Wednesday, December 29, 2010

the candy diet

I was resigned to either staying the same over the holidaze or even gaining a few pounds. I've kind of been watching my calories, but also nibbling frequently on fudge, sesame snaps, and pine nut brittle.

So it's been amusing/the flip side of frustrating to watch the scale in the mornings and watch the pounds peel off. About 4 of them in the past 10 days. The only time I've lost weight faster is when I've been seriously ill.

It must be the candy. :)

Seriously, though, maybe it is the candy. A serving of hard candy probably has fewer calories than cookies or bread, with a satisfyingly sweet taste that doesn't leave me craving more. Unlike, say, french fries, which keep poking me until I eat another one.

In all honesty, it might simply be that I've been running at top speed most of these ten days. Perhaps I've been burning more calories than usual and perhaps I've simply been too busy to eat.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pine Nut Brittle

This is my invented recipe of the year.

This Pine Nut Brittle was a big hit at our Quaker Meeting Christmas Eve gathering.

Preliminary (heretical) thoughts about candy-making:

Ditch the thermometer. Any candy syrup goes through predictable stages: thread, soft ball (fudge), firm ball (caramel), hard ball (nougat), soft crack (taffy), hard crack (hard candies), and burnt. These stages are best evaluated by dripping a small amount of the syrup in ice water, gathering the syrup into a ball, and then testing/tasting the ball.

Start the testing process a little before you think the syrup is ready and continue at frequent intervals until the candy is just right. When it's just right, turn the heat off immediately (candy syrup seems to go through actual phase changes, and the next one can be lightning quick) and do the follow-up processing right then.

For this reason, it's good to have everything set for candy-making before you start. Get your ice water ready, have a set of clean spoons for testing, have the pan the candy will set up in prepared, and have any last minute ingredients measured and ready to pour in.

Once you get the hang of the syrup stages, candy-making is really really easy.

Pine Nut Brittle

1/4 cup honey
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

sprinkle of sea salt
1 1/3 cup pine nuts
2 teaspoons basil

Roast pine nuts and chop fine, until they're about the size of sesame seeds. When cool, toss with the basil and sea salt.

Line a jelly roll pan with foil and spray lightly with vegetable oil.

Fill a 2-cup pitcher with ice and add water to fill. Get out a small bowl and set next to the pitcher.

Combine first four ingredients in a saucepan. Heat to dissolve sugar and then bring to a boil. Cook 15-20 minutes until mixture is at hard crack stage. To test for doneness, pour ice water into the small bowl and drop in a small bit of the syrup. When done, syrup will crackle on hitting the water, and the candy will be crisp and crunchy, no longer chewy at all but not yet burnt.

Mix in pine nut mixture and spread immediately in jelly roll pan, smoothing to edges of pan.

Allow to cool slightly (very slightly) and score into small pieces (less than an inch on a side) with a greased knife or pizza cutter. Allow to cool completely and break pieces apart with your hands. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Garry and I were shopping in downtown Santa Cruz today. I was feeling Christmassy, so I put on a green mini-dress, red tights, and some long black socks with cherries on them. Also a red-and-blue scarf, green jingle bell earrings, and a red coat with a hood.

So we shopped for a while and then split up to do some private shopping. As I was coming back to meet Garry, a scruffy bearded guy stopped me to tell me I'd won the Best-Dressed Award, and he really digs leg warmers.

Only in Santa Cruz can a woman win a best-dressed award from a homeless guy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Small Miracles

15 years ago last November, I was feeling good, fooling around on rollerblades, showing off my newfound ability to skate backwards. I stumbled, fell, and dislocated my femur.

I walked around with my leg out of my hip joint for about three days before visiting my chiropractor and asking her to pop it back in place for me.

For the next 10 years, my hip didn't heal. The leg felt loose in the joint and the center of the joint felt spongy and inflamed. I walked with a limp. The instability in the hip joint spread to the tailbone and lower back. I was able to manage the pain and disability, but not to recover from it.

I had two sons during those 10 years. In 2005, my then-almost-6-year-old accepted my disability as a fact of life. He'd never known me when I wasn't careful of my body. He'd never seen me run or rollerblade or do any of the physically active things that I still felt were a part of me.

I tried all sorts of things to heal my body during those 10 years. I exercised as I could, exercises to strengthen the muscles and realign the hip area. The pain waxed and waned but never really left me.

Finally, I ended up in the office of a naturopath, Bobbi Spurr. After our intake interview, she said that my body was constantly fighting a losing battle. She recommended that I go through extensive testing for food allergies.

$1200 dollars later, I was presented with a list of the foods I was allergic to. The list was extensive: all dairy, eggs, most beans (including green beans), corn, almonds, soy. I cut the problem foods from my diet.

Within two weeks, my health changed dramatically. The pain in my hip left me, the rash on my face went away. I felt decades younger. I had energy and felt really good for the first time in 10 years.

It's been 5 years since Bobbi Spurr gave me that list of my food allergies. In that time, I've reclaimed my healthy body. I've worked off 80 pounds. I've lifted weights and danced myself to close to the best condition I've ever been in. I look and feel great.

It's a small miracle, the transformation of Heather Madrone from a disabled, obese woman to the springy, energetic, toned person I am today. A small miracle, taken one bite at a time.

Food runs my life. Every day, I need to avoid even trace amounts of the foods I am allergic to. When I don't successfully manage to avoid them, my symptoms return for a few weeks. I also have to manage my calories closely to keep my weight in line. It's a job every single day.

An ongoing miracle. A work in progress.

People tell me they could never change their diets as radically as I did. It is a nuisance, but I am grateful every day that I know enough to have the choice. I can eat right for my body and be well or I can eat carelessly and live with chronic pain and disability.

It doesn't feel like a choice to me. It's a blessing to know at last what I need to do to keep my body well. I'm grateful every time I can dance. I'm grateful every time I move without pain. I'm grateful when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I'm grateful when I look down at my body while I'm sunbathing. I'm grateful when my husband holds me in his arms.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I'm Just Here for the Sho-oes

These shoes went dancing last night.

They took me with them.

They dance divinely -- really smooth action on the dance floor.

They're Latin dance heels with suede soles. They hold my heel firmly in place and both grip and glide beautifully across the dance floor.

I tried some moves. The shoes handled them so gracefully that I tried some more moves.

I saw eyes on me, and the words of Paula Abdul's song Here for the Music came to mind:

A bit modified:

I'm just here for my sho-oes
I really didn't mean to turn you on
And though I kinda like the way you move it
I've already got someone
Here to take me home.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Roll-Your-Own Technology

I've been reading about the Apple iPad with the mix of skepticism and interest that is my usual response to hot new technologies. Time, not I, will tell how this one pans out.

I'm a reluctant Apple fan girl. Back in the early days of the Mac, I hated its closed architecture and expensive, exclusive hardware. The PC seemed a much more open, flexible platform at the time. If I had to pick a monopoly wannabe to back, I wanted to back the one that gave me more freedom.

As Microsoft tightened its stranglehold on Windows systems (and also totally failed to get the whole Internet thing), I got more uneasy. I jumped to the Mac with 10.2, largely because of the BSD Unix under the hood of OSX.

By and large, I love the Mac. It's stable and easy to use and lets me tinker in the shell when I want to.

I'm not so thrilled with the iPod and the iPhone, however. They signal a return to the old closed-architecture, vertical-monopoly game that I so distrusted in the initial run of the Mac. I don't want to be locked into a gadget that I can't use as I like. I don't want to have to ask permission from the manufacturer to use my gadgets as I please. That just rubs me the wrong way.

I still don't own a cell phone. In January, I decided that I needed a mobile communications device of some sort. After some research, I decided to get an ASUS EeePC. It came with Windows 7, but I soon replaced that with the netbook remix of Ubuntu.

Linux has come a long way, babies.

I am positively delighted with the netbook. I named it ipso-facto because it is ipso-facto a computer, I call it by any of a number of diminutives including ipsy, cutie, and ipsy-doodle. It does most things well, and, to my astonishment, ipsy combined with Python have made programming fun for me again.

When the iPad splash started, I wondered if I'd jumped too soon. Early hype suggested that the iPad would prove to be a netbook-killer, that the masses would go for touch screens over keyboards and a closed architecture over open source that really works.

In my mind, the battle lines were drawn: ipsy-doodle or the iPad? Squinting down the line, the sides look familiar. On one side, I see content providers, copyright holders, broadcast media, centralization, homogenization, industrialization, passive consumption, and captive eyes for advertisements and propaganda. On the other side I see content creators, communicators, amateurs, many-to-many communication, decentralization, diversity, do-it-yourselfness, active participation, new ideas, and personal responsibility.

What are computers for? What is the Internet for?

Since very early days, this technology I love so much, that I have spent so much of my life working on and using, has meant very different things to different people. It's both the latest opiate of the masses and also the key to unlock the chains that bind us.

The iPad is another seductive move by the Powers-that-Would-Drug-Us-Into-Senseless-Consumption. The purpose of the Internet is to sit back, relax, let them do the driving for us, and buy more. Those of us who like to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps will find precious little to hang onto in the iPad.

My children spend a lot of time online. I was listening to another talk about how she doesn't like her children to spend much time online. I wondered why it doesn't bother me that my children are online so much. As she outlined the things that her children do online, I realized the essential difference in what our children were doing. Her children are gaming and clicking on links. My children do that, too, but they also use do a fair amount of content creation. They're writing, drawing, editing photos, communicating with people, designing games, and working on collaborative projects.

The free Internet is an idea that has never really existed in the virtual world, but a lot of us found freedom in the cracks around the online frontier. A small, dedicated band of pioneers has always tried to widen those cracks, to turn this space created by the US military into a global commons where ideas can flow freely. We emerged from the halls of academia and the military and high tech, blinked at this new world around us, and claimed it in the name of freedom.

What a strange alchemy that was and is, and how amazing when it actually works.

So the iPad comes out, makes a strong move for the buttoned-down, proprietary, broadcast side of the equation. It has apps you can buy and content you can rent, and no way to open the thing and get at its guts. Someone will jailbreak it, and soon. Apple will either relax its strictures and make it more open or fight to expand its control over the device and the lives of those who use it.

Meanwhile, I will be typing on my little EeePC, trying to make the world a little more free, a little less controlled, a little more open. One keystroke at a time.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Inside and Out

I've discovered that I'm as pink, healthy, and beautiful inside as I am on the outside.

I'm not sure it was worth having a 5-foot probe stuck up my butt in order to find this out, however.

I'm at the age, however, where colonoscopy is a regular part of medical care.

“Have it done this year,” advised my doctor, “That way, you won't have to have another one for ten years.”

Um, yeah, okay. I made an appointment back in January and pretty much forgot about it.

The prep was not a lot of fun, although I admired the way the drugs brought on a mild bout of dysentery that cleaned me out without much discomfort. Drinking the cleaning solution chilled me clear through, as if I were drinking a refrigerant.

I don't like pain meds. I don't like the way they make me feel, not just during the time when they're supposed to work, but also for the next several days. I don't like the feeling of being numbed. I don't like feeling woozy and disconnected.

Pain meds, I learned during my first pregnancy, can interfere with labor. They take weeks to clear out of the newborn's system. As a breastfeeding counselor, the difference between drugged and undrugged babies is striking. A normal newborn, whose mother received no pain meds during labor, is active and alert. A baby whose mom had pain meds is in infant la-la land, not quite in her body, not really paying attention to the hard work a newborn needs to do.

After giving birth naturally, I looked at drugs with a different eye. What do these medications do? Are they actually fixing something or are they merely masking symptoms? If they're masking symptoms, what else are they doing? Are they making things better or worse?

In a lot of cases, I decided, the drugs actually make things worse. Suppressing fever, for example, can lead to a longer bout of illness and more secondary infections. Antihistamines and decongestants can also lead to secondary infections. It's better, I think, to use such drugs sparingly and to focus on supporting the body so it can do its healing.

While breastfeeding, I started having my teeth drilled without being numbed. To my amazement, I discovered that having cavities filled isn't all that painful. (My dentist deserves a lot of credit for this; she's slow and gentle and careful.) In many cases, it's a toss-up whether the pain from the injection is worse than the pain from the drilling. Even when the fillings are a little deeper, the pain is often manageable and is a clear win over being numb for several hours.

When I told the gastroenterologist that I didn't want pain meds, he was skeptical. I told him I'd given birth four times without pain meds, and that a colonoscopy couldn't possibly be worse than transition. He wasn't convinced until I told him I had my teeth drilled without meds, and even then he wanted to be sure I had an IV in so they could drug me if I changed my mind.

I knew then that I'd have to stay focused to keep from having drugs slipped to me. I told everyone that I wanted no pain meds and I wrote the refusal on my consent form. Everyone asked me why I didn't want the pain meds. I tried to explain, but I don't think they understood.

I don't think pain is all that important. There are other things, like having a clear mind, that matter more to me.

My body, my science experiment.

Okay, so they have me in there, on my side, with an IV in my right arm, a blood pressure cuff on my left arm, a pulse monitor on my finger, and a saturation monitor on my chest. I felt like a real patient then. All the gadgets seemed like overkill to me. I'd had my babies without them; the midwives had looked at me to see how I was doing, not at a bunch of monitors.

I flashed on my eldest when she was hospitalized as a newborn, how the nurses spent all their time focused on the monitors instead of on the babies. I remembered my dad's repeated hospitalizations during his long bout with cancer, how often it seemed like he was lost in the machines and monitors, held under by the sea of drugs they kept feeding him.

I am so not ready for being a patient. I have spent my entire adult life avoiding anything resembling this.

The gastroenterologist and his two nurses (both men) are so not ready for an undrugged patient whose experience of medical care is primarily with homebirth midwives.

The gastroenterologist switches on the video monitor in front of me, giving me a fetching view of my curvy, creamy ass. I'm startled by this at first, at the same time interested to see my body at an angle ordinarily reserved for my husband. I'm irrelevantly grateful for all the dancing I do. If my ass is going to be featured on a video monitor, I'm glad that it looks good. I briefly imagine what it would be like to see a flabby or pimply ass on that screen and know it was yours.

The probe goes in the first bit painlessly. I'm startled again, seeing that the inside of the rectum is not what I imagined.

“Oh, it looks like a mucus membrane.”

The doctor gives me a friendly enough “duh” response, remarking that mucus membranes are pretty much of a muchness. He points out the liver as we go by, and I ask about a couple of other internal organs that he can't identify.

The skin of the colon is thin and translucent, showing a delicate tracery of veins. Rather beautiful in its own way. Sometimes it's ribbed and arched, but mostly it's amazingly smooth and pink and pulsing and alive.

The switchbacks are wicked, though.

I would have been better able to focus if my body hadn't been having this visceral reaction to the probe.

“Just kick that guy,” my gut urged me, “and get that thing OUT OF HERE.”

Judging from the cramping in my abdomen, that was good advice. The colonoscopy wasn't too bad, for the most part, although it was definitely painful going around the bends. The hard part was controlling the visceral reaction, willing myself not to fight the probe, trying to keep my abdominal muscles from clamping down on the thing, trying not to give the biggest push I've ever given in my life to GET THAT FOREIGN OBJECT OUT OF ME.

After the first few bends, I wished I'd brought a doula. I asked the nurse who was monitoring my monitors to let me grab his hand during the worst bend. He said okay, but told me not to squeeze too hard or I'd interfere with the blood pressure cuff. I wondered briefly what drugs he was on, but remembered he was used to drugged patients and had no clue how to support a person through this.

I really appreciated how very much emotional support had helped during labor. It's wonderful to be told how well you're doing, how much progress you're making, that you can do this.

I didn't get that with the colonoscopy. The gastroenterologist repeatedly offered me drugs to ease his discomfort. (I was moaning low to try to control the urge to push the probe out. The nurse kept telling me to breathe and I controlled myself long enough not to tell him to stuff it. Really, I was admirable throughout the whole thing. I didn't kick anyone, threaten to stuff the probe up their butts, or snap at anyone. I didn't even make the scatological jokes that kept popping into my head.)

These guys were nice enough and they were trying, but they clearly had no clue about how to support someone through a colonoscopy without drugs. I didn't get any encouragement for hanging in there for a little longer. I didn't get any of the atta-girls that make it so much easier to bear the pain. They clearly thought I was foolish and stubborn to refuse the drugs, and I could tell that the gastroenterologist didn't like causing pain.

The gastroenterologist remarked that I had an especially twisty colon. It was at that point that I thought I ought to devote the next ten years of my life developing a robotic probe that could navigate the twists and turns by remote control instead of by almost-blind ramming against the obstacle of my body. I started imagining the little vehicle fondly, how it could take the hairpin turns slowly and easily and without causing the least bit of discomfort.

I imagined hanging out my shingle as a colonoscopy doula, someone who would help people through medical procedures like this without drugs. Someone who would do the work of supporting the patient emotionally.

No one offered me drugs during labor. When the colonoscopy probe was almost all the way in me, the doctor offered me drugs again. He seemed almost desperate to have me accept. I felt a wave of pure hatred at that moment. We were almost done; there was no point in doing drugs now. It was a tough bend, but surely we could get around it.

It was a painful bend. A short while later, I was moaning and writhing and trying to get myself together.

“Okay,” I said, meaning “Okay, I've got to get myself together here.”

It was the kind of “okay” that midwives and my husband understand as meaning “I'm just getting my focus back here, and then I'll be good for the next section.”

The gastroenterologist, however, seemed a little unhinged by it.

“Okay, WHAT?” he demanded a little wildly, “Okay you want drugs?”

I don't remember what I said, but I managed to communicate that no, I didn't want drugs, and let's just get this over with, shall we? I am quite certain I didn't call him any mean names, either, although I was plenty annoyed with him right then. Why did he keep offering me drugs when he knew I didn't want them? That struck me as disrespectful, and the last thing you need when some guy has a 5-foot probe up your butt is for him to treat you disrespectfully.

A short while later, we were at the cecum. The gastroenterologist told me it would be easier on the way out (and my gut informed me that we could make the trip out really fast if I just gave the word). I had kind of figured that, and was able to relax and enjoy the view on the monitor.

All along, I felt kind of bad for the gastroenterologist and his nurses. They were doing their job, and they were doing their best, and here I was, an intractable patient refusing the drugs they were offering me for my own comfort. Instead, I was choosing the pain, and inflicting it on them, and for what?

So I could be clear-headed for the rest of the day, and the following weekend. So I could spend the afternoon and evening working on my open-source project, totally focused on coding and debugging. So I could be in my body during the colonoscopy. So I could feel what was happening. So I wouldn't be cut off or disconnected from my own experience.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Cleaning Bites Back

A friend of mine showed me her newly cleaned car. She'd accomplished the task while her children were at dance class.

My car rarely gets a deep cleaning. I never seem to get around to it.

spring sunshine
old parking vouchers litter
the dashboard

My children have piano lessons, a 2-hour window in which I can read or knit or work on my laptop. This week, armed with inspiration (also rags and a spray bottle of cleaning solution), I attacked the windows and washable sections of the interior. I swept the detritus off the dashboard, but couldn't quite reach the dead bee that has been riding with me for the past 4 years.

repeated arpeggios
a single dead bee faded
to sepia

I cleaned the outer windows, the driver's door, the dashboard, the steering wheel and instrument panel. My cleaning cloths were thick with dust. I leaned forward to wipe the windshield.

mozart sonata
the sudden blare
of a car horn

I jumped back. The horn kept blaring, so I tapped it to get it to stop. I leaned forward again, careful not to press against the steering wheel. The horn sounded again.

“Oh great,” I thought, “I'm interrupting their piano lesson.”

I walked around the car to attack the windshield from the passenger seat.

floating melody
the insistent monotone
from the horn

The horn was in its groove now. I'd tap the horn to get it to shut up, and three seconds later, it started singing again.

I was getting more and more agitated, knowing that the sound would be irritating to the pianists. I envisioned driving home with a blaring horn.

light spring clouds
no visible signs
of a fuse box

My son came out to see why I'd flipped out and was leaning on the car horn. I instructed him to stop the horn for me while I hunted for the fusebox. The horn had been blaring off and on for about 15 minutes by this time. With my son hitting the horn every 5 seconds or so to stop its incessant noise, I was able to do a more thorough search for the fuse box.

I knew I knew where the fuse box in this car was; I just didn't remember where it was.

Finally, the horn gave us a breather. I popped the hood and instructed my son to go forward and see if he could see any signs of where the fuse box had to be.

As soon as he went, I remembered. I popped the lid on the dash and regarded the fuse box, with one particular fuse helpfully labeled HORN.

hand on the fuse
the notes of stargazing clear
in the sunshine

I left the fuse in place and closed the fuse box. I finished cleaning out the interior of the car, no longer so enchanted with the idea of cleaning out the car during piano lessons.

deep sigh
at least the windows
are sparkling

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Weeks ago, I dreamed of a towering reef of black rock in the ocean, with waterfalls running down the sheer cliff facing the land.

When I woke up, I thought, "Waterfalls in the sea... what an odd notion."

Yesterday, we went for a walk on West Cliff in Santa Cruz. It was raining lightly, and the surf and tide were both high. Waves were breaking against and over tall black rocks with sheer cliffs facing the land.

Waterfalls flowed over the faces of the rocks and back into the ocean.

storm watch
waterfalls return the waves
to the sea