Wednesday, December 31, 2014

No Crazy Diets...But What's Crazy?

A "sensible diet" must be the one of the hardest things to figure out, even for a sensible person. There's always been conflicting advice, but with medical studies in respected journals being retracted and authorities admitting they were wrong about fat, and various laymen flip-flopping on dietary advice, we're living in confusing times. This post is to help readers sort it out for themselves.

First, what is "sensible," or more to the point, what is the truth? I think it's something that meets one or more of these criteria:

  • Something observable, directly or indirectly
  • Something that stands up to scrutiny (i.e., it's not a trick)
  • Something that fits with everything else you know
  • Something that can be used to reliably predict other things

Note that something sensible or truthful isn't necessarily balanced, it doesn't matter who does or doesn't believe in it, or how long it's been around. It's independent of all those things. Think of things that used to be common sense: creation myths, the sun going around the earth, illness due to "humors" being out of whack. Even though they were popular ideas, they didn't stand up to scrutiny, didn't fit with other facts that were discovered, and couldn't reliably predict things like eclipses* or reduced rates of illnesses. The truth wasn't "balanced" (the sun never goes around the earth, humors don't exist, and the myths were just that) and believing in the old ideas, even to the point of repeating them tirelessly and prosecuting skeptics, didn't make them so. As physicist Lawrence Krauss put it, "There are no authorities in science."

Why sort all this out--why not get a short-term diet that works? General observation is that once you go back to your old eating habits, you go back to your old health problems or weight--and then some. There are also diets that don't provide enough nourishment or can cause health problems, long-term. I was on such a diet once, and if I'd read the book with a more critical eye, I could have avoided GERD and a mouthful of cavities. Therefore, you need a diet you can live with and live on for the rest of your life.

So where do you go for facts about diet? Studies on diet abound, but many of them don't stand up to scrutiny (the researchers use tricks of design and statistics to get desired results, or they start out with unreliable data). If you don't know how to parse diet studies, don't bother with them.

Two sources of information come from groups who don't have any dog in the dietary fight: endocrinology textbooks and books on human evolution. For laymen, one the best books I know of on the subject of endocrinology is It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. (They do promote a particular diet.) I've fact-checked this book with endocrinology textbooks, and everything I looked at was accurate (see this and this). The Hartwigs also treat many clients with their diet--they observe what works and what fails.

A wonderful book on evolution is by Alan Walker and Pat Shipman, Wisdom of the Bones. Although it isn't specifically about diet, it describes, in places, how scientists know our ancient ancestors, from 2.5 million years ago on, ate meat as a significant part of their diet. Grains and dairy, of course, weren't eaten at that time since it was millions of years before agriculture began. In other words, humans adapted through evolution to eat a significant amount of meat, plus plants that could be eaten raw (and later on, starting perhaps 100,000 years ago, those that could be cooked).

In fairness, eating fatty meat and veg and avoiding dairy and grains probably doesn't fit with everything else you know. But what we "know" about diet has lately been the subject of scrutiny and exposed as bad science: statistical and methodological tricks, bad data, and out and out fraud in some cases. It isn't true or sensible, and it doesn't fit with what is sensible in endocrinology and human evolution.  Two books criticizing the science behind conventional dietary wisdom are Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes and The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz.

A very simple method you can use to figure out what's sensible is to use a blood glucose meter. You squeeze a drop of blood on a test strip and check your blood sugar before and one and two hours after meals. Even blood sugar (around 70-90) is good. High blood sugar is less good, and can be a sign of impending diabetes (blood sugar of over 200). Sustained blood sugar levels over 140 damage all the tissues in your body. Low blood sugar is uncomfortable, can make you cranky and hungry, and tends to be caused by eating too much carbohydrate: it can make your blood sugar go way up, then way down. Blood glucose meters sell for $10 and up at drugstores. No need for a prescription. And no need for authorities or detection of craziness or trickery.

*ETA: I've since read that some ancient astronomers could predict eclipses, but once the earth-round-the-sun model was adopted, the calculations became a lot simpler.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Megan Fox's "Audit" of the Field Museum's Evolving Earth Exhibit: A Review

Homeschooler and creationist Megan Fox (not the actress) recently "audited" the Evolving Earth Exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. "Audit" is a strong word: I work for real auditors (CPAs), who are highly educated experts in their subfields and concerned with accuracy (because they can be sued). When they don't know something, they look for the answer. They've also passed the long and difficult CPA exam administered by the State of Colorado. Megan Fox doesn't have the equivalent of any of these qualifications in the field of biology: what she's produced isn't an audit, but a silly video that I'm watching so you don't have to.

Megan Fox at the Field Museum. Image from via Google images.

Fox jumps right in with eukaryotes, which she doesn't know how to pronounce. The exhibit says that at first, all eukaryotes were single celled, and some are still single-celled, implying that others are not.   Fox says this means that eukaryotes have always been single-celled. No: it means some of them have changed. If they changed after becoming single-celled eukaryotes, they might have changed before that, too. The conclusions she draws from her faulty logic--that living things have always been made of eukaryotic cells--doesn't even follow her first premise: that eukaryotes have always been single-celled organisms.

Then Fox goes on an angry, confused, frustrated tirade about how angry and confused she is, and she doesn't want scientists to tell her they know how animals came to exist, because they don't know. At least she loves looking at the fossils--"real science," she calls them. Make a note of that.

The next exhibit discusses changes in the atmosphere 470 million years ago. "How do they know this? This sounds so stupid." Unfortunately, the exhibit did lack the footnotes to scholarly work that Fox was apparently looking for. Maybe the atmostphere just came into existence, Fox says. Maybe aliens did it. It reminds me of Judge Jerry Scheindlin's quip to defendants: "Maybe I did it."

The early plant exhibit draws just as much contempt, along with a demand for a videotape from 470 million years ago, proving that green algae and moss at shorelines were the first plants. Fox snorts at the plant fossils (which she called "real science" just a moment before) as proof of nothing. My layman's guess about the assertion that these were the first plants: algae and moss are very simple plants, and there were no fossils of other plants below the first algae and moss fossils.

Next up for attack is the exhibit stating that it took around 50 million years for plants to evolve from tiny, vascular things to leafy trees. Fox again laments the lack of a videotape from the era and wonders how scientists know it's not 40 or 60 million years ago--that they just want people to believe. Through the video, Fox, apparently a young earth creationist, goes on about the purported lack of evidence and appeal to faith without a hint of irony. The object of her contempt this time: an exhibit stating that plants evolved and that roots allowed plants to grow farther inland, along with an explanation of cladiograms, or branch drawings, to depict evolutionary changes.

Like any good young earth creationist, Fox trots out the gaps argument: where are the missing links between one life form and another that it evolved into? She asserts that every "missing link" found has been a hoax. In fact, many real "missing links" have been found, but there's the rub: every missing link creates more gaps. Let's say you have a fossil from 10 million years ago and another from 20 million years ago. There's a gap. If you find a fossil from 15 million years ago, you end up with two gaps of five million years each. But if you don't find a missing link--and you might not since living things usually decompose instead of fossilize, and things can happen to a fossil over the course of millions of years--there's just no proof that one thing evolved into another. Heads I win, tails you lose.

Moving on to early tetrapods, or animals with four feet, Fox says, "They want you to believe that the fins fell off and they grew feet. That's the dumbest theory I've ever heard in my whole life." It IS dumb and it's incorrect: fins evolved into feet--scientists aren't asserting they fell off. Fox compares this evolution to a Coke can: a Coke can can't fall from the sky with letters in a disarray and right itself. It's a version of the pocket watch argument, the problem with which is that non-living objects don't reproduce and therefore cannot evolve. Again, Fox wants to see the video. As much a I dislike smart-mouthed kids, I'd love seeing one ask her for the videotape of the six-day creation of the earth and all its life forms.

Next, Fox gets to the cool part: the dinosaurs, or dragons as she calls them. She knows they are dragons because one of her children told her so, and the skeletons look like drawings of dragons--artists of the 20th and 21st centuries knew what dragons looked like. Yes, they did. (And Harry Potter apparently belongs in the biography section of the library.) Fox asserts that humans and "dragons" lived alongside one another at one time, waving away the idea that long ago, people might have found dinosaur fossils and drew them and made up stories about them, while scientists performed carbon dating and observed that human fossils don't appear under dinosaur fossils. But no, scientists are covering up evidence (like the "dinosaur cave paintings" she saw in Creation magazine) because it would throw off the evolutionary timeline by hundreds of millions of years.

The argument of the gaps comes up again as Fox looks at the human ancestor exhibits. Of course, she's less impressed with fossil evidence here than she was earlier. Neanderthals are just stocky humans (like Eastern Europeans with those big brows). Maybe Leonid Brezhnev did have a little more Neanderthal DNA in him than most of us, but yes, Neanderthals are genetically distinct from Homo sapiens. 

Asking for evidence and wanting to know how something came to be known are great things--except when they're asked rhetorically with arrogance and deliberate ignorance. And it's amusing when the person asking obviously hasn't applied the same demands to their own pet ideas. A suggestion for readers: look at the video with the sound off. You'll get a free tour of an interesting exhibit.

ETA: Fox is not only stupid and annoying, but she's being sued for being a creepy stalker.

ETA 2: I've been informed that the exhibit is actually called "The Evolving Planet Exhibit." (In fact, it's simply called "Evolving Planet" according the Field Museum's web site.) I thought it was called "Evolving Earth Exhibit" because that's what Megan Fox used in the title of her video. This, from a woman who went on about "words matter[ing]." Did you know that the fact that there's a dinosaur named in honor of J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books (Dracorex hogwartsia) means that dinosaurs were dragons? Lest I be accused of any more inaccuracy, Dracorex doesn't literally mean the animal was a dragon. Dracorex is a genus of the pachycephalosauridae family (part of the dinosaur clade, of course). Pachycephalosaurus means "thick headed lizard." You can't make this stuff up.

After careful consideration, I've decided to leave the blog post title as is. It's more likely to be found in searches.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Gifts for Diabetics and Other Low-Carbers

Having been a low-carber for five years and having a mother with type 2 diabetes, a lot of gifts we get are thrown out: food and restaurant gift certificates, in particular. Almost anything that's labeled "Healthy" or "For diabetics," isn't. If the recipient of your gift is strict about their diet, gifts on the no-no list will end up re-gifted or in the trash. Here's some help in making a good choice.


  • Sweets. There's a reason they used to call it sugar diabetes: it's a disease of disregulated blood sugar. Sugary foods are out.
  • Starches. Starches are made of chains of glucose. The chains break apart in the digestive system, turning into glucose--a type of sugar. Bread, crackers, beans, noodles, potatoes, muffins, cornbread--no. 
  • Sugar-free or "for diabetics." "For diabetics" doesn't mean anything--literally. It should probably say "for diabetes," meaning enough of it, in the right person, will cause diabetes. Sugar-free foods can be loaded with carbohydrates, which raise blood sugar. Some products, like bread from Julian's Bakery, have been found to be deliberately mislabeled and are, in fact, high-carb foods.
  • Fruit. Fruit may be natural--so is radon--but it's full of sugar. Cross the fruit basket off your list.
  • Restaurant gift certificate. Maybe. Check the menu to make sure there's something they can eat: eggs or unbreaded meat for the entree. I once got a gift certificate from someone who said, "I don't know if there's anything you can eat there." And the place was at the opposite end of downtown from where I worked. Gee, thanks.
  • Diabetic cookbooks or magazines. These are full of high-carbohydrate recipes that can make you diabetic.
  • A donation to the American Diabetes Association. The ADA is largely funded by pharmaceutical companies that sell diabetes medications. These businesses have nothing to gain by reducing their customer base, which is why the ADA recommends eating a portion of starchy food (a quarter of a dinner plate) at every meal. That's more than enough to give diabetics blood sugar levels that, experienced day after day, are toxic and can lead to blindness and amputation. I'd sooner make a donation to Al Quaeda. 

Better Choices

  • Homemade low-carb goodies. Yes--but make sure they're actually low carb. An apple pie made with Splenda still has a flour crust and fruit. (Remember the part about starches and fruit being bad for blood sugar?) On the other hand, a pumpkin pie made with canned or fresh pumpkin (not "pumpkin pie filling"), Splenda, a nut crust and heavy cream or coconut milk instead of sweetened condensed milk should be low carb. For cookies, breads and pastries, get a recipe book like Cooking with Coconut Flour (and don't use any sugar, honey or maple syrup--use Splenda). You cannot swap regular flour with coconut flour or almond flour; you need a recipe written for those ingredients. A word about sweetness: someone who has been on a low-carb diet for a while has probably seen their taste for sweetness ratcheted down. I typically use half the sweetener called for in recipes, except when making cookies: baked goods need the whole amount for the texture. To get an idea of the right level of sweetness, eat a square of Dove dark chocolate. 
  • A low-carb food basket. A basket of smoked salmon, avocados, hard cheese, olives and nuts--ain't no way this will be regifted.
  • Wine. Maybe. A lot of us enjoy it, but it interferes with some common medications and blood sugar levels for some people. If you're not sure about it, find another gift.
  • Restaurant or coffee shop gift certificate. Again, maybe. Make sure it's a place they'll like to eat or drink and that it's convenient for them to get to. Places with the word "grill" in the name are best: there's something they can eat there and it's hard to screw up a hamburger. But I've seen it done! I've found that my taste sensitivity to everything has gone up, and bad food and coffee aren't merely bad, they're dreadful. Choose carefully.
  • Books and magazines. Low-carb enthusiasts are aware of all the new books out there. But for a newbie, Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution and Blood Sugar 101 are indispensable for diabetics. Dana Carpender has written many low-carb cookbooks with carbohydrate counts for the recipes. Long-term low-carbers are often avid readers--an e-reader or gift certificate to Amazon or Barnes and Noble might be a great gift.
  • Donation to Heifer International. The very poor often subsist on low-nutrient, high-carb, grain-based diets. Heifer International (fka The Heifer Project) provides needy people with livestock and training to care for the animals. The people they serve get the benefit of a more nutritious diet from the animals' milk, eggs and meat, more fertile land, and income from wool and extra food.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stress + Lack of Nutrients Led to Tooth Decay

It's been a stressful year: my father rapidly declined and died, and my mother ended up in the hospital and then in a nursing home for a while. While she was staying with me for a few weeks, a relative told the county I was starving and stealing from her. (Of course, the county determined this was a load of horse shit.) Lately, the same relative has been meddling in my mother's financial affairs, making messes as fast as I can clean them up.

From the time early this year when I was doing a lot of work on my parents' house (e.g., insulating their attic), I wasn't taking my vitamins regularly or eating liver and oily fish weekly. A few years before, I started what I called the cavity-healing diet to heal my teeth; surprisingly, it made my TMJ better.

Given my gum graft surgery last summer, I should have really been diligent about the diet, but I wasn't. I ended up with redness in the area of the graft, roaming TMJ, and the beginning of a cavity between two molars.

My new dentist (Dr. Michelangelo retired) said he liked my plan to take better care of myself and--get this--said he wanted to give the cavity time to remineralize. My last dentist said cavities couldn't do that. The dental hygienist recommended more brushing in the red area on my gums to get rid of the bad bacteria and using high-fluoride toothpaste on the cavity. She also said that stress hormones can affect your gums. Other than the small cavity and redness in one area, my teeth looked good.

This was a few weeks ago. The extra brushing helped within a few days--the gum graft area felt better and the redness went away. Paleolithic people--and even people with good teeth in Weston A. Price's day--may not have brushed, but people did get some cavities. Even Turkana Boy--from 1.8 million years ago--may have died of an abcessed tooth. And there was a Cro-Magnon skull with only one tooth; the others were lost, but the area healed. So eat low carb, nutritious foods, but brush your teeth, too. I use a Sonicare and let the brush do the work--no need to apply pressure.

I've gone back to eating oily fish (salmon patties) and liver every week, too. Result: no more TMJ. I thought that too much caffeine was causing my TMJ. It might not have helped it, but since going back to my old diet, coffee, tea and cold water don't bother my teeth or TMJ anymore.

I've been more diligent about taking my vitamins every day for about a couple of months now. I seemed to have burned through a lot of magnesium, since I have to take more of it now.

For daily inspiration to take care of myself, I started reading the Living Stingy blog. The author says people have a duty to take care of themselves; to get out of the car before your friend with a problem drives it off a cliff; that saving the world is the bailiwick of looneys. (Remember Lierre Kieth, who adopted a vegan diet to help save the planet and the animals, only to permanently damage her health? Her web site boasts of how many times she's been arrested.) I especially love his checklist for activists who want to save the day: "Does the day need saving? Are you really doing what is right for the community or just stroking your own ego? Do you have your own shit together?" (Come to think of it, a few nutrition bloggers would do well to consider the checklist, too, along with one or two busybody relatives.)

To that end, I've started telling the mess makers they need to help straighten out their own messes. Things had gotten to the point that I didn't have my own shit together: I was neglecting a diet I knew I should have been on, vitamins I knew I should have been taking, and ending up with the beginning of dental problems. Fortunately, it's probably early enough to turn things around.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Feeling Lousy after Thanksgiving? Tips to Make you Feel Better

Feeling stuffed, gassy or bloated? Got acid reflux? A few tips from someone who suffered from upper GI problems for years:

  • Go for a walk. Don't strain yourself--a leisurely stroll is fine. If your blood sugar is up, a little exercise can help lower it, and walking helps your GI system get things moving. 
  • Take an antacid if you have a sour taste in your mouth. If your throat is burning, mix a half teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and drink it. (This is also an antacid.) If this happens to you often, you should probably cut back on the carbs. 
  • If you're gassy, it'll just have to wear off. Again, though, if this happens often, eat fewer carbohydrates. Dietary fat doesn't produce gas, protein produces a little or no gas, but carbohydrates can produce a lot of gas. 

Why do so many people feel lousy after Thanksgiving dinner? Partly, it's from eating too much. But as I've written before, Thanksgiving is a carbohydrate orgy. Not everyone is suited to eating a lot of carbohydrates--we evolved on a diet where meat (not grains) played an important part (see this and this). For some people, too many carbs cause GI problems and wonky blood sugar.

What to do if you don't want to feel lousy and gain weight through the rest of the holidays? Get a book on low-carb diets, read it through, and follow it to the letter. My favorite is still Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution from 1972; the latest edition, though, is The New Atkins for a New You. Why do you need a book if you just need to cut back on carbs? Low-carb diets don't work with standard low-fat, low-salt, low-calorie diet advice. You need fat and salt (among other things) on low-carb--and you don't have to count calories. A good book by someone who treats patients can also help you troubleshoot problems.

What would you eat at a holiday meal? Any kind of poultry with the skin. Any other kind of meat with the drippings. Buttered green beans, olives, pickles, and celery with cream cheese. Coffee with heavy cream for dessert. If the meal is a joint effort or you're hosting it, there are many recipes out there for low-carb desserts and rolls. I've now enjoyed five low-carb Thanksgivings without acid reflux, a stomach ache, needing a nap, or leaving the table hungry, and without the carbage. I don't feel like I'm missing anything. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Inexpensive Grass-Fed Beef? Yes!

People tend to complain about the cost of grass-fed beef and other high quality food, but I recently bought aged, grass-fed Angus from Sun Prairie Beef in Yuma, Colorado for $3.60 a pound. The catch: it was the bits box.

The bits box--my order was for back ribs, cheek, tongue, shank and soup bones--has actually been a great deal. I've cooked everything but the soup bones, and it's all been better than supermarket beef. In fact, my new favorite cut is tongue--a favored part for hunter-gatherers and a delicacy in some cultures. I threw it in the pressure cooker for an hour with water, tamari and pepper and had a wonderful dinner an hour later. Just peel off the skin when it's done; it has the texture of meatloaf and tastes like a roast, but moister. I had leftovers, too: the tongue weighed 3.11 pounds. And it made the best beef broth I've ever had.

The cheek had a unique texture--the fat turned soft and creamy in the pressure cooker. It tasted a little gamey, but some vinegar and thyme improved the flavor. (Hat tip to Scandinavian Classics by Niklas Ekstedt.)

The shank tasted really beefy--not strong or gamey, just more flavorful: beefy beef. The ribs were great--it's hard to believe they were odd bits. I sprinkled both the shank and ribs with Worcestershire sauce and roasted them at 350 until they smelled done.

Liver and heart are also available for the bits box.

If you're in Colorado or a neighboring state, give the bits box a try if you're adventurous or need to save some money.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Girls: Eat a Steak!

One study after another over the past few years has shown low-carb, high fat diets to be good for correcting weight and lipids. Other studies have found iron deficiency is very common in women. So why do so many young women in the paleo community advise limiting red meat (high in iron) and animal fat and eating lots of vegetables instead?

They remind me of the Intelligent Design crowd: people who recognize intellectually that the creation story in Genesis is a myth, but emotionally aren't ready to abandon it or make waves with friends and family who still believe. Some of the authors say (credibly) that they have or had an eating disorder; others seem to want to keep on being nice girls who don't eat too much or too richly and don't want to lead others astray. At least, that's how it comes off to me, someone from a blue collar family who grew up in the 80s when priss was an insult and a lot of girls went to McDonald's for lunch.

What no nice paleo girl would eat--even if it didn't have corn oil or milk.
But given how many women are iron deficient and have bad skin--just look around--advice to limit red meat isn't helpful. I know what it's like to have both: seeing nothing but blemishes when you look in the mirror, and being in the prime of your life with the energy of an old woman. The answer is to eat some red meat (among other things). If you want to pull out all the stops, have some liver or pate (dairy-free if you have acne--there's a great recipe in Freakin' Fabulous by Clinton Kelly). Click to enlarge the picture--it shows 120% of the percent daily value of Vitamin A--which is great for your skin and the basis of some acne medications--and 25% of iron in just two ounces. It's also chock full of other vitamins and minerals that you won't get from a salad.

Animal fat is cheaper than "good" vegetable fat, too. I last paid $2.99 a pound for pastured lard--and $10 a pound for coconut oil and a buck apiece for avocados.

Lard is healthy: the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania saw practically no heart disease back when lard was their go-to fat. (Authorities chalked up the Roseto "paradox" to their close-knit community. Never mind that close-knit communities don't seem to help Indian reservations, or that one person's close-knit community is another person's town full of gossips and busybodies.) ETA: This doesn't mean that lard is protective--but given all the "paradoxes" of groups of people who eat high-fat diets and have low rates of heart disease, the diet-heart hypothesis isn't the slam-dunk it's made out to be. In any case, young women are unlikely to have a heart attack. And as recent studies have shown, high fat diets that aren't high in carbs won't make you fat--they'll help correct weight.

The evidence about the benefits of vegetables is mixed. 

Plant-based diets are often touted as healthy, and yet many plants contain clever protective chemicals, carefully crafted by evolutionary forces over millennia, to serve the needs of the plant, rather than to nourish the human body. Many of these compounds are potentially toxic to animal cells, and include naturally-occurring pesticides, mineral chelators, and antibiotics.

See this video by Dr. Georgia Ede.

Little Shop of Horrors? The Risks and Benefits of Eating Plants — Georgia Ede, M.D. from Ancestral Health Society on Vimeo.

Mixing low-fat and vegetarian myths with paleolithic science seems to have created the Reformed Church of Vegetarianism. It may be better than the old beliefs, but given the lack of nutrients and false foundation, it ain't science and it ain't optimal.

Monday, November 3, 2014

GMO Initiative, or Right to Know Colorado Law: More Paper Pushing, More Risk?

The owner and operator of Denver Urban Homesteading, a small farmers market where I shop, opposes the proposed food labeling law:
Obviously Denver Urban Homesteading and its farmers do not support the use of genetically modified food. And we support the concept of labeling. However, this law has no exception for small markets. We will have to follow the same rules as multi-billion dollar supermarket corporations what with labeling, keeping affidavits, etc. AND WE CANNOT DO IT! Anyone who has come into our market knows we operate on a shoestring, and we fear that the shoestring will break if we are forced to hire another person to make sure we comply with this law. Or maybe we should just give up the free Chicken Swaps, Honey Festival, etc. so I can spend my time labeling instead. Additionally, a violation is a criminal offense. That's a lot of risk for a husband-wife team. Those who have followed our travails know that we challenge government over raw milk issues, re-use of egg carton issues, and now (for the last four years) intellectual property issues, and we do it to benefit our customers and to benefit society. But this law will give a vengeful bureaucrat one more tool in his or her arsenal to use against us when our next challenge comes up. 

BTW, I have spoken to the owners of several small ethnic markets where we shop who are opposed to this law. Obamacare doesn't kick in until you have 50 employees, and the ADA until you have 15. But this initiative will require labeling by every blessed soul who sells food in this state. Maybe it is time to come up with a labeling law that will not crush the many small markets in this state, otherwise we risk driving markets like ours out of business leaving us to rely even more on giant supermarkets and big agriculture. My Russian wife, who was born and raised in the USSR, told me that even the Communists didn't try to regulate farmers markets. - James Bertini
ETA: the initiative failed by a wide margin.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Soothing Stimulants

Does "soothing stimulants" sound strange? It shouldn't--consider that ritalin and adderall (medications for attention deficit hyperactive disorder) are stimulants and that exercise can make you feel refreshed. And it works the other way, too: intense inactivity can be stressful. I've heard a few different people talk about breaking into tears on meditation retreats, along with many of their classmates.

I've had a stressful few weeks, and I've found for me, there's nothing like caffeine and heavy metal to make me feel better. And I've found a music player to replace iTunes (which won't let you put in metadata) and Amazon (slow and clunky) on my Mac: VLC. It imported all the files from both music players and lets you put in data like song titles, artists, genre and album titles. It's free, too. Now I can put in the metadata for all my Japanese heavy metal and rock that iTunes doesn't recognize and won't let me relabel.

Here's a bit of music from someone who probably loves Halloween:


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Not Only Cheaper, But Easier

A while back, I wrote about saving money on break time coffee and snacks. I haven't done very well putting it into practice. But a post by James Clear today got me thinking about it again: Warren Buffett uses a two-list system to prioritize things. Check it out--and follow the instructions.

Using Buffett's two-list system, two of the goals I ended up with were taking care of myself and saving $400 more per month than I already am. As I said, I've been wanting to save money, and the system made me really focus on this. I came up with 11 money-saving ideas, six of which had to do with food.

  • Buying hamburger in bulk. Ranch Foods Direct sells one-pound packages of 80% lean pastured ground beef in bundles of 20 for a lot less than Whole Foods. Sprouts only carries super-lean beef that's grass-fed, and it's more expensive, too. 
  • Not driving to Whole Foods. Whole Foods is out of my way, and saving a weekly trip saves gas.
  • Coffee at home, tea at work. Tea is free at work; so is the coffee, but it isn't very good. No more coffee shops unless it's a social situation.
  • Filtered water instead of mineral water. Bye-bye, San Pellegrino. 
  • Buying cases of diet soda instead of going to convenience stores. Yes, filtered water would be cheaper, but I don't want to give up soda. Hey, even Warren Buffett drinks them.
  • Homemade protein bars instead of Atkins. My biggest savings--those things are expensive!

What surprised me is that most of these measures will be less work: one trip to buy 20 pounds of meat, no trips to the coffee shop (unless I want to take my tea down there--it's an open, lobby-type area), no lugging bottles of water home. All that should more than make up for making protein bars.

Now for the savings (click for larger image):

That adds up to $1,788.72 per year. Putting that in a savings account for 10 years at 1% interest, you'd have $18,805.01 in 2024. Invest it in stocks, assuming 10% returns, and you'd have $30,536.90. (See this calculator.) Not bad for taking some steps that are, overall, time and effort savers.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Want a Magazine-Style Kitchen with Plenty of Room?

I have found the secret:

  1. Get rid of everything you don't need. Everything. Toaster? Brown your grain-free bread under the broiler. Countertop can opener? Use a hand-held model--get a battery-powered one if needed. Anything that cuts things? Use a knife. Anything you haven't used in a year? Get it out of there. 
  2. Put away everything you don't use daily. Containerized clutter is still clutter. Clean clutter is clutter. Clever clutter is clutter. Get it? A block of knives, a cutting board, a coffee pot, soap, and maybe a juicer or blender should be about all that's left on your counters. Cookbooks can stay, but likewise, clear out cookbooks you rarely use.
  3. Clean it up. Now that your kitchen is de-cluttered, this should be a snap. You know how it's harder to get ready to paint than it is to actually paint--because you have to paint around things? Same with cleaning: there's nothing hard about moving a paper towel or a soapy sponge  around. The hard part is getting the clutter out of the way, cleaning where the clutter was, cleaning the clutter, then putting the clutter back.

Think you don't have enough room to put all your stuff away? You don't need a big, country-style kitchen to get organized or cook fabulous meals:

Galley of the Orient Express. Image from
Galley of the Maharajas Express, where they make... like this. See more images at
Home cooks in Paris likewise turn out great meals with few gadgets and little space.

It's taken me 45 years to figure this out. Why don't cleaning and organizing gurus tell us this instead of, say, putting on shoes? You can't build an enterprise on advice like this. You can't sell containers if there isn't much to contain. And like a lot of good advice, it isn't easy to take. People would rather hear they can keep all their stuff, shop for more, and still have a place that looks like something out of a magazine.

When is a Farmer a Hunter-Gatherer?

When they're nomadic, even if they grow neolithic crops and have herds of sheep and goats. 

Truck drivers are nomadic, too. So were my parents in the early years of the marriage. Does that make them hunter-gatherers?

A word from someone who knows the difference between farmers and hunter-gatherers is here. Spoiler alert--the farmers had more tooth decay, iron deficiency and starvation than the hunters. Check out the pictures of skulls, tibias and teeth.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Feeling Good on Higher Protein

I normally gather information, analyze things and take measurements. Lately, though, things have been too hectic to go about life like a monk: a deadline at work and family issues that have been...bizarre. Let me know if you need material for a black comedy.

I've been eating on instinct, and instinct has led me to eating more protein and probably fewer calories than normal: mostly black coffee, diet Dr. Pepper (caffeine soothes me), bunless burgers, a little veg, a few egg rolls (they're comfort food), and a lot of Atkins bars. No fatty sauces--they just haven't sounded good, especially in the morning. Result: I'm down two belt holes on my rain coat from a few months ago and my shoes are slightly loose where they used to hurt my feet from being too tight.

Atkins induction made me feel weird for a while, and Body-for-Life made me feel great (in the beginning). BFL is much higher-protein than Atkins induction. I noticed back in my 20s that I felt a lot better when I had eggs or a protein shake for breakfast than when I had cereal. Even as a kid, fatty foods just didn't appeal to me. Higher protein and a bit less fat (but not low-fat) just seems to work better for me. I'm still going easy on the carbs--there are 50g of carb in two egg rolls, but I'm not eating them frequently.

I've been better about taking supplements than I was last summer. I got out of the habit of taking iron and ended up physically weak. Now that I'm back on track, I can lift boxes and furniture as well as the guys.

The point here isn't necessarily that everybody needs higher protein, but that shaking up your routine and eating on instinct, but not to the point of letting yourself go bananas, could be a good experiment to try something new.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

We're Having an Estate Sale

A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business. -Eric Hoffer

Let you in? Uh, no. Image from
You know how they say that criminals return to the scene of the crime? I thought it was a literary device until today. The relative who stole thousands of dollars of stuff from my mother's garage came back to take  some more, yell at the estate sale people and threaten to stop the sale (so she can steal everything in the house at her leisure, presumably). She was waiting there when Mom got there today because another relative posted Mom's itinerary on goddamn Facebook.

I generally don't like open letters, but I don't have many other ways of communicating with the people involved. So here's the deal:

Mom needs to have this sale. Not having it would be about a $10,000 loss for Mom. If anyone tries to stop it at this late date, it will result in Mom being successfully sued since she signed a contract and the estate sale people have put in two weeks' work to prepare for the sale. Mom might also have a hard time finding another estate sale company later: I can't imagine these people want anything more to do with our family and may tell their colleagues to avoid us. There aren't many companies in the Denver area that can handle an estate sale as large as this one. If we can't engage another company, most of Mom's stuff will end up at Goodwill--unless someone wants to store her stuff and wait for it to sell, piece by piece, on Craigslist. An important condition: you have to give the money to Mom. Any takers? 

Should anyone still think going to the house and causing a stink is a brilliant idea, let me share an email I sent to the estate sale company:

B----, as we discussed, ------- and her daughter ------- are not authorized to be at my mother's house at -----------------. They are not authorized to take anything from the property. There is nothing there that belongs to them or was promised to them. Please do not let them in the house. If they come and refuse to leave, please call the sheriff to report that they are trespassing. Contrary to ---------'s statement, I do have power of attorney for my mother and will forward a copy to you tonight. If you need to speak to my mother directly, she can be reached at my house at (number). Thank you for your cooperation and patience, and please extend apologies from me and my mother to your staff for ------- and ---------'s rudeness. -Lori Miller
Mom and other relatives may have bugaboos about clapping a family member in jail, but I don't, and B---- says he's thrown other people's family members out of estate sales before. He has my blessing to do it again.

UPDATE: If you were planning to take Mom to the house today, I appreciate the thought, but please feel free to make other plans.   

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mayhem and Foolishness

I can't keep up with the mayhem and foolishness.*

When my parents went to the hospital, I changed the locks on my parents' house because a certain family member hangs around sick and dying people like a vulture. Over the weekend, my mother let her in and said relative stole about $3,000 worth of belongings out of their garage. Oh, and this person has a key to Mom's storage unit. I urged Mom to call the sheriff, but she won't. It's out of my control and therefore not something I should get upset about.

I should have taken my nephew up on his offer to act as a watchdog while the known thief was at my mother's house. But like Mom, I didn't think she'd rob her blind. Going forward, she won't be admitted to my house if she dares to show her face there. And a CPA I work with recommended some estate lawyers to draw up a new will so Mom can exclude this person from her will. (The last attorney screwed up the powers of attorney so badly I had to redo them so the credit union would accept them.)

My mother and I are getting along well while she's staying with me. (Estate sale people are preparing for a large sale at her house, and she can't be there while they're working.) But the past few weeks have seen plenty of mayhem and foolishness. I think it's what led to my getting so sick recently and I'm setting some rules for myself about what I will and won't do.

  • I'll try to stop arguing.
  • I'll offer advice, but I won't get caught up in whether it's followed. 
  • I'll keep making accommodations for my mother since she's disabled.
  • I'll do what I can without running myself ragged.
  • I'll ask my mother to do more to protect herself, e.g., don't give her credit card number to solicitors.
  • I'll keep taking care of my mother's finances, as she's asked me to do.
Some of my inspiration for taking care of myself has come from a blog I just started following: Living Stingy. It's worth a read.

*"Mayhem and foolishness" is a phrase from Niecy Nash of Clean House. You might have also seen her on Reno 911.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Mom (to a family friend): What do I have to do to get a permit to carry a gun?
Me: Should I get a bulletproof vest?
Mom: If things keep going this way.

Don't worry--Mom was just kidding. Most Americans (us included) would rather sue than shoot each other. Still, I was surprised when a lawyer representing my mother called me today. My mother wanted to delay the estate sale by a month. But the estate sale company is set to start setting up the sale on Monday, and it's too late for them to fill in two weeks with another client. I told Mom the company would suffer damages and they could sue her. So the sale is (still) on.

Meantime, I came down with a bad cold yesterday. The room has stopped spinning and I've stopped shivering in a 77-degree house, but I'm still barking like a seal.

It'll all pass.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A New, Unexpected Chapter

Readers know my father passed on Monday. For friends and family members reading this, services will be at 11 AM Tuesday at Weston Lodge, 5718 S. Rapp Street, Littleton. If you wish, gifts in Dad's memory can be made to Bonfils Blood Center (Dad was a 50-gallon blood/plasma donor).

Back at my parents' home, things are still moving fast. It's no disrespect to my father--circumstances are driving it. Mom is living there again, feeling like she made a jailbreak from the nursing home. A month and a half ago, we didn't think she'd be able to live at home anymore--she was having dialysis and was so sick she still doesn't remember even going to the hospital. Yesterday, we went clothes shopping because she lost a lot of weight and needs something to wear to Dad's funeral. Today, when I mentioned (for the 20th time) that the estate sale people were going to start setting up the sale in a few weeks, she balked. (I'd set it up when I didn't think my parents were going to be back.) The signed contract, the expense of living in her house, and other hard, cold facts got me yelled at. I worried that if she didn't have a sale soon, she never would--and she'd never move. The house is too much for her to take care of and even with help, I can't do it for her. I tried this year. The estate sale people said they'd have to use part of the yard to set up--apt to be a muddy mess when it's much past early October in Denver.

They say that in a negotiation, you have to give something to get something. I showed Mom photos of a condo for sale near my house and other amenities, hoping she'd sell the house and stuff if she had somewhere else to go. It's a beautiful place, well designed for a senior. Mom was so pleased with the condo that she already wants to move there. It's something I tried to get my parents to do for years: move to a smaller, manageable place close to my house--which is close to public transportation, a senior center, a hospital and a gazillion doctors. Mom could go to Walgreens and the Country Buffet every day. She likes the idea of continuing to own her own home. If she ever has to take out Medicaid, she won't have to leave it. Talking about it, she was the happiest I've seen her in a long time.

If she wants to buy the place, the next step is...having that sale. (Even if she doesn't want to buy the condo, she'll end up going to some other condo, in which case the next step is...having that sale.) So the sale is on.

Want to buy some 60s or 70s furniture or collectibles? CDs? Vintage patterns? Power tools? Furniture? A house in the suburbs of Denver? It's got to go.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Tale of Two Parents

Let me tell you about my parents: same age, same socioeconomic background, same race, and up until a few years ago, same diet.

From there, they're quite different. My father worked construction, enjoyed hunting and fishing in his younger days, is emotionally self-controlled, and bears up well against suffering. He developed mild diabetes a few years ago, but has been lean and fit most of his life.

My mother had several surgeries, a bad back, torn rotator cuffs, was obese for many years, developed diabetes and suffered from uncontrolled blood sugars for 20 years, but started a low-carb diet four years ago. She hasn't been very active for much of her life. Emotionally, she could use more resilience.

A few months ago, they went to the hospital about the same time--my father for a bad cut on his arm and bump on his head after a fall; my mother, because her kidneys were shutting down.

One of my parents made a remarkable recovery and stayed with their mate Monday night at their deathbed. That parent is my mother--the same one who worried that she wouldn't live to see me graduate from high school. (I'm 45 now.) She took care of my father, the metabolically gifted one, who nevertheless suffered from dementia. Due to that and his active nature, kept getting up, falling down and hurting himself. She also took care of herself starting four years ago--she mostly stuck to a low-carb diet because she felt so much better when her blood sugar was under control. Even though she was far more sensitive to carbohydrate than my father, she kept her diabetes under better control than he did.

How could did diet have affected their outcomes? Dad died of an infection. Infections are less likely to happen with normal blood sugars--and unfortunately, the rehab center where both Mom and Dad were makes no effort to help patients control their blood sugar with diet. Alzheimer's disease (a form of dementia) is now known as type 3 diabetes. If Dad's dementia was due in part to hyperglycemia, a low-carb diet might have given him the presence of mind to avoid getting up, falling and hurting himself. He likely wouldn't have gotten an infection of clostridium difficile if he hadn't been at a rehab center.

In fairness, though, Mom had a few trumps. She'd never had a stroke; Dad had had a few and they ran in his family. She was also from long-lived stock: one of her uncles danced at his hundredth birthday party and most of her ancestors lived into their eighties.

* * *

Dad insisted on having his funeral service in the town where he grew up: Thermopolis, Wyoming, hundreds of miles from his friends and immediate family.* Fortunately, we've talked Mom out of having a destination funeral. A lot of people (who aren't me) find Thermopolis wonderful; my only objection is that a day's worth of oil wells, antelope and windy prairie lay between there and my nice, comfortable home (and the nice, comfortable homes our family and friends don't have to pay to sleep in or gas up their cars or take off days of work to get to). And nothing against people from Wyoming, but I just don't like the place. As my best friend put it, it's Destination Desolation.

A funeral service doesn't have to be an expensive packaged affair. It can be whatever you want it to be. Say a few kind words, tell some amusing stories about the deceased, scatter some ashes, and have lunch. If you want to avoid Alzheimer's and diabetes, make it a lunch that keeps your blood sugar under control.

*Correction: Dad didn't want a service at all, but wanted his ashes to be taken to the cemetary in Thermopolis.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Low-Carb: Getting through Luncheons and Other Group Meals

The first rule for following a low-carb diet when going to luncheons and other group outings is to assume there will be nothing there that you can eat. You'll usually be right and you'll come prepared. If it's a breakfast, eat before you go. If it's a luncheon, eat afterwards. Check the menu first if it's at a restaurant.

Most restaurants can offer something low-carb, but my carb-loving coworkers have a way of picking places and selecting buffets where there's absolutely nothing I can eat. (I'm carb intolerant and allergic to wheat.) Salad doesn't count as a meal. If I were more of a smart-aleck, I'd ask people who suggest salad if that's what they normally have for lunch and if so, whether they don't get hungry until dinner.

It's a problem when the meal is the entire point of the gathering or it comes in the middle of an event. This came up today--the buffet at the staff meeting had pasta, meatballs and salad. And here I thought the nineties were over. I went to McDonald's because a 20-calorie salad doesn't get me through the day no matter how much dressing I add. Some people find that socially awkward, but where are your acquaintances going to be when you're having an allergic reaction to something you ate? They won't be holding your hair back over the toilet or giving you Sudafed or regretting that nobody warned you, they'll be clucking that you should have had the salad.

The second rule is to prepare: eat breakfast before, eat lunch after, plan to fast, take some food you can eat, or find out where you can go nearby. Don't leave the house hungry--unless you know for a fact there will be food you can eat, assume there won't be. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Controlling TMJ Pain; Fixing a Wheelchair Controller

The roaming pain should have been my first clue that my mouth wasn't hurting from newly replaced fillings. As soon as I realized it was TMJ pain, I followed advice from old TV ads for pain pills: "Take at the first sign of pain." They were right--nip it in the bud and tension can't turn into spasms, which turn into pain, which turns into more tension. All I've taken is aspirin and ibuprofin. I've also avoided long practice sessions playing the recorder. (I could say I'm a purist about playing baroque music, but truth to tell, a clarinet is really hard to play. I've tried.) I also avoid coffee when it bothers me, which is as intermittent as my TMJ pain.

My parents are still roped in red tape and I have nothing but nail clippers and a screwdriver. Since their credit union wouldn't accept their power of attorney, I whipped up a new one and brought a notary public to their nursing home.

Even with some practice, my mother couldn't drive her new wheelchair: the joystick has right and left reversed and she can't get used to it. Tonight I had the idea to flip it over so that the joystick is facing downward and right and left aren't flipped. We'll see how Mom does with it. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Eldercare: Almost It's Over!

How did things go so far downhill so fast?

A month ago, I wasn't thinking about my parents going to a nursing home and selling almost all their belongings. But kidney failure put my mother in the hospital and an accident put my father there, too, a few weeks ago. They've since improved and now they're both at a rehab center. Their dog has moved in with me.

Mom and Dad were in the same room, but they had to move my father because he called out for my mother all night and she couldn't get any sleep. Now he calls out to her from the room across the hall. He stops if I'm there--he calls out for me instead. At least my mother has the room to herself so she can learn to drive her new wheelchair, the one I found on Craigslist and bought from a guy at a storage unit way out in Longmont. When Mom said she found it hard to control, I bought a new joystick for it off Ebay.

Ebay wouldn't take my credit card--it said it had expired. It hadn't. The seller's website wouldn't take my address, even though I live in the US. I finally gave the seller my credit card number over the phone and got the joystick. I put the new joystick on her wheelchair the day after I got it, but Mom still can't drive it. This, from a woman who used to get around in a wheelchair that drove like a bumper car. I advised her to practice for a few hours.

Monday, I met with a man who does estate sales. He looked around my parents' house (after I'd taken out about 50 bags of papers and old toiletries) and said it would take him and his crew of six to eight people two weeks to set up. Most houses, he said, took a week to set up. Yes, I grew up in a (borderline) hoarder house. I've watched episodes of Clean House lately and wished the messy houses they show were all I had to deal with.

Among the papers I sorted were several unpaid bills. I take care of my parents' bills, but I can't take care of them if I don't see them. They're paid now, and now that my mother doesn't have to spend so much time taking care of Dad, she has time to deal with credit card companies and her credit union. The way her lawyer set up her power of attorney (with two co-successors) renders it useless with her credit union. She's putting me on her account and I've whipped up a new power of attorney form.

You'd think a nursing home would take care of all needs. Not so. I do my parents' laundry since nursing homes lose patients' clothes left and right; the last time, they sent Dad home with random clothes that weren't even his size and ended up writing me a check for clothing that I had bought for Dad a week earlier. Since both parents have lost weight, I bought them some new threads from Goodwill and ARC.

My mother's blood sugars have been running over 200 since she can't take metformin anymore. She can't control her blood sugar with food alone--I think the kidney failure scared her into being more strict about carbs than she had been. (The doctors said her kidney failure might have been caused by an antibiotic she reacted to.) So along with clean laundry, I brought her some Atkins bars and made sure she had enough coconut oil.

My next project is to scan her photos and letters onto her laptop and send the originals to her sister, who has volunteered to act as curator. (I bought a laptop cable so the laptop doesn't go the way of my Dad's clothes.) If Mom ends up with one more thing that needs to be taken to the post office, she's on her own.

Helping my parents isn't all I've been doing: I got three fillings replaced a few days ago. Between that and having revived my habit of grinding my teeth at night, my teeth have hurt for the past few days to the point that it's hard to eat. But I feel well enough to go to and have a good laugh without hurting myself. And now that things are becoming more stable, I tell myself, "almost it's over."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Freakin' Fabulous Pâté

I'll admit it: even though my dietary requirements include organ meat, it was a chore to eat it...and you know what happens when that's the case. I ended up eating Atkins bars instead of liver. Partly, I've been too busy the past few weeks to eat many home-cooked meals, but mostly, there are a lot of things--even on Atkins induction--that I'd rather eat than liver.

Last Saturday, needing some wind in my sails after a few weeks of family emergencies, uncluttering my parents' house with a room temperature of 85 degrees, and being too wound up to get much sleep, I checked out a book called Freakin' Fabulous by Clinton Kelly from What Not to Wear and The Chew.

Just looking at the pictures at red lights on the drive home inspired me to stop at the store--the grocery store. I knew Kelly was a stylist, but didn't know he could cook, too. He's quite the meat eater--his good looks attest to that. That, and it sounds like he eats little or no junk food. I don't suppose the Fabulous munch on Fritos. Even though he thinks fat is bad, he's no ascetic--in fact, almost all the recipes are low-carb if you forget about the crostini. The Freakin' Fabulous Four recipes (hollandaise, roasted chicken, french omelette, and nice vinaigrette) are all fat and protein.

I set to work in the kitchen over the weekend. The little pancetta/lettuce/goat cheese rolls were one of the tastiest, easiest snacks I've made. For the first time, I roasted a tender, juicy chicken with a crispy skin. Tonight, I made the best pâté I've ever eaten, anywhere. And it was the fastest, easiest I've ever made! I did add two tablespoons of butter and skip the anchovies because I don't like them. I accidentally burned the onions because I'm not used to frying with olive oil. Even so, the burned onions smelled good, so I proceeded. It turned out beautifully. Clinton's recipe is now THE recipe for pâté in this house.

I'm planning to try the recipe for salmon mousse. Since it calls for a packet of gelatin, an ingredient some readers here have a surprisingly wide and deep knowledge of, I'll provide details on how it turns out.

Friday, July 25, 2014

It Hurts When I Eat This!

Newbies in the low-carb and paleo community often say, "the diet is great, but I still have problems eating (fill in the blank). What should I do?"

Maybe they're too young to remember a certain old joke. A man goes to see his doctor and says, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." (Picture the patient holding his arm in odd way.) "What should I do?" The doctor says, "Stop holding your arm that way."

This old joke now represents a radical idea. If you have trouble eating something, then stop eating it. Or eat smaller amounts of it if the smaller amount doesn't give you problems and you can stop yourself at a little bit.

I have FODMAPs problems--polyols in particular. I can't eat more than a strawberry a day or a few spoonfuls of lemon juice without getting an upset stomach and acid reflux. Too much alcohol sugar gives me gas. I could try probiotics, resistant starch, fermented foods and the other latest things that purportedly heal your gut. Having taken antibiotics like candy since childhood for sinus problems and acne and taking a couple of massive courses of them to kill Staphylococcus aureus and Helicobacter pylori later on, my gut bacteria population is probably down to a few isolated tribes.

For myself, though, I don't see a point in eating more starch (carbohydrate) so that I more carbohydrate. My digestion works perfectly if I don't eat fruit or more than a little sugar alcohol or large meals. And I had some serious upper GI problems--acid reflux and an esophageal ulcer.

What if I could eat all the beans, potatoes, fruit and sugar alcohol I wanted, though? If I did, I'd probably weigh 200 pounds. I'd also have roller-coaster blood sugars and I'd start getting cavities and sore teeth again. As for large meals, I have zero need to be able to knock back a five-course dinner.

For me, taking things to "heal" my gut would be a solution looking for a problem.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Adventures in Eldercare

This week has found me at a beautiful assisted living home, at the emergency room, and then at a shady-looking storage unit on the outskirts of Longmont to meet a stranger.

First, though, the week started with my doing some housecleaning at my parents' place. I cleaned out magazines, catalogs, junk mail, and other old papers--some 15 trash bags full. I found a vacuum cleaner, a printer, a tub of cassettes, family photos, old hunting and fishing licenses, a letter of condolence from my grandparents on the death of my brother Marvin, a letter from someone telling my parents to "kiss the baby" (me), and a bunch of unpaid bills. My parents' assistant and I organized and boxed up a lot of the stuff to get it ready for an estate sale. The room we worked in is beginning to look like a room. Yes--this was all in one room. It's the worst room, but there are several more to go.

Monday, a woman who runs several assisted living homes came by, interviewed Dad, and took me to a lovely place in my parents' neighborhood. It's a regular house with half a dozen residents (mostly women), clean, spacious, and easy to get around in with a large deck out back and an orchard in the back yard. Heck, I'd go live there. I'm told it's not easy to find a place for a man if he wants to bunk with someone since it's mostly women who go to nursing homes. Nevertheless, they accepted my father and I put a down payment on a room and gave them their 30-page application.

Even though I disagree with my parents about their living situation, I've respected their wishes up until now. My father doesn't want to move (he doesn't want to go to an unfamiliar place), but his living in his home puts him in danger of falling (which he's done many times) and causes a hardship for me and my mother, who have to care for him. Monday and Tuesday, I was with him for 12 hours a day since my nephew works full time and has a long commute. Wednesday morning, my nephew called at 5AM asking how to stop the bleeding from a gash in Dad's arm, which he got from his second fall of the night. I told him to apply pressure and help Dad elevate his arm over his head, thinking he'd have taken him to the emergency room if it were serious. When I got there midday, he said, "I think Grandpa should go to the doctor." He added that he overslept, hadn't done anything on the list I'd given him the night before (including giving Dad his medications), didn't clean up the mess in the bathroom, didn't do the dishes, and had to leave for work right away. He supposed he should have set his alarm.

I spent the rest of the day first at Dad's primary physician, who cleaned up his wound and gave me a list of Dad's medications. I wrestled Dad's pills away from him the night before when he said it didn't matter which pills he took--and the visiting nurse didn't fill his pill boxes and I had no idea what to put in them. The doctor recommended Dad go to a nursing home and told me to take him to the emergency room for the bump on his head.

It was a busy day at the emergency room I'd taken Mom to a few days before: a construction worker hurt his arm, a stoic young guy had, as far as I could tell, hurt his knee, a young woman came in with a neck brace and a wheelchair, another woman was having an anxiety attack, an old man lay down on the chairs, and a couple of young women with a bunch of kids were there for reasons I couldn't discern. There were several more people I didn't pay any attention to. After some hours, a doctor and an assistant came to discuss Dad's reason for being there. I later told the doctor I had plans to move Dad to assisted living, but it would take a few days. Dad's head injury and cut on his arm weren't serious, but the doctor admitted him as an inpatient for an infection Dad had been treated for at home--god bless him.

At 6PM, after a day without a proper meal, the elephant took over. The elephant is the part of your brain that just wants to be warm, dry, fed, comfortable and happy. I got the nurse at the front desk to keep an eye on Dad, walked out in front of a moving car, drove to McDonald's, and ordered two burgers that the counter clerk suggested. I ate one, asked for a coffee and a bag for the other burger, left the coffee there, went home and changed into warmer clothes because it was cold and rainy, came back, grabbed the coffee and ate the other burger. Then I went to my mother's hospital room.

I think it was that day that my mother had dialysis. Despite treatment, her kidney function went downhill from the time she was admitted. As a result, she was so confused and incoherent that the doctor asked my permission to do dialysis to prevent permanent complications from the toxins in her body. I knew dialysis was a painful thing to go through, but said yes since I thought it might help her. After two rounds, she has improved so much that she's back to her old self and the hospital is making sure she's going to be ready for discharge.

The main concern was safety--her ability to get around. Friday night last week, Mom called me because her wheelchair was stalled. A burner on the stove was on and she couldn't get to it to shut it off. I came over, got her into her other wheelchair, and saw that she couldn't get through the room with the papers, cassettes, printer, vacuum cleaner, and other treasures. That's when I started cleaning it up.

This morning, a wheelchair repairman quoted me $125 to come out and diagnose the problem. Repairs would cost parts plus $85 per hour in labor. This, for a chair that's been through several repairs and that Mom complains hurts her back. I called a number on Craigslist for a chair that looked promising: never used, fairly small, and with a foot rest that wouldn't require Mom to lift her legs over a divider to transfer to a bed or chair. Great price, too. The guy sounded like a Frenchman, couldn't tell me the address of the place to meet him, but said it was at a storage place on Whatever Road in Longmont. I couldn't find any Whatever Road in Longmont on Google maps. He named a different storage place on another street at the end of the road. I was to call him from there.

Resources being limited, I bit. I drove north to oil well country to the outskirts of Longmont, past an abandoned factory to the storage place at the end of the road past some guys parked in the street. It was them. I followed them to another storage unit on Weaver Road (way-a-ver, with my brain supplying the T). The unit was neat and clean, the chair was just as described, and the guy let me use his phone to find a credit union branch nearby, since I wouldn't need someone with a truck to haul it--it would come apart and fit in my car. Nevertheless, I had to drive all the way to north Denver to make a withdrawal and come back. Even though the guy seemed pleasant enough, I drove back thinking, "I'm taking a wad of cash by myself to meet a stranger from Craigslist at a storage unit." Even so, I wasn't really worried: the guy didn't give me the creeps, and I'm easily creeped out by people.

The legwork, housework and paperwork has been a full-time job this week, but things are falling into place: Dad will have a place to go where he'll be taken care of, Mom has a new wheelchair at a great price, and the house will be ready to sell if we keep after the cleanup. I'm still doing Atkins, and so have little desire to snack--and great thing given how much I've had to do without time to stop for little meals every few hours.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Want Something? The Universe Doesn't Care

Wouldn't it be great to think, picture and believe your way to a wonderful life? Being a science geek, it's easy to forget how popular that belief is, even among educated people. Call it The Secret, the law of attraction, positive thinking, or affirmations. I call it wishing for a no-effort solution; Richard Rumelt describes it aptly in Good Strategy, Bad Strategy:

But I do know that believing that rays come out of your head and change the physical world, and that by thinking only of success you can become a success, are forms of psychosis and cannot be recommended as approaches to management or strategy....Nevertheless, the doctrine that one can impose one's visions and desires on the world by the force of thought alone retains a powerful appeal to many people. 

This hit home lately because my mother is in the hospital and I have to take time off from work to be with my father since my nephew works afternoons and nights. My parents have an assistant and she's done a yeoman's work, but she has other clients besides them. I'm trying to get Dad into a nursing home, but given his needs, it's not easy to find a place. Since my parents' Medicaid application hasn't gone through yet, we're "Medicaid pending," meaning somebody has to pay full freight (around $3,000 per month) until the application is approved. Once it's approved, you get reimbursed.

No amount of positive thinking will make this go away. The buck stops here with me because it has to--there's no one else's lap to dump it in. Wishful thinking won't get Dad into a nursing home and the law of attraction hasn't turned up many people who want to deal with this.

Fantasize all you want, the universe doesn't care. Is someone supposed to jump at the chance to take on your responsibilities for bathing and cooking for Grandma just because you'd rather be backpacking in Thailand?

Affirmations aren't substitutes for difficult decisions. My parents could have taken action to make this easier for me: signing the application for Medicaid months ago when it looked like Dad might need to go to a nursing home, moving to a smaller place near my home (they'd have had more resources to deal with this), getting rid of things instead of accumulating more and fantasizing about needing rototillers and a garage full of power tools at the age of 80. The things could have been organized instead of thrown into piles. I used to have nightmares about dealing with all my parents' stuff. For whatever reason, a LC diet makes me sleep like the dead. I rarely have dreams anymore--a blessing.

To take such action, though, you have to answer unpleasant questions: what if neither of us could drive anymore? What if we can't take care of ourselves? What if somebody else has to deal with this? 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Bumpy Ride off the Bed

Summertime keeps finding me in trouble: a bike wreck, carrageenan poisoning, a badly stubbed toe, and mineral deficiency. Now it seems to be my mom's turn.

Saturday, I took her to the emergency room because she was having so much pain in her lower back. Since she's disabled, they called a paramedic to help her on to the stretcher, and she remarked how much she liked big, strong men like him. Hey, she's eighty-four, not ninety-four. Since she'd just had several x-rays of her back a few days before that showed nothing was broken, the doctor gave her some pain medication and sent her home.

The pain medication made her woozy. This morning, she lost her balance and fell into her wheelchair while getting out of bed. Dad wouldn't call 911 (he has dementia, and even in better days, he wasn't one to overwhelm you with help). Luckily, mom called 911 herself.

Having called for help some 30 times in the past three months, my parents are personae non gratae with the fire department. The captain himself called me and my brother to say they couldn't keep doing this.

This message and another from my sister-in-law were waiting for me when I got to work. I arranged for someone else to take over for me and went to my parents' house. Their case manager called and said she'd look for a Medicaid-pending nursing care facility for my father if I could get some verification that the application was in the system. After 35 minutes on hold, an employee with the State of Colorado agreed to expedite the paperwork to go through in 72 hours.

The nurse from the emergency center called and I asked her if they could change Mom's pain medication. She became dizzy taking cyclobenzoate, but felt good on valium the last time she was there. She had the same reaction I did when I had valium: she was in pain, but she didn't care. The nurse got the prescription changed.

After my brother and sister-in-law arrived, we discussed what to do in the meantime. I asked if their son would like to live with Mom and Dad. My nephew's roommate had Tourette's Syndrome and diabetes that sounded like it was wildly out of control. He threw all his own mail on the floor and put fresh eggs in with the old ones so that you broke an egg, you never knew if you'd get ingredients for an omelette or a stink bomb. While Dad has some dementia and Mom gets confused sometimes, they're not lunatics. My nephew also had to get around on the bus in a far-flung suburb; at my parents' house, he could use their car. So he and his dog moved into my parents' house today--something I've wanted to happen for a long time. He's strong enough to physically help my parents and he can be there most of the time. My sister-in-law and I moved boxes and boxes of clutter out of my old room, I charged the battery on the car, showed my nephew how to air up the tires and loaned him my jumper cables just in case the battery doesn't hold the charge.

My parents' caregiver will come over evenings to help put my father to bed since my nephew works afternoons and evenings.

Mom is in a lot of pain--she has a swollen black eye and bruises on her torso. She wanted to stay at the hospital. It's painful for her to chew anything and she probably can't cook for awhile. I got her some broccoli cheese soup, chicken salad and Atkins dinners and Atkins bars (which the store kept next to the tampons). It wasn't easy finding pre-made, low-carb food.

My father should go to a nursing home even though he doesn't want to since my mother can't take care of him and the fire department can't keep picking him up every few days. Anyone who thinks that putting someone in a nursing home is cruel and people should be cared for at home can come on over and help with this mess: helping him dress, bathe, use the bathroom, stop him from wandering outside and letting the dogs into the street, and keeping the door and windows closed to avoid $400 heating bills in the winter. To spend more than a few hours a day with my parents, I'd have to quit my job, sell my house and move in with them. (If I quit a good job, where do I get money for my old age?) Getting to their house from my job takes 90 minutes through rush-hour traffic. They don't live close to downtown, the Denver Tech Center or anywhere else I could get a good job--they're out in the suburban boonies without even a bus stop or a light rail station nearby. My efforts some years ago to get them to move closer to my house and job--a move that would have netted them $100,000 in cash, a far lower cost of living, a house with less maintenance, ability to get around without driving, and proximity to two hospitals and a gazillion doctors--met with a stone wall. They wanted to stay in their house, end of sentence, end of paragraph.

So I do the best I can with an employer who needs my services and parents who need my help, and I'm grateful to my brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and my parents' caregiver, neighbor and fire department for their help. I don't hear anybody in the middle of this situation or others like it insisting that people should never go to a nursing home.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Bumpy Ride on Atkins

It's been three and a half weeks since I first started Atkins induction. I had to stop for several days because of magnesium and potassium deficiencies (I unfortunately started the day before oral surgery, where I had a shot of epinephrine, which can also cause low potassium, and couldn't eat very much in the days following).

I lost a few pounds right away, then another few when I restarted. Then I gained it all back due to, ahem, female hormones. That's never happened to me before. I didn't change the way I was eating: no chocolate indulgences or anything saltier than what I'd been eating, and a keto-stick showed large ketones. But I'm back to losing about 0.6 pounds a day. I started at 130; this morning I was 127 and had moderate to large ketones.

My energy level is beyond what it was before I started. Sunday, for the first time in far too long, I took my dog for a long hike in the mountains, where she loves to swim in the creek. (She's doing her own version of Atkins: no more carrots or nuts, just meat, eggs, pork rinds and bones.) I felt great after yoga yesterday, even though our substitute instructor gave us a harder-than-usual workout. There was no need to stop at the wine bar for sustenance afterward.

My mouth feels like it's completely healed; the site my surgeon took the tissue from feels just like the other side and the graft site feels normal. As you might expect, there's zero plaque even though I've only flossed once since the surgery. Likewise, I haven't had a nosebleed since I started Atkins. This still might be partly from the unusual humidity (we had another downpour last night). We'll see if it continues.

My sense of well-being that Dr. Atkins said was so important is back. My only complaint is that I'm tired of eating so much meat--and I love meat. My only real-food respite is eggs since I can't eat cheese (as I've rediscovered--it gives me acne) and haven't been able to even look at a piece of fish. For variety, since vegetables are limited, I made some low-carb brownies with rice protein powder from the book 500 Low-Carb Recipes. I'm still eating Atkins bars and shared a delicious Lily chocolate bar with my mother. It's low carb (no added sugar), we both loved it, and it didn't spur me to eat more chocolate when it was gone. (Thanks for the tip, Tyrannocaster!)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Troubleshooting Low Energy, Low Mood & Other Problems on Atkins Induction

Do Calories Matter on Atkins?
As the saying goes, just because you're not counting calories doesn't mean that calories don't count. Dr. Atkins wrote in Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution that you'll lose weight faster on fewer calories, but you won't necessarily have a sense of well-being. Most readers knows what he means: low mood and flagging energy.

Lack of Energy, Low Mood
This was how I felt Sunday afternoon and Monday. Part of my low mood was from having to fill out an application for Medicaid for both my parents, mostly so that my father can go live in a nursing home. It's too hard for my mother to take care of him and I can't be with them enough to help day-to-day.

I was thinking about my parents during yoga that evening and fighting tears. I didn't have a physical sense of well-being, either. The climb from the train station up to the street took more energy than it should have; so did the yoga class. I went back to the book for advice and read a chapter called "Why One Dieter in Ten Gets Stuck Temporarily."

The chapter offers many reasons why dieters can get stuck. Last month's diet pills (amphetamines) and diuretics? Never took them. Very strong tranquilizers and sex hormones? Never needed them. Thyroid deficiency? I've never had an abnormal thyroid test. Easily corrected problems that discourage dieters? "You may not be eating enough...or luxuriously enough." That sounded right. In the past, I've always felt better when I snacked, which I hadn't been doing since Atkins induction killed my desire to do so. Too few calories can make you tired and depressed. And I tend to lose my appetite when I'm sad or upset. Sunday, I had a late breakfast, dinner and no lunch. Monday, I didn't snack, but ate three meals that just made me not-hungry.

I read the rest of the chapter to make sure I wasn't missing anything.

"Salt deprivation and potassium deprivation are common and cause discomfort." Don't I know it. "Constipation is sometimes a problem." Not for me. "Rarely, low blood sugar symptoms continue." When my blood sugar gets low, you don't want to get between me and a snack. But since starting Atkins induction, my urge to snack has been extinguished. This diet is the only thing that has ever done this except for stress and illness (your blood sugar goes up a little when you're sick). If anything, my blood sugar is probably the most normal it's ever been.

"A tablespoon of potato salad can slow you down." Haven't had any--no chocolates, either. "Keep a written record of everything you eat--and count those grams." I haven't kept a written record, but I know I've followed the diet closely but not perfectly. I had too much cream in my coffee in social situations where the coffee needed something to make it tolerable. I've had a couple of half-glasses of red wine. I had some cheese that wasn't very hard or aged. I made some salad dressing with avocado that might not have been induction-kosher. That's it.

"It's possible to slow yourself down by eating too much salad." I don't think I'm that metabolically challenged. "Use Ketostix to check your progress." Yesterday, I turned one as purple as a pomegranate, meaning "large ketones." That means green salad and my niggling indulgences in wine, cream, avocado and squishy cheese weren't causing my problems. "Your attitude towards your own body makes a difference." I look at low-carb as a lifelong way of eating.

Since it looked like my problem was down to too little food, the next day and today I ate usual induction meals plus snacks, including the dreaded Atkins peanut butter chocolate bar, which I liked. Eating more lifted my spirits and made me more energetic. Atkins bars have added vitamins, which might have helped, too.  They were about the only thing that I could eat in the convenience store in the building where I work, since I don't care for canned tuna. I need to eat past the not-hungry stage to fullness to avoid low energy and mood. (I don't stuff myself since it gives me a stomach ache.) I'm still sad to see my parents declining, but I'm not overwrought with sadness anymore.

Good Vitamins, Bad Vitamins
Taking lesser quality magnesium over the weekend probably didn't help me. Regular readers know I suffered from mineral deficiencies at the beginning of the diet because I unfortunately started it right before oral surgery. Magnesium and potassium in particular need to be supplemented when starting a LC diet. Without enough magnesium, you won't absorb potassium, vitamin D, or calcium, involuntary muscles like the heart and digestive muscles won't work properly, and the hundreds of bodily functions that require magnesium will be off. The magnesium I keep at work and home are different--and the lesser quality pills at home might have accounted for some of my malaise. The first ingredient is magnesium oxide, which isn't absorbed as well as substances that end in -ate. When I got to work on Monday, I started taking the good stuff again. Even though a dose has less magnesium, the pills feel like they work better.

The difference between low-carb and very low-carb is like the difference between fall and winter. They're often lumped together, but they're different. Hunger, cravings, supplement needs and food choices change going from around 50-70g of carb per day to less than 20. Just as if you were going someplace where it was winter, you'd need to be better prepared than if it were fall.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Troll-Inspired Water Buffalo Gift: Promoting Peace and Prosperity

There are some wacky people commenting on LC sites. Over at Perlmutter's blog (Dr. Perlmutter wrote Grain Brain), someone going by a name that sounded like a plant-based doctor was trolling, poaching and writing in ghetto English. Doctor, my eye. On another site, someone else pointed out that there was, indeed, a reference to calories that wasn't in the index of a certain biochemistry book. Thank god we were alerted. And a groupie warned me not to look to Jimmy Moore for information (after I'd mentioned that he started losing weight again by limiting protein). This was right before Rick G. had a terrific success using that strategy.

To all you wacky ones, I dedicate my $25 gift of a share of a water buffalo through Heifer International. (I'm donating $1 to the organization for every troll comment I read.) These animals not only make life easier for subsistence farmers in Asia, but they're promoting peace between warring tribes:

In 2008, the International Association for Transformation (IAT), in partnership with Heifer Philippines, implemented the Enhancement Project Gift for Peace in New Balbalan and Burayocan, Tabuk. The projects’ unique legacy was the Passing on the Gift™ done between warring tribes. This helped to foster brotherhood in the community and establish lasting peace through Heifer’s Cornerstone for Just and Sustainable Development.

Heifer International is also helping restore water buffalo to Romania. During Communism, water buffalo were replaced with dairy cattle. But water buffalo, according to the article, are hardier than other species and their rich milk makes good cheese, especially mozzarella and feta. Maybe someday, our wacky friends will enjoy a chunk.