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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

**RESOURCES** Chronic Disease Support Groups

Sorry, all. Haven't been posting because my sarc has been raging and keeping me too wiped out to get up and about much. Still pretty exhausted and feeling super cruddy, but wanted to share a couple of helpful resources for those living with chronic diseases. Since I am wiped out and writing this from the bed, I will keep it short.

  • Inspire is a site of groups and communities for people dealing with all kinds of illnesses. Sarcoidosis brought me there, and the people are very supportive.
  • Facebook group, Sarcoidosis UK is awesome. Nice to communicate with people who understand. We share wellness info and commiserate about the lack of awareness in society and the medical profession. Felt weird to join a UK based group, but I'm glad I did. The next 2 groups are also on Facebook:
  • Sarcoidosis Support Group This is the smallest of the 3 groups and it might be a good starting place for newbies.
  • Sarcoidosis Support This one is the largest of the 3 groups. There is a lot of sharing of stories about when and how people found out they had sarc. Helpful on days when you are wondering if you're the only one with certain symptoms.
You all know that I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. The groups are one thing that keep me using it. These groups are helpful mostly because they help me realize I'm not along. That's so important. Now that I have moved to another state and lost my original care team, I feel more alone with this disease. I'm often terrified at the lack of knowledge about sarcoidosis and it's sometimes hard for me to communicate with other people about symptoms. No one wants to feel like a "big baby" or to seem like they are whining. Even with your doctors, you feel like you might be leaning on them too much. At least when I am communicating with other sufferers, I know that they really "get it".

Anyway, I hope that some of you will find these resources helpful. Remember, there are support groups for almost any kind of disease or struggle. Reach out, don't give up, and don't give in. 


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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Out of Seasonal Sync

It's mid-late October and I'm just amazed by the weather in my new hometown. The evening temps have been in the high 40's while it's gotten up to 60 during midday. For a chick coming down from Alaska, this is just crazy.

I thought this great weather might be a fluke because, well, weather all over the world seems to be fluking out lately.

The other day, one of my neighbors asked when I would be getting a car and if I would be joining the Plow Club. Plow Club? Apparently, there is a guy who comes around to plow the parking lot during the winter. He not only does the plowing, but he cleans off the tenants' cars. And all that service is for a very reasonable price each time. I asked how many times a year the service is needed and was told, "Oh, maybe 3, sometimes 4, times." What??? Back in Alaska, we'd need that dude to just park his plow in the driveway for an every morning clean up.

Of course, I don't want to get too happy about having milder weather. It will be my luck that this is the year everyone will remember as the one when we got freak snowstorms every day.

Like I tell people here, I don't mind winter. I've done over 40 of them in Alaska. What I mind is a never-ending winter. The 4 seasons in Alaska were: Winter, Snow Breakup, Great Summer, End of Summer. Right now, I'm still able to take my trash out in the mornings without the cold making my nose run. Yesterday, I forgot to empty the garbage in the morning and some thrown out food started to smell. I made a midnight run out to the dumpster in my PJs and no jacket. I couldn't believe the mild temps. I actually stood outside for a few minutes to look up at the night sky. Wow.

Now, I haven't been taking many photos lately because I've been a little sick, but here's a shot I got yesterday while out looking for used cars.

That tree was dazzling
 This one is from around a week ago. It's out back of the building where the trash dumpsters are.

Probably taken mid-day

Nevertheless, I did make sure to get a nice winter coat and some boots for the winter. Since the weather will be (hopefully) seasonal and mild, I think I might not get as depressed as I usually do during the winter months. I still have my cheap little SAD light out, just in case!


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Candle Love and Candle Hate

I'm taking a break from writing to vent about my recent experiences with some candles I ordered.

First, let me say that I love a good scented candle. I've got a thing about fragrance and scented candles are a cheap therapy for me. No matter how sick or depressed I feel, a nice fragrance can help my mood.

Now here's the thing: candles can be so expensive! I'm not 'fancy' like that. I don't need a candle that, ounce per ounce, costs more than my food for the week. That's a real thing. This one looks gorgeous, but is a 2.5 oz, single wick candle for thirty four dollars. 

Eek, right? I knew this was going to be pricey because the description reads like it's for a rare 'House of Somebody' perfume. It has notes of "black-currant leaves and Bulgarian roses". For that kind of money, it ought to have 'notes of the only flower of its kind'. On the Plus side, it is made in France. Oh, well, that makes all the difference except I'd be paying with Made In the USA dollars that I can't spare. If anyone would just like to send me one of these, though, I wouldn't be mad.

Truth be told, I can't even afford a large sized Yankee Candle candle because they cost almost as much as Frenchy up there!

Just $27.99

Yikes! It's a candle, people! I know it says "Vanilla Cupcake" but you can't actually eat it and, even if you could, that's more than I want to pay for one meal...

So... $30 candles are crazy out of my price range. I don't see myself spending that kind of money on a candle even if I won the Powerball. But I will sometimes spoil myself and go as high as $10 for a large candle. I will and I recently did.

This candle had great reviews on Amazon and I loved the idea of trying a Baby Powder scent.

The product description (obviously written by the Seller) made me oh so hopeful.

 And just in case I had second thoughts, the "highly scented" teaser was reiterated.

As a product reviewer, I like to trust other reviewers because they have (usually) no incentive to exaggerate, right? The reviews stacked up as all positive. One review was even titled "Make your friend weep with joy". I wept all right. I cried over my wasted $10 while I ate tuna and noodles for a week.

After I finished crying, I went back and checked reviews again.

 Oh, by the way, I'm the only 1-star reviewer...

(I won't go back into my whole rant about Amazon tightening up the rules about compensated reviews. I mean, at least I never rated a lousy item as something to weep over. Maybe they ought to crack down on non-comp reviewers...)

So anyway. I basically stuck this candle in my bathroom and only burn it with the door shut just before any company arrives. If I let it burn for about half an hour, it covers the smell of any cleaning products I've used.

Next,going back to my lemon-based scents, I tried this candle:

It smelled exactly as described but, again, they were stingy on fragrance oil. It smells strongest and best if I use it on a warmer so that's what I do. My apartment is small so, after about an hour, you start to notice that something smells delicious. This one also at least comes in a great looking jar that I will be able to reuse later for holding something decorative. Still, it's ten bucks for something that I could only give a 2-star review. Too bad that after that other candle I wasn't more trusting of reviews since more buyers agreed with me on this one about the too-light scent.

I have decided to never buy another candle without knowing the brand. I don't need to. I always have my favorite scent in affordable wax melts.

The smell is heavenly! Also, even though the price for a $10 5-pack of these is right in there with those other candles, this is still the better value. For one thing, the scent is stronger and lasts longer so I only need to use 2 of these in a warmer. They will last at full strength for about 3 days before I have to add another single cube. In winter, I will put the used cubes in a glass jar and set them near a heating vent in the bedroom for a light fragrance. Finally, I will toss the old cubes into the bottom of my trash cans under the trash bag. Yeah, I'm frugal and will get all the juice out of these! Another plus is that, if I don't want to spend ten dollars, I can get 1 pack for two dollars.

You get 5 o these packs for $10 delivered to your door!

I can't even begin to describe how delicious this scent is. When one of my nieces visited Alaska and came in my room, she fell in love with the fragrance. I ran right out and bought her a pack to take back home with her. Now that I live here, I order most of my home goods (including groceries) from and the delivery people always tell me how good my apartment smells. One of the delivery people said they were going to look for the same "candle" the next time they were at the store. They were a little surprised when I told them I can get these at the local Walmart for two bucks.

By the way, I have tried a couple other Scentsationals scents. This is my all-time favorite, of course, and I like one called "Egyptian Cotton" which sets a romantic mood. My niece likes the duo packs from Scentsationals. That's where half the cubes in a pack are of one scent and the other is another compatible scent. Me, I will just stick with my lemons!

By the way, while I love Amazon, I would never buy my Scentsationals there. Walmart has the best prices so..

If any of you know of any other wonderful lemon or lemon-vanilla candles or melts, please let me know. They must be affordable and accessible.


Monday, October 09, 2017

**REVIEW** Cast Iron Tea Kettle (a true tetsubin)

When I posted about the cast iron teapot that I was sent to review, I called it a tetsubin in the title. I did clarify that in the actual post, but I'm here now to tell you about an real tetsubin that I broke down and treated myself to. It was only $31, but still a bit much for my budget. Oh well, guess I'll just eat eggs and toast for a couple of weeks. This kettle is so worth it.

Some of you might think its's not as pretty as the teapot. I didn't either, not at first. As a matter of fact, I almost didn't get it. The price was great, yes, but I could only find this particular one in the black color. I wanted red (to match my other kitchen appliances and decor), but... I just could not find another kettle at this price that had such positive reviews. Now that I have it, I love it. I never want to be without it.

If you read the post about the teapot and tetsubins in general, you might remember the whole thing about the interiors being either enamel or non-enamel. In short, cast iron teapot interiors are enameled and meant only to infuse and serve tea. Cast iron kettles (or tetsubins) are not enameled and can be used to heat the water and serve the tea.
This pot is different from the other one in more than the enamel. For one thing, this one is slightly larger (30 ounces) over the other's 20 ounce capacity. The infusion basket is larger too. Most importantly, this tetsubin holds heat much better than the teapot. The teapot could (with a little help) keep tea quite  hot for for 30-40 minutes. This one kept the tea hot for about an hour. After about an hour and fifteen minutes, it started losing heat and going lukewarm. 
You know how you have to spend some time seasoning a cast iron skillet? Heating it in the oven with a bit of oil at 400 degrees for a couple of hours? Seasoning this was similar. I had to boil some tea in it and let that sit for an hour. Here, let me show you how the manual explains why:
"the tannin in the tea and the iron which dissolved by the iron pot will react to form a tannin-iron surface layer , so the cast iron pot will not easy to rust."
 The instructions for seasoning and caring for the kettle are adorable. I love that, even though they weren't written by someone for whom English is a first language, so much detail was included. That really impressed me.

It took a couple of hours to season the kettle and get it ready for first use, but it was so worth it. The instructions suggest using the pot often in the first few days. No problem! I already used it three times today to drink about 6 cups of tea.

It's not just the idea of having a particular kettle, but using this extends the whole process of preparing the tea. It feels comforting to take the time to enjoy all the steps. Before, I was just boiling some water in a metal pot and pouring it onto a bag. Now, I am boiling and steeping and taking care to get the right strength of brew. I think the Japanese who work so hard have also made relaxation into an art. I've been dealing with a lot of anxiety and adjustment issues lately. This tea making process is a nice, soothing ritual of sorts.

Now, while this interior is not coated with enamel, there is this from one part of the seller's description:
"Our Cast Iron Teapot Features a Fully High Temperature Oxidation Enameled Cast Iron Interior That Not Only Makes Cleaning Easier, But Helps to Prevent The Build-Up of Rust And Oxidation."
Before I received the kettle, that made me think that I would be prevented from benefiting from the iron. Remember that cooking (or boiling) things in cast iron is supposed to literally add iron to your diet. Well, I found another part of the description that took away that worry:
"The use of JUEQI iron pot boiled water containing divalent iron ions, so there will be spring water effect, which can effectively enhance the taste, very suitable for brewing all kinds of tea." (my underline)
Also, the fact that it can be used on the stove is a big clue, right? The interior of the teapot I reviewed was obviously coated with enamel.

This tea kettle ...

So, it looks like I have found m perfect cast iron tea kettle. I'm really happy with it and hope to get a lot of years' use from it before I have to pass it along to someone else. Once I manage to save up a few extra dollars, I plan to get a nice cast iron rivet to rest the kettle on. Ha! First, let me just get through the next month eating on a reduced budget!


Wednesday, October 04, 2017

**REVIEW** Cast Iron Teapot (Tetsubin)

Before I get to the review, a little preface:

Just so you all know, not all of the products I have reviewed over the past few years were given to me by sellers or brands. I will review (and have done)  just about anything I personally buy. For one thing, I think that reviews help other people when they are trying to make a decision about a purchase. That's why I will review even the most mundane, everyday type of item. I know that someone out there might be trying to decide between an item by Brand A and Brand B and might just find my review helpful. I know that because I read a ton of reviews before I make purchases.

Anyway, I do get the chance to try out some pretty cool products that I might not otherwise have given a thought. Recently, I was caught completely off guard when I was asked to try out a cast iron teapot.

What? I had never heard of such a thing. My mother used cast iron everything - pots, skillets, griddles - but I don't recall seeing a cast iron teapot. I was definitely happy to do this review!

Another name used here in America for a cast iron teapot/tea kettle is tetsubin. If you're a hipster. If you're like Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, you just call it a good kettle. I like using the term tetsubin, but I now know to be careful about slinging that word around. You will see what I mean in a minute.

I was given the chance to try this cast iron teapot:

 Cute, yes? I think so. Problem is, I didn't realize how tiny it would be. I was thinking about Granny and her big old cast iron kettle. What I got was something very small and finely detailed.

No matter what that label says, this is NOT a tetsubin

It's adorable. Also, when you think about it, it's perfect for serving a decent amount of tea. It can hold 21 ounces of liquid, which is more than a decent amount.

But... teapot or tea kettle?

Once I was offered this, I had to go and look up information about cast iron teapots in general. I started with Wikipedia (of course) and gave myself a headache with info overload. Still, I learned is that this particular teapot is not what the Japanese would call a proper tetsubin. That's because this one has an enamel coating inside because the pot is intended only for brewing/steeping tea. If it were used to heat the water, the enamel coating would be damaged. A real tetsubin is doesn't have the interior coating because it is used as a kettle and can be heated over a fire (or stovetop). This from Japan Design Store does a better job explaining the differences.

Be careful when shopping for a tetsubin

I really do like this teapot. But that is what it is - a teapot. If you are looking for a kettle that you can heat water in and serve tea from, make sure you're not getting a pot with an enameled interior. That can be tricky because that information isn't always clear and not all sellers are as honest as the one I dealt with. They call the pot I tried a tetsubin on the actual tag but not in the online product description (like some less careful sellers do). By the way, I actually asked if this seller carried a non-enameled pot but they didn't have any. Darn.

How did it work?

This teapot is so beautiful  that it could be used as a nice piece of decor. It's not as heavy as I expected and I found it really easy to handle even when it was full The one thing I do have to be careful of is that the outside can get very hot. The handle is heat-free but you still need to touch the lid at some point. That lid gets real hot. Also, when I pour the tea, I tend to reach and hold the lid so it won't slide. Don't do that. The lid won't slide if you move slow.

There is a removable infusion basket that fits nicely right under the lid. That's great for loose tea. With bagged tea, I removed the infusion basket and just dropped the bags right into the pot. Dealing with that basket is when you're at risk of touching hot spots.

The first time I used the pot, the tea didn't stay hot for long at all. I think it started getting lukewarm after about 20 minutes. The second time around, I pre-warmed the pot by letting some boiling water sit in it a few minutes before I was ready to use fresh hot water to steep my tea. (Did that make sense?) The tea stayed hot for about 40 minutes. Not bad. When I went back and re-read the instructions, I remembered that I could have sat the pot on a candle warmer. So... the third time around, I didn't pre-warm the pot, but I put the pot on my candler warmer. That didn't really help. Maybe my warmer wasn't hot enough?

Bottom line

If what you want is an attractive serving pot, then this one would be great. If you are a serious tea drinker and want something super functional, you might want to look at a non-enameled pot. Most non-enameled pots are more expensive. There are a few in the $30-$40 range but you really have to look hard to find them. I wanted a pot that I could use as a kettle also, but didn't have the budget for some of the pricey choices. As an alternative, first look for "tea kettle" in the description, then ask the seller if the interior enamel is the "high oxidation" type that can be safely used on a stove top.

To be honest, I would prefer a cast iron tea kettle. I guess I will be looking around for one in that $30 price range... I just might have found one. If you know of something better, please let me know.

By the way, I want a full cast iron kettle for the same reason I like cast iron skillets: I was taught that using cast iron is healthy because it adds iron to the diet. Old wives' tale? Maybe, maybe not, but I think my mama would want me to have a cast iron kettle! So there.

This one that I tried would make an awesome wedding gift. This one came in the red I chose (of course) and a green shade. There are other pots similar to this one in various colors and with all kinds of designs. This one came in the red I chose (of course) and a green shade.

I rate this one ★★★★☆ because of the need to pre-warm for best results.

I had fun and someone is going to be getting a nice used teapot for Christmas!


Monday, October 02, 2017

**REVIEW** Lapsang Souchong Tea (Pt 3 Choice Brand)

Well, I'm down to the last brand of Lapsang Souchong tea I tried for this series of reviews. I've changed my initial opinion of not liking this type of tea to realizing that, like with anything, it mostly depends on brand. It definitely depends on quality - as is surely true of all tea!

This brand is from Choice Organic Teas. The tea is called Russian Caravan: a black tea blend that "marries rich Yunnan with smoked Lapsang Souchong".

So... still black tea, just smoked

I will let you see from the box where the Russian part of the story comes from:

Interesting, no? I thought so.

Choice brand flavor and aroma

This tea is the Mama Bear of the three Lapsong blends as far as aroma. It's nowhere near as strong as the Taylors (thank goodness). I wonder if that's because this of the addition of the non-smoked tea. And here is where things get confusing for me.

Yunnan is a region in China where (according to this), you can find China's oldest wild tea tree. There are different types of tea produced or from Yunnan. This box label doesn't let us know anything specific about the Yunnan tea they blended the Lapsang with. But okay. All I really care about at this point is whether or not I like the tea. And I do.

Like I said, I'm beginning to notice differences in quality. This tea is pretty decent. I can tell that this one and the Taylors brand are probably better than the Twinings. If I were to drink this tea on a regular basis, this one would win for aroma (not so strong), but Taylors would win on flavor. So, yes, I have done an about face and decided that Twinings is now my least favorite.

Bottom line

3rd place - Twinings of London
2nd place - Choice Organic Teas (came very close to a tie with the winner)
Winner - Taylors of Harrogate

Trying these teas was an interesting experience. I can't afford to try more brands unless I am offered more to try for free. If I do get to try other brands, I will do updated postings. For now, I will give Taylors the winning ribbon.

Stay tuned for my review of non-smoked black teas. I bought those myself because they are affordable and I drink black tea on a regular basis. Cheaper than coffee, I will tell you that!


Sunday, October 01, 2017

**REVIEW** Lapsang Souchong Tea Part 2 (Taylors Brand)

The next tea up in this review series Taylors (of Harrogate, if that's important to ya). It


On Amazon (which is were I get offered most products for review), this is Prime-priced at $6.28/box of 50 bags. Also, if you are purchasing this, it's sold as as "add-on" item. It's also available as a loose tea in a tin. Other sellers have it for various pricing scales. If you do get this on Amazon, be sure to shop around for the best price and seller. My sponsor was good on delivery and packaging.

What's surprising is that Walmart prices are about the same or, in some cases, higher that Amazon for this tea. Wow. But that is only for this Lapsang Souchong. If you decide (or already know) that you like the Taylor brand, the Walmart prices for their other tea varieties is great.

Aroma, Taste, Packaging

As you can see, these bags are not individually wrapped. I don't like that. I have a little basket right next to my coffeepot where I keep packets of tea. I have to store these in a plastic baggy - espcially because...

The smoky smell is STRONG. When I opened the box, that campfire-like smell wafted out. I didn't really like that, but I said I would try it and so I did. (This smells much stronger than the Twinings brand from the last post, by the way. MUCH stronger, IMO.)

I brewed a cup using 1 bag. The smell remains strong, but doesn't get stronger with brewing, thank goodness. I went mostly by box instructions and let this steep for 4 of the 4-5 minutes. I don't have a thermometer to see if my water was right at the recommended 100c (or 212 Fahrenheit). To be honest, I first thought the 100c was a liquid measurement. I should have known better but I'm going to play the Sarc card here. Anyway, my teapot was screaming so I'm sure the water was adequately heated.

Usually, I use only 1 bag of Bigelow's and get a nice rich cup of tea. I was surprised that, in spite of the strong smoke smell, this tea seemed pretty weak. That's probably not a bad thing because I don't know how a stronger brew of this would taste. And the taste was not bad. Really. Shocking.

The tea has a weak black tea flavor with a sort of smooth or silky smoky feel that lingers. It's actually pleasant. Next time I brew some, I will try letting it steep a bit longer to see if I like it stronger.

Bottom Line

I'm glad I got past the initial out-of-the-box smoke scent to give this a chance. If you are a true tea lover, this is worth a try. If you aren't kind of crazy about black tea, I would skip this. Or, I should say, I would skip this particular brand. I still have some other brands to try and I'm sure that there will be differences just like there are between the store brand black tea and the Bigelow's brand, right?

I give this one a 3.5 of 5 stars for flavor.


P.S.: I wrote these reviews over several days, as my fatigue and concentration allowed and just scheduled the posts. If I get the chance, I will be cutting open bags of tea to show photos of what the cuttings inside look like. I learned that serious tea drinkers take this into consideration which is why some of the prefer loose leaf/whole leaf tea. I will be scouting around for some freebies to review those next!