Archive for November, 2012

Confessions of a Frozen Yogurt Addict

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

I remember my first taste of frozen yogurt – vanilla, by the way – like it was yesterday. I was about 20 years old and strolling along the Venice Beach, California boardwalk, when I was lured to try a cup. It was love at first bite, for sure and for real. I knew the moment I tasted it that fro-yo and I would be having a very special, life-long relationship. This was about 30 years ago, and let’s just say that if frozen yogurt were a man, we would be married with eight children.

Being a “cake-and-ice-cream” kind of girl – after all, who doesn’t love a birthday party – frozen yogurt is a healthy version of ice cream, and the way I can satisfy that little child inside me who has a huge sweet-tooth, while not blowing out my daily calorie count. In my eyes, it’s a miracle, because prior to finding it, I had this idea that one must renounce everything pleasurable in order to be healthy.

Not so! Dammit, I love food and I love my sweet treats. Fortunately, I love jogging and eating salads, too. Can’t there be a happy medium with this whole food thing? I hope so, because as much as I value health, I think little pleasures are necessary for the health of my emotions. I know a lot of people who rarely to never indulge in sweets, and stick to mature and responsible choices of lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. I wish I were so virtuous, but I’m not. Given this fact, therefore, I’m all over the ways I can somehow have my cake and eat it, too.

So please don’t judge me, but I have a big ol’ large-size cup (usually about 18 to 20 ounces) of frozen yogurt every day. Yes, you heard me, every day! Most days, it is my lunch. Although I justify it by eating it as a meal, in terms of cost – and as one frozen yogurt purveyor expressed it – it’s like eating porterhouse steak every day. Oh well. It’s probably still cheaper than smoking cigarettes, and definitely cheaper than drugs.

Did you know that non-fat frozen yogurt contains active bacterial cultures known to aid in digestion and nutrient absorption? And that it supports cardiovascular health by helping to convert fiber to healthy fats that promote good cholesterol levels? Frozen yogurt is rich in essential water-soluble vitamins, including B-2, B-12 and B-1. And when made from enriched milk, it also contains the fat-soluble vitamins A and D. Not only that, yogurt provides essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc, which are important for the healthy formation of cells, bones, teeth, and for the function of the nervous and immune systems.[1]

There I go. More justification, but why not? I might as well look at the positive aspects of a vice I’m going to indulge in anyway. As far as sugar content, hmmm. I’ll get back to you on that one.

With all the years of daily experience I’ve had dabbling, literally, in this creamy treat, I feel like some sort of aficionado on the stuff. Vanilla and chocolate malt are my favorite flavors, as I tend to be a purist. Lately I tried one called “Salted Caramel,” which actually has subtle undertones of salty flavor. Remarkable and delicious. I rarely get toppings because, again, I’m a purist. The cool, richly-sweet smoothness of the frozen yogurt is enough.

I am fully aware there are haters who will shake their heads at this…well, addiction…to fro-yo. I’ve learned, however, that there are healthy and unhealthy addictions, as well as everything in-between. I might as well take ownership of mine, because the truth shall set me free. And my truth goes something like this: thank heaven for frozen yogurt! I love you so much I could just eat you up! And I do.


[1] Kassam, N. (2010, October). The Health Benefits of Frozen Yogurt. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/

 

Bichon Rescue: Him or Me?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

See how his belly band is coordinated with my carpet color?

Puppies. Those tiny, fuzzy, wide-eyed tail-waggers will steal your heart before you know what hit you. They chase around your ankles playfully, then spring into your lap, trying to lick your face with their little pink tongues. How can anyone resist adopting a puppy at least once in their life? I was no exception, of course, when deciding to make Oscar – a frisky, curly-white-haired Bichon Frise pup – part of our family. Besides, with three children already, I felt the deep need for one more breathing creature upon which to shower my maternal instincts. What the hell was I thinking?

Picking out a breed was geared around my allergy to dog dander, limiting the choices to non-shedders. My sister, lifelong purveyor of sound advice and my model for crafting “perfect family dynamics,” was raving on and on about the Bichon Frise they had recently gotten. “Daisy” was hypoallergenic and just the sweetest dog on the planet, my sister gushed. The entire family was in love with her! “She’s changed my life,” were her final words, uttered with just the slightest choke of emotion. I bought in immediately. Why bother with further research? I say again, what the hell was I thinking?

We ended up driving a few hundred miles to Arizona to purchase a pure-bred Bichon from a breeder there. Generally priced at about two thousand dollars in the pet stores, this breeder only wanted a few hundred dollars for a Bichon puppy. Oddly, though, the male Bichons were a couple hundred dollars cheaper than the females. I wondered about this, but figured I was getting a bargain with a boy.

Let me just say, if Oscar was a bargain, the Hope Diamond is next on my list of penny-wise purchases…

The kids loved Oscar, as did I and as we all still do. Chubby and friendly, I’ve never seen him snarl at anybody. He loves to sleep on our beds – especially mine – which in hindsight, I shouldn’t have permitted. Truly, I have learned so much about dog training and care, but nearly all of it too late. Oscar did attend “Puppy Kindergarten” and “Basic Training,” although it was during these classes that I began to heavily suspect he might be a bit resistant to learning. Many of the basic training commands, like “heel,” “come,” “stay,” and “drop it,” seemed to stay in his fluffy little head for only minutes at a time. I’m almost certain that as Oscar and I walked up to a podium to receive his official basic training certificate, some of those trainers were rolling their eyes.

I believe it is more difficult to train a dog when you have young children, as consistency is key with teaching behaviors to an animal. Perhaps this is another reason Oscar never was or is what I would term “obedient.” On the contrary, he seems to do pretty much what he pleases regardless of the tone, volume, or desperation of my commands. Unless, of course, food is involved.

Food. Now there is an issue of utmost gravity and significance in the life and mentality of Oscar. Is it just his breed, or are all dogs willing to fly between kitchen countertops if there’s a tasty morsel up there? For that matter, who would have known it was even possible for an animal no taller than about a foot-and-a-half to pull off such acrobatics? But yes, Oscar has shown his abilities in this area if food is the goal. To save our family’s food from this Stage Four foodaholic, we must always be mindful of putting things really high up, inside the refrigerator, or behind securely-closed doors.

We first learned about Oscar’s marauder tendencies when he was just a few months old and got the remainder of my daughter’s cup of chocolate milk. I had heard, of course, that chocolate can harm or even kill dogs, so I was in a panic! I rushed him to the vet, where he was kept for several hours of observation. Fifty dollars later, he came back home, certainly none the worse for wear. But this cup of chocolate milk was only the beginning of his saga of food thievery. Somehow, we can never be careful enough. His prizes have included an entire bag of cashews concealed in holiday wrap under the Christmas tree, twenty-five days of chocolate from not one, but two Advent calendars, two consecutive packages of blueberry scones (the second was to replace the first, but apparently still within leap), a whole rotisserie chicken, and a solid milk chocolate Easter bunny. Oscar has been “fine” after each binge, although I wish I could say the same for our carpets. The bunny escapade resulted in my losing a full day of work plus a $300 rug-cleaning bill.

Another small problem with Oscar concerns his skin. Did you know that Bichons tend to have allergies and hot spot issues, aggravated by their drive to lick the spots until they’re enlarged and raw? I didn’t. After all, angelic cousin Daisy had no such troubles! Unfortunately, Oscar has spent a good half his life wearing a buster collar, which people love to laugh at because of its resemblance to a lampshade on his head. And due to his “motivated” personality, I have been forced to get collars with greater and greater diameters, because he manages to contort his fat little body to get at a spot.

After unsuccessfully trying socks, bandages, chili-powder-infused patches, and sports tape to keep him away from his hot spots, I finally relented and took him to a canine dermatology specialist (whose office is, by the way, a drive of over 40 miles). This resulted in his getting regular daily medication with Cyclosporine and prednisone, not to mention antibiotics to treat the red, splotchy sores. Mind you, I don’t want to seem as though I’m complaining, but the Cyclosporine costs around $200 per bottle. And without fail, every single time I pick it up from the pharmacy, the cashier looks at me and says, “Do you know how much this costs?” Yes, and it kills me! I scream inside my head. Fortunately, I manage to keep a cool exterior and nod politely.

Because I feel awful putting so many chemicals into my dog, I have recently tried a food supplement which is supposed to improve his skin’s natural immunity. In addition, he gets fish oil, recommended to lessen his itchiness, poured over the top of his fortified meal every day. I’m still waiting and hoping for results. For the time being, though, when he is wearing his huge buster collar and breathes in your direction, the effect is what I call a “cornucopia of stink” owing to the fishiness. The family has learned to redirect the cone or evacuate the area.

On the positive side, Oscar’s temperament is commendable. He is affable to humans and other dogs alike, although after being attacked by large dogs three or four times, he no longer approaches them with his usual eager sociability. Reasonably smart (albeit stubborn), he has even fine-tuned his communication skills. When he wants me to get out of bed, feed him, throw his favorite stuffed animal, give him a belly rub, or walk him, he doesn’t bark obnoxiously. Instead, he either makes a sort of low grunting sound in his throat, or a high-pitched whistling sound in his nose…it’s one or the other, but it doesn’t end until I respond. Ignoring his “requests” leads to nose-shoving or paws/claws scratching my legs.

Oscar’s social tendencies sometimes get a bit excessive. I love his companionship, but does he really have to follow me from room to room, staring at me in anticipation of my next move to make him happy? The constant look of expectation gives me something of a guilt complex when I’m doing frivolous things like working, paying bills, or eating (of course). Maybe part of my reaction is intimidation, because Oscar has been known to express his displeasure with the status quo by knocking over waste baskets or poop on the rug. This is particularly true if we leave to go somewhere without him, or stay away a bit too long. We are almost sure to come back to some type of mess he’s engineered. In his simple canine way, he’s saying, “I missed you.” Thanks, Oscar.

Lastly, there have been some potty-training issues with our boy. Go figure. It became most critical when we moved to my condominium, new turf for him. Adding insult to injury, we also adopted a kitten around the same time, thinking this fur-bearing friend would keep him company when we were away. Oscar was not delighted, however, peeing and pooping his annoyance onto the floors of our new abode. To alleviate this problem at least in part, I bought a “belly band” which attaches around his mid-section to cover over the offending wee-maker. It is even more effective if an overnight maxi-pad is placed in the critical part of the band.

Many times, I have wondered how my desire for a furry, loyal compadre resulted in this four-legged creature with a lampshade on its head, lumpy band around its middle, and socks on two feet. It’s a question I’ll never be able to fully answer, I suppose. In the meantime, we make the best of each day and search for peace amidst the challenges. And in those lovely, quiet moments just before I close my eyes at night, I realize… How lucky I am that Oscar and my cat have allowed me a spot on the bed.