Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Month of Downward-facing Dog

(My first class as a Yoga-Fit Instructor: "The Writer's Workshop Warm-up". Barbara, Mary, Darlene, Peggy, and Miki. Missing from photo are Judi, Betty and Martha. That's me on upper left. The dog is Miki's guide dog, Tiger, who does an authentic downward-facing dog pose.)
This month I became a yoga instructor! Quite a departure from everything I've ever done. Back in high school I was the girl who pulled a sicky rather than go to p.e. class. The most "athletic" I ever got was aqua-robics a few times a week at the local pool but that was the eighties and nineties. Never felt the need to get all sweaty in a gym.

Then I got oldish. Funny how it sneaks up on a person. One day you're light and lithe - next day you drag your creaky carcass out of bed, realize that sometime during the night everything has shifted south and your joints have all the flexibility of a crow bar. Adding insult to injury your adorable general practitioner (the inimitable Doctor Amos Shirman) drops the triple bombshell: overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol! And the battle is on.

So a year ago I signed Mom and me up for Low-Impact Yoga at the local community center (of course telling myself it was primarily for Mom) - to my surprise I got hooked on the stuff! Bought myself a mat and a yoga dvd to guide me through some stretches at home between classes. Soon I was on the yoga mat an hour a day doing downward-facing dog, cat/cow, tree pose, warriors 1 and 2, plank, cobra, moon-flower/sun-flower, triangle, child pose etc. etc. etc. Couldn't get enough. It was fun and I felt great! Even better, Doctor Shirman stopped scowling at my numbers.

Something else was going on while I was firming up and getting my blood pressure under control - I began to notice I wasn't the only one fighting the good fight against decrepitude. The class was packed with other Boomers intent on doing themselves the favor of getting and staying healthy. After all, what's the sense in having a longer life span if you're stuck in a nursing home for the later half of it? My generation isn't willing to settle for less than full participation in life. We want to be able to climb a flight of stairs at 100 without a crash cart standing by.

So this Spring I decided I would help fellow seniors be the best they can be in this amazing time of our lives - I would teach yoga for seniors. Since then I've been going to school and doing my practice teaching at the Community Center, as well as substitute teaching in the Low-Impact class where all this started. I finally know what I want to be when I grow up! Pretty exciting isn't it? You bet! And the best part? All the wonderful people I've gotten to know on the mat. What a fabulous, enthusiastic bunch - sweet, loving, supportive of each other. Can't wait for my next downward-facing dog. Namaste!

Monday, August 16, 2010

(Shadow and Shimmer)

Thanks to the poet Barbara Cornwall for challenging our Writers Workshop to write acrostics! Here's mine:

Caught in a sunbeam, immobile
as web-snared moths,
the tigers sprawl across the deck,
Shimmer and Shadow
nose to nose, whiskers
an arrangement of filaments
pulsing with each languid breath,
paws relaxed, striped flanks
iridescent with sleep, while
nearby in the ash tree squirrels
gambol and chitter, jubilant
in shady branches, safe
now for the moment from feline
threat, free as hummingbirds
hovering at the begonia baskets,
each animal in its own mind
something special in a nurturing
universe, one with the loving
nature of the summer sun.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

This morning it has been exactly two months since I began the much-delayed kitchen makeover. The cabinets have been stripped and repainted, the gleaming new hardware sparkles in early light. There is a new coat of paint on the walls and the shabby old Formica counter top is now a gentle cocoa brown. It has been an enormous amount of work with so much remaining to be done - a new sink to come, new floor tiles, back-splash and counter edge molding . . .

For months I have been totally focused on each minute aspect of the project, taking time out only for yoga practice and writer's workshop, every bit of creative energy directed toward the goal of a reborn kitchen. So many other concerns sitting on the back burner - this blog for one. Today I will restore balance by sitting quietly in my geodesic dome noticing each turn of leaf, each shift of shadow as Summer sun turns the Japanese maples into stained glass panels. I won't go anywhere near the garage where a stack of mill-work awaits my attention. Or so I say over my second cup of tea. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Since last month my kitchen has been an impossible disaster as I strip forty years of ugly paint from the cabinets. It's a task that has niggled my mind since I bought the house back in the last century but before this summer I managed to find a slew of excuses for not plunging into the process.

Oh sure, it would be SO much easier to just demo the entire room down to the studs and start over. The DIY cable shows make it look like a piece of cake: bring in a crew of brawny guys in muscle shirts to heave the shabby cabinets into a boxcar-sized Dumpster, hang the pretty cherry boxes, fit shiny granite counter tops and gleaming sink and faucet. All the fixin's. In a day or two the old kitchen is an unpleasant and distant memory.

But that was not how I was taught to do things. Back in the 1940s my parents bought a Victorian Era farmhouse in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and almost immediately started tearing it apart. It started innocently enough when they discovered that the "foundation" of the house consisted of wooden blocks - which were disintegrating to mush. Dad figured that was a good opportunity to add a basement. Just dig a huge hole under the house, pour concrete walls and floor . . . well, that was the general idea. Next came adding an edition with three bedroom and a bath, then removing the second story. Followed by building two enormous sandstone fireplaces by hand (We kids learned masonry that summer). Tiling the bathroom. Building a deck. It went on and on, year after year - always something in the works.

Have to admit I resented growing up in that chaos. We kids couldn't have parties or sleepovers because the house was a construction site. I couldn't invite friends to my house for fear they'd kill themselves falling over the stacks of lumber. My bedroom in the attic had no walls, just rafters. When I whined about how crappy my life was all I got was the promise: "When the house is finished it will be beautiful, perfect. You'll have all the parties you could ever want".

I grew up and moved out without seeing that happen. When Dad died in '78 the house was still not "finished". When Mom sold it a few years later the new owners brought in a crew to complete the renovation. Yet now from the vantage point of old age I realize a few things. The experience of watching (and helping) my parents work on that miserable wreck of a house provided me with an unparalleled education in self-reliance. I learned to hang wallpaper, drive a nail, run a floor sander. I know what a two-by-four is and how to mud Sheet Rock. I am not afraid to get dirty or put in a new light fixture. I absolutely LOVE painting! Nothing makes me happier than repainting a shabby room. Such a feeling accomplishment!

And a lesson in how to live - the importance of continual renewal. Nothing is ever "finished". Living is a process - as soon as you complete one project there is another on the horizon to engage your attention, spark your creativity. Get your juices flowing. The minute you decide there's nothing left to do is the minute you die. It's as easy as that. Maybe not physically - at least not right away - but dead in your own dusty attic. Once you are not creating, or re-creating something in your life you have left life. Knowing this, I keep tearing things apart and putting things back together - better, brighter, cleaner, more efficient . . .

I'm in the midst of renewing myself as well. This past weekend I completed the second series of trainings toward becoming a yoga instructor. Today the muscles are still a bit sore but I feel I've come a long way in the rebuilding process. One thing yoga teaches is that a person is always learning, evolving, and becoming. As soon as you think there's nothing left to do or learn something falls apart, peels off the wall or shorts out and you're off on another project. And hurray for that I say! Drop on by and I'll hand you a paint brush.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


(Photo: sugar peas in bloom at Summer Solstice)

After nearly a year of "retirement" I'm wondering what ever happened to the silly notion that without a paying gig I'd have so much more time to write. Took a gander at my "Done" list. (That's the list of completed items from my "To-Do" list. I also have a "Maybe Someday" list and a "Not Hardly Likely" list. I'm big on lists.) In the past 12 months I have:

Re-covered the geodesic dome
Re-barked the garden (7 yards of medium bark)
Redecorated my office and the bathroom
Replaced all the bedroom ceiling fixtures
Re-stained the back deck
Polished the fireplace insert
Painted: deck chairs, umbrella stand, one wall each in kitchen and hall, two bookshelves and a file cabinet.
Repaired my bedroom window screen
Cleaned and organized the garage
Hauled 4 carloads of "usable items" to Value Village thrift store
Spread 10 bags of compost on the back garden
Set up a disaster survival storehouse in the garage (see previous post)
Renovated the front courtyard fountain . . .

That's not the full list but you get the idea. And somehow while up to my tushy in household projects AND full-time elder care for my mom AND teaching Friday morning writers workshop I succeeded in squeezing an hour of yoga into each day. What I haven't managed to do is fit in all that writing I envisioned I'd be free to do once I left the 40-hour-a-week grind. Really MUST put that on the To-Do List.

But right now I'm in the process of stripping 40 years of ugly paint from the kitchen cabinets. (Whoever painted the kitchen algae green in the 60s must have been on acid!) Figure it will take me another week before I get it repainted. Going to put up new moldings and shiny new hardware. Kevin, my next door neighbor, has promised to help me install a new stainless steel sink and faucet. It's going to be gorgeous!

In honor of Father's Day I bought myself a cool DeWalt orbital sander - 45% off! Just the thing to help with my next project: refinishing the hardwood floors.

As soon as I free up my calendar I'll get back to that novel I was working on last November. Promise. Of course it won't be right away because tomorrow I have CPR training and then there's yoga instructor training and after that . . . . . Some retirement this turned out to be!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

In observance of the 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mt St Helens I revisited our disaster preparedness. Winter before last we depleted supplies during the big Hanukkah Blow storm. Power was out for a week. However since we had on hand plenty of candles, food, wood for the fireplace insert etc. we managed well when many of our neighbors struggled. (We did meet some very nice but cold and hungry neighbors that week - turned the disaster into a fun block party!)This past winter was fortunately mild or we would have been in deep doo-doo - I hadn't gotten around to restocking.

Then a few weeks ago Mom's church put on a disaster preparedness fair in their gym which nudged me toward getting serious about fixing things up in our garage "storehouse". I came away with renewed resolve and a binder full of checklists. Tuesday I hit the stores, lists clutched in my hand, debit card poised for action, virtue oozing from every pore. By afternoon SuzyQ the Subaru was jam-packed with groceries, the bank account was on empty, and I was exhausted!

Results: The garage storehouse is ready for action. In addition to filling the shelves, I packed a suitcase for each of us containing a change of clothes, shoes, snack food, bottles of water, first aid supplies, toiletries, flashlights - even a compass, pocket knife, duct tape, whistle - in short, everything recommended by the Red Cross in the event that we have to exit stage left on short notice. We have two wind-up/solar powered radios, a cell phone, and a small stash of ready cash. The cats are all set with a carrier each and extra food and litter. SuzyQ has her own big tote filled with emergency supplies tucked next to her fire extinguisher and little red gas can. All in all, we's ready for anything comin' down the road at us! It's a wonderful feeling. I highly recommend it.

Last night the weather forecast was for unseasonably fierce winds, thunder storms and heavy rain. I unplugged the computer and tv, shrugged and went off to bed.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Community Center Open House

(Photo: Darlene Burrill manning the Writers Workshop table.)

My Senior Writers Workshop is in new digs this Spring. We have moved from the creaky old Burien Community Center (which was an elementary school in a previous incarnation) into the renovated former library building around the block. We're adjusting quite well. It's a super facility with high ceilings, fresh paint, shiny wood floors and that new-Community-Center-smell. Plus our workshop has doubled in size! Many new writers contributing their genius to our ranks. I think there's something about being in a new place that energizes the brain cells.

(Photo: Open House Crowd)

Yesterday the Community Center hosted a blow-out open house. Even the sun decided to show up for the occasion! An auspicious sign. Our Writers Workshop displayed writing projects from years past and schmoozed with the populous. I was pleasantly surprised with the turnout, considering how lovely the weather was! Would have thought the siren call of garden and beach too much for most people to resist, envisioned talking up my workshop to an empty room - but the place was packed wall to wall with excited Burienites.

Mom and I moved out of our comfort zones yesterday to help yoga instructor, Janet Crawley, demonstrate some low-impact yoga poses to the throng. The two of us up on the stage doing up-dog! Who would have thunk it??!! We managed not to fall off the stage and even had fun with the experience.

(Photo: Our yoga instructor, Janet with her YogaFit table.)

I believe in the inherent evil of comfort zones. A belief I came to rather late in life, I might add. My dearest friend hasn't budged from 1985. Change terrifies her - I'm safe in writing this because she won't read it - she doesn't use the internet. (Not that she has no computer - she bought a "cute" Apple laptop in 2004 yet hasn't gotten beyond charging it and turning it on. She deserves a whole post all to herself! Maybe a whole book.)Chaos unnerves her to the point of paralysis. Which creates problems where our friendship is concerned - things can get pretty crazy around my place when I'm in the process of yet again "reinventing" myself. She doesn't know what to make of my recent passion for yoga; can't understand why I repainted my office and reorganized the garage; was horrified when I bought a new car last year and donated my old one to the Volunteers of America - in fact pretty much everything new I decide to do presents challenges for her, the poor darling. Wonder what she'll make of me and my 95 year-old mom demonstrating yoga poses to all of Burien? Can't wait to tell her about it!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

This pugnacious tuft of grass teaches a valuable lesson: flourish where you are. Make the best of what you have. A few years ago I spotted it growing out of a rusty utility access hatch in a busy loading dock. Unconcerned by its less-than-glamorous surroundings, the little critter looked HAPPY! Certainly had it been given a choice it probably would have preferred a sunny spot on a fertile hillside, but that's not where the seed happened to fall. Still, it could have sprouted in a far worse place than the loading dock. Nourishing muddy water runs over it every time it rains; its roots are protected under a shield of cast iron; it's just beyond reach of truck tires - and it's likely to be left alone, unnoticed and unmolested. Whereas if it had sprung up in the middle of a manicured bed of petunias it might even now be shriveling in the compost bin. Guess it's all in how you look at it.

I tried to keep that in mind this week when the bathroom sink clogged. At that miserable moment oh how I longed for one of those glorious homes showcased on the looky-lou DIY programs - three bathrooms with double sinks and garden tubs (what the heck is a "garden tub" anyway? There's never a garden in sight.) But no, my lot was one tiny bathroom with a solitary sink that had decided to become a frog pond.

It had done this once before. That's the way things go when you have elderly plumbing. That time I called in a professional plumber who snaked the drain, trashed my bathroom and left me with a budget-breaker of a bill. Once bitten, twice shy, I say. So this time I marched up to Fred Meyer, bought myself a pipe wrench and a clever little red pipe auger and proceeded to wrench and auger until the bathroom looked like the aftermath of a dirt-bike demolition derby. Pipes and sludge and muddy water everywhere. But I thought I'd fixed the problem. Until I got it all put back together and turned on the faucet. And the water rose to the rim with nary a trickle exiting the drain pipe.

You'd think a few extra days of brushing teeth and washing my face under the bathtub faucet would have motivated me to "woman-up" and call a plumber. Wouldn't you think? But I was still wracking my brain for plan B when I took Mom to Mother's Day services at her church. Frankly, I had underestimated my mother - she'd somehow sent word out among the church ladies that we had a plumbing issue. (Must have gotten tired of waiting for me to solve the problem.) Lo and behold, the plumbing adept husbands of the congregation flocked to our rescue right after services! Thanks to Brian and Jeff we can once more use our sink! Oh the simple pleasures of washing your hands in the bathroom!

What has this got to do with the grass growing in the loading dock, you ask. Darned if I know. Seems I got a bit off topic - which happens a lot around here. Though I might observe that like that tough little weed, Mom made the best of the resources available to her to get the job done. Where there's a will, there's a way. Good going, gal!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Celebrate Gluten-Free Month!

A few weeks ago Mike, a young friend of mine, nearly died. His health had been steadily declining for years, mystifying his doctors. Yes, he has type 1 diabetis but his blood sugar was well under control. So why was he losing so much weight; why was he dangerously anemic? In desperation his doctor ran diagnostics on his upper digestive track and there it was - Mike has celiac disease! Hurray!!

I say "hurray" because of all the things that could have been killing him, that's one of the easiest to correct. I know first hand because my mother and I both have celiac. (Celiac is an auto-immune disease - usually hereditary - in which the body reacts in some rather nasty ways to gluten proteins. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley.) The only "treatment" is to completely avoid gluten - FOREVER. There is no "ease into it" option, no room for cheating, no safe amount of gluten. The bad news is that if you have celiac and you continue to eat gluten you die. Not a dramatic, drop-to-the-floor kind of death you might experience if you had a peanut or wheat allergy (celiac isn't an allergy) but a lingering painful, messy sort of death. We won't go into the grusome details. The good news is if you decided to commit suicide you could do it with a pizza followed by strawberry shortcake.

I know what Mike is going through right now. I've been gluten-free for over fifteen years (Mom, who is 95 years old, has been gluten-free for over thirty). Mike has learned he has a potentially fatal illness. He is in deer-in-the-headlights mode, just beginning to realize how radically his life has changed. Never again can he mindlessly grab a burger at the local MickeyD's or pig out on crispy fried chicken. For the rest of his life he'll need to carefully study product labels - gluten sneaks into a staggering number of products under mysterious names like "modified food starch". Lucky for Mike the last few years have brought an explosion of gluten-free products to the grocery shelves! Used to be you had to go to expensive "health food" stores to buy GF (gluten-free) options for baked goods - and the goods all tasted like ceiling tile! Or you could do the baking yourself using one of a tiny hand-full of GF cookbooks ("Gluten-Free Gourmet" by Bette Hagman was the first one I ever saw - and I still use it. Check for GF cookbooks today and you'll find zillions of titles.) Now, GF foods of every description pack the shelves and freezers of local supermarkets. It's become trendy and cool to be GF. People who don't even have the slightest intolerance have gone gluten-free to clean up their poor dietary habits and maybe lose a little weight along the way.

This is a great time to be gluten-free. Seems like every week I find a terrific new GF product - last year's fabulous finds were Annie's GF Macaroni-n-Cheese and Tinkyada brown rice spaghetti. I was so ecstatic to find pasta that didn't cook down to a mushy sludge, that can be mistaken for the "real thing", that I bought a case of each and stored them in the garage for fear I wouldn't find the brands when I next went to the store. I have a freezer full of Van's gluten-free waffles I use for open-faced sandwiches. That's the way it is when you go gluten-free; you more keenly appreciate simple things like a tuna melt sandwich or a plate of al dente spaghetti buried in red sauce. I recently spotted a pizza take-out joint that advertised gluten-free crust. YEAH! Way to go!

You become more mindful of everything you eat when what you eat can kill you. That's a GOOD thing (to quote Martha). Personally, I think having to go gluten-free was the best thing that ever happened to me. Truly. I know how weird that sounds, to be glad to have a serious health issue - but before I went gluten-free I was always tired, sick, stressed, depressed, and generally miserable though I didn't recognize it at the time. I thought everybody felt that way; I didn't know what it felt like to be WELL! Because celiac prevents you from properly absorbing nutrients, sufferers are always malnourished. And let me tell you, that affects every system of the body not just the gut! It can screw up the chemicals in your brain and the function of major glands but until something totally shuts down and refuses to cooperate you often don't even realize you're sick. By that time . . . well, you get the idea. Fortunately it doesn't take long to turn the scene around once you stop poisoning yourself. Purge your diet of gluten and within 24 to 48 hours you feel the difference. It's quite amazing how fast the body begins to heal itself. (If you suspect you may have a problem with gluten give it up for a few days - if you feel better you may be on to something. Get checked out - they've recently developed a blood test for gluten intolerance. Really beats the invasive gut-scope that used to be the only way to diagnose the disease.) So how am I these days? Glad you asked; I'm fabulous! Rarely get colds or flu, have lots of energy, am happy and enjoy life - polar opposite from my glutenizing past.

My friend Mike has cleared his kitchen of nasty gluten/poison. The other day I made him a big bowl of GF mac-n-cheese and this weekend I'm going to his place for a massive GF-gluttony supper. He says he's gained weight this week and is feeling pretty good. He's on the mend! He'll be adjusting to the new life-style for awhile but I have every confidence that a fabulous healthy life awaits. By the way, May is National Gluten-Free Month - have a plate of gluten-free fried rice and lift a glass of gluten-free beer!!

(Sidebar: We all know that the mind/body is a complex interlinked system - poison part and you poison the whole. I have long wondered how many people have been misdiagnosed with mental illnesses such as bi-polar, depression, autism, attention deficit etc who are actually gluten intolerant. Not to minimize the seriousness of those challenges but it would be interesting to see a study on how gluten intolerance effects mental function. Hmmm.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Saturday, 17 April 2010
A clean slate - I have a new computer (another Apple of course) that has as yet no name, purchased because this week Pippin went into cardiac arrest and became a rectangular door stop. We sniff around each other like two cocker spaniels meeting on a path. I discover we do not share a common language. Everything I wrote on my previous computer is in a form incomprehensible to the newbie. I am left no choice but to have the old-timer repaired so that I can convert all my documents to text format, a form familiar to the probie. On Monday I'll pack Pippin down to Re-PC for repair. Dang. More money swans away into oblivion. But I'll have a spare on hand in case of yet another disaster.

Last night I had a visitation from my least favorite dream - the one in which I am at work and discover my route has changed. I don't recognize any of the accounts, don't know where they are or what I'm supposed to do once I find them. I'm in an elevator with no clue which floor the account is on - or I'm driving around in an unfamiliar neighborhood in the dark, knowing I'll get fired if I don't finish my route but having no idea how I'm supposed to do that when I'm so totally lost! I wake up frustrated and bone tired. Not at all ready to learn the mysterious ways of a brand new computer.

I have managed to transfer all my photographs from thumb drive to iPhoto. It is a start. You have never truly moved into a new home until you hang the artwork on the freshly painted walls. So something has gone right. Progress is being made. However I miss my old word processor which has been left behind in the technological dust along with IBM Selectric typewriters and punch card programing. Apple no longer offers AppleWorks. A mixed blessing - on the one hand I knew how to use the thing but on the other hand nothing I wrote with it could be read by a Windows machine (which pretty much left me talking to myself).

I have (obviously) managed to get the probie on line and am now beginning to re-bookmark all my crucial sites (bank, email, brokerage, blog). Had no idea I was so dependent until I couldn't access any of my stuff! Been going through computer withdrawal all week but now I'm set FREE!!!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I've often thought January is a dumb place to start a new year. Makes much more sense to start a year when the tulips are blooming, birds are raising a riot in the pink trees, skies are peacock blue, and tiny seedlings are pushing up in the vegetable beds. It may be all sorts of poetic to think of April as the cruelest month but I consider it the most hopeful.

Great time to plan sweeping changes in your life when all of Nature is setting a good example - nudging toward a bright future. Which could be why I picked this week to set into motion a "career change". (I put that in quotes because I don't think I've ever actually had what I'd consider a career. "Career" is such a grand and rather pompous term.) I'm all signed up to start training as a yoga instructor! - with an emphasis on yoga for seniors. I'm also very interested in the uses of yoga in treating stress-related problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, drug addiction, depression - there are some very promising studies on the benefits of yoga for people with these challenges. And who of us doesn't know someone trying to cope with one or more of those?!

I know first hand how life-changing yoga can be. You should see us at the senior center moving through our tree poses, pigeon poses, stretches and bends - many of us who barely made it out of the recliner last year! What could be more exciting than the opportunity to improve the quality of life for yourself and others? This promises to be a wonderful adventure! Now if you'll excuse me I have to roll out my daffodil yellow yoga mat on the deck under a brilliant early spring sky. Ahaaaaa.

P.S. Progress Report: down another five pounds since last post and the cholesterol and blood pressure are now officially normal. Hurray! Keep on keepin' on.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Progress report:
Down 15 pounds since January - easier than I imagined! (I realize that’s probably not what anyone wants to hear. People want to believe that making major changes in their lives is a difficult thing - gives them an excuse to abandon the project before anything actually happens.) My plan of action was simple enough: eat oatmeal or low fat granola every morning for breakfast to address the high cholesterol issue, then cut lunch and dinner down by half (If it doesn’t fit on a salad plate it’s too much food.), being careful of the salt and fat content. Looks like it’s working!

Another change I made to my routine: including an hour a day of yoga. Twice a week I join friends at the Senior Center for instruction - on other days I use a dvd to guide my workout. Firming up as I’m getting svelte! It’s become such a part of my day that I’ve decided to take teacher training in August - focusing on helping seniors and other physically challenged folks find the benefits of stretching out those creaky bones and stiff muscles. Should be quite the adventure for this gal who was never the physical fitness type herself.

If you want to try my granola recipe, here it is:
Combine 4 cups of gluten-free rolled oats with 1/2 cup each sunflower seeds, chopped walnuts and almonds, toasted sesame and flax seed. Add 2 teaspoons of vanilla and 1 teaspoon each ground ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon to 1/3 cup canola oil and 1/2 cup of honey. Mix everything together thoroughly. Divide between two cookie sheets. Toast in 300 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring frequently until golden brown (burns easily so check it every ten minutes). When cool mix in a cup of raisins and dried fruit of your choice - and/or chocolate chips! Yum. Store in an air tight container. Great with soy milk or sprinkled over some tasty yogurt.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Here come the dandelions! I’ve harvested my first colander of the season from the back yard. Lovely, nutritious, FREE! Weeds, you say? Oh ye of little imagination. (Of course I have noticed no one came over for supper the night I put the word out that we were having dandelion greens.)

Made low-fat gluten free granola the other day and have concocted my third batch of Thermos bottle yogurt, here’s how ya do it: heat some milk to just below boil (about 120 degrees - use candy thermometer), cool it to between 112 and 115 degrees, mix in a few tablespoons plain yogurt (make sure to use live-culture yogurt) and pour the mixture into a pre-warmed Thermos bottle, screw down the lid and wait 6 to 8 hours. That’s all there is to it. I like to drain off the whey for a cream-cheese consistency. (Put yogurt into a cheesecloth lined strainer over a bowl. Let drain in the fridge overnight.) Be sure to save a few tablespoons of yogurt as starter for your next batch.

What’s next in my getting-back-to-basics, living-off-the-land campaign? Tie dye peasant skirts? Macramé plant hangers? Dumpster diving? Backyard chickens? Stay turned.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This week California is being washed into the Pacific, the east coast is under mountains of snow and ice . . . and I am getting an early start on spring garden chores. Perky primroses are going in, yard bags are being filled to the brim with last year’s leaves, and muscles that have been sleeping all winter are stretching out. Sure, there is a gentle drizzle in the air but we north-westerners consider that an asset: free skin moisturizer.

It’s a time of endings and beginnings - my favorite season. I am solidifying healthy new habits as I meet the challenges of high blood pressure and a few unnecessary pounds (actually 20 - but who’s counting). Have shed seven pounds this month and found it to be easier than I imagined. Just made some small adjustments to how I do things: cut all portions in half, use only salad plates, use meat-cheese-wine as seasonings only, double up on vegetables and fruit, oatmeal for breakfast.

In addition, I increased my yoga practice from three times a week to an hour a day, thus tightening up as I slim down. Feels really good on those gardening-stiff muscles! I’m considering a yoga retreat later in the year if I can work out the logistics, financing, and scheduling.

Update on Twinkle, my new rice cooker: I’ve tried it on basmati, brown, and jasmine rice to great success. Enjoyed a super bowl of rice with fresh chives from my garden. Yum! Haven’t turned Twinkle loose on oatmeal yet - though it’s so easy to cook oatmeal on the stove, why bother? It cooks the rice a bit stickier than I like but I think I should be able to perfect it if I tinker with the water-to-rice ratio a little bit.

There’s something about spring that brings out the mad scientist in me. Yesterday I revived the nearly-lost 1960s art of making yogurt in a Thermos bottle. Haven’t done that since the good-ol’ granola days of yore. Of course I could have blown fifty bucks on a fancy electic yogurt maker to sit next to Twinkle . . . nah, what fun would that be? (The yogurt was wonderful by the way - sweet and creamy.)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rice Logic

The slimming process is well under way (see previous posts for background on my anti-obesity project) - three weeks into it and I've shed five pounds of chubbiness. The blood pressure is easing off and though I haven't located my six-pack abs yet my yoga practice is pumpin'!

In order to make it easier to add lots of lovely fibrous grains (gluten-free of course) to my diet I've just acquired a cute little state-of-the-art rice cooker. It's a Zojirushi "fuzzy logic" machine. I've run three batches of brown rice through it so far and though I have no clue what fuzzy logic means, Twinkle makes some totally awesome rice!(I have named her Twinkle because she plays "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" when she begins the cooking cycle.)

I've also bought a rice cooker cookbook and am excited to try all kinds of super yummy recipes. When I tell people I can't eat wheat, oats (except gluten-free oats), rye or barley they inevitably ask "What's left?? A natural question when you realize how wheat-heavy our American diet is. Like high fructose corn syrup it seems to be in absolutely everything on the grocery shelves. That's one heck of a lot of subsidized, fattening grain! Still, when you swear off of it you realize how rich the possibilities are. Most of the world's cuisines are basically gluten-free, based as they are on rice, corn and potatoes - which makes those three foods pretty important to quality of life for people with celiac disease. Thus the fabulous rice cooker that now has pride of place on my kitchen counter. Will keep you posted on how Twinkle and I are getting along as we get acquainted.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Today is Lord Byron’s 222th birthday! I’ve belonged to the International Byron Society since the 70s, joining in college, but I’d been a Byron fan since high school. That’s saying something since Lord Byron has been out of favor for probably a hundred years. Thinking back to when my passion began I can’t actually remember what sparked my initial interest. Probably it was his biography rather than his poetry that first attracted me as a teenager.

Byron was the world’s first media superstar - and like today’s superstars he invented his public image as he went along - which makes him an endlessly intriguing individual. Byron had everything the tabloids relish, then and now; he was gorgeous, scandalous, brilliant, reckless - “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”, as Lady Carolyn Lamb declared him. Some have argued that Byron’s greatest work of art was his own legend.

Possibly, but it’s worth the effort to get past the glitz and glamour of the man himself to the wacky topical wit of his comic verse. Known best for his “romantic” poetry (a taste of the time in which he wrote), Byron is at his best as a comic poet. He’s a keen observer of human nature and society who’d be right at home on the “Daily Show”. Pick up a copy of “Don Juan” and dive in anywhere. Don’t be put off by the conventions of the 19th century English. Just listen to the man’s voice and play of thought. This is a guy you’d enjoy knowing.

So, Happy Birthday, Byron! Tonight friends will come over for a celebratory feast of spaghetti (because he lived the majority of his life in Italy) and Greek salad (because he died in Greece). We’ll read some poetry, his and ours. Maybe the man himself will show up in spirit to rock the party. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Monday, January 18, 2010


When I was a kid in the ‘50s there were two overweight kids in my high school. That’s right, two. And they were mere stick figures compared to 50% of the kids in any school you happen to pick today. When I was a kid, fat people lived in Russia and wore huge fur hats; they weren’t waddling down the aisles of our local supermarkets. Oh how things have changed. Now of course we’re up to our chubby cheeks in . . . well, chubby.

A week ago I started on my doctor-directed “slimming program” to shed twenty-five pounds so as to get my cholesterol and blood pressure under control. You’ll notice I did not use those dreaded words: loss, lost, losing, or diet - all of which are horrible negative words triggering depression, discouragement, and feelings of defeat. I quarrel with the use of “Biggest Loser” to indicate a person who has succeeded in becoming svelte. No one wants to be a loser. People want to be winners!

The British have it right. Over there if you’re a bit chunky you go on a slimming program. You don’t lose fat, you shed unnecessary weight. It is a much more positive attitude - and attitude is everything when you are improving yourself.

In pursuit of my plan I at first checked into the various programs available: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem. Couldn’t find one that had a gluten free option, which of course made them useless to me. A few offered vegetarian or diabetic options but there was nothing for vegans, gluten free or nut-free, Kosher or Halal. Still, it’s no great loss (I can use the word in this case) since I thought the food they did offer resembled chocolate covered ceiling tiles and tiny piles of yard waste. In addition, why should I have to pay twice as much money to eat half as much food?? Doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to me so I decided I could do better on my own.

This morning I see I’ve shed the first five pounds - the next twenty should depart at the more leisurely pace of a few pounds a month. The Seattle Slim Plan: oatmeal each day for breakfast to clear the cholesterol (I’ve found a source of gluten-free oatmeal! Yeah!), locked up the salt shaker, banished butter and other animal fats, swore off red meat except as a flavoring, cut all portions in half, doubled up on fresh fruit and vegetables.
I am also fooling my silly brain into thinking we’re eating more than we are by using salad plates instead of dinner plates. And to reward myself for this fine behavior I have sent for a cute, computerized rice cooker! It’s my birthday present to me. Besides cooking all sorts of rice it can also be programed to have my fragrant gluten-free oatmeal ready for me when I get up in the morning. So far, so good!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Every once in a while if you are lucky something comes down the pike at you, slaps you up-side-the-head and sets you on a better path. For me it was this week’s doctor’s appointment. Apparently while I was busy doing all kinds of other things my cholesterol and blood pressure were busy heading through the roof. How could that have happened? And were was I when it did? Obviously I hadn’t been paying attention.

I left the clinic with a fist full of prescriptions and instructions - and with the growing realization that the times they are a-changin’ for me. My marching orders: ditch twenty-five pounds, walk at least half an hour a day, chuck out the salt shaker and animal fat etc., etc., etc. My head was spinning. None of this matched my image of myself. In my mind’s eye I was still the scrawny twenty-year-old who could eat anything she jolly well wanted. High blood pressure, high cholesterol were something big ol’ beer-bellied bubbas get, not me. Definitely not me!

As soon as I got home I commenced filling the garbage with all the “bad for you” stuff from refrigerator and cabinets. The memory surfaced of fifteen years ago when I learned I was gluten intolerant, when I filled big black garbage sacks with bags of flour, pasta, bread, frozen waffles, and a staggering number of products I never suspected contained gluten until with new eyes I read the labels. Cans of soup, bottles of soy sauce, boxes of potatoes au gratin went to the local food bank. I came to think of it as the Great Gluten Purge. Now here I was once again purging my kitchen, this time with anything that contained sodium, cheese, red meat, butter. Goodbye bacon, goodbye sausage! It took the better part of an hour.

While I worked I contemplated how apt the title of this blog has very suddenly become. I started it when I retired last year, intending to explore self-sufficiency, foraging, economizing, coupon clipping, recycling - all the nearly forgotten hippie values of my youth. But it has been a slow shift. I dawdled, stuck in my ways and a little afraid to take the necessary steps to change. With the news that my health has been compromised by our ever-lovin’ fat-lovin’ American lifestyle the choice has been taken out of my hands. (Well, of course I do have a choice: I can stroke out or have a heart attack! Naw, no choice.) So here I am folks, in my new incarnation: gluten-free, oatmeal-vegetable-fruit-tofu eatin’, Earth Shoe wearing, yoga chick! Tomorrow I’ll stock the cabinets with brown rice and cans of low sodium tomatoes. Yippie!

I’ll be keeping you informed on how I’m doing. Knowing you’re there cheering me on is sure to be the kind of encouragement I need. What I discover along the way I’ll pass on to you - you never know, you may at some time need it. Hope you don’t but I didn’t think I needed it either!

Friday, January 1, 2010


Today we launch a bright shiny new decade. Happy New Year everybody! I continue my tradition of cleaning the daylights out of the house on the first day of the year so as not to drag last year's grime into such a pristine place. The sheets are swooshing around in the washing machine at this very moment. When I finish here I'll wash the floors. I'm giving 2010 every chance.

Last night I stayed up to watch fireworks spangle the Space Needle. Quite an accomplishment for this early-to-bed-early-to-rise girl. I vaguely remember a time I could welcome the dawn after a night of partying. Gone are the days, I'm afraid. It takes something momentous to keep me up past nine. Some would call it encroaching old age - I call it an increased appreciation of the value of eight hours sleep.

Taking a break from the novel this week. I'm putting together a chapbook of haiku called "French Press - Coffee Shop Haiku". Poems inspired by years of starting my work day at Starbucks. Strong black tea as the sun clears the mountain. I do miss that sense of community now that I'm retired - seeing the same sleepy Microsofties and Geekatopians every morning lining up for their jump start. I wish them a double grande low fat soy half-caff new year.