Friday, March 8, 2019

life lately

I haven't done one of these posts in a while, so I guess it's time. Actually, it's time for ANY post. I'm getting worse with posting. I often just don't feel like writing anymore.  Anyway...

Back Pain

This has improved. Last time I posted I had just had radio frequency ablation on the left side of my lumbar spine. I saw some good pain relief. I had the right side done a few weeks ago, and that went well, too. I haven't seen quite as much improvement on that side; however, I'm told that it can take up to six weeks to feel the full effects of the ablation.

I will say that other areas are bothering me at the moment, such as the sciatic nerves on both sides, as well as my elbows and one knee. That said, I'm in between jobs at the moment--even though I'm working out consistently, I'm doing WAY more sitting around than I did when I was working at a desk all day. I'm confident that once I go back to work next week, things will improve.


I mentioned in my last post that I'm starting a new job soon. That's because the bank I worked for was sold to another bank and I didn't get a job offer from the acquiring bank. No big deal. I really didn't want to work for that bank, or commute that far, anyway. I do have another job lined up at another bank, which starts next week.

Everyone asks me, "Are you excited about the new job?" Hmm. I'm not sure, really. I wouldn't really say I'm "excited" the way I would be if I was willingly leaving my last job for greener pastures. I mean, I'm glad I got another job quickly so I won't have to worry about being able to pay my bills; however, I didn't move on to another job by choice. Also, I didn't really want to go back into a bank. Instead, I wanted to work for a vendor that has banks as its clients, but that didn't pan out. I guess I could say the part I'm "excited" about is that one of my responsibilities is to affect change within the department. Not in terms of people, but in terms of policy and procedure. I like trying to figure out those types of things. I think it will be challenging, which is something I can be excited about.

Oh, and I took and passed a certification exam for my area of expertise. The picture up top is of Tiffany. She was "helping" me study, as were these clowns, Arlo and Emily.

Diet and Exercise

This is a mixed bag, as always. While my workouts are on point--five days a week without fail--my eating is...not.  Still. My last job ended very recently and I told myself I'd use the little time I have in between jobs to get my diet straightened out. Guess what?  I didn't. I've probably been eating worse than usual since my days now have no routine at all, other than going to the gym or the occasional errand. I'm looking forward to going back to work next week, if only to get myself back into a routine and away from the kitchen.

During my time off I've been using the gym in town, which is only $10.00 per month--can't beat that! I could do most of my workout at home and improvise the exercises that require a machine, but I chose to go to the gym so I at least get myself out of the house for a couple hours each day. Plus I have a membership so I might as well use it!

My trainer uses the same gym and I've run into him several times. We talk for a few minutes and then go our separate ways usually. A couple times, though, he used it as an opportunity to say, "Here, let's try this machine!" Which is fine because it gave me another thing to incorporate when I get bored of doing the same thing. But it's a new exercise I haven't done before, which means I'm SORE the next two days and that runs right into my next session with him and he decides to work those same muscles. Of course he does! Very sore!!  I have to say, though, I really enjoyed seeing him work as hard as he makes me work. He was sweating and sometimes struggling just as much, which was really satisfying!

One thing I'm not thrilled about at the new job is that they don't have an in-house gym. I know I was quite lucky that my last company had one and it was literally about 20 feet from my office, but it still stinks. I used that gym four days per week. I would go in there at 4 pm, do my workout, and then go home for the day. And it had all the equipment I needed. I know I could just go to the regular gym, but I really hate having to go after work when there's four times as many people and they all want the same machines. There's a gym down the road from work, but I'd have the same issue there. For the time being I plan to do my workout in the house. Once it warms up, I can go outside on the patio.


I'll wrap this post up by saying that I'm really disappointed in myself that I didn't do more with my time off. I thought that having free time would make me want to do All The Things, including writing more blog posts and just doing some writing in general. Nope. It made me not want to do Any Of The Things. Well, I accomplished a few things, but definitely not as much as I'd hoped. But I think things will get back to normal once I'm back at work. Let's hope!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

small victory: no chocolate today!

I admit, I mostly posted this because I haven't posted in several weeks. I've been really bad about that and I'm trying to get better. I guess I just don't have too much to say at the moment.

But, yes, my small victory for today is I had NO CHOCOLATE! That might not seem like a big deal, but it is for me. It's the first time in days that I haven't eaten any.

I've continued the trend--from last year!!--of eating a crappy diet. I just keep eating stuff I shouldn't eat, like Chex Mix, or treats from the freezer, like chocolate chip cookies and brownies I made for the family holiday dinner. Rather that toss them or give them away, I froze them. I really shouldn't have done that. It has enabled me to keep eating junk.

Since I'm still eating junk, my weight isn't budging even though I still work out five days a week. I could work out hard seven days a week, but if I eat more than I burn off, my weight isn't going to budge. Actually, I'd probably gain weight.

I'm hoping that I can get back on track before I start my new job, which is on March 11. (I'll write more about that later.) I plan to spend some time going through my freezer and cabinets to see what I can come up with. I'm not all that creative, so I may need to do some Googling!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

my first spanakopita

I'm always looking to try a new recipe around the holidays or when I'll have family over for a big meal. This year I decided I wanted to try making spanakopita, which is Greek spinach pie.  I likely wouldn't have ever attempted making this; however, a coworker recently made it for a potluck we had at work before Christmas.   The filo pastry was flaky and buttery, the filling was rich, and overall it was just SO DELICIOUS!!!

I started searching for recipes since my coworker was on vacation and I couldn't ask for hers. (Actually, it's her grandmother's recipe.) I wanted THE authentic Greek recipe--I often agonize over this aspect when searching out a recipe and it drives me nuts--however, I quickly realized that there are so many recipes and they all purport to be "traditional" or "authentic." But like any other recipe, there are always variations and it all depends on how YOU make it. That's what makes it traditional or authentic to YOU and your family. I noticed that the difference the various recipes was the herb mix. Some used parsley only, others were a mix of parsley and dill, and others had parsley and mint. Measurements were all over the place. I found a few that called for a "bunch" of parsley and/or dill (that is A LOT of dill!), while others called for 1/2 a cup of parsley and 2 tablespoons of dill or mint. It was really frustrating to figure out which one I should use in order to get similar results to the one my coworker made. (I later found out that she used parsley only, though her mom and grandmother use parsley and fresh mint.)

I decided on this one since it seemed pretty easy, plus I didn't have to buy a bunch of special ingredients. Overall it was pretty easy, but I have to say that working with filo dough is tedious and tricky, and you have to work quickly otherwise the dough dries out before it can even make it to the pan. I used tips I found during my recipe search:  lay the dough out on a cookie sheet, cover it with a damp paper towel, cover that with plastic wrap, and work quickly!  This worked pretty well. My only issue was pulling the first piece of dough off the pile. It didn't want to come apart and it tore easily; however, it was going on the bottom of the pan so it didn't matter what it looked like. I made it through the next nine layers easily (there are 10 on the bottom, then the filling, and then another 10 layers of dough), brushing on lots of melted butter as I went along. The other trouble spot was separating the second to last piece from the last piece, and I wasn't able to save that one. Filo dough is paper-thin, though, and doesn't puff up, so I didn't notice that the finished baked product had 19 layers of dough rather than 20. Yes, spanakopita has 20 layers of filo dough!

I made the filling before pulling the dough out of the fridge. This ensures that the dough is fresh and everything is ready to go once you open the package. As I said, it dries out FAST, so you need to have everything ready before assembly. After I finished the painstaking work of layering the dough sheets, then the filling, then the remaining dough sheets, I cut it into 15 large pieces--this makes it much easier to portion out after baking.  I then baked it for about an hour and voila!

I waited until it cooled down a bit before trying it. OMG it was awesome! Rich, buttery and cheesy. My only complaint, which really isn't a complaint, is that the filling was very chunky. The one my coworker made had a very fine filling--I couldn't even tell there was feta cheese in it since it was chopped and blended so well. If I make this again, I will make sure to crumble up the feta more and put the spinach through a food processor. Even though the spinach was pre-chopped, it was a little stringy. I wish I'd thought about the food processor when I mixed everything and saw it was chunky.

It's safe to say I blew through this whole pan in a matter of days, all by myself; I basically ate it for every meal for three to four days. I just popped it into the toaster oven at 400 F for about 12 minutes.I should add that I ended up NOT making this for the family's annual "Christmas in January." The crappy weather that weekend prevented half the family from travelling. It worked out, though--more for me!! (Sorry, guys!)

Here's the finished product. Look at all that yummy feta and cottage cheese!  And here's the recipe:  Spanakopita. One change I made is to bake it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, rather than baking it in a casserole dish or baking pan. The filling really doesn't ooze out since feta doesn't melt all that much, and I found this method worked well for me.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

update #9: the war on back pain

I just realized it's been two months since I last wrote an update, but I wanted to wait until I had some news. Well, I do now.

I mentioned in my last update that I'd had a medial branch block, which was a diagnostic procedure to determine if there was pain coming from the facet joints in my lumbar area--there was.  I had it done again to confirm and got the same results, so I was scheduled for the radio frequency ablation ("RFA").

I had the first half of the RFA this past Thursday. They did four levels of the lumbar area on the left side, L1 through L4. The right side will be done on February 4.

In the days leading up to the procedure I was very nervous. The doctor's assistant described the procedure to me during my last follow-up appointment. He said that it was just like the medial branch blocks, but the needles would be hollow. The needle would vibrate with electricity, which would burn a lesion into each nerve, the purpose being to interrupt the pain signal to the brain, which results in not feeling the pain. He said that I wouldn't feel anything more than what I felt with the branch blocks. Those weren't as painful as the cortisone shots I'd had, but there was discomfort. And he said I wouldn't feeling the part where they burn a lesion onto the nerve at all. Yeah right! I didn't believe him for a second--I'm a total baby when it comes to pain from procedures.   All day Thursday I was trying to decide if I should take a half a Percocet, which I hoard so I don't have to ask for more; or just Tylenol, which is almost useless on me these days; or take nothing at all, which is what some people advised since they'd be stimulating the nerve and I'd need to be able to feel it. I opted to take some Tylenol about a half hour beforehand.

They starting by rubbing my back down with iodine and then placed a grounding pad on my right side so I don’t get electrocuted. They do use electricity after all! The doctor injected a little Novocaine (or whatever they use) to numb up the four insertion points a bit. Yeah, that doesn't really work. After needle insertion the doctor then stimulated each nerve to make sure the needle was placed in the right spot. First he made the nerve vibrate and then made it twitch, which felt weird. No pain at all, though. Then he started burning the lesion on the nerve. I didn’t feel that at all on the first two nerves and had no idea he had even done it until he said, “OK, same thing. Tell me when you feel the nerve vibrating,” which meant he’d moved onto the next one. The third one I felt a little, but it was hardly anything. The fourth, which was at the L1, felt like pressure. It wasn’t painful, though. Overall, I’d say it was 20 minutes from the time I got on the table to the time I got up. After I got up I lost my balance for a couple seconds, but it might have been the head rush after laying on my stomach.  Afterwards, my toes tingled for about 15 minutes, kind of like my foot had fallen asleep slightly.

So all in all, it was not horrible at all! Honestly, the most pain was from the needle insertion and that was basically like getting a regular shot or blood drawn. I'm not nervous at all about the next one.

We left and went to get food–I couldn’t eat for four hours beforehand so food was my first priority. Well, that’s when the pain set in. If anyone has had cortisone shots, you know the pain I mean. It was mostly my left butt cheek and the upper thigh in back, but oh man! I had a hard time sitting through dinner.  When we got home and I was just counting the hours until I could legitimately go up to bed (being in bed too long makes my back hurt more). I spent my time going down a rabbit hole on You Tube, looking to discover music I like. At 9 pm I took a half a Percocet (that's all I can handle at once), some Tylenol and went to bed.
I felt much better yesterday. I was able to sit at my desk at work ALL DAY with minimal pain! Actually, the pain last night was in my legs, because I sat much longer than usual. I feel pretty good today and was able to lay in bed longer than usual. Normally I need to get up within about 10-15 minutes of waking up, otherwise the pain starts. Today I was laying there for about an hour and then had to get up because the sciatica was starting. Of course, my mind was racing about an upcoming phone interview (woo hoo!) so that helped me to not think about my back.

They'll do the RFA on my right side on Monday, February 4, so I'll report back after that. In the meantime, it's nice to not feel like Death warmed over by the end of the day.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

tuna noodle casserole

It's been so long since I made tuna noodle casserole, I just had to post it. I tend to make it only a few times a year. Not because it's difficult, but because I just don't think of it. Or I do and then I don't have the ingredients (of course!).

This isn't the tuna noodle casserole from your childhood, made with condensed cream soup. Nothing wrong with that, but this version is so much better. Rather than cream soup, you make a roux with butter and flour, and then add milk. There's also some sherry in there, as well as onions and soy sauce, among other things.  The recipe calls for mushrooms, but I don't use those since my husband doesn't like them. Also, I use whatever pasta I have on hand. I find this to be pretty easy and the results are delicious. I especially love the topping, which is bread crumbs, cheddar and olive oil. It comes out crunchy and cheesy.  I don't eat much of it since I don't really eat pasta anymore and it's very filling.

Here's the recipe:  Tune Noodle Casserole

Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year!

Our tradition, which started a few years ago when I first discovered these candles at Old Sturbridge Village, is to burn a real bayberry candle down to the nub on both Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Although it can be done on either night, I choose to burn one on both nights. Everyone can use a little extra good fortune, right? 

According to tradition:  "A bayberry candle burned to the socket puts luck in the home, food in the larder, and gold in the pocket."

2018 was a fairly quiet year, which is good--I needed a rest after 2017. No new kitties this year, and the only major event really was the announcement that the bank for which I work was acquired and I'd be losing my job this coming February. Not ideal, but I was beginning to feel that it was time to move on anyway. This just gave me the push I needed. In terms of my health, I fought a lot with chronic back pain and my eating is not what it should be, but I'm working out regularly and that is helping keep both the pain and my weight under control.

In 2019, the plan is to get the back pain under control, my eating back on track and to deal with a few things in my financial life. And to find a new job that makes me happy. 

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Bob and I recently went to Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village. It's something we do every year now that we're only an hour away. We're members of the Village so we get discounted tickets. We stayed at the Old Sturbridge Inn in the Oliver Wight House, which is a historic building with 10 rooms.

The Sugar Cookie, complete with a sugared rim and sprinkles.
Friday night was dinner at the Oxhead Tavern across the street. Since it was early and the diningroon was empty, they sat us in front of the fireplace. (I wish I'd taken a picture. It's a beautiful old--huge!--fireplace.) We each had the French Onion soup to start. Bob had the bacon-wrapped meatloaf and I had the Oxhead panini with fries, which is basically a Thanksgiving-themed panini with turkey, cranberry, sage and sausage stuffing and a side of gravy for dipping. Way too much food for me, of course, so most of my sandwich was packed up to take back to the room for later. I treated myself to one of their special Christmas drinks, the Sugar Cookie. I can't remember what was in it, but I was feeling good when we left! I was only able to drink half since alcohol hits me so hard. Bob took a couple pictures of me before and after the drink. In the "after" picture my face is flushed and I have a stupid grin on my face. Obviously, I'm a very light drinker these days, which was true even before the weight loss surgery. Bob had beer, as usual.

Bob and I at the Oxhead Tavern.
Below they're making soft gingerbread using the tin oven in the fireplace. I'd love to learn how to cook using our fireplace, but I just haven't made the time or effort to do it yet. I've made their gingerbread recipe in my own oven, though, and it's delicious. Very moist and dense. You really need to like gingerbread, though, as it's an acquired taste for some people.

As you can see from the recipe below, it makes a lot of gingerbread. If you don't have a lot of gingerbread-lovers, I suggest making half a recipe.

Making Christmas dinner
Here they're making Christmas dinner using a tin oven for baking and a rotisserie of sorts for the goose. The "rotisserie" is basically twine that spins over the fire. You truss up the goose and suspend it from a hook over the fire, then twist the twine. As it unwinds, it turns the goose. It amazes me how much time it must have taken to make a holiday meal in the 1800s. 

They're making mulled cider. This is my favorite part!
And here's my favorite part:  they're making the mulled cider. It's probably my favorite part because we get to sample the finished product. I've been trying to find a jug like the one they have on the table so I can make my own mulled cider in the fireplace, but I haven't found on yet that I like. I'd also need a mulling iron. 

The shoemaker
I love this candle holder. I'd like to do
the same in my house. 
As usual, we visited all the other exhibits, like the shoemaker, the tin shop, the general store and others, and sampled any food they had to offer. I like that they change it up a little each year. This year in the general store it was peppermints, they had Spanish shortbread cookies in another building (which I'll be making!), and roasted chestnuts in the Small House. I have to say, I don't like chestnuts at all. My mom loved them, which is why I tried them, but I didn't like the texture at all. We also sat and listened to a reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas in the school house. The interpreter did a fantastic job and we really enjoyed it.

In front of the Christmas tree at the Bullard Tavern.

On our way out we visited the gift shop and I bought real bayberry candles. I buy them every year. If burned down to the nub on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, it is thought that it brings good luck for the following year. 

On to our Christmas trees. We put up two trees every year ever since we moved a few years ago. We have a historic house, which was built in 1735. We have a formal living room (it doesn't look formal, though), as well as a family room. Our picture window is in the living room, so we put a tree in front of it and decorate it with older-looking ornaments. The other tree goes in the family room since that's where we spend most of our time. 

This year we decided to start buying some of the older ornaments while we were in Sturbridge. As you can see, we got some nice ones. These are the ones I remember from childhood. They were inexpensive, too.  Typically 75 cents to $2.00 each. We bought about 10 of them. Here's the finished tree. The icicles you see hanging from the branches are handmade from Old Sturbridge Village.

Here are closeups of some of the ornaments we bought.

And here's our standard tree in the family room. We got a great deal on the trees this year:  $40.00 for both of them. One had been cut down and left in the field, so the nursery owners wanted it to be sold. We got it for $10.00, which is the one below.

And here are some kitty pictures. This one is Leia.

This is Max sleeping next to the living room tree. One would think he's the one that did all the work!

And here's Marty under the living room tree. 

Hope you all have a nice holiday and don't eat yourself into a coma! But wear the elastic-banded pants just in case.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

five years post-op

Today marks five years since I had gastric bypass. Two days before Christmas, since my insurance would be changing a couple weeks later. I was discharged on Christmas Eve, and my Christmas dinner was a Fuzzy Navel protein drink and Christmas movies with my husband and the kitties.

I've been trying to figure out what I should write for this post. It snuck up on me due to Christmas, so I haven't had time to really think about it. I'll sum up the last five years:

This is the best decision I ever made for myself and my health. I thought I was healthy when I was morbidly obese, but it turned out that I had severe sleep apnea, gallstones, a hiatal hernia, acid reflux, and I was borderline diabetic.

This was easy for me, physically. Mentally, that's a different story. It's really hard to still have the desire to eat all the food and then get full after eating maybe 1/3 of my meal.

I started out at 343 pounds and my lowest weight was 203. I'm about 223 at the moment. I think a 20 pound gain over five years isn't bad at all. I've kept off more than 85% of my weight loss, which is a pretty big deal.

Although gastric bypass limits your food capacity, it doesn't fix your mind. You'll still want food, you may still want to binge, and you may even feel like crying when you can overindulge the way you used to. That's why you need to learn how to deal with your feelings in some other way. You'll no longer be able to sit down with a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream when you've had a bad day.

People may judge you for having had weight loss surgery. Only you can decide if you're comfortable sharing with others. Personally, I really don't give a shit if people judge me or not. I tell anyone who will listen that I've had the surgery, it's the best thing I've ever done, and it's a tool, just like any other. You get out of it what you put into it. GIGO=garbage in, garbage out. At events, I don't stand in the corner with my three little hors d'oeuvres hoping people don't notice I haven't touched it. (Although these days I can eat more that I used to right after surgery, so this isn't really A Thing anymore anyway.)

I finally developed the habit of exercise. Do I love it? Hell no. But I can deal with it. I like the way I feel when I'm done, and I like that it makes me feel strong. It also helps my back.

A few before and after pictures:

2013, before surgery.

And now, five years later.

Here are some posts of mine that tell the story.

The surgical process:

Before and After Pictures:

Things I wish I knew before surgery:


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

bbq chicken cauliflower casserole

When I recently went through my big freezer, I realized I have a lot of riced cauliflower in there. A LOT. I have six bags of plain riced cauliflower, four bags of riced cauliflower stuffing, and two bags of rice cauliflower stir fry--all from Trader Joe's. I can't even remember why I originally bought it.  So, the question became:  WTF am I going to with with all this damn cauliflower?

I got an email from The Kitchn recently, which contained a group of five-ingredient casseroles. As I looked through I noticed one, BBQ Chicken Casserole, that called for a bag of plain riced cauliflower. Also:  shredded chicken breast, onion, eggs, salt, pepper and BBQ sauce. Since I had two rotisserie chicken breasts in the freezer from a few weeks ago, I figured this would be a good recipe.

The verdict?  This was so easy and came out great. How did it taste? Like BBQ chicken. You can't taste the cauliflower at all.  Even my husband, who doesn't eat cauliflower, liked it. I made a couple modifications to it: I used store-bought BBQ sauce and used two cups rather than two and a half, used a 12 oz bag of riced cauliflower rather that 16 oz (that's what I had on-hand and didn't want to open another bag), and added about two cups of shredded Mexican cheese to it.

Assuming you're a weight loss surgery post-op and divide the casserole into 12 servings, one serving is about 240 calories, 9g fat, 26g carbs, and 15g protein. If you want to leave the cheese off, which is how the recipe was written, you'll save yourself 75 calories per serving.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

update #8: the war on back pain

Time for another back pain update (and another cute cat picture). This time it's good news.

This week I went for a diagnostic procedure called lumbar medial branch block. The purpose is to determine if my pain is coming from any of the nerve branches coming off the facet joints in my spine. They inject an anesthetic around the nerve branches at several vertebra levels. If the pain stops, then my pain is coming from those joints and I'd be a candidate for radio frequency nerve ablation, which basically kills or "fries" the nerve. If the pain doesn't stop after the branch blocks, then that's not where it's coming from and there's no sense in trying the ablation.

So I went in for the procedure on Monday. It was pretty much the same as when I went for the epidural cortison injections: no NSAIDs for five days before the procedure and nothing to eat or drink four hours beforehand. I had to lay face-down on the table and they used fluoroscopy to guide the needles to the injection sites in real-time. A numbing agent was injected at each site and then they did eight injections–four on each side of the spine (L2 through L5). There was some discomfort, but it didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as the epidural cortisone injections I had earlier in the year. I was instructed to do home and do all the things that would normally aggravate my pain, which is easy since sitting is what causes it for me. That, and standing in one spot for more than 10 minutes or so. I was out of the office in 20 minutes, measured from the time they called me from the lobby to the time I left. I had to keep a pain log for five hours and report the level of pain and the percentage of improvement.

I sat at my home desk for FOUR HOURS mostly without back pain. That’s huge for me, because normally I'm starting to hurt after about 10 minutes or so. My hips and upper legs ached from sitting from so long, but there was almost no back pain. When I got up from my desk for the bathroom and a few other things, I actually felt the sciatic nerve pinching every time I took a step with my left leg, but didn’t feel all the other pain I normally feel. I guess the pain coming from the joints (and not knowing it) kind of skewed how I was feeling and I just assumed it was all from the pinched sciatic nerve. The anesthetic wore off by Tuesday night, which is what is supposed to happen, but it was a somewhat blissful couple of days!

I went into this without really any hope that it work since other things haven’t worked very well up until now. Well, it DID work! It also made me realize that I have pain not only from that sciatic nerve, but from the joints as well. Overall, I would estimate I got about a 75% reduction in pain.

I go back for my follow-up in a couple weeks, so I plan to tell them I want the ablation. I'm wondering, though:  how do they know which nerve to kill? They did eight injections spanning the L2 through L5, so how would they know which one to kill? Do they do another branch block procedure for only certain areas? Guess I'll find out in a couple weeks!