Friday, February 27, 2015

5 thing Friday - real life, hearts, strawberries, hills, Mabel

Well, blast and damn, as my mother would say.
I got a little ahead of myself.  I was trying to be hopeful, thinking I was "close enough" to being ready for returning to work.  Then a little thing called FEAR got in the way.  That, and my knee decided to stiffen up, spaz out, and freak me out.  I'm not going to give up -  I sought outside help with my regular doctor.  And, I set up some sessions with this professional last week.  I think they were both good ideas, and I feel braver for doing so.  Wish I had done it sooner, but I didn't, so now I have, and that's that.
 The wreath on the front door - I almost don't want to remove the sparkly hearts.  I'll leave them in there til Monday.  Then Spring decorating will happen around here.
 Milk chocolate covered strawberries from Lammes, courtesy of their very generous after-Valentine's donation to hospital employees and an equally generous co-worker who saved me two dozen.
Here is what life looked like to me two weeks ago.  Jury duty in a downtown Austin office building built on a hill surrounded by un-even sidewalks and many other people.  Metal detectors, crowded elevators, and terrible subject matter.  Some day I will look back on this experience and appreciate all it was offering me.  It was an educational experience, for sure.  It was also frustrating, scary, lonely, boring, stressful, and thought-provoking.  It made me appreciate the kindness of strangers, and my Hubby's unending support and love of me all the more so.
I'm not sure that I have published a picture of Mabel on my blog yet - we got her in November and Hubby is chomping at the bit anxious to take her out,  He has tweaked and fiddled with her every weekend, cleaning her up, putting a "Native Texan" sticker on her, making sure she's ready for the road.  Soon, very soon...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Angel Frosting

 I was so off my game on Valentine's Day what with jury duty that week, and my general lethargy.  However!  I managed to find all the ingredients in my pantry for some great cupcakes. I added strawberries to the platter to make it more Valentine-y, and Hubby did his usual grilling.  It was a feast, people!
 I thought I had plenty of powdered sugar for frosting.  Um, no.  So I improvised.  And the result was creamy cheese-y but light and fluffy.  Really, I could have swam in that frosting.  It would be great on so many things!
 So here's what I did:

Angel Frosting
1 8 oz. brick of cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick butter, softened
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 envelope of Dream Whip
1/2 t. vanilla extract

I used the whisk attachment on my mixer and just threw everything in the bowl.  Then I whipped it until it looked just so:
The perfect consistency!  I frosted some swiss chocolate cupcakes (another something I found in my pantry), then sprinkled on some red sugar for a little more Valentine-like touch.  I was proud of myself for remembering I had that Dream Whip in the pantry.  This frosting is really good!
I had enough cupcakes and leftover frosting to enjoy for another dessert in the future.  Have you improvised lately when you found you were out of something?

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Thrift soapin'

The menfolk here go through a lot of bodywash and shampoo and toothpaste, get the idea.  While I am happy that they are taking care of personal hygiene, I also cringe at how expensive said items are.  Usually, I can get great deals on that stuff in January, after the Christmas holidays.  However, this time around I didn't get out to too many after-Christmas sales. But recently I found some great deals at Target and Walgreen's.
I found two shampoos, 4 body washes, three bars of soap and two shave gels for $21.  Originally it would have cost me $43.  I combined items on sale, clearance items, and coupons.  The bar soap will be tucked into the boys' linens closet until they need it.
What a great haul!  
Found any good deals lately?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

Quick Black Bean Chili

I threw this into the crock pot one Sunday as I went about my chores.  I could just as easily have made it stovetop, but I love walking away from the crock pot and coming back later to a good smelling house and very little effort!
Quick Black Bean Chili Soup

1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
2 cans Mexican style diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cans black beans, drained
1 can corn, drained
chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper - to your own taste
{I added in the dregs of a jar of green chili salsa, too.   It wasn't enough to do anything else with and I need that jar for something else}
We ate it with grated cheese and the rest of the tortilla chips, which were basically crumbs!  Then settled in to watch the latest Downton Abbey episode...

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and Tweak it Tuesday at Cozy Little House

Friday, February 13, 2015

5 thing Friday - awesomeness, dinner, smoothies, organizing, ready

Valentine's Day is tomorrow.  Hopefully Hubby and I can enjoy a nice dinner together.  My plan is to buy him a box of candy from here.  The boys will get a sussie, too!
OK, I lied before when I said I had all the Christmas put up.  I found a mini Christmas tree in the boys bathroom.  Oops.  I feel like it took sooooo loooong to get the holidays done with.  I printed up a fun sign and threw it in a frame and wah la I had something to put in it's place.  For now.
One pot pasta meals are an awesome invention.  This one has rotini, ground beef, pepperoni, and just a touch lots of cheese.  Delish.  I need to find more of these recipes!
Scout and I have discovered these frozen pre-cut fruit and veggies for smoothies.  You could always make your own, but if the store has them for BOGO, might as well buy a couple.  Very refreshing, and a perfect afternoon snack.
Little by little I am tidying up drawers and cubbies and closets.  Here is my newly neatened "secret chair" aka my desk chair.  It's where I store notecards, envelopes, stamps, and mailing labels.  Handy.
My head is in the right place.  I have meals prepped and in the freezer.  The house is clean.  I got my scrubs cleaned, hung, and ready.  I will be ready soon to launch. Just a little more strength in my leg and I have to lose the cane.
Wish me luck!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Monday, February 9, 2015

Freezer Meals #12

It's been since right before my knee surgery that I posted the last group of freezer meals.  I hadn't had a reason to do them - I was always here and Hubby cooks on Saturdays.  But I feel like my time at home is winding down - at least I hope so.  Please forgive the marginal photos...
Sticky Chicky
2 large chicken breasts
2 T oil
2 T soy sauce
3/4 c. smooth peanut butter
3 T ketchup
1 t. salt
Mix sauce ingredients til smooth and pour over chicken breasts in big zip loc.  Cook on low from frozen for 6-8 hours. Serve over rice.

Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork
Rub a 3-4 pound pork roast with your favorite BBQ rub.  (I always add some brown sugar, too)
Freeze in a big zip loc.  When ready to cook, plop it into the crock pot and add 1 can of Dr. Pepper.  Cook 8-10 hours.  Shred meat, stir in BBQ sauce, and serve over buns.

Beef Taco Rio
Brown 2 pounds ground chuck and drain.  Add 1 packet of ranch dressing or dip mix, 1 packet taco seasoning mix, 4 oz. chopped mild green chilies, and 1 cup salsa.  Freeze in a big zip loc.  Thaw, then simmer about 15 minutes or so when ready to eat in tacos or taco salad.  (This is the beef version of the chicken one we LOVE.)

Sloppy Joes
I will thaw this, put in a baking dish, and heat along with tater tots.  I just followed my basic recipe of ketchup, BBQ sauce, worchestershire, minced onion and bell pepper, mustard, cider vinegar, celery seed, salt and pepper.  Everyone has a favorite sloppy joe recipe, right?

Garlicky Onion Pork Chops
6 smallish pork loin chops, 1 can cream of chicken soup, a teaspoon or so of minced garlic, 1/2 c. water, 1/2 c. crushed French Fried Onions.  Freeze in a gallon zip loc.  Cook from frozen 6-8 hours and serve with mashed potatoes.

Mexican Chicken
2 large chicken breasts
2 t. taco seasoning
1 c. enchilada sauce
Place in big zip loc and freeze.  Cook from frozen for 6-8 hours, shred, top with cheese and chopped green onion.  Serve with sour cream and taco shells. 

 These smelled so good!
Creamy Meatballs
1 1/2 pound lean ground
1 box stuffing mix
2 eggs
1 small onion, minced fine
1 1/4 c. water
Mix everything but the meat and let it sit a couple minutes to soften, then add the meat and make meatballs. Lay them on a foil-lined cookie sheet.  Bake 20 minutes at 350.  Let cool and freeze.  When ready to eat, thaw and make a sauce with either cream of something soup or jarred gravy, and add in 1/2 c. sour cream.  Simmer about 20 minutes.  Serve over rice.
I had the crock going in the background as I was trying to save myself from cooking twice in one day.  And I'm not even going to show you the mess I made...but it was worth it to have these meals done and ready for the freezer.  Today I have jury duty - Sticky Chicky to the rescue!

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Friday, February 6, 2015

SPT. What is that, exactly?

When we bought Mabel (the name we gave to the little teardrop trailer), the lady threw in a buncha other stuff.  Plastic wine glasses.  Dishes. Silverware. Port-a-potty.  Step stool.  And this SPT gizmo.   Which we had no idea what it was at first.   A countertop convection oven that can also be used as a wok.  Hubby just googled away until he found the instructions.
It was raining on his birthday, and we got out of a band concert around 6:30 pm.  Instead of braving the slippery sidewalks and a crowded restaurant we stopped by HEB to get something to cook in it.  Why not?  We have to learn to use it sooner or later.
 Hubby bought three pre-seasoned pork tenderloins and some veggies.  Did all of the prep and got it going so we could enjoy our wine.  Underneath those roasts is acorn squash, red bell pepper, garlic, onion, and carrot.  The whole house was smelling fab in just minutes.  I want to say the whole thing took an hour or so.  The meat was very tender and moist.  Big thumbs up!
 Here he is, checking out the birthday wine.
Which was also fab.
So, that oven doodad is nifty.  I'm going to have to come up with some combos of meat and veggies so we can play with it some more.  (and I may post about that when I get the hang of it myself) We also had a chocolate cream pie that was pretty wonderful.  But I still owe Hubby a dinner out for his birthday...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

Shortcut Snickerdoodles

I like the idea of making semi-homemade.  Mostly because I am a lazy sort, but also because lately I haven't been able to do a lot of from-scratch cooking.
I happened upon some packaged Eggnog flavored cookie mix at Tarjay.  Scout said yuck, don't buy that, but I figured what the heck.  Eggnog is merely rum and nutmeg flavored.  Snickerdoodles are cinnamon sugared.  Couldn't you just combine the two?
 I mixed the dough according to the package, with an egg and a stick of butter. 
Then I rolled it into balls, rolled the balls into the leftover cinnamon sugar from the holidays, flattened, and baked at 350 for about 10 minutes.  Wow.  My Silpat and cookie sheet have seen better days!
Hot, fresh cookies for dessert.  Scout even liked them!
Do you ever gussy up packaged mixes to your family's taste?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The story of a knee, Part 1

Warning:  This is a post I am mainly writing for myself - just to reconcile? justify? come to terms with? explain? the story of my janky knee.  There's lots of photos and links back to other posts.  There is also a bit of sad. Don't read it if you don't want to.  I totally understand.
The trouble began in high school.  I was on drill team for four years - loved it so much.  If you had told me that I was going to have knee troubles in middle age, I would have scoffed.  I felt fit and flexible, and young and strong.  And drill team was my LIFE.  You know - you define yourself in high school by your friends and activities and how you fit in, and I found my niche in drill team.
Here I am perched in a tree.  If you look veeery closely you can just make out an ace bandage on my left knee.  I distinctly remember my kneecap subluxing during the finale of a halftime show - the splits.  Did that keep me from climbing a tree?  No.  I either had a lack of common sense or a fearless belief that I was invincible.  (We'll go with the latter.)  And, no one told me not to.  My mother, an x-ray tech, took me to get it x-rayed as it hurt like a booger and was swollen.  "Normal" said the radiologist.  In actuality, I had probably torn a medial patellar ligament.  Too bad MRI was not in widespread use yet.
Fast forward to college...I remember injuring it again trying out for the Strutters at Texas State.  Lucky for me, I wasn't selected.  That same thing had happened - the kneecap subluxing laterally.  But it started happening with greater frequency.  (Once in the garage when I was pregnant with Firstborn, trying to scooch between two heavy things - my yelling could be heard by Hubby as he mowed the lawn) Brushing it across something unless it was fully bent could cause it to shift to the outside.  Eventually, my kneecap was tracking laterally all the time - it's not supposed to do that.  Over time I had damaged the medial ligament so much the lateral one could yank it harder sideways.  Then finally, in August of 2014 I tore my meniscus and went through a month of searing knee pain before I could see the doc.  During this time we lost Hubby's sister, bought a car, got the boys ready for school, and sent The Girl back to Waco for her last semester.  I was too busy to have it slow me down for long.  I work full time, the holidays were coming, and there were big things on the agenda. I saw an orthopedist and made plans to get it repaired.
So that's what I did on October 24th.  Eight weeks of pain, followed by surgery that I was told, would have about a two to four week recovery time.  A meniscus repair, and a lateral patellar tendon lengthening.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, when the doc got in there he found bone on bone and quite a mess.  My patellar groove on my femur was very shallow, adding to the problem with it tracking normally.  It was as bad a knee as he had ever seen.  He tells me that when it heals it should last a good long while...but he hasn't ruled out a knee replacement in the future.
That, dear reader, will send me over the edge.  I'm not that fearless teenager who climbs trees anymore.  I have discovered that middle age me is weak, and anxiety-ridden.  I learned a lot about myself during this recovery time.  I wish I could say that I handled it with grace and courage and a sense of humor.  But I didn't.  I leaned very heavily on a few people, and probably drove my family to the Crazy Farm a few times.  {Example:  Freaking out over a very small step leading into the house from the patio on Thanksgiving Day.  Why, Gina?  You stepped over it and back days ago.  Why can you not do it now?  Took 10 minutes to get me back into the house.  Then two more months to work up the courage to try that again.  I wish I could say that was the only incident of it's type.}
The cat never left the room I was in.  My Hubby made me fabulous breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the first week or so.  He set up a gravity lounger in the bedroom and helped me get to the potty, take sponge baths, kept me on a med schedule.  He did all of the cooking, shopping, and cleaning.  The boys starting getting themselves up for school, making their own breakfast, doing their own laundry.  People were being kind to me and waiting on me.  But I felt like I was missing life.  
Gosh, that sounds bratty.
 No one warned  me not to look under the ace wrap.  YIKES.
When I looked back at these pictures at the first of January, they wrecked me.  I sobbed for thirty minutes.  Why?  For the pain. For all the time I'd lost because I hadn't taken care of it years ago.  For everything I'd put my family through. For the shear horror of what I had actually had to get done.  I didn't realize when I set the surgery up that it was going to be such a big deal; well, I guess the surgeon didn't either.   I assumed it would be a quick repair, a quick recovery, a little physical therapy, back to my life.
See the tiny dot between the two stitched areas on the left?  That is a needle hole.  A few days post op, the doc took one look at my knee, had me lay back, said "just relax", and poked a needle in my knee to drain fluid.  I about came unglued.  I'm ashamed now that I couldn't hold it together that time or so many others.  I'm just not as tough as I thought I was, and I couldn't talk myself into being so.  That's the appointment where he explained to my husband that recovery was going to be "tough" due to the lateral tendon release.  He couldn't tell me - I was sobbing and shaking about to faint.
It wasn't a beautiful knee before, what did I expect?  A compression stocking on the other leg kept me from developing a blood clot 'cause that would have been bad...
I discovered bruises and pockets of fluid.  My ankle was ridiculous.
As the days passed, the bruises came more and more to the surface.  The big one here must be exactly where the tendon was cut. (You can still see the marks the surgeon made on my knee with a sharpie.)
 Some lasted a long time. 
Eventually I got my stitches out and threw that damn stocking away that I was wearing on the right leg.  My days became filled with: eat a very tiny amount, take drugs, sleep, eat a tiny amount, take more drugs, sleep, text, drugs, sleep, pee, don't forget to try to eat, cry, cry, cry.  Gradually, I moved to the front room so I could reclaim my desk.  My mother dropped me like a hot rock. No more calls, no letters, nothing.  My sister said sorry for your luck, read the Gospel.  Can you imagine?  How absolutely uncaring and unloving.  That hurt, but not as bad as my knee.  It's all I could focus on, so I let the other stuff gradually go.
Physical therapy day dawned.  I was ready.  I was going to knock it out of the park.  Just tell me what to do, I'll do my best.  Well, it wasn't the happy experience I'd anticipated.   From the get-go I was told I wasn't using the crutches properly; never mind that no one showed me that in the hospital.  I spent a lot of time getting counseled for saying things like DAMN IT and I CAN'T, and expressing frustration at the lack of knowledge about the healing process. {Stop asking about swelling, Gina!} A little more patient education would have gone a long way to managing my fears and expectations about recovering.  There were lots and lots of tears.  A frustrated PT.  And I was feeling more and more downtrodden and the days quickly slid right into the Christmas season.
I think I made the PT feel bad, but she was making me feel bad, too, by the way.   I wasn't trying to garner pity from anyone, I was just having a damn hard time. She took charge and  got me a shower chair for home use.  
No more sponge baths in the sink.  Healing was happening, slowly.  I started turning a corner around Thanksgiving.  Stopped jumping and gasping whenever she touched it.  She began to tell me I was making progress.
My ankle swelling went down. Some bruises starting disappearing -  not all of them.  And I still feel like my psyche was bruised, I do.  I'm just not as tough as I imagined I would be.  I'm a caregiver - caregivers care for others, but they make lousy patients.
 My knee became more knee-like.  With the shower chair I could shave!
And I started crying less, trying hard, working on my home program like a mad woman.
 She's getting better every day, that knee o' mine.
 I took her for granted.
She can be strong again, I just have to have a little more patience, a whole lot of faith, and give her more time.
I struggled a little with depression.  I leaned heavily on people when I should have leaned heavily on myself.  The only one who could really help me, was me.  I started self-talking myself into fighting mode.  You have to do this.  You can do this.  You got this.  When I felt scared I would remember things the therapist said:  "You have to trust your knee.  Nothing bad is going to happen.  You are letting fear hold you back.  This is nothing more that fear.  It lives in your head, not your knee."  I made a rule for myself:  If you've done it once before, you can do it again.  And you can try it at least once.  
And I prayed a LOT.
Home exercises took me 30 minutes or more, three times a day.  What else did I have to do?  Shop on-line for Christmas, text...not much else.  But on Christmas Eve, the PT gave me a gift:  a neuromuscular stimulator.  It seems that my thigh muscles, the quads, had forgotten their job.  They were, in effect, unplugged, and now we had to retrain them to contract and lift my leg.
That made me happy and annoyed at the same time.  Why wasn't I told that my leg could forget how to work?  I wanted to call the doc and rail at him, but what good would that have done?  On all my follow-up visits, he barely spent time asking me what I could do.  Told me I needed to get off the crutches and walk. Once, he made me try, and I almost fell. SIR, If I could walk unassisted, I would leave this office right now.  
Obviously, the return to work wasn't going to happen when I thought it would.  I faithfully used the stimulator, and in January I went from two crutches, to one, then a cane.  And I
was shaky on the cane.  Progress was slow, but steady.

To be continued...


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