Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mom cooks: seashell soup

Well, I told you all I was going to cook more in this the Year of our Lord 2018, and ... I know it's only been 25 days since the 1st, but I'll have you know I've actually done really well with this resolution so far! We've only eaten out maybe three times, and I've even tried some new recipes. 

Please applaud my success.

Thank you.

If you're in the "I want to cook more but I need easy, fool-proof recipes HALP" camp, I'm sharing one of my favorites today -- seashell soup. My mom often made a very similar soup when I was young, especially on cold and dreary days. You call it "seashell soup" to get kids to eat it, and then the name sticks, and you just keep calling it that until you're old and gray. At least, I plan to.

Let's just cut to the chase, shall we?


Seashell Soup
1 lb ground beef or turkey
1/4 c. onion, roughly chopped
3 tsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 32 oz carton beef broth + 1 c. water
1 can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can corn, drained (or 1 1/2 c. frozen corn)
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 medium potatoes, diced
1 lb small shell pasta
2 tsp dried parsley flakes
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Sautee meat, onions and garlic until well browned. Drain, and set aside.

In a large stockpot, combine all remaining ingredients except for the shells. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Add meat, onions and garlic. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add shells and simmer for an additional 5 - 10 minutes (or until shells are just soft).

PRO-TIPS:

I chop my onions real big so my picky eaters can take them out if they want. You could also use onion powder to avoid complaints, but as to how much? Your guess is as good as mine.

I dice the potatoes and carrots fairly small so they cook faster (though this photo is deceiving, cuz that carrot looks GIMONGOUS). Also, I use Yukon gold potatoes so I don't have to peel them.

Could you do this in an Instant Pot? Probably, but I have yet to try. Will report back if I ever do.

The leftovers of this soup tend to soak up all the water and it turns into a (delicious) goulash. If you don't like goulash and want actual soup goshdangit, just add some water back to it before reheating and it's good as new!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

365.

365 days
without you here.
It happened in the winter --
cold
dark
and sad.
The sky was crying
the day we put your body in the ground.
I slowly trudged to spring,
trying to remember
who I was
before we lost you.
(It's all a blur)
Then, summer came --
that reliable, blistering Arizona heat.
You used to say
"It's better than being cold"
(it is)
The warmth seemed to thaw me out
and recollect some parts of me
that froze when you died.
As the days grew shorter again
and the morning air
chilled,
the days
and weeks
turned into months;
the fear of forgetting loomed.
(it still does)
Fear of forgetting
your voice, your smile, your laugh.
I keep an old kitchen towel
you once bought for me,
stained and worn,
because it reminds me of you.
Now it is winter again,
and on this 365th day without you,
the sky cried again
and so did I.
But just the thought of seeing you again someday
makes tomorrow
more bearable.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New Year's Resolution: cook more, eat out less!

This post contains affiliate links. All prices subject to change.

When I was first embracing stay-at-home parenthood, I LOVED to cook! I was eager to try all the recipes my mom had made before and enjoyed looking up new ones, too. I was keen on using fresh ingredients and a variety of flavors and textures. I even made my own bread for several months after Carson was born!

Then, the kids got older, and this mom got busier. Still, I would find it within myself to cook at least five nights a week, even if it was something simple. I was bound and determined to save money and keep our family healthy.

Well, the combination of suffering from depression/anxiety related to the death of my mother and getting a new part-time job playing piano for a high school choral program made 2017 the Year of Taco Bell 'round these parts. Every day around 4:00 in the afternoon, I would run into a massive brick wall of fatigue accompanied by a headache and joint pain, and cooking was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. So, take-out was the answer.

At first, I considered eating out as a form of self-care -- I was grieving and needed to be gentle with myself! And yes, that was true, but eating fast food on a regular basis is NOT self-care. In fact, it was making me feel worse. And my family was suffering, too. My kids stopped enjoying fruits and vegetables as much as they had before.

So this year, I am resolving to cook MORE and eat out LESS, and I am inviting you to join me!


Now, I'm not going to assign any specific requirements to this resolution here on the blog, because everyone is different. It's up to you to determine the details of your own cooking goals. But, allow me to offer some suggestions -- things that have encouraged me to cook for my family more often instead of relying on the nearest fast food chain for dinner.

1) Plan your meals. Have you ever decided you'd like to make dinner, only to realize all you have in your pantry is a half-rotten potato and can of soup? Yeah, we've all been there! Success in regular meal-making requires you begin with the end in mind. Write the meals you want to cook on the calendar, make a list of the ingredients you need to purchase for each meal and add it to your weekly shopping list. Or, if you'd rather use the power of technology, there are TONS of apps designed to help with meal planning! Try Yummly, MealPlan or Pepper Plate.

2) Ease into full-time meal preparation with 'hybrid meals.' You don't want to eat out so frequently, but you also aren't quite read to jump into from-scratch Martha Stewart mode just yet. Understandable! Luckily, there are a lot of options to help you prepare a meal so you don't have to do all the work. For example, you can buy a rotisserie chicken from the store, but make your side dishes at home. Or, do the reverse -- make the lasagna yourself, but buy a loaf of sliced French bread and a bag of salad to go with it.

There are also meal kits you can use. My favorites are the Street Kitchen Scratch Kits which you can get at Walmart for under $3! They basically come with all the spices and sauces you need to make various ethnic foods (curry, stir fry, Korean barbeque, etc.) -- you provide the meat and anything that accompanies the dish, such as rice. The package tells you what is included and what you need. It's simple and YUMMY! We are big fans around here.

3). Use a slow cooker or Instant Pot. I recently mentioned I got an Instant Pot on Black Friday, and boy, has it really helped me out! So far, I've made pasta, rice, chicken and a tri-tip roast in my Instant Pot. Because it's a pressure cooker, it cooks food VERY quickly -- the tri-tip went from raw to beautifully cooked in under an hour! It's so efficient and the food turns out wonderfully.


The Instant Pot also has a slow-cooker function, but if you don't already have an Instant Pot, you can use a good ol' Crock Pot instead! Put your meal in the pot in the morning, forget about it, and have it ready to eat by dinnertime. A time-tested cooking method for the busy parent!

4) Enlist the help of your family. Making an entire meal is a daunting task, but many hands make light work.

My friend Tiffany at A Family Team is an amazing example of this. She teaches her children from a very young age how to cut produce, make meatballs and do all sorts of grown-up tasks around the kitchen so she never has to cook alone. And as a wonderful bonus benefit, she gets to spend that time bonding with her kids!

Image via: A Family Team blog

On both her blog and YouTube channel, Tiffany offers tons of suggestions for teaching kids to safely complete various kitchen tasks, and she also has a lot of family-friendly recipes to try. Additionally, she talks a lot about grief because she delivered two stillborn babies during 2017. She has been such an example to me of how to persevere through the sorrow of loss while also being kind and gentle with yourself. I am so grateful to call her my friend!

So, what will your 2018 cooking goal look like? Perhaps it will be to eat out only once a week. Maybe you will resolve to use more fresh ingredients in your cooking, or more whole grains. Or, you could resolve to learn one new recipe every month! Share your ideas in the comments.

Thanks for joining this New Year's Resolution Blog Tour, hosted by Cheryl at GraceFull Parenting! Be sure to follow the link to her blog for more goal ideas from other bloggers. Happy new year!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Last-minute Christmas gifts from Amazon Prime!

This post contains affiliate links. Lots of 'em.

As a musician, the month of December is exceptionally crazy for me every year. Concerts upon concerts, recitals, Messiah sing-alongs, planning for church services ... I'm up to my neck in musical activities! By the time mid-December rolls around, I inevitably realize I haven't finished my Christmas shopping and sometimes have yet to even begin. Whoops.

(Next year, I vow to do less! Next year ... it's always next year.)

If you're in the same woefully unprepared boat as me, here's a quick list of unique and thoughtful gifts you can get right now on Amazon Prime. Procrastination won't be your demise today!

1. Orabrush Tongue Cleaner (4-pack for $19.50)

I've blogged about this one before as a Friday Favorites, but I can't sing its praises enough. The Orabrush is the ONLY answer to bad breath. Just trust me on this one. All other tongue scrapers are inferior, and brushing your tongue with your toothbrush just doesn't cut it. Everyone needs an Orabrush. Make it a family affair and buy a multi-pack. It makes a perfect stocking-stuffer!



2. Instant Pot pressure cooker 6 QT ($99.95)

I didn't think I needed this. I really didn't. I don't forget to thaw my chicken -- oh wait, yes I do. I forget all the time. And dinner is one of those things that takes ages and I dread making it. Dillon picked up one of these bad boys on Black Friday and let me just say ... TOTAL GAME-CHANGER. I've only had mine for a few weeks and I'm excited to use it to its full potential. But yes, the other night when it took four solidly frozen chicken breasts to fully-cooked and deliciously juicy in under 15 minutes, I knew I'd discovered the secret to success ... it's the Instant Pot!



3. 32 Degrees Tech Fleece Jogger Pants (starting at $17.18)

This one, I can't take credit for. My friend Brandilyn (find her on Instagram at @thedailybran) talked these joggers up BIG TIME when they were at Costco (they still might be). When I saw them at Costco a few weeks ago, I remembered her post and checked them out. I knew they would become my go-to pants. So I picked up a pair of black ones (they were only $10 then!!!) and quickly fell in love. They're thick, but not too thick. They're comfy, but the tech material is nice enough to be dressed up or down -- very versatile. POCKETS. Perfect rise. I flipping love these pants, and so will you!

4. Codenames ($14.88)

If game night is a regular occurrence in your family or circle of friends, you need this one! I've played Codenames a few times now, and every time I enjoy it more than the time before. It's a critical thinking game based on words and it's a BLAST. It's both competitive and cooperative, and it can be played with rather large groups of people. They also have a Disney version I'm considering getting for my family so the kids can get in on the fun!


5. UE BOOM 2 portable speaker (starting at $79.99)

This mobile Bluetooth speaker is awesome! The sound is so crisp and lively with a nice, solid bass. I love that I can take it anywhere in my house. It's also waterproof so you can take it poolside or out on the lake. And the best part is, the battery lasts FOREVER. I rarely have to charge mine. I use it during my voice lessons, while I'm making dinner, for impromptu dance parties ... anything that calls for music, the UE BOOM rises to the occasion.


6. Fire TV stick ($34.99)

Can I tell you a secret? We don't have cable. We don't even have an antenna. Whenever we're watching something on TV, it's through this little gadget. It allows you to download apps for streaming services, like Netflix, Sling, ESPN and Hulu. And, if you have Prime, you can access content on Amazon Video for free!

"But, if you don't have TV, how do you watch General Conference?" you smugly ask. Well, there's an app for that -- actually, two! BYUtv or the Mormon Channel, take your pick.

I thought I would miss having cable news, but it turns out I get most of my news from the Internet. And if I really want to watch something, like a political debate or the Olympics, I can stream it through any number of apps. The Fire TV stick and similar devices have revolutionized television. Kiss your cable bill goodbye this Christmas and get yourself one of these!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Gratitude in the face of grief.

Just one year ago, on Thanksgiving Day, my world shattered when I was faced with the truth: my mom had entered hospice care. As the weeks wore on until her eventual death, I began to experience the crippling symptoms of grief even before she passed. Those symptoms -- pain, sadness, emotional detachment, loss of appetite, depression, fatigue -- increased and consumed me in the months following her death.

I honestly don't remember most of what happened between the middle of January until about May. When I think back, I only see small blips: attending a concert with my sisters. Disneyland. My 30th birthday. Clara's 3rd birthday.

Until this year, I had a very impressive memory, even the ability to recall every address and phone number I've ever had. But grief took it from me, maybe as a coping mechanism, because what you can't remember can't hurt you.

When I went to Utah in June, I felt a slight shift to a new part of the grief wheel. It was as if instead of constant clouds and rain, the sky was beginning to part for some occasional sunshine. I felt a desire to be happy again. The whole experience was incredibly healing for me. But before that, I felt spiritually dark, like I could not feel the influence of the Holy Ghost anymore.

I remember attending the temple in early April on my 30th birthday, thanks to a sweet friend who offered to watch Clara so I could go. It had been months or maybe even over a year since I had attended. I struggled to stay composed during the session, feeling very on-edge and anxious. At the end, instead of feeling peace and joy as I passed into the celestial room, I experienced a deep, guttural pain that caused me to sob. I sat in a chair in a corner and let the tears fall, clenching my throat so as not to let any sound escape. A kind temple worker offered me a tissue, looked me in the eyes and said some things that touched me deeply. But I didn't want to hang around for long. I was still so angry.

Around the time of my birthday, I had also started seeing a therapist to deal with my feelings and rein in some unhealthy coping mechanisms I had developed. It was with her help that I was able to feel that light again. And there was an internal change, too. As some of the weight of my grief fell off my shoulders, I started seeing my beautiful blessings again. My husband, who was patient and compassionate towards me despite the fact I was a shell of my former self. My children, who are kind, inquisitive, funny and innocent. My beautiful home. The gift of music. Selfless friends and neighbors. The beauty of the world around me. The truth of the gospel.

As I chose to approach life with gratitude -- embracing those happy moments of recognizing my blessings instead of willing them away in my anger -- the dark clouds started to depart. It was a miracle, one that I hadn't intended. Just by being thankful, my heart could heal. I believe now it was because it was softening my heart, allowing the Savior in to do His work of putting the pieces of my life back together again.

There are still hard moments and even a hard days here and there. I'm not done healing, but I'm on the road to recovery. I still have a long ways to go, but when I look back on how far I've come, I am grateful for the progress I've made and hope it can continue.

I miss my mom so, so much. How is it possible I still want to call her when I run into a family member at the store, or when I have good news? At times, it feels like she is on a long vacation and will be back any day. And then, I realize she's actually gone.

But, I am grateful for the time I did have with her. I am grateful for her example, her legacy. I am grateful for all she taught me about life. And I know she wants me to face my grief with gratitude, not anger. Because despite the tragedy of losing my mom before my 30th birthday, I have much to be thankful for. I have a truly beautiful life. And someday, I think I'll even be grateful for what I've gained through experiencing the death of a parent.

I also want to express my thanks to all who have buoyed me up in some way through this year. You've been instrumental in my healing, too. Thank you for bringing glimmers of joy into my life so I can learn to feel happy again. You are His hands, and your love has not gone unnoticed.

Since my mom died, I have started to appreciate the beautiful sunsets we have in Arizona. I now see them as gifts -- from her, from God, a sign that I survived another day. I like to stop and just drink them in, savoring the hues until they fade to inky blue. It's like a moment of reprieve, a reminder that not all is lost and that life is still beautiful.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Going to paradise.

credit

A week or so before my mom died around New Year's, Dillon and I took the kids to see Moana at the movie theater. I had been told it would make me emotional, and it definitely came through on that front.

There were a few themes within the film that resonated with my situation at the time -- namely, being required by a higher power to do a very hard thing and somehow surviving it all. Plus, the loss of a family member (they portrayed Moana's grief of losing her grandmother so perfectly, by the way).

The timing of that movie's release was impeccable for me. I didn't realize how much I needed it at the time. I thought I was in for a mental break from the depressing reality of my mom's terminal illness, but in reality, seeing Moana caused me to delve even further into my emotions than anything else could. Art has that effect on people, you know. I still can't watch the baby Moana scene at the beginning of the movie without losing it, nor the end when she sings her song to Te Ka. Daaaang.

When Moana was released to Blu-ray a few months later, my then-2-year-old daughter Clara unsurprisingly took a liking to it. Well, it was more of an obsession, in true toddler fashion. She watched it at least 2 - 3 times every day. Morning, noon and night. I would occasionally try to persuade her to engage in a more educational activity or even to just watch something else, but nothing beyond casual encouragement. I was too overwhelmed with grief and depression to care.

But, I didn't really mind that Moana was basically on repeat for a month and a half. The movie is visually stunning, the music is inspiring and heartfelt, and moments of hilarity abound (that Hei Hei is too good). So, having Moana in the background of my life for about six straight weeks was not the worst thing.

Maybe it was the manifestation of Stockholm syndrome, but there was a day about three weeks into Clara's Moana addiction when I suddenly decided I needed to visit Hawaii. I became as obsessed with the idea as Clara was with the movie. I couldn't stop thinking about it and looking up flights online.

Now, I know Moana isn't set in Hawaii specifically, but it's close enough and I've always, always wanted to go to Hawaii. Call me basic or whatever, but I've never been and from what I hear, it's magical. Plus, we have some family ties to Oahu and I've longed to see it for myself for decades.

So when things fell into place around my 30th birthday thanks to a very generous gift, I decided to book the trip. That was back in April, nearly six months ago. And on Monday, Dillon and I are hopping a plane to paradise for an entire week (direct flight, too!).

A student at the school where I work (oh yeah, I work at a school now. More on that later) told me the air in Hawaii is different -- "It's rejuvenating!" he said excitedly. I wanted to cry because that's exactly why I am doing this. I have clung to this upcoming trip for so long for its promise of revitalization. My soul needs it. It needs a week to decompress, unwind, sleep, move slowly and savor its existence in this beautiful world.

I do feel that being alive is a real privilege -- not to say the "other side" isn't wonderful, but mortality offers us experiences that God knew we could only enjoy in a physical state. And yes, traveling can be a huge sacrifice and I recognize we are very fortunate to be able to do it. I know how privileged we are to be able to take the time and resources to go see another part of the wondrous earth God created for us. That fact is not lost on me.

So, it's finally happening! It feels like Christmas. We're going to eat our weight in delicious poke, we're going to lay on the beach, we're going to enjoy some fire dancing and we're going to breathe in as much of that rejuvenating Hawaiian air as we can fit into our lungs. And when we get back, I'll tell you all about it.

In the meantime, you were all so helpful when I went to Utah over the summer that I'm going to ask you again -- tell me where we HAVE to eat and what we HAVE to see and do. We're staying half the time on Waikiki and the other half on the North Shore, and we're renting a car so the sky's the limit. The trip is pretty well-planned already, but we may have missed something. And let's be honest, I don't know that I will get the chance to go back any time soon. So, lay it on me!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Giving up vs. letting go.

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"She's going to beat this. She's a fighter."

When my mother was first diagnosed with terminal cancer, so many people -- well-meaning, I'm sure -- offered these words of support to my family and me. I know they didn't intend to hurt us and were probably just trying to be hopeful. No one wanted my mother to die. No one. We all wanted her to "beat" cancer.

But the reality was, her diagnosis was terminal. Cancer would most likely cause her death, barring some freak accident or other unforeseen tragedy should take her first.

Our family learned her cancer was in the latest stage very soon after her initial diagnosis, but it seemed others did not understand what it meant. I would explain to them that her diagnosis was much worse than we initially believed, but they'd still express that she could fight the cancer and be cured. These were confusing sentiments that at first brought a glimmer of hope, followed by that gut-sinking feeling you get just before every shelf in your world comes crashing down. I knew in my heart even the strongest people die from cancer, no matter how determined they are to outlive it. And I also understood that my mom's prognosis was very bleak.

Shortly after receiving the news that my mother had cancer, a wise woman told me that every person's cancer story is different, and no two are the same. She warned me that people would come crawling out of the woodwork to share the experiences their loved ones had with cancer. Sometimes, the outcome was a long life simply managing symptoms and having periodic scans. Other times, it was death. But, it would be important not to assume that because X happened to a friend's aunt that it would also happen to my mother. The "what-ifs" would make me crazy if I dwelt on them.

I often had to remind myself of this as my mom's health deteriorated and she eventually chose to enter hospice care. You may recall that I was quiet about it, and that was intentional. I chose not to share the information publicly for a number of reasons, even though you might remember that she asked me to write about her experiences with cancer on this blog. One of the biggest reasons I chose not to talk about it was I knew people would judge her, saying she "gave up" in her fight against cancer.

My mother was one of the strongest people I know. She was determined to finish whatever she started. She could move mountains. She wasn't afraid of anything or anyone. People knew they could count on Liz Haney to get stuff done, and when she fell ill, they counted on her to defeat her disease.  So, when she decided she was ready to die, I didn't want people to think my mom was weak.

See, there is this very public and widespread idea that if you have cancer, you better fight it with everything you have. We call people "cancer warriors" and assign them with the Herculean task of achieving remission as if it's somehow in their control. Oddly enough, we don't treat any other disease this way -- we don't require people to "fight" MS, Lou Gehrig's, juvenile diabetes or asthma. But cancer is a different story for some reason.

I have news for you: CANCER cannot be "beat" by sheer force of will. For my mom, it was never in the cards. But even when it is possible for a patient to recover, consider what it takes in order to become "cancer-free." Remission requires surgeries, intense medications, radiation treatments, tests, scans, and many other painful and taxing medical interventions to keep the patient well enough to eventually find themselves in remission -- IF it's even a possibility for that person. Often, the grueling side effects of treatment are worse than living with the disease. It's a LOT to ask someone to suffer through it just because we want them to live.

Sure, optimism on the part of the patient and their loved ones is crucial to enduring the horrific and debilitating effects of cancer and its required treatments. But there is very little that the patient, doctors, or anyone can control when it comes to cancer. It has a mind of its own and it's determined to grow and spread. It often does, and it takes lives with it. That is the reality here.

It's been eight months since my mom passed away. But she did not lose a battle to cancer. She wasn't ever in some kind of fight where the valiant win and the quitters lose. She was stricken with a horrible disease and she succumbed to it. And at the end, she decided it was time to let go. She believed there life beyond mortality, and she was ready to move onto the next phase. And that desire does not make her weak. It makes her human.

Her decision to enter hospice care and die with as little pain as possible while in the peace and comfort of her own home is hers and hers alone. Our family's support of her decision does not mean we allowed cancer to "win" or to take over our lives or do whatever else people claim it does. My mother was as sick as can be, in excruciating pain, unable to eat, walk, use the bathroom or bathe. How debilitated does a person have to be before hospice is "acceptable?" The answer is simple: it's the patient's choice, and no one else should judge them for that determination.

Likewise, if a terminally ill person does not want to enter hospice care, that is also their choice. They shouldn't be judged for wanting to live for as long as possible. Their life belongs to them and no one else.

We need to reconsider how we talk about cancer survival. It's important to understand that it's not as much within our control as we believe it is, and that it's a gruesome disease that requires the use of literal poison to even attempt to treat it. It wreaks havoc on people's bodies, and it doesn't matter how strong they are, nor how determined they are to get well again. It doesn't even matter how skilled their doctors are a lot of the time. Strong people can die, and dying does not make them weak.

I miss my mother every day. I still think to call her or text her several times a week. The pain that follows the realization that I can't see her, talk to her or be with her right now is starting to become less severe. Or maybe I'm just getting used to it. Either way, I'm thankful for that.

Of course, I wish she could've been healed. I wished and prayed and hoped and prayed some more that she would and well, it just didn't happen. God had a different plan for her.

But her death has taught me many important lessons about how to interact with those who are enduring similar situations. First, people can be quite insensitive when your loved ones are sick or dying. But, they can also be very kind, even more kind than you believed they could. So, instead of running my mouth when someone tells me their loved one has cancer, I can get to work and help them. I can offer a listening ear. I can cry with them when they feel all hope is lost.

Second, people can do everything right and still die, but that doesn't mean it's their fault. And, it's more important to respect and love people than it is to be right. So, even if I think I know what's best for someone who is going through this nightmare, it's really not my place to say it. The only thing they need to know is that they are loved and supported.

Third, cancer is not some enemy that you can defeat if you just fight hard enough. The fact is, cancer kills, and it doesn't care if you are an accomplished marathoner or a helpless child. And a person suffering with cancer doesn't need any added pressure to survive or "kick cancer's butt" or anything like that. If I hope for someone to achieve remission, is it because I want what's best for them and their family, or is it because I'm uncomfortable with the idea of them dying? Remember that remission comes at a cost, and treatment can be more unbearable than the disease itself.

How often do we think of the act of dying as "giving up" when maybe that person is just "letting go?" We are always supportive of those who choose to let go of what they can't control, let go of negative feelings, let go of toxic relationships and behaviors and so forth. A dying person knows their time is up and they're ready to move on. Allow them the freedom to do so, with dignity and grace and without judgment.