Turning the page

We here at Going Forward (meaning: me) are pleased to be finally turning the page over from 2014, leaving behind us a difficult year stuck in the doldrums, so to speak, with high hopes for fair winds and following seas to support all our efforts in the coming year.

One thing I’ve been remiss in over the past 12 months is my blogging, and I hope to be better about that. I will tell you that I’ve been having my share of struggles, large and small, but I won’t tell you all the details because, you know, the internet. My focus on surviving and resolving those struggles has taken up a lot of my time and emotional energy, leaving little left over to talk about it all here. 

I completed my certification as a nursing assistant in February, and decided not to pursue any job opportunities in that field for several reasons. I have found the knowledge I gained very helpful in assisting my parents, however, and that is the whole reason I took the course so I consider the time well spent.

My weight has been bobbing up and down all year, gradually trending upward. I pay a handsome fee to participate in Weight Watchers each month, but can’t seem to motivate myself to follow the program. Not sure what I’m going to do about that, although I think my options are, essentially, to fish or cut bait. I’ve determined that part of why I am not feeling so great right now physically is my higher weight, and that I definitely feel better when I am about 20 lbs. lighter. It’s just a matter of finding the mojo to get myself there.

My darling doggies are, as ever, the lights of my life. Rudy had a tumor on his foot this summer that required the removal of a toe, but he’s fully recovered from that now as if nothing ever happened. Reggie has maintained perfect health and excellent behavior all year, and I’m very pleased with and proud of both of them.

My parents have been holding pretty steady, with a few mishaps here and there but generally okay. I had hoped my mother would be walking on her own again by last spring, but she took a fall in her garage a few months ago that has slowed her way down and it looks like the wheelchair might be here to stay.

On the business front, I branched out from product photography into real estate photography over the summer, and got a crash course in how to light a room properly (which is much trickier than you might think). This endeavor proved profitable and allowed me to acquire a bunch of new photography equipment, including lenses and lights, that have expanded my repertoire considerably. I hope to substantially increase this service in 2015.

At home, I have invested considerable time and treasure in my cooking practice, and that has been tremendously rewarding for me emotionally. I have been creating my own recipes and riffing with confidence on others’ recipes to create dishes that delight me—and as we know, I am a huge fan of my own cooking. 😉 I spent 10 days with my folks over Christmas and cooked many meals for them that they immensely enjoyed as well, so I seem to be doing it right! I recently finished reading Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, and gifted it to my mom and my brother-in-law for Christmas. My sister and mom have read it and they both say that it has changed their lives. I had the same reaction. Highly recommended.

Like 2013, 2014 ended on an unexpected, expensive and stressful note. In 2013, it was Rudy’s mysterious illness over Christmas vacation, and the keying damage to my car while I was visiting my parents. This year, we hit a deer on our way to my parents’ house, which disabled my car with a busted radiator but fortunately did no harm to us. The accident occurred roughly midway between my house and theirs, so I had to leave my car in the nearest town for 10 days to be repaired and got to drive a brand-new rented Hyundai Santa Fe in the meantime, which was actually a rather nice consolation. When we came through to retrieve my car on our way back to our home this week, the icy roads and snowy weather were so treacherous that we had to stay overnight there. I have never seen such horrendous driving conditions in 12 years of going back and forth over that road, and have never in 30 years of driving hit a deer. I am hoping my deer-strike clock will now reset and I’ll have another 30 years of no trouble!

And so we begin another fresh year. I am really hopeful that the hard times are behind me and I am so very ready to move forward on so many fronts. Rev the engine, pop the clutch, let’s blow this popsicle stand!

Happy New Year, everyone, and best wishes to all of you for a healthy and happy 2015!

the-time-is-now-lets-do-this

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I’ve never really cared for turkey, anyway

I dialed my Thanksgiving cooking ambitions all the way back this year, not feeling any desire to cook turkey in any form and not the least bit sorry about that. I mean, it’s a fine bird and all, but it has never been my favorite poultry. So I can add to my list of things to be thankful for that I don’t have to eat it if I don’t want to! I also am grateful that I don’t have to travel anywhere this weekend. Our icy winter weather of earlier this month has cleared up to almost unseasonable warmth, but that doesn’t motivate me to hit the road on the worst travel weekend of the year.

Instead, it was me and the dogs here at home as usual, and a small dinner that was all about great flavors rather than great quantity.

First, I marinated overnight a whole cut-up chicken in Finger-Licking Marinade from KitchMe, which I modified as follows:

1/2 c avocado oil
1/2 c Super Tonic (apple cider vinegar can substitute)
2 Tbs mayonnaise
3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs salt, to taste
1 Tbs black pepper
1 Tbs dried thyme
1 Tbs dried tarragon
1 Tbs garlic powder

I baked the chicken for 45 minutes at 350°F, and it was amazing!

My side dish was a variation on colcannon, using fennel instead of cabbage. Also very good, even made with slightly less butter than the recipe calls for.

I didn’t get around to making a dessert today, but I got it started for tomorrow. I received a bag of fresh cranberries in my Bountiful Basket this week, so I ran those through the juicer along with an orange and an apple, strained the juice thoroughly, then simmered it with sugar, orange zest and a few cloves into a simple syrup. Tomorrow I plan to bake a from-scratch yellow cake and drizzle this syrup over it, then share it with my neighbors. I have made a couple of cakes this month with standard buttercream frosting (also shared with the neighbors) and have decided that frosting is just overkill. This syrup will add some fat-free sweetness, along with moisture and holiday flavor. I’m eager to see how it comes out.

Speaking of cakes, my first one was made from a boxed mix that had been sitting in the back of my cupboard for more than year, and it was just okay. It had a nice light texture, if a tad dry. After looking at the ingredients list on the box, I decided it was absurd to pay Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker to put this together for me when I have all the ingredients on hand. It’s only flour, sugar and baking powder, after all, plus artificial colors and flavors and all the chemicals they have to add to stabilize it on the shelf, which can hardly do a body good. Mixing up the same ingredients from the pantry takes about one minute longer than dumping out a box, but it makes all the difference in the final product. My second cake was an order of magnitude better than the first!

I don’t recall which site I snagged this recipe from, but here is the one I used. Give it a try, and if you’re at all like me, you’ll never make cake from a box again. (This recipe replaces a standard 18.25 oz boxed mix.)

Yellow Cake

Ingredients
2 c all-purpose flour
1-1/2 c sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
3/4 c milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c (1 stick) butter, softened
3 eggs

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour cake pan(s).
Sift the flour into a bowl and thoroughly whisk the dry ingredients together before adding the wet ingredients.
Combine with an electric mixer at low speed for 1 minute, then beat at medium-high speed for 4 more minutes.
Pour batter into cake pans. Cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Err on the side of undercooking to avoid drying out the cake.)

Baking Times
8″ or 9″ cake rounds — 20-25 minutes
13″ x 9″ pan — 35-40 minutes
Cupcakes — 12-15 minutes
Tube/bundt pan — 45-50 minutes

today-i-am-thankful

Today and every day, I am grateful for good food and the tools, time and knowledge to prepare great meals at home. Also, I’m grateful for my family, friends and neighbors, and of course, my dogs. Happy Thanksgiving, from our house to yours!

 

This one’s for my niece

Fifteen years ago today, our family was blessed with the addition of The Lovely and Amazing Annabel. She is my sister’s first child, my parents’ first grandchild and my first (and so far, only) niece, and she and I have been buddies from the day we met, just a few weeks after she was born. Sadly, I can’t find the picture we took that day, in which she was bundled in a lovingly homemade tiny leopard outfit for her first Halloween and looking very wide-eyed.

I confess, I am not good with kids and never have been, even when I was still a kid myself and babysat for the neighbors. But this kid has always been different. She was never fussy with me, and was always game for any adventure with her Auntie. She was a happy, smart, funny, cooperative sidekick from the go, and really hasn’t changed much at all in that respect over the years.

baby-annabel

Helping mommy in the kitchen, summer of 2000. Baby girl was bald as a sweet little peach for most of her first two years, then her hair came in perfectly strawberry blond.

One  of my most precious memories is when she and her mom came to visit me when she was less than a year old, not even talking yet. They came to the back door of my house, and I went down to unlock it. Her mom was standing there on the porch holding her and when Annabel and I saw each other through the glass, we both broke into such huge grins of happy recognition that my sister said she felt like a complete third wheel for a moment because all we could see was each other.

yellowduck-annabel

All decked out in yellow fleece, Christmas 2001.

I wish I could find more of her baby pictures to share with you; she was exceedingly cute as well as exceptionally charming.

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We’ve been lucky to share several of her birthdays with her, including her third, in which she gets some help from her daddy to cut the cake.

photographer-annabel

I took a lot of pictures of her when she was little, and she sometimes took the camera and returned the favor. Her mom and I wanted to make sure she didn’t just get our knees in the frame in this one, so we got down to her level (she was only about 3 at the time).

grampa-annabel

Everyone loved “dat baby,” including her grandpa, who told her to point at the camera.

erikbday-annabel

The button-busting proud big sister, here with her mom and grandma, smiles big while holding her hours-old baby brother, August 2003.

dressup-annabel

Playing dress-up with her grandma at the tea shop, circa 2005.

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Modeling her new pajamas with her mom and brother, Christmas 2008.

irisgarden-annabel

My favorite picture of this beautiful girl, summer of 2009. She has my freckles.

christmas11-annabel

By Christmas of 2011, she was starting to look like a young lady instead of a kid–tall and slim and graceful.

summer12-annabel

By the summer of 2012, this kid I used to pick up and swing around was eye to eye with me when she stood in front of me; I expect she’s going to be tucking my head under her chin when she hugs me pretty soon.

eyes-annabel

She likes to draw anime characters, which I know just enough about to know that she rather resembles one!

cello-annabel

Among her many talents, Annabel plays the cello beautifully. I think she has a very bright future ahead of her with that instrument.

Almost from birth, Annabel has been a mimic, a ham, and a performer. She has her mother’s gift for memorizing movie quotes and memes and working them into everyday conversation, and can always make me laugh. She’s a kind, good-hearted kid who always thinks of others first and who can be counted on to do the right thing. I wish I had been even half so emotionally capable when I was her age! Sometimes when I talk to her on the phone, I hear my sister’s tones and inflections in her speech, and watching Annabel is like watching my sister grow up all over again. I can’t even tell you how that warms my heart because for all that I love my niece, I love my sister twice as much. I’m happy to have known them both all their lives.

Annabel has gone from fuzzy-headed baby to animated toddler to adventurous school kid to gangly preteen and now stands tall and graceful at the last outpost of childhood. She starts high school this week with a full slate of college-prep classes, and is already thinking about getting her driver’s permit. Pretty soon she’ll be graduating, going off to college, getting married, having babies of her own. It’s all going to go by in a flash, just the way her whole life has to date … at least for those of us looking on from far away who see her two or three times a year if we’re lucky and can hardly believe the changes we see from visit to visit.

But some things remain the same from year to year and I hope they always will, especially that unbridled delight Annabel and I take in seeing each other again after months apart. She’s my only sister’s only daughter, the only tiny bit of me going forth into the future beyond my lifespan. She carries with her all my hopes and dreams for love and happiness in her life, and gratitude for all the love and happiness she brings to mine.

Happy birthday to a Lovely and Amazing young lady. I love you forever and I am so very proud of you.


Remember, Theresa: Everything she is, you are. Everything we love in this child, we loved in you first. All your life.

Related: This one’s for my sister

 

Happy Valentine’s Day

I know most of you are coupled, or otherwise romantically involved, since that seems to be the rule rather than the exception. But whether you are happily married or, like me, a die-hard single (or anywhere in between), here are some useful tips and interesting facts about what is still my favorite holiday.

valentines-day-single

I want to send Valentine’s greetings especially to my family: my parents, my siblings, my niece and nephew (niblings?), my cousins and my aunts. Also, to my friends and neighbors, my Facebook friends, my friends overseas, and everyone who reads and follows Going Forward.

snoopy-woodstock

Hug someone you love today!

Out with the old, in with the new

Happy New Year!

I just love the first day of every year: time to clear the decks, dream new dreams, make new plans and start afresh once again.

I spent the day deep-cleaning and making minor repairs around my house, adding important dates to my 2014 DayMinder, purging too-large clothes out of my closet, and generally putting things in order in my world. A fresh air filter for the furnace and new batteries in the smoke detector. All my 2013 paperwork filed away. E-mail files purged and photo folders sorted. I feel as though I am right on top of things.

Today was the last day for my poor old bamboo plant, which I finally disposed of. In its place, I intend to put a brand-new pineapple plant, because I read on Pinterest about how easy it is to grow your own, and planting something on the first day of the year seems perfectly auspicious. I only glanced at the pin without really checking it out, so I just cut off the top of a pineapple and dropped it in dirt. How hard could it be, right?

pineapple

But after I got it potted, a little niggling voice in my head suggested that maybe I should consult a few sources to see if I did everything right because that little voice has seen so many of my projects go FUBAR for lack of research and planning. Not surprisingly, since I neither researched nor planned, I did it all wrong.

You don’t cut the top off, you twist it off. Then you trim it down to expose the little roots, then you put it in a cupboard for a week to “harden” so it won’t rot in the soil. Assuming it hardens and does not mold, only then do you plant it. And if you’re lucky and your little pineapple top takes root, you might have a new fruit in about two years!

potted-pineapple

I had no idea. But then, what I don’t know about pineapple propagation could fill a book. I always thought they grew on trees. In fact, they grow on low bushes, one fruit to a bush. It’s staggering to me that something that takes TWO YEARS to mature sells in the supermarket for $2.50.

pineapple-farm

Learn more about how to grow a pineapple at home straight from the Dole Plantation in Hawaii or from this guy, who seems to know what he’s talking about.

The pineapple has long symbolized welcome and hospitality, which are certainly qualities I strive to cultivate in my home. I shall do my best to help my new houseplant—along with all my endeavors in 2014—take root, bloom and ultimately bear fruit.

Rounding out the year

I love listening to people express shock and surprise that another year is nearly done. “Can you believe it? Almost 2014 already!” As if, after 40 or 50 or 60 or more years of watching the calendar turn over, they were not ready for it. Again.

As for me, no, I’m not surprised that another year has passed, as years predictably do. Another thing that doesn’t surprise me is that while I was on vacation, I gained the standard ration of holiday weight, roughly equal to that of a tiny kettlebell.

Tiny kettlebell with mouse for scale.

Tiny kettlebell with mouse for scale.

That is my new workout tool, the tiny kettlebell. It came with a DVD that includes three different workouts guaranteed to make you sweat while you’re doing them and feel the pain long afterward. I haven’t decided yet when I’m going to do one of those workouts myself, but I do plan to. Sincerely. It’s a new year, time for a new groove.

My Weight Watchers leader, bless her heart, tried very hard tonight to find some behavior or choice of mine from the past two weeks to recognize me for during the meeting, but I couldn’t name one thing I did in the interests of my health while I was on vacation. I cooked and ate a lot of great food, I snacked on whatever was at hand whenever I felt like it, I walked my dogs only once and went for one short hike, I didn’t practice portion control, I didn’t lighten my recipes, and I didn’t track what I ate. I sure as heck didn’t bother to find a WW meeting to attend while I was out of town. In short, I threw my diet out the window and did all the things I used to do with regard to food every single day of my life.

But vacation is over now, and I realize that I don’t want to live that way anymore because I don’t feel all that good when I do. Healthy choices are good for me in more ways than one.

So, the gain has been duly recorded at WW, I’ve stocked my kitchen with lots of healthy food, and I’ve logged back into the WW site to track what I’m eating for every meal. The dogs and I walked yesterday and today and likely will do so every day this week as long as it doesn’t snow too much. In other words, I’m back on the wagon, a bit rounder for my time off, but that’s nothing that can’t be remedied with a couple weeks of consistently making good choices.

round-is-a-shape

My plan for 2014 is to drop another 50 pounds, and to reach my scale goal some time next summer. I have worked through a lot of deep emotional issues around my weight in the past few months, and I think this time I can actually do this. I have all the tools and all the support I need, and not a single excuse left on the rack. I’m ready to find a shape other than round and a size other than large in which to live the rest of my life.