Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Living nightmares every day

ANYONE who knows me at all, also knows that I do not like to be surprised.  It doesn't take much to scare me and I pity the person who would do it intentionally.  And yet, somehow, Mother Nature has NOT gotten the message.

Tonight, after grabbing the dog's leash and announcing it was time to hit the yard, I walk into the living room to find a toad investigating what plush carpeting feels like on its grody little underbelly.   Some watch dogs I have; they let a poisonous perp hop right by their keen senses and infiltrate my safe and (what I thought to be) secure environs.

I grab a broom and dustpan, uncertain how the extrication will play out.  Up from her comfortable spot on the sofa, my dog is curious and edges closer to see what all the fuss is about.  I shoo the dog with the bristly end of the broom, scaring her so badly, she bumps into the vacuum cleaner on her mad dash to get away, which then turns noisily on as it falls to the floor.  So much for stealthily catching my prey unawares. 

One swipe at the toad and it bee-lines for the open door and the safety of darkness.  How it made it all the way up the steps to the porch and into the house is still a bit of a mystery.  Its not as if I have a lot of toad-food lying about in a Hansel and Gretel-like path of enticement.  Oh, wait.  Yes I do...

Because last week Mother Nature had another surprise for me.  Hundreds of tiny fly maggots all over my kitchen floor which I discovered when I walked in there with bare feet.  "Did you vomit?" my daughter asked when I relayed the adventure to her.

I didn't, but I'll be wearing shoes in the house for awhile, just in case.

It isn't as though I'm a bad housekeeper.  Maggots happen here in Hawai`i.  Especially since most people don't have disposals, keep their kitchen garbage under their sinks, and temperatures hover around the low 80's.  I have to have no shame about my indoor bug experiences.  My mother shared my heroics with her bridge club ladies that afternoon and as they are all laughing and being grossed out, they are probably also thinking, "what kind of a sty does your daughter live in??".

Okay, my heart rate has returned to normal and it is time for bed.  We'll see what tomorrow's living nightmare has in store for me.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Run! Run! The adults are cheating!"

Comic drawn by Rachel (age 12)

Isn't it a parent's purpose to teach their children what is right and what is wrong? At least that is the illusion that I have been under for the past 28 years, and counting...

13 years ago I found out that not all parents share this philosophy.  That was the time that I volunteered to chaperone my daughter's 6th-grade weeklong adventure to Outdoor School at the Oregon Coast. 

I think my decision to chaperone Rachel's class was cemented two years before when I was greeting the school bus that my second son was on returning from his week at camp.  The teacher came off the bus first, scanned the gathering crowd of proud and excited parents and walked straight up to me. I had a sinking feeling that things had not gone well.  The exact circumstances are bit fuzzy but I think that it involved my son punching another boy in the face on the first day. Two years before that, when my oldest went to camp, one of the other boys ran into a branch at night and poked his eye. 

So, feeling a bit of pressure regarding our family legacy and to ensure that safety prevailed and trouble was avoided, I volunteered.  It was a time of learning, a time of forming a life-long friendship, and a time of awakening.

And a time of great fun.  We dissected squid (finding their beaks, eyeballs, and ink sacs), took walks along the coastal strand (learning about shifting sand dunes, invasive beach grass, and the wreck of the Peter Iredale), and examined squirming creatures in water samples from a brackish pond.  

We took night-hikes and learned about rods and cones (photoreceptors in the human retina that help you see color), and we sat around campfires listening to stories, singing songs, and filling our clothes and hair with wood-smoke.  I even brought Earnest Hemmingway's, The Old Man and the Sea and lulled the girls with sleepy bedtime stories every night to calm their excited spirits.

Close to the final evening the entire camp (boys, girls, chaperones, teachers, camp workers) played a chasing game - I think it was called Predator / Prey. I distinctly remember that during the instructions it was stated where the "Out Of Bounds" areas were and that anyone who went there would be immediately disqualified.  What was unique and somewhat odd about the rules was that it was the adults against the kids.

Being that my legs are short and therefore not built for speed, I was quickly tagged out of the game.  I got to watch from the sidelines and cheer my comrades on. Until I realized what they were up to.  The adults were winning because they were cheating. They were taking short-cuts through and hiding in the Out-of-Bounds Areas giving them a distinct advantage.

A sense of fairness overtook my allegiance and I leapt from my comfortable log by the fire and ran screaming throughout the panicked children, "Run! Run! The adults are cheating! Use the Out-of-bounds Areas!"  In the end, the tide turned, and the kids ended up winning the game. As it should be.

I was shunned by the other adults for the rest of the week (except Judi, the other cabin-mom, who was my conspirator that night and new life-long-friend). 

Moral of the story? The sense of Right depends on what side of it you are on.  And, grownups can be such sore losers.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The End of Time, er, Summer

Labor Day. Synonymous with The End Of Summer.  Even though, technically, the solstice is a half a month away and the weather is still very sunny and nice, the end has arrived.

This fact is punctuated by the fact that my daughter left  today to fly to Oregon after a summer of visiting her dear ol' mum and friends from high school. It was so much fun to have her and we blended right in with the thousands of visitors on Kauai, seeing the sights and getting too much sun on the beach. She was able to do a bit of filming (see her YouTube Channel), and the dogs got much more attention than they've been used to getting (or will be getting now that two more hands have left the premises).

But now she is gone. Just me and the dogs. Sitting in the living room on a beautiful sunny day. Why is it so much harder getting motivated to do something when you are doing it alone?

Okay. All that changes tomorrow. You are all my witness to this statement. It may not be New Year's Day and the appropriate time for resolutions, but, dammit, I'm going to add purpose and resolution to my daily activities. All I WANT to get done will BE done. Yes, I can!

Right after this episode of Doctor Who.

Friday, August 19, 2011

God does not have the monopoly on creation

I love waking up in the morning to blue skies and sunshine. THAT is why I live in paradise. 

Today will be a day dedicated to creativity.  My youngest offspring has been visiting and today (Statehood Day and hence a holiday) we will embark on a video voyage. She is on a quest to post videos every week and she needs my help with today's theme: things that make her happy. I, of course, will be featured predominantly in the video; probably third billing to all of her friends still here on the island, and my canine housemates...

I have also been having a creative "challenge" with my two daughters as we work through the year with our "create-a-month" goal.  Every month a theme is set and we must all come up with something that we then share with photos.  This month's theme is "of or relating to anything having to do with tea". Sometimes it has been a bit more vague, like January's theme of "no larger than 7 cubic inches and it has to have yellow in it." One daughter sewed a little pin cushion that looked like an old fashioned hat, the other made a pencil drawing of bananas. Even thought the drawing was NOT done in colored pencils, she creatively explained that, "the yellow is implied."  I did a mini hanging sculpture out of telephone wires.

I'm not exactly sure what will be created today, but my month is rapidly running out.  Last month (themed "must be made out of sticks or twigs") I waited until the last day to make my creation of a necklace made out of bark. No, really. There is a tree here that was used in making rope so I quickly twisted up a string to hang a pendant on. It was pretty nifty until it came apart in the shower yesterday. Not to worry, it had been captured in a photo and luckily we didn't put a lifespan requirement on any of these.

So...I'm off to create!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Yesterday, my neighbor was outside again in his underwear. Standing on his roof, he had a 20' bamboo pole with a saw on the end and was cutting coconuts out of the tree overhanging his house.  "THWUMP" was what brought me to the window.  That was the sound of the coconut missing my neighbor's head and hitting the roof next to him. 

The day before yesterday I saw a woman who I am guessing was in her late 60's walking down the sidewalk. That in itself was not the strange part. The fact that she was dressed as a 20 year old gave me pause. Right from her bleached-blonde long locks down to her mid-baring shirt and short-shorts, she trundled on her high wedged sandals.  It wasn't until I had gotten almost even with her in my truck that I could make out her age. It was such a shock to my senses that I am still having flash-backs.

That same day, I saw a woman jogging down the street but thought she was a man from behind. A week before that a goat stopped by my office and nibbled on my taro that I have planted out front.  On Saturday, FedEx had the US Postal Service deliver a package to my mailbox. I checked every possible nook and cranny for the package that was tracked and reported as having been delivered. I finally found it in the mailbox. Go figure.

I am beginning to expect the unexpected. Where has my safe little world gone with comfortable assumptions?  I guess the answer is that the world has changed and I haven't. Who says that underwear isn't as modest as a pair of shorts? Who makes the rules as to how people should dress or look? Why should goats be fenced? This is a free world, after all.  

But where I have to draw the line is Package Delivery. If I order it to be delivered to my doorstep in a van with great big lettering on the side, I damn well expect it to be delivered that way.  Not way out at the street in a box that anyone willing to risk incarceration in a Federal Penitentiary could abscond with it. Yes, I might just be talking about a new planner ordered from FranklinCovey, but certain standards must be upheld!!

Now that I have that off my chest, I must scurry home to see what new and exciting outdoor activities my neighbor has in mind.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cooking under pressure

Tonight I cooked another artichoke (yes, they were on sale at Costco). But instead of waiting the excruciating 45 minutes or so, I decided to pop it in the ol' pressure cooker, just like my mom used to do.

I borrowed the behemoth from work for this special task; and being unfamiliar with how this contraption worked, I needed to first do a little sleuthing online for instructions. Trim it up, add water, pop it in, lock the lid, turn up the heat.  Check and check. Easy peasy.

Soon it was rattling away and the haunting memories of my youth came hissing back. My mom only used this contraption occasionally and I learned to respect and fear it at the same time.  Anything that can turn bone into soft tissue in under an hour should be respected.  Hissing and rattling, we watched in awe expecting the giant silver time-bomb to explode at any second sending shards of molten metal and beef ribs into our tender little bodies.  

My mother's "STAY BACK!!" never went unheeded and served to bolster the terrifying effect of the steam engine pumping away on the stove. In fact, I stayed so far back that I continued to stay out of the kitchen for the next 20 years of my life.  I didn't really need to go in there to learn anything anyway. I had three older sisters who were perfectly happy to learn all of the diabolical and life-threatening secrets of preparing a home-cooked meal.

So, tonight everything was coming along just fine.  My son called me up to chat just when the timer went off.  I approached the pot with caution to turn the burner off, but I was perplexed about whether I should somehow lift it off of the hot stove to stop the rattling.  Instead, balancing the phone in the crook of my shoulder and a pot-holder in each hand, I managed to knock the pressure gauge thingy part way off of the steam nozzle. Steam started shooting sideways from the lid top (luckily not in my direction), and the noise was unbelievable.

"What in the world are you doing?" he shouts into the phone. "What is that awful racket?!"

"Oh, I'm just cooking in a pressure cooker," I respond more calmly than I felt.

"I didn't know you could cook tin foil and pennies in a pressure cooker," he yells over the hissing, clanging and sputtering. Frying turkey patties added to the harsh and chaotic symphony.

All ended well and the 'choke turned out perfectly. No one was injured in the preparation of this meal. The pressure cooker is going back to work tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Choking on memories

Last night, as I was carefully dissecting my dinner, I had a time-warp moment when I was hurled back to the past nearly 40 years: I was at the dining table with my family gathered all around.  I don't know if it happened because I am nearing the anniversary of losing my dad and sister, or because of the action that I was performing with my vegetable.

I was eating an artichoke.  Very carefully, I slowly and methodically peeled back each layer, scraped the underside of the leaf with my bottom teeth (same technique employed with an Oreo, by the way) claiming every soft morsel. I was "in the now" at this point, totally in sync with digesting my potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and dietary fiber.

Then I got to the hairy center and busted out my special moves on the choke.  I picked up my spoon, turned the back of the bowl up and with the tip of the spoon, very carefully and with precision, applied pressure near the edge of the fluffy core. 

This was the special moment that reminded me of meals with my family.  Using a skill taught to me by my patient father, at the lofty age of 10 I felt that I had perfected this method of hair-removal; steady pressure to separate the messy center from the heart, but with a light enough touch that I could see every impression left by each hair. I was so confident with my skill that I would leap from my chair, spoon in hand, asking to de-flock any vegetable that was handy.

Now, I sit in solitude contemplating my fuzzy navel, um heart. I miss those family times and am so grateful that I even had them. Holding my heart in my hand, I let the memories fill the empty chairs in my dining room.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Trash to treasure

Its official.  I've become a Bag-Lady. I know the instant it happened and I'm here to confess it; to just get the whole embarrassing mess out in the open.

It happened when I was taking the trash to the dump Friday before last.  It is officially called a "transfer station" because the garbage is thrown down a chute and eventually whisked away in a large truck to the landfill.  Anyway, I backed my pickup next to another one, put it in park, and jumped out.  Lo and behold, someone had left a pile of books and an impeccable table lamp right there on the ledge.  They could have easily thrown it over but there it was in all its glory; compact fluorescent bulb still intact.

I furtively looked around to see if perhaps the other rubbish-dumper had set it there.  Keeping one eye on the prize, I casually and slowly heaved my sacks over the rail and into the dark hole. Darn, another garbage patron moved over to the pile of books and gleaming lamp. I watched with horror and disappointment as he carefully picked through the interesting pile. After just moments, he stood up, walked back to his car and drove off. It was like he hadn't even seen the lamp! I quickly and non-chalantly swooped it up and placed it in my truck before climbing in, heart thumping.  To the casual observer I wanted to make it look like I had just set it down on the ledge to get it out of the way while I dumped my true rubbish, then retrieved it when I was done with the hard work.

As I drove off, I still couldn't believe what I had done.  I didn't even know if it worked! I have now tested it and it does, indeed, light up a room.  Do I need another table lamp? That is beside the point. Maybe I'll re-gift it with a nice new lamp shade. 

For now I'll just stash it in my grocery cart (aka house) with the rest of my worldly possessions.  I'm a little worried though.  First it was pennies off of the sidewalk. Now I'm claiming someone else's trash.  What is next? Pulling recycling out of the bins? Stealing newspapers from boxes? Someone should stop me before I need an intervention and end up on a reality T.V. show called "Compulsive Collecting". 

But for now I'll rub my new lamp clean and see what good luck it might bring me.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"Labels are meant to be read"

So, I'm sitting around watching a show on my computer and I see an add for an allergy medicine. They are yammering on about not drinking fruit juice with some type of medicine and the chic says, "labels are meant to be read." Really?  Is that their message? Are they trying to sell a product or just point out how stupid the general public is?

I have to confess something right here and now.  I am not a label reader.  Yes, if I get a prescription, I do read all of the special tags that the pharmacist sticks to the vial: "Take with Food", "May cause drowsiness", "Do not use orally", "Do not climb inside this bag and zip it up", and the like. But do I read the two page diatribe that they stick in the bag regarding all of the debilitating trauma this pain-relieving medication is likely to inflict on my compromised immune system? No. I just want to pop the pills and get on with the healing.  Side-effects are for suckers.

Actually, this got me thinking about some of the common things I take for granted that I consume on a daily basis. Are there side-effects from them? This is what I discovered:

Caffeine:  Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); diarrhea; shakiness; trouble sleeping; vomiting.

Granola: Intestinal gas and bloating. Poorly chewed oats can cause blockage of the intestine.

Orange juice:  Insomnia,  severe back pain, copper deficiency, jaundice infection, vitamin B12 depletion, dental cavities, an increased need for oxygen, leading to additional pressure on heart.

Tomorrow I'm skipping breakfast.  I'm skipping all the way to a Snickers bar because I've looked and there are no side effects listed on the package. They are perfectly safe...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lessons from the pantry

I left my realm of comfort today and dove into a wheat-free experience.  It wasn't exactly by choice. After eating a delicious, but unsatisfying, fish dinner, I was rummaging around in my cupboards and emerged with GLUTINO! A gluten-free, "multi-grain" cracker.  Ok, yes, I was desperate. And all right, yes, it did have an expiration date of June 29, 2010. But I thought, "what the heck" and gave it a go.

How did this gem end up on the back of my top shelf? A friend of mine moved away to the mainland and she bequeathed upon me some fine-dining accouterments: artichoke hearts, a huge jar of sun-dried tomatoes, cans of black beans, vinaigrette salad spray, and yes, boxes of various types of specialty crackers; it was obvious that she not only had good taste but that we did NOT shop at the same stores.

I opened the first box. Some sort of melba sesame cracker. I ate the entire cracker before I realized that I had discovered a brand new meaning for "stale".  It had the unique combination of not only being stale but rancid.  I couldn't find a best-by date on the package but needless to say that the coupon I peeled off the box expired on 9/30/09. 

Undaunted, I foraged on.  Ever hopeful that the sealed plastic bags really did seal in freshness. This delectable treat boasted its origins from the vicinity of Mt. Ararat.  But, made conveniently in California.  It lived up to its name: ak mak.  Yes, this was the sound I made as I spit it out into my hand.  I looked at the box a little closer.  In case I forgot how to discern meaning from words, they thoughtfully underlined (in red) important phrases like "whole wheat product", "nutritional value", "wheat", "important part of the diet", "high-protein wheat", "highest quality wheat", "complete whole wheat flour", "nothing added, nothing removed", "full circle", "present pyramid program", "cereal grains", "ancient peoples", "and still counting". I kid you not.  Needless to say I couldn't find an expiration date on this package as I think it was sealed up before the USDA decided to require them.

Lastly, GLUTINO! Feeling like a challenge, I opened the last box (ignoring the expiration date clearly stamped on the bottom).  Let me describe to you as best I can what my mouth experienced: imagine multi-grain to mean corn starch, white rice flour, fennel and poppy seeds.  Now imagine cardboard craftily ground so fine as to make it a powder. Mix all of the ingredients together, held together with guar gum (Guar gum is economical because it has almost 8 times the water-thickening potency of cornstarch - thank you Wikipedia). Yum. 

Lessons learned? Those plastic pouches are not only necessary to prevent critters from chewing their way through your food stores, but they also serve to keep the product from contaminating perfectly tasty food next to it on the shelf.

I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to brush away the reside still stuck to the back of my tongue, but I've learned another very valuable lesson: I love you, Ritz Crackers. I can't wait to start on the canned goods...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring and all that it brings

Ahhh, spring. Birds chirping, grass growing, flowers blooming, nose streaming, eyes itching, face sneezing, and all around misery.  Actually, it isn't as bad here in Hawaii as on the mainland, but spring does usually bring a new pollen into the mix to shake up any normally healthy immune system.

Allergic rhinitis: hay fever.  When I was younger, growing up in Oregon, springtime meant living a life of lethargy and fatigue.  This, of course, was a direct result of having to dose myself with a prescription antihistamine tablet the size of a pinhead that resulted with me in a groggy stupor, unfit to drive vehicles or use heavy machinery.  One day my doctor suggested that I should be tested to see what exactly was causing my malaise.

I'm not sure if they do this now, but back then what this meant was to go to a specialist (I can't even remember what kind, only that they had a lot of needles), and undergo sharp pricks with various types of pollen. They injected this liquid mixture just under the skin all across my back.  I felt like a pin-cushion and looked like a patch-work quilt as each injection site reacted with varying degrees to these sub-lethal doses of venomous spores.

Conclusion: I am most allergic to pollens from grasses and trees.  Okay, that is like saying I am allergic to something everywhere I go in the world except Antarctica. I am pretty sure that whoever thought up the Spiderman comics also went through these tests, because the next course of action was to actually go to my doctor once a week and have these pollens injected into me to "build up my resistance". But, instead of taking on super-human properties like being able to stand tall during hurricanes or able to attract and control swarms of bees, these pollen-injections were supposed to make me immune to their irritating consequences.

Every time, after the poke at the doctor's office, they required me to wait out in the waiting room for 30 minutes to "make sure there was no reaction".  I did not inquire in depth about what type of response they were expecting, assuming they were talking about a puffy, hot, and sore arm (which was the norm).

One day, jacked up on antihistamines and fresh from a "treatment", I wearily sat waiting with the other patients trying to read a two-year-old Highlights magazine.  Soon I nodded my way into a "hidden picture" slumber, legs splayed and most likely drooling.  Sensing that I was not in my bed, and as foreign mutters and sounds came drifting into my subconscious, I jerked awake to find two nurses gathered around me; their faces pressed close to mine with one of them taking my pulse. 

"What is going on?" I asked trying to remain calm.

"Oh. Ahem. We were just checking to see if you'd had a reaction to the injection," they prattled, trying to act nonchalant.  I knew better. You NEVER saw nurses in the waiting room.

"What type of reaction is possible?" I mustered the courage to ask after they had removed me from the gawking crowd and back into an exam room.  

"Coma, seizure, anaphylactic shock," the nurse replied with detached emotion.

Somehow, even at 15 years of age, I determined right there and then that the risk was not worth the reward. I never went back. They never asked why.

I'm much better now.  Newer and better antihistamines have been invented; some that don't even cause drowsiness. I can drive and operate heavy machinery to my heart's content. I even look forward to the nuances of spring and all that it brings.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A revelation of the spiritual kind

The weirdest thing happened at my house the other day.  I explained the whole experience to my daughter.  "I think I have a ghost or something in my house," I told her.

I went on to relay that on Sunday I found a giant dead cockroach on the kitchen floor. I left it there and when I got home from some errands, it had moved into the cupboard next to the garbage can. That was strange.  Did someone stop by my house and intend to put it in the garbage but missed? Did the dogs move it there while sniffing around the open cabinet? It was too gross to touch so I pretended it wasn't there.

The next was GONE! "The only explanation has to be spirits," I concluded with superior intellect and uncanny reasoning. 

"Um, mom," she patiently said, "ants probably took it." She is most likely right. I've seen ants move dead insects before, but I guess I hadn't considered it because I haven't been seeing any ants hanging out at my house lately. And usually their load isn't a big honking 3" cockroach!

This has me pondering all of the wonderful applications of this newly realized phenomenon.  I've been thinking about moving my ginormous sectional sofa out of the house but every time I even think of it I give myself a mental hernia. So, by my calculations, if an ant can carry up to 50 times their own weight, all I'd need to do is smother my sofa in Nutella or peanut butter or something and fly open the sliding door. It will be out in no time! 

Unless they try taking it through the kitchen cabinetry.  That could be a problem.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How I get things done

I'm taking a brief break from report writing. This is a "working" weekend as I try to catch up with looming deadlines and an overwhelming "to do" list.  I've already had to physically remove myself from my house to a place with less distractions and free internet: Starbucks.  Ahh, all of the comforts of home (comfortable chair, hot coffee, and air conditioning to keep me awake) are provided here.  One would think that this hustling hub of activity might deter concentrated work efforts; people walking in and out, "GRANDE LOW FAT, SOY LATTE" being shouted at regular intervals, music blaring at high enough decibels that even grandma can't help but hear it, the harsh and loud scraping of chair legs on floor tile, and the occasional boisterous laughing from someone else who has found refuge at this safe haven. But actually, there are just enough noises and distractions to be able to tune them out completely as they morph and blend into one continual loud din.  Everything except the music.

I actually wish they had a playlist you could tap into while listening to these tunes. I love hearing new artists; but if I jumped up to ask who is playing every time I heard something new, I'd never get anything done.

In a perfect world, Starbucks would offer intravenous solutions of lattes for regulars who camp here. Ideally it would be a slow-drip solution from an insulated bag, mounted on a rolling hanger for ease during those inconvenient bathroom breaks. We'd all shuffle around in here like escapees from the local hospital ward for caffeine addicts. Productivity would be very high, but the down side would be that combined nervous energy might reach a critical level resulting in internet overload and a long queue to the restroom.

As I casually observe my fellow occupants, one thing is startling clear; MacBooks are definitely in the majority. MacBooks, and iPhones. Either we are an incredibly "chic" and tech-saavy group, or only the cool kids hang at Starbucks. Except the lady next to me. She does have an iPhone but she keeps jumping up and accosting hard-working fellow escapees, I mean Sunday workers, asking for help with various applications that she has somehow miraculously put onto her phone. I am keeping my head down and avoiding eye-contact.

Well, back to the "grind" (pun intended): spreadsheets, reports and another cup of coffee.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The elusive Muse

I think I've lost my Muse. You know, the "thing" that inspires. I try to refrain from using my dogs as muses like new moms that only blog about their kids. Children create a universe all in their own. I'm trying not to replace that universe with a canine one.

What that leaves me, though, is in search for meaning in everything. "Oh, that is interesting. Should I blog about that?", I ask myself while listening about natural remedies for menopause on NPR. "Gosh, my egg-cooker has finally broken after 32 years", I muse, "should I blog about that?"

I haven't survived cancer or beaten an addiction.  My traveling abilities have been severely hampered by an empty bank account.  The most exciting thing that has happened to me in the past month is that my orchid plant has sprouted a new stem (photo to be posted soon).  I dream about work. I guiltily kill crab spiders on my deck because I hate having sticky webs wrap around my face and arms when I go outside. None of these are newsworthy or deserve an entire paragraph all for themselves (although bugs have played a large role as a muse for me in the past).

Did you know that a dog can discern if you are smiling at them? I tried it. I silently smiled at her; she stopped what she was doing, started wagging her tail, and came over to me. Ackk!  Double no-no. Topic: dogs. Length: not even a paragraph.

I may have something to blog about soon. It will be my imminent arrest for "silencing" my neighbor's dogs.  There are now 5 dogs all under 10 lb. running loose with their vocal chords working overtime. They bark at me even when I am looking out the window at them. That is just not right.  To add insult to audible injury, most of them are male and they lift their leg on everything. They all have learned, however, what comes out the end of a garden hose.  My neighbors just think that I like to water my plants. The dogs know otherwise.  If my notoriety hits the newspaper's Police Log, I'll be sure to post it.

In the meantime, I will keep searching for the perfect topics that I know you all are waiting with baited breath for. Cheers, and thanks for checking.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ne quid nimis: Nothing in excess

So I've finally discovered there is a name for the affliction that I've been suffering from for nearly 40 years: "Choice Overload".  I heard this term while listening to NPR just the other day.

In a nutshell, Choice Overload is the result of being incapable of making a decision because there are too many choices, even if by making any choice, it would make your life better.  

I first encountered this dilemma, as a child, when I was taken out to dinner with my family. While studying the menu I was overwhelmed with choices.  How could I select only one? They all sounded so delicious; my mouth watered as I agonized over the menu.  In the end, my mother had to order for me as I was incapable of selecting  for myself. This scenario occurred over and over, without fail, well into my 30's.  In my mind, I had built the decision as one of life-altering importance. What if I chose the wrong one? Was I going to suffer incurable disappointment because after one bite I would be unable to gag the rest down; ruining a perfectly good dinner out?

Eventually, I overcame this particular perplexity by rationalizing that it was just one meal, not my last meal.  It also helps to snap shut the menu when I come across something that sounds good. But similar life choices seem to rear their ugly heads almost on a daily basis.  Which cereal should I buy at the grocery store?  What brand of mascara (out of the gazillion on display) would be the best?   This affliction so obviously explains my dislike of shopping of any kind.

Apparently, I am not alone.  As a wide array of choices in every category of life become more  and more frequent, marketers have discovered several tricks to nudge people like me into making a decision.  Here are a few:

- Make one of the choices more expensive than the others.  Apparently, once the audience is given a high-end choice, the medium priced choices look like more of a bargain. What at first looked too expensive now seems reasonable by comparison and people are more likely to buy it and not the cheapest (and obviously inferior) one.
-Limiting the choices. When given a choice of 24 jams, only 3% of people redeemed a coupon. When given a choice of 6 jams, 30% redeemed a coupon. Enough said.
-Context influences behavior; the name game.  This is key in marketing: naming the product. The more obscure the name, the less likely I will buy it.
- Filter complexity: remove irrelevant information. It only confuses decision-making.

Put simply, if we only had a moderate amount of choices our lives would be simple. But life is complicated. We no longer have a fork in the road; we have a six-way super-highway.  To counter Choice Overload, we need to try to refrain from piling on choices that don't need to be there.  We need to filter out fact from fiction, need from want, reality from drama.

So, shed all that unwanted baggage.  Purge your life from all the unnecessary burdens weighing you down, and in all things moderation.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sliced Soap: Diary of a Soapmaker

I haven't talked about soap in a while. I've been busy making baby things and such, but I thought I should revisit this topic, as it is a favorite hobby of mine.  Today's soap-making activities have inspired a little offering on techniques.

Not every batch of my delectable soap, believe it or not, comes off smoothly. I blogged about it before, but this time I thought I might share some valuable "learning opportunities" for those of you who are thinking about making soap. Pay attention, Grasshopper, and learn from my mistakes.

Opportunity #1: When making goat's milk soap (cold processed) it separated and never set.
Lesson #1: Milk-based soap is notoriously tricky. I had insulated the mold after filling it (which you should never do).  The top looked solid, so when I turned the mold over to release it, much to my surprise, oil and little rice-sized chunks of soap spilled everywhere. Not to worry, though. I threw the whole debacle back into a pot on the stove, heated it up while stirring, and poured it back into the mold once everything had melted again. Next morning it was good as gold. I have had to conduct several re-do's on this recipe and I suspect that it might have something to do with the clove essential oil. Even with the disasters, this is one of my favorite soaps. When working with milk the trick is to not let it ever get too hot (while mixing it with the lye as well as after it goes into the mold).

Opportunity #2: Not wearing shoes while dealing with the lye.  Ouch. Yes, this can happen to you. A tiny pin-drop of lye must have splashed out and landed on my big toenail.  I never even noticed it until several hours later when the lye had finally burned its way through the nail. The pain was excruciating even though I could hardly even see the damage.
Lesson #2: This should be obvious.

Opportunity #3: Added fresh lavender flowers to the soap.
Lesson #3: They turned brown and looked very unappetizing. I've read that you shouldn't add fresh botanicals as they will "cook" and discolor. Dried is better.

Opportunity #4: Took too long to mix in color. 
Lesson #4: If you want a marbled-colored look to your soap, you need to remove a bit of mixed soap, stir the color into it, and then add it back into the main batch and give it a couple of stirs. Today I took too long and by the time I turned around to add it back in, I could barely get the blender out of the pot; it was stuck firmly into the batch.  I managed to mix the color in and muscle the soap into the mold, pressing it in with a spoon (it was surprisingly still molten hot). Perhaps I'll add a photo of this one to the blog later. I imagine that it will be full of air pockets. The obvious remedy is to work faster, or bring it to a lighter trace before adding the color.  Sometimes the scented oils can speed up trace. I used Aquaflore by Sweet Cakes today (I've never tried it before).

You may read in some literature about soap making that if something goes wrong with your soap batch (i.e. separation, seizing, etc.) that you must throw the batch away and start over. I've found, however, that if I heat it back up, either on the stove or in my huge crock pot, I can rescue the soap and it will still be wonderful. I find it helpful to keep detailed notes about each batch I try. Record your process; the time it took to trace, how long to set, how it turned out - look, lather, etc. Record how the bar appears several months after making it. Also, don't forget to note your mistakes. This will help prevent making the same mistakes again.

I've also read that before you start handing out your soap or start selling it, you should make soap for at least a year. At first I thought this was a ridiculous suggestion as all of my soap batches were wonderful right from the get-go. In hindsight, though, they were absolutely right. Both my recipes and techniques have improved tremendously over the years and I would now be embarrassed to hand out my earlier attempts.  

"Practice is the best of all instructors" - Publilius Syrus (Roman author, 1st century B.C.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What a grand thing, to be loved!

Life and spirits have been renewed!  A new generation has been born!  New life to replace one lost. Yes, I am now a Great-Auntie!  

But, here is where the confusion lies.  Of course, I've always been a great Auntie (if I say so myself), but now I'm a Great-Auntie.  Whoa there. Wait a gosh-darned minute (today I'm going G-rated in honor of my new Great-Nephew, whom I'm sure will also be a great nephew)! 

Why is it that I've been elevated two generations with just one simple birth? Parents become grand-parents who become great-grand parents with every subsequent generation. But, BAM,  Aunties become great-aunties in a blink of two tiny, newborn eyes. 

I've decided to protest. I'm mounting a campaign to popularize the Grand-Aunt. It already exists as a generational demarkation, but it is only equivalent to a great-aunt (according to Wikipedia), and apparently not very popular. I think being two generations removed from this beautiful new life form should receive special and recognized status.  

All right, I may be a teensy bit insecure by the fact that telling people that I'm a great-aunt smacks of octogenarians and BenGay, but, heck, I'm throwing down my cane and jumping out of my rocking chair to claim my grand-hood status.

Welcome, grand-nephew Samuel Gale Williams! I love you more than words can say. Forever, your Grand-Auntie Keren.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Taking time to take the time

Luckily I have my hearing and I know exactly what time it is. Say what? Yes, Art just told me. He struck eleven solid and resonating bongs all the way in the other room and I knew that it was way past my bedtime.

Art is the antique clock that has been passed down to me from my mother, which was passed down to her from her mother. It was given to my grandparents as a wedding gift from a friend of theirs named Art, thus the endearing moniker. This is the kind of stately and beautiful clock that makes the "top ten" list. You know, the list of the top ten things you'd grab if a hurricane was about to hit, the roof was caving in, or the house was on fire. It is strong and majestic.  Classically beautiful.  Functional art, if you'll pardon the pun. 

I wind him every Sunday and he keeps time to the minute, even after 101 years, many moves to various states, and even high humidity. If Art had a last name, it would be Reliability.

It is nice to have this bit of "constant" in my life.  It reminds me of my family, comforts me in the wee hours if I am having trouble sleeping.  It reminds me that I'm running late to work and that I've stayed up too late again. It calms with with its rhythmic tic toc tic toc. It welcomes me home.

Art is a wonderful memento that is the artifact of my ancestors, as well as the possession of my descendants. Future generations that will look upon Art and be reminded that they too are late for a date,  have only fifteen minutes to catch the jet-tube tram, and need to fold themselves up into their sonic sleep chamber.

I think I'll slip a little note inside the back of Art and turn him into a time capsule, if you will.  It will say, "Keren was here and loved this clock. Please take care of it, and it will take care of you."

"Ding!" Shoot, now it is half an hour later and I still need to take the dogs outside.  Goodnight!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I've got an app for that

Aren't Smart phones great? Well, not all of them. I won't mention what brand of phone I had and hated, but suffice it to say it wasn't Berry good.  One of the great things about them, though, are all of the "Apps" that you can get for them.

There I was one evening playing with the new Dog Whistle app that I had newly installed on my phone.  Being an owner of a dog that doesn't come when called, I thought that this new app could come in very handy. I pressed the button. A little bone wiggled on the screen to let me know that the high-frequency sound was emitted. Glancing at the dogs, there was no reaction. Not even an ear twitch.

I tried it again, this time for a little longer.  Nothing.  At this point I'm wondering if maybe you have to train the dogs to respond to the whistle. For some reason I was thinking that the high-pitched and inaudible sound was something the dogs would instinctively respond to. Like morning revelry blown on a coronet or something. They would hear it and spring to attention.

I pressed it one more time, just to make sure.

Finally, my daughter (who was sitting next to me on the sofa watching T.V.) turned to me and quite sharply told me to stop playing with that annoying whistle! She had heard it every time! 

I'd like to think that she has inherited my uncanny hearing-genes, but alas, the only high-pitched noise I hear is from my tinnitus. No, I'm tending to think that she has been bitten by a bat, a mouse, or perhaps a beluga whale and her ability to hear over 45,000 hz is her super power. 

I eventually took the app off of my phone, seeing that the likely-hood of training my dog to come using my Smart phone app seemed somewhat remote. I think I stand a better chance of just buying my dog a smart phone and calling her up on it to see if she'll be home for dinner.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

It really isn't about the bone

The other night, I was watching my dogs with the bones I had given them. On the rug in the middle of the living room was a collection of four 6" tubular-type cow bones, some of them quite old, bleached, and gnawed-looking. The dogs switched back and forth from bone to bone, deciding which ones had the best remnant flavor...I thought.  Then I noticed something interesting. Whatever bone the non-dominant dog (Koko`o, the larger of the two) had, the smaller, dominant dog (Bean), wanted. Call it what you will, but there was definitely a power-play going on.  Posturing, tug-of-wars, teasing, and body-blocks were all employed in the "Dance of the Bones".

Their behavior wasn't really about the bones and which one tasted the best; it was about who had control over the overall situation. It is where ingrained behavior bests common sense; enabling a 10 lb. canine to out-maneouver another dog 4 times her size. For Koko`o, it might have been about which bone was the best, but for Bean it was all about control. 

How many times have I beaten my head against the wall because, defying logic, people did not behave the way I had expected them to (i.e. one for me and one for you)? It is all clear to me now. Daily decisions and interactions do not rely entirely on what is right or wrong on a global, humanitarian scale. Decisions are made relying on what is right or wrong for the "ME" in the situation ("ME" being the person needing the most control). I see this behavior over and over again. 

Oh, we all have situations that we feel we need to control, some of us more than others. But maybe every once in a while we can focus more on the bone and less on the "ME". The world would be a happier place, and I would finally get what I want. Just kidding. Kind of.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Survival of the biggest

I am amazed. My little, tiny, eensy, weensy back yard is a microcosm teeming with life. We are hard-pressed on the farm to find enough insects to keep a 1 inch frog alive at work, but here in my back yard I can't even step outside in the evening without bugs flying down my shirt and tangling in my hair. With a headlamp strapped to my noggin, insects of every kind swarm around my face, some even venturing down my windpipe as I tell the dogs to do their business.

This phenomenon got me thinking; then it distracted me from thinking by flying up my nose, causing me to stumble forward after tripping over the dog leash, catching myself before squashing a cane toad. I could see the headlines, "GNAT PUSHES WOMAN TO THE GROUND, CAUSING SERIOUS INJURY". What I thought about then was: 1) how long it would take someone to find me, 2) maybe I should get one of those "help I've fallen and I can't get up" monitors to wear around my neck, and 3) why aren't these mutts of mine bothered by all of these miniature flying pests? Can they not see them (or should I say, no seeum)? Or, perhaps, since I have poisoned their circulatory systems with flea-be-gone, maybe it also repels insects of all kinds. Interesting speculation, but I think I'll hold off rubbing that tiny vial of liquid on the nape of my neck until I study this further.

Meanwhile, I've figured out that by allowing all kinds of weedy gems to grow to about knee high, they attract all kinds of flying insects. By neglect, my landlord has inadvertently created a refuge for every nocturnal invertebrate in the neighborhood, converging in a compact, 200 square-foot area. This, then, creates a Garden of Eden for cane toads; making it an amphibian mecca. They pilgrimage from far and wide to feast on the delicacies offered conveniently within tongue-shot.

These my dogs can see. Well, they don't really notice them until the toads hop. If taken by surprise, it causes either dog to jump straight into the air, tail between the legs. They know, from experience, not to tangle with even the smallest of these poison-laden chew-toy look-alikes.

I figure that I have a few options regarding this miniature science experiment in my yard: enjoy this lesson in biology and leave it be, venture outside with a bug light strapped to my head and a zapper wand in my hand, or, not wait for my landlord to conduct his "yard maintenance" and whack it all down myself. I'm leaning toward the latter option because I know that for every flying insect that I see, there are dozens of little beady eyes watching me from deep within the jungly grass.  If Darwin's truth is going to prevail, I better damned well be the fittest one to survive out there, lord knows I'm the biggest.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Balance restored

Something very disturbing happened to me today. No, it wasn't the fact that when I got home I discovered that I had left my bedroom light on all day (see "senectus" in previous blog).  It was much more upsetting and uncomfortable. If you are squeamish, perhaps you shouldn't read any further.

Okay, now that I've weeded out the innocents, I can tell my horrifying story. I arrived, as usual, to work this morning, but this time I had a cooler bag with me. Inside the cooler bag was my lunch for the day. I went to the kitchen, where I placed the meatloaf and spinach into the fridge, leaving my unzipped bag on the counter.

Several hours later, as I was heating up the spinach and warming the meatloaf in the mircowave, I reached over to grab an apple out of my bag. EEK! A quick flash of black rat fur lunged toward me, gaining momentum as it sprung from my flailing arm. It jumped from me to the floor and scooted underneath the ice box. In that split second, my lungs came to life way before my brain, screaming like a banshee. I actually remember that I took three breaths to let out that scream and when my brain finally did catch up it was yelling to my lungs, "Stop that terrible screaming, woman!"

First to reach me, naturally, was my coworker that has a two-year-old. She quickly assessed the situation and turned away grinning. Another coworker, upon hearing what had happened, felt great relief. He had heard the screams and he was dreading coming into the kitchen imaging copious amounts of blood everywhere and envisioning that he would have to be the one to grab my bloody stump to staunch the flow. Another work mate had thought that I had possibly spilled hot oil all over myself and was screaming in agony.

I'm not sure what is more upsetting to me: the fact that a giant rodent invaded my lunch bag and danced the hokey pokey on my head, or all of my coworkers jumping to the conclusion that I was capable of causing grievous bodily harm while fixing myself lunch.

The culprit was later apprehended and did not live out the day to tell his plague-infested little brood that he made a grown woman scream. Balance has been restored.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Suffering from senectus

Click here for the song
Yesterday it was task-interruptus (not completing a task because I was distracted by another). Last week I got out of my car and walked over to my garbage can to throw away some trash.  In went my car keys along with the rubbish.  It took me over half an hour to even think of looking for them there.

You guessed it; senectus is Latin for Old Age. What is disturbing is that the symptoms are coming now at an alarming pace. The inability to remember someone's name, trying to remember the words to a song, forgotten appointments. It is starting to disturb and worry me.

My daughter suggested that every once in a while I should brush my teeth with my non-dominant hand. Apparently it is recommended to break your routine in a challenging way to improve memory function. This will use brain pathways you weren't using before. Perhaps I could also get out of bed on the opposite side. That sounds challenging.

"Neurobic" exercise is also suggested. This would be like an aerobic exercise for your brain, forcing you to use your faculties in unusual ways, like showering and getting dressed with your eyes closed.  Actually, at 5:30 am, my eyes ARE usually closed while doing these tasks (thus the toothpaste still on the corners of my mouth); maybe I should try doing these tasks with my eyes OPEN.

Learning new skills can be the most effective way to improve memory. So, I've decided to teach myself how to play the ukulele. My fingertips are not thanking me at the moment, but I peacefully drift off to sleep at night humming "my dog has fleas", and chanting my new mantra "G C E A, great cooks eat alot" (apparently musicians can take liberties with common spelling errors).  My dogs don't seem to mind my new hobby; they don't howl, cover their heads, or run for the hills. Perhaps I can even teach them to sing and dance along with my playing someday.

In any case, hopefully, my memory will be preserved, old age will be staved off for awhile, and I'll be an accomplished musician. But first, I need to remember where I put the tuner.