Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Infamous Sock Plant

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we've been working on our back yard ... a lot.  We removed a palm tree and some other shrubs, planted many, many drought tolerant plants, filled in with bark.  You get the general idea, we've been working out there a lot. 

Little Mischief Millie absolutely loves it when we're all outside on the weekends.  Nothing pleases her more than running laps around the yard, taking a break, and then running more laps.  And she loves following her mommy and daddy around, and sniffing around to see what we're up to.

Apparently what she's picked up on is planting - though trust me, she does her fair share of digging as well.  As you may have heard, we have a drought going on here in California, so we've been trying to cut back on watering the plants and such, hence the drought tolerant plants we've been planting.  That said, there is a small brown patch on the lawn on one side of the yard where the sprinklers don't quite r-e-a-c-h, and I've been doing a bit of hand watering in that area.  When I came home from work the other day, I changed clothes and headed outside to water.  Millie happily followed me out the back door dancing a little jig because we were headed outside!  I turned on the hose and headed over to the lawn when I spied something out of the corner of my eye that looked a little odd.  I couldn't quite figure out what it was until I got a little closer.

What I discovered was the rarely seen, often whispered about, and highly prized...SOCK PLANT.  What's that?  You've never heard of them before?  I'm not surprised.  Rare is the sighting of this most elusive of botanical wonders.  Truly.  It's a once in a lifetime opportunity.  On the assumption that you may never have another chance, I've decided to share my awesome find with all of you.  Ready?

I know, I know … you're all jealous.  Well, what can I say?  Some of us have a green paw, and some of us don't ;o)

Monday, May 04, 2015

Confessions of a Former Stocker

Shortly after I was diagnosed last year, I noticed that my appetite had changed.  Suddenly many of the things I'd eaten in the past just didn't taste good any more.  Burger and fries?  No appeal.  Pizza?  No thanks.  Ice Cream?  Eh, not so much.  What I really started craving was much healthier foods.  Lots of fruit and veggies, a little bit of lean beef and chicken, Greek yogurt, plain pasta, frozen fruit bars.  And I can't eat a lot at one time.  In fact, often for breakfast and lunch I just sort of snack.  Maybe some yogurt for breakfast and a while later a piece of fruit.  Then around lunch time, a bit of cheese and some nuts.  Later maybe another piece of fruit and a few crackers.

I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the medications that I take, but there was definitely a huge difference.  Additionally with the heart disease component of the cancer, I've really had to cut back on the amount of sodium I consume.  Which is really a good thing!  Honestly, it's quite shocking to find out how much sodium we take in every day.  Shocking and scary!  Until the edema started last year, I hadn't really worried much about my sodium intake.  Now I notice.  Trust me.  When your ankles become cankles, it's hard not to notice!


Though we've changed the way we eat, we haven't changed what our cupboards hold.  Well, technically we've added some things - like lower sodium chicken and beef broth, lower sodium soy sauce, and a wide variety of different snacks - but we haven't taken anything away.  And I admit, it's overwhelming to me when I open the cupboards to find something.  Rather than sort through what's in the cupboard - which I haven't the energy to do - I choose to pick up whatever we need for a recipe at the market.  I know I'm only putting off the inevitable task of cleaning out the cupboards, but at least I'd been able to avoid it just a little longer.

Until last weekend.

We'd been talking about going the 'Graze' snack route, (but creating the snacks in our own containers and taking them to work -- much cheaper than subscribing to Graze or it's competitors) and had been doing so for about 2 weeks.  It's worked out well, but the snacks were just sitting on the counter taking up space because there wasn't space in the cupboard.  So I did it:  I broke down and bought some of these awesome containers...                                                  

The cereal and snack cupboard was fun to organize!  There were a few products that had expired, or crackers that had gone stale, but overall, it went together pretty well - things were much more organized and accessible.  Just what you want when you clean out your cupboards!  Then…I headed over to the canned goods and mixes cupboard.  Oh.My.  When had it become so disorganized and crowded?  The cupboard was so full I swear I heard it moan under it's own weight when I opened the doors.  Where to start?  Kevin took a break from what he was doing to come in to help - and I'm so thankful he did!  Many of the canned goods had expired and most of the rest of them, as well as the rice mixes, etc., had SO MUCH SODIUM that we knew we couldn't keep them.  We would never eat them, so it wasn't even a question - they had to go.  We filled up a large box to donate to our local food pantry and dumped out the products that had expired.  We were overwhelmed with the many things that we hadn't used and didn't really need.  I decided right then and there that I would never again stock this much stuff in our cupboards.  There are only two of us for Heaven sakes.  It hurt my poor little frugal heart to see all of the waste we'd created.  It was senseless.  From now on our cupboards will hold just enough. I don't care if soup is on sale for just twenty five cents a can - we don't eat it.  We've become soup snobs and are really only interested in our own homemade soups.  Canned veggies?  Blech.  Bring on the fresh stuff or nothing at all.  After we removed all of the things we can't eat, and tossed out the expired items, our cupboards were a thing of beauty.  I kept opening them to peek inside and make sure everything was still in its proper place.  

Ahhh.  So simple and yet so extraordinary at the same time.  Be honest - when was the last time you cleaned out your cupboards?  Don't you think it's time? Go on, go…clean!  It will make you feel better!

Our Sweet, Sweet Girls

December, in addition to it being a crazy busy month, was a sad month for us as well.  After 13 wonderful years together, we had to have our sweet Slippers put down.

For a while she just hadn't been herself.  She had slowed way down, which is normal for a 14 year old dog I think.  She had pretty severe arthritis in her hips and it was quite difficult for her to get around.  She was on several medications to help ease the pain, and though we knew she was sometimes uncomfortable, she greeted us every morning with a wagging tail, a beautiful smile, and enthusiasm to start a brand new day.  Early in December, though, things changed.  She was breathing funny, coughing a bit as though she had a dry throat, and we noticed that one side of her torso had become quite enlarged.  Kevin took her to the vet where they told us that she had fluid in her lungs.  They drained the fluid and prescribed lasix and sent her home.  It seemed like she was better for a day or two, but the coughing returned and, within a few more days, so did the fluid in her lungs.  We called the vet again, and they gave us more lasix and we tried that…but it wasn't working.

When I got home from work the Friday evening before Christmas, there was no one to greet me at the door and I knew something was wrong.  I went to the living room where I found Slippers lying on the floor; she was alert, but not moving.  She'd lost control of her bowels and looked kind of dazed, I thought - and still think - that she had a stroke.  I went right to her side and started comforting her telling her it was okay, and petting her gently.  Within a few minutes Kevin got home and came in and found both of us sitting on the floor.  He immediately got down on the floor and we all three sat there for a while.  Kevin and I took turns sitting with Slips and trying to clean up the floor around her.  The whole time she was very calm, but didn't make any attempt to move - we determined that she probably could not move on her own.  We both tried to get her up, but it almost seemed as if she didn't want to move.  Both Kevin and I were devastated.  We knew that we had a very difficult decision to make, and we just looked at each other and started crying.

One of our neighbors had told me about a year before about a vet that comes to your house to euthanize your pets.  They can stay put and be in the comfort of their own homes, without having to get into the car and head to a vets office that is cold and unfamiliar.  Kevin and I called several services and found a vet who was willing to come out that evening. I won't go into details - it still crushes me to even think about it - but we were satisfied that our baby Slippers lived a good, long life with people who took good care of her and loved her immensely.  Kevin and I were both able to be there with her and comfort her as she drifted into a peaceful sleep.  We will be forever grateful to have had Slippers in our life.  She made us better people.

For the remainder of our winter break, we both pined for a dog.  We both just feel that a house is not a home without a dog.  We were betwixt and between wondering if we should wait longer, or if it was okay to begin looking for a new buddy.  We finally decided that Slippers would understand, and maybe even help guide us to find her sister or brother.  A new doggy out there waiting for a mommy and daddy to adopt and love him or her, just as we had Slippers all those years ago.

After a few false starts, I'm happy to say that we finally found the baby girl for us.  We found her in a nearby shelter where she'd come in as a stray.  She is three years old, black and white like her sister, and we fell in love with her instantly.  We had to wait for several days before we could adopt her, so we visited several times.  She was a bit frightened at first, but warmed up to both of us right away and we knew we had chosen well.

Meet Millie…

If you think she looks a lot like her sister, you'd be right.  Slippers had about 60 pounds on her, but other than that Millie and Slippers kinda look like twins.  And is Millie ever spirited!  If only I had half the energy she does I would accomplish 10 times more each and every day!  Something tells me there will be many Millie the Mischief Maker posts in the coming months and years.  Stay tuned!

So there you have it…the Tail of Two Doggies.  Sisters forever linked together by one mommy and daddy.  Love you both!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hair a Color, There a Color…Everywhere a Different Color

I have a question:  who comes up with the names on boxes of hair color?  I'll even go a step further and ask: are they trying to piss us off with these ridiculous misnomers that are not even close to the color we're going for?

Okay, so it's no big secret - I color my hair.  I've been coloring it for year, and honestly, I try to get as close to my natural color … or rather what I remember my natural color being - as possible.  I started coloring when I was just out of high school and the main reason I did is because I noticed a lot of gray in my hair very early.  My mom's sister, my Aunt Go (it's really Gloria, but we all called her Go), went salt and pepper when she was in her 20's and I definitely got Aunt Go's hair.  Plus, on the left side, right in front, there is a lock of hair that's pretty much white and has been for years.  I should also confess that though I've been coloring my hair for years, I've never had it professionally colored - I've always used an at home kit and done it myself.


Over the last year or so, I've noticed that each time I color my hair, it comes out different.  In part because I've used different brands, though I've always stayed in the same color family, but I also know that my hair has a lot MORE gray than it used to, and the texture of my hair has changed over the years as well.  All of these factors contribute to the fact that each time I color, it looks just a bit different than the last time.  I've been trying different brands to see if I can actually find a brand that consistently looks the same … resulting in a color that I actually like.  I'm getting tired of waking up 'the morning after' and thinking "Eee gads, what have I done?!"  I've been doing a little research and thought I'd come up with the perfect hair color!  I was excited to give it a go and last night I finally got up the gumption to color.  The result?

(Double handed face slap.  Think: "Home Alone")  EEE GADS…WHAT HAVE I DONE?  Where did I go and who is that person in the mirror staring back at me?  And what on EARTH did she do to her hair?

So many women color their hair, that it's never truly shocking when a co-worker walks in and her hair is a bit different from the last time they colored.  I work with a lot of women, so it's pretty much a common weekly occurrence.  Likewise, with the exception of coloring your hair, oh I don't know, let's say royal blue, most women won't even comment on another woman's fresh hair color.  You may get an occasional 'hey, you're hair looks great!', but generally nothing more than that.  Men, on the other hand, are surprisingly adept at "color" commentary with nary a word.  I think it has something in the look of utter SHOCK on their face … but that's just a guess.  At any rate, when you've achieved  'the look', well, it's time to keep looking - for a different hair color.

After last night's … ummm … color fest, one thing suddenly became crystal clear:  WE are not selecting the wrong hair color, but rather, the MANUFACTURERS are mis-representing their products!  I mean really - when the front of the box says "6RB - Light Reddish Brown", how exactly are you supposed to know what color that is?  Trust me when I tell you, there is nothing LIGHT about it, and quite frankly, it can't seem to decide if it's "reddish" or "brown", let alone where the 6 comes in.  To remedy this egregious error, I've come up with a new color-naming system.  From now on, I want the manufacturer's to start naming hair color something we can identify with.  For instance, wouldn't you know EXACTLY what it meant if the color were called "Julia Robert in Pretty Woman Auburn", or "Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail Blonde".  Wouldn't that just make more sense?  I would be able to find exactly the color I wanted with this system, and I'll bet you would, too!  And really, the possibilities are endless:  "Amy Adams in American Hustle Golden Brown", "Jennifer Lawrence in Hunger Games Brilliant Brunette"…the list goes on and on!

So listen up L'oreal, Clairol, and Garnier!!  We're fed up and we're not going to take it any more!  Give us the hair color we want with a name that makes sense, or we'll let our (gray) hair down and let the wisps fall where it may!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Quality Without Compromise (or the Psychology of See's Candies)

I must come clean: I am now, and have always been, addicted to See's candy.  Others may choose Godiva (blech), or Lindt (no thanks), or even Hershey or Mars (meh), but as for me and mine, it's See's candy all the way.  And by addicted I don't mean I 'gotta' have it every day - certainly not (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), it just means that if I'm going to going to have chocolate, well, I'd just rather save all of those 'empty' calories for the BEST chocolate - not just something that is so-so.

I'm sure there are many of us out there - you know who you are - who feel the same way.  Whether you're a California native and were raised on See's candy, or your an import and you learned to love it along the way, we all have our favorite piece (or, ahem, pieces) of See's candy.

Years - and two houses - ago, I remember Kevin, our neighbor Ray, our contractor Chris, and myself standing out in the driveway with a brand new box of See's candy.  We were all chit-chatting about something, though I can't remember what, when suddenly a hush came over us.  Everyone watched as I removed the outer unmistakeable paper wrap, then the lid, and finally the little rectangle of bubble wrap to reveal the milk and dark chocolate treasures inside.  All eye contact was lost; each person looked quickly for their favorite hoping no one else would get to it before they did.  It was hilarious! Everyone was trying to be polite, but … when faced with such decadent temptation, polite only goes so far.  Finally, the first dove in - out went the milk chocolate bordeaux, followed quickly by the 'cup' of molasses chips (which is a utter ridiculousness since those 2" molasses chips have never fit in those 1" candy cups!).  I was still holding out hope for my piece which taunted me from the corner.  Kevin was up next: out went the milk cocoanut.  SAFE!  That delicious milk California Brittle was mine, all MINE!  The frenzy didn't last long, though it seemed to take forever!  Once we were each happily enjoying our faves (or at least our current fave…it often changes depending on your mood), we all chuckled about how everyone has their favorites and we were each hoping that OUR favorite wasn't SOMEONE ELSE'S favorite.

Shortly before Halloween I went to See's because, well, let's face it - certain holidays just beg for See's candy (happy to oblige).  While standing in a short, but intense, line of See's lovers, I was witness to yet more examples of just how important these little nuggets of chocolate joy are to so many of us.  There was a young man, probably in his very early 20's, waiting his turn to place his order.  It struck me that he didn't look like the sort of person I would imagine in a See's candy shop.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say he's probably the last person I'd expect to see there.  I feel terrible about it now, but at the time I couldn't help but think he looked like a gang member.  Heck, maybe he was and maybe he wasn't, BUT what I can say for sure is that he knew exactly what he wanted.  I didn't hear the selections, but it appeared to be 5 individual pieces and clearly, he'd done this many times before: he had the exact amount of money in his hand when it came time to pay.  He had it down to a science.  The man in line after him placed his order for his custom box and was dismayed to hear that they were no longer carrying his favorite piece of candy.  Poor guy.  He looked so hurt.  He asked when they stopped carrying it; apparently he'd missed it by a month.  He asked why they stopped carrying it; he was crushed to learn that fewer and fewer people shared his love for that particular kind of candy.  You could just hear the disappointment in his voice - he was crushed.  I completely understand how he feels!

I've often pondered the psychology behind the pieces of candy we choose from that little white box.  Are you a mixed chocolates fan?  Milk chocolate?  Dark?  Soft centers?  Or maybe you prefer the nuts and chews.  When choosing a piece from any of the boxes, what do you go for?  Dark chocolate raspberry?  Blueberry truffle?  How about a molasses chip or two?  Maybe one for now and one for later?  How do you buy it - by the piece?  By the pound?  Only around a particular holiday?  Or is it a whenever-you're-in-the-mood-for-chocolate treat?  Just like the candy itself, all of these things can say a lot about you.  Or maybe they just say one thing:  you are a person who stands for Quality With Compromise.  Just like the box says.

Oh drats!  Now I'm craving chocolate!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Let the Gardening Begin

Every year, right around the end of January, I begin thinking what I'd like to do in the garden for the season.  I always have lots of ideas running through my head, and I'm usually able to translate a few of those and make them work in the garden.

… at least for a little while.
Then, suddenly it's the middle of summer and what was easy to care for in the spring, has become unbearable to care for in the blazing heat of the summer sun.  I know this, and yet, I'm ever the eternal optimist that this will be the year!  With that in mind, we've made some physical changes in the backyard garden area that we're hoping will be more inspirational to keep us going during the hotter months.  To wit, we removed a large palm tree that was beginning to lean a bit and tangle in the wires that cross the back of the property.  We were afraid that we might lose it in a powerful wind storm and, if so, it would cause a great deal of damage to the retaining wall that surrounds it, as well as the swimming pool.  We also removed a sago palm that's been there for years.  Our original thought was to re-plant the sago in place of the palm tree, but when we discovered that the pods it sheds are poisonous to animals, so we knew that would have to go too.

This year, I decided to sketch things out a bit before we did any planting.  I'm not really much of an artist, but I have to say that it was a fun task deciding where to put the herb garden, where the lettuces would grow best, and where to plant the hummingbird garden.  I thoroughly enjoyed sketching all of the different shades of green and adding some flowers for pops of colors.

I've also been thinking about some decor I'd like to add here and there to punch things up in the planters, as well as a rather dull redwood fence that outlines the sides of the yard.  Each year I add a few pieces of Talavera pottery to add splashes of color.  I have several planters as well as a beautiful bird bath.  This year I'm going to focus on buying some things that will add splashes of color to the fence.  I already had several terra cotta sun faces and decided to gather and hang them in one area of the fence; I added a large Talavera sun face to this area and I think it's the perfect addition.  I also found a climbing frog that we positioned on another area of the fence.  He looks a bit lonely and will need some mates, so I'll be looking for several more to add to this area.  On the other side of the yard we already have five large. open work wrought iron stars.  I'm going to add small battery pack lights to each of the stars for a little more sparkle at night, and I found some Talavera stars to intersperse in this area as well.

I love adding all of these fun things to the garden, but it does get a little expensive!  This weekend, however, I thought of a really wonderful addition to the garden that won't cost us one dime.  I thought of a clever way to use something we already had outside that hasn't been used in years, and I'm really excited about it!  Years ago dad received a small outdoor fountain as a gift.  He put the pump together and used it for about a year or so, and then stopped using it.  I'm not sure if the pump broke and needed to be replaced, or if he just didn't want to deal with the hassle of it, but it's been sitting in the same spot on the patio for years now without a purpose.  I don't know why I didn't think about this before, but it suddenly hit me over the weekend - why don't we 'cut the cord' (literally and figuratively!), turn the fountain into a planter, and move it to the garden area?!  There isn't a lot of room to plant anything, but I believe the basket the little girl is holding will be just deep enough for impatiens.  The fountain is similar to this one, but not exactly.  Anyway, it's enough for you to get the idea.  Fun, right?!
I think next weekend we'll actually begin some planting!  I have a few things to start from seed, but we'll also be buying some additional herbs, a few veggies and some flowers.  We've decided to add a large fern to the area where the palm tree formerly lived and we will surround that with … well, I guess I have a little more dreaming to do to figure that out!

A bee-bop, a boo-bop, a rhubarb pie!

A couple of weeks ago I was discussing pie with a co-worker.  Why?  I can't really remember what sparked the conversation, but I did glean a lot of really useful information!

I mentioned that I wasn't happy with the way my pies came out over the holidays.  He asked why and I said that, though the fillings were delicious, the crusts left much to be desired.  He said that, during his college years, he worked at a coffee shop called Polly's Pies, and he remembered baking an absolute TON of pies.  He said that for each pie crust, they would pre-bake the bottom crust by pricking the bottom of the crust with a fork, and then placing another pie pan over the crust instead of pie weights.  He said not only did this keep the pie crust from puffing on the bottom (as the any pie weight would do), the heat of the second pan helped bake the top of the bottom crust.  Huh.  I'd never even thought of that!  For that matter, I'd never used pie weights to pre-bake a pie crust (I know - shame on me!).

After that conversation I felt I had much to learn about pie baking, so I did a little investigation.  Each holiday season I use a variety of pie pans to bake my pies.  I did an internet search to see if there were recommendations on the best pie pans, and yep, indeed there were!  Not only that, I discovered that different types of vessels require more or less baking time depending on whether it's glass, ceramic or tin.  You would have thought that I would have known that after all of these years, but nope, in fact I'd never even given it a second thought.  No wonder I have iffy luck with my pies!

So.  With all of my new found knowledge, I baked a pie yesterday.  I knew what kind I was in the mood for ... what I couldn't stop thinking about, but I wasn't sure that Kevin would agree.  When I mentioned it to him, he got a huge smile and said "YES!".  YAHOO!  Rhubarb it is!  All I could think of were those delicious sweet/tart pies that grandma Maxwell used to bake.  They had the most delicious, flakey crust, and the filling was soo delicious, it would be both sweet and make your mouth pucker with it's tart flavor all at the same time.  Mmmm.  Pure deliciousness!

I used the clear glass pie plate that received the best reviews.  I couldn't find a pan that fit inside the pie plate, so I did end up using dried beans as pie weights - and they worked out just fine.  I used tapioca instead of cornstarch in the filling because that's what grandma always used.  I set the timer shy of the time indicated just to make sure it wouldn't burn.  I added time when it was clear that the pie wasn't quite baked to perfection yet.  And waited.  Patiently.  Sort of.

About 55 minutes later, I was rewarded with a golden brown pie whose crust appeared to be quite flakey and oozed just the right amount of pink sticky liquid over the side of the glass pan.  About an hour after dinner, we cut into the pie.  I was a bit nervous, but lo and behold, it was probably THE best pie I've ever made! The crust was perfectly done on the bottom - not doughy.  The sweet/tart filling was just as I remembered.  Warm pie served with a little side of vanilla ice cream that was just beginning to melt.  Oh man.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

It's funny how conversations evolve.  How just taking a few minutes to engage in a light-hearted discussion with a friend made me a better baker.  It allowed me learn something new from my friend and prompted me to get seek out some insight into a topic on which I thought I was pretty well versed.  It's true: you (CAN) learn something new every day!