June 25, 2017

10 Southern Fiction Books for Summer Reading


When I resurrected my blog this year, I wanted to write about books, authors, reading, and writing — in addition to my life — but I've had a hard time even sitting down to write anything that's not work-related lately. While I'm still working on my 2017 reading challenge, I'm also still way behind, so that's out. 

That said, I was just upstairs doing some cleaning, and I have a bookcase that houses all the books I've read over the last three years. Looking over the titles made me a bit nostalgic for some of my favorites, so I thought I'd take some time to write about a few of them. Not surprisingly, many of them fall into the category of Southern fiction, and most of them are perfect for curling up with on a warm sandy beach or by the pool or on the back porch or...you get the idea. 

So, if you're in the market for some fun (and some dark) Southern fiction to lose yourself in this summer, these are some of the books (and authors/series) I'm digging lately.

1. Tradd Street Series by Karen White

If you know me, you know I'm a sucker for anything about Charleston, and these books put me right smack dab in the middle of the city. As a matter of fact, I read through most of the series last summer when my mom and my dog were both really sick, and I needed an escape. I can visualize every place Melanie, a real estate agent who just happens to see dead people, and her family and friends visit as if I am there myself.

One thing I love most about this series, aside from the setting, is that the supernatural stuff is not silly or over-the-top. Having grown up in an old house filled with strange phenomena myself, my standards for ghostly things are high. I just finished up the last book in the series, and at this point, I feel like the characters are old friends.

I recommend reading these books in order, starting with The House on Tradd Street. I also recommend following the author, Karen White, on social media. She's delightful! As a matter of fact, she has several standalone books, and I haven't read as many of those as I'd like to just yet, but I have a few in my own summer reading pile. 

2. Almost anything by Mary Kay Andrews

Mary Kay Andrews is the quintessential Southern beach read, if you ask me. Her books and characters are fun, and most of them take place along the coasts of Georgia, Florida, or the Carolinas. As a matter of fact, her new releases typically coincide with my annual family beach trips, so I almost always find myself parked at Tom Petty's pool with an MKA hardcover in my hands.

That said, I do love some of them better than others, but I'd also say you can't go wrong with whatever one you choose.  My absolute favorite is Savannah Blues, which also has a couple of sequels. Hissy Fit is another favorite; it takes place in Madison, Georgia. I just realized my other favorite, Fixer Upper, also takes place in Georgia. I'd love to see some of her future novels return to the Peach State, because she does Georgia so well. 

3. The Cypress House by Michael Koryta

This may not be your typical beach read, but I read it at the beach, so it's making the list. Idgie at Dew on the Kudzu recommended it when I told her I needed some Southern Goth in my life, and when she recommends, I listen. The book takes place in Florida, mostly at an old boarding house on a marsh island during a hurricane. The protagonist is kind of a dark guy, and he has some psychic abilities that help set everything in motion. It's not your typical fun, girly beach read, but I couldn't put it down. Sadly, I haven't yet read more of Michael Koryta's books, but I do have them on my to-read list.  

4. The River Witch by Kimberly Brock

This book is not just one of my favorites from the last couple of years; it's one of my favorites things I've ever read. Something about the setting, the characters, the plot — it was all just so hauntingly beautiful and tragic. I don't often re-read books, but I could see myself getting into this one again. It's about a young woman who has gone through some rough stuff, so she retreats to a mostly secluded island off the coast of Georgia. She meets a unique 10-year-old girl who "brings alligators, pumpkins and hoodoo" into her life and the girl's family. I can't say enough good things about this one, and I can't wait to see what else Kimberly Brock has for us in the future. 

5. Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith

I purchased this one on a whim when I saw in a magazine that it won some sort of Florida book award...and that it takes place just outside of St. Augustine, a city where my family has vacationed for years. It sat on my to-read pile for a long time before I decided to finally give it a try. Part of me thought I'd end up getting rid of it after a chapter or two, because I feel like the summary on the back does not do it justice. I couldn't have been more wrong. Like The River Witch, this is one of those books that is probably one of my all-time favorites, not just a favorite from the last few years. It follows the members of a deeply flawed family who has lived and owned a restaurant in a little North Florida town for years. I'll be honest — I don't remember all the details of the plot, but I do remember thinking about the characters long after I put the book down and not wanting it to end.  

6. At the End of the Road by Grant Jerkins

This is definitely not a beach read. I'd file it more into the Southern Gothic category, but I loved every minute of it. Part of that could have to do with the fact that it takes place in my hometown. I don't think I've ever read a book that so much as mentions the city where I grew up, so I could picture exactly where everything took place. As a matter of fact, every time I go through that area, I think of that book now. It tells the story of a 10-year-old boy in the summer of 1976 and a series of off-the-wall events that will change his life. There is some heartbreaking stuff in the plot that some may find difficult to read, but it's one of those you can't put down without knowing how it ends.

7. Bound South by Susan Rebecca White

I picked up Bound South, Susan Rebecca White's first novel, at a garage sale a few years ago, and I couldn't believe how much I loved it. Most of it takes place in Atlanta and its suburbs, so you know that was a big selling point for me. Seriously, set a book in the Atlanta area, and I'm instantly hooked. White's knowledge and detailed descriptions of the city were just as enjoyable to me as the plot. As a matter of fact, I made my dad, who grew up in town, read it, and he also loved it, so don't let the girly cover or the women's fiction label fool you. It's a must if you love books based in Atlanta as much as I do. While that one is my favorite, I suggest following it up with the author's second and third novels, both great reads in their own right.


8. Anything by Joshilyn Jackson

To be honest, I haven't read all of Joshilyn Jackson's work, but she's another author who will always be in my to-read pile as long a she is writing.  My favorite so far is Gods in Alabama, which has a little bit of everything — small Southern towns, big city life, murder, religion, and race — but don't let any of that scare you. I recently read another one of her books which I'll talk about on a future post, so I'm not going to say too much here. Just put her on your list; you won't regret it. 


9. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman


This is one of those books that always popped up in my recommendations on Amazon, and I always saw people reading it when it debuted, but I never bothered to buy it myself until I saw it at a garage sale. Ironically, that seems to be where I find the best books. I fell instantly and madly in love with the main characters, the Savannah setting, and the relationships formed in the story. A little girl's mother dies, and she goes off to live with an older relative in Savannah. It's easy to dismiss it as a Hollywood cliche story, but there's so much more to it than that. If you love a book that makes you laugh at one point and cry your eyes out in the next chapter, this one's for you.

10. The Happy Hour Choir by Sally Kilpatrick

To be honest, I purchased this book because it sounded similar to some of the stuff I've written, and I wanted to see that there were other people out there who wrote and enjoyed the same kinds of stories I do. When my uncle died a couple of summers ago, I also needed something kind of light and fun, so I pulled it out of the to-read pile. It lived up to those expectations and then some. Kilpatrick's books are quirky - not too sweet and not too sassy - and 100 percent Southern. I promise, if that's your thing, you'll devour them.  

June 11, 2017

How not to build a chicken coop and other unofficial start to summer musings

Memorial Day was two weeks ago, which means summer is unofficially here, especially if you live down South where the thermometer says it long before the calendar does. The school year is over, and everyone is loading up the car for the trip to the beach, lake, or other exciting vacation destination, or parking themselves on a float in the pool with an icy cold drink and a bottle of sunscreen. 

Well, almost everyone.

I've been a little busy myself. I love the summer and its lazy days, but after a year or two of crazy family stuff (deaths, moving, health problems, etc.), I feel like projects that should have been long-completed are ready to come out of limbo. I'm working full-time again for the first time since my mom's extended hospital stay last fall, plus working on some writing projects of my own. Throw in a few random weird things, like stray chickens showing up in my yard and my AC giving out, and I just have a lot to tackle in the weeks to come. I've got plans to travel and enjoy life a little more later in the summer and beyond, but I'm hoping to spend June and July and the first week or two of August taking care of my 70-item to-do list (I'm not even kidding with that number). And so, I started on Memorial Day weekend.

First big project of the summer? Testing out my carpentry skills.
The first thing on my huge to-do list was to build a second chicken coop. If you'll recall, someone dumped two stray hens near my house, and I had all kinds of plans to find them a new home until I realized my solitary confinement hen, Marigold, loved them and I could give her a flock of her own. My dad met me at Lowe's one day in his pickup truck, and I spent about $180 on wood, nails, and other materials. I spent all of Memorial Day weekend working on it.

Tulip ready for her new home.
The problem is that I've never actually built anything. My mom and I built the first coop for my original chickens together, but she did most of the work. I just handed her things. We didn't speak to each other for a week after the fact either. She's handy. I'm not. But she was sick with bronchitis, and I was determined to do it all alone anyway, because that's just how stubborn and independent I can be.

I sawed all the wall frames by hand because I haven't the first clue about using an electric saw. In the midst of it all, Jasmine, one of the newbies, became broody and sat on her eggs for nearly a week before I finally pulled her off and dumped her "babies" that were attracting four-foot snakes to the yard into the trash. She hates me now. 

Jasmine giving me dirty looks after I made her give up efforts to become a mom.

Wall frames, sawed by hand.


Before I knew it, I had an actual wall for the coop. It just didn't stand up straight on the base. And if you removed that piece of wood you see propping it up, it fell over. And then it started pouring rain and lightning, and I got frustrated and ill and thought I was going to have to start all over because none of the walls were the same height, and if you look closely you can see that nothing is really measured correctly.

I am no carpenter.

Marigold and Tulip check out my work space.

So, the next weekend — the first weekend in June — I decided I had to get this thing finished. I was tired of hearing my mom complain about her garage smelling like a barnyard since the newbies were sleeping in there, and I'd already devoted one whole weekend to it. I didn't want to drag it out. And quite frankly, I felt like these damn chickens were taking over my life. I wanted everything settled down. Long story short, I caved and let my dad help me put the rest of the walls together. He's a little handier than I am, but my mom has all the skills in this family. Between the two of us, we managed to get everything together but a door. Them we had to catch these chickens that had been running wild for months and put them in there. I'm pretty sure the neighbors got to hear my dad use every curse word ever created.

It kind of looks like a coop.

I went from "I'm a strong independent woman" to "Daddy, can you help me?" in mere hours.

After four days of hammering and sawing, Marigold, Tulip, and Jasmine were in their home. They didn't fight. Marigold was happy to be out of the tiny cage she's been living in since her medical scare, and I'm sure she was happy to be living with other chickens again. You would never think chickens could become lonely but she did. Oh, she was so lonely. It thrilled me to see her with the other two. I literally decided to keep the strays and build this coop all for her, a dumb old chicken that doesn't even lay any eggs.

Marigold and Tulip enjoying some treats in their new digs.
That's why I had some mixed emotions when I found that Marigold's stay in the new coop and here on earth would be a short one. Last night, I went out to take some berries to both sets of chickens for a little snack. When I went to the new coop, Tulip and Jasmine, the strays, came right up, but Marigold didn't appear. I'd been out there earlier, and she'd been fine, but I had a feeling something was up. She was always the first one to the door when I came out.

Her lifeless body was on top of Jasmine's nest, as if she'd been sitting on the eggs, trying to lay one or keeping them warm. There were no signs of foul play (from predators or the new chickens), but the vet had warned me not to be surprised if I found her dead one day out of the blue. I have no idea if laying chickens can activate each other's hormones the way women living in the same house can, but if I had to guess, I think living with the other two maybe got something stirring inside of her, and after her medical issue she just wasn't strong enough to lay another egg. The rest of the flock is perfectly healthy, but I will be keeping an eye on them over the next couple of weeks and taking some extra steps to keep them that way just in case.

RIP, Marigold. June 8, 2015 to June 10, 2017

So, I spent two whole weekends, $200+, and a lot of back aches building a coop that only served its purpose for six days. If it were just the two strays, I probably could have worked them into the old flock pretty easily, but the original four would not accept Marigold. To be honest, that's a little aggravating. And I'm not crazy about having two sets of chickens when it's not necessary, but this issue has taken up almost three months of my time, and I need a break from all this chicken drama, so they'll all stay where they are for now.

The other big project I had taking up the last couple of weeks was turning a swampy green swimming pool into something in which people actually want to swim. Since my grandfather died, that's kind of been my responsibility. So far, I've always hired someone to do it, but this year, my dad and I decided to try it ourselves. It took a month — I just didn't have the time to dedicate to it — but I was finally able to swim earlier this week. It felt amazing to be back in the water. Last summer was such a blur — I think I can count on one hand the number of times I actually got into the pool.

Before

After

This weekend, my cousin and her kids came into town and we spent a large portion of yesterday swimming until the mosquitoes got so bad last night that we had to take cover. Spraying the yard for mosquitoes — another project to add to the list.

Had so much fun with this kiddo!

This one had a little too much fun.

So, now that the pool's under control and the chicken drama is under control, I'm moving on to other projects. Some of them are work and career-related. Some of them are personal. Some of them involve helping my parents finish the move they started two years ago, consolidating all of my belongings in one place, and working on getting back into my own place..finally. Nothing exciting. Just getting caught up with life to make it a little more enjoyable, though I can't promise you I won't spend a few days at the pool with a good book in the meantime. 

What are your plans for the summer? Will you be relaxing or marking off a long overdue to-do list? 




May 16, 2017

On chicken coops, disturbances, green pools, and long to-do lists

Last week, on the day I decided to keep the stray chickens, the animal situation at my house got a little weirder.

Around 2:00 that afternoon, I heard the chickens screeching like the world was coming to an end. I didn't go out there at first. They scream the same way if they see a bee buzzing around that they do when a coyote creeps into the yard and eats one of them.

But a few minutes later they did it again. I always take a nap on Tuesday afternoons, and I'd been asleep for a couple of hours, but I manged to drag myself out to the back porch to see if I could determine what was causing the commotion. That's when I spotted something white and furry creeping around the back of the coop.

Possum? Weasel? Are weasels white? Are there weasels in Georgia?

I put on my shoes and went out to investigate. What I found was not a weasel at all, but my little 8-month-old indoor kitten, Lily. I haven't introduced the kittens, Lily and Annie, here yet, because, well, they're cats. And I'm not a cat person. There's a whole story as to why I adopted them, but that's for another day. All I know is that they don't go outside, yet there was Lily, creeping around the chicken coop like a little white weasel.

Lily is the little jerk on the right.  Annie is the other one.
She wouldn't let me catch her, but I managed to scare her back into the garage, shut the door, and shoo her back inside. She's sneaky like that.  

A little while later, I had the chickens out for some free time, and once again, I hear them screeching. The dogs were on the back porch, and they were barking and growling. I glanced out the kitchen window, and it didn't take long to figure out what's wrong this time. There are two horses and four donkeys randomly wandering around the yard.





My chickens obviously don't know that they are farm animals, and these are farm animals and they should all get along, because they were having little hissy fits all over the patio. I was wearing a long dress, and some of them even tried to get up under it to hide.

Someone told me that the horses and donkeys heard I was keeping the chickens and decided to see if I'd keep them too. I can't say I wouldn't be open to it, but they actually have a home - they just don't like to stay there. As a matter of fact, they'd gotten out last weekend when a popular TV show filming next door to my house, and I'm pretty sure they disrupted that a little bit...at least that's what I gathered from all the braying and laughter I heard.  

One of the horses actually ripped the hinges from my chicken coop door, so I'm going to have to make some repairs. As soon as I build the coop for Marigold and her new pals. Oh yes, Marigold and the new chickens get along fabulously. She lets them into her cage, and they all eat together peacefully. I'm so happy that she's no longer depressed and lonely that it's worth the $200 I spent on supplies and the fact that I'm going to have to build the new coop in 90-degree weather later this week.  

Of course building a new coop is just one of the many things I have to do over the next few weeks. I just sat down the other day and made a to-do list, and by the time I was finished, I was too tired to mark anything off of it. Between work and home and animal projects, I should be pretty busy for a while. Next up, getting the pool cleared so I can jump in after I build the chicken coop in 90-degree weather.  


And so I can kick back on a float and start on my summer reading pile. If I have time. If I ever have time...


May 10, 2017

Two (or more) more reasons why I'll never be a real farmer

One of my goals in life is to have my own little farm. A plot of land, somewhere in east or north Georgia probably, with some chickens, goats, horses, dogs, and maybe a few other creatures. More animals than neighbors. This is a fairly new item on the old bucket list, but it's a lifestyle I've fallen in love with just dabbling in gardening and chicken rearing on my parents' property.

I'm just not sure I'd be all that good at it. 

Meet the new gals in town (and Sadie's baby doll).

If you'll recall, I spent much of March and April babying and spending hundreds of dollars on a chicken who will probably never lay eggs again. If I had a dollar for every person who told me a real farmer would have eaten her by now, I could have paid for her vet visit twice. Even the vet casually mentioned that it was chick season across the street at Tractor Supply. When she was healthy, I began the process of reintroducing her into the flock, but it was ugly. Apparently, my mistake was not letting them battle it out for the pecking order, but when I see three hens piled on top of Marigold, clawing at her, my only reaction is to scream and flail my arms and put everyone in timeout.  

Just as I started working on the process, two stray roosters showed up in the yard, and a few days later, two hens. At first, it was cute. Maybe some of my gals could have babies. But then it became stressful trying to keep three sets of chickens separated. Chicken drama consumed my life. Then the roosters disappeared out of the blue one night. I searched the neighborhood to find the hens' original home, but I came to the conclusion someone dumped them. I moved on to trying to find them any home any all. Lots of takers and lots of dead ends.

In the meantime, I got sick. Some sort of flu or cold, but I failed to rest or medicate during the first few days and it turned into a nasty case of bronchitis. I had the worst sore throat I've ever had in my life. I was dizzy. I got winded walking down the stairs. I still can't breathe properly or eat or talk without coughing. My voice is just coming back, and it's been almost three weeks. Playing keep away with three sets of chickens every day just made me sicker and more annoyed. Throw in the fact that the two strays have been sleeping in the garage, which now smells like a barnyard. That's pretty much all I remember about the end of April/first of May.

When it became obvious that the last person who wanted the hens wasn't going to get them, I took to Facebook. I may have begged for someone to take them shortly after breaking up a fight that involved all seven chickens, my dad, me, and a few garden tools. Thank God someone who I knew would give them a good home stepped up. As I made arrangements with their new mom, I was elated. All I had to do was catch and drive the chickens into the city — yes, these poor little country strays were moving ITP — and I could go back to trying to get my five to live peacefully together again.

But Monday night rolled around, and I was in bed and all I could think about was those two poor little chickens who someone dumped on side of the road. They like it here. They think they are home. My heart ached for them.

I also thought about my poor Marigold who lives alone in her little cage, and how my other four are so mean to her, but these little strays just love her to death. They let her peck all over them, but she also tries to protect them when the others go after them. They're kind of like her own little flock. Not only was I sad to say goodbye to them after all this time, but I thought this could be the answer to Marigold's solitary confinement.

Marigold has been living alone in a small cage next to the big coop.


The next morning I had to drive my mom to a medical appointment, and without prompting, she suggested that she would be sad to see the chickens go. My dad later texted the same thing. I weighed my options. I'd have to build a separate coop for now. I'd have to get Marigold and the two strays to live together peacefully and eventually, try to get them all to live together. It's easier to introduce three hens into a flock than it is one, I'd read. And now that I'm finally recovering from my illness, it might be a little easier on me.

Good Lord, I'm keeping these chickens.  

Hoping I didn't sound like a lunatic, I contacted the strays' new mom and asked if it'd cause her any trouble if I decided to keep them. Not only was she gracious, but she offered me some wonderful advice about chicken integration.

So, now I have to build a second coop. My mom and I built the first coop together, and I'm pretty sure we went days without speaking to each other after the fact. And I've decided I need to build a fenced-in yard between the two coops. And the current coop was supposed to be temporary, and is falling apart, but that was before all the hell that last year brought, so I need to make some repairs. And when I move back into my own place, I'm going to have to move all the chickens into one or two completely new coops there. But the strays will have a permanent home and Marigold will have some companionship, and my other four can get more than a few minutes of free-time a day because I no longer have to keep everyone separated.

So, yeah, it's going to be a bit of work for something most people would have fried up for Sunday dinner by now, but it's worth it.

I guess.

April 01, 2017

100 Books in 2017

I have a confession to make: I'm a book hoarder. I have no idea how many I have, and I don't see any end in sight to me adding to that collection. My books range from my favorite well-read novels to my grandfather's old gardening books to cool cookbooks I've picked up at garage sales to books about the South that I love to reference to novels I read in college, high school, and middle school, both assigned reading and just because. A few year ago, I was packing to go to the beach for a week, and I'd just received an order of 27 books in the mail. I couldn't decide which ones to take, so I took them all.Of those 27, I've probably only read five or so. The rest are stashed away, waiting on me to pay them some attention. 

Why am I telling you all this?

Well, a little over a year and a half ago, my uncle died at the age of 60. I distinctly remember brushing my teeth one morning after it happened and thinking about how many years older than me he was. That number is not important for you to know, but for some reason I start calculating how many books I could read if I read X number a year and lived to be 60. I probably had a small panic attack when the reality set in.  

That's when I decided to up my game. I wanted to read at least 100 books every year for the rest of my life. It didn't happen in 2016, because I spent most of the year caring for sick family members, but I was determined to make it happen this year.  I'd have to read about two books a week. No big deal. I love to read and do so as often as possible. When I was a kid, I read two books a day on school breaks. Sure, The Box Car Children and The Babysitter's Club books aren't exactly difficult. And sure, I didn't have to work and manage my own business, take care of my pets, drive my mom to the doctor, clean, cook, and do other adult things. But I can't think of any reason why I can't read 100 books a year.  

I know, I know. I should be focused on quality over quantity, but I think it's possible to do both.

So, I started 2017 out determined, finishing up my first book within the first few days of the year. I got a little behind with the second one, but I finished it up by the end of January.

This is almost embarrassing to admit, but it took me over a month to finish the third one. It wasn't that it was difficult or that I found it boring. It's just, well, there are several reasons why it took so long.

  • I started reading it just before I started the Whole30, and that diet requires a lot of research and reading and obsessing, so much of my reading time was spent on recipes for those 30 days.
  • It took me a minute to get into the book. I wasn't crazy about it at first, but it wasn't bad. That deterred me from reading for the first week or so.   
  • The book took place in my beloved Charleston, and I found myself stopping ever other page to look things up on Google Maps and trace routes and make note of things I liked and research the histories of buildings and businesses mentioned throughout it. 
So, I'm on to book four now, and I still haven't picked up the pace I need to finish 100 books this year, but I'm certainly going to keep trying. To hold myself accountable, I'm going to post mini-reviews (I am terrible at real reviews) here of the books I've read each month, starting today with the first three.   

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman 

Let me start by saying Dew on the Kudzu is one of the first blogs I ever read regularly, and I've been following it since the beginning. Its proprietor, Idgie, possesses an impressive passion for books, so I always turn to her when I can't decide what to read next. I could probably also blame her for at least one fifth of my book collection. Anyway, she spent a good portion of last year raving about Matthew Norman's We're All Damaged. I read it. Loved it. It helped that I was going through a period when it seemed like nothing was going right in my life, so I could relate to the main character.  

After that, I decided to start 2017 with Norman's first book Domestic Violets. Once again, I found myself relating to the main character in many ways, particularly the fact that we have similar jobs. All I can say is I read this book quickly because it was good. Norman has a talent for character development, and I enjoy a good character or setting more than any plot. If you are over 30, and you aren't quite where you thought you'd be in life, you'll appreciate both books even more.  

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

My mom and I have a booth in a local antique shop, and when we were in need of new shelving one day, we decided to hit up Goodwill. I've only been there once or twice, so you can imagine my delight when I landed in the book aisle and found new copies of about 10 books I have saved to my wish-list. I also picked up a few extras, including Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. I remembered seeing it on some bestseller lists and another one of my favorite authors recommended it. I am also a sucker for anything that has to do with orphans, adoption, or foster care, and this offers a bit of all three.  

This was one of those books that, once I got to a certain point, I couldn't put down. Though it's fiction, I enjoyed learning a little bit of history, and I really enjoyed the dual stories. Typically, I don't love books that go back and forth in history, so that's saying something. It's a pretty easy read, but one I definitely recommend.

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

This is the book it took me over a month to read. Again, I can't stress enough that it had nothing to do with the book itself. It's not difficult or boring or anything that would make reading tedious, though I did make it a bit tedious on myself with all of my Charleston research. This is actually my first Pat Conroy book, and ever since his death last year, I've been promising myself I'd read some of his stuff soon. Of course, I had to start with this one, which is such a love letter to Charleston. I found myself re-reading passages about the city on more than one occasion.

While it was a bit slow to start, I became deeply engrossed in it by the end of the first section. I should probably mention that I actually read about three fourths of it in a weekend. As I said before, a good character or setting is enough to make me fall in love with a book, and the setting did that for me. The rest was a bonus. If you love Charleston or Southern fiction, give it a read. The night I finished it, I added the rest of Conroy's books — that I don't already own — to my wish list. 

And now I'm off to finish what will hopefully be the first of several books I read in April. Do you have reading goals for 2017?

March 31, 2017

A quick study in animal husbandry

My entourage while I work on the porch the last couple of weeks.

Up until the last few years, I'd never been much of an outside kind of person. The family joke was that my enjoyment of the great outdoors was limited to walking to and from my car. But then I started dabbling in gardening and became fascinated with growing flowers and vegetables, and practicing and reading about horticulture led to my desire to also dabble in livestock.

As it turns out, you don't dabble in livestock. And that lesson became clear to me a few weeks ago.

It was a stressful time. The hot water heater was broken, and my dad and uncle were taking a while to fix it, which meant no hot water and sometimes no water at all for several days. And if you have been around me at all in the last month, you know I just finished up the Whole30 diet, and I complained about it the entire time to anyone who would listen.  I went days without eating due to lack of time and water to prepare any kind of real meal, and then I went days without eating due to a stomach virus. I also kind of maybe decided to dance up the stairs one night and twisted my knee and couldn't put weight on it for several days. Throw in the fact that my mom was sick, and we weren't exactly sure why, and work was crazy, and a couple dozen other things, and I had no time or room on my plate for more catastrophes.

So, naturally, when I ran out to the chicken coop one day to let my five remaining chickens out for free-time, I saw drops of blood everywhere. At first, it didn't occur to me that something was wrong. The chickens peck each other. They kill small animals. Blood isn't totally unusual. Plus, I was kind of delirious after having existed on a diet of bananas and sparkling water for three days.

But then Marigold, who, let's be honest, is not my favorite chicken, because she's always been kind of bossy to the others, comes out of the coop about 20 minutes after I opened the door. She's scared, she's walking strangely, and shy little Iris who won't stray more than about 20 feet from the coop, even when the others are all the way on the other side of the house, started pecking her. Marigold hid behind a bush. I knew something was up.  I went outside to take a look at her, and I saw blood running down her backside.

Marigold has never been my favorite chicken, but we've bonded in recent weeks.
I spent the rest of the evening trying to catch her so I could put her in a separate quarantine cage, and scrubbing all the food and water bowls in case there was some kind of disease involved. I threw out all the eggs. I researched and called anyone I knew who raised chickens. I managed to narrow down her predicament to no less than ten causes. I went to the Tractor Supply store. I researched some more. I checked on her nonstop for the next few days. I can now tell you what perfect chicken poop looks like and exactly how their reproductive systems work.

But.

I knew I was in over my head when I read something about about lube and sticking my fingers in some places. I wasn't even sure I could find the places to stick them in if I wanted to.

Marigold in quarantine, looking into the big coop.

The night before I finally decided to call the vet, I couldn't sleep. I knew poor Marigold was probably suffering, and it was storming — hail, wind, rain, tornado watches. On Monday, I called my vet's office and tentatively asked if the man who once saved my Gabby dog's life would mind seeing a chicken. His website did say he saw birds after all. The receptionist kind of chuckled, but she told me he would see her the next day, and I felt so relieved.

There was just one problem: I was going to have to catch her.

Here's a little secret. I don't actually handle the chickens very much, and when I say I had to catch her to quarantine her the night this all happened, what I meant to say was that I flagged down my dad in the midst of the water heater drama and got him to help me catch her. I'm kind of afraid of being pecked. Animals who make sudden movements freak me out. That's why I don't like frogs. I'm sure there's some psychology behind that, but let's save it for another day.

About an hour and a half before I had to be at the vet's office, I put on some old sweats, some thick gloves, and gathered up my gear. Yes, I felt it was important to have gear to gather a chicken out of a three foot cage. Lots of gear. Garden tools, treats, boxes, tarps...  I was shaking — part nerves, part adrenaline rush — but she was super cooperative. I managed to use one of my tools, a broken down cardboard box, to push her towards the front and over to the side. I scooped her up, praying and pleading that she wouldn't try to attack me, and I rushed her into the $40 cat carrier I'd purchased at Walmart earlier in the day. It felt like the hard part was over.

The trip to the vet was quick and easy. He suspected she had become egg-bound at some point (stopped up if you aren't familiar with the term) and something had ruptured. While there was no sure way to fix her or even figure out what exactly was wrong with her without paying way more money than one might want to spend on a chicken, he gave me some ideas, some antibiotics, and some corny jokes and wished me luck. As I left, I asked his assistant if they saw many chickens. She said, "Actually, about four a month or so." At least I'm not alone, I guess.

The day ended up costing me about $200, after buying the carrier, paying for the visit and medication, and heading over to Tractor Supply and Publix to pick up some items I might need for the next two weeks of playing chicken infirmary. There was a good chance she would never lay another egg, much less survive this ordeal. I wouldn't even pay $200 for a great meal at Chick-fil-A, and here I was with one expensive free-loading chicken.

I need to buy stock in Tractor Supply. I spent lots of money there when the chickens are healthy.

The next two weeks were busy with round-the-clock chicken care. The vet suggested I bring her inside, and I started with the basement. She hated it, so I moved her to the porch, where the two kittens I adopted just before Christmas spent most of their days watching her every move. She was less than amused, but I think they all kind of grew fond of each other. I spent those days feeding her treats and giving her medication and even sitting on the porch with her, working on my laptop, just to keep her company. As time passed, she became stronger and healthier and ready to move back outside.

Marigold did not care for life in the basement.

It has been exactly 23 days since I first saw the blood dripping from her backside. She's perfectly healthy now, and while she's not laying eggs and probably won't anymore, I see no reason not to integrate her back into the flock. A few of the other hens have already let me know they have an issue with that, but that's a story for another post. As a matter of fact, I fully suspect it's going to take 23 more days just to move her back into the big coop unless anyone's got a good book on chicken psychology I can borrow.

I'm sure a better farmer would have stuck his or her fingers in some places. I'm sure a better farmer would see her as a waste of feed at this point and turn her into a Sunday dinner. My vet said some chickens are beloved family pets and some people don't care because they have 15 more at home and there are babies at Tractor Supply, so he's never sure how far to go in treating them. I suspect Marigold and the others are somewhere in between for me, but more than anything they've been one big lesson in why I'm probably not quite the farmer I once I thought I wanted to be.

I don't speak chicken, but I'm pretty sure she said "Go away, tiny white devils" on more than one occasion.



March 11, 2017

Whole30: Days 16-22

I have 8 days left. 8 days. Tomorrow, it will be 7. I'm down to single digits. Hallelujah.

This has been one of the most stressful weeks of 2017 so far, and it seemed to get worse as it progressed. If ever there was a time I needed convenience food, this was it. And if it was like day 6, I probably would have caved, but I figured I have this much invested, I may as well keep going. Unfortunately, this led to me barely eating for three days, and that's one of the major downsides to this plan for me.

Day 16:

Day 16 wasn't a great one. I woke up feeling kind of sick, and that feeling lingered all day. I wasn't home for most of the day, but I did manage to eat a little bit of leftover chicken and a banana for breakfast. At one point, I was in Tractor Supply looking at baby chicks, and I'm pretty sure they started to look like little Chick-fil-A nuggets. At another point, I was in a Publix I don't usually go to, hunting down a certain kind of chicken, and I couldn't stop staring at the Mexican restaurant in the same strip mall. I wanted Mexican food. Real Mexican food with cheese.

It was just right there in my face.


That night, I didn't feel much like cooking, but I had some chicken thawed out, so I threw into a marinade of coconut aminos, garlic, and ginger. After an hour, I threw it on the stove, and then I ate it chopped up in lettuce wraps with angel hair cabbage and green onions sliced on top. It was actually really good for something I just came up with off the top of my head.

These Asian lettuce wraps were good for something I just came up with out of the blue.


Day 17:

This was a 4 am day, and while I felt better when I woke up, I still didn't eat breakfast. At this point, I know I'm missing the psychology part of the Whole30, but I'm doing good with sticking to the ingredients for now. I will definitely do it again some day — hopefully, when I have a kitchen. I know I've mentioned that a time or ten. I had to go pick my mom up from a medical appointment around 9:30, and she asked me to stop and get her and my dad some biscuits for breakfast. That turned into an ordeal, and by the time we were finished, I wanted some breakfast, too, but there's just not anything out there for me to eat. Bummer.

Anyway, I came home and snacked on whatever I could find for lunch and then headed upstairs to try to get some work done. I ended up falling asleep and sleeping for most of the afternoon. When I woke up, I made sweet potato chips and more egg white crust pizza. It was a delicious meal, and I could probably just exist on that for the duration of this Whole30 journey, but I'd go broke buying the compliant pepperoni and bacon!

These egg white pizzas are fabulous.


Day 18:

I woke up on this day with a massive headache. It's actually the first headache I've had since going through the initial withdrawals during the first week. Typically, I get a migraine at least once every two weeks lately, and I think part of me was hoping this change in eating habits would solve that but no such luck. That leads me to think my migraines are more about hormones than anything I'm doing, which is both a disappointment and a relief in a way. It also leads me to think that hormones are why I've felt so bad all weekend after feeling so great last week. Since I'm trying to avoid all caffeine during this period, I couldn't take my usual migraine meds, so I opted for Tylenol instead. It dulled the ache enough that I cold get some work done, both writing and in my garden.

My original plan was to get up and put some chicken soup in the Crock Pot, but my lovely mother was already using it, and I didn't feel like digging the other one out of storage. For breakfast I had leftover Asian chicken wraps from Friday night. For lunch, I had an apple and a hand full of potato chips.That night I was hungry but too tired and overwhelmed to cook. I had two leftover hotdogs from a few nights before, so I just ate those plain and cold.

This was quite the sad meal, especially since my mom was making cheesy garlic bread while I ate it.


Day 19:

Day 19 was actually pretty relaxed. The calm before the storm, I suppose. I got up early and made a big Crock Pot full of chicken soup, more broccoli slaw spaghetti, and dog food. My goal was not to have to cook for a few days so I could get lots of work done. I had some of the spaghetti for lunch. The soup smelled amazing cooking all day and I couldn't wait to try it for supper that night.

The problem here is that I don't really like soup. I love my mom's potato soup, and I like wonton soup from some Chinese restaurants, but otherwise, I could do without this particular type of food. Part of me forgot that, and part of me knew it and was ready to overlook it, because I was trying to find a way to eat more vegetables and hydrate because I've been slacking on water. Even other people questioned why I was making soup, because they know I'm not a huge fan. But that night, I sat down with a cup of it, and I ate it. More like forced it down. It was not good. I decided maybe I'd freeze it for a time when I got sick and couldn't eat. I went to bed hungry. I didn't even have any bananas in the house, which has been my go-to convenience food.  

It looked okay, but I didn't like the flavor at all.


Day 20:

Another 4 am day. Then I had to go take some new inventory to the antique shop where my mom and I have a booth.  I came home and took a nap with plans to wake up and get to work, but it was later than I thought, and I was hungry and had to get all of my little zoo fed. I put the bowl of spaghetti I'd made the night before on the table — with a lid on it — and went outside to feed the chickens. While I was out, my dad yells at the window, "Is the cat supposed to be eating this red stuff in this bowl?"  When I got back inside, I found that one of the two kittens I adopted in December was on the table, had removed the lid, and was eating my spaghetti. In the short time I'd been outside, she managed to lick all the sauce off the meat and broccoli slaw. No way I was going to eat it now.

I had to go get something in the basement after that, and I noticed huge puddles of water on the floor. That's when I discovered the hot water heater was leaking. The rest of the night was a bit of a downhill spiral. I worked a lot to try to keep my mind off the fact that I was hungry and couldn't cook with no hot water. I finally gave in and fixed a bowl of soup. I mostly just ate the carrots out of it. I was out of most Whole30-approved groceries (this was a Tuesday night and Wednesday is my grocery day), and I felt good despite the stress of the day. At some point, I may or may not have been dancing around the house and as I was dancing up the stairs, I tripped and twisted my knee. I hobbled to bed that night, thinking I'd sleep it off.  After all, I injure myself at least once a month.

Day 21:

This is the day everything kind of piled up on me, and I nearly drove myself straight to Chick-fil-A, but spoiler alert: I did not do any such thing.

I woke up around 9:30, excited because it was my last shopping day for Whole30 groceries. I had my menu, shopping list, and budget all planned out, and I was ready to go into the last eight or nine days and kick some ass. Unfortunately, life decided to kick my ass instead.

It started when I tried to get out of bed. The knee I twisted the night before was not so willing to support any weight, even though it decidedly has much less to support than it did 21 days go. It took me forever to get to the bathroom to get ready and then downstairs to eat the eggs and hash browns my mom had been nice enough to cook for me. She said, and I quote, "I saw you picking carrots out of your soup last night and knew you'd be starving this morning." So, living here is not all bad, I guess.  I didn't have the heart to tell her that I couldn't stand to eat another egg because I've had so many in the last few weeks, but I was so hungry that I decided to try them anyway. They were amazing. She said she cooked them in olive oil instead of ghee, and I figured out it was the ghee I was having the aversion to, not the eggs.

We went on to three grocery stores. I only got out at one, and I could barely make it to the door on my bum knee. I was in so much pain that I decided I would go home and rest it for the remainder of the day. I had a ton of work to do, so sitting for the rest of the evening was not out of the question.

That was a joke.

The minute we got home, my aunt called and told my mom that my uncle was going to come when he got off work to help install the new hot water heater. We initially thought he was coming Friday and had no new hot water heater to install, so we hopped in the car and drove to a local plumbing place. On the way, I checked my email and discovered that the big work project I was planning to start that night was canceled out of the blue. It was disappointing and inconvenient, but I could live with it. I have other work.

We get home, and I decided to go ahead and get all the animals fed and cook something for myself (baked chicken and a baked sweet potato if you are curious). I hobbled out to the chicken coop, and they were dying to get out. I've been keeping them inside more lately because we're heard or seen coyotes daily for the last week and a half. Then I spotted some blood in the coop, so I decided to let them out so I could investigate. I'd be just inside the door cooking and could work on the porch for the rest of the evening to keep an eye on them. No one seemed to be in obvious distress, though one chicken didn't come out right away, but she's usually the head hen and does her own thing anyway.

So, I go into the kitchen, sit down to read the recipe for the baked chicken I'm going to make, and I look out and see the hen in question come out of the coop. She's really timid, looking around as if she's scared of the other hens, and one comes by and pecks her. She turns around and I can see from the window that her backside is bloody. She runs and hides behind a bush. I run — not literally, keep in mind I can barely walk — out to inspect and all I see is blood. So, I'm inside Googling and trying to get in touch with my neighbor who has raised chickens for years to see what I should do. In the meantime, my dad and uncle are in the basement trying to replace the hot water heater, and it's not going as smoothly as they thought.

My neighbor suggested I get some straw and put the hen, Marigold, into a separate cage for the night. Catching her to do that was not going to be easy, as I don't hold my chickens, and they will sometimes let you pet them, but picking them up is out of the question. I decided to head to Home Depot to get some straw first. I had 30 minutes until sunset, and I had to hurry because as soon as dusk hits, the coyotes come out. I made it to the car and was halfway up the driveway when my dad says for me to come back and stand upstairs and turn water on and off while they mess with the hot water heater. So, I do that for 20 minutes while my mom sits with the chickens. Finally, my uncle decides he needs more tools and has to go to Home Depot, so my dad and I set out to catch the chicken. We finally got her settled in just as the neighborhood coyotes began to howl. My mom fixed her a little salad of lettuce and berries and I got her some chicken feed. I got her some well water, and we put the cage next to the big coop so the other chickens could see her but not peck her.

But then we couldn't wash our hands. Or cook. Because we had no water and wouldn't for a few hours. Long story short, I was exhausted and could barely walk. I was worried about Marigold and not sure how to treat her. My dad and uncle were having trouble getting the hot water heater installed. We were all ill and tired and barking at each other. We had no water. My dad normally goes to bed at 8pm and my mom and I both had to get up at 4 am the next morning. I have no idea what time they went to bed, but by the time I got the animals settled and finished the work I had to do, it was nearly 1 am. I gave up on eating anything beyond the breakfast my mom had cooked for me that morning and the pickle I had around lunchtime. On days like this, I find myself hating Whole30, but on this particular day, I was too tired to care.

Thankful I found these pickles. They are yummy.


Day 22:

After having what amounts to one actual meal in the last three days, I was starving all morning, but I got less than three hours of sleep, and had been on the go since 4 am. When I arrived back home around 10:30, I decided I was finally going bake that chicken. I needed protein. I needed food in general. I baked 7 small pieces of chicken, and I sat and ate every last one of them for lunch. I couldn't help myself. I felt stuffed after, and I had to boil water to wash dishes, but it was glorious.

I spent the rest of the day trying to get caught up on work, shopping for chicken hospital supplies, treating the chicken, treating the other chickens just in case something is going around, and helping my mom out because she wasn't feeling well. And I was doing it all on one leg, though I can almost walk again. My dad was on the way home from work, and he was nice enough to stop by my favorite barbecue place to get me some meat - no sauce - and that is what I had for supper. Well, half of it. I was so tired that night after the events and drama of the last few days that I was in bed by maybe 11.

Unfortunately, I woke up at 3:30 am with a dog on my head. Sadie is afraid of storms, and we were having one heck of one. Hail, 50 mph winds, and lightning that sounded like it was on top of the house. Once I realized what was going on, I got up to look out at the quarantined chicken and saw that her tarps had blown off her cage. So, I went out in the middle of the storm to secure them again and ended up being awake for a couple of hours trying to calm the dog down. Some days, I feel like I have eight kids instead of eight animals.


Next to bananas, sweet potatoes have been my crutch during this process. 
While I didn't exactly eat much during these days, I am proud that I didn't give it up when the going got rough. It would have been so easy to hop in the car and run to get something in a drive-thru, especially on the days we had no water, and I couldn't kick. But I didn't, and I'm pretty darn proud of myself for that.  


March 02, 2017

Whole30: Days 12 - 15

Today is day 15. I'm halfway to the finish line. Some days I get way too excited about that, and some days I just don't care. I do feel better in general, and I can tell I've dropped a few pounds. And I do have a little more energy. I've also discovered some new recipes and places to shop, which I'll probably stick with for the future. I'm drinking a lot more water. That's the positive.

Once again, I could not eat this way long-term. Maybe 70-80 percent of the time. It's too restrictive, especially when dairy products are concerned. Dairy has never really bothered me, and I find that not eating it is limiting what I'll eat from other food groups. And that's causing me to eat way more carbs than I'm used to. It'd probably be 100 times better if I had my own kitchen and had fridge and pantry space and access time to cook a million things in advance and most of my kitchen stuff wasn't in storage. I could get really creative with meal ideas, and I may do it again one day when I'm back in my own place. I'm not complaining at all — I'm beyond that phase, I think. Just pointing out some realities. All that said, it works best if the conditions are right, but it is doable when they aren't.

But overall, I do still recommend it. My main goal was discipline, and it's taught me that. I'm actually looking forward to trying to find my own way but also staying (mostly) healthy after it is over. I think there are a few cheats I do that aren't exactly Whole30-approved (eating ingredient-compliant potato chips, for example), but I have done the best I can and am pretty darn proud of that. So, here is a quick rundown of the last few days.

Day 12

Day 12 was a rare day that did not involve leaving the house, and I even had early access to the kitchen. While I'm still not eating lunch every day, I did get to cook early today and the meal of choice was spaghetti...with broccoli slaw. This is actually something I'll eat when I'm not Whole30-ing, and I am in love with this complaint marinara sauce I found in a local farmer's market shop. When I picture the perfect red tomato sauce, this is it. My plan was to put half of it up for the next day, but I ended up eating a second helping later in the night. Could I have enjoyed it more with cheese? Absolutely. But it was pretty darn good. 

Broccoli slaw

Plus spaghetti sauce

Equals a pretty darn good meal, even if you aren't Whole30-ing.


Day 13

Today was a bit of a red letter day when it comes to all of this Whole30 fun. Actually, it was a bit of a red letter day for cooking and eating in general. I made a series of discoveries.

1) I drove to Marietta and shopped at Sprouts for the first time. Not only did I find Whole30-approved bacon and a few other products that I can't find on a typical Publix run, but I discovered a whole array of products that I would love to have on days 31 and beyond. So, Sprouts will become a regular shopping experience for me. I bought everything from deodorant to organic produce and was amazed that it was not overpriced like some stores that carry similar products.

I bought lots of bacon at Sprouts.

2) I discovered this amazing recipe for non-parm chicken parm. My mom is still having a reaction to her medication, so I told her I'd cook extra for my dad, too. I had no idea how he would react to chicken lightly breaded in almond flour, but he loved it as much as I did. I roasted some baby broccoli and carrots to go with it, and it's been one of my favorite meals thus far.

Chicken parm, you taste so good...


3) Part of the reason why that non-parm chicken parm was so good was the quality of the almond flour. I usually buy whatever I can find in the store, but I bought it in bulk at Sprouts earlier in the day, and it made a huge difference. I can see myself making most any breaded chicken I eat in the future with the almond flour. This is a recipe I'll keep eating in the future.     

Day 14

Day 14 was a busy one, and I knew I'd have no time to cook. My mom was nice to enough to cook me up some bacon and eggs before I headed out the door. The bacon was great, but I don't think I can do eggs cooked in ghee anymore. I'm so over the ghee. At first, I really liked it, but it's starting to taste semi-disgusting to me.  I want my grass-fed butter back.

I kind of snacked for lunch, and for supper I made a little summer preview. Seeing as how it was 77 degrees on March 1st, that wasn't much of a stretch. I cooked some compliant hot dogs I found at Sprouts and chopped some onions on them. They were okay, but they needed ketchup in a big way. I also had some watermelon and a handful of potato chips. This is probably not okay on this plan, but I get to a point where it's eat the potato chips cooked in olive oil and with no other ingredients or not eat. Again, I may do this all over when I'm back in my own kitchen and can plan better and cook more, but I'm happy with what I've done so far, and that's all that counts. 



Day 15

Today, it hit me that I once relied way too much on caffeine and other junk for energy. Like I said, eating three meals a day is kind of difficult for me to work into my schedule. Since I didn't leave the house today, that should have been a bit easier, but when I woke up this morning, nothing I had appealed to me. I'm so over eggs, and I didn't have any leftovers. I finally settled on my go-to banana and a handful of plantain chips. By 4:30 or so, I was dragging. With that in mind, I decided to cook up some chicken tenders to have on hand for breakfast for the next day or two. 

Day 15 is also the day I gave into my pizza craving. Sort of. I've been dying for some pizza, and I don't even eat pizza that much. Like some people have it once a week, and I maybe have it once every few months if that. I think it's got something to do with the cheese and dairy cravings that will not go away. Anyway, I ended up making a pizza crust out of egg whites. That may not be "in the spirit of the Whole30," but it was in the spirit of Sarah. I topped it with compliant pizza sauce and chopped up some onions, bacon, and pepperoni (oh yes, I found complaint pepperoni at Publix yesterday). I sprinkled some garlic and oregano on top and placed it in the oven on the broiler setting until it got kind of crisp. It was amazing! I may actually make another one — or two (they are small) — tomorrow. It's even good for low-carb eating, so it's definitely something I want to keep in my
cooking repertoire. Because I felt like I needed more veggies, I chopped up some sweet potatoes to go with it. My mom introduced me to the mandolin, which shaved hours off my sweet potato chopping time. Who knew? 

Egg white pizza - so good!

My meal after not eating all day - the pizza, a sweet potato chopped up into chips, and a couple of chicken tenders.

I don't have much else to add. I'm still craving milk like crazy, but some of the other cravings have died down a bit. That could have something to do with my mental resolve to just power through the next two weeks. My plan is to stay busy and try some new recipes, all while keeping it simple. I'm also hoping to add a daily workout back to my schedule for the second half. I think that will be important for the transition back into not nitpicking my every meal to death.

February 27, 2017

Whole30: Days 5 through 11

So, I'm wrapping up the next installment of the Whole30 today. I'm more than one third of the way there. 19 days to go. I can't lie...there's a calendar on the wall in my bedroom, and I'm marking off each day as it passes like a little kid at Christmas or, as my cousin suggested, like a guy in prison.

That prison description felt pretty accurate a few days ago. I may or may not have had a small breakdown at some point during the past six days. Over ketchup. Really. 

Before I get to a day-by-day account, let me just say that if you are ever planning to do this, I do suggest you read this Whole30 timeline. I didn't find it until day eight or nine, and it made me feel so much less like a freak, because I do dream about eating things I shouldn't be eating — even things I don't like or crave — and I have had days where I wanted to tell everyone I knew to take hike off a cliff and there was a day when my pants were super tight, and I was like what the heck is going on here?! Some of it has been a little out of order, but it's definitely reassurance that you are not alone in your little food hell. 

One more thing — when I first mentioned doing this, I had several friends who have done it say it's one of the hardest things they've ever done. I secretly laughed at their lack of willpower. I'm not laughing anymore. 

Day 6:  

Day 6 was the beginning of the little ketchup meltdown I had, and that started when I was cooking that evening. I make these Japanese vegetable cakes based on this recipe all the time. Love them. I decided that they if I switched the oat flour I normally use to coconut flour, they'd be Whole30-approved. At this point, I've made them so often that I don't go by a recipe, and I don't always use the same vegetables listed in the recipe. That was mistake number one. My veggie to coconut flour to egg ratio was way off. The second mistake was using coconut oil to cook them (normally, I use olive oil). While they tasted okay in the end, they were less vegetable cake and more big soggy pile of crap.

I also had a pot roast in the Crock Pot. I love pot roast. And I already love to season it with Whole30-approved ingredients, so I figured it would be great. And honestly, it wasn't awful, but it was a tad dry. And when my roast is dry, I either put it on a sandwich with lots of melty cheese or slather it in ketchup. Or both. But I couldn't do either of those things, and it just seemed inedible. I put most of it in the fridge and went to bed starving. STARVING. Later in the night, I had some stomach issues. I was pretty sure they were because I couldn't have ketchup. I hated life. I wanted to go home. I wanted my mommy. I wanted to punch whomever came up with this Whole30. I felt like a crazy person. 

This is the meal that led to my ketchup meltdown.

Day 7:  

When I woke up on Day 7, I didn't feel much better. That's the day my pants were tight. My stomach was still grumbling, and I couldn't think of anything I wanted to eat for breakfast. Day 7 was a Wednesday, and most Wednesdays I haul my mom to the grocery store. In exchange, I get to use her senior discount on my groceries. As soon as I saw her, I started complaining and whining and acting like a five-year-old. Over ketchup (and my upset stomach and my tight pants and my hatred of all things Whole30). She yelled at me, comforted me, and promised to help me with some food ideas. We went to the store, and she made me buy some bananas and a bottle of water so I wouldn't become cranky, and she helped me pick out some new foods and ingredients. I felt so much better. Sometimes a girl just needs her mom, even if she does always complain about having to share a kitchen with her at the moment. Truth be told, if I were back at my old house living alone, I'd have blown this program days ago. 

So, Day 7 was spent grocery shopping. That night, my mom made some coconut flour gravy for the leftover roast. It made it bearable, but I found that I still couldn't eat much and decided to freeze it for a time when I can have ketchup. I bought some Tessemae's Creamy Ranch dressing that day, and was planning to have some carrots dipped in it, but it tasted really weird. That's when I realize it had expired two months before. Good job, Kroger. I went to bed hungry again that night, but I had a renewed sense of purpose.  I even worked out that evening!


Day 8:

Day eight went pretty well. I decided to start making Whole30 versions of some of my favorites, which some will say is not "in the spirit of the program," but I think everyone has to find their way. I made onion rings with tapioca and coconut flour, as well as these chicken tenders. It was actually pretty good. Even without ketchup.

By about 9 pm, I was feeling okay. Definitely not hungry or angry or depressed or any of the things I felt the day before. I was actually watching TV when my stomach started rumbling again. This part gets a little TMI, so I'll spare you the details, but by the time I was ready for bed, I was so exhausted I could barely walk. I did, however, lay in bed and drink 1.5 liters of ice water because I felt so dehydrated. I've been good about drinking water, but during the Great Meltdown of 2017, I'd stopped drinking much of anything, and I was parched. Anyway, I got 10 hours of sleep that night, and they were pretty darn peaceful.

These chicken tenders tasted better than they looked.

Day 9:  

Speaking of peaceful, that's how I felt for most of Day 9. I'm really starting to tell a difference in the way I feel. Some minor aches and pains are practically gone. Even though my pants are still a little tight, I can tell in other places I have lost weight. The idea of eating three meals a day does not make me sick anymore, and while I'm still counting down the days until this over, I do not feel like it's torture to get through them. That could change, I'm sure, but I'm embracing it for now.

As for food, I didn't have to cook today, which could be part of why I'm in such a great mood. For breakfast, I ate my leftover chicken tenders with lettuce wraps. For lunch, I treated myself to a Five Guys burger with lettuce wraps and veggie toppings. I got a second one for supper, which I ate with a little fruit. I also drank a ton of water throughout the day.

Day 10:  

I woke up on Day 10 knowing it wasn't going to be a good day. You know how you just get that feeling? But this had nothing to do with the Whole30 plan. It was a 4 am day, and after wolfing down some eggs and a banana, I went out to the car and managed to drop my new iPhone in the driveway, shattering the screen. Not long after that, my mom called me to come pick her up from a medical appointment because she was sick (we think it was just a reaction to some medication, but after last fall, anything is worrisome). When I got home, I was starving. Starving. I decided to take a nap just to take my mind off of it, but my mom wanted me to make her some cinnamon toast. It took all I had not to lick the stevia off my fingers. Instead, I baked a sweet potato and then took a nap. Afterwards, I experimented with making my own taco seasoning for the first time ever, and I didn't hate it. So, my meal for the night was taco meat with lettuce, onions, and salsa, and a side of hash browns. Apparently, Days 10 and 11 are when most people quit, but I powered through the first half, even if I was craving actual tacos with shells and cheese. 

Homeade taco meat...not too bad.

Taco salad/nachos with hash browns.


Day 11:  

To be honest, I was too busy to eat on Day 11. I woke up and had eggs and kiwi fruit and headed outside full of energy. The goal was to work outside half the day and work inside half the day, but I had so much energy. I felt like running laps and howling like a wolf or something. Did I mention I had so much energy? I ended up clearing brush and foregoing machine tilling in favor of digging ditches. Yes, I voluntarily dug 10-inch-deep ditches.  I planted broccoli, cabbage, and some flowers, and walked back and forth between both houses a gazillion times. I cleaned out some of the chicken coop. I was outside until dark and only came home to put the chickens up. The plan was to make spaghetti, but my energy level got ahead of the rest of me, and I was too sore to walk to the stove, never mind actually stand there and cook. I had hash browns again and went to bed pretty early. 


Cravings  

Let's talk about cravings for a minute. I've had some, but they haven't been exactly what I thought they'd be.  


Diet Coke 

Until I started drinking the La Croix waters, all I could think about was how much my food needed a Diet Coke to accompany it. Since I broke down and bought the water on Day 5, that has almost gone away. Now, when I was in Five Guys on Day 9, all I could think about was grabbing a fountain drink to go with my burgers, and I still crave the taste of Diet Coke, but the carbonated water is enough to satisfy some of those needs. The cherry lime is my favorite so far, but my cousin's wife just brought me some other flavors to try.  I'm limiting myself to two or less a day. Or trying to anyway.

La Croix! (and Dasani)



Chick-fil-A 

Someone once asked me if I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, what would it be? My response was Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets. I eat them at last once a week. I've eaten them for all three meals in the same day. On the days I have to get up at 4 am, I often have them for breakfast. My mouth is watering just typing this. The first few nights of this little experiment, I dreamed about the darn things every night. They will probably be the first things I eat when I am no longer on the Whole30 plan.  All that said, I'm not quite as obsessed with my lack of nuggets as I was when I first started, so there's that, but I still think about them a lot.

Poor grammar aside, a friend sent me this, and I have to agree.



Ketchup

This isn't something that has gone away at all. I did buy the ingredients to try to make my own, but the recipe involves dates, and dates look like something you'd scoop out of a cat litter box, so I'm not sure I'll ever make it. I was going to order some Whole30-approved ketchup and still might do that, but for now, I've decided to suffer through and avoid roast at all costs.


Cheese/Dairy

Surprisingly, this has been one of my biggest cravings lately. Today, I desperately wanted a milk shake or chocolate milk or just a glass of milk, and I don't even drink milk. I've been craving pizza all week, but I think it's more about the cheese than the actual pizza. When I finish this and go back to low-carb eating, I'll definitely eat cheese. Dairy has really never been a big problem for me. However, I will be reading the labels of whatever cheese I buy to see exactly what's in it.

No cheese. Bummer. :-(


Days 5-11 Conclusion: 

I'm hanging in there. It's definitely not something I could do long-term, but it is a major learning experience about how certain foods affect you, both mentally and physically. I still hate cooking (especially when I'm just cooking for myself), and that's probably the number one reason I couldn't do this long-term. The foods mentioned above are the second reason. There's also the fact that I've spent less time working in favor of cooking. I don't like that at all.

I read labels on everything now. It's ridiculously hard to find bacon without sugar in it, but sometime this week, I'm going to head into Marietta just to pick some up (it took some research to find it). I definitely feel more control of my body than I did before, and that's exactly why I did this. That's also something I hope to take into days 31 and beyond. Mostly because I never want to feel like I need to do anything this strict again.

Maybe it kind of is like prison? 19 more days...