Where do we go from here?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Frosty Paws

So, here I am, sitting in the room we call "the office" since it is where our desks, file cabinets, supplies, computer/printer and so forth are located, trying to keep the circulation going in my fingers by typing.  The circulation is imperiled by the fact that when I woke up this morning I discovered that the furnace was not working.  At all. We don't keep heat on at night, as we sleep in flannel, down, quilts, and cats, and rarely need any extra heat. But as soon as I get up into the icy winter house, I turn the heat on.  Our highest setting at any time of day is 69, once in a great while 70.  This morning when I turned the thermostat up to 68, nothing happened.  And it still isn't happening.  It's 33 degrees outside, and it sure feels a lot like that in here, despite the space heaters I have going in this room and the kitchen.  I've closed these two rooms off to the rest of the house, and from time to time I go turn on the oven for an extra little blast of warmth.  We called the company that services our heater and swamp cooler as soon as we could, and supposedly at some yet-undisclosed time today a technician will show up to see what's going on and presumably fix it.  This happened several weeks ago, on one of the only cold days in November, and THAT technician seemed quite vague and unsure of his fix. It's a quite new furnace, and this is a mystifying problem.  I don't want to build a fire in the fireplace, as I keep imagining that the fix-it guy will come and I'll be released from my waiting - I have a lot I need to do do in the world outside this house, and don't want to leave a fire burning while I go to La Montanita for food resupply.

I'm always amazed when anything of this nature happens:  malfunction of necessary systems, power outages, big roof leaks, and so forth - to see how dependent we really are on these systems. We have all come to take heat/light/water on command as a given, as well as all that comes to us piggybacking on those utilities. We take having what we want where we want it when we want it as the Natural Order of the Universe, and when that order of the universe is interrupted, we freak.

I think of my friend Kathy, working with Innovative Communities.orgFoundation in Guatemalan villages, where there are no systems to malfunction, where poverty and natural catastrophe are the governing orders.  Kathy and the people she works with are replacing traditional unvented open hearths with safe, fuel-efficient  stoves, installing water filters for families at risk from water-bourne illness, providing school supplies and library books for children. I knew Kathy when we were both privileged young women studying abroad in France, and we have remained long-distance friends ever since. The work she is doing is amazing and the people she works with are the ones who should inherit the earth when all our power systems finally wink out completely as our way of life collapses.   As I do believe it will, perhaps even within my lifetime. I should be learning to live much more sustainably, to depend far less on these external-to-me systems. So, I put on more layers, I eat two zucchini-mushroom tamales,( warmed in the microwave, because not all of my systems have yet collapsed), let the fix-it guy in, he finds it to be a bad pressure switch, and now he's gone to pick up a new one.  A good one, I hope. And then I read that in England, where they are having a terrible run of freezing weather: "Thousands of homes could run out of heating oil over Christmas and rationing will be introduced if the freezing weather continues, the Government has warned." None of us are ready for what is eventually coming down the pike.

If you'd like to know more about ICO's work in Guatemala, there is a blog, with wonderful photos and day-to-day stories of what is happening.  It will take you right there.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Doing The Happy Dance

Getting good news is just such a kick in the pants.  And we have great good news.  Before we went to Denver last week Gail had a new lipid panel done.  Yesterday we saw her doctor for a report on said lipids.  And the report has major changes from the one she got in October, the one that occasioned her stress test, which brought the diagnosis of CAD, and therefore our new eating lifestyle.  Her numbers have all improved - bad cholesterol down, good cholesterol up, triglycerides waaay down, cholesterol in transition from dense and heavy to light and fluffy (something no one has ever mentioned as a marker before), blood pressure totally normal. So, to celebrate we went to yoga, then to Whole Foods for an enormous salad, then for a forty minute fast walk in the mall.  The mall is our least favorite place to walk, but it was dark by then and we had to get a birthday present for my niece anyway.  The important things in our lives now are eating vegetables, beans and salads, walking every day, yoga twice a week, meditation and breathing exercises.  Gail is by no means out of the woods, but she can at least see the sunlight from within the trees.  We are continuing this regime, she'll have more blood tests in three months, another stress test in six months. I think even if she is ever given a clean bill of health we will continue as vegans, perhaps adding in a little of the good oils, and more things like nuts and avocados. We have both lost weight, feel so much better, and are now at least True Believers, if not Total Fanatics.

I have to thank Bill Clinton here, for giving us the original impetus to take this route (rather than the catheterization/angioplasty/stent/medication route) and my niece Jessica for sending us her copy of Eat To Live, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, (the book that has now become our bible) and for helping me dive into vegan cooking.  As anyone who has read the sparse entries in this blog over the past couple of months is aware of my initial displeasure with the diet, putting it mildly.  I have had serious mental breakdowns over trying to shop, cook, and eat this way - sometimes daily.  Over the past several weeks I have made some peace with chard, black beans, romaine, broccoli, whole grains, etcetera. The results of the diet as shown in Gail's blood tests, and in the fact that she almost never has any angina any more (a small amount once in a great while when we go uphill too hard and fast), firm up my resolve to become the best vegan/low fat/low oil/low salt cook I can be.

Before we went to Denver I rambled around online looking at Denver restaurants, and discovered an unbelievably wonderful vegetarian/vegan place downtown called Watercourse Foods.  We took Gail's son Evan and his two kids there to breakfast on Sunday - with totally positive results. They do serve eggs, so Char could have scrambled eggs with her vegan French toast, and Ben could have eggs and "normal" pancakes too. The existence of such a place fills me with joy and delight.  It IS possible to eat in this hyper-healthy fashion and still be a foodie, it is, it is!!!  Watercourse is enough to make me think long and hard about moving to Denver. Do check out the website, it is beautiful in and of itself.  The artwork on the site is from the walls of the restaurant, by a phenomenal  artist, whose other work is entirely different from what is on the walls at Watercourse.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Maybe Life Will Go On After All

Oh my, it's over a month since I have posted here, and then it was just a little recipe for Oatmeal Cake. It's been a difficult five weeks since posting that recipe, although it is somewhat embarrassing to admit that the difficulty has been adjusting to a diet that is so foreign to my nature.  Embarrassing, but true, that I have spent these weeks in utter misery over missing the foods that I have eaten and loved all my life.  Eaten, loved, gained large amounts of weight on (gained, lost, gained, lost - the same old story everyone knows all too well), packed my arteries with cholesterol, raised my blood pressure, reached pre-diabetic status, yes, and so on and so forth. Anyone who has read my post The REAL Change of Life, knows what I am talking about in terms of this new diet. It's interesting to me that some of my friends seem to have interpreted what we are doing as Vegetarian - when in fact it is so much more radical than that. Being Vegetarian, which we were for some years, seems like distant dream to us now.  Even just being Vegan would be a piece of cake (oh those food metaphors, they are everywhere, aren't they?) at this point. My main reading in the past weeks has been Vegan cookbooks and websites, looking for recipes that would make life and eating more enjoyable.  But so many of the recipes I find contain oil as a major ingredient, (and oils are off our list) that I haven't found too much to add to my meager repertoire.

But - I've been inventing my own recipes, adjusting other people's recipes to make them possible on our plan, eating far less ( and here I have to cite a post by our guru Dr. Fuhrman about hunger, what it is, how we experience it, how it changes on his diet plan: Redefining Hunger.), feeling much better physically, losing weight, and constantly bitching and whining about it all.  Last night after supper I suddenly realized that all three meals we had had yesterday, all cooked and eaten at home, had been delicious and enjoyable.  It was a huge revelation.  Yesterday's meals were: for breakfast, oatmeal with warm mixed berries, lunch: pinto beans and rice on corn tortillas, with green chile salsa, the obligatory big green salad (to be known hereafter as the BGS), tangerines as dessert,  and for dinner: the BGS and roasted vegetables (fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, red, green and yellow peppers, onions, garlic, butternut squash), apple slices and Barbara's raspberry newtons for dessert. My feelings about yesterday's meals were a huge revelation - maybe we CAN continue with this program, and maybe we can, especially Gail, be healthier than we have been in many years. And, btw, the discovery of Barbara's newtons, several kinds, has been a godsend.

One of the biggest problems with such a radical approach to eating is that food/eating is one of humanity's biggest social constructs. Almost every social occasion we can imagine revolves in some way around food, its preparation and consumption.  Even our neighborhood book club has turned into a showcase for our members' gourmet cooking.  Which I enjoyed and participated in while I was eating like an ordinary person, but now we are contemplating dropping out of book club altogether. And as I moaned on Facebook, starting such a program coming into the Major Food Holidays was a crazy move.  We couldn't imagine what to do about Thanksgiving, didn't travel to any of our family celebrations, nor accept any local invitations.  We did survive the holiday, thanks to great food resources here in this city.  With mushroom/walnut loaf and Southwestern cornbread dressing from La Montanita, creamed spinach and mushroom/sage gravy, half a berry explosion pie from Whole Foods, and our own BGS, all of it vegan (Gail didn't eat the pie crust, but I must admit that I did. I am not a saint, by anyone's definition.), although we couldn't know how much oil and/or salt was in any of it - we made a holiday compromise.  The food was all entirely delicious, the lack of animal products not a hardship at all. We'll be going to Denver to visit Gail's kids soon, and travel, like social occasions, is another difficult task.  We'll take what we can with us for road food, shop at Whole Foods when we get there, and relax a little while we're eating with the boys and their families.  Gail is having her cholesterol checked tomorrow, so she feels a little stepping out of the box will be okay.  A little.  A very little.