Here’s to a NORMAL New Year!

I’ve been thinking about that phrase ‘Back to Normal’ ever since Lori wrote her post the day after Christmas.  I JUST LOVE IT!  Almost gone is the anxiety that ‘it could all disappear,’ or ‘I might revert to my old habits,’ or ‘I might regain it all plus some.’  It feels so good to have some confidence that I can continue to live this way.  This way that is relatively pain free, and full of more energy than I’ve had in years.  I smile so much more (which I used to resent people saying) and I think its just because everything doesn’t hurt.  Today I did a boatload of laundry (my favorite chore) and I was thinking about how much I liked it and how I used to hate it.  And I realized it was because I could get those clothes out of the dryer and get them folded before they got wrinkled and the whole time I was standing and MY BACK DIDN’T HURT.

I have been thinking for a couple of days about what I should post for this last day of the year.  So many have done great reviews of their past year, and goals for the new year.  I just didn’t have it in me to put that much work into it.  But what I am looking forward to is this ‘new normal.’  Where I plan exercise into the days because I want to.  Where I can go out to eat with friends without agonizing over my choices.  Where I can choose NOT to go out to eat because I’d just rather have something healthier and tastier at home.  Where I can walk into just about any store and find something cute to wear.  Where I choose to drink water instead of diet coke most times just because I WANT water.  I like the way it makes me feel.  Where I can know with certainty that there will be days that I overeat and/or make poor choices and then go right back to NORMAL the next hour or the next day.

I do have a couple of non-weight related goals for the next year.  Actually for the next week, if I don’t run out of time.  I have been toying with the idea of starting an online Christian spiritual formation group for mutual accountability and encouragement in our spiritual walks, and I want to work on getting that set up and going.  And, I want to list a few of my quilts on Etsy and see what happens.  Both of these things are new territory for me, and so I have been procrastinating like crazy over them.  Maybe putting them down in writing will be the push I need.

Here is the start of two little quilts that I have been working on the last two days.  Just a collection of hand-painted fabric scraps that I had bought. The first one will have a lot more threadwork, and maybe more patches or embellishment added.  The second one will have little odd-shaped squares hand sewn on in a haphazard way.  I have seen two aerial views of slums recently that were quite beautiful, and I want to recreate that.

Tomorrow I just might be going to look at a new puppy!!  You guys will be the first to know if anything happens.

This blog world has been a wonderful blessing in my life this year.  I am grateful for each and every one of you.  You have inspired me, encouraged me, given good suggestions and insights, and most of all, you have been FUN!  I look forward to another year of deepening friendships among the fit and healthy!

A Quiet Day at Home

Somebody save me!  I can’t stop looking at dogs on the internet.  There are just thousands and thousands of dogs out there needing a home.  And I want one.  But I have been a bit burned by some of the dogs I have rescued having health or behavior problems that I hadn’t planned on…How do you know its the right dog?  I had seen a puppy on one of the rescue sites that seemed like he might be a good candidate.  But I didn’t want to rush into anything.  So I decided to spend a quiet day at home today, and to think and pray about whether this might be the right dog.  Finally I decided he was the dog for me, and when I called back to make an appointment, he had already been adopted.  I’m disappointed, but mostly I think that it wasn’t meant to be, and a better dog will come along.

So me and Sophie had a pretty good day at home.  I got a little bit done on a few new quilting projects that I had been mulling over.  And then I got a hankering to see a movie.  I had seen a little advertisement for a new Meryl Streep movie, and sure enough it was playing right here in town!  It was rated R, and seemed to be all about S-E-X (like Monk, I can’t say that word out loud LOL) but I thought I’d take a chance on it.

I left early enough to hit the gym (it sure feels good to WANT to exercise!) and then went to the movie.  I thought it was just a great movie.  Meryl Streep just did a great job, as usual.  But I LOVED that she looked her age.  Still beautiful, but a realistic 60. A vital, desirable, energetic 60.  She was creative, funny, fun, and they even had a scene with her running!  There was a hilarious scene where she checked out plastic surgery and went running out of the office.  She had great women friends.  And the S-E-X scenes only showed the after, not the during.  And maybe what I loved the most was that it showed how very difficult divorce is for the kids, even years after, and even when the kids are adults.  Not that I have an opinion on that or any experience with that.  I’m just saying…

So there you have it.  A quiet day at home.  But not exactly.  I came home, and got stuck on the internet rescue dog sites again.  I think I will have to put some barbed wire around my computer tomorrow to break the spell.  Maybe I’ll go to the gym followed by a visit to the local animal shelter…

Where I Was

No, this is not my look back at where I was a year ago.  Just a post about where I was the past two days.  Before I start, I want to thank all of you for your kind, heartfelt comments about Oliver.  There is something very special about this community of bloggers.  I think it is partly because we are all writers.  And maybe we find it easier to express ourselves in writing, and so share more here than we do ‘in person.’  And so when we have a loss, or a victory, or a tragedy, or a celebration, we get it better than some of our other friends do.  Anyway, thank you again.  Your comments have been REALLY really helpful.

So, before Christmas, I decided to give my mom a special present.  Christmas is always difficult for me to find time to spend separately with mom and dad.  Mom is usually a ‘grinch’ at Christmastime–she used to cheer for the Grinch on the Christmas special–it was part of our tradition.  Anyway, I decided to give her a trip to San Francisco, and it was scheduled for Monday/Tuesday.  I decided not to cancel out, and to just go ahead as planned.  The hotel was paid for and all that.  Overall, it was a successful trip.  But time with my mom is always difficult for me.  She wants things the way she wants them.  And, surprise, I want things the way I want them…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

Anyway, here is a little pictorial of what we did and where we went.

Of course, we had to go to a fabric store! This store is very famous, and has FOUR FLOORS of fabric and everything ever associated with fabric.  If you can believe it, I left without buying a thing!  There was just so much to see, and I really didn’t want to spend a lot of money without having something in mind.  So there you go.

Everything was still decorated for Christmas, so it was quite festive.  Macy’s, Neiman’s (which used to be City of Paris when we were kids) and Union Square all looked so pretty.

We checked into our hotel, which was pretty fancy (meaning they charge for everything, including $6 for 15 minutes on the internet…) and then spent some quality time at the bookstore across the street.  I got the new Susan Boyle CD, which from the little bits that I listened to last night seems fantastic, a new ‘cows’ calendar ( I don’t know why I love these cows so much) and of course, the requisite magazine.

Then we ate here.

This was not my choice of restaurants.  I had picked out a fancy foo foo place that served organic, fresh food.  But my mom saw this place and it brought back good memories for her, so we went there.  Well, it saved me a few bucks anyways.

The next morning, we had some extra time before the Asian Art Museum opened (sorry no pics, couldn’t figure out how to turn my flash off…) and I really wanted to exercise.  They had an excellent fitness room in the hotel, and I had it all to myself!  I got a really good workout in, between the free weights, the treadmill, and the exercise bike.  Oh, and they even had a ball that I used for some back stretches and crunches.  Excellent!  I probably wouldn’t have been as adventurous if anybody else had been there.  Maybe I’ll get over my ‘exercise shyness’ someday.  Oh yeah, I had stuck my pedometer in my pocket, and I got in 2.5 miles the first day, and 4.5 miles the next!

I had packed a bunch of snack stuff that didn’t require refrigeration, and all of it came in pretty handy.  In the morning, I walked across the street to the Walgreen’s and bought a couple of yogurts, and served them with the muesli that I had brought along!  I even remembered two plastic spoons.  It really doesn’t take much time or planning to bring healthy food along on a trip once you get into the habit of it.

Across from the museum is the opera house, which I think is really beautiful.

And that was the end of our trip to San Francisco.  It is funny now, but it wasn’t at the time.  I had also planned on eating lunch (and dessert) at a place called Citizen Cake. I saw this place years ago on Martha Stewart, and then I saw it again a few years ago when we took my niece to the opera.  I REALLY really wanted to eat at this place.  At the same time a tiny part of me was thinking, you are really done with the high sugar stuff.  But I was determined to go there.  So when my mom said it was too far to walk, I was VERY disappointed.

Before I took my mom home we ate at a little Chinese restaurant that she likes (only so-so.)  I did pretty good with my choices–green beans and chicken.  All the way home, I thought about all the places I could stop to get a really good dessert since I didn’t get to go to Citizen Cake.  I finally decided that I could eat all three of the chocolate nibby cookies that Vicky puts in a package, and it still would be 1/4 of the calories in one rich chocolate dessert, would be more satisfying, and I would not have the problem of the TOO MUCH SUGAR thing going on again.  I brewed some of my really good coffee, and thoroughly enjoyed my treat, sans guilt, while I looked at dogs on Petfinder again…

A Most Memorable Christmas

That’s what my dad said when I broached the little plan for my sister and him to come up here for the day, and to spend the night.  “oh, I think that will make it a most memorable Christmas.”  And that made me so happy. Because months ago I had talked to my sister and said, we have to try to make Christmas special for Dad this year (because his wife died in June.)

And it was a MOST memorable Christmas.  Pretty much everything went exactly according to the plan I put in my last post.  Including getting in a walk with my dogs, which was a little funny, because my dad and sister were at my house when I got home.  Which is weird, because pretty much I walk along the only road that goes to my house.  But I had taken one little detour, and that is when they went by.  That worked out fine, because it was easier for them to get in the house without the doggies carrying on.

We had hors d’oeuvres–shrimp cocktail, my apple/laughing cow cheese/walnut concoction (I cut the apples in slices,) dates stuffed with walnuts, and tiny pieces of salami on a toothpick.  Simple, but satisfying and pretty nutritious.

Dinner was excellent, if I do say so myself.  One of the recipes I made was an old traditional one that I like to have with ham–buffet potatoes.  But I substituted some yogurt mixed with a little milk for the half and half, and I substituted a smaller amount of asiago cheese for the cheddar cheese that was called for.  They turned out EXCELLENT!  Maybe I will post the recipe on the side bar.  They aren’t really diet fodder, and not something that will be a part of my everyday eating.  Still, its fun to try to ‘healthy up’ some of my old favorite recipes.

After dinner, we relaxed and then had dessert a little while later, and dad leaned back and pronounced, ‘well, this was just the perfect Christmas.  It is so peaceful up here.’

I think it was 10 minutes after that that Oliver (‘the practically perfect black standard poodle’) jumped off the couch acting like he had to throw up.  He had made a ‘retching’ face a couple of times before that.  I let him outside, and then went to check on him 10 minutes after that, because he hadn’t come to the door.

Well, I don’t want to give you the blow by blow of what happened after that.  But as soon as I saw him, I pretty much knew in my heart that he was going to die.  He had bloat/torsion.  I made so many phone calls trying to find someone local (not that that would have helped) but ended up getting my dad into bed, and my sister and I racing all the way into Sacramento to an emergency 24 hour veterinary hospital.  I was really glad my sister was with me.  She is a very kind, compassionate person, and for some reason I didn’t cry as much.  (That came later.  I guess I am a private cryer…)

The next day we went to a few shops in the little town of Sutter Creek, and went out to lunch before they headed home.  I had brought my gym bag, planning to hit the gym, and get back on track.  As soon as they left, I realized I didn’t want to go to the gym. I didn’t want to see anybody.  I was crabby and tired and sad.  I thought, I’ll just go home and take the dogs for a walk.  That’ll be enough exercise for the day.  And THAT is when it hit me.  I did the hard cry–the one where you really shouldn’t be driving because really, you can hardly see the car in front of you.

Part of me still can’t believe it.  He was only 4 years old.  I have had many many dogs in my life, and he was one of the most perfect dogs I have had.  Sometimes I would start to be afraid–what will I ever do if something happens to him?  Well, now I know.  Life goes on.  It is best not to hold too tightly to any ‘treasure’ here on earth.  I have tried to live by this.  And I think it does make it easier for me to carry on.

Anyways, yesterday I thought, I can’t share this on my blog.  For one thing, it is a downer after Christmas.  And for another thing, these people are going to think I am the ‘angel of death.’  Come on.  How many people do you know who have lost three dogs in one year?  But you guys are an important part of my life.  And this blog is kind of a chronicle of my life, so it didn’t seem right to leave this out.  Thanks for allowing me to share.

'and then there was one'

Back to the ‘weight loss’ part of this blog.  I have some big time damage control to take care of.  I really did fall off the wagon.  I guess for me, walking into the breakroom full of the sugar/fat/salt combos (i.e. cookies) would be like a former crack addict walking into a ‘crack den.’  Or, a former alcoholic walking into a bar during ‘happy hour’ where all the drinks are free.  I think there are some alcoholics who can do this without a problem, and maybe some crack addicts who also could get by.  And I know there are foodies who can withstand the ‘breakroom.’  But for me, and others like me, eating that stuff is why we got to where we were (morbidly obese–love that term) in the first place.

I did get home after the big cry.  And I put the two pieces of pie that were left into the freezer.  No more ‘big sugar’ stuff in the house.  And even though it was REALLY cold (yes, you New Yorker’s can laugh at me.  It was probably 38 degrees–) I made myself take Sophie out for a long walk.  It was Sophie speed.  But at least it was a walk.  I ate some really healthy food.  Then I fell asleep looking at dogs on petfinder.com.

May Your Days Be Merry and Bright

I don’t really have much to say today, but feel compelled to just say ‘hello.’  I’m headed back to work for two days, and then it will be Christmas!  Since I have minimized my gift buying to the bare minimum, I really have had a lot of quiet days.  Today I spent most of the day cleaning and straightening things up, because my sister and dad are coming up for Christmas. I get to fix dinner!  I have a simple menu planned, and am really looking forward to having a Christmas day at home, and especially being in my own house on Christmas night.  Being the single person in the family, I was always the one to travel to other people’s houses.  I am looking forward to a quiet Christmas morning, with a raspberry scone and a cup of my gingerbread coffee, and a nice walk with the doggies (a la Juice!)  I hope to spend some time reading my Bible and worshipping the Lord, and not be so frenetic preparing for the day that I forget the real meaning.

My menu is simple:  ham (ended up getting one of those brown sugar spiral sliced ones,) slimmed down buffet potatoes, one sweet potato per Dad’s request, and fresh green beans.  I have shrimp cocktail for appetizers.  Might do some apple/laughing cow cheese/walnut things also.  And for dessert I have some cookies from the church bake sale in the freezer and one of the world’s best pies from Apple Hill–apple blackberry sourcream pie==YUMM!!.  I really have held off on any baking this year.  If there is time on Christmas, I might make Lori’s ginger cookies, and /or I might do a healthy re-do of my grandma’s cinnamon walnuts.  Walnuts are one of my all time favorite foods, and I have been eating a lot of them recently.

I really hope all of you will take some time in the next few days to sit and relax, enjoy the beauty of the season, and reflect on what is important to you.  Blow the rest away.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

I Tried Something New Today

Okay, confession first.  I have fallen prey to the breakroom again.  And once you start in on those deadly sugar/fat/salt combos called COOKIES, its hard to stop.  No wonder they call those dangerous internet viruses COOKIES.  It all makes me very sympathetic to drug addicts and alcoholics.  I even took that book ‘The End of Overeating’ with me to work to try to ward off the siren call of the breakroom.  I’m disappointed in myself.  But it is what it is. I only have two more days of work before Christmas, and one of those days will be Christmas Eve.   And on my days off I am working extra hard to try to make good food choices, and to continue to exercise.  Exercise reminds me of my goal to be a healthy fit person.

Today I went to a brunch at a friend’s house, and then had a couple of chores to do before going home.  So by the time I got home I was pretty hungry, and not in the mood to spend any time cooking.  I had decided before I got home to try something new.  For quite a while I have been thinking about that ‘raw diet’ thing where they spiralize zucchini and use that instead of pasta.  Part of me just likes the idea of a new toy.  Anyway, I had that good spaghetti sauce in the freezer, and I figured I could try the raw zucchini thing and it would hardly take any time to ‘cook’–just heat up the sauce in the microwave.  I don’t have a spiralizer but I realized I could shred the zucchini the long way on my mandolin, and get the same effect.  I ended up putting the sauce on the zucchini and putting both in the microwave for a little while, so the zucchini was not really raw.

Now.  This is what I recommend.  When you are trying something new, especially something that might not at first be as satisfying as what it is substituting for, you should try it when you are hungry and tired.  Because I took one bite and thought, ‘oh no, that is too VEGETABLY TASTING.  That won’t do at all.  I need to toss it and make some real pasta.’  But because I was hungry and tired, I thought, ‘give it another try.  You won’t have to do any more work, and you will at least be filled.’   And that is exactly what I did.  And sure enough, it tasted good enough.  And if I will eat it a few more times, it will become my new norm.  And pretty soon I will start to CRAVE the zucchini with the spaghetti sauce.  And by the way, that is some darn good spaghetti sauce.  So for a nice plate of spaghetti, only about 135 calories!

I made my second batch of yogurt this morning, and left it to incubate while I was gone, and it came out beautifully.  After my zucchini spaghetti, I got my second wind, and made a batch of blackberry-pear spread, and then made a batch of ‘apple butter’ for the first time.  I looked at some recipes, and called my friend who makes it all the time to get her input.  But basically, it is just apples and spices that I cooked and cooked and cooked.  I mashed it a bit with a potato masher.  So I guess it is not traditional apple butter, but it will be VERY TASTY on top of my oatmeal or yogurt.

All in all, I guess I am doing okay this holiday season.  Its funny that I can control myself at home where there is no one watching me, but I can’t seem to control myself at work.

Hope you all are taking time to enjoy the peace and joy that should surround this time of year.  Remember…Joy to the World.  The Prince of Peace has come.  Peace on Earth, Good will to men.  And all that jazz, as Schroeder would say.

The Definitive Yogurt Post

Or, a single girl’s adventures in the oddly fascinating world of yogurt culture.

If any of you keep checking the comments on my blog (as I am wont to do when I am obsessed with a post) you might have noticed the comments flying between Vickie and me regarding the whole process of yogurt making.  It is just fascinating to me for some reason.

Now, I already wrote a ‘recipe’ for my homemade yogurt on the side bar. This is still how I make my yogurt every week–check it out, it even has pictures. But I always felt like I just had beginner’s luck, and didn’t completely understand why what I was doing worked.  Vickie asked a lot of questions, did some experimenting, and came up with a few variations on her own, so I thought I’d share EVERYTHING we’ve learned here.  I KNOW.  You are on the edge of your seats.  So without further ado, the yogurt chronicles begin.

When I tried to make that frozen yogurt last week (failed attempt.  But wait, I thought of a new way to use that icy sweetened yogurt.  It will be great in my smoothies!)  I realized how delicious the strained yogurt was, and how it was very similar to FAGE greek yogurt, and in fact, how, the longer you strained it, the thicker it would become, until, as Vicky (*Vicky with a ‘y’ is my personal trainer.) said, it is ‘yogurt cheese.’  So that got me thinking.  I routinely buy a gallon of milk to start my yogurt.  But I only use half a gallon per batch.  And sometimes the second half gallon is still good by the time I make the next batch.  But sometimes not.  I throw a lot of milk down the sink.  I decided to splurge and buy a gallon of organic milk for $6.00.  And make two batches of yogurt–one regular, and one ‘greek yogurt.’  This means for $6.00 I get 4 cups of organic greek yogurt and 8 cups of regular organic yogurt.  Which I think would cost me about $17.00 if I just bought the yogurt in the store.

One of the big points of discussion was whether or not you need to heat the milk to 180-190 degrees.  When I first researched the process, all the articles said to do that.  So I did it.  I didn’ t really know why.  So when Vickie questioned whether or not it was necessary, I had to go find the answer.  It is not 100 percent necessary (in fact, Vickie had success making a batch of yogurt WITHOUT heating to the high temperature) but I did find this information on why it was recommended. This same guy has a pretty good video about yogurt making.

Another thing we talked about was yogurt makers.  Vickie decided against the commercial yogurt makers for the same reason that I did.  Some of them have you make small batches in little glass jars, and others use a bigger container but it is plastic.  Once I realized that a yogurt maker was pretty much an ‘incubator’ to keep your yogurt at a constant temperature, I decided it was a piece of equipment that I did not need.  There are some websites that tell you how to use a crockpot to make yogurt.  This did not work for Vickie.  I think it could work, but you would have to do some tests to see how hot your particular crockpot is.  It seems that one thing everyone agrees on is that the yogurt cultures will DIE in a temperature above 115 degrees.  Vickie found that her oven with the pilot light on was the perfect incubator.  My microwave works well.  We both wrap our containers in a towel as a further insulator.  I found this nice quilted pillow sham in my drawer, and it is a really nice size and thickness for my containers.

I think the video I linked to recommends using a heating pad for incubation.  Again, I think there could be a lot of variability in the temperature of heating pads (okay, I remember almost baking a tiny baby puppy on a heating pad in summer…) so again, I think you’d have to be careful and check your temperature to make sure you don’t heat the milk to over 115 degrees.  And once I start incubating, I just want to leave it.  I don’t want to keep checking on it.

That brings me to our next topic:  incubation time.  When I started, the articles I read said 4-6 hours.  They said that longer than that would not yield a thicker product, but it would make the yogurt more tart.  And since I do not like tart anything, I have pretty much kept to the 4 hour incubation time.  Once in a while, if I am busy I will let it go for 6 hours.  Vickie likes the idea of making a batch and then leaving it overnight to incubate.

Next, to make the ‘greek style’ yogurt, you have to strain it.  Here is my professional set-up.

Just a nice enamel strainer, lined with 4 layers of cheesecloth, sitting on top of an old tupperware bowl.  The article I read said to gather the four corners of the cheesecloth and twist lightly.  So that is what I did.  Vickie used 2 large size coffee filters, and said they worked great–the yogurt came right off the filters.  I think the coffee filters might be more economical.  It seems that straining yields a little less than half the volume of the original yogurt.

This is a picture of the liquid that has separated from the yogurt.  I have used it in smoothies before.  I think it still has some nutritional benefits.

And edited this morning to add a picture of the final product.  This picture doesn’t show how creamy the yogurt got, but you can see how thick it is!  This yogurt was strained on the kitchen counter for  a couple of hours, and then put in the refrigerator to continue straining overnight.

So there you have it.  What, you ask, is a single person going to do with THAT MUCH YOGURT?  Well (to be read Forrest Gump style) I will be using yogurt with fruit, yogurt in scones, yogurt WITH scones, yogurt in baking, yogurt instead of sour cream, yogurt in smoothies, yogurt in soup, yogurt to TOP soup, yogurt with muesli, yogurt to fill pancakes, yogurt with walnuts and dates, yogurt dip, yogurt chicken……  I pretty much stopped drinking milk when I started making yogurt.  And now it has usurped cottage cheese as my favorite dairy product.

Chai Tea Success!

Success!  After looking around the internet at various ‘homemade chai tea recipes,’ I went in search of whole spices.  I found most of what I wanted at my favorite cheap market.  They had some little bags of spices in the produce section that were only 79 cents each!  The only thing they didn’t have was whole cardamom.  I didn’t know what this was, but I had an idea it might be a key ingredient.  I was on the way home when I thought of stopping at the health food store.  It is a really interesting store, and sure enough they had a room full of jars with all the spices I might ever want.  I got some of the whole cardamom.

Here is the recipe I followed.  I liked this one because it was called a ‘base’ for the chai tea, and you could keep it in the frig and just add milk to make each cup.  The spices I chose to use were allspice, cardamom, cloves, star anise, and a stick of cinnamon.  I grated some nutmeg and pepper into the pot, and cut a bit of fresh ginger into very thin slices (saw this recommendation in another recipe.)  Instead of the 1/2 cup of brown sugar I added 1/4 cup of agave syrup.  I really just estimated the amount of spices, but I think it was about 4 Tbsp.  It smelled absolutely delicious when it was brewing for 15 minutes.  And then I added 6 tea bags of plain black tea and let it steep for 5 minutes, and then strained the whole thing.

What I really liked about it was that it was very strong and spicy, but very smooth tasting.  Very satisfying.  That is a little mug that I have, and it was just right for a little snack this evening (along with a healthy cookie from Vicky.)

Had a great day today–went to the gym for a good workout, including starting off with 2 Tabata intervals.  Treated myself to some of my favorite lo-cal frozen yogurt, and then went to the movies!  I hardly ever do this any more (because of the popcorn.)  But I really wanted to see this movie, and I really enjoyed it–The Blind Side, with Sandra Bullock.

Back to work for two more days.  See you Sunday, hopefully with ‘The Yogurt Report!)