Friday, January 31, 2014

Sometimes I Make Dinner

Last night at the dinner table, Elannah sighed with pleasure and said, "I love these kinds of dinners."

The menu: Chicken Piccata, Roasted Cauliflower, and Green Salad, with Apple Pie and Ice Cream for dessert. All of it made from scratch by me, except for the salad dressing and the ice cream.

I was inspired by a book I checked out at the library called Ten Dollar Dinners, by Melissa d'Arabian, who apparently has her own show on the Food Network (I wouldn't know because I don't have cable and never watch the Food Network anymore). I have a shelf in my kitchen groaning under the weight of my favorite cookbooks (with my less-favorites residing in our basement library), but sometimes a new book will spark that creative desire to cook up something fantastic and make my daughter sigh with the pleasure of eating a home cooked meal with the family around the dinner table. The book reminded me how easy Chicken Piccata is to make. It used to be one of my staples, back in the day when I didn't find cooking to be so much of a chore. Plus, I happened to have capers I needed to use up.

As for the pie, it dawned on me that I have a food processor in which to make pie crust. Duh. I absolutely hate, HATE making pie crust, and I'll usually settle for store-bought crusts rather than make my own flaky pastry. I think it stems back to my time working in a fast food joint as the early morning biscuit maker. At the end of my shift, I had to prepare batches of biscuit mix with shortening and have them ready for the next morning's baking. There was no food processor, so I had to cut the shortening in by hand, one pound of shortening in each container of mix. It took forever, especially if I had already depleted the previous stash of mixes during an especially busy morning of breakfast sales. I was already dead tired by this point, having been at the restaurant since 3am and watching the clock rounding up to 2pm with all the restaurant's dishes still to wash by hand after I finished the biscuit mixes. You can see why I have an issue with pastry. And dishes. And, perhaps less obviously, mean and overly-emotional female managers.

But last night, I finally pulled out my little food processor and cut the shortening into the flour in about three seconds. Revelation and enlightenment! Plus, we had found a layer of Gala apples hiding at the bottom of the box of apples I had stored in my garage. I had thought they were nearly gone, but Sian went and investigated a little deeper into the box and found treasure. Galas aren't the best pie apples--I buy them because they're so good to eat out of hand--but no one complained when the pie came out, fragrant and steaming, from the oven.

I would post a picture of the meal and the splendid pie, but I didn't think to do that before it was all gone and everyone was contentedly sitting around digesting. Tonight, though, I plan on making fish tacos with a tangy cabbage/onion/cilantro slaw. Another one of my old staples. Sian has perfected my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe to professional standards, so she'll be providing dessert for us tonight. Elannah will be in heaven.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Panem et Circenses

I didn't watch the State of the Union Address on purpose. It's not that I harbor an active hatred for the President or anything--I think he's merely a willing puppet of the Powers That Be, and, as such, I view the man himself with some indifference as being horribly pathetic--but I cannot hear him spout barefaced lies and not feel literally nauseated. For the record, I also avoided watching SOTU addresses from previous presidents, both Republican and Democrat.

I'm an equal-opportunity cynic.

Stress makes me uncomfortable, and avoiding stressful situations where I know I'll want to throw stuff and shout hard questions at the television screen is about protecting myself and maintaining a more zen-like mental state overall. I'm still stressed, though, since I have read the text of the speech. What gets me is the frightening focus the President continues to place on obliterating the Constitution. Bypassing Congress with Executive Orders in order to get his agenda through is strange behavior for someone who claims he worked as a professor of the Constitution. It's almost as if he has absolutely no understanding of the Constitution or has suffered from memory loss, wherein the text and meaning of the Constitution have been eliminated from his brain. Either situation is possible. If the Benghazi debacle really happened because of reasons cited by official White House explanations, then a presidential memory loss is also plausible.

But, again, I am convinced the President is merely a willing puppet for those with a deep and sinister agenda. If you're still on the fence about that agenda, I urge you to consider the TSA, the NSA, the obvious fables that are trotted out as explanations for numerous government scandals, and how Congress has mostly been bought and paid for by corporations or the dark side of the government.

In other news, I really enjoyed the latest episode of Sherlock. And then, last night, I was pulling oil and had a mouthful of coconut oil and spit when I nearly sprayed it all over Husband. There was an episode of 30 Rock playing, Season 5, episode 2, where Jack Donaghy is making a video for his future son and he says, "...and I attended Harvard Business School, where I was voted 'Most.'" Somehow, that struck me as so funny that I snorted. I only lost a few drops of the coconut oil/spit mixture, but Husband used his hands to shield himself from further unexpected "rain," and that was also so funny that I nearly spat it all out again. I share that for two reasons: to confess that 30 Rock, which can be so inappropriate at times, still makes me laugh out loud, and that I would rather spray coconut oil and spit trying to keep myself from laughing out loud than in an effort to stop myself from shouting angrily at the television.

Also, I had to look up "barefaced," "bold-faced," and "bald-faced" lies to figure out which one was the right term. Turns out they all are. Isn't that fantastic?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I Got Yer I.Q. Test Right Here

I picked up an old book from the 1960s entitled Know Your Own I.Q., by H.J. Eysenck. That should have been my first clue. But I have never taken an I.Q. test before, and I was curious, so I decided to know my own I.Q.

I'm afraid to say that I skipped a lot of the dense explanation at the beginning. I read and skimmed enough to know that, according to the very British author, I.Q. test results are a bit difficult to quantify, he isn't a rabid fan of deducing much about a person based on an I.Q. number, and psychology is not really a science. As a recovered psychologist wannabe, I agree. But I was still curious about the tests.

The rules were that I had to take only one test per day and someone else had to time me, 30 minutes per test. During that 30 minutes, I would answer as many of the 40 questions as I could. My I.Q. could be found by using a graph to plot the number of correct answers against I.Q. scores, averaging the scores of the eight tests to get my final I.Q. score. Interestingly, the graphs only went up as high as 32 correct answers. That made me feel a tiny bit better later on. A tiny bit.

Instead of finding someone with a stopwatch, I used my laptop to set a 30 minute timer. But I cheated by taking Test One and Test Two in quick succession the first day. Test One was so frustrating that I had to know if I really was that stupid. On Test Two, I was now familiar with the types of puzzles I had to solve, but still felt like my brain was wimping out on me big time. The puzzles start easier and get harder to solve the farther you go in the test, but I could still answer certain types of puzzles closer to the end of the test. Others were beyond me even in the lower numbers. Ironically, it was the word puzzles that made me the most frustrated, but that was probably because in some of them, I couldn't discern any specific patterns. ByTest Three, I realized that I'm just going to have to accept myself for who I am.

Take this one, for instance, which is number 28 from Test Eight:

Insert the word missing from the brackets.

policeman (Mars) nurse
solicitor (_ _ _ _) barrister 

I can tell you in three seconds that the answer is "tote." I hope you are very, very impressed.

I'll give you three seconds to be very, very impressed before I tell you how easy it is to deduce based on the fact that I have already solved several of these types of puzzles. The key is to find the pattern by which letters are chosen from the first word and second word to make up the word in parentheses. In this case, the m and a for Mars come from the m and a in policeman. The letters follow each other in order, and they are the third and second to last in the word. The r and s in Mars are the third and second to last letters in nurse. By keeping with the same pattern, you know that the first two letters of the mystery word are t and o from solicitor, and the last two letters are t and e from barrister. Tote. All of these types of puzzles have an easily solved pattern.

But then there is a question like this (number 34 from Test Eight):

Underline which one of the words in the bottom line below belongs with the top three.

weather  grace  pit  book  serpent

Oh. My. Gosh. So easy, right? Yeah, well don't be impressed with me in this case because I still couldn't get this one until I looked up the answer at the end of the book. It's obvious, of course, but not until I read the explanation. I have not solved even one of these puzzles correctly in any of the tests because I get really tired of trying to figure it out and end up skipping it.

If you figured out that the word from the bottom row that belongs with the words from the top row is pit, I give you my hearty congratulations. For the rest of us non-geniuses, I'll give you the solution: land, night, and water can prefix the word fall, as can pit. None of the other words on the bottom row can prefix the word fall. See? Obvious. Now don't you feel dumb? Is it terrible to hope that you didn't get that one, or that it at least took you a couple minutes to solve? If we ever run into each other at the grocery store or airport and you solved it easily, please don't rub it in my face. Thanks.

Okay, let's do math. Here's one I got right in Test Three. It's question 38.

I was supposed to meet my girl friend at noon every Sunday. The first time she came at 12.30, and the next time at 1.20, then at 2.30, then at 4.00. When did she turn up the time after that?

I'll let you solve this one, because if I can solve it, I know you can.*

Here's one I didn't solve, though I solved others like it. It's number 34 from Test Three. The top and bottom numbers are paired together visually in the book (8 and 3, 5 and 10, 12 and 7, and 9 and ?), and that is a clue to solving the puzzle.

Insert the missing number.*

8   5  12  9
3  10   7  ?

Anyway, that's all fine and good, me taking I.Q. tests and finding out I am of very average intelligence, right smack dab in the middle of the bell curve and whatnot, but what's the really important thing here? The really important thing here is that I couldn't care less where I score on these tests. I was just thrilled when I was able to figure out the solutions to some of the questions. I also got better at some types of puzzles as I went along. Seems to me that stretching my brain and learning to think in a new way can only make me smarter somehow. Or less prone to dementia in old age. I'll take either one.

Now why did I walk into this room?

*You want the answers, don't you, just to see if you're right. I completely understand, and I am compassionate in that regard. The answer to the time question is 5.50. The intervals between the times the girl friend showed up begin with odd numbers, starting with 3. So Girl Friend, who is obviously high maintenance, is late 30 minutes, then 30 + 50 minutes, then 30 + 50 + 70 minutes, then 30 + 50 + 70 + 90 minutes, and finally, 30 + 50 + 70 + 90 + 110 minutes from 12 noon. Has she no regard for other people? Why did this person show up after the second time she was so late?

In the next puzzle, the missing number is 14. You'll facepalm when I tell you why, which is exactly what I did. There are two series going on here, one odd and one even. 3, 5, 7, and 9 zig-zag between bottom and top rows. 8, 10, and 12 are even numbers in a zig-zag pattern, meaning that the missing number is the next even number after 12, which is 14. Aren't you glad you aren't being graded? I still give you an A+ for reading this far.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Condescending, Wheat-Free Lunch

Have you ever tried to cut wheat out of your diet? I suppose a lot of people are doing that these days, although it may be part of your diet to cut out all simple carbs or ridding themselves of all gluten. (My personal opinion, after reading thousands of pages on health and nutrition, is that high-protein, low carb diets work well because you are eliminating wheat. Some diets also eliminate other things, like fat, which is stupid, but it's the wheat that is the important part and why so many of those diets are successful.)Whatever the reason you're cutting out wheat, it's hard to do! You have to plan ahead, make a lot of food from scratch, and spend your money in different ways. I'm following the suggestions Dr. William Davis makes in his book Wheat Belly, which I find to be incredibly compelling. I have already been taking notice of wheat's effects on me, so reading that book was even more eye-opening.

What I had already determined not to do was try to eat like I have been. In other words, I have no plans to eat all the baked goods of former times by purchasing tons of gluten- and wheat-free breads, muffins, biscuits, etc. Even if Dr. Davis didn't make a good argument against buying into the thriving gluten-free industry--manufacturers simply replace wheat flour with starch flours that are equally horrific on your blood sugar numbers--I simply don't have the money. Even insisting on homemade pancakes and cookies and muffins made with nut flours or coconut flour would bankrupt me in no time flat. My solution: figure it out another way and be creative. Add vegetables in as many situations as possible.

To that end, I went pantry diving today for lunch. I was hungry, but as there was no bread in the house to tempt me into making an easy sandwich, I pulled out the Vietnamese rice paper Husband and I recently bought at the Asian grocery store in The Big City.

We adore the fresh spring rolls at the local Thai restaurant, so I rummaged around in the fridge to see what I could find. I emerged with iceberg lettuce, cabbage, carrots, and some lunch meat, which I shredded or julienned. 

Then I dipped a sheet of rice paper into a bowl of water to get it completely wet. Dry rice paper feels like stiff vellum. It's hard to imagine that it could end up being flexible enough to wrap around a filling.

Once you dip the paper in water, it goes transparent. I laid the now completely transparent rice paper across a plate and loaded up the fillings. Joseph wanted salad dressing in his, so I poured a bit of bottled Ranch dressing over the top of the filling. I personally hate bottled Ranch, so I left it out of mine and dipped the roll in soy sauce. 

You have to look hard at this picture to see the rice paper^. It's still somewhat stiff, but that makes it easier to roll because it isn't very sticky yet. The paper will continue to absorb water, and in a couple minutes will be quite soft and more sticky. I rolled it up like an eggroll, et voila! Forkless salad!

I was thinking of other ways to Americanize the rice paper rolls. Salad items work really well (as the Thai people have already proven), and you could put in just about any vegetable you want as long as you julienne or chop it finely--green peppers, green onions, regular onions, ginger, Romaine lettuce, spinach, mushrooms, jicama, cucumbers, raw zucchini, get the point. The Thai restaurant puts shrimp, shredded chicken, and rice noodles into their delicious spring rolls as well. You could also add cheese, other types of shredded meat, cilantro, or other herbs.

Plenty of soft, unheated fillings would work marvelously. Chicken salad or tuna salad, for instance. Even a Waldorf salad would work well. What about mixing the shredded meat and salad ingredients with basil or sun-dried tomato pesto? 

The package of rice paper that I bought cost $1.59, which is cheaper than most loaves of bread. If you only have a couple rolls, you won't be overdoing the rice and shooting your blood sugar up to dangerous, fat retaining levels. Plus, you can eat your salad with one hand, leaving the other free to update your Facebook status or send out a tweet about your fantastically righteous lunch. Be sure to go for a slightly condescending tone so that others will feel stupid and fat for not eating like you. And don't forget to Instagram your plate, either.

Just so I don't sound too condescending here, I confess I had pizza with wheat crust for dinner. You eat what you got, and sometimes change is difficult to accomplish. If nothing else, the heartburn and digestive discomfort I feel will continue to remind me that planning ahead is crucial to my success in completely eliminating wheat.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Vignette on a Sunday

I slip through the door to the assisted living center's public meeting room as unobtrusively as possible, vowing yet again to match up the times of all the clocks in my house and then set them five minutes fast. I'm not so late the meeting has already started, but I am late enough to not get a seat on the couch with the other ladies from the Stake Relief Society presidency. Lynne motions vaguely to a truly massive wingback chair beside her, but it's facing exactly the wrong direction and I don't care to wrestle with it when there are plenty of empty seats nearby, even if they don't look nearly as comfortable.

Almost as soon as I sit down on the end of the front row, Sister Stewart shuffles up with her walker and takes the chair next to me. She's a frail-looking, tiny woman with a huge cloud of white hair floating above her head. There is a wrapped candy cane lying loose on the seat of her walker, and I vaguely wonder what her plans are for it and if it's been there since Christmas. She smiles at me while she hauls her heavy large-print manual off the walker and sets it beside her on the next seat. I ask her how she's doing. She says she's doing very well after I repeat myself a little more loudly.

The scent of cooking ham or sausage wafts out of the nearby kitchen, and through the closed door I can hear the cook smacking the edge of a bowl in a series of sharp raps over and over. My stomach growls. I focus on the organ music playing quietly in the background. The organist is blind, I remember.

Wait, the organist is blind! Why did I not think about this before? I guess I just assumed that of course a blind woman could play the organ for church because she's just that determined, and there's nothing weak about Sister Neal despite her inability to see. What does it take to play a keyboard without being able to see it? I wonder. The opening hymn is announced and I listen to Sister Neal hit a few notes to find Middle C. Then she plays a chord to figure out the right key, and then she's off into a simple introduction. She plays all the hymns from memory, obviously, focusing on the melody and adding a simple accompaniment.

Sister Stewart and I share the large-print hymnal between us. The only problem is that the hymn we are singing is obscure enough that even I, who was the ward chorister from the time I was 13 until I left for college at 18, am not sure of the melody. The large-print hymnals contain only the text of the songs, not the musical notation. Fortunately, Ada, who is sitting nearby on the couch, is singing loudly enough that by the second verse everyone is a lot more confident about the melody. We finish the fourth verse strongly, all 12 or 13 of us in the room.

When the meeting is over, I shake Sister Stewart's hand gently just in case she has arthritis. I've learned there's no call for hearty, bone-crushing handshakes in an assisted living center or nursing home. I shake hands and say hello to the other white-haired sisters and one brother who attended today, as well. They are all so kind, happy to see us and welcome us to their home. Then the other ladies of the presidency and I drive over to the nearby chapel, where we will attend another Relief Society meeting.

We've been sitting in the sparsely populated Relief Society room for a few minutes when I wonder out loud if this ward has a pianist, as no one is playing prelude music. Sure enough, the president gets up to start the meeting and announces that we will be singing a capella today. When I raise my hand and offer to play, she smiles with relief and gladly accepts. The chorister stage whispers a loud "Thank you!"

There's a spiral-bound hymnal already sitting at the piano, and as I flip it open to the right page, I think about how glad I am that I can see. I'm also glad I'm still young enough to walk unassisted and be able to take care of my family. I hope that when I have a cloud of white hair and am bent over my walker, my veins clearly visible through the parchment skin of the back of my hands, that I will still be determined to do as much good as I can. I hope I could even be brave enough to play the organ blind, if it came to that.  

Friday, January 17, 2014

This Ain't No Diet

So, if I'm going to diet and lose weight, I have some requirements:

1. This must be a lifestyle change and not a temporary fix.
2. No food groups can be eliminated. One or two elements of a food group can be eliminated or reduced, but not the entire food group.
3. I will not count calories. Ever.
4. I will not give myself points for food eaten. Ever.
5. I will not suffer from debilitating hunger. If I am hungry, I can eat without guilt or reservation until I am not hungry anymore.
6. I will not follow a rigid eating plan, menu, or ideology for the rest of my days unless I want to.
7. And I don't want to.
8. Nothing I do will require my limited stores of will-power to be used up unless I first understand that the situation is temporary, such as in a detox program, or if I am going through withdrawals from eliminating something I know is bad for me.
9. I get to enjoy the food I eat and not have to think and stress about it constantly.

Impossible? I thought it might be, but I wasn't willing to compromise. Because I know myself well enough, I now know that any compromise with any of the above points will spell failure, and I'm done with failure and regret and self-recrimination just as much as I am done being fat and tired and brain-fogged.

So I set out on a journey some years ago, some of which I have blogged about. I have read, I have experimented, and I have observed the results. I have conducted my own very unscientific empirical study of lots of available data--some of it contradictory and confusing--and have figured out what seems to work for me. What really works for me is knowledge and education. After cobbling together things I've learned from various resources and experimenting on myself to see how useful or valid it is for me, here is what I'm doing now:

1. I have not replaced the batteries in my scale in nearly a year because I tend to judge my self-worth based on a number. Since I haven't been able to stop doing that, I've eliminated the temptation altogether.
2. I use coconut oil, butter, and EVOO for all my fats (unless I cook bacon, in which case, I save and use the bacon grease because it's so tasty). Nuts are also perfectly fine. I also eat a tablespoon of coconut oil before each meal (or just a tablespoon three times a day if I forget to take it before a meal).
3. I pull oil twice a day using organic, cold-pressed virgin coconut oil.
4. I use coconut oil on my neck and face as a moisturizer and microbial deterrent.
5. I am reducing the amount of wheat products in my diet, working on eliminating them altogether. This has led to some fun and interesting solutions to things I normally eat with bread or wheat flour. I'm not trying to eliminate gluten or all grains, but I am done with modern wheat.
6. I am taking a magnesium supplement and will also start a B complex and multivitamin.
7. I get gentle exercise, but I never force myself to exercise for hours at a time or work out to the point of exhaustion and/or nausea. Sorry, P90X enthusiasts, but you guys are nuts.
8. I am working to reduce sugar in my diet, although my main focus for now has been to eliminate wheat and wheat products.
9. I consciously include more veggies in my meals, sneaking them in whenever I can. In order to eat pizza (which I love) without the traditional crust (which has wheat), I used thinly sliced, baked eggplant as the crust. It was delicious! And I didn't get the tired, achy, sluggish feeling that I now know wheat produces in me.
10. I do not berate myself or call myself names for not being immediately perfect. In fact, this whole experiment has been kept very loose and flexible. I'm generally easy-going, but I will almost immediately rebel if told to do a lot of things I don't want to do, even by myself.

Results: good. Overall, I've seen improvement in my energy levels. I did go through the Herxheimer Reaction with the oil pulling (which was interesting), but I never did get more than a couple hours of the sniffles even while several of my children suffered through influenza, pneumonia, and sinus infections after Christmas. I am sleeping more soundly, my mind and thoughts are more calm, and I think my mood is more even. Also, I noticed today that when I put on a pair of freshly laundered denim jeans, I didn't have to suck anything in to zip them up. That's new.

Added bonus: after using coconut oil to moisturize my face at night, I smell like a tropical vacation.

I know some people love having meal plans and do-and-don't lists which provide a lot of comforting structure and a solid  foundation on which to build. I have nothing against that sort of thing, except that it doesn't work for me at all. We'll see if my way works or not. I'd love to have my younger shapely, svelte figure back, even if the stretch marks and certain flabby bits are permanent now; but almost as much, I also want to feel energetic, clear-headed, and powerful. So I'll keep you informed of the progress I'm making. I might review some of the books and studies that have led me to these conclusions, but that's just because I love an excuse to read.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

For the Lady in the Pickup Truck and All You Other Lights in the Dark

Yesterday, for the second time in my life, I drove a car so far down the gas gauge that I actually ran out of gas. The first time I did that was a number of years ago when we lived in The Big City, and the car died just as I pulled up to the pump, which was oddly satisfying. I congratulated myself on the great timing, even though I knew I should have visited the gas station about 10 miles earlier.

Yesterday, however, I ended up on the side of the road. Fortunately, I had already dropped the kids off for school, and also fortunately, I was close enough to home to hoof it back easily. I grabbed the gas can out of the back, locked the doors, wrapped Marmite the dog in my jacket, and headed home to trade my shoes out and drop off the dog before walking back to the gas station to fill the gas can.

About 45 minutes later, I was heading back to my car with a nearly full 2-gallon gas can weighing me down and stumbling over large,  frozen chunks of snow and ice on the side of the road because there are few sidewalks in that direction. The day was warm--nearly 40 deg. F!--and I was glad to get some exercise out of doors, even if I now stank of gasoline despite all my efforts not to.

When I was a couple blocks from my car, a big pickup truck chugged up alongside me and a female voice called, "Do you need a ride?" I did a very quick evaluation (as any woman does) to see if it was safe, and then accepted the ride. She dropped me off about a minute later, and I thanked her warmly. Then I poured some gas into the tank, drove to the gas station, and put more gas in the tank.

I didn't know the woman who picked me up, and we didn't exchange names. We did find out our kids go to the same elementary school. The point was that she took some time out of her day to show kindness to a stranger, and what took her 30 seconds meant a great deal to me. I could easily have made it to my car, but she made my day a little easier. It was her willingness to do that for me that warmed my heart so greatly.

People don't know that the small things they do mean something. When someone smiles at me in the grocery store or neighbors stop to chat for a few seconds, I am truly touched. I also love watching my friends and neighbors do kind things for others. A few weeks ago, some people in our congregation (but who don't actually go to church because of their poor health) needed some help cleaning their home, and a crowd showed up one Saturday morning to answer the call. Only a couple people in the crowd had met the people for whom we were cleaning, but everyone eagerly pitched in. A few hours later, some significant inroads had been made. No one complained about the work, and everyone worked hard. Things like that happen all of the time.

One of my friends posted on his Facebook page an article criticizing the LDS church because we don't do more service. The article complained that while the church in general provides plenty in donations and commodities for humanitarian needs in various parts of the country or world that are ravaged by terrible weather or other horrible situations, individual congregations are not more actively involved in recognizable charity programs. He then used a particular non-LDS church congregation as his example of righteousness. This congregation worked each Sunday in feeding the homeless and working with a local charity to provide relief services and donations for women and children. The tone of the article was very critical. Why don't we do more of that? the author wondered. Here we are just going to church on a Sunday. Is that just paying lipservice to Christ's admonition to clothe the naked and feed the hungry? Shouldn't we be doing more recognizable good works and not sitting around in Sunday meetings talking about it?

I was pretty disgusted and upset with the article, and I read a few comments some other LDS people had made that also sounded equally miffed as the author (and self-righteous at the same time). But further down, I read a comment that made my day. It was written by a non-LDS woman living in Utah, and she chastised the author and earlier commenters a little bit. She said she had seen numerous instances of LDS people helping others out, whether they were members of the church or not, and she also noted that most of those people wouldn't dream of publicizing their good works. What they did was done quietly and with no fanfare. What astounded her was that people were showing up to help neighbors before she even knew there was a problem. Meals were brought in or help showed up, and none of the do-gooders bragged about it later or felt the need to make a big deal of it.

I don't know if the woman who picked me up yesterday felt a warm glow about helping out a stranger. I hope she did. Her act of kindness was small and seemingly insignificant, but little acts like that, compounded over thousands and thousands of people, equal tidal waves of goodness. Such kindness and charity combats the rising tide of evil that champions Law of the Jungle thinking, that declares that individuals do not matter, and that compassion is only acceptable if it conforms to the tenants of a particular religion or ideology or government program. I think people are generally good, and I think that given the choice, most people prefer choosing to do a small, kind act if given the chance. There are the exceptions, of course, but for now, the hearts of most men and women have not yet turned so cold that the plight of another is not a beckoning call to do something, anything.

If you are the kind of person who smiles at strangers, offers help when there is obvious need, or even just holds a door or says "thank you" and "please," I am glad I'm in the world with you.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sharing Controversial Opinions in Order to Start an Argument? Ain't Nobody Got Time for That!

I obviously write a lot about myself on this blog because it's my blog. I also write mostly about myself because my family have made it clear that they don't necessarily enjoy being written about, and I also don't want to breach any friends' privacy, either. Therefore, when I mention any of them, I keep it fairly neutral. If they want to share their opinions of things or write about interesting personal experiences, I guess they can do that for themselves.

Until then, you've got me. All me, all the time.

Ain't it grand?

And why aren't there any fonts specifically for sarcasm or laughing at oneself?

Facebook is not a good forum for spouting opinions. I don't mind if people disagree with me, but I am very, very tired of it all in general. There seems to be this trend toward loudly disagreeing with anyone whose opinion is different than your own, as if you are somehow not being true to yourself if you don't make your voice heard. And why would I particularly care about making my voice heard if all I am doing is stirring up strife? Who would I convert to my view? How is that making the world a better place? Am I a better person because I become offended by someone's opinion--as stupid and uninformed as I think it may be--and seek balm for my troubled soul by responding in the heat of anger or even just startled incredulity?

I've quit sharing my opinion on anything controversial in social media spaces like Facebook. I don't think it's a cop-out, since I don't think there is any honorable reason to share my opinion at all unless someone asks for it and sincerely wants to know it. If it saves me or someone else a bit of stress or anger to still my fingers on the keyboard, then I'm keeping my mouth, as it were, shut.

There is a reason one of my English teachers in high school stopped me outside the classroom one day and asked me, "When am I going to see you more involved in the discussions in our class?" Flustered, I answered too quickly, "When everyone stops arguing." He was taken aback. "We don't argue!" I didn't argue.

What I really have a hard time with is that my brain doesn't work when my mouth is talking. Debate Club was the stuff of my nightmares. I never would have joined, even if you paid me. I don't think fast or strategically when my adrenalin is up or when I feel completely out of my depth. In an argument, I rarely feel in my depth. No matter how much I may know about the topic at hand, I will forget all of it in a stressful debating situation. Then I stand there, gawping like a fish, unable to make any good points and numbly watching the triumph grow on the other person's face. Besides, as a debate coward, I find that people with quicker wits usually put forth my argument for me if I wait long enough. That's what I didn't tell my teacher in the hallway, though I thought about it afterward: I'm thinking and listening the whole time, but when I come up with a point, I let others make it (which they almost inevitably did) and then quietly ponder the response for validity. The pondering and reasoning part breaks down the moment I open my own mouth, and my mind goes totally blank in the bargain.

To be fair, it was high school, which was not a time of supreme self-confidence, but I haven't changed much in other ways over the last couple decades. I still don't go looking for arguments. I prefer to read or hear others' opinions that I heartily disagree with quietly and ponderingly and then quietly accept or reject their position. If someone honestly wants to know what I think, I'll share. If someone is looking for a fight, I'll back away. Unless the result of the argument would be harm to myself or my loved ones, it just isn't worth it (though I have to say that I have stood my ground when it counted and actually cowed the other person into submission, but that was because I felt my children were in danger and suddenly there was no hesitation or fear in any part of my body. There was only authority and confidence. Nice to know I do have it in me, right?). That sort of thinking did make me a good telemarketer in the sense that I would listen sympathetically to the customer's complaint and then do all I could to restate their position and see what I could do. I can't count how many customers calmed down when they knew I was listening and trying to help. Many of them thanked me profusely at the end of our conversations, even those who started out yelling at me.

I still hated being a telemarketer. Ugh.

I'm rambling here. Thinking out loud. Feel free to click away, as this may go on a while. I totally understand. But you're probably a lot like me, too--at least, if you've read this far.

So I see no dishonor in refraining from sharing my opinion on Facebook. I also don't see any honor in sharing my opinion here. I have opinions, definitely, and some of them I'm dying to share, and that's what this blog does for me every once in a while. It relieves that pressure when it becomes unbearable. No one has ever argued with me here, and I'm fine with that.

Rallying the Troops and Feeding Them Chicken Soup

We've got casualties. They're lying around like zombies, moaning pathetically every once in a while, stretched out on the living room couches and watching all the seasons of Parks & Rec over and over. Every once in a while I nag them to drink something so they stay hydrated, or I offer some natural remedy that admittedly sounds disgusting and which they immediately reject.

What? An anti-flu concoction composed of cayenne pepper, sea salt, chamomile tea, and Bragg's apple cider vinegar diluted in a glass of filtered water doesn't sound good? Fine. I'll drink it. You'll notice I am not sick.

Gabrielle was diagnosed with influenza and pneumonia. Sian seems to have escaped with just influenza, and Elannah is exhibiting the symptoms of a very bad cold that is making her increasingly miserable (but not miserable enough to stay away from the computer). Joseph has vomited a couple times, but there is no fever or respiratory distress (hallelujah, as he is one of my asthmatics). Also Joseph's version of throwing up sometimes constitutes choking a little on some food and then spitting a lot. I'm hardly ever impressed when he tells me he's thrown up. Little Gary seems to be just fine, and Sophia has a stuffy nose but isn't coughing or feeling like an elephant is sitting on her chest (another hallelujah for Sophia, who is also asthmatic). I'll keep a close eye on that.

I hate to jinx myself, but I have barely even had a sniffle. I'm still doing the oil pulling thing twice a day (as is Husband), and I'm drinking the anti-flu remedy and eating the mung beans I sprouted like they're candy and taking a daily magnesium supplement. I vow to hold strong, brandishing my coconut oil in one hand and the fizzy Vitamin C tablets in the other. I've got my arsenal of deep, leafy greens and my essential oils. I'm sprouting some more mung beans. If I go down, I will go down fighting.

Now it's time for me to get back into the battlefield and start nagging the troops to drink more fluids.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Supporting a Very Lazy Habit This Yuletide Season

What have I been doing, you ask. Aren't you busy enough without worrying what I'm doing with my time? But I get it: you're living vicariously through me. Why not? If you're living vicariously through me, you'll certainly be doing less of anything productive and a lot more things that range from slightly weird to decidedly indolent. 

For one thing, I've spent the last 1 1/2 weeks reading. I've been on a fiction binge the likes of which I haven't indulged in in years. Or months, anyway. There have been one or two non-fiction books thrown in, as well, just to make me feel better and slightly less guilty. But for the most part, during the Christmas break while all the kids and Husband have been home, I've holed up in my room pretty much all day and stuck my nose in a book. I occasionally emerge to cook something or make sure the boys are getting their teeth brushed before going to bed. 

I've read:

The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks.
Then, because I was interested in Weeks' first trilogy, I read The Way of Shadows, Shadow's Edge, and Beyond the Shadows
We went to the library and Husband found Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer, which is the sequel to her very interesting Cinder (which I read when it first came out). Because Husband was already finishing up another book, I snagged Scarlet and read that.
Then I read Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase. I really enjoyed Stroud's Bartamaeus novels. Very inventive and well written, and I wasn't disappointed with this new one.

Husband, noting that I had put a certain book on our Amazon Wishlist, but also knowing that we had agreed not to get Christmas presents for each other, cheated by ordering another, similar book (he believes in reading reviews, and the one I'd put on the Wishlist didn't have great reviews) and having it arrive a day after Christmas. So I read that book, which is Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body Through Oral Cleansing, Dr. Bruce Fife. After I read it, I gave Husband a book report. I was very intrigued by the premise of the book, which is that the health of your mouth reflects the health of your body. Having written too many dental articles to count, and having already researched oral health in relation to overall health, I was already somewhat knowledgeable, and Dr. Fife didn't have to do any hard selling to convince me. So I started oil pulling, and Husband decided to try it out as well.

Here's what oil pulling is and does: you stick some healthy oil in your mouth and swish it around for at least 20 minutes at a time. I use coconut oil because I love coconut oil and because it's lighter than other types of healthy oils, such as extra virgin olive oil or sesame oil. Every morning when I wake up and every evening before I brush my teeth before bed, I pull oil. 

Your mouth is a hotbed of microbial civilizations. Bacteria and other microbes populate different parts of your mouth, including between the gums and your teeth, inside your teeth's tubules, in the fold between your gums and your cheeks, and on the tongue. Different areas of the mouth support different microbe growth, and without saliva to help wash them away, you would suffer greatly. (In fact, even if you brush and floss religiously and stay away from sugar, you might still get lots of dental cavities if you suffer from dry mouth of low salivation rates.) 

A Dr. Westin A. Price figured out in the early 1900s that people often recovered from serious illnesses when their bad teeth were pulled, so he decided to try some experiments. He took the decayed teeth he had pulled, washed them, and stuck them under the skin of unfortunate but healthy rabbits. Every time a rabbit hosted a diseased tooth, it developed the same ailments as tooth's former owner, from arthritis to liver problems. Eventually, Dr. Price figured out how to make a bacterial extract from the teeth and injected that into the rabbits instead of using the whole tooth, and the rabbits still contracted the same (or extremely similar) illnesses and ailments as the formerly diseased human owners of the teeth. Coincidence? I think not.

Anyway, without me re-writing the entire book, Dr. Fife concludes that the ancient Ayuverdic practice of oil pulling is, indeed, incredibly effective in helping to  maintain overall health. The oil attracts the fatty surfaces of bacteria and other microbes as you swish it through your mouth. After 20 minutes of such swishing, the oil, mixed with your saliva, is now a bacterial soup, which is why you spit it into the trash and do not swallow it (you also spit it into the trash to avoid coating your plumbing pipes with congealing grease, which is bad for water flow, a thing I know because plumbing is another frequent topic of my SEO articles). 

The reason you want to remove those bacteria is because they get into your body via your bloodstream or through the tissues and cause havoc elsewhere. Imagine if you have an abscess, which is an infection of the gum. As the infection worsens, nasty bacteria get into your bloodstream and travel to your heart, damaging the muscle and making you more susceptible to a heart attack. Even a little gingivitis can increase your chances of stroke. Cuts or sores in your mouth also allow bad bacteria to get into your bloodstream. I won't even delve into the fascinating world of amalgam fillings and root canal issues. By removing the bacterial threat in your mouth, you allow your body to put its resources toward healing itself. 

Plus, it's easy enough to do and doesn't require any special equipment. That's my kind of weird experiment!

Husband has gone through the Herxheimer Reaction the last couple days, when toxins that are being removed from the body cause you to feel worse for a bit before you start feeling much better. He felt pretty yucky on Sunday and had a bad headache that didn't readily respond to pain medication on Monday. He seems to be rallying nicely, though. As for myself, I haven't noticed any significant changes except maybe sleeping more deeply. I have a pretty strong immune system, I think, as I hardly ever catch "what's going around," but if I'm going to encourage my children to do something weird, I'm going to try it first. They're going through various illnesses at the moment. I suspect more sinus infections, and I took Joseph to the doctor on Monday for a mysterious pain he's been having in his side. I was worried it was his kidney, but his urine test was fine, as were his various blood tests for gall bladder, liver problems, and mononucleosis. He still has the pain, though, and it's not getting any better. If I can teach him how to do oil pulling, I wonder if it would help?

So that's me and how I've spent some of my time lately. 

Sian brought two of her economics books home for me, knowing I would be very excited to read them. As it's time to get back to real life and responsibilities, non-fiction will serve me better than fiction. It is certainly easier to pull yourself away from an economic textbook than from a gripping detective story in order to do laundry or cook meals or manage chore completion or do the grocery shopping or get my paid word finished. I'll soon be diving into Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, by Charles Wheelan, and The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life, by Steven E. Landsburg.

Wish me luck!