Out of the rag bag

As I placed a bag onto the kitchen table, my mom asked, “What do you have there?”

“Well,” I explained to her and my sisters, “I was hoping you could offer me some advice, but you can’t laugh.” I then pulled out the contents of the bag – two knit sweaters – and said, “I’ve tried repeatedly, but I can’t get the stains out of these sweaters. Do you think we could turn them into rags?”

In spite of my request that they not laugh, guffaws filled the room. “What’s so funny?” asked I.

“They’re sweaters,” answered one of the hyenas. “You can’t clean with sweaters.”

Although I considered asking just where this rule was written, I instead said, “I don’t like throwing something away if I can still get use from it.”

“You’ve had those sweaters for 10 or 15 years,” my mom said, “you’ve gotten your use out of them.”

Although I considered correcting her and explaining that it had been more like 10 or 12 years, I instead said, “I guess you’re right.”

So, I took her advice and threw the sweaters into the garbage. But it pained me to do so. Just at it had pained me a couple months earlier to throw away a gray knit sweater that featured a huge hole in the front. And just as it had pained me to throw away a pair of pajama bottoms that featured huge holes in the backside.

Actually, saying goodbye to the pajama bottoms inflicted the most pain because they comprised one-half of my favorite pair of pjs. What’s more, I had gotten only five or six years out of them. But one morning a week or so before Christmas, I discovered a hole in said pajama bottoms.

Although I considered tossing them in the trash, I realized the folly in that plan. After all, they were clean and the hole wasn’t that big. So, I wore them a few more days. Of course, by that point, the small hole had morphed into three larger holes on the portion of the pajama bottoms that once covered my bottom.

Nonetheless, it was hard to part with the pj bottoms. In fact, I’ve held onto the pajama top out of nostalgia and because I don’t like throwing something away if I can still get use from it.

Hmm. Wonder if we could turn the pajama top into rags?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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Jumping the shark

I recently-ish watched “Jaws” for the first time.

That admission might make you ask yourself, “Self, what took her so long?” Well, you know what, smarty pants? Once you’ve seen every movie released during the past 40 years, you can judge me for missing a few.

One of the reasons I had never watched the blockbuster is because I’m not intrigued by sharks. Sure, I previously devote a column to a hypothetical fight between a shark and a lion, but that had more to do with my love for cats, both big and small, than an interest in fish, big or small.

But after watching “Jaws,” I devoted a minimal amount of time to thinking about sharks, specifically their sleep patterns and eyes. For instance, I had always heard that if a shark stops moving, it dies. So, when the movie ended, I researched the topic and it turns out this is sort of true.

The explanation involves too much science for me, but basically, some sharks depend on water flowing over their gills to keep them alive. If they stop moving, the water stops flowing and they stop breathing. Other shark species, however, breathe through their mouths, which doesn’t sound much better than using the gill method.

My mind immediately made the jump from (some) sharks can’t stop moving to sharks don’t sleep. It turns out this is also sort of true. Indeed, sharks don’t sleep the way humans do. According to my limited Internet research, they don’t enjoy deep sleep. Instead, part of their brains remain active while they “sleep swim.”

As someone who’s plagued by bouts of insomnia, I can empathize with sharks. It’s no wonder they always seem to be in a bad mood and looking for a fight. They’re sleep-deprived. I get cranky if I miss a night’s worth of sleep. If I had to miss a lifetime’s worth, I’d bite a swimmers head off, too.

Of course, sharks must contend with other anatomical issues. In fact, they don’t have eyelids. All that saltwater has to damage their eyes. I bet a few cases of that dry eye medicine Jennifer Aniston hawks on the TV would benefit them greatly.

Anyway, all this makes me feel bad for sharks. Think about it. Everyone’s afraid of them, but they can’t sleep and they can’t close their creepy, dead-looking eyes. I’ll take resting my eyes and brain over instilling fear into mankind any day.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A track record

In spite of their popularity, until recently-ish I harbored skepticism for fitness trackers. I couldn’t understand why people chose to spend what I viewed as outrageous sums of money to track their fitness when much-less expensive pedometers would do just as well.

But as my exercise routine evolved, so did fitness trackers. The more I heard about their improvements, the more I asked myself, “Self, in addition to monitoring your sleep patterns and accurately-ish recording your steps, wouldn’t it be great if you could compare and contrast your resting heart rate with your active heart rate? If only there existed a tool that would allow you to do this.”

Of course, such a tool existed, but I wasn’t ready to commit to buying one. I was, however, ready to commit to researching said tool, reading online reviews, checking prices, and harassing friends and acquaintances who made the mistake of wearing trackers in my presence.

Months, if not years, of this research revealed that the acquisition of a tracker wouldn’t require an outrageous sum of money, that my friends and acquaintances were satisfied with their purchases, and that I really wanted one.

So, I ordered one.

According to my retailer of choice, my tracker of choice wasn’t supposed to arrive until Thursday. So, imagine my surprise when I spied a box on my porch Wednesday. My reaction was similar to that of Ralphie’s dad’s in “A Christmas Story” when his major award arrives. Indeed, I stopped my car and announced in a serious yet hopeful tone, “It’s here.”

Although I needed to use my facilities, I rushed into the house, grabbed the scissors, and tore open the box containing my major award. I didn’t wait to use the facilities, to feed the cat army, or to change into my exercise apparel before setting up and charging my tracker, who I named Esmerelda, or Esme for short.

I started using my tracker that night and I have not been disappointed. In fact, some might categorize my behavior as obsessive. Upon waking in the mornings, I check the app to see how I slept. (By the way, Esme even knows when I’m dreaming.) I loyally log my water and food intake, and when Esme reminds me that I haven’t achieved my hourly step goal, I jump up and start walking.

I also check my stats constantly. I’m happy to report that my average resting heart rate is 62 beats per minute and that once whilst exercising I entered my peak heart zone.

As with any tool or toy, I’m sure the new will wear off. I’m sure there will come a day in the near future when I’ll be awake for minutes or hours before I check to see how I slept. I’ll probably start forgetting to log my water and food intake. I might even lose interest in my heart rate.

But that’s not happening today.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Becoming a pod person

Last week a friend mentioned she had been listening to a podcast that deals with one of my myriad obsessions. In fact, she’s one of many friends who have been encouraging me to listen to podcasts for some time. Although I’m frequently intrigued by some of the podcasts they suggest, I had never before taken the step to listen to one. Heck, I didn’t even listen to a podcast that featured me. Basically, I lose focus and interest when I’m listening to something for large chunks of time. It’s the same reason I don’t listen to books on tape. (Yes, I realize books haven’t been on tape in years, but books on tape sounds better than audiobooks.)

Anyway, such is my obsession with the subject my friend referenced that I made a vow to listen to my first podcast.

Thus, I couldn’t wait to get home and finish my chores so I could download the podcast. Of course, this presented a problem. My friends listen to podcasts whilst exercising or driving. Even though I exercise and drive, but not at the same time, those options don’t work for me.

I thought I might be able to listen whilst writing, but that undertaking lasted for approximately two seconds. Then, I tried listening whilst reading. That lasted approximately three seconds.

That’s when I decided to quit multitasking and give the podcast my full attention. For the most part, that worked. As expected, I did lose focus a couple times and had to rewind, but my biggest problem was that I didn’t know where to put my eyes. I kept expecting a video to pop up on my screen and I kept thinking I should be doing something whilst listening.

So, I turned to my podcast-experienced friends for more advice and that’s how I learned that my bestie listens whilst cleaning. As it turns out, I had baking and housework to do this weekend, so I plugged my ear buds into the phone and set about downloading and listening.

There were some issues. For starters, I moved around a lot, which resulted in me repeatedly and accidentally yanking the ear buds out of the phone. I finally solved that problem, however, by placing the phone in my garments.

What’s more, one of the times the ear buds popped out, I overcorrected and pushed the wrong button on my phone, which resulted in the folks on the podcast sounding like the Chipmunks. I finished that episode in record time and was onto the next one when I finally figured out I was listening at double speed.

Overall, though, listening whilst cleaning house and baking worked for me. Not only did it help me learn oodles more about one of my myriad obsessions, it’s as if I cleaned at double speed.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Mixed up

A few weeks ago, I had one of my wisdom teeth extracted. It wasn’t giving me trouble, but as the dentist explained, if it continued taking up residence in my mouth, it would soon give me trouble.

I’m happy to report that the extraction was dern-near painless. I experienced pain once the numbing wore off and I’ve had some issues created by food becoming lodged in the new hole in my mouth, but that’s not the purpose of this-here post.

Although I had grandiose plans to eat chicken the evening of my extraction, once the procedure was complete, I realized I would have to settle for something that wouldn’t necessitate much chewing. Thus, I decided to make cornbread. Hot bread and butter followed by milk and bread wouldn’t require much work from me at all.

So, I stirred up some bread using the recipe my mom taught me, which comprises four ingredients – cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, and water – none of which we measure.

Not that it’s relevant to this story, but at some point during the years, my mom stopped putting flour in her cornbread. However, I still spoon some flour into the batter. Indeed, I used it the evening of my extraction. And once the aforementioned four ingredients were blended together, I poured the mixture into a cast iron skillet and put said skillet in the oven.

Approximately 20 minutes later, I checked the bread and immediately noticed that something was amiss. The crust felt hard and the inside felt sticky. Still, I cut a piece of bread, slathering it in butter. But the butter didn’t melt into the bread. Instead, it pooled atop it. Although the sticky bread didn’t look appetizing, it was there and I was hungry, so I took a bite.

It was inedible.

I hate waste, but I couldn’t finish one bite, yet alone an entire pan, so I dumped it into the trash.

Later that evening, after I had made a mashed potato run to the KFC, I implored to my mom, “What did I do wrong?” At first, she seemed as puzzled as I. However, recognizing my reputation for using aged ingredients, she suspected that my cornmeal might have been old, and I conceded that it could have been in my cupboards for a significant amount of time.

Then Mom assumed the role of a detective interrogating a suspect. She asked me to list the steps I had taken, starting at the beginning.

“Well,” said I, “I started with the flour.” Gasping, I added, “That’s it!”

As far as I know, my mom didn’t teach you to make cornbread, so you’ll be forgiven if you don’t understand how that aha moment solved the mystery of the sticky bread. Here’s the gist of it – she taught me to start by scooping one or more cups of cornmeal (depending on whether we were making a big or small pan) into a kettle, followed by a spoon or two (again, depending on the size of the pan) of flour before adding the buttermilk and water. On the evening of my extraction, I mixed up the ingredients and started by scooping in a cup (more or less) of flour and a spoon (more or less) of cornmeal before adding the buttermilk and water.

Obviously, my mistake can be attributed to the pain emanating from the new hole in my mouth. After all, I’ve successfully made hundreds of pans of cornbread in my day. Until, that is, the evening of my extraction.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A numbers game

Although I’ve been on Goodreads for years, I haven’t taken full advantage of its features. Oh, I’ve read plenty of reviews and followed my share of discussions, but other than ranking books on a scale of one to five stars, I haven’t offered my opinions of them.

I do, however, enthusiastically add books I’ve read to my bookshelf and update the progress of the book I’m currently reading. In fact, if you heard sounds one evening a couple weeks ago that prompted you to ask yourself, “Self, are banshees native to this area? Should I be worried?” rest assured that you have nothing to worry about. I experienced something akin to a meltdown when a glitch in the system momentarily prevented me from updating the percentage read on a book.

I have no idea why I’m so concerned with updating my progress. It’s not like my Goodreads friends are sitting around waiting for my updates. It’s not like they’re saying, “Hmm. She’s been on 17 percent for 25 hours. And she calls herself a reader.”

Of course, if they are judging me, then I can only imagine how many sidelong glances they’ve directed toward the read section of my bookshelf because it contains only 302 books.

You might deem that a respectable number of books to have read during a lifetime. And I might agree with you were it not for the fact that, according to my Goodreads challenges, I read 117 books during the previous five years. That means, if my bookshelf can be believed, I read only 182 books prior to that timeframe.

I know that’s untrue. Heck, I could read that many books in less than eight years. (Yes, I figured that out using math.) But I can’t remember the titles of all the books I read in my youth or even last year. Just this weekend, however, I remembered a book I read in college that I had henceforth forgotten existed. You can rest assured that it will be added to my virtual bookshelf. Yet, until I build that time machine, I’ll never recall all those Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie books I finished.

Anyway, just as with my progress, I’m a tad invested (okay, obsessed) with updating my bookshelf. For some people, an accurate bookshelf might give them the opportunity to look back on the books they read and remember where they were (physically, mentally, professionally) when they read said books.

That’s not the case for me. I’m just there for the numbers.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Survive and advance

A couple years ago I started keeping a weekly blessings jar. As you might expect, that means that very week I wrote down a blessing on a scrap of paper in my serial killer handwriting. Then, I placed said blessing in a popcorn tin decorated with puppies wearing Santa hats.

While most people might include life’s bigger blessings, it’s a given that I appreciate having a place to call home and people who love me. So, I choose to focus on the smaller things. For example, according to my blessings tin, in 2018, I read a lot (week 10), treated myself to a Blizzard on my birthday (week 29), and benefited from the wonders of liquid Mucinex (week 47).

Upon reviewing my blessings for 2017, I realized that salads made several appearances in the tin. So, during 2018, I made a concerted effort to track the other important aspects of my exciting life.

Proving that old habits are hard to break, however, in 2018 I recorded the enjoyment of no less than four delicious salads. (Not in the same week, though.) What’s more, in no fewer than five weeks I felt the need to mention that my head hadn’t hurt all that much. That leads me to wonder how much my head hurt during the other 47 weeks of the year.

What’s more, apparently the first few weeks of 2018 were fraught with dangerous situations and health scares as I shared that I had survived a ride home from work (week three) as well as the flu (week six). Those months weren’t all bad, though. After misbehaving for a couple months, my garage door miraculously started working (week two) and the Eagles won/the Patriots lost the Super Bowl (week five).

Also sprinkled among the blessings were several play dates with my great-niece and great-nephew, holiday celebrations, lunch with a dear friend, and a surprise visit from my bestie.

There were also two weeks missing from the blessings tin. Despite studying on the matter a great deal, I have not solved the mystery of the missing weeks. Even if my head did hurt all that much … even if I didn’t read a lot … even if I sampled no scrumptious salads, I obviously survived weeks 33 and 46. That sounds like a couple blessings to me.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.