it adorning your front yard this season. No need to rush though I'm sure they still have a few left on the shelves.

I love Christmas as much as the next chic Mom out there but this is WAY too early for promoting all of the Christmas decorations. Wouldn't it be nice if Target and other retailers would show a little restraint and hold off on the Christmas stuff until after Halloween like the rest of us.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Going Organic in the Produce Aisle?

Lowest in pesticides:  Onions
To eat organic or not to eat organic? That is the question on the mind of anyone who shops the markets for fresh produce. For years now I've been going back and forth with the whole "organic" movement. Pesticide-free produce probably is a good choice, but this stuff is expensive! Organic produce is usually in short supply with very limited choices, a higher price tag, and small quantities that tend to sell out quickly. Organic must be catching on because someone is buying it all up.

Apples top the list in
highest levels of pesticides
Now that I'm packing lunches for my kids every day, I would like them to eat apples that aren't teeming with pesticides. When I learned that 98% of conventional (not organic) apples had detectable levels of pesticides, I decided to purchase organic apples if I had the choice.

I will pay more at the grocery store to purchase foods not laced with toxins. I'm a far cry from a raving environmentalist, but the word TOXIN sounds like death! Obviously I do want to limit toxins in the food my family consumes, but how do I know what produce is worth paying extra for the Organic label?

Enter The Environmental Working Group. The EWG seems to be "the source" for determining which foods you should buy organic and what fruits and veggies are safe in their conventional form. The EWG's 2012 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce lists its Dirty Dozen Plus (fruits and veggies you should buy organic because they have the highest levels of pesticides) and The Clean 15 (produce lowest in pesticides). The EWG website even offers a handy reminder of these foods that you can print off and take along to the grocery store. For complete details visit the website.

Dirty Dozen Plus (highest in pesticides)

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Sweet bell peppers
  4. Peaches
  5. Strawberries
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes
  8. Spinach
  9. Lettuce
  10. Cucumbers
  11. Blueberries (domestic)
  12. Potatoes
Plus:  Green beans and Kale

Clean 15 (lowest in pesticides)
  1. Onions
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Cabbage
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Eggplant
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cantaloupe (domestic)
  12. Sweet potatoes
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Watermelon
  15. Mushrooms

I don't know how much kale or imported nectarines your family consumes, but the EWG does lay it out for you. This is all compiled from annual EPA measurements of pesticides on produce. The jury is still out on exactly how high these pesticide levels must be to pose a risk to human health.

But fruits and vegetables only scratch the surface of organic products. There are organic yard pesticides, water bottles, beef, household cleaners, and even mattresses. An organic mattress might be worth exploring! The choice is yours.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Enough of the Madness!

The classic cliched icon coupled with
my cliched plea for world peace.
I'm running at risk of sounding like a cliche, but can't we all just get along? As one American mother to everyone involved in the whole Libya/Middle East mess, just stop already. You all are behaving like a gang of school yard bullies with no self-control or common sense who are just itching for a fight.

To the Libyan mobs who stormed the US Consulate and murdered four Americans including the US Ambassador—what did that really get you? Power? Respect? No, you look like out-of-control buffoons. To the Middle East extremists scattered around Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and all of the other hot spots who reacted so strongly, stop blaming the US for all of your problems! Open up your minds, shut off the paranoia, and stop drinking the Islamic Kool Aid for a moment. Maybe then you'll learn that the US isn't out to get you after all.

To the maker of the film insulting the Prophet Muhammad, what did you expect? I'm all for American free speech, but you must have know that the uptight, Islamic extremists wouldn't really give your film four stars. To the pastor in Florida who loves provoking the Middle East by promoting this video, knock it off and grow up. Must you really stir the pot so much that it boils over. You're an adult and a man of the cloth, use better judgment. You know that these people will react at the drop of Muhammad's hat.

Stop all of the rioting, raping, murdering, and pillaging. What's the point? It's getting a bit worn and tiresome, and you're frightening the children. You're acting like a bunch of spoiled preschoolers who throw a temper tantrum when they don't get their own way. And grow a backbone while you're at it. Is it really worth starting World War III just because you were offended?

I'm a Christian. People offend my faith all of the time. They don't believe in Jesus or God. They are completely offensive toward my religion. Do you see me heading off to Washington's Embassy Row to protest or storm a gated consulate? No.

If we all just were a bit more sane in our reactions, think of how many lives would not be lost and all of the property that would not be destroyed Maybe the price of oil would even drop, saving us all a lot of money at the gas pump. Instead of spending billions on military budgets, some of that money could filter down to providing clean water, food for starving children, and medicines to prevent disease.

I know I'm not a diplomat. I'm not a gun-toting extremist. I'm not Islamic. I'm just an educated American mother who wants an end to all of this madness. Probably just like every other mother out there in Middle America or the Middle East.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Top Healthy Foods (and Not So Healthy Foods) Found In the Lunchbox

Given the new unpopularity of the uber-healthy school lunches served at the local public elementary and high school, my boys now bring their lunch from home. Our new norm is the lunchbox or brown bag lunch if you're in high school. I've been easing into my new role as lunch lady and have tried to pack hearty, but healthy lunches for my boys. I've done a bit of researching around to find out what is healthy and what's not. I've discovered its pretty much a no-brainer. The key is getting foods that the kids will actually eat that aren't loaded down with preservatives. That rules out garbanzo beans as well as Twinkies.

Here's my list of what works for packing a healthy daily lunch. A few unhealthy choices do work their way into the lunch box:

Christianna's Healthy, Hearty & Edible Lunch Choices:

  • Yogurt: My go-to probiotic that keeps the digestive system healthy. Plain or Greek Yogurt will do. Sorry but Go-Gurt doesn't count as healthy.
  • Blueberries: A favorite antioxidant that is heart healthy and a proven cancer fighter.
  • Peanut butter sandwiches on whole grain bread: Okay, maybe the bread is not completely 100% whole grain, but it's not white Wonder bread either. Luckily my kids have no peanut allergies and can safely eat this legume packed with proteins, vitamins, magnesium, and dietary fiber. You just cannot go wrong with the old peanut butter sandwich standby.
  • Raw carrots and broccoli without ranch dressing on the side: As recommended in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, raw veggies are great for growing kids.
  • Cheese: Maybe it's because I'm from Wisconsin, but cheese is in every lunch I pack for my kids. It's packed with protein and a "good for you" dairy product, but for some reason no longer served in lunchrooms in my school district. Do they know something I don't know about cheese?

Christianna's Incredibly Unhealthy (But Very Delicious and Popular) Lunch Choices:

  • Sour Cream and Onion Potato Chips: Just bad for you I know but they taste so good. Pure preservative-loaded filler for the kid's lunch.
  • Pretzels: Loaded down with salt but probably slightly better for the kids than potato chips.
  • Soda pop: Let me be clear on this one—only as a special treat a few times a year! I know how horrible pop is with all of the corn syrup, water, artificial color and flavor. I've given it up completely but for field trips, a can of Crush or Root Beer may find its way into the brown bag.
  • Double-Stuff Oreos: So bad for you, but so delicious! More preservative and sugar-loaded treats that will make kids obese. Sure if you ate a package of these everyday, you would be fat. Again only a couple are included with lunch, and I don't believe that dessert is ever truly healthy. Double-Stuff Oreos prove that. Plus I have to get these things out of the kitchen or else I will eat them all!

Friday, September 7, 2012

School Lunch Changes Leaving Kids Hungry

Maybe you've been hearing the same complaints from your kids that I've been hearing all week . . . "Why don't they give us enough food for lunch at school? Why can't we get thirds anymore? Why does it all taste so bad?" The new changes in school lunch at our local elementary school was the kid's topic of discussion at the bus stop this morning. The kids are learning all about federal mandates the hard way—through their stomachs and the school lunch program.

Welcome to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010! It's kicking in this school year. In an effort to reduce obesity and provide a "healthier" lunch at school lunchrooms across the country, Uncle Sam via the current Administration has dramatically changed what your child now eats for lunch. For kids that are used to getting heaping piles of food, the new lunch standards are a rude awakening. Here some of the changes:

  • Larger servings of fruit and veggies
  • Fewer servings of meat and bread
  • Only fat free or low fat milk choices
  • Smaller portions overall
  • More whole grains
  • School lunch programs required by law to follow minimum and maximum calorie ranges for each meal served to students

If you'd like even more details of this new law, see the attached link from the USDA that lists all of the new regulations for your kid's lunch.

So what do the kids think about all of this? They are HUNGRY! My 14-year old Freshman son was given 5 chicken nuggets, 3 french fries, and an apple for lunch on the first day of school. No seconds were offered. He's not built like a 2nd grader; he's nearly a man. To top it off, he had to play in a football game after school. I don't think that's quite enough food for an active growing teen. For many kids, their school lunch is the only hot meal of the day. Is it right to cut back calories for growing kids?

Elementary kids echo these same sentiments. Lunches are much smaller this year and the low-fat food doesn't taste as good. If you remember back, school lunches were never particularly tasty but now are even worse.

Like many other families, we are getting around this problem. Brown bag lunches. However some schools are now banning brown bag lunches as well because kids are using it as a "strike" tactic. Kids bring their lunch from home which results in no one eating school lunch. This will not solve the problem though as this is now federal law. The best way to change the school lunch program is not by going on strike but contacting your Member of Congress.

I think we are all against childhood obesity and support improved nutritional choices for our kids. I do think it's unfortunate that now Americans must rely on the federal government to completely revamp the school lunch program. Worse yet, prices have gone up! All those fruits and veggies that kids are tossing into the trash are not cheap. I wouldn't really mind paying more for better quality food (organic) with roughly the same portions and instead not allowing kids to get seconds and thirds unless they have cleaned their plates. You cannot get more pizza until you finish up that pile of broccoli and your apple. Isn't that the rule for most families?

As a parent, I would hope that by this time I've instilled in my kids the ability to make the right choices about the food they eat. I really don't need Uncle Sam to step in and take over.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Farewell To the Fair

The Great Minnesota Get-Together has packed up and left. But not before I could pay the fair a visit along with thousands of other Minnesotans and Wisconsinites. I missed out on the fair last year so I was happy to return on a hot and sunny Sunday morning.

I always end up at the Fair during Labor Day weekend when it's the final weekend and everyone else is also trying to squeeze in a visit. I inevitably pick the hottest day to visit as well as the day with the heaviest attendance. But that's all part of the Minnesota State Fair experience—the crowds and the heat make people-watching all the more interesting.

Everyone has their own Fair routine that they follow each year. I find it hard to deviate from my fair formula, but honestly it's really all about the food. My family and I always try to pace ourselves but that never works out. Here's what we all enjoyed for breakfast:

  • Pronto Pups (for those of you who don't frequent the Minnesota State Fair these are corn dogs on a stick)
  • Deep Fried Cheese Curds
  • Foot-Long Bratwurst with Kraut—my divine breakfast!

This was followed up with:

  • Hawaiian Shave Ice
  • Twist Cones from the Dairy Barn
  • Deep Fried Snickers Bar on a Stick
  • Sweet Martha's Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Another round of deep fried Cheese Curds
  • Blue Icees
  • More Pronto Pups
  • Saltwater Taffy
  • Leinenkugels Beer

This was actually pretty light eating for my crowd. My brat was definitely the best deal at $6. The most refreshing stop was the shaded Leinenkugels beer garden. The worst place at the entire fair that day was the Midway at noon. No shade, packed with people searching out rides, and the endless game banter broadcast on loudspeakers. We did not last long on the Midway, but quickly lost plenty of money on the basketball game!

As long as we've been visiting the fair, my youngest son has been begging to ride on Ye Old Mill Ride. Grandpa finally ponied up the $3 per ticket for the ride. This old wooden boat ride had nothing to do with a mill. Instead it was pitch black inside with the only light coming from random EXIT signs. It did feature three very odd and dimly lit leprechaun-themed displays that look like they were created in 1960. This ride was quite unforgettable as it was a complete waste of $12. However it would be perfect for dating teens if you wanted to make out with your boyfriend or girlfriend. This ride is now dubbed Ye Old Lame Ride.

Eating to excess, throwing away your money, riding the Skyride, grabbing a burlap bag for the Giant Slide, the animal barns, Princess Kay of the Milky Way carved in butter, and watching the endless tide of Minnesotans on display. What's not to love about the Minnesota State Fair!