Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts: The Modern Version of Laudanum?

PrescriptionI almost wished I hadn’t brought it up.

I have sleep problems. I fall asleep perfectly easily. I just can’t stay asleep.  So while researching some foot problems (because the condescending SOB of a podiatrist wasn’t any real help), I saw that sleep problems are part of fibromyalgia, and I thought let’s ask the G.P.

No, she says. Fibromyalgia is one of those things that’s only diagnosed by observation and when everything else is ruled out. I braced myself for what came next. “It could be depression. Have you considered antidepressants?”

Face plant time. It’s beginning to feel like a conspiracy to get me on antidepressants. Even the condescending SOB of a podiatrist suggested them at one point. My OB/GYN suggested them for my menopause symptoms. I tried HRT instead, which did make me depressed. But when my very nice young GP suggested it, it started to sound like the modern version of laudanum.

Laudanum, a tincture of opiates including morphine and codeine, was prescribed to a lot of women in the 19th Century for female problems and hysteria. Later critics suggested that it was a way of keeping women shut up. I suspect that most doctors meant well – given how effective it was for coughs and pain, it was pretty popular. But there was probably a certain amount of unconscious sexism going on. She’s emotional, she needs calming down, give her laudanum.

I had read that the majority of patients taking antidepressants were women, so I did the research. Interestingly enough, I searched on what percentage of antidepressants are prescribed for women and pulled up multiple articles on how depression is being over-treated. According to a 2011 report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, one-tenth of all Americans over the age of 12 are taking antidepressants and 23 percent of all women between the ages of 40 and 59. That’s one in four women my age. I mean, I knew there were a lot and at the rate the drugs have been pushed at me, it didn’t entirely surprise me. Still, one quarter of women my age are taking antidepressants. That seems like an awful lot, especially when you consider that according to the World Health Organization, only 5 percent of the population actually has depression. (Note – this particular study focused on Nordic countries, but the stat was cited in several of the articles I read and is footnoted in the study.)

Even more interesting was this article from the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, by Dr. Joel Paris, MD, which suggests that not only is depression grossly over-diagnosed, so is the prescription of antidepressants, which haven’t really been shown to be effective in patients with mild to moderate depression, although the drugs are very effective for patients with severe depression. Which is exactly what I’ve come to believe. I mean, I know folks for whom the drugs have been literal life-savers. And I want to be crystal clear here – if you need antidepressants, for heaven’s sake take them.

I just question whether I need them. I saw a proposal for a study that suggests that the current screening tests are neither that accurate nor that accurately used. I couldn’t find the conclusion, but the concerns the doctors brought up were pretty unnerving and certainly echo my experience. You see, I’ve been depressed – that little experiment with HRT I noted above. My husband was getting pretty worried about me and, frankly, I was too. And, by the way, I was sleeping better. Now, I will get punchy, whiny and okay, depressed after two to three nights without decent sleep. But I know how I felt when I was depressed and I am not even close to feeling that. Even after this last seven-night jag I was on.

I know women will report depressive symptoms more readily than men. But still I can’t help but wonder if doctors, in an effort to treat something that often does go unreported when it should be, are going overboard. I can’t help but wonder if the medical mind-set is to look at a middle-aged woman who can’t sleep and immediately assume depression instead of trying to find out whether there might be something else. The sleep doctor I consulted with certainly didn’t. He just said that the CPAP I use was helping me not to snore and when I asked if the results showed any other issues, he said I was probably depressed. Not that the results showed it – just that I was acting that way. In fact, nobody has really considered any other potential source for my sleep problems. They’ve all assumed (or have appeared to) that it’s depression and do not seem interested in looking further.

Not unlike the doctors of the 19th Century, they’re reaching for the easy answer.

There is a reason I find this insanely annoying. I tend to get side effects a lot (again, see the HRT). I am not willing to give up two to six months or longer to let doctors play games with my brain chemistry in the hopes that something will work. I am a creative. The deadening effects of antidepressants would be deadly to my creativity at a time when I really need it. In short, antidepressants are a really bad idea for me and I’ll have to be in a really, really bad place before the potential negatives would be outweighed by the benefits.

Depression is a serious disorder and if you are chronically miserable, don’t want to do anything, especially stuff you used to love doing, if you’re spending all day in bed because you just can’t face the world, then, yes, you need to get help and antidepressants may be exactly what you need. For the rest of us, I’m not so sure.

Carless in L.A. – Trippin’ Out

It seems that at the moment we are neither carless, nor in L.A. (although by the time you read this, we should be just getting home).

As I have noted in past posts, when those times come up that we simply can’t get to where we need/want to be without a car, we will rent one. For example, two years ago, as we were beginning our carless adventure, we had a very sick dog who was too big to take on the bus. So I rented a car to take him to the animal hospital and bring him home after his surgery. It was well worth it. Fred (who was already 15 years old at that point) was with us for another 18 months before he went to his reward.

We also take extended trips by car. Last summer it was a remote section of the Northern California coast. This year, Monterey and the San Francisco Bay area. Although this trip is about family. In any case, renting a car is still cheaper than either flying or the train. There are buses, but I don’t think we’d get to Monterey that easily.

I do think one of my next vacation goals will be figuring out how to get to some of these spots without a car. That could be fun. We’ll have to see. I have to concede driving is fun, too.

The Sewing Report – Repair Cafe

Not much to report on this month because I haven’t had a chance to do any sewing, except at our local Repair Café. It’s a monthly event that’s all about cooperative economics and keeping things out of landfills by repairing them. We usually have it once a month or so at varying locations in the Pasadena area. I just show up and sew, which I did this past Saturday. And so I have a few random thoughts, but not much else.RepairCafe

1.) Repairing other people’s stuff is way more interesting than fixing your own. Like many folks, I have a huge pile of clothes that need new buttons, holes patched and various other mends. I’ll get around to them. Really. I will. But shortening the sleeves on someone else’s shirt and patching it? No problem. Done in minutes with a grin.

2.) If your sewing machine won’t sew right, more often than not it’s because you have it threaded wrong. Had that one reinforced by not one, but two sewing machine repairs that our other seamstress, Mary Gothard, had to help our tinker Scoops deal with. Especially if the darned thing was working before, get out your manual and try re-threading it.

3.) It’s surprising how far you can get by just diving in and doing it. I pulled a zipper replacement that would have gone a lot more smoothly if I’d actually paid more attention to what I was doing. That being said, two other seamstresses didn’t even attempt it. Granted, zipper replacements are a massive nuisance. And this one was on a vintage dress with great sentimental value. And the replacement zipper provided was an invisible one. And I hadn’t slept well the night before. And, yes, I turned the air blue while working on it. Oy. It got done and the rip I tore got fixed. Moving on.

Our next Repair Café will be at Villa Park in Pasadena, California, and I will be there with my sewing machine and serger. At least, that’s the plan. If you’re in the area, feel free to bring all those items that just need a patch or a button or other stuff. We have all kinds of workers, including tinkers, who can repair clocks, toasters, vacuum cleaners, you name it.

And finally, a big shout out to fellow seamstresses Mary Gothard, Jennifer Michaud, Shelley and Bya, all of whom made it even more fun by sharing resources and ideas.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From the Dark Side of the Fridge: Why No Recipes

NoRecipesAs I noted in an earlier post you’re not going to find a lot of recipes here. That’s mostly because I seldom use them. It may seem a little odd for a cooking blog not to feature recipes. And I can understand where someone starting out as a cook might find that a little intimidating. After all, following recipes is largely how we learned to cook. I even had a cookbook for young people that insisted a good cook always read the recipe through completely then followed the steps exactly.

But I also grew up with a mother who rarely used recipes and when she did, she seldom followed them exactly. She was a darned good cook, too. Apart from a few family favorites, making dinner was a process that Mom riffed on like a jazz musician. Then when I began my career as the family cook, I soon learned that recipes weren’t always that accurate. Or they just featured ingredients that my ex-husband didn’t like. Or I didn’t like.

So eventually, I got out of the habit of relying on recipes to make dinner and discovered something. Dinner happened a lot faster and with a lot less hassle. You’d think the opposite would be true because when you’re making it up on the fly, you have to think about what you’re going to do next. I find, however, recipes slow me way down because I have to stop and check to make sure I’m doing the next step right.

Relying on recipes also got to be a problem when one of the ingredients wasn’t there. Maybe it hadn’t been added to the shopping list. Maybe someone ate the cheese I was saving for a casserole. Maybe the meat didn’t get defrosted again. So more time was wasted trying to find a recipe that used what I had or in running to a crowded supermarket to pick up those one or two items.

I do use recipes occasionally, such as when I’m trying to learn something new, like how to make Indian food or a classic cassoulet. But most of the time, I’m all about pragmatism when it comes to cooking. I don’t want to spend my time measuring out and checking and re-reading. I want to get dinner on the table so that I can spend my time connecting with my husband.

Because that’s why I cook. It’s not a hobby for me. It’s about providing good food and a relaxing atmosphere for the two of us. It’s about food that tastes good and is good for us. It’s how we eat. Hopefully, this will offer some ideas and good thoughts for you, as well.

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts – Always a Good Reason

Over the years, as I’ve been involved in various clubs, churches, and other groups, periodically something odd would happen. All of a sudden, I was no longer greeted with interest. I’d volunteer and no one would take me up on the offer. In a couple cases, I got dis-invited to some event or other. I suspect the people involved weren’t trying to be mean. I suspect they thought they were saving my feelings. And the first few times, I even bought it.

There was always a Good Reason for this rejection – just not the real one. The real reason was that I made somebody uncomfortable somehow. But the excuses I heard. Someone once said that I used too many big words. And the end result was always the same: I felt hurt and as if I was being marginalized -which, in fact, I was. These people were behaving badly and justifying it by having a Good Reason.

What got me thinking about this was something that happened to my friend and neighbor Roni last week. She woke up one morning and there was a SWAT team in her backyard. I’m not sure exactly how it all happened, but the officers had a warrant to search for some stolen computers on the premises. They didn’t find them, but still impounded my friend’s iPad until she could prove she owned it. At least she wasn’t arrested. Roni, by the way, is a hairdresser and this happened at her mother’s house. Her mother is a retired elementary school music teacher.

A SWAT team to recover some stolen goods? Yeah, that seemed more than a little heavy-handed to me, too. Roni’s Facebook feed lit up with that very sentiment. Although, the interesting thing was that few of Roni’s friends seemed surprised. Oh, wait. I forgot to add one critical detail. Roni and her mom are Black and we all live in the same mixed-race neighborhood, where we Whites are the minority.

I’m reasonably certain they wouldn’t have sent the SWAT team to recover some stolen goods in my old, White neighborhood. I know they didn’t several years ago, when someone had a warrant served on him. They sent out a couple detectives and maybe a squad car. And that wasn’t the only time cops were called out for various and sundry crimes, including drug sales and use.

It’s a different story in my current neighborhood – where traffic stops routinely result in the drivers in cuffs sitting on the sidewalk. Where a hair-dresser gets guns pointed at her and her iPad impounded. Oh, yes, there’s a Good Reason for the way these things are handled, but I find it very hard to believe that it’s the real reason. The real reason is that the people involved are Blacks and Hispanics. But in each individual case of this kind of injustice, someone is hiding behind a really Good Reason.

Now, I get that my experiences with a bunch of rampaging neurotics are a far cry from the very real harm of racism. But it’s the same behavior that perpetuates that same racism. People don’t want me around, but they don’t want to be mean, so they come up with a Good Reason for getting rid of me. We don’t want to be racist, so we assume police officers have a Good Reason for harassing innocent people, for kicking the bejeebers of perhaps not-so-innocent drunk drivers, for shooting or otherwise killing unarmed Black males. But the end result is the same – Black men are 19 times more likely to be killed by cops than White men. And that’s not even counting all the harassment and the SWAT teams being sent out needlessly. When we justify the inexcusable because there’s a Good Reason, we’re participating in that same injustice.

I’m not advocating that we assume the worst of all cops – that’s just as unjust. We just have to look at the results, and in this case, there’s a whole lot of injustice going on.

Maybe if more of us faced up to the reality that law enforcement treats people of color far differently than they do White people, maybe if more of us said this is bullshit, then maybe we could expect and demand law enforcement that treats all people fairly. Because when the end result is the same, there is never a Good Reason.


Carless in L.A. – It Takes Planning

Los Angeles Metro bus arrivingIt didn’t seem like any big deal. I was helping a friend do a mail-out and needed to pick up the letters and envelopes. So I called her and asked how much paper was involved. I just wanted to figure out if I needed to walk by her place before or after I did my other errands. If there was a lot of paper involved, I’d go by after the errands so I didn’t have to carry it around all day.

Seemed pretty normal to me, but then I’ve been getting around without a car for almost two years now and my friend totally relies on hers. So she was a little surprised and not sure what to make of it. But as I later explained, it’s what I do.

You see, it’s not that hard to get around Los Angeles without a car. But it does take some planning. If I need to get groceries for the week, I have to think about doing so before I leave home. I do keep some of those grocery bags that fold up into small packets in my backpack. But if I’m going to be getting milk and other heavy items, I generally need my granny cart.

People talk about living in the moment – and I generally prefer to. I just can’t all the time. I have to think two and three steps ahead sometimes because I have to account for the possibility of late buses. Or what the weather might be doing. Or what I’ll have to carry with me or bring home. I think about grabbing lunch in terms of whether I have time before the next bus comes – and it’s always a bit dicey when the lunch counter takes its sweet time and if I miss the coming bus, I’ll have to wait another hour. I once had a shop owner offer to make me a waffle and bring it to me at the stop. That way, if I had to leave before the waffle was ready, I didn’t have to pay for it. He got there in time and it was a damn good waffle.

So tomorrow is the trip to the podiatrist. I have a meeting with another friend after that and had to think about getting her mobile number just in case the bus runs late. Oh, and I really should have set the time for the meeting after I’d checked out how I was going to get to the podiatrist’s office. Oops. But I have her number. It’ll work out. At least, I’m planning on it.

The Sewing Report: Beautiful Patch Pockets

If only the damn pants fit.

It was so aggravating. Here, I’d done it. I’d taken the time to really think about and carefully cut out two patch pockets to go on a pair of corduroy semi-dress slacks. Actually, they were kind of on the casual side because of the inset on the inner leg seams. Instead of using a contrasting fabric – I thought I was being so clever – I cut the corduroy out with the nap running in the opposite direction.Well, I was being clever, dummit. Beautiful Patch Pockets

I was going to skip back pockets, then decided I wanted them after all and went several rounds of what if, debating whether to do dressier welt pockets or more casual patch pockets. Both have their downsides. Welts are more complicated to install and harder to fix if you mess something up. Patch pockets are easier to mess up, period. And they require that most noir of my bêtes: top stitching.

Beautiful Patch PocketsBut I nailed it. I did. You can’t see it in the photo, but the top stitching, carefully applied is almost perfectly straight. At least, straight enough for the three-foot rule. Let me explain that one – it’s my standard for do I fix it or let it go? If you’re not going to notice it’s off unless you’re standing closer to me than three feet, then I’ll let it go. The reasoning is simple. If you’re within three feet of me, then we’d better be on the kinds of terms you’re not going to give a rat’s patootie if something isn’t perfect. If we’re not on those kinds of terms, you’d better not be within three feet of me. I have my boundaries.

I was so pleased with my patch pockets. So I happily went on installing the zipper, putting bias-binding on my front waist (the plan was to elasticize the back waistband), basting the side seams together. Then I tried the pants on. Now, thanks to a gimpy foot, I haven’t been able to exercise that much lately, so I’ve probably put an extra ounce or two since I cut the project out. And I do tend to prefer lower-riding waistlines because I don’t have a waist, per se. Except that the top of the back of the pants barely covered my butt crack and that’s a lot lower than I prefer. Damn!

I can let out the side seams a bit and start walking again, which should help. The legs look gorgeous. I just have to figure out what to do about the low waist. I’m thinking a yoke. Well, maybe that’s next month’s Sewing Report.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From the Dark Side of the Fridge: On the Making of Meatballs

IMG_20150222_181900248For a good many years, I simply did not get meatballs. I got the attraction. You can combine a variety of ground meats, including turkey, pork, lamb, beef. They can be a tasty way to integrate a yummy sauce. And they’re cute, especially if they’re small. Which also makes them great as a party food.

But the meatballs I tasted at my friends’ houses and in restaurants were really mushy. Blech. It didn’t take long to figure out that the mushiness came from the breadcrumbs that are added to the meat mix. It’s the bread that makes that icky texture. So I tried making meatballs every now and then, without the breadcrumbs, and they constantly fell apart in the pan. What a nuisance. That’s because the breadcrumbs were needed to act as a binder for the meat. An egg, while also a necessary part of the whole process, just wasn’t enough.

But meatballs are cute. They’re nice to have in the freezer to add to some brown rice, broth and veggies for a reasonably healthy lunch. And you can’t beat them as a way to soak up a nice sauce. I love sauces.IMG_20150222_183802376

So I tried again. But this time I only added a scant (as in almost) quarter cup – maybe not even that much – of panko crumbs to the ground turkey. This in addition to the egg, salt, pepper and in this case, some five spice powder because we were making the same sauce you use for Chinese Orange Chicken. And guess what? My meatballs held together and they weren’t at all mushy!

After the meatballs were browned, I took them out, gently stir-fried some broccoli, nuked the leftover rice in the fridge, added the meat back, then poured on the sauce and cooked it until it thickened slightly. The result was delicious and the meatballs can be used with a variety of different sauces, such as a broth or tomato sauce or alfredo sauce. Hm. Looks like I’ve got some experiments in my future.IMG_20150222_190828571

Carless in L.A. – Yes, We (Mostly) Are

A little over two years ago, the State of California proclaimed our car dead. As in we couldn’t get it smog certified. It wasn’t anything we weren’t expecting for a lot of reasons. Let’s just say it was time.

Not a good time economically, mind you, and that is partly why The Beloved Spouse and I decided not to get another car. The other reason is that we had been talking about walking or using public transportation instead of driving for a good many years, and it occurred to us that having a car made it too easy to drive. I’m not sure if we thought we’d last this long, but we have not owned a car for over two years while living and working in Los Angeles County, and I don’t see us owning one again for a very long time.

What surprises me is how ho-hum most folks are when we tell them we don’t own a car. I don’t know if they’re horrified that we’re living in utter poverty – we’re not. In fact, after giving up the car, our economic situation improved quite nicely. Or perhaps folks are terrified that we’re going to hit them up for rides all the time. We refuse to do that. If we can’t get where we’re going and back under our own steam, as it were, we probably won’t go. Or we’ll rent a car. Or maybe it’s finally hitting home that it’s not all that difficult to live in Los Angeles without a car as you might expect.

I won’t say it’s perfectly easy, but it’s not that hard, either. For one thing, even though we live in the ‘burbs north of Pasadena, we do have two bus lines within easy reach of our house, something I get not everybody has. And we do rent a car if there’s an event at a time or place that would make it hard to catch a bus. But pretty much the rest of the time, we get around by bus and light rail.

The Beloved Spouse has been commuting via bus and light rail ever since he got his job in downtown L.A., which made it a lot easier to live with one car between us. So he’d been set for a while. I mostly work at home, so that helps as well. Still, I don’t think we could have given up the car six or seven years ago. One reason is that L.A.’s public transportation system is getting better, but the big helper is actually technology. Our smart phones pretty much make our lifestyle choice possible. Because I can read, check email, do social media and all that on my phone, wait and travel time is actually productive time for me now. I can keep working and it doesn’t matter if it takes an hour or more to get from home to wherever.

But there are also smart phone apps, particularly Go511, that will tell me when the bus is coming via GPS. Google Maps can plot a route better than the Metro app can because it can take advantage of multiple systems besides Metro, the main L.A. County bus and light rail system. And I can pull down a bus schedule whenever I need one from the mobile Metro site.

Does it take planning? Yes. It’s a lot harder to head out on the spur of the moment or on a lark. And I really have to think about how many groceries I buy because my granny cart has only so much room. Because Metro has such unenlightened views about dogs, we can only take our basset hound Clyde to the dog park on those weekends we’ve rented a car. Getting out and about at night can be a bit tricky because the buses don’t run as often or as reliably after 7 p.m. But there’s a hotel with a taxi stand near our light rail stop and that can fill the gap. And riding the bus when we’re sick or injured is not a lot of fun, although, again, there’s always cab service if something’s really urgent or icky.

On the other hand, we’re always driving relatively new cars because that’s what the rental company has. We do pay for our own insurance, but we don’t worry about car maintenance. That’s the rental company’s problem. And renting rarely costs us more than $200 a month. Let me know where I can buy a car for that kind of payment.

So, yes, you can manage quite nicely not owning a car in L.A. In fact, you might even find it fun. I know we have.

The Sewing Report: Mike’s New Shirt

The wild print. Fun, huh?

The wild print. Fun, huh?

This month’s project was a shirt for Michael (aka The Beloved Spouse). And as I was thinking about how I was going to write it up, I found myself indulging in some introspection on why I sew in the first place. Frankly, buying our clothes is a whole lot less aggravating and probably cheaper, too. And the shirt didn’t turn out like I’d envisioned, which is what generally happens when I make something, so you’d think I’d be used to it by now.

Part of the problem is that I have no patience. I hate ripping out seams and will live with stuff I shouldn’t simply because I don’t want to re-do it. I frequently rush through a project either because I need something to wear or, more often, I’m just sick of working on it. So why am I doing this?

I think it’s the creativity. I love matching fabrics to designs, coming up with some new way to do things. Laying out a pattern used to be my least favorite part, now it’s my most favorite. At that point, I haven’t really messed anything up and I can see what my new garment should look like. So the hope is still alive at that point. Plus, there’s always something to learn, even in making a simple bowling/Hawaiian-style shirt, like this last one.

Quick background note – this was Michael’s Valentine’s Day gift – and instead of just making it, I let him weigh in on all the different aspects, choosing the fabric, which also meant choosing the style. I’d found the cotton with the eyeglasses print on it online while looking for something else. We both loved it, so that’s what Michael picked, never mind the six other fabrics I had for him to choose from.

Choosing the wild print meant that this was going to be the simple sport shirt (bowling shirt/Hawaiian-style shirt). It also meant that I was going to have to practice matching the fronts. This is thanks to our friend Mr. L, who gets really picky about pockets and fronts lining up on his Hawaiian shirts. And not that he’d fuss about anything I did, but it’s in my brain now. Have to make the fronts and pocket line up.

Lined everything up here.

Lined everything up here.

Oh, I thought I was being so clever – I cut each front piece out separately, folding back the self-facing so that I could see it matching the other front piece along the pattern line. And since this was going to be a one-day (more or less) project, I took my time while sewing. I only had to rip out one seam – got some nasty tucks while sewing on the collar. I made a point of doing things in all the right ways. The pocket went on straight and the print matched beautifully. The construction was a far more relaxing experience than I’d had in a while, with a minimum of foul language.

Matched it at the wrong line, dummit

Matched it at the wrong line, dummit

Until I tried to line up the fronts to install the buttonholes and buttons. I’d forgotten that the fronts needed to overlap. When I’d cut the fronts out, I matched them at the folded edge of each front, not overlapped as it should have been to account for the buttonholes and buttons. ARGH!!!

Fortunately, the shirt turned out okay. I’ve got something new to try on the next one – which there will be. Once I’m confident there, then there’s the windowpane-checked dress shirt I want to make for Michael. Lessons learned this time out? Remember the overlap on the fronts. Take the time to do things right not only makes a better product, it makes for a more relaxing experience.

Which, if I’m really going whole hog on this introspection thing, are not bad life lessons. Thinking about how things go together makes for a better story. Or dinner. Or cleaner dishes or bathroom. Taking the time to do things right not only makes a better dinner/story/cleaner whatever, it’s more relaxing than trying to rush through just getting things done.

The final product. Looks pretty good and the pocket lines up.

The final product. Looks pretty good and the pocket lines up.