Weighty issues (oh, and slow cooker thyme pork roast)

Pork

I think I set a record on Sunday.

The very first person — ever, in the history of kitchens — to call out, “Oh, don’t even TELL me we’re out of caraway seed.”

Because … who uses caraway seed? And who uses caraway seed so often that they actually fear running out of it?

(Well, my delightful grandmother, who made the Polish-inspired dishes from her own youth that I devoured in mine. But, you know.)

Never fear: our jar of caraway seed was more than halfway full, so I could stifle the panic building in my chest as I prepared this slow cooker meal for Monday. That’s right, friends: I officially got my act together and prepared a meal a day in advance, refrigerated it and pulled it out Monday morning to simmer for that evening’s dinner. (Just let the crock warm up to room temperature first, of course.)

And it was delicious.

Like, oh, much of the adult population, January finds me thinking about goals and priorities and all that adult-ish stuff. Now that I’m also a mother, a working mother and an often stressed working mother, I really want to get back to writing out a serious meal plan on weekends, sticking to it, grocery shopping on Sunday and placing an emphasis on healthy eats.

Despite my hesitancy in my last post, I went ahead and jumped back into Weight Watchers (affiliate link). It’s been three years since I nervously attended my first meeting and two since I hit my goal weight, dropping 35 pounds, but I’m now — post-Oliver — heavier than I was when I started in 2013.

I just wasn’t sure I was ready for that level of commitment. Last summer, when I was an exhausted new parent who had just returned to work, I got it into my head that I needed to get “me” back. Now. If I let myself slack off with my eating, I thought, I’ll never lose the weight again. I’ll roll right back into old habits. That will be the end of the person I used to know.

Well, I was right — and wrong.

I’m not my pre-baby self again, of course. Everything that happened in 2015 — the beautiful, the scary, the overwhelming, the miraculous — changed me forever. Becoming a parent changes you forever . . . and I’m extremely grateful for that! I mean, it should.

But I did go back to old habits. It’s tough to come out of a pregnancy — unexpectedly early, too — and go right back to tracking every single thing you put in your mouth: something I was not in the habit of doing. Like, at all. For the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I pretty much lived off Chick-Fil-A’s frozen lemonade milkshakes.

When Oliver remained in the hospital for a month, Spencer and I ate whatever was quick and convenient. This translated to many lackluster cafeteria meals a few floors down from his NICU, as well as Wendy’s and Chick-Fil-A runs at odd hours driving back from Baltimore.

When he finally came home, it was just about stuffing something in your face between feedings, and diapers, and screeching.

Prepping enough to prepare healthy, quick meals with a newborn in the house? It just didn’t happen. I had grand ambitions of getting freezer meals ready before the baby came, trying to make our lives a little easier, but . . . well. That obviously didn’t happen.

After I went back to work in mid-June, I thought: it’s time. I now have nine uninterrupted hours in which I can focus on my job and control what I’m eating at ye ol’ desk.

That didn’t happen, either.

I was tired. And sick. Our company was sold over the summer and everyone’s duties changed quickly. Many of my friends were laid off, and I was staring down an extreme amount of change in a short time. It was the final straw in a very stressful season.

Quite honestly, I was depressed.

Though I haven’t discussed it publicly, I’ve been struggling with PTSD and postpartum anxiety since last spring — and there are times it was all I could do to get through the day. I finally sought help in the fall and feel about 1,879,986 times better than I did in October. The pressing weight of worry has lifted.

Through all that? I wasn’t obsessing about eating pumpkin pie, I can assure you.

pie

But I’m out of excuses now.

Oliver has been sleeping through the night — with the occasional hiccup, of course — for months . . . which means Spencer and I have, too. That early haze of dead exhaustion, which clouded absolutely everything, is gone.

Work has settled down. I’m happy and excited with my new responsibilities, and enjoying the new challenges. I’m still writing my column, but also working on projects and articles about different, interesting things. It’s really . . . fun. I miss my friends, of course, but we’ve kept in touch through the holidays.

The holidays are over. They were beautiful, but there’s something refreshing about vacuuming up all that rogue tinsel. It was sad hauling out the Christmas tree, but let’s be honest: the holidays have their own pressures that can’t be denied. Choosing perfect gifts, paying for said gifts, trying to see family and friends in a short time, traveling. It’s . . . a lot.

But January is bare. January is clean. January is scrubbed fresh, a calendar waiting to be filled with whatever we choose, and I’m ready again.

So I’m choosing my health.

It’s been a whole four days since I got back on track with Weight Watchers, so the aroma of my enthusiasm is still quite strong, I know! But honestly, there’s comfort in getting back to a familiar program that helped me so much before. It taught me to control my eating — and gave me such confidence — for the first time in my adult life.

Weight Watchers has been revamped for 2016, and I love the changes. LOVE. (They are not paying me to say this, by the way; my subscription is paid for by yours truly, along with generous affiliate referrals.) With their new “Beyond the Scale” approach, there’s a much greater emphasis on physical activity — not just your pants size. Obviously we’re all joining Weight Watchers to learn healthier habits and drop pounds, but everything begins and ends with overall health.

They’ve revamped how points for foods and drinks are calculated, and the new method makes much more sense. Under the old system, fats were fats; it didn’t matter if they were saturated, “bad” fats or good, healthy fats, ones we need and should eat. For example, a tablespoon of olive oil and tablespoon of butter could have the same points value. So what’s the incentive to go with the healthier option?

Many things haven’t changed, thankfully: fresh fruits and vegetables are still zero points, so you can — and should! — eat as much as you want. That was my saving grace the first go ’round. If I’d overindulged earlier in the day and was out of points for that after-dinner snack, I could always reach for a clementine and not feel deprived. There was always something to eat — as long as I’d made the effort to stock up on healthy food for the house. (But that’s another post.)

The first time I joined WW, I wanted to feel better: physically, mentally, emotionally. And I absolutely did. But I’ve come back to WW because I want to get my blood pressure down, return to a much healthier relationship with food and start showing my son — right now — that how we treat our bodies matters. And I know WW works.

So: there it is. My current weighty issues. It feels good to just . . . get all that out.

And I swear, this started out as a recipe post!

So, um, did you want to talk about pork tenderloin? Sure. Okay. Let’s do this.

This recipe is a WW recipe, actually: from the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook, which is ringbound and glossy and pretty. Some of the recipes I’ve made from it have been hits, others misses, but this one? Definite hit.

If you don’t like sauerkraut, you won’t like this. But if you do? You will. So much that you’ll want to make it again immediately. The apples lend a delicious sweetness to the dish, while the sauerkraut, caraway seed and onion — which mellows through slow cooking — give it punch.

It’s the perfect blend of sweet/sour. Dig in!

Pork

Slow cooker pork roast
with sauerkraut and apples

Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (1 1/2-pound) boneless pork loin roast, trimmed of fat
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 (2-pound) package of sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1 large red or white onion, sliced
1 McIntosh or Cortland apple, peeled, cored and diced
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1/2 cup dry white wine
Chopped fresh parsley

1. Sprinkle thyme, pepper and salt over pork. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes.

2. Combine sauerkraut, onion, apple and caraway seeds in 5- or 6-quart slow cooker. Place pork on top of vegetables; pour wine over. Cover and cook until pork and vegetables are fork-tender, about 4-5 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low.

3. Transfer pork to platter and cut into 6 slices. Spoon sauerkraut mixture around pork and sprinkle with parsley. Serves 6.


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Hello, 2016

New Years

So, you know. I ended 2015 how I wanted to spend most of it, the most life-changing year of my life: asleep. Despite a valiant effort to stay up with Spencer to welcome 2016 at my in-laws’ home, I passed out on the couch . . . at 8:30 p.m.

I mean, I am 30 now.

In my defense, I’d been up since 4:30 a.m. with the little guy — and I did wake up 15 minutes before the official ball drop, so I was technically awake at midnight. I just . . . can’t remember much before or after that.

New Year’s always tastes bittersweet to me. I always find it a little . . . melancholy. Saying goodbye to another year; heading into an unknown future. Trading the sparkle and glitz of Christmas and an action-packed December for the cold, empty calendar of January.

But 2015? It was the year I became a mother: the year I found out we would welcome a son, grappled with his premature birth and settled in as a family of three. Becoming a parent pushed me to my absolute edge — physically, mentally, emotionally — and there were times when, yes, I worried that this much-longed-for child would have me packing a passport, dying my hair blonde and changing my name.

But that was the exhaustion talking.

(Mostly.)

It was a tough year, a great year, a joyous year, a terrifying year. I experienced moments of pure happiness and bouts of fear and guilt so intense they threatened to carry me away. In 2015, I was the happiest I’ve ever been: the moment Oliver first offered his first real smile; coming down to find my amazing husband cradling our child in his arms, both asleep on the couch; watching Ollie’s face light up with pride when he rolled over on his own.

But I was the saddest I’ve ever been, too: sitting desolate in the hospital before he was born, a tight blood pressure cuff’s readings sealing my fate; the agony of childbirth; being discharged without Oliver. I have never cried as I did the first night spent without his kicks as he lay in an isolette in Baltimore, hours away. I have never felt that broken. The weight of that fear and despair? Not something I can articulate, really. It was . . . heartbreak.

Life pushed forward, however. Ollie got stronger (and cuter! sweeter!), and our Ollie came home. I don’t take that for granted — not for a second. We got through it and, with time, I’m learning to get past it. But I don’t punish myself on the tough days when I can’t, either.

In all, 2015 was the year I learned I’m made of some pretty tough stuff. When I became a mother, my heart grew ten sizes — and so did my backbone.

Honestly, the year was a blur — a hazy, lazy, dreamy and overwhelming mix of 2 a.m. feedings, diaper blow-outs, baby giggles, lots of snuggles and days spent in my pajamas. I barely read, tried to clean, didn’t vacation . . . but the little corner of our living room where I first held my baby boy at home became our haven, and it’s where we sit together every day.

And through it all, I continued to work full-time. Becoming a working mom has added an entirely new dimension to my stress, but it’s a challenge I’ve accepted — and can manage. Our newspaper was sold over the summer, followed swiftly by many changes in just a few months. After many friends were laid off in October, I’ve had to tackle entirely new challenges — and have adapted. Pressed forward.

I have grown.

In an attempt to not set myself up for failure, I’m not making “resolutions” for 2016 — but I want to continue to grow. And cut myself some slack. As a lifelong perfectionist, it’s hard to admit when I need help . . . but I don’t scold myself when I get behind on emails, let the dirty bottles wait until morning or choose to knock out some shows on the DVR rather than vacuum. In the long run, it doesn’t really matter.

Making “time for myself” is something of a misnomer, but I am finding ways to slowly return to the hobbies I’ve shelved since Oliver was born. Now that we’re all sleeping more, I have renewed energy to read — and plan to knock out some books that have been languishing in the library for years in 2016.

Ollie will turn 1 in April. We’re going to have a hell of a party. Spencer turns 30 in May, and I’ll be 31 this summer. Though our plans lately have, for the most part, centered on just getting through each day, I want to return to healthier habits and start meal planning again. I haven’t decided if I’m ready to recommit to Weight Watchers but, after experiencing much success in 2013, it’s definitely an option. We’ll see how it goes.

Regardless, I do want to get healthy again. In my post-preeclampsia life, I know how important it is for me to lose weight and get my blood pressure under control — and that will be a focus as I move forward. I want to choose my health. I’m just afraid of putting any hard-and-fast rules on myself, as with Weight Watchers, because I don’t want to ride the accompanying waves of guilt if I “fail.”

Progress, not perfection.

We have so many milestones to come with Ollie: talking, crawling, walking, running. He’s already changed so much in the last nine months — I can’t wait to see more of his little personality develop. He’s already so funny, quirky and sweet. Even on the dark, tough days, I adore being a mom. His mom.

But I’m also a wife, daughter, sister, employee, friend. A writer, reader, photographer and serious coffee drinker. These roles have changed dramatically in the last 12 months . . . and I’m still discovering new facets and challenges for each. But it’s okay to learn as we go.

Isn’t that what we all must do?

As I plod back into work tomorrow morning to sift through emails, clear out the residual holiday decorations and hang up a shiny new calendar, I’m ready — and eager — to push forward.

The best, as they say, is yet to come.


In support of the resolutioners

Walking into my local Weight Watchers to weigh in yesterday, I felt a ripple in the Force.

Place was packed.

I’m usually the only soul there, running in on her lunch break with hair askew. The whole process clocks roughly five minutes. A few seconds to shed my shoes and coat; a minute to chat with the kind lady assisting me on the scale; another minute or two to talk about my loss or gain, including tips on tweaking my routines.

Then I’m back in my car, back to the office. Little muss. No fuss.

But now? Well, the New Year’s get-healthy resolutioners have arrived. In droves. Three ladies were signing up for WW as I entered, all bent over paperwork with curious expressions. Another woman was seated with her iPhone, trying to navigate the app, and I felt a pang remembering my own anxiety when my husband and I joined last year. She was asking about the tracker, about how points work. It took all my willpower not to start schooling her.

I can be a know-it-all. It’s one of my least pleasant traits, honestly . . . but at least I have the good sense to be one only in my mind.

And anyway, I’m not a jerk. I was in their shoes not so very long ago. Visiting Spencer’s family last January, we were freshly engaged and eying our future — and after a conversation about health, we had one of several talks about weight. I remember pulling up the Weight Watchers site in his parents’ study, reading over the general information with a knot in my stomach.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said.

I was scared. Scared of failure.

But I went. And I got serious. Something finally clicked for me, and it’s been a life-changing journey since.

My first step after enrolling in WW last year? Going to the grocery store. I remember plunking bananas on my desk right off the bat, taking advantage of the program’s allowance to eat as many fresh veggies and fruits as you like (zero points!).

They seemed foreign, those bananas. I didn’t usually have fresh anything hanging around. I couldn’t picture eating fruit every day, because . . . well, just because. Because I never had. Because I was used to my poor habits, used to feeling junky, used to the convenience of a granola bar or cookie instead of proper fuel.

But people can change.


Fruit


I’ve overheard folks complaining about all the New Year’s resolutioners clogging up their gyms come January 1, snagging the best machines and crowding out the regulars. Since I hate sweating and am actually rather fond of loafing around, I haven’t stepped foot in a gym in years. But I felt that same unease at Weight Watchers, where my usual five-minute stop turned into a long escapade.

But it’s okay.

We all start somewhere. Maybe World Fitness and Weight Watchers will empty out by March, haunted again by only the diehards, but maybe some of those new guys will become regulars themselves. Though we’re all on personal paths, I’m rather fond of mankind as a whole . . . and I’d like to help, not hinder. Be friendly. Be kind.

Getting anywhere starts with that single step, you know?

So I’m trying to be patient. I’ll allot more time. I’m notoriously aggravated when it comes to waiting, honestly, but I focused on chatting with the ladies in line ahead of me. I shared favorite snack tips, asked about their goals. I tried to project encouragement — something we all could use a bigger serving of each day.

That and fresh fruit, of course.


A love letter to yourself

When I was an awkward eighth grader preparing to leave middle school, our English teacher asked us to write letters to ourselves describing how we thought the coming year would go. “Think about the changes you’ll experience,” he said. “Write some advice you think your future self will need to hear.”

I was 13. Though ninth grade would definitely prove difficult, I wasn’t prepared for how the change of schools and loss of friends would manifest itself in the years to follow. I’m glad I didn’t know, of course; knowing something difficult is hovering just above you, ready to tear up your world, doesn’t make the transition easier.

The letters we wrote in eighth grade were mailed to us at the end of the following school year. I don’t remember what I said exactly. Ever the deep and melancholy teen, I’m sure it was something about how time marches forward and we must go with it. My mom had a favorite quote, even back then: “Give new situations a chance to turn out well.” I was nervous about high school, that’s for sure, but prepared to embrace the bonfire.

I just found a modern extension of that project — and it comes at the right time. I’m not one to really make New Year’s resolutions. Vowing to do something tends to have just the opposite result; the more I pledge to take some action, like writing more or going to the gym, the less I actually want to do it. And then the guilt follows, reducing me to an anxious mess.

So I’ve stopped making “pledges” — to myself or otherwise — and choose instead to be mindful of the things about myself I don’t like. Lack of patience, for one. Tendency to get overly emotional or dramatic. My desire to procrastinate at work and get in over my head on projects. All things I would like to change.

But there’s plenty I like about me, too, and that’s what I try to focus on. I put them all in a love letter . . . to myself. I found the World Needs More Love Letters project before Christmas and immediately jotted words of comfort to folks who could use them at the holidays. And now the site is asking for love letters as part of their time capsule project.

“Throughout the month of January, MoreLoveLetters.com is collecting love letters through the PO BOX for the first ever New Year’s Love Letter Capsule,” they write. “We are giving you the entire month to find that time to sit down with your best stationery (because you deserve it!) and script a love letter for yourself. What do you want to accomplish in 2012? What are your goals? Who do you want to treat better? Write a love letter that will last longer than the typical New Year’s resolution.”

I want to be mindful of change, I thought. Of how I know life will morph and shape into something new this year, and everything might not feel good. There will be challenges. Plans might change. My ability to be happy will depend on whether I can roll with these things and embrace them, even when they’re hard.

Write a love letter to yourself, too. Visit the site for their address. Like my eighth grade teacher, the More Love Letters team will mail your note back to you next year. You can be serious or silly, pensive or funny — it’s all up to you. Just include your address and a stamp so you can recognize your own handwriting next January.

Embrace the bonfire, I wrote again. Embrace it. Step forward and embrace it.