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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
A great pizza crust for those who like thick crust.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bake in a hot oven (220c or 450f) for about 25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly all over.
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.
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.
¾ tsp Sugar
1 tsp dried instant yeast
310g white bakers flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bread improver
1½ tsp oil
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.
Let your dough rest for 15 minutes. You can leave it in the Bellini or TMX bowl or in an oiled bowl (covered).
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.
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.
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.
Place in a warm place to proof, until the rolls have doubled in size or the bread has reached the top of the pan.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180c.
Rolls take about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
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.
I’ve been playing with a pedometer and trying to get more steps into my day for several years now. Some years have definitely been better than others – one of those things I’ve just had to accept during the times when my health has slowed me down.
My first pedometer was a cheap one that came in a box of cornflakes that I bought specifically for the step counter. I still have a notebook somewhere around here where I wrote down my day’s steps every night before pressing the reset. Sometimes it would reset itself during the day (Oh, woe is me!). The cheapy ended it’s life when it fell into a toilet when I was shopping at the mall. Considering it was just a cheap thing that maybe would have cost $3 at the time, I was devastated. It started a hunt for something better that wouldn’t get lost. I tried several that I could keep in my pocket and eventually my new smart phone, a Nokia N95, took it’s place.
I had the phone for a few years and had become quite used to take it everywhere with me, and relying on it’s records so I didn’t have to jot down my daily step count. I like it. Fast forward a few years and my new phone was of the Apple kind. There were apps that were step counters but in order to work, they had to be running in the foreground. That was a bit useless, so I went looking for real pedometers again.
I eventually ended up with a FitBit One, which I wore either in my pocket or for other times when I had no pockets, on a lanyard. The online Fitbit site kept track of my step history. Today I wear a Fitbit Charge so I don’t have to worry about pocket or lanyard issues and it does a better job at sleep tracking than the One ever did.
Trying something different…
So I have a little bit of experience. The thing I don’t have is a high daily step count. For a few years, I maintained about 5-6,000 steps a day by taking a long walk around the neighbourhood. The thing that always bothered me about this was the feeling that I could/should be doing something more constructive, or that I was missing out on doing other things at home. In the last couple of years, I took shorter walks and my daily step count goal was down to between 3 and 4000 steps a day. I’ve had a long standing issue with low hemoglobin and anemia which has made doing lots of things very tiring. It’s a wee better at the moment.
Today, my average step count is now closer to 6k a day, but I’m not leaving home to do it. I’ve made it a mission to prove to myself that I don’t have to leave home or use a treadmill to get a decent amount of steps in each day. To my surprise, it’s working, and rather well. So the rest of this post is about the things I’ve learned in making this work. For some folks, this might be a given, but it certainly was illusive for me, and I’m probably not alone.
Wear walking shoes
When I get up and get dressed (sometimes these two things can be hours apart), I put my walking shoes on. This is a cheap pair of shoes I bought several pair of at Kmart when they were on sale. I have full gel pads (from eBay) inside them. It might not work for everyone, but when I have shoes on, it automatically puts me into a psychological ‘Go’ mode. It also means if I have to go outside for something, I’m ready. This was one of the first changes I made when deciding to try walking around the house to get my step count in, and it definitely works for me. I accept this may not be helpful for some folks, and if not, don’t worry about it, go barefoot! Or naked! (Just kidding)
Pick a path
Walk around your house, look for places that offer a long stretch where there aren’t many turns. I have two of these. The first is the hallway that goes from our front bedroom to the laundry room. I can walk from the window on the far side of the bedroom all the way to where the washing machine is in the laundry. So I play ‘tag’ with these two spots. I also have a relatively straight shot from our middle bedroom, through the kitchen and into the office where my desk is. I can walk either choice and end up with around about 50 steps. If I mix the two together, I end up with about 100 steps per ‘circuit’. Do that ten times (pretty easy) and you’ve got 1,000 steps in.
Repeat that a few times over the course of the day, and you’ve reached your step goal for the day.
I usually set short term goals when I start a new walk, such as “I’m going to walk around the house until I reach the next 500 (or 1000) steps”. This gives me a something I know I can do in the next few minutes without it taking up all of my time and energy. Just ambling around the house in an organised way takes me about 15 minutes per 1000 steps. This may be less, but I’ve been the charts on Fitbit to determine how far I’ve walked in that time and it tends to have a spike when I go on these little jaunts that lets me see what I’ve done.
Make it a routine, build it into your day
This is where having my shoes on until I’ve reached my step goal comes into play… It helps remind me that the shoes are on for a reason. I try to do stuff at my computer in half hour stints and then follow that with another walk session. This has an advantage in making sure I don’t spend too long in one position at the computer, and the 15 minute walk lets me do a few household things or clear my mind before returning refreshed to the computer again.
One night it was a bit late in the evening and I knew I needed to get my steps in for the day so I chose to do 1000 steps at a time while my other half was watching the TV. I made sure my chosen ‘circuit’ included being near enough to the TV so I could still hear and see it as I made my way around the house. I didn’t miss anything. I took a few 10 minute breaks here and there to watch something but went back to it, and it really didn’t take long before I could kick off the shoes and declare myself done for the day.
After awhile, you might find yourself doing laps around the house when you weren’t intending to – it just happens. I think for me, it’s just an extension of the ‘what did I come in this room for?” and then just carrying on walking!
The thing I like with the silly house walking is I don’t feel resentful – I’m not missing anything. If something needs doing I can do it, I don’t do it long enough to get bored. I also do other things while taking my circuits around the house. Sometimes it might take a few laps to finish though. For example, emptying the dishwasher a few dishes at a time before continuing on my walk (and the same for filling it up), or folding something in the laundry room each time I pass by. Tonight I filled up my Sodastream bottles and fizzed them up – a process that took a few goes during my walk, but got it done and out of the way.
A few more hints and suggestions…
Don’t keep looking at your Fitbit (or other pedometer) for your step count. It’s like watching the clock. If you resist the urge, the numbers just magically go up and up. If you’re looking every few minutes it can be annoyingly slow in changing. I look about every two or three ‘laps’ if I can resist the urge. One thing I’d love for the Fitbit to have is an incremental goal. Like give my wrist a little buzz each time I reach another 1000 steps.
Set a reasonable daily step goal for yourself. Unless you’re already super fit and active, keeping your goal at 10,000 steps and not reaching it can be disheartening. Start with something you know you can do, then after you’ve reached that goal several days in a row, increase the goal by another 1000. And repeat. I’m up to 6000 steps a day, and as long as I’m able to hit this daily, I’ll update to 7000 next week.
If you’re a bit of a data freak like am, you can also track your steps on Runtastic and / or MyFitnessPal. I use the spikes that show on the Fitbit dashboard for when I’ve been walking for 15 minutes. If you hover over the spike in the graph for distance, it will show you how far you’ve gone. I average about half a kilometer for each 15 minutes when I’m doing the silly house walk. I take note of the beginning time and add that along with the distance into a new entry manual entry on Runtastic. Because my Runtastic account and MyFitnessPal are connected, so the entry automatically updates MFP. The only downside is that because Fitbit is also linked to these two, it seems to pick up the MyFitnessPal active time and add it to it’s own. But it doesn’t seem to double the calories burned so that’s good.
I’ll leave you with a comment from a friend after I’d told her about my silly little plan that seems to be working… “Thinking you have to leave home or use treadmill to reach your step goal is making excuses instead of just doing it!” Amen, sister.