Lifesaving Chicken Noodle Soup

We get sick when school starts. It's just what we do. At the start of sixth grade, my daughter had the most outrageous giant sneezing cold ever. I'm sure kids were reluctant to sit with her for the rest of the year after she hacked all over them in the beginning. This year, she saved seventh grade friendships with an illness contained to a weekend. The virus passed to the grownups quickly and gave us one of the only sicknesses I can remember that hit my husband and I at the very same time.

It was rough.

I've reflected on our seemingly non-existent immunity extensively, and I can only figure that it's our patently anti-social behavior that robs us of the constant germ exposure most normal people experience. Hence, we get sick at the very first opportunity.

Since there's no chance we're going to become socialites to build up tolerance to these predictable sniffles, I've developed the world's best chicken noodle soup. Though it clearly couldn't stave off the common cold, I do think it cured Julia of this most recent malady. Julia was reasonably well after 48 hours. Tim and I suffered for about a week. Why? By the time the parents were sick, we were out of soup.

So I present to you, the formula for the World's Best Lifesaving Chicken Noodle Soup, manufactured in a giant vat and frozen for your winter colds, flus, and variety infirmities:

Ingredients

Leftovers of one pre-cooked rotisserie chicken (I prefer a Sam's Club chicken)
Additional chicken breast (if needed)
One or two leeks
Carrots
Italian seasoning (optional)
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Chicken bouillon cubes
Soup noodles (I prefer Berlin Natural Bakery Amish Country White Spelt Noodles. You could use other noodles, but your soup won't be the World's Best. It just won't.)
Water




Steps

  1. Purchase and consume part of a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken. This is typically our easy dinner the night before soup making. Return uneaten chicken to the plastic tray and refrigerate until you're ready for step 2. Alternately, you can use a bone-in chicken breast but your soup just won't be as good as mine.
  2. Fill a large stock pot about 1/2 full of water.
  3. Place the entire remaining rotisserie chicken, bones, fat, and all into the pot of water. I do remove the little rubbery band that holds the legs together. Cooking that seems gross.
  4. Wash the leeks carefully. Dirt hides in every little crevice.
  5. Cut off the roots and the rough looking edges of the green parts. 
  6. Cut the leeks into large pieces that will fit in the pot and put the leeks in the pot with the water and chicken
  7. OPTIONAL: I only use white meat for the final soup product. If someone has eaten most of the white meat off of the rotisserie chicken, let's say a young girl that always used to eat both legs suddenly decided she'd like to eat breast meat for a change, saute an additional chicken breast in olive oil with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Simmer the water, leeks, and chicken for about 90 minutes or until the chicken is pulling away from the bones easily and the leeks are very tender.
  9. Let it cool.
  10. Strain the chunks out of the broth using a colander or strainer. Reserve the broth.
  11. Return broth to stock pot, add chopped leek (white parts only) and white meat chicken to the broth.
  12. Use the rotisserie container to dispose of dark meat chicken (unless you like that in your soup), the green parts of the leeks, and the bones.
  13. Cook noodles according to package directions.
  14. Add finely chopped carrots to the soup and simmer until carrots are tender.
  15. Drain and add cooked noodles.
  16. Serve and enjoy!
Note: The soup freezes and reheats well spelt noodles and all. If you're not using spelt, you might consider keeping the noodles separate (toss them in butter to keep them from sticking in clumps) and adding them to the broth just before you serve. Otherwise, wheat noodles tend to expand giving you a pot of gross bloated noodles.

I'll still be getting a flu shot this fall, but a good supply of my magical soup will come in handy for the next round of sniffles.

Walmart's Grocery Pickup

Shopping really isn't my thing. Sure, I love wandering ("wandering" is an exaggeration, I'm in and out in fifteen minutes) the aisles in Target. A new grocery store will peak my curiosity. Overall though, I'm a homebody and entering a retail establishment saps my strength like few activities can.

For a while, I thought I enjoyed grocery shopping in general. I waived off the flyer when the Walmart first introduced free curbside pickup at my regular store. And when the personal shoppers began to share the aisles with me more often, I thought "they're getting to have all the fun" and "if I didn't come to the store I wouldn't get to see all of the new things" and "that'd be nice if you're sick, but why wouldn't I come and do my shopping myself?"

My closest Walmart Supercenter is about twenty minutes away in Tarentum, PA. I go there every other week, sometimes more. Like just about every Walmart Supercenter, there's a Sam's Club next door. I typically go to both stores on the same trip and with travel the whole deal takes two hours. Occasionally I'll go to Trader Joe's. Sometimes a Target and Giant Eagle combination can get us through the week, but truly there's no greater efficiency than the Walmart/Sam's Club trip.

The app indicated multiple times that you don't need to call if you've initiated the tracker.
Every parking spot was marked with this sign though. They're not hiding the phone number
for when you want them to bring out your groceries.

Maybe the option to bag the whole Walmart portion of my shopping trip is what started my declining interest in actually going to the store. Those employees walking the aisles with the special cart full of blue bins seemed to whisper, "You don't have to do this. I can find the French dressing for you." And as I used the self-checkout, thereby handling each item for the second of what is eventually a gazillion touches necessary to bring the stuff from store to pantry, it occurred to me that the online ordering might not be the worst thing.

Still, it took a fairly overwhelming back to school cold to get me to try the free grocery pickup. Laid out for a week with fever, chills, coughing, aching, and an overwhelmingly nasty headache, I still needed to eat. Tim and Julia went to the store nearest our house, a little Shop 'n' Save, one night so we wouldn't starve or maybe because we were out of ice cream. They got buns, chicken patties, ice cream, bananas, and clementines. It cost $38. (Note: that's easily $15 more than you could spend at any of the stores mentioned above save Giant Eagle where it is known we do not purchase ice cream.) I either needed to drag my smart shopping butt to the store or put my faith in the professional Walmart shopper.

Since I was going to have to make a list anyway, I went online at 9:45am and started ordering groceries. The website is quick and easy to navigate. Within minutes, I'd assembled everything I needed including gluten-free hamburger buns I've never seen in the store. The total came to $48 and the first pickup time available was four hours later. At 10:15am the order would be final and it'd be too late to make changes.

At 11:05am, I recalled that Julia asked me to get her more cereal. Blarg!

By 1:15pm an email arrived saying the order was ready. It also suggested downloading the Walmart Grocery app which is different than the Walmart store app already on my phone. The grocery app has a button to push when you're headed to the store to pick up the order. Using the phone's GPS, Walmart can track your progress to the store. It's a little creepy. The app also seems like an even easier way to put together an order. I'll try it next time.

At 3:15pm, I pushed the "on my way" button in the grocery app and headed to Walmart. The pickup area is well marked, the side of the building is now bright orange to draw attention to the parking spots reserved for online order pickups. Another online shopping woman was just closing her trunk as I pulled up and the Walmart employee, Sara, approached my car. She asked my name and said to give her "a few minutes."

And so I timed her because I was looking for a flaw in the service. While I waited, another guy pulled into the pickup area. So it seems like the professional shoppers are getting some business.

She went into the building at 3:36 and returned at 3:41 with my groceries. I signed for them, accepted a little thank you swag bag since it was my first time, expressed my appreciation to Sara in my croaking, cold riddled voice, and went off to Sam's Club.

I was home by 4:15pm.

Sara, the shopper, assembled everything on my list. She did not divine my need for Julia's Cookie Crisp cereal, nor did she pick up on my one mistake: I clicked King Arthur Gluten-free Baking Mix instead of King Arthur 1-1 Gluten Free Flour. It's unlikely I'd have come away with everything I needed had I pushed a cart around the store. Rather than buying the wrong King Arthur, I'd have forgotten it entirely. I'm thinking maybe I shouldn't call myself a "smart shopper." Smart shoppers probably don't compulsively buy ketchup while completely forgetting we've been out of jam for a month.

Even with these two missteps, not going in Walmart was an exhilarating experience. When I got home I felt like I'd climbed Everest or finished a marathon. I've heard people feel exhilarated by those things. I don't have any experience with good feelings from exercise personally, but not going to Walmart, that was the stuff.

***I'm not anywhere cool enough to receive any sort of sponsorship or compensation for reviews of products or services on this blog. I just wrote about this because it's a really good idea. This service would have been wonderful to have when Julia was first born and for all the times I've suffered through shopping trips when I should have been anywhere else.***

Beyond the Birth Plan, Getting Ready for Baby's First Weeks at Home

About twelve and a half years ago, I was getting ready to have a baby. I'd been married for almost two years and though it wasn't a specifically planned pregnancy, it wasn't terribly accidental either. It was somewhere in that perfect zone of an effortless happening at a reasonably good time in our lives. My husband, Tim, and I were both 24-years-old.

I wrote a birth plan.

Planning is one of my favorite things, so I was deep into the birth stories on TLC, prenatal yoga DVDs (to get the physically ready for delivery), Lamaze classes, and every pregnancy-related book, magazine, or website available. I looked into hiring a birth doula and decided instead to have my mother in the delivery room. I wrote a birth plan and thought through every possible contingency for delivery day.

I'd even frozen a few chicken spinach calzones for the baby's first weeks of life and committed to exclusive breastfeeding and cloth diapers. There was a feeding/changing/sleeping station for each level of our townhouse. We had the baby papasan and a swing. We were commercially prepared with every baby accoutrement 2005 had to offer.

I was ready.

Julia arrived at 12:19am on a Saturday in March and by lunchtime we were headed home. The express checkout was my idea. I thought I'd sleep if there wasn't a nurse coming in to "check my bottom" every fifteen minutes.

I did not.

Tim and I were on our own for the first two nights. Our new bundle would only sleep on a parent's shoulder. We took turns, but I was the one with the milk makers, so I took more turns. By the time my mother arrived on the third day, expertly swaddling her granddaughter in a way that magically got her to sleep in her crib, my brain had flipped out of sleep mode and I was lucky to get myself down for a two hour stretch.

Mastitis seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen...

By the following week, I was alone with my infant daughter all day and up with her most of the night. A male lactation consultant at the hospital had recommended massaging my breast as the baby fed to prevent mastitis. Mastitis seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen, so I massaged the business out of whichever booby was in use. Three weeks into motherhood, whether it was the mastitis massage or hormones or the baby's Olympic champion latching, I was shooting breast milk like a fire hose. From the moment the nipple was free of its nursing bra, milk shot at high pressure like a pinhole leak in a garden hose. It would choke the baby and so I took to holding a cup over my breast to capture that first Niagara Falls gush before I tried to feed her.

In hindsight, there were multiple warning signs. I should have asked for help instead of moving through life like nothing had changed. "Sleep when the baby is sleeping" is such great advice, except I couldn't and after a few weeks I stopped trying. At night, I'd wake up at feeding time even if the baby didn't. Sometimes my sister would visit and instead of tending my own infant I'd play with my rambunctious two-and-a-half-year-old niece, lifting her on and off of a wooden rocking horse. I was mentally and physically exhausted.

Julia and I on the morning of our first Mother's Day.
Spontaneous tears gave way to an ultra-intense feeling of energy and efficiency. I became more social, started planning a party, made 50 phone calls a day, and did everything at high speed. It was then I determined adults didn't need to sleep. I'd try halfheartedly and then surf the web between nighttime feedings telling myself it was because the Internet connection was faster at night.

Eventually my abundant thoughts became more and more delusional until only the slimmest grip on reality remained.

Just after my first Mother's Day and an intervention by my family, I voluntarily committed myself for in-patient psychiatric care. I spent six days away from my daughter, was forced to stop breastfeeding, and entered into a long, dark period of trial and error treatments with medications that produced a variety of unpalatable side effects.

I looked for a way to do it over again.

For years, I looked for a way to do it over again. I was sure that I could navigate the birth of another child without such difficulty. If only I could have another one, I thought. I'd do it better.

There was no second baby and eventually I realized the only person that needed proof of my child rearing ability was me. The only person that couldn't let go of the burden of those delusions was me. The only one that felt crushing guilt over feeding an obviously healthy baby girl formula was me.

And so I let it go. Five years after the fact.

Diagnoses varied a bit between a handful of different psychiatrists I saw at the time and in the years after. In the hospital, I was told I was bipolar and I should find a way to make myself comfortable with frequent visits to said hospital. The term "postpartum psychosis" was used and finally, one doctor arrived at "mild, sleep-dependent bipolar." She told me that a person only has to have one episode of mania in their whole life and they're still classified as bipolar. She reasoned that mine was a disease impacted by sleep and hormonal changes. Her assertion has held for all this time and sleep really does keep all bipolar symptoms at bay.

Know that there's more to self-care than quickly getting back into pre-pregnancy jeans. 

There may have been no stopping the mental illness I experienced after my daughter's birth. In my case, I think some foresight would have been necessary for me to seek professional help for the breastfeeding issues and insomnia. It didn't seem like it was a big deal and I figured I'd pull through on my own. Having a baby is hard, I figured, everything would be better when she got older. Still, I think we're risking disaster to endlessly push this concept of a "birth plan" without any mention of an "after birth plan" or a "postpartum support plan." Things can go mightily off track in a short amount of time. Asking for help in the emotionally charged new mother trench feels more like failure than scheduling core support people before the birth.

Postpartum Support Virginia has a wonderfully detailed "Realistic Postpartum Plan" that covers rest, meals, infant feeding, older siblings, ways to renew and recharge, finding friends, mental health, and returning to “normal.” The only thing I'd add to their list is a plan for caring for household pets. (We had a cat when Julia was born and it was a whole thing. The cat ended up going to live on a farm, for real, during the baby's first weeks. Looking back, I'd send her off sooner.)

Keeping an eye on maternal mental health is important and should be discussed right along with a birth plan, at Lamaze class, and during prenatal OB visits. Understand the risks and be ready to ask for help, specific help. Know that there's more to self-care than quickly getting back into pre-pregnancy jeans. Find someone to talk to and be honest about your mood and sleep patterns. Then you'll really be ready for baby's first weeks at home.

Butterfly's First Flight

There was a hard and fast limit imposed, by me, on the number of Monarch butterflies that would be permitted to do their metamorphosis thing in my house.

Two.

The number was two. Jerry and Young Jerry successfully chrysalis-ed and flew away in August. It was neat and easy. The rest of the caterpillars could entertain us outside. We enjoyed daily caterpillar counts, spotting them like the items in a seek and find picture.

There was also an abundant gathering of preying mantises in the yard this summer. "This is good," I thought. "Preying mantises are good. They eat the bad bugs." Monarch caterpillars, of course, don't get eaten by anything because their milkweed-only diet makes them taste as bad as a butterscotch donut.

Butterfly babies were safe. We counted seventeen one day.



I was washing my car when I noticed a preying mantis the size of my hand on the milkweed. He was watching a caterpillar, but he swiveled his creepy triangle-ish head my way. "He wouldn't eat that caterpillar, would he?" I wondered.

Google answered quickly that Mr. Mantis most certainly would and probably had. The bastard! That age-old idea that nothing eats monarch caterpillars is faulty intelligence. The list of hazards to my butterflies was long and terrible.

The next day, I found two dead caterpillars on the ground near the milkweed. I couldn't take it anymore. I brought eleven inside. Eleven!

Too numerous to name, they went into their chrysalises in groups of two and three. They're going to be emerging as beautiful butterflies sporadically for a whole week. There's been so much poop and I've had to move the silly things because they put their pods too close together.

As they say of human childbirth, it will all be worthwhile when you see your baby.... butterfly. With eleven, surely we'll happen upon a freshly hatched insect. They come out with huge bodies and itty bitty little wings. They hang and twist to force fluid from their body into those miniature wings until they reach full size.

Last Wednesday, two were born within a couple hours of each other. Both females, I named them Queenie and Lady. Queenie became very active around dinner time. I thought it was best to release her before she went around and whacked every other chrysalis in the enclosure.


Tim and Julia watched for about ten minutes, but Queenie wasn't actually that ready to go. They lost interest and left. Dinner was baking without any intervention required, so I sat and waited for her to take off.

Queenie wasn't leaving.



I'd coaxed her onto a hydrangea leaf, so I carried her to another part of the garden and put her on a fall sedum bloom. Just taking my butterfly for a walk.... nothing to see here. She inspected the sedum for a bit, taking wobbly drunken steps with her new long legs. After a while she fluttered to another bloom, gathered her courage and took off on a faltering, inefficient-looking lap of the yard. She soared as high as our second story windows before taking a position in a big oak tree.

It was magnificent!

After dinner, it was Lady's turn. I forced everyone to sit and stare with rapt attention to witness the awe inspiring event that would be this butterfly's first flight. Julia lost interest in the process early as the butterfly wobbled around the sedum bloom launch pad, irritably flicking her long legs at a bee that was trying to have dinner.

"Calm down, SIT THERE, and watch this," I barked at my daughter. "THIS IS A MIRACLE!"

And it might have been, but Lady wasn't feeling miraculous. I stayed and watched as the rest of the family took the dogs on their evening walk. I was like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin, trying to be very sincere, all the while missing tricks or treats. They returned to my plantside vigil having missed nothing.

"It really makes you think," I said as we resumed our long evening watch of the flightless monarch. "Why would something so complex and beautiful have evolved? How is that easier to believe than Creation?"

"What?" Julia asked. She was tracing a pattern on the sidewalk with a piece of pine bark mulch.

"Than God," I said. "How is it easier to believe something like this butterfly just evolved spontaneously than to believe in God?"

"I think it's better not to think about things like that," she said.

Lady took wobbling steps and flapped wings that appeared ready and strong. She didn't fly and eventually I conceded that we weren't going to see it. That night it stormed and I worried about my butterfly.

Thursday morning found her clinging to that same sedum bloom, wings wet with dew, in the chilly 47 degree air. I snipped the flower and moved it to a nearby butterfly bush where she could dry her wings in the sun. She walked and flapped and settled into a hanging position where she stayed for the rest of the morning.

By lunchtime, she was gone. Her first flutter, unwitnessed.

There will be nine more butterfly releases. Nine more invitations to catch a glimpse of something extraordinary. I'm glad to have another chance to do better for the butterfly and for my child. It surely detracts from the magic to be forced to bear witness to it. Perhaps I can train one of my remaining monarchs to fly away promptly, before the boredom takes our ability to think about things.