Wind of Change

It’s been three weeks since my last post and to be honest, I just haven’t been in the mood to share. Writing about jigsaw puzzles, baking bread and making donuts seems trivial and a bit insensitive, given what’s going on right now, both at home, around the country and around the world. But a couple of days ago, I started listening to a podcast called ‘Wind of Change’ and feel like I’ve found my voice again.

My friend Sonja happened to mention/recommend ‘Wind of Change’ a few weeks ago when we were out for one of our power walks. And then I saw it mentioned again in a recent issue of The Week magazine under Noteworthy podcasts. So I fired up the first episode when I went walking the other day and was instantly hooked.

For those of you who haven’t heard of ‘Wind of Change’ – it a podcast about how the CIA was (potentially?) responsible for writing this song by The Scorpions back in 1990 as a part of a larger covert operation. Quick history recap – 1990 was when the Berlin wall came down and the USSR was disbanded. I happened to be a big fan of The Scorpions back in those days and have actually seen them in concert twice – at the Monsters of Rock concert at the LA Coliseum and in Sacramento when I was at UC Davis. So of course I knew the song well, as well as how apropos it was, given when it was released. But I didn’t know how massively huge this song was on a global scale (and still is) and the thought that the CIA actually wrote it is just nuts. I’m basically the perfect audience for this podcast and even though I’m only three episodes in, I’ve found myself singing along during the occasional musical interlude to songs like “Still Loving You” and “Rock You Like A Hurricane.”

I’m not going to give anything away for two reasons. First, I have no clue how it ends. Second, it’s way more enjoyable to listen to it than to have me paraphrase. I can assure you that it’s funny, informative and engaging. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s walk so I can listen to episode four. If you have free time or just need a break from the news, give it a whirl.

So why am I writing about a podcast about a heavy metal power ballad? Because this song, albeit written 30 years ago, is just as poignant today as it was back in 1990. Here are the lyrics:

I follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change
An August summer night
Soldiers passing by
Listening to the wind of change

The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
The future’s in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away (dream away)
In the wind of change

Walking down the street
Distant memories
Are buried in the past forever
I follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow share their dreams (share their dreams)
With you and me
Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night…

We are on the precipice of real change. And regardless of who wrote ‘Wind of Change’ – the Scorpions or the CIA – they pretty much nailed it.

#BlackLivesMatter

Trial and Error

My kitchen is a mess, my clothes are covered in flour and my face is totally greasy but it was worth it because I successfully made a batch of apple cider doughnuts (donuts from here on out) this afternoon. This was way more challenging than I thought.

The recipe came from a dessert cookbook I received from Ellyn, my Secret Santa last year. This was an excellent gift and this is the second or third recipe I’ve made from it.

I read the recipe carefully before starting and one of the things that struck me as odd was that there was no mention of the donut hole. It said you should use either a biscuit cutter or mason jar to make the rounds and that the dough should be 3/4″ thick. This all seemed sensible – I opted for a juice glass for making my rounds. The picture of the donuts in the recipe clearly shows a hole so I’m thinking that maybe when you fry the donuts, the center somehow magically dissolves in the oil to create the hole. In retrospect, I realize this is ridiculous but this was my first time making donuts so what the hell do I know? The other challenging thing was keeping the temperature of the oil consistent at 350°.

Since I had a little leftover dough after making the rounds, I opted to make a few mini donuts (donettes!) as testers. I’m glad I did this because none of them came out fully cooked – they all had raw dough in the middle:

So then I tried a regular size round – no dice. Still raw in the middle. And to make matters worse, the oil had shot up to 380° so the outside was totally burned. Things were not going well but I was not to be deterred. I lowered the temperature of the oil and while it was cooling down, I got out a rolling pin and a bottle of vanilla. I used the rolling pin to flatten out the rounds a little bit – they were now more like 1/2″ tall, if that. As for the vanilla, I used the cap as a donut hole maker – it was the perfect diameter and height for the dough. You can see the gradual improvement here:

After that, it was like a donut assembly line. The recipe said to fry three donuts at a time but I opted to do each one separately so I could manage the oil temperature. I’d drop the dough into the pot trying not to get burned by the oil, set the timer for one minute, flip the donut, set the timer for one more minute. Remove donut with strainer and drain on paper towels. Then dredge in cinnamon sugar. And after the last donut was finished, I popped all the holes into the oil and made donut holes.

I am extremely proud of today’s baking/cooking accomplishment (see pictures below) but I do not think that donuts will be part of my regular rotation. Having a batch of donuts in my house is just a bad idea and while they are absolutely delicious, I’m already plotting how I can get rid of them. Of course I’ll eat a couple (the donut holes can stay) but the rest of them have to go. So if you wake up tomorrow morning and find some donuts on your front porch, you’re welcome.

I need to go clean up the kitchen now and take a shower but before I go, I’d like to give Roberta a quick shout-out as she figured out that the annoying bird that sits on my roof is the California Towhee. Here’s the link for those that are interested:

https://www.alaboutbirds.org/guide/California_Towhee/sounds

Be sure to click on “Call” to listen to what I hear every damn morning. This morning was particularly bad. He started around 4:30am and because I had my skylight open, I had no choice but to do earplugs and an abbreviated pillow sandwich.

P.s. I’ll be having a nice healthy salad for dinner tonight.

Pillow Sandwich

I’ve been back in rainy-ish Oakland since Monday afternoon and one of the best parts of being at home is sleeping in my own bed. Despite the fact that I live in a somewhat industrial neighborhood, West Oakland is surprisingly quiet at night and it’s rare that I hear traffic or people or gunshots (this is generally limited to 4th of July and NYE). But there is this one bird who annoys the f%$k out of me. He starts chirping around 5am almost every morning. This is NOT a nice sing-songy chirp and it’s not even a warble. No, it’s just a single, intermittent chirp. It reminds me of the sound that the refrigerator makes when you’ve left the door open. And he sits right above my bedroom on the roof. While I may love nature, I don’t like this bird.

Since staying asleep once he gets going is nearly impossible, there are two ways I’ve learned contend with Chirpy McChirptington… The first is digging out the earplugs. Pretty basic and works well. The issue is finding the earplugs. That means fishing around in the drawer in my nightstand (this always takes a minute) or getting up and going to the medicine cabinet (which is what I did this morning). The problem is either way, I’m now kind of awake and it’s challenging to fall back asleep. No bueno.

The other option is what I call a pillow sandwich. This works very well and takes almost no effort. I simply place my head on one pillow (I am a side-sleeper) and then place another pillow on top of the exposed ear. So now my ears are cocooned between the two pillows – a perfect pillow sandwich! All sound is muffled – or non-existent with the case of the annoying bird. This process takes a couple of seconds and I am back asleep immediately.

The pillow sandwich is also effective when sleeping next to someone who snores, though if the snoring is super loud, then I would recommend using earplugs as well as the pillows. Oh – and if your pillows are different weights, the heavier pillow should go on the top ear. If the pillow is too light, it doesn’t block out the snoring/chirping . You’re welcome.

On the entertainment front, I’ve been binge watching TV like crazy. After the Daniel Craig as James Bond marathon, I jumped into Season 2 of Dead to Me. It was fantastic (with an awesome surprise guest appearance) and from there, I plowed through Upload (soooooo good!!) Last night was St. Elmo’s Fire followed by The Holiday. I’m annoyed that Showtime is releasing the new season of Billions one week at a time because I hate waiting. Next up is The Outer Banks. The preview looked ridiculous but I read an article this morning by a TV critic who really liked it so why not? Anything is better than the news. And while you might think some of my choices are garbage, I will make no apologies.

It’s nearly time for lunch and I have to make a decision. Do I spend the time to make a nice frittata or should I just eat some pre-made chicken salad with a cut-up apple dipped in honey butter? I’m leaning towards the latter. I can make the frittata tonight. I also want to look into recipes for donuts this afternoon, which is my next baking/cooking challenge. Donuts are dangerous on two levels – first, there’s the potential to get burned since donuts are generally fried in hot oil. Second, donuts are bad for the scale. I’m not worried about the first danger – I’ve been burned lots of time while cooking. The second danger is scarier. Maybe I’ll walk on the treadmill while reading donut recipes?!? That should help balance things out. Yeah, right.

Tune in next time for adventures in donut making!

The End is Nigh?

It finally hit me – I’m bored. I looked at the calendar yesterday and it’s been eight weeks since my last “official” day at work. 56 days. That’s a long time. I remember back in 2001, I got laid off and it took me approximately five months to find a new job. But it was different back then. The world was open, I was able to go to the gym and work out, I was actively interviewing and networking. I should also mention that my rent back then was around $725/month for my one-bedroom apartment in Twin Peaks. So my expenses were practically nothing. Most importantly, I knew it was just a matter of time before I was employed again and everything would be fine. Things are very different right now. I’ve noticed several shops here in town that have gone out of business. And Neiman Marcus has filed for bankruptcy. It’s definitely starting to feel like end of days.

But let’s get back to the boredom. I actually noticed that my mood had started shifting a few days ago. I haven’t done my daily hour-long power walk in three days, haven’t run in a week, and am feeling generally lethargic. I’m also not really interested in cooking and have gotten takeaways the last couple of days. And it seems like the weather has mimicked my mood because the beautiful sunny days stopped two days ago. It’s cool and overcast – the kind of weather where you don’t feel guilty if you don’t get off the couch all day and watch James Bond movies.

It’s not all gloom and doom though. Snug is still getting out for a couple of strolls each day and I’m still making the bed every morning. Sleeping in is never an option with Juno – we were up this morning at 6:05am. And I am brushing my teeth – so that’s something. It’s just I’m ready to get back to normal. And I know that the new normal will be very different from the old normal but I’m okay with that. I think what I miss is having a sense of purpose – having a reason to get up and get dressed in the morning. I’m really tired of wearing sweats. It reminds me of going on a long vacation – no matter how incredible the trip is, there’s always a point when you’re tired and ready to go home.

So yes, I’m going to head back to Oakland in the next day or so. My friend mentioned finding a new steep route on a hike in the Berkeley Hills that I’m anxious to check out. And there are rumors that businesses might be able to start reopening in the Bay Area around May 18th. This isn’t 100% confirmed as the shelter-in-place order isn’t slated to end until the end of May. Of course, it’s scary reading about the uptick in new cases in states that decided to reopen too soon. I guess we’ll see what happens. But I volunteered to help out and get the store ready to reopen, whenever that is. I’m also hoping that a stimulus check might have arrived… but I’m not going to hold my breath.

In more positive news, the new season of Dead to Me just came out on Netflix. I rewatched season one in anticipation and for those of you who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it! Christina Applegate is friggin’ fantastic. And I’m looking forward to checking out the new season of Billions on Showtime when I get home. No, I still haven’t watched the new season of Ozark yet but I’ll do it soon. And I haven’t watched Hollywood either.

I’m going to wrap up today’s post with a shout-out to my mom since it’s Mother’s Day… Thanks for being so generous and allowing me to stay in your beautiful home. It’s not nearly as fun being here without you (though I do enjoy watching TV more without closed captioning). And I’m sorry I broke your chicken.

It’s Puzzling

Before I get into today’s topic, I’ve got a couple of quick updates regarding my previous post. First off, I made the honey butter a couple of days ago and it is epic. Since mentioning it to a few people who asked for the recipe, I figured it would just be easier to share it with everyone. This recipe was given to me by my colleague/friend Roberta though she can’t recall where she got it from. Warning – just reading this recipe will make you gain 10lbs:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup honey
  • 3/4 lb (3 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the sugar, cream, and honey in a saucepan, then place over medium-high heat on your stovetop. Cook the mixture, stirring regularly, until it comes to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat. Place the softened butter in your blender or food processor. Pour the hot sugar and cream mixture over the butter, then blend or pulse until well-mixed. Add the vanilla extract, then blend again. Pour the finished honey butter spread into airtight containers. (The amount fills two pint-sized mason jars plus one half-pint jar almost exactly.) Keep refrigerated. The honey butter will stay fresh in the fridge for about 6 weeks, or a few months if stored in the freezer.

Spread on toast or a cut up apple and voilà, the most delicious treat ever. I think it would also be fab on grilled peaches. You can probably spread it on shoe leather and it would still taste delicious.

And speaking of toast, I finished my loaf of sourdough yesterday and since I’m not baking again til tomorrow, I had a slice of “regular” sourdough this morning. I’m not going to name names but this store-bought sourdough has always been my favorite and it’s made locally so all good, right? Well, it was beyond boring. And bland. And didn’t hold a candle to my homemade sourdough. I have to admit, I was surprised at the difference between the two. This just reconfirms that I will continue to bake my own bread from here on out. For the bread I’m doing this week, I’ll be using my ridiculous $13.95 flour. Will report back on how it turns out compared to the previous loaf.

I will now move on to today’s topic: puzzles! For those of you who have been reading snugandbee, you know that I love doing jigsaw puzzles. I finished another 1,000 piece puzzle on Sunday. I like to keep the completed puzzle out for a couple of days to enjoy before taking it apart and putting it back in the box. Here’s the evidence:

This particular puzzle of the man-made wonders of the world was really fun because I had visited so many of them… Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Coliseum in Rome, Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar, Stonehenge and Big Ben in England, Torii gate in Japan, Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Opera House in Sydney, Taj Mahal in India and of course (almost) all the ones in the U.S. Some were unfamiliar to me (must research) and I still need to go to Egypt and Easter Island…. #travelgoals

My love of doing puzzles started in the 6th grade because of Miss Levitt, my teacher (not sure if I’m spelling her name correctly). Miss Levitt was one of the cool teachers – she was tall with long blond hair and everyone liked her. Her classroom walls were decorated with jigsaw puzzles that she had done. That was also the same year that E.T. came out in the theaters and our family got a big puzzle of the image of E.T. hiding in Gertie’s closet amongst all of her stuffed animals. I remember it took us several days or maybe a week to complete. Then we flipped it over, glued paper to the back to keep it together and then delivered it to Miss Levitt (I think one of the corners fell off in transit). She then hung our puzzle on the wall, alongside all the others. I always thought this was one of the coolest ideas – decorating a room with completed puzzles. Needless to say, I was hooked.

One of the reasons I love doing puzzles is that it keeps my brain engaged and active in a good way – and it’s definitely better than watching TV. I’ve set up a “puzzling station” here in Carmel with all the pieces on a card table and then the assembly takes place on a separate table:

And of course I’ve developed my own method for doing puzzles. Nothing earth-shattering, mind you, but it’s efficient and it works for me. First off, I don’t dump all the pieces out at once – I take out a maybe 75-100 pieces at a time. This makes it easier to sort through them, turn them right side up and search for edge pieces. By the time I finish this, I usually have at least 90% of the edge pieces put aside. Then I can put together the frame.

From this point, assembly depends on the image of the puzzle. Common colors or text or whatever it is that helps me sort through the pieces. While I’m sitting at the assembly table, I will rotate the card table every so often so I can see all the pieces better. There’s always a sense of satisfaction when I hone in on the piece I need for a particular section. And I like to give the piece an extra tap (double tap!!) when I fit it into the puzzle.

When I open a new puzzle that’s never been done, I get excited if I find that a couple of pieces have stuck together. It’s like a little bonus – not having to put those two pieces together. But inheriting a puzzle is different since more often that not, the puzzle has simply been folded up and put back in the box so there are huge chunks that are already assembled. This is NOT okay and I make a point to break up all the pieces. Seriously, what’s the point of doing a puzzle if it’s already been done? super lame.

Anyway, that’s my treatise on puzzles. I’m now off to Pilgrim’s Way bookstore here in town to pick up a new 1,000 piece puzzle that they had in the window. It’s called The Rocky Mountains by an American artist named Charley Harper. I’ll be looking forward to an afternoon of puzzling and making bread followed by a Zoom Cinco de Mayo get-together tonight complete with margaritas, chips and salsa – can’t complain.

Spa Day

It might seem like I’m slacking on the blog but I’ve actually been very busy the last few days. First off, I bailed on West Oakland and am back at my mom’s place in Carmel. She left Wednesday morning and I arrived in the afternoon so it’s just Juno and me this time around. It’s really good to be back here for all the reasons mentioned in previous posts. Like my friend Holden (while pretending to be a judge) was saying the other week “Yes counselor, the court will concede that Carmel is nicer than West Oakland. Can we move it along?”

Before I left home, I had a lot going on. The big news is I have finally ventured into the realm of making sourdough bread. My friend Sonja gave me some starter that she had made so that helped a lot. I didn’t realize that making sourdough is a three-day process but it’s totally worth it. I also want to give a shout-out to my friend Mary who was the initial inspiration for me trying to make sourdough in the first place. Anyway, I decided to just make a single loaf in case things didn’t go well. I will admit it doesn’t look all that pretty from the outside – kind of a misshapen batard. I am ordering some bannetons to help with my shaping though it will be a few weeks before they arrive since fermenting baskets are considered a non-essential (dumb). But the inside looks damn good. Here’s the evidence:

It actually needed another 3-4 minutes in the oven but honestly, it tastes delicious! I’ve really leveled up my toast game. Note to Sonja – I am also ordering you a banneton as a thank you for the starter and for the fabulous mask!!

It’s funny how baking bread has become such a huge part of my life since sheltering-at-home. I’ve honestly never talked about bread so much as I have in the past six weeks. And I know I’m not the only one. What it boils down to is having the time to make it. But I am pledging here and now to continue to bake bread after this is all over. Because it’s worth it – there is nothing like the smell of fresh baked bread and it’s even better when it’s in your own house. Oh, and also because I like carbs.

Yesterday was a day of beauty for both Juno ane me. I found a dog groomer in Seaside who is grooming dogs out of her home and was thrilled that she had time available. Poor Snug – his hair was so matted that it took almost an hour just to brush him out. But it was totally worth it – look how handsome he is now!

As for me, there’s a woman in town who I know well and she was able to sneak me in for a mani/pedi since it’s her shop and we were the only ones there. Being able to do something “normal” was so wonderful. I rarely get my nails done anyway but having them done yesterday was a real treat. Here’s a picture of my hand – this is all you will see of me since the rest of me is still a hot mess.

I’ve got a lot going on this weekend. I’m making a batch honey butter (DM me if you want the recipe), I’ve got a 1,000 jigsaw to do and I’m in the middle of Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl, my latest audio book. Juno will be chilling on the couch and chasing squirrels as needed.

I’m going to wrap up this post with a haiku about grilled cheese sandwiches that I just composed:

Muenster cheddar melts

Between grilled buttery bread

Lunch is served. Eat up!

Black and Blue

I noticed while putting on a pair of running tights the other day that I had a bunch of small bruises on my upper legs. It looked like I had repeatedly jabbed myself with a pencil eraser. They were all the same size, shape and at the same stage of healing. For the life of me, I have no idea how I got these black and blue marks. I thought about it for awhile – mainly because there’s not much else to occupy my brain right now. And came up with nothing. Then I started thinking how this has been a common occurrence throughout my life… how I would find these mysterious bruises and have no recollection of how I got them.

The idea that I could injure myself to the point of bruising but have no memory of the actual incident is slightly disturbing, considering that I have very clear memories of other kinds of injuries. For example, right before the shelter-in-place order came down, I had a few friends over for a BBQ since we had to cancel our annual spring training trip. I was using a mandoline to slice an onion and wasn’t paying attention – sure enough, the blade sliced through the top of my fingernail. A little alcohol, Neosporin and a bandaid and I was back in the kitchen. No harm, no foul. And even though my finger is perfectly fine now, I still remember what happened. There are lots of kitchen-related incidents – maybe I should say “accidents” – for which I have crystal clear recollection – exploding soup in a blender, slicing a bagel with a chef’s knife (requiring a call to 911 and several stitches), sizzle platter mishap at Chevys, etc. And I have other scrapes and scars where I know exactly what happened. Some of these things happened years and years ago. So what’s the story with black and blue marks – why can’t I remember what happened even though the injury just happened?

Since I’m talking about things that are painful, something happened yesterday that really hurt my wallet. Now – you all know that finding flour is nearly impossible. The last bag I bought over a month ago was special high performance bread flour and it cost me $6.99. That was steep but I figured it would be worth it since I was baking fresh bread on a weekly basis (and a good loaf of bread is around six bucks anyway). Fast forward to yesterday when I stopped at Market Hall for a few essentials and found that they had bread flour available! I was so excited as I’m almost out of flour and so I immediately grabbed a bag. It’s from some local mill in the Bay Area called The Midwife and the Baker. There was no price on the bag but I figured it couldn’t be much more than $6.99 – I mean, it’s still a 5lb bag of flour. So I’m checking out and nearly had a heart attack – the flour was… are you sitting down?? $13.95. Not a typo. $13.95. That’s thirteen dollars and ninety-five cents. For flour. And as painful as it was, I bought it. Because I want to keep baking bread. Here is a picture of the most expensive flour I’ve ever bought:

I like to think of myself as having a high threshold for pain. Accident in the kitchen? That’s what bandages and alcohol are for. Hit the pavement while out running? I pick myself up and keep going. Being “forced” to spend almost 14 bucks on flour? I suck it up. I mean, I’m sitting here on the couch next to Juno and he keeps farting but I refuse to move (and believe me, it stinks). But I have my limits. Which brings me to today’s list of things that I find painful:

  • Unbuttered popcorn (I mean seriously, why even bother?)
  • Dropping toast on the floor butter-side down
  • Hot Snug breath (Juno needs to get his teeth cleaned)
  • Missing pieces in jigsaw puzzles
  • Cutting up an apple and finding that it’s rotten on the inside
  • People who don’t clean up after their dogs (hello? West Oakland?)
  • Realizing just how gray my hair is getting
  • Missing my friends/family/colleagues

Yes, it is hard to be away from everyone. And now that the shelter-in-place order has been extended through the end of May in California, it’s going to be another long month of Snug and Bee. But I’ll try and keep things as real and as positive as possible. I’ve got my health, my dog, food in the fridge and toilet paper in the bathroom. The state will re-open – I just hope the bruises will heal and don’t leave too big a scar.

V for Virus

For those of you who have been reading my blog, you may remember I mentioned the graphic novel/movie V for Vendetta the other week in relation to The Valhalla Murders – I thought there were some similarities in the plot lines. I ended up watching V for Vendetta again after that post and wow, I was blown away. Not because of the similarities to The Valhalla Murders (which in hindsight are really minimal) but because of the similarities to what’s going on in the world right now. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie (or read the book), I highly recommend checking it out. And for those who have seen it, watch it again. It’s pretty spooky. Side note – if things continue to get worse, I may consider getting a haircut like Natalie Portman. Not sure I’d look as good as she did though…

I’d also like to point out that before naming this post, I did confirm that V for Virus was NOT a Sue Grafton novel. Turns out – her “V” book was V for Vengeance. So no worries about copyright infringement. Other V words I considered for today’s post were “victory” but we’re a long way from that, “vanity” but there’s none of that going on at the mo, and “vociferous” but no one really knows what it means.

Actually, today’s post is about fitness and the balance between staying healthy and enjoying couch time. As luck would have it, my neighbors got a new treadmill right before the shelter in place order went into effect and they were getting rid of their old treadmill. I immediately said I was interested so I scored a treadmill. It doesn’t have any incline capabilities – but it was free and I was happy to take it.

I like to think of myself as a fairly active person. When I’m at work, I’m never sitting down for very long. Plus the jewelry store has an upstairs so that also helps with my overall step count for the day. Now that I’m at home, it can be really easy to just lie on the couch all day (see previous post for notes on enjoying couch time). But I actually feel worse when I do this. My body literally hurts from inactivity. This is not good. On the flip side, I woke up this morning with aching knees so I started my day with Ibuprofen. Also not good.

Upon further review, I realized that I might have overdone it the last few days… Today was an hour long power walk in the Oakland Hills with Sonja. Yesterday morning was a 4-mile walk/hike with John and his puppy Bear in the Berkeley Hills. Then I walked on the treadmill for another 45 minutes in the afternoon while watching the final episode of Making the Cut (no comment). The day before that, I ran nearly 4 miles on the treadmill. And I ran 3 miles the day before that. So yeah, now I can see why my knees hurt this morning. But look at how cute Bear is – how could I not go walking with him:

FYI – I did not take Juno with me on the hike. It was really hot yesterday (strike 1) and he doesn’t like hiking (strike 2). If I had forced him to walk, he would have been dragging the entire time (strike 3) and since I wanted to keep up a good pace, I left him at home. We are spending every waking (and sleeping) moment together so I don’t feel guilty for leaving him behind.

With all this activity, you’d think I’d be dropping lbs and getting super fit. Sadly, this is not the case. Because all of the walks/hikes/runs equal the amount of steps I would have normally taken during the course of a day. So I’m basically maintaining the status quo. Which I guess is okay. I might look into streaming other kinds of fitness classes but I’m not there quite yet. I need to leave adequate time during the day for naps. I think I’ve had a nap 3 out of the last 4 days.

The other reason that I’m able to maintain the status quo is by refraining from snacking. This can be a real challenge but I manage it by having three good meals each day. Plus I know that I have absolutely ZERO willpower so I won’t even buy Doritos or pretzels or other salty vittles (another V word!) Give me the choice between salt and sugar and I’ll take salt 9 times out of 10. And I’m not a fan of the whole salted caramel thing. I want salt or I want sugar. Don’t mix them up – it’s annoying.

Of course, there is the exception that proves the rule. Exhibit A: Dill Pickle Ranch snack mix from Whole Foods. I discovered this fun bag decorated with cowboy hat-wearing saguaro cacti earlier this week. Normally I avoid ranch-flavored anything – blue cheese is my go-to. But dill pickle? Yes please! So I took a chance and OMG, I am in love. I have really tried to limit consumption to meal times only but have been unsuccessful. You will notice in the picture that the bag is practically empty. So now I have to make a hard decision… Do I buy the cute cacti snack bag again? Or do I just say no and cut up an apple instead. Only time will tell. Sigh.

In other food related news, I was in downtown Oakland late yesterday afternoon picking up a salad from Mixt for dinner and was thrilled to see that the Humphrey Slocombe ice cream shop was open! And they were doing a buy 2 pints, get the 3rd free. So of course I spent $20 on ice cream:

Okay okay, I’m getting sidetracked from my original subject of home fitness. I should mention that I also have a Concept 2 ergometer but it’s currently sitting in the corner in two pieces. Anyone who has done crew knows that the erg is no joke – this is a hard ass workout. My goal for the coming week is to dust it off and set it up. At one point, I even considered getting a Nintendo Switch because they have some fun fitness “games” but they are sold out pretty much everywhere. And I can’t really afford to spend $300 on the console and another $60 on each game. That would be irresponsible. But $20 on ice cream is fine. I can justify that. You know, keeping local businesses afloat and all that.

I will say this though about staying active and doing any kind of fitness – it really does make me feel better. I’ve always been a runner – BQ (before quarantine), I ran 3x/week in the morning after walking Juno. But now I’m doing something 6x/week. And yes, I realize I’m making up for not buzzing around at work. But more importantly, it keeps my spirits up. I’ve never come back from a walk/run/hike and felt worse. And even the annoying lady on the fire trail yesterday couldn’t dampen my spirits. With all the bad news that is out there, it’s important to do whatever you can to stay positive and feel good. So if my new normal is a hike followed by a nap and then some dill-flavored almonds with an Ibuprofen chaser, I can live with that.

Couch Time

I’m not going to lie, Snug has been a little depressed since we got back from Carmel on Monday morning. He’s been lying around the last couple of days showing very little enthusiasm. Mind you, lying around was his primary activity at my mom’s place. The difference is that down there, he was on constant squirrel patrol and that made him happy. It gave him a sense of purpose. Here in West Oakland, squirrels are pretty rare. There was the one time that Juno caught an opossum in the yard and he’s never been more proud of himself. Every night after that, he would patrol the backyard looking for more critters. But since we’ve been home, he’s barely gone outside.

I’m happy to be home though the neighborhood is looking a bit more grim than when I left. This morning we were up just after 6am and took a long walk where I noticed lots of new graffiti… There’s this one building that has all these amazing tigers painted on the side and I was sad to see that someone tagged over some of the tigers. Maybe it was a statement against The Tiger King? I don’t know. But I always thought there was an unwritten rule against tagging over legit street art. I’ll share some pix on my next post of some of the cool street art in my neighborhood.

At the moment, I’m sitting here on the couch with the door open and enjoying the view. My Japanese maples are in full bloom now and they look beautiful! Once I’m done with this post, I’ll sit outside and get some sun.

So let’s talk about couches/sofas (feel free to look up the difference at your leisure) since I imagine we are all spending way more time on our couches than ever before. The key is to keep things “fresh” by moving around on your couch. Fortunately I have a very large couch that is almost 12 feet long and has a chaise on one end. It could comfortably sit at least six people before COVID-19 – now it seats two people with one zebra lying in between them.

Sitting up on one cushion in the morning, moving to a different cushion in the afternoon, lying across two cushions, sitting on the chaise, lying on the chaise… there are so many options. I had a lovely nap the other day lying across the chaise onto the next section. And don’t forget the importance of throw pillows and blankets – there is no such thing as too many pillows and blankets. Here’s what I’m talking about:

In order to maximize comfort, be sure to re-plump your cushions on a regular basis. Added bonus by doing this is that you can clean up any snacks that have fallen in between the cushions.

I’ve come to realize that when I’m “working” – I like to sit up on the couch. Now when I say “working,” that’s really a misnomer. Because I’m not really working. Working encompasses things like checking email, reading the news online, writing a new blog post, etc. When I’m watching TV, more often than not, I’m lying down. And I actually prefer sitting up if I’m on the phone.

Other activities are done on a stool in my kitchen – eating meals, reviewing cookbooks and/or recipes online, making grocery lists, paying bills, dealing with taxes and other grown-up stuff. Speaking of which, I made the egregious error of looking at my latest IRA statement from Fidelity and nearly cried like a little girl. Won’t be doing that again…

I’m not sure how long I’ll be home before I start getting itchy to go back to Carmel. I made a fresh loaf of bread and a big jug of green juice so once those are gone, I’ll reassess. A big part of the decision has to do with when California decides to re-open. I’m hopeful for mid-May but who knows? Honestly, the the thing I’m most excited about when things re-open is getting Juno groomed. I keep thinking that I should try giving him a little trim but I’m terrified to try. As it is, it is hard to tell the difference between Juno and this pillow:

Final note on couch time – be sure to get up every once in awhile and stretch your legs. I have a treadmill set up next to the chaise and I swear the thing just taunts me. But that’s a good thing – I’ll be doing a run later this afternoon. I’m thinking my next post will be about home fitness. Either that or a post about adventures in DIY dog grooming.

Real Estate Porn

Many years ago, I worked for an awesome magazine called THE WEEK. For those of you not familiar with this publication, it is multi-source and multi-perspective, covering everything from domestic and international news to arts & leisure, to health & science to business. Every week, there was the “Hot Properties” spread featuring homes from around the country. There would always be a theme and the homes were always amazing. When I would present the magazine in client meetings, I always referred to this spread, fondly, as “real estate porn.”

Since I have been sheltering-in-place here in Carmel-by-the-Sea, I have had ample opportunity to walk around parts of town that I previously hadn’t explored and drool over all the incredible homes in town. Seriously, the whole town is basically real estate porn and as soon as I fall in love with one home, I find another that’s even more amazing. Anyway, since this is my last post from C-B-T-S, I figured I’d do a rundown on some of the homes currently for sale. Mind you, I am NOT in the market for a home. I don’t think I’d qualify for a mortgage based on my current economic status. But it’s fun to scope out the possibilities…

Oh! And before presenting my top picks, I should clarify the difference between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Carmel. CBTS is an incorporated city – all residences/businesses within the city limits do NOT have addresses and use P.O. Boxes for mail. When trying to find a place, the “address” will be something like Monte Verde Street, 4 NE of 3rd Ave or something to that effect. Carmel is the unincorporated part of Monterey county and the homes do have addresses and mail delivery. And now presenting the coolest homes for sale (the top left pic being my fave):

If none of these homes are to your liking, you can always just buy a nice empty lot right across from the beach for about $8 million:

$8 million but you have to build a house

One of the other things that sets Carmel apart (besides Clint Eastwood having been Mayor) is the tendency for people to “name” their homes. Of course, many of the names reference the water with names like “Sea Quest” and “Sand & Sea.” There’s a home called “Xanadu” and another called “Knockwood” and my mom’s favorite is “White Caps and Night Caps” – it makes me think what I would name my home should I ever have the opportunity to live here. Probably the “Bee Hive” or something to that effect. Anyway, here’s a gallery with some of the best signs I’ve seen over the last couple of weeks:

I was perusing the Real Estate section of the Pine Cone (local newspaper) after I got back from my stroll the other day and saw these massive homes for sale on Pebble Beach in the $20+ million range and I started thinking what it would be like to have that kind of money. And then I thought about Jeff Bezos, who does have that kind of money. I think $25 million to him is like 25 cents to me. It’s an amount so small that you wouldn’t miss if you lost it. Jeff Bezos could give every hourly employee at Amazon and Whole Foods a $10/hr raise and it wouldn’t even make a dent. Scary.

So it occurred to me that I have been remiss in giving you updates on Snug! Juno does not like the beach – he doesn’t even like getting his feet wet. His favorite activites are taking strolls around town, hanging with Tiger and of course chasing squirrels. Here he is doing what he does best:

Snug on the deck looking for squirrels
Juno’s nemesis
Hanging out with Tiger

Snug has been looking pretty scroungy the last week or so. He was supposed to get groomed this week but the groomers are closed. So I gave him a bath yesterday. He wasn’t too happy about it but it made a huge difference. He smells like baby powder now and as you can see, he’s looking pretty delicious.

In other dog news, I saw this on my walk the other day…

Well it’s time to wrap up this post – my friend Gillian is coming over and we’re going to take a socially distant walk together. Good way to wrap up my time here in Carmel. See you back in Oakland!