Friday, February 29, 2008

New addiction

Mmmm-mmmm! I recently discovered the combination of rich, dark chocolate with peppers. And I can see why the Mayans loved it so much. It leaves an aftertaste that lingers in a very satisfactory way, with the luxurious feeling of the chocolate (so dark that it is only slightly sweet) and the warm tingle that the chilis provide.

The Mayans in Central America farmed the cocoa beans and traveled into Mexico, which is how this was introduced to the Aztecs and in turn, to the Spaniards, who brought it to Europe in the 1500’s. Chocolate grows on trees, appearing in its raw state as melon-like pods on the 40-60 foot tall trees known botanically as "Theobroma cacao," which means "food of the gods." I cribbed this item from a website, - it gives you all kinds of info about this most-delicious of food and drink, probably more than you would ever want to read.

In Target over the weekend (that store could be an addiction of mine, if I had the money and the time), I stumbled across a Lindt chocolate bar that is combined with chili pepper. I have a cookie recipe with this hot + chocolate flavor combo, that I have not yet tried. Since I am the only one in my house who likes the unexpected spiciness that this hints at. Maybe I will try the recipe this Christmas and bring it into work, to share with some who might like this combination as I do. Anyway, returning to this Lindt bar. After I had tried it for the first time, I had to go a-searching for it on the ‘net (addict that I am to Google). The Lindt site describes it this way:

Excellence Chili

This combination of fine dark chocolate with exquisite chili pepper delivers an absolutely unique taste experience. When savoring this new creation, chocolate connoisseurs will experience how the initially mild, delicate flavor of cocoa gradually gives way to a full-bodied but harmoniously spicy touch. Seductively piquant!

I break this bar into the individual squares (which are 50 calories each, folks!) and turn this into a slowly-consumed treat after my lunch. Only allow myself one square a day. Gotta say, almost as satisfying as really good sex… almost. If I fell into a not-too-hot vat of this stuff, I would just have to turn cat and slowly lick myself clean. It is that good and not to be wasted on an indiscriminate palate. Way too wonderful to waste or to share with small children. Sorry, kids. I would gladly surrender hundreds of those “fun size” candy bars to a child at Halloween, rather than part with one square of my Lindt bar. “Fun size” candy bars - who coins these phrases, anyway?

Now I do like my Dove chocolates (dark only, please) and even the Target brand of chocolate treats, Choxie, which is surprisingly good and fits in my price range. But, OMG, this new favorite of mine runs rings around those. I have found my ultimate food treat and its name is Lindt Excellence Chili. I am so happy that I did not give up chocolate for Lent! Amen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

God of Cardiology

So I had to suffer through my annual visit to the Great God of Cardiology on Friday. Seriously, this guy is good at what he does and all, but I am a bundle of nerves when I go to see him. I have had two open-heart surgeries – they were only 5 years apart, and the last one was 16 years ago – and I am in dread of having another one foisted on me. This is my incentive for healthy eating and other (hopefully) healthy habits, some of which elude me at times. I am only human, after all. It doesn’t seem like exercising is first on my to-do list when I drag my tired ol’ butt home from a day that started around 4 a.m-ish and finds me walking in the door at 5:40 or so. With a meal still to prepare or at least to reheat (we cook on weekends and reheat during the week), too. I do feel more energized after I exercise, but try telling that to my body which just wants to plop down on the couch!

I had the unfortunate experience of having rheumatic fever when I was 9, and it whacked-out my immune system. So when I got any subsequent strep infections (many which were never diagnosed nor treated), scar tissue formed on my mitral heart valve. And of course those infections lasted into my adult years, culminating with an eventual replacement of that valve with an artificial one when I was only 43. These valve jobs last only so long. So far, so good for me on that score – it’s still flapping away in there, just fine. If I am in a very quiet room, I can actually hear it, in fact.

I knew my blood pressure reading would be higher than the god liked (it always is – I definitely have that white-coat syndrome when I see him). He wants it below 120, seriously lower than that. As usual, the nurse had trouble getting a bp reading on me – apparently my sounds are very quiet. She had readings from 127 to 138 (guess which one she wrote down?). The doc had doubled up one of my bp meds last year, and within a few weeks my ankles and feet were so swollen that it looked like I was trying to wear shoes much too small for me. So I went back to the original dosage, knowing that this would raise the bp more than the doc would like. But at least my ankles returned into the pre-elephant-man size they had been.

I had to do blood work so that he’d have the results before I got in there. So last Friday – showtime! After a 2-hours-plus stay in the appropriately-named waiting room (yes, this is how it frequently goes in cardiology), I was finally ushered into the office where the afore-mentioned bp readings were noted and I surrendered my somewhat lengthy list of daily meds. Then I just sat and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Good thing I had picked up a recent book to read. For a change of pace, I read a magazine which was on the desk in the examining room. And thought about what I would get for lunch after this was over – other than the stiff drink that I really wanted…

Finally he enters the room. Looks over my folder. Asks how things are going (I swear that I would not confess to doubling-over chest pains, even if it were true, to give this guy any satisfaction). Not really. But that’s how I generally feel in there. In my mind, it’s an adversarial situation.

I explain to him the side effects I had from the doubled-up dose of that bp med, and then told him I went back to the original dose. He chose another med to double-up on. We’ll see. I think I’ll do some advance scouting on the internet on this one and see what possible side effects I should watch out for.

Next he glances at the blood work results. “Your LDL reading is high”. He wants it in the 70-something range, and mine apparently came in at 98. I retorted, “Do you know what I eat?” and of course he didn’t. So I laid it out for him – fish twice a week (not fried), chicken and just a small portion of red meat. We even have meatless meals. What else should I do? He didn’t have a reply. I didn't even add that we only drink skim milk and have for years.

I checked it out on the internet when I left there – HDL and LDL and the relationships between those two. Turns out that I am in the optimum range for LDL (anything below 100 is okay) and my HDL is off the chart – reading of 100. Anything above 60 is considered HIGH and also considered desirable. What a chump he is. Always gotta find something to nitpick. I am so glad that I am not seriously overweight. I am sure that I would feel humiliated by the time I left his office if that were the case.

My cardiologist is mean. That’s it, folks – just mean. Maybe I can find a more easy-going cardiology doc when we relocate to the Minneapolis area. At least a more benevolent one. Wish me luck.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Candy hearts - a quiz

We grow up here in the U.S. with so much focus on Valentine's Day, including candy associated just with that day - those ol' familiar nothin'-but-sugar candy hearts.

Here's a quiz to take, so that the correct candy heart will be selected just for you:

Apparently my candy heart says Hug Me, which I find pretty sappy and plaintively needy-sounding. Sort of like those Kiss Me I'm Irish (or I'm Irish for a Day) buttons that are worn into bars at St. Patty's Day. Funny how states like Texas or Minnesota have a suspiciously-high number of Irish descendants on that highest of high days of drunkenness and rowdiness.

But I digress. I wonder what quiz answer(s) I gave that directed that result? There were only a handful of questions. And these supposed-details are what my answers resulted in:

A total sweetheart, you always have a lot of love to give out. [But I want to stress that I am not loose or easy]
Your heart is open to where ever love takes you! [Does that mean in the geographic sense, the sexual gymnastics sense, or...?]
Your ideal Valentine's Day date: a surprise romantic evening that you've planned out. [Ahem - that is just how it was worded, folks, God's honest truth - but I provided the italics]
Your flirting style: lots of listening and talking. [True]
What turns you off: fighting and conflict. [Only if it is unresolved or pointless - and never a physical fight between genders]

However, in the interest of scientific (?) research, I re-took the quiz, changing a few of my answers. And whoa! now I am a Cutie Pie! [Friends and family will rightfully disagree.]

The detailed answers were even more disgusting than the above explanations purported to be. So I have ended my research prematurely. Bogus quiz - bah!

Sorry - I am ending my Valentine's Day comments and travel on to other topics tomorrow or whenever I next post.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Valentine's Day list

I wish I could say this idea was mine. I read it on another blog and wondered if I could also come up with 1,000 words on what I love. Here goes:

I love being safely snuggled in the house when the skies open up and it pours, pours, pours rain. I love the early spring when the sun is still not relentless and a seat in the sun just feels nice and warm. I love that I have “met” so many shirt-tail relatives and made acquaintances through the genealogy boards that I have posted questions (and a few answers) on. I love that I have basically become the family genealogist on more than one of my own and my spouse’s ancestral lines. I love the few old photos of long-deceased family members that I have been fortunate to find or to have someone share with me. I love corresponding with old, opinionated, sometimes cranky Great-Uncle Pete, my grandfather’s sole surviving brother.

I love my current haircut/hairstyle. I love approaching 60 and hoping that many more years await me. I love that my sister is finally dating again, after her husband passed away almost 6 years ago. I love the fact that we have decided to move back to Minnesota in a little over 2 years from now. I love that I will actually retire in 2010.

I love a glass of good, mellow red wine that is sipped at leisure. I love a bowl of freshly popped popcorn (not microwaved!) with some butter and a bit of that forbidden salt on it. I love knowing how to cook and bake and being willing to always try another new recipe. I love fresh salmon on the grill. I love a chuck roast and the lovely cooking smells that it puts in the house on a chilly day. I love having an appreciative man to help prepare and share my meals with.

I love the smell of sheets that have been hung out on the line. I love the clean, outdoorsy freshness of the air as you drive north out of the Twin Cities. I love the atmosphere of Texas’ Hill Country and the many small towns there. I love the cool breeze that blows in your face and hair, as you motor across a lake in a boat in Minnesota. I love the fragrant perfume of blooming lilacs in the spring. I love the ethnic foods of Minnesota. I love the TexMex food of Texas. I love rich, dark chocolate. I love extra sharp cheddar, pungent Swiss and creamy Brie cheeses. I love strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, and the fact that they are all known to carry a good dosage of antioxidants.

I love that I was born intelligent. I love that I still have my health (mostly). I love that I have close family that I care about and that care about me. I love to read and I love a good mystery novel. I love that I have good friends both here in Texas and back in Minnesota. I love that I have cousins that I am still in contact with. I love the adults that my sister’s kids have developed into. I love that my mother feels so safe and happy in the senior apartment that she moved into. I love that she, too, has her health and also her mental faculties.

I love a variety of music, from show tunes to jazz to country to some hip hop. I love that my memory is still good enough to remember many lyrics to songs I grew up with. I love that I can carry a tune and sing along to those old songs. I love sleeping in on Saturday and Sundays. I love arriving at work safe and sound, on those days when I am a passenger and not the driver in the car pool. I love 3-day weekends and 3-paycheck months.

I love that I am female and that women build support networks from friends and co-workers. I love that my husband and his brother have bonded more as a result of his dad’s Alzheimer’s than they probably would have, without this disease being a factor. I love that my husband has a good group of close cousins that will help him if anything happens to me.

I love Paris and the parts of Europe that I have been fortunate enough to see, so far. I love Halifax/Darthmouth and the Bay of Fundy off Nova Scotia. I love archaeology and anthropology. I love visiting the ruins of Tulum on the Mexican coast near Cancun. I love seeing the left-behind dwellings of the cliff dwellers of Mesa Verde in Colorado. I love the mountains of Telluride in the summer. I love seeing historical Boston. I love visiting San Francisco and seeing the tourist-y sites, including the cable cars.

I love keeping in contact with two ex-sisters-in-law. I love old cemeteries and reading the inscriptions on the headstones. I love seeing the areas where our ancestors first made their homes in the U.S. I love organization and wish that I had some of it, myself. I love pets and babies, even though we have never had either of those ourselves. I love intelligent movies and television shows and those presentations that do not “dumb down” to reach an audience. I love that there is a real chance that the Democrats might (s)elect our next president.

I love that I have worked in a variety of industries and that I was given an opportunity to better myself through training. I love that I have a good sense of humor and so does my family. I love hugs and tender kisses. I love the sloppy wet kisses that small children give. I love seeing children develop language skills. I love the off-key songs that children sing at the holidays, mangling the tunes and the words. I love seeing the snow fall and knowing that I do not have to drive anywhere in it. I love hearing from distant friends and family at the holidays. I love learning about other religions and having new respect for those of other faiths. I love life.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

This says it all!

I am definitely going to start reading this gal's blog! Gotta love her for this statement - and ya gotta read the comments that follow, too.

You go, girl!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Shelter in Place

I work for the Port Authority and our office is on the Ship Channel, about an hour’s-plus ship ride from Galveston Bay. We are surrounded (or sort of) by multiple chemical plants, producing God Knows What products, but all undoubtably toxic to breathe. And somehow, the air is SO polluted all around here, but no one owns up to releasing any noxious stuff.

However. This morning, around 10:30 or so, we get a system-wide phone message. “This is a shelter in place. A shelter in place. Please report to your respective areas. Repeat. This is a shelter in place.”

Given our locale, we have fairly regular fire drills. And then, more recently, we have had shelter in place drills. When this happens, we are to gather at the place selected for our floor and stay there. Fortunately for us, ours is the lunchroom. I use the term loosely, because the only lunches ever provided there are the ones the employees bring from home and reheat in the mikes, or ones that someone picks up at the nearest drive-by, er, drive-thru area and brings back.

The lunchroom is clean and bright and does have a few food vending machines. One has sammiches, salads, and such. One has frozen things – heavy on the ice cream bars and burritos, throw in a few frozen lunches. And a machine with the inevitable soft drinks, called sodas in the South, pop in the North. I have been here so long that the term pop sounds foreign to me. There’s also an ice-making machine, coffee (you have to pay for it - $1/week for a coffee club), cups, plates, plastic cutlery. If we were stuck in there for a long time, I have a feeling that we would start eating the weakest after cleaning out the machines. But I digress.

One of the fire wardens comes in and announces: There’s been an explosion across the channel. They want us to stay indoors. They will turn off the air conditioning (brings in outside air), and we are free to return to work, but DO NOT, repeat do not go outside.

No fear. It kinda feels like a drill, but they seem so serious about it, so now I wonder. We wander back to our area and discuss the situation. As one of the guys puts it, this is a good reason to bring your lunch. I almost always do – it’s cheaper and I eat healthier that way. About 6 or so other people usually do, too. The a/c turns off. Very still in here, when it is not blowing its wind-tunnel effect. No sooner does the a/c quit, than the announcement is made: The shelter in place has ended. We can leave the building now.

Still can’t find anything on the internet about an explosion. Must not have been such a big deal, after all.

Back to the grind.

Post script at 13:48 - the emergency was a steam release, not fumes. Until it was investigated, the decision was made to err on the side of caution. The Coast Guard is the controller/guardian of the Ship Channel, so they called it, and they called it off.