A New Phase of Life

It’s been a few weeks now at work, that the illegitimi have been carborunduning the crap out of me. New boss with no spine. Newish boss of boss, having spent about a year sort of getting to know the ropes, has now grasped them and begins to tighten. Crabseye tests out as a Creative (one personality test), a Mastermind (a different test), and an INTJ (the biggie test). Crabseye is a problem solver, a thinker outside of the box … 9 to 5 schedules and business casual are nauseatingly restrictive. The noose tightens.

Fortunately, I live pretty frugally and have done so for many years. I forego eating out and expensive recreation activities. I indulge a high food budget due to the costs of organic foods; and I do have a bit of an electronic gadget habit, but control it pretty well. But I sock away a good amount of money, invest prudently though a bit toward the risky end of the spectrum (just means I’m heavy into equities).

Bottom line. Through my 30s and 40s, and even most of my 50s, just like most of you, when the illigetimi were acting up, I had to grin and bear it. Vent stream by looking for a new job. Spend enough time looking that the crisis blows over and there I remain, till the years added up to 25 and the retirement fund added up to “you can do this if you’re careful.”

So I’m staring at that moment we all dream of, when if I want to, I really can tell them to go pound it.

I’m standing on the edge of a new, exciting, weirdly scary phase of life. Like Indiana Jones as he nears the cave where the Crusader guards the chalice of Christ, and he faces a bottomless chasm and knows he must step off and have faith in his portfolio (no wait, I’m getting mixed up).

Will I take the step?

Stay tuned.

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How to Survive Cancer Treatment: Part I: Something’s Wrong

Aw, I bet you’re thinking this is going to be a downer post, right?

Well, I sure hope not. I don’t want to write a downer post, and I sure don’t want to write a “be strong, have faith, be positive” post.

Thing number one to remember about dealing with a possible cancer diagnosis: allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Well intentioned friends and family will tell you to “be positive.” I’m going to tell you: be whatever. If you are feeling scared, that’s okay. If you are feeling really depressed, that’s okay too. (If you are thinking of ending it all, that’s not okay … please talk to your doctor about it, please). If you’re not feeling positive about it, that’s absolutely okay. Most of the people telling you how to feel have never dealt with a possible cancer diagnosis. They mean well, and unless they are being unbearable, I suggest you just smile and nod at them, then proceed to work through whatever you are feeling. The most important thing … let me repeat … the most important thing in dealing with cancer, is to DEAL WITH REALITY. Dealing with the reality of what you are feeling helps you deal with the reality of what is going on physically. And dealing with the physical reality is the only way to beat it.

So where does it all start?

You notice something is wrong. Something hurts … maybe too much … maybe for too long. Or there is a lesion that looks wrong and doesn’t go away. Or a lump that doesn’t go away. Or you just don’t feel right for too long, with no valid reason. Something is wrong.

You go to the doctor. They do an examination, perhaps run some tests. You ask, “So what do you think? What does this look like?”

Then you hear the first ominous words. “Well, it does have a bit of an irregular border.”

Once you’re past 40, the 2 things you least want to hear are, 1) Your job has been eliminated; 2) It does have a bit of an irregular border. Irregular borders are fine when you’re talking about the ones that separate countries. But in or on your body, they are rarely good news.

For me, that irregular border was what I had not felt. No, I was quite sure that that lump was yet another cyst, just like the ones I had felt for 30 years … it seemed so smooth to me. (This, I later realized, is why people go to medical school. So that they can tell the difference between “regular borders” and “irregular borders.”)

So when I heard that “irregular border” thing, I knew I was, as they say, screwed. My whole self-diagnosis for the past few months was entirely based on the lump being very smooth.

And here’s what I did next.

I started exercising every day. My thinking was, if this turns out to be cancer, then I am going to need to be in the best shape of my life to get through the treatment process. I had no idea what that treatment process would end up being, but very few cancer treatments are easy on the body. Being strong and in condition seemed critical to me, to help me achieve a positive outcome.

Some people just want to have their doctors be in charge and make the decisions. But I suspect that most of the people who might find this post when they are in a similar situation are the kind of people who want to research their condition. It’s hard not to. The internet is just so FULL of information. Just let me point out … most of what you can find is not relevant to you, and much of what you find is outdated. And you’ll probably do best to stick with .gov and .edu domains when it comes to hard research on disease. Remember that your face time with the doctor is going to be somewhat limited: early on, they stretch out the appointments to ease you into the diagnosis and treatment plan, but don’t waste too much time grilling them on every treatment option. Try to distill all your research into a few focused, relevant questions. (Livestrong.org (not .com) and PLWC.org have good guides on what to ask and how to get organized.)

Finally, after that first appointment, the “something is wrong” appointment … when it looks like you may be dealing with a cancer diagnosis … pick a person who is calm and clear-headed to be your buddy. (Hopefully, your spouse/partner is calm and clear-headed. If not … find someone who is.) Unless you have been through this, you cannot imagine how your wits abandon you when you get into the doctor’s office. Did he really say that? I don’t remember what he said about that. I didn’t ask that. I forget what he said. It all sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher talking. (Honestly, sometimes it does.) Your buddy is going to have a copy of your questions, is going to go to appointments with you, is going to be really diligent about taking notes, is going to take you home from the procedures they do when they won’t let you drive afterward. Trust me, you need a buddy. The mental stress of dealing with a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming, even for a very strong person. And it’s about maximizing your chances of fighting this dam disease successfully, not being some kind of rock of Gibraltar.

Having cancer is going to be one of the crappiest things that ever happens to you. But for many people … this is survivable. You can take steps to make those chances of surviving better, or you can make things worse. Both are in your power. And remember, you don’t have to be brave, you don’t have to be strong, or positive … just be what you are.

After going through all the emotional ups and downs, I found I reached the point of acceptance. People said, “You’re so brave.” I said, “No, not really … I was very depressed, but I finally realized that this is my life. What’s happening sucks, but other people in this world have it much worse. It’s my life, and I have to deal with what’s there. And since my time may be limited, I might as well enjoy whatever time I have left.”

Are you in that place where something is wrong? Then think about these things, that were so helpful to me:

  1. Keep it real. Stay grounded in reality. Be real with yourself about what you are feeling. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re filled with faith, hallelujah. Stay real when it comes to the physical end too … the diagnostic process, the diagnosis itself, the prognosis, the side effects, all of it.
  2. Do research at reliable web sites. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but do not waste too much of the doctor’s time.
  3. Get in shape. If you’re totally out of condition, start slowly, but START. I cannot over-emphasize how much easier being in shape is going to make everything over the next few months. It will help stabilize your emotions and relieve stress. It will help your heart deal with cardio toxic treatments. It will help lessen perceived side effects such as nausea. And I believe, it helps the treatments be more effective. More on that in a future post.
  4. Pick a reliable buddy. This person will be your partner in the diagnosis/treatment processes.
  5. Finally, you may be all gung ho about finding alternative treatments. I urge you to consider this: if you are lucky, you are going to have one good shot at beating this disease. Cancer is capable of killing you without even trying. It is a vicious, relentless disease. Please do not squander your one chance to beat it wasting time with unproven, alternative approaches. Hit cancer hard, hard enough to wipe it out, before it kills you. There is no guarantee that conventional treatment WILL succeed … but in most cases, it represents your best chance of surviving long term.

Find the Hidden Picture

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The heat and humidity on the US East Coast have been pretty fierce the past week, with just a passing shower or two. I decided to give the trees and bushes a drink of water toward evening. After a few moments, this guy came up for a drink. I had been weeding under that bush an hour or so earlier and never saw him. Ain’t the water cool, Mr Mantis!

Ebooks for free (Android/Nook)

Disclaimer: There are lots of ways to get free books that aren’t strictly legal or ethical. I’m not going to discuss those methods here. I figure, if you can afford to buy an ebook reader or tablet, you can afford to pay for books that are within copyright. And if you can’t afford them, you can read legitimate free books. End of lecture. Back to our regularly scheduled blog entry.

Some of the techniques I discuss may work for devices other than Android tablets/phones and Nooks (e.g., the idevice of your dreams or Kindles of various flavors). Since we’re talking free here, it’s probably worth a try if you haven’t already done so.

Where to Get Free Ebooks:

First free book source: Project Gutenberg (Gutenberg:Project Gutenberg Needs Your Donation – Gutenberg). I put Project Gutenberg first because I have been getting ebooks there for more than 15 years. (Really? Oh yeah!) I used to download books from there and put them on my Palm Pilot back in the mid-late 90s.

Gutenberg has public domain books, meaning those that contemporary writers make available for free, and those that are no longer in copyright. The latter are old books … quite old in many cases. But do yourself a favor and try out a few of them. John Carter may not have been a box office success, but the original book, A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, was a smash pulp fiction hit. (Burroughs later wrote the Tarzan series.) I deliberately put the donation page link above, since if you’ve ever gotten a book from PG, it would be swell if you could make a small donation to them (truly, any amount is helpful), and if you haven’t and are just starting out, keep in mind that free is never truly free. Someone pays … with their cash, or their time … to make free stuff available. If you’re on a smartphone, here is their mobile link: ProjGutbg Mobile.

Project Gutenberg Australia has a different selection of ebooks: http://gutenberg.net.au/

Books at PG are available in a multitude of formats. Choose the format that works with your ereader. Post a question in comments if you need specific help on this matter.

Barnes and Noble: They have a varying selection of free ebooks. To find them, go to the main B&N web page (http://www.barnesandnoble.com) and enter $0.00 in the Search box. In addition, B&N has Free Fridays for Nook books, which offers a commercial quality book for free every Friday (http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/The-NOOK-Blog/bg-p/Unbound). Often these are first books in a popular author’s ongoing series (also known as “hooks”). If you don’t have a Nook, you can still read Nook books on your Android phone/tablet by downloading the free Nook app from Google Play.

Amazon: Amazon keeps some free ebooks here (http://www.amazon.com/b/ref=amb_link_355831402_49?ie=UTF8&node=2245146011&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=left-1&pf_rd_r=1Y9GECX534NEQHZ5Q1MW&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1374232782&pf_rd_i=1286228011). You probably need their free Kindle app to read them (available at Google Play or the Amazon App Store). They also link to Open Library, which I just discovered while writing this blog entry: (http://openlibrary.org/), and the Internet Archive (http://archive.org/details/texts).

Google Play Books has free books here: https://play.google.com/store/books/collection/topselling_free.

Still with me? Good, ’cause there are still more resources for free books.

Check your local public library‘s web site. You may have to click around a bit, but they typically have a place to download free public domain ebooks. Here is what I found for Nook-compatible free ebooks from Baltimore County Public Library: (http://maryland.lib.overdrive.com/EBE656E6-BA49-4BA2-9DF4-5C1D30C3E31C/10/336/en/PublicDomainCollection.htm)

Kobo has a link to free ebooks: http://www.kobobooks.com/free_ebooks.

University of Penn has a link to free ebooks: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/.

Literature.org has free ebooks that open in your browser, but you can save those files and use a utility like Ecub or Calibre to make a compatible ebook for your ereader or ebook app: http://www.literature.org/authors/

University of Virginia has the VIRGO site for ebooks: http://search.lib.virginia.edu/catalog?f[digital_collection_facet][]=UVa+Text+Collection&facet.limit=500&id=digital_collection_facet&sort=date_received_facet+desc&width=490.

Memoware has free ebooks: http://www.memoware.com/

And that’s all the links that I have handy. I have omitted links to self-published ebooks at this time, but there are plenty out there, and some self-publishers are fine writers. And some are not.  🙂

Library Ebooks:

Library ebooks I classify separately, since these books technically are “borrowed” and “returned.” The borrowing (checkout and checkin) are typically handled by separate software.

With Nook ereaders, the process is convoluted: you download Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) and register for an Adobe ID. Connect your Nook to that computer and authorize the device with ADE. Sign up for an account with your local public library, which is typically then linked to the Overdrive library management system. Browse at your library, check out your books, download them, then fire up ADE. The downloaded book shows up in ADE (if the stars are aligned properly), then you just drag it to your Nook. Boom, go to My Documents on the Nook, check for new content if you don’t see it, and then you should be good to go. There are more detailed threads on this at B&N’s Nook forums.

Ironically, that process is more complicated than if you have a plain old Android phone or tablet. If you do, simply download the Overdrive app to your phone/tablet from Google Play. Link the app to an account with Adobe (this step, along with the ADE steps above, are all about DRM, so it’s not really avoidable). Select “Get Books” from the menu (first time through you select your local public library), which takes you to your library web site. Find your book, check it out and download it, and there it is in your Overdrive app (which is also an ebook reader app).

If you finish your book before the due date, kindly consider checking it back in manually to make it available to the next person. Library ebooks often have long waiting lists, so the nicer we all play together, the more it benefits us all.

How to Get Books onto Your Device:

Here are some briefly described ways to get ebooks onto your reader/phone/tablet:

My favorite: Plug it in – plug the device into the PC, drag the ebook to a folder on the device.

Copy to microSD card: Remove microSD card, place in SD adapter, then into slot in a card reader, desktop or laptop system with a SD slot. Drag the books to the correct folder (My Documents on a Nook microSD card, or typically Downloads on a tablet or smartphone). Open the book with a compatible reader (Aldiko will open many formats, Nook opens most epubs, Kindle opens Kindle format books and should open mobi format books too.)

Direct Download: Browse to one of the websites listed above on your phone/tablet, and download the book directly to your device. Ebooks are typically small, just a couple of hundred kilobytes, so downloading a book or two doesn’t use a lot of data. But if there is any concern, just turn on WiFi and download that way.

Conclusion:

Didn’t want to just end there so abruptly, so feel free to comment if you have found another good source of free ebooks, or if you have any questions about reading ebooks on a Nook or Android device.

5 Home Energy Saving Tips

A couple of years ago, the sale of electricity was deregulated in my state, and in the months before it happened, there were dire predictions about short-term spikes in prices as the market transitioned from regulated prices to free-market prices.

I began to look for good ways to save or conserve electricity use. To do this effectively, it’s important to know the biggest consumers of electricity in your household.

According to recent Dept. of Energy statistics, in the average home, the top 10 (really 9) energy users are (in order):

  1. Heating/cooling (31%)
  2. Refrigerators (14%)
  3. Water heating (9%)
  4. Lighting (9%)
  5. Home Electronics (7%)
  6. Dryers (6%)
  7. Spare freezers (3.5%)
  8. Ranges (3%)
  9. Dishwasher (2.5%)
  10. Other Stuff (the rest)

If you can make some significant cuts in the top 5 energy users in your household, you can, truly easily reach 10% savings, more if you do more.

I’ll tell you the 5 things I did that made a real impact in my electricity bill:

  1. I got a programmable thermostat. Previously, I tried to remember to set the temperature up (in summer) when I went to work (down in winter only affects my gas usage). But automating the process means no “oopses.” I set the temp to go up at 6 a.m. — I leave at 9 a.m., and it takes a few hours for the temperature in the house to rise to uncomfortable levels, even on the hottest days. I tell it to start cooling down about 1/2 hour before the first adult comes home. There are ones that are purported to “learn” your habits and preferences. Yeah, for $250, whatever. The point here is to save money, not put it into some scammer’s pocket.
  2. I also set the thermostat to 79 for the coldest setting. And I bought the quietest fans I could find to use for extra cooling in the living room, bedroom, and home offices. Moving air really does subtract at least 4 degrees in the perceived temperature indoors. Besides using less electricity, you wear out your central air conditioning unit less too.
  3. I changed light bulbs to compact fluorescent. Yeah, LED is supposed to be the wave of the future, but it ain’t waving at me until the price comes WAY down.
  4. At night, if the temperature outside is under 74 degrees F, I open the bedroom window and let the free cooler air come in. (Obviously, dependent on how quiet your neighborhood is, whether it’s going to rain, what floor the bedroom is on, etc.)
  5. I bought some good quality weather-stripping and put it around my front door, which is the only spot where there was any significant leakage. If your house is older, you should check out other doors and windows.

There are other common sense things too, like making sure you turn off lights as you leave a room, wearing season-appropriate attire (do you know anyone who wears shorts in winter then turns the thermostat up to 85?), unplugging vampire charging devices (or buy some switches for the outlets), turning off the drying cycle on the dishwasher (tip the accumulated water and let the air dry the dishes … only takes a few hours).

In general, things that make heat or cold (intentional or not) are the big energy users in the house. Find ways to safely make them work less, and that’s how you can rack up savings on energy costs.

Ebooks, Prices, and Libraries

I have to say I have fallen in love with ebooks. My personal reader of choice is the Nook Simple Touch, but had the Kindle been given just a few additional features (expandable memory, replaceable battery), I would likely have chosen it.

What I like about ebooks is how little space they take up compared with real books. My house is small, my bookshelf space limited, my collection … too large for available space. I can store ebooks on the reader itself, in the cloud, on my PC, etc., and none of those options uses up a even a square millimeter of space.

I like that every book is as easy to hold as my Nook, whether it is Pillars of the Earth or The Little Prince.

I like that I can take 100 or 1000 books with me wherever I go.

I love being able to adjust fonts, text size, and margins. Love it.

I like that I can access thousands of free, public domain works without leaving my comfy chair at home.

I don’t like the prices very much. I am hoping the US Dept of Justice’s lawsuit will smack down those prices a bit, as the publishers who banded together to keep prices high are forced to comply with the laws that forbid price fixing.

Until then, my personal DOJ action is simple: I refuse to pay more than a couple of dollars for an ebook. Nope, I can’t get the latest releases at that price. Nope, I can’t even get older releases by popular authors for that price. But I can get lots of dam fine books for that price, and that’s fine with me.

I still buy printed books: coffee table type books, those that aren’t available in ebook format, or those that I can pick up, used, for $4 when the ebook is $10.

That too, highlights a weakness of ebooks vs printed books. With DRM ebooks, I can only lend it once, to someone with a Nook. I can lend a real book to anyone I choose, as often as I choose. Or, when I’m done with it, I can give it away or sell it. No can do with an ebook.

We are just in the infancy of the ebook phenomenon. The publishers have to make smarter choices about selling these things, or they’ll suffer similar fates as record publishers, whose every knee-jerk reaction puts another nail into their commercial coffins. One such nail for book publishers is the situation with public libraries. Some publishers flat out refuse to sell their ebooks to libraries (see any shades of the recording industry here?), and some charge egregious prices. Considering that ebook readers are currently a luxury item, I have to say I would have no objection to paying a small fee to “borrow” an ebook from a library … say $.25 a pop. This could help offset the costs charged to libraries. Such a fee would have to be kept small, to not alienate borrowers, but large enough that it isn’t lost in the overhead of administering the program.

Anyway, surely there are arguments for and against such a scheme. What are your thoughts?

Please don’t kill the bugs

I have a neighbor who is a little bit funny about his yard. He pays someone to come dump various chemicals on it every few weeks, and whenever he spots more than a few insects, he pulls out the Sevin and starts dumping pesticide all over the place.

He’s not really particularly bright, but he’s a pleasant enough neighbor, and I try to keep peace with my neighbors, no matter how much I think they are doing the wrong thing.

His war against the insects is one of those things that seems so wrong to me. I am of quite the opposite persuasion. I don’t particularly like bugs, but I accept that most of them have a genuine useful purpose in the great scheme of things … at least the non-invasive, native types. And I have a policy on bug control.

My policy is simple: inside belongs to me, and actually, so does a part  of the outside … but as long as they stay outside and do not dedicate their efforts to getting inside and taking over, they can live outside, undisturbed by me. In fact, if a non-pest happens to find his/her way inside, I’ll scoop it up in a big plastic cup and relocate it back outside. Everyone makes mistakes, even bugs.

I remember as a kid, there used to be so many fireflies. Now, I see very few, and I have read articles that say that, in part, the overuse of pesticides by homeowners (and fertilizers containing pesticides) has reduced the populations of these marvelous insects, and many more beneficial species.

I don’t know where the “it’s a bug, I must kill it” attitude comes from. But I sure encourage everyone to try to find a more tolerant place in their hearts. If you have a wasp nest, even if you are allergic, you don’t have to destroy them. They really aren’t interested in you … they are serving an important function in preying on insect pests. If you have kids and are worried, teach them to respect nature, and not throw rocks into the nest … getting along with other living things is a tremendous virtue. Killing things that annoy us is not a particularly good life lesson.

Live and let live. There is a lot of wisdom in those words. Please think about it, before you grab that can of Presto Bug Killer.

How I Quit Smoking

Shortly after I turned the big 4-0, I awoke one day to find I was feeling a pain in my right lung. I had been smoking menthol cigarettes, 1-2 packs per day, for nearly 25 years at that point. I worked out several times per week, alternating aerobic and strength training. I figured, as a smoker, it was important and maybe helped my body deal with the bad effects of smoking. This is what I now know is called, “silly thinking.”

Anyway, there was this pain, and as I was dipping my toes into middle age, I realized it was time that I quit smoking. I had tried it once. When I was 20 or so, and had only been smoking 5 years. It seemed impossible at that time. The urges were too strong. However, in the ensuing years, researchers developed nicotine replacement therapy, which was available first, by prescription, then later over-the-counter. By the time I decided to quit, availability was over-the-counter.

Basically, I didn’t make a big deal out of it. Some recommend that you do that … make announcements, plan for the big day, etc. I told myself that I’d just give it a try, that whole quitting thing. No pressure.

I got my nicotine patches, and started with them. I wore the strongest patch first, as it recommended. I found that I didn’t want to smoke as much. Hmmm. Working pretty well so far.

I continued with the patches, and smoking only when the urge was too strong to resist. However, about 2 weeks into the program of using the patches, I had an allergic skin reaction to them. I awoke in the middle of night, feeling pretty sick, heart racing, stomach churning, and developed red welts in the last 4-5 locations where the patches had been applied to my skin. I think the adhesive was the issue … I have since that time had big problems with any sort of medical adhesives. I think they caused this inflammation and allowed too much nicotine to get into my system, and I had a mild overdose of nicotine that night I described.

So, not near completion of the patch program, unfortunately I had to discontinue it, but good news, the nicotine gum was available. So I stopped smoking at that time, and used the gum for a couple of weeks when the strongest urges hit. They were not frequent.

That’s the physical side.

The more important, and possibly more difficult battle, is the emotional one. They say to avoid triggers. What, don’t eat, don’t drink, don’t talk on the phone? This was before the Internet … that was how you communicated. Scratch those recommendations.

For me, the real tricks of being successful were in programming success.

Every time I had an urge to smoke, I said, either aloud or whispered (depending on where I was): RIght now I really want to smoke. But I CHOOSE not to. (What does this do? It acknowledges reality — trying to tell yourself that you don’t want to smoke only empowers the cigarettes. Acknowledging the urge gives ME the power, as does the follow-up statement — that I CHOOSE not to smoke.)

When I had the urge to smoke, I also told myself this: Whether I smoke or do not smoke right now, it will not be enough. It will never be enough … it will not make me not want to smoke. Smoking will only satisfy the urge momentarily. It will be back again. (That helped me realize that smoking is a short term series of little satisfactions, but it never provided long-term satisfaction.)

After a short time of not smoking, I realized 2 important things:

  1. I was just like those people I saw huddled outside smoking. They are, and I was, an addict. Smoking was just like sticking a needle into my arm to give me the drug I needed. I often told myself I smoked because I loved the taste. I realized that was self-serving rationalization. I smoked because my body needed nicotine.
  2. Smokers stink. I could smell them each time I walked past them … and I realized I used to stink too. What a nasty smell. Smokers can’t smell it on themselves.

Frankly, I was surprised that it was not as hard to quit as I remembered from my attempt 20 years previously. I think the main difference was that during those 20 years, I lived. When you live, you gain experience in dealing with adversity, you gain strength, you gain the ability to make choices and stand by them.

One lady I knew, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, was headed outside to smoke. She had just revealed the cancer. I said, “So why are you still smoking?” “Oh,” she said, “I’m just not ready to quit.” I told her what I had discovered … you are never “ready.” There is never a good time. There will always be stress at work, a partner that you argue with, a sick relative, final exams, debt, worry about affording the new itoy, whatever. There will always be adversity. Cigarettes do not obliterate adversity. They only add to the burden: the cost, the toll on one’s health, the augmenting odds of serious disease as the years pass.

Anyway, that’s my story about quitting smoking. Hopefully, someone can glean something useful from it.

Good luck!

Trouble Falling Asleep? Try Crabseye’s Patented Techniques

We all have those nights, from time to time, when we just can’t fall asleep. For me, it often happens before a day with a big event scheduled, or after a day when a big event occurred. Regardless of the cause, many of us barely get sufficient sleep most of the time, and so lying there wasting precious sleep time only tends to increase the anxiety, which makes it even harder to fall asleep.

Over the years, Crabseye has developed a handful of techniques that, when combined, can usually put even the most tenacious insomnia at bay. It works best for me to go in order with these techniques, but feel free to experiment to find the order that works best for you.

Ready? Off we go, then.

  1. Regulate your breathing. Oxygen is nature’s wonderful, free Xanax. Some of the experts recommend a 4-7-8 count for breathing to induce relaxation (inhale for a measured count of 4, hold for a count of 7, exhale for a count of 8). Personally, that just irritates me. I like to inhale for a slow count of 2, exhale for a slow count of 2, and repeat until I’m ready to focus on the next technique.
  2. Progressive relaxation. I start with my toes, wiggle them for a couple of seconds, and tell them to relax. Then I move to my metatarsals, then my ankles, then my achilles tendons, then my shins, and so on. There is no hurry to get finished here. Take your time to focus on every body part you can name, and make it relax and go limp. If you don’t know specific body part names, just talk to that specific area (e.g., backs of thighs, lower back, etc.).
  3. Sometimes I’m asleep before I get to my internal organs. However, if necessary …
  4. Count backwards from 100 to 0. (This one, along with regulated breathing, gets me through the occasional anxiety attack.) Repeat a few times if needed.
  5. Become aware of your feet. Are they cold? Concentrate on making them warm with the power of your mind. Again, don’t be in a hurry, and don’t focus on achieving the goal … focus on making this process work.
  6. The last technique is: relax your eye muscles. Let your eyes roll up. Don’t tense the muscles to make them look up … relax them. (This technique is the slam-dunk of the process, but don’t go to it too soon … work through the other techniques to get to a relaxed enough state that you’ll just slip into sleep when you get to the eye part.)

There are lots of other random things that work for people: cold shower then quickly get into bed and get warm (the abrupt temperature change often induces drowsiness); melatonin; glass of warm milk; sex; reading. And, of course, pharmaceuticals. Those I avoid unless they’re absolutely necessary.

Hopefully you’ll find Crabseye’s not-really-patented techniques helpful if you ever have trouble falling asleep.

Rosemary + Garlic Roasted Potatoes

I think the humble potato may be one of my favorite foods. There are so many yummy things to do with them … potato chips (US), french fries (US) / chips (UK), mashed potatoes, and today’s topic, roasted potatoes. This recipe is quite easy to prep, is forgiving of small errors, and you can substitute many flavoring choices if you don’t have something available.

So let’s get to it. I originally found this on FoodTV.com, but have adapted it to my own preferences.

Materials:

  • potatoes (I like small red potatoes, but Yukon golds work well too, or whatever kind you can get; and I prefer organic potatoes because this vegetable is pretty heavily sprayed in the US)
  • garlic cloves (can substitute garlic salt or minced garlic)
  • fresh rosemary (can substitute dried, or parsley)
  • olive oil (I like organic EVOO, but you can substitute canola oil or a flavored oil if you like)

Procedure:

  1. Wash potatoes, remove unsightly spots. If you’ve bought organic potatoes, leave the skins on, but make sure you have scrubbed them well.
  2. Cut them to desired size. (Smaller will cook faster, but some people like larger pieces.)
  3. Rinse again in water to remove some of the starch.
  4. Blot the moisture with a clean dishtowel (they don’t have to be bone-dry, just get most of the water).
  5. Allow 2-3 of the small red potatoes (golfball size) per person … maybe 3-4 for guys, add a few for extras.
  6. Put them all in a big bowl.
  7. Pour in some oil. No need to measure, just make sure they’re all lightly coated with oil. Something with a high smoke point (canola, grapeseed) is good, or olive oil works too if you don’t crank the heat too high.
  8. Add rosemary. You can use dried or fresh. With fresh herb, you would want a little more herb; with dried, a little less, since the flavor tends to be more concentrated. (Personally, I hate dried rosemary, but if it’s all I have, that’s what I will use.)
  9. Add garlic. If you don’t have fresh cloves, you can use garlic salt. Don’t go overboard. If you use fresh, I’d dice them up. If you use garlic salt, go light because there tends to be more salt than garlic.
  10. Mix it all up for a bit.
  11. Put on a baking sheet in 1 layer.
  12. Bake at 350-375 for 20-30 minutes.
  13. Flip once with a spatula while roasting.
  14. If you cut the potato chunks large, they’ll need a little more time … check them at 30 and add some time if needed. If you cut small pieces, they can be done in about 20 minutes. Use the higher temp if you like yours a little browner, lower for less browned.
  15. Give them a stab with a fork at the low end of the time range to check … they’ll be ready just as they start to get soft-ish.

Enjoy!