Wednesday, September 29, 2010

There are no Downsides to Tai Chi

I started practicing Tai Chi over a year ago. I love the slow, graceful, ballet-like motions, and have found Tai Chi to be an excellent way to "wind down" prior to bed. So when I see articles like, I'm thrilled:

Now, to be clear, Tai Chi is not something you do to burn mega amounts of calories. It's also not the most efficient way to tone muscle, although it does do that. However, I found that Tai Chi is excellent for restoring the joint mobility you lose as you age, and a joint strengthener as well. My chronic knee pain has pretty much disappeared since I started practicing Tai Chi, and all of the early morning joint soreness I was experiencing in my toes, ankles etc has disappeared as well.

Additionally, beacause Tai Chi is NOT a ultra sweat producing activity that you can do in just about any clothing (short skirts are probably the only thing that I wouldn't wear), I find myself practicing it all the time.

It's not unusual for me to take a ten minute Tai Chi break from work. I can get up from my computer, and run through part of a form, and get back to work, refreshed, without breaking a sweat.

So, in other words, Tai Chi gets me MOVING. And, as I've said before, learning to just move more, not necessarily "exercise" is probably the one of the most important things you can do on your weight loss journey.

For example, at 130 pounds I burn approximately 236 calories an hour practicing Tai Chi. If I practice just 10 minutes a day (and I usually practice at least that) that's over 4 pounds a year lost or not gained.

Diet Myths versus Reality

A really good article over at Huffington Post:

Two key points. This:

Obesity continues to climb but not because of a switch to a plant-foods rich diet naturally low in fat and high in carbohydrate (TOTAL carbohydrate, that is). Rather, obesity increases as physical activity decreases and as sugary, fatty, salty processed food consumption increases.

And this:

More serious, however, is the effect that this mythology has had on suppressing information on the extraordinary health value of diets that are truly low in fat (10-12 percent). I am referring to a whole foods, plant-based diet that avoids added fat and processed and animal-based foods. This diet contains about 10-12 percent fat, sometimes pejoratively referred to as "extremely low fat". Call it what you will, but this diet (also low in total protein, about 8-10 percent) produces, by comparison, "extremely low" incidences of sickness and disease. In fact, it now has been shown not just to prevent these illnesses but to treat them. Importantly, this dietary lifestyle cannot be dismissed by the mythological argument that so-called low fat diets have been proven to be questionable.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I spent last weekend in training for my yoga teacher certification.

We went into yogic philosophy a bit this session, and one topic we discussed at length were Yama and Niyama--a kind of code of conduct as to how we should behave towards ourselves and others.

The first yama we studied was the concept of ahimsa--essentially non-violence. But while ahimsa tends to conflated mostly with non-violence towards animals (i.e., vegetarianism), that is really not what it means. Essentially ahimsa does not necessarily state that we should never eat meat or fish (although many Hindus, Buddists and Jains interpret it that way), it means that we should always behave with attention and consideration to others and ourselves.

In order to truly practice ahimsa I learned, you first had to practice non-violence towards one's self, and that meant paying respect to your body. You have to practice non-violence towards yourself in both your exercise, eating and other habits first, in order to extend ahimsa out to other beings. If you practice violence on yourself, you cause others to suffer.

That made sense to me.

I have a cousin now in the hospital because of anorexia. She's in her 40's and had been suffering from eating disorders since her teen years. Additionally, she's a chain smoker, has a drinking problem and at one time abused prescription drugs. My cousin has, without a doubt, been very violent to herself for practically her entire adult life.

Since she's been in the hospital, the doctors discovered a large tumor on my cousin's lung. They also have had to give her several blood transfusions because of an inordinately high white blood count. The outlook is bleak.

But what impact can my cousin's violence to herself have on others you ask? How does it impact me, particularly, since I don't really like this cousin and have had very little to do with her?

This cousin is my mother's sister's daughter. Needless to say, my cousin's condition is causing my Aunt a tremendous amount of suffering (not to mention all the suffering her various addictions and eating disorders have already caused my Aunt through the years).
My Aunt's suffering translates to my mother, who, of course, can't stand to see her sister suffer. I feel my mother's pain over her sister's situation (as well as my Aunt's who I also happen to love very dearly).
My cousin is also a mother of two young children, so there's a very good chance she may be leaving them mother-less.

So, you see, when we do violence to ourselves, like my cousin has, we cause pain and suffering in others. My cousin's violence to herself has radiated outward so that it effects my Aunt, my mother, me, her siblings and her children.

Now my cousin's situation is rather extreme. I'll admit that the repeated violence she has engaged in towards herself was somewhat out of the course of normalcy.

However, I do think that anyone who allows themself to get overweight to the point that they risk serious health conditions is not practicing ahimsa. I think that eating overly processed, unnatural foods and not getting any exercise is not practicing ahimsa as well.

We have to take care of ourselves, not just for us, but for those who love us as well. When we eat food that our not good for us, we are, in fact, doing violence towards ourselves, and that violence we do to ourselves will eventually radiate outward to cause suffering to those who love us.
However, if we eat right, watch our portions and exercise, our chances of staying healthy increase, increasing the happiness of those we love.
And, that is ahimsa.


Fat Cells Control Your Brain

Good article:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Who Will Save Us From Ourselves???

Hank Cardello the author of Stuffed: An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat poses an interesting conundrum which you can read here:

This is the nut of the article:

And therein lies the consumer conundrum: that although many people desire to eat better, most are not wired to cope with the current food delivery system—the portions, prices, and practices—thus making it impossible to transition to healthier eating. Only the most Jack LaLanne-ish among us is fully equipped to either say no or to just eat the right-sized portions every time.

This reality runs counter to the current approach taken by regulators, health advocates, and activists that all consumers must follow prescribed set-in-stone eating formulas such as limiting sodium to 1,500 milligrams per day or saturated fats to 7 percent of calorie intake. They continue to believe that by simply issuing the next set of rules, consumers will automatically follow along. But demanding that consumers change who they are is a dead-end street, as evidenced by our lack of progress.

This implies that comprehensive, permanent change must come from another source.

So the main question is "who will save us from ourselves?"

The problem is, of course, that we have a political system which is totally incapable of actually protecting the majority of its citizens.

Political pressure from lobbyists and industry groups will likely derail any effort to help American citizens get their weight under control.

As it is, the new rule requiring chain restaurants to simply post calorie counts on their menus is in jeopardy, and the only thing that does is simply give people information. It doesn't actually do anything other then let you know when a salad may be more fattening then a steak.

Information, in fact, seems to be the new panacea to any problem. Consumers getting ripped off by banks???? Well rather then actually preventing the banks from ripping off the consumers, we'll just make the banks disclose that they are doing it.

American people dying from heart disease, hypertension and diabetes? Well, rather than require that restaurants and food processors lower the amount of salt, fat and calories in food, we'll simply make them post the information somewhere on the box or menu, so that they can see how fast they're killing themselves.

We're Number Two!!! We're Number Two

According to a new report from the OECD, we're the second fattest country in the world. Check it out here:

Which country is fatter than us??? Mexico, just south of the border.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Unexpected things may come your way

I live in an old house. The Historical Society plaque says the house dates from 1825, but that's just because that's the first record of it they could find. The house is probably older then that, but no records exist to prove just how old it is.

In any event, living in an old house has its charms. I have exposed chestnut beams, wide plank floors, a fireplace in my master bedroom, and windows with panes of antique wavy glass.

But, as I always explain to visitors who walk into my home and tell me they wish they could live in an old house too, you have to be a true romantic to live in an antique home.

You also always have to be prepared for the unexpected. My husband and I decided to paint our house, but some shingles on the south end gable of the house were rotting and needed to be replaced. In any event, since the rest of the house was clapboards, the shingles looked out of place.

So we pulled off the shingles to discover that they never removed the original clap-boards, so they needed to be removed as well. The original clapboards were nailed directly onto the frame of the house (no sheathing), and some of those beams were rotten and needed to be replaced as well.

This house is like an onion, but as you peel back the layers you never know what you'll find. You have to just be prepared for the unexpected, and make sure you have enough funds to cover whatever may arise.

Losing weight and keeping it off is a lot like that as well. In the course of the day, you never know what surprises may look to throw you off your intended dieting plans for the day. You have to be prepared for whatever may arise to keep yourself on track.

Sometimes its just planning. Grabbing a banana or an apple to take with you as you head out the door, can keep you satisfied so that you don't run to the closest fast food drive thru because your appointments took longer then you thought, you're starving and there's no time to get home before your next appointment.

Sometimes it's just willpower. Having the willpower to say no to friends and colleagues pushing cake on you because its some one's birthday.

But, whatever it takes, it's worth it. When you stick with your weight loss plan and the pounds slowly come off and you're able to buy smaller sized clothes, you'll know that the extra effort is worth it.

Just like having a room full of two-hundred year old, hand planed panelling, makes all the hassles of owning an antique home worth it, dropping several dress or pants sizes makes the additional planning and willpower worth it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Mechanics of Weight Loss

It's been a while since I've discussed the mechanics of weight loss, but I thought it was a good time to go over it again.

The first reality of weight loss is that while losing weight IS a huge bitch, just not gaining it is a bitch.

Let me explain. Several years ago, I resolved to lose 35 pounds. I resolved to increase my exercise regime and eat less, and stick with it no matter how long it took.

To that end, I cut back on calories, and bought a treadmill along with a new TV to put in front of the treadmill. I had been power walking when the weather was nice and time allowed, but I resolved to walk every day no matter what the weather. The treadmill also opened up opportunities to walk since I could do it early in the morning before sunrise, and after school when the kids were home.

The treadmill was delivered and I dutifully walked every day for 45 minutes at a 2 incline at 2.5 miles an hour. I also cut back entirely on processed snacks (only fruit and veggie snacks) and cut back on my portion sizes at all meals.

And, for all that effort, after two months I lost a grand total of one pound.

That sounds awfully discouraging, but the good news is that I lost weight and didn't gain any additional weight. I had been steadily gaining weight for three years, so losing one pound after two months, as opposed to gaining a pound, was a major triumph.

Let me explain. If you want to lose one pound you have to burn an excess of 3,500 calories. Conversely, to gain a pound you have to ingest an extra 3,500 calories over the calories your body otherwise burns.

So if over the last two years you gained 12 pounds (half a pound a month), it means you have to either cut 1,750 calories from your diet a month, or add activities which burn 1,750 a month just to maintain your current weight.

So, in other words, my initial reduction in calories and increase in physical activity merely stopped the weight increase (with a small overall decrease in weight). To actually lose weight I had to cut far more calories from my diet and really increase my physical activity.

And that's the same for everyone. It's easy to get discouraged when your initial efforts result in little or no weight loss. But the reality is, that too many people already have excess calorie intake and not enough exercise, so it's a triumph that you haven't actually gained any more.

But remember, although it's discouraging, it is a start, and despite what the diet gurus tell you, to really lose weight and to keep it off, you have to start slowly and steadily decrease your caloric intake and increase your exercise.

The second reality of weight loss, is that you can probably consume far fewer calories in a day then you think you can just to maintain your current weight--particularly if you're older.

Here's a handy little tool that will tell you how many calories you can consume daily without gaining weight.

After plugging in the information, I found out that this 48 year old female can only consume a total of 1,787 calories a day just to maintain my weight at 130 pounds. Another reality is that as you lose weight, you have to eat less to both maintain that weight and to lose additional weight. For example, if I get down to my goal of 120 pounds, then I only get to ingest 1692 calories to maintain that weight. That's 95 fewer calories a day.

So to lose weight, I have to find some combination of calorie cuts/exercise to burn an additional 3,500 calories. That means that to lose one pound in a week, I have to burn or not eat an additional 500 calories in a day. For example, to lose 1 pound in a week, I could cut 200 calories a day from my daily intake and exercise enough to burn an additional 300 calories a day.

The third reality is that most foods, particularly processed foods are more calorically dense then you realize. A Starbucks cinnamon roll has 500 calories. A Whopper with cheese has 770 calories.

Remember, I can only consume 1,787 calories a day just to maintain my weight. That is not a lot of calories to play with when you start looking at the actual calories in food, particularly processed foods are foods served at restaurants. That Starbuck's cinnamon roll burns up 28% of my daily calories, the Whopper over 43%. Having a "salad" at some chain restaurants may be enough to "blow" your entire caloric "wad" for the entire day.

The fourth reality is that exercise burns far fewer calories then you realize. For example, if you get on a treadmill and set it at a 2 incline and walk at a 2.5 mph pace, you'll only burn about 200 calories in about an hour. There's more calories then that in a bottle of Snapple flavored ice tea.

To burn off a McDonald's breakfast sandwich (300) calories, you have to run 32 minutes at 5 mph. To burn off that Whopper with cheese you have to swim for 94 minutes at a moderate pace. A large order of fries at Wendy's (540 calories) will take 77 minutes of biking to work off.

So, the bottom line here is that to lose weight for real takes a lot of work. It means dramatically revamping your diet to get rid of processed, calorically dense food and exercising harder, and more frequently. It also means learning to just MOVE more during the day, and learning to love foods that provide a lot of filling bulk with minimal calories.

Monday, September 20, 2010

This is Your Brain on Food

A completely fascinating article on the chemical reactions in our brains when we eat food:

In summary:

The foods we eat, and many of our most popular psychoactive drugs, come from plants or animals. The ingredients in these plant and animal products are very similar if not identical to the neurotransmitters our brains and bodies use to function normally. This is why the contents of our diets can interact with our neurons to influence brain function, and it highlights a very important principle: The chemicals in the food that you eat will only act upon your brain if in some way those chemicals resemble an actual neurotransmitter or otherwise interact with a biochemical process in your brain that influences the production, release, or inactivation of a neurotransmitter. These “active” ingredients deserve close scrutiny.

I found this part interesting:

Morphine-like chemicals capable of acting upon the brain are produced in your intestines when you consume milk, eggs, cheese, spinach, mushrooms, pumpkin, and various fish and grains. Dairy products in particular contain a protein known as casein, which enzymes in your intestines can convert into beta-casomorphin. In newborns, that beta-casomorphin can easily pass out of the immature gut and into the developing brain to produce euphoria.

And this:

Even the spices we use to flavor our food and drink may contain psychoactive chemicals that can alter the function of the brain. The spice nutmeg comes from the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans, and contains myristicin, which is chemically quite similar to mescaline and amphetamine. Myristicin and related compounds are also found in carrots, parsley, fennel, dill, and a few other spices—but at very low concentrations, so not to worry about getting intoxicated at the hors d’oeuvres tray. Typically, one must consume about 30 grams of nutmeg powder—or roughly the contents of an entire container of the product that you could purchase at your local grocery store—to experience its psychoactive effects. A single slice of pumpkin pie is unlikely to produce any noticeable effects upon the psyche. Reactions to nutmeg vary considerably, from nothing at all, to euphoria at low doses, to marijuana- and LSD-like experiences at higher doses, with hallucinations that can last up to 48 hours. It all depends upon the amount consumed.

I think this all plays into the theory that food can be just as addicting as any drug--one reason why losing weight is so hard.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cooking from the Garden and Farmer's Market

This time of year both my garden and the local farmers' markets are over-flowing with bounty. I am positively inundated with eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and cucumbers, along with copious amounts of fresh herbs.

So, as you can imagine, just about every meal during the week focuses on using these fresh ingredients. But let's get real here, we all know that when you have a house, kids, and a job there's often not a lot of time during the week to cook--much less peel, chop and roast vegetables.

So this time of year, just about every weekend, I'm cooking so that I don't have to during the week. When you have to finish up work, then run your daughter up to ballet, and not get home until after six, it's nice to know you have a pot of minestrone in the fridge just waiting to be heated up.

One frequent weekend project is just cooking down vegetables for use during the week. I can chop throw all "need to use them now tomatoes, peppers and eggplants from the garden before they go bad" into a large baking dish with onion, garlic, olive oil and a little vinegar, bake at 400 degrees for 60 minutes and have an Italian vegetable roast that can be tossed into pasta or used as a side dish for during the week.

I also like to use this vegetable roast to make vegetarian calzones. It's easy. I buy whole wheat, uncooked, pizza dough from the market, roll it out, fill with my roasted veggies and mozzarella (and maybe some fresh basil), seal and bake at 425 for about 25 to 30 minutes. I then top it with tomato sauce (also freshly made from the garden but you can use jarred as well).

My vegetable calzone makes a yummy, vegetarian dinner that even my husband doesn't complain about because there's no meat. He actually usually loves to take the left-overs to work for lunch, so I score two vegetarian meals for him!!

It's Called "Exercise"

Want to keep your marbles in your old age? Well, a little aerobic exercise is the way to do it:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yogic Vegetables

Just for fun. How could I resist the combination of two of my favorite things?

This isn't Me

Jack Sh*t has a great post which you can read here:

Jack, I know exactly what you went through because I did the same thing.

One day I woke up, and said, "this isn't me. I am not some overweight, inactive old person."

I'd been avoiding mirrors for years because they didn't reflect how I saw myself.

I avoided moving around because it tired me out.

Up until my forties, I had always been trim, fit and athletic, and somehow it just all fell to pot once I hit my forties.

My eating habits had gotten worse, not better over the years. I wasn't as athletic as I once had been, and I kept getting sick.

Something had to change, I realized, and the only way for that to happen was for me to make the changes and stick to them.

No short term diet would work, or temporary gym membership. I knew I had to find ways to eat better, eat less and spend much more time moving (note, I said "moving" not "exercising") and make these changes in a way so that they would be permanent.

I did all that, lost weight, toned up and now I like what the mirror reflects. And, in the process, as I ate better, my health got better and my energy levels shot up through the roof.

This is me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Corn Sugar Vs. Corn Syrup

I don't have a lot of time today, but Marion Nestle has a good post on food manufacturers' efforts to rename High Fructose Corn Syrup "Corn Sugar." You can read it here:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Getting My Vegan On

As I've written before, I will probably never be a total vegan, or vegetarian for that matter. I've stated my reasons before, and I'm not going to repeat them today (maybe some other day, but not now).

But, I do see the value of eating a primarily plant-based diet--both for weight loss/maintenance and health.

As you know, I generally strive to eat at least 50% raw/vegan over the course of a week. I found this to be a good strategy to not GAIN weight (losing it is a totally different matter). This means that I generally eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, and salads are an everyday staple.

But, over the years, I've made a very concerted effort to eat less and less meat and dairy. A goal complicated by the fact that I'm basically married to a "meatarian" who thinks copious amounts of meat should be part of every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But, aided by the fact that my husband has had health issues, I've been able to eradicate a substantial amount of the meat-based meals we used to have. Vegetarian meals are now on the menu at least two or three nights a week, and we now also eat a lot more fish then we did in the past (fish does not count as meat in my husband's mind). Egg-based dishes have also been added to the dinner rotation, despite my husband's arguments that eggs should just be for breakfast.

Over the last year, I've also started to work vegan meals into the dinner rotation. For years I generally avoided vegan cooking, preferring to get my vegan raw. But, in the last year or so, I began to see the health benefits of eating more vegan based meals, so I've trolled vegan cookbooks, blogs and websites for meals.

For example, baked falafal salad is now on the menu at least once a month. Basically, I add some baked falafals I've made to a salad and whip up a dressing with Tahini, garlic, lemon juice and water.

Another meal is black bean burgers with guacamole, served with a salad on the side. I actually served this up last night.

I haven't written down recipes for either of these meals, because I don't think I've perfected them yet, but will when I think I've gotten the ingredient mix just right.

But perhaps the most amazing thing about my vegan cooking adventures, is that my husband accepts them. Five years ago, we would have arguments over me serving fish. Now, he'll eat black bean burgers without even looking askance (although I know he'd still prefer the real thing).

So, progress has been made. It wasn't easy. It wasn't without some tough battles, but the battles where won.

So, now it's just a matter of creating more vegan meals.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Walking Keeps the Body AND Mind Young

I love my daily walks. I've never been a gym girl. I've taken Zumba, Jazzercise classes and the like, but for some reason, just never connected with them.

I started running thirty years ago when I was in college. Most of my girlfriends took aerobics classes back then, but it always seemed to me to be nothing more than just mindlessly jumping around. I could also never get into that "Zen" state in aerobics classes and I detested that I had to conform to the schedule.

But running seemed to be total freedom. Whenever the mood struck, I could lace up my shoes for a long run along the Charles River (I went to college at BU), and sink into my own thoughts without having to follow someone's directions about where to step next or what to do with my arms.

When I moved to NYC from Boston, Central Park became my track, then I moved up to Connecticut where there are endless miles of country roads to be run.

Eventually, as I aged, my body let me know that running was no longer a good thing. My knees and hips just couldn't take it any more.

So I slowed the pace down to a quick walk which is still just as calming as my run.

When I get to walk outside, I take note of the changing of the seasons. I always have my IPod on for musical inspiration, as I keep up the pace and look out for deer, turkeys and other wild-life.

As it turns out, walking is good for both the body and the mind as you can read here:

So, I guess I'll keep on walking, knowing that it not only keeps the pounds at bay, but keep me mentally alert and fit as well.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Which Milk for You???

A good side-by-side comparison of cow's, goat's, soy, almond, etc. milks:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mostly Vegan

When I committed myself to weight loss and maintanence three years ago, it turned out that I also committed myself to being mostly vegan.

I didn't know I was committing to a mostly vegan lifestyle when I started, but the more I learned about what it takes to lose weight and keep it off, the more I realized that meat, fish,eggs and dairy had to take a distant second to fruits, vegetables and whole grains in my diet.

I have to confess that I don't do much vegan cooking, although I do make the effort from time to time. Most of my vegan eating comes from eating salads and fruit.

However, when I read articles like this one from the New York Times, I realize that I really should be making more of an effort to cook and eat vegan more then I have been:

If a vegan chef can win a cupcake baking competition on the Food Network, you know that veganism does not mean putting your foodie instincts on the back-burner.

In our culture vegan food is always depicted as being icky, and processed crap as good. But, as the above article shows, that is really not true. A good cook or baker can make anything taste scrumptious no matter what the ingredients.

The reality is that adding a lot of fat, sugar and salt is just the lazy cook's way of making food taste good. A really good cook can take any set of ingredients and turn it into something fabulous.

I'm actually going to try one of Chef Chloe's cupcake recipes this weekend. Because my son is allergic to both wheat and dairy, vegan recipes are a god send because all I do is swap out the flour for spelt, and viola, I have something he can eat.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A New Love

I have a new love in my life.

I don't know how I missed it before, this new love was probably always there. All I know is that one day a few weeks ago, I spotted on the shelf in my local market a container that read "Raw Cashews."

Now, I've always loved cashews. What's not to love? Cashews are full of essential, good for you, oils and plenty of vitamins and minerals to boot.

The bad news is that they are usually roasted and salted. We all know, of course, that too much salt is a bad thing. The jury is still out, however, on whether roasting nuts, in general, is a good thing or a bad thing.

Raw cashews, however, do have some dietary advantages over their roasted cousins. Whereas one ounce of raw cashews has 2 grams of saturated fat and 5 grams of protein, one ounce of roasted cashews has 3 grams of saturated fats and only 4 grams of protein.

In any event, since I try to keep mostly raw, I generally stick to eating only raw nuts, so "roasted" cashews were generally out.

So a few weeks ago I'm buying nuts, dried fruit and seeds at my local market, which has always had a good selection of fresh, raw nuts and seeds. I got my usual score of raw almonds, raw pepitas, raisins, sunflower seeds, etc., when I all of a sudden spotted raw cashews.

I'm not sure I ever saw raw cashews before, but into my cart they went.

Since then, I've been on a raw cashew craze. I eat them straight out of the container, mix them into trail mixes, top my salads with them, and use them in my cooking.

Now, I understand that so called "raw cashews" are still processed some-what. They still have to remove the poisonous outer shell of the cashew, prior to selling it (yes, the shell of the cashew nut is actually poisonous. Isn't that interesting???)

But, "raw" cashews, are still a hell of a lot processed then roasted and salted cashews, so, in my mind, they're that much better.

And, by eating cashews, I do a lot of great things for my body. They're loaded with healthy fats, full of blood-pressure lowering magnesium, and high in protein making them filling and satisfying.

Isn't that marvelous? I love my new love, and it loves my back.

To read up on the health benefits of cashews to a raw food diet, check this out:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cleaning House

I used the long weekend to make just a small dent in cleaning out my house.

Not dirt, mind you. I keep up fairly well with that. What I was cleaning out was the clutter.

There was the usual going through the kids rooms and getting rid of clothes that were too small and the inevitable pile of of forgotten toys etc. What I was really trying to focus on, however, was cleaning out the useless papers, objects, and the other clutter that accumulates through the years throughout the house.

I've been in this house 16 years, which is the longest I've ever lived in one place since I left my parents' house.

I used to move fairly frequently. I had the typical nomad existence of a single, unattached female from the time I was 18 until I married at 29, and even then my husband and I moved a few times until we bought this house when I was in my 30s.

I actually used to love to move. It was so cathartic to seriously evaluate everything you owned and determine whether or not it was really worth packing up and hauling along with me to the new location.

In a way it was completely freeing to hold some piece of shit, and think to myself, "do I really want to keep this?," decide it was not worth keeping and giving it away or throwing it in the trash. It sounds unsentimental, but I can seriously say, I've never missed a single thing I got rid of.

Since I haven't moved in 16 years, and it's unlikely I'll move anytime in the near future, it was inevitable that clutter just piles up.

Yes, I've made numerous attempts through the years to clean out, but without the threat of a move hanging over me, it's just too easy to hold onto "stuff."

So this weekend, I decided that in addition to cleaning out the house in general, I was really going to focus on my office. Out went several large trash bags of papers I no longer needed to the trash. Several boxes where loaded in the car of books to go to good will. More papers were filed in boxes and moved out to the barn.

Floor space was cleared in my office that I haven't seen for years. There's still a ton of work to do but, at least I got started.

I bring up house cleaning, because it got me thinking about cleaning and fasting.

Now I know there's all sorts of people, doctors, etc. out there who tell you that you don't need to fast or cleanse.

That's probably true, you certainly do not HAVE to do anything.

But cleansing or fasting, for me at least, has the same kind of cathartic effect that moving used to have. Cleansing or fasting gets me to really evaluate my normal eating patterns and say "do I really need that? Can I live without that?"

When you're living for three or four days on nothing but fresh juice, you learn that you really do not have to eat the kind of junky diet that is the norm these days.

If you make the commitment to eat nothing but raw fruits and vegetables for a week, you realize that you really don't have to be eating meat every single day.

Cleansing and fasting, like cleaning house, with no move in sight, is really just a voluntary activity. One you take to re-evaluate your normal habits, and decide whether or not they are really worth keeping, or something you can really live without.

Friday, September 3, 2010

More on Too Fat to Fight

The US Army had to retool it's basic training, because, essentially, American kids are too fat and lazy. Read about it here:

From the article:

Though the Army screens out the seriously obese and completely unfit, it is still finding that many of the recruits who reach basic training have less strength and endurance than privates past. It is the legacy of junk food and video games, compounded by a reduction in gym classes in many high schools, Army officials assert.

As a result, it is harder for recruits to reach Army fitness standards, and more are getting injured along the way. General Hertling said that the percentage of male recruits who failed the most basic fitness test at one training center rose to more than one in five in 2006, up from just 4 percent in 2000. The percentages were higher for women.

The Army, it seems had to go back to basics, just to get recruits in basic shape:

The new fitness regime tries to deal with all these problems by incorporating more stretching, more exercises for the abdomen and lower back, instead of the traditional situps, and more agility and balance training. It increases in difficulty more gradually. And it sets up a multiweek course of linked exercises, rather than offering discrete drills.

There are fewer situps, different kinds of push-ups and fewer long runs, which Army officials say are good for building strength and endurance but often lead to injuries. They also do not necessarily prepare soldiers for carrying heavy packs or sprinting short distances.

“We haven’t eliminated running,” General Hertling said. “But it’s trying to get away from that being the only thing we do.” (The new system does include plenty of sprinting.)

Some of the new routines would look familiar to a devotee of pilates, yoga or even the latest home workout regimens on DVD, with a variety of side twists, back bridges and rowinglike exercises. “It’s more whole body,” said First Lt. Tameeka Hayes, a platoon leader for a class of new privates at Fort Jackson. “No one who has done this routine says we’ve made it easier.”

It's kind of a sad statement about our society. Too much junk food, too little exercise, and we become unable to adequately defend ourselves.

Cleaning the Henhouse

Yesterday, there was a really good column in the New York Times regarding the salmonella outbreak and industrial farming practices. Its worth a read and you can find it here:

Kristof has a good point. We really can't go back to the old ways of raising chickens, but we sure as hell have to improve the current situation. Industrial farming may provide cheap food, but it creates greater costs to the public in other areas including health care costs, pollution and anti-biotic resistant diseases.

Quotable quote "unsafe foods are cheap in only a short-sighted way."

Interesting factoids:

A poultry trade journal acknowledged that "salmonella thrives in cage housing."

In 2000 there were 182,000 cases of egg-caused salmonella resulting in 70 deaths.

Chickens are fed ground up chicken.

More on this: A trade journal article detailing how salmonella thrives when hens are caged:

A study by the Human Society stating that of the nine scientific studies published on the issue in the last five years in peer-reviewed journals, every single one of them has found increased salmonella rates in eggs coming from facilities that confine hens in cages.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What I had For Dinner Last Night

When I cook this time of year, the emphasis is on using as much of what comes out of the garden as possible. My garden is overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant and herbs. I'm also going to the Farmers' markets (or directly to the farms themselves), and buying whatever I don't grow.

My husband is a meat eater, and still complains when the meal has no meat in it. Hey it's an improvement, a few years ago, the meal had to be centered on meat as in a huge roast in the middle of the table.

Another big improvement is that I now get no complaints when I serve fish. Let me tell you, it was a long and hard road to get him to this point, but I persevered. Fresh tuna, in particular, is now one of his favorite meals (although I limit it to no more then once or twice a month because of the high mercury content in tuna).

Yesterday, fresh tuna was on sale for $8.99 a pound. There was no way I was walking away from the fish counter without some tuna when it was selling at that price. I brought the tuna home and made this Provencal inspired meal.

The best part about this dish is that it can be made all in one dish. You need to have a large pan that can go directly from stove top to oven. I used my largest cast iron skillet, but any large pan that's oven safe (no plastic handles please) can be used. You can serve it with either a nice crusty bread or over rice.

Provencal Tuna with Fresh Garden Vegetables


3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 small red onion, peeled or chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 bell peppers (any color), cored seeded and chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 small zucchinis, chopped
6 oz. pitted Kalamata olives
Fresh thyme, stems removed.
4 fresh tuna steaks, sliced 3/4 inch thick
salt & pepper
1 lemon thinly sliced
Fresh Chopped Parsley.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large, oven-safe, pan over medium-high heat, then add the red onion and saute for 1-2 minutes until it just starts to soften. Add the garlic and stir for a few seconds, then add the peppers and tomatoes and saute for 5-6 minute, until everything softens. Add the zucchini and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add the thyme and olives and cook for another 5 minutes, then remove from the heat.

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the tuna and then overlap them over the cooked vegetables and tuck the lemon slices between the steaks. Put the pan in the pre-heated oven and bake 5-12 minutes, depending on how rare or well done you like your tuna. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with parsley.