Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Happened Then, What Happens Next

Okay, so let's talk about what happened yesterday: To quote myself answering this question for a friend, "It was a first day to end all jobs."

As first days on jobs go, this one was something of a disaster from start to finish. Yesterday began what was supposed to be a full week of paid training to prepare me for a job as an e-tech person for a local company. According to rumor I picked up from a fellow trainee, we were starting in the middle of a pay period, and I would be paid the same day I am to move into my new apartment. YAY!!! I needed that extra money right then. I prepared carefully: I made sure all necessary paperwork was filled out and printed off, went to bed at a decent hour the night before, and got up and out the door on time yesterday morning. The bus arrived on time and dropped me off on time. I made it to the intersection where I was supposed to turn. That's where it all fell apart.

First, I walked a block and a half in the wrong direction. Walking in any direction is difficult for me, because I have chronic back pain due to a bulging disk in my lumbar spine and degenerative disease in the lower lumbar-upper sacral spine. That's the area below the small of the back and above what I lovingly call the bohunkus. I cannot walk continually for more than two or three minutes without the pain ramping up, and once it gets to a certain intensity, there is nothing else for it but to sit down. If I continue to push past this point, I set myself up for the pain to continue for hours after, even if I stop walking and do not do a significant amount of walking anymore the rest of the day. So it was not good for me to walk in the wrong direction.

I had to retrace my steps and go back to the intersection. I stopped there and got water from a gas station before proceeding on my way in the right direction. It was only a block that I had to walk, but along this block, which is rather long, there is no sidewalk on the side of the street where I needed to be, the ground, though mostly covered with grass, was uneven and on an incline in places, and in some spots there were leaves that would prove treacherous in wet weather. Having broken a bone in my left leg at the knee because of a fall after slipping on pine straw after a rain shower, I pay especial attention to tree debris on grass, and I intensely dislike having to walk over mounds of it. I fare much better on sidewalks. Since there wasn't one, and the ground was as I have described, and since I was now in considerable pain from walking, I had to actually stop and sit on a retaining wall along the way. It was the second time I'd had to do this, having stopped on the way back to the intersection from the wrong direction to sit on the side of some steps in front of a building.

It was after I got up from the retaining wall that I then made the mistake that cost me the most time: Seeing a spot where the wall petered out, low to the ground and only slightly inclined upward, I left the side of the road, cut through a parking lot, and went to the side of the building I was trying to enter. The building is very large, with bits that angle in and out, and all on one level. I thought to get into the building from that side, or be able to walk around to the front and get in. Well, between stopping now for longer than I was going, going to every door I saw only to find that I couldn't get in that way, and having to sit down a couple more times, I didn't get through the right door until almost an hour after the training class was to start. Had I stayed on the path and kept going, I would have found the door maybe 15-20 minutes earlier. Looking back, this mistake seems almost a metaphor for what happened next.

I was finally escorted from the security desk in the lobby to my classroom. There were not enough computers for the people in the room, and of extra chairs the only one left was a hard, formed plastic chair, the kind with bolts to hold the seat and back piece to the metal legs. They're very uncomfortable to sit on for more than an hour or two at the best of times, and I sat on one for most of the training day. At the lunch break, when I approached the trainer about something, I discovered the information pretty much sent the rest of the day downhill.

It went like this: When I first went to the company for recruitment and to be interviewed, the recruitment manager told us that the e-tech hours of operation were during a 12-hour span during the day, with shifts to be set sometime during those 12 hours. I'd indicated in writing on a form I was given to complete that I wanted to work no later than 4 p.m. At the time that I interviewed for the position, no mention was made to me of when I would actually be scheduled to work. However, the project supervisor asserted most firmly that the hours were something quite different, and I would actually be working considerably later than I thought. There were day slots that were being reserved for those new employees who were the top performers their job during the first 90 days.

Here were my objections:
1. With my current physical condition and the difficulties stemming therefrom, I did not feel that I would be able to safely navigate the block between the building and the bus stop in the dark.
2. The buses run differently at night, potentially making it more difficult for me to get home if I worked a night shift.
3. I have already researched the area where I will soon be living, and I currently know that the most direct way for me to get home is to walk from a major highway down a street for some distance to my apartment. I do not want to do that at night in my current condition, for reasons of safety as well as decreased physical ability.
4. There was another contract that already had a few day slots, but they required weekend work, and because I play for a church one weekend a month, I need Sundays free, but the choice wouldn't be mine to make.
5. If a few day slots are being held in reserve, that means they exist, and it seemed to me unfair that the work schedule according to their needs was being portrayed has having no day slots available. Either they don't have them, in which case they should have made that clear to everyone, or they do, in which case, it should be no hardship to them to fill them and let me have one.

I pleaded my case based on the first three objections, and the best solution at which we could arrive was for me to hand in my newly-acquired employee badge and hope that they could work something out and call me back. Although I'd like to think that will happen, and I hope it does, I will not be surprised if it doesn't. After yesterday, I feel like a failure; the more I think about it, the more colossal a failure I feel; because I think I panicked a bit thinking about the lateness of the proposed hours. Had I been a little more clearheaded in that moment, I would have instead opted to do some researching and thinking between then and now, and I might still have a job. Feeling like I needed to make a decision right then, however, I took the path of caution and so I find myself back where I started. It's a rather sick feeling. I want it to be awhile before I feel this way again.

However disastrous it was, it was also a valuable learning experience for me, showing me some issues I need desperately to resolve before I begin a new job search, and today I began working on them in earnest. My new plan of action is as follows:
1. I will call my prospective property manager to check on the status of my apartment application and find out if I may go to see the apartment I will be renting. I will attempt to navigate the distance from the apartment to the highway to see exactly how much effort it will take. At some point before I move, I will also ride the route again to be sure my online research matches with actual happenstance.
2. I made appointments today with an orthopedist recommended to me by my chiro and with an optometrist whom I've seen before. When I go to them, I will take with me application forms which I will ask them to fill out and sign confirming visual and other disabilities.
3. The applications are for service through a local transportation program that provides two levels of discounted taxi service conjunctive with the bus routes. I will complete my portion of the forms and submit them to the program manager and pray that I qualify for the total service.
4. For my health's sake, I will continue my efforts in the starch/sugar challenge (which have gone a little awry lately) and the sleep challenge, and after I have seen the ortho, I will begin an exercise challenge as well. Nothing strenuous, but if I must exercise, I find that I like stretches and exercises that are simultaneously relaxing and breath-driven, like the floor work in yoga and pilates. Hopefully I will find some moves I actually like.
5. In terms of employment, it is now time to "push the paradiggum" and "step away from the box" as was said by a nutty professor in a commercial I liked that did not run for very long. Recently, I was (I hope lovingly) accused of selling myself short by someone whom I like a little more than I hope that person knows. I realize that my brain is metabolically scrambled right now, but those parts that are still functional will now be bent toward lengthening my selling points and parleying avocation into vocation. From those who know me well, I welcome ideas, complete with practical points of implementation and suggestions of directions for first steps. These will either be in conjunction with or in place of more typical work-a-day moneymaking efforts. I look to those who love me to gently encourage me and pray hard for me, that I will recognize opportunities when I see them, have the wisdom to know how to work around the sticky points, and have courage to grasp them when they happen.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


So it's been a couple weeks since you last heard from me—and boy, what a difference a couple weeks makes!

Some things you don't know about me, as background: In 2005 I was laid off of a job that I loved and through which I felt that I was doing a wonderful service to the public. I was dealing with information of a somewhat medical nature, which appealed to me because I have always been fascinated by medicine and the workings of the body. When the unemployment payments ended, I took the first job that offered itself, doing telephone interviews for surveys. The work was not steady and paid me considerably less than I was making on the previous job. When I was assigned to a survey for which I would work two months and be out of work one month, I decided to apply for Social Security Disability based on my congenital legal blindness and put some time to good use studying to be a medical transcriptionist.

In theory this was a sound plan. I wouldn't have to worry about where the money was coming from while I was studying, and when I was finished, I would apply for a job making good enough money not to need the disability payments. There was only one problem about which no one warned me and which I didn't discover until I graduated from the medical transcription program I'd chosen and passed with flying colors and began looking for work: You have to be very, very careful which MT program you choose. If the one you choose doesn't offer internships or isn't part of a company that will hire its own graduates to give them experience, and you live in an area where most of the local medical facilities have already switched over to digital dictation or dictation via speech-recognition software, then you are going to have a most hellacious time getting hired. Medical transcription companies abound, and they are fighting over experienced transcriptionists, who are leaving the business in droves. However, those same companies will not hire anyone who doesn't have at least one year of on-the-job experience—meaning they will not hire me. Since I cannot get hired, I cannot gain experience. So, reluctantly, I began looking for other work than medical transcription.

Then, three months ago, my finances took a hit when my disability payments were cut by nearly $500! I'd been getting just enough to pay all my bills, buy groceries, give money in church, and have some left to play with if I only played a little bit. Suddenly I didn't have enough to pay the bills, or I wouldn't have had if I hadn't agreed to help out a friend by playing piano at his church one Sunday every month. Suddenly, I not only needed a job, I also needed to cut expenses.

The biggest bill I have is my rent, so it stood to reason that I must look for a cheaper place to live. I needed to find it by the end of this year, because my lease is up, and I must either sign another lease or go somewhere else. One of my uncles having died two months ago, my grandmother lost in him a son, a roommate, and an on-site caretaker, and her house seemed the obvious alternative if I couldn't find housing and a job by the end of this year. I set the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday as my deadline to make a decision and determined that by then I would do the best I could about at least finding subsidized housing by then. I prayed to Father God and began looking.

I hadn't been looking very long by the third week in October when a tip from the office manager of one low-income housing community directed me to the number of the office manager of another such community in a different part of town. When I called, in the middle of the one day that the office manager was available, to inquire about available units, I was briskly informed that one was available, but I needed to come fill out an application for it, as availability was based on first-come, first-served. After ascertaining that she would be there until evening, I immediately went over and filled out the papers right there in the office. Just this past week, I went back with the application fee and the additional paperwork she requested. Pending approval of the paperwork and a couple other minor bits of the process, I now have a new address, just in time for Thanksgiving!

So what about work? Well, two days after I completed the application for the apartment, I e-mailed a cover letter and resume to a local employment agency, just on a whim. The company e-mailed me back the following week to invite me to a job fair, to which I was to bring a copy of my resume and at which I was to be prepared to be interviewed. On the appointed day, I showed up, properly prepared, and I ended up interviewing for two different jobs! I ended up with the lower-paying one, because I wanted to be sure I would still be able to get home after my shift was over, I do not drive, and I live in a city where the buses do not run all night. With my lower stress tolerance due to hypothyroidism (learn about it by searching my archives for the post I did about it), I think that it will be the better job for me. I begin training in the morning!

That's a lot of change in a very short period of time. And of course it will affect my sleep challenge. From now on, to be at optimal performance, I have to make sure I establish and maintain a routine that gets me in bed at a decent time every night so that I can get up in the morning ready to begin each day. Up till now, I've continued to be inconsistent about it, but that all ends tonight. Just as soon as I finish this post.

But I'll let you know how things go with all these changes in my life. Wish me success in handling all this!

A new place to live, a new job, and all by the deadline I set! Thank You, Lord :-).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

This Just In . . . !

Hi, folks! I'm now famous—well, sort of. I'm featured on curlynikki.com doing a review on a product I won from her during her recent Birthday Challenge that she did to celebrate the one year anniversary of her blog. Come check me out, and see what I think of the product I reviewed. Maybe you'll want to try it.

While you're there, check out her brand-new natural hair forum. You can link to it from the Community tab at the top of her page. I've already posted there a few times. Stop by and join the fun!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Heady Thoughts In The Wee Hours

The following has already been posted on Facebook as a note. I hope my non-Facebook readers enjoy this as well. Due to technical difficulties that are not my fault and a wake-up time that mostly is, I'm only just now posting it here.

Heady Thoughts In The Wee Hours

I really should not be up this time of night. It's the wee hours. I was supposed ot be in bed almost two hours ago. Remember my challenge: To be in my nighties and winding down by 11 p.m. and have the lights out by midnight. I'm in my nighties, but that's about as close to bed and sleeping as I have gotten this night.

Instead, I have been reading posts from the hair blogs listed in my blogroll, which you can see to the left of this post if you're reading it from the blogsite. If you're reading it on Facebook, you'll have to go to my blogsite to see the roll.

Hair is such a fascinating topic for me. I have derived much pleasure and much grief from mine throughout my life. A lot of the grief has come from, among other things, having it break from mistreatment, having people close to me dislike what I chose to do with it, and having my scalp hurt and burn from too many harsh chemicals and too little sensible TLC. A lot of the joy has come from, among other things, discovering products and methods of styling and care that do my hair good when I do them, having my hair grow longer and longer, and discovering that I can easily sacrifice a few hours a quarter year to snip off damaged ends if it helps the rest of my hair to feel silkier and retain the rest of its length.

Right now, I've got a head full of plaits with the ends coiled around themselves, all ready for bed, except that I put too much oil on, so I have to sleep with a plastic bag on my head tonight—what remains of tonight. The oil, unrefined coconut oil, was mixed in a spray bottle with Suave Naturals Tropical Coconut conditioner and water. I store this bottle, a jar of coconut oil, and a jar of raw shea butter mixed with honey and olive oil on top of my cable box with a thick, glossy restaurant menu under them to protect the cable box. The cable box keeps the oils warm, which makes them easier to use. I've tried to return to the nightly habit of my longer hair days of plaiting my hair before bed. I moisturize my hair and oil the ends as part of the ritual. The intent is to keep moisture in my hair against the dryness that comes with being indoors with the heater running as one necessarily does in winter. I think it's working.

I'm more consistent about this, especially now that my hair, which broke off badly two years ago, is showing lively signs of trying to grow back to the shoulder length it was before I lost so much of it, than I have been about going to bed on time. One day, I will tell my hair story in its entirety. I will also post more things about hair, as the effort to maintain length as it grows longer is yet another cygnet I want to bring home. But for now, I think I've done wa-a-a-a-y too much transgressing with the staying up already. I'm going to bed now.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Rather Random Day

Today has been a rather random day for me. Last week, our pastor challenged us to find ways to “be the Church”; that is, to find ways to demonstrate the love of Jesus to those close to us. I live alone, and I do not socialize much—okay, at all, except to speak when we see each other in passing—with my neighbors. I do not drive, and I did not go anywhere today.

Which is not to say that I have not had an interesting day. A certain noted pastor out of the west coast has a widely-watched and long running broadcast on one of the several Christian cable stations available to me where I live. I enjoy listening to his sermons, and I happened to tune in to one today. He took his text from the Song of Solomon 2:15, talking about little issues in our lives that have a negative effect on our faith. Since he spent the whole hour talking about unforgiveness and its impact on our lives, I gather that this is actually a sermon series, and I would have to stay home from church a few more Sundays to catch more of it. No matter. The lesson today was thought-provoking enough. The grudges we hold, irrespective of why we hold them, count as extremely little by comparison to the debt of wrong Jesus could have held over us, yet He chose to forgive us, and it cost Him so much! So for the comparatively little we do to each other, no matter how often it occurs, He asks that we forgive each other. In our eyes some sins seem huge, and He understands this. But not even the absolute worst, most horrific things we can do to each other, and choose to do with frightening regularity, weigh anything at all compared to what He died to forgive in every one of us. Furthermore, unforgiveness is an anchor that ties us to hurt and will not allow us to move on. So for our own good, and so that we may obtain forgiveness from the Father when we need it (and we need it all the time), it is imperative that we learn to live a life of forgiveness with each other.

I have managed to make progress in serving a friend, however, although it may be up for debate if this counts as “being the Church”. She brought me material for curtains and throw pillow covers about two years ago, but she bade me wait on her word as to when she wanted them made. There has been no rush on anything, and I have since completed the one set of curtains she requested, but back this summer she asked about the pillows. I had not made very much progress on them at all. The reason I cited was depression. If you have been following this blog for any time, you may recall me talking about symptoms of hypothyroidism, with which I have been diagnosed. Depression is one of the symptoms, and it can be quite debilitating sometimes, making it hard to purposefully think at all, let alone concentrate on anything. Having no pattern for what she wanted me to do with the pillows, I had to devise one all on my own, and I simply could not come up with a way to execute it. To complicate matters, the material is plaid, which requires special attention to measurments. Trying to figure out how to do it was overwhelming. Then a few days ago, the thousand and one thought fragments I'd devoted to the project finally coalesced into sense, and I spent some time putting together ordered instructions for how to do what I needed to do. I have spent this weekend cutting the material, and it is during a break from bending over the table that I am writing this. At the rate I'm going, I hope I'll have three beautiful pillows finished by next weekend.

In the background is the sound of a cash register ringing. Not a real one, but It is making me money. No the money isn't real either. If you've been on Facebook for a day, you know it is littered with apps. There are quizzes, all manner of cards to send, ways to tweak your profile, and games galore. I currently run two farms, an aquarium, a place in the city, and two restaurants, all from playing with interactive apps on FB. To be more precise, I run all of that except for one of the restaurants, which is currently running me. The potential exists for all the apps to become addictive, and this particular restaurant is highly interactive. Since getting up this morning, I have “served” 1650 slices of Triple Berry Cheesecake, 615 bowls of French Onion Soup, and well over 200 bowls of Super Chunk Fruit Salad. I just put out a platter that will eventually serve over 1100 slices of Homestyle Pot Roast, and in a few minutes I will lay out some 800 servings of Spitfire Roast Chicken. Still in the kitchen are another 200-plus servings of soup and more fruit salad. I have “cooked” and “served all this between getting dressed, watching my sermon, eating breakfast and lunch, cutting out fabric, and washing and prepping dry beans for cooking. My last task in this restaurant today, after I serve up the chicken, is to put on more chicken and beef to “cook”, then I'm done. From now on, the only things I prepare for my “patrons” are those things that are based on a 24-hour rotation. The customers will be served, and once it's gone, I'm “closed” until the next day, when it's time to serve up what I put on the prevous day. Whew!

As for my cooking in the real world? Well, being a bit short on groceries, I'm having to wax creative with the aforementioned dry beans. After they're seasoned and cooked, I'm adding to them some mixed vegetables from the freezer, some more mixed vegetables that I prepared from frozen just yesterday, and, sorrow of sorrows, starch. It is in the form of some slammin' mac and cheese I brought home with me from a visit to my parents' house and stashed in the freezer, right before I started my starch and sugar challenge. I say it is to my sorrow that I'm adding this cheesy goodness to my beans and vegetables, because I have definitely seen positive benefits, including weight loss, from adherence to the challenge, and I don't want to lose any of that. Having already made a large quantity of hummus, my plan is to eat that with fruit for breakfast and have the bean dish, which I'm going to loosely call pasta e fagioli, because that's more or less what it is, for supper.

Well, the interactive chicken is up, I'm waiting for the soup and one more bowl of fruit salad, and my hyperactive restaurant is going on autopilot! The good news: I've advanced another level!.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Sleepy Head

So last night was the first official night of my sleep challenge. My goal is to consistently be ready for bed by 11 p.m. and have lights out my midnight.

I was late on the first part of the challenge, primarily because I got home from Bible study hungry but then spent an hour on the phone talking with a friend. It was around 11 p.m. by the time I finished eating the late night meal I made of the left-over chicken and veggies from supper. But by being too tired to do anything to my hair before bedtime, I caught up and did indeed have the lights out by midnight.

There's more to being ready to sleep, however, than being in the bed in the dark. I am the sort of person who finds it necessary to wind down and relax before I can actually sleep. And last night I found it particularly hard to wind down because I had a lot on my mind. So I know it's important to calm the mind as well as the body in preparation for sleep.

One thing that has worked well for me is to have an external focus that is soothing. For some people a white noise or other sound generating machine is excellent for this. I've never owned one of these, but there are models that allow you a variety of sounds to play, including ocean, stream, wind, rain, and other nature sounds. The nature sounds I prefer to hear are the soughing of a gentle wind and the soft tapping of rainfall. As overcast as it was in my local area last night, I'd have loved to go to sleep to the sound of rain.

When the weather won't cooperate with me, however, I frequently turn to the sound of music to induce a sleepy head. The choice of music is very important for me. Although I am a serious beat-head, liking music with rich, complicated percussion and intricately harmonious instrumentation that is almost as rhythmic as the percussion, it can't be anything too uptempo, or I get revved up instead of winding down. The euphony of well-crafted music engages my mind and gives it an orderly path to follow away from whatever chaos might otherwise clamor for my attention. A frequently-played selection in my bedroom is Vineyard Music's Best of Acoustic Worship in which bongos and the occasional jingle of a tambourine provide the background over which the rhythmic strumming of acoustic guitars and syncopation of fingers dancing over the piano provide all the color to be complemented by harmonious voices raised in worship that is both comtemplative and passsionate. This recording works equally well, I find, as music by which to perform yoga, Pilates, or any other type of exercise that involves slow, deliberate movement with breath.

The right sound is not the only thing that induces sleep, however. Some people rely on warm milk or chamomile tea, both being touted to have properties that help one relax and go to sleep. I frequently drink milk in the evenings, but then I like milk and will drink it anytime, at any temperature. For sleeping, I like it with honey in chamomile tea, or I will drink just the warm milk with honey or agave nectar, or by itself. Other things that are said to induce sleep are other dairy products such as cheeses and yogurt, soy products, seafood, meats, whole grains, legumes, eggs, and some nuts and seeds. These foods are rich in tryptophan or have some affect in the body that contributes to sleepiness. Tryptophan is the amino acid associated with turkey. Foods not to eat before bedtime are simple carbs and caffeine. Caffeine revs you up, and simple carbs do not contain the calm-inducing tryptophan to go with the crash they can cause.

Another way some people achieve a sleepy head is to use supplements to regulate their brain. There are many herbs and neurotransmitters in potable form that a person may try in order to go to sleep. I've already mentioned tryptophan derived from food. It can also be taken in supplement form. Other good supplements are calcium, serotonin, any of the B vitamins, St. John's wort, and the aforementioned chamomile.

However, the thing that will probably help all these things be more effective is having a regular routine, which is what this sleep challenge is all about. Once the body becomes used to going down at the same time every night, the body's natural rhythm will send signals at the appropriate time to cause a person to get sleepy and be ready for sleep when lights-out time arrives.

So here's to a sleepy head every night!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Time Challenge: Sleep

Time Challenge: Sleep

Consider this passage from Proverbs 6:6-11:

“Go to the ant, you sluggard!
Consider her ways and be wise,
Which, having no captain,
Overseer or ruler,
Provides her supplies in the summer,
And gathers her food in the harvest.
How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.”

I've done well so far in my starch and sugar challenge. Effects I've noticed so far include:

• Improved mobility upon rising after prolonged stillness

• Decrease in bone pain

• Weight loss

• Excessive sugar consumption causes a high, with symptoms of slurred speech, dizziness, and nausea when the sugar is paired with starch

• Excessive starch consumption causes crankiness, anxiety, and a general sense of feeling bad, with symptoms lasting for several hours

When I do desire starches, it's usually pretty easy to talk myself out of it by reminding myself of how bad I feel when I consume them. I've discovered that I don't like feeling that way. As for sugar, I treat it the way I treat caffeine: I take a little when I need it for alertness, but then and special occasions are the only times, and I'm careful not to overindulge. I have a sweet tooth, so keeping a handle on it has been crucial, but by no means difficult.

I feel confident enough in my current way of eating that now it's time to send another cygnet home.

So beginning October 5, I will officially begin the practice of a consistent bedtime and wake-up time.

I find that I function most optimally when I go to bed by midnight and sleep till around 8 a.m. I seem to need to wind down before attempting to actually sleep, and it takes me 15-30 minutes to actually get going once I'm awake. My difficulty is that I do not always observe a consistent time for these activities. Sometimes I go to bed but then play a game on my cell phone, listen to upbeat music, or read until two or three hours later. Some mornings it's after 10 a.m. before my eyes open for good for the day.

This causes inconsistencies not only with my sleep cycle but with the productive hours of my day. Since I'm a little slow to get started but like to be fed and out on any errands by mid-morning, and I must wait for at least 30 minutes after taking my meds before I can have breakfast, it becomes important that I get up at an early enough time to accomplish all this in a relaxed fashion that allows me to enjoy the morning as I'm preparing to enter into it And, of course, it's important to take some time in the morning to connect with Jesus, time I steal from Him and myself by my sluggardly ways in the morning.

This has to change for the better.

So starting October 5, my goals are (1) to have my teeth brushed, my hair finished if I've washed or otherwise tended it, and my nightclothes on by 11 p.m. and myself in bed with lights out by midnight, (2) to be awake by 8 a.m. and up for the day by no later than 8:30, and (3) to do this consistently every day.

I've set the first two goals before, but I've yet to meet them consistently over longer than a week or two. This time, consistency will be the focus. As with the previous challenge, I will report back on my progress and on things I observe and learn along the way. Look for tips and tricks I discover on helping to maintain consistency, reduce the chances of insomnia, and get the maximum benefit from my sleep during the night so that I am in better shape to put more effort into and reap greater results from my days. All to the glory of God, of course!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Bitter Truth About My Sweetener

. . . Of course, the truth of some of this may be up for debate, but here goes . . . .

So, I was looking for places to buy agave nectar online, thinking, perhaps rightly, that I can buy it in bulk and save money per ounce instead of buying it in the store and paying more per unit for a lot less. This is a valid consideration; agave nectar ain’t cheap, so you gotta want it mighty bad and like it mighty good to buy it at the prices you have to pay for it.

In searching for where I could get it for the best price, I came across some disturbing information: Seems that agave nectar isn’t the holy grail of sweeteners that so many make it out to be.

Here’s what I discovered in an article I saw: (1) All agave nectar isn’t pure agave nectar. Agave nectar, AKA agave syrup, comes from a type of cactus called agave. There are several different species from which agave nectar can be taken, but they all seem to have in common that they take 7-10 years to mature. The nectar is drawn from a part of the plant called the pina, which resembles a giant pineapple (considering that the Spanish word for pineapple is piña, this, and not pina, may be the actual word for the fruit of the agave). Because it takes so long for the agave to grow, some agave producers in Mexico have taken to mixing corn syrup with it to get more product. The problem with this is that while pure agave is considered a low-glycemic sweetener—meaning that it will not cause blood sugar spikes above a certain level—corn syrup is not low-glycemic. So depending on who manufactures the produce you use, you may be getting a higher blood sugar spike than you intended to pay for. Try to verify that the product you use has no corn syrup or other sweeteners added to it to be sure you’re getting pure agave nectar.

(2) Agave nectar is mostly fructose. This may not be that great a concern if you are at a healthy weight and don’t regularly consume many sweets beyond fruit. The issue here is in how fructose is metabolized in the body as opposed to the sucrose of which table sugar is mainly composed and which is so demonized for its effect on blood sugar. You’ve probably seen it before somewhere else, but you can stand the reminder. If this is news to you, pay attention. When sucrose is consumed in sufficient quantities, it can cause a high enough rise in your blood sugar levels that your pancreas pumps out a high level of insulin in order to balance out the levels. But it tends to want to overcompensate, so the blood sugar levels fall as quickly and as steeply as they rose, which is why some people have that “crash” feeling after the burst of energy from consuming whatever sweets they ate. Some people respond to this by eating more sugar, thus perpetuating the cycle of spiking and crashing. In time, either the pancreas cannot keep up with the insulin demands, or you become less responsive to it. This is how Type II diabetes happens. Agave nectar has been touted as a sweetener one can consume in moderation without having this spike-crash cycle they way you have it with sugar.

On the flip side, however, fructose, the sugar of which agave nectar is mostly composed, is metabolized in the liver, where it must either be used or it will be stored in the body as fat, whereas the very sucrose that causes the spike-crash cycle is metabolized in the blood and is not stored as readily in the body.

This becomes an instance of measuring one set of risks against another. If a person simply doesn’t want to begin or continue experiencing problems due to the spike-crash cycle associated with consumption of other sweeteners, and this person generally eats a balanced diet and is in good health, agave nectar is probably a good choice for the benefit it offers. However, no sweetener is good in excess, not even agave nectar. If you’re already overweight, it may be worth it to limit all sweeteners, including agave nectar, and derive your sugar from whole, fresh fruit and fruit smoothies. If you have diabetes already, but your doctor permits you to eat agave nectar, it is wise to consume the least amount you need at any given time and continue monitoring your blood sugar to be sure the amount you use doesn’t raise your levels too high.

(3) This next point is mostly for vegans and “living” food consumers, which I am not, and it has to do with the agave nectar product sold as “raw”. For living food consumers, any food cooked past a temperature of 118 degrees is considered to be no longer living, because many healthful benefits in foods are thought to be lost if they are heated beyond this point. The higher the temperature, and the longer that temperature is sustained, the fewer healthful benefits remain at the end of the cooking. Some producers will cook agave nectar to temperatures as low as 250 degrees and as high as 450. So it becomes important to living food consumers that they get their agave nectar from a producer who will not cook it at a temperature higher than 118 degrees. The problem, according to the article I read, is that the nectar must be heated in order to concentrate it into a syrup, rather like maple sap is heated to concentrate it; because in its original state straight from the cactus, agave nectar isn’t really very sweet at all. Beyond this, if it were not cooked into a syrup, agave nectar would ferment into tequila—which is the original reason agave was cultivated and the nectar collected.

So, after reading all this and having a few days since then to think on it, what are my conclusions? Some of them I’ve already stated. If (1) a person is already healthy and eats a well-balanced diet free of an excess of sweeteners of any kind, (2) the product is purchased from a reputable producer who sells pure agave nectar, and (3) a person is comfortable with knowing the pros and cons of consuming the product, this will likely not be an issue, as long as it doesn’t violate any self-imposed rules or standards of consumption. Me, I like that I don’t have to worry about the spike-crash I would get with other sweeteners, it is currently my only commonly-used sweetener, and I try to be careful about how much of it I consume in a day. Plus, if I was forced to give it up for an artificial sweetener, such as saccharine, aspartame, or sucralose, all of which I dislike, the alternative for me would be no sweeteners at all, because I would refused to eat artificial sweeteners on any regular basis, my tendency being to avoid them altogether. So I’m still willing to shell out the money to buy the agave nectar.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Experiment Ends, The Journey Continues . . . .

So, it’s two days past the month point since I started my grand experiment. What do I have to say about it?

Here’s the recap for those of you who are coming late to the blog: Starting July 5, I was to abstain from eating breads, grains, starchy vegetables, breaded foods, and all sweeteners except agave nectar. During the month, I have been submitting almost weekly reports detailing my progress, more or less. Now that the month has ended, it’s time for me to draw some conclusions.

I was told I would experience weight loss, an overall improvement in my mood, and a diminution of inflammation in my body, all leading to pain reduction and improved general health.

What I haven’t seen is the improvement in mood, and I’m only beginning to notice a possible loss of maybe a few pounds. I cannot yet get back into anything I had to sop wearing from my last weight gain, and honestly, it’s gonna be awhile before I see enough of that weight go to get back into those clothes. But I’m hopeful.

What I have seen, however, is reason enough for me to continue this manner of eating for the foreseeable future. I have experienced improvement in breathing under exertion, i.e., I’m not short of breath anymore just from walking. Getting up from lying and sitting positions after prolonged stillness is significantly easier, irrespective of the time of day. The most heartening change, however, has been the diminution of the pain in my back when I walk. Yes, it still hurts a lot, and I still can’t walk very fast; but I can walk farther before it gets bad, it doesn’t get as bad, and I retain more strength and energy and recover more quickly when I return home at the end of a trip of errands. And today I discovered that if I take care to land my steps gently, I can reduce the pain by yet a little more.

I still do not find that I much miss the foods I’ve eliminated, as long as I choose well from the plenty of other things that I can eat. Being able to indulge in agave-sweetened frozen custard that I make myself has gone a long way toward helping me not miss other forms of sweets, enough so that I totally do not mind the exorbitant price of the agave nectar. And I’m hopeful that things will continue to improve.

The challenge now is to be careful to read the ingredients on packaged foods before I drop them into my grocery cart. I discovered the importance of this when I purchased two bags of beef jerky this week. I bought them not thinking about the fact they were processed snacks and therefore likely to have sugar. Alas, when I read the ingredients after eating some of it, I discovered that they are made with sugar, corn syrup solids, and maltodextrin, which is a sugar derived from corn. So now I’m on the hunt for jerky not made with sweeteners.

So, the journey continues. And I hope you’ll continue to tag along with me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Vise

I have had chronic back pain since about 1998. The diagnosis is a bulging disc and degenerative disease in the lower lumbar and sacral spine. From childhood I have also had occasional paresthesia in that area, though that was not officially diagnosed until last year, when I suffered an attack that began during the last part of my walk to the chiro’s office and continued until well after I got there. Paresthesia is irritation of or damage to a nerve that manifests as a feeling of numbness, tingling, crawling, or some other sensation, in my case an intense, burning itch that always had me scratching my buttocks, hips, and thighs with a ferocity that felt—and to any observer probably appeared—as though I were trying to dig my way to China through my own body. Every so often I also have muscle spasms in my back. These are painful to varying degrees. The most recent one happened July 3 and is the reason I’ve spent so much time in the chiro’s office this month.

The chronic back pain has taken a toll on me. Walking has been increasingly difficult. Although the visits to the chiro have greatly helped the sciatica caused by the bulging disc, nothing has really touched the pain. I have described it as feeling as though someone had clamped a vise around my lumbar spine and was using the vise to pull my spine out. This pain typically begins within a couple minutes of continuous walking and ramps steadily up until I’m forced to stop walking. A walk to the bus stop that took eight minutes when I moved to my current location now takes almost twice as long and may feature several pauses to lean myself in a standing plank position against whatever telephone poles or other sturdy vertical structures I find along the way. Prior to the beginning of my grand experiment, I had gotten to the point of a despair so great that I truly began to believe that I would soon never be able to walk again. It was a scary place to be.

So, one of the things I inferred from my chiro’s assertions about a starchless, sugarless way of eating was that I would experience a decrease in inflammation in my body, resulting in a decrease in pain. Although I’ve noticed improvement in my ability to rise and move after prolonged stillness, I was not yet able or willing to attribute any change or decrease in pain to the dietary changes I’ve made.

I had yet another chiro appointment today. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to face the walk to the bus stop. I set out anyway.

The terrain in my community is all over hills, and I have to ascend a very steep one almost right out the door. I slowly began the climb and waited for the vise to clamp and the pain to escalate. I climbed. And waited. Nothing. I kept climbing, waiting for it, waiting for it. Finally, at the top of the hill, the pain met me. It squeezed my spine, a light squeeze, as if it were actually not much interested in clamping down so much. I crept closer to the highway, hands at my waist, just above my hips. The vise still didn’t clamp. I kept going. I was actually able to notice other things, like how tight my thigh muscles were, and how I was doing protecting my left knee from being wrenched or twisted because of a misstep. And though the rest of the walk was uncomfortable and slow, the vise never clamped. By two thirds of the way on, I was sending up thanks out loud to Jesus!

This was my walk to the bus stop on a rainy day, post ovulation. The post ovulation part is important, because whatever conditions I have seem to intensify in the days post ovulation, which in the past meant that my back pain normally became more severe, and walking became more difficult at that time. And anyone with arthritis is familiar with what happens on rainy days. This walk today was easier than walks I’d taken in the days after my menses, before ovulation, when pain is generally less troublesome. I was stunned. And jazzed. And grinning like the long-lost idiot who finally found her village. I started singing.

I was ecstatic in my description of my experience when I got to the chiro’s office. The chiro was happy, too, speaking strong encouragement and inspiration to me. Unlike the despair I’d come to feel while walking, unlike the sure certainty I’d come to feel that I would one day lose the ability to walk, I was, as I told the chiro, able to see my life stretching out before me. A life where I get the joy of putting one foot in front of the other and loving it again as in times long past.

And even at the limit of my endurance for the day, the pain still never got as bad as it has in the past. I even felt well enough when I walked back into my place to wash the dishes, warm my supper, and stretch a little bit before finally sitting down. The vise never clamped.

It feels good to hope again. My heart is soaring in anticipation of the next walk, in hope that it will be at least as good as this was today. In hope that from today, the vise remains loosened, never to clamp again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bahama Mamas Day: Sugar v. Nectar

Today was Bahama Mamas Day!

No, you won’t find that on your calendar anywhere. To my knowledge, not even the Bahamas has Bahama Mamas Day, although I may be wrong.

But that’s what we celebrated at the home of some friends. They opened their home to a bunch of Christ Sisters, the men disappeared, and the women had a blast. Good food, good fun, good fellowship! The sun was warm, the skies were blue and dotted with puffy clouds, the pool was cool and refreshing to those who entered, the oldies music on the radio made an appropriate counterpoint to pleasant conversation on the deck. There were lots of memories to chuckle over, lots of new developments to note, and lots of love all around. Days like this are gifts from God, made to enjoy with all the senses and to share with others.

It was a feast day.

Our esteemed hostess provided plenty of water, tea, and other drinks. She provided nibbles such as cocktail shrimp, chips and a few different salsas, a couple of different cheeses, crackers, fruit, and the desserts: Bite-sized cupcakes and bananas, ice cream, and toppings for banana splits. I brought purple seedless grapes. Others brought various kinds of sweet and savory salads. There was lots from which to choose. And I partook freely of most of it.

I learned a couple of things.

I can stop when I’m satisfied without eating too much. Of course, I knew that already, and I’ve been fairly consistent about it for a goodly amount of time now. I don’t have to allow myself to be overwhelmed by choices. That was not a problem today, and it was a beautiful feeling, maintaining control. There were enough healthy offerings that I didn’t feel deprived when I passed up some things, like the crackers.

But I made up for that sacrifice by eating, along with my banana split, three of the bite-sized cupcakes, topped with dollops of white and pink icing and candy sprinkles. I’ve previously had days when I ate that much sugar at once, and thought nothing of it. Today, however, that sugar bomb was quite noticeable in its effect on me. Mind you, I’d already had three pints of delicious, sweet tea flavored with a variety of citrus, plus two small helpings of sweet salads that had mini-marshmallows, about a quarter cup each. So those three little cupcakes, along with a vanilla ice cream banana split topped with chocolate syrup, whipped cream, nuts, vanilla crunch sprinkles, and a handful of maraschino cherries all exploded in my system with some considerable force. Now I know what a sugar high is. I don’t like it much. My words actually slurred a bit, and my stomach wanted to be a little bit rebellious. I felt a little edgy, and I still feel that way as I’m writing this, although it’s now been about three hours since I finished eating all that. The crash, when it comes, will probably equally noticeable. Lesson learned!

I experientially understand the difference between refined sugars and agave nectar, not just in the fact that agave nectar has not affected me that way, but in the intensity of the sweetness of my frozen custard versus store-bought ice cream which, yes, I remember saying it, I said I would not eat anymore. My frozen creations have been quite good for something I made with just the right amount of agave nectar, without sugar, and without an ice cream maker, and after today I have reason to enjoy them all the more. The store-bought stuff, by comparison, was intensely sweet. Wow! The add-ons were more sweet upon sweet. It was way too much.

It seems that every week so far I’ve had something starchy, sweet, or starchy and sweet. I’m learning things though. That’s good. So tomorrow it’s back to no starches and no sweeteners except my prized agave nectar. That substitution is worth the money it will cost me to continue using it. I will consider it like a utility bill I’m willing to pay for something I enjoy: The ability to enjoy the sweet without overloading the blood sugar levels.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Second Week: Chiro And Custard

You know the kind of day I mean. If you’re old enough for anything I have thus far said in this blog to make even a modicum of sense, you’ve lived long enough to have one of these days. The kind of day when your get up and go decides to get up and go without notifying you of the fact, or worse, fails to show up at the needful time, and it’s now nine hours or more into the day when you most needed it to be there for you.

Today, on such a day, I visited my chiro.

The chiro whose oft-repeated suggestion and subsequent anecdotes are the impetus and inspiration behind this grand experiment on which I’ve embarked, that chiro. I had an appointment with this worthy person today.

Between self-injunctions to breathe, to relax, to allow myself to receive the blessing of repetitive down-pressings, out-stretchings, and occasional painful, sustained pokes at allegedly tight structures, I continued my litany of pain. Then, as I was gathering my glasses, my current paperback book, my cellphone in its waist clip, and my Eeyore back pouch made specifically for someone much younger than I am, I informed my chiro about my grand experiment, interrupting myself to comment on the photo of a chubby-cheeked, happy-faced little one Given that my chiro, a gentle-souled being, is the co-progenitor, the expression on the face of the offspring makes great good sense. I was delighted to see the offspring. The chiro was excited at my news.

I’ve brought that worthy being up to date on my progress so far, and now it’s time to update you, too. This past Sunday, two days ago, I ate some mac and cheese. Now this happened as a result of me bringing home, among other tasty food items, a huge chafing pan of homemade macaroni and cheese from an after-church dinner to celebrate their Men’s Day. I resolved to taste only a little of the cheesy pasta, but I ate rather more than I should. By the passage of several hours, I wished I hadn’t. I was headachy, and I felt extremely irritated and agitated. It was a most uncomfortable feeling.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the cornbread sticks that came home with me, of which I had a little nibble, just to taste one. Those are waiting in the freezer until Thanksgiving, when I will be called upon to make stuffing. Since my family prefers cornbread stuffing, they’ll have it made from the crumbs of actual cornbread this year. I’ll do my best to make sure it comes out well, and I have no reason to think it will do otherwise.

So how do I feel? Well, it all goes back to that rebellious get up and go I mentioned earlier. I started writing this an hour after waking up from a nap that lasted nearly three hours. My thinking is much improved, and I’m sure that now I’ve gotten into me a salad of romaine heart, sliced tomato, leftover barbecue chicken bits, and mayonnaise, I’ll start to feel more like a person physically. I just hate that it took this long into the day for that to happen.

As for any noticeable effects of the experiment, I do notice that, no matter how long I’ve been still, once I determine to get up, it is becoming easier to do so, and I get moving more quickly once I’m upright. My gait is still fat-arthritic person moving, but my speed of transition from long stillness to movement is more akin to normal person rising leisurely. And it’s a consistently noticeable thing, not something that’s hit-and-miss. I told my chiro that I wasn’t yet convinced of the supposed good benefits of being starchless and sugarless, but I must remember to mention this improved movement at my next visit.

And I’d like to now share with you a bit of culinary good news: You can make ice cream without ice cream makers, ice-filled coffee cans, and those crazy throw-balls that are supposed to encourage the more indolent among us that we should earn the right to eat the creamy goodness by pouring it into a contraption filled with ice and using it to play dodge ball or something while the ice freezes it for us. And you can make it without refined sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Go set up your mise en place (remember, that’s French for “get you mess in place”) and do like I tell you :-).

First, find a metal mixing bowl and your beater blades, tie them up in a bag, and put them into the freezer. Why? Because Alton Brown said so. Go ask the people at the Food Network who that is. Now set out six eggs and 1 C agave nectar. You’ll also need on hand at least a pint of milk, vanilla flavoring, a quart of heavy whipping cream, plastic wrap, and enough plastic freezable containers with lids to hold two quarts of finished product.

Set out a saucepan. Pour in 1 ½ C milk. This is ice cream, and I’m your cook here, not your nurse. Use the full-fat stuff. If you have lactose intolerance, you’re going to use the lactose-free full-fat stuff. Your tongue will thank you for the richness, and your stomach and fellow residents will thank you for the belly ache you won’t have. Don’t turn on the heat just yet, unless you’re experienced at what I tell you to do next.

Separate six eggs and put the yolks into another bowl. If you don’t know how to separate eggs, you can do one of two things. You can crack the egg and pour it carefully from one half shell into the other, allowing the white to run out until only the yolk is left. Or you can do it like the aforementioned Alton Brown and carefully pour out the whole egg into one hand, then carefully allow the white to drip from between your fingers as you pass the yolk from hand to hand until the white has dripped away. At this point, our beloved Bro. Brown would pick up a whisk and start whailing away at the egg yolks until they became light and fluffy, and that’s what I did, too.

I suppose you could save yourself some aggravation and beat the things with a mixer, but well beaten should be the end result. Once you achieve it, slowly pour in a cup of agave nectar while continuing to agitate the well-beaten egg yolks by your chosen method.

Now you can turn on the heat under the milk if you haven’t done it yet (and you won’t have done if you have any sense.) It doesn’t take that long for the milk to get warm enough for you to just be able to touch it for the heat, and you only want it just that hot for now. Remove it from the heat and begin tempering the egg yolk mixture. If you’re new to tempering, it’s easy. Scoop out maybe ¼ C milk, and while vigorously employing your whisk, slowly pour the milk into the egg mixture. Do this until you have maybe half the milk whisked in, then return the saucepan to the heat and slowly pour the tempered eggs into the saucepan, stirring continually. Make sure the heat is on medium-low at this point, and continue stirring your milk mixture while it cooks, When it coats the back of a metal spoon it’s ready. You should also notice that if you stop stirring for just a moment, it thickens up some.

At this point, you now have custard. Remove it from the heat, stir in at most a tablespoon of vanilla, transfer it to a bowl, put plastic wrap over it so that the plastic touches the surface of it, then put it into the refrigerator. It will need to cool thoroughly before your next step, so you have time to romance your lovely other, put the offspring down for a nap, catch up on the parts of this blog you haven’t read yet, watch a movie or two, or whatever else you want or need to do. It’s going to take a few hours at least.

When your custard is thoroughly chilled, remove your bowl and beater blades from the freezer and immediately pour in 2 ½ C heavy whipping cream. Quickly attach your beater blades and whip the cream into peaks that stand up when you remove the blades from it. It’s okay if it still moves around a little when you gently tilt the bowl. Get out the custard and fold it into the whipped cream, a little at a time, but with as little delay as possible. Pour your cream mix into the reserved containers, put on the lids, and put them into the freezer.

In my case, the resulting frozen custard cream was a little firmer to the texture upon freezing than you may find ice cream to be when you buy it from the store or make it in an ice cream maker, but it melts readily enough. I found the taste to be akin to caramel just before it burns, which some say is the exact way caramel should taste if it’s done right. I attribute this to the fact that I used raw agave nectar, which is why I plan to use the lighter nectar next time, but in the final analysis it’s quite delicious.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First Week And A Piece

For those of you keeping score, it is now a week and a piece since I began my grand experiment of having no breads and sugars among my food choices.

Well I have one transgression—I should more rightly say two, I guess—to report. This past Sunday evening, we had a church meeting over dessert. A dear friend who is an outstanding baker provided the goodies: Chocolate cakes with chocolate icing and cute little designs piped in white, and a vanilla cake topped with strawberries and vanilla icing. I had one serving of each.

The following night, for supper, I purchased a salad from Quizno’s, and it came with a piece of some kind of flatbread cut in half. I took one small bite out of one of the halves, just to see how it tasted, and tossed the rest. In my opinion, it doesn’t really add anything to the salad, so next time I will ask them to leave it off.

So what have I had today?

Breakfast: 10:00 a.m. – 2 bananas

Lunch: 1:30 or thereabouts – portion of roast chicken breast without skin (I ate it already) with Pace’s™ Triple Pepper salsa

Lemonade made with ¼ C agave nectar, ¼ C lemon juice, and enough cold water to bring it to 2 C total

I haven’t had supper, yet, but I’ve put some chicken wings into the oven. I’m going to have them with heart of romaine with celery, topped with a little mayonnaise. For later, I have a choice of desserts. Both are different single fruits blended with agave nectar, milk, and cream and thrown into the freezer. One is strawberry, and the other is sprite melon. For those who have never had sprite melon before, it is smooth like a honeydew, but it’s pale yellow-white instead of light green, and the taste is different.

Now, I tried to make a rub with hot paprika, garlic powder, sage, thyme, Old Bay seasoning, cinnamon, and salt. I wet the chicken in a base of olive oil with hot sauce, agave nectar, and some of my spice mix. If anyone has any good sauce and rub recipes, please feel free to submit them. I’d like them to not have more than 10 ingredients, please; and if any of your ingredients are exotic, please include information on how I may acquire them.

So how am I feeling? That’s important, because three of the supposed benefits of the bread- and sugar-free life are that one’s mood is significantly improved, one loses weight, and one experiences significant pain reduction.

So far, I can’t say I’ve seen much out of the ordinary that isn’t attributable to other things. I’ve just ended “that time”, and this is normally the point in my cycle when I feel the best. I normally expect to continue feeling relatively good until I ovulate, at which point, due to associated hormone changes, I will experience an increase in pain, my mood will become flat or negative, and I will become bloated or otherwise gain some weight from water retention. To complicate matters for this month, I suffered a muscle spasm July 3, two days before I started the experiment. Subsequent to this I have now been to the chiro four times, so of course, I would expect at this point to have less pain. I suppose the test for me will be to see how I fare in another two weeks or so.

The only things I can say I’ve thus far noticed that aren’t attributable to my cycle are that when I went out today, I was less short of breath than I have been in awhile when walking for any distance or up hills And when I got home, although I was somewhat tired from my trip, I did not feel as drained as I have in the past, nor did it take as long to recover. These may be the results either of the experiment or of the weather today, which was dry, with temperatures in the mid-80’s, which is cooler than normal for this time of year in this part of the country. This coming Friday is forecast to be more humid and may be warmer, so we’ll see when I go out again.

And that’s all folks! Sorry not to have made this a little more interesting, but It’s after six in the evening, my chicken wings aren’t getting done fast enough to suit me, and I’m hungry!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Experiment Has Begun!

Okay, I’m late.

For those of you who have been keeping up, yesterday was the start of the grand experiment. Beginning yesterday, I have determined to consume no breads and no sugar for a month. As I indicated when I first mentioned this, I am eliminating all forms of breads, grains, starchy vegetables, and breaded foods from my diet. Also eliminated are sugars and artificial sweeteners. I will only be using agave nectar, because it has a lesser impact on blood sugar than other sweeteners. I still haven’t decided about honey, but if I use it, the use will be minimal.

My biggest issue will be non-compliance, to which I am quite prone. Already I nearly succumbed to non-compliance, on the first. Day. Yesterday. Having failed to consume and/or throw out all my bread, I had four wheat bolillos in my fridge. I had, and still have, leftovers from a scrumptious, starch-free seafood stew I made just Saturday evening, and I was reheating some for Sunday lunch. Saturday night’s serving had been accompanied by well-buttered slices of crunchy toast from thick slices of a sandwich roll, some of the bread the taxi driver gave me from the panadería. Yummy! I like sopping soups and stews with toast! I wanted more!

I almost had it.

And then I said no.

True, it’s my experiment, and I can conduct it how I want to. I can start and stop any time I want. But I said I’d start on July 5th, and I said I’d do it for the next four weeks. I need to keep my word, even if no one else is watching. Because, although you’re not telling me you’ve seen any of this, it’s out there, and you will someday. And I want you to know I kept to my word. Beyond this, even if you never see it, God sees. That’s even more important.

So, on this second day of my grand experiment, I’ve started well. The breads I didn’t eat are in the chest freezer, me not liking to waste good food even if it’s not exactly what I should be eating. I have my supply of agave nectar laid in for the month. All my granulated sugar is used up and gone—at least, gone out of any stage I can use for cooking, hahaha.

So what’s in my stew? It went a little something like this:

Mise en place (French for get your mess in place :-)! )

Chop a large white onion, five ribs of celery, and one red bell pepper. The original recipe calls for fresh garlic; now is the time to prepare it. I used a largish spoonful from a jar.

Open and drain two 14-oz cans each of mushrooms and diced tomatoes.

Scoop out about four ounces of tomato paste.

Prepare 32 oz chicken broth and whatever seasonings you want.

Prepare assorted seafoods, up to about three pounds. Make sure it is in bite-sized chunks.

Now, heat ¼ C each butter and olive oil in a large pot. Cook the onion, celery, pepper, and garlic until just starting to brown, about eight minutes. Remove half and set it aside.

To the other half, add half the mushrooms and tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken broth, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat. Remove all the vegetables in the pot and about half the liquid to a carafe blender, pulse on low to get started, then raise the speed and puree. Alternately, you can puree it all in the pot with a stick blender.

Add back in the reserved vegetables, the rest of the mushrooms and tomatoes, and the seafoods. Return the pot to the heat and cook until seafoods are cooked.

Bread eaters will enjoy sopping this savory stew with thick pieces of bread or toast. Goes great with lemonade sweetened with agave nectar. My perfect recipe is one part each agave and lemon juice in six parts water. The same amount of sugar can be substituted for the agave nectar with equally tasty results.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What I Know About Hypothyroidism

I have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism since February of this year, but for sure I’ve had it for awhile longer.

Here’s what I remember about it from my research: It’s a metabolic disorder caused by underproduction of certain hormones. There does not seem to be a cure, but it is treatable with daily doses of synthetic hormones or of natural hormones from animal sources.

The thyroid produces several hormones, including thyroxine and triidothyronine. These hormones help regulate metabolism. Sometimes the thyroid begins to gradually underproduce these hormones, and when that happens, a person—commonly, though not always, a middle-aged woman—may begin to experience a wide range of symptoms including dry skin; dry brittle hair; weak, brittle nails; constant tiredness; depression; sensitivity to cold; weight gain or difficulty losing weight in spite of a decrease in appetite or food intake; and hoarseness of the voice. Because these and other symptoms of hypothyroidism are so common to other conditions and their onset so gradual, doctors commonly misdiagnose it and propose treatments that ultimately do not address the actual condition.

There are two ways a doctor can determine if a person has hypothyroidism, and both are blood tests. The first test measures blood levels of thyroxine and triidothyronine. If these hormones are found to be low, then this is definitive for hypothyroidism. Sometimes, however, these hormones may be within acceptable levels even when the thyroid is underactive. This is because of the action of the thyroid-stimulating hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland. Thus, the second test a doctor can do looks at blood levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone. If there is an elevated level of this hormone in the blood, this is definitive for hypothyroidism.

There are a few different kinds of hormone replacement therapy a doctor may implement, but initial treatment will include routine blood work to gauge the effectiveness of the therapy used. The object of effective therapy is to help restore metabolic balance by supplementing the deficient thyroid hormones. A person will need to continue routine checks to ensure that therapy continues to be effective.

Typically, treatment is lifelong once it is begun. If the treatment is stopped without a doctor’s approval, the symptoms can come back more quickly and forcefully than they came on initially. Continued lack of treatment can result in a condition called myxedema. A person can go into a coma and even die. That should not be a worry as long as treatment is initiated and continued.

The things that I personally find most aggravating about hypothyroidism are what it does to my hair and my metabolism. I also don’t like the depression. And then there’s the thing with goitrogenic compounds!

These compounds are known to have a suppressive effective on the thyroid. According to my research, hyperthyroid patients are encouraged to eat lots of foods containing these compounds. A person with normal thyroid levels can also eat these foods with no problem. For people with underactive thyroids, however, the recommendation is to avoid raw foods containing goitrogens. Cooking destroys some of these compounds, but the recommended limit on cooked goitrogenic foods is 2-3 servings per week.

After scouring the internet for lists of these foods and finding several, I put them all together and came up with what I think is a comprehensive master list. I don’t claim that these are all the goitrogenic foods ever, but this is a list based on every other list I found. Foods that are on one list are not all on another, but all of them had some foods in common.

For my own use, I broke my master list down into three categories:

Fruits – Apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, honeydew, oranges, peaches, pears, prunes, raspberries, strawberries

Vegetables, Brassica (cruciferous) – bok choy, broccoli/broccolini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, canola, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, choy sum, collard greens, garden cress, kai-lan (Chinese broccoli), kale, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard greens, rapeseed (yu choy), rupini, rutabaga, tatsoi, turnips

Vegetables, non-Brassica – bamboo shoots, horseradish, lima beans, potatoes, radishes, soy/soy derivatives, spinach

Other – Almonds, cassava, corn, millet, peanuts, pine nuts, sorghum, tapioca, walnuts

So what, you may ask after reading all that, is there left for a person to eat? Everything else, basically. I’ve noticed that meat and dairy are totally absent from all the goitrogen lists. I’ve been getting plenty of those! The smart thing to do here is to check with your doctor and see what that person recommends.

And now you know what I know about hypothyroidism!