Category Archives: Health

The No Meat Athlete Cookbook (spoiler alert: you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy this one)

I’ve become somewhat of a slacker with running. There are enough reasons for that to warrant a separate post, I think, and I do want to get back to more of a fitness routine. I’m starting with walking; The Girl and I did two 2-mile walks on the beach last week and that felt good, so that’s something.

When I started running last fall, I went back to eating chicken. I thought I needed the additional protein for my increased workouts. That experiment lasted only a month or two because a) I didn’t really notice a difference (it’s not like I suddenly became a triathlete) and b) after 20 years of not eating meat* the stomach woes were too much. Within a month or two, I was happily back to being a gluten-free pescetarian.

Around this time I discovered the No Meat Athlete  site and podcast, which reinforced that it was definitely possible to eat a plant-based diet while partaking in high-intensity fitness activities like marathons. Even though I’m nowhere near that point — and may never be — NMA offers a lot of great information, strategies and recipes for athletes of all abilities.

I was thrilled to review The No Meat Athlete Cookbook by Matt Frazier and Stepfanie Romine  in Tuesday’s issue of Shelf Awareness. They offer athletes at every level 125 plant-based recipes providing a powerhouse of essential nutrients for strength and endurance.

“It’s everything in the food–and the remarkably complex interactions of countless nutrients–that our bodies thrive on, not a single constituent,” the authors state. Because the body also requires less time to process whole foods, more energy is available for workouts and a full recovery afterward.

While athletes are this cookbook’s focus, there’s plenty here for people who are simply interested in eating a plant-based diet.

Thanks to Shelf Awareness for the opportunity to review The No Meat Athlete Cookbook. Read my full review here.

* There was a brief period in 2011-2012 when I ate chicken. The kids and I were still living in Delaware while The Husband commuted back and forth from Pittsburgh, and it was just easier for the three of us to eat the same thing. And then I got a job where I was on the road extensively, often in rural parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. After that ended, so did my meat consumption.

 

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Book Review: The Wide Circumference of Love, by Marita Golden

Alzheimer’s and other dementias affect millions of people and their families. In the United States, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s dementia. While the majority (5.3 million) are age 65 and older, approximately 200,000 individuals are under age 65 and have younger-onset Alzheimer’s. (source: http://www.alz.org/facts/)

In The Wide Circumference of Love, Marita Golden takes a frank and authentic approach to dementia’s relentless and all-encompassing nature–losing one’s dignity, forgetting loved ones’ names, bewildering personality changes, disappearing friends–while also calling attention to the increased prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the African American community, something I was not aware of before reading this novel.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to review The Wide Circumference of Love for Shelf Awareness. You can read more of my thoughts in my review published here.

The Wide Circumference of Love, by Marita Golden
Arcade Publishing
300 pages
2017

 

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currently … in a funk

That’s a photo from a Pirates game we were at in 2013 — a lifetime ago, really. I’m kind of bummed this weekend because The Husband and I had an actual, honest-to-God date planned down at PNC Park where the Pirates are, as I type this, playing the Yankees in a rare series. We like the Pirates just fine; however, The Husband is a Yankees fan and it’s not often he gets to see them. This weekend’s games here in the ‘Burgh would have been the perfect opportunity and I encouraged him to get tickets as a belated birthday gift for himself. Unfortunately, The Husband hurt his foot on Friday — we suspect a sprained ankle (he’s getting it checked out on Tuesday) — so he sold the tickets on StubHub and here we are, watching from the living room on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.

I was looking forward to the game, so not being able to go has added to my general bummed out mood lately. We’re dealing with a family situation that’s incredibly sad and difficult, one that falls in the “not entirely my story to tell” category of blogging, so that’s weighing heavily on our minds. We were in Philly last weekend for Easter because of this. It’s a hard time and being so far away from everyone right now makes us feel even more helpless. My attention span is nonexistent.

Reading … I’m in a bit of a reading funk. I brought Anne Lamott’s new book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy with me to Philly last weekend, thinking it might provide some comfort. I really wanted to like it but found it kind of rambling and scattered. That’s been the case for me with a few of her books lately. I’ve also abandoned two potential review books. I can’t seem to get into anything new.

This week wasn’t a complete loss in the books department. I finished The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, a novel that draws heavily on the true story of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. In 1936, Stalin attended a performance of his opera and … well, he didn’t like it. Which does not bode well for Shostakovich, whose life is placed in danger. It’s a compelling story, one that feels especially relevant in these times. At times I felt a bit lost (I think the narrative assumes the reader has more knowledge of music and Russian history than I do) but I found it fascinating and disconcerting at the same time.

I also read Jennifer Jackson Berry’s new poetry collection, The Feeder, which is … emotionally intense. These are raw, personal, soul-bearing poems dealing with infertility and loss and sex and pleasure. I’m a fan of Berry’s work and this collection is one that stays with you.

Watching … Still in the middle of the first season of “Grace and Frankie.” Such a stellar cast in this show, which I am enjoying. I really want to see “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Maybe we’ll watch that tonight.

Loving … My new laptop. My hard drive died a few weeks ago and while it can be replaced (and we were able to save all my data), the laptop is four years old. The Girl really needs a laptop for homework so I decided to get a new one and repair my old one for her. Also, I’m loving this weather. It’s finally nice enough to sit outside at lunch with a book and on the deck after work.

Running … Slowly but surely, I’m starting to get back into some semblance of a running routine. There’s a great little walking path at my mom’s so I was able to get in a 1.25 mile-long walk on Sunday, with a little running tacked onto the end. We also did a walk on Friday evening too.

AnticipatingDewey’s 24 Hour Readathon is next weekend (April 29). I love this event, which happens every spring and fall, and I try to participate as much as I can.  I’m really hoping my reading rut will have ended by then.

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Sunday Salon/Currently … The Year Spins on Unheeding

Sunday Salon banner

“Time, always almost ready 
to happen, leans over our shoulders reading 
the headlines for something not there. “Republicans 
Control Congress” — the year spins on unheeding.”

Those lines from William Stafford’s “Reading the Big Weather” certainly seem apt for this particular moment in time, as this dreadful year of unprecedented (or, rather, unpresidented) moments spins unheeding down to its near conclusion. A glimpse at the news shows that there certainly has been no shortage of unheeded things.

Of course my first interpretation of this correlates to the election and tomorrow’s convening of the Electoral College.  Save for a Christmas miracle and the ghost of Hamilton,  they’ll likely vote to put the most unqualified, thin-skinned, egotistical, racist, sexist, narcissistic, hateful liar and abuser ever imaginable in charge of our country. It doesn’t need to be said that I fervently hope that Santa and Alexander are in cahoots, because nothing else can save us from our apparent doom, it seems. It is all so discouraging and depressing.

As I write this, though, what to my wondering eyes did appear but word via Facebook of a true Christmas miracle here in Pittsburgh. I’ve been following for some time now Caitlin O’Hara’s need for new lungs. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis on her 2nd birthday, Caitlin’s mom (novelist Maryanne O’Hara) has been chronicling their wait for a double-lung transplant after Caitlin, now 33, was officially listed as a candidate in April 2014.  Because she wasn’t eligible to receive a lung transplant at a hospital near her Boston home, Caitlin and her mother moved here to Pittsburgh to be closer to UPMC, which thankfully agreed to accept Caitlin as a transplant candidate, despite her high-risk status.

Last week, as Caitlin remained on life support, one of her surgeons declared her “the sickest person in the United States” awaiting a lung transplant. The situation was truly tenuous and fragile — and today, word comes of a donor and that the surgery has been completed

(A sad update:  I’m heartbroken to share that Caitlin passed away on Wednesday, December 21, three days after receiving her new lungs. She fought tremendously to live but was so very sick. I never met her but I feel as if I know her so well from her mother’s posts and Caitlin’s own writings. My deepest condolences to her family and friends who loved her so much.) 

Arctic temperatures have frozen Pittsburgh all this week and this weekend’s weather was just downright bizarre with snow and ice storms in the morning, then nearly 50 degrees. Late last night, there were rumbles of thunder. But, of course, Mr. Tweeter-in-Chief doesn’t believe in the likes of big weather (to bring this back to Stafford’s poetry) so, you know, nothing to see here.

a-scripture-of-leavesThis week in books I only managed to finish A Scripture of Leaves, William Stafford’s collection of poetry that was first published in 1990.  In the immediate shock post-election, I remember someone or someplace mentioning Stafford’s work and when I saw this slim, unassuming volume in the library, I picked it up, not knowing much about him but later learning that he was a pacifist and conscientious objector. Those themes show in his work with these poems set in nature and exploring themes of religion, social justice and the environment.

As the year winds down, I have an abundance of use-it-or-lose-it vacation time. Tomorrow at noon begins my official 13 days of Christmas vacation from work—save for one project that will need some paying attention to during this break. I have a pile of books at the ready, several blog posts waiting to be written along with some blog maintenance, a smattering of decluttering around the house, and a handful of appointments to keep both the cars and psyches in working order. Some (okay, all) the Christmas shopping still awaits along with some time with friends and family in Philly.

Mercury goes retrograde tomorrow. And so we spin on.

Mornings we see our breath, Weeds
sturdy for winter are waiting down
by the tracks. Birds, high and silent
pass almost invisible over town.

Time, always almost ready
to happen, leans over our shoulders reading
the headlines for something not there. “Republicans
Control Congress”—the year spins on unheeding.

The moon drops back toward the sun, a sickle
gone faint in the dawn: there is a weather
of things that happen too faint for headlines,
but tremendous, like willows touching the river.

This earth we are riding keeps trying to tell us
something with its continuous scripture of leaves.  

“Reading the Big Weather” by William Stafford

 

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Second Helpings

Before this tumultuous year, Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas were already emotionally-charged holidays for me and The Husband.  A lifetime ago, we got engaged during Thanksgiving week. After years of infertility, our twins were born on Thanksgiving Day in a scenario straight out of a Hallmark movie:  twins, Thanksgiving Day, the most incredible gift you could ever imagine.

And then, exactly one year ago today on Thanksgiving Day 2015, The Husband collapsed in the middle of dinner. We hadn’t even brought out the pie. I found him barely conscious in the bathroom and performed CPR right there on the floor. Dessert was replaced by a rush of paramedics, police, tears and two hospitals before 10 p.m.

Thankfully, he survived this unexpected (and somewhat still unexplained) event; it goes without saying that this year — not to mention the rest of our lives — would have been extremely different if he hadn’t.  Grateful is an understatement. In the face of some significant losses and challenges, we still have each other. That counts for something (a lot, actually).

Nonetheless, there was a push-pull effect to this particular Thanksgiving.  Stay home or spend the holiday with family in Philly?  Part of me felt like sheltering in place after the past 17 days since the election. The appeal and comfort of home far outweighed the prospect of politically-charged dinnertime conversations awaiting us on the opposite side of the state.

At the same time, I didn’t want to be home with the ghosts of last Thanksgiving sitting at the table.

We decided to do a quick trip to Philly — less than 48 hours in duration, with 12 of those spent driving. Some close relatives have had medical scares in the past month, and this would be an opportunity to spend some time with them. As if we needed any reminding, life doesn’t come with guarantees. Take nothing and no one for granted.

At a rest stop in the middle of Tr*mpland, we instructed the children that there were only two acceptable topics of conversation for this visit (and probably every other visit thereafter):  The Weather and How Is School Going?.

“What if [insert name of relative who likely voted differently than us] asks us about the election?” The Girl asked, a bit worriedly.

“You say, ‘on the advice of counsel, I decline to answer the question,'” The Husband replied, prompting a discussion of the Fifth Amendment, because that’s how we roll.

As it turned out, everyone behaved themselves as best as possible. No politics were discussed. Instead, we celebrated the kids’ birthdays (and a nephew’s) with both sets of grandparents. My sister-in-law made a delicious dinner. The cousins had a chance to hang out and laugh and reconnect with each other, reminiscent of the kind of holidays The Husband and I remember as children with our own cousins. It was the first Thanksgiving our extended family spent together in six years.

And best of all?

Everyone had more than enough pie.

thanksgiving-dessert-table-2016

 

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Starting Line, part 1

clouds-pittsburgh-12-2-2015

clouds over pittsburgh, december 2015, photo taken by me

It felt like someone had punched me in the chest.

I had just walked up three short flights of stairs and I was breathing like I’d just ran the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Goddamn, I’m old, I thought, trying to catch my breath and feeling all of my 47 years.

Thankfully, the feeling quickly subsided but returned with concerning enough frequency throughout the next week. I couldn’t walk up the same stairs with a coworker and have a conversation on the way into the office. Moreover, it didn’t matter if I was simply sitting at my desk churning out all the words and crunching all the numbers. Wham, there it was, the stabbing in the back or slight chest pains. I started keeping a bottle of Tums on my person and on my desk.

“Ever Have An EKG?” 

I thought back to the last time my cholesterol and triglycerides were checked — about two years ago or more.  Both numbers had been high and I’d promised my doctor I would make some diet and exercise changes. I had good intentions, but didn’t do much to change my ways. I was already gluten-free and vegetarian, and I became even more of a carb-loading machine. Rice, potatoes or pasta — with a generous helping of cheese, please — were part of almost every meal I ate. I enjoyed a mug of ice cream nearly every night.

And forget starting any type of exercise routine because my true nature is Lazy As Fuck. There’s nothing I like better than sitting on the couch or the deck with a good book and a cup of coffee. I am a reader. A writer. I don’t DO exercise, which I HAAAAATTTTTTTEEEEEE with a passion unbridled. I always have, ever since gym class when I was always picked last for dodgeball, which I feel is a sadistic game. I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to graduate high school because I couldn’t run a mile in under 12 minutes. (I could write a whole ‘nuther post — hell, a book — on how the ostracizing of kids in gym class can influence their perspective of fitness.)

So why in God’s name would I want to willingly put myself through that physical and emotional torture three decades later?

In reality, I was playing dodgeball with my health.

Being the summa-cum-laude graduate that I am of the Medical School of Google, I self-diagnosed myself with angina (spoiler alert: I was wrong) and when I called my doctor, she suggested I come in that afternoon. I figured this could be worth leaving work early.

“Ever have an EKG?” asked the nurse practitioner.  I said I thought I had one before my gall bladder surgery two and a half years ago.

“You’re about to have another one,” she said.

A Moment in Time 

Fortunately, my heart was ticking perfectly fine and although there wasn’t any evidence of a heart attack, we couldn’t ignore my concerning symptoms. The chest pains and shortness of breath when walking up the stairs continued. Upper back pains and stomach woes. Fatigue.  A sedentary lifestyle. A ridiculous, off-the-goddamned charts, unrelenting amount of stress and anxiety. (The doctor’s look when I gave her a summary of the past year was…well, something to see.)

I walked out with orders for new bloodwork, a stress test, and an unequivocal command to get myself to the ER if the chest pains happened again.

To no one’s surprise, my cholesterol and triglycerides had gotten worse, with the latter zooming from 150 to 405 within the past seven years. Fortunately, results from the stress test were fine. (“Above average for your age!” proclaimed the cardiologist.)

“Let’s give this six months,” my doctor said. “Six months to lower your cholesterol and triglycerides through diet and exercise. Then, we’ll see where we’re at.”

If things progressed as they were, I knew where we would be at — in the ER (or, worse, in the ground). Best case scenario, we would be talking about statins, something I’d very much like to avoid. I’ve had this conversation with previous doctors, even ones I liked. I know statins work for many people but I just see them as heading down a slippery, cholesterol-slicked road.

Still, something about this particular conversation resonated with me. It felt like a turning point, a moment in time.

Life Doesn’t Come with Lifetime Guarantees 

At 47, I have outlived my father now by three years. He wasn’t an athlete, but he was fairly active. He was always working in our yard or on a project around the house.  He had recently become a volunteer firefighter for our small town. He didn’t smoke or drink. He didn’t die from cancer, a heart attack or stroke.

He died from complications of the flu. At 44 years old.

So, I’m well-acquainted with the feeling of living on borrowed time and how much of life is a crapshoot.  And perhaps that had been part of my exercise-adverse mindset: what’s the point of doing something I hate (exercising) when I could be perfectly healthy one week and drop dead from a virus the next?

Like my father, I have two kids. They are nearly the same age I was when he died. I know what it’s like to feel a parent’s absence during every single major milestone of your life and to miss them on even the most ordinary of days. I don’t want that for my kids.

When put in that context, eating less ice cream and becoming a little more active made complete sense. My motivation may have started with not wanting to go on a statin (and that’s still one of my driving forces in this) but maybe making some significant diet and exercise changes now could ward off serious issues later — or at least make me healthier today, because none of us are promised more than that.

If I’ve learned anything in my 47 years (especially the most recent of them) it’s that life doesn’t come with lifetime guarantees.

Starting Line

All of this happened in July and August.  The diet part seemed easy. Being gluten-free and vegetarian was a good start, but I needed to focus on reducing carbs, cholesterol and sugar. I downloaded MyFitnessPal to track everything I ate. That’s been eye-opening and I’ve instituted some healthier changes. I checked out books from the library. I pursued cookbooks and added more blogs to my overflowing Feedly.

But I knew that diet alone wasn’t going to get me where I needed to be. I needed to step up my exercise game bigtime and an occasional walk around the block wasn’t going to do it.

I had an idea what might be in my future and it hearkened back to not being able to run a 12 minute mile in high school.

Maybe, just maybe, I needed to conquer that voice in my head — the one stuck on repeat that says you aren’t, you can’t, you won’t.

Maybe it was time to start running — towards what I could do instead of from what I’ve always thought I couldn’t.

This is the first post in a series (yet to be named) of my Couch to 5K experience and journey towards becoming a runner. 

 

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sunday salon/currently… 9/18/2016

Sunday Salon bannerHaving a lazy Sunday today.  I had all good intentions of going the park for a walk/run this morning before the humidity became too oppressive but I woke up feeling blah. Nothing major, just a slight headache and minor stomach woes. It the sort of day where the weather can’t make up its mind: in the course of my writing this paragraph, it has been cloudy, then raining, and now it is brilliant sunshine.  (And 20 miles away at the Steelers game, it was a monsoon.)

Reading/Listening … 
My commute has been rather maddening recently, thanks to a ridiculous amount of construction going on in this town and the hell that is the (now indefinite) closure of the Liberty Bridge. Being that this is the City of Bridges with more than 400 of ’em, you would think one being shut down wouldn’t be a big deal, right? Not quite. This is a major bridge, traveled by 55,000 people each day. I’m not one of them, but if you need to go anywhere in the vicinity of the Liberty Bridge, you’re feeling the pain of some miserable drives. Such times are when and podcasts and audiobooks become your best friend.

being-mortal

This week I started and finished listening to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I thought this was an excellent narrative about the many ways our society approaches the end of life. As a physician, Gawande knows firsthand how medicine offers unprecedented possibilities for extending one’s life, no matter what the cost. But that cost can be physically, mentally, and financially significant, and our society still doesn’t have a strong enough support system and options that allow people to age in place.  As a result, the burden on people is tremendous. Gawande illustrates this by sharing the experiences of his patients and family members, and the result is a thoughtful reflection of how we treat the sick and the dying.

Cooking
The Girl and I were out all day yesterday, so I made Salsa Chicken (from Make It Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’Dea) in the crockpot for dinner. (Because nobody in this house can eat the same thing, The Husband had leftover burritos and rice, and I had a quinoa bowl with tomatoes, corn, black beans and feta.)

While that was cooking, I had a second crockpot going. I keep a bag in the freezer of vegetable odds and ends — tops of bell peppers and onions, gnawed corn cobs, broccoli stalks, ends of string beans, and veggies nearing the end of their prime. When the bag gets full, I dump everything into the crockpot, cover with water, toss in some garlic and spices (basil, oregano, salt, pepper) and simmer for the entire day.  It makes a vegetable broth with much less sodium than commercial brands. I typically freeze this into ice cubes and use the broth for sauteing. Tonight I made minestrone soup and was glad I had the required four cups of broth ready to go.

Writing
I applied for a writing fellowship this week. Might be a bit of a long shot, but one never knows. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Running
On Thursday I started Week 2 of Couch to 5K. So far, so good!  I keep promising a longer post about this, I know. Maybe later this week.

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