Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What I Learned from Blood Clots

Yesterday morning I received the phone call I've been dreaming of since March: "Your CT scan came back negative; your blood clots are gone."  Although I've been taking warfarin for pulmonary embolisms for six months, waiting for the day I would be healthy again, I didn't realize how strongly that news would effect me until I called my husband to tell him the good news and started crying.

Yesterday was a big day for me, and with that comes a certain amount of reflection on what the last six months have taught me.  This summer I was talking with Mark Roeber about my experience with pulmonary embolisms and this very question came up: what have you learned?  I've been thinking about it a lot since then, and it turns out there are a lot of things I've learned.  If you're interested, here are some of them.]

My body has limits.  As a dancer, I've been trained to believe that if I feel weak, I just need to work harder - that pain is weakness leaving the body (unless it's joint pain; that's never good).  When I got out of the hospital, I had to stop dancing for three months and drastically reduce my physical activity.  I would get out of breath just by talking a lot, and pushing through the weakness wasn't going to help - on the contrary, my hematologist warned me that I could give myself a heart attack if my oxygen saturation got too low.  Sometimes you have to stop.  Now that my blood clots are gone, I hope that lesson will stick with me.

It's okay to ask for help.  I am a Type A personality, a control freak; I don't like feeling helpless, and I really don't like asking other people to help me because then I feel like I'm mooching.  So being virtually helpless for two weeks after I was discharged was really, really tough.  But it gave me an opportunity to be blessed by people around me who cared about me.  My husband took over the grocery shopping and housework, and several families helped us out with meals.  That was humbling, but also very encouraging.  So if I forget later, somebody remind me that I can't do everything; sometimes I need help.

God is faithful.  I'm not just saying that because I'm alive, because to be honest, not everybody comes out of these things alive, and I have to believe God is still faithful then.  The truth is, I don't really know why I'm alive when so many other people die.  I'm told God has a plan, and I believe that, but I don't think I'll really get it until I can see the whole plan from a better vantage point.  Instead, what I mean by God being faithful was how he provided for my family and me during that potentially very scary day when I found out I had blood clots.  I am a worrier.  My mom is a worrier times ten.  My husband isn't a worrier as a rule, but when it comes to me and my safety, he might be the worst of all of us.  We're the kind of people who could easily be destroyed by the news that I had a life-threatening condition and could drop dead at any moment without immediate medical attention.  And yet, just before the news came, as I was sitting in the doctor's office waiting for the results of my CT scan, I felt a sort of calmness come over me.  I felt quiet, and weirdest of all, I felt safe.  When the doctor came in and told me I had massive pulmonary embolisms, I was ready for it.  The peace that I had carried me through that week.  And perhaps more miraculous was my mom's reaction.  She didn't freak out.  I think she knew, like I knew, that it was going to be okay.  My husband wasn't with me at the time, but he told me afterward that as he was driving to see me, a song started playing on the radio (I have Positive Life Radio on in the car all the time) which assured him that God would take care of me, and he was able to find peace as well.  I think God shielded us from fear that day; I think the way he protected our hearts was almost more amazing than the way he protected my body.

There will always be trials in my life.  This is the part that comes directly from my conversation with Mark, because at first when he asked about what I'd learned, my response was "to trust God."  But the more I've thought about it, the more I think that's a very limited and not completely truthful answer.  It seems like there's always something really stressful going on in my life.  Projects, injuries, a postponed wedding, financial woes, illnesses, family crises, you name it. After the storm has passed, I always marvel at how God provided for me and feel this huge sense of gratitude, and I realize He was there all the time and I didn't need to worry after all because He was taking care of me, and then I think, "Wow, I really learned to trust God during that situation."  If anybody at Belhaven looks up my oral presentation for my senior project, you will see that pretty much the whole thing is about how all the stuff that went wrong taught me that God was there for me and I could trust Him to get me through it all.  And yet, as soon as a new stressful situation enters my life, I go through the same process all over again - the fear, the anxiety, the sleepless nights all come back until I'm finally past the worst of it, and I look back and feel the awe, the gratitude, and the newfound trust.  Why do I seem to unlearn my lesson every time something harder comes along?  Maybe I'm just a really slow learner - maybe we all are, and maybe that's why life is so long, because learning how to live takes a lifetime.  I've realized recently that deep down, I've been waiting for the time when my life will be stress-free because I will finally have arrived.  Either I will have learned not to worry because my faith in God will be so spectacular, or bad things will just stop happening to me.  And maybe I never thought that consciously or said it out loud, but I think that's been what I've believed.  Someday things will be different; someday my life will be nothing but flowers, sunshine, and baking amazing desserts.  And as foolish as I sound for not figuring this out earlier, I'm just now starting to see that life doesn't work that way.  To quote The Princess Bride, "Life is pain; everyone who says differently is selling something."  I think maybe the trick is learning not to let that pain keep me from living.  Sooner or later, another stressful circumstance will come up, and it might be even scarier than being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, or it might be a trial of the more everyday variety.  These things shouldn't surprise me - I know that probably is not the feel-good message people are supposed to write about in blogs, but there it is.  There is a feel-good side to it, though, and that is this: in everything I've been through, no matter how trivial and no matter how serious, God has been with me and has carried me through.  Whether the storm was great or small, I came through it a little wiser, a little more mature, and a little more secure in my faith in God.  The next time something difficult comes up, I can look back and remember how God was with me in the past, and maybe that will help me hang on.

Every moment of life is a miracle.  Everybody who's been close to death experiences this, I think; there's something about coming face to face with your mortality that gives you a brand new outlook on life.  For me, it wasn't so much a smack-in-the-face sudden reality - I mean, I wasn't in an accident, I didn't lose consciousness, I didn't have a surgery, or anything like that.  So I never felt like I was close to death; in fact, except for the extreme fatigue, racing pulse, and heart palpitations, I felt fine.  The reality was, I had been dying for months and didn't know it, and I'll probably never know how close I came.  That sounds morbid, I know, but when you consider how many people die of undiscovered pulmonary embolisms, combined with my dancer instinct to work through the pain and the tiredness, and my aversion to going to the doctor, and the fact that I went to the doctor and was sent home with nothing more than a new inhaler prescription (thus increasing my reluctance to go back for a second opinion), the conclusion I come to is that it's a miracle I'm alive.  But when you really think about it, isn't it a miracle that any of us is alive?  Life is such a fragile thing, and our bodies are these incredibly complex machines composed of many different systems all somehow working together, and in spite of our centuries of research and scholarship, so much of it remains a mystery.  A life is like the flame of a candle that can be snuffed out by a small breeze - and we so often take our lives for granted!  I'm sure in the months and years to come this narrow-escape-from-death high will wear off, but when it does I hope I will remember that even though life is sometimes complicate, messy, stressful, and scary, it is also good and beautiful and precious.  And maybe, just maybe, that will inspire me to live more fully, to savor the moments, to make my time count. I guess I'll just finish with a quote from Ruth Ann Shabacker:

"Each day comes bearing its own gifts.  Untie the ribbons."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Panko Chicken

If you like crispy chicken but are trying to stay away from fried foods, this is for you!  It has my very Southern husband's stamp of approval, and that means a lot (if you know much about Southern cooking you understand this).

I got this recipe from Cook This! Not That but it's really basic so I'll share it here.  All you need is:

- chicken, whatever kind you like (Justin and I love the Foster Farms chicken breast tenders)
- egg whites (2-3 per pound of chicken)
- salt and pepper to taste
- panko bread crumbs (1 1/2-2 cups per pound of chicken)

What is panko?  Basically it's bread crumbs, Japanese style.  They are crispy and crunchy.  You can find them at your grocery store shelved either with the Asian foods or in the baking aisle (the aisle with flour and sugar; I call it the baking aisle).  This is what my box looks like, as well as what the uncooked crumbs look like:

All you have to do is:

Step 1.  Salt and pepper the chicken to taste

Step 2.  Dip the chicken in the egg whites

Step 3.  Salt and pepper the panko crumbs

Step 4.  Coat the chicken in the panko crumbs.  When I make breaded anything, I put the crumbs in a freezer bag, then add the meat, seal the bag, and shake.  Like so:

Step 5.  Place the breaded chicken on a baking sheet and bake at 450 for 10-12 minutes or until the panko crumbs are golden-brown and the chicken is no longer pink in the middle.

 Yum!  Eat it with your favorite sauce.  Cook This! Not That has a recipe for chipotle-honey sauce, but I prefer honey-mustard and Justin likes barbecue sauce (and we highly recommend Sweet Baby Ray's).

I'll post the nutrition facts later; I need to consult my recipe book because I don't think the numbers on the Cook This website are correct.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Turkey Chili

I have to start this post by admitting something that will make you laugh at me: the first time I had chili was in college.  When I was younger I didn't think I would like it so I just never tried it.  And the day I did, I fell in love.

Chili is great, but I bet you never thought of it as particularly healthy, did you?  Well, if you made it yourself, it could be.  And Cook This, Not That! tells you exactly how to do it.  I've given you the link to the book because if you're going to buy a cookbook, it should be this one.  It is chock full of information - not just recipes, but actual facts about the foods we eat and what's good or bad about them.  You will learn all about what kind of fats are the healthiest, which ingredients and condiments to buy from the grocery store, what you should look for in nutrition facts and ingredients labels, creative alternatives to the basic sandwich - oh yeah, and more than 350 amazing recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert - and it's all HEALTHY!  By "healthy," I don't mean that you substitute tofu for meat or applesauce for butter.  I mean you make food the way it was meant to be made, without the extras and additives that restaurants and frozen dinners put in.

I make turkey chili about once a month, mostly during months that have an "r" in them (what's life without whimsy?).  You can find the recipe, along with many others from the book, at the Cook This site on Men's Health.

Okay, so chili doesn't photograph well.  But here are the reasons why this chili recipe is way better than yours other chili recipes:

1) Turkey - besides being lower in fat, ground turkey has a much more appealing texture in chili. I made this recipe once with ground hamburger (we're talking free-range, locally butchered cows) instead of turkey and it was a little too chewy.  The turkey almost melts in your mouth.

2) Chocolate - unless you've tried it, you don't know how good it is.  I use cocoa powder instead of baking chocolate but it's basically the same thing.  A little unsweetened chocolate adds layers of depth and richness to this recipe.

3) Salt - when you make food yourself, you get to decide when to put the ingredients in as well as how much of them to use.  Here's a secret: always save salt for last.  You'll put less in, which means you've reduced the sodium in the meal without even trying.  This time I just didn't put any salt or pepper in the pot at all, because the first thing my husband does with his chili is add salt and pepper.  Admit it: your husband does it too, before he's even tasted the food (or maybe it's you or your kids who do it, but somebody in your family does, I promise).

4) Beans - this recipe uses white beans and pinto beans.  Now, I don't know much about the differences between various types of beans, but I know that at Walmart, I can get pinto beans and white beans with reduced sodium - meaning the sauce they pack them in isn't saturated with salt.  Make sure you rinse your beans very thoroughly before you add them to the pot - let's just say it will dramatically reduce the typical bodily reaction to beans.

5) No weird additives. As always, making food yourself eliminates the presence of the ingredients whose names you can't pronounce or that are just plain unnecessary.  Check out the stuff that's in Hormel canned chili: Hydrolyzed Soy, Corn, and Wheat Protein, Modified Cornstarch, Autolyzed Yeast, Monosodium Glutamate- I made that last one bold in case you didn't catch it.  MSG is a common additive in canned foods; its basic function is to turn off the "I'm full" switch in your body so that you think you're still hungry and keep eating.

This recipe also calls for beer, which I can't personally vouch for - we don't like the taste so I've never added it to the recipe.  If you like beer or if you ever cook with it, though, try it.

Finally, the nutrition facts (I'll try to give nutrition information for all recipes, if I have it):
330 Calories
6 g total fat
1 g saturated fat
490 mg sodium

You can't beat that.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Recipe Time!

I am going to switch gears for a while and focus on food.  I will be sharing some recipes (or at least pointing you to their sources) as well as my favorite websites for meal planning.

Here are some things I am planning to make this month (I'll add to this list as I think of more things):

  • Turkey Chili
  • Tomato-Basil-Parmesan Soup
  • Crock Pot Chicken & Vegetables
  • Deluxe Caramel Apples
My husband and I are trying to eat healthier, and one of the best ways to do that is simply to make food yourself.  Some of the recipes I'll be making are low-fat and/or low-Calorie (like turkey chili), and some are not (caramel apples!).  I think if you're going to eat dessert, you might as well go all-out and make something delectable so that you eat a smaller portion, and plus when you make it yourself you aren't going to put in high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors or preservatives or any of those words you can't pronounce.

Get ready for fun!!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Miscellaneous Mini-Projects

Okay, this isn't a single project or a DIY tutorial, just a conglomeration of the other stuff I used to decorate, most of which I already had or was left over from another project.

 You've already seen my Fall Leaf Garland, but the other part of the picture below is my red candles.  They came in a two-pack at the Dollar Tree, and each candle holder was also $1, so that's $3 for those.

The sunflowers were left over from my Fall Ribbon Wreath, and the bud vase I had on hand.  The roses were left over from hair pieces I made for a group in last year's Nutcracker production, and I scavenged the leaves last year from decorations my mom no longer uses.  The mason jars were on hand too.

Originally I was going to fill the jars with small nuts, or dried corn kernels, or something like that, but it's too early to go scavenging for fallen acorns and I never got around to looking at the store, so I found a jar of dried rose leaves (collected over the years from dance recitals and so forth) and used that instead.  That makes the total amount I spent on flower arrangements $0.

I found this pumpkin thing last year at Walmart for $8.  They had at least three different designs of this thing. I had real votive candles in it before, but when I put it on my hutch I thought floralytes would be safer.  I found them at a dollar store in a 3-pack.  The leaves were more of what I had on hand or leftover from previous flower arrangements.  Total for this piece: $9.

Last, I got these candles at the Dollar Tree for $1 each - they are vanilla-scented so I figure I can use them for multiple seasons.

I was going to put them in mason jars also but they were too big!  So I was going to take them back and get smaller candles, but then I thought they might look nice in my candy dishes.  They used to be my grandma's . I put more dried roses around them and I thought they looked pretty nice.  Total for these pieces: $3.

Five mini-projects (if you count the flower arrangements as two), and the total I spent on them was $15.  The best way to save money on decorating is to find new ways to use the old stuff you already have.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tissue Paper Pumpkins

Holidays are all about people coming together, and one of my favorite parts of decorating is sharing ideas with other people.  I got the idea for this project from a total stranger in Walmart!  Thank you!


While browsing Pinterest (again) for decorating ideas, I came across a site that has 50 (count 'em) pumpkin crafts - basically 50 different ways to make pumpkins out of things that are not pumpkins.  This one was my favorite:

This project uses fabric to create the look of a pumpkin.  It's a fairly inexpensive project (if you can find large quilting squares for a good price), but while I was looking for fabric squares at Walmart and telling my mom about this project, a lady in the same aisle said she'd seen the same craft done with tissue paper - much cheaper!  I thanked her and switched gears.  Thanks to her, I was able to recreate this craft for free.


For each pumpkin, you will need:
- 1 roll of toilet paper (the larger the better)
- 1 sheet of orange tissue paper
- green tissue paper
- brown paper (a brown paper bag works)
- Scotch or double-stick tape

My mom supplied the orange tissue paper (she's a schoolteacher so there is lots of tissue paper at her school) and brown paper bag, but I already had the rest of the supplies.  You might have everything you need lying around your house, especially if you are the kind of person who saves tissue paper after opening presents.

Step 1. Fold your tissue paper in half and place the toilet paper in the center.

Step 2.  Fold one corner of the tissue paper up and stuff the end into the toilet paper tube, keeping the tissue paper as close to the toilet paper as possible.

Step 3.  Tuck an adjacent corner into the tube the same way, folding excess paper underneath to hide it.

Step 4.  Fold in a third side, leaving one corner.

Step 5. Fold in the last corner.  Remember to tuck all the excess paper underneath your folds so it doesn't stick out.

Step 6.  Cut a large strip of brown paper - about the same size as copy paper is plenty - and fold it in half lengthwise.

Step 7.  Roll the paper into a cylinder.

Step 8. Twist the tube like you're wringing out a washcloth.

Step 9.  Stuff the brown paper into the center of your pumpkin.  The excess tissue paper will make the hole small enough to hold your "stem" in place.

Step 10.  Cut out a leaf shape in green tissue paper.  I tried this freehand and it was awful, so since I didn't have a leaf pattern with me, I traced the shape of a leaf from one of my silk flower arrangements.  If you want to use my pattern, click on the picture below to view it larger, then right-click it and save.

Step 11. Tape the leaf onto the pumpkin.  Ta-da!

I made three pumpkins using two  shades of orange tissue paper.  Since I wanted all three pumpkins to look a little different, I put polka-dots on one sheet.  You can fancy up your tissue paper by adding a design of your own.

In other news, I've been taking pictures with my almost 3-year-old cell phone, which is not what it used to be.  I'd use my camera, but it's twice as old and takes pictures twice as slowly.  Maybe someday I'll have a new camera; until then, bear with me. ^_^

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fall Leaf Garland

A big, beautiful garland is a great way to decorate your mantel, banister, balcony, or (if you don't have any of those things) hutch.  Buying one can cost close to $30 plus shipping at Afloral (my favorite place to buy silk flowers online) or as much as $80 at Hobby Lobby (which, FYI, has very reasonable shipping prices, last time I checked).  I made mine for $13 thanks to a great tutorial I found on Pinterest.  And I didn't even have to buy grapevine.


Unlike most of the other DIY garlands I looked up, this one is full, lush, and looks realistic - and it is a cinch to make!


You can click the link under the picture for the tutorial, or you can just read on.

You will need:

- fake leaves (make sure they are the kind with a hole in the stem - see picture below) - I used four bunches that I found at Walmart for $3 each
- twine or yarn
- large-ish needle (it has to be large enough to accommodate your twine/yarn, but small enough to go through the hole in the leaf stems without pulling on the plastic)
- any embellishments you want - I used pinecones from my mom's backyard and some little foam vegetable things from the Dollar Tree ($1 pack of 5 vegetables)

Sorry for the blurriness, but hopefully you can see the hole in between the leaf stems - this is what you need because it's how you thread the leaves on the garland.

Step 1.  Measure your yarn (or twine) - I made my garland about 3 yards long - thread your needle, and knot it.  Make sure the knot is large enough that the leaves won't slip off the end.

Step 2.  Take the leaves off their bunches and start threading.  I had two different colored bunches - a yellowish-greenish-brownish bunch and a reddish-orangeish-yellowish bunch - so I alternated.

Step 3.  Keep going until you run out of leaves.  Really, it's that simple.

This is the point at which I diverged from the tutorial.  The tutorial above was, strictly speaking, for a garland to put on the outside of a house.  Mine was to put on top of my hutch (someday mantel, I hope), and I noticed that when I strung the leaves tightly together until the stems touched, the resulting garland was very, very thick:

Not only did that mean I would need more leaves to make my 9' garland (remember, the goal here was to save money), but I wasn't sure it would lay right on my hutch.  So I just spread the leaves out a little.

It may not look like it in the picture, but I thought it looked better.  So I kept working that way until I was out of leaves.

Step 4.  Add your embellishments.  I used Tacky Glue to add my pinecones directly to the yarn, but to glue the little vegetables to the leaves, hot glue is a better option.  I also coated my vegetables in Mod Podge and sprinkled them with green glitter for a little sparkle.


I'm very proud of my garland!  And it was so easy to make, there's no reason why you couldn't do it too!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Seasonal Block Letters

UPDATE:  I did another set of these for my mom, and they turned out (I think) a lot nicer than the ones I did for myself.  I might redo mine sometime.

Okay, so from now on I'm going to organize my posts in the following manner: Inspiration, Process, and Result.  If applicable, I'll also have a section describing Improvements (ways to make what I did better than I did it). :)

I love the trend of using words to decorate!  I wanted to include some in my fall decorating, but I also wanted to save money.  I made my blocks for free using materials I had on hand.


I found these pictures (among others) on Pinterest:

(Source not available)

These things are all over the place; I'm sure you've seen similar things before.  I wanted to recreate a similar look, but without using a lot of money (or power tools).


You will need:
- wooden blocks (the number depends on what words you're writing)
- paint
- paintbrush
- Sharpie (or a small paintbrush if you are painting the letters on)
- stencils (optional - see Improvements)
- Mod Podge

At first I thought of putting letters on mason jars.  Then I remembered that my mom had a ton of wooden blocks sitting up in her attic that haven't been used since we were little kids.  They were already sanded and there were several of the same size.  My mom said I could take as many as I wanted.  I picked out a few different sizes.  My idea was to write letters on the front and back of each block, so that I could turn them around to go with a different season (in this case, Thanksgiving and Christmas).

After rinsing off the dust, I painted one side of each block.  I wanted to use two different colors.

They dried pretty quickly in the sun.  I painted the opposite side as well.  Then I did another coat of each color because these particular blocks absorbed a lot of the paint.

I did the letters freehand (see below for Improvements).  Before writing the letters, I had printed them out so I had a sample of the font I wanted to use.  On most of them I just used a Sharpie.

(These are the blocks that I planned to write on both sides of)

(I've only done one side of these but I'll probably add another side later on)

I used paint for the second side of my larger blocks.

After they were dry, I just finished them off with a coat of Mod Podge.  And that was it!




The most obvious way to take these blocks a step up is to use a stencil for the letters.  I have another set of blocks that I'm going to make for my mom, so I'll try that with them.

If you're really good with a paintbrush, you can also embellish the background of your blocks so it's not just a solid color.

If you have cubes, and you want to go for maximum versatility, I bet you could recreate these blocks which can be made to spell 16 different seasonal words!  (The link isn't a tutorial, but it pretty much tells you how to do it).  I might try it myself!