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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dear Weight Watchers: Your Accounting Methods Suck

Missy joined Weight Watchers. Partly in solidarity, and partly because I would like to lose some weight*, I signed up for their on-line plan.
Disclaimer: I agree with the basic premise of the points plus program - that healthy, nutrient dense food is better for you than processed, fatty stuff, but their calculators are strictly in beta testing mode at the time. I should not get different data if I enter in the raw ingredients for a meal into the recipe program vs the point tracker vs entering the nutrient count.
My daily baseline is 29 points. I'll get to what a point is in a few minutes, as far as I could figure it out. I have 49 extra points per week to eat as I wish. If I work out, I can accumulate more points. However, being a purist I am trying to act under the assumption that 29 points is what I get per day, not the appx 40 that I would get if I added in my 7 extra points and 45 minutes of walking.
It's 6 PM. I am still at work. I have consumed all 29 of my daily allotted points and have not eaten dinner yet. I am probably fairly Zone compliant but had more protein and fewer carbs than normal at lunch. I am kind of hungry despite all that protein. An actual calorie count of my intake is approximately 1300, including all the zero point foods. I have not eaten anything processed or high fat. When I was losing weight on the Zone my food intake so far today would've been pretty average (typical daily intake was 1700-1800 calories, as measured by random phone calls where they asked me everything I ate the day before). How the fuck can this be?
A quick check of weight watchers points plus system reveals several things. Fruits and vegetables are zero points, which is a good way people to eat more produce. It may not be a good way to get people to lose weight however. My mom is a case in point. She consumes massive quantities of fruit and very modest quantities of other foods and she is still fat. She laughed when I told her the Weight Watchers system. Cherries and bananas do add up.
A further complication is that vegetables or fruit added to recipes contribute to points, but not if you just input them directly. WW, WTF? Did you not update your recipe builder program when you switched from 'points' to 'points plus'? My chicken sausage and bell peppers entree has either 6 points or 4, depending on how you count 'em. Given that it had 200 calories, I vote for 4. Same goes for my smoothie, which ranged from 6-10.
Plugging in strict grams of fat, carbs, and protein into the point tracker gave me a clue. A point is less than 50 calories, unless it is certain Weigh Watchers brand snack foods, which are still considered 1 point even if they're closer to 100 calories. If it's anything over 50, it's 2 points. They round up, but they don't round down unless it's their own product. For that matter, it does seem to be heavily oriented towards processed diet foods.
So, old biddy, what if you get around the rounding problem by adding up the total grams of carbs, protein, and fat? Excellent question? Entering in the nutrient information is another can of worms. Depending on what you eat, you may lose or gain points compared to entering the ingredients. Despite what they say about protein being important, if you enter it in as grams of protein you don't get cut a break in terms of points, but if you select it from a pull down menu you may get a break. For instance, if you eat 3 oz of turkey breast luncheon meat (or more) it's 0 points, but if you eat 3 oz of grilled skinless turkey breast it's 3 points. So depending on what I eat, rounding issues, and how I input the data, my 29 points could range from 800-1450+ calories, not including fruits and veggies. I guess they had to get their extra calories for the fruits and vegetables somewhere. For the record, I ate about 200 calories of fruit so far, so that puts me at 1100 calories for the points that got counted. These points were averaging 35 calories, not 50. Like a sleazy mortgage based securities trader, I am going to have to do some creative accounting here rather than be fully compliant. I reality, I am mostly following the Zone diet and use the points tracker mainly as a record keeping system.

*I'm not going to pretend I'm on a diet because I want to be healthier. I am already fairly healthy and eat pretty well and think the recent emphasis on BMI is a crock of bullshit. No, I'm on a diet because I want to weigh less and look better. To be honest, when I am at my 'local minimum' weight (at which point I am still BMI = 25) I get sick a lot more often than when I am heavier.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

View from the Cathouse

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Recipe Geek: Lemon Bars

My poor lemon tree at my CA house toppled over and had to be put out of its misery. My mom boxed up some of the lemons and sent them to me.
For those of you in the know, they're Meyer lemons, which grow well in CA and are a bit fruitier and less sour than standard lemons. According to wikipedia, they're a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. To me, they're just lemons and the grocery store breed is the outlier, just like Florida oranges taste strange to me since I am used to navel oranges. Anyway, hoity toity gourmets discovered Meyer lemons 10 or 15 years ago and now they're trendy.
Anyway, I had a drawer full of lemons in my fridge. I decided to make lemon bars. I made a batch for the students, and then made a second batch* last night for today's neighborhood party. I used the recipe over at Smitten Kitchen, and used an intermediate amount of lemon filling.
As always, the recipes on smitten kitchen tend to be on the sweet side, and these were no exception. They came out well and weren't overly gloppy like a lot of lemon bars. However, it is important not to bake them too long. The first batch came out nearly perfect, whereas the second batch was slightly overdone. Nonetheless, the recipe is easy and achieves the goal of a lemon layer on top of a buttery shortbread layer, but isn't too fussy in terms of the preparation.

*In a recipe geek first, I made a recipe twice before posting. Don't get too used to it, though.

Lucy update: almost two weeks

Lucy is a high energy cat. This was sort of apparent the first week, but is much more apparent now that she can run around the whole house. She likes to gallop around at full speed and drag her cat toys everywhere. This morning I was awakened by her repeatedly jumping on and off the bed. Upon waking up more fully I realized she had dragged a cat toy into bed and was pouncing on it from the floor and then jumping off the bed again, as well as doing a spiderman like walk along the side of the bed. If I let her outside I will be kind of worried about how many dead animals she might drag back and where she might leave them.
She will be one year old in a few days. If she is so energetic now I can't even begin to imagine her as a kitten. Today was the first time I actually saw her with her eyes closed. It didn't last long
The kitties are slowly adjusting to each others' presence. There is a lot less hissing each day. Luna and Rugrat have figured out that they should stay out of the way when Lucy is running around the house at full speed, and Lucy has toned down her steeplechase routine slightly. Nonetheless, Rugrat is having a harder time of it than than Luna. Even at the age of 16, Luna's still got the alpha cat mojo going. One look from Luna and Lucy backs down, whereas Rugrat can hiss/growl continuously and Lucy will just look at her innocently. Rugrat has never had good cat social skills, and I think Lucy is a bit more interested in playing with her as well. But they get more used to each other every day.
They've reached the point where they don't hiss at Lucy for run of the mill, same room, couple of feet away from each other contact. If they're distracted by something they forget that they're not used to her. This now means that they gang up on me two at a time instead of one, or three instead of two.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mistaken Identity

I get a bit cranky when I get phone calls or emails trying to collect money from people who aren't me. I think you can probably relate to this. I've had more than usual this week.
The one that I don't know how to deal with is the debt collector phone calls for someone who is not named Old Biddy and lives at a different address. The canned message goes something like this. "This is a message for Alicia Maldonado who resides at Not-Old-Biddy's address. Please hang up if you are not Alicia Maldonado. By staying on the line you are confirming that you are Alicia Maldonado. Please call Sleazy Debt Collection Agency and reference # xyz." Uh, WTF, by staying on the line I am confirming that I have an answering machine, not that I am Alicia Maldonado. I am not sure if I should call them and tell them that I am Old Biddy, not Alicia Maldonado, or if that would just cause more problems.
Being an old biddy and a relatively early adopter, I have number of fairly prime email address of the All the other Old Biddies who have variations of this address don't always make this clear when they fill out forms, or it gets lost in transcription. For instance, there is also an Old C. Biddy who lives in Dubai and presumably has an email address similar to mine. I got an email about her electric bill. Uh, WTF, Dubai electric company? Send a real bill or do autopay, don't just send an email. I wrote back and said that I am Old M. Biddy of the US, not Old. C. Biddy of Dubai, but apparently this is not enough and I am supposed to send a copy of my passport. No fucking way.
On occasion people try to give me rebates. I could take advantage of this. I get emails about 'my' Harvard/MIT Coop rebate. I could feign ignorance and pretend that it is left over from 20 years ago and order myself a stylish sweatshirt or some beaver-logo undies (ok,I don't think they sell those, but they should) with it and no one would be the wiser. But since I am a nice person, I figured out who had mistakenly assumed that the alumni address would be theirs, simply because they were currently, and emailed her to inform them that I was getting her emails. I don't know if she ever did anything about it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lucy and Rugrat

Today I moved Lucy to my bedroom to get her used to other rooms in the house. She was very comfortable in the computer room and very skittish elsewhere. Anyway, she covered in the closet for much of the day, since she seemed to have a weird fear of the ceiling fan. Uh, ok, perhaps there was a ceiling fan incident sometime in her past. Eventually she seemed pretty comfortable in my bedroom, but when I opened the door she ran to the computer room. I went downstairs and did other stuff. A few minute later Lucy came downstairs, wandered around, ate some cat food, scratched at the scratching post down there, and then wandered back upstairs. Luna watched all this but didn't growl.
Later I came upstairs and took a bath. Rugrat joined me on the side of the tub. Throughout my bath, Lucy kept wandering into the bathroom, and Rugrat would growl at her if she got too close. After I was done, a large moth started fluttering against the window screen. It had a 5" wingspan. There was no way that the cats could ignore that. Rugrat was sitting under the window looking up. Lucy ran over and climbed on the windowsill and climbed the screen. Rugrat growled like crazy, but did not move. She's a little bit cranky, but at the same time she is very interested in Lucy.
Now that she feels more comfortable in the house, Lucy is a ball of energy. She's also started talking to me. Yes, I talk to my cats, and they talk back, not that I always know what they're saying. This wasn't always the case. They started talking a lot more after Max started hanging around. I guess they picked it up from him. Lucy has started doing it too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lil' Bitty update

I picked a name for Flower/Lil' Bitty - I'm calling her Lucy. I've been testing it out for a few days and it stuck. I'm sure I'll still call her Lil' Bitty sometimes. Anyway, in addition to being something easy to say and easy for a cat to hear, I can make Lucy-fur jokes when she's bad, yell "Lucy, I'm home!" in my best Desi Arnez voice, and it also goes well with Luna. In fact, if you combine the non-identical syllables in their names, you have 'lunacy', which is perhaps appropriate.
I was wondering why they called her Flower. It's not a bad name, it's not a good name, but it doesn't sound like a name a cat would pay attention to. I got my answer the other night. I had the door to the computer room open, since Lucy mostly didn't leave the room. She went running out and returned with her tail completely fluffed up and straight up. It was as wide as her body, and she reminded me of a meerkat. And, of course, Flower was the main meerkat on "Meerkat Manor". She repeated the bad-ass meerkat act a few times when my cats came by. My cats were not amused since it was accompanied by a fierce defense of the imaginary border between hall and computer room. Anyway, despite the meerkat resemblance, I'm dropping the name Flower.
My three cats are slowly getting used to each other. Luna and Rugrat were bothered by the meerkat from hell act, and sulked downstairs one evening. I was sort of worried. But the next night Lucy snuck downstairs and spent a large part of the evening in the living room with Rugrat, mostly watching each other from a safe distance. I left the door open again tonight. She hasn't ventured downstairs but Luna and Rugrat are upstairs and I don't hear any growling or hissing.
Cowdude came over last night. I told him that my pussy needed some socialization and took him upstairs to see Lucy. She was friendly to him immediately. I am glad to see that she is seemingly not a one-person cat.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Introducing the Little Itty Bitty Biddy Kitty

I've been meaning to get a cat for a while. My cat urge started after I got laid off, but then was put on hold when I moved to Ithaca and got settled in here. By the time the dust had settled and the proposals were done, there were no kittens to be had at the humane society. Around this time, Rugrat was seriously going stir-crazy from being cooped up inside all winter, so that renewed my interest/gave me a good excuse. But yeah, I'm a cat lady, I know it.
Rugrat's not stir-crazy anymore, but there were finally lots of kittens over at the humane society and I went and checked them out this weekend. I had grand plans of getting one that would be most likely to be a good fit with my cats, e.g. a young, relatively mellow, male kitten. But I must confess that I have a huge weakness for teenager cats, especially female ones and they like me too. There's something about them - they're bundles of feline intensity but their personalities have sort of set by that point.
Anyway, there were a lot of little kids playing with the kittens. I poked my fingers in the cages and looked at the kittens for a while and then decided to go look at the adult cats until things cleared out. You know where this story is heading. I checked them out. As usual, the young female cats were all over me. The more a cat was described as shy, the greater the likelihood it would be super friendly to me. (Ever wonder how I got Luna? Same deal.) I met "Flower", who is a dainty little tortoiseshell. She's about 11 months old. She was so sweet to me, playful, and cute, that I couldn't resist. I had been chosen. I went back out to the area with the kittens, and played with them for a while. One little male kitten was super sweet, but it was really too late, especially after I told the workers that I was interested in Flower. They all said good things about Flower, which is sort of their job, of course, but they seemed to genuinely like her and really wanted her to find a good home. Knowing that she'd been there a while made me feel like I really should get her rather than the cute kitten who'd probably get adopted by someone else in a day or two.
Flower had been at the shelter for about a month and a half. I'd seen her picture on the website, but didn't pay much attention since, as a mottled tortoiseshell, she doesn't photograph well and probably won't have much of a career as a LOLcat. She was brought in with her two brothers, who are big mellow orange tiger cats. All three had spent all their life with their mother and owners and were indoor cats. At the time she was brought in, she was pregnant by one of her brothers. Apparently this was a household with too many cats and not enough responsible pet owners. Anyway, she had a little operation and is fortunately not an incestuous teenage mom anymore. Not that I would love her any less if she was.
While I was waiting for a few of the papers, one of the grad students and her boyfriend came in to look at pets. I won't be able to keep my crazy cat lady a secret from them. Of course, they all know that already, including the fact that I was thinking about getting another cat.
I brought her home and set her up in my computer room. She hid in the corner at first but soon got over that. Now she wants to go explore the house, but I'm supposed to keep her separate for a few days. She's still crazy about me. That wouldn't sucked if she'd lost interest once I brought her home. I let Luna and Rugrat in (not at the same time). Flower was eager to meet them but not too aggressive. She would crouch down or expose her belly. Luna came over and sniffed her for a while and started growling and fluffed up. Rugrat was a little shyer but also growled. I didn't push it and removed my older cats after a few minutes.
Flower is playful but extremely gentle to me. She rolled on her back and grabbed my hand when I teased her, but she didn't extend her claws and she licked my hand rather than biting.
Flower gets a little bit lonely here in the computer room. I could hear her meowing when I was downstairs making dinner. It is her first time away from her brothers/lovers. I've sat with her blogging and talking on the phone for a few hours now, so now she is happily conked out on the floor.
I don't think I'm going to continue to call her Flower. I'm not sure what to call her, so at the moment I am calling her "Bitty Kitty" Feel free to email me with names, either serious ones or not.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Old Biddy Speaks: Don't tweet your weiner

So apparently Anthony Weiner is not a regular Old Biddy reader, or he would know not to store naked pictures of himself on his work computer or cell phone, much less tweet them out to random women he hadn't met. However, I take consolation in the fact that you, my loyal readers, would never do anything so stupid.
Anyway, this whole weinergate thing is like an officially sanctioned excuse for lots of juvenile humor, and that's fine by me. I'll leave the actual jokes for the pros.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dear Sexy Goatee Man at the Grocery Store,

Yeah, you caught me totally checking you out in the bakery aisle at Wegmans. I admit, I do have a thing for not-too-tall, wiry guys with goatees and nice eyes. Even though I am a big old biddy and was not dressed the least bit nicely, you smiled at me, much to my surprise.
You made an old biddy feel young again, and for that I thank you.
Old Biddy

One year out/Dream city on a hill

A year ago I was somewhere along I80, en route to Ithaca. As is always the case, it feels like forever and just yesterday since I left California.
None of you know this, but Ithaca has been one of my dream cities for a long time. The other two are Boston and Seattle. I'm sure I will acquire a few more before I leave this world. A dream city is one of those places that you just know you would like, even before you've been there, and once you're there it's just right for you. Newport, RI, Monterey, and Mendocino are also on the list of places I'd really like to live, but I'm not sure if they count since I decided I liked them after visiting. Anyway, perhaps it was too many postcard perfect pictures that I viewed, but somewhere Ithaca and Boston got ingrained into my psyche at an early age. I applied to Cornell for undergrad and grad school, got in, but did not attend (for undergrad it would've been too expensive, and for grad school it came up against my other dream city and Boston won). I applied to do a post-doc here and applied for faculty jobs, with no success. 15 years later, here I am. The world works in mysterious ways. It's still a dream city. Ever so often I have one of those moments where I am awed by how pretty it is, or am reminded about how much I like it, quirkiness and Seattle-like rain and all.
I miss California and my friends and family, but, as you know, it was good for me to leave and get a fresh start.

'Bout F^%in Time

The paper that I wrote about some work that my coworkers and I did while at my former employer finally got accepted. To say that it's been a slow process is putting it mildly.

Normal research paper timeline
xx-yy: do research
xx-yy+1-3 months: write paper
1-2 months:Send it in to journal and wait for the reviews to come back. Edit if needed.

Here is the timeline for this paper. Never again will I sit on something so long.

2003-2004:Research was done
2006: Boss made noises about publishing. I agreed to be the coordinator and corresponding author. I then switched groups (long, ugly story) and in a totally jusified slacker move, put it on the backburner.
Early 2009: New boss made noises about publishing several papers on different projects, including the one I was supposed to write up. I worked on it periodically, usually when I was procrastinating or when I was home recovering from knee surgery. Note to self: Vicodin and writing technical papers do not mix. This is in stark contrast to alcohol, which was an old biddy's friend when I wrote my thesis. I then put it on hold as things went south with T. Post-breakup, pre-layoff, I started it up again for real. It was my escape from the stress. A strange one, to be sure, but I needed something to keep myself busy. I got a reasonable draft (or so I thought) to my coworkers in late 2009.
2010: I then delayed submitting it while I was unemployed, since I wanted to have an actual work address. Over the summer and fall I converted it into Mac format, redid a lot of the figures, and then totally put it on hold while I was working on the paper from hell and then on the research proposals.
March-April 2011: Ever so often, on a Saturday afternoon, I'd whip it out and polish it up. My standards have gone up a lot as part of my current boss' detail-oriented approach to writing. It was also a good distraction when I was brooding about cowdude. I submitted it in mid-April. About a month later, I got the reviews back. Two of the reviewers liked it, and one hated it and wrote a very snarky review. The editor recommended that I shorten the manuscript, which I did. (Yes, a lot of the stuff that I had added in recently did get removed.) I sent it back in and it was accepted, only about 7 years after it was done. It's a big relief to have it out of my hair, especially since I may have to deal with the paper from hell, part 2, soon.
So the real question is why did I bust my ass on this when there was no real reason for me to do so? I think that main reason was that, deep down, I'm really proud of this work and am still sort of competitive. I'd hate to have anyone else publish it and get credit for it, or have it never be published. To be honest, though, I doubt it would've gotten out the door if I hadn't made it my mission and distraction in the dark days of late 2009. Having done that, I couldn't drop it once the first draft was written. So anyway, something good did come out of a crappy time in my life.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Rhubarb Extravaganza: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

I still had a lot of rhubarb left, even after I froze 5 lbs of it. Tonight I made a crumble, using a recipe I adapted from my new Ithaca Farmer's Market Cookbook. For the record, none of the ingredients actually came from the Farmer's Market - it's still too early for strawberries here, the rhubarb was from the roadside stand, and the lemon came from my sadly departed California lemon tree, which toppled over last week and my mom sent me some of the lemons.

Anyway, here's the recipe as I made it.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

3 cups quartered strawberries
3 cups diced rhubarb
3/4 c sugar
dash of cinnamon
zest of 1 lemon

combine and spread on a cookie sheet or glass casserole dish. Heat oven to 350F

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup almonds, chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
dash of cinnamon
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

combine butter and dry ingredients. Rub butter pieces between your fingers until they are very small and are well incorporated into the flour mix. Spread over fruit mixture. Bake at 350F for an hour or until fruit is bubbly.

Mmm. This is definitely my favorite use of rhubarb so far. The house smelled great while it was baking and it was quite tasty, especially when warm. It would've been even better with some ice cream. The crumble didn't solidify quite the way I expected - I'm not sure if I should've mixed it in more with the fruit, or use a different recipe. In any case, this was more of a texture than a taste issue.

Friday, June 3, 2011

In which I am completely unfaithful to my various alma maters

I am an old biddy and sometimes it is hard to resist acting like one, as in saying "Back in the day it was so much better because..." but this is my blog so I will indulge this urge. Anyway, back in the day there was a lot less pressure about applying to college and getting in. I did not worry about it too much until my junior year of high school, when I began to get deluged with mail after I took the PSAT. I then compressed all my college choice stress into a one-year period and was admittedly a a bigger intellectual snob than I have ever been before or after. However, thanks to a multitude of factors it is much worse today, and it starts much earlier. I am glad I am a old biddy and did not have to deal with this level of stress (or Facebook) when I was a high strung teenager.
The colleges encourage this, of course, because the more applications they get and the higher their rejection rate is, the better it is for their rankings, and that leads to yet more applications. There have even been allegations that some places overuse the wait list just to make their admit rate lower. But of course, it means very little. If everyone is applying to 20 schools, of course they're going to all get more applications. I hear lots of whining about how much harder it is to get into college now but strangely I don't hear any comments that students are better prepared. Quite the opposite, actually.
Today one of Missy's coworkers ("D") and her son ("M") visited on a college tour of various East Coast campuses, including my current employer and my graduate alma mater. They were very fixated on ranking schools and departments (much more than I remember being, and I was pretty fixated on it back in the day), and from my surfing of the internet and general reading I get the impression that this is pretty common, like your entire life is going to be determined by where you go to college. Of course, it isn't, unless you dream of working for a brokerage firm on Wall Street, in which case you have to go to Harvard and that may be one reason the financial meltdown was as bad as it was. Anyway, I told them that there are a lot of good schools and in my experience it is way more important to find a school that is a good fit and be happy, rather than go somewhere you don't like which is ranked higher. There were other things I didn't say, like nepotism has its advantages, but grad school nepotism is way more useful than undergrad nepotism, which means very little in the sciences. Or that M might do a 180 shift on his major and life plan, or he might not get in to some of his top choices, or that the financial aid package for one place might suck and tip the decision in favor of somewhere else, or that everyone I know from Harvard dropped out of grad school, or that the vast majority of people stay relatively close to home (e.g. a long day's drive) for college.
So, students of America, take it from an old biddy. Don't stress too much about this whole college application process. Really.