Friday, 27 November 2009

Sweet potato pie (vegan, of course)

2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato
1 cup plain or vanilla flavoured rice milk
1/4 cup corn starch
3/4 cup dark brown sugar or 1/2 cup maple syrup
1 Tbs molasses
3 Tbs oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp each nutmeg, clove, ginger
1-1/2 tsp cinammon

Combine ingredients and pour into a prepared pie shell. Bake at 400 F until done. Allow pie to cool completely to set.

The pie is darker in colour than you might expect because of the molasses, but it has a delicious, holiday flavour and silky texture. Not wiggly, like you would get from eggs, but very unctuous, and quite filling. It is best served chilled, in my opinion.

I made this last night for the first time and we really liked it. I am taking leftovers to work to today because I'm sure no one has tasted sweet potato pie there! If they don't like it, I'll bring back the remnants. :)

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Okay then

I had a job interview yesterday that I was dreading. I applied for the job for just two reasons: it's the only step up from my current post, and it's closer to where hubby works. The actual job itself, I was not keen on doing. I guess that came through in the interview because I was not selected. My reaction was as joyful and relieved as it is for most people when they GET the job.

Why are we always questioning and pushing and thinking we should be striving to achieve more, or to move on? Why is it not okay to just like the job you're in, because you can do it easily and everything is comfortable? Why do we have this idea that we should be pushing the envelope, looking to be 'stretched and challenged', moving away from comfort and complacency? Yes, I said complacency. Why is complacency considered a bad thing? Even the word 'complacent', which actually literally means to find peace in something, has come to have a shade of meaning that there is a danger in being okay with your situation as it is. Well, maybe I don't want a grit of sand that I can turn into a pearl. Irritation and 'challenge' (which really means stress!) at work are not required by me, thank you.

I suppose the Buddhist perspective on the danger of complacency is the clinging to the illusion of permanence, the delusion that we can by force of will (ie, by fearing change) keep bad things from happening. That's not what I'm talking about here, at least I think it's not! I can also say with some confidence that I am not afraid of change. If a job came along that I really wanted, I would leave my current one in a heartbeat. But it would have to be one that I REALLY wanted, and not one that I 'ought' to go for.

Occasionally I forget that I'm leading my own life. I start hearkening to what other people think or how other people might perceive things or behave, and I make decisions based on what other people might do or expect me to do. Other people might apply for a job that's the next step up, even though they don't really want it. They might be able to bluff their way into it, then tolerate it. But I'm not other people, I'm me. Sometimes I forget that it's my life and it's okay for me to live it how I want. Strange but true.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Not as bleak as I thought

I found out some good news.
  • By the time I reach state pension age in 2033, I will have worked exactly 30 years and 4 months--just enough to qualify for the full state pension. I have sent in my pension forecast application to see how much that would be, but as a rule of thumb I've done some preliminary figures using the 'average' state pension.
  • I used a Social Security calculator to see what I would qualify for having worked for 15 years in the US. It was more than I thought.
  • I sent off to Arkansas Teacher Retirement to see what I will receive based on the years I taught in the US. It was more than I expected, PLUS I can start drawing it 7 years before I reach state pension age here. So I can be investing that money!
  • I am in a local government pension scheme, which it turns out is the best pension scheme available in the UK. It will leave me better off than I thought.

So I took these sketchy preliminary figures and added them together. According to that first draft of a forecast, I will be drawing pretty much the same amount in retirement that I earn now. If the same is true for Derek (we are working on his now), then our income in retirement will look a lot like it looks now. Which means if we never get to buy a house, it doesn't matter. If we can afford rent now, we can afford rent then. I can't imagine us ever needing to live better than we do right now. We are perfectly comfortable with our level of spending and our lifestyle.

I'm trying to be realistic about this whole house-owning thing. Until the early 20th century, the majority of people in the UK did not own their own homes (only 30% did). In Europe today, 2/3 of Germany rent their accommodation. Half of Austria does. Of course, in Europe they enjoy much stronger tenants' rights, but still. Owning a property is not the be all and end all of existence, nor is it a guarantee of security for the future. It's just a big fat headache is what it is. And a major financial burden.

Maybe someday we'll buy a house, but if we never do, I'm not going to sweat it anymore. I'd rather have a big fat pension than a miserable little house.

Anyway, I have an interview next Wednesday for a job in a library near where hubby works, which whould be a promotion for me, and our chance to move to the south of the county where things are 'nicer' (if more expensive). It's just a temporary 12-month post, but I can take it as a secondment, if I decide to take it, so at least I'll be assured of a post in the county council when the year's up. Nervous about it--it's all human resources. But I guess experience in that field would be good to have. People always need HR.

Monday, 16 November 2009


Just heard on the morning news:

  • First time buyers of homes has fallen by 2/3.
  • First time buyers must come up with a 25% deposit. The average house price being £165,000, that means the deposit is on average £38,000.
  • The era of the 100% mortgage is gone. The 75% mortgage is here to stay.
  • The average age of the first time buyer is 35.
All of this means to me we are never, ever going to be able to afford a property. Our entire combined savings of the last 7 years is not enough to pay the deposit, much less the duties and all the costs associated with moving and setting up a new household. At the rate we're saving, I'll be in my mid 50s before we can even meet the deposit--and who knows how much a deposit will be by then. We cannot save at a higher rate than we are. I am already putting nearly a third of my take home pay in savings. We can't help it if our earnings are not very high.

I feel quite despondent about this, not because I particularly want to own a home, but because I am concerned about where we are going to live after we are no longer able to work. The savings we have now are being built up with a view toward pensions investments, not down payment on a house. And there's not enough there for that. Our pension gap is enormous.

I wonder where we are going to live and how we are going to live when we get too old to work. There are no children to take care of us or take us in.

I still have at least 25 years left in my working life to sort out the best thing we can figure out.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Lovely day

It's been a lovely day on my own today. I made some banana bread that I saw on The Post Punk Kitchen website. I made my own version:

Banana Bread

1/2 cup each brown and white sugar
2 cups wholemeal spelt flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

3 very ripe bananas, mashed
5 Tbs vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and set aside a loaf pan. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another. Mix the wet into the dry. Pour into pan and bake for about an hour.

Let it cool completely, as it is actually better after it has aged for a bit. Or you can eat it hot, each to his own!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

I'm not a fan of Christmas, but I've already got a wish list!

Amber stud earrings. I've really got into amber lately. It's so pretty!

10kg dumbbells, for those times when I feel I could do a bit better than the 8kg which is my max weight now.

Ladies' Haulin' Hooks. These grip-assistance devices are designed to assist when lifting heavier weights, to avoid having to stop reps just because your grip is exhausted. (This happens to me a lot now that I'm lifting heavier. For example, the other day I was doing sumo squats with my barbell, and even though my legs were not entirely exhausted, I had to put the bar down because my forearms and grip couldn't hold the load any longer. This type of device is supposed to really help with that issue.)

All of which (except perhaps the amber earrings...) will help out a lot if I get my main wish, Chalene Extreme!!!! This set of DVDs contains 15 workouts broken into 3 phases:

BURN--Moderate weight training workouts using 12-rep sets to help start the fat burning process.

PUSH--Heavy weight training--beyond the comfort zone--to build strength and muscle.

LEAN--Back to moderate weights but incorporating dynamic moves to burn tons of calories and strip the fat off the new muscle you've built.

There are also cardio and abs workouts in the rotation, and I've already bought the latest 'add-on' cardio, so once I get the weight-lifting (original) set, I'll have the whole darn thing!

The entire system takes 90 days, then you enter a 30 day 'Lean for Life' phase, then you can do the whole round over again if you like.

I really, really want Chalean Extreme (fondly referred to by fans as 'CLX').

In the meantime, though, I've just ordered Original Buns of Steel on DVD. It shipped today and I cannot wait to try it out. Made in 1987, it is a total cult classic and said to be one of the best butt-burners ever! Creator Greg Smithey is a sports physiologist and supposedly invented the routine to use as part of training for pole vaulters.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Love at first buff

So we were channel hopping through infomercials on Sunday morning, as we often do on a Sunday. We love to sit and make fun of the advertisements for the strange fitness products out there. 'I can get my abs AND my cardio done in only 3 minutes a day!' a bizarrely-bosomed fitness model beams, swinging herself side to side on a gizmo that looks like the body of an old lawnmower with some bicycle handlebars attached to the top. We have spent many happy mornings sipping coffee and laughing at the over-the-top agony of 'old-fashioned, back-breaking crunches and boring hours spent in the gym.' Why are all the 'before you buy this product' segments in black and white featuring people who look like they're being force-fed that bitter stuff from the middle of a pecan?

Anyway, Sunday morning we caught Susan Lucci selling her 'Youthful Essence' microdermabrasion kit. Now I have seen her selling this thing for years and never gave it a second thought, other than to wonder why it costs so much and why you have to sign up to get her little pots of crystal creme every month. I have to admit, though, that for the last few years, scrubbing with a wash cloth just hasn't been effective in getting rid of flakiness of my skin. I can wash, put on moisturizer, and still, when I put on my foundation makeup, it gets caught in the little tiny dead skin cells and that makeup shows up the scaliness until I feel like I must look like a lizard person. I mean, it's really noticeable, at least to me. (I had to actually get really close to Derek and point to get him to see what I meant. So okay, most people aren't as close to me as I am to a mirror when I'm scrutinizing my skin.) Still, I've felt self-conscious about it for some time, to the point where I don't even bother wearing makeup most days because I feel my skin looks better without it. Blotchy is better than scaly.

Anyway, after watching her infomercial, I thought I'd look into the microdermabrasion world. It turns out there are lots of little gizmos just like Susan Lucci's available out there. I did a lot of online shopping and reading of online reviews, and settled on the Roc Renewex Microdermabrasion Expert Kit. I found it available at Amazon Marketplace for £15, ordered it Tuesday night, and it arrived today!

I've used this thing for the first time tonight. I cannot believe what a difference it has made to my skin in only one use. It feels like an absolute rose petal. The literature that accompanies the kit says visible reduction of fine lines, etc, in 4 weeks. I can't wait to see how my skin looks after 4 weeks of this, if tonight's any indication.

Here's all you do:

1. Wash your skin as normal, using your normal face wash. Pat dry.
2. Put a bit of the microcrystal cream on the dry sponge of the applicator. (It feels like the finest possible grit you can imagine. Tiny, tiny little beads of aluminum oxide, which allegedly is what dermatologists use for microdermabrasion.)
3. Turn it on and smooth the stuff on your dry face, applying no pressure, just moving it about a bit. (The applicator is like a vibrator with a soft sponge attachment. Who knew!) Don't stay in one spot too long. Do this for 2-3 minutes.
4. Rinse your face with warm water, pat dry and apply moisturizer.
5. Clean the sponge with soap and water and air dry.

This process is to be repeated 2-3 times per week if you have normal skin, 1-2 times per week if you have sensitive skin.

I came out of the bathroom, and said to Derek, 'What do you think?' And he said he could see a difference at once in my forehead. I had him feel my face and he said it was very, very smooth and soft and he could definitely feel a difference.

I can't wait to see what happens when I put on foundation tomorrow!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

What is it about vampires?

I'm suffering from vampire overload for the last few years and am unwilling to invest my time or interest in all these postmodern vampire movies for tweenies ('Twilight') and Southern gothtastic TV shows ('True Blood'). They don't know from vampires! They've taken all the mystique and replaced it with superfast motion werewolf battles or writhing blood-soaked orgies. Gross!

In my day, our vampires were dead sexy, and gentlemen, too--weary and misunderstood, just looking for their queen to make eternal life worthwhile. Here are my favourites:

1. Frank Langella in the 1979 film 'Dracula'. Langella is the sexiest screen vampire, in my opinion. Although he is a frightening bloodsucker (the scene where he peers in Mina's window hanging upside is freaky!), he is a true Gothic romantic leading man. No wolf eyes, fangs or blood trickling from the mouth to be seen. Lots of soulful looks, fantastic droopy-sleeved chest-revealing shirts, soft kissing and roiling smoke effects, though!

2. Brad Pitt as the reluctant and brooding vampire, Louis, in 'Interview with the Vampire', continues Langella's tradition of the undead who yearns to be part of the world of the living. He's not sexy--if anything, he is ambiguous, being in love with a little girl and Antonio Banderas!-- He's just remarkably beautiful. Not sure if that makes him sexy, but I mean--just look at him!

3. Gary Oldman in 'Bram Stoker's Dracula', directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The movie absolutely awful. As someone elsewhere online remarked, Keanu Reeves bumbles around as if he's thinking 'What am I doing in this movie?' and Wynona Ryder looks stoned, but Gary Oldman is smokin'. He's not pretty, he's not handsome--he's just hot!

4. Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandridge in 'Fright Night'. Everybody remembers the girl who turns into the freak with the red eyes and horrible too-wide mouthful of teeth, but Chris Sarandon certainly moistened a few pairs of knickers along the way, I'm sure. Hoo ha!

So what is it about vampires? I'm sure people have written loads about what makes vampires sexy. It has something to do with the intimacy, the penetration, the latching onto something and sucking the life out of that I think about it, it's not so hard to figure out! Beautiful immortals. Dangerous to everyone except the girl they fall in love with (which of course will be you!). Eternal protection in their worshipful embrace and all that. No wonder they're so darn popular.