Minor health concern

Recently, I’ve had a number of health-related things to do, and a few tests were on that list.  A few days ago, I got the email.  The one from the information nurse saying that someone at my doctor’s office needed to talk with me.  The one with the subject line that might as well say, “Prepare to freak out, frail human”.

It took a long time and an eventual trip to campus, but I finally got in touch with the information nurse, who told me that my cholesterol was off.  This was better news than my runaway imagination was expecting, given that it had over three hours to ponder the possibilities and had finished with all of the reasonable options within the first half hour and had moved to the progressively scarier options.  Trouble is, the information nurse didn’t actually have that much information beyond her pronouncement that “something is not quite right”.  She had some numbers, but the not the ratio or any of the important details on what exactly was the problem, and she didn’t know how to calculate them out or figure out where the problem was.  She suggested a low-far diet and exercise, but when I explained that I was already on top of those things, she didn’t have anything esle to suggest.  So, that was about as helpful as you’d imagine, and I was left largely to my own devices.  On the up side, I’ll be talking to my doctor soon to work out a plan and get more details, which I hope will help.

In general, this is a bit frustrating.  Admittedly, my parents both have slightly high cholesterol, and genetics play a huge role in cholesterol.  But I eat well, and I exercise regularly, I’m not overweight and I don’t smoke, and I’m reasonably young.  Basically, I do all of the things you’re supposed to do to keep your cholesterol low, and mine’s just…not.  It’s more than likely genetics, but this is a concern since I’m going to need to figure out what needs to be done to improve my results when most of the standard advice is stuff that I already do.

In the meantime, I’ve taken a few steps on my own.  I’ve added omega 3 and 6 supplements to my diet and will be eating a bit more fish.  I’m increasing my fiber intake, especially soluble fiber which helps to reduce bad cholesterol.  This means steel cut oats every morning, a veggie-and-legume soup for lunch, and extra nuts, seeds, and fruits and vegetables every day.  I’m drinking more green tea.  And I’m making sure I get in some exercise absolutely every day.

Happily, none of these changes require any great sacrifice – at most, they demand a bit of extra planning for things like making oats ahead of time, or soaking beans for the next day’s lunch.  They’re also not that expensive – most of the food I already had, and picking up some extra seeds, green tea, and dried fruit didn’t add much to the grocery bill for the week.  I did need to pick up the supplements, but they were on sale.  But even if they weren’t, I think it’s worth spending a bit of money to try and get this under control now before it turns into a bigger issue down the road.  It’s certainly not ideal, but things could be much worse.  After all, this is something that should be manageable once we figure out what my body needs and how best to keep this under control.

Despite my frustration and concern, I’m actually a bit…well, glad.  I’ve recently been talking about stepping up how I take care of my health, and this seems like a good way to get that going.  I’ve taken the last few days to read up more on whole foods recipes in general – Nourishing Traditions, Laurel’s Kitchen, and Super Natural Cooking were a great help – and I have some more ideas about recipes to try and things to incorporate.  I’ve had an easier time saying “no” to the things I shouldn’t be doing, and I’ve been better about making healthy choices in terms of what I eat and how I exercise.  Basically, I’m stepping up the things I already do, and the things that I’m adding are really things I should do anyway.  This is the direction I wanted to go.  Now I just have a more pressing reason to do so, and a bit more motivation to keep on track.


Preventative medicine

Yesterday, I went to the dentist (I was originally supposed to go for sushi, but there was an appointment free so I went, although the dentist was kind of a downgrade).  This isn’t really news in and of itself, but every time I go, as I’m sitting in the waiting room, I make myself a promise that this year, I will be better about doing all the things that you’re supposed to do to prevent health problems.  Unfortunately, this is a promise that I’m kind of lousy at keeping.  I don’t floss enough, I don’t always eat as well as I could, and really, there are all kinds of things that I know I could do more or better to make sure I stay healthier longer.  I’d really like that promise to myself to stick a bit more.

I’ve long favoured preventative medicine before things get bad over reactive medicine to deal with issues that have already cropped up (often not wholly effectively or without serious side effects).  I’d rather eat well, exercise, and take care of myself now than have to deal with any of a multitude of scary medical issues and procedures down the road.  Plus, as of next month I’ll be on a much more restrictive and much more costly extended health plan, so I’d like to do as much as possible to prevent any health issues before they start.  And, as a bonus, many good health practices wind up being a lot less expensive than drugs and other medical treatment, although they may cost a little bit of money up front.

I don’t want to overburden myself, so the plan is to work on and add in a few things at a time and try to keep at them until they become healthy habits.  Up first: flossing, dry brushing, five servings of veggies, and eight glasses of water per day.  There are already a lot of veggies in the fridge.  Today, I bought a brush to dry brush my skin (supposedly good for the circulation) and a new, Canadian-made, natural ingredient, low-toxicity cleanser. Tomorrow, I’ll pick up more dental floss and mouthwash so we have a supply at home.

In some ways, I think I’m doing okay for myself.  I get a lot of exercise from walking, biking, and gardening.  I eat pretty well, with a fair amount of veggies and not a lot of highly processed food.  I sleep okay, and I’m working on more meditation and yoga to try to relax a bit more.  I rarely go to the doctor, don’t take any health-related medication, and don’t even get sick all that often.  I’m even growing some different plants with medicinal properties that I’m looking forward to figuring out how to use for good health.  But things could be better, and I’d really like to work on getting there.  I have a vision in my head of health that is is more vibrant, energetic, and happy than I currently am.  And that alone is worth putting in a bit of extra work to develop some healthier long-term habits.

Veggie powered

For nearly seven years now, I’ve been car-free.  I had a small economy car for two years while I was doing my master’s degree in the big city and commuting a long distance, at night, with very poor public transit options. But technically, the car belonged to my parents.  When I started my PhD in a new city two hours away, they asked for it back.  I was happy to oblige.  While it was fairly low-cost as cars go in terms of gas, maintenance, and insurance (and possibly even pollution, although I’m not completely sure on that), it was still an expense that I didn’t really need or want, and I liked the idea of being without a vehicle.

During the six years of my PhD, I had a bus pass.  It was included with my tuition fees, and was about $50 a semester.  For shorter trips, I walked and biked whenever I could, but by total fluke, I lived right on four bus routes that went to all of the main places that I was usually headed, and so I took the bus quite a lot.  Local public transit isn’t all that convenient due to wonky schedules and no late-night service at all, but it worked well enough for most of what I needed and wanted to do.  As a result, I got used to the bus pretty quickly, and never really looked back.

Then, with the completion of my degree, the bus passes stopped.  I still have to be on campus fairly regularly, and I do a number of other things, and so I once again needed to figure out how to get myself around the city.  I looked more closely at the bus, and found that bus passes are between $60 and $80 a month.  That amount certainly wouldn’t break the bank, but it’s still fairly high considering my income, and I wasn’t that thrilled with the idea of paying for transit regularly.

So I decided I’d try getting to as many places as I needed to go under my own power.  I dusted off my running shoes, tuned up my bike, and started fueling myself for extra exercise – I like to joke now that I’m veggie powered, although I suspect that joke will be getting old very, very soon.

Honestly, it’s been great, and I keep asking myself why I didn’t do this sooner (short answer: the bus was rather convenient for many of the things I did regularly, and I was a bit lazy).  I get a lot more exercise and fresh air.  Walking to campus, for instance, is 45 minutes and biking is 20 to 25.  I listen to music or audio books as I go, which is pleasant.  I see and notice more of my neighbourhood than I ever have before.  I also get a lot more time to think, and have worked through some research and writing challenges while out and about.

It’s not a perfect solution.  Some days are too hot to bike, especially when I have meetings, and sometimes the weather is just too much, like with all the thunderstorms we’ve been having around here recently.  Sometimes I wind up on campus a sweaty gross mess when I underestimate the head and humidity.  Occasionally, people in vehicles simply don’t share the road all that well, or pay enough attention to what’s going on around them.  But by and large, it’s been a great thing to do, and I’d heartily encourage anyone who’s been thinking about making the shift to give it a try.  A bit more exercise, a bit more downtime, a bit more money in the wallet, and a bit less pollution – what’s not to love?

A day “off”

Recently, life hasn’t been pulling any punches.  It’s been a heck of a week, following what was even more of a heck of a week.  All in all, I’m feeling rather wiped and ready for a bit of a break.

Happily (mostly), one of the punches from this past week was the fact that  the research associate job I’ve been working on has run out of money to pay me, so I won’t be working on that project anymore.  There’s a long story behind that one, and mostly I’m just grateful.  We’re fine financially, so the loss of a month’s worth of very part-time income isn’t that dire.  On top of that, I could certainly use the extra time spent not-working to put some more time into planning courses, writing, and doing other work over the next month, so I’m actually pretty happy about one less thing on my plate.

And so, with a bit more time available, I’m going to take today “off”.  Why is the “off” in quotes, you might ask?  Well, despite the fact that I won’t be working on any professional work, I really want and need to get the apartment in order.  Between a few rough weeks, not having a lot of time to clean, stocking up on some extra food, and plans to order a new couch (first time ever!), this place needs a good clearing out and straightening up.

While I doubt it will all get done today, I’d very much like to:

  • Clear out and clean up the kitchen
  • Turn the big cupboard with shelves in the main room into more of a pantry/food storage/small appliance/canning supplies storage area
  • Get together a box of donations for the thrift store
  • Organize (and possibly purge?) my cookbook shelf
  • Process some of the frozen things currently residing in the freezer
  • Tidy the living room enough that we can move the furniture in preparation for the new stuff

While a day well-and-truly off sounds rather nice too, I know I feel better when the apartment is in good shape around me, and when I feel as though I’ve accomplished something.  As much as I’d like to while the day away reading, I’m going to leave that for a bit later on and take some time to try to clean up my outside world in the hopes that it will leave me feeling a bit calmer and more ordered in general.

Slowing down

It’s just another day in paradise
As you stumble to your bed
You’d give anything to silence
Those voices ringing in your head
You thought you could find happiness
Just over that green hill
You thought you would be satisfied
But you never will-
Learn to be still
– Eagles

During the year, I’m pretty busy.  I am very lucky to have a job, and I appreciate it greatly.  But I also know that keeping on top of lectures and grading for my classes takes a fair amount of work.  I also have other responsibilities, plus a whole list of things that I always feel like I “should” do (okay, admittedly some of those are really my own doing more than anything else).

Because busy-during-the-school-year is the norm, it’s only recently (during this summer that I was supposed to have at least somewhat “off” from work), that I’ve started to realise just how consumed with work my life is.  I have no idea how it got to be mid-July so quickly, but work has kept me so busy that I’ve barely had a break, and the “to do” list is still pretty long.  While I don’t know that I work a huge amount compared to some people, I do know that it’s become harder for me to put work away and to sit down and just be still for a bit.  Even if I’m not actively working, I’m thinking about it and – worse yet – often worrying about it pretty near constantly.

This really puts a damper on a lot of things.  It’s hard to be in the moment when all I can think about is the stack of reviews that I need to work through, the paper I need to write, or the course prep that I need to do.  It’s hard to enjoy a lot of things I usually quite like when I’m constantly thinking of all the things I haven’t yet done, and all of the things that I really should do in order to be better at my job / make myself more employable / pay the bills / etc.

So, with a month and a half left of summer, I’m on a mission to calm down a bit more and get better about leaving the work behind when I can.  I want to slow down.  Relax.  Take it easy.  Put my feet up.  Downshift.  Chill, if you will.  There’s still work to be done, there’s no getting away from that.  But I want to put the work in its place and not only have some more time for the things I really like to do, but really appreciate and enjoy them more.  Cooking.  Walking.  Reading.  Gardening.  Biking.  Music. Yoga. Writing.   All of the things that work sometimes has me pushing aside.

Part of the problem is that I have a hard time saying no to paid work, since my current job doesn’t exactly pay the big bucks.  Another issue is that I sometimes push off work because I know that it’s summer and I feel like I’m supposed to be having a nice bit of a post-degree break prior to a heavy teaching year.  But when it comes to work, out of sight is very definitely not out of mind and it’s always hanging over my head just the same.  I’m hoping that if I can set out some dedicated work time  – morning, probably – I can get by the rest of the day feeling like I’ve accomplished something and without hearing the siren song of whatever I’m working on.  And without that siren song, I’m also hoping that enjoying the time that I do have to myself will be all the easier.

More than that, though, I think I just need to practice being still a little more and get in the habit of taking time here and there.  I’m used to working a lot of the time, and thinking about work all the time.  Four years with a dissertation hanging over your head apparently does that to many people, as does the constant pressure in academia to take more paid work, do service work, and “publish or perish”, as the saying goes.

Logically, I know that work isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the defining feature of my life.  There’s a lot that I love to do and want to do that doesn’t involve my work life.  I’d like to enjoy it without work constantly in the background or, worse yet, detracting from the experience.  I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to do this yet, other than trying to consign work to one dedicated part of the day and perhaps taking up meditation, but I am determined to make these remaining six weeks of summer count for something beyond just writing papers and planning courses.  And from there, I’m hoping I can keep at least some of this up through the school year – even though work is busy, there’s no reason why it should continue to dominate my life.

And with that said, now I’m off to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  And darn it all, I’m going to enjoy it.


Every week, I go to the local farmers’ market.  Friday morning, bright and early-ish, I ride my bike over and load up with a selection of whatever’s available in a given week (I always come home with tomatoes, though – it’s practically a requirement).

I love my bike – I’ve been riding it for a decade now, and it’s held up well.  This summer, it’s become my main mode of transportation other than my feet.  But given the amount of food I buy for a the week, riding it to the market every week and then trying to haul everything home with me is a bit of a pain (and yes, the fact that I am a somewhat overzealous farmers’ market shopper is a facotr here, too).  Even with carry-bags and a basket strapped to the read, it’s difficult to make the bagels, eggs, tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini, berries, apples, and whatever else comes home with me fit.  It’s even more difficult to make it fit without squashing something along the way.

A year ago, I bought one of these off kijiji with dreams of being one of those people who bikes around towing a trailer behind them and basically taking care of many of their needs without anything motorized (yes, I have somewhat odd dreams sometimes).

Since then, it’s been sitting in the front hall closet.  I haven’t used it once, much to my embarrassment, and there were even some cobwebs on it when I took it out, just to drive that point home a bit more.  I’m not really sure why, other than it seemed like a pain to deal with, I was concerned about leaving it unattended while I shopped, and I was a wee bit nervous about riding with it dragging along behind me.

This week, though, I decided it was time to get my act together and use the darn thing (and if I didn’t like it, I was going to get rid of it to clear out quite a few square feet of closet space).  I knew there was a lot I wanted to get at the market, and getting it home using my regular set-up would be impossible, so trying out the trailer seemed like the thing to do.

It was awesome.

I am so kicking myself for not trying it earlier.

It took no time at all to set up this morning, including inflating the completely flat tires.  It handled well, to the point where I barely noticed it was there on the way to the market.  And, as a side benefit, I also noticed that people driving cars gave me a huge berth compared to what I normally get while riding (likely because they thought I had a child with me).  When I got there, I locked up, shopped, loaded up, went back for a second round, and then hauled it home quickly and easily with no problems at all.

I feel like I’ve stumbled on the most awesome gadget ever.  I don’t have a car – and don’t particularly want one – and now it feels like I’m much more capable of picking up things that we need – big bags of onion, potatoes, and flour, for instance – and getting them home more easily than ever before (as someone who once carried home two 20 pound bags of rice at the same time after a good sale, this a very big deal indeed).  Plus, I get exercise, no additional cost, and no emissions when I ride, so what’s not to love?

Fermented beets

I’m just getting into fermentation, but I’m already a big fan.  I’d never much liked pickles until I tasted a proper full sour, and realised that it was pickles treated with vinegar that I didn’t like so much.  The flavours are better, and because they’re rich in probiotics, they’re a lot healthier.  I’ve just finished reading Wild Fermentation, which has a lot of great ideas (including the recipe on which I based yesterday’s beets), and I’m looking forward to additional inspiration from The Art of Fermentation.  It takes a bit of practice to make sure that the taste and texture are all there, but it’s surprisingly easy, and something that humans have been doing for ages.  It’s nice to produce something that is healthy, tasty, and deeply rooted in human history and cultural tradition.

Last night, in an effort to step up my food preparation a bit more, I got some fermented beets started.  These were leftovers from a farmers’ market purchase – I’d actually used some already and forgotten about it, and so once I got them chopped up and peeled, they made less than I thought they would.  I’m hoping to buy some more this week, though, and get another batch started (this time with some extra spices).

The recipe – such as it is – is pretty simple: a bunch of peeled and sliced beets (I had a pound and half) and some salt (I used just over a tablespoon of uniodized sea salt).  As I sliced the beets I put them in a bowl and layered them with the salt to draw out some of their liquid and help make a brine.  When I was done, they went into a clean glass jar.  They didn’t produce a lot of their own brine, so I topped them off with another tablespoon of salt mixed into a cup of water.  I put another canning jar on top as a weight, and now all I need to do is wait for them to ferment. I can’t wait to taste them, and to see how things turn out.