Archive for December, 2012

Definition of Diet

It’s almost that time again. New Years, the end of the holidays. What gets us through late winter and early spring is thinking about bathing-suit season, right? Right. I doubt it is eager anticipation of being seen in a bathing suit that drives so many to begin their perennial diet on January 1.

I just watched the documentary “Hungry For Change.” It had an agenda, but it also had a lot of rather profound things to say. One of the most profound was “Obesity is not the problem, it is the solution.” In other words, one does not become obese or overweight just because. One becomes obese or overweight for a reason. Your body is trying to tell you something. That changes the entire question about how to lose weight from a matter of sheer willpower to discovering why a person is overweight to begin with. It might be physical, or it might be mental/emotional, or it might be both. In any case, difficulties in losing weight are no longer a matter of being weak-willed or lazy, but a matter of having unsolved problems.

If high numbers win, I’m currently at a personal best. It’s not that I don’t know how to eat well and exercise. I do. In fact, I know a lot more about it now than I did in college when I weighed what I’d prefer to weigh. I know what it feels like to be strong. I’ve been relatively lean. Being as weak as I am at the moment, with the levels of body fat that I have is neither normal nor enjoyable for me. I don’t like my body not working right. Why am I telling you this? This isn’t a blog about dieting or weight loss or strength-training. It is, however, tangentally about health. While I don’t qualify as sick, I would say I have less than optimal health right now.

In my personal journey, I have never been a serious dieter. It always seemed like too much work for not enough payoff. Also, I like food. A lot. The dabbling I have done, though, had shown me that if I was in a good place mentally, weight would come off. If I wasn’t in a good place mentally, there was no point in trying because weightloss would be a lost cause. The documentary reinforced that stress in particular, but mental or emotional disorder in general, has a physical manifestation. When we are not happy, we seek comfort foods. Generally, those are the kinds of foods that stick to your hips, not your ribs. More than that, though, is that the body is also holding calories in the form of fat so that you will have the energy to deal with whatever it is that is stressing you out. Unfortunately, our bodies have not caught on that the stress of being stuck in gridlock doesn’t need the same caloric support as the stress of being caught on the wrong side of a rockslide.

Something that I have been lucky enough to dodge, but many people haven’t, is having a very thrifty body. In other words, a body that needs a smaller number of calories than average to function so that it can ferret away the rest to be used later. I don’t know what all of the causes of this are, but at least one is the environment training the body to expect starvation. In fact, this training can happen before birth. In 1944, when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, they starved the local population. The children of women who were in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy during the famine grew up to be more prone to obesity, among other illnesses.

One of the other major points that this documentary speaks to is malnutrition. We are, in fact, starving. Just not for calories. If my body determines that it is not being fed enough nutrients to carry out the necessary functions, it will assume it is starving. When my body starves, it will keep a white-knuckled hold on fat stores. After all, who knows how long the famine will last. I’m also hungry. I want to eat more to try and find the missing nutrients. So much modern food, specifically the kind with a shelf life, is mostly or totally nutritionally void. I can eat it until the cows come home and my body won’t get what it’s missing and therefore won’t willingly release my excess fat.

The solution to this is simple. Replace nutritionally void food with nutritionally dense food. Unfortunately, the solution is not necessarily easy. Vegetables are more expensive than Ramen Noodles. When you’re cooking for one, as I do, they can also seem like an awful lot of work for each meal. There are even people that don’t really have access to vegetables due to food deserts in cities. When you get into sourcing healthy meat and dairy, it only gets more expensive and inconvenient. However, every time I have done this in the past, my body has willingly let go of excess fat. With all of the nutrients my body had to work with, I also looked forward to physical pastimes that resulted in building strength and being generally more functional.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of diet is: a : food and drink regularly provided or consumed b : habitual nourishment c : the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason d : a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight <going on a diet>

Now that the holiday indulgences are over, like so many others, I am going to have diet on my mind. However, I am not going to use definition d. I like definition b. As the year turns to the new one, I am going to be changing my habitual nourishment for my mind and my body to provide the nutritional and emotional building blocks that will make 2013 a much healthier year than 2012 was,

Merry Mid-Winter!

The winter solstice, and the apparent end of the world according to the Mayans, have passed. Most of the northern hemisphere has, is, or is about to celebrate their mid-winter holiday of choice. Why do we celebrate mid-winter? Religions, of course, tend to have a holiday at that time for reasons of their own. However, our interest in this time, and our focus on the point when days stop getting shorter and start getting longer is older than that. There are a lot of factors that go into why life exists on this planet, but even primitive man could see that without the sun, we have nothing. After the longest night of the year, the promise of warmth, light, and growth is renewed. The obvious beauty of summer sun and blooming flowers is sleeping, but beauty is there none-the-less.

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Sunset over a New England pond.

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Frost heaves with no ground-cover to keep it contained.

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Wishing I was Ansel Adams.

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Periwinkles and pumpkin seeds. The offerings from the ocean.

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New England knows how to do grim winter skies, but even they have their own quiet beauty.

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There’s some beauty in indoor pursuits.

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Even lack of obvious beauty is fixable with a little creativity.

I hope everyone is having a merry, but more to the point, beautiful, mid-winter.

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Traveling by Train

This was being built in South Station in Boston. It's huge and intricate.

This was being built in South Station in Boston. It’s huge and intricate.

I’ve decided I like traveling by train. I come from a family of sailors, so the old saw “it’s about the journey, not the destination” was part of growing up. After all, if there isn’t enough wind, you might not get to your destination, so the journey would be all you had. There’s also nothing quite like skimming across the water hearing nothing but the sounds of the waves and the wind through the rigging. You may as well enjoy it. Travelling itself was also an event once upon a time. When it took days or weeks to get to a destination, it wasn’t just to pop in for a cup of coffee between tennis lessons and book club. Going somewhere was an event for both the traveler and the one being traveled to.

Somewhere in Iowa, I think. Look at how rich and dark their soil is! Can I take some home with me?

Somewhere in Iowa, I think. Look at how rich and dark their soil is! Can I take some home with me?

When I decided to visit my family for Thanksgiving, there were three choices for travel. I hate flying. Well, that’s not true, really. I like flying. What I hate is rushing to the airport, waiting in line, being inspected, having my stuff inspected, rushing to my gate, waiting at the gate, and finally being shoehorned into a seat that, let’s be honest, just ain’t big enough for a significant portion of America whether you are measuring height or width. Option two was to drive. I like to drive, and I have driven myself from the East Coast to Colorado. That would mean that I could take anything I wanted, and I would be travelling on my own schedule. The problem there is that I couldn’t do anything else for the two- or three-day drive, and as much as I love my car, she isn’t super gas-efficient. That’s not helpful for my wallet or the environment. That left the train. I was allowed two carry-ons and two checked bags, which is all I can carry, anyway. I would have hours in which I was neither asleep, nor occupied by another task, which would let me read things I’d been putting off for a while. It is also far and away more fuel efficient to travel by train than by plane or car.

I love how water just happens in New England. (Sadly, trains don't stop for photo ops.)

I love how water just happens in New England. (Sadly, trains don’t stop for photo ops.)

I came to the conclusion on the journey that we need to go back to shipping our politicians via train for their campaign travels.  There were stretches of countryside, and for most of the trains we were up high enough to see quite a bit of it. Seeing the differences as we went along was fascinating. Every town that we went through, however, we got to see the armpit of. Even if you do live on the “right” side of the tracks, if you live near the tracks, it probably isn’t the good part of town. Chicago, in particular, was tough to look at. I think it would be good for more politicians of all stripes to step away from the people that go to $1,000-a-plate fundraising dinners and take a closer look at how the rest of us live.

Chicago, not far out of the station.

Chicago, not far out of the station.

The main drawback to train travel is that not everyone can take the time for it. I appalled a few people by mentioning that the trip from Colorado Springs to my friends in Baltimore was 48 hours. With layovers, the trip from Boston back home will be more like 60 hours. I happened to luck out with having both the time and the money to afford it. If I had been working with the usual two or three weeks vacation over a year, I wouldn’t want to waste four days on travel that I could have been spending with family and friends. (I also shocked a few by mentioning that I had done 18-hour stretches on trains without wifi! The horror!)

That is encouraging, isn't it?

That is encouraging, isn’t it?

Then, there were the people. They were all over the spectrum. Some of the more memorable ones included the woman that was having a phone conversation behind me at 1 AM. Her vocabulary had all the range of a stereotypical trucker, and I’m not sure I heard a single complementary thing come out of her mouth. This was particularly delightful since my seatmate was 10 years old. On the good side, I talked to a grandmother, a chemist, a soldier (thank you), a pot grower (from Colorado, it was legal), and a delightful young family that was moving to South Dakota. The two girls in that family impressed the heck out of me. They were helpful and cheerful despite the very, very long trip, and the older one was fun to talk to.

There is some hope for this version of transportation, though. Denver's Union Station is having some major renovations done.

There is some hope for this version of transportation, though. Denver’s Union Station is having some major renovations done.

The other drawback to public transportation like trains and buses is that it isn’t terrifically popular in our car- and plane-centric society. The train stations aren’t necessarily as well kept as an airport, and they don’t really have as many amenities. There also aren’t as many transports. I am writing this from a Starbucks in Denver because the only Grayhound bus that goes from here to Colorado Springs leaves 12 hours after my train got in this morning. I checked twice. One. Down from two due to lack of use. Ah well. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people sipping a latte and typing away industriously on their computer in a cafe. I am embracing the journey.


Addendum: I may have to slightly alter the armpit of the town statement, at least for Denver. They’ve done some awesome stuff with the old warehouse district that is, naturally, within spitting distance of the tracks. Funny what you learn on long layovers.


30 years ago, that was a few plants given by a friend. They're growing just as thick on the outside of the fence, too.

30 years ago, that was a few plants given by a friend. They’re growing just as thick on the outside of the fence, too.

Raspberries are one of those things that just say “summer” to me. As a kid, we were allowed to eat as many raspberries and blackberries off of the bushes as we wanted. Part of summer was checking to see if they were ripe, yet. We were also sent to pick them to make pies, jams, and to freeze for use in sauces in the winter. While visiting Maine, I got introduced to the part of raspberries that we didn’t have to deal with as kids. Winter care.

I'm so glad we're tackling this in winter coats and heavy gloves. (It was colder than it looks.)

I’m so glad we’re tackling this in winter coats and heavy gloves. (It was colder than it looks.)

It turns out, the raspberry is part of the rose family. Of course, remembering the damage the thorns (technically prickles) could do to me makes it less of a surprise. What most people grow as cultivated raspberries are usually either the European Raspberry or a cross between that one and the American Red Raspberry. To make it even more confusing, apparently there is now a purple one that is a cross between the red one and a blackberry.

I also stumbled across a very nice article about the planting and care of raspberries. Bearing in mind that some of her information may not be applicable if you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, I am going to leave the dispensing of that information to someone who actually has her own raspberry patch. I am also going to shamelessly steal her description of raspberry growth rather than using Dad’s more colorful one. “Raspberries multiply precociously, prodigiously, and prolifically. If you plant one cane this year, you will have a dozen or more in the same spot next year. Raspberries are joyfully exuberant about procreating by underground runners, poking up impressive numbers of healthy new plants all around your original patch.”

The dead ones were pretty easy to pick out. Most of them were cut last winter.

The dead ones were pretty easy to pick out. Most of them were cut last winter.

The above article has a very sunny outlook on the berries, but as delicious as they are, maybe they should come wrapped in caution tape. Ms. White contends that the exuberant underground runners can just be lopped off with a hoe, and that’s that. In Dad’s experience, if you can’t mow and preferably also till all the way around the patch, you haven’t got a hope of controlling them. The ones that Grandpa planted in the garden when it was his actually duck under the tilled area to pop up in the garden beds. Now that the garden belongs to my parents, Dad is working on getting them into their own beds so they stop shading and encroaching on everything else.

The reason I bring this up is because they aren’t a plant you can put just anywhere. Growing conditions aside, you also need to be able to control them. In other words, if you think they’d look really pretty up against the fence between you and your neighbor, your neighbor may not thank you for it. They also aren’t easy to get rid of. When Dad took out the blackberry patch, he burned it to the ground and tilled it under. He still had to mow down at least a few canes a year that tried to reclaim it for several years. Be very, very sure that you aren’t going to change your mind before you stick them in the ground.

Mostly cleaned out.

Mostly cleaned out.

Once you plant the berry patch, or resign yourself to care for the one the previous tenants left behind, it needs to be tidied up each winter. The berries themselves grow on second-year canes. That means step one is clearing out the dead canes that were bearing fruit the previous summer. The best time to do this is once the canes are really dead and pull off easily, but before the live ones start budding out. That would generally be somewhere between Thanksgiving and very early spring. Dad doesn’t stake his plants or support them with a trellis, so he ties bunches of them together so they support each other. They then get lopped off to four-ish feet. His view on this process is that it’s hard to be too aggressive when you’re cleaning it out, but if it’s a new plot, you might need to take a little more care. As for mulch, if it’s a new plot, or it’s a very dry climate like Colorado, it’s probably a good idea. Otherwise, it depends on how comfortable you want to make them.

Tied, lopped, and ready to take over in the spring.

Tied, lopped, and ready to take over in the spring.

This post happened partially because I did just get to winterize my first raspberry patch. However, they have been on my mind for a bit now, since they are on the wish-list for the owner of Showcase 2. Perennials, particularly ones that are inclined toward invasiveness, do require a bit more thought than throwing together a potato plot as an experiment. There’s more to learn, mostly because there’s always more to learn, but now I am feeling a bit more prepared to be responsible for raspberry bushes that would be under my care.