Eating Single and On a Budget

Finding ways to eat well and healthily when you not only have to stick to a budget, but also within certain dietary restrictions and for one person, is a difficult proposition. So much of what is cheap at the store isn’t good for you. And what’s good for you is pricier. It’s no wonder America ranks as one of the fattest nations. I love fruit and fresh veggies, but have to skip my favorites a lot of the time because I can’t justify the cost compared to everything else that’s on my grocery list. Bing cherries are top of my list of candy-like fruit. I can polish off half a bag of these in no time flat if given the chance. But a couple pounds of them will cost me almost $7.00. Not within what I normally allot for single items. I generally try to keep things that I buy within $3.00 a piece, except the big ticket items like toilet paper, laundry detergent, meat, and so on.

So how do I cope with eating single? Well, I’ve started searching for and collecting recipes that take only a handful of ingredients, reheat and keep well, and are easy to take to work with me. I have several that show up in my “rotation” frequently for these reasons. Ready for my top go-to meals?!

Cheeseburger and Fries Casserole
Taco Salad
Alfredo Penne Pasta with Shredded Rotisserie Chicken
BBQ Meatballs & White Rice
Chicken Stroganoff
Warm Chicken Pasta Salad

I finished off the last of the taco salad I made this week for my lunch today. I pretty much do the traditional ingredients in my taco salad: ground beef with taco seasoning, tomatoes, lettuce, and shredded cheese. Occasionally I’ll include sour cream. Now, here’s my personal twist for this meal. I buy the bite size tortilla chips and use them to eat the taco salad with. This makes it so I get the perfect bite each time, I don’t have to fuss with a broken taco shell or dripping soft shell, and I don’t have to pack silverware. Plus, taco salad keeps and reheats really well. Perfect!

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Banana Bread, Politics & Society… Or, one of these things is not like the others. ;)

As everyone is aware, today is Election Day. I’m not a big fan of politics. Honestly, I pretty much loathe them. Mostly because I feel like the vast majority of politicians are self-serving, backed by big money, and not really in touch with what the American public and country really need. I hate when elections roll around, because we’re pretty much inundated with political ads, signage, mud slinging, accusations, name calling, and so on, for months prior to the election date. And typically none of the listed actions or items really address the true issues. They just muddy the waters and detract from what those true issues are. It’s no wonder our country is floundering, economically and in many other ways. My opinion (for what it’s worth) is that we need to get rid of the Electoral College and parties. The Electoral College is antiquated and no longer serves its purpose. And parties just are becoming more entrenched and bogged down by the agendas of big business and self-serving politicians. Have you seen what the typical salary is for a politician now?! Now take this and compare it to the salaries that are typical for teachers, police officers, and oh, social workers. Ridiculous, really.

Which just brings to mind another issues that’s been on my mind lately. When did it become okay to be so completely rude and disrespectful to our fellow man? Why is our society, especially the younger crowd, becoming so entitled and egocentric? I see this in the way people treat servers at restaurants, cashiers at stores, etc. Just because you have free speech, doesn’t entitle you to rudeness and disrespectful behavior. Common courtesy is truly a dying art. Along with altruism, helping your neighbor… heck, even just making eye contact and acknowledging others when you pass them on the sidewalk! I’m really scared for the future. I really, really am.

Okay, going to my happy place now. Better known as cooking and baking!! I intentionally buy more bananas than I know I can eat, then let them get to that black (the peel), extremely ripe stage. Perfect for banana bread! My brother made the mistake of throwing away this stage of bananas at my house once and I was not a happy girl. He argued they were rotten… I disagreed and asked him if he liked my banana bread (knowing that he loves it). I think he was a little surprised to find out that you need that level of over-ripeness in bananas to get the really good banana flavor in your bread. So this is the first “secret” of my famous banana bread… which really isn’t a secret to anyone experienced in making it. 🙂 My second “secret” ingredient is the type of cooking oil I use in the recipe I’ve slightly adapted. I use the Smart Balance cooking oil that is actually a lighter, healthier cooking oil that includes a mixture of several oils, including olive oil. This makes the bread I make lighter and more flavorful when combined with my really ripe bananas. Or, at least that’s what I’ve been told. The other adaption to my banana bread recipe? No nuts… ever!! I am not, nor will I ever be, a fan of nuts in my cookies or breads. Here’s the recipe I use:

Banana Bread

Image

Prep: 15 minutes
Bake: 50 minutes
Oven Temp: 350
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup mashed bananas (3 medium) ** As overly ripe as you can get them without turning the corner to slimy gross. **
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cooking oil ** I prefer the Smart Balance cooking oil **
1. Grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of an 8x4x2-inch loaf pan; set aside.
2. In a medium mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture; set aside.
3. In another bowl combine the egg, bananas, sugar, and cooking oil. Add egg mixture all at once to dry mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). ** Note: I use a hand mixer and my batter is not lumpy, so it’s fine to do it this way too. **
4. Spoon batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake in oven at 350 degrees, 50 to 55 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Source: Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (11th Edition)
As usual, I took all my ingredients and needed items into work with me. I had enough bananas to make two loaves, which made my co-workers very happy. The heavenly scent that emanated from the kitchen and filled the hallway while it baked made work downright enjoyable on Sunday night! I’ve made myself hungry again. Time to go eat that last piece! 🙂

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Valuing What I Do

As I’ve mentioned, I work full time on a crisis team. Today I arrived on time for my shift and promptly jumped into a meeting with my supervisor, the crisis team coordinator, and myself (crisis case manager team lead). Also in attendance was a team member who recently graduated with their masters in social work and is transitioning to a clinician job. Essentially, they are moving from my realm to the clinician realm. The crisis clinicians and crisis case managers all make up the Crisis Team as a whole; however, clinicians are licensed and do clinical work (level of care assessments, hospital screens, etc), while crisis case managers are not licensed and focus more on coaching clients through coping skills and some basic processing. Of course, that’s the boiled down, dry definition of what we do. Like so many things in mental health services, it’s always much more complex yet… not… than this. Trying to define and explain what I do for a living is always a challenge, because it’s truly difficult to describe in mere words. So my simple answer to the usual question of what I do for a living is usually to say that I work on a suicide crisis hotline. That seems to get people the closest in their head to understanding what I do.

So, back to my meeting. About 45 minutes into my hour meeting, a crisis clinician steps in and pulls me out to help with a crisis situation involving a psychotic individual. This was their first psychotic break and working through this with the individual’s mother was heartbreaking. Not only are there the ins and outs of the mental health and legal systems to navigate for her, but she is also trying to manage her emotions of grief and loss because her child is no longer the same. And never will be the same again. Yet this is one of the reasons that I’ve chosen this line of work. Being able to assist mental health clients and their families, to be able to walk along side them and let them know I understand their journey. That I can provide them with emotional first aid, or the gentle yet firm dose of reality to get them going in the right direction, means a great deal. I don’t merely exist in my job, punching the clock to get my 40 hours in. I value my job, the clients and families I serve, and the potential impact I have on the wider community when those clients show positive outcomes. I know, it probably sounds way too idealistic, but after 7 years working Crisis I know it’s what I’m meant to do… and what I’m good at. I’ll leave the explanation of the finer details of the balance and boundaries I need to sustain to do what I do to another day, another post. For now, this night owl needs to get some sleep to conquer another day! 🙂

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Halloween is Family Night

Since my sister moved back home several years ago, Halloween has become a night we spend together with the boys. Avery is 17, Dylan is 15, Coltyn is 5 and Wyatt is 4. My nephews are not calm, restful children. They are high energy, noisy, and inquisitive… even the teenagers. Our tradition is to take the kids trick or treating uptown (small town), then we go to my sister’s house where we have munchies and watch our annual Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus. I absolutely treasure this time with my sister and nephews. Even my brother was there for awhile this year to hang out with us! This year we also had several of the older boys’ teenage friends there, which made the noise level almost deafening at times.

As we made the rounds on Main Street, Wyatt and Coltyn would be questioned about who they were. Wyatt, ever the literal 4 year old, would make the serious response, “I’m Wyatt.” 😉 If asked what his costume was or who he was pretending to be, then he could tell you he was Peter Pan. We saw the usual costume fare of zombies, witches, and superheroes. But I think my favorites this year were twin babies dressed as Thing 1 and Thing 2 from The Cat in the Hat, and a little girl dressed as Rapunzel complete with braided yellow yarn hair studded with flowers down to the ground.

This year’s menu consisted of two Jack ‘o Lantern pumpkin-style “take-and-bake” pizzas from Papa Murphy’s, seven-layer dip, dirt “R.I.P.” pudding desserts, and the family favorite appetizer, pickle wraps.

Whenever we try to describe the pickle wraps to someone, their first reaction is usually to wrinkle their noses. Because when explained, they don’t sound all that amazing. But trust me, they are! I have to coax newbies to try them, but rarely have anyone who doesn’t come back for seconds… or thirds! They take only three ingredients — pickle spears, lunch meat, and cream cheese. (I prefer turkey meat, but ham is good too.) Lay out the slice of lunch meat (usually on your hand works best) and spread cream cheese onto the slice. Then take a pickle spear and roll it up in the lunch meat and cream cheese. For bite size, you can cut the pickle wraps in two and put a tooth pick into them for parties. If you buy the block of cream cheese, make sure you let it sit out at room temperature and soften before using, or you’ll have ripped up lunch meat with little cream cheese sticking to it. For a fast solution, if you don’t have time to soften the cream cheese, you can also buy the whipped cream cheese which is readily spreadable straight from the tub. My family has had these for parties or special occasions since I was a kid. We have to make a ton of them now because they disappear so fast. Give them a try!

As the night wound down tonight, I found myself curled up on the couch with the youngest nephew, Wyatt, watching the end of Hocus Pocus. As I rubbed Wy-Wy’s back, I soaked up the memory. I feel incredibly blessed to have the family I do. I wouldn’t change a thing about my rowdy, lovable nephews.

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Butterbeer & a Harry Potter marathon. Perfect pre-Halloween night!

My friend Rachel and I decided to have a Harry Potter marathon on the eve of Halloween. In the spirit of the movies, Rachel made a butterbeer recipe she found on Pinterest. It was really good!

No matter how many times I watch the Harry Potter movies, I never tire of them. Wonderful stories, amazing characters, and fabulous casting. What’s not to love?!

Butterbeer link: http://designdazzle.blogspot.com/2011/07/summer-camp-harry-potter-activities.html

Have a magical Halloween, everyone!

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Pinterest… my new favorite way to find anything! But mainly recipes. :)

I got hooked on Pinterest a couple of months ago. Man, is it a major time suck! I find myself using it now though when I have time to kill, to keep busy. The bonus of this is I’ve found some great recipes. I love to cook and bake. My co-workers are constantly being fed by me. We spend 10-12 hours on our shifts, so it’s not uncommon for me to lug ingredients and cooking implements into work with me. I’ve become even more dedicated to cooking since developing co-morbid IBS with my fibro. I can’t do much fast food, overly processed, etc., without going through major consequences or pain. Hence, my more careful food and cooking habits in the last couple of years.

So, here’s my first installment of recipes found and tried from Pinterest! I’ve often thought it’d be a great feature if they had a “Tried It” button, then a further breakdown of either a thumbs up or thumbs down. You know, does it really work type of thing. I know… sceptic. But I digress.

I’ve tried about 4 recipes now from Pinterest.

1 – Mug ‘o Mac & Cheese http://blogs.babble.com/family-kitchen/2012/05/17/instant-mug-o-mac-cheese-in-the-microwave/
2 – Crockpot Cheesy Ravioli http://www.barnsandnoodles.com/crockpot-cheesy-ravioli-recipe/
3 – Roasted Sweet Potatoes http://www.fortheloveofcooking.net/2009/03/roasted-sweet-potatoes.html
4 – Beer Bread (copycat Tastfully Simple recipe) http://www.shortstopblog.com/2009/10/homemade-beer-bread.html

The last two were awesome… total keepers! The first two are keepers with tweaking needed. On the ravioli, I think I’ll try mixing red sauce with white sauce and adding ground beef to the sauce next time. For the mug ‘o mac, the choice of shredded cheese will be more carefully contemplated. All in all, not bad!

There you go… four new recipes tried out for you. The roasted sweet potatoes will be showing up at Thanksgiving with me! Yummy!

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Living Skillfully

Life is not static. We are always learning, growing, and evolving. I don’t use the word changing, because most of us don’t completely change. We build and evolve what we’ve already learned in our life, adding new information or things we enjoy into who we are. The old things are still there, sometimes buried or out-of-use, but still able to rear up in times of stress or turmoil when we are overwhelmed. Sometimes our old “tapes” are good, sometimes they’re not. Being self-aware of our triggers, coping mechanisms, and pitfalls is always a good way to live. Do we change behaviors as we learn? Sure we do! But that doesn’t mean old patterns simply disappear forever.

In working so many years in mental health, especially the last seven years spent on the crisis team, I’ve learned a lot of invaluable lessons. Some from co-workers, others from clients themselves. But really, the best lessons come from my own life journey.

I was born with a birth defect and spent most of my childhood ill. I had four surgeries between the ages of four and ten, and continued to struggle with side effects and byproducts of my condition into my teens. I endured bullying and not very friendly teasing from my peers throughout grade school and junior high. By my eighth grade year, I was very depressed with low self esteem. When the bullying came to a head with physical bullying by a couple of girls in my class, my parents sat down with me to decide what to do. Since I grew up in the same small town since the age of three, I couldn’t really get away from the main sources of the bullying. After some discussion, my parents and I agreed that a change of educational environment might be helpful. I ended up living with my aunt and uncle in Alaska the last half of my eighth grade year. And I’ve thanked my parents repeatedly for being open to such a radical change up many times since. I went from a small town with my class totaling around sixty students, to a larger community that my class totaled 300+. I discovered that there was a world outside my small town. I was allowed a “clean slate” with kids who knew nothing about the health problems that had made me weird and different before. I gained confidence and a better view of myself. By the time I started high school in my hometown, nearly a year had gone by. The bullies had moved on, and I cemented what had been tentative friends in junior high into good friends. By my senior year, I was on the yearbook staff and was captain of the drill team (dance squad). However, even with all the successes and positive strides I made, depression and automatic thoughts rooted in earlier events still lingered and were my own personal rain cloud that always hovered on my horizon.

When I began college in the fall of 1989, I was optimistic about my future and life. But going from making all A & B grades in high school with very little hard studying to college where I really did have to study hard threw me for another loop. The old tapes of being stupid, not good enough, etc., all started to resurface. After a year and a half of struggling through college, I quit and went to work full time. At just shy of my 21st birthday, I began working an inpatient psychiatric unit of the agency I work for to this day. Working this type of “trench” work in mental health is tough on a stable, healthy person. When you have unresolved, hidden mental health issues of your own and work this job, it’s going to become an issue. Which is exactly what happened for me. Realizing that if I wanted to remain in my chosen field of mental health, I needed to get right with myself, I worked up my courage and started therapy at age 22. Although antidepressants were tried early on, I made my real progress through cognitive therapy. Basically, I learned how to recognize when old, bad tapes were playing in my head, stop the thought(s), and have myself focus on more realistic and positive thought processes. Cognitive therapy was my life saver, but it is not an easy therapy. You have to get up every day and tell yourself that you’re not going back. You have to recognize your triggers and your comfort zone. And you absolutely have to acknowledge, if to no one else but yourself, what your areas of distress, discomfort, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses are. We never like to admit our “failings,” so this is really hard stuff, believe me. But so ultimately worth it if you stick to it and really do the work. The only major depressive episode I’ve had since my early twenties was linked to being diagnosed with fibromyalgia about six years ago, and ended up being a relatively short episode because I knew my triggers and utilized coping skills to help myself recover.

Be proactive. Don’t let something you know is an issue for you keep festering until you basically have a meltdown/breakdown at work or the less than three lines perpetually open at Wal-Mart. (Seriously though, if you can explain why they have 20 registers and only ever seem to have 3 open, I’d probably hug you.)

Acknowledge your issues. This is half the battle. Acknowledgement of problems and/or issues not only allows you to find what will help or alleviate them, but relieves a lot of extra work and stress related to burying your head in the sand.

Have a goal or goals. Whether it’s a broad sort of ideal self that you’d like to be, or more goal directed targeting certain unhealthy coping skills, identifying where and who you want to be (realistically) helps your process of getting there. However, a small caveat… don’t get so wrapped up in the ideal, that it becomes another issue to deal with. It should be a framework, not an absolute.

Develop a sense of humor, if you don’t already have one. Because trust me, there will be days that life just sucks and everything seems to go wrong. Learning to laugh and find the humor in things is a life line. Do silly or random things just to desensitize yourself to that part of yourself that always seems to be “on.” Then when you truly do trip or embarrass yourself, it’s a blip on the day’s agenda, rather than an event that totally sends you off course and unable to recover your composure.

Find your coping skills. Know what works to bring you back from the edge. What helps you to refocus and move on. Coping skills are often little things that can make a big difference. Taking a 10-15 minute break to sit outside in the sun while you listen to music. Taking a walk or bike ride. Reading a book. Doing a puzzle or crossword. Taking a bath. Baking or cooking. Spending time with a friend or family. Playing a game. Cleaning. Writing or journaling. Doing artwork or crafts. Deep breathing or progressive body relaxation. Yoga or exercise. You get the idea! As long as it is healthy, adaptive skills, the sky’s the limit.

Don’t live fearfully, live skillfully.

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