Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Chili for the Super Bowl

In honor of the Super Bowl today, I am sharing with you my favorite chili recipe.  This recipe is easy, tastes great, and is good for a crowd or to freeze for later.  It's in high demand for my family and I can't make it often enough!

Start with your basic ingredients: spices, tomatoes, beans, etc.

I use smaller cans of diced tomatoes because I buy them in bulk, but you can use larger cans of whole tomatoes and chop them up yourself.

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, brown together a pound of ground beef with half pound of Italian sausage and chopped onion and green bell pepper.  If you like a little spice, feel free to add a diced jalepeno as well.

Once the meat is totally browned, add your spices and your tomato paste.  Stir well. 

Then add beef stock, tomatoes and kidney beans.

Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover with a lid and let simmer for one hour.  Then remove with lid and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes.  Discard bay leaves and dish some up and enjoy with your favorite toppings!  I prefer corn chips and shredded cheddar. Yum!

Any-Time Chili
Yields: 8 servings
1 pound Ground Beef
6 ounces Italian Sausage (mild or spicy, your preference)
1 cup chopped Green Bell Pepper
2 cups chopped Yellow Onion
1 chopped Jalepeno Pepper (optional)
2 tablespoons Chili Powder
2 tablespoons Brown Sugar
1 tablespoon Groung Cumin
1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
3 tablespoons Tomato Paste
1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Salt
2 Bay Leaves
1 1/4 cup Beef Stock (Merlot is a nice alternative as well)
2 (28-ounce) cans Diced Tomatoes (can use whole tomatoes, roughly chopped)
2 (15 ounce) cans Kidney Beans, drained
Assorted toppings

1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Remove casings from sausage. Add ground beef, sausage, onion and peppers to pan; saute until meat is browned.
2. Add chili powder and the next 7 ingredients (chili powder through bay leaves), stirring well. Stir in beef stock, tomatoes, and kidney beans; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
3. Uncover and cook an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the bay leaves. Serve in bowls with toppings of your choice.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Oh the Pain

When I graduated high school, I started working for my grandfather as his psuedo-secretary at his prosthetics business (prosthetics are artificial arms and legs).  I say "psuedo-secretary" because my aunt was his "real" secretary and I came in a few days a week to pay bills and type letters and file papers.  Unless, of course, it was raining.  In which case my grandfather would call and tell me not to come in because it was too dangerous to drive.

I digress.

When I graduated college and moved back home from Montana, I started working for my father at his prosthetics business.  I was the "real" secretary over there and had to deal with patients, bills, files, phone calls, and my dad.  The only thing more frustrating than dealing with my dad (love you, Pops!), was dealing with insurance companies.  They never wanted to pay for anything.  You always had to fight to get the proper equipment for the patient.  And they never, ever, returned a phone call, so you had to keep calling them until you actually spoke to a human.  I was pretty glad when I started my own business - making cakes, not prosthetics - because that meant I didn't have to deal with insurance companies anymore.

That is no longer the case.

Did you know that private insurance companies do not cover hearing aids or any routine hearing tests related to hearing aids?  They will pay to help you quit smoking and even for a wig if you lose your hair during chemo treatments, but they will not pay if you have a hearing loss and need hearing aids in order to be able to function in society.

I know this because it says it under "Exclusions" in my insurance policy handbook.  Right after it says "We will pay for everything BUT..."

Do you know how much hearing aids cost?  Probably not, because, like me, you're not to the age at which you might possibly require hearing aids. 

That age, by the way, is around 85.

Hearing aids are not cheap.  They are, in fact, quite expensive.  Have you bought a new mattress lately?  Hearing aids are the price of a Tempurpedic.

And that's just the little mechanical part that goes behind the ear.  There's also the part that goes inside the ear.  That's the ear mould.  In little kids, that needs to be replaced regularly as they grow and their ear canal gets bigger, causing the hearing aid to whistle.  Every set of ear moulds is a couple hundred bucks.

Did I mention hearing aids aren't covered by insurance?

Let's not forget to mention that every time you head on over to UCLA to get the ear moulds fitted, they have to do hearing tests to make sure that the hearing aids are working properly and that your hearing has stayed the same as when they initially tested and programmed the hearing aids.

Yeah, those tests aren't covered either.

The only way to get hearing aids, and moulds, and tests paid for by someone other than yourself, is to apply for Medi-Cal... and, in our case, California Children Services (CCS).  If you qualify (and by qualify, I mean they deem you poor enough), they will provide you with an authorization that is good for any and all services for exactly one year from the time in which you have been approved.

Ours expired just before Christmas.

Holidays are not the time of year in which to need something from an insurance company, let alone a state run program.  No one is at their desk that time of year.  And if they are, they sure aren't answering their phone.  I will say that our case workers at CCS are quite helpful and have gone the extra mile for us.  However, the same cannot be said for the people at Medi-Cal.  Because when I called my Medi-Cal case worker (oh yes, you must have a case worker for each branch of services), I left 5 messages and not one was returned.

It took me five weeks to get someone to send me one document.  Countless phone calls over many days to finally have one person change one item in the computer (which took less than ten minutes).  Endless hours of frustration, only to know that I have to do it all again next year.

At the holidays.

But I did finally receive the authorization that says we can take our little munchkin to UCLA as often as necessary during the year of 2012. 

I made my husband take me out to dinner to celebrate.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Little Secret

I've been debating a long time about whether to discuss the topic I'm going to write about today.  Mostly because I didn't think anybody needed to know.  But, to be honest, I felt like I was hiding something, which would indicate I was ashamed of it and I most certainly am not.  It is a major part of my life that I've been holding in when I could be writing about it, getting stuff off my chest, even helping others.  So, here goes...

My son has a hearing loss.

He has what is called a "moderate hearing loss" which means he can't hear sounds below 40 decibels.  Normal conversation is around 50 decibels.  With his hearing aids, he can hear everything and is predicted to have normal speech.  Without them, normal conversation sounds like whispering and he can't hear anything below that.

We were alerted to his hearing loss at the hospital when he was born.  All babies born in California are subject to a hearing test before they leave the hospital in an effort to discover hearing loss at an earlier age.  Zach did not pass his test at the hospital.  Of course, they tell you that doesn't necessarily mean anything because some babies have fluid in their ears longer if they were born by C-section, etc.  So come back in a month and we'll check him again.

He didn't pass then either.

They still didn't make that big of a deal about it.  Mostly because it's just a random nurse who uses an ancient little machine to do the test.  They'll even tell you that any little bit of noise or movement can make a bad test.  But they'll also tell you that you need to talk to your pediatrician and have them refer you to an audiologist.

Which we did, and then went to have a more accurate test done.

He didn't pass that one either.

Of course, they had to start and stop and restart the test about a million times because our newborn wasn't asleep at the time and was wiggling and making lots of noise, which messes up the test.  But, they said they got enough of a reading to know that he most likely had a "moderate hearing loss."  Rather than trying to do the test again, they referred us to UCLA for the ultimate test.  Additionally, UCLA would be the place that would make his aids once they determined his hearing loss.

Zach was two months old when we had the "official" test at UCLA.  And he was four months old when he got his hearing aids.

He's now 14 months old and it's been a year since we were told that our perfect son didn't have perfect hearing.  A lot has happened during that year.  A lot of emotion.  A lot of frustration dealing with insurance.  A lot of traffic driving to UCLA.

But, mostly a lot of awe at our perfect son who is perfect in every other way.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I'm full of... Excuses

I got a complaint today from one of my readers.  She called me a blog slacker.  She's totally right.  Has the shiny, new-ness of the whole blog thing worn off already??  Am I that flaky?

Not possible.

Apparently it is not that easy to remember to write a blog when you're chasing after a (now) nearly 1-year old.  Between loading and unloading the dishwasher, and the washing machine, and the dryer, and the car, and the diaper genie, I have neglected my writing.

I have to admit, this is tough.

All you parents out there with new little babies that are under, say, 6 or 8 months old have it E-A-S-Y!  You may think you're tired because you have to feed your kid all the time, or it cries a lot, or you have to get up once a night to feed it.  That's nothin'.

Wait until your baby is crawling everywhere.  And standing.  And almost walking.  And picking up things you didn't know were on your floor and putting them in his mouth.  And not sitting quietly at the dinner table.  And cries every time you put him somewhere that's not attached to your body.  And suffers separation anxiety at naptime.  And bedtime.  And the middle of the night.

You people have got it made.  With your babies that still fit in the infant carrier.  And sleep during your meals.  And only eat from a bottle (or breast).  And stay where you put them. 

Ah, the time you still have....

Of course, even with all that lack of time to myself, I can't really complain that I have to play with THIS every day.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I Have a Doctor's Note

One should not get sick if one writes a blog.  Apparently you get all wrapped up in yourself and forget to write.  For a very long time.

One should also not get sick if one has a family.

Or loved ones.

Or has anyone in the near vicinity.

After having my cold for about a week (which, subsequently turned into bronchitis), my little munchkin got sick.  Then my husband caught a little something.  Then my mother got a cold.  My cousin caught it.  And my other cousin's new little baby caught it.

It's like the movie Contagion over here.

Except that I didn't see that movie.  As a general rule, hypochondriacs (like me) should not watch movies about wide-spread, mysterious diseases.  But I can imagine that my cold was probably a lot like that movie.

Minus Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Maybe it's more like the movie Outbreak (which I also didn't see). 

I'm a carrier monkey.

We're all better now.  The germs have left the building.  A good thing, too, because we've got some Halloween decorating to do this weekend.

My son does still cough, but mostly because he knows we'll say "Are you ok?" and then he'll just smile at us. Yeah, we're in trouble there.  But that's a post for another time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hey! Hey! We're the Monkees...

Day 487 of this cold.

Ok, so it's really been about a week.  But it feels like a lifetime.  How is it that a cold can make the days feel like months?

I feel like I have an elephant sitting on my chest.

The thing about colds is that they linger forever.  You have the first day where your throat is a little sore and scratchy, so you pump yourself with vitamins and fluids and make sure every room in your house contains a box of Puffs with Lotion.  Then the constant nose-blowing begins  - I mean, really, where does all that stuff come from??  Then comes the coughing that keeps you up all night and makes your body feel like your insides are coming out.

I will be the first to admit that I probably don't take the best care of myself during a cold.  I try and take it easy and drink as much water as possible, but I don't load up on the vitamins, and I'm not much of a Nyquil person.  My husband, on the other hand, is the poster child for Vicks.

Whenever hubby's got a cold, he will take great care lathering himself up before coming to bed.  Then he'll put on a long sleeve shirt, pajama pants and socks (he is a firm believer in "sweating out sickness").  When he finally gets into bed, he has this less than sexy smell about him. 

I mean, it fills the room.

It's all I can do to kiss him on the cheek and let him roll over to sleep.

Every time I get a cold, etc., the hubster encourages me to join him on the dark side and lather up the Vicks.  Each time I scrunch my nose and tell him he's crazy.  Apparently, this particular cold has affected my brain.

I caved.

After a body-wrenching day of coughing up my left lung, I decided to smear Vicks VapoRub all over my aching chest.  I could not, however, bring myself to fully dressing before bed.  I had enough night sweats while I was pregnant - thank you very much!  The Vicks would have to do the work itself.

And it did.

I had the best night sleep I could remember in a long time.  Not a cough or sneeze or sniffle. Heck, I didn't even have to get up to pee.  I liked it so much, I did it the next night too, with the same results. 

My husband is elated.  Not so much that I got a couple good nights of sleep during a horrible cold, but that I joined him on the dark side.  I can no longer turn up my nose at him.  In the words of Davy Jones and the Monkees...

I'm a believer.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thar She Blows

You know what happens if you don't post to your blog on a regular basis?

You get a cold.

I'm convinced that I'm being punished for not keeping up with my writing duties.  After all, I have a responsibility to all my loyal followers to provide them with witty tales about my struggles with life and raising a baby.  I don't have the luxury of taking time away from my keyboard and get caught up in housework and errand running.

Why are you looking at me like that?

Ok, fine, I'll tell the truth.

I went to Disneyland.

It was my birthday, after all.  And I hadn't been in almost 2 years!!  For normal people, that wouldn't be a big deal, but for me... Well, if you know me at all, you know I've been chomping at the bit to get there.  For me, it truly is the Happiest Place on Earth and I must go at least once a year.  I hadn't been able to go since I found out I was pregnant (amusement parks aren't really "fetus friendly").   Then once you have a baby, time flies and before you know it, it's 18 months before you've been to the land of the Mouse.

So my wonderful husband took me last Sunday for my birthday.  And what a fabulous present!  We got to ride all the fun rides - Indiana Jones is the best, eat junk food, and stay out late (the munchkin stayed home with Grandma).

That's probably why I now have a cold.

New(er) parents aren't used to such activity.  They stay close to home so the baby can take naps.  The only lines they stand in are at the grocery store or Babies R Us, and those lines never take 45 minutes.  They're used to bedtime by 9:00pm.  They're used to well-rounded meals, not corn dogs and churros.

Oh, the churros....

Of course, if I had a churro right now I wouldn't know it, as my head is so stuffed that I can't taste anything.  I'm limited to chicken soup and "Emergen-C".  Which, by the way, has the uncanny characteristic of being the only thing that can reach my taste buds.  And so not in a good way.

Despite the fact that my head feels like it's in a vice, I have to carry a box of Kleenex with me throughout the house, and everything I touch is covered in hand sanitizer, I have vowed to resume my blogging.  Besides, if I really am being punished for not writing, the sooner I get back to it, the sooner I can kiss my husband on the lips.

He'll only kiss my forehead when I'm sick.

Tres, romantique.