Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

I don't need to get ready for Earth Hour (I already changed the batteries in the portable radio and put the old batts in a bag to take to work to recycle).

Yesterday I bought a stainless thermal carafe to put hot coffee in. If it works (it's an old Melitta) I'll reduce my electricity usage a fraction by shutting off the coffee pot after it's done brewing and pour the fresh coffee into the carafe. Won't make much of a difference, probably, but I will know.

There are some areas in Toronto to view the potential blackout with a good vantage point, and it promises to be a really nice evening, but I think I'll just take a walk through the 'hood and shine my lantern into the houses that still have TVs flickering and the electric lights on.

Last year it wasn't such a big whoop on my street. Around 8:45 pm as I was sitting in candle and lantern light and listening to my little radio I watched some lights come on in a house across the street -- and the people left the house!

Degrees of oblivion: In London, England in 1941, someone interviewed a woman who claimed to not know who Hitler was. Everybody ought to have at least heard of Earth Hour this year.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Skype and a muffin

My bro and I need to talk a bit more than usual lately, and he's complained that he is grossly overcharged for his long distance calls. So I checked Skype (always thought it was too high-tech for me) and we both signed up and got our headsets. One month of free calls to me should pay off his headset (a Logitech ClearChat). It will take a bit longer for me because I have a 5-cents-a-minute plan and don't make many LD calls. But I can imagine us talking a few times a week over the next few months.

I wanted a muffin with my lunch today. First I stopped at Tim Hortons but they didn't have a bran muffin (and the others were really small for the price). Then I went into the mall to a pastry shop and they didn't have muffins at all, and neither did the bakery. So I stopped at Coffee Time and bought a low-fat oatmeal muffin (I've bought them at Coffee Time near work and they were fine). I'm glad I pulled off a piece and ate it as I left the store -- it was CRUNCHY! And too sweet. I went back in and made an apologetic face at the cashier, and said the muffin was stale. I took it out of the bag and rapped it on the counter, and said, "Muffins should not make a noise like that." The manager person came out and said all the low fat muffins that she makes are like that. Somehow I doubt it. I make a banana bread with 1/4 cup oil (and no sugar) and it's tender. (That reminds me that I have some overripe bananas in the fridge to make banana muffins with.) Anyway, I got my money back! Had to do without a muffin, though.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

This has been a day

Family and home issues are distracting me from managing my diabetes. I am doing my best to be vegetarian/vegan this weekend to help manage my cholesterol, but I don't know how well I'm doing. Also, I drink WAY too much booze.

It's really lovely how MEN get together and combine their testosteronal powers to scare ignorant home-owner ladies like me. I had three Eastern European gentlemen who work for the City of Toronto's Downspout Program (\water) come to scare me first, ten minutes early. Then official Toronto Downspout Man Bill came (exactly on time) to scare me some more. Then the Large Toronto Roofing company professional Toby (in gorgeous clean black bib-alls) came to scare me even more. I'm glad it was a nice sunny, though chilly, day. I got rid of most of my wine hangover by going out in a t-shirt and light pants and clearing off the back patio in 0C weather so that the Men with Ladders and t-squares could climb up and tell me how really really desperate my roof situation is.

My original good honest roofer called me back today and said, yep, they're scaring you. He's been in the business for decades and had given me good info (but I'd really like to know what's up there). The Large Toronto Roofing company professional Toby will be back on Monday morning to tell me all about it. I gotta call my insurance company about this pretty soon...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Saving money in a recession

There are all kinds of advice columns on cutting spending on lunches, daily lattes, manicures/facials/spa treatments; saving on your regular expenses like utilities and transportation; what to do when your investments tank (I say "hang in there" and boost my monthly contribution to my retirement savings by 25%); and so on. I haven't found a useful thrift tip in years. Except three. More on that later.

I bring coffee from home in a reusable mug and fill my steel water bottles from the tap. I make my own bread. I bring my breakfast and lunch to work most days, and if I don't it's sort of a treat. My mortgage rate is incredibly low and will be for the next 4.5 years or so. The only way I could save more on electricity is if I unplugged everything. I haven't paid for water since July 2007 since I got the meter installed (though I will probably get a smallish bill in three months).

If I get off my duff this spring I will grow my own tomatoes and peppers from seed and clip fresh herbs from the old barrel, and I already have asparagus, rhubarb, and maybe a few strawberries and gooseberries along with the raspberries and blue grapes. I don't buy meat, eggs, milk, or cheese any more. I will be getting rid of more lawn this year, reducing my need for the (used) electric mower and getting the reel mower out more.

I haven't bought any clothes in about a year (except for fresh socks) or footwear (OK, a pair of Blundstones last November), and all the business-casual work clothes I got at the thrift store in the last few years are holding up. I get my hair done two or three times a year at the local beauty college for about $18 CA, which includes wash, cut, and blow-dry AND a tip to the student. (In the last four or five years I've had exactly ONE cut that wasn't absolutely perfect and low-maintenance. And I LIKE my grey hair).

I don't travel. I get a discount transit pass ($100 per month unlimited travel, and a 15% tax credit every year), and I hardly ever drive anywhere. I get "free" groceries from loyalty cards every few months (last fall I got $184 worth of staples and fresh food for about $48 using coupons and loyalty rewards). And while I hardly ever (well, never) use my fitness club membership it's only about $15 a month.

Finally, I got sick of buying a non-recyclable disposable lighter every few weeks (and tossing it in the garbage) and splurged on a steel Zippo. I supposed I could spend less on red wine, but then I wouldn't be as happy. (I've made my own a few times, and I just drank it all.) And how would I build up the Air Miles for groceries if I didn't stop in at the liquor store a couple of times a week?

Which leads into the first real money-saving tip that not many tip-lines mention: Quit Smoking! $8.50 per day = $3102.50 that I could put towards my mortgage or retirement savings or spend on home repairs.

Here's the second: Sell The Car! I insure it for about $100 a month and fill it up about 5 times a year (3 of those fill-ups are at Christmas). Still a considerable amount. But how would I get the garden supplies and large boxes of kitty litter home?

And here's the third that no one's mentioned: Eat. What. You. Buy! I throw out amazing amounts of fresh food because I'm too lazy to cook when I get home. I might as well take it right from the (reusable) shopping bags and put it in the compost.

But DO NOT suggest I surrender any of the cats.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The runaround from UPS

My baking equipment from Bob's Red Mill is scheduled for delivery tomorrow (I did say I wanted No Signature Required so they'll drop it on the porch). The picklist was made the day I ordered. Here's where my package has been since then (click for larger image):

It's been in and out of two countries (four states and one province) and six cities, for a total of 11 transits. I thought once it got to Windsor, ON, the day after I placed the order, it would mosey its way along the back roads to Toronto and arrive one week later. Apparently not.

Does someone have a whistle I can blow?

Thursday, MARCH 12 UPDATE: It got back to Windsor, Ontario again this evening. So it should arrive on my front porch on Friday (the thirteenth!!). I will use the dough bucket and maybe the banneton this weekend to mix up the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes. Unless I get hit with duty charges and have to send UPS a payment before I get it all...

Saturday, MARCH 14 UPDATE: Swell. I gotta pay $55.65 CA in duty and taxes before I get my package. That's a few more bucks than I was planning on spending. I asked UPS if I could pay the COD by PayPal or credit card, but they won't get back to me until the next business day, if then.

Monday, MARCH 16 UPDATE: I DID get a positive response from UPS customer service, saying that Yes, I could pay a COD amount by credit card using their automated phone service. But I just signed the back of the Info slip, left a personal cheque for the COD amount taped to the door (I'm a trusting soul), and my package from Bob was at my door when I got home. Tra la!

I also got an eBay item that had been mailed in the US on February 2, 2009. The seller was good enough to re-ship the item (which I received in about a week). I promised him that if it ever showed up I'd send it back. And I got a package that I'd ordered on Thursday or Friday from a Toronto nutrition house. So I'm all happy again now.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Brilliant Iris -- hopes for spring!

This might be my favourite bearded iris. I think it blooms in early summer.

On the other hand, the pure yellow bearded iris is pretty nice too.

I need to move them ALL to a location that get better moisture, a little more sun, and just generally better conditions.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Burberry and barn boots

I snagged this disclaimer from a reseller: "Burberry sells its quality products through, its stores and select retailers. Burberry cannot guarantee the authenticity of Burberry merchandise unless purchased from such sources. Burberry is unable to guarantee that products purchased from other sources will not be counterfeit, tampered with, second-hand or of other doubtful origin."
I see the Burberry pattern everywhere in Toronto---mostly scarves in the classic fawn, red, white, and black, but also umbrellas, coat linings, earmuffs, wallets, and even rubber boots (I nearly bought a nice cashmere Genuine Burberry scarf in grey, black, and white, but restrained myself, for a change, even though it was half-price; I just noted to myself I'd bought a perfect English cashmere scarf for a buck in a thrift store).
I feel kind of embarrassed when I see whole groups of (mostly) women with the same scarf casually wrapped around the throat. And everyone sells some kind of Burberry. I expect to see Pez dispensers in the Burberry pattern soon.

Speaking of rubber boots, where did this look come from? The site claims that these are accountants wearing their rubber boots. Looks funky (I kind of like it) and it's become part of the late-winter look, at least in the west end of Toronto where I work. Sure, they protect the pant cuffs when you tuck them in, and they're replacing the admittedly impractical calf-hugging high-heeled pointy-toed black boots (and the utterly impractical Uggs, which just slide around on the snow and ice and aren't that warm to begin with). But does everyone have to jump on the bandwagon?
And while I'm on a style rant here, when will marketers stop dressing teenagers (and their older sisters who should know better, or should at least invest in a full-length mirror) in shorty jackets and low-rider jeans, displaying camel toes and muffin tops?
And cleavage season will be starting soon. I'm a straight woman but I still get retina burn on the bus and subway every day, starting about now. I can't take my eyes off it! I guess that's the point. Do women still complain about sexual harassment and disrespect? There's a place to start right there.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bread of dreams

Sorry, Mark Bittman, but your no-knead bread don't cut it (or maybe I need to follow the recipe better). Jim Lahey's no-knead bread recipe (3 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon yeast, 1.5 tsp salt, and 1.5 cups water) is the best. My brother has followed the recipe a few times already, though he claims he uses more yeast. I admit I haven't tried the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes yet, but I will when my supplies come in from Bob's Red Mill on Friday (I hope; UPS, are you listening?).

This is the beautiful loaf (one-third Ontario whole wheat flour) that I ate yesterday. Yes. I ate it all. Not at once, of course. I did shoot up a bit of extra insulin last night, though that's just silly.

This is the loaf I just put in the oven 3 minutes ago: 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 cup whole wheat, and one cup oat bran. You need to preheat the dish for 30 minutes before you drop the dough in (it sizzles a bit), then cover it for the first 30 minutes of baking. It will be done in about 45 minutes, but needs to cool completely before one digs in.

I got this nice Pyrex covered dish at Value Village for about 4 bucks CA.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Step 4: Stress management (and self-defeating behaviour)

I often have trouble recognising when I'm under stress, whether from work, personal interactions, ill-health, or self-anger (at myself for self-defeating behaviour). I meant this blog to be a kind of confessional to purge my bad behaviours, such as not managing my diabetes (and as a forum to amuse myself and other with my mad cats' behaviour; the boys just travelled through the furnace ducts and pushed out through the cold air return. It's an adventure for them, since they don't go outside).

Stress management is supposed to be an important part of diabetes management, along with self-monitoring of blood sugar levels; 30 minutes of aerobic and strength exercise a day (though "experts" are claiming that more is better); care in diet and nutrition along with regular mealtimes; and taking medications as prescribed. And lots of water, "enough to keep your urine pale."

Deep breathing, meditating (focusing on clearing your mind of all thoughts, especially negative ones), yoga (including deep breathing through the poses), and endorphins from vigorous exercise are some stress-busters. Keeping in touch with friends and family (well, not MY family) are recommended. Ending your work day by leaving work AT work is another method. And the Book (Take Charge of Your Health) recommends giving your life over to God. That doesn't work too well for atheists like me, though...but the principles are good.

I'll miss another yoga class this morning because the roofers are coming to look at my mess (gee, could the leaking roof and potential huge expenses be causing some stress?). After they leave I'll do some deep breathing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Feeling sorry for myself

My roofer came to look at my leak(s)---on time!---and a look of horror (possibly manufactured, but maybe not) passed across his face as he went from room to room. I have multiple problems that a new roof just couldn't cure, including not enough insulation in the crawlspace (flat roof), a bad angle for the eaves troughs, and ice damming that forces melt water down past the plate and into multiple rooms, including the kitchen. It might cost me a lot, but maybe it's time to dip into the line of credit to do some long-past-due repairs, and maybe my insurance will cover some of the cost.

I'm not usually a comfort shopper, but I couldn't resist doing some in-store and online buying (not like my eBay sales will cover any of it, but what the hay). Due to my renewed interest in baking bread, mainly because of all the no-knead recipes I've been finding, I realized I needed some vital equipment, like an oven thermometer (testing reveals that my oven is 40-50F degrees hotter than set, which explains the tough crusts); a serrated bread knife (to cut through those over-baked loaves), both from Valu-Mart; a banneton for rising; a dough bucket (boring image, but it's here) that shows when your dough has doubled; and a bread bag, from Bob's Red Mill.

I love the idea of the banneton---a woven reed basket that you turn the dough into to rise, then invert it onto your baking stone, leaving the coiled reed impression on the finished loaf. My book of kitchen gadgets says the French (those devils) line their bannetons with light canvas, but I can get a good result with just flour.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Why do diabetes "professional" opinions differ from the diabetic community

I trust David Mendosa and his research and personal experience much more than I trust 1) a certified diabetes educator (CDE), 2) a certified dietician with training in diabetes management, 3) an endocrinologist specializing in diabetes, and 4) my family doctor with many patients with diabetes. Why? They aren't diabetic. Not one of them.

I haven't met a diabetes advisor since January 1995 that's diabetic. A CDE I met a year ago had never heard of gymnema sylvestre, which is a known effective hypoglycemic supplement (has been used in ayurvedic medicine for a couple thousand years). Everyone I've talked to says to make sure I get unrefined starchy carbohydrates so that I have "clean" carbs for muscle and brain function, but then they say that to handle the starchy carbs I also need to increase my medications, including insulin and statins.

Regarding statins, even though my last blood test results showed close-to-perfect cholesterol (total, HDL, and LDL) that's not good enough, and my doctor wants me on both ACE inhibitors and statins.

Fuck 'em.

It's March! Can Spring Be Close?

Only 19 days until Spring arrives -- at 11:44 pm on March 20! And only another week until Daylight Saving Time begins (March 8 at 02h/2 am). That means, um, what? Brighter in the morning, or in the afternoon? I forget. I think it's the afternoon. That means that when I get home it might still be light-ish out. I hope.

And only 19 days until my friend Debra ( and I fling off our winter glooms and trek to Canada Blooms! I won't forget my wallet this time.

These are my Toronto tulips last April, before I cleaned out the oak leaves (or did I bother to clean out the oak leaves in 2008?). I'll be sure to do it this year.