Hog Honey

I woke excited to prepare huge quantities of bean soup with vegetables and ham. I lit a candle…fire is essential to any artistic endeavor. I chopped and caramelized sweet red onions in organic butter, then added garlic and carrots and parsley. I drained and refilled a bowl containing a medley of 13 rehydrating types of beans. My spirits were high and the house smelled incredible.

This was the second batch of inspiration bean soup I had made. In the first, I had used half a cut of “ham in natural juices” and the soup had turned out aggressively salty. This time, I had soaked the ham in water for about 8 hours…in effect performing a reverse-brining. I drained the ham and began to prepare it for its introduction to flame. I popped a cube of ham into my mouth. Three chomps in, I stopped chewing. The ham was no longer salty…but it was no longer anything. Even the texture seemed imitation…as if the layers of muscle had not been incubated in an actual sus.

I chewed a few more times hoping my taste buds had been wrong. Nope, there it was – or more accurately – there it wasn’t. The taste, the texture, the mitigating pleasure that allows me to swallow the killing and eating of sweet Wilbur had been stolen. This little piggy had died in vain. It had likely been raised in confinement and inundated with antibiotics used to fend off the diseases that arise from close-quarter living.

It is estimated that 10 million pounds of antibiotics are used each year to keep factory-raised pigs healthy. That is three times of the amount used to treat human illness per annum. Wonder if there is a connection to the evolution of antibiotic resistant super bugs?

But back to the point, I knew antibiotics were used and conditions were not good in mass farming, but that did not stop me buying this ham in natural juices in the first place. For that action, I am truly remorseful. I am very sorry, piggy.

Rather than racing to the bottom in cost, perhaps if I – and others like me – never again paid for factory farm pork, things would be different. But I was part of the tasteless, inhumane, and pollution-producing problem.

I had heard of an aquaculture farm called Veta La Palma located in Spain. Their production methods stress biodiversity and eco-relationships. Fish farms usually pollute massively and demand more protein sources to feed the fish than make their product economically wise. But the kind of “farming” done at Veta La Palma demands no feed and in fact cleans the water that flows into it from the Guadalquivir River. This fish farm masquerading as marshlands has actually saved the wetlands and created a de facto bird sanctuary that hosts some 250 species of birds, of which some 50 are in threat in other areas. Folks at Veta La Palma will tell you that they lose 20% of their fish to birds, but the interplay of all species right down to phytoplankton make it all work, and make their fish delicious. They say, they farm extensively, not intensively. A new motto for business?

Closer to the trough, I remember visiting my Great Aunt Ruth’s and Great Uncle Glenn’s farm in Transylvania, North Carolina when I was a child. While there, I was treated to a porcine taste that seems to have been a culinary mirage. Life-long blue dogs, Ruth and Glenn’s dogs were named after the Kennedy boys and their pigs were named Kissinger and Nixon. These pigs were raised traditionally, eating scraps from the house and crops from the farm. Each slaughter season, the ham would be cured and hung. When it was brought into the farmhouse for preparation, it was encrusted with mold. With farm-breed familiarity and nonchalance, Aunt Ruth cut off the mold and set about making Sunday dinner. I must tell you, I have never, ever tasted the duplicate of that ham’s taste and texture. One better, Aunt Ruth made a “hog honey” that – as near as my six-year-old brain could comprehend -  as the scant collected dripping from the fried ham. There was so little, but I wanted to eat it all…with my fingers…then rub it on my skin to have the goodness absorbed there too. No joke, even at six, I knew hog honey was food of the gods.

I could try to inject flavor into the store-bought piss-poor replica meat* before me this day, but I knew the soup would likely be better off without it. Still, a pig had died for my sins. We had better eat it.

I dropped the pan-fried porkesque nuggets into the soup as I made a vow. Never again would I buy anything other than “ham” grade pork and I would – from now on – purchase all my meat products from family farms.  Meat is used sparingly at my house. My health is worth the investment of better meats as is the treatment of the animals that feed us, our shared ecological system, and the message sent to big agra. Food should taste good, animals should be raised and slaughtered humanely, and producing food should not toxify our planet.**

*Not the pig’s fault.

**Apologies as well to all vegetarians and vegans. You are absolutely right. But I cannot yet join your ranks.

You can’t get what you want (Till you know what you want)

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A friend once told me that you keep facing the same challenges in life until you learn the lessons they are there to teach. Lately, my personal growth curriculum has forced my thoughts to the end of life. I seem to be okay with knowing my life will end and accepting of the dice roll that is physical deterioration. I know my relative ease with these ideas may be partially attributed to the statistical distance these events have from my current location.

However, when I think about all that is lost in death, I lose my cool. All the possibilities, the dreams and the embraces that the departed held just evaporate. No more chapters will be written. If they didn’t live in harmony with their truest desires, they will not get that chance again here and now.

I try to soothe myself with Tolkien’s observation that all our parts in this tale will end. “That each of us must come and go in the telling.” The coming is a thing of joy. The going is a foregone conclusion. But what is left undone or unsaid in the synapses of those on both sides of the divide grieves me beyond description. Perhaps their was nothing I can do to change the grief I have felt and will feel about what is left undone by others. But maybe I could change it for myself. Here was a lesson to be learned.

I realized that the thought of orphaned dreams bothered me so much because I have so many dreams to lose, and I assume that is true for others. I would like to blame circumstance for holding me back from the doing and the saying. But growth demands honesty. I have used circumstance as an excuse to avoid facing the unknown of the journey.

“Basta!” a fiery voice inside interrupted. Apparently, my inner self is an assertive Italian woman who has had enough. She was right. It was enough! Enough delaying…enough worrying who I might let down…enough waiting for a sign…enough financial roadblocks…enough sheltering…enough marching in place. It was time to move. Anadre veloce!

I started to think about which move to make first. For years, I have wanted to attend a meditation retreat, cruise along Route 66, enjoy non-virtual time with dear friends around the globe, finish writing those three books, play with friends each day, watch every TED talk, meditate daily, travel. Even my shortest list could exceed the remaining 33 years of average life expectancy afforded to a 47-year-old U.S. woman. What if my expiration date fell below the average? (By the way, did you know that the United States ranks 40th in life expectancy throughout the world? But that is an investigation for a later date.)

I started to do a writer’s meditation…stream of consciousness writing. Yes, it is an oxymoron. Tying fingers cannot keep up with the supercomputer speed and nuance of the brain. However, the technique usually helps me find something meaningful. I began transcribing my thoughts rather than directing them. In other words, I got out of the way of my brain. Suddenly, without consciously thinking it, I typed, “you can’t get what you want, till you know what you want.” Thank you, Mr. Joe Jackson. I stopped typing and asked myself which of my desires meant the most to me. Which actions – if taken – would allow me to contemplate my funeral pyre with satisfaction rather than regret?

I made my list. Then I added one more item. To say yes to any offer to which I might regret saying no.

Just then, I received an Evite to kayak with a group of awesome babes. In the past, I have largely opted out of these invitations in favor of work. In the present, I clicked “attending” immediately, then asked myself what was next.

In the week since, I have clicked and texted and replied “attending” to everything I really want to do and started doing them all. My life is already changing dramatically. I no longer feel stuck, frozen, frustrated and resentful. I am vibrant and glowing and energetic. I am constantly opening and discovering. I am largely in the moment. Life may end in death, but the knowledge of death is a push toward life.

This weekend I added years to my life

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For months I have fretted over the stiff back; elevated scapulas; weak core; inhibited circulation; lackluster spinal muscles; and tight hamstring, flexor and calf muscles that have resulted from too much sitting. Let’s face it. Our technology-based office and entertainment lives have turned many of us into a round-shouldered, doughy-middled race of electronic achievers. We may be changing the world, but our evolutionary trajectory is being changed by office and lounge furniture that has not kept up with our knowledge of best body practices.

The dilemma? I could find no way to diminish the hours I worked at my computer. I work out daily. Still, a minimum of eight hours a day sitting versus one to two hours in motion…doesn’t take Archimedes to predict the result.

A few weeks ago, I learned about the Katzmarzyk-Lee study which asserts that “life expectancy in the United States would be two years higher if adults reduced their sitting time to less than three hours a day.” Hip news outlets starting touting sitting as the new smoking. Not so as statistics show that on average women smokers “lose about 11 years of life expectancy…men lose about 12.” Still, too much sitting is a life expectancy boggart, to say nothing of its menacing effects on life-long health.

So there I was, stuck between a paycheck and an expiration date. At last, I decided to stop thinking and start standing. I googled standing and standing/sitting desks. I was blown away by the prices and underwhelmed by the ticky-tacky of the models I could afford. So I decided to build my own. I researched standing desk ergonomics and sat down to draw.

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Before setting about the build, I took one last online browse. My eyes alighted on a treadmill standing desk! What? Yes, a standing desk built to accommodate a treadmill. I even found a treadmill desk with a removable balance ball chair. My covetous heart flamed.

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Busily figuring how many meals would need to be forgone to have such a wondrous product, a friend softly stated, “Perhaps you should stand before you run.”

The sunrise glow of consumerism was dimmed. My friend was right. Shifting from a workday of sitting to a workday of standing would be a monumental feat. Best to try it out before investing the 401K.

I decided to retrofit my current desk. If I became a standing desk convert physically as well as a philosophical, I could settle on a permanent solution later. I collected building supplies from around the house as well as four shelf brackets from the hardware store and – three slight design modifications later – I had done it! Created a workstation that would give me back years of my life. It may be an eyesore to those concerned exclusively with visual aestetic. But to me, it is the most beautiful time travel device since Dr. Who stepped into the TARDIS.

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As I write this, I have now been standing at my new desk for over two hours. Like any new workout routine, I foresee two to three weeks of muscle adjustment and endurance building. What a paltry price for additional healthy years of life.

If you try this at home:

-Build wisely and well to avoid crashing your computer…literally

-Measure yourself to get the best ergonomic configuration for your body

-Include a wedge or stool to allow for position variation…it is invaluable

Exercise-related Muscle Fatigue Advice

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QUESTION:
I am a 47-year-old man in good health. I started walking as a first step to a regular exercise schedule and a potential to start running. In the first few days I have noticed two consistencies and I am curious if they mean anything.
1. During the walk (total about 2 miles through wooded areas) I found that about 1.1 miles I started to sweat.
2. At 1.5 miles I start feeling fatigue in my legs.
ANSWER: 
Since you are just beginning this regimen, it is likely an issue of acclimation…an outcome of dehydration; dormant muscle activation; ramped up cardiopulmonary demand; or even the change-up of adding 30 to 60 minutes of movement to your day. Consider trying compression tights, compression socks or compression calf sleeves to give your vessels some support and better recovery odds while you push your fitness envelope. Bearing in mind the detrimental health impacts of excessive sitting*…which many of our work lives exacerbate…starting a workout program if you normally sit more than three hours a day is bound to have a shakedown period. So hydrate, begin your walk with dynamic stretching, practice deep diaphragmatic breathing, massage fatigued areas, elevate your feet after you walk, reduce stress, check your medications for related side effects, and ease back on the caffeine and/or alcohol if those are integral to your life.
That said and considering your observation regarding the fatigue setting in shortly after you start to sweat, I would suggest visiting your doctor if these symptoms continue or get worse over two weeks’ time. When bodies perspire, the sympathetic nervous system gets busy. The vessels of our circulatory system, respiratory system, and even our pupils dilate. Vasodilation of the circulatory and respiratory systems increases blood flow to our skeletal muscles and lungs allowing more oxygen and nutrients to be delivered throughout our bodies and more oxygen to be exchanged in our lungs. Increased oxygen, glucose and nutrient flow helps our bodies to keep up with the increased demands of our chosen activity…at least until we exceed our current level of cardiopulmonary health. Your current cardiopulmonary health level is the level of exertion at which your body’s ramped up efforts to meet resource demand is outstripped by the demands of continued activity. Good news is, with more exercise, your cardiopulmonary health will rise.
The fatigue you mention could merely be a sign that your cardiopulmonary health needs to catch up to your current activity challenge. If that is the case, the fatigue should resolve itself quickly with continued exercise. But fatigue could also be a sign of something amiss in one of the systems you are taxing, a failing in a metabolic process, or possibly an indication of infection. Vessels opening wide while the heart muscle constricts to pump larger volumes of blood, is akin to pressure testing a plumbing system. Small issues do not become obvious until the pressure rises.
By the way, a great second step to building a healthy lifestyle could be to switch from a seated to a standing desk if your work demands a desk. Decreasing sitting cannot only add years to your life, it is helpful in toning the muscles of the body, maintaining better posture and increasing cardiovascular health.

Freestyle Rotary Breathing Advice

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QUESTION:
This year, I decided to learn to swim with the goal of completing a 2.5-mile open-water swim leg of an adventure race. I am currently swimming 250 yards at a time, but my breathing is still an issue. I took lessons and learned to rotary breathe, but it feels as if I can’t get enough air and I also get water in my mouth when I try. Any suggestions?
ANSWER:
Swim Caps off to you! Learning to swim is an amazing accomplishment!
I love the images of babies “swimming” underwater…eyes wide, smiling beatifically. These aqua tots’ primitive reflexes and lack of over thinking the task enable them to hold their breath underwater while their legs and arms instinctively slice the surrounding brew. Though a baby’s propulsion system will not yet support their mass over distance, these babies are achieving one of the most central tasks of swimming….being relaxed in the water.
Like most new swimmers, chances are that you are not yet swimming in this blissful-baby state. Tension in the mind and body contribute greatly to swimming-related breathing issues. The more mentally apprehensive you are about getting enough air, the more your muscles tense, the more your form suffers, and the more your body sinks. The harder a muscle works, the more oxygen it requires. The more your form is compromised, the less chance you have logistically of accessing the air you need. The more you sink, the more fear builds…which completes and restarts this downward spiral.
The good news is that most of these breathing breaks may be remedied merely by time spent swimming. Every time you increase your comfort level in the water, you will improve your form, let go of unnecessary muscle tension, and – stroke by stroke – build confidence in your swimming competence. With the onset of the belief that your next breath while swimming will not be your last, you will glide closer to your buoyant baby self.
That said, there are drills to practice while you swim your way to Esther Williams grace. Swimming freestyle is taught with a body roll, or pronounced side-to-side rotation of the shoulders, torso, and hips together as one unit. This rocking motion brings one shoulder and the top of the torso above the plane of the water while plunging the other below and vice versa as you swim. Many problems with air intake while attempting rotary breathing stem from not rotating the body far enough from side to side. Reduced rotation means that your mouth will not clear the water well enough on a breathing stroke to allow for adequate air intake…and often will lead to water intake. Some swimmers will also not roll as well to one side as they do to the other, complicating breathing on one side of the stroke.
Both of these problems can be addressed with a kicking drill. You will not stroke with your arms in this drill. Roll your body (shoulder, torso, hips, and head) to one side and kick six times, then roll to the other side and kick six times, continue alternating sides. For this drill, the head should lock into and follow the rotation of the shoulders, torso and hips to be above water while the legs kick…with the majority – if not all – of your mouth above the water line. This allows you to practice taking in air while moving through the water. During each rotation, the head should roll with the body back down into the water and then up to the other side. This is a good time to practice exhalation into the water. Once you have mastered six kicks, move to three, then resume your freestyle stroke with rotary breathing. This method of buying time to breathe while you learn, will build the skills and self-reliance you need to breathe more easily when you are ready to force the pace.
Other tips Include: Close the lips together on the side of the mouth that is closest to the water on every breath stroke. Think about releasing
unnecessary tension from your mind and body as you swim. As you relax, you will become more buoyant, graceful, and less oxygen-deprived. Stay in the slow lane, there will be time to gain speed once you have mastered rotary breathing. Watch great swimmers swim. Start clicking through YouTube. Watching someone swim well can encourage their stellar swimming form to creep into yours. Often I find that focusing on a long exhalation underwater between inhalations is one of the most calming ways to spend time between breaths while swimming freestyle. Cultivate comfort by floating. Float on your back and propel yourself synchronized swimming style by waving your hands. This will increase your buoyancy and reinforce how little effort is needed to propel a buoyant, streamlined object through water. Make a realistic, long-range plan to increase your swimming milage in time for your race and be sure to practice in open water before race day.
Finally, though there are work-arounds such as snorkels and backstroke, I would really discourage jumping to those options unless you have a serious asthma or COPD issue. Snorkels and stroke variants will slow you down and – though they may help you feel more comfortable in the water more quickly – working around rather than through your breathing issues may increase your aversion to learning. Best of luck on your race…crush it!

Mother Teresa is always right

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“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”  ― Mother Teresa

Most of our days we travel a path of obstacles and competing energies. We walk down the street concerned with making our next appointment on time, we look to our watch, quicken our step, replay the list of things to be accomplished in our head, and begin to beat ourselves up about everything remaining to be done.

In performing these motions and thoughts, we isolate ourselves. We become tied to our own minds…looking inward and missing the external. We send off signals that we are too busy or too important to engage with others. By tuning out the external, we often create unessential stress for ourselves and cut ourselves off from the soothing balm of social interaction.

So this week, I’d like to ask you to conduct an experiment.

No matter the load, the rush, the thoughts consuming you, make eye contact and sincerely smile at anyone and everyone coming from the other direction.

Not a smile of “I like you, but I am too busy to stop”, not a smile of courtesy, not a smile of obligation. Just a smile that radiates from your heart. A smile that says, whether I now you or not, we are connected and I love you.

If you cannot manage that at first, just try any smile. For smiling begets happiness, and soon each smile will become easier. Sometimes the superficial actually proceeds and cultivates deeper meaning.

Try to let go of your worries. You know what you need to do. Don’t dwell on your lists. If not actively thinking positively or solving things with happiness, push the to-do’s away and instead become curious about all that surrounds you. Don’t judge or get disgusted by the package. You never know how incredible a person might lie within that irregular shell. Aren’t we all irregular shells? If you have past grievances with someone, forget them and smile for the present moment of seeing one another. If you can really let it go, smile and turn a new page you can give the relationship a second chance to enrich your life.

A friend once told me that people are unfriendly and often hostile. I watched my friend closely after that to try to see the world through his eyes. Walking down the street, he scowled. Seeing a friend, he did smile, but often with a burden of his own thoughts or a tentative fear of a negative response. He gave few people unconditional warmth when he greeted them. After observing this, I shared what I saw and challenged him to try to make the move, to give the first smile. Let go of the monkey brain and the fear of rejection. Rejection does not exist if you give without expectation. It was difficult for him at first. He had created and become trapped in a chrysalis of fear. Fear of reaching out and fear of being ignored.

But if we face our fears and engage with the world, we can enjoy it and even change it. A smile will turn a hostile world into a welcoming world. If we can find the strength to bust through the clear walls of our chrysalis coffins and gain connection to others, there is nothing to keep us from making things better. It all starts with one little smile…and a “smile is the beginning of love.”

Unbeetable

nutrition.jpgWhen I was a kid, there weren’t many vegetables that I liked. Purple, bloody beets with their mineral-rich taste from a life underground did not stand a chance of making my “will eat” list.

But children grow, tastes change, and around college everyone has to experiment. It began innocently at the salad bar. There they were, the cut, canned beets of my youth lying sad and neglected in their stainless steel crock beneath the sneezeguard. Somehow, I couldn’t leave them there like that, filled to the rim, neglected by all. So I put three slices atop my salad and drown them under a deluge of ranch dressing. To my surprise, I was was not able to choke down a bite of beets dripping with buttermilk, mayo, vinegar and herbs. But I actually liked the beet’s earthy flavor – what I could taste of it. I knifed back some of the dressing to reveal more of the beet’s flavor and tried another bite. I was hooked.

At my first job, a friend took me to a Russian restaurant and ordered me a bowl of borscht. With the first spoonful, I was hopelessly lost in my love for the beet. This newest root vegetable experience moved beets from my salad menu to my main course.

Over the years, I have become a bit of a beet connoisseur. Red beets, golden beets, Chioggia (striped) beets, mixed beets, baby beets…I would roast them all in carefully hand-shaped aluminum foil pods with just enough olive oil that the oven’s heat would transform them to fresh-cooked beet-fection! Beet salad, beet pasta, beet glazes, beet pastries, beet tarte, beet chips, smoked beets, even beet brownies were all made and devoured. Okay, by now you likely think me a freak of beetkind, so I must assure you that I have enjoyed many other interests and foodstuffs over the years. Beets are not my life, but they do hold a culinary fascination.

Since delving into the world of actual nutrition contained in the goodies I consume, I have come to not only love, but to respect the beet for what it brings to the table.

Beyond the beet’s prescribed nutrition labeling:

-       Rev the juicers this St. Valentine’s Day because beets (and especially beet juice) contain boron, a trace mineral that increases sex hormone levels in both women and men.

-       Pee assured of your stomach acid level. If you eat beets and then notice a festive pink color to your urine, you are low in stomach acid. A girl-power tinged stream means that your digestive system is not working to its full power. It is an indication that your GI track may be letting you down in the metabolization and assimilation departments, not taking full advantage of the nurturing minerals and vitamins in the foods you feed it.

-       Beets can be a recovering sugar-addict’s best friend. The beet root is filled with the sweet stuff (about 20% sugar, 75% water and 5% pulp). Beets are a simple carb (digested quickly) and that is glycemic index bad news (64 out of a 100 rating). But since beets are nutrition- and phytochemical-dense they stand out from their snack-cake cousins for those who are not compromised in insulin production.

-       You are now entering beet-tox!  Red beets are rich in betaine, which is good news for your cardiovascular health and liver. Without getting into dizzying scientific nomenclature, the detoxification properties of betaine lessen your chances of peripheral vascular disease, stroke, heart disease, and even liver disease by lessening the fatty deposits that accumulate there. And if beets made you tink pink, keep eating, because the betaine in beets actually raises stomach acid levels.

-       Beet cold season. The high concentration of vitamin C in red beets helps you dodge the common cold. Beyond the sniffles, the red beet’s combo of vitamin C and other powerful antioxidants called betalains, has been studied to help in the areas of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic inflammation.

-       A beetroot juice a day keeps the high blood pressure away. The journal Hypertension published by the American Heart Association established that 500 ml of beetroot juice lowered blood pressure an hour after consumption and the effects lasted up to 24 hours – thanks to the beet’s high nitrate levels. Nitrates (nitric oxide) has also been shown to increase the efficiency of your mitochondria, boosting energy levels, endurance, and oxygen-levels in the blood vessels.

-       Skip the turkey but keep the sense of well-being. Yes, beets conjure the dreamy, mind-calming effects brought on by foods like Thanksgiving fowl and chocolate because they also contain tryptophan. The betalains found in red beets have been used in some treatments of depression. And though so far, only rats have been put to the test, but the uridine found in beets and molasses have been shown to improve mood disorders.

-       Those green-loving Brits have even begun using surplus sugar beet crops to produce biobutanol, an alternative bio fuel source.

-       The beet’s high levels of potassium, magnesium, niacin, folic acid, iron, lutein, zeaxanthin, and more could keep me here all day touting beets benefits. But all this typing has made me hungry for beets. How about oven roasted beets with crumbled Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor goat cheese…oh yeah, that’s the spot.