31 March 2011

The body electric

It was an electrode kind of day.


The physical therapist stuck them around my knee, trying, I suppose, to awaken the dead muscles there. I could feel the current through various muscles in my thigh...until it came to a dead stop on the inside of my knee. Nothing. Just nothing.

It was warm enough today that I could have worn shorts to PT, but I am embarrassed by the atrophy, which is quite noticeable, through my thigh, knee and calf. It's even evident when I wear jeans--rare enough because they irritate my back.

After yet another killer workout (some of the elderly patients look at me with a kind of horror when I'm doing bridges and lifting weights simultaneously--something along the lines of "they're not going to make me do that?"--but my therapist pushes me hard), the therapist told the assistant to hook me up to more electrodes. "Captivity!" she sang out because it's hard to keep me sitting quietly for the 10 minutes or whatever it is that they ice my back and send current through those muscles. Sometimes, I just run out the door, waving, with a half promise to ice my back at home.

(As if.)

Driving home, I cancelled plans to make a bank run and a store run. It was already hot (we are supposed to hit 90F today), and whenever there is a change in the weather here in the LA area, people get crazy in their cars. Which was brought home to me again as I passed a horrific accident at an intersection I'd been through only 90 minutes before. Fire truck, ambulance, scattered car bits and puddles of liquid, mangled cars and people standing on the corner, heat shimmer rising from the pavement. A chill of distress shot up my spine, electric and tingling, as I crawled past the wreckage in a street that had been pristine just a little earlier this morning.

A few minutes later, turning into my cross street, I saw more emergency vehicles, lights blazing, and a flat bed tow truck, along with a pick up truck. Lined up against the wall were car seats and gardening equipment and other items. I didn't see evidence of an accident and wondered briefly as I carefully passed if this was some sort of a bust. I've seen more reports of burglaries and attempted burglaries of late.

I pulled into my own cool and dim garage with a certain amount of gratitude. Behind me, a plane glared and shone in the sun, roar of engines loud as it headed toward the airport. The air outside was hot and fraught with electricity.

Go listen to some good music: "The Body Electric" from the album Grace Under Pressure by Rush.

30 March 2011

Stay with me, go places

For now, I am not going places. We know that.

For now.

Once more. With feeling.

For now.

I am in a slightly unaccountably good mood. A really good mood.

Possibly because I got through an hour on the bike with few twinges. Possibly because I walked a mile with no (almost) staggering and lurching.

(It was only a little.)

Possibly because my knee has only buckled (and it was slight) once.

Possibly because it's spring, and the morning was beautiful. And I spotted the woodpecker again. It's been hard at work.

Possibly because it's possible.

Here's the mutiny I promised you.

Go listen to some good music: "Go Places" and "Mutiny, I Promise You" from the album Challengers by The New P*rnographers. Anywhere but here. Not possible. But soon, I think. Also, evidently, I've been really ambiguous. Here's the answer to that question: ruptured disc at L2-3 Christmas night. Catastrophic. All the goo went immediately into my spinal canal. Two rather important nerves are badly compromised, so I've lost partial use of my right leg. Very exciting. And no, in fact, most people wouldn't have gone to play in the snow in Sequoia in the wake of that. I'm not most people, for better or worse.

29 March 2011

I want it now

Progress comes quietly, when I least expect it. But I have no patience.

Often, it's followed by backward motion. Then another breakthrough.

I had a little breakdown last week. I am sick to death of being broken.

And then I have a good day. At least, a better day.

Too much of my life is revolving around this debility.

I don't have time for this.

Go listen to some good music: "Hysteria" from the album Absolution by Muse. I'm doing ok, in the main. In answer to that question, I just don't know. June for sure. But surgery, if it comes to that, won't happen before mid-May, and recovery is 6 weeks minimum. You see why I'm frustrated.

25 March 2011

The one that just says wrong

For whatever reason, everyone was up running around at 1:40 am this morning, although it had been lights out by 11 pm. It was a bit of a topic of conversation at breakfast.

Me: "I was dreaming that we'd hired roofers and they showed up at 2 am in the rain to start tearing the old roof off. One of the guys was Isaiah Mustafa.

The spouse: "Who?"

Me: "The Old Spice guy."

The daughter perked up. We watch the Old Spice ads together, giggling wildly. I'm sure the daughter giggles because The Man Your Man Could Smell Like is certifiably gorgeous. While acknowledging that he's very easy on the eyes, I love the humor.

The spouse: "Oh him. So you just invited him right in, I take it?"

Me: "NO! I was too busy trying to figure out how to explain to the neighbors why our house was being re-roofed at 2 am! In the rain!"

The spouse: "So more, 'You may be Isaiah Mustafa but what the hell are you doing on my roof at 2 am?"

Me: "In the rain."

The spouse: "'Get off my roof?'"

Me, sighing: "Dude. How many years have you known me?"

Go listen to some good music: "Disaster Button" from the album A Hundred Million Suns by Snow Patrol. Yes, in point of fact, we need a new roof. Yes, it is raining. And were Mr. Mustafa to visit, I'd let him hang out on the roof, if he promised to never stop talking. And that would be a first.

22 March 2011

Now that your rose is in bloom

Saturday night, I had to sit through a very long, very awful play. I sat through it because the son was in it, and he had one of the lead roles. And even though the story was disjointed, the timing was dreadful and the production had all the histrionics and inaccuracies that you'd expect to be evident in something written by a high school senior, the son's penultimate scene gave me chills. He was galvanic, his distress/fury/emotion so very real. Everyone in the audience felt it; the other parents were exclaiming over his performance when the show was done.

I treat my children with affectionate disdain, at least in front of others. They are so amazingly secure in my true love for them, that they actually appreciate my face-to-the-world. I do not behave ever as if the sun both rises and sets upon them. There is no whir of helicopter rotors. And so, as others were on and on about the son last night, my response (with a smile) was, "Yes, he really IS that cranky." and "He's been hard at work on that bad attitude for years."

Then I proceeded to tell a senior girl, the show's AD and the one of the son's dearest friends, about how he shaved off half of one of his eyebrows last year in a failed attempt at grooming. She was trying so hard not to laugh, but he finally told her with resignation, "Go ahead, just let it out."

(According to my children, their friends love me. I find this hard to believe, but they insist that I am so nice and so funny. Not sure in what universe I'm so nice and funny...I don't think it's this one.)

The son will be in the school's spring theater production as well, and he has a featured role in the school's video newsmagazine every month. In the last year or so, he's become increasingly confident in his own face-to-the-world, as has the daughter, who used to be so shy that I had forcibly remove her from leg.

Watching them blossom makes me happier than anyone will ever know.

Go listen to some good music: "Kiss From a Rose" from the album Seal: Best 1991-2004 by Seal. This song was featured as interstitial music during the show and it is an earworm on par with "Small World." Agh!

18 March 2011

If life is a reflecting pool

Tuesday night, the daughter had her audition at OCHSA. While sitting there in the hallway on a hard plastic chair, hearing her Muse video blaring from the studio, I could only think of that terrible stage mother in the original Fame. The one who bullied her unattractive, untalented daughter as much as she bullied the teachers. Yikes. I'm sort of the polar opposite--I never wrote much about the TV show the daughter was cast in for the producers' pitch to the network, but I was not exactly disappointed when it didn't go. A fourteen-year-old is not a ten-year-old, though, so I respect her desire to pursue this line of study. And the girl's interesting and funny (not to mention persistent), and a complete DIY director. I hope the school gives her a shot. As I told the daughter when she finished her meeting, it takes tremendous courage to take your stuff out on the road and let strangers see it. I was really proud of her for doing so.

Of course, she hasn't been raised with the irrationally exuberant excess of self-esteem that plagues so many her age.


I was relatively miserable last night; the epidural was not a pleasant experience. I was supposed to be quiet last night and today, reclining and letting the cortisone slosh around in my spine.


(The therapist yesterday told me that my descriptions were a little too vivid when I told her I'd been stretching the other day and it suddenly felt as though someone was pouring a cup of hot lava through my spine, starting around L2. Last gasp of a dying disc, I suppose.)

Anyway, I'd been warned that the lidocaine used in the procedure might give me some temporary relief from the pain. And it did.

So this is where I own up to everyone who was convinced that my pain level of 3 was closer to the rest of the world's 8. Yeah. The lidocaine kicked in and the difference was pretty stark. But don't worry, today, I'm right back where I was at 2:45 yesterday (the cortisone is supposed to kick in 5-7 days from now...if at all.)

What was oddest, though, was once I didn't feel any pain, the lack of muscle control was astonishing...far worse than I'd believed it to be. So, another epidural if this one doesn't work or wears off: HELL NO. Surgery, if it will take out the pain: HELL YES.

Oh, and getting function back would be great.

So that's where we are with that.


The cat has evidently made a miraculous recovery. All my carpets need to be cleaned, and he's beginning to resemble an Air Stream trailer, but his energy level is that of a kitten. That's where all the irrational exuberance in the house went.

Go listen to some good music: "Pain" from the album BOI-NGO by Oingo Boing.

17 March 2011

Take it easy

"You can lie back and relax," said the first nurse.

"That word is not in my vocabulary," I replied, sitting bolt upright on the gurney. It's the second time I've said that today. When the physical therapist was waving my right leg around in the air this morning, she kept poking my knee and saying, "Relax."

"It is relaxed," I told her emphatically.

Blood pressure cuff, pulse ox.

This time when they roll me into the operating room, I am sitting up. I am embarrassed by the people and recovering patients staring at me. Fortunately, the doctor agreed to see me while I still had my clothes on, before the indignity of untied hospital gown and surgical cap with American flags.

"Roll on to the operating table on your tummy," the next nurse instructs. One of the vertebrae cracks sharply in protest as I settle on my stomach.

"Ow," I say, equally sharply.

"What? What?" asks the second nurse worriedly. "What happened?"

I explain and she relaxes. She is strident in a kind way, and reminds me irresistibly of one of my neighbors.

"Ooo, pretty bra," croons the third nurse as she disarranges my draperies, prepping my back.

"I made sure I put on a nice one," I observe drily. And it's true, I did.

"We appreciate that," she laughs. "We see all kinds."

And the second nurse joins in the laughter.

Before the inevitable question, I say, "Running with the bulls in Pamplona."

They believe me.

"No, no," I tell them. "I was really brushing my teeth."

This becomes a subject of tremendous hilarity. When the doctor comes in, the second nurse asks him, "Did you know she did this running with the bulls in Pamplona?"

"You did?" he asks the back of my head, clearly startled.

"Brushing my teeth," I murmur into the operating table.

"So," he says with heavy humor, "You were running with the bulls at Pamplona but you're telling everyone that you hurt yourself brushing your teeth."

"Pretty much," I respond.

They count my vertebra, and agree that they've reached the right one. Hot sting of lidocaine and then a hard, heavy punch in the spine. I gasp with the discomfort. The cold burn of cortisone coursing through the canal follows and I gasp again.

It's interminable, seemingly. Then the doctor leans down, hand on my shoulder and says reassuringly, "The needle's out."

When I am back in the recovery room, the fourth nurse asks how I am, and then a fifth nurse appears to see how I am faring.

"You need to rest for the remainder of the day. Put your feet up. Take it easy."

"Sure," I tell her, dripping irony.

"I know," she smiles just a little. "That's how people like us end up like this. We never stop moving."

She runs through the list of dos and don'ts, the when-this-might-work and maybe-it-won't. The doctor reappears when I am standing again, and weirdly, I seem to be the tallest one in the room. Maybe in the world. Muscles spasm and twitch. Nerves sizzle. I wonder at this strange sense of tallness, noting I am standing up very straight.

"I looked at your MRI," he tells me as I prepare to leave. "That fragment is very large."

His hope is that his work will give me relief. But his words are ominous. And I know the size of the fragment: 3/4 inch by 1/2 inch stuck in that tiny space.

"Call us if you need anything," the nurse says. She is kind, and she looks worried. "And take it easy."

Go listen to some good music: "Take it Easy" from the album Eagles by The Eagles. Leaving the surgical center, a bit wobbly, we held the elevator for a very elderly lady using a cane and her companion. "You're wearing green!" she said with evident pleasure. "Because," I told her gravely, "my sassy daughter told me she would pinch me if I didn't." And this response, for whatever reason, pleased her, too.

15 March 2011

We soak up lots of pain...yeah

I don't like needles.

So I'm objecting strenuously to the next phase in back treatment: an epidural.

I must have told the surgeon three times that pain is the least of my concerns. I don't even really care about the loss of sensation. I just want normal function restored. And he told me an equal number of times that if I don't feel any pain, it might make everything better.

Personally, I don't believe this. I really don't believe that the pain I've got is severe enough to warrant this sort of treatment. If the nerves are still compressed, they're still compressed. I fell again Friday night, so despite the increases in strength and the return of some sensation, there is still something pretty wrong. And of course, the surgeon acknowleges this, too. Which is why he ordered another MRI to see if that chunk of disc residing in my spinal canal has diminished at all.

(Yes, I do believe he has my best interests at heart. But I'm not convinced that cramming my spine full of cortisone is really worth the trouble at this point.)

I am wearying of all the "maybe," and the fact this is dragging on and on and on. The surgeon's never taken the option of immediate surgery off the table. I can still do that (ha!), but there's no guarantee that's going to restore function.

I have things to do. Places to go. Promises to keep. I do not have time for this.

Go listen to some good music: "Pain" from the album BOI-NGO by Oingo Boingo. Here's the best part about the epidural: it might work. It might not! So...why the hell bother?

13 March 2011

There's a big black wave in the middle of the sea

Note: If you've read my blog for more than a year, stick your fingers in your ears or go watch a movie. Better yet, read on and then do something about for yourself.

If you've read my blog for more than a year, you know that I'm a proponent of disaster preparedness. I became a believer two decades ago when, working for a large So Cal university, I was asked to sit on the earthquake preparedness committee. I went to a seminar that featured scientists, first responders and city officials. What I heard there, two decades ago, scared the hell out of me.

This is the woman who hits would-be purse snatchers with a pipe wrench. I'm not easily scared.

I think that we can all agree that little would have helped the poor individuals in Japan who were swept away on Friday. However, a lot of people were sitting on the outskirts of Christchurch without food, running water, power or sanitation in the aftermath of that quake. And many people end up waiting on help from emergency services that are far too overtasked to take care of those who just happen to be hungry or thirsty, but are otherwise fine.

Since 1986, I've been through countless earthquakes, large and small, aftershocks and main shocks. Generally, the most notice I give them is "Oh. Earthquake." For the larger ones, I've been very happy that I've had lanterns and other necessary items around. I've never needed much from my supplies for earthquakes, but I've needed things for other disasters, including a massive windstorm that knocked our power out for 4 days.

I don't know why people don't put a few supplies by. To me, it is nothing more than common sense, and I've helped to outfit the in-laws with some necessities, too, including a wind-up radio and battery-powered lanterns. They've used these items on more than one occasion. I suppose for some people, preparing is admitting that something could go terribly wrong.

Preparedness is not difficult. I am not talking about building a bunker in the backyard. I'm talking about having some canned goods and water put by. Let me break it down for you:

Shelter: You can get a tent that sleeps 4 for less than fifty dollars. A tarp costs about $5. Both will keep the rain off your head if your house is unusable and the shelters are full. Sleeping bags are nice, but you can use blankets or whatever you've salvaged. Look at what you've already got.

Water: the rule is one gallon per person per day for drinking and sanitation. More if you've got pets to care for. Think a minimum of three days. Seven is better, but yeah, it can be impractical to store that much. If you've the room for them, a couple of extra 5-gallon containers are nice, too.

Food: again, enough for three days minimum for all members of your household, including pets. Non-perishable, and doesn't require cooking is ideal. Why, yes, Dinty Moore Beef Stew cold out of a can would probably be gross. However, if you're hungry enough... I'm not a fan of canned goods, but I keep canned fruit, vegetables, beans and some meat on hand. Look for items that are low-sodium, canned in water or juice (which--bonus!--you can drink), not oil or syrup. Buy on sale, rotate them into your regular meals. If you make soup, you can throw an extra can of veg in and then buy another to replace the one you used. This way, your stores stay fresh. Energy bars are also ideal if they are something you generally eat and you can rotate your stock. Think simple and easy to access.

Medication and first aid: if you regularly take prescription medication, make sure you have extra on hand. Most experts say you should have a month's worth. If you don't understand why, look at those photos of Japan again. It may be a month before anyone can get to some of those places, let alone get supplies in. Again, rotate your stock, so your emergency supply stays fresh. You should also have a basic first aid kit: bandages, gauze pads, antiseptic, and OTC medication for diarrhea, colds and pain.

Sanitation: a shovel and plastic bags are good for human and pet necessity. In Christchurch, authorities were recommending plastic bags placed inside toilet bowls. Alcohol-based hand cleaner and wipes are good for quick clean up. A bar of soap isn't a bad idea, either. A small bottle of plain bleach for water purification (Instructions here. Please make sure you know how to do this before you have to) is also helpful if you haven't the ability to boil it.

Clothing: just about anything that covers you works, but you should have: a pair of sturdy shoes and socks. Those cute sandals aren't going to cut it if you're walking over rubble. Sturdy trousers to protect your legs from debris and a warm jacket, because Mother Nature strikes whatever time of year she feels like it.

Other items: Flashlights and camping lanterns for light. Battery operated or hand crank radio. A good hand-operated can opener (or how are you going to open that stored food?). A shovel.

These are the basics and no doubt I've forgotten something. There are myriad guides out there that can give you really specific instructions. Just google "preparedness." You can even buy kits from Red Cross and other organizations.

Talk to your families. Have a plan. Make sure you have a way of contacting your kids at school, your spouse at work, whomever you need to be in touch with. Know alternate routes to your home, to schools, to hospitals that don't require you use freeways or bridges.

Of course, preparedness is no guarantee of survival, and even the best laid plans can be waylaid by tsunamis and Category 5 tornados and bitter blizzards. We all try to protect ourselves with magical thinking: this will never happen to me. Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Last night as I settled myself under my down comforter, between my crisp, clean sheets, I couldn't help but think of all those people who, two nights before, were settling themselves into their comfortable beds, not really dreaming that their lives would change drastically in half a day. And because I live in a place where disaster is a sure thing--as they say in California, it's when not if--I know very well that someday I may be in their place.

So think about that, those of you who live in earthquake zones, flood plains, Tornado Alley, the frigid north, and do your best to protect yourselves and your families. ZJ9VTPHXCH2N

Go listen to some good music: "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" from the album Neon Bible by Arcade Fire. Lots of us have soap boxes in the world. I have lots, but this is something near to my heart. If it gets through to one person....

11 March 2011

I look at the world...

Those of you who know us know that the spouse is a geologist who specializes in mass movement, and that both of us are well-versed in the dialectic of disaster.

Days like today are very hard.

I have a habit, a bad one really and largely inexplicable, of waking early on disaster days. The morning of the Northridge earthquake, I was up wandering around about 15 minutes before the M6.7 event hit at 4:31 am, though in this case, my early waking was explained by the fact that I was 8.5 months pregnant.

This morning, I woke just after 5 am because I heard something, an insistent low humming rumble, like the sound of a large and heavy truck driving by, except in this case, the frequency never changed and the truck never moved on. The sound was sufficiently unnerving that I got up to check the house, while Milton danced delightedly at my feet, mewing loudly, "Yes! Yes! You got the memo! Breakfast NOW!"

"What's wrong?" the spouse murmured sleepily after I fed the cat.

"Don't you hear that?" I asked. "What is that sound?"

"Traffic," he said. "The freeway."

"Which is miles away," I objected.

"The sound of the world," he said.

Or perhaps, the sound of the earth?

The first reports we saw this morning were for the earthquake; the first footage of a town that had become a dust plume. Only later did we see the horrifying video of the tsunami.

Earthquakes are personal. I've been through so many, including the M7.3 Landers (that was an E-ticket), read about them, written about them, photographed the aftermath, but I've never become inured to them. Still, the M5 one feels independently of any of other event seems hugely traumatic while the M5 aftershock in the wake of a larger quake feels like a walk in the park. The night I lay in the hospital in labor with the son, there was an M4.5 aftershock followed by an M5 aftershock to Northridge, and we laughed.

Disaster is personal, too. I can't look at a photo of blasted building without thinking of the people who were blasted, too. I can't critique a landslide simulation without thinking of those buried under the mud. Empathy is my Achilles heel even while it's my saving grace.

And this morning, watching the waves consume fields and inundate the roads, all I could think of were the faceless masses washed out to sea, people I will never know but whose deaths diminish me just the same. People who had children or parents, terrible secrets, secret hopes, desperate desires, joy to share. Lives ended.

And perhaps it is my own terrible secret that I grieve for them. Even while my frightfully analytical brain analyzes wave movement and building damage, sees the pieces and the patterns, my heart quietly breaks.

Go listen to some good music: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from the album The Best of George Harrison by George Harrison. It happens every time, the larger and smaller disasters. Haiti, Christchurch, Loma Prieta, Gujarat, Katrina, the child whose death was preventable.


"Oh Jesus," I breathed.

"What are you seeing?" the spouse asked.

"The dust of what used to be a city," I told him. And I didn't even realize there were tears running down my face.

09 March 2011

Hello, old friend...

The morning was gorgeous, the sun warm.

Somehow, it is nearly spring.

Yesterday, AT and I walked for the first time this year. I am clumsy. I lurch to the right unexpectedly. I trip over my right foot when it forgets what it's doing. But I walked a mile and a half.

It didn't hurt too much.

Directly afterward, I had to go to physical therapy (just because I don't write doesn't mean my life has stopped. It's not like I have time to sit around and brood about this except for the late afternoon and after I've fed everyone dinner. Then I get a bit broody. And annoyed. And I decide not to write). I told the therapist what I wrote here: something has changed, even though everything still feels mostly numb.

"Well," she said, cheerfully. "Here's the acid test."

About three weeks ago, she gave me a really simple exercise, one actually that I've done for years since the days that I danced. It's a leg lift, done lying on one's side. The upper leg is crossed over the lower, and you lift the lower straight toward the ceiling. It strengthens the inner thigh. That morning, I couldn't lift my leg off the table. I couldn't move it at all.

Yesterday, I got it off the table, and I was able to push back when she tried to push my ankle down. Not much and only for a second, but I was able to resist the force she put on it.

(Are those nerves reawakening? Sort of looks like it. "Slightly," I'm told. I've heard that word several times in the last few days. Not exactly the word I want to hear, but better than "no.")

The therapist was so thrilled with my progress that she put me through a murderous core workout as a reward. Walking is interesting today.

But it's progress.

And it's almost spring.

Very, very much suddenly seems very, very possible.


Go listen to some good music: "Modern Times" from the album Modern Times by Al Stewart. Yes, even if I still have surgery, a great deal is possible. What's a few sutures and someone chopping into my spinal column amongst friends? I have an invitation to visit Nepal, for what it's worth... There is still so much to do.

07 March 2011

Head games

Writing has become an enormous effort. Usually words flow and I write posts in my head long before I get to the keyboard. But not recently, recent being the last two-and-one-half months.

I've also become forgetful, easily distracted, scattered. The spouse puts it down to the fact that I'm working so hard to keep body, at least, together, that I've room for nothing else. Not an unreasonable argument. A doctor I know socially contends that my adrenal gland is exhausted, and I've ceased to react to other things that should be stressful. There is just nothing left.

Everyone assumes that I am in massive amounts of pain, but actually, most of the pain is manageable. Then again, I manage pain by ignoring it, mostly. The only really bad moment is when the vertebrae sandwiching the torn disc snap against each other. About a week ago, I laid down on the floor to go through the series of exercises I was assigned in PT, and that area of my spine popped, hard and loud. And it hurt. I braced myself for something horrible to happen, but it didn't, except for a lingering ache that eventually went away. The same thing happened again today. And it hurt.

Just before I went the spinal surgeon, I was ready to swear that some feeling had returned to my leg. The physical therapist frowned when I told her this, and she poked at my leg, and I couldn't feel anything. She shook her head at me and said, "No mind games!"

Later, the spinal surgeon tapped my knee with his silver hammer, and my leg hung there limply. There is less reflex now than there was six weeks ago.

But some days, I'm sure I feel something. Mostly those I tell this look sceptical. I think they believe I'm trying to evade surgery. I think they believe that I've talked myself into something that isn't there. All I can say is that something has changed in what I can feel. The muscle weakness really hasn't changed. I feel my knee twist away as the muscles begin to fail, but I'm back to a full, normal workout on the exercise bike. Whereas the leg pain was almost unbearable early on, the muscles flapping uselessly, the discomfort is more normal now. Still, when I touched the area around my knee, it was clear that those muscles were doing nothing, that they were lying there slackly.

I've never experienced anything quite like this dysfunction.

I'm quite used to the whole cycle of damage, rehabilitation, recovery, but I've never been through anything so strange as this. That I can't reliably report what I sense is incredibly disconcerting.

Go listen to some music: "Head Games" from the album Head Games by Foreigner. And exhausting. Did I mention exhausting?

05 March 2011

(Shake, shake, shake) shake your booty

At the moment, I have five 13- and 14-year-old girls running around the house. They have gone bowling (nominally), eaten dinner at Red Robin, sung happy birthday loudly to the very embarrassed daughter, and are currently watching said daughter's high school audition CD. There have been multiple iPhones and Droids playing at any given moment, the spouse blasting Rush over all this in the car on the way home from dinner, and what finally sent the son over the edge, a loud barrage of Justin Bieber.

(The Beaver is persona non grata amongst all in the household, but the daughter refrained from snarking out of respect for her guests).

Then, a blast from my past, the unmistakable sound of KC & the Sunshine Band from someone's phone.

"I was a disco baby!" cried one young miss whose nativity post-dated the end of the disco era by a decade and a half.

"My father listened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers," lamented another.

And then they all burst out in chorus in the confines of the car:

"Shake your booty! Shake your booty!"

I wasn't even 14 when that song debuted on the radio.

Go listen to some good music: "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty" from the album Part 3 by KC & the Sunshine Band. I actually had this album--on cassette tape. My kids have an amusing (to me) distaste for most popular music. There has been no JoBros, no Miley, no Beaver, no Gaga, no Katy Perry. Works for me.

01 March 2011

And it's ok if this world had a billion saviours

because there's so many things to be saved

Now that I'm back on the exercise bike 3 times a week for an hour each session (believe me, there is nothing on earth like pedaling a bike when you can't feel half your leg. It's painful and weird) and since I can't move the bike so I can see the television, I'm catching up on my cooking magazines. Yesterday, I read an article in the January Bon Appetit by Mark Bittman that amply illustrates the pitfalls of our food and how we approach it.

I'm not a fan of food fads and fad diets. So really? I'm not interested in acai or goji or Mediterranean or polo-pescatarian or what have you. Or the Potato Diet or the Lemonade Purge or Splurge or Cleanse. Enjoy your buzz words. I eat carefully and with enjoyment and with interest.

And to his credit, Mr Bittman also seems disinterested in labels and fads. He writes that he decided to clean up his diet because he was overweight and had some weight-related health issues. But then he wanders into incredibly dangerous territory: talking of eating "sustainably" and "acting more kindly to the rest of the planet." What exactly does that mean? Well, to Mr Bittman, it evidently has a lot to do with adding more plant material to his diet and eating less meat. And again, laudable, certainly. Then I read the recipes he's included in his article.

Food, its sourcing, its safety, its availability, its healthiness have all become huge, global issues in my lifetime. Just about everything about food production drives me berserk, from genetic engineering to irradiation to ripping up the rainforest for the sake of Big Macs. I'm old enough to remember a time when we cooked and ate what was readily available in season and no one was buying off season produce from South America. The shrimp came from Guaymas, not Thailand. Eggs from the local ranch. Milk from the dairy across town. We grew some of our own vegetables. Eating at a restaurant was an incredibly rare treat, and fast food just as rare. Don't get me wrong, though: I'm not going to pretend that everything we ate was local. Apples don't grow in the desert.

There's a lot of good stuff about the globalization of our palates. I'm really happy that kim chi and I met. I'm a fool for cheese: French cheese, Spanish cheese, Stilton. I take great gustatory pleasure in Marcona almonds.

Largely, though, I agree with Mr Bittman: the diet in the U.S. is pretty much insane, and that mostly has to do with the availability of cheap, processed foods. But bringing the planet into this argument is wandering a slippery slope on par with the global warming debate (yes, the globe is warming. It does that pretty regularly. Yes, humans are gross polluters and need to change their ways for many, many reasons. Whether and where the two meet is still up for discussion. Scientists like to place themselves up there with the gods when they "discover" something. And then Mother Nature knocks them off their pedestals... But we were talking about food).


Mr Bittman goes on to offer up some recipes for his sustainable diet. First up: Pancakes with tropical fruit.

So, we're talking about lowering carbon footprint, something Mr. Bittman mentions specifically.

Where does unsweetened coconut come from?

Where do mangoes grow?

Where does pineapple grow?

Bananas are imported.

And this lowers my carbon footprint how? Not to mention that fruits and vegetables grown in other countries aren't subject to the same regulation that exists in the U.S. Do you know what your non-organic bananas are sprayed with? I do. So this leaves us where on the planet-friendly debate?

Moving on to the tomato soup: 2 14 1/2-oz cans of tomatoes in juice.

Whoops. BPA is frequently found in canned foods. Not such a good thing, healthwise. Canned tomatoes also show up in the pasta recipe and canned coconut milk is used in the pancake recipe.

Mr. Bittman later notes that he set up eating rules for himself, including this one: "I eat no processed foods at all, including no white flour, white rice, pasta and sugar." Well, according to his recipes, he breaks that rule regularly because what he really means is that he doesn't eat refined foods. The vegetable broth in his tomato soup recipe is presumably processed (there's no recipe to make it from scratch), and certainly all those canned tomatoes are processed. Dried cranberries are processed, as is frozen phyllo dough in the pear-cranberry turnovers.

So, why am I not just picking at this poor man, but nit picking here? Because food--its sourcing, its safety, its availability, its healthiness--is a complex issue, and while some of us might have noble intentions about eating to save the planet, how well do our intentions stack up against reality unless we're willing to eat the dandelions out of our wasteful lawns?

(And for what it's worth, dandelion greens are good for you.)

Honestly, I think Mr Bittman's intentions are great, and yes, I want to do a better job of eating carefully, too. Frankly, his coconut pancakes sound delicious despite all the shipping involved in that tropical fruit (wicked use of resources). And the changes he's made to his diet make a lot of sense, as does his advice that everyone needs to figure out how similar changes reasonably can be made to his/her own ways of eating. We certainly can make a difference, a little at a time, by changing bad habits and eliminating the worst offenders from our diets. But I would caution that we proceed carefully before patting ourselves too hard on the back about how our changed eating habits are "saving the world." Unless you personally are producing everything that goes into your mouth organically and sustainably, you're probably in the same container ship with the rest of us.

Go listen to some good music: "Story of the Grandson of Jesus" from the album Feel Good Ghosts by Cloud Cult. For the purpose of argument, I used the definition of processed food used by Boulder County, which is here.