Celebrating in style

LogoThe Christmas season is upon us and with it comes a calendar full of festive events. I wanted something new to wear to some of them; something a little bit dressy, but not too formal. I found what I was looking for in this sweater from Cleo, one of my favourite Canadian fashion retailers.

 
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I like the fact that the trendy shark bite hem and the flattering pattern give the illusion of a more girlish figure than I’m actually blessed with. The shimmering metallic gold sections are subtle enough that I don’t look like a Christmas tree ornament and the sweater isn’t limited to the holiday season.

For the first of our Christmas events, a performance by our local theatre group (I was in the audience this time instead of on stage), I styled the sweater with skinny black pants and a favourite pair of booties.  It would also work well over leggings.

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Ten years of blogging!

Ten years ago today I published my very first blog post! It was also the shortest post I’ve ever written and the message was very simple:

Richard and I have just accepted positions teaching conversational English in Japan. This is a one year commitment and we’ll be leaving in mid March. The main purpose of this blog is to share our adventure with friends, family and anyone else who’s interested.

Little did I expect to still be blogging ten years later! I anticipated that Following Augustine would only exist for the year that we would be in Asia. In fact, that’s why I chose the title. Augustine BeArce, a Romany Gypsy, was the first of my ancestors to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Europe and make his home in North America. 370 years later when I crossed the Pacific Ocean and settled for a time on the far side of the sea, it only seemed right to give credit to Augustine and the Gypsy blood that I inherited from him!

I’ve always been passionate about writing though and by the time our year in Japan came to an end, I knew that blogging was something I would continue to do indefinitely. What I didn’t know was what it would look like once I was no longer living in a foreign land. For lack of a better definition, I now refer to Following Augustine as a lifestyle, travel, and fashion blog, but one of my readers once called it a great advertisement for retirement!

Over the past decade, life has taken many unusual turns, some delightful and others deeply distressing. Following Augustine has been there through all the ups and downs.

We love to travel and the blog has recorded trips across Canada, into the United States, and to numerous other countries. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to live in the People’s Republic of China though, but our five months there gave me plenty to write about. China’s internet censorship made it a bit more challenging to post from there, but thankfully, with the help of WordPress, I discovered a way to successfully break through or over the “Great Firewall” and continue blogging.

Cancer was never part of my plan either, but when it struck, the blog became a good way to process what was happening and to share it with friends and family. I’ve also used it as a way to raise awareness of NETS (neuroendocrine tumours), the little-known and often misdiagnosed cancer that I continue to deal with. My life is not all about my health, however, so neither is the blog. It’s about living life to the fullest in spite of all its challenges.

A couple of years ago, I became interested in fashion blogging and so the weekly Fashion Friday feature was born, not as a “look what I’m wearing today” narcissistic sort of thing, but as a way to connect with other women and to explore how the ways in which we present ourselves affect our lives. It has had the added benefit of ensuring that I write something at least once a week.

I am a Christ follower and I have fairly strong and not always popular or politically correct opinions on certain issues. I haven’t shied away from sharing those on the blog, but I’m committed to doing so with as much wisdom as God allows me, with integrity and with respect for those whose opinions differ from mine.

When I published that first post ten years ago, our daughter was expecting our first grandchild, so over the years five little people have appeared on the blog from time to time. I’m off to visit three of them this weekend and the other two for Christmas, so it’s possible that they might show up again soon!

What does the future hold for Following Augustine? I have no idea, but I’ve now written 882 posts and I don’t see them coming to an end anytime soon!

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A Christmas shopping suggestion

LogoIt’s December 1st and the Christmas season is upon us! I like to get my Christmas shopping done early before the mad rush begins, but if you’re still trying to figure out what to buy for some of the people on your list, perhaps I can help.

Kiva is an international nonprofit with a mission to alleviate poverty through micro loans. By lending as little as $25, anyone can help a Kiva borrower start or grow a business, attend school, or improve their living conditions. I’ve written several posts about Kiva in the past, but what I haven’t written about is the Kiva Store, a partnership between Kiva and its partner NOVICA, a mission-driven company that works with artisans around the world. By purchasing some of your Christmas gifts at the Kiva online store, where you’ll find unique and high-quality products (jewelry, fashion, and home decor) at very reasonable prices, you can help support the efforts of artisan producers and strengthen the fair trade movement.

Here are just a few of the over 1400 fashion items currently available through the Kiva Store.

The Kiva Store isn’t only for women though. There are many suitable gifts for men as well. Here’s one of my favourites.

If jewelry would suit someone on your Christmas list, the Kiva store has a vast array of necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings, pins, and even anklets. Personally, I think this sterling silver cuff with amethysts and pearls is exquisite

and I could certainly see myself wearing these earrings! That’s the only problem with doing your Christmas shopping at the Kiva Store. You might end up ordering for yourself too!

Kiva ships to over 100 countries worldwide making it a truly global marketplace for both artisans and customers, but don’t wait too long to order. Christmas is just around the corner and you want your gifts to arrive on time.

One classic piece – endless looks

LogoWe all need a few versatile items in our closet that can be worn year-round and dressed up or down. With a timeless piece like this season’s soft, flowy Silk Blouse from cabi, the possibilities are endless. Its straight silhouette, classic shirt shape and Henley placket, will likely make it a staple in my wardrobe for a very long time.

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Cabi calls the warm neutral colour Dove, but one of my friends dubbed it “greige”, somewhere between grey and beige.

Worn loose over leggings or jeans, the delicate silk fabric adds a touch of class to a comfortable, casual look.

Rolling the sleeves and a little tuck quickly changed the look.

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The blouse also looks good peeking out from under a sweater, in this case the Regiment Pullover, also from cabi.

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For a dressier look, perhaps an evening out with hubby, I dressed it up with skinny black pants and a sparkly jacket that I picked up at our local thrift store a couple of years ago.

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One of my fashion goals this winter is to try new looks with old pieces, so I dug deep into my closet and pulled out this tunic/jumper from several years ago. Though I haven’t worn it for quite awhile, it was once a favourite and I couldn’t bear to part with it. I tried wearing it unbuttoned over the silk blouse and black leggings.

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For a dressier occasion, I might wear it this way.

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Lastly, though I’m happily retired, the silk shirt would also work well as office attire. Is there anything that says business better than a pencil skirt and pearls?

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With a classic piece like this one, the possibilities are endless! Which look did you prefer?

 

On being radioactive

10991307_10153055708750915_6654881605691342497_nThough we often laugh and joke about it, there’s nothing fun about being radioactive two weeks out of every year. I don’t glow in the dark and I don’t have any special powers. I simply feel tired and have to limit the time I spend in close contact with other people. It’s not that bad really, but when I sit alone and watch Sunday morning’s sermon online and when my husband is out at a social event while I’m at home alone, it’s easy to start feeling a bit sorry for myself.

People often compliment me on my positive attitude and I think they’re right that it has a lot to do with how well my cancer battle is going, but there are moments when it’s hard to remain positive, when I’m tempted to invite myself to a private pity party.

For those who are new to my blog, I have neuroendocrine tumours (NETS), a little-known cancer that is often quite advanced at diagnosis due to the fact that its most common symptoms are very similar to more common ailments such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, lactose intolerance, asthma, and even menopause. Though it’s incurable, it is slow-growing and often treatable. I have the good fortune to live 2.5 hours by car from a state of the art treatment centre, one of the very few in North America that offer the latest and best treatment available for this type of cancer.

At this point, I am treated with radioisotope therapy once every six months. This involves an overnight stay at the cancer clinic followed by a week of semi-isolation at home. During that week I have to have my own bedroom and my own bathroom and I have to limit my contact with other people because I’m highly radioactive. I pose an especially high risk to pregnant women and children under the age of 12.

I had my most recent treatment on Wednesday. Scans the following morning showed that my condition continues to be stable. My cancer has not grown or spread. That’s exceptionally good news and when I start to feel sorry for myself, I have to remind myself of that!

The first couple of days of radioactivity aren’t bad. I spend a lot of time in the armchair in the corner of our guest room (which becomes my room for the week) or curled up on the love seat in my den. I’ve read almost two books in the past few days and drank copious cups of tea. By today, however, I’m beginning to miss human contact and I’m itching to be set free!

I did go for a short walk this afternoon. It’s a gloomy, grey Sunday afternoon in our very small town and the temperature is -5ºC (23ºF). Two vehicles went by, one at a distance and the other close enough for the driver to wave. Other than that, I didn’t see a single soul. Definitely no danger of radiating anyone! I could hear traffic out on the highway, my own feet crunching on the snow, and the occasional winter bird in the trees. It didn’t do a great deal to lift my spirits, but I’m sure the fresh air and exercise were good for me.

When I start feeling a little mopey, perhaps it’s a good idea to once again remind myself of the things that cancer cannot do.

What Cancer Cannot Do

Cancer is so limited…

It cannot cripple LOVE

It cannot shatter HOPE

It cannot corrode FAITH

It cannot destroy PEACE

It cannot kill FRIENDSHIP

It cannot suppress MEMORIES

It cannot silence COURAGE

It cannot invade the SOUL

It cannot steal ETERNAL LIFE

It cannot conquer THE SPIRIT

Author Unknown

It may leave me radioactive for a little while and feeling a bit sorry for myself. It may even eventually destroy my body, but as the poem says, it cannot conquer MY SPIRIT! 

As the old saying goes, “This too shall pass!” Two more days and I’ll be free again!

Shopping in style

LogoLately I’ve spent a few evenings helping sort donated items at our local thrift store. Last time, feeling a bit chilly, I took a sweater off one of the racks to wear while I worked. By the end of the evening I knew it had to come home with me!

This 100% acrylic hooded Vero Moda cardigan is lightweight yet cozy and warm; perfect for a day of Christmas shopping in chilly Alberta. Even at -8°C (17°F), I found that I could leave my winter coat in the car and dash from the vehicle to the store or mall, saving me the effort of hauling a bulky coat around with me. Like most of my thrift store purchases, the sweater is practically brand new.

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In the photo, you’ll also notice that I’m wearing a cross body bag. After writing a recent post about different kinds of purses, I decided to give one a try and I can only wonder why it took me so long! I found it much easier on my neck and shoulder, and I loved having my hands completely free. I’m definitely a cross body convert for long days of shopping!

NET Cancer Day 2017

Net Cancer DayMy weekly Fashion Friday feature is taking a break today as I have something much more important to share. November 10 is World NET Cancer Day, a day set aside to raise awareness of neuroendocrine cancer, the disease that I’ve been fighting since 2013. Those of us who have been affected by NETS (neuroendocrine tumours) hope that for today our voices will rise above those of all the more well-known and prominent diagnoses. Today is our day to be heard by decision makers, health professionals and the general public. In addition to raising awareness, we want to encourage more funds for research, treatments, and patient support; and to advocate for equal access to care and treatment for NETS patients around the world.

So as not to disappoint those of you who came looking for a fashion post, here’s what I’m wearing today… my CNETS Canada t-shirt. I don’t usually wear graphic tees, but the message on this one is a vital one.

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If you don’t suspect it, you can’t detect it. 

So what’s with the zebras? Medical students are taught when hearing hoofbeats, to think of horses, not zebras. Neuroendocrine tumours are difficult to diagnose. Though they are the fastest growing class of cancers worldwide, their symptoms are usually vague and similar to more common health problems.  Many family doctors have never encountered a NETS patient. When presented with symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea, they naturally think of things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease or lactose intolerance. They think of horses, not zebras. Hence, the zebra became our symbol.

As with all cancers, early diagnosis is important. Sadly it doesn’t happen often. If the initial tumour is found before any secondary growths occur, it can often be removed surgically and the patient is considered cured. Once it has spread, however, the disease is incurable.

NETS arises from neuroendocrine cells which can be found anywhere in the body. The most common types are found in the lungs, bronchi, thymus, pituitary, thyroid, adrenal glands, intestines, pancreas, appendix, and rectum. They may also occur in other areas including the ovaries, cervix, testicles, and spleen. NETS is a slow growing cancer that is often misdiagnosed. By the time a correct diagnosis is made, the cancer has often spread. In fact, 60 to 80% of NET cancer patients are diagnosed with advanced disease.

My primary tumour was in my colon. At the time of diagnosis, I also had three tumours on my liver and one in a lymph node. It was estimated that I had already had the disease for ten years when it was detected quite by accident! Off and on for at least seven or eight years I had been experiencing most of the common symptoms which include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, flushing of the skin, pounding of the heart, and wheezing or shortness of breath. Neither I nor my family doctor had any idea why.

Today coffee shops across Canada and around the world, including The Wooden Spoon here in Sedgewick, will be raising awareness about NETS by using special coffee cups bearing the slogan “Lets talk about NETS” and handing out promotional material to help educate their customers about the disease.

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What can you do to help? You can help us spread awareness by simply reposting this on your blog if you have one or posting a link to it on your Facebook page. Thank you so much!