Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Paddling to Squaxin Island

The beach at Alki yesterday was full of colorful Native American canoes as members of area tribes stopped on their way to their annual gathering which is being held this year at Squaxin Island in south Puget Sound.

Here is a map of the journey undertaken by the tribes participating this year. Some have come from as far away as northern British Columbia and have been underway for over a month. All expect to arrive at Squaxin Island in time for the potlatch that begins on July 29th.

To understand the significance of this journey, I read portions of the Canoe Journey Guidebook. The 10 Rules of the Canoe are valuable life lessons, even if you never undertake a journey like this one. This guidebook also includes historical information, the legends of the 7 inlets, a description of canoe culture and the canoe movement. There are lots of photos and stories that make this guidebook interesting reading.

I got to the beach yesterday after most of the canoes had arrived. I missed getting to hear tribal chants and songs, but the scene was colorful all the same. I'm learning to use my iPad to do videos and this was an opportunity to practice.

OK, enough of my amateur attempts. Here's a professional video of the landing at Alki during the 2011 Canoe Journey. It explains the event and its significance in tribal culture.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Harmonizing with The Beaconettes

I was browsing YouTube the other day looking for videos to post to my "Music" board on Pinterest. I wanted to include some local musicians. I remembered doing a sing-along at Seattle's FolkLife Festival last year with The Beaconettes, a women's a cappella choir from the Seattle neighborhood of Beacon Hill.

At the festival, they led a one hour workshop that started out with them teaching us to sing a round of some sort. Then they went on to teach us to sing "Dream a Little Dream of Me" in three part harmony. They had everyone get up and change seats so that sopranos sat in one section, altos/tenors in the middle section and bass/baritones in the third section. Then The Beaconettes, in their signature black and white striped shirts and neon colored wigs, moved out into the audience to sing the respective parts with us, while their choir director coached us through the song. When we had the harmonies pretty well learned, a teenaged boy, presumably the son of one of The Beaconettes, did a video of our performance.

And here it is. I think we sound pretty good for having had only a few minutes of practice! (That's me in the white shirt on the far right.)

The Beaconettes are well known for their creation of alternative lyrics for popular songs. That and their tight harmonies have made them a hit at the annual Great Figgy Pudding Street Corner Caroling Competition held downtown Seattle in December. Here's their re-write of the words to "Dream a Little Dream." Enjoy!

Related Posts:
How To Hit A HIGH Note

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Eat Your Parritch

I've become a big fan of Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series of historical novel/time travel stories featuring Jamie and Claire Fraser. Their adventures begin in Jamie's native Scotland in the mid 1700s. Gabaldon describes, in some detail, what daily life was like in that time, including what people ate.
It appears that much of the Scottish diet at that time was made up of meat or fish. So when I first encountered a character in one of the books talking about "parritch," I thought he meant "partridge." As it happens, though, he was talking about porridge, or what we Americans call oatmeal.

OATMEAL - on the left, steel cut oats; regular rolled oats are on the right.
I don't know how oats were harvested and prepared for cooking in those days. But I do know that there weren't microwaves or or little packets of pre-sweetened cereal available back then. So when Jamie's sister, Jenny Murray, fixed breakfast for the family at Lallybroch, I imagine she made up a big pot of what we'd now call "steel cut oats." (Also known as Irish or Scottish oats.)

If you've never made this version of oatmeal at home, dinna fash yourself, as Jamie would say. It's very easy. And verra, verra tasty.
Before you go to bed at night, pour 4 cups of water into a medium-sized saucepan. Add a dash of sea salt. Bring to a boil. Add one cup of steel cut oats. Give them a quick stir.  Put a lid on the pot and turn off the heat. Let stand overnight on the stove top.
When you get up the next morning, the oats will be cooked through. All you have to do is heat the oatmeal, dish it up in a bowl, pour on a wee bit of milk and you have breakfast. Some people like to sweeten their "parritch" with brown sugar or maple syrup. I prefer to add fruit - dried in the winter and fresh in the summer. A sprinkle of almonds or walnuts is verra nice. And ye'll ken that a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg would be lovely, too.

For more about food inspired by the Outlander stories, visit Theresa's clever blog, The Outlander Kitchen. She begins each post with a food-related excerpt from one of the books and follows it with a recipe. Examples include: "Fiona's Ginger-Nut Biscuits from Drums of Autumn," "Honey-Buttermilk Oat Bread at Madame Jeanne's from Voyager," and "Dougal's Poached Peach Sundae." Great storytelling and great food - what could be better, aye?

Can't get enough OUTLANDER? Visit my Outlander Plant Guide for a wee bit more information about the plants featured in the series.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Take the Quiz - and Get the Skinny on Cholesterol

Even though cholesterol is a household word, how much to do you really know about it? And how much of what you "know" has come from advertising designed to sell you a food or a drug? Take this little quiz and find out.

1. Where does most of the cholesterol in your body come from?
a) From eating red meat, like beef and pork.
b) From eating egg yolks.
c) From eating cured meats, like bacon and sausage.
d) From drinking whole milk and eating butter and cheese.
e) Your liver. 
2. True or False. Everyone with heart disease has an elevated cholesterol level.

3. True or False. We don't need cholesterol, so the less of it we have in our bodies, the better.

4. True or False. The only way diet contributes to high cholesterol is through consumption of animal fats.

Ready for the answers?

1. The answer is e - your body manufactures 70% of the cholesterol floating around in your bloodstream. Surprised? Cholesterol is animal fat, and humans are animals, after all. Cholesterol is manufactured in the liver, which is why the liver is the target for cholesterol lowering drugs called statins, such as Lipitor and Crestor. These drugs interfere with liver function in such a way as to lower the amount of cholesterol your body produces.

2. False. 40% of people with heart disease have normal cholesterol levels.

3. False. Cholesterol is essential for good health. In fact, you can't live without it. Cholesterol is the central building block for adrenal and sex hormones. It is one of the components that make up cell membranes. It plays an important role in nerve conduction. Some research indicates that cholesterol may even serve as an antioxidant. Your body also needs cholesterol for the synthesis of Vitamin D.

4. False. Remember that big plate of pasta you ate for lunch? And those breadsticks you had with pizza last night? Those carbs were converted into glucose and stored in your liver to provide energy to fuel physical activity. If you weren't active enough to burn off that glucose within a few hours, it was converted into cholesterol.

Related Posts:

Why Everyone Over The Age of 40 Should Have a Blood Pressure Monitor

How I Lost 15 Inches in 3 Weeks Without Dieting!

How Celebrating Valentine's Day Can Lead to a Shingles Attack

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Is It Possible To Get Over A Food Allergy?

If you asked me that question 10 years ago, or even 3 months ago, I would have said, "No." Emphatically.

I was diagnosed with an egg allergy nearly 20 years ago. Back then the antibody levels in my blood for both egg whites and yolks were off the charts. When I stopped eating eggs, the symptoms - buzzing in my head, difficulty swallowing, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, etc. - went away. Because the severity of the allergy developed gradually, I didn't realize how rotten I felt all the time. Until I didn't anymore. Sweet relief!

Since then, I've had to be diligent in order to maintain my health. As anyone with an allergy to common foods like wheat, eggs, dairy and soy can tell you, it is a challenge to avoid these things. There are traces of them in prepared foods everywhere you look. You learn to read labels, ask a lot of questions at restaurants and rely mostly on your own cooking to stay out of harm's way. But as far as I was concerned, that was all a small price to pay for feeling good. I was absolutely fine living my egg-free life.

So it came as a big surprise to me when, about a month ago, I started craving scrambled eggs! That's just crazy, I thought. That's self-destructive! I can't eat eggs - I haven't even wanted to eat an egg in years. But the craving wouldn't go away. So one day while I was shopping, I decided to buy a half dozen eggs. I figured I'd listen to my body and give them a try.

I knew that after two or three bites of scrambled egg, I would know where things stood. There have been enough slip-ups over the years that I am very familiar with how I react when I'm exposed to eggs. I fully expected to feel an electrical sensation in my head and that my throat would start to constrict. When that happened, I was going to stop eating. Simple as that. I'd feel a little sick, but not terribly so if I ate only a couple of bites. And then I would know whether this craving was simply crazy or whether, by some miracle, I can eat eggs now.

I scrambled my egg and started to eat. One bite, two bites - no problem. I kept eating. Still everything was normal. I finished the egg. I felt fine. I waited for a delayed reaction. It never came. In fact, I felt really good. And that egg tasted great! I wanted more, but decided not to push it. I waited a couple of days and had two eggs for breakfast. Again, no problem.

In fact, I've eaten close to two dozen eggs in the past three weeks without any sign of allergy!

I have no idea how this could have happened. The only thing different in my life lately is that I have been doing T-Tapp exercises for the past three months. It seemed to me to be a stretch to think there could be any correlation, until I read this post on the Chicago Eats Allergy-Free site. All I can say is that I am grateful for whatever it is that has healed my immune system.

Related Posts:

How Celebrating Valentine's Day Can Lead to a Shingles Attack

Take the Quiz and Get the Skinny on Cholesterol

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pinterest - The Coolest Tool for Vision Boards

I've been noticing that people are finding my blogs by way of Pinterest. Apparently, people have "pinned" various images from my sites onto their boards and other people have found the images interesting enough to click on the attribution links back to my blogs. 

This has happened often enough that I decided I should find out what Pinterest is all about. So I requested an invitation to join. A couple of days later, I was accepted. Minutes after I set up my account, I was hooked. This is just so much fun!

About the best way I can describe Pinterest is to say that it is social media for visual people. The concept is simple. Users create virtual "boards" and then pin images onto them. Each board is a collection of photos and/or videos that relate to a particular interest: art, food, products, favorite places, travel, fashion, etc. Unless users specify otherwise, their boards are searchable and other "pinners" can re-pin the cool images they've found onto their own boards. You can read more about how the service works on Wikipedia.

When first I started "pinning," I thought of it as a sharing process. But what struck me a couple of days in was that I was creating at least one vision board in this process. (I'll back up here just a bit to explain for those unfamiliar with the term that a "vision board," or treasure map, is a tool you use to visualize the life you want to have. The typical process is to cut images of things you love out of magazines and then glue them onto a poster board. The idea is to focus the subconscious mind on those images of happiness and success, thus developing a mindset that matches and eventually brings about those outcomes. Even people skeptical of this process have been astonished to see their dreams come true.)

When I was looking at other people's boards to get some ideas for my own, I saw that lots of people have a board with images of places they would like to visit someday. At first, I passed on that idea because I haven't had much of an interest in travel for a while. But then I remembered that I would like to visit London, and I've long wanted to go to the Highlands in Scotland and see where my McKinsey/MacKenzie ancestors came from. Soon I was realizing that there are several places I want to see. It is time to give up the story that I don't want to travel. Every time I look at my "board" I see my desire looking back at me. And my interest is beginning to expand - the law of attraction in action.

So that's one kind of vision board - one that looks toward the future. It occurs to me, though, that there is another version, the vision of my past, that is shown on these boards. I see it especially on my board titled, "Favorite Places." As I add images of places I have seen in the past 60+ years, I see a story of what my life has been. I, of course, get to choose the version of that story as I decide what to include on my board. Satisfying memories? Or a lifetime of regret? My choice. And I'm going with the happy memories.

If you would like to see what I have pinned so far, you can find me here on Pinterest. To visit the main Pinterest site, go here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Pleasures of the Low Tide Days at Alki

For me, the low tide days of late spring and early summer are the most special days of the season. I avoid setting appointments or making commitments for the time when the tide is way, way out so I can walk the beach. After all, there are only a few days a year when this opportunity presents itself. It is as if a curtain is pulled back from the shore and we can wade out into sun-warmed tide pools to explore a world that is usually invisible.

Exploring tide pools during a -4 foot low tide at Alki Beach in June 2009.
These extra low tides coincide with the days around new and full moons. Last Saturday, for example, there was a full moon, so big and bright it was called a Super Moon. That morning in Seattle, we had a -2.1 low tide at around 11 a.m. The lowest low for this full moon phase was on Tuesday, a -3.4 tide at 12:20 p.m. Now that the moon is waning, the tides are not so low - today it was only -1.8.

There's an incredible array of marine life on display during these very low tides. Jellyfish, barnacles, sea stars and this "sun" star, above, are just a few of them. A recent post on the West Seattle Blog has images of a frosted nudibranch and a type of anemone, which you can view here.

The first time I saw a piece of a moon snail's egg casing, like this one above, I thought it was an old gasket someone had thrown into the Sound. The smooth, dense material looks like it was manufactured somewhere. Which in fact it was, right there, by the mother snail. If I am understanding the explanation furnished on Buzz's Marine Life of Puget Sound blog, which you can read here, the snail combines eggs and sand with some sort of glue and extrudes this collar. A sand collar can contain over 300,000 eggs.

If you want to enjoy the low tide experience, the next series of super low tides will coincide with the full moon on June 4. The lowest low in Seattle, a -3.8, will be on Tuesday around noon. To view the tide tables for Seattle, click here. Beach naturalists from the Seattle Aquarium are on hand at local beaches during low tides to answer questions and teach visitors about the marine life visible during these times. Check the Aquarium website for dates, times and more information.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An R-Rated Botanical Limerick

Once upon a time in the month of May, I gave myself a birthday garden party. I told my friends that I didn't want any gifts. Instead, I encouraged them to write limericks. To make the activity more enticing, I offered prizes for the best entries in various categories.

Even though several people grumbled about this project, complaining that it was more like "doing homework" than having fun, most really got into it. Several dozen entries arrived before the judging deadline.

My only concern with this project was that I might get lots of off-color, girl-from-Nantucket style poetry. I planned to post all of the limericks on foam-core boards for people to read at the party so they could vote for a "people's choice" award. Some of my friends were bringing their children to the party and I didn't want to offend anybody.

As it happened, though, only one dirty limerick was submitted. But it was so cleverly written that only people with some knowledge of botanical Latin names could figure it out. Here it is, written by my brilliant friend, Steve:
A young botanist who hailed from Formosa
Adored his Rudbeckia hirta 'Glorioisa'
But on an extended trip to Madrid
With his blooming Kniphofia hybrid
He went in search of a Brassavola nodosa
Can you guess what he was writing about? 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Get to Know the "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean 15" in the Produce Section

An apple a day keeps the doctor away - unless that apple happens to be laden with pesticides. Which is very likely to be the case if your apple was not raised organically. In fact, apples rank at the top of the Environmental Working Group's 2011 list of fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residue.

EWG's ranking is based on tests for contamination on 53 popular fruits and vegetables, conducted by the US Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration. From that data, EWG creates their annual lists of the "Dirty Dozen," fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residue, and the "Clean 15," types of produce with the lowest levels.

How much difference does it make if you choose "clean" or organic produce over "dirty"? Here's what EWG has to say on their website:
"If you choose 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day from EWG's Clean 15 rather than the Dirty Dozen, you can lower the volume of pesticide you consume daily by 92 percent, according to EWG calculations. You'll also eat fewer types of pesticides. Picking 5 servings of fruits and vegetables from the 12 most contaminated would cause you to consume an average of 14 different pesticides a day. If you choose 5 servings from the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables, you'll consume fewer than 2 pesticides per day."
 That's a pretty compelling argument for buying organic and choosing clean!

Here's the Dirty Dozen - either buy these organic or avoid them
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines (imported)
7. Grapes (imported)
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries (domestic)
11. Lettuce
12. Kale tied with Collard greens

Here's the Clean 15
1. Onions
2. Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

For more information, visit the EWG website. To print out a handy wallet-sized shopper's guide with both lists, download this PDF.

Related Posts:

Why Everyone Over the Age of 40 Should Have a Blood Pressure Monitor

Monday, April 16, 2012

How Bloggers Make Money Online with Affiliate Programs

Affiliate programs have been around a long time. I signed up with Amazon's program way back in 1996. But in spite of their ubiquity and long history, what I have found in talking with my friends, is that not many people outside the affiliate community understand how these programs work. For example, when people see Amazon ads on a website or blog, many assume that Amazon pays for the ad in the same way advertisers pay for ads in newspapers or magazines. But that's not how these programs work.

Here's how affiliate programs are different from other types of advertising. 

  • Merchants, such as Amazon.com and others you see advertised on my blogs, do not pay bloggers or website owners for advertising space.
  • Merchants, except in very rare cases, do not pay us for clicks on their ads.
  • Merchants do not approach bloggers and ask to advertise on their blogs. Bloggers choose affiliate programs they want to work with and submit requests to join. Merchants then review the website or blog and decide whether to accept or decline the offer. 
So how do bloggers make money working with these companies?
Bloggers get a commission on sales referred to the merchant by way of a link from our website or blog. It doesn't matter what you buy from the merchant, whether it's a product a blogger recommends or something else that catches your eye when you visit, the blogger receives a commission on all sales.

How much do we make on those sales?
That varies, depending on the merchant. From what I've seen, most companies offer commissions that range between 4-15%. Most of my sales earn 4 to 6%.

(Although affiliate marketing has the potential to provide considerable income to bloggers in certain niches, it typically is not a huge money maker.)

Affiliate programs are a win-win for both readers and bloggers.
Ideally, the situation is this: You are looking for information and find a blog that provides what you are looking for. You get the information for free. At the same time, you need to do some shopping of one sort or another. When you follow a link from that blogger's site to Amazon or another affiliate merchant to do your shopping, the blogger gets paid a small commission. The merchandise you buy doesn't cost you any more than it would otherwise and your purchase has helped support the person who provided you with the information you needed. Everyone benefits!

Here are banners for my current affiliates:



EverywhereChair.com has the right chair for you!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

WANT MORE, not less

I'm not one of those people who believes that its time for us all to learn to get along with less. I don't want anyone to want less. I want everyone to consider wanting more: 
  • more joy
  • more leisure
  • more pleasure
  • more satisfaction with life
  • more good reasons to be excited to get out of bed in the morning
  • more innovation
  • more inspiring stories
  • more love
  • more wealth
  • more laughter
  • more beauty
  • more intriguing experiences
  • more, MORE and MORE of everything that makes life worth living. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spiritual But Not Religious - What Does That Mean?

Many people I know describe themselves as "spiritual, not religious." I, in fact, describe myself that way. But what does that mean? I believe it is important for each of us to define that for ourselves. What I am noticing as I get older is that the people who have consciously chosen their beliefs and put them into practice are more at peace with themselves than those who haven't yet decided what they are for - they just know they're against organized religion.

Seeking, study and meditation help us overwrite the programming of our childhoods. Simply saying "no" to the past does not prevent it from becoming our default position when the inevitable losses of older age come our way.

Wherever you are on this path - whether you have an answer to the question of what spirituality means or your belief system is still a work in progress - this TED talk will give you plenty to think about.

Related posts:

Cynthia Lair on "How to Cut An Onion"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Everyone Over the Age of 40 Should Have a Blood Pressure Monitor

Heart disease doesn't just come out of the blue. It is the result of day-to-day choices about diet, stress management and exercise. The decisions we make in our 30s become habits in our 40s, which set the stage for the health we have in our 60s and beyond. We all know what we should do. But how often do we put off exercise until we have more time; or eat on the run; or rely on alcohol or drugs to relax - always thinking that we'll have time to improve our habits later? Apparently, way too often. Heart disease is the leading health problem in the US.

But here's the good news. If you have a blood pressure monitor and use it often, you can get clear, immediate feedback about which of your habits are working for you and which ones are working against you. Taking your blood pressure can show you when your blood sugar is too low. It can also be an indicator that you aren't adequately hydrated. Monitoring your blood pressure will show you the effect exercise has on your body and how well stress reduction techniques work for you.

And here's more good news. Blood pressure monitors are inexpensive - you can get a good one for less than $60 US. Blood pressure monitoring is non-invasive. You don't have to wait for a doctor's appointment to find out if your pressure is high. And when you do see your doctor, the information you have about how your blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day can be helpful in determining whether there is anything serious going on. Furthermore, seeing normal healthy readings on a regular basis will give you peace of mind. It will let you see how, as you change your habits, you move the needle on your health-o-meter in the right direction.

Now you may be thinking - what's the big deal? Your reading was normal at your last checkup or when you checked it at the drug store recently. It might surprise you to know that these once-in-a-blue-moon readings don't tell you that much about your health. They are merely a snapshot of a moment in time - not the full picture.
This is the blood pressure monitor I use regularly, the
Omron HEM-711. 

You see, unlike your temperature, which varies by less than 2 degrees over a 24-hour period, your blood pressure can swing 20 to 30 points either way several times over the course of a day. It might be a healthy 115/75 when you get up in the morning. But by lunchtime, if you skip breakfast, have a stressful morning and consume caffeinated beverages (coffee, soda, tea), your blood pressure reading may be up to an unhealthy 150/90. Then, if you eat a good lunch and take a 20 minute walk, your pressure might be down to 130/80. By late afternoon, you might be back up in the danger zone again, or not, depending on various factors: what you ate for lunch, your level of activity or how stressed you are.

There's really no reliable way to know what is going on with your blood pressure - except to check it on a regular basis. It also matters when you monitor it during the day, which I will explain later in this post.

First, let's talk about monitors. I bought mine, pictured above, a few years ago. I paid close to $100 for it, which I thought was pretty reasonable. Omron has updated this monitor - Amazon carries the newer version - which has more features, for an even better price - less than $60. I've been very happy with my little machine. I rarely get error messages and when I do, it's often because I'm wearing a bulky shirt of some kind. (It's better to take a reading by wrapping the cuff on a bare arm or over the sleeve of a garment made of very thin fabric.) The monitor also shows heart rate and the newer version will detect irregular heartbeats. There is a memory function that stores previous readings. By setting the date and time on the monitor, you can compare readings over time.

I've never used that function on my monitor. When I had an episode of high blood pressure a while back, I kept a notebook nearby and wrote down readings and made notes about what I was doing at the time. My naturopath used that information to show me how I could get my pressure back to normal without having to take medication.

When you are on Amazon, you will see that there are many blood pressure monitors available. One of the great things about Amazon is the number of customer reviews you can find for products. I suggest that you look at several of these to see what other people have to say. One monitor that gets very good reviews is a wrist unit, also made by Omron.

This monitor would be ideal for travel, taking to work, going to the gym.

OK, you have your monitor, now what? 

First of all, I suggest you keep a journal for a while to develop a sense of how your body responds when you do, or don't do, various activities during the day. Note your pressure readings before and after. Also note how you feel if the reading is high: spacey, lightheaded, fatigued, slight headache, irritable, clumsy, etc. This will help you learn to recognize the subtle symptoms that indicate that your blood pressure is beginning to creep up.

Normal blood pressure readings range from 100/60 to 140/90. Anything over 140/90 on a consistent basis is considered high blood pressure. The higher number is the systolic measurement which indicates the pressure exerted when the heart muscle contracts. The lower number is the diastolic reading which measures the pressure when the muscle is relaxed between beats.

Here are times during the day when it is useful to check your blood pressure. Be sure to wait 20 -30 minutes after eating, bathing, or exercising before taking your reading to assure accuracy.

1. When you get up in the morning and before bedtime.
It is useful to know how you begin and end your day. If your pressure is high first thing in the morning, stop reading this and go see your doctor.

2. Before and after eating.
There is a correlation between blood pressure and blood sugar. When your blood sugar drops below a certain level, your blood pressure will begin to rise. This was very useful information for me when I was learning to manage my blood pressure. I was in the habit of skipping meals, especially breakfast. Once I got into the habit of eating breakfast and not going more than three hours without eating at least a snack, my pressure started stabilizing. Eating a little protein with each meal and snack is important. It keeps blood sugar from spiking and then dropping quickly, which would send blood pressure right back up again. Now I always keep foods like string cheese, walnuts, yogurt and leftover chicken on hand for quick snacks. A piece of cheese and half an apple is often all I need to tide me over until the next full meal. (This is a good strategy for lowering the risk of Type 2 diabetes, too.)

3. Before and after taking a shower.
Dehydration will cause blood pressure to go up. Many people have mild, chronic dehydration because they drink caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, soda) throughout the day and occasionally alcohol at night. All of these beverages have a diuretic effect. Plus, as we age, our thirst mechanism begins to fade - we don't feel thirsty, so we don't drink enough water. If there is a big difference in your readings before and after bathing, you might need to drink more water.

4. Before and after exercise.
How much difference does a 30 minute walk make? Well, could be quite a lot. When you see how regular physical activity, spread throughout your day, can keep your blood pressure in a good place, you may be inspired to stay with or add to your exercise program. Like eating a little bit of protein, even just 15 minutes of exercise has a residual calming effect that lasts.

5. After having a few drinks. 
Alcohol initially lowers blood pressure. But be aware that it has a rebound effect. After a few hours blood pressure will come back up, possibly higher than before, due to the dehydrating effects of alcohol.

6. When you are exposed to emotional triggers.
Something infuriating happens at work. Watching a political debate has you yelling at the TV. You have an argument with your teenager. How do these events affect your blood pressure at the time? How long before it comes back down? What can you do to minimize these stressors? It is good to explore this subject because things happen, and we all need strategies to handle them and maintain our health.

A very simple thing to try is this. When you can, sit alone quietly, and breathe deeply. Take deep breaths in through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Do this 8 times and then check your blood pressure again. You will probably see a significant drop in the reading. This little exercise shows you that you have the ability to lower your stress level. What other techniques have you used in the past to deal with stress? Try them and see what effect they have on your blood pressure.

Summing up...
Improving your health doesn't have to be a huge project. Adding little things to your day - a few minutes of walking or stretching, a healthy snack, doing some deep breathing - will keep your blood pressure at a normal level, reduce the strain on your heart and lower your risk of heart disease or stroke. Monitoring your blood pressure will show you what is working and point the way to other beneficial changes you can make.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Do the Lyrics to the "Alouette" Song Mean in English?

Knowledge is good, but there are certain things I would rather not know. The English translation of the French lyrics of "Alouette" is one of them. Since childhood I've loved this little song; it sounds so cheerful! The words "le tete"(the head) were the only ones I knew in English. I thought Alouette must be the name of a person, and a "jaunty" one at that.

I'd sort of forgotten about the song until a TV ad for Target stores started running, featuring this song and the antics of a troupe of acrobats in brightly colored costumes. It is all rather charming and the song got stuck in my head. Which led me to wonder what the song actually means. I looked it up and now I know. And wish I didn't. The lyrics are below. What do you think?

Here are the lyrics to "Alouette,"as provided by Wikipedia:

Alouette, gentille Alouette
Lark, nice lark
Alouette, je te plumerai
Lark, I shall pluck you
Je te plumerai la tête
I shall pluck your head
(Je te plumerai la tête)
(I shall pluck your head)
Et la tête
And your head
(Et la tête)
(And your head)
Alouette, gentille Alouette
Alouette, je te plumerai
Je te plumerai le bec
I shall pluck your beak
(Je te plumerai le bec)
Et le bec
(Et le bec)
Et la tête
(Et la tête)
The song continues in this fashion, with the italicized phrase (a part of the bird) in each verse being substituted with a new one, with the previous items being recited at the end:
  • Et le cou
And your neck
  • Et le dos
And your back
  • Et les ailes
And your wings
  • Et les pattes
And your feet
  • Et la queue
And your tail
La Conclusion
The Ending
Alouette, gentille Alouette
Lark, nice lark
Alouette, je te plumerai
Lark, I shall pluck you
Naturally, the literal English translation does not match up well with the meter of the song, so a slightly less literal (but more singable) version would be:
Little skylark, lovely little skylark
Little lark, I'll pluck your feathers off
I’ll pluck the feathers off your head
I’ll pluck the feathers off your head
Off your head - off your head
Little lark, little lark
And adding:
Off your beak
Off your neck
Off your back
Off your wings
Off your feet
Off your tail

Related posts:
Harmonizing with the Beaconettes
HONK! If You Love Music

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How I Lost 15 Inches in 3 Weeks Without Dieting!

I never thought I'd write a headline like this except as a joke. But this is for real!

I was disabled for several years of the past decade, and during that time, I put on over 20 pounds. After I had hip surgery three years ago, I thought that once I was active again, the pounds would just melt off of me. But, ha! No such luck. I've done Pilates, tai chi, yoga, taken Zumba classes and walked hundreds of miles. All those activities were great, but no matter what I tried, I never lost an inch or a pound.

So I'll admit that I was a bit skeptical when I saw Teresa Tapp describe her exercise program on a recent PBS show. She claims that you can lose inches in just a matter of weeks with just 15 minutes of exercise a day. But once I tried her way of doing some traditional exercises, as you'll see in the video below, I realized that her method is quite different from anything I've done before. It is a smarter, more efficient way to work out.

I was so inspired that I bought her Basic Workout Plus DVD. Following her directions, I took my measurements before starting the program. Then I did the 15 minute Basic Workout 6 days of the following week. At the end of that week, I had lost 10 inches! I was so shocked,  I rechecked my measurements about 3 times! The second week, I lost another 3-1/2 inches. The third week, another 1-1/2 inches. I expect the inch loss to be incremental from here on, as I steadily burn off the fat that has accumulated around my midsection and elsewhere.

I haven't lost any weight so far, but she says that is to be expected. Muscle weighs more than fat. As muscle replaces the fat, metabolism will increase and those bigger muscles will burn more fat. At that point, I should notice some weight loss. Honestly, if I'm losing inches, I don't care that much about how much I weigh.

(I was so excited about my progress that I went back and bought her book, Fit and Fabulous in 15 Minutes, because I wanted to get more information about technique and the science behind her program. I'm glad I did because I got some good information about how to improve my form. However, if you are just starting out, I think it's better to start with the DVD. Trying to learn the workout from pictures in the book would be difficult.)

I believe T-Tapp offers a lot of benefits for older people. Teresa Tapp has designed her programs to rehabilitate joints and improve circulation. You don't need special equipment. You can do the basic workout in a space just 4' by 4'. You do the workout at home - you don't have to go anywhere or pay gym fees. Remarkably, after just 15 minutes, you do feel like you got a good workout. Still, this is not a tiring routine. I feel energized every time I do it. And I have been sleeping better since I started doing T-Tapp. Thank you, Teresa!

Monday, February 13, 2012

How Celebrating Valentine's Day Can Lead to a Shingles Outbreak

What's love got to do with it? Weird as it may sound, the connection between Valentine's Day and shingles is -- chocolate! Chocolate is one of those foods that can trigger a shingles outbreak if you eat too much of it at one time.

I learned this the hard way a few years ago. At the time, I was newly single and, free of the responsibility for making dinner for anyone else, I often just snacked on apples, almonds and chocolate and called it good. Around that time, I started having more frequent, and severe, outbreaks of shingles, so I asked my naturopath what could be causing them.

She explained that there is often a connection between diet and shingles outbreaks. The breakouts are the result of an imbalance in the relationship between two essential amino acids, lysine and arginine, in our diets.

If you have ever had shingles, you know that the illness only affects those of us who have had chicken pox, which is caused by the herpes zoster virus. Even though we recover from the chicken pox, we never completely clear the virus from our systems. It remains dormant in nerve cells for the rest of our lives. If something happens that "wakes up" the virus, we get the painful rash, blisters, fatigue, muscle and nerve pain that we call "shingles."

So what wakes up the virus? The amino acid, arginine. What puts the virus back to sleep? The amino acid, lysine. When our diet supplies a higher ratio of lysine to arginine, all is well. When there's more arginine than lysine, trouble breaks out. And that's how the chocolate, apples and almonds dinners were contributing to my frequent shingles outbreaks.

According to the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 1991 edition, (A newer edition is available at Amazon) the amino acid ratio for chocolate is 4,500/arginine and 2,000/lysine. For almonds, 2,730/arginine and 580/lysine. It is easy to see that I needed to change my ways if I wanted to feel better. Which I did. I still eat chocolate, but not as an entree. I eat small amounts, usually after a meal that is lysine rich. I rarely get shingles anymore.

For your quick reference, here are foods high in arginine and low in lysine: chocolate, all kinds of tree nuts and peanuts, sesame and flaxseed. Foods high in lysine and low in arginine include: dairy products, beef, poultry, pork, fish and shrimp.

This is important information for those of us over 60. No one seems to know why, but as we age, shingles outbreaks seem to be more frequent. If we let our food be our medicine, we can avoid discomfort and drugs.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Enjoy those chocolates - but you might want to have a nice salmon dinner first.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Where Do Our Federal Tax Dollars REALLY Go?

Do you ever wish there was some place where you could get clear, easy to understand information about how our federal tax dollars are spent? Wouldn't you like to get past the opinions of politicians, pundits and partisans, so you can look at the facts and draw your own conclusions?

Well, now you can. Get a copy of Jess Bachman's 24"x36" poster, "Death & Taxes," and get the straight story about where all that money is going to go in 2012.

Just as a good picture is worth a thousand words, this visual representation saves you the trouble of reviewing thousands of pages of information. Bachman spends two months each year doing the research necessary to produce each year's budget poster. There's a heck of a lot of data here, so get your reading glasses ready!

Here's how the information is organized: Each program is denoted with a circle. The size of the circle is proportionate to the program's funding level. Next to each circle, there are figures for: spending budgeted for 2012; the percent increase/decrease in spending from 2011 to 2012; and the percent change from 2002 to 2012 to show the decade-long trend.

2012 is an election year, so we will be subjected to more than the usual amount of misleading rhetoric regarding taxes and government spending. We owe it to ourselves to separate fact from fiction. Get one of these posters. Tack it up on a wall where your family, friends, coworkers or students can see it. And get the conversation started.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Free Speech on Vacation

We Americans pride ourselves on freedom of speech - except for when we don't.

I was back east over the holidays visiting my son and his wife. The weather was pleasant - sunny and warm for late December. So we went sight-seeing. As we were strolling the streets of a lovely, scenic seaside town (whose name will be revealed at the end of this post), my son pointed to this sign.

"What do you think that sign says, Mom?" he asked. Thinking it was a joke, I said, "I don't know - no swearing?" "Yup," he answered. Still thinking it might be a joke, I started to look more closely at signs posted along the street. I saw that these "no cursing" signs appear all along the main street. Apparently, folks around here are not kidding. (Which naturally made me WANT to cuss up a blue streak. There's nothing like being told "no" to make an activity irresistible.)

In case visitors don't get the message, posted in between the "no swearing" signs are more signs, each with a reminder about "language:"
Reading this, I had to laugh. I live in a beach community, too. I know what it is like to have your neighborhood taken over by thousands of strangers the moment the sun comes out. Most of the people who show up are respectful of others and don't have to be told what the "rules" are. And the people who disturb the peace - don't read signs. 

Surely the good people of Virginia Beach, Virginia, can find better uses for their tax dollars.

Monday, January 23, 2012


I've been on a quest to find the ideal exercise program for some time now. It has been a while, but I do remember what it feels like to be in shape and enjoy a good workout. I want that feeling back in my life. Since my hip surgery 3 years ago, I've tried tai chi, pilates, and yoga, but none of them really satisfied me.

And then I tried Zumba! Zumba is a Latin-inspired, dance fitness program that combines upbeat music with moves from salsa, merengue, samba, cha cha, hip hop and even belly dancing. No matter how old you are or what shape you are in, you can do this. Honestly, if I can do it, you can, too. There are three of us in my class who are over the age of 60 and we have so much FUN!

Zumba fits my definition of the ideal workout. It challenges me, but isn't so demanding that I get discouraged or hurt myself. It builds core strength and helps improve my balance. It is aerobic exercise so I get a pleasant endorphin glow that lasts for hours afterward. It opens up my aging joints and gives me more flexibility. I am famously uncoordinated and Zumba helps me connect my body to my brain. It is a mental exercise, as well, because it involves learning a new skill and remembering dance steps.

Zumba is affordable, too. In Seattle, classes are offered at most community centers and YMCA facilities and fees range from around $7 - $12 per class. If you live in an area where classes are not available, you can get Zumba dvds from Amazon (see link above). Zumba is also available for Wii and XBox systems.

Here's a sample video to give you an idea of a few dance steps. There are dozens more to watch on YouTube. Enjoy!