Thursday, December 21, 2017

These are a few of my favorite things

[Editor's note: I wrote this post on December 7 and thought I posted it on the same. However, it has come to my attention 2 weeks later that I did nothing of the sort. I apologize to all my readers who were left hanging, but mostly I apologize to myself, because I am ashamed that I could have been so stupid!!]

For whatever reason, a completely seasonally unrelated song from The Sound of Music has become linked with Christmas in our culture. Every year around this time, I begin hearing "My Favorite Things" playing on all the holiday radio stations. (On a very tangentially related side note, I seem to have lost my personal collection of Christmas music, and it's weighing heavily on my heart—how can it be the season to be jolly when I don't have my Jingle Cats meowing the soundtrack to my life!?) But, back to "My Favorite Things." What is it about this song that screams Christmas? Is it the brief mention of brown paper packages, to tie in with a season of gifting? Is it all the talk of silver white winters and sleigh bells and warm woolen mittens, evoking the weather of the holiday season if not the holiday itself? Whatever it is, the song creates a timely motif for one of my signature "things I like" blog posts!

Ahead, here are a few of...

My favorite things!

  • Putting dishes in the dishwasher

    You might not think that a mundane domestic chore would rank very highly on a list of things I love, but there's something immensely gratifying about clearing away the clutter of eating and whisking it into a hidden chamber, to later emerge sparkling clean with little to no additional effort. It also might be the fact that, since I am part of a two-person household that doesn't do a lot of cooking, it takes quite a while for the dishwasher to become full (sometimes up to a week!). While we're waiting for that magical wash-day to come, the dishwasher itself is meanwhile getting quite unsightly with the accumulated spills of several days' worth of food and drink. So every dish that I add to the rack means I'm one dish closer to having all the dishes be clean again! I must add, of course, that unloading the dishwasher is one of my least favorite chores, thanks to the loud clattering that is impossible to avoid, and the fact that it involves wet things—a peeve of mine that may have to wait for another post to be fully explained.
  • Microwave cooking

    I may as well call this post "Ode to kitchen appliances," since my microwave is now getting in on the action. Where would I be without a microwave? Probably a lot skinnier, certainly much less content with my lot in life. As I'm very fond of saying, I do not cook, but when I do, it is mostly to pop a prepared dish in the toaster oven or leftovers in the microwave. The microwave is an ingenious invention that uses both less energy and less space than traditional cooking methods like ovens and stoves, but cooks your food in a fraction of the time! Sometimes you pay for these environmental savings in the form of soggier food, but often, a microwave-cooked dish is just as good as one cooked over a flame.
  • Mayonnaise and cheese

    While we're on the topic of cooking, let's talk about a couple of my favorite ingredients. Cheese is my lifeblood. Since I became a vegetarian, it has become probably my largest source of protein (save for the protein bars I eat almost every day for breakfast). There is some debate out there about whether cheese really is or is not just as addicting as cocaine, but I can say, as a proud cheese addict, that a day without cheese puts me in a pretty bad mood. Another food I love, that doesn't get the credit it deserves, is mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is usually an afterthought, relegated to condiment-status and considered optional, but really, I can't think of very many dishes that aren't made more delicious by the addition of mayonnaise. At least, not the ones that already contain cheese!
  • Words

    It probably goes without saying, but a person who loves words can't help but say it—I love words! How many hours a week do I fritter away on writing? I blog for an audience of four (or so) and receive no rewards for my hard work, other than the satisfaction of using words! I could go on forever with examples of how language has enriched my life, but instead, I'll perversely keep my words to a minimum on this topic!
  • Themed everything!

    I am having trouble finding a way to introduce this topic except by saying that everything that's fun in life is more fun if it has a theme. While in Japan, one of my top destinations was a themed restaurant (that was the Kawaii Monster Cafe, in case you would like to pay it a visit). When I host parties, I always give them a theme (usually revolving around animals and encouraging the wearing of costumes). When I create an outfit, I'm frequently proudest if it has a thematic overload! I don't spend a lot of effort decorating my home, but I make an exception for major holidays, when I go all-out (at least, as all-out as one can go on a stringent budget) to meet the theme of the season. Heck, even this blog post has a "My Favorite Things" theme!

"Dog bites" and "bee stings" (i.e. things that make me feel sad)

  • Me

    What kind of fool writes a blog post and then forgets to post it for half the month!? The same kind of person who now realizes that in all the recent conversations where I thought I was making a subtle reference back to this post, I was really not because no one could have possibly read it. That makes my witty comments feel a lot less witty now.
  • The futility of trying to change others

    People are annoying. People do things that annoy me and things that I think would show basic human decency to not do. Two weeks ago when I wrote this post, I put here a very long-winded rant about one particular thing that sometimes people do that I find incredibly rude. But with age comes wisdom, and in the two weeks I have aged since writing the rant, I've realized that the people who engage in such behavior are unlikely to read this post; and even if they do, they are unlikely to recognize themselves in my story; and even if they do, they are unlikely to be inspired to change their behavior. So basically, all I would accomplish by complaining is to look like a whiner and possibly alienate more people. So, alas, I replace my original accusatory tirade with a much sadder, much more resigned lament that some things will never change. For example, next week, I'll probably go right back to griping about people.
  • Snow

    You might have noticed that I pretty consistently complain about some aspect of winter or another—by now it's basically a tradition! This time I'm going to dump on the stuff that always gets dumped on us this time of year. I know mine is an unpopular opinion, as almost everyone seems to have some kind of romantic infatuation with precipitation that comes in flake form, but I, for one, have lost all interest in the dandruff of the sky. It's cold. It might not be wet when it lands on your nose and eyelashes, but it will be when it stays there long enough—just wait! White Christmas? Nah, I'll take one that's 80 degrees and sunny. Some people like snow because it's pretty (OK, it is, slightly). Some people like snow because it gives them days off (Yes, that is a perk). But for me, snow is mostly just a very visible reminder of how miserably cold I'm going to be, should I choose to go outside.
  • Buffets

    I don't have any inherent objection to a buffet meal—in fact, being able to select exactly what you want from a wide array of choices is basically a picky eater's dream! What I object to is getting charged a large fee for a volume of food that I have no hope of eating. Not only am I a picky eater, but I'm also a small (but frequent!) eater. A meal for me is typically only an appetizer for most of the people I associate with. At restaurants, I have come to expect that I'll pay a lot for my meal, but be able to make at least one more meal out of the leftovers. Not so at a buffet! At a buffet, I pay marginally less than I would for a full-size dinner, but I only get one meal, and I'm still limited by my appetite to only a few bites of food, and I can't take home my leftovers! Whenever someone I know suggests we eat at a buffet-style place for lunch, I groan inside, knowing that I will be overstuffed at the restaurant and still hungry a few hours later!
  • Visible "no-show" socks

    A foot in a shoe with no socks showing, labeled 'right', and another foot in a shoe with the edges of a sock showing, labeled 'wrong'
    I scoured the internet for pictures of this phenomenon, but apparently no one
    wants to advertise their wardrobe malfunctions, so I created an example just for you!
    It's a little thing, hardly significant in the vast world of fashion, but it still counts! It's socks showing around the edges of one's shoes when they should be hidden! I try not to judge people for their fashion choices, but when I see someone with just part of their socks peeking out, it makes me cringe inside.  It is my opinion that if you are going to wear shoes that are clearly not meant for socks, then either 1) don't wear socks, or 2) wear full-sized socks and wear them loud and proud. Don't wear those supposedly "no-show" socks that always do show! It's akin to letting your underwear hang out the top of your pants! Gross! The end!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Bean Pucks and Nearly Nachos

I do not like to cook. While I do enjoy baking up desserts for special occasions, I find the preparation of daily meals to be a drag (and, on the rare occasion I do it, usually an Adventure in Cooking). Not liking to cook is not really a handicap in this modern age, but something else is: being stingy. I am, and this basically means that I can't just indulge my laziness by ordering from Seamless like all the other Millennials. I have to be prepared, at all times, with a stockpile of frozen dinners and leftovers from the last time I dined out.

Sadly, though, two weeks ago, my refrigerator went kaput, defrosting all of my frozen ravioli, mozzarella sticks, vegetarian burgers, and the other usual staples of my heat-and-eat diet. Fortunately, I was able to keep the large bag of shredded cheddar, because I figured that would get moldy if it were going to go bad, and I didn't see any mold on it yet! But one can't live on cheddar alone. Being out of practice in the art of food shopping (I mainly rely on my boyfriend's Costco membership to supply me with all my daily needs), all I could think to do was pick up a can of refried beans when I happened to be at Wegman's the day after the disaster. I also picked up some corn nuts, because that was a really exciting thing I found in the bulk bins!

Last week, since those refried beans were fresh in my mind and since I basically didn't have anything else to eat at home, they became the basis of my meal in very short order. Now, I have to say, the dish that I'm about to share with you is one that I've been making in some variation or other for years, so it is no longer an Adventure in Cooking! when I prepare it. But since it is a recipe of sorts, I'll categorize it as such, since I don't have a blog tag for "Recipes I'm actually pretty good at making."

How to prepare Nearly Nachos

  1. Start with a can of refried beans. Scoop about 1/3 cup of them into a microwave-safe bowl.
  2. Top the beans with a solid handful of shredded cheddar cheese. If your cheese, like mine, has been frozen, fully thawed, then popped back into the freezer, it's probably going to be more of a brick of cheese than anything, so bang the bag on the counter a few times before commencing with the sprinkling. Make sure the cheese covers the beans completely, because the beans will explode everywhere without a protective coating of cheese.
  3. Microwave the beans and cheese for 77 seconds. Time is always of the essence, and by choosing a time that you can enter with just two presses of the same button, you can save at least a few milliseconds!
  4. In my goal to make my Nearly Nachos as close to the real thing (that is, something that I can find in a perhaps-not-too-authentic Mexican restaurant) as possible, I like to eat them with a bit of lettuce. This means ripping a few leaves off a head of romaine, and eating them as a side dish.

    Now comes the fun part—the toppings!
  5. Get out a packet of Taco Bell mild sauce. You should always have a few of those around—grab one every time you visit a Taco Bell, and you will never lack for seasonings for your Nearly Nachos. Squeeze that sauce over the top of your beans & cheese.
  6. If the beans aren't salty enough, you might want to add a dash of seasoned salt. I like to use the "Kartöflukrydd" seasoning that we picked up in Iceland. Nothing says "Mexican food" like an Icelandic seasoned salt! If you're smart and have sampled the beans before coating them with cheese, you might actually mix the seasoning in as a first step, rather than sprinkling it on top of the already salty cheese.
  7. Next, if you have them, drop in a few black olives! Black olives aren't a regular fixture in Mexican food, but when I do find them, they make my day, and I always have a can of them at the ready.
  8. As a condiment, you may want to add a dollop of plain yogurt. This is a cheaper and healthier alternative to sour cream. I usually put the yogurt on a side plate, say, next to my leaves of lettuce, for dipping into, so it doesn't curdle next to the hot foods.

    An alternative way of preparing all of these ingredients is to actually pile them onto tortilla chips and toast them in the toaster oven, in which case you'd have real nachos. But pay close attention to this next step—it's what turns this bowl of ordinary bean dip into Nearly Nachos!
  9. Since I frequently do not have tortilla chips, I usually make do with what I have—which is either a bag of tortilla-chip crumbs that my boyfriend left behind after eating all the chips and subsequently forgetting about it, or a bag of pretzels (which I usually got from an airplane, because I never buy pretzels but do accept them when they are given to me for free). You'd be surprised at how well pretzels can substitute for tortilla chips!

    In this example, I'll be using pretzels, because I happen to have a bag of snack mix with pretzels in it. Ordinarily I'd just throw away the pretzels, but waste not, want not! If I can find an application for pretzels that does not require eating them plain, I'll be happy to keep them around! We're at the bottom of this snack bag by now, so finding a whole unbroken pretzel is a bit of a challenge. But that's actually perfect for Nearly Nachos, because you can just sprinkle the pretzel pieces onto the top of the whole shebang. Go ahead! Do it!
  10. Now you're finished! This whole process takes approximately two minutes, perfect for anyone who hates wasting time in the kitchen. Grab a spoon and commence eating! Don't forget to dip each spoonful into the yogurt, and top off each with a bite of lettuce! Yum!
A bowl of Nearly Nachos

Sorry, folks. I lied. You're not actually finished. 

After you have eaten your delicious dinner for one, you will undoubtedly have some refried beans left over. If you're anything like me, you can't work your way through a can of refried beans before it starts growing mold. The solution is bean pucks! Basically, these are single-serving portions of refried beans that you stash in the freezer until you're ready to eat them.

This is how I make them.

How to prepare Bean Pucks

  1. Take a small muffin tin (one can of beans will probably yield no more than 5 bean pucks) and spray the inside of each cup with cooking spray.
  2. Then fill the cups to the top with refried beans. Simple!
  3. Place the muffin tin in the freezer, and a few hours later, you will have a tin full of bean pucks.
If you let them thaw just slightly, they should fall easily out of the muffin tin. My tin is so flimsy, I can actually squeeze them out from the bottom, but that's leaving dents in it, so I don't recommend that method to those who respect their kitchen equipment. Return your now-liberated bean pucks to the freezer in a container of your choosing.

still-frozen bean puck in a bowl

The next time you're hungry for Mexican food, just grab a bean puck from the freezer, thaw it by microwaving it for around 44 seconds, then spread it out in the bowl and fix yourself some Nearly Nachos!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Worst Dog / Best Dog

Bubalou is the worst dog. In addition to the puking, peeing, and noisy separation anxiety that he unleashed on us as soon as we got him, we have discovered quite a few new annoying habits over the last few years.

He's an escape artist, able to leap tall chain-link fences in a single bound. I thought having a house with a fenced yard would be an improvement over an apartment, because I could let the dogs run around in the yard unsupervised. But no, you have to keep your eye on Bubalou every moment he's outside, because when he gets in the mood for a stroll in someone else's yard, he's gone in an instant.

He also loves to eat dirty clothes. The way we discovered this was a mystery story. Early on in our ownership of him, we once found a puddle of vomit with what appeared to be a striped cloth in it. Where that had come from, we had no idea. Until a week or so later when, folding laundry, I found one of my boyfriend's shirts, made of striped fabric, with a great gaping hole in it. We figured this was some weird manifestation of Bubalou's separation anxiety—when one's favorite human is absent, one must eat his clothing out of desperation? But apparently, it was not just limited to Al's shirts. When we moved to the new house, I started finding my underwear ripped to shreds in the wash. I thought they were snagging on something in the machine, until one day I found a similarly destroyed pair of panties sitting on the couch, next to a telltale pile of chewed-up food wrappers (stolen from the recycling bin, of course). Apparently, Bubalou's clothing-munchies go not just beyond Al's shirts, but beyond a separation-anxiety thing, too. Leave him unsupervised in a room with a laundry hamper, even if you're just down the hall, and you can return to find him gnawing on his latest sartorial snack.

Shortly after we got him, I mentioned how much Bubalou was costing my boyfriend. Well, the expenses certainly haven't decreased. Between the training, emergency vet bills, and medications for him, not to mention all the property we've lost to his clothes-eating habit, Al calls him the "11,000 dollar dog." While I don't know how accurate that figure is, I can say for certain that I myself dropped $4,300 to help him survive a cardiac condition in July, so I'm sure it's pretty close. This special-needs beastie makes my ex-rabbit's vet bills look like pocket change!

So yeah. If I had to give out a prize for the worst dog, I would give it to Bubalou. But if I were to give out a prize for my favorite dog, guess who I'd give it to. Bubalou! In spite of his innumerable negative traits, he has somehow managed to charm his way into my heart with proportionately more endearing ones.

Yeah, I'll admit that some of his appeal is due to nothing more than his cuteness. I've told him many a time (though I get the feeling he's not listening!) that he hit the genetic jackpot when it comes to his looks. With his cloud of ginger fur, his expressive face, warm dark eyes, and perennial smile, he just looks like the physical embodiment of happiness!

But I'd like to think that I'm not so superficial that I only like him because of his baby face. At least some of it can be attributed to his adorable personality.

Bubalou is, among the many names I've given him, Cuddle Dog.* He is thusly dubbed because, more than any other dog I've known, he seems to be most comfortable on or immediately next to a human lap. When I come home from work and sit down on the couch, it is usually not long before I have a Cuddle Dog jumping up to join me. He loves cuddling at any time, but it's especially pronounced when he's nervous. Kneel or sit down when there is a crowd, thunderstorm, or groomer in the vicinity, and you will have a lapful of fur before you can say lickety-split!

Bubalou also likes to cuddle when you're mad at him, which I assume is nature's way of keeping you from killing him. No matter what he does wrong, it only seems to make him cuter. Unlike Jack Jack, who has actually become much more manageable since Bubalou joined the family but irritates me with his cowardly reactions when he does mess up, Bubalou seems to think that the best way to atone for his errors is to shower you with more love! Either that or he's too stupid to realize that he's erred at all (I would not put that past him). But regardless of the reason, it's hard to be mad at him when his reaction to your anger is to rush towards you with a giant smile on his face and his entire hindquarters wiggling. The worse you feel, the closer he tries to be—it seems he was born to be a therapy dog.

Bubalou seems to always want to please you. Even if he's too dumb to figure out how, and even if he works himself into a fit of anxiety trying to do it right, he's ultimately trying. I appreciate him for that honest attempt, even if it always ends in failure.

Obviously, my intention from the beginning was to distance myself from him as much as possible, since he was an unsanctioned addition to my household. But even more obviously, that resolution didn't stick. I've given up on calling him Al's dog and now just call him our dog. I am pretty much an unabashed Dog Mom on Facebook, posting nothing but pictures of my baby doing those silly things that no one loves quite as much as the person who posts them.

As I was just trying to wrap up the writing of this post, the ever-restless Bubalou wandered up to my desk to stare at me with his usual happy face. I gave him a little head-pat before turning away to finish typing when, without warning, he upchucked on my floor.

And this is how I know I love him. The dog is disgusting, but I'm not even mad. I just resignedly wiped up the vomit and gave him another head-pat. Sometimes you have to take the bad dog with the good dog.

Since there is no such thing as too many cute dog pictures, here are some more shots of Bubalou that I never got around to oversharing on Facebook.

Jack Jack is jealous there isn't room for two.
Making it really difficult for me to do yoga.
I give up.
Taking a walk during the solar eclipse.
Notice the crescent shapes in the leaf shadows!

*Since I didn't have Bubalou when I wrote my Pet Names post, you never learned his other nicknames, which include: Cuddles, Bubbles, Buba-roo (for his kangaroo-like jumping), Bubba, Bubby, Bubs, Bub, Li'l Bub (stolen from the Internet cat), Happyface Dog, Anxiedog (as in "anxiety"), Yapper (shared with Jack Jack), Puffball, Puffboy, Puffer, Bubble Puff, and Puff Puff.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Half Empty or Half Full?

Is the glass half empty or half full? I get asked this question a lot (probably because of my penchant for personality tests!), and every time, it annoys me. It's a stupid way of obliquely asking whether I'm an optimist or a pessimist. Pessimist, obviously, from my reaction! But I'd tell you that without having to dance my way around an old, tired, confusing metaphor that (metaphorically, and ironically) doesn't hold water!

From the first time I heard about "the glass" being "half empty" or "half full" as a measure of one's baseline level of negativity, I found it confusing. I'm guessing I was a pre-teen at the time, so I was still firmly into concrete thinking, and here's what I thought:

Why did it have to be one or the other? Halfway is halfway—it's exactly in the middle. It is both half-empty and half-full at the same time. You could use either term and still be correct! Is this some kind of Zen koan? (No, I did not think that thought at my pre-teen age, but I do now.) Why are you trying to make me decide!?

It had to be explained to me (I assume, after I'd gotten over my indignation at being asked a question with no right answer), that the goal of the question wasn't to produce a correct answer as much as an insight into whether the current state of the glass is more good or bad—and, by association, the state of mind of the person answering the question.

At this point, I'm pretty sure there was no further discourse on the nature of the half-empty/half-full question, but, like any good Zen koan, it lingered in my mind, for me to mull and puzzle over every time I heard it asked again.

We have all come to accept that "half full" reads as "good," and is therefore associated with an optimistic outlook. I guess this is because the phrasing focuses on the amount of liquid that is there, thus emphasizing abundance, which is generally associated with good. Whereas "half-empty" focuses on how much liquid is gone, thus emphasizing depletion, which is generally seen as bad. But in real life, there are plenty of circumstances in which having less of something would be preferable—for example, if the glass contains repulsive cough medicine that you just want to get down as quickly as possible. In this case, calling the glass "half-empty" would indicate an optimistic viewpoint!

It seemed to me that this was less a question about how you impose your emotions on the world and more simply a question of context. If I were, for example, in the middle of filling the glass, I'd probably call it half full. But if I were in the midst of draining it, I'd call it half empty. The circumstances under which the glass arrived at its current state have everything to do with what words are used to describe it. The inherent goodness or badness of the situation do not come into play.

Even in a situation where a value judgment could be made on the relative fullness of the glass, how the words are used could completely change their interpretation. If I were, for example, a bartender filling the glass, and a server were trying to whisk it out of my hands, I would stop them by exclaiming, "It's only half full!" In this context, even though I used the words "half full," I'm still conveying the negative aspects of the situation.

In the end, the question is less about what's in the glass and more about what's going on around it.

The glass itself is still just a glass. The liquid in it is still just liquid. It has no inherent virtue. It's time we stopped using it as a symbol for every person's outlook on life! It's time we dumped this glass (metaphorically) once and for all!

Friday, October 6, 2017

No Flu for You!

Up until last year, I'd never gotten a flu shot before. I always considered it good exercise for my immune system to have to fight off an infection from time to, I kind of didn't want to miss out on my opportunity to take a sick day once in a, I'd heard some scary things about the flu shot and Guillain-Barré syndrome, and decided I'd rather deal with a few days of coughing over death by paralysis, should it come to that. ...Then I got the flu the spring before last. Wow, what a flu it was! After three days of abject misery, I vowed I would get a flu shot next year, or bust!

And so I did! Flu shots are free under my insurance plan, so it was an easy trip to the doctor for me, and then I was done! I did not get Guillain-Barré syndrome. I did not get the flu. I even only got one cold in late November.

Yes, you heard that right—from December 2016 through August 2017, I was entirely free of respiratory ailments!

I questioned this stroke of good health with all the cycnicism of someone who's caught at least 4 colds a year for as long as she can remember. What made this year different? Was it the fact that I was more assiduous about hand-washing when people around me were ill? Was it because I finally got wise and started taking immunity supplements (olive leaf extract, mainly) every time I traveled and every time I knew of a bug going around? Was it because of my flu shot?

The cold virus isn't the flu virus, sure, but I was willing to attribute any cause to this phenomenon, and a never-before-taken vaccination seemed as good as any. Whatever the reason, I kept news of my healthy streak strictly to myself. I wasn't going to say anything about it until my luck finally broke.

And boy, did it ever break!

In the past month, I caught three colds. The first one — on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, of all the annoying times — started with a sore throat and pretty much ended there. Normally a cold will start in my throat and work its way up to my nose before it finally leaves me. But I was able to go back to work on Tuesday feeling pretty much back to normal, without any nasal symptoms to speak of.

The second cold, on September 25, seemed like it was the remainder of the first cold, come back to finish what it started. It consisted entirely of a stuffy nose. I get unexplained stuffy noses from time to time, but this time I felt certain it was virally related, because along with it came a feeling of complete exhaustion, mild nausea, and general ickiness that usually mean I'm fighting an infection. However, that came and went in less than a full day, so I felt like I got off the hook pretty easily.

The third cold struck on Monday, October 2, and I have to conclude it was the rhinovirus' final attempt at giving me a proper cold with all the symptoms. I hopped into bed on that fateful night and suddenly noticed my throat was stinging a little, but assumed it was from the lemon bar I'd just eaten. The next morning, it was still stinging. But weirdly, I didn't feel sick at all. I got ready for work slowly, searching my body for other symptoms. I didn't find any, but I also didn't start feeling any better. Finally I decided to play it safe and just stay home. For the remainder of that day, the only thing I felt was a burning in my lower throat. It was very uncharacteristic of a cold. Where was that general ickiness? I began to worry all sorts of things—that I'd unwittingly gotten a chemical burn on my throat from using spray paint in an unventilated basement—that a piece of the acidic lemon bar I'd eaten before bed had gotten lodged in my tonsil and was slowly eating away my flesh—that I was having a sudden and serious case of upper esophageal acid reflux. But when I woke up the next morning, I was relieved (can you believe it?) to feel that the soreness had migrated up my throat and was now plaguing my nasopharynx—in the typical pattern of a very common cold. I had not developed acute throat cancer after all. I stayed home again that day, but not because I felt very sick—mainly out of concern for the public health and a desire to not overdo it and start feeling very sick! 

I actually almost enjoyed having this cold. It was bad enough that I had a legitimate excuse to stay home from work, but not so bad that I was consigned to writhing around in my bed for 2 days. I got quite a lot done at home while barely suffering from some very mild symptoms. Never once, in all of these three colds, did I feel feverish. If my throat and nose hadn't been acting up, I probably wouldn't have even known I was sick at all—a far cry from the total debilitation that usually accompanies my colds. So, in short, I don't know whether to feel thankful that I just experienced three of the easiest-to-overcome colds I've ever experienced...or annoyed that they kept on coming. 

Perhaps my three colds in September were my summer cold, spring cold, and winter cold, finally catching up with me. I'd been feeling astonishingly lucky, but everyone's luck must end sometime. Still, if these puny little infections were all that I'm going to get, I'm still pretty lucky!

It makes me wonder if, all those years I thought I was getting really terrible, miserable colds, I was actually getting the flu! If that was the case, I'm never going back to those dark times! I might now be the world's most enthusiastic flu-shot convert, and I'll be going to get my 2017 edition as soon as I'm fully over this cold. And you should too, if for no other reason than to make the title of this post make a little more sense.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Spinning in the rain

I've been putting it off forever, but it was bound to happen sometime—I was going to have to learn to bike in the rain. While I've been planning to get a good rain-biking plan set up since 2015, somehow I've been able to avoid it for just as long.

When I lived in my old house, I could catch the bus in bad weather, and it only took about 10 minutes longer than biking, which was a fair trade for staying warm and dry. For most of the past three years, I've had a friend who worked near my office who was happy to give me a lift when the rain was falling. But since said friend rudely got another job that is miles away from where I work, I can no longer count on a free personal taxi to drop me right at my door. And unfortunately, the commute to my new house on public transportation is much less efficient than the old one—it gets me home almost 25 minutes later than if I bike!

I've wasted enough time sitting on the bus, missing my workout and watching life pass me by (and then still having to walk 10 minutes in the rain!), so this morning, when rain was in the forecast but it hadn't (literally!) dampened my motivation by actually starting to fall, I sprang into action.

I packed up all the gear that I've been hoarding for just such an occasion. I packed a pair of clear glasses to keep falling droplets out of my eyes, and a raincoat to keep most of me dry. I decided not to pack the bright yellow rain pants that I purchased last fall, because it's still not cold enough out to have to bother with that encumbrance. I expected I'd only get wet on my ride home, and by that time, I could just change into something dry more easily than I could lug around an oversized pair of knickers.

Come afternoon, when the world was dreary and drippy and any sensible person would probably be wishing for a warm blanket and a quick teleport back home, I knew the rain couldn't get me down—I was prepared! In fact, I was almost excited to get started on my soggy commute.

But, I shouldn't have been.

Here is what my rain gear did to my dignity.

And here is what it did to my hair.

I don't know if you're catching my drift here, but my rain coat was not waterproof! I spent 18 minutes very publicly biking around looking like a day-glo tortoise, and for what!? I didn't even stay dry!

Now, this raincoat kept me not so warm but plenty dry on a very rainy trip to Oregon in 2010 (and I have the photo to prove it), but I guess the past 7 years have not been good to it, because in my short ride, it became absolutely soaked. By the time I was home, all my rain gear was good for was taking a few self-mocking pictures (the glasses did their eye-protecting job fairly well, I have to give them credit for that).

That is really the conclusion of my tale of woe, but it is not the end of this story. I'm going to figure out a way to successfully bike in the rain if it's the last thing I do. Stay tuned for Chapter 2!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

2017 Football Preview

By request (from someone who thinks my writing is so good, I can even make football sound interesting!) I am penning a preview of the upcoming NFL season.

As we all know, NFL stands for "No Fun League," and this season is shaping up to be even less fun than usual.

I have it from reliable sources that the two greatest teams in the NFL have suffered the loss of their star players due to injuries, which no doubt means a more boring year than normal. I predict lots of moaning and groaning and catastrophizing from Football Fan A and a fair amount of "Honey! My team lost!" from Football Fan B. "Our quarterback sucks," will be a common line heard during game time.

Although the outlook is bleak for all involved, some mid-season trades have the potential to turn this whole debacle around. I will undoubtedly advise Football Fan A numerous times to trade their loyalties to a team that wins once in a while, although my suggestion will most likely be met only by increased moaning and groaning.

Though game time this year promises to bore us all to tears, we can at least look forward to the nail-biting soap opera of off-the-field controversies that add further credibility to the venerable sport. Who will refuse to stand during the national anthem and get blacklisted? Is it safe to mention that's a very fitting choice of word? Who will be the next former player to go crazy from repeated head trauma? Why are fans leaving the league in droves (other than the obvious boredom factor)? Is MMA the new NFL?

These questions and more will be answered, not on the gridiron, but in bits and pieces gleaned through eavesdropping, headlines that pop up in your Google feed because someone once used your phone to look up something football related, and the occasional reluctant conversation with Football Fan B.

So, there you have it, folks! With my in-depth knowledge of this sport and my brilliant analytical abilities, I can promise you that the next, um, certain number of weeks are sure to, um, include some football, which will result in a lot of angst. Maybe if we're lucky, they will also result in a couple of dinners at your local sports bar. Everyone knows that's the best thing about football—appetizers and alcohol.

Editor's Note: This article was carelessly written and even more carelessly researched. Should anything be found in it that might pass for a fact, it should under no circumstances be interpreted as such.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Bike Backslides

I've had my new bike for long enough now that it doesn't really qualify as "new" any more, but when it was new unquestionably, I made a vow to myself that this time, I would do things differently. The things to which I was referring were 1) ongoing maintenance and cleaning, and 2) weight reduction.
Ongoing maintenance and cleaning are concepts that even a non-biker can appreciate. Normally people who live in houses clean their houses regularly. People who drive in cars wash their cars once in a while (or do they? Neither my boyfriend nor I have washed our cars in all the time we've been living together, and we are the only point of reference I have). People who ride bikes should probably, reasonably, expect to keep their bikes clean too. Except that I never did. My old bike, Greenie, though ostensibly one of the loves of my life and certainly worthy of a little TLC in return, got ridden every day in all sorts of weather, but only got unceremoniously hosed down once in a blue moon when I absolutely couldn't stand the dirt any more. I always felt ashamed when I had to take him (yes, he's a he) into the bike shop, and every moving part was positively caked with dried mud and grime.

With my new bike, Snowflake, I promised that this time I would do things differently, and clean her more often (she's a she!), keeping her lovely white frame lovely and white, and saving myself the embarrassment of dragging a filthy heap of rust into the shop when it came time for repairs. At first, like all kinds of "New ___ Resolutions," it went great. During the splashy rainy weather of early spring, I religiously wiped down my bike almost every morning when I arrived at the office, carefully removing splatters of mud from the frame, sides of the wheels, and as much of the gear assembly as I could reach. I left a hideously blackened rag in a corner of my office just for this purpose (I have to wonder what the cleaning staff thinks of that, since they never actually see the object it's there to clean!)

But then I took her down to Georgia, and nothing was ever the same again! The bike rack which conveyed her to my destination ended up viciously scraping her frame, leaving black smudges of rubber which I couldn't seem to buff off, and even more permanent gouges in the paint. After that damage was done, I lost interest in cleaning my bike every day. Getting up close and personal with all those scars had just become too painful.

Now my bike is lucky if it gets a cursory wipe-down after a downpour. Sorry, Snowflake. Pretty soon I'll probably have to call you "Ucky Old Pile of Snow That's Been in the Corner of the Parking Lot for 2 Months."

So, I failed on the cleaning front. Maybe I did better with my other resolution, weight reduction. Let's check it out.

First, a little explanation. Greenie was what you'd call a behemoth of a bike. Too old to find the specs on, and too cumbersome to place on a scale, his exact weight may never be determined, but you can rest assured that between his steel frame and the mountain of accessories I piled on it, he was quite a load to pedal around. Part of my reason for buying a new bike was the utter inadequacy I felt whenever my boyfriend and I had to pick up our bikes. He could lift his fancy racing-hybrid bike with one finger, while I, meanwhile, would be using all my strength just to awkwardly keep mine a few inches off the ground—or me! I still have the scar from when I dropped it, gears first, onto my calf while I was offloading it from a Metro bus 4 years ago.

My number-one goal for a new bike was to get one that I could transport without causing myself permanent harm—and that meant aiming for a bike weighing less than 30 pounds—the lighter the better!

At 26.75 pounds (advertised by Fuji) Snowflake fit the bill. The only challenge was to keep her under 30 pounds. As soon as I went to pick up my newly arrived bike from the shop, I failed in my objective by adding a (to my credit, totally necessary for any commuter) rear cargo rack before I'd even left the store. From then on, it's been a steady downslide into the biking behemoth-hood again. Obviously a rear rack is worthless if you don't have anything attached to it, so I ordered a folding basket. Then I got a lock (again, to my credit, another necessity) that I affix to the bike frame when it's not in use. Additional gear that has somehow made its way onto my poor overloaded steed is: a couple of bungee cords for unplanned hauling, a pair of lights, a couple of reflective slap bracelets for holding my pant legs away from the chain, a bell, and, most recently, a digital wristwatch which I've been using to help me determine the fastest routes from Point A to Point B.

That's a lot of stuff, but seeing as most of the items weigh less than an ounce each, I'm having trouble feeling too guilty. And thus far, I've done myself proud by refraining from attaching a water bottle cage (I've never had a bike without a water bottle before, but I figured since I do most of my biking in a 16-minute spurt between home and the office, there's not a whole lot of need to be carrying around that much hydration) or fenders (the bike shop attendant was nice enough to mention that my rear rack could double as a fender, and, while it doesn't keep as much water off me as my old real fenders did, good enough is good enough). I've also been tempted to put some kind of small carrying container on the handlebars (for when I suddenly realize I need to take my earrings off mid-ride, and don't want to have to stop to dump them in the back), but I haven't yet given in.

Overall, I give myself a 6/10 on the weight-reduction front, but I don't really see how I could have scored any better. Since, as I mentioned, it's rather hard to get a bike onto a scale and have it stay there (also, I don't recommend trying to suspend it from a luggage scale, which I also tried and regretted), I'll probably never know whether my bike is as light as its namesake or just another, slightly smoother-riding version of my old clunker. It doesn't really matter that much. Thanks to my attached stopwatch, I know that regardless of Snowflake's weight, I can get from home to the office in an average of 16.83 minutes, which is 2 minutes less than Google Maps estimates. My bike might not be as light as I would have liked, but it's as fast as I can reasonably expect it to be.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

If dogs could talk

You already know how I give my pets a downright litany of nicknames, but what you might not know is that I also give my pets a voice.

I mean that not in the figurative sense (as do, say, the animal rights organizations), but in the literal one: I speak aloud what my pets are surely thinking, and each pet gets a voice tailored specifically to him or her.

The voice development process usually happens organically. I start out with a pretty generic voice every time—A slightly deeper tone than my own for the boy pets, a slightly higher and sweeter one for the girl pets. Yet somehow, over time, every pet's voice morphs into a perfect representation of their personality.

A never-before seen picture of these two clowns. Jack Jack is, as usual,
more asleep than not, while Bubalou is begging, "Tummy rubs!"

Our two dogs now have very different voices. Jack Jack, the one whose dominant character trait is laziness, got a low (but not too low) voice with a distinctly whiny edge to it and a hint of a lisp. Bubalou got a high-pitched, fast-talking squeaky voice, inspired by his boundless enthusiasm, pervasive anxiety, and (extremely piercing) yip that he lets out when he's especially distraught.

Once your dog has a voice, it just follows naturally that he will have a tagline or two. Here is the story of Bubalou's. 

Bubalou loves to go in the car. "We're going someplace!!" and "I'm coming with you!!" are two of his favorite lines when he can sense that we're getting ready to leave the house. He loves to be taken pretty much anywhere — for a walk, just outside, to the bathroom with you — but he really gets pumped to go in the car. After some observation, it became obvious that his favorite thing about being in the car was smelling the air around him. He could be perfectly calm, lying down obediently in the back, and you could crack the window and he'd be up like a shot, sniffing the air, clambering over everything and everyone to get his nose closer to the window. And what does he say while he's indulging in this little display of unbridled excitement? "SMELLS!" Loud and squeaky and with every ounce of enthusiasm a dog could muster. Bubalou can be quite talkative when he's excited, and much of his verbiage boils down to his enthusiasm for smells.

Another thing Bubalou likes to say is "I'm a bad boy!" He says this with great pride because, while cute and puffy and completely incapable of committing a vindictive act, Bubalou likes to think he has a wild side. He would never overtly disobey his humans (although he's stupid enough to misunderstand pretty much every command you give him), but he doesn't necessarily like to come when called. So when he's out wandering in nature, if he's far enough away from you, he'll pretend he doesn't hear you yelling his name. He'll just keep happily sniffing the ground, ignoring you completely. You know he can hear you, but he knows he's just far enough away to get away with it. Likewise, whenever he's out of sight, he takes advantage of that solitude to pee on something. Other than cuddling, his favorite pastime might very well be depositing his bodily waste in as many locations as he possibly can. When you come home to his latest masterpiece, he'll come running up to you, tail wagging, with a smile on his face, and you can just hear it in your head: "Look what I did! I'm a bad boy!"

Jack Jack, on the other hand, seems to have a healthy fear of being a bad boy, as evidenced by his submissive cowering when I come home to a mess (even if Bubalou made it!) so he would never go around congratulating himself for his misbehavior. Although personally I think his tagline should be, "I don't wanna do it," because he never wants to do anything except lie on the bed, that is not how things shook out. Instead Jack Jack's personal phrase is any variation on "I love grass! And girls!"

Jack Jack has an inordinate love for grass. If you take him outside (provided it's not raining, in which case he'll turn in to a statue and pout), he will shed his normally prissy demeanor and have an exuberant roll in the grass. The other thing he really likes is girls. He loves getting attention from any human really, but he gets so excited about meeting "pretty girls" that he loses control of his bladder when he sees them. Can you imagine what happens when he meets several pretty girls while he happens to be in a grassy area? Well, it has happened on the university campus, and I've seen him get so amped up that he's suddenly blasted out of the crowd and done a circuit around the mall that would make a greyhound proud.

Although Jack Jack has no chill around girls and grass, generally he thinks pretty highly of himself, and assumes that he is a necessary part of every activity. No matter what you are doing, he will stride right up to you and stand in a regal posture while staring you directly in the eyes. "I'm here," he'll say, with the unspoken part being "What are your other two wishes?" He uses this line especially frequently when you are eating, because he knows that it is his divine right to be fed your human food bite by bite, until it is all gone.

If subtlety fails, he will continue the conversation in a very courtly way: "I'm here, Daddy. I don't know if you noticed, but you have forgotten to feed me any of that delicious turkey you have on your plate. I suggest that you rectify this oversight promptly. I'm right here, waiting. I'm right here. I'm here."
"I can't believe you're taking all these pictures instead of feeding me."
Well, now, I could go on and on and on about the fictitious conversations I've had with my dogs, but I guess I'd better wrap this up into some kind of takeaway. And that is the following: It can be fun to have dogs. It can be fun to talk about your dogs. But the funnest of all is talking like you are your dogs!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Loves and Loathes of my life

It is time to rhapsodize. Naturally, it is also time to complain, but we'll get to that in a minute. First, I'd like to tell you about some of the loves of my life.

Loves of my life

  1. Bubbles

  2. As in air bubbles rising up through a liquid. While floating soap bubbles are fun to create and chase around like a toddler (yes, I'm 33, and yes, I still sometimes chase bubbles), I am particularly amazed by how bubbles look when you're underwater and you see them rising up around you. They don't look at all like those perfect round bubbles I'm always doodling—rather, they flatten out like mushroom caps and wiggle their way awkwardly to the surface.They remind me of cute little jellyfish. When I first conceived this list, I thought that was all I was going to have to say about bubbles, but then I noticed these in the bottom of my Diet Coke on an airplane.

    Aren't they just the most lovely little spheres?
  3. Lists

    While we're on the topic of this list, let's talk about how much I love lists in general. I have a whole category for them in my blog. I have 199 notes in Evernote (at this very moment), many of which are lists. I love articles in list format (they call them "listicles" now, though I'm not sure I'm ready to adopt that term into my vocabulary), I love keeping lists to keep me organized, and even the way a short, concise bulleted list looks. Whoever thought up the idea of a list surely deserves a spot in the top ten greatest inventors of all time!
  4. Color gradients

    There was a time when color gradients were a very popular thing to do in design (it happened to be while I was in design school!)—so popular that our classmate who was already a professional designer warned us all against using them (that and drop shadows) unless we had a very good reason for doing so. For a few years, that scared me off of using gradients, but I love them! Who am I to go against my true nature? There's something inherently soothing about the smooth progression from one color to another that I can't explain, but only enjoy. To celebrate, here's a picture of one of the first digital gradients I ever employed in my art!
  5. The heater in my office

    It's summer now, but winter will be here soon enough, and rather than find something about it to complain about (as I usually do in my "loves and loathes posts), I'm going to take the positive route and mention something that's nice about it: my personal heater in my office. Despite the wide variance in comfortable human temperature preferences, most office buildings nonetheless try to set a sitewide temperature that suits a majority of the inhabitants – which never includes me – but in our building (or at least many parts of it), each individual room has its own heating/air-conditioning unit. This means that I'm free to set my office temperature to 80 in the winter (it never quite reaches 80, but at least it tries) and turn off the air completely in the summer. Of the many things I really appreciate about my job, this is definitely up there near the top. One can be so much more productive when one's fingers are not frozen stiff!

Loathes of my life

  1. Clattering dishes together

    I absolutely can't stand the sound that occurs when I am putting away dishes and I accidentally knock two of them together. Strangely, I used to work in a restaurant and the sound never bothered me, even though it was a pretty much constant racket. I am fairly good at ignoring loud noises, as long as they are occurring ambiently, but apparently, one type of noise I can't tune out is one that I make myself. It's enough to make me want to replace all my dishes with plastic!
  2. Everything about sunscreen

    Sun avoidance is a regular part of my lifestyle these days, but it's somewhat disheartening that I have yet to find a sunscreen I don't despise. The skin experts annoyingly bombard me with reminders that "even if you're in the shade, you're still getting exposed to UV light," and "windows don't block out harmful rays," and "You should be wearing sunscreen every day—no exceptions!" These reminders are annoying because they put me between a rock and a hard place—between blatantly ignoring the advice that could save me from both visible aging and cancer, and having to wear a nasty goop on my skin all day every day! Ugh! Don't try to offer a suggestion for a sunscreen that's less disgusting than the others, because they're all disgusting! Texture not even withstanding (although I have lots of complaints in that department too), they all stink, and I mean that literally. The chemical sunscreens smell like chemicals, and the physical sunscreens smell like dust. No matter how much perfume has been added, there's no getting around the fact that the active ingredients make me feel like I've doused myself in my own personal nightmare. Why does living healthy have to be so unpleasant!?
  3. Going to the bathroom at class-change time

    While it's great to have a personal heater, there are of course things I dislike about my job. One of them is the very people that make my employment possible: the students on campus! Again, because it is summer, at present I don't need to deal with this problem, but during the semester I am routinely inconvenienced. Like any normal human, I prefer to perform my bodily functions in private, but more often than I can explain, just as I am heading to the loo, I am rushed by a stream of students all leaving class at the same time, crowding into the bathroom and completely ruining my peace and solitude! I actually memorized the university's class schedule so that I could save my bathroom breaks for an off-time, but it seems like at least once every day, I slip up and have to face the herd. Sometimes when I get up to use the bathroom, I immediately turn around and go back to my office, to wait another 10 minutes until the hallway has cleared. Speaking of bathrooms...
  4. People playing on their phones while leaving the bathroom without washing their hands

    No, really! This just happened yesterday! I was in the bathroom washing my hands, when a person left the stall and passed me (and all the sinks) to go have a look in the full-length mirror, poking away at her cell phone the whole time. Like, ew, which hand did you wipe with, because you're using both of them on your phone right now! I cannot say for sure that this particular person didn't return to the sinks after I left, but I do know that it was already too late for her phone. I can't believe that educated adults (hello, this was at a university!), living in a world with ebola, still aren't washing their hands after using the toilet. This could possibly be the absolute number-one item on my list of loathes...ever.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Turn and face the sprain

When I was a kid, I thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to sprain a joint or break a bone. I saw so many friends and classmates with their (signable!) casts and their finger splints, and I wanted a piece of that action! When it finally happened, it was anticlimactic (my brother stepped on my little finger, and I didn't even know it was broken until a doctor confirmed it looked like an old break, long after it was healed). Now that I'm a seasoned connoisseur of musculoskeletal injuries and they just keep on coming, I'm pretty sure it's not cool at all.

When I was young and all starry-eyed about the idea of showing up to school in a cast, I thought it would be a sort of badge of honor—like, "Look at what happened to me! I was doing something so awesome and exciting that I caused serious damage to my body in the process!" However, in real life, I've never acquired an injury in an awesome or exciting way. Among my most notable injuries: I broke my toe getting out of bed, I sprained my back because I coughed while bending over, and I sprained my ankle dancing to Gangnam Style. These kinds of mishaps do not serve to bring me the glory I always imagined. In fact (dancing to Gangnam Style!?), they're downright embarrassing.

My latest injury was acquired in an equally unimpressive way: I sprained my ankle falling off the couch.

At least I can say that this injury was caused by altruism. I was giving the dogs water when I noticed one of their bowls had quite a lot of hair and particles floating around in it. Rather than force the dogs to drink hair and particles, I thoughtfully dumped the bowl into one of my plants so I could give the dogs fresh water. The plants, as you might recall, sit in my bay window behind a grate, requiring anyone who wishes to water them to stand on the couch and lean over the grate—a precarious position to say the least. I handled this acrobatic feat with aplomb, but the trouble came when I turned back to return to solid ground. As I was lowering my left foot in preparation for landing, it got caught on the yoga mat that I use as a waterproof pad under the slipcover. The slipcover was not on the couch at this time, because it had recently been washed (removal of a urine spot courtesy of Bubalou), so the yoga mat was free to fold upward under the pressure of my right foot, and snag my left foot on its descent. My left foot did not handle this acrobatic feat with much aplomb, as it twisted quite painfully before my knees collapsed. The subsequent tumble was surely a sight to behold, as the half-full dog-water bottle and dog bowl I was holding all went flying to the ground along with my body. So to recap, I get karma points for suffering this grievous injury whilst providing water to both dogs and plants, and the dogs get all the blame.

Dogs. Ruining my life on a regular basis!

In case you were worried, I don't think this is a very serious sprain. I can still walk (limp) on my foot and run it through an approximation of its usual range of motion, and I was able to bike (slowly) to work today. I'm sure I'll be back to my usual tricks in no time flat, but in the meantime, "flat" is the operative word. I am pretty certain that all those lovely high-heeled sandals I have been so excited about wearing are going to have to go into hibernation for the foreseeable future.