Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gluten Free/Low Carb Chocolate Almond Cookies

The digital age is really something, isn't it? I mean, information galore is always literally at your fingertips. Just a quick combination of taps and you have access to almost anything you could ever want. Keeping digital recipes is a life saver too. See a recipe on the web that  you like? Just email it to yourself. Or better yet? Pin it.

Ahh, the "Pin". Who among us does not love the joy of Pinterest? I swear that site is like the Target of the digital world; I can literally scroll away hours perusing pin after pin, when I only sat down for "just five minutes". It. Is. Awesome. My recipe boards overflow-eth with scrumptious options to break the daily monotony of "What's For Dinner".

And it is all truly magical. Until you lose a Pin. Has this ever happened to you? Your favorite "Go To" recipe---the one you've learned to not be able to live without, but haven't exactly memorized yet, fails to open up when you need it. What? Where is it? Address Not Found. Cannot Display Page. What is that? What? Wait--NOOOOOOOOOO!!

Gone. Forever.

If you're lucky, another version of the recipe exists, but if you're not---you are out of luck, wandering in a desert of despair, trying to remember the collection of ingredients that once yielded such joy, but now simply refuse to be remembered.

Such was the sad fate of our family's most favorite cookie recipe. Low carb. Chocolatey goodness. Perfect. (And suddenly, it seemed, deleted from all the web-kind.) It's taken some time, but I've finally recreated a version of the recipe that we like even a bit more. It's based on a mixture of flourless chocolate cake recipes, modified to hold up as a cookie. Decadent. Delicious. (And no longer missing).

Best of all, there are choices to be had. You can make them as is, which will yield a sort of Mexican Hot Chocolate sort of heaven. Or you can sub out a few ingredients and make them into a minty dream. If you're feeling adventurous, I would imagine you could play around with the extracts and see what adding orange would do, although I haven't tried that out myself.

Almond Meal Chocolate Cookies (makes about 18 cookies, depending on size)

3TBS butter or coconut oil
3TBS honey
1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate (I sometimes use blocks that have almonds in them. Yum.)
1 egg
1/2 tsp cinnamon (you should omit this if you're going for a mint version)
dash of cayenne (again, omit this for mint version)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup of almond meal

***If making a mint version, you'll want to omit the cinnamon & cayenne, and add about 1/2 tsp of peppermint extract. If you like things really minty, you can push it up to 1 tsp.)***

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Place butter/oil, honey, and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Melt until smooth for 30 seconds. If mixture isn't fully melted (be sure to stir since chocolate will not lose its shape), microwave in increments of 10 seconds until you get a smooth consistency.

In another bowl, lightly whisk the egg until pale and a little foamy. Add cinnamon & cayenne (if using....and add extract if going the minty route). Add in salt, baking soda, and almond meal. Stir until combined. Add chocolate mixture to egg mixture and stir well. Place bowl in fridge to chill for about 10 minutes. This will firm up the dough a bit more.

After dough has chilled, drop by teaspoons (smaller cookies) or by tablespoons (larger cookies) about 2 inches apart on prepared sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes. Cookies should be soft on top, but firm when gently lifted with a spatula. Allow to rest on the sheet for 10-15 minutes. They will firm up more as they sit.

***You can also add nuts to this, or for funsies, toss in some chocolate chips too. Yum.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Time Our Water Line Froze

One year ago today our family went on a vacation. It was a lovely vacation to Florida, filled with days at Disney, and Universal; time spent along the shore in Bonita Springs; exploring in the Everglades; and creeping along the Keys. Outbound on the vacation we were skirting an ice storm in Atlanta. Our homecoming, some 19 days later, involved avoiding yet another southern ice storm. And there was an Ice Storm of epic proportions awaiting our return as well.

This epic road trip created a plethora of memories for our family, many of which the girls still talk about today, one year later.

The trip was also the beginning of a journey that we did not anticipate having to deal with: a frozen water line under the street that cut water to our house. That misadventure will be forever linked with our trip, for better or for worse.

Imagine being a thousand miles away from home and getting a call that your house no longer has water. And there is nothing you can do about it other than place phone calls, line up appointments, and rely on the good graces of your neighbors for help.

We had to make choices: Stay put or head home early? Who do we need to call about this? How much effort do we expend on "repair" when we're not even home??

In the end we opted (wisely) to put a hold on trying to fix it. We started back on our originally planned time and  arrived home on our anticipated day. Guess how exciting that 2 day drive home was, knowing we would be walking into a house with no water. Go ahead; guess.

We spent the next 2 weeks dealing with finding the root cause of the problem. We found out, through a lot of exploration and multiple opinions, that the freeze wasn't on our line at all, but was under the street on the city's line. The next shock came when our fair city declined to help us get water restored, even when they found out it was their line frozen.

The following 2 weeks were spent in daily battles with the city's "solution" to our problem: a hose connected from a neighbor's house to ours. The hose was supplying water which we were told not to use for cooking, drinking, bathing, or washing clothing, but which constituted a "Fix" for the problem. Two weeks of fighting below freezing temps that froze the hose as it was running. Two weeks of constant phone calls to the city for new hose lines to replace the frozen one; and jumping the hose from one neighbor's house to another one when their spigot froze solid. Two weeks of boiling water just to bath, brush teeth, and cook.

Then came the ultimate low point in the midst of this iced-over nightmare. During yet another late night struggle to keep the hose line running, it froze up as we watched it. We called the city's off hours help line (a number they had given us to call in such an event) and told the on-duty worker that we needed to have the hose swapped out, could they please drop one off for us so we could attach it before the spigots froze and we had to deal with the arduous process of thawing those out (again). The worker informed us that the city had decided to cease assisting us. It was our problem. (Despite it being their frozen water line, mind you).

Then she uttered the words that still raise the red flag of rage in me to this day: "It's not that big of a deal. It's just until spring." In the middle of the world's longest, frozen winter ever, she tells us the weeks we'd been without water weren't a big deal. Surely we wouldn't mind dealing with it for another 6 or 8 weeks. You know, just till spring.

I will never know who she was, but there is a part of me that has to credit her with the final solution to our problem. Her callous words were the fuel that lit my drive to Get. This. Done. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, right? Well, it also hath no fury like a woman whose family has been brushed off casually by the people charged with providing and maintaining services, let me tell you.

Empowered by a new sort of mission, I shouted our calamity across the city. Emails were sent. Phone calls were made. Within a week word made its way back to me that people were talking. A conversation with a store cashier led her ask if I'd heard about the family in town dealing with the Water Situation? Others asked my parents if "they knew the poor family that was dealing with that awful water situation in town?" By the time I was done, a larger circle was aware of our plight: the city's waterline had frozen, leaving us without water, and they had admittedly stopped helping us in favor of waiting for the spring thaw.

A sudden changed happened when city council stepped in.

On a snowy March morning, exactly one month to the day when water had stopped, the city came out and began to dig up the waterline in the street. They found the freeze almost at the main line. They also discovered that the entire problem had been caused by a waterline had been sunk too shallow under the street to begin with. It had been a frozen line waiting to happen. For years.

Even as they dug, with all the machine power available, their process was made tediously slow by the incredibly deep frost line. Had we actually waited until it thawed naturally, there is no telling how far into spring we would have been waiting. Far into May, we found ourselves wondering if things would have been thawed enough yet. June? When?

It seems fitting somehow, on this snowy morning a year later, to think about that entire adventure. I'm grateful that it's over, but I'm also grateful that it happened. We learned a lot from that struggle. We gained a new appreciation for the simple things that are so easy to overlook. I'd like to think we don't take them for granted as much as we did before too.

It's true what they say; there is growth in struggle and challenges. Our Epic Florida Road Trip became something much bigger than it was ever intended to be. But I also think we became stronger from the experience. I wouldn't trade that gift for anything.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Day Before.

Today is brought to us by "a flutter".

As in, today is the day before the girls' birthday and they are all "a flutter" with anticipation for The Big Day.

Pulling out a much loved reference to Bambi, one of them told me they felt completely "twitterpated" about all the joy to come.

They'll be 10 tomorrow. Ten. I keep trying that on for size. Wrapping my head around this really big idea that somehow, these two premature babies have become 10 years old. A decade. "Yes, my children are 10 years old." "Oh, they just turned 10." "The kids are the big 1-0". No matter how many times I say it, my brain can't quite seem to grasp it.

I know that as a parent I'm supposed to hold golden dreams of my babies growing up, becoming productive members of society, and offering a real contribution to their fellow man that will make everyone realize that Dan and I were just pretty darn amazing as parents. And I do feel that way.

But is it overly wrong of me to confess that I'm also just the teeniest bit---well---sad about the addition of another place value on their age chart? Maybe sad isn't the best word for it.....Maybe melancholy is better? It's just that they're growing so fast. (In my eyes.) No matter how much I try to keep my mental camera focused and snapping away pictures to cherish, there seems to be so much I'm missing. How is this going by so fast? (Slow down!)

Naturally, they are absolutely convinced that they'll tuck away into bed tonight as mere babies, (only 9, after all), and wake up as genteel young ladies. Fully endorsed by the Sisterhood of Women. Ten years old.

Today, I smile as they bounce around with excitement. I do remember the semantic importance of "I Was 9 and Now I'm 10". Tonight, while they dream about their upcoming "debut", I'm fairly sure I'll be trying to figure out just exactly where in the smack those 3,650 days have gone. And in the morning, when they jump out of bed with excitement, I'll be ready to embrace (with heartfelt gratitude) this new chapter in our life. Gone are the days of the single digits; we welcome the new era of double-digit birthdays.

Let the adventure continue!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Birthday Months.

We celebrate the girls' birthday month around here. Once the first of the October announces itself on the calendar, we are geared and ready to go.

"It's here! It's here! It's finally here!" we collectively rejoice.

I know it sounds simple, and maybe in some ways it is. But the truth of the matter is a lot deeper than you may realize.

You see, around here, we have an awful lot to be thankful for. Not just on the actual anniversary of their grand arrival, but on the days leading up to it as well. Their presence in the Birthday Seat of Honor was not a guaranteed thing.

When the first of the month arrives, my thoughts turn to my situation, some ten long years ago. (A decade. Goodness.) I was in the hospital, hoping against all hope that these two would try (Please!) to stay inside for a bit longer. (Just a few more weeks!) I was absolutely torn between two very pressing realities:
One, at 31 weeks, they were only just ready to make their way in the world. (They needed more time on the inside. Please!)
And two, their presence inside of me was becoming toxic to my system. Every day in which they remained in there, growing, was a day I grew sicker; my body (their incubator) shutting down. (Toxemia; nature's gigantic oxy-moron.)

Those long, stressful (scary) days leading up to the birth were, perhaps, not the most horrendous of all birth stories ever told. But in my little solar system, the entire situation was an asteroid tossed in from the outer reaches of darkness, threatening to destroy everything orbiting therein.
 I cried. I prayed. I cried some more. I hurt. (A lot).

And most of all, I waited. For whatever might happen. Whatever that might be.

Memories from those hectic days, a decade ago, are just as precious me to as the moment of their individual births. I cherish them as a reminder not to take one single moment I have with them for granted. I might have lost one or both of them. I might not have survived to write this entry. Maudlin though it may be, I'm grateful for the simplicity of the message I was blessed with during those weeks, ten long (or short) years ago.

So we celebrate the girls' birthday month around our house. It's kinda a big deal in our family. The entire month brings with it a reminder to be grateful; to live in the presence and learn from the past; and to always always always be thankful for each and every single thing along the way. It's all a journey. And it's all golden.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Circa 1980.

Unlike the memories my children will ever have, I do remember a time without the Internet. I remember it as being neither good, nor bad; just different.

A time when a research paper or unanswered (and plaguing) question had to be started in the hallowed halls of the public library. Few feelings compared with that frustration of making your way down the alphabetized spines of the encyclopedia collection only to find the singular volume you "had to have" was missing. I remember walking around the tables in the library, hoping against all hope that perhaps some other patron had ignored the "One Volume At A Workstation At A Time, Please" mandate, and had horded the one I sought. Of course sometimes the volume was simply "Missing", a designation that always perplexed me, seeing that research books weren't available to be checked out. (What kind of a person steals a stupid encyclopedia, anyway?)

Then there were the occasions when you'd finally gotten the volume you needed, (whether by hook or crook), found the page indicated in the index, and turned to it only to find the page or part of the page was missing. (Wasn't that just a kick in the pants?)

I don't necessarily miss those pre-Internet days, mind you. But I remember them.

The other night a lightening strike, a little too close for comfort, blasted our family back to circa-1980's, knocking our address of the world wide web.(Gasp!) No Internet at our house means no television, other than DVDs and any pre-recorded shows. It means no weather updates. No telephone (except for cell service). It means no social networking sites. (NOOOOOOOOOO!)

In the first few moments when The Television Went Blank, we stared at each other in awe. Where did it go? It was here; now it is not. What happened? I tried my laptop, but nothing happened. Where the signal strength indicator bars once gleamed in fullness, there was only a sad exclamation mark in a yellow triangle....along with the despised message: "No Internet Access".

The children bounded off to watch a DVD upstairs now that we were back to, what they consider, "The Olden Days", and spent a happy hour enjoying the novelty of a movie that had been trapped on a shiny disk.

My husband and I used the time to catch up on books we've been neglecting, and whose due dates were fast approaching. We, the perfect picture of domestic bliss; Ma & Pa huddled around the glow of the electric lamp, cozied up to our glowing devices, reading.

The situation has since worked itself out. We're back online again and surfing the Internet at our usual intrepid speeds. But our forced re-visitation to the days of yore was a practical reminder of just exactly how far we've come, for the better and (just maybe) a bit for the worse.

And how mightily we are dependent upon something that was, not that long ago, an imaginative piece of science fiction.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My Non-Scary Colonoscopy

Due to a vengeful family history, I recently had my very first colonoscopy screening. This is a procedure that I'd been dreading since I found out I would need to get the scope done at the age of 36.

If you're in the same boat, perhaps you've noticed that there is a lot of fear-mongering going on all over the Internet regarding the prep itself. I know I did. Holy cow, I didn't know which part to be more frightened of: the prep or the scope itself. People, in general, will say that the prep is the worst part, and I wondered what exactly that meant. Was the prep so bad that nothing could top it, or was it not a big deal. None of the stories I read did much to ease my mind, so I vowed to write my own version of my experience when I was done.

I chronicled my prep in my post: The Non-Scary Colonoscopy Prep Story . Now that I'm done with the scope too, I figured a conclusion is in order.

The scope went perfectly. Truly. I was a bundle of nerves; I'm not going to lie about that. I had myself completely worked into a mess, after all. But the staff at the gastro clinic where I was going did an amazing job of talking me down from my self-incited worry. They were empathetic to my concerns. They were kind. They were patient. It was perfect.

They told me I wouldn't feel a thing. And I didn't. (Seriously. Nada.) I zonked out as they were putting the meds into my IV and woke up in the recovery room. Just like that. I felt fine--a little bit groggy, but that passed in a few minutes. In fact, it seemed weird that I felt fine. I mean, think of what had just happened, after all. How can you feel fine? But I did--totally and completely normal. I was in and out of the clinic within about an hour and half, with most of that time being the admission part, honestly.

Then I was on my way home---done with my first colonoscopy. My experience was NOT terrible. In fact, the entire thing was perfectly fine. Put another way, due to family history I have to have another scope done in 5 years and (are you ready for this?) I am okay with it. Completely. No worries. At all.

So, if you're scheduled for a colonoscopy and worried, or if you're tired of hearing only scary stories about the whole thing, I tell you this: You can rest easy. The "hardest" part of the entire process is the prep...BUT (and please, please take this to heart), the prep is not bad. It's the hardest part because you are literally asleep for the other part, leaving the prep as the only part you actually do.

Are you going to be skipping around smacking your lips while drinking the prep? No; but I have to think a natural aversion to liquid laxative is not a bad thing. Will you have to gag it down? No. Follow my tips and play music. Walk around while you drink it. Use a smoothie straw. Keep focused on just drinking. You will be fine.

How does the prep make you feel? Honestly, I felt fine. I had split dose Suprep. I had no side effects other than the intended one. The biggest thing is being able to drink 48oz of water in a short period of time. I practiced that a week before my actual prep; I drank 48oz of water at 12:00, and 48oz at 8:00. I felt ready and I had no issues. You'll feel full after drinking the prep, but walking around will move it on through. The extra water hastens the process as well.

Is it horrible when it starts "working"? Nope. Uneventful. I had gone on a soup/smoothie/yogurt/type diet about 4 days before my prep. The less you put in, the less you have to move out, after all. In any case, that part was easy. No cramping, accidents, or serious urgency. You'll spend some time on the toilet, but it wasn't hours or anything. The action started to fizzle for me about 3 hours after drinking the first dose of prep. I had a lull in bathroom trips, and I felt so good that my husband and I took a walk around town. I kept thinking, "Here I am, prepping for a colonoscopy, and I'm out of the house...walking." The second dose took effect more immediately because the first dose had done it's work so well. I was clear and done within 2 hours of it. I had a full night's sleep with no bathroom trips.

Here's the one important thing I will stress, though: be sure to drink lots of fluids during the prep. I talked about my beverage buffet in the non scary colonoscopy prep story and it turned out to be so important. If you're on a similar schedule, you won't be able to drink anything after midnight, and you've just guzzled lots of salt. You will be thirsty in the morning. I truly think that keeping myself hydrated during the prep (in addition to the water you drink with the prep) made this part so much easier. I didn't feel week or off balance or dizzy at all. No headaches or muscle aches either. Remember that your kidneys are going to be working overtime with this prep so keep your body hydrated and you'll feel fine through it all. Promise.

Don't be afraid of the prep or the scope. If you are, I understand; I was right there with you on that. Sometimes it just takes going through it for yourself that first time to ease your mind. Please take comfort in knowing that the prep is not bad at all. You will be fine. The scope itself is a breeze and you'll be on your way out the door before you know it.

This test is so incredibly important, and all the horror stories out there don't do much to get people to sign up for it. I'm hoping people will stumble on these posts and see that it's just not the scary experience some have made it out to be. If you've been in doubt about getting a colonoscopy, please don't let fears of the prep or test itself delay you anymore.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Non-Scary Colonoscopy Prep Story.

"Family History" is an ugly guest in our family when it comes to colon cancer. It's the loud, obnoxious, uninvited guest who is with us at every single family gathering, even though no one remembers inviting them.

So following that old adage of "Better Safe Than Sorry" and, the somewhat less eloquent but equally fitting, "Let's Git 'Er Done", I'll be getting my first colonoscopy screening tomorrow.

In my mind the whole colonoscopy thing is two distinct parts: The Prep and The Scope. Most people tend to say that the prep is the worst part. I just have to say that vague generalities like this tend to annoy me. That can be taken 2 very different ways, and for those (like me) who hang on words, we're stuck in an understanding gap. It could mean: "It doesn't matter what the heck happens during the colonoscopy; nothing comes close to be as horrible as the prep." Or, on the more gentle side, it could mean: "You would honestly think the worst part of a colonoscopy would be getting nooked in your cranny, but since that is not even slightly bad, the default "worst part" (if something MUST be classified as such) falls back to the only other part of the process--the prep."

I've been hoping for the second meaning, but am pretty sure the one and only way to know for sure is to just do it for myself. So the following  is my experience with the prep. The web is full of horror stories....this won't be one of them. I think I wasted hours of my life looking at forums with people in two categories: The No Big Deal folks and the For The Love Of Pete, The World Is Ending group. I figured the first group had it right, but the latter had one collectively louder voice; it was hard to drown them out. My goal in writing this is to help someone else. Let's face it, if they're being smart about health, everyone will do this at least once in their lifetime. Why be afraid of it?  If you're in the Prep boat...don't be afraid. Remember that right at this minute, you are one of many people doing this. It's okay. You'll be okay. Repeat after me: This. Is. No. Big. Deal.

Pre-Prep: I should mention that I started a pretty liquid diet about four days out of my actual prep day. Brothy soups and smoothies. It wasn't hard for me to follow that. I have no idea if it helps in the process, it was just something I felt like doing to give myself some control over a situation that made me feel kind of powerless.

1. I was supposed to start the first dose of Suprep at 12:00. I started at 11:45---it made me feel like I was in control. Sounds like a silly thing, but I felt like a rebel. "Hey. No one's gonna tell  me when to take the poop medicine."

2. The taste isn't great---but it's not horrible. Get a smoothie straw and a really fun glass. Add a liberal amount of lime juice. The biggest issue with the flavor of the Suprep is the sweetness; cutting it with lime helps a lot. The smoothie straw means larger amounts per sip. Put it flat against your tongue, way in the back of your throat. Every sip will magically pass right over your taste buds. You'll still get a bit of the flavor, but it will be tolerable. I promise.

3. Don't stand still!! While you're drinking the prep, walk around. It will take your mind off what you're doing. (Seriously, half of this game is a mental can absolute overcome that.)

4. Make a motivational play list and blast it while you're drinking. (You can apologize to the neighbors later.) My husband walked behind me with my play list at top volume. Music has a way of erasing the physical and transporting you to another place. Take advantage of that. I was so busy being mentally engaged in the songs playing that I didn't even notice when my glass of prep was gone. Seriously. (A watched pot will not boil and a watched glass of prep will not empty.)

5. Don't be afraid of "The Go". One of the big worries that plagued me was: "What is it going to feel like when the magic starts happening??" I envisioned  trauma and torrents and all manner of sad things. Here's the reality: It's okay. No worries. You'll just have to "go". Nothing major. Nothing traumatic. (Rather anticlimactic if you're like me and had worked yourself up into a tizzy.) Yes, you'll make it to the bathroom on time. No, you won't be on the toilet for hours. It's just...fine. Really. I stocked my bathroom with my laptop, video games, books, and even some crafting stuff. (Yep, that's me..I crafted during my prep.) Also, make sure you have some ointment and wet wipes on hand. And this is a time to splurge and get the really cushy toilet paper. Do you "need" it? Nah, but it makes you feel pretty darn special.

6. Eventually the "going" will kind of fizzle out. I was on a split dose with 8 hours between doses. After about 2 hours, all the excitement had passed. In effect, you'll end up biding your time for round two. Spend your "down time" well---get caught up on TV shows (especially the guilty pleasure ones that you'd never actually admit to anyone that you like to watch). I found that having a variety of activities on hand was best for me--I tend to have a really short attention span in the very best of times and it's darn near non-existent at others. So I just sort of hopped around the house from here to there, doing whatever I wanted. Bliss.

7. No matter what...KEEP DRINKING. You won't necessarily want to, but it's really a good idea to keep the liquid libations flowing. (Be kind to your kidneys). In an effort to promote actually wanting to take a sip of something, I gathered several of the prettiest glasses we had and set them out on the counter. I filled each with something different: tap water with fruit juices, sparkling water with a squirt of lemon, white grape juice, apple juice, Gatorade, Ginger Ale, etc. I put a straw in each glass. Every time I passed by the counter, it was easy to snag a glass and take a sip. If the contents didn't do anything for me at that moment, I had a plethora of others to choose from. It was like a beverage buffet. Stupid, I know, but it worked for me.

8. And when you've drunk that last gulp of prep...CELEBRATE. It's a victory. You did it!!!!  I celebrated by squashing and stomping on the box my prep came in; I crushed the cup into bits; I destroyed the 2 little bottles. All while listening to Katy Perry's Firework. Whatever works, right?

Prep is not something to be afraid of. Remember that. It's one moment out of your life that could SAVE your life. It's worth it. I have lived for 7 years in dread of this first colonoscopy prep. Absolute dread. Finishing that last bit of the second dose literally was a huge weight lifting off my shoulders. I did it. The prep drinking was over.

You will be okay through it. Know that. Take deep breaths. Smile. Laugh. You will be fine.