The Book of Love

Posting a song which I find appropriate with Valentine’s Day creeping up on us. It’s The Airborne Toxic Event’s cover of the Magnetic Fields’ The Book of Love. Great song originally! But the ATE does it right.

I’ve snagged the lyrics and embedded a link below to their video, start it at 1:10. The link is of their performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2010. It sounds amazing, and I hope to catch this band live when they are in Boston. I really hope. They will be here in May, and I’ve hinted to the Mr. So!!

It’s a wonderful song. Enjoy.

The Book of Love
The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It’s filled with charts and facts and figures
And instructions for dancing

but

I…I love it when you read to me and
You…You can read me anything

The book of love has music in it
In fact that’s where music comes from
Some of it is just transcendental
Some of it is just really dumb

but

I…I love it when you sing to me and
You…You can sing me anything

The book of love is long and boring
And written many years ago
It’s full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes
And things we’re all too young to know

but I…I love it when you give me things and
You…You ought to give me wedding rings

I…I love it when you give me things and
You…You ought to give me wedding rings

The Perfect French Toast..and Easy!

French Toast
1 cup of skim milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground nutmeg
1/4 tspn vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

7-8 large pieces of day old seedless Italian bread, like scali. Fresh bread will rip when moistened with mixture, so day old or stale bread is the best.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat with 1 tbsp of olive oil.

1 cup of milk

1 cup of milk

2 Eggs

2 Eggs

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tspn ground nutmeg

1 tspn ground nutmeg

1/4 tspn vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

1/4 tspn vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

Whisk together

Whisk together

In a large bowl whisk all the ingredients.

Take a slice of bread and dip it into the mixture, letting the mixture saturate the bread for a few seconds. Then place 2 slices at a time on the heated skillet and let cook for 4 minutes on each side, till golden brown.

Finished Dish!  My kids love them cut into long strips to dip into their maple syrup.  YUM!

Finished Dish! My kids love them cut into long strips to dip into their maple syrup. YUM!

Serve with 100% maple syrup and enjoy!

My Personal Story, Surgery and Recovery

This post is for the women, and girls, out there in need of more information about this type of surgery.

I am writing this as a diary explaining my personal journey and experiences before and after. Some of you might be asking what type of surgery I had. In late 2009, I had a breast reduction. Is this too personal a topic to share? I don’t really know, but I don’t think so. I feel this surgery was the catalyst in changing my life; my quality of life. Most of what I am sharing is difficult for me to put out there. I have been drafting my post for weeks trying to figure out how to get my message across. This is a true exposure of feelings buried and long forgotten.

There is a lot to say.

Well, where do I begin? I don’t remember puberty during the ‘sprouting of the boobs’ phase, with wearing a training bra or anything. Like it wasn’t an event for me like it was for others. I just remember one day waking up and wearing a bra. I think I went straight from flat as a board to C cups. I never really thought of my body or appearance much other than avoiding my Mother trying to dress me in pink!. As a child I was normally thin, but right out of Middle School I flourished into this womanly body. Felt like overnight literally. But it wasn’t something I put much thought into, because I was enjoying being a young girl still.

By the time I was in HS I grew into a size D. It looked fine on my body frame cause I wasn’t a railing anymore, and I was tall by then. About at my height now, which is 5’7″. I could conceal the chest like no one else. I was not a heavy person, but I was curvy with hips and a defined waist, still am. So it’s easy to dress a certain way to hide things. My biggest trick was wearing black, even in a tank top, it was flattering on a busty gal. And even though my bust wasn’t an issue visually, in my early 20s, the pain of their weight was coming on. My neck started to bother me. My shoulders, too. My bra straps were digging into my shoulders. I was starting to feel uncomfortable with them.

1999 hanging out.. wow.

late 90s.. wow.

In 2000, when I was 23, I got engaged! Yeah! But you know what? I was so focused on my boobs during what was supposed to be an exciting time for a woman, wedding dress shopping, that I think I lost a part of my glimmer. I couldn’t wear a strapless dress like I was seeing in magazines. Well, honestly, I actually could, but larger chested women in strapless bras/gowns looked horrific to me. Jiggling and spilling everywhere. I didn’t want that for me, even if mine weren’t grotesquely large. I had DD’s now! Which looking back, they weren’t even that big. They were fun and sexy, but I just got so consumed by them that my biggest priority when I tried on dresses was to find one to conceal my bra straps. OH!!!! I hated that feeling. I fell in love with a beautiful wedding dress that suited me, and everything I was trying to hide. And. Even though I found all this gorgeous white bridal lingerie at Victoria’s for my big day and honeymoon, I couldn’t wear their bras to match. They didn’t make them in my size then. They only went up to a D. How lucky are you busty gals today? Every company makes bras for you! Looking back to my wedding day, I really was a beautiful bride; with or without that dress, or those boobs.

2001- Wedding day :)

2001- Wedding day 🙂

2002 My sisters wedding

2002 My sisters wedding

Time went on, and so didn’t my many body aches. I was working and enjoying newlywed life to the fullest though. Always going out. Having people over. Sleeping in often with the new husband. Doing whatever we wanted. I was dropping and gaining weight. And It was about a year into our marriage that I was becoming slightly uncomfortable, mentally, with my bust. Cause, outside of my sisters, none of my friends, or their women, had large boobs. And definitely not like mine. Though I found what I often joked as industrial strength bras to minimize them so they didn’t appear as large, it wasn’t enough. I was starting on this love hate relationship with my body. I mean, I did love my body. My chest made me unique. But, I would’ve given anything to wear skimpier clothes, especially a strappy tank top with a strapless bra..or with no bra!

2002 in LA

2002 in LA

Some women with larger chests may know what I am referencing when I say that there is a certain attention you get with larger boobs. Not in the negative way from men who lust after them, which was my biggest pet peeve, but, in a presence type of way. They were my suit of armor. I felt like it helped me exude confidence. But, in my late 20s, I was seeing that my boobs were getting attention not actually me. I am smart. I am funny. Why is it that I feel like my boobs are the only thing about me people seem to remember?

2003 in Nevada

2003 in Nevada

Around this time I was getting into social media. All my old friends and acquaintances that I lost contact with were popping up everywhere; which was great! We’d share old stories about when we were younger, high school or whatever, just looking back at good times. You know what they all remembered or commented on about me? My rack! Ugh! But this was my life by now, it’s all I ever heard. I was now a DDD; I know insane right? Topic of conversation often. The body pains grew severely by now, but still weren’t enough for me to change my appearance with surgical help. I was too afraid. Though I thought of it often, I would dissuade myself so easily. I kept rocking the bust then found myself pregnant with our first baby at 28yrs old.

Oh my God, they get bigger? Are you fucking kidding me?

pregnant with my oldest in 2005

9 months pregnant with my oldest in 2005- hey there’s my buddy Bruno!

So faassst forward to 2009, I’m 32yrs old. I had two beautiful children within 2 years, whom made me so happy. I was now married for 8 yrs. On my ninth working anniversary at the bank, where I was working full-time..and doing a thousand other things. I became overweight from the pregnancies, gained like 30lbs on top of being chubby before. I let my large chest take over my life. But no one other than my husband knew I was suffering. I was always keeping my life light by joking around. Dressing nice. Always with make up on. Shining a smile, too, the mask to show the world I was put together. Now I was beyond a DDD. Spilling out all over, but no way was I going to go to a specialty bra store for a larger bra letter/number. I wouldn’t allow myself to. Imagine going in and seeing bras big enough to sling my child? No waaay! This wasn’t what I wanted as normal. Also, I wasn’t doing much cause of the pain. My bra strap indents were awful to feel. The radiating pain from my neck into my shoulders was becoming intolerable. The thought of exercising with my bust would depress me. How am I supposed to jog without getting knocked out? So, sadly, I forewent fun things. Wouldn’t go to the beach; already hadn’t for years. A bathing suit top to hold them? Are you kidding me? Wouldn’t ever get on a child’s ride at a park. Wouldn’t wear tank tops anymore. Just stopped doing all activities that made me aware of them. I felt so trapped. Old. Certainly not content in my being.

All through my worst days, I was never made to feel bad about my looks. My husband adored me, and would tell me every single day that I was beautiful. My children thought I was the most pretty mommy. I knew I looked bad, I could feel it. But I was accepting my body, and trying my best to feel good about it. Maybe it was my lot in life to be an overweight young woman?

It was the first time in my life that I was this busty AND overweight in my life.

2009 at Friends Baby Shower. I look HORRENDOUS! Ooof!

2009 at friends Baby Shower. I look HORRENDOUS! Ooof! And I remember feeling real pretty this day too. What a mess.

Decision Time
One day in May 2009.

Trying the positive approach of accepting my shape rather than fighting it, I figured to work with what I had to feel better about myself. So I went in my closet and grabbed my favorite sweater. Matched it with a black pencil skirt and a pair of black tights. Stuffed myself in a Spanx. I got into this outfit all happily, then slipped into a pair of heels; felt great though my feet hurt. This was the first fitted outfit I wore to work since having my children.

And. My husband thought I looked great. Perfect!

Got to work early to find an empty office. At 10AM, I decided to go on my routine coffee run. Walked out of my office and headed for the outside. Had such a spirit in my step. I was feeling so good! As I got to the building across the street, where there was a Starbucks, I glanced in the reflection of the revolving door..and I stopped short with my mouth literally gaping open.

‘Who is that fat woman with the huge swaying cleavage looking back at me?‘

‘IS THAT ME?!’

Ran back across the street to my desk. Quietly got teary eyed. In an almost rushed fashion, cause I was thinking of what I just saw, started blotting my tears and grabbing for my keyboard and mouse to start researching plastic surgeons.

Soon after this, and consulting my husband, I found a local surgeon. He was top rated for this type of surgery in numerous articles and I wanted to meet him, just to see what the experience was like. An appointment was made for June. Then the nerves kicked in. But those nerves quickly turned to excitement. Honestly, I think this is the first and only time I ever felt this feeling of excitement to see a doctor. Like the appointment couldn’t of been sooner. Usually the thought of a doctor’s appointment gives me stomach aches.

Soon my appointment in June came. My Lord, this appointment was sobering. I met the surgeon and his staff, then within minutes I was topless in front of them to be photographed from different angles for insurance. It’s initially humiliating. ‘How did I get this way?’ Also, I’d look at the nurse in the room and see how stacked and fat she was thinking ‘why wasn’t she the one standing against this wall?’ Then the surgeon went on to describe the surgery method. There are a few different types, but he was explaining the one he thought best suited me. Once he figured I needed some time, he started handing me full color graphic brochures, photocopied articles and so much other stuff. Then put on a video and left the room for a bit so my husband and I could converse. There was a lot to digest. My husband had nothing but good things to say about his impression of the doctor. The surgery was up to me. I felt good too. The surgeon came back in with a print out of my photos a few minutes later. UGH. I hated what I saw, and honestly, didn’t recognize them as mine. When he told me they were I was floored, and got so uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, the fact that my chest was a hindrance was becoming overwhelming and all-consuming by the time I saw that reflection in May. My biggest complaint of my life was my boobs. No matter who I’d tell this to they’d scoff cause they thought big boobs were a blessing. Like, it never was. It never could be, for me, at least. I never felt free. And no matter if insurance was going to accept my claim or not, my mind was already in the game. The surgeon kept saying not to worry cause he was certain I was a candidate. I was going for this procedure regardless.

After that first appointment, I left feeling so many things. Scared. More insecure. Yet motivated. I learned so much about the procedure and the recovery; I also felt armed. There is no doubt that the thought of this surgery is frightening, but I am here to tell you it is so worth the consultation with a surgeon. Being educated of what is to come is the important part! What he told me was scary, it really was. The where and the how I would be cut. The anesthesia. Being unable to do things for weeks. It’s enough to scare someone to back out. Which I thought of for a split second, I am not going to lie. I was about to put a major strain on my toddlers and husband, and my whole life was going to depend on their help and patience for 10 weeks. I was going to be changed, but what if it wasn’t good change after all? All these thoughts are normal now that I look back. You just have to be stronger than your fears and realize it’s all for the best quality of life. I was doing such a disservice to my children the way I was, and I knew it. That is the thing about this surgery for me. I knew it in my soul that I needed this help to change my life. To become better. Happy. Active. Normal! I was never a positive person before meeting him either. It was as if my mind was illuminating slowly to those ideas.

Insurance accepted my case that week. YAY! My surgery date was set for Tuesday, September 29, 2009. I should mention that I am superstitious about that time of year, September. In a good way! So excitement grew more, but so did my nerves. I mean this was a major surgery for me. I had never had surgery of any type before. EEk, so many scary thoughts. But fear couldn’t be an option, not for me this time.

My husband was my biggest cheerleader. Thank God for him. He ended up going with me to every appointment, before and after surgery. He really made my fears disappear. My fears of what I would look like afterward. My fears of him still loving my body. My fears of dying under the knife. My fears of not healing. He kept me on the excited track. All of the good that was coming, rather than indulging me with my negative thoughts.

The weeks leading up to surgery were spent further researching the recovery, buying supplies, prepping and talking to my children about the changes – short-term and long-term, and buying new SMALLER BRAS! The surgeon was planning to bring me down to a size C! Not for 20 yrs had I seen a bra so small. Ok, small to me, cause they aren’t really that small in the scope of boobs. That freedom I had never felt before was starting to inch its way to becoming a reality. I couldn’t believe it! Things were going so smoothly. My husband and children seemed like they were mentally ready for the surgery and the road to recovery which made it easier on my mind. The night before surgery I got marked up by the doctor. What a weird sight this was in the mirror. Blue marker all over my chest; lines, spheres and x’s of where the doctor would cut me open. Cut me open. God, what a scary feeling.

It was finally happening.

Surgery Day
On surgery day, I woke up without my alarm. That never happens. Showered my blue mapped body with antibacterial soap like they instructed. Got dressed. No face cream. No makeup. Then we headed to the hospital. The drive there felt like it took an hour. It was only 25 minutes. My mind kept racing about being under anesthesia and my children; tried my best to keep the fear tears at bay. We arrived, and since I was pre-registered was sent right to pre-op. In pre-op, my husband was able to hang out with me, which put me at ease. The nurse who prepped was actually the wife of his softball friend. Which made me feel better. She said she’d keep an extra eye on me. Felt like she meant it. Now I was in a hospital gown and slippers. My hair was tied up under a cap, and I was laying on the gurney. My husband stood next to me holding my hand as I started to stream tears I couldn’t fight back anymore. I was really scared, but accepting that fear was part of the journey; and was all that kept me from saying fuck it, pulling out my needle and going home.

Going into surgery felt like I was in a scene from a movie. Being wheeled away from my husband while in tears and still holding onto his hands. Then being brought down a long hall, still full of tears, to a different room through these large, red, swinging doors. Where I was then taken from the gurney and sprawled onto a large table. I was staring at these giant lights shining on me, still feeling my warm tears on my face sliding near my ears. I saw stainless tools on smaller tables all around. It was surreal. And nothing like on TV! To be in that operating room felt so foreign to me. It was warm though, which I thought it would be cold.

The anesthesiologist introduced himself, he had a scruffy beard and a green Hawaiian shirt on under his coat. Which made me smile. I then heard a familiar voice coming from behind me saying I will be fine, and then saw the surgeon walking over. He proceeded to comfort me and told me about expectations during the procedure again. Then the surgical nurse introduced herself. She was a tall, strong-looking, blonde woman with HUGE boobs; the irony of this doctor with these nurses really!? She was very comforting and started detailing the anesthesiologist. He placed the syringe in my line then proceeded to ask me how I was feeling. Then within seconds he asked me where I liked to vacation. And I passed out before even answering. All I could remember was I wanted to say something clever, but that feeling of being utterly relaxed took over. Zzzzzzzz

Recovery
Just thinking about it makes me smile. I remember opening my eyes. Seeing the low hung ceiling with the lights. Looking down at my arms by my side…realizing where I was. Lifting up my head and shoulders just enough off the pillow to feel that weight gone. Then peeked under my hospital gown. Saw a lot of bandages on my FLAT chest. Smiled so wide. Put my head back down. Then passed out cold.

Woke up later in recovery to a different nurse. She prepped me for my next room, and another woman wheeled me up in a chair. I don’t know how or why, but, I felt different. Was it the drugs? Maybe. But there was this new feeling. I am not even sure how I can describe it with enough justice. I wasn’t always a positive person before this surgery, like I said, actually, I was quite dark. But as I was being wheeled to the room I felt this cathartic feeling. In the room, the nurse helped me into bed. My legs felt so weak, but before being moved I felt like I could just get up and sprint. Not so though. She started explaining my afternoon. Within minutes my husband came up. Finally a familiar face and smile!

Now. The feeling of your boobs post op from this type of surgery is sorta strange. They look sooooo tiny and are tight to your body, real high up. So my initial reaction to seeing them when I could sit up in the bed was “oh no, they are so small”. All I could see was my tummy from below. Where’d that come from? My surgeon did warn me that I’d have that awkward look. Both the tight boobs and the tummy seeming larger cause my chest hid my body from me. It was all new! My nurse checked my bandages. She explained the drains again to me. At this point a few hours passed and my parents came to visit, and while they were there I decided to use the bathroom on my own. Usually they tell you to start trying to walk around the next day alone. I wasn’t waiting. No nurse. No husband. No Mom. Just me. I was feeling too good, and by this time the drugs wore off, so figured this was my chance to do something I could feel. I know I looked bloated from surgery. I know I looked horrid without makeup on. But I really felt amazing and light!

Spent the night in the hospital, and the next day was discharged. Then my husband drove me to the surgeon’s office. It was time to have my sutures checked and drains removed. Honestly, the removal of the drains was the worst part of everything. And it was not even that bad! My surgeon talked to me about the surgery, then checked my stitches, they were dissolving ones, and he removed some that were sticking out. Then he talked me through the removal of the drains. He mentioned that people complain about it being painful, and that there would be a burning sensation when they were pulled out. As he grabbed one, I took a deep breath. He pulled out the drain, then the other…and done. It stung. It burned and looked horrendous. But I just didn’t care!

The days that followed were foggy. I stopped taking the percs after a half day being home. My decision was that ibuprofen cut the pain well enough, and being dumb on percs didn’t feel right. This pain from surgery was a badge, like childbirth pains. I felt like I had to feel some pain.

With this procedure there is not much activity for weeks, ten weeks to be exact. Even washing your own hair is a chore. There is no lifting. No carrying more than 5lbs. No simple movements like vacuuming, or doing laundry. It sounds great, but it actually sucked. I hate being useless. My kids were so sweet about my condition through the recovery period though. They were trying their best not to hurt mommy. They seemed to fully understand that I was not able to pick them up or play the way they wanted, by climbing all over me. My God they were so young. But this meant my husband had to pull off doing everything, He had to assist me with almost every detail. But I did do as much as I could cause I felt stupid just sitting around.

The first time I went out with my family for the day was memorable. It was in October, and we decided to head to Salem for some Halloween fun. Getting ready for this was the real first time I had to dress myself for being out more than an hour in weeks. So what to try on?! I had this electric blue Italia soccer tee I loved, and before the surgery only wore at home cause it was super tight. I still had the recovery cotton wireless bra to wear, and it was still a learning process to bandage and all that fun stuff. So I did my best not to look like I had on a stuffed bra, and then slipped into the tee. It fit. And it looked so cute! Well, except for my tummy below, but that still wasn’t a bother for me cause I HAD SMALLER BOOBS! The tee was slightly longer on me too! I put on jeans, grabbed a sweater and off we went to Salem. I felt like nothing was going to get in my way that day. I literally had a smile the whole time. Felt energetic. Beaming. My youngest daughter and I took a photo this day, and you can see the happiness all over me.

First day out with family in 2009

First day out with family in 2009. My face looked thinner already huh?

The full recovery process is two years. Meaning, you are fully recovered at the end of the two years, all is as normal as possible. You can now sunbathe topless! Those ten weeks of post-op recovery are really for the wounds to mend. It was a challenge for my family, but it flew! Every single day I was cleaning the wounds, changing bandages, using silicon strips for cushioning, and watching myself heal. At my 6 week check in, the surgeon noticed that I was beaming, and also, that my scars were healing as if we were at 2 months post-op. How awesome!

My husband was so accepting of my new change. Which was a huge relief. He was my go to set of eyes for my scars. But, still, even though he was great about everything, there was this part of me that felt like, in a way, he got duped. Like he paid for one thing and got another, much smaller. He knew my personal struggle, and always reassured me that he wanted me to be happy. And looking back, I realize how silly my thoughts were in this part of my recovery. But at that time I was still bandaged and going through a lot of emotional changes along with the physical. My positive point of view flickered. There were many moments I fell into sadness. I felt like I lost my identity. A part of me. A major part. Twenty years of being that busty girl was tough to erase. And I wasn’t erasing it really, I was moving and learning from it. All my old clothes had breast indents in them. Can you believe that? I’d try on an old blazer and it would fit except in the bust cause there were an invisible set of boobs already in it! It was a constant reminder of where I was..to where I was going in those first few months. I was trying to figure out myself, which is still a work in progress.

My Journey Didn’t End There
The new year was about to get started, and I was healing fabulously. But my body image was not up to par. I was just at the end of my ten weeks and was making every excuse to not start exercising. I don’t even know why really. I was not totally happy, I mean with my new rack I was ecstatic! But the body I was seeing was a real let down. I never had to think about weight before like this. It felt like the real me was inside screaming to get out. About this time, my husband saw an ad in our local paper for an extreme makeover. So, he wrote in about me. He ended up telling me a day later about it. I was thrilled. He had written a blurb about my situation and sent in photos. It was all for 5 months of a free personal trainer, a local shopping spree, sports massage, a makeup and a hair style redo at one of the big local salons. It all sounded like a fun promotion to be a part of. Something positive to go along with my new changes and help me get back into shape. In January 2010, I was asked to meet the panel of judges in town. They would choose one male and one female contestant to win the overall prize. The judging night was so awkward for me. There were about 3 men and 7 women contestants to start with. Everyone had to share their story with the panel to win the prize. The panel was the people giving the prizes to the newspaper. I had nothing to say. I was an overweight housewife who was trying to better herself. These other people in the contest really needed desperate help. What real emotional messes. I sat there feeling like I didn’t belong and kept eyeing my husband, cause I didn’t! I was chosen runner-up, they chose three. If I won I was planning to give it to one of them. Even chubby like I was I looked like a supermodel in this crowd. By the end of the night I didn’t win. Another woman’s story was more compelling. Phew. I left there feeling so awkward. About myself. I wasn’t that bad to be compared to these people was I!? I didn’t want to end up like them either.

A light went on in my head after this makeover night. There were no more excuses. My wounds were now fully healed. So, I made a real serious pact with myself to get fit-mind and body. I had to start right away, and my way.

Started going to the gym. It was the real first time going since my engagement days. I forgot the commitment it took to get in shape. My body with the smaller bust felt like nothing at all, such a different experience, like there was no weight or fatigue… no pain! I was speed walking, biking, lifting weights, and keeping my mind focused. I was chasing my kids in the yard everyday, playing ball, and never felt winded or exhausted. Working out really does make the mind clearer and relieve stress. So with my workout schedule I got a lot of ‘me’ time to think and figure out how I was feeling.

I began watching my portion sizes, stopped snacking on my kids left overs, and was more aware of my eating habits. I kept this mouth closed! My muscles started defining all over and my face looked slimmer. I ventured out of all my normal comfort zones. I was buying new clothes and fitting into those stowed away ‘someday’ clothes. I am talking halter, tube top, spaghetti strap; I could wear any bra! Strapless people! I was even wearing colors other than black! In one week through the process I lost 10 lbs too. By Summer I was wearing my first halter bikini since I was a teen, and my first ever strapless dress! Hey, I was by no means a skinny girl, look at my pictures, but I wasn’t that overweight woman anymore. By the start of the Fall, I was down 57 lbs. Did you know high heels hurt less when you are thinner?

Major difference right?! This was Early Spring 2010

Major difference right?! This was Early Spring 2010

With my oldest Winter 2010

With my oldest Winter 2010

My journey is not over!
I am thankful every single day. This surgery was an experience that I will never forget. It opened my eyes. Not just for the aesthetics, but for the freedoms. How did I allow myself live like that before? The weight loss that followed uncorked so many emotions for me, too; good and bad. I worked on so many parts of myself in such a short period of time that I am still shocked it happened. But it is part of this journey. My life’s journey. I cannot ever allow myself to back track those emotions.

Today, I look at myself, I am not perfect by any means, but I feel good about what I see and feel. I still can’t believe everything that happened. My quality and outlook on life is drastically different from 2009. There are no radiating pains in my neck or shoulders. The bra strap indents faded fast along with a lot of my scars. The emotional scars. People see me for me. .

Everything about me has changed because of this surgery.

Except I still love wearing black. :)~

2011- 10th Anniversary :)

2011- 10th Anniversary 🙂

You only live once.

My featured pic is from Mother’s Day 2012.

Update:  More post op pix:

Polpette

I often reference my Mother, the Sicilian Goddess of the kitchen, because she really is an amazing cook.  Really I should get her an apron with that personalized.  Her meatballs are savory, bite-sized portions of perfection. One thing my Mom taught me about her meatballs, which is something she learned from my Nonna, is that they are not made perfectly round. They are a touch flat. Not sure how this came about; but I love them, and continue to make them the same way.  The ingredients are simple and wholesome.  Which is the reason for my blog.  For me, cooking isn’t meant to be difficult with recipes that have a mile long ingredients list.  Good quality food is simple.

Below is my recipe, which is the same as the one I grew up eating, except I don’t fry my meatballs. And they taste the same. This recipe though yields enough for 45-48 1 inch meatballs, about the size of a walnut. YES! This day I made 48 meatballs! Froze 3 portions then used 1 portion for dinner. I consider a dinner portion anywhere between 10-12 meatballs (figuring for a family of four, 10 will be eaten for sure – 3 per adult and 2 per child – and then a couple left over in case someone wants another). Meatballs are super easy to freeze in zip-loc bags after they are cooled.  Even easier to reheat in a sauce, over a skillet, in the oven, or the microwave. It’s makes for a quick meal..a homemade meal, anytime!

Meatballs
2.5 pounds ground beef
2 1/2 cups of whole wheat bread crumbs (or plain bread crumbs)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
3 whole eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon of each S&P

Need: Parchment covered baking sheet drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, mix all the dry ingredients: bread crumbs, cheese, basil, parsley, salt and pepper.

Valeria's Meatballs

Bread Crumbs with herbs

Valeria's Meatballs

Breadcrumbs, herbs and freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Add in the wet ingredients: the ground beef, eggs, and garlic.

Valeria's Meatballs

Bread Crumbs, Garlic, Eggs, and Ground Beef ready to be mixed!

Using your hands,  mix all ingredients until well incorporated.

Valeria's Meatballs

Mix well.

Next, using your hands, shape the meatballs into balls, about the size of a walnut/1 inch, and place on baking sheet.

Valeria's Meatballs

Roll into balls

Valeria's Meatballs

Ready for the oven. Place rolled balls onto a lightly oiled baking sheet (shown here with olive oil on parchment) Still browns like a skillet!

Bake for 15 minutes, then turn them over, place back in the oven for 7 minutes until browned and cooked through.

Valeria's Meatballs

Finished!

Stay tuned for my other meatball recipes later this year; especially my veal with ricotta! YUM!

Chili

Beef Chili
2.5 pounds ground beef
1 15 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
2 28 oz can tomato sauce
1/2 cup of room temperature water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
¼ cup chile powder
¼ cup paprika
3 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon of each S&P

Get the leanest beef you can find - 2.5 lbs.

Get the leanest beef you can find – 2.5 lbs.

In a large stock pot, on medium heat, brown the ground beef breaking it up with a spoon. Once browned drain fat off (with the leaner meats there is less to drain).

Brown meat over medium heat.  Breaking down the beef with a spoon until into finer pieces

Brown meat over medium heat. Breaking down the beef with a spoon until into finer pieces

Beef almost browned

Beef almost browned

Return to the heat, add onions and garlic, heat until the aromas fill the air and the color of the onions are translucent.

Garlic and Onions

Garlic and Onions

Then add in carrots.

Beef Chili

Adding in the carrots

Two cans of no salt kitchen ready tomatoes

Two cans of no salt kitchen ready tomatoes

Add in tomatoes and water. Stir to mix well. Reduce heat to a medium low and simmer for 20 minutes.

beef chili

After mixing in the tomatoes

Then add in s&p, chili powder, cumin and peppers. Let simmer for 20 minutes.

1/4 cup of chili powder

1/4 cup of chili powder

Adding in cumin

Adding in cumin

Red Peppers- we like to use these to add a sweeter taste

Red Peppers- we like to use these to add a sweeter taste

Beef Chili

Adding in the chopped red pepper

Adding in white beans. you can use any type of pinto bean; white is a fun alternative

Adding in white beans. you can use any type of pinto bean; white is a fun alternative

Then add in beans. Turn down the heat to low.

Let chili simmer for an hour, stirring to make sure it’s not sticking to the bottom. At this point the temperature should be lowered enough to just simmer, not be bubbling all over.

 

DONE!

DONE!

 

And it’s done!

I love to serve it piping hot with colby jack cheese shredded on top, then a few pieces of chopped scallion and a salty avocado/tomato mash. Then eat it with tortilla chips. YUM!

Super easy, right?

 

Football Fun- Sangria!

Today we are all in our Patriot’s gear ready for some football! 

This afternoon we will be jetting off to our friends nearby for the game and good family fun.  We decided that we’d make our chili to bring over…and some of our sangria.  The chili, which smells amazing, is still simmering, so I thought to post my recipe for the sangria. Usually, sangria is my summer time late evening in the sun drink, but it’s also a great winter drink, too! Really can you ever go wrong with wine? NO!

Last night, I took a slim water glass and filled it with 1 cup of good no pulp orange juice then slipped it into the freezer.  I LOVE using frozen juices in the sangria rather than ice cubes, cause it keeps it chilled while the juice melts slowly to flavor the drink nicely.  Make sure that if you choose to freeze juice that you remember two things…1- all liquids expand when frozen so don’t fill anything to the top, and 2- measure the opening of the container you will be using so you get the frozen items in them. I generally don’t use ice cube trays cause it’s the size of the larger frozen pieces that make the difference. So good luck!!

My Winter Sangria
3 cups of red table wine
3 cups of cold ginger ale (sprite or seltzer water will work, I like using ginger ale so no more sugar is added)
3/4 cup brandy
1 cup of orange juice, frozen
1 tspn of ground nutmeg (I mix it into the brandy and then pour it in)
1 large orange, washed and sliced thin, save some for cup presentation

Here I have a cup of frozen orange juice in the glass carafe, surrounded by all the ingredients we need.

Here I have a cup of frozen orange juice in the glass carafe, surrounded by all the ingredients we need.

3 cups of a good house red wine, here we used MezzaCorona's Merlot.

3 cups of a good house red wine, here we used MezzaCorona’s Merlot.

Then add in 3/4 cup of brandy and 3 cups of cold ginger ale

Then add in 3/4 cup of brandy and 3 cups of cold ginger ale

Winter fruits are a tough one, but Oranges are actually warm weather's winter fruit!  So we washed a ripe navel orange, which smelled amazing when we cut it open, and sliced it up thin; then added it to the wine.

Winter fruits! We washed a ripe navel orange, which smelled amazing when we cut it open, and sliced it up thin; then added it to the wine.

Since we are drinking them later and it’s still too early for me to drink, there is no photo of it in a glass!   But I can assure you that this drink when I tasted it was DEEEELISH!
GO PATS!

Support Your Local Shops!

December 7th, 2012, my town had their Holiday Happenings Night. They shut down Main Street and all the shops along the downtown main area opened up an extra two hours and there were many festivities for the families along the way; hayrides, photos, a tree lighting, cocoa, etc. So I thought it a good opportunity to have the kids go out and have fun. And it was a fun night!

When we initially got to Main Street that Friday night, my kids were so excited to be able to run up and down the street safely, that they just took off doing airplanes, ballerina jumps and skipping around. We quickly caught up to them across the street to make sure they had their hats and scarves on tight, and we ended up stopping in front of a store with a sign out front: STORE CLOSING! ALL ITEMS 30% OFF TONIGHT! My heart just broke when I saw this sign. I turned to my oldest daughter with my glum face, and started securing her scarf. She could tell I was bothered and couldn’t help but ask what was wrong. So, I started telling her the story of my first Spring in this town, our town. I was 5 months pregnant with her, and I’d go on daily drives absorbing street names and places to go. Well, the store with the closing sign, that we were standing in front of, was the first store I shopped. The store front was eclectically filled with gifts, signs, and home decor; and at the time, they had these handsome birdhouses on stakes that I still dream of owning. The interior of the store was stocked with so much that my eyes didn’t know where to start looking. It was a fun store, and the staff was sweet. I shopped there a few times, and at least once with my Mom and sisters. My daughter started to ask why they were closing (if to me they were a good shop). I explained to her that there are different reasons a shop closes. But mostly, if people don’t support the shop then the store isn’t able to survive.  Then I used some analogy with Radiator Springs from Cars, and she seemed happier.

Stores close.

Towns move on.

People forget. Like me.

I know not everything lasts forever, but in that snippet of a story I am hoping to give some light to some people to be more local.  That store closed for any number of reasons, but I couldn’t help to think it’s the patrons were going elsewhere.  The thought that I took for granted that it would always be in Andover Center, and now it’s already gone, makes me so sad.  I walked into the store last weekend. The place was ripped apart cause the sale was now at 70% off.  The owner was handing off free merchandising shelves and stuff that were real old and rickety. The place was hopping busy with people asking questions about the business, and/or buying things on super discount. What I overheard was the owner, after 22 years, just couldn’t keep up with the commute any longer now that her life changed so much over the years. She was closing shop.  Still a sad story, and kept me thinking about keeping my life local.

And.

Since I started my thing to be more local last year, I thought it appropriate to talk about supporting our local businesses.  Support the local stores and artisans in your community. Doing this will actually help your town thrive. It will keep those unique items in your town, and in turn make your town unique. It will help support entrepreneurship. If the shops do well they can hire more people and bring jobs to the town, and possibly open more locations. It can just do so much good. If you have a family, it will keep them rooted to the town, as I am learning. And, if anything will help you think about it, it personally can save you GAS!

My family and friends have heard me talk about the shops in my town about a million times- even those franchise ones like Starbucks!  SO! I am going to take this opportunity to talk about them here too. 🙂

Holidays have passed.  But new ones are on the horizons.  My favorite times to shop for are actually not holidays at all.  They are those moments you want to treat yourself, or your loved one, to that something special.  I learned that the local shops in my town are a GREAT treasure for these moments.

Some of my favorite local (Massachusetts) shops.

There is a shop in my downtown area that opened up last January, Nest. I cannot tell you how much I love this store and every time I go in for a visit I am made to feel special. The look of the store on its own is enough to make any person drool. Its perfectly decorated store front draws you in to browse the whole store; which is merchandised like a girls dream. Awesome jewelry, accessories and scarves, wedding accessories, children accessories, too, and all at affordable prices! I know in Andover! The one thing that I find important is how customers are treated by retail stores. Ask anyone that knows me and they know what I am talking about. Customer perception of a store is soooo important, and how we are treated even more so. I have always been treated special at Nest.  The owner is so cheerful and greets me with a smile. She is always quick with a tour of what is new; and she remembers me, which is something that I miss out in the bigger stores. I want to be remembered darnit!! My purchases are always wrapped, boxed and bagged so when I get home it’s like a whole new gift experience.  I love this type of personal service. The idea that the owner stops what she is doing to say hello, and is happy to show me all the beautiful accessories, then gives me details about each item being local, is what the small business is all about right?  Giving you that touch, that contact, where you are right there with them proud to be their patron.

Same thing goes for Salon Forza! This new salon is dripping with style from the woodwork and lighting to the flooring and seating; it has great presence and it’s modern with warmth. The staff is always personable, friendly and accommodating from the second you walk in the door. I rave about the salon and the owner often for a reason. The owner has been my stylist since I moved into town in 2004. She just opened up this salon on Elm Street in my town. It is gorgeous and to know where she came from to what she is achieving makes me proud.  And I am just a client!  She is pure talent, the type of talent you follow, and she’s a wonderfully positive person on top of it all.  I found the stylist that I always wanted to find.  *At the salon. The bronze chairs in the hair washing section are off the hook comfortable, and have an air massage technology that I look forward to every visit too!

The Relaxstation Therapeutic Massage is the best of the best.  There isn’t enough I can say about this place!  The owner’s personality is so calming.  She really listens, and truly has a gift with her knowledge of the body, muscles, nerves and everything. I cannot express my gratitude enough to Lauren, the owner, for helping me through a painful sciatic issue this year.  Literally from the second she touched my leg I felt the pain subside.  A nerve pain I was suffering with for 6 months.   Both my husband and I are clients of the Relaxstation, and highly recommend a visit.

Chic Consignment.  Well, ladies, it is a brand name luxury dream.  Yes, this is gently worn/used items, but the staff at the Chic Consignment have such a particular eye because all the items are fabulous, chic, and practically brand new.  I am talking about GUCCI shoes, PRADA handbags, DVF,  TRUE RELIGION jeans/clothing, COACH, and so much label you will be shocked like I was the first time I went in!   They are always friendly when you walk in and you can lose yourself at least for an hour browsing.  They have dressing rooms, mirrors and lots of stuff to try on.

Even through Etsy.com, you can support your local artisans! A hidden gem is local artist, and owner, of The ArtHausStudios. The ArtHausStudios creates unique pieces of jewelry, hair accessories, and the like, with striking colors, in vintage styles, but also using exclusive upcycled/recycled materials. There is a silk wrap bracelet on that site that is to die for!!  Just to share a more personal aspect of the artistic mind behind the jewelry. Not only is her style unique.she created a one of a kind ornament for me this Christmas out of a coffee bean bag, recycled Starbucks tin and her uniquely spun metal version of a coffee bean. Click on the link, it is just awesome! Not that she makes them for the masses, but just to tell you about her attention to quality, style and person that she is. One of a kind finds from a one of a kind artist.

Another local!  The best idea to leave your guests with a tangible and memorable image of your party is caricatures, am I right?  Well, the best in Boston and a handsome local guy is See Mike Draw!  Mike draws in-person caricatures of high quality for corporate events, outings, trade shows or personal parties. He is all over Boston and towns surrounding working high profile events to local fun spots. Click on the link, you will want to hire him for your next event.  Also, this local guy is my husband! How we met actually was through one of his jobs doing caricatures.  Back in 1996!  🙂

I absolutely love personalized gifts for children.  I worked with KatieJoBelle’s Gifts on a few custom projects (click on the link and view the photos of my children from Disney..the red/white pillowcase dresses and the embroidered tees with their names were from KJB), for my children and gifts for family friends.  Her work is always perfect!  She has a ton of patterns, ideas, and is great fun to work with.   I had an idea for an embroidered towel that she executed perfectly!  Made a great First Birthday present for my good friends’ daughter!

I would love, REALLY LOVE, if you reading would post your favorite local spots, artists, or musicians.  Let me know where they are, their websites or whatever you want to say about them.  No matter where you are from.  Getting the word out about where you love to go is a great way to get the networking out for people to go and venture!  I love traveling somewhere knew and going to a spot someone is passionate telling me about.  Usually leads to a great experience.  The whole reason why it was recommended.

Don’t let your town turn into Radiator Springs, the former.  😉

Featured photo taken from Nest Andover’s Facebook website.  Thought it encapsulated the theme of this blog.