Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Diet Diaries

Normally when I live alone (which I did for most of my adult life) my weight is stable because I follow the cardinal rules that weight loss guru Paul McKenna says naturally thin people observe: I eat only when I'm hungry, I eat what I'm hungry for, I pay attention to what I'm eating, and I stop as soon as I start to feel full.  Over the past two months, in fact, by following this routine I've lost the extra weight I gained while living with my parents and stabilized at my previous poundage.  That's in the normal zone for my height, but to reach my ideal BMI I still need to lose another 15 pounds, and it's not happening.

I think the problem is a habit I picked up while living with Barry - one last snack before bedtime.  This is usually in response to mouth hunger, not stomach hunger, but if I don't eat something I can't sleep because I'm lying in bed obsessing about food.  The diet literature I've read doesn't agree on whether evening eating is a good thing; some authors say late night snacks don't digest well and go right to the hips and stomach, but Weight Watchers says four hours is the longest one should go without eating (while awake, of course) in order to keep hunger under control and prevent food binges, and I go to bed more than four hours after supper.  I'm hoping the answer is not to stop eating before bed but to control how much I eat then.

I'm going to start tracking what I eat during the day.  Then, when the nighttime munchies attack, I'll know how many calories I can afford to ingest.  This will also give me an incentive to stop eating sooner at supper to be sure I have a few calories left for the end of the day.

A few years ago I was on the Weight Watchers online plan (trying to get rid of the eating-with-Barry weight) and the whole "planning what to eat for the entire day in advance" thing was a real pain.  I hope that adopting just the tracking system will make me more aware of what I'm eating and let me shave the 150 calories a day that will lose those 15 pounds over the next year.

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four.  Unless there are three other people."  ~Orson Welles

Monday, September 26, 2011

Kitty Cannabis

For Rusty's first Christmas with us, my sister Sue gave her a blue fake-sherpa catnip mouse about the size of a newborn kitten.  The mouse, which also had a rawhide tail and a goofy felt face and ears, quickly became known as BooBoo the Big Blue Mousy.  Rusty is always deeply suspicious of new things, so she detoured around BooBoo for a couple of months before finally checking him out.  Then she seemed to decide he was actually her kitten; she carried him everywhere, slept with him, and washed him whenever she took a bath herself.  She was an abusive mother, though; every once in a while she kicked the crap out of him.

When Tom and I would go on vacation and leave her with a kitty sitter, we would return to find her sitting with BooBoo on our bed, as if she were saying to him, "It's just us now, kid.  Stick with me and I'll take care of you."  Once when we boarded her at the vet's we sent BooBoo along and he didn't make the trip home; I rushed back to the vet immediately to retrieve him and avoid a feline meltdown.

Over the last couple of years her attachment to BooBoo had faded and he'd become just another one of her toys.  Listening to her wail earlier this week, though, it occurred to me that she might welcome his presence again for a couple of reasons - as an old buddy to snuggle up to and as a conveyance for the cat equivalent of medical marijuana.  I dug BooBoo out of the toy basket, cleaned him up a little, rolled him in the freshest catnip I could find, and gave him to Rusty.  She grabbed him and started washing, and was quiet for the rest of the day.  I've been renewing the catnip whenever she gets a little whiny and the whining stops immediately.  I check under the bed occasionally and they're cuddling as if she'd never turned her fickle back on him.  Apparently he's once more her BFF.

Our current vet, Dr. Hauser (please, no Doggie Howser jokes) told me that all I can do now is try to keep Rusty as comfortable as possible for the weeks or months left to her.  I guess that means I'd better lay in a substantial supply of catnip.

"A cat doesn't know what it wants and wants more of it." ~Richard Hexem

Sunday, September 25, 2011

More Time Travel

I've mentioned before that I'm fascinated by books and movies about time travel and alternate universes, and why not?  Look back at your own life.  Isn't there at least one decision that, had you chosen differently, would have sent your life in an entirely different direction?  My own life has at least four pivotal points that could have turned me into someone else.  I'm not inventive enough to imagine the entire cascade of events that could result from taking a different path, but I enjoy reading or watching the products of those who are.

Perhaps my favorite "what if" movie is Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow.  Paltrow plays Helen Quilley, a worker bee at a London PR firm who is fired at the beginning of the film.  She returns to the Underground station to take the train back home.  At that point the movie splits in two and shows us what happens if she does and doesn't catch that particular train.  In one version she slips on board at the last possible second; in the other, the sliding doors close in her face.  After that the two versions of her life are entirely different - or are they?

Even in the scenes where she is supposed to be depressed and downtrodden, Gwyneth Paltrow is luminous, and the writers did an amazing job of showing us the two alternate realities while keeping us clear on which one we are viewing at a given time.  The end of the film is probably the reason the movie doesn't get better ratings from most reviewers; one of the timelines has an unhappy ending, and the other is hopeful but ambiguous.  Of course, hopeful but ambiguous is probably the usual outcome in real life, too.

"There are two sides to every story. Helen is about to live both of them the same time." ~tagline for Sliding Doors

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Past Time

My Maricopa county library card expired while I was in the middle of my move and I wasn't able to renew it because I didn't have any proof of my current address.  Now that I'm more or less settled I need to take a utility bill with me to the nearest branch and get a new card, but for the time being I have been re-reading old favorites from my personal library.  The latest is Time and Again by Jack Finney.

I've always been fascinated by the possibilities of time travel and alternate universes, and Finney is possibly my favorite author to deal with these issues.  Time and Again was written in 1970 but is still absolutely current because, unlike many time travel novels, the action almost all takes place in the past - in 1882, to be exact.  The protagonist, Simon Morley, is an illustrator who feels out of place in his own life.   Despite a flourishing career and a beautiful girlfriend, he yearns for a slower, gentler era - and then he meets a scientist whose unique theories allow him to sideslip the timestream into the past, where he finds the real girl (and life) of his dreams.

One of the unusual features of Time and Again is that Finney has included actual Victorian-era photos and etchings of (supposedly) the people Simon meets and the places he visits during his trip to late-nineteenth-century New York City.  Ice skaters in Central Park, the Dakota apartment building, Trinity Church, the future site of the Empire State building - here is how they looked in 1882.  The real historical events in the book, such as how funds were raised for the erection of the Statue of Liberty, have also been meticulously researched.  My guess is that Finney would have taken a trip to 1882 in a heartbeat had anyone offered it to him.

Read this book and you'll want to go there, too.

"Go back to a wonderful world and have a wonderful time doing it!" ~New York Times review of Time and Again

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Collecting Antagonism

It never fails.  I move.  I get a new phone number.  I get more calls for the last X holders of that phone number than for me.  The most amazing phone call I ever got for a previous number-holder was the attempted collect call from Barbados from the person's grandmother, after I had had the number for over two years.  Who would move and leave their granny in the dark for that long?

My newest phone number is apparently associated with three deadbeats.  Fortunately I was able to speak to live human beings about two of them and put an immediate stop to the annoying calls.  The third collection agency, however, was a horse of a different color.

Every day the phone rings.  A recording (they rotate the recorded voices) tells me the name of the person being hounded and says to hang up or disconnect if I am NOT that person.  So I do.  And another call rolls in the very next day.

Up till now the number of the collection agency was blocked, but today their name briefly appeared on the phone's display.  I looked them up online and called the "Contact Us For Immediate Attention!" number.  The woman who answered was in Kansas City, but I'm surprised I didn't melt the receiver in her hand long distance.  I don't believe they'll be calling again.

I understand the need for collection agencies.  I understand that automated calls allow them to be more efficient.  What I don't understand is how they can tell hapless victims of misdirected collection attempts that hanging up will discontinue the harassment and then keep right on calling.

At least I know who they are now.  One more call and they'll be hearing from the Better Business Bureau instead of from me.

"Creditors have better memories than debtors." ~Benjamin Franklin

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sending My Iron On Vacation

Because the bed in my new house is smaller than the one I had before, I had to buy all new bedding when I moved.  The comforter and its matching bedskirt and pillow shams came stuffed into a giant ziplock bag and emerged covered with wrinkles.  At the time my iron was still packed in an unidentified box, so I made the bed with the new bedding and hoped the wrinkles would shake out over time.  They haven't.  The thought of removing the bedskirt from under the mattress and wrestling my overstuffed comforter on and off the ironing board - or dancing around the bed with my iron and its too-short cord - has kept me from dealing with the situation.  Until now.

Yesterday I bought a bottle of Downy Wrinkle Release.  I've never used it before but it looked as if it might be the answer to my wrinkly bed, and it was.  I was amazed by how quickly and easily the wrinkles vanished after relatively few squirts of miracle spray.  I expected a nasty chemical smell but didn't get that, either; the aroma is really quite pleasant.  I now have wrinkle-free bedclothes and am planning a Wrinkle Release assault on my favorite linen shirt.  If it works as well on that, I may permanently retire my iron.

Too bad none of the miracle wrinkle removers for human skin is this fast and effective.

"Age does not bring you wisdom, age brings you wrinkles. " ~Estelle Getty 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Going Bananas AND Nuts

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a huge fan of bananas.  Once in a while they taste great.  A banana a day would be disgusting.

For some reason, though, my body has a tendency toward low potassium.  I always know when I'm in the problem zone because I start having leg cramps and the middle toes on my left feet curl under and lock there (painfully).  Time to eat some dates - or a banana, which is usually a lot cheaper.

I finally found a way to eat bananas that makes them tastier and increases their nutritional value.  I split them lengthwise and spread the halves with a little peanut butter (preferably chunky).  Potassium and protein, all in one package.

Now I just need to find a way to make beets palatable...

"On a traffic light green means go and yellow means yield, but on a banana it's just the opposite. Green means hold on, yellow means go ahead, and red means where the hell did you get that banana at ... " - Mitch Hedberg

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Positive Setback

Today I paid my first full-month electrical bill for the new house.  Ouch.  The fact that the bill came bundled with the notice of a pending rate increase added insult to injury.

The rate plan I'm on charges peak rates from noon to 7pm weekdays and off-peak rates (much cheaper) the rest of the time.  I've been doing my best not to use much energy during peak hours.  I wash dishes, do the laundry, clean the house, watch TV and cook during off-peak times.  I even try not to switch on the lights until 7pm.  However, I can't shut everything down.  Since I work at home, my computer and its friends the modem and the wireless router are usually on all day long.  Air conditioning is the major energy user, though, especially since the Phoenix area just sweltered through the hottest August in recorded history, and September is shaping up to be more of the same.

My sister is an electrical engineer who works for the local power company, and her answer to the heat pump's drain on her bank account was to put in a set-back thermostat.  During the summer she runs the air conditioning full blast all morning at off-peak rates until her house could almost be used to hang meat; then it shuts off for most of the afternoon, turning on again in time to cool down the house (if necessary) before she returns.  Often the house is so cold by noon that it's warmed up just enough to be comfortable in the evening, and she claims to save a bundle during the summer.  I haven't found a set-back thermostat yet that will work with my heat pump, but I'm sure I can with just a little more online research.

I'm not positive that I can follow her strategy precisely; as cold as her house sometimes gets, I might go into hibernation around lunchtime.  Still, if by installing a set-back thermostat I can save even $20 or $30 during the hottest and coldest months, I can stand a little temporary discomfort.  Over the long run, my bank account will certainly thank me.

"And God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected. " ~Spike Milligan

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Greens without Guilt

Tonight I made a spinach and cheese omelet for dinner and I didn't rewash the pre-washed spinach.

This may not seem odd to you, but in the past, every time I decided not to wash already-washed greens, a little voice in the back of my brain (it sounded suspiciously like my mother) said "You don't know whether they really did a good job!")

This week, though, I was catching up on magazines I didn't read during the move, and one of them was a past edition of Chef's Illustrated in which the kitchen staff reported on testing the bacteria count of various pre-washed greens before and after rewashing them.  Their conclusion: Rewashing the greens actually introduced contamination.

What a relief.  If the scrupulous staff at Chef's Illustrated couldn't improve the cleanliness of salad greens by rewashing them in their professionally cleaned kitchens, I certainly can't.  In the future I'm going to blithely throw those pre-washed greens into the salad bowl or the cooking pot without a second thought - or perhaps with a sense of relief.

Salad "freshens without enfeebling and fortifies without irritating." ~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bracing for More Loss

The first eight years I lived in New York, I was in apartments that didn't allow pets.  It was the longest period of my life without a cat, and I was suffering serious fur withdrawal by the time I married Tom.

Tom was also a cat lover.  According to his younger son Jeff, before his parents' divorce, Tom spent every night watching TV with Jeff's cat Inky curled up on his lap.  That ended with the marriage, since Tom's first wife retained custody of both Jeff and Inky.

We were both pleased, then, when our then-landlord finally caved and agreed to let us adopt a cat if we would increase our damage deposit.  We immediately started making the rounds of the local cat shelters.  I saw several cats I would gladly have taken home, but Tom was much more choosy.  Finally we visited a cat store only a few blocks from our apartment.  They specialized in purebreds - I fell in love with the fluffy, friendly Scotch Fold kittens, although not with their price tags - but the rear of the store housed several rescued street cats.  I yearned for a big old tom who reminded me of my long-dead Sunny, but the shop owner told me that he was totally feral and they were negotiating with a farm owner to take him.

The next cage over held a half-grown orange kitten.  When the shopkeeper took her out and handed her to Tom, she snuggled closer and stared up at him with adoring eyes.  He immediately said, "I like this one.  Let's take her."  And we did.

Rusty's prior owner had apparently trained her with a heavy hand before throwing her out; she shrank from being petted and (after that first day) struggled every time we tried to pick her up for the first two years.  She stayed strictly off the furniture for months until we convinced her that we wanted her to share the bed and the sofa with us.  Over time she bonded with us so well that she throws a major fit whenever I leave her, even with the most indulgent kitty-sitters in the world.

I was upset last week when Rusty started bumping into things, and even more so last Friday when the vet confirmed that her eyesight is gone.  She doesn't have cataracts, her irises still respond to light, and the retinas and blood vessels in her eyes still look fine, but the vet threw cotton balls in front of her face and she didn't even blink.

Today the results of her blood tests came back.  Her kidney function has been gradually declining over the last couple of years; apparently it's grown much worse since her last tests in April.  She's also developed high blood pressure.  Both of those things have probably contributed to her loss of sight.

The vet says that most cats who lose their vision adapt pretty well after an initial period of confusion, as long as no one switches the furniture around.  Given Rusty's age and her kidney condition, though, she probably won't be with me much longer.

Queen Elizabeth II of England referred to the 1992, the year her favorite home burned, as her "annus horribilis;" this is shaping up to be mine, not to mention poor Rusty's.

"Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet."  ~Colette

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Back to the Vet

For the last few days Rusty has been wandering around the house howling for no apparent reason.  I've offered her food, water, treats, a clean box, love, and the porch, to no avail.

Tonight she walked around the kitchen bumping into furniture and walls as if she couldn't see them and then she retreated under the bed.  I can't get her to come out.

I'm calling the vet the first thing in the morning.  I hope this isn't the beginning of the end, but my poor baby is 15 years old, which definitely puts her into the Senior Cat category.  Keeping my fingers crossed...

"If there is a heaven, it's certain our animals are to be there. Their lives become so interwoven with our own, it would take more than an archangel to detangle them." ~ Pam Brown