Thinking about It Thursday

This week, I'm thinking...

  • that, no matter how much I love puppy breath and fuzzy fur, it'll be nice to be on the other side of the training again.
  • that entertainment comes in so many forms, like getting so much joy out of the fact that my two dogs are actually playing together now (sometimes).
  • that, to all outward appearances, it would seem that my "healthy living goals" have taken a complete back seat.
  • how it's hard to stick an adorable puppy in the crate so you can go to the gym
    • but that I didn't have the same problem leaving my kids
    • so what does that say about how cute my puppy is compared to my kids?
 
  • how much there is to get done for work this week before I leave town for our big set of national events next week.
  • how it doesn't help that a puppy keeps breaking through my barriers and getting tangled up in wires and unplugging my mouse at random times.
  • that I'm beginning to worry about how much thesis-writing I'll actually get done during sabbatical unless Auggie and I work out a better system.
  • how it somehow makes it all more bearable when I spend a lot of my day working like this.

The Golden Days Phase 2

I hadn't intended to run out and get a new puppy quite so fast. However, the breeder where we had gotten Sammy (best advertisement for a breeder, ever!) had three boys left from her current litter, and no other breeders in the area had any litters even close to being ready for adoption. I have sabbatical in July and August so that's my best time for puppy training (well, and writing my thesis, but mostly puppy training).

Consequently, we now have some new Golden love in our home.

Meet Ogden. Aka Auggie. Aka "No, Auggie! Auggie, no! Auggie, get down! Auggie, leave Spencer alone! No, Auggie, that's not your food! Auggie, stop chewing that!"

Ah yes, the joys of puppydom.

On the other hand...

PUPPY BREATH!!!!!

He's an absolute sweetheart, when he isn't chomping on us with his little needle teeth and digging into us with his little dagger toenails. So far, Auggie doesn't seem to be as food-oriented as Sam was, but that may come with time. I honestly don't remember too many specifics about Sam's puppy days. 

Auggie is a titch over 8 weeks old. I've enrolled us in some puppy playtime/basic obedience classes starting in mid-July, and my niece enrolled in the same class with her new puppy (mixed breed, about 12 weeks now). We're hoping they'll be buddies. 

I've managed to only call him Sammy about eight times--revealingly enough, mostly when I'm telling him to leave his sister alone. Apparently I used to have to tell Sammy that a lot too. It's a knee-jerk reaction. 

Yesterday we started working on the "Come" command. He's about halfway to learning it. Or, he has actually learned it, but Puppy Brain kicks in when he's about halfway to me and suddenly he's off chasing leaves or chewing on grass. We'll get there.

This is more for my sake than yours, but here's Sammy as a puppy next to Auggie as a puppy. Left = Sam, Right = Auggie. Auggie's nose isn't any bigger than Sam's--it's just the angle of the camera. Auggie's face is just a little thinner than Sam's was. Auggie is definitely a darker gold, too. They darken as they get older--it'll be interesting to see what color he ends up compared to Sam. As long as he's my canal walking buddy, I don't care what color he is!

It is a bit odd to still be grieving Sam and crying at odd moments while, at the same time, I'm falling in love with Auggie. I told Auggie that he should be thankful to Sam since it was due to Sam's greatness that I was ready to get Auggie. I've told Auggie some stories about Sam and my Chuck-It games and walking on the canal. He seems to understand his job description: Have fun, play a lot, and be my buddy. He's ready.

The Golden Days

Most of you are likely with me on social media so you probably already know what's been going on with me these days.

It's been the worst of times and the best of times...

My buddy Sammy, aka Samwise, aka the Doofus, succumbed to his cancer on Saturday, June 10. He'd had a bad day earlier in the week but then had a very good Friday (we played fetch for a bit Friday afternoon), and seemed fine Saturday morning. By around noon on Saturday, though, it was clear that something had happened internally and by 2:00, we knew it was time. I rode in the very back of my SUV with him, laying with him in my arms and his head on my shoulder, while my husband drove. It was the longest, hardest 20-minute drive I've been through, but I'm glad I had that last opportunity to hold him and talk to him. I'm also glad that it was a Saturday and neither my husband nor I were traveling so that we could both be there for Sammy and for each other.

I still miss him. I still cry at the oddest moments. He'll always be my Sammy.

I do appreciate all my #Twilter friends who have sent their condolences, and their own feelings of missing Sammy on Instagram. He was an extremely photogenic dog, and a bit of a ham, so there were lots of pictures of him. I've posted here just a few of my favorites. I have hundreds, and they all make me smile.

I'll always miss you, Sammy. 

I'll follow this post with the other half of the update...

 

Wardrobe Wednesday and Catching Up

I tried to send another vacation post while I was gone but our Internet access was extremely sketchy and the post went all pear-shaped on me (can you tell I've been watching a lot of BBC again?), so I'll catch up on vacation pics later.

Meanwhile, I wanted to do a Wardrobe Wednesday post to give you the end of the shoe story, some comments on other recent purchases and how they held up, and my brief experience with the LeTote subscription service.

The ones on my feet and the black ones in this pic both came with me. I wore the stripey ones a TON, and the black ones several times, including for the flights home.

The ones on my feet and the black ones in this pic both came with me. I wore the stripey ones a TON, and the black ones several times, including for the flights home.

First, the Skechers shoes were da bomb! I ended up bringing 3 pairs of them, plus one of my Clarks that I'd bought on my first "vacation shoe shopping excursion" back in March, because all of them fit the inserts well and would mix and match with my outfits. Plus I had a pair of sandals. So yes, indeed, I packed 5 pairs of shoes for a 12-day trip. Excessive, but I tend to pack a lot more for vacations than I do for work trips so I've got options. Plus, I could get away with it because the Skechers and Clarks were all extremely light-weight and since I was using packing cubes for everything, I didn't have any problems fitting everything in.

The Iris Lace-Up d'Orsay Pump by Halogen from my March Trunk Club. Well worth the money!

The Iris Lace-Up d'Orsay Pump by Halogen from my March Trunk Club. Well worth the money!

The sandals I brought were the ones I got from my Nordstrom's Trunk Club awhile back. These are now my go-to dress shoes. I've worn them several times, including events where I was on my feet a lot, and they're fantastic. Very comfortable. The block heel makes them very stable and my toes end well before the point so there's no squishing. Even with my bum toe, these are great shoes!

In any case, my toe behaved beautifully through the trip. Indeed, I even ditched the inserts by day four or so, and continued not to have any difficulties, even over extremely uneven cobblestones and a fortress carved directly into the side of a mountain (the "floor" in the first half of the fortress was pure rock and extremely uneven). I got a twinge here or there if I landed wrong, but no lasting pain. The very last day we were there, in Basel, it started acting up some, but once we got back to the room and I was off it for half an hour before dinner, it settled right back down again. 

So, I recommend Skechers! Now, that being said, now that I'm skipping the inserts I can wear my Toms again. Toms are definitely far better made and more substantial on my feet than Skechers' Bobs are. The stripey Bobs that I wore all over Europe have stretched out some now and flop around on my feet a little bit. I still wear them because they're still pretty comfy--and dang cute--but my Toms definitely feel better all around. So if you're doing some comparison shopping, Bobs are great, but Toms are greater-er. (They're also more expensive so you just need to make the call.)

Chicos Girlfriend Ankle Jeans--love these!

Chicos Girlfriend Ankle Jeans--love these!

Another recommendation? Chicos pants! I now have three pairs of pants from Chicos (all bought on sale)--two pairs of jeans and one lighter weight pants. They all came with me on the trip, I wore each pair of them several times, and they all held up super-well, especially the jeans. I can't find the lighter weight ones on their website, and they did get a little baggy on me after I'd worn them a couple of times, so I'll just focus on the jeans because I have nothing bad to say about those!

This picture at the left (not me!) is the So Slimming Girlfriend Ankle Jeans. The term "slimming" typically puts me off because it often means "corset." However, you'd never know these were supposedly slimming. They fit me like normal jeans--they just hold their shape really well! Can't say I particularly looked any smaller in them, either, but they're really flattering, so maybe that's the "slimming" part. I have two pairs of these, one dark wash and one medium wash. Neither of them ever bagged or sagged or anything even after wearing them multiple times on the trip (a couple of times on pretty hot days). These are my go-to jeans, now.

Review of LeTote

So, on to LeTote. Have you heard of that one? I was attracted to it because it's partially a rental service, of sorts. When you subscribe, you choose the level of your subscription (how many clothing items plus how many accessories within a few tiers of options). You pay a monthly subscription fee based on that level. You go through their website and add items you like to your "closet." Then they select items primarily from your closet, or suggest items based on what you've indicated you like, and put them in your "tote." You get 48 hours to either accept their recommendations or swap items out with other things in your closet, and then it ships to you. You can then keep those items and wear them for as long as you like. Once you decide what you're keeping and/or returning, you stick the items you're returning in their provided envelope and put it in your mailbox. Within a couple of days, you get billed for whatever you kept, and your next tote kicks into gear.

What I liked about it:

  • The idea that I was basically "renting" clothes for a bit. It's nice to be able to wear something to really decide if you want to keep it. Plus, as I had been changing sizes at that point, I felt like it was a good low-commitment way to have new clothes as I traveled further in my weight-loss journey. (I've stalled out for a couple months now but at that point I had reason to believe I might be going down again soon. Dang. At least I've not gone back up!)
  • The idea that I could easily send stuff back, without having to wash it, even. I know. "Eugh!" you say. But they provide all sorts of information about their cleaning system and I never noticed any sort of funk or smell to anything I got--it all seemed like everything I've ever bought in a store. If you're squeamish, you can always wash it before you wear it. 
  • Getting accessories in every box. I subscribed for the two-clothing-one-accessory tier. I got two pairs of earrings (only one of which I kept, if I recall), and the next tote would've had a belt in it, had I not cancelled.
  • In the last tote I got, one of the tops went on sale after I'd already received the tote, so they sent me an email letting me know that. I'd been waffling a little on it because of its original price, but the sale price was really good so I did end up keeping that one. Everything else went back. (StitchFix says they do the same thing but I've not had that happen to me yet with them.)

What I didn't like about it:

  • The "rental" thing didn't end up being my vibe. I either like clothes enough to want to keep them, or don't want to wear them at all. (I have the same problem with library books!) Plus, I have been doing so well with StitchFix lately that I don't feel the same need for another subscription service now that I did when I first signed up for LeTote.
  • I had difficulty finding clothes I liked in their offerings. That's a personal thing, so you may not have the same problem. I just found that I was adding things to my closet more because it was "better than anything else they had" and not so much because I really loved it. Even the jewelry wasn't entirely in my wheelhouse. 
  • It was a little stressful immediately getting another tote in process as soon as I'd sent one. If I was really into the whole "rental" thing, that would be fun. If I were working in an office and had a lot of people seeing my outfits every day, I could see where LeTote would be a lot more fun. But I don't get out much, LOL. I don't need a steady influx of new looks in my life.

What I'm holding my breath on:

  • I'd read reviews of LeTote before signing up, but somehow didn't see a whole batch of negative press that was out there until after I'd already subscribed. It was only then that I started reading people's complaints about how hard it was to unsubscribe. Several people related stories of getting billed for months after they'd tried to cancel. So, when I decided to cancel, I was nervous that it was going to be a problem. I'm glad to say so far that it hasn't been. We'll see what happens next month (will I suddenly get billed again?), but I think I was able to successfully cancel today. I sent an email a couple of days ago but didn't hear back, so I called the direct number today, put my phone on speaker phone and did other things during the 10-minute-long hold waiting for someone to get to me in the queue, and finally got to talk to someone directly. She was very nice, immediately cancelled my subscription, and sent me an email with a confirmation. I can't sign into my account now, so I think it's all good!
During a layover in Detroit coming home from vacay. Even at the end of two weeks of walking, my feet still loved these Skechers!

During a layover in Detroit coming home from vacay. Even at the end of two weeks of walking, my feet still loved these Skechers!

So those are my wardrobe updates. Maybe you'll find something helpful in all that! I'm not getting another StitchFix until July so it'll be awhile before we have another Wardrobe Wednesday!

 

 

 

Vacation--It's Thursday--wait, no, It's Friday

Trying to remember what day is what is tough!

Studying while cruising the Rhine--there's worse places to get my reading done! 

Studying while cruising the Rhine--there's worse places to get my reading done! 

Yesterday was our first full day on the cruise. We spent the morning on the river, then got into Cologne right around lunch. 

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

Turns out, it was a national holiday yesterday: Ascension Day/Men's Day. (In other words, it started out as the Catholic Ascension Day and then got taken over/secularized by Men's Day.) In either case, it meant that Cologne was filled to the brim with people--largely, groups of men of all ages--and lots of beer and music. It was fun, though it was a little hard to get around.

Street art

Street art

We took our first on-shore excursion guided tour through the city and to the Cologne Cathedral. It was gorgeous. Sad, though--it took several hundred years to get it built and by the time it was done, it was out of style. I've made quilts like that...

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Then we had a complimentary beer tasting of Kolsch beer, which is brewed in Cologne. That's not an unfamiliar beer to us in the US but I do like it--it's a nice wheat beer, and very refreshing after what turned into a pretty toasty day.  

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous, and I'm very pleased with the decisions I made in terms of outfits I packed that would give me options for 50 degrees and rainy or 80 degrees and sunny. We're definitely leaning towards the 80/sunny combo package for the next several days. 

The ones who took our picture here are a couple from Manchester, England: Angela and Ralph. We spent a fair amount of time with them last evening. They were joking that after dinner they got back off the ship to spend a little more time in Cologne and meet some locals (we didn't leave port until 11p), and sat down at a table in a bar next to a group of young men.  Turns out, the young men were a soccer team from the University of Rochester--about 15 minutes from my home! Definitely a small world. 

Vacation--Tuesday, May 23 (We made it!)

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We got in at 5:30a Tuesday, Amsterdam-time, which was around 11:30p-ish (Monday night) to our bodies. Neither of us had been able to sleep much on the place, so although we were doing more-or-less okay in the morning, we knew we'd hit our wall at some point early afternoon.

We were able to stretch out and rest for about a half hour before showering, changing clothes, and meeting up with our tour group for the day's itinerary.

Riejksmuseum  

Riejksmuseum  

Our first scheduled activity was just a walking tour from our hotel to the center city of Amsterdam, which is only a few blocks away. Our guide is good enough but I'd like to have gotten more historical information and detail about architecture and stuff. To be fair, we've had some excellent guides in our time who have set a very high bar for us, so this guide is certainly sufficient. 

Our walking tour ended with a brief tram ride over to the Riejksmuseum, which was top on my list of what I wanted to do while here. I love me some Dutch Masters. Unfortunately, remember that wall I said we'd eventually hit? Slammed into it full force in the museum. Both my husband and I were quite literally falling asleep on our feet. After our guided tour through some of the highlights of the museum we were given about an hour to see whatever we wanted to on our own. Unfortunately, it was all we could do to drag our sorry butts to the museum cafe for tea, where we kept dozing off over our cups.

"Dancing" houses--all leaning against each other at odd angles from centuries of settling. (These are from the early 1700s, if I recall. We saw them from 1640s to 1890s.) 

"Dancing" houses--all leaning against each other at odd angles from centuries of settling. (These are from the early 1700s, if I recall. We saw them from 1640s to 1890s.) 

Fortunately, we had a couple hours' break between getting back to the hotel after the morning excursion and meeting up again for a canal cruise, so we were able to take short naps to take some of the edge off. Still, it's now 7:15p and I'm sitting in my pajamas in bed writing this post, planning on going to sleep as soon as I'm done!

The canal cruise was nice although we were still dozy, and we made a not-so-great seating choice so I don't feel we saw things as well as we could. Still, it gave us a good orientation to the city and, after dinner (at a great little hole-in-the-wall Italian place near our hotel with a great waitress who was a hoot), we were able to wander back along some of the canals again to see more clearly what we were supposed to be looking at the first time.

Weather was perfect today: 60s and sunny. (Yes, 60s is perfect for these Western NYers.)

Tomorrow we have the morning on our own and then we transfer to our riverboat in the early afternoon. We plan on just doing more wandering. But first, 12 hours of sleep if I can make it!

Vacation Day 1--Monday, May 22

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So we were supposed to in Amsterdam by now--or, at least, landing shortly. 

Instead, we're in the Atlanta airport.  

Small favors: At least we found out we were scr*wed before we even left town.  We were able to sleep in our own bed again last night rather than sitting in a shut-down airport somewhere overnight.

Our flight was supposed to leave at about 5p yesterday to get us to JFK. We had about 90 minutes at JFK to get to the International Terminal and get on our flight--which was already a fairly tight connection when you're going international. And then our flight from Rochester got delayed. And delayed again. Finally, it was scheduled to depart Rochester after our flight to Amsterdam was supposed to leave NY. No go.

Fortunately, we were getting the alerts about the delay starting before lunch so we were still home. My husband got on the phone with Delta and eventually managed to get us "stand-by" for a flight to Amsterdam from JFK on Monday but there were no guarantees. We couldn't do anything on the Delta site ourselves because everything was still listed as fine and we'd have had to pay change fees. We eventually decided to head to the airport anyway so that we could talk directly to a ticketing agent.

We said goodbye to the dogs...oh, and our daughter who drove us to the airport.  What a good daughter.

And we stood for about a half hour while the ticketing agent was on hold with someone trying to rebook our flight. We finally succeeded in getting actual seats (next to each other, even!) on a flight out of Rochester Monday morning at 11:30a, this time through Atlanta instead of JFK.

As we were sitting and waiting for our daughter to come back and get us (what a good daughter!), we noticed that the new flights only gave us 45 minutes between flights in Atlanta. Are you kidding me? Doable, but only just, and only if everything goes swimmingly.

Back my husband went, up to the ticketing agent's desk. The first two tried to tell him it would be okay, but a third one overheard and said, "Are you kidding me?" He rebooked our flights for an early one out of Rochester in the morning (god-awful early) but at least we'd be sure to have plenty of time to get our flight to Amsterdam. 

The dogs were a bit confused when we walked back in the house with our suitcases. And then confused again when we left at 4:30a this morning (with a bleary-eyed daughter driving us to the airport for a second time--what a good daughter!). 

So now we're cooling our heels in Atlanta on Monday, trying not to think about how tired we're going to be when we arrive in Amsterdam at 6a Tuesday morning their time (midnight our time), needing to almost immediately hit the pavement to catch up with our scheduled tours. I'd take a nap, but we're supposed to be visiting the Rijksmuseum which is a big one on my list. I love me some Dutch Masters. 

Fingers crossed we're able to connect with our extension guides when we arrive so we don't miss any more of this vacation that we've already paid for.  

Fight the Funk Friday (and a little Belated Wardrobe Wednesday)

I had a fantastically fun workout with my trainer, Lore, this week. We usually meet at the Y nearest me but due to both her and my travel schedules, this week the only way to have a session was to meet earlier in the week and at the Y where she's actually based. It's a long drive (about 40 minutes one way in traffic), but it was a lot of fun as her Y is much newer and has tons of equipment that mine doesn't have. I may try to meet her there once a month from now on because it was a blast!

I got to drag a sled with weights on it 3/4 of the way across the gym, then pull it back towards me at my starting place with ropes. 

I flipped a big tire back and forth across the gym.

I beat on that same tire with a sledgehammer. That felt great. I asked if I could do it more. I did it a lot.

(Did I already use this one? Probably. It's my current favorite!)

(Did I already use this one? Probably. It's my current favorite!)

I dangled from arm straps to do core work. That hurt. Clearly I need to do more work on my core strength.

(My trainer's quotable quote this week: "Everything's more fun when you're dangling." )

When people say they "hate exercise," all I can think is, "you haven't tried enough different ways to exercise yet!" Sure, I'm a little stiff now, but it was so much fun I don't care.  

I'm a beast. 

That workout helped to make up for the fact that I finally made the call not to do the Color Run this weekend. I really didn't want to do something I'd regret to my foot right before vacation. I'm terribly disappointed but I'm refocusing my brain on how much fun I'd been having with a highly varied workout before I started running. I enjoy doing different things all the time and running prevented that. To build up to a 5k, and given my schedule, I could only run (and do one session of strength training a week). I missed the variety I used to have before I started running. I've already written out in my planner a workout schedule for the week I get back that goes back to my "something different every day" routine. I'm still pretty limited--no Cardio Kickboxing for awhile, although I might be able to do Cardio Step as you try to keep your foot flat with that most of the time. Anyway...back to variety.

I may be in pain but my toenails are vacation-ready!

I may be in pain but my toenails are vacation-ready!

 I did go back to my podiatrist yesterday and he gave me another set of cortisone shots (two last time, three this time) to see if that can get me through vacation. The fact that I knew how much it was going to hurt afterwards didn't help. He did give me some more long-lasting anesthetic as part of the shots but I think that only took a little of the edge off. He then went into his routine about the surgery being "nothing." I laughed and told him that, as he hadn't really told me how much the cortisone was going to hurt, his credibility rating on "the surgery will be nothing" had taken a nosedive. He was surprised to find out how much pain I'd been in after that shot. From what I've seen online (and Twilter responses) severe pain for several hours after is normal. I suspect he's never had one. That's not something you can learn out of a book.

Skechers new and old

Skechers new and old

And, I went shoe shopping again this week. I finally decided that, as only one pair of my initial "vacation shoes" actually worked with the inserts, I just had to bite the bullet and check out some more options. As the one pair of shoes I already owned that worked with the inserts were Skechers, I hit the Skechers outlet store ten minutes from my house. I spent a fast half hour between other appointments (1) finding the few options available in my size (especially with the inserts, I'm in the upper range of shoe sizes), (2) picking at the edge of the insoles to make sure I could rip them out to fit the inserts underneath (while trying to avoid doing enough damage that I'd have to buy the dang shoe anyway), and (3) trying them on with my inserts. I actually found a grand total of six pairs. They were having a "buy one, get one 50% off sale," woo. However, I don't necessarily know that I'll be keeping all six. Since I was doing it in a hurry, I was just looking for "what worked" and "what I liked," but couldn't think carefully through "what outfits I have that I know these will work with." This first picture is my original pair of gray Skecher sneakers with the inserts now removed from under the sole, with the two pairs of new ones I knew for sure I was going to make work because they were so comfy and cute! 

Skechers Bob's platform espadrilles--fantastic!

Skechers Bob's platform espadrilles--fantastic!

Here's a second, better picture of the black ones. (The multicolored in the picture are flats, just like Toms.)

These are probably my favorite comfort-wise because the platform sole means that they're actually stiffer than any of the rest of the options, and with my toe issues, stiff is good. (Did I mention my inserts are a sheet of carbon plate? We're not messing around here. The point is restricting my toe bend when I walk.) When I put in my inserts and then the memory foam insole over the top, these are really, really comfortable. I can easily picture myself walking all day in these, and I think they'd look cute with several of my possible outfits. I do have to take a hair dryer to the heel and the left toe to get a little more stretch on them--with the inserts I have to really work to get my foot in there. But once they're on, they're really comfy!

"Bobs" are the Skechers total rip-off of Toms. They don't even try to hide it, which I at least respect. They even say that Bobs helps support some pet charity or another (Toms gives a pair of shoes to an underprivileged child for every pair you buy), although Skechers is pretty cagey about how that works and how much support goes to them. Toms are definitely better made, but I can't rip the insole out of them (remember that "better made"--the insole is stitched down rather than glued) so I can't easily wear my Toms with my inserts. I'm not expecting these Bobs to last me as long as my Toms but, to be honest, they don't really need to. If they get me through this summer and all my foot issues, I'll be ecstatic.

And here are the other four pairs that still need to be assessed. I'll be trying them on with the pants I know I'll be packing to see what works. And no, I won't be packing that many pairs of shoes! I have one pair of sandals already set out that will go with all my dress-up outfits and are already toe-tested. Then I may allow myself three other pairs of casual/walking shoes for various modes of dress (and probable rain). I'm looking at those gray leather slides as my airport shoes--easy to get on and off in security and a little warmer on the plane for my cold feet.

Another nice thing about these Skechers is they're all really light-weight so won't add much to my suitcase poundage! As a note--the navy sneakers came with a second pair of navy laces, and the gray sneakers come with a second pair of light gray laces, so you can go lower contrast on both if  you prefer. I definitely wouldn't bring both pairs on vacation but I don't have any navy casual shoes so I suspect that pair will be a keeper for my general wardrobe. Not as sure about the taupe flats or the gray sneakers, but we'll see.

If all six work with my summer wardrobe overall, well, they were all really well priced so I'll just figure I now have a shoe wardrobe  at least four times the size of what it was ever before! And hopefully that means I won't have to buy new spring/summer shoes for several years. I don't need nearly as many footwear options in the fall/winter, as the snow and slush drives all shoe-buying options at that point, and I still have some from before that will work fine. And by then, I'll have had my surgery so I should just be back into normal shoes I like, not messing around with what I can shove a piece of carbon into. Sigh.

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Oh--quick update on the contacts: I'm getting much better at putting them in! We switched brands on the trials earlier this week and the new ones are much easier to use. I'm down to three tries (average) on the left eye, and can generally get the right eye in one (I'm a rightie). And no problems taking them out at all. I pick up another set of trials today that are hopefully much closer to my actual prescription so fingers crossed!

Between the cortisone, the footwear, and the contacts...all I have to do now is pack and we're on our way vacay! Woot!

(Tea Tuesday ended up on unintentional hiatus this week as Lori and I couldn't get our schedules together, but it'll come back when I'm back from vacation. Consider today's shoe section of this post your Wardrobe Wednesday. I didn't get Thinkin' about It Thursday done due to evening conference calls and unexpected podiatrist appointments. And I won't be posting for the next two weeks unless I can sometimes throw some photos up here while on vacation. Otherwise, you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @sandyquiltz--I'm sure I'll be pretty active there!) 

Fight the Funk Friday

This week, I've mostly been working on getting my head back in the game. And making some other general "life improvements."

I came to the conclusion earlier this week that everything with my foot had really thrown me totally off track. Not so much that I was doing horribly--no major binges, I wasn't sitting around like a slug day on end--but I was enough unfocused that I've been going back and forth with the same couple of pounds for about three or four weeks now. I'm a bit fed up with it, so I decided I really needed to regroup. Okay, so I can't run--I needed to be more intentional about making a plan for what I was going to do instead. I had gotten into some less-focused eating habits--and even healthy eating habits can start slowly wandering off track with an extra few Veggie Stix here and there, the one or two meals that went unplanned and uncounted, and so forth.

So this week, rather than getting all beating-up-on-myself or boot-camp-y about eating and exercising,** has been 90% about working on what's in my head. Weight Watchers has begun to use a mantra that I've known for years: What I'm thinking affects how I'm feeling, and how I'm feeling affects what I do. So it all starts with the thinking.

**i.e., saying to myself "I have GOT to get this right! That's it! Working out EVERY day. Tracking EVERY SINGLE BITE." because I know that lasts all of about a day and a half, if that, and I'm right back where I started.

1. Remember some of those motivational memes I posted in FTF post several weeks ago? I have quite a collection. I ran across a pack of Post-It Sticky Picture Paper I'd forgotten I had from a work project many years ago. It finally struck me: Motivational Memes + Post-It Paper = Daily Motivation. I printed off a bunch of them, and have started sticking them on my bathroom mirror. I also have one on the front of my bullet journal--cheaper than buying another phrase from Etsy, although probably won't last that well. But I have more of the post-it paper left so I can replace it pretty easily. My husband teased me about it a little bit this morning (in a loving, supportive way--he's been great), so I told him he was more than welcome to go through my collection and find something to post on his side of the mirror! As a note--the post-it that I had up there when I took the picture is one of my favorites because it stays in the realm of "acknowledge what I have to be proud of." It reminds me that I HAVE come far--yay me!--but that I still have further I want to go. None of my motivational quotes are sticks, they're all carrots. 

2. I got my cortisone shot for my toe yesterday. Ai, Mami, the doctor did NOT tell me how much that was going to hurt afterwards! Once that anaesthetic wore off, my toe was suddenly screaming "WTF?!?!?!?" Serious pain for a couple of hours, then (thankfully) it subsided into manageable pain for a few more hours. In fact, by the time I met with my personal trainer at 4:30 it was only giving a few throbs once in a great while. We joked about the fact that I might be coming up with a new Personal Record category of "No Toe Pain." Woo! We'll see how well it keeps me going during vacation. I'm going to bring my sneakers w/ inserts as back-up in case something goes awry, but I have high hopes now that I'll be able to wear my nicer-looking comfy shoes.

3. Sammy and I got out for another canal walk! This was actually on Wednesday, pre-cortisone-shot, but my foot was behaving itself pretty well that day and it was cool, but really beautifully sunny. I know Sammy's time on the canal is limited so I'm trying to get him out when I can. Now that I'm not worrying about keeping up with a 5k training schedule anymore I can choose to take a long walk with him rather than trying to do a certain set of intervals. (Still doing the Color Run at the end of next week, but it'll definitely be a Run-Walk for me.)

Sammy was moving a little more slowly than he used to, but he made it to our usual bridge stopping point. We like to sit on the cement foundation under the bridge and watch the canal together. It's a little on the high side for Sam so he puts his front paws up and I haul him up from the back. (I had to do that even before he got sick.) He normally wanders about the concrete and sniffs alot but this time he immediately laid right down next to me, so I know his energy levels are starting to sag. When it was time for us to go, he looked really unsure about jumping back down again (that was the part he always did himself) so I decided to try to lift him down. He's 80-ish pounds of muscle mass with probably another 5 pounds of fur. I got him off the cement okay, but when I put him on the ground he decided it would be best to immediately sit--which threw me off balance so I sort of fell forward over the top of him--which made him twist around and start licking my face--which made me giggle and made it even harder to get back upright. We finally untangled ourselves and I did a quick look around to see if anyone had seen our wrestling match...phew. The only other walkers were pretty far away and had their backs to us. Our little secret--until now, at least, but I can trust you to keep it on the low-down, right?

4. Oddly enough, I now have contacts. Or, rather, I'm still in the trial period of contacts. I wrote about it in my Thinkin' about It Thursday post yesterday. I only started wearing glasses a lot in the last four or five years. I had them for working at the computer or intense bouts of reading before that (since grad school) but for most things didn't really need them. Aging put paid to that. Anyway, this week I had my biennial eye exam and had no intentions of doing anything other than getting new glasses if my prescription had changed. Which it did. But in talking with the optometrist about having readers all over the house and, more critically, my annoyance during speaking engagements and board meetings about always having to have reading glasses at hand, or on for a few seconds, then off again, or looking at people from a podium over the top of my glasses so I could also read my notes...she told me about new contacts that have only been out for about a year that can deal with both close-up and distance. So I'm trying them out. So far, I've succeeded at learning how to put them in and take them out--yay me! We still have to get the prescription right--I'm wearing trials that aren't exactly my prescription so it's hard to tell yet whether this is the right answer. I go in again Monday to see how I'm doing with contacts in general and then we'll order my real prescription. I do think I'm in love with the concept, though!

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Oh, and... 5. I successfully avoided eating any of these while sitting in the waiting room at the optometrist for over an hour starting at 4:30 p--Hungry Time.

As I posted on Weight Watchers Connect (their social network), "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!" But I prevailed!

And the good news is, I managed to lose a pound this week. If I can stay focused, that puts me back in good line for achieving one of my mini-goals at my last weigh-in before vacation. Focus is key.

 

Thinkin' about It Thursday

This week, I'm thinking...

  • That starting to wear contact lenses at 51 (and some) is a bit of a challenge
  • That my eyes are a little uncertain about this whole "putting something solid in them" thing
  • How nice it is, though, not to have to keep taking reading glasses on and off and on and off and on and off and...
  • That it'll also be nice not to have to be carrying reading glasses up to the podium during speaking engagements
    • and dropping them off the side of the podium
    • because podiums are always oddly angled
    • and usually way too small
    • and made for tall men
    • and I hate podiums
    • and I always leave my glasses up there afterwards and have to retrieve them later
    • so wearing contacts will at least decrease some amount of chaos in my life
  • How good it feels to be done with classes altogether
  • That, on the flip side, I already miss the academic camaraderie of my cohort
    • who I won't see in person again for a long time
    • until we graduate, probably
    • and some of my original cohort is no longer part of my cohort
    • because some have dropped out
    • and some have changed programs
    • and some had life happen and are now graduating later than planned
    • so we're down to about half of what we started with
    • and I still miss the ones we started out with
    • so I know I'll be missing the ones I finish with even more!
    • but that makes me sad
    • so I'm not going there for now
  • How nice it is to have my thesis proposal approved with no revisions required (woot!)
  • How much I'll enjoy being able to just hunker down and focus on my own project instead of needing to finish classwork before I can do my own reading
    • which means I still have a backlog of my own reading I want to get to
    • but I've got a nice long plane ride coming up soon
    • so Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King, Jr., are going to be flying with me
    • It'll be companionable
  • That I'm going to give myself a week off of doing anything school-related first
    • and go take Sammy for a canal walk on a beautiful spring day.

Wardrobe Wednesday--The Elusive Poncho

By jove, I think we've got it.

If you've been following along in my recent Wardrobe Wednesday posts, you know that I had a bug in my bonnet about getting a poncho I could use for travel, specifically for airports. I'm almost always cold on airplanes, especially long, international flights. But I hate sitting in a jacket. I feel way too constricted. I usually bring a pashmina with me and use it as a blanket, stretched from toes to chin if I'm sleeping, but even that can get problematic, trying to keep myself covered. I thought a poncho might be a good solution, at least for my top half. (The pashmina or plane blanket can still cover my legs and ankles.) Ponchos also seemed to be "on trend" this year so who'd-a-thunk I'd have so many problems finding one?

First of all, many of them are southwestern style, which I don't mind on other people but doesn't generally go with my sartorial vibe. Second, I was pretty picky about the fabric they were made out of. I didn't want to look like I was wearing a sheep, but I did want to be warm enough.

Well, long-story-short, I finally found a couple of possibilities at Chicos (online) and ordered two, figuring I would return whichever one doesn't work.

The first one I ordered was on sale, which is always a plus. This is the Maeve poncho. I loved the color-block look and asymmetrical vibe. 

Don't I model so much better now? Tee hee.

In any case, I got it in the white/black version. Black and white is more universal to go with whatever I might happen to wear on travel days. However, I do like the red version, and I think that would be a good red for me--so many are not! 

The Maeve poncho can be worn off-the-shoulder but I wouldn't plan on wearing it that way--I like the boatneck look it has in the photo with the red version.

Unfortunately, I think I'll be taking this one back. Well, let me clarify that: I'll definitely be returning the white one I got as it has a little hole and a pull in it that would only get worse. And I don't want two black and white ponchos. Whether I replace it with a red one remains to be seen.

It's very lightweight, so it's not warm enough for what I wanted in regards to air travel. However, I do love the way it drapes. It would be a really interesting variation on a work outfit and/or going-out-to-dinner outfit. Rather than a cardigan or jacket of some sort, I could throw on this poncho and look dressy but be very comfortable. It would be a nice weight for my usual conference-room work life, and it's one-size-fits-all so it would move with me through my journey. So, I'm still debating this one (in red) for other uses.

The second one I got, though, tics all the boxes for me.

This is the Talia poncho. It was also on sale--yay for me. 

The Talia is not only much longer than the Maeve, but it's a heavier knit and has a very soft, fleecy interior. It's definitely more blanket-like, but the style and fabric doesn't make it look like you're wearing your comforter out of the house. 

I love the unusual cut on this, and it makes it a little bit warmer since it's almost a cape-like vibe in the back. The way the neckine is made is also nice--the fabric folds under itself so you've just got cozy softness but it's not all bunched up. This will be extremely comfy on the plane.

The only draw-back to having a poncho is carrying my bag over my shoulder through the airport. Chances are, I'll actually put the poncho in the bag during my layovers--I'll be wearing long sleeves underneath and I don't usually find airports all that cold, especially when I'm hoofing it from one gate to the next. However, my totebag that I'll be using as a carry-on does have a cross-body strap as well, which is easier to manage with the poncho. 

In any case, I finally found my travel poncho. Whee!

By the way, I'm not a Chicos affiliate so those links just take you to the site with no benefit to me. Just sharing the good news in case anyone else is looking for ponchos or ruanas--Chicos has a lot of possibilities! I'm eyeing some of the kimono-style light-weight ones to wear over camis or tanks this summer. However, I'm taking a break from adding to my wardrobe for a bit as, now that I've got my poncho, I'm all set for vacay and my big summer work event at the end of June. The one question mark I have left in my head is whether my toe will force me to get some other pair of shoes for my work event, as none of my dressier/professional shoes work with my inserts and I'll be on my feet pretty much all day every day for that one. I'm going to wait to see how my foot does after my cortisone shot (tomorrow!) and a couple of weeks of hard use on vacation. If it's still happy then, I'll be fine with the shoes I have--so fingers crossed!

 

 

Wardrobe Wednesday--StitchFix

It was a fun way to spend part of my comp day on Monday (after a weekend speaking at an area women's conference) to get my May StitchFix! I've moved up my delivery date to the first of the month so I know how to budget the rest of the month. That being said, I'll probably skip June since I feel like I'm very well set for my June work trip. I like that about StitchFix--you can control when you get stuff. 

This month, I'd renewed my request for that poncho I'd like to have for the flight on my vacation, plus the several flights I'll be taking in June and next fall. I also asked for a "cute" raincoat that would be easily stuffable into a backpack on vacation to have available just-in-case, another pair of pants like the gray ones they sent me last time, but in a different color, and possibly a kimono for dressing up a tshirt and jeans. Plus, for the last couple of Fixes, I've reminded my stylist how much I loved the Kut from the Kloth jeans I got in January but have now grown out of (shrunk out of? Anyway, they don't fit anymore).

My stylist sent me something in every category, so definite points for paying attention! That being said, I will be sending back a couple of things this time around. But the wins are BIG wins!

First of all, note the rain covering the StitchFix box in the first picture. It happened to be pouring when my box came, and I was just about to leave the house to run a couple of errands when the USPS guy showed up. Priorities: I decided to check out what was in the box before doing my errands. Sure enough, right on top...a raincoat!

LOVE IT! It's not lined, so it'll only be good for warmer weather, but I'm okay with that as I have warmer jackets for the rest of the year. It's going to be very easily stuffable, so fantastic for hauling around with me on vacay. I also like that it has a drawstring, although the way I've got it drawn here and my stance makes me look a little pudgy. Dang. However, that drawstring means I've got a lot of wear in this even as I continue to lose weight. It's got a hood and a stand-up collar so I won't get rain dripping down inside. I put this puppy on immediately and ran my errands in it--it was great! The pattern is showing up here a little different than it is up close--it's not solid gray lines but, rather, thin lines bunched together. I like how it looks more solid from a distance, though. Verdict: KEEP. (The jeans are Chico's Girlfriend ankle jeans--Chicos are becoming my new favorite jean! I only buy them on sale, but they're really, really, comfortable. I have two pairs now.)

By the way, yes, I got a tripod holder for my iPhone and a bluetooth shutter do-jobber so I can actually show you what these clothes look like on a person rather than just laying on the floor. And yes, Sammy inevitably photo-bombs me. Doofus.

The kimono wasn't quite so much of a win.

I tried styling it with a V-neck sleeveless top (from a consignment store) to show the cold-shoulder effect. I just don't like the cold-shoulder style on me, especially when it comes to something like this. Part of why I'd want it is to have something to cover my shoulders in chilly restaurants. All in all, I just didn't like the drape or colors of this kimono so, although kudos to my stylist for listening, this particular one doesn't work for me. (I'd never mentioned to my stylist my aversion to the cold-shoulder style so that's on me.) Verdict: RETURN.

The pants are a definite win, though. These are the same style (Liverpool brand) as the gray ones she sent me last time, and equally as comfortable. I've worn the gray ones a lot and they don't sag or bag even after several wears between laundering, which is perfect for taking on vacation. One of those two pairs of pants will likely be my travel-day pants--they'll be great for the plane. Verdict: KEEP. And yes, I forgot to put my shoes back on before taking this picture and yes, Sammy just had to be in it with me again. 

And the poncho search continues. 

The color on this is a little too dark for me, although I know that means it would hold up to travel well. I could have dealt with the color, though, if it weren't for the sleeves. Yes, those black sleeves are attached to the poncho. Oddly, however, there's a slight gap underneath between where the sleeve is sewn into the arm and where the sides of the poncho are buttoned together, so you still get air coming in under there. It's strangely designed.

The buttons down the side (which you can just barely see in this photo--right above my wrist on my hip) are a nice detail but they just make the whole thing look kind of bulky. I don't find this flattering, and the sleeves would drive me insane. Verdict: RETURN. (I have since ordered a couple of ponchos from Chicos online, as I have a store near me for easy return if I don't like one or either of them.)

Finally...drum roll please...

Kut from the Kloth Boyfriend Jeans!

On the left, cuffed like most people wear this style of jean. On the right, uncuffed, which is probably the way I'll always wear them. If I did cuff them, I'd keep them ankle length. Get too far up my calf and I start looking a bit stubby. 

I debated these for a little bit because I don't normally think of myself as a "distressed jean" kind of girl. But these are "subtly distressed" (just crying quietly in a corner to themselves) and I love the wash and the fit, so why not? My daughter had stopped by to mooch lunch and gave them the thumbs up. Verdict: KEEP. (The shirt is from Clothes Mentor consignment, don't know what brand. I was stylin' some boho chic that day.) 

That makes this box a 60% win, as I'm keeping three out of five items. So, yay! Several times over the last couple of weeks, my husband and I have been somewhere together and I've suddenly noticed, "Hey, this is a StitchFix outfit!" I get a lot of wear out of what I get from them. I do, however, have to work on my modeling skills...

Interested in StitchFix? Here's my referral link--thank you! They also have a plus-size subscription service and a men's subscription service, and they include jewelry, shoes, and bags in the women's. (I think they also include ties, belts, and shoes in men's.) Remember, you don't have to do it every month, and you indicate your price-level when you do your style profile. 

Random Thursday

I just have a couple of updates and don't feel like doing my usual bullet-point thoughts, so this one's a little more straightforward.

First, have I written before about how much I absolutely love Clothes Mentor

I have a speaking engagement this weekend which means three straight days of looking professional. Months ago, looking ahead to this event, I had planned to wear the white dress pants I got when I did the Christopher and Banks fashion show. However, this weekend, I'm just not quite feeling white pants. It still feels a little early in the season for that, especially since it's only supposed to be about 60 over the weekend. 

So, just for kicks n' giggles, I stopped in Clothes Mentor while running errands this week to see if I could find a pair of palazzo pants or something that would feel spring-like but not be summer-like, if that makes sense. Instead, I found this great dress. For $14! I love that store!

It fits perfectly, and its great for work. Although it's made to look like a wrap dress, it isn't really. The neckline is sewn, not just wrapped, so it doesn't get awkward gaps and it's not too low. The bottom is sewn too, so it stays closed when I move. It actually has a wide belt that goes with it (I forgot to put it on the dress before taking the picture) that makes the whole cut of the dress very flattering. Because it's short sleeved, it'll be good for warm weather, but I realized when I got home that my purple duster cardigan works fantastic with it for 60 degree weekends and any convention center I might ever wear it in, because they're always refrigerator-cold. I've got a couple of other cardigans I could wear with it to change things up, and I could go a little more casual with it with a denim jacket for a date night. And I have three different pairs of shoes that will work perfectly with it, depending on whether I'm dressing it up or down, and whether I want to go heels or flats. Plus, with those colors, I can wear it into the fall with dark tights and boots. I'm so excited! For $14!!!!

The other randomness for this week is about my bullet journal (aka bujo). I'm really loving everything my bullet journal does for me that going purely digital doesn't, but I'm still a bit of a hybrid. I have some things digital, other things in my bujo, and often I copy from digital into my bujo because physically writing something down does actually give me a better chance of actually getting it done. However, I can blast tasks out into the distant future much more easily digitally. In any case, what I still wanted to fix was being able to see my whole year together, rather than working one month at a time as using a bujo forces me to do (and seeing a whole year digitally is impossible). I use Leuchtturm notebooks for my bujo and happened to see that they have a yearly planner as well. So I bought the Monthly Planner with Notebook.

It's a little hard to see in these pictures because Leuctthurm uses a gray rather than a black font. The upper left shows that they include a yearly date guide for several years--2016-2018, maybe even further. (I don't have it in front of me at the moment.) The upper right is the two-page monthly spread. Lower left are the note pages in the back. There's a spot for writing the date at the top, so I plan to use these for master projects/tasks lists for each month--stuff I know ahead of time I'm going to want to get done that month. The lower right is the one I have to figure out how to use--it's a "Project Plan" spread. It's separated by month. Each month has five or six rows, divided into columns by day. Looks like I would write the project name on the row header and then check off which days it would be addressed. That would have limited usefulness for me but I may figure out a way I could repurpose it. 

I've started filling out the monthly calendar with all the stuff I already have scheduled--trips, doctor's appointments, staff meetings, etc. Each calendar day on the two-page spread has a little box for you to index the page number from the notes pages that's relevant to that page. Since I plan on using the note pages more for a general monthly brain-dump, I'm not sure how often I'd use that indexing system, but it might come in handy.

My plan is to do something like this right at the beginning of the year. (Since I just got it now, I'm considering the start of this year to be May.) Then, when I sit down to do a new month in my regular bujo, I'll reference what I've got in this one to start, and go from there. The regular bujo would be the one I keep up-to-date--I don't want to keep going back to this one all the time. It's pure reference, but it's the best way I can think of to see everything for the year all in one place.

So far, the only drawback I've run into with this new monthly planner is the fact that it's from Europe so the calendar weeks start on Monday rather than Sunday. I've caught myself getting off by a day a couple of times as I was filling things in. I just have to pay really close attention!

By the way...I'm presenting a webinar for work on time management in June. Within 24 hours of sending out the first email promo, we already had a bunch of registrants. Apparently I'm not the only one working on my organizational skills out there!

Fight the Funk Friday

I will not let my big toe win. 

I'm back to running, though I had to take myself backwards about two weeks in my training. My first day back at the gym last weekend was not pretty and I was pretty discouraged by the end of it. At 20 minutes on the treadmill (far shorter running intervals than I'd scheduled myself to do) my toes were really bothering me so I switched to the elliptical and did another 10 minutes just to get myself up to 30 total. It was all a real struggle and my brain just wasn't up to the fight. There was definitely some whining on Instagram/Twitter, so thanks to all my #twilter buds who gave me words of encouragement!

I realized a couple of days later that I'd been too aggressive on what intervals I chose for my first day back and really needed to work my way back up again. I set myself up a revised training plan for the next couple of weeks that seems much more reasonable. I also remembered that was the first time I'd actually run with my new sneakers. They definitely feel different in the toes so there's some adjustment time--by the next time I ran I was in much better form.

I also realized that I'd been through a lot of feels over the last few weeks, what with Sammy, some school stress, being sick twice, and finding out about my foot issues. I was mentally and emotionally de-energized, so I wasn't really approaching my physical health with a good mindset. 

I gave myself a week to regroup. I found a pair of shoes that fit my inserts and foot at the same time, so I made sure I wore those most days around the house to give my toe some rest-time. I had two more running sessions, on Monday and Wednesday, but backed it down so I was doing intervals from a couple of weeks ago, slowly working my way back up again. I also spent a lot of time thinking about my foot while I was running, keeping track of where I was hitting down and making sure I wasn't over-compensating for anything. I was much more comfortable, completed the sessions, and my foot didn't bother me at all. 

I also took a week off from tracking my eating. I didn't eat any differently, and I'd already planned all my meals for every day out, so it wasn't terribly high risk. That being said, I did gain a little weight this week but it could have easily been the fact that I was working my way through a batch of that wonderful split pea soup, made with a huge smoked hamhock from a local Amish grocery store, plus extra chopped ham I throw in for good measure. Lots n' lots of sodium. I've felt a little water-retention stuff going on, so, although I'll definitely own some of that weight gain as being less exercise and not tracking, I'm also not beating myself up about it.

More importantly, I'm back into all my good habits now. I think my head is back in the right place. I had a great strength-training session yesterday--I deadlifted 115 pounds, woo! And did kettle bell swings with 35 pounds, which is 10 more lbs than last time!--so I'm feeling strong, I'm reminded of my progress, and I know this will happen. 

So, listen up, Toe, that'll be just about enough of that nonsense.

 

Thinkin' about It Thursday

This week, I'm thinking...

  • how tired I am of dealing with computers
  • that getting a new work computer is more curse than blessing
  • how long it takes to make sure all the software I use is installed
  • that I have to re-set all my preferences
  • how nothing ever talks to everything else right
 
  • how long it took me to get the new computer to find my printer
  • that, as soon as it did, the printer started jamming
    • and jamming
    • and jamming again
 
  • that I did finally win the battle to get two computers (personal and work) to talk to a single monitor, keyboard, mouse, and printer
  • that the process took two trips to Best Buy and some time on Google
    • and, apparently, just waiting for stuff to get over itself and finally start cooperating
      • but it's done
      • and it's nice
      • and I feel all sorts of techy now
  • that it takes way too long to offload old work files from my hard drive to our network drive
  • how nice it is to have done it, though, so I can delete the old work files from my hard drive
    • so I can set up my cloud backup
    • and it won't take as long
    • because there's not as many files to back up
  • how boring this post probably is
    • because who wants to read about computers?

 

Tea Tuesday--Chocolate Teas

I've tried a lot of chocolate teas in my time and most of them just don't make the cut. First off, I don't need my teas sweetened for me, thank you very much. If I want sweet, I'll add it myself. Second, don't try to give me carob and pass it off as chocolate. My grandmother used to try to do that with "chocolate" chip cookies when I was little. I was on to her then. I'm still on to those tricks. But there are a few chocolate teas I've actually enjoyed.

Mind you, "chocolate" is a little bit of a relative term. These teas don't so much cure your craving for a Lindt Dark Chocolate Truffle (or is that just my thing?) as they do offer a depth of flavor and a nice, "desserty" feel without being sicky sweet and laying all those calories on you. 

I have four chocolate teas for you--two are readily available, at least at Wegmans, if you've got one of those near you. I'm sure other major grocery chains also carry them. The other two would have to be ordered online but hey, we do what we need to do for our tea fix.

The first is Republic of Tea's Red Velvet Chocolate Tea. Republic of Tea comes in round tea bags without strings so you do have to fish it out of your mug when its done steeping. As long as you're prepared for that, it's a very nice tea. It's got a decent chocolate flavor, and there's a hint of vanilla that really does kind of give this the feel of a cupcake without the sweet. It's caffeine-free so it's a nice evening-in-front-of-the-TV-to-keep-myself-from-snacking tea. I was skeptical when I first bought it, but immediately became a fan. Unfortunately, my nearby Wegmans doesn't carry it anymore. Every so often I'll spy it at another Wegmans and will pick up a couple of tins to get me through. When I'm done with the canister I'm currently working on, though, I've resigned myself to having to order it online.

Another great Republic of Tea offering, and my go-to (this one is always in the cupboard at my house), is Peppermint Chocolate.  I adore this tea. I've mentioned that I'm a fan of mint tea, and I love mint chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate mint truffles...you name it. So this seemed like a natural. I've brought it with me on quilt retreats a couple of times and have made a few converts of my quilty friends, too. I especially love that there's no sweetener at all in this--not even natural kinds! It's just that same chocolate feel as the Red Velvet chocolate, with enough mint to make it cool and refreshing but not overpowering. This one is also caffeine-free, so I drink it a lot in the afternoon while I'm working. Fortunately, Wegmans always has this one so I don't have to go on the hunt for it. 

A note here: If you like sweeter teas, you may want to check out Republic of Tea's Peppermint Bark tea. It's a seasonal tea (winter holidays), but it's still on the shelves at my Wegmans, so you may be able to find it around even out-of-season. It's an organic green roobios tea with cocoa extract, peppermint, vanilla, and stevia. I tried it once and liked the flavor but don't like the sweetness of the stevia, so it wasn't a keeper for me. I handed it off to my daughter.

For my Canadian friends, or those from the U.S. or elsewhere who are willing to pay shipping, you can check out Victoria's Teas. I always visit their shop in Niagara on the Lake when my husband and I go up for our anniversary weekend every October. If you visit the brick n' mortar or online shop, check out Chocolate Delight. It has cocoa beans and chocolate flakes, vanilla barley (not sure what that is but it tastes like vanilla), and some bits of yogurt to make it just a titch creamy feeling. You can actually see some of the oils from the chocolate on the top of the tea--which sounds gross, but is actually really yummy. I always get my teas from Victoria's in loose-leaf but they generally also come in bags. It's a black tea, which creates a little bit of a problem for me as I tend to prefer my flavored teas in the afternoon, but I adjust. 

Chocolate Hazelnut tea, photo courtesy plumdeluxe.com. 

Chocolate Hazelnut tea, photo courtesy plumdeluxe.com

Finally, we're back to my new friends over at Plumdeluxe.com. I got several samples a few weeks ago and one of the first ones I tried quickly became one of my favorites. The Chocolate Hazelnut Dessert Tea is outstanding. I will be ordering this in full size as soon as I make room in my tea cupboard (read: as soon as I drink a few more gallons of tea). Oh. My. 

It's rich and nutty, but the touch of sweetness comes from the hazelnut and the natural flavor of the base honeybush tea, nothing else. It's also caffeine-free, so this is another wonderful one to have in the evening while I'm winding down from the day, instead of nibbling on something or diving into a bowl of ice cream. I can see this tea taking pride of place in my cupboard next to my Republic of Tea Peppermint Chocolate. 

Book Review

My book review this week is from a guest blogger! Woot! I sent our #Twilter friend Daisy, of Lazy Daisy Quilts, a request: those of us who know her know that she's a voracious reader. So, I asked her if she'd read anything with a chocolate theme and, if so, would she be willing to give me a brief review for today's post? The answer was yes and yes!

Daisy's review:

Brownies and Broomsticks by Bailey Cates is the first book in The Magical Bakery Mystery series. Bailey Cates is one of the many pen names of Cricket McRae. She uses a different pen name for each cozy crime series. I would recommend this, and her aromatherapy series, which starts with Daisies for Innocence. This author likes to center her mysteries around some sort of shop and in this, Brownies and Broomsticks, we find our main character, Katie, returning to downtown Savannah to help her aunt and uncle run their newly opened bake shop. Katie notices that each recipe her aunt bakes up has a special twist to it. She quickly learns that they are not just baked goods, but spells used to sway the moods and choices of those who consume them. Growing up, Katie never knew she came from a family of good witches. When a difficult and powerful woman about town turns up dead, Uncle Ben is the prime suspect and Katie has to unravel the mystery of what has really happened. The descriptions of sweet treats in this book will wreck your diet, and I'll tell you that for free. Get ready to curl up with some hot cocoa, a chocolate eclair, and this cozy mystery. It's punny, a bit predictable, yet still highly entertaining. There are no earth shattering profound truths about the human existence, just good clean murdery fun.

(Thanks so much for your review, Daisy!)

Recipe Link

I believe my friend Lori has baked up some wonderful chocolatey treats to go with today's chocolate tea theme. Check it out!

Making It Monday--Sundry Edition

I finally got him done.

It's ridiculous when you only have five minutes' worth of work left to do on something but you keep putting off doing it. 

Pshaw.

Whatever. It's done.

What else did I make? I guess I made a proposal. I spent most of my long Easter weekend (I had Friday and today off) working on school stuff. I once again give tremendous thanks to my D.Min. advisor who took time out of her Easter weekend to review my thesis proposal another time or two in the final throes of trying to get it prepared for the review committee. I'm not sure if I actually made their deadline for this month's meeting or not, so it may not actually get reviewed until their May meeting. Still n' all, May is a very busy month for me so I'm just as happy to get it done now. Fingers crossed that, whenever it goes to committee, it passes!

Let me take a moment, though, to list all the things I made this weekend using my Instant Pot! It's time for you to be dropping broad hints about Mother's Day or Father's Day gifts you'd like--or your birthday--or, just plain go shopping yourself. Let me just say it here, if I haven't said it enough times before. I LOVE MY INSTANT POT!

This weekend, I used my IP to:

  • Make split pea soup (using my favorite recipe here and great smoked hamhocks from an Amish grocery store)
  • Make "baked" potatoes for Easter dinner (30 mins all in)
  • Steam green beans for Easter dinner (5 mins all in)
  • Make Chocolate Lava cake for Easter dinner dessert (using this really easy and incredibly tasty recipe)
  • Make hardboiled eggs for the week (doing them in the IP makes them super easy to peel, regardless of how fresh they are)

 

 
  • Make my weekly batch of yogurt, and this week's batch is the best one I've made yet. I got the perfect consistency, and I switched to vanilla bean paste, which has a much better flavor than vanilla extract. There's a bunch of instructions for making yogurt in your IP on the internet--it's super, super easy. 

If you're new to IPs, let me suggest the following accessories:

  • If you want to make yogurt, it's worth buying a yogurt strainer. I tried the cheesecloth thing and I tried the coffee filter thing and it was messy and a pain in the.... Well, anyway. Since I make it every week, I decided to go ahead and pony up for actual strainers and I'm thrilled. So much easier! I do a gallon of milk's worth of yogurt every week so I bought two strainers. The amount of yogurt fills both strainers to the brim.
  • Get two inserts. Really. This way you can rotate stuff through more quickly. I bought my second insert about two weeks after I started using my IP because I discovered just how much I could get done in a weekend to prep for my week ahead.
  • These steamer baskets work really well. (There are a lot of them; I linked to the ones I actually use and can speak with authority about.) I use these when I do potatoes, eggs, vegetables, and so forth.
  • I took advice from the Facebook IP group early on and got a second silicone ring because the ring does take on the smells of whatever you're cooking. There was a lot of fear voiced in FB about whether those smells would then have an impact on cooking something else. I have to say, though, that in the six months or so I've been using my IP, I've never used the second ring. In my experience, I've had no problems with tastes transferring; washing the ring seems to be good enough. If you're interested, though, here's a link. They also have color-coded ones for "sweet" and "savory."
  • Speaking of that Facebook group, here's the main one I'm part of, and you'll notice a few other #Twilters hanging out there too. There are many other electric pressure cooker and IP-specific groups on Facebook as well. It's a great place to get new ideas and recipes!

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for the support!)