28 February 2017

Climate, Altitude And Baking

Moving from humid sea level to the desert at 6,200+ in elevation is a pretty big change for the the body. Your hair, skin, lung capacity and pretty much every other function are affected by it. It's a serious change in how you bathe, wash your hair, treat your skin...your entire appearance. It also seems to have an effect on baking recipes. Every time I have made cookies since we moved the dough is always too dry. So I'm having to do some investigation to figure out how to solve that.


Other challenges include learning the best way to use our stoves. We have a double wall oven and I'll tell ya, it was a delight to be able to crank them both up, put in four pans of cookies and be done baking within 20 minutes rather than putting in pan after pan to bake. I don't know what is more energy wasteful/efficient, to turn them both on for a few minutes or have one on for twice as long. Something to ask some energy efficiency specialist about...or google it. Ha.

I don't like the idea of adding more fats or eggs to the recipes to combat this dryness issue. It makes sense that the flour and all the other ingredients are not going to have as much moisture in them when things are SO dry here. Adding an egg is a challenge, because you probably don't need an entire whole egg and you can't put in half an egg really. Adding more butter doesn't excite me either because it seems like the cookies will just end up flatter and more greasy looking. I guess I could go with applesauce or something along those lines. Maybe what I need to do is just add less flour. Anyone have any suggestions or ideas?

I realized yesterday that for some reason, on some stressful or busy days I just have to bake for a little while. I don't know why and I haven't noticed it when living in other homes. But here, I somehow get stress relief/zen calming from pulling out the KitchenAid mixer and throwing ingredients together and into the oven.

Yesterday I was busy and getting a lot done but had a lot more I needed to get done and in the middle of the afternoon I just stopped everything and whipped up some Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies. I didn't even feel like eating one. A little weird. Happily it all came together pretty fast with the help of the mixer, four cookie sheets and the double ovens. I better not tell my family how this works or they'll be causing me stress just to get me to make more treats. Haha.

I've been making a lot of traction with home organization and some business projects the past couple of weekends and I feel like the progress is energizing me towards more progress. With the long move, my broken foot and The Man's health challenges it feels like we have fallen so far behind in getting settled again. It's been two years since I first left L.A. and it still doesn't feel like our home is settled here.

Our life outside of the house is quite settled but not inside the house. I should take some comfort that so many friends say they have boxes they haven't unpacked since they moved several years ago or that they have moved and still have rooms that aren't set up and ready to do. I had a roommate who was literally set up the day after she moved in to an apartment we shared, even with art all over her walls and everything in its place and I am still shocked and in awe about that. Obviously this house isn't a dorm room with one wall and a twin bed or a small apartment to decorate but still, she amazed me and I wonder how fast she can pull a house together?!

While it snowed on Sunday, although it didn't stick to the ground, I am happy to report we've been wind free for the most part the past two days. It was windy for a while in the middle of the night, the house was rocking and there was a lot of noise for a while but it didn't last and today is calm. That is a happy thing! I was talking to a doctor on Friday and she was saying how much she hates the wind too and that it's even worse when you get out into the smaller towns and open roads from here in the big city. I don't even want to think about that. I'm grateful the winds have been pretty calm this week. (Falling on my knees with my hands in the position of thankful praising).

I'm hoping to make more progress on my office organization this week around the edges of all the other work and responsibilities. I've made huge strides and I need to pull it all together the rest of the way so it can be highly productive work space. Yesterday while I was working at my desk the dog and Kiddo were in here. I turned around to see she was in the process of emptying out an entire cupboard shelf so that she could hide inside it. She was playing hide and seek with the dog. No messing with my office organization please.

The areas I already organized seem to be functioning well and staying tidy which makes me ever so happy. There is little that makes me happier than tidy storage spaces that stay tidy! (Twirling around in a circle like a glee-filled six year old.)

One of my biggest challenges is papers that need to be filed. I still haven't quite figured out the best way for us to keep track of that stuff in this house. Should we have one giant filing cabinet in The Man's office? Should I have a mini-file in my office? Should I fit it in a drawer or just buy a rollable 2-drawer system. Can't figure out what's going to make me happy on that note. Maybe because it just feels impossible for paper filing and the word happy to ever peacefully co-exist?! The thing we seem to have the most of right now are insurance paperwork and bills. So much fun to deal with in every way. Diving into paperwork organization is definitely a big part of this week.

My next endeavor for the office is figuring out how to make it feels like my space. I have a few pretty things on the window ledges but I basically only have the far wall that could support any art or decor. Every other wall is covered with a washer, dryer, second fridge/freezer and a lot of oak cabinetry. Thankfully I have two beautiful windows overlooking the yard. But so far I'm just not seeing how this space is going to get pretty and excite and inspire me.

Even if I painted the cabinetry (ugh) and got new countertops in here I'm not really sure that it would do much good. I really need to get inspired about this space clearly! The spacing is odd, the room is small and when I'm sitting at my desk everything is behind me so the only spaces that are really visible are the windows which I would like to keep as clear as possible. Time to do some more brainstorming. I think this might be one of those situation where I have to bring in a friend for some advice. A fresh set of eyes might be just the thing. It's sad that you can get so sort of jaded in your own house that you cease to be able to have the vision you might have for other spaces.

I find that looking at design books and magazines often gives me ideas that I could implement in our home. I should go back and look at all the design books I got for Christmas. I am sure things there would inspire me. I have quite a few other design books that it might be time to go look at again for a fresh perspective on what often feels a like a stale environment because I am here every day. Fresh inspiration, come to Mama!

27 February 2017

Wood Serving Trays For Fruit And Cheese Plates

This is a long overdue blog post for sure, but one I had such a good time putting together. I love wood serving trays and we've been loving fruit, veggie, cheese plates the past few months. I think it all started last summer when I was looking for light fare that would incorporate a lot of different kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables. We started trying to eat the rainbow and began counting how many vegetables and fruit we could pack into one dinner. I had a couple of small, oblong serving trays that were so perfect for lining up a rainbow of beautiful fresh foods along with cheeses and crackers. But they weren't quite big enough and I happened upon some beautiful new wood trays one day at TJMaxx.


I thought these would be perfect for entertaining too and I could just imagine serving all sort of foods on our patio with them. I bought two matching sets of these rectangle wood trays, each came with three different sizes and I picked up two bamboo tongs for easy serving as well.


I can't wait til it warms up so that we can have friends over for dinner outside. We've been working hard getting the inside of our house pulled together so that when warmer weather gets here we'll be ready to go. It will be especially fun to have a pool party or two this summer. With a white sheet we can pretty easily pop up a movie theater in the back on the wall as well. Fun stuff.


I also found these wood fruit-shaped trays the same day and couldn't resist. The wood is so beautiful and I like the big, flat, open space on these for a nice variation from the thin rectangle trays I have quite a few of. These would work for so many things and we've been using them for our fruit and veggie cheese plates the past few weeks.


Of course, I'm especially fond of the pineapple tray. I have another small pineapple tray that this would go perfectly with. Wouldn't this be delicious covered in pineapple bites. I am totally craving pineapple and fresh fruit right now, I think because we don't have a lot in the house and it's winter and all. I think we only have apples and pears around right now.

I would love a big tray of strawberries, pineapple, oranges and more to appear in our kitchen on one of these trays right now! My mouth is totally watering just thinking about it. We need to splurge and get some pineapple soon! Actually we have some canned pineapple in the cupboard and I may just crack open a can to go with our Japanese wontons, gyoza and rice dinner. (Inside right now I'm silently screaming "Oh Yes!" - ha)

I have been refurbishing and collecting wood trays for a while now. I use them all over the house. I think I still have one little one I haven't even fixed up yet in a drawer in my craft storage. Wood trays can be quite expensive at full retail price but buying and refurbishing them from a thrift store can be quite a great deal. Most of the bowls and trays I have purchased and fixed up were all under five dollars. Here are a few other posts on beautiful wood trays and bowls.

Thrift Store Small Rectangle Tray (with DIY instructions on how to bring a crusty old tray back to life.
My dream bread bowls I saw these at ABC Home in NYC and couldn't justify the investment at the time but found something at my local thrift store just days later.

Bamboo Tray Fix-up A great thrift store find that I fixed right up and made look new again. So easy.

Woven Tray This large serving tray is perfect for transporting things outside, to the dining table or for breakfast in bed. A great deal and it was so easy to repair.

24 February 2017

Big Likes #1: My Favorite Cocoa

I was feeling like I hit a bit of a rut this week here at the blog. It's funny how you can feel like you have lots of blog post ideas and then some days just nothing inspires you. So today I decided to start a new column of sorts called Big Likes. Big likes are things I'm really enjoying at the moment.


I was out early this morning for an appointment and I will just say that the freezing cold wind is still blowing. Ergh. So when I got home I was ready for something cozy and decided that some cocoa would really hit the spot.

Yesterday would have been my paternal grandmother's 116th birthday and she made the absolute best cocoa I have ever tasted. I learned to add salt and vanilla from her. She also made her cocoa with evaporated milk which of course was delicious. I think she mixed regular milk with the evaporated milk. It's been so long since I watched her make it as a little girl that I realize I can't quite remember anymore. That's a little bit sad. Life passes so quickly!

I generally don't make a big pot of cocoa and I'm really the only one in the family who drinks it. The Man drinks his cocoa from a water-added packet made with his Keurig machine. Ick! So I make my cocoa one cup at a time for myself.

I have been loving Swiss Miss Simply Cocoa all winter long. I love all these "Simply" products that have been coming out that use real sugar and real ingredients without all the additives. I will gladly pay the extra to support any company who is returning to a more all natural ingredients list for products that I want to use!

I love that Simply Cocoa is a "mix with real, hot milk" version. No watered down gunky cocoa for me! I want creamy and not too heavy. Last fall I found these on sale for a dollar per box so I loaded up and what a great idea that was. I had a nice supply to get me through the winter and it was there waiting for me any time I wanted something warm. I'm down to one box, so it's time to stock up soon. Here's my secret recipe:

For a large "cappuccino" size mug:
Cup full of 1% milk
1 & 1/2 packets of cocoa mix
3-5 drops of vanilla extract
dash of kosher salt

I heat the milk up in the microwave on high for 90 sections, then stir it so that the heat distributes evenly and does not curdle the milk. This time and temperature can vary from microwave to microwave. In LA, our apartment microwave could only do a minute at a time without ruining the milk so you have to experiment. I have a bunch of little whisks I use for stirring throughout my cocoa making process. I use one to stir the milk and then they are great for incorporating the cocoa powder and other ingredients.

After stirring I microwave the milk for 30 more seconds. Then I add the cocoa mix, vanilla and salt and stir it again with my cute whisk. And we're done. So yummy. You can top it off with whipped cream if you want or add cream or half and half or whatever you want. We keep a can of spray whipped cream in the fridge at all times so it's easy to create a big whipped cloud on top if I'm in the mood.

I can't tell you how happy it made me to sip a cup, all alone in my office this morning when I got home and was chilled to the bone. I turned on my little space heater and was one happy camper! I paired my cocoa up with toasted waffles topped with a yummy new preserve I picked up this week. That will be the subject of my next "Big Like."

If you want to make a big pot of delicious, rich cocoa here is a fantastic recipe. This is perfect for a party or family gathering. 

23 February 2017

The Windy Season & Baking Cupcakes

Last week the first blossoms of Spring appeared in our front yard, a small Forsythia bush suddenly had flowers on it. Our bush in the backyard is still totally twiggy which is a strange comparison. I know for sure Spring has arrived in New Mexico when the wind starts to blow. It doesn't just blow, it's more like a howl and it will blow for weeks and weeks. Last year the spring winds were still blowing strong well into June if I remember right.


We have a lot of trees around our property and that factor just ups the wind noise and sense of disorder and unrest it brings as you watch the trees rock and roll and rock and roll out the windows. Every room in our house is at least 2 walls of windows so there's no getting away from the visuals of the wind either. This wind business is very high on my very short list of things I don't like about living on a wide open plain.

Not only does the wind blow but it also brings with it a lot of dust and even worse pollen. Yesterday I jumped out of my chair when I saw what I thought was smoke billowing across the backside of our house. When I called out to The Man, while at the same time noticing that the cloud was dissipating, he said it was probably pollen. Both our cars were covered in it this morning. Had to wash down my windshield before I could leave the house today. My nose had been running all day which means it's time to start thinking about daily allergy medicine for the next few months. I never needed allergy meds in California, so to have to start taking it again here bugs me.

The wind blows all day and it blows all night. Nights are tough because you're trying to sleep and the house is rocking and the trees are flailing and the noise is loud. I've mentioned that our master is a lot of glass walls which is usually a wonderful, wooded scene to look out on, but with the wind, it feels a little scary, wild and unruly...not the best environment for falling asleep peacefully or staying asleep.

I'm not sure I know anyone who likes wind. I have a few family members who really dislike the disruptive feeling of constant wind. There is something about it that is very disturbing to the soul, both the sound and the feeling of it. I can feel it seeping in one of the windows into my office right now. I don't like how it feels cutting through my clothes either. Today is it a very cold wind with full sun, but it just feels cold.

It's a little depressing to think that we're in day two of the windy season it seems and it could go for several more months. It won't be every day but it will be a lot of days and nights. There will be a lot of wind warnings and checking weather apps to see how many miles per hour the current winds are blowing. I'm just now starting to try to wrap my head around that. I feel like this usually doesn't start happening until a little later in the year. Not sure how I feel about the early start and wondering how long it will last. Thankfully I think we have a couple of trips out of state coming in the next few weeks. We're going to need it.

It's time to figure out what I can do to get through this season. One thing will definitely be to make the most of the days and evenings when the wind isn't blowing. I am loving that the sun is going down later and later each week. Another thought is that I should plan out some activities I can do indoors, like bake cupcakes. I went to a class by a wonderful young woman I know here on cupcake decorating a few weeks ago. Now that I've have learned a few new techniques, I am interested in making better cupcakes and learning to make better frosting. One of the most eye-opening things she taught us was to use half shortening and half butter for butter cream frosting. It doesn't affect the taste but the frosting holds up a lot better and doesn't wilt or melt as easily.

I made cupcakes last night but just used a boxed cake mix and then I made the frosting and ended up not liking that recipe very much. With wimpy cupcakes and frosting I didn't like the taste of, I turned these all over to my family who like things a lot more chocolate-y than I do. If I made this frosting again I'd want to cut back by a quarter of a cup of cocoa at least. But it was fun to play around for a bit trying new options. I want to get more serious about the quality and density of the cupcakes. I need to start researching recipes.

I really appreciate about everything I've learned about cooking and baking the past two or three years because I can better analyze and sometimes alter recipes. Just typing that got me wondering how nad why I have learned so much quite recently in the cooking realm. I think it may just be a whole lot of experience and more courage to experiment. I feel much more comfortable with seasonings and spices and ingredient amounts than I ever did before. That's a nice feeling when you can personalize your recipe. So I guess I'm personalizing both my efforts to survive the windy season and my food creating right now in my life. Ha.

Next week a friend is hosting another cupcake class, so I am excited to go with all my questions ready to be asked and to take in a lot more information this time around. Should be fun and I think that I'll be able to jump in and have some fun new options in the cupcake department soon. Now would be a good time to pick up some of those beautiful cupcake papers I always see at Home Goods!

I hope you are managing well your way through the windy seasons that are happening in your life right now. I know we all have them of one kind of another. Spring flowers are also coming so there is always something to look forward to no matter which directions and at what velocity the winds come. I'm going to focus on some inside projects: baking, finishing up some creative projects and getting our home ready for summer. Sending you warmest wishes!

21 February 2017

Tourist In My Own Town: Old Town Albuquerque

We were supposed to be in California for the holiday weekend but all signs pointed to postponing our trip, including the giant rainstorm event that hit out there at the end of last week. We had a few stumbling blocks in the way and when Southwest gave us the option, due to storm-related flight delays, to change our tickets anytime in the coming two weeks without penalty, we jumped at the chance.


So unexpectedly Saturday morning we had a long weekend ahead of us. After reading The Magnolia Journal, spring issue, on Friday I was very energized to make more progress on the house. I've mentioned before that it's been a struggle to pull the house together and figure out how everything will work best. It's been about a year since we moved in and we're still figuring it all out. Of course, I have to remind myself that six months of that was the family in crisis mode while I was on crutches and recovering from my broken foot and working more than full-time, so we really didn't get much accomplished.

After breakfast and rearranging our travel plans, I jumped into continuing to clear out our family room and organizing the large closet in that room. Our family room started out as a storage room, just based on necessity when the big truck from California brought our stuff and we put a lot of it in the garage and family room until we could figure out what to do with it all. My goal originally had been to have that room set up last fall. We desperately needed more family space. Even though our home is not small, we have found  that it lives very small with a large kitchen and weird space allotments that are very hard to use well. It's a surprisingly challenging house to decorate with angled walls, lots of doorways and very little uninterrupted wall space that isn't windows, cupboards, closets, fireplaces, light switches, utilities control panels, etc.

In January we made some significant progress when we set up half the room to be a TV/lounge space and got a sofa, coffee table and tv console area set up there. We are starting to use that room more and more. I moved some furniture back into our dining room/kitchen area where it was intended to be but was moved to allow for floor repairs which we're still waiting on. I decided to take a Murphy's Law approach. The contractor wasn't getting back to us fast enough while we had everything moved out of the way, so I figured if I put all the furniture back they'll be back to fix the floor right away because I'll have to end up just turning around and moving it all out again. Ha. But in the universe, action begets action so maybe just making something happen is a good thing.

We got a lot done on Saturday and ended the day with some deliveries to the thrift store and recycling, a great big closet with a few things nicely organized inside, furniture out of the way and a much better looking family room. It's nice to look from the kitchen towards the family room and actually be able to see in that room instead of staring at a big armoire that was shoved in there from the kitchen.

We realized that probably 1/3 of the stuff in that room was just empty boxes and packing paper, so it was nice to get rid of that stuff and open up the space. Sunday was church and a lot of resting. It seemed like no one felt very well that day so we took it easy. By Monday we were really ready to get out of the house, get some fresh air and be around other people. We decided to spend the afternoon in Old Town Albuquerque.


We had all been there a few times but never to really wander around the shops and main plaza. It was not very crowded for a holiday weekend. I wondered if we'd miss some of the crowd earlier in the day since we didn't arrive until mid-afternoon. It was nice to wander from shop to shop, get a feel for the types of souvenirs available in our city and visit with some of the shop owners. We looked at all kinds of jewelry, clothing, baskets, rugs, Native American crafts, art and visited some sweets shops too.

 
San Felipe de Neri Church

We stopped in at Steve's Ice Cream and enjoyed a trio of ice cream cups that we shared: fresh peach vanilla, cookies & cream option and coffee, along with a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. The weather in winter here is often pleasant enough that you can dine or enjoy treats outside during the day. It was nice to be able to sit in front of the store in the fresh air and look around and watch the happenings around the streets.

We also visited The Old Barrel Tea Company where we saw that great sign "Life is now in session" from the photo at the top of this post. I think we need that for our house. It's such a great reminder that we need to live in the present and enjoy every day. Not only did they have a nice selection of teas and honeys in stock but also had some fun gifts, small home decor items and a large selection of beautiful tea cups.


One of the things I enjoy about New Mexico is that it still have the flavor of the Old West (and sometimes the WILD West) about it. Cowboys are not uncommon in these parts and I always smile when I see one dressed up in his cowboy finest at an appointment or restaurant. The Old West flavor still abounds around town and there are plenty of places to experience it.


We wandered through a lot of touristy gift shops, enjoyed taking photos, examining the old architecture and more. If you visit Albuquerque, there are a lot of different tours you can take around Old Town. There are some pretty incredible ghost stories about the area too! There is a nightly ghost tour that I've heard a bit about that sounds pretty awesome if you can handle ghost stories in the dark. I'm not sure I could.

Old Town Albuquerque is a fun place to learn more about Albuquerque, being the heart of where it all started. It's down-to-earth, filled with lots of good food and snack options, and there are some great souvenirs you can find there too in every price range so you can take home a little treat from ABQ.

One of the things that was important to me when we moved here is that we take time to really get to know the city and enjoy what is here. Being a tourist in our own town and state is important to me and I try to make time to see new things at least monthly. Not only does it give our family a breadth of experiences but it also helps build the local economy, support small business owners and give us the background to be good ambassadors for our city and state.

Yesterday I got the 2017 tourist guide for the area and I went through it this morning and circled lots of things we'd like to do that we haven't yet. It will be fun to get out this year and do more of those things that we couldn't do last year with my crutches. I'll look forward to our next tourist in my own town experience soon.

17 February 2017

Getting Real About Living Room Furniture

Before we moved into our house, you may remember that we bought a beautiful, 4-seater, vintage steel, mid-century sofa from an estate sale at the house we had hoped to buy. It seemed so perfect...and then we started trying to watch TV and movies on that sofa and we quickly came to realize we are just too tall for that sofa.


It is beautiful but it is super uncomfortable when there is nowhere to rest your head and heaven forbid you fall asleep and your head falls backwards...hello neck strain! So I have been campaigning to sell it, which I know will not be that difficult to do, and to put that money into buying a new, "better for our family" sofa. We actually have two sofas, maybe a loveseat too that we could sell.

After a lot of thinking, research and a big reality check for me about what I like looks wise and what would actually work best for our family I have come to the conclusion that we need a recliner sofa with a high back. High back sofas are hard to find, but in the recliner models there are some options. My original goal was that our living room be a real living room and the big TV watching room would be our family room. Well, I lost that battle completely and our living room is just a big movie theater at this point.



So I'd like to get furniture in there that works with the TV setup, so that at least it's comfortable. Right now trying to watch a movie as a family means moving furniture and ottomans around and it's just not working that well for anyone.

I found this sofa at Ashley furniture, it's definitely big enough for the three of us and the back is high and both sides recline. It comes in a sectional, but that may be too much for us and our room. But then I think it might be the right way to go as we head into the teen years and may be having more friends and guests at our house. It would be easier to get a sectional now rather than trying to replace a sofa with something bigger in a couple of years. Here's the full sectional. I might like it better with two sofas and the center section instead of the console loveseat on one side.


When I came home I checked around online and found this sofa and loveseat for quite a bit less money from on online retailer, so that was encouraging. The sofa itself was about $700 less than it was at Ashley. So that was VERY encouraging.

The recliner sectional at the top of this post is from Macy's. When I was visiting a friend in LA, they had this sectional and I was gaga when I saw it in their living room. My dear friend gave me the total rundown on the headrests that can lift up, the great reclining seats and buyer protection plan. I took it for a test drive and loved it. It had everything I had been hoping to find in one sectional or sofa! I thought, wow, we have found our sectional!

Unfortunately then I went online and read the reviews on the Macy's website and they were terrible, with several people returning the sectional multiple times after multiple problems. I was so bummed. Sure the buyer protection plan would help if anything happened if we were to purchase the sectional, but I just can't see our family being happy to with having to get it replaced even once.

So it's a bit of back to the drawing board, although I would be happy enough for the Ashley sofa or sectional. I don't like the look as much, but the comfort level was definitely there and we would be plenty cozy sacked out watching TV or a movie. I'm going to keep my eyes peeled for any other options over the next few weeks but I hope soon we'll have a living room that really meets our needs and works for us as a family.

16 February 2017

A Visit To Burbank's New Largest IKEA in America

While I was visiting a dear friend last Friday in LA, she happened to mention there was a brand new IKEA in Burbank that had just opened and that it was the largest IKEA in the country. Well, since IKEA had been on my To Do list for the trip since we don't have one in New Mexico, I was intrigued.


Distance and drive time are about the same from Santa Monica to the Carson IKEA or the Burbank IKEA, but having to go to the valley never sounds terribly appealing when you have to go through the Sepulveda Pass. But I couldn't resist getting a chance to see the new Burbank location. My theory was if it's THAT big they are going to have merchandise that other stores won't have. So I had to go check it out. The one thing I didn't know was that it was literally still the grand opening weekend.

When I got near the store I could quickly and clearly sense that this may have been a big mistake. There were hundreds of cars coming from every direction to get into the parking lot and there were large flashing traffic signs on the streets and police and paid parking attendants -- lots of them (!) trying to keep the traffic moving. It was crazy.

It took me at least 20, maybe 30 minutes to get from the street outside the store into the parking lot and then a few more minutes to find a parking space. I'm telling you there were dozens of people directing traffic on the streets and in the parking lots. It was insane. Side streets were closed and everyone was forced into certain streets for entrance and exit from the store and the neighborhood.

I seriously questioned my sanity to even try to visit the store. At that point driving the hour total to get back to the Westside and down to Carson didn't sound half bad. But I'd come all this way, I was intrigued and I was already there. How much more insane could it get? I just wanted to get inside to the restaurant and have a nice Scandinavian meatball lunch.

My next observation was that the store is gigantic. Walking up to it, you feel like an ant! I don't think I've ever felt so dwarfed by a retail store as I did that one. I headed towards the front entrance, which even though I was parked right next to the building was quite a long walk, with a few hundred of my new friends. Once inside, the lobby was crowded and there was a waiting line for the kid's play area. I quickly headed up the escalator only to be jammed up by hundreds of people at every turn in the showroom. I quickly slid through the crowd of wanderers, deciding to totally race through room vignettes, get to the restaurant, have my lunch and then head downstairs to the marketplace.

When I found the restaurant which was hard to see because of the thousands of people in the store, I saw that the seating was packed and there were several hundred people in line! Okay, skip lunch. But who knew how many hours it would take me to be able to extricate myself from the store and the parking lot to get food?!


(This photo is a bit deceiving because it does not show the crowds. There are a few dozen people within ten feet of me taking this photo.)

I quickly began politely racing through the room vignettes floor. While everyone else was browsing I was ducking between couples and families discussing different rooms and furniture they were considering. With great joy I found myself in the marketplace fairly quickly...and in a store that size I'm guessing it was probably 15-20 minutes walk. It wasn't a short walk and I only stopped a couple of times on the way through.

Once in the marketplace I got a cart and wondered if that was a completely insane thing to do with the crowds. But it actually never was much of a problem, everyone was polite with each other. Sometimes you might have to steer around blocked aisles but it never was too crazy, nor did I encounter any rude shoppers along the way. Apparently IKEA makes people happy enough, even in large crowds, that they remain pleasant. I seriously didn't hear one cross person in the store, except for a few loud sighs and "you've got to be kidding me" utterances at the mile long line to the restaurant. I said the same thing! Can you even imagine how many meatballs they sold that day or that first week?!


images via IKEA.com

Talk about feeling dwarfed! The height of the marketplace shelves and ceiling were enormous! I found a few fun items to fill a cart with. I bought three pillows, see above, they are actually two sided, so it's one pillow with both these fun fabrics on it. I got these for our bed along with three Euro Sham inserts for them. Right now we have white sheets, a navy with white embroidered geometric pattern duvet cover and king shams with an olive green quilt folded at the foot of the bed. I think these Euro Shams with a navy and white and brightly patterned option will give us opportunity for a more neutral look when we feel like it and a nice punch of color if we flip them around.

I picked up four cushy, dark gray bath rugs knowing I could use them in our master bathroom or Kiddo's bathroom. We definitely need something a little softer and more easily washable in our bathroom.

I also got several of these fun solar silk lanterns and three small solar silk lantern strings for our outside patio area. Not totally sure where they'll hang but we have a couple of trees back there that could be the perfect to create a fun summer lighting arrangement. My big hope is that the solar feature really and truly works and isn't too dim. Fingers crossed. I thought these would be fun because they would be something that few people in NM would have seen or purchased since we don't have IKEA here.
images via Ikea.com

Getting through checkout was no worse than any regular day weekend day at IKEA. The cafe with pizza, ice cream and sweet rolls was mobbed so I skipped the end of shop ice cream too. Bummer. But it was good to get out of the store, back to my car and out of the parking lot --  a relief really to get away from the crowds and sit down in the car! Hopefully someday I'll be able to go back on a weekday when it's not quite so crazy! I ended up driving all the way back to the Westside before I grabbed some lunch because I figured with all the people who were disappointed not to get lunch at IKEA, they would be stopping to eat somewhere nearby.

I had brought one empty suitcase with me just in case I had to bring some purchases home with me on the plane. There were a few things I would've bought had I not been limited to the space in that suitcase for sure. I was very lucky that I everything I chose to buy just barely fit into the extra suitcase. It worked out perfectly, thank goodness. I wasn't sure what I was going to do if I couldn't get everything in that bag. It was quite a load to carry from the front of the store to my "nearby" car which again was very close to the building and still a very long walk from the doors.

So that was my big weekend adventure to the new, gigantic Burbank IKEA. Here's a link to the KABC Los Angeles sneak preview that might give you more of a feel for the store.

15 February 2017

California Catch Up

I flew to Los Angeles on Friday to attend the funeral of a dear friend who passed away at age 83 on February 3. My friend Dave was a wonderful man, who was successful in business, raised a wonderful family and was so good to people around him. Everyone liked Dave and it was a great experience to celebrate his life on Saturday with his family and many friends.


A side benefit to attending the funeral was a great reunion with so many friends in Los Angeles. I shared a hotel room with a dear friend and we spent many, many hours talking. The great thing about this friendship, we said, Saturday night is that our conversations always lead us to three things, 1) knowing that we are doing okay, 2) knowing that we can carry on and continue to do what we need to do in life and 3) feeling loved and accepted no matter what. Such great blessings! Such a great friendship.

I had three goals for my trip beyond the funeral on Saturday. I wanted to see a few friends, eat only at restaurants/fast food chains I missed from living in LA and 3) to go to IKEA. I did pretty well achieving those goals although there is never enough time to do them all.

Friday I got into town and met up with a wonderful friend who years ago wrote this blog post on living happily in the current moment. After we had eaten lunch we had a good laugh saying "gosh it's too bad we have nothing in common and nothing to talk about anymore." We chatted and chatted and could've chatted for many more long hours. We covered home decor, creative projects, career goals, time management, staying sane, exercise, health issues relative to our current decade of life, marriage and family life, elementary school and so many other topics. It was a very fun and filling afternoon.

Then I buzzed back over to the Westside to get a mani-pedi at my favorite nail salon that I went to for years just around the corner from our old apartment. It was fun to see all the ladies and I will say I splurged a little on the extra massage add-ons. But it felt wonderful. I also picked a polish for my toes that was a little too bright for my liking but I'll live with it for a couple of weeks.

I had a classic LA moment next when at 7 p.m. on a Friday I tried to drive six or seven blocks and it took about an hour trying to get from one side of the 405 under it to the other side. Ugh. Don't miss that. But when you're not is a big hurry it sure is not as irritating.

I was still awaiting the arrival of friends from out of town, so I decided to have my favorite Chinese Chicken Salad at California Chicken Cafe. I don't know why but when I get that salad and I'm hungry it makes me so happy I can barely stand it. It's so good and a feast for the taste buds. I took it to the hotel and enjoyed it while watching HGTV.

Once my friend arrived we chatted for several hours until we were so tired we couldn't carry on. There were laughs, tears, deep thoughts and silly ones. Saturday morning we were up early to get to the funeral early enough to get parking and a seat in the chapel. We knew there would be a big crowd. By the time the viewing, services and luncheon were over it was last afternoon. We were quite tired by then and three of us stopped in at a little french cafe in our old neighborhood for a drink, some food and a nice chat. So that was the third place I hit for food that was an LA favorite eatery.

After that we stopped to visit with Dave's family, which his wife had asked us to do earlier in the day. It was fun to sit with his wife, children and grandchildren and catch up and decompress from the day. By the time we left there it was well into the evening and we headed back to the hotel to change clothes and then we chatted while we were collapsed on the bed, nursing good, hydrating beverages.

The next morning the friends were off early for their long drive home. I attended church at our old congregation which was lovely. Saw so many good friends. I went for a walk afterwards, grabbed some lunch and headed to the airport in the late afternoon. When I got back to ABQ it was snowing heavily which I was not expecting at all. Such a change of environment! It was a wonderful weekend and so filling for the soul and exhausting for the body. I slept for a good long time the morning after I got back.

This was my first real trip back to our old home stomping grounds and it was so wonderful in so many ways and it was hard in some ways too. There were so many things that were so familiar. There was much that I miss and so little time to do all many things I wanted to do. There was much that had changed and felt strange. I found myself torn between wanting to go back and feeling some weird regrets about things I wish I would've done differently while I did live there and things I wish I'd done that I didn't. Then there was a wave of gratitude that we did move and all the blessings that came from that too.

It was kind of intense and a lot of that hit me while I was alone Sunday afternoon. It was a bit of a challenge to process and part of me just had to remind myself not to get sucked into overthinking anything too much and appreciate all the good things. I am so happy to have gone back and hope I'll be able to process all my thoughts and feelings and be able to focus on the things I gained from the trip. I really did leave the funeral and conversations with friends committing to focus on things I took away from those moments and make them more a part of my life. Those are great blessings.

14 February 2017

Happy Valentine's Day To You!

I hope you are having a wonderful Valentine's Day with your loved ones. My goal is to get some frosted sugar cookies made today, which is a total tradition in my family. Other than that I think it's going to be a very low key Valentine's Day for us. The Man has the flu as of yesterday afternoon, so I don't even think I will make a special dinner which is also usual tradition. That's a little sad but we are (maybe I should just say "I am") tired this week so it's probably okay. Maybe I'll order a pizza or something fun for The Bug and me. I loaded up on enough ginger ale and 7-up last night for the entire family just in case the flu afflicts us all...again - (we were some of the first to get it in December l-o-n-g before it really started going around the past few weeks).


Yesterday morning, having just arrived back from three days in California, I realized I'd given absolutely zero thought to classroom valentines. Sigh. So as soon as The Bug got home we got working on those and didn't get done until 10 p.m. She made a super cute Fox Valentine's Box for her desk, from a plan I found on Pinterest.


She worked on it for quite a while and it turned out so cute. While she was doing that I worked on her class valentines, because I knew we'd be up all night otherwise. I made a quick template in PicMonkey (thanks for saving me PicMonkey!) and then printed them all out and cut them with a paper cutter and started coloring.This is not homework, so I didn't feel too bad about helping her out! Here's is the card template I created in the beginning to get this project going.


Then we had to run to the store to pick up Extra Gum to add to these. This began a string of frustrating events. First, we wanted the small rectangle packs of gum and all we could find were the larger, almost square boxes which really didn't fit my card...ergh. But we went with it. Then we got home and I realized I had not double checked The Bug's count and we were literally one gum pack short. Super frustrating but at this point I was so tired that I didn't even really get upset.

So once we double and triple checked we really needed one more valentine card with gum pack we got in the car again and headed back down the hill to our neighborhood 7-11 and got more gum -- which cost us twice as much as it had in the multi-pack. So on the way home we had a good conversation about how careless mistakes cost in time, effort, energy and money. Good math and preparedness lessons tonight!

All weekend in California, I was missing my little family and thinking so fondly of home. Then I came home to vomiting and valentines and a part of me wanted to jump right back on a plane for the coast -- sunshine, friends, a clean, quiet hotel room, brand new rental car and solitude -- I won't lie. I think to perk up this Valentine's Day I will go buy some flowers and make some pretty cookies and do something to make it special somehow. Keeping The Bug and me healthy will be gift enough I think! But I sure do hope everyone else is having a fantastic day!

13 February 2017

Revisit & Update: Bri's Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

This is an update to a recipe I've been using for years that I got from friends. We eat this Bri's Chicken Noodle Soup on a pretty regular basis through the fall, winter and spring. The Friday before the Super Bowl, I had to make a Crockpot size serving to take to the Kiddo's "Soup-er Bowl" party in her school class.


I wasn't sure exactly how much I needed to make but I overshot it and made enough to fill a Crockpot and then some. Needless to say this was one of 12 soups at the class, so there was lots to bring home. Then I still had about half a big pot of it at home as well. So we've had three or four meals of soup since last week and there is a big container in the freezer for sometime down the road.

I'll share a couple of quick additions I've made to the recipe since we moved to New Mexico. I add a heaping teaspoon of minced garlic (from a jar) and a half-teaspoon of New Mexico green chile (are you shocked?! ha.) in with the vegetables when I am sauteeing them in the first step of the recipe. I like getting the healthy benefits of garlic and chile and it adds a little depth of flavor too.

I often use canned white meat chicken in a pinch since it saves me half an hour prepping chicken breasts. I just break it up a little big with a fork in the can before I toss it in. I like Costco's Kirtland canned white meat chicken or I often use Swanson White Premium Chunk Chicken Breast in the 12.5 oz can. I usually use two cans for a full batch of soup, one can if I half the recipe. I do often half this recipe because we often can't eat all the leftovers in time. Just a cost-saving hint on buying Swanson chicken. It runs about $4.75/can in most grocery stores but at WalMart it's only $2.75 a can. Huge savings, so I stock up when I'm get to a WalMart store every couple of months.

 I also play around a bit with the amount of chicken stock/broth I use because my family likes a lot of liquid in their soup. With a salad, grilled cheese, hot bread or cheese and crackers, this soup really hits the spot every time.

Get the recipe here: Bri's Chicken Noodle Soup. Hope you try it and enjoy it!

10 February 2017

A Quick Return To Our Old Stomping Grounds

I am in Santa Monica today to attend a funeral tomorrow. It's a sad occasion but also my first real return to our neighborhood and circle of friends there since we moved. It will be good to see many much loved faces and to be back in our old city for a while.


I am traveling alone and planning brunch with a friend, taking care of a couple of business items, getting a mani-pedi at my old neighborhood nail salon, and will get some beach time Sunday afternoon when it's supposed to be warm and sunny. Friday it's supposed to rain all day and I'm debating whether I take full rain gear or just a slicker to go over a jacket or sweater. I was hoping to just take one pair of sandals and a pair of flip flops but that doesn't seem like it's going to work now.

I'm trying to make a list of favorite places to eat and fun shop areas to wander while I'm there and it's crazy to say I've already forgotten a lot. I find that so strange when you live in a place most of your adult life and two years later you are having problems remembering street names and favorite restaurants and fast food joints. I will have a decent amount of time on my on on both ends of the trip so I want to make sure I make good use of my time and make it great and soul-filling. There are a hundred friends I'd love to see that I won't be able to see, but wouldn't it be lovely if I could.

This funeral I am going to is going to bring together a lot of people I dearly love, so despite it's sadness there will be a lot of reunion there too. I am looking forward to seeing friends I haven't seen in years who have moved to other states, friends from all over SoCal and on Sunday friends from our former church congregation. Love all those people and look forward to catching up a bit as we can.
I am sharing a hotel room and car with a dear friend and looking forward to some good chats and down time. Sitting by a pool, dipping the toes and hanging out together sounds quite lovely.

There are definitely some mixed emotions going back "home" to California. We miss it there a lot. California has been a major part of both my and The Man's adult life, so it really is where we feel the most us and the most at home.  Moving has brought many blessings too, so there is always that loss and gain in making a big life change like we did. Had there been a crystal ball before us when we made the decision to move we probably wouldn't have done it based on the way some things didn't work out as we'd hoped. But we would've missed out on all the blessings we gained when we did make that decision. Life is interesting, isn't it.

I was looking back at old family photos from 2008-2012 yesterday morning and The Bug was so little and we looked so young. Wow. Even pictures I didn't like at all back then were so lovely to me now. There were so many photos of beach life and palm trees, major league baseball games, year-round warm temperatures...made me a homesick for California and more grateful for the past. I hope I'm living in the present a little more to realize all the lovely blessings I have right now.

I am looking forward to the quiet time and change of scenery this weekend will provide. I hope you too have some time for quiet, rest and happy enjoyment this weekend! Thanks for coming by today.

09 February 2017

Update & Revisit: A Family Fun Bag Always In The Car

Since we're all hoping that summer is just around the corner here in the Northern Hemisphere, I thought it would be fun to revisit something we did a few years ago that had us ready for a little adventure and play time anytime we could stop at a park or the beach. Having a family sports bag in the car made outdoor activities simple and helped us easily make time for fun outside after dinner or while Daddy was working on weekends when Saturdays could get a little long.


 It's also great when you have a chance to meet up with friends or family for some outside time. There's something for everyone to do. Having it all in the car, neatly organized makes getting out and away more convenient too, no prep time. No hunting down balls, bats, kites, shovels. Just jump in the car and go!

Nowadays life is a little different because Kiddo is older and we spend a lot more time at home because we aren't living in a small apartment. With a big yard and lots of space, fresh air is just outside our doors instead of a walk or drive to a public green space.  Our kiddo isn't home much now that she's busier with school and extra-curricular activities so she doesn't need to get away from the house so much. She actually needs more time at the house. But boy was having a bag already packed in the car a few years ago a lifesaver!

I believe when you have kids who are home all day or a bunch of kiddos it's great to get them out of the house and to the park or beach often for a change of scenery and space to run like crazy and make a lot of noise. It's a great way to wear them out too.

Follow this link to see a great ideas for a family sports bag you can keep in the trunk of back of the car so you're ready for family fun any time. Click here.

08 February 2017

Fill Your Hamburgers With Flavor

 I have been experimenting with making hamburgers a lot since we moved to New Mexico. With a very unique flavor palate all it's own, New Mexico is an inspiring place to really jump into trying new spices and punching up the flavor of your meals.


We've been eating a lot of homemade hamburgers lately and I find they are the perfect companion to a big plate of sliced fresh fruits and vegetables...and we often add some chips and salsa or good old Lay's Potato Chips along as well. With all the add ins, you might think my burgers are hot spicy but they aren't. They just taste like regular old juicy hamburger. But the added spices give is a richer, more delicious flavor. Here's a printable recipe version.

To make 4 big hamburgers I usually start with about two-and-a-half pounds of ground beef. I use 80/20 lean ground beef. Then I start adding things. Here's my list.

KK's Tasty Burgers

2.5 lbs ground beef
1/2 minced fresh medium size onion
1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic or 4 cloves minced
(I use the minced garlic I buy in a jar at the grocery store).
1 tsp. New Mexico green chile (roasted, from a jar)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
 Optional: A few shakes of Lowry's Seasoning Salt and/or garlic salt

I mix this all together, then form my patties and layer them between freezer paper or parchment paper until I am ready to serve them. I make them really big (6" diameter) and they tend to shrink down quite a bit and fit a bun perfectly by the time they are cooked. I fry them in a pan with the lid partially covered so they stay moist but get nicely browned at a higher heat.

To top them off once they are cooked, we toast the buns on a stovetop griddle quickly and then here's what we add:

1 slice Provolone cheese
1 slice Monterey Jack cheese or Cheddar
*add cheeses the last couple of minutes of cook time for a perfect melt
1 slice onion
Tomato slices
Crisped butter lettuce
Generously salt and pepper to taste (sometimes we use garlic salt which is delicious!)

For our fruit plate here's what I usually throw on the sweet little rectangle tray I regularly use:

Sliced Honeycrisp apple (get an apple slicer that does it for you. Makes my life so much easier!)
Sliced pears (usually Bosc and Barlett)
Red grapes
Sliced oranges
Sliced European cucumber (sometimes I put these on my burger like pickles)
Carrot sticks
Celery sticks

It makes for a nice mix of nutrients and colors, crisp and sweet to go along with the burgers. I find it's a good way to sneak in fresh foods along with the burgers. We are trying to eat the rainbow every day and I like to count and see how many fruits and vegetables I can get in their mouths each day without having to beg. Pairing them with burgers and hot sandwiches has been very successful!

So that's the scoop on our the big, tasty burgers we're enjoying at our house frequently.

image: kalanicut

07 February 2017

What To Expect At A Same Day Surgery Center

Hi again. Wanted to continue with a follow up post after same day surgery last week. This post is all about what to expect going to a Same Day Surgery Center. As I mentioned earlier, in the past three-an-a-half years I've had three surgeries all at different surgical centers. So I thought it might be comforting to readers to share what that experience is like and help you know what to expect. This is a long post, but I tried to cover all aspects of surgery day, plus illustrate with my experiences. I hope it's helpful!


First, expect that every surgery center will be a little different. So far I've had three pretty different experiences. My first experience was in Santa Monica and I now realize the facility was one of those fancy SoCal surgery centers that are tucked away, where celebrities can sneak in and out for things like plastic surgery. Ha. I just went to where my doctor sent me, so I really didn't know what to expect or that this spot was a little unusual. It was very upscale and very small. I never saw another patient. As far as staff I think I only saw maybe 5 people total from front door to departure.

We walked into a very well-appointed, small, upper floor waiting room. One staffer met us there, processed paper work and took me to a small wood-paneled pre-op room. There I met the anesthesiologist who did all his necessary pre-op work and a nurse was in and out with me. After about an hour of pre-op they took me into the most gorgeous operating room with one wall entirely of glass, overlooking the city all the way to downtown Los Angeles. It looked a bit like a beautiful sci-fi movie set.  I saw my doctor briefly along with the small surgery team. I was conscious only for a moment or so, woke up in recovery and was on my way home a couple of hours later. Slept all afternoon and was feeling a lot better the next day. Everything was very simple and things went smoothly and easily.

Second surgery was at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center. You can imagine this was a vastly different experience based on the fact that this was a BIG hospital environment. There was one large waiting room, dozens of patients in surgery, whose families could track their progress by a number up on a big electronic board. The pre-op area was a large hospital ward, lots of patients and staff on the move all the time. The pre-op and post-op rooms were curtained areas. There was less staff around during my recovery time and I felt like I was alone much of the time. I think with this experience my recovery was many hours and looking back I probably should've stayed overnight in the hospital. I had the option and wanted to go home. Lessons learned.

My third experience last week was in a mid-size surgical center attached to a hospital. There were probably 10 other families in the waiting room and again each was assigned a number to track on the a much small electronic board. Again pre-op and post-op were curtained areas in a hospital ward. It was peaceful and quiet most of the time, except nurses talking in the halls. For the most part I was really impressed with the staff, energetic and very attentive. Appreciated that.

So beyond the differences in facilities, here are a few things to expect when you go to a surgical center.

1) FASTING: You'll have to fast from midnight until your surgery. For a variety of reasons they want your stomach empty. Plan on this. You may want to plan to have a meal at midnight if your surgery is later in the morning or afternoon. Since my surgery was at 11 am, I had a bowl of cereal and a big glass of water at midnight.

I was told I could drink until four hours before the surgery so I had a good drink four hours before. This conflicted with instructions from others along the way, but since I was told this by a pre-op RN who I had an appointment with, I felt okay going with it and didn't seem to have any problems.

2) LOOK SO YOU FEEL GOOD: I will tell you I got a mani-pedi the day before my surgery because I didn't feel like having crusty winter hands and feet that people might be looking at all day. I felt better when I looked better. Not a must, but wearing a gown isn't a pretty situation anyway, so anything you can do to feel a little better is a good move. You'll also want to shower, shave, buff, moisturize your skin all over or whatever else you need to do to feel clean and pretty when you get there. It's nice to take a little extra time.

3) NO JEWELRY: Don't wear any jewelry to the surgical center, just leave it all home. It becomes a security issue if you bring it with you and something that could get lost -- and they will ask you ten times if you have any jewelry you need to remove. Easier to not have to deal with it.

4) NO MAKEUP: Since I couldn't wear makeup but still wanted to look my best I washed my face well that morning and then heavily moisturized my skin a couple of times until it glowed. Then I curled my eyelashes so that my eyes would look bright and perky. I looked rosy, sunny and healthy which made me feel better about running around with no makeup on -- and I hoped it would give the medical staff confidence that I was happy and in good spirits.

5) SIMPLIFY BELONGINGS: This is a good time to go through your purse and clean out anything that isn't essential for you to have. Again this is a security issue and can cause delays later if you have a lot of belongings that have to be locked up once you get there or taken to your car where they are also at risk. I took the very least possible, just ID, wallet (take anything out you won't need and leave that home too!), my little toiletries bag that I carry in my purse and my cell phone.

6) PLAN FOR SCHEDULING CHANGES: Surgery schedules are VERY fluid, they change all the time. So keep your day very flexible when you or someone you love has a surgery scheduled. When The Man had a surgery scheduled a few years ago, it was pushed back several times in the day to the point.  They eventually ended up cancelling it and rescheduling it after multiple delays because it was getting too late and they didn't have enough staff who were fresh to start another surgery. Mind you he had been fasting since midnight the night before and things were delayed until early evening. Not fun.

For my surgery last week, the day before they moved it up by two hours. This messed us  up because The Man had a doctor's appoint two hours before my original check-in time. I was planning to go with him to that and then we were going to head to the surgical center. So instead he dropped me off an hour early so he could get to his appointment then came back when he was done. So I was at the hospital at 8:30 when our original plan was that I needed to be there at 11, then it had been bumped up to 9:30.

Once I got checked in they immediately started surgery prep and I ended up heading in to surgery early before The Man even got back to the surgical center.

7) BRING SOMETHING TO DO: If you do get delayed it's nice to have a magazine, book or something to do while you wait. It's good to have something to keep you pre-occupied and if you have to wait it's not so frustrating to feel your time is totally wasted. I took a small bag with my journal, a book and a couple of magazines. But I never had time to look at them.

8) PLAN FOR A VARIETY OF EMOTIONS: This past week I was super chill about going into surgery. Very relaxed and calm. I have had times where I got teary-eyed thinking, "what if I die and never see my family again?" I think I felt this even worse when The Man had surgery and I had those thoughts of what if something happened to him?!!  Going into surgery can be stressful. Be accepting of how you or your loved one is feeling and try to do what you can to calm the fears. Expect that you could have a variety of emotions hit you as they are wheeling you or a loved one out of Pre-op. Don't be surprised or too worried. If you are the one having surgery, in a few minutes you'll be totally unconscious and it will all be over before you know it.

9) PRE-OP IS A BUSY TIME: You will check in two hours or so early and you envision you'll be sitting around a lot. It's a pretty busy time with a lot going on. You'll check in at the front desk, then a nurse will come and get you and take you back to Pre-op. You'll change into a gown, pack up your clothing in a big plastic bag and hop on the gurney. At some point they'll bring you a nice warmed up blanket and you'll get your free prize, a pair of grippy socks to put on your feet that they always make sure you know "you can take home with you".

Because I checked in a full hour early last week I thought for sure I would have some wait time somewhere in the process. During the entire Pre-op process I probably was along maybe 10 minutes. You'll have lots of constant visitors from nurses, anesthesia team, your doctor, etc. You'll be changing, they'll be hooking you up to stuff and you'll get asked a lot of questions as they repeatedly review all the important forms, pre-op evaluations, etc. It goes by quite quickly, which is nice because at this point you just want to get things moving.

They will lock up valuables like your purse if you want them to or they give you a locker and key to do it yourself. Usually they will let your family come in once you are set up and comfortable for a few minutes before you head out for surgery.

10) IV HOOKUP: They'll hook you up with an IV pretty quickly. This week my IV insertion was really painful and it hurt and was uncomfortable most of the entire time. Looking at my hand, I did look quite dehydrated and it was in a sensitive spot. I talked to the nurses about it and we decided to just live with it that way for lack of better options. But I've never had it hurt as much going in or while it was in. They ran plain fluids for a while and then inserted the relaxation and further drugs later in the morning. I definitely started feeling the relaxation drugs around the time they wheeled me into the O.R.

11) MEDICAL TEAM VISITS: As I mentioned, you'll have different nurses and anesthesia team and your doctor will probably pop by for a pep-talk/quick review of what to expect during the Pre-op time. You'll sign paperwork and everyone who comes by will check to make sure you've signed in all the appropriate places. They will also ask you a pretty standard set of questions including:

  • What are we doing with you today?
  • Height? Weight?
  • Are okay with getting a blood transfusion if needed?
  • What is your religious affiliation?
  • Who is here with you today?
  • Do you have allergies?
  • Have had any problems with anesthesia before like nausea, etc.?
It's great that they all come and introduce themselves and/or check in to see how you are doing. I never remember any of the team's names, but it's nice to meet them or see your doctor again one more time before you go to surgery.

12) WHEELED TO SURGERY: When it's time to take you to the O.R., a few people will roll you down the hall, through the doors and you'll be getting a little wazzy at this point because they've already giving you a hit of "relaxation". I only remember a few seconds of this phase every time and then I'm out. It's always a little fuzzy what I'm seeing and it feels like there are a lot of people buzzing around you for a few seconds getting you all set up once you enter the operating room and then your unconscious.

13) WAKE UP CALL/RECOVERY: At some point, you'll wake up in another place, Post-op/Recovery. It's a little weird to wake up in a different place than you went to sleep. You'll feel groggy or maybe a little worse and they'll keep a close eye on you during this time. You'll probably come in and out of consciousness for a while and you might have a nurse there with you monitoring your vitals and asking how you are doing. They may administer some drugs through your IV and they'll be watching your pulse, blood pressure, oxygen levels, etc. Your belongings (clothing, etc) will be there waiting for you and when it's a good time they'll let your family or accompanying caretaker come sit with you.

Depending on what you have had done and how you progress this may take anywhere from an hour to several hours. I've had both experiences. My first surgery I don't remember feeling too weird, I was up and out of the center pretty quickly. My second surgery was many hours and again I should've just agreed to stay in the hospital. This time I was really sick the first hour, started feeling significantly better 90 minutes afterwards and went home.

In my surgery last week, I would wake up and there was a big red digital clock right outside my room so I remember it was 12:08 when I first opened my eyes and then I thought I was out for a long time and it was like three minutes later. I've never had a clock nearby before so I was very aware of how I had no sense of time as I watched that clock and sometimes it seemed like I'd been asleep for a long time and it had only been a couple of minutes and other times it would be half an hour later. That was weird. But it was comforting that as time passed I began feeling less groggy and sick.

My curtain was all the way open and I seriously thought I was in a hallway all that time, but it was actually a corner room which lead straight out into a long hallway. (I didn't figure this out until I got up to get dressed.) I was fine with that, it was quiet and there weren't a lot of people around and frankly I didn't care. My first hour coming in and out I was really miserable. This varies a lot. I was never really nauseated with my other surgeries.  But this time I was. I felt like I was going to throw up at one point and urgently asked the nurses to get me a bedpan quickly. They hurried to grab one and hand it to me and before I could actually throw up I was passed out again. I thought that was really weird when I woke up again and realized I'd never quite gotten to throwing up. Weird stuff!

They gave me some medications for pain and I think for nausea too and they kept pushing me to breath deeper. Apparently I wasn't getting enough oxygen and I heard the nurse tell another nurse my pulse had dropped quite low at one point when they gave me some pain meds. They made me test my oxygen by breathing as hard as I could into a plastic handheld mouth device and while I thought I'd breathed very hard they both looked at me and one said, "You're going to have to do a lot better than that" in a nice way.

So I stayed there for a while longer. They were kind enough to go and get The Man and I was really ready to see him. I thought I would feel a little better when I saw him, comforted and not alone. So he came and sat with me for about 30 minutes or so until we could go home.

14) HEADING HOME: Once you are ready to go home, they'll get you up and if you need help, they will help you get dressed. The Man helped me unpack my bag and handed me clothes and I was able to do everything else myself. It felt good to get my clothes on, rather comforting somehow - like I was human again. Then I sat down in the wheelchair the nurses had brought. They sent The Man out to get the car and a few minutes later one of the nurses wheeled me out to the front entry way where The Man met us, got me in the car and we were on our way home.

Driving home was a little weird because I was still a little wazzy. Being in traffic felt fast and confusing. Thankfully I was just in the passenger seat. I was starting to get hungry so we planned to get me a milkshake. That sounded both delicious and easy to put down. By the time we got to ordering a milkshake I was so hungry I asked for a chicken sandwich too. I sipped on the milkshake on the way home and I was a happy camper. We were soon home and after I ate my sandwich I was in bed for the afternoon.

In the past I have gone straight to bed without eating anything and just focused on being dehydrated and needing to drink as much as possible. Drink, drink, drink. But this time I was hungry and not as sleepy. I ended up watching Netflix and dozing a bit on and off, but I didn't really ever sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. My mom, who is a nurse, recommended getting up and walking around every couple of hours to avoid bloodclots. Plus I think it's a good test to see how you are feeling.

One thing I noticed this time that hasn't happened before is that I had a headache all afternoon. I don't know if it was the anesthesia or dehydration but I think it was the dehydration. I tried to drink as much water as possible, but eventually supplemented that with some Vitamin Water XXX and lemonade. I think having options helped but it really wasn't until about 9 p.m. that the headache quieted down. By that time I'd had quit a lot of fluids and I've been trying to keep that going.

15) HAVE FOOD OPTIONS READY AT HOME: Last week I had no problems with eating afterwards. This varies so plan for all variables here as well. You may only want liquids, may want very bland foods like some soup or toast, or you may be dying for a steak or burger. Have some options at home.

16) FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS AND REST: You'll come home with a list of directions from your doctor, number one of which is rest. They are all important and it's good to review them when you get home because you won't really remember anything they told you at the surgery center in recovery. But most importantly, get your rest. I am so bad about this but I really try to rest as much as possible. I never do quite rest enough. Enough this past week, even thought I was trying to rest I still think I did more than I needed to. I have noticed that I am still feeling a little ragged and I think it's because I have not been sleeping really well since last week. Not sure why but I'm letting myself have a little more time to recover this time.

17) BE GENTLE WITH YOUR BODY: After you've had a breathing tube in your throat it may be sore for a few days. I have found it starts to bother me if I talk too much so I've been trying not to talk. I also noticed my ribs were sore the day afterwards and in a follow-up hone call, my doctor explained to me that I'd been coughing while under anesthesia. I also later found a bruise on one of my arms from an IV I didn't know I'd had. You'll notice little things as you recover. Be gentle with yourself and don't push it. Ask your doctor questions if you have them. If you notice anything that doesn't seem right, call and talk to your doctor to make sure you're on a good path to recovery and to quell any worries you may have.

So those are my thoughts on what to experience when you go to a Same Day Surgery Center. My experience has been different every time and I think that's the case, everyone will have a different experience every time. But I will say that every time the staff has been great and I have felt well taken care of. When you know a bit what to expect that takes some of the anxiety out of the experience and when you can plan in advance and for a variety of post-op needs it sure does help. If you are reading this because you are anticipating surgery I wish you the very best. I'm sending you best wishes for a very speedy recover. I hope too that these tips are helpful if you are the caregiver for someone going through surgery.

06 February 2017

Pin Test #25: Mongolian Beef Ramen

It's way past time for another Pin Test. This is where I choose a pin from Pinterest,and try it out and share my experience. Sometimes I give it a straight thumbs up and sometimes it doesn't go so well. But most of the time Pin Tests are successful. This one was a bit of a challenge because I think it's a fantastic recipe but I ran into challenges with a family who doesn't like sweet sauces on meat. It was a risk and I knew it from the outset.


Original Pin: Mongolian Beef Barbecue by Jo Cooks.

I liked this recipe a lot. But I think there were a couple of things I did that didn't make is as good as it could have been. Rookie mistakes, totally my fault.

First challenge I had was that my grocery store was out of flank steak. So I asked what might also work and they suggested skirt steak. My family is very picky about meat, they have filet mignon tastes -- so skirt steak was toooo chewy for them, even after I tenderized it. That immediately put them on the defensive about this dish. Next time, if I make this again, I'm just going to get some really good steak and use that. I also needed to slice the meat much thinner. Lessons learned.

Second, I used brown rice and millet ramen noodles. This type of noodle seems quite a bit softer than wheat noodles, as you would expect. So they got a little soggier in the sauce than would've been ideal. But we bought this big bag of noodles at Costco, so I need to use them up. I think I overcooked these and the next thing I will mention will probably help make them better for the future.

Third, I think I didn't let the sauce thicken up enough or else I should've drained some off. It was a little too soupy/saucy/soggy for my family. But again they don't really like sweet sauces on meat dishes, and I knew that in advance. So I'm not sure I'll ever know if it was too much sauce or they just don't like sweet sauce on stuff.

I will say that I liked this dish quite a bit more than my family did, notwithstanding some of the improvements I would make doing this a second time. I think the recipe is good, just that my execution was inexperienced and my family was a little picky about it. Probably won't make it again just because it's not a flavor set that my family likes. But I would wholeheartedly recommend it to others. If you like Mongolian Beef Ramen I think you will really like this dish.

03 February 2017

Tips & What To Expect With Same Day Surgery

I mentioned that I had same day surgery this week. While it's all fresh in my mind, I thought it would be a great time to share some tips and experience for others who may be going through it for the first time or again. This is my third same day surgery and you do forget a bit what it's like. The first one felt very easy, the second was quite difficult and this one was somewhere in the middle.


Here are a few suggestion to prepare you for the surgery:

1) Find the right person to take you there and bring you home. Make sure it's someone who is comforting, attentive and makes you feel peaceful. Some loved ones, while willing, may be anxious and their anxiousness may make it worse for you. Find the person who most helps you because it will be a hard day for you. Something I learned when I was still a kid and had a concussion, don't have people or noise around you that make you feel more anxious, stressed or sick! 

Another important note: make sure they are free all day just in case surgery is delayed or you have complications. When I went in for my second procedure a few years ago, they told me it would be about 2 1/2 surgery time and my expectation was that I would be home by noon. I didn't get home until 6 p.m. and my friend who took me was there for a very long day waiting for me. I was so out of it for so long that I had no idea if she knew what was going on all that time, etc. and we had to make some emergency plans to pick up Kiddo at school and have someone available who could watch her into the evening. Prepare for all possible contingencies including that you might end up staying the night in the hospital.

2) Share what's happening with a couple of good friends. I am pretty hush, hush about this kind of stuff, but I've learned as I've gotten older that it's good to let people know what is going on. They can help and will offer and you should let them. When a friend's husband asked what we were doing this week, I realized and mentioned that I had totally forgotten I was having surgery. The next day his wife contacted me and asked if they could bring dinner.

Another friend offered to take me to the surgery if I wanted her to (see #1!). So nice of her and even though The Man took me, she would've been a great choice if I needed her! I also texted with a couple of friends who checked in and with my mom throughout the day. It was good to know people were watching out for me and cared. These are the moments to allow people to care for you, to feel their love and give them an chance to show it.

3) Ask medical professionals all the questions you need to to make yourself feel comfortable. You will talk to quite a few people in the lead up process to procedure. Let them help you feel more comfortable and keep a list of questions you can refer to each time you talk to someone. You may get varying answers from different people so keep asking questions until you feel comfortable.

4) Change the sheets on your bed and make your bedroom pretty and cozy. This is something I wish I had done that I didn't do. I change the sheets often on our bed, but by the time I'd been in bed all day the day of surgery and the following day I was feeling icky. When I got up the next morning the first thing I did was pull all the bedding off our bed and head to the laundry room. I still hadn't put our new comforter on the bed yet so I did that too. It was a good day to make a big change! Other things you can add to make your room comfortable and cheery are: fresh flowers, a diffuser with essential oils, some lotion, a pitcher of water and glass or a filled sport water bottle, and anything else that you might want close by.

5) Get medical/personal care supplies you may need. Depending on the kind of surgery you are having there will be a few medical supplies you will want to have on hand. That may include feminine pads, medical tape, gauze, antibiotic cream, large bandages, etc. If you need to, ask your medical professionals what you will need. They can advise. This is another thing I didn't think much about but was lucky to have what I needed on hand at home already.

6) Prepare for the after effects of anesthesia, dehydration and post-op. I have had mixed experiences coming off anesthesia. It can be easy or it can be rough. Yesterday was rough. My second same day surgery was a very long stay in recovery, I think about 5 hours. Yesterday was 90 minutes and the first hour I felt horrible. The throat, lungs and sinuses take a lot of impact from surgery due to the breathing tube and medication.

  • Beverages: Your throat will be sore and you will be dehydrated from fasting for so many hours. I had a dehydration headache for much of the day after I got home. Have a variety of beverages on hand to quench your thirst and soothe your throat. My husband got me a milkshake on the way home. I tried to drink a lot of water and that was hard, so I was glad to have a Vitamin Water XXX and some juices to get my headache under control. It wasn't until about 9 pm that it started feeling better. I was still having a bit of a headache the second day and trying to drink a lot.
  • Saline Nasal Spray:  From the time I got out of surgery throughout the rest of the day one side of my sinuses was aching, stuffy and then running like crazy. Saline Nasal Spray was a godsend and I used it repeatedly throughout the day. Because it's not medicinal it's something you can use as much as you want. And it helps clear out that congestion.
  • Humidifier: I cranked my humidifier to high when I got home to help me clear my lungs and sinuses. When I got out of surgery I wasn't breathing deeply enough to get enough oxygen so the nurses were really pushing me to breath deeper. When I got home I was coughing up some mucus throughout the day. That all had to do with the anesthesia, so prepare for that. A good humidifier makes for good sleeping anytime!
  • Tissues: As I mentioned I was coughing up stuff and my nose was running a lot. Having a box in bed with me made things easier.
  • Food: What you need here will vary a lot. You may feel like eating nothing, you may be starving. I wasn't hungry much with my first surgery (female stuff), with my second surgery (tonsils, sinus and throat stuff) my throat was really sore so it was liquids for the first couple of days. Wednesday (female stuff again) I was super sick to my stomach right out of the O.R., then after an hour I wanted a nice milkshake and within another hour I was starving and ate a chicken sandwich and a full dinner later. I think it depends on the time of day of your surgery and how long you had to fast as well. Be prepared with some good liquid options and some gentle foods that you enjoy...and just in case you're starving later maybe have a burger or steak on hand in the fridge. Ha.
7) Plan things to do while you're resting. I was glad to have my Netflix list waiting for me when I climbed into bed. I thought I would sleep a lot more than I did, but I ended up watching Netflix and dosing on and off instead. Watching something engaging definitely helped distract me from the fact that I was feeling crummy. I watched a TV series I've seen several times but that familiarity seemed to comfort me too. Nothing too stressful, no undue surprise endings, nothing that agitates an already sick body.

I also had a few magazines and books around, my phone - Instagram was a good distraction too. Forced resting when you're not feeling well gets boring and irritating really quickly. Maybe have someone give you a good rub or have a hand massager near the bed. Soak your feet in the tub (no bathing allowed usually), get a microwave heating pad for your shoulders. Do whatever you can to soothe your body and soul.

Women seem particularly challenged with resting and holding still. I know I am. So I've been trying to be really diligent about getting enough rest and following doctor's recover orders. It's boring, not a lot of fun, but I'm doing it and trying to give my body and soul the time they need to not just heal, but to heal well. We don't often get forced rest time so I want to make it count.

I'm going to climb into my beautiful clean bed now for a nap. Hope these tips are helpful to you if you or someone you love is having a medical procedure soon or pass it along to a friend who it might be helpful for. If you have any tips to share from your own experience please comment below. I'd love to hear them and anyone who reads this will appreciate it too I'm sure!

I am going to follow this post up next week with what to expect when you get to the surgical center. Have a great weekend!

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