Just a quick note for people thinking of trying Chantix. I realize that it doesn’t work for everyone, but it really worked for me. I didn’t even want to quit smoking, and figured I never would. I was a hardcore smoker, but after a couple of weeks of taking Chantix and not even trying to quit smoking, I actually started forgetting to smoke. Forgetting! It was huge!

When I went to work without cigarettes for the first time, it was a little scary, but then I realized how FREE I was! I didn’t have to worry about carrying them around, buying them, finding a place to smoke them, finding a way to get rid of the smell of them (nothing works, by the way).

Over three and a half years later, I am thrilled that I grabbed the opportunity to hold onto that freedom by never allowing myself to ever again “just have one.”

I’m so grateful that it worked for me!

I discovered purple yams at my new favorite little Thai grocery store and restaurant. Mostly I just nuke them and eat them as they are, like in this picture, but today I wanted something with coconut milk and curry. I set out to make soup, and landed on mashed sweet potatoes instead!

  • 1 large purple yam (diced, in pan with water to cover)
  • 1/2 can coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon panaeng curry paste (canned)
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut

Cook the yams

In a covered saucepan, heat the yams until the water boils, then reduce heat and simmer until softened, but not complete mush (like they’re easy to stick a fork in, but don’t fall apart much). Drain, even though I hate throwing out all of those antioxidants and vitamin A in that purple water! Transfer to a serving bowl that you can mix them in.

Make the sauce

Shake up the coconut milk to mix the cream and the thin milk. This is only important when you use half the can. Pour half into the saucepan, and add a tablespoon (more if you like really hot stuff) of the panaeng curry paste. Bring to a boil, stirring to mix the curry completely with the coconut milk. It turns a pale pinkish peachy color with bits of red chili, and begins to thicken.

Mix and texturize

To the bowl of yams, add the sauce and the coconut. I’m not sure how much I actually used, but you can do it to taste. I might’ve used more than half a cup… Ideally, I’d use a potato masher, but since I don’t have one, I used a mixer, first mashing the potatoes down a bit with the beaters. Mix on medium until the biggest chunks are gone, then turn it up–you might even get a purple-splotched countertop for your troubles! I like them with nice purple chunks of sweet potato and shredded coconut all through to give them a lot of texture, but again, it’s to taste.

Mmm, lightly spicy, lightly sweet, coconutty texture and flavor, and PURPLE!!! What could be better?

I’ll get a picture sometime when the light is right.

 

My youngest loves Domo-kun, or at least she did last year. Anyway, I made this one out of a super fuzzy yarn–maybe Angel Soft? Ah, yes, Jo-Ann Sensations Angel Hair yarn in Dark Brown. I wasn’t thrilled with the way the black cotton eyes disappeared in all that fuzziness, but Aja was ūüôā

  • Size 8 needles and double point needles
  • Yarn needle (big, dull point)
  • 4 colors of yarn (small ball of main color; bits of red, black, and white)

Abbreviations:

MC = main color (brown)
EC = eye color (black)
TC = teeth color (white)
RED = red (mouth color)
S1 = slip one stitch as if to purl
P = purl (with main color)
K = knit (with main color)
ECP (or TCP or REDP) = purl with specified color
ECK (or TCK or REDK) = knit with specified color
CO = cast on (long tail cast on makes a nice edge)
DPN = double point needles
BO = bind off (for a stretchy one, *K2tog, slip back to left needle* repeat to end)

Notes: With intarsia, you make separate bobbins of yarn for each color block (even the same color in different places in a row) so that you don’t have to carry long strands of yarn across in back. In this pattern, we’ll make the following bobbins, but will carry the HC across between the lobes of the top of the heart:

  • about the mass of a baby carrot with TC x 2
  • about the mass of a golf ball with RED
  • about the mass of a baby carrot with EC x 2

We’re slipping the first stitch of every row to make a nice edge for our side seams.

Video tips:

How to make a center-pull bobbin
How to do a long-tail cast on
How to add a color and change colors
How to K2tog (only we’re passing it back to the left needle for our bind off)
How to do side seams
How to make an i-cord

CO: 17 stitches (for a wide phone) using long tail cast on
Row 1: S1, K16
Row 2: S1, P16
Row 3: row 1
Row 4: row 2
Row 5: S1, K3, ECK2, K5, ECK2, K4
Row 6: S1, P3, ECP2, P5, ECP2, P4
Row 7: row 5
Row 8: row 2
Row 9: row 1
Row 10: S1, P3, TCP9, P4
Row 11: S1, K3, TCK9, K4
Row 12: S1, P3, REDP1, TCP1, REDP1, TCP1, REDP1, TCP1, REDP1, TCP1, REDP1, P4
Row 13: S1, K3, REDK9, K4
Row 14: S1, P3, REDP9, P4
Row 15: row 13
Row 16: row 14
Row 17: S1, K3, REDK1, TCK1, REDK1, TCK1, REDK1, TCK1, REDK1, TCK1, REDK1, K4
Row 18: row 10
Row 19: row 11
All even rows 20 to 40: S1, P16
All odd rows 21 to 39: S1, K16

(Try wrapping a cell phone in it to see how long you need it to be.)

BO, leaving a long tail.

To make the arms (make 2):

  1. On DPN, CO 5 stitches.
  2. Make an i-cord for one and a half inches.
  3. Knit 3, yarn-over, and knit to the end (6 stitches)
  4. Knit a couple more rows of i-cord, and yarn over in the middle of another row for 7 stitches.
  5. Make another inch of i-cord.
  6. Bind off.

To make the legs (make 2):

  1. On DPN, CO 10 stitches.
  2. Make an i-cord for two inches.
  3. Bind off.

To make the necklace braid (not shown in image):

  1. Cut 6 strands of yarn 40‚ÄĚ long.
  2. Bundle the strands together and tie a knot in one end.
  3. Secure the knotted end (or make your kid hold it).
  4. Separate strands into 3 pairs and braid to the other end.
  5. Knot the end.

To assemble:

  1. Fold the long rectangle in half, uncurling the edges and pressing them together.
  2. Thread the long tail onto your yarn needle and, starting at the top corner, sew the edges together on one side.
  3. When you reach the bottom, put the needle through to the inside, and weave the yarn through stitches to the other side.
  4. Sew the edges together up the other side.
  5. Sew one end of the braid to each top corner of the pouch.
  6. Sew arms on sides of pouch.
  7. Sew legs on bottom edge of pouch.
  8. Weave in all ends and trim braid ends if necessary.

Okay, some caveats here. I don’t like to work from charts, so I sat down and wrote out the pattern for my whole chart. To make the chart, I used this handy dandy grid generator from knitPro 2.0:¬†http://www.microrevolt.org/knitPro/. You can upload a picture and have it spit out a grid!

Also, this is my first attempt at writing a pattern. I hope it’s clear!

  • Size 8 needles
  • Yarn needle (big, dull point)
  • 2 colors of yarn (small ball)

I used Lily Sugar ‘n Cream cotton, but I think any worsted weight yarn would work.

Abbreviations:

MC = main color
SC = skull color
S1 = slip one stitch as if to purl
P = purl (with main color)
K = knit (with main color)
SCP = purl with skull color
SCK = knit with skull color
CO = cast on (long tail cast on makes a nice edge)
BO = bind off (for a stretchy one, *K2tog, slip back to left needle* repeat to end)

Notes: With intarsia, you make separate bobbins of yarn for each color block (even the same color in different places in a row) so that you don’t have to carry long strands of yarn across in back. In this pattern, we’ll make the following bobbins:

  • about the mass of a tangerine with SC x 2
  • about the mass of a baby carrot with MC x 4
  • about the mass of a baseball with MC

We’re slipping the first stitch of every row to make a nice edge for the side seams.

Video tips:

How to make a center-pull bobbin
How to do a long-tail cast on
How to add a color and change colors
How to K2tog (only we’re passing it back to the left needle for our bind off)
How to do side seams

Rows 1 and 3: S1, K14
Rows 2: S1, P14
Row 4: S1, P4, SCP5, P5
Row 5: S1, K3, SCK7, K4
Row 6: S1, P2, SCP9, P3
Row 7: S1, K1, SCK11, K2
Row 8: S1, P1, SCP11, P2
Row 9: S1, SCK13, K1
Row 10: S1, SCP13, P1
Row 11: S1, SCK13, K1
Row 12: S1, SCP13, P1
Row 13: S1, SCK2, K2, SCK5, K2, SCK2, K1
Row 14: S1, SCP1, P4, SCP3, P4, SCP1, P1
Row 15: S1, SCK1, K4, SCK3, K4, SCK1, K1
Row 16: S1, SCP1, P4, SCP3, P4, SCP1, P1
Row 17: S1, SCK1, K4, SCK3, K4, SCK1, K1
Row 18: S1, SCP2, P2, SCP2, P1, SCP2, P2, SCP2, P1
Row 19: S1, SCK6, K1, SCK6, K1
Row 20: S1, P1, SCP4, P3, SCP4, P2
Row 21: S1, K2, SCK3, K3, SCK3, K3
Row 22: S1, P1, SCP11, P2
Row 23: S1, K1, SCK1, K1, SCK7, K1, KCK1, K2
Row 24: S1, P1, SCP1, P9, SCP1, P2
Row 25: S1, K1, SCK1, K9, SCK1, K2
Row 26: S1, P1, SCP2, P7, SCP2, P2
Row 27: S1, K2, SCK2, K5, SCK2, K3
Row 28: S1, P3, SCP7, P4
Row 29: S1, K3, SCK7, K4
Row 30: S1, P4, SCP5, P5
All odd rows 31 to 65: S1, K14
All even rows 32 to 66: S1, P14

(Try wrapping a cell phone in it to see how long you need it to be.)

BO, leaving a long tail.

To make the necklace braid:

  1. Cut 6 strands of yarn 40‚ÄĚ long.
  2. Bundle the strands together and tie a knot in one end.
  3. Secure the knotted end (or make your kid hold it).
  4. Separate strands into 3 pairs and braid to the other end.
  5. Knot the end.

To assemble:

  1. Fold the long rectangle in half, uncurling the edges and pressing them together.
  2. Thread the long tail onto your yarn needle and, starting at the top corner, sew the edges together on one side.
  3. When you reach the bottom, put the needle through to the inside, and weave the yarn through stitches to the other side.
  4. Sew the edges together up the other side.
  5. Sew one end of the braid to each top corner of the pouch.
  6. Weave in all ends and trim braid ends if necessary.

So I’ve finally managed to cook something that both of my kids will eat, and that grownups will also eat. The first time I made it with this much crushed red pepper, I thought for sure that the kids wouldn’t eat it, but that’s apparently what makes it good!

*edited down the amount of spices–i eyeballed the measurements this time and found that even 1+ tablespoon made it pretty darned spicy!

Ingredients

  • 1 box of lasagna noodles
  • 1 15 oz. tub of ricotta cheese
  • about 2 teaspoons+ of crushed red pepper
  • about 1 teaspoon+ of dried oregano
  • about 1 teaspoon of dried basil
  • 2 jars of spaghetti sauce
  • 2 8 oz. bags of shredded Italian blend cheese
  • 1 8 oz. ball of fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1 5 oz. tub of shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 5 oz. tub of shredded romano cheese

Some Assembly Required

  1. In a roughly cauldron-sized pot, boil the lasagna noodles according to the package directions minus one minute.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, dump the tub of ricotta, and then shake on about ten times as much crushed red pepper as you think would be good. Seriously! Shake it on until you can no longer see any white! It seems like too much, but add a little more.
  3. Shake out a tablespoon plus a bit more of dried oregano into your palm, and then use your fingers to crush it over the ricotta. This releases more of the flavor.
  4. Do the same with the basil, but maybe a little less so the oregano can make it all Italiany.
  5. Stir the pepper flakes and herbs until they’re blended into the ricotta so that it looks like this. (See? Told you it could take a lot of crushed red pepper!)

  1. Drain the noodles and leave them in a strainer to cool until you can handle them.
  2. In a rectangular baking pan (9″ x 13″?), pour about a half a cup of spaghetti sauce, then tilt the pan around until it coats the bottom. This keeps the noodles from sticking to it.
  3. Lay out three lasagna noodles–they should just fit side-by-side. (This pan’s a little big–Mom gave me the “official” lasagna pan to use instead of the cake pan I’d been using.)
  4. Plop a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta mixture on one of the noodles, and, anchoring the near end of the noodle with a finger, spread it down the length of the noodle. It doesn’t need to be very thick, as we’ll have a bunch of layers. Repeat for the other two noodles.

    

  1. Sprinkle on a layer of the Italian shredded cheese mix (five or six cheese blend–usually includes several of the other cheeses we’re adding–hence the name of the recipe) until you have the ricotta pretty well covered, like this.

  1. Sprinkle on a thin layer of the shredded parmesan and another of the shredded romano cheese. This layer’s a lot thinner than the previous cheese layer.

  1. Spoon on some sauce. I do a couple of tablespoons down each noodle, and another tablespoon between each of those lines, then spread it out with the back of the spoon. If the cheese sticks to the spoon a lot, you need a little more sauce.

    

  1. Repeat each of these layers until you run out of noodles.
  2. On the top layer, after you add the sauce, slice up the ball of fresh mozzarella, and lay the slices on top of the whole lasagna.

  

  1. Cover with foil and bake at 350F for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes.

Let it cool for at least ten minutes before cutting and serving.

I didn’t think I’d be able to say that in my lifetime, but it feels good. Cabana Boy got me Obama’s three books for Christmas. I read Dreams from My Father first. He wrote it before he went back for his law degree, and it was about his experience of and thoughts on race, as well as a reminiscence of his childhood. It was really cool. You could hear his voice in every word,¬†and this man is truly and deeply intelligent and thoughtful. He’s also very honest (yes, he inhaled frequently) and very likeable. I usually only read fiction, but this book, with its vivid images of Hawaii and Indonesia, and glimpses of Kenya and the mythology of his father, had all the un-dry qualities that make me enjoy fiction. I only wish he had told more about meeting Michelle, but she probably vetoed that.

Having misplaced The Audacity of Hope, now I’m trying to read Change We Can Believe In. This one wasn’t written by him, but by his campaign. You can still hear his voice in places though. It’s essentially a listing of all of his campaign promises. As I struggle through it during interludes between library trips, I keep thinking that I should grab a highlighter and check off the promises as he keeps them. Only six weeks into his presidency, I’ve already found dozens that could be checked off! At the rate he’s going, he’ll have it all done by summer! Who does that? Who really means what they say on the campaign trail? President Barack Obama, that’s who. I love that man.

I also love that I can finally let go of some of the self-conscious guilt I’ve always felt about being white. Logically I know that I can’t help being white, and that I haven’t personally done anything to promote or condone inequality, but the guilt has always been there, regardless. But now, seeing young black men walking a little taller, meeting your gaze without so much resentment or hostility, I feel a slight lightening of that load of guilt and shame that our white forefathers bequeathed us. I feel like our whole nation has shaken off¬†some of that burden, and I wish I could personally thank every single person who voted for Obama. I am so proud of us! I am so proud to show the rest of the world that we really are who we say we are.

Yes, in spite of the lovely moment I’m having here, I can nevertheless hear Republicans whining about the state of the economy. All I can say is, you people let George Bush drive it into the state it’s in for eight years. No one knows whether there is anything anyone can do to fix it at this point. President Obama is doing his best to fix it. (And shut up about the deficit–where were you with all your bitching about spending when Bush was handing out our country’s money to his cronies?) He’s only been in office for six weeks. I have faith that if it can be fixed, he’ll do it.

President Obama is so refreshingly thoughtful and intelligent and conscientious and unsullied by big business. Regardless of whether he can fix the economy, I am just so proud to have him as president that I can still be moved to tears by it. And for the first time in my adult life, I can say absolutely and without any trace of irony that I am proud to be an American.

What music makes me unable to sit still in my seat and type this? Even when my nose is raw from blowing through two packets of Kleenex today? Trey Anastasio, doing Burlap Sack and Pumps. (This link pops open Media Player.)

Speaking of Trey, we’re going to see Phish!¬†At Bonnaroo! This June! Woo hoo!!!! We usually make the All Good Festival our summer vacation, but Phish!!!! TWO SHOWS!!!! This so totally makes up for me not being able to get tickets to their Virginia show!

Okay, this is something I have to share. I’ve been smoking for 30 years. Yeah, 30. More years than I lived without smoking, which would be 13. And I was a rabid smoker. Just let anyone try to get between me and my habit! Ask Cabana Boy. He’s endured me on flights to California a few times. Not fun for anyone. I was the kind of smoker who would have panic attacks just knowing I was out of cigarettes, even though I just had one. I couldn’t walk into the office without cigarettes in my purse, even though I couldn’t smoke in there.

So Linda, a coworker at Honda, told me that her friend had smoked for 40 years, and quit with no problems using Chantix, a prescription drug. I never dreamed, when I was a rebellious 13-year-old, that I would still be smoking 30 years later, and my kids have been on me to quit, and I really do want to see my grandchildren someday, so I did my usual thing. I googled. I read the scary New Yorker blog written by the guy¬†who developed¬†a serious depressive (possibly psychotic?) episode on Chantix. I read medical accounts. And I read tons of comments on a doctor’s blog. I decided it was worth¬†trying if it could break this habit.

I told Cabana Boy to watch me closely for signs of depression. (Unfortunately, he knows what to look for from 10 years ago.) I went for it, prepared for nausea, but hoping to avoid it by always taking Chantix with food, and prepared for some killer psychedelic dreams. Alas, no dreams, but awesomely, no other side effects either. Well, I was a little tingly and floaty the first day, but no nausea.

Chantix works by blocking the receptors in your brain that nicotine usually fills. Normally, that would make a person like me go into insane withdrawal. But the thing is, when you smoke, and the nicotine gets into those receptors, you get this little reward called dopamine. So Chantix gives you the dopamine. 

It takes a while to build up in your system (they start you off slowly to avoid nausea), so you don’t try to quit as soon as you start taking it. In fact, I didn’t¬†actually try to quit at all.¬†As¬†the drug¬†builds up in your system over the first week or two, the association between that good feeling (dopamine) and the cigarettes starts to break down. On the third day, for the first time in nearly 30 years, I actually forgot to smoke after dinner. I kept smoking after that though, but just didn’t feel as urgent about it.

After about a week on Chantix, I felt pretty ambivalent about cigarettes. They had always smelled bad, but I used to think they tasted good anyway. It turns out that without the dopamine enticement, they really don’t taste all that good. I think it was a week or 10 days into it that I took the big plunge and went to work without cigarettes. I mean, it’s one thing not to smoke them knowing that I could if I wanted to. It’s an entirely different thing to set out without cigarettes in the cold dark of ungodly early morning on an hour-long commute to Planet Honda, where everyone wears white and¬†you cannot leave for eight and a half hours, and then¬†it’s another 15 or 20 minutes’ of the drive homeward before you reenter the real world. So for me, the prospect of 10 hours with no prospect of smoking was a true test of my mettle. (And yes, I could have bummed a cigarette from someone, but none of my coworkers smokes, and I’d been smoking in my car. So I would have had to bum one from a complete stranger.) I was fine, and went several hours at a time without even thinking about it. And it was awesome to sit with my friends during break instead of freezing my ass off outside.

You may be thinking that this sounds too easy, and that there must be a catch. Well, there are several:

  1. Chantix costs about the same as smoking a pack a day, so until you quit, you’re paying out double unless you’re lucky enough to have insurance that will actually pay for it. Mine only got me a $25 discount. Oh yeah, and they come in four-week packages, so prepare to lay out $115 (or $140 if you don’t have insurance).
  2. It doesn’t work for everyone. Cabana Boy started taking mine two weeks ago and says it’s not doing it for him. (It might just be taking longer to build up for him though, so I hope it will still work.)¬†But there are some people who develop mental problems or can’t get past the nausea. So there’s the risk that you’ll invest all that money in a month’s worth of pills that don’t work for you.
  3. You’re still stuck with figuring out what to do with yourself as a non-smoker. If you’re skinny and have always wanted to gain weight, well this is your chance! If you’re like me, you’ve got to find a way to get out of the self-indulgent mindset and quit overeating. It’s easy to get discouraged at this point (like three weeks into it for me).

Linda suggested knitting to keep my hands occupied. Turns out she was right again! When you’re knitting, you want your hands clean so the thing you’re knitting doesn’t get dirty.¬†This means¬†you don’t want to go snacking while you do it. Also, it’s kind of addictive (just let me finish this row!) and soothing, and with a little practice, I don’t suck at it nearly as much as I did¬†last time¬†Mom tried to teach me. It’s satisfying to have a dishcloth to show for your time instead of an overflowing ashtray. And now I’m embarking on my first baby afghan.

I think I’m about a month into it (maybe a little more), and I’m feeling great! That gunk that I was coughing up for the past 25 years is gone. I don’t get that alarming whistle in my chest any more.¬†I can smell again. (Egads! How long did my tennis shoes smell like that? And nobody told me!) I don’t go around reeking.¬†I’m mostly past the “Oh God what do I do with myself now?” phase. I think the wrinkles around my lips from having them puckered for¬†what amounted to a couple of hours a day are starting to ease. I’ll probably¬†live longer.¬†And I finally found my mindset to get the weight off. My new mantra is “Which would be more fun? Eating this junk or dancing to Phish at Bonnaroo without worrying about flabbering out all over the place?”

I highly recommend Chantix. Even if it doesn’t work for everyone, it’s worth a shot in case it works for you as well as it has for me. I’ll put an update on here when I quit taking it, and let you know how that goes. My doctor said that I should stay on it for six months, since I smoked so much and for so long. I hope this helps a fellow googler!

Okay, this one was enough to break my blogger silence.

So it’s our anniversary (11 years of Cabana Boy marriage, 13 years since our first date) and we’re all riding home from an evening of brews and wings with the family in the back of my dad’s minivan. I had just finished eliciting promises from the girls that, at least through Sunday, they would not do to each other any of the things that make their sister go “STOP!”

I thought¬†that my little 5 year old nephew was contributing to my cause with his new name for Sierra: “Little Miss Pit Stop.” But as his next sentence revealed, I was oh, so wrong.

“Yeah Siewwa! You’we Little Miss Pit Stop because you always pissed off Aja!”

Joy Joy!!! That door-to-door stuff works! And registering young people at concerts! I’ve never felt strongly enough to do anything remotely like¬†this before, but my dad, a lifelong Republican (cured by Bush), started campaigning for Obama a few months ago. So after he hit the phone banks for a couple of hours one night, I went the next time. Then my mother-in-law came from California, which was already for Obama, and joined me and my dad in the Knock for Barack thing one weekend.
 
Wow, it’s unbelievable that in Ohio, in September, 2008, there were people who had no idea about Obama and who actually wanted to hear why I felt strongly enough to go around and knock on undecided voters‘ doors. Out of the 50 doors, less than half answered (we left really nice pamphlets on the closed doors), and of the almost-half who did answer, about a quarter had gone McCain’s way and another quarter had decided on Obama. Ah, but the other half, more than a dozen of them, were confused and hoping for someone to explain things to them. And they really responded. It was SO cool! I¬†left at least half a dozen people with the realization that Obama was the right choice for them, and another half-dozen-plus with a lot to think about and some web sites to explore (non-partisan factcheck.org was one I recommended in cases like that), and one shining star–someone else willing to volunteer.
 
I know this was a drop in the bucket, but the coolest part of it was thinking of all the other drops falling into the bucket along with ours, just like the $5 and $20¬†donations of all the “little people” were falling into the bucket. I also put in a few hours for non-partisan HeadCount.org calling people to get out the vote. I wasn’t allowed to say anything about Obama, but figured that statistically, the young vote couldn’t hurt.
President Barack Obama… how sweet it is.
 
Woo hoo!!!!