Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ten years!

It has been quite a while since I posted, obviously, so I thought I might give it another go. Life has been fairly good lately. We just had our tenth wedding anniversary, which is mind-boggling. To celebrate it we had breakfast at a waterside restaurant in Miramichi. It was lovely. I had our waitress take a photo of us.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Life: Grin and bear it

It's been a tough winter for me and I haven't felt much like posting anything here until now. Even now I don't feel much inclined to write, but perhaps once I begin the words will flow. It's a bright, sunny day here, which is a mood-lifter, even if the temperature outside is below freezing.

Tommy camouflaged
Today is the fifth day of my experiment with eating a gluten-free diet and I have begun to notice that I feel a bit better. Over the last several months my body has been a mass of aches and pains to the point where I've pretty much been an invalid, leaving home only when absolutely necessary to buy groceries or feed or to take Toad to his medical appointments. I've been off work since mid-August, which is a good thing because, for the life of me, I don't know how I could have worked. I had been suffering physically, and getting progressively worse, for nearly two years, to the point where my home care clients looked at me dubiously--I was barely able to function more than they were. So when my last client passed away and there weren't any other clients available to me, I was relieved to be able to stay home. Financially it is a strain, but until I get better I don't know how I can do any physical work. Not being bilingual in French and English is a drawback to finding employment in the region where we live, as is our rural location. If and when I do feel well enough to work I'll probably have to commute to the city an hour's drive from here. My old car is holding its own but is in no shape to make a daily commute like that, and so I'll have to work enough hours to afford to make payments on a newer car. And then there is my age to consider. I'm officially, in my opinion, old now, having turned 60 in January. I'm not the most likely of candidates for jobs that require physical stamina and mental dexterity, and employers know it. So many obstacles. Sigh.

Back to the gluten-free diet, first I need to point out that I've nearly always tried to eat healthy foods, falling short only during periods of extreme stress or depression. Most of the time I have chosen whole grain and unprocessed foods. For seven years, long ago, I was a vegetarian and worked at eating a balanced diet. I had no problems at that time with digesting the foods I ate. As I began to get older, as in passing the half-century mark, I took extra notice of my nutrition. When Toad and I got together we made great efforts to eat whole grains and legumes, fruits and vegetables. I was eating too much, though, and gaining weight, in response to stress, anxiety and depression, and so in early 2009 I started tracking my nutrition online. My tracking was hampered within a few weeks by the trips I made house-hunting and the move we made, but I continued to drink a lot more water than I did before tracking.

In March of 2010 I renewed my efforts to track my nutrition online. Two months later I began working as a home care provider and took healthy lunches with me to work. I tried hard to get recommended amounts of fiber in my diet, hoping that doing so would ease the chronic constipation I've had for as long as I can remember. I began making lots of bean soups, vegetable soups and lentil loaves (as I used to eat during my vegetarian days), eating Toad-made (and some store-bought) hummus on ancient grain bread, taking granola bars to snack on, things like that. Tracking all the calories and grams of fiber, protein, carbohydrates, fat, and sodium on the nutrition tracker, as well as my water intake and, later, my walking and other exercise efforts. I was quite proud of myself for trying to improve my health. All the while I continued to have a lot of back spasms, for which I took ibuprofen. The spasms, the stiffness, the pain, were (and still are) worse when I lie down, so mornings were, and are, excruciating. I began taking more and more ibuprofen in order to be able to even get dressed for work, let alone do the work.

I began having problems with my upper digestive system in the fall of 2010, starting with pain in my lower esophagus. I had been feeling very stressed with my job/client and, all of a sudden, I started having chest pain, a dull ache like something was stuck there under my breastbone. I took ibuprofen for the pain but it worsened. Normal ECG. Diagnosis: reflux. So since that time I've been on medicine to treat reflux, but still have problems with it, even as I write this post. I'm wondering if the reflux was caused, or at least exacerbated, by the ibuprofen.

Also, around that time (fall of 2010) I began having a marked increase in lower gastrointestinal problems, with lots of bloating and discomfort. My clothes got tighter and tighter, even though I wasn't gaining weight, and I had to move up a size in work smocks and pants and give up wearing nearly all of my regular clothes. I'm still in that situation. My body shape shifted from pear to apple, or maybe, to put it more accurately, a fat, pregnant-appearing pear shape. It is very difficult for me to bend. I am reminded so much of how it felt to be 9 months pregnant, all the discomfort and awkwardness.

Part of my GI problem seems to be slow emptying of my stomach. Over the course of a few months I went from drinking at least ten glasses of water per day, usually more than that, with no problem, to forcing myself to sip water from time to time. I used to fill my water bottle several times a day and drink at least half a bottle at a time, but something happened so that I could only sip water because I was so full that it made me nauseated to drink 8 ounces, even over half an hour's time. In the summer of 2011 I went again to the doctor, who had me get a few tests done over the course of a year, to rule out ovarian cancer (abdominal & pelvic ultrasound & blood test in October 2011) and to have a general evaluation via gastroscopy and colonoscopy in May of 2012. I had a very difficult time drinking the 4 glasses of water in the half hour preceding the ultrasound in October due to nausea and painful distention of my stomach. I had to have the test repeated because there was so much air (the French-Canadian technician said "hair", ha ha) in my stomach that she couldn't see one of my ovaries at all. Nothing definitive was found from all the tests, other than a few polyps which were removed, and scarring of my lower esophagus, and that I have a fatty liver even though I'm not a drinker. It's good that I don't have some horrible cancer, but also frustrating in that there is nothing treatable that shows up. There is little recourse for me medically. Sorry, now go away.

My own research pointed to the possibility of a gluten allergy causing my abdominal distress, and so for the last year I've toyed with the idea of going gluten-free. I just didn't have the willpower to do it until now. Every time that I think back to the best I've felt in the last two years I have to say that it was the day of the cleanse in preparation for my gastroscopy & colonoscopy last May. Despite the unpleasantness of it, I felt a whole lot better having had only clear liquids and then purging my system. I've thought about trying an elimination diet or a clear liquid diet but haven't had the willpower. The gluten aspect also kept bobbing up often in my dim mental fog. I did switch from whole grain products, bread in particular, a year ago. It was strange to not be able to eat the foods I love and thought were helping my body stay healthy: no more whole grain bread, no beans, no sweet potatoes, no onions, no broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables. Eating white bread, in smaller and smaller quantities. It helped somewhat, though, with the amount of distention and discomfort being reduced a bit. I was able to accomplish some painting at home during the summer--one living room wall, nearly half of the upper kitchen cabinets, all of the verandah (2 coats on the floor, 3 on the rails!). I was still working at the time, too. But my hip pain increased and it was all I could do to finish the verandah. I was unable to finish the kitchen cabinets or living room walls. They are still waiting for me to be well enough to forge ahead.

Over the winter the combination of back pain/spasms/stiffness and GI problems, along with increasing hip joint pain that makes it nearly unbearable to sleep on either side for more than a little while, so that I find myself tossing and turning, not resting well, has made my life very difficult and depressing. Add to that a bout of horrible sinus pain for several weeks, the first since we've moved here--and I am thankful for those three sinus pain-free years--and it's pretty obvious that life has sucked for me lately. Once in a while I have a 'good' day, with a smidgeon of energy. I spend that bit of energy cleaning, usually, although sometimes I reorganize the pantry or move a few boxes around. Afterward I can't do much for a few days. I read a lot. I worry a lot.

A few days ago I decided to have a go at trying to help myself by embarking on a gluten-free diet for a while. I'm not really prepared, as I haven't been anywhere to buy various flours (rice, potato) to use instead of wheat flour, but I'm giving it a shot. I've been eating white rice mixed with soups and bits of meat, chicken or fish; homemade chicken vegetable soup; gluten-free crackers with cheddar cheese; baked potato; rice with milk & brown sugar; scrambled eggs with cheese (this morning); frozen vanilla yogurt (no cone). Two meals per day, usually: breakfast and a late lunch/early dinner. A snack in the evening, including some Lay's wavy chips that may not be a good idea but do satisfy my craving for them. It's still early days. And I do feel a bit better. I've been continuing to put onion in my soups, and do feel pressure almost immediately from them, but taking an over-the-counter gas relief capsule helps with that. It was not enough to help with the pressure when I was eating gluten.

My hope is to eliminate the bloating and abdominal distress enough by eliminating gluten that I can add back into my diet beans and sweet potatoes and broccoli, and to not have to give up onions. I also hope to get rice and potato flours so that I can cook with them. Gluten-free foods at the grocery are very expensive. I did find some very tasty gluten-free macaroons the other day and am rationing them, since they cost nearly 90 cents each. A very small loaf of gluten-free bread costs $6.50, which I can't afford. I don't mind giving up the bread so much for now, even though I've always loved bread (mustn't think about that now!), but I would like to be able to make dumplings and pierogies using the gluten-free flours. My main goal, of course, is to get relief, to feel better, to be able to be more active and to fit into my clothes once again. To be able to paint my walls and rearrange my furniture, to do routine housework without it being a major feat.

Last week I finally made an appointment with my doctor to discuss my hip situation, because it is keeping me from walking. This time last year I began walking at a local indoor arena and was making great progress, going three or four times a week and walking for 1.5 to 2 miles each time. And then my work schedule changed and I stopped for a while. When I tried to resume walking in the fall I could barely walk due to the hip pain. I want to see what I can do about reducing that pain so that I can get out and walk, either in the arena or in the great outdoors when the weather gets warmer. I bought an mp3 player recently in order to provide myself with an incentive to keep walking by being able to listen to audiobooks. Now I just need to be able to walk. I'm already on a NSAID and I can't tolerate narcotics, so I don't know what the doctor can or will do. I know that I have some osteoarthritis in my hips, but am hoping that my problem is not that the osteoarthritis is worse but that I've had a flare-up of inflammation that has settled in my hips. I've been taking regular aspirin for several weeks and that seems to help a little bit; I have to be careful about how much I take because of the effect on my stomach, though. It's discouraging. Here I go, sinking into depression just thinking about how messed up my body and mind are. Focus on something positive. 'Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative.' Nod head and tap foot to the tune.

That's it for now. More than enough, perhaps, even though I've left out so much of the mental anguish, brain fog, memory loss. Focus. Look at the sun shining in the windows. Think of the tasty chicken vegetable soup for lunch, the books to finish before Thursday's bookmobile visit. Life is what it is. Sometimes it is good. See, I'm smiling. :)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Photographs and Memories

Recently I finally began in earnest to tackle a project that means so much to me that I can hardly stand to do it--organizing, scanning and somehow preserving thousands of photographs I've accumulated over my lifetime, most of which I have taken. I'm talking about non-digital photographs. Since 2004 (or 2005?) I've been using a digital camera, but prior to that spent a fortune on film, developing and prints.

 At various times over the years I have managed to organize photos into albums, but then got too busy to keep up and the packets of developed photos accumulated. I took the time to take a lot of photos and to get them developed, usually with double prints made, but did not consistently place the prints into albums.

At some point, around nine years ago perhaps, I bought several shoebox-type photo boxes and tried to organize the packets in them by year or occasion. Sometimes packets got mixed in with other stuff, instead of being placed with the majority of undealt-with packets. During my big traumatic move in 2006, as I rushed to prepare my house for sale, boxes of papers labeled *Personal* included packets of photographs. As I go through these boxes, moving them from cardboard to hard plastic totes, I run across stray packets.

I won't know that my project is complete until I've gone through every box or tote. But to begin with I'm gathering up the more easily accessible photographs, some loose but most in the envelopes into which the film was placed for developing and printing. Sometimes the date I wrote on the envelope is my only clue as to when I took the photos.

Some packets I look in and then have to put aside due to the memories the photos evoke, especially those that show my house or things that I gave up to move to Canada. If I didn't feel such an urgency to scan and save my photos I don't believe that I could proceed with this project.

Anyway, late last winter I began scanning a few photos from one of the photo boxes, planning to buckle down and go full tilt until I could do no more. Well, I quickly lost momentum and the box of photo packets and scanner sat on the coffee table, waiting, a grim reminder that I was not making progress.

Finally, a few weeks ago I found the energy to work in the room that contains dozens of boxes of various sizes that contain memorabilia and important papers, trying to straighten up the mess that some of the cats had made when jumping on top of the stacks and knocking them over. In order to navigate in the room I had to move a large cardboard box, a box too large to fit through the doorway due to stuff the cats had knocked about. So I opened the box and found it to contain six more of the shoebox-size photo boxes. Those boxes I moved to the living room to join the one on the table that had been waiting for me to finish scanning its photos for eight months.

I opened another copy paper box and saw that it was full of packets of photos without envelopes. And then I saw that some irreplaceable family photos, ones I had not taken and had no negatives for, had been dislodged from a box and were scattered on the floor. Something snapped inside me.

So I gathered up the loose photos from the floor and between other boxes and moved them to safety in yet another box, and also brought out the copy paper box full of de-enveloped packets. All of these I brought into the living room, determined to deal with them and the photo boxes. And I began scanning photos, starting with the loose ones.

I'm not very adept at scanning, and so find it difficult to scan quickly or to scan multiple photos at one time. Maybe it's me, maybe it's the scanner, or maybe it's a combination of both. I find that I have to keep wiping the glass plate and then positioning one photo at a time in the upper corner so that the scans aren't crooked. Even then the scans are rarely perfect; there is often white space along at least one edge, as you can see here:

Johann, late February 2003

This particular photo I didn't take time to reposition and rescan to my satisfaction. I know that it can be cropped to rid it of the unwanted top edge, but it bugs me to know that my efforts are producing scans like this. I spend a lot of time rescanning photos, sometimes more than once. It's frustrating. Despite that frustration, so far I have scanned all the loose photos mentioned above, several studio photos that I removed from their frames and then put back, and eight packets of photos I've taken. It's a drop in the bucket but at least it's a start.

After I scan (to my satisfaction) each loose photo I place it in a folder by category (e.g. my children, moi, siblings-nieces-nephews, aunts-uncles-cousins, etc.), which I keep in a large clear plastic tote along with scanned framed photographs and large photos and documents that do not fit into the folders. It is satisfying to see the contents of this tote increase as I go.

Each packet I finish I place in a baggie, along with its envelope, and seal it well. I put a label on each baggie with the date(s) of the photos so that I can organize them chronologically. I stack the baggies in the photo boxes. The unscanned packets stand up, reminding me that they are not "in the bag". The packets without envelopes are a daunting challenge. What was I thinking when I separated them from their envelopes like that?! Many of them appear to be second sets of prints, so I am hoping that the mystery of their date will be solved as I get further along in the project. A person can hope, can't she?

I label each scan with the all the information I have available as to subject, date and occasion, and then I put all the scans into a folder labeled more broadly. All folders containing photos from a particular year are then moved to a folder labeled Year XXXX. So far I have folders for 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2003. After each packet is scanned, labeled and organized in my D drive, I back up my photos onto my external hard drive.

This time-consuming procedure helps to safeguard my photos somewhat, but they are still only as safe as my computer and external hard drive. They would still all be lost if we should have a fire. What I've done with some of the scans so far is email them to myself and sometimes to one or both of my children if they are the subject of the scan (and so far they have often been). I don't want to send them all of my scans, and doubt very much that they would want me to, and so I am not sure what to do to safeguard the photos further.

Every day I plan to scan more photos, and I write it onto my To Do list in hopes that I will actually do it, but I often find that I do not accomplish this goal. What holds me back? My energy level/health is a big factor, as is my mood. I have to be able to withstand the tedious work of scanning, often re-scanning if crooked or too marred by dust or cat hair, and then labeling and filing the scans. It's hard work. Another factor is the memories evoked and the effect on my mood. Seeing the old photos often makes me weep for times gone by, the good times with my children when they were young and for my younger self.

Knowing that I am unlikely to feel better physically in the future, that putting off this photo project any longer will only make doing it more difficult or even impossible, and that we could have a fire that would decimate all my beloved photos and with them my memories, is what makes proceeding with this project so urgent. I will do this! I am doing this!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Thomas Toad's Surprise Visit

Toad discovered Thomas Toad while mowing the last of our yard this afternoon, just before a thunderstorm hit, and brought him to visit me for a few minutes.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

How Miss Leona Combsley Got Her Name

Leona enjoying a piece of fresh peach in the front yard
September 6, 2010

We don't eat our chickens and don't permit anyone else to eat them, either. When our hens get too old to lay eggs we don't value them any less than before, as they have earned their right to retire and live the good life among friends until they die a natural death. So when a neighbor stopped by on July 1st to ask if he could buy a chicken from us to keep his one remaining hen company (stating that he had finally killed a fox that was eating his hens), I was suspicious. The price of chicken in the grocery stores here is quite dear, even for stewing hens, and not only did I not want to relinquish one of our hens to an uncertain fate, I did not want to set a precedent for selling chickens. So I smiled and told the neighbor, no, we won't sell you a chicken but we will loan you one to keep your hen company. He said something about planning to eventually eat his hen. (Aha!) I told him to bring ours back when she was no longer needed. I also mentioned that we would come to visit her in the meantime to see how she was getting along at his place. Toad picked out a hen for him to take and I made a fuss over her, telling her that we would miss her but she would be back home eventually. The neighbor, Leon, undoubtedly thinks we are crazy for caring about a chicken, but that's okay. Off he went, carrying the red hen in a bag, leaving us to worry about her. I half expected to hear from him that another fox (uh-huh!) had taken her but fortunately I was wrong. A few weeks later, July 29th to be exact, he brought her back to us and told us that he had killed and eaten his chicken. (Double Aha!!)

How did we know that he brought us the same hen? Well, as it turned out, Toad had chosen for him a red hen with an unusual characteristic so that we would recognize her. Her comb is straight just above her eyes but then leans forward. She also tends to lay less than perfect eggs, a bit soft-shelled, due to her advanced age. Leon had called us about purchasing some eggs a few days after borrowing our hen and had mentioned the soft shells that the one we loaned him produced. (She really was only good as a companion to his hen.) Little wonder that he returned her so soon. And was she ever happy to get home! She could hardly wait to tell her sisters about her adventure.

We have about sixteen red hens, all of whom look very similar to one another and, until now, all unnamed (unlike the silkies and aracaunas). Due to her differences from the other red hens, her unusual leaning comb and her could-have-been-fatal experience with neighbor Leon, I dubbed her Leona Combsley--Miss Leona Combsley, to be proper.

Here is Miss Leona Combsley, safe and happy at home, in photos I took September 2nd.

Miss Leona, see how her comb's leaning?

Miss Leona Combsley

Not Leona (obviously)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Who I Write Like!

I write like
Douglas Adams

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Well, well, well! I am flattered! LOL

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Of Mussels & Morals

A few days ago Toad and I were faced with a moral dilemma that I still don't know if we resolved satisfactorily. While Toad was outside clearing snow from the drive and the car, a guy we had never met before, with two small children in his car, drove up and asked him if we wanted to buy some fresh mussels. Caught offguard, Toad failed to say "No, thanks", as I wish he would have done. Instead he told the guy, Daniel, that he would ask me and started toward the house. Daniel followed him inside, bag of mussels in hand. Now, I had never eaten a mussel up to that point and had no desire to do so, but I thought that Toad must want to try them since he brought the guy in the house. I fumbled around, unsure what to do in the situation. I felt somewhat committed to buying the mussels since the guy was right there with them, and yet I really didn't want them. Not only is the thought of eating mussels distasteful in more ways than one, killing them to do so seems morally wrong as I am certainly not dependent upon them for my survival and it was therefore unnecessary to kill them. My motto in life has always been live and let live, whenever possible. In addition, I knew that if we spent $10 dollars on that bag of mussels we would have an even harder time stretching our meager food budget through the remainder of the month. Toad, however, enjoys eating some foods that I do not, things such as liver and sardines and cretons, and I didn't want to prevent him from eating mussels just because I didn't want them. (Later Toad said that he had not eaten mussels before either, which surprised me considering the diversity of foods he claims to have eaten during his lifetime. The only food I have ever known him to dislike and refuse has been cantaloupe. Weird, huh?)

I'm fairly sure that it was obvious that I didn't want to buy them, as I kept asking Toad if he wanted to eat them (to which he replied "I don't know", most infuriatingly) and even told Daniel that I had never cooked them before and didn't know what to do with them. Undeterred by my reluctance, Daniel said that they are good boiled in beer for about five minutes, although they could also be cooked in water. Toad finally asked if we had enough money to pay for them and that was that. My pride welled within me and I felt compelled to say "Yes" so as not to appear as pitifully close to broke as we actually are. I handed over to Daniel a ten dollar bill, the only bill I had, in fact, and he handed over a good-sized bag of mussels, smiling and stating again that they were fresh. He left quickly, anxious to get back to his children, who had been honking the car horn throughout this exchange.

Toad and I looked at one another, and at the bag of live mussels, in dismay. Alright, we had purchased them--the deed was done--and now we had to do something with them. They appeared to have been cleaned and debearded, which caused us to think that returning them to the ocean was not an option. Their fate had been sealed: they were to die soon, to be food for the decomposers either directly or after being eaten by a go-between first. It would be morally wrong to *waste* them (as if all living flesh isn't eventually wasted by death) by not using them to provide nourishment to someone higher up in the food chain. Giving them away to a neighbor was an option but a poor one, we felt. We would look foolish for having bought them in the first place, with no desire to eat them and no experience with preparing them, and we would have squandered ten of our last few dollars. So that was out. They had to be cooked before anyone in our household could eat them, and once cooked there was no good reason why they shouldn't be consumed by Toad and me, rather than by Dudley, Sadie, the cats or anyone else here. We should get our money's worth and, in the process, meet the challenge of killing and cooking these doomed creatures. Nevermind that my stomach turned at the thought of eating them, in the same way it turns at the thought of eating other technically edible invertebrates such as worms and insect larvae. Just as surely as their fate was to die, my fate was to kill and consume them. I had, after all, made the decision to buy them, even if against my better judgement. As the saying goes, I had made my bed and now I must lie in it.

I started the grim process of dealing with the mussels by looking up recipes that sounded halfway palatable and that involved ingredients we had on hand. We had no beer to boil them in, as per Daniel's suggestion. Most of the recipes called for a sauce, usually a tomato-based one. We did have a couple of cans of tomatoes in the pantry. Hmmm. The next step was to clean them and make sure that they were debearded, which they apparently had been. The recipes all called for cooking the mussels before putting them in the sauce, and mentioned that if they didn't open after being boiled (or steamed) to throw them out as they were dead before being boiled alive. Oh, how I cringe at the thought of inflicting pain on another creature in any manner, and boiling one alive seems particularly barbaric to me. That's the main reason why I don't prepare lobster. I try to live by the Golden Rule, you know.

The prospect of the mussels having something wrong with them, as in not being fresh despite Daniel having stated that they were, made me even queasier than I already was, so when I opened the bag in the kitchen sink and saw that some were already open I panicked a bit. Toad was no help, having no experience with cooking mussels. I had him take the mussels to the neighbors across the road for their opinion, risking the humiliation in order to achieve, hopefully, some peace of mind. The neighbors pronounced them fit to cook and eat, and told Toad that they knew Daniel. Toad and I had figured that he was a local guy but it was reassuring to have that confirmed and to know that he could presumably be trusted. The neighbors also told Toad to make sure that the water was boiling rapidly before adding the mussels and that they liked to eat the cooked mussels fried in butter. So that is what we did with the first half of the bag of mussels. The next day I boiled the remaining mussels and added them to homemade tomato sauce, which I served over pasta.

It was upsetting to find that several of the mussels had extended threads in an effort to escape the bag and find a better environment in which to live. Via the threads they clung together in their desperation, in their desire to remain alive. Prior to dropping the poor creatures into the boiling water I apologized to them and thanked them for dying to provide nourishment for us. I still felt (and feel) guilty as hell, though, and did not, could not, enjoy eating them. I did eat my share, however, as a matter of principle. Lying in my bed, so to speak. And so I met the challenge presented by the purchase of the mussels. I fulfilled their destiny and my own as it involved them. It pained me to see the open shells with the dead bodies within, particularly those who had extended their little feet. Those I could not bear to eat. Those I made sure to place on Toad's plate. I know that it sounds odd but even now, days later, I feel as if there are little hard lumps in my stomach and gut, each lump a little mussel body. They don't belong there, physically or mentally. They belong in their natural habitat, siphoning the water and living their little lives. I wasn't the one who removed them from that life but I am the one who killed and ate them. I'll do my best to avoid this happening again. Toad and I both are practicing saying, "No, thank you".

I documented the demise of the mussels for posterity.

the bag of mussels

within the bag, some are open, some are not

one of the open mussels

a closer look at two individuals from the bag

waiting to be boiled alive

just minutes after being immersed in boiling,salted water; shells open as if gasping for life

mussel corpses, most still attached to the shells that could not protect them from death by boiling

shells with bodies removed; only adductor muscles give evidence to the tissue that once lived within

the boiled bodies, sans adductor muscles

butter for frying and flavoring the bodies

boiled bodies being sautéed in butter

Mussel Meal One: buttered (more of an appetizer, really, if a person finds such things appetizing)

Day Two: boiled bodies simmering in pasta sauce

Mussel Meal Two

By the way, Dudley benefited from the boiling of the mussels by having the juices, the milky water left after the animals were removed, used to flavor his dry feed. The chickens will benefit from the calcium shells once they are crushed and mixed with their feed. All parts of these mussels have been or will be consumed and their nutrients used. That thought gives me some comfort.

I suppose that many people wouldn't think twice about cooking and eating mussels, yet here I am still pondering what I felt that I was obligated to do and what transpired. It's a curse, this empathy and reverence for life to the point of agonizing over the deaths of a bag of mussels, yet I wouldn't have it any other way. I hope that I'm never so inured to death that I breeze through a decision to kill or otherwise harm another creature. There is already far too much of that in this world.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Irish Toast

John O'Reilly hoisted his beer and said, 'Here's to spending the rest of me life, between the legs of me wife!'

That won him the top prize at the pub for the best toast of the night!

He went home and told his wife, Mary, 'I won the prize for the best toast of the night.'

She said, 'Aye, did ye now. And what was your toast?'

John said, 'Here's to spending the rest of me life, sitting in church beside me wife.'

'Oh, that is very nice indeed, John!' Mary said.

The next day, Mary ran into one of John's drinking buddies on the street corner.

The man chuckled leeringly and said, 'John won the prize the other night at
the pub with a toast about you, Mary...'

She said, 'Aye, he told me, and I was a bit surprised myself. You know, he's only been there twice in the last four years. Once he fell asleep, and the other time I had to pull him by the ears to make him come.'

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Five Minute Management Course

Lesson 1:
A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her shower, when the doorbell rings. The wife quickly wraps herself in a towel and runs downstairs. When she opens the door, there stands Bob, the next-door neighbor. Before she says a word, Bob says, ‘I’ll give you $800 to drop that towel.’
After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob, after a few seconds, Bob hands her $800 and leaves. The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs. When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks, ‘Who was that?’
‘It was Bob the next door neighbor,’ she replies.
‘Great,’ the husband says, ‘did he say anything about the $800 he owes me?’
Moral of the story:
If you share critical information pertaining to credit and risk with your shareholders in time, you may be in a position to prevent avoidable exposure.

Lesson 2:
A priest offered a Nun a lift. She got in and crossed her legs, forcing her gown to reveal a leg. The priest nearly had an accident. After controlling the car, he stealthily slid his hand up her leg.
The nun said, ‘Father, remember Psalm 129?’
The priest removed his hand. But, changing gears, he let his hand slide up her leg again.
The nun once again said, ‘Father, remember Psalm 129?’
The priest apologized ‘Sorry sister but the flesh is weak.’
Arriving at the convent, the nun sighed heavily and went on her way
On his arrival at the church, the priest rushed to look up Psalm 129. It said, ‘Go forth and seek, further up, you will find glory.’
Moral of the story:
If you are not well informed in your job, you might miss a great opportunity.

Lesson 3:
A sales rep, an administration clerk, and the manager are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp. They rub it and a Genie comes out.
The Genie says, ‘I’ll give each of you just one wish.’
‘Me first! Me first!’ says the admin clerk. ‘I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.’ Puff! She’s gone.
‘Me next! Me next!’ says the sales rep. ‘I want to be in Hawaii , relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of Pina Coladas and the love of my life.’ Puff! He’s gone.
‘OK, you’re up,’ the Genie says to the manager.
The manager says, ‘I want those two back in the office after lunch.’
Moral of the story:
Always let your boss have the first say.

Lesson 4:
An eagle was sitting on a tree resting, doing nothing. A small rabbit saw the eagle and asked him, ‘Can I also sit like you and do nothing?’
The eagle answered: ‘Sure, why not.’
So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the eagle and rested. All of a sudden, a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it.
Moral of the story:
To be sitting and doing nothing, you must be sitting very, very high up.

Lesson 5:
A turkey was chatting with a bull. ‘I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree’ sighed the turkey, ‘but I haven’t got the energy.’
‘Well, why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings?’ replied the bull. They’re packed with nutrients.’
The turkey pecked at a lump of dung, and found it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree. The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally after a fourth night, the turkey was proudly perched at the top of the tree. He was promptly spotted by a farmer, who shot him out of the tree.
Moral of the story:
Bull Shit might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there.

Lesson 6:
A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold the bird froze and fell to the ground into a large field. While he was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some dung on him. As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow dung, he began to realize how warm he was. The dung was actually thawing him out! He lay there all warm and happy, and soon began to sing for joy.
A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate. Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung, and promptly
dug him out and ate him.
Morals of the story:
(1) Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy.
(2) Not everyone who gets you out of shit is your friend.
(3) And when you’re in deep shit, it’s best to keepyour mouth shut!


an oldie but goodie

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Dudley Gets By With A Little Help From His Friends

As the bitterly cold weather continues (it was minus 25C when we woke up today and is currently at today's high of minus 8C), Dudley gets by with a little help from his friends--and heaps of straw.

Dudley and friends

The chickens get the benefit of his body heat, too, so it's quite an example of mutualism. Toad snapped this photo for me, but reports that by the time he readied the camera the chickens had moved from the top of Dudley, anticipating the feed and water. He says that often when he opens the door to the shed he gets to see Dudley snuggled deep into the straw, blanketed by chickens. Hopefully one day soon he can get a photo of that idyllic scene for me.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Feed Store Cats

Yesterday we braved the bitter cold to get to the feed store on behalf of Dudley and the chickens. The store is actually a trailer with bags of feed inside, open for business on Mondays and Fridays. With the extreme wind chill making it painful to be outside, these farm cats found a relatively warm place to bask in the sun, out of the wind, where they could keep an eye on things.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A True Friend

Friday, January 29, 2010

Progress on the Home Front

I'm still in the land of the living and feeling a little bit better. Saw the doctor nine days ago and was told to stop the blood pressure medicine and return in a week. Did that and about five days later started to feel a little less dizzy and nauseated, but still feel crummy with headaches and constant nausea and frequent dizziness. Thursday I had a follow-up visit and he felt that my blood pressure is good enough to continue without meds for a month and then return to see him. He's also ordering a brain scan to see if I have a brain, ha ha. I guess he wants to rule out a brain tumor. I don't think it's that. I asked him if it could be an inner ear problem and he said yes, but that hopefully it is something we can treat instead. Amen to that. I'm feeling a bit better but, as Toad says, am not yet ready for the Olympics.

Have you seen the tv show Hoarders? I've been watching episodes of it and find that they help me feel more motivated to get off my ass and work in the house, even if I can only accomplish a little dab of organization or cleaning. With the sickness I haven't been able to do much, but I have had two decent bouts of getting-stuff-done in the last three days. Wednesday I worked in the bathroom and got 90% or so of my toiletries organized into baskets on shelves. I also got Toad to help me hang my large round antique mirror over the sink. It's great to finally have a mirror other than the shower door or a hand mirror, and I think that it looks rather classy.

Beginnings of organization in the bathroom

Thursday (yesterday) was my doctor appt and shopping day, so that pretty well drained me of all energy. We had to get Toad a new computer mouse, buy a few groceries, and get the car licensed for New Brunswick. My Ontario plates were good only until the end of this month and New Brunswick law stipulates that residents' cars must be registered here within a couple of weeks of being brought here. I had been nervous about driving the car with the Ontario plates on it, but now I don't have to worry about it anymore. Yay! Today I pushed myself to work in the kitchen and was able to better organize the pantry and the area under the sink. I also put away several things that were cluttering up the table. It is not finished, by any means, but it's an improvement. I've been good about keeping the dishes washed and the stove and counter clean. It hasn't been easy. Oh, I also made (and helped) Toad hang a framed art print in the living room today. Considering my dizziness and nausea I've been doing fairly well, I think.

Cat & Mouse
(Owl & Toad's old mouse)

When my son was here over the holidays I enlisted his help with putting up my magnetic knife holder, my wall shelf (over the stove) and my spice racks. What a difference those things made in the kitchen! One day I managed to get Toad to put up a peg-type coat rack on the wall by the back door to help corral his jackets and hats. A couple of weeks ago I hung simple curtains in the living room window, using white flat sheets and clip-type brass rings. So little by little I'm getting things done that help create some order in the house. It's a good feeling. Creates hope and helps chase the blues away.

Our kitchen stove "before"

Shelf above stove

If and when this dizziness and nausea goes away so that I can think more clearly I want to get going on my photo scanning project. I have an area set up to work on it. I just can't think well enough to get going. I feel like I'm not operating on all cylinders, if you know what I mean. I'm more forgetful than usual and just have a feeling that something is wrong in my head. I get confused easily. It's scary. But every once in a while I have a moment of clarity and get an idea to follow through with. Hence the bathroom shelves and baskets the other day and today's organizing efforts. Before I start scanning photos and documents I need to have a good labeling system in order to organize them. I've muddled up the labeling of my digital photos stored on my computer and dread having to go in and rename the files once I find a system that works for me.

When we went to the doctor nine days ago he put Toad on an antibiotic to help clear up his persistent wracking cough. He said that when a cough lasts several weeks like that it won't go away on its own. Toad is doing a lot better now, still coughing sometimes but not so frequently or so hard that I feared he would rupture something inside. He has one day of antibiotics left to go. In spite of everything he has continued to take care of the animals and keep the woodstove going. He's a trooper.

Toad & Foghorn (with peg rack in background)

Foghorn Leghorn

We haven't had to use the woodstove all the time, which has been a help in terms of Toad's efforts and our firewood supply. Often we let it go out because the house is too warm! What a wonderful change from those miserably cold winters back in Mattawa! We have had unseasonably warm weather here according to the locals, who get a look of wonderment on their faces when they talk about the weather. Today, though, we have had a lot of blowing snow, technically a blizzard, we hear on the radio, and starting tomorrow are in for a cold snap. We'll have cold temps but sunshine. I'm looking forward to the sunshine.

Baking bread sounds good to me. I've been wanting to bake bread since we got our stove and in November bought a big bag of flour and some yeast in preparation for the day I actually do it. My excuses have included my poor health and the state of the kitchen table (i.e. clutter). If I can get as much done in the kitchen tomorrow as I did today I should have the table available for a work surface. The big bag of flour is sitting right there in one of the chairs, begging to be opened and used. I can almost smell the bread baking....ahhhhh.

A friend wrote today and mentioned that she is re-reading Stephen King. I had to give him up years ago and, in fact, left behind my complete collection of his books when I sold the house. I find that his writing upsets me, especially the way he writes of animal torture. I can't take it. I've been avidly reading every book by Alexander McCall Smith that I can lay my hands on. I own a few of them, bought secondhand, and the library book mobile has been supplying me with the remainder. Another good read that I requested and picked up this month is The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch. After reading it I watched his Last Lecture--Achieving Your Childhood Dreams on YouTube, absolutely spellbound by this man. Heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. I also read Joseph Boyden's Through Black Spruce recently and was quite impressed and pleased with it. I still have four or five books to read before Feb 12th when the book mobile comes back to our village. They've already notified me that they'll be bringing me five more books from the wish list I gave them, so I had better get cracking!

Speaking of books, I have quite a few in my living room. Getting them organized and shelved attractively (to me, at least) gives me great joy. Here is a small pocket of joy in one corner of our living room.

Joyful corner of living room

Well, I need to quit looking at this screen now. I've been concentrating for too long and was already dizzy and nauseated before I started thinking and writing. Working in the kitchen so intently this afternoon pretty much did me in and now this screen is giving me a headache. I bid you adieu.

Friday, January 22, 2010

No Tapeworms In My Stomach!

How many tapeworms could live in your stomach?

Created by Oatmeal

Cute quiz--love the lipstick on the *female* tapeworm!--but horribly misinformed with regard to tapeworm anatomy, reproduction and habitat. Anyone who has studied tapeworms knows that these parasitic flatworms have a scolex with hooks and suckers (no mouths or eyes), are nearly always self-fertilizing hermaphrodites (no separate males or females), and live in the host's intestine (not the stomach), where they absorbs nutrients through their body surface (tegument). The tegument, by the way, protects the tapeworm from being digested by the host's intestine. The scolex is used only for attachment to the intestine, so that the worm itself does not get passed with the feces--only the mature proglottids with fertilized eggs get passed.

See for yourself:

Life cycle of pig and cattle tapeworms, Taenia solium and Taenia saginata

Life cycle of cat and dog tapeworm

Life cycle of fish tapeworm Diphyllobothrium sp.

It's too bad that this quiz and the creator of Tickles Tapeworm don't strive for accuracy before they put their work online because these could have been fun tools for educators to use to help students learn about tapeworms. As it stands, they spread misinformation and are useful only as a caution, which is my intent in this post.