Sunday, July 26, 2009

Summer evening fun

We had a normal, peaceful Sunday today. Church in the morning, followed by an hour of easy socializing with friends in the hall over donuts, then off to the farmer's market. Stone fruit are still king, and we came home with some beautiful peaches and nectarines. The peaches have been so plentiful lately that my wife made peach ice cream yesterday. So, so good. Today we bought six baskets of strawberries. Three to eat fresh, and three to flavor the next batch of creamy icy goodness.

We hit up Costco for lunch and a little shopping. Then I introduced the children to Return of the Jedi. Star Wars and Empire Strikes back were last weekend, and they've been waiting very patiently all week to see how the story ends. Empire is my favorite, for it's plot and character development. But Jedi was the clear winner with the kids. Must be all those Ewoks, and the big bad guy turning good in the end.

Exchange of the evening:

MIDDLE CHILD: does Darth Vader die in the end, or does he turn out to be a good guy?

ME: idea what to say..."Yes?"..."Both?"..."How the heck did you guess he might turn good, you insightful little girl?" I punted: "You'll see, dear."

This evening was peaceful and playful. We made some cold cucumber soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, then set the outdoor table for dinner. The hummingbirds were taking a last buzz around the honeysuckle. The crescent moon was riding high.

We had good food and good conversation. By which I mean that we had four different good conversations, each interrupting the other, often with our mouths full.

Then the kids followed the usual pattern, smoothly transitioning from outdoor dinner to outdoor evening play. Swings, pretend games and hilarity followed, punctuated by brief moments of irritated crying jags as our (exhausted) son lost this or that battle of wills with his sisters.

The kids are in bed. The kittens are snuggling up with us, overstimulated from a long day of attention from the children. My wife and I are catching up on email, facebook and my blog, and soon we'll settle into the couch for a little pre-bed television.

It's been a good day, really.

P.S. It's been a few days since I stopped taking Triamterene. My blood pressure, every time I've checked it, has been normal. So far, so GREAT!!!

P.P.S. These photos represent something of a victory for me. I'm finally gaining enough control of my camera to adjust exposure times (to get that motion shot), and to trigger the camera with the time for long-exposure, to minimize vibration (to get that shot of the moon). I still threw out about twenty photos to get these two, but I'm very happy with these pictures.

Food log:

Breakfast: bagel with cream cheese, banana

Lunch: Costco hot dog, 1/4 slice of cheese pizza, frozen yogurt, and a diet coke

Dinner: grilled tomato, swiss and ham sandwich, cold cucumber soup (yummy, but next time we'll swap mint in the for the dill, I think).

Snacks: two cookies

Friday, July 24, 2009

Photography, and Phamily-sitting

I had a nice walk in the neighborhood this morning, and brought the camera along in case something caught my eye. I'm very leery of photographing people's plants and houses without their permission, and even more leery of waking them up at 6:30am to ask for that permission. So, I altered my route and headed into a local park.

Near the entrance, the path dips down toward a narrow canyon. The walls are water-washed, exposing sedimentary layers, and cutting vertical channels into the canyon walls.

The photo isn't great. The morning light, with the sunlight diffused by the thick cloud layer, was dim. Contrast was minimal, and the wall looks washed out. The interesting ways in which the water has eroded the hillside are hard to make out, as a result. Think I'll go back some other time(s) when the light is different and try for a better shot.

This next one is a little better. The cliff is higher here, and more exposed to the light. I'm not totally happy with the composition of this shot. The palm tree is distracting, I think. Also, the balance is pretty lopsided. Big cliff on the left, little palm tree on the right, uniform gray sky above. This might look better with clearer skies and angled light, but this is the best composition I could find. What you don't see are the chain-link fence just above the cliff, the house hidden behind the swell of the hill, and the drainage culvert JUST off-camera in the foreground.

I played around with this one a bit in an editor, too, making a black-and-white version and adjusting the contrast and white levels to make it a bit more dramatic. Interesting.

A bit frustrated with finding interesting vistas, I turned my attention to closeup shots of interesting textures and colors. The bark of this tree is just amazing. The blues are so vivid. From this perspective, it almost looks like a Google Maps view of some alien landscape.

Notice the slighty-off framing on this shot. The dark patch at the bottom of the frame is the greenery behind the tree (and yes, I rotated this shot because it looked better).

I do like this shot. This bark is full of interest and character, to my eye.

And those, my friends, are the four shots that I thought weren't totally terrible. Photography is much, much harder than I'd thought. Not the technical stuff so much (though I did have any number of blurry shots in the lot...still learning a LOT about depth of field, aperature, exposure, etc.). It's developing a "photographer's eye" that really tough. Finding well composed, well lit, interesting scenes out in the chaos of nature. The upside? It's an interesting challenge, and you get pretty pictures out the other end :-)

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Not a great day for my waistline today, I'm afraid.

My work team and I went to a local restaurant for lunch today. One that specializes in local, organic foods, including pasture-fed beef and sausages made on site. These folks know their sausage! All of the food I've tried at this restaurant is delicious. Fatty, but delicious.

We watched our friends' four children this evening. The kids had a great time, despite a couple of mishaps.

The two little boys (one of ours, and one of theirs) "fed" our younger daughter's beta fish. By dumping most of a cannister of food into the tank. The poor little thing was swimming through a multi-colored rain. My wife's quick work with a siphon seems to have cleaned the tank out nicely. Hopefully Moonlight (the fish) will be fine.

For a little added excitement, their little boy had apparently found his way into a box of prunes earlier today. The effect was...let's just say voluminous. And fragrant.

But, peace was found tonight. In the form of cheese pizza, and a good movie for the horde of children. My wife and I even had time to do a little work on some household projects. All in all, a good night really.

Food log:

Breakfast: granola with blueberries (again...need to get out of my comfort zone sometimes :-) )

Lunch: two sausages, purple potatoes, apple slaw and a little slice of Gouda cheese.

Snacks: one Hershey's single, small handful of salted cashews (too salty (again)...apparently I never learn).

Dinner: two pieces of pepperoni pizza

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hiking up Hills, Hiking up Tomatoes

I went on a little field trip at lunch time today. There's an open space park near where I work. I brought the camera with, and spent about twenty minutes exploring and taking photos. I think I took about twenty pictures. There are only four that I liked well enough to share.

Boy, taking decent pictures is HARD. There's so much to consider. Light, shape, composition, and most especially all the brick-a-brack and noisy mess of nature. I can't tell you how many pretty flowers or interesting shapes I saw, for which there was no way to frame up a shot without including a LOT of other junk.

The open space is accessible via a wide dirt trail from the parking lot. This terrain, all chaparral and scrub brush, is typical in our part of the world. The canyons are home to big scrub oaks, but the hills are topped by nothing taller than stumpy Manzanita trees. Unless you count the power line towers.

The skies, though, can be beautiful.

This photo is a good example of the clutter of nature I mentioned. The stump is kind of a mess of twigs, and the other kinds of plants make the bottom part of the picture pretty noisy and confusing.

I found this little rock stack in the middle of the trail. I wonder what it's story is?

I _think_ I needed a narrower aperture and a longer exposure here, to make it possible to capture both the rock stack and the background sharply. That's the correct theory, I think. But even if I'm right, I don't know how to make my camera do that yet. And I would probably have needed a tripod to hold a long enough exposure.

Also, this picture was taken by holding the camera about 3" from the ground, and guessing about the framing. I couldn't get my head into position to look through the viewfinder. Not without MANY more years practicing yoga, at least. :-)

In the shade of another Manzanita, there was a small outcropping of broken, lichen-covered rocks. I liked the textures very much, and the way the high mid-day sun finally found something interesting to cast a shadow on.

I really like this picture. But it suffers from a shallow depth of field, like the previous one. The farther recesses of the rock are a little blurry.

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It was family night in the garden tonight. Dinner outdoors, followed by hanging around and helping Mommy and Daddy build a tomato enclosure. Last year, we tried making a big cube around the tomatoes, then tying up the branches with twine. Twine snapped. Staves broke. The whole thing finally fell over.

This year, we're putting our basic engineering knowledge to the test, relying on triangles to keep things upright. We've used zip ties to secure the cross pieces. So far, they seem to give plenty of grip to keep the cross bars from slipping down the uprights. We'll see. Using the long cross-pieces for support, we then zip tie in shorter cross-cross-pieces, pushing the tomato limbs over/up where they need to be. It's all a grand experiment, like last year, but I'm optimistic.

Also showing their heads in our garden are our yellow crookneck squash, watermelons, and various carrots and bell peppers. The carrots didn't sprout as many as we'd hoped, but we've left room for follow-on plantings.

I'm REALLY looking forward to garden-fresh watermelon in a couple of months.

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My blood pressure was normal this morning. It's only been a day since I stopped taking the Triamterene, so it's early days yet, but I'm hopeful!

Food log:

Breakfast: granola with fresh blueberries and an amazingly sweet nectarine

Lunch: leftover veggie pizza, watermelon, and cole slaw

Snacks: a few cashews...too salty! A big chocolate chip cookie. So bad, but soooo good.

Dinner: a salad of lettuce, carrots and bell peppers from our CSA, tomatoes from our neighbor's crop, olives, dried cranberries and toasted pine nuts, with chipotle ranch dressing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Walking at Sunup, Photography at Sundown

For the first time in a little while, I went for a walk in the neighborhood this morning. The summer birds are here. Mockingbirds and House Finches abound. I love listening to the mockers on my walk, especially.

I was nice to get back out there. I had a little cold two weeks ago. Last week, the gym at work held a special "Mind/Body" week, and held yoga classes of different kinds each morning. Great fun, and great exercise, but I couldn't walk and go to the classes. Then I whacked my little toe on something...thought I'd broken it. That kept me off walking for a few days.

I'm convinced that those little toes are God's way of slowing you down, and reminding you to walk mindfully. For something that doesn't stick out much at all (mine angle in, actually), they sure catch on passing obstacles often.

For fun, I've been messing around with our digital camera. You know all those mystical symbols on the controls? And all the deep, dark recesses of the Function menus? I found the owner's manual for our camera online, and have been slowly working my way through it. This evening, the sun was heading to bed for the evening and I took a few minutes out in the yard to see if I'd learned anything.

Here's our young son, goofing off and having fun. The sun was behind me a bit, hence the "one eye closed, with assistance" pose. Nothing says "lazy days of summer" like PJ's and vampire teeth.

This nice flower is one of our Agapanthas. I was trying to find an exposure that blurred the background beyond recognition, to put all the attention on the bloom. Couldn't quite get it, but I rather like the shadows the late afternoon sun brought out in this pretty blossom.

Here's my favorite from this afternoon. My wife and the kids went to the beach this afternoon. These sandals were left on the front porch, still dusted with fine grained happiness. I'll admit that the shoes were "posed," to get interesting shadows. I really like the way the composition came out. I tried a few different options on the exposure. This is the best of the lot.

Think I'll bring the camera to work tomorrow and see if I have time during lunch to take some more shots.

Food log:

Breakfast: granola with bananas, 1% milk

Lunch: roasted pork tenderloin, grilled asparagus, barley salad

Snacks: small handful of cashews

Dinner: leftover pork with leeks, leftover grilled veggie stack...ALMOST as good re-heated as it was the first night. Yummy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Weight Loss, and Weaning

Today was a big day for me. I got on the scale in the morning and found that, after weeks of plateau and struggles with lapses and relapse, I'd hit a new low! I now weigh 217.8 pounds!

The most obvious, tactile indicator of my progress is my jeans. I've been wearing 38" waist jeans for a couple of months now. But they're getting loose on me. I haven't worn 36" pants since High School. Frankly, I didn't think I would again. I figured that my least the part the belt goes around...wouldn't be getting much thinner. But maybe not...

I also went in to the doctor's office this morning, for a checkin and a checkup. After going over my weight loss and diet changes, and checking my blood pressure a couple of times, my doctor and I decided to start cutting back on my blood pressure medications. We're dropping the Triamterene now. In a month, I'll get some blood work done, to check my Potassium levels (Triamterene lowers Potassium, while my other medication, Lisinopril, raises it). If they look good, and my blood pressure is still under control, we'll cut back on the Lisinopril too. Maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to get off the meds altogether.

As I said, it's been a good day. I feel fantastic about my progress. The bummer of the plateau is behind me.

Food log:

Breakfast: granola with organic strawberries and 1% organic milk

Lunch: leftover veggie lasagna, leftover collards with brown rice.

Snacks: one Hershey's dark chocolate single, chips and guacamole, cheese and crackers at a social event at work this afternoon.

Dinner: leftover spaghetti with meat sauce, steamed corn and green beans.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dinner and Movie

Another good day. Church this morning, followed by a run to the local farmer's market. Grapes are in at our favorite stand, and we stocked up. Add in blueberries, strawberries, peaches, squash and a watermelon and I call that a successful morning spree.

After lunch, the kids blazed through their clean up, so we'd have time to continue the Star Wars marathon with The Empire Strikes Back. They really, really liked this one. Me too, though I've seen it many times. The storytelling is solid, solid, solid. I'd forgotten how much of a cliffhanger it leaves off with. The kids BEGGED me to put Jedi on, but we'd run out of time for the day. Next weekend...

For lunch today, I tried something new; a kippered herring sandwich spread, the recipe for which I found in Andrew Weil's "Eating Well for Optimum Health" (see links). Basically, it's sardines or herring, with some Dijon mustard, diced onion and a little lime juice added. On toasted whole grain bread, it was scrumptious. Looking forward to leftovers tomorrow.

Dinner tonight was wonderful too. We chopped up some roasted peppers, eggplant and zucchini, left over from our vegetable stacks of a few nights ago, and my wife whipped up some pizza dough. Add tomato sauce, grated mozarella and a hot oven and you've got PIZZA! A little basil from the garden, chopped up and sprinkled over the top, and it's ready to eat. We added some leftover cole slaw to round out the meal. Aaah.

Another week starts tomorrow. I'm hoping to get a walk in tomorrow morning, but we stayed up late watching The Kite Runner (good movie, GREAT book). We'll see.

Food log:

Breakfast: whole grain bagel with cream cheese, bananas

Lunch: kippered herring sandwich on whole grain bread, watermelon from the market, half an avocado sprinkled with salt and pepper, a Diet Coke.

Snacks: a few pita chips, a small bowl of ice cream

Dinner: roasted veggie pizza, cole slaw of cabbage, apples, cilantro and peanuts.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lazy Saturdays of Summer

It's been a good day.  This morning I took the girls over to the pool and we spent a couple of hours practicing their swimming and diving, and just having a lot of fun.  The pool is way too warm, and tastes really strange, but spending time with them in the water is great fun.

After lunch, I introduced the kids to the formative movie of my own childhood: Star Wars.  I saw that movie fourteen times in the theater, in the year it came out.  I was Luke Skywalker for at least three Halloween's running.

I hate to admit it, but they weren't blown away.  I expected amazement.  I expected awe.  I expected them to see it the way I saw it, in 1978.  But no.  OK, they liked it.  They want to see it again.  They want to see the rest of the series.  Sure.  But to them, this movie will not be the iconic picture it was for me.  Maybe it's the dated effects.  Maybe it's the way so much is left implied and unstated.  Or maybe they just didn't like it as much.  Whatever the case, it left me a little deflated.  But we did have fun together.

I spent some of the afternoon cooking; one of my favorite pastimes, as you readers will know.  Tonight's dinner is called, in the cookbook at least, "Lombo di Maiale Coi Porri."  We just call it pork loin with leeks.  Couldn't be simpler, really.  Cut up the soft parts of four leeks, and braise until wilted in a little water, butter, salt and pepper.  Once that's done, brown the loin in a little butter for a few minutes, add some white wine, salt and pepper, to de-glaze the dutch oven and gather all those lovely brown nibbly bits on the bottom into the sauce.  Add the leeks back in, put on the lid and simmer for two hours.  Done.  The leeks go all buttery and sweet, the pork stays tender.  So, so good.

Here's the finished dish. The leeks, all reduced and scrumptious, are just left of the pork.  We've added a slaw of cabbage, apples and cilantro, dressed with lime juice and olive oil, and topped with roasted peanuts. The pork dried out a little, but otherwise, YUM.

We took advantage of the cool summer evening, and had dinner outside tonight.

Two nights ago, we made one of our other summer favorites: grilled vegetable stack.  You can make this with any vegetable that will grill up nicely.  That night, we used red peppers, zucchini, eggplant and green beans.  For the eggplant, it helps to slice it, salt it, let it stand 10-15 minutes, then rinse well.  This removes a lot of the bitterness, and tenderizes it a bit.  Then brush everything with olive oil, season to taste, and grill it until it gets those nice scorch marks, softens and sweetens.  We add a sauce made of reduced red wine, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, then add dollops of goat cheese spiked with oregano and basil.  Delicious, and easy.  Make enough of it, and you've got a meal.  Or add something else, like spaghetti with meat sauce, as we did.

The kittens are passing the day in their usual way.  Nap, scamper, wrestle, purr, eat, repeat.

They've grown very tolerant of our little boy, thank God.  He has a tendency to hold them in his lap and pet them, and hold them some more, until they're squirming and meowing to be released, and then hold them a little longer.  But they don't bite or claw him, and the next time he goes to pick them up they usually stay put and let him.

Thor is learning, through extensive, untiring practice, to use his paws in new and creative ways.  His latest feat (pardon the pun) is opening cabinet drawers, in order to build himself a ladder up to the countertops.  We're training him to stay down, through liberal application of a squirt bottle's stream, but he's a determined little puss.

So, swimming, watching movies, and cooking, and eating outdoors.  Spending time with the kids on this clear, warm, beautiful afternoon.  It's been a GOOD day.

Food log:

Breakfast: oatmeal, with cinnamon, brown sugar, cashews and dried cranberries.

Lunch: Peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich on whole grain bread, baked chips, bananas.

Snacks: granola bar, a Dove single.

Dinner: pork with braised leeks.  Slaw of cabbage, apples, cilantro and peanuts.  Half a piece of whole grain bread.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Day 1 - redux

Back on the wagon, and feelin' good.  OK, it's just one day.  But a lifetime is made up of single days, and this was a good one.

I did miss Yoga this morning, as I bashed my pinkie toe into a step stool last night.  I heard a snap, and I'm hoping it was just the "knuckle" popping, but the toe hurts a lot today.  No swelling, no bruising, so it might well not be broken.  Here's hoping.

So, yes, I missed Yoga.  But I stayed away from chocolate and other sweet snacks today, except for one little "medicinal" piece.  I feel really good about that, after days of slippage.

Hopefully my toe will feel well enough tomorrow morning that I can go for my walk.  Time to rev up the exercise again!

And here's an odd bit of news.  As I mentioned, I've been snacking too much.  Lapsing.  I got on the scale this morning, expecting to have put a pound (or three) back on.  But I was down.  Down to JUST over 220 pounds.  I don't get it, but there it is.

My wife and I had a "date night" tonight, thanks to some good friends who added our kids to theirs for the evening.  We went to a (relatively) new burger place in town (The Burger Lounge).  This sidewalk cafe features grass-fed organic beef, organic produce and buns.  The burger was TASTY.  If you haven't tried grass-fed beef ( WIERD is it to have to put THAT caveat in there?), please do yourself a favor and go find someplace that has it.  The taste is much more intense.  Much better.

We had a nice meal, and spent a long hour or two talking.  And nobody interrupted us.  Aaaaah.

We spent the rest of the evening shopping for home furnishings.  End tables and table lamps for our living room, and a mirror for our kids' bathroom.  Shopping on a date night?  A waste of time, you say?  Not at all.  We hit five stores in about an hour, and never once had to say "don't touch that," "come over here," or "we're leaving now!"  Aaaaah.

We love our kids, and love spending time with them, but sometimes it's wonderful to just be together, even if all we do is go shopping.

Food log:

Breakfast: fresh fruit, with some yogurt and granola on it.

Lunch: stir-fried rice with veggies and tofu, a Diet Coke.

Dinner: out tonight with my wife!  A rare treat.  We went to Burger Lounge, a (relatively) new place nearby, which features organic produce and grass-fed, naturally raised beef.  I had a hamburger and a diet soda, and split an order of fries with my wife.  YUMMY!  We'll be back.

Snacks: one little Hershey's Nuggest dark chocolate truffle, a Nature's Choice granola bar.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

OK, really this time

On the way to work the other morning, I was listening to NPR as usual.  They featured an interesting story about tobacco addiction.  And it was sounding very familiar.

No, not the part about tobacco and cigarettes.  I've never smoked, thanks to great advice from Mom and Dad.  But I do know, I think, what addiction feels like.

Addiction is the itch of poison oak.  It's checking Facebook just one more time before bed.  And, for me, it's that little piece of chocolate.  And the next one.

It's the moment of weakness, that feels so good, but that adds up to a big problem.  Scarring, sleep deprivation, or obesity.

On that radio show, I heard something new to me.  Relapse starts with a lapse.  One moment of lost commitment that, if left to germinate, becomes another, and another.

Lately, I've been lapsing.  I've been in relapse.  I'm trying very hard to resist the temptations.  To get back on the wagon.  To put down the chocolate, or just not pick it up at all.  To get back to the state of mind and health that felt so, so much better than the momentary pleasures of a snack.

It's hard.  It means choosing long term pleasures over what can, in the moment, seem like something so small and so good.  Life, and health, over "just one more."

It's also been hard to admit the relapse.  To write about it here.  I'm hoping that, by doing so, I'll find the recommitment I need.  Maybe, some day, someone else in the same boat will read this, jump overboard, and swim away from their own relapse regatta.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Letting History Be My Guide

I started this blog in order to record what I was eating, how and how much I was exercising, and what I was learning about food, fitness and myself.

Over the past two or three weeks, the commitment has been fading for some reason.  Maybe it was coming so close to the threshold of 220 pounds.  Maybe I was getting tired of watching everything I eat.  Maybe I was letting this turn into an exercise in discipline and denial, instead of a positive, life-enhancing experience.  Maybe the stress at work has been getting to me.  Whatever the reason, I've been flagging, and my weight loss has stalled.

Last night, I read this blog again from the beginning.  To my friend Cynthia, who suggested this blog as a reminder and inspiration for just this moment, I say thank you.  You were right.  I was going to need this.

So this morning, recommitted, I hit the gym.  I had a long, fast walk on the treadmill, did two sets of upper body weight lifting, crunches for the abs, and lunges for the legs.  I watched what I ate very carefully today.  OK, we had pizza for dinner, but that was balanced out with a load of fruits and vegetables throughout the day.

Tomorrow morning, the new old program continues.  A long walk around the neighborhood is on the agenda.

It's good to be back.

Food log:

Breakfast: fruit with yogurt and granola

Lunch: vegetarian cassoulet with wild rice

Dinner: two slices of pepperoni pizza, watermelon

Snacks: one mini peppermint patty, a granola bar