Recipe Review – A busy weekend and Chicken Themed

September 29, 2008 at 8:42 pm (Recipes) (, )

I tried three new recipes this weekend and I have a couple more this week.  Recently, a bunch were added to my favorite food blood, Simply Recipes, that use ingredients I’m trying to use up.  Additionally, I’m trying to eat very healthy in between family visits and these seemed like things that would be healthy, if not completely then in moderation. 

First recipe is Sweet and Sour Chicken.  This recipe uses a marinade for the chicken pieces consisting of cornstarch and egg white.  This really did help keep the chicken moist and smooth during the cooking process.  I used leftover pineapple spears from Sam’s Club and I made 1.5 times the sauce.  Also, Tom and I ate the whole thing for dinner, so I wouldn’t try to stretch it for more than 3 people unless you are serving something else.  I think this would be a good recipe for mom since you have control over the ingredients in the sauce.  I used my cast iron skillet and it worked beautifully.  I will definitely add this to my heavy rotation recipe file.

This next one is called Apple and Sausage Pie.  Now, if you make this for a guy, I strongly suggest you just call is Sausage Pie – the apple part just throws them.  All day Tom kept asking me how the apples came into play and in the end, he really liked it.  Even had it unprompted for lunch the next day. 

I wouldn’t consider this a low calorie dinner, but then I just ate a small piece to compensate.  It’s quite rich with all the cheese and sausage.   I suppose you could use a lower-fat version of the ricotta if you were concerned.  I can’t stand the smell of feta so I only added about 1/8 of a cup, so I wouldn’t be able to taste it.  Really, it’s not that unusual of a recipe – it has a base of a pie crust, and who doesn’t love pie crust.  Then comes sausage (you could probably use chicken sausage too), then a topping of the cheese mixture which isn’t totally unlike the filling in lasagna or manacotti.  Anyway, it was tasty but it’s not a quiche if that’s the direction you’re leaning. One of the longer recipes with a baking time of 40 minutes, but not too bad for a weekend when you fell like something a bit more rich.

Tonight we had Chicken with Mushroom Sage Sauce.  Andrea, stop reading here.  I chose this one to use up some mushrooms from Sam’s Club.  It was easy to put together and it has what I call Restaurant Flavors – stuff that I try in restaurants but rarely make at home.  It was quick and didn’t use many ingredients.  I think I had everything on hand except the wine.

Now, either I measured the sage wrong or it calls for way too much sage.  I did have fresh, and frankly, for the amount you need, or that I can tolerate, I’m going to used dried next time.  It calls for 3 TBS of chopped fresh sage.  I used three packed TBS.  Blech.  I was picking out sage during dinner.  Once I did that, it was fine.  So I recommend adding maybe, at most, 1 TBS of fresh sage and tasting it before adding more.  I liked the sauce well enough that I could potentially leave the sage out entirely.   Otherwise, it was a good meal.  I served it over egg noodles, but totally up to you.  Again though, Tom and I polished it off (I used less than 1 lb of chicken though).  And there wasn’t quite enough sauce, or maybe juuust enough, so consider making 1.5 times the sauce.  But this would make for a great low-carb option, if you like ‘shrooms. 

Later this week (with guest taster Samantha) we try Chicken Pasta Casserole, Garlic Chicken, and Winning Hearts Winning Minds Chocolate cake.  Stay tuned.

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Better than being attacked by a Flowbee

September 28, 2008 at 4:41 pm (Dog Update)

I needed to groom Lola this weekend and I was determined to do it myself.  You see, she really needs to be trimmed about every 8 weeks, and I’m trying to time it so that when she’s in the kennel in December, she has a healthy amount of fur on her.  And as we’ve learned, around here they insist on clipping her all the way to skin and that’s just ugly.  So my goal is to do a trim myself as needed so I can 1.) keep her from getting matted so that when I 2.) bring her to the groomer later this fall, they won’t have to shave her.

I turned to Google for grooming tips.  Honestly, you really can learn anything from Google.   I searched on “how to trim a poodle with a teddy bear cut” and I found a great U-Tube video of a groomer doing the cut I wanted on a bichon/poodle mix!   She went through the entire process and when it was over, I realized it’s JUST like doing a sheep.  Same pattern and same approach, you just leave an even amount of fur all around.  And she had these really nifty scissors.  She called them shears, but really they’re scissors.  She had two pairs, a straight pair and one with a slight curve in the blade to do the sides of the body better.

On Saturday I found a Sally’s Beauty Supply store and got a pair of cheap shears. I got the longest they had, only 6.5 inches and I would have preferred some like the video lady had, between 7-10 inches.  But I figured I needed to try this once to see if I even could do it.  On Sunday afternoon, I set up my station in the laundry room.  Lola’s such a pro.  I set her on the dryer and brushed her out, then put her in the tub and washed her, then dried her.  Spice kept vigil the whole time.  She seemed really concerned, but Lola was perfectly behaved.  Except for the very beginning when Tom had to hold her down so I could trim her toes and shave her belly and pads.  But that’s to be expected with her.

Since no one responded to my email about a suitable substitute for a cattle blower, I tried using a leaf blower. Don’t laugh!  The leaf blower had potential but the battery pack was running low so I switched to the hair dryer.  The new one that Andrea go me has a very good cold setting and a nice focused stream of air, so while it wasn’t quite as powerful as a blower and didn’t get the hair perfectly straight, it was very fluffy and pretty darn straight.

I could see where having the longer scissors would be useful.  Because the blades are so short, my hand is that much closer to the body and my thumb kept getting in the way.  And the fur is very, very soft and fine, so it’s not like doing a sheep – you can’t lay the blade on the surface and move along.  Instead, the blade sinks into the fluff and it creates a “chop” effect.  But eventually, it started all coming back to me and I got smoother.  The chest and butt went well but I had to do the face twice – the first time I left too much beard.

In the end, it wasn’t too bad.  Not great, but I’m lucky in that Lola has a very forgiving fur type. Right now, when it’s smooth and clean you can see the imperfections, but I know that her fur will quickly start to crimp up and then the divets won’t be noticeable at all.  And while it doesn’t look great, it does look 10 times better than NO FUR AT ALL.

From the side, I don’t think the divets are that noticeable.  Do you?  (Remember, she had dark skin, so even a small divet will look worse because you’ll see the dark skin that much more).

Ok, it’s not great.  But really, this wasn’t bad at all for my very first attempt at clipping a dog.  Maybe I’ll use the old sheep trick and put a spray in the clean fur to help it be a little stiffer.  That would help a ton!

Every time Lola gets groomed, Spice thinks it’s a new dog and has to smell her butt.  As you can imagine, this gets very old for Lola.

Overall, this was very successful and much easier than I had imagined.  A big help is that Lola is so cooperative and well behaved.  I know!  Lola!  Who would have thought?  I’m half convinced that Diane must have used the tired and true teaching method when she groomed Lola – Brute Force – but I’m okay with that.  Right now, I think I’m going to continue to do this myself and stop taking her to the groomer.  With a little more practice, I’ll have it down pat.  I’m sure I can find a few videos on Google about trimming her ears so they look less puffy.  But hey, I got the ears EVEN, which is more than I can say for the last groomer.

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The Perfect Baked Potato

September 24, 2008 at 12:46 pm (My Daily Life)

Yesterday, I wanted a baked sweet potato (actually an orange yam) for dinner, on the of the soft delicious ones that you get in the south.  But every time I’ve baked sweet potatoes, they’ve come out tough or not fluffy.  So I turned to my best buddy, Google.  What do you know, Cooks Illustrated did this whole thing on making the perfect fluffy baked potato.  Unfortunately, to access the article you had to sign up for a free 14 day trial, but you also had to supply a credit card.  So I kept googling and eventually I found a newsgroup text link from like, 1997 or something, when people still communicated with each other in basic text forums, not in comments or blogs.  It was cute, in an old fashioned way.

Anyway…to make a perfect fluffy baked potato, the posters said that Cooks Illustrated found that you have to bake the potato without piercing it.  That’s interesting.  I’ve always pierced my potatoes before baking them, even if I wrap them in foil.  But Cooks found that if you bake the potato with no vents, the steam cooks from the inside and keeps it moist.  Then, as soon as you take it out of the oven, slice a cross in it and squeeze.  And you only need to bake for 35-45 minutes at 450 degrees and they found that you can use shortening on the skin or wrap in foil, but neither improved or detracted from the final results.

So I tried this last night with both a sweet potato for myself and a regular potato for Tom.  Don’t be a dunce like me and forget to put some foil under the sweet potato to catch any of the juice that runs out.  Otherwise, at the 45 minute mark, I took them out and popped them open.  When I popped the sweet potato, it was like looking at a candied yam from a can.  Soft, so very soft, and moist and beautiful in color.  I just added butter and it was great.  Ok, maybe not great, we should reserve that adjective for the times you dress the sweet potato up with brown sugar or apple butter or something.  But it was good and healthy and importantly to me, soft and easy to eat.  Not like all the other sweet potatoes I’ve tried baking.

Tom’s potato was fine.  He drowned it in sour cream and bacon and cheese, so frankly, I don’t think the fluffy state mattered much.

Obviously, this method is for the oven only – Andrea, Don’t microwave a potato without piercing it.  🙂  But since it only took 45 minutes, you could do that easily.  I think there needs to be more experimentation with this method to see if it holds in a variety of kitchens and circumstances, so if you do try it, let me know your results.  I for one will be eating more sweet potatoes since it was good and relatively quick.

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Leasing update

September 23, 2008 at 3:36 pm (My Daily Life)

In case there is anyone who doesn’t know – Katie decided to take Chaps back to school with her to join the collegiate team.  While I disagree with the decision whole-heartedly, I’m not the owner so I have no say and I certainly don’t offer my two-bits because we all know how annoying that is.  It’s the owners call.  Can’t help that the owner is an idiot.

Cathy, the barn owner, offered to let me test drive a couple of horses this morning to see if I would like to lease either of them.  Both are her horses that she has in training and for sale, but neither is being worked very much.

First up was this 8 year old TB names Jones.  Nice boy.  He does a lot of head tossing at the walk but as soon as you start trotting, he puts his head down and goes.  He has very, very smooth gaits and really uses his rear end well.  He canters better to the left, in the right direction he’s a bit off balance.  Overall, he has the basics down but is unsure of himself and what he should be doing (the head tossing is his way of trying to find the contact because he knows it should be there but you’ve relaxed it a bit).  I can tell much of his training will just be hours in the saddle, drilling and drilling until he feels confident that “oh, I’m supossed to put my head here ALL the time”.  That kind of thing.  And some ground manners, he’s a big baby and doesn’t realize he shouldn’t be quite so pushy.

The next horse I rode was Bling.  Cathy told me which pasture she was in and said “she’s the biggest, fattest chestnut mare out there.”  That she was.  No joke, she’s got to be 1200 – 1300 lb.  To give you an idea, I have the girth on Chaps on the fourth hole on each side and on her I couldn’t get it on.  Fat.  Not cute.  Ugly head.  And the kicker?  She’s the spookiest damn horse!

It’s breezy today (no duh) and all the horses, including Chaps, looked at one corner of the arena suspiciously.  There is a tarp on the other side of the wall so this seemingly normal corner now has flapping tarp noises they can’t see.  But where as Chaps and Jones investigated, calmly, once and went about their business, Bling would have nothing to do with going near that corner.   A couple of times I tricked her into walking calmly past it, but then the noise would spook her from behind.  And she spooked at something going back out to the pasture.

So even though Bling is the better trained, more advanced horse of the two, I prefer Jones.  I don’t like dealing with spooky horses.  They un-nerve me.  Geldings are so level-headed and Jones just handled things much better.  Additionally, and more importantly, I’d like to try my hand at working with a greener horse and seeing how much and how well I can improve it.  A mini-project for me and Jones seems like a very willing horse.  He’s trained as a hunter and he’s got nice movement and in the end, I think he’ll be the flashier of the two.  And I think my girth might fit him.

I’m going to do one last lesson on Chaps in about a week to work on my technique, and then I will begin riding Jones.  Should be intersting.  Except I think he stays in the field so I might have to go soon to Fleet Farm and get some rubber muck boots, which I was going to do anyway, just looks like sooner.

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How windy is it??

September 9, 2008 at 5:33 pm (Dog Update)

I know, you’ve heard me complain about the wind, but seriously, it’s windy a lot out here. We had Wind Storms in Washington and those were events, something that didn’t occur on a regular basis, and they were strong and people avoided going out in them. Here the wind is so pervasive that while not at the same strength, it gets tiring. They tell me this has something to do with being in the upper plains and not having anything, like mountains, to break the wind up.

Here is a picture (poor) of me and Tom on the front porch.

Notice anything?

Those ears! It’s a good thing I was holding on to her.

On other non-related notes – do you remember me posting once before how annoying Tom can get during commercial breaks and how he uses that time to annoy/lavish attention on the dogs? And how sometimes even the dogs find him annoying? Well, it happened again last night.

We were watching the Packers/Vikings game and Tom was in a mood. One by one, he started alienating every one of us. First Spice, since she’s always his first target. It says something when you chase that dog to the other side of the room and she won’t come over for you anymore, because she’s the sweetest dog in the world. She always comes for you, but last night she’d had enough and was in front of the coffee table, well beyond his wingspan, chewing on her bone. Lola was sitting IN my lap, not beside it, because those extra 4 inches were critical. Finally I got fed up and I took the remote control. I told Tom that if he didn’t start behaving, i.e. stop annoying us, I was going to change the channel to Platinum Weddings.

What did he to? He grabbed my cross stitching bag and started tossing my little baggies of floss on the floor. And I have a lot of baggies in there. One by one, he would wave the baggie around before tossing it on the floor. All while I scrolled through channels trying to find something sufficiently soul sucking. Mature, aren’t we?

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Chaps – the novel

September 8, 2008 at 10:10 am (My Daily Life)

An update on what I’ve been doing with Chaps over the past few months.  Chaps, if you remember, is the horse I lease – a 20 year old chestnut thoroughbred gelding.  His owner, Katie, was home for the summer and was jumping him.  Chaps doesn’t like jumping; Katie was tossed off several times this summer, but from what I could tell that was more her fault than his.  Katie finally, finally, went back to school a couple of weeks ago and life has improved greatly for both me and chaps.

First, with Katie gone I can use her tack space to store my stuff.  I was annoyed that earlier this summer, Katie sold one of the saddle pads I was using for Chaps.  She said didn’t know that I was using it.  However, at the same time his size medium shin guards and all his brushes went missing.  I have a feeling she sold the shin guards; she was using a size large but they don’t fit as well and I don’t know why she didn’t see that.  I’m clueless about the brushes.  But now I have cleaned out her tack cubby and have all my stuff stored in there, and I have a saddle rack to use so I’m no longer toting around a huge armful of stuff in the back of my car.  It was getting to be quite cumbersome, in addition to smelly in the car.

Chaps is happy that Katie is gone because it means he doesn’t have to jump anymore!  I called Katie around the end of August to verify something and she mentioned that if possible, she would like to have Chaps shipped to her school in Kentucky so she could compete on the collegiate eventing team.  Her ultimate desire was to keep Chaps in some sort of jumping training, whether with her or at the barn through lessons or another leasee.  Being that my interests lie in keeping Chaps at the barn, I immediately emailed Cathy, the owner of the barn, to get her working on keeping Chaps there.

Cathy was appalled.  She called Katie’s mom and explained the facts.  If Katie took Chaps to Kentucky, one or both of her parents would by flying down there before the end of the year to check Katie out of the hospital.  You see, I never see Chaps jump or anyone else ride him.  I don’t know what he’s like.  With me, he’s a perfect, perfect gentleman.  But Cathy thinks Chaps is in pain when he jumps and therefore rushes the fence and will either go through the fence or jump it, but either way, it’s very dangerous and you never quite know which one it will be.  Katie jumps because under supervision and training, but eventing would be the worst thing for him.  First, it’s timed and you are encouraged to go faster.  Second, you are jumping natural obstacles like logs – those things are not going to knock down nicely if the horse hits it; it’s going to be a nasty collision.  Katie’s mom agreed with Cathy’s assessment and called to assure me that Chaps will remain available and if anything, they would consider purchasing Katie another, more suitable horse (I won’t even go there).

In the first week that Katie was gone, Chap’s canter, which we’d been working on for three weeks, improved 100%.  I’m not kidding, it was a complete turn around.  All his other work got better too.  He improved so quickly that I found myself needing another lesson, so I met again with Janna yesterday.

Janna was impressed.  She had nothing but good things to say about him from start to end.  He apparently has a wonderful walk.  I know that seems like a “duh” statement, but many horses who are stiff in their back do not have a true, measured, 4-beat walk and Chaps does.  We joked that at this point, we just don’t want to screw that up.  His pace, impulsion and extension at the trot are spot on.  He’s balanced, forward, round and flexible at the canter.  All the stuff we were working on were things concerning my position, which because he’s so responsive, will also help improve him.  I have a few things to work on myself and then we are going to turn to more difficult dressage movements.  Her last comment was that he’s turning out to have some really great dressage movements in him, and then she was super impressed to learn that he’s 20.

All this got me to thinking how terribly unfair it is that I’m putting all this effort and real improvement into a horse that not only do I not own, but is likely to be sold this spring.  And he’s actually going to be worth something this spring.  He’s gone from an pretty dangerous hunter horse, one that should only be ridden by “experienced” riders, to a calm, flexible, talented dressage horse, and by this spring will be able to compete and win ribbons.  And I get nothing but personal satisfaction out of it, which is tempered by the fact that the owner doesn’t care and is likely to screw him up, make him sore, or otherwise hurt him every time she comes home on a break.

I don’t want to buy Chaps. I was offered but I would never buy a 20 year old horse.  He’s getting over his soreness from the jumping and he’s not lame, but he’s old and he won’t have any future resale value and it’s too risky, health wise.  But I have real sense of pride, and faux-ownership about him, and yet he’s not mine and I can’t get too attached to him.  I think that’s what’s happening here and I’m slow to recognize it.  I’m getting attached to a horse.

I didn’t think that was possible; ever since I sold Jewel I’ve been able to maintain my distance and view horses as a tool.  I’ve been able to remain impartial about a horse and respect the boundaries of owner and leasee.  But I’m in a situation where I don’t respect the owner and disagree with her training and technique, and because Chaps is a very nice horse, a very skilled horse, and has a personality that meshes well with mine, I’m becoming attached to him and want to see him in a good situation and excelling – preferable with me – but I still don’t want to buy him.

This is new, and it’s weird.  I didn’t see this coming and didn’t think it would happen.  The situation is what is it is – he’s not mine but he’s the best option I have, so I can only continue to train him (because that’s what it’s become, training, not conditioning) and if the owners sell him, know that I made him a better, safer, sounder horse.  If no one recognizes the effort I put into him other than those in tune at the barn, then I have to live with that – if I want recognition and acolades, I need to show and I don’t think I want to do that.

I’ve done the math over and over in my head – there is NO money to be made in purchasing a horse.  None.  Even if I puchased Chaps on the cheap (which I could), by April when people would consider purchasing a horse, I would have only increased his value by maybe $1000 considering his advanced age and lack of dressage show experience.  With board at $400/month, I’ve actually lost $1400 (plus shoes, vet, etc).  See – not worth it.  Unless you own your own facility or can get board much, much cheaper, you don’t make money on flipping these kinds of horses.  There was a cutie horse I was looking at last spring that I could have bought for a project, but again the time it would have taken to train her would have negated any profit or break-even point.

The only other option is to encourage people to let me ride for free since I’m training their horse, and I don’t like that option.  First, I’m not a trainer and I don’t pretend to be.  I only ride safe horses and if a horse has a dangerous problem, I get off.  Also, leasing offers me protection against any injury the horse gets, and that as we know, is worth it’s weight in gold.  Most importantly – people in the horse world don’t let others ride their horse for free.  I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but owners usually view the right to ride their horse as a privledge worth paying for, and if they feel the horse needs training, they they are going to pay a professional for it.

That’s where I’m at right now.  It was weighing on my mind yesterday and I needed to share.  I’ve never ridden a talented horse before, one that actually shows improvement, and it’s surprised me.  Surprised me that I possess the ability to advance my technique and improve the skills, conditioning and health of the horse.  It’s surprised me that I would want to feel a sense of ownership again.  I know, everyone says I have the best situation, don’t buy a horse again, etc.  But I explained it to Tom this way – It’s like you were taking the time and energy to fix up the neighbor’s car.  You put your own money into it and took it from bad to good.  Then, the neighbor sells it, your out of your money, your time and your car, you got no credit for your work and you can’t claim any of the success.

Hobbies are something you do for personal fulfilment though, and while they don’t make money, you have to make sure you don’t lose your shirt in the process.  So I’m approaching this in the following manner; I’m going to treat Chaps as if he’s mine – I will ride and care for him the way I would want my own horse to be, except that I don’t have to foot the bill (whohoo!!). I will train him over the winter and push to see how far he goes, both to challenge myself and challenge him.  And if the owners sell him in the spring, I will move on.  Perhaps the impression I make over the winter and the improvement I show in Chaps will open doors to leasing other, perhaps better horses.  If it doesn’t I will know that I possess an arsenal of skills to find another project lease horse and begin the process all over again.  And I can still like Chaps and feel a sense of fondness toward him because that’s okay.  He isn’t a pet and Lola is glad to hear he doesn’t even begin to compete with the affection I feel toward her, but I don’t have to view Chaps as the machine I use to keep myself in shape, or just another rotating horse with problems that I’m taking a lesson on.  It’s okay to view him as more special than the 13 hand pony that bucks every time I canter or the middle-aged TB with pins in his legs, or the shoulder-bulging hunter horse I was trying to jump.  Is it any wonder with that cast of characters that I never developed a sense of connection with my mount??

And now that I’ve said all this, Chaps is probably going to toss me on my butt tomorrow and I’ll get angry and threaten him with the glue factory.  Such is life.

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Local Weather – is this the beginning??

September 3, 2008 at 11:54 am (Uncategorized)

Last weekend we had some really lovely weather for Andrea’s visit. I’m sure it was planned just for Andrea. I think Sunday was the hottest day when it was in the upper 80’s, but it was really windy. As usual. When we went to the figure-8 races at the car track, the nighttime weather was perfect, not too hot, not too cool. Then Andrea left and took the warm weather with her.

I woke late yesterday, Tuesday, and headed off to the barn around 8:30. It was really, really muggy and already over 80 degrees. Poor Chaps was already sweating when I took off his fly sheet. It was so humid that it it changed to rain while we were riding and it was refreshing having a slightly cooler breeze move through the arena, in addition to the lower humidity. But then the rain stopped and the humidity crept back up. It rained again when I got home and at this point, around noon, I let the hot dogs back in the house and turned on the a/c.

Watching the local news over dinner, I was flabbergasted to see the local temp at the bottom of the screen said 66. WTF?? I finished eating and went outside. Sure enough, the storm had pushed all the hot muggy air through and it was cold and crisp outside. So I opened up the whole house and in 40 minutes the inside of the house went from 75 degrees to 71. Wow.

Tom of course bitched and moaned that I was leaving windows open when we went to bed – even though I dug out the controls for the electric blanket and plugged in his precious. Which of course was plugged in backwards so in the middle of the night MY side was on fire and he’d tossed off all his blankets. Cold much?? But it was GLORIOUS waking up with the heavier weight of blankets and cold sheets. So what if I need a sweater, I love sleeping in the cold.

But the temperature in the house continues to fall. It was 68 degrees at 8:30 this morning and I just got up for a jacket and it’s 66. Hmm…at some point even I might crack and close some windows. I checked the weather and it’s not going to get over 70 degrees until September 12! Even then only 75! What happened to the hot weather?! I’m not ready for fall, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not! I like warmth. I want it to be 80 during the day and 60 at night. Pouting.

Can’t tell if Lola is cold or not. She’s sunning herself on the comfy patio furniture. But my fingertips are cold and my nose may or may not be a little red.

*UPDATE*  Four hours after posting this, at 2:30 p.m., I was freezing.  Shivering, huddled over my computer with the blanket curled around my face.  I really, really want to turn the heat on – 66 degrees it too cold for a house.  But I can’t figure out how it can be that cold – it’s just not computing.  But since my back is aching from the cold, I must do something.  So I put my blue robe on top of all my other clothes.  That has been helping.  I’m now able to sit up straight.  Now I need to bribe the heat dispensing poodle to sit on my lap.

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