Friday, March 6, 2015

Who's a Big Schweetie?

One of the things helping me survive this brutally cold Midwest winter is my dog blanket. By that, I mean our 40-lb "lap dog", a mutt named Schatzi. In that golden period when we unwind after running around all day, Senior and I wait to see which one of us will be the lucky one to wear the dog blanket. Schatzi will charm her way in-between us, regardless of how close we may be sitting together on the couch. She'll turn in a circle a couple times and then flop down on one of our laps. You know you are truly the chosen one if she gives a huge doggy-breath sigh and melts into a lap puddle. I often win the prize because a) her arch-enemy, the cat, has lately decided that Senior’s stomach is the perfect place to make kitty bread [cat lovers know what I mean] and b) I usually have snacks.

We got Schatzi as a puppy in the dog days of summer, just before The Girl went off to college. The Boy was feeling lonely at the thought of being an only child when his sister went away, and played the guilt card expertly. We had often talked about getting a dog for our children but with demanding jobs and frequent moves it had never seemed like the right time. One August night while Senior was out of town on a business trip, The Boy talked me into stopping off to see a rescue litter just to pet the puppies. We found a box full of little black pups, six in all, named after the cast of Scooby Doo. The mother was a Labrador-Beagle mix, which kept her on the small side, and the father was a mystery (the vet thinks he was a Boxer). The Boy was in love and secretly so was I. He had picked out a pretty little female with big brown eyes and crazy long ears. I looked at her dainty paws and decided she wouldn’t get too big, and next thing you know (and much to Senior’s dismay) she was on her way home with us.

Her name on the paperwork was Daphne but we thought it sounded too close to Daffy. It took a while to settle on a new name. The Boy and The Girl were inspired by her shiny black coat and her birthdate, 06/06/06, and began calling her “Satan”. I put the kibosh on that pretty quickly, along with their other helpful suggestions “Diablo”, “Lucifer” and “Beelzebub”. We went through a host of standard doggy and people names but nothing seemed to fit. Finally The Boy, who had studied German in his language class at school, came up with “Schatzi”. It’s a term of endearment, something to be treasured - loosely translated to “Sweetie” but sounding a lot more badass.

She quickly acclimated to the family and basically has us wrapped around her paw. Like most spoiled dogs, it only took a few weeks for her to graduate from “absolutely no dogs on the furniture” to “we have to buy a leather couch because the dog hair won’t stick”. She can decimate a squeaky toy in less than 30 seconds. She insists on being walked on the leash twice a day, even if when we're out camping. I find myself talking baby talk to her all the time (WHO’S A BIG SCHWEETIE? YOU ARE!). No trip to the grocery store is complete without picking up a dog treat.

Why am I so ridiculous? It’s true what people say about unconditional love from a dog. Every time I walk in the door she’s waiting, almost vibrating with joy. Sure, owning a dog can be a big pain. Forget the freedom that comes from being empty-nesters because one of us always has to go home and let the dog out. She needs to be walked in the rain and snow. She smells like a wet sock, pees whenever someone comes to visit, and sheds black hair everywhere. And I can’t imagine life without her.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Not Muffins

I confess, I eat breakfast in the car. Most mornings you'll find me wiping peanut butter toast off my seatbelt or hoping the chocolate chips stay in my granola bar instead of melting on the heated seats. When I try to eat better, assuming I have some extra time in the morning, I'll make a smoothie. They're healthier and much neater. But let's be real, usually I spend any extra morning time on Facebook.

Kim, my Amazon warrior princess friend, follows a meal plan from her trainer that includes portable oatmeal for breakfast. She cracks 2 or 3 egg whites into a cup of dry oatmeal, mixes it up and throws it in the microwave. It cooks into a spongy bland cake that she can eat on her commute. Just the thought of this was enough to make me gag, although Kim swears you get used to it and I should try them. I decided not to risk it.

Then one day I came across a recipe from Roni at Green Lite Bites for a portable baked oatmeal that sounded tasty but wasn't full of sugar, and my life was changed. Or at least my breakfast was changed. They're super easy to make - you just dump everything in a bowl, mix it up, and scoop it into a muffin tin - and they're packed with nutrients and fiber to keep me full until lunch. They freeze great, which means I can make a pan, seal it up in the freezer, and then just pop one or two in the microwave before heading out the door. Breakfast is a no-brainer all week.

The first time I made these they came out golden brown with a slight crown, and looked like tasty sugary-lardy muffins. However, they tasted like... well, like someone took a bowl of morning oatmeal and cooked it in a muffin tin. *I* thought it was pretty darn good. My oatmeal-shunning family was not amused. They are now forever known in our house as Not-Muffins. I still bake them frequently but now I include full disclosure: These Are Not Muffins! They are baked oatmeal! Eat at your own risk!

I've spent a few months trying and tweaking various recipes to suit my taste, and these little gems have become my go-to car meal. My version tries to strike a balance between the ones that are glorified dessert and the ones that are completely vegan, gluten-free and organic.

[Side note: I do sometimes use organic ingredients in my Not-Muffins. Then when the container is empty, I put it in a prominent location at the top of our recycle bin, camouflaging the empty wine bottles and Toaster Strudel boxes, so on garbage day my neighbors will think we always eat healthy like that.] 

The base recipe for my Not-Muffins is always the same.  What changes in each version is a "mushy" component to replace the oil (like mashed ripe bananas or unsweetened applesauce), and a small amount of complimentary add-ins to make it interesting (chocolate chips!).  I've linked some of my favorite combinations bleow, or you can use the base recipe with your own amalgamations to make a custom recipe. Baked oatmeal is pretty versatile.  Go ahead and use almond milk instead of skim milk, add a spoonful of peanut butter, substitute chia seeds for the flaxseed or drizzle a little maple syrup in the batter.  It's a new adventure every time.

Banana Chocolate Chip Not Muffins

Pumpkin Pie Not Muffins

Apple Berry Not Muffins

Morning Glory Not Muffins (pictured above)

Zucchini Nut Not Muffins

Seriously, check out Roni's blog.  She has amazing recipes and a great story!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Intruder

Temperatures had barely climbed above zero all week, and since I'd just returned from vacation at a Florida beach, I was struggling to stay out of hibernation mode. I was very grateful that Senior had installed a remote start on my Buick as a Christmas present.  At the end of a long work day I hit the button and let the car warm up as I wrangled myself into gloves, boots and coat. It was late, and most of my co-workers had already left for the day. I was distracted as I picked my way across the icy parking lot, repeating my usual winter mantra of “don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall”, but I did notice that I’d left my wipers on intermittent mode. I said a mild curse under my breath and hoped they hadn’t been iced up, afraid I would find a strip of rubber left behind as they skimmed over the windshield. By the time I got to the car I was cold and cranky. I reached out and yanked open the door handle. What happened next scared me to the point that I nearly wet my pants. 


It’s amazing how quickly our brains can process high stress situations. In rapid fire succession I realized:

 a)     I knew this guy

 b)     This WASN’T MY CAR

 c)     This didn’t even look like my car

 d)     The driver had noticed my approach and even lowered the window to see what I wanted (a fact that totally escaped me as I opened the door)

 e)     I was about to die from embarrassment

I stammered out an apology while, thankfully, he just laughed. I’m pretty sure I made an uncomfortable joke about it being a good thing I didn’t try to sit on his lap, then my brain kicked into escape mode and I slinked off to find my (real) car. It was parked a couple spots further away. I got in and slumped down to try and disappear, peeking in the side mirror until I was sure he had left before getting my act together and driving home.

I really need to get back to the beach.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fatty Fatty 2x4

This morning one of our local news channels interviewed Florine Mark, the president and CEO of Weight Watchers. She pointed out that the state of Michigan had one of the highest rates of obesity in America. This hit a little too close to home. I've always had to work at keeping my weight under control, and since I've spent the last couple months slacking off at the gym and indulging in too much holiday cheer, my pants are getting snug. So I was prompted to do a little research, fully appreciating the irony that rather than actually exercising, I was looking at fitness rates on my laptop while lounging on the sofa under my dog blanket.

The most recent data I could find came from Trust for America's Health, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They've been researching and issuing an annual report on "The State of Obesity" for more than 10 years. On the positive side, the current report shows that childhood obesity rates have stabilized, and the rate at which adult obesity rates are rising is beginning to slow. On the negative side, adult obesity rates did not decrease in any state, and still remain far too high across the nation. 

So...We're still fat, just not getting fatter as quickly as before. Michigan came in at number 11, with 31.5% of adults having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. Normal BMI ranges from 18.5 -24.9. 

BMI is a simple measure of fatness based on height and weight. Naysayers point out that body mass index calculations don’t distinguish between fat and muscle, nor do they take into account things like a person’s frame size. It's far from an exact science, but it does provide an easy, quick and reasonable estimate for a person like me with an average build and a typical activity level. I've used online BMI calculators to monitor my weight for several years. At 5 feet, 4 inches tall, my "normal" weight range is between 108-145 pounds. That's achieveable for me. Do I stray towards the high end? Yes definitely. And when my weights creeps up over the high end, like it has now, I feel crappy. My joints hurt more, my energy level takes a dive, and my clothes don't fit which lowers my self-esteem. That's my signal to take action.

I'm fortunate enough not to have any physical or emotional issues that impact my health and my weight. I know that the amount I weigh is in direct relation to how often I have a fork in my mouth. I struggle not to judge others when I don't know what's behind their size, although let's be honest, I feel self righteous when my shopping cart contains quinoa and strawberries and yours is full of cheese puffs. And I think it's kind of a sad statement that on those occasions when junk food makes its way into my own cart, I don't feel bad because now I'm just one of the crowd.

So thanks, Florine, for giving me the push I need to put my fork down. If you need a push too, go check out your BMI. And put those cheese puffs back on the shelf.

Saturday, January 3, 2015


Is it just me, or are more people than ever are looking forward to a fresh start in 2015? I haven't heard from as many cynical people who say their only resolution is to never make resolutions. Actually I haven't seen a lot of resolutions of any kind, just a general optimism fueled primarily by a tweet from that guru of enlightenment, @BradPaisley.

I like optimism and fresh starts too, so I'm planning on becoming a better me. One of my objectives is to spend more time with people who matter and less time on the Internet. So while I was reading important entertainment gossip on Daily Mail Online, my favorite Internet mag, I was thrilled to find an article that promised to show me 25 easy resolutions to transform your health!  (Yeah, I realize my "research" wasn't exactly in line with my new resolution, but sometimes you have to sacrifice a little in the name of blogging. I'm working on it.)

These resolutions are brilliant! Here's a summary-be sure to click on the original link above to read the full advice for each topic.  Remember that this appeared on a UK site, so some of the resolutions don't make sense for every Yank here in good old USA:

25 easy resolutions to transform your health

1. Put your toothbrush in the dishwasher
Isn't it just as easy to toss it and use one of the twenty new ones the dentist gives you?

2. Stop using armrests to get out of a chair
I speak from experience: this is not recommended for those of us with the clumsy gene, especially if your chair has wheels. 

3. Eat a pot of yogurt every day
How much is a pot?

4. Blow one nostril at a time
This, above all, makes this list brilliant.

5. Open car windows
This is supposed to reduce your risk of getting the flu when you're riding around with sick people. My advice? Don't ride around with sick people.

6. Turn the heating down by a degree
Ha! I'm menopausal. There's already frost on the inside of our windows.

7. Bin your digital alarm clock
I think this means to toss it out, right? They want you to go back to the old-fashioned type. You know, the one with the blood-curdling fire-alarm bell that scares the bejeezus out of you when goes off and wakes you from a sound sleep.

8. Swap ibuprofen for paracetamol
I had to Google that one.  'Paracetamol' is acetaminophen. They recommend you switch because ibuprofen can damage the stomach lining. They don't mention that paracetamol doesn't fight fever and can damage the liver. I have a sneaky suspicion that they put some form of this on the list every year and just waffle back and forth.

9. Count to seven while breathing in
Mindfulness - I like this one. But I would have made this #7 on the list. Just because.

10. Use the upstairs loo
Honestly, I didn't even read this one because I was too busy wondering where they came up with the expression 'loo'. 

11. Do the email stomach crunch
OK, I'm going to try this one!

12. Eat a portion of leafy veg A day
Veg A?  I hope that's a typo. 

13. Watch an hour less TV each day
And get off the internet.

14. Get regular kicks with a coffee
Amen! You're preaching to the choir here, baby!

15. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier
According to this I'll be in bed by 8:45.  Kudos for making it #15 though.

16. Give up one-mile car journeys
Silly Brits!  We 'Mericans ALWAYS take our car.  Especially here in metro Detroit.

17. Lose 5 per cent of your weight
Aim low! It's doable.

18. But a 'wobble cushion'
I'm guessing this is a typo and they mean Get a wobble cushion. Or maybe it should be Butt a wobble cushion,  because basically it's an exercise ball with a saddle attached. Either way, that clumsy gene takes this one out of my wheelhouse.

19. Use the 5:2 rule for alcohol
Only two booze-free days required every week!  I think I can achieve this one.

20. Sneeze into your elbow
This is a good one! I do this and wish everyone else did too.  I watched a guy's nose explode into his hand at the store the other day.  Then he pawed through an entire rack of greeting cards.  <<shudder>>

21. Stand up on your commute
Won't work here.  See #16.

22. Add up your shopping bills
I've tried this and failed miserably.  

23. Start coughing at your desk
I can't wait to try this one at work. I'm sure it will be hugely popular in our open office environment, along with my armless chair and my wobble cushion.

24. Drink cocoa at bedtime
Sounds delicious.  

But wait a minute… where's #25?  We got gypped!!!