Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Rest of My 31 Things

Today, as promised, I give you the rest of the 31 things I did this holiday season:
23.  Took home-made chicken noodle soup to a friend going through chemo-therapy. 
24.  Took pumpkin bread to our new neighbors.  They built a duplex across the street from us, and we hadn’t met the people on one side.  Taking them a Christmas card and pumpkin bread seemed like a good way to meet them. 
25.  Took pumpkin bread to the rest of the neighbors.  We usually take baked goods to all of our neighbors around Christmas, but this year we also stayed and visited, instead of just dropping things off.  We have a neighbor in her 80s, who has lived there since 1960.  She seemed to enjoy the company, and it was neat to hear about how the neighborhood used to be.
26.  Paid for the next person's order at the drive-thru.  I did this one early on, just never got around to posting about it before.  I gave the cashier a note wishing them happy holidays to give to them.
27.  Took pound cake to the people who do security in my office building.  They do a great job, and are really nice, so I thought they needed to know they’re appreciated. 
28.  Took pound cake to the volunteers in my office building.  There are a lot of volunteers who work in the building, and help keep things running smoothly.  They do it simply out of kindness, so I thought they deserved a little something to say thank you.
29 – 31.  Took baked goods, magazines, books, soaps, and a movie to hospice.  I’ve written before about how amazing the people at the hospice house my grandmother was in were.  So we decided to try to do a little something for the staff, and the people there at Christmas.
We baked pound cakes and pumpkin bread to leave in the kitchenette in the family waiting room and for the staff.  My parents came too, and my mom made up little snack bags of Chex Mix and trail mix type things, as well as bringing fresh fruit.  We reasoned that people have to eat, and vending machines can be expensive and unappealing.
We also brought books and magazines for the waiting room, and a holiday movie for the kids’ room, because sometimes you just need a distraction.  We also brought some soaps and lotions for the care packages that they hand out in the beginning.  It wasn’t all that much, but we just wanted to do something. 
And that is the end of my 31 things project.  I’ve enjoyed it.  There were a few times when I wondered if I’d find 31 things I was able to do in the timeframe, but then some random opportunity would present itself.  I think that’s kind of the point, there are opportunities to do little things to make the world a slightly better place.  We just have to alert to them and seize them when we can. 
It also seems that I’m maybe a little obsessed with feeding people, and helping pets is definitely my thing.  It takes all kinds, right?

Monday, December 30, 2013

More of My 31 Things Project

I hope you all had a wonderful time during the Christmas holidays.  Nick had to work on Christmas, but fortunately, he was on day shift, so we were able to have the evening together, as well as his lunch break for lunch and presents with my friend Crystal.
And, I have not abandoned my 31 things project.  I’ve actually been quite diligent about doing the things, just not very diligent when it comes to blogging about them.  Things got a little hectic right before Christmas, and our computer/internet are so slow these days.  It.  Seems. To. Take.  Forever. To Load. One. Post!
So, instead of daily little posts, which was my original plan (one that I think would have been better), I’m going to do two relatively long posts to finish up the 31 things.  It seems that they’re pretty much all food or animal related.  (Can you guess what I’m passionate about?) So, I’ll do all of the animal related ones, and then all of the food related ones tomorrow.
18.  Picked up a dog from a local vet to take to the no-kill shelter.  He was taken in as a stray, with a damaged eye.  The vet’s office fixed him up, and then got in touch with the no kill shelter about taking him.  It’s in the next county, so he needed a ride over.  I arranged to leave work a little early and picked him up to take him to the shelter.
19.  Donated a blanket to the animal shelter.  The colder temperatures seem to be here with a vengeance, and here to stay.  The animal shelter sent out a plea for more blankets to help keep everyone warm, so we donated a blanket.
20.  The no-kill shelter has a thrift store (all of the money goes back into the shelter), so we loaded up a few boxes of things, including a few Christmas decorations we decided we could part with, to take to them.  The money is for a good cause.
21 - 22.  There’s a colony of feral cats living behind a local hardware store here, and there’s a small group of volunteers who feed them.  I became involved with them last year, and Monday is my usual feeding day.  Since Nick had to work on Christmas, I took Christmas as well, so the usual Wednesday feeder could enjoy Christmas morning, uninterrupted with her family.  I also took the cats some treats with their regular food.  It was Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Number 17 – Donated to PetSmart Charities

(Part of my 31 things project.)
Last weekend we found ourselves in PetSmart to buy food and toys for the fur kids.  I love the fact that PetSmart doesn’t sell kittens or puppies, and that they do a lot for animal rescue groups like giving them space to house pets and hold adoption events.
The group we adopted Milo from is one of the rescue groups that benefits from this, so it hits home.  Because PetSmart chooses to share their space Milo had a safe place to wait for us to come along and adopt him, and so have over a million other pets. 
So when we checked out and the option to donate came up, we gladly gave them a small donation. 

Number 16 – Took A Spaghetti Dinner To Our Next Door Neighbors

(Part of my 31 Things project)
We really hit the jackpot when it comes to neighbors.  We like all of our neighbors, but fortunately we really, really like the people right next door to us.  They’re very friendly and nice, and their kids are extremely well-mannered and well-behaved.  They’re also the neighbors who kind of keep the little traditions that make our little section of the street nice alive: they take cookies to everyone at Christmas, they share things from their garden, and they help the elderly lady on our street with things like walking her dog. 
We usually take them a pound cake around Christmas, but we decided to do something a little different this year.  We took them spaghetti last year when the youngest child was born, and they just went on and on about how much they liked the spaghetti.  We decided to give them the choice this year. 
I called and told her we were thinking about bringing them spaghetti instead of baked goods, but weren’t sure if that was Christmas-y enough, and also wanted to make sure we brought it at a convenient time.  She said that a night off from cooking was a great Christmas gift, and that they loved the spaghetti.  So we took our neighbors a spaghetti dinner.   I know it’s a little unusual for Christmas goodies, but it seemed like what they wanted. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Number 14 & 15 – Took Pumpkin Bread to My Acupuncturist & Office Staff

In the interest of trying to catch up with posting about my 31 things project I’m going to have a few posts that are multiple, related things.
Last week I had my last acupuncture appointment before Christmas.  I really, really like my acupuncturist, Amanda.  She’s very sweet, has done amazing things for my allergies, and was amazingly kind and wonderful during all of my health issues this year. 
She’s in a new office, and the office staff is wonderful as well.  Everyone is always friendly and pleasant, and great about scheduling. 
So I decided to take them pumpkin bread: one loaf for Amanda to take home for her family, and one loaf for the people in the office.  Just a little way to try and let them know that they’re all very much appreciated.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Number 13 – Returned the Extra Christmas Presents We Received In Error

I'm still on track with accomplishing my 31 things this holiday season, I'm just running terribly behind with posting them. 
My sister, Gabrielle, hates to gift wrap so much that she absolutely refuses to do it, so she does the bulk of her Christmas shopping on Amazon and pays for the giftwrap option.  She has been shipping our Christmas presents straight to our house since they’re already wrapped. She’ll be at our house Christmas Day, but it saves her the trouble of having to travel with them.
I think it’s ridiculous how much she’s spending on giftwrap when you consider how cheap wrapping paper is, so I made the suggestion that she not wrap Nick’s presents (he’s a Christmas Eve baby, so she’s also sending his birthday gifts to the house) and I would open the boxes and wrap them. 
When I opened a box last week there was a strange sense of having seen the contents before. It turned out that the box had exactly the same gifts as a box we’d received a few days earlier.  I can’t say what they are because Nick reads my blog, but it’s definitely not anything you would need or want two of. 
I asked a few people if that had ever happened to them, and they said no, but surely Amazon wouldn’t notice, and I should just sell the things on EBay and pocket the extra cash.  I called Gabrielle to make sure she hadn’t been charged twice, and she had not. 
I then called Amazon, and spent a very long time on hold.  The person I talked to said someone calling to say they’d received too much was a new one.  They arranged a UPS pickup and the extra gifts are now on their way back to Amazon. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Number 12 – Brought Pound Cake to Another Department

(Part of my 31 Things project.)
There’s a department that my office works with fairly closely.  They’re all really nice, and do a lot to help us out.  They’re also really patient with us.  So, I thought it would be nice to bring them a cake and let them know that we appreciate how nice and pleasant they are, so Tuesday I brought them a home-made pound cake.

Number 11 - Brought Soup to My Grandparents-In-Law

I think it’s probably safe to say that my husband gets his volunteer spirit from his grandparents.  They’re both retried, but they aren’t sitting at home watching TV.  They are very actively volunteering for various causes including a literacy program, a soup kitchen, and the National Park Service to name a few. 
They’ve recently scaled back their volunteering to keep it to under 40 hours per week, which is still quite a lot, I think.  Mondays are one of their busiest days, and they’re usually pretty tired at the end of the day, so last Monday we brought them soup for dinner so they wouldn’t have to worry about cooking after a long day.  They do so much for others, we wanted to do a little something to make their day a little easier. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Number 10 – Brought a Pound Cake to Our Vet’s Office

(Part of my 31 Things project.)
With five fur kids of our own, and one foster fur kid, we seem to spend a lot of time at the vet’s office, and a lot of time on the phone with the vet’s office.  Everyone at the cats’ vet is super nice, and they make a point to know everyone’s name, which is a really big deal for me. It seems like they care about the fur kids. 
They also put up with Milo’s terrible behavior without complaint.  I think that puts them in the saints category!  Anyway, I thought it might be nice to take them a cake and a card to let them know we appreciate them and everything they do.  So yesterday I dropped off a home-made pound cake for them during lunch.
They seemed very happy with it, and even called later in the day to say how much they all enjoyed it. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Number 9 – Brought A Cake to Our Hair Stylist

I’m still behind in posting about my 31 Things project.  Please be patient with me as I catch up.
I am really, really bad at articulating how I’d like my hair to look.  Hair isn’t really my thing.  I want mine to look nice, but I don’t want to fuss with it much.  My sister would tell you I don’t even brush my hair.  That’s not true, but I don’t spend as much time on it as she seems to think I should.  I also have really straight hair, so a bad (and I’ve had more than a few) cut seems to be really obvious.  It took me a long time to find a hair stylist I really like.
But I finally found Tabitha.  She’s really good at interpreting what I’m trying to say I want my hair to look like.  Anyone else would have probably just shaved my head when I was trying to explain what I wanted for my wedding hairstyle, but not Tabitha.  She turned my gibberish ideas into something that made me feel really pretty.  (She also cut Nick’s hair how I wanted it for our wedding!)   She hasn’t gone up on her (already really good) rates in years, and is just a very sweet person.  She also rescues animals. 
So we decided to take Tabitha a home-made pound cake at our last hair appointment just to wish her happy holidays and to let her know that we appreciate her.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Number 8 – Bought Dog Food

You had to know there was another animal related post coming as part of my 31 Things project!
The no-kill shelter that we are fostering Duke through provides everything you need to foster a pet; food, crate (if needed), dishes, veterinary care, and medicine.  The idea is that fostering doesn’t become cost prohibitive for anyone.  If you have a home and the desire to share it with an animal in need, they want to make it possible.  You just have to pick up food and any other supplies at the shelter whenever you need them.
We elected not to take food the last time we were there, instead we bought a bag ourselves. A bag of dog food isn’t that much, but it was something we were able to do to help save the shelter a little money, so they can put that toward helping another animal. 

Number 7 – Took Pound Cake To A Friend

We’re friends with an older couple that we like very much.  He recently spent 19 days in the hospital out of town dealing with a serious health issue.  They made it back home in time for a very quiet Thanksgiving. 
We visited yesterday and brought them a home-made pound cake and a cheery Christmas card.  It wasn’t much, but it seemed to brighten their day a little bit. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Number 6 – Giving Away My Shopping Cart (Or Buggy As We Call Them Here)

One of my favorite places to buy groceries is Aldi.  If you’re not familiar, they’re sort of a discount grocery store.  They have really great stuff, but the stores are very “no frills”.  You must bring or buy your own bags, they don’t take credit cards, and you put a quarter in to get your buggy (cart).  When you return the buggy you get your quarter back.  It’s all part of their cost saving strategy, and it seems to work.
It’s not unusual for people to trade buggies and quarters in the parking lot so someone doesn’t have to walk all way back to return their buggy and retrieve their quarter.  It’s also not unusual to see folks carrying a lot more than is reasonable through the store.  I’ve done this myself a time or two when I just couldn’t find a quarter in the unorganized depths of my purse.
Yesterday when I was returning my buggy there was a lady standing in front of the buggy rack digging in her purse.  She had a cane and really didn’t look like she was feeling well (you know how sometimes you can just read pain written on someone’s face?), so I gave her my buggy and told her to have a great day.  

Friday, December 6, 2013

Number 5 – Trying to Help Truffle Find a Home

If you’ve read more than a post or two of mine you’ve probably figured out that I’m something of an animal lover.  So you had to know that some of my 31 Things project would involve animal related things. 
One of the blogs I follow is Animal Shelter Volunteer Life.  It’s a great blog featuring the adoptable cats at a rescue called PAWS.  It’s a well written blog and alternates between featuring cats in need of homes, sharing PAWS success stories, and generally providing a little encouragement for the folks involved in animal rescue. 
One of the recent posts was about a cat named Truffle.  Truffle is 10 years old, and has been at the shelter since 2009.  That is way too long for a cat to be waiting for their furever home. The post asked readers to please share Truffle on various social media outlets in hopes of helping her find her furever home.  So that is what I’m doing.  You can read all about (and see great pictures of) Truffle here or here.  I’ve also shared her story on my Facebook page. 
I’m also asking for your help with this part of my project.  Please take a minute to share Truffle on whatever social media outlet(s) you prefer.  It doesn’t take much time, and you never know if you might be sharing her information with her perfect match.   Adding the right furry family member might just be someone’s biggest Christmas wish. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Number 4 – Made Mashed Potatoes

I'm still running behind in posting about my 31 Things project, but here is number 4. 
Unfortunately Nick had to work on Thanksgiving.  The upside was that he was working days, so we were able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner later in the day with family. 
He and his co-workers make the best of the working the holidays by bringing in food and sort of having their own celebration with their work family.  I think it’s great that they do that. This year Nick was supposed to bring in mashed potatoes. 
We use the recipe from The New Southern Garden Cookbook by Sheri Castle, and they are fabulous.  Everyone always raves about them whenever we take them to an event.  This year, I made two batches for Nick to take, one for his shift, and one to leave for the night shift.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Number 3 – Contributed to the Local Food Bank

I have not abandoned my 31 Things Project!  I’m actually right on schedule with doing the things, it’s just posting about them that seems to be the challenge.  We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and the Christmas tree is up, looking happy and festive, as well as providing hours of entertainment for the cats.
Now, on to number 3:
I went out Tuesday night to finish up most of the shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, and the grocery store was asking for donations to the local food bank.  I made a small donation to them because everyone needs dinner. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Let’s Talk Turkey – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

With Thanksgiving practically upon us I thought it might be a good idea to talk about turkey. We’ve all heard the stories, and maybe even been party to, some of the turkey disasters that can befall the hapless Thanksgiving cook.  I’m sharing mine (starting with the bad and ending with the good, because I really like to end things on a positive note), and I hope you’ll share yours too. 
The Bad:  The first time I ever cooked a turkey was for a friend’s graduation party.  I was 18 years old and the oven at home was out.  My mom dispatched me and the turkey (which was her idea to serve) to another friend’s house where most of the party prep was going on.
I had no idea how to cook a turkey, but I wasn’t going to let that slow me down.  I decided that turkeys were basically just large chickens (at that point I didn’t have much experience cooking chicken either) so I would treat it that way.  My mom always bought the boneless, skinless chicken breasts, so I decided that the first order of business was to skin the turkey. Yeah.
Have you ever attempted to remove the skin from a 20 pound turkey?  You can cancel your gym membership if you’re going to make that a habit.  I enlisted my friend’s brother (who didn’t know how to turn on the oven) to help me, and we basically engaged in a tug of war match until the turkey was skinned. 
After we skinned the turkey I proceeded to wash it, using dish detergent, because I’d heard you were supposed to wash meat before cooking it.
I’ll be honest.  I didn’t try any of that turkey when it was finally cooked.  I was pretty sick of dealing with it by then.  People said it was good.  I suspect they were being polite. 
After that turkey fiasco I swore off cooking turkeys for a while.  But then my job gave everyone a turkey as our Christmas bonus is 2005. That was the year that my sister, my best friend, and I were renting a house together. 
My best friend and I decided to brave cooking the turkey. This time we knew not to skin it.
My mom has always cooked a turkey by smearing it down with a mixture of mayonnaise and mustard (about 2/3 mayonnaise and 1/3) mustard, sprinkling it with salt and pepper, and covering it with aluminum foil and pouring a little water in the bottom of the pan.  It sounds disgusting, but it’s actually pretty good.  It’s not my favorite way to prepare turkey, but it’s good.
It also sounded relatively foolproof.  Except for the fact that we had just moved in a week before and didn’t have a fully stocked kitchen.  We didn’t have mayonnaise, and we didn’t have aluminum foil, but decided that neither were terribly important. 
We were wrong.  We ended up with an extremely dry turkey that tasted more like burnt mustard (gross!) than turkey. 
Once again, I swore off cooking turkeys for a while.  I decided to learn from the pros.  I asked everyone who ever served a delicious turkey how they did it, and took copious notes.  I filled up an entire notebook with notes on how to cook a turkey. 
The Ugly:  My parents went out of town, and my husband and I came to take care of my grandparents (maternal grandmother and paternal grandmother and grandfather).  I decided it would be nice to make a big turkey dinner.  They liked it when I cooked for them, and my parents could have leftovers when they came home.
I used a combination of techniques I’d picked up from various people and the turkey was delicious.  The only problem was in carving it.  I’d never carved a turkey and neither had my husband.  None of my grandparents were up for carving it.  So hubby and I basically executed the poor turkey.  It didn’t even resemble a turkey when were finished “carving” it. 
My grandparents all giggled about it for weeks, and insisted on pictures of the carnage.  At least it tasted good!
At Thanksgiving the same year we were facing the same problem.  Hubby, my sister, my best friend, and I were all standing over the turkey (holding various carving tools) each arguing as to why we should NOT be the one to carve.  We all agreed that something didn’t look quite right already and none of wanted to be the one to execute the turkey.
Finally, another friend, Cathey, (who is much older and wiser) arrived.  She started laughing hysterically as soon as she came in the kitchen.  She said the four of us looked like we weren’t quite sure the turkey was dead and were planning to kill it if it moved.  It was also upside down (still not sure how I managed that one), which was why it looked a little off to us. Cathey carved the turkey, which was delicious.
The Good:  I have two favorite ways of cooking whole turkeys now:
The Cosmopolitan Turkey:
Stuff the turkey with a mixture of cranberries, chopped granny smith apples, and chopped onion, mixed with a about a tablespoon of butter.  Salt and pepper the turkey and pour vodka over it.  You want a little vodka pool in the bottom of the pan. Cover and bake according to the package instructions for the weight.
The Drunk Buttery Turkey:
Coat the inside of the turkey with butter and stuff with chopped onions mixed with butter, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Generously butter the outside of the turkey and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley.  Pour in white wine and cognac (about 2/3 white wine and 1/3 cognac). Once again, you want a little pool of liquid in the bottom of the pan.  Cover and bake according to package instructions for the weight.
Both of these recipes are great with turkey breasts, which you can easily fit in a large slow cooker.
We’ve also learned to designate someone else as the carver.  Last year we asked a friend who was coming to come early and carve the turkey. 
So what about you?  What are your turkey disaster stories?  Or tried and true techniques?  Do tell.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Number 2 – Donated Blood

There was a blood drive Monday at the Red Cross office, which is right across the street from my office.  I hadn’t donated blood in quite a while because my doctor told me to hold off until after my second MRI results.  Since the results were good, I was given the all clear to donate again.  I’m O Positive, which they say is the most commonly requested type, so I feel really bad if I don’t donate as often as I can.

So I decided to donate blood Monday as the second thing in my 31 Things project.  According to the Red Cross’s website, one blood donation can help save up to three lives.  Not bad for less than an hour and a couple of needle sticks. 
I went a little before noon and didn’t have to wait at all.  The people taking the blood were extremely nice.  They even put a blanket over my arm so I wouldn’t see anything because I do alright as long as I don’t see anything.  The building is small, so everyone donating blood is pretty close together, which is nice because you can concentrate on chatting with the people around you instead of the needle. 
They also had cards you could write to military personnel, if you chose to, while you were having your drink and snack after your blood donation.  I thought that was just brilliant on their part.  You’re sitting there anyway, why not make the time count? 
On a personal note, my blood pressure and hemoglobin were better than they’ve ever been, which was nice to know.  All in all, I called Monday a good day.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Number 1 – CPR Saturday

Yesterday was the first day of my 31 Things Project.  It was also CPR Saturday in our county.

The local fire departments and EMS teamed up to offer free adult hands-only CPR at almost all of the local fire departments.  All you had to do was show up, and they’d teach you how to do the chest compressions.

My husband has wanted me to learn this for a long time.  He was working yesterday, so I asked a co-worker to come with me.  She agreed, so we went and learned the compressions.  They were sending free kits (including a practice mannequin and DVD) home with anyone who would agree to teach five people.We decided to share a kit since we can come up with five people with just our other co-workers. 

It’s much more physically demanding than I realized, and I’m not very good at it, but at least I know something now.  And I can practice on the mannequin.  I still wouldn’t be the first choice for CPR, but as they told us yesterday, any CPR is better than no CPR. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thirty-One Things This Holiday Season

Have you seen the movie Robin Hood with Russell Crowe?  If you haven’t, you should.  It’s a great movie.   If you’re a huge Russell Crowe fan (like me) it’s an amazing movie.  It also has a really great line (that I unfortunately couldn’t find a youtube clip of) where Russell Crowe (as Robin) is talking about the need to pay something back.  He says something along the lines of, “We can’t repay our good fortune with bad grace.  It invites darkness.” 

I think there’s a large amount of truth to that.  Call it what you will – paying it forward, giving back, karma, sharing blessings – whatever you may choose to call it.  I think there’s a need to share and contribute to the good.  

That’s one of the things that I love about this time of year.  We’re getting really close to the time when people are more generous and try to be nicer than usual to others.  You just hear so many great stories about people being kind around the holidays.  Now, I know some people say that it’s terrible that it takes the holidays to bring out the good in people, and I think they’re right to a degree.  After all, the holiday season is short.  Hopefully we’re all being nice for more than about six weeks a year. 

It also seems like being kind just comes very naturally for some people.  My husband is one of them.  He automatically holds doors for people, helps them with packages, things like that.  It doesn’t for me.  I have to constantly remind myself not to just bulldoze my way through the day.  It takes conscious thought, which I realize is not an excuse.

Then you come across things like this blog that I found last year.  It started off as an ordinary guy, around my age, wanting to make the world a little better place for his baby.  So he set out to do 366 random acts of kindness in 2012.  The acts were varied and included things like shoveling snow, donating blood, and donating to and raising awareness for various causes.  Whenever you’re feeling bad about humanity, read through the archives.  You’ll feel a little better. 

When I got the news about my hepatic adenomas shrinking I really felt like I’d dodged a bullet or been given something of a second chance.  That news lifted a huge burden, but it was a burden that I wasn’t carrying alone. My husband, my sister, my best friend, one of my transport friends, my boss, my co-workers, one wonderful nurse in the radiology department, and a few other people have been incredibly supportive and kind. 

All of that being said, I feel like I need to do something.   So I came up with the idea for 31 acts of kindness, or good deeds, (I don’t think what you call it is that important) this holiday season.  I’m 31 years old, and December has 31 days, so it works in my mind.  I’m also a deadline oriented person, so saying that I will accomplish them between today, November 16, 2013 (which, coincidentally, is my parents’ wedding anniversary) and December 31, 2013, means that I will actually do them instead of just having another good idea that comes to nothing.  It’s just how I function.  Telling all of you also gives me some accountability. 

I have a few things in mind, and actually did my first one today (posting about that tomorrow), but don’t have all 31 planned.  So if you have any ideas, or want to share what you do, I’d really love to hear about it.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Difference One Centimeter Can Make

I went for my follow up MRI to check the status of the hepatic adenomas on October 25th.  I tried really, really hard not to dwell on what the results might be.  Worrying and obsessing (even though I excel at both) doesn’t change anything.  We also had a lot of other things going on; Halloween, a trip to Indiana to see my in-laws, and visits with friends.
Yesterday I had the appointment with my doctor to get the MRI results.  At first, the MRI report said that there were no significant changes, and there was talk of scheduling a consultation with a surgeon (which I absolutely do not want) but then the nurse read me some of the measurements, and they were smaller.
We asked the doctor about that, and he said that a different radiologist had written this report, so there was some confusion as to which mass was which and how they’d been measured.  He called and spoke with a radiologist and compared the MRI from six months ago to the one from two weeks ago, and it turns out that the three problem (biggest) masses have all shrunk!
In April, the largest mass measured 5.6 centimeters at the largest point, now the largest mass measures 4.6 centimeters at the largest point.  I never would have thought that one centimeter would be the difference between jubilation and despair.  The biggest difference that one centimeter makes is that now they’re all below five centimeters, which is typically the cutoff at which surgery becomes more and more of a necessary evil.
I’m not home free yet, but things definitely seem to be improving.  I have to go for another MRI in six months to make sure things continue as they are.  The risk of the masses rupturing and bleeding is still there, but is lessened as they become smaller and smaller.  I still have to avoid hormones, soy, blood thinners, and any trauma to my right side.
We had a very long talk with the doctor, and came to the consensus that being conservative and taking a wait and see approach is still the best option.  Clearly, what I’ve been doing is working to some extent.  The surgery carries a lot of risks, and because this problem is so rare there are a lot of unknowns about what happens five, ten, fifteen years after the surgery. Having found myself of the generation of women who are finding out what happens after the prolonged use of birth control pills, I’d rather not be part of the test group for finding out what happens after this surgery. 
I need to continue to lose weight.  I’ve sort of fallen off the weight loss wagon lately, but my doctor says that losing weight will help no matter what happens.  I’m definitely keeping up my acupuncture appointments.  After all, the acupuncturist was the first person to make the connection, and I really think the acupuncture has contributed to the shrinkage.  So for the next six months, I will continue with acupuncture, make better (soy free) food choices, try to exercise more, and hope for another centimeter of shrinkage because one centimeter can make a world of difference.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

You Might Be A Crazy Cat Lady If...

Hi, my name is Danielle, and I’m a crazy cat lady.  There. I’ve said it.  I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with being a crazy cat lady.  Someone has to be, right?

And I really, really love cats.  I’ve had them my whole life.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I might have ended up on a doorstep someplace if my parents’ cat hadn’t approved when they brought me home.  Fortunately, he decided I was tolerable.
For most of my life, we’ve had more than one cat.  They’re kind of like potato chips; you really can’t have just one.  So it seems normal to me to have a multi-cat household.  I’ve grown accustomed to the raised eyebrows and dropped jaws when people find out we have four cats.  (I’d like to take this opportunity, however, to point out the cats will never ask for their own bedroom, to drive the car, or to go to college, they don’t need braces or glasses, you never have to take them to soccer/ballet/piano lessons, and when they hit puberty, you get to spay or neuter them.  Just saying.)
I will admit that if it weren’t for my husband being the voice of reason, the cuteness of cats, and the sometimes terrible, terrible stories that accompany them would probably lead to me having a lot more than four cats.  We’re well-matched in that way, I guess.
I recently found out that my husband apparently harbors a secret fear that my crazy cat lady status may one day drown out his voice of reason when we had this conversation:
Nick: "Do we have a new kitten?"
Me: "No. Why? Do you want a new kitten?"
Nick: "NO! Are you sure? I must have dreamed it, but I was sure I saw a new kitten running around our house, and when I tried to catch it you said, 'Oh, don't worry. That's Pistachio, our new kitten.' We really don't have a new kitten?"
Me: "Of course not. I at least tell you before I bring home a new fur kid. Do you think that dream means you want a kitten?"
Nick: "NO!" while giving me suspicious looks and glancing around as though as he half expects to see a new kitten.
We really don’t have a new kitten.  Honestly, I haven’t even been pestering him with stories of one particular kitten in need of a home.  I’m not sure where that all came from, except that I must be an even crazier cat lady than I realized.  You must be a crazy cat lady if your husband dreams of you bringing home a cat, right?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Easy (Lazy) Slow Cooker Chili

This isn’t a made from scratch recipe, but it is delicious.  I’m all in favor of made from scratch recipes, but sometimes the reality is that they’re just not possible. 
Does it seem to you that your obligations, appointments, social engagements, etc. are never spread evenly throughout the month, but instead are all in the same week or three to four day period?  This certainly seems to happen around our house!  Last week was our super busy, this is when everything is happening week.  Some of what we had going on was fun stuff (pumpkin carving!) so I’m definitely not complaining, but it still made for a busy week.
Busy weeks call for fast, easy dinners and this one definitely fits the bill.  My friend Crystal and I carved pumpkins Wednesday night, so I wanted a dinner that wouldn’t require me standing over the stove.  It was also very cold Wednesday, so chili just seemed perfect.  Here’s the recipe:
½ pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 banana pepper, chopped (optional)
1 packet taco seasoning
2/3 cup water
chili powder and cumin to taste
2 jars (24 oz. each) pasta or marinara sauce
2 cans (15.5 oz. each) pinto beans, drained
2 cans (15.5 oz. each) kidney beans, drained
1 can (14.5 oz) tomatoes with jalapenos, drained (any type of canned tomatoes will do, this is just what I had on hand)
1 can (15.5 oz.) garbanzo beans, drained
1 cup water
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
A few sprinkles of black pepper
¼ - ½ tsp red pepper flakes
Brown ground beef with pepper(s), onion, and chili and powder and cumin to taste.  Add taco seasoning and water.  Simmer for about five minutes.
(Make ahead tip:  do this part the night before, and you can just put everything in the slow cooker in the morning.  Or make a double batch of this and freeze half of it until you’re ready for chili again.)
Place beef mixture and all remaining ingredients in a large slow cooker.  Cover and cook on Low for 4 – 6 hours.

Sometimes we serve this over rice or macaroni noodles, and usually top it with cheese, sour cream, onions, etc.  We opted to forgo the rice or noodles in favor of saving time, but we topped it with cheese, sour cream, chopped onion, and diced avocado.  It was delicious!  This chili re-heats well, so the leftovers are great for lunch the next day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Five Best Halloween Movies

I actually meant to write this post earlier in the month, but as usual, time got away from me. Nick and I like to start breaking out the Halloween movies (and candy) in the weeks leading up to Halloween, it’s sort of our fall tradition to have a Halloween movie marathon weekend with chili and candy. 
I’ll go ahead and admit that I’m a total chicken when it comes to scary movies (or scary anything for that matter), so most of my picks are on the lighter, funnier, quirkier side.  If you’re looking for hardcore, scary, gory Halloween movies, I am not the person to ask.  So here are my five favorite Halloween movies:
Arsenic & Old Lace - This one is one of my all-time favorite movies!  It features Cary Grant, crazy family members, and Halloween.  It just doesn’t get much better than that.  It also has one of my all-time favorite movie lines, “Insanity runs in my family.  It practically gallops.”  If you only watch one Halloween movie this year, I highly recommend making it this one.
Hocus Pocus – This one is just funny and cute.  It’s usually what we watch on Halloween night. It’s kid friendly, so fine to have on when trick-or-treaters come to the door.  We both grew up watching this one.  I suspect it is most loved by people who were kids in the 90s.
House of Wax - I hadn’t heard of this one until a few years ago when my husband convinced me to watch it.  It has Vincent Price and is creepy without being too scary.  It’s a great one for a late night Halloween movie marathon.
Edward Scissorhands – This one actually really scared me the first time I saw it as a kid, (I told you I was a chicken!), and I refused to watch it again for several years.  But it has Johnny Depp, and you can only resist Johnny Depp for so long, so I gave it another try a few years ago.  I love it.  It also has Winona Ryder, who I think is an incredible actress.
It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown – Can you really have a list of Halloween movies without this one on it?  It’s timeless, and one you’re never too old for.  It just seems to have come to mean the beginning of the fall season, and that Halloween is coming soon. 
So what about you?  What are your favorite Halloween movies?  Do you prefer scary or cute and light?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Meet Duke

Well, I promised that my next post would be a happier one, and I don’t think it gets much happier than fur kids.  So, as promised, here’s my happier post, and your introduction to Duke.
Nick and I finally took the leap into long term fostering.  We’ve done short term fostering before; when puppies weren’t old enough for the shelter, when a cat needed to gain weight (our house is a great place to come if you need to gain weight), and short term fostering when a friend who fosters regularly was on vacation.  But we’d always held back on long term, open ended, they might be here for months or longer fostering. 
Saturday that changed.  A friend who regularly fosters through the no kill shelter forwarded me an email about fostering Duke, a Boxer Dalmation mix.  Duke is heartworm positive, and has a broken leg that didn’t heal properly, so he hops along, not using the leg.  He was in a kill shelter, and could be saved by the no kill shelter if a foster home could be found in time.  We decided to make the leap.
We picked Duke up on Saturday afternoon and brought him home.  He and Emma were instant friends, and he has done well with the quirky quartet of cats.  He has settled into the rhythm of our home without any issues.  It almost seems like he has always been there.
Duke is finishing up some medication for kennel cough, and tomorrow we go for a booster shot and to get the first round of heartworm medication.  At this point we’re told that likely nothing will/can/should be done about his leg until after he’s finished with the heartworm treatment.  We’ll probably know more after his first vet’s appointment. 
In the meantime, we’re just enjoying having him.  Emma seems happy to have a dog friend, and Duke seems happy to be staying with us.  He seems to crave attention.  He follows us through the house, and stays in the same room with us pretty much all of the time.   He’s a very happy guy; always excited about treats and toys, and happily greeting us when we come home.  I think he knows he has been given a second chance for a better life. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Some Thoughts On Hospice

First of all, I want to say thank you to all of you for your kind comments on my last post about my grandmother going into hospice care.  As always the blogging world (at least my little corner of it) has shown itself to be a pretty great place.
My grandmother died in a hospice house on Saturday, September 21, 2013 at about 1:30 pm. I don’t think watching a loved one die can ever be easy, but the people at hospice certainly know how to make a terrible experience a little better.  For those of you who may not be familiar, here’s a brief article that explains what hospice care is all about. 
The overwhelming kindness of everyone, from security guards, to strangers who volunteer their time, to the doctors and nurses is probably what impressed me the most.  Hospitals are usually very impersonal.  I understand that they’re very busy doing really tough jobs, and I respect that.  But hospice is different.  Though I’m sure they’re busy, no one acts like it.  They talk to you when you go in, ask you how you’re doing, how your loved one is doing, ask if you need anything.  Upon checking in, my parents were given a care package for themselves and my grandmother.  It contained a handmade afghan, a handmade cervical pillow, a handmade doll, snacks, activity books (crossword puzzles, word search, etc.) toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, soaps, shampoos, etc.) and a very kind note.  The bag had everything you could think of to make the time there a little easier.
Not to confuse kindness with false hope, everyone is very open about the fact that your loved one isn’t going to get better.  No one sugar coats anything.  The staff is very open about how much time your loved one may have left, and about the dying the process.  They just manage to do it with kindness rather than being impersonal or macabre.   They assure you that your loved one will be kept comfortable, they tell you they wish for peace for all of you, and they do everything possible to make it peaceful. 
Honestly, I don’t know how these people do their jobs.  I couldn’t do it.  If I tried, I think the only way I’d survive would be to maintain some distance, but they don’t seem to.  They ask about the families and chat with you.  One nurse even hugged us when we left for the last time.
This begs the question of how you even begin to repay that, or even pay it forward.  Saying thank you just doesn’t seem like enough.  We brought in dinner most days (my mom never left) and always brought extra to offer to people working there and other families there waiting.  Most people seemed really surprised by that, but feeding people in a crisis is how some of us make it through. 
We’re sending you thank you cards to people who were especially kind, and I’m planning to bring in a few cakes; one for the day shift, one for the night shift, and one for the family waiting room.  It doesn’t seem like nearly enough, but it’s the best I’ve been able to come up with.  Our family is very grateful for what they did, and I just think they need to know it.
On a lighter note, I promise my next post will be a much happier one, and I’m really looking forward to catching up on everything I missed while I was away from blogging. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Blogging On Hold

My grandmother was moved in to a hospice house on Tuesday.  Yesterday we were told that she's in her last 24 - 48 hours.  

I just don't have to it blog right now, so I will be back later.  Until then, I wish you all the best. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Weekend Deal

I meant to post this earlier, like on the weekend, but as usual time got away from me.  So here I am on Tuesday posting about my weekend deal.

I love saving money on groceries; a good sale, great coupons, or better yet, combining the two, makes me really happy.  I just can’t stand to pay full price for something that sales that can easily be found on.  This usually involves following the sale cycles and stocking up on things we use a lot of.

I also like to keep two cup (seems to be the amount most recipes call for) packages of shredded cooked chicken in the freezer.  On really busy days sometimes that head start on dinner is all that stands between me and the temptation to order pizza.  I usually wait for the bone-in chicken breasts to go on sale and cook them in slow cooker for the frozen chicken packets. 

Last week we used up our last package of chicken, so I’ve been looking for a sale.  None of the local grocery stores had the chicken on sale last week, so I decided to check Sam’s Club (my mom added me to her membership) to see if it was a good deal to buy it in a large package.  The price on the bone-in chicken breasts didn’t rock my world, but I did come across whole chickens reduced for quick sale.  They still had two days before their sell by date and were 83 cents a pound.  Happy dance!  I bought two of the two packs and it worked out to around $4.25 per chicken. 

I cooked two of the chickens in the slow cooker with garlic, parsley, and red pepper flakes.  I shredded the meat and put two cups in freezer bags.  I love knowing I have that head start on dinner when I need it.  I froze the other two chickens whole to use later for roasted chicken dinners.  

Sometimes it really pays off to check the reduced for quick sale items.  Have you found any great grocery deals lately?  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Please Tell Me I’m Not the Only One

Doesn't he look like a sweet cat?
It seems that many of you are animal people.  That’s at least part of why I like you.  I’m hoping (because misery loves company, right?) that at least some of you will tell me I’m not the only person with a cat who carries on like a demon spat straight from the very depths of hell at the vet.

I know cats don’t care for the vet.  I get it.  Cats tend to be somewhat contrary.  They aren’t like dogs.  Our praise means little to nothing (sometimes less) to them.  If they’re unhappy they want us to know it.  I get it. 

That being said, I can’t help but think that our cat Milo is an extreme case.  We’ve found only one vet (fortunately we like her and she’s a good vet) who will see Milo and actually do anything other than quake in fear before the wrath of Milo. 

He’s terrible at the vet; he growls and hisses from the moment we walk in the door until the moment we walk out the door.  He bites and scratches.  He latches onto fingers/hands/arms with his claws and drags them to his mouth to bite.  He clamps down and doesn’t let go.  Giving Milo an injection is a four person operation; the vet to administer the injection and three of us to hold him down. 

We’ve tried various things to make his vet visits less traumatic for everyone; they plug in a Feliway diffuser hours before we come, we give him treats in the carrier, we put nice soft blankets and/or an article of clothing that I’ve worn (I’m his person) in the carrier, and we all speak in soft, soothing tones.  The vet’s office also schedules his appointments so that we spend as little time waiting as possible.  I’m not entirely sure if this is just to give Milo less time to get worked up, or if it’s also to keep from frightening other people and animals waiting in the lobby. 

Yesterday morning Milo had an appointment for a skin problem.  I took him in the nice big carrier, padded with a blanket and the t-shirt I slept in the night before.  He rode in the passenger seat with me reaching in to gently pet him on the way.  We sat in our little corner of the waiting room and were taken to the Feliway scented exam room almost immediately. 

A clear plan of action (there are probably military operations performed with less planning than goes into opening Milo’s carrier) was in place before the door to the carrier was opened because Milo has a history of coming out swinging.  Yesterday he outdid himself.  He shot out of the carrier and grabbed the nearest vet tech.  He left her with a nasty scratch on her hand that bled all over the place.  He escaped our grip twice and screamed as though we were skinning him alive when he got his shot.  Everyone in the room, except Milo, was bleeding by the time it was over.  The furniture was knocked over and there were blood spatters on the floor.  All from giving one cat a shot.

I worry about what they think of us there.  I can’t help worrying that they think we’re abusive, or at least mean, to Milo at home because he’s so hateful and angry there.  I don’t think they believe me when I tell them he’s a sweet kitty at home.  It probably helps some that our cat Howard is so good at the vet; he happily bounds out of the carrier purring and rolls over to have his belly rubbed. 

I hope Howard earns us some redemption for Milo.  I still worry, though, that they suspect us of doing horrible things to cats, or at least to Milo.  So please tell me I’m not the only one with a cat like that.  Do you have a cat who behaves that way at the vet?  Better yet, do you have a solution for dealing with a cat who behaves that way at the vet?