Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year of....

Status Quo.

That's what 2014 turned out to be for me, even though we had the excitement of Little Helen's engagement and I started a part time job.  Pretty much, things stayed the same.

Of course there was also the inevitable deaths of our loved ones and friend's loved ones, including one awful month where there were six.  I attended three of the funerals.  Though 3 of them were somewhat unexpected and young people were involved, I suppose that's just a reflection of the time of life that I am in.

According to Facebook, my highlights in 2014 were Holidays, Home, Patio Paradise and Running.  Sounds about right!

Like many folks I have been mulling over the last year and thinking forward to 2015.  I wouldn't mind if things were status quo in 2015 as well but I know we have some exciting times ahead.

The Chinese are saying 2015 is the Year of the Goat.  At the Helen household it will be the Year of the Wedding.  Yes, we were informed yesterday that the date is set for July 25, 2015!

My personal goals are to get some bills paid off - we are seriously hunkering down financially as Mr. Helen's retirement is just around the corner in 2017.  That sounds far off but experience tells me it will be here sooner than later.

I'd like to throw Mr. Helen a birthday party, as he will be turning 60 in May.  I think that's something to be celebrated.

I want to continue my non-dieting quest for good health and well being.  I've had a couple of weeks break from the Neila Rey programs, but this tends to be the time of year when I'm so busy that I'm glad to exercise 3 times a week.  I'll definitely be starting another round of Neila Rey tomorrow.  It makes me happy that I've found something besides running that I'm willing to do.

In the midst of the extra eating/drinking/holiday frenzy I found myself in a bookstore (while buying a giftcard) staring at diet books. Not a good thing as I was feeling pretty crazed from all the extra everything.  But I held firm and I'm glad.  As irony would have it, my sister shared something by Anne Lamott that put me firmly back into the right mindset.  Feel free to skip this as I've copied it here in it's entirety so I can refer to it the next time I get the urge to act crazy.
This is the Anne Patricia Lamott Anti-Diet that I posted at this time last year. This year, I post it with an added urgency, as the new Viking Diet is upon us, the latest and hottest It diet, and since you may feel vulnerable and somewhat battered after the last few days/weeks/years of festive family get-togethers, or estrangement, you will be susceptible to its promises. And yes, young Canute, if you are enjoying the noble Viking lifestyle, raiding your neighbor's grain stores and salted venison lockers, this may in fact be the perfect new diet for you. Are you giddy with relief that Whole Foods carries so many foraged vegetables, and moose meat? Then step right up. Help bail out the ever-struggling diet industry, while you're at it. But otherwise?
We need to talk.
I know you are planning to start a diet next Thursday, January 1st, I used to start diets, too. I hated to mention this to my then-therapist. She would say cheerfully, " Oh, that's great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?"
I got rid of her sorry ass. No one talks to ME that way.
Well, okay, maybe it was ten years later, after she had helped lead me back home, to myself, to radical self-care, to friendship with my own heart, to a jungly glade that had always existed deep inside me, to mostly healthy eating, but that I'd avoided all those years by achieving, dieting, binging, people-pleasing, multi-talking, and so on
Now when I decide to go on a diet, I say it to myself: "Great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?"
I was able to successfully put on weight during my last book tour by eating room service meals in a gobbly trance in 13 different cities. So that was exhilarating, as I may have mentioned several hundred times that I have had the tiniest, tiniest struggle with food and body image for the last--well, life time. Hardly worth mentioning.
And then, after book tour, I accidentally forgot to starve myself in December, or to go back to the gym, which I've been meaning to do since I had a child, 24 years ago.
So I am at least five pounds up--but thankfully, I do not currently have a scale, because as I've said before, getting on a scale is like asking Dick Cheney to give you a sense of your own self-worth every morning.
I can still get my jeans on, for one reason: I wear forgiving pants. The world is too hard as it is, without letting your pants have an opinion on how you are doing. I struggle with enough esteem issues without letting my jeans get in on the act, volunteering random thoughts about my butt.
By the same token, it feels great to be healthy. Some of you need to be under a doctor's care. None of you need to join Jenny Craig. It won't work. You will lose tons of weight quickly, and gain it all back, plus five. Some of you need to get outside and walk for half an hour a day. I do love walking, so that is not a problem for me, but I have a serious sickness with sugar: if I start eating it, I can't stop. I don't have an off switch, any more than I do with alcohol. Given a choice, I will eat candy corn and Raisinets until the cows come home--and then those cows will be tense, and bitter, because I will have gotten lipstick on the straps of their feed bags.
But you crave what you eat, so if I go for 3 or 4 days with no sugar, the craving is gone. That is not dieting. If you are allergic to peanuts, don't eat peanuts.
So please join me in not starting a diet January 1st.
It's really okay, though, to have (or pray for) an awakening around your body. It's okay to stop hitting the snooze button, and to pay attention to what makes you feel great about yourself, one meal at a time. Horribly, it's yet another inside job. If you are not okay with yourself at 185, you will not be okay at 150, or even 135. The self-respect and peace of mind you long for is not out there. It's within. I hate that. I resent that more than I can say. But it's true.
Maybe some of us can try to eat a bit less, and walk a bit more, and make sure to wear pants that do not hurt our thighs or our feelings. Drinking more water is the solution to all problems.
I'll leave you with this: I've helped some of the sturdier women at my church get healthy, by suggesting they prepare each meal as if they had asked our beloved pastor to lunch or dinner. They wouldn't say, "Here Pastor--let's eat standing up in the kitchen. This tube of barbecue Pringles is all for you. i have my own" And then stand there gobbling from their own tubular container. No, they'd get out pretty dishes, and arrange wonderful foods on the plates, and set one plate before Veronica at the table, a plate filled with love, pride and connection. That's what we have longed for, our whole lives, and get to create, now, or or on the 1st. Wow! And God bless you all real good, as my pastor always says.
As irony would also have it, I have a nutritionist friend I've known for years via Sparkpeople, and whose specialty is working with people who have medical issues that affect their ability to lose or gain weight.  She has offered to work with me to see if we can figure out why my metabolism seems shut down.  10 years ago (this July) when I was first diagnosed with thyroid disease, I wished we lived closer so she could help me figure things out.  Now through the amazing technology available, she has set up a way to do it online.  I've decided to take her up on her offer simply because she has promised me, no dieting.

So that's where I'm at right now... looking for my happy new year via the great Anti-Diet of working on awakening around my body, paying attention to what (food & exercise) make me feel good about myself, and learning to love myself and others right where we are.

Happy New Year, friends.

Monday, December 29, 2014

On the Fifth Day of Christmas...

I cleaned the house then collapsed in exhaustion lol!

As I mentioned in my prior post we had four straight days of festivities from Christmas Eve to Saturday.  It looked like Santa's bag exploded in my living room on Christmas morning... as usual too many gifts exchanged, even though we said we were cutting back.  It really was a bit ridiculous.

Ridiculous but fun! In the end, we all managed to get some things we really wanted, some of which were surprises.

Ever since Shelley surprised me with a pony tail running hat, I have wanted a running jacket to match - and I got it!   Mr. Helen also bought me a Road ID, which I have been wanting for years but just never bought myself.  When the one he ordered came in, he realized he had bought the wrong size so he ordered two more bands in the right size and until I showed him, didn't realize he had managed to beautifully coordinate everything!  I told Mr. Helen that Shelley will be so proud to see this.

I also received a pair of boots I've been drooling over... so very indulgent I never expected in a million years that I'd get them.

They are so cute and warm and comfy, they are the perfect run around town doing errands type of boot.  I was astonished and Mr. Helen was happy that he surprised me so thoroughly.

I also got something I've been wanting for a long, long time from Little Helen - a Bose Bluetooth speaker.

Additionally, she decided that Mr. Helen and I were way overdue for a new sound system of some sort.  I think the fact that nearly every CD we tried to play skipped probably was a huge clue.  This also has Bluetooth capability so we are finally updated to the new technology.

I love how small and portable both of these items are so we will be able to move them around the house and out onto the patio.

Here's a shot of the appetizers we put out - Little Helen actually volunteered to make the platter up and it came out so nice.  In front of the apps are my signature Rudolph's Nose Champagne cocktail.  In the background you can see a box that has Twelve Days of Christmas appetizer plates which was a surprise gift from Little Helen.  As you know my champagne flutes are Waterford Crystal Twelve Days of Christmas as well so we each used the plate that coordinated with our glass.  Everything about this coordination appeals to the perfectionist streak in me.

Little Helen's fiance decided that he wants to have a yearly traditional photo in front of the tree.  They also managed to color coordinate again this year.

The happy couple who are making us a bit nuts by not having anything settled towards a wedding. Sigh.

As you can see from the opened gifts behind them, I could probably fill a blog or two with all the gifts, but let's just finish here by saying it was a very nice holiday.

While it was all fun and great times with family, I have to admit I was happy to wave goodbye as Mr. Helen went to work and Little Helen and her fiance went back home.

It's funny how used I have gotten to it being just Mr. Helen and me in the house.  We have a certain way that we live and even having just a couple extra people, it feels a bit crazy after a few days.  A completely different routine as well as we stay up later and sleep in later. Not bad necessarily, just different.

Once everyone was gone and I had the house to myself, it took me just about four hours to scrub things down and get the house back into some type of order.  Plus 7 loads of laundry! The Christmas decorations will actually stay up until New Year's Day this year and I'm fine with that.

Only three days until New Year's Day anyway, right? I actually love the week after Christmas leading up to the new year.  I find myself reflecting on the past and looking towards the future with bright and shiny plans... and maybe a wedding in 2015?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wrapping it all Up!

I finally sat down and wrapped the last gifts last night.  It felt good to get that done.  At this point I'm pretty much out of time to shop or do anything more since I'm working my last pre-Christmas shift at the mall tonight.

This past Saturday, I made my family traditional cut-out cookies and decorated them, along with my favorite cookie, which some of you might know as a snowball, and per Little Helen's request, some fudge. Years ago I made about 10 different types of things but that's' more than enough for us now.

Based on last Sunday's shift I expect I'll be straight out until the mall closes and I walk back out to my car.  I sort of dislike being that busy as I feel I don't even make eye contact my with customers, but rather just stare into a computer screen processing gift cards and collecting money.  Oh well, that will be wrapped up after tonight as well, then I get four whole days off from both jobs.

We're having our luncheon at work today and then tomorrow we work only 4 hours during which mostly nothing gets done.  I was tempted to just take it off but since the other 4 hours are a 'gift' it's worth it to come in and not have to use vacation time, as I plan on using vacation time for January 2nd to have another long weekend.

I've got my menus together and a game plan to execute them - thankfully I can do quite a bit of prep during my free Christmas Eve afternoon.  Biz, I know it will make you happy to read what I'm doing!

Christmas Eve we will have my famous to my family Chicken Parmigiana with Angel Hair Pasta, Marinara, Salad, and Italian Bread. Christmas morning, I am going to make homemade cinnamon rolls that I prepare the day before and just bake off.  I'm using my own recipe, but Alton Brown's method, which you can see here.  We always open our gifts leisurely so I generally plan to have an appetizer style lunch - just a few nibbles to get us through to our main meal.  This year we are having shrimp cocktail, an olive display, proscuitto and mozzarella roll, and Ina Garten's Parmesan and Thyme Crackers.  I started making these crackers a few years ago and now they are a must for us!  I generally serve my signature Champagne Cocktail with the appetizers.

Rudolph's Nose
(makes 1 drink)
1 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce triple sec
1 ounce cranberry juice
1 ounce cherry juice
2 or 3 frozen raspberries
Brut Champagne

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and cherry juice. Shake, then strain into a champagne flute. Drop the raspberries into the glass, then top with sparkling wine.

For our main meal, we are having a Tenderloin Roast with Gorgonzola Sauce, a brown sugar cured Spiral Ham, Two Potato Gratin, Green Bean Casserole, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and homemade rolls.  Dessert will be Christmas cookies.

That will be too much food but rest assured after Christmas Day I am not cooking so everyone will appreciate the leftovers.

There will be some extended family gatherings as well after Christmas so it will be a busy and fun time.  Now, we just wait the arrival of Little Helen and Fiance for the festivities to begin!

To all my blogging friends near and far, whatever the holidays you are celebrating, I hope they are filled with the people and things you love!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Meandering

I had a nearly perfect winter run this morning.  It was only 25 degrees, but there was no wind, which is a miracle.  Once I started running, I heated up fast and just really enjoyed it.  I say nearly perfect because the only thing that would have made it better would have been sunshine.  But there's not even sunrise at the time I'm running!


Speaking of running, our friend Shelley did the half marathon she's been training for and rocked it!  No injuries during the training season and no issues during the race!  Afterward, in a Facebook thread she and one of her buddies were talking about how their Garmins showed 13.3+ miles instead of 13.1.

As I mentioned to Amy, Garmins themselves have a +/- percentage of error, always. Then there's the fact that unless you can figure out how to run the course exactly as it was measured, you'll see a difference.  This morning I was reminded that the satellites that we get our GPS from have something to do with it as well.  They must reposition them or something because the loop I ran and which always measures 3.12-3.17 miles, measured 3.07 this morning.  Of course to get satisfaction, I had to run until I hit 3.1.  Only a runner cares about that.


The late shifts have started at the mall for me.  I was home by 10:30 last Thursday but could. not. sleep.  I was pretty wiped out on Friday.  Thankfully I only have two more late shifts like that - tonight and the 23rd.  I am a bit concerned about the shift on the 23rd though as it's the last full evening of shopping before Christmas (the mall closes at 6 pm on Christmas Eve) and I'm working all by myself. Yikes!

Here's why:  Part of my job at the guest services desk is to sell Visa and American Express gift cards, as well as the pre-loaded gift cards for various stores.  Yesterday during my 6 hour shift I did $8,000 in sales.  Think about that.  Nearly half of that amount was cash and the rest was charges.  At the end of my shift I had to reconcile all that, plus account for all my gift cards left, not to mention the voids I had.  It usually takes me about 10 minutes to reconcile and cash out.  Yesterday it took me 40.

With the mall closing at 10:30, I suspect by the time I cash out, it will be 11:30 - or even later - before I'm home.  Thank goodness this madness only lasts for a couple of weeks!


Kristen, who occasionally writes at Low Fat Dressing, tried my Crockpot Bolognese recipe over the weekend and loved it!  I'm telling you, if you're busy, give this method a try.  The sauce is delicious and you can be wrapping gifts - or as in Lori's case, doing house rehab while it cooks!


Last night Barbara Walters did her most fascinating people of 2014 special.  One of her choices was Oprah Winfrey.  I don't remember the exact wording of the question but Barbara asked Oprah even with all she's done, when she would feel like she was settled or accomplished.  Oprah answered not until she made peace with her weight issues.  

Seriously, that totally and completely fascinates ME.  Rich and famous people, they're just like us.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Crockpot Bolognese - So Delicious There's No Photo

I meant to get back here last week to post this recipe and just couldn't find the time.  My free time is very precious these days, especially with the holidays in full swing.  So, I find myself prioritizing and unfortunately the blog fell by the wayside.

When I started making the bolognese I realized that basically for my entire life growing up, this is the sauce my mom made.  Probably a poor man's version because I don't ever remember her using more than one kind of meat or cooking it for hours.

I made this because I happened to know that Little Helen's fiance likes it and I wanted us to have something to eat for dinner after we went and looked at another wedding venue, but I didn't want to have to fuss with dinner when we got back.  It worked perfectly as all I did was cook some fettucine and toss a salad.  Mr. Helen contributed garlic bread.  

It was certainly a hit and before I knew it, it was all gone so this recipe is being given to you with no photo.  

I actually looked up a bunch of different methods for bolognese, which is bascially a meat sauce, heavier on the meat than the sauce, that is cooked for a long time.  That was when I decided I would slow cook it in the crock pot and I combined a bunch of different recipes to come up with this one. Thank goodness I wrote down what I was doing as I went along!

Helen's Crockpot Bolognese

2 T olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
2 stalks celery, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1-2 carrots, finely chopped (3/4 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds combined ground beef, veal, pork (or use meatloaf mix)
1 cup milk
2-28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 cup beef stock
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 T oregano
1 T basil
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. marjoram
1/2 tsp. black pepper

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and add the onion, celery, and carrot.  Stir frequently until tender, about 10 minutes.  Add minced garlic and saute another minute until garlic is fragrant.

Add the ground meat and cook until it loses it's pink color and begins to brown.  Pour the milk over the mixture, increase the heat to high and cook until the milk has evaporated.  Transfer the mixture to a 6 quart slow cooker.

Add the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and all the spices.  Stir well to combine.  Put the cover on the crock pot and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Notes: I made this a day ahead because I always feel sauces taste best when they have a day to sit This also allows you to skim some of the fat off the top before you reheat it.

You could use red or white wine in place of the beef stock.  My future son-in-law does not drink so I always hesitate to use alcohol when that is the case.

This sauce is much meatier than a traditional marinara with some meat added.  If you have meat lovers in the house, they'll love it.

This makes a lot.  My crockpot was nearly full.  But the great thing about this sauce is it can be frozen and used later for baked ziti or a lasagne, or even to eat again!


Since I have no photos of the sauce, how about some photos of my Christmas tree and outside decorations? While Mr. Helen had done the outside right after Thanksgiving, this past weekend was our only time to go to the tree farm to get the tree.  It ended up pouring rain!  We decided this would be a tree cutting to remember, especially as Mr. Helen has mandated that next year Little Helen will be married and therefore we are getting an artificial tree!  Maybe that's why we got one a bit bigger than usual... or maybe it was the pouring rain forcing us into a quick decision.  In any case, it got cut and decorated and once again, we feel like it's the best one ever.

My new yard decoration.  I waited five years for it to go on sale and ended up getting it half price!

I even managed to get a few things wrapped!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What's Up Doc?

I am just in a routine with life right now (or rut, depending on how you think about it).  I feel like it's all work, sleep, exercise, eat, work, eat, sleep, REPEAT these days. There are pros and cons to that I suppose.

The Thanksgiving Holiday was fantastic and fantastically busy around the Helen household.  We spent T-Day itself with Mr. Helen's side of the family.  I contributed homemade potato rolls, this delicious roasted butternut squash and red potato dish, and Ina Garten's Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake.  Mr. Helen loved the vegetables so much he asked me to make another batch to go with our "leftover" turkey dinner.  (It's not really leftover, I just make us our own turkey breast every year to have a dinner and sandwiches.)

Friday we avoided all shopping and spent the morning lazing around waiting for Little Helen to arrive, followed by a trip to the winery to pick up our Grape Nuts shipment.  This might be becoming an annual tradition with us!

Saturday, Little Helen and I went out to Macy's briefly just to check out the door buster deals and I think I found my upcoming holiday party dress.  I leave the tags on thereby leaving my options open!  Mostly we wanted to shop local for Small Business Saturday - we weren't really shopping for anything in particular, just wanting to support the small businesses.  I found this adorable miniature Nativity ornament carved from alabaster at our Fair Trade store - for only $4.98 I couldn't resist.

In the afternoon we went and looked at yet another venue for the wedding.  They are just having a super hard time deciding.  They really did love this place, so fingers (and toes) crossed.  I am worried at this point they are going to run into other obstacles like being able to coordinate a caterer, photographer, and all the other miscellaneous things with the date.  We really feel like our lives are on hold so we wish they'd make a decision!

Sunday I worked for four hours at my part time job and then came home and took down all the fall decorations and replaced them with Christmas stuff.  It was a particularly balmy day so Mr. Helen took advantage of the fact that he had the day off and got all the outside lights done as well.  This weekend we'll get the tree and then that's done.  I have only begun to shop and I can see it's going to be a bit tedious this year as I try to fit it in between the two jobs. The mall has regular hours for this week then beginning next week the hours extend.  I am NOT looking forward to getting home at 11 PM but thankfully that will be over soon!

I am one of those people who love when a Monday and a 1st of a new month happen on the same day so I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on where I am emotionally and physically right now.  I have to say emotionally I'm just in a pretty good place.  I feel much more content than I have in a while, even with the uproar of two job and the wedding.  Maybe it's because I'm slowly learning to let some things go and also learning to better care for myself.

Physically I'm still having issues with my back.  Frustrating because I honestly feel one more shot would do the trick for me (I have that almost there/healed feeling) but they changed our insurance plan this year and each time I get the shot I will have a co-pay of $500 so that's not in the cards right now.

Other than that I think I mostly have mid-life stuff going on - various aches and pains for whatever reason, inconsistent sleep, and what seems to be some arthritis in both of my thumbs (that's my next doctor appt.).

Exercise wise, I am almost done with Neila Rey's 90 day strength program.  This program was not linear like my 30 day challenge because I decided to purposefully have some no exercise days.  But I am doing her workouts at least 5 days a week and doubling some of them up to try to stay on track.

Running is fine - like most runners I have good days and bad.   The Neila Rey program has had me walking at least once a week for a totally low impact day and that has reminded me how much I enjoy walking for exercise.  Thanksgiving morning I did 3.2 miles in 45 minutes.  That's a pretty good clip for a walk.

Eating wise, I continue to allow myself to have whatever I want and continue to find I just don't want some things nearly as much as I thought I would.  I am not losing weight, but I'm not gaining either and while that is a major victory, I've decided that without counting or prohibiting, I am going to try cutting portions a bit more.  Almost like a challenge to see how little I can eat and be satisfied and fuel enough for exercise.  I'm hoping it will bring about some weight loss but I'm just not sure how my middle aged, hypothyroid body will respond.  I have a HUGE desire to weigh at least 30 pounds less than I think I weigh right now (haven't been on the scale in a long, long time) before Little Helen gets married, so it can't hurt to try that. I'm not afraid I'll go overboard or feel deprived since that feeling has just disappeared for me when it comes to food.

Also, I think I have become the crockpot queen as of late.  That appliance is saving my butt with all the working I'm doing and it's keeping us eating healthy.  I made a crockpot bolognese that we ate on Saturday evening and Little Helen's fiance turned to her and said, "Get this recipe, it tastes so good it's in the spiritual category."  She looked at me and said, "Add crockpot to my Christmas list."

Stay tuned - I'll share that recipe later this week.