Hello again

I did sort of overwhelm myself by making that list in the previous post. However, I’m happy to report that I’ve actually done some of the items.

Sean is now doing the grocery shopping and packing my breakfasts and lunches every workday. This is such a huge load off my mind. Food stresses me out to no end, so to not have to worry about two meals or the shopping for the third one is huge.

I make dinner, and to make them healthier we have decided to stop getting bagged noodles and rice. This cuts down on a lot of salt. We instead have plain rice, potatoes from scratch, or no starch at all alongside our protein and steamed frozen veggies. Eventually I might get back into cooking real pasta, but this is working for now.

I did actually audit the wall art, and I now have a list of all the pieces and their dimensions. I’m still not sure where to hang everything, as I keep thinking I want to rearrange my office again, but I can’t quite figure out the best configuration.

But this next part is the most fun. As I mentioned wanting to do in the first of the three posts I made on May 19, I have gone on a ton of hikes this year, as well as back to Gibbs Gardens and even on vacation.

In late June I went to the new-to-me Long Creek Falls, which was quite an adventure. I had to drive deep into the mountains on forest service roads to get to the trailhead; the trail to the falls is a spur off the Appalachian Trail. My car was covered in gravel dust by the end, but the hike was fantastic and the falls were absolutely beautiful. There were some lovely flowers in bloom in the forest, and the trail crossed streams frequently, necessitating some jumping from rock to rock. Adventure!

In September I went to another new-to-me site, James H. Floyd State Park. It was one of the nicest state parks I’ve been to, really set up well for staying overnight and having fun. I want to go back and spend a weekend in a cabin someday. This visit, I took the Marble Mine Trail to the ruins of (you guessed it) an old marble mine, then hiked up and along and back down Taylor Ridge, which overlooks the park. The ridge hike was kind of intense. At one point on the descent I fell right on my ass! Fortunately my backpack broke my fall, so the only injury was a little scrape on my forearm. When I was done hiking I was utterly drenched in sweat, as if I had jumped into the pond. I felt triumphant. I was so excited about this hike that I actually edited and uploaded pictures soon after I got home.

In late October I headed home to Kentucky to go camping at Cave Run Lake with AJ, Krystal, Connor, Logan, a few of Connor’s friends, and three dogs. It was amazing. There was beautiful fall color everywhere in Daniel Boone National Forest. We made s’mores and played Cards Against Humanity and AJ made us a big camp breakfast with eggs and bacon and hash browns. We hiked around the campground and the lake a little. And we just had a really good time together. After we got back, we had a big party and cookout for Connor’s 20th birthday.

So far in November I have gone to two new-to-me places: Providence Canyon and Red Top Mountain State Park. Providence Canyon is absolutely incredible. It looks like the Grand Canyon on a smaller scale (but it’s still pretty big). The rock formations are amazing; the state parks website explains that they are “unusual geological formations created by erosion of the Coastal Plain after years of poor agricultural practices.” The result is that you get to see spires and ridges formed of layers of different types of rock. I had no idea such a place existed in Georgia. It was amazing to explore. I hiked the canyon floor first, then went up and hiked a complete circuit around it. It ended up being a pretty long hike, but it was totally worth it.

Red Top Mountain State Park, which I went to the following weekend, has lots of nice trails, and there’s also an adorable Trading Post that had served as the visitor’s center until a new building was recently constructed. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t been there since 2014. It was lovely to explore the park and to see the fall leaves. The Trading Post has one of the best selections of magnets I’ve seen; I got one that was made to resemble the “US Engineer Department” (now the US Army Corps of Engineers) benchmark that exists somewhere in the park.

The day after I went to Red Top Mountain, I went to Tallulah Gorge, because I remembered the views from going for the first time back in April of 2018, and I figured it ought to look amazing with fall color. I stopped at Tallulah Point Overlook first, then went to the state park proper and hiked all the overlooks around the gorge. On my previous visit, I did the North Rim Trail, took the stairs down into the gorge, crossed the suspension bridge, and took more stairs back up to the South Rim Trail. That hike is extremely strenuous, and I didn’t want to overdo it this time. So instead of going down the stairs, I went all the way around the gorge to get to the South Rim Trail. It was a Sunday, and apparently the kayakers and rafters all come on Sunday. To get back out of the one-way South Rim Trail, I had to literally climb over people’s boats as they waited along the trail for permission to descend to the river. So that was funny. All in all, I had a great time. L’Eau d’Or Falls was absolutely beautiful, and I saw a ton of fall color. It seemed a bit past peak, but it was still gorgeous. The hike was great too, and I got a better view of the dam than I did the last time.

Of course, aside from visiting state and national parks, I’ve also gone to Gibbs many times since May—in June, July, August, and November—and I’ve also taken a few nice long neighborhood walks. The fall color has lingered around here, so I’ve been getting as many pictures as I can of it.

I’ve done some fun things other than hiking too. In September I went to JapanFest 2019, and in mid-October I went to the Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay with Heidi.

And then, of course, there’s that vacation I mentioned.

This year, when Mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told her that I wanted her to go to St. Augustine with me. To my surprise and delight, she said yes. So we spent a few months working out the details, and then at the end of July we actually did it.

Mom drove down to Atlanta on July 22, and then we left together the evening of July 23, stopping in Savannah for the night. We stayed at Savannah Bed & Breakfast Inn, which was beautiful and cozy. The next day, we looked around Forsyth Park, walked River Street, and had lunch at The Lady & Sons before heading on to St. Augustine. The drive was rainy most of the way, and we were very glad to arrive. We got settled in at the homey and welcoming Ocean Sands Beach Inn, had dinner at a lovely oceanfront restaurant down the street called The Reef, and then went to Publix to grab some groceries for the week’s breakfasts.

We packed a lot into our first full day in St. Augustine: trolley tour in the morning, lunch at Burger Buckets, strolling St. George Street, exploring Ripley’s Believe It or Not, having dinner at a mom and pop Italian restaurant called Casa Benedetto’s, and then heading to our hotel’s private beach at dusk for a view of the ocean.

Our second day, we went to the Colonial Experience and watched a few demonstrations. Then we had an incredible lunch at The Floridian; we shared a cheese board and we each had a sandwich and everything was absolutely divine. After that we took the trolley to the other side of town for tours of the Old Jail and the Oldest Store Museum. They were both really fun. That evening, we had a huge dinner at Aunt Kate’s Restaurant at the River, then spent some time on the dock out back watching passing boats and birds and enjoying the sunset.

On the third day, we went to the Pirate and Treasure Museum, which is always a good time. Then we took the trolley to Whetstone Chocolate Factory, but we didn’t get there in time for a tour, so we just bought some chocolates to enjoy. We did a little more walking in historic St. Augustine and I got a nice ice cream cookie sandwich before we caught a shuttle bus to St. Augustine Beach. I had never been there before and was interested to see how it was different from the hotel’s beach. The whole area was basically a beach resort, filled with hotels and restaurants and surf shops. We had lunch at the Beachcomber restaurant on A Street, and then Mom had a rest while I walked down to look at the ocean. It was a very hot and sunny day, and I ended up not spending much time there. We also were a little nervous about catching the shuttle back to town! But we made it just fine. For dinner we got cleaned up and went to the Raintree, which I love and had been to before. We shared lobster bisque, Beef Wellington, and crème brûlée, and it was all absolutely amazing.

By the next day, we were both slowing down. We decided to keep getting trolley passes so we wouldn’t have to do too much walking. The first thing we did this day was take a narrated boat tour of the river. It was kind of rainy, so we were happy to be below deck, but we still got great views of the skyline and the Castillo and the lighthouse. We also saw some cool birds. After that we had a late lunch at Harry’s. We had meant to go there the day before, but we had to leave shortly after being seated so we wouldn’t miss the beach bus, so we were happy to come back and actually eat! After that, we were both pretty tired, so we went back to the hotel and relaxed, goofing around on our computers and watching TV. For dinner, we ordered pizza and lay in bed and watched a movie.

For the fifth day, we planned ahead and scheduled a Whetstone tour. It was just as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be; we got to see some cool equipment and taste some incredibly delicious samples and hear some really interesting history. We had fish and chips at the Prince of Wales for lunch, sitting outside and enjoying the cool breeze and the ambiance of historic downtown. Then we did a little browsing for souvenirs along St. George Street, finishing with some Dole Whip (a must). We spent the afternoon at the Fountain of Youth, where I got an inordinate number of pictures of peacocks. And then we did what I’d been hoping to do the whole trip, but which had never worked out until that day for various reasons: we went to Cap’s on the Water, sat right along the front of the deck with an excellent view of the river, and leisurely ordered appetizers while watching the sunset. It’s one of my favorite St. Augustine experiences, and I’m so glad I got to share it with Mom!

That was our last day. The next day, we packed up and headed back to Atlanta, bidding St. Augustine a fond farewell. I had always gone to St. Augustine by myself before, so bringing someone with me was new and fun. I really enjoyed sharing my favorite things with Mom and also discovering new things with her. Hopefully she and I will be taking another vacation together next April.

So while I haven’t fixed my entire life just yet, I have made some good changes and had some great experiences in the latter half of this year. There is more going on with me than just these things, too. But this is a pretty nice update, I’d say.

What is life

Hey, it’s been awhile!

I’m going to try to reincorporate journaling into my life. I’m hoping that will help me with figuring out what I want and how to get there.

(WordPress has completely changed the layout of the posting screen since I last used it. It looks like there are a ton of exciting new features. I’m trying to focus on that rather than on my initial “Why do things have to change! I’m old! Get off my lawn!” reaction.)

A general life update: I’ve been at the same company for going on seven years, though my position changed from contract copywriter to associate after the first year, and the things I’ve been writing about have changed a lot. It started with a specific product, expanded to a product category, and now comprises several product categories. When I started I was writing for web, and a little over a year ago I shifted to print, and now I’m doing both. It’s just challenging enough to keep me happy without overwhelming me, so I have to say I am happy in the job arena.

As far as hobbies, I’ve been focused on writing. I don’t write anything that is traditionally publishable, but I am able to publish on the web and get feedback, which I enjoy. However, I’ve been kind of rethinking it lately. The community I’m part of moved from Tumblr to Twitter after Tumblr made the ludicrous decision to ban adult content, and I’m finding this new way of communicating to be really hard on my mental health. While I’ve had a Twitter account since 2007, I had never really used it much for fandom stuff until recent years. The functionality is best for quick, punchy ideas. It means there is a lot of negativity (it’s easier to be “clever” by tearing things down), and it also means I feel a lot of pressure to continually produce “content.” It feels as if I will fade into obscurity if I am not constantly posting something new, whether it be a full fic, a chapter, or a tweet thread. Unfortunately this is not how my writing has ever worked; I’m slow and inconsistent, and I have trouble joining in on the “headcanoning” that is popular (where you come up with a ton of personal details about characters based on how you interpret their personalities).

This situation makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me, like if I just stopped being a lazy loser I could make regular updates like Real Writers, and until I do that, I’m worthless.

So that’s not great. I’m starting to feel like leaving Twitter is my best option, but there is nowhere else for me to interact with the majority of my fandom friends…so I would essentially be leaving fandom.

I’m still taking tons of photos, so much so that I have run out of hard drive space. I have an enormous backlog of photos to process, going back to 2014. I plan to get a spare hard drive so I have room to breathe, but I really want to come up with a plan to work through all those photos. There are so many steps: the initial pass, during which I delete rejects and rename files to put them in chronological order (since I have photos from two cameras); the edit pass, during which I straighten and adjust colors and whatnot; the actual upload; and captioning/tagging, which can be very time consuming. (It’s even harder when the photos are years old and I have to try to remember the context.)

Hand-in-hand with photography is my hiking hobby. I bought a book called 50 Hikes in the North Georgia Mountains and I plan to go through it to find new places to go. I’ve been to lots of trails already (need to get those pictures posted…) but this year I’ve mostly gone to Gibbs Gardens, which isn’t really a hike so much as a stroll, though there are some good uphills. In any case, I need to get out to a mountain trail soon.

I also want to get back into shape. Since recovering from Heart Failure Part Deux and going back to work, I’ve slipped back into my old bad habits: eating unhealthy food because it’s faster and spending most of my time sitting around on my computer or phone. I would like to come up with a plan for meals and exercise that would actually be feasible with my schedule, and not so difficult that I would hate doing it. I went on a really nice walk through my neighborhood today, about 3.5 miles, and I think walking should definitely be part of whatever exercise plan I come up with, but I think I need to do weight training of some kind as well, and definitely stretching.

Another goal, getting my spending under control, goes right along with the health goal, since cooking at home would save money as well as be healthy. Right now, a usual weekday starts with me getting a smoothie for $8, and then at work I either buy lunch in the cafeteria (roughly $8) or go out somewhere (roughly $15). I have also been going to a restaurant after work to write every now and then, so that’s another $14 on those days. On other days, Sean and I have worked out a few meals that are easy to make, so we do those…but they are not healthy. They are: crab alfredo, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese, turkey sausage and creamy garlic shells, Hungry Man frozen dinners, and Marie Callender’s pot pies. Sometimes I will make chicken curry or cheeseburgers; these are more time consuming so they’re rarer. On weekends, I usually go to the restaurant to write at least one of the days. Breakfast is sometimes an $8 smoothie, sometimes leftovers, sometimes nothing. Dinner is either one of the unhealthy at-home meals or something from a restaurant (could range from cheap fast food to nice sushi).

And finally, my home. I’ve never had a system for doing chores; it’s always just been “when it looks like it needs it.” Laundry is fairly consistently done on the weekends, and Sean handles the dishes every day, but everything else is just random. Dust piles up over everything, and crumbs and dirt get on the floor, and nothing gets dusted or vacuumed until we have guests coming. I don’t have a system to deal with paperwork, so it’s just a big pile that I occasionally go through. And I have a ton of wall art just waiting to be hung up, but I haven’t figured that out yet. I want the apartment to be nice all the time, not just after a last-minute deep cleaning. And I want it to feel comfortable to me instead of like a place where there’s always something that needs to be cleaned or organized. Maybe I could spend more time writing there instead of at a restaurant if I felt relaxed.

So yeah, this is all a mess, and I would like to get it under control.

I realize this blog is basically a record of me coming to the conclusion that I need to organize my life and then never actually doing anything, so I want to approach it differently this time. I think what shoots me in the foot is thinking I have to figure it all out at once. So what I will try to do is come up with a plan for making changes over time—an adaptable plan that can grow as I move forward. What can I do here and there during a week to start?

This plan also has to take my ups and downs into account. There are times (like today) when I’m feeling very motivated and energetic, and then there are times when it’s a victory just to get through the bare minimum. The plan has to allow me to have down days instead of expecting me to be on all the time.

And finally, the plan has to be flexible enough that I won’t feel smothered by it. I tend to not do well with rigidity; I get bored and recalcitrant. So I need something that gets things done regularly but doesn’t feel too regular. Heh.

So anyway, this has been kind of a catch-up-and-see-where-I-am post. Now that I’ve gotten all those thoughts out of my head, I can start trying to actually work on the problems. Here we go…

Status update

I feel like this blog, among other things, is just a huge record of me trying to do things and failing, but here I go again.

This past week I have tracked what I ate every weekday using MyFitnessPal. I also packed food for breakfast and lunch every day except Friday, on which day I only packed breakfast because we went out for lunch to celebrate Tobi’s birthday. Dinners were all cooked at home.

The primary goal was to not eat out as much as possible to save money, since the account was low and I didn’t get paid until Friday, but I also decided to try to eat more healthily at the same time. So as I mentioned before, I paid attention to various nutrients while I was tracking.

Despite saying I wouldn’t start exercising until after my vacation at the end of the month, I have been trying to do some walking. Partly this is because since going to Tallulah Gorge on April 29, my left knee has been in near-constant pain. I am trying to rebuild muscle strength there so something like that doesn’t happen again. (A friend said I should see a physiotherapist. My boss says it is probably arthritis. I don’t know. I just want to be able to hike…) On one of my walks my right knee started having shooting pain, and now both of them are sore, but I feel better after today’s walk, so hopefully I am not just destroying them.

I was hoping this week would result in some weight loss, but it did not. I didn’t take my weight till Wednesday, at which point I weighed 159.8. Today I weigh 159.7. This is not significant, lol. However, I need to let more time pass before I can really know if my food changes are helping or not. (Also, I ate an ice cream cone and four Oreo cookies yesterday, which is not exactly nutritional.)

The main goal, of course, was to save money. According to Mint we spent $189 this week on food vs. $263 last week. That’s pretty good, especially considering I spent $40 at the lunch place I went to yesterday. (I’m gonna mess it up by going out to breakfast today, but eh.)

So I’m cautiously hopeful.

Ta-das for today:

  • Went for a 30-minute walk as soon as I got up. I did three brief jogging intervals and briskly walked the rest. My knees feel sore but good.
  • Took a shower.
  • Cleaned my toilet.

More food stuff

I was successful in packing my breakfast and lunch and cooking dinner today, just like yesterday and Monday. Whoopee!

It’s been interesting to watch my nutrition info in MyFitnessPal. One commonality across all three days is that I’m not getting enough fiber, so I want to look into that.

Otherwise, I just want to keep cooking at home to save money. I’ll check Mint to see how much we spent on food this week versus other weeks. The last time I did this I saved like $300 over two weeks. Crazy what not going to Starbucks every day can do…

Once I’ve made cooking at home a habit, I want to add in exercise as well. I don’t want to try to do that too soon or I’ll burn out and quit everything. I have a vacation coming up at the end of the month, so maybe I’ll start exercising after that.

Food stuff

In order to save money, primarily, and also possibly to eat more healthily, I am going to once again try to pack my breakfasts and lunches and cook dinners during the week. So far I have done so yesterday and today. Wish me luck.

For breakfasts and lunches, I have amassed a few staples: hard boiled eggs, cheese snacks, yogurt, grapes, carrots, and supplies for sandwiches. On Monday I packed with abandon, not paying attention to the nutrition info. On top of my morning protein shake I had two boiled eggs, a yogurt, and a slice of bread with peanut butter for breakfast. For lunch and snacks I had some leftover Kraft macaroni and cheese, a bologna sandwich with two slices of bologna and a Kraft single, a banana, a serving of barbecue chips, grapes, and two Oreos. Dinner was beef knockwurst with four-cheese pasta and steamed veggies. I also splurged and had a Drumstick ice cream treat.

It turned out that was a lot of food. I was way over most of my nutrition recommendations, in some cases double. So today, I tracked all the food I packed for breakfast and lunch while I was packing it, making sure not to pack too much. I didn’t have a protein shake. I had one boiled egg, a yogurt, and two cheese snacks for breakfast. For lunch I had a bologna sandwich with only one slice of bologna, a snack bag of baby carrots, and a banana. For a snack later I had grapes. Dinner was chicken curry with steamed white rice. After tracking everything I found that while I was still over in most categories, it wasn’t by very much, and I was actually under for fat and sodium. Huzzah!

My highest sugar items today were the yogurt, banana, and grapes. I may need to cut back on fruit, or maybe try to find yogurt that isn’t so sweetened. I had too much rice at dinner, and that added a lot of carbs. The banana is the next-highest big-ticket carb item, then the bread from the sandwich, then the yogurt. Not having a protein shake and sticking to one egg and one slice of bologna seems to be a good idea in terms of not going totally crazy with protein. I don’t really mind the protein or the overall calories being a little over, because my digestive system isn’t as efficient as it used to be due to weight loss surgery, so I need to get a little extra in order to have proper nutrition anyway.

I’m happy to have managed two days so far, and I hope I can keep it up for the rest of the week. My goal is to do this for three weeks in a row, and then at that point start integrating regular exercise too. Fingers crossed.

March 28, 2017: My Day in Review

SO today was a day.

  • Weighed myself and discovered I am now 152; no wonder all my pants are uncomfortably tight
  • Realized I had completely missed taking my meds yesterday morning
  • Bought breakfast in the cafeteria (cottage cheese, fruit, a boiled egg, and a bagel) instead of going to Starbucks (thereby avoiding the sugar and expense of the chai latte and protein bistro box and pastry I always end up getting); should have gotten more cottage cheese but otherwise I was happy with it
  • Did some calculations and realized I had completely misjudged how long a project would take
  • Came home on my lunch break for comfort snuggling with Sean (this was nice)
  • Went to the new self-service kiosk in the cafeteria to grab a quick lunch, and had to try to scan my sandwich a million times (and yesterday, I didn’t leave my card in the reader long enough, and then I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t processing, and there was a huge line behind me; today there was just one guy and I let him go ahead of me)
    • Bought a pack of donuts because I was feeling harried, even though I had decided that I would eat more healthily
  • Ran into Josh on the way back upstairs; chatted with him a bit, another bright spot
  • Things got better with the project, although I ended the workday feeling harried
  • Went to our favorite Thai place to pick up dinner
  • Went to Kroger to pick up a prescription; paid $10 for it; realized when I got home that I don’t take that med anymore
    • Also bought a bag of Robin Eggs and six Cadbury Creme Eggs at Kroger; I am a lost cause
  • I had been thinking all day that there was something important about March 28, some nice thing, but I couldn’t remember what it was. As I pulled into the apartment parking lot I realized: it’s Maggie‘s birthday
  • Changed into pajamas as soon as I got in the door; installed myself on the couch with Sean and we ate dinner and watched Great British Bake Off
  • Someone rightfully told me that a post I had made yesterday on Tumblr could be hurtful to others; by writing the post the way I did I inadvertently made a type of statement that I actively try to avoid making, but somehow it didn’t occur to me that the post fit that situation
    • Apologized and thanked them, going on and on unnecessarily
    • Edited the post
    • Freaked out about it for awhile by:
      • Telling a bunch of people
      • Being suddenly seized by the desire to disappear off the face of the Earth
      • Telling someone else
      • Editing the post again
  • Sat down at my computer to write this post and began eating Robin Eggs :P

Remember when I used to blog?

Life has been…different, lately. And very busy. I don’t know that I’m actually doing a whole lot, but it sure feels like I’m spending every moment on something. It occurred to me that it’s been awhile since I actually blogged, so I thought I’d put down some sort of update.

There are several new people in my life, friends I’ve made through the Welcome to Night Vale fandom and through Sean. It has been so wonderful getting to know them and sharing things with them. I’ve been doing a lot more chatting recently than I had for years. I’d really missed it. So many of my new friends are artists or writers, so we’ve been inspiring each other to create fanworks, and it’s been so much fun.

My online life has sort of shifted; I used to spend a lot of time on social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, but now I hardly ever look at those two sites. I’m enjoying the chatting a lot more—it’s more personal, and it’s with people I care a lot about. (Sometimes on social media I get a bunch of updates from acquaintances and barely anything from my closest friends.)

I have a trip coming up soon; I’m going to New York City! I’ve only been once before, during Sean and my visit to New York state in 2011 (which I never finished writing up, alas). I’m really excited to see the city properly. I’m going to a Broadway musical, even! But the best part is that I’m going to meet someone very special in person for the first time. :)

I went home to visit my family over Labor Day weekend. It was nice. I didn’t feel like doing much, so I hung out in the office with Mom most of the time. On Sunday, the day before I left, we had a cookout, and AJ let Connor and Logan invite a bunch of their friends. Mom and Dad’s yard was filled with teen and pre-teen boys, swimming, playing horseshoes, tossing beanbags, and helping with the grill. It was amazing. Eventually we all sat down to eat wherever we could find a spot and one of Logan’s friends, Cade, entertained us with jokes. Then he and Logan challenged each other to eat various food items with lemon juice squirted all over them. It was funny.

Ben had no idea I was visiting, so I didn’t see him at all. Gah. Next time I will be sure to tell him myself that I am coming!

My daily writing challenge has kind of faltered. Some days I have been too mentally exhausted to write. Some days I just haven’t been in the right headspace. I’m still trying to write regularly, but it seems like every day isn’t sustainable. I’m trying not to beat myself up over it, and instead to enjoy the writing I’m doing.

So far the vast majority of my writing has been fanworks. I’m trying not to feel bad about this, either. For some reason I feel like I should be writing original stuff, like the work I’ve done isn’t “real.” But people have enjoyed what I’ve written, and I’ve enjoyed writing it. There’s value to it. I’m trying to break out of the “if it can’t make money, it’s worthless” mentality.

(Of course, I’m also nervous that I’m just scared to try to write something original, because I don’t feel like I can do it and I don’t want to fail…)

Sean and I eat out a lot these days. Neither of us is a big fan of cooking. For Sean, it’s mostly that it takes so much time. For me, there’s the added issue that Sean is fairly picky, so there’s the danger that I’ll spend forever making something and then he won’t like it. So we tend to get takeout or fast food, or just go to a restaurant.

We have been trying to make healthier choices, at least. I’ve been getting Starbucks’ Protein Bistro Box for breakfast pretty regularly. It comes with a hard-boiled egg, two slices of white cheddar cheese, a small multi-grain pita with honey-peanut butter spread, apple slices, and grapes. It is so yummy! Much nicer than a sausage or bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, and healthier too. It’s a struggle not to just eat one every day. (I’ve been thinking that I could probably create my own version at home that would cost less. Maybe I’ll do that.)

Exercise-wise, neither of us is doing much of anything. We have to go up a flight of stairs to leave our apartment, and I take the stairs in the parking garage at work, but that’s about it. I’ve been thinking about getting back into walking or running in the mornings now that the weather is cooling off again, but I’m not sure I want to get up any earlier than I already do. My evenings feel pretty short already, especially since most of my friends stay up late.

Yesterday one of my friends linked me to a couple of videos: the pilot short and the first episode of the miniseries Over the Garden Wall. I had never seen it before, though I knew a lot of people were fans. It was absolutely incredible. So unique and charming. Creepy and cute all at once. The music is spectacular. At some point I need to sit down and watch the whole thing. (I was disappointed that both of the two main characters are boys, but my friend says there are important girl characters in the show, so I will hold out hope.)

Otherwise, I haven’t been watching or listening to much of anything lately beyond Welcome to Night Vale. I’ve heard of a couple of podcasts that sound great, but it’s hard for me to find time to listen to podcasts. I need to be doing something with my hands, but it can’t be something that takes too much mental energy, because I’ll get distracted from the show. Maybe if I start walking again, I could listen then. I’ve also been thinking about learning embroidery, or at least cross-stitch. I could listen to podcasts while doing that, maybe.

Well, that’s basically what’s going on in my life right now! On the whole, things are really good. Love, family, friends, hobbies, adventures, happiness. :)

Bleargh

I’ve been staying up too late all week. Yesterday I ended up taking a nap in the afternoon, but then I stayed up until 12:30, and that seems to have thrown me off, because when my alarm went off this morning I felt like a zombie. I snoozed for half an hour, and when the alarm went off again, I snoozed for another 15 minutes, and when it went off again, I almost snoozed for another 15 minutes, but after about three I reluctantly roused myself and shuffled into the bathroom.

I was sitting on the toilet scrolling through Tumblr when I noticed it was 7:15…sleeping in doesn’t leave much time for morning prep. So I got dressed and went to work and felt dead until I finally got my morning protein shake into me.

My day was spent organizing things that needed to be organized and researching things that needed to be researched. When my day was over I came home and asked Sean if he wanted to do Thai tonight. He did, so he got in the shower.

(He didn’t work today, so when I got home he was sitting at his desk in his white undershirt, all rumpled from sleep, his hair going everywhere, looking incredibly sexy, and I am unhappy to report that my period started this morning.)

It was raining, so we had to cover our heads and run to and from the car, and I had to watch for the usual drivers who don’t seem to care when road conditions are hazardous, zipping around, tailgating, turning from the wrong lane.

Dinner was very nice; I tried the dumplings, which are filled with a paste made of many different meats, and the Penang curry, which was delicious. Sean had a spicy herb soup with chicken and fried rice with shrimp. This was the first time I didn’t have any jasmine tea.

The rain had slowed to a drizzle by the time we were finished, so the drive back wasn’t nearly as treacherous. We stopped at Baskin Robbins and sat in the car for a bit as Sean finished telling me about something frustrating that had happened with one of his gaming friends. Then we went in and I got two scoops of butter pecan and Sean got a mocha cappuccino blast.

We came home and I basically read fanfiction and surfed Tumblr for hours. Not the most productive evening, but my brain doesn’t quite seem to be in creative mode. I opened a new Word document, thinking I’d start on an idea I had earlier, but it doesn’t seem to want to come out right now.

I’ve sort of hit a snag with the longer fanfic I’ve been working on as well. I’m not sure what to do next. I have some pieces, but I need to fill in a lot of gaps. Hopefully I’ll figure something out tomorrow.

I have had some writing fun recently, though. This past week I wrote a series of unrelated five-sentence ficlets as part of a Tumblr meme. Followers sent a sentence and I had to write five follow-up sentences. I ended up writing 34 of them. It was so much fun. I want to do it again.

I’m really enjoying interacting with other writers on Tumblr. I am often intimidated by how talented and prolific they all seem to be, but I’m managing to keep from comparing myself to them too much. I’m just trying to do the best I can and enjoy it.

Tomorrow I plan to sleep in, then focus on writing. Wish me luck. :)

A possible new approach to meal planning

For years I have struggled with regularly preparing meals at home. I tend to dislike following routines for any length of time, and I also tend to dislike having to come up with vast organizational schemes more frequently than perhaps monthly (or even bimonthly), so creating a weekly meal plan, shopping for it, and then cooking according to that plan every night has rarely occurred.

Thinking about it today, I started to wonder if I couldn’t space out the planning and work more. Buy in bulk, take the first few steps of a recipe, package up single or double servings, then freeze the servings to cook later. I do have times where I want to do a huge project; perhaps I could use those times to stock up on freezable meal beginnings. And then on regular nights all I’d really have to do to make dinner would be to pick a pre-prepared item and get the fresh ingredients I might need to compliment it. To save freezer space, I could even branch out into unfrozen vacuum-packed food, if it’s possible to do that safely. And of course there’s always canning.

It’s a thought. This may be a good way for me to go so I don’t feel as overwhelmed during the week.

Idea: A malleable restaurant experience

Reading through Tofugu’s Famous Foods of Every Japanese Prefecture [North, East, Central] makes me feel two things: hungry, and wistful. I want to go to all those places and try all those foods.

It occurred to me that it would be cool for a Japanese restaurant to have a small regular menu and then switch out other menu items, perhaps every quarter, to feature different items from different regions. It would be a little difficult logistically, as they’d have to source the ingredients and train the chefs and whatnot, but it would make for a fascinating dining experience. They could even change their decor to match the city or prefecture whose food they were featuring at any given time. A map and photos at the entryway could show guests what the current region is and what kinds of specialty items to expect.

The restaurant could also try weeklong events, such as an udon event or a ramen event, and go crazy with different selections. Maybe they could bring in guest chefs, specialists, to take some of the pressure off the main staff.

No matter how big a restaurant’s menu is–the menu at our current go-to Japanese restaurant is pretty huge–there’s always going to be something missing. And if Kitchen Nightmares has taught me anything, it’s that a smaller menu improves food quality all around. These lessons are actionable: shift to a smaller menu that changes regularly. This move would bring refreshing variety and the opportunity to try new things while allowing the chefs increased focus on each dish.

Almond chicken

Almond chicken detailSean and I have had trouble finding a go-to Chinese restaurant since we moved to the Atlanta area. He’s very particular about his almond chicken: he wants it to have thick gravy, and he also likes the chicken to be breaded and fried as a whole breast and then sliced afterward.

One of the restaurant managers I talked to said most restaurants here do a thin soy sauce because their customers are concerned about fat content. We have found one Chinese place near us that does the thick gravy, but they fry small pieces of chicken individually, and the quality of their food isn’t great overall.

I finally decided I would try to create the dish at home and see if I could satisfy my picky husband. Since in terms of cooking I’m a relative n00b, I searched around online awhile for tips. The first recipe I found that involved thick gravy was actually from a vegan blog: Crispy Fried Almond “Chicken” with Gravy (Soo Guy). Using that blog entry as a reference, here’s how I made dinner.

First, I started a cup of white rice in my rice cooker. The thing takes forever to cook rice, but always with delicious results.

Next I started cooking two frozen chicken breasts on my George Foreman grill, 13 minutes on each side. I decided against trying to fry the chicken, especially since I didn’t have time to thaw it, and I knew the chicken would come out nice and tender on my grill.

Then I toasted the almonds. I had a bag of snack pack almonds, so I just used one of those packs. I hammered the pack with a meat tenderizer until the almonds were broken up, then seared them in my wok-like pan. Unfortunately I let them toast for too long, so I had to be careful to pick out unburned almonds when I was finished.

Next I made chicken broth. I boiled some leftover chicken for 3 minutes, then scooped the chicken out of the water and added the soy sauce and butter. (I actually messed up the first time by putting in way too much soy sauce; I started over with the amount listed on the vegan blog and it worked great.)

Making chicken broth   Adding soy sauce and butter

In a larger saucepan I combined cornstarch and water, then slowly added the broth/soy mixture over medium heat, continually stirring until the gravy formed.

Cornstarch   Adding soy sauce mixture

Thickening sauceNext was simply plating: I put down a foundation of white rice, cut up the grilled chicken and laid it across, drizzled the whole thing with gravy, and then sprinkled roasted almonds on top.

It turned out that I hadn’t made quite enough chicken, but Sean loved the gravy. He loved the entire meal. Apparently frying isn’t necessary; he just likes the nice tender chicken combined with the thick sauce. When he was done with his plate he went back for the leftover rice and as much gravy as he could put on it.

Cooking for me is always such an iffy prospect, especially when it’s something new. I’m really glad this turned out well. It is always so satisfying to score a win in the kitchen.

I think next time I’ll cook more meat, and I’ll also make a side of steamed or stir-fried vegetables.

Almond Chicken

Fall fun

This month I’ve been indulging in autumn activities and quite enjoying myself. I love the crisp feeling we occasionally get in the air (it’s Georgia, so it can take awhile for fall to kick in), the changing leaves, and all the harvest flavors.

First off, I decorated the dining room for fall, using a centerpiece and candles given to me by Sean’s mom, the green-blue sushi set given to me by Brooke and David, and a few miscellaneous pieces I’ve picked up here and there.

fall decorationsNext, I made banana bread!

banana breadThen, last night, I made a butternut squash pie, which is very much like a pumpkin pie. I used this recipe for the pie and this recipe for the crust. It was delicious.

butternut squash pieOn Saturday, I had Heidi over for a whole afternoon and evening of fall festivities. The main thing we’d planned to do was carve pumpkins, but we also made stewed apples and roasted pumpkin seeds and enjoyed them with hot apple cider.

pumpkin carvingfall treats

pumpkin carved with a haunted house scene pumpkin carved with a jack skellington face

It’s been a great start to the cooler season! I’m looking forward to more baking and activities. Hopefully I can find a good place to get some leaf-changing pictures soon!

My new old relationship with eating

Me at the Grand Ole OpryAs time has passed since my duodenal switch surgery (it’s nearly been a year!), the rapid weight loss I was experiencing has declined to possibly nothing. This was anticipated, and as I’ve reached an excellent weight of 136, not unwelcome. However, there is still the possibility of losing a bit more weight before the slight rebound I’ve been told to expect. If I can manage to lose a bit more such that I rebound to about where I am now, that would be great.

Things have become more challenging, though. In the beginning, I hated eating and had to force myself to do it. When I did, I could only stand certain foods. Over the weeks and months since, though, my tastes have started to go back to where they were before the surgery. My perspective has flipped right back to loving food and wanting to eat all the time. And I’ve become accustomed to the amount my small stomach can take in, such that I am able to pace myself and potentially overeat if I don’t pay attention.

Due to malabsorption, I should not be capable of becoming morbidly obese again so long as I don’t go crazy with my food choices, but there’s nothing keeping me from being overweight but my own willpower. This surgery, after all, is not a magic bullet. It didn’t do all the work of weight loss–I had to eat right and exercise–and it will not do all the work of keeping me at a healthy weight. My need to get enough protein has made me a label-reader; I must keep up that habit. Further, I am working to limit processed foods as much as possible, as this is the best way to keep my sugar intake down. This is very difficult now that I have a taste for sugar again. My ideal is to get my sugar fix through fruit, but when I want an actual dessert, I try to at least go for items sweetened with Splenda, honey, or real sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup. And of course, I don’t drink sugary filler.

Beyond eating right for health, I will also have to manage the side effects of this surgery for the rest of my life. One very unromantic side effect is that white bread, white rice, and normal pasta make me gassy. In the beginning I just didn’t eat those things at all, but now that my tastes are pretty much back to normal, I’ve been craving them. So I buy 100% whole wheat/grain bread products (not “multigrain”), and I try to only eat brown rice.

Pasta has been a different animal, though. Sean and I make a lot of use of those Knorr noodle packets, because they’re simple and fast. But they don’t come in whole wheat varieties. There was a whole wheat version of the Alfredo noodles at one time, and we tried it and didn’t care for it…and that must have been the general consensus, because I don’t see it anywhere these days.

I recently bought a bunch of plain whole wheat pasta in various varieties, but I haven’t made much use of them. That will require finding good sauce recipes and keeping those supplies on hand, and I haven’t figured all that out yet. I do still plan to try, but some days I consider it a victory just to leave the kitchen clean!

Luckily for me, the last time I went to the store, I found a 50% whole grain version of Kraft Dinner. Obviously this isn’t a perfect solution–at 50% that means there’s still gas-inducing content–but it tastes great and so far doesn’t seem to affect me nearly as badly as the regular dinner. Sean and I love macaroni and cheese, so this is an excellent solution until I get to the point where I can make my own pasta sauces.

I started some work as a temporary on-site contractor a couple weeks ago. I’d forgotten how the office environment encourages my boredom-eating. Having nothing to do but the work I’m there to do is good, obviously, but my creative, multitasking mind tends to get antsy. I like flipping back and forth between tasks; it lets my brain refresh itself and promotes my creativity. I’ve realized since going back to an office environment that I’ve used eating as a “task” to reboot my brain. I’d take a break to grab a snack and then munch on it thoughtlessly while working. This is obviously not a habit I want to get back into, so I’m working on replacing it with something else, like going to refill my water bottle or standing up at my computer.

Happily, I’ve taken advantage of working in a skyscraper to use the stairs. Four flights up and down! Unhappily, working full time outside the apartment has made it impossible for me to meet my personal trainer during the week. I’m trying to figure out what to do about that.

Yay for my George Foreman electric grill

My George Foreman electric grillFor my birthday this year, my parents sent me what has become an absolute staple in my kitchen: a George Foreman electric grill. In the months since, I’ve used it practically every day for chicken, burgers, fish, or hot dogs. It is really simple to use, grills meats to wonderful tenderness, and cleans up easily.

The book that came with the grill gives cooking guidelines for pretty much anything I want to make. I just turn the dial to the proper setting and grill to the recommended time. As I’ve used the grill so often, I’ve learned how much to adjust cook times for food thickness.

I eat a lot of chicken, and the George Foreman grills frozen chicken breasts moist and juicy every time, something that’s been difficult for me to do consistently on the stovetop or in the oven. Fish comes off the grill flaky and delicious, and burgers grill up pretty much as they would on a normal grill. I’ve also grilled vegetables, though I want to do more experimentation there.

I rarely flavor the meats before cooking. I’ve tried marinades a couple of times, but for the most part I use frozen meat (without thawing) and let the grill bring out the natural tastes.

Time and time again, I laugh at myself for favoring this grill over my stovetop or oven. It just feels so easy. I like that I can “set it and forget it”, something I can’t do when cooking on the stove. Food takes about the same amount of time to cook as it would in the oven, but I don’t have to get out baking dishes and racks or use aluminum foil–I just throw the meat on the grill.

Having this grill has really helped me keep my protein intake up in a healthy way. As a duodenal switch weight loss surgery patient, it’s vital that I get enough protein, but without a convenient way to cook meat, I can imagine I’d be grabbing a lot more fast food than I should be. Actually, while on my way home from the farmers market today, I thought about stopping to get a chicken sandwich somewhere…but instead I came home and made one myself. This means I know exactly what went into the sandwich I had for lunch!

I used to have one of the original countertop George Foremans, but I didn’t use it a lot because I found it awkward to clean. This new grill comes apart for easy scrubbing down in the sink. I’m sort of surprised at how willing I’ve been to clean this grill daily. It’s become part of my regular routine.

In all, I am really happy my parents gave me this wonderful grill. I like it so much I even called a hotel once to ask whether they allow people to have grills in the rooms. (Unfortunately, but predictably, they don’t!) I foresee myself using my George Foreman until it falls apart ;)

Cooking hamburgersGrilling tilapiaGrilled chickenBurgersPork chops

My first attempt at Mexican food

In an attempt to save money and eat more healthily, I have started cooking more at home. Up until now this has mostly consisted of making a handful of stock dishes: grilled chicken, burgers, hot dogs, sausage, or fish, with a Knorr packaged noodle side and some sort of steamed vegetable. While this routine isn’t bad in terms of variation, after awhile it can get boring to cook the same way over and over. I’ve also been craving various types of food that I usually go out for, like Chinese or Mexican. Today I decided to plan ahead and make a Mexican-style meal.

I chose the following recipes from AllRecipes.com:

I also decided that instead of purchasing the salsa to be used for baking the chicken, I would make some from scratch. I chose this recipe:

Prep

The first thing I did was get two frozen chicken breasts out and put them into a dish in the refrigerator to thaw. I went ahead and put the spices from the Quick and Easy Mexican Chicken recipe into the dish and on top of the chicken.

My next step was to go to the store and grab some supplies–I needed the cilantro, jalapeno pepper, and lime juice for the salsa, the shredded cheese for the chicken (I chose a 4-cheese Mexican blend instead of cheddar), and the chicken broth for the rice. I already had tomatoes, onions, and cloves of garlic from the Marietta Square Farmers Market, and I keep frozen chicken breasts, brown rice, and various spices on hand.

I went ahead and did my shopping in the morning so I could prepare the salsa in advance, giving it time to sit in the fridge. It took me about half an hour to chop and mix everything. As I also spent time this morning on some freelance work, a personal training appointment, the grocery shopping, and of course my random desire to scrub my bathtub, it wasn’t until after noon that I started making the salsa.

The tomato, onion, garlic, and jalapeno were easy to chop, of course. The cilantro was technically easy too, I suppose, but I’ve always disliked chopping cilantro…it takes forever. Once I had everything mixed, I had to agree with one recipe reviewer that the end result seemed more like pico de gallo than salsa. Still, I figured it would be nice and fresh and good for the cooking. Though I scaled down the salsa recipe to one serving, it resulted in more than the half-cup needed for the chicken recipe. I put the rest of it out as a garnish alongside the sour cream, but neither of us ended up using it.

Cooking

I started to actually make dinner at around 7 o’clock. I began with the rice, since it had the longest cooking time. After the rice had been cooking for about 15 minutes, I got the chicken out of the fridge to brown it in the skillet as per the recipe. Unfortunately, the breasts weren’t quite thawed, so I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. Instead of cooking in the skillet until there was no pink left, I simply browned as much as I could of the chicken, removing it from the heat before the outside could get chewy. I transferred the chicken to the baking dish, topped it off with the homemade salsa and shredded cheese, then put it all in the oven. I ended up having to cook both the chicken and the rice longer than expected, finally getting them both done around 8:30.

Meanwhile, I warmed the refried black beans in a pan on the stove and three wheat tortillas in an aluminum foil pouch in the oven.

Time Analysis

With the shopping, morning prep, and evening cooking time, this meal took about two and a half hours from my day.

Cost Analysis

Here’s what I spent on necessities for the recipes ($6.68 total):

  • Cilantro: $0.50
  • Jalapeno pepper: $0.05
  • Kroger brand canned tomatoes: $0.67
  • Kroger brand chicken broth: $1.99
  • Kroger brand lime juice (bottle): $1.79
  • Kroger brand shredded Mexican-style cheese: $1.68

Here’s what I spent on extras to go with the meal ($4.28 total):

  • Bush’s refried black beans: $1.29
  • Daisy sour cream: $1.00
  • Wheat tortillas (8): $1.99

Together, that’s $10.96, or $5.48 per person.

It’s a little harder to add in the cost of the ingredients I already had. Unfortunately I don’t have the receipt for the frozen chicken breasts, which came from a 5-pound bag of frozen, boneless, skinless breasts from Walmart. I want to say that bag costs around $10, but I’m not sure. I’m also not sure how many breasts were originally in the bag, but I think it was at least 10. If so, that would add just $1 per person. As for the vegetables from the farmers market, I know I got four tomatoes for $3, so the one I used in this recipe adds $0.75 total, or $0.38 per person. I don’t remember how much the onions cost or how many I got. I have a feeling I had a basket of five or six originally, and that wouldn’t have cost more than a few dollars. If we pretend each onion cost as much as a tomato, that would put the total cost per person up to $0.75. The head of garlic is negligible; it contained many cloves.

A rough total including the frozen chicken and farmers market vegetables would therefore be $7.23 per person. This is an overestimate, as the chicken broth, lime, cheese, and tortillas were not all used today.

The Yum Factor

I was fairly happy with this meal. The main weakness, I’d say, was the pico de gallo “salsa”. It was all right, but not really my cup of tea. The rice was delicious, though, and so were the refried beans. The beans were actually Sean’s favorite part of the meal, which is kind of sad considering I had nothing to do with their flavor. Indeed, the part of the meal I spent the most time on was the least memorable, while the part I spent the least time on was the most.

Despite the weakness of the “salsa”, the chicken came out moist and tender, and I wish there had been a bit more of it–the breasts were rather small. I ate a tortilla with my meal, but Sean didn’t have any tortillas at all, so I may as well not have bought them. We did, however, both use sour cream.

Conclusions

Ultimately, I’m not sure I’d say this meal was worth the effort. If I try it again, I’ll probably buy the salsa instead of making it myself. I do think the price was good, though.

I may eschew the oven baking entirely and grill the chicken next time, then add a sauce when it’s done. Grilling is very easy with the George Foreman electric grill my parents got me for my birthday this year, and there’s no thawing required. :)