28 April 2010

Sugar: I've cut it out.

People have asked me how I've done it & what they can do to reduce sugar in their diets as well. It's really not that hard.

The first thing to do is to read labels. Did you know that a 6-oz. carton of Yoplait piña colada yogurt (Bear's favorite) has 21 grams of sugar? Naturally, six ounces of yogurt (in this case, Cascade Fresh fat-free plain yogurt) will contain about 10 grams of sugar. This is due to the presence of the milk sugar, lactose (see http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/whattoeat/a/yogurtcarbs.htm, and esp. info on how the live cultures break down the lactose). The additional sugars in the Yoplait yogurt (and other regular brands) are from two sources: the fruit and, yes, added sugar.

What about that fruit? Fruit is a natural source of sugar, so I've had to watch the types of fruit I eat as well, and what I combine them with. An apple a day is fine, as long as I pair it with some cheese or a few almonds. A banana is better with some peanut butter. According to a dietician I saw when I began this change (in reaction to learning that I am hypoglycemic), the best fruits are those with lots of seeds: raspberries, strawberries, and so forth.

Plain yogurt is so, well, plain... How can you stand to eat it? First, once you cut the sugar in your diet, things that seemed too bitter before aren't and, on the other hand, things that seemed fine before taste way too sweet. But that doesn't mean I like plain yogurt. I dress it up. Take six ounces of plain yogurt, add half a cup or more of those nice seeded berries, toss in some chopped walnuts, and, for added sweetness and texture, some UNSWEETENED coconut. Forget ice cream; this stuff is good!

How could you possibly give up chocolate? Who says I gave up chocolate? Here's another reason to read your labels. Did you know that a 43-gram Hershey's bar (regular size bar; see http://www.hersheys.com/products/details/hersheysbar.asp) contains 24 grams of sugar? Ouch! While I really, really love milk chocolate, it's something I've had to steer away from. Instead, I've gone for dark chocolate. But not 50% dark, or even 70% dark — we're talking 85% to 90% dark. A 41-gram bar of Hershey's Special Dark still contains 21 grams of sugar (note, the same amount as a serving of Yoplait). The highest percent dark chocolate bar I have been able to find is by Lindt. A 3.5 oz bar (about 99 grams) of their "Super Dark" chocolate has nine grams of sugar. Wow! I can eat half of one of these bars and still ingest less sugar than is in my plain yogurt! But there's a catch: A Lindt "Super Dark" bar has a lot of fat in it — 360 of the bar's 550 calories are from fat. So, don't go all crazy on that chocolate! (I'm currently "researching" dark chocolates [85%–90%] for a future post comparing taste, sugars, fats, and calories in six different bars, so watch for that!).

Along with cutting out sugar, it's a good idea to increase your protein and fiber intake. In the morning, I have eggs scrambled with onion, broccoli, and brown rice. Or, if I'm feeling self-indulgent, I'll have peanut butter on a brown rice cake or some gluten-free "Glutino" fiber bread. Again, read your labels! Natural, organic peanut butter is just that — peanuts, with no added sugar. The brands you usually find in the grocery store have had corn syrup, sugar, and even molasses added, along with unnatural oils. Once you get used to it, having to stir and refrigerate your peanut butter isn't all that inconvenient.

Oooh, and one more thing: My new favorite: Sugar-free pbjs! No, I don't use jam; I use frozen raspberries. I warm the raspberries in the microwave (defrost for 1 min., then cook for 30 sec., stir, cook for 15 sec.), spread them on my gluten-free toast, and mush that together with my natural peanut butter on another piece of gluten-free toast. Yum! Note: Even though this is really tasty, it's really not a good idea to have this pbj for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner. LOL.

I'm not a dietician, a nutritionist, or a medical professional — just an editor. But I think eating is a good idea, and eating so you are WELL is even better.

In the word's of Julia Child, "Bon  appétit!" But I doubt she would approve of this blog, unless I added butter.

24 April 2010

Who is Blue Aroo?

10 June 2009, Denver, Colorado, USA: Mr. Speedy here, aka Blue Aroo, finished his last morning in supermax... I mean at MaxFund Shelter, where he'd been waiting patiently since late March for someone to come adopt him — again...

Originally adopted from MaxFund when he was a year old, Blue Aroo was returned to the shelter 10 years later because his owner could no longer care for him. I've come up with two explanations in my mind to justify that — either she lost a job and could no longer house him, or he was just too afraid of thunder and fireworks and she couldn't handle the stress anymore.

That was the big warning on his shelter chart — fear of flashing light, thunder, and fireworks. But as soon as we got him home, we built him a little cave in our house (a crate insulated with blankets), and he goes there to feel safe, or just to hang out.

So, Blue was 11 years old when we adopted him. But you can't tell — he's full to brimming over with life! My nickname for him is "Sparky." He goes for runs with Bear, bounces around the house, and runs circles around the other dogs at the dog park. He's so fast, I think he even runs circles around himself! He and our golden retriever, Buddy, get along "famously."

People often respond in wonder that we would have adopted an "older" dog. So close after the death of Bear's longtime canine companion, Sequoia (a playful chow-chow mix who died 26 May 2009 at the age of 16), why would we want to invite more heartbreak?

So far, heartbreak hasn't been a word in our vocabulary when it comes to Blue. Except perhaps for the heartbreak I felt for his previous owner, having to give up such a sweet dog.

And he is sweet! Never have I met such a happy, friendly, sparkly dog. As a golden retriever, Buddy has a head start on almost any dog when it comes to happiness and friendliness, but Blue, a husky–cattle dog mix, even outshines him.

When it comes to his age — well, the last time we had him in to see the vet, she remarked as she looked into his goofy blue eyes that if she didn't know better, she'd place his age at around seven.

Buddy is almost 10 now (I've had him since, well, before he was born), and Blue is over 12. But they're both healthy enough to bounce, run, and play with us every day. If it ever comes time to adopt another dog, I'll have my eyes trained on the older guys first. And Blue Aroo says, "Aroooooo!"

14 April 2010

Falling for Spring

What's your favorite season? Up until this year, I would have answered, clearly and with determination, "Fall."

Clearly, because as long as I can remember, I have felt this way. With determination, because I'm just a little bit contrary — most people love spring (is that really true? stats anyone?), so why not be different?

It occurred to me just today that something fundamental has changed in the way I see the natural world. Each hint of new growth pleases me deeply. I have an almost maternal attachment to the budding wild plum blossoms, the muskrat in Skunk Creek, the first little insects (even the ants) emerging from winter hibernation, and our little mallard pair taking up housekeeping in Bear Creek to the east.

I love spring. It's exciting. Green sprouts everywhere! Hints of color tip tree branches and bushes. Bees, gnats, and other insects (maybe soon some ladybugs!) travel the three-dimensional space between ground and sky. The black vultures return, and hawks dance in pairs over the greening prairie grasses.

I recently came across the Dragonfly Archive, a blog dedicated to capturing Twitter haiku, tanka, senryu, and micropoetry. On its "About" page, the author has posted this: "FACT: A dragonfly larvae lives up to three years, but in the winged-state they live only a few weeks. Anytime you see a dragonfly in their winged-state, know that they are close to the end of their lifespan."

Perhaps that's what I mean by "dragonfly wars" — the growth and beauty — the time to stretch one's wings, really — in the space between the bulk of one's life and the gradual rise and drift toward its termination. That's where I am now.

My 47th birthday last August was a milestone, because it was the first birthday on which I remember looking forward to life, to the possibilities, and feeling happy, content, and grounded in being ALIVE.

OK, I know. Forty-seven does not equal "close to the end of their lifespan." But metaphorically, perhaps in "dragonfly years," it is — at least, it's far beyond the larval stage (I shall not extend the metaphor to try to incorporate "nymph," the term applied to dragonfly larvae, into the mix, I promise).

I see beauty in every detail, every fragile detail, like the wings of the dragonfly.

And I'm happy to say, I've fallen for spring.

13 April 2010

A blog NOT

Last night I published a blog post, complete with photo, from the supposed point of view of my great aunt, Miss Beulah Johnson, discussing the "hat ritual" as outlined in Frances Benton's 1956 book, Etiquette: The complete modern guide for day-to-day living the correct way. Then I decided it was too kitschy and forced. So, I deleted it. The idea is no. 4 on my list of blog topics as noted on my 2 April post. But after giving it a "test drive," I decided it's just not going to work. That's not to say I wouldn't want to share some of Benton's advice — I find the book fascinating! From hat rituals, to glove guidelines, to matters of form regarding engagement and marriage — I wish I could share it all with you. Perhaps, from time to time, I'll pull out some choice information from the book, but I'll do it in my own voice. Not that I wouldn't appreciate what Great-Aunt Beulah would say — she was all about style: the right hats, gloves, coats — even her car. So very different from my grandmother's side of the family. Maybe some pictures will come up from time to time as well.

This is what I call the "blog shakedown" period — like the trial run of a ship before setting out on a long voyage. Thanks for hanging on for the ride!

04 April 2010

"Branding Bhutan" — or the story of a "Trek through Time"

The 19 February issue of Science includes an article on Bhutan titled, "Improbable Partners Aim to Bring Biotechnology to Himalayan Kingdom" (v. 247, p. 940-941). Reading it over lunch the other day, I thought, "Hmmm... well, that's interesting." Then I read a subheading on page 941, "Branding Bhutan." "Wow," I thought, "we have come a long way since 1974." Is this good or bad? Or neither? Is it just the natural course of things in a country both protective of its borders and open to change?

Just a little over 35 years ago, in October 1974, National Geographic featured on its cover a picture of a new leader coming to power in Bhutan. The cover caption read, "With his great-great-grandfather's five-colored scarf on his shoulders, 18-year-old Jigme Singye Wangchuck formally becomes monarch in the tiny kingdom of Bhutan. John Scofield's picture story highlights the color and enduring traditions of the sequestered nation."

A dusty copy of this issue remains on the bookshelf in the living room of my grandmother's house, though she passed on in 2003, and my aunt lives there now. An avid Nat Geo reader, my grandmother, Lillie Asmus, felt something in her heart shift as she read the article and took in Scofield's pictures. She had to go there, no matter what it took.

But Bhutan was closed to tourism — until young Wangchuck realized the potential benefits of well-regulated tourism. In 1975, upon permission from the king, a small party brought together by an up-and-coming adventure tourism company, then called Mountain Travel and now known as Mountain Travel Sobek, was allowed to trek this 38,394 km2 country.

My grandma was a member of that first group of American tourists. At 65, she was the oldest, and probably the most determined. Still recovering from a stroke she'd suffered six years earlier, she walked with a limp, and she'd lost her ability to take hand-written notes. Fortuitously for me, she carried with her the whole time a tape recorder, and each night recorded notes and impressions about the trek. She played those tapes for me back in 1992, and we spent several hours going over the events that touched her the most. On 28 June 1992, the Boulder Daily Camera published our account of her adventure in an article titled, "Trek through Time" (p. 1C, 3C).

The trip had multiple highlights, but I think the most significant one was the presence of Tenzing Norgay as sirdar (guide). Tenzing, you may recall, was the Nepalese sherpa who, with Sir Edumund Hilary of England, became the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1953. Quoting from my 1992 article, "In countries like Nepal and Bhutan, and even India, Tenzing (who guessed his age in 1975 to be about 61 by our calendar) was revered almost as a legend."

My grandmother said that she liked Tenzing "instantly" and still blushed years later when she told me that after she presented the sirdar with a pair of mittens (knit by my aunt), "He kissed me on my cheek and gave me a big hug."

The group began the official trek in Paro, northern Bhutan. The tiny guest houses quickly set up for tourists could not hold the entire group, so grandma volunteered to take a tent. This was mid-January, but, grandma recalled, it felt to her to be the right thing to do because "Tenzing did it too."

The group's trek continued to Tiger's Nest (Taktsang), the ancient Buddhist monastery perched on the edge of a narrow, grassy cliff. It's a rather treacherous trail up to Tiger's Nest, and not for the faint-of-heart. For safety, the group was required to take to horseback (which frightened my grandmother more than walking), but when the horses could go no further, they made the rest of the approach on foot, down so many steps my grandmother could not keep count, and finally up again, into the temple.

After several days in Bhutan, the group returned to India, trekking through Nepal and Sikkim (now a part of India).

I'll save my grandmother's time in Sikkim for another post, but I will tell you she met the last king of that country, and we still have the ceremonial prayer scarf she exchanged with him before tea. And I'll also save the next part of the story — the 80-mile trek along the Nepal-India border and the visit to Tenzing's home — for another time. Then there's grandma's trek in the Scottish Hebrides. Oh, and I must tell at some point the story of her honeymoon, bicycling through Europe in 1935.

But back to Bhutan, and the Science article.

Thimpu businessman Wangdi Jamyang has teamed up with a British mycologist (Nigel Hywel-Jones) to "Brand Bhutan." That is, according to the Science article by Richard Stone, they're "crafting a business model for biotech in the kingdom." You see, among its many natural riches, Bhutan is the home of a fungus (Cordyceps sinensis or "yartsa guenbub" in Bhutanese) "that fetches outrageous prices as a Chinese medicine." Wangdi wants to trump the poachers coming in across the border, ensure that the fungus is collected without violating the country's "Buddhist reverence for the environment" (which is one reason behind keeping the country closed to tourists for so long), and, of course, keep the profits in-country.

According to the article, the decision by Bhutan's leadership to allow collection of the fungus each June has "pulled many rural Bhutanese out of poverty," with earnings in that one month surpassing "a year's income from yak herding."

It's a good idea. As biotech adviser Hywel-Jones notes, "The best ideas come when you're in a forest." Long before Bhutan allowed western tourists into the country, it was known as "Lho Men Jong, or 'Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs.'" Bhutan's relatively pristine countryside is flush with fungi. Those fungi, managed in Bhutan's farsighted manner, could provide opportunities for advances in medicine as well as increased financial "happiness" for the country's citizens.

Grandma sold her trekking boots back in 1990. If I had those boots here now, I'd look them over quizzically, wondering if they'd ever trod upon the insect fungus that now might be leading Bhutan into a future delicately balanced between protecting its soils and reaping its environmental rewards.

If grandma were here, she'd clap her hands together, smile, bow, and send her best wishes across the seas to the country that so touched her life.

02 April 2010

Titles, chromium & future blogs

I'm a fidgeter and a fusser, which made me terrible at painting because I kept piling color over color hoping to get it just right but instead creating a muddy, dirty canvas. I'm already fidgeting and fussing with this blog - note the title change to my 27 March post, among other things. I hope "once the dust settles," as they say, I'll have a better handle on how to write a more descriptive and compelling title and a clearer understand of how I want to structure each post.

I took one of those silly quizzes on facebook to find out which element in the periodic table I am most like. Came out as chromium, because, as the quiz said, I am "easily distracted by shiny objects." At first, I was rather irked by this conclusion, but when I thought about it, I realized the quiz was right. I am easily distracted. That's different than having trouble concentrating. I just concentrate on many things at once. I have a three-sided desk at work, and I work all three sides at the same time — proofreading on one side, reading and referencing on the other, and copyediting/computing in the middle. Other people I know who took the quiz came out as either gold or helium. Sounds nice, but in sour grapes fashion, I say, well at least I'm not a softy or a lightweight!

So, you may notice in my blog a little bit of jumping around from one subject to another – not some nice linear theme. I'm kinda hoping for the "Annie Dillard of blogging" award (if you've ever read her essays, you know what I mean).

I already have lots of ideas for future posts. The ideas are coming faster than the posts themselves, because I'm finding I have less time than I thought to put together "real posts of significance" each time I want to say something. I do have every intention to make good on the following themes:
1. The Dragonfly Wars theme as reflected in my Day 1 post (another riveting title);
2. Posts about what I'm reading and what associations I make from that reading to my "real" life;
3. Coming next (I hope): "Branding Bhutan and what that has to do with Grandma's Trekking Boots";
4. A side series: "Notes from Your Receptionist" — you'll be introduced to Miss Beulah Johnson, who will share excerpts from a 1956 guide by Frances Benton intriguingly titled Etiquette: The complete modern guide for day-to-day living the correct way.

It's going to be fun – at least for me. I hope it is for you as well.