Thursday, May 30, 2019

Internal Fireworks

Last Friday evening (the start of the Memorial Day weekend, OF COURSE), Lee and I were watching a movie on TV when suddenly I started seeing flashes of light at the edge of my left eye.  They were occasional at first, but then came faster and faster, and eventually I had about 5 minutes of an intense light show going on inside my eyeball.

Well, light flashes are one of the precursors to a detached retina, so we discussed whether to head to the ER.  We decided not to go because the light flashes stopped; the hospital would not have had an ophthalmologist on duty at night on a holiday weekend; and if they had decided to keep me overnight for observation, my health insurance would not have covered the bill.

I have now seen a retinal specialist and the verdict is no retinal detachment - yay!  Apparently as the eye ages, the inner jelly shrinks and throws off floaters, and when the floaters bump against the retina, they can cause flashes.  And yes, my left eye is definitely "floatier" now than it was before Friday night.  Just another one of those annoying "at your age..." issues that no one warns you about in advance.

My sister is planning to live to 110, but I don't want to be around that long; I don't want to find out for myself what "at your age..." infirmities are lurking for centenarians.  I'm sure they're a lot nastier than fireworks inside my eye.

"In youth we run into difficulties.  In old age difficulties run into us." ~Josh Billings

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Bubby, Can You Spare a Book?

Several years ago I was given my first e-reader - an early version of the Barnes & Nobel Nook - and received it with mixed feelings.  It just didn't look and feel like a real book.  I wasn't sure I could adjust.

Since then I have grown to love traveling with an e-reader.  I load it up with novels I want to read on the plane/bus/road; travel guides for the area I'll be visiting; and (if I'm going to a foreign country) phrase books for the local language.  One small book to pack instead of an entire stack - as long as I remember the charger, I'm golden.

I've also started to use it to downsize my possessions.  Although by some definitions I'm already living in a tiny house, the day will eventually come when I'm living in a single room, and it won't have space for all my books.  When possible, I've been trying to store my favorites on the e-reader and eliminate the hard copy.

However, I have a lot of favorites, and while many classic books out of copyright are free through Project Gutenberg, most e-books are almost as expensive as their hard copy versions.  Which is why I was happy to join BookBub.

Every day BookBub emails me a list of e-books on sale.  The list is tailored to my reading tastes (I had to fill out a questionnaire), and because I have a Nook, most of the books are from Barnes & Noble, although I've also acquired some from other sources.  I have been using the list in three ways:
  • When one of my favorite books shows up free or at a low price - say, $1.99 - I buy it.
  • If something that looks like an interesting read shows up as "Free," I download it.
  • If I see a book by a new-to-me author that looks good but I don't want to spend money on it, I go to the Greater Phoenix Digital Library (through Overdrive) and see if I can check it out.
So, in addition to letting me replace some of my hard copy books, BookBub has been introducing me to a constant stream of new authors, many of whom are not available in my local brick-and-mortar library.  I'm actually on my third e-reader now (they lead a hard life in my purse), and I'm getting quite fond of the little devils.  If you have one and are looking for a good source of affordable e-books, check out BookBub - you'll be glad you did.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” – Stephen King

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Stitch (Fix) in Time

As I've mentioned before, I've spent part of the last two years downsizing and improving my wardrobe.  I did a lot of this (both disposal and acquisition) with the help of Poshmark, but I also decided to try Stitch Fix.

If you have somehow avoided being exposed to their ads, Stitch Fix is a personal styling service that will send you 5 pieces of clothing and/or accessories every 3 months to buy or return.  They charge a $20 up-front styling fee each time that goes toward the purchase of any items you decide to keep.  When you receive your Fix box, it includes a postage-paid pouch for returns.

To help determine your style, the software takes you through questions about your body type, fit and color preferences, budget, etc.  You are shown "outfit" photos and asked to rate how well you like them.  In addition, Stitch Fix suggests you set up a Pinterest board with items you like to give their stylists more specific guidance about your taste.  A few months ago they also added a feature to their website where you are shown a selection of different clothing items each day and asked whether each one is your style or not, and you can leave a short note for your stylist before each Fix.

How well does this work?

First of all, let me be clear - I do not like IRL shopping.  Occasionally I am forced to visit a brick and mortar store just to check the fit of a new clothing brand, but I was never a mall rat and prefer online ordering, so the mechanics of this process worked well for me.  If your idea of heaven is spending the day browsing the clearance racks at Nordstrom's, this may not be the right service for you.  

Over the past two years, I have been assigned a different stylist for almost every Fix.  (The last two were both by the same person.)  Two of the stylists - including the last one - nailed my style.  A couple of the early ones were really off.  I blame the vagueness of some of the initial style questions for this; for instance, I marked that I like green apparel, but the greens I typically wear are blue-greens; the olive sweatshirt in one Fix made me look newly embalmed.  Over time, as I have made online comments about what I kept and what I returned and why, the Fixes have been getting better and better.  I've also been pretty regular about going to the site for the daily "thumbs up/thumbs down" ratings on individual items.

Perhaps the biggest help, though, was when I added photos of most of my existing wardrobe to my Pinterest board so the stylists can see what I actually wear and determine where the gaps in my closet might be.  That's when I started to receive garments that worked with all my other clothing.  So, the more information you give the stylists, the better the end results.

Overall, I have been very happy with the service.  By now they have sent me several items that I would never have picked for myself, but that I adored from the minute I tried them on.  When I complained that two of the garments shrank in the wash, despite my following the laundering directions to the letter, they refunded my money with a note of apology.

Do I recommend the service?  Yes, if you are willing to do the work to show the stylists who you really are.  In fact, rating their items and uploading the pieces in my current wardrobe that I like the most helped me better define what my personal style actually is, which was wonderful.  Will I continue to use them?  Yes, but probably not as frequently - thanks in part to their efforts, my wardrobe works so well together now that I am only going to need additional pieces to replace things that wear out.

“Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” ―Rachel Zoe

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Singing Above My Vocal Cords

Back when I stilled worked in the insurance industry, I did quite a bit of public speaking - mostly continuing education classes about insurance coverage for property/casualty agents. Generally this meant traveling in the upper Midwest during the winter, and on one memorable trip involved losing my voice.

I had been suffering from a cold and was a little hoarse at the start of the trip. After two days of talking virtually nonstop for 6 hours each session, my voice failed. We cancelled the third speaking engagement, and after two days of rest and making my wishes known in writing, I was (barely) able to finish the fourth class before my voice checked out again for an entire week.

After yesterday's lesson with my new voice teacher, I now know what I was doing wrong. In the past, whenever I've started to get a little hoarse, I've tried to power through by speaking in a lower voice and a little more loudly. Apparently this puts a lot of tension and stress on the vocal cords, and makes a bad situation much worse.

This week I took my Dad to a walk-in clinic for tests and came home with a 48-hour stomach bug, which was not so bad in itself, but set off a nasty asthma episode. After several days of hard coughing I went to my voice lesson with a hoarse singing voice and a plea for help. Patti, my teacher, did not fail me.

All of the warmup exercises we did were designed to keep stress out of the throat and tension off the vocal cords. When I was finally ready to sing, she told me to visualize "keeping your voice as far away from your vocal cords as possible." Well, that sounds pretty weird, but in general I've been learning to sing so that my voice resonates in my head spaces instead of coming from the back of my throat, so this was more of the same, and it worked really well. In the past an hour of singing with a hoarse throat would have killed my voice completely; after yesterday's lesson my throat actually felt better instead of worse.

 I am so glad that I decided to look for a teacher specializing in problem voices; as in most areas of life, learning from a real expert pays off in many ways. I am learning to sing better, but also to breathe correctly and keep my throat healthy. Amazing!

"Crying is really bad for your vocal cords." ~Adele

Friday, May 24, 2019

Smelling Like the South of France

For the last 15 years, my favorite fragrance has been Mariella Burani, by the Italian designer of the same name.  I wore her perfume almost every day. According to, the top notes are tarragon, bergamot, brazilian rosewood, and lemon; the middle notes are iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, and rose; and the base notes are amber, sandlewood, tonka bean, patchouli, musk, benzoin, vanilla, and vetiver.  It had a very fresh, lovely scent when first applied that settled into something warmer and spicier which lasted for a long time but never turned rancid on my skin.  Over the years, many people asked me what it was so they could buy it themselves.

I am speaking in the past tense because a few months ago I finished the bottle I had been using and tried to order another, only to find that it has been discontinued.  I ordered what purported to be a NIB bottle from an online perfume warehouse with good reviews, but what arrived is not my scent.  The top note is almost all alcohol, and over time it turns into a bad copy of Obsession.  I don't know whether the manufacturer reformulated near the end to save money, or if this was a nasty knockoff in a real bottle, but I had to throw it out.

That left me on the hunt for a new signature scent.  I've made a few half-hearted trips to perfume counters without finding anything that really excited me.  Then I saw a YouTube video by Audrey Coyne that discussed, among other things, Bastide, a relatively new perfume company in Aix-en-Provence.  They now sell 5 fragrances based on the scents of southern France.  The four original scents - Ambre Maquis, Neroli Lumiere, Figue Amour, and Rose Olivier - are available as a set of four small sample sprays for $18; if you later order a full-sized bottle, you receive an $18 credit toward it.

I like all four scents.  I was prepared to hate Rose Olivier, because many rose perfumes are sickeningly sweet, but this is very light and fresh; I think I'm going to keep the sample bottle for travel.  The Ambre Maquis (amber, patchouli, labdanum) is a little heavy for my taste, but I loved both the sweet Neroli Lumiere and the fig-and-sandalwood Figue Amour, particularly when I layer them together.  And, importantly, none of these scents trigger my asthma.

Probably because they are heavy on natural ingredients and do not contain many of the chemicals found in more mainstream perfumes, these scents may need to be reapplied during the day, but that's no burden when something smells as delicious as they do.  I just ordered my two favorites and can hardly wait for them to arrive.

"We never test on animals, only ourselves. We don’t want these ingredients on us or the people we love, so we’ve left them out of our formulas to make room for more goodness from Provence. This is our Bastide Promise - 100% made with love, 0% from our blacklist." ~Bastide

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Please Hide the Clicker

If you've read my blog before, you know I have a love/hate relationship with television.  Part of the hate thing is a reluctance to spend vast sums of money on a device that eats up my precious spare time without delivering much of value.  Yes, I like shows about food and travel and home improvement, but I could get most of the same information online or from the public library for free.

I know, I know, video is sexier than merely reading - but not so sexy that I can justify paying my local cable company more than $100 a month for a fairly basic viewing package.  That's why I discontinued the TV part of my cable subscription about 2 years ago and subscribed to Netflix.

At the time, I was able to stream Netflix via the Wii connected to my home wireless network for under $10 a month, and life was good.  Until Netflix and the Wii folk had a falling out, and I was only able to access Netflix through the small screens on my tablet and smartphone.  Adding insult to injury, Netflix has since raised the subscription price twice.

So, I backed down the level of my subscription and started looking for an alternate streaming device.  After reading more Internet reviews than you want to hear about, I finally ordered a Roku Streaming Stick, which was serendipitously on sale.

The Roku arrived two days ago and I have already worked my way through the four episodes of "Cooked," Michael Pollan's amazing documentary about the history of human eating, and "Agatha and the Truth of Murder," a Netflix movie that imagines what Agatha Christie might have done during her 11-day disappearance in 1926.

The good: The Roku interface lets me access additional content channels, and a lot of the content is free.  Even the Netflix channel appears to contain considerably more content than I could access through the old Wii interface, although that may be due to global changes that occurred at Netflix during the months I was not using it.  Roku also allows me to view in HD, which the Wii interface did not.

The bad:  I could become a couch potato pretty easily with all the additional content available.

The ugly:  I have to turn off the sound on my TV when browsing the content, because unlike the old interface, this one insists on running a video trailer whenever I move to another selection.  I just want to read the quick summary provided - SILENTLY - and move on.  Still a Luddite reader at heart, I guess.

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” — Groucho Marx

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Shoulder Replacement Blues

My SO Lee is a really active guy.  He's been a tournament volleyball player for many years, and until very recently he was earning a living flipping houses, painting, and acting as a general handyman.

However, he's not the most careful human being I've ever met.  He's fallen off roofs at least twice, and had a rotator cuff repair about 15 years ago due to the general wear and tear of his life.  About a year and a half ago, he fell in a volleyball tournament, cracked a couple of ribs, and re-injured one of the tendons in his right shoulder, which has since completely retracted.  A second tendon in the same shoulder recently gave way, and now he can't lift his dominant arm above mid-rib level.  With some reluctance, he finally decided to have a reverse shoulder replacement to cope with the pain and restore as much movement to that arm as possible.

Today we visited the hospital where the operation will be done for the usual pre-op blood tests and chest x-rays, and their joint specialists ran us through the procedures to follow before the operation and the activities he'll be allowed afterward.  This is going to be trickier than I'd hoped.

Lee will be in a sling for a month after the surgery.  After that he will be encouraged to do some simple gravity-only movement exercises for about another month, with no strength-building exercises until after that.  He is not supposed to drive for 6 weeks after the operation.  Fortunately he lives only a few blocks from a rec center with a walking track where he can work off some of his pent-up energy with his feet.

The movement restriction starts before that, though.  As of today, he's not supposed to do anything that might result in cuts or scratches on his limbs, particularly his right arm - if any are present the day the surgery is scheduled, they will cancel.

This means he won't be able to do any of the final home-improvement projects he had been hoping to complete before he goes under the knife.  I'm guessing the 3-month minimum moratorium on doing anything substantial with his hands is going to drive him (and his temporary caretaker, me) nuts.  He does like to watch financial news, car shows, and old movies on TV, and read history books - we will have to record and/or borrow as much "sitting down" entertainment as possible to see him through the duration.

I'm not sure that's enough to keep him from cabin fever, especially during the days I have to go to work.  Does Uber sell gift cards?

"There is a higher risk of shoulder dislocation following rTSA than a conventional TSA....  As such, tucking in a shirt or performing bathroom / persona hygiene with the operative arm is an especially dangerous activity particularly in the immediate peri-operative phase." ~

Monday, May 20, 2019

Cleure Sailing

I admit it, I can be really cheap.  For many years I bought the least expensive shampoo and conditioner I could find - if it was on sale, it was good enough for me.

Then a few years ago, my scalp developed a mysterious itch, which my dermatologist diagnosed as an allergic reaction to the chemicals in my hair care products.  I switched shampoo and conditioner and the itch went away, but after about a month it came back. And so on, and so on.  Even several products billed as hypoallergenic caused problems.  This was most distressing; aside from the discomfort, if I gave in and scratched, I was just begging people to assume I had lice.

Finally I turned to the Internet and read all the reviews I could find on products for people with sensitive scalp.  With some trepidation I ordered travel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner from Cleure, a firm specializing in non-irritating personal care.  When the trial bottles were almost empty and no itching had developed, I ordered the largest sizes of shampoo and conditioner they offered.  I've been using their products for two years now with no adverse effects.

In fact, I've had quite a few people ask about my shampoo because my hair is shinier and more manageable than it's ever been.  I was so pleased with the shampoo and conditioner that I also ordered an eyeliner pencil and tinted lip balm from them.  This summer I'm planning to try their sunscreen and mascara - because it's worth a little more money to never itch again.

And - their products are cruelty free, ecologically responsible, and help fund worthy causes.  What could be better?

"We believe you deserve to be beautiful without the risk of potential toxins and questionable ingredients. What we don’t put into our products is as important as what we do. Our focus is sensitive skin. With that in mind, our products are gluten free, salicylate free, paraben free, and fragrance free." ~from the Cleure Commitment to Sensitive Skin

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Farewell to Holland

After her fall on our day trip to Kinderdijk, Sue disconcerted the receptionist at our small hotel by asking where we could buy drugs.  Seeing the woman's eyes almost bug from their sockets, I hastily added, "Aspirin.  Tylenol.  Something for pain."  The receptionist's eyes returned to normal and she directed us to a nearby drugstore.  Amazingly in a country where marijuana is everywhere, one needs a prescription to buy a decongestant in the Netherlands - don't know if this is an indication of an existing meth problem, or a plan to avoid one.

The rest of these photos are of the older area of Rotterdam where we stayed until it was time to go home.  And yes, we had rain for part of the day - note the shower caps on the seats of some of the parked bicycles.

"It feels good, to be lost in the Rotterdam direction." ~

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Windmills in the Rain

We spent the last two days of our trip in Rotterdam.  The first of those days we took a water taxi to Kinderdijk, where 19 historic windmills, most from the late 1700s, have been gathered.  We specifically went there on a day when the windmills were supposed to be operating.  Alas, this was another day of downpours, so the mills were not working.  In addition, both Sue and I slipped and injured ourselves during the expedition - she fell on the gangplank of the water taxi, losing quite a bit of skin from her hands and legs, and I skidded on the muddy pathway between windmills and messed up my sciatic nerve.  On the upside, we had a good laugh when at one point I leaned over and a veritable waterfall gushed from the upturned brim of my hat.  The windmills were interesting, even if they weren't working, and the canals between them were populated by haughty white swans.  We also had a lovely hot lunch next to the front window at the Grand Cafe Buena Vista, where we could see and pity the tourists who were trying to bike through Kinderdijk in the mud while wearing inadequate cheap plastic raincoats.  The restaurant staff were fast and friendly, and we enjoyed the traditional Dutch decor.

"Unesco World Heritage Kinderdijk - 742 Years of Dutch watermanagement history." ~

Friday, May 17, 2019


These photos are from the day we took the Flam Railway from Flam, Norway, to the Myrdal mountain station and back again, with a stop at the Kjosfossen waterfall to watch dancers there.  We were lucky that the day was chilly but clear.  The mountains were green and beautiful but so steep we wondered how roads and homes could ever have been built there.  Please forgive the window reflections on some of the pictures.

"The Flåm Railway is one of the steepest standard gauge railway lines in the world, with 80% of the journey running on a gradient of 5.5%. The train runs through spectacular scenery, alongside the Rallar Road, vertiginous mountainsides, foaming waterfalls, through 20 tunnels, and offers so many viewpoints that, for many people, a single trip up and down is not enough." ~

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Bergen and Troldhaugen

The nicest day of our 2014 cruise was the day we docked in Bergen, Norway, and traveled to Edvard Greig's home, Troldhaugen.  We did get a little rain, but not the downpours we had experienced elsewhere.  The bus ride through Bergen itself, a UNESCO World Heritage City, was fun, especially the historic buildings in Bryggen, but the highlight of the day was a piano concert of Grieg's works at Troldhaugen, looking out over the fjord.  Unfortunately, we had to take most of our pictures from a moving bus, which did not add to their clarity, so the photographic record of the day is a little sparse.

"...Bergen, Norway's most beautiful city." ~Dave and Deb on

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Vacation, Interrupted

And, I never did finish posting the photos from the cruise my sister and I took in 2014.  We started and ended in Holland, and visited various spots in Ireland, Scotland, and Norway along the way.  Here are some photos from the day we spent visiting archaeological sites in Orkney, where it rained sideways much of the time.  The prehistoric village we saw at Skara Brae had been built with underground tunnels between the houses; if the weather when the village was constructed was anything like the weather the day we were there (in August!), those tunnels were for survival, not just comfort.  That particular day finished off the waterproofing on my raincoat and ruined my black ballet flats.  I should have taken along my waterproof hiking boots and left all my other shoes at home.  At least I did remember to pack a hat, gloves, and an umbrella.

"You can come to Orkney knowing that you want to visit Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, St Magnus Cathedral and the Italian Chapel. You can plan to go bird-watching, follow the Craft Trail or visit the smaller islands, but Orkney will still take you unawares." ~Patricia Long,

Sunday, May 12, 2019

This shoe trend is somebody's joke, right? RIGHT??

While fine-tuning my wardrobe the last couple of years, I've been following style bloggers and YouTubers who specialize in advice on slow fashion, capsule wardrobes, and minimalism - but I've also been inundated with email newsletters from several fashion-forward publications. Some of the latest trends espoused by these experts has baffled me. Case in point: supposedly "everyone" in New York is wearing white shoes this spring.

When I was growing up in the Midwest, my mother's friends broke out their white sandals at Easter (the daring among them) or Memorial Day (the more conservative), and put them away again after Labor Day. BUT ... these were women who basically never walked anywhere. They drove, in cars their husbands washed religiously every weekend. Their white shoes stayed white.

New York, however, is a whole different biosphere. When I lived there, I never wore a pair of open-toed shoes in public, let alone flip-flops or strappy sandals, because the streets and the subway stations were filthy, and I rarely took mass transit without being stepped on at least once by a fellow traveler. Had I ever worn white shoes, they would have remained white for roughly a nanosecond after I exited my apartment.

Who are these courageous fashion pioneers braving the big city's soot and klutzy inhabitants in their pristine footwear? Do they carry shoe polish in their purses? Do they have a shoe repair artist on retainer? Are they being sponsored by shoe companies who instantly replace damaged sandals that might mar their Instagram posts? Inquiring minds want to know.

Yes, I do own a pair of white sandals myself. In the greater Phoenix area, where I travel everywhere by car, and no one has stepped on my feet in years. The whole white-shoes-in-New-York thing is really some fashonistas' elaborate joke, right????

"They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes." ~Imelda Marcos

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Rug Wizards

When my sister Sue and I took a cruise around the Greek Isles, we spent one day in Turkey, where we visited a carpet store and bought several gorgeous handcrafted Turkish rugs.  The proprietor warned us never to use chemical cleaners or detergents on them, since those would over time deteriorate the fibers and possibly cause the natural dyes to run.  His suggestion was spot-cleaning with soap and water only.

Detail from living room rug
Well, spot cleaning only goes so far, especially since my cat Charlie loves napping on both my Turkish rugs and has oily fur that eventually leaves black blots on them.  When I first decided the rugs needed a full-out cleaning, I was reluctant to try it myself for fear of ruining their lovely texture.  My small yellow-and-blue rug, in particular, feels like silk even though it's actually cotton, and I didn't want to risk messing that up.

After a little research (thank you, Internet!), I found the only place in the greater Phoenix metro area with a professional Oriental rug-cleaning expert - McFarland's Carpet Service in downtown Phoenix.  Their prices, based on the size of rug and type of fiber, are very reasonable, and the results are outstanding.  I just had my two Turkish rugs and a round wool area rug from India cleaned by them for the second time, and the Turkish rugs in particular look absolutely new again.

I've read that millennials don't like Oriental rugs because they are too dark and fusty, but my rugs are light and bright and beautiful, and I will continue to count on McFarland's to keep them that way.

"All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage.  Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them." ~Erma Bombeck
of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them.
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All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them. Erma Bombeck
Read more at:
All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them. Erma Bombeck
Read more at:

Friday, May 10, 2019

Breathing Not So Deeply

Today I had my first lesson with my new singing teacher.  I found her through the National Association of Teachers of Singing.  I chose her in part because, among other things, she has lectured on the health and care of the singing voice at the university level, and I wanted a teacher who could help me sing despite and through my asthma issues.

When my asthma is really bad, taking a deep breath sets off a coughing spell.  In the past, I have been told to fill up with as much air as possible before singing.  Unfortunately, filling up with as much air as possible sometimes precludes singing at all, so I was thrilled when my new teacher explained that she teaches the bel canto style of singing, in which the goal is only to take as much breath as you need to get through the next phrase of the music.  She spent much of the lesson telling me not to consciously breathe in before the next exercise.

This will take some getting used to, as will the facial expressions needed to sing pure Italian vowels. I guess I will spend the next week practicing singing in front of a mirror and trying not to crack up at the fish face that goes with "oooo."

"...the overall concept of bel canto started ... with a consensus among opera enthusiasts that there was nothing more ravishing than a beautiful voice singing a beautiful melodic line beautifully ...." ~Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times, Nov. 28, 2008

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Normal Eating

For most of my adult life I lived alone, and during that time my weight was stable.  I ate when I was hungry; only what I was hungry for; and stopped when I was full.  I didn't have to think about it - that was my natural eating pattern.  Sometimes I skipped meals if I wasn't hungry.  During grad school (which I attended during the evening) I snacked on crackers, cheese, dried fruit and dark chocolate during classes rather than sitting down to a real meal.  I suspect most dieticians would have viewed the contents of my refrigerator with shock and dismay.  Still, I was generally healthy and a healthy size.

That all changed after I met my late husband Tom.  Turns out I'm a social eater - when I eat with others, I eat more, more often, and more calorie-laden foods than when I eat alone.  When we married, we started eating a solid dinner every night, whether I was hungry for it or not, and that started a cycle of weight gain and loss that continued for the next 20 years.

So now I am back at my "normal" weight and trying to stay there, but I am out of the habit of listening to my body - and although we don't live together, I frequently eat with Lee, and some of that "social eating" stuff can creep back in.  I am trying to get back to my original ingrained eating habits by turning to a new virtual friend.

Jenn Hand is a food coach and founder of the Normal Eater's Club.  Her mission is to help people feel good about their bodies and learn to eat without fear.  Her blogs, videos, and podcasts discuss how to replace comfort eating with other habits, how to stop binging, and why you should work toward accepting yourself regardless of your body's size or shape.  She doesn't believe in dieting or other types of food restriction because she's been there, done that, and long term it didn't work.  On the days when "just a few chips" turn into half a bag, I re-listen to a podcast where she reminds me that one episode of overeating won't cause me to to gain 10 pounds.  Before I go to a party, I re-read the blog post about avoiding extra food there.  She reminds me constantly to listen to my body, and not to worry if it REALLY, REALLY wanted those chips - because it won't want them all day, every day.

I've always had a few control issues, so the whole idea of letting go and not tracking calories or points or macronutrients is pretty scary -  but I didn't do that for all of my 20s and 30s, so why do it now?   To be continued.

"Food doesn't have to rule your life."

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Dawn's Early Light

A couple of years ago Lee and I went on a cruise to Alaska.  We decided to economize by taking an interior cabin; after all, we reasoned, we would only be there to sleep, so we didn't care about the lack of a view.

However, the door to the hallway was so tightly fitted that no chink of light could make its way into the cabin.  Once we turned off the interior lights we were plunged into utter darkness, which was unexpectedly disorienting.  Not only did it make dead-of-the-night trips to the bathroom adventures in barked shins and stubbed toes, we had no cues for waking in the morning.  The cabin was at the end of the ship, under the outdoor pool (not being used in Alaska in September), so it was also extremely quiet.  When we did wake up, we had to turn on the lights to determine whether it was 2 am or 2 pm.  We became dependent on wake-up calls to avoid missing our shore excursions.

This was the first time I realized how moving to Arizona has changed my sleeping patterns.  Always before I lived far enough north and had a long enough commute that I absolutely, positively had to use an alarm clock in order to wake up on work days.  In the winter in Minnesota, in fact, I drove to work in the dark, worked all day in a windowless cubicle, and drove back home in the dark; had the office not had windows in the lunchroom, I could have gone for days without ever seeing the sun.  My circadian rhythm in those days was totally confused.  I dreaded the minute the alarm would blare in my ear, catapulting me out of bed with my heart pounding.

Now, though, I live in a sunny climate where the sky lightens around 7 am in the winter and at this time of the year is pretty bright by 5 am, and my body responds with enthusiasm to the dawn.  I know most of the "how to get a good night's sleep" advice promulgated by experts says to use blackout window coverings and to go to bed and get up at the same time every single day, but Mother Nature has a better idea.  Because I now have a short commute, I can wake with the sun regardless of the time of year, and be ready to go to bed 8 1/2 hours before.  My body is perfectly happy taking its cues from the light.  Waking up is painless, and I only need to worry about an alarm when I'm catching an early morning flight to, say, Alaska.

If I ever have to move back to a part of the country where daylight is in short supply during the winter, I'm going to buy a sunrise alarm clock to fake it.

Let every dawn be to you as the beginning of life, and every setting sun be to you as its close.
Read more at:
 "Let every dawn be to you as the beginning of life, and every setting sun be to you as its close." ~John Ruskin
Let every dawn be to you as the beginning of life, and every setting sun be to you as its close.
Read more at:
Let every dawn be to you as the beginning of life, and every setting sun be to you as its close.
Read more at:

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Little House, Revisted

A couple of years ago Lee gave me a used set of all Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books, and I reread them front to back.  This was before the furor over whether the author was politically incorrect, and I was actually surprised at how little racism they contain for being written by someone born just after the Civil War.  I was also surprised at how different some of the scenes look now that I am an adult rather than someone more the age of the Laura in the books.

Author Sarah Miller not only experienced that same surprise, but went a step farther.  She was intrigued by the rather shadowy figure of Laura's mother, Caroline.  Laura's favorite parent was clearly "Pa," but any adult reading the Little House books can see that Ma was the backbone of the family.  Ms. Miller made it her mission to learn more, and her novel Caroline is the result.

Caroline is the retelling of Little House on the Prairie from the viewpoint of Caroline Ingalls.  One of the striking differences between this book and the original is that, presumably to avoid offending anyone, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her book as if her younger sister Grace were present the entire time, when actually Caroline was pregnant when the trip to Indian Country started and Grace was not born until after their arrival.  This gave Caroline the chance, as her character says wryly, to vomit in the ditches of five states during the journey.

The limited omniscient viewpoint of Wilder's book is that of the child Laura, who is laconically matter-of-fact about many things that horrify her mother.  Perhaps the most terrifying incident was the one in which their neighbor Mr. Scott passes out at the bottom of the well they are digging due to bad air, and Charles Ingalls goes down to rescue him. Carolyn had to pull Charles back up despite the fact that she was about half his size and almost ready to give birth.  She somehow succeeded without passing out or miscarrying, which must have been a minor miracle.  Pioneer women were TOUGH.

Caroline : Little House, Revisited - by Sarah Miller (Hardcover)In an afterword to the book, Ms. Miller details all the research she conducted and things she did to try to get inside Caroline's actual experience - everything from learning how to churn butter to wearing a whalebone corset.  The result is a riveting, believable story that's much more interesting than any episode in the long-running Little House TV series.

"In this novel authorized by the Little House estate, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, 'Ma' in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books."

Monday, May 6, 2019

Frugal Baking

One of the distressing parts of acquiring my sourdough starter was realizing how much food I could potentially waste with it.  The sourdough has to be fed at least once a week (more often if it's not kept in the refrigerator), and the excess discarded.  If the starter is "ripe," this is no problem - I can just make bread.  However, particularly if I've gone an entire week or more between feedings, the discard isn't really suitable for that, so I've been searching the Internet for recipes that are specifically designed to use up sourdough discard.  (The alternative is to throw it out, which just seems terribly wasteful.)  So far my favorite experiments have been King Arthur Flour's caramelized onion sourdough biscuits, and this recipe that I cobbled together from a couple of others:

Cranberry Orange Sourdough Biscuits

2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. orange zest (dried works fine)
1/2 c. cold butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. orange extract
1 tsp. heavy cream
2/3 c. reduced sugar dried cranberries
1 c. sourdough discard

Grease a cookie sheet and preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Using a stand mixer, combine the dry ingredients.  Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the bowl; mix until it's thoroughly cut in.  Add the zest, vanilla, orange extract, and cream; when blended, add the cranberries.  Finally, mix in the sourdough discard to form a soft dough.

Roll out about 1/4" thick on a floured surface and use a 2" round cookie/biscuit cutter.  Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Makes about 16.

As the owner of several orange trees, I have all the orange zest I can use.  My next question: with the extra time I'll have in retirement, should I experiment with making my own orange extract?

“I needed a more interesting life.
I could start by learning something.
I could start with the starter.”
Robin Sloan,

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Poshing All the Way

When I moved to Arizona from New York in 2002, I intended to retire THEN.  I gave away all my wool suits and bought a few pairs of shorts to ready myself for the transition.

As it turned out, I spent another three years working in insurance, and then transitioned to freelancing as a website and graphics designer.  I've done marketing and social media work for a church for the last 6 years.  This has meant buying a variety of additional work clothes.

In the meantime, depending on whom I was eating with and the general environmental stress, my weight fluctuated up and down (two or three times) within a range of 50 pounds.

So, as of two years ago, I had closets crammed with mostly unwearable clothing.  Some - like my full-length cashmere coat - were relics of my days in New York that could never be worn in Arizona.  Others were suits from my insurance office time here that hadn't seen the light of day in years.  I had more formal wear than anyone no longer attending proms needed.  And, of course, I had clothing in sizes ranging from 6 to 14, most of which no longer fit.  In addition, I had mounds of accessories - scarves, necklaces, bags, shoes, earrings, lapel pins, you name it - that only coordinated with unusable clothing.

I can't say I went full-out KonMari on the first try, but I did send numerous sacks of clothing to Goodwill and to the Justa Center, a resource for homeless seniors.  I recycled or threw out anything in too sad condition to donate.  I sorted out the nicest things to take to a consignment shop.  Then I stalled.

Seriously, no consignment shop in this area would take my heavy winter coats or my nice suits because they can't sell them; people here don't wear that type of clothing.  Most of the local consignment shops also won't take jewelry, or if they do, return pennies on the dollar.  I needed another solution.

That was when I found Poshmark.  I think of my Poshmark closet as my online rummage sale.  It's not a true consignment shop because the sellers hold onto their own merchandise until it's sold - it's more like a clothing-and-accessories-only version of EBay.  Sellers post photos, descriptions, and prices of their items.  When a buyer buys an item, Poshmark emails the Priority Mail postage to the seller, who wraps the item and ships it off.  Poshmark takes a commission for each sale (and just recently started collecting sales tax).  You can redeem your sales for cash, or use them as credit to buy items from other sellers.  In addition to selling used items, many sellers offer new boutique brands.

I've been steadily selling an average of one or two items a week for the past two years, which has cleared out considerable space in my real life closets and jewelry box.  I've also managed to buy some amazing treasures, frequently never-worn or worn-once items at a fraction of their retail price.  The cycle looks something like this:  I sell one or more items I will never wear again; I use the credit to buy something else that I actually need; as the new items come in, I put more of the old up for sale. Occasionally I'm not happy with a purchase (the instep on the shoes is too low; the dress is too high-waisted); in that case, I just re-posh it.  (Returns are not allowed when fit is the only issue - I try always to ask questions if I am unfamiliar with the fit of a certain brand.)

The most unexpected benefit of this process is that I unwittingly used it to put together a capsule wardrobe.  In the past I always traveled with an interchangeable mix of black, white, and red items, but the colors of my everyday wardrobe were all over the spectrum.  Now that I've weeded out the pieces I don't wear and have bought replacement items I really love, my closet is almost entirely neutrals with navy and burgundy accents.  Having realized this, I put more of the "color orphans" up for sale and have been refusing to buy other outliers.

Thanks to Poshmark, my wardrobe is now smaller but more functional than it's ever been.  Everything in my master closet fits and flatters and most of the pieces work together.  The overall effect is a put-together casual vibe that works for my current job and should not be too fussy for the day I become a lady of leisure.

At my current rate of sales I expect at least another two years of poshing pleasure, which is just fine.  This is "slow fashion" at its best!

Have items just hanging in your closet? We know the feeling. List items for sale on Poshmark in less than 60 seconds. Sell what you have in your closet so that you can shop for what you really love today!  ~"How Poshmark Works,"

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Catching Up

In the unlikely event that any of my former readers are still hanging around, here's what's been happening over the past few years.  After this, we'll just move on.
  • My family: After a horrifying incident where my mother's body stiffened like a block of wood and wouldn't unlock, a neurologist diagnosed her as having both Parkinson's Disease and Lewy Body Dementia.  Medication softened her symptoms and probably lengthened her life, but couldn't stop her precipitous mental and physical decline.  She died quietly 2 days before my parents' 67th wedding anniversary, a bewildered and pain-ridden shell of her former self.  My father is still in overall good health and mentally sharp, although he suffers from pretty constant back pain; he is still living with Puma, his "rental cat," and will be 93 years old next Wednesday.  My sister has retired and keeps busy volunteering with the Humane Society and the library.
  • My job: I stopped teaching online classes a little over 2 years ago when I became eligible to collect (partial) Social Security benefits as a widow.  I needed to take back the time I had been devoting to it: The church where I work has been through a period of extreme turmoil, during which I felt like the little Dutch person at the dyke, plugging leaks with all my fingers and toes and wishing for more extremities.  My dad says this is the only part-time job he's ever heard of that entailed working 90 hours a week.  Fortunately, we've had a dynamic new pastor since July and everything is settling nicely; I expect to be able to bail in September without chaos ensuing.  For about 3 years, though, the job did swallow most of my alleged free time. 
  • My hobby: Having found my singing voice, I have continued to try to develop it.  I sang for 3 years with the Arizona Masterworks Chorale and started taking private singing lessons.  Last fall my instructor took a full time job with the Arizona Opera and gave up her students, so I will be starting over with a new teacher next Friday.  In the meantime, I have been continuing to sing with the church choir and at weddings and memorial services.  However...
  • My health: About a year and a half ago I caught a cold that turned into a cough which wouldn't quit.  When I finally went to the doctor, she informed me that my allergies had morphed into asthma.  Since then I've had several scary out-of-control episodes that included breathing problems at night, coughing until I throw up, and being unable to laugh, sing, or even draw a deep breath without choking.  For several months this winter I couldn't do anything much more strenuous than sit quietly next to an air purifier.  I am now under the care of a great allergist and am temporarily breathing well - keeping fingers crossed.  I can hardly wait, though, to be eligible for Medicare and out from under the cost of private medical insurance and all my copays and prescriptions.
  • My love life: While singing in the church choir, I caught the eye of a great guy who had been splitting his time between Washington (state) and Arizona.  He is now living full time in Arizona and we have been a couple for almost 4 years.  We each still have our own home, but spend much of our free time together.  Lee has also had health challenges over the past two years; he will be having a reverse shoulder replacement next month to repair a badly injured right rotator cuff.  He has been a rock for me during the worst of the asthma, so I am gearing up to give him whatever support he needs during his convalescence.

My cat Charlie is still alive and well!
...and that's the Cliff Notes version of why I haven't had the time or energy to blog for several years.  Fortunately, everything is looking up now, and life is good.  As of today, 119 days to retirement - let the countdown continue!

“Working people have a lot of bad habits, but the worst of these is work.” – Clarence Darrow


Friday, May 3, 2019

Surprised Again

Today I uploaded a revised header for this blog that reflected the fact I'm older and grayer than the last time I posted here - which I now realize was 4 1/2 years ago!!  YIKES!!!

A lot has happened in that time, but the biggest change is yet to come.  As of September 1 I will officially be a Retired Person.

I've read quite a bit about people going into shock once they no longer have the routine and security of a job on which to base their schedule and their identity.  I doubt very much that will happen to me because throughout my career my various jobs have been what I do, not who I am.  I am expecting that retirement will instead give me the chance to do more of the things I enjoy in life - traveling, reading, taking photos, cooking, dancing, singing, and hanging with my sweetie (whose name, by the way, is Lee).

But wait, you may say - this is all stuff that you were already talking about when you worked on the blog before.  Yes, yes it is - but then it was my escape from work, and now I anticipate that it will be my "work."

I'm already having fun gearing up for the changeover.  I've spent two years downsizing and refining my wardrobe (with a little help from Poshmark) to make it more workable for "life after."  I bought a crock and sourdough starter to get back into baking.  Lee and I are making plans to visit Washington state in September to escape the heat here.  And I am ruthlessly shoving long-term work projects off onto coworkers.

I expect retirement to be fun.  I expect it to be exciting.  And I expect, as always, to be continually surprised.  Please come along for the ride!

“There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want.” – Bill Waterson, Calvin & Hobbes