Friday, March 21, 2014

PHL Update Soup! March 2014

It's time for an update on how Cindy's and my Project Happy Life is going.

First, we've made two pacts:
1. No more watching videos during dinner!  We weren't quite prepared to give up watching news and political talk shows over breakfast, but making sure we're giving each other our full attention over dinner was an easy choice that is totally contributing to our happiness.

2. No more eating after 11pm.  As I wrote in my 40 Paleo Days and Nights post, Cindy and I have been eating according to Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint Paleo diet (we're up over 50 days now).  While we feel great - clearer heads, clearer skin, no more blood sugar spikes and crashes, etc - we weren't really losing any weight, which we'd both like to do.  I've been a little anxious about this pact - fearing that if I ate my dinner too early, I would end up going to bed hungry, which would make me miserable all night.  However, something about eliminating processed food and foods that are high on the glycemic index has really muted my hunger.  If anything, I've felt slightly empty when going to bed (rather than stuffed full, which was my habit), but not at all uncomfortable.  After instituting this rule over a week ago, and without changing anything else, our weight has started going down.

And now, here's a braggy photo of how well the orchid I found on top of a trash pile outside a hotel in Manhattan is doing.  Four blossoms, and 3 buds.  I think it likes this window.

Beyond the two pacts, we've really been working on The Spring Purge.  Getting rid of excess stuff is a key component in our Project Happy Life.  We have so much work that needs to be done on this house, so being able to see it more clearly (without the bones of the place being obscured by a bunch of clutter) helps us make design choices for furniture, kitchen cabinets, etc.  Also, it's easier to focus on finishing all the projects I have in process (aka started, but not finished) when the place isn't full of all this stuff in my way.  Re-wiring the house is a good example of this.  I'll have to make a post about that in the future.  But I'm also working on stripping the paint off the woodwork, the plaster needs to be repaired in many places, and the whole house needs a proper paint job... I could go on and on.

But, one loooooong project with which I'm almost finished is digitizing all of our tapes.  A few years ago, my mom finally forced me to take back all my cassette tapes from high school, which have been in big cassette drawers (remember those things?  With fake wood veneer?  You'd get them at the music store in the mall).  Those things take up a whole lot more physical space than they do computer space.

SO, in case you're interested, I'm finding great success with a nice used tape deck (bought from a street vendor in Brooklyn for $11).  I plugged it into the computer through a thing called iMic (which offers a line-in jack and theoretically provides a cleaner sound than the computer's built in line-in jack), and I captured the sound with the included Final Vinyl software.  Final Vinyl records each tape as one long track.  It has the ability to separate the track into individual songs, but I've found greater success doing that through Audacity (free audio editing software), and then exporting the music to iTunes.

Tape deck.  Remember these?

Meanwhile, Cindy is still hard at work at putting piles of DVD's we inherited into big binders in alphabetical order.  We're freeing up a lot of space by getting rid of the DVD cases, but doing so was a hard decision for us.  Those cases are designed to make the movies look good, and, well, they work!  Plain old disks simply don't look as interesting as big fancy boxes with pictures and quotes all over them.  So, we made a judgement call.  We're parting with the pretty boxes in favor of having more space in which to live our lives.

You might wonder what we're doing with those tape cassettes and empty DVD cases when we're done with them.  

Putting all of our stuff in the trash is not an option.

The DVD boxes are easy.  The ones that have printed cardboard covers get separated into the plastic and cardboard recycling bins for city pick-up.  The all-plastic DVD cases get given to a guy around the corner who uses them to sell other DVD's in.

The tape cassettes are easy, too, but we have to pay a little money to have them properly recycled.  A few years ago, I used for recycling a bunch of CD's and our old VHS collection (after I finished digitizing that too).  We'll use their service again.  The research I've done on Greendisk leads me to believe they are legitimately environmentally responsible in their recycling practices.  That's important, because there are a lot of charlatans out there who send their stuff overseas where there are no protections for the recycling workers or the local environment.

On this first day of Spring, I've probably said almost enough about The Spring Purge.  Here's a giant balloon bunny sculpture.  Enjoy.

In the lobby of the new building at Astor Place, NYC

P.S. Special thanks goes to our friends, Dave and Stephanie, for helping us haul a bunch of stuff into the city for give-away and recycling this morning.  They have a car.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Arnold Cabin Project Part 1: Love Letter to My Monterey Ancestors

I don't mean to brag, but my people come from Monterey County in California.  I may have been physically born in Phoenix, Arizona, but I really come from Monterey County too.  My mother, Kathleen Henning, and my Grandmother, Winifred Kincannon, were born in Salinas, CA.  My Great Grandmother, Anne Arnold, was born in Jamesburg, CA (which is more of a crossroads than a town now.  They don't even have a post office, but I know they once did).  I'm told my Great Grandmother's father, Henry Arnold, was the orphan son of a soldier in the Prussian Army.  He grew up to be a sailor, then a farmer, a stone mason... I suppose he could do whatever was needed.  He spent some time in San Francisco, where he met, wrote poetry to, and married the woman he loved, Sarah Church.  She had come to California with her parents and family by covered wagon.  

To my heart, no other genealogy matters.  

Beyond that, there is only need of the coffee-dark soil of Salinas, and the sun-dappled leaf-litter of Carmel Valley.  There is the sand of the beaches along Cannery Row at low tide.  There is the water in Carmel River.  There is the wind through the Live Oaks.  The screech of the blue jays. The smell of the Sycamore trees in the valley, the Chaparral sagebrush on the hills, and the flower-smoke-and-salt scented air by the ocean.

If this sounds hokey to you, you've never loved a place the way my heart loves Monterey.

And, so, I must admit, that one day, while taking a break at work, I got a tad wistful about the place.  Lamenting the fact that I never asked her, I decided to see if I could figure out where my Great Grandmother went to grammar school.  As I began poking around in image searches, I stumbled upon a Facebook page for The Hastings Natural History Reserve.  On it, there was a post about "The Arnold Cabin" with a few pictures and a mention that it needs a new roof.  

This was the cabin that Henry and Sarah Arnold built and raised their children in (one of them, my Great Grandmother).  And, like most everything else, it was on Facebook!  I could hardly contain my excitement.  

I reached out to the Reserve Director, Vincent, and he accepted my offer to repair the cabin roof!
Cindy and I made a trip out to California last year, and we arranged a day to go and see, photograph, and measure the cabin with Vincent.  I went back a second time with my dear friend, Dan, several weeks ago.

Now, I live in New York City.  Millions of other people live here, and I suppose a billion people have ever lived or passed through here... right?  Wouldn't you say a billion?  I don't know, it's just a guess.  Anyway, you can walk down almost any sidewalk, ride in nearly any subway car... you may know the history of this place or that, but most of the physical evidence of the minutia of our lives has been wiped away.  You can see no shadow of the place where a certain married couple first met on the corner.  The subway car carries no echo of the sound of the guys who came through and sang last night, let alone 20 years ago.  You may have the layers of 100 years of paint jobs on your moldings (which drive you mad with the need to strip them all off and start clean.  Well, maybe not you, but me.  Ahem.).  But you can not picture the people who put those layers of paint on the walls.  Those people are far removed from the marrow of your own life now...

However, this!  This is a rare opportunity to walk where my Great Grandmother walked as a child.  I have Christmas ornaments from her.  They were originally hung on a tree in this cabin!  I have her father's dictionary - the one from which he learned to speak English.  It used to be kept in this house.  The smells and sounds in the air here might have been the same as the ones my ancestors had experienced as they made the walk from the cabin to, say, the out house, for example.  These exact large trees might have been saplings as they witnessed my Nana playing nearby as a girl.  And they would have stood watching as she came and left that cabin for the last time - whether she knew it was her last or not.

I am a pig, and this is my sentimental, ancestral shit.

The Arnold Cabin. 
The living room.
Lory Henning - Generation Five

Friday, March 14, 2014

PHL Work Session: The Spring Purge

It's been a long winter, and like nearly everyone else in this big city, we've been busy.  I'm pretty opinionated about over-consumption, and we don't tend to buy a lot of stuff we don't need.  But we are a bit slow with getting rid of stuff when it is worn out or no longer necessary.

When a thing is going down hill, my first approach is always to try to fix it.  I sew patches on holes in my pants, I've taken apart and tinkered with almost every electronic device I've ever owned, I've re-caned chairs, and bought or made replacement parts for many of my power tools (which are almost all hand-me-downs).  For me, making attempts to repair things is a fun (and sometimes frustrating) challenge.  It gives me a way to learn how things work, it keeps things out of landfills, and it helps me treat my possessions with respect and care.

But, I've have a hard time learning when to give up and let go.  I suspect it's that little hitch in one's mind that turns into hoarding if you let yourself get carried away.  I shan't.  The older I get, the more I realize that life is short, and you don't want to spend time bogged down with things that don't make your life better.  Letting go of my emotional attachment to things (and learning how to avoid seeing my identity as interwoven with my possessions) is something I focus on in my Buddhist practice.  Whoops!  There's the tip of a whole different iceberg: Buddhism.

Let's go back to getting rid of surplus stuff.

Once I have determined to let something go, there's the question of what's the most responsible method of disposal?  I'm a reduce, reuse, recycle girl.  Cindy will tell you that I've got her thinking about that stuff now too.  A convert!

Anyway, if a thing still has some life left in it, and we've determined we simply don't need it, the best thing to do is to pass it along to someone else.  In the past, I've sold some things on ebay.  But that's a bit of a hassle for me (making the listings, tracking bids, answering questions, taking care of shipping... none of these things make my life better).  These days, I'm thinking I shouldn't be so keen to sell stuff.  The thought of going through the ebay process is so tedious in my mind's eye, I get lazy, and the get-rid-of pile starts growing.  Besides, shouldn't we give things away when we can afford to?

So this morning, Cindy and I had a PHL work session to purge our closets.  We're also getting rid of the vast majority of our reusable bags that seem to effortlessly pile up.  Does this happen to everyone, or just us enviro-hippie people?  It seems like someone is giving me or Cindy a new reusable bag almost every month.

Here's our pile of stuff to give away from this morning.

Don't be alarmed, I'm not giving away my bike panniers.  I've decided to take as much as I can carry to Housing Works in Manhattan on my way to work each day until I'm done, so those two bags are already packed for today.  Actually, to be more specific, the clothes are going to Housing Works, and the bags are going to the theatre where I work.  Our theatre's Green Team just hung some hooks by the door so that people can snag and return bags when they go out for lunch, etc.

While I'm on the subject of work and saving the environment, here's an article I wrote on the topic for  the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation's focus on Green Resources for Theatre Artist.  It has a lot of my thoughts on where things can be recycled when they're unfit for donation.

Getting rid of unnecessary things that are cluttering up our house is liberating.  After all, there's too much stuff in the world.  Cindy and I want to spend our time cooking and eating good food, doing our projects, and horsing around together.  We don't want to spend our time managing our stuff - cleaning it, organizing it, storing it...

Speaking of storage, it's amazing to me that so many of us spend so much money to keep a bunch of stuff we don't need in self-storage facilities.  Of course, some short-term stints in storage are useful and legitimate.  But so many people just leave their stuff there and pay their storage bill for months or years because they are either emotionally attached to owning that stuff, they're too lazy/busy to deal with their stuff, or both.  My personal recommendation is we should all get rid of that excess stuff and spend our money on things that make our lives better.  Don't you agree?

Check out this excellent New York Times article for all the gory details on the self-storage industry.

And if you need any more inspiration to do your own Project Happy Life Spring Purge, have a look at this fine video called The Story of Stuff.

Monday, March 10, 2014

40 Paleo Days and Nights

Yesterday marks Cindy's and my 40th day eating according to the Paleo Diet.  

Cindy's long-time friend, Beth, gave us this book after we'd joined her and another good friend, Jill, for dinner and breakfast.  Beth (and Jill, for that matter) is slender and apparently in good health, and she enthusiastically attributed both her health and weight to having cut grains out of her diet.  She'd read several books on the idea, and she gave us the one she thought was the best.  It's Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint.  You can see it there in this picture from our visit!

Beth, Jill, and Cindy

I tend to be pretty skeptical, and I'm not naturally quick to jump on the band wagon for things.  But, Cindy read the book, and she was keen to try its diet plan.  Everyone knows that if you're going to change the way you eat, it's miserable if your family doesn't change with you.  Besides, my weight slowly fluctuates by 10 or 15 pounds, and I can almost always stand to trim down a bit.  So I read the book next, and here we are.

I was sort of confused at first, because Mark (Cindy calls him by his first name, and she's got me doing it too - as if we're all friends!) doesn't just talk about diet.  He talks about 10 "Primal Blueprint Laws" that are supposed to at least point you in the direction of a healthier, happier  life than you might already have.  
Those laws are:
1. Eat Lots of Plants and Animals
2. Avoid Poisonous Things
3. Move Frequently at a Slow Pace
4. Lift Heavy Things
5. Sprint Once in a While
6. Get Adequate Sleep
7. Play
8. Get Adequate Sunlight
9. Avoid Stupid Mistakes
10. Use Your Brain

Mark goes into detail with at least one chapter per law.  I think the majority of them will be fairly obvious to most people.  But there are a couple of things that require further explanation for the purposes of this post.  #1 is obvious.  But #2 is slightly more nuanced.  It's obvious we should avoid things like poisonous snakes or, frankly, toxic people.  However, Mark makes the case that grains, processed foods, sugar, and legumes are also poisonous.  More on that in a minute.

Numbers 3, 4, and 5 all deal with exercise.  Personally, I can't stand working out for the sake of working out.  I'm happy to work.  I'm happy to ride my bike or run to get from one place to the other.  But Cindy, on the other hand, LOVES to work out.  She runs circles around Prospect Park, she happily takes 90 minute Bikram Yoga classes  several times each week, and she lifts weights for hours in the gym.

Mark's assertion is that we get ourselves trapped in insulin surge/crash cycles and weight gain with our high-carb, processed food-based diets.  So we either slow down and get far less exercise than we need (me), or we work out so much that we get more carb cravings, only to eat more high-carb food (Cindy).

The "primal" or "paleo" approach to this problem is to eliminate (or greatly reduce) foods that would not have been available to our Paleolithic, pre-agriculture ancestors.  The thinking is that our bodies have not evolved to handle the type and quantity of carbohydrates and chemicals we consume in the typical Western (a.k.a. American) diet.  So we will do much better by eating foods that are closer to what our ancestors ate.

The Primal Blueprint recommends turning the US FDA food pyramid on it's head (that thing is a joke, anyway), cutting way back on carbohydrates (but NOT eliminating them!), and adding more healthy fats into your diet.

Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid

Essentially, what Cindy and I have been doing is trying to keep our carbohydrate counts to between 50 and 100 grams per day, protein between 70 and 85 grams per day, and fill in any additional calories we need (whenever we're hungry) with fats like avocados, nuts, full-fat yogurt, etc.

For me, I've made no change to the amount of protein I eat from when I was on the Zone Diet years ago, but in the past year or so, I have cut back on soy significantly.  I mostly get my protein from eggs, yogurt, fish, and foul.  I've even discovered some delicious ostrich and pheasant at the farmer's market.  The only 4-legged animal I eat is the venison my mother gives us every year (Cindy adores pointing out,  "She shoots it with a bow and arrow!").  Cindy also eats pork, bison, and beef occasionally.

We'd previously been in the habit of eating very little processed food, and we've nearly eliminated it all now.  The only thing I can think of that I would consider processed is some frozen yogurt popsicles that Cindy likes.  I suppose you could make an argument that the dark chocolate we eat is also processed.  But that's not going to stop us from eating it, so you might as well shut your pie hole.

We're 40 days in, and you might be wondering how do we feel!?  Well, we feel great.  I notice that my neuropathy symptoms are basically non-existent.  I'm not getting energy slumps in the afternoon, and I'm not stressing about when the next time I'm going to eat will be, because the type of hungry I get doesn't make me crazy or hangry or desperate.  In fact, it feels like the kind of hungry I got when I was a kid, when I could ignore it or not, depending on how interesting things were at the moment.  This, for me, is a revelation.

That said, I do have a couple of things to which I haven't fully cottoned.  First, no legumes?!  The reason why Mark advises against them is because our Paleo ancestors wouldn't have been able to collect as many in the wild to make up a significant part of their diet, and because they are higher on the glycemic index.  I don't know how much I buy that.  I've never been a big bean-eater (they had the texture of tiny bags of chalk to me as a child), but they look so cute and harmless...  Besides, who can really say what our Paleolithic ancestors ate or didn't eat?  I'm sure they ate a lot of things; they lived in a lot of places in a lot of seasons, after all.

Second, bread.  Now bread is a slippery slope for me, because I love bread.  If I allow myself to eat as much bread as I want to, I find myself right back in the throws of my sugar addiction, and that's never a good thing.  After all, given my health history, if I don't play my cards right, there will be one piece of bread in my future that is the one piece of bread that finally turns me into a diabetic.  I would like to play my cards right.

But, Michael Pollan, food guru for us enviro-hippie liberals (and hopefully everyone else, too), made news by taking issue with Paleo. And, while I quibble with a couple of things he's quoted as saying in this article (the Paleo diet doesn't mean you have to eat your food raw, nor is it the Atkins Diet), I think his other points are valid and applicable to the conversation Cindy and I have about how we want to eat - particularly what he says about microbes.  

Although the fact that a person could live on bread alone does prove that there is nutritional value in grains, Cindy and I haven't stopped reading and investigating after The Primal Blueprint.  We're now on to a new book called Grain Brain, by Dr. David Perlmutter.

We're taking turns reading a few sections at a time to each other, and I love it.  We're about half-way though, and he has a lot to say about adding fat to your diet that jives well with Paleo.  I know confirmation bias is probably at work here, but I think there is a lot of value in knowing about the research described in this book.

One of the main things that hits home for me is the idea that the low-fat/high-carb American diet is not only contributing to (causing?) the huge rates of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer in this country, but it is also contributing to or causing strokes (one of which a dear friend recently suffered) and Alzheimer's Disease (which killed my beloved grandmother).  As we read our book together, I can't help thinking of all the people we may have lost due to misguided dietary choices.

Winifred Henning (1918-2005) and Lory Henning (1971-)
We're only half-way through the book, and according to this review, some of what I suspect are going to be Dr. Perlmutter's dietary restrictions in the second half of the book (including largely eliminating fruit from our diet) aren't appropriate for us.  I'll update you when we get to the end and discover how it turns out.

I'm also reading (not out loud) a really fascinating book by Jared Diamond called, The World Until Yesterday.  It's a comparison of tribal, hunter-gatherer and early agricultural societies with modern state societies from all sorts of perspectives (such as war, religion, language, conflict resolution, etc).  The next chapter is going to be about diet and nutrition, and I can't wait to see what this guy has to say about tribal societies' diets!

In the meanwhile, I sure hope Cindy and I are on the right path with our diet and education; I want to live to be 100 years old, so we've got to last for another 58 years at least.   

Oh, and one last thing.  If you're interested in learning more about Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint, you don't have to buy the book.  You can find everything you need to know on his excellent website.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lanikai Update, March 2014

In my second blog post, Skinnier, I spoke about the design process we'd been undertaking for a stage to be built at Lanikai Elementary School in Hawaii.  My friend Kat is essentially producing the project, and a couple of weeks ago, they had a fundraiser for the stage.

Honestly, I'm blown away.  I guess this means they really liked my design, and they really need a stage.  They even publicized the fundraiser in the newspaper!  See the bit under "Gala"?

Do you ever have moments when you discover yourself in a wonderful situation that you never expected?  Every once in a while, I'll wake up in the morning, without a hint of how my day will go, and by the evening I'm on a flight to Berlin, or something equally unexpected.  Finding myself helping Kat get this stage done for their school is just one of those wonderful things that makes me feel happy to be alive.  It's not the same amount of awesome as being married to Cindy, but it's the same quality of awesome.

The school managed to raise around $25,000 for the project.  It's ON, people!

 And if that wasn't exciting enough, it's the school's 50th anniversary!  Just look at their cute graphic!

As for the stage itself, I made a dimensioned layout plan and had a meeting with our volunteer structural engineer by phone.  His team is going to do foundation and framing drawings, which will be submitted for permits to build.  With his plans in hand, I'll plot out some pockets for removable railings, pipe and drape system, and a little plan for how and where to set up lighting truss (as needed).  
At the moment, we're waiting to set the build dates, for which the school has generously offered to fly me (and Cindy, if she's available) out.

And if all that wasn't enough to put a girl over the moon, just have a look at the school's fundraiser appeal.  Honestly.  It's heartening to see a school putting appropriate value on the arts.  They've even started a full-year Hawaiian Studies program for those little kids.  

Lanikai Elementary School Fundraiser appeal:
Last year we initiated a Special Appeal giving program – the solicitation of direct donations to fund a school need that would not get done without the additional monetary support.  Last year, we funded the transition from a part year, May Day focused Hawaiian Studies Program, to a full year, more integrated program.   This year’s special appeal will seek support for an outdoor stage and assembly area – a place where the school can perform, celebrate and inform as a whole community.  Other auction funds are targeted from classroom improvement and educational technology.
“. . . the arts have been an inseparable part of the human journey; indeed, we depend on the arts to carry us toward the fullness of our humanity. We value them for themselves, and because we do, we believe knowing and practicing them is fundamental to the healthy development of our children’s minds and spirits. That is why, in any civilization – ours included – the arts are inseparable from the very meaning of the term ‘education.’ We know from long experience that no one can claim to be truly educated who lacks basic knowledge and skills in the arts.” –National Standards for Arts Education
Parents and alumni know Lanikai School has a history of integrating visual and performing arts into the curriculum. This year monies raised through our Special Appeal will be used to build a stage, a facility Lanikai School has never had.  Presently we hold award ceremonies, assemblies, performances and May Day events on a grass field, sometimes renting a temporary stage. A permanent stage will save the school money and improve the quality of each event and performance.  The auction will also raise money for improvements to our classroom facilities and educational technology.  The only way we can attain these goals is with your help.
“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.” –Lyndon Johnson, on signing into existence the National Endowment on the Arts

Can you imagine seeing the kids dancing the hula or playing in a band on that stage under the Banyan Tree?  I can.