Monday, March 4, 2019


A few weeks ago was the one-year-anniversary of last year’s Ash Wednesday. Who cares, I know.

It was also the one-year-anniversary of my decision to quit sugar. Woot woot, I know.

Because of that, like I said back when I wrote about the chocolates I got from my dear friend in Luxembourg, I ate a bunch of sweets that day. Everything I had kept (in the freezer, just in case) over that one year, I got out and taste-tested on the evening of February 14th. Don’t worry, this makes it sound like a lot more than it actually was. 

Here’s what I had:

These are all the things I thought I should keep because I might want to try them at some point, if and when I ate sweets again. Because they were limited editions or because I saw them outside Austria or because they were made by a very special person who might decide not to make them again or because they were an important gift.

I’m going to now go through all of the treats, in order of eating, and rate them on a scale of 1-5 of whether keeping and then eating them was worth it or I think I would have been better off continuing to ignore their existence. 5 means “ohmygodthiswasperfect”, 3 means “whatever, take it or leave it”, 1 means “I wish I hadn’t just done that…”.

My grandpa used to work as a baker and Vanillekipferl are one of his specialties. Every single Christmas, my grandma would bake all kinds of sweets, but never Vanillekipferl, because they were his and his alone. Now, I’m the one bringing Christmas cookies and stuff to him and my dad, but he still makes Vanillekipferl. I make them too, but his are better. This Christmas, he wasn’t going to bake at all, but then spontaneously did it anyway. My dad was so kind as to bring me a few and I went ahead and froze three.

They were the first thing I had, because I wanted my palate to be untarnished by any other flavors and they were heavenly. It didn’t matter at all that they’d been frozen for a few weeks, they were still perfect. Melt on the tongue quality, just delicious. I don’t know if he’s going to make them again, because already he wasn’t going to, but I’m lucky even if they were his last ones to have had them at all. They’re what I strive to create when I make them – and when he tried this year’s batch he said I could take over. Heart exploded with pride and happiness, obviously.

Score: 5,000,000/5.

All of this stuff was OK. The pink KitKat was a limited edition that I wanted to try because of the different cocoa used. I thought it would taste special, but all I could detect was a mild tanginess, which may well have been my imagination trying to create something for me (everybody told me it tasted just like any other KitKat but with white chocolate…). That leads me to the white Twix, which I wanted to try because it was a limited edition and I was curious about whether the “insides” would taste different with another kind of chocolate around them – they didn’t. I know it’s now regular stock and no longer a limited edition, but they made that announcement after I had already got mine. The Duplo is special because it’s a limited Christmas edition from Germany and I hadn’t seen it in any supermarket in Vienna. The Christmas in the Duplo comes from the fact that it’s supposed to be Spekulatius-flavored. I say supposed to, because it didn’t really. It was just sweet. Which applies to all of them, the being sweet. This was obscenely sweet, though, so therefore the extra mention. Last but not least (I’ll tell you who was least later) was the Ferrero Rocher. Not a limited or special edition, not something only available outside the country, not a gift from anyone. But I used to love those things and I have them at home for visitors, so I added one to my collection.

KitKat: 3/5
Twix: 3/5
Duplo: 2/5
Rocher: 2/5.

This is the chocolate my dear friend Nai gave to me in Luxembourg, from Luxembourg, as a souvenir to remember our trip to Luxembourg. I had no idea what was in them beforehand, so each one was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. I figured it out by taste for most of them, but because the sweetness was the main ingredient for all of them, I didn’t catch each flavor. Here’s what I think they were, from top left to bottom right, although I have to say “alle Angaben ohne Gewähr” because I wasn’t 100% sure with any of them, except the caramel one.

Purple with white splashes: ...cherry jelly and milk chocolate ganache.
White with red dust: ...strawberry through and through.
Light brown with gold flecks: ...salted caramel and caramel cream.
Orange with yellow and black: ...crunchy hazelnut praline, nougat, and marzipan.
Light green with red and white: ...I have absolutely no idea whatsoever.
Red with green/black/white splashes: ...fruity jelly and dark chocolate ganache.
Dark brown with white, blue, and yellow: ...banana jelly and dark chocolate ganache.
Dark green with Colombia splashes: ...pistachio jelly and pistachio cream.
Yellow with red, green, and more yellow: ...tutti frutti.

Overall score: 4.5/5.

Important notice for those who think I’m crazy: of course I didn’t eat all of that! I tried and tasted and then shared what was left with my very-happy-to-get-to-try-them-too mom.

I like that I tried all of that candy, because a) it was mostly very good (especially the Vanillekipferl and the Lux’ian chocolate) and 2) it gave me the opportunity to make a more informed decision about how to proceed moving forward. That’s because the second item on my to-do-list for that day was to start thinking about how I would continue along my no-sugar path, to make a decision over the next few days. Should I continue with zero? Should I go back to eating “normally”? Should I find a way  in the middle? Lots of thinking went into this, but in the end my gut made the decision. 

Quite literally.

Gut decision number one: it hurt.

My stomach hurt. Literally. All night and all of the next morning, there was rumbling and churning and a bunch of noise going on in the middle of my torso. It was insane; I haven’t heard anything like it before or since. I mean, wow.

Gut decision number two: it’s not worth the stress.

I’ll be honest and say that when it comes to certain foods, especially “sweet crap”, I feel like an alcoholic or drug addict. It is very hard for me to control my consumption of sweets when I do not restrict myself and the thought of not having any rules in place like I did for a year was a gigantic source of anxiety for the few days I took to make a final decision. I felt tense and nervous and it was on my mind a lot, which is how I imagine a sober person feels if somehow they are confronted with their vice and no controls to help them out. Not that I ran out to get cookies and ice cream and dig in like a nutcase, but I did get to a point where I dreamed I had had some of the chocolate in my kitchen (that I buy for visitors, like the Ferrero Rochers) and I woke up stressed and more tired than the previous evening. I don’t need that in my life. When I baked the 106 mini muffins I took to the office for my birthday, I ate the last spoonful of melted chocolate that I had used to decorate them. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing. The bad thing is that I didn’t actually want to eat it. I just did it anyway. It made me feel bad about myself, angry, and guilty. And I don’t need that in my life either. The moment I decided to go back to zero, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I felt safe and relieved. That might sound crazy to some, but others will understand. Either way, honestly, I don’t care. It works for me and that’s what’s important.

Now, the final verdict: Zero*

What does zero with an asterisk mean, you ask?
Oh, you didn’t actually ask?
I’ll tell you anyway.

Zero* means that I am continuing the way I described in the post about not having sugar. There are two *exceptions: new things and special things. 

New things means I make something I have never made before and need to see if the taste is right. Before, I happened to have company while baking and didn’t have to taste the thing myself. If I’m on my own when I bake, I will taste what I’m making if I’m not sure the flavor and/or texture are right. This does not mean actually eating it, but it means tasting a fingertip or knife point and not wiping my tongue on a kitchen towel and rinsing my mouth. Yes, I have done that. Get over it. 

Special things means one or two of my grandpa’s Vanillekipferl while they’re fresh. It means one of my goddaughter’s first ever Christmas cookies she made with her grandma. It means one select praline candy in a famous chocolate shop in Luxembourg city. It means a small piece of a new thing I make that might be something I enjoy or a small piece of a thing I’ve made before that I know I enjoy. Like day and night brownies, for example. I only make them every few years, because they’re quite intense (in flavor and calories!), but I made them for birthday-coffee-and-cake with my family and had a little bit (off the knife when I cut them and an actual piece at work on Monday, probably around 3 tbsps in total). 

Those are my asterisk.

I like this. It seems restrictive, but it’s actually freeing.

You know what, I do care if you get it or not.
I actually hope you don’t.
It’s no fun.

But it’s all good now.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Triple (anti-)threat!!!

This is just one single blog entry, but it's a packed one.
I wanted to call this a triple threat, but it's quite the opposite of a threat, actually.
Only I can't remember what that's called, so the word anti-threat officially exists as of right now.

It will give you, like it did me, the opportunity to save three things in one fell swoop: 

your body,
your teeth,
your world.

This sounds very dramatic, because I wanted it to sound very dramatic, but it really does allow you to change your drinking habits in order to be healthier, to slow the progress of discoloration of your teeth, and to greatly reduce your reliance on single-use plastics and, in turn, their terrible impact on the environment, especially our oceans. All of this is out of my Not Resolutions post.

Three intertwined issues rolled into a ball of let's make the world a better place and give you a reason to smile the biggest of smiles, without feeling bad about your teeth! 

Q:   How can I keep my teeth from staining every time I have coffee, tea, or a sugary/colored beverage?
A:   Drink those beverages with a straw.

Q:   Didn't we say we would reduce single-use plastics?
       Using straws all the time seems somewhat counter-intuitive.
A:   Get metal and/or glass straws to use instead of plastic ones.

Q:   And what about my health
       How do these straws help me consume less stuff like lemonade or iced tea?
A:   You will have to wash the straw every time you use it. 
       Every. Single. Time.

Some of my metal and glass straws, with their cleaning brushes.

Drinking beverages like coffee and tea can stain your teeth and make it hard to keep them nice and white and healthy, unless you brush your teeth immediately every time you have any of that. The same is the case with colored drinks, like sodas. You might say that there's gum that helps with discoloration, especially for heavy coffee/tea drinkers and even smokers. But have you tried getting chewing gum over your front teeth? Exactly, you can't really. I call a scam... Using a straw, however, allows you to manipulate the fluid in your mouth to not even touch your front teeth but go straight behind them and down the tongue. Yes, of course brushing your teeth after every drink is even better, but, I mean, honestly... ain't nobody go time fo' dat!

Some people I have told about this immediately countered this idea saying that drinking coffee with a straw changes the taste of it and makes it weird and not enjoyable. This hasn't been my experience. Maybe that happens with plastic straws, but I've been using glass straws and have not noticed any weird taste changes with my favorite hot pick-me-up. Also, most glass straws are shorter than the metal ones you can get, so there's no issue of anything cooling down on the way from the cup to your mouth. For me, the only outcome has been the very positive one of my teeth not staining as much.

And it looks cool and allows you to take artsy pictures like this whenever the "latte art" isn't on point!

Using metal and glass straws means that you won't be using single-use plastic straws anymore. At least at home. I also have one of each of my straws in the office so I can also be more mindful of the environment, my teeth, and my nutrition at work. Because of crafts projects, I still have a lot of plastic straws at home, but I have plans for upcycling all of them (another point on my non-resolution list!), to continue as I have been doing for years.

Now to the health part. 

Fizzy drinks and sodas are not good for us, obviously. We (almost) all know that, but we (almost) all still drink them anyway. My personal vice is and has been for a while Coca Cola Zero/Coca Cola Light. Not only is this a terrible choice of drink, it's also full of artificial cr*p that is bad for our organs and messes with our metabolism and food-related hormones. Especially if somebody is trying to lose weight, contrary to what you might think consuming artificially sweetened drinks instead of those chock full of actual sugar doesn't help at all. Quite the opposite is often the case!

What I learned from #NoomArticles is that "our brains have trouble registering the difference between real sugar and artificial sweeteners" which means that "when we eat [or drink] something sweet, our brain expects calories to come along with it. When no calories come, our brain feels cheated, and we end up with cravings for more sweets to satisfy ourselves." Often that will lead to people actually ending up gaining weight when they replace sugary drinks for artificially sweetened ones... not good.(the quotes are from the Noom app article Dissecting our drinks)

If you know that the stuff is bad for your teeth then embracing the idea of using a straw when you drink it is easy-peasy. But that doesn't reduce the amount of cans or bottles we drink each week, because the elephant is still stronger than the rider (#NoomNerds know what I'm talking about). Using non-plastic straws, however, does. Because that elephant is not in the mood for housework.

Think about this: if you have water, you can just rinse the straw when you've finished your glass or bottle; at the end of the day, you wash it properly. If it's not water you're drinking, then just like it stains your teeth it will also get your straw all sticky, so you can't simply rinse it when your cup is empty. You have to clean it well. I don't know about you, but for me, that's been very helpful - I'm too lazy to basically do dishes every time I'm a bit thirsty! Automatically, then, my lazy butt switches to water and keeps the artificial drinks to a minimum. Laziness FTW! 

Of course, I'm not saying to skip brushing your teeth. Not altogether and not even during the day. I still do that, at home as well as at work. Just not as many times.

No filter, no edit.

This, now, is a smile that says "I feel good about what my teeth look like even though I will never stop drinking aaall of the coffee." It says "I'm mindful of what I put into my body and I'm able to take better care of it." And it says "I'm less of a burden on our environment and my ecological and carbon footprints are dropping sizes just like I am."

Sounds good, right?

Add-on: elephant and rider.

For the non-Noomers out there, here is who the elephant and the rider are: they make up the brain. You used to think it was grey matter and all kinds of cells and whatnot, but the truth is inside your skull live an elephant and his rider (all quotes here are taken from the Noom app article Tame your inner elephant). 

"The rider is our rational, analytical side. It's our self-control.
The elephant is our impulsive, irrational, emotional side."

The elephant rages for the sweet, fizzy beverage, while the rider tries to calmly explain that water or at least tea would be so much better for their human host. Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other. There are all kinds of different strategies Noom equips app users with to help the rider control the elephant while also keeping the elephant happy (from controlling one's environment and planning ahead for meals and snacks, to making sure all goals set are realistic and being nice to the elephant, meaning regular treats!). 

I quite like this analogy, or rather, this new science that completely wipes out previous theories of brain hemispheres made up of neurons and dentrites and axons and water and fat.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Hot and dicey!

This is not isaontheway writing, nor even Isabella.

This is Xanaaq,
the Furious Flame of the Deserts,
the Fiery Fiend from the city of Thraa.

Let me tell you a bit about myself.

I am Xanaaq, but my friends call me Xana. The “x” in my name sounds like “shh” – like the sound of grains of sand being blown over sharp rocks by the desert wind. I do not hear that name often, as my friends are few and my foes are many. They have names for me, too. Raiva, they call me in hushed voices when somebody mentions firestorms. That is but one name of many. It might be interesting to you that my name has a meaning in some of your world’s languages – and it is the same meaning for each of them. Xanaaq means fury in Somali and Raiva means fury in Portuguese. In my world, my name is a warning to those who would dare to try and oppress me or mine and a signal of hope to those who live at the receiving end of this oppression.

My story is long and complicated, but I shall try to give you a shortened version.
Just so you may know who you are dealing with; who Xanaaq is.

I am from the Land of Mnar. My family is part of the Tulipalo Tribe, similar to your world’s Touareq. We are a nomadic tribe, long ago exiled from Thraa because of mistakes made by our ancestors. This is a story for another time. We roam the blue and green sands of the Bnazic Desert during one half of the year and the Poisoned Desert during the other. Our culture and identity are rooted deeply in Fire Magic, which allows us to make use of and interact with the flora and fauna of the desert lands, growing crops of magical plants and communicating with the animals that dwell in the hot sand.

Being from the desert, I do not get hot or cold easily. I have heard of this thing called “sweat”, but I do not understand what it is. I have also heard of something called “being shitfaced”, but I do not understand that either. I know that when I drink Aguardiente, it quenches my thirst. And when others drink it, they become exceptionally talkative very quickly. Then they figuratively drop into stupor and confusion, sometimes paranoia, before they literally drop to the floor. It is a very useful thing, having this advantage over others. Especially when they do not know who I am and where I’m from and they believe they can do this thing called “drinking me under the table”, which never works. I can use my Magic to heat things, melt things, burn things to the ground. Among many other practical applications. We are taught the ways of Fire Magic almost from the time we are born, to make sure that as we grow older and stronger in our powers, we can survive in any surroundings and under any circumstances.

As a young girl, I was captured by Ilthmarians close to the border between the Poisoned Desert and Eagle Plain. Along with a sister of mine and two other girls from our tribe I was taken first to Ilthmar and then to Lankhmar. On a ship. I hate ships. I hate ships, because they travel on water and I hate water. It is the worst. I don’t drink it, I don’t touch it and I especially refuse to float around on it in a feeble wooden construct that might shatter and break at any moment, spilling every soul on it into the dark, wet, disgusting depth. Anyway, Lankhmar is where I spent the last ten years of my life, living in a boarding house on the Eastern end of the Plaza of Dark Delights, built snug against the walls of the Shrine of the Black Virgin. I do not wish to speak of the time I had to endure the hardships not only of a pleasure slave, but also of a young person separated from her people and unable to live a life other than what she was born for. For a nomad, living in a small house at the edge of a small plaza within the thick walls of a city, Gods, it is the worst. For a child of freedom, to be sold and bought and borrowed and lent, it is an indescribable terror. The only thing that allowed me to go on was the white-hot flame of the desire for vengeance burning deep inside me. It kept me fighting and honing my Arcane Magic skills in the few stolen private moments I had over the years, until I was powerful enough to escape and begin my quest for justice for myself and all others like me. Being powerful from my childhood on, you might think that I could have escaped captivity a lot sooner than I actually did. And you'd be right. But what you have to remember is that I wasn't the only one trapped in that dreadful place under those dreadful conditions and forced to perform the most dreadful of duties... Leaving so much as a day earlier than when I did would have meant escaping on my own and all the others bearing the consequences, which no doubt would have been horrifying. My only choice was to stay for as long as necessary to build up my power and hone my skills until such a time as I would be able to take all of my fellow prisoners with me. I couldn't have left them behind, so I grit my teeth and counted the minutes until I was able to orchestrate an escape for all of us and use my powers to ensure their continued freedom.

My life ended the day of my capture and began again the day of my escape.
Now, I am stronger than I ever was before and my powers still grow every day.

Communicating with your world has been a challenge both for myself and for Isabella, but we have figured out a way: dice.

In your world, there is something called RPG – role playing games. Isabella has recently discovered those for herself and become quite into the idea of pen and paper tabletop role playing games. Luckily, she has friends who play and are willing to have her over to play with them. Playdates like this haven’t been part of her life since kindergarten, or maybe primary school at the latest, but she insists it makes her cool, not silly-looking. What a nerd, right?

Anyway, her playing an old-school Savage Worlds campaign with the aforementioned friends is how we met. And dice is how we can communicate across the dimensional planes. I’m here in Lankhmar, Nehwon. She’s there in Vienna, Austria. It’s weird, but it works.

She’s really nice, too, and even got a special set of dice just so I would be more comfortable!
Actually, she got four sets of dice – for the four stages of fire:

coal – black
flame – black and red with flames
embers – black and red swirled pattern
smoke and ash – lightly transparent grey

I mean, again, what a nerd!

But it makes for some fun afternoons when we chat across the dimensions and our paths intertwine and I think we’re becoming quite a team as well:

I’m hot.
She’s dicey.
What are you?

PS: she made that dice pouch herself, it’s crochet with little crochet flames at the ends of the ribbon – how cool is that?!

PPS: You’re absolutely right, it’s not cool at all. Just… what a nerd…