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.