Friday, May 27, 2016

Weekly Grocery Challenge Week 3

I am behind,  but the Pinterest Week 3 board is up.  Here's the plan:

Pizza night
Spicy Spaghetti Squash Stir Fry
Rice and Beans
Smoky Black Bean Breakfast Bowls
Chicken Potato Hash
Maple Glazed Chicken with Sweet Potatoes
Easy Hawaiian Chicken Bake

Breakfasts, lunches, and snacks are the same as the previous two weeks.  We are trying to eat until the kitchen is pretty much empty since we will be out of town part of next week.

We are really digging the homemade granola we did the first week, so we make that a lot.  Also, the homemade pop tarts were a huge success.  In fact, they are so easy to make that I have to make sure we DON'T have the ingredients on hand very often.  I never liked regular pop tarts, but these are amazing!

Monday, May 23, 2016

May Book List

I tried to title this the March book list because, well, how did it get to be May?!?

I read some great books this month, though I didn't read exactly what I expected.  Some books came in that I had on hold, so I changed a few things to read the ones I was most excited about.  I bailed on a couple as well.

This month I'm including a list of read alikes, so if you read a book I review and then want something covering the same topic or with a few similarities, check out the other options after each review.

Version Control by Dexter Palmer:  Let me just start by saying this is my favorite time travel book ever!  Palmer wowed me on every single page.  Woven into a story about marriage, friendships, racism, and technology is an exploration of a device called the causality violation device.  It's a time machine.  I cannot even hold in my head how Palmer pulled this all together so seamlessly, but this book grabbed me, and I neglected dishes, laundry, and my nightly yoga to devour it.

Other Time Travel Books:  The Time Traveler's Wife, Pax Romana

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith:  This book is set in three different time periods, ranging from 1950s New York to 2000s Sydney to Amsterdam in the 1600s.  It follows a painting by Sara de Vos and tells the story of how that painting intertwined and affected the lives of an aspiring artist, Ellie, and the man whose family has owned the painting for generations.  Smith explores what we are willing to take from each other and what it costs us.  He writes with elegance that is hard to describe, and you feel like you're swimming between the pages absorbing every detail.

Other Books About Art:  The Goldfinch, The Swan Thieves, The Last Nude

The Blondes by Emily Schultz:  A rabies like disease is infecting women all over the world, specifically women with blonde hair.  Hazel Hayes tells her unborn child the story of  her journey through New York City and Canada after the outbreak of this infectious disease, documenting not only the effects of the outbreak but also her personal journey as a doctorate student who is pregnant with her married professor's child.  Schultz writing is tight and full at the same time.  Her characters are believable, and this examination of how we view beauty and how we relate to those around us is both dark and hopeful.

Other Books About Women/Beauty Standards:  Dietland and 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

I have a week left, and I am currently reading The Little Red Chairs, but I am also working on about six writing projects, so I may or may not finish it by June.  It will appear on next month's list either way.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Weekly Grocery Challenge Week 2

The Weekly Grocery Challenge Week 2 board is up on Pinterest if you want to check it out.  I only included recipes I've never made, so there may be a few on my blog list that you won't find on the board, like spaghetti or tacos.  I usually shop on Wednesdays, so this is the beginning of the new week for me.  Here's the line up for this week:

Homemade Pop Tarts (Pop Tarts were one of D's favorite pre-Celiac junk foods, so I am going to surprise him with these.)
Breakfast Burritos
Monkey Bread and Eggs
Crunch Bars
Eggs and Fruit
Anything in the fridge not growing mold

Boiled eggs and raw veggies
Choice of protein wrapped in rice paper or an arrowroot tortilla

Chicken Fajita Quesadillas
Spicy Sausage and Pasta
Chicken Pot Pie we didn't eat from last week because we had leftovers
Chicken and Dumplings
Sonoma Flatbreads Serious Meat Gluten-Free Pizza from Costco
Tacos and Beans

Aldi's grabs or fruits and veggies

Last week went really well.  We tried new foods.  I loved all of them, and so did D.  The kids were hit and miss, but they tried new things without complaining too much.  They also chose healthier snacks all week because that's pretty much all I made available to them.  Today they had having baby carrots for lunch.

I spent more money on the front end, which usually happens at the beginning of a new grocery period (that falls in the middle of the month for us, so week one was our first week of groceries for this pay period).  However, I have plenty of ingredients left over to make more meals, so I doubt I will spend all of this week's allotment.  I think the super detailed planning is going to work out.  We'll see!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How I Feel When I See that Cheerios Commercial

D and I don't have cable, but we stream The Flash through the CW channel on our computer, and I was subjected to the gluten-free Cheerios commercial last week.  In case you haven't seen it, it's the one that opens with a little girl about to have her first bowl of Cheerios.  The assumption is that she has Celiac or is gluten intolerant and hasn't been able to eat Cheerios before due to the oats containing wheat because of cross-contamination.

I hate that commercial.

When you are told you have Celiac, the acronym BROW becomes important.  It stands for barley, rye, oats, and wheat.  Though gluten can hide behind many names, anything in the BROW category absolutely CANNOT be eaten by someone with Celiac or gluten intolerance.

Recently, the rules changed, and I am not super comfortable with it.  Oats kind of came off the unsafe list.  There are now certified gluten-free oats that have been tested for cross-contamination and passed, and then there are just plain old oats that are thought to be possibly safe if decontaminated like Cheerios claims to do.

But I don't think they are, and I have gotten pretty good at trusting my gut.

Cheerios has a special machine to remove the wheat from oats, and then they test the product (supposedly, but we'll get to that in a minute) three times before determining that they are below the 20 parts per million required to receive a gluten-free label.  Cheerios won't release their test results; we're just all supposed to believe them when they say their product is safe.

This machine is supposed to pull out the tiny pieces of grains in every tiny Cheerio, which is a lot to expect from a machine.  In fact, it may be too much to expect, because the inaugural voyage of the gluten-free Cheerios went very wrong.  It can be blamed on human error probably more than on the machine.  Over 1.8 million boxes were recalled because of cross-contamination.  The testing wasn't done.  The company admitted negligence.  (See this source for a more in depth view.)

And D had already eaten an entire box.

Luckily, his box wasn't contaminated, but it was still an unfortunate learning experience.  Wren had not been allowed to eat any because D and I fought it out in the middle of Costco a week before.  It went like this:

Me:  No.
D:  They're gluten-free.
Me: No.
D:  They're tested.
Me: No.
D:  I love cereal.
Me:  I hope it's worth killing yourself, but I don't trust these people as far as I can throw them or their box of faux gluten-free Cheerios.  So you go right ahead, but Wren is not to eat those.

My reason for doubting all of this is: 1) oats.  BROW is pretty much hammered into my brain.  I will not easily forget oats being on that devil list, and I am not putting two of my most-loved people up as guinea pigs.  Celiacs DON'T eat oats, and there's no research to show what happens if they do.  2) I had a conversation after Wren was diagnosed with a big shot from a major food manufacturing company.  I grew up on the food they produce (it's less food, more chemicals), and somehow we started talking about Celiac.  This man sounded knowledgeable about Celiac and asked how many people in my house had it.  I told him, and then he asked, "So, are you all going to stop eating gluten?"  I said, "Yes, of course."  He responded by doing math on his hands showing that two pepole in the house cost him four customers (this was before the twins).  Then he nodded his head, smiled, and said the words that will forever be seared into my brain:  "Do you realize how much money our company will lose because of people like you?  I mean, our company is so pro gluten-free.  We want products your family can eat because then you will all eat them.  We have no interest in going broke."

I was naive then, not quite the person I am now who trusts very few companies and believes a money trail leads to most motives.  This was my first experience having my husband and daughter broken down to dollar signs, nothing more.  I realized cutting corners on testing and flat out lying were not beyond the man standing in front of me.  He's the one who said money was his motive.  This company didn't want to help D and Wren; it wanted to use them.  I won't ever forget what it felt like to hear that.

I'm not saying that is Cheerios' motive for becoming gluten-free.  All I know is they are doing a crappy job of producing gluten-free Cheerios, so maybe they should just stick to making regular Cheerios instead of misleading people who can't eat gluten.  I don't think they'd go broke.

And I'm not stupid enough to believe that just because a company is small that they are more trustworthy.  I just generally trust companies more if they have been doing gluten-free for years, even before it was popular, or companies who will pay the extra money to be certified gluten-free (and recalls happen within those environments, as well.  The lack of transparency from Cheerios since the beginning just really rubbed me the wrong way).

So when I see that Cheerios commercial, I pop off sarcastic comments like, "Hope you have the activated charcoal ready", or  D and I yell at the TV, "Don't eat it, little girl!"  Eating Cheerios is not the single most normalizing experience of a child's life, though this commercial makes you think it is.  It's great marketing, but it's not reality.

This isn't a Cheerios' specific problem.  With the rise of gluten-free products over the last five years, it's both exciting and terrifying to eat.  We make a lot of phone calls (okay, I make a lot of phone calls) and grill manufacturers until they want to cry.  It's my job.  And still, I don't always know who to believe.

There are many benefits to gluten-free going mainstream, but it's sometimes hard to know who your friends are.  Everyone wants to court the gluten-free market, but some of the people showing up for the date aren't worthy.   If I think they have money on their minds more than the health of my people, they won't make it through the door.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Five Years In

This is Celiac Awareness Month, and we are about five years into our gluten-free journey.  There's always a lot going on in that department; I don't expect to ever get bored.  However, one thing that can get boring is the same old gluten-free meals day after day.  We eat out so very rarely that one of us is in the kitchen prepping most every meal, and it's easy to get in ruts or to just grab junky gluten-free treats.  We decided to revamp the food list and also see about pulling in grocery budget, because bringing food costs down for the family is not something we've perfected yet.

This will be an imperfect journey, but if you want to go on it with us, here are a few things to know:

  • You can follow me, Kristy Trammell Ramirez, on Pinterest, for easy access to recipes.  The Week One Grocery Challenge board has most of the recipes we're using for this week.
  • We don't follow one particular diet, except gluten-free of course.  We're not 100% Paleo, vegan, Mediterranean diet, whatever.  We do a bit of this and a bit of that, and I modify recipes to make them work for our crew.  If you ever see a recipe on my boards with gluten in it, know that I have replaced the gluten product with a gluten-free alternative when cooking it for my family.
  • I always have a back up plan.  My kids are good eaters, but sometimes they go through food jags where they decide to throw sass about anything that looks new or different.  I ask them to try everything, but if they really don't like the food, I let them grab raw veggies and boiled eggs.  I'm not going to cook a whole new meal for them, but I do want them to eat.  
  • You won't see a ton of desserts.  We are only doing real, hardcore sugar once a week.  Tomorrow night is smores!
Here's the plan for this week:

Lemon Yogurt
Banana Granola
Eggs and fruit
Two Ingredient Pancakes
Sauteed Apples with Honey

leftovers and anything we can wrap in rice paper

Rice-free Sushi
Perfect Stir Fry
Greek Burgers with sauce and okra
Chickpea Masala
Pan Roasted Lemon Chicken with a side of green beans
Chicken Pot Pie

Fruits, veggies, or Aldi's grabs

Aldi's used the be the store I shopped at when I lived in Ohio because I was broke and did not care if I ate chemicals.  However, they have come a long way.  They now have a gluten-free line that has decent ingredients (read your labels, some are better than others) and is affordable.  I grab snack foods at Aldi's and combine them with fruits and veggies from Costco.

I hope to do this meal planning for at least a month or two until we have a good rotation of meals and a pretty decent idea of how much each meal costs to make.  That will help with budget planning and food ruts.

I will post a few more things this month about gluten-free living since this is the official month of awareness.  We've learned a lot; we don't know as much as we'd like.  As always, we're in progress.

Monday, May 9, 2016

What No One Ever Tells You

There are a lot of things people feel inclined to warn you about when you have more than one child, such as:

  • they fight
  • the more you have the more they cost
  • they'll each think you have a favorite
  • they will spread infectious diseases to each other like wildfire
This is all true, but there's a phenomenon no one told me about.  I call it accident clusters.

Let me explain since you will probably receive zero matches if you try to Google my made up randomness.  In the last month, all of my children have suffered from injuries of the beyond-average variety.  There's been horrific amounts of blood, and I noticed that my Instragram feed probably makes people wonder if they should notify CPS.  Stitches, bruises, scars:  check, check, check.

We're not the type who try to keep our kids in a bubble to save them from harm.  They climb trees, ride bikes, hang upside down on monkey bars.  They sport bruised legs and scratches on a regular basis.  However, accident clusters are different.  The injuries are more severe, and all of the kids seem to suffer from a fairly big accident during the time of the cluster.  Just when you think it's over, it's not.  

I don't think bad luck is contagious, so maybe this is all somehow connected to the lunar cycle, but here are some questions to ask yourself if you're wondering if you may be in the middle of an accident cluster:

  • Do you have specific cleaners just to get blood out of clothes?
  • Do you feel the need to explain to strangers in the check out line at the grocery store that your kids fall a lot and you don't, like, beat them or anything?
  • Is your deductible for the year already met?
  • Do you and your spouse frequently comment on how grateful you are that kids' heads are so hard?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be in the middle of a cluster.  It looks a lot like dodging stitches when your son steps on glass in the garage, only to land at Children's weeks later because your daughter gashed her chin open on a rock. (Eleven stitches because she does not do things halfway).  It looks like hearing a thud when your toddler falls into the dining room table only to come home the next day and notice there is now also skin missing from her face due to an incident with a basketball. (I was gone for half an hour.  D said poor Ash was just minding her own business when she got smacked.)  It's being concerned about one toddler having a lump in her neck (swollen lymph nodes, but probably okay) and then noticing the other toddler is flat on the floor screaming her head off after slipping on a book.  

I would offer coping advice for the cluster periods, but I don't have any.  It's unrealistic to keep them inside because my kids are pros at getting hurt in the house.  Having them wear bubble wrap or helmets full time could actually make their movements more awkward and cause worse accidents.

I am going to start tracking these incidents to look for patterns, but I'm not hopeful.  The randomness is infuriatingly unpredictable, but at least you've been warned.

After the table incident, prior
to the basketball incident.

After stepping on glass intentionally because it had
been a slow day, so why not? (The glass broke
after he stepped on it.  He thought he could just
stomp it and walk off.)

Before she decided to trust the Lidocaine.  All she could
 imagine was someone with a sewing kit jabbing her
already hurting chin.

Eowyn says, "Hi!  I hit my head, but
you can only see evidence of chocolate

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

End of April Books and the May Book Plan

I didn't finish All Things Cease to Appear as planned because two books I couldn't wait to read came up on my holds list at once.  Then I grabbed a third.  Here are the end of the month books for April.  For the books I read the first half of April, click here.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad:  Told as a 13 story narrative following the life of  protagonist, Elizabeth, Awad explores what happens when we let one part of who we are define us.  Uncomfortable and honest, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl shows that what we believe will make us happy can leave us in chains. Awad uses 13 glimpses into Elizabeth's life to help the readers see a life lived in a web of insecurities.  This book and Dietland read well together.  They left me with so much to think about that I found myself sitting in the recliner staring at a wall at midnight, unable to shut down everything these books opened in my mind.

Out of Sorts:  Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey: It's hard to know where to begin.  Bessey explores faith and the journey our spiritual lives take so well that I recommend her first book, Jesus Feminist, to everyone I meet.  I will recommend Out of Sorts now, as well.  Bessey gives you permission to question everything you thought you knew about who God is in order to truly know Him. She never sets her journey up as a how-to map, instead encouraging others to go through the questions and possible wilderness in their own lives the way that works for them.  I am still holding onto this book from the library because I thought I would go back and take notes in my journal.  After rethinking it, I'm just going to give it to myself for Mother's Day and highlight it to death.

The Wander Society by Keri Smith:  Smith writes about the strange messages she started seeing in New England about a mysterious wander society.  One rule of the wander society seems to be don't approach anybody in the wander society (an introvert's dream!), so not much was officially known about the group.  Smith set out to find out what she could and write a guide, so to speak, for wandering.

This book discusses many great wanderers, mainly Walt Whitman, and encourages the reader to be intentional with their time and actually experience what is around them.  Physical, as well as mental, wandering are prescribed as a way to push back against society's idea of success.  Basically, put down your phone, open your ears, and take time each day to explore.

I'm not a live-on-my-phone person.  However, this advice still helped me.  I've never seen our neighborhood as a place worth exploring since we are smack dab in the middle of suburbia.  We've taken walks a million times, but we generally go the same route and come back home.  But Monday while D was at work, the five of us set out and wandered for over an hour looking for squirrels, Sammy's current obsession.  I've lived here for eight years and never truly appreciated the layout of the streets, all of the small animals, our neighbors.  It was a slow, fairly aimless walk, but the kids described it as the best day ever.  I felt the same way.  I came back relaxed and not at all looking forward to diving into emails and dealing with the to-do list.  Wandering was enough.

I'm also venturing back into the short story market, and wandering helps me think through stories, develop ideas, and observe human behavior.  The time was right for me to find this book.  It's a good read for any audience.

This month I am attempting to tackle Version Control,  Dark Money, The Lady with the Borzoi, Get in Trouble, and The Last Painting of Sara de Vos.  I'll report back soon.