Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to Party Like a Rock Star...

...is not revealed in this post, because I don't know how. I can tell you how to party like a middle-aged woman with MS who is on the Swank Diet! Hey, where are you going? Get back here, it's not that bad! Especially when you have a fantastic support system (and by that I mean people who are willing to take your diet and health seriously).

My husband gets mad props (do the kids still say that?) for helping me celebrate the big 3-0 with...wait, what's that, guys?
"Um, you are TOTALLY not 30. You're not even 40. Get real, old lady: you're 42. Now feed us! Chop chop!"
Whatever. You can believe me or the cat clowns above. Where was I? Right. My husband helped me celebrate in inimitable Swank style by making my beloved crater cakes (you can read about my efforts with this dessert here Something Looks Very, Very Wrong and here Third Time's a Charm? Welllll....), as well as a lovely homemade pizza with, yes, Tofurkey "sausage" and fat-free shredded cheese mixed with 2 tsp. of oil so it would melt. He's been doing the diet with me, which is an enormous help.

My other family members are pitching in too. My mother is making an angel food cake for my birthday this year, and my sister (the World's Pickiest Eater a Super Taster) and her family ate a Swanky meal and actually enjoyed it when I visited them recently. (The meal, not necessarily my visit.)

Per a longstanding tradition, some girlfriends and I get together in March to celebrate my and another friend's birthday. Imagine my delight when the host of this year's get-together said she'd make all Swank-approved items. I had imagined bringing a bag of carrots and nuts and watching sadly as the others wolfed down bacon and chocolate. I should have known better.

Before I go any further, I must give a shout-out to my co-celebrant for the grace with which she received the news that this was to be a Swanky party. Thank you, T., for being such a good sport! I think we both were assured by our hostess, A.,  and her already-proven cooking abilities. Now, on to the festivities. We started with some wholesome appetizers.
That's right. Wee Squeaky crashed the party.
While we happily munched on carrots and crackers, A. made chicken, mushroom, and broccoli crepes (from scratch!).

Wee Squeaky, horning in while A. tries to cook.
The poorly photographed blob in the front is actually a yummy crepe. In the background (if you can see past Wee Squeaky, attention hog) is a tasty little cucumber and tomato salad.
Who the hell knew?? The Chocolate Chiffon Cake and Marshmallow Frosting from the Swank Diet book are DAMN GOOD.
Thank you again, A. & T., for helping me celebrate my birthday Swank-style! Wait, what's that? Oh, for Pete's sake. Fine. Squeaky wants me to show you the rug from A.'s bathroom (which I visited eight - yes, count 'em - EIGHT times. Thanks, MS!).

"Look at me! Again! Aren't I cute on the rug?!"

Okay, readers, have a nice...hang on, what's that, Capt. Nap? Are you sure? Okay.... Folks, Capt. Nap wants me to show you the present he claims Real Squeaky left me for my birthday. Regardless of the feline at fault, here's a far less cute picture of *my* rug, just yesterday!

"Happy birthday, mommy! This is what you get for trying to get us to change litter boxes!"
So there. For those of you wondering how Toilet Training (Cat Edition) is going, your answer is above. Poorly. Quite poorly indeed.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Toilet Training (Cat Edition)

If you have a cat, you know this to be true: cleaning a litter box sucks. Tremendously. If you don't have a cat, you can say smugly to the dog panting at your feet, "Yep! Yet ANOTHER reason why I do not have a cat. Isn't that right, Spot? You don't make icky messes that Mommy has to clean out of a disgusting box in the house, do you? No you don't, little Smoochie Spottums!" Never mind that Smoochie Spottums makes messes that you are, in theory, supposed to collect in a little baggie attached to your hand. But wait! Before anyone gets up in arms, this is not a cats vs. dogs post. I've had the pleasure of sharing my life with both species, and each has its considerable charms. No, this is a post about How to Train Your Cat to Use a New, Exciting Type of Litter Box (alternate title: HAHAHAHAHA, Dumb Human).

I've had the distinct (sooooooo tempting to make a "stink" joke here) pleasure of scooping litter boxes for several years now. My cats are indoor only, so I can't thrust them into the neighbors' flower beds and hope they'll relieve themselves there. Not that I would want them to, mind you, that's just kind of what I picture outdoor cats doing. In case you did not know, there are several exciting choices when it comes to litter boxes. Allow me to illustrate:
Okay, sorry, this is NOT one of the exciting choices referred to above. It's a standard old litter box. It's to be used as a frame of reference as I get to the truly Exciting Choices.  
I don't know where I heard of Exciting Choice #1, THE LITTER KWITTER, but let me say I was immediately delighted by the enormously clever title. (I also love anything made with "krab" and all things sold in "shoppes.") So I ponied up the $50 in the hopes that, as promised on the box, I would soon  -- "EIGHT WEEKS OR LESS!" -- be smell, mess, and germ free!  (Well, technically, *I* might still be smelly and germy, but you know what I mean.)

That cat totally is like, "What the *(&$ are YOU looking at? Are you actually watching me go to the bathroom? What kind of a creep are you?! See my left paw? I am two seconds away from scratching out your creepy prying eyes!!!"
For $50, you don't get just the LITTER KWITTER, you also get a training DVD! My husband and I settled in eagerly to watch how this device would transform our cats from dull, ordinary litter-box-using cats into ultra-clever toilet-using cats. The way this little gem works in theory is through a system of rings placed at different training stages into a toilet-shaped bowl. Er, see, in Stage 1, you place the adorably toilet-shaped bowl on the floor, and insert the first of three rings. This stage is designed to get the cats used to going into the the bowl. A rather shallow bowl. A bowl that is far shallower than the good old-fashioned box they've been using. The cats and I didn't make it past Stage 1. (For the benefit of those who don't have cats: when cats do a wee or a poo, they bury it, sometimes with great vigor. A normal litter box, with its tall sides, contains forcefully buried "business" quite well. The LITTER KWITTER, with its stupid shallow bowl, does not.) I promptly kwit the kwitter.

Sadder but wiser, I resigned myself...OH, WAIT! No I didn't! Undeterred and, apparently, flush with cash (haha, "flush") I shelled out even more money for Exciting Choice #2 (haha, "#2"), the CAT GENIE. No silly rings and toilet training. No, sir! This system promised to be far superior. This setup has deep bowl (see "wiser," above) and, even better, attaches via some complicated-looking nonsense that I let my husband deal with to the plumbing. Instead of ordinary litter, you fill the bowl with washable granules that, after your cat has soiled them, are sifted and cleaned by some complicated-sounding process I didn't pay much attention to. All I cared about was that, in theory, the CAT GENIE would spare me the odious task of scooping once and for all.

This annoyed-looking cat that I suspect has been Photoshopped into the Cat Genie is not mine. This image is from the Cat Genie website. Wanna know why I can't use an original picture? Because mine won't get in it! 
Maybe it's called Cat "GENIE" because if there was a genie floating around, you'd have to waste (haha, "waste") one of your precious three wishes to get your cat to use this thing. As you can see from the picture above, even the creators couldn't find an actual cat that will get in it. At least they chose an irritated cat (note the flattened ears and frowny face) to Photoshop into the device. So that's pretty accurate.

My cats were both irritated and alarmed by the Cat Genie. I vaguely recall that the instructions say you shouldn't turn it on at first while they're in the room, but I ignored that and did a test wash while they peered around me curiously. Once that baby kicked in and started whirring and clacking, the cats tore away in a panic. So, technically, it's probably my fault that now, about a year later, only Capt. Nap will use it -- rarely. Squeaky avoids it altogether.

I refuse to give up hope, though. If I can get them to use it, life certainly would be easier. I've rededicated myself to "training" them, this time following the instructions to the letter. The results so far have been...not so encouraging. But it's been only a week. I know Capt. Nappy Sweetiekins and SqueakyWeekie Cutiepie can do it for Mommy! Can't you, my wittle kitties?

"Hey! Go away! Can't we have a little privacy? We're trying to go to the bathroom!"

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Who Needs a Good Memory When THIS Is the Stuff You Can Remember?

I have an awesome memory. Now hold on. Before you get all annoyed and like, "What's SHE bragging about?" let me clarify. I can't remember anything remotely useful, such as:

  • Directions to my dermatologist's office, even though I've been there three times
  • How to perform CPR
  • Where I put the charger for my phone

What *can* I remember? Symptoms of practically every terrifying and deadly disease out there. Can you die from it or be disfigured by it? I can rattle off a few symptoms (and probably have a handful right now). Sure, they might also be symptoms of something completely benign, but that never, ever stops me from leaping to the worst possible conclusion the instant I notice something odd.

Apart from symptoms of awful diseases, there are a few choice nuggets I can mine from my Cave of Early Memories...fond moments, such as my sister referring to me as "cigarette butt," which was infuriating because technically it wasn't rude, even though it had the word "butt" in it. Or the time I convinced a boy chum that we didn't really need to go inside to poo; we could go right in the yard and use leaves for toilet paper. (Many years later I ran into him in 5th grade and, struggling for something to say, asked him if he remembered that incident. He claimed he did not. He then avoided me for the rest of middle school.)

A seminal moment in my, er, development into a full-blown hypochondriac was likely the time my sister told me that one in four persons get cancer, meaning someone in our family would get it. I was a wee lass, still believing everything my sister said (e.g., that trading my jaunty blue jeep for the crappy wooden car/cigarette holder my parents apparently would slide down the table to smoking guests at lavish dinner parties) was a good deal. Judge for yourselves:

This isn't the exact one we had, but it was pretty similar. Cool, right?
Here's what I traded THAT for:

"Ha ha! Ms. CrankyPants, you sure were a dumbass!"
Now, 30+ years later, the wooden cigarette car has a certain charm. Heck, I still have it; who knows what happened to the jeep? The point is, as a wee lass playing with Little People, I was getting the short end of the stick for sure. I mean, the Little People didn't even FIT into the wooden P.O.S. car:

Hey, that balding chap on the right was the dad in my Little People family. I named him Sir Jeffrey Brown, but my sister insisted on calling him Sir Jeffrey POO Brown. 
The Little People's bottoms were too fat to fit into the slots that were designed not for Little People, but for an attractive array of cigarettes. ("Joe? Care for another Virginia Slim?" my mom might say, wheeling the wooden car past admiring guests and toward the extremely impressed Joe.)

So back to the game and my ill-advised trade. We'd be playing at driving somewhere, and my people would be falling off the wooden P.O.S. car from their precarious position resting atop the vehicle, while my sister's Little People would trundle along in their jeep like gangbusters. It was Very Annoying Indeed.

How any of that relates to my original point, I have NO idea. Oh, right, seminal moments, blossoming hypochondria and all. So, yes, an impressionable and gullible wee lass turned into a raving lunatic who has to go tomorrow for an ultrasound to investigate a "swelling" in the neck. If you don't think I've conjured up every horrendous scenario that might result from tomorrow's test, well, I have. And then some. Plus 10 and to the 100th power. Etc.

Wish me luck. I'll be wearing my tiny bluebird of happiness earrings, bracelets I bought in New York City for some ridiculous price that have little charms that are supposed to bring good luck, and, what the heck -- I might even tuck Wee Squeaky into my purse for extra insurance. The thought of her smiling (mockingly? Kindly? Pityingly?) as I am sweating profusely and startling/annoying the technician with occasional hoots of nervous laughter and lame jokes might help. A wee bit.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Cure for Writer's Block, a Filthy Bathroom, Soiled Laundry, and Much, Much More!

Friends! Romans! Countrymen....oh, wait, that's another blog post entirely. Sorry.

Friends! Romans (sure, why not?)! Fellow MS Bloggers! Lend me your ears (and some cash, if you're feeling especially generous -- HAHAHAHA! Watch out, David Letterman!). I've found the cure for writer's block! Ms. CrankyPants' Cure for Writer's Block (TM) is best illustrated with a picture of the item that today compelled me to:

  1. Do several loads of laundry
  2. Wash the shower curtain (had a bit of a mildewy smell, you know?)
  3. Vacuum (okay, it was the Roomba, but still)
  4. Clean the birdbaths
  5. Refill the birdfeeders
  6. Check the birdhouses for evidence of new nests
  7. Shred some documents
  8. Take a shower
  9. Clean the bathrooms
  10. Compose this brand-new post (breaking my week-long absence)

So, without further ado:

[&^*&(! photo is upside-down; please bear with me]

So, without further ado, take 2:

[Picture is now sideways; I wish I were doing this for comedic effect but I'm quite simply not.]

Ta-da (third time's always a charm!):

F*** it! I'll post the sideways one too; it's easier to read.
How incredibly annoying. This Blogger program makes adding pictures a bit...challenging. I'm willing to consider that it may be me, but only half-heartedly.
Anyway, this miraculous book, all 600 pages of it, forced me to do the nine chores above, as well as sit down to write a post. Why? Do you really need to ask? Okay, because on my to-do list today was Work Out a Savings and Investment Strategy. Are you asleep yet? Yes, it's an important task, blah blah, but FOR THE LOVE OF PETE it's boring! Even this jaunty-looking supplemental tome didn't help:

TK, if you're reading this, I...well, I'm sorry I never returned this book. I haven't read it, either, if that helps.
There's nothing quite like an appallingly dull task that makes other, slightly less dull tasks seem suddenly oh-so important. Plus, the ones I tackled provided immediate delightful results. Birds are now bopping around my feeder and no longer turning up their beaks at the birdbaths; I have clean underwear; the shower curtain no longer smells like a damp towel forgotten in the trunk of the car last week; I can walk around the house without having peculiar crumbs (at least, I hope they're crumbs) attach themselves to the soles of my feet; I can drop my toothbrush in the sink without feeling as if I should immediately boil it; the list goes on and on. What do I get from reading the two...zzzzzzzzzzz....oh, dear, sorry! I dozed off. Where was I? Oh, right. What do I...zzzzzzzzz. Blast! Sorry, this IS rude. Must.Stay.Awake. Maybe a separate paragraph will help.

Ah, yes. So, what do I get from reading the two books? Well, sure, a carefree retirement filled with traveling and, er, traveling and, ummm, well, you know. Stuff retired people do. Not worrying about money. And in my position -- someone with a massively expensive and progressive disease -- financial security is something I must take seriously. And plan for. Like, yesterday.

So these books are sitting right here next to me. Ooh, and right next to THEM is the remote. Plus, I just heard the dryer buzzer go off. I'll pop down for a quick check on the laundry, which I really should put away before it gets wrinkly. Ah, and I do need to make a pan of Swanky cornbread for dinner. I guess the books can wait 'til tomorrow.

By the way, if anyone wants to borrow Ms. CrankyPant's Cure for Writer's Block (TM), I'll happily lend you these books, and I'll even pay for shipping! No, really, I insist.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Want to Feel Like a Buffoon? I'll Tell You How!

I can think of dozens of illustrations from my life that will guide you if you are on a quest to look like a buffoon. Off the top of my head I can think of the following awesome events: "Dancing Queen: The Time I Had a Lemon Thrown at My Head While Trying to Dance at a Disco"; "Creating a Scene: Falling into a Decorative Pond at the American Embassy in Brasilia While Demonstrating a Scene from Superman in Front of Admiring Friends"; and "Flooring It: How to Speed Over a Grassy Median in the Target Parking Lot Instead of Backing Out of a Parking Space as Intended."

Ah, fun times, and what a lovely stroll down Memory Lane that was! I still laugh delightedly when I think about gathering the courage to dance at the disco, only to have some oaf hurl a lemon at my head. Ha ha! But, I've gotten sidetracked by these amazing memories, and really there's no need: I felt like a buffoon mere hours ago, so please allow me to share it with you while it's fresh.

Because we spend all week making homemade meals and eating snacks that adhere to the Swank Diet, we like to go out for a change of pace on the weekends. HAHAHA, okay, I can't type that with a straight face. We always went out to eat on the weekends, it has nothing to do with Swank. Somehow, it just sounds better to say it's in response to slaving away in the kitchen all week than to say it's because we like to eat out. But there. I said it: we like to eat out. It's been only slightly challenging to find Swank-friendly options at local restaurants. Typically, I order fish and ask that it not be sauteed in butter or order pasta with tomato sauce and vegetables.

Today, we decided to try a place we've never been: Vapiano's  -- my mistake, a quick look at their website reveals it's VAPIANO, no apostrophe or "s." My bad. Okay, so VAPIANO is an Italian place at our nearby mall. It looked pleasant enough; rather upscale-ish (lots of black-and-white photographs of super-attractive people on the walls, and an herb garden enclosed in a teeny greenhouse in the middle of the restaurant).

I guess if I'd stood on the table in a sassy, hip-thrusting pose while my husband pointedly ignored me, we'd have fit in better? 
One rather jarring note at the entrance was a bowl of loose gummy bears by the hostess stand. I guess they're the upscale Italian equivalent of the bowl of pastel mints at old-timey restaurants that you should never, ever eat because of the trace amounts of fecal matter that have been transferred from the hands of people pawing around in the bowl. I saw this on Oprah. (Also from that poo-themed Oprah show: always choose the first bathroom stall at the movies; it's the least contaminated.)

So we entered VAPIANO and promptly encountered the Mumbling Host. It's possible we couldn't hear him over the rather pretentious 80s music (you know, the kind the cool, artsy, troubled kids who wore lots of black listened to). He mumbled something about the pasta being cooked fresh and gestured over his shoulder to where, yes, there was some poor fellow trapped in a glass box making pasta and hanging it over metal arms to dry. He then would jam a serving size into a small brown paper bag and hustle it over to where the cooks were stationed. The environmental impact of this performance wasn't lost on me (couldn't they take the pasta over in reusable bowls?), but now our host was mumbling something and thrusting a credit card-like thingee into our hands as he vaguely pointed to a cluster of sullen-looking people standing behind a counter. Gripping our weird credit cards, we were cast adrift into the restaurant.

We stood aimlessly next to the host's station, hoping he'd see our burgeoning panic and step in with further guidance. Alas, he had other fish to fry. We edged closer to the sullen-looking people behind the counter. Over one of their heads was a sign that said "Pasta." Okay...this seemed a likely place to start the ordering process. I looked hopefully at the young man. He looked back at me impassively. Couldn't he tell we didn't know what the hell we were doing? I pleaded with him with my eyes. No dice.

Feeling more like a horse's ass with each passing second, I marshaled my courage and purposefully strode the two remaining steps to the counter, where the cook still regarded me with those soulless shark eyes.

"Hi!" I squeaked. "So, do we, like, order here?" I gave him my most winning smile.

"Yep," he said, thoroughly underwhelmed by my winning smile. (Must practice that.)

"Okay, it's our first time [DUH] and we're not, hahaha, totally sure how this works. Do we give you this?" I asked, propelling the credit card thingee (CCT) toward him.

"I'll take that when I'm done. What do you want?"

"Oh, boy, okay..." I said, frantically scouring the menu. "Um, pasta with tomato sauce and spinach," I concluded. He looked at me, the very picture of boredom. "Type of pasta?"

"Oh, right! Ummmm [more frantic menu-scouring], papardelle!"

I was exhausted from the stress. My husband ordered and we went off in search of drinks. There was a swanky bar off to one side, but I thought I had heard the Mumbling Host mention a soda fountain somewhere. We edged over to the bar, the CCT still gripped in our hands. There were several patrons hovering around the bar, so we lurked off to the side, looking around in ever-increasing dismay. It was a Day to Feel Like a Buffon, for sure.

Finally, a manager-sort hustled over, seeing we were clearly in distress, and asked if he could get us drinks. Hallelujah! We ordered drinks without too much trouble, except my husband had to scan his CCT over some infrared light at a precise angle or it wouldn't work. Oh, boy. This was quite a production. I began to feel the first inklings of irritation, where before I had felt merely bewildered and intimidated.

Drinks in hand, we set off to find a seat. No ordinary booths or tables at this restaurant, no, sir! There were stools and benches framing long wooden tables, at the center of which was a fresh plant -- basil or rosemary, from what I could tell. Okay, that was pretty cute.

Our personal basil plant. Are you supposed to use it? Has it been washed? What would Oprah do? I avoided it. 
We picked our table and clambered onto the stools, only to realize our food was ready at the Counter of Sullen People. We slid off our stools and made our way, with some trepidation, toward the food. It looked quite good. I asked the gent behind the counter for a glass so I could get some water. He handed me a glass. It had detritus of an organic nature on it. I asked for another. This one, too, had detritus on it. I meekly took it back to my stool and slumped there until my husband offered to get a THIRD glass (from a different Sullen Counter Person). This one had something stuck on it too, but it did not smear into a booger-like glob when I tried to remove it, so I decided this was the best it was going to get. I flaked off the bit of dried-on tomato and ate my lunch.

The food looked better before I attacked it like a starving animal.
As I said, both entrees looked good and tasted good. It was just the elaborate and confusing set up combined with the cook's 'tude (as the kids say) that left me feeling a bit like a buffoon. Oh, and the decor. See for yourself:

Mysterious objets d'art in the ladies' room. I examined that red thing at some length. I still have no idea what it is. A gourd? Corn cob?

Yep, that's a tree. In the middle of a table. Enough said. 
So there you have it. The latest in a (likely never-ending) series of Episodes During Which I Feel Like a Buffoon. Next time, though, I'll be well-versed in the ways of this highfalutin establishment and will sail in there in my all-black ensemble (featuring sensible shoes; heels are no longer an option for me, sadly), stand imperiously on a table, and order my pasta with authority.

p.s. Remember those gummy bears? I spotted a casualty of the restaurant languishing outside the front door. In the absence of Wee Squeaky, this is my fun picture of the day.

"Don't make me go back in there!"