My Year By Design

The journey to living by design.

Archive for the month “March, 2016”

Spicy Snack Mix

As you may have gathered from my recipe posts, I am a snacker. I love snacks. I’m also trying to eat healthier. Dilemma. I like snacking on carrot sticks and apple slices but I can’t kid myself. We all know the best snacks are salty or sweet and carb-rich. My lousy reptile brain always makes me crave those carbs.

One way to snack a bit healthier is to eat spicy snacks, like my spicy snack mix. The crunch of the chow mein noodles and pretzels is satisfying but the burst of spice stops me before I eat too many. I have made this recipe fairly mild. Feel free to keep adding hot sauce until you get your desired level of spice. You can even sprinkle on some cayenne pepper or chili flakes if you’re worried about your snack mix getting too soggy.

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NOTE: In my photos I have doubled the recipe because I was making some to enjoy and some to give away to my mom. The recipe below makes about 2 1/2 cups.

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, to taste (use the brand you like best)

14 teaspoon celery salt

18 teaspoon garlic powder

2 1/2 cups chow mein noodles, pretzels, cereal bits (like Crispex or Chex). I used mostly noodles because that’s what I had, but you can change the ratio to whatever you like.

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DIRECTIONS:

Combine melted butter with soy sauce and hot pepper sauce; drizzle over the noodles.

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Toss lightly to coat noodles.

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Sprinkle with celery salt and onion powder; toss to mix well.

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Spread noodles in a large shallow baking pan or jelly roll pan. Bake at 275° for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and crispy. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

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The Changing Nature of Workouts

I am a very active person. I like to swim, bike, hike, do yoga and do CrossFit. There are some people at my gym who do just CrossFit and they’re in great shape. Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t work so well for me. I like to do a lot of different things because it keeps me from being bored.

That being said, I’ve noticed a shift in my workout routine recently. I have been doing less hardcore cardio and muscle work and more stretching and low-impact workouts. Maybe it’s because I’m getting a bit older and more creaky, maybe I just need a bit of a break. I have a suspicion that some of the home and work stress I’ve been experiencing has made me a bit more protective of my body and a bit less able to deal with the strained muscles and achiness that comes from weight lifting. I talked it over with Dr. B and he agrees that in times of stress or depression, it is better to exercise a bit more gently than I usually do. I’m trying to listen to what my body needs and right now it is crying out for more restorative exercises.

I’ve decided I’m going to refuse to feel guilty for taking it a bit easier in times of stress. I’m going to be proud that I still work out and do good things for myself every day. Plus, being self-aware like this allows me to set new fitness goals. For example, from now until the end of school (June) I’m going to try to swim once a week. I like swimming because it’s low-impact for my joints and being under the water gives me time to focus without distractions; just swirling water to look at and splashing to listen to. Also, I’m going to go to CrossFit once a week in April and twice a week in May. After that, I’ll reassess my goals and see how they need to be adjusted.

I guess I just wanted to post this to let people know it’s OK to change up your routine. There’s no reason you can’t take a break from something and then come back to it later on. Just keep moving and doing something active.

Easy Lime Salad Dressing

This dressing is so simple and low-calorie. Try it with your favourite salad.

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Makes 6 fl oz.

INGREDIENTS:

1 tsp water

Large pinch salt

Large pinch lime zest

2 tsp dried mint (mine was from my garden, but the stuff in the jar works just fine.)

4 tbsp lime juice

4 fl oz olive oil

Large pinch black pepper

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INSTRUCTIONS:

Zest your lime.

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Combine the water, salt and lime zest in a jar. Let stand for 2 minutes.

Add the mint, lime juice, olive oil and black pepper.

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Cover the jar tightly and shake for 1 minute. This dressing is light and has a sharp burst of lime. Enjoy!

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Celebrate

So I think I’m through the worst of my depression. It took a lot of counseling and support and self-care to start feeling like myself again but I’m getting there.

Now that I’m coping better, it’s time to start cleaning up the fallout from my depression. First on my list is reconnecting with my family and friends. When I’m depressed I’m not myself and I know they feel that. I’m going to block off some one on one time for the people I love and let them know how much I appreciate them. This is especially important in my relationship with my husband because he provides so much support for me.

Next I need to take care of myself. I need to make sure I get enough sleep and down time to stay healthy. I’d like a haircut and a pedicure. I’ve also gained some weight so it’s back to healthy eating and more trips to the gym.

Finally, I need to get to the chores that have piled up. My house looks like a small hurricane passed through it. My car needs a wash. My garden is ready for some spring cleaning too. Although these aren’t my favourite chores, have a clean house does make me happier.

The real sign of my wellness is that I feel ready and even excited to tackle these tasks. I’m going to end this post here and get started!

The Most Amazing Caramel Corn

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This caramel corn is so crunchy and perfectly sweet. Warning: it will wreck your waistline if you eat it too often. I limit myself to making it no more than twice a year.

Reasons it is acceptable to make this caramel corn:

  1. I need a charity bake sale item that will raise lots of money,
  2. I need to impress at a pot luck,
  3. I’m making it as a gift for someone,
  4. I really, really, really want it,
  5. The world is ending and I have one hour of power remaining to cook food.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup unpopped popcorn (about 2 of the 85g microwave bags)

1 cup butter

2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup corn syrup

1 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp baking soda

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INSTRUCTIONS:

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I am using a disposable tinfoil roasting pan. You can use your regular roasting pan but get ready to scrub it later on as this caramel is like glue.

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Preheat the oven to 250F. Grease the pan with butter.

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Pop the popcorn in an air popper or in the microwave. As you put it into the pan, sort the popcorn, removing any unpopped kernels.

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Melt the butter in a pot.

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Add the sugar, syrup and salt.

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Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

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Remove pot from the heat and stir in vanilla and baking powder.

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Pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir to combine.

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Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Enjoy the smell of caramel drifting though your house. Resist the urge to grab a piece to sample as it is incredibly hot while baking.

Cool completely and break apart to serve.

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Watch your fingers as everyone else digs in! Enjoy.

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A Moment

I had a moment a few days ago, a flicker. For a short time I felt happy. Nothing in particular was happening. I think I was just puttering around the house, tidying up a few things. I felt happy.

I hope it comes again soon.

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Planning for Down Time

Having anxiety and depression makes you really good at schedules. Keeping regular sleeping, eating and exercise times helps me stay healthy and positive. Working a highly structured job keeps me grounded. Each item I finish on my schedule gives me a sense of accomplishment that is critical to my mental health. Basically, structured time stops me from ruminating on negative thoughts.

Being a teacher means I also have regular holidays and time off. This down time, even a three-day weekend, can be disruptive to my ability to deal with stress. For many people unstructured time off is a holiday. For people suffering from mood disorders, this blank space can increase anxiety because we don’t know what to do or it can increase depression because we don’t have anything to do.

So now March Break is upon us and I need to figure out how to stay healthy for nine days off work. Here are my top tips:

  • Try to keep the agenda light for your first day and last day off. The first day I find I need to decompress and take some time just to sort out my thoughts. I have to adjust my thinking away from my ultra-organized, working brain or I’ll never relax. Just as important is some down time at the end of my holiday. The day before a return to work can be fraught with anxiety. Avoid stressful tasks and conversations as this can make going back to work even more unpleasant. This is a good day for low-key plans like yoga or going to the movies.
  • Look at your yearly holidays and strike a balance between travelling and staying home. Not every holiday has to start in an airport or car. Travelling can often be a source of stress so for this March Break, Nick and I are staying close to home and doing smaller day and overnight trips. In the summer we plan to do our more long-term travelling.
  • It’s OK to plan some work for each day but use moderation. If your to do list is as long as it is on a work day, you’re doing it wrong. Holidays are a time to do less, not more.
  • Plan in fun activities too. Make plans with friends and family that you’ll enjoy. Block off some time to do your own thing as well.
  • Be flexible. Change plans as you need or clear out some extra time for yourself. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to drink a cup of tea and read your book. I’m going to be reading Ready Player One on my March Break.
  • Don’t get rid of all your unstructured time. A bit of boredom or uncertainty can be good for the brain. It forces you to problem solve and seek your own happiness.
  • Don’t forget to do those healthy things you do every other day: eat healthy, sleep well, breathe deep and have fun!

So now I’m ready for my March Break. I hope you are too. Plan ahead and be well.

Corn and Cilantro Crab Cakes

These crab cakes are an easy dinner or a nice appetizer. The sweet crab and corn are complimented by the bite of the cilantro, ginger and hot pepper.Try them and enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup minced celery

1/2 tsp garlic

1/2 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp hot pepper

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tbsp dry mustard

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

2 tins crab meat

1/2 cup corn

2 tbsp cilantro

1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp olive oil

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INSTRUCTIONS:

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I used this blend of ginger, garlic and chili, but you can add each ingredient separately.

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Mix the first eight ingredients in a bowl.

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Fold in the corn, crab and cilantro.

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Add 1 cup of the bread crumbs until just combined.

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Press the remaining bread crumbs onto the outside of the patties. I ran out of regular breadcrumbs so I used Panko bread crumbs. You can use either.

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Form into four patties for entrée servings or eight patties for appetizers.

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Chill the patties in the fridge for at least one hour and up to one day.

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Heat 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan. Cook two patties for 4 minutes per side. Transfer them to a plate and keep warm in the oven.

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Wipe out the pan and repeat with remaining butter, olive oil and patties. Serve warm with cocktail sauce or sriracha mayonnaise.

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Enduring

I told my husband the other day that I just wanted to feel normal. The only way to feel normal is to act normal. The hardest things work best. I know this but I still have to force myself to do the things I know will help. I have to constantly push through the depression.

Things I have to do to be less depressed:

Going outside helps me. I having been walking and hiking often and using yard work as another reason to get outside. Something about being in motion outside seems to calm me. I just have to hope the weather doesn’t get too terrible.

I’m avoiding the news, sad songs and suspenseful movies, (some of my go to media choices.) Instead I’ve been listening to comedy podcasts. I’ve mostly been listening to the back catalogue of Kill Tony and checking out the new Dear John and Hank, (the funniest podcast about death, Mars and AFC Wimbledon I’ve ever heard.) I’ve also been watching the reboot of The Muppets and reruns of American Dad.

I’ve been doing yoga, like the deep-inside-your-head, meditative yoga, not the athletic type. I’ve been using YouTube to find video classes for the days I just can’t get to the gym. At least it gives me some focus.

I’ve been avoiding refined sugar and unhealthy fats. This is a challenge because when I get depressed the things my body wants most are chocolate and salt. I considered buying a bag of Ruffles and a chocolate fondue kit at Metro. I didn’t do it but the struggle is real.

I’ve scheduled more frequent sessions with my counselor. Usually I go to therapy once a month. Right now I’m going once every two weeks with a plan to book once a week as needed.

I don’t want to do any of these things but I need to. The short-term discomfort from these actions reduces my overall depression long-term. Little changes build to a larger solution. It’s still a fight everyday. I hope that by sharing my small steps, I’ll remind you to take care of yourself too.

Quagmire

Right now I’m stuck in depression.  It’s been almost six weeks. My lungs feel like they’re full of mud and my brain feels stuffed with cotton. Everything feels heavy and difficult.

I can’t tell what pains in my body are real and which ones are caused by my depression. Every time I workout I come away with more injuries that just aren’t healing. I’m carefully warming up and cooling down but no matter how gentle I am, I end up hurting. I’m just so tense that even basic exercise feels terrible.

I’m also exhausted. Sleeping more doesn’t help. I’m maintaining a regular sleep schedule, (going to bed at the same time each night, no screens, food, or exercise three hours before bed). I can fall sleep just fine but I wake up a number of times each night and can’t get back to sleep easily. I know I’m not rested enough as a result.

I struggle to think of anything that makes me happy, even though I know those things still exist. Having depression doesn’t destroy kitties or chocolate or cooking challenge TV shows, but it horribly makes them less enjoyable than they used to be.

Most people will tell you to stop talking about or thinking about what makes you depressed. That advice is only helpful if you can identify a source for your depression. Like I said before, sometimes depression is purely caused by an imbalance in the brain that goes beyond what you experience day-to-day. Plus, that’s a bit of a flip solution. If you don’t believe me, try to stop blinking. You might do alright for a while, but it’s uncomfortable and when your attention wavers even a little, you’ll blink. Remember that the next time you are tempted to tell someone with depression to ‘just get over it’ or ‘think positively’.

I’m trying to keep moving. I’m going to therapy and seeking out ways to feel better. The goal isn’t even to feel happy right now. Right now I’d settle for feeling normal. I miss feeling like myself.

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