Before it’s Too Late…

HowlingThis is probably one of the hardest blog posts I’ve ever written.  But I can’t put off writing it because if I do, it might be too late.  It’s already too late for a lot of things, but saying goodbyes are never easy. I’m no stranger to cancer. I’ve bawled my eyes out at funerals for friends with breast cancer who didn’t make it. This time it’s a little closer to home and way more personal than you’d think it would be if you knew the person I’m saying goodbye to is on the other side of the planet. But old friends will always be old friends, and there are so many memories that come flooding in when I listen to music from the 70’s and 80’s, things that remind me of my youth.

I want to run away from the keyboard and go take a long walk, but I really do need to put these thoughts down, and share them, hard as it is.

Bill the Cat (Bloom County)My first boyfriend, the first guy in the world to ever take an interest in me and who thought I was amazing, beautiful and all that sweet stuff – he had just turned 16 and I was about 13.  We went to the movies. Lots of movies. Towering Inferno, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Muppet movies, you name it, we saw them. We dated on and off all through my high school days. I visited him in Traverse City when he was going to college there, I spent so much time at his home in Saginaw I eventually moved in with his mom when I returned home from the Air Force and my mom had moved up north in the meantime. I got my first job while living there, and later, found my first apartment and moved out on my own.

Time marched on, I got married, had kids, we bumped into each other and had lunch once.  More time passed and then we ran into each other on MySpace (I think) and later Facebook. We’ve kept in contact pretty much ever since.  He once offered to buy a webcam for my kids so I could Skype with them. That didn’t happen, but the offer, and the firm belief that no matter what, I had to keep in as much touch with kids (who at the time weren’t able to use their Dad’s computer without supervision).  And now that the kids are older, we really are in constant communication.

A few months ago, he started mentioning things like chemo on his Facebook page and I finally had to ask him privately what was up.  He has terminal cancer. The type that people don’t want you to know they have. Until recently I didn’t know what that was about, but I get it now.  And I will keep that info to myself. You’ll notice that some celebrity deaths also don’t mention the type of cancer. There’s a reason for that. But it’s not my place here and now to write about that.

He tried a chemo trial that might have given him an extra 6 months of time, but unfortunately it didn’t work and he’s now spared a lot of the extra trauma of going through the nonsense stuff people don’t even realise cancer patients have to deal with. In his case it was trying to get to the hospital the day before chemo to have blood tests, and then get a ride back to the hospital for the actual chemo and stay with him for the hours that it took, and help him home afterwards. He’s living in an upstairs apartment and planned to move before becoming very ill, but that didn’t happen and navigating the stairs has been extremely difficult as well as just living alone.  Thankfully his sister has arrived (after driving cross-country and nearly ending up in Mexico accidentally).  I’m so relieved to know he’s no longer on his own.

Over the last several months, I’ve been trying to find a way to articulate my thoughts on losing a long distance friend – a friend that’s been a part of my life for so so many years.  Worries about how I’ll find out…  Over time, there have been several long distance friends – some that I’ve only known on the Internet – that have simply disappeared.  Just last year, one of our regular clients and a breast cancer survivor disappeared.  Emails to her started bouncing and I found her domain had expired (very unlike her) and after a great deal of searching by several friends, we found that she had died, but no one knew to let her online friends know. She had no close relatives where she lived.  I don’t think that will happen as local friends have been good about letting us Facebook people know when he’s been in hospital and such. But it’s still a fear.

Thor

I also want to be able to say goodbye.  But not in a way that’s sappy or anything. I just want to say, wow, we sure shared a lot of memories together, I’ll never forget you and believe it or not, you’ve actually been a good influence on me.  I don’t want you to go, and I know you don’t want to either. I hope you are able to go with some dignity and I hope that one day, in the next world, we’ll be able to again pick up where we left off.  I will miss you, my friend.

Hand Tremors and Android Keyboards

 

Swype Keyboard

Swype Keyboard

 

Living with Essential Tremor sometimes means making adjustments in our day to day lives. My hands tremble, and sometimes my fingers will sporadically move on their own accord at the most inopportune times. This doesn’t seem to be a problem most of the time, but I have to be a bit more mindful when holding breakable things or walking back to my desk with a cup of coffee. One area of my life that’s been most affected is my use of touch screens on my phone or tablet, especially when writing.

 

I have problems with the delete key and I also have problems with hitting the wrong keys so that makes for a bad combination. Making mistakes and then making more mistakes trying to fix that is really really frustrating.  I’ve found two solutions that use the same keyboard app. The first is using Swype for general writing and if that’s not going well, it has Dragon Dictation built in so I can just speak what I want to say.  Using Swype to draw words on the keyboard avoids hitting the wrong key. The delete key is on the top row, so there’s less chance of my finger twitching at just the wrong moment and hitting the key above it. There’s still the possibility of hitting the Enter key which happens to me often in other keyboards. However, in the one app where this problem was most annoying (Hangouts), the Swype keyboard has a combo key with Emoticons for the default and Enter is a long press. So the likelihood of accidentally sending my comment while in the middle of editing a typo is greatly reduced.

 

Google Keyboard

Google Keyboard

 

Over the last week, I’ve experimented with using Google keyboard, Swiftkey (both the regular and beta versions), Thumb Keyboard, and Swype. Until recently I’d been using the Swiftkey beta exclusively, and my tremors have become worse over the time that I’ve used it. I really have no issue with the beta version of Swiftkey other than my fingers don’t seem to cooperate with it and isn’t the fault of the app.

 

Swiftkey Keyboard

Swiftkey Keyboard

 

My goal has been to find alternatives that make writing on my phone or tablet easier and less prone to errors. The plan: find a keyboard, plus a voice to text method (or app) that could understand and interpret my speech correctly most of the time. Bonus points for any apps that let me easily correct errors when my spoken word was misunderstood. Even better would be if it learned from my corrections. All of the keyboard apps have built in voice to text features. Voice recognition has always been hit or miss for me because I grew up in America but live in Australia now. I write using Australian English but still have an American accent.

 

Most of the keyboards use the Google speech engine, but with subtle differences. Swiftkey performed better than its beta version. Both were set to use both English (USA) and English (Australia) languages.

 

Thumb keyboard was easier to use for typing and offered more word predictions on the screen. It’s voice to text options included the ability to have continuous voice recognition or not. The”continuous” option was pretty much the same as the Google and Swiftkey keyboards. The problem with this was if it misunderstood a word or phrase, the corrections offered were never what I wanted and I had to backtrack to the keyboard to fix the errors. The other choice for Thumb keyboard would return me to the keyboard at the first pause in my speech. This would be okay if it had a dedicated microphone button, but like the Swiftkey versions to get to the microphone button involves a long press. Not very convenient for someone whose fingers twitch.

 

Swype

Swype Keyboard

 

Swype has a nicely laid out keyboard and really good predictive text. You can type by either sliding from letter to letter as you spell the word (‘swyping’), or tap the letter keys and select words from the prediction bar. The delete key is well placed to keep me out of trouble. It deletes whole words if you were using the swype/sliding method for writing which has saved me time and effort.  It deletes a character at a time if you were tapping letters to enter text; also convenient as it adjusts predicted words as you type or delete.  Last, Swype uses Dragon Dictation for speech to text and this actually understands most of my speech whether I’m taking fast or slow. I’ve been able to make corrections from the voice screen because it offers suggestions that make sense. Usually. Returning to the keyboard is a keypress away and there’s a dedicated microphone key. It seems to cover all the bases and I’m able to get on with using my touch devices without struggling.

 

Swiftkey Flow

Swiftkey Flow

Google Gesture typing

Google Keyboard Gesture Typing

 

To be fair, both Google and Swiftkey boards also offer ‘Swype-like’ writing but each calls it something different. However, Swype resolved more issues for me.  Google keyboard has a dedicated microphone key, but I really dislike its keyboard and predictive text.

 

I’m trying to stay one step ahead of my essential tremor. My experiments should future proof my use of the phone and tablets for a few years to come.  Do you have a tremor?  Maybe this can help you use your phone or tablets, too. Using the right tool for the job makes all the difference.

 

Links:

 

Weekends are for Wine, Movies and Doctor Who

Sunday - Wine O'Clock

I think we’re becoming connoisseurs of inexpensive Shiraz wine. This has been the ‘Year of Shiraz’ in our household. It all started last Christmas when we were at friends for the Holidays and our hosts had lots of wine, but the Shiraz seemed the clear winner. So I bought some for our Saturday movie nights at home and have been ever since.

There’s a Shiraz up at the nearest bottle shop that’s a clearskin named ‘Big and Bold’, made in South Eastern Australia, and really not a bad drop. I’ve been trying to keep it in stock here at home for weekends when we have Saturday movie nights and Sunday Doctor Who marathons.

I’ve also experimented with a $9 cask of Shiraz by Lachlan Ridge, which was so good we finished it in one night. On the same day, I found some Shiraz Cabernet and bought a bottle but it’s still waiting in the wings to try this coming weekend. If we like it, we’ll probably try the cask version by De Bortoli.

“Drink wine. This is life eternal. This is all that youth will give you. It is the season for wine, roses and drunken friends. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” – Omar Khayyám

I ordered a ‘Mystery’ Shiraz from OO.com.au a couple months ago and it ended up being a 5-star $25 a bottle Zonte’s Footstep Baron Von Nemesis, which was fantastic. My only problem with it is I could only enjoy one bottle with Rod instead of two because if I had more than a couple of glasses it gave me hives. (Not fair!) We paid $10 a bottle and it was worth it, but I supplemented it with $5 bottles of Big and Bold to avoid the whole allergy thing. (Sacrilege, I know).

Today I just ordered another case of 12 bottles, but this time it’s a bit cheaper. With a $5 discount, 25% off shipping and etc, I paid $53 including shipping. That’s about $4.63 a bottle. Cheaper than I can find it at the bottle shop up the road – and it’ll be delivered to the door. This was Berton Vineyard `Odd Socks` Shiraz 2013. We look forward to giving it a go once it arrives.

Life is short and we really should enjoy more of it. It seems for a long time we had a glass of wine only on rare occasions and special events. Well phooey on that. It’s time we spend our weekends relaxing and enjoying life.

“Age and glasses of wine should never be counted” – Italian Proverb

Pizza Crust

We haven’t made homemade pizza in a very long time, but for quite awhile we made this recipe and two pizzas every two Sundays. One would go in the freezer and the we’d have the other tea and a slice or two for breakfast on Monday or Tuesday.  I stumbled into the recipe for the crust last weekend and made a note to add it to online recipes so I won’t lose it again.  I think when we make it again, we might do smaller versions as we’re eating less these days – and this crust is definitely not low calorie or low carb. It is, however VERY thick and tasty.  I’m going to use it as a base for small salmon / garlic mini pizzas today.

Homemade Pizza

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pizza Crust
Author: 
Recipe type: Baking
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 large pizzas
 
A great pizza crust for those who like thick crust.
Ingredients
  • 290 ml (1¼ C) water
  • 3 T Olive Oil
  • 1t Sugar or Splenda
  • 2 t Yeast
  • 500 g (3¾ C) Unbleached Plain Flour
  • ½ t Salt
  • Handful dried onion flakes
  • Herbs to taste - I use about a T each of oregano, basil, mixed Italian seasonings and chilli flakes.
Instructions
  1. If using a bread machine, put the ingredients in the machine in the order recommended. (Usually either all the dry ingredients first or the wet first). Set it for dough and let it do it's thing.
  2. If using a TMX or a Bellini (or any other brand of thermomixer, add the water, oil, sugar, and  yeast, then flour, salt, onion flakes and herbs. Blend on Speed 7 for 5 seconds then knead for 5 minutes (Speed 3 on the Bellini). Let rest for 15 minutes, then punch down and knead to remove the air and gas in the dough then shape into balls and into pizza bases. Allow to rise to double size before adding toppings.
  3. We don't use a tomato based sauce. Instead I spread about a tablespoon of olive oil on the base and then add about 2T finely diced garlic before adding cheese and toppings and ending with more cheese.
  4. Bake in a hot oven (220c or 450f) for about 25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly all over.

 

White Bread – Bellini

This is the Jumbo 900g White Bread TMX 5 Recipe from the Thermomix site, cut in half so as not to harm the Bellini motor. It’s great bread and makes fantastic bread rolls as well as scrolls.  If you want a 900g jumbo loaf, Mix this recipe twice.  Otherwise, this makes a 450g loaf.

Bread Rolls

 

 

 

 

White Bread - Bellini
Author: 
Recipe type: Baking
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 loaf
 
This is the Jumbo 900g White Bread TMX 5 Recipe from the Thermomix site, cut in half so as not to harm the Bellini motor.
Ingredients
  • 185g water
  • ¾ tsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp dried instant yeast
  • 310g white bakers flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp bread improver
  • 1½ tsp oil
Instructions
Preparation
  1. Add all ingredients to the bowl in the order listed. Combine 7 seconds on speed 7. Then knead for 6 minutes (Dough Function). On the Bellini this is Speed 3.
  2. Let your dough rest for 15 minutes. You can leave it in the Bellini or TMX bowl or in an oiled bowl (covered).
  3. Place your dough on an oiled bench (I use a sheet of baking paper or an oiled bowl). Punch the dough down and continue punching / kneading until you release all the gas / air from it.
  4. For Dinner Rolls, divide the dough into the size you want (the original recipe suggests 80g each). Roll into nicely shaped balls and place on an oiled tray (I lined mine with baking paper) spaced nicely apart.
  5. For Bread, place all of the dough into a bread pan and be sure to push the bread down to cover the bottom of the pan.
  6. Place in a warm place to proof, until the rolls have doubled in size or the bread has reached the top of the pan.
Baking
  1. Bake in a preheated oven at 180c.
  2. Rolls take about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
  3. A bread loaf will take about 25 minutes or until golden brown. Tip out of pan immediately and place on a cooling rack to cool. Note - It will sound hollow when tapped in the centre after removing from the pan.

 

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