Friday, December 14, 2012

#123 - Sheer Madness

It's been a number of months since i have brought myself to post a blog entry. A number of times, I've had ideas to write about, things I thought I wanted to say, but somehow, I could not get motivated to write anything. Until now.

I thought for several hours today before deciding to write something in response to the tragedy in Connecticut. I don't know what drove the shooter to commit these horrible acts or why he thought these children should die. Any speculation in that direction would be merely that, and it would do nothing to bring those children back or ease the suffering of their families left behind.

Some are using this as an opportunity to point out the need for stronger gun control laws. Others are expressing the need for people to arm themselves so they can be prepared "the next time." Some are merely asking that there be some kind of discussion.

I am among those who believes there are too many guns in this country, although I have no desire to outlaw them or prevent people from legally obtaining them. However, I get tired of the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" crap many gun advocates post after such a tragedy. From my vantage point, I see people killing people - WITH GUNS.

Other countries, such as Australia and Canada, have much stricter gun laws and have much lower per capita rates of gun-related deaths. There may or may not be a correlation, and again, I am not saying I want to take everyone's guns away.

What I am saying is that we make it harder to get a driver's license than we do to buy a gun. We now have driver education programs in our schools so that young people do not get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle without some training and awareness of the laws. I don't see how requiring the same kind of education before buying a gun constitutes an attempt to prevent gun ownership, although some gun advocates all too easily make that leap.

I don't know whether we need more laws, fewer laws, better laws, or simply better enforcement of existing gun laws. But to refuse to enter into rational and thoughtful discussion of the issue and dismissing those on "the other side" and blaming them for what ails America is sheer madness.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have fired a gun on a few occasions and, knowing my limitations when it comes to handling firearms, have no desire to own a gun or have one in my home. I understand there are those who feel safer having a gun. Me, I feel safer not having one. All I ask is that you know where your gun is at all times and keep it in a place where others (especially children) can't get to it without your knowledge. We might both sleep better.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

#122 - An Update and a Nice Summer Wine

I've been thinking for several days now that I needed to write another post, though I wasn't quite sure what I would write about. Tonight, I decided to visit the site and realized it has been nearly two months since my last entry. I'm still not sure what to write about, but perhaps if I hit enough keys for long enough something of meaning will come out. Then again perhaps not.

First, an update on the new lifestyle. It has been 12 weeks since we began working toward eating more of a plant-based, whole foods diet. With a few small transgressions (such as using some of the mayonnaise we still had in the refrigerator when we made this change), we have been completely meat and dairy-free for the entire time.

Over the 12 weeks, we have managed to drastically reduce the amount of added oils and sugars in our diets and have substantially cut back on our intake of processed foods while increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat. We are also becoming more active. As a result, we have collectively shed nearly 40 pounds. Teresa has dropped 12 and I've lost 25 pounds.

In addition, we are becoming more adventurous in what we eat. Tomorrow night for instance, I am going to try my hand at making falafel. Traditionally, this tasty treat is deep-fried, but I've found some recipes for baking them, which is what I intend to do.

Beyond that, though, I am also becoming reacquainted with a food I had sworn off as a child because of its association with various bad experiences from that stage of my life. For the first time in more than 40 years, I am able to eat tomato (not simply tomato products like ketchup) without grimacing or gagging. I won't say we're good friends again, but I am becoming more comfortable having a bite of tomato in my mouth.

One of the rituals or habits we've begun to develop since changing our eating lifestyle is that we occasionally enjoy fresh-made hummus on the patio with a glass of wine (or two) and perhaps some fruit. Recently, we came across a fairly inexpensive wine that pairs well with either one or even with both, which is how we enjoyed it.

Turning Leaf Vineyards Refresh Crisp White 2011The wine in question is Turning Leaf Crisp White, and it is certainly that. It has a light lemon scent and a slight hint of carbonation. That latter fact makes it a possible alternative to New Age White wine, with which it shares a number of characteristics but at a lower cost.

The wine makes a wonderful summer accompaniment to fresh fruit, hummus, salad (perhaps with a nice vinaigrette). It manages to work with a wide variety of foods because the lemony hint helps to balance again sweeter food such as fruit while there is also just a hint of sweetness which help to balance against slightly more tart foods.

Refresh Crisp White by Turning Leaf is also a real bargain, usually running between $6 and $8 a bottle. If you want a nice balance between cost, taste, and refreshment, this wine is a good choice.

Monday, May 7, 2012

#121 - Adventures in Eating

Let me just start by saying I like food. For years I've had almost a love affair with beef, pork, chicken, potatoes, pasta, just about any dessert you can name. And food loved me back, to the point where I was many pounds overweight with a cholesterol level well over 200.

That all started to change four weeks ago. That was when a couple of things converged to bring out a change.

I learned about a study of eating habits and diet in China and the apparent connections between levels of animal protein intake (meat and dairy) and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, even cancer.

While I was reading The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Teresa and I happened upon a documentary on Hulu dealing with the same subject. The film Forks Over Knives presented many of the same arguments of Campbell's book but in a slightly more accessible format.

After seeing that film and another called Chow Down, we decided it was time to make a change in the way we eat. We began to drastically cut the amount of meat and dairy in our diets as well as the amount of oils we use. (We have not yet completely eliminated meat and dairy because of food we had purchased prior to seeing these films.) At the same time, we began to eat more fruits and vegetables.

About ten days into this dietary change we also bought a Wii Fit and began to incorporate exercise into our daily routine. Now, let me say I hated exercise with a passion before the Wii Fit. Exercise was boring, and I seldom saw any meaningful results, even after months of effort. Then, I would give up.

Since getting the Wii Fit, exercise has actually become, dare I say it, fun. The Wii Fit provides numerous activities, from yoga stretches and balance activities to aerobic exercises and strength training.

Between the dietary changes and the exercise, I have so far lost nine pounds in four weeks, and I have done it without pills and without starving myself. I still have a long way to go, but I can honestly say I feel better, and I am beginning to see the change physically.

In the interest of fairness, there are those who question the link between intake of animal protein and disease. Those same people say the evidence that a diet eliminating animal protein can help prevent or even reverse those diseases is suspect. I don't know who is right, but it doesn't really matter to me.

Even if the skeptics are right, there is still much to be said in favor of the dietary changes we have made. Seeing those films and reading The China Study made up think, perhaps for the first time, about what we were eating. Even if we need not have given up meat and dairy, the change to eating mostly fruits and vegetable and grains also resulted in a move away from highly processed foods. We now eat almost nothing that comes out of a box except for hot cereal.

Science was never my strong suit, so I don't know which side of the argument carries the most scientific weight. What I do know is that I feel better, and I am losing weight without skipping meals, without taking diet pills, and without counting calories or feeling deprived.

Between the changes in the way I feel and my weight and the compelling argument made by some that the amount of grain used to feed livestock each year is more than enough to feed the world's population, I feel I've made the right choice and opened the door to a whole new love affair with food.

Additional resources:

Chow Down (the actual film on
Dr. McDougall's Health and Medical Center
The Engine 2 Diet
T. Colin Campbell Foundation

Friday, April 13, 2012

#120 - The Skinny on Wine

I like wine. A lot. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy a good craft beer or a good porter from time to time. However, as I get older, I find I am more drawn to the fruit of the grape over beer or hard liquor.

When it comes to wine, I am certainly no expert, but I know what I like. Recently, I had a bottle of something I really liked. Men, you need to be somewhat secure in your manhood to admit you like this particular wine, but I am. And I do.

The wine was the Skinnygirl California Red. The skinny quality comes from the fact that the wine has "just" 100  calories in a five-ounce glass. It is has a bright edge to it, a quality that comes from being a young vintage. The bottle I had was a pre-production 2010 bottle (*), but the 2011 vintage is what is now available on the market.

As I drank it, the Skinnygirl reminded me of a Zinfandel. I have since learned that it is made primarily from Syrah. I like both. In fact, they are probably my favorite red varietals, so it should come as no surprise that I liked the Skinnygirl.

The wine could be described as fruity, I suppose, but it is not sweet, which seems to be the growing trend, even in red wines these days. Nor is it as full or heavy as a Cabernet or even a Merlot. I would definitely drink it again.

Skinnygirl California Red is a little on the pricey side from my vantage point. In our household, wine is a regular accompaniment to meals, as well as a nice beverage to enjoy on a sunny day. It is not something we pull out only on special occasions. That means we look for bargains. Fortunately, we are not wine snobs. I've even enjoyed a few glasses of Charles Shaw. otherwise known as Two-Buck Chuck.

While Skinnygirl makes a very good everyday wine or dinner wine, its price disqualifies it from that status for us. A quick search on the Internet found Skinnygirl California Red for between $13 and $15 a bottle. At that price, it may be a bit out of its league or at least a bit out of mine. If the price comes down to around $10 a bottle, Skinnygirl could be a winner. (There is also a white blend, made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.)

* In the interest of full disclosure, I received my bottle of Skinnygirl California Red as a gift.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

#119 - An Experiment in Driving

When we have the opportunity. we like to take our fifth-wheel trailer out of town and get away from the traffic, the mall, the everyday world. Thanks to the fifth-wheel, we have all of the comforts of home, just with better scenery.

Because we have a fifth-wheel, and because we don't have a three-car garage or the desire to buy, insure, and maintain a third vehicle, our second vehicle is a truck. This isn't your run-of-the-mill, everyday Chevy Silverado, Dodge Ram, or Ford F-150. No, our truck is a 2006 Ford F-350 Crew Cab with dual rear wheels.

Needless to say, this beast does not have the fuel-sipping characteristics of your basic compact. However, it can just about pull a house. Or, in our case, a house on wheels.

For the first year or so that we owned it, this truck averaged around 12.5 miles per gallon. The price of diesel being what it is, that translates into a real financial kick in the stomach every time I would fill it up.After the odometer passed 75,000 miles (just getting started for a diesel), the fuel mileage improved to a shade over 13 mpg. Still not all that good.

A few months ago, I heard a story on some public radio program talking about a concept known as hypermiling. There is even a website devoted to the subject and offering tips for successful hypermiling.

Basically, the concept involves taking every opportunity to not press on the gas or brake pedal. Part of that involves anticipating traffic signals and stop signs, taking your foot off the gas, and coasting as far as possible before applying the brake pedal.

Another aspect of hypermiling I recently began to employ involves letting your vehicle begin to move of its own accord before beginning to press on the gas pedal. (Obviously, this only works with automatic transmissions unless you are headed downhill.) The theory is that it takes less fuel to move an object that is already moving.

I also use gravity to boost fuel mileage, coasting down hills whenever I have the opportunity. I have gotten better at anticipating traffic signals, which means less need to use the brake pedals and an added maintenance benefit.

None of these things, nor any others I might come up with, is going to give my truck the fuel efficiency of a Toyota Prius. However, I have seen close to a ten-percent improvement in mileage in each of the last two tanks of fuel. I now average around 14.2 miles per gallon driving around town.

As I get better at employing the ideas and concepts involved in hypermiling, I have hopes of nearly 15 miles per gallon in town, and that's without any after-market. additions or other alterations to the truck itself. If I can get the truck to 15 mpg, I will truly be a happy camper.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

#118 - Friends and Foibles

"But you got to have friends" - Bette Midler

It's good to have friends. I've never really thought of myself as being all that likeable or as having many friends, and compared to some people maybe I haven't. After spending some time on Facebook, however, I've found that more people touched my life than I realized and have remembered me more kindly than I had any right to expect.

For a long time, I came across as distant and maybe aloof (maybe I still do). At least that was always my perception of myself. Truth was, I was painfully shy and afraid to let people in to get to know me, afraid they wouldn't like what they saw because I didn't like what I saw. Because of that, I always tended to keep people at arms' length.

I think of the people who passed in and out of my life during those years and wish I had been able to break down the walls to let them in. Thankfully, I have been able to reconnect with some of those same people on Facebook. In the case of a select few, I have even managed to go beyond the typical superficialities that often come with posting on Facebook.

From these select few, I have received kindness, encouragement, understanding, and, as needed, a swift kick in the pants. They have also caused me to think about what might have been in my own life and to wonder a little about what might yet be in the life of my son.

My son is in some ways a lot like me in that he is hard to get to know beneath the surface, hard to pin down. In my case, that slipperiness served as one of my defenses. For my son, it may also do the same. However, it may also be a by-product of the fact that he is autistic.

My son can be both endearing and exasperating at the same time. He will hug the dickens out of you one moment and the next invite you to leave the room so he can be alone. Although he mentions the names of others he goes to school with, I don't know that he has many friends. He's never really had other children come over and never really asked to.

He and I are different in many ways but very similar in terms of our difficulties in connecting with other people. Because of that, we are not perhaps as close as we should be. On the other hand, he and I are closer than my father and I were.

Earlier today, I did some thinking about the emotional similarities between me and my son. I was inspired to write the following lines which are not quite about him and not quite about me, yet they are in many ways about the two of us.

Between The Lines

Cold - no feeling showed there in his eyes
He kept his true self in disguise
Hidden away

Still -there was a kindness in his smile
It was hard to reconcile
In the light of day

In his world, he was protected
His true feelings unsuspected
There inside his shell
Hidden all too well

He - wasn't like all of the others
It would take more to discover
What was in his heart

Fate - had given him a kinder soul
But had made him not quite whole
A missing part

That could never quite explain
What went on there in his brain
What was in his head
Never quite got said

He wasn't quite what others hoped he'd be
Not quite a product of his time
Nobody saw quite what he hoped they'd see
They never learned to read between the lines

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

#117 - Bad Day at Black Rock

Today, I still have a job. At least nine people I know or deal with from time to time do not. There may be others who have not yet been able to say anything.

Today, the company I work issued a statement announcing hundreds of people will be let go "in order to help us be more competitive." Although I suspect this has been in the planning stages for some time, the execution (somehow an apropos word) seems to better resemble a Chinese fire drill or the final stages of a going out of business sale. (Everything must go! No reasonable offer refused.)

I say that because the announcement was made today, those affected were told today, and the each of them will be out of a job February 29. Not much time to polish up the ole resume or begin cold-calling to find another position. Thank you for your dedication and years of service. Don't let the door hit you in the you-know-where on your way out.

People at my job level were told their positions are safe. In this day and age, when neither companies nor employees need feel any loyalty to the other, I'm not exactly sure what "safe" means. I guess today, it means I still have a job. Tomorrow, who knows?

This is at least the third reduction in force I've experienced in the last three and a half years with this company. I suspect it won't be the last. The first time, I was directly affected, as my position was outsourced overseas. The other times, I knew people affected. Next time, maybe it will be my turn again.

You know what, though? While I am angry about the events that unfolded today, I am not worried about what tomorrow will bring. The sun will rise (even if I don't see it behind the clouds) and life will go on. A wise man (and former co-worker) once told me "I work to live. I don't live to work." I hope one day to achieve that level of wisdom. In the meantime, however, I won't sweat it. Worrying doesn't do any good anyway.

Monday, January 2, 2012

#116 - 2012: Thoughts on the Year Ahead

When I was younger, I had this tradition (or superstition, if you will) of making ten New Year's resolutions every New Year's Eve. Not nine, not 11, but ten. (I suppose I have to accept that my son gets some of his OCD tendencies from me.) Every year, I had a perfect record. Each year, I would make ten resolutions, and each year, I would break ten resolutions.

As I got older, I began to realize that making and breaking ten resolutions, while consistent, was not likely to lead to any kind of success I could build upon. (I am, you might say, a slow learner.) So I pared the list down. Some years, I'd make five resolutions, some years two or three. I think there were even a few years when I made no resolutions of any kind. Regardless of the number, I remained consistent, not keeping a single one.

This year, I've decided to try yet again. (I did say I was a slow learner.) I've decided to make one single resolution. My resolution for 2012 is to be better to myself. Vague, I know (something my wife was quick to point out), which is part of the point. Because it is such a broad resolution, I have a pretty decent chance of keeping it at some level.

But what exactly do I mean by resolving to be better to myself? Any number of things, really. At one level, I mean this to say I will be kinder to myself and not beat myself up of silly mistakes or over things I didn't or haven't done or things I did but perhaps shouldn't have. I have a tendency to be hard on myself when I screw up. My resolution is not intended to let me slide when I make a mistake but to not allow myself to dwell on it or wallow in self-pity.

At another level, being better to myself means being better to my body. One of the things I want to do in 2012 is cut down on my consumption of processed foods. This is somewhat easier said than done, I know, but I can make a decent effort simply by cutting out foods that come in a box, such as Hamburger Helper (or any of its Helper cousins), Rice-a-Roni, and other such box meals.

Since early retirement is not a likely option (Teresa won't go for it, for one thing), I need to do what I can so that I can enjoy retirement when it comes. That means lowering my blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, dropping some weight, and so on. Reducing my intake of processed foods can only help in this regard.

Being better to myself also means enjoying the things I have, enjoying the people around me, and not worrying or thinking so much about what I don't have or can't do. It also means not comparing myself to others, something I don't do much anyway but don't need to do at all.

Finally, I suppose being better to myself also means enjoying each day to the best of my ability and not worrying so much about what other people think about whether I am enjoying life or doing the right thing, etc. In other words, even as I make attempts to change certain aspects of myself and my life, I also need to accept and appreciate who I am.

So, yes, my single resolution to be better to myself in 2012 is a broad one, with numerous possibilities. If I can fulfill even one of those possibilities, then 2012 will be a successful year. Here's hoping your 2012 is also a success, however you define it.