Mapping Wales

8:18pm, Friday, June 7, 2013

I’m sitting by Ian’s hospital bed while he thrashes, contorts his face, lifts a shaking hand… bedeviled by an unseen demon.

Today was a brutal day but with a small dose of better.

His fever is slipping away. His chest x-ray is less bad by a tiny but measurable margin. He’s using a more stylish breathing mask and still holding his own.

I’m watching him inch his way back to us.

He’s is. He’s coming back to us.

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But now that he’s not underwater with sick, he knows how majorly this sucks. Everything hurts. Everything is hard. Everything is scary.

Food. Breathing. Drugs. Bathroom. Breathing. Bath. Breathing.

But he’s being buoyed by love… sent in words and colorful pillowcases, potato soup and banana bread, airport pick ups and rides for Lucy.

And for me, cups of tea and whispered prayers, food and flowers, future massages, brothers-in-law and brothers-in-arms, ballet moms and super dads, my sister and sisters-in-law, my mom and mom-in-laws, and the army of incredible women and men who hold my virtual hand, and would hurtle themselves across the country to hold my real one.

Today, Santa Monica fell to pieces and went to hell. Another fucking shooter, the President blocks away, and Lucy in lock down. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t feel my fingers.

Oh. Please. No.

Then a text from a kind friend. She’s with me. She’s safe. I’ll bring her to you. And I fell to my knees.

Tonight, Lucy’s chorus recorded their rehearsal in honor of her dad who won’t be there to cheer her on tomorrow. Ian and I held hands, heard our beautiful girl sing on a scratchy iPhone recording, and cried. Dumbstruck by where we suddenly are. And, so, so grateful, that we are not where might have been.

El Bosque Roto

Hi Honey!

You’re far, far away from me right now. I’m here, touching your feet. But you’re somewhere else. Somewhere very deep. And probably kind of dark.

I can almost see you there, in that dense forest. You’re taking your time, looking around, touching the soil. You’re wondering, what can I use to get back to my girls?

You’ve always being “nickled & dimed” by annoying physical shit (your phrase, not mine). So, I figured irony would dictate that I would be the one to get something serious. Wow, was I wrong.

I’ve basically been wrong from the beginning here. When we first went to the emergency room on Sunday morning, I was pretty sure the chest x-ray was a waste of time and you just had a lousy virus. But that cute mountain-bike riding doctor, sent us home with a diagnosis of pneumonia and a z-pack. And then when you were admitted later that night with an excruciating headache, I was sure that they’d manage your pain over night and we’d all be watching So You Think You Can Dance together on before bedtime on Monday. And then, and then, and then…

And now western medicine is doing what it does best. It’s sticking your body to the earth. It’s giving you the oxygen you can’t breathe yourself. It’s giving you the liquids you can’t drink on your own. It’s filling you with a bunch of medicines you don’t really need just in case you do.

I don’t know that we’ll ever know how you got so sick.

I wish I could draw you the map for the journey back. I wish I could pack you a lunch (and you know how much I HATE packing lunch) or bundle you up in durable, wicking clothes. Really, I wish I could come with you. I have an incredibly good sense of direction. That could be really helpful.

But I can’t.

Here’s what I can do. I can be your constant light. Me and the crazy disturbed following you’ve cultivated over the years. We’re standing here. We are the light.

And in front of us is your little girl.

Her name is light. Just follow that light.

Okay?

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I have heard the mermaids singing each to each

Wednesday, June 5th

July 4th, 2001, when Ian and had been dating about nine months, we invited a bunch of friends to the barn/house I had rented in Stephentown, NY. We were preparing to shoot our independent film, the ill fated but almost-glorious PINK HOUSE. We were nervous and distracted, but happy to be surrounded by friends. It was a sticky New York summer’s day with thick air you feel on your skin. Ian and Kelly were playing guitar. In the middle of, weirdly, an Indigo Girls medley, Ian abruptly stood up, complaining of pain in his back. He lay down while I tried to WASP the whole thing away… nerves, exhaustion or gas. After an unrelenting hour, he begged me to take him to the hospital.

Stephentown is a long way from anywhere. Or, more to the point, anywhere with a hospital. This was a pre-GPS world, and you just had to KNOW where a hospital was. I could get us to Pittsfield and then I kinda, sorta thought I might have seen a hospital. Once. But, basically, I was relying on my bat sensors.

When we were cresting the small mountain pass between New York and Massachusetts, I looked over to Ian, squirming and seething with pain. Normally, my guy has the strapping ruddy complexion of Welsh sailor. But in that moment, I could see EVERY freckle in his face and I knew we were in serious trouble.

Swimming up from the bottom of his misery, he asked me how much longer. With all my sober love, I said, “It’s going to be a while, honey. At least fifteen minutes. Hang in there. I will get you there as soon as I can.” While secretly, I was hoping beyond hope that I could intuit my way to the ER.

Turns out, he had a kidney stone and they were able vanquish the pain handily. He professed his love to me in an opiate haze as we heard fireworks in the distance.

About a week later, Ian said, “Remember when you told me we were 15 minutes away from the hospital.” “Of course,” I answered, proud of my loving calm in that stressful moment. “That sucked.”

Apparently, one of the first things you’re taught as a lifeguard is to tell the drowning guy that he’s almost to shore… you’re really close, it’s right over there, just another minute.

You definitely don’t say, “Yeah. Wow. It’s going to a be long time before you’re anywhere near help.”

But, today, that’s exactly what I did.

Ian is consistently and visibly sicker than he has been. He’s the sickest person I’ve been around who’s not old and known to be dying

There were no quips today from my smart ass. Barely words. He didn’t eat. And owing to some serious intestinal issues kicked up from the antibiotics and pain meds, he couldn’t bare to see Lucy, which is usually the great pleasure of his day.

We’re still waiting on cultures and blood tests to see if we can narrow down the cause of this atypical pneumonia. The doctors of St. John’s are clustered in the corners, brainstorming, while every antibiotic invented is dripping into his veins.

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I had a long, private talk with one of the doctors in order to help me set some expectations for all of us, especially Lucy. Ian has him worried and he warned me to expect things to get worse before they get better. When I asked him what that would look like, he equivocated. There are some things better left unimagined. So I changed tack. If this is our nadir, what does recovery look like?

I needed to make plans for splitting in two – a mom and a wife -and for how much help we might need when Ian gets home. I was thinking ahead. Planning – the privilege of the healthy.

When Ian asked me about the conversation with the doctor, I stupidly told him the truth.

Halting. Good days and bad. Another week in the hospital. A couple more weeks at home.

He’ll miss Lucy’s ballet recital and chorus performance. Her end of school poetry reading and the last day of school.

I saw the light drain from his eyes as I basically announced to him, “Yeah buddy, the shore is miles from here and you’re still going out to sea.”

So, that wasn’t my best move, but here’s what I know: even when I’m afraid, even when I have to explain to Lucy that she can’t see her dad today, or promise his mom that I will call if it gets worse, or hold his hand when he drifts through swells of pain, I know that he will make it to shore. And, more than that, all of you will be there to greet him.

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He is Large, He Contains Multitudes

Ian scared the bejeezus out of me tonight. He was full of his usual vitriol and pith earlier today. The whole thing was a little hospitally, to be sure… low blood pressure, coughing, nasty headache, blah, blah. But it was a fine, lumpy, institutional day, made so much better by the onslaught of incredible emails (please keep them coming).

Then, suddenly, we were in a health black hole. He couldn’t breathe, he spiked a fever, and he looked at me, completely haunted, and asked, “Is this how people die? You just slowly drown?”

In an instant, there was a hive of people swarming around him. A CT angiogram was ordered. Luvonox was ordered. An oxygen mask was on his face. A monitor was on his finger. He was sent to a post critical care unit with higher level monitoring. More and different antibiotics were ordered.

There’s no way around it. Nothing is better and everything is worse. His pneumonia is worse. His breathing is worse. His fever is worse. But, a couple of hours after the panic, Ian was offering his personal narration to a muted telenovela on Univision. It was like a mashup of Douglas Sirk, Selena, and Luis Bunuel. Absurd and hilarious.

Our dear friend – and blog denizen – Caitlin Reed, who is an infectious disease MD, spent some time with Ian tonight and is reassured that the hospital is doing everything right. And she’s got, like, eight degrees, including one in Zoology, or Entomology, or something cool and totally not Comp Lit.

And he’s being looked after by a pretty groovy team: Tatiana, the Eastern European night nurse with goth red bangs and an impenetrably thick accent who said, I think, “No vun iz happy wis blood-ox of 90. He need mask,” and the energetic breathing specialist who looks like the respiratory therapist version of my friend Eric Rosen (who is sooo NOT a respiratory therapist), and, finally, Shareen, who scolded Ian for interrupting her rounds and then scrubbed him down like a loving and determined mama cat.

Somehow, I have managed to sell this to Lucy as weird but fine. So, if you know her, keep it light.

Here’s the truth: my husband, my crazypants, pain-in-the-ass, loyal husband, my stunningly brilliant and profoundly daft husband, my kind and lovely husband… is really sick.

And, I’m a little scared.

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Lucy’s self-portrait that Ian looks at from his hospital bed

Tessa, Guest Blogging from Ian’s Hospital Room

Hi all. This is Tessa. I’m taking over the blog for a few days while my slack-ass husband kicks back in a hospital room, eating red jello.

He’s always wanting me to guest blog but it’s just an impossible task. Joe Biden is a crazy lovable mensch but we voted for Barack Obama, if you know what I mean. While I will be a poor substitute, I would like to ask you a favor.

Can you all write an email to Ian about your lives? It could be an exegesis on your latest minor obsession, a rant about how sucky your boss or your kid’s school or your commute is, a celebration of a small pleasure or a declaration of a big change. Better than flowers, these missives will fill his room with the thing that sustains Ian–family, friends and stories. Send them to me tessablake at mac.

So, here’s what’s happened thus far … I’ll be back with more tomorrow.

After three days of unabating fever, we went to the ER on Sunday morning. Ian was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent home with meds. Four hours later, he was back in the ER with excruciating head pain. They admitted him on Sunday night. The following is the email I sent to the family last night.

On Monday morning, I woke up all sunshine and certainty. The hospital would have controlled his pain overnight — and thank god for that, because, come on, who wants to deal with Ian in pain? — and he would be coming home today (Monday). I almost didn’t pull the trigger on having Steve (Ian’s brother who lives 300 miles away) come because I thought we were through the worst.

I went to see him after I dropped Lucy at school. I spoke with the doctor and it was clear to me that there was no way we were leaving today.

The hospital had called in an infectious disease specialist, and Ian was as miserable as when I left him the night before … Worse, actually because they hadn’t managed his pain well at all and he had a TERRIBLE night. Plus, there was some crazy lady down the hall who was shrieking most of the night. Now, I know that Ian is prone to hyperbole, but I heard her, and there’s no other word for it. She shrieks.

At midday, Dr. Morton, the infectious disease specialist, examined Ian. Those doctors get to ask the coolest questions … about travel and what you do for work and your pets. It’s so fun and House-y. She ordered a bunch of other tests.

They’re treating him with antibiotics for pneumonia, percocet for pain, maxalt for the migraine, zofran for nausea (due to the pain), and albuterol and something else for the lungs. So, every fifteen minutes someone is coming into to administer a nebulizer or check his blood oxygen or take his temperature or start a new IV bag.

There’s no reason to panic. He’s in a good hospital with smart doctors. But he’s being described as seriously ill. Though — and this is important — not critically ill. But it’s just not how you think these things should go … You get sick for a while and then you get better. Well, he’s been sick for a while and he’s, um, a little worse.

Today, his chest X-ray showed more fluid, his blood oxygen was lower, and his temperature was higher.

So, if this is just the pneumonia, it means illness was in full bloom by the time we got him to the hospital and the meds should start prevailing tomorrow. And, if it’s some other weird thing on top of the pneumonia, we should know that in the next day or so.

When Steve arrived, Lucy and Steve and I went to visit. Strictly speaking, we flouted the rules. Ideally you have a firm diagnosis before you let kids visit but, if it’s contagious, Lucy and I have already been exposed to it. And the kid needed to see her dad.

She seemed a little wigged out at first to see Ian so incapacitated. But then she acclimated and became hilarious as she pretended to host the new hit show SICK DADDO.

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I went over to the hospital one last time before bed. Ian’s temp was up to 102.7 and he was just miserable but there were lots of medications being administered, so I left when he looked like he would actually be able to crash for a few hours.

I’m optimistic that tomorrow will be better but I’m also just trying to stay in the day and not have, or set, too many expectations.

i know a place where we can go

5/28/13

A couple days ago, I made my thousandth “friend” on Facebook, and it happened to occur right before my birthday – an event that FB makes shockingly easy for the well-wisher, yet utterly delightful for the receiver. It’s one of those transactions you can complain about until it’s your turn, and you realize how wonderful it is.

The two events occurring in the same weekend gave me pause: do I really have a thousand friends? As I’ve said before, I tried to calculate my friend number around 1999 or so, when an inner voice told me – at the depths of my despondency, mind you – that I’d already met the girl I was going to marry. That turned out to be right, of course, but my “number of actual friends” estimation was 500.

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Granted, we’ve all met a lot of people in the last 14 years, but how inaccurate was that number? Let’s start by defining what a “friend” is, regardless of how it might happen on Facebook. I’ll say that a friend is defined by at least one of the following:

• someone with whom you’ve exchanged ongoing meaningful dialogue, whether it was work, financial, platonic or romantic in nature

• someone whose personality, habits, quirks, or secrets would allow you to differentiate them from all others

• someone with whom you have a shared history, or having gone through a similar ordeal, or having been through a meaningful event in the same place at the same time

Or perhaps you want to make it simpler, such as “someone with whom you have mutual respect/understanding because of past contact.”

We all have a different idea about what “friend” means (and I’d love to hear yours as well), especially when it seems as though social media and the internet have abused the concept, or at least stretched it into meaninglessness. On Facebook, friend counts are frequently absurd: you can forget about people in high school and college who have friended every member of their graduating class, and half of all the others.

Others with insanely high numbers are those who use Facebook as a means to some other end, a business venture, a band, or a following. And of course, there are those folks, especially in Hollywood, who get bombarded with friend requests because “knowing” them may offer some career advantage.

I concede it’s all very silly. But upon arriving at 1,000 it seemed like it was time to take back the notion of friendship. Make it mean something again, at least to me, and to celebrate the people who have affected my life so wonderfully.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I am going to write at least a couple of sentences about every “friend” I have. I won’t do it on every blog, and I’ll never do more than 3-4 at a time, but I have a pretty fucking good memory, and I promise none of them will be boring. Nor will they paint anyone in an unflattering light, because this is all about LOVE LOVE LOVE, baby.

Like all of you, I have some FB friends that I don’t know, or I do know, but need to be reminded. So if you hear from me, and I ask how we know each other, don’t immediately think I’m a dick. There’s plenty of time for that later.

I shan’t be embarrassing anybody, nor outing strangers, or making this a self-involved ego trip. I just want to try forging an actual connection between the concept of “friendship” and the reality of people who have impacted our lives. And if that ain’t cool with you, let me have it.

 

the ovo-lacto-vegetarian’s dilemma

5/22/13

As promised, here is Nancy’s tips for beginners to a plant-based food routine. And lest I forget, you can follow her yourself over at her blog, the jam-packed Chapel Hill Recorder. In her own words now:

***

My Guide to Eating a Plant-Based Diet

Here is what I usually send to people who are vegan-curious. It’s a short summary about how I maintain my vegan-ness on a daily basis. And also, I’ve included my recipe for Green Smoothies, which you can adapt however you want, and a really great protein-rich breakfast bar.

Since I am vegan mainly for health reasons, (helping animals and the environment are definite perks, though), I spent several years studying vegan nutrition in order to do it healthily. I always say that vegan doesn’t always mean healthy, since Pepsi and French fries are vegan, but you aren’t going to get healthy that way.

I stick mostly to just whole foods and cook them from scratch. My rule of thumb is not to buy anything my great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food, and limit the amount of cans and bar codes in my pantry. (Try to get as many pantry staples in glass instead of cans. If you do buy food in cans, try to use Eden Organic, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods brand — they don’t contain the BPA lining that most cans do.)

Think about this — do you want your food coming to you straight from a farm to the shelf, or produced with machines in a factory, and then preserved with lots of salt and chemicals, and packaged, and shipped from far away, and then sitting on a shelf for who knows how long?

Keep in mind, if you go for it, and “go vegan” your system takes about 6 weeks to adjust and normalize. You are essentially going to be de-toxing all the crap out (literally), and adding in all that extra fiber will essentially clean you out, which is a good thing – but you might not be used to it.

Stick with it and you will start to feel great after about 2 weeks, if you are pretty strict with it, and even better after 6 weeks. Don’t think about it as if you will never be able to have a piece of cheddar cheese again… because of course you can if you want to. I just believe the closer you get to vegan as often as you can, the better.

Once you start to feel better, you won’t want that piece of cheese anyway, or at least, that’s what keeps me dairy-free. And don’t beat yourself up if you stray or have an extra-unhealthy day – that stress will tear you up more than the burger and fries you just ate!

Here is my overview about what I learned about being vegan the right way, and what works for me:

B12: Take a multi-vitamin or B-12 vitamin every day to cover your B-12 vitamin needs, or buy some Red Star nutritional yeast and sprinkle it on stuff like salads, spaghetti and veggies.


Proteins come from whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread/tortillas/pitas), beans & legumes (pinto, black, garbanzo, etc. — lentils are great), nuts, soy/tempeh/seitan, and green, leafy veggies (spinach, kale, collards, etc.)

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You have to get over having your meal revolve around the “meat” on your plate. When you think about it, if meat is the staple of your meal, there are only like 5 options: chicken, beef, pork, lamb and fish. My diet actually became much more diverse and varied the second I took the meat off my plate.

What are typically “side dishes” become your whole meal, and it’s easy to make those feel complete. (See awesome cookbook authors below). But there are PLENTY of “fake” meat options if you need them: Tofu Pups are great soy hot dogs. Boca Burger and Amy’s make great vegan veggie burgers (most others have dairy/eggs, so read the ingredients.)

There are soy sausages, chicken patties, tempeh bacon, seitan chicken stir-fry strips, etc. if you are craving something meaty. They are usually in the fridge/freezer section. I tend to stay away from most of these things, because they are highly processed, and I don’t crave meat anymore.

Calcium comes from those awesome green, leafy veggies, too, as well as nuts, fortified cereals, fortified tofu and “milks” like almond, rice, soy, oat and hemp. Silk brand is the best soy milk for flavor and texture, though I don’t use it anymore because it contains carrageenan, which is a stomach irritant, and possibly linked with stomach cancer. I can’t find any hemp milk without carrageenan, though I love it.

For mayonnaise, get some Veganaise. It’s even better that the real thing! For sour cream and cream cheese, Tofutti makes them and they are delicious! You can also make your own vegan sour cream, cheeses and mayonnaise, if you want to. There are also vegan parmesan cheeses for shaking on top of pastas, etc. but I just use nutritional yeast.

Rice Dream is the best rice milk, which I don’t use any more because of possible inorganic arsenic contamination. I use Whole Foods 365 almond milk for everything because it is the only one I can find without carrageenan and it has a great texture and cooks well. Replacing the dairy is much easier these days. Use the “milks” above, and get some Daiya “cheese” from Whole Foods or get it online here or here.

It’s yummy, melts, and it’s dairy and soy-free! (Perfect for quesadillas, pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches!) For butter, use Earth Balance Margarine or simply sautee in olive oil, or even better, veggie broth/bullion when cooking. I love Amande almond milk yogurt especially because it is fruit sweetened. (Check the label because some soy yogurts are not vegan.)

Most breads are OK, except muffins (unless specified vegan like from Whole Foods), egg bagels and croissants. Though some bakery breads are coated with egg, to give them shine, so check. Gluten-free breads almost always have egg.

Sugars: Yes, I know, sugar seems like it would be vegan, but a lot of granulated cane sugar is refined with “bone char”… ick. And it’s not healthy at all, so when I need sweetener, I use maple sugar Grade B (Grade A is often processed with formaldehyde… ick, again!), date sugar, or coconut nectar. Don’t be fooled into thinking Agave Nectar is healthy even though it is low-glycemic index and found in health food stores. Studies show it is actually worse for you than high-fructose corn syrup!

Eggs: There are many egg substitutes if you want to bake something like cookies or cakes. You can use Ener-g Egg Replacer, which is a powder from a box, ground flax seeds, applesauce, mashed banana, silken tofu, mashed pumpkin, or yogurt. Here is a helpful link, though if you find a vegan baking recipe will already say what works best. Try this. You can even make vegan quiche, frittatas, and French toast that are delicious!

Great vegan cookbook authors:

Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Joanne Stepaniak

Sarah Kramer

Terry Hope Romero

Christina Pirello

Toni Fiore

…and new on the scene is Durham resident Kathy Hester for slow-cooking options. Usually in the intro of any vegan cookbook, they give you the low-down on what ingredients are, how to stock your vegan pantry, eat a balanced meal, etc. and lots more useful tips. My current favorite is Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. It’s wonderful!

Great vegan web sites include: 


The Post-Punk Kitchen

Vegan Coach

The Vegan Dad

Green Smoothie Girl

DeliciousTV

VegWeb

VeganEssentials

Vegsource

Great vegan books, if you want more info on the benefits, etc.:

Diet for a New America and/or Food Revolution by John Robbins

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell

The Vegan Diet as Chronic Disease Prevention by Kerrie Saunders.

There are also a ton of “how-to” books out there now, because it’s becoming trendy, but I haven’t read any of them. Skinny Bitch is popular because of the title, but I hear it’s pretty harsh and preachy, and I’m not that type of vegan.

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Going out to eat: Chinese, Indian and Mediterranean are your best bets. With Indian, just make sure there is no yogurt (raita), paneer (cheese) or ghee (butter), and nan bread is usually buttered, but paratha or roti is usually OK is you ask them not to butter it. And with Med food, no taziki sauce, but tahini and hummus are fine. With Italian, often even the marinara sauce has cheese or is flavored with veal, and sometimes the noodles contain egg, so ask.

For Mexican, just get a veggie entree with no cheese and no sour cream, but extra guacamole. It’s actually yummy that way if you slather it in guacamole instead. Refried beans are sometimes made with lard, so ask first. Thai is usually OK, but some tend to use Fish Sauce in curries, sauces and Pad Thai, etc. so be sure to ask first. Vietnamese food often uses beef broth for flavoring in Pho, so be sure to ask about that, too, but Thai and Vietnamese are usually vegan-friendly.

If I find myself in a really vegan-un-friendly restaurant like a steak house, I just look at all the sides that come with the entrees and ask the waiter to make me a huge veggie plate just of sides, making sure they are not sautéed in butter or other dairy like cheese, of course, and sometimes get a salad with vinaigrette to start, but without croutons because they are usually buttered. I have never gone hungry in a restaurant, except while traveling in Cyprus — seriously, everything there is a pork kebob! I basically survived on cashews.

Other non-vegan ingredients to avoid:

• Gelatin (including marshmallows, gummies, jello)


• Casein (calcium caseinate, Found in many soy cheeses)


• Rennet (Also found even in soy cheese sometimes)


• Whey (a dairy product found in lots of things… breads, non-vegan nutritional yeast, margarine)


• Mayonnaise (most contain egg)


• Pasta (Some contain egg)


• Fries (Some are cooked in animal oils or contain beef tallow)


• Breaded Fried Foods (Most are dipped in egg to bind the breading)

Green Smoothie Recipe:
 I highly recommend buying a high-powered blender, like Blendtec or Vitamix. Seems extravagant, but I use my Blendtec every day. Blend together a few leaves of raw kale, raw collards, spinach and about 30 oz. of water, depending on the size of your blender.

Then add a package of frozen mixed berries, an apple (no seeds), and a banana. I usually add 1/4 cup ground golden flax seeds, 1/4 cup flax oil (or Udo’s Choice) and 1/4 cup hemp powder or pea protein powder, but these are optional. This recipe is really flexible, so add whatever you feel like to the raw greens base — it’s all good!

Yummy Breakfast Bars:

1/2 C quinoa, prepared to yield about 2 C
; 1 1/4 C water
; 2 C oatmeal; 
1/2 C dried fruit (craisins, dried apricots diced, dried cherries diced, figs, etc. Whatever you feel like.); 
1 1/2 T ground flax seeds (for health, slightly nutty flavor, no prob to omit)


(the following are to taste, roughly tablespoon each, less on the ginger) 
cinnamon/
cocoa powder/
powdered ginger
; 1/2 C natural peanut butter
; 1/3 C sweetener (I do grade B maple syrup); 
1/2 C milk (I use almond milk)

Combine quinoa and water in small saucepan, bring to a boil then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 mins.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine next six dry ingredients. Stir to distribute powders and fruit evenly. Add peanut butter. When quinoa is done, add it to the bowl, covering the peanut butter. (The hot quinoa helps melt the peanut butter, which makes it easier to stir.) Add sweetener and milk. Stir all ingredients until well mixed.

Put the batter into a small casserole dish and bake at 350° for 15 mins. When cool, cut into bars and refrigerate.

Hope that is all helpful! I know it is a lot to process. There is definitely a learning curve to it all, and I am learning new things all the time, but I was happily surprised to find it was easier than I thought it would be, and instead of feeling limited in my diet or deprived, I have in fact been eating a greater variety of foods and cooking a lot more, and I feel great!

 

the omnivores are ubiquitous

5/21/13

We’ve got a guest blogger today: Nancy Ingram Largent, someone I appreciated from afar back in the Daisy Age of the very early ’90s in NC, when her band Plutopia used to play Apple Chill and other venues about town.

In my quest to understand the food nightmare of modern America, I’ve adopted and open-heart policy of taking everyone’s experience seriously, and as you’ll see below, Nancy was hit with a diagnosis that demanded a life upheaval.

Even though the word “vegan” is mentioned often in these conversations, don’t let the concept fill you with images of humorless self-satisfied lefties cramming their mouths full of tree bark and farting up a storm. Like all things, it’s on a spectrum, and there’s more than one way not to skin a cat.

Secondly, I’ve found that this issue is not a slow, dawning realization – it’s more of a “come to Jesus” flash, usually in the form of a doctor showing you a death warrant that he or she dares you to erase. You may be healthy now, but time’s winged chariot is actually made of buffalo wings.

Nancy’s story is long by web standards, but she’s a wonderful writer… and besides, that’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to keep doing this blog: there has to be somewhere on the internet for the whole story.

And so here she is!

My Convoluted Path to Becoming a Vegan

I have been both saddened and troubled this year from the all-too-frequent posts by my forty-something friends who have been diagnosed with life-threatening health issues that were once unheard of in people of my age group: heart attacks, congestive heart failure, type two diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cancer.

Suddenly faced with their own mortality at such a young age, they reach out on Facebook, Twitter and on the blogosphere for support and help (see Ian’s previous posts.) A few days ago, one friend who is just 45 years old, with two beautiful children, and currently suffering from congestive heart failure and kidney failure wrote, “My cardiologist looked me dead in the eye and asked me, very bluntly, if I wanted to live or die. Of course I told him I wanted to live. Among it seems a million things I had to do, he told me the first thing was to lose 50 lbs.”

Yet like so many of us when facing a health crisis, he does not know where to begin to turn his health around. When doctors spout out a regimen of “diet and exercise” — a catch phrase that has been heard so often it has lost all meaning — they rarely offer any specific plan to help get you there. Furthermore, this prescription to good health sounds like a tortuous punishment rather than a second-chance opportunity to stay on this planet a little longer.

Wanting a quick fix – one that will not interfere with our established lifestyle of comfort foods and habitual lethargy, drugs with innumerable, potential serious side effects are often prescribed.

I understand. I’ve been there. Throughout my twenties and early thirties, I had terrible eating habits. I would work out at the gym for an hour and then I would drive across the street for a double Whopper with cheese, large fries and Coke, feeling like I earned it after all that exercise. My favorite 2am meal was mac and cheese from a blue box with a whole stick of butter, whole milk, and two sliced and fried hot dogs mixed in. This was the full extent of my cooking skills, and yes, I would eat the entire pot of bright orange pasta in one sitting.

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I have many vegetarian friends, but I never dreamed that I would ever limit my culinary delights to such an extreme. And those poor vegans living without cheese! That was completely unfathomable. I chose my meals strictly on taste and convenience – I was so proud of my gluttonous ways that it truly defined me.

Then in 2005, with just one little word, everything changed: cancer. At the age of 35, I was diagnosed with Gestational Trophoblastic Disease — a very rare uterine cancer that developed due to a miscarriage I had had the year before. I was completely terrified, and subjected myself to the traditional treatment for GTD, which involved three months of chemotherapy. It didn’t work. A second opinion at Sloan-Kettering, led to another three months of “therapy” with a much more powerful chemo cocktail made up of five different highly toxic fluids, including six overnight infusions.

During my treatment, I grew doggedly determined to never be ill like that again. Fear is a powerful motivator. It was a lofty goal, for sure. But just ask anyone who has lost his or her health, just how important good health is. I read every book and article I could find on preventative health practices: western, eastern, mainstream, and holistic. Respectable research studies showed time and time again that a vegan plant-based diet not only prevented, but also reversed, chronic health issues like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

This was certainly not the cure-all I was hoping for. After all, I was still very mac and cheese dependent. After much soul-searching, praying, and feeling unshakably resolved to live another day, I decided that after my last chemo treatment on June 15, 2006, I would take the vegan plunge.

Initially, I told myself this would be a temporary plan of detoxification from the chemotherapy, rather than a permanent lifestyle change. The thought of never eating cheese ever again was just too difficult for me to swallow.

With my recovery plan in place, I switched my reading material from preventative medicine to how-to vegan books. Since I was choosing this diet for health reasons, I wanted to be sure that I completely understood nutrition so that I would not be nutrient-deficient during this seemingly restrictive dietary experiment. If the word “vegan” is in the title, chances are I have read that book.

Before I knew it, I had been 100% vegan, and more importantly, cancer-free, for an entire year. I actually learned how to cook from scratch, without depending on Campbell’s soup for sauces. I started buying everything organic, and limited my purchases of processed foods in cans and packages.

My energy had returned, I felt great, and with only one blood test left, I was about to be proclaimed as “cured” by the medical powers that be. More importantly, I was cleared to try and start a family, which is how this entire nightmarish ordeal originally occurred. Life was good again.

Then the unthinkable happened. When the results of my final blood test came back in June of 2007, my cancer had returned. I was completely smacked-down leveled. How was this possible? I was vegan! I spent a whole year on this single-minded mission to regain my health, and it didn’t work. I was flooded with feelings of anger, sadness, hopelessness, and even more fear than before.

Everyone knows cancer relapses are often death-sentences. Even more troubling was that my doctor at Sloan-Kettering, the undeniable GTD expert of the world, had never seen GTD relapse before. We were back at square one, in uncharted territory, without any idea where the cancer was or how to treat it.

After three months of blood test tracking with very confusing results, my options were more chemo, which probably would not have worked because they had already treated me as strong as they could go and it did not work, a hysterectomy, or more chemo plus a hysterectomy. All of these options would make having a child impossible.

There was one more option — to just remove part of my uterus, where the initial cancer was and hope for the best. This would still severely impede my ability to have children, and according to my surgeon, would most likely not cure my cancer. Nevertheless, considering all the other options, this one seemed like the lesser of several evils.

In September of 2007, the myomectomy was performed and three days later, I painfully struggled onto the subway from Brooklyn, and rode it all the way to Sloan-Kettering on the Upper East Side for a blood test. It miraculously came back cancer-free. What had happened was that some of the cancer cells got trapped within the scar tissue that was formed as the tumor was being killed, and therefore were blocked from the chemotherapy. It took a year for them to grow big enough to be detected on the blood test. So once that area was removed completely, so was the cancer.

I breathed deeply for the first time in months, and reassessed where I had been and how far I had come. I initially chose to be vegan out of fear – fear of illness, fear of childlessness, fear of suffering, fear of an untimely death. Those were very valid fears at the time. And I was understandably terrified of relapsing, as all cancer survivors are.

When I actually did relapse, I was so angry at this imaginary entity that is vegan-ness. It had betrayed me. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Eating a plant-based diet was not the definitive cure-all it was guaranteed to be. I felt like impulsively diving down into a never-ending vat of mac and cheese, and never looking back. But I didn’t.

Reflecting on the year that I spent as a vegan before my relapse, I realized that eating well made me feel good. I had more energy. My skin glowed. I was not as sick with colds as I usually was during the winter, and my spring allergies cleared up. My weight was ideal, my blood pressure below normal, and my blood work results from the monthly doctor’s visits was outstanding.

I was still feeling upset that being a vegan did not prevent my cancer relapse. Nevertheless, it did not make any sense to me to punish my body by reverting to my unhealthy, fast-food diet ways, as some sort of misguided protest.

Additionally, after surviving through all of this, I was no longer scared of illness or death. I had stared cancer right in the face twice and had beaten it. Personally, I would love to live to be 100, but I don’t want to be sick and suffering for my last years on Earth, like I see so many elderly people doing. If eating well can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and cancer, I am all for it.

What I later realized is something that was even more life-changing than I ever expected it to be. It is not a new concept, but one I never really considered until I experienced it first-hand. I have found that when decisions are made out of fear, it rarely works out. When choices come from love, miracles happen. I am still a vegan, six years later, not from a fear of becoming ill, but rather out of love for my life, for my body, for animals, and for the environment. And choosing all this love over fear has indeed worked miracles.

After my surgery, I spent a year in remission, getting monthly blood tests. In August of 2008, I was finally labeled “cancer-free” and was cleared to try to start a family, again. But considering my age of 38, the intense chemotherapy treatment I endured, my uterine surgery, and my history of a miscarriage, our chances of having a baby were slim to none.

I was also at a much higher risk of being diagnosed with GTD again, even if I were to have a healthy pregnancy. Choosing love over fear once again, we ignored all the experts and naysayers.

I am a big fan of happy endings, and this one is the happiest. We got pregnant on our first try, and 36 weeks later, our beautiful, healthy daughter was born on April 5, 2009. I stayed vegan throughout my pregnancy and my vegan husband and I are raising her vegan, and she is the poster-child of health.

I am fortunately still cancer-free, considered cured, and my blood work is that of a teenager. I have completely embraced our vegan lifestyle, and jumping into a vat of mac and cheese is the last thing on my mind. If I can do it, anyone can.

The most positive outcome of being a cancer survivor, and a dedicated self-taught nutritionist, is being able to help others through health crises. I am not a preachy vegan, as we all have our own life paths to follow. After all, it took a life-threatening illness to turn my own bad eating habits around.

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I have since counseled many friends facing health challenges about eating better, and have helped them over the hurdles, with varying success rates. Changing how you eat is one of the toughest habits to break, as comfort food is awfully comforting. Eliminating your favorite foods from your diet is like losing your best friends that have stuck by your side through thick, and well, thicker.

There is also a learning curve and discipline involved, which can be intimidating. But if I can help just one person feel better, and add days, months and years to their lives, then everything I went through to get where I am now would be well worth it.

[tomorrow: Nancy’s guide to a plant-based diet!]

 

i wanna graduate from bovine university

5/19/13

Here’s what I want: some kind of constantly-updating site or app that can tell you EXACTLY WHAT TO EAT IF YOU’RE SUFFERING FROM SOME PARTICULAR PROBLEM. Is that really too much to ask?

Take my issue, for example: I’ve got bad LDL cholesterol numbers (between 130-150) and my insulin number is way too high. Adult diabetes runs on my mother’s side of the family, and they control it with diet and being Mormon. High cholesterol is all around them as well, but as far as I know, nobody’s ever died of a heart attack, and some of them are… well, let’s call them “roomy”.

In essence, my problem is boring. High cholesterol and high sugar issues, just like half the planet, despite being relatively “in shape” and “still sporty” and “not having let myself go”. So what’s a motherfucker like me supposed to eat now?

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I got a bunch of books, and I watched a bunch of documentaries about the subject, and now I’m letting everyone chime in with their advice. And you would not believe the level of controversy, paradox, misinformation, and contradiction involved in a simple perusal of your options.

Here’s a sampling: I watched Forks Over Knives on the ol’ Apple TV, which basically says that eliminating meat protein (in favor of plant protein) can do miraculous things with your health. There are lots of testimonials, and by the end, you look at America’s basic diet with profound disgust.

Then a blogger named Denise Minger wrote a very long, and well-versed critique of the movie’s science, which catapulted her into semi-notoriety and hopefully, a book deal of her own.

If you think it should end peacefully there, I don’t recommend any further journey into the online world of raw food, veganism, paleo-diets, or anything sounding like the opposite of humor. But I’ll give you a taste: blogs popped up dedicated to defeat “the cholesterol skeptics, in particular Denise Minger”, prompting others to rush to her defense.

That’s totally fine. Everyone’s got their fiefdom to protect. But I do wish there was some way to find out, via the latest studies, what the overall general recommendations are. Like…

• EGGS. Good in moderation? Bad anytime?

• OILS. Tropical oil bad except for coconut? Even canola oil terrible for you?

• SWEETENERS. Okay, no white sugar, but brown seems just as bad. Switching to honey? Not if you’re pre-diabetic. Okay, then how about Agave nectar, with its lower glycemic index? Well, okay… if you believe in glycemic indices.

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The only theory that has made sense to me so far – at least in concept – is Mark Bittman’s VB6 book, which means being a vegan before 6pm, then eating what you want – in intelligent moderation – for dinner. Whether or not it will work seems oddly secondary; what I do know is that I can actually pull that one off.

I mean, you can say “eat way more plants, eat way less meat, don’t eat processed food and get exercise”, but some of us need more granular directions than that. And of course, there’s the doctor over dinner last night, who said, “the recommendation for LDL cholesterol levels simply aren’t achievable by diet and exercise. You can’t do it.”

That’s pretty sobering – you can’t do it – and it makes you think, fuck, I’ll just go on Lipitor for the rest of my life, and it’ll be just one more goddamn drug. But beware the ease with which you can slip into the forever pill, even as all methods ultimately nudge you closer.

Somehow it’s always confusing enough, always too much data or not enough, to narrow your vision to the one pill that can make it go away. I’ve taken that road so many times; instead, I think I’ll take the one Stephen Crane described, with each weed a singular knife. Doubtless there are other roads, but the directions are terrible.

 

it doesn’t like being called dwarf orchard

5/14/13

On Thursday morning, Tessa woke up to a surprise: she was to pack her things and get on a plane with us to New York for her birthday. Waiting to meet her were 30 people at the farm, eight of which (your humble narrator included) all have birthdays within the same 2-week period.

Any of you who know my wife will realize this wasn’t an easy task. She schedules events the way lizards lick their eyes; she needs it for moisturizing. She would plan an event for the weekend in LA, then I’d go behind the scenes and get everyone to reschedule. Within minutes ANOTHER EVENT would take its place on our shared calendar.

Finally, I got everyone to pretend a big dinner was happening, just to give me some cover – and even then, there were new plans popping up on our GCD7000 clear until Wednesday night. That all ended with this:

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Lucy designed the card and I cut together the quotes, partly for the theater of it all, but partly so I could ameliorate any potential Tessa freakout by showing her the people she’d soon be seeing. But it was all good, and 24 hours later, we saw this:

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entering driveway at farm

We hadn’t been at our li’l farm during this particular early May time period in 8 years. The last time was this. And though I often deal in superlatives, I don’t think our place has ever been so fecund, verdant, and spell-binding.

Just in case the bees weren’t doing their job, Marlena and Lucy took little paintbrushes to pollinate the two apple trees with one another:

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Here’s the kicker… after seven years of putting up bluebird boxes, I wasn’t very hopeful. The tree swallows usually move in first, and there’s not much you can do to dissuade them. But ever hopeful, Lucy, cousin Barnaby and I marched up the hill to look inside:

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…and for the first time, there sat a bluebird mom keeping her eggs warm. I admit, I was incredibly giddy, and I believe I can say It Was My Least Rock ‘N’ Roll Moment. But fuck it!

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It’s really the people who make any moment, and we were joined by so many. I know I sorta canceled a lot of things Tessa had planned in Los Angeles, events like assistant-directing a short film, writing part of our book, and skating her pair routine. But I hope this little out-of-time, out-of-mind, stolen weekend – far away with some of her favorite people – was the perfect distraction. Because she’s awesome, and she deserves it.

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I really hope the spring proves profound and fertile to us all. I mean it.

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peach blossoms from my dwarf orchard