Dystopian imaginings

I can’t avoid the news forever, so I’m occasionally reading some of the summaries and articles about the president-elect and the cabinet appointments he’s making. These are truly dark times (and I’m not just talking about the return to Standard Time and shortening day length).

As bad as it may seem to have Trump as president-elect, I’m actually more worried that the only option would be to replace him with Pence. Unless these seemingly cockamamie claims that the Russians hacked the election are true and audited results change the election outcome, if Trump is found unfit to serve as president we’ll get Pence as our POTUS. Trump may be a buffoon and a profiteer, but Pence is a scary, scary guy.

The litany of strong social conservative positions he’s championed or made law in Indiana is long. He believes in conversion therapy for LGBTQ people, and is vehemently anti-choice. This is the guy who inspired the Periods for Pence (now Periods for Pols) social media group and inspired Indiana women to call his office and report on their menstrual periods.

I have high school friends in Indiana who have first hand experience with living in a state run by this guy. One friend is the mother of a transgender young adult. She’s angry and scared that her child will suffer under a Trump/Pence administration.

Trump is already showing signs of being unlikely to rise to the demands of being POTUS. The crazy conspiracy theory part of my brain is thinking that maybe this was always the plan of the Republicans: use Trump to win the election since he’s able to appeal to the masses, then replace him with Pence as the real president. We truly have a situation of bad to worse here even if there are no grand schemes in play.

Coping by baking and a banana oat muffin recipe

I made it through a full work week and only had to fit in emergency naps for the first two days. 🙂 Considering that every day began with a meeting that started at 5:00 or 5:30 AM PT, I think that’s an accomplishment to be proud of.

We’re expecting the entire weekend to be rainy here in North Bay. It is indeed a grey day outside, and therefore perfect for comforting indoor activities like baking. This is a bona fide stress-relieving activity, and the end result is something delicious. Win/win!

While I’ve had the urge to bake some scones all week, I’m also trying to get myself back into healthier habits, too. (And trying to forget that pint of ice cream I polished off a few nights ago.) Based on past experience, if I cut down on the starchy carbs severely and add back in some exercise I should start shedding the pounds steadily. I love my starchy carbs, though, and they are my go-to comfort food.

As a compromise, I am baking these banana oat muffins this morning. I found this recipe online at Allrecipes.com way back in 1999. I know this because there is a time stamp at the bottom corner of the paper on which I printed it. That paper is getting pretty tattered from heavy use, so adding the recipe to the blog with my notes is one way for me to preserve it in a (hopefully) enduring format.

This is an adaptable recipe, and I’ve tried the following substitutions and additions:

  • Substituted up to 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • Substituted brown sugar for white sugar
  • Decreased the sugar from 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup
  • Substituted almond milk for regular milk
  • Substituted 1/4 vegetable oil + 1/2 cup ground flax seeds for the 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • Added chocolate chips (up to 1 cup)
  • Added chopped walnuts (usually around 1/2 cup, and preferably toasted first)

While most  variations have turned out pretty well, I do not recommend decreasing the sugar. These aren’t terribly sweet muffins anyway, and reducing the sugar to less than 1/2 cup made them a bit too salty/savory in my opinion.

The original recipe also indicates that it makes 12 muffins. I usually bake them in a large 6 muffin baking pan, which means that the baking time needs to be adjusted and more carefully monitored. Considering the variation among ovens, this is usually wise advice for all baking, though.

Banana Oat Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mashed bananas [usually about 2]

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. If adding nuts or chocolate chips, stir into the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl, beat the egg lightly. Add the bananas [mash now with a fork if not already mashed]. Stir in the milk, oil, and vanilla.  Gently stir/fold in the dry ingredients until just combined. Line the muffin tin with paper bake cups or coat with non-stick spray.

[Here I usually let the muffin batter rest for at least 5 minutes so the oats can soften. If using regular rolled oats instead of quick oats this improves the texture of the final product. It also mitigates any texture issues that could be caused by over-stirring, a common muffin-baking issue.]

Divide the batter evenly in the baking pan. If baking with a 12-cup muffin pan, bake for 18 to 20 minutes. If using a 6-cup muffin pan, bake 20 to 25 minutes. Set your timer and test for doneness at the most minimal time.

Remove from oven and turn muffins out onto a baking rack to cool. [Don’t cool them in the pan or they may get soggy on the bottom.]

These muffins freeze well and can be defrosted in the microwave or on the countertop. Enjoy!

Time’s up

Today is my last day of medical leave. I’ve been off for six weeks and three days and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to get back to my job.

What a disappointing week, to say the least. I should have been back to work last Wednesday, November 9, but I asked for a couple extra days when I last saw the surgeon. I knew I’d be up late watching the election returns and I wanted to be able to sleep in. Turns out it was a smart move in more ways than one.

Being in the Pacific Time zone, I didn’t have to stay up in the wee hours to see the general direction things were going. Election Night was also a knitting group night, and since we all wanted to watch the returns I invited people to my house. We started out happily enough at about 6:30 PM. As we watched the sea of red grow on the election map on PBS we got more subdued. When the results for Pennsylvania were posted we knew it was over.

I went to bed that night with 90% certainty that HRC lost the election, but I still had some hope. The next morning all doubts were resolved.

Since then I’ve been laying low. Partly because I’m depressed and distressed by the results, and partly because I’m relishing my copious free time while it is still available.

My recuperation from surgery has been pretty smooth, but despite spending so much downtime around the house I’ve managed to injure myself. Within a single week I whacked the baby toe on my left foot hard enough that I’m sure I broke it, and then misstepped in my driveway and sprained my left ankle badly.

(My left foot and ankle have sustained more injuries than any other part of my body. I first sprained that ankle when I was 10 and have lost count of how many times I’ve done so. The last time I injured that ankle was a fibula fracture two years ago. I got a ride to the local hospital for an x-ray just to make sure I didn’t fracture it again, and was happy to find out it was just another sprain.)

Since my mobility was restricted, I’ve been rather sedentary during the past six weeks. I watched a lot of streaming media. Read a few books. Completed the knitting, blocking, and sewing up of two sweaters. Made good progress on a third sweater, and restarted knitting on a little shawl that keeps confounding me when I check the stitch count.

I’m not sure if I’m mentally ready to resume work now or not, but that doesn’t matter at this point. I think I’ll go set the alarm now so I don’t forget.

Entertain me! (What I’m watching)

I’ve been off work for the past five weeks recovering from my surgery. That means I’ve had plenty of time to read and watch media. I’ve done some reading, but I’ve been doing quite a bit of multitasking (knitting) that is difficult to manage while reading, so there has been a significant amount of viewing happening. (Yes, I do find it possible to knit while reading, but only very simple knitting; working on a cabled sweater isn’t simple for me.)

While I do have “pay channels” they aren’t the premium ones, so most of the media I watch is streamed through my Roku on either Netflix or Amazon Prime. I also recently purchased a Blu-Ray player since I was finding it a PITA to keep connecting up my laptop to the TV when I wanted to watch a DVD. (Also, my laptop is old enough that I don’t think it would even play a Blu-Ray disc if I wanted to rent or borrow one.)

Here’s what I’ve been watching and enjoying:

Poldark: This BBC-produced PBS Masterpiece series is currently broadcasting Season Two now, but I hadn’t gotten around to watching Season One before my convalescing period, so I had to catch up first by watching Season One on Amazon Prime. Then I was able to piece together Season Two from my DVR recordings and the PBS app on my Roku. What’s not to love here: beautiful scenery, a very attractive leading man who is also a likeable character, great costumes, a decent storyline, and a historical setting. (Amazon Prime, PBS app, local PBS station)

Fleabag: Another BBC drama, but this one is contemporary. Each of the six episodes is only 30 minutes long, so it doesn’t take long to binge watch. I watched them all in a single afternoon while I was still in the hospital. (Hooray for great hospital wi-fi!) Yeah, the main character has done some questionable things in her life, but seeing how her family treats her you start to understand why she is an emotional wreck. It’s not a light-hearted series, but I’ve been recommending it to my friends because it is so real and raw. (Amazon Prime)

The Kettering Incident: I actually watched the first two episodes of this thriller back in early September when I had some plane travel. I was intrigued, but found I wasn’t deeply pulled in until about the third or fourth episode. By the end of the series, I was hooked and I’m hoping the show will continue. (Amazon Prime)

Love & Friendship: I love costume dramas, but don’t automatically consider myself a Jane Austen fan. I have a hard time struggling through the writing and dialog from that period, and I know I lose many subtleties. So I guess it’s no surprise that I’d rate this movie sort of “meh.” It seems witty and clever, and there were parts that just went right over my head.  It did get very good reviews, though. (Amazon Prime)

Longmire: Crime dramas are like popcorn; it’s easy to work through quite a bit without paying close attention. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement of this series, but it engages me at just the right level. Plus I love the scenery of Wyoming and have learned how surprisingly diverse it is. (It’s not all cowboys and Indians.) I’ve also become invested in the characters, too. I’m nearly through three seasons and still have two more left, but I was still bummed to see that the series is nearing its end. (Netflix)

Anzac Girls: I ran across this series last year and set my DVR to record it. But when I went to watch the first episode I recorded, I realized that it wasn’t the first of the series so I deleted the few I had captured. Then I ran across the DVDs at my local library and decided to check them out. (Actually, finding this series on DVD was a pivotal reason I ordered my Blu-Ray player.) The subject matter is serious — nursing in WWI — but the series is based on historical figures and features strong female leads. This is the type of medical drama I enjoy much more than the contemporary ones. (DVD)

The Durrells in Corfu: Set in the 1930s, this memoir of growing up in a quirky British family that moved to Corfu is delightful. So far only three out of six episodes have aired on PBS, so there are a few more to look forward to in the coming weeks. (PBS app on Roku)

This isn’t a comprehensive listing of my viewing habits. I’ve also consumed some local news and spent one day largely zoning out to HGTV as I napped off and on. As I’ve recovered and increased my stamina I’ve been watching less TV and spending more time getting out and about. I still made time to watch a few games in the World Series and was ecstatic that the Cubs won this year! Woo hoo!

Writing and connecting

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to write here over the past few weeks, yet I keep putting it off. Why?

I don’t really have a goal for this blog. It’s just a place where I write about stuff that I experience in my life or that I have thoughts about. I started writing a blog many years ago when it was a popular thing to do in the knitting/crafting world. I wrote only about my knitting and my gardening in the beginning. It didn’t take long for that “format” to become more loose and just reflect my life in general, though.

There are many excellent blogs I read because of their compelling content. Every time I read these blogs I learn something about a topic or gather information about an experience that interests me. In my blog reader I’ve categorized the long list of blogs I follow under categories like Crafts, Food, Personal Finance, Lifestyle, and Friends.

Over time, a couple of those blogs have moved from their original category to the Friends list, even if the content hasn’t changed. I’ve happily built some friendships through these online interactions, and have even been blessed to meet some of these bloggers in person.

My online friendships are also advanced through Twitter. Some of these same people who I met through their blogs are followed daily through their tweets, and they have helped me connect to others on Twitter who have enriched my life. (Although, I am really frustrated by the changes in the Twitter algorithm that now result in a jumbled timeline of tweets. I hate seeing a tweet hours after it’s been posted. Argh!)

Are there still doubters who don’t believe online relationships are just as important as IRL ones? I have learned so much from the perspectives and life tales of my online friends. Most of them are younger than me, and seem so much more enlightened and “together” about social issues. I am constantly learning from their perspectives and comments.

I understand life (and blogging) isn’t a contest, but I feel like my contributions — my observations, experiences, and writing skills — pale in comparison to these folks, and that sometimes inhibits me to write here. Also, I am lazy. I often prefer to consume others’ writing and leave comments rather than write a full post.

Maybe I just need to write shorter posts. Maybe I just need to get over myself and keep repeating the observation above: this is not a contest. (Also, the best way to get better at writing is to write more, so just do it, Linda!)

Anyway, here are some of the online connections I make regularly and that have become important to me.

A Gai Shan Life: Revanche is a Bay Area blogger who writes about money, family, and fun stuff like travel. Her unique perspective comes from years of supporting her parents and sibling, and living with a disability that can cause chronic fatigue and pain. Despite her challenges she is compassionate and positive. She also tweets @RevAGSL. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Revanche in person, and she is just a wonderful as she is online. 🙂

Funny about Money: Sometimes she comes across as crotchety and she is always opinionated, but I like reading FaM’s observations about her life in Phoenix and her challenges to maintain her lifestyle in retirement. I admire her writing style and skills, as well as how she explores new income streams and shares her experiences. FaM has a few other blogs specific to her publishing business, and they’re easily accessed from her main blog. She used to teach, as well, and had a blog about topics relevant to life as an adjunct, but I’m not sure if that blog is active anymore.

GeekyLyndsay: Except for the occasional professional (and insightful) article that she tweets, GeekyLyndsay is a Twitter-only presence. She is spunky, likes dogs, and is invariably positive. I look forward to her daily selfies, as well as photos of her dog Luigi and delicious food. She has tweeted some awesome self-care resources and has also inspired me to read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, which is the first comic I’ve read in roughly 30 years. (And she’s right, it is a great comic!) Thanks to Revanche for pointing me in her direction!

Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured): I’ve been reading this blog since nicoleandmaggie were untenured (hence the parenthetical note in the blog title.) Nicoleandmaggie (not their real names) and the “Grumpy Nation” of commentators have widened my understanding and perspective on a number of topics, but it’s their unapologetic feminism and advocacy of each person’s awesomeness that I love the most. Yay for the Grumpies and yay for me!

I Pick up Pennies: Abby blogs and has a Twitter account @ipickuppennies. Her observations about budgeting and frugality while also living with chronic fatigue and depression are witty and grounded. I appreciate her insights and lessons, as well as her combination of kindness and tenacity, and her learner’s mindset to every obstacle she comes across. Abby is always “keeping it real,” and I appreciate that perspective.

NZ Muse: From the other side of the world, NZ Muse inspires me with her observations about being the primary breadwinner in high cost of living area (Auckland, New Zealand). She’s shared her doubts and challenges in her relationship, and is driven in her pursuit of better compensation so she can attain her goals. NZ Muse also tweets @eemusings, and I’ve happily met her in person as she traveled through the US as a newlywed. Sadly, we were only able to spend a few hours together one evening, but I hope I helped her appreciate the perfection of a Chicago-style hotdog at the iconic Superdawg.

Conspicuously absent from my list of online connections are Facebook “friends.” While I do have a large number of them, I am careful to curate my Facebook posts now that so many of my work colleagues are connected to me. While I’m never less than genuine on Facebook, I just feel less constrained here on my personal blog and Twitter. I used to have my Twitter account “feed” my Facebook account but recently disconnected them since I wanted to be able to tweet about stuff that may not be appropriate for work colleagues to read.

There are many other people I follow on Twitter or via a blog, but these folks are my “core.” They’re the ones I look forward to reading every time they tweet or post a blog entry, and to whom I’m likely to respond in kind. I have grown as a person because of the observations, perspectives, resources, and links shared they’ve shared, and for that I thank them!

Health updates

I’m three weeks post-op and feeling pretty good! I still get tired more easily and require extra sleep, but being off work means I can take naps whenever I feel the need.

I have three weeks left on my short term disability leave and am trying not to think about work. Mostly my thinking is about how to find more satisfaction with my work and not about actual projects or business relationships. For now I let the thoughts float by, but don’t try to turn them into anything.

At my two-week check in with the surgeon advised that I could start slowly adding higher fiber foods into my diet. So far I’ve been careful not to add anything with small seeds, nuts, and cabbage-y foods. But eating whole apples and whole grain products (a little whole grain pasta and some whole grain bread) is so satisfying!

Due to the pre-op prep and post-op dietary restrictions I was off all alcohol for more than two weeks. Once I started adding alcohol back in — a drink with dinner most nights — I observed issues with my sleep patterns. The nights where I’ve had beer seem to go OK, but white wine, red wine, and hard liquor lead to me waking up and having trouble going back to sleep. Considering I live in wine country, it’s kind of disappointing that my tolerance for that beverage is not that good. I think I need to just stick to drinking herbal tea most evenings and enjoying a beer maybe once or twice a week.

In two weeks I get to visit the dentist and have two small cavities filled. To me this is a *big deal* since I haven’t had a cavity in more than 40 years. Yes, I have had no cavities since my adult teeth emerged! These two little cavities are in my molars, and the dentist said they likely happened due to me clenching and grinding my teeth at night.

At around 30 I had to start using a mouth guard every night due to pain in my jaws caused by clenching/grinding. I stopped using the mouth guard when I had orthodontia a few years ago and was just using my retainers at night. Since I had no jaw pain I thought perhaps my issues were cleared up. Apparently not. I’ve caused small cracks through a molar on each side of my lower jaw, and that’s where these little cavities have formed. Now I’m back to wearing a mouth guard and will have to deal with fillings for the first time in a very, very long time. Ugh.

At least my bad eye seems to be doing OK lately. My pressure has been stable for months, which means I can keep putting surgery off. I’m also getting used to relying more on my left eye for reading and fine work. Adjusting to not using my right eye for those things was really tough and caused a lot of discomfort and fatigue. I think I move my head a lot when reading now, but maybe that’s just me being self-conscious.

I’ll have a field of vision test next week to check whether I’ve had any more loss of peripheral vision in that eye, and I’m not due to see the glaucoma specialist again until April unless there are problems. I saw the local ophthalmologist last week and he confirmed that there are more visible changes to the eye. I’ve noticed this dark spot in my iris and I didn’t recall it being there before. The doc said that it is caused by the coloration from my iris being “rubbed away” and the eye muscle showing underneath it. I’ve noticed that I’m more sensitive to light changes in that eye, too, and he explained to me why. (I love this local ophthalmologist. He is so great at explaining stuff.) At least my pupil isn’t as distorted as it used to be; it was looking pretty creepy back when my pressure was higher.

How is your health?

Increasing my income

My solo phase in my house comes to an end next week. As planned when I bought the house, I’ll be sharing my two bedroom/one bathroom house with a roommate so I can generate some extra cash flow every month.

Getting a roommate wasn’t difficult at all. There are many people in need of affordable housing in this area and I just needed to decide what kind of roommate/renter I wanted: short-term or long-term. I decided to go with a short-term renter, as it would allow me to have some solo periods if I wanted them. If I had wanted a long-term roommate, I likely would have contacted the local housing match coordinator for help. This free program run by the county does screening and matching between people with rooms to rent and people needing housing. Although I didn’t end up using this service, it sounds like a great resource and I’d recommend that anyone thinking about renting out a room look for similar programs in their area.

Once I had decided to go for shorter term roommates/renters, I knew I’d have to furnish the room. I had an extra shelving/desk unit and chair that I had used in my bedroom in the rental, but I didn’t have an extra bed. I’ve had so many other expenses with a new house that buying a bed wasn’t something I had wanted to deal with right away. I had been thinking about putting off the final arrangements until after my surgery, but what looked like a great opportunity appeared through a Nextdoor posting. So I took care of that final detail one weekend by visiting a local mattress company and having them deliver and set it up the bed the next day. This potential roommate (who would only need the room during the week) didn’t pan out, but I was ready now.

While I looked at Craigslist for “market research,” I hesitated to list my spare room there. Nextdoor would have also been an option, but I didn’t list there, either. I chose not to list on them because I didn’t want to have to filter through a bunch of scams or people with sad stories, but I did regularly look at them for people seeking housing, just in case. For my own listing, though, I decided to target a group of people who I knew would be stably employed, yet not likely to stay long-term: travel nurses.

One of my friends had been a travel nurse years ago, but I learned more about how it works from an acquaintance I made at a Meetup shortly after I moved here. I learned that the local hospital used a lot of travel nurses. Contracted medical professionals like travel nurses get a housing stipend, and they can decide to use it all or pocket any extra to supplement their contracted income. The placement agencies will usually find nurses housing in furnished apartments that exhausts their housing stipend. In this area that housing is not in Napa, but a community just to the south. The commute during rush hour is slow, and the location is near a boring strip mall. While my room didn’t offer the privacy of an apartment, I could offer a traveling nurse a short commute (10 minutes maximum to the hospital), a lower monthly cost than the standard housing (therefore increasing their income), and proximity to nice restaurants and leisure activities. I found a Facebook group for traveling nurses and listed my room there with a few photos.

Then I had an opportunity fall into my lap. One of the women in my knitting group mentioned that an intern at her company needed to find a place to stay. The housing he had lined up fell through, and he had been living in an expensive hotel. I suggested she put us in touch and that’s how I acquired my first short-term roommate. The timing wasn’t ideal since he’d be here during my surgery and while my sister was staying with me, but we worked it out. While I offered to let him stay with me through the end of his internship in December, he was focused on finding a place of his own and only stayed with me two weeks. When he moved out at the end of September he sent me an electronic payment for the rent, and left me with a very nice bottle of wine.

Now that I knew this arrangement could work, I redoubled my efforts. I kept checking the travel nurse Facebook group and saw that people most frequently mentioned finding their housing through Craigslist or Airbnb. I was still reluctant to list through Craigslist, but I had had positive experiences using Airbnb as both guest and a host, and lots of positive ratings as both. I took photos of the room and the common areas of the house, built a listing on Airbnb specifying a minimum 30 night rental, and posted a link to it on the travel nurse group.

Within in couple days the inquiries started rolling in. I had six in one week: travel nurses, a business professional on a short-term contract, and a couple interns in the wine or restaurant business. Most people wanted to see the house and room. I was open to showing them the place, but told each one that I had multiple inquiries and wouldn’t hold the room for them. Over the weekend I showed the place to a young man who will be interning at a restaurant up the Valley. His mother and sister accompanied him and we had a nice, short visit while they viewed the house and room. A few hours later I got the confirmed booking request and accepted it.

So, starting next week I’ll have my roomie in place through the end of February, and I’ll also get the bonus of income AND lots more tax deductions for my “rental property.” 🙂