Today is the annual "put-up-the-Christmas-decorations-and-hope-we're-still-speaking-to-each-other-when-we're-done" day. This one has been the best, by far. Maybe the kids are old enough to really help (notice most are almost as tall as the tree!), or maybe it's just a new setting with a little more room for everyone to get around, or maybe the radio station here plays better Christmas music. Whatever the reason, the tree was up in no time flat, smiles were still to be seen, and a few minutes of quality family time had actually taken place. There were lots of "Oh, I remember"'s going on- remember getting some ornament, or making some ornament, or the person who gave us an ornament, or something special in relation to an ornament. Before we knew it, the boxes were empty and the tree was full. No, our tree, or Christmas for that matter, doesn't have a particular "look". The best decoration we put up every year is the one no one can see, but grows bigger and brighter every year...we decorate with memories.
I'm becoming obsessed with gas prices, probably because they involve numbers (and I love numbers) and those numbers directly involve my wallet. I usually top off the tank once a week and lately it's been almost fun. Instead of prices jumping 20-30 cents a week, they've been falling by nearly that much. Bear with me as I document it so some day I can look back and "remember when". Today's fabulous price.....drum roll please....... $1.62 a gallon. Yea! I put 11 gallons in our 22 gallon tank for only $18. Wow! That definitely takes me back to early 2004. I remember gas in AZ "skyrocketing" that spring because a pipeline was down. Gas went up as far as $1.99 before finally dropping back down and there were lines for blocks at gas stations because no one had any gasoline. Don't know about you, but I vote for the price to stay low for awhile. Erica thinks prices should drop to $1.50 because it's a round number and easier to work with. I'm ok with that price, but I'll be happy if it just hangs out here for a little bit, too.
Since I've been accused of neglecting my daughter on this blog, I am dedicating this post to her. Last week brought her birthday, another trip around the sun. Presents and cake were the order of the day. Today was the real treat, though. She and I made the drive to the DMV and we now have a new driver in the family. The learner's permit turned out to be a little more difficult to obtain than we expected. State offices are only open M-TH and as I'm opposed to taking anyone out of school for anything short of near-death, we've had a hard time getting over there. The school district was kind enough to give the kids the day off today, so away we went.
Success! Greg and I had to take the test when we got new licenses last summer. It was open book for us, though. New drivers have to take it from memory. Glad I didn't have to. The kids get three chances to pass. Erica did it the first time. Now, it's on to the practical part of the training. It's a very strange place to be- remembering my own permit experiences and suddenly having a child in the same position. My parents seemed so much more patient, wise, and prepared than I feel. Wish us luck!
Ryan had a not-so-fun Friday. He tripped and fell on the way to school. It was a chilly morning and he had his hands in his pockets at the time. As a result, his face took the brunt of his up-close and personal meeting with the sidewalk. It really didn't look too bad at first- just a bleeding scrape on the side of his nose. He cried the most about hitting his head, but he never even got a lump there. We finished the walk to school and I got him cleaned up in the nurses office and off to class with a small bag of ice. By the time I picked him up after school, his whole left cheek was red and scraped. This picture was taken this morning, because I kept forgetting to take one before today. He's looking much better now (except when he has hot chocolate all over his face and then it looks worse!) and can't wait for the scab on his nose to be gone. It bothers him and he keeps picking at it. I'd kind of hoped to try for a Christmas picture this weekend, but I think we'll try again later! I'm just so grateful it wasn't any worse.
The other biggest miracle for today- I paid $1.86 for gas today. There may be lower prices out there, but I don't think I've seen gas that low for nearly 4 years. That was way back when $2 gas seemed completely outrageous. That also means that we've dropped below the 1/2-price mark from a high in July of $4.16 here. I know the economy pretty much stinks right now, but there's one big ol' silver lining.
Biggest miracle for today- I survived Young Women in Excellence. Whew! I don't know why, but I have been more nervous for this particular hour than anything else for quite a while back. I've attended a couple of them before, but never been in charge of one. I felt a little blind going in, but I work with some great ladies. Almost everyone who needed to be there showed up, the Laurel class president (who conducted) was fabulous about last minute changes, I made it through my part of the presentation, we kept it under an hour, and the refreshments tasted really good to me. Tonight, I will sleep well. I may even hold off stressing about New Beginnings until after Thanksgiving.
I know that I told Erica I liked my blog the way it was. But, I love fall colors and when I saw this I had to try it. There's also a really cute Christmas background I like. May have to just ditch lighthouses for a while!
Tomorrow is the big day. Erica will be driving permit eligible. Thankfully, the state of UT allows me to put my head in the sand for a few extra days. They switched to a 4-10 work schedule in August. So, no (or very few) state offices are open Friday - Sunday. That means I can put off until Monday what I'm both excitedly anticipating and nervously dreading today. All those years of little ones running around and feeling like they'd never grow up. I was warned that I'd turn around and suddenly the little ones would be gone. I couldn't believe it. No way would that happen. Guess what? It did. I used to dream of them being in highschool. Gone would be concerns of running into the street, or needing to be entertained, or having to worry about them at all any more. They'd be grown and I'd be well on my way to freedom (emotionally at least). I was partly right. I don't worry about them (generally) running out into the street, they're pretty good (most of the time) at entertaining themselves, it's that worry part that hasn't gone away. My grandma warned me about that, too. Once again, I had a hard time believing it. She told me that you worry even when they're married and have children of their own. What?! But, I'm beginning to understand. Think it's hard sending your baby to kindergarten for the first time? Try putting your somewhat controlling/perfectionist self in a car with one completely inexperienced driver and relaxing while she hits that pedal for the first time. Or worse, try the thought of handing said driver the keys to the car for the first time and relaxing until both (but especially the child) returns home in one piece. I do, at least, get to monitor the driving for the next 12 months. Haven't decided if that's for her practice or mine. I must say here that Erica is a great young lady and I really do trust her. I just have to learn to let go. Good thing it takes 16 years and a minimum of 6 months with a permit to be able to drive. It takes the parents that long to grow enough to handle it!
I was poking around on the internet and came across this very cool piece of knowledge (for all you Trivial Pursuit fans). This particular diamondwas identified in 2004, so maybe you've already heard about it. I hadn't. Wouldn't fit very well on your finger, or in your state for that matter, but it's just lying there- if only you could figure out how to get there to claim it! (FYI 4000 km is about 2500 miles.)
I am blogging because I don't want to be doing the dishes. Guess you know where my priorities lie. If I blog long enough I can go to volleyball and procrastinate the dishes for another hour. What an amazing time-manager I am. Dishes have never been my forte, but I do them because we like to eat every day. In fact, I don't have very many dishes so that we HAVE to wash them and I can't fill my kitchen with dirty dishes. That's just too depressing, even for me. For awhile I was doing great with the Flylady system (She saved my sanity at one point. Love that woman.) I just haven't figured out the swing of things since we've moved.
I'd rather write about and play volleyball than write about and do dishes. I play on my ward's team. We aren't very good, but we have a GREAT time. There are six of us and four of the six serve in Young Women. So, as far as meeting new people, it hasn't helped so much, but I've really enjoyed getting to know the ladies I serve with. We're doing very well in our stake play because the other teams are afraid of us. They keep not showing up, so we win by forfeit. We usually play for fun and to practice with anyone else who's hanging around. Tonight our game is at 9:30. Absolutely crazy time, if you ask me, but I'll go anyway. My favorite position is the left front, but any where on the front line will do. I LOVE to spike and block. It will be interesting to see how the knees feel tonight. They haven't been overly thrilled about my volleyball enjoyment, but have complained less and less each week. It's only been 5 days since we last played and they don't hurt at all. It used to take me all week and then some to recover. The tournament is next week. The top four teams get to go to regionals. Sadly, we'll probably go- because I think there's only about 4 teams who regularly show up. I love to play, but this time of year the calendar is already full.
Ok, that's about it for the random, flow-of-consciousness thoughts on dishes and volleyball. My conscience is getting the better of me. I've got 10 minutes. I'll do the dishes and then head out the door. Then I can come home and sleep peacefully having done both this evening.
A friend emailed today with questions about cholesterol. I thought I'd post my reply if anyone else was interested.
Cholesterol is so much fun! First thing to ask, if you don't know, is what are your LDL, HDL, and Tri-glyceride numbers. LDL is the bad cholesterol and HDL is good. You can have high total cholesterol because your HDL numbers are high, which is a different situation than high LDL. Your body makes more HDL when you exercise and that tends to also lower your LDL levels. I have seen the biggest drop in my cholesterol after moving here. The only thing I can think that I've done differently is change my amount of exercise, but I haven't run a full blown experiment or anything.
After exercise, watching the fat (amount and types) you eat and the kinds of foods can make a huge difference. My doctor originally told me to try to eat no more than 30 g of fat a day, but I could have one day a week "off". It's kind of tough, to be honest. I have since learned that advice can be tweeked a bit. There are some foods high in fat that are actually good for lowering cholesterol- salmon (and other high fatty fish like tuna and halibut), almonds, avocados, and flax seed for example. The suggestion as far as fish is to eat it at least twice a week. I personally can not stand salmon, so that's automatically out for me. Consumption of saturated fats leads to higher cholesterol levels, so keep those as low as possible or cut them out completely.
Flax seed is the best non-fish source of Omega-3 fatty acids (the stuff that is in the fish). You can buy it ground or whole. There is some debate as to the effectiveness of the whole seed. Apparently the outer shell is so hard that the seeds pretty much pass right through your digestive tract undigested. You can buy it ground at most grocery stores. DO NOT buy it whole and grind it in your wheat grinder. It is so high in oil that it will totally gum up and ruin your grinder. Get a separate coffee grinder or something like that. I just buy mine ground and keep it in the fridge. I like it sprinkled on oatmeal. I used to mix it in bread, etc, but I've been told that heating it destroys the omega-3's. I don't know if that's true or not. I mean, you cook fish, don't you! The cool thing with the flax seed is that you can replace eggs and oils when you bake with the flax seed. I don't have any at the moment, but there is a reddish/brown box of flax seed that has directions on the box. It's the Red Mill brand or something like that. You can also buy supplement capsules of omega-3's. I just learned this week that studies show they can make a difference for women, but the same results haven't been proven for men. I have no idea why.
There are foods that help lower your cholesterol without omega-3's. I like this, because for the first time it's a restrictive diet that has a lot of foods I actually like. The biggest help is oats/oatmeal (listen to the Cheerios commercials!). Other foods include avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers, almonds, walnuts, soy products (one of the reasons I use TVP), olives and olive oil. Cinnamon has been found to help lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar, but you need something like 1 tsp. a day. In the winter I eat a lot of oatmeal with flax seed and cinnamon, but 1 tsp. of cinnamon is a lot! You can get capsules of cinnamon, but I've never tried them. Whole grains are good, as well. Since oats are so good for cholesterol, you can replace 1/2 the flour in, say, cookies with ground oat flour. It's white like regular flour and is a lighter flour than whole wheat, so my family almost never notices. The added bonus is that they get half whole grain flour instead of just all white flour. I can tell a little difference in taste, but I think it's just because I know there is something different. You can't replace all of the regular flour with oat flour because the oat flour doesn't have any gluten in it and the cookies or bread won't hold together.
The best oils to use are olive and canola oils. I always replace the oil in cakes with applesauce and have been experimenting with replacing butter/Crisco with yogurt in cookies. I've also used smashed pears instead of applesauce and I've seen prune/plum sauce in the baking aisle, but never used it. In general, you can replace up to half the butter/Crisco with 1/2 the amount of fat free yogurt or sour cream. For example- if you have a recipe that calls for 1 cup of butter, you can replace 1/2 cup of that butter with 1/4 cup of yogurt or sour cream. In general, butter is really high in saturated fats and margarines are lower. Most margarines tend to have trans fats, too. They're finding that trans fats are pretty bad for you, so check labels on any margarines you buy. I've been buying Smart Balance 50/50 Butter blend with Omega-3. It's made with 50% butter, so has some saturated fats, but is also made with soybean, flax seed, and fish oils. There are no trans fats in it. I don't know if it's any better than any other brand, but I think it tastes pretty good and works well when I bake with it. Try different brands and see what works for you.
Eggs, as I'm sure you know, are high in cholesterol. The yolk is where all the fat and cholesterol is stored, so removing the yolks helps reduce your cholesterol intake. In general, you can replace a whole egg with 2 egg whites. You can also use an egg substitute, but I'm too cheap and have never tried them. You do need some of the yolks (the fats), though, to get the right consistency and taste. Replacing the eggs with flax seed at least replaces some of the oils, but probably wouldn't work so well in something like an omelet! I have recently learned that you can replace eggs in some baked goods with knox gelatin, but I haven't had the chance to try it out, yet. Talk with your doctor about eggs, too. I have been told that your cholesterol intake isn't as bad for you as the cholesterol that comes as your body makes it from the fats you eat. So, eating whole eggs may not be as bad for you as you'd think.
As for meats, go for very lean red meats, white chicken and turkey, fish, or pork. I've heard shrimp is supposed to be good for lowering cholesterol, but I can't stand that, either, so I haven't paid much attention. I think almost all meats have at least some cholesterol and fat, so if you're looking to drastically cut your intake you can cut out your meat intake. I've been trying different recipes that use beans instead of meat and replacing some ground meats with TVP. Most of them come from Light & Tasty (recently renamed Healthy Cooking) magazine. I have a subscription, but you may be able to find it at your library. I like it a lot. You can see some of the recipes on line, but I didn't find that very helpful.
So, that's about it. I'm by no means a professional, but have learned a little over the past couple of years. Feel free to leave a comment if I've said something wrong or if you have another idea. I'd love to learn more.