Posts tagged ‘healthy lifestyle’

Lessons From a Cleanse: Part I

Green Apple SmoothieAs I start this, it’s a cold Sunday in February and the final day of a three-week “whole body detox” for this former skeptic.  It’s also sneeting* outside, which doesn’t seem as depressing as it would have in mid-January.  But let me back up just a bit. 

I’ve yammered on before about battling the Winter Blues.  By the amount of media coverage it gets, this must be a common struggle among people who deal with freezing temperatures and grey skies for months in a row.  When I had made it to 1/13/13 with no symptoms, I was primed to sit down and pound out a declaration that I’d dodged that psychological bullet this year – ta-dah, and hip-hip hooray.   Of course, sitting atop that cocky attitude, I was doomed for a fall. 

Sure enough, no sooner had I decided to share my “secrets” for skipping right past this year’s seasonal mood slump, than it whacked me right in the ego.  I had stuck with my pre-breakfast walks, refusing to let the weather cage me in; switched my radio station from tedious newstalk to calming classical; tackled and conquered a dreaded organizing chore; and kept my eating habits balanced to the healthy side.  But obviously that scheme had not enough curative powers to boost me over the familiar old hurdle:  coming out of the glitter of the Christmas season into the raw reality of long, dark nights and snow-cloud-dimmed days, with no flurry of baking and wrapping and carol-singing and card-writing for diversion. 

Sliding back into my regular routine, as the experts suggest, seemed to compound the problem – a case of the same old, lame old starting to feel like a tire-spinning rut.  I was flat-out bored.  And cranky.  My walks started to feel like banishment to Siberia, with mile after mile of unchanging whiteness.  (Please trust me when I tell you that those big, glossy “PED XING” pavement diagrams are the last place a ped wants to x in sleety, icy conditions.) 

Then we learn that we’re facing weeks of wind chill advisories.  It could be done; the mail carriers manage to dress for that kind of weather nonsense.  But I was feeling supremely unmotivated to risk it myself. 

Enter my final issue of Whole Living magazine, a gift from friends for Christmas 2011. A committed pooh-pooher of radical dietary gimmicks, I had every intention of skipping over what looked like another sleek set of false promises for a fresh start in the New Year via their “21-Day Challenge.”  But those color photos of steaming red lentil and sweet potato stew and broccoli and garbanzo bean salad glistening with Dijon dressing were irresistible.  They grabbed me by my foodie instincts and led me straight through every word of the 13-page article – and on to a light bulb moment:  Could this timely double-dog dare be an answer to prayer?    

Truly, I got excited just reading the recipes and the upbeat narrative.  This approach was so far removed from those scary $300.00 commercial kits sold by health food outlets, with their mysterious bottled concoctions conjuring up images of intestinal Sani-Flush.  No references to “corrective colon-clearing” or gentle liver-cleansing teas and capsules” here.  Strictly items I could buy at my local super market. 

And what a perfect excuse to mix up the ol’ exercise routine for a while. That really appealed to my jaded, already-sick-of-winter self.  I had become superstitiously wedded to a thrice-daily regimen of cardio and resistance training, each followed by piles of fruits and vegetables and lots of animal protein, convinced that this was the one magic formula for dealing with low-blood sugar.  But I’d also been hitting the Burrito Supremes and Diet Pepsi pretty hard at Taco Bell on weekends.  Then when stevia prices shot through the roof last year, I switched to Splenda for my double-serving of oatmeal – more chemical garbage to gunk up my system. 

I certainly know better.  I learned the truth about artificial sweeteners from the Bernstein book I tout here often – the real calorie count and same-as-sugar effect on the body that is hidden behind manufacturers’ zero-calorie claims for a 1/16th of a teaspoon serving.  You develop a tolerance for this stuff that makes you want more, and I was up to a disgusting three tablespoons every morning, just to get the sweetness that my tongue had come to crave. 

Here’s a translation that may be news to you:  Those three tablespoons of Splenda actually add up to 18 calories, with no nutritional benefit and some concern for side effects over time.  One tablespoon of honey adds 64 calories, but it’s real food.  And local honey carries the benefit of reducing allergy symptoms, once all this snow melts off and the world turns green again. 

The overall cleanse plan had restrictions, most of which I thought I could live with.  No processed foods, including sugars; no dairy, no gluten, no alcohol; no coffee.  Oh, and no real meat.  I figured I’d give it a shot, and if I should swoon from lack of animal protein by day two, I would call it a nice try and look for another way to reinvigorate my luster-lacking day-to-day. 

So week one, straight vegan.  The thought was a little scary.  But week two, you add back some fish, legumes, and gluten-free grains like quinoa and brown rice.  Week three, more add-backs, like eggs and soy products.  Even with my whole physical activity schedule turned on its head, I still did more huffing and puffing than the plan calls for.  Call it residual caution.  But what a refreshing thought, to open my mind to yoga and stretching, which I know to be beneficial but don’t make time for in my magic formula for eating a lot and exercising like crazy. 

Time for a breather from the craziness.  “Substitute another brand of insanity,” you may be thinking.  But wait until next week, when you get to hear the results.  You may end up calling yourself a former skeptic, too. 

*For those of you in the Sunbelt, this is not a typo.  In states with radical seasonal fluctuations, “sneet” is a common form of precipitation which occurs when snow turns to sleet as it moves through the atmosphere.  Of course, this logic demands that sleet turning to snow be labeled “slow,” but that seems unnecessarily confusing, wouldn’t you say?

March 11, 2013 at 6:50 pm Leave a comment

For Better or for Worse, But Better is Better

Heart figureIt is the day after Cupid’s Day and I’m chomping sour grapes.  I’ve managed to convince myself that the only reason I didn’t win a Valentine dinner out with my sweetie is because the local newspaper’s “Greatest Love Story” contest was judged not by the quality of the mini-essay entries, but by who was able to round up enough acquaintances willing to help them stuff the electronic ballot box.  But who wants a fabulous gourmet meal at one of the finest Italian dining establishments the Twin Cities has to offer, anyway?  (Pit-too-ee; these Concord  seeds are hard on the teeth.)

Now that I have that all rationalized, my thoughts are free to explore more consequential things.

On the day before Valentine’s, I interviewed a warm, delightful woman who survived over three decades  of marriage to an emotionally unbalanced man who had never given her one compliment or word of encouragement in 33 years of living together.  A specialist in the art of non-parenting, he overtly favored his first-born son, and virtually ignored his only daughter and son number two.  Looking back, Trudy struggles to forgive herself for not “taking the kids and leaving” that dismal family environment years earlier.

But her children bear no ill feelings.  Somehow, with the help of a gracious God, Whom their mother led them to in quiet moments alone together, all three turned out to be high-achieving, well-adjusted adults.  “Forget it and put it behind us,” they counsel  their mom, appreciating the fact that it was a blessing to have been mostly ignored by this narcissistic man, who bought himself $300.00 suits while his wife and children shopped at second-hand stores.  And the fact that Mom’s loving ministrations had more than compensated for Dad’s neglect and verbal abuse.

Within a year or two of finalizing her divorce from the charmer who shed his niceness like a molting reptile  the moment he had walked down the aisle, Trudy met a wonderful man for whom it is second nature to treat her with loving respect and to be an equal partner in every aspect of their lives.  Her gratitude for this union radiates with every relaxed smile she beams and every endearing southern expression she utters.

My husband’s 2013 Valentine card to me sums it up quite nicely:  “When someone means a lot to you, you need to let them know.”  Inside he had hand-written, “I’m sorry I don’t say it and show it, better and more often.”  He’s not given to grandiose displays of emotion, this is true.  But he shows me his heart in a million ways, large and small, every day of every week of every month of every year.  And that’s more than I would have ever thought to ask for.

My Valentine to him this year is the little blurb I wrote for the newspaper contest:

My husband Jack and I live in Fridley, which is where we first met in high school.  We came close to dating back then, but ended up going separate ways, with separate spouses, until – both single again – we re-met at a reunion years later.

Even after 25 years of marriage, it seems a bit presumptuous to claim to be the world’s greatest romance:  we didn’t exchange love letters across a war-torn continent or have the honor of donating a major organ, one to the other.  But we did give each other that cherished second chance to discover true devotion – the kind that survives rebellious stepchildren, career disappointments, the loss of loved ones, and personal health crises; the kind that hangs in there for the ebb and flow between passion and friendship.  And that particular blessing may just translate to the best gift this earthly life has to offer:  someone who will always, bottom line, invest the time and effort to figure you out, to help you over the rough spots, and to guide you toward your better self.

I only hope that my appreciation for my second chance shows forth like Trudy’s does.  But I know one thing for sure:  I don’t need to win some silly contest to confirm my great good fortune.  And that’s not the sour grapes talkin’, either.

February 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm 2 comments

Take My Survey, Please!

It looks as if the drought of 2012 is causing us to zip, double-speed, through the autumn color changes that usually spread out over several weeks.  That has to be a bummer for eager innkeepers peppered along the traditional routes for fall foliage tours.  It’s kind of disappointing for us staycationing types, too, as the leaves turn and then drop in a matter of days. 

During my morning constitutional through the park last Monday, trees lining the walking path arched to form a stunning bronze canopy overhead.  Then on Wednesday, I encountered a single deciduous tree ablaze with red-orange leaves standing tall and proud, like a benign flame, among the stands of evergreens at the park’s entrance.  But by Friday, most of that earlier gloriousness was rattling, dry and crispy, under my feet – piles of hastily shed leaves having fallen as in an avalanche, virtually overnight.

Time to shift gears, I guess.  The drop from 78° and sunny one day to 48°, cloudy, and blustery the next forces me into a  New Work State of Mind.  “New work” as in, no more heading outside to putz in the yard because it’s too nice an afternoon to waste on inside stuff.  

Being a “comfortable in my rut” sort to start with, the chill air and abrupt changes in the landscape help awaken my senses and set my brain to clicking – one of the benefits of season-change.  I’ll try to remember that when the wet snows inundate, and I’m earning my way out of the driveway with 90 minutes’ worth of shoveling.  But for now, I plan to ride the momentum of nature’s gentle kick in the tush, and dive into some new projects and a few experiments: 

This month I resolve not to buy another non-essential grocery item, no matter how good the sale price, until both my side-by-side and chest freezers have been emptied of their frozen treasures.  That should greatly relieve the food budget for these two months leading up to the Christmas season.  Now, if only I had stocked up on gas when it was under $3.00 a gallon. 

I further resolve to keep plugging away at my bucket list of must-read books.  Just finished David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge:  On the Dismantling of American Culture.  This guy is brilliant.  So brilliant that I almost gave up trying to wade through the first two chapters, but was very glad to have forged onward as everything fell beautifully into place in all the succeeding chapters.  I returned my borrowed copy to the library and plan to order a paperback through Amazon, so I can underline to my heart’s content.  This could just be that common sense almanac of modern politics that critical thinkers have been hungering for. 

I also propose to test my assumptions more regularly, since this invariably proves to be enlightening.  A case in point relates to my early morning power walks through the local park.  I love these walks.  I recently moved them from pre-lunch to pre-breakfast when we got stuck on “heat wave” last summer, and it’s a bonus all around.  For one thing, I have met some lovely people, most of them retired gentlemen walking their dogs, who always offer a friendly greeting and a smile.  The gentlemen, that is.  But it’s also a joy to have their furry companions – Penny and Betsy and Ellie, et al. – gallop to meet me and collect their pat on the head.  The presence of both the owners and their pets makes me feel as if I am among friends. 

There is this one middle-aged fellow, however, who gives off a very different vibe.  He stomps along, head down, shouting orders at his cute little pups – one a puggle, the other a schnauzer mix.  “Stop,” he bellows gruffly and arbitrarily, as if this display of control is intended to impress.  And sure enough, those furry little bottoms hit the dirt pronto, on command.  He had never spoken to me as I passed him, as the other walkers do, maybe because he could read the disgust in my expression.  (I used to cuss this guy mightily under my breath – it doesn’t count if you do it inaudibly, right? – and then pray very hard that God would protect the dogs.) 

Then one day I decide to approach those cute little mutts and give them some love.  “Do you allow people to pet them?” I ask rather snippily.  “What?” he bellows.  I repeat the question.  “Oh, sure,” he responds, and the ice is broken.  He begins to expound proudly on the charms of his little “girls,” showing me how adorable they look with the hoods of their sweaters in place, and revealing a softhearted dog-lover I would never have predicted could inhabit that crusty exterior.  This discovery delivered the blessing of relief, the gift of another park friend, and a bit of wisdom I hadn’t possessed the day before.    

And finally, I have decided to step out on a few limbs and develop a project I’ve been mulling over for several months. So here is that survey question I lured you in with: 

Would you have any interest in reading a month’s worth of short daily blogs about making healthful eating choices at fast food restaurants? 

My motivation for this project started germinating when I read, or tried to read, another of the books on my list, Don’t Eat This Book, a spinoff of the Supersize Me “documentary” film by Morgan Spurlock.  Spurlock, in his movie- and book-selling scheme, claimed to accomplish his goal of negative health effects by eating three meals a day at McDonald’s for a month.  This self-fulfilling prophecy of a stunt included accepting every “super-size” offer and two-for-one special available. 

Having heard so much about the popular appeal of Spurlock’s exploits, I expected the book to at least be entertaining and readable, but “sorely disappointed” doesn’t begin to cover my reaction to it.  (Since when did profanity become a substitute for wit?)  Rambling rants, dissembling diatribes, cultural clichés, asinine accusations.  Paragraph after paragraph of verbal flailing and finger-pointing.  If that’s your idea of a good read, then this book is 266 pages of heaven.  If not, I hope I’ve saved you the bother.   

I am responsible for my own wellness.  At least that’s what I’ve always believed.  Seems like a perfect example of a self-evident truth.  But grand-standing clowns like Mr. Spurlock are intent on blaming purveyors of the very items people clamor for – provided at a reasonable price, in a short amount of time – as junk food pimps. 

There also seems to be a sort of media conspiracy to draw the wrong conclusions from raw data.  If that data fails to support pre-conceived notions, a university can simply apply for a taxpayer-funded grant to pay “study” participants $3500.00 to eat nothing but fast food for several months, and then be enrolled in weight-loss programs to undo the contrived “damages.”  Seriously.  This is happening. 

A recent study of Americans between the ages of four and 19 revealed that they ate at least one fast food meal a day.  A lot of busy adults match that frequency.  My goal is to demonstrate how progressive the national chains have been about offering healthful options by eating a representative sampling of one-to-two meals a day at local fast food outlets for four weeks, from January 2 through January 30, 2013.  

I’ve done my research, and plan to emerge from this experiment just as healthy as I am going into it.  I’ll get an official record of my blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol stats at my local clinic on December 29, 2012, and publish them at the start for comparison purposes. 

As a matter of routine, I currently work out a lot and prepare 95 per cent of my meals from scratch at home.  Still, I know a lot of people who either don’t have that inclination or don’t have that luxury.  In my January experiment, I plan to critique, analyze, and provide nutritional break-downs for selected fast food menu items.  I’ll also let you know if I feel well-fueled, and how much I have to supplement with easy-grab fresh fruits, or whatever else may be missing from available offerings. 

Does this kind of campaign make sense to you?  Would a half-page daily diary recording both food choices and light-hearted observations – about my fellow diners and the neon ambiance that comprises the World of Drive-Throughs, for example – be helpful and/or interesting to you?  Is one restaurant meal a day sufficient to illustrate the point?  

Please respond in the comment section below.  Let me have it, from the hip.  I can take it, and I’ll build, or even nix, the plan based on your comments.  Think of the sense of power! 

Meanwhile, I recently stumbled upon a computer file I’d composed back in January, Things to Do in 2012.  I guess I’ll be biding my time waiting for your responses by measuring my progress in “Household To-Dos,” “Personal To-Dos,” and “Ideas for a Weekend Well-Spent.”  Or maybe I could accidentally delete those pesky, outdated guilt-inducers…

October 18, 2012 at 5:57 pm 12 comments

Summer, When It Sizzles

It’s been a cruelly hot season.  I could be uttering that comment from almost any state in the union this summer of 2012, or from a lot of international locales for that matter.  But then plenty of our ancestors, living in eras predating the “threat” of greenhouse gases, have suffered similar heat wave conditions.  London, in 1858; New York in 1896; most of North America in 1936. 

Such references are sacrilege to those who view the dogma of Global Warming as Gospel Writ, but historical cycles of radical temperature fluctuation are documented by both human records and geological evidence.  On the other side of the argument, some of the prime movers behind the concept of climate change – at Britain’s University of East Anglia, for example – have been exposed as having deleted, doctored, and withheld information that fails to support the theories upon which their careers are founded.  They also sought to blacklist both the scientists who refute those theories and journals which publish opposing viewpoints.  That’s a clincher for me. 

But I really didn’t intend to make this a piece on political controversies.  (There’s always so darned much to fume about, is the problem.)  I’m thinking in more down-to-earth terms, as I while away a rare Monday morning when my husband and I can both sit in the study together, clicking away at our keyboards – he playing solitaire and listening to Mexican music on Pandora, me rambling my way to the true topic of the day for this blog posting.  Guess we’re the 21st century version of celebrating Labor Day by avoiding real labor of any kind. 

As for that practical perspective, I could thank this scorcher of a summer for forcing me to make some positive changes:  A literally sickening bout of overexposure one 105° day in early July motivated me to move my four-mile power walk from pre-lunch to pre-breakfast.  Who needs all that direct sun exposure, anyway?  How much cooler, more comfortable, and shady the walking path is at seven a.m.  I got a particularly early start one day last week, and was treated to a soul-stirring view of the sun, glistening like a freshly-cut blood orange just above the eastern horizon.  Talking to God feels like a true one-on-one in those still quiet hours, before the neighborhood starts to rumble into full-gear. 

I’ve also changed some cooking habits, like starting things – oiled, quartered red potatoes, for example – in the microwave, then finishing them on the stovetop.  Or maybe starting a main dish on the stovetop, allowing for a 15-minute finish in the oven rather than an hour-long sauna-maker of roasting time. 

And the weather has apparently been very good to people’s vegetable gardens – at least to those who were diligent about watering.  More than one kind neighbor has gifted us a bucketful of cucumbers and tomatoes.  Now there’s another motivator:  a pile of plump, luscious, juicy, red lycopersicon esculentum – that New World discovery which our European friends can thank Christopher Columbus for exporting back to them, along with its full complement of 14 essential nutrients. 

I cubed some of the Roma tomatoes and tossed them with peeled, diced cucumbers and a light lemon juice and olive oil dressing, with salt and pepper to taste, but any good Italian-style dressing would work for this summer version of an enticingly crunchy tossed salad. 

When most of the beefsteak tomatoes came to full ripeness at the same time, I remembered I had a drawer full of zucchini and two eggplants waiting impatiently in my vegetable crisper.  A little recipe skimming on the internet, and PING! came the idea for my new favorite veggie casserole.  Add some lightly sautéed, sliced smoked sausage and it could easily become a main dish. 

I served pork chops braised in red wine with shallots with the Cheesy Layered Eggplant, Zucchini, and Tomato casserole to a whole tableful of non-eggplant eaters.  They scraped every last bit from the serving bowl and never knew what hit ’em. 

On another sweltering afternoon, I discovered a really good price on chicken thighs and let Better Homes and Garden online inspire this lightened version of Chicken With Golden Raisins.  Served with ultra-quick-cooking whole grain couscous and a spinach salad, we gave thanks for the blessing of digging into a pile of appetite-reviving richness, even in the middle of…whatever you choose to call this.  I call it a good excuse to sound off a little, and an even better excuse to cook light. (more…)

September 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm Leave a comment

Thundershirts For All!

Some days, it just doesn’t pay to tune in to the evening news.  Between the potentially devastating national heat wave, raging fires in Colorado, rampant gang violence in Chicago, and hit-and-run tragedies closer to home, the fear and trembling can be tough to shake off.  

Turn to the internet, and you end up learning about such things as the defunding of highly successful holistic, abstinence-centered sexual risk avoidance education in favor of expanding the reach of contraceptive-centered programs.  So now I’m afire with indignation.  That’s hard to shake off, too. 

Yes, sometimes the world seems like an upside down and backward place, where staying sane and tranquil translates to an impossible mission.  The ads between news segments – or yahoo headlines – offer plenty of pharmaceutical solutions for the disquiet caused by too much exposure to the raw facts of modern life, but I don’t fly that way.  Enter the pet care industry.  I’m serious.  Semi, anyhow. 

Last year about this time I was complaining about the dreadful effects of booming fireworks on my eight-pound chihuahua-papillon.  Quaking like partially-set jello in a 6.3 earth tremor and panting with anxiety – highly contagious responses, I might add –  it was 3:00 a.m. before I finally convinced her that the threat had passed.  

That’s why my ears pricked up when I saw a promotion for the ThunderShirt®, a swaddling garment designed to calm and comfort your furry companion through storms and other loud events.  Since I’m not big on drugs for my pets either, I made a point to look into the merits of this product. 

Bottom line:  My vet’s office offers it for a lower price than online outlets or pet warehouse chains do, and the goofy looking little spandex gizmo is quite effective.  We survived both this year’s July 4th celebrations and recent thunderstorms with very little trauma for Muñeca or her owners, and sailed into July 5th rested and much less angry at the pyrotechnics industry.  Lessened anger is a good thing.  It clears some emotional space for the angst that goes along with those nightly news reports. 

But wouldn’t it be great if we could come up a human equivalent of the Thundershirt®?  Maybe a stretchy, velcroed version of that ultimate in fad Christmas gifts, the Snuggie®?  Please contact me if you are interested in a little entrepreneurial effort in this area.  I have plenty of ideas, but I’m a bit challenged in the action department. 

Where I am not challenged is in the eating department.  Heat-wave or no heat wave, the old appetite  always chugs heartily along, eager for a novel enticement.  At this week’s in-law dinner it was something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blueberry.  Or cherry, whichever does a better job of floating your boat.  The “old” would be Grilled Marinated Chicken Breasts with Sesame-Dressed Gourmet Brown Rice Blend and Steamed Sugar Snap Peas; the “new” and the “blue,” Creamy Fruit Salad with Pistachios in Wonton Cups; and the “borrowed,” simply the inspiration of Alton Brown’s online fruit salad recipe, which I adapted to suit my family’s tastes. 

No anxiety at our table on this night.  The entire crew was pleased, and my stomach was appeased – two sometimes impossible missions in themselves. (more…)

July 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm 2 comments

Good Medicine, Bad Medicine

Like many people, I owe my life to skilled medical practitioners.  Back before there was a quick-fix for the Rh factor issue, I was born fighting for survival as antigens forming within me battled to reject my own blood supply.  Even after a total transfusion, I required an emergency response team at least once before my parents could take me home from the newborn ward.

My husband Jack is similarly indebted to the researchers who discovered insulin as a treatment for Type I diabetes.   We are both extremely grateful for the reprieves we’ve been granted. 

But medicine is like any other field:  It produces competent, caring professionals as well as some less admirable types.  And because of its unparalleled potential to affect our quality of life, society holds the health care industry to the highest standards.  (A miscalculation in surgery certainly trumps a slip-up in toilet installation.)  

Some failures to meet these standards are dismissible as human error, of course.  The ones that cause fear and trembling are rooted in greed, insensitivity, ineptness, or narrow-mindedness – traits one would hope might be sifted out through the arduous process of education and training.  So, while most health care providers serve us well, some others, perhaps, could do better.  I am sure you have stories of your own.  Here are a few of ours. 

We had the same family doctor for our first ten years of marriage.  Dr. Good.  Really.  And was he ever.   He treated my stepchildren with respect; he listened, and applied common sense; he took a conservative approach to minor problems and acted quickly on the major ones.  He was a doctor, not a clinic – as his business card read.  When you called his office, a human being actually answered the telephone. 

By the time Dr. Good was approaching retirement age, he was forced to take on shifts at the emergency room in order to stay afloat.  The giant machine of government programs and mega-clinics and mammoth insurance conglomerates nudged him right out of practice, no doubt earlier than he, or we, would have liked.  Since then its been a kaleidoscope of changing clinics and M.D.s for us. 

There was the megalomaniacal endocrinologist who wanted to micro-manage my husband’s life with no regard for how sending him to the local E.R. for weekly blood checks would disrupt his work schedule and his insulin routine.  There he would sit for an hour or longer, waiting for the staff to get to him as a non-emergency, until his blood sugar had dropped to an comfortable low, throwing his readings off for days.   And this doc insisted on monthly office visits, versus the twice-a year check-ups most of his colleagues recommended. 

When the patient decided he could no longer comply with this overzealous tyrant, the doctor sought revenge on him by giving a bad report to the State License Bureau.  Jack had to renew his driver’s license every six months for many years as a result.  Perhaps Dr. X. could have done better. 

Several years later, at my desperation-inspired insistence, we starting tooling 20 miles across town at least twice a month to an institute that advertised itself as solely committed to diabetes care.  They were right there on the cutting edge; this was all they did and they did it well.  They said so themselves.  A few non-informative meetings with an overweight dietician who couldn’t tell me how many grams of carbohydrates there are in a potato should have been a warning bell.  Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. 

Visit number one to a staff a specialist yielded a prescription for a new type of insulin.  For decades, my husband had taken the same two insulins, one dose of long-lasting morning and evening, for continuous “background” blood sugar control, and a dose of fast-acting before each meal.  Before breakfast, he would combine both insulins in the same syringe.  This was recommended  procedure; it was safe, effective, saved syringes, and meant only one injection instead of two.  Sweet and neat.  

Shortly after he started seeing the experts at the internationally acclaimed diabetes center, he was driving to an appointment with his eye specialist and I was along for the ride.  Half-way there, he started acting strangely.  I had seen this only once, a few weeks earlier at Taco Bell, when he had a blood sugar dip so radical and so sudden that he couldn’t speak, couldn’t even navigate out of his chair.  It had never happened before.  I thought it was a one-time fluke.  

Yet this day, here we are, barreling 65 miles an hour down the freeway, when my husband begins to act as if he doesn’t know where he is, (more…)

June 29, 2012 at 11:27 pm 1 comment

Sweet Promises and Sauerkraut

I’m working on a major writing project about caring for elderly parents, so I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately.  It’s been a depressing experience. 

It’s not that these accounts don’t hold touching examples of tender human exchanges; of forgiveness and grace; of healing and renewed relationships.  Where aging is their focus, well-chosen anecdotes often reveal the unpredictable, tragi-comic nature of physical and mental decline. And some of the authors’ insightful verbal snapshots are sheer rhetorical genius. 

What troubles this former apostate is the prevailing agnostic viewpoint that seeps into the texts, extinguishing any flicker of hopeful expectation that eternity offers a glorious, new future to step into as earthly life subsides.  It’s a faith-void that ultimately sucks all the meaning out of human existence.  

“What could I say?” writes Meg Federico in Welcome to the Departure Lounge, wondering how one is supposed to live when an end is in sight.  “Nobody tells you this stuff,” she laments.  “But shouldn’t a lifetime of church on Sunday offer some comfort, especially now?”  Indeed it should.  But I guess it depends on which pew you’ve been warming and your reasons for plopping into it once a week.  Somebody sure told me “this stuff,” once I was willing to sit still and listen. 

“What about God?” the author asks her troubled mother.  “God isn’t working anymore,” comes the addled response. 

God isn’t working anymore.  I had a magic talisman that was wonderfully reassuring to tote around with me when I was fit and able, eager to dress in my finest and meet with friends for coffee after the 10:00 o’clock service.  It was all glittery and shiny, just like youth, but no matter how hard I shake the darned thing, it has quit working now that life’s cherry bowl has gone sour on me. 

“Mom wouldn’t buy dumb platitudes,” daughter Meg concludes, drawing a moral equivalence between Holy Scripture and Kahlil Gibran.  Nobody with a true need ever does buy dumb platitudes.  That’s why there is a True God with a True Message who offers True Comfort when we most desperately need it.  Of course, we have to meet Him half-way.  He can’t guide us through the rough patches if we’re walking away from Him. 

It’s been claimed that every foxhole is populated with instant converts.  Not so every nursing home sick bed, it seems.  Depressing.  And inexpressibly sad. 

Because they are research, I read these books through to the end, but I do feel a need to push the “refresh” button on my mental computer screen when I’ve finished.  I might revisit an uplifting email from a fellow writer, compose a note to a granddaughter who is facing unusually tough challenges, or whip up a batch of Caramel Crispy Chex Mix for my in-residence mother-in-law. 

Then it’s out the door to steep in the scent and color of resplendent apple blossoms, wonders of Creation waiting just around the bend in the path to the park; to meditate my way through a power-walk and reconnect with the Source of my own hope and assurance.  Even as the child of God in me prays for those who face illness and recovery, and especially for those who walk in darkness, the perpetual foodie in me drifts to thoughts of a knee-slapping menu:  a comfort food meal to beat all, on a coolish day in June.  

That’s what works for me.  Stretching to the heights and then grounding my thoughts in the practical.  A crock pot of Pork Ribs Braised in Beer with Sauerkraut and Cabbage; some simple, light and fluffy Mashed Swidaho Potato Pancakes; and a batch of Brown-Bread Muffins takes me back to childhood, and turns out to be one of the most succulent meals I’ve offered at the family dinner table in months.  Truly comforting, it fortified this diner enough to go back and take up another volume in her current research assignment.  For basic directions, see below.  And I’ve thrown in my Customized Chex Mix recipe for good measure – and guilty pleasure.  A mixed fruit compote would work for the highly conscientious.  (more…)

June 18, 2012 at 4:23 pm Leave a comment

A Legacy of Endurance

 “I’m here; the party can begin!”  So declares Erma Florentine Reiss, arriving at a large gathering of friends and relatives in 1999.  And indeed, she lights up the room with her entrance.  At 82 – with a beautiful head of curly white locks, a smile like sunshine, and the bouncing gait of a much younger woman – she has already been widowed three times and raised seven children to healthy, productive adulthood.  Some people wear hardship like a dented suit of armor, but not Erma.   

Born the first of five children to Paul and Lydia Engel in 1917, Erma and her siblings grew up in rural Minnesota during hardscrabble times.  The Great Depression overlapped drought conditions, only to be followed by World War II with its scarcities and the rationing of essential goods. 

“Love and sharing saw us through those difficult years,” writes Erma in a recounting of her family history.  There were extended family get-togethers for birthdays and special occasions, with homemade ice cream made with ice chipped from the family farm’s stock tanks in the winter months.  Visitors brought cakes and cookies, but no gifts were exchanged.  “We [children] didn’t know we were poor.  We were happy and healthy, as our Heavenly Father led us.” 

Much of that health and happiness derived from mother Lydia’s example of taking delight in helping others and in making the most of what you have.  At age ten, Erma would read bible passages to her grandmother, who suffered from cataract blindness, and watch and learn as her mother sewed children’s clothing and household linens from colorful cotton feed sacks.  “Sugar came in smaller white sacks.  They were softer and more absorbent and were saved to use as ‘Sunday dish towels,’ and to make petticoats and bloomers for the girls.” 

In that home, Erma learns that the basic, forthright offerings of time, grace, and talents are the true   acts of giving.  “All her life, my mother was quietly useful, gentle, and friendly.  She gave us all the simple pleasures to remember forever.”  Simple pleasures like perfecting the role of hostess with only the barest necessities at hand; giving parties for neighborhood children in an era when no one else did this; always having time for a game of checkers with her children; making mittens, doilies, and braided rugs for those in need; and filling long winter evenings with piano playing and singing. 

After graduating from the high school department of Dr. Martin Luther College in 1935, Erma moves to Larsen, Wisconsin, as a woman’s home companion for the disabled wife of the Reverend Weyland.  (more…)

May 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm 1 comment

April Foolery, Octoberish Surprises

My daughter-in-law, Esther, grew up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico – a preserved 16th century colonial hill town and World Heritage Site.  She and my stepson have lived part of their married life in that quaint city, with its large population of American retirees and its international arts community.  The town’s “foreign settlers” are lured by an enriched yet small town atmosphere, the reduced cost of living, and a temperateness of climate that is almost impossible for this northern girl to wrap her head around.

To convince my brain, I checked out a Weather Channel chart which shows a gentle arch of evening-low to daytime-high temperatures spanning the year.  Temperatures range from 44 to 78 in January, February, and March; from 53 to 85 in April, May, and June; from 56 to 79 in July, August, and September; and from 46 to 76 in October, November, and December.  That confirmation brings the  place dangerously close to a fantasy ideal that has been brewing in the imagination of the two Minnesota-weary Baby Boomers who live in my household.

But back to the Real World that comprises our Midwestern existence: It was a mere three weeks ago in mid-March that our bullishly high temperatures of 80-something were breaking old records like so many china shop tea cups.  People were wearing shorts and pulling out the flip flops.  Ahem; did somebody mention “flip-flops”?  Here we are in the second week of April, and it dips to 27 degrees overnight. I had to dig the pup’s fake shearling jacket out of mothballs and zip the liner back into my two-season coat.

Things are warming up a bit as the week progresses, but last night I heard a sheepish weather guy whispering the word “snow” in conjunction with next Monday’s forecast.  I feel bad for the farmers and those people who have plants in their tender care, but I have to put sympathies aside and try to make cider of this shriveled apple we’ve been handed.  Time to haul out the soup kettle and bake up some bread, as my husband settles in front of the computer to lose himself in a virtual tour of real estate offerings in ol’ San Miguel.

The soup is a cinch.  With inspiration from over a hundred recipes in my nifty little all-color, all-soup cookbook, I settle on Corn, Chili, and Chorizo Soup and a stew-like Turkey and Lentil concoction, then set about adapting them to my own self-imposed nutritional mandates.  Now for some hearty bread.  If I had it to do over, I would opt for the Walnut and Seed Bread recipe tucked in at the end of the Love Food Soup collection, but I had a few ingredients I wanted to use up and a different recipe I’d been wanting to fiddle with, so I whipped up my version of Prune and Walnut Bread – and then managed to over-bake it to just a few strides short of burnt offering territory.  So much for fiddling.

There is a story passed down about my husband’s grandmother, as a 22-year-old newlywed, baking a cake that didn’t meet her standards for serving to others.  Embarrassed over the mishap, she stashed it in her hope chest and ate away at it, one slice a day for as long as it took to consume the entire thing on her own.  Family lore has it that she was reluctant to throw it on the trash heap out of fear that her failure would become public knowledge.  I prefer to think that, like me, she couldn’t stand the idea of wasting all those good ingredients.

Whatever the case, having trimmed the darkened top off of my own imperfect creation, I have now been eating away at a slightly dry White Wheat, Prune, Walnut, Applesauce yeast bread for five days running.  And the recipe made two 9” round pans-full, so there is one in the freezer that I’ll have to deal with.  Later.  Meanwhile, for the non-martyrs among us, whole grain tortilla quesadillas made with Monterey Jack cheese go beautifully with either of these chill-chasing soups. (more…)

April 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

On Being Careful About What You Wish For

You’ve heard the saying:  Some days you’re the windshield, some days you’re the bug. Of course there are plenty of roles to play between those two extremes, but last week I was definitely identifying with the bug.

As for being careful what you wish for, let me back up yet another week to the two days my husband stayed home from work, ill.  His ailment was one of those weird, amorphous “things” that fit no familiar pattern.  The classic stomach flu symptoms never fully developed.  No upper respiratory stuff was going on.  He just felt lousy, slept a lot, didn’t have any appetite.  And ambition?  He might as well have been an oil reservoir with a missing drain plug. Not a drop left to be eked out.

As I scurried around doing laundry, working out, walking the dog, grocery shopping, plugging away at writing projects, cooking, serving, washing dishes, cleaning out the kitty litter box, paying bills, and organizing tax records, I paused to peek in at my snoozing husband.  “Gee,” I caught myself thinking.  “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have an excuse to just put on the brakes for a few days; to slow my roll and pull the rug out from under the daily grind; maybe catch up on some reading.”

I guess my husband doesn’t complain enough, because the minute I’ve finished my Tae-Bo and downed  my oatmeal the following Monday morning, I discover the true meaning of having the rug pulled out from under.  Soon I am crawling back into bed, feeling so limp and miserable that I want to cry.  I also want to throw up, but that relief is never visited upon me – and being recently educated about the casual offering up of wishes, I am reluctant to pursue the matter.  Oh, and my head aches.  A dull, persistent, wrap-all-the-way-around-the-shoulders ache that will not be massaged away.

Three hours later, Miss I Haven’t Been Sick in Six Years is slowly fluttering her way back to consciousness, and praying for forgiveness for both that boast and her thoughtless presumption that a change in routine “might be nice.”  I am not one to skip a meal, but I skipped several those first two days of high intensity wretchedness.

Having slogged through Day One disabled by fatigue and edgy from the sound of my stomach clunking out spasmic “gorka-gorka” rhythms at the mere thought of solid food, I go to bed early, feeling slightly better and pleading for continued improvement.  Come 2:43 a.m. and blam, I am ripped back to awareness.  It’s as if the original ton of bricks has been gathered up and re-released from 40 feet above my Sealy Posturepedic.

After 30 minutes of moaning and groaning, blessed sleep returns, and by sun-up I am able to work out and eat breakfast once again before Day Two shows itself to be merely a paler version of its predecessor. As the week passes and the symptoms gradually subside I continue to need plenty of rest, so I decide to wring a little something out of this unfortunate situation by chipping away at my reading pile.  Some light distraction is my goal. (more…)

March 28, 2012 at 9:22 pm 2 comments

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