Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012 Goals Check-In

At the beginning of the year, I set goals for the things I wanted to accomplish.  Some goals were big (finishing three tomes and blogging about them, writing for publication), some were small (craft more, blog more), but all were important.  And now that we've reached the end of January, I thought that it would be good to check on my progress.  After all, we're 1/12th of the way through the year!  Doesn't it sound scary when you put it that way?

  • Goal #4: Write notes and letters more often.  I've made it through each week of this month having written at least one note or letter to someone somewhere in my life!
  • Goal #7: Craft more. I'm sitting nearly every evening with some sort of project on my lap -- usually just something simple, like a necklace made of ribbons and fake pearls, but it's still crafty.  And I have a few projects this week that I'd like to do (but they'll probably have to wait for Saturday).
  • Goal #8: Blog more.  Well that's sure happening!  I fell off the blogging bandwagon in a big way last year and I'm slowly making my way back.  It's still not one post a day, as I would like, but it's getting there.
  • Goal #9: Exercise more. The treadmill desk that Honey made is making this an easier goal.  I was doing some ab and arm exercises, too, and I've been a bit lazy these past ten days or so, so I need to get back into that habit, but all in all...hopefully I'm on the way to a summer dress body.
  • Goal #10: Spend less.  Is this a "remains to be seen"?  If we talk about spending on all but pet medical necessities, then I have succeeded for this month.  Of course pet medical necessities can blow a budget out of the water and I should make up for that by cutting back (cutting back what?!), and I haven't, so...
  • Goal #13:Take a class.  I am and I love it!  More on that later...maybe.
  • Goal #18:Figure out what I want to do for a career. I've got it!  And I'll share it with the world, but probably not until sometime in February...I've got to set a few things up first.

I've had a few derailments this month, not the least of which was Nicky's sudden illness.  He is still stable, which is a miracle, and we're playing a waiting game knowing that his body will probably not be able to stay much longer.  We're all thankful for the time we have, it's just that sometimes the time with furry babies is cut short.

I've also learned a few things about myself -- like I don't like doing 30-Day Challenges.  I'm going to blame it on my adult ADD because I just can't seem to stay focused enough to do something like that every single day, even if it's supposed to be fun (like photos).  The challenge makes it seem like work.  So I'm done with that.  (Please remind me I said this when I get the bright idea to do another challenge, which I probably will at some point this year.)

I'm ready for February.  Ready to get back on track.  Ready to learn more about myself and reach my goals. 2012, here it goes!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Menu Monday #5

Here we are at the start of another week...and that means another week's worth of recipes!  I originally planned the menu for this week last week (I tend to do two weeks at a time), but by the time today rolled around I decided that I didn't really feel in the mood for most of what I planned.  Back to the drawing board!  I think I have a better plan...and maybe I'll move my original ideas for this week to next.

January 29-February 4

  • Sunday -- Vegetarian Korma and Spinach Sabzi (I hope to create a blog post later this week about these recipes).
  • Monday -- Garlicky shrimp scampi
  • Tuesday -- BBQ portobello sliders (this looks delicious and I can hardly wait to try it!)
  • Wednesday -- Cheesy vegetable chowder
  • Thursday -- leftovers (Honey will be in another state on business for the day, and I do have such a hard time cooking for just myself!)
  • Friday -- Carne adovada in the crock pot! At least I have an idea...I have no idea if it will work.
  • Saturday -- Vegetarian posole and leftovers

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Slow and Steady

Nicky is still with us.  For now.  This week has been very long and I am nothing short of exhausted, but I am thankful to have the time with my Chunky Monkey, even though we don't know how much time that may be. (For background to this story, read this post.)
Nicky at home after the vet, 1/25/12

Yesterday morning, the vet called and said we were living on borrowed time. I could drive out there, pick him up and bring him home, but I should not expect more than a day or two or three at most. And of course there's that pesky question about whether or not we should help him on his way. It is, I believe, one of the hardest decisions one can make. Sometimes the pet is in obvious pain and misery; then, of course, the humane thing to do is to help.  But what if the pet is like Nicky -- or Hero before him -- and seems peaceful and pain-free, just quietly resigned to their fate? That is far more difficult.

I picked up The Teenager, who thankfully did not have school yesterday, and took him with me on the two-hour round trip to the vet. You see, he's grouchy and antagonistic and claims to "hate all humans" but has the largest heart for cats. All cats.  And Nicky is his favorite.  The car ride was more peaceful because The Teenager was with us.  He held Nicky, giving him love and affection the whole ride home, making a cat who normally comes unglued in the car fairly peaceful.  It was a blessing.
Nicky at home after the vet, 1/25/12

The Teenager had to return to a study group, so I stayed at home with Nicky for a few hours before our next long car-ride -- a 2.5 hour round trip to see a friend of mine who is an acupuncturist.  I knew that if there was a way to get Nicky's organs to open up, this friend would find it. She would also know if he was in pain or if he was calm and ready to leave.  She is amazing, a true emotional life-saver, and a blessing to the planet. I am not exaggerating!) During the session we discovered that he was calm, accepting of whatever was happening, and that his urethrea was blocked, causing his bladder and kidneys to shut down.  She showed me how to perform kitty massage in an attempt to encourage things to start working, knowing that it could be a long shot.  Nicky loved it.  Every time I give him a kitty massage (and it's been frequently in these past 24 hours!) he purrs and rolls on his back.

More than the help this friend gave Nicky was the help that she gave me.  She and another woman, the other member of our writing group, gave me comfort and love and an outlet for my sorrows so that by the time Nicky and I were back in the car I could sing to him without my voice cracking.  These women are angels here on earth.
Nicky sleeping, 1/25/12

Nicky's breathing was shallow as the evening progressed and I expected him to pass during the night, which is why I was awake for most of the night watching over him. Honey was worried that Nicky was in pain and thought I should make the call to the vet to bring an end to things.  As if in response, Nicky stood up, walked across the bed, curled at Honey's feet and started purring. To me that was an "I'm okay for now" sign.

In the morning, when I expected the worst, Nicky woke up, cleaned himself, purred a bit, jumped off the bed and headed downstairs to eat (only a bite or two) and potty (just a bit). It was a miracle!  I started dancing, but Honey reminded me not to get my hopes up too high.

Sure enough, like a television drama where a fever patient has a seeming break in symptoms before everything hits again, I observed a relapse.  Nicky is sleeping, for now, on the bed.  He enjoys kitty massage and being the center of Mommy's world right now.  He is peaceful and seems to be pain-free.  And for now, that is enough.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Living on Borrowed Time

The vet just called about Nicky. Like I said yesterday, I expected this call but that doesn't mean I'm prepared to handle it.  He's not expelling toxins, so we're living on borrowed time. I'm driving out now to bring him home and hope for a day, or two, or three. Whatever I can just. Just a bit more time before we have to face the inevitable.

I will take him to a friend today for acupuncture.  It's another long, three hour, car trip.  He won't be happy about it.  But perhaps it will help give him some relief and that would be a salve for my heart -- something that won't heal its brokenness, but will be a temporary comfort.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sometimes a Case of The Mondays Does Not End Well (A Tale of Cats and True Love)

I am a Crazy Cat Lady.  There. I said it.  It's true.  At least that's what some people think, I'm sure.  We have four cats -- Canvas (10), Bunny (3), and a sibling pair, Nicky and Nora (2) -- plus our dog, Lotus (7), and Paloma the Betta Fish (who knows?).
Nicky and Canvas
Nora and Lotus
Bunny the Parrot Cat
I love my furry babies.  And yes, I consider them my babies: I sleep lightly and listen for their cries, I feed them better than I feed myself, I take a million pictures of them because I think they're the world's most adorable babies.  I give them love and discipline and trips to the vet or chiropractor and keep a mental log of the funny things they say (yes, I have very verbal pets) and do and I'm always watching for signs of illness.  The latter stems from my paranoia over losing any of them.

When Hero, our older cat, died a little over two years ago, I was devastated.

Hero and Honey sometime during summer 2009

For a woman who doesn't always seem to be as prone to crying as television and movies would have one believe about the "fairer sex," I was a wreck -- sobbing and staying in a darkened room for the weekend.  Three things got me through that time: Bunny, Nicky, and Nora.

Hero was diagnosed with kidney failure in the beginning of 2009.  I knew that I would want to get another cat once she was gone, but I was (for the most part) content with waiting to find that new cat. Content, that is, until Megan, the wife of a former student, let me know that the emaciated stray cat she took in was actually pregnant. And then she gave birth to kittens. And two were manx.

The manx breed is my favorite, probably because of Hero.  Sometimes they're called dog-cats or man's-cats because they seem to be very pack-oriented. They are loving and verbal and generally smaller than most other cats.  Oh, and they have odd tails (or, in the case of Hero, no tail).  When I saw the two black manx kitties they were just three days old. How could I say no?  Honey agreed after a day or two, a bit hesitant about bringing in two kittens when we already had two cats, but they were manx and we knew we loved that personality.  We agreed to pick up the kittens when they were 12 weeks old (so they had plenty of time with Mom and Siblings to learn manners), I would drive them immediately to get spayed and vaccinated and then bring them home.  Hero would be tolerant, Canvas would hide (as usual), and the pain in my heart would be eased ever so slightly when Hero left.

Visiting the kitties when they were around five weeks old
The best laid plans...as they say.  The kittens started to get sick, probably something from their mother.  And Hero got worse and worse until one night I heard her call (like I said, I'm a light sleeper) and woke to find her struggling to move in the kitchen. I picked her up, held her, cried, and by the time dawn arrived she was gone. Sometimes I think that she knew it was time and that others needed me -- after all, I couldn't bring sick kittens into the house while I had a dying cat; I didn't want her immune system compromised. With the passing of Hero I contacted Megan, who said that the kittens were on a course of treatment from the vet. They were still young, just under ten weeks, and so I was content to have them wait and finish the treatment in the hopes that they would get better.

Meanwhile, on craigslist, I saw a post for a year-old cat from the animal shelter. She had been adopted and then returned, which is usually a death-sentence, but some employees wanted to give her another chance.  She had two weeks.  When I saw her face, I fell in love.  But we already had two kittens on the way!  Could I get Honey, the person who never had pets indoors until me, the person who said "One is enough" and then "Two is more than enough" and then "Two plus a dog is it" to agree to all these extras?  It was starting to sound a bit crazy even for me, but I blame my grief -- and the fact that Bunny's personality shone through her craigslist picture. Honey saw it immediately, too, and said "Well, if you meet her and she seems like she'd fit, then okay."  I called, met her, loved her, and took her home as soon as she received a clean bill of health from the shelter.  She was -- and is -- perfect.

As Bunny settled in, I waited for word on the kitties.  Unfortunately, the kittens were not getting better and Megan was becoming exhausted from caring for five sick kittens plus a cranky mommy cat and her own confused male cat who wondered what all the commotion was about in this tiny one-bedroom apartment.  I picked up Nicky and Nora (named after our favorite detectives -- because the kitties are black and white like the 1930s and 40s films) and took them straight to the vet.

We came away with medicine and a strict quarantine. I placed the kittens in the bathroom downstairs, made them warm and comfortable, and visited as often as I could for loves and to deliver medicine.  It was an exhausting process made even more so by the need to keep a routine as close to a hospital clean room as I could manage so that the illness didn't spread to the other pets.  Cover in smock. Enter room. Love pets. Leave room. Remove smock and place in washer. Scrub hands. Resume normal life. Repeat multiple times a day.

They just weren't getting better and after two weeks I was exhausted. I took them to the vet, who kept them over the weekend for treatment and monitoring. After two nights of rest, I was ready to tackle the issue again -- which was good because the vet said that there was no improvement, but the kittens seemed to be social.  Perhaps they just needed more love?

I knew the solution -- although I didn't tell the vet's office.

A kitty sling!  I could give them the love and attention they needed, go about my business, keep them away from the other pets (at least far away enough), and they would get better.

Sure enough, it worked. By the end of the week they were almost completely back to normal. Nicky always had a bit of a wonky eye (both almost lost their eyesight), but other than that they were fine.  They gained weight and pretty soon were up to 2.5 pounds, big enough to get them fixed.  Life was grand once again and the kittens fit into the household.

They played with Lotus.

And napped with Lotus.

Nicky even tried to nurse with Lotus.

They cuddled with Bunny, left Canvas alone, and every day I could walk into the kitchen and find a pile 'o kitties made even more adorable by the way they seemed to blend together.

As any other concerned and proactive parent would do, I researched vaccinations (deciding on minimal vaccines because they are indoor cats), found the best, holistic pet food, and gave them lots of play time and love.

We had one issue -- Nicky managed to knock Honey's stereo system off the desk (how??) and get tangled in the cords, which meant that he pulled his back legs out of the sockets trying to escape.  I took him to the chiropractor (she's amazing!) and within an hour he was fine.  Other than that, no issues.

Okay, they maybe, occasionally, stalk Canvas.
Nora is "my black fox."  She has fox-like features, she's fast and feisty.  She's also vocal.  And she wants to be the center of the world for everyone.  If I'm giving another pet attention, she'll push her way over to join.

If Bunny is on the couch, Nora snuggles up.

 If Lotus is sleeping, Nora will join her.

Nicky is my "chunky monkey." He's always been content to find a spot and sleep.  Sure, he's active if he finds a bug, hears a bird, or notices I've walked into the bathroom (he careens in and then flops over on the rug with a little "Pet my belly!" meow. Don't ask me why. But he does it. Every. Single. Time.).  Other than that, you can find him in a comfortable place, content to purr and give loves whenever someone joins him.  At night, he becomes very vocal. "Meow-row-row-row" he says, which I take to mean "Mom, where are you? Come get me!" I hop out of bed, find him in the bathroom (always), and put him on the pillow next to my head. In the morning when I wake up, he's still there, sleeping.

At the start of the new year, I decided that Nicky Chunky Monkey and Bunny-Bunny Fat Cat were taking after their parents a bit too much -- we could all use a bit of a slim down.  Everyone went on a bit more of a monitored food intake system and the results seemed to be positive for all concerned.  Bunny's still a bit of a fatty, but she's slimming, and Nicky seemed to slim down very quickly.

Too quickly, I realized several days ago.  As of January 13, I could pick him up, notice he didn't have much of a belly left, but not be too worried.  After all, Bunny gains/loses weight quickly, and Lotus has her weight fluctuate as much as three pounds in three days depending on her activity level and if anyone is indulging her with too many treats.

By January 18, Nicky was looking a bit too thin for my liking.  Then on January 19 our basement was flooded and I spent the next two days cleaning up that mess.  By Saturday, January 21, I picked up Nicky and panicked.  He was so bony!  What happened?

I called the vet (closed by this time) to see about getting an appointment first thing in the week.  And then I waited and watched, and watched and waited.

Sunday I knew that he wasn't eating.  That afternoon I realized he was sitting by his water dish but not drinking, much like Hero did in her final month.  I researched things online, praying it wasn't what I feared: CRF. Chronic Renal Failure.  Or, because of the seemingly sudden onset, Acute Renal Failure.  Highly unusual in a two year old cat!  But the symptoms fit, and , like I said, I'd seen this before.

Sunday evening Nicky seemed to perk up a bit.  He drank some water, tried to eat (although he was not successful), and moved around a bit.  I called the vet on Monday, not waiting for a return call from my panicked weekend message, and they were able to see me immediately.

It's a two-hour round trip to our vet, but it's worth it -- that's how good they are.  And I never worried here, like I did elsewhere, that they'll try to make up tests or expensive procedures.  They did a blood test, as I knew they would, and it came back as I feared: little or no kidney function.

I left Nicky there for fluids (to flush toxins) and observation.  It was the first time he was ever apart from Nora.  I tried to hold it together all day, but at night when I didn't hear his little voice I cried and cried and cried.

Today I waited.  The first news was good: after some fluids he seemed to perk up. He was sitting up, talking with everyone as they passed, and even ate a bit of food.  The latest news, however, was not good.  He still had not peed, even with several IVs of fluid, meaning that his body was holding all the toxins with no way to flush them out of his system because his kidneys were not working at all.

The vet is keeping him another night. They will try a medication to see about kick-starting his kidneys and then they'll give more fluids and once he is able to use the bathroom they will re-test the toxin levels in his blood.  If he is able to use the bathroom.  If not...well, that's the phone call I'm worried about.  And I expect to hear in the morning.

I expected my babies would be happy and healthy and full of life for at least 20 years.  After two years, it just feels like I've been cheated.  I haven't been able to focus and get much work done because all I really want to do is curl up and hide and hope that this is just a bad dream.  It would not be true to say that I can't imagine life without Nicky (or any of the others).  I can.  It's just that I don't want to.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Menu Monday #4

This is a rough day for me (I'll explain in another post), so I'll keep this Menu Monday short and to the point.

This week's menu is partially filled with freezer food meals -- leftovers from previous meals frozen to make life easier. The problem was that we would rarely eat the frozen leftovers because I was always cooking something new!  We've decided to fix that issue by making sure at least one week out of each month we consume mostly leftovers. At least there's a wide variety sitting in our deep freeze!

Menu, January 22-28

  • Sunday -- Mushroom stroganoff based on this recipe at Williams-Sonoma. I cut back on the butter, added 4oz of cream cheese, and used nonfat yogurt instead of sour cream.  It was a hit! This with a big salad sure hit the spot.
  • Monday -- Crock pot beef stroganoff based on this recipe. Normally I wouldn't have the same meal two nights in a row, but the wine I used on Sunday I assumed I could drink with dinner (the recipe only called for a cup). Wrong! It tasted like mushrooms and was a bit sharp -- the perfect flavor for stroganoff but horrible to drink. What to do so the bottle doesn't go to waste? More stroganoff! After all, we can freeze whatever we don't eat, right?
  • Tuesday -- freezer meal
  • Wednesday -- freezer meal
  • Thursday -- Chicken and green chile empanadas
  • Friday -- freezer meal or leftovers from Thursday
  • Saturday -- steak & fries
We normally don't eat much meat, poultry, or seafood.  With beef, in fact, we'd maybe eat it once a month. Maybe. This month I decided to look for a local farmer to see how much it would cost to buy direct, buy local, buy grass-fed beef -- so much healthier for us and the economy!  Well, imagine my excitement when I discovered a farm in Corvallis, Oregon, that is currently offering 25% off a 25lb box of beef.  Perfect!  We don't need much.  I wondered how much it would cost, total, since the cost varies based on cut of meat.  I spoke with Amanda, a woman who works there, who was so happy to help a former vegetarian figure out what to purchase and how to use it.  We're getting a mix of brisket, roast, fajita meat, steaks, and stew meat -- 25lb for under $90! How awesome is that?!?  I drive down to Salem to meet the farmer and pick it up on Friday.

If you live in the Willamette Valley and are interested in buying meat directly from a farmer, check out Bald Hill Farm!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Water, water everywhere...gives a good excuse for a deep cleaning!

Every few years we have enough rain or snow to experience severe flooding.  Not midwestern-my-house-floated-into-the-next-county flooding, but the type that washes out roads, downs large trees, and floods basements.  This year is such a year.  We got nearly five inches of rain in five days, and two of those inches landed today. In my basement. Yes.  And so for the second time since we bought this house (five years ago next month!), we spent a day fighting the rising tides, trying to reclaim our home.

I could be very upset. And, truth be told, I am a tiny bit cranky. My plans for several days are quashed, replaced by MEMA (Marie's Emergency Management Agency) and the massive clean-up required.  My whole body aches from hours of carrying five-gallon buckets full of water out of the house.  These things are true.  And yet I am determined to count my blessings.

  • Blessing #1: I don't have a job that makes me leave the house all day, so I was able to catch the flooding in time.
  • Blessing #2: A friend posted about the flooding around his work at noon today, prompting me to think "Oh, it's been an hour since I checked on the basement to make sure it wasn't flooding -- maybe I check again" at which point I noticed the entire basement was flooded with an inch of rapidly-rising water entering at both sides of the house.
  • Blessing #3: Honey has a job that allowed him to rush home to help. (He may be sitting and working now at 9PM to make up for it, but at least he was able to drop everything at noon!)
  • Blessing #4: Thin Man is my one reliable sibling in the area -- I can call, say "Emergency!" and know he'll be over to help.
  • Blessing #5: We had all the supplies on hand from the last time our area had severe flooding -- two sump pumps, a wet shop vac, mops, buckets, and the knowledge of how to solve the problem.
  • Blessing #6: It only took us five hours to get most of the water out. Fans are blowing, rugs are rolled up, and furniture is off the floor in an effort to get the last of the water dried out over night.
  • Blessing #7: This took place during the day.  Last time the basement flooded it was New Year's Day.  Just barely.  We were coming back from celebrating with friends and I decided to check the dryer, only to step into the basement and find myself standing in water. I was (of course) a little buzzed and very tired and just wanted to sleep but ended up spending the next eight hours bailing water. (Side note: That was the last time I ever stayed up until midnight for New Year's.)
  • Blessing #8: This forces a deep cleaning. I'm a fairly clean person -- I vacuum every day, mop every week, and tend to keep a tidy house.  This forces me into "spring cleaning," but that's okay -- I like a clean house and it will smell good by the end of the weekend.

Wow, that's a lot of blessings!  I guess this day wasn't so bad after all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


SOPA -- the Stop Online Piracy Act is a severe form of censorship. You can Google about it (enter the phrase "stop sopa") and learn a bit about it.  You can read a blog post from across the world even though this Act originated in our country, the United States.  A country where we are supposed to be free.  A country in which freedom of speech (aside from public endangerment, like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded building) is supposed to be protected and respected -- even when it allows for racist or bigoted speech or uncivil political discourse. Some say that this Act push the US towards China's system of censorship.

In support of this, I am going to avoid blogging on Wednesday, January 18, and have my own mini "shut down" just as sites like Wikipedia are doing.

Maybe one day will make a difference.

Or not.

But we never know until we try.

DIY Felted Dryer Balls

This post could also be entitled [dis]Proving Pinterest.  That is where I originally found the idea for felted dryer balls. (Confession: that's where I find most of my ideas these days. Seriously, I wouldn't be surprised if a Pinterest addiction gets its own name an description in DSM-5.)  The blogger wrote that the dryer balls would cut down on drying time and eliminate the need to buy dryer sheets.  "Dry clothes faster? AND help the environment by eliminating waste? Sign me up!" I thought.  I ran right out and bought a skein of yarn in order to try this myself and share the results with you.


  • 1 skein of 100% wool -- yes, it must be 100% because you are going to felt it. (I used a 40% off coupon at Michael's to get an 8oz skein, which made four balls, for $7. This was a time I wish I was an avid knitter so I could just use scraps and be more economical!)
  • Old socks or pantyhose from the rag bin
  • Washer/dryer
  • Patience

Step One: Tightly roll yarn into a ball.  Remember that the yarn will shrink during felting, so make the ball a bit bigger than your desired end result.  I wanted dryer balls the size of tennis balls, so I rolled mine a bit bigger than the palm of my hand.

Step Two: Place each ball in an old sock and knot the sock so that the ball stays in place.  If you have old pantyhose you can fit multiple balls, as seen in the original blog posting about this idea.
I knew there was a reason I kept old, ratty, discolored socks in the rag bin!
Step Three: Wash the balls on hot and dry them on a cotton setting.  (I threw a small load of towels in, too, so as not to waste a cycle.)  As anyone who has ever accidentally shrunk a wool sweater knows, the only time you do this to wool is when you want it to shrink and become felt!

Step Four: Repeat wash cycle until the balls reach the desired felt level.  Mine took two cycles.

Step Five: Use in the dryer in place of dryer sheets!  If you want them to smell pretty, add 2-3 drops of essential oil to the balls.  I did this, but the scent only lasted for a few loads. However, even without the scent the laundry smelled fine -- no icky wet wool smell at all (which was one of my worries).

So, did they work??

Sadly, like most things that sound too good to be true, the claims here were a bit exaggerated.  I did not get to reduce my drying time.  However, my clothes were static-free.  That, to me, is a a win.  Even if I can't improve the performance of my horribly inefficient dryer, I can at least stop throwing a dryer sheet away every time I run a load of laundry. I'm sure Mother Earth is thankful for that, and it makes me feel like I've improved the Green status of our household, if only by a bit.
End note: Do you have an obsession with Pinterest?  Maybe we can join forces!  Click here to see my boards and start following me and then leave me a note so I can return the favor.

Snow day?

I love snow.  But like any true Pacific Northwester, I like snow in small doses -- enough to cause a snow day or two, but not enough to completely shut down life as we know it for weeks on end.  Unlike other places that get snow consistently, our transportation system is not equipped to deal with massive amounts of snow and so we are ridiculed by other, harsher climates for our immediate inclination to shut down and hide indoors.

I like it. Waking to a winter wonderland means working from home, baking, crafting, breathing a bit easier because it's a "free day."  A fun day.

Perhaps my feelings are merely hangers-on from when I was a teacher and just wanted a break from 14- or 15-hour days. Certainly I have more flexibility now, and there is no reason why I should feel more crafty when I see the snow (even though I do) or why food should taste better on a snow day (even though it does).  But my experience as a teacher also means that I cannot quite wish for snow days the way that I used to.  You see, when I see the snow my first inclination is to be ecstatic and wish for more...and my second is to think about all the children who go to school because it's warmer or safer than home and it's a place to get a meal.  What will those children do?  And a snow day means that people who work an hourly, minimum-wage job, like my sister, may not get the hours (and wages) they need to be able to pay bills and to eat.  What will those people do?

I can wish with all my might that this country would provide better safety nets, allowing these children and adults to live with fewer difficulties and allowing me to live with less guilt about my snow dance, but all the wishing in the world does not change the way things are right now.  And so my Guilt Monster rears its ugly head, a product of my upbringing that included a triptych of guilt, Jewish, Christian fundamentalist, and Lutheran varieties all playing games to see who wins my liberal bleeding heart this time.  I resign and stop my snow dance, my snow song, and my endless snow-wishing.

And so, Universe, you can snow if you want to.  It's pretty.  We like it.  Many kids are dancing and teachers praying for just such a midwinter's miracle.  Just please...keep it reasonable.  And keep everyone safe.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Menu Monday #3

I have to admit that I am loving Menu Mondays.  I get everything planned out ahead of time for a varied dinner menu and then all I have to do is look at the whiteboard on my fridge to figure out what I'm making?  Perfect!  We tend to make meals every evening anyway, but without some prior planning there have been nights where I just wanted something quick, like BLTs or gardenburgers, which of course need fries, which means...not the healthiest meal.  Planning meals ahead of time has helped me overcome some of that dilemma.

I usually have two weeks planned at once with a general idea of what to do for the rest of the month. (This has also helped with my Pinterest obsession -- now I'm actually using all the yummy-looking recipes that I pin!)  But what do we do with leftovers?  Generally I make something on Sunday or Monday evening that Honey and I can then eat for lunches the rest of the week.  Any other leftovers go in the freezer.  Now in the past the freezer has accumulated food and never again does it see the light of day.  Not anymore!  Once a month will be freezer-eating week, where we'll defrost the meals from the past.  I like this plan!

Menu Monday, January 15-21
Sunday -- Hearty lentils, aka "Vegetarian Sloppy Joes" (The recipe was good, but I added some spices and the lentils took seven hours to cook instead of five. Also, I have no idea what "real" Sloppy Joes taste like, so I can't compare this to the real thing, but it was good with a salad as a dinner option.)
Monday -- Creamy crock pot tomato basil soup and a salad
Tuesday -- Curried chickpea (garbanzo bean) and quinoa tacos (This recipe is from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen. I'm not a huge fan of vegan anything, but I've tried two recipes from this woman and both turned out surprisingly well, so I'm looking forward to trying another.)
Wednesday -- I'm still debating which recipe to use, since I have three that vary slightly, but I know the meal will be Thai curry coconut soup. It will not, however, contain chicken, because Honey and I prefer to eat meat/poultry only once or twice a week.
Thursday -- Baked chicken and roasted red pepper taquitos and a salad.
Friday -- Green garlic risotto and broiled lemon-garlic shrimp (I love shrimp but I've only cooked it once or twice, so this will be a fairly new experience for me. Friday evenings tend to be our nights to indulge a bit and I'm really looking forward to trying both of these recipes!)
Saturday -- leftovers

There are two other recipes that I planned for this week, both desserts, both vegan (or are if you have certifiably vegan ingredients, which I don't care about).  I know, I know, it sounds miserably unappetizing.  But there are a few vegans who actually enjoy food and I am counting on them to provide recipes that appeal to food lovers in general.

Guilt-free chocolate chip cookie dough -- I actually made this yesterday and it was amazing.  Seriously.  I nearly consumed the entire batch myself!  It's made with chickpeas, which sounds weird, but it was incredibly good.  I followed the recipe (used 1/3 c. brown sugar as the "sweetener") and used peanut butter, so it tasted a bit like chocolate chip peanut butter cookie dough, which made it perfect for serving with bananas as a dessert.  YUM.

"Not Guilty" chocolate chip cookies -- This recipe is from the same blog as the amazing cookie dough, so I have high hopes.  I think I'll try this today!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Treadmill Desk

For my birthday last year, Honey gave me the practical gift that I wanted: a treadmill.  We had one years ago and it broke, and I've missed it ever since (although Honey did turn it into a wonderful addition to the homemade crusher/destemmer for the wine process, so it wasn't a total loss -- you can catch a glimpse of the cannibalized pieces in a video at the end of this post).  We live in the Pacific Northwest, so it's not always possible to go for long walks outside.  I love the treadmill and have used it nearly every day since it arrived.

Honey loves the treadmill, too, but was frustrated over the amount of time "wasted" by speed walking when there was real, computer-based work to do. And while I enjoy using my treadmill time as the part of the day when I get to watch tv or movies that may only appeal to one person in this household, the plain fact of the matter is that I, too, would love to multi-task.

The first time I heard about treadmill desks was several years ago on some NPR program.  I heard about them again in the past year, some workplace that provided desks so that their employees could stand and work while walking about 1mph.  Those of you who walk know that this is very slow.  Almost painfully slow, in my opinion, but I often hear complaints that I walk too quickly. Nevertheless, the idea, although not the picture (hazards of getting news from the radio) was implanted in my brain.  Honey liked the idea.  And Honey is a genius who can figure out how to build anything.  Seriously.

I give you: The Treadmill Desk!

It may look rough, but it's oh-so-useful!  And simple -- anyone with some wood scraps, ties (we used small bungees), a saw and a few screws can make this desk.  It's easily removable for the times that you want to just run and not work.

1x3 (or 1x4) -- about 4' cut into four, 1' pieces (these were scraps we had from one of many projects)
1x12 -- about 2' long (this was left over from a bookshelf project)
2 ties (we used bungees)
8 wood screws

Measure your treadmill handrails, cut a half-circle into the 1x3 pieces, then attach to the 1x12 (two screws per desk "leg").

Drill two holes into the top of the desk and weave the ties through, attaching to the front rail (keeps things steady).

See it in action!

Honey discovered -- and I confirmed -- that it's possible to go up to 3mph with an incline of 6 and still work at a decent pace.  Got an hour's worth of e-mails to return? No problem -- that's three miles of exercise right there!  It may not be cardio, but the movement is a vast improvement over sitting, right?

I'm using this right now as I write this blog post!  My Honey has convinced me yet again that he can build anything.  Thanks, Honey!

Video: Crushing & Destemming Grapes, 2011 (warning, this is loud!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Photo Challenge Day 10: A Childhood Memory

When assigned a task that involves memories as a teenager or child, it's hard for me to think of something suitable.  I don't always remember things before I was about 20, and there are plenty of reasons for that.  There are, however, some things that were constant enough in childhood that memories of their presence (if not memories of specific instances) are clear.  And so when given the task of photographing a "childhood memory," there was one item that stood out to me.  I knew what I needed to photograph.
My blanket.

When I was born, my great-grandmother made this blanket for me.  As I got older, I realized that she made a number of similar blankets for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren until we either grew too numerous or she grew too tired.  My sister has a blanket, also made by Great-Grandma, but it is different: pinks and squares much smaller, not a long, perfect nap sized blanket of children around the world.

I love this blanket.  When I went away to college, this blanket came with me.  It, along with another blanket my mother gave me for college, have followed me everywhere.  They are old and tattered, but well-loved.  The people in this blanket are missing pieces of hats or jumpers, but the seams are still solid, a miracle after so many decades.

Perhaps this blanket is one of the reasons I quilt for new babies.  I want them to know that someone loved them -- or even the idea of them -- so much that the love was poured into something timeless, something they can keep forever.  And after all, everyone needs a nap blanket.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A busy day of recipes -- Buffalo Wing-style Hummus

Today was very busy, but part of that (ahem! all of it) was my fault.  I had plenty on the to-do list, but I also got sucked into Pinterest during my meal planning and ended up finding multiple recipes that I wanted to try today.  (Did I mention that I'm still working on learning the virtue of patience?)  Thankfully, all my hard work was rewarded when all four new recipes that I tried today actually turned out...even when I modified them a bit.  (Honey is always telling me I should think about trying recipes the way they are written first, but that just seems a tad boring.)  Even more impressive, two were vegan recipes and they actually weren't horrible.  (Side note: I have learned to make many special diet dishes for extended family and friends, but that doesn't mean that I always like it.  And I still have no idea how someone could be a vegan, but that's my own issue...and you'll probably see, eventually, that I have plenty of food issues.)  So, what were these recipes?

  1. Green Monster Spinach Smoothie -- my new favorite way to eat spinach, courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats
  2. Coconut vegan cookies -- a bit cakey (because they're vegan), but full of flavor and low in fat from FatFree Vegan Kitchen.
  3. Skinny figgy bars -- I thought they tasted like fig newtons, Honey thought they tasted like a fig crisp, but we both liked the results, so it's another winner from FatFree Vegan Kitchen.
I also made a hummus dip, a modification of Badger Girl Learns to Cook's Buffalo Wing Hummus.  The picture I took of the results will also serve as my photo challenge picture for the day, because while it is not a picture of "someone I love," it is a picture of what I do to make my Honey happy, which is almost the same thing. (Right?)
You can find the original recipe at the link (above), but I'll post what I did here.  It was a big hit in this house and I'm sure I'll be making a lot of this to go with our afternoon celery stick snack.

Buffalo Wing-Style Hummus

  • 1 can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas) -- do not drain!
  • 2 Tbsp crunchy peanut butter
  • 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice (I used Real Lemon)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 Tbsp BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray's original because it's the best -- trust me)
  • 2 Tbsp buffalo wing sauce (with a vinegar base)
  • 2 Tbsp Sirracha
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed powder 
  • Salt, to taste (you could also just use celery salt instead of two separate ingredients)

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

It is so good!  A bit tangy and spicy with a good texture and a perfect compliment to celery or carrot sticks.

This recipe made about a pint.

Menu Monday #2

I must admit that last week I was skeptical when I posted a dinner menu for the week.  Plan all the dinners for a whole week?  Who does that?!  ("Plenty of people. They're a more organized than you." Thanks, Guilt Monster. You may leave now. I'm perfectly capable of guilting myself.)  The idea was challenging, at least for me.  I love to cook and feed my family and those around me -- good food shows love, right? -- but the thought of planning more than 24 hours in advance was not something I wanted to contemplate.  It brought to mind the women from my youth and the times we spent doing the once-a-month cooking for families of 10 or 11.  Let me tell you, when you're trying to cook and freeze enough food for a family that size and do it all at once, it takes at least two full days and a million little helper hands.  Not my fondest childhood memories.  I did not want to turn into that.  Moreover, Honey doesn't really like talking about food that far in advance, so it means if I want to plan meals I am on my own.  Could I be trusted to plan a week-long menu of food that was yummy, simple, and pleasing to all members of the family?  Last week was the first test and I believe it was successful!  The menu changed just slightly from what I posted last week, but that's to be expected.  Here's what we ate:

Sunday (1/01) -- Crock pot French onion soup + salad
Monday -- squash gratin + salad
Tuesday -- Baked potato soup (using previously cooked red potatoes & the leftover French onion soup) + salad
Wednesday -- Chicken burgers
Thursday -- Curried squash soup + salad
Friday -- curried squash soup, spinach sabzi, crock pot butter chicken, dahl, cilantro-lime rice, naan, and Nutella cheesecake (My brother, Thin Man, came over for dinner and brought a friend who is visiting from out of state, hence the elaborate meal.)
Saturday -- Crock pot chicken and dumplings

There are at least two things you might notice: we only eat meat (or poultry) a few times a week and I love my crock pot.  (If you love yours, you might want to check out the blog 365 Days of Slow Cooking, something I found this weekend and am anxious to try.)

Menu, January 8-14
Sunday -- crock pot chipotle black bean soup + salad
Monday -- black beans and rice + salad
Tuesday -- Taco salad
Wednesday -- Tortilla soup + salad
Thursday -- Jambalaya + salad
Friday -- Fresh pasta with chicken jalepeno cheddar "casserole" (we just bought a pasta machine -- finally!) + salad
Saturday -- Curried chickpea and quinoa tacos

As you can probably tell from both menus, we eat a lot of salad.  Our salads are mainly spinach with bell peppers and mushrooms -- easy to throw together to compliment whatever the main meal is supposed to be.  We buy large bags of spinach at Costco because that seems to be the best deal -- under $5 for 2.5 pounds of spinach (which is a LOT), and we eat about that much every week.

So that's the main menu.  But what are we going to try for snacks?  Honey eats a lot of celery, so I recently bought some jalepeno Greek yogurt dip from Costco to go with the celery (delicious, low in fat and calories, high in protein), but then I saw this recipe for Buffalo Wing Hummus.  Yep. Definitely trying that this week! And for me I want to try the Green Monster Spinach Smoothie.  (As if we didn't already eat enough spinach! Just call me Popeye.)

Anyone have good suggestions for next week's menu?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Photo Challenge Day 6-7-8: A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

I think that I have a love-hate relationship with this photo challenge.  I want to learn how to really use this fancy camera, but trying to prioritize the lessons and tasks is a bit difficult.  My problem is that I always bite off more than I can chew.  Always. I've been trying to work on this recently (as in, since the beginning of last year, when Honey pointed out I was in a vicious circle -- I planned to-do lists that were way too long and then would get upset with myself for not being able to finish everything on the list).  I've also been trying to add more tasks and scheduling to my day.  Don't ask me how these things are all supposed to work together because I don't know yet -- it's just been one week.  What I do know is that I haven't always made it to the day's photo lesson and challenge, which is why I am merging three days into one.

The photo lessons were about aperture (again), depth of field (i.e., what's in focus) and "the exposure triangle" (a bit too much math is involved in this for my little non-math-y brain), and the photo challenge for the three days was a picture of fruit, something from a low angle, and a bad habit.  So, how can I merge these concepts?

A bad habit...from a low angle

My top shelf of the food "pantry" (also known as the place in the laundry room where we store food above the wine) always contains these wonderful crackers.  Oh fishy crackers, how I love you!  Of course they are not really a good habit, especially when one is trying to lose a bit of weight.  Thankfully, Costco now carries fishy crackers with individual serving packets, so Honey and I can split one, I get my salty, cheesy goodness fix, and I don't feel too guilty.

A low angle, f/20 (high f-stop)
 All the leaves are visible and there is great detail -- so I've figured out that "more 'f' means more focus." Good to know.

A low angle, f/4
 Soon it will be spring and I will probably spend many evenings outside taking pictures of flowers, blurring the background so that no one can see the rest of the messy yard.

Fruit...from a low angle

Fruit...higher f-stop (more in focus)

Fruit, lower f-stop
This month I learned a new word, bokeh, which basically means that one thing is in focus and the rest of the picture is a bit blurry.  I like the results.  I have no idea how to pronounce the word.

I am not the only one having fun with the camera.  Honey recently discovered that he can take the tripod from his cheap telescope and use it with the camera, which allows him to take pictures at night.  This was a bit of last night's sunset.

Friday, January 6, 2012

An unofficial photography lesson

Today was a good day, a busy day, and a day in which I did not get to the next photography lesson.  In the grand scheme of things I suppose that doesn't matter. Perhaps.

Normally the first Friday of the month would be First Friday Family Dinner.  It's a tradition that I've held at my house for a while.  All the family and very close friends -- adopted family -- are invited over and I make enough food to feed an army.  It's a tradition that I enjoyed, since feeding people is a way that I demonstrate love, but something that's become more of a chore the more I realize how many @$$----s are in my family.  Around the holidays I decided I didn't want to support bringing so much needless crazy into my life (especially because, truth be told, I really resent it when people start to expect me to do certain things for them and then try to take advantage of that).  I canceled Family Dinner this month...and perhaps for the rest of the year.  My own mental health may need it.

My brother, Thin Man, has a friend visiting this week.  It's an old Marine Corps buddy.  Now that they are out of the Corps, they are both in college, moving toward whatever their next steps may be.  This buddy is actually a very distant relative (surprise!), and so, in a way, we are having First Friday Family Dinner, just with family I enjoy more than some of the crazies.  After having a really nice dinner, I am seriously considering revamping Family Dinner to just be people I enjoy.  (For example, we have some dear friends who have four children -- their family is lovely and we thoroughly enjoy having them over more than once a month. We can still have Family Dinner with them.)

Since Thin Man's friend (and relation) is here visiting for the weekend, I thought I would take a picture of the boys and their after dinner cigars & whiskey (or bourbon or scotch, depending on preference).  That is when I learned something new with the camera.

The guys were all outside, of course.  Not wanting to use my brain to think of the best camera setting, I put it on fully automatic, night portrait.  This is what I got.
Not good!

So I put the camera into TV mode (shutter priority) and set the shutter to 1/40, with flash.  Here's the result:
Still far from the greatest night portrait in the world (you don't have to tell me -- I know), but so much better!  So that confirms that manual modes are better and allow for more flexibility and creativity.  Now I just need to figure out how to use it properly.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Photo Challenge Day 5 -- Something green, from a high angle

Having missed the photo challenge yesterday, I decided to combine the two days.  It was such lovely weather for photos, too -- the air felt more like early spring than January.  Did we skip winter again?  (I hope not!) The clouds today were much better than on day three of the photo challenge ("Take a picture of clouds").  In fact, as I was driving out to the country and back I wished I brought my camera ("Lesson one: always take the photo" -- remembering to bring the camera helps here).  The day was stormy and sunny and a bit rainbow-y.

The photo lesson for yesterday was about ISO, something on a camera that has to do with light and speed, and today's lesson was on aperture.  I am still learning but at least things are starting to make sense.  I always wanted to be able to focus on something like a flower and have the background blur -- now I can do that!

Lesson 4, Picture 1 -- ISO 800, shutter speed 1/60 (I think).

Lesson 4, Picture 2 -- ISO 400, shutter speed 1/10 (I think)

I am going to have to learn a bit more about ISO to see the point and understand how to use it.  The lesson on aperture was much easier -- the higher the number (also called f-stop, which can be written as f/5 or f/20 or whatever number you're using), the smaller the aperture and the larger the depth of field (i.e., more things are in focus).

Picture 1 -- f/5 -- see how only the flower is really in focus?  I always wanted to know how to do that!

Picture 2 -- f/10, more of the leaves are in focus, or at least heading in that direction.

Picture 3 -- f/20, still more is in focus and you can see that this is still winter and there are dead leaves everywhere.

Picture 4 -- f/29, aka "Ack, my yard's a mess!"

I think I will like using this feature!  Perhaps it's good that the weather is already getting better. Come on, spring!
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