Thursday, April 30, 2009

Grumpy like a camel

I've been trying, in these blog posts, to focus on the things each day that connect with my soul. The things that make me feel good. Frankly, today was a hard day for that. The constant coughing is taking a toll, filling up my sinuses to give me a day-long headache, and pulling muscles in my neck, turning each cough into a painful episode. I haven't slept really well, for very long, in days. It all made me tired and grouchy today, blinding me to the small things that usually do my soul a world of good.

Tomorrow is another day. I have my Ashtanga yoga class to look forward to, and maybe tonight's sleep will be better. Today? Well, some days are like that.

Food log:

Breakfast: a bowl of apples and pears, dressed with vanilla yoghurt, a little granola, and ground flax seeds.

Lunch: large salad of mixed greens, spinach, hard-boiled egg, beets, carrots, garbanzo beans, red and green peppers, dried cranberries, dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and brown mustard.

Dinner: A combination slice of pizza and half a hot dog from Costco. Expediency incarnate, but not great food. Forgot my water bottle when we left too, so I had my first Diet Coke in weeks. I've lost the taste for what used to be my drink of choice. Too sweet, the thought of all those chemicals made it karmically unpleasant, and I really didn't like the jitters all that caffeine brought on. Well, lesson learned.

Snacks: two squares of Belgian dark chocolate

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On friends and good tools

I went for a long and speedy walk this morning, eschewing my usual iPod companion for the sweet sounds of neighborhood birds.  It felt so good to get out of the house and into the fresh air after so many bedridden days.  The dark and puffy sky looked like rain, and we could sure use it, but we'll see.  Such clouds have a way of scudding by until they break on the distant mountains, leaving the coastlands dry.  I can feel the residual congestion settling lower in my chest, so it was also nice to go exercise the lungs, too.   Hopefully I can keep this cough from lingering.

I spent a quiet lunch time with my team today.  I've worked with this team of engineers for years, and we're good friends.  We spent the time joking around, telling stories, and enjoying each other's company.  There are all kinds of healing.  Thanks guys.

After six years in this house, we're finally putting a mantel over the fireplace.  We found a place in town that sells reclaimed lumber; enormous beams from old barns and other large buildings.  We bought ourselves a hand-hewn 11" x 7" x 84" beauty, rubbed it down with two coats of dark wax stain, and had a friend-of-a-friend make four hefty wrought iron brackets to hold the 150lbs of wood on the wall.  Our good friend, the general contractor who transformed our house from a 1960's shag-carpeted wood-paneled dotard into a 21st century open-floorplan abode, came by tonight to help us hang the log.

Let me tell you, folks, the right tools make all the difference.  Thirty minutes with his roto-hammer made short work of sinking a dozen half-inch holes in the fireplace brick.  And most of that time was debating the eventual height of the mantel, laying everything out and cleaning up after.  The holes in the brackets, which go through 1/4" of iron, need a little re-drilling.  He's taking them to a friend's metal shop tomorrow to go at them with a drill press and cutting oil.  So, yes, the right tools make a big difference.  But good friends are downright powerful.  Thank you, my friend.  Couldn't have done this without you.

Food log:
Breakfast: a cup of granola with ground flax seeds and 1% milk, and half an Oroblanco grapefruit.  Oh. My. Goodness.  This is the sweetest, tastiest grapefruit I've ever tried.  More please!

Lunch: one carrot, half a red pepper, and about 1/3c of the new hummus.  A turkey and provolone sandwich on whole grain bread.  One square of Belgian chocolate.

Dinner: leftover Beef and Bok Choy Hot Pot, and a glass of 1% milk.

Snacks: an apple

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Our Simple Life

I've just discovered a wonderful new blog (new to me, that is).  Julia and her family farm a piece of land somewhere in Northern California.  I find her writing witty and entertaining, and the subject matter right up my alley.

Head on over and have a look.  I'll bet you'll enjoy yourself.


A quiet day

Last night, I slept.  I remember waking up this morning feeling disoriented from the long night's hibernation.  Like something wasn't right.  I'd just become used to waking up every hour or two with coughing fits.  I'd lost track of what normal sleep felt like.  This is better.

I took a last day off today, to rebuild myself and store up the energy I'll need when I return to work tomorrow.  I spent time watching some good TV, reading and napping.  My wife has been so compassionate and understanding these past few days, worked her tail off around the house in order to give me the space and time to get well.  I love her very much.  Hopefully she won't get this bug too, but if she does, I'll be there for her.

I'm enjoying "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" very much indeed.  It's at once inspirational, and a bit melancholy.  It makes me want to get out in the garden and dig, but makes me despair for our nation's food supply, when I think about how big the problem we've made is, and the size and drive of the companies at the core of the problem.  I work for a big company myself.  I know well how focused on profit a company can be.  It can take tremendous effort to turn the ship.

On the other hand, external forces can cause the dreadnought to turn like a racing sloop.  When a new competitor finally made it onto our corporate radar, we changed strategy dramatically, realigned people and teams, and had a coherent response in the marketplace in one season.  That's probably the only way to really change the way American food works, too.  Changing because it's the right thing will be an uphill fight.  Changing because it's profitable would be fast and easy.

So what can I do?  I can buy more local products.  Not just food, but food for sure.  Right now about half of our weekly food budget goes to local products.  All of the produce, and most of the beef.  But we could do more.  It may well mean doing without what can't be had locally, or what can't be had in season, but it's probably worth it.  If I can help put money in the bank accounts of local organic producers, and keep it out of the bank accounts of the major food companies, I'll feel I'm doing my part.  If enough of us do it...well...that's the way to turn a big ship.

My wife took a nice picture of Mother Dove, snuggled into her nest.  As you can see, she chose a nicely protected hiding spot.  We can't wait to see if the pair has chicks!  If I can get one without risk to the birds, I'll try to get a picture of any eggs when Mom is away.  The safety of the birds come first, though.

Finally, the letter from my doctor came today, confirming in clinical austerity what the doc yesterday already said.  My blood work all came back normal.  Thank God.

Food log:
Breakfast: a bowl of fruit dressed with yoghurt, a little granola, and ground flax seeds

Lunch: an egg-salad sandwich (two eggs, two slices of whole grain bread, lettuce), half an apple, a chocolate-chip cookie.

Dinner: a slab of meatloaf, about 1/3c rice, and an artichoke with mayo to dip it in.

Snacks: a small piece of my dark chocolate easter bunny.  A carrot and 1/2oz baked potato chips, with about 1/3c spicy cilantro hummus.  Trying out a new hummus recipe this time, and while it came out a little thin, I like it a lot.  Next time I'll keep an eye on the amount of lime juice and try to avoid washing some of the garbanzo beans down the drain when I rinse them...

Monday, April 27, 2009

My body says I'm healing

Today I went back and read a few of my previous postings.  As you probably realized before I did, they're a little dry.  OK, really dry.  Some nuggets, but mostly just snapshots.  They read like the notes for a decent article.  Time to try something new.

I'm getting better.  Know how I know?  Because I started noticing my breathing again today.  And how the carpet felt under my feet.  And my posture.  For days now, this body mindfulness has been missing, drowned out by the louder voices of sinus pressure, the tickle in my throat that kept demanding explosive relief, feverish eyes and aches in all my muscles.  I didn't try to get back in touch with my body.  It just happened.  I'm getting better.  Thank God.

I had some wonderful news today.  While seeing the pinch-hitter at my doctor's office about this flu, I asked for the results of some blood work I'd been poked for last week.  All indicators, blissfully, thankfully, are green.  My glucose levels are normal.  My kidney and liver function are normal.  And here's the piece of news with the biggest warm aura around it: my glucose tolerance test is normal.  My actual doctor has apparently reviewed the data and sent me a letter with her conclusions.  So we'll see what her more familiar eyes see in the numbers, but WHEW!  What a relief.

This doesn't mean my lifestyle changes are over.  Not at all.  In fact I'm sure the changes I made during the three weeks or so between diagnosis and being stuck with the needles nudged these numbers in the right direction.  My family history hasn't changed, nor has my conviction to stay purposefully away from diabetes and cardiovascular problems, and get off my hypertension medications.  But I feel so much better, knowing that I hadn't irretrievably damaged my body already.

Life in the garden is thriving.  Mother Dove is happily perched in her nest, nestled into a crook in our Bearss Lime tree.  The tree is thickly branched and covered in thorns.  She picked a great spot to build a safe nest.  I watched a proud papa (or was it doting mother?) Black Phoebe feed it's chick today.  Black Phoebe's are insect catchers.  The hunting Phoebe will perch somewhere with a good view of the surrounding lawn or garden beds, watch carefully, then swoop down and grab an insect out of the air.  The snap of it's closing beak is loud and distinct.  Today the parent and child were out in the yard together.  Dad (or Mom...they look alike to me) would flutter away, snap up an insect, then flit back and pop it into the open mouth of the chick.  Amazing.  And much easier than getting my three-year-old to try a new food.  Maybe if I waited until my own "little chick" was so hungry his mouth opened at the sight of anything  Yeah, you're right.

I'll try to get a few pictures of our bird friends and post them here in the next few days.

Food log (which I'm keeping...this is mainly here to help me keep track of what I'm eating):

Breakfast: a cup of granola, plus 1% milk, ground flax seeds and bananas.

Lunch: leftover broiled salmon and quinoa.  That takes care of the last leftovers...we'll have to make that one again SOON.  Oh, and an apple.

Dinner: leftover chicken, beet, romaine and bleu cheese salad.  We made our own honey mustard dressing tonight.  Still working on the recipe...I'll post it when we've got it where we like it.

Snacks: one Robin's Egg, 1tsp cookie dough, a small handful of unsalted cashews

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I woke up fewer times in the night, but the cough and post-nasal drip are still pretty bad.  Hopefully this'll be over soon.  I'm still run down and very tired.  I wish my fuse weren't so short.  It's not fair to the kids. I have to keep reminding myself that, when you're tired and not feeling well, that's the time to intentionally work extra hard on patience.

My wife found that a Mourning Dove has built a nest in our lemon tree.  Looks like she might already be cuddling an egg or two, as she stayed put while my wife poked around the tree to see what pruning it needed.  While she was out there, Daddy dove arrived with some more nesting materials.  We get a lot of birds in our yard, but the Anna's Hummingbirds,  Black Phoebes, Mourning Doves and Scrub Jays are my favorites.  Mocking Birds, with their ever-changing calls, are lovely too...for about an hour.  Then you start to wish they'd go entertain someone else.  It is pretty cool to watch those little spirited birds drive off much larger crows, however.  I've never seen a Mocking Bird lose one of their aerial dogfights.

Spent the afternoon wondering when I'd start feeling better.  My fever came back today.  I'll call the doctor tomorrow.  Meanwhile, I watched a bunch of cake- and cookie-related Food Network Challenges on the TV with my girls.  On the advice of a comment left here, I decided to indulge a bit and made a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Yum!

Today I ate:

For breakfast: half a grapefruit, half a banana, one wheat germ pancake, dressed with butter, strawberry preserves and ground flax seed, 6oz fresh squeezed orange juice.

For lunch: half an egg salad sandwich (using another of our Easter eggs), half an orange.

For dinner: Beef and Bok Choy Hot Pot, and a glass of milk.  I love this dish.  Semi-asian style broth, hunks of stewed meat and a medley of veggies in a bowl.  It makes me hanker for the next box of produce from our CSA, as bok choy is a regular member of the cast this time of year.

For snacks: two (roughly 1" square) fragments of my Sees dark chocolate easter bunny.  Three chocolate chip cookies.  Not a great day for my waistline, but it was so nice to treat the family to some homemade treats.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Today I:

Slept better than the night before.  A few waking coughs, but much better.

Started collecting the water that runs while our showers are warming up.  We're using big buckets in the shower, then watering the garden with the saved H2O.  And yes, we're taking the buckets out before we get soap into our garden beds that way.

Put on my wedding band, and found it slipping.  I'm getting thinner (yay), but may need to have this band resized.  A good problem to have, surely.

Reclined the seat in my van, lay down, and watched my son sleep in his car seat while waiting in the odiferous breeze for my girls' horse riding lessons to end.  So peaceful.

Found that this cold, or whatever it is, has settled into my nose.  My energy is sapped and I'm running like a sieve.  If anyone can suggest a method of relieving a runny nose that doesn't involved anti-histamines (which are vaso-constrictors and not good for those of us with hypertension), I'd love to hear about it.

Today I ate:

For breakfast: 1c granola, with 1% milk and a tablespoon of ground flax seeds.  About 1/2c of strawberries.

For lunch: two slices of smoked turkey, two slices a provolone, a little mayo and a little mustard, wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.  It was an experiment, but I'm not likely to repeat it.  Far too salty for my new diet.  Now...wrap up some leftover roasted chicken with some sauteed fresh vegetables and THAT would be something!  Next time...

For dinner: half a grilled cheese sandwich on whole grain bread, about a half cup of mixed peas and corn, and a little pile of broccoli - the last gift of our solitary broccoli plant this year.

For snacks: half a cucumber, half a yellow bell pepper and a carrot, chopped and dressed with a little homemade balsamic mustard vinaigrette dressing (three parts extra-virgin olive oil, one part balsamic vinegar, and a heaping teaspoon of your favorite mustard. Shake well, taste and adjust to your liking).  One small sized Cadbury mini egg.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Today I:

Had (cough) another (cough cough) rough night.  I'm feeling worn out and tired.

Listened to the birds in our yard for a while.  Each Winter, I forget how much I miss them.  A couple of days ago a pair of Black Phoebe chicks perched on one of our windowsills, cheeping away for mama.  We love these little birds, and it makes me feel good to know they're nesting nearby.

Weighed in.  231.8 lbs, which is down a half pound from a few days ago.  I'm going to start tracking this, to make sure I stay in the safe range of about 1-2 pounds per week.

Took a nap.  Aaaaah.  Thanks to my wife to taking our son out of the house all morning.

Started a tracking spreadsheet, so I can chart my weight and blood pressure over time.

Took another nap.  My body is clearly saying "good thing you took today off."

Today I ate:

For breakfast: an apple and a banana, chopped up and dressed with a few tablespoons of French Vanilla yoghurt, and a couple tablespoons of ground flax seed.

For lunch: leftover risotto, with lemon and asparagus.  A small slice of leftover Mountain Mike's pizza (chicken, bacon, pineapple, barbeque, really, it's tasty, I swear).

For dinner: a salad of greens, beets, fried chicken pieces, bleu cheese and honey mustard dressing.  One of my favorite salads.  And...there's plenty for leftovers!

For snacks: six Cadbury mini eggs

By the way, I'm including links to the recipes, not to advertise and advocate for them, but so that I can track the nutritional information about what I'm eating.  I'm planning to do this weekly, looking back.  I'll compare what I ate to some good guidelines from Andrew Weil's "Eating Well for Optimum Health," then adjust holistically for the coming week (e.g. a little less red meat, a little more vegetables, etc.).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wanna dance?

I'm probably the umpteen-millionth person to link to this video, but I just love it so much that I couldn't resist.

"Where the Hell is Matt?" is wonderful.  All those amazing people, from all those amazing places, all over the world.  All of them dancing together.  Sharing in that common joy.

It makes me feel connected.  Like a citizen of the world.  Think I'll go out in the back yard and dance under the stars a bit...once my fever breaks.

Enjoy.  Take a chance.  Dance.
Today I:

Woke up with a fever and aches at 2am.  And 4am.  And 5am.  Bleagh.  My son's sick right now too, so this is probably a bug, but...I missed a day's worth of my hypertension meds two days ago.  Seems to me I might have felt this way the last time I did that too.  Well, if it happens again, I'll have this log to look back on now.

Tried to focus on the feel of the blustery wind on my face, and watch the gulls circle while pumping gas.  Not easy on a busy street, with the fumes in the air, and a chill in my bones.

Went to Target, and checked out without buying a Diet Coke or anything to eat.

Started reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," about her family's move from Arizona to lower Appalachia, and learning to grow their own food.  So far, I'm finding her writing style funny and poignant.  I love a good book.

Took a nap.  Not as much fun as taking a nap when well, but I'll take it.

Played a little Boggle Junior with the kids, while my little son walked on my back.  He won't be small enough to do that very much longer, so I try to enjoy it, even when he plants his feet and jumps off hard.

I'm still feeling feverish tonight.  Probably another day of rest tomorrow.  Unless I feel 100% tomorrow morning, I'll be missing my Ashtanga yoga class.  Too bad, as I really like the workout I get from that one.

Today I ate:

For breakfast: a cup of flax and pumpkin seed granola, with 1% milk, spiked with a tablespoon of ground flax seeds, and a banana.

For dinner: a slab of meatloaf, a pile of broccoli, a few roasted potato wedges and a glass of milk.  The potatoes and broccoli came from our backyard garden.  The broccoli we planted, while the potatoes were volunteers we found in the compost pile.  Nice surprise, that.

For snacks: six jellybeans, a slice of whole grain wheat toast with a dip of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and cracked pepper.

At bedtime: a glass of red wine, to help me fall asleep.  Hopefully I'll have a good night's sleep.

The big steps

I've been at this for a few weeks now.  As I mentioned, I took a few big steps right away, to kick off this journey.

I stopped going into my neighbor's office, to snack from his bins of free candy.

I stopped buying junk snacks from vending machines and convenience stores.

I stopped drinking soda.

I started drinking a LOT more water.  Sometimes I'll add a green tea bag, but mostly it's pure H2O.

I'm cutting way back on salt, and learning to love the taste of unsalted vegetables.

We eat very well at home. We subscribe to a CSA for fresh and organic local produce, we buy the rest of our produce from organic vendors at the local farmer's market, and we mostly stick to free range eggs and chickens, and pasture-fed beef from a local ranch. We take all this excellent stuff and work it into recipes from the pages of Cooking Light magazine.  My wife's an amazing cook.  You should taste her homemade breads!  So, I just changed up the proportions on my plate: smaller entrees, lots more salad and vegetable sides.

I started reading about Glycemic Index, and paying attention to the kinds of carbs I was eating.  So, lots less bread made from refined flour.  Lots more whole grain bread, pastas cooked al dente, and whole grains like quinoa.

Maybe the most important piece of advice my doctor gave me was this: you need to make exercise a priority.  Everything else fits in around it.  If you try to fit the exercise in around everything else, you're saying up front that other things rule, and it won't stick.

So, my wife and I sat down together and worked out an exercise plan that let both of us get in some cardio.  I walk in the mornings, or at lunch time.  I'm taking two Yoga classes (one Anusara...very relaxing and wonderful stretches, and one Ashtanga...much more strenuous.  A real workout).  And I'm doing strength training in the gym one morning a week.  So far, I'm loving it.

These are all terrific changes.  I'm past the cravings stage that happens when you cut out something you're used to eating.  I've lost eighteen pounds (40-50 to go!), and already feel a lot better.  More energetic, less fatigued.  Wonderful stuff.

So that's the start.  Now it's on to the path forward.  One step at a time...a little more each day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Out of Fear, Inspiration

A few weeks ago, I went in for a checkup.  I'd been feeling fat, and achy, and old.  The doc matched that ante, and raised me some more symptoms.  My hypertension was getting gradually worse.  My weight was getting gradually higher.  My blood sugar levels were gradually rising.  All bad signs.

All signs of something called metabolic syndrome.

Know what really woke me up?  That blood sugar level.

I've got a history, you see.  A family history.  An aunt, an uncle and a grandmother, all with diabetes.  Diabetes is one of those scary diseases that's incurable, and mostly irreversible.  Or so I'm told...I'm no expert.

But I'm not there yet.  I'm tending that way.  And I'm pretty sure that, if I don't make a change, I'll go the way of my family.  So, it's time to change the game.  Time to change my life.

Lots more exercise.  Lots less sugar and processed grains.  Lots more vegetables and fruits.  Lots less red meat.

It's a journey.  I'm making some big changes to get started.  More on that later.  From there, it's a step at a time.  Each day, do a little more than I ever thought I could.  It's like Yoga "practice."  It's like fishing.  It's about the journey.  About getting better each time you do it.  It's not about jumping right to the destination.  That's why they call it "fishing," not "catching."

This journal is just part of the plan.  My friend and sometimes personal trainer suggested that I write everything down.  Give myself a record to look back on.  A record of how it felt to be fat, and hurting, and listless.  A record of where I started, and how I got better.  A record I can use to support myself, and to sustain my willpower when the cravings strike and the motivation begins to fade.

So here it is.  Frankly, this is mostly for me.  But should you read this and feel the muse command you, I'd love to hear your stories, and would be grateful to receive your encouragement.

Today I:

Drove to work in silence. I don't miss the choice between fear-making news on the economy (NPR) and endless spiteful talk DJs (everyone else) on the radio at all.

Had a long, fast walk through a local college campus, in between blood draws while being tested for diabetes.

Found a secluded and beautiful little memorial garden there, one I'd never seen before, and sat in silence for a few minutes.

Listened to soothing music on my iPod all morning.

Finished the book "Eating Well for Optimum Health" by Andrew Weil. Loved it. Common sense guidance on how the body works, what it does with what you put into it, and what you ought to eat (and not) to be healthy. Very approachable.

Had a chair massage.  So shoulders and upper back feel great.

Talked to my friend (a personal trainer), sanity checking the exercise regimen I've decided on.  Thanks, always, for your support and guidance.

Started this blog.

Today I ate:

For breakfast: an apple from the local farmer's market, and a slice of whole grain bread.

For lunch: some tuna and white bean salad, and two small organic carrots with a pile of home made hummus. Yum!

For snacks: one little square of Belgian dark chocolate, an apple, and a half dozen walnut halves.

For dinner: the insides of a HealthMex Mahi Mahi burrito.  OK, I ate a little of the tortilla.  Had to have something to hold my favorite chipotle salsa, after all.