Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stress, Illness, Pride

In July of 2011 I was forced to quit my job as a chiropractor's assistant. The short story of this horrible nightmare was that the new boss our office inherited just wanted all of the information I knew about the office before getting rid of me, just because, and bringing in his own staff.  After two long months of unemployment, luckily I was being supported by my fiance, I was offered two jobs at the very same time.  Each one by itself wasn't enough of a paycheck, so I decided to accept both jobs.

It sounded very easy. I start work at 7:30, break at 1:00; lunch, then resume work at 2:45 until 6:30 and then I was done.  Simple! But I was wrong.

Having to be at work by 7:30 caused me to set an alarm around 6:00a.m., and being able to get up that early meant I had to be in bed by 10:00-10:30.  The problem: my looming insomnia. I never realized my sleeping troubles caused me so many problems until I had to wake up early almost every morning. Even if I was tired, going to bed only caused my mind to race.  Not being able to sleep stressed me out, because lack of sleep made me terribly sick in the morning. I used to be able to wake up early; I used to open a gym at 5:00 in the morning, but that was no longer something I was able to do. 

I enjoyed the aesthetics of the morning, waking up and seeing the sunrise was beautiful, but I always felt so tired, I was barely able to function. After waking up early almost 4-5 times a week, sometimes working 6 days a week, my body told me it had had enough.

On Friday, April 13th (and may I say, I have never had an unlucky Friday the 13th!!), I got up to go to work as usual, but felt extra tired. Whatever, I'll just have some coffee and I'll be ok, I thought.  I stopped by Noah's and got some coffee, and a bite to eat in case I got hungry later.  When I got to work, I was so tired, and I was feeling sick to my stomach. I couldn't drink my coffee, or eat my food. I figured it was a side effect of sleep-deprivation.  Then, light started bothering me, like I had a migraine, and I don't get migraines often. 

Suddenly, it happened. I was in the bathroom at work throwing up.  I called my manager and told her I was in bad shape, I was shaky and cold, and still feeling very, very sick. I was in and out of the bathroom 3 times while I waited for my manager to come and relieve me.  I had never felt so bad at work in my life. The minutes dragged on and on.

Finally, she came and I was able to leave.  I began to drive home, worried I might throw up on the way.  And of course, every obstacle blocked my 5 minute commute home--red lights, light rail, pedestrians, etc., not to mention the speed bumbs when I finally got to my apartment complex(speed bumps are 10x worse when you're nauseous). When I got home, my fiance was still there. It was still early enough in the morning to where he hadn't left for work yet. I ran to the bathroom, getting home just in time.

I felt horrible all day and into the night.  I knew it wasn't food poisoning as I hadn't even eaten any dinner the night before. Plus, with food poisoning, I usually perk up after noon.  But I still felt very sick. I was able to stay home the next day, too, and was glad for it because I needed it. This was Saturday.

On Monday, I got up for work and as I was dressing, I noticed in the mirror that I had two patches of bright red bumps on my waist line and my back.  Horrified, I didn't know what to think. Did I sleep on a spider? Mosquitos? Fleas??? Even more horrible--are these bed bug bites?! Praying it wasn't bed bugs, my fiance and I checked our bed and surrounding areas and found no evidence. Thank goodness. But I still had no idea what these bumps were. Then, they started to get worse.

The bumps itched, but when I would touch them, it would hurt so badly.  The pain went deep into my body.  Since they were on my waist and back, all of my clothes touched them, causing bouts of pain all day. Into the night, they itched and caused me to sleep even less than I already do.  I finally made the decision to see my doctor, when they got so much worse that I was crying out in pain; I was so exhausted. 

My doctor took one look at the bumps and said, "Yep. That's shingles."  My eyes widened. "Shingles?? But that's an old lady disease!" I protested.  She shook her head, "Not so much anymore, I am seeing more and more young people with it nowadays. How is the stress in your life?"

And with that, I burst into tears.  My jobs, my relationships, my sporadic sleep schedule, my wedding plans, plus, I wasn't eating all that great during this time. All of this stuff on my shoulders had caused my body's immune system to tank far down enough to where I got a disease that a feeble, little old lady would get.  In fact, both of my grandmothers had experienced this in their elderly life. And here I was, a bright young 24 year-old with shingles on my waist. 

I felt so weak. I felt so defeated.  People all over the world work two jobs, some work 3. There are people who handle so much more than me, and they don't get sick. Why couldn't I handle it? I felt like a little girl. My pride was completely destroyed. I'm doing my best to go with the flow. I'm not a high-stress person. Just because I can't handle high-stress doesn't make me a bad person. But still, it hurts a little.

My doctor ordered me two weeks off of work and told me to relax.  She even gave me some meds to help with the pain, which they did.  And I did my best to do nothing, which was mostly successful ;)  It's hard for me to sit still.

Anyway, this led to me quitting my morning job. Today is my last day. I'm a little sad, but definitely relieved that I don't have to wake up early anymore.  The sleep stress was some of the biggest stress in my life right now.  Plus, the stress from not having a good night's rest.  Now I'll be able to focus more on my afternoon job, and put more energy into it. And, I'll have more time in the morning now to exercise, make breakfast, eat lunch, and do the things I couldn't do because I was at work and/or was too exhausted to do anything.

So, were my shingles a blessing, or a curse?  It's funny, the weeks before I got my shingles, I wished that something would happen to help me slow down and relax. I'm not religious, yet, when I went with my fiance to take pictures of church decorations his mom had done, I lit candles for the Virgin Mary and prayed for something to help me. And I got shingles.  I had been fretting about work for weeks leading up to my getting shingles, and I have heard the human body can bring illness when the person wants to so badly avoid something. I thought it was funny, anyway :)

Now, I am almost full recovered, I just have some small scars that will probably go away over the next month or so.  Today is my last day working a 9-hour day.  Today was my last morning waking up at 6:45 without having had a full night's rest.  While I'm sad to leave, I am very grateful that I became so sick. It gave me the reason I needed to quit my morning job. Now, I'll be able to get my life back on track, get more organized, and work on myself. I'm very excited :)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dinner with the Bears

Good evening!

Tonight I'm sharing with you a recipe for my newest favorite side dish--Bok choy with bacon

I made it as a special treat for my brother's birthday a few weeks ago (bok choy and bacon are two of his favorite foods), and it was requested again as part of our Easter dinner! Looks like it was a hit :)

Jenna Bear's Bacon Bok Choy
Serves 2

1/2 pound of your favorite bacon--this time I used peppered, but applewood is great, too
5-6 heads of baby bok choy (or 2-3 heads mature bok choy)

First, chop your bacon into pieces, then put them into a medium-large pan

Then leave that alone to cook for a bit and tend to your choy
Make sure your choy is nice and clean
Slice your choy lengthwise into halves or fourths (depending on size)

When you're finished prepping the greens, your bacon should be close to being done. You may have to wait for it, though.

Cook until it's crispy. If you'd like your bacon extra crisp, cook it much longer as the bok choy adds some moisture to the pan once you cook it. Or, you could take the bacon out of the pan, leaving the bacon fat, and add the bacon in once you are finished cooking the bok choy

Don't forget to add some delicious bacon fat to your main meaty dish! I poured some into the pan where I was cooking our meat--grass-fed burgers! 

Mr. Bear and my burgers! I wasn't too hungry tonight, I got a small two-bite burger :)

And now for the magic...

When your bacon is at your desired crispness, add your choy!

It takes up a lot of space, but no worries, it will cook down.
You can cover the pan to speed up the wilting

See? Perfect!

The bok choy will cook fairly quickly, it only needs a few minutes. Keep an eye on it. But remember, bok choy is still very good when it has some crisp to it

And that's it!  It's so simple, but cooking the bok choy in the bacon fat makes all the difference; it really soaks up the bacon flavor. The combined flavors of bok choy and bacon are truly a delicious delight. 

Here is Mr.'s dinner plate 


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Breakfast and Dinner

I made egg muffins for breakfast today!  I was a little leery of them at first, I wasn't sure if I'd like the texture, or something. I'm not sure, maybe I'm just weird.

So today, I bit the bullet and tried it out! I made four little muffins

First, I cooked up a few pieces of bacon until they were almost done, then placed them in a muffin tin to make little cups.  Then, I cracked an egg into each cup and sprinkled it with onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Then baked em for about 12 minutes at 400f.

This is what I got:

They turned out great!  My yolk had hardened up a bit more than I anticipated, but the top was nice and gooey.  I will definitely be making them again. It was very easy!

For dinner the other night, I made something a bit special for my hunny and I.

I went to Whole Foods and picked up two burger patties--one was green onion and garlic, and the other was BBQ.  

I sliced some onions and put them in a pan to caramelize while I prepped some sweet fries.  I took thin pieces of bacon and wrapped them around some of the sweet fries, covered about half the pan, then put just regular sweet fries on the other half.  After I popped those in the oven, I began cooking the burgers.  

This is my dinner plate:

(then I drenched my burger in my ranch dressing)  

I didn't think sweet potato and bacon would go as well together, but it was a delicious match.  It was reminiscent of bacon-wrapped dates, but not as sweet, which was fine by me.  Hunny really enjoyed the meal too.  The onions came out perfectly! I was moaning over them as I would taste-test them while they cooked, haha!  What can I say, I'm a girl who loves her onions.

Tonight, hunny and I are going to Elephant Bar! I'm very excited to try something new!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Homemade Ranch Dressing

I heard of and read a study about two groups of women trying to lose weight.  One group ate dairy products, the other did not.  Both groups ended up losing the same amount of weight, but the group who ate dairy products gained more muscle mass than the other group. I found it very interesting, and while I don't shun dairy products, I just don't like some of them.  Plain, full fat yogurt is wonderful for you, but the taste and texture for me are a little off-putting (you should have seen the way my eyes bugged out of my head at my first taste of it!).

So, I did some Googling, and tweaked a ranch dressing recipe to help me get in a serving of yogurt.  Ranch is just about the only dressing I enjoy on my salads, I can't do oil + vinegar. Even in my raw-vegan days I couldn't live without a ranch dressing made with cashews as the base instead of dairy(and believe it or not, it was genuinely good!).  This one here uses full-fat Greek yogurt as the base.  The fresh herbs really add to it, but of course, if you do not have fresh, dried will suffice; just use less.

I threw this together very quickly while on my lunch break.  I went to Whole Foods and picked up some cooked chicken from the deli as I didn't have any at home.  Salad is romaine, cucumbers, green onions, and garlic chips.  Ideally it would also have some cabbage and grilled onions, but I was pressed for time. Booo.

Ranch Dressing

1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons of buttermilk
2 teaspoons fresh dill, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh chives, chopped
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/8-1/4 teaspoon garlic (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste 

Either place in a blender and blend, or place in a bowl and use a stick blender.  Adjust tastes as necessary.  

I drenched my salad in it and it was great.  Obviously, it's not Hidden Valley, but it's still very delicious, and much better for you.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Valentine's Day Adventure

 These are the lovely roses my hunny brought to me at work on Valentine's Day.  It was a complete surprise when he walked in the door! One dozen roses with white tulips, just beautiful!

The night before Valentine's, I picked up a gorgeous Sweetheart steak from Whole Foods!  Sure, it was pretty gimmicky, but I didn't care. I thought it was cute.  The display had roses all around the steaks, very sweet. 

 Now, this is where the fun begins.  Keep in mind, I am a recovering vegetarian, so I do not know that much about meats, I'm still learning.  It doesn't seem like it would be too complicated, but sometimes life throws you for a loop.  Still feel free to laugh at me, I did plenty of laughing after the ordeal was finished.

I took the steak and put it on a baking sheet. Typically, I broil my steaks as it's quick, easy, and the steak comes out delicious.  I preheated the broiler and got to work on a marinade.  I melted some garlic herb butter and poured it over the steak and waited until the broiler was ready.  I had put the oven rack up very close to the broiler earlier, and then everything was ready to go!  I put the sheet into the oven on the rack, closed the door, set the timer, and thought all was good.  

I went to the living room where my hunny was playing Skyrim, and I gave him a big kiss.  We were holding each other, being all romantic, when my nose picked up the smell of something burning.

I ran to the kitchen and opened the oven door.  Smoke poured out and flames were leaping from the steak. 
My eyes widened and my heart quickened as I yelled to my hunny "THE STEAKS ARE ON FIRE!".

We panicked for a quick second as we thought of how to properly put it out.  Water! No, but it's a grease fire because of the butter! Baking soda! But then the steak will be ruined! My hunny thought quick, pulled the pan out and blew on the fire and it went out.  We sighed relief. Then hunny gave me the eyebrow as he saw how close the oven rack was to the broiler. I guess it was a little close. 

The steaks turned out great, actually.  It was mostly the butter marinade (note to self, no more butter close to the broiler. Should have known that.) that caught on fire, and it was mostly off-steak.  The steak wasn't even done when we put the fire out! We still had to cook that sucker for a few minutes.

But, when the steaks were finished, they were delicious.  We enjoyed them with asparagus and Brussels (with more butter!) 

Monday, February 6, 2012


Last Friday, after work, I decided to head over to Sprouts Market to get some raw milk.  As far as I know, it's the only place in my area that has it; my Whole Foods doesn't carry any raw milk products anymore. 

The market was a good size, but I didn't look around too much.  I made a beeline for the Dairy department (something I haven't done in a long time, felt weird!) and looked for the raw milk.

At first, I didn't even see it because I had assumed it would be in glass bottles.  But, I found it! It was about $6 for the quart.  There was also raw cream, but that doubled in price for half as much, so I just got the quart of milk.

I haven't had plain milk since 2005.  I've had it indirectly in chocolates, drinks, and other foods occasionally, but I can't tell you the last time I actually drank a glass of milk.  I poured some out into a tea cup, as I didn't want too much for my first time, and very tenderly sipped my first taste of plain milk in years. 

My tastebuds weren't quite ready for the milky taste, so I was a little put off at first.  After a few more sips, I focused on the taste of the milk.  It was very familiar, but it was sweeter.  Not terribly noticable, but sweeter than I remember milk to taste.  I used to prefer the vegan milks because they were usually sweetened, but this was different.  It was a very subtle sweetness, but it was good. 

What I really like about the milk, though, is the convenience.  On Sunday, my hunny and I usually have his younger siblings over and we hang out with them.  We had been cleaning the apartment all morning, and I hadn't eaten anything yet.  I was starting to feel really hungry, as I had vacuumed, mopped, swept, and tidied up the rooms.  We were planning on taking the kids to lunch, but I didn't think I could wait that long.  So, I peeped in the fridge and grabbed the milk and had a cup of it.  It kept my hunger at bay until we went to eat lunch (at Chipotle! yum!).  I haven't had that kind of food convenience in a while, so that was nice.

While I enjoyed the raw milk, I don't think it will be something that I'll buy all of the time. Not only do I have to drive fairly far to get it, I wouldn't drink enough of it daily to warrent buying it regularly.  I have read that raw milk is good for pregnant women, so maybe when that time comes I'll be drinking it more, we'll see!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Balance and Some Thoughts

These past few months, I've been learning more about how to accept life and it's balance.  At age 17, I used my emotional logic to make the decision to not ingest any animal products. I thought it was wonderful that I could be healthy and not have to harm any animals in the process (I was also, most of the time, soy- and wheat-free to avoid the health disasters, as well as the unintentional murder from combines).  Although, it turns out, I could not be healthy while avoiding animal foods.  The food I was eating wasn't working for me, yet I ignored it, because I honestly felt that one could be healthy abstaining from animal foods.  

I read a quote that really struck me, and was a major part of pushing me towards the idea of eating animals again(and wouldn't you know, I can't find it again! I read so many books about paleo/primal eating, I've forgotten which it was in.).  It was a quote about how eating meat was an "adult knowledge".  As a young adult going through the process of "growing up", I've learned it's not just about "getting older".  I noticed that people talk to me differently than when I was a kid, others around you get older, and perhaps sicker, and you tend to experience loss more than as a child.  My parents never used to talk to me about serious family issues, and now they do.  Other family members used to hide their emotions from me, and I would view them as a sort of super hero, whereas as an adult, I've seen my grandmother cry more than I ever did my entire childhood.  As you grow up, you see that life is a balance. There is bad for the good, and there is death for the life.  

This past week, I lost my grandfather.  I take comfort in the fact that I come from him, so he will always be a part of me, yet it isn't the same.  The child in me yearns for the years past when he was healthy. His decline happened so rapidly, due to alcohol mostly, I feel that in my teen years, I didn't appreciate him as much as I did as a child, as I did as an adult now, watching him fade away.  I was almost angry and upset with him when I was a teen because of his alcohol abuse, and it makes me sad now, but there's nothing I can do to change how it was.  Although, perhaps I was so upset because I knew that if he kept drinking that way, he would only get sicker, and it would eventually take him?

Being an adult is strange because you have never been an adult before.  Being an adult means you accept life for what it is.  You cannot be nourished if something else does not die.  Even something as "simple" as a plant,  seems to cry out when it is being cut.  You, yourself, cannot live forever. Your parents will not live forever.  There will come a time when everyone you love will not be here any longer.  But isn't that what makes life so special, and so precious?  The life of an animal is indeed precious, but doesn't it become even more so when it's being used to nourish a family?  After all, is a lioness thinking about the loss of a gazelle family, or the fact that if she doesn't catch one, her family might not survive? Death isn't pretty, but it is a part of our lives. 

On the eve of my grandfather's passing, I was alone, outside, sitting by a bed of rocks in my own thoughts.  My family was together, but I was very upset and wanted to be alone so I could think.  I was having trouble focusing, due to my emotional instabilities, and so I began stacking cairns.  The rock bed was more of a pebble bed, and trying to balance the teeny rocks really helped me focus. As I stacked, I had to be very careful to not make it topple over. It was interesting because although the rocks weren't necessarily all flat, they still stacked together and would stay until I(accidentally) knocked them down.  I thought about life's balances; what goes up must come back down, as well as the other black-and-whites: life, death, good bad.  It was comforting to build them and sort of focus my thoughts together, I really enjoyed it. I built about 5 stacks before I felt better and went inside to be with my family again.  

Nobody ever said that growing up would be easy, but I never thought it would be so profound.  I've experienced loss before,  but being an adult and losing my grandfather was very different than my other losses.  When I lost my maternal grandmother at age 17, it didn't really hit me until I was older.  Now, I think back on that time and scold myself that I didn't do more to be close to her, or that I hardly cried when she died.  It upset me, but I didn't feel the full effect of her death until I became an adult. 

Maybe it's when you get older and start feeling the effects of age that you being to realize the balances of life.  While death is inevitable, there are ways to live that make the journey there not as painful.  My poor grandparents were in a lot of pain up until their deaths, mostly due to illnesses that can be prevented. It hurts to say that, but it is the truth.  Most cases of diabetes can be avoided through diet, and it certainly isn't incredibly difficult to not be an alcoholic.  And while it is very sad for me to have lost them this way, it is a motivator for me to live a healthy life.  I don't want my children and  grandchildren to watch me suffer when I'm older. I want to live a long, fulfilling life.  My mother says she doesn't want to live to be 90 and not be able to see, or hear, or do anything on her own, but it doesn't have to be that way.  There are people who are well and able into their 90s. There are people who's bodies don't break down at 60 and get worse as the years pass.  My best friend's grandfather was diagnosed with cancer before my grandfather was and now his cancer is getting smaller, whereas my grandfather's took him.  What is the difference? Her grandfather lives his life eating mostly whole and healthy foods.  My grandfather drank excess amounts of alcohol each day, whereas hers didn't and doesn't.  

There are ways to live a long and healthy life, and it takes the balance of life to help it happen.  It takes growing up to realize these truths, then to utilize them.  My life's mission is to create a healthy life, and to have healthy children, and to keep them healthy.  I'm so relieved to have realized this adult knowledge of life, and now knowing how to use these nourishing food traditions to help me realize my dream.