Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Too Little Time

I have a problem, and it's related to the number of hours in a day.

See, I've convinced myself that I don't have to wait until I'm thin to do the things I want to do. Unfortunately, now I have to choose between what I want to do, and what I can possibly cram into 24 hours.

What's triggered this is that the horse I lease has been sent away for a year to be leased elsewhere. It makes sense for the owner of course; I don't lease during the winter so she's out that money, plus I've been hinting that I might not be able to afford it next summer. I told her that if she found a more reliable leaser for Sunshine that she should take it. And she has.
She's reccomended a draft horse at another barn that I could lease over the winter, since the barn actually has an indoor arena.

As a single person I was used to filling every hour of every day with various "projects" that rotated on a regular basis. I'm struggling somewhat with my change in circumstances as part of a couple, where I have to either choose projects we're both interested in, or give up some of our scanty time together.

Looking realistically at my schedule I can see that after work, sleep, necessary chores (laundry, meal prep, cleaning), friendships, family and relationship time, I can only reasonably count on two evenings a week and the very occasional weekend for the projects that used to take up every evening and half my weekends.

Something has to give. Here's the immediate list of things that I would really regret losing. It doesn't even go into the "wouldn't it be nice" or "When I have free time" backups.

I love to ride, but to keep my conditioning for it I'd have to devote both free evenings each week to riding, leaving only the occasional weekend day for other projects.

I also want to catch up on sewing, and the machine has been gathering dust in a corner for most of the summer. I have a braided rug, a halter dress and a necktie skirt dancing in my brain and making my fingers itch.

I want to get a move on home improvement. Our bathroom floor has been bare wood since June, waiting for time to finish it. We want to be able to sell the house next year sometime, so that's a deadline, but it needs a LOT of work to be listable. The $100 a month lease payment on a horse would go a long way in paint and tile and the two nights a week would let me make actual progress on the big projects.

I want to landscape, and really only have the next month to get everything trimmed, moved, mulched, etc. There's a new cat run to build for Mad Sweeny. There's the potential of a patio to raise the house value.

I want to read, and my list is getting ridiculously long.

I want to spend more time with my friends, who I've been neglecting in the crunch to fit fifty hours into 24. I've completely abandoned most of my online friends and relationships for the same reason.

I want to volunteer. I never made it to a Habitat build this summer. I never got around to volunteering at the animal shelter. I've neglected the event I volunteered to promote this year. I wanted to help the local Watershed Council build community rain gardens, but ran out of time.

I want to write, but I know from experience that I work better in blocks of time than I do grabbing an hour here and there. I finished the first draft of a novel a year ago and haven't touched it since.

I want to save money against paying off debts, or going back to school, or leaving my job to follow JD to grad school, or losing my job to district consolidations. Living cheaply takes a LOT of time. You pay for the convenience of quick prep foods and ready made clothes.

I want to take ballroom dance classes, but they're held on the only night each week our friends can all get together.

I want to take swimming or yoga sessions at the community college, but that would shave two hours out of every day; either to attend after work or to get to sleep early enough to attend before work.

Work takes 10 hours a day with commute. I absolutely and without negotiation need 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night to stay sane and physically well.

That's the gist of it. I'm used to having to limit my projects and dreams because of money. I used to limit them because of weight. Now I not only need to limit them strictly based on time, but I have to figure out exactly what I want badly enough to give up all or most of the rest. Giving up riding would probably cause some tears, but I have to honestly face whether I love it enough to give up everything else I want to do.

It goes beyond that, however, to my own definition of myself. I am an active, busy person involved in everything. I was. Now I have to choose, because my priority outside of work is now another person instead of a project. A relationship can't be tossed in a drawer and pulled out when I have time for it.

Perhaps I just need to let go of scarcity thinking. I have this idea that if I don't jump on finding another horse to lease right now, I'll never be able to ride again. After all, how often can I count on someone having a saddle-trained draft horse for lease and being willing to lease to someone my weight? I'm at a point in my life where I could head in any one of a dozen directions based entirely on my choices. I'm haunted by the idea of someday regretting those choices.

When I was a kid, I said I wanted to be able to look back on my deathbed and not be able to say "I wish I'd done..."

But I also know that not choosing is a choice in itself, and the one I'd probably regret most of all.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Foodie Fluff: No, I don't know what I'm bringing to the potluck.

Had a typical cooking moment last night, which I think really sums up why I can never tell someone in advance what I'm bringing to a party or potluck.

Started out grabbing a pack of what I thought were d'anjou pears in the grocery store.
Wasn't hungry after riding, so I pulled two of them out to have a snack instead of dinner. Turns out they were Bartlett pears (yuck..mealy and bland).
Thought I could salvage the pears by slicing and shaking them up in a bag with cinnamon and sugar. Hey, why not? Works for apples.
Used WAY too much cinnamon.
Tried to dilute it with more sugar
Now pears are mealy, bland AND gritty.
Thought I might still salvage them so I tossed them in the wok with a chunk of butter to cook.
Added brown sugar. I have any pie crust? I could make baked caramel pear empanadas.
Pie crust is frozen....nope, not worth it at 8pm.
Caramelized pears it is.
wait, did I ever put the ice cream maker back in the freezer? cinnamon ice cream with sauteed pears and caramel sauce.....
Nope. Ice cream maker isn't in the freezer. That's ok, no cream in the fridge anyway.
They smell done

Ended up just splitting the pears and the now very gooey hot cinnamon caramel sauce into two bowls, depositing one in front of JD at his computer. At least I have someone else to inflict these experiments on. At some point when I put a lot of work into a dish I can't even stand to look at it or smell it any more, much less eat it.

Turns out there's more pectin in the pears than in apples though, because the caramel turned roughly the consistancy of mucous.

Amazing how some people aren't willing to eat something after I proclaim "Holy crap it's cinnamon-caramel snot" as I let it drip suggestively from a spoon.

So most of it was tossed anyway.

So no. I can tell you what ingredient I'm starting with, but I really, honestly, can't tell you what finished dish I'm bringing to pass. Trust me though. If you grit your teeth and bear the uncertainty, I'll make it worth your while. Remember the Oaxaca Hot Chocolate scones that began their life as chocolate chip cookies and lost all evolutionary control? I still get requests for those. Wish I could remember how I made them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size): The Madison, or Sizing up a Cardigan

This is my series on Sewing at Any Size, a protest against overpriced, badly constructed and badly-fitted clothing options available to anyone who isn’t shaped like a fit model.

You can see the rest of the SAAS series by clicking on the category link on the sidebar. As this will eventually become a book, please do not re-publish or re-post this material. Feel free to link to it however, or print/save for your own personal use.

I know I promised more underwear, but I haven't gotten near a sewing machine in months due to vacations, etc. Today I'm going on guesswork, since I can see how this would be constructed, but haven't actually done it.

I get clothing catalogs at work all the time; usually addressed to people who've retired or left. Often I flip through them and find outfit inspiration in ways I'm sure they never intended.
For instance, my first reaction to Chadwick's Madison Cardigan was along the lines of "eewww! Ruffles!" Sure it's available in Womens' sizes...the ugliest things always are.

But then I looked least long enough to see how it was constructed, and realized it's a great way to size up a cardigan or shirt that's just barely too small to button properly. Or, who knows? Maybe you like ruffles. Or maybe we can use the same idea, but in something less ruffly than chiffon.

First of all, click on the link. What you'll see is, first of all, a great visual example of my problem-solving post on lengthening sleeves that are too long, by adding fabric at the cuffs. All they did was roll a hem on a strip of chiffon (they used a serger of course, if you have one then lucky you!) then sewed it onto the existing sleeve cuff in two parallel rows of stiches. They left what looks like 1" of chiffon hanging over the hand, and 1" behind the stitches as a ruffle. In the graphic below, the white square is the chiffon, the grey is the original cardigan sleeve.
You could stitch the back edge of the chiffon strip (top red dotted line) to 1" above the cardigan cuff (where the 2nd red dotted line is in the graphic) so that you don't have the ruffle. You could also reverse the layers and stitch it with the cardigan as the top layer and the chiffon peeking out from underneath.

If you need the entire cardigan sized up and not just the sleeve length, or just like the look in the picture, take the following steps:

First make sure the edges of the front at least touch, even if it won't button. We'll be adding eyehook closures so that's where the finished cardigan will lie.

Remove buttons and stitch button holes shut. You don't need a lot of stitches; but the gap of the buttonhole will show through the chiffon.

Take a package of hook and eyes from the craft store. Use a needle and thread to attach the two loop on the hook half to the front of one side of the edge of the cardigan, facing out. Stitch the eye (loop) half to the other side of the front of the cardigan.

You'll want the hook to face out, if possible, unless you want to add a strip of protective fabric so that the hook doesn't rub on your skin.

Space the hook and eye sets however you'd like down the front of the cardigan.

Measure the neckhole (to the edges of the front closure), length and bottom hem of your cardigan. Add 1/2" to each measurement and cut a 4" wide strip of chiffon for each the collar and bottom hem measurements . Cut two 3" wide strips of the front length (there is only a ruffle on the outside of the front).

They show a continuous strip of fabric, and you're welcome to try that, but it's easier to explain how to do it with adding seams.

Start by hemming all three strips of fabric with as small a fold as possible, stitching as close to the edge as possible. If your sewing machine is a serger, use that instead.

Match up the halfway point of the neckhole strip with the center back of the collar. Pin so that 1" hangs over the top edge (look at the photo again if you need help visualizing.) Pin all the way around to the front. At the front, fold under any excess and crease so that the fold matches up exactly with the cardigan underneath.

Then cut the chiffon in a slanting 45 degree line from the top corner in the front to the edge of the strip (red dotted line)

Pin the front strip so that the crease of the hem (or overlock stitches) are matched up exactly with the front edge. You will be putting the fabric over the top of the hood and eye fixtures to hide them. Pin, then cut a diagonal line from that strip also, so that the two cut edges match up (same red dotted line above).

Unpin and sew the two cut edges together with a 1/4" seam allowance. Remember that the two pieces will be offset, as the collar piece has a ruffle overhang and the front does not. Follow the fold in the seam allowance when you get to the collar piece, so that the ruffle is hemmed. Re-pin, and it should look like this:Repeat the procedure for the bottom corner, leaving 1" of the chiffon overhanging the bottom hem of the cardigan. When you're satisfied with how the chiffon lies, stitch it on as close to the hems of the cardigan as possible. When you've finished, add another line of stitches 2" from the first.

The buttons they show on the Madison Cardigan are sparkly glass buttons, covered with the chiffon to mute the brightness. They're only decorative, so it's entirely your decision whether to leave them off or not.

To cover a button, cut a circle from the chiffon, stretch it tightly over the button and gather it at the back where the buttonhole or loop is located. Wrap thread around the bunched fabric to secure it and run a needle and thread through the center of the bunch for added strength.

Personally? I'd prefer to experiment with paints instead of buttons.

As an alternative to the Chiffon, you can use silk, polyester, lightweight leather, etc. I'd highly reccomend a strip of silk, but making it only 2" wide and leaving off the ruffle; simply stitch it onto the cardigan at both hems of the silk to secure. Using kimono-print poly silk (which is machine washable) and bamboo buttons would look great.

If you need to size up even further (but the armholes fit) sew a strip of fabric about the same color as the cardigan or chiffon to the hem and front of the cardigan. After you've extended the edge, continue as before, adjusting the width of the chiffon strips as needed to disguise this additional fabric.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guest Blog: The Window

My best friend has Fibromyalgia, which is getting steadily worse as her doctors seem to be giving up on her. There's been a lot of talk in the Fatosphere about marginalization of ill or differently abled fat people in the quest for acceptance for the "good fatties". All that does is ignore that thin line of sheer chance that seperates the currently abled, with all our privilege, from a state of otherness. If we leave anyone behind, we doom our future selves to be left behind in turn.

My friend wrote this as a way of coping with the changes she's had to make in her life because of her illness. She said she was "getting her tears out on paper". I asked her if I could post it here as a guest blog, because I think it says something we all need to hear. -Jo


*The Window.*

I look out the window and I see her dancing. She’s happy and she is free. She moves with such feeling. There’s a fire she dances around. It sparks her soul and it makes her feel alive. She reaches for the fire. I watch her dancing with the fire as if they are one. You can see how happy she is as you see the fire move around her body.

She’s walking on the beach in the sand. The deep sand engulfs her feet. The sand feels warm and makes her want to run and play in the water. The water is beautiful. Just as she is. The high wave crashes against her body. She loves how the waves hit her with such force. You can tell how much she loves to fight the waves. It’s a silly game they play together. Will she fall and let the wave win? Does the wave really win if she falls? It’s really the game they play together that makes them both winners. Her free to stand up against the wave and the water free to create the wave. There are no losers.

I watch her walking through a forest. Picking up little trinkets of herbs and twigs as she goes. You can tell she can hear the trees and the trees love to talk to her. She approaches a steep hill where she sees some beautiful flowers she wants to pick. She climbs the hill with ease. She can smell the flowers even before she reaches the top. Bending over to pick the flowers, she smells each one as she makes a beautiful natural bouquet to bring home. She didn’t realize how high the hill was till she reached the top. From the top she looks out and sees the vastness of Lake Michigan. She watches the waves. She sees the forest below her. She sits at the top of the hill and watches the sun set. One of her very favorite things to do; watching a sunset from high places and beaches. Nothing is more beautiful.

She runs down the hill. Running is so freeing. Feeling the wind in her hair. It whispers to her. It twirls around her as if it wraps its arms around to embrace her.

I see her laying flat on the ground. A clear blue day. Just enough fluffy white clouds to gaze at. She lies there and she watches each cloud as it slowly passes and changes. She looks to see what she can in the clouds. A mighty dragon, A phoenix, a small bird, a fish and a butterfly. All from the same group of clouds. She is able to get up with such ease. Dandelions everywhere. She picks them and pops the head off for fun. Thanking each one as she goes for giving her such joy in there splendid color. The way they glow on her skin and eyes.

She walks up to her little girl and picks her up as if she was as light as a feather. They dance around in the dandelions. Her child in her arms. Giggling and playing. Ring around the rosies, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down. They do this over and over. Never feeling exhausted. No pain, just joy.

Its near Christmas, I’m watching her create! Wonderful gifts made from balls of yarn and love. She is crocheting the most beautiful afghan. The colors just jump right out at her. Oh, how she loves colors. They make her feel alive inside. The afghan is going to keep someone warm and make them happy. Something that can be passed down to the next generations perhaps. Oh! I see slippers. They look so warm. She loves to make these slippers for her friends and family. Look, she made her son another warm hat. Her sister a pretty doily to put on her wedding table.

She reaches for a paint brush. The strokes of the brush make her feel so free. Nothing can take her places like color can. She turns on the CD player and she dances around as she puts paint on a canvas. So much ease in her dance and her brush stroke. The color gathers into a beautiful painting that she can either hang her self or pass on as a beautiful gift. She loves to create gifts. She loves to create…

No one is home. She is all alone. She is skipping and dancing through the house as she sings to really loud music. She moves with ease no care in the world while she dances and sings.

She sees her husband. She embraces him. She wraps around him and pushes him onto the bed. She sits on top of him and tells him how much she loves him. She leans down and lays her head on his chest. He embraces her and the embrace turns into a moment that will last long into the night.

I’m still looking at her through the window as the window slowly changes to a mirror. I see my own reflection. I take in a deep breath and sigh. Realizing I was merely watching who I used to be. Watching all the things I long for and can no longer do. The days before pain. The days before the days before. I want them back! I’m angry they are gone. I can’t do any one of those things anymore without pain. The things that give me the most joy cause me the most pain. Simple things like lying in the grass to watch the clouds. Climbing a hill, making my children gifts, embracing my husband with a long night embrace. All seem out of my reach.

I sat here today and asked myself why? Why are you so sad? Why do you feel so alone? A burden, a failure and these words flowed from my pen. I am not a writer for sure, but I want others to understand why even though I look healthy and normal on the outside, healthy and happy inside, I’m breaking in ways that have no words. I’m broken and I don’t know how to fix me. I don’t have a day with out pain. I can barely recall what its like to not be in pain. I would love so much to do what I could once do.

I do not want your pity. I’m blessed to have wonderful people in my life that bring me joy in other ways. I do not want you to share my pain. I just wanted to share this with you so perhaps in ways I can not express to you in spoken word, you would maybe understand why sometimes I may be distant, cranky, and sad. Why sometimes I don’t want to do things with you. I don’t want to hold you back.

So please never feel like you can’t go on with your life with out me. Never stop being you. Enjoy what you have. Freedom of movement. Freedom of movement is a terrible thing to take for granted. Don’t waste it. Dance when you can dance. Climb heights you can look off of. Create things with your hands you can pass on to others. Embrace those you love for long nights. Live a dream you have now. Don’t put it off till tomorrow. Because tomorrow your body my not allow you that grace.

Wendy Needham
September 12, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

Recipe Box: Quick and Easy Beef Stew Pot Pie

This recipe deviates quite a bit from my usual emphasis on fresh ingredients. I now find myself hosting a super-picky autistic teenager every other weekend, and there's nothing short of violating the Geneva Convention that's going to make him eat eggplant. But then I'm certaintly not into forcing anyone to eat something they don't like. I am, however, on a sort of mission to sneak some fruits and vegetables into this kid, because I don't think he gets any at his other home.

His pickiness, as explained by JD, is based on food familiarity. He'll try something that looks like something he's tried and liked before. If I serve a strawberry banana yogurt smoothie in a fancy glass, he won't even taste it. If I put it in a McDonald's cup, he'll drink it without even blinking.

So the downside of this recipe is that because of short time and guesswork as to how fancy I could go, I faked out a lot of ingredients. The upside is that because of faked out ingredients, this is a quick weekday kind of main dish that looks like it's more work than it is, or a great Sunday-night dinner that will make lunches all week. It turned out to be a bust in the sense that the teenager wouldn't touch it (not familiar enough), but a success in that it made about four meals for JD and I throughout the weekend. Feel free, of course, to substitute scratch or fresh elements for the ones listed.

Quick and Easy Beef Stew Pot Pie

2 refrigerated pie crusts (bring to room temperature)
2 cups beef stew (leftover or canned)
1 package instant mashed potatoes (2-3 cups prepared) preferably herbed or flavored
4 cups frozen vegetables (peas, carrots, broccoli, corn, etc.)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4-1/2 cup all purpose flour (can be white or wheat)

Use a 9" deep dish pie pan for preference, glass if possible. I used a round ceramic tart dish with straight sides and it worked perfectly.

Prepare the instant potatoes per the package directions. If you're using the plain kind or fresh potatoes, you can spice them up with a teaspoon of onion powder, half a teaspoon garlic powder, and a teaspoon of fresh or dried parsley.

Pre-heat the oven to 375

dust the bottom of the dish with flour. The easiest way to dust a dish evenly is to put a few tablespoons of flour in a wire mesh strainer. Hold the strainer over the dish and gently tap the side of the strainer with a spoon or finger. You should get a nice even dusting. This works well with decorative powdered sugar on desserts as well.

lay one layer of room-temperature pie crust in the bottom of the dish. If any hang over the end, cut it away to about 1/4" over the top of the dish.

Dust the bottom of the crust with flour

Add a layer of beef stew, followed by a layer of frozen vegetables, followed by a layer of cheese, then spread the mashed potatoes over the top. Depending on the size of your dish, you may have leftovers. It's ok to heap the ingredients up above the edges as long as the top pie crust can be laid over it all and still meet the edge of the pan.

Lay the top crust over the potatoes. Crimp the edges of the top and bottom crust together with your fingers to create a seal, and cut away any extra crust.

Use a sharp knife to make five cuts in the top of the crust, at least three inches long. This will allow steam to vent so that your crust doesn't puff up over the potatoes.

If you're feeling fancy and want one of those nice shiny glazed crusts, beat an egg white with a tablespoon of water and brush it over the top crust.

Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour. Since the ingredients are pre-cooked, your only concern is that the crust become nice and toasty brown. Put a sheet of aluminum foil or a baking sheet under the dish to catch drips in case it bubbles out the seams.

Let stand 10 minutes or so to cool, cut into slices and serve.

Vegetarian Variant

Skip the beef stew, add an additional 1 cup vegetables.

heat 1 cup of vegetable broth with 1 tablespoon corn starch over medium heat in a saucepan until the thickness of gravy.

Pour over frozen vegetables on bottom layer of pie, then assemble and prepare as usual.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Swine Flu and WLS...A Perspective

Thanks to Bri at Fat Lot of Good for a great collection of news stories highlighting the dangers of Weight Loss Surgery.

An interesting comparison sprung to mind and put things in perspective. Most of the articles quote the statistic that 1 in 50 patients die within three months of weight loss surgery. That's a 2% initial mortality rate. (the number who die from complications of the surgery within 5 years is much higher, and within their lifetime is even higher than that).

2% mortality rate. Within three months.

The CFR (Case Fatality Ratio) for the current strain of Swine Flu is estimated between 0.3 to 1.8% based on all the numbers I could find quoted in news articles and abstracts of study findings. That's of course just based on the death rate of people who have been infected, not the chance of the average person dying from it. Just as the WLS number is based on people who actually had the surgery.

In other words, just based on your chances of dying, it is safer to play tonsil hockey with someone hacking up Swine flu lung biscuits than it is to have Weight Loss Surgery.

Why is one a source of panic, and the other "for our own good"?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I'm back! I'm sleep-deprived and energy depleted, exhausted from the weather and over-stimulated. I'm also re-reading Atlas Shrugged, and nothing sends me into a funk like curling up with a thousand pages of industrial despair. But at the moment I'm somewhat in the mood of Dorothy who finally wakes up in her very own bed for the first time in a long while.

I really got the fix of "somewhere else" that I needed before fall set in. I was so eager to get going that we drove for five hours on Wednesday night after I got out of work and crashed at a desperate little over-Lysoled trucker motel in Kentucky. The point was to be on our way. When it was pouring rain in the Smoky Mountains, JD said, casually, after spending half an hour climbing a narrow switchback road to the campground,

"You know, we're only about four hours from Savannah."

And we drove until midnight to get to Hilton Head and crash in what turned out to be a roach motel. Ok, one roach. I named him Lyle and JD,having faster reflexes than either Lyle or I, squished him with a tissue. But even though it was still pouring rain in Savannah, that rain was pouring on palm trees and Gardenias instead of our tent. We splashed around in the puddles for a while until we hit the Colonial Park Cemetery and the sun made something of a grudging entrance. We made it to Bonaventure and the Riverfront (areas I hadn't visited before) and found the only advertised Cajun restaurant in town. Their jambalaya was something fabulous. After the muggy intense heat in Savannah we had visions of cool misty mountains again and headed back to the Smokies. Thanks to the rain we were able to get a site in the Big Creek campground (they don't allow RV's and the sites are really quiet and private, so they're usually full). We hiked the 5 mile loop up to Mouse Creek Falls, swam at Midnight Hole, made it up the steep grade to Clingman's Dome, got seriously nasty looks for my tee-shirt ("I'm not anti-religion, I'm just anti-hypocrisy"), went to the Cherokee Reservation, and learned to hate ethanol (it sucks your engine's power in the hills; I had to buy premium gas just to get up some of the roads we drove). We got home, spent two packed days of errands, then headed up to my best friend's house for her annual labor day gathering. After another three days of sleeping on the ground, bug spray, ritual, drum circle and good conversation, I'm ready to simply be home for a while. Decompress. Process. Rest. Be still. Quit smoking (again).

I know that description doesn't sound as fun as it all really was, but right now I'm numb to enthusiasm. I suppose this is something of a transition post; to keep my "just one more day" blogging break from becoming another several-month disappearing act. Hopefully tomorrow I'll have caught up on some stillness and be more able to post something substantial.