Sunday, February 28, 2010

Learning to Be Grateful

I ran into a colleague of mine yesterday at the movies.  I hadn't seen her in a long time because she has been having health problems lately, and has not been able to get out of the house much.  In addition to her health issues, she has terrible back pain and has to wear a back brace and take pain-killers all the time.  I was being empathetic and saying "oh you poor thing", when she put a stop to it.  "Actually, I'm grateful to have these problems.  They could be so much worse!  I could be bed ridden, in the hospital, or dead!"  What a great way to look at it!  She is so right.  It got me thinking that I should be more grateful about my child procurement issues.

It's easy to become self-pitying and plunge into a tunnel of "poor me".  I find myself doing this from time to time over the fact that I have been trying for 5 years to have a child (the UNfun way!) with no luck.  But if I think about it, there are WAY worse things to have happen.  People have to deal with being blind, deaf, in a wheel chair, having cancer, etc. all the time! 

Another colleague of mine had a stroke about a year ago.  She was only 37, was a vegetarian, and was one of the healthiest people I knew at the time.  She's doing well now, (better than expected) but she'll never be back to the way she was before the stroke.  She has two young children who she cannot take care of by herself.  Being able to have children, but then having a stroke and not being able to take care of them is worse than not being able to have your own, isn't it?  I mean, I can still adopt, right?

Recently, one of my brother's friends died unexpectedly.  He was in his late 20's and was found dead in his apartment one day.  (They think he had some sort of seizure.)  How pointless!  And what about that poor Georgian Luger?  I should thank my lucky stars and be grateful that I'm still here.  I should consider myself SO lucky to only be dealing with infertility.

Now, let's all go knock on wood!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Old (but fun) Stories: Another Crazy Daisy Installment

This happened this past Chrismas when we were visiting my Mother-in-law in Greece:

Christmas Eve’s Eve: Daisy likes to leave lists of things for us to get for her.  Two days before Chrismas, we returned from buying groceries for her from a VERY busy store.  We were saying how glad we were to get it done with and that we were glad that we wouldn’t have to go on Christmas Eve because it would be even more crowded.  Daisy agreed with us and said, “Yes. I’ve always wondered why people wait until Christmas Eve to buy things. Why don’t they go earlier when it’s less crowded?” You can imagine our surprise (and annoyance) when we came down the next day (Christmas Eve), to find another grocery list!  Why had she not put these things on the list the day before? “Because I didn’t need them then, but I need them now!”  Could it wait until after Christmas?  No, it could not.  So, Daisy, why do people go out to buy things on Christmas Eve?  BECAUSE THEIR MOTHERS SEND THEM OUT WITH LISTS!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What was up with those Germans?

As a teacher, sometimes I chaperone field trips for my fellow teachers.  Yesterday, I went on the school art field trip.  The plan was to go to a place which had nature trails so that the kids could sketch things they saw.  My music students and the drama students were also allowed to go.  There ended up being 100 kids, 4 teachers, and about 12 parents. 

Luckily, the kids we took were very well behaved.  Seriously, I do not know how they could've been any better!  We allowed them to play outside for a bit after lunch.  There was a big open space, with several trails.  Also, there were loads of flowers and bamboo borders all around.  Some kids were playing football, others were skipping, still others were sitting and talking, while others were walking on the trails.  Some of them were fake sword-fighting with some fallen bamboo stalks, but we were watching them and it didn't get out of hand. 

In this particular nature center, other guests were there as well and they were allowed to drive through some of the trails in their cars.  A German couple drove past us, then pulled up to one of my fellow teachers and said, "These children are animals!  They belong in s zoo!  They are running around and breaking things!  You must do something."  We had been with the kids the whole time, and there was nothing terrible that they had done or were doing.  They were just acting like kids!  Has this couple ever been around kids before? 

As far as breaking things, I suppose he was talking about the bamboo.  First of all, they had only picked up the fallen bamboo.  Second, we had all been told by our guide that the bamboo grows 16 inches every 24 hours.  (Impressive!)  It only takes 60 days to grow to full size.  They have so much bamboo that they have to cut it down regularly so that it doesn't take over.  So, even if they had broken a live bamboo, it wouldn't have been the end of the world.  This couple drove by a few more times, giving us judgmental looks as they passed. 

I suppose German children would never do such things as fake sword-fight with bamboo, play football, or skip while singing.  Oh wait......I've been to Germany and they DO!  Why?  Because they're kids!!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Old (but fun) Stories: Crazy Daisy Got Busted!

The following is a story about my feisty Greek mother-in-law from when we visited her last summer:

     Daisy is full of contradictions. An example of this is her attitude about walking to the shops (3 blocks form her house).  She is afraid of leaving her house.  “What if I get really tired and have to sit down?”, “What if I get swine flu?”, “What if the cats get hungry and I’m not there to feed them?”, etc.  So yesterday evening, we convinced her to walk to the store with us, and stop for gelato.  After much ado, we walked the 3 about the same pace as you do when standing in line at the bank.  Seriously.  It took about 20 minutes to do a 2 minute walk.  Anyway, when she was crossing the road, we were urging her to hurry because cars were coming.  “No! I’ll not be rushed! They can very well slow down!” Also, she would walk in the middle of the road saying, “Let the cars go around me!”  So ---- all this fear about ridiculous things, and the one thing that really could kill her was of no concern to her.  Hmmmmm.
By the way----in case you were wondering, there is no medical reason as to why Daisy should walk so slowly.  My 90 year old grandmother walks a mile everyday, and could run rings around her!  Daisy did have an operation on her leg though.  A year ago.  (It was a simple, outpatient procedure.)  She has been capitalizing on that ever since.

     A few days later, my husband and I were returning from a short excursion.  We thought we might stop at the shops near Daisy’s house to get some lunch.  While we were looking for a parking place, who do you think we saw turbo-charging down the street?  That’s right---none other than Miss Daisy! She was briskly walking, head held high, skirt swaying back and forth, chin jutted out in determination, and eyes focused forward!  (It took us a while to even recognize her!)  She didn’t even see us as we pulled up.  She jumped as soon as she saw us and switched to her “slow, wobble-walk” as I like to call it.  She is SO busted!  Apparently, she walks to the shops down the street all the time.  This makes the above story extra funny.  She had led us to believe that the time above was her first time walking down the street since her operation a year ago.  We’re on to her now.  The good thing about this is that my husband doesn’t worry about her as much now.  There’s always a silver lining.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Weekend Breakfast for Weirdos Who Don't Eat Anything (like me!)

Okay, so the title is a bit of an exaggeration.  I do eat things, but since I'm avoiding gluten, dairy, sugar (including fruit), and bad carbs it sure does feel like I don't get to eat anything sometimes!  It's really hard to be a foodie and have all these restrictions.  I fell off the wagon a bit over Christmas and ate all kinds of things I shouldn't have.  It has been really hard to get back on.  Yesterday, I renewed my resolve to eat like I should.  (For health reasons, my doctor has put me on this crazy eating plan.)

I have to say, once you get the sugar out of your system, it gets much easier to stay on my diet.  Sugar, for me, is an addiction and I have to treat it as such.  When it's in my system, I find that I cannot get through the day without it.  The other day (while I was off the wagon), I found myself lacking energy and feeling terrible so I ate a cake ball.  Immediately, I felt fantastic!  I had gotten my fix.  Then later, I felt terrible and wanted more.  I must break this cycle!  It's very similar to being an alcoholic.  When in recovery, you just can't have your substance at all.  Not even one drink (or bite).  SO - this little tangent is all to illustrate my need to get back on track.

Today, I had my weekend breakfast.  I like to treat myself on weekends and have something delicious.  What's delicious when you have all these restrictions?  Eggs and veggie browns!

Lyn's Eggs and Veggie Browns:

Pour some olive oil into a frying pan.  (Enough to liberally coat the bottom.)  Then, take a carrot and a zucchini (one each per person), and peel them into long, thin curls with a veggie peeler(Note:  When to get to the point where you can no longer peel them, I take what's left, chop it up, and put it into a tupperware and into the freezer.  Then, I add these veggie bits to the pot when I make soup.)  Fry the carrot and zucchini strips in the oil until they get slightly brown and crispy (about 15-20 minutes).  Drain in paper towels when done.  Sprinkle them with Celtic Sea Salt(Note:  Celtic Sea Salt is gray in color because it has not had the magnesium and potassium stripped out of it, making it much better for you.  Also, it tastes saltier so you use less.  I love it!)

While the veggies are frying, scramble some eggs and cook them in a frying pan with a little olive oil.  While cooking, I sprinkle them with salt and oregano(Note:  Oregano makes everything taste delicious!  I learned this from my Greek mother-in-law who puts it on everything.) 

Serve and eat while hot.  

I can't drink a lot of coffee (due to migraines), but my body can handle one cup per week.  I treat myself on Saturdays and have coffee with my breakfast.  I LOVE to put a spoonful of coconut milk ice-cream in it. (Purely Decadent Coconut Milk Ice-Cream and Luna and Larry's Coconut Bliss are my favs.  They are dairy free and don't have sugar either since they are sweetened with agave syrup.  Win-win on all counts!)   

With this breakfast, I don't feel deprived at all!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Oscar Party

The other day, a colleague of mine was talking about an Oscar party that his friends throw every year.  They put out a red carpet leading up to the house so that the guests can walk down it when they arrive.  Someone takes pictures of all the guests in order to provide a "paparazzi experience".  Then pens and score cards are passed out.  Each person votes on who they think will win.  The person with the most correct answers gets a little fake Oscar statuette at the end of the night.  (If you want to start early, you could rent some of the nominated movies to watch before the Oscar ceremony starts.)  Also, each guest is asked to bring a dish that relates to a movie or nominee.  (I suppose you could take it a step further and ask everyone to dress up as their favorite star or character.)  I got SO excited about this idea that I might have an Oscar party myself!  (Sunday, March 7th is Oscar night.) 

After searching the web, it looks like this is not an original idea.  There are sites all over that have tips on hosting Oscar parties.  Where have I been?!?  Have any of you out there had Oscar parties before and do you have any tips and/or cool ideas?  (BTW - Oriental Trading Company is a site where you can order party favors for this and other events.  I've ordered from them before and have had good experiences.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Sugar-Free, Food Free Cake. Diaper Cake!

A "cake" made out of diapers is a stylish and cool gift to give someone who is expecting.  I made one the other night for a friend of mine.  The process was enjoyable because I like to make things, and it's fun to go and pick colors and ribbon and things.  (I don't think of myself as a "girly girl", but apparently I am when it comes to this.)  Also, I get to go buy baby things and make something for a baby, even if it isn't my own.  (Sometimes, you just have to put your feelings on a shelf and do something nice for someone else, right?)  It was fun to do and it feels more personal than just going and buying random baby merchandise.

It's not hard to make this diaper cake.  There is a video on the internet that takes you through the whole process.  I love that it's set to the music of "Meet Joe Black".  (Because really, what goes with sweet babies better than music from a film about death personified?)  The only modification I made is that I used slightly bigger diapers on the bottom two tiers and the teeniest ones on the top.  I think it looks better that way.  Also, the mother can use the top layer when the baby is first born, and keep the bottom two tiers as decoration for a few months or so until the baby grows into them.  Also, I think it's a cool idea to use a pizza pan as the base because the new mom is totally going to be using it to heat up a lot of frozen pizzas for dinner after the birth!

Make this for the next baby shower you're invited to.  It will be a hit with the mom-to-be, and everyone will think you're super cool! 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's like Nirvana, but with tea!

This weekend, I finally went to the new tea store "Teavana".  (Well, it was new to me anyway.)  Who knew you could spend so much money on tea and tea accessories?  They say, many upscale products aren't really that much better than others, but the packaging is much fancier.  I think this may the case here.  Don't get me wrong,  I loved looking around in the store!  The tea pots were fun to look at, but I am never going to spend over $200 on a tea pot.

I am a big tea drinker and have at least 3 cups a day.  Since I can't have too many treats (no wheat, dairy, sugar, or yeast), tea feels like a sinful delight.  I was reminded of the saying, "a fool and his money are soon parted" because the store seems to be designed to part fools from their money.  Well, I must be a fool because I spent $42 on tea!  You have to buy the tea containers, then you can buy whatever tea you want to fill it.  There are several dozen large canisters behind the register which the sales people will open and waft in your general direction so you can smell the various teas.

The sales person I spoke with was full of helpful information.  Did you know that green tea can help regulate your blood sugar if you drink it before a meal?  Also, did you know that Oolong tea helps increase your metabolism and burns fat if you drink it after a meal?  I didn't!  The sales lady (who was Asian) says that all Asian households have both green and oolong teas on hand since the dishes they eat are often fatty.  With that in mind, I HAD to get one of each!  I ended up getting Dragonwell (green) and Toasted Nut Brulee (Oolong).  The Dragonwell tea was good.  I love a nice green tea, but I have to say it wasn't any better than my favorite Numi Gunpowder Green tea.  I used to feel guilty buying the Numi tea since it's $6.99 per box (although Whole Foods has it on sale often), but now I'll buy it guilt free since it's less expensive than the Dragonwell.  The Toasted Nut Brulee tea however, is awesome!  I will definitely be back for more.  It's like dessert in a cup AND it helps you burn fat?  Why aren't we all drinking this all the time?  I will go back to Teavana and try some more teas, however it will not be an everyday thing for me.  As a special treat however, it's heavenly!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Very Berry Chocolate Mousse

(I was going to call this "Cherry Berry Chocolate Mousse", but I only had blackberries in my freezer and no cherries!  I bet cherries would be good though, and I plan to use them next time.  Maybe I'll try some Amaretto in there too!)

For a Valentine's Day treat, I made chocolate mousse for my husband (and me!).  I used Julia Child's recipe (of course), but made some changes.  I am avoiding wheat and dairy so this is a less harmful dessert for me than most.  There is a lot of butter in it, but butter has very little lactose in it and is mostly fat so lactose intolerant people can usually have a bit of butter every now and then.  I find I can tolerate it in moderate amounts.  (This is not an everyday thing, but as an occasional treat, it's not too bad.)  There is no whipped cream in this mousse.  The creamy lightness comes from beaten egg whites.  This allows more of a deep, dark chocolate taste to come through since cream kind of dilutes (or "milks down") the chocolate.  Dark chocolate lovers out there, this mousse is for you! 

I made the following modifications to the recipe:
1.  I substituted Chambord for the Grand Marnier
2.  I sweetened it with agave syrup instead of sugar (1/2 cup instead of 3/4 cup since it is sweeter).
3.  Since the agave syrup made it more liquidy, I added some arrowroot powder to compensate. (Otherwise, it wouldn't thicken properly without the dry sugar.)  I didn't measure.  I just sprinkled some in, then when it didn't thicken enough, I sprinkled some more.  I probably used about 2 teaspoons or so.
4.  I simmered some blackberries with some more Chambord and agave syrup, reducing it to a thick compote, and used it to top the mousse.  The tartness of the berries balances the rich, sweetness of the mousse nicely.

You can use my modifications or make Julia's original recipe.  Either way, get ready for sinfully delicious goodness!  Actually, I've made the Grand Marnier and orange version with agave syrup instead of sugar and it was delicious as well.   Here is the recipe, straight from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (p. 604-5): 

"Mousseline au Chocolat
(for about 5 cups, serving 6 to 8 people)

Beat 4 egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup agave syrup) together until mixture is thick, pale yellow, and falls back upon itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon.  Beat in 1/4 cup of orange liquor (or Chambord).  Then set mixing bowl over a pan of not-quite-simmering water and continue beating for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is foamy and too hot for your finger.  Then beat over a basin of cold water for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is cool and again forms the ribbon.  (I put the arrowroot in at this point, if agave syrup is used.)  It will have the consistency of mayonaisse.

Melt 6 ounces of unsweetened, dark chocolate with 4 Tb.  strong coffee in a double boiler.  Remove from heat and beat in 6 ounces (or 1 and a half sticks) of softened unsalted butter a bit at a time, to make a smooth cream.  Beat the chocolate into the egg yolks and sugar (or agave), then beat in the optional 1/4 cup of glazed orange peel* (see below for recipe).  

Beat 4 egg whites and a pinch of salt (in a separate bowl) until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on 1 Tb granulated sugar (I leave the sugar out, and it still comes out fine).  Stir one fourth of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.  Fold in the rest.

Turn into serving dish, dessert cups, or petits pots.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.  (You can top this with whipped cream, but I like to make berry compote or glazed orange peel and top it with that instead.)"

* "Glazed Orange Peel (p. 587)
  (for about 1/2 cup)

Remove the colored part of 3 orange skins with a vegetable peeler.  Cut into julienne strips 1 1/2 inches long and 1/16 inch wide.  Simmer in water for 10 to 12 minutes or until just tender when bitten.  Drain.  Refresh in cold water.  Dry on paper towels.

Boil 1 cup sugar (or 3/4 cup agave syrup) and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan to the thread stage (230 degrees).  Remove from heat.  Stir in the drained peel and 1 t. of vanilla extract.  (I add a splash or two of Grand Marnier at this point.)  Let the peel stand in the syrup for at least 30 minutes.  Drain when ready to use.  Under refrigeration, the peel will keep in the syrup for several weeks."

I know it seems like a pain to do all of this, but it's totally worth it!  My girl Julia knows what she's talking about.  Make this for your significant other, and they will love you!    

Monday, February 15, 2010

Yoga Pete

     The other night, we had a house guest.  One of my husband's friends was in town visiting his father, who coincidentally lives in our town, and he needed a place to stay since his father's house was full of other guests.  (Seriously, what are the odds of this?  They met while in school in Greece!)  Anyway, I'll call his friend "Yoga Pete".
     Yoga Pete is a fascinating person.  He is half Swiss, half Greek, teaches yoga, has lived in Japan, has traveled to China, and attends an ashram in India to work on his yoga skills some summers.  Also, he was a Philosophy major at University so he asks you questions like "what do you think happiness is and how do you create it?"  I find it really refreshing to speak with someone who is an extremely good conversationalist.  It makes me want to cultivate this skill in myself. 
     I'm reading a book at the moment about how technology is killing conversation skills in people.  It's a bit of a paradox because, while the internet connects people, it also removes us one step from being face to face.  People are constantly "plugged in".  You almost cannot have a conversation with anyone these days without them checking their iphone or blackberry every 5 seconds.  (Yes, it's a bit ironic that I'm saying this via the internet but like I said, it's a paradox.)  The book I'm reading says there are two things which a good conversation requires:  attention and interest.  Most people today have some form of ADD, and /or just aren't interested in other people.  (I hate to admit this but I, sadly, must include myself in this.)  Anyway, the conversation my husband and I had with Yoga Pete was the first real, meaningful, uninterrupted conversation I'd had in quite some time.  It was enjoyable!  I am going to train myself to have more attention and interest in others.  "Attention x Interest = Conversation = Joy!"     
     The next morning, Yoga Pete showed us some yoga moves.  Do you know how impressive it is to watch someone do something that they are really good at?  It doesn't matter what it is, but to see someone execute something so fluidly and effortlessly is quite something.  (I think this is one reason why we like watching the Olympics so much.)  Then, I got a private yoga lesson during which he showed me the "Sun Salutation" that he does.  (This link I posted shows a slightly different one than he one he showed me, but you get the idea.)  The corrections he made to my form ("bring your shoulders down, bend your knees then straighten them, breathe through your nose, etc.") made it feel completely different than what I had been doing.  Yoga Pete says that doing 5 Sun Salutations every morning is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health.  He made it seem so much more accessible to me!  There is no way I'm going to do a whole yoga routine in the morning, but 5 Sun Salutations are totally possible.  (5 minutes, tops!)  I did them this morning, and it woke me up more than caffeine.  I'm going to continue to do them.  He says he started with just 5 minutes in the mornings, and now (after 16 years) he does an hour and a half, which would have been inconceivable to him when he first started.  He also says that he feels much better and has more energy now (at 40 or so) than he did when he was 20.  There are men at his yoga school that are in their 60's that are even healthier and more flexible than he is!  How inspiring is that?
So---go do 5 Sun Salutations to get the blood pumping to your brain and then go have a scintillating conversation with someone today!  You'll thank me (and Yoga Pete) later!         

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Sweet Valentine's Story

     I'm a bit of a Valentine scrooge, I have to admit.  When I was single, I thought it was mean to make single people feel worse about being single.  Now that I'm married, I think it's unnecessary because my husband makes me feel loved every day.  I don't need flowers and chocolates to feel special because he already makes me feel special.  However, I wanted to share with you a great, real-life love story that makes me very, very happy.

     A work colleague of mine and his wife will be celebrating their second, second anniversary this year.  Let me explain:  (I'll call them Frank and Alma.)

        Frank and Alma were married when they were in their early 20's.  They divorced 4 years later.  They both married other people.  Alma's second marriage ended very quickly (with no children) because it was pretty much a rebound relationship.  Frank's marriage lasted for 15 years or so, and he had 2 children.  Eventually, his marriage ended as well.  Thirty-five years after their divorce, they met again.  They started dating and found that they still loved each other.  A year later, they were married on the exact same day as their original wedding.  They are deliriously happy and are certain it will work this time because they both say that things that are issues when you're in your 20's are no longer issues when you're in your late 50's.  They had their second, first anniversary last year. 
     Alma says she couldn't be happier and feels that her life is complete.  She always wanted to be with Frank, and she wanted Frank's children.  Now she has both!  (She has a great relationship with Frank's children so she "has" them in that sense.)  Also, she gets to have grandchildren with Frank.  What a wonderful story!  I think it's so uplifting and inspiring.  I want this to give hope to all of you out there!

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Childless Child

 This turned into a bit of a rant.  I have mixed feelings about posting this, but it has been on my mind a lot and it had to be written.  This post is for all the infertile women out there who are craving just a smidgen of understanding:

   The other night, I re-watched the movie "Julie and Julia".  I loved it although as far as I'm concerned, the Julie parts should be cut out and the whole movie should be about Julia Child.  In fact, why don't they make a movie about Julia Child?  They could include bits about her life in India and China, and include how she met and got together with Paul.  Anyway, I identified with Julia in several ways.  One way was about her apparent infertility.  It absolutely broke my heart during the scene where Julia was reading a letter from her sister in which she learned that her sister was pregnant.  She was visibly upset and was crying but said, "I'm so happy".  Someone told me that when she saw it in the theater, people laughed at this moment.  As a woman who is struggling with infertility herself, this makes me furious because it shows a real lack of understanding of the general public on this issue.
    In our culture, people ignore this topic altogether.  Our society seems to glorify motherhood and has several conventions which are cruel to those who cannot participate.  I don't think individual people are cruel, but society at large certainly is.  The previously mentioned letter-reading scene in "Julie and Julia" shows how socially unacceptable it is to be anything other than ecstatic over the news of another's pregnancy.  Julia couldn't even admit her sadness to her husband who adored her and knew better.  If a woman shows any signs of being upset over someone else getting pregnant, then she is accused of being selfish and she should "just get over it".  This is similar to going up to a blind man and telling him that you just had lasik  surgery and can see crystal clearly without  glasses.  If this man were not jumping for joy over your good fortune, would you accuse him of being selfish?  Of course not!  Yet this is what we do to infertile women all the time.
     Another cruel convention is the baby shower.  A pregnant woman has the one thing I want most in the entire world.  And society says I have to throw her a party and give her presents?  Really?  Would you ask a homeless man to throw a house-warming party for someone he barely knows who just bought a house?  Don't get me wrong.  I have no problem buying baby shower presents for friends of mine.  I'm talking about  people I barely know like my mother's church friends or mere acquaintances.  I know the reasoning behind the baby shower is that you have to financially help out the new mother who has to buy all this stuff for her baby.  However, women who do fertility treatments pay WAY more than new mothers do.  IVF treatments and adoption can range from $30,000 to $70,000 and up.  (And that's before the baby even gets here!)  I'm sure even all-designer baby merchandise wouldn't cost that much.
   Another injustice is in our medical system.  Most health plans do not cover fertility treatments.  This is unfair because some of us have paid health insurance all of our working lives, and have made very few claims.  The ONE thing I need my insurance to cover is something that they won't cover.  If disease is defined as "something in the body isn't functioning properly", then infertility is a disease.  It is not an elective procedure.  I did not "elect" to go through fertility treatments.  It's just what I have to do to have my body function the way it should in the first place.  Health insurance REALLY should cover this!
      The truth is that I want a child so badly I can hardly breathe.  People think that everything's "okay" with me now that I have decided to adopt, but the fact of the matter is that I will NEVER be okay with this!  It's just not okay at all!  I wish I could flip a switch in my brain and not care about this anymore.  Or be like the women who just don't want children.  My life would be so much easier if I were like them.  I especially wish that people had an ounce of sensitivity when talking about their children, grandchildren, pregnant daughters and friends, etc.  Every time I hear about someone else becoming pregnant, it's like having salt rubbed in the ever-present wound in my heart.  I get it.  You're excited.  I'm not saying you shouldn't be and I'm not saying you shouldn't ever mention it.  Just please be aware that someone in the room may be dying a little inside every time you bring it up.    

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mozart and Roses and Snow! Oh My!

    Life is good.  I heard someone say once, "sometimes, life serves you up a slice of awesome!"  A great concert last night and a snow day today make me feel like Christmas has come again!
     Recently, I have been feeling a little blah.  I didn't really know what was wrong, but now I think it had to do with the fact that I took a break from my instrument over Christmas.  I've discovered that I'm happiest when I'm  preparing for a performance of some kind.  (Either me or my students.)  Anyway, I've decided I must pursue more playing opportunities.  (There's no reason why I haven't been other than my own laziness.) 
     Last night, I played in an all Mozart concert.  What fun!  It was tiring and required complete focus for the entire time, but it was thoroughly enjoyable.  At the dress rehearsal, our personnel manager gave single red roses to all the ladies.  This tiny little thing made me happy.  I was surprised at myself because I normally do not like to receive flowers.  (I once had a boyfriend who gave me flowers every time he did something wrong.  Now, I usually get suspicious when someone gives me flowers.)  I guess it makes a difference when you know the motivation is pure.
     Our guest soloist was Spencer Myer  and he was amazing!  He was the Gold Medalist of the 2008 New Orleans International Piano Competition.  You know, sometimes people don't deserve the awards they win and sometimes they absolutely do and you can't say enough good things about them.  Myer falls into the second category.  His Mozart Piano Concert No. 25 in C was effortless and fluid.  Much attention was paid to detail and every nuance was there.  It was fun to watch him because he was completely in the moment.  I had a teacher once say, "It's not enough to play the music, you must BE the music!"  This guy WAS the music.
     After the concert, I didn't have to try and force myself to go to sleep at a decent hour because our employer had given us Friday off due to possible snow!  Now, this doesn't sound like a big deal but it is very unusual to get snow where I live.  I didn't think it was actually going to snow, but I was thrilled to have a day off.  When I got up this morning, it was snowing!!  It really did feel like begin given a gift! 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Daisy's Lentil Soup

Here’s a recipe from my mother-in-law, Daisy. She makes the best lentil soup in the world.  The last time I visited her, I got her to tell me how she does it.

1. Rinse a 16 oz. packet of lentils (red or green). Boil in pot with water to cover.
2. Add whatever vegetables you have in the house. (carrots,
    peppers, and onions work well.)
3. Add a stock cube.  (Or prepared stock, if you have it.)
4. Add 1/2 grated potato. (To “mellow” it out.)
5. Simmer for 1 hour.

Try it.  Crazy simple, but surprisingly delicious!

UPDATE:  A friend of mine posted a recipe for Maple Braised Bacon that I think would be perfect in this.  I haven't tried it (yet), but I imagine it would be super scrumptious!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Old (but fun) Stories: The Good Wife of the Megalo Monastery

This past Christmas, when we we visiting my mother-in-law, my husband and I took a little trip to the Meteora.  (without her!)  At the Megalo Monastery, I was blessed by a Greek monk!  Well, not really. Here's how it went down:

My husband (I'll call him Ted) was buying a book in the shop of the Megalo Monastery in the Meteora.  The monk that sold it looked at me, pointed, and said something in Greek to Ted.  Apparently, he said "She isn't Greek, is she?"  (Well duh! I can't think of many people who look less Greek than I do.)  He then said some more stuff in Greek, followed by "gut frau" (good wife).  Maybe he thought I was German?  Anyway, he thought I was a good wife because I was "so quiet and docile".  Yeah.  He doesn't know me well does he?  I plan to get lots of mileadge out of that "good wife" comment! ;-)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mo' Show!

    The orchestra in which I perform is preparing for the upcoming all-Mozart (Mo) concert.  We are playing Symphony no.  31, Symphony no.  41 (The Jupiter), and Piano Concerto in C (KV 503).  It's going to be a great concert! 

     We musicians are going to really earn our paychecks on this one!  It takes a lot of focus to play Mozart.  He is one of those composers who writes deceptively difficult music.  At first glance, it looks pretty simple and straight forward.  It's only when you start to play it that you realize it doesn't always lie well on the instrument, or the tempo is at that awkward stage where it's too fast to single tongue but too slow to double tongue.  (Darn you, Mo!  I know you did that on purpose.)  Also, Mozart's music is very transparently orchestrated.  You feel very exposed (naked even) when playing his music.  Your technique has to be very clean.  Almost every musician I know is uncomfortable playing a Mozart piece.  ...and we have 3 of them to do on this concert!  I am super lucky to be playing with musicians who can handle it.  (No pun intended. ;-))  Even though (or maybe because) it's uncomfortable music to play, it's also very fun music to play.  The last movement of the Jupiter is exhilarating!  (...and will leave the audience asking for Mo'!)

    Don't get me wrong.  Mozart is an amazing composer, no doubt about it!  I just happen to have a bit of an irreverent view of good 'ol Mo.  Back in the day, he was touted as the child prodigy genius.  Certainly, he had a huge amount of talent.  However, I always wonder how much his daddy helped him out.  Leopold Mozart was a musician himself, and he knew a thing or two about show biz.  He promoted his son and made a pretty penny for himself in the process.  When they say little Wolfi wrote his first symphony at age 5, I wonder how much he came up with himself.  Surely, Daddy Leo had some suggestions for his son, don't you think?  Also, Leopold was an okay composer.  He knew that his pieces wouldn't be impressive if he said he wrote them.  Now, what if he said his 5-year-old son wrote them?  Suddenly, a decent piece would become crazy impressive!  (I'm not saying that's what he did, but come on.  It sure is possible, isn't it?) 

     Mozart also knew how to please an audience himself.  Today, our conductor read an excerpt of a letter which Mo wrote to his father about Symphony 31.  He says that he put in a section in the exposition which he KNEW would please the audience.  In fact, he knew they'd like it so much that he brought it back a second time later in the piece.  We don't think about Mozart (the worshipped diety of Classical music) as being an audience-pleaser, but there you are.  Mo knew how to put on a show too!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Reed Fury

Maybe my knives aren't the problem.  Maybe I just spontaneously forgot how to make reeds!  Can that happen?  Seriously, the reeds I make lately are all terrible and I end up playing on an old reed that's so worn out, I feel like it's going to dissolve in my mouth.

Recently, a very good friend of mine sent me a fibercane reed to try.  I've never tried one so I was curious.  She told me it was terrible, but I didn't really believe it could be all that bad.  Plus, I really wanted it to work because fibercane reeds never wear out and you can play them forever.  (An oboist's dream!)  But alas, it sounded more like a bagpipe than an oboe when I tried it.  I would never play this reed for anything, even to practice.  Although, I may play it if I ever need to strip wallpaper.  Actually, we need to repaint the outside of our house this summer and I might be able to to save us some money if I just stand outside and play this reed instead of renting a sand-blaster!

I'm so mad because I spent all afternoon trying to get a good reed for rehearsal tomorrow.  I ended up destroying 2 of them.  One was just really flat no matter how much I clipped it, and the other one sounded just like the fibercane reed!  I started two more, but they are not playable yet.  Maybe they'll turn into something tomorrow, but I'm SO done with scraping reeds today.

I was thinking that maybe the color of the reed thread is the problem.  I've mainly been using greens and blues lately.  So, I tied on two blanks using hot pink thread.  Valentine's Day is coming up so maybe these little sweeties will make me fall in love with reeds again.  Fingers crossed!  (...or reeds crossed!)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Get Help from the Fly Lady

     Are you like me and never seem to have time to get your house organized?  Have large areas of your home been usurped by the clutter monster?  Then, get thee to, pronto!  This site has a lot of good house-cleaning tips for busy people.  It's a little touchy-feely, but I'm finding it super helpful and filled with fun acronyms.  Apparently, I suffer from CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome).  I would love to be spontaneous and invite people over on the spur of the moment, but clutter-shame prevents me from doing this.  Here comes Fly Lady to save the day!

     Her main premise is to do a little bit every day.  For instance, set the timer for 5 minutes and clean as much as  you can of your "hot spot" during that time.  This makes it all seem more possible.  I've heard this technique referred to as "chunking", meaning  you break down huge tasks into little chunks.  I heard a story once about a guy in India who said he could swallow an entire airplane.  No one believed him, but he tore it down and swallowed the whole thing bolt by bolt (over the course of several months, of course.)  I doubt that this story is true, but it illustrates the point.  I have been doing the 5 minute thing for a week now and I already notice a difference.  Also, this technique can be applied to exercise.  I moved my mini-trampoline into my living room and I jump on it whenever I walk by.  This way, little bits of exercise add up over time when I otherwise wouldn't be doing it at all.

Here are some other things from the site that I found helpful:

1.  Polish your sink every day.  Yeah, I know you're probably thinking "who cares if my sink is shiny?  Out of all the things in my house, that's the one I care least about!"  I know I did.  Even though I was skeptical, I did try it and it did make a difference.  If clutter spreads, then the reverse is true too.  A clean, shiny sink gives you a burst of energy and makes you feel more positive about the whole cleaning thing.  I found that I'm more likely to keep up with the dishes if the sink is clean.  You can modify her advice to suit your needs.  She recommends doing this first thing in the morning, however I do it in the afternoon as soon as I get home.  This works way better for me because of my schedule.

2.  Declutter Technique   - I usually accumulate a whole pile of things to take to the Goodwill store that sits around forever and clutters up a corner of my kitchen.  Her idea of just putting one box in your car as soon as it's full is genius!  I did this, and then drove past the Goodwill store on my way home from work.  Now, my kitchen corner is clutter free!  When I get another box-full, I'll store it in my car and drop it off the next time I drive near there.

3.  Swish and swipe routine - My bathroom has never been cleaner with so little effort!

4.  Set out your clothes at night (for the next day).  I took this one step further and now spend a few minutes on a Sunday evening picking out the 5 outfits I'll wear for the week.  Then, I hang in them in order in my closet.  No more rushing around in a panic in the mornings!  

I love it when things are clean and I LOVE empty surfaces.  I'm so much more likely to feel creative and do something productive if there's a pristine, table or counter to do it on.  It's like a blank canvas!  I know that I feel stressy and stifled creatively when I'm in a house where every table top is packed with various knick-knacks.  If you want something new in your life, you must make room for it!

I hope you find Fly Lady as helpful as I did.   


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Crazy Greek Mother-in-Law

My Greek mother-in-law, Daisy, has some odd ideas.  She can be very entertaining so I thought I'd post some of my favorite stories about her.  Here are some of her crazy ideas about nutrition.

Health Advice:
According to her, you shouldn't eat watermelon because it is "pure sugar".  Also, the most fattening thing you can have on the planet is a potato.  However, cake isn't fattening because it is light and full of air. She refuses to throw away bread since she lived through the German occupation. Bread is like gold!  Even if it is moldy. She says that eating moldy bread is actually good for you because all mold is like Penicillin and will kill whatever germs are in your body. ! We have to sneak and throw the moldy bread away and buy more when she isn't looking.  They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Daisy lives dangerously.

The Butter Cookie Diet:
My husband and I were going to visit a friend of the family, and we were going to bring her a tsoureki.  Daisy said, "But she is too fat! Don't bring her a tsoureki! She shouldn't eat such things."  (Blatant honesty can be so entertaining.)  So, we thought, "okay--let's bring her some fruit".  But Daisy shot that down as well.  "Fruit is full of sugar!  Fat people should not eat too much of it."  So we asked her what we should bring then.  What do you think?  Danish butter-cookies!  Daisy says they're small so they can't have be too fattening.  So--eat up the Danish butter cookies and avoid bread and fruit! (I'm SO liking this diet!)

Daisy's nutritional tip of the day: chicken has no protein in it, beef does! - One day (while we were visiting), Daisy said she was cooking beef patties for us because "we had had no protein since we had gotten there".  When I replied that we had been eating chicken, she said, "but chicken doesn't have protein!  All of the protein goes into their eggs!"  So there you have it.  All the protein from chickens go into their eggs.  I guess you have to eat eggs to get chicken protein.  By this logic, I guess beef does have protein because cows don't lay eggs!  You gotta love the reasoning here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chicken vs. Duck (spoiler alert: chicken wins!)

     Since I've started learning to cook for real, I have been learning how to roast things.  Well, birds mainly.  Okay, just chicken and duck but for me this is a big deal.  Until recently, I have only ever had pre-roasted "lazy chickens" which I bought at the grocery store.  About a month ago, I roasted my first chicken ever, following Julia Child's recipe to the letter.  Chicken that you roast yourself is so much better than the ones you buy!  It's like the difference between canned biscuits and real homemade ones.   Also, there is something very satisfying about making real, slow food from scratch.  You enjoy it way more because of the effort and suspense involved. 

     Last week, I tried roasting a duck.  I've never eaten duck except for the crispy Peking duck in Chinese restaurants.  Anyway, Julia's "Duck a l'Orange" looked good so I thought I'd go for it.  Disappointing!  (Not the recipe's fault.)  I thought duck would be tastier and more exotic and exciting than just plain 'ol chicken.  Nope.  It was tough and grissely, with a lot of cartilage.  My husband and I had to work to get it off the bone and we really did feel like we were gnawing on a bit of animal.  (Apologies to my vegetarian friends!)  The sauce, however, was good.  My advice:  Eat chicken and don't bother eating duck unless it's the crispy duck in a Chinese restaurant.  They've figured it out.  ---or maybe I just had a tough duck?

     Since the roast chicken had come out so good before, I decided to roast one again tonight for supper.  I know roasting chicken seems like such a frumpy, house-wifey thing to do, but I find it an extremely relaxing and satisfying process.  First of all, you get to chop up some veggies.  I love chopping veggies since I got my 8" Henkel chef's knife.  (I must have a thing about knives or something.  First, reed knives, now this.)  There's something really fun about chopping veggies with an ergonomically designed, extremely sharp knife while listening to music.  It's very therapeutic!  Second of all, you have to hover around the chicken as it roasts because you have to baste it every 10 minutes.  During these intervals, I get various little tasks done that I normally tell myself I'm too busy to do.  (empty the dishwasher, organize the junk drawer, scrub the sink, balance checkbook, etc.)  How useful!  You can get your house organized without even thinking about it, and in the end, you're rewarded with pure deliciousness.