Fish or Cut Bait?

I’m in Denver for the #RWA18 National Conference. I think this sculpture of the dancing ladies is particularly appropriate.

This week’s topic at the SFF Seven is Why do you abandon a project? What would make you (or let you) finish it? Come on over to read more! Also, a new podcast episode below: First Cup of Coffee – July 15, 2018.

Keto Spiced Pumpkin Latte

001Longtime followers know of my mad love for Starbucks, and in particular for the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Hold on, all you pumpkin-spice haters – we know of your revulsion and we celebrate your difference. Go on with your bad selves. This is not the keto recipe you are looking for.

BUT, if you are like me – a person of exceptional taste and high standards – and lurv the Pumpkin Spice Latte AND if you also shudder at all that sugar, this is totally the recipe for you!

David and I have been doing the Ketogenic Diet since January 1. David wanted to do it for health reasons and I was willing to give it a try for weight loss. I’m happy to report that I’m at my lowest weight in five years. It’s also been great for my health overall – my energy levels are more even, I feel good. Even my teeth and gums are better.

Since I keep below 50 carbohydrates/day, and a grande Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte is 50g of carbs right there, having one simply isn’t an option. There are no “treat days” on the keto diet and, really, if you have too many carbs, it bumps you out of ketosis and then you get sugar cravings. Totally not worth it.

So, I set out to make my own! And I’m pretty pleased with the the results.

Ingredients

1 pie pumpkin
4 T butter
Stevia
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 dry allspice berries
1 whole star anise pod
½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the pie pumpkin (smaller ones are sweeter and more tender) in half, scrape out the seeds and baste the insides with 1T butter. Fill glass baking dish with about 1/2″ water. Put the pumpkin in shell-side down and bake for ~15 min, to get it nicely browned. Then invert and bake another 30-45 minutes. Basically the pumpkin should be really tender when poked with a fork.

Scrape the cooked pumpkin into a food processor. Put the empty shells in the compost bin. 🙂 Melt 3 T butter. Process the pumpkin and the butter together. (You can use more or less butter, according to taste, but it adds to the richness of the flavor. And, if you’re doing keto, you want to bump up the good fat anyway.)  I had some nice buttery/roasted pumpkin leavings in the glass pan from the water baking down, so I scraped that up, diluted with a bit of water, and added that, too.

Spice to taste. I used this recipe and put in about half of what I made.

Blend all until smooth. You can sweeten the pumpkin batter with Stevia, but I prefer to sweeten the coffee. I kept the batter in the fridge for two weeks with no problem.

To make the latte, brew the coffee (or espresso, if you’re fancee). I have a frother that is the light of my morning. Because too much dairy gets to me, I use 1/2 cup soy milk in the frother, but you could use cream. Once it begins stirring, I drop in about three spoonfuls of my pumpkin batter. (I do both froth and heat.) Depends on how much pumpkin flavor you like! Then pour the finished blend into the coffee cup. Like I mentioned previously, I sweeten my coffee with Stevia first. I sprinkle a little of my pumpkin spice blend on top, for added aroma.

As one cup of pumpkin has 8 carbs and my pie pumpkin made about two cups, that makes the carb content negligible. Plus, it’s delicious and satisfies my pumpkin spice latte longing. Helluva lot cheaper, too!

And questions or modifications you’ve tried?

Another Reason I Love Starbucks

StarbucksYou all know I’m a Starbucks fan.

If you don’t, you just haven’t been reading. Which is fine! But, you know, it’s in the standard Facts About Jeffe.

And yeah, yeah, yeah – I’ve heard the whole song and dance about corporate coffee and how, eyew, Starbucks coffee tastes burnt and I should support local coffee shops. The thing is, I go to local coffee shops and 1) chances are it will take forever to get my beverage, 2) it’s a total crapshoot what it will taste like and what kind of caffeine impact it will have. These things are important to me. I like that roasted Starbucks flavor, because it tastes great in my lattes, which I can depend on being just the way I like them, because I order them that way. You might laugh on the caffeine impact, but I’m a sensitive flower – there’s a fine line for me between “rev-me-up” and “omfg-my-heart-is-going-to-burst.”

Beyond that, I can count on Starbucks – really any Starbucks – being fast, efficient and offering a friendly atmosphere. I like their corporate policies and that they treat their employees decently.

So, not long ago, David and I flew into Albuquerque early in the morning and were driving home up to Santa Fe. We wanted coffee! so I used my phone to find the nearest Starbucks, of course. We went to the one at 3400 Central Ave SE, which is in the “Nob Hill” part of town. The building looked kind of funky, but I couldn’t place it. That’s a pic of it above, from Google Street View, so it’s kind of sucky. I should have snapped a pic, but I didn’t think to at the time.

It’s even better inside, with that arched barn roof and a cozy fireplace. And that odd sense of childhood familiarity.

I asked – and the building is a refurbished Arby’s. Yeah – you can see it, right? That old Arby’s architecture.

I love that they did this.

See, for a long time (20+) years, I lived in a town in Wyoming plagued by the Abandoned Building Syndrome. They’re a true blight on any community. Our town had a Walmart – an enormous warehouse that was abandoned when Those Who Did Not Care About Our Community decided to build a SUPER Walmart a quarter-mile away. Because, for them, it was less expensive to purchase new land and construct the even huger warehouse. That parking lot became the brightest point in town, by far – the first light visible flying in at night. Meanwhile, the old building moldered, adding its sorrowful tale to the decrepit former Long John Silvers just up the road, which hosted various Chinese restaurants until it ungracefully fell completely to pieces.

So, this is one more reason for me to love Starbucks – that they repurpose these old buildings. I’m a big fan of reusing what we already have. I even contributed an essay to an anthology once, called “Home Recycling,” about why I like buying older houses.

Thus, if you’re ever in and around Albuquerque, stop by the Starbucks in Nob Hill and take in that rehabbed Arby’s ambience. It’s really quite awesome – both aesthetically and energetically.

~Toasts with Pumpkin Spice Latte~

Morning Commute

I drove my boss in for work this morning.

She lives in New Hampshire, so we don’t normally see each other all that often. She was in town to work on a project that I can’t work on, due to conflict of interest. So, she stayed with us and we got to socialize, but we didn’t work together.

This morning, I drove her into downtown Santa Fe. We stopped at Starbucks on the Plaza, which is one of my very favorite Starbucks anywhere and she treated me to my first Gingerbread Spice latte of the season. I dropped her off at the offices, said goodbye and came home to my desk overlooking the valley, while all the other cars streamed into town.

It’s funny to break up my ritual that way. Normally my working day starts with me changing out of gym clothes into writing clothes, then into work clothes. Some days, I don’t really leave the house, except to go to the gym or to take a walk. My daily rhythm becomes largely my own. I’m aware of the East Coast time zones, as my colleagues there shut down for the day, or the Pacific Time folks, who generally start and finish later. Otherwise, I have no commute, no one glancing at the clock when I sit down at my desk.

It’s a lovely lifestyle. Don’t mistake me – I appreciate it no end.

There’s a certain comaraderie, though, to the beginning of the day. I like seeing the woman at the traffic light fluffing her hair in the rear-view mirror while the yellow school bus passes in front of us, small bodies bouncing inside. I like seeing the line-up at Starbucks, of the people in suits with briefcases, the stylish shopgirls in their black outfits getting ready to open the galleries, the scruffy types who wander in to stay a bit and maybe bum a cup of coffee.

Then again, I know it’s fun for me because I don’t do it every day. I don’t have the accumulated aggravations of traffic, the people paying more attention to primping than driving, the hassle of loading a small body onto the school bus in the first place, the sinking heart at the sight of the long Starbucks line while the hands of the clock march to the time I’m supposed to sit at my desk.

Instead, my job is to sit at my desk overlooking the valley and write about it.

Scaredy Cat


Something frightened Isabel last night.

It was one of those nights anyway, when all the animals are on the move, inexplicably to humans. I could hazard guesses why. We had a good rain the night before, for the first time in quite a while. The rain brought welcome relief, dampening the dust and refreshing all the grasses and shrubs that had been curing for days and days in the relentless dry breezes. Not unlike a convection oven. Makes for pleasant weather for people, not so great for the natural world. Also, we’re at the new moon, so the night was dark and cool.

We noticed the animal activity in the evening. On our walk, we saw a young bull snake lying in the road, soaking up the heat. We gently chased it off the road, so it wouldn’t get run over by the people zooming home from work. Then, walking back up a different road, on the other side of the greenbelt, we saw an identical bull snake, also lying in the road. When a nest of snakes hatches, the young tend to radiate out in all directions, scattering to maximize survival of at least a few. We coaxed that one off the road also. Finally, we saw a Jerusalem cricket on the blacktop path. If you’ve never seen one, they’re seriously funky. I didn’t have my camera, but here’s a pic from bugguide.net. That’s about the size of my palm, by the way.

Bizarre creature, no?

The evening passed without further incident, until I woke sometime around three in the morning to an odd scrabbling sound. I thought the kitties had brought a mouse in from the garage, via the cat door. It was a lot of loud scrabbling and I realized Teddy was curled up next to me on the bed, so I finally got up to investigate. But no, Isabel was sound asleep on the back of the chair in the living room. Following the sounds, I discovered that the dog, Zip, had trapped himself in my shower, where he goes when he’s frightened. By “trapped” I mean that he was behind the shower curtain, circling in an endless frenzy. Fortunately I had the power to sweep aside the silk curtain and free him.

Not always the brightest dog.

I get back in bed and may have fallen asleep. David and I both heard coyotes howling, which isn’t unusual. Then Isabel leapt on the bed, which isn’t unusual either, except that she wouldn’t lay down and vibrated with tension. She leapt off again. I heard her throwing up and figured her for hairballs. She jumped on the bed again, acting frantic and had some moisture on her, then dashed off again.

Half asleep – by now it’s four in the morning – I get visions of Isabel being ill and puking up blood. I finally get up again and search the house for her. I find where she threw up a bunch of water. No hairballs in sight. I finally find her in my bathroom (clearly the place to be last night), standing on her hind legs on my sink counter with her head under the little half-curtain that screens the window. When she looks at me, her pupils are so dilated the black swallows up all the color in her eyes.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

So I sat on the floor and she crawled onto my lap finally, curled up and purring. She settled somewhat, though the nictating membrane was covering her eyes to protect them from the bathroom light, since her pupils were still so dilated.

My best guess is she saw a pack of coyotes. She’s seen one at a time before. We know because we’ve taken photos of them on the porch. I love the one on top because I think it captures him throwing his head back to howl. And it reminds me of that scene from Jacob’s Ladder (which I know is a really old movie now, but it freaked me out at the time). Here’s a more clear shot of him.

Isabel finally settled down. We all went back to sleep, though David and I are a bit groggy this morning. I’m actually contemplating driving into town for a Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte. Probably a 45-minute round-trip. How desperate am I? Hmm…

Frankly, though I hated to see her so frightened, I’m not sorry that Isabel got a scare. She needs to be afraid of the predators. She tends to think she is a predator and forgets she can be prey, too.

Sometimes a little fear can be educational.

Beaches and Birthdays

This is my view at this moment.

Beautiful. Gorgeous. Wish you were here!

Yesterday I put up a picture from Aaron and Louise’s wedding reception. (Aaron is my cousin.) The actual ceremony took place last Wednesday at the confluence of the Snake and Salmon Rivers. A moving analogy, say those who witnessed it. Those of us who didn’t raft down the rivers or jetboat-in for the ceremony were treated to a reception at Louise’s family home in the Oregon woods.

Also lovely.

Yesterday – my birthday! – David greeted me with a Starbucks gift card when I awoke. The man knows where I live. We threw on clothes and popped off to the coffee Mecca. One of the best things about the Pacific Northwest is that a Starbucks can be found every couple of blocks, even in the smallest towns. Were I to have a complete Starbucks meltdown – and it might have happened once or twice – I could crawl to an outpost.

Just saying.

Then we headed over to the coast, to Newport. David surprised me with a cd of the True Blood soundtrack. Throbbing to the beat of “I Wanna Do Bad Things with You,” we drove through the draping green countryside.

By lunchtime we hooked up with my folks for wine and seafood at Local Ocean. We walked around the shops and looked at the sea lions, who were also enjoying the sunshine.

After a while, we reconvened with my two aunts and their husbands back at the B&B.

We finished the day with dinner at an Irish pub and then a hot bath in the deep jacuzzi tub for two.

A girl can’t ask for a better birthday.

P.S. Why, yes, these ARE pictures taken with the new camera! Snazzy, eh?

Spring Snow


We left the palm trees and hot sunshine of Tucson and came home to a wet Spring snowstorm.

We didn’t hit snow until north of Albuquerque, but then it hit us with a vengeance, making us crawl home. Someone in Santa Fe tweeted that it had been tea on the patio sunny, then a rainstorm, then all the snow. The forecasters had said snow after midnight, but this hit well before sunset.

Springtime in the Rockies!

The Spring storms are hard on the wildlife, too. A little bird, who had clearly gotten far too wet, pressed up on our threshold, savoring the warmth from our glass door. David captured it and we put it in a box last night to warm up. Now that the sun is warming and the snow shriveling before it, I set it loose to join its brethren at the seed-fest out front.

It looks rumpled enough that I can tell it from the others, but it should be okay.

Yesterday, before we hit the road, we stopped at Starbucks for breakfast. In Tucson there are these roving packs of bikers. The bicycle kind, not the motorcycle kind. They wear matching outfits, with the tight shorts, windbreakers and helmets. They zoom about the city in fleet groups and stop at Starbucks to sit in the sun and treat themselves.

There were several ladies of this ilk waiting for their lattes as we were, of that indistinguishable badly preserved 50s/well preserved 60s age. A very young girl also waited. She was maybe 18. I would have guessed younger, but she wore a short black satin skirt, a black satin top with big rhinestones and very high heels. Heading to a job at a nearby casino perhaps. Not your usual Sunday-morning garb. She looked gorgeous, with the long slim legs only teenage girls seem to have. Her pretty face smiled sweet and open.

The women glared at her and I saw her physically flinch and look away, some of her happiness dimmed. I wondered if she even understood what their problem was. She didn’t seem to notice the weathered columns of their thighs, pressed into wrinkles by the tight Lycra. I wanted to tell the ladies to stuff their nasty looks, to give the girl a break.

Let her enjoy her Spring, I wanted to say. There’s plenty of Winter to go around. We should celebrate the sunshine wherever we find it.

Let Me Count the Ways

“Do you love it?” they ask me.

Total strangers walk up to me in airports, at Starbucks, when they see me reading my Kindle. “Do you love it?” they all ask and I let them play with it.

Yeah, I do love it. My mom gave me a Kindle for Christmas, then was devastated that they couldn’t ship it until February 24. But it turns out that they were waiting to complete production and ship the Kindle 2, so it was fine by me. David gave me a Blackberry Storm for Christmas (this was my techno-Christmas, apparently) and I was still trying to learn that. The lament of my age group — we played Pong as kids; we used computers in high school, so it should NOT be this hard to keep up with technology. Everyone is fretting about twitter now. I tried to read a twitter page and nearly clawed my eyes out. One thing at a time, I figure.

Except the Kindle 2 was super-duper easy to get going. I had to read the user guide for a few things, but I found what I was looking for. I love that I can slip it in my purse, that I can pull it out, hit the slider and it opens to my page. Child of my era and my culture, I just love the instant gratification. I finished a book that left me craving more and instantly downloaded the next in the series. It’s light, easy to read, easy to turn the pages.

I found I had to adjust my page-turn timing. As a long-time reader, I have a rhythm of starting to turn the page while finishing the last couple of lines at the bottom. If I hit the next page button on the Kindle at the same rhythm, the page replaces before I finish the last line. But I adjusted pretty quickly to that. I do miss the feel of “having” the book, of seeing the cover image as a prelude to settling in. I read a book on the Kindle that I ended up really loving: Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave. (It was her One Foot in the Grave that I immediately downloaded.) Reading her was like having paranormal romance steak after six months of nothing but Ho-Ho’s. (A side note for those interested in such things: they classify her as urban fantasy, see? that means there’s no happily ever after at the end.) Anyway, now that I feel all warm and fuzzy about Jeaniene’s books, I want to HAVE them. Even though I already do. But I don’t have the sexy cover and I didn’t know this was the “Night Huntress” series until I recommended it to someone else. That part I miss. Is it important? We’ll see. It looks like I’ll get to meet Jeaniene at the RT convention — I can hardly have her sign my Kindle. Something for Jeff Bezos to ponder.

So, if you see me in the airport or at Starbucks — Yes, I love it. And of course you can play with it.

Going Home Again

So, it turns out that it’s really Dee’s Boutique and Books. (Reference yesterday’s post, if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) That’s what the hand-painted sign over the store entrance says.

Alongside new and used books, Carol Dee sells hand-knit sweaters from the Wind Rivers and funky “popcorn” shirts that are 9 inches long on the shelf and magically expand on the body. $24.95 and comes with a cardboard popcorn box.

I met in the afternoon with the Evanston Social Club — ladies who meet every-other Friday afternoon since 1930. Many of them went to grade-school together. Carol is a newcomer to town, having arrived only 30 years ago. Sometimes they play bridge; sometimes they have guests. I arrived as they finished their business meeting, making plans to visit one of their group who’s growing oddly reclusive. I read to them my grandmother’s story, Appliances, and we talked about my writing and my day job. I felt like I was having tea with my grandmother’s friends, gently grilled about my life choices.

Having a couple of hours to kill before the evening signing, I drove down to the riverwalk and sat in the parking area to enjoy the sun and read. Lots of snow over in Evanston. They have a kind of lodge there and a natural skating pond. A guy scooted around it, scuffling up snow with his feet. I couldn’t tell if he had skates on or not. He studied my car, as if he though he might have to trudge up and rent me skates, so I drove around to the other side and parked in the “clearly not interested in the skating pond” area to the back. Two other cars drove by as I sat. Both times, the driver and passenger hung out the windows as they curved past me, staring intently.

David says it’s the small town thing: suspicious of my county 5 plates and why they don’t know me, sitting in their park.

God bless ’em though, they have a Starbucks. Which was good, since I felt in need of reviving. A couple of Utah twenty-somethings stopped in, too, ski and camping gear strapped to their car. They stopped and asked me about the Kindle I was reading. Not from thereabouts either.

The six o’clock reading, signing and free spaghetti dinner was a bust. Nobody came. This was Carol’s third signing that no one came to. Including the guy from the town (whose name she didn’t recall) who had published his first sci fi book. “You’d think he’d have at least some friends,” she said.

Actually, there were six of us: Carol and her husband, along with Tammy, the seamstress who is sharing Carol’s space while she gets her business back on its feet, Tammy’s husband and his brother, who wore a Vietnam vet’s hat and spoke little. Actually, both Tammy’s husband and his brother wore ball caps until partway through our spaghetti dinner, when Tammy’s husband remarked that he heard his father’s voice telling them to take their hats off while they ate. The brother, too, obediently tucked his hat in his lap.

They — Tammy’s three-person family — are living with a friend right now. She told me she’d like to buy my book, but can’t afford to. I wanted to give her one from the box in the trunk of my car, but didn’t want to in front of Carol. She’d had a good alterations business in Evanston until the three of them decided to head out to Oregon, lured by their status as a state with the third-lowest unemployment rating. But people there were mean to them. None of the shops would let her put flyers in their windows or cards on the counter. No work was to be had for Tammy’s husband. It wasn’t clear if the brother tried for work also — but he shook his head in sad solidarity. They began to run out of money and came back to Evanston, where you find the nicest people in the world.

I might send her some things to alter for me.

Quality of Treat

I’ve never been a coffee drinker. Even in college, when everyone else was heavy into coffee for all-nighters, I hit Cherry Coke instead. Even when I started living with David, who practically injects coffee before he gets out of bed, I never drank it. I liked the scent of it. But, really, all my drugs of choice are pretty much sedatives.

I didn’t get the Starbucks thing, the coffee hut thing, the tall/skinny/mochafrappaloopychino thing.

Then, about two years ago, I got serious about losing weight. It’s the old story. Woman hits 40 and realizes that she can’t keep gaining three to five pounds a year. Realizes that she can’t kid herself that she’s just a little overweight, that her body fat percentage is now in the OBESE category. I can’t tell you how horrifying it was to face that I had to apply that word to myself.

I did a little South Beach, to get me started. I worked to get the belly down, but I found it ultimately unsustainable. Then I hit Body for Life. I’ve lost over 20 pounds of body fat, down about 15 pounds overall. (I added some much-needed muscle.) And I discovered the sugar-free, non-fat latte.

It’s sweet, creamy, warm and delicious. And I can have it for a treat. Instead of a cookie, instead of a coke. Most of the coffee syrups don’t use aspartame, which as a former neurophysiologist, I won’t touch. Over time, I’ve become particular about my latte-acquisition. Starbucks is my friend — I travel a great deal and I love that I can almost always find a Starbucks and that they’ll give me exactly what I want. Sure, I’ll try the local coffee house, but I don’t like arguing about what sugar-free means. (Yes, I know that was a Dunkin’ Donuts, but the principle remains.)

Yesterday, I bought a thermos-cup. I polled everyone I ran into (okay, pretty much) for a week about their thermos-cup preferences. This is a new realm for me. I found one yesterday that meets all characteristics of the ideal cup. Today, David went and got me a skinny caramel latte in my new mug. An hour later, it’s still hot! (Did I mention I’m a slow drinker? David thinks it’s unnatural. Could be my coming late to the coffee game.) It’s stupid that this makes me so happy. I fully intend to take it with me to Indiana tomorrow and refill it before I get on the plane. I’m looking forward to this.

I’d feel more dumb about this, if my friend, the actress and director, Lesley Malin, hadn’t responded to my FaceBook post with how much SHE loves her thermos-cup and how it’s transformed her quality of life.

And yet, we went to see Slumdog Millionaire last night. (Yes, it finally made it to our town.) It’s easy to feel guilty about our rich lives, in comparison to those shown in the slums of India. That kind of suffering is incomprehensible to me. My suffering is avoiding sweets and crunching weights. Maybe I can count in the job stress, which seems to increase in a slightly greater percentage than the raise that accompanies it. I work hard for the money I make. If a little thermos-mug gives me so much pleasure, so be it. Call me shallow. At least I have my treat.