Thank God for bullshit detectors

I have this in-law who’s something of a bullshit detector.

It’s a new thing for me. Sure, my family recognizes BS but they’re generally far too polite to call you out on it.

Not the case with my husband’s aunt. We were visiting his family a couple of weekends ago and they asked if I was still running.

“No,” I replied. “Not since we moved into the new house. I find the running trails there a bit sketchy.”

Most of the in-laws smiled and nodded, but not Ms. B. S. Detector.

“Couldn’t you drive to the trails you used to run on?” she asked.

“Well yes, but he has the car most of the time,” I explained, gesturing to my husband, shrugging my shoulders and offering a would-if-I-could smile.

“Well, couldn’t you take a bus?” she countered.

The following dialogue occurred in my head:

Well, yes, but it’s winter and I’m shockingly maladjusted to the cold since moving back to NB from balmy Victoria.

Plus, my running shoes are flimsy, airy little things that are really more naked foot than shoe (see below).

And while I’d love to buy new shoes, my newly purchased repo home (that the previous owners did their damnedest to destroy) means I’ve got a whole lot of  money tied up at Home Depot and none for the Running Room.

Instead, what I blurted out was: “I’m making excuses!”

Dear hubby’s aunt smiled and nodded knowingly. Conversation rolled on, but the exchange stayed with me. Was that really who I had become? One of those horribly annoying people with an excuse for everything?

Well, yeah.

I stopped running when we started seriously househunting. I’d get back into the routine once we settled into the new house, I told myself.

And then we moved into the new house. Settling in, it turned out, was going to take many months so I still didn’t run. Worse yet, I stopped working out altogether. And it was easy to do because inside my head the excuses were endless.

There’s just too much to get done on the house. Working out will have to wait.

It’s impossible to keep the house clean with all these renovations. Too dirty to work out.

It’s winter. I’m cold all the time and could use an extra layer of insulation. I’ll work out when it warms up.

And all that excuse manufacturing worked pretty well. Until the in-law called me out.

Since then I’ve done a few workouts. I’ve dusted off my dumbbells and Turbo Jam DVD. Today I did the Women’s Health: Ultimate Fat Burn! workout DVD and am now moreorless chairbound with lower body muscle pain.

(The “!” at the end of the DVD title is a forewarning of the vigor with which you will utter four-letter expletives as trainer Amy Dixon leads you through endless squats (%&*# !) and lunges (@$#&!) that turn your lower half into quivering jelly.)

It’s been feeling pretty awesome. That’s the funny thing about working out. You always feel amazing when it’s over, but beforehand you’ll do pretty much anything to get out of it.

Including making a barrage of excuses.

Thank God for bullshit detectors.

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I gave blood (and it wasn’t that bad)

I have an older friend who has a theory. She believes if we shared more with each other, we could  spare ourselves a great deal of agony.

When she went for her first mammogram, she told me about it in detail.

“It wasn’t that bad,” she said. “Just in case you ever wondered.”

She wanted to save me from the fear of the unknown. The nagging, pestering questions that keep us from doing what is good for our bodies, for our well-being and sometimes for the bodies and well-being of others.

Like giving blood.

This week, I gave blood for the first time.

I’ve been eligible to donate since 2002, but never did. In fact, I’ve never gave it much thought. I’ve been lucky enough to never need blood. My family has been lucky enough to never need blood. So while I’d heard the radio ads about shortages and knew the “It’s in you to give” slogan by heart, I’d somehow never made the connection.

Until Christmas morning when I woke up and read this CBC article: Canadian Blood Services needs holiday donations.

Maybe it was the warm fuzziness of the holiday season (or of the Bailey’s in my coffee), but I was compelled to look into it. At the very least, to see how much of a pain in the ass it would be to book a donation appointment.

As it turned out, it was none at all. You can make your appointment online at https://donatenow.blood.ca. Enter some profile info, pick a date, time and donation clinic and you’re in.

And so, unable to use inconvenience as an excuse, I booked my appointment on Christmas morning and on Jan. 2 made my way to the Fredericton Inn to offer up some blood.

The clinic was set up in a large conference room. The donation chairs were in the center, propping up a handful of people with tubes protruding from their arms.

This, I’ll admit, was enough to give me pause.

On Christmas morning, from the coziness of my living room, giving blood seemed like a heart-warming prospect. Love thy neighbour and all that jazz. The sparse clinical reality of it, the nurses and paramedics standing around, the bags of blood rocking back and forth beside the donor’s chairs, felt more chill-inducing.

Nonetheless, I (wo)manned up and made my way through the six steps of the hour-long donation process, including:

  1. Check-in – Two women thanked me for coming in, took my ID and gave me some information to read over. They also asked me if I’d like to schedule my next donation. “Sure,” external me said while internal me screamed in profanity-laden panic something about just getting through Donation #1.
  2. Iron-testing– Another woman thanked me for coming in and pricked my finger to test my iron.  Passed with flying colours, she gave me a questionnaire to fill out.  I also received a “1st Time Donor” sticker to wear on my lapel (presumably to explain what was going on if I lost consciousness at the sight of the needle) and one of these:

    First time blood donor pin

    First-time blood donor pin

  3. Questionnaire – At Table #3, I sat down to complete the first half of a questionnaire to assess risk factors. In addition to questions about drug use, health conditions, sexual history and travel, there was also a question about handling monkeys. Consider yourselves forewarned, monkey-handlers.
  4. Health screening – Once I finished the questionnaire, I was waved down to a private cubicle where a nurse thanked me for coming in, took my temperature, blood pressure and went through the second half of the survey with me. More questions about sex and drugs. Nothing about rock and roll, sadly.
  5. Donation – Then it was time for the big show. I was again thanked for coming in and seated in one of the big, black donor chairs. A nurse tied a cuff around my arm, sterilized the needle site and then popped the needle into my vein. At least, I think that’s what happened. I was furiously preoccupied with looking in the other direction and belting out “Old Time Rock and Roll” in my head. It hurt a bit and, at first, the strange sensation of the needle in my vein and the sight of my blood flowing out through the tube seemed unbearable.  Then I was given a stress ball to squeeze to keep the circulation going while my blood bag filled up — a process which took about 15 minutes and gave me lots of time to look around at the other donors (equal parts male and female, young and old) and volunteers (all smiling, all joking, all intent on making sure the donors were comfortable and feeling fine). When it was over, a nurse removed the needle from my arm (didn’t feel a thing) and monitored me in my chair for five minutes. And then it was time for…
  6. SNACKS! Apple juice, orange juice, Fudgee-O’s, chocolate chips cookies, Bits & Bites. It was all there for the taking. I sat down with a juice box and a Nutrigrain bar and read the paper until my dear husband came to pick me up — a smoothie in hand for his first-time blood donor wife.

That night, I was tired. The next day, I was a little tired. The day after that, I was fine.

And today, almost a week later, I’m still riding a bit of a high for doing something good, for giving some of what I have to spare to someone who needs it more than I do.

All in all, it wasn’t that bad. Just in case you ever wondered.

On yoga and the band Alabama

You know that Alabama song “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)”? The lyrics go something like:

I’m in a hurry to get things done. Oh, I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I really gotta do is live and die, but I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.

Yeah. That’s my anthem of late.

I’ve been neglectful (again) of this little pet project of mine. I’d make apologies but I don’t even have time to do that. Suffice to say, I’ve been putting my focus on work that pays.

It sucks.

Believe me, I get much more enjoyment of being a health and well-being guinea pig and writing about it on here than I do from working. However, I also get a great deal of enjoyment out of having a roof over my head and food on my table. You know, the small pleasures in life.

Things are going to be crazy for a while so I can’t promise I’ll be writing more frequently. I can’t even promise that I’m going to meet my mini-resolution goal. (That countdown up there in the right corner does look kinda daunting, doesn’t it?)

What I can promise is that I’m not going to give  up. I’ll keep writing here. It may be pretty sporadic, but I’ll always be back. You can count on that.

Now, because I’m here and because I can, why not make another Mini-Resolution?

Mini-Resolution #27: Yoga

If you’ll recall, back in the day  when the romance was fresh between me and this blog, I committed to attending a hot yoga class. Things kinda fell apart. The class was full, the mostly-naked people a little overwhelming and I didn’t end up following through.

Now I still intend to go, but this Mini-Resolution is intended to help ease me in. Because before I go full-tilt into hot yoga, doesn’t it make sense to take in a regular, less extreme, more clothes worn,  yoga class?

This morning I will be heading to Chinatown to take a class at the MokSana Yoga Center. It’s a Hatha Yoga class — whatever that means.

It’s my friend’s regular yoga class and she assures me it’s suitable for beginners. She may change her stance once I get in there and start murdering some poses.

On the bright side, my dear fiance bought me a yoga mat for the occasion so at least I’ll look like I know what I’m doing until the class starts.

Anyhow, if  my foray into yoga manages to slow me down, provide a little bit of zen (and boy, do I need it — I almost threw my router out the window during the writing of this blog when my Internet crapped out) and allows me to transcend the rushing and rushing that Alabama songs talks about, I’ll be a happy little yogi.

Wish me luck.


Say Goodbye to the Dirty Dozen

Here’s a life lesson: sometimes the things you’re most reluctant to try can surprise you — maybe because they’re not as painful as you thought or not as expensive or not as uncomfortable — and before you know it, that thing you never wanted to try has become something you enjoy.

Much to my own surprise that has been the case with Mini-Resolution #19: Say Goodbye to the Dirty Dozen.

In Week 3 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health plan, Dr. Andrew Weil begins to tout the benefits of organics. This was where my eye-rolling began.

Sure, I’m as eco-friendly as the next British Columbian. I have some tree-hugger tendencies. And I like the idea of not ingesting mass quantities of chemicals whose harms have yet to be determined. Yet, I’ve always kinda viewed those people hanging out in the supermarket’s organic section as suckers.

Not very enlightened, I know, and I apologize for that.

It’s just hard to buy into the idea of paying as much as three times more for the organic version of a product which, on the surface, looks pretty much identical to the conventional variety.

Sure, studies suggest the benefits of going organic are plentiful, including:

  • less ecological damage to the earth (less potentially harmful pesticides released into the soil and water,  the support of better natural biodiversity — that is, a range of plant, animal and insect life instead of eliminating everything but the crop being produced — and lower energy use and waste production)
  • better nutritional value (higher levels of nutritionally desirable compounds, such as vitamins and antioxidants, and lower levels of nutritionally undesirable compounds such as heavy metals and pesticide residues)

Which is all well and good, but also somewhat inconsequential if buying organic is simply out of your budget.

The selling point for me taking on this challenge was Dr. Weil’s recognition of cost as a potential barrier to buying more organic produce. With that in mind, he doesn’t ask us to go 100% organic right away. Rather, he eases us in by suggesting, at the very least, we avoid the dreaded Dirty Dozen — a list of the 12 most contaminated foods compiled by the Environmental Working Group. The list changes as the monitored levels of contamination in the produce change, but the Dirty Dozen currently includes:

  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Sweet bell peppers
  4. Celery
  5. Nectarines
  6. Strawberries
  7. Cherries
  8. Kale
  9. Lettuce
  10. Grapes (Imported)
  11. Carrots
  12. Pears

I buy four of these on a regular basis (apples, bell peppers, celery and carrots) so while the process wasn’t completely life-altering it did require some thought at the grocery store. To shell out the extra coin to buy organic versions or avoid these types of produce altogether? That is the question.

Organic Carrots

Organic carrots. Like regular carrots but they cost more.

For apples and carrots, we simply made the switch to organic. A two-pound bag of organic carrots set me back $3.49. The same quantity of my regular old non-organic bulk carrots cost $1.98. That’s a whopping 76 per cent increase in cost to make the switch to organic.

In my mind, I justify that price by considering how long the carrots last us. We’re still working on a bag we bought 20 days ago.

For apples, a three-pound bag of organic Granny Smiths cost $4.47. Compare that to about $3.42 for three pounds of the non-organic variety and you’re looking at about a 30 per cent increase in cost to go organic.

We consume a lot of apples. If the price increase was as steep as the carrots we’d probably have to look at some kind of apple substitute. A thirty per cent increase, however, is manageable. It works out to about an extra dollar a week.

Since taking on this Mini-Resolution, we haven’t had to buy celery and opted out of buying bell peppers when we saw how much the organic varieties cost. In fact, we changed our whole plan for what we would cook for supper based on that fact.

Which is, I think, part of the point.

The key word is flexibility. If you’re going to adopt a new behaviour, you need to make sure that it fits into your life. If it doesn’t, you won’t follow through. That’s just natural.

So while we are committed to no longer buying conventional varieties of the Dirty Dozen, we aren’t necessarily committed to buying their organic counterparts. If need be, we can be flexible and change our meal ideas to fit with both our health concerns and our budget.

I’d be remiss if I closed this entry without mentioning differences in taste between organic produce and their non-organic counterparts. In some cases, there aren’t any. The carrots still tasted like any other store-bought carrot. Being organic doesn’t make them any more flavourful but they work just as well in recipes.

(If you want an awesome-tasting carrot, by the way, you’ve got to go to your local farmer’s market; the fresher they are the better they taste).

Going organic with the apples, however, seemed to make a difference. The organic varieties were smaller and seemed more flavourful. I don’t usually enjoy Granny Smith apples. I find them more tart than tasty. But the organic ones? Yum! Sweet, juicy, with just a touch of tartness.

What can I say?

Dr. Weil, you’ve made me a believer.

Days to go: 314

Mini-Resolutions to go: 239

Massage for Me

Ever wonder how Enya has been able to maintain a music career this long?

Well, let me make an educated guess. It may well be that the spa industry is single-handedly keeping her afloat.

At least that’s the conclusion I drew from Mini-Resolution #26: Massage for Me.

On Wednesday night, my dear fiance treated me to having my naked body oiled up and rubbed down by a perfect stranger. Some might call that lewd. The day spa I went to called it a full-body massage.

If you’ll recall from my post on Wednesday, I was a little anxious going into this. Yes, that’s right. The mere thought of one of the greatest stress-busters known to man produced nothing but crippling anxiety in me.

And I’m not going to apologize for it. Because you know what, people? If the thought of getting naked and letting a perfect stranger rub you all over doesn’t freak you out a bit, maybe there’s something wrong with you.

My massage treatment was administered by a young woman named Stephanie.

I was immediately struck by two things about Stephanie when she sprinted through the door of the day spa seemingly late returning from her lunch break. First, she wasn’t wearing a white smock as I assumed all massage therapists did but rather flip-flops and a t-shirt. Second, she was moving incredibly fast for someone who was supposed to help slow and relax my mind.

I tried not to let that faze me and followed her to the massage room in the back of the spa. She opened the door, loosing strains of Enya out into the world. Inside the room was the classic massage table, covered in what appeared to be a down duvet and topped with some kind of towel dress and matching hair band ensemble.

She explained what was going to happen: we’d start the massage with me laying on my stomach, then I’d switch over to my back for the frontal rubdown and then we would start on the manicure — part of my day spa package deal.

She explained I could get as naked as I was comfortable with and put on the towel dress thing if I wanted.

And she explained all of this at break-neck speed.

I smiled and nodded like this was old news for me. Quicker than you can say “oil me up” she was gone and I was left trying to figure out how to wear that hair band thing and whether I should be on top or underneath that fluffy duvet.

I took a guess, ignoring the hair band thing altogether and cozying under the duvet in my underwear and towel dress.

If I got it wrong, Stephanie had the good nature not to say anything.

She began the massage by pulling back the blanket and towel dress (which I’m pretty sure served no purpose whatsoever) and laying a steaming hot towel over my back. Then she got to work on my massage.

The whole head-to-toe process lasted about 45 minutes. It was… good. It wasn’t great.

I spent the majority of the massage’s first half talking to Stephanie — a fellow displaced East Coaster — about life on Vancouver Island and then (once she caught sight of my engagement ring during my hand massage) about my wedding plans. It was a great conversation. I honestly enjoyed it, but I think it kind of distracted me from enjoying the massage.

When the conversation lulled, however, I was struck with a different problem. What if I became too relaxed and drooled right through that little massage table face hole and onto Stephanie’s flip-flops?

(I didn’t, thankfully)

Turning onto my back didn’t make things any more comfortable. By then conversation had waned. My eyes didn’t want to close, but keeping them open and staring up into Stephanie’s face was more than a little awkward so they were kind of doing that half-open fluttery thing. Which I’m sure freaked Stephanie out.

Again if that was the case, she didn’t give any indication. She was a pro like that.

There was some weirdness. She massaged my ears which felt… odd. There’s something very unsettling about a perfect stranger rubbing their greased-up fingers in and around your ear.

Actually, there’s something very unsettling about a perfect stranger rubbing their greased-up fingers anywhere on your body. It just seems a bit too intimate an experience to share with someone you’ve known for less than an hour.

Maybe it’s something you get used to?

The sensation of being covered in that much oil also overstepped by comfort boundaries. While Stephanie did a pretty good job wiping the excess oil off my body post-massage, my hair was Robert Pattison-greasy by the time I left.

Maybe you get used to that too?

I’m thinking I probably won’t. I didn’t leave the spa much more relaxed than I went in. I didn’t feel any mind-altering sense of well-being.

Call me cheap, call me a prude, but I’d much rather con my dear fiance into giving me back rubs than spend a fortune for a stranger’s touch.

(By the way, he was thrilled to hear this upon my return after all the cash he dropped on that spa package.)

At least I got a good manicure out of the deal, right?

Manicure

The manicure. I opted for the clear coat... maybe I am a prude.

In fact, looking at my manicure over the past couple days has brought me far more joy than the massage itself.

Not to mention the fact that it’s cheaper than a massage and is typically administered Enya-free.

Now, to find a way to work manicures into my health and well-being regime…

Days to go: 315

Mini-Resolutions to go: 240

Comeback Kid

I feel like about one-in-five of my posts is generally used for assuring you readers out there that I’m still alive. As you’ve seen, if you’ve spent any amount of time following me, I volley back and forth between being hyper-productive, writing multiple entries a day and totally disconnecting for days at a time.

That’s just how I do things. It’s how I handle my wedding planning (back and forth between micromanaging every single detail and pretending the whole thing isn’t happening so I don’t have to deal with it), my house-keeping (back and forth between scrubbing the bathroom floor crevices with a toothbrush and letting dishes pile up for days), my cooking (back and forth between trying out new recipes for healthy well-rounded meals and eating a supper of cereal straight out of the box since I don’t have any milk because I haven’t gone grocery shopping in days).

I’m not proud. I wouldn’t pretend to believe it was a healthy way of doing things. Let me just say that I’m working on it. I’m still trying to achieve that perfect balance in my life. And the fact that I keep coming back to let you know I’m still hanging in there is proof.

Anyhow, since I’ve on the upswing of my productivity cycle, let me give you a quick update on my life and my progress with my last slew of Mini-Resolutions:

I spent last weekend mostly in hibernation. Just me, my dear fiancé and a lot of rented movies.

It’s Friday night that did me in. We decided to go out to a nightclub for drinks, dancing and — mainly — helping my dear fiance’s newly-single buddy meet some lady friends.

This was a stretch for us. We don’t generally go out. Sure, we do beer at a pub, wine and appies at a restaurant, but we don’t really do the bass-booming, lights-flashing nightclub scene. On Friday night, I realized why.

Nightclubs are scary places.

I don’t know when they became that way. It wasn’t that long ago I went through my partying phase.  Indeed, I remember vividly a time when I’d spend my Friday and Saturday nights getting glammed up, dancing like a maniac until closing time, then finding an after party or after hours club where the dancing continued.

Then something changed. Part of it was me, no doubt. I’m 24 now, for crying out loud. Nearly ancient in terms of the club scene. I can’t keep up with the 19-year-olds. I’ve got a job, a car payment, a fiancé. I’m not a university student anymore but a university employee.

But I won’t take all the blame: something else has gone horribly wrong to make the club scene a damn nightmare.

Like, maybe the fact that nobody wears clothes anymore?

Ok, that’s probably not quite fair. Clothing is worn. Pants just seem to have become passé.

The standard club attire has become skin-tight, spandex dresses cut just below the underwear line. Sometimes they’re not even that modest. Basically, underwear has become outerwear (That’s for girls, by the way. The guy’s uniform of a dress shirt and jeans still stands). I’m not sure when this happened exactly. It seems I didn’t get the memo.

But the horror starts way before that. First there’s the cattle corral you have to wait in outside. Which I’m pretty sure is there for no other reason than to give the bouncers some sense of importance and superiority.

That’s probably also why it takes three of them to check your ID. Literally. Three guys. I’m standing at the front of the cattle corral, 50 drunk people trying to push past me. Bouncer #1 looks at ID. Says it’s ok. Still doesn’t open gate. Drunk girl falls to the ground behind me, bangs head against the back of my knee and nearly takes me out. Bouncer #2 checks ID. Asks for a second piece. Finally lets me through.

Money grabber girl charges me $4 for the privilege of getting this far.

Dear fiancé and his newly-single friend get to Bouncer #3 first. This is where things get seriously twisted.

Our city has implemented a program called Bar Watch. Bar Watch is designed to:

“help identify problem patrons for night clubs and bars. The program includes swiping patrons’ IDs, taking pictures and placing an alert on the file of anyone who shows themselves to be a problematic patron. The alert will show when they attempt to enter other bars also participating in the program, and their entrance is barred.”

I suppose this sounds like a good idea, in theory. If you can get past the whole freaky Big Brother, 1984 aspect of having your whereabouts on a given Friday night recorded, stored and this personal information used for who-knows-what.

Which I can’t. It bothered me, right off the bat. And with good reason: BC’s Privacy Commissioner has recently ruled that swiping patrons’ ID and storing their personal information is a violation of BC’s privacy laws. Nonetheless, Victoria has decided to continue with the program.

Sound ridiculous to anyone else?

What really bothered me, however, is that when I stepped up to Bouncer #3 to hand him my ID and have my photo taken, he said “No that’s ok, sweetie. You’re fine.”

Say what?

When I told my Dad this story, he laughed and said “They have no idea what kind of trouble you could cause.”

And he’s right. I could. I’m not saying that I am a troublemaker. I’m not. But I could be. And it’s not fair to assume that because I’m a little woman I’ll be well-behaved.

Shame, shame, Bouncer #3.

The night out at the club kind of shell-shocked me. Dear fiancé and I spent the rest of the weekend hiding from civilization.

Which was good. Because I definitely needed that period of recuperation to get ready for the week that followed. Super-busy week at work. Events to plan. A conference to attend. The tentative acceptance of a new part-time job that’s only go to up the insanity. And in my personal life, the realization the wedding is now just six months away and all the terror that strikes within me when I realize how many tasks are still on the to-do list.

So, I didn’t get much done. I’m still working on the last slew of Mini-Resolutions I posted eons ago. You remember those ones, don’t you? Way back on Jan. 30.

(Yikes! I didn’t even realize it had been that long!)

I have a few more that I have completed and just haven’t written about. Those will be coming soon. Promise! I’m on the upswing of productivity now, remember?

I’ve also decided to hold off on officially beginning Week #4 of Dr. Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health.

Why? Well, first because I make the rules and I can.

Secondly, this will give me some time to make and complete some new non-Dr. Weil-related Mini-Resolutions. This was never supposed to be the “Dr. Weil Show” and I think it’s worth giving some face time to some other healthy ventures I could try out.

As for now, however, my dear, wonderful fiancé is cooking up a breakfast of Valentine’s Day pancakes for me. And right at this moment, that’s the biggest priority for me!

I’ll be back soon.

Seriously.

Happy Valentine’s Day, all!

Don’t Stock Believing

I think I’m probably the only person in the world that will be excited about this, but that’s okay. I’m excited enough for all of us.

Last night, I completed Mini-Resolution #21: Don’t Stock Believing. That’s a joke, by the way. A reference to Journey’s hitto-end-all-hits “Don’t Stop Believing.” Yeah… I’m also probably the only person in the world that finds that funny.

Anyhow, this mini-resolution was about my commitment to make my own vegetable stock from scratch. Like everything else I’ve been doing with my spare time lately, it came straight from Dr. Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health plan.

Veggie stock

The finished product. The floaty bits are spices. Maybe my sieve wasn't fine enough. Oh well.

In Week 3, Dr. Weil suggests we try making our own veggie stock because, apparently, veggie stock is a great thing to have on hand for cooking veggies.

This is news to me. I roast a lot of veggies. I stir-fry them. Boil them occasionally. But I don’t think I’ve ever cooked veggies with veggie stock.

And having never needed veggie stock for cooking, I’ve never found myself with the desire to throw together a big ol’ pot of veggie stock in my spare time.

Well, welcome to my brave new world where I not only make veggie stock from scratch, I beam with pride at my ability to do so.

I used (surprise, surprise) Dr. Weil’s recipe which you can check out here. Like most of his other recipes I’ve tried so far, it was simple. Foolproof even. Although I did have to Google how to cut up a leek since I’ve never cooked with those before either.

(The directions are here, by the way, if you’re in the same boat as me. I can’t be the only leek virgin out there.)

Veggie Stock in the Making

Homemade veggie stock in my too-tiny pot.

The only real stumbling block turned out to be the size of my pot. As it turns out one-and-a-half gallons of water is a lot when you’re adding it to a pot that already contains four onions, six carrots, three stalks of celery and two leeks. I ended up throwing in only about one gallon of water. Which I figure is okay. I mean hell, I haven’t made veggie stock before. How am I going to know the difference?

The finished product smelled and looked amazing. I directed my dear fiancé to the kitchen the moment he got home so he could see the fruits of my labour. He wasn’t that jazzed up about it. I guess I can’t blame him. I mean it is just stock after all.

Still, there’s something really fulfilling about making from scratch that which you usually buy prepackaged. Plus, I felt like a total kitchen pro having to whip out the fine-mesh strainer. Yes, I realize it doesn’t take much.

It went a little against my instincts to follow Dr. Weil’s direction to just “discard” all those veggies after pressing the liquid from them. Obviously, they would have lost most of their nutrients, a lot of their flavour and definitely their texture — but still, isn’t there some way to save these veggies? Thoughts? Anyone?

Tomorrow, I will attempt to put the stock to use in my first ever veggie stock-based cooking attempt. The plan is braised red cabbage. Excitement abounds!

And now… tally time:

Days to go: 329

Mini-Resolutions to go: 242

Miso and Me

If I take away only one lesson from my quest to complete Dr. Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health program, it would probably be the importance of keeping an open mind.

If I didn’t keep an open mind, I would have never known that greasy, canned fish chunks (read: sardines) make a wicked pita pocket filling. Or that pressed tofu, despite its striking resemblance to mold-encrusted regular tofu, makes a kickass fajita. Or that buckwheat groats — well, I’m still working on the buckwheat groats.

The point is it pays to have an open mind — an idea that was reinforced as I embarked on Mini-Resolution #20: Me and Miso.

Miso

Mmmm....fermented soybean paste.

When I committed to trying out a miso recipe as part of Dr. Weil’s plan to get us ingesting more vegetable-based proteins, I had no idea what it was. That’s probably a good thing because, as it turns out, miso is a soybean paste.

Now if I were a closed-minded person, the word ‘paste’ would have immediately ended any further miso exploration. I’ve never been enthusiastic about the idea of eating paste of any kind. Paste is not an appetite-inducing word. In terms of food appeal, it’s ranked down there with — oh, I don’t know — fermented, maybe?

Which just so happens to be how miso paste is made.

From the World’s Healthiest Foods:

“Miso is a soy paste that is created by inoculating trays of rice with the vitamin B12 synthesizing fungus, Aspergillus oryzae, then mixing in a ground preparation of cooked soybeans and salt, and letting the mixture ferment for several days before grinding it into a paste with a nut butter consistency.”

Yum, right?

Actually, it is.

I picked up my tub o’ soybean paste at Fujiya, the friendly neighbourhood sushi joint/Asian grocery store. They have an amazing array of miso in a variety of colors. I had no idea what it all meant so I picked the cheapest.

I used said miso in another recipe from Dr. Weil’s healthy kitchen, this one for Miso Soup. You can check it out (and I recommend you do) here.

Miso Soup

My miso masterpiece. And some sushi. You can't live on soup alone, right?

When I told dear fiancé I was making miso soup for dinner, he groaned. Actually groaned out loud. He said he’d had some bad miso soup in his day, but assured me that mine would be fine.

My confidence a little bit shaken, I got to work chopping up carrots, celery and cabbage while eyeing that tub of orange goo somewhat suspiciously.

And much to my surprise, it turned out amazing. I mean who knew fungus and rotten soybeans would taste so delicious?

The verdict was unanimous. The soup was great. A little bland after following Dr. Weil’s directions exactly, but that was quickly remedied with a dash of salt which brought out the flavours perfectly.

It was even better the next day.

I’m not a big soup maker. I’ve always though that if you’re going to go through all the effort of preparing a meal, shouldn’t the final product be something a little more substantial than soup?

Well, I’m a convert. This soup is so easy to make it’s frightening. There’s nothing fancy. No pureeing or straining. Just easy chop and simmer. Plus, pair it with a tray of spicy tuna rolls and you’ve got yourself a quick, well-rounded and sophisticated meal.

Nutritionwise? Well, it’s pretty much just water and vegetables so it’s no surprise that the calorie count is low: about 100 calories a bowl. It’s got 3.2 g of protein, 5.4 g of fat and 3.3 g of fiber. With the exception of the fat content (which seems kinda high, doesn’t it?) that’s comparable on all accounts to a serving of canned garden vegetable soup. Except it’s way more interesting than your regular old Campbell’s.

Unfortunately, the recipe only uses 4 tablespoons of miso, which means I have pretty much a whole tub left over.

Any miso recipe suggestions out there? Please fire away. I’m sure there’s life beyond soup for miso, isn’t there?

And now….tally time!

Days to go: 330

Mini-Resolutions to go: 243

Snuggie to the rescue

Thank God for the Snuggie.

That’s my final thought on Mini-Resolution #18: Retire Old Red.

Old Red

My electric blanket, hog-tied and ready for banishment.

My electric blanket, hog-tied and ready for banishment.

That’s Old Red on the left. It’s an electric throw blanket my parents gave me as a Christmas gift several years ago.

It was an awesome present.

I’m one of those people who’s pretty much constantly cold. If I’m sitting still, it’s 99% guaranteed I’ll be under a blanket. Indeed, I’m under one now.

As such, I got a great deal of use out of Old Red. It’s lived in five different apartments with me. It travelled over 5,700 km with me when I made the move from the east coast to the west one. Hell, it’s been with me longer than my fiancé.

It was equally useful as a place for cuddling with loved ones as it was a place to snuggle up alone with a book. It soaked up my tears during sad movies and shook with my laughter during more Friends episodes than I can count.

It’s hard to believe something that feels so right could be so wrong.

But Dr. Weil says it is so. And (for now) what Dr. Weil says goes.

In Week 3 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health Plan, Dr. Weil tells us to ditch the electric blanket. The issue is electromagnetic fields (EMFs) which are emitted by household appliances like electric blankets, plug-in clock radios, blow dryers and electric shavers. While there is no conclusive evidence of their harm, some studies have linked EMFs to incidence of childhood leukemia while others have suggested a link between EMFs and damaged DNA in brain cells.

Ongoing research is examining these links. Until they’ve been ruled out, however, Dr. Weil is essentially proposing we’re better off safe than sorry. Particularly with electric blankets since any possible detrimental effects could be exacerbated by the fact that electric blankets are used in very close proximity to our bodies over extended periods of time.

Which I can get on board with.

You know why? Because this Christmas, my parents bought me a Snuggie. And that’s a damn good substitute.

Tally time!

Days to go: 333

Mini-resolutions to go: 243

Week 3 (a.k.a. the week I lost my mind)

Here’s an interesting tidbit you might not know. My weeks are longer than yours.

That’s why my Week 3 of Dr. Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health starts today despite the fact that I embarked on Week 1 on Jan. 9. That’s 21 days ago — officially making my weeks about 10 days long.

It’s called the Ali-Cat Calendar. I expect it will replace the Gregorian calendar any day now. Just wait.

In the mean time, let me entertain you with a new array of Mini-Resolutions as I embark on Week 3. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get them all done in a regular-person week.

Probably not . There’s a lot of them.

Mini-Resolution #18: Retire Old Red

With the possible exception of trading my second cup of morning coffee for green tea, this is the biggest sacrifice Dr. Weil has asked me to make.

In Week 3, he talks about electromagnetic toxicity. Household appliances like electric blankets, heating pads, plug-in clock radios and blow dryers generate electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and some research suggests these can negatively impact our body’s internal systems, increasing incidence of cancer and decreasing immune system functioning.

From DrWeil.com:

..a study in rats at the University of Washington… found DNA damage in animals exposed to a 60 hertz field for 24 hours; more damage was found after 48 hours. … the study leader said that data from this and a previous study suggest that the effects of exposure are cumulative and may build up in humans over time as a result of repeated brief use of common plug-in appliances. He suggests limiting exposure to as little time as possible, particularly with devices used close to the body.

A quick look around the Internet shows that most people think this is load of crap.

But in for a penny, in for a pound, right? I said I’d do this eight-week program to best of my ability and I intend to follow through.

This week, I will banish my electric throw blanket — a long-time staple in my lounging activities. Luckily, I got a Snuggie for Christmas. I will survive.

Mini-Resolution #19: Say Goodbye to the Dirty Dozen

Sigh.

Dr. Weil and I may be on the rocks. First he took away my second cup of coffee, then my electric blanket. Now he’s taking away some of my favourite fruits and vegetables.

Well ok, not really taking away but giving me the ultimatum to buy organic or say goodbye.

I’ll give him credit for one thing: he doesn’t ask for a full switch to organic produce. Rather, he suggests we  avoid or eat only organic versions of a few particularly dangerous products. Specifically, the Dirty Dozen.

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization which aims to disseminate knowledge to protect public health and the environment, compiles the Dirty Dozen — a list of the 12 most contaminated foods. They also list the 15 cleanest (the Clean 15) and claim that people who eat only from the latter ingest just two types of pesticides daily versus 10 daily for those who eat the Dirty Dozen.

This is important, Dr. Weil says, because regulations on acceptable levels of pesticide contamination only consider short-term exposure (i.e. if it has an immediate toxic effect) and not the accumulation of long-term exposure. They also consider each pesticide in isolation and not the possible interactions between them.

So this week, I am going to try to either avoid the Dirty Dozen or — in the unlikely event that prices aren’t too exorbitant — buy them organic. Which is going to be a challenge because I regularly consume a lot of the Dirty Dozen including apples, bell peppers, celery and carrots.

This will require some creativity in order to not break the bank.

Mini-Resolution #20: Me and Miso

Once again, Dr. Weil suggests we substitute one serving of meat for a soy product this week and, because I’m up for a challenge, I’m going to opt for one I’ve never tried before: miso.

I have absolutely no idea what this is. I’ve heard murmurings about miso soup in my day, but have never tried it. And I certainly didn’t know it was soy-based. Not until Dr. Weil mentioned something to that effect. I can’t quite recall the exact details as I was still reeling from his brutal electric blanket embargo.

Anyway, I will find out what it is, I will cook it (you have to cook miso, right?) eat it and report back.

Mini-Resolution #21: Don’t Stock Believing

Groan. That’s supposed to be a pun. A little Journey reference? No? Anyone?

Anyway, in Week 3 Dr. Weil again recommends that we up our veggie intake. To facilitate this, he provides some recipes for vegetable stock which is, apparently, incredibly handy for cooking vegetables with. Who knew?

Not me, but I’m about to get educated when I make my first-ever homemade veggie stock this week.

Mini-Resolution #22: Stretch it Out

Stretching: my nemesis.

Well, not so much. Mostly, it’s just like a really boring acquaintance who if you saw at the mall, you would duck into the nearest store just to avoid contact. And you’d stay in that store as long as you needed to, even if it too was something really boring like that wicker store (you know the one), because it’s undoubtedly the less painful choice. But then your boring acquaintance comes into the boring wicker store (you should have known that would be her taste!) and starts talking to you about all the boring wicker baskets and it’s like boredom overload and your brain explodes.

Yeah. Stretching. It’s like that.

Nonetheless, I will be doing it five minutes a day because Dr. Weil says it’s good for me. It increases flexibility, reducing chance of injury and brings about a “welcome alteration of consciousness.”

Or perhaps it, like the breathing exercises, is just another way to lull me to sleep. Like I needed the help.

Mini-Resolution #23: Let Myself Be Breathed

No, that’s not a typo. That’s an actual Dr. Weil-ism.

Letting Yourself Be Breathed is a new breathing exercise that consists of the following:

  • Lie on your back, with arms relaxed at your sides
  • Focus attention on your breath without trying to influence it
  • Imagine that with each inhalation the universe is blowing breath into you and with each exhalation drawing it from you. Let yourself feel the breath penetrating every part of your body, to your fingers and toes.
  • Repeat for 10 cycles of inhalation and exhalation.

Dr. Weil doesn’t go into much detail about why this particular exercise is so important. He just says that, if done properly, we should find it “unusually refreshing.”

My issue is that it requires imagination. I’m not so good with that. If I told you to close your eyes and picture a purple lamp, I bet you could do it, right? I can’t. I just don’t seem to have those  neurons.

I’ll work on it.

Mini-Resolution #24: Get Provoked by Prose

This is my favourite this week. Dr. Weil would like us to make a list of  inspirational books that we’d like to read. These could be books of poetry, biographies, books on self-help, spirituality or anything else that moves us. We are to select one and begin it this week.

To which I say “Yay!” I’ll be heading to the library this afternoon, no doubt.

Mini-Resolution #25: Become an Amateur Agriculturalist

This is optional but I’m taking it on because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Dr. Weil would like us to look into growing some of our own food.

That is, of course, easy for him to say. He lives in Arizona. Assumedly in a big house with a giant backyard. I live in Victoria, BC. In a third-floor apartment with a balcony.

Nonetheless, I know it’s possible to grow stuff here. The previous tenant, my best friend, succeeded in growing tomatoes, basil and a bunch of other herbs. It can be done.

Maybe not by me, but I plan to enlist the help of my dear fiance — whose green thumb can hopefully mitigate my thumb of death — and see if we can get ourselves a little garden started.

And that is all. Thank God because that’s a lot.

On top of that, however, are a few other activities from previous week t0 round out Week 3:

  • Another one-day news/Twitter/Facebook fast
  • 20 minute walks five days a week
  • Continue the supplement plan
  • Continue the old breathing exercises in addition to the new one
  • Continue swapping that coffee for green tea
  • Eat two servings of fish
  • Eat broccoli twice
  • Make some more time to just hang out in nature

Wait… do you hear that?

I think it’s the sound of my week growing even longer.