It’s that time of the year again! Fall is here, the weather is glorious, the leaves are changing, and my usual anal retentive, box checking self takes a chill pill and allows my inner domestic goddess to have her moment.

Last weekend was not nearly so glorious as today, but nevertheless I took Little M to the local Fall Festival and then to the “pumpkin patch” where we picked up two nice sized pumpkins and four mums for planting in the pots around the house. Last night (finally!) I planted the mums, hung the jack-o-lantern flag, and set out the pumpkins along with a scarecrow girl on a stick.

I’ve already gotten most of my interior decorations up, just a little tweaking to do here and there. Once I’ve done that, I just need to get the wreath up and some fall fabric on the pillows for the front porch, then I can turn my attention to…food.

An email exchange I had with my brother this week has me desperate to get in the kitchen and get busy. His description of the mashed potato volcanoes he made had my stomach at attention, but when I got to this:

            Yesterday while just tinkering around the yard, I decided to make some homemade potato soup.  Used 10 pounds of red potatoes, so it was a small batch.  Did I mention I love real food? We took some ciabatta rolls and hollowed them out to use for bowls. Topped with cheese, chives and fresh crumbled bacon… mmmm…”

I LOVE potato soup so naturally I’m reading his email and mentally inventorying my pantry at the same time, wondering if I have everything I need to make potato soup. Which led me to think that I haven’t roasted a pork shoulder for carnitas in while, and if I picked up some more apples (or pears) I could make Granny’s dumplings as well. And while I’m thinking of it, where is that Lentil Soup recipe I wanted to try, and oh wait, I forgot about this one…Brazilian Feijoada – gotta try that.

Next thing you know, a menu plan for the week and a (very long) grocery list was born. All of the labor intensive or slow cooking items I can do over the weekend and serve throughout the week interspersed with easier to prepare fare. Menu the for week, not necessarily to be served in this order:

Saturday – Burgers on the grill (its going to be a great day for grilling), dumplings

Sunday – Ham and Potato Soup, homemade bread

Monday – Shrimp and Fettuccine Alfredo

Tuesday – Carnitas

Wednesday – Italian Chicken

Thursday – Brazilian Feijoada

Friday – Roast (Beef)

Saturday – Meatloaf (Mexican Style)

(The Lentil Soup isn’t officially on the menu, but I still hope to make it to pack in my lunch for the coming workweek.)

Can’t wait to hit the grocery store and get cooking!

On my way to work yesterday morning I passed a tree. As a conservative estimate I would say I have passed this tree roughly 4,680 times, but this time it was different because I really noticed it. When the tree first caught my eye in the distance, it somehow looked odd. My initial thought was, “Why on earth is someone hanging Easter eggs on a dead tree in the middle of September?” Then, as I got closer, I realized that the tree wasn’t dead, it was just devoid of leaves, and it wasn’t full of Easter eggs, it was full of pears – ripe, round pears and lots of them.

That’s when it happened. 

Suddenly I was young again and back in my grandmother’s kitchen in North Carolina. Granny, as I always called her, was an incredible cook and one of her specialties was dumplings. Usually she made her dumplings with apples, but occasionally she did them with pears. As a child and young adult I was never fond of pears, but my Granny convinced me to love them through her dumplings. They were sublime. It was impossible to dislike pears after tasting her dumplings. In fact, I eventually I grew to love the pear dumplings more than the apple ones because she made them less often, and thereby they became a rare treat.

As I drove along and thought about Granny and remembered how she made those dumplings – peeling and coring the fruit, stuffing the core with sugar and cinnamon, wrapping the fruit in pastry and nestling them six to a pan to bake until they were tender and golden – made me think for the millionth time how much I loved her and now miss her. 

Granny passed way in the spring of 1998, but after all this time, there isn’t a day that passes that I don’t think of her in some way. Often it’s a fleeting thought or memory. Sometimes it’s a wish that my daughter Little M could have known her, or that I could sit at her table and talk (and eat) with her again. Usually the memories are sweet with a gentle tug at the heart, but sometimes – like yesterday, they come when I most vulnerable to them and rake across my soul like a thousand razorblades leaving me raw and exposed.

I spent the better part of the morning yesterday pondering why the pear tree and the memory of those dumplings cut me to the core. I realized that it wasn’t the tree or the dumplings that caused the pain, it’s in missing what my Granny put into those dumplings – all the warmth and unconditional love that defined her character and our relationship – that is gone forever and can never be replaced.

Back in March, at my husband’s request, I went to see a surgeon specializing in Crohn’s related problems. This simple request set off an unexpected chain of events that have led me to where I am today.

The surgeon said I needed major, life-altering surgery, but my gastroenterologist disagreed. He believed it to be too drastic for someone as healthy as me (healthy being a relative term when you are talking about Crohn’s Disease).

So, after much discussion and emotional turmoil, I decided to see a specialist – one of the top gastroenterologists in the country specializing in Crohn’s Disease. I wanted fresh eyes and A LOT of experience looking at my situation to give me some insight on what to do next.

The specialist didn’t think surgery was appropriate, as my therapeutic options had not yet been exhausted. I was elated. But, he did send me to yet another surgeon for a second surgical opinion. Disappointingly, but no real surprise, the second surgeon echoed the opinion of the one I saw in March.

All of these consultations spanned a period from March to August, so that is five months, four doctors, two completely opposing opinions, and no real answers to show for it.

Its times like these when you really, REALLY understand what “be your own advocate” means, and it has led me to realize that there comes a point in our lives when we have to stop listening to all the noise that comes at us from all directions and figure out what’s best for ourselves.

The truth is I don’t want the surgery. Not now, not ever if I can avoid it. It’s not because I’m afraid, or even naive, it’s because I don’t believe it’s the right path for me.  

What does all this mean? Where do I go from here?

For me it means embarking on a Healthiness Project. I’m taking all the things that I’d been haphazardly trying to achieve over the last year or so and melding them together into what I now realize will be my most important project – a much healthier me.

A couple nights ago I began reading the book Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier which had been on my shelves for a while waiting for it to be the right time to read it.

As I delved into the novel, the opening paragraph for the third chapter stopped me in my tracks as it seemed to be speaking directly to me. The passage:

“I cannot decide whether it is an illness or a sin, the need to write things down and fix the flowing world in one rigid form. Bear believed that writing dulled the spirit, stilled some holy breath. Smothered it. Words, when they’ve been captured and imprisoned on paper, become a barrier against the world, one best left unerected. Everything that happens is fluid, changeable. After they’ve passed, events are only as your memory makes them, and they shift shape over time. Writing a thing down fixes it in place as surely as a rattlesnake skin stripped from the meat and stretched and tacked to a barn wall. Every bit as stationary, and every bit as false to the original thing. Flat and still and harmless. Bear recognized that all writing memorializes a momentary line of thought as if were final.”

I’ve moved on in the book now, but I’ve come back to that passage several times.

In January when I wrote my last big post, the passage probably would not have registered with me as all that significant, yet now, I find it to be absolutely brilliant. The reason? Everything in the last several months seems to have been as Frazier describes – so fluid and ever changing – that every time I tried to commit my thoughts to keyboard, they seemed irrelevant, old news, no longer applicable before I could hit “publish.”

In the past months I’ve written or thought through dozens of posts that never made it to fruition. Frustration and self-doubt were getting the better of me until finally I realized sometimes you just have to live your life, see where it leads, then talk about it. I’m still on the path to “Better”, but it’s unlike anything I imagined seven months ago.

Friend or Foe?

Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference in your day.

This morning I got up only marginally ready to start my week. My mood was not what it should have been and it only got worse as the day progressed. Frustrations and stressors were piling up all around.

Then, a seemingly inconsequential thing happened but it made all the difference.

The FedEx man came in to deliver a package and went on to relay how a rabbit that lives in between my office building and the next always rustles the bushes and startles him when he approaches our door. I’ve been in and out of that same door countless times and have never seen a rabbit much less been startled by one.

The whole scenario had me giggling like a like a five-year-old that can’t stop saying the word “fart.” In an instant my bad mood was gone.

Thank you Mr. Bunny and Mr. FedEx Man, the two of you made my day.

Okay, so we are nearly four weeks into the New Year and my progress on “Better” is sketchy at best. Some days it seems like I’m making real progress, other days not so much. In order to keep myself on track and to make sure 2011 doesn’t get away from me with nothing of real value accomplished, I’ve decided to divide the year up into bite size nuggets – six-week chunks to be exact. 

If you are familiar with the theory of “How do you eat an elephant? (One bite at a time.)” then you’ll see where I’m going with this. 

I’m listing my major goals for the year, and then dividing each of them up into manageable parts.

My first six-week chunk will begin Sunday, January 30th and run thru March 12th. At the end of the six weeks I can assess where I am, what I’m doing right and what I need to work on.

When you look at a year as a whole it seems like an enormous amount of time to accomplish things. However, when you look at the year in the context of daily life, work, distractions, etc. the amount of time available shrinks considerably.

In the busyness of life, it is easy to get off track and “tomorrow” yourself right into December with nothing accomplished. I’m determined not to let that happen this year so I’m instituting what I now refer to as my Six Week Overhaul program and looking forward to seeing how far along I am at my first check up in March.

What about you? How do you keep yourself on track with your goals? How will you make the most of 2011?

Okay, not as melodic as “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music!” or even as comedic as “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Griswold!” but nevertheless, it is music to my ears.

Or, rather,  it will be when I actually start de-cluttering. As it is, I’m spending most of my time moving my head around to various angles trying to determine which one produces the least amount of sinus pressure and bloody snot. But I digress.

A few months ago my Best Bud and I decided to have a yard sale this coming spring. Since I have no staging area to speak of, my de-cluttering came to a halt in order to prevent a mental breakdown. However, with absolutely no effort on my part, my tiny little basement “get rid of” pile continued to grow on its own – and at an astounding rate. (Where does this crap come from???) Lately the pile has come dangerously close to what I like to refer to as The Freak-Out Point.

Then, a wonderful thing happened. During an email discussion of an unrelated event, the Best Bud and I touched on the yard sale topic. She asked if she could bring things to my staging area. My head almost exploded. When I had collected myself, I responded with an alarming and vividly detailed account of the current states of both my basement and mental health. We cancelled the yard sale and agreed to donate our stuff.

Free at last, free at last!

I have to say, I didn’t realize how much the idea of having yet another yard sale was weighing me down until we canceled it. I would have celebrated by skipping through a field of daisies if it weren’t for a) it is the middle of winter and there aren’t any fields of daisies nearby, and b) I can’t breathe, much less skip. Instead, I celebrated by swiping a bunch of cardboard boxes bound for recycling and took them home to fill for donating. 

Now all I need to get this project into full swing are antibiotics and someone willing to load the truck…Honey, got a minute?