Chicken Enchilada Soup

This is the recipe I made up on the fly today, and I was rather impressed how it turned out.  So, I'm "writing" it down for posterity and sharing it, as per the requests on Facebook.  All spice measurements and saute/simmer timings are approximate.  Adjust the seasonings as you desire!

1 small-med onion, diced
1-2 medium carrots, diced
1 green pepper, diced
4+ cloves garlic, minced
2-3 T olive oil
~ 1 tsp ground red pepper
~ 1 tsp chile powder
~ 2 tsp paprika
~ 2 tsp cumin
~ 1/2 tsp ground oregano
salt & pepper
6 cups chicken stock
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
3-4 C cooked chicken
2 C grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 C grated "Mexican blend" cheese

Warm the chicken stock in a saucepan.

Meanwhile in a large pot/Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium/medium-high heat.  Add the onion, carrots, and green pepper, and saute for a few minutes before adding the garlic.  Season with salt and pepper.  Continue sauteing until the veggies become fairly tender, and then add the other seasonings.  Allow to cook for a couple additional minutes.

Mix in the chicken, stirring well so the chicken begins to pick up the flavors of the spices, and then add the can of diced tomatoes and cook for another minute or two.  Add the chicken stock.  Cover and bring to a gentle boil.  Allow to simmer for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the cheese, stir to melt.  Cover again and allow to simmer for another 5-10 minutes for the flavors to blend.

Suggested garnishes/toppings: sour cream, tortilla chips, green onion, more cheese.


Planned Parenthood

I'm probably chiming in on this topic way late, but today I acquired first-hand experience.  It was experience that left me both happy and harrowed, and reevaluating the debate in our country on birth control and other female issues.

Here's the long and the short of it.  I am uninsured, and have been since August 2008.  I cannot afford health insurance on my own, and although I am employed, because none of my jobs are full time, they do not come with benefits.  I have pre-existing medical conditions.  Specifically for this subject, I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and it is strongly suspected that I have endometriosis. 

Once a month, and sometimes a day or two in between, my life is hell.  I have an extremely high pain tolerance and can put on a good face.  So when I go crawling, hunched over, to pop a fistful of Advil and curl up moaning with my heating pad, you know it's bad.  Life doesn't stop for pain, though.  When I'm standing in front of my kids at school and my uterus and the surrounding muscles feel like they are trying to wring out and then expel my feminine parts, all I can do is try to not grimace and seize the Advil at the first possible opportunity.

The best treatment for both PCOS and endometriosis for a woman of my age is taking oral contraceptives -- birth control pills.  (It is slightly ironic that I would need to take a medication designed to prevent pregnancy in order to get my lady parts healthy enough to get pregnant, should I ever decide to do that.)  The catch is getting access to them.

Here is where Planned Parenthood comes in.  Their mission is to provide women's health services to everyone, regardless of their situation.  I was able to get in with an appointment within 24 hours, and I was able to walk out with some birth control pills and a longer-range plan for addressing my female health.

The experience in-between is why I'm blogging.

In my opinion, it is very sad that a clinic that strives to help has to ask you questions like, "When we call, how do you want us to identify ourselves?  As PPH, doctor's office, or as 'Cathy'?"  When they do call, the phone number shows up as all zeroes.  The door to the clinic is locked at all times.  A security guard lets you into the small vestibule, where she scrutinizes your ID much more carefully than TSA does before you get on a plane.  She verifies you are on the list with an appointment.  She searches your bag -- cell phones and other electronic devices are forbidden inside the clinic.  You are wanded with a metal detector.  Once you pass on all accounts, you get to enter the waiting room and go to the reception desk where the nurses and staff are behind bullet-proof glass.

I'm not here to debate abortion.  I know what I believe and how I vote.  I think people who value life so much that they are willing to take the lives of others simply to make a point are certifiable.  I respect my friends and colleagues who are against abortion, and I understand why they feel that way.  I choose to vote pro-choice because it is not my place to tell someone else what they can or cannot do with their body.  It doesn't mean I will ever be seeking an abortion, but I take some relief in knowing that the option is there should I ever find myself in that situation.

I can tell you two additional things now, having sat in the Planned Parenthood waiting room.  First, the women who were there for an abortion were tormented.  They were wrestling with their decision up until they were called back.  (Keep in mind, Kansas has a mandatory 24 hour waiting period after an abortion consultation before the procedure can be performed.)  For none of them was this "no big deal."  They were women who look just like every other woman in your life -- the lady you pass in the grocery store, the woman who has the cubicle down from yours, your neighbor, the lady serving you communion at church.  These weren't women whose bearing, demeanor, dress, etc., screamed "whore."

Secondly, women seeking female health assistance should not be made to feel shameful.  When a health care provider has options for concealing their identity when they contact you, when you have to go through a gauntlet of security just because you are in a clinic that performs abortions, no matter what your reason for being there, you feel a sense of shame.  It feels like you are doing something wrong.  I don't know of a proctologist who feels the need to conceal his or her practice because they perform vasectomies.  I don't hear of the Catholic Church condemning doctors who perform those procedures because it interferes with the ability to create life.

I was there for a reason I could get at hundreds of other doctor's offices in town, and at dozens of other clinics.  I was there to get medication to help me with a very real and very painful medical condition.  The reason I was at Planned Parenthood was because they will take me without insurance and without questions.  The nurse practitioner I saw was extremely kind and helpful -- she went out of her way to help me even though my hypertension is currently uncontrolled and being put back on birth control could exacerbate that.  She helped me find a decent option for the time being, gave me information on places I could go to take care of my blood pressure, and then we laid out a game plan for further treating my issues.

I can only think of two other medical professionals in my life that have spent that kind of time with me, and I've been to A LOT of doctors and nurse practitioners.  As a result, I left extremely grateful for what Planned Parenthood does -- abortions or not.  When you think defunding them is a good thing, take a second to think of me.  My going there was not about being sexually active and wanting to prevent pregnancy.  My going there was to control an at-times debilitating medical condition, and the way our health care system is in this country, they were my best option.  I didn't have to prove I was poor, I didn't have to prove I didn't have insurance. 

I didn't have to prove I was in any way less than millions of other women, women who have easy access to affordable health care.  And having literally just gotten off the phone with one of the low income/uninsured clinics in town, trying to schedule an appointment to treat my high blood pressure, I know I'm not alone.  They can't see me for 2 weeks -- and they weren't the first clinic of this type to tell me that today.  Something is very wrong in our country, and I'm for one grateful that we have places like Planned Parenthood.


Thoughts on Motherhood

Right off the bat, I will say it and I will say it clearly: I am NOT pregnant.

My thoughts on having children tend to vary.  It is not uncommon whenever I am seeing someone (again, check out my considerably more active dating blog for that info: www.36anddating.blogspot.com) I tend to start thinking of footie pajamas and pacifiers.  Yet, that isn't always the case.

Let's start back at the beginning, if you will.  I have a wonderful condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS.  What it means is that my ovaries are covered in thousands of tiny cysts, which affects the quality of my eggs being produced and it can even prevent ovulation.  There are also lots of other fun side effects, but they are mostly just annoying.  PCOS can make a woman infertile.  At the very least, it makes it more difficult for a woman with PCOS to become pregnant via completely natural means.

I've known this diagnosis since 2000 or so.  I dealt with it then, the fact that if I ever wanted to have kids I would probably end up having to go on hormone therapy or endure more invasive means such as IVF.  Ultimately, I came to a certain peace about my struggles.  Getting pregnant is not impossible for me, it is just a bit more difficult.  (My mother had PCOS, and she got pregnant 3 times without medical intervention.)  So, I'm not running around having unprotected sex during my fertile period.

Lately, my attitudes towards kids have taken a certain shift.  I'm at that age where my friends are either spawning as rapidly as salmon, or else we are discussing whether or not being in our mid-to-late 30's is really worthy of what doctors call a "geriatric pregnancy."  You know, we are facing the inevitability of that time where we will no longer be able to get pregnant, or at least carry a baby without needing more help from science than if we were in our 20's. 

What has brought this shift on?  I teach K-8 2 days a week, and in the past couple of weeks there have been moments with my students that have brought out some serious maternal inclinations in me.  There have been times where I've had students in turmoil and all I've wanted to do is scoop them up, rock them, and make the pain go away.  I have one kid in my kindergarten group who is, in my opinion, beyond cute.  And I have a herd of 1st and 2nd graders who are extremely fond of hugging me.  In my opinion, there is little that can withstand the cuteness of small children who hug and love with abandon.

But today I was handed a baby to hold.  This baby is only a month old, and she's certainly precious.  However, I have not been one of the women in our congregation to go all nuts over her, wanting to hold and babysit her at any and every opportunity.  I was reminded that I'm good with kids as she was getting fussy -- it was past her lunch time -- and yet I was able to soothe and calm her.  Then I handed her off to her mom without a single nanosecond of regret, a scintilla of desire to have one of my own.

Members of my church who saw the event asked me if I'd gotten my motherhood fix.  I said that I get it pretty regularly with my K-8 kids, but that I didn't desire to have kids of my own -- much to my mother's chagrin.  Since all of them were grandparents, they agreed easily with my stand of loving them, and then loving to give them back to their parents.

Is it a shame that a woman who is apparently good with kids doesn't want any of her own?  I don't think so.  Right now I'm seeing a guy who has a 10 year old son, and that's enough for him.  His son is a great kid, and if -- and this is a great big IF -- I end up with a more stable and consistent role in his life, I'm perfectly fine with that.  It isn't that I'm opposed to being a mom, or in this case, a step-mom.  And if I end up getting married and he wants kids, I'm open to the idea although he'll know my physical struggles. 

Motherhood isn't for everyone, and I'm glad I know that about me now instead of later, instead of finding myself pregnant or a mom and then realizing I don't want to be a mom.  Besides, there are plenty of children who need homes.  Perhaps one day, that will be the answer.


What a Weekend

So I haven't blogged here in ages.  I've been busy with work and my new *cough* love life.  (If you haven't seen that blog, it's MUCH more active: 36andDating.blogspot.com)

Weight loss quickie update: I haven't lost much more, but I've gained quite a bit of muscle tone and strength.  I fell off the wagon for a while, put some weight back on, then got back into it and am feeling much better.  For the first time in my life, I am wearing a size L t-shirt, and remembering easily the days where an XL looked like a sausage casing on me.  Between my original gym teaching job and another gym in town, I'm now teaching 6 classes a week and perhaps picking up 2 more -- that's 3 Zumba classes, 1 power yoga, 1 kick boxing, and 1 active older adults strength/flexibility.  If I pick up the additional 2, that'll add a pilates/PiYo and Interval/Boot Camp to my schedule.


But what I really wanted to blog about was that I had one of those weekends that was just so... weird... I have to put it down in writing somehow.  For me, it falls into the "truth is stranger than fiction" category.

Friday: Back to school orientations/inservices, always a barrel of monkeys.  I was told 8:30 only to find out we didn't have to be there until 9:00.  While chatting with a colleague, another colleague came into the classroom and decided -- while on a ton of pain killers -- to show us her incision from a recent biopsy.  Okay.  Except the incision was on her breast and she wasn't wearing a bra.  Yep, at 8:45 in the morning I'm being flashed.

Later that day, I heard a nun swear.  Well, basically.  As far as I'm concerned, and granted I haven't hung out with that many nuns, if a nun says "he's S.O.L.," we know exactly what she means and while she didn't actually say the word "shit," she was thinking it and meant it.  Ergo, a nun swore.

To round out the evening, I gave myself mild food poisoning.  How, you ask?  Questionable eggs.  I was tired and my appetite has been goofy.  I needed to go to the store and decided scrambled eggs would be quick and easy.  Except my eggs, which didn't smell suspicious, were a couple months old.  3 hours after eating them, I was awakened from a deep sleep by the urgent need to visit the restroom -- something that would happen 2 or 3 more times during the night.

Saturday: After one of my intestinal bouts, around 3 am or so, I decided to check Facebook as I was having an internal discussion with my bowels about whether or not I'd be able to go back to sleep.  I had a message from a friend from my Florida days, someone who would probably have to go more accurately in the category of "acquaintance" than "friend," but it's Facebook.  He kind of misinterpreted a comment I made and chose to bear his soul and heart to me via a FB message.  I had no idea whatsoever that he ever had any feelings for me.  Awkward.  I decided to sleep on it.

After a rough night with that whole food poisoning thing, I went to teach my regular Zumba class.  Most of my regulars were gone.  My class was a revolving door of people, and I had more kiddos than adults.  It was just plain weird, but given my energy level and being totally drained, I was okay with it.  The rest of the afternoon passed in via an epic 3 hour nap, followed by my bizarre decision to deep clean my dining and living rooms.  (If you really know me, you'll know that I'm pretty laid back about my cleaning, so for me to do a thorough dusting in addition to picking up and vacuuming, that's some pretty serious shit.)

Sunday: I had no problems getting up for church.  This, in and of itself, is very rare, because usually a 5:30 alarm sparks cursing from me.  By the time we were ready to start the first service, one shoulder of my dress was wet from a friend/member crying on it.  Times like this remind me how much I love ministry -- and I mean no snark in that comment.  Also of note: I wrote a song last week, a therapeutic and spiritual purge for some trials.  It was very warmly accepted and ministered to a lot of people in pain.  That was another major blessing.

After another nap -- and any weekend where I get TWO naps is going to be epic -- the rest of the day was spent in that angst of "do I text my crush or not?"  If you want more on that scintillating subject, go to my aforementioned dating blog. 

So... being flashed by a colleague, hearing a nun swear, getting food poisoning, having a friend declare his long-time attraction to me, and good ministry... I can only wonder what this week will bring!!