Friday, February 28, 2014

What I Learned on The Clean Program

Although I don't anticipate it being the main focus of this blog (or our lives), I wrote about my health history and my addiction to sugar  in previous posts because I wanted to provide some context for what we've been doing lately.  But I have one last bit of back story to give you before you're all caught up.

For years, I've had a problem with my hands and forearms going numb - usually early in the morning while I sleep.  There's the normal thing that happens to everyone: when you sit on your foot for too long, it falls asleep and you have to shake it out and go through that pins-and-needles feeling to get it to come back.  And then there's this thing that happens to me: I'm sleeping in bed in no particular position - often flat on my back, but it could also be on my side, and my hand goes numb.  When it's really bad, I can also get nerve pain (which feels like pressure, burning, and freezing simultaneously), and the only way to make the pain stop and the numbness to go away is to sit or stand up and let my arm dangle by my side.  This leads to a fair amount of sleep deprivation, which leads to crazy.  The problem gets worse when I'm working on projects that require a lot of upper body work (like woodworking, one of my favorite things to do in the world), and the problem subsides during periods when I'm doing less upper body work.

So I've gone to doctors.  I think there's been 5 or 6 of them, and a couple of physical therapists, and 3 chiropractors.  I got x-ray'ed and zapped with things to make my nerves fire and given stretches and exercises.  I learned a lot, including that I have a herniated disc in my neck, and that there's one particular way a chiropractor can crack my neck that makes my hands feel like they light up with electricity.  I found out my condition is called neuropathy.  But nothing made the problem go away completely or long-term.

Then, in late December, 2012, my mother got sick, and I spent 3 weeks taking care of her in the hospital in Grand Rapids, where there is very little healthy food to be found (it's a high-carb sort of world out there).  By the time I got home, I was feeling pretty crummy, and my friend Bernadette recommended I try The Clean Program, the instructions to which Dr. Oz had put up for free on his web site.  I think it has been taken down now, so if you're interested to find out more, this link points to the FAQ on The Clean Program's community forum.  If you dig around, you can find everything you need to know to try it without buying anything.  There's probably nothing wrong with them, but those kits and things people sell always smell like quackery to me.  

Cindy is a dream, so she was all for trying the month-long cleanse together.  If you don't know, The Clean Program (as we did it) is basically just a short-term restricted diet on which you cannot have things like sugar, anything in the nightshade family (such as tomatoes and peppers), peanuts, strawberries, bread, dairy, and the big one for Cindy: caffeine.  She complained about it her lack of coffee the whole time, which I mostly thought was hilarious.  (Perhaps my disinterest in caffeine comes from my Mormon genes; I've never really cared much about it, personally.) 

During the second half of the cleanse, I noticed that I was not having any nerve pain symptoms anymore.  They have gone away for periods before in the past, so I didn't think much of it.  But when it came time to reintroduce the foods we had eliminated, I remained completely fine until the night I had dessert with dinner for the first time in a month.  Early the next morning, the numbness was back!

Well, that was pretty much a revelation, peppered with a dash of torture.  And reading up on neuropathy a little bit shows me that there's a known link between numbness and diabetes.  To me, that spells validation!  I don't have diabetes, but I very easily could (It's very prevalent on my Mormon side).  And I DO have a sugar addiction, with a long history of putting way too much of it in my body.  So now I get to choose between feeling pain and eating sugar. 

By the way, when I say "sugar", I'm talking about bread-type-stuff in addition to sweets.  Hm.  Perhaps I should have mentioned that sooner...

It has been a year since we did The Clean Program.  Addiction thinking is slithering and persistent, like a snake.  I sometimes find myself negotiating with my addiction and pushing the envelope.  My sugar tolerance has gotten better since I've drastically decreased the amount of it that I'm eating.  Now-a-days, the numbness will come after a couple of days with bites of candy and dessert after meals (such as during our Valentine's weekend trip to Virginia a couple of weeks ago).  I often don't stick to terribly rigid rules and eliminate sugar completely.  But then, sometimes I do.  Last night, I had a dark chocolate peanut butter cup after dinner.  It was too sweet and made me feel a little jittery.  So maybe I will just avoid the stuff entirely.  I don't know... I just want to stay healthy and pain free without having to fuss.

And in case you're wondering how things turned out with my mom, here she is on the day after I brought her home from 3 weeks in the hospital and 2 weeks in recovery at a dear friend's house.  She's getting ready to do her favorite thing to hate: clear snow off her 200 yard driveway with the tractor.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Green Roof Update. Feb 25, 2014

Cindy and I went up to check out the state of the green roof after all the snow we've had.  It was a nice day on Sunday; we didn't even need to put on jackets!  In fact, here's Cindy goofing around.

I made this 2x4 and coat hanger TV antenna so we could watch the news during Hurricane Sandy.  I used to have it sticking out of the kitchen plumbing vent pipe, but CBS didn't come in very clearly at that elevation.  So I wired the antenna up higher for one of Cindy's football games, and it's working fine.  It is, however, not going to last much longer - look at all the rust!

And here are the strawberry plants.  There's still a lot of green on them, so I'm assuming they'll come back and start producing as soon as the weather gets consistently nicer.  That's the good news.  The bad  news in this picture is that the nails I used on the copper flashing for those planters are rusting.  I know I checked the box to see if they could be used on copper when I bought them, but either I made a mistake or I'VE BEEN HAD!

Also, I've been having a problem with water getting in under the roofing rubber that's covering the base of this railing upright.  It doesn't seem to be getting into the house (at least there hasn't yet been any evidence of moisture in the upstairs living room ceiling), but I don't want to risk that eventuality.  When I push the rubber down around that area, water bubbles come out at the bottom of that railing leg.  I'm pretty sure that's where the water gets in, too.  I'll have to seal that hole as soon as possible, but in the meanwhile, I cut a little slit to let the water that's trapped in there out.  

This is the state of last year's herbs.  I'm waiting to see if the rosemary and lavender come back.  I doubt the oregano will.

The hens and chicks are proliferating, but that one funky succulent that made the beautiful flowers last year seems not to have survived the snow.  Besides, the squirrels really loved to gnaw on it, so I won't be providing them that pleasure again.

Now, let's play a game.  It's called "Where's Garlic?" 

Fixing the Upstairs Bathtub Faucet

Cindy and I were out of town two weekends ago to see some friends.  And when we came home, I noticed I could hear the sound of a small amount of water running in the bathroom upstair.  We have a 2-family home, so I checked with our upstairs tenant and friend, Ian, and went up to have a look.  The bathtub faucet was trickling, and no matter how tight the knobs were, the water kept running.  Like this:

The trick is, this house was built in 1910.  There are a few parts of the original faucets, and some things that aren't original.  The cross-shaped handles, for example, are not original.  But I do think the original hot handle is on the diverter in the upstairs bathroom (we have an original diverter handle in the downstairs bathroom - all clues pointing towards eventually finding matches).  
The escutcheons are all chipped except one (those are the porcelain things that surround where the faucet handles come out of the wall), and the nickel has nearly worn off everything from a hundred years of polishing.  I'm always keeping an eye out for proper replacement parts so I can restore them to their original state.  The last thing I want to do is to make a mistake that ruins the faucet, because I neither want to replace the faucet (if I could find one), nor do I want to rip out the old tiles.

Here's the set up as it currently stands.  

Yesterday, I turned off the water, took the stems out of the faucets, and replaced the washers on both the hot and cold.  But the drip persisted.  I noticed that the dripping water was cold, so I knew something had to be wrong with the cold water and not the hot, but to be sure, I closed the cold water shut-off valve.  Sure enough, the leak stopped.  So I took the cold water stem out again, and took a good look inside the faucet.  In the photo, in the back of the hole, you can see a brass circle.  That's called the seat.  There's a dark spot on the left hand side of the seat, and when I reached back in there with a screwdriver and felt around that edge, I found that dark spot was actually a divot in the metal, probably 1/16" deep.  That's where the water was getting through!

So we're clear on what I'm talking about, these shiny brass thingies are the replacement seats.  The top edge is the bit that's damaged inside the faucet.  I included the end of a spare faucet stem with an old rubber washer on it to help illustrate the idea.  When you turn the faucet handle, it pushes that end with the rubber washer down over the end seat, and the water is shut off.  But if you can't get a good seal between the two, you'll have drips.  Or, in my case, a trickle.

I needed to get the old seat out of the wall.  Yesterday, I tried the two L-shaped "seat wrenches", but the seat was so stuck, I couldn't budge it, and I stripped the inside of it.  Bummer.  I thought perhaps I needed some chemical help, so off I rode to an auto parts store on Utica Avenue where I got some Liquid Wrench Penetrating Oil.  I squirted the oil around the seat, tapped it, and tried loosening it with a seat wrench on a repeating loop.  It didn't budge.  It was getting late, and I had to put it back together and leave it leaking for another night.

Today, I babysat our godson, then went to the hardware store for some straight seat wrenches (hoping they would work better than the L-shaped ones, since they could be tapped into the center hole in the seat with a hammer), and a seat dresser tool for use if the wrenches failed me.  I also decided to try heat, to see if the temperature change would expand the metal enough to crack the corrosion that is holding the seat in place.  Here's my assortment of tools on the bathroom floor:

Well, more Liquid Wrench, more tapping, and more attempts to dislodge the seat with the new wrenches failed.  In fact, the new straight wrenches came with a ratchet with which to apply torque, and it wasn't strong enough to withstand the torque I applied to it.  It broke. Muscles failed?  How about fire?!  I tried applying the torch to the seat, and it was sort of neat to see how the water in the hole boiled off, but the seat didn't move.
My only option left was to grind the divot out of the rim of the seat with the seat dresser tool.  I tried it by hand (as directed on the package) at first, but the divot was far too deep, and Cindy was making dinner.  Time was running out.  So I chucked it up in my drill and did my best to keep it in proper alignment and check my progress often.  Here's the dresser tool in my drill with the grinder end at the bottom of the frame.  The white cone is to keep the shaft centered in the hole so you don't grind your stem down at an angle.  It sort of helped, but I had to be really careful anyway.

Here's some progress on the seat.  You can see the dark spot on the left is not as pronounced as it was originally.  I could feel with the end of my screwdriver that it was getting more shallow.

 And here it is after the divot was finally ground out!  I find something about this photo oddly hypnotic.

 But more importantly, once I got everything put back together and the water turned on, the leak had stopped!  Now, I'll have to figure out how to get that blue staining off the tub someday.  Or maybe I'll call it character and be done with it. 

P.S.  Here's a picture from Cindy's and my trip.  It's the sunset as seen from the steps of the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park on February 16th, 2014.  Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot by his own men during the Civil War, and he died in this house (thus the "shrine" thing).
A thousand thanks to Michael Spencer for being a wonderful tour guide, as usual.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

PHL Working and Playing

This week, Cindy and I had a Project Happy Life meeting on the subjects of working and playing.  We've had quite a few PHL Meetings so far, but it's time to turn discussion into action for a number of our topics.  So we made a list of "Action Sessions" we'd like to do together and separately.  They are:

  • Vet our wardrobes
  • Set up Long Term Care Insurance with Joel
  • Prepare our taxes
  • Set up ebay sales for the stuff we want to get rid of
  • go through all the stuff that's stored in the basement and get rid of what we don't need
  • thoroughly clean and re-arrange the kitchen
  • put up Cindy's makeup mirror (I'm holding this one up - I want to buy a specific type)
  • Buy a new set of towels (our belated wedding gift to ourselves)
  • get some wedge shaped cushions for the day bed (which we use as a couch)
  • go through and merge our book collections.  Let go of what we don't need.

We also want to make time to play together.  So we listed a few of the things we could think of:
  • Snowball fights
  • Run sprints and play tag in the snow at the park
  • When the weather is nicer, play tennis together
  • Have more beach days this summer
  • Cindy would like me to take another Bikram Yoga class with her.  It's one of her favorite things, and I love sharing it with her... occasionally.
  • Have more backgammon tournaments!
Since I haven't really talked about it much yet, I thought I would write a little bit about our system.  Cindy and I are sitting down together and having Project Happy Life meetings once or twice per week.  When one of us wants to have a meeting, we simply let the other one know.  Often, we have them over tea and coffee in the morning or in the evening over dinner.  Sometimes we schedule them days in advance, and sometimes we decide to have one on the spot.  The main thing is to make sure we have plenty of time so our discussions can go where they want to.

Our next step is to make a date.  Maybe it'll be a kitchen cleaning date.  Or maybe it'll be a snowball fight date (she usually starts them, and I usually finish them, by the way).  We're just making all of this up as we go along.  It's nice to stay focused on our lives together, rather than to get too carried away in all the day-to-day details that never end up mattering in the long run.

Kadima War!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Completed Green Roof Project Page is Up!

Here's the story of one of our favorite things: The Green Roof project.  If you're asking yourself why someone would want a green roof, I'll tell you.  First, it helps insulate your house.  Second, it helps reduce storm water run-off.  Third, it helps clean the air and reduce the heat island effect.  Fourth, it offers food for birds and pollinating insects.  And, of course, green roofs are the perfect place to hang out for humans too.

If you want to see how we installed our green roof system, check out the new

Here's a picture of Melvin under the covers.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Me and My Sugar (Addiction)

One of the main aspects of our Project Happy Life is Health and Well Being.  As I said in my post about my health history, I stepped back from the brink of becoming truly fat by having the shit scared out of me and finding myself trying the Zone Diet at the recommendation of a nutritionist.  But with everything diet-related, it's complicated.  And it's as much a mental game as it is a physical game.

I was a (doughy) teenager in the 1980's.  We thought back then that if something was "low fat", it was our key to keeping our weight down.  But we were gaining weight, so then we thought we just weren't doing the "low fat thing" well enough.  We thought we were weak when it came to eating the right foods, so we started trying to help ourselves by working out - aerobics, running, jazzercise...  People bought leotards and track suits.  We were determined, but we were misinformed.

Around 2002, while I was reading my copy of A Week in the Zone and trying to decide whether it was right for me, I thought a lot about commitment. . .

I once worked with a director, named Elaine Vaan Hogue, who gave a speech to the cast on the first day of rehearsals about commitment.  She acknowledged that as much as they wanted to be working actors, and as much as they wanted to be in that show (I think it might have been The Crucible), there is still a process of commitment we go through when we begin a project.  She said some of them might already find themselves fully committed.  Some of them might be experiencing full commitment at that moment - while she was talking, and for some of them, it might not happen until well into the run of the production.  She asked each cast member to choose a small, inexpensive item, and to present it to another member of the company on the day they finally felt they had committed.

That idea has stayed with me.  Before she said that, it had never occurred to me that a person could undertake something without being committed first.  Here was something new!  We can decide to do things with the full force of our abilities, but allow our commitment to come - in it's own good time.

The Zone Diet (my first actual diet regime beyond the smattering of diet-related thoughts that sifted out of 1980's TV commercials and talk shows) talks a lot about insulin and sugar.  It sounds obvious to me now, more than 10 years later, but at the time, my mind was blown!

Here's a typical day's worth of eating when I was a latch-key kid in middle school:
Breakfast - Fruit Loops, Sugar Smacks, or Apple Jacks with non-fat milk.
On the way to school - Hostess fruit pie or double pack of cinnamon rolls (my mother didn't know about this habit of mine)
Lunch - Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, small bag of chips, and a Twinkie or other Hostess dessert.
After School Snack - Another Twinkie (or other Hostess dessert), and/or spoon-fulls of peanut butter with chocolate chips mixed in, and/or hunks of pepperoni that I would cook until crispy in the oven, and/or flour tortillas with a stripe of peanut butter across them and rolled into burritos.
Dinner - Lowry's Seasonings Tacos, pizza (from Organ Stop Pizza - my favorite), or something from the barbecue.  I also loved hamburgers and french fries.  Mine was a single, working mother, so dinners had to be simple.

(Bear in mind that my mother was doing the best she could with what she had, and I turned out alright.  Also, I know I ate fruit and vegetables; I loved fruit especially.  I just can't remember eating them daily.)

Insulin and sugar!  I essentially spent my middle school years going from one sugar high to the next, and then I did the same in high school, but added a nice, sticky layer of guilt and weight gain on top.

So what Dr. Barry Sears was saying in The Zone Diet made sense to me: I needed to control my insulin levels by avoiding sugar and foods that turned into sugar once inside my body.  To do that, you spend a few days completely eliminating from your diet sweets, breads and pastas, etc. (which you can re-add later in moderation - or maybe I just made that part up).  And you eat a balance of 30 grams of carbohydrates, 20 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fat for three regular meals per day, and two small snacks.  Choose your food from a list of Zone "approved" protein, fat, and low-carb fruits and vegetables, and voila!  Magic weight loss.

This was unimaginable to me.  Okay, give up sugar, but GIVE UP BREAD?!

And yet, the reasoning made sense - to control your weight, you had to control your insulin levels.  I was without a better alternative...

I decided to try it.  For a week.  A week is finite.  A week let's you keep one foot out the door.

It took three days before I stopped thinking about bread and carbs all of the time.  But they weren't just casual thoughts like, "Oh, isn't bread nice?  I like bread."  No, my thoughts were more subversive.  They slithered into my mind like a snake.  "Oh!  Look!  Someone left this pita here... it would be a shame to see it go to waste."  Or, "You're an adult.  You're not beholden to anyone.  If you want to eat those M&M's, you can.  They're small.  It doesn't matter."  My thoughts tried to charm me away from my plans like a siren.

And then it occurred to me that I had a sugar addiction, and those thoughts - those insidious voices - were my addiction talking to me.  But my addiction was not me.  There could be a separation, a space between my addiction and my self.  My decisions could be my own.

It was in that moment I felt myself commit.

As I said in my previous post, one week turned into three weeks, which turned into three months, which turned into indefinitely.  I watched my body change, and I watched my addiction thinking come and go.  And come.  And go. . .  I began to feel less desperate about it.  I felt more accepting.

At my first wedding (in 2003), I was surrounded by food.  It was the Maine blueberry pie that un-did me.  That, and the fact that my then-wife had abandoned her own attempts with The Zone Diet.  I no longer had an in-house comrade and mirror.  She had a rebellious streak, and allowing herself to eat anything she wanted was like a big fuck-you to the diet industry, which she felt had raised her hopes and dashed them again her whole life.  I was angry about the abundance of pies and sugary food around me, and I secretly blamed her for her lack of support when I saw that my sugar addiction had come back.

With time, I grew to see that I could decide when to go through my withdrawals again and get things back under control.  It wasn't up to anyone else to facilitate my choices or to help me stick to them.  I stopped being angry, and I began to accept that this was the nature of my addiction.  Each time I let myself rekindle it, I knew I could also leave it by the wayside again.  All I needed was to truly commit.  "Forever" didn't matter.  "Now" mattered.

Yesterday morning, I read a thing by Russel Brand about addiction.  Death by sugar addiction won't come as quickly as it might for drug addicts, but a lot of the thinking we experience is just the same.

For me, knowing that I have an addiction to sugar, and allowing space for my relationship with sugar and my diet to change and grow (or fall backwards a bit) over time, makes all the difference along the way.  I haven't got it all worked out yet, but I'm making progress, and in a future post, I want to share some thoughts about the paleo diet and The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson.

Before I end for the day, I do want to say that one of the main things that makes all the difference for me is Cindy.  Cindy is one of those rare souls who loves working out.  She loves to move her body as much as I love to make things with my hands.  It is a source of her sanity, and it is inspiring for me to see.  And Cindy is game to try things (like The Clean Program cleanse we did last year), and having her to support and to be supported by is a gift and a joy.

Try and find yourself a Cindy.  You should.  But you can't have mine.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Check out the new Roof Railing Project Page!

If you've spoken to Cindy or me at any time over the past two years, you're likely to have gotten an update about our green roof project.  It's one of my three favorite things, and I get pretty worked up about it.  A big part of Project Happy Life for me is working with my hands and fixing up this house.  The things that I make are also a big part of my education and self expression.  The green roof railing project was a huge undertaking, and I hope you enjoy reading about how it came together.

Click here to have a look.  Or you can click on the page link on the left hand side of this web site.

If you're not into that sort of thing, here's a picture of Cindy trespassing in Hawaii:

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Melvin, Janie and Me: A Little Health History

This is Melvin today.
I first met Melvin and his sister Janie 17 years ago, when they were new, and I was 25 years old.  And we have a few things in common when it comes to our health.  Mainly, diet and alone time. Melvin and Janie spent their youth eating the best cat food I could buy for them: Iams dry whatever-flavor cat food.  I traveled a lot for my job, so I would leave them with giant bowls of water and cat food while I was away.  They seemed perfectly content with this system, and I couldn't afford or imagine anything better.  As time went on, Melvin and Janie got fat, but I couldn't really figure out why, since I was feeding them the best cat food in the grocery store.  Melvin is a big cat, and he carried his weight fairly well, but Janie is smaller, and she looked sort of like a basketball.

Janie in her Basketball phase.
Now, I was an only child of a single parent.  In my early childhood (pre-3rd Grade), we lived with my beloved grandmother and one of my cousins.  But before I started 3rd Grade, my grandmother and cousin moved to Salinas, California (to take care of my great-grandmother), and I stayed with my mother in Phoenix for the school year.  I went to Salinas every Summer when school was out, and my mom kept working in Phoenix.

So, like Melvin and Jane in their adolescence, I had a lot of alone time.  My mother left for work before I had to go to school, and she got home a few hours later than I did.  So after a few valiant-but-failed attempts on my mother's part to have someone watch me (as we both learned to cope with our new, smaller family), I convinced my mother that I was self-sufficient enough to get myself to school every morning, and let myself back into the house every afternoon.  And my mother stocked the freezer with PB&J sandwiches, chips, and twinkies, so I could assemble a little bagged lunch for myself every day, and I could have a snack when I got home.

But, just like Melvin and Jane, I got fat.  I'm lucky enough to be sort of lanky (for a girl), so I carried my weight fairly well, like Melvin, but if I was a bit shorter, I could easily have been in the basketball category, like Janie.  Anyway, this was me around 180 pounds in April of 2001.

I have this distinct memory during that era, when I was living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, sitting on my toilet with the sun streaming in (which is the horribly perfect moment to assess what has become of one's thighs) and thinking, "I could just get really fat.  It would be easy."  I could forget all my guilt and shame that comes with my weight just accept it, let it get really bad, and be a fat person.

A few months earlier, I had gotten word that my father, a man I had never met in person and only spoken to on the phone a handful of times, had died.  And his large Mormon family started reaching out to me (another story for another day).  One of the things I learned from those aunts and uncles about my father's family was that of his parents' nine children, there were only 5 left (I think there are 4 or fewer now).  There was a huge problem with diabetes in the family, it was what ultimately killed my father, and it was likely a major factor behind the deaths of his siblings.

Well, if that isn't enough to scare the shit out of a girl, I don't know what is.  But, I was scared, fat, and frankly, sort of paralyzed - not knowing what to do.

Around that same time, I got set up with a primary care physician here in New York City, and on my first exam, she suggested I needed to "trim down".  And she recommended I visit a place called Haelth on Broadway and Houston.  We had a convergence of themes.  I decided to pick up what the universe was laying down.

Two interesting side notes about that: first, I worked one flight up from Haelth in the same building in Manhattan, so it wasn't hard for me to find.  And two, I discovered later that that's one of the places Morgan Spurlock went to get checked out in Supersize Me.

The kind nutritionist at Haelth suggested I try The Zone Diet.  Now, if you ignore the fact that I was still suffering from a fear of hair salons in the photo above, I'm on the more masculine spectrum, and I'd never done the Cosmo Magazine, lipstick-wearing "diet" thing before.  But fear of an early death is an excellent motivator.  So feeling confident about my ability to commit to a full (7 days, mind you - not 5) WEEK of giving it a try, I bought A Week in the Zone, and followed the instructions to the letter.

One week turned into 3 weeks, which turned into for-as-long-as-I-could-go-until-there-was-a-good-excuse-to-eat-an-abundance-of-pie (or whatever).  And I've been down as much as 50 pounds, but usually around 30 pounds from my high (pictured above) ever since.

It isn't as easy as a neat little story summed up with a two-sentence paragraph, though.  As I go along, I'm learning a whole lot about health, addiction (raise your hand if you have a sugar/glucose addiction problem like me), and our food system.  In coming posts, I'll have much more to say about all of that.

Oh, and lest you think that Janie is still looking like a basketball, after switching to an all-protein cat food (which is what cats are built to eat), both Melvin and Jane are looking good.
Janie today.