Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Year in Review

This year had a lot of big events, with some mundane things thrown in. Here are some of my personal favourite posts from 2013. (Blogger and Google Analytics stats are kind of screwed up. For example, "August 2010" is one of the top pages for 2013. Clearly there are bots cruising my blog.)


Dear adverb, I miss you terribly, wherein I let loose my grammatical curmudgeon, with a side of wit.


Broken-hearthed, in which I lament that never-ending construction on our fireplace. (It was done, but then it cracked.)


In Sweet Update, I shared that my diabetes control was going very well, with the help of Victoza and a new app that works on my iPad.


Things started getting busy in April. I dropped my iPad on my foot, which resulted in surprising misery. I also celebrated my mother's 85th birthday, and geared up for Steve's and my trip to Ireland (tip: it included bribes for our kids).


May was crazy! Beginning with our long-awaited trip to Ireland, then two weddings (Steve's nephew's, and my dear friend K.B.'s)

May was a crazily big month!


Most of my posts in June are actually about our trip to Ireland, but I did share the rather humiliating day when my brain stopped functioning and I drove too close to a solid object.


The most memorable event this July was the arrival of Scooter to our family.


August brought the birth of my first real foray into fiction with Methuselah, a piece of speculative fiction which may one day be a novel. Or not. It may just be a really long, multi-instalment short story.


In September, I rejoiced in the continuing bounty of our flower garden.


The highlight of October was our trip to Kingston to join Her Royal Majesty Princess Anne, the Princess Royal for dinner.


In November, I shared that I had decided to quit my job. After months of progressively worse health and some disturbing blood lab results, I came to the conclusion that I could not keep up the pace at work and allow myself to get better. It was a tough decision.


I finished working in early December and had the luxury of being able to make some of my Christmas presents.

But I also shared that our sweet dog, Scooter, was terminally ill with cancer. Scooter left us on Sunday, December 22.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Handmade Christmas: Caramel Popcorn Mix

I was a little frightened of this recipe, which called for me to make my own caramel - something I had never done before. Turns out, it's easy-peasy, and the results are delicious!

This recipe is adapted from YumSugar.com.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Handmade Christmas: the Easiest (and Healthiest) Gift

Go-goji Trail Mix, from Bulk Barn
After I added up the cost of making the Santa Hat Party Mix, and the cost of throwing out an entire pound of almonds, I decided that it might be wiser for me to just BUY the danged gifts.

So that's what I (sort of) did. I bought so Go-goji trail mix.

Steve snacks on granola and trail mixes by the mugful, so these were a special treat for him. This particular mix is a far cry from the good ol' raisins and peanuts (GORP) that we all grew up with, without adding candy to fancy it up.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


I do love babies, but I am no saint.
If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we're all okay,
And not to worry 'cause worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these.

- Jewel, "Hands"

Dear mothers,

It is high time you cut yourselves some slack. The world is full of judgment and criticism, and it's easy to feel like you aren't doing enough. Not volunteering at the kids' schools enough, not breastfeeding long enough, not making home-baked cookies often enough. The list goes on and on and on.

Sometimes it may get so bad that you worry you don't feel enough. Or don't feel the right things. You may feel exhausted instead of giving, angry instead of forgiving. You may even feel that you don't like your child very much. You will always love her ("Need a chunk of liver? A kidney? A lung? Open me up, baby, because there's an organ with your name on it RIGHT HERE!") but, right now, you'd rather not be around her.

Worse, you may start to feel that you aren't being enough. Not patient enough, not generous enough, not disciplined or "consistent" enough.

I want you to make this little phrase your mantra. Say it so you know it.

I am doing the best I can.

Because you are. The fact that you are reading this, that you care, that you sometimes worry about whether you are doing or feeling or just being enough -- that fact means that your heart is in the right place. And that makes all the difference.
People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.

~ Maya Angelou
Sometimes our best isn't all that great. (Every mother has shameful secrets that she will never share except with her closest inner circle. Every single mother.) You are allowed to screw up, to learn, and to forgive yourself so you can do better next time. Remember to tell yourself:

I am doing the best I can.

When your kids hit their teens they will be very free and loose with the criticism. They will continue to love you and to need you, but they will remember every mistake you've made (and the new ones you discover), and they will seem to rejoice in pointing them out to you. It's a normal but painful stage when they move from respect (and maybe a little awe) to judgment.

The best thing you can do is acknowledge: I might do some things differently if I had a do-over but, all things considered,

I did the best I could.

You don't need to argue the rightness or wrongness of your choices or reactions. You don't need to pick sides or lay blame. That will get you nowhere. This simple statement:

I am doing the best I can.

This statement tells everyone -- your mother-in-law, or the supermom down the street, or the expert behind the desk -- that you are doing everything in your power to do the right thing. With the resources available to you, with everything else going on around you, you are doing the best you can.

And, more importantly, it tells your kids that it's okay to be human, to make mistakes and learn from them. It's not just okay to forgive yourself, it is a necessity. This is a message that many teens miss as they try to leap into adulthood fully formed.

We are all doing the best we can.

Practice saying it to yourself out loud. Because it's true: you are doing the best you can. As am I. Keep saying it.

Handmade Christmas: Sugar & Spice Pecans

Unlike my disastrous experience with Crockpot Almonds, this recipe is tried and true. I've made these spiced pecans at least half a dozen times.They are tasty, crunchy, won't damage your dental work, and they don't take five hours.

Here's the not-so-secret recipe, which I found on Pinterest. As the original blogger suggests, I use these on my strawberry-spinach salad. I have to stop my kids from eating the entire jar of nuts while my back is turned, so I figured it would be a well received gift. ("Really, Mom? I can eat them all myself?")

Friday, December 27, 2013

Handmade Christmas: "Santa Hat" Party Mix

Christmas 2012
One of the nice things about handmade gifts is that you can tailor them to the recipient. In our case, our daughters both have gluten and dairy sensitivities, which makes a lot of snack foods off limits.

When I saw this adorable recipe with Santa hats, I decided to give it a shot, especially for Katie who has always had a love of Santa hats.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Goodbye, Scooter

I realized that, although I've told my family and friends, I did not share here that our dog Scooter's struggle with cancer ended rather abruptly on Sunday, December 22.

As I shared before, Scooter was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, called hemangiosarcoma. Although we could have spent thousands of dollars and put her through abdominal surgery, there was no assurance that she would recover. (At one point the vet said that if he opened her up and found the cancer on both her liver and spleen, he would recommend not waking her up.)

On Saturday, December 21, I gave Scooter the toys that her "aunt" Lori had sent her for Christmas. When Lori learned that Scooter was sick, she asked us to give Scoot the toys immediately, rather than wait. So I did.

That is a happy dog.

It was always a major achievement to remove the stuffing.
She enjoyed those toys for the rest of Saturday. On Sunday morning, December 22, I came down to see this.

Something had changed overnight. Steve was down before me and saw that Scooter had pooped on the carpet and was hiding in the sunroom (which was much colder than the living room). She held herself stiffly and shivered.

Steve cleaned up her mess, then brought her back into the living room, covered her with a blanket and lit a fire. When I came down, she seemed to be in pain, so I tried to feed her a pain pill; she refused it.

She tried to stand, but was wobbly on her legs. She was breathing loudly. Her gums were pale. A few minutes later, she suddenly stood up and vomited a virtually undigested meal (including the last pill we had given her the night before), then she flopped down right next to it.

I cleaned it up and covered her with the blankie again. I didn't try to move her.

Murphy's Law colluded to make the morning even more stressful: Steve had taken the small car to church (where I couldn't reach him) and it had snowed heavily overnight, blocking the van in the driveway. It was also a Sunday and our regular vet was closed.

But with help from my sons, I got the van free, turned the blanket into a stretcher and got her loaded up. A short drive later, we were at the emergency animal hospital and I explained what was going on.

They took Scooter immediately and inserted a catheter into her vein. They showed me to a room with a big, comfy couch and brought Scooter to me.

The vet explained that Scooter's abdomen was distended, probably filled with blood from a leaking spleen. She was in pain.

After injecting a mild anesthetic (to reduce Scooter's anxiety), the vet slowly injected the overdose of anesthesia. She stopped breathing. The vet told me I had made the right decision, then she told me to knock on the door when I was ready, and she left us alone so I could hold her and do the ugly cry in privacy.

I held her and cried for a while. I didn't want to let her go, but then I touched her ear and it was cold, and I thought: she's not here.

So I called in the vet and did the necessary paperwork. I opted to have Scooter cremated and to receive her ashes so that we could have some kind of memorial when Pat and Ross are back next summer. Most of the members of her first family had not been able to say goodbye to her, so I felt it was important to give them an opportunity for closure.

Grief is unique for each one of us, and it is helpful to remember that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to experience loss. I find that each new grief brings echoes of all the others I have loved and lost. There is a sort of recognition to the feeling now: ah, yes. Grief again.

Many people are reluctant to adopt a new pet again, at least in the short term. For me, however, I think I want a new dog sooner rather than later. Scooter really opened my eyes to the experience of being a dog owner -- it is a surprising and wonderful thing.

I still have Elly, of course -- and she is a wonderful cat. (I'm totally gaga over her!)
Phew! That was a hard nap!
But it's no secret that, no matter how much you think your cat loves you, dogs are the ones who really show attachment. It's an entirely different relationship as shown in this experiment.

So after the dust has settled from the Christmas-New Year's frenzy, I'll be scanning shelters and pet rescue websites for a new member for our family.

Handmade Christmas: Hot Chocolate

Baby, it's cold outside! Why not come sit by the fire and drink some chocolatey yumminess?
Having recently discovered the joy of real hot chocolate, I thought it would be good to give some of the men in my family a home-made, real, hot chocolate kit. You can buy this kind of package in any grocery store or gift boutique these days.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Handmade Christmas: Facial Mush

Feeling pretty confident after my foray into Pinterest-inspired gift-making, after successfully making a lemon body scrub, I decided to keep steaming along and make the moisturizing oatmeal facial mask, which I am calling facial mush.

In our household, cooked oatmeal is always called "mush" because of the book, Goodnight Moon, which makes reference to "a comb and a brush and a bowlful of mush and a little old lady whispering 'hush.'" The revised name turned out to be quite appropriate as you will see.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Handmade Christmas: Lemon Body Scrub

Earlier this month I told you that I was planning on making a number of our Christmas gifts this year. Now that some of those gifts have been given, I can share the stories.

I always start with a clean kitchen, so I've got room to manoeuvre, and I prefer to have a sink full of hot, soapy water, so I can clean and reuse utensils as I go. In this case, I also had a number of brand-new containers to clean, so this is how I began.

And more containers . . .

Finally, I was ready for the fun part!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Handmade Christmas: Fizzy Bath Bombs -- UPDATED

I can tell you that after handling the powder, my hands felt silky.

Many recipes include how much prep time and how much cooking time are required. Very few give a "patience" rating. In this case, the patience factor led to an almost fail. It's the one ingredient I couldn't pick up at Bulk Barn.

The Bath Fizzies recipe on Martha Stewart looked so charming and simple, I had to try it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

One Sick Puppy

Scooter. This picture was taken in her former home, with my sister Pat and her husband Ross.
This dog. Oh, my, how this dog just melts your heart. It's amazing how quickly you can fall in love with an animal.

She is shy, hiding behind our legs, like a toddler behind Mommy's skirts, when other dogs or people approach her at the off-leash dog park, rarely ever sniffing another dog's butt (though she tolerates having her own sniffed). I'm glad of that introversion, actually, because I'm not too keen on talking with the other dog-walkers. (They're STRANGERS!) I just explain that she's shy, and we move along.

She is (mostly) quiet. She only barks when someone is already in the house and someone else comes to the door or walks in. If I come home and no one is there, she doesn't bark.

She does growl and bark at the cat and, unfortunately, at Kyle's toddler daughter. The cat has made herself comfortable upstairs.

Kyle's daughter rarely visits, and we supervise her time with Scooter very closely, ensuring that Scooter never feels trapped. I make a point of telling those who approach that she is shy and tell them that she is really not good with children. It makes me a little sad that she can't receive the love that I know these youngsters would love to show her, but it scares her, so I respect that and protect her and the children.

She loves her comfy bed but even more than that, she loves us. She will tuck herself between the chair and the footstool just to be close to Steve or, if he's not around, me. (She doesn't come up on the furniture since we bought her her own comfy bed.)
Her favourite place
Her favourite thing to do is to rip a toy to shreds, preferably as a cooperative game with one of the humans in the house. She adores squeakers and will actually eat the stuffing from stuffed animals (so we prefer toys with no stuffing). She has broken several teeth with her tearing activity. Some of those teeth have had to be removed.

Scooter disembowelling an early Christmas present from her Aunt Lori.
Actually, I'll amend that: I think her favourite thing would be to capture a squirrel. Fortunately for us, her vision is weak, so if the squirrels aren't moving, we can walk past them with no bad behaviour on Scooter's part.

As with many purebreds, especially those of a certain age, she has bad hips. She is 13 years old, which, in dog years, makes her 68 years old. She's a senior citizen. (I use her discount card for cheap bus fare. Heh heh.)

Recently, she's had a spate of ill health.

It started with a few days where she just lacked energy. She seemed to rebound, but then developed a bed-wetting problem.

All tuckered out after a romp in the park last summer.
Then we brought her in for some minor surgery: removal of a growth on her eyelid and cleaning of her teeth. As the vet put her under, she let loose what the vet described as the most vile-smelling urine you can imagine. He called me immediately and told me he was concerned about her kidneys and bladder. He did some basic blood work and sent her home with antibiotics.

A week or so later, she had another bad spell: no energy, quiet. Licking herself obsessively. I brought her back to the vet who did a "geriatric lab" on her and it turned up some bad news: her liver enzymes were high and she was slightly anemic. Sound familiar? I had the same lab results around the same time. I, however, had the option of cutting out alcohol; Scooter doesn't drink anything stronger than water (and lots of it).

Because her blood results were abnormal, they sent it to pathology. The pathologist said the red blood cells were oddly shaped and it looked like one of two things:
  • Hemangiosarcoma - "a rapidly growing, highly invasive variety of cancer occurring almost exclusively in dogs," according to Wikipedia. It is a cancer of the cells lining the blood vessels and typically starts in the spleen or liver.
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia -  which "occurs when antibodies directed against the person's own red blood cells cause them to burst, leading to insufficient plasma concentration," also according to Wikipedia.
We were faced with every pet-owner's nightmare. What to do next?
Ross with his best girl.
We had already spoken with Pat and Ross, who were her parents for most of her life and whose hearts have broken as they've had to leave her behind when they moved overseas. We agreed that we would not take "heroic measures" to save Scooter's life. We agreed that, so long as she was loved (and knew it) and was not in pain, we would keep her going.

If it was cancer, then we would move to palliative measures. If it was the anemia, we would treat her with prednisone which, by the way, would be one of the palliative treatments for cancer.

Today, I brought her in to the vet because she shivers almost all the time now. The vet explained that this could be caused by cancer-related anemia (making her feel cold) or from pain. He felt Scooter's abdomen and found a mass about the size of his fist.

This pretty much confirms the cancer diagnosis. With this kind of cancer, it could lead to sudden death if the spleen ruptures. (This kind of tumor is very jelly-like and ruptures easily.) She might jump off a couch or roll over, and she would die. Or the spleen might develop a small tear and leak slowly, resulting in a slower, inevitable death.

Here. We all need a little "upper' right now. Look at this silly dog.

So she's on prednisone now and will be switching to a different medication that helps with pain - it's on order. The vet has prescribed a month's worth, which gives us an idea of timeframe. (I couldn't bring myself to ask.)

She still loves to play and laps up all the abundant affection we have to give. She wears her coat much of the time now and we keep her in the warmest room in the house. I really pray she's not in pain. If she starts "guarding" her abdomen, if her shivering gets worse, or if she goes off her food or water, we will choose euthanasia.

(I can't tell you how hard it was to write that last sentence. The euphemisms were inadequate: ending her suffering, putting her out of her misery. Both true, of course, but none of them call it what it is. It is an active choice we would be making.)

I'm glad I'm able to be home with her right now. Steve also has the next two weeks off, so we can spend some loving time with her.

I wish Scooter could talk and tell me if she's in pain. And I wish Ross and Pat could teleport over from Switzerland to say goodbye.

This sucks.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Fiction Friday: Methuselah: Truck Stop

For other posts in the series, visit the Methuselah page on this blog. 

"Thanks for the lift, man," Glen shook hands with his unnamed driver and hefted his rucksack onto his back.

"No worries. Be safe."

Glen walked away as the driver closed and locked the cargo doors. They were at the furthest end of the truck stop parking lot, an ill lit corner that gave them cover; a person climbing out of the cargo area of a truck tended to draw attention. Fortunately, they seemed not to have attracted any notice.

Because it was located near the border, it was a busy place. Lots of truckers would stop here for a quick sleep (four hours, max) before crossing the border first thing in the morning. They'd learned that border security agents were generally in a better mood in the morning. Night shifts tend to make even the most compassionate worker a little bitter and irritable.

This truck stop offered full services: showers, a greasy-spoon restaurant, convenience store, garage, fuel, and a gift shop. He was hungry, but grabbed a shower first - it felt like a sweet visit to heaven. He came out feeling less like a grub and more like a human. Plus, it would make it easier for him to hitch a ride if he didn't look like an ax murderer.

He put his rucksack down and grabbed a stool at the counter. He flirted with the waitress just enough to be sociable and ordered the Heart Attack Special: two eggs sunny side up, bacon, ham, fried potatoes, thick toast, beans and a slice of tomato. Most of the truckers left the tomato untouched.
Source: isfoodok.com
Glen dug into his food as soon as it arrived, washing it down with coffee ("Top 'er up!"). If this wasn't the best damned breakfast he had ever eaten, he didn't know what was. All that fat and protein, the eggs done just right, the bacon just crispy enough, but not burnt. The bitter coffee cleansing his palate.

Say what you want about truck stop food, but they knew how to cook a breakfast.

It was time for him to get serious about hitching his next ride. He glanced around to see if he could spot a conversation opener with one of the truckers. Most of them looked half dead, staring at today's paper or their phones as they shoveled food into their maws. Hard to find common ground there.

Then he spotted one guy with a teddy bear in a gift bag at his feet.

"You get that here?" Glen asked.

"Huh? Yah. For my cousin's little girl."

"I should check out the gift shop, then. My friend's going to have a baby." The conversation was about to die, if Glen didn't come up with something to feed it. "You get to see her often - your cousin?"

The guy sat back a little, opening his posture - an indication of interest, visually letting down his guard. "Not as often as I'd like. They live one state over. But she is the fucking sweetest little thing. Swear to god. You got kids?" Bingo! The conversation was moving forward.

"Not yet," Glen couldn't explain about the reproduction permit because it only applied within Sesqui communities. You didn't want to broadcast that you were part of this elite caste. "Kids're great, eh? When my nephew was born - he's a teenager now - I was amazed just watching him learn about the world. It was like everything was new. You'd put a spoonful of a new food in his mouth and his eyes would bug out. My name's Glen, by the way. Mind if I join you? Just killing time here."

"Sure. Have a seat. I'm Frank." They shook hands. "I know what you mean about the eyes bugging out . . ."

And so the conversation continued, exchanging stories about youngsters, which happened to be Glen's new favourite topic. Eventually, Glen directed the conversation towards hitching a ride.

"You heading south?"

"Yup. Got a load to deliver in Asuncion. You looking for a lift?"

"Sure am. Do you have room?"

"Sure. I'm just going to make a pit stop, then I'll hit the road. You're welcome to hitch a ride."

"Thanks, that'd be great! I'll just be in the gift shop."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Positive Changes

Time for a medical update.

I've had my liver ultrasound and follow-up appointment and the good news is that there are no scary lumps or masses on the liver. [How had "liver cancer" never entered my consciousness as a possible diagnosis? Seriously! The world's biggest hypochondriac manages to stick her head so deep in the sand?]

The ultrasound did, however, show fatty deposits on the liver, indicating the creatively named "Fatty Liver Disease." I think they've given up on Latin and Greek. Actually, that's not true. The medical term for "fatty liver" is hepatic steatosis, which is basically, Greek for "liver fatification."

Non-alcoholic fatty liver - those
glow-in-the-dark globules are fat.
 This is not my actual liver.

I know. I'm as shocked as you are. Who would have thought that a diet high in processed foods and delicious fats [Mmmmmm . . . butter!] would result in a fatty organ?

Well, I would have thought that because, to my knowledge, no one else in my (literally) large family -- almost all of whom share my dietary idiocy and my body shape -- has fatty organs. Just me.

In my case, it's considered non-alcoholic because, even when I was drinking (which I have pretty much completely cut out - one glass every two weeks, and I'm not even sure that's worth it), I didn't drink enough for that to be the cause of my symptoms. The radiologist described my liver as showing "moderate" fatty deposits. (By the way, it's normal to have fat in your liver. Mine has just gone overboard.)

I should note that it is normal for a liver to have a certain amount of fat in it. What is abnormal is the size and quantity of my globules. If it goes far enough, it can cause scarring on the liver. I'm not there yet, as far as I know.

The blood work shows that the changes I've made are having a beneficial effect already, but the liver enzymes are still high. Also, surprisingly, the inflammation marker (C-reactive protein) almost doubled (in the bad direction) in the space of one month. So now we'll do some follow-up blood work in January which will include a check for Rheumatoid factor.

In good news: despite cutting Metformin out altogether (it's a blood-sugar med), my blood sugar has not changed dramatically. This may be in part because I've adjusted my diet as well as continuing the Victoza, my other blood sugar medication.

In terms of how I'm actually feeling, my joints are still stiff and sore, but it's manageable. The ridiculous overheating (sweats) and bizarre random bruises are both rare now. I have not turned on a fan in weeks.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Handmade Christmas: Crockpot Cinnamon Almonds - FAIL

Pinterest: we have a failure. Signal the "womp, womp, womp" sound effect.

I'm a sucker for recipes that use slow cookers, because they always imply that the machine is doing the work. So when I saw a recipe for Crock Pot Cinnamon Almonds, I was game to give it a go.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Deck the halls!

I can't believe it's mid-December and we just put up our Christmas tree tonight. If Katie and Emily hadn't put their minds to it, we might have gone tree-less this year!

Ever since Emily learned the professional way to decorate a tree (part of her co-op placement at Ikea), she has been our master tree-adorner.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Retirement, So Far

I've been seeing a satisfactory amount of my bed lately.
It's been a week since I finished up my previous job. I think I'm really getting into the swing of things and am following an aggressive schedule of sleep.

I'm only kind of exaggerating. I have slept well, thanks to significantly reduced stress, but I've also been trying to implement some of the "good health" objectives I had set myself. They were:
  1. Walk every day
  2. Meditate
  3. Do yoga
  4. Eat well
You wouldn't think those would be hard to do, would you? I sure didn't, but right now, I'd give my self a B-. I'm making progress, but there is significant room for improvement. For example . . .

Objective 1: Walk every day

I did walk on the first three days of the week, but the reasons were pathetic:
  • I locked my keys in the car at the mall and had to walk/bus home.
  • I had to walk back to the mall the next day to fetch the car.
  • Steve needed the car on Wednesday so I had to walk/bus to my dentist appointment. This resulted in my needing a nap that afternoon. (I'm not exaggerating how exhausted I've been.)
  • Thursday's walk consisted of shopping for hard-to-find supplies for my Christmas gifts. (I think that counts because, man, was I tired when I got home!)
On Friday, it was just too darned cold. I did put on real pants and a bra [You can see how my standards have fallen with retirement. But in all seriousness, I don't think there is a 34GG bra in the world that could be considered "comfy."] with the intention of braving the arctic air. So I figure that counts for something. But the sad fact remains: I did not even once put on my boots and Go for a Walk.

One of the books I'm reading points out that most resolutions fail because they are far too broad and dreamy. They state, "I will lose 10 pounds," instead of the more realistic: "I will put on real pants, put on my boots, and step outside every day." The latter addresses the psychological obstacles that get in the way. So . . .

Restating objective 1: put on real pants, put on outdoor footwear, and step outside every day.

Objective 2: Meditate

So far, most of my meditation has been done by candlelight most evenings while soaking my joints in the bathtub. I figure it's a good combination. I like efficiency, even as applied to relaxation practices, but what happens if I don't take an evening bath?

Restating objective 2: practice bath or non-bath meditation before bed. 

Objective 3: Do yoga

I made it to yoga on Wednesday -- but I need to start doing it at home. I can't afford to pay for more than once a week, but my body would benefit from more frequent stretching, balance, and relaxation.

Restating objective 3: do at least one half sun salutation every morning and one balance posture. 

Objective 4: Eat well

The "eating well" part is on an upward curve as well. I've been diligent about drinking green tea at least once a day, usually instead of coffee. I did quite well at avoiding mass-produced foods during the day, but dinnertime is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair as I often find I'm just too tired to pull a real meal together in the late afternoon. Having said that, we did enjoy a couple of really nice dinners at home, including this smoked salmon pasta, which I invented and loved.

The dirty ladle really doesn't add much to this picture, does it? Time for a re-shoot. Rob, can you send more salmon?
The salmon was wild-caught and hot-smoked by Steve's brother, who lives in Victoria, B.C. I simply broke the fish up into a white sauce* with shredded zucchini and a little lemon and tarragon. It was really, really yummy, for those of us who like smoked salmon.

I also get blindsided by the snack monster. Man! I just want a nosh! I did well on one day by preparing a healthy zucchini loaf, but I need to make snacks part of my daily plan so I don't just lunge for the carbs.

Restating objective 4: Plan a healthy snack every day.

So that's the state of things one week in. I'm doing better and feeling better. It's working!

* P.S. Did you know that what I have always blandly called "white sauce" is the same thing as sauce B├ęchamel? All these years, I thought B├ęchamel was some kind of Holy Grail of culinary sauces. Now I know it's just a snobby name for a basic ingredient.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Handmade Christmas: More Time than Money

This is our tree-topper angel. The tree is not up yet at our house.
Quitting my job just before Christmas was probably not a great idea if I planned to spoil my loved ones. However, it does mean I actually have time and enough spare energy so I can make at least part of our gifts.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Are you in the mood for some moist, chocolatey goodness? If so, then get your mixing bowl!

Chocolate zucchini bread
There's nothing like spending a little time on Pinterest to whet your culinary appetite! This easy recipe was part of my pre-retirement resolution to eat well. This recipe may not be the best thing for me to be eating, but, as treats go, it is better than store-bought junk food.

It's chock full of vitamins and antioxidants, so it's a win, right? Right? I think so.

Here's the recipe, so you can judge for yourself.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-inch loaf pan (I used a silicone pan, so I gave it a quick spray of Pam).

    1 Cup flour
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    ¾ teaspoon baking soda
    3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
    1 Tablespoon hemp hearts
    ¼ Cup canola oil
    ½ Cup sugar
    ¼ Cup brown sugar
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    ¼ Cup sour cream
    1½ Cup grated zucchini (about 3 small zucchinis)
    ½ Cup chocolate chips

    2 T brown sugar
    2 T white sugar
    ½ t cinnamon

In a colossal turn of bad luck, all of our food processing appliances broke parts this week, so I had to shred the zucchini the old-fashioned way. Which, of course meant that (a) I burned extra calories, and (b) I may have bled into the batter a little (yay! extra iron). Those two things make this loaf especially healthful!

The hemp hearts weren't in the original recipe, but I added them because they are considered a "superfood" when it comes to reducing inflammation, so it's good for my aching joints.

If I were to make it again, I would substitute applesauce for the oil. I need to reduce the fat in my diet.

To make this recipe correctly, you should combine all the dry ingredients before adding liquids. That way your leavening agents (baking soda and salt) are evenly spread throughout. I didn't do that because I had already shredded the zucchini into the mixing bowl and I'm lazy. (Come on -- I had already burned all those calories shredding the damned zucchini. Give me a break.)

My loaf turned out a little asymmetrical, but I blame that on the oven, not the preparation.

The sugar-cinnamon topping goes on fairly thickly before you pop the loaf in the oven and melts to a crispy crust on top.

Baking time is 50-60 minutes. Make sure you test it for done-ness with a toothpick or knife before you take it out of the oven. At 50 minutes, my loaf looked done, and sounded hollow when I tapped it, but the sugar-crust was deceptive. Inside, the dough was very much NOT done. Ten more minutes and it was perfect.

Delicious and nutritious!
As with all cakes and loaves, make sure you cool it at least ten minutes before you try to cut it. I turned mine upside down to slice it.

One final note: as you can see by all the crumbs in this picture, it is not a tidy snack. Eat accordingly.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Methuselah: Morning

For other posts in the series, visit the Methuselah page on this blog. 

Glen leaned in close, his hands on either side of Agnes’ face, and kissed her, softly. Agnes responded hungrily and before she knew it, they were stretched out alongside each other over a blanket in a soft meadow.

Naked now, the sun shone warmly on her skin as Glen’s hand slid down her breast, her side, her hip. She felt the familiar pulsing as he

“Agnes, it’s time to wake up,” the cheerful voice intruded.

Agnes flung her arm wildly to turn off the alarm. Then she struggled to find that dizzy place again. Glen. Kiss. Hands. Sun.

Her blinds were open now (they automatically opened with the alarm) and the sun streamed in her bedroom window, triggering the serotonin release that regulated her circadian rhythm.

But she yearned for Glen and drifted back to sleep, trying and failing to recapture the moment.

“Agnes, this is your second alarm. You have a 10:00 appointment with MateMatch. Shall I start your coffee?” This e-sistant was persistent, you had to give her that.

“Yes, fine. No, not coffee. Green tea, please.”

“It’s been three weeks since you saw your mother, and you’re leaving on your retreat tomorrow. Would you like to invite her to dinner this evening?”

“Oh. Yes, good idea.” Much as Agnes was annoyed at the e-sistant, she had to admit, it did a good job.

* * *

Glen awoke with a start. The truck had stopped moving, and he heard muffled voices. A woman asking questions, a man answering in short phrases.

Glen’s legs were cramped, and he desperately needed to pee, but this was definitely not the right moment to start moving around. He kept himself still and breathed through his mouth so he would be even more silent. Not that they would be able to hear his breathing through the low rumble of the diesel engine, but it was good practice anyway.

The voices moved further away from him, and then he heard the cargo doors open, and a weak light reached the back, where he was hidden behind stacks of boxes on pallets.

The boxes bore the glam “Bliss” logo – luxury goods for the wealthy residents of Vicente Lopez. Handbags, jewelry, shoes. When you have a lifespan of centuries, not decades, you can acquire considerable wealth – and all that money had to go somewhere. The market for ridiculously overpriced goods was huge.

At least the elite could sleep easily knowing that the laborers who produced these goods were decently compensated and received comprehensive medical care. Maternal death rates in laboring countries had never been lower, and AIDS was now a mere footnote in Africa.

The woman who had asked all the questions opened one box and saw a collection of designer watches. They’d go for 50,000 pesos each in a boutique. Glen heard her fussing with something in a box.

“Mmm. This is pretty,” the woman spoke.

“I think that one’s defective,” the man replied. “The box is dinged. We won’t even be able to sell it.”

“Yah, I can see that,” the agent replied. "You should be more careful." There was more shuffling of boxes, it sounded like a smaller box was being opened. Then the cargo doors closed again.

Minutes later, the engine grew louder, and the truck moved again through the inspection area. The driver pounded three times on the wall that separated them.

Glen re-bundled his jacket and rucksack to make his improvised pillow a little more comfortable and fell back asleep to the steady rhythm of the road passing under the truck’s wheels.

* * *

Mara had been up for hours. She’d already done her yoga and had booked an appointment to have her hair cut. She’d made arrangements for her move to Arizona. She should probably tell Agnes.

She picked up her reader and picked up where she’d left off. Luisa Rey had just driven her car off a bridge.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Simple Things: Hot Chocolate

One of my objectives for my get-well/pre-retirement period is to eat well.

I've recently started reading The UnDiet by Meghan Telpner. Part cookbook and part self-help book, it is an engaging read. It highlights some of the problems with modern processed ingredients (not just processed foods) and the fact that the processing often strips away the "micronutrients" leaving behind the macronutrients like protein and carbohydrates. Then the micronutrients (like vitamins and minerals) are added back into our diet as supplements, but not in as absorbable a form.

One of Meghan's tidbits of advice concerning sweets is that if you aren't willing to put the effort into making them, you shouldn't be eating them. Ouch.

So the other night as I went to prepare my evening hot chocolate (my replacement for the evening wine that I used to drink), I paused as I reached for the "club-sized" container of instant chocolate powder. I didn't need to look at the label to know that there would be all sorts of chemicals in that container.

I remembered that the very first recipe I ever learned was for hot chocolate. Why not take the extra couple of minutes to make it from scratch, I thought. So I did.

And here's the step-by-step recipe. It's a great beginner recipe for those of you with junior chefs at home.

Quantities are all for one mug. Just multiply by the number of cups you're making.
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons sugar (or less if you don't like it too sweet, but you will need at least 1 teaspoon to emulsify the mixture)
1 mug of milk
Optional: cinnamon stick or pinch of cinnamon

Start with one spoonful of cocoa powder.

Add two teaspoons of sugar.

Stir the two together. Keep stirring.

(If you have a preschooler helping you, expect this step to be messy! Consider using a larger bowl, or even the mug that you will be drinking out of, which is what I usually do. I used a bowl this time because it is easier to photograph.)

It was really hard to take this picture.
Meanwhile, you (the adult) can start heating the milk.* Measure the milk using the actual mugs you will drink from. Put your pot over medium-low heat and stay right by the stove and stir frequently. This is important because you want the milk to get hot but not boiling. And milk scalds really easily (the protein sticks to the bottom of the pot and turns yucky).

Back to our cocoa-sugar mixture.

Add milk, two teaspoons at a time, to the cocoa-sugar mix. When you start stirring it, it will not blend very well. The cocoa will sort of cling to the outside of the milk.

Don't give up! Keep stirring.

Note: you cannot simply add the powder mixture to the pot. It won't work. And it especially will not work with cold milk -- even if you shake it to death. I've tried.

We're getting there, don't give up! Keep scraping the powder down off the side of the bowl.

There you go. It's now ready to add to the pan of milk on the stove.

Chocolatey, milky goodness!

Watch carefully that it doesn't boil. You will see steam rising from the pot. Confession: I use my finger to test the temperature - it should be hot enough to touch, but not so hot that you'd want to leave your finger in it. You may want to use a teaspoon.

When it's hot enough, or when in doubt, take the pot off the heat immediately.

Now, pour it into the mugs using a soup ladle, unless you have a pouring spout on the pot and a very, very steady hand, which I do not. In my pre-non-alcohol days, I would often add a little dash of Grand Marnier or Irish Cream at this point. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or a candy-cane, and drink up!

Warm milk is said to help you fall asleep. Cinnamon helps with metabolism of sugars, so this is a relatively healthy bedtime snack and is very welcome at this time of year.

* These instructions are for stove-top cooking. If you use a microwave, cook the milk on high for one minute, then add the chocolate mixture and stir. Continue heating in 30-second increments.

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