Monday, July 28, 2014

The Year of the Amoeba

"Why does the amoeba always get blamed?"

Exactly 365 days ago, about this time of day, Ernst got attacked by a pool amoeba, or so he thought. As it turned out, it was a retinal vein occlusion, which means his eye was bleeding way back where the sun doesn't shine. In this year, I have been both amazed and frustrated at the complicated and delicate structure of the eye, and grateful that there are doctors who specialize in all the things that can go wrong in this tiny part of our body.

This is your eyeball, be good to it.

Three laser procedures and $3000 of "co-pays" later , it looks like he has seen the last of his amoeba problem. Or so we hope. What a frustrating year it has been. In order for his eye to heal, he was given the warning from the retinal specialist to curtail any heavy lifting. No heavy lifting for a guy whose backyard has Heavy Lifting Required written all over it. Despite that, we have managed to keep most things alive, put in a basketball court/dance floor, start the out-building addition, plant some fruit trees and keep the pool pretty much amoeba free.

Because of the delicate nature of his eye situation, it was vital that Ernst bring his blood pressure down even more. What does a low-fat vegan do to improve his diet? I was teasing him he needed to become a Raw Air Vegan, but fortunately that wasn't necessary. I am so proud of my former Bacon/Milk Shake/Butter/Cheese/Pork Loving Husband. He has managed to change his diet once again, this time cutting out sodium even more and lowering his fat intake even more. The results have been dramatic. For once his stubborn body has given up and surrendered and said, "OK, you win, I'll lower your blasted BP, I'm raising the white flag, I'm defeated". I think if a body could stick out its tongue on its own, it would do so, but instead this time it is Ernst 1 - Body 0. I've had to go from making really yummy vegan food, to cooking sort of bland vegan food that's crying out for salt, but you do what you have to do, and we had to do this. We have become those weird people in the store aisle, squinting at the food labels, doing the calculation of sodium and fat grams divided by the serving size, times the calories, minus the weight, plus the calculation of RDA requirements over the square root of pi (not pie). We hope this is the year of anything but Amoebas.

Raw Air Vegan Amoebas

Sunday, July 20, 2014

White space suits and promises

Back in the early part of 1991, while slogging through the tragic haze of my father dying, we began to plan our wedding. When it comes to dates, I love nice balanced numbers. Getting married on the 25th, or the 10th, or the 30th, those are good dates in my opinion. But having an anniversary on the 8th, for instance, or the 27th? Not for me. I don't believe numbers or dates have one bit of significance, but I just love when they look and sound good. For instance, when we were moving to Sacramento after two years in beautiful South Lake Tahoe, I was driving around getting some errands done in our soon-to-be new neighborhood. I was bummed, and sad and not looking forward to that move one little bit. Until I stopped at the post office to get our new PO box number, that is. They assigned me a palindrome, something like 804408. Wow, I thought, maybe this won't be so bad after all. Our randomly assigned number put me in a way better mood than something like 943875 would have.

So when we began to look into getting married in the summer of 1991, I had my heart set on June 1st. What could be better than a June 1st wedding date? So terrific and perfect, it was just screaming cool date on a wedding invitation. I was settled on it, June 1, 1991. Of course, June 1, 1990 would have looked even better, but that would have involved time travel and we know how tricky that can be.

We had to wait a while to set the date officially, because there would be a big conflict if our annual convention was too close on either side of June 1st. It was, and I shed a tear of frustration, along with all the other tears I was shedding for much more legitimate reasons than a good sounding wedding date. Not only did June 1st bump up too close to our convention, some friends of ours chose that date as their wedding day. So I did go to a wedding that day, but it wasn't ours. And it was hot - blazing hot and yucky. Whew, so glad we hadn't chosen June 1st, we dodged some sweat bullets on that one.

We picked July 20th. Rounded out enough, easy to remember, looks good, with that nice big zero following the happy number 2. And it was only 83 degrees (80 sounds better) in the Central Valley that day, a minor miracle for a summer wedding in Davis California. No sweat bullets, no glistening wedding photos from our pictures taken in the UCD Arboretum. And little did I know it was such an important day in world history, the anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon! Houston, we don't have a problem with July Twentieth.

All it needs is a veil on the helmet.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Keeping Molly in dog food

If money comes in waves, this month is a tsunami. There is nothing I can do but just try to keep kicking and keep my head above water. Because I had a co-worker who was killed, I am working much more than usual in my school district job. I'm still writing for the dental websites, I have two proctor jobs at CSUS this month and then the grand-daddy of them all, the California Bar Exam at the end of the month. It is pathetic I know, but I don't even have time to go on our planned anniversary trip. And I had to turn down a writing job for an Oriental rug site because if I had agreed to it, you could have found me at the end of the month rolled up in a fetal position under our rug, whimpering. What does all this have to do with a photo of our dog's food?

A few weeks ago while in the drugstore, I ran into two of my favorite people, Jane and Julie. They were teasing me about all the various jobs I have. Julie asked if I would be interested in one more thing. Why not? Life is just too boring with only eight W2s during tax time. So she told me where to go to do focus group work. I thought I knew what a focus group was. There is a table. There are people. They are focusing. That was the extent of my knowledge on focus groups. Fast forward to the Internet world, Jessica. It's done on computers now, or at least the bulk of it is.

And that is why I sat in my pajamas this morning, participating in the first half of a focus group about the riveting subject of dog food. While children are waking up hungry, the Middle East is in another crisis and California is drying up like a raisin, I'm getting paid to upload photos of my dog, her dog food and her doggy treats. This is a very odd world we live in. But the pay is great, it was a fun project, I got to write about my dog, and did I mention this was all done in my pajamas? What's next, chocolate? Sit around a table talking about dark vs. milk, bitter vs. sweet? Would there be free samples? Talk about my dream job!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bottling up the whines

Our plum wine/brandy/moonshine project continues, without a lot of input from me. It's not that I'm not that into it (I'm not) but I've been working more than usual, often at night. That means I come home to a kitchen looking like a science lab, interesting implements in the dish drainer and pots of cooked plums in various states of fermentation. I hear Ernst mumbling in the kitchen about sugar content and yeast bubbles - I just walk on past on my way to crash in bed.

I must say he has been neat and tidy about it, and so far no exploding plums on the walls. But this does seem like a lot of work for a jug or two of alcohol that may or may not be up to serving to guests. The plan is that if the wine doesn't work, we switch to Plan B (Brandy). Plan C? Compost! We will have the happiest worms in the west.

We (he) decided to forgo putting this stuff in normal sized wine bottles, it's going into large glass jugs so it won't seem too pretentious. If it turns out sort of decent, maybe next year we'll go the wine bottle route. Then there will be the question of a name, perhaps some fancy labels, the decision of corks versus screw caps. A homemade wine with the slightest undertones of skunked dog - get ready to take some sips and lie to us through your slightly plum stained teeth!

Taking up precious fridge space.
So how much did this half jug cost, all told?
Don't ask. Don't tell.

Does he think I don't see the still in the corner of the kitchen?

All ready for the first tasting.
Hoping for a strong skunk overtone with a slight hint of rodent.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Finding Nemo Eviscerated - Tales of a Dog Sitter

Today's post is written by our dog sitter, house sitter, neighbor and friend. Or at least she was when we left for a week in Chicago. Here is the note we came back to that gave us a laugh at 3 am.

Welcome Home! Hope your flight and drive home went smoothly. (It didn't at all, but getting home is still nice, especially getting back to our wonderful, cute, adorable, fluffy bundle of love - Molly!)

The Chronicles of Miss Molly

First night went after, in her undaunted, determined, self-willed, one-thought-only-on-the-brain, a skunk, behind the kayaks. If not for the thought of having to bathe her skunked body, I would have left her to bark herself hoarse because she definitely did not want to return to the house, but I was as determined as she was. As Linda (her sister) says, her respect for the intelligence of skunks has gone way down. Why would they continue to travel through a yard of someone rabidly enthused about catching, killing and playing with their poor little selves?

Also, as I did not get the instructions re: inside toys do not go outside, something turquoise ended up outside. (That would be Nemo.) I never saw it whole. Early on I picked up a piece of turquoise something along with some fluffy white innards and set aside thinking something could be saved. Alas, no redemption for Turquoise Thing. Before my very eyes, I saw its remains violently and viciously ripped apart. I gathered up the remaining puffs of white innards and through no fault of their own, had to consign them to Gehenna.

Sadly not the first attack on poor Nemo.
He lost some innards a few weeks ago.

Sewing Nemo.

All looked well when we left.
But once her toys get outside, they are as good as skunked.

I've been very careful with Dolphin toy, so much so that I forget to put it down for Molly when she is inside. But she adjusted by becoming the "yarn thief"! The first time she was carrying the whole bag away. I kept moving the bags (I had 3) but she would somehow get into them and trot out with a skein in her mouth. The last night she was all the way outside before I realized (it was dark) that she had the big skein of brown yarn in her mouth - Oh No! - it wasn't the yarn, it was the cowl I had finished knitting and had been in the bottom of the bag. She was very sneaky and cleaver and oh so quiet.

I know Molly will be so happy to have her people back!

And I know our dog sitter was probably very happy to pack up her yarn and get out before any more damage was done. Must add yarn thief to her list of felonies.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Plane Misery

What is worse than catching a really early flight in San Francisco that requires a 2:30 am alarm clock set? That would be not needing the alarm because I never slept. Feeling so tired from prepping for a trip on top of being sick on top of being a clean freak for the house sitters, at one point last night I was one heave away from fatigue barfing. And that of course explains why I could not fall asleep ever at all for the 2:30 alarm. Which really doesn't explain anything, because Ernst, equally tired, conked out out 8:30.

The drive went well, we breezed through the fastest security line ever, boarded the plane and waited for takeoff. I immediately conked out, the kind of sleep that involves wide open mouth and head tipped up. Occasional snorting is often heard during this type of sleep, but never by the snorter. It was blissful, it was lovely, it was so needed.

Then it started. The Loud Talker. Right behind me. Directly behind my blissfully sleeping body. In the aisle seat sat the worst possible partner of The Loud Talker - The Question Asker. What is worse than getting on a plane with no sleep, getting seated directly in front of The Loud Talker and The Question Asker? This would be when the Loud Talker has an iPad and he shows the world's longest slide picture show, narrated of course, to said Question Asker. At top volume. The only volume Loud Talker knows.

The funny thing was that it was not just blather - Loud Talker was a world traveler who worked for some news program, and Question Asker had fought in Afghanistan. LT was about to embark on a lengthy trip in western China - so this was not just pitter patter talk and under other circumstances it might have been interesting. Those circumstances would involve ear plugs and possibly a glass of wine. Here are some actual snippets of the three and a half hour conversation:

If the Pakistanis would just build observation decks...
Took the train to Kashan and Ishkanbam and Fereberenish then on to Keristerikastan...
When the Mongols roamed the area...
Of course the Germans paved all the roads in Iraq...
They do have monsoons in Afghanistan...
When I was in the Kandahar province...
Swear to God, that is a real gold palace...
These are Buddhist nuns, they shave their heads...

And on and on and on and on, with loads of photos that required more loud talking. An iPad is a weapon of missed sleep destruction in the hands of a loud talker. Last night, while not sleeping, I told myself, don't forget to pack the ear plugs. Don't forget. Get up right now so you don't forget. But then I thought, what are the chances of being stuck right in front of The Loud Talker and The Question Asker?

Cucumbers don't make very good ear plugs.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Making moonshine in the sunshine

We are deep into the heat of summer here in Sacramento. Today was one more blast of high temps and now the Delta Breeze (capitalized due to extreme joy) is kicking in. I'm sick with a cold and have been stuck inside with the AC going as strong as my cheapskate self will allow. Whoever invented the air conditioner needs to be honored with a national holiday.

The garden is suffering from my lack of energy, I looked out yesterday and saw the zucchini plants wilting, so I very quickly stumbled out in my PJs to give them some much needed water. They revived in about 10 minutes flat. It was a miracle and my plant guilt eased a bit. They looked OK today, so hopefully no permanent damage. Can't be having squash murder ruining my summer fun.

The tomatoes are going gangbusters, making blossoms, blossoms and more blossoms. I saw one potential tomato that has emerged, but so far the yellow flowers are just taunting me for not planting a few weeks earlier. If they all turn into tomatoes, we are in for a bonanza.

On the fruit front, Ernst has been ordering the equipment to make our plum brandy. Yes, vats and pots and beakers and tubing are involved. Why are we making plum brandy?

  • Because Ernst is Ernst.
  • Because we have tons of plums.
  • Because our trip to Romania last summer was during full blown plum brandy making season, and Ernst was intrigued.
  • Because Ernst is Ernst.

Could we perhaps just eat them? Jam? Cobbler?
No, we're makin' happy juice.

I'm imagining plum guts all over the walls, he envisions sipping delicious aperitifs down the road. It's a glass half empty with exploding fruit, glass half full of the fruits of our labor sort of thing. As long as I don't have to crush them with my feet, I'll be happy. Plum brandy - it's what's cooking this summer!

I'm scared.

Power tools are involved?

Should have painted the walls a nice plum color

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Felina, the purrrfectly puffy rag quilt

Often when I have the most things to do, that's the time I decide I really must...just have to...can't wait any longer...the world will stop turning unless I do...forget it all...I have to make a rag quilt or I'll just go batty from batting withdrawal. This week I have gobs to do, so of course I just had to make a rag quilt.

There is a new style of rag quilt and I had to try it. They are not sandwiched with batting, they are stuffed with fluff. It involves a different type of construction, and I had to sit at times at the sewing machine as the gears (in my head) turned while the gears (on the machine) sat idle. But stretching the brain is good for me, and I'm thrilled with the results. I don't know how this puffy look would go over with more sophisticated fabric, but this bunch was up to the challenge.

I found some kitty fabric last year at the thrift store, and held on to it until I collected some more to match. When my sister Janice visited, she brought down some leftover fabric from her apron sewing, and it looked cute with the kitties. I also had some flannel left from some other projects, plus a soft and perfect purple corduroy skirt that, let's face it. would never fit me. I love the way it all turned out. I didn't overstuff the squares, and I'm glad because I think they might get out of hand with too much stuffing. It is much bulkier than my typical quilts, yet lighter without the batting. I would keep it, but our canine friend would have a good old time with all that puffy, fluffy kitty fabric and the fur would fly.

Felina - all cut up and ready to be sewn, stuffed and snipped.

Felina - finished, washed, dried and ready for a forever home.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

If it tastes good, spit it out

The other day I was at a rest home with Ernst. He has conducted a Bible study at this particular rest home for over 10 years. He has two objectives - give them comfort and try to stir their memories. Monday he was asking everyone  - Who in history was a really strong man? The first man to pop in my head that could stir some memories in older folks was exercise guru Jack LaLanne. And it did. And then it stirred some memories in my head as well.

Jack LaLanne and his dog Happy.

I vividly remember being home alone with my mom when all the other kids were off to school. I would have been four or five, because it was at our old house. My mom and I would do the exercises from the Jack LaLanne show together. I specifically recall doing the various exercises involving a simple kitchen chair. And I remember his dog Happy. Don't know what the dog did, but he was on the show living up to his name.

After Googling Jack LaLanne, I discovered some interesting facts.

  • He was an unhealthy, unhappy and at times violent young man until he gave up junky, sugary foods at the age of 15.
  • He had a degree in Chiropractics.
  • The day before he died at the age of 96 of pneumonia, he was still doing his exercises.
  • He ate a diet of egg whites, fish, and lots of fruits and vegetables. He ate 10 raw vegetables a day. He ate oatmeal with soy milk, broth, and fruit for breakfast. 
  • The prevailing attitude at the time of his TV show was that women could become infertile with exercise. His show ran from 1953 in the heart of the Baby Boom and ended in 1985.
  • He woke up every day at 4 am to work out. He changed that to 5 am when he was much older.
  • He believed in two big meals a day, a big breakfast and a big dinner.
Real men work out in ballet slippers.

Two quotes from Jack LaLanne made us laugh.
"if man made it, don't eat it" and "if it tastes good, spit it out"

The second quote is the exact same one we used while cleaning up our diet a few years back. Of course, it's not true, because healthy food does taste really good and your taste changes when you eat cleaner. But at first, that is exactly what it feels like. 

Can I eat this cookie with butter and sugar?
Does it taste good? 
Yep, it sure does!
No, you can't have it, spit it out!
And spit out that cheeseburger too!
Here is your unsalted, no cheese, no meat, plant-strong vegan bean and brown rice burrito on a whole grain tortilla that is too stiff to fold up with all that kale sticking out of it.
Now make like Jack LaLanne's dog and be Happy!

Jack LaLanne towed 70 boats for one mile on his 70th birthday.
In shackles, not ballet slippers.
Been eating about 10 raw vegetables and/or fruits a day.
I ran for 30 minutes yesterday. 
OK, I plodded along for 30 minutes yesterday.
Even our dog was Happy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Eating vegetables like there is a tomorrow

We've all been at those gathering of friends and family. The ones with the yummy food. The ooey gooey casseroles, the creamy dreamy concoctions, the to-die-for desserts. And of course the salad. A party would not be complete without a big green salad served with a variety of bottled dressings. So after we pile on the ooey gooey creamy dreamy to-die-for stuff, we put on the obligatory plop of green salad with the generous plopping of store bought dressing and say, There! I've had my vegetables! Where's the dessert table?

This spring I've been making a conscious effort to eat more vegetables and fruit. Not an obligatory plop here and there, but giant platefuls and bowlfuls and blenderfuls and glassfuls. All day, everyday, every meal. It's been a lot of work to purchase, wash, peel. chop, prepare and clean up all the  produce, but I'm feeling the good effects. I've given up my chocolate habit, a miracle in itself! We average one tea bag of caffeine a day between the two of us, and my energy level is still up. And I started running. More like plodding and most of it is in the backyard, but the dog thinks I'm cool and I'm increasing my time and distance. With all these fruits and veggies in our diet, on our grocery bill and in our kitchen, it's on my mind a lot. So from mind to blog, here has been the process.

  • Find a place to buy fruits and vegetables. Sounds like a no-brainer, but stuff at Trader Joe's and Raley's starts to add up on the grocery bill. I found a great little produce place called Jesse's Farmers Market on the corner of Morse and Arden in Sacramento. Look for a European market, or Russian store or Asian market where produce is cheaper. Organic is the best of course and I should be going to one of the many farmers markets around town, but I like to shop on my time schedule. I've been hitting stores for produce about 3 or 4 times a week. 
  • Buy what you like and what you'll eat. Being hip and cool is great, but if you hate kale and love spinach, say kale no and buy the spinach. If you see a new fruit or veggie, try it, google a recipe and maybe you'll love it. If not, at least you tried and then just go back to what you like. 
  • Buy in season and local if you can, it will taste better. When you're gorging on stone fruit in summer and oranges in winter, your body will be happy and figure out where to put all that goodness. Some produce travels better than others, but nothing says waste of money like a fruit or veggie that was picked unripe then traveled halfway around the world just to sit uneaten in your home, eating up your wallet.
  • Buy real produce. Sometimes a week is so busy and hectic that the pre-shredded, pre-washed, pre-packaged, pre-everythinged items get us through. But if it feels wrong taking apples out of those plastic coffins from Costco, don't buy them and do without apples until you can buy them in a better package, their own skin.
  • Don't forget the frozen produce. Often cheaper and better tasting, if it was grown on your own continent, it will be more "local" than something "fresh" that arrived on a plane. And a stash of frozen bananas makes a terrific ice cream when thrown in the blender with some berries. 
  • Make stuff with what you bought. Simple things like a tomato, cucumber, red onion and dill salad with vinegar. Smoothies for breakfast. Simple roasted vegetables. No need to impress, it's just family. Big fruit salads are so great in summer, soups in winter. If it tastes gross, then you learned what not to cook. If it tastes great, serve it to company. If it tastes just OK, eat it until it's gone and then make the thing that tasted great again. Don't buy anymore produce until you've used up most of what you have. It's a game and you and your family are the winners.
Adding more fruits and veggies to our diet has boiled down to these simple goals; buy them, prep them, eat them and then buy more. My body is happy from my head tomatoes!

Buy what you like and will eat.

Buy more!

Make stuff up.
Asian salad with a nut butter, soy sauce, Braggs, ginger, citrus dressing with almonds.

Make more stuff up.
Kale, celery, tomato, red onion, dill, Braggs, balsamic, maple syrup and toasted pistachio salad. 

Make smoothies!
I love arugula in them now, with pineapple, blueberries, bananas and spinach.
I made one this morning with stone fruits, Rice Dream, banana, spinach and mint. Wow good.

And begin the process all over again.