Silly Facebook games

Two status updates recently seen on Facebook:

traffic-ticket-status

underwear-status

After I commented on one of these posts that perhaps their page had been hacked by their kids, I received this message:

awareness-game

I won’t feel bad if anyone calls me a spoil sport, because I’m ruining the game for everyone who reads this, and because I’m not going to play (or should I say, be a victim?). I have two reasons for this.

First, while there is a legit “Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign” page on FB, this particular game apparently is not put out by them. And when you think about it, saying one used one’s “boobs” to get out of a traffic ticket is really not respectful messaging for this particular cause. Even if it were, how is this “girls-only” subterfuge in social media effective in raising awareness? Is there anyone still out there who hasn’t heard of breast cancer by now?

Second, even if one wished to play the game regardless of its creator or purpose, I know how I felt after reading these oversharing statements ostensibly authored by people I know and like, and I would still feel that way if I hadn’t commented and they hadn’t let me in on it. I would not want any of my FB friends to feel that same way about me, especially all those lurkers who read everything and comment on nothing (you know who you are!). I also would not want anyone to take any such statement from me seriously, and surely someone would (but they wouldn’t comment and get the clue so who knows what conclusions they would draw). People poo-poo the idea that anyone takes FB seriously, but they do. I do. So I am not inclined to post a lie and hope everyone just thinks it’s a joke.

Breast cancer is not a joke. Breast cancer awareness games on Facebook are neither helpful nor funny, particularly to people who are living with that terrible disease. I don’t blame anyone for participating but I wish they would stop for a moment and ask themselves, “what good will this actually do?” before they play along.

Here are some facts about breast cancer, so I can at least say that I have done my part to honor the spirit of the game.

Infographic by Lauryn Vermass

Infographic by Lauryn Vermaas

Visit the National Breast Cancer FoundationBreastCancer.org, the American Cancer Society or Susan G. Komen to learn about ways you can help fight breast cancer, keep yourself healthy, and support those who have it.

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Pain management

This summer has been a bit challenging for me on the physical front. Every morning, I wake up hurting in numerous and various ways, almost always for reasons I cannot immediately identify. I’ve lived long enough to have first-hand experience with all the usual flavors of pain: overuse, injury, illness, repetitive strain, I’m-coming-down-with-something, and, ahem, overindulgence. But the way my body feels lately has no obvious connection to any of these.

I’ve always been strong, if not also fit/conditioned. I’m a trouper, always have been, and I get stuff done. I am not ill, as far as I know, so when I tell people I am in chronic low-grade pain that makes me not want to do much anymore, sympathy is pretty thin on the ground.

One of my friends told me the reason I feel bad is my “lifestyle,” meaning the one where I work from home—doing housework, yard work, and pet care every day, among other things—instead of, say, getting up at the crack of dawn five days a week and commuting to a cubicle where I sit in front of a computer for eight hours. She stopped short of calling me a lazy bum, which I certainly appreciated, but her implication was clear.* Apparently she believes that all I do all day is recline on the divan and eat bon-bons, or whatever passes for near-criminal indolence in 2014.

you-mock-my-pain-animated

I have had low-grade pain in my lower back for so long I can barely remember what it feels like to bend down and touch my toes without hurting (although, for the record, I have always been able to touch my toes without bending my knees). Bending and stooping repetitively is agonizing for me, yet that’s what I have to do when I clean house, mow the lawn, do laundry, make the bed, all that stuff. I huff and groan a lot. Lately, I’m noticing some pain in my hands that surely cannot be caused by keyboarding, mousing or clicking a camera shutter. My grandmother had terrible arthritis in her hands. Is that in my genes? I worry.

Yesterday I laid down on the yoga mat after breakfast and starting cataloging aloud all the places on my body that hurt as I went through my stretching routine. I cried along the way, not so much from the pain itself but from frustration at how it saps my energy and thereby limits my life, and from fear of where it might go. Is something actually wrong? Will it get worse? Am I going to be okay? I worry.

life-is-pain-animated

I figure, right this minute, there are probably three major culprits: PMS, overuse (weekend yard work), and neglecting my yoga just a little too long. Ordinary aging may or may not have anything to do with it as well.

I felt better after stretching yesterday, and even better after stretching today. I have not been doing yoga lately because I guess I somehow got it in my head that I don’t “really” do yoga—I just stretch and do a few simple yoga poses such as Downward Dog. My sister does “real” yoga, the kind that makes me sweat copiously and ache all over the next day when I try to do it with her. The moves she does build strength and flexibility. The moves I do just maintain my muscles in their normal state rather than bunched up tightly and tender to the touch.

I’m going to try to get back to doing my little 20-minute routine every day because it’s the only exercise I’ve ever done that actually makes me feel better rather than worse—which is probably a big part of why I don’t see it as “real” exercise. Ever since I was forced to run laps in P.E. as a kid, I have associated exercise with physical pain, both during and after. When I wake up in the morning hurting in a dozen different places, the last thing I would ever want to do is make it worse by exercising. So my yoga is the perfect thing: not really exercise, not really painful, generally beneficial.

It’s time to get back on the mat.

130924-funny-yoga-position

Comic by Louise Wei, Panda & Polar Bear.

 


* Most people seem to believe that “working from home” is not really working and that a person who owns a home-based business doesn’t actually have a job, so I can’t hold that against my friend. I don’t bother to argue with anyone who thinks that anymore. They can think whatever they like about my job, my life, my “lifestyle” and how I spend my time because they really don’t know the first thing about any of it.

 

Getting soaked

I woke up this morning to find the sprinklers in my front yard still running long after their pre-dawn cycle should have concluded. I watched them for about half an hour before realizing they hadn’t just gotten a late start for whatever reason but that they were actually stuck on (and had been running for hours, egads). This got me feeling anxious because half the yard was being watered at the rate of two separate garden hoses set to maximum flow. I could practically hear the cascade of dollars soaking into the ground.

Naturally, the first thing I did was go to the controller box in the house and turn the system off. Nothing happened. So I unplugged it. Still nothing. Then I went to look in the controller boxes out in the yard and found a bunch of solenoids and wires but no valves of any kind that could be shut off. An hour had now passed and I was starting to get a bit panicky. I opened the local Yellow Pages (so old school, right?) and started calling sprinkler repair companies, and got through more than a dozen before somebody finally answered the phone who could be out in less than an hour.

Another 30 minutes of potable city water went into my now soggy lawn before the sprinkler guy arrived and promptly turned off the sprinkler valve located next to the outside controller box at the bottom of deep, narrow plastic pipe. There are two of these pipes: one is the drain valve and one is the water supply valve. There is no way to distinguish them by looking; one just has to know. Oh, and here’s a helpful safety tip should you need to mess with your sprinkler valves and you don’t know which is which: Always start by turning the valve to the right (“righty-tighty” or off). If the valve is already closed, leave it closed. Apparently bad things happen if the drain valve is opened when the system is on.

Once the sprinkler guy explained to me which valve was which and what they do (which was something I had heretofore never had any need or desire to know), we labeled the two pipes with a Sharpie for future reference. Inside the controller box, he found a blown-out solenoid that he was able to replace. I had looked in that box earlier and it was full of spider webs and water that completely obscured the solenoid so I couldn’t see the obvious damage.

broken-sprinkler-solenoid

For those of you as unfamiliar with automatic sprinkler system hardware as I am, suffice to say that this shouldn’t be broken-open as it is. I believe the layman’s term for this condition is “shot to hell.”

I am not even going to try to explain how this component works or what went wrong, as the entire science of residential irrigation is beyond my ken. The sprinkler guy was assisted today by his son, who appeared to be about 12 years old. I asked the kid, “are you learning the trade this summer?” and he said he was. “It’s all really simple stuff,” he said nonchalantly. “None of this is hard.”

Well, shoot. I certainly thought it was hard.

What this kid doesn’t appreciate yet is that everything is easy for the one who knows how, and impossible for the one who does not.

Want to know more about the “simple stuff” of sprinklers? Check out this page that will tell you everything you didn’t know about how they work. I tried to read through it but my focus drifted away very early on. I’d love to have the kind of mind to which this sort of thing makes perfect sense; however, my talents lie elsewhere.

At least now I know how to turn my sprinkler system off, so that will be easy for me from now on.

A room for living

The living room in my house is a tricky space. The front door opens directly into it, with no foyer. It has a large picture window facing the street on the south wall, a fireplace on the east wall, a vaulted ceiling that makes the north wall 11 feet high, and a double-width entry to the dining area/ kitchen on the west wall. In other words, it’s a big room with a lot of different energy and travel paths going through it because of all those entries and exits.

This has made furnishing the room comfortably and attractively a conundrum that I was beginning to think could not be solved. I didn’t want to block the flow of traffic through the room from any side, but just couldn’t imagine any arrangement of furniture that would not do that and yet still allow me to 1) view my little old 20″ television from less than 17 feet away and 2) entertain more than one person at a time who might want to sit down somewhere other than on the floor or on the hearth. I have had my faithful old futon from my grad-school days parked in front of the picture window from day one so the dogs would have a lookout spot, and that was fine seating for just me and them. But when company came over, it was awkward. I usually ended up sitting on the coffee table or something.

When I first moved in, I had my futon and coffee table on one side of the room …

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and my TV on the other side, with not much in between (Reggie tore up the upholstery on that chair when she was a puppy and it had to go away).

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It took me a long time to find the right pieces to add to the room, and I’ll be the first to admit that my design aesthetic might kindly be called “low-budget hodge-podge.” I have many domestic talents, but interior design is not among them.

For the past three years or so, I’ve been intermittently but actively seeking a design and furnishings solution that would make this room comfortable and inviting for me and for the dogs both when we’re home alone and when we have guests. Finally, I think I’ve found the design solution, even if the furnishings are not ideal.

First, I moved the futon around to face the fireplace just to see how that would feel and look.

living-room

The dogs didn’t like this AT ALL because they lost their front-window perch from which to observe and bark at the outside world. The silence in the house that resulted was music to my ears, but the hurt looks they kept giving me from beneath their bushy eyebrows quickly convinced me that something more needed to be done.

I had my heart set on getting a sofa, but it turns out that a love seat works better in the newly opened space in front of the window, and I found one on deep discount at the Buy & Large the other day. Once I got it home and set it up (with a blanket thrown over it as a quick-and-dirty temporary slipcover), I felt that my living room was finally coming together.

living-room1

There’s plenty of room to move around and between the futon and the love seat from the front door and from the kitchen, the futon is now much closer to the TV, and the dogs have their perch again (which is moved back from the window far enough that maybe I won’t have to wash the dog snot off it every week anymore).

I realize, of course, that the area rug is much too small for the room, and that none of these pieces even coordinate, let alone match. No matter—the concept has been proven, that a cozy and comfortable arrangement of furniture that meets all my needs actually is possible for this room. In time, these low-budget pieces will be replaced with matching ones of much higher quality, along with a larger rug, possibly a square or round coffee table, and some cute throw pillows.

living-room2

On the other side of the room, I have put together a nice matched set of pieces that are just waiting for the arrival of a big new plasma TV … one of these days. ;-)

living-room3

Reggie immediately claimed the love seat as her own, and settled on to her new perch looking redonkulously comfortable (it is a very comfy couch).

reggie-on-new-couch

I can tell that those back cushions are going to be sway-backed and lopsided in no time! That’s what my dogs and my parents’ dog have done to their couch …

swayback-couch

But that’s okay. Living room furniture is for living on, not just for looking at. I look forward to spending more time in and living more comfortably in the largest room in my house from now on.

Maybe my next project will be to paint it. Hmmm…

 

Summer jam

Let me just start right off by saying: Mom, I owe you an apology. You were right, and I was wrong. I am very sorry I didn’t listen to you when I should have.

Freezer jam IS quicker, cleaner, less work, fresher-tasting and lower in sugar than regular cooked jam.

I was visiting my parents for the first half of June, and one of the many, many things we did in those two weeks was make jam with some of the finest, freshest, sweetest, juiciest strawberries you could hope to find anywhere. My mother, who has learned the fine art of energy conservation in rehab, said we should make freezer jam. Less sugar, she said. Less work, she said. Tastes better, she said. “But I don’t like freezer jam,” I whined.

Besides, I said, are we not just the sort of home-canning heroines who not only put up huge batches at a go but also choose the hottest day of the year to fire up all the burners on the stove for hours at a time so we can really enjoy the full flavor of the thing? I insisted that we do it the old-fashioned way, using the big canner that holds 10 pint jars, because we were going to make a double batch.

My sweet mother, god love her, only wants me to be happy, so she said fine, she’d help me make my cooked preserves while she quietly went about making her batch of freezer jam on the side that was finished long before the big canner even came to boil.

That was the main sticking point: the pot. That behemoth holds at least five gallons of water, and its circumference far exceeds that of the stove’s largest burner. We set it on high at 3 p.m. and it didn’t start rolling to a boil until after 5 p.m. By that time we’d hulled and mashed our fruit and combined it with sugar in a 7 cups to 11 cups ratio. Doesn’t that just make your diabetes sense tingle? My mother, it should be remembered, is diabetic, so she was not going to be able to enjoy this strawberry-tinted melted sugar anyway. But she was right there to help me make it, stirring the pot and adding the pectin and watching the time like the trouper that she is. Even though it wasn’t actually the hottest day of the year, thankfully, our kitchen was plenty steamy and she worked really hard so that I could make this jam just the way I wanted it. God love her.

We both scanned our memories as far back as we could as to whether we have ever processed strawberry jam (i.e., put the filled, sealed jars back in the water bath to boil for 10 minutes). We were sure we never had (and equally sure that neither we nor anyone we know has ever gotten sick from eating our jam), but we consulted three books on home canning as well as the package insert that came with the pectin and they all said to process. So, I turned the burner under the canner back to high (having turned it down to simmer while we pulled the jars out to fill) and waited. And waited. And waited.

More than 90 minutes later, the pot still had not returned to a rolling boil, we were both exhausted and irritated, dinner had to be postponed until we could free up some surface area on the stove, and the filled jars in the canner were never going to properly process. We both threw in the sticky, crimson-stained towel and said “never again.” Never, never, never again will we can with the big pot, and we will never again process strawberry jam. We boiled the jars, we cooked the fruit precisely according to directions, we sealed them properly—good enough.

Which brings me around to why I feel the need to make that sincere and heartfelt apology to my mother now.

While at the supermarket this afternoon, I passed a display of small plastic Ball freezer jam containers next to canisters of instant pectin. The recipe on the box said only 1 cup of sugar to 2.5 cups of fruit was needed for a 3-cup batch. So I tossed the containers and pectin into the cart, U-turned back to the produce section for a couple boxes of strawberries, and headed home to make jam.

freezer-jam-makings

It took me all of 15 minutes to wash, hull and mash the berries, and another 3 minutes to stir them up with the sugar and pectin before filling the jars. No cooking, no waiting, no sweating, no swearing, no anxious watching of the clock, no burned fingers. Just three little jars of richly red, deliciously fresh-tasting, perfectly sweetened jam that won’t crank my blood glucose levels off the charts.

finished-freezer-jam

That’s the way we should have put up all those delightful little Oregon strawberries instead of drowning them in sugar and cooking them to death.

Again, mama, I’m sorry I put you through all that for my own little nostalgia trip, just so that I could say I made jam the old-fashioned way one last time: the way you and I used to make it, back when we were both a lot younger and had a lot more stamina and enthusiasm for this kind of work. I just wasn’t ready to let go of the past and update my methods to something smarter and healthier and easier and appropriate to our current working capacities. I wasn’t ready to admit that I no longer have the energy to waste on projects that are entertaining but nonessential.

I’ve seen the light and I’m ready now, though. Freezer jam it is, from now on.

 

 

Vegging out

I am not a vegetarian nor was meant to be, but vegetables are a dieter’s best friend, and can be amazingly satisfying when properly prepared.

favorite-vegetable-is-pudding

Tonight I made Cauliflower Chowder from Damn Delicious, which was (mostly) all about the vegetables. Even with the addition of flour and milk AND topped with bacon bits, it was still only 4 Weight Watchers points per serving.

cauliflower-chowder

You can get the official recipe by clicking on the image or the link above, but here is how I made it.

Ingredients
4 slices bacon
2 Tbs unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced (about 2 cups)
2 carrots, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
2 stalks celery, diced (about 1 cup)
1/4 c all-purpose flour (I used Wondra)
4 c chicken broth
1 c whole milk
1 head cauliflower, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Fry bacon in a large skillet until brown and crispy, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate; set aside. When cooled, chop into 1/4-inch bits.
  3. Break up cauliflower into uniform small florets and spray or toss with olive oil. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with foil or a Silpat mat and roast for 30 minutes or to desired degree of crispiness (I roasted mine just until there was some color on the bottoms).
  4. Melt butter in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in roasted cauliflower and bay leaf. Cook, stirring occasionally, another 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in flour and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add chicken broth and milk, and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, about 3-4 minutes. (The original recipe says to “whisk” the liquids in gradually, but I couldn’t figure out how to whisk such a dense and chunky mixture and it didn’t seem to make a big difference.)
  6. Bring soup to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and remove bay leaf.
  7. Before serving, dip out 3-4 cups of soup and purée it in a food processor or blender. Return purée to the pot and stir thoroughly.
  8. Serve garnished with chopped bacon.

To lighten this up, you could leave out the flour and milk (and the bacon, too, of course, even though it is soooo good) and simply purée a larger percentage of the mixture to add thickness. Either way, this is a wonderful recipe, really a keeper.

I had two helpings for dinner and was stuffed to the gills. I sent the rest over to my neighbors and told them it was my best ever and that I wouldn’t be sharing it with them if I didn’t like them so much because it was just that good. In fact, I said, “if you don’t like it, just give it back to me so I can eat it.”

David texted me a little while later, “Awesome.” I texted back, “I know, right?!”

 

Good choices

I had a rare clear day on my calendar, so decided to get the holiday weekend started early.

not-a-damn-thing-to-do-today

After walking the dogs while it was still cool this morning, I headed out to catch the day’s first showing of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” at the local flicks because I am an unapologetic Chris Evans fangirl. I must have misread the Fandango listings, though, because it was not playing at the theater I went to. I was relieved, frankly, because as I was walking in through the lovely new outdoor mall built around the theater and seeing all the kids playing in the common areas around the fountains and smelling the fresh spring breeze, it occurred to me that sitting in a dark theater might not be the best way to spend a day off, let alone such a glorious afternoon.

Instead, I took a couple of turns around the mall, which is not fully occupied yet but has some pretty cool stores now and many more to come (such as Sur la Table, for which I can hardly wait and ohmyheckIhopetheyoffercookingclasses!!). Then I crossed the street to check out a big new city park that I’ve only ever driven through in the rain, and spent about an hour making the circuit and taking time to pet all the dogs I passed. When the sunshine, fresh air and exercise finally wore me out, I headed home and talked my dogs into joining me for a lie-down (not that they needed much persuading).

I was pleased with my choices today: plenty of exercise, and smart eating. I had chia seed pudding and fruit for breakfast, turkey lettuce wraps for lunch before I headed to the movie, and bean tostadas for dinner, all of which left me feeling both stuffed and satisfied without even using all my WW points for the day.

No animals are actually being harmed in the making of this photo.

I am happy to say that I think I’ve finally learned how to cook properly and create meals that hit on all cylinders. The number on my scale is headed in the right direction again, too.

life-is-good-jake