Photodump: Feet, Tongue, Family Planning

Time for another batch of pictures from the ol’ cameraphone!

My buddy Allison has a pair of Dansko clogs, and she swears they’re the most comfortable shoes ever. I tried some on at The Walking Company, which is one of those mall stores full of really large, clunky shoes. Al’s right — these are some really comfy shoes (Pricey, but sometimes they’re under $50 at Amazon). While at The Walking Company, they offered to analyze my feet with their high-tech machine.

Apparently I’m very unusual, in that I stand with much more weight on my right foot than on my left. I wonder if that has anything to do with my inner-ear problems on the left side (which are getting better, thank you for asking).

Also, I have a medium arch. I wear a size 9. And not only do I have a pixel burnt out in my left foot, but that foot apparently doesn’t have a pinky toe.

Commie is doing really well. His eye is a little winky now and then, but otherwise it looks great! There’s a very small cloudy patch on the cornea that looks like it’ll be permanent, but it doesn’t seem to affect his vision.

He really became a snuggler when he wasn’t feeling well, and he’s stayed that way. He loves to curl up between us on the couch, or on top of me if I’m slouching down. He also loves, loves, loves to lick us. I guess we’re deliciously salty people. He’ll grab hold of an arm, or a hand, or a toe (gross) and lick like crazy.

It tends to hurt.

But since we love him, we just move our arms or hands or feet around so that when it starts to hurt, we move him on to a different patch of skin. I’m kind of amazed my arms don’t look like raw hamburger.

After over four years in Florida, I’ve finally seen my first specialty parking spot! These were all over in Seattle, whether they were for “expectant parents” or “families with children”. Florida doesn’t bother with such PC inclusive terms — they just worry about Pregnant Lady. Whoever she is.

I gotta say, that sign looks a little neglected. It’s as if they installed it during the big parent-based parking spot rush years ago, and have since forgotten about it.

OH! I think I found Pregnant Lady. She’s a Bulldogs fan.

Scars, Jobs, and Underpants

SCARS: My stitches are out! Of course, the wounds still look kind of angry. But I did get hearty kudos at the dermatologist’s office — they said I’d done a great job with my wound care, and had kept everything (everyone’s favorite word) moist. The stitches came right out, smooth as silk.

All that for a little mole. Seems a bit drastic!

The good dermatological news is that on all three things that were excised, the margins are clear — they got the whole mole out on all of them. I go back in three months for another lookie-loo, then settle into an every-six-months visiting schedule. Most people go once a year, but because I’m so massively freckled, I get to be part of the more frequent group.

Please note that the dermatologist’s office won’t “except” bills larger than a $20. With picture, in case you’re not sure which one is the $20. I was excited to find an except/accept gaffe, because they’re one of the more rare homophone mixups. (Are they really homophones, though? I pronounce them slightly differently.)

JOBS: It’s still kind of amazing to me how many places I applied to that haven’t said one peep to me. I’m sure they get tons of applicants, but even a quick e-mailed “Thanks but no thanks” (like I just got from Best Buy, to whom I applied 3 months ago) would be nice. I mentioned earlier a “working interview” I did at a vet clinic, wherein a woman brought in her deceased pet and called us all motherflippin’ beaches. Only she wasn’t that coy with the cusswords. Anyhoo, they never called me back with a yea or nay. Seriously, there were probably only a scant few people who went in for their half-day interview process; why not a word back?

This is my last glorious weekend of unemployment. On Monday I go in for orientation at my new Disney job. I’m scared and excited at the same time. This is going to be very different from the rest of my Disney experience — entertainment is such a separate beast from everything else. But I can’t wait to get into the front lines, actually talking with guests directly, going by my own name (And wearing my name tag for the first time!), and helping make the guests’ vacations better.

The hardest thing is finding shoes. Disney is very strict about footwear — my job requires “dress shoes”, black, polishable (no suede or stretch), no contrasting or decorative stitching, and no decorations (buckles, buttons, bows). You try to find shoes that meet those requirements. Not that easy! Every pair of plain flat mary-janes seems to have white stitching, or a big button or buckle on the side. I did find a pair that I think will work; they’re a little pricier than I’d hoped, but I have to remember that when you’re on your feet all day, good shoes are an investment.

UNDERPANTS: Those cold-hearted jerks at Victoria’s Secret have stopped carrying the hipsters I liked. Besides which, their entire underpant focus these days seems to be on being “cheeky”, which appears to mean showing the bottom edges of your butt. Which strikes me as damned uncomfortable. Exhibit A:

In what universe is that full coverage? Look at how much cheekbottom is showing! Even on that model, with her model-sized butt! That thing would practically be a thong on me.

So on a whim, and because they were having the same 7-for-$25 deal that VS often has on their underdrawers, I stopped in at Aerie. It’s part of the American Eagle family, and I used to think it was just for the young people. BUT NO! Not only do they have a great selection of undershorts with great ass-coverage, but they also are my new brassiere purveyor of choice.

Usually at VS, there are two models of bra that come in my “weird” size. Which is 32C (if you’re a 32 band, they expect you to only have size A or B boobs). That’s two models out of the what, 40 or 50 in the store. But at Aerie, they had eight models of non-pushup for me to choose from in my size. Add in pushup and other styles, and I could have chosen from 15 brassieres. They fit great, and cost less than VS.

Aerie is, right now, doing their 7 for $25.50 sale both online and in-store. So if you’re blessed with a junk-rich trunk, check out their boyshorts and boybriefs. Although I can’t imagine any boy or man I’ve ever met wearing underthings the shape of any “boyshort” I’ve ever seen.

Top 7: Video Games

Top 7. Because 5 is never enough, but I’m too lazy for 10.

I was going to say that I wasn’t a huge gamer growing up, but thinking about it, that’s totally not true. When I was a kid, we had an Intellivision. I loved playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons on that sucker (even though I’ve never played D&D in real life). We also had an Atari 400 — many of the games came on audiocassettes, and you’d put them in a special player that took a half-hour to load the data onto the computer. The game I remember the most from the Atari was called Preppie, and it was a Frogger clone involving a caddy out fetching golf balls on a busy course.

Then we moved on to the Apple IIc. We had games galore on the big 5″ floppies, some of which we’d attacked with a hole punch so we could put data on both sides of the disc. That Apple also had our first modem, a lightning-fast 300bps model that transmitted written material slightly slower than the average person’s reading speed. I played many a multi-user dungeon on various local dial-up BBSes using that little beauty.

As technology improved, I moved up to Windows (386!) and various consoles. Although I was a latecomer to the newer consoles — I missed out on machines like the Genesis, SuperNintendo, and the PS1, and picked up with the original Xbox, the GameCube, and the PS2.

All that said, here are my personal top 7 games ever. At least, to date. Because we haven’t bought Portal 2 yet.

7. The Saboteur – Xbox360, 2009

This little-known gem is a third-person open-world game. I have no memory of how we discovered it — maybe by chance, maybe by seeing a review on G4, or maybe while we were looking for information on possible sequels to Mercenaries, another excellent open-worlder also made by Pandemic. The story of The Saboteur centers around an Irishman in Nazi-occupied Paris, wreaking havoc and destroying everything possible. The game itself is beautiful, and has a fantastic soundtrack. The dialog can get clunky in spots, but everything is forgiveable when you can load out with a silenced pistol and a silenced machine gun. This is the only game in which I’ve earned 100% of the Xbox achievement points (which took me about 50 gameplay hours).

6. The Neverhood – PC, 1996

I was on some sort of gaming break between college and marriage. Hitching myself to Scott also meant hitching myself to his Windows computer, and in the year of our marriage, we found both the original Tomb Raider and The Neverhood. I watched Scott play through as Lara Croft, and we quickly developed our system of him playing while I spotted treasures and bad guys. But The Neverhood was the first modern game I played through myself. Claymation characters, a weird-cool soundtrack, and the incredible weirdness of it all have stuck with me through the years. We still use certain lines from this game as in-jokes.

5. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! – GameCube, 2003

There have been many other iterations of Mario Kart, but for me, this one is the tops. It’s even better than the Wii version — a lot of the classic tracks that they imported for the Wii really suck, plus the GC version allows two people to have what we call “a race around the world” — a cup made up of all 16 tracks. Sure, it takes over an hour, and afterward your fingers feel like hamburger. But it’s all worth it when a pair of unlikely teammates (Peach and Birdo, anyone?) win the gold.

4. Sly 2: Band of Thieves – PS2, 2004

I’ve played all three Sly Cooper games. In fact, Sly is the only reason we still have our PS2. But of the three, the middle game is the best. It improved on some of the wonky mechanics from the first game, and was the perfect balance of missions, free-range destruction, and collectibles. The third game took away most of the collectible aspect, which broke my heart. The second game also includes a nice soundtrack (the great Peter McConnell), some fun dialog, and a not-too-easy but not-too-hard level of gameplay. The only problem I have with it is the player’s inability to invert the controls. It was hard to get into the groove of pushing the stick one direction to turn, when my instincts wanted to push the stick the other way.

3. Assassin’s Creed II – Xbox360, 2009

We tried playing the original game back when it first came out in 2007. The missions were repetitive, it felt like you had to ride a horse for hours to get anywhere, and the main character, Altaiir, was a dick. So when ACII came out, we didn’t pay it much mind until a friend told me how amazing it was. We borrowed his copy and fell quickly in love with Ezio, the suave and charming lead. (In exchange, I introduced that friend to The Saboteur, so we’re even.) The game is a massive improvement over the original AC, with a huge but easier-to-navigate open world and side missions galore. Sure, sometimes Ezio veers off in weird directions, but every game has its little glitches. The soundtrack, by Jesper Kyd, is an example of how video game music can be better than the music in most movies. I’m sitting at 995 out of 1000 achievement points on this one, since there’s one fighting move I just can’t master. But no matter. Maybe I’ll try to tackle it during my third playthrough.

Oh, and yes, I’ve played Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It’s great! And I love the ability to build a squad of trained assassins to do jobs for you. But some of the missions were incredibly long, and felt like there were 10 parts to them. Plus, the ending of the Ezio’s story part was kind of weirdly abrupt and confusing. So an excellent game, and a worthy follow-up to ACII, but II still wins as the best AC game.

2. Psychonauts – Xbox, 2005

This is, far and away, the best game you probably haven’t ever heard of. Even though it got great critical reviews, sales were poor. Which is a shame, because it’s a fun, beautiful, weird, charming game. You play Raz, a kid at the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. You learn how to invade people’s minds and help battle their various neuroses. I know it sounds weird. It is really, really weird. But it’s full of fantastic characters, gorgeous settings, an awesome Peter McConnell soundtrack, and an entertaining storyline. I’ve played it through probably 6 times, and will most likely go through again the next time we’re in a drought for new games. It’s backward-compatible, so go out and get a cheap used copy to play on the 360.

1. BioShock – Xbox360, 2007

I’m not normally a first-person shooter girl. As you can tell from the list above, I lean more toward third-person games, either open-world or platformers. But BioShock is in a world all its own. Spooky situations, beautiful settings, an amazing soundtrack, and nice clean gameplay work together in the best game I’ve ever played. The first time through, I watched Scott play (and provided spotting support). Then I played through, and discovered a ton of new stuff (he’s a straight-through storyline guy, while I’m an explorer). Then I played through again, and again. A wide variety of weapons, both hand-held and physical, make it easy to find your favorite combat methods. The locations are so unique and distinctive, you can’t wait to go back to see them again. Heck, just writing about it makes me want to fire up the game and revisit Rapture.

BioShock 2 is a good game, but much of the surprise of Rapture is gone. Still, it’s well worth a play. We can’t wait for the next game, BioShock Infinite, which is scheduled for a 2012 release. Let’s hope we get a chance to play it through before the world ends.

Dermatological Excision

Here they are: pictures of mole removal! I know you’ve all been waiting.

First, the blue mole:

A cute little guy, and totally non-cancerous, but the dermatologist insisted on shaving it off anyway. Two weeks later I went back for a follow-up, and it turns out she didn’t get it all. Same with the other blue mole on my shin. So we set another appointment to have them both carved out completely.

First, the area is marked off with ink. She wiggled my copious arm meat around until she found the grain, and drew the direction in which she’d cut. This way the wound will have the best chance of healing cleanly — the direction she chose will have the least amount of stretching and movement.

They carved out the skin in a shape similar to an American football, then stitched the sides back up. Three dissolving stitches inside, and six tougher ones on the outside. They slathered the entire site with antibacterial goo, then slapped a waterproof bandage on it.

That’s not blood leaking through — it’s goo mixed with purple ink. I had to leave that bandage on for 48 hours, so by the end it was really grossly saturated with purply goo.

Also, that’s some hot dangly underarm. Seriously, you try losing 80 pounds and see how much wiggle your arms have.

48 hours later, the bandage comes off!

Here’s my future bitchin’ scar, fresh out of its waterproof wrapper. I love how the skin around it stayed all wrinkled and pruney. A splash of water, some very gentle soap, a rinse, and a fresh layer of Polysporin, and it’s all bandaged up again. Apparently scars aren’t as big if you keep the wound … moist. Or so they say.

I go back in two weeks to have the stitches out. Meanwhile, twice a day I get to change the dressings and gently clean this baby.

As for the leg, I didn’t have to wait the 48 hours. It’s just two stitches, and she did a punch removal instead of the big footbally shape — picture a paper hole puncher, going straight down into your skin. Yeah, like that. The numbing hurt the most on this leg, because there’s not a lot of loose meat on my shin.

And of course, the kids had to get in the picture. It’s eerie how they know a photo is being taken.

Gluten-Free Cupcake-Shaped Objects

I prowled around the internets for a gluten-free cupcake recipe, so I could celebrate my birthday with a little baked good or two. Let me tell you, friends and foes, it’s very hard to find a gluten-free cupcake recipe that’s not also vegan. Unacceptable, I say! I demand butter in everything. And egg makes any baking better. So I cobbled together what I could.

My first attempt was a small batch, just to see what happened. Here’s what I mixed:

1/3 cup coconut flour
1/3 cup gluten-free baking mix (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
1/2 cup Splenda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp xanthan gum (helps with gluten-free cohesion)

1/3 stick softened butter
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk (actually, I used 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup half-and-half, just because that’s what I had on hand)

It came out really thick, more of a dough than a batter. Still, I tossed it in some cupcake liners in my muffin pan (and I also tried one with no paper, just buttering the pan).

Bake at 350° F for 20 minutes.

They came out really jagged and rough looking. As you can see, they’re the ones in the back:

So I popped them out of the pan, put them on a rack to cool, and mixed up a second batch of batter. It’s pretty similar to the first, actually:

1/2 cup gluten-free baking mix (Bob again)
1/3 cup Splenda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp xanthan gum

1/3 stick softened butter
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup half-and-half (straight this time, not cut with water)

It made a much runnier batter. It cuts down on the dry goods (1/2 cup instead of the 2/3 cup total) and cut out the much thirstier coconut flour. Which also makes this a higher-carb cupcake. They baked the same: 350° F for 20 minutes. You can see from the picture above that batch two, the bottom ones, are smoother and puffier.

I frosted both batches with regular old buttercream. You know, the one that’s always printed on the side of the confectioner’s sugar box. Powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, milk (or half-and-half, if that’s what you have — as long as it’s not that awful fat free half-and-half).

Neither one had the texture of a wheat-based cake. But they were both pretty good. Funny thing is, both Scott and I liked the jagged first batch a little better. For me, it was almost the same texture as an old-fashioned donut — firm on the outside, really soft and squooshy on the inside. So with some tinkering (and a low-carb glaze recipe), I might be able to come up with a gluten-free, relatively low-carb donut recipe.

Still, they were all pretty tasty. And the batches were so small (5 cupcakes each), I don’t run the risk of eating a dozen at a time.

A Labyrinth in My Head

Medical update time! To put it simply, my left saccule is wack. Ooh, that sounds dirty!

I went to the ear-nose-throat doctor today for two tests, wherein they checked the functions of my inner ear. One of them was not so bad; the other one sucked rocks. For both, the administrator was pleasant enough, but had me put my purse so far away that I couldn’t grab my phone to take pictures. Which is a shame, because they both involved some goofy stuff attached to my face.

The not-so-bad test was a Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potential (VEMP) test. I had electrodes stuck to my head — one in the center of my forehead, and one on each side of my neck, just under the ear. I got earplugs put in, then I had to hold my head up and to the side (while lying down) as they broadcast a series of really loud clicks into each ear. You never realize how heavy your head is until you have to hold it up like that. My neck muscles got a great workout.

Off we went to another room for the second (rock-sucking) test: videonystagmography. I got to wear these goggles:

My left eye was free to look at stuff, while a camera recorded my right eye. I felt like a SCUBA-diving Borg.

I had to track a red dot with my eye while sitting up. Then I had to watch the red dot while shaking my head back and forth, or nodding it up and down, to a specified beat. Which got faster. And faster. And gave me a headache and an awesome case of the dizzies.

Then, I lay flat on my back, they closed the little window over my left eye so it was completely dark, then … stuck a tube in my left ear and blew cold air in. It doesn’t sound that awful, probably. But what it’s supposed to do (and totally what it did) is to make you feel (a) lightheaded, like you’re flying, and (b) like the world is spinning around you incredibly fast. I was so thrown by how violent the spinning and floating felt, I started hyperventilating and tears squirted out of my eyes. It was horribly intense. After a calm-down period, I got the cold air in the right ear (it was easier, knowing what to expect). Then the same process was done with hot air (which didn’t make me anywhere near as dizzy).

After that, I was stuffed up, headachey, and really dizzy. I sat for a while to settle down, then the doctor came by to go over the results.

Turns out the videonystagmography was perfect. My reactions to red lights and air in my ears were totally normal. But the first test, with clicking, showed exactly what the problem is.

I have Labyrinthitis, in which the saccule (the part of the inner ear that deals with gravity) in my left ear is messed up. It’s frequently caused by a virus — something as simple as a bad cold, maybe even one that I had long ago — that settles into the comfortable environs of the inner ear and hangs around to cause trouble later. I’ve been given a 3-month course of really intense antihistamines (to be taken at bedtime, since they’re a relative of Valium) which should somehow reset the gravity sensors in that ear. The doctor says that within two weeks, I should be feeling close to normal again.

The funny thing is, this also explains my hospital visit last October — the earliest signs of Labyrinthitis aren’t necessarily felt in the ear. Often the first sign is a panic attack, which can involve chest pain, hot and cold flashes, sweating, light-headedness, and a tingling sensation. It describes what I had last year perfectly. Although at the time, I never would have ever thought it was a panic attack, because I wasn’t panicking.

It’s awesome to have a doctor tell me flat-out exactly what the problem is. And since we have no idea how long this gravity-sensing problem has been hanging out in my head, after this treatment I may have an easier time on roller coasters, swings, and high-rise elevators. Fingers crossed!

Meatballs #3 and Review: Ancient Harvest Pasta

I have my meatballs totally dialed in. They’re not only delicious, but they’re also super tender. And gluten-free to boot!

Start with the non-meat ingredients:

1/2 cup potato flakes
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup water (or beef stock)
3 Tbsp dry parsley
3 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp basil
2 eggs

Mix all that together so you get a spicy, gummy paste.

Then add 1 pound of ground beef and 1 pound of ground mild Italian sausage. You could go with the spicier sausage if you want, but I’m not that adventurous.

Smoosh it all together with your hands. I wear my always-useful powder-free disposable vinyl gloves for such things. Buying a big box of them was the best cooking/cleaning/hair-coloring move I ever made.

Roll into meatballs. Depending on size, you’ll get 30-45 of them. I like them about this big:

Where one can nest perfectly inside a tablespoon. That gets me around 40 meatballs. Again, I’m baking them on a wire rack above a foil-lined cookie sheet. I guess you don’t need the foil, if you don’t mind cleaning meat drips from your cookie sheet. Me, I’m a fan of easier cleanup. Since I still have to scrub the wire rack.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes. Middle-ish rack in the oven.

After they came out of the oven, I tossed a few into some defrosted and reheated meat sauce and let them bubble while I cooked up a single serving of noodles.

I found the Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta on sale at the Whole Foods, at 2 boxes for $4. I used the ol’ food scale to measure out 2 ounces of dry pasta, which as always, doesn’t look like that much.

I then counted — turns out 2 ounces is just about 50 “garden pagodas”. Just like the De Boles “spaghetti style” pasta, I wonder if there’s some non-wheat reason why they can’t call this stuff radiatori. And it shows you how much wheaty pasta I used to eat, that I know the name of this shape.

Anyhoo, while the pasta is gluten-free (made from quinoa flour, corn flour, dried bell pepper and dried spinach [for the colors]), it’s certainly not a low-carb food. That 2-ounce serving packs 205 calories, 46 grams of carbohydrate, and only 4 grams of fiber. Still, eating it didn’t bloat me up afterward, and no next-day weight gain from water retention, so all is well. It boils for 6-9 minutes (I went the whole 9, after my De Boles experiments) with the strict warning DO NOT OVERCOOK. I wonder how gummy and/or gross these things get if you let them boil for too long. There’s also a warning that the water will turn yellow from the corn starches, which indeed it did.

At 9 minutes, the texture was just right. A very authentic pasta feel, with the slightest al dente bite. The plain white noodles really didn’t have a flavor of their own, which is a nice contrast from the distinctive rice flavor of the De Boles. The colorful noodles also tasted like standard red-pepper or spinach wheat noodles. Since it’s been a number of years, I’d clearly forgotten that I’m not the biggest fan of those pasta flavors. Next time I’d get this stuff, but in an all-plain variety. Looks like Ancient Harvest also makes spaghetti, linguine, elbows, shells, and rotelle (which they can say, but they can’t say radiatori?!) among others.

Delicious! I’m giving the plain noodles a 9 out of 10.

This plate is so full, by the way, because we got rid of most of our large (10″) plates and now almost exclusively use the Corelle luncheon plate (8-1/2″) for everything. You can get them at Wal*Mart for a couple of bucks apiece, if you don’t have a nearby Corning/Revere factory store. Which we don’t. Seriously, Orlando is the home of outlet malls, and there’s no Corningware to be had. Absurd! Anyhoo, we mixed-and-matched geometric patterns.

I packed away the rest of the meatballs, putting some in the fridge and some in the freezer. They microwave beautifully from both places.

Healthstuffs and Jobstuffs

I’m still currently unemployed, my friends. But good things are on the horizon!

I’ve had a number of interviews here and there, and I’ve been sitting on the waiting list at Disney since I was laid off. Incredibly, Disney is the company that’s come through first. In two weeks, I’ll be training for a part-time spot at one of the resorts. I’m still on the waitlist for full-time; hopefully it’ll come through in time for busy summer.

I’ll be on the front lines, directly helping guests, instead of my old acting job. I’m not upset about it — I know more than one actor who felt that going into a “regular” Disney job was beneath them, but I don’t feel that way. I’m excited to get the real Disney experience. I get to wear my name tag! And I get to directly help make sure that people’s vacations go well. That’s why I moved here, and that’s why I always wanted to work for Disney.

Not that I wouldn’t take an acting job if they gave me one. I know it’s something I’m good at, and that I enjoy. But no such jobs are available right now. Onward, to a new adventure.

Of the other interviews, one of them offered me a part-time job right afterward. They scheduled me to come in two days later for fingerprinting and the background check. They called the next day, saying they didn’t quite have all their ducks in a row, so I didn’t need to come in the next day, they’d call me. A few days later, I was called up again, was told that they had to go back over all of the candidates with management, and they won’t be offering me a job at this time.

On the one hand, I can understand — they most likely had too many people for the number of spots available. And while I did well at the interview, I didn’t have any prior experience in that specific field. But still, it’s not the nicest thing to offer someone a job and then do take-backsies.

Another interview was for appointment-making and front-deskery at a veterinary clinic. It was a “working interview”, in which I went in for three hours and shadowed the job itself. I learned some things about myself — number one is that I’m not a huge fan of dogs. Especially dogs in large numbers. Number two is that I’m probably too tender for such work, as evidenced by how shocked and upset I was when a woman stormed in with her dead pet in her arms, screaming obscenities at the desk staff. I don’t think I’m hard enough to deal with that now, and I don’t think I ever want to become that hard.

I have two interviews next week, including one on my birthday. Both are for more part-time stuff, which seems to be all that’s available in Orlando these days. But if I can find a way to balance two part-time gigs, that wouldn’t be too awful. Fingers crossed!

Now, onward to the health side! This time off has been a good time to tackle a couple of issues. One is a visit to the dermatologist for the full-body freckle check. I had this tiny dark spot show up on my upper arm:

Small, but much darker than my usual freckles. Of which I have a lot. Turns out this, along with an equally dark little pinpoint spot on my calf, is a “blue nevus” — a slightly abnormal mole. Nothing cancerous, just … abnormal. Both spots were shaved off, but I’m going back next week to have them both dug out a little further. This means a multi-stitch spot on my arm, which will result in what I told the dermatologist better be a “bitchin’ scar”.

Meanwhile, up in my head, something’s been amiss for a while. I’ve been having dizzy spells and occasional ringing in my ears. A few weeks ago, the dizziness kicked up a huge notch and became a daily problem. I felt roughly 5 to 10% more discombobulated than normal, with occasional surges of the world becoming disconnected from where it should be. Off to the doctor I went!

We started with a full battery of bloodwork (everything’s totally normal) and an MRI of my brain (again, nothing amiss), so now I’m working with an ear-nose-throat guy. Next week I get to go through a couple of tests to see if it’s a problem with my inner ear. There could be too much fluid, or too little, or little calcium stones in the inner ear fluid that rattle around like the marbles in a can of spray paint, causing the vertigo. The tests should be entertaining; they appear to consist of having various electrodes, goggles, and/or cameras attached to me while they wiggle me around in different positions.

I think the eyeballs are the most awesome part of the MRI images.

So it’s a busy week next week. Monday: interview. Tuesday: interview and birthday. Wednesday: ear and balance testing. Thursday: mole surgery. Friday: Brazilian steakhouse for meat orgy.

I think you can guess which one of those things I’m looking forward to the most.

Breaking News: More TV Junk Merchants

I get the TV Guide RSS feed, so there are always little breaking news tidbits about new shows. Today there’s a post about The Great Big American Auction, which will be hosted by Ty Pennington (who looks more and more like a troll doll every time I see him).

This is a great example of how small cable shows start a trend, and then seasons later, the big networks pick up the concepts. Because auctions and memorabilia shows have been showing up all over the cable channels. Oh, I’ll totally check out this Ty Pennington one (that hopefully, Ty Pennington won’t ruin for me), but I totally dig quite a few of the other shows about junk merchants. At least with their ginormous title, this new ABC show won’t be as easily confused with some of the others.

Here’s what we watch:

American Pickers (History): Frank and Mike scour the country, looking for people with eight barns full of collected junk on their property. They buy various things (that always seem to include oil cans, bicycles, motorcycle parts, and giant old tin signs) and turn them around for resale at their store, Antique Archaeology. The show is a full hour, but there’s a lot of filler that can be fast-forwarded through — mainly the stilted phone conversations with Danielle back at the shop, and anytime Mike talks to the camera with a discomforting sales-huckster tone.

An episode of American Pickers showed some of these folk art paintings of skeletons over the top of old portraits, but they didn’t talk about them at all. The guys were more interested in their tin signs and bike parts. I wish I knew who this mysterious “BA” is, so I could acquire some of these.

Auction Hunters (Spike): Allen and Ton buy up auctioned-off storage units, then find all sorts of magnificent collectibles inside. They actually did a really nice special episode all about how they gauge how much they’ll bid on a unit, and what they’re looking for. It’s a tight half-hour show, and they almost always come up with some really cool stuff. My biggest issue is that Allen is 30 years too young to be tucking his t-shirts into his jeans the way he does. But both guys are decent, and this is the only junk show in which I don’t dislike anyone.

Auction Kings (Discovery): The day-to-day workings of a real auction house, Gallery 63. People bring in their junk, professionals are brought around to appraise, and then we see the auctions. Most of the team seems tolerable, except for the office manager — her “funny” antics are the most cringe-inducing part of the show.

Storage Wars (A&E): This was the first of the junk shows we tried. It follows a set group of storage-unit auction buyers, and the stuff they find. The buyers all have different angles (the collector, the thrift store owners, the consignment dealer) and are all looking for different things, but frequently enjoy screwing each other over in the auctions. A couple of the buyers we dislike all the time, and a couple of them we just dislike some of the time. But I still like seeing some of the cool collectibles get appraised, and it’s always nice when a character you don’t like gets stiffed on something.

We tried watching an episode of Oddities, but it didn’t capture us — the pace was too slow. We still catch the classic Antiques Roadshow now and again, but that’s pretty slow-moving too. Though you can always count on Roadshow to show you something ghastly hideous, then appraising it at $10,000.

Anyone have any other collectibles shows to recommend? Since I don’t want to live in a thrift store inside a Russian submarine, I’d like to live vicariously through other people’s junk collections.