Friday, June 28, 2013

Eating is terrible for your health.

Sometimes it seems like nothing is safe to eat anymore.  Fat makes you fat.  Carbs make you fat.  Fruits are sugary.  Vegetables may be contaminated with pesticides and/or bacteria.  And protein?  According to The China Study, the wrong kind of protein (i.e. from animals) can leave you wide open to all sorts of nasty illness.

I'm only halfway through the book (and skimming it, rather than reading every word), but the basic premise is simple enough: animal protein is bad.  The author and all of his supporting evidence implicate animal protein in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and auto-immune disease.  The longest, most accusatory finger points towards cow's milk, but every form of animal protein is guilty by association.

My vegan sister is probably pretty pleased about all of this.

Of course, there is controversy.  For every study that says X, someone else publishes a study that says Not X.  A cynical person would accuse the dairy and meat food industries of paying for the opposing studies.  I must say, I am finding The China Study pretty darn convincing.

When I was in my early 20's, I followed a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet for 2 years.  Then I started showing signs of (my own diagnosis, therefore potentially wrong) protein deficiency.  Around that same time, I was advised to give up milk.  I figured if I wasn't getting enough protein with milk, I wouldn't do very well as a vegetarian without it, so I went back to eating meat (and subsequently did feel noticeably more energetic).

I was an omnivore-hold-the-dairy for 17 years.  Then I added dairy products back into my diet, just in the past year.  Interestingly, it was when I started eating dairy again that I started gaining weight.  Coincidence?  I mean, I did turn 40 recently.  Could be just my metabolism naturally slowing down. Except that my father's metabolism didn't slow down until he hit 60.  My mother?  Well, it's hard to say; she's never eaten very much, but she's certainly never been remotely chubby.

Up to a point, I was happy to gain weight.  I've always been an ectomorph, with arms the circumference of chicken toes.  It's nice to have a little meat on my bones.  My clothes look better.  My face looks younger.  I had to go out and buy all new pants recently, but hey, I like my new pants!

Then I reached a point where the new pants started to get tight.  I was like woah, hold on here!  I have a very small frame.  A few pounds makes the difference between a healthy weight and a poochy tummy.  I started counting calories.  The extra pounds came back off pretty easily, thank goodness.  But this whole calorie-restricted diet thing is not so much fun.  At least now I have an appreciation of what people on weight-loss diets go through.  It sucks.

The China Study says that if you eat a plant-and-whole-grain diet you'll be able to eat as much as you want, even more calories than before, without gaining weight.  Hmm, that sounds good.  It also said that women who eat a vegan diet have lower hormone levels (that's good) than the rest of us.  I will spare you the details, but there are certain Lady Changes that also started around the time I re-introduced dairy into my diet which I would be pleased to reverse.

So am I going to go full vegan?  Nope.  Am I going to reduce the proportion of animal protein in my diet?  Yup.  Am I going to finish that carton of ice cream in my freezer?  You betcha!  Am I going to buy more when it's gone?  Probably I'll go back to the soy substitutes.

How much would you be willing to change your diet to improve your health?  Would you go vegan?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wednesday with Bubbe

Bubbe's hair looks great.  For whatever reason she skipped her usual haircut date, and her pure white hair is longer than I've ever seen it, curling softly around the edges of her face.

I'm speaking of my paternal grandmother, Older Bubbe (97), as opposed to Younger Bubbe (93).  Younger Bubbe is the one who's not quite all there and recently had a patch of dental problems.  Older Bubbe is the one who still has all her marbles and is in the drama club, the book club, and the poetry club.

I hadn't seen Older Bubbe in a while, so I invited myself to dinner at her home, an assisted living facility.  (They provide her with housecleaning, basic health care, and two meals a day served in a common dining room.)  Dinner was served at 5:30 pm on the nose.  A friendly Pilipino lady wearing a striped apron brought us plates of sweet-and-sour chicken with fried rice and broccoli, and cups of extremely weak coffee.

There were three other white-haired ladies at the table, Frances, Elizabeth, and Patricia.  They were good company.  Patricia, in a lilting English accent, reminisced about the horse she used to ride when she was a girl, during the war.  Frances enquired about the latest elder-casualty, a resident who had fallen while adjusting the window-blinds in her apartment.  Elizabeth offered that this lady had fallen plunk onto her tailbone and was in a lot of pain.  Shortly thereafter the lady herself appeared with a walker, moving at a glacial pace.  The women at my table offered tut-tuts and other expressions of concern.  "I'm going slowly, but I'm still going," said the lady.

After dinner, Bubbe and I took a walk in the greenhouse.  It's a glassed-in room on the first floor of the building, full of plants, as one would expect.  Bobby, a shy cockatiel with rosy cheeks, chirped and sang for us, then ran and hid at the back of his cage when I approached.

(not Bobby)
In the course of investigating the variety of plants, I managed to get a cactus needle stuck in my finger.  It was my own stupid fault.  Bubbe offered a pair of tweezers, but they were too blunt to get the broken-off sharp tip out.  I spent the next two hours with the cactus sticker in my finger.
At 7:00, it was time for the evening's entertainment.  You think that seniors settle back in their recliners after dinner (which they probably call "supper") and fall asleep while watching Jeopardy?  Oh no.  These people are busy.  In fact, all of the ladies I ate dinner with were complaining of packed calendars and scheduling conflicts. 
Last night's special event was an extravaganza of Jewish song and folk dancing.  The singing was done by a choir composed of residents.  The dancing was done by a younger group that had come specially for the evening.  It was pretty good stuff.  The dancers even went through three costume changes.  You know they're taking it seriously when there are costume changes.
After the performance, we faced a traffic jam at the elevators.  When you have a hundred or so people with walkers (i.e. each walker person takes up the space of two or three non-walker people) trying to get upstairs via only two slow elevators (the third is out of service at the moment), you may as well take a seat because you're going to be waiting for 20 minutes. 
I was feeling antsy.  It was getting late.  I had been sitting for a long time, plus the Zionist undertones of the evening's presentation had made me uncomfortable.  I told my Bubbe that I was thinking of just running up the stairs, grabbing my hat and bag, and then coming back down to say goodbye to her while she was still waiting for the elevator.  That was when Bubbe decided that she wanted to come up the stairs with me.  Perhaps I should have point-blank refused.  But all I did was to look at her closely and ask "Are you sure?"  She said yes, let's go.
As we walked towards the stairwell she explained to me that strictly speaking residents weren't supposed to use the stairs, because of the danger of falling.  Then she told me she'd have to take the stairs one at a time because one of her knees wasn't working so well.  I positioned myself behind her with a firm grip on the handrail, just in case.  Well, I had my misgivings, but she managed to make it up all the way to the third floor.  Huzzah!  She was slightly winded, but not dangerously so, and felt very proud of herself.  She said twice:  "I didn't know I could do that!"
Once I was sure that Bubbe was okay, and not likely to keel over from a cardiac arrest the minute I walked out the door, I said my goodbyes and took my leave. 
Then I made my way home and finally got to pull that dang cactus sticker out of my hand.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Old clothes, not yours.

Are they "vintage"?  "Pre-loved"? Or are they "used"?

When I was growing up on a shoestring budget, I loved going to a local consignment store called Ex-Toggery.  It still exists, although it's gone a lot more upscale than it was in the '70's and '80's.  I still remember things that my mom bought me there: a pair of clogs, a poncho, a red-and-white checkered nightie.  She was much less likely to say "no" in that store than in any other.

When I was in University I expanded my thrift shopping to Goodwill, Value Village, garage sales, and the various weird, musty stores of Kensington Market.  My go-to outfit in 1993 was a pair of beat-up, used Levi's and a man's grey wool sweater with the cuffs rolled up into bulky donuts. 

I continued to shop in thrift stores all the way through to the time when I met Ken.  He decided that I needed a make-over.  He managed to communicate that in a way that was encouraging, rather than insulting.  So I let him take me shopping in "real" stores and I bought a lot of new clothes.  I built a new wardrobe.  I learned that I can get clothes that fit really well, instead of just approximately.  I wore this year's trendy fashions.  It did make me feel better about myself.

Now I feel that I've come full circle.  I'm now confident enough in myself and my fashion sense that I've started adding a few choice items from thrift stores into my wardrobe.  Why?  Not because of economic necessity.  Mostly because I enjoy the treasure hunt of shopping second-hand.  You never know what's hiding on the racks!  I picked up a pair of almost-new pants this winter that became my favourite weekend-wear for months.  I paid $6 for them. 

That's another thing: if I get tired of something I paid $6 for, I don't have to feel like I wasted good money.  I can get rid of it (probably throw it back in the donation bin) without a second thought.

Yes, the stores can be a bit depressing.  And sometimes there really are no treasures buried in with the stretched-out pullovers and corduroys that are bald on the bum.  I have to be in a particular kind of mood to enjoy the experience.  I no longer desire to shop in dimly-lit stores that smell funny; the store has to be clean, bright, and well-organized.  But the siren call of the thrift store still sings to me.

What about you?  Are you with me, or does the thought of wearing someone else's old clothes give you the cooties?

Friday, June 7, 2013

AC at the AGM

My condo board's annual general meeting was last week.  My husband and I try to be responsible homeowners, so one of us always attends.  This year I was lucky; my husband volunteered. The meetings aren't terrible, but after a day at work the last thing I want to do is rush off to another long meeting.

Our condo board is lead by a lovely Persian man.  He's somewhere in his 60's, and has a very sweet, grandfatherly personality.  He's soft-spoken but sensible, and he can be firm when it comes to keeping order in meetings.  Anytime I hear him speak I always have to fight an urge to run up and give him a big hug.  With him in charge, I feel our condo corporation is in good hands.  The other board members are also good people.

Our nemesis at these meetings is Barry Whatsisname, a.k.a. Mr. Paperclips.  We call him that because his questions are along the lines of "How many paperclips did the board of directors use for these handouts?  What is our price per unit on paperclips?  What is the budget for long-term paperclip refurbishment in the reserve fund?"  He's always got dozens of picky questions, and meetings always run right to the last allotted minute because of him.  Ken reports that he was in fine form, as usual.

The biggest issue on the table this year was air conditioning.  When our condos were constructed in 1996, customized AC units were built to accommodate the specific design of the complex.  They were meant to have a lifespan of 20 years.  17 years in, some of them are already failing, and depending on the layout of each unit, it's difficult to impossible to find a replacement.  The condo board is working with a technical company on a plan to have replacement units designed and installed en masse for all residents who wish to participate.  (Inexplicably, some residents don't seem to want to participate.  I guess they want to live without air conditioning?)  Anyway, you can bet your rubber duckie that I will be in on that deal.  We're just praying that our current unit lives to see its replacement installed.

The board also wants to install small roofs overhanging the entrances to the ground-floor units, on account of the enormous, heavy icicles that tend to form on the eaves four stories up.  On sunny winter days you risk being impaled through your skull by a three-foot long ice spear, if you use the outdoor walkways.  Up until now, the maintenance staff have dealt with the problem by riding around in a cherry-picker, whacking giant ice stalactites off the roof with a hammer.  This is great entertainment for the residents, but perhaps not an ideal solution.  Looks like the maintenance fees might be going up so that we can take steps against the chance of suffering "adult fontanelle".

Thanks, Ken for going to that meeting so that I didn't have to.  Now we're all up to date with condo life.