Flexing Some New Muscles

In our household, Travis does a majority of the cooking. He has a knack for being able to throw things together without using a recipe. It’s not that I can’t cook at all, I can certainly follow a recipe, but I don’t enjoy cooking the same way Travis does. Mostly, I don’t like all the prep that comes with cooking, plus I enjoy the eating so much, I almost don’t care about the cooking. Also, I’m not very good at chopping, and I tend to get distracted while cooking.

Travis has been taking a lot of jobs that take him out of town lately, so I’ve been left to fend for myself in the cooking department. Obviously, I’m not completely helpless, but I tend to default to more processed foods because they’re simple. I’ve decided I don’t want to depend on those crap foods anymore. I want to start flexing my cooking muscles. Over the past few years, I’ve picked up a few new recipes, but this year, I decided one of my resolutions would be to make one new dish each week. I thought this could be manageable and possibly actually fun.

I’m still with my parents in San Francisco, so I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up with this resolution, but actually, with the exception of the first few days of the year, I not only made a new dish tonight, but have another new one planned for tomorrow.

I actually have been enjoying cooking for me and my dad while I’m here – it makes me feel like I’m doing something productive, and it means I know my dad gets to eat real food. He tends to eat cheese and bread and an apple for dinner, all week. So, for New Year’s Day I made Spaghetti Bolognese (which I had made before, but is a newer recipe,) and the other day I showed him this recipe for Crockpot Braised Beef Ragu and Polenta I found on Pinch of Yum.

My parents didn’t own a Crockpot, since they’d given me theirs years ago – but I figured I could probably make this recipe work on the stovetop using a Dutch Oven. However, this morning, after we hit up the grocery store at 7am (seriously. first people in the store.) we went to Target and got a Crockpot.

When I was making this recipe, I noticed it said browning the beef first was optional. MUSIC TO MY EARS. Browning the beef was just going to be one extra step, and an additional dirty pot. I happily skipped that step and dumped all the ingredients right into the Crockpot. Then, all I had to do was let it cook on low for 8 hours. Easy peasy. I went ahead and followed the recipe to a T, and used the two cans of whole tomatoes. Next time I make this, I would only use one can because the sauce was really liquid so I added some flour at the end to thicken it up a bit.

Polenta was another new item to me – I’ve made grits before, but never polenta, so this was exciting, and also, super simple. Seriously, for a food that seems so fancy, it took no time at all. I used chicken broth instead of water, and threw in some grated parmesan at the end. Instead of leaving it kind of mushy, I let it get thick, then put it in an oiled bowl to set for about 10 minutes before cutting it into wedges.

So, how did it all turn out?

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A-MAZING.

 

I am so proud of myself! Everything was so good – even if I made enough for a billion people and it was just the two of us eating. I would definitely make this recipe again, and again, and again.

Have you made anything new lately? 

Welcome 2015

We are now officially eight days into the new year, and I have not made good on any of my “resolution” plans.

I’ve tried to think about what I wanted to accomplish in 2015. 2014 was so up and down and emotionally exhausting that I wanted to really think about things that would make me a better person and/or things that would make me happy.

Last year I tried to read 100 books. Sadly, that ended up being a little bit out of my reach (by 30 some books), but that of course doesn’t count the multiple times I re-read books. This year I plan to attempt to read 75 books with a stretch goal of 100 books.

I started two Pinterest boards for 2015, one for a new dish to make each week this year (looks like I’ll likely have to double or triple up on some of those) and a Baking in 2015 board. I’d like to spend more time in the kitchen this year, actually making food from scratch.

Another goal of mine, since I work in a gym, is to spend at least 30 minutes three times per week on exercise. I’d like to challenge myself to take group exercise classes as well. Our Y has great TRX classes, Indoor Cycling, and I want to go back to ballet, at least once a week.

I’ve also decided to sign up to finally finish the TCRG exam.

2015, this is gonna be my year, dammit.

2014 In Books

Last year, I set a goal through GoodReads to read 100 books. Sadly, I fell short of that goal by 30 some books, but I did still read some books that were great.

Here are my favorites

Panic – Lauren Oliver

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

Texts From Jane Eyre – Mallory Ortberg

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Outlander Series

The Secret Place – Tana French

The Magicians Series – Lev Grossman

 

 

 

I didn’t include The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness in this list, because you should read the trilogy, starting with A Discovery of Witches. Am.az.ing.

This year I set my reading goal at 75 books, but will push for that 100 :)

What were your favorite reads of 2014?

Hail and Farewell, 2014

Hang on, folks, this is a long one.

It’s no secret that this year has been particularly full of ups and downs for me and my family. Each year brings its own challenges and excitement, but 2014 really feels like it has outdone itself. While things became more and more crazy, stressful, dramatic, exhausting, I found myself pulling more and more away from blogging. I didn’t know what to say – if I even had anything to say. I never want a blog to be a dumping ground for bad news or negativity, and while, on the whole a lot of great things have happened to me this year, the struggles have been real.

The year started off with meetings and interviews, I wasn’t even sure what, if anything might come from them, but I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and began a journey that lead to my new job, which I love. I’m actually really proud of myself for doing something that kind of scared me. A friend and colleague had recommended me for a job I would never have considered for myself, and instead of balking completely, I took his advice, and simply explored. While that didn’t end up my new job, it lead to what is my new job, and a transition that was much needed for me in my work life.

In February, I gave notice at my old job, and Travis and I waited to close on a house. We finally closed the end of the month, and on the first weekend in March, in the pouring rain, with both of us really sick, we moved into our first house. Homeownership has been a lot of things – exciting, and scary, and a learning experience. I believe we had already put the wheels in motion in late  February and March for a DIY reality home improvement show which we ended up filming in June.

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The middle of February, into March also brought what would become the scary cancer diagnosis for my mom. A dentist appointment Valentine’s day week lead to follow ups with primary care, rhemutologists, an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor, and finally an oncologist. Stage V soft pallet cancer. So, before beginning my new job, I flew up to San Francisco to be with my mom for what would be her first surgery on April 1st. Talk about the worst April Fools day ever. The week after my mom’s surgery, I started my new job.

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The rest of April was stressful as my mom spent weeks in the hospital recovering. She wasn’t able to go home until just after Easter.

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While Travis and I were sourcing items for our DIY projects, we came home one evening in early May to discover we’d been broken into. This was terrifying, and exhausting, and stressful. Dealing with insurance (which was awful) and working to replace the items that were stolen was actually pretty difficult and sad. It seemed for the week after, we would realize another thing that was missing, or something that we had already known was missing was more valuable than we’d realized. We did get lucky in a lot of ways. Neither one of us was home when the break in took place. Both of our cats were safe, and while we did lose a lot of items, nearly everything was replaceable. The feeling of violation, knowing someone had rummaged through your things, took months to really go away.

 

 

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The break in took place on a Thursday, and that Sunday we ended up adopting our lovely Pitbull mix, Pickles. While we had always planned to adopt a dog, our timeline was pushed up by the break in, for sure. We got super lucky though, and Pickles is a very loving, sweet girl, and she’s fitting in to our little family quite well.

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End of May/early June we filmed our DIY reality show – which hasn’t aired yet, so I can’t really talk too much about it – but woah. Talk about exhausting. We filmed for 4 days – one on, one off, then 3 on and I think we both totaled about 3 hours of sleep the whole time, maybe 4. We are thrilled with how our rooms turned out, and if you’re ever watching House vs. House on FYI Network, you might see our episode.

Sometime toward the end of June I went blonde, which is not really important, but simply another change for the year.

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By the end of June, my mom was getting ready to start chemo and radiation when the MRI she had done came back with something suspicious. This lead to her going in for a second surgery in July, and several more weeks in the hospital recovering. She also spent time at two different skilled nursing facilities in the Bay Area before coming home Labor Day, yes, September.

While all of this was going on, Travis was traveling for work, I was working hard to prepare for my first giant fundraising event at work, and all the regular day to day stresses. On the plus side, the fundraiser was a huge success, and the day went off without a hitch. The bad news is the day after my dad had to take my mom into the ER, and things quickly got worse.

That Sunday night I got a call from my dad saying they were moving my mom to the ICU because her heart rate was rapid, and she was having trouble breathing. Another call, very early Monday morning said they were going to intubate her to assist her breathing. About 20 minutes later, a third call – when doctors intubated my mom, she went into cardiac arrest. She was on a ventilator, she had medication regulating her heart beat, she was on continuous dialysis because her kidneys had shut down, and was going into further organ failure. I took the second flight out of LAX not knowing what to expect. I didn’t even really know what I had packed – I’d just thrown things into a suitcase.

When my dad picked me up from the airport, he told me that it was really bad – doctors had called in the chaplain to meet with him at the hospital, and that when he got there, he couldn’t tell if my mom were alive or dead. The machines were doing all the work of living for her. He also let me know that the doctors had told him, if my mom didn’t regain consciousness in the next day we would have a decision to make.

By some miracle, by the time we got to the hospital and up to ICU, my mom had woken up. She didn’t know what had happened to her, and was worried I was going to get in trouble at work for being at the hospital. She really showed us, and the doctors what a fighter she is, because by the end of the week they were getting ready to move her out of ICU. She was off the ventilator, off the blood pressure medication, and had been downgraded to intermittent dialysis. The doctors and nurses were incredibly impressed with her recovery.

She still spent quite a bit of time in the hospital and back and forth in the ICU before going to a rehab hospital in Marin for several weeks. I came back up to San Francisco in October for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention I’d signed up with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training for a third season back in April? Cause, yeah I did that. I didn’t make it to any runs, did basically no training, and walked the whole race with two other teammates. It was rough, but I did it.

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I ended up spending about 5 weeks in San Francisco thanks to support from work, and the Family Medical Leave Act. I went back to work the very beginning of December, my mom was finally able to return home on the 11th. Then, just in case things weren’t doing enough changes, our Senior Vice President and Executive Director at work, accepted a position in San Diego. I am so sad to see her leave us. She’s been an incredible leader and inspiration to me in the short time I’ve gotten to work with her, and I will really miss her. This also means there’s going to be some changes, probably big ones early in 2015. Guess it’ll just mean more rolling with the punches.

Add to this the fact that my mom’s MRI came back with shadows on her lungs and something on her brain, and we’re looking at a truly exhausting year. My mom will go in for a PET scan on the 2nd to get a better look at things, but seriously?

To really round off the year, while Travis was still traveling for work, Pickles got worms, and I got a nasty cold just before I was supposed to leave for home. Seriously, I found a worm on Pickles’ butt on Sunday night, I took her to the vet Monday, worked all day Tuesday feeling icky, and got on a plane Tuesday evening.

And now I’m back up in San Francisco to help while my mom gets strong enough to be completely independent at home.

 

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Toss in a few more weird things like having a weird allergic reaction to something that caused my face to swell up, and one of my parents’ dogs also having cancer (because a parent having cancer isn’t enough.) and you’ve got our 2014. Travis did a lot of traveling for work this year as well – I packed a lot of the apartment on my own, and did a lot of unpacking, and ordering items for the DIY show while he was out of the country. On the whole, I am ready for 2014 to be over – I don’t know how much longer I can stay on the emotional roller coaster it’s been. That being said, I’ve been incredibly lucky. Everyone at work is amazing and supportive, and all of my friends and so much of our family have really come together to help us get through all of this. I couldn’t have made it through the year without the love, light, and support. I feel amazingly lucky, all things considered.

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I have plenty of hopes and goals for 2015, but the biggest one is that my mom will be cancer free.

What are your 2015 goals?

 

Ups and Downs

Hello friends. It’s been a rough week for me, and my family.

Back in March, my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer of the soft pallet. She had surgery on April 1st to remove a tumor and her lymph nodes, and the plan was that she would begin chemo and radiation in earnest by the end of May. Well, while in the hospital she got pneumonia and ended up being in the hospital for 21 days. By the time she was getting ready to do all the pre-blood work and tests needed to prepare her for chemo and radiation, they discovered another tumor.

So, she went back in for surgery again in July, this time a more aggressive surgery removing not only the tumor, but part of her jaw bone as well. She recovered in the hospital, as well as two different skilled nursing facilities for about 7 weeks before coming home on Labor Day. She’d been able to start chemo and radiation while in the skilled nursing, so by last week she’d had 4 weeks of radiation, and 3 chemo treatments.

The week of the 15th my mom went in for her normal pre-chemo blood work etc, and it came back not great. It looked like she had a kidney infection, so they went ahead and did radiation, but no chemo. She also started taking antibiotics. The chemo and radiation have been creating a lot of mucus in her chest, and toward the end of the week she was getting really weak and having a hard time getting the mucus up. By Friday night she had spiked a fever, and was too weak to even sit up on her own, so my dad took her to the ER early Saturday morning. They decided to admit her, and she was on more antibiotics, fluids etc. Sometime during Sunday evening she took a turn, and was having a really difficult time breathing.

My dad got a phone call from the hospital around 11pm saying they were going to move her up to the ICU to keep a closer eye on her. Sometime around 3am he got another phone call from the ICU saying the doctors were going to have to intubate her, because she wasn’t breathing well. This is about the time my dad called me, and said to sit tight, but that I might want to think about coming up. About 20 minutes later, he got another call from the hospital, they had intubated her, and she had lost her pulse. They’d had to perform CPR, and were able to get her hear beating again. At that point though, the ventilator was breathing for her, she was on medication to control her heart rate (which was REALLY low), and they had run a central line in her neck to start doing continuous dialysis because her kidneys had failed. My dad called me again from the hospital saying I needed to come home – things were not good.

I flew up Monday morning, and on our drive from the airport to the hospital my dad let me know that doctors had informed him if my mom didn’t regain consciousness in the next day or so, we would have a decision to make. Thankfully, by the time we got to the hospital, she had woken up. She still looked awful – her face was super gaunt, and she was a yellow grey color. She was on the ventilator until sometime Tuesday, and by end of day Wednesday they’d taken the tube out. Thankfully her liver started recovering function, and they were able to take her off the blood pressure medication because it started leveling out on its own again.

She’s still doing intermittent dialysis because her kidneys haven’t regained function they way they’d like – they’re not sure if they will completely recover or not, but that’s something to worry about later. Right now, she’s ready to be released from ICU, they’re just waiting on a room to be available on the transitional ICU floor. We’re hoping that next steps after hospital will be to an Acute Rehab facility where she’ll be able to continue her physical therapy for 3 hours a day. She’s lost a lot of strength and really need that help to get back up and moving around.

I came home early Saturday morning, and have been doing my own recovery at home – sleeping, watching bad TV, snuggling with the cats and Pickles. I still can’t get over how stressful and exhausting the week was. Who knew sitting in a hospital room for 8 hours a day would be so tiring? I’m grateful that my mom is getting better, and am so happy I got the opportunity to spend time with her this week, even though it was really difficult seeing her so weak and ill.

Things

Last Thursday, I came home to find the front door open – and our house ransacked.

It was not a good feeling, and over the last few days I’ve come to realize a number of things from this experience.

Things are just that: things. They can be replaced. It may be a pain in the ass to replace a laptop and external hard drive with 6 years worth of music, photos, writing, web design and more – but the laptop and external hard drives can be replaced.

What can’t be replaced: our cats, and our sense of safety.

Bits went missing for about an hour which was terrifying, and basically my worst nightmare come true. Thankfully she was just hiding somewhere in the house really well, and Travis, me, Peanut and Bits are all safe.

This weekend we adopted a super sweet Pit Bull who we have named Pickles. She is incredibly adorable, loving and the perfect addition to our family.

I am hoping to come back and blog more frequently, but I’m not so sure – so, we’ll see.

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