Sunday, March 31, 2013

When the Easter Bunny Comes a Calling, Run and Hide!

So yesterday I was standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes, when I saw a delivery man heading up the sidewalk carrying a big bouquet.

A series of thoughts went through my head something like this...

First thought: Who on earth could be sending me flowers? I just saw CatMan last night, and beside the fact that sending flowers would be beyond out of character for him, the dude is dealing with a fractured pelvis at the moment, and he's not exactly in a place to be thinking about things like sending me flowers for no particular reason.

Second thought: It could be some sort of a belated birthday gift from somebody... but everybody I would expect to send me birthday wishes already has.

Third thought: I suppose it could be an Easter gift... but nobody in my atheist family even celebrates Easter.

Fourth thought: They must be for the neighbors up the street. Our addresses have the same numbers but in a different order, and people are forever mixing them up.

Fifth thought: OMG, there's been a rash of crimes in the area involving people posing as delivery men in order to gain access to unsuspecting people's houses. He could be a criminal!!!

Apparently, I have watched one too many crime thrillers, because my instant reaction was to duck down behind the kitchen counter so he couldn't see me, and pretend I wasn't home.

So I'm cowering there peeking over the edge to see out the window when I see him heading around to the back of the house.

Next thought: OMG, OMG, OMG - he's going to try to break in the back door!!!!

So I go running through the house, lock the back door and hide in the bedroom wondering if I should call 9-1-1. Just then, the phone rings. I look at the Caller ID and it reads "Edible Arrangements". Fuck!

Of course I ignore the call... I mean, I'm not supposed to be home, right?

Maybe he'll just leave the thing on the porch and go away. A few minutes later the phone rings again... "Edible Arrangements" again. Double Fuck!!

This time he leaves a message. "Hello, this is John from Edible Arrangements, I tried to deliver a bouquet for you, but since you weren't home, your next door neighbor was kind enough to accept it for you." Triple Fuck!!!

Now what do I do? I love my next door neighbor, but the woman seriously has extra sensory perception in terms of what's going on in the neighborhood. She's gonna be sitting there looking out the window waiting for me to "come home." How am I gonna get myself out of this one?

Next thought: I know, I'll tell her I was in the shower... but I don't look like I was in the shower...

I quickly rip off my clothing and jump into the shower.

How does the saying go... in for a penny, in for a pound...

Anyhow, about 15 minutes later I sheepishly call my neighbor and explain that I was in the shower, and wander over with my wet hair to thank her and accept a giant bouquet of fruit and candy with a note from my mother reading: Happy Easter!!

So all of this brings up an interesting series of questions...

First, and most obviously - Have I completely and totally lost my marbles?
-- Wait -- don't answer that!

Secondly, WTF?!? When did my atheist family start celebrating Easter? Seriously, I'm sorta feeling like I missed the memo or something.

Finally, and most importantly... see that green stuff in and among all of the spears of fresh fruit... that's kale. Should I eat the kale? I mean it is called an "edible arrangement" after all... but I'm sure they don't exactly intend you to eat the kale... but, you know... it's kale... I love kale!

OK... well that's about all the news from the funny farm.

Here's wishing you all a very Happy Easter!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Consistently Inconsistent

I've gotta say, I totally suck at routines. I know most people swear by them, and feel they make life easier, but sticking to a routine is just something I've never been able to master.

It's not that I don't try... OH, how I try! I just can't seem to force myself to operate that way unless I really have to. I mean seriously, I'm 46 years old, and I still haven't mastered the basics like (ahem) bedtime!

So when AnExactingLife left a comment in my last grocery shopping post asking how I shopped before this little challenge that I'm undertaking - well, I was stumped!

I guess the simple answer would have to be: haphazardly!

I've never had a "shopping day" or anything like that. I generally shop at one of the two stores that are in walking distance from my house, and to be honest, the timing of my trips is much more likely to be determined by the desire to take a walk than it is by the need for groceries.

I suck at making grocery lists. I do make them on occasion, but usually I'll make the thing, set it down, and then walk out of the house completely forgetting about it. Sigh. I've even been known to put it in my pocket and then forget to look at it once I get to the store!

But what "targeting shopping" I do is generally only for a few crucial items that I'm out of - eggs, onions, or something like that. When I get to the store I'll buy whatever is on sale and/or looks good and fresh - although I do have my moments when I throw caution to the wind and just say, "Oh fuckit! Life's short, I'm getting the $8/pound organic cherries."

I don't buy pre-packaged foods, mostly because of my allergies, but they're also expensive and usually filled with crap. And with the exception of a few things that I make specially for CatMan, I also don't shop with specific recipes in mind. I just buy ingredients that look fresh and good and aren't terribly expensive, and create something from there.

So being organized enough to read the weekly circulars and plan trips to a pile of different stores with specific lists of things to get at each store is... well... it's proving to be a bit of a challenge for me! At the moment I'm still enjoying the project, and the fact that CatMan is injured and we can't go for bike rides means that I've got some extra time on my hands.

I'm also using this as a bit of an excuse to get my old bike fixed up and optimized for errand running, and to get a bit of a biking fix that way. Being on my bike opens up a few stores that I don't generally frequent, so that's adding a fun twist to this whole little experiment.

So that's about all I can say about my shopping "habits!"  So how about you? Are you a lover of routine or does it feel like prison to you?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Grocery Budget Challenge Update

Sooo, I thought I'd write and give y'all an update on my grocery challenge. This is part of a longer term project to see what it would be like to live within a food stamp budget, which for my state averages out to around $137/month.

First of all, I found the film Food Stamped at my library and enjoyed watching it.

It basically chronicles the adventures of a young couple as they attempt to eat healthy food on a food stamp budget for one week. I'm not sure where they are, but they settled on a food budget of $50 for the two of them for one week.

All in all I found the film to be enjoyable, though I've gotta say, as a lifelong frugalista, part of me thought that a better title might have been "Richie Rich Goes Ghetto." Seriously, I sorta had the impression that neither of these kids had ever experienced a budget before, and it made them a bit hard for me to relate to.

Also, part of their goal was to "eat healthy" on a food stamp budget, and to them this meant buying almost exclusively organic foods. While that is a laudable goal, some part of me has a hard time swallowing the notion that one must eat all organic in order to be healthy. Jennifer over at It's Not Easy To Be Green did an excellent and well researched post on this topic a while back.

I'm not knocking organic food, to tell the truth I'm thrilled that the idea has caught on. It's just that the more popular it becomes, the more the word "organic" has become a marketing term that isn't really as meaningful as we'd all like to believe it is.

I guess for me at least, the whole "nothing non-organic shall pass these lips" attitude of the film's protagonists made them come across as a tad bit... what's the word... arrogant? naive? spoiled? elitist? Well, let's just say that it doesn't seem very realistic to me. I think most middle class families would have a hard time being able to afford an all organic diet, let alone someone trying to survive on a food stamp budget.

Nevertheless, the film does do a good job exploring the topic of hunger in America, and organic snobbery or not, I totally support the SNAP program and agree that it should be better funded.

Anyhow, that's my take on the film.

As for my own progress, well, it's the 20th of the month and I've spent $134.42. On first blush this sounds like I'm gonna blow the budget big time, but I wasn't really trying to stay within a budget this first month, I just mostly wanted to get a good idea of what I was spending regularly on food.

I'm not sure how accurate it will end up being though, because once I got the whole shopping for deals bug, I started finding myself unable to pass up a good deal, no matter how much food I'd already purchased! Seriously, I did some major stocking up, and I must say, my fridge is totally PACKED!

I don't really need anything else, and could easily make it to the end of the month without spending another dime - but this weeks circulars had grapes on sale for $.99/pound, and I think that's gonna be hard to pass up. Plus - eggs are on sale for $.99/dozen. So we'll see how it turns out at the end of the month.

One thing I really have noticed though is that I'm much more cognizant of what is and isn't a good deal. And several times I ended up buying something, only to discover that it went on sale for less than half the regular price a week later!

Anyhow, I think it's gonna take some time to really get into the swing of this shopping method, but I'm having a total blast and there's no way I'm gonna experience anything remotely similar to hunger if the current trend keeps up!

So, I'll provide a full tally at the end of the month, but I just wanted to give you a progress report and say that the whole experience is quite encouraging. I think with a bit of work, I could very easily get my monthly food budget down to around $100/month especially during gardening season. Whether or not I want to work that hard remains to be seen.

So how about you? Anybody else out there trying to trim down their grocery budget? I'd love to hear about your tactics and progress!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kitty Update and More Herbal Remedies

So, I promised you a while back that I'd give you an update on Mr. Sputnik VonWiskars. Considering that he has a mass filling up at least half of his bladder, and that the vet gave him a few weeks to live back in early December, I'd say he's doing pretty well.

In addition to the pharmaceuticals: amitriptyline (anti-depressant that's supposed to help with nervous peeing incidents) & buprenorphine (the narcotic pain killer - which we've reduced the dose to just over half of what he was getting) as well as the curcumin & omega 3 supplements that I wrote about before, we've been trying out a few other herbal/natural remedies that seem to be helping him.

Before I go into the details, I just wanted to offer my general thoughts & mixed feelings on the whole topic of holistic medicine.

The basic concept of holistic medicine, as I understand it, is that rather than simply trying to "fix the problem" directly as traditional medicine does, you try to get the body to heal itself. So the idea is to support and encourage the body's natural healing abilities. This part I'm totally on board with.

Holistic practitioners use a variety of different therapies to achieve this goal. One is herbal and natural supplements. This idea makes complete sense to me since most pharmaceutics are actually derived from natural substances anyhow.

The problem is that since naturally occurring substances cannot be patented, there is very little rigorous research done to assess their effectiveness, side effects, etc. Nevertheless, I do believe these are avenues worth pursuing.

But then there's the whole concept of homeopathic medicine.

Homeopathy takes the stance that "disease symptoms" are really signs of health because they are the visible side effects of the body's own healing process. I can sorta see that.

So, in an attempt to help the body along in terms of healing, homeopathy seeks natural substances that, when administered will mimic the "disease symptom" and thereby increase the body's natural healing tendencies.

OK... this part starts to sound a bit iffy to me. I mean in certain circumstances I can see that working - like a fever is the body's natural way of raising the temperature to a point where many viruses and bacteria cannot live, so it might make sense to assist the body in raising its temperature.

But in general, this whole concept sort of seems to violate a very basic scientific precept: correlation is not causation. In other words, just because two phenomenon are seen simultaneously, does not mean that one caused the other. So I think it's a pretty big leap to assume that mimicking the symptom will somehow increase the body's healing mechanism.

But... we're not done yet - here's where it starts to go a bit off the deep end.

Once a substance has been found that is able to mimic the body's naturally occurring symptoms, this substance is taken and watered down to the point where it is no longer scientifically detectable.

Then this solution that been watered down to the point that it has so little of the "active ingredient" that it cannot be shown to be there, is what is actually administered to the patient. They say it is the "memory" or "essence" of the the substance that does the work.

OK, at this point, you totally lose me. Seriously, it seems to me that all you're really doing at that point is giving a placebo - and the whole idea that the "essence" of the substance somehow remains makes all sorts of warning bells go off in my head.

Anyhoo... suffice it to say that when it comes to holistic medicine, herbal cures make complete sense to me but homeopathy strikes me as a bit, um... unlikely to have any effect. So, after that lengthy introduction, here are the things we're currently using.

The first is a product called Tinkle Tonic.

It's made from a variety of herbs including couchgrass, and it's supposed to help cats with urinary problems. Many people who have cats suffering from cystitis have reported almost miraculous results with this stuff.

In addition to just generally having to pee more frequently than normal, Sputnik's been suffering from these little "episodes" where his urethra gets irritated and he just goes into frantic peeing mode. So while I wouldn't expect it to have any effect on the tumor, but we tried it out in hopes that it might ease some of the irritation he experiences.

I wasn't expecting miracles, but I have to say that this stuff has really helped him. It has all but eliminated those frantic peeing episodes, so I'm very pleased. A few of its ingredients do have a bit of a diuretic quality, so it's made him have to pee a bit more frequently, but all in all, I think it's a good trade-off.

The other product we're trying is something called Essiac tea.
Essiac is a combination of 4 herbs (although there are newer versions that contain a few additional ones) developed by a Canadian nurse sometime in the 1920's. It was apparently based on an Ojibwa Indian cure, and the nurse who developed it (whose name was Caisse - Essiac is her name spelled backwards) used it to treat cancer patients.

OK, I've gotta admit that my first reaction to hearing about this stuff was that it was a bunch of hooey. I mean really, an herbal tea that can cure cancer? Sounds like hype to me.

But, the interwebs are full of accounts of people using this tea with great success to treat both malignant and benign tumors, and my former vet swears by it.

And while the vast majority of the studies on this stuff are aimed at disproving claims that Essiac cures cancer, but I did manage to find a few studies indicating that it might slow tumor growth or even shrink tumors in size.

Since the worst side effect I could find was that several of Essiac's ingredients can have a laxative effect (which would be a good thing for Sputty since he's suffering from constipation and is on a stool softener anyhow) I figured we didn't have much to lose, and we decided to give it a try. Plus, oddly enough, he sorta seems to like taking it.

Without subjecting him to another ultrasound (which I'm not gonna do) it's a bit hard to say if it's having any effect, but he does seem to be feeling better in general. He's been more active and playful since we started the Essiac - even climbing up on the table when he smells his favorite treat! He's also been spending more time in my lap or cuddling in bed with me rather than just sleeping in his bed or in the linen closet (his favorite spot) all the time.

Sooo... I guess time will tell, but at the moment he seems to be doing well and feeling better, and I think that's all that really matters! Anyhow, that's the Sputter Report for the moment!

So tell me, what do you think about the whole concept of using unproven methods for medical treatment? Do you think I'm crazy with the Essiac tea, or do you think it's worthwhile?