Wild and Domesticated Animals

First off, the domesticated animals. Our cats.

These two are total barf machines.

They’ve always been barfers, these two. Trouble gets crazy big hairballs, while Commie is merely a food glutton. Besides which, they’re both elderly cats. And of course, all dry cat food seems to come in either brown, or orange, or a mix of brown and orange. Which is never good for apartment-dwellers, since all apartments seem to have the same standard ecru carpeting.

We’ve tried scrubbing by hand, and various spray bottles of pet-specific cleaner, but the barf stains remained. So we finally bit the bullet and got the Bissel Little Green:

A cute little squirter/scrubber/vacuum affair. We also got a jug of pet-stain-specific cleaning fluid.

(Also pictured: two of Trouble’s favorite toys. That little catnip Xmas stocking is from probably 3 years ago, but it’s still one of the first things she’ll pull out of the toy box. The brown thing is a face-down plush hedgehoggy thing.)

The setup wasn’t that tough — fill one chamber with warm water and cleaning fluid, spray and scrub and vacuum, then empty the resulting orange water afterward. As you can see here, one of the more vibrant stains isn’t completely gone, but it’s certainly much better than it was:

I don’t think any of the stains are 100% gone, but they’re all a lot better than they were. We’re not terribly concerned about our deposit here, since they didn’t change out the carpets before we moved in. They’d have to swap them out when we move out anyway. We’re just delighted that the spots don’t stand out as much.

Hopefully in the future, we can catch the barfs when they’re fresher, and those might clean up more thoroughly.

Now, on to the wild animals! We’re totally plagued by frogs lately. I posted recently about the tiny baby frogs, but some nights we also have larger models.

This guy is almost as large as my fist (although I do have smallish fists). And his coloring is so weird, it’s like I used the watercolor filter in Photoshop. But this is all him. All hail the hypnotoad!

The weirdest part about these frogs is that when I come home late at night, they’re all turned facing the wall. This guy was the one weird exception. The rest were all like something out of a froggy Blair Witch Project. Which made my walk to the apartment in the dead of night a little more eerie.

We also have ducks galore at our ponds. Here’s a whole crew, all almost as large as mom:

They don’t seem worried about the alligator warning sign. Which all of our ponds have, by the way. I’ve yet to see a gator in the apartment complex, but you never know. Here in Florida, you just have to assume that all bodies of water have reptiles in them that want to kill you.

Last but not least, there’s also insect life galore in the summer.

This is a mud dauber wasp. They look terrifying and gigantic, but apparently they’re harmless. They build these weird little pods out of mud, then lay their eggs inside. This one is kindly making its mud pods on my catnip plant growing out on the balcony. I will confess, after the mama wasp left later, I removed the pods and chucked them down toward the pond. I’ll let the alligators deal with them.

Dave & Buster’s Orlando: Now Open

I’ve seen ads on TV for Dave & Buster’s since moving down here, but for the last 4 years there hasn’t been one nearby. I think the nearest one was Miami. Anyhoo, it looked like a fascinating idea — a restaurant full of standard American fare, attached to a video game arcade. It made me think of GameWorks, but maybe a little less indie-hipster-gastropub. (I don’t know if all GameWorks locations were like that, but the Seattle one was definitely trying for the fancier side in their restaurant.)

Finally, last week, Orlando got its own Dave & Buster’s. So we got together with some friends and friends-of-friends, and headed on over.

At first glance, it gave me a surprising Las Vegas vibe. Except there was a lot more natural light, and no thick layer of cigarette smoke hanging over everything. But the flashing lights, the clanging sounds, the layout of the gaming machines — it was all very casino-like.

First we had lunch, which was surprisingly good. And cheap, considering. We got the “Eat and Play” deal, where you pay $16.99 for an entree and a $10 game card. So my fried shrimp was $6.99, and let me tell you, you’re not going to get fried shrimp for that price anywhere.

I’d also joined the D&B e-club beforehand, so I had a coupon for an additional $10 in gameplay. After eating, armed with our gaming cards, we hit the arcade.

They have their own weird pricing structures at D&B, ones that I don’t quite understand. It’s even more convoluted than trying to convert dollars to Xbox points. For $10 you appear to get 48 D&B credits, and the games range in price from 2.6 credits to 10.5 credits. There may have been cheaper or more expensive games, but that was the top and bottom of the range that I saw. So a little game of Skee-Ball was a mere 2.6:

With real wood balls, no less. Or you could pay 9.9 credits to play this ginormous claw machine:

So big that several children could climb up inside and get stuck!

To add to the confusion, some games give tickets, while others don’t. There’s a bunch of plain old arcade-style games, in which you can shoot stuff or drive stuff, and those are just for the playing. Like this shoot-em-up Rambo game:

But then there are also games of chance, like the Skee-Ball or even more crazy stuff like Ginormous Operation:

Where you win tickets for playing well. And of course, there’s a shop in the corner where you can trade your tickets (each one is, bafflingly enough, worth “2 coupons”) for a variety of prizes. My eye was caught by the plush Angry Birds, but they’re 600 coupons each. I’d have to play quite a bit of Skee-Ball to earn that.

The skill games ranged from actual bona-fide skills to the classic sham game where you drop a token into a pile, and a little bulldozer pushes the token pile forward, so that you get tickets for all of the tokens that drop. There were several of those games, including this oddly-themed one:

We had a good time overall. There was one shooter game that really stood out — you sit in a pirate ship and shoot machine guns at sea monsters and skeleton pirates and such. Because pirates totally had machine guns.

There was also a Price is Right game, and a Deal or No Deal game, and even a huge Fruit Ninja game. Also a Guitar Hero game, but I didn’t get a chance to play it. Quite popular, that.

Of course, we all ended up with tiny bits of gaming credit on our cards — one of them has 1.6, another 2.5 — and you can’t swipe more than one card to make up the difference. Hopefully next time I go, they’ll have a way to consolidate all of the little amounts onto one card. Because we’ll totally go again. I have all of these tickets (and a very Vegas-like cup to carry them in) and more credits to play.

A Spectacle of Spectacles

So as you already know, I’m one of those four-eyed types. And I loves me some variety in my glasses. But at work we have this thing called “The Disney Look”, which is a set of guidelines to make sure that everyone falls into the general realm of presentability, and nobody goes too crazy. You won’t find any orange mohawks in the look book, that’s for sure.

Since moving from the role of quirky game show host to actual front-line person working under her own name, I’ve been wearing my most plain pair of glasses. Which wasn’t that plain. Black front, white arms. I figured I should invest in some new glasses in solid, unobtrusive colors.

See, in my collection, my usual ones are on the left. There’s another pair of black, but they have hot pink highlights. And the far right pair are actually two shades of blue. At least I have more cleaning cloths than I’ll ever possibly need. They’re great for glasses, and also for my cellphone screen.

Normally I’d order new glasses from Zenni Optical. Most of these pairs are from there — the zebra, the orange, the red, the clear. But their glasses take a long time to arrive, due to being made overseas and sent via ultra-slow post. A couple of other pairs are from Glasses Unlimited, which are also good specs but start at $9.99 per pair. (Zenni starts at $6.95.) This time I decided to branch out and try a new place.

I got two pair from Eye Buy Direct — same $6.95 price as Zenni, but made in the USA with faster shipping. I did check out a few other sites, but Eye Buy had the best selection. I got two pair, one in black and one in brown. With shipping, it came out to $19.85. Add in that they accept Paypal, and I was a happy camper.

As you can see, they arrived well-packaged. Each pair was wrapped in a cleaning cloth (with the company name on it), packed inside a hard case (with the company name on it), and packed in a good-fitting box (with the company name on it). These guys do a great job of keeping their name in front of you. The website address is even printed on the inside of the arms of the glasses.

As for the turnaround, it was way faster than Zenni. I placed my order on the 6th, and they arrived on the 16th. Ten calendar days is a pretty good time.

Each pair needed some adjustments. My glasses always do — I think I have one ear a little lower than the other. Everything is slightly cattywampus fresh out of the box, even glasses I get from the actual optician. Fortunately, adjusting plastic framed glasses is pretty easy if you have a hair dryer. I set the dryer down on its side, turned it on high, and warmed the bridge and arms in front of the hot air. They can be gently (GENTLY!) adjusted a bit at a time until they fit. Of course, if you’re nervous about your own gentleness, you can go to an optical shop and they should adjust them for free using the hot sand. Although they may give you grief for buying glasses online.

I’ve found that the key to buying good glasses online is paying close attention to the size of the glasses. I have a couple of pair (the orange-fronted ones in particular) that are cool-looking, but way too wide for my little child-sized head. Those took quite a bit of hot-air adjustment.

I’d advise taking a look at the arms of a pair that fit you really well. There should be some numbers there:

These, by the way, are glasses that cost around $300. Thank goodness for vision insurance. Anyhoo, there’s a set of three numbers, like an IP address for your specs. The numbers are: lens width, bridge width, arm length. So each lens in this pair is 50mm wide, the bridge over the nose is 15mm wide, and the arms are 135mm long. These are pretty small glasses overall — the bridge is especially little, and 15mm is about as small as you get with adult glasses. Still, there are a lot of choices for small heads like mine.

Here’s a sample of the measurements most glasses places will give you (this is from Eye Buy Direct):

Yes, they’re cool glasses. But the bridge is 18mm, which means they’d be sliding down my dinky nose. And the arms are 150mm long, so they’d practically wrap around the backside of my head. So despite the fact that they’re not all that wide overall, these glasses would be ill-fitting in a lot of ways. Although they’d probably fit Scott’s giant melon really well. If only he needed glasses. The lucky dog.

I wore the black pair to work yesterday, and they were just fine. Even driving home at night. Now I don’t have to worry about my specs violating the Disney Look.

A great fit, plain enough for work … and of course, a cat in the background. Or else it just wouldn’t be a photo taken in my house.

Goodbye, Cimzia!

The test results are in!

Small Bowel X-Ray: NORMAL
DEXA Bone Density Scan: NORMAL

This means that I have no active disease in my small intestines. Likewise, there’s no visible damage from any previous Crohn’s flares. My small bowel is in good shape. Also, I have no permanent bone damage from any of the medications I’ve taken. Hooray!

I also have the blessing of my new doctor to stop taking Cimzia, as long as I keep taking the other immunosuppressant, azathioprine. Which I’m totally cool with. It’s not going totally meds-free, but at least it’s backing down to just one medication (and one that’s worked well for me for years, with few issues).

No need for a follow-up visit at this time. As long as I stay in remission, I’ll have my blood tested every 6 months and call it good.

I couldn’t be happier about this! With any luck, my face will start to clear up in the near future as this crap makes it way out of my system. Although it looks like the scarring could take a year or more to fade. If I can go a few weeks without an acne explosion, I’ll try putting contact lenses in again. With luck, the skin and eye inflammations were hand-in-hand.

In other medical news, Scott’s healing up great. At the two-week point post-tonsillectomy, he still has a bit of a sore throat, but the stabbing horrible torture is done. We even went out for lunch yesterday so he could get some fish and chips, something he’d been jonesing for since the day after surgery. He’s back to work in a couple of days, and has already written some fresh comics.

Summer TV 2011

Ah, summer — a time when TV used to suck eggs, because all of the shows were on hiatus. Thank goodness that’s no longer the case, since the TV bigwigs realized that people like to watch their tellies year-round! Of the many shows being offered this summer, here’s what we’re checking out:

So You Think You Can Dance (FOX): We can tackle each 2-hour performance show in around 20 minutes, by only watching the dancing and fast-forwarding through everything the judges say. I do the same thing with American Idol. So while I have no idea who’s on Mary Murphy’s hot tamale train, I have my favorites. We’re rooting for Melanie (who, due to her vague Bioshocky look, we’ve nicknamed “the splicer”). We also like Jordan (codename: “Orion slave girl”) and Jess (“that broadway kid”, which is our worst nickname ever).

Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition (ABC): It’s like a whole season of The Biggest Loser every episode! Plus, this Chris guy seems much more likeable than Jillian Michaels. It’s nice to see the Extreme Makeover franchise lean back toward its roots, when it was a show about everyday people getting ten plastic surgery procedures. They’ve kept a bit of the heartwarmingness of the home edition, but not so much that it gets sugary.

Platinum Hit (BRAVO): In the same vein as Top Chef and Top Design and Work of Art, in this show you have singer/songwriters battling it out every week to craft a hit. It’s trainwrecky for the most part — contestants have a half-hour to write a hook, then get a day or two to write the rest of the song (which frequently appears to be a single verse to go with the hook). And many of those songs aren’t as good as songs I’ve seen improvised on the spot. But there are some really good drama llamas in the contestant pool, and it’s always fun to hate on the wooden performances of head judge Kara DioGuardi.

Wilfred (FX): After a failed suicide attempt, Elijah Wood sees his neighbor’s dog as a crude Australian guy in a cheap dog suit. A fascinating concept, and after 2 episodes we’re still sticking with it. My only issue is it’s too heavy on the pot use for me.

Falling Skies (TNT): We tried. Honestly we did. But we stopped the pilot after the first hour. The show is utterly humorless, and I just can’t picture Noah Wyle as any kind of tough guy. I understand wanting to be a big serious show, but you need little moments of levity now and then. They need to take a lesson from The Walking Dead — even just a line here and there can break up the solid wall of serious.

Warehouse 13 (SyFy): It’s back in three days, and I can’t wait! This show is just the right mix of fun, corn, cheese, cheap special effects, steampunk, buddy cops, mystery, and history retcon.

Jon Benjamin Has a Van (Comedy Central): This show may be even weirder than Wilfred on the weird scale. Everything is an exercise in the completely unexpected. Even if you can guess where they’re headed with a joke, they put a twist on it that leaves you wondering, what kind of crazy nutso freaks wrote this? Plus, Scott has put Jon Benjamin on his list of potential Scotts for his pie-in-the-sky imaginary casting of a Basic Instructions sitcom.

Masterchef (FOX) / Food Network Star (Food): The summer cooking shows are all about winnowing down a crowd of hopefuls until we get one champion to rule them all. But what I don’t get is this: if the grand prize is either a studio cooking show or a meaningless title and a cookbook, then what on earth sense does it make to have the contestants cater meals for 200 guests in a panic-inducingly-short amount of time? I wish Masterchef would concentrate more on the actual cooking of single delicious dishes, and skip the alternate episodes where the contestants have to team up and cater large events. Likewise, FNS contestants should spend more time in performance classes and less time making huge batches of food for the fickle masses.

Alphas (SyFy): This show starts on Monday the 11th. When I first saw a preview, I was all, another Heroes, no thanks. But then I saw a later preview, in which it appears that these everyday people who discover they have superpowers … also fight crime! And solve cases! With their superpowers! So I’ll give it a chance.

Battlestar Galactica (BBCA): Okay, so this show originally aired years ago. Thing is, I didn’t see the episodes in order then. Scott watched from the beginning, but I didn’t start watching until the very end of season 2. So all of the episodes from seasons 1 and 2, I saw in scattered order afterward. Right now, BBC America is running the episodes in order from the beginning, and it’s fascinating to see the show as it was meant (although I know who all the cylons are already, but that’s still a kind of cool I-know-a-secret feeling while watching). It’s so weird for me to see episodes 1 (“33”) and 2 (“Water”) after the miniseries, since for me those stories happened way further into the show. This Sunday they’re showing episodes 5 thorugh 8, if you want to get in near the ground floor. As for why it’s on BBC America? Apparently it’s all because of Jamie Bamber.

Outcasts (BBCA): Speaking of Bamber, we’ve set episode 4 of this show to record. Missed one through three, but hopefully there’ll be enough “previously on” backstory to get us set. The entire series is only 8 episodes, since it got cancelled fairly quick. Let’s hope this coming fall’s Terra Nova (which I’m totally watching) does better in the ratings, since it has a sort of similar colonists-in-a-dangerous-land theme.

Gluten-Free Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’m still working on perfecting a recipe. It’s getting better all the time! Chewiness is hard to achieve with gluten-free baking, but these cookies came pretty close.

These aren’t low-carb cookies per se, but they’re lower carb than normal cookies. I’d say roughly half the carbs of a standard wheat-flour-and-white-sugar cookie.

1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup Splenda
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp coconut flour*
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup chocolate chips (I prefer semi-sweet morsels)

* I added the extra Tbsp coconut flour because after adding everything else, the dough was a little wet. You may need it, you may not, depending on humidity / size of eggs.

Combine the first five ingredients (butter through eggs). Add the flours 1/4 cup at a time, mixing well after each.

Bake for 10 minutes at 400° F. makes approximately 20 two-inch cookies.

Usually, my coconut flour cookies are more fluffy and cake-like, and not so much chewy. These, while they did puff up a bit, actually did have some chewiness to them. I took them to work and asked my coworkers for feedback. Comments ranged from the simple “Awesome!” to “They’re really moist and chewy” to “These are bake-sale-worthy.”

I think the tapioca flour helps with the chewiness. After all, it can be used to make the fantastic Pao de Queijo — the gummy cheesy little rolls served at Brazilian steakhouses.

This makes a smallish batch — the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the side of the Toll House bag requires two sticks of butter, so I’d call this a half-batch, easily doubled.

Tonsils, X-Rays, Bone Scans!

It’s been a very medical week here at the House of Meyer.

Scott had his tonsils out last Friday. He was the oldest patient that day (although not their oldest overall — apparently they once had a 62-year-old get his tonsils out). The doctor said it was quick and easy, with very little blood loss.

He’s following what appears to be a standard adult healing schedule. Days 1 and 2 were painful, but then day 3 was way worse. Days 4, 5, and 6, a lot of pain — especially in the ears. I took a peek in his mouth, and the scabs on his throat are weirdly white. Apparently sometime between days 7 and 10, the scabs will fall off, and the pain will ease up enormously. Fingers crossed that it’s more day 7 and less day 10. Poor guy.

I myself went into the hospital this past Tuesday for a couple of tests. I got the standard three vials of blood drawn, since when you take multiple dangerous black-box medications, you have to check various levels and kidney/liver functions on a tight schedule. Then I got to experience a couple of first-time procedures.

The woman who prepped me asked why I was having the tests done. I told her that I’d had Crohn’s for 14 years, but never had these things done, and since I just changed doctors (because the old one was a dick), the new guy wanted these essential tests performed. She asked who Doctor #1 was. I told her, and she smiled and said, “I won’t say anything.” A moment later, she said, “Not a good bedside manner with that one.” And a little later, “I totally understand why you changed doctors. But I shouldn’t say anything.” Vague, but perfectly clear.

First up was a DEXA bone density scan. DEXA stands for Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, and it’s basically a specialized x-ray that’s aimed at the spine and hips, checking for osteoporosis. This is one of the tests my new gastroenterologist was amazed I’d never had, since I took steroids for a couple of years. Also, the two medications I’m on now can also erode your bones away. I’ll be interested to find out how my hips look, since I’m plagued with arthritis in them even when my Crohn’s is in remission.

After that, I got to have a small-bowel x-ray done. In this test, you drink a bunch of chalky barium, then take x-rays every 30 minutes until the barium has made its way through the entire small intestine. It can take anywhere from a half-hour to four hours or more, depending on the speed of your guts.

They told me I’d have to drink two cups of barium. Being a cooking type, I pictured two actual cups. Turns out they meant two 16-ounce plastic tumblers, so it was actually four cups of barium. The first swallow tasted a little like the candy stick in a Lik-M-Aid Fun Dip packet, but then it just became chalky sludge. It wasn’t quite as nasty as the various colonoscopy preps I’ve done, but I had to drink it a lot faster. Times like that, I wish I’d learned how to chug.

Fortunately, they let me walk around and play with my phone in between the x-rays. I made quite a bit of progress on Angry Birds. It took me a little over two hours to get the barium all the way through. Then I moved into a different room, where the radiologist pressed on my guts with a weird paddle thingy, and took close-up x-rays of a few specific areas.

He commented that everything looked normal, but he’d go over all of the films and send the results to my gastroenterologist. If my small bowel is normal, that’ll be awesome. Apparently around 70-80% of Crohn’s cases have some level of small bowel involvement (which makes it even more perplexing that I’ve only ever had colonoscopies, which only look at the large intestine). If I don’t, then I’m one of the lucky ones. And also if there’s nothing going on in the small bowels, that means I can stop taking the Cimzia. Which is good; I’m getting really tired of the hideous pizza face acne.