Monday, December 22, 2008

No wonder!

Dr. Cranston called me yesterday with test results from blood testing done last Tuesday. He had met me in the hallway after having my blood drawn, and had promised to call me yet that day with the results. Several days and phone calls to the office later, I still didn't have my results. When I called on Friday the office staff told me that he was coming in over the weekend, and that I should expect a phone call.

I had been feeling pretty crummy, still no where near the energy I would think that I would have, even after taking into consideration the fact that I just had surgery. I've been ready to go to bed at 4:00 each afternoon and stay in bed until the next morning's alarm. I realize that I just had surgery, but surely I should be able to stay up longer than 4:00 p.m.! And this is without adding in all my other responsibilities and loves. I haven't been exercising at all, and before surgery I was exercising before school and in the evening, as well as a full massage schedule. I knew that something wasn't right.

And Dr. Cranston's phone call confirmed that. A normal TSH range (thyroid test) is from 0.47 to 4.68. When my thyroid was tested a couple weeks after my surgery, it was at 0.52 which falls in the "normal" range, and Dr. Cranston was very happy with this number. Anything less than 0.47 would put me in the hyperthyroid range (more thyroid than I need), while anything above the 4.68 puts me in hypothyroid range (not enough thyroid). My test from Tuesday is reading at 5.12, which makes complete sense with how tired and worn out I am, as well as the hair that is in the tub after my baths, and my extremely dry skin.

Dr. Cranston is altering my medication level, and we'll retest in 6 weeks. I'm hopeful that sometime soon I'll start feeling like myself, and that things will be back to normal. I am thankful that Dr. Cranston took me seriously and agreed to retest my levels, and that we're going to work at finding an acceptable level for me.

These last 2 days before Christmas break promise to be busy busy. I'm fighting a cold, which adds to the fact that I have no energy. Pray that the next several days go quickly, and that Christmas vacation can be a time of rest for me!

Merry Christmas to all of you! Relax and REST over the holidays!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Baking up a Gluten Free Storm!

Many heart felt birthday wishes being sent to my dear Gustav today. I'm sad that I'm not able to be there with him today, but I know that his mommy and daddy are doing a great job of celebrating with him. His loving mommy made him a rocket cake yesterday, and I hear it was a HUGE hit today at his birthday lunch with the Hausgemeinshaft! Happy Birthday! I can't wait until you are home in the states again!

Tonight was supposed to involve the landlord coming over to move out the electric stove from my kitchen (several burners don't work on it) and my parents helping me move in a gas range that I purchased at the school auction a couple of weekends ago.

When I called to remind the landlord of his plans for this evening, he told me I just needed to leave his stove outside his garage and then he would take care of it. I guess he forgot about the fact that he said he'd move it for me. When I then called my father to remind him of our conversation about him helping me (to be fair, it did occur last week) he sounded really frustrated and I decided to ditch the idea of moving any stoves tonight. He'd been painting and hanging wallpaper all day (which wasn't going well, I take it) and in addition to all that, it snowed several inches yesterday and it might be a bit dangerous to move anything right now. Instead I think we'll postpone the entire thing until Saturday afternoon.

Instead, I came home and decided to try out one of the gluten free cookie recipes I posted last week. I mixed up the flour mixture in a big ice-cream tubby and labeled everything so that I can easily tell which tubby holds which flour mix. Then I made the dough for the Wedding Cookies (also called Russian Teacakes in our family). Instead of the sunflower seeds, I used walnuts this time. While those were chilling in the refrigerator, I also made some Gluten Free chex-type mix. I used rice cereal, spanish peanuts, and some Glutino breadsticks I had (these are good, but not at all what I was envisioning when I bought them--no substance at all to them, so will stand in for the pretzels that chex mix normally has). I also made some chocolate chip muffins from a Gluten-Free Pantry mix that I found at Walmart the other day. I've looked at WalMart before for GF items, but always came up empty handed. This time I found brownie mix and muffin mix from Gluten-Free Pantry in the same area that the other muffin mix/cake mixes are located. I also found Midel and Pamela's Pantry cookies in the cookie section. Now if they'd only expand into having all the flours I need, as well as pastas.

So far I've taste tested the muffins and the cookies. Both are ok, and actually if I didn't know they were Gluten Free I'd probably think they were fairly average examples of what other people bake. I'm used to my baked good being much better than other people (I know, I'm not sounding very modest...just trying to convey why I'm a little frustrated.) I'm still struggling with the textures of things though--the mouth feel isn't quite right. Doughs are more grainy, not as smooth as I would like. I'm not sure whether I just haven't found the right flour combinations yet, or whether this is something I'm going to have to learn to live with. Time will tell, I guess...

Somewhat related to all the baking mentioned above is an amazing flourless cake recipe that I stumbled across several weeks ago. I was shopping at Sam's for catering supplies for last weekend, and was able to sample this cake. I'm going to make some for myself soon, although maybe I'll have to invite some people over to enjoy it with me since I probably shouldn't eat an entire cake by myself! :) Anyone want to join me?

Milk Chocolate Flourless Cake
(6 servings)

4 oz. Hershey's milk Chocolate Kisses, unwrapped (I think I may try chocolate chips to substitute if I don't have the kisses on hand)
1 stick butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup cocoa, plus additional for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and butter sides of 8 inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter the paper.

Combine butter and kisses in a microwavable bowl, and heat on medium/high 40-50 seconds. Stir until smooth. If needed, heat again for 20 seconds or until mixture is smooth when stirred.

Whisk in the sugar until combined. Mixture will not be smooth.

Add eggs one at a time and stir until smooth. Add the cocoa slowly and mix until blended. pour batter into pan and place in the middle of oven for 25 minutes or until top has formed a thin crust.

Cool for 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate. Dust cake with additional cocoa.

Monday, December 15, 2008


I attend such a wonderful church here in Marion. Upon discovering that I now needed to live gluten-free, one of my friends made an announcement to the congregation during a service several weeks ago. Since then there have been many concerned members who have asked me how the diet is going, offered advice that they've gleaned from "friends of friends", and in general just showed such concern for me and my well being.

Last night was our Christmas Vespers service, and yet another example of their love for me. Someone brought me special gluten free cookies and a recipe attached to the container for how to make them. Originally the recipe was full of gluten, but the recipe has been altered to have brown rice flour instead of wheat flour. The whole Darrow family now likes the gluten free version better than the previous version. Let me tell you, these cookies are scrumptious! Last night I was able to limit myself to one, but I just snarfed down three in the space of 5 minutes. I've only got two left, and then I'll be baking them for myself.

Grandma Darrow's Monster Cookies (Gluten Free Version)

Cream together: 3 eggs and 2 cups brown sugar
Add and beat until smooth: 1 t. vanilla, 1/4 t. white corn syrup, 1 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1 stick butter
Add and mix: 2 t. baking soda, 1/2 cup rice flour, 4 1/2 cups oatmeal, 1/2 c. M&Ms, 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Scoop into balls with cookie scoop or ice cream dipper for big cookies. Flatten on cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 min.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Let's try these!

My friend Diana gives me her copy of "Living Without" (a magazine for people with food allergies--predominately gluten free recipes) after she is done reading it. This month's recipes are all about cooking for the holidays. Most exciting to me was a section on Christmas cookies! For everyday, eating gluten free is easy for me. I was a bit upset though that I was going to have to give up the holiday food that is so important to family traditions. Maybe it won't have to happen now!

I haven't tried any of these, but I'm going to post the recipes so that I don't have to lug the copies of the magazine all over, and they are easily accessed when I go home and have some time to bake with Mom. I will report back which ones are keepers and which should be tossed! Hopefully they will all be keepers!

Here is the basic cookie flour mix that you'll need for all the recipes.

Gluten-Free Cookie Flour Mix
4 cups fine brown rice flour
1 1/3 cups potato starch (not potato flour)
2/3 cup tapioca flour/starch

Combine all ingredients. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

And now for the cookie recipes! I'm looking forward to decorating cookies with my mom when I go home for Christmas. Some of my favorite memories are Christmas memories of decorating cookies with Mom and Heidi. Mom's cookies always looked the best, absolutely beautiful and more work of art than cookie. Heidi and I had plenty of fun though, and enjoyed making ours as glittery and crunchy as possible--sometimes to the point of being inedible. The cookies got mixed up and put in tins, and Dad was always happy to eat our creations!

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Sugar Cookies
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup shortening (can be dairy free, etc... if allergic)
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups GF cookie flour mix (above)
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar

1. Place confectioner's sugar and shortening in bowl and beat on medium speed until smooth and slightly fluffy.
2. Add egg and vanilla extract. Mix well.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour mix, xanthan gum, baking soda and cream of tartar.
4. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating on low speed until thoroughly combined.
5. Gather up dough into a ball and chill it for 2 hours.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
7. Flour (with GF flour!) your work surface and rolling pin. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into shapes with your favorite cookie cutters. Using a thin spatula, transfer cookies to cookie sheets. Gather up remaining scraps of dough and roll out again, cutting and rolling until you've used it all.
8. Bake cookies in preheated oven on center rack for 10 minutes. Cool on cookie sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to wire rack.
9. Decorate with icing! My favorite part!

Spritz Cookies
(these are the ones I'm most excited about! A family favorite!)
1 1/2 cups shortening
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. double-acting baking powder
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract (our family usually uses almond extract, I believe)
3 1/2 cups GF cookie flour mix
3/4 tsp. xanthan gum
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Beat shortening and sugar in an electric mixer set on medium for about 30 seconds. Add baking powder and mix until combined. Beat in egg and vanill aextract until combined.
3. In a separate bowl, combine GF flour mix, xanthan gum and salt.
4. Add the flour mixture to the shortening mixture, beating on low speed until combined.
5. Pack the dough into a cookie press. Place the face of the press firmly down on an ungreased cookie sheet and press out cookie, a single press for each cookie. Space cookies about 1 inch apart. Decorate with colored sugar, sprinkles, etc...
6. Bake for 8 minutes on center rack in preheated oven until cookie edges are firm but not brown. Cool cookies on the cookie sheet for a couple minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Old-Fashioned Ginger Snaps
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
4 T. brown sugar
4 T. molasses
4 T. orange marmalade
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups GF cookie flour mix
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 cup sugar, for rolling

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Beat shortening and granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Add brown sugar, molasses, orange marmalade and vanilla. Mix thoroughly.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together gluten-free flour, xanthan gum, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and spices.
4. Add flour mixture to shortening mixture and beat on low speed to combine.
5. Using your hands, roll uniform-sized pieces of dough into balls.
6. Roll balls in the sugar and place on the parchment paper.
7. Bake cookies on center rack in preheated oven for 14 minutes.
8. Let cookies cool about 5 minutes on cookie sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Wedding Cookies
(maybe my all-time favorite cookie)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 cup shortening
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups GF cookie flour mix
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup finally chopped roasted sunflower seeds (I think we use either walnuts or almonds--I'll have to ask Mom about this)

1. In a large bowl, combine confectioner's sugar, shortening and vanilla extract. Blend well.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour mix, xanthan gum and salt.
3. Stir flour mixture and sunflower seeds into sugar mixture, mixing with hands until dough holds together. Cover the bowl and let chill about 1 hour.
4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Flour your hands and shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls 1 inch apart on the cookie sheets.
6. Bake cookies on center rack in preheated oven for about 20 minutes until set but not brown.
7. Spread additional sugar evenly over the surface of a large plate. Reserve.
8. Cool cookies for 10 minutes on sheets. Gently remove with a thin spatula and roll them in confectioner's sugar. Cool completely and re-roll in confectioner's sugar, adding additional sugar as needed.

And the last recipe was given to me by one of my paraprofessionals. Her family has several gluten intolerant people, and so this is a Peanut Butter cookie recipe she makes for all of them. According to Erin, they taste exactly like the real thing!

Erin's Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg

That's it! Bake as you would for a normal recipe of PB cookies.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Yippee! I found something I like!

Okay,this is sad. I've already told you that the thing that I was most concerned with about going gluten free was the fact that I wouldn't be able to enjoy beer anymore. This coming from a person that rarely drinks--only partaking when I'm with other family members or friends.

While I've found some really bad gluten free items, I've also found some really good things. Two of the best items are gluten free beer! Yippee!!!

Mom and Dad indulged me the other night when we were in Wichita, and we made a trip to Jacob's--the biggest liquor store in Wichita. There I found 3 gluten free beers, one of which I had already tried and decided I hated. Marion in all of it's glory actually carries gluten free beer, although not a brand that actually tastes any good. I had tried Dragon's Gold even before I was diagnosed--it is terrible! Maybe it was what I was eating while I was drinking, but it wasn't to my liking. Very much like a porter, and although I like dark beer, I don't have a taste for porter. I was so excited to find 2 other types of gluten free beer at Jacob's. I bought 6 packs of both.

Anheuser-Busch has a new gluten free beer, called "Redbridge". It is made from sorghum, and is very very good. Reminds me a bit of a wheat beer.

Lakefront Brewery from Milwaukee has a new beer called "New Grist". Made from sorghum and rice extracts, it also is very good.

Between the two of these, I will be fine. Now I've only got to convince the owner in Marion to carry at least one of them.

While I'm drinking my New Grist tonight, I'm waiting for a loaf of bread to rise. I've been really hungry for a crispy grilled cheese sandwich and hot tomato soup to dip in since it has been so cool lately. But...I can't just go out to the store and buy a loaf of bread anymore. I've got to plan ahead and have something already baked. Pamela's Products wonderful bread mix to the rescue again!

My next project will be to make some pecan sticky rolls with the same bread mix. My friend Diana made some right before Thanksgiving, and I guess they were amazing. She says she made the sweet roll dough from on the same package. She put melted butter, cinnamon, and pecans in the bottom of muffin tins, and then scooped some dough in each. YUM!

I'll keep you updated as I discover new products. I hope you are all doing well!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I've got a "Gratitude Attitude"

This past week the kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders had their Thanksgiving concert. One of the songs was called "Gratitude Attitude". At a point in the song the kids were able to come up to the mic and shout out what they were grateful for. Many mentioned family, friends, living in the US, etc... The one that was my favorite though was a former student of mine. Knowing the kid as I do, I was praying that something acceptable would come out of his mouth when he came up to the mic. He's had a tough life...abusive father, mother who was beaten numerous times in front of him, learning disability, moving frequently between Marion and Wichita and last year his father committed suicide. He's been talking about his father a lot recently, and his mother wasn't quite sure what would come out of his mouth when he got his chance. We were all relieved when out of his mouth popped "I'm thankful for bananas!" :)

I too am thankful for bananas. I'm thankful for so much more though.

I'm thankful for loving parents who take care of me and have raised me in a wonderful home.
I'm thankful for my sister Heidi, and the loving close friendship we share.
I'm thankful for my dear brother-in-law, Tim, who always makes me smile.
I'm thankful for my nephew Gustav, and his continued good health and constant learning.
I'm thankful for my extended families on both sides, and the fact that we are so close to each other and enjoy spending time with each other.
I'm thankful for a talented surgeon, a benign tumor, and continued recovery.
I'm thankful for a new diagnosis of celiac, and the possibilities of fewer migraines in my future!
I'm thankful for my many friends. They span the globe and have many interests, but I love spending time with each of them.
I'm thankful for a stable job in this unstable economic time.

I am blessed.

Tomorrow is a day devoted to counting our blessings. Mine are more numerous than what I can list here. The following Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. While I have many of my Christmas gifts already purchased and waiting to be wrapped, I know that there are many who will not be able to give gifts.

I happened to see this clip through another friend's blog.

I've written about my hatred of Santa on here before. I won't bore you again. I feel that the clip speaks for itself, and America's consumerism. As I was watching this clip though, my mind kept coming back to how fortunate I am. The church I attend here in Marion usually participates in Marion's version of the Angel Tree. This year our town is in crisis. In a town of 1800 the closings of businesses and layoffs in others has been felt drastically. Our food bank is nearly empty. Parents aren't concerned with giving their children presents for Christmas this year, they need food to put in their children's mouths. Instead of collecting presents for the children in Marion this year, we are all asked to donate to the food pantry.

While I am trying to stretch my dollars as far as they will go these days, I am no-where near where many families are. I don't have to worry about where my next meal will come from, whether there will be anything to put in my mouth. My stomach does not groan with hunger pains.

Tomorrow I will be feasting with my loved ones. I am confident that the table will be packed with dishes, and that no one will be leaving hungry. We'll have seconds, thirds, and leftovers to take home. We'll laugh at each other, and with each other! :) We'll nap, we'll play. We will show our love for each other.

I'm still trying to figure out what all I can do to help those around me. So far I've got a shopping trip planned for purchasing items that food stamps won't cover (toiletries like deoderant, shampoo, etc...) and canned items. It isn't much, but it is a way I can contribute.

Happy Thanksgiving dear friends and family. May you enjoy the time with your loved ones tomorrow and over the weekend, and be thinking of those around you!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gluten Free Lifestyle, Here I Come!

It's been a crash course. I'm glad I had some time off to recover from surgery, and also fill my brain with all the dos and don'ts. I've also visited the nearest health food store (thank you Prairie Harvest!) and Dillon's several times, and stocked up on gluten free baking mixes, flour mixes, and various other items for this new undertaking.

This past week I've tested out 2 mixes. I made Chebe cinnamon rolls, and Chebe pizza crust. So far my favorite bread mix is still from Pamela's products. Chebe (pronounced Cheebee) is a company from Brazil, and the main ingredient is manioc flour (from the yucca plant). The cinnamon roll mix was ok, but nothing fantastic. The problem for me lies in the fact that I come from a family of good bakers and I've been spoiled with good food. For anyone else, the cinnamon rolls would be ok, but not for me. I'm still searching... And it may just be something that I can't make from a mix and will have to figure out a flour blend for myself. The taste was ok, although not quite right...and the texture was what really got to me. As long as I call them something else in my mind, I can eat them...but I have to trick myself! :) I think the pizza crust will be ok. I haven't actually eaten any of it yet, instead I made 4 little personal sized crusts that I can quickly prepare and eat at different times. The crust mix had italian spices mixed in and smelled wonderful. If not, Pamela's Products will come to the rescue again!

I've ordered several books and cookbooks these last weeks. It seems that Bette Hagman is the go-to person for celiac cooking and baking. She's got several cookbooks on the market and is often referred to in other cookbooks. (She hails from Seattle--hey Abbe, do you have a hookup for me? :) ) One of her cookbooks, "The Gluten-Free Gourmet Cooks Comfort Foods", even has a recipe for Swedish Pancakes! I thought that those were only comfort food for my sister and myself! Who knew the whole world considers them comfort food! :)

I'm including the Gluten Free baking mix that she has developed. That way I can access it whenever I travel.

Gluten Free Mix (can be exchanged cup for cup for wheat flour)
2 parts rice flour
2/3 part potato starch
1/3 part tapioca flour

Featherlight Rice Flour Mix (use for more delicate items like cakes, cookies, biscuits)
1 part rice flour
1 part tapioca flour
1 part cornstarch
1 tsp per cup potato flour (3 cups various flours=3 tsp. potato flour)

I'll keep updating all of you as I find new favorite recipes. I think I may have to make Swedish pancakes for supper tonight though!

Monday, November 17, 2008

I'm beat

Today was my first day back to work after surgery. It was a hard day. I went home early, at 2:30 (which is my plan time) and I'll probably continue to do that this week until I get more of my energy back. The sad thing was that I was ready to be back home on the couch by 9:00 this morning.

My body continues to adjust. I'm not sure that I have the correct dosage of thyroid hormone as my skin is really dry--uncomfortably so. My next appointment is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. My hormones are on a roller coaster while my body adjusts...I'm close to tears much of the day. People being nice to me make my cry, and the thoughtless things people say make me cry. In general, the tears are always ready to fall.

One of the children I have in class brought me a basket filled with candy and cookies....tears. Coworkers asking me how I am....tears. Co-teacher announcing my return in front of the entire school at assembly...tears. Staff thanksgiving dinner (where I could hardly eat anything except olives and carrot sticks)...tears. Coworkers checking on me throughout the day and urging me to go home...tears.

Most of those instances I was able to keep myself in check, wiping away the tears quickly and moving on. The one thing that I can't get over was said to me last week. The tears keep coming for this one because it really felt like my entire situation was trivialized. Whether because of lack of knowledge or a general lack of interest (or tact) I'm not sure, but I was told that I am not really badly gluten intolerant, that I should be able to try different gluten filled food if I want a taste, and that I'm not as sick as other celiacs the person knows. The reasoning behind this was that I don't have to run to the bathroom and vomit everytime I eat gluten. While I care for and respect those that suffer in this manner, or with IBS, I have to say that this comment hurt. Do my 10 years of daily migraines not count as suffering? Does the fact that 2 weeks ago I had major surgery (total thyroidectomy) not count? The gluten poisoned my system and attacked a major part of my body. If I don't stop eating gluten now, what will it attack next?

While I am upset over comments like this, as well as the idea that I have to totally change my diet, I'm also thankful that I've finally found some answers. In the week and half that I haven't eaten gluten, I haven't had a migraine! Have I finally found the answer? If so, I'm willing to eat Gluten free for the rest of my life!

I'm thankful for my friend, Diana. She's helping me sort through all the gluten free garbage out there, and find the good stuff! She's brought me food while I recovered, invited me to lectures (even before I was diagnosed!), loaned me magazines, and just provided me with someone I can talk to about all of this.

I'm thankful for my parents too, as they have volunteered (even Dad, the carb king!) to try different pastas and things while I search for things that are tasty. Mom and Dad came over last night for supper, and I think I may have convinced Dad that gluten free can be tasty too.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

More Lab Results

This has been a full week for me! While I was home recuperating with Mom and Dad I got some other lab results back as well. About one month ago I took at test that was looking for gluten sensitivities. The lab company emailed me back and I test positive for celiac disease.

I've found a lot of research regarding migraines and gluten intolerance, and so originally this was why I wanted to get the testing done. Since then I've found a lot more research that indicates gluten intolerance and thyroid problem are linked. So, it seems that gluten has caused me numerous problems. As troublesome as it is right now, I'm excited about the possibilities of NO MORE MIGRAINES!!!

While this will involve an overhaul of my diet and lifestyle, I know I am more fortunate than others. I am a cook and baker, and I understand what goes into food. I will be better able to identify foods that will be problems for me and avoid them. Since I am familiar with the kitchen, I know that I will be able to come up with new ways of creating things I already love. I've discovered a wonderful company "Pamela's Products" that has a wonderful bread mix that can be made into loaves, pizza crust, foccacia, hamburger buns, bagels...etc... Actually everything I've tried from her company is wonderful--cake mixes, cookies, etc... Knowing that, I know that I will still be able to celebrate with my family and friends all the momentous occasions that life is full of. The thing I'm mourning the most right now is beer! I don't drink very often, but I do enjoy the flavors of the areas I visit when I travel. I'm sure I'll be fine though, and find suitable alternatives.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Path report

The tumor was benign!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Recovery at Mom and Dad's

I apologize in advance for any incomplete sentences and misspellings...My eyes are very droopy and I'm ready to rest for awhile. The pain medication they have me on is some good stuff! :)

First, thank you to all of you for your prayers and well wishes. It was evident that there are many people out there who care for me, and I appreciate your love very much.

Monday morning I checked in to Newton Medical Center at 6:00. I was to have an incision on the right side of the neck, as this was where the larger part of the tumor was. The plan was that the larger portion of tumor would be taken out, as well as one lobe of the thyroid. The tumor would be tested to see whether it was malignant. If it did turn out to be malignant, Dr. Cranston planned on going back in later that day, or sometime today to get the rest of the thyroid and tumor. That was the plan, although it was not how the surgery actually went.

He did start on the right side, but once he got in there he found that the left lobe of the thyroid was full of nodules, and that there was no longer any healthy part of the thyroid. Since my thyroid levels have always come back within the "normal" range, or right on the edge of what is acceptable, I am very confused. Even though I have many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism; there have been some drs. that have inferred that it was all in my head. I know differently now. Dr. Cranston said that I had the worst case of thyroiditis that he had ever seen; and that he and the pathologist have spent plenty of time looking at my thyroid under the microscope in wonder. He took the left side of the thyroid as well. This means that I have a larger incision (it goes across the entire front of my neck), and has left me feeling a bit like what I would think the headless horseman to feel--like I could detach my head and carry it at my side. Dr. Cranston said that I would have had to have another surgery at a later date to take the left side of the thyroid, so he took it all at once.

The path report is still not back for the tumor. Dr. Cranston told me originally that we would know one way or another by Monday afternoon. This then turned into Tuesday morning, then Tuesday afternoon, and I was told today when I was being dismissed that he hopes to have it to me by tomorrow morning. The dr. said that he was taking "deeper cuts" of the tumor each time he was sending it off, which is leaving me feeling a bit unsettled. He did say that during the surgery he was able to check my lymph nodes, as well as the parathyroids, and that they seemed "clean". He feels that the tumor will most likely come back benign, but did say that I couldn't hold him to that if it turns out differently.

For those of you who don't know, the thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in your neck. It is located where the Adam's apple is on a man. The thyroid is in charge of regulating metabolism, and the absorption of calcium, among many other things. Since I no longer have a thyroid, I will need to be on thyroid supplement for the rest of my life (I had already been on it for several years; although I will be switching to Armour now instead of taking the synthetic); as well as taking calcium supplements three times a day.

While there are still unknowns, I am feeling better about some things. One of the things I was most concerned about was whether my vocal chords would be harmed--a big risk for this surgery. This was very disturbing for me, since I am a teacher and make a living using my voice. Vocal music is also a large part of my life, and I was scared that I was going to have to give that up. As I was coming to I overheard a conversation between the surgeon and the anesthesiologist--there was very real concern that they had nicked my vocal chords, and were uncertain about whether I would be able to talk. While I haven't tried singing yet (and most likely won't be attempting that for awhile); I do know that I'm able to speak. It is very uncomfortable at this point, but I know that this will get better. I hope that my singing voice has been left intact as well.

I had very good care at Newton Medical Center, and I'm thankful for the people who took care of me over the past several days. They all took the time to answer questions, give me extra bag baths and hair washing, as well as try to make me comfortable in any way they could.

As well as the pain I feel at the incision area; my throat hurts anytime I swallow or cough. I also seem to be allergic to latex--something I only recently found out. My entire body itches, and I've got rashes in all the areas that had tape or dressings that were latex. I'm hopeful that this will go away in the next few days.

I return to see Dr. Cranston on Friday to see whether he can remove the sutures.

Okay, it's time for me to drift off. Thank you again to all of you!


Monday, October 20, 2008

Fall has come!

This past week I spent 5 days in Minnesota. I just arrived home last night to find the air with a chill in it, and crunchy leaves strewn on my lawn. It is feeling like fall, my favorite time of year. When we left Kansas last Wednesday morning, the leaves had just begun to turn shades of yellow, red, orange and brown. On the ride back from Minnesota yesterday though, it seemed like we saw them changing before our eyes. It was beautiful!

The conference I attended was called "Closing the Gap" and was about assistive technology. I am one of the assistive technology coordinators for our special education cooperative, and this was a chance for me to learn more about what my role is. There are 5 of us on the AT team, some of whom have been on the team for several years, and 2 that have joined us as of this summer. This was one of the first things we did together as a team, and we used the chance to get to know each other. Of course, 9 hours in the car can be quite the bonding experience, especially when 3 of the 5 are prone to car sickness. All in all it was a great trip. I was able to attend many very good workshops, plus talk to vendors about products that are currently on the market. I feel like I learned a lot of new things, and came away with many ideas of how to make what I'm already doing even better!

Workshop sessions started at 8 each morning, and ran until 5:00 each evening. Each session was an hour, with 1/2 hour in between to account for getting to and from each session (sessions were split between two hotels that were across the street from each other).

We stayed in a very nice hotel (Hotel Sofitel and our rooms were amazing! It was culture shock for some of our group. The Sofitel is French owned and operated, so everyone spoke with an accent. Comfortable beds, with down duvet comforters, turn down service, etc... :) There was a nice European bakery in the hotel, so I was able to have good pastry for breakfast that tasted as it should!

In the evenings we went to the Mall of America for dinner, and activities. We ate at Bubba Gump's Shrimp (think Forest Gump), Rainforest Cafe, and Kokomo's (Jamacian tiki bar theme). We had wonderful food everyday, and it will be hard to go back to the "regular" food I eat! Activities were shopping, the great amusement park that is inside (awesome roller coaster!), and a movie (The Duchess). I was able to shop for some of the birthday and Christmas presents I'll need, and I hit the sale racks for clothing. I was able to go to my favorite shop H&M, something I usually can only do when I'm in Europe!

I had a great time at the conference, but I was eager to get home and in my own house.

I'm including the link to my class's blog. ( We're just starting to use it in our classroom. Please check back often to see my student's work. Check out the Voki on the right side--press play and hear my message! My student's would love it if you responded about their work occasionally. Comments will be moderated, so don't be surprised if the comment doesn't show up right away. I want to make sure it is appropriate before I let my students see it!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thank you!

Wow! What a seemed to drag on forever! Even though it seemed so long, I have to express my thanks to all of you for your prayers and well-wishes. I was surprisingly very calm this week. Aside from a few tears last Tuesday after first talking to Dr. Cranston, I've been calm and composed. I am sure the prayers are a large part of that.

I met today with Dr. Cranston. The visit did not go as I anticipated, but who really knows what to expect when you're preparing for a visit. Dr. Cranston and I sat down to talk today about what my "options" are. He started the visit by just asking what I had to say, what I had researched, etc... I explained that I understood what the two options were (adenoma, and carcinoma), that from my reading I felt that I wanted to have the surgery, but that I had lots of questions for him. I spent the whole week researching thyroid tumors and cancer, and felt I was well prepared for my visit with him. Dr. Cranston did not really tell me anything I hadn't already read, but it was good to talk to someone in person about it, instead of just reading it. I was able to tell what I knew, and see if I truly understood what was going on. Sometimes knowledge is the most helpful when fighting your fears!

We talked a lot about the possibility of this being cancer, and the fact that we wouldn't know one way or another until the surgery happens. From talking to Dr. Cranston today, he really didn't talk at all about me NOT having surgery, so I feel like I'm making the right choice, one that he would make for himself. As it is right now, I'll have surgery Nov. 3, and will stay 2 days in the hospital. I'll be off work for at least a week, and it could be more depending on how I'm feeling. The larger part of the tumor is on the right side of my thyroid, and Dr. Cranston will take one lobe of the thyroid during the surgery. Tests will be run, and depending on what is found, I may be taken back to surgery the same day or the next day to take out more tumor/thyroid tissue. If it is cancer, I get to look forward to drinking a radioactive cocktail that will hopefully kill the rest of it.

I'm feeling good about the whole thing--like I know what is going on, and what to expect. There are some risks to surgery, but I'm going to trust that Dr. Cranston knows what he is doing.

I would appreciate your continued prayers, but I really just wanted to say THANK YOU. I have definitely felt God's peace this week. I'll keep you updated as I know more.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Prayers would be appreciated

Last year about Thanksgiving time I wasn't feeling myself--nothing really bad, but just not like myself. I felt stupid for even complaining about it, but went to the doctor anyway. During the course of the visit, we found a lump on my thyroid. I was referred to a specialist for further evaluation. The specialist (Dr. Cranston) diagnosed me with a multi nodular goiter, and increased my thyroid medication, to make up for the lack of thyroid hormone I was naturally producing. At that time the dr. did a biopsy, which came back with no cancerous cells.

I have gone back several times since then, as it is important to keep the thyroid level within certain amounts. My last visit was this last Thursday. I anticipated that it would be much like my other visits. Checked in, asked how I'm feeling, quick sonogram of the goiter, blood testing, and I'm on my way... This time was different. The goiter had changed size. Dr. Cranston took another biopsy, had me do the blood work, and then told me he'd let me know what the results were.

I've been waiting for the results all week. I called yesterday to see whether the results were back, and I ended up talking to his nurse. She told me after looking at the pathology report that the cells didn't look the way they should, but that the dr. would need to talk to me about it. She left him a note to call me. Needless to say, I was unnerved...but I told myself that I shouldn't get too worried without talking to the dr. The nurse told me that the dr. had a full schedule of patients that afternoon, that he was still in surgery, but that I could expect a call from him yesterday evening. If I did not hear from him by 11:30 this morning, I was supposed to call back. Dr. Cranston did not call me last night, nor did he call me by 11:30 this morning. At lunch time I called the dr.'s office to see what was going on. Again, he had a full load of patients, but he would call me later in the afternoon.

After another phone call on my part in the afternoon, the dr. finally called me back this evening. My thyroid levels are normal, but the cells from the biopsy are not. He wasn't able to go into anything in detail this evening, except to say that the tumor is either a follicular adenoma or follicular carcinoma. From what I've been able to research so far an adenoma is a benign tumor, while carcinoma is cancer. Dr. Cranston said that it would be up to me as to whether we would take it out, but did say that the only way to know which it was for sure was to do surgery and take it all out. He wants to meet with me and talk about it more in depth and in person instead of over the phone, so I will be going this coming Thursday for another appointment to talk about my options. Until then I'll be doing some reading, so that I can go into the meeting feeling prepared and armed with good questions.

Tonight I've swung between feelings of extreme calm and peace, level headed and prepared for whatever may come, to tears and fear of the unknown. I swing from one end of the spectrum to the other in a matter of minutes, depending on who I'm talking to or what I'm thinking about.

Tomorrow I head to school and a "normal" day. I'm going to try to act as if everything is ok, not only for my own sanity, but because my kids are very good at reading emotions and then being affected by the adults in their day. I'm going to try to be very calm for the rest of the week, and concentrate on knowing as much as I can before the next time I see Dr. Cranston. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I go about the next week, I'm sure I will need them.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Welcome to the World

Announcing the birth of

Elijah James Hoelscher
September 6, 2008

Proud parents are: Becca and Micah Hoelscher

Becca was one of my roomies in college! Can't wait to see my new "nephew"!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hello everyone!

Saturday we enjoyed a beautiful evening at the reservoir. Ruth and the kids joined Mom, Dad and me for an evening of food and swimming. We grilled Hillsboro sausage, ate fresh veggies and dip, enjoyed several salads and of course yummy smores. After dinner the kids and I went swimming, the water was cool because we were in the shade by that point, but we had a good time playing Monkey in the Middle and just swimming around.

Mint and Feta Lentil Salad
1 cup lentils
3 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. oregano
1 red onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
5 TBSP chopped mint (I used dried)
salt and pepper to taste
6 oz. Feta cheese

6 TBSP olive oil
6 TBSP red wine vinegar
2 TBSP lime juice
1/2 to 1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. minced garlic

Rinse lentils. Cover lentils with water with several inches extra. Put in bay leaves, garlic and oregano, and boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until lentils are tender. Drain and cool.

Whisk together the marinade/dressing, and add salt and pepper. Add the veggies and dressing to the lentils and let it marinate before serving. Add mint and feta right before serving.

Sunday the Buller siblings sat in Arlin and Maretta's basement to divide out some of the boxes left over from moving Grandma. I went as well, and enjoyed listening to their stories and their laughter together. I am so thankful to be part of 2 large families that love to be together. Not very many are as fortunate as I.

We've had some spectacular sunsets in my area of KS recently. Sunsets are one of my favorite ways of remembering God and his love for us. I've been reading the book "The Shack" these past weeks. It is a book that has been difficult for me to get through (although this is not most people's experience with the book). While at times I have forced myself to keep turning the pages, I do like the fact that the book questions what we feel we "know" about God. While we "know" that God is neither male nor female, most of the people I went to school with only see God as a male figure, and when we talked about God as a mother in Bible class, reacted with a feeling close to revulsion. In the book "The Shack" God appears as an African American woman, speaking in incomplete sentences, and dishing up collard greens. I've never understood my classmate's reactions in that Bible class, whether they were more familiar with a vengeful God, whether it was a battle over the sex of God, etc... For myself, I delight in the idea that God escapes our ability for exact descriptions. My own imagination has several versions of what God looks like, but my favorite closely resembles the grandfather figure in my favorite children's book "Grandfather Twilight", by Barbara Berger. The book has beautiful soft pictures, and its a wonderful 'good-night' book before bed. The story shows Grandfather Twilight as he walks through the darkened forest each evening to welcome the night with his gift to the darkness, the moon. The recent sunsets have had me turning the pages to this book many times in the past weeks. Each time I look at it I smile, and find peace in the knowledge I have a loving mother, father, friend, and protector...May you have that same peace.

Good night!

Friday, August 22, 2008

1 week done!

It's been a couple weeks since I was sitting on Mom and Dad's back porch, spending the day researching appropriate woods for smoking and which ones Dad can use from his pile in the back, smelling the smoke that was cooking our meat. The salmon is amazing, and something we will be doing again soon. It might just be the best thing we've ever done on the smoker. Maybe we'll take orders next time! :)

School has started. Today ends our first full week. One of my kids has been missing all week, and he's the one that will take the most time from my day. He's got very low skills, and terrible behaviors... This week is the calm before the storm of the next school year. It's been a full week even without him, and I'm tired to the bone. It has been a good week, to see how the schedule will work this year, where there are problems, and fix them before I can't concentrate on those things...

I'm tired not just from work, but I've been making an effort to exercise every morning and evening. As it is now, I'm swimming 1/2 mile in the morning, and 1/4 mile in the evenings, plus 1 hour of water aerobics Monday through Thursday evenings. Rising at 5:40 a.m. has never been something I enjoy, but I know I need to do it. It takes me about 20 minutes to swim my 1/2 mile and then I shower and get ready for school. The pool is just across the street from the school, so I don't even bother going home again. I'm getting done quickly, and hope to add more to my workout, but my shoulders are giving me problems...I think I better stick with what I've been doing for awhile and hope the shoulders can work through it.

Last night I didn't get home from work until 9:30 p.m. After working at the school, I packed up my massage table and went on a home visit. I gave two hour-long massages, then packed up my table again and headed back to town. I unloaded everything, was at home for maybe 10 minutes, and then went to the massage clinic and two more massages. At 9:30 when I got home, I just dropped in bed. No supper, or anything. Far too tired!

Tonight I need to run to Hillsboro after school and stock up on Hillsboro sausage. I'm planning a cookout at the reservoir tomorrow night for the Kreiders (family that I was a nanny for in Germany), and mom and dad. I've got a bunch of food type stuff to get done tonight (pasta salad, lentil salad, baked beans, veggies/dip, sausage cut in appropriate lengths), plus I'd like to have a chance to hang out with a few of my friends and relax tonight! I suppose I should pick up my house too, in case we get rained out tomorrow night.

Tomorrow I have a couple massages, but I'm hoping it will be a slower day overall. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

And here I sit...

I'm currently encamped on my parent's back deck, watching the rain drizzle down, with my feet up, smelling the smells of Winfield. Occasionally I get up to check the temperature on the smoker, and adjust it so the temp stays under 200 degrees. The smoke pouring out of it smells wonderful, and we'll be the talk of the neighborhood today. 2 weeks ago we smoked 12 chickens. Today we are attempting beef--and lots of it! These are the biggest roasts I've ever seen. We'll also do 3 chickens later today, and I'm going to do 2 salmon halves. We've never tried the beef or the salmon, so I'm hoping for good results.

This morning I marinated the salmon in rum, and then put a brown sugar and coarse salt rub on it. They are sitting in the fridge right now curing, and then later today I'll put them on the smoker. It has to be good, right? :) We also made a mop-sauce for the beef--a combination of beer and what we rubbed the beef in. We're hopeful it will keep the beef nice and moist.

Our weather this week has gone between the extremes--hot and humid 100+ to nice and cool and rainy (enough so that I'm all bundled up, and thinking about begging for a pair of pants!) I much prefer the weather of today to the hot stuff we had yesterday, fall is my favorite season after all. Maybe we'll have a longer fall this year--it always seems to go so fast. Instead of fall weather, we end up having 100+ days through September, and then October it is winter all of a sudden. Ok, my perception might be skewed a bit...but the true fall days don't last very long around here.

Yesterday was my first day back at work. I say that, but I really didn't ever not work this summer. I spent much of my summer working for the special education cooperative with teaching summer school, or doing assistive technology work. When I wasn't doing school related things, I was at the massage clinic. Yesterday though was the first day I had to report for the new school year. The SPED coop had inservice yesterday. It is always a boring day, sitting in uncomfortable chairs, and listening to dry reports and regulation changes. I had to present a 30 minute talk on Assistive Technology with my team. It went pretty well, but the director informed me that there will be several more talks to come. I am able to speak to large groups, but it is NOT my favorite thing to do. The director wants me (with help from the other members of the team) to end up doing several teacher inservices throughout the coming year(s). Normally teachers travel to places to hear presentations for inservice from experts in the field, hiring a sub for their classroom, etc... Now he wants to set it up on a more local level, and wants me to do some presentations in regards to specific software and which technology works with which types of kids. I'm nervous about it...again, public speaking is not my favorite, and I feel like I'm still a young teacher, not someone who has been teaching for ages and ages, and very unlike the experts we all go and hear at our conferences. But I also appreciate the fact that he has confidence in me and my abilities. It makes me feel good.

Tomorrow I'm singing a solo at church, and I've invited several people to come and listen. Mom and Dad will be there too, and then we'll go try out one of the new restaurants in Marion.

Monday and Tuesday bring more inservices, this time with Marion District. Wednesday will be a work day for me, a chance to get my room in order, train my paras, etc... Thursday the kids show up, and the school year starts for another round. There are big changes on the air, especially in what is allowed for SPED and pull-out times. It will be an adjustment for everyone, but I'm anticipating a rough year with some of the teachers I work with. They don't always agree with SPED rules and regulations, and take it out on me since I'm the one who has to enforce them. I've also got some difficult kids on my caseload this year, and it will take a lot of time and patience to help them. Please keep me in your prayers as this school year starts. I'm anxious about how it will all turn out.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The name game

Well, I've got two new members of my household. I'm hoping you can help me out, since they came without names. Meet ___________ and __________. They were given to me by a friend that I teach with. Originally they were Easter presents for her two children, but the children no longer want to take care of them, and never have played with them. We are unsure of whether they are male or female, but they are both the same sex, as they are several years old, and have not made babies together during that time. Heidi and I had a rabbit when we were younger, and although we too were reluctant to take care of it, we did love to play with it. The rabbits came with their own hutch, which is a vast improvement over the cage Heidi and I had for ours. No more changing soggy newspaper! Yippee!! It's a beast to move though, so that will be interesting whenever I move away from Marion. Please submit any suggestions for names. I also welcome any visits, from children of all ages who would like to pet and play with rabbits! :)

This is the last week before I go back to school on Friday. I gave one massage today, and then came home to clean up the house (did not get very far on this) and take a nap. I also dealt with some of the produce that has been sitting on my counter, and played with the rabbits for awhile. They had their first hop around my yard, which I'm sure is a new experience for them. I doubt they ever got out of the hutch with the former owners. By the end, they were much more willing for me to pet them than when we started. The weather around here is 100+ (I think it was 103.7 on my thermometer when I was outside with the rabbits), so I made sure to give them some air conditioning (frozen water bottles that they can lay against). The ice melted fast in this weather, so I'll have to freeze additional bottles. Thankfully we positioned the hutch so the sun won't be beating in during the hottest point in the day.

The next few days I'm planning on just staying home and relaxing. I'm not telling any of my friend around here that though, as they are all good at coming up with activities for me. Don't get me wrong, I love my friends dearly, and do like to help them out and spend time with them, but I need a little time just for myself before school starts. I've got a stack of magazines, and books that I've been meaning to read all summer, as well as my house to get clean before the rush of the school year. I do have a day planned to spend time with Kym, since I rarely see her once school starts. We're planning on watching Pride and Prejudice, making bread, painting our toenails and just having fun in general.

My bathroom is completed, which brings me much joy! :) It's such a relief to have a working toilet, as well as nice new linoleum. It feels so much cleaner! I'm still waiting on a new light fixture, as they removed the old one, but overall I'm thrilled!

I'm also posting some pictures of last weekend. I spent Saturday smoking chickens (12 in all) with my father. Mom spent Sat. figuring out her new computer and internet connections, while Dad spent time helping Ken B. in the kitchen with the new cupboards and counter top. It was HOT, but we had a good time together. Next weekend I'll be smoking again, this time with beef, a few chickens, and hopefully a salmon. We haven't tried to smoke salmon before, but I'm eager to try. Sunday I sing in church, and have invited several Marion friends (as well as Mom and Dad) to come and hear me. I'm trying to figure out what to serve them all for lunch. I'm thinking chicken mole, with salad and spicy rice. It has to be something I can prepare before and just heat up, especially since I will be gone all day on Sat. and won't be able to prepare much.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Roughing it--You might be a redneck if...

Your toilet is sitting on your front porch, instead of in the bathroom where it belongs...

Well, the big news in my life is that after more than a month I'm finally getting somewhere with my bathroom woes. Yesterday the landlord and his son came over, and ripped out the toilet---uugh! Gross water all over. Then they ripped out the disgusting carpet and dragged it through my house---yuck! :( I'll be deepcleaning the carpet as soon as this is all over with! They pounded on the floor for quite awhile to decide whether they needed to rip that up as well, but decided against it and are hoping it will all dry out before the guy who wants to put in the flooring comes this morning. While they were there they also removed the old medicine cabinet I had (which has been broken for at least 2 years, without mirror) and put up a new one. Of course they made quite the mess, and didn't bother to clean up any of it. So I had to. All the carpet remnants, and bits of wood smell something terrible, and made me want to puke. At least something is getting done though.

This morning I'm teaching summer school, and hopefully while I'm gone the guy will come and lay down the linoleum. I'm hoping that if he gets that done, the other guy will come and set the toilet this afternoon. Maybe I'll have a functioning bathroom by this evening? Dare I dream? Last night I had to make sure I used the facilities at the pool before going home, and being without all night. This morning I got up extra early and went to Kym and Troy's so that I could have a shower. By the time I got there I was ready to run into the bathroom, but I tried to show I was in control! :)

I've been going each evening for water aerobic classes at the new pool. I'm really enjoying being back in the water again, and I'm looking forward to being able to swim year round. I'm trying to spend 20-30 minutes swimming laps before class, then the water aerobics class is 50 minutes, and then the last 10 minutes before closing I go down the water slide, dive off the board, or swim more laps. I'm looking forward to taking all of you with me when you come visit, so make sure you bring your suits!

The garden is finally producing a bit. It's overgrown with weeds though, and it's at the point where pulling them is impossible. Quinn went in the other night with the weed wacker, but he only got part of the garden done. I went out on Monday night and looked for tomatoes. I got a few, but most are still marred with hail patches. I did get some zucchini, but they were giant, and probably won't be any good. We need to dig up the potatoes and onions, but who knows when that will happen! The last two days have been rainy--remnants of Hurricane Dolly coming through. I'm happy for the cooler weather, but that will come to an end this afternoon or tomorrow morning, and then we'll be back up to the 100+ weather. The humidity will be even worse now, with the extra rain we've gotten.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My life is boring

As I've said before, my life isn't very interesting. I've been trying to figure out what to write about, but I haven't come up with much. I know my sister likes regular postings, but.... I entitled this "My Life is Boring"--which is a bit of a misnomer--I never get bored myself, there is always something going on, something I'm doing, etc... But I realize that the things that keep me busy are not always things that are interesting to read about, and in turn are most likely boring for you!

For the past week and 1/2 I've been teaching summer school. Summer school continues for another week and 1/2. I've got a mix of 4th graders through high school aged kids...some have had me for a teacher before, and for some this is a new experience. I've got a few that I'm having a hard time with--I expect kids to work, and try to do things on their own...but for some of these kids it has been bred out of them! Instead of teaching them how to do things on their own, their teachers hand them the answers. This is much easier on the teacher--less time consuming,less work, etc...but does not help the child in the end. When the kid shows up in my classroom then for summer school, it is a rude awakening. After relying on an adult for so long, my classroom is a different experience. I've got one kid who came with work sent by the teacher (this child will be entering the 7th grade in a few weeks)...we were supposed to conquer division in 3 weeks--the kid can't even count by 2s. So, I finally told the kid that we wouldn't even bother with the division problems, that there were other things we need to concentrate on first. We've been working on counting by 2s, 5s, 10s, and yesterday we worked on 3s. We're slowly making our way through the multiplication facts. I'm trying to make it as interesting as possible, showing him little tricks for memorization, listening to School House Rock (3 is the Magic Number), making things tactile... Some of them don't have tricks though, so he'll just have to memorize them. If you had a special way of learning your multiplication facts, please let me know. I'll certainly try to pass it along!

I spent the afternoon out with some of them has a huge pool at her house, so we spent the afternoon lounging around in the water and trying to avoid the splashes of her two young children. We had a good time--most of us are teaching summer school together--and there is always tons of good gossip! Most interesting is the fact that the local school district has finally settled their teacher negotiations. My salary is the average of all 5 districts in Marion county, so we've been waiting to see what we might get for an increase this year. Insurance policies are also changing, so we're all hopeful it will be beneficial and cover the increases in insurance premiums.

That's all for now... Hope you are all doing well!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bits and Pieces

There isn't much new around here. It feels as though summer is coming to a close though.

In the past week I've split my time between the massage clinic and home. Carolan took the week off, which means I had more clients. I'm always happy about that--more clients=more money to pay bills with! Of course the extra clients came just in time to pay for massage supplies I needed to order.

This week I've done some major cleaning (NOT my favorite job, but one that needs to be done, none the less); I've rearranged the furniture in my front room, as well as the dining room; made mozzarella cheese; and made use of the new clothesline mom and dad helped me put up. As much as I hated hanging clothes out when I was a kid, I'm really kindof enjoying my new clothesline. I don't know whether it is the idea of being out in the sun (something I don't do very often since I get hot so easily, not to mention the threat of skin cancer some day); the fact that I'm saving money with each load; or the idea of helping the earth...I really am having fun. Of course with all the sheets from the massage clinic, I'm sure this will get old fast, and it will no longer be fun. Friend Kym has been spending quite a bit of time with me this week, and she helped me rearrange the house. We've had a great time laughing and telling stories. I showed her how to make the mozzarella one morning, after she had made fun of me for being so bored I started making cheese. Of course, after tasting it, I think she changed her mind! :)

Just got back tonight from watching Journey to the Center of the Earth--great flick, and in 3D! I hadn't seen a 3D film since I was a small child, and I have to say this one was impressive! I'd even see it again! I remember that as a child I wasn't too impressed with the cardboard glasses with one side blue, and the other red...maybe I was just too young to really enjoy it. This time was better--and the special glasses were a step up from what I remember.

Monday brings the start of summer school, and what feels like the end of summer to me. At least it will only be mornings, but I'll still be doing massage in the afternoons. I'm sure the days will fill up and it will go by quickly. This summer sure has! I haven't gotten as much on my "to-do" list done as I would have liked, but I suppose everyone feels like that. My garden needs a good weeding, my yard needs to be mowed again, the back room still needs to be cleaned and organized...

We have started to get some produce from the garden. I'm glad, as we had a terrible hail storm several weeks ago, and I thought for sure everything was lost. So far we've gotten several zucchini, some green beans, and a few tomatoes. I'm hoping that the other plants will pull through, but I'm not sure they will. At least I've gotten to enjoy my favorite summer salad: fresh tomatoes, basil and real mozzarella cheese. I'm just hoping that I'll get to enjoy it a few more times!

Okay, it's time for me to head to bed. I suppose I'll head to church tomorrow, although last Sunday I nearly had to get up in the middle and walk out. The pastor was gone, and instead I got to hear a very patriotic July 4th sermon. Uuugh! If I had known which pastor was preaching, I would have just stayed in bed. I know, that isn't the right attitude to have--but, living where I do I'm a very small voice of dissent in regards to current politics. Sometimes I'd like to live in a place where more people share my views, instead of me constantly feeling like I'm swimming against the steam.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

"Dirty 3rd" in the "Dirty South"

Happy 4th of July, one and all! Hope you're having a safe and fun 4th.

A bigger holiday in my area of town is the "Dirty 3rd in the Dirty South". I live on the south side of Marion, and every July 3rd South Cedar (connects with the street I live on) is practically shut down for a city wide "block party". The street is overrun with people for bbq and huge fireworks once the sun goes down. It all started I think with a house on the corner that had 3 bachelor guys living in it, plus several houses in the area with bachelor guys. Now the bachelors have moved on and no one lives in the house, but the party continues. Since they have moved on, the party wasn't quite as big (read, it hasn't lasted for days on end as in the past, and I'm not having to pick up beer cans from my front lawn), but it was still a pretty good display of fireworks tonight.

So, for those of you who plan far in advance, get out your calendars. You are all invited to my house, next year. We'll have a party of our own, enjoy our own fireworks, good bbq, maybe some homemade icecream, and the extravagance of that other party! :)

Who: You
What: July 3rd/4th Celebration
When: "Dirty 3rd"--July 3, 2009 mid afternoon-evening
Where: My house in the "Dirty South"
Bring: To be determined...bring some fireworks for playing with, and I'm sure we'll have a BBQ of some sort... we can figure out who will be responsible for what at a later date. You will need lawnchairs, bugspray, beverages of choice, pot-luck dish to contribute... I'll let you know later what exactly you'll need.

The big fireworks show usually starts at 9:30 or so, and lasts until 10:15.

Firm RSVP not necessary now, but would be appreciated so that I can communicate further details to those who are interested.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Well, the biggest thing in my life is that hopefully I'll be getting a new bathroom floor soon. I live a sad life, I know... Ever since I moved into this house (about 4 years ago) I've noticed a smell coming from the bathroom. I chalked it up to the former renter, who had a small boy child who probably learned his toileting skills in my bathroom. No matter how many times I tried to clean the carpet, the smell never came out. It is especially bad whenever it rains, or it is humid. It reeks! Anyway, I finally got up enough guts last week to call the owners of the house, and ask whether they would be willing to pull out the carpet, and replace it with linoleum. First of all, I'm not sure why anyone would want carpet in the bathroom (or in the kitchen, for that matter--I'm sure I'll have to wait several more years before they will replace that!), but the owner was surprised that I wouldn't want to replace it with carpet again! I don't care if they just put a remnant of linoleum in there, it doesn't need to match anything, but I do want LINOLEUM!!! Anyway, while I was in NE visiting my family, the owners came in and inspected the carpeting and bathroom situation. They called to tell me early Thursday morning that the problem was worse than expected, and was I still gone? Nope, I was at home. "Oh, we really were hoping you were still gone, so we could come over and fix the problem. You see, the toilet isn't set right, and everything that is going in the stool, is coming on the carpet, and the wood underneath...."


I told the landlord that I would be happy for them to come fix it as soon as possible, and that I know plenty of people here in Marion who would let me use their toilet and shower while mine was out of commission. That was last Thursday, and I have yet to see anyone coming to fix it. We'll see how long it all takes...the owners are notorius for not fixing anything in my house. The garage door didn't work when I moved in, and it just got fixed about 2 months ago. I may be falling through the rotted floor before anything happens.

In other news...I've been doing a lot of cooking in the past few days. The farm family sent me home with 2 gallons of great farm milk, so I'm slowly enjoying one gallon, and will probably make the 2nd gallon into mozzarella. Mom and Dad came for dinner on Friday night to pick up their gallon of milk, and I made grilled salmon with basil butter, grilled broccoli and cauliflower, roasted zucchini spears, and then homemade chocolate gelato for dessert. Mom and Dad also benefited from my zwiebach and jam making at the farm. After dinner, we (Dad mainly) dug a hole in my back yard, and poured concrete for my new collapsable clothesline. During clean up Mom and Dad noticed my neighbor's apricot tree. The terrible renters have moved out and the house is unoccupied, so Mom and Dad thought I needed to pick up all the rotten apricots on the ground and turn them into apricot jam. I did that yesterday morning after working at the clinic, and spent the rest of the day cutting apricots, and making jam. I made 2 recipes yesterday, and I'm working on batches 3 and 4 today.

Last night I went out to Julie and Quinn's for a fish fry--good catfish, and grilled striper. Lots of people, lots of great food and laughter. I had a wonderful time, and the weather was actually cool enough to sit outside and not sweat to death. I even had to ask Julie for a sweatshirt when the sun went down!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Farm Family

Kat, sorry I haven’t answered your question. I haven’t been spending as much time on the computer lately. The gathering we had last week was for my Uncle Calvin (Patrick and Carmen’s father) who turned 65. It was also Father’s Day, but the celebration was really a surprise party for Calvin. Lots of good stories and great food shared!

I’ve spent the past few days in Nebraska visiting my Johnson grandparents, aunt Terri and uncle Tim. It’s been nice to spend time with this side of the family. I slept at Terri and Tim’s house, and spent evenings with them. During the day I spent time with Grandma and Grandpa. The weather has been really nice here, and Grandpa frequently reminds me that it isn’t “hotter than hell, like in Kansas”. It cools off in the evenings, which is unheard of in KS. They also haven’t turned on the air conditioner yet, AMAZING! Last night we had a terrific thunder and lightning storm. I went to sleep watching the streaks across the sky and listening to the loud booms. They had a bit of hail with the storm, but nothing like we had in Marion last week. My garden is in ruins, so I was happy that that didn’t happen to these up here. Grandpa keeps telling me I came at the wrong time, since I’m not going to get any fresh produce from the garden, but it was the only time that worked with my summer schedule.

Yesterday we spent the day going to all the “hot” spots in North Platte, running errands and stocking up on supplies. We stopped at the pharmacy, Ace Hardware, Dollar General, Alco…Hopp “E” (local diner), and then on the way back through Hershey we stopped at the lumber yard for another look at the plants available. All the plants were 50% off, so Grandpa bought another rose bush, and Grandma bought some little impatiens to plant in the bird bath we gave them for their anniversary. The base has broken, and the rest has cracked, so it no longer holds water. Grandpa’s roses look magnificent this year. The dalias aren’t up yet, but the roses made up for it.

Today I spent in the kitchen with Grandma. First on the list was making rhubarb jam. I had brought all the supplies with me from home, but knew that Grandma and Grandpa would have plenty of rhubarb for me to use. No one up here uses rhubarb to make jam with, so I’ve suffered quite a bit of ribbing. :) They don’t know what they are missing out on.

That took most of the morning, and Grandma fixed a good meal of barbequed ribs for lunch. After lunch we made zwieback together. There was a lot of laughter in the kitchen, as Grandma showed me how she “beats” the bread instead of kneading it. I showed her how the Grandma Buller taught me to pinch the dough, but Grandma Johnson’s zwieback ended up being much closer to the size they were supposed to be. Again we laughed! I told her that I made them “Dad” sized, because when my Dad helps make them, that is the size they end up. The recipe said that we should have 3 dozen, and we did! We would have had more if I had made them smaller though! It was good to laugh and giggle together!

Zweiback (Grandma Hilda Buller’s recipe)

2 ½ cup milk, scalded

6 TB sugar

2 TB yeast

¾ cup melted shortening

1 egg

2 tsp. salt

8 cups flour

Mix thoroughly. Let rise until double. Punch down. Pinch off pieces of dough a bit larger than a walnut. Place on greased pan. Make a depression in each piece with thumb. Pinch off smaller pieces of dough and press firmly into depressions. Brush with melted butter. Let rise until doubled. Bake at 400 degrees for 12 min. turning pan once during baking for even browning. When golden brown, remove from oven. Brush again with melted butter.

Tomorrow I head for home after lunch. I’ll be taking 3 gallons of fresh farm milk with me. I’ll give one gallon to Mom and Dad, but I’m intending the others for OstKaka, and some fresh mozzarella. Terri and Tim have an extra cow giving milk right now, and until the guy they are selling her to comes, they’ve got plenty of extra milk. I’ve been drinking my fill while I was here, and they’ve been bartering with the rest! So far they’ve gotten fresh farm eggs, strawberries, and hamburger in exchange for the milk. It’s been interesting to see everyone driving in the lane and picking up milk, some getting as much as 4 gallons at a time! The milk is good though, with plenty of THICK, THICK cream on top. I may have to just make icecream with some of it!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Odds and Ends

So my technology course ended yesterday, with a final day of "show and tell". Of course, mine was the best! Ha, just kidding. I do think that people were impressed with what I had put together for my project, and then I also showed some samples of things I've done in the past. It was a lot of review for me, but I am thankful that I had some extra time to work with Microsoft Office 2007 before starting school and having it thrown on me, along with everything else. Overall, I like 2007, but it does take a little while to find where things are at, and figure out what tools might have been renamed, etc...

Monday and Tuesday bring another workshop: "What's Going On In Their Heads". It will be in Hillsboro, and all day, instead of just mornings. There are a few other Marion people who are going, so I should probably call them sometime today and arrange for carpooling. I'm picking up some extra college credits this summer, so that I can move over on the pay scale...always a good choice.

Tomorrow is a *hush, hush* family gathering--I doubt I'll spoil the surprise here, but I won't say who or what it is for. Anyway, I was supposed to bring a side dish to go along with a Mexican entree. The anaheim peppers at the grocery store were on sale, and actually looked good (our grocery is notorious for putting out rotting vegetables and fruits, as well as out of date canned goods and dairy products). I figured I'd come of up with something to make out of the peppers and bring it along for my contribution. This is what I came up with.

Erica's Take on Chile Rellenos

14 mid to large Annehiem peppers (These can be both mild or hot, so you never know how spicy they will turn out to be!)

1 8 oz. block Neuchatel (low-fat cream cheese)

1 8 oz. block Monterey Jack cheese (freeze so that it is easier to shred)

1 lb. Chevre goat cheese

1 TBSP basil

1 TBSP parsley

2 tsp. onion powder

cayenne pepper, or chili powder to taste

Broil or grill the peppers until they are blackened and blistered. Allow to cool before you try to do anything with them. Make sure your Monterey Jack cheese is frozen (I put mine in the freezer overnight), and then shred. Set aside.

In a bowl, mix the Neuchatel and goat cheese together, adding the spices. Chill again. Goat cheese warms up quickly, and it will be easier to work with if it is cold.

Go back to the peppers. Cut a slit in one side of each, taking out the seeds and inner membranes. Wash each under running water to get any seeds that may have been left behind. Allow to dry on a towel.

Get the goat cheese mixture out of the fridge and portion out 14 equal servings. Once the peppers are dried, you can start filling them. To do this, you take 1 serving of the goat cheese, drop it in the monterey jack to coat it, and then roll the cheese into a snake shape that will fit the chile pepper. The monterey jack on the outside allows you to work with the goat cheese more easily. Place the "snake" into the pepper and fold up the sides around the cheese to look like the chile shape. Place the chile into a lasagna pan coated with Pam. Repeat the process with the rest of the chiles. When placing the chiles into the pan, make sure they are close together! That way they won't ooze all over the place when you bake them.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the chiles.

Bake at 350 degrees until done, and cheese on top is melted. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro, and serve with salsa.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Summer is here

Well, it's been awhile since I've last posted, and this afternoon I finally had a chance to sit down and update this site. School has been out for about 1 1/2 weeks, and in that time I've: gone to the Indy 500 with Mom, Dad, and brother-in-law's brother, Jon; had a massage class; worked at the clinic on several afternoons/evenings as well as full days; weeded the larger of our two gardens; lots of mowing and weed-eating; washed my car; deep cleaned several rooms in my house; and many other things.

Since this last Monday, and continuing through next Friday I'm taking a computer course through USD 408. It's a two week course, meeting every morning from 8-12 and learn about integrating technology in our classrooms. We don't get paid for being there, but are rewarded with a laptop and projector for our classroom (that will be left with the school if we ever leave the district). I'm enjoying the class, but I do have to admit that it is a lot of review. We do have Office 2007 schoolwide for the coming school year, which has some changes and updates to get used to, so I'm using my time to better understand how to navigate all the new twists and turns. So far I really like it. Each of us are taking one of the units we teach during the school year and we're learning about different aspects in technology that can enhance the learner's experience. Since we are all on different levels of how comfortable we are using technology, the class can be interesting at times. So far we've talked about and used all of Microsoft Office 2007, we've discussed "fair use" policies, how to properly cite things... Today's subject was blogging and wikis. I created a blog today that will be used during the school year with my students. If you're interested in checking it out (once we get started) I'll provide the link for all of you. The kids names will remain confidential (maybe with a codename of their choice), but at least you'll be able to see some of the things we do/talk about in class.

This afternoon I'm concentrating on cleaning up the house a bit, and getting food ready for supper guests. We're having some weird weather today, and who knows whether supper will actually happen. This week has had very warm weather, high humidity, and a cold front is blowing in as I type. We're supposed to have severe storms all afternoon and evening, and we've been told to make preparations for spending lots of time in storm shelters today. We'll see if it all happens!

Since I've haven't posted any pics or recipes lately, I think I'll devote the rest of the blog to that. Here are the recipes (as closely as I can remember) for the food we'll have tonight. I'm back on my South Beach Diet, so they are all low-carb and very healthy. Sorry!

Italian Grilled Chicken Breasts

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast per person

1 wedge Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss Original cheese per person

1 slice bacon, cooked crisp, per person








italian dressing

Using a sharp knife, cut a pocket in the side of each chicken breast. Spread the cheese into each pocket, sprinkling spices on top of cheese and topping with the crisp bacon. Secure pockets if needed with toothpicks. Brush chicken with italian dressing and grill over medium coals until chicken is done. Keep brushing with the italian dressing as they cook.

Ricotta Cheesecake with Lemon Drizzle and Pine Nuts

adapted from "The South Beach Diet Parties and Holidays Cookbook"

3 TBSP pine nuts

6 large eggs, separated

3/4 tsp. cream of tartar

1/3 cup plus 1 tsp. Splenda

2 tsp. vanilla

1 32 oz. container part-skim ricotta cheese

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

2 TBSP lemon juice

Toast pine nuts, either on the stove in a skillet over low heat, or in the oven at 275 degrees for about 10 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as they burn easily! While they are toasting, lightly coat a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

Increase the oven temp to 325 degrees.

In a large metal bowl, beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

In a separate large bowl, beat egg yolks, 1/3 cup Splenda and vanilla for 1 minute. Add the ricotta and lemon zest (I used more zest than called for), and beat on high until smooth.

Gently fold 1/3 of the whites into the yolk mixture, then add the rest of the whites and gently fold until well combined. Pour batter into pan, place pan on a baking sheet, and bake until cake is golden and mostly set, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Remove cake from the oven and cool on a rack for 20 minutes.

Combine lemon juice and remaining 1 tsp. Splenda in a saucepan; bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from heat and gently brush the surface of the cooled cake with 2/3 of the warm lemon mixture; drizzle the remaining mixture into the cracks. Sprinkle the top with pine nuts.

Cool cake completely, then run a knife around the edge before releasing from pan. Chill, loosely covered for 4 hours or overnight. Serve chilled.

Makes 12 servings

Other things on the menu for tonight: wilted spinach salad, and roasted zucchini sticks with Parmesan.

I'm sure there will be plenty of leftovers, anyone else want to stop by?