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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Two yummy dinners

I feel so busy these days I am a little concerned about life in September.  The last 2 meals I wanted to share with you went by and I had no time to blog.  So in an effort to make this quick and easy because I promised my husband I would spend time with him tonight and not the computer I am going to lay them out there for you as quickly as possible.

Dinner 1:

  • 6 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 6 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • Lime zest and juice
·  1 Combine marinade ingredients and spread evenly over beef skewers.
·  2 Marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours.

Dipping sauce
¼ cup peanut butter
3 Tbsp vege broth
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp fresh ginger
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp hot pepper sauce
½ tsp sugar
Chopped cilantro, chopped green onion
Garlic salt and pepper to taste
Whisk all ingredients together until creamy and smooth. 1 tbsp per serving, 1 pt per serving

The sauce was actually a weight watchers recipe so it is 1 pt per Tbsp.  The meat which I cut into chunks while still slightly frozen and then marinaded I decided a serving was about 5 chunks which worked out to about 6 pts. Other than not being thrilled with the cut of steak I got (they were really thick cut sirloins but ended up being fat ribboned through and my poor girls would chew and chew and chew and chew -- I remembered why I didn't like steak when I was little!!) so I would recommend getting better steaks but the flavors were amazing.  I just bought a package of Thai Kitchen Pad Thai to make along with it and I steamed some snow peas and carrots with a splash of pineapple juice and ginger and lime juice on the veges.   Then served with pineapple.  Really nice dinner.

Dinner 2:

Diablo Chicken with Spanish Rice

Chicken Marinade
2 Limes
1/4 cup reduced-sodium Soy Sauce
4 cloves Garlic (minced)
1 tsp dried Oregano
2 sprigs fresh Thyme
1/8 tsp
Cayenne Pepper
½ tsp dried Parsley
1 Bay Leaf

1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Brown Sugar

Spanish Rice Recipe


· 2 tablespoons olive oil (can use up to 1/4 cup)

· 1 onion, chopped fine

· 1 garlic clove, minced

· 2 cups of basmati rice

· 3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock if vegetarian)

· 1 can of diced tomatoes with herbs, strained

· Pinch of oregano

· 1 teaspoon salt

· Method

· 1 In a large skillet brown rice in olive oil, medium/high heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook onion rice mixture, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes, or until onions are softened.

· 2 In a separate sauce pan bring stock to a simmer. Add tomato sauce, oregano, and salt. Add rice to broth. Bring to a simmer. Cover. Lower heat and cook 15-25 minutes, depending on the type of rice and the instructions on the rice package. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

The Spanish rice was so so good, I put a little dollop of fresh salsa on top of our rice at the end. They bothmade huge amounts, I counted it as 8 servings and the rice was 4 pts and the chicken was 6 pts.  We also had a little corn on the side, mixed in nicely with the rice.  I don't know why this is called the devil's chicken, it really was tasty.  My husband gets all the credit for the rice as domesticated as he is too.  I left the recipe out for him while I was working and he made and grilled the chicken that I had already marinated.  Of course in the process my two year old colored in markers on my dining room rug while Daddy was busy in the kitchen.  Sigh.  These are the things that have me running around like crazy!!

So that finishes the list of dinners I promised you last time.  I just came from the grocery store and this is what is on the schedule:

Coming soon to a kitchen near me (and a blog near you):
1. Caribbean pork tacos with avocado and pineapple, watermelon
2. Lemon herb chicken skewers with herbed rice and asparagus
3. Teriyaki burgers with pineapple salsa and tortilla chips
4. Crispy French Onion Chicken with broccoli and redskins
5. Citrus marinated fish tacos with lemon coolers and frozen lemon creme jello
6. Herbed Tilapia and Avocado Pomegranate Salad
7. Chicken sausage with poached eggs and sweet potato hash
8. Tomato, avocado and cheddar burritos

And now to hit publish and go spend a few moments chatting with my love.  Sorry so brief and direct.  I know you all missed my witty banter mixed in with the recipes this time, right? Don't answer that.  (PS - sorry about all the crazy font changes in this post, I am too tired to attempt to fix that!!) See ya!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Opposites attract

They say opposites attract.  That is true in healthy eating.  Because if I want to eat something not so healthy I have to eat pretty good the rest of the day to make up for it.  Yesterday was a good example of this.  My parents were flying in at lunch time after a long trip away and I knew their fridge would be empty but after traveling no one wants to eat yucky fast food when they get home, you usually have to do enough of that when you are traveling, so when I picked them up at the airport I wanted to bring them something homemade and light.  So I whipped up a dish from Jillian Michael's cookbook (with a few of my own embellishments as always) which kept things light enough for the sins I would partake of later that night. 
Mediterranean Tuna Salad Wraps

1 can garbanzo beans
1 can sliced black olives
1 Tbsp fresh dill minced
2 can solid white albacore tuna packed in water, drained
2  large hard-boiled, chopped
5 stalks finely chopped celery
2 tbsp finely chopped red onion ( you know how I feel about this -- I used green onions)
4 tbsp tzatziki sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped capers
Juice of 1 lemon and zest
salt & pepper, Mrs Dash Lemon Pepper to taste
Romaine lettuce
Whole Wheat tortillas
Just mix it all together!
Makes 8, 6 pts each including the tortillas which are 2

Another light summer salad for these hot hot days

Then Friday night we were supposed to be camping, those plans were thwarted by extreme heat and family emergencies.  I thought the best option to not devastate those little cherub faces looking to me to save them from their total disappointment was to camp inside.  We put up a living room tent and climbed in and read books and played games and my daughter is now locked in a power struggle with my husband over the flashlights (oops!) but we had a good time overall!

Here is a pic from a previous tent-making experience, look my baby was REALLY a baby then, look at her cute pink ruffled butt crawling into the tent to investigate!!
I am sitting under it now, wondering if I have fulfilled the obligatory period of total living room destruction and can take it down or will there be catastrophic screaming and crying if they wake up and it's gone tomorrow.  Hmmmm....

Anyways, Friday night I wanted to create a camping treat without the camping so I made....

S'mores Brownies (with Reece's Peanut Butter Cups!)

Messy but oh so delicious! Bake a pan of your favorite brownies (Duh, Ghirardelli!) when they come out sprinkle with Golden Grahams cereal (or if you are a purist you could just smash up graham crackers), sprinkle with marshmallows and put in the broiler for like 30-45 sec (careful or your marshmallows with be well done and not just toasty brown) then sprinkle with chocolate, I went with PB cups but then again I am not a purist.  I couldn't resist throwing a little PB in the mix.  Cut square pan into 16 pieces.  6 pt each.  And totally worth it!   Indoor camping is actually pretty nice, no bugs, no smoke smell, don't have to get "decent" before dashing to the bathroom in the morning that isn't too far away.  All in all I had a good time, I think I'll come again!  Hope you all are having a great summer too.  Remember the sinful treats aren't too bad when you pair them with those light and satisfying meals.  Stay cool!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Breakfast any time of the day!

I love doing breakfast for dinner, especially because my husband is usually the breakfast cook and so I can assign him that when I work late.  Tonight I had breakfast as a plan for the night and since I got out of work early I could make the recipes and he easily fell into his position as sou chef.  First order of business, Jillian Michael's had a Denver omelet on my meal plan from her cookbook but I decided to use the ingredients and make a big scramble. 

Denver Egg Scramble
It basically was red pepper and onion and salt and pepper and Mrs. Dash's Southwest sauteed in olive oil, add ham.  Add eggs (we did 8).  When almost done add cheese (1/2 cup sharp cheddar).  Voile. 8 servings, 4 pts. Tons of options, olive, feta, ham = Greek would be one we would could easily do.  Or how about tomato basil?  Yum. Eggs are so good. 

But I thought it needed somethings sweet and I had some of these to use up.
Hmmmm.... they are kind of like crepe consistency....what about Blintzes.  I couldn't decide on flavors so I made Apricot and Cherry.  Yummy!!!

Apricot Blintzes
Mix 1/2 cup softened fat free cream juice, 1/2 cup fat free ricotta cheese and 2 Tbsp light butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, lemon zest, 1 Tbsp lemon juice.  Put approx 3 Tbsp mixture into each of 5 egg roll wrappers, roll up and line in sprayed 9 x 13 (kind of like enchiladas).  Bake at 350 for about 10-15 min until heated through. Drizzle with sauce and a dusting of powdered sugar.  Apricot sauce:  2/3 cup sugar free apricot preserves, 1/3 cup OJ, 2 Tbsp light butter and 1 Tbsp lemon juice and more lemon zest.   Combine in pan and simmer, serve warm over blintzes. 

Now for the cherry variety...

Cherry Blintzes
Filling: the same as above except instead of lemon zest/juice I coarsely chopped a handful of dried cherries and through them in the mix. Sauce was obviously Cherry sugar free preserves and  I used prepared ocean spray cherry limeade (sugar free) instead of OJ.  Both types of blintzes are 6 pts.  I had cherry tonight.  I probably should have had 1/2 of each so I could try both kinds, guess who is having an apricot blintze in the morning.  This would make a great brunch food,or for a bridal or baby shower, yummy!

That's really all.  Brinner (Breakfast merging with dinner) took like 15 min to make and very delicious.  The 5 year old though is still being difficult and wouldn't eat.  She used to be much more adventurous however she was disturbed by the onions in her eggs and heaven only knows how something as delicious as a cherry cream cheese blintze couldn't appeal to her! More for us!!! 

Hope you can try them and enjoy too!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sakes Alive it's a scorcher!

With a stretch of hot weather all around us it's easy to get to meal time and think, yuck, I don't really want to eat.  And I certainly don't want to cook.  Today at lunch I came home and prepared a light salad that was just perfect this evening, so when the heat index is in the 100's you don't have to worry about hot and heavy food.

 Funniest thing is that last night after running in 100 deg heat we came home and after awhile I thought "I would like some hot cocoa" so yup I had hot chocolate as a snack last night.  God bless air conditioning (even the non centralized kind).  Also my two year old keeps walking around saying "I freezing" which means it can't be too hot right?  Well the fact that my dog goes outside and immediately is barking to be let back in means it is hot! Too hot! So how about a nice light dinner? 

Grilled Shrimp Salad with Feta, Fresh Corn, and Blueberries
This one is from the Pioneer Woman and actually she made it with chicken.  But who doesn't like to substitute chicken once and awhile, mix things up a little, right? But if you either don't like shrimp or like my unfortunate brother-in-law are allergic to the sea creatures of this world don't miss out on this, I am sure it is just as wonderful with chicken and wait till you hear the best part...
  • 1 lb shrimp, tails removed (I used precooked and then grilled them for a minute or two on my indoor grill pan to get a little grill flavor going)
  • Salt And Pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil, For Drizzling
  • 5 stalks Celery (inner Light Green Stalks), Finely Diced
  • 2 ears Fresh Corn (I used grilled)
  • 1/4 whole Medium Red Onion, Finely Diced (sorry Pioneer woman, I never do raw onion, I skipped this one and did more celery than she originally called for!)
  • 1-1/2 cup Blueberries
  • 3 Tablespoons Fresh Dill, Minced
  • 4 Tablespoons Mayonnaise (mine was fat free)
  • 4 Tablespoons Sour Cream (also fat free)
  • 1/4 cup Half-and-half (guess what? fat free!)
  • 1 whole Lemon
  • 1/2 tsp of Mrs Dash's Lemon Pepper (Oh yeah baby, I got two more flavors!!)
  • 1 teaspoon Sugar (more To Taste)
  • Salt And Pepper (additional) To Taste
  • 3/4 cups Crumbled Feta (plus extra feta for sprinkling)

Preparation Instructions

Season shrimp with salt and pepper.
Heat grill pan and drizzle shrimp with olive oil. Grill shrimp just to get pretty grill marks (or if you had raw, until cooked).  Remove from pan. Allow to cool.
With a very sharp knife, shave kernels off each corn cob. Combine with the onion (or not!) and celery. Set aside.
Mix together mayonnaise, sour cream, feta, and half-and-half. Stir in sugar,  add lemon zest and squeeze in lemon juice, and add salt and pepper and Lemon Pepper seasoning. Stir, then taste. Add more salt if necessary; do not under-salt!
Throw shrimp into a bowl with celery, onion, and corn. Stir to combine. Pour half the dressing over the ingredients and toss gently. Add more as desired, but don't overcoat the salad; should be light!
At the end, toss in the blueberries to lightly coat them in the dressing. Serve, then sprinkle individual helpings with feta.

Ready for the kicker....serving is 3/4 cup, makes 12 servings, 3 pts each.  Ummmm, thanks I'll take 2! I piled it up on some romaine and ate it with a roll.  So good.  So light.  So lemony.  And so DILLicious. Trust me with flavor like that you will not miss the fat I cut out of the dressing.  My two year old asked for 3 helpings however her older sister turns her nose up at shrimp so she wouldn't eat it! 

Want a closer look at all the yummy ingredients?

Oh my word I could put blueberries in everything! I hear the pickings are good right now.  Time to take my little migrant workers to the field! We need to store up for winter! With points this low I think I'll skip the low-cal hot cocoa tonight and go for some ice cream!! (Or as my little one says Ice Keem) - -  Peanut Butter cup here I come! Stay cool everyone!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Everything's better when we do it together!

 Today is about working together.  I am participating in another meal exchange with the ladies at my church.  This time we are trying to do marinated meats for grilling or slow cooker meals which are both great for summer when we frankly don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  I love doing this and it is much MUCH easier than doing it on your own.  Plus you get the bonus of getting new recipe/meal ideas from others! So here is how I do it:

Get all the supplies out on the counter

Here is a couple close ups because looking at ingredients laid out gets me excited like that, I am totally weird!!

For preparation, I would probably love to do all 6 of each kind at once but I did 3 today which takes up less space and I don't think I have 6 giant bowls for prep!

 And 2 hrs (and $100) later I had this:

Now we do it so we have 5 families in each group.  I round it out and do 6 so I have 2 of each of my meals.  One for later or if I want to have a meal in the freezer to give to someone.  So in the end I will have 12 meals and for $100 and 2 hrs of work I would say that is pretty excellent.

So my advice, if you want to make more interesting meals but find you can't do it as often as you want.  Find a group of friends to do a meal swap with.  And don't worry so much about those freezer cookbooks (which are nice, I have a few) but they aren't necessary.  Both of the meals I made come from my Betty Crocker recipe email and weren't intended as a freezer meal but most recipes are adjustable. So form a group and get a lot done in a little amount of time. Every thing is better when we do it together.

The same goes with exercise.  My church has a running group and I figured after 6 weeks I need not feel so intimidated so I decided to do it tonight. Well with a heat index of 102 degrees it was just husband and I being hosted by sweet Keri and Chris, Keri is one tough lady and one of my running inspirations.  She was just a turquoise blur far far ahead of us but there we were chugging up a hill that seemed like a mountain on a busy busy road, I am sure there is a high probability that someone we knew drove by and saw us struggling along but it was super fun.  And Keri's son sets up a little refreshment stand when we got back and the kids were playing and the husbands were doing manly things like cutting down trees.  It was much more fun then a normal boring track run, a lot harder but afterwards I didn't feel like I was going to die, my husband and I were just remarking how good it felt to sweat and exercise.  In fact the 6 weeks we have been running I have barely had any hip pain that I needed so much help with prior to this.  Huh? Go figure, you feel better when you exercise.  So find an exercise buddy or even a group.  There is strength in numbers people.  Cook with them, run with them, just enjoy adult interaction with them! It makes for a great day!

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Aki Chicken

Warning: A parent is about to think something her kid said was adorable and cute and it may or may not be so but this is that parents blog, so deal with it.

So I came home from work today at lunch and made one of the side dishes for dinner tonight and then later I called my husband and was giving him instructions on how to finish up preparations over the phone (he is good like that!) and I could hear my 2 year old wreaking havoc in the kitchen "I want chocolate milk!", singing the "potty song" loudly (not that she will go on the potty or anything but she sure likes that song), I could almost hear her more clearly than my husband who I was talking to.  So I started telling my husband about how he had to cook the Teriyaki Chicken and he repeated, mumbling "teriyaki chicken" and I heard my toddler exclaim without missing a beat,  "I want Aki Chicken, I want Aki Chicken!!" which sounded a lot like she was enthusiastically requesting disgusting food.  So there is my cute parental anecdote for the day. So guess what we had....

Teriyaki Chicken

You know what totally rocked about this meal, it was made FOR me! This was another one of my freezer meals from my exchange group. Score! It was so yummy and convenient.  Can't wait till we do another exchange next week!

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons vegetable, canola, or sesame oil
1 small minced garlic clove
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger OR 1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger (duh - like that's a choice!)
1-2  pounds chicken legs and thighs (we had 10 pieces)

Mix soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, oil, garlic and ginger to make marinade. Freeze chicken in marinade in a 1-gallon bag.
When preparing to serve, thaw chicken. Pour chicken and marinade into a baking dish. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Makes five servings (2 pieces each) 7 pts each

So then I delegated my husband to make some of these to go with it:

But uh,  what to put on them because I was at work giving instructions over the phone so I just kind of had to make it up as I went along and tell him what to throw together.  So when he cut up the pineapple to put on the kabobs I had him take the juice leftover in this:

and add 1/8th cup teriyaki sauce, 1/8th cup soy sauce, 1 tsp minced ginger, sprinkle or two of garlic salt.  Then he poured it over the kabobs and let them soak for an hour before grilling.  They were awesome!

Lastly, what I made on my lunch break was a recipe from the Biggest Loser's Ali Vincent herself, and one of my favorite words, say it with me, Quinoa!! But in order to make it I had to launch into unknown waters and face this foreign creature:

I have never ever bought or cooked with a mango.  Ever.  I haven't really eaten very much mango before.  I always wanted to.  It seems like a cool trendy fruit.  Since I have no hope of being cool and trendy in my style I would at least like to be cool and trendy in the kitchen.  So I read the recipe. I was enticed because you know how I love me some quinoa.  And it was phenomenal.  Here you are:

Mango Quinoa Salad 

1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa
1 cup lite coconut milk
2 cups chicken broth
1 14 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium mangoes, peeled and diced
1 roasted red bell pepper, diced
6 green onions, thinly sliced
1 handful chopped cilantro (about 1/2 cup)
I added one ear of grilled corn cut off the cob! Because why not!
4 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (whoops, I made this on my lunch break and was rushing hard core and just realized I forgot this, my husband and I agree it didn't really need it!)fresh lime juice of one lime and lime zestkosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
*Cook quinoa in coconut milk and broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover, simmer for about 15 min or until liquid boiled off.  Chill quinoa until cooled. Place cooked quinoa in a large bowl.  Add mango, red pepper, green onion, black beans, and cilantro.  In a small bowl combine vinegar, olive oil, and lime juice.  Whisk until smooth and pour on top of salad.  Toss to combine and add salt and pepper to taste.  Chill for at least one hour before serving. Makes at least 12 servings, 5 pts each (oil didn't effect points)

OK so my kids, and all right my husband and I too, were literally gobbling every morsel of this meal, my kids were calling out "More quinoa, more chicken" and I actually had to cut them off.  This meal was a big hit.  Thanks Sara for the chicken.  Thanks Ali Vincent for getting me to be brave and try mango and add another quinoa recipe to my repertoire.  Interesting note, my husband just discovered that the pit of a mango, when accidentally ground up in a disposal opens like a clam shell and causes your disposal to need a little attention.

Whoops, sorry honey!

So rave reviews from my family on tonight's food. 

Also fun this evening, the first fruits of my gardens labor...

Anyone want any cucumbers???

Gonna go drink like a million glasses of water now, tomorrow morning, me vs my new scale.  Night Y'all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Metaphors in the strangest places

Sometimes God uses the strangest things to speak to you.  We had a lot of "things" on the schedule and we were shuffling and delegating to make sure it would all get done.  And then we hit a small snag.  I had accidentally left the house and didn't realize that the kids car seats were in the back of my car.  So the errand my husband and kids were going to run, they couldn't do.  And I got out of choir practice at 7:45 and my husband broke the news to me "Sorry honey, you have to drive 40 min over to your parents and take care of their pool."  Don't get me wrong, I love pools, my husband and I even fantasize about having one some day, but they are a ton of work. 

Here is a shot of my little one in the pool with my dad!

So while my parents are away they need people to help them out and keep things running smoothly because with a pool sometimes things can easily go wrong.  So I went over there tonight, grumbling all the way, my husband was the one who my dad showed what to do, I can't believe this, so on and so on.  It wasn't good.  I got there and the water level was way too high because my husband had left the hose going for 8 hrs (see the grumbling continued) and the pressure was high so the pool needed to be backwashed.  Great, I knew it, I didn't know how because they showed my husband and I hadn't done it in a long time and I certainly didn't want to screw up their pump.

This is the type of thing I was faced with! Intimidating.

  So my husband talked me through it over the phone. (Warning: You are about to get a crash course on pool backwashing).  You turn the pump off.  And you move this big cumbersome lever to backwash. Before you turn it on you must roll a ridiculously long hose out to your driveway or things are about to get wet real quick.  Then you turn it on and let it run watching for two things, obviously your pool water level to get to the desired height and there is a little lightbulb sized gauge that fills with water and is swirling around and it starts out cloudy because that's really why you are doing this and as it swirls and swirls it gradually becomes crystal clear.  Then off goes the pump, switch over to rinse, give it a quick rinse and then switch back to normal mode and make sure all systems are running good.  Then you have the added fun job of meticulously winding that long flat hose into a tight little coil.  Done. Sigh.  I didn't cause the pool to blow up.  (Don't laugh that was a real fear.)

Where in tar nation is she going with this one? That's what you are thinking, don't lie.  I am getting there.   So I stopped grumbling at this point, finished up my errands and started driving home.  For some reason the grumbling feeling in my heart and the image of that gauge of water slowly transitioning from cloudy to clear was stuck in my brain.  It made me think about the clarity of my own heart.  How often my heavenly Father pokes and prods at my gauges and thinks "Oh man, Amanda definitely needs a backwash today.  Look at how cloudy this is, and look at the pressure gauge. We have to clean this junk out." 

"This is no good having her walk around like this."  Only difference there is no grumbling in his heart as he slowly unwinds that long hose.  And cranks on the knobs.  And waits and waits while the churning water moves around and all the junk, the sin, the bad attitudes, the ill-spoken words, the wasted time, the garbage we watched on tv, whatever your "stuff" is, all that stuff that we let slowly filter in to our lives, particle after particle until you suddenly don't recognize it anymore, and he purifies us all over again until we are washed clean. 

Now I am picturing God putting us through a giant spiritual Brita filter:

One of my all time favorite passages is the Psalm written by a repentant David, after confessing all the sin he had let cloud up his life after he took Bathsheba as his wife and had her husband killed. Psalm 51: 10-12 reads:  

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me. 
 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

I am so grateful that I have such a loving God, who tenderly and faithfully and without complaint about how many times he does it, backwashes my heart.  That his desire for us to have pure hearts compels him to so faithfully care for us. 

There are many days when I feel just like that dirty glass.  And I run to my Father. Actually because the symbol of water is so powerful I have a spot where I like to go for my "filtration", it's where I rest my forehead on the wall of the shower and let the water flow down over me.  I cry. I pray. I ask for forgiveness.  I ask for healing for my hurts. Sometimes I even sing this song:

And in the end, I usually come out feeling more like this:

We are blessed to have a God that loves us like that. 

What does all this have to do with diet and exercise, you might ask? Trust me, the insides need much more work than the outsides.  So I finished the drive home praising God, brought home a peace offering of ice cream to my husband for my grouchiness.  And poured myself a giant glass of crystal clear cold ice water.  Happy filtering everyone. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Everyone should try this fish!

In the interest of giving people what they want, I did the fish recipe tonight from my menu plan and it was spectacular, thank you very much Jillian Michaels.  So lets get right to it. 

Thai Green Curry Barramundi ( What the world is a barramundi, this isn't California Jillian, she also suggested halibut as an alternative, at least I had heard of that but Meijers didn't have that either, I grabbed some tilapia which is the only other fish I have cooked besides salmon, and in the end, it didn't matter!)

1 Tbsp coconut oil (Really? Dream on Jillian, try olive oil or at best sesame oil)
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 tbsp green curry paste
2/3 coconut milk (I used lite, it made a two point per serving difference!)
4  (4 oz) fish fillets
1/4 cup cilantro chopped
Lime cut into 4 wedges
1 tsp garlic salt

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat over medium heat.  Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened. 

Stir in the green curry paste and cook for 1 minute.  Stir in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. 

Lay the fillets skin side down in the pan, moving the vegetables to the side to make room as you add each fillet.  Pile the vegetables on top of the fillets, cover the pan, and simmer for 10 minutes, until the fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Sprinkle with garlic salt.

Place a fillet on each of four plates and spoon the vegetables and sauce over the fish.  Sprinkle the cilantro over each serving and garnish with lime wedges.  Serve.  Each fillet is 4 pts. And so flavorful, light and delicious.

Some of you inquired about the technique of cooking fish as it is delicate and sometimes difficult to master.  Prior to this we had only ever made fish in one of these and that was our trick. 
The problem with grilling fish is that it flakes, falls apart, difficult/impossible to flip, etc.  Well these baskets completely eliminate that problem so if you like fish I highly suggest getting one. As to the timing, I am sure it depends on a lot of things, the key is when it is opaque and flaky.  This is usually pretty easy to tell but when I said "we", I really meant my husband, he is the grill master in our house.  So when this fish called for alternative cooking means I was concerned.  What if I screw it up, my readers were looking for the magic fish secret, what if I can't deliver?  Well I am going to tell you that all I did was exactly what the recipe said and it was perfect.  I was very skeptical as I was putting the fish in the pan because there was so much juice and although I did my best to make room and pile the veges on top like they said I wasn't sure it was a perfect fit and if all fillets had equal access to the hot pan.  So when I pulled the lid off exactly 10 min later and started poking at them with my fork I was so pleasantly surprised, opaque white flakes.  But the big pay off was in the first bite.  So yummy.  And if you think that the ingredients sound weird, or your kids won't like them or it's too ethnic for you, really it tasted so simple and yummy, my husband said multiple times "Amazing, the fish is melting in my mouth", it really was a big hit, I think my 5 year old felt especially sophisticated squeezing her lime on her fish. Hey whatever gets them to try new things.

(As I introduce my side dish scope out the gorgeous fish flaky goodness on my fork)

Amanda's Ginger Lime Green Beans
Mmmmm, I am making myself hungry for leftovers!

OK so green beans, I steamed them in this:

If you know anyone who sells Pampered Chef and you don't have one, go get one, I use it daily, perfectly steamed veges in the microwave! Yea.  So I did a whole lb of fresh green beans (it is summer after all, I couldn't help but think of my Grandma as I was snapping the ends off, she always made green beans and she would get us all involved in snapping off the ends. Nostalgic moment, sigh.) which took two turns in the microwave, I really need to get the bigger size steamer.  After they were perfectly cooked, I wanted to add a little pizazz without the butter (face it, I used enough yesterday) so I used 2 of these:

 I did about a tsp of ginger and a tbsp of cilantro.  Then a capful of lime juice (what is that like a tsp?).  And some garlic salt, yup I said some, it was just a sprinkle, what can I say I was making it up as I went along.  It made at least 6 servings. 1 pt.  When something tastes that good and is only 1 pt I just sit back and laugh.  I don't even want to know if  you have bought any of these tubes of gourmet garden herbs yet, they are so great, I don't really know how I ever lived without them.  Seriously, as if I don't plug Meijer's enough already but I have to tell you what happened to me the other day. If any of you in my area go to the Rivertown Meijers you know that they are having "issues" these days. The entire store is under overhaul and every time you go in there everything is in a different place and there is construction tape everywhere. When I was in there when the construction first started (like April or May) I rather flippantly said to the cashier, "this is such a pain, how long is this going to last for?" expecting that this massive inconvenience would be about 2-3 weeks.  The cashier very seriously came back with "Oh they are supposed to be all wrapped up by September or October." WHAT?!?  This store is only a few years old and they are completely redoing the whole thing.  Sounds a little like my employer, they also like to do wasteful, unnecessary construction and remodeling.  OK well all this griping is to say that they had completely moved everything, yet again, when I was in there this weekend.  And you know the long wall of produce in every store that has the built-in misting system.  All empty and torn apart.  All the produce, out in the aisle cases.  Hey lady, where in the world are my herbs?  OK I didn't speak to her that way, actually I said, "Do you know what happened to the squeeze tubes of herbs?" She said they likely didn't have any where for them during the remodel.  She could have left it at that.  I would have shrugged and been disappointed but went on my way and found time to do a separate trip to another store for the herbs.  But then she said "Which one are you looking for?" and she went in the back and hunted around for 5 minutes and brought me my Ginger and Cilantro in a tube.  Wow, customer service is not dead after all.  Thanks Meijers produce stocker lady. 

So Fish, good.  Green beans, good.  Leftover roasted potatoes that only needed to be warmed up (even though they don't really fit with the flavor theme), good.  But this dinner desperately needs a little sweetness. Hmmmm.....how about

Amanda's Watermelon Lime Spritzers

I saw this at Meijers the other day too:
I thought, that sounds super delicious so it jumped excitedly in my cart.  Tonight I took 1 cup of this juice, 1 cup of Limeade (prepared), 1 cup of Diet Sprite (or your preferred lemon lime soda) and 3-4 cups of ice.  Blend.  Serve with a sprig of mint. Delicious, big glass 3 pts! Nice.  And I dare say if you added a little something "grown-up" to them that would taste awfully nice too!

So if fish is not your forte but you like it, try this, it really was easy.  If you hate fish with a passion, use chicken and do it up with the green beans and spritzer.  So good you don't want to miss these recipes just because you aren't a fish person.   Now to go get a run in after these kids are in bed.  Night everyone.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday is a great day for comfort food

Who says comfort food has to be bad for you?  Nothing like comfort food on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.  Normally I wouldn't be up for working on a hot kitchen when it is 87 degrees outside but today I was in the mood to cook and with our little window air conditioner chugging away to the kitchen I went.  Now you may have already heard about our upcoming menu items.  I had to start with the item that spoils the fastest and that is apparently asparagus, I was told that can only be in your fridge 2-3 days tops.  Crazy. That's always the trickiest thing for me, I like to plan out enough meals to last a few weeks but you have to cook non-stop to get them all made before any of the food goes bad.  Challenging.  So today's menu was crazy good but before I get to that I must share a few things.

After the thrill of the 5k died down I got right into the business of training for another one.  I couldn't let myself have any sort of "break" because knowing me that would have stretched out for weeks with all sorts of excuses and I wanted to keep my momentum going.  I want to stick with this thing.  I want to become a runner.  To feel like I can actually say that with confidence.  So I am doing the couch to 5k program, I just finished Week 1 and I hope to be ready for a 5k by September.  If you are on the verge of a similar decision I beckon you to do it and we can run together in a 5k. Take the plunge, it feels great, you won't be sorry!

Another piece of business, weight.  My scale is on the fritz which really sort of infuriates me because I spent a bunch of money to get a nice one and it lasted, what, 2 months?  I am crossing my fingers that Bed Bath and Beyond takes it back because not weighing in leaves me less motivated, especially in the food area.  I have been so bad for the last few weeks.  Now that I am home for a few weeks and cooking again I am a reformed woman.  Two days of counting everything that went in my mouth feels good, back to normal.  OK so what went in to my mouth today...

The theme of today is Herbs, Butter and Carbs! Herbs (in particular Rosemary, Basil and Tarragon) make me feel so happy.  I all but started whistling as I was clipping them out of my herb pot and washing, plucking, and dicing them. And butter.  Oh man, butter.  Real butter is SO good, even my pastor went on a tangent about butter in his sermon today.  I use either light or whipped butter these days but if you use your butter the right way, a little goes a long way and it is oh so good.  My family and I often do our Julia Child voice and call out "I love butter!" as demonstrated by Ms. Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia.  So true, Julia, so true.  Oh and carbs.  I made this meal and realized that I had three major carb items.  But really I don't care.  I ate enough of each to be delightedly happy but not add up to outrageous points and I have never claimed to be a supporter of the Atkins diet, bring on the carbs. 

First things first, the protein. 

Marinated Flank Steak with Roasted Red Pepper and Herb Butter

First the flank, once upon a time there was a lady named Molly, she was a nice sweet young mother who went through life living a rather normal existence.  And then one day she made an interesting mix of six ingredients on meat and her whole life changed forever.  See, she gave this recipe to her friend who in turn shared it with her family and friends and this mixture became forever immortalized as Molly's Marinade.  And what happened to Molly? As far as I know she is still living her normal life out in Seattle but now she is forevermore known as "the Molly of Molly's Marinade."  Seriously life-changing stuff.  Now these 6 ingredients are relatively ordinary but when thrown together on literally ANY type of meat, poultry or fish they become EXTRA-ordinary.  Please keep these in your cupboard or fridge at ALL times, you never know when you want to marinate something.  Do it now.  And don't thank me, thank the genius Molly.  Thank you Molly, wherever you are, you are eating some yummy food I am sure.

Put your flank in a Ziploc bag, add these 6 ingredients in approximately equal amounts :
1. Olive Oil
2. A1 steak sauce
3. Soy sauce
4. Teriyaki sauce
5. Worcestershire sauce
6. Minced garlic
(Now seriously go marinade something)
Grill until desired doneness, for medium rare for about 10-12 min, my husband reports he initially does about 1 min on each side to sear it and then does less than 5 min on each side after that.  Slice in long thin strips with the grain of meat. 1 pt per ounce of flank steak you desire to eat.  This is my absolute favorite steak cut in the world, I never ate steak much until my parents starting cooking flank a lot when I was young. If you haven't tried it before please do, it's so yummy!

For Roasted Red Pepper and Herb butter
1 stick of butter softened
1 roasted red pepper peeled and sliced
2 tbsp fresh chopped basil
1 tbsp chopped tarragon
1 tbsp fresh chopped rosemary
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fresh chopped chives
1 tbsp minced garlic
Add to a food processor and pulse until well blended. Serve 1 tbsp topping on each serving of flank steak for 1 additional pt.

OK so we are just getting started. First side dish is:

Garlic-Herb Grilled Corn

 This was fun and yummy and I got it from weight watchers so it's is very official.  We had never grilled corn before and when my husband dropped a little of the steak marinade on the corn they burst into flames momentarily, pretty exciting stuff. 

6 medium ears of corn, still in their husks
3 sprays of cooking spray
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp fresh chopped basil
1/2 Tbsp fresh chopped rosemary
1/2 Tbsp fresh chopped tarragon
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

- In a large pot filled with cold water, add unshucked ears of corn; soak for 10 minutes.
- Preheat grill
- Remove corn from pot; pull back husks (be careful to leave husk attached to corn) and remove as much of silk as possible. Coat kernels with cooking spray; cover corn with husks again.
- Grill corn, turning every few minutes, until husks are blackened and charred and corn is tender (about 15 to 20 minutes)
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a small dish, stir in oil, herbs, garlic, pepper and salt.
- To serve, pull back husks to expose corn and use husks as handles.  Place on serving platter and brush butter mixture over corn. Yields 1 ear per serving, 4 pts per serving.  (First carb, very worth it, nothing says summer like corn on the cob!)

Then I roasted asparagus and potatoes using all the same flavors as the other recipes.

Roasted Asparagus
1 lb asparagus
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt, pepper, minced garlic and fresh herbs to taste
Roast in 400 deg oven 20 min, 4 servings 1 pt each

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
I do not know if you have seen these before but I love these little beauties. Meijers carries little bags of them made by Green Giant. I have two daughters and I jump at the chance to awe and delight my little girls by serving them purple food.

I mean really, with girls, you can imagine the excitement cutting into a potato and seeing that purple gorgeousness!

1 lb potatoes
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
Salt, pepper, and fresh herbs to taste
Roast in 400 deg oven, 30-40 min, 6 servings 2 pt each

And just because I was carb happy I made these too (don't worry I didn't have a full serving of everything!)

Herb Butter Dinner Rolls

Take 16  Rhodes Frozen Dinner Rolls and let rise per bag instructions (takes 3-5 hrs), take 2 rolls each and roll into 3 balls and put in each compartment of a muffin tin sprayed with cooking spray.  Makes 8 rolls. Bake per instructions (about 30 min at 350).  Repeat butter from corn recipe above and brush on warm rolls. Rolls are 6 pts each but oh so worth it. 

OK so you are thinking, she must be done now, right.  Wait we haven't had our dessert yet.  Thank you hungry girl.  What is more of a comfort food than apple pie right? I admittedly have never made an apple pie by myself.  Then hungry girl put this recipe on her show and I thought, hey I can handle that. 

Awesome Apple Pie-lets
1 tbsp Splenda
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
3 cups peeled and chopped apples (preferably Fuji)
6 large square egg roll wrappers (found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket with the other Asian items)
18 sprays non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium unheated pot, combine Splenda, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and salt with 1/2 cup cold water. Mix until the ingredients dissolve. Add apples and stir. Bring to medium-high heat on the stove and, stirring frequently, cook for 7 - 10 minutes, until apples are softened.

Remove the pot from heat and very lightly mash the apples in the pot with a potato masher or a spatula. (You don't want applesauce. It should remain chunky.) Return to low heat on the stove, and cook for 1 - 2 additional minutes, stirring often, until the mixture is thick and gooey. Remove from heat and set aside. This is your pie filling.

Prepare a large baking sheet by lining it with foil and/or spraying it with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Lay two egg roll wrappers flat on a dry surface. Set out a small dish of water. Dip your finger into the water, and run it along all of the wrapper edges. (Repeat as needed while preparing your pockets, as it will help seal them.) Starting 1/2 inch from the bottom, place about 1/3 cup pie filling along the bottom half of each wrapper, leaving a 1/2-inch border on the sides. Fold the top half of each wrapper over the filling, so that the top edge meets the bottom and the filling is encased with a border on three sides. Dab each border with water, and fold each inward about 1/4 inch to lightly seal. Press firmly along the borders with the prongs of a fork to seal completely. Carefully transfer to the baking sheet. Spray the top of each pocket with 3 sprays of butter. Repeat this process twice with remaining wrappers and filling, leaving you with 6 pie-lets.

Bake in the oven for 15 - 18 minutes, until edges begin to brown. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before digging in!

MAKES 6 SERVINGS, 3 pts each, add a little a la mode for extra pts. 

And if you don't know about these little beauties:

I love these things. They make wonton size too. You can obviously make egg rolls or wontons with them.  You can also make your own stuffed pasta. You can make cannolis or pies or blintzes (as I am going to do later).  Remarkable little things, it seems you can get just about anything these days. Especially at Meijers! Their website has lots of cool and yummy sounding recipe ideas, check it out: http://www.nasoya.com/index.html

So that's it, crazy comfort food right? It was a good day, Sunday's always are.  Sunday's are nice and relaxing in the summer, my husband is actually sitting next to me watching a movie, that is unheard of during the school year.  I am soaking up every second of summer.  I hope you are too! Now to get that scale replaced and stay on track this week...


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hebrews 12:1

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 12:1
This afternoon is a big cause for reflection.  Reflection of what the last 10 years have meant for me.  Reflection of what the last two years have been like for me.  Reflection of what I have learned in the last 4 months or even the last 3 weeks. And reflecting on what happened this morning.  If I could interview myself 10 years ago asking questions about what I thought I would be doing or accomplishing in the next decade, what the major life experiences would be , what struggles I would face, what joys, I think it would be an even mix of the expected and unexpected.  I was already dating my husband 10 years ago and I knew he was it for me! I assumed that the next 10 years would bring graduation and a degree in a very difficult competitive field which I accomplished.  I also assumed marriage and then kids would follow in due time, along with the house and the dog, all things I expected as part of the natural rhythm of life.  What I did not know was that I would have to have my cancerous thyroid gland removed, 9 years ago now, that I would subsequently put on 80 lbs in a matter of months and that it would have such a profound negative effect on the majority of my 20’s.  That I would literally be plagued with feelings of doubt, self-loathing, anger and at times despair and that I would feel like I would never get out from under it.  And I fear that I would have still been on that path if it wasn’t for two very significant experiences in my life.  
Five and a half years ago, I became a Momma.  My firstborn daughter is a bundle of fire and energy, beauty and enthusiasm and I adore her.  She is a fair mixture of my husband and I although at times I see a lot more of my husbands personality in her.  She is the friendliest 5 year old I have ever met and give her your ear and she will tell you anything you ever wanted to know about us.  Three nights ago I saw her pick up her blanket and her drink, walk over to a group of teenagers we did not know and plop herself down on their blanket at an outdoor concert where she sat for the next hour chatting with them and playing cards with a 17 year old boy who read her books and was quite enamored with this confident and precocious 5 year old girl.  When she was born I knew that I was now the primary female role model in this young girls life.  What was I teaching her about self-esteem and living life by the way I was living? I was basically hiding away from the world in my house, living unhealthily.  And since I decided it wasn’t my “fault” I had decided to spend my time feeling sorry for myself rather than do anything to change.  I knew I needed to change but I didn’t.  Then 2.5 years ago a second blessing was given to me as I had another beautiful little girl.  Double the role model pressure.  Here is the catch though.  This darling girl, who is brave and tough and spunky, who makes me laugh and perhaps has a personality closer to mine, was born with one glaring problem.  She has a birth defect of her skin that puts her in high danger of developing skin cancer and almost immediately we had to begin a treatment regiment that has caused her to have 7 surgeries already in her short life with many more in years to come.  I learn from her every day.  The reality is that my daughter will grow up with marks and scars all over her body that will make her feel “different”, will attract cruel or inquisitive looks and may even be the cause for her to experience ridicule in her life.  And I have the daunting task of loving her through it, of teaching her how to stand up and be proud of herself and to love herself despite any differences she may see in the mirror.  How, dear Lord, am I going to teach her these things, when I don’t even like myself I wondered?  So for the last 2.5 years I have been fretting about this, how to change my life, my circumstances, my attitudes so that I can stand boldly before my girls and say I love myself, I have worth and so do you, and you can do anything you put your mind to. 
 Next major landmark on this journey was when I started this blog almost 4 months ago already.  It was shortly after I started weight watchers.  I knew from many failed attempts to change my life before I needed accountability to spur me on.  Telling you about what is going on keeps me pushing to make bigger and better changes in who I am.  I love to write, I love to cook, and this allowed me to write and share recipes .  In the past I have felt bad about who I was professionally, surely someone who looks like this cannot be an expert in exercise.  However sharing my knowledge through this blog has also bolstered my confidence as a professional.  And somehow, miraculously, a transformation began to take place and I have slowly (sometimes it feels very, very slowly) began to take weight off.  I knew I couldn’t get too far with my focus on eating healthy only.  I knew I had to exercise.  But I had no inspiration to take it up a notch.  I had hit another rut. 
That leads us up to 3 weeks ago Friday.  I saw this video. 

And I found out about this cool guy Ben Davis.  I went to his blog and started reading.  I read about this tour, this cool awesome tour going across the US, doing a 5k every day in 32 cities from Boston to Seattle.  And go figure they were going to be in Detroit the same weekend we would be there for a wedding.  But this is crazy, I can’t run a 5k, I have never run, like ever, or not in what seemed like forever.  Or can I? So 3 weeks ago today, I laced up my shoes and asked my husband if he wanted to go up to the track with me and we did. I ran 1 min, walked 4 for a half an hour.  This past Wednesday after we had already bumped our routine up to the full distance of a 5k we ran the first mile without stopping.  I knew this was as ready as we were going to get.  That brings me to today.

Today, down at the riverfront in Detroit we met with 57 others who are interested in community, living healthier and essentially doing life.  That is the exact antithesis of what I was doing 4 months ago when I was hiding from life.  There were people from all walks of life, all different age groups, all different physical health statuses.  It was awesome. 

Beautiful scenery in Downtown Motor City at the Riverwalk, only wish it wasn't such a scorcher!

Taking off, you can see a hint of my pink hat and my husbands green shirt!

 A few months ago I probably would have considered myself the least likely person in the world to run in a 5k (let alone run).  Even things like walking up to complete strangers and introducing myself was something I just didn’t do a few months ago, because I wasn’t doing life.  And today I did.  It wasn’t the best running time we have had (we finished just under 50 minutes), it wasn’t the best feeling run we have had (it was nearly 90 degrees) and I wasn’t able (as I secretly hoped) to bust out and run the whole thing without stopping.  I had my ever loyal husband by my side encouraging me (I am fairly certain he could run the whole 5k but he keeps reassuring me “I am doing this to be with you!” I am a lucky girl.) 
Here we are on the first half and I had to do the Ben Davis' finger point for him!

My husband took my picture at the turnaround! Halfway done!

After the turnaround, another action shot courtesy of Ben

 When we rounded the last corner, my eyes filled with tears, I was overcome by how much I was growing and stretching myself.  There wasn’t a lot of fanfare at this race, everyone who came, ran, so there weren’t really people cheering for you as you crossed the finish line.  Just a bunch of tired people who came before you and were recovering from their own success.  But my husband dashed ahead to take a picture of me about to cross the finish line.  He was there. 

 I am grateful to Ben Davis and his inspiration of starting this movement and teaching me about Doing Life.
Here we are with the man himself.

One of my favorite things about Ben is he didn't just show up as a Internet viral video that got a million hits and then faded into oblivion. Where you think "Oh good for him, what about me?"  He is still putting his story out there, he is still struggling and working to maintain.  He still weighs in and shares his progress.  He has struggles and he finds accountability where he needs it.  He gave his dad full authority over his eating for the summer because he knows that is an area he struggles with and he needs help.  I am inspired by his story and the story of others there like a woman who has already lost 175 lbs and just started running three days ago and came out to the race!  Or a young girl who just graduated from high school and feels frustrated that she is the only one in her family who seem concerned with health.  When she brought home fruit from the grocery store her brother had never even seen a pear before.  Another girl who’s first race ever was a marathon.  Many different faces, many inspiring stories. 

And we were there among them

I honestly actually have a very bittersweet feeling.  I am obviously happy and proud that I have started this transformation, that I finished the race.  But I am still caught up with feeling tired, sore, not able to run as far or as fast as I want to, not able to lose weight as fast as I want to.  Not knowing the end of my story, if I will ever cross the finish line in my mind where I can feel like I am a woman worthy of having my girls look up to me. All I can do is something that I had to keep telling myself to do this morning, put one foot in front of the other and keep going.  I hope that whatever is holding you back, what ever hurdles on the track of your life you find the inspiration, the will and the courage to spread your wings and soar right over them.  It is definitely better to do life then to hide from it.   I look forward to finding more and more barriers to knock down. Thank you all for your encouragement and for listening to me as I speak with an honest heart.