Friday, February 26, 2010

Jasper's Exciting Evening

Poor Jasper had quite the rough night tonight. The day started off pleasant enough, but events soon turned traumatizing.

Early this morning, Jasper got to see his little girlfriend for the third time. His joy was adorable to witness. Jasper ran to his little friend, tail wagging furiously, and licked her pretty little face. His attentions were welcomed and returned, with Jasper's little girlfriend giving him a few doggy kisses as well. They played for a little while, while the little girl's owner (who is such a nice lady) and I chatted.

The rest of the day was spent with me working my way through an enjoyable book on the Balkan Wars. Since Jasper was so good-natured about being stuck inside with me while I read all day, I let him come with me when I went to pick up groceries. He was thrilled to get treated with a car ride, and was quite the happy, tail-wagging boy when we got home. Since I needed both hands to carry the groceries, I let Jasper hop out and run into the building without a leash. After all, what could possibly happen?

The upstairs neighbors' bulldog happened. That massive, ugly, gap-toothed beast was also off its leash. While the bulldog's owner ineffectually yelled at it, the hideous creature chased Jasper out into the parking lot and under a car. There Jasper cowered in fear, while the bulldog did its best to crawl under as well, without success. The bulldog's owner cajoled and threatened his monstrous dog, while I, having hastily thrown my grocery bags through the air in the general direction of the front door, tried to coax out my whimpering, trembling little boy. Finally, the neighbor caught his monster, and I was able to grab my baby. Jasper continued to tremble and whimper for the next ten minutes. I've never before seen him so shook up, in fact. Feeling pity for my poor little fellow, I gave him one of his special "treat" bones, which calmed him considerably.

I have a feeling that Jasper's fear of strange dogs will probably be escalated a bit from here on out.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Friend for Jasper, a Headache for Me

Normally, my Jasper is terrified of other dogs. He refuses to come near them, even actually shaking at the sight of them. The only exceptions are my parents' dogs, Mitzi and Abby, and my sister's dog, Nina. Actually, it even took Jasper weeks just to warm up to them! Today, much to my amazement, Jasper found himself a doggy friend who doesn't terrify him.

The funny thing is how much these two dogs have in common. Jasper, as my readers know, came from Korea. So did my brand new neighbor . . . and her dog. Like Jasper, this dog is also a Shih Tzu, with similar coloring. She's a very friendly, sweet little girl. And, she's quite pretty, which may partially explain how Jasper overcame his shyness enough to sniff her nose, wag his tail, and engage her in some very cute, albeit gentle, play. He was reluctant to come inside after meeting this nice little girl, but I had no option of letting him stay out - I have a very boring book, Brubaker's Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany, which I have to finish reading and attempt to write a review on. Jasper keeps looking wistfully at the door, already missing his adorable new playmate.

To be honest, I would much rather be outside letting my dog play than inside reading Brubaker's apparent attempt to kill grad students through sheer mental inertia. I am now convinced that the prof responsible for assigning this purgatory-between-two-covers has a secret desire to make his students suffer. He's a very nice professor, actually, and quite intelligent (I honestly like and respect him quite a bit), but every book that he has assigned this semester has been horrid. These books start at tedium and work their way to delirium with stop-offs at outright frustration. They take forever to read, regardless of length, because they are so difficult to follow. I read and reread, hoping to somehow track down at least the central argument of the book. This current book has me seeing red because of Brubaker's persistence in using passive voice throughout - honestly, I believe that should be unacceptable at his level. I mean, I learned not to do that as an UNDERGRAD, for pity's sake. (Sorry, I needed to rant a bit there, after staying up very late reading Brubaker and practically frothing at the mouth over his writing style - passive voice is only one of many complaints I have about the way Brubaker writes.) Every book in this class seems to cover nothing but history of identity, philosophy, consumerism, or some other "ism". As a military historian, I'm convinced that this class will be the death of me!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Crammed Sunday for a Grad Student

I may have next to zilch of a social life, but somehow I still manage to have absolutely too much crammed into my weekends. Take today for example. I did laundry, washed the dishes, gave Jasper a bath (which he sorely needed), groomed Jasper, did a homemade avocado treatment on my hair (which I do not recommend since it is very hard to wash out), made soup, worked on a fiction story, and wrote a paper comparing the Russo-Japanese War to the Franco-Prussian War (they are surprisingly similar). I also read a copious amount, put together a puzzle over breakfast, and still found time to re-ice my hand after all the typing caused it to swell up yet again. Oh, and I took out the trash. I am Superwoman!

Of course, I also did not accomplish everything that I had planned today. I still have three more books to read (minimum) by Tuesday, another paper to write (also by Tuesday), notes to type up for my presentation tomorrow, and another batch of laundry. I haven't dusted in a week, but that's low priority. I also meant to work out today, but that is lower priority than reading and writing. Admittedly, I shouldn't have wasted an hour on a puzzle, but I so longed for some form of recreation after reading for nearly ten hours yesterday, that I simply couldn't deny myself an hour of relaxation. Tomorrow will be a busy day, too, since the reading and writing will have to get squeezed in around two grad classes (three hours each), a trip to the library, and a trip to the office supply store.

I've noticed lately that my caffeine intake has sharply risen since resuming grad school. Maybe if I double it, I can give up sleep and have another eight hours of time for reading (just kidding, Mom). Honestly, I never knew so much could be crammed into each day before this semester. Gee, I just can't wait until I start writing my thesis!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Can I Marry Technology? Please?

Yes, I know I said earlier that I would not be posting anything but pictures today. That was before I spent two hours buried up to my neck in documents. I need some air for a few minutes!

I am hopelessly, desperately, head-over-heels in love with technology. Perhaps this is odd behavior for a history major, particularly one who prefers records to CDs, but that's just part of my contradictory and quirky charm, I suppose.

Consider the different items currently bringing joy to my life:

"Mackie" (my Macbook) - By far the best computer I have ever owned, Mackie has never shut down unexpectedly, never crashed, never deleted anything I didn't want deleted, never caught a virus . . . in short, Mackie has never done anything that the PCs I owned in the past did. Mackie downloads at the speed of light, checks my spelling and grammar on every program that I use, and lets me open as many windows as I want without slowing down. Mackie is my cherished friend, who would never do anything to inconvenience, hurt, or annoy me. Mackie is trustworthy.

Firefox and Safari - Two fabulous web browsers, each with their own special place in my heart. Safari is fast, so user-friendly that it practically kisses you when you open it, and fully customizable. My Safari browser knows my every like and dislike, protects me from ads, and gives me full details every time that I download something. My Firefox browser has awesome add-ons, is also fully customizable, gladly remembers passwords for me, and cheerfully assists me with research. Like Safari, Firefox knows how much ads annoy me, so it gleefully blocks them all!

Zotero - A wonderful-beyond-wonderful add-on for Firefox, Zotero organizes sources quickly and does my citations for me now, allowing me the luxury of putting far less effort into writing citations.

Pandora - At first I resisted, but after so many of my friends recommended it, I had to join. Pandora custom designs personal radio stations for me, based on only the style of music that I like - even analyzing elements of my preferred styles of music in order to offer me songs and artists that I have not yet heard. And best of all, Pandora does it all for free!

ebrary - My days of haggling for inter-library loans and bemoaning the paucity of sources at Liberty's library are now over at last! ebrary (it's supposed to be all in lowercase, for those who may gleefully believe that they have caught me in an error) has thousands upon millions of sources available online, full-text. I can read entire books on it! It's like netlibrary, a former love of mine, on steroids!

Book Hunter - This is an app that I downloaded for Mackie from the Apple site. It allows me to catalog all of my books, including library books, in an organized, easy-to-search format. If I give it nothing but a title, it finds all the publication info on each book, plus a photo of the cover. I can insert a location for each book, so now finding any one of my books is a piece of cake.

Some things, like movies and music, reached their golden age many years ago; and the older versions are nearly always better than the new. For the computer and all these deliciously delightful apps and add-ons; conversely, the best is yet to come! I can't wait to see what research tools will be at my disposal in ten years. These gifts come with a caution - we must not allow technology to make us stupider. Too much dependence on a good thing, like spellcheck, can result in lazier, stupider people. For example, texting and IMing are killing the writing skills of young people today.

So, we must use these technological gifts wisely. While I adore the new research tools and options, I am careful not to completely abandon the old ways. While I let Zotero help me out with citations, I do so with a complete knowledge of how to do Turabian formatting. If zotero (Heaven forbid!) ever made a citation error, I would be able to recognize and correct it. If I lost all these blessings of modern technology (you know, like in the event of China wiping out American computers with a massive virus), I would still be able to function quite well. I would be despondent, but I could still get by adequately.

Time to get back to work - researching on ebrary, using Firefox, with Pandora serenading me in the background and Safari running a simultaneous search on Google Scholar. Who needs a man when they have technology?! (That was a joke, people. Put down the pitchforks!)

Sunset over Lynchburg

We had a stunningly vibrant sunset last night, so I ran to grab the camera after taking Jasper out for his "evening constitutional." Sorry to disappoint anyone who was hoping to read more today - this is all you get. Two posts of pictures, and not much else! Today is dedicated to research, research, and more research. I'm trying to find out more about SOE (Britain's Special Operations Executive) in the low countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) and the Balkans. So far, I'm not having a whole lot of luck, since the vast majority of sources focus on SOE's work in France. Well, back to the grindstone!

Hand Pictures for Mom and Dad

If you're sick of hearing about my hand, don't bother to look at this post. I just wanted to post a few pictures for my parents, since they live twelve hours away and haven't seen what my hand looks like. Being parents, they've been curious.

Yesterday I iced my hand for about two hours, and I noticed today that the bump is now slightly smaller and the colors are a little less vibrant than they were. I'll ice it more today and see if there's any further improvement. The first photo is closer to how the colors actually look; in the second, the flash paled them a bit, but the bump is a bit more visible.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Good News for a Change

The doctor called a little while ago with the results from the x-rays and, thank goodness, my hand is not broken after all. I apparently have a large blood clot pressing down on nerves and veins. The doctor's office said that I am to keep my hand splinted for another two to three weeks, and they want me to consider physical therapy. Physical therapy is too expensive, so I'm just going to go the cheap route and pick up a stress ball.

In other good news, my ROTC lab got cancelled today and the neighbors' dog either passed out from lack of air or died, so now I have more time to get reading done, and peace in which to do it. Time to brew some tea and get to work!

Some Animals Do Not Deserve to Live

Normally, I truly love animals. I adore dogs especially, particularly my quirky boy, my parents' two princesses, and sister's little diva. I enjoy watching birds flit about from tree to tree. I think squirrels and chipmunks are amusing. I chuckle whenever I see beavers or badgers (long story). I even like cats, despite being miserably allergic to them. There are, in short, very few animals that I do not like. On the short list of my despised animals, rabbits, insects, jellyfish (and their Portuguese cousins), gibbons, and my new neighbors' dog are the only ones that come to mind. That afore-mentioned dog is currently at the top of the list.

This defective, evil creature (perhaps spawned by Satan himself) has been the bane of my existence today. I slept poorly owing to my hand, which seemed to hurt more than usual after both the hour of swimming and the visit to the doctor yesterday. So, I did not at all appreciate it when the spazoid creature from you-know-where starting barking NONSTOP (without even pausing to breathe) from 6:00 in the morning until I left at 8:20 for my x-ray appointment. When I got back, the dog was still barking, and even Jasper was clearly growing tired of it. The miserable beast has barked and whined steadily ever since. We're talking three straight hours of barking, with only intermittent, blessed pauses. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get any reading or writing done with that cacophony of noise going on?! I am strongly considering writing a note to the owners and posting it on their door. Honestly, it would bless me immeasurably if God would strike this cursed creature dead right now. Considering how much I normally love dogs, you know this is one abnormal, annoying, horrendous little brute.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Dilemma of the Hand

Today, after much coaxing from my mother and two of my medic friends, I went to the clinic at Liberty to have my hand looked at. Admittedly, I was growing concerned - my pinky still keeps going numb if I take the splint off, the hand is still swollen, the pain is still intense, and my hand is still various shades of blue and purple with pale fingers. When the nurse responded to the sight of my hand with a concerned/surprised "Oh," I became a bit more concerned. When the doctor had the exact same response, I knew nothing good was coming.

The general opinion of the learned medical community thus far is that the hand is most likely broken. I had figured that since my fingers still move correctly, everything was pretty much okay, but that does not seem to be the case. I'm going in for an x-ray tomorrow to find out for certain whether or not this is a break. If it is . . . I'm not letting myself think about that option, actually. I think I have enough things to fret about without sticking something scary like that on my "worry platter."

In happier news, I at least found a form of exercise that doesn't cause intense, eye-watering pain. For PT today, I was allowed to swim for the hour. The water felt quite good for my ankle, and only a little painful for my hand. So, I think I'm going to start swimming each day to try to get back on track for weight loss and getting into the correct physical shape. Hopefully, it will be enough.

For those who were wondering, yes, I am still doing the 5k on Saturday. I will be walking the course, however, instead of running it. The ankle is much better, but still not good enough to run long distances.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Shift in Thinking and Behavior

I realized today just how differently graduate students think and behave compared with undergraduates and schoolchildren. I found the differences both interesting and amusing. Here are just a few differences that I noted:

1. Reaction to delays and cancellations. Schoolchildren and undergraduates generally respond to snow days or two-hour delays in the same fashion: "Hurray! No school!" They whoop, they cheer, and then they have a marvelous, often lazy day. Graduate students (the majority of them) respond to this situation in this way: "NO NO NO!!!!! Don't you DARE cancel school after all those sleepless nights I spent reading all these books and writing this paper! I WILL present this material today!" Snow days are not bright beacons of happiness to graduate students; rather, they are an insult heaped upon the injury of hours upon hours of research. Rather than celebrate, the typical grad student responds to cancellations and delays by using the time to read more, or to rewrite their latest paper again.

2. Relationship with sleep. Undergraduates sleep through classes, sleep in and skip classes, and sleep rather than study (okay, most seniors don't, but the majority of the underclassmen do). Schoolchildren, likewise, value sleep over study. To a graduate student, sleep (and, in fact, most bodily functions), is more like taking time get an oil change - it's a hindrance that must occasionally be given in to, but it gets put off as much as possible. There are various maxims that the other grad students and I gaily toss about: "Sleep is for sissies!" "You can sleep when you die!" "Read more, sleep less." As a result, the undergraduates are a well-rested, laughing bunch with a desire for parties and socialization, whereas we grads are a bunch of gaunt, pale creatures with bags under our eyes who go about discussing authors and experts as though they were our significant others.

3. Relationship with research. Undergraduates and schoolchildren use encyclopedias, dictionaries, and (shudder) Wikipedia, and consider that to be sufficient research. Occasionally they may visit a library and use a few books (some may even use a sizable stack of books). Not so with graduates! We occasionally darken the door of a library, but usually only to pick up our inter-library loans (books we have asked much bigger libraries to send to our nearest library for our use). Generally, we are hunkered down in front of computers, devouring as much as we can from our primary sources of nourishment: JSTOR, ProQuest, ebrary, Google Scholar, Netlibrary . . . dictionaries and encyclopedias are but a fond memory. If we're not hunkered in front of a computer, we're sneezing in dusty archives, reading primary sources that most people don't even know exist. We deal with sources that must be translated, tracking down out-of-print books, and trying to decipher rare manuscripts.

I write this not to make schoolchildren or undergraduates look bad, but to highlight the difference in thinking and behavior that happens to a person once they reach the higher echelons of education. Also, it is a good explanation for why schoolchildren and undergraduates are so much better looking and healthier than graduate students - they live to live, we live to research. Sometimes I miss the good ole days!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Latest Quirks of Jasper

Jasper has attained a few new quirks since we moved back to Virginia. For one thing, he absolutely loves my aloe lotion. Any time I put it on my feet or legs, Jasper spends the next ten minutes thoroughly licking it off. Occasionally he stares longingly at the bottle, whimpering piteously until I put a little on. The funny thing is, he never touches the bottle - he just wants to lick the lotion off of me!

Another recent fetish of Jasper is his current mania for dryer sheets. He steals them out of the laundry basket or the dryer, carries them around, then rolls on them for long periods of time. Tonight he is lavender-scented and completely static-free, as he just finished rolling over two dryer sheets for about twenty minutes. I did a little checking just to be safe, and learned that both the lotion and the dryer sheets are completely harmless, so Jasper can continue to enjoy both to his heart's content.

Jasper's love of small, confined spaces has grown stronger recently. He now uses both side tables in my living room as "caves," in which he likes to hide both himself and some of his favorite toys and bones. Of course, the recliner is still the favored "bone yard," but now we have supplemental "bone yards" under the tables (apparently, one was not enough). Jasper has finally decided that I am trustworthy, so he no longer panics and retrieves his bones when I use the recliner; instead, he prefers to take naps underneath it while I'm sitting in it. Twice yesterday, I trapped Jasper underneath the chair without realizing it, and did not learn of my mistake either time until I heard scratching coming from under the chair. He was completely unhurt. Today Jasper yearned for something different, so he stole one of my throw blankets, carried it up to the recliner, and then made himself a nest in the seat of it. It was rather amusing to watch.

Jasper also has a new nighttime activity. Rather than crawl straight into his bed like he used to, he now prefers to spend half of the night under my bed, where, I learned today, he has a hidden stash of about half a dozen used dryer sheets. Honestly, sometimes I wonder if this quirky little creature is really a dog!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Nothing Says "I Love You" Like an LSD-Addicted Frog

Walking through my local Kroger during a grocery run yesterday evening, two things struck me: 1. The nausea quotient of Valentine's Day, which I had thought already reached the top, has discovered new heights this year, and 2. Judging by some of the gifts being sold, people seem to express their love in exceedingly odd ways these days.

First, I should explain why I, a sane single woman, was even walking down the valentine aisle in the first place. I have a ROTC girls' party coming up in just over a week, which involves a "white elephant" gift exchange. I thought something in the way of chocolate might make a good gift to give, so I meandered over to the aisle which would be most likely to have the most options. Unfortunately, after that brief tour of "The Aisle of Love," I was too revolted to make any purchases from that aisle. I think I'll buy the gift after this pink and red holiday passes (goodness, even the colors they use for that day are sickening when put together).

Now onto what I saw. Apparently, this year, you can now express your undying love for that special someone with these unique (and tasteless) gifts:

1. A blue bug-eyed frog with a stupefied, almost soporific expression on its face, and its little tongue hanging out, apparently from the effects of some hypnotic drug. In his arms, he dazedly cradles a heart that bears the plaintive request "kiss me" (sorry bud, you're just not my type). If you squeeze this little fellow's arm, he starts playing a very loud rap song, encumbered with poor grammar and words which, contrary to current popular belief, do not actually exist in the English language.

2. A very creepy monkey with an almost sadistic expression on his face, who clutches a heart with the ominous phrase "You're Mine" written on it in bold letters. Ah, finally, the perfect gift for the girl who issued the restraining order against you last week!

3. A ginormous, sugar and chemical-laden, hypnotically-colorful lollipop in the shape of a rare flower never seen in nature. Nothing says "I love you" like carcinogens and diabetic coma!

4. The world's ugliest headband. I thought at first it was meant for a child, but upon closer (shudder!) examination, I discovered it to be too large for a child's head (unless, of course, your child is that huge baby The Enquirer likes to put on their front cover whenever they run out of new rumors to start). This hideous creation featured a HUGE gaudy red sequined heart coming off the side of it. In the first place, as I already mentioned, it is beyond ugly. In the second place, I'm scared of the traffic accidents that could result from drivers distracted by the huge heart coming out of some woman's head.

There were many other valentine atrocities that I saw in that aisle; thankfully, I have miraculously blocked them out of my mind, and thus will no longer be tormented by the memory of any of them.

Honestly, folks, I have nothing against the principle of Valentine's Day. A day of tangibly demonstrating your love for someone is certainly a great concept. Of course, I believe that if you truly love someone, you shouldn't need a holiday to demonstrate your love (you should be doing it every day), but that's another matter. In principle, Valentine's Day is wonderful. In practice, however . . . ick. Whatever happened to just writing someone a letter, extolling the reasons why you love them? A person can read your words a hundred times, and be reminded each time of your love. Or, if you absolutely must express your feelings through the practice of spending money, why not give a gift that truly reflects the person you love, rather than giving them some cheap stuffed creature that is just going to wind up being sold at a future garage sale (although, stuffed animals are very easy to burn in the instance of a break-up, and are often a great anger-releaser for the bitter, newly-single girl). Yes, it's the thought that counts. That said, if the thought results in a tasteless, bug-eyed frog that raps, do you really want that thought to count?

Stephanie in Uniform

Let it not be said that Stephanie ignores requests. Several people have been bugging me to post pictures of myself in uniform, so here you go. It's too bad you can't see my awesome bun; I finally figured out how to do them properly with my disobedient mass of hair (it's a time-consuming process involving patience, coconut oil, about a hundred bobby pins, and at least two muttered "blast you"s). While my uniform is far from flattering, it is very comfortable, for which I am duly grateful. Normally the cap is not worn inside a building, but I knew people wanted shots of the whole "get-up". My favorite part of the uniform is all the pockets; I would feel rather silly carrying a purse while dressed in this particular uniform, so the pockets are a godsend. The left-hand splint (not pictured), of course, is not a normal feature of the US Army uniform, however, with my luck, it may wind up being a normal feature of the Stephanie US Army uniform.

In case you were wondering why no recipe or photos were posted of yesterday's muffin experiment, the lack thereof is deliberate, not an oversight. The "apple bran biscuits," as I nicknamed the outcome of the experiment, tasted okay but had an unpleasant texture. Part of the problem was the lack of brown sugar, since even the Splenda version involves actual sugar; another problem was the fact that I had to use a dough hook on my mixer to mix the creation, since my appropriate attachment had to be thrown away owing to peeling and old age. The third, and biggest problem, was the difficulty in baking with one hand injured - I found peeling apples, in particular, to be exceptionally painful. I'll have to try that idea again later, when I have the proper equipment and two good hands.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

And the Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down . . .

And it cancelled PT again! Thanks to the freezing rain last night, Liberty had a two-hour delay yet again (this makes two days in a row), so PT was cancelled. Considering the shape I'm still in, I was rather relieved to not have to get up at 0445 and work out at LU at 0550. Obviously those in charge are planning to go easy on me for awhile, but even so, I was worried about working out again so soon, and puzzled as to what on earth I would even be able to do! Since I don't want to undo all the good work I was accomplishing from my workouts before my injury, I am going to start doing some low-key stuff on my Wii Fit today, and then start using the pool either tomorrow or Friday (thank you, Liberty, for building that lovely state-of-the-art workout facility).

The hand is looking a little better today. After being iced all day yesterday, some of the swelling has gone down (although it is still a bit swollen) and I have feeling back in my fingers. My thumb still gets periods of numbness, but not as much as yesterday. Obviously, the pain is still pretty bad. Last night I got the second migraine of 2010 (the first came on Sunday), so I had to dope up a bit on migraine meds, which meant that I slept really well for a change - actually, I slept a little too well. I woke up at 1200! I guess my body needed it, but it sure was strange to look at the clock and realize that that much valuable reading time was gone.

I had another terrific find at the store on Monday (the infamous Walmart trip where the woman slammed into my hand), which simply must be shared. As my readers all know, I am diligently sticking to this sugar-free lifestyle, which is not without its share of challenges. On Monday afternoon, I am sorry to say, I made the decision to break free for a moment and indulge in a small bag of peanut M&Ms. As I replied when Dr. Saxon, who knows of my sugar-free ways, questioned this choice: "To heck with health; I've had a horrible day and I want chocolate!" The little indulgence made me feel a little better, so I think it was worth it (just that once). When I went to Walmart that night, I still really wanted something sweet. To be specific, I desperately longed for one of my favorite comfort foods, banana pudding. Now there are two problems with that craving: 1. I cannot have bananas because they are too high on the glycemic index, and 2. The vanilla wafers used in banana pudding contain a great deal of sugar. I knew that I had a box of sugar-free banana pudding mix at home, but without the bananas and vanilla wafers, it just wouldn't seem right. Saddened, I walked through the cookie aisle, pausing to gaze wistfully at the vanilla wafers, sitting there taunting me with their unattainable deliciousness . . . when "what to my wondering eyes should appear" but a box of sugar-free vanilla wafers! Kudos to Murray brand for making life a little sweeter for us sugarless folk! I also discovered, to my surprise, that shredded coconut is not as laden with sugar as I had supposed, so I can have some in moderation. Thus fortified, I went home and made my pudding. It was banana-less, but still very delicious since it still had the other key components.

Today seems the perfect day for another experiment in the kitchen. I have a deep fondness for muffins, which I have been unable to have since there is a paucity of healthy muffin recipes that fit my rigid dietary standards. So, I have resolved to create my own whole-wheat, sugar-free apple bran muffin recipe. We shall see how it goes. If the muffins come out well, I will post pictures and a recipe. If not . . . well, there's always Jasper, my furry garbage disposal. I'm sure he'll gratefully make use of any flops!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Need a Hand?

My hand began to concern me a bit yesterday, as it resumed swelling after two hours of being iced and turned purple around the knuckles. Also, my thumb went numb. Worried, but uninsured, I called my sister for advice (she's a nurse) and she told me that I needed to get a splint for my hand and refrain from using it. This was easier said than done.

My problem was that my car was still buried, and I was down to one good hand and one steady foot (remember the swollen, twisted ankle). So, thus impaired, I valiantly managed to beat the snow and ice off of my little car. It took me half an hour and cost me the life of my snow brush (it just couldn't handle the ice). I then ran into another problem: I couldn't get the car out of the parking space, owing to the pile of snow behind the back wheels. With no shovel, I couldn't dig my way out, and applying the gas pedal just made my tires spin. Desperate and in almost unbearable pain from jostling my hand and ankle (not to mention the pain from the two banged-up knees), I called the office at my building to see if maintenance would come help me, or just spare a shovel. Chivalry, evidently, is now decomposed in its unmarked grave: the terse reply was that if they did it for one person, they'd have to do it for everyone. Somehow I doubt anyone in the apartment complex feeling jealous of maintenance loaning a shovel to a nearly-crippled single woman, but they could not be prevailed upon. At this point, I felt about as alone and friendless as I have ever felt.

I waited inside for a few hours, hoping that the sun would melt some of the snow, and worrying about what would happen if I were unable to get out in time for class. I don't know any of my fellow graduate students very well yet, so there was no one to call for a ride or a tow. I considered calling a taxi, but realized that I only had two dollars in cash at the moment. Taking the bus was also out of the question, since I would have had to walk all the way to the bus stop, and considering all the black ice and that injured foot, there was no way I was going to attempt that. It was a pretty miserable two hours, spent worrying, trying to ignore the intense physical pain, and feeling completely uncared for and unseen.

Fortunately, the sun did come to my aid, and I was eventually able to back out over the snow, applying more pressure than I have ever used on the gas pedal. I went straight to Kroger, where I found a comfortable splint for my poor left hand (which was swollen, purple, and hideous at this point). I stopped at a Subway to get a footlong sub for my lunch and dinner, knowing that cooking would be very difficult to do with only one hand. Then I went to Liberty, where I spent the next nine hours making up the canceled appointments from last week and attending two classes. My professors were very sweet to me, offering to help me to my car and such. Being cared about was a tremendous and much-needed tonic for my mood.

After class, I picked up some more groceries at my much-hated local Walmart (we have more bad weather on the way, so I was concerned about getting snowed-in again, plus I needed some things that would be easier to prepare in my present physical state), where I was reaffirmed in my opinion that, except on Liberty's campus, chivalry is now a rotting corpse. People ignored my obvious limp and stepped right in front of me, nearly tripping me twice, and one woman even smacked right into my splinted left hand in her exuberant need to grab a can of vegetables RIGHT NOW (clearly, she would have died from malnutrition if she waited for me to move). She didn't even have the decency to apologize when I gasped and recoiled in pain from her collision with me. I don't want to get on a soapbox here, but why are people so selfish that they impede or further injure an obviously already-injured person just to fulfill their own wants a little quicker? Since when did speed supersede kindness, mercy, and general politeness as a virtue?

I came home, examined my throbbing hand, and found that the collision at Walmart increased the swelling a bit. My thumb had gone numb again, so I removed the splint to see if it were a factor. This increased the pain, so after an hour of no improvement in my thumb, I put the splint back on. I slept fitfully, the pain in the hand consistently waking me up. Pain medication did a little to help, but not enough. Today, there is no improvement. It is still an ugly, swollen, incredibly painful appendage. Typing this entry has taken forever, since I am typing one-handed. Don't expect any more long posts for a few days, dear readers!

I typed this post not to complain and whine about how much pain I'm in, but to bring attention to something that has been troubling me for quite some time: the complete disregard that so many people have for others. People seem to think that they are islands, whose actions affect only themselves, and whose cares and energies should be directed only toward themselves. My friends, this is an unacceptable way to live. The smallest action on your part has the potential to substantially impact someone else. You have no way of knowing just what effect each action you take will have. For heaven's sake, please show just a smidgeon of concern for others, and help me in my determined battle against this distressing trend of selfishness. Your personal convenience should NEVER supersede someone else's well-being. If spending one minute waiting your turn patiently means not injuring someone else, then isn't it obvious which choice you should make?

A little over a week ago, two men gave up twenty minutes of their time to do what they probably thought was just a good deed - digging out my car for me. They had no idea that I was feeling depressed and lonely that day, and their actions suddenly reminded me that God was looking out for me, and that I had no reason or right to be sad. They had no idea that one action on their part made them heroes to someone with a need. At Liberty last night, one of my professors spent less than ten seconds of his time opening a water bottle for me when he noticed me struggling with it. He had no idea how much such a simple action helped: it made me feel that someone cared, it spared me further pain, and it allowed me to take pain medication, thus sparing even more pain about twenty minutes later. By contrast, one rude woman caused me so much pain that driving home was a living nightmare. Undoubtedly, she also is partially to blame for the trouble I had in sleeping. I used myself only for these examples, but obviously, these actions would have been very similar in result no matter whom they happened to. The point is, these small, seemingly insignificant actions do have significance, and have a ripple effect.

So, I am issuing a challenge to both you, my readers, and even to myself. Though I do make a conscientious effort to show kindness and consideration to others, as I know many of my readers do also, there is always room for improvement. The world is being overrun by people who care only about themselves - just read some of those t-shirts if you want further evidence of the kind of "virtues" being extolled today ("It's all about me," "My way or no way," "Princess," etc.). Let's rebel! Let's all go out and think about others, and be a counter-cultural movement of people not motivated by selfish desire alone. Let's make the boorish people the outcasts, and run circles of consideration around them. And please, if ever you see someone limping or otherwise impaired, or just someone who could use a hand, don't be hindered by this modern ideal of treating them the same as everyone else - spit in the face of modern thinking and hold the door open for them. Hand them the box they're trying to reach on the top shelf. Pick up the pencil they just dropped. Loan them a shovel. Dig out their car. Smile and ask if they need a ride to their car. Acknowledge that they exist.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pictures from Today's Catastrophe

Here are two photos of today's great "accomplishments". In the first, I tried valiantly to get a good shot showing all the colors in my hand, but this was the best I could do. It was much more swollen earlier, but I iced it for two hours and got it down to this size (which is still pretty swollen). In person, it looks even more impressive. In the second picture, you can clearly see the size difference between my two ankles - and this is also following two hours of icing and elevating. I think a little of the swelling has gone down in my ankle from how it was at first.

Of all my injuries, the hand (and wrist) is definitely the one that hurts the most. I have to do all my typing with only my right hand, and even just the weight of my sweatshirt sleeve causes considerable pain. My elbow is also sporting a very nice bump and bruise, as is my shin. The knees are still sore from being scraped, but don't seem to be bruising.

Ice and snow-2, Stephanie-0

Tromp, tromp, tromp, whoooosh - "Aaaahhhh!" Splat! "Ouch!" Tromp, tromp, tr-"Ahhhh!" Thwack! Thud! "Ohhhhh . . ."

If this were an old-time radio program, those would be the sound effects for early this morning (about 4:45 am) when I went out to dig out my car so that I could make it to Liberty for my first PT test. As you may have already guessed, I now have an excellent excuse for still being at home, and missing my test.

It started out innocently enough, just as these things always do. I got up at 4:15 (the test is/was at 5:30), showered, dressed, then decided that it would be very wise to get Flavia dug out from her snowy captivity before having breakfast. After all, like the good little cadet that I am, I did not want to be late, even though I was dreading the test.

My apartment complex, unfortunately, does not shovel the steps to the side of the building, where my apartment is (this is not a complaint against them, just an explanation - most complexes wouldn't shovel that area). So, I began my morning escapade with a short trip down the steps. That was fine, actually - there is enough snow there that I just twisted my knee a little. I laughed at myself, then headed for the main sidewalk and . . . the patch of ice that I never saw. That would be the "whoooooosh". I did a grand little slide on the unseen ice, landing directly on my knees, on the sidewalk (which, by the way, had been shoveled). No snow cushion there, so my knees got nicely skinned up. Still, I felt safe continuing on my mission . . .

That's where the second "Ahhhh!" and the thwack come in. My left food got caught in one of the huge piles of snow surrounding my car, as I was using my brush to try to break the heavy snow and ice off of the windshield. I did a grand little pirouette, neatly twisting my bad ankle, then finished my routine by smacking my left hand into the mirror, and then hitting the ground. Had this been a 1920's slapstick film, it would have been very funny. I can well imagine Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton doing the exact same thing that I did. The big difference, of course, is the finish. Either of them would have walked jauntily away, and then probably conclude by getting nearly hit by a train. I, on the other hand, was in too much pain to walk, so I did sort of a crawl all the way back up to my apartment.

Now let's go over the list of injuries from today, keeping in mind that the day is yet young, with plenty of time still for me to get hit by a falling anvil, or some other such additional delight. Now, apparently the fall down the steps was not completely injury-less: I think that is where I attained the bump on my left elbow. From the ice, I have two skinned up knees and a bump on my shin. From the grand finale, I have a twisted, swollen ankle and a very patriotic left hand. The back of my entire left hand is swollen, as well as red and blue. The injury which hurts and looks the worst, so far, is definitely the hand. It's positively a work of art! I'll have to take a picture later to show just how gorgeous this hand is.

I think I have earned the right to spend the morning back in bed.

No Need for Bookmarks!

Do you think Jasper is trying to tell me to focus on someone furry rather than on the English middle class during 1780-1850?

The Best Way to Serve Asparagus

According to my dad, the answer to this would be "not at all," but I definitely disagree. Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables, and I have about a dozen ways that I like to fix it. This is probably my favorite:

First, make sure that you buy the best asparagus. Contrary to what some people may believe, you DO NOT want the fattest stalks. Go for the longest, skinniest stalks that you can find - these will have the best flavor and texture. Farmers' markets and roadside stands at farms are the best places to get good asparagus, of course, but you can still find some palatable stalks in your local grocery store.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Lightly spread some olive oil on a cookie sheet. After rinsing your asparagus stalks thoroughly and chopping off about one inch of the bottom (this section has little flavor), line up the stalks side by side on the cookie sheet. You'll want to place them as close together as possible without being on top of one another. Next, slice up a large white or yellow onion. Spread the rings so that they cover the asparagus. Sprinkle on some minced garlic (a staple in my kitchen), a generous amount of parsley, some sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. I like to sprinkle a bit of six pepper blend on next, but some people (such as my mother) may find this too spicy for them. Next, sprinkle on some crumbled feta (another staple for me) and some shredded parmesan (the powdery Kraft stuff is okay, but it will not taste nearly as delicious). Bake this delightful concoction in the oven for 18 minutes. Since I love baked onions, I go nuts over this dish!

I do not recommend serving this if you have plans to kiss anyone immediately after eating, as the garlic and onions will give you horrible breath. If you're worried about your breath, chew a fresh sprig of parsley after eating, then gargle with mouthwash with a teaspoon of baking soda mixed in.

This is what it should look like before going into the oven. I forgot to photograph it again after it came out, as I was too eager to consume it!

Graduate Textbooks: Facts and Advice for Future Grad Students

Many incoming graduate students worry about the amount of reading and other work that will be required of them. Obviously, I can only answer for the history graduate students. Below is a modest estimate of the amount of reading you can expect to do each semester:
The first stack are just the books required for the three classes that I am taking. The second (slighter shorter) stack is just the books that I am using for my two largest papers. As my two largest papers are on the same topic (this is perfectly acceptable as one is an argumentative paper, and the other is a bibliographical paper), I am using the same books for both papers. Otherwise, this second stack would be twice as tall as it is already. Actually, these are not even all of the books that I'll be using for those papers; another ten books have yet to arrive through interlibrary loan. Also, keep in mind that these are just the secondary sources; for the argumentative paper, I have a whole stack of primary sources which I will be using.

Graduate textbooks, as you may have already figured out, represent a significant financial investment in addition to the time investment. This semester alone, my books have totaled over $1,000 - and many of them are used. In order to progress in the field of history, one must compile a sizable personal library. This means that history grad students do not have the luxury of just borrowing our textbooks - we need to get good copies that we can keep to build up our libraries for the future. Not all of the books will used in our future careers, of course, but they are good to hold onto regardless. Since the books are such a large financial investment, I have found a few ideas for other uses of textbooks, in order to make them more cost-efficient:

For those with indoor pets, graduate textbooks can be used to build an attractive doghouse for your pet's enjoyment.

Did your graduate textbooks deplete your furniture budget? Not to worry; textbooks can be used in a myriad of attractive and functional furniture designs, such as the table and chair seen above.

Ever wonder what could possibly be more fun than building a house of cards? Building a house of textbooks, of course! Think of all the money you'll save on entertainment. No more dull Saturday nights!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Piece of Childhood

The first book that I ever read, besides of course short and silly favorites like Dr.Seuss, was called The Christmas Dog. I remember that my mother read it to me once, and then I battled my way through it (I was only 5 or 6, and the book is 64 pages long) until I had read it all by myself. I was so proud that I didn't need help. It was like all the mysteries and spells of the English language were broken in the reading of that one book. Suddenly, I could read anything and everything (and believe me, I did). The Christmas Dog remained my favorite for a few years, and remains in my thoughts to this day. My enjoyment of the book even went beyond reading it; I reenacted it so many times as a child, that I still have the entire story-line memorized!

Somehow or other, my copy of this book was lost somewhere around my fourth or fifth grade years. I felt the loss of the book acutely - it was like losing the very dear friend who gave me the world. After all, it was this book that gave me that last necessary key to open the world of reading. I searched in vain, but I never found my book (partly owing to the fact that I could not remember the name of the author, and partly because other books exist with the same title). Over the many years that passed, I never forgot my book either.

Repeatedly, as an adult, I made efforts to find this book once again. I tried libraries, bookstores, online; no one had heard of this book. Last week, I found myself unable to get this book out of my mind. Various things kept reminding me: the snow, which features prominently in the book, hearing someone say the name of one of the characters, even just seeing my own dog. I knew that I just had to locate that very special book.

So, using some of the excellent research tools at my disposal, I began to hunt down my book. An hour later, I located a record of it: The Christmas Dog by Jan M. Robinson, written in 1969, now out of print. I searched and searched through used books online until finally, I found a copy of my book for sale. Yesterday, it arrived. I didn't have time to read it or look at it very much then, so I put it on the table to admire later. Today, as I sat down to breakfast, I pulled out my book and opened it to glance through at the still-familiar illustrations I have not seen in over fifteen years. The inside cover gave me a tremendous shock:

Written in black ink are my initials. I don't know for certain if this is the same copy I once owned, but it is possible. Even if it isn't, it's still a remarkable coincidence. This book and I were meant to be together.

Comfort Food for the Snowed-in Student

Today I hit upon two ideas so delicious that I am at a loss to explain how they never before entered my mind. And, of course, both were healthy and nearly sugar-free.

The first was a delightful little mid-morning snack that hit the spot so well, I had to have it again for my lunch. It is such a simple idea, too! I mixed sugar-free tapioca pudding with sugar-free vanilla pudding, and then added sliced-up strawberries. Ambrosia in a bowl! Why did I never before think of this? Another treat that I'll be indulging in tomorrow is the Jello that I fixed. No, not your typical boring Jello. I like to mix one package of the sugar-free cranberry with a package of sugar-free raspberry, and then add real fruit. In this instance, I put in pre-pitted sweet cherries (all berries are low on the glycemic index, thus making them a dietary staple for me).

For dinner, I had teriyaki pork loin that I cooked in my crockpot for about five hours. It was so tender and moist that the meat practically disintegrated on the fork! Teriyaki sauce is usually sugary, but I learned today that it still comes out very well using agave nectar. My usual sweeteners are Sweet 'n Low for coffee and tea, and Splenda for everything else. Agave nectar is better, and has the wonderful attributes of not affecting blood sugar at all, as well as being 100% natural and good for you. Unfortunately, it is also expensive and difficult to find. I try to reserve it for special dishes. Today, as I am once again snowed-in, I felt it was a great day for using agave nectar.

Tomorrow, I'm planning to fix a sugar-free stir-fry for my lunch. The great thing about stir-frying is that you can use up any leftover meats, and nearly all vegetables do well when cooked this way. Now, sadly, I can no longer have carrots or baby corn in my stir-fries, but there are a whole host of other vegetables at my disposal. Carrots and baby corn (or any corn), obviously, are too high on the glycemic index - both are pure starch and not only affect blood sugar, but also entice the body into putting on more weight. Raw carrots are okay in moderation, but they lose all nutritive value when cooked. To play it safe, I just gave them up altogether. The benefits found in raw carrots can also be found in other vegetables which are lower on the glycemic index, as well as being more versatile (i.e. you can cook them without losing nutritive value).

Aside from eating comfort foods and indulging in a DVD, today was also a great day for getting some of my reading done. One of my professors, sadly, has an apparent desire to kill off students by means of the books he has chosen. The past two were so dull that they made me want to stick my head in the oven (which really would have done no good, since I have an electric oven, but I'm sure you catch my meaning). The most recent book, a work on consumer society during Fin-de-Siecle France, seems a bit more promising so far, for which I am duly grateful. My other professors, thankfully, have been far kinder in their reading choices, choosing books which are both informative as well as interesting.

Tomorrow, I will be focusing my reading efforts on some of the books I'm using for my largest paper of the semester. As the paper is over a topic that I find fascinating (the work of Britain's Special Operations Executive during WWII), I am looking forward to delving deep into research. I'll come up for air long enough for meals, but I intend to get 10-12 hours of research under my belt tomorrow, as opposed to my usual 6-8 hours. Yes, I really spend that much time reading each day, AND still find time to cook, clean, do DIY projects, get in shape for the Army, spend time with Jasper, and maintain my blog. What can I say, I'm Superwoman! Or, I don't have cable, have no social life, and have given up on the luxury of 8 hours of sleep per night.

Well, time to indulge in a little me-time. I have a Victorian novel and a hot bath waiting. Fin-de-Siecle France can get by without me for awhile - I'll pick it up again on Sunday.

UPDATE: I just learned that I spent the day reading the wrong book - the one I read won't be used for another week. Great; now I have another book to read: the correct one!

Mob Mentality, Experienced from the Middle

I've often read about mob mentality and the breakdown of social order. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to experience it firsthand, from somewhere inside the middle of the mob. I saw horrible things that will likely haunt my dreams for several nights to come, and barely emerged from the experience with my life. Yes, that's right, I bravely went grocery shopping at Walmart in preparation for a weekend that will likely be spent snowed-in.

No grocery shopping experience can compare to the adventure one has down south when there is about to be snow. People go absolutely stark raving mad, and forget all about such things as etiquette. Not since the last time I endured a fair have I witnessed so much rudeness and shoving. You'd think that the safety and security of the free world depended on attaining the last loaf of bread!

Walmart, which normally carries just about everything, was marked by a notable absence of food and an over-abundance of people. I was pushed one way and then another as I tried to steer my cart through the insanity without crushing any of the many unattended children. I walked in shock past the empty center displays, which usually hold liter after liter of soda, and large quantities of sugary snacks. The large bin which ordinarily overflows with eggs now only held about six remaining cartons, two of which were missing eggs. I was able to grab one full carton before being shoved away by yet another offensively ill-mannered patron.

From there, I went in search of my favorite low-sugar yogurt, with no luck. The yogurt section was COMPLETELY empty, save for a Michael Jackson calender that someone had apparently changed his or her mind about, and had lazily stuffed into the refrigerated section. Two lone cartons of orange juice huddled together further down, apparently hoping to find safety in numbers. The cheese section looked as if it had been attacked by an angry horde of machete-wielding guerrillas - loose cheese was everywhere, and a non-abused package was hard to locate. Fortunately, I am evidently the only person in the area who uses fat-free cheddar in her cooking, as that row of packages had managed to survive the Great Cheese Slaughter of 2010.

The cereal aisle had fared little better than the cheese section. The afore-mentioned hostile machete-wielding guerrillas had been there, too. Loose cereal littered the aisle, as did what I first assumed to be blood, but then discovered was red juice. Once again, my healthy taste in food was lucky for me - all of the bran flakes had survived unscathed. I bypassed the tribal warfare taking place in the cookie aisle (a few people were having a heated argument over ownership of the last box of a particular brand of cookie), and proceeded to the canned vegetables, which I then wisely decided to also bypass, after witnessing further "war crimes" taking place. I hastily grabbed as many undamaged fruits and vegetables as I could locate in the rapidly diminishing produce section, rescued some whole-wheat double fiber english muffins, and then planned my exit strategy.

Of the forty checkout lanes, naturally, less than half were open (why Walmart has so many checkout lanes just to keep most of them closed is beyond me). The lines were stretched all the way into the clothing section. My cart and I huddled between two racks of blouses and waited exhaustedly for the line to move forward. Finally, I absconded from Walmart, shuddering as I saw the further mass of people heading into the building. As I sank into the comforting embrace of my car, I felt not unlike a POW escaping from Stalag 17.

Overall, my experience at Walmart was eerily similar to witnessing firsthand the German treatment of Poland during the Second World War (the customers were the Germans, and the hapless groceries were the Poles). I'm sure to my northern readers this account may seem fictitious, but believe me, things get crazy down here in Virginia whenever snow lurks on the horizon. I'm glad that I braved the mob, however, as I now am sufficiently stocked to last through the anticipated two feet of snow that we're supposed to get this weekend.

Friday, February 5, 2010

More Weather Woes Ahead!

We have a winter storm expected to hit us late tonight, which they say will lay a layer of ice upon us (again). Then, we have two more FEET of snow predicted for Monday. Which means, I may not be having very many classes next week. Good grief! I never would have imagined that grad school could involve so few classes!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fun with Essential Oils

First of all, I'd like to give some necessary accolades to a business that has earned them. I always believe in supporting ethical businesses (there are so few of them left), and when a business goes above and beyond, I believe in thanking them by a little free word-of-mouth advertising. So here's one big shout out to Mountain Rose Herbs for being a very good, ethical business who can expect more business from me in the future.

If you're wondering what Mountain Rose Herbs is, it's a company based out of Oregon that sells herbs, essential oils, and pretty much everything a DIY-er needs for creating their own products. The first reason to buy from them is their prices - herbs, essential oils, and, particularly, coconut oil are usually quite expensive, but I was able to find everything I needed for good prices. In particular, they sell coconut oil cheaper than any place I have looked. They also carry the apothecary bottles that you need for storing your DIY creations (certain oils need to be kept in dark bottles, for instance), for unbelievably cheap prices. I had a problem with my order of essential oils, in that one of my bottles of lavender had broken during shipping. I immediately emailed SMountain Rose Herbs a picture of the broken bottle and let them know what happened. Within 24 hours, they emailed back an apology and confirmation that they had shipped me a new bottle of lavender. Fast, honest resolving of problems (and quick shipping to begin with) = Stephanie will shop there again. Well done, Mountain Rose Herbs!

Now on to the DIY portion of this post . . .

Having had no prior experience with coconut oil, I was taken aback when I opened the container and found a solid white mass under the lid (I was expecting, well, something that resembled oil). I did a quick search on the internet, where I learned, to my relief, that there was nothing wrong with my oil; coconut oil solidifies in temperatures under 76 degrees fahrenheit. Fortunately, it's very easy to melt coconut oil.

My first creation last night was an all-natural conditioner and hair styling product (2 in 1). For that, I simply mixed coconut oil (melted first) with a few drops of lemongrass essential oil. So simple! This is an excellent conditioner, which left my hair luxuriously soft. I used it immediately following my normal baking soda wash and vinegar conditioning (I thoroughly rinse out the baking soda with water before doing the vinegar rinse - otherwise I would have a science project on my head). Coconut oil is quite possibly the most versatile, healthy oil available. People have been scared off by the high fat content merely because they misunderstand it - not all fats are bad, and there are actually thyroid-stimulating properties in coconut oil which help in weight loss. My coconut oil is the cosmetic quality, meaning that it is great for DIY products, but is not meant to be eaten (it's cheaper than other coconut oil). In the future, after I have a better income, I plan to switch to coconut oil for most of my cooking. Coconut oil is also great for cosmetics and the like; it is gentle and thoroughly moisturizing, not to mention all-natural and healthy for both you and the environment (I'm not a tree-hugger, but I do believe in living responsibly). My coconut oil conditioner can also be used for hair-styling, instead of styling gels or mousse. I used a little bit to help get my hair to stay in a bun for today (I have ROTC lab later today and have to be in full uniform, including my hair).

My other creation was another hair product. I absolutely love it when my hair is smooth, soft, and pleasantly fragrant. So, I made a very simple and effective hair treatment. I just mixed together one ounce of lavender essential oil with half an ounce of rosemary essential oil into an amber-colored apothecary bottle (this is one of those mixtures that requires a darker bottle). When I brush my hair, I use the eye dropper on top of the bottle to drop three or four drops of the oil mixture into the palm of my hand. Then, I rub it onto my hairbrush, and give my hair 100 strokes. The result is another winner. My hair stays smoother, feels softer, and smells heavenly. I did it last night before bed, and the wonderful light smell from the oil mixture was relaxing and calming.

So, there's two more successful DIY experiments! In a few weeks, I'll be trying out the homemade deodorant recipe. By switching to all homemade/natural products for my hair and my deodorant, I estimate that I will be saving about $120 in the next six months. It's not huge, but it's definitely a nice amount for a destitute grad student! Plus, by going this route, I am getting BETTER results than I was when I used all the products I am eliminating: shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, mousse, styling gel, and (eventually) deodorant. Another benefit of going the DIY route on my personal products is that I can customize them: normally, I'm at the mercy of whichever store I'm at or which brand I'm using when it comes to scent. Now I can create my own blends of scents, and pay far less to do it.

A few other products that I plan to start making for myself after I run out of the store-bought stuff:
- All cleaning supplies
- Laundry soap
- Fabric softener
- Lotion
- Facial products

I'm pretty psyched about my emerging DIY lifestyle. Not only does all of this save money, it also cuts down on waste, since I'll be reusing my own containers, and all of the products are proven to be more effective than what one can buy in stores. I can customize the scents of all these products. All of them are safe for pets to be around. Saving money here compensates for the extra money I have to spend on groceries, now that I can no longer buy the cheaper, unhealthier brands. And, personally, I'm finding it a lot of fun making my own stuff!

Chili de EstephaniĆ”

Today marked my first attempt at making chili. I've been wanting to try making it for ages, but just never seemed to find the time before. Since there was no class for me today, it was the perfect opportunity. Three factors made this attempt particularly unique:

1. I have never eaten chili before. That's right, not even once in my entire life. It's hard to believe if you know me now, but I was an exceedingly persnickety and picky child who would eat very little in the way of variety, so I refused to ever try chili. As an adult, I've never really had the opportunity. Of course, I could have had cheap chili from a fast food restaurant, but I knew that if I ever tried it, I would certainly want to try good chili, not a nasty cheap imitation.
2. I decided not to use someone else's recipe. You see, I have an aversion to using other people's recipes for anything. I glance at recipes for guidelines or inspiration, then I always deviate in some way. I like all of my recipes to be my own - sort of like the way a (reputable) writer refuses to copy someone else's work. Now I don't feel that there's anything wrong or lazy in using someone else's recipe (for those who do), I just feel like it takes the fun and the creativity out of cooking (for me). So, for my first chili attempt, I glanced over a friend's recipe to get an idea of what usually goes in the stuff, then I wrote out my own recipe with several changes, additions, and substitutions. I have a pretty good grasp of different foods and spices interact and complement one another, so my method of cooking generally has a high success rate. Once in a while an attempt of mine flops, but even then I benefit, since I always learn from my flops. I like the freedom of being able to throw things together by instinct, rather than being shackled to recipe books.
3. This chili is both beanless and beefless. I do not care for the flavor or the effect of beans, so I opted against using any. And beef, while delicious, is quite high in saturated fat, so I usually reserve it for special occasions. Instead of beef, I chose to use ground turkey. It has a little less flavor than ground beef, but is much healthier, and still tastes quite good. It does cost a little more than ground beef, but sometimes healthiness means paying a little more (not overpaying; there is a difference).

I know that the best chili is supposed to be cooked for a long time, but I didn't really have the patience, so I opted to only cook mine for about an hour. While my chili was cooking, it made my entire apartment smell so enticing that my mouth kept watering! I had a very hard time waiting for it to cool a bit before digging in for that first bite! I even noticed Jasper appreciatively sniffing the air. No, he didn't get to try any chili; I was too concerned that the spiciness might hurt him.

And the result of the chili-making experiment was:

Delicious! I think I could have gone a little further in terms of spiciness, but overall, it was tasty enough to justifying having seconds. I'll have to play around with my recipe some more (maybe this weekend?), but it has definite potential, and is certainly already very enjoyable for the taste-buds. If you'd like to try this chili yourself, here is my recipe:

Chili de EstephaniĆ”

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground turkey
1 chopped red bell pepper
1 chopped green bell pepper
1 finely minced medium yellow onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomato with green chilies (drained)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 tablespoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed sweet basil leaf
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Pour the olive oil into a wok and add the ground turkey, red and green bell peppers, onion and garlic; cook over medium heat. Salt and pepper (use a pepper grinder) the meat, and stir periodically until the meat is light brown, then drain. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about an hour, stirring periodically.

I'll be sure to post later if I find satisfactory changes to this recipe.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Will I Ever Have Class Again?

It very seldom snows in this part of Virginia. Apparently, when it does snow, however, the state likes it so much that it keeps doing it. Over, and over, and over . . . Honestly, the snow is acting like the Energizer bunny!

So far this week, I have had two classes let out early owing to the weather, two classes have been canceled, and PT tomorrow morning is canceled. No word yet on whether or not I'll have my Thursday ROTC lab, but I certainly hope that we still have it. We're going to be doing land navigation, and as it's my first time, I'm a little excited about it.

As I type, I can still hear the sleet outside. It's been doing it for over an hour, plus we got more snow today. We're also supposed to get more snow tomorrow and on Friday. I'm beginning to wonder when, if ever, I'll have class again! Poor Jasper is very distressed by this weather: he has a favorite "spot" on the grass for his "moments" and though he searches in vain each time he goes out, he just can't seem to locate his "spot" under all that snow. It's actually rather sad watching him grow more and more frantic to find his "spot," and then sadly resign himself to a different "spot." Poor little dog!

With no PT tomorrow, that means that I get the entire day off! Which, in grad school terms, means that I get to read all day and do my part of the group project that was assigned on Monday. I'll still get a little enjoyment out of it though; I've decided that tomorrow is the perfect day to make chili for the first time. I'll let you faithful readers know how my first attempt turns out (and if it's good, I'll even share the recipe).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Today, the Weather is My Friend

Last night, my second evening class was canceled because the professor was still snowed in (he lives in a more rural area). In light of having been up with food poisoning until 5:00 that morning, I greatly appreciated being able to come home early and then go to bed early. I was a little disappointed at the the same time, however, as I greatly enjoy that class. Plus, I was prepared to give a presentation last night, and now I'll have to do a longer one next week, since I'll be presenting on two weeks of research rather than just on one. On the whole, though, getting home early was a blessing.

Today, the weather is once again on my side. I have been really struggling to get through a particularly dull, dry book that one of my professors assigned, and kept wistfully thinking how nice it would be to have another week to get through this monotonous reading. Mercy smiled upon me! That particular class is cancelled tonight, as we are dealing with icy roads, and are expecting more snow today. What a blessed relief to have an extra week! Of course, that means that I still have to read the next book (the one for this week), but it really doesn't look too bad.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Okay, Maybe I'm Not Better . . .

I thought that I was completely well again, as the symptoms of my sinus infection have finally departed. I spoke too soon! The severe stomachache and abdominal pain hit shortly after lunch, and the intense nausea and vomiting followed a few hours later. Judging by the timing of symptoms as well as the symptoms themselves, I think I have food poisoning. I had just purchased fruits and vegetables from Walmart today, which I ate in a salad for my lunch. I rinsed the strawberries, but not the spinach. My guess is that there were pesticides on one of them that are the cause of my getting sick. I can't imagine that the avocado I had in my salad would have caused this, since it was at the prime stage of ripeness and was, of course, peeled by me.

Well, nothing to do now but continue to dose with Pepto-Bismol, attempt to stay hydrated, and hope that the pain and nausea subside eventually. I may get that day off tomorrow after all (just not in a pleasant way)!

The Burden of Enlightenment

I recall seeing a film once which had a scene in which a drunkard complained, "That's the trouble with you do-gooders - you want to spoil everyone else's fun!" I thought of that today when I went grocery shopping at the store I love to hate, Walmart (cheap prices and wide selections just barely make up for the maddening crowds, cranky and inept employees, and store layouts strategically designed to make you spend twenty minutes looking for just one item). In fact, I think of that film scene often, ever since I switched to my sugar-free and healthy lifestyle.

You see, I have dedicated large amounts of my time to researching and studying good nutrition. I can accurately estimate nutrition information on most products without even having to turn the box to the side with the nutrition facts. I carefully scrutinize my menus each week, checking to make sure that I'm eating all the right things. And because of my hard work, I feel great. My migraines have not plagued me in over a month. I sleep better. I'm losing weight. My skin doesn't break out as often. My hair is healthier. Even when I do get sick, like last week, I apparently recover quickly now. And, being a person with a strong sense of civic duty, I now feel like I should be spreading the "good news" of healthy eating to others. Except, I know most people would take offense, so I force myself not to speak (except in my blog, since this is MY podium, mwa ha ha!).

Today was especially hard. I wound up stuck behind a group of giggly college students in one of the aisles. From their sweatshirts, I discerned that they were Liberty students. I wasn't trying to be nosy, just to get past them, when my eyes caught sight of the horrors that filled their shopping cart: frozen pizzas, high-sugar cereal (about 40 grams per serving), cookie dough, Valentine candy, macaroni and cheese, regular soda, etc. There was enough sugar in that cart to kill a carload of diabetics. I shudder at the memory of that cart of horrors.

As I observed the girls loading their cart with more and more carcinogenic, artery-clogging, sugar-laden items, I felt a strong desire to scream at them, "Don't you see what you are doing?! You are killing your healthy young bodies! Yes, those tiny bodies that you proudly display in your skinny jeans and too-tight shirts. Don't you want to keep those bodies? Don't you want to continue to be able to walk into class each day without self-consciously sucking in your stomachs and feeling inadequate around the much-shapelier girls? Don't you want to reach your late thirties without being insulin-dependent diabetics? Listen to me, girls, and PUT DOWN THE SUGAR-LADEN DEATH-FOOD!!! White flour, white sugar, starch, starch, starch . . . Stop this madness!!"

Of course, I said nothing. I walked past the giggly girls, slightly ashamed of myself for letting them continue to kill their bodies with horrific food choices. I tossed a container of baby spinach into my cart, where it rested among the other low-sugar, heart-healthy foods, and headed for the check-out lane. Sometimes being enlightened can be a grave burden.

Angels in Winter Coats

Today, I was melancholy and lonely. Sometimes living alone gets to me in that way; I suddenly become aware of just how solitary I am, and even a bit jealous of the people who post dozens of pictures on Facebook of their fun weekends with friends. I got so down contemplating my aloneness that I couldn't focus on my reading or my paper, so I decided a change of scenery would perk me up. I wrote out my list, and headed out to do some grocery shopping for the week.

After relieving my little car of the foot of snow that covered it, I tried to back out of my parking space. The car didn't budge. Poor Flavia was completely trapped by the snow that filled my parking space. Feeling disappointed, I decided to give up and head back in. Just then, two complete strangers walked up with a snow shovel.

"We'll help you out," they cheerfully promised. Then, for the next twenty minutes or so, they dug and dug until at last my car was completely free. I thanked them profusely and headed out to do my shopping.

Those two men obviously had plans of their own today. They could have just left. There would have been absolutely nothing wrong with that. After all, they didn't know me, and it's not as if they caused the snow that buried my little car. But instead of fulfilling their own plans, they stopped to help a stranger. They thought that they just dug out my car. What those two men don't know is that they were used by God to remind a lonely person that she isn't really alone. They don't even know my name, and yet they blessed me. And thanks to them, I'm not melancholy anymore.
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"