Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A difficult day at work

Today's Horoscope: "A difficult experience at work will open your eyes to the fact that your mood swings are more harmful to you than anything else. That being said, a period of great professional achievements is getting started."

Good gawd, I hope so. I'm having a nice little cocktail (or four) instead of supper---a hefty shot of vodka over lots of ice with a modest amount (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) of pure Quebec maple syrup stirred in. What would you call that? I'm sure there's already a name for it. Maybe a Boozmopolitan.

I was about ready to quit my job today. I can't quite recall the reason, now---something about few resources, limited contacts, ancient software, and a scatter-brained co-worker who praises me with faint damns. Not really---she responds to my ideas and suggestions with a long-drawn-out "great" or "excellent" à la Office Space. I get the idea that she's not quite with it. But she does have a lot on her plate...and I do have 17 more years of experience at this kind of work.

So since I can't recall the exact reason for wanting to leave a modest-paying job with absolutely no benefits in this lean market, I attribute it to a mood swing. After a soothing cigarette in the early afternoon, I went back to my desk and spent a whole three hours re-reading a policy document and an associated procedure to determine that, yes, they are both quite coherent but only one needs some adjustment before they're both approved.
This, by the way, is a view of a sunset of the Bromont ski hill around Christmas from the picture window of my parents' former home. Using good binoculars, you could faintly see skiers going down the slopes under the night-skiing lights---over eight miles away.
And the maple syrup was produced by my brother's former landlords.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Changing Clocks AND Calendars

So Daylight Saving (not Savings, please) Time has come to an end. Time to put the clocks back. And get another hour's sleep. But I don't think I've ever had to change the calendars and clocks on the same date. This is my funky electric kitchen clock from Value Village.

Falling back has fewer consequences than springing ahead, apparently. I've heard that car accident rates climb on the couple of days after DST begins in the spring, because people have "lost" an hour's sleep and are even more stupid on the road in the morning than usual. My parents sometimes forgot to change the clocks and as a result we were sent to Sunday school an hour early. A woman I worked with was so oblivious she couldn't figure out why her daughter's daycare worker was giving her dirty looks until Wednesday, when I asked her if she'd changed her clocks. She was dropping her daughter off an hour late every day.

My problem is that I can't figure out whether it stays dark later or gets light earlier in the days ahead. Oh, I just figured it out! It's 6:48 am ET, and it's getting light! I wonder if I do figure it out every year or whether I just forget.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Green, red, orange, yellow, white, and blue

Would be nice colours for a flag, wouldn't they? But they're the recommended colours of the vegetables and fruits we should be eating more of to get all the phytonutrients and antioxidants every day.
  • Green leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale, and other greens like Brussels sprouts and broccoli
  • Red like sweet red peppers and tomatoes, and apples, raspberries, and strawberries
  • Orange like carrots. And orange peppers, and oranges, and many kinds of winter squash
  • Yellow like, um, yellow peppers? Pears?
  • White like mushrooms and onions; maybe garlic...
  • Blue like, well, blueberries. And blue, red, or black grapes, I guess. I'm not sure where eggplant fits in there, since most are only purple on the outside.
You can look all these up yourself, of course.

Food guides suggest five to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. But put the veggies first---while fruits have fiber and good nutrients, most are higher in sugar. In fact, children should be the ones getting as few as five servings a day---adults should get up to twelve. Most vegetables have fewer carbohydrates and more fiber. Adding just a serving or two a day (one small apple, one orange, one cup of broccoli, half a cup of carrots, etc.) can benefit your belly.

Some folks say you should eat not one but three apples a day---there's even a diet for it. Apples have lots of soluble (pectin) and insoluble fiber (skin). I halve an apple, trim out the stem and blossom ends, and remove the core with a melon baller. In fact, I've never used a melon baller to make melon balls. Less waste and you can eat cored pears and apples at your desk with little mess and no sticky fingers. The Red Delicious variety is supposed to be the best.

I like kohlrabi. It's a good substitute for potatoes or turnip in beef stew. I think you can steam or boil the greens (but slugs have been at the leaves in this image!!), but I usually just throw them out. Handsome Stranger likes to play with the peels.

I just came back from the store where I picked up six packages of frozen veggies on sale (Green Giant Essentials). Harvest season is getting ready to end, and southern Ontario has terrific farmers. But I might as well just dump the fresh produce I buy right into the composter from the reusable shopping bags. I'll eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches for three nights in a row instead of washing, slicing, and steaming or roasting the food I buy. My freezer drawers are packed full of frozen veggie and fruit bargains, as well as stuff I've frozen myself. But the fresh produce on the fridge shelves is getting all wrinkled and less appetizing. Maybe if I washed a few pots, and cleaned off the table, stove, and counters...

But I'm trying to do better. Tonight I went to the kitchen to make myself a PB sandwich, and instead I microwaved a Green Giant package and put it in a bowl of reheated beef and vegetable soup. Now I feel all virtuous again.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fatal Light migrating bird casualty

I don't usually walk around with a dead bird in my pocket. If it had been a House Sparrow (pest!), starling (pest! pest!), or other common bird I could identify, I would have kicked it to the curb.

My former co-worker LH notified me one evening of the location of two "sparrows" that had hit the office building. I picked them up after work and identified them as a pair of Brown Creepers that had hit the tower on their way somewhere. I did a little research and phoned a couple of people, and a few days later LH and I were on our way at lunch time to the Biodiversity Centre at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). A very nice bird man confirmed my ID and took the bodies away. Then LH and I rode up the elevator and had a luscious lunch at the then-existing JK at the ROM (JK = Jamie Kennedy, renowned Toronto chef and former restaurateur). (Ten percent discount for members! Real cloth napkins! Fine dining! We felt both pampered and virtuous.)

Brown Creeper Photo © Michael J.Hopiak / CLO

A good bird site, especially if you think you might know the species, is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website. They even provide links to bird songs.

But this one's unknown to me. The closest I got was a Henslow's Sparrow, but the males, females, and even juveniles have obvious stripes on the head and this one has a dark grey cap with no stripes at all. The colours are very close too---olive green around the neck, bright rufous speckles on creamy breast, bright rufous feathers on back, wings, and tail, pinkish underside to beak, buff eye-ring. But it's got that grey headcap. I'll have to get my Sibley and Petersen and National Geographic guides out and see if there are variations. It could also be a Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, or a Lincoln's Sparrow. And it could be a juvenile Dark-Eyed Junco, but it should have its adult markings by now (late October).

Anyways, I picked it up just outside my office building on Friday. 
It hadn't been dead for long; rigour had set in, but its black eyes were still clear. I put it in my coat pocket, then transferred it to a small paper bag (I have many---I eat too many muffins on the way to and at work), and to a freezer bag and into the freezer when I got home. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) is staffed by volunteers (I think) and works with office managers to turn out lights at night to keep migrating birds from crashing into high-rise windows. People trek to high-rise buildings before dawn and pick up and record fatalities and injured birds, and work to get the live ones rehabbed and back to their routes. And there's a collision reporting page in case you do find a dead or injured bird: http://www.flap.org/new/colrepfr.htm

UPDATE: It's a Fox Sparrow. I got a clue from my Petersen's guide and googled for a live image.

UPDATE October 29: I'm being a good honest blogger and removing the photo of the Fox Sparrow. The photographer has copyrighted all his images and I didn't ask permission to use that one.

You can see Doug Backlund's beautiful photos here: http://www.wildphotosphotography.com/WildPhotos/birds2/fox_sparrow2.htm

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The first cut is the deepest

I got another nice stack of mail today, including a notice to pick up a parcel at the post office, which closed at 3 pm today (an eBay purchase; more on that later); my November transit pass; and a PandG Brand Sampler. Like the first one I got in May, the ends of the tough paperboard box were firmly glued, defying any attempt to open it by hand. So I grabbed my handy utility knife, and thought to myself, just as I started to cut towards my thigh, "Don't do it that way, you f*cking idiot!" as the blade sliced about 3 cm through my good Kenneth Cole slacks and into my leg. (Really, it's not much more than a good cat scratch, which usually come in threes, and a regular bandage on a diagonal covers it nicely. My skin, I mean---and I think I can patch the slacks adequately with some light-weight iron-on interfacing on the inside.)

In the dangerous box was a real grab bag of goodies: a full-sized Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (which is good, because I can't find my two-pack anywhere); a 60-ml sample (good-sized) of Olay Total Effects body wash; a Tide Stain-Release in-wash booster packet; two one-load samples of fabric softener (Ultra Gain and Ultra Downy), which I don't usually use, but I've heard they help in getting animal fur off clothes and linens; and a Gain laundry detergent sample.

My eBay purchase, which I'll pick up tomorrow, was a hand-turned French rolling pin made of black walnut. The wood came from a 150-year-old farm house in Kentucky, and the seller's husband has time on his hands, so he's making a bunch of these from antique wood.

It's 20" x 2.5" and has a nice weight. Black walnut is worth its weight in gold in some parts. Here it is next to my maple pastry rolling pin. I've since rubbed some food-safe tung oil on it to keep it moist.

Now I just have to clean off the kitchen table, get some pastry flour and lard, and try my hand again at making a pie.

UPDATE: I picked up my new rolling pin at the post office Thursday night. It's beautiful, and somehow a bit bigger than I expected. Instead of pie pastry, I think I'll make pasta dough. I've had much better luck with it. And it's fun squashing it in the pasta maker that I got at a discount at Value Village (someone had stolen the table clamp and crank, but I had spares here at home).

Office Space

While speaking to my manager yesterday about working conditions (she's very solicitous), I was reminded of starting my first full-time job as a tech writer in Toronto. The building was due for renovation and there was limited office space. For the first three months I carried my working papers, desk supplies, and reference books in boxes (cheekily labelled "Karen's Desk" and "Karen's Office"). When I came in in the morning I'd ask my boss where I'd be working that day. I counted---23 different work spaces between July and October. Finally I was assigned an actual office with a door that closed. I shared it with another technical writer and we got along famously.

But sometimes I'd come in and sit down and find that my PC was missing. A manager would "borrow" it for presentations because it had the right pin count in a PS2 slot or something.

Eventually the building renovations started and my team and a couple of others moved to temporary office space. I had an office. With a push-button phone. And a door that closed. But my insensitive boss (when she got pregnant, and declared that every woman should have at least one baby, and I said I didn't want to ever, she said I should anyways and give the baby up for adoption) would open my door, speak to me, and leave without closing the door again. This happened a few times one afternoon, and I got up and closed the door after her each time. The last time I guess I sort of closed it a bit more firmly (I mean, the glass didn't rattle or anything, but it was close to a slam), she opened the door again, looked at me oddly, and closed it again.

Other than that it was a fine place to work.

At this new place, I'm getting eye strain due to the overhead fluorescents, and I can't figure out how to adjust my chair, and after three weeks I still don't have access to the network folders. But at least they're not paying me...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hiding the cats from the dog catcher

I got a nice big stack of mail the other day---my eBay purchase, a detergent sample and coupons, and not one, not two, but four notices that I need to renew my pet licences.

In summer 2008 there was a cash grab revenue-generating and youth employment initiative by the City of Toronto: young persons were hired as enforcement agents for Toronto Animal Services (which I've visited when in the area; a nice place to shop) to snoop around people's homes looking for evidence of domestic animals (cats and dogs). Then they'd knock on the door and make people buy licences ("Annual licensing [sic; US spelling] of dogs and cats is the law in Toronto..."). There are lots of outdoor cats (and indoor ones, if I count those that like to sit and look out their front windows) and a few dogs on the street. Well, I didn't wait for some pimply-faced clipboard-carrying municipal-ID-wearing punk to knock on my door and intimidate me by looking over my shoulder at the dust bunnies made of cat fur lining the stairs. I went online and bought a licence for each indoor cat ($15 per cat if it's sterilized, which mine are). And you're supposed to attach the licence tag to the cat (mine don't wear collars, and I don't believe in superfluous piercings). Licencing cats and dogs has been the (by)law since I've lived here, but I probably could have gotten away with not doing it. And I don't think they even did our street in the end.

I got renewal notices in July and ignored them. After all, I wasn't working and didn't want to spend the money. Now I get them again. I have only a few days to renew in order to obey Municipal code chapter 349, or a Municipal Enforcement Officer will come to my house, count the cats, and fine me $240 per miscreant. I tried to figure out a way to let them know I no longer have four cats staying with me (betrayal, I know; can I build a secret room to hide them when the Guardians of the Peace burst through my door? Can I declare that they are Domesticated Ungulates of the families Artiodactylus and Perissodactylus, Anseriformes, Galliformes and Struthioniformes and are thus exempt from the licencing rules?). But the layers of fur on every surface, scratching posts, shredded furniture, and all-pervading litter box smell will betray me. I'm a good corporate citizen, generally, but this gets my goat, so to speak. (By the way, did anyone get that? Goat sort of = Artiodactylus?)

Now that I'm working the money should not be such a problem. But it is---I found out on payday that my employer pays in arrears, just like EI (after the two week waiting period to receive benefits or pay, there's another two weeks to wait). So I don't get paid until the end of the month.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bid early, bid often!

This is a public plea for people to look at my eBay sales. I had time on my hands yesterday, and these things were already boxed up, so I listed them:
  • An aluminum tortilla press that I never got the hang of using (a looker asked me why it was so "inexpensive." I replied that it IS an auction, typically starting low to attract bidders...)
  • A vintage Pyrex covered casserole from the 1930s, made for the Russakov Club by Corning Glass Works
  • A vintage 1950s set of 3 Pyrex clear glass nested mixing bowls in lovely condition
  • A shabby woolen runner in reds and blues that may or may not be a vintage Navajo rug (eBay doesn't let you say what you think it is if you don't have provenance on it).
It's mainly because, even with the contract pay, it will take me ages to pay down the debts I incurred while I was out of work. I don't know how people do it. I don't usually live with debt for very long (I don't count the mortgage). When I had cable I'd watch TV programs on dealing with singles' or couples' debt. I could easily sympathize with the subjects, but couldn't relate---until now. I'm not in dangerous debt, but I'm unhappy about it, since I'm not making enough money to pay it off quickly.

And my lovely tax refund, which I usually get in mid-March, will go right to what's left of the debts!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A fine kettle of phish, and Protestant "guilt" ethic

My third day at work, and I call in sick. I started feeling not so great yesterday afternoon, after a poor night's sleep on Monday night. Woke up in the middle of the night coughing. Buckleys Mixture does work, for a while. Woke up again with the cat alarm ("We're alarmed! Wake up! Feed us! Let us help you wake up by knocking everything off your nightstand!"), just before the radio went on. Sneezing. Headache. Chills. Put on a fleece jacket under my thick cotton jacket since the indoor temp is over 20C. Good thing too, because Handsome Stranger was busy keeping my neck and shoulders warm, and I haven't clipped his claws lately.

I e-mailed and left voice messages with HR and my co-worker, asking for something to do. It's not strictly the Protestant Work Ethic---more like the Protestant Guilt Ethic. I can't take any cold/flu products that are available over the counter to alleviate symptoms, since almost all (including Alka-Seltzer) are contraindicated for diabetics. Otherwise I'd suck it up (unlike me, since I'm so self-indulgent when it comes to my health, sort of). So I asked for a document to work on.

And I got a very realistic PayPal message the other day. But I knew I hadn't sent a payment to anyone for anything. PayPal agreed that it was a spoof/phishing e-mail. I think these "phishers of men" take advantage of those of us who, while in our cups or three sheets to the wind or looking upon the wine while it is red, bid on auctions or buy products late at night. I try to avoid that these days, after the DazzleWhite fiasco. Though I was stone-cold sober when I fell for that one.

Monday, October 5, 2009

New Job, and New Scanner

First day at the new contract job. Apparently it takes over a week to requisition a work station, so I didn't have a computer to work on (this isn't the first time it's happened at a new job; at one place they forgot I was coming at all, and then my new boss couldn't remember my name). But my new co-worker and I toured the building and she introduced me to the Admin team members, and we reviewed the list of documents we will be working on. They are posted on the corporate intranet. And I figured out how to record a personal greeting on the phone. There's a Tim Hortons downstairs, and an underground walkway to the subway station. I can imagine that, with winter coming, the uphill walk to work and the downhill back will be (voice of Cloris Leachman as Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein)...treacherous. (Remind me to write a note to myself to get a copy of that movie; it's one of my favourites.)

I just wrote about my old computer equipment but didn't mention my refurbished scanner (bought in 2000) was an Epson Perfection 636. Perfectly serviceable still, but when I upgraded the operating system from Win98 to WinXP the software drivers for it couldn't be updated. It took ages to find and download new software, but the $50US or so was worth it. It takes an 8.5 x 11" page. But the software only implies that it can scan negatives to positives. Either it's lying to me or I can't figure out how to work it.

I want to make family calendars as Christmas gifts this year, and I want to use old family pictures. A few months ago I bought a negative/slide scanner on eBay (FS-C1-VP-BX2 Film & Slide Digital Converter). But no how, no way could I install it on my Toshiba laptop. I gave the whole mess to my brother who was able to get it working on his laptop, but he's not very fond of it. And he's a lazy sod: he scanned exactly one image---from his and Mom's trip last year to Australia. I'll take it back and re-sell it on eBay.

So instead of trying to get him to scan old negatives, I'll get Mom to send me her selections of actual photos from multiple albums and I'll scan them and upload them to one of the custom calendar sites.

In the meantime, spending money I don't have again, I fell for a new HP Scanjet G3110 flatbed from Staples that also does slides and negatives (and bulky items: useful for online auctioneers). And it actually works! The bonus is that it plugs into a USB port so I can use it on the laptop. I can also scan to PDF and e-mail. So I'm happy now. Tra la!

Here's a scan of my girl Bwai from a negative strip using the Scanjet. If she looks blue, she is---she just had a shave. Note how her fat belly hangs over her back feet.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Old computer and software still useful

I started working in Information Technology in the summer of 1989. My first work PC was an XT, similar to this one, sound effects and all. I used Word Perfect on DOS to write and update financial systems manuals. I think we had network folders, and a primitive e-mail system. A few higher-tech people had Windows PCs, but I didn't get one for a year or so.

In 2001 I was fired from a job after five months (gawd, what a relief! I hated that job!). I got a decent severance package, and went out and bought my first (refurbished) home computer---a Compaq tower with a staggering 9G processor, Windows 98, CRT monitor, roller-ball mouse, and PS2 keyboard. People had been making fun of me for a few years because I didn't have e-mail. But I got hooked up with an ISP a day or so later. I called Bell Canada, but they would only send me their Internet start-up package by snail-mail, and I wanted to be online pretty soon. I got on the phone with a tech from another service provider, and he walked me through the steps. I put my résumé online (I think it was Workopolis) in the morning and by mid-afternoon I was getting calls from head-hunters. Those were the days, eh?

Over the next couple of weeks I met about eight recruiters and hiring managers, and had several interviews. I turned down one job because it was too far to commute, and another because there were too many people on the writing team. I interviewed for a lone tech writer position in the morning, and when I arrived home shortly after I found a voice message from my head-hunter that I'd been offered the job.

Anyways, to make a long story even longer, I was allowed home-use installs for Microsoft Office, Adobe FrameMaker, and Acrobat. I've since upgraded from Win98 to WinXP and MS Office 2003, and I have a pirated version of PhotoShop. I had bought a refurbished flatbed scanner, which came in very handy when I was selling a lot on eBay. (My primitive method was to take film photos of my items and scan them and upload them.) And all that software still works! I scanned my autograph yesterday and created a digital signature using Acrobat, so I could e-mail my prize declaration form and not have to spend a dollar plus tax on faxing it.

I don't have Internet access on it anymore, though, and I need to take the tower apart so I can fix the CD drawer. I guess I used it as a cup holder for too long...

Friday, October 2, 2009

The money is just pouring in!

Along with the $100 CA or so that I will get for the shoes I sold on eBay, the $10 CA I earned filling out web surveys, and the one-cent piece I found on the floor of the pharmacy the other day, I have been notified that I won $50 in an online draw.

Once I fill out the Declaration and Release Form and fax it in, and send an e-mail with my answer to the skill-testing mathematical question ("without mechanical or other assistance in the amount of time permitted") within seven days, I will get my prize e-mailed to me in four to six weeks.

The last time I won anything of value was at a company Christmas party in about 1992. The prize was a Hitachi boom box (CD, AM/FM, dual tape deck). The CD player no longer works, but I still use the radio part as a morning alarm. I have tonnes (well, quite a few) pre-recorded cassette tapes from my favourite artists in the 1980s and 1990s. So I hang onto the thing even though it takes up a lot of room. My car has only a tape player, and my road trip music tends to be stuff I can sing along to, like Prince (really!), and The Mamas and Papas' and Eagles' greatest hits, so I hang onto all the cassettes too.

I haven't bought a lottery ticket in quite a while because I spend my imaginary disposable income on smokes and cat supplies. But with all the luck I'm having lately I'm going to keep my eyes open, and if I find a two-dollar coin in the gutter I might just indulge. Not buying a lottery ticket has been about as successful for me as buying one (punchline to old joke).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Time to turn on the furnace, dammit!

I hate this time of year. Well, not hate, exactly: I don't like having to turn the gravity furnace on, and not just because it's not a simple matter of flipping a switch and turning up the thermostat. Last year I didn't turn it on until October 3, so I haven't held out quite as long. But it just hasn't been that cold here until today.

It's freakin' cold in the house, though (probably because I still have quite a few windows open). While it's sunny the outside temp is about 8C (48F). And in here it's about 14C according to my ancient thermostat.

A gravity furnace, while it may be inefficient in fuel use, has some advantages. There are no air filters to change. It has no moving parts such as a fan. The only electricity it uses is to turn the gas valve on and off. There are no electric blowers, so you don't feel air flow when the furnace is on, and there's less dust in the air. Because it's made of cast iron, the whole thing retains heat, so even while it's off it's heating the basement (and the dining room floor). I have double-glazed windows, and I have sealed up any drafts I can find using caulking, expanding foam insulation, and backer rod, especially around the south side of the house. When I had the house inspected in November 1998, the carbon monoxide reading was extremely low, like 9 parts per billion or something (the inspector told me and my real estate agent that the cigarettes we just smoked put out way more CO than the furnace). I of course have a carbon monoxide detector. The only time it sounded was when I wiped it with a furniture polishing cloth that had some volatile compounds impregnated in it. I stopped using those!

The only cold air leaking in comes from the ancient back door frame. I remedy this by stuffing an old blanket in a plastic bag between the doors, since the weather stripping doesn't quite do the job.

On the other hand, the gigantic ducts take up a lot of head room in the basement. I'm 170cm (5'7") and I have to duck in a few places. The furnace itself takes up a lot of room, sitting as it does in about the centre of the space, and having a circumference of about three meters/10 feet. Getting it out will require some specialists in asbestos removal, since there are sheets of AB protecting the floor joists from the hot water duct to the chimney. It's probably less than 50 percent efficient (though the higher gas bill is offset by the lower electricity use). And getting a mid- or high-efficiency furnace will cost, well, a lot more than I have in the bank.

And I was lucky I bought the house when I did---new insurance rules in 1999 required a furnace to be less than 25 years old. Mine is almost 90. If I wanted to change my insurer I'd have to replace the furnace first. These rules also require replacement of knob-and-tube wiring and galvanized plumbing pipes, and an upgrade to 100-amp input service. This has been done already, but there's more to go.

So the furnace is on, I'm covered in dust and cobwebs, the windows are closed, the temp is already up to 17C, and my ankles are feeling warmer. Maybe I'll put on some socks, though.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Daily Kitten Klub has a new member

And while Handsome Stranger is not guaranteed to be the next featured feline on The Daily Kitten, he has joined the Kitten Klub:


Though I'd really like to bludgeon the webmaster for such a nasty name.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The first 2116 steps...

I e-mailed my brother today: "The way to get things back in balance is: eat regularly; smaller meals of whole (unprocessed) foods, including more vegetables; exercise; reduce stress; quit smoking (!); reduce alcohol and caffeine. I sure as hell haven't been doing any of that the last few months." This is the general advice to myself for improving my digestion, which has been causing me trouble recently, and should also help my general health, especially diabetes.

So this morning I made a protein shake with water instead of soy milk, and with psyllium, inulin and glutamine powder, and a tbsp of cocoa; ate a hard-boiled egg, half an apple, and a handful of washed grapes. I will start washing fruit properly for the first time ever, too. I wonder which food makes my stomach hurt more?

Then I attached my pedometer and walked for 2116 steps, including a set of stairs off an adjoining street that leads up to a cul de sac, at which point I turn left to get to my house. I'll try to do another walk later today.

If 2116 steps sounds like a lot, it isn't. It took me 20 minutes or so at a moderate pace. And 10,000 steps a day is what I should work up to.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Another eBay sale - MBT walking shoes

I bought original MBT walking shoes from a specialty shoe store in Toronto (at full price, back when I could still afford them) in an effort to restart my 30-minutes-a-day walking program. But I never got used to them and need to find another exercise/sport/recreation program to get my muscle tone, cardio, and flexibility back. (I'm not too old, yet! I hope...)

So instead of letting them gather dust (and cat hair, which I didn't include in my listing!) I'm selling them on eBay. I've got five bids and eight watchers with just under five days left to go.
Please, have a look! You can even bid!
UPDATE October 1: Whee! They sold for a good price to a buyer in Alberta.

Working days are here again (almost)

On Monday, October 5 I start a six-month contract with an Ontario provincial corporation. I won't say who it's for---this might be too public, and I did have to get a police security check. If at the end of the contract period I don't get an extension (though my two previous contracts in 2000 and 2005 were extended well before they were due to end), I won't have to wait for employment insurance (EI). I will continue to report every two weeks to keep my file active ("yes, I did do paid work; no, I haven't changed my address").

If I don't sound all that happy, well, I guess I am happy in a way---but I've become used to the semi-retired lifestyle! I spend the day surfing the web and e-mailing, writing a diary, lying around reading, taking marathon naps, and not much else. I've lost all my good habits: no exercise, worrying incessantly about money, drinking and smoking too much, and not eating properly.

And I may be in trouble with the gas companies. I thought my water heater rental agreement was with Enbridge, but it's actually with Direct Energy (DE). I did not renew the contract with DE (I know I sent the cancellation in time); I had better look at the contract terms to make sure that the services I contracted for (water heater rental and gas billing) will not be renewed.

And I doubt that livclean, my new water heater provider, made any kind of arrangement with DE. Ellen Roseman, who writes "On Your Side" for the Toronto Star, has helped a number of other people with conflicts in their second-party marketing gas contracts. But I hope it doesn't come to that. I just received my August gas bill---I used 5 cM in a month. That amounts to about $1.40 CA, though the total bill was over $35.

OK: here's my Happy Dance, now that I'll start working in just over a week.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Weakest Link - Google Ad

I know I'm not supposed to click the Ads by Google links on my own blog pages (I got a terse warning from Adsense because I clicked lots of links on my pages, trying to up my earnings), but I couldn't resist clicking this one:

Here's what came up (note the URL under the banner):

And here are the link properties (left).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Gas Hot Water Heater!

I just got a very good house improvement and it should cost me very little if anything. I get credited for carbon offsets, and I might even save money every month.

A guy from livclean came by on Wednesday (Sept. 16) to offer me a new gas water heater (Energy Star-rated), at no charge to me upfront. I don't think very many of my neighbours took advantage of this offer, although quite a few people rent their gas hot water heaters from Enbridge. I imagine that callers going house to house are not fully trusted, especially considering some reports of unscrupulous natural gas marketing firms. But I fell for it, so to speak.

My furnace, kitchen range, and hot water are gas-powered. My 5-year fixed-price contract with Direct Energy will end next month, and I'll be billed again by Enbridge, Toronto's gas distributor; they'll charge 19.9 cents per cubic meter (I'm now paying 27.9 cents/cM), at least for the next few months: http://www.thestar.com/article/699257).

Anyway, I used to rent the water heater from Enbridge. That heater was more than 15 years old and it was putting out calcium deposits that clog up my low-flow faucets and shower head, and some of the laundry was getting a bit of a brownish stain.

livclean is an independent Canadian company that has partnered with Enbridge to take over their water heater rental business. So instead of renting my water heater from Enbridge I'll be renting from livclean. The monthly rental charge will be $5 more but I will save some money on the gas to heat the water (maybe $7.00 per month). And livclean offers carbon offsets.

Two installers came yesterday (Sept. 21) at about 1 pm. Considering that I made the appointment the previous Wednesday for between noon and 5 pm, that was quick service. They did the work quickly and neatly, cleaned up after themselves, showed me how to operate it in vacation mode, when to do my own maintenance (drain a bucket every six to 12 months), and how to restart the pilot if I have to turn it off. I asked if it was safe to replace the insulating blanket I'd had on the old heater, and they said I could, but the new heater has good insulation (I put my hand on it once the water was heated---which took about 30 minutes from cold---and the surface was cool).

They also replaced the foam insulator with a nice thick new piece. One of the installers offered me the spare pieces. "Cats like to play with them," he said. Imagine my dismay---I thought my two girls had invented those games!


Monday, September 21, 2009

What are we supposed to live on?

Not to sound all whiny or ungrateful or anything---but I'm nearly out of money because my first Employment Insurance (EI) deposit hasn't arrived. In fact, I am more than out of money. I used my Visa card to pay the minimum on my line of credit (LOC) last week. (This is known as robbing Peter to pay Paul.) Two weeks ago I moved money out of the LOC into my chequing account to cover the overdraft after my mortgage payment came out. And for about the third time in five years I can only pay the minimum on my MasterCard (I usually pay the full balance), which has a 19.97% interest rate. And my mortgage is due again this Friday.

The so-called two-week waiting period for EI is actually more like six weeks. I gave my bank account info when I applied to get my benefit cheques directly deposited. When I called Service Canada a few weeks ago I was told I'd get some money starting the week of September 15. It's now the first day of fall (and a LOVELY day it is, too).

However, I'm on a very short short-list for a contract position (they've asked for ID to conduct a security check, and I've got two of the required three employment references). So by the time I get my first EI deposit I might also have a job. Wouldn't that be ironic?

September 21 UPDATE: I called the Service Canada toll-free number and found that I will get a deposit as early as tomorrow and as late as Wednesday. It will be enough to pay the mortgage and buy cat food, litter, and smokes. This is only a week later than the agent I spoke to told me I'd get it. If I have to live on EI for any length of time that's about all I'll be able to afford.

September 24 UPDATE: Yes, the deposit came Tuesday. And I faxed ID for the security check and three references. I expect the security check will take a few days (Sault Ste-Marie Police Service conducts it), so I might even get another EI deposit.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The 22-Hour Cat Day

Since I've been out of work (June 11/09), the cats are mostly pleased to have me at home. But my waking and sleeping hours are no longer regular. I sometimes get up for the day as early as 4:30 am. The cats then expect to be fed immediately. And of course they get hungry early and start asking for "supper" around 2 pm. If I cave and feed them just a little bit, they want a lot more at their regular feeding after 5 pm. And after my ER visit, when I missed their late-afternoon feeding by about nine hours and they got their expensive kibble at 3 am, they of course woke me up at 6:30 am wondering why I wasn't up and catering to them.

They have vays to make me vake up. My fat girl, Bwai, once nuzzled the bedside lamp so hard it fell over and cut my forehead (if I hadn't rolled over toward her at that second I would have had a scalp wound instead). Handsome Stranger makes a nest in my hair and purrs and kneads---always a reminder to clamp him between my legs and trim his claws.

I think it works like this: their perceived day is getting shorter. I mean, it's just not reasonable for them to start asking me for food at those stupid hours. I can't knock their heads together and make them fall asleep for a while longer. Can I?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Over Thirteen Hours in Emergency, or The ER Symphony

I had radiating chest pains early Thursday afternoon, after a two-day bout of what I thought was indigestion (it felt like food was coming up my esophagus, or was stuck partway down---might have been the popcorn I'd eaten 12 hours before). I was walking to the grocery to get some lunch when the pains started increasing. I stopped by my doctor's office on the way home (she had finished office hours but she checked my pulse and suggested I go to the emergency room). Of course my pulse was elevated, and I felt my BP was going up (probably due to stress). I've had numerous heart tests in the past year (http://diabetes-cats.blogspot.com/2009/01/five-hours-for-cardio-tests.html, http://diabetes-cats.blogspot.com/2009/04/its-been-year.html) to look at atypical heart rhythms so I'm at risk for heart problems.

So I took a cab to the local hospital, arriving about 1:20 pm (busy-busy place, lots of EMS personnel and cops coming in with elderly passengers in crisis, and quite a few under- or over-medicated people). I was registered and through triage fairly quickly, but had to wait a couple of hours for blood taking and the EKG. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. During this time I did some yogic breathing and visualization, and that helped with my rapid pulse and even the chest pains. After over nine hours, I was at the top of the list---for the cardio doc, which still meant that other patients were seen before me. I said I wanted to leave, but the nurse told me if I did my file would be closed and I'd have to start over the next day. I wandered away, had a bit of a sniffle, got hold of myself, and went back to pacing.

Finally, after over 10 hours, I was called and put in an exam room. But by that time eight hours had passed since the blood was taken and the EKG was done. So they had to be done over again. The doctor also ordered a chest x-ray, though that only took about 20 minutes. Of course I had to wait again for the blood to be assayed and the radiologist to review the x-rays---another two hours. I was out of there by 2 am, with a copy of my EKG results and blood tests (random glucose and A1C: yuck results; but I had missed both my lunch and supper meds).

An emergency room is an unsettling place. A gurney was rushed in ("code blue, pediatric resuscitation") with a vanishingly small patient; a few minutes later I was pacing near the entrance when a very distressed woman staggered in with an EMT who was helping her into a wheelchair; she could barely breathe through her tears, let alone walk ("Is that the mother? Yes, she's the mother").

Somewhat later five burly cops (four men, one woman) hauled in a screaming woman in handcuffs and shoved her up against the wall. The woman, who I estimated to be about 30, was around my size, but she needed five cops to subdue her?? What happened to talking, mediation, and calming techniques? Not these cretins.

But the patients in the increasingly-crowded ER were generally helpful with each other (and mostly patient with the process). And I had some friendly conversations with several of them.

I paid my cab home in loonies and quarters, arriving at about 2:45 am. But I'd had only one (bummed) cigarette in all that time, so I had plenty when I got home. It's too bad I got up at 4:30 am on Thursday---after nearly 24 hours awake and severely stressed, I can't imagine falling asleep any time sooZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ...

UPDATE: My blood tests and EKG did NOT indicate any heart problems, real or imagined, though the cardio doc (a rather handsome and brisk man, as was the nurse) made an appointment for me, due to that lump in my chest that kicked off this whole ordeal, with the same gastroenterologist who supervised my colon exams last year. And a nice person from the hospital called me today to confirm the date of the gastro appointment and to ask how my experience was (and I TOLD her), and she apologized for all the delays. Apparently it was a busy-busy day in the TEGH ER. Now I have a sore throat: probably an infection I caught from one of the hundreds of sick people I encountered.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My "new" swivel chairs

I found two of these Palma Brava rolling swivel chairs at Value Village on Saturday, $9.99 CA each. The casters on mine are round but that's the only difference. The arms are rattan, the base and back are silver-polished cast iron, and the seat is leather. They're in lovely condition (except I have to clean up the casters---I rolled them home from the store over our rough sidewalks).

I left a message at the Palma Brava store. I got a call back quite soon: the chairs are at half-price at the moment, $412.50 each (originally $825.00, if you're too tired to do the math). Unfortunately they don't fit under my kitchen table, though they look very nice in there.

I have this thing about chairs. I'm liable to pick up a wreck off the curb with a plan to fix it up. I have two retro (ca. 1962) tub chairs, made for Eaton's, in the living room: one that I got off the curb and the other that a friend sold me for $20. They're matching, but the foam is missing from the cushions and thanks to the cats need reupholstering.

Since they're so pricey and they don't really fit in my house, I've listed the swivel chairs for sale on Kijiji. But I don't know how well that site works...maybe I'll have better luck on eBay.ca, local pickup only (click links to see my offers).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Various remarks on smell and stinks

I read an article in the Toronto Star today about anosmia---the lack of a sense of smell. I've been without for as long as I can remember. I thought the article was pretty funny---the subject of the article was 16 years old when she first realized she had no sense of smell after stink bombs were let off in her school and she didn't run away screaming from the stench. She said, "It never occurred to me there was anything wrong with me. Everyone else was just a complainer." Well, duh!

I followed my family's and other people's behaviour when it came down to it: inhaling and smiling at the Sunday meal: grimacing at others' reports of foul odours. No connection to an actual smell...

My mother still didn’t believe that I didn’t share her very keen sense of smell even after a robin’s egg broke in my room one night. My great-uncle had given me a bird’s nest with an egg in it. I put it on my window sill with all the china birds I’d collected from Red Rose tea boxes, and the family cat, attracted by the smell, knocked it down and broke the egg. Mom was woken from a sound nap, waiting for my dad to come home from Scouts, by the smell; she was in the living room one floor below and I was behind a closed door. She came roaring upstairs, "whydidn'tyoucleanthatup?!" I was eight years old then.

My friend nearly wept when she helped me pick up my first brand-new car: “You can’t smell the new car smell!” A potential boyfriend once asked if my anosmia might reduce my sexual pleasure! I expect it might; I don’t remember…

And I just spent a few minutes with both my neighbours DF and CMcD who helped me investigate the source of the cat litter smell into their house from my basement. C called and said there was still an odour. I said I'd JUST changed out two litter boxes and de-clumped the other two. Both said the smell in the basement was "catty"---only to be expected with four cats in the house---but not as horrendous as they both expected. Between the three of us we sought out gaps in our common walls on both sides, and they even donated a can of Great Stuff for more sealing power.

We may have it licked, if I do the sealing and keep up with the de-clumping.

UPDATE 1: I e-mailed the author of the Toronto Star article with some of the above remarks, and he was kind enough to reply a few days later.

UPDATE 2: I could see where DF used the sealing foam during his kitchen reno on my side of the semi. I don't think my contractors did anything except repair the drywall. But I found a HUGE drafty gap at the bottom of my basement stairs. I started filling it with aluminum foil sheets as a barrier for the Great Stuff for Large Gaps. Then I started filling the gap. I had to let the first, second, and third applications cure. Then I started stuffing newspapers and plastic bags into the gap before I sprayed again. That was a couple of weeks ago now. Either the gap is sealed and the problem is solved, or C and D are just not complaining any more...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Books for sale

Among other things to declutter in this house are books I've read (or haven't read and have no intention of reading or re-reading) and those I want to get rid of. (Get rid of books?! How dare you?) I posted an item on the Editors' list a few weeks ago ("I have nothing to read") and got made fun of, a bit. But the responders advised re-reading what I have. Except that is what I keep close -- books I've read that I will re-read. And new books I haven't read yet. Especially the ones with pretty covers.

But the computer/guest room (middle bedroom) where I want to store/shelve the books is leprously deteriorated; it's where the roof leaks. The plaster skim coat on the ceiling (from 1920, probably) is peeling and dropping off; there are brown water stains dripping down the walls; since I took out the wooden Ikea corner computer desk (a neighbour took it away last spring) there's no place to use the Compaq desktop with all the power apps (and no Internet). And no guest could possibly sleep comfortably there at the moment.

I just spent some money I don't have at http://www.betterworld.com/ for three Robert B. Parker books that will be new to me. That site 1) recycles used books, especially from libraries; 2) promotes literacy.

So now my options are to 1) cull the books I will not read or re-read, and 2) sell them someplace (maybe Alibris).

Wish me luck. Books are not decor to me, books are just there at the moment.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

80 pounds of kitty litter

That's what I bought yesterday ($9.99 CA per box of fresh4life). Two persons from the store carried the boxes out to my trunk (17.7 kg/40 lbs each) and I lugged them into the house and down to the basement today. In the last few weeks I have been de-clumping once or twice every day (in the next couple of weeks I expect to develop the hard-wired habit) and refreshing with new litter, sprinkling lots of baking soda on the litter, and spraying Febreze air freshener every time. (My former house mate, during the 2.7 years he lived here, declumped the litter about 6 times, and never once bought litter, the filthy, lazy basterd, even though his nasty cat used it several times a day. But then he never bought detergent or toilet paper either.)

I've spent more money on eradicating the odour (detergent, litters, baking soda, air spray) than I have on person food in the last month. Well, maybe I've spent the equivalent on booze...

Despite everything I've read and heard about cleaning out cat litter boxes on a regular basis (that is, do it every day!), and which I have never ever done, my neighbours have never had a problem with the smell invading their place until earlier this summer (http://diabetes-cats.blogspot.com/2009/08/benign-neglect.html). They renovated their kitchen about a year ago and probably sealed whatever open areas that were left in our common walls (mine were sealed in 2004 during my kitchen reno; I used to be able to see into their basement, and mice travelled around).

So after I changed out all the litter and corralled up the stray poops, I washed the basement floors with Borax and CLOSED A WINDOW. This seems to have helped somewhat, since I've had no calls about it.

But I'm afraid of answering the phone.

UPDATE: The No-Name store brand kitty litter, even the multiple-cat one, isn't worth the plastic jug it comes in. I got a few 7kg containers on sale at $3.99 a week or so ago (regularly $4.99). The fresh4life brand in the 17.7 kg box costs about 64 cents per kilogram. The No-Name also worked out to be about 64 cents per kg---on sale! And it has to be changed out more often.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mountain Ash Buffet for Robins

My neighbour's mountain ash tree produced an excellent crop of bright reddish-orange berries this year. I took a picture of it in full glory on August 30 (left; click to see larger image), and then watched over the next six days while the robins stripped it bare (September 4, right).

I was reading in bed and watched one poor bird. He seemed to be falling asleep -- first his head tilted to one side, then his right wing flopped. When some other robins flew into the tree he woke up a bit and gobbled a few more berries; then he fell asleep again with his head tilted to the side. It was like watching a drunk on the subway! It seems like there are a lot of ash berries this year. I wonder if that means the winter will be cold?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Banana Loaf or Muffins - low fat, no added sugar

My goodness, it's September already! Our last three weeks of summer will probably be nicer than the first three months...and it's cool enough overnight and in the mornings to make me want to turn the furnace on early.

Now to the point: I've modified this recipe considerably, mainly by: deleting the sugar; if I'm a bit short of mashed banana I've added an extra egg; I mix different flours (yesterday I used 2/3 whole-wheat all-purpose flour and 1/3 teff flour). It doubles well and freezes well, if you've got a particularly big bunch of over-ripe bananas. And of course you can add up to 3/4 of a cup of brown sugar if you really need to.

Banana-Fruit Loaf or Muffins, adapted from “Banana Walnut Loaf” recipe, The Chatelaine Cookbook, © 1973

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or spray baking dishes (muffin pans or loaf pans). Prepare a cup of fresh or frozen and thawed berries (yesterday I used thawed cranberries and blueberries), or chopped walnuts.

Dry ingredients:

In a large bowl, stir together:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup brown sugar (optional)

Stir dry ingredients and nuts/fruit(s) together.

Wet ingredients:

In a medium bowl, mix well:
  • 1.5 cups mashed banana
  • 1/4 vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil)
  • 1/4 cup soured milk (to sour fresh milk, add a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice and stir)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Make a well in dry ingredients and stir wet ingredients in lightly. Stir only enough to moisten dry ingredients.

Fill prepared pan(s) and smoosh batter to edges. Don't over-fill!

Makes enough for 1 9x6x3 inch loaf (bake for 1 hour at 350F) or 12 muffins (bake at 350F for 25 minutes) or until toothpick inserted in loaf/muffin comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 10 or 15 minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks (or slather with butter and eat warm!). BTW, waiting to remove the loaf or muffins keeps them together -- if you try to remove them when they're hot they'll fall to pieces.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Baby clam and red pepper sauce recipe

I had dozens of cookbooks (none of the classics like Joy of Cooking, though I have a New Larousse Gastronomique) but I still couldn't find a recipe for canned baby clams (they were on sale) except for a white sauce for linguine. So I made up my own. You can serve this on al dente whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or other cooked grain like couscous. Al dente pasta has a lower glycemic index than over-cooked floppy mushy pasta. Make as much pasta or whatever as you need. This recipe freezes well.

A mere quarter-cup of baby clams provides well over 100 percent of the RDI for iron and B12. They're a bit high in cholesterol, but wtf. I like the chewy texture. A handy site for finding way more than you need to know about the nutritional components of various foods, including some brand names, is the USDA Fat-Free database. Just type in the food in the field at the top and hit Enter. With the beans and whole grain pasta or brown rice, this provides a good source of dietary fiber; lots of Vitamin A and C; iron; and some protein.

I like to get all my ingredients measured out before I start cooking. That way, if I decide to drink a little wine in the process I don't get as muddled up. And you can pour a half-cup or so of the wine into the sauce, too. Any or all of the herbs and spices are up to you.

Here we go:

Clams in Red Pepper Sauce (c) Karen E. Black 2009

  • 1 tbsp canola oil (or enough to just lightly cover the bottom of a large saucepan)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 can baby clams, drained
  • 2 sweet red peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped (I prefer sweet onions, but you can use what you like)
  • 2 cups diced fresh or canned tomatoes
  • 1 cup canned black beans (AKA turtle beans), drained and rinsed (this removes salt)

Heat oil in pot on medium high heat (don't let it smoke!). Add the spices and herbs and stir briefly until they're aromatic.

Stir in red peppers and onion, and saute until tender (not too long -- about 5 minutes).

Add the tomatoes, clams, beans, wine, and reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve over pasta or rice or your whatever.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Squash and lentil soup (My own inventions)

Like the White Knight in Through the Looking-Glass, who repeatedly falls off his horse as I've been doing lately, I've decided to promote my own inventions: recipes for things I like to eat but can't find good recipes for. All the ingredients should be available in either regular grocery stores, bulk food stores, health food stores, or ethnic (middle Eastern) food stores.

Here's the first one:

Squash and Lentil Soup (c) Karen E. Black 2009

Provides a low-GI meal, high fiber, medium carbohydrates and protein; low sodium; vegan without milk, or with soy milk or with vegetable broth; no added fat.

Pressure-cook, steam, bake, or microwave 1 halved or quartered small or medium winter squash (like Acorn), scooped, cooled, and flesh removed (discard shell in compost!).

Bring to simmer in large pot (like a dutch oven, at least 4 liter size) 1 liter low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth or vegetable broth, or just plain water.

Cooked squash
1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
½ lb mushrooms, trimmed and halved
4 (or more or less) cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fenugreek (hypoglycemic)
1 tbsp black cumin seed (hypoglycemic; AKA Nigella sativa, black seed)
1 dried chili pepper, crushed and seeds removed (to increase heat, keep seeds)
Pepper to taste
¾ cups red lentils (these cook quickly so you can add them late in the cooking process)

Simmer until carrot is tender.

Blend all ingredients in blender or food processor. Mix in 1 cup skim milk or unsweetened soy milk if desired before serving.

Serve hot with a crusty whole-grain bread and steamed veg or side salad.

You might check your blood glucose levels one or two hours after eating to see if this recipe works for you.

I don't recall how many servings this makes (4-6?), but you can freeze 250ml portions for lunches.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My birthday (sigh) again and pies

Today is my fiftieth (mumble-mumble-mumble) birthday (I think last year's was my mumble-mumble birthday: http://diabetes-cats.blogspot.com/2008/08/my-birthday-sigh.html). My horoscopes are all in conflict today -- what are they thinking?!

My sweet Mom called me this morning and sang Happy Birthday to me. Her soprano is nowhere near what it was now that she's 77, but it was also early in the morning so she wasn't warmed up. She was going to the church to make pies today. She's in charge of trimming crusts, and she's not that keen on it. (She also sent me a cheque with my birthday card -- my bank holds any cheques from non-Ontario sources for six days, though, so it won't burn a hole in my pocket.)

I often watched her whip up a basic pie pastry in a couple of minutes. Her piecrusts were always light and flaky, and didn't, like mine, end up mounded high over the soggy fruit. She also didn't like the way I peeled apples for her, using a sharp potato peeler instead of a paring knife. I figured you'd get more fruit using the parer carefully, but it was too slow for her and she'd take over. As a result (yeah, right, blame your mother again!) I can't make a nice short flaky pastry.

It's been a summer. I've been out of work for almost three months, and instead of using this time to relax and enjoy the summer, work on my garden, clean and organize the house, keep in touch with friends, get in shape, etc., I've mostly been lazing around and feeling sorry for myself. I tell myself it's due to my severe sleep deficit: I haven't slept for eight hours in a row for years. It's not something you get used to. It's almost like being a shift worker.

I have a couple of pounds of frozen already-mashed overripe bananas (to make banana-walnut-cranberry-blueberry muffins, using no sugar and all-purpose whole wheat flour), and a couple of pounds of frozen gooseberries -- one cup or so from last year's garden's meagre harvest and several pints of big red ones from the grocery -- to make jam (no pectin required with my old-fashioned recipe). So it's not like I don't have anything to do; it's just like I don't feel like doing any of it.

However, I did just de-clump and deodorize (with baking soda) the litter boxes, so I hope that my neighbour is happy.

And Mr. Jones ran right up to the front door to greet me today, chirping and yowling -- he REALLY wants to come in the house. Handsome Stranger, on the other hand, has draped himself across my shoulders and is snoozing...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Night sweats may stem from gluten intolerance?

I've been plagued by night sweats for about 20 years, way before I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. These aren't, as far as I know, related to menopause. I suffered a bit from short-lived hot flashes (and only one noticeable mood swing a couple of years ago, though I can be a bit of a drama queen) but I seldom get them any more. I've been period-free for over two years now (whee!).

My mother (aged 77, bless her heart) gets them too, as does my older brother. I'm lucky to live in a house with four beds, so if I really had to I could move to another one when one gets too damp, though I usually just move to another quarter of the double bed. I keep a fan going with the window open, in winter I keep the heat at less than 17C (that's about 63F in US gallons), sleep in a T-shirt until it gets damp, cover the wet spots with a towel (and no, not those wet spots, dagnabbit), and usually sleep without covers.

I've read recently that night sweats that are not associated with perimenopause or menopause have numerous causes, including AIDS, tuberculosis, low blood glucose, hyper- and hypothyroidism, and celiac disease (major gluten intolerance with damage to the digestive system, not just periodic GI problems). I read one post from a woman who said she also suffers from calf pain, but that might be peripheral artery disease (PAD), which can be associated with diabetes.

My grandmother had hypothyroidism as well as Type 2 diabetes, but she never talked about night sweats. Problem is, while blood tests for several of these possible causes (I've been tested for HIV and TB since I used to be a regular blood donor), the test for celiac involves a biopsy. Ouch. I've had enough invasive tests for a few years.

So as a first step (which might also help with glucose control) I'm trying gluten-free products. I can eat quinoa, gluten-free oats, veggies and fruit, rice and rice flour. I haven't checked on hops yet...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Oh, the indignity of it all!

Our venerable porch cat Mr. Jones (aka Scuffy, Boss Cat, etc.) has a new moniker, courtesy of my neighbour's nearly-four-year-old daughter: Sparkle Tail the Girl Cat. Where she got this, I don't know: she's not a TV-watching child, much to her mother's chagrin. I'm going to ask her when he can be a Boy Cat again.

For at least a couple of years now both I and my neighbours have been feeding him every morning, and at least three other people on the street have contributed food and warm bedding. Another person has tried (unsuccessfully, so far) to get someone to contribute a recovery room for a couple of days, in hopes we can catch him, get him fixed, and release him in the 'hood.
In mid-winter he disappeared for nearly a month---when he reappeared at my front door in early February (http://diabetes-cats.blogspot.com/2009/02/cat-came-back.html) he'd lost half his winter weight. Now the summer fleas are causing him to suffer somewhat.
Mr. Jones's history is unknown. But one of my neighbours keeps tabs on where he hangs out. When we first started discussing him she swore he'd been around for at least five years. Then it became ten years. We chatted on the street earlier this week and she gave me an update on her observations, and now she claims he's been around for 20 years...
Mr. Jones has a couple of quirks: while he waits for me to come downstairs he stretches up to the window to peer in. When he sees me he sits back down. When I open the front door he steps politely into the hallway, then goes back out. When I put his food in his dish he sniffs it, looks up at me, and waits for me to pat him. Only then will he put his head down to eat.
What's really pathetic is that lately he is trying to walk further into the house when I open the door. My heart is breaking because, with four indoor cats already, and his unknown temperament and health, I can't let him in.
But my four indoor cats are complacent when he appears (unlike their reaction to other outdoor cats they see), and he and Peabo have sniffed noses. So, could he come in?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Benign Neglect

The last time I made banana muffins I neglected to clean the muffin pans out (nice vintage Ecko ones from Value Village). I don't like having to peel a paper off my muffins so the pans had a few crumbs stuck to them. Once that hardened, I decided to give them a good (read: too long) soak. All that did was rust them up and leave stains on my sink. So I cleaned them up a bit, then decided to throw them out. Then I decided to offer them back to Value Village. Then I decided to list them on a free-for-the-taking site like declutterize or ReUseIt or freecycle. Then I decided to clean them with steel wool and extra-fine wet-dry sandpaper from Lee Valley. They still have a few stains on them, but they are in pretty good shape now. Remind me to write a note to myself to buy a few over-ripe bananas. And maybe some paper muffin cups, though I abhor the things.

There are few things that don't suffer from benign neglect -- dental health; my back yard; the vegetable crisper contents. In the garden, lilacs much prefer a sunny location over fertilization to bloom in the spring, and morning glory and nasturtium much prefer a poor soil, otherwise there's lots of foliage and few blooms.

And cat litter boxes.

I've got four of the poopy things. Cats, that is. Pet sites all recommend one litter box per cat plus one extra. I only have four boxes, but one of them is four feet long and two feet wide (it's an under-the-bed plastic storage box that didn't fit under the bed when I got it home). I was mortified when my attached neighbour asked me over. She was quite kind: asking me how I was doing, about the job hunt, and so on. Then she mentioned that the litter box smell was coming through our common basement wall into their upstairs. Augh! I immediately dumped and replaced the litter, after washing out the boxes with washing soda and sprinkling baking soda in the bottoms. I washed the floors with a liquid that's supposed to deodorize cat-smelling areas, and sprayed Febreze around.

Strangely, I suffer (or not) from life-long anosmia -- no sense of smell. So that makes benign neglect all that much easier for me.

And leave a comment if you want my very low-fat, no-sugar banana loaf recipe!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is it necessary to water during a summer drought?

We haven't had a drought in Toronto this summer (yet). In previous years the August heat and funny weather can cause lawns to go yellow. But grass is resilient and it will recover quickly after one good rain, but home owners still use drinking water from the tap to keep it green.

Toronto.ca provides a LOT of information on lawns, including discouraging them. I say, "Nature abhors a lawn" (you heard it here first). I say, "Grass is one plant." Organic farmers discourage monoculture. A "nice" lawn needs pesticide and fertilizer. The City of Toronto will not pick up grass clippings, unless you hide them at the bottom of a yard waste bag under other weed and clippings.

Two years ago I had my back downspout disconnected. Incompetent workers created more issues with the roof (see http://diabetes-cats.blogspot.com/2009/03/this-has-been-day.html) than they helped, and I've had my eaves troughs and downspouts replaced and the rain barrel moved. My front yard is mostly xeriscaped (drought-loving summer plants).

What I should really do is take out the roses. I have two in the front. One is in a really bad place that doesn't get enough water, though it's survived, blooms only once in the late spring, and then gets eaten by bugs. I don't water or fertilize it. The other is a similar old-fashioned plant that I bought a few years ago. Now I love roses (mine are magenta). But I don't like maintenance.

My brother's blueberries

My bro has a nice big property in a small town -- two-bedroom house with a nice-sized deck and a patio, separate garage with workshop, a storage shed for his lawn tractor and other equipment, and a stocked trout pond, with a small covered bridge he built over the creek that feeds it. He loves to cut down old trees and plant new ones. And he bought some blueberry bushes this spring that have produced some nice big juicy berries, some of which he brought when he visited last week.
I've planted blueberry bushes before, but they didn't take. Besides, I like things I can ignore that will still produce. When I got my big silver maple cut down I lost all the boysenberries.
Canadian blueberries are on special at a few places right now. The cultivated ones are huge and sweet. I should buy a few more and freeze them. Wild blueberries grow low to the ground and are a trial to gather (not to mention that black bears like them too), though they have way more of the valuable anthocyanins and antioxidants, and cost more in stores. One year at camp, my mother picked enough to make 36 500ml jars of wild blueberry jam. That's back-breaking work, and goes to show you how bored she was while my dad worked as Arts & Crafts director.

I bought 9 dry pints of BC blueberries today and am in the process of freezing them for the fall and winter -- they're good on hot cereal!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Garden "During" File

This is the mess in the back. The weeds were over a foot high before my Big Bro took his gas-powered weed trimmer to it. The electric lawnmower was sort of incorporated in the weeds...but it's worked before after spending the winter outside.

Some of the raspberry canes are up to eight feet tall. They bear fruit the size of the tip of my thumb well into the fall. They aren't doing as well this year due to the rain and cooler weather; last year, even after the 'coons got at them (I could tell by the visible seeds in the poops they dropped on my lawn), I still got enough fruit to make 25 jars of jam.

I plan on building a raised bed for strawberries (I'd like to find a bale of straw somewhere), and moving the asparagus to a sunny location, where I'll also be reminded to fertilize and mulch. I also have rhubarb that I moved and separated this spring.

And the gooseberries are now in a sunny spot, but they didn't like being moved this year and didn't blossom, though they have survived pretty well. I'll have to figure out how far back to prune them.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Family visit and "garden" update

My older brother came to visit on Sunday for a few days. He likes to invite himself; I arrange vacation time; he doesn't show up (well, he's done it twice: once because "I don't feel too good" and once because his car wasn't feeling too good). This time he made it! We sat on the porch and drank beer on Sunday and had pizza for dinner. We ate Thai food on Monday (not much open on the civic holiday). Then we drank our dinner on Tuesday and slept early. Wednesday we had a lovely grilled steak with home-made cole slaw and potato salad. I made a loaf of Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread with whole wheat flour and oat bran, and we had that with balsamic vinegar and olive oil -- yum.

And he's such a helpful person! He helped me move to this house in 1999, and we exchange items (for example, my mother's portable dishwasher went from Waterloo, QC to Granby to Toronto to Stanstead, and an area rug of mine made a similar trip). My back yard is in shocking condition. The lawnmower was decomposing into the weeds, the raspberry canes are taking over in the back, I left nice clay/ceramic pots out that crumbled in the cold and ice, and I had the biggest dandelions and broad leaf weeds I've ever seen. But he brought his gas-powered weed trimmer and tackled the worst of the mess for me.

I don't have grass any more, since I let a spot of yarrow (mine is pink) take over. I still have a few strawberry plants from Manitoulin Island that are growing in the shade of the raspberry canes, and I have some lumber, so I'll be making a small (4'x4') raised bed to move them to. I'm using corner bead (cheap!) to attach some 1x6 pine planks that came from the old deck I demolished (I hate to throw stuff away -- that was in 2000, I think!).

Two years ago I had two of these Lee Valley grow bins with the strawberries coming out of every hole, and I sold or gave away about 50 more plants. But I neglected to water the bins and I got exactly one strawberry (click the image to have a look: centre left), and the plants were gone the next year...

And my asparagus did NOT get its mulching and fertilizing in the last couple of years, though the plants are mature enough to provide several meals if I treat them properly. I've used it in quiche with home-grown tomatoes and basil. They're also shaded by canes, so I'll attempt to move them too.

Naturally I didn't take a Garden: Before picture. Maybe I'll post a During one.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dipladenia -- found!

I've decided to never walk past a display of Dipladenia (if that's what these are) without at least checking out the prices. These are a bit hard to grow, let alone find in a garden centre; in fact, I've only ever found them in the little fruit-vegetable-flower markets that thrive on Toronto's Danforth Avenue. One of the things I find appealing is that when the flower buds start to unfurl they're white or nearly so, and then the colours start to brighten up.

It's amazing what you can buy around here. (Some year I'm going to buy a fig tree---when they're on sale they usually come with a few fruit already on them. I understand that figs are finicky and require much coddling through cold weather.)

Anyways, I found these two specimens the other day, $4.99 each. They need repotting, and I'm nearly ready to do that (just have to mix a bit of coir in the potting soil).

AUGUST 4/09 UPDATE: The Dips have been repotted and they seem to be quite happy in their biodegradable ("green") pots from http://www.greenpots.com/ (but mine are black, for some reason...).

They are tender perennials, which means that I will have to bring them in in the fall before the frost starts. The other issue with these lovelies is that there's not much definitive info on over-wintering and then getting them to bloom again. These are Grown in Canada, by the way.