Thursday, July 11, 2013

Been a long time

Pardon my French, but lately this is how I've been feeling. I went from half-marathon training to just being proud of myself for skipping that third cookie. But trust, I'm working on it. The other day, I was thisclose to getting up at 4:30 a.m. for a pre-work workout. Next week, I'll get up instead of hitting the snooze button. The week after that, I'll hit feet to pavement. And after that, the world! Which is to say ... I'm baaaackk ...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The long road home (a Part 2 of sorts)

So, I obviously didn't intend for more than a month to pass before I wrote part 2. But, in the words of a former supervisor, "Such is life in the big city." I don't understand it, but somehow it works here.

Anyway, to recap: My toddler, my 14-year-old dog, my sister and I are living in a room in my friend's house before making the 10-hour trek to Mississippi. Why didn't I fly? Why didn't I drive? Well, in a misguided attempt at big-heartedness, I told my mom I would bring her a bedroom suite. All we'd do is rent a U-Haul, hop in, ship my truck ahead to Arizona and be on our merry way.

Except: Those ads that promise a U-Haul for 20 bucks? Doesn't work like that for a state-to-state trip. The cost of the rental truck was quickly promising to eclipse the value of the set. Plus, all but the hugest trucks had just two seats, which means there was no way all of us would fit. So one of us had to drive the moving truck, while another drove my SUV. After finally finding a truck that wouldn't completely break the bank (I settled on Penske), my sister and I loaded things up. That night, we prepped everything so we could leave by 7 a.m. Of course, things were looking TOO good because put the lock on the truck the wrong way and had to resort to buying bolt cutters and chopping the whole thing off.

Putting that frustration behind me, we got on the road the next morning, prompt as ever. My sis had gotten a chance to drive the moving truck around the block and felt comfortable taking the first leg in the truck, while Cam and I rode together. Ten minutes into the trip, not even out of Columbia, Cam has to poop. I pull into the nearest gas station (which actually turns out to be closed down, but that's OK because it was a run-down restaurant and the owner just so happened to be there to let us in.).

Sis pulls into the "station" behind me and rolls past me to wait. The next thing I know: Boom! She hits me! Needless to say, we swap vehicles. About 12 hours, 4 stops, one audio book (for me) and several Korean music CDs (for her) and we FINALLY made it to moms.

And that, my friends, ended my life in Columbia, SC. But of course, it just made way for my new life in Arizona.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The misadventures of a new Reserve spouse - Pt. 1

Today, on the third day of the new year, I'm sitting outside on my back porch sipping coffee. Both I and my son are wearing shorts. Whether South Carolina state employees believe it in true that in that state, I can say without a doubt, it's a good day in Arizona.

Granted, his play is being just a bit hindered by the fact that his shoes keep getting stuck in the rocks that make up our back yard. And forget that I've come outside in part to escape the moving boxes and packing paper that seem to be somehow growing. What matters is that for the first time in several weeks, I'm in a place at which mail is delivered in my name. I'm at peace.

Here is our bedroom in the midst of the move.
All the scattered belongings on the floor were put into
"keep" and "trash" piles before the movers came.
At the beginning of December, I began getting our South Carolina house ready to be rented. To catch up those who didn't know, my hubby officially left the active duty Army this fall and got a job in Phoenix. After a whirlwind weekend in Phoenix, we chose a house in nearby suburb Surprise (yes, that is actually the name of the city). He moved there in October, and soon after, I had nearly all our belongings shipped to our new house. For almost a month, my son and I camped out in the master bedroom, which was the one room in the house in which there was furniture. Soon, I'd moved some of that furniture down too, leaving me sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and he sleeping in a sleeping bag. I'd rushed it in anticipation of the renters who wanted to move in mid-month. Renters who, days before I planned for them to move in, decided that they had changed their minds.

Since the moving dates had already been set, I saw no reason to change them. Then the real adventure began. I, the boy and the dog moved from our one room at our house to one room in a friend's house. I thank God for her, because I don't know anyone else who would take on two people and a dog while waiting for her husband to return from a deployment.

Despite the comfort of having a place to live for the next few weeks, I still had a few qualms. The house had not yet been rented. I had no job prospects in Arizona. The house needed major cleaning, holes needed to be filled and marks on the walls needed to be touched up with paint. And, if I had not already grasped the reality that the Army safety net I'd learned to depend on was now gone, seeing money for the mortgage come out of our own pockets did the trick.

Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me. And then, my sister moved into the room with us.

To be continued ...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Crystal Clear: I'm moving on

For the first time in six years, where I live -- and how we pay for it -- won't be taken care of by the Army. And when I make a phone call about health insurance, child care or, anything really, the person on the other line won't care about my sponsor's Social Security number. Because come this fall, I will no longer be a dependent; I'll just be a civilian.

And so will my husband.

While he will be going into the Reserves, I would be lying if I said that leaving the "traditional" Army family doesn't give me pause. There's just something about the security the military brings. For one; I've never had my own health insurance. And two, the relationships I've made since my husband started his career are invaluable. I can probably count on one hand my close friends who have no military affiliation whatsoever.

It's hard to imagine not heading to the Commissary or the Exchange to do my shopping. And what will my social calendar look like without the regular "Hail and farewell" dinners, Family Readiness Group meetings and military balls? And of course, many of my friends will go on to new duty stations in different cities, states, or even countries, while we forge ahead in this new civilian life.

While I am not saying goodbye completely -- as an Army civilian, I know I am still part of the Army family and the Fort Jackson community -- it still won't be the same.

When I married into the Army in February 2005, I didn't know what I was getting into. I took my first flight just months before on a small prop-plane that flew me into Fort Sill, Okla., where my husband was attending his officer basic course.

And while most people think our wedding date was chosen to center around Valentine's Day, the truth is a lot less romantic -- we chose a date that gave him two weeks to help plan the wedding and two weeks to pack for his new duty station in Germany where I joined him three months later.

Truth be told, I wasn't too keen on the military lifestyle at first. I found out a year or so later that just days into landing in Germany, I'd somehow already offended a bunch of people I'd never met, most likely based on someone not understanding my unusual sense of humor. That was the first of many misunderstandings I had, most of which I can now look back on and laugh.

Despite those missteps, I enjoyed being an Army spouse. I dove in headfirst, being assigned the task of FRG co-leader before I even really knew what the FRG was. I joined the spouses' club, and was even on the board before we headed back to the states. I made a number of friends, many with whom I am still in contact today. Friends that, during our husbands' deployments, knew when to get me out of the house and when I just needed to be left alone. For every Soldier who knew me as "Lt. Brown's wife," there was a spouse who knew him as "Crystal Brown's husband."

When we left that first duty station three years ago, in addition to German wine, I brought home some lifelong friendships and some lessons learned. But, unlike the wine, those lessons will stick with me. And, hopefully, so will the friendships.

So in a month or so, when my Soldier officially becomes Mr. Brown, I will be losing a big part of something that has been a major part of my adult life. And frankly, it's scary. But I know that having been a part of this family is something I will never forget, and something that has made me and my family stronger.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Day 4: Veggie burritos

  Day 4 was, without a doubt, the best so far for me. I'm not thinking about coffee quite so much, plus, I enjoyed some pretty good meals. Last night's dinner was veggie burritos. Even though we don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I decided to go with that theme anyway for dinner. In lieu of a margarita, I have my ice cold water with lime slices.
The burritos were pretty easy to make (whole wheat tortillas are allowed on the fast). I first made my salsa, which was really more like a pico de gallo. I chopped up a couple of tomatoes, added some diced white onion, cilantro, fresh jalapeno, kosher salt and squeezed the juice of one lime over the whole thing and let it sit while I chopped and cooked up the rest.

This photo shows only half of what was cooked.

For the burrito filling, I chopped up a peeled sweet potato and used a trick I learned from another recipe to cook it. I put the potatoes and a little water in a microwave-safe bowl, covered it in saran wrap and microwaved it for about 5 minutes. That makes it soft enough to sautee, but not mushy. While that was microwaving, I started the rest on the stove top.I put a little olive oil in a pan and let that heat up before adding chopped garlic, 2 chopped bell peppers (all I had was orange and yellow, which did nothing for the color but added to the "sweet" taste), and half of a large white onion. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and ancho chili powder (all I had on hand).
Once the potatoes finished cooking, I added them, plus the water, to the pan and added a bit more salt because I'd forgotten to salt the water. After about 2 minutes, I added a can of black beans, which I'd drained, and about two cups of chopped baby spinach. I added about a pinch of salt and some cumin; not sure how much, I'm pretty liberal with it. All in all,  a pretty satisfying meal. I was stuffed!
1/2 chopped onion
2 tomatoes
1 jalapeno (I only used half, feel free to use the whole thing. Take out the seeds for less heat.)
Kosher salt
Burrito filling:
1 medium sweet potato
1/2 onion
2 bell peppers (any color)
2 cups of baby spinach, chopped
1 cup black beans, drained
Kosher salt (to taste)
Black pepper (to taste)
About a tbsp Ancho chili powder
Tbsp of cumin

The finished product

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Day 3: bean curry and brown rice

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Siggghhh ..... that's the sound of a satisfying and filling meal at the end of a day pretty much marked by hunger. Don't get me wrong, my fruit and nut salad, was pretty good, and my stuffed peppers hit the spot at lunch, but despite all my planning, I've yet to feel full while on this fast. Until now.

This recipe came from the Daniel Fast site, and we had big bowls of it for dinner (my husband had some for lunch). One thing I would do differently is to spice it up a bit more. But it's full of beans -- lentils, garbanzo and kidney. I actually used cannellini beans (white kidney beans) because I was out of the regular kind. And I still have enough lentils leftover to throw into another curry or make soup with. This also turned out a bit "tomatoey" for me, so I'd probably add a bit of veggie stock. One tip though: All vegetable stocks aren't made only of vegetables! I had to look through all the brands before I found two that did not contain sugar! The one I got, Kitchen Basics, was $2.50 or so, and the other kind was an organic brand that cost nearly $5. It's amazing what has sugar in it. This fast is really opening my eyes to how many chemicals we put into our bodies without even knowing it.

Later on tonight, I'll cut up the rest of the veggies for tomorrow night's stir-fry and figure out what to cook for breakfast, which is so far, the most difficult part of this fast so far! But for now, I will relish not hearing my stomach growl; for a while, anyway.

Daniel fast Day 2: stuffed peppers

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As part of our church's fitness ministry, we are embarking on a weeklong Daniel Fast. I've been waiting in anticipation for the fast so I could test out some new vegetarian recipes that Jamil wouldn't ordinarily eat. For those unfamiliar with the Daniel Fast, it is a spiritual-based partial fast, which limits you to a vegan diet with a few more restrictions; the only beverage you can drink is water, no bread that contains yeast or other leavening agents and no sweeteners. So Sunday, I made my menus, my shopping lists and I filled my cart with fast-friendly stuff.

I think we can call Monday a success. I made this delicious sweet potato chili with tortilla chips on the side. The chips weren't so good, but the chili was great, which is why I have no photo -- it was all gone before I could take one! The hubby took it to the church to share, and although he said they were a bit apprehensive at first, they enjoyed it.

For the peppers, pictured above, I loosely followed this recipe, swapping veggie broth for chicken, leaving out the cheese and forgoing the basil sauce because of the creme fraich it calls for, though I think with some practice, I can do it with tofu. I failed at my attempt to make a flat bread; I ate it, but DH called it "horrible." I will try again tonight though.

Yesterday was a bit tough; I think that having a pretty filling breakfast is going to be key on this thing. The first day, we had oatmeal, which held me pretty well, along with my snacks. But yesterday's smoothie was nothing. I was starving by the time I hit my chair at work. This morning, I had some of the huge fruit salad I made Sunday (kiwi, strawberries, bananas, pineapple) and added some pecans.

One thing I have learned so far is that preparation is key; as easy as it is so say I will "pray about it" when hunger pangs hit, I think that God gave us the good sense to plan ahead. When I knew I would be out to eat Monday, i visited the restaurant's website to pick out some suitable choices before I even got there. And I took some juicy grapes and my bottle of water to last night's sorority meeting to stave off the temptation of meatballs and chicken nuggets.

Anyway, I will definitely make sure I "get in the scripture" before this weekend; I'm not sure how the Daniel Fast will mix with our family trip to Myrtle Beach this weekend!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Weeknight cooking: Barramundi!

Yes, it's on a paper plate. Sue me. I don't want to wash dishes!

I have a confession to make. I haven't really cooked all week. With my and the hubby's schedules, it's been tough to get into the kitchen. Wednesday, I threw some burgers on the grill, but I hate to even claim that much, since in my haste, I accidentally seasoned them with a rosemary garlic blend instead of pepper (not a bad mix, but not great either). 

So tonight, after buying cart full of meat and fish yesterday in preparation for a possible government shutdown, I (and my pocketbook) decided I'd better cook tonight. But I also knew that I had a limited amount of time to get a meal on the table before the hubbs had to head off yet again for a church lock-in. 

So I figured that my motto for the evening would be KISS -- keep it simple stupid. I decided to cook Barramundi, a fish I just heard about last week and for which a commissary coupon was offered, and the fresh green beans I'd bought last week before they went bad.

When I say I went simple, I mean simple! I chopped some fresh garlic and threw it in a hot pan with some melted butter. In went the fish, which I'd only seasoned with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Once cooked (took about 5 -7 minutes), I took it off, squeezed a lemon over it, then wiped down the pan and put in a little olive oil. More garlic, then I added the green beans, which I'd blanched (boiled for a short while, then immersed in an ice water bath). I'd boiled the beans in salted water, so I only added a bit of pepper and a splash of soy sauce.

I had two problems with this dish. 1) s I used a too-small pan, which meant that all my fish didn't get cooked evenly and I ended up with an undercooked piece that had to be fixed later.  2) I was also Facebooking, so I let the green beans boil longer than I would have liked, so I didn't get that bright green color and slight crunch I wanted. But DH said they were good. In the future, I'd also toast some pine nuts to toss the green beans with.

All in all, I think it was  a pretty good meal, and it took about 20-30 minutes, including chopping the garlic and thawing the fish. If I'd cooked sauteed the beans in a different pan while I cooked the fish, it could have been done even quicker. But I didn't want to dirty another dish. 

So if you have some fish and veggies you need to get rid of, this is a quick and easy recipe that took fewer than 10 ingredients (fish, green beans, garlic, salt, pepper, butter, olive oil, lemon), most of which are probably already in the pantry.