Cold weather doldrums? BAKE!

The weather has finally turned cold!  We had a proper snow storm all day yesterday, much to the chagrin of many residents of the Salt Lake Valley but much to the amusement of many of us (myself included) who love the snow.  This weather really gets me in the holiday spirit.  I love cozying up with the cats in the morning, making it really difficult to want to get out of bed.

The cold weather and holidays (among other things) really get me in the baking mood!  (Other things being:  depression… because of the election… )

Right around the time of the election, I started baking more, probably to satisfy my depression over the outcome.  I baked three pound cakes in the span of one week (and ate every crumb).  Because of my hip injury (which I am now actively rehabbing, instead of just resting), I’m afraid I’ve seen the scale creep up a bit as a result.  I am starting to run again, and get the muscle-imbalance figured out with exercises that I do about 3 times per week.  The weather won’t slow me down as far as getting outside to run:  I love getting out in the crisp, fresh, snowy weather.  I’m really looking forward to cross country and alpine skiing here soon in the next couple of weeks.

So, after the week or so of baking pound cakes, Thanksgiving was upon us, and I ended up baking three pies over the course of a week:  a big apple pie (which needed some extra bake time likely because of the type of apples that I chose.  The apples were a little crispy after an hour in the oven, but softened up nicely after another 45 minutes of baking), a blueberry-rhubarb pie that I took to some friends’ house for breakfast the Saturday after Thanksgiving (no photo, but it was a beaut with a custard-style fruit filling.  I had the rhubarb in the freezer from the previous summer harvest), and a delicious pumpkin pie (I happened to have all the ingredients available in my pantry) with a cashew cream topping that my vegan sister-in-law got me hooked on (she had it for us at Thanksgiving).  While I was waiting for the pumpkin pie to cool (it was 9pm when it came out of the oven), I was eating the cashew cream by the spoonful:  delightful!  Here’s the recipe I used for that.  I also added a splash of vanilla and a sprinkle of cinnamon and a couple teaspoons of sugar to the cream for extra flavor and sweetness.  (I didn’t have a vanilla bean.)

All of this cranking up the oven for baking really warms the house up during the cold, snowy weather!  The house is so cozy with yummy food baking away:  I love coming in from walking the dogs and smelling the pies baking.  Such comfort!  Last night after getting home from work, I looked around the kitchen and suddenly had the inspiration to make pizzas!  I made the yeast dough and sauce from scratch (from crushed tomatoes from the garden).  While the dough was rising, the sauce bubbling, and the oven pre-heating I took the dogs for a stroll around the block.  When I got back from the walk, the house smelled like Heaven.  The pizzas only required 15 minutes of baking and turned out delicious.  And sometimes, being an adult and being required to make your own, good choices means being happy with your decision to put anchovies on your pizza. So good… and salty!  The pizza also had prosciutto cubes, red onion, and green pepper, along with lots of mozerella.  The house was warm and toasty and so, so cozy.

So when the cold weather has you down and you need to warm up, my advice to you?  Bake!

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Getting ready to BAKE!

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Vanilla-chocolate swirl pound cake (marmor kuchen)

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Election night cinnamon swirl pound cake

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Thanksgiving apple pie

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pizza:  anchovy, red onion, prosciutto, and green pepper

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pumpkin pie with vanilla-cinnamon cashew cream

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#optoutside #blackfriday #makeadogsday

I am not a “shopper.”  I hate crowds.  I love being outside!  Thank goodness for the mountains, dogs, and walking in brisk weather with a skiff of snow and some sunshine.  The elderly dogs and I hiked near ski area in Idaho (which is not open yet), but they are starting to make snow.  Check out #skitherock and #pebblecreekskiarea.  It’s a great little mountain near Pocatello, Idaho.

Actually, if you tag #optoutside and #makeadogsday on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, Subaru will donate $1 to the ASPCA.  REI is closed on Black Friday, thus promoting the #optoutside hashtag.

Since the ski area is not yet open, it was a nice day on Friday after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) to get outside with the old dogs and go for a little walk.  We went across the creek and up the Green Canyon trail past the snowmaking ponds and the bomb cache, then back down the lift line from the patrol building.  1 mile loop with the old dogs and they have earned their afternoon nap.  I earned a nice plate of Thanksgiving leftovers and will eat a piece of pie here in a bit.

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Transition: FNP to WHNP

I’m a Family Nurse Practitioner and have been in the profession for about 7 years.  Before that, I was a registered nurse for about 8 years.  I really liked being a nurse most of the time:  I liked my patients in the ICU and ER and loved trying to figure out the puzzles of getting them well again.  I knew I needed to reach and grow and get my Master’s degree, but I put it off for several years because my mom was terminally ill and I didn’t want to add the stressor of going to graduate school into my life (she died at age 62 of early-onset dementia).

I went on to graduate school because it seemed like the next step (other than going to medical school, which I flirted with the idea of, and I would have loved being a general surgeon, which is what I would have chosen, but I’m sort of selfish with my time and my pursuits, and I didn’t want to be “stuck” in a profession where I wouldn’t have the flexibility to go out and run or ski or walk my dogs or not be on-call, so I went to NP school).

I’m not going to lie to you:  I thought nursing school and NP school were not all that hard.  I remember getting my coffee and my snacks together on my desk and listening intently to lectures, then looking stuff up when I got home, and passing all of my tests with a fair amount of studying and writing research papers pretty easily.  I actually really enjoy going to school.  I love the structure of it and meeting deadlines and getting good results from the amount of effort that I put into it.

After several years of being an FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner) at a university student health center, I decided I needed more of a challenge and went into family practice and urgent care.  Ugh.  One clinic was totally disorganized, another was disorganized and super busy (it seems I never could see enough patients, no matter how many I saw.  I typically would see 30 to close to 40 patients over 10 and never got a lunch) and the third clinic was so drop-dead boring (I typically saw 6-10 patients in 11 hours) that I felt that it was kind of a waste to be there and not be seeing more patients.  I wanted a happy medium and wasn’t able to find it.

Along came a job at a federally funded women’s health center (think about it:  you probably know the one… ).  I applied for the job, and with the help of some great references who knew the medical director, I got the job.  Yeah, I probably got it because of my skills and my experience, too, but I like to give credit where credit is due, and I tend to be somewhat self-depreciating (like most nurses).  I’m not a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, but I am a Family NP working in Women’s Health (just to clarify).

So here I am, nearly 4 months into my new job, seeing patients and getting the hang of things, and I go home thinking… “I hope they [the patients and the staff] like me, because I love this job.”  Seriously, so rewarding, 99 percent of the time.  And that’s about a 60% increase in enjoyment from my last several jobs.

I never expected to see myself going into women’s health.  My mom never talked about that kind of stuff with me.  I remember when I came “of age” she put a box of maxi pads in the bathroom cupboard and told me they were there if I needed them.  She did stick up for me at my pre-college physical when the MD wanted to do a pelvic exam on me (national protocol from several agencies states that we now start doing Pap smears and pelvic exams at age 21 at the earliest) and I flat out refused.  I was 18 and had never been sexually active and wasn’t going to let some strange MD (even if she was a woman) go down there.  I think they drew my blood and checked my cholesterol too (waste of time:  I was a very active kid and actually ate my vegetables).

So here I am now, looking at va-jay-jays all day long, talking about STIs and discharge and rashes “down there” and what kind of contraception women want and even placing IUDs and implants, and explaining anatomy to women.  Wow, I never would have dreamt it.  And I never would have thought that it could be so rewarding.  The patients are, for the most part, compliant with plans of care and following up on health concerns.  They listen intently and know that they are being listened to.  I’ve never heard so many thank you’s in a day at work.  Never, in 15 years of practice in the medical profession.  I feel like I am empowering women to know more about their bodies and how they function and what they can do to feel better and understand themselves.  I see men, too:  I have had several male patients tell me, “I never felt like anyone listened to me before [at other clinics].”  It’s pretty refreshing to be in an area of medicine where people are not completely entitled (although we get some of those patients, too) and are, for the most part, just nice people who are compliant with their care.

I know some of the staff members at my clinic would probably disagree with me on this view.  But I’ve been in family practice, where patients are quite non-compliant and it seems that most of them aren’t willing to put in the real work to get better.  Many want pain pills.  Many want some sort of pill to fix things instead of exercising and eating healthy.  I guess over time, this patient view just wore me down.  I explained so many times that “you should exercise 30 minutes each day” and “you should eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday” among other recommendations, and I felt that that’s all they were:  recommendations.  Patients would bounce back all the time, not having taken my advice and said, “Yeah, I know.  I didn’t take your advice.  Sorry.  Things are worse.  Can you help me again?”  And I would, and I would go home from work deflated, frustrated, fatigued, and hungry (from skipping lunch) or feeling guilty from eating a family size bag of Lay’s potato chips for lunch and not following my own advice.  I also felt like many of the decisions made at the family practice clinics are made not by the health care providers, but by either insurance companies (who decide whether or not to reimburse the patient or the clinic) or by the business manager (who decides what equipment to have in the clinic and whether it will meet the budget’s bottom line).

So the job change to women’s health (so far) for me is a great one.  Ask me in 12 months:  see if I feel the same way then.  I can tell you, from the support that I currently have in my clinic from patients and staff, I foresee remaining positive about my change of venue.

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Catfight

In a previous post I promised to tell you more about my two cats who recently have begun fighting.  Mimi, my black cat, is about 5 years old.  I’ve had her for 3 years.  Steggie, my black & white cow cat, is 1 1/2 and I got him a year ago when he was a kitten of about 4 months old.  The two had been getting along fine until around the beginning of October (about 2 months ago).

Mimi had been spending more and more time outside over the summer, using the dog door to get in and out of the house.  I never really wanted her to be an outdoor cat, but the fancy dog door that I have (which is supposed to lock down when not in use and then open with a small radio-frequency fob that the dogs wear on their collars when the dogs approach the door) has been kind of on the fritz.  I had left the door in the “open” mode, to allow the dogs to go in and out while I was at work, but Mimi took it upon herself to go in and out as well.

Steggie, who has always had a somewhat odd gait, has never tried to go through the dog door and prefers to stay inside.  In fact, this was a huge ordeal when I was adopting him from Best Friends, as they were trying to figure out if he had an orthopedic issue or a neurologic issue which was impeding his gait.  They attempted to find something wrong with him for a couple of weeks, everyday with me visiting the shelter to see the kitten, and I think they finally got sick of me and let me take him home.  They never did find anything wrong with him.  My vet checked him out and we both agree that it’s pretty cute the way he walks sort of sideways with his hind end.

So, Steggie has never gone outside for more than 5-10 minutes, and Mimi was spending more and more time outside.  I came home from work one evening and couldn’t find her.  I was calling and calling her from the back yard and finally heard her getting into a horrible fight with another cat in the alley behind my house.  She scrambled over the fence and came into the house with nicks and scratches and looked a bit shaken up and I decided then and there that I was going to keep her inside.

The problem was, with all the time she was spending outside, she was getting more and more aggressive towards Steggie.  He would be sleeping peacefully, curled up on the couch and she would walk past him and swat him on the head and growl at him.  She did this every time she passed him.  At first he didn’t fight back, but eventually he decided to start defending himself and would put his paws up above his head (in an attempt to make himself look bigger?) and he looked like a little prize fighter when he did it.

Deciding to keep Mimi inside was not without challenges.  She was fighting, and also decided to start peeing on the carpet in the bedroom and pooping on the carpet in the basement.  Ugh.  I was devastated.  My babies were fighting and destroying the house and I just wanted them to get along.

I messaged a friend of mine in Iowa (whom I met on the West Highland Way in Scotland in 2012).  She has close to a dozen cats and they all seem to get along pretty well.  I’m so glad I contacted her, because she replied, “Oh, my mom is having the same problem with her two cats!  She got a pheromone diffuser and I think things have gotten better.”

Pheromone diffuser?  Apparently this thing emits pheromones which are similar to mama-kitty comforting her kittens.  And there are pheromone collars, too.  There’s another pheromone diffuser which stops cats from peeing inside and “marking.”  What the hell, I thought.  It’s worth a shot.  I ordered about $100 worth of the shit on Amazon and went to the pet store and got the collars.  I also stocked up on Nature’s Miracle enzyme solution and “Urine off” solution, a black light, and started putting the Bissell carpet steamer to very good use.  The last thing I got was a ScatMat which is a small battery-powered mat which, when contacted sets off a small static electrical charge.  Let me tell you, that thing is no joke (I tested it on myself).  Ouch!

So at this point, I’m what… $300 invested in my cats “getting along” and thinking, “They’d better start f-ing getting along!”

The first couple of days with the ScatMat and the pheromone collar on Mimi were marginally better.  Both of the cats “tried out” the ScatMat only once… and have not returned to that corner of the bedroom where they were peeing on the carpet.

The pheromone diffusers arrived in 2 days via Amazon Prime, and I could see some minimal progress over the next couple of weeks.  I remained hopeful, despite getting mixed reviews from friends of mine.

Now, here we are 1 month into the process.  I now have pheromone collars on both cats and the diffusers are emitting glorious invisible clouds of soothing essence.  Yes, you guessed right:  the cats are getting along again (thank God!).  They can actually sit next to each other for several minutes without fighting.  For a while there I was looking at Mimi telling her that she’d better start getting along with her little brother because if she didn’t…  “Don’t make me choose between you!”

So at this point, I feel like the crazy pet-lady, to be sure.  Two Golden Retrievers and two cats in the house… for a while there our little furtopia was quite stressful but we are on the mend.  The dogs are pretty cute about the whole thing.  When the cats go racing and chasing each other through the house (more in play now than fight-club style) the dogs either look up with drowsy wonder in their expressions like, “Who’s making all the ruckus?” or they don’t react to it at all.

So to recap:  Pheromone diffusers and collars for fighting cats are totally worth the investment, but give the things at least 2 weeks if not a month to start having a positive affect.  Also worth mentioning:  I separated the food dishes and water sources by several feet so that kitties can have peace while eating and decreased competition.  I now scoop the cat litter boxes at least every other day (if not daily) whereas before I was doing this only 2 x per week.  (No more cats pooping on the carpet, yay!)  I also got a third cat box with a different kind of litter, and the cats seem to prefer that one (previously was using Blue Buffalo walnut shell litter, and now I’m back to clay Nature’s Miracle litter).  I still have the walnut litter (because I bought a bunch on sale a month or so ago) and will use that up until it’s gone, but I may not purchase it again.

This story brings me anxiety just writing about it.  But things are definitely getting better:  I caught the cats licking each others’ heads the other day when I got home from work.  Kitty-love!  #peaceXOXO

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Piano Girl

About a year ago, I found a post on Facebook from a friend of mine who was selling her piano.  Many of you do not know this, but I got a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (emphasis on piano) from the University of Utah in 1995.  I started out as a dual major:  piano performance and pre-med.  I actually got a scholarship in piano (I’m wondering how that happened, because I listened to my audition tape a year or so ago, after my aunt found it and sent it to me, and although it was good, I wonder how it was good enough because I made a lot of mistakes (really fumbles… but I kept going, so there’s that).

I switched from piano performance to a general degree in Fine Arts after about 3 years, because being a dual major was really pretty stressful and the thought of putting together a senior recital AND studying for the MCAT was causing me quite a lot of anxiety.  So much anxiety, that I literally froze performing on stage in front of 50-100 people several times.  My piano professor was really understanding and said, “Look.  You don’t have to do this.  This is not going to be your life’s work.  You can still play the piano and enjoy it, get your degree in Fine Arts, and go on with another career in medicine.  You don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself.”

So, I took her advice in more ways than one.  I switched to the non-performance degree. HUGE relief and weight off of my shoulders!  I no longer had to practice 3 hours per day.  I no longer had to try and learn the Beethoven piano concerto which was giving me tendonitis.   I also no longer had to be pre-med (whoa).

I looked around the medical library one day while I was studying.  Looked at the foothills calling to me to go run and hike and ski.  I looked at the people there:  many of them looking not very happy.  I looked at myself and said, “You don’t have to go to med school.  You don’t have to take the MCAT.”

And I left for the summer with my mom, who picked me up to drive cross country back to Michigan.  I hiked in the Michigan woods, swam in the lake at my cousins’ house, played the piano here and there, and worked at a horse farm.  I don’t remember how it actually all played out, but the next summer I worked at a podiatrist’s office.  After my last day there at the end of the summer, I was thinking of where I would go and what I would do (more on that later) and I ended up running a red light at an intersection that had just been changed a week or so before.  (Previously, there had just been a flashing warning light and cross-traffic was required to stop.  Now, it had been upgraded to an intersection that was full-stop for all directions of traffic).

I went home and drank my sorrows into several glasses of wine and a plate of cheese fries, puked it all up, and went to bed crying.  A week later, I was off to Germany.  I think some of my savings went to fixing the car (which never drove the same way again) and into my pocket for my next adventure:  studying in Germany.  I stayed there for a year and didn’t touch a piano.  After language school in the Fall, my uncle was able to get me a work permit (my dad’s side of the family is German) and I worked in Garmisch as a ski instructor for the winter.  I stayed for the following summer, my parents shipped my dog to Germany, and I hiked around with her all summer.

Then it was back to reality:  I had applied to nursing school at the University of Utah and would be taking some pre-requisites in the Fall.  I decided not to go to med school, because I wanted to be in the medical field, but wanted more time to enjoy the things I loved (mostly being in the mountains and being with my dog, instead of holed up in the medical library studying my ever-enlarging butt away).  I flew home to Utah, went to school, and taught skiing that winter.  The next decade of my life, I never touched the piano (except for one time when I was visiting my cousins in Michigan and I tried to play a Bach Minuet.  My fingers would not work.)  It was pretty crazy to think that a few years prior, I was playing in front of 100 people and now I could barely get through something that I had learned how to play in the third grade.

So here I am now, 20 years later.  20 years!  My how time flies.  I bought the piano that my friend was selling last year, just before Thanksgiving 2015.  I have worked my way up from the things I played as a first-grader to pieces of music that I played in high school and early college.  Playing the piano is something that, when I get home in the evenings after work, I cannot wait to do.  When I was in high school, I would get the urge to practice at around 9 or 10pm, when all of my homework and sports practice and TV-watching was done.  It was the bane of my father, who typically went to bed around 8pm and would be woken up by my pounding (I swear, I used the “soft” pedal).  Now I can play at 10pm and no one is the wiser.

I regret not having played for so many years, because my mother always told me how much she loved it.  How she loved coming home from work  in the afternoons and hearing me play.  The contentiousness that my practicing created between me and my father, though, was almost too much to bear for many years and is likely the reason why I gave it up for so long.  I have felt guilt over the years for having given it up, but relief in a way, too.

Now, both of my parents are long passed away.  When I play the piano now, I think that maybe in some way, my mother can hear me and smile.  I think that my dad can move to another cloud and not have to listen to me if he doesn’t want to (but I know he will, because he always told his friends how proud he was of me and my brother.  He just didn’t tell us to our faces for whatever reason.)

The reaction I get from my pets is pretty amusing as well.  I have a couple of elderly dogs who plunk down near me when I am playing.  I think, because they have arthritis, that the vibrations from the piano must feel good on their joints.  I have one cat who will play with my feet and sit on a chair next to me, pawing at me to get my attention as I am playing.  I have another cat, who when I start to play she runs off and hides in another room.  She must be the reincarnation of my father.  I’m ok with that.

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How one little [big] thing can change your world-view. [Weltanschauung]

Some of you may have noticed that I’m not on Facebook anymore.  After the presidential election last Tuesday, about 10 days ago, I flirted with the idea of deactivating my account, and did so for about 48 hours.  Old habits die hard, and after those couple of days, I was back on although only for a few minutes here and there.

Then just a couple of days ago I was surfing through my Facebook contacts, and I came across one friend whom I was no longer “friends” with.  I was devastated.  I couldn’t believe it.  I had just talked to her a couple of days before that, and we had poured our hearts out to each other about the election results (I’m an HRC fan and she’s a Bernie fan).  What was happening?  What was the world coming to when you say one little thing and someone un-friends you?  I texted her.  No response.  I texted her again.  Again, no response.

I decided to go about my day, although now in quite a funk.  I busied myself with chores around the house, and decided I’d better go down in the basement and scoop the kitty litter boxes (the cats have been fighting, but that’s a story for another day… they seem to be getting along better because of some changes I’ve made in their environment, one of the changes being cleaning the litter boxes more frequently).

I came back up to the kitchen and checked my phone.  Two missed calls!  (Both from my friend).  I immediately called her back.

Me:  “Hi.  How are you?”

Friend:  “I’m fine!  I’m in [another town] working here to help them get settled because they are short-staffed.”

Me:  “Oh, ok.  That’s good.”

Friend:  “I wanted to call you back instead of texting you, because I could tell you were upset.  Oh, honey, we’ve never been friends on Facebook.  I tried to friend [another person from work] and she denied my request twice, so I decided not to try and friend certain people.  I hope you understand!”

Me (now feeling like a complete imbecile):  “Oh, my gosh!  You don’t know how much better that makes me feel!  I wasn’t sure if I said something that upset you, because we all [at work] were having such an awful week, and I know I was in a bad mood, and I know that I can be a little difficult, and it’s your birthday coming up, and I wasn’t sure what to do… Oh, thank you so much for calling me back!”

And, you get the idea… Love you long time and all that [shit] was said. XOXO.

And all this got me thinking.

If I can get this upset about one friend “un-friending” me on Facebook (but not really, because we are still friends, but we were never “friends”) then maybe Facebook is just too much?  Maybe I’m depending on it way too much and being too emotional about it?  Yes, I could just spend less time on it, but when that little icon is on your phone, it’s just too tempting…  and when the page is open on your computer and you’re trying to do other stuff and the little red icon lights up that someone has commented or “liked” something that you said and you get a little flutter in your heart and your tummy that someone is thinking about you.  It all just means SO MUCH.

But does it?  Does it mean so much?  Does it really even matter?

I’ve discussed some of this with a couple of close friends and one of them sent me this article to read:  Rigged.

(Ugh, and the irony here, is that I had to log back on to Facebook just to find the link to the article!) Anyway, the article talks about how, by having so many contacts on Facebook who have a similar world-view to my own, how it’s changed my perception of things around me (perhaps that everyone agrees with me, and that Clinton will win the election, which she obviously did not) to a point where things are not realistic.

I’m a pragmatist.  I’m a realist.  I tell it like it is, call ’em like I see ’em and am thrilled when other people around me do the same.  That’s why it bothers me so much that there can be a whole different world out there (like nearly 1/2 of the country voting for a total bigot, misogynist, racist a-hole) while 99% of my contacts of Facebook (indeed, the world in my little bubble) hate the guy and would never vote for him.

So yeah, I thought long and hard about being on Facebook and having my world-view skewed so much that I thought that 99% of everyone in my world, my bubble were agreeing with me.  Of course, hindsight is 20-20 and this view, I realize now, is totally ridiculous.  There’s no way that 99% of the people around me agree with my world-view.  I realize that now.  And that’s the reason why I’ve decided to take a break.

If you still want to be in touch with me, I’d love to text with you, or talk on the phone with you, or meet up for coffee with you.  I’m still on FB Messenger so you can contact me there, and you can also follow me on Instagram @soligrrl and @franklinartemis.  Granted, the Instagram accounts are mostly pictures of my cats, my dogs, and coffee, but these are the things that are most important to me in my world (along with running…  which is also a topic for another day).  I’d love to keep in touch with you.  Just not on Facebook.  XOXO.