Monday, January 31, 2011

The Thick and Thin

It's the dead of winter and I am so tired of wearing heavy corduroy, thick fleece, and multiple layers of clothes. I long for that first day of spring when I can wear just a long sleeve t-shirt and not freeze in it. I hate winter's dry air, the constant static electricity, the flaking skin, and the relentless chill in the air. I cannot wait to chuck my winter clothes back in the closet and revel in short sleeves, lighter weight fabrics, and brighter colors.

Can I get some heat and humidity, y'all?

To complicate things, I started an exercise program that last week of December. We have an elliptical machine in our basement and I've been doing 2-3 miles on it about 4 days a week. I'm astonished that I've logged over 40 miles on the thing over the past month. In the grand scheme of exercising, this really isn't that big of an accomplishment. I have friends who regularly run 10 miles or bike 80 miles in one day, far outdistancing my paltry achievement of 40 miles in a month. But those 40 miles are mine, and it's 40 miles I didn't get the previous month. Or the month before that, or the month before that.

I can't say that I've actually lost weight, but some of my pants don't fit my waist very well now. There's a lot of extra material gapping around there and I've got to cinch them in with a belt. Don't get me wrong, I'm not whining about needing a smaller pant size. It's just making my dissatisfaction with my winter clothes all that worse. I'm not about to go shopping for
new winter pants when the last thing I really want right now is more winter pants.

I'll just fold the biggest pants up and stash them on a shelf in my closet and use a belt with the smaller ones for now. And that has me wondering about why women do this stashing of their "fat" pants. You would think that we would chuck those bigger sizes out the door as soon as we could, because who really wants to hold onto a reminder of being overweight? But no, we dutifully keep them in the back of the closet just in case we gain weight again and need those bigger sizes once more. Talk about a self-defeating strategy. We're setting ourselves up to fail and we remind ourselves of this each and every time we spy those fat pants hanging out in the back of the closet. And what if we do gain more weight and need a larger size again? Putting on a worn pair of big old jeans certainly isn't going to be a boost to your self esteem.
Go out and buy a new pair.

I suppose if you lost a significant amount of weight you might keep something as a reminder of how much weight you've lost. We've all seen the ads for the woman swimming in a pair of humungous jeans, grinning like a hyena and holding out the waistband a half foot from her belly button to show how much weight she's lost. I can see myself doing that if I ever lost that much weight. And keeping a pair or two of nice looking, slightly larger sized pants to wear after bingeing at Christmas or on vacation is practical and makes sense to me, too. But keeping a whole stack of big pants, or worse, an entire fat
wardrobe? No, there's no sense in doing that. At that point the visual reminder of those old clothes goes from a peppy, "Hey, look how much weight I lost!" to a relentless, depressing chant of, "You might get fat're gonna get fat again." If you need a strong visual reminder to motivate you to lose more weight, just tape a picture of yourself in your larger days to the inside of the closet door. You'll get the same effect AND you can still use all that precious shelf space in your closet.

So now you might ask me why I'm holding on to those larger winter pants. It's because I want to see how many pairs of pants I can stack up there on the shelf by the end of winter before donating them to a thrift store. And then I'll go through my old spring clothes and see how many of those still fit well before I go buy myself a new spring outfit. With glee.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Date Walnut Oatmeal Bread

I was rooting around in my kitchen cabinet yesterday when I found a container of rock-hard dates. I love eating dates out of hand when they're moist and chewy, but you would have chipped a tooth on these. No matter, I have a great bread recipe that uses dates and it doesn't matter how old they are. Even if they're ancient, like mine were.

I have an Oster bread machine that makes a 2 pound loaf. You may need to adjust the recipe for your bread machine, or even adapt this flavor combination to another bread recipe you mix by hand. This is a basic oatmeal bread loaf gussied up with some chopped dates and walnuts, but I love this flavor combination. This makes a mildly sweet loaf with a sturdy texture from the oatmeal and walnuts. The sweetness from the brown sugar and the dates is offset by the slight bitterness of the walnuts. It's great toasted and I've always wanted to use it for a ham sandwich.

Date Walnut Oatmeal Bread

7/8 cups water
2 TBS butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
3 cups bread flour
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 1/4 tsp yeast

Combine ingredients in the order appropriate for your bread machine. (My instruction booklet goes to great lengths to convince you to never, ever let the yeast come into contact with the liquid ingredients, as if this would trigger a thermonuclear explosion unless the machine does it by itself.) I use the sweet cycle with a medium crust on mine.

You might wonder how chunks of rock-hard dates do in a bread recipe like this, but the dates break down surprisingly well in the dough. You'll find some fine dark flecks distributed throughout the loaf, but honestly, the walnuts will be more noticeable.



Forgive the poor quality of these photos....I haven't had any decent natural light since early November.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ally on the Runway

Ally's been busy perfecting her runway "look."


Her collection this year is apparently a cross between Bag Lady, Mr. T and Fairy Princess, but you can tell she's very proud of her effort.


This is the shot that makes me think of a whacky Ralph Lauren photo spread in a fashion magazine.


Notice that she got her shoes on the wrong feet?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mr. Stinkbug's Winter Vacation

On Tuesday morning Ally was sitting at the dining room table eating breakfast when she pointed out a dead bug on the floor beside the door leading to our back deck. It was a brown marmorated stink bug, a newly arrived pest species in Virginia. Over the past couple of years populations of these stink bugs have built up to where they spend all summer feasting on your tomatoes and other garden produce before coming inside your house to stay all winter with you. They're a lot like Cousin Eddie in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation in this respect. This particular specimen was on its back in the classic folded leg yoga posture that announces, "I'm a dead bug." However, when I picked the stink bug up I noticed that one of its legs and antenna were still twitching. Figuring that the little bugger was on its way out, I decided to toss it in the compost container so it could at least fertilize the tomatoes this summer after sucking out the juice of my tomatoes all last summer.

I'm a dedicated composter. I don't maintain my compost pile in the most efficient manner, but I do put every possible scrap of organic material in it that I can. Fruit peels and cores, egg shells, coffee grinds and their filters, old dry bread, vegetable peelings, even the paper mache cartons for my eggs get torn up and tossed into the compost, along with any grass clippings or mulched leaves from the yard. I don't add any dairy or meat products as I don't want to attract any more varmints out of the woods than we already get, but I've been known to toss shrimp tails and the occasional fish skeleton in there, too. I'm always amazed at how much biodegradable material we, a family of three plus a small dog, can generate in a week. I like the idea of all this stuff going into my compost pile where it will eventually break down and nurture my garden instead of merely filling up another spot in a landfill for all of eternity.

The only problem is that after making dinner in the winter, I'm not motivated to run out in the cold and dark to dump that day's offering on the compost heap over by the woods. So I keep my compost fodder in an old red plastic Folger's coffee container. I'm sure the blue plastic Maxwell House containers work just as well, but ours is from Folger's because that's the kind of coffee we prefer. I just keep it on the kitchen counter and add scraps to it throughout the day. I've used this type of container as a temporary compost holder for years and I have never had a problem with any type of smell coming from the container as long as the lid is on securely. Sure, they get a little worn looking after a while and someone unfamiliar with my composting habits might get a nasty shock if he's looking for ground coffee for the coffee maker, but they work great, they're easy to clean, and better yet, they're free after you use up all the coffee. When they get too worn looking you can just rinse them out and put them in the recycling bin. Not a bad deal, especially compared to buying a specialty "composting pail" that can easily cost $30.00 from a gardening supply catalog.

But because I add so much material to the old coffee container each day, it fills up after a couple of days and I still don't want to run out to the compost pile to empty it due to the winter weather. So I put the full container to the side and start up another one using an empty container. Usually it's another coffee container, but this week I had a plastic container that had previously held spring lettuce mix. It's a nice size, but I don't typically use a container like this as it's clear plastic and not everyone enjoys seeing compost material in a pre-rotting (or worse) stage. But that's what I was using when I tossed Mr. Moribund Stinkbug in there.

Imagine my surprise Tuesday afternoon when I opened the container to add an apple core and found Mr. Stinkbug alive and well, walking over Monday's coffee grinds. Apparently the extra humidity and warmth of the compost container was just what he needed to perk himself up. I left him there figuring it was just a minor reprieve from the inevitable. When I opened the container on Wednesday to add more coffee grinds, Mr. Stinkbug was jauntily sitting on the apple core, sucking out some juice and clearly having a good time. He had found himself the stinkbug equivalent of a mid-winter paradise, much in the same way I long to drop everything right now and spend the weekend on St. John's in the Caribbean with a cool fruity drink in my hand and my toes in the warm white sands. And I've left him there to enjoy it as long as he can. Eventually the wind will stop howling and the snow flurries will cease and I'll take all the full containers out to the compost pile. It's possible that Mr. Stinkbug can bury himself down in the leave mulch to ride out the rest of the winter despite the freezing temperatures. Even though he's nothing but a pest and they reproduce by the gazillions in the warm months, I can't bring myself to dispatch another fellow soul hunkering down to make it through another round of bitter temperatures and freezing wind this January.

However, I won't hesitate to smush him or any of his kin this summer when I find them on my tomatoes. Winter compassion officially ends as soon as the temperatures rise above freezing.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dress Up

It's been a snowy day and Ally played dress up for most of the morning.






Dang, my girl is awfully cute.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Oscar's Christmas

Lest you think Ally had all the fun over Christmas, here are a few photos of Oscar's holiday.

She was very disappointed that I wouldn't let her get the candy canes or the Yankee candle that smelled like sugar cookies.


But no matter....there were naps on the sofa with my dad.


And many treats to be had in the kitchen.


I don't know if I've ever seen a guiltier look on Mom's face when I took this picture.


Christmas Day 2010

Oh yes, Santa did come to our house.


Ally's stocking apparently weighed too much to hold up, so she had to get down on the floor for a better look.


Santa did bring the much requested sucker, although Ally only took a couple of bites before abandoning it permanently.


Based on her haul, Ally must have been very, very good this year.



The tree was beautiful.


The living room looked like a toy store had exploded in it.


But Ally didn't get all the gifts. Steve got coffee mugs and a stuffed possum friend.


There were chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas to be eaten on Dad's lap.


Even Oscar got into the spirit of things....or at least into the spirit of eating the wrapping paper.


Christmas Eve 2010

On Christmas Eve we visited Steve's parents for an early dinner in Roanoke.


Faye fixed a delicious dinner and we ate too much. We opened some gifts and then there was pie.


It was all too much excitement for one little girl.



Tuesday, January 4, 2011

And now it's time for my mid-winter breakdown

It's the middle of winter now, my least favorite time of the year. The dead of winter, so to speak. Emphasis on the dead part. The holidays are long gone, except for a few stale cookies left on the kitchen counter and an infinite number of Christmas tree needles scattered about the house. It's cold and dark and I'm tired of being cold and dark. My soul seems to wither just a little bit more each time I hear the heat kick on.

I'd like to crawl into a burrow and hibernate for a couple of months like a groundhog. That might actually be a blessing for all of us as I am cranky these days. Don't tell me there's no such thing as seasonal affective disorder as I am the poster child for it. I firmly believe that at some point in our lives every single one of us could easily be diagnosed as having some kind of mental illness, and right now is my personal winter of discontent. There's an unread copy of Cormac McCarthy's utterly bleak novel The Road sitting on my bookshelf and there is no way in hell that I will even pick it up spring shows up sometime in April. I simply don't think I could stand that much postapocalyptic devastation right now. Instead, I'm going to start looking at all those seed catalogs and drool over the pretty pictures of flowers and vegetables. Right after I come out of my burrow sometime in late February, that is.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Blog? What blog?

Dahlia spinner, Dec 2010

It's the first week of the new year and I'm still trying to sweep up needles from the Christmas tree, put away new toys, and otherwise get life back to normal. Or what passes for normal for us. Blog entries may be sparse until I can get ourselves organized and restarted. I'll leave you with a picture of my dahlia wind spinner and our house with a fresh blanket of Christmas snow. We've had a warm spell where the temperatures have risen to the upper 30s (a veritable heat wave!) so most of our Christmas snow has melted. It was a gorgeous snow fall, but I'm glad to see the bare ground again as it seems more appropriate for a fresh start to the new year.

Dahlia spinner2, Dec 2010

House Snowfall, Dec 2010