Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Lost Month

As many of you know, 2011 has not been a kind year. We had many losses, chief among them my father-in-law, Dan. Dan, was diagnosed with cancer around January of this year. He passed away on June 30th, not even six months after his diagnosis.

During his illness, we drove down to help out as much as we could. My husband would spend a week and telecommute while I held down things at home. Sometimes I would spend a week while he was at home. We rotated the majority of our visits.

The service was in mid-July. We wanted time to arrange something nice. The weekend after the service was our daughter's wedding. Life didn't start approaching what I would call a normal schedule until the beginning of August. That was when we started preparing the kids for the new school year.

August was flying by pretty fast. I had started trying to eat mostly gluten-free and vegan. I was also getting ready for my very first 5K. I felt great! Then around the end of August, I started having trouble breathing. It was only around bed time and I knew it was anxiety.

I have dealt with anxiety before. It generally lasts about a week. I re-filled my Ativan but they didn't work. So I went to the doctor. She gave me a prescription for generic Zoloft and Klonipin. The Klonipin wasn't working and my breathlessness now lasted all day long. The Zoloft, after about five days, turned me into an angry, raging, and still non-breathing monster. I discontinued the Zoloft.

Not being able to breathe was literally the only thing I could focus on. I would get up in the morning wondering if maybe today would be the day I was able to breathe. Within a few hours or sooner, it became apparent it was going to become another day of feeling like I was gasping for breath.

Driving was a nightmare. I was sure when I was driving through a parking lot, somebody was going to back into me. When I was driving on the freeway, I knew somebody was going to pull into my lane. My depth perception felt skewed. Unless I absolutely had to go somewhere, I didn't drive.

We were also planning a vacation at the end of September. Since we hadn't vacationed during the summer, we needed the break. I was looking forward to getting away and hopefully relaxing.

My mind wouldn't stop racing. I had so many things to do. I was losing hours. I would look at the clock and it would be 8:30 am. I would look up a bit later and it would be 11:00 am. A simple trip to the grocery store seemed to take hours. The only thing racing seemed to be my thoughts. My body certainly wasn't getting anything done! I knew what chores I needed to do but the information wasn't traveling from my brain to my body. Not only were important things going undone, I was suffering from a bad case of CRS. (can't remember $hit) I mixed up our vacation days and did the paperwork for a week's worth of independent study for my daughter. Then I had to apologize to the school because I had given them the wrong dates.

My mother-in-law came up early and helped me get ready for Tahoe. This is a good thing since I couldn't get anything done. The only thing I seemed capable of doing was searching the internet for ways to breathe, none of which worked, and talking out loud to myself A LOT.

I hoped to be able to breathe by our vacation. I didn't get my wish. Things got worse. The doctor prescribed Xanax the day before we left. I also was told to make an appointment with a counselor who takes my insurance. She couldn't get me in until October, which is pretty common with an HMO.

The vacation was okay, but the Xanax didn't work either. One morning I desperately took a whole day's dose, hoping to get some relief. It didn't work but I did have a very long nap later. My husband and I argued more than a few times, mostly because I would forget conversations we had. In fact, I had conversations with friends during that month that I can't remember.

After we came home, things became worse. I know it's not politically correct to say this, but I went nuts. I was manic. My arms were twitching. I couldn't sit still. I had insomnia. Our bed felt like a stone slab. One day my car battery was dead and I needed to borrow my husband's Jeep to go to the store. It is a stick shift. I forgot how to back it out of the garage. I was petrified to try to back it out of the garage. I was convinced I would hit something.

My doctor had called in a Paxil prescription. The generic makes me depressed so I needed to pick up the name brand. The pharmacy didn't have any in stock so I purchased an herb called 5-HTP. I started on that, some B-complex, and some vitamin D. Within five days, I was starting to feel a bit better - still off but better.

I started receiving acupuncture from a friend. I still am. It is helping a lot.

My therapist suggested something called tapping. It helps sometimes.

It is still hard to visit with friends. I always second guess myself after the conversation and wonder if I said something offensive. Perhaps I am saying offensive stuff. I go between being Eeyore-like about the economy to flat out angry and wanting to throw politicians off cliffs.

I am definitely depressed. The breathing issue comes and goes. Slowly, I am digging out and things will get better. I know they will. However, I'm not sure I will be myself for a few more months, maybe longer. I don't like myself very much. Here is hoping my friends and family aren't feeling the same. Here is hoping they are willing to bear with me, and here is to feeling like myself again soon.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ode to My Porch Couch

I have a couch on my porch and yes I am aware of the fact it gives me instant redneck status. Originally I was going to put the couch in my house but it has become my outside refuge.

My friend gave me the couch. She mentioned she had put her old couch on a yard sale and I mentioned that I would have purchased it since our couches are ratty. She said if it didn't sell that day it was mine. That is how the couch came into my life. Have I ever mentioned I have really awesome friends?

I couldn't remember what the couch looked like due to my less than keen observational skills. The husband and I went and picked it up on a Sunday. It is a gray, older couch, with a few small tears and a faded cushion. Considering its age, it is obvious it has been well taken care of. It isn't a raving beauty but our couches at home are no beauty queens either so it I knew it would be in fine company. We loaded it up and took it home. Then we unloaded it as far as the porch. My husband said it didn't match our love seat so he was hesitant to replace our old couch with it. That was fine with me as I could still have it in the catch all room - more on the catch all room later.

Miss Kitty immediately gravitated to the couch. Her eyes lit up. "For me?" her little face asked. Unfortunately Miss Kitty passed away the next day but I know she thought we brought home that couch JUST FOR HER. In any case, she had claimed it.

I cleared a space in our catch all room for the couch. The catch all room is a room next to my kitchen that most people might use for a dining room or second living room. But we are full to the rafters. So the catch all room contains my computer and desk, my treadmill, an armoire, filing cabinets, a monstrous, teetering pile of home school stuff, and other various crap I can't manage to cram in our overflowing closets. Sounds lovely, huh? Anyway I cleared a spot for the couch but before we got around to moving it in the house, the clutter had encroached on my spot. The clutter has babies, people! Some day I'm setting up a hidden camera to prove my theory!

Our summer went by quickly while the couch waited patiently on the porch. At the end of summer, I finally had my husband turn it around since it was facing the wrong way. I draped it with a sheet and sat on it and Oh My! It was so comfortable it was like being cuddled in your mama's arms. All those suckers who had walked by it at the garage sale had no idea what they were passing up! There I was on a soft couch, looking out at our beautiful view. It was quiet and peaceful and amazing. The couch had been waiting all this time to show me what I was missing out on.

Our house has been full to the brim for a while with kids, cats and clutter. With the exception of the clutter, I enjoy it most of the time. But sometimes I want to get away from the noise just for a little bit. The solution to that had literally fallen in my lap. Actually I had fallen on its lap.

Now the couch is my place of serenity. I will take out a book and some tea and if the kids come out, I might let them stay or I might tell them I need to be alone in my peaceful place. I love my kids and do a lot for them so sometimes it is nice to be a bit selfish and take the time to recharge. Then I can put my cape back on, okay it's really an apron, and go back to work.

So yes I adore my old, sheet-draped couch on my front porch. Come on by and sit on it and I think you would too.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ugly Duckling or Life Is Easier When You're Pretty

We have been on our homeschooling journey for approximately eight months now. I had no idea of all the different skills we are expected to teach our children. It isn't enough to know how to read. Now our little second graders have to ANALYZE what they read. Analyzing books is a subject I struggle with myself. I want books to entertain me, to sweep me along on grand adventures, to make me forget the sink of dirty dishes. I certainly don't want to think - the horror!

One day while we were in the middle of an analyzing lesson, I decided to read "The Ugly Duckling". When I finished the story, I asked my son what lesson the author was trying to convey. He said, "I don't know." Damned if I didn't know either. Was Hans Christian Anderson trying to say life is easier when you're pretty?

Well of course he wasn't, but I still had to consult my dear friend Google to understand the message he was trying to convey, which I believe is don't judge a book by its cover or something like that. But how fun would it be to write several alternate endings to "The Ugly Duckling" each sending a different message? At this point many of you are questioning my idea of "fun." That's okay. I'm a dork.

Ending Number One - Revenge Is Oh So Sweet

The Ugly Duckling couldn't believe what had come in his mailbox. It was an invitation to his tenth high school reunion. Ugly had been teased mercilessly in high school due to his looks. The result of all that teasing was he kept his head down and his nose in the textbooks. He graduated with honors from college. After college, he founded a dating website called and now he was filthy rich. He was, however, still ugly. But it didn't matter because he was rich. (Just ask Jack Nicholson. It works for him.)

Ugly purchased an expensive, custom-fitted suit for the reunion. He debated driving one of his many, expensive cars to the reunion but finally opted for a chauffeur. When he arrived, he was immediately surrounded by former classmates.

One classmate in particular, he remembered. Her name was Chickie and she had been one of his most vicious tormentors, a popular cheerleader who had made kissing noises and then laughed uproariously every time he walked by. Tonight she was hanging on his every word.

He finally got Chickie alone on the dance floor. He told her he had always thought she was beautiful and that she hadn't changed a bit. He gave her his private number and told her not to share it with anyone, but to give him a call after the reunion.

The next day, Chickie eagerly dialed Ugly's number. Her call went straight to voice mail. The message stated "You have reached the reject hot line. Whoever gave you this number is clearly not interested. Sorry, and have a great day."

Ending Number Two - Selling False Hope

Ugly could hardly believe it when he looked in the water one spring and he was beautiful. In fact, he was the most beautiful swan of them all. Many of the animals came up to him and begged him for his secret. When he said there was no secret, they accused him of lying. This gave him a brilliant idea.

Ugly mixed up a bunch of different pond ingredients, added some spring water and a small bit of his own poop. Then he purchased some air time and put on his own infomercial complete with before and after pictures of himself.

Thousands of animals purchased his secret face cream, each one hoping to find the kind of beauty he had attained.

Ugly made millions. Eventually it was discovered one of his ingredients was poop but he had already fled to another country that refused to extradite him.

Lesson Three - Make them your bitches

Ugly could hardly believe how much he had changed. He was the most gorgeous swan of them all. Every animal who had ever made fun of him was now falling over themselves to kiss his ass.

Ugly pretended to make friends with all of them. Then he started silly fashion trends just for fun. One Monday he tied a red ribbon to his tail. By Tuesday half the farmyard had red ribbons tied to their tails but he had already moved on to wearing a straw hat. "Red ribbons are SO yesterday," he proclaimed.

By Wednesday, all the other animals had straw hats. But Ugly was wearing a tie. "Straw hats are SO yesterday," he sneered.

Ugly made a great game of driving all the animals insane in their efforts to imitate him. It was great fun and small payback for how miserable they had made him. Every night for the rest of his life, he laughed in his sleep.

The End

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Queen of the Road

Warning: This post may resemble a Sunday drive; meandering on with no set destination.

Back when I was young, most of my friends had the urge to learn to drive long before I did. Once it finally occurred to me that driving represented getting the hell out of the house freedom, I got on board with everyone else.

This was back in the stone age eighties when driver's ed was taught in high school. I also remember taking a summer class in some portable trailers where we watched a computer screen and steered a wheel to simulate real driving. Most likely the instructor for that class went home and prayed when he realized he was going to be in a car with me behind the wheel.

I passed the written exam at the DMV with no problem. Then I received my learner's permit. Then came the best part. My mother had the "pleasure" of teaching me to drive. With my apologies to my mother, I can't think of anyone less suited to the job title of driving instructor. I scared the crap out of her and she couldn't hide it. She made me nervous as hell and I couldn't hide it. It would be time to turn and I would hear "GO, wait STOP, now GO, EEEEEEEK STOP!" She also hit the invisible brake a lot. (I knew when it was time to teach my daughter to drive, I would be the same way so I handed the driving instructor reins over to my husband.)

I was the typical teen driver, maybe even worse. I backed over the mailbox once. To this day, I hate backing up. Yes Virginia, depth perception does exist. Unfortunately it was handed over to the boys.

It took three tries to pass my driving test. My "friend" L laughed at me behind my back. Never mind that it had taken her three times to pass the written test. Finally, I passed the driving test. The instructor told me I had barely passed. I'm sure I was thinking, "Yeah, yeah, whatever. Just hand over the license and get the hell out of my way!" Did I mention yet what a charming teen I was?

Of course true independence didn't come yet. I didn't own a car so I still had to have my mother drop me off at school or, even worse, ride the bus.

Some of my friends had cars and they would very occasionally drive ten miles out of their way to pick me up. Those were the days when every seat was packed with a kid and we could all pitch in a buck or two for gas money and get the tank filled.

I borrowed my mother's Toyota Corolla on weekends. It was a little box car with no power steering, definitely not a "cool" car. There was a bumper sticker on the back stating, "I brake for bingo." Lord, how I despised that bumper sticker instead of actually being GRATEFUL for the fact she was letting me use her car.

My friends and I would cruise on Olive Ave in Porterville, CA, which was actually kind of boring but we were happy to be hanging out. We never found as much trouble as we were looking for which was a good thing. Because I did have a habit of finding plenty of trouble.

I finally purchased a used Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme toward the end of my senior year. It was a granny car but I didn't care. I had wheels. I'm sure my mother was alternately glad to get her car back and scared to think I was going to be loose on the roads.

I drove way too fast but somehow lucked out and never got in an accident. For all I know there was a string of them behind me in the rear view mirror. I was overly confident and didn't realize what a horribly scary driver I was.

At some point in life, driving became a way to get from point A to point B. I no longer enjoy driving. In fact, I pretty much hate it.

Were people always so rude and I never noticed? Or was I too busy being rude myself? That is a distinct possibility.

I see people tailgating all the time. I have seen a person tailgating a school bus. I have seen a person tailgating a man on a motorcycle. People pull out to cut you off and then drive slow. People park in the way when dropping off the kids at school. People drive five miles below the speed limit in the left lane. People swerve back and forth happily talking on their cell phones. Gah, it's enough to make me go mad. And damn I sound like an old lady!

And please don't think I'm saying I'm a perfect driver. I'm not. I do attempt to be as courteous as possible, but I do make mistakes, and I do get really, really irritated with people sometimes and scream in the privacy of my car.

Maybe karma is coming back to bit me in the butt.

How I wish I had a chauffeur to take me everywhere so I could sit in the back and read. Wouldn't that be the life?

It will be six more years before we have another kid in need of driver's training. That seems pretty far away but I know how fast time can go. All I can say is, her Dad is teaching her to drive.

Please feel free to share your driving memories. I would love to hear them.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Final Choice

I mentioned in my prior post the fact that I had the chance to review "Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef" and I promised to share the recipe I chose.

It wasn't easy to choose just one recipe. There was a cracker recipe I was interested in. I am beyond tired of paying almost six dollars for a four-ounce package of gluten-free crackers.

The cracker recipe contains cornmeal for sprinkling on the pan. Shauna mentioned that not all cornmeal is gluten-free due to manufacturing practices. I immediately checked my bag of cornmeal and read the dreaded words "contains flour." Ugh. I've been cooking with that cornmeal for a while now. While I will probably cook the crackers next, they were not the recipe I chose.

I then eyeballed the recipe for millet tabouleh. My husband loves tabouleh. I made it for him once about twelve years ago, but it didn't come out right. So I was eager to try Shauna's recipe. But I didn't pick that one either.

The recipe I finally tried was pork paprika. My reason for choosing this dish was I wanted to cook something the whole family could enjoy. The recipe itself was for veal paprika but the directions said it was okay to use pork. Pork butt was on sale for ninety-seven cents a pound that week. I only had to buy fourteen pounds to get that deal! Have I mentioned how grateful I am for my freezer?

The recipe called for pork, kosher salt, pepper, EVOO, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, smoked or sweet paprika, Piment d'Espelette (optional), dry white wine, chicken or veal stock, mushrooms, sour cream and chives (optional).

Shauna recommended making your own stock. I haven't done this in a while because I have been sacrificing flavor for convenience. Homemade stock really is better. I usually use carrots, chicken, onion and salt in my broth. If I have celery I add it also. But I added fresh rosemary from my friend Lhia's garden this time. It added a complex and delicious flavor my stock had never had before. It was the best stock I had ever made.

My prior rosemary experience was not good. A friend had made mashed potatoes with rosemary in them and they were disgusting. So I had sworn off rosemary, assuming it was a vile spice. However, rosemary was mentioned a lot in this cookbook so I decided to give it one more try. I'm so grateful I did. Rosemary rocks as long as it isn't in potatoes! Thank you, Lhia!

I had a few missteps with the recipe. The first misstep was when I made my stock. I used my soup pot to make it. It cooked for two hours and I was left with two cups of stock. I needed a quart. So I started another batch and made two more cups.

However, my daughter was coming down with a cold and I thought some chicken stock would be just the thing. She loved it, but then I needed more stock. Finally the light bulb in my brain came on and I hauled the STOCK POT out of the dusty cupboard it had been relegated to. Amazing thing, that stock pot.

After I had my stock, I could start my recipe. Hooray!

I seasoned and seared the meat and removed it from the pan. I sauteed my vegetables, except for the mushrooms and green onions. Then I added the paprika. I used sweet paprika, not smoked, and I left out the Piment d'Espelette.

Then I poured in the wine, scraped the yummy goodness from the bottom of the pan and cooked until the wine was reduced by half.

Next the stock went in the pan. I heated it to a boil and added my meat. Then I simmered the stew until the meat was fork-tender, about two hours.

But it wasn't done yet. After the meat was tender, I threw out the vegetables and set the meat and liquid aside. Then I sauteed the mushrooms, more carrot, onion and garlic for about ten minutes, added the liquid back to the pot and brought it back to a boil. I was supposed to simmer it for another fifteen minutes to reduce it more, but I had been smelling the stock all day and I was too impatient to wait anymore! I know, it was only fifteen more minutes, but I was HUNGRY from those good smells all day.

Rather than whisking in the (tofutti) sour cream, we each put an individual dollop in our bowls with chopped chives sprinkled on top. We served it over mashed potatoes.

The pork paprika was delicious, easily one of the best meals I have ever cooked. My husband commented on the fact he could taste how it had cooked all day, melding all the flavors together. I am excited to see if all the recipes taste this good. I will absolutely be making this dish again and I promise to let it finish the last fifteen minutes of cooking even if my husband has to restrain me with duct tape.

I recommend this cookbook if you are a foodie, gluten-free or not. If you had a dinner party, these are the recipes that would wow your friends. The only problem with a dinner party would be having to share. Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef - A Preliminary Review

I was recently offered the chance to review a gluten-free cookbook and I jumped at it. The majority of the meals I cook are gluten-free and I have a serious cookbook addiction. So I was very excited to get the chance to review Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef.

Normally I wouldn’t review a cookbook prior to trying the recipes but Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef isn’t solely a cookbook. It is also a love story. Since food and love go hand and hand, at least in my opinion, a love story within a cookbook makes perfect sense.

Gluten-Free Girl’s name is Shauna James Ahern and her chef, and husband, is Daniel Ahern. They met through a dating service just when Shauna had ever given up hope of meeting “the one.”

Shauna tells of their first meeting and how they clicked. She tells the tale of a most interesting proposal and she talks of how she and Daniel shop and cook together.

She tells the story of how Daniel accidentally served her gluten and how after that, he made every dish in his restaurant without gluten. He told her he didn’t want to cook anything he couldn’t share with her.

Imagine walking in a restaurant and not having to explain to the server what gluten is. Or imagine asking for a gluten-free menu and not being handed a single page that mostly consists of salads without their dressing or burgers without a bun. Just think what it would be like to be handed a menu for the whole restaurant with every single item being gluten-free. There would be no more staring longingly at the onion rings across the table while you ate your boring burger patty with no sides. That restaurant would earn my loyalty twenty times over.

I have only briefly touched on the love story. You will have to read it yourself. Now I want to touch lightly on the recipes and the cooking tips.

One of the first cooking tips was on the importance of mise en place. Mise en place translates to everything in place. Basically, it means all your ingredients should be chopped and ready to go before you start cooking. This is actually something I have always done but only because I have the land speed of a snail when I am chopping. I find this is the only way I can have all my ingredients ready to go at the right time.

Shauna also talks about the importance of cooking in season and the importance of fresh herbs. A friend of mine who has a garden very kindly shared some fresh herbs with me for my first recipe. I will share more on that in my recipe review.

This cookbook is definitely for foodies. You know who you are! These are not hurried recipes. These are recipes that will take a bit of time, especially for those snail- paced food-choppers like me. On a night when the kids are yelling they are hungry and hanging underfoot in the kitchen, these are not the recipes I will be cooking. But on weekends or other days when I have some extra time, I am going to enjoy the experience of trying out this book.

Some of the recipe titles sound intimidating. Roasted chicken roulade with goat cheese and arugula was one of the recipes that sounded pretty intimidating to me. However, I looked at the ingredients, none of which I would consider exotic. Then I read the instructions and said, “Ah, I can do this.”

That is not, however, the recipe I picked. Later this week I will tell which recipe I picked and why. For now, imagine how my kitchen smells with a chicken stock simmering on the back burner. I think the word Heaven definitely comes close to describing the scent. Are you jealous yet? You should be.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Peter Peter

Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater
Had a wife and could not feed her
Rising prices at the grocery store
Meant that he could shop no more
So he put her in a pumpkin shell
Until the bank took that as well
So now sad Peter lives with his mother
and his sis and little brother
While they wait for the economy to recover
The U.S. is losing its middle class
Poor old Peter, what a kick in the a$$.