Friday, January 29, 2016

2015 in Review: New Recipes

A friend requested that I post the new recipes that I tried and liked in 2015.  And since I am just glad anyone takes the time to read these ramblings, I acquiesced.  My desire to try new things and start new projects is directly related to how I feel, so it isn't surprising that for a large portion of 2015, I just stuck to the tried and true and made do.  A couple of these recipes I discovered late in 2014, but then became frequent makes in 2015.  Also, it shouldn't surprise anyone that 2 of the 5 recipes are those for the crockpot.  It was that sort of year.

{Images taken from the sites linked below}


Chickpeas in Curried Coconut Broth:  My sister was trying to find recipes that would fit the various health restrictions of various guests and came across this.  It is dead easy and pretty tasty.  I don't think it even really needs to sit all day in the crockpot, but it is easy enough to just throw stuff together and let it do it's thing while you go on with life.  For curry powder, I use Penzey's tandoori seasoning which is by far my preferred "curry."  Also, I don't use the pickled jalapeƱos, although I imagine that might take it to another level.  

Chicken Alfredo with Spinach:  Another easy throw together meal.  I wasn't sure how my children would handle the wilted spinach, but they do just fine.  For the meat, I use half of a chicken that I have already cooked and frozen.  (I roast two chickens at a time and then freeze the meat in half-chicken portions.)

Pressure-Cooked Re-fried Beans:  We purchased a pressure cooker in 2015.  (Or was it 2014?)  Anyway, I love it.  It just adds a whole other dimension of flexibility.  Were you planning on doing a long braise or crockpot recipe but ran out of time?  No worries, just adapt the recipe to the pressure cooker, and it will be done in less than an hour.  Beans cook in minutes as well as spaghetti squash and potatoes.  I love it.  Anyway, you just throw stuff together, pressure cook it for a few minutes, puree it with a stick blender and you are good to go.  I usually use a portion for dinner that day (tostadas, etc.) and then freeze the rest in jars for a quick meal later.  This probably is not going to be helpful to anyone who doesn't have a pressure cooker.  Sorry.

Crockpot Chicken Tikka Masala:  I don't know if this is THE chicken tikka masala recipe that you have been looking for, but it is good and easy.  I end up doing 2 teaspoons garam masala and 1 teaspoon tandoori seasoning because I find garam masala to be a bit overwhelming.  I am so authentic.  

Coconut Chicken Noodle Soup:  It appears that 2015 was all about the easy/quick curries.  This is a Thai take.  I increased the meat, and added carrots, etc. to it.  I fed it to the sister missionaries for dinner, and they were like, "Uh, what is this?"  You may share that opinion, or you may think this is pretty tasty too.

And there you have it.  There were a few other new recipes tried, but none that I repeated.  Slim pickings this year, but perhaps you will be inspired by this meager list.  Please also let me know if you came across any worthwhile recipes in 2015.  I could use a jump start.  

For more recipes check out  2012, 2013, 2014

Sunday, January 24, 2016

2015 in Review: Favorite Books

I don't think that I will do my usual collection of year in review posts.  However, I did read some really great books in 2015.  I attribute this to the people I follow on Goodreads who have rather excellent tastes when it comes to books.  I let them do the hard part of sorting through the chaff, and then I glean from their efforts.  I read 59 books this year.  I thought this unexpectedly high since I didn't read /listen to any books during the month of November and most of December.



Non-Fiction

Bread and Wine: This was such great writing.  It was a beautiful mixture of food and faith.  The faith portion was very inclusive and not super preachy or crazy Jesus-lover like.  She hit the perfect tone.  I need to read her other books now.  She is much more of an extrovert than I, so I found her descriptions of her gatherings a bit anxiety-inducing.

Better than Before:  I read a number of reviews saying, "I didn't think I liked this book so much but I couldn't stop thinking/talking about it," and I think I fall under that category.  The sections regarding how you make habits and why are so eye-opening and thought-altering that it is worth reading.  It really helps a person figure out how to successfully make and keep habits by looking at their personality.

All Joy and No Fun: A very candid look at parenting.  Everyone thinking of having kids should read this, because this is a very accurate description of what your life is going to look like for the rest of your life.

A Girl Named Zippy: First of all, do not be put off by the cover.  I say this, because I sort of cringe every time I look at it.  This book?  This is how I want to write about my life.  The likelihood that I will live a very thrilling life?  Is not very high.  Yet, I think most people's story could be interesting if written well enough.  This book was so relatable.  I want to remember my funny stories and write about them in a way that other people can enjoy them as well.

Boys Adrift: Another eye-opening read about the challenges facing boys in today's society.  It looks at a gamut of topics: leadership, sports, video games, ADHD drugs, etc.  While I question some of his ideas, I have to admit that he has a lot of experience to glean from.  If you have sons, definitely check this out.

Daring Greatly: There were some repetitive parts in this book, but man, I could not stop talking about it.  So many important concepts here regarding shaming, whole heartedness, courage, etc.

MotherStyles: I have made a number of my friends check out this book.  I wasn't really interested in Myer-Briggs/Personality tests previously but this book changed my mind.  It provided a mental framework to explain differences, especially among mothers.  I am less inclined to beat myself up because I am not a certain way.  I can recognize that each person is really playing to their strengths.  Also, the book clarified the personality differences between Mr. F. and myself.


Fiction

Ready Player One: I came late to the Ready Player One fan club.  This was the book of the year last year, but it deserves all the accolades.  This was just so awesome in it's geekiness.

The Invention of Wings: Sometimes, I am hesitant to read a story regarding slavery and race relations.  It just seems so serious and heavy of a topic, and can the story be anything but depressing?  However, this book is very well written: finding a nice balance between the difficulties of slavery and gender roles with a hope and a future for the two main characters.  There is also some nice comparison and contrast between the two women's voices.  They trials could be considered similar, yet also vastly different: Sarah, while hindered by her gender, will never know what it is like to be a slave.  Well worth a read.

The Snow Child: Another beautifully written novel.  Having spent time in an Eastern European country, I am well familiar with the fairy-tale of the Snow Maiden.  The story fit in so well with the imagery of the Alaskan wilderness.  It took me forever to read, but this should not be a reflection on the book itself.

All The Light We Cannot See: Another wonderful book, well worth the hype that it has been receiving.
 
Gravity vs. the Girl: An innovated twist on a "chick lit" book.  A woman quits her high-power law firm job, has a bit of a breakdown, and is haunted by versions of her former self: young child, teenager, college student, professional.  She has to put her life back together and put to rest each of these versions of herself.  It is well written not to mention it struck a chord, because don't we all sort of wonder, "where is that person who used to love (fill in the blank)" or something similar?  Picked up a cheap electronic version on Amazon.

A Desperate Fortune: 2015 is the year I discovered Susanna Kearsley.  She writes historical fiction with some clean romance and sometimes, depending on the book, a suspense plot line thrown in.  Think Mary Stewart.  Have absolutely loved plowing through all of her books.  This was one of my favorites.  A number of her books use a paranormal twist to tap into the historical portion of the book (ability to read minds, second sight, etc.)  This one used a good old fashioned plot device called: a diary from the past.

The Last Dragonslayer: This is just fun, quirky, fantasy.  I have to mention that on a Jasper Fford sliding scale of quirkiness, this is mild which is why I enjoyed it so much.  The other books in the series were also great.

The Martian:  Has there been a person who read this and didn't like it?  If so, I haven't heard about it.  A bit heavy at times on the science, but man, who cares?  Because that is also what makes the book so great!  You really get a sense that this could happen.  A person could go to mars!  He could get left behind and still survive by composting his own poop and growing potatoes!  Go out and read it.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

"If you don't have your health, you don't have anything."

*taps mike*  Anyone still reading this thing?

I had a bit of a health crisis.  And now it has been so long, that it feels overwhelming to dust off this little space and put it to use again.  We will see how it goes.

Last summer started out so well, and I felt that I had finally reached my stride!  My kids were at great ages, I was feeling awesome, we could do so many fun things together, I was getting sleep and exercise on a more regular basis.  Life was good!  But then, at the end of July, I started crashing hard in the middle of the day.  I would get 8 to 8.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night but still fall asleep on the couch in the afternoon during quiet time.  Then, I just started to feel exhausted all of the time.  I also started feeling beat up after moderate amounts of exercise.  Thirty minutes of yoga made me feel like I had just run a marathon.  It escalated until I had the following symptoms:

difficulty regulating temperature
extreme fatigue--spending an entire day or afternoon laying down
muscle soreness/fatigue, especially after exercise
joint pain in shoulders and hips
shortness of breath
chest tightness
depression and anxiety
brain fog
memory loss
hair loss

{Image}


I finally made the huge effort to find a doctor (or CRNP in this case) to see.  I have little faith in the health care professionals in the area.  In the rare instance that I do find someone competent, they leave shortly after the fact so that I have to start the whole process again.  I ended up seeing a nurse I initially thought was o.k., but ended up not having the expertise to treat me.  (And the fact that she didn't understand the essential ingredients in the medication she prescribed me left me with zero confidence.)  That whole process of treatment and treatment failure took about four months.  Four months of being completely exhausted and spending more time lying down that I have ever done in my entire life.  I finally admitted defeat with my local options and found a doctor further afield (by two hours) and out of network ($$).  The great news is that the new doctor seems fully capable of handling my diagnoses, so the money and time seems well justified at this point.  A month has passed, and I am starting to feel like a normal human being again.  My hope is a tentative one though.  I still fear that this relative health won't last.  These past five months have been a roller coster of feeling fine followed by severe crashes lasting weeks and months.   

The official diagnosis based on blood work and an ultrasound is Hashimoto's--an autoimmune hypothyroidism.  I was not surprised given my symptoms, my family history (my sister had hypothyroidism), and the strong Celiac/Hashimoto's link.  I have a few more tests later this month to rule out other autoimmune disorders which might also be contributing.

This whole experience has left me a bit uncertain.  I have taken my health and my energy so much for granted.  I spent a lot of the past few months thinking,  "This might be it.  I might be this exhausted and incapacitated for the indefinite future."  The thought left me very depressed.  But this is the reality for a lot of people.  I have a new level of understanding and compassion for those dealing with this level of fatigue.  I really hope and pray though that this new found energy of mine is here to stay.     




Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

We had plans to spend Thanksgiving at my sister's.  We were excited for the trip since we hadn't seen them in about a year.  My other sister would be there along with some of my brother-in-law's siblings.  I also wanted to go since I knew for certain that we would be spending Christmas at home, just the four of us.  The night before we were supposed to leave, however, I woke up at 2 am sick with anxiety about the trip.  I was so distraught that I even woke Mr. F. up in the middle of the night to tell him about it.  I just was not healthy enough to travel.  This was right during one of my low points with my health.  I was spending days on the couch, unable to do anything.  I was barely getting through the day--trying desperately to finish homeschool and dinner before crashing by 1 pm.  Even though we were to leave the next day, I hadn't been able to packed anything, and I just could not find the energy to do so.  The next morning, I  texted my sister to tell her that we were not coming, and then fell into a major fit of depression that I was letting everyone down.  I was just so, completely incapacitated.  

Finn was especially distraught because he loves visiting the cousins.  He had been looking forward to the trip a lot.  He was also under the misconception that there would be no turkey unless we were going to the cousins.  He rallied a bit when he learned that we would be going to the grocery store and getting the ingredients for our own Thanksgiving dinner.  It pays to marry someone who can cook, because Mr. F. took charge of dinner, and made it happen.  We also bought some helium balloons so that we could have our annual Thanksgiving Day parade around the neighborhood.  

Despite the disappointing beginning, it ended up being a really wonderful day.  The kids watched a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade from two years ago (bonus, all the commercials were edited out!) while Mr. F. and I prepped dinner.  We walked around the neighborhood with our balloons and enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather.  We ate a very tasty Thanksgiving dinner.  And then Mr. F. won points by engaging the kids in making Pilgrim hats.  






  

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Field Trip to the Natural History Museum and The Air and Space Museum

I feel like I may have mentioned this fact (however given the topic, who can be sure?), but I have a pretty poor memory.  I don't think I alway have been this way, but ever since having kids, and not sleeping, and various health issues, and depression, I feel like my ability to retain memories of anything, be it good, bad, or neutral, is non-existent.  The number of arguments between Mr. F. and I that include the phrases: "We have not talked about this" or "You never told me/mentioned this." are innumerable which indicates that this might actually be a problem.  So, indulge me here in my senility while I take the time to fill in the blanks of the past few months.  If I don't write something here, it will surely slip away.

When I decided to homeschool Finn for Kindergarten, one of the benefits I looked forward to was making our own schedule.  We could take field trips during the week!  We could travel during the week!  We could avoid crowds at all cost!  And then it looked like we weren't going to take advantage of any of those perks.  However, one Thursday in September, Mr. F. took the day off of work, and we went up to D.C. to check out the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum.  We had visited these two museums Thanksgiving Break the previous year with cousins and it was so crowded!  Besides seeing family, we didn't get much out of the trip.  This time, however, we basically had the run of the place.  So much nicer!

We started of at the Natural History Museum.  The kids enjoyed looking at the fossils and the stuffed (taxidermic?) animals.





We ate our lunch which we brought (chicken stew kept warm in thermoses, crackers, cheese, and apple slices) at one of the cafe's in the museum.  While I often complain about having to schlepp our food everyplace, it has its perks: the kids prefer eating familiar food but enjoy the new surroundings.

Afterwards we headed off to the Air and Space Museum.  It was o.k.  The kids had fun playing in the inside of an airplane, but I think a lot of it was over their heads.  (Ha ha ha. *slaps knee* A bit of a pun there since much of the museum is suspended above one's head.)




The funnest part of the day, according to the kids, was yet to come.  The kids love riding on the metro.  A trip to D.C. is not a worthwhile trip unless we have gone on a "train ride."  We took the metro to Adams Morgan in an attempt to visit a gluten-free bakery.  We got there.......only to find that the bakery closes early (2pm) during the week.  After a moment of great despair, we rallied and found a place to get some smoothies/lemonades and a cookie.  The only person really bummed was myself.  We then trekked back to the car and drove the hour and a half home.

The kids loved it.  They are such better travelers now (as long as it is just a day trip, and they can still sleep in their own beds.)  It is so nice not to worry about naps, diaper changes, etc.  They love seeing new sights: Tall buildings!  Trains!  Overpasses!  Everything is just so exciting to them and the excitement is infections.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Flashback Friday: Sounds of my childhood

Growing up, I had a collection of fairy tale audio books.  They came with an illustrated book, each done by a different illustrator, and a cassette tape.  I would place the tape into my own small, red, tape player and read along, turning the pages at the sound of the beep.  I loved these books.  I loved the timber of the voices, the story-enhancing music in the background, and the illustrations.  I would spend hours listening to them.  This collection of audio books is one of the few things that I have kept from my childhood.  The My Little Ponies, and the Strawberry Shortcake dolls did not make the cut.



(Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Wild Swans)
I have been wanting to introduce my children to these books for a while, but there was a bit of a problem.  We don't own a cassette player.  Nor was I excited about purchasing an obsolete piece of equipment just to transfer the tapes to an electronic audio file.  Luckily, I have friends and acquaintances who hold on to  such archaic listening devices, and I was able to borrow a tape player from them.  Now however, I can see the benefit of owning our own tape player.  (Although, I won't be purchasing one anytime soon.)  My kids love being able to put the tape in, press the button, change the tape, etc. all by themselves.  While Finn is pretty savvy with his ipod, Enna is way to young to manage hers.

These books have already paid off in hours of entertainment.  A win for all involved.  So far the favorites have been: Rumpelstiltskin, The Bremen Town Musicians, Stone Soup, Cinderella, and the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Stories that have been deemed to scary due to their illustrations?  Beauty and the Beast, and Rapunzel.  




Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A family of four

Prior to actually having a family, when asked about how many kids I would like, I replied four.  I grew up with three other siblings and thought it was nice.  While I wasn't close to any of my siblings growing up, they have become invaluable as an adult.  I really wanted my children to have the mental, emotional, physical support that siblings can provide.  And I wanted them to have more than one option.  

After getting married and actually having a child, I decided four was unlikely.  The late(ish) start on our family and the reality of having a child and not ever sleeping again were strong factors. Three, instead, became the perfect number.  There is a lot of symmetry with three: an eldest, middle, and youngest child.  The siblings start to feel like a unit unto themselves.  Three was perfect.

Have you ever wanted something, and it was a good, honest, righteous desire, but you realized that that particular reality was not destined to be yours?  That is a hard, painful place to be.  I felt a lot of grief when I let go of my vision of a family of five.

There were a number of factors influencing our decision: Mr. F.'s and my health (or lack thereof), the intensity of our children, Mr. F.'s and my personalities (which are not what you called laid back), the fact that we haven't slept since having children, and realizing that I don't have memories of most of Finn's childhood and Enna's first year and a half because I was sleep-deprived and depressed.  I finally reached a point where I was 1) getting some sleep, 2) exercising consistently, and 3) enjoying life and having energy.  The difference was amazing and life-changing and everything wonderful, and I had no desire to reset everything and start from ground zero.  In fact, even contemplating getting pregnant again and dealing with the fatigue, sleeplessness, and depression gave me a feeling akin to PTSD.

But the guilt!  It became apparent to us that our family was complete with our two kids.  However, we are Mormon.  And Mormons don't just stop at one or two kids.  (Not unless you are physically incapable and even then you adopt.)  We should bring as many souls into our wonderful family as we are able!  Who is better equipped to raised them?!  I am being a bit facetious here, but not by much.  I would look around at my congregation as I wrestled with this decision of stopping at two children, but then seeing every other family in our age group having more.  I felt like a failure.  Why couldn't I cope with more children when everyone else could?  Why was I so tragically flawed?  Obviously, those aren't healthy thoughts.  But there were there, and they still rear their ugly heads.

The guilt really obscured the confirmation that this decision was right.  How could two children be the perfect number for our family when it wasn't for practically everyone else?  Were we just being selfish?  But, no.  We are meant to be a family of four.  The peace was there under all that cloud of doubt and self-criticism.  

Mostly, I worry about my children.  I so desperately want the two of them to be friends.  I want them to be able to depend on and support each other as adults.  I know very few people who grew up with only one sibling and those that did and are still close friends as adults are those with siblings of the same sex.  However, I read one passage in Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist that gave me hope.  She said:

Because Todd is my only sibling, and I am his, there's something completely singular about out relationship.  There's no one on earth who has shared our history, no one on earth who can see the world from the corner that we alone inhabit.  As children, we played on the beach together for hundreds of hours.  Our friends were back at home playing video games and going to sports camps, but he and I, he and I, were always at the lake, each other's best playmate by default.

She then says that she feels that bond and kinship even now as adults.  That she can just look at him across a table and know what he is thinking at that moment.  I have to have faith that Finn's and Enna's shared history will bind them to each other in a unique and powerful way.  A way that will see them through adulthood.          

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