Friday, December 1, 2017

update #3: the war on back pain

This is a good representation of how I'm feeling about my back pain lately. I really just want to be done with it already; it's frustrating, and physically and mentally exhausting.

It's been about a month since I last updated you on my war on back pain. Where am I now? Well, I'm not there yet, but I'm feeling a bit better than I was a few months ago.

I just completed 12 sessions of physical therapy (PT). I'd say on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being always in pain and 10 being I'm feeling no pain), I'm feeling somewhere around 5 most of the time. I was hoping PT would help me more, but it hasn't. I saw a bit of an improvement a few weeks ago, in that I wasn't waking up in pain in the middle of the night, but then I plateaued and now I seem to be regressing back to waking up in pain.

The next step is to get a spinal injection of cortisone, which I will be having on December 14. I went to see that doctor this week. I was nervous, because I'd read many not-so-good reviews about him online. Most of them said he's arrogant, has a bad bedside manner, minimizes people's pain, and is a know-it-all. In the end I decided that it would be great to have an obviously nice, caring doctor, but ultimately what matters is whether he's good at what he does, and if he has good aim with that needle. Turned out I was worried for nothing. He was a nice guy. He chatted and laughed with me. He explained the procedure and what I can expect without me having to ask a million questions. He said they'll use the MRI scans to determine where exactly the injection needs to go, and they'll use live fluoroscopy to help him guide the needle. I may or may not have a temporary increase in pain for a few hours up to two days; it happens to some people and not others. This injection should decrease the inflammation and help alleviate the pain over the longer term. I'm hoping I'll only need one injection, but the doctor said it's pretty common to need a second injection. Afterwards, I may be sent back to PT for a little while longer.

So, that's where I'm at. I'm still using my back brace when I sit for long periods, such as taking longer car rides, sitting in seminars, and at my desk; I have a standing desk at work, which I love; I use a knee pillow at night since I'm a side sleeper; and I try to stay active.

Speaking of being active, my workout routine has suffered quite a bit the last month. My trainer was on medical leave starting at the beginning of October, then I went on my business trip, then I started PT. Also, my workouts were very limited due to not being able to do anything that's considered high impact, like jump squats and burpees, and no lifting weights over my head. Around Halloween time, I developed neck and shoulder blade pain, which may have been from the PT, and it gave me headaches; I was miserable for most of my relaxing "staycation" because of it. That lingered for three weeks until I finally took the advice of a few people and got my very first massage, which was fabulous BTW. That seemed to help a lot. And now my back is hurting again, so I'm taking it easy with my workouts.

Eventually I'll feel normal again. I have to, right??

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

homemade french onion soup

This weekend I made French onion soup for the first time ever. It was time-consuming, but I'm so glad I did!

I've been wanting to make onion soup for quite a long time; I love it. Obviously the best part is the cheesy crouton on top, but I definitely love the whole package. I can make a meal of it. Not only because I love it, but because it completely fills me up (I am weight loss surgery patient, after all!). But I don't order it very often. Mainly because I'm always completely torn about whether I want an actual meal, like a burger or something, or I want the delicious onion soup. On the one hand, ONION SOUP! On the other hand, a complete meal with leftovers to take home. The meal almost always wins. I think, too, that I just can't get away from who I am: someone who craves food variety, and has a real FOMO (fear of missing out). What if I get the soup and I really miss having the burger? What if I get the burger and it isn't good? What if they stop making burgers or onion soup? And now that my stomach is so small, I can't have a meal AND the soup. And I hate wasting food. And sometimes I don't like leftovers. *sigh* The struggle is real...

I found this recipe online and decided to give it a try: How to Make French Onion Soup. It didn't seem overly complicated, most of the cooking time is hands-off, it didn't have any non-typical onion soup ingredients, and I have pretty good luck with recipes from The Kitchn

I had to buy a few ingredients to make this, but it wasn't anything I won't use again: crusty bread for the croutons (got some off the day-old bread clearance rack--it's gonna get toasted and dunked anyway!); gruyere cheese, which I got on sale in the deli; brandy; and wine (I got the little four-pack so I don't waste a bottle--I'm not a wine drinker). 

I set about slicing all the onions (lots of crying was done...). They went in the pot with the melted butter and olive oil and cooked for about 15 minutes. The you add the sugar, salt and pepper and cook for about an hour.

This is about three pounds of yellow onions. Close enough!

This is what it cooks down to. For whatever reason, I can never seem to get my onions to the "dark walnut" stage of color when caramelizing. I don't know if it's the recipe, me, my stove, or what. They still tasted great, though. To this you add the flour, cook for a minute, and then add the broth and wine and simmer for at least an hour.

This is after adding the broth and wine and then simmering for a little more than an hour.

I finished it off with about 1/4 cup of brandy. Then I sliced up the bread and toasted it in the toaster oven. After popping it on top of the soup, and then topping with a couple slices of Gruyere cheese, I put the bowls on a cookie sheet and broiled until the cheese browned. This is the only thing I did differently from the recipe. The recipe says to bake the bowls of soup in the oven for a half hour and then broil to brown the cheese, but my bowls don't specifically say "oven safe" on the bottom and I didn't want to chance them breaking. Still came out just fine, though.

The results? Divine!! I typically judge French onion soup by two factors: the cheesiness and crunchiness of the crouton, and the saltiness of the soup itself. Obviously, I can control the crouton very easily, so no problem there. It was kind of crunchy-chewy, with lots of melted cheese. I was worried that the soup would be very salty, as onion soup usually is, but it wasn't salty at all. As a matter of fact, I think I could have easily doubled the salt without an issue. Since I followed the recipe and used what was called for, I just added more salt and pepper at the end.

I would totally make this again, but I think I would add at least another pound of onions. It just didn't have enough onions for me, as I typically prefer onion soup to be a bit on the chunky side. Although this was pretty time-consuming to make, it was mostly hands-off cooking time.

(And yes, one bowl completely filled me up.)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

cinnamon baked oatmeal

So, I made this while I was on vacation a couple weeks ago:  Cinnamon Sugar Baked Oatmeal. Just click on the name to go to the recipe.

This oatmeal was so yummy and the recipe was so easy! What I liked about it was that it came out more like an oatmeal bar. I'm thinking I could add raisins and pass them off as actual oatmeal bars. Yup, I think I need to try that!

I also liked that it calls for only one banana, as opposed to the three bananas in this recipe I made awhile back for peanut butter brownie oatmeal.  There are times when I forget I'm saving the bananas for a reason and then I end up eating them. So, I'm left with one overripe banana. What does one do with just one overripe, mushy banana? Make this recipe, of course. :)

If sugar is an issue for you, just omit the cinnamon sugar topping. Or you could use an artificial sweetener that scoops like sugar. I kept the real sugar, but was careful to test the waters before eating a bigger piece. The oatmeal itself has only one banana and 1/4 cup of brown sugar, so it has a bit less sugar that the peanut butter brownie oatmeal recipe, which uses three bananas. You could even sub in a different milk, like nut milk that's unsweetened, for even less sugar. I used whole milk this time around, but next time I might use my Fairlife milk, which is half the sugar of regular milk.

So, what baked oatmeal recipe should I make next? I'm thinking something with blueberries, since I have a bunch of fresh blueberries in the freezer. I've also got some unsweetened coconut in the fridge. I have cocoa powder galore. Maybe another batch using the cocoa and coconut. I'm sure if I scour the cabinets and freezer enough I'll find lots more that I can whip into a batch of baked oatmeal!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

homemade turkey stock

I was on vacation from work last week. I actually had what people would call a "staycation," and a pretty productive one at that. Ick, I hate that term. "Staycation." Even though I was on vacation and stayed home, it's still a vacation in my book. Any time I don't have to be at work is a vacation.

Anyway, my plans were to go to physical therapy for my back issues, scan a ton of family photos, do some cooking, and do a little clothing shopping. I'm happy to report I did all those things! It was a great week, other than a neck problem cropping up, and even though I wasn't super productive, I rested a lot, had a leisurely week, and crossed some items off the to-do list, like dropping two more bags of clothing at Good Will.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I made a turkey. It was on my birthday, actually. I then used the carcass to make turkey stock. I had to cut the carcass up, because it was too long for my biggest pot. (As you can see, it still has a good amount of meat on it, which was used later for turkey salad.) I tossed in a bunch of vegetable scraps from my odds-and-ends bag I keep in the freezer for such occasions:  a couple scallions, some celery, celery leaves, and carrots. I also tossed in some fresh sage, parsley and rosemary from my garden, fresh onions, bay leaf, dried thyme, some peppercorns, and a little salt. I then covered it all in water and boiled it until the carcass started falling apart. There's really no set time I use. When it looks done and smells great, it's done. There's also no set recipe.  Whatever I feel like throwing in and actually have on-hand is what goes in; however, I will say that I typically use mostly the same things all the time.

Still lots of meat on that carcass!

Look at all those veggies! Everyone is going for a nice, long swim. :)

This is what I got when I was done:  five quarts of homemade, delicious turkey stock. You have no idea how good this smells (and tastes)! My intention was to freeze these jars, but apparently these canning jars are no freezer-safe; I had one casualty when doing a test freeze. I put the other four quarts into Ziploc bags and laid them flat on a cookie sheet to freeze. Kind of a bummer, because I really wanted to use the jars. I'll have to find another use for them since I have a dozen.

Monday, November 6, 2017

happy birthday to me!

Yes, today is my birthday.  I'm 43 years old. How the hell did I get to be 43??  It seems to have happened overnight. My mom always told me that once I hit 21 the years would fly by, and they have!

Anyway, I'm on vacation from work this week. This morning I put a turkey in the oven. It was hanging around the freezer for awhile and I decided I'll use it for various things: hot open turkey sandwiches, snacks for the kitties, and to make turkey stock. After I put it in the oven I took a little trip to Trader Joe's in search of pure vanilla extract. (Yes, I left the house with the oven on. Washer was on, too!) The price has skyrocketed this year, so I figured I'd check Trader Joe's, as I find their prices are lower than most places on many items. I found a 4 oz. bottle of bourbon vanilla for $8.99. That's not bad considering Price Rite--a discount store--wanted $4.99 for 2 oz. and Sam's Club had an 8 oz. bottle for $20.98. I also plan to make my own; however, I've noticed that there are no vanilla beans being sold in my usual haunts. I know there's a big shortage right now, so that's why the prices are so high and beans are scarce. If I find some beans and make my own extract, I'll post about it.

I bought these flowers for myself at Trader Joe's ($3.99!), along with some pineapple salsa, two bags of riced cauliflower, and a cat. A cat?? Just kidding! That's Leia and she was highly interested in my flowers. I had to put them on the fireplace mantle so the cats can't nibble on the leaves.

When I got home, I found the house hadn't caught on fire, much to my relief. Actually, the oven wasn't even on anymore. Upon further inspection I found that the microwave, toaster oven, coffee maker, laundry room and dining room were all without power. I headed down into the basement to check out the electrical panels (a scary prospect: heading to the basement, alone, in a very old house...). None of the circuits were tripped. I let Bob know and he called to tell me to check the sub panel. Turns out everything on the sub panel was without power, which means the sub panel is blown or the wiring is blown. Either way, not a good thing. Luckily the fridge and deep  freezer are not on the sub panel, so my food is in no danger of spoiling.

So, yeah. I came home to a half-cooked turkey and a half-done load of wash. I have a gas stove, which is great when the power goes out. But the oven is controlled by digital buttons. I grabbed an extension cord and was able to plug the stove in and finish the turkey (much to Leia's delight).  Unfortunately I can't finish the wash because I have well water, which requires a pump and that pump runs on power. I do have water at the moment, but I need to conserve it until the power is fixed.

I have to go to physical therapy later for my back. It seems to be helping a little; however, now I have a lot of pain in the base of my neck and left should blade, which is causing me a headache. It's been a week and isn't going away. I'll have to mention that when I go to PT later.

No big plans for the rest of the day, other than to scan some of the family pictures. I brought all the bins back from my parents' house and I've decided I want to scan as much as possible so we don't lose any precious memories. There are lots of scrapbooks, too, the my grandfather put together. I think it will be a fun, if very tedious, project for the remainder of the week.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

update #2: the war on back pain

I have an update, but it's not as good as I was hoping for. Although, if I wrote this a couple weeks ago it would have been better.

I wrote earlier this week about my business/vacation trip I took recently. Right before the trip, I got my diagnosis from the orthopedic doctor. He prescribed me a steroid pack, which contained 21 pills to be taken over the course of six days. Since I can't take NSAIDs due to the gastric bypass, this was the next best option.

I debated back and forth as to whether I should start the pack right away, which would mean I would finish the pack while I was away, or wait to start it when I got back from CA. The reason I couldn't make up my mind was that the drug information pamphlet that came with the prescription stated that it could lower my immune system, which meant I could get sick while I was away. Since I'd be trapped on a plane with 150+ people for 6+ hours, I figured it would be likely I'd get sick. But then I started thinking about how much pain I was in and how much more pain I'd be in after that long plane ride, sitting in a conference room for several days, and then taking another plane ride home. That made up my mind:  I started the pack that Thursday before my trip.

I have to say, the steroids really made a big difference in my pain levels. The pain wasn't completely gone, but I no longer was waking up at 2 am already in pain. I also used my back brace for the plane rides, as well as long site-seeing drives and the business conference. I didn't need any of the Percocet that was prescribed "just in case." I managed with some occasional Tylenol.

When I got back to work after my trip, my standing desk had been installed in my office. It's pretty neat. My monitors are attached to the platform and it has a shelf for my mouse and keyboard. I can raise it so I can stand up whenever I need to without any fuss. Lowering it is just as easy. My boss said it looks like it belongs on the Star Trek Enterprise. It definitely helps alleviate some of the back pain.

My workouts are pretty limited at the moment. I'm the queen of lunges and body weight squats. I'm not supposed to twist; lift weights above my head; do anything that's high impact, like running or jumping; and no floor exercises.  The physical therapist says I can try some of the exercises I stopped, like kettle bell swings, but said to listen to my body and don't do anything that causes pain. I have to say, although it's very limited right now, I'm not sad that I can't do burpees, jump squats or flutter kicks.

Anyway, now that I'm home and back to work, my pain is back. It's not quite as bad as before I took the steroid pack, but it's still not good. Part of the problem is having to go out of town last weekend and then having to sit through several three-hour training sessions this week.  Even though I'm using the standing desk and I'm still using my back brace when I'm sitting at work, I find it's just not enough.  I bought myself a knee pillow for bed, which I just started using this past weekend. It's meant to put the back into alignment when sleeping on my side and take the pressure off the hips and lower back.  I've also started physical therapy, so I'll see how that goes.

Hopefully someday I will be pain free like most other people.  I can't remember what it's like to not feel some sort of pain on a daily basis.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

business, with a little vacation mixed in

A couple weeks ago I went on a business trip to California. I took my cousin with me. Just as I did last time (2015), I tacked on a few extra days so I can see some sights and have a little relaxation time. It's been a rocky year, so we both needed the down time.

Before the trip I took some precautions to minimize back pain, since I knew a 6+ hour flight, followed by three days at a conference, and then another plane ride back would be hard on me. I took the steroids the doctor prescribed, used my back brace as much as possible, tried to keep moving, and brought the Percocet along in case I really needed it. My back was mostly OK for the week, although the plane rides were tough! I'll post another update on my back soon.

The view from our hotel room.
The pool was surprisingly quiet all week.

We left on Sunday at 7:30 am our time (EDT) and arrived in Palm Springs at 12:30 pm (PDT).  (Travelling backwards through the time zones is always a nice bonus on the first day, since it feels like the day lasts forever. It's usually nice while I'm at my destination, too, as I typically wake up earlier.) The airport at home was surprisingly busy and chaotic at 5:30 am, but we made it through the long baggage check line. We then lucked out by getting TSA PreCheck and were able to breeze through security pretty quickly. Our layover in Chicago was about an hour and 20 minutes, but it took awhile to get to the gate and off the plane, so we didn't have time to get a meal before we had to board the next plane. We ended up eating the cookies the airline hands out, which wasn't exactly a great meal for a WLS post-op. I was OK, though, as I just kept sipping my water.

Monday we visited The Living Desert, which is a zoo. The zoo was very nice and well-kept. There was a shuttle that you could take around the park. For $6.00 you could ride all day, hopping on and off as needed. My favorites were feeding the giraffe, and seeing the 14 year old porcupine, although he was sleeping the whole time, the meerkats, and the fossas. I'd never heard of a fossa, but it was cute and somewhat cat-like. Every time the shuttle went by the enclosure, it would run along side us. As cute as it is, though, I've learned it's a top predator in Madagascar and will eat pretty much anything in the forest.

Pretty yellow flowers, which smelled so nice! You can find them throughout the park.
I got to feed a giraffe twice. The first time the worker was using my cell phone to take pictures; however, she must not have hit the right button because there were no pictures on my phone. So, I came back later and fed him again and got some good pictures--my cousin took the pictures this time! 

One of my ancestors. This is where my height comes from. ;)

Cute little meerkat. He sat this way for a longggg time!
They seem to have no problem staying focused for long periods of time.

This guy is so cute! 
Tuesday we did some shopping, though neither of us actually bought anything. We were amazed at how many consignment and thrift stores there are in that area. Being that it was very close to Palm Springs, we had high hopes that we would find some nice things. Meh, not so much. We both decided that we're not cut out for thrift store shopping, as we don't really have the patience or desire to comb through the racks for hours looking for the perfect item at a rock-bottom price.

Wednesday, Thursday and part of Friday I attended the business conference, so there's isn't much to say here. It was very informative, the food was great and it was very fast-paced.

Friday afternoon we drove through the Joshua Tree National Park. We started at the west entrance, which is actually the north end of the park, and exited through the south entrance.  It was a really nice ride, but you must appreciate the desert landscape in order to enjoy it. The weather was beautiful. I was surprised that it was cooler than in Palm Springs. It was about 75 degrees with a very nice breeze.  We stopped and took some pictures here and there. We made sure to use the bathroom before we entered the park, as there are no bathrooms within unless you're at a campground. There were lots of campgrounds, though much different from campgrounds I'm used to.  Here's a link to the maps on their website if you're interested in looking:

A Joshua tree, for which the park is named.Sections of the park look like a Joshua tree forest, whereas others have just a couple here and there, or none at all.

Seems like a road to nowhere. Gorgeous scenery, though!

Saturday we packed up and headed back home. Unfortunately our flight taking off from Palm Springs was delayed 45 minutes due to weather in Chicago. Then when we got to Chicago, our flight home was delayed about an hour and half, which was good because there was severe weather:  torrential rain, lightning and high winds. Oh, and a tornado watch. The whole plan was rocking from the wind. I was really annoyed, though, because they put us on the plane knowing that severe weather was coming and we couldn't take off--it was already pouring rain outside--and made us sit on the tarmac for two hours. Then once we got moving, there were at least 10 planes ahead of us for takeoff. Obviously I'm glad we didn't take off during severe weather, but it was annoying that they didn't just have us wait in the airport and then board the plane when the weather started to improve. Anyway, instead of getting in at 10 pm, we got in around 12:30 am and we finally got to bed around 2 am. Between the time change and the late night, we were exhausted on Sunday.

So, that was my trip. We had a good time, saw some nice sights and spent some quality time together.

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 than 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 Baked 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!