Wednesday, October 11, 2017

baked oatmeal: a newfound love

Never in my life had I heard of baking oatmeal until I started following Budget Bytes. I follow her on Facebook, as well as browsing her website from time to time. She has lots of budget-friendly recipes.

A couple weeks ago I saw on her Facebook page a recipe for what looked like a dessert:  Peanut Butter Brownie Baked Oatmeal.  It looked so delicious! I figured it would be loaded with sugar, but it called for only 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  She has lots of baked oatmeal recipes and most of them use bananas, unsweetened applesauce, or sweet potatoes as the main source of sweetness.

I decided to give it a try since I had all the ingredients on hand and I'd just bought a massive bag of thick-cut rolled oats.  It was really easy to put together. I think the most "strenuous" thing was mashing the bananas, and that only took a minute. The rest just gets tossed into the bowl and mixed, then milk added, then oats. Then you put it in a casserole dish and bake it for about 45 minutes. Baking time depends on the depth of your pan. I used a 2 quart smallish square dish and it took almost an hour to bake.

The results were delicious!! I tried a forkful right out of the hot pan; however, I've discovered I prefer it cold, sliced off like a brownie. The texture is much more like a brownie that it is oatmeal, though you could eat it warm or cold.  It's also very filling, especially for me since my stomach in so small.

One thing to note:  even though most of the sweetness comes from the bananas, it still has sugar. Anyone who is a WLS post-op and has an issue with sugar will need to test the waters as to how much you can eat at once. I find a can eat the standard brownie size, about 2" x 2", without an issue. (Note:  standard brownie size! Not pre-WLS brownie size, which typically meant almost half the pan back in the day.) 

Here's the recipe for the oatmeal I made last weekend:  Peanut Butter Brownie Banked Oatmeal.

And here are the search results for baked oatmeal:  Baked Oatmeal Search Results.

Friday, October 6, 2017

update: the war on back pain

I posted a while back about my chronic back pain and promised I'd give an update after my visit with the orthopedic doctor.

My appointment was on September 22. My doctor was so booked up that I had to take an appointment at his other office, which is an hour away. That meant sitting in the car for an hour each direction, and sitting is what aggravates the pain the most. So, needless to say, I felt just fabulous by the time I got to the office. But that wasn't a bad thing, because I was able to describe exactly where it hurts and how it feels. He looked at my records and saw that I'd already been through physical therapy a couple times with another doctor, chiropractic care off and on since I was maybe 12 or 13 years old, Celebrex and muscle relaxers. I told him I think it's time for an MRI and he agreed. I was happy he agreed; however, I was also a little nervous about the cost, because I'm now on an HSA and it's my first year. He recommended an open MRI facility, as it tends to be much less expensive than going to the hospital.

I had the MRI on September 28. That was...not fun. Not because of the machine--I'm not claustrophobic and it was an open MRI, anyway--but because I had to lay on my back on a hard table and not move for 25 minutes. The tech put a cushion under my knees, but it didn't help all that much. After three minutes on the table, my lower back was in a lot of pain. It just got worse as the MRI went on. The first picture was 30 seconds, which was fine. The second was three minutes and it felt like double that. Then when he said the next two pictures would be six minutes each, I very seriously considered hitting the call button to tell him I couldn't continue. The three minute picture seemed to go forever, and now I'd have to suffer through four times the amount of time! But I thought about it and realized that I'd just have to come back again, or not have it done at all, which would likely mean no answers as to what's going on back there, which ultimately means no relief.  I decided to just close my eyes and zone out as much as I could. I alternated that with staring at the top of the machine, which seemed to be less than six inches from my face. They gave me earphones so I could listen to the satellite radio station of my choice (Hair Nation!), but I couldn't hear it because the machine was so loud. By the time I was done, I was in so much pain the tech had to help me up. (I seriously almost  cried, and I wanted, but I didn't. I guess I just felt overwhelmed with the current pain and just feeling exhausted in general from having pain all the time.) I was walking slow and hunched over for a bit, and my back was wrecked the rest of the day. All I did for my workout that day was 30 minutes of walking, plus some squats and lunges.

I came home with a disc of the MRI pictures, so I decided to take a look. Yes, I was Internet diagnosing myself all weekend after that; Google is such a rabbit hole! I concluded that I have at least two discs that are bulging, herniated AND deteriorating. LOL But all kidding aside, it really did look like I had a couple of bulging discs.  Here are a couple of the pictures. Pretty fascinating stuff. And I'm happy to see I have ab muscles. ;) Or maybe it's just my skin I'm seeing. We'll just say they're my abs.

I went back to the ortho Wednesday so he could read the MRI. Guess what? I DO have two bulging discs! I also have an annular tear.  It sounded super serious, like some terrible injury. Turns out it's pretty common, especially as you *cough* get older. (UGH I hate saying that!) Just part of wear and tear on the back, although it can happen because of a sports injury or something similar. I have no idea when it happened. Since I definitely didn't have any kind of injury that would lead to it, it's likely been brewing for a while and it picked the last month or so to show itself.

So, my treatment will be as follows:  a methylprednisolone pack, which is 21 steroid pills taken over six days; Percocet for the pain, as needed; physical therapy; and then cortisone shots if none of that works. I started the steroid pack yesterday and I already feel a bit of relief in that I didn't wake up in terrible pain this morning. It was more of a dull ache.

I also need to take it easy with working out, which is something I really did not want to hear; it's hard enough to stay on track without being given permission to take it easy. I can work out, but I need to be careful with weights, jumping, etc. My trainer told me to eliminate burpees, squat jumps, jumping jacks, lifting any weight over my head, and anything else that could be considered high impact, like sprints. That's OK, though. There are still plenty of things I can do. My trainer will be having knee surgery next week, so my plan is to start PT the week of the 16th, after I get back from my business trip. Hopefully once he's ready to come back to the studio, I'll be well on my way to healing.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

buttered balsamic mushrooms

I don't think there's any better side dish for a good steak than sautéed mushrooms. Actually, it's a toss-up between sautéed mushrooms and creamed spinach, but I think the mushrooms win--they're probably a little more healthy.

A few weeks ago I bought some shallots at the farm stand down the street, even though I didn't have a clue as to what I'd use them for. I know they're in the onion family and can be used the same way, but have a milder taste.They had been sitting on my counter for a while. I kept ignoring them, because I was being lazy and couldn't be bothered to Google a recipe.  I finally decided it was time to use them, though. Coincidentally, The Kitchn had a post that day for buttered mushrooms with shallots. It made my mouth water just looking at the picture of the gorgeous, glossy, buttery mushrooms, so I decided it was time to defrost a steak or two and make these to have on the side for dinner.

This recipe was really easy. What's nice is that you can use Worcestershire sauce if you don't have soy sauce, and that's what I did. Also, this recipe gave me a chance to use some of the rosemary in my garden. I would say this took closer to 30 minutes to cook, but my mushrooms were big and I like mine cooked well.

As you can see, they look pretty good. Although, not as good as the picture in the recipe link. Does anything ever come out looking as good as it does on the Internet??

Here's the recipe:  15-Minute Buttered Balsamic Mushrooms.

By the way, in the picture is my most favorite wooden spoon. It just seems perfect for just about everything:  it's the right size, it has a slanted edge to scrap up bits from the pan, and a shallow bowl for tasting.  Only $4.99 at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

my third, and final, stitch fix

Yesterday I got my third Stitch Fix box. I was again hopeful that it would include items that were better-fitting and more to my liking, though my hopes had decreased a bit and I wasn't overly optimistic.

I mentioned last time that I planned to ask for them to send me Misses XL for the tops rather than Women's 1X, as I've found the 1X to be a little big. I also asked that I get a necklace or bracelet, no earrings, and pants rather than jeans. They came through on all three requests, but with mixed results.

Here's what I got this time around:  three tops, one pair of pants, and a necklace. All three tops are a Misses XXL (their sizes run a little smaller).

This top is extremely sheer and there's absolutely no way I'd be able to wear it without a tank top or something similar underneath. Even then, the tank top would be completely visible. Probably fine for going out, but not for work, which, given the fabric and pattern, seems to be meant for work. The fit was fine other than the armholes being a little light. It's going back, though, simply because of the sheerness. The price is $44.00, which I think is a little high considering it can't realistically be worn on its own.

This top I like, and I may keep it. I'm not sure, though, because  but it fits rather large and makes me look much bigger than I am. Also, I feel like I can get similar for much less money and won't make me look three sizes bigger. It's disappointing, because it matches perfectly with the tan cardigan I bought from the first box I got.  The price is $54.00.

I was really skeptical when I pulled this one out of the box. It has a zipper on each shoulder, and the fabric crisscrosses in front. I tried it on and was actually pleasantly surprised...until I turned to the side. It makes me look huge, as though I'm 343 pounds again. I considered it for a moment when I put a cardigan over it, but it still makes me look big. Nope, going back. The price is $58.00. 

I was also skeptical about these pants, but only because they say "straight leg" on the tag. I generally don't like that style; I'm a skinny jeans/pants girl all the way and I'm SO HAPPY that skinny is back in style now that I can actually fit into them! I really love the material of these pants, which is heavy and very soft, Perfect for fall and winter. They are very comfortable and seem to fit well in most areas; however, because they're a Women's 16, the hips are slightly loose, which make the thighs a little loose, too. Therefore, they look like a poor fit.  I was going to keep these, but I'm sending them back. At $88.00, I should LOVE them, but I don't. I want to get out of the mindset that I should settle for things I "mostly like" and not make the effort to find things I love.

And the necklace. I didn't like it at first; however, when I put it on with the white/orange blouse above, it looked nice. But it's $34.00. As I've said in my previous two posts, I just can't justify spending that much on costume jewelry. I'm just not comfortable enough yet with the whole "statement jewelry" thing where I'm willing to spend that much, especially when it's not something I can wear with everything.

So, I've decided I'm going to cancel Stitch Fix. The main reason is the fit. The tops are either too big in the body, too small in the sleeves, or just not my thing. The pants/jeans seem to be great in terms of length, but one pair I could barely get past my thighs and the other (above) was a little loose, which made them look like a poor fit. The things is, all the pants are the same size!  Also, I've noticed that a piece of clothing isn't available in both Misses and Women's, so if a top is too big in a 1X, I can't size down to an XL or vice versa.

I just don't think that mail order is my thing anymore. Since I'm sometimes a Misses XL and other times a Women's 1X, and pants can vary a lot in length and fit, I think I need to stick to the store so I can try things on. I guess it's a nice problem to have after many years of being on the high end of Women's sizes, but it's definitely frustrating nonetheless. Actually, I think it's a little harder to shop now than it was before.

I think Stitch Fix would be great for someone who is a solid, consistent Misses or Women's size, and is looking to try new fashions. It's just not for me. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

my second stitch fix

I posted a few weeks back about my first Stitch Fix box. It was kind of a mixed bag for me, but I ended up keeping two items.

I scheduled my next fix to come this week, since I was excited and didn't want to wait another week. It arrived yesterday. Early verdict (before trying anything on):  promising, and better than the first one.

Here's what I got. (Note: The colors are better and brighter in real life. I took these with my cell phone in a room that is kind of dark.)

I really like this sleeveless shirt. It's very soft, it's the right length, I LOVE the color and it matched the tan cardigan they sent me last month. It's a little too big, though. I was going to keep it, but then realized I would be settling. I've settled for clothing all my life and I'm not doing it anymore. I'm not buying it unless it fits right, looks good, and I like it. The price on this is $38.00, which is pretty reasonable. Size is Women's 1X.

I like this flannel shirt on the hanger and I love the colors.  You probably can't tell from the picture, but the back buttons up and has a slit that goes up to the waist. I was hopeful yet skeptical, because I just don't look good in collared shirts. I was right. It looks awful on me. Plus it seems to not really hang the right way and is a little big. Sleeves are slightly tight at the top. The price on this is $58.00.  I think it's a bit much for this shirt. Size is Misses XXL.

I'm iffy about this blouse. It's better than the one they sent last month, but it's still a bit "old" and not really my style anymore. It's a blouse that I would've settled for before I lost weight. I like the colors, but it was way too big.  The price on this is $48.00, which is about what I would expect to pay at some place like Dress Barn or another store that sells business casual clothing. Size is Women's 1X.

These jeans! (Well, jeggings. They're not the typical button-and-zip jeans.) I love the color and the fit, as well as the double seam on the side. HOWEVER...I thought I was going to need to Crisco my legs to get these on. It was a struggle to get these up my legs and over my hips. It actually hurt, too, because I just got the "dog ears" fixed on my tummy tuck scar and the stitches came out yesterday. They looked great once I was able to hike them up, but it was a lot of work.  Then it was time to take them off.  I practically had to peel them off my legs. These felt slightly too short to me. The price is $78.00, which I feel is kind of high. I've never been one to spend a lot on jeans, though, so that might be reasonable to a lot of women.  But if I'm going to actually spend that much, they better be long enough (I'm 5'11"), fit well in the waist, and look awesome on me. Something weird I noticed on the tag:  it says to not sit on light colored upholstery or come in contact with light clothing.  So, yeah, another requirement if I'm spending $78.00 is that the color needs to, you know, stay on the jeans. The size is Women's 1X.  Not sure how, as they felt about two sizes too small.

And then there's the earrings. Yuck is all I can say. This is something I would never, ever wear. I didn't even try them on. I love the color, but the style is not for me. I held them up to my ears and they didn't look right at all. The price is $38.00, which is a lot for costume jewelry.

Final verdict on this fix:  not keeping it. I'm sending everything back. The shirts were too big and made me look bigger than I am, the jeans are too small and a little short, and I don't like the earrings at all.

As far as sticking with Stitch Fix, I'm going to give it one more shot. It's not that I don't like what they send me--I do for the most part.  Sure, a few things aren't to my taste, but I like most of the items. Also, they seem to listen when I say, "Send me something to match the tan cardigan I bought last month." They did--the purple sleeveless shirt. I asked for lighter colored jeans, and they sent them. The issue is sizing. After losing the weight and having the tummy tuck, it seems I'm kind of in between sizes:  I'm not consistently a Women's 1X or 16, and I'm not consistently a Misses XL or 16. I've asked that they send me Misses sizes next time to see if that helps. If not, then I plan to cancel.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

my first batch of homemade salsa

Now that summer is pretty much over, I find myself with lots of tomatoes and jalapenos, which I grew myself thank you very much! There's a certain amount of pride in the fact that I grew these edible items in my own backyard.

My regular tomatoes are finally ripening (I'm STILL waiting on the Romas....), which means I need to find a use for them fast. I'm not a fan of the seeds and goop that's inside a tomato, so eating them in a salad or on a sandwich is out of the question. Plus I generally don't eat salads and sandwiches anymore. I figured my options are: tomato sauce, salsa, roasted tomatoes, on pizza, or chopped up for tacos. I decided on salsa since I needed to use the jalapenos, too. I Goggled for a recipe and found one easily.

Making the salsa was incredibly easy. Probably because I picked a "fresh" recipe (no-cook) and used my food processor. I was done in like 10 minutes, which includes peeling and chopping the veggies.

As you can see, it's a little chunky, but not much. And it's more on the thin side. It tastes great; however, I was skeptical at first. It definitely doesn't taste like your standard store-bought salsa, which is cooked and contains vinegar and/or sugar. I was tempted to fiddle around and add more of this or that, but I resisted. It tasted like there was too much onion and it didn't seem to have any heat even though I used two jalapenos (minus the seeds). I waited a couple hours and the heat started growing. Then the next day I tasted again and it was perfect. The heat had mellowed and it tasted less like onions. (I was later told that fresh salsa takes at least a day or more for the flavors to meld and develop; they were right!)

The verdict for my first time making salsa? It tastes great, it was super easy, and I used up some tomatoes. I'd make it again.

Here's the recipe.

Fresh Salsa

6 garden tomatoes, cut into quarters
2 jalapeños, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 large yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
juice of 1 lime
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Toss it all in the food processor and pulse until it's at a consistency you like. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary.

Note: The flavors of the salsa will change the longer it sits in the fridge. If you don't need it right away, you might want to wait until the following day to make adjustments.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

the war on back pain

Back pain. Annoying, fucking back pain. It's the story of my life lately.

It seems like back pain has always a part of my life. Sometimes more than others. I've been living with chronic lower back pain for years. How many? I'm not exactly sure. I feel like what started it all was a fall in third grade. I remember falling off the monkey bars flat onto my back. We had a new school nurse start that day and she didn't know her way around the school yet. So, rather than take me in the closest door, which was the fourth grade wing, she walked me all the way around to the first/second/third grade wing on the other side, down the long hall and to the nurse's office. I think, through my school years, I probably was sore by the time I got home from school. But I just don't remember (sometimes I honestly think I've blocked out all my schooling years, because I can't remember very much). 

I have no idea when it started being a real problem, although I'm guessing probably when I started working at a desk. Sitting is really bad for the back. The pain ranges anywhere from "barely noticeable but there" to "I can barely walk." But most of the time it's somewhere in between. Meaning, I feel good when I walk around, work out, or keep moving in general, but after sitting for about 30 minutes it starts to hurt. And since I have a desk job, that means I'm generally in some level of pain for most of the workday, which means I'm generally squirmy, somewhat distracted depending on the level of pain, and have a hard time getting work done. And, I'll admit, it severely increases my "head hunger."

Head hunger is when you think you're hungry, but what's really going on is you want a distraction from some emotion you're feeling: you're bored, anxious, sad, etc. (There's an article on it here.) In other words, you're not actually physically hungry. So when my back is bothering me, like it is right now, I'm thinking about going to grab some pretzels from the department's community table, or going to see what's in the cold case in the cafeteria. (And that's why I'm fighting a 10 pound weight gain; I just can't seem to reign it in.)

So anyway, I've done lots over the years for my pain. I've gone to the chiropractor off and on since I was a young teenager, sometimes with heat treatments and sometimes without. I've used a back brace, which I'm using now. It helps quite a bit while I'm wearing it, but the pain comes back without it, so it's really something to be used along with other treatments. Muscle relaxers, which help when I have a muscle spasm. Celebrex, which is an NSAID. Unfortunately I can't use it very much since I'm a gastric bypass patient and it can cause stomach damage. Lots and lots of Tylenol. Prescription Ibuprofen, which I can't use anymore because of weight loss surgery. Ice. Heat. Exercise. Physical therapy.

At the moment, I'm in a very long pain cycle; it's been over a month. The week my brother died I had to make three out-of-state road trips, which has really done a number on my back. Obviously I couldn't avoid the road trips and I knew this would happen, so I used the back brace as a preventative measure. Also during that week I worked from home a bit, and since I don't have a proper desk chair, that also caused some pain. That lead to several muscle spasms. I'd have one, it would somewhat improve, and then I'd be hit with another. Even though I work out five days a week and try to keep moving, sitting at my desk at work all day pretty much cancels that out. I'm using the back brace, Celebrex, muscle relaxers and Tylenol. Now I'm having slightly different pain. It doesn't feel like my muscles. It feels more like my bones or nerves maybe, almost like my spine is compressed. I dread going to bed because it's not restful. I wake up in pain everyday. It's really exhausting.

I just can't stand this anymore. I never have a day when I feel "good." (I never understood when my mother would say that, but now I do and it SUCKS!) There's never a day when I don't feel some form of back pain. At 42, I don't think that I should be feeling like this all the time.

I've decided it's time for an MRI, so I scheduled an appointment with the orthopedic doctor. I plan to ask for an MRI (I had the choice last time and said no) and to also get a note stating a need a standing desk for work. Unfortunately I couldn't get in until September 22, and I'll have to drive to a more distant location since the one near me is booked. I'll report back once I know something.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

honey & chili chicken breasts

A few weeks ago I had a bunch of cilantro and didn't know what to do with it. When I bought the cilantro from the farm stand up the road, I had visions of Mexican dishes in my mind, but, as usual, the motivation to actually find and make the recipes fizzled by the end of the day. So, I was left with a whole lot of cilantro to use or lose.

I found this recipe online at one of my favorite cooking sites, The Kitchn. I grilled the thighs rather than baking. The recipe calls for baking the chicken, but a lot of the comments mention how messy the pan got and how hard it was to clean, which is because of the beer and honey. That's not for me, so grilling it was!

The marinade came together easily. Picking the cilantro was a little tedious, but not overly so. Once it was mixed, I tossed the marinade in a large zipper top plastic bag along with the chicken and left them in the fridge overnight. I made the sauce, too. The next day I grilled the chicken, stirred up the sauce (it seemed to separate a little) and then poured it over the cooked chicken.

I also roasted some red potatoes with olive oil, fresh rosemary from my garden, salt and pepper; and some green beans with olive oil and Borsari seasoned salt (love this stuff!); both were also from the farm stand. It was a very easy meal, actually.

I thought this tasted really good. I will say, however, that if you don't like cilantro, you won't like the sauce. It's quite strong. It was good, though.  I'd make this recipe again, but I would probably make half the amount of sauce or find multiple uses for it.

If you want the recipe, here it is:  Honey & Chili Chicken Thighs with cilantro Cream Sauce.

Here's the finished meal!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

what's been cooking?

I've been really awful about cooking over the last few months due to everything that's happened. But I'm getting back to it. Here are some of the things I've made.

At work we have the option to participate in the local CSA (community supported agriculture). This is the first year we've been offered this service. It's not free, though. People who want to participate pay about $19 a week for a half-share and receive enough produce to feed two to three people for one week. I believe it lasts for about 18 weeks. Each week you get a variety of produce and you won't know until you receive it what you're actually getting. They give you whatever is in season. I don't participate in it, mainly because $19 a week for produce is a bit much for me to spend knowing that either I or Bob won't eat certain things or won't be able to cook it all before it goes bad. Also, they give you seasonal items. Since kale, Swiss chard, celery and celery root are in season right now, those items have been provided every week. That can get boring even if you like those items. If you don't, it's a waste of money. I have, however, been taking advantage of the fact that someone at work doesn't like those four items I mentioned. They leave them in the community kitchen each week, so I grabbed them one week. If you're interested in finding a CSA in your area, try this website:

Here's what my fridge looked like after I brought the CSA items home. Those are some HUGE celery leaves! I chopped off the ends of the celery and removed the leaves, which I then froze for later use in making stock. The celery stalks were so crispy, nothing like what I get at the grocery store.

I used the red Swiss chard to make grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches. I just sautéed the chard in olive oil with some garlic, salt and pepper. I then added it to my sandwich and grilled it. I did the same thing with the kale, but added it to my egg muffins. Note to self: remove the stems before sautéing. It was a bit unpleasant to bite into tough stems when eating something soft like eggs.

This is my steak dinner on another night. The green beans are from the farm stand up the road. I boiled them, then added some butter, salt and pepper. I also fried up a container of leftover onions. I added a little butter, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce.

Below is some broccoli rabe sautéed in olive oil with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. I blanched it first in order to start getting it tender. From what I understand, broccoli rabe is done when it's dead. This is definitely dead. LOL  I also grilled some turkey tenderloins with some Borsari seasoned salt in Citrus flavor. I absolutely love Borsari. It makes seasoning ridiculously simple. I brought both to work for lunch last week.

And finally, I made roasted tomatoes for the first time. My boss gave us all some plum tomatoes. I put some olive oil on them, along with rosemary from my garden and some mince garlic, then roasted them according to a recipe I found online on Rachel Ray's website. I think the roasting time would have been perfect for larger plum tomatoes, but it was a bit too much for the little ones. A few got burnt. Overall, very delicious, though. And sweet!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

my first Stitch Fix

So, I signed up for Stitch Fix at the suggestion of several people. It's a clothing styling service. You fill out your style profile online, pick how often you want to receive a "fix" (box of five items) and you pay $20 for each fix you receive. You can have a fix shipped to you every two to three weeks, every month, every other month, or every three months. You can even opt to schedule them manually, which is to say whenever you want one.  You get three days to decide if you want to keep anything. If so, you just go online and checkout. If not, you send them back in the postage paid envelope.  If you buy one or more of the items, that $20 goes towards your purchase. If you buy all five items, you get 25% off the total purchase.

I got my first box this weekend.  It was pretty surprising to see all the items fit in this one little box. The clothing was wrapped in paper and the box included an outfit suggestion card, along with the pricing and a Welcome note.

Here's the invoice. As you can see, the $20 "Styling Fee" is deducted from whatever you decide to keep. Shown is the total price if I keep everything. A few of the items are definitely a bit more than I'm used to spending, but others were about on par.

This is the outfit suggestion guide. As you can see, each outfit suggestion contains one of the five items.

Here's everything that was in the box, including the postage-paid return envelope.

OK, so here's what I got in my first Fix.

I got a pair of earrings ($44). They’re really not me, as they’re kind of big, but they actually look pretty good on me. That said, I’ll be sending them back, because I don’t have anything to go with them and $44 is a lot for costume jewelry (IMO). I may have kept them if I felt they were a good match for another outfit.

I got two blouses. This one is kind of a light grey with a lighter grey and yellow pattern ($54). It has a neck tie and fluttery sleeves. I didn’t like it when I pulled it out of the box, and it looks awful on me. It’s going back. Bob said it looks "old."

The other one is sleeveless, navy blue with a golden yellow pattern, and also has a neck tie ($44), though it's not as obnoxious as the one above. I think it would look better on me if it was a Misses XL rather than a Women’s 1X. It’s slightly big around the middle, but not swimmingly so. I may exchange it. If they don’t have XL then I'll have to decide if I'm keeping it or not. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, as I kind of cringed when I pulled it out of the box.

I received a pair of jean leggings that on the checkout page they call “skinny jeans” and they’re $78. The fit and length is perfect. Given that I’m 5’11”, that’s impressive! The color is too dark, though (I lightened the picture a bit so you can at least see them). I have a lot of cats I don’t want something that has to constantly be lint-rolled. I won’t be keeping them, both because of the price and the color. Sorry, but I’m not willing to spend $78 on jeans at the moment. If I had no jeans or was struggling to find ones that fit and look good, then I might do it. But that's not the case right now.

I got a long duster-length cardigan in light tan, though the color looks a little off here due to the lighting in the room. I was surprised at getting a XXL, but when I put it on I realized that it’s close-fitting. It’s lightweight and has a hood. I really like it and plan to keep it. It’s $58, but since I paid $20 for the box already, it will just be an additional $38.

To wrap up, I ended up keeping the blue blouse and the cardigan.  They didn't have a Misses size for the blouse; however, I decided that it's not so big that it looks terrible or doesn't fit well in other areas.

Here's what I liked:
  • It gave me inspiration and ideas when going to the store this weekend. I tried on a few sleeveless blouses that are a departure from what I would normally give a second look at. 
  • It's shipped to me for free. Also, return shipping is free.
  • I can edit my profile any time I want so items are customized better for me. I also like that I can share my Pinterest board so the stylist can see they kinds of things I like. I created a category just for this and then shared the URL on my Stitch Fix profile.
What I didn’t like:
  • Although they provided a card with outfit suggestions and the items *seem* to all go together (I think–I suck at matching colors and such), it showed only one piece along with a bunch of different items I don’t have to make an outfit. I would have preferred a card showing at least two of the items together so I know that, yes, these things do all match and look good together. It’s probably not an issue for a lot of women and is maybe nit picky, but I struggle and always have to check with my sister or a friend as to whether colors match or pieces look good together. 
  • The time frame to make a decision is a bit short--only three days. 
  • Once you go through checkout, it doesn't seem as though you can review your past orders; however, this was my first time and I didn't devote much time to poking around the website like I normally would.
I will definitely try it a few more times, though. I’ll make sure to give really detailed feedback so the choices get better. From what I understand in talking to others who use this service, detailed, specific, brutally honest feedback is crucial to getting what you like and will wear.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

funny cat story

This story is back from when we moved to the new house in July 2014. I told the story recently, and thought you'd all find it just as funny as I do; I still laugh every time I tell it. (And I need a good laugh after the last several months...)

I moved a few years ago, 45 minutes away from the old house. My sister and I transported my 12 (at the time) cats using two vehicles and nine cat carriers. One carrier held two sisters, Thelma and Louise, and another held the two brothers, Max and Bailey. They travelled in her car.

When we got to my new house, my sister complained that 10 minutes after we left it started to stink really bad in her car. Since this was July, she alternated every 10 minutes or so between closing the windows to enjoy the AC and get relief from the heat, and opening them because she couldn't stand the stench.

We started unpacking the carriers and found that the two brothers had both had an accident. Bailey was facing one way and Max the other way, so basically each cat's head was next to the other's butt. Well, apparently Max had an accident...diarrhea...and Bailey threw up, presumably because his head was Right There next to the muck and he couldn't handle it. Or maybe he was just car sick. So, we had to clean them off, clean out the carrier, and spray some air freshener in the car. And that particular carrier was, of course, one I'd borrowed from the rescue I volunteer with and I had to be back down there that afternoon to do some volunteer work. Thankfully the water had already been turned on so I could hose it out and disinfect.

Max's new nickname (which I still use)? Poopers.

Although I know the ride wasn't fun for my sister or the two cats, to this day I can't help but laugh my ass off every time I think about it. Sorry, sis!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

a year of loss

Unfortunately, I have yet another sad blog post to write.

It's been a year of loss for me.  Since October I've lost three cats, my father, and now my brother, Chuck.

My brother was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer last November. At that time he was given three to six months to live if he didn't do any treatment. Nine to 24 months with treatment.  Chemo was initially successful in slowing the spread and growth of the cancer; however, the side effects were rough. He then switched to a different treatment, which, unfortunately, was not successful and the cancer spread and grew quickly.  Although he underwent treatment, he ultimately lost his battle this past week. He was 60.

Towards the end, I mailed my brother a card to let him know I'm thinking of him and to share with him the life lessons he taught me:
  • "Don't get caught!" Anyone who knows him and his past will understand this one without another word.
  • "The Walking Dead is an awesome show!" It's not about zombies, but survival and rebuilding after most human life is wiped out by disease.
  • "Top 40 music sucks!" When I was growing up he would ask me what kind of music I was into at the time and when I would say Madonna or something similar, he would tell me Top 40 music sucks and that I should be listening to bands like Metallica. It took me awhile, but I got there. I now appreciate bands like Five Finger Death Punch and Iron Maiden.
  • "Get off the couch and LIVE!" This is the biggest and most important one. During the last nine months it dawned on me that he's done more living in the past 13 years than I have in my entire life. While I was sitting on my ass on the couch watching TV, he was kayaking. While I was playing around on the computer, he was travelling.

(BTW, I challenge you to find a card that is suitable for this type of thing (terminal cancer) and doesn't imply or state outright that everything will be OK; it wasn't easy. I finally found one, but it wasn't what I really wanted.)

I'm very thankful that he found a woman, Barbara (above), who loved him for who he was. Through her, he experienced many new things, gained six stepchildren, and 14 grandchildren. He traveled to Alaska, Maine, and Wisconsin, all places he had never been before. He also learned to take great pictures, as his wife is an avid photographer. They would have been married 10 years next month.

So, what can I say about my brother? Given the large age gap and other factors, we didn't grow up together; however, I know he was the kind of person that welcomed everyone with open arms. It didn't matter who you were, you were welcome.  He was opinionated and had no filter most of the time. He told it like it was, whether you liked it or not. Although it could be cringe-worthy at times, I really admired that about him. He was always open to trying new things.  I never thought I'd see him kayaking or developing a love for bird watching (he can name many of them on sight)!  Also, he loved kids and animals, and they were absolutely drawn to him. We always joked that he was a kid, chick, and animal magnet.  He also loved fireworks, especially firecrackers--he was a big kid at heart. We gave him a big sendoff the night of his memorial service with a fireworks display (they're legal in his state).

Through the years he fed my love for reading. Whenever I wanted to read something new, he would recommend books or authors, which I then promptly devoured in short time. Authors such as:  Ken Follett, David Baldacci, Stephen King, Douglas Preston, and Lincoln Child, among others. I'm going to miss getting my book recommendations, but every time I read a book I'll think of him.

With that, I say farewell to my big brother. You're now with mom and dad again.  Although your time and our time together was much too short, I love you, I'll miss you, and I'm glad I got to know you.

Here he is with my dad, cruising the Connecticut River in Vermont/New Hampshire on my parents' boat, about 12 years ago.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

FlapJacked Mighty Muffin with Probiotics

So, I saw this in Walmart this weekend and decided I needed to try it.

I was standing in front of the protein bars struggling with whether I should buy some or not. They're good for after my workout, but I tend to eat them like candy bars and they rarely make it until after my workout. I've come to the realization that it's just one of those things I can't keep in the house anymore.

Anyway, I spotted these protein muffin mixes. It's a muffin that you mix with water and microwave, all within its own container. They looked interesting and I liked the idea of a muffin in its own container that I could microwave at any time. I checked the nutritional information and saw that it has only 7 grams of sugar, which isn't bad. The calories are a bit high at 220, but it has 20 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber. The cost, if I remember correctly, was $2.39. That's about the same as a Quest protein bar. There were a couple different flavors:  Chocolate Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter, S'mores, and Double Chocolate. I bought the Double Chocolate flavor.

I have to admit that I wasn't able to save the muffin for when I was actually hungry or wanting something sweet. (I'm not a delayed gratification-type girl; I want it now!) I opened it up and stirred the mix around. I noticed there were some nice chunks of chocolate in it. I mixed in 1/4 cup of water and stirred with a fork until smooth. I then stuck it in the microwave uncovered. I started at 35 seconds, since I couldn't find the wattage on my microwave. It wasn't quite done, so I stuck it in for another 22 seconds.

This is what came out. It looks a bit inconsistent, but it was cooked all the way through. I ate it with a fork. Mainly because I didn't want to wait for it to cool and didn't want to burn my fingers. As far as texture, I wouldn't call this a muffin. It's more like cake. There were melted bits of chocolate in it and it tasted like warm chocolate cake. It was pretty good.  It was very filling and definitely would satisfy me if I was wanting dessert.

If you want to read up on them, there's the website:

Saturday, July 22, 2017

fried cauliflower rice with bean sprouts and edamame

This recipe came about because I had several ingredients in the freezer to use up:  riced cauliflower and edamame, both from Trader Joe's coincidentally. (I seem to find myself in this predicament quite often...) I had also bought a bag of bean sprouts at the store that I needed to use up.

I just have to say that the riced cauliflower at Trader Joe's is super convenient and inexpensive. I recently read an article that talks about Trader Joe's implementing a limit on the number of bags of this stuff people can buy. Scary! It's not nationwide, but of course it applies to my state.

I also have to say that I love Trader Joe's.  They have a lot of unique items and their prices are usually really good. I buy all my goat cheese there.

This was very bean sprout-heavy, but I was OK with that. I had to use the whole bag, because I knew I would end up tossing it out if I didn't.  If you don't like tons of sprouts, just cut the amount listed below to 3/4 or 1/2 of that.

I'm not sure of the number of servings, since I didn't measure it out. I'd say a WLS post-op will get probably 8 to 10 servings if I had to guess. Since it's veggie-heavy, that could be less, as many post-ops are able to eat a larger amount when there's no meat or grains in a dish. Recipe below.

This coloring in this picture is kind of awful, but you get the gist of it I'm sure. 😄

Fried Cauliflower Rice With Bean Sprouts and Edamame

1 12 oz. bag bean sprouts
1 12 oz. bag riced cauliflower
5 scallions, sliced, whites and greens separated
1/2 an onion, diced
1 cup shelled ready-to-eat edamame
2 whole eggs
2 cloves garlic, minced (I use the stuff in the jar since I hate mincing garlic)
3 TB soy sauce
1 TB oyster sauce (not necessary; leave it out if you don't have it)
2 TB sesame or canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Put 1 TB of the sesame oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Scramble the eggs, season with salt and pepper, and cook in the oil until done. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add the remaining oil and cook onions, scallion whites, bean sprouts, and garlic for about one minute.
  3. Add the riced cauliflower and stir well a few minutes to heat through. (If using raw cauliflower you riced yourself, you might need to cook a little longer. Cook until tender.)
  4. Add cooked egg along with soy sauce, oyster sauce, scallion greens and edamame, mixing well and cooking for about 3 to 4 minutes. 
Note:  If you don't want the extra calories that comes with using oil, you could use cooking spray if you want. Coconut oil cooking spray would likely add a nice flavor to it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

chocolate almond protein balls

For the last couple years I've been buying protein powder, only to let it go to waste . I keep buying it because I get into a funk about my diet--I get tired of eating X food, grocery shopping, trying to decide what to eat, etc., or I start overeating just about everything--and then decide I'm going to go back to something similar to my pre-op diet: two protein shakes per day, plus a meal. So, I spend some money on protein powder, make one or two shakes, quickly realize that they don't fill me or satisfy me the way they used, and then stop making shakes. Then the protein powder sits in the cabinet forever, until such time I toss it or either give it away or resell it. Then I start the cycle all over again. And now that I'm 3.5 years our from gastric bypass surgery, I really don't need protein shakes anymore anyway; I typically get all my protein from food with little effort.

I finally decided that I'm going to put the protein powder, as well as some ingredients haunting my cabinets, to use by making protein balls.

They're super simple to make and you don't have to bake them, either. You can use pretty much any kind of protein powder, nut butter, and mix-ins you want. Just keep the same measurements I stated below. I used chocolate protein powder, almond butter, and rolled oats to make these.  If you like a strong, more traditional almond flavor, you could add a little almond extract. Otherwise it will taste more like almond butter. I also added some cinnamon.

Chocolate Almond Protein Balls
Make 12 protein balls

1 cup rolled oats (not instant oats)
1 scoop chocolate protein powder (my scoop is 80 cc)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 TB almond butter (or another nut butter--up to you!)
4 TB milk (more or less, as needed)
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
  1. Put the rolled oats, protein powder and cinnamon in a bowl.
  2. Add the almond butter and mix it up. (You could use your hands, which will mix it better, but you might want to spray your hands with some non-stick cooking spray first; it's gets messy!)
  3. Add the almond extract if you're using it. This will give it more traditional, sweet almond flavor, but you might prefer the natural flavor of the almond butter.
  4. Add the milk and mix. You may add more or less. It depends on how dry the mixture is and how well it hold together.
  5. Scoop out some of the mixture. Press it together in your hands and then roll it into a ball. How well it holds together will determine if you should add more milk or some water. It should hold together and be a little sticky, but not runny or crumbly. In other words, it should hold its shape.
  6. Store these in the fridge in an airtight container for about a week.
This recipe using almond butter from Aldi and Syntrax Nectar Sweets Chocolate protein powder is about 73 calories and 5g protein per protein ball. This will vary depending on the type of nut butter and protein you use.