Thursday, January 31, 2008

Making The Choice

It has to be done. A choice must be made. I'm done being undecided. I forgot to mention in my last post that I had taken a web survey a while back, and Obama was the highest match for my value after Kucinich. I took a simpler one today, and it showed Obama on top for me. (You can take the qui) I've been thinking about that today, and about how jaded I've become about politics. I hear person after person saying that they are so inspired by Obama, and I just squirm, but I've been thinking about how much I want to believe Obama, and how sad it is that I've lost so much faith. I hate feeling this way. Right now, on the top of Obama's website, is one of his famous quotes.

"I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington, but in yours."

Okay. I'm in. If he has the vision, and he is elected, he will have the power to make that vision a reality. I have to believe in something myself to start directing my energy there. Well let's get a move on. I'm in, Obama, let's make this happen.
P.S. Hey Barack--Edwards for VP!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edwards Out

It's just been announced that John Edwards is going to be dropping his presidential bid today. I knew it was coming, but it still hurts. I feel like the Democratic party allowed itself to be blinded by the novel possibility of an African American man or a woman in the white house, and forgot about the importance of policy and vision. I know that's not PC of me to say, but I feel as strongly about it today as I have since before the Iowa caucus. So now what? I have to say I'm really undecided. To be perfectly honest, I'm not a Hillary lover. I campaigned in my youth for Mr. Clinton, and was thrilled with his presidency and felt betrayed by later scandal. Hillary has seemed over confident and even flippant to me in the past. On the issues, she seems to have relatively solid plans. I admit that I softened to her when she did her playful You Tube videos, and again when she had her "teary" moment. I was livid that the press jumped all over her for the incident, though I knew immediately that it would be a big issue. Later, when I saw footage of the "incident" I realized it wasn't that big a deal, and seeing her interviewed about it, I was very impressed with the way she described what happened, both brushing it off and acknowledging the emotions, embracing the importance of being human while making it clear that it didn't affect her ability to lead. That said, I still have my reservations about bringing Old Washington back to the White House. I'm not totally sold.

Now Barack Obama had me at "hello" when he spoke at the Democratic Covention a few years back. I became a big fan even though at that time I was not familiar with his politics. He was inspirational and charasmatic, and I believed in his vision. Now, nearly four years later, what his "Audacity of Hope" done? I find it interesting that the American Rhetoric site was the first to come up when I googled for that speech. Of course "rhetoric" is the proper term for the speech, but it also has connotations which I now associate with Obama. To keep with my movie terms, show me the money, Obama. I have a hard time looking at his voting record and seeing "NV" for no vote so many times. Obama is 4th on the list of senators who has missed the most votes. It should be noted that #1 is dear Senator Tim Johnson, who was absent most of his term due to a stroke, #2 is candidate John McCain, and #3 is Joe Biden. Hillary isn't that far behind at #7. I realize that these people are missing a lot of votes because they're campaigning, but c'mon, you have a job to do! Obama missed 178 votes, over 37% of the votes he had a chance on. (Clinton missed 105 for 23%.) So what is he doing there? I hear his incredibly eloquent words, and I want to believe, but where is the action? I like his ideals, I like his diverse background, but it just doesn't feel right.

I've been dissappointed to hear the intense and immature bickering that's gone back and forth between Clinton and Obama, dissapointed in the real estate scandal and WalMart ties that have come forth, and I'm left completely undecided. So why only a picture of Hillary today? Well, I tried to download a picture of Obama, but every time I did, his site locked up my computer. Maybe it's a sign. We'll miss you, John. Keep fighting the good fight.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Cold

I love living in Wisconsin. Really, I do. Sure, I wish that we lived closer to family, but all in all I really love the little corner of Wisconsin we've found as our home. Right now though? I'm so done with Wisconsin Winter. This winter has been downright bizarre. We got a lot of snow early on, but it all but melted right before Christmas. This past month we had two weeks where it was below freezing (without the windchill) nearly every day. I went to a rare ladies evening a couple of weekends ago, and we sat outside in the hot tub while the -6 degree air blew around us. Ironically, hat's been about the only time I've felt warm in the past couple of months. We actually keep the thermostat at a relatively reasonable spot. The upstairs, where I do most of my work, does get cold since our thermostat is located downstairs in the sunny living room. Rob feels badly for me, and bought me an energy efficient space heater that I keep about 4 inches away from my chair when I'm going to be in my room for a while. I wear layers, thick sweaters usually, but unless I add a hat and a throw, I still feel cold. I bought UGGS in the hope that they would keep my feet warm, but it didn't make a difference. Cold like this is just permeating. It seeps through the windows (literally) and into my mood as well. We had a brief respite this weekend. It crept into the 20s on Sunday, so we went snowshoeing. Monday morning was even warmer so I went for a run. It was only my second of the year. With temperatures what they've been and 6 weeks of pneumonia behind me, I don't want to tempt fate. It felt so good to be able to get outside and get a good run in. I think that will be part of my routine once both Sprout and Bird are in school. This morning it was over 40! It wasn't to last though, we are supposed to drop below zero by this evening. School was called off early with the nasty weather approaching. Apparently people who watch TV knew that, so Sprout was only one of a few kids who was still there when I got the call that I should have picked him up a half hour before. Talk about one of those "bad mom" feelings. Poor guy. I couldn't figure out how people were supposed to know until Rob reminded me of TVs. Oh yeah... Anyway, my sister has been updating me on their temps in Fairbanks. They have been dealing with -30+ without windchill. She says when it drops to -50, brakes stop working. So I will take Wisconsin as cheerfully as I can manage, even with all of the crazy weather that global climate change is bringing the badger state. It's nothing a good hat, a thick sweater, some capilene baselayers, fleece socks, a space heater, hot tea, a blanket and a steaming bowl of soup won't fix.

Monday, January 28, 2008

More Ways to be Green

The Nature Conservancy is one of my favorite organizations. They have a realistic, dig-in-your-heels, practical approach to-you guesssed it-conserving nature. Back when I visited my sister in Door County, she was doing scientific work with endangered dragonflies, in part on Nature Conservancy land. Now The Nature Conservancy has a new way to protect nature--encouraging "Everyday Environmentalism". Check out this new page, which gives some tried and true ways to be green, and other ways that you may not have thought of or heard of before. Have you thought about taking the stairs instead of elevators as an environmental choice? Do you clean your boots after you hike to prevent the spread of invasices? These ideas come from TNC's own staff as well as some of the top eco-bloggers out there. What's even better is that they want your ideas too. So check out the page and get some new ideas for ways to go even greener than you already are, then echo your own back to TNC.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Fast Report

9:00: 14 hours of "fast". The morning hasn't been too bad. I've had a mug of black tea and another of warm water. I usually wait to eat until the kids have been fed and Sprout is off to school. So there wasn't a lot of temptation and I wasn't too hungry. I'm suddenly very cold though. That's not abnormal for me, but this feels worse. Maybe it's a blood sugar issue. This feels very do-able.

12:00: 17 hours in. 2/3 of the way there! Another mug of warm water--probably should have been more. I had a two hour conference call which helped distract me. Bird offered me some of her cashews and didn't like that I wasn't eating. It's hard to explain to a 4 year old. Serving her lunch was difficult. All of the cues to eat were there, at the fridge, the pantry--even just being in the kitchen. I didn't stay with her while she ate. It made me a bit more emotional as I became increasingly more hungry, just trying to contemplate the uncountable number of people--and children--who are hungrier than I, with no end in site. My stomach does feel crampish now, and I just feel a little light headed. 7 hours more will be interesting.

3:00: This really isn't so bad. The weirdest part is fighting my brain, which seems to be quite confused about why I don't just go eat something! I noticed around this time that water started to taste sweet. That continued through the rest of the fast.

5:00: With dinner time drawing near, I'm starting to feel a bit more anxious, and the 2 hours seems like a long time. On the other hand, I'm surprised at how much easier this has been than I expected. I realize at this point that I'm not going to break my fast lightly, and we resolve to hold off dinner until 7:00 and all eat a meal together.

7:00: Cheese pizza for dinner! I am really hungry and it feels good to eat, but it also feels a bit sacrilegious. I definitely want to break my fast with a cleaner, healthier food next time. My stomach did cramp just a bit a few minutes after eating, but it wasn't terrible.

Overall, the 24 hour fast was much easier than I expected it to be. It's definitely something I want to continue doing. It was so interesting to break my normal (sometimes mindless) eating habits, and in a much different way than doing Weight Watchers did that. I felt more mindful throughout the day, able to focus as my instincts rose up and I consciously had to suppress them. Of course I can't tell if I came out technically any "healthier", but I don't think that I did any damage. I do feel, just inherently, that it was a cleansing experience for me. I'd love to hear about your own experiences if you fasted with me or have fasted on your own.

The First Fast

So today is my first attempt at the 24-hour fast. I'm nervous, excited, and yes...hungry. It really is putting some perspective on things. I have had a couple of moments while focusing on work where my mind has wandered and I've thought: "Hmmmm, I'm hungry. I'll go eat something." It's a bit of shock to realize I "can't". Then of course, as I mentioned before, I think of how many people are far hungrier than I am, without a choice. Even looking out the window and watching the birds, seeing the rabbit tracks around the feeder, I think of how grateful they are for an easy meal. Life is good for me. Still, I can't eat for 24 hours, and I'm hoping it's for a good reason. So I decided to spend some time looking for more articles about the benefits of partial fasting. The original NPR article that got me thinking about this cites Dr. Mark Mattson. Searching for information about his studies brought me mostly to articles from every source about his studies in 2003 that focused on fasting in mice. Here's the most comprehensive one:
NIA/NIMH: Fasting Forestalls Huntington's Disease in Mice. Finding more information from the other researcher cited by NPR was more difficult. She focuses mainly on pediatric diets, and discourages "fast" food. The articles I did find about her work with the American College of Endocrinology on fasting was so technical that I had trouble discerning exactly what the results of the studies were. This quote from the NPR article seems to sum it up for the lay person though: "You re-tune the body, suppress insulin secretion, reduce the taste for sugar, so sugar becomes something you're less fond of taking".

It's frustrating that there doesn't seem to be a good resource out there for the everyday person who wants to do a 24 hour fast for health. There are a lot of individual organizations that have different recommendations, but they all have their own take on why their fasting, and how it should be done. Can you drink coffee and tea? Do you really only fast for 24 hours, or do they mean 36--no meals waking to sleeping plus an entire night? How do I prepare myself for a fast? How do I break my fast? I've tried to put it all together and have come to a few conclusions, to be taken with a big grain of I'm-not-an-expert salt.

1. 24 hours is a sufficient period of time to allow for cleansing and stress the cells to a point that gives them a "work out". Dr. Mattson recommends simply skipping meals as one method of benefiting from calorie reduction. Any longer than 24 hours and you can start to have issues with muscle break down, etc. I am doing mine from 7PM-7PM.

2. Coffee? Tea? I don't know. Definitely not anything sweetened, including juice. Your pancreas is getting a break here and any sugars you consume have to be processed. I chose to have a cup of black tea this morning so as not to add a wicked caffeine headache to my hunger, but I will forgo anything but water for the rest of the period.

3. Fasting isn't about weight loss. There are lots of studies out there that show that fasting doesn't help weight loss, and can even screw things up. However--and this entirely my speculation--it seems to me that it can help if you are following a program where you are already regulating your food intake. That means that you won't binge when you break your fast, and you are going to go back to a healthy method of eating--possibly with your taste for sugar reduced, which can be very beneficial. I know one of my biggest challenges in losing weight is that craving for sweets.

4. Break your fast sensibly. Different methods call for different ways of resuming eating. My own common sense tells me that eating a full meal after depriving my body of food for 24 hours could throw a wrench in the system. I plan to start with a small amount of fresh fruit, then vegetables, and possibly wait until tomorrow morning to eat a normal meal.

So those are my thoughts for now. I will check back in to share more about my experiences once I complete the full 24 hours. Bright Blessings!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The 24-Hour Fast

When I was perusing NPR's top 2007 stories, I came across a piece abour 24 hour fasting. Fasting is something that I've always found fascinating and mystical. Growing up as a catholic, even the brief fast before communion on Sundays seemed very cleansing to me. As an adult, I've been loathe to try it myself. I've made plenty of excuses, but when I saw it come up on NPR...well c'mon, it's NPR! According to the story, fasting for 24 hours retunes the body. It cleans out your pancreas and basically resets your insulin baseline. Other benefits mentioned included: reducing your taste for sugar, lowering blood pressure, and possibly reducing the risk of cancer. Some researchers say it may extend lifespan in general because it stresses cells in a way that basically gives them a workout. Still more research shows that "partial" (24 hour) fasts may be beneficial for the brain and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. This was the clincher for me. CADASIL, the genetic disease that is causing my father's stroke--the one that I have a 50% chance of having, it a disease that affects the brain and shares many characteristics of Parkinsons, and causes dementia. If I have it, I have it, there's no getting around it. All I can do is work at keeping my body and brain as healthy as possible, so that when the disease begings to progress, I'm at the best starting place I can be. So, I've committed to fasting 24 hours at least once a month this year, with hopes to move up to once a week.

I did a trial run today. Things have been busy and the family has been sick, so there hasn't been a good time. Today I am recovering from the nasty cold we've all had, but I just had a moment this morning where it seemed like I could try a mini-fast of sorts. I made it seven hours, and it wasn't too bad. I know this is going to sound corny or "out there", but I must admit, it felt very empowering to acknowledge my body's urges, and choose to deny them. There was something ascetic there that I hadn't taken into account. What's more, after a couple hours of actually feeling genuinely hungry, I began to think about how incredible it is that when I'm hungry I can just walk a few feet, grab some food, and satisfy my craving. I started thinking about how much is involved in getting my food to me (something I contemplate regularly, but it threw it into sharp perspective.) I thought about how many people in the world get by on a bowl of rice a day--if they're lucky. For me, fasting is a complete luxury. It's something I'm committed to doing though. Now I realize that it will also give me the chance to retune my mind as well as my body. I believe it will improve my long term physical, mental, and spiritual health. I plan to do my first complete fast this Friday, January 18th. No food, just plenty of water and thought. I'd love to have you join me.

For the original NPR story, visit

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Can Has Al Gore?

Funny Pictures

If you are not familiar with lolcats or similar macros, and you need to lighten up, check out For the macro newbie, you may want to read the "About Us" before anything else. You'll get used to the weird chatspeak/bad grammar after a while. I guess it's that cats don't type so well. There are also a lot of insidish jokes, that you'll start getting if you check back in regularly. I try to check it once a week to get a good laugh. (How sad is that picture though?)

Monday, January 07, 2008

Just One Thing

Anyone who considers themselves an environmentalist has seen the “Gee-Whiz” factoids of how many small things can make a big difference. “If every household in the U.S. replaced just one package of 20 count drawstring tall kitchen bags made from virgin plastic with 65% recycled ones, we could save: 45,100 barrels of oil, enough to heat and cool 2,500 U.S. homes for a year; 824,800 cubic feet of landfill space, equal to 1,200 full garbage trucks; and avoid 16,800 tons of pollution!” “If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.” These small changes add up in big ways. What if every household in America really did these steps? With today’s “Us vs. Them” mentality, that seems almost impossible.

“Doing my part” for the environment has always come easily to me. I was one of the “granolas” in high school, and wore my earthy t-shirts with pride. As an adult, I’ve been passionate about making our household an environmentally responsible one. We eat local, organic, and vegetarian. We shop with a mind to reduce packaging, we use all natural household cleaners, compost, drive a hybrid. Yes, I admit, I often go through the garbage at work to rescue paper and cans for the recycling bin. I am “That Crazy Environmentalist”. The many other folks out there, who like me are passionate about the environment, continue to inspire me to do even more. Sometimes it’s overwhelming for me. How must it look to someone who is just thinking about taking the first steps to being a bit more Green?

I’ve been thinking about how some extremes keep people from taking that first step. Someone who is thinking about reducing the amount of meat in their diet might walk away from the whole idea if they are given a vegan meal plan. It was when I was watching “Who Killed the Electric Car?” that I realized that this applies to environmentalism. One of the gentlemen in the movie said that there are people out there who think that to make a difference they have to keep their house frigid, drive a tiny car—basically make big lifestyle changes that they’re just not willing to make. I wondered, how many people out there might do just one or two small things, but don’t want to be an “Environmentalist”? How many of those people would be willing to make a change if a different approach were taken?

For us guerilla recycling, do-it-all Environmentalist types, we so often can’t stop with just recommending the compact fluorescent, the natural cleaner, the one step that if “every household in America” would do would create those Gee-Whiz impacts. We feel compelled to tell them about the 20 other “small changes” they could make. I’ve caught myself doing it so many times. “Just start with organic milk, you can find it anywhere these days. You’ll hardly notice the difference in cost, and it makes a big difference for the environment.” That should be enough, but I don’t stop there. “Next you can switch to organic yogurt and cheese, then switch all your veggies and fruits, then go to pantry products. Before you know it, you’ll be 100% organic!” At this point my listener is picturing their grocery bill skyrocketing and having to shop at one of those “weird” stores, and I’ve lost my audience. If Green Explorers feel they have to sell their car, reject new clothes, overhaul their diet, and more, they may choose to turn away completely.

I believe that many people want to do “the right thing”, but the fact is that Americans are a busy lot and we all have our own priorities. So let’s start with just one thing a month. No scary facts about our current energy supplies running out, rising sea levels, or even pollution. We could have a catchy tagline, like “Today, you made a difference.” Pair that with a simple fact, like “You changed just one light bulb in your house to a compact fluorescent, which means that this year you’ll use 2/3 less energy on that bulb, and keep more carbon dioxide out of the environment. Thank you.” That’s it-stop! Don’t tell them anything else; don’t ask even one thing more! It’s hard I know, but I really think that slow, steady, and reasonable approach will give us a far better chance of inspiring people to “be the change”. What’s more, this approach might change the mind of those who think that their small actions don’t really make a difference. Next month the “One Thing” might be dropping the thermostat one degree. The next could be using one recycled paper product. They’re all simple, easy to do things, without asking anything more.

I’m not the first to propose this. I’ve seen the simple ads in magazines that just ask the reader to drop the ‘zine in the recycling bin. Energy companies ask their customers to consider using more compact fluorescents. My fear is that we passionate environmentalists often scorn these small efforts as “slacktivism”, and snub these little steps as not making enough of a difference. The truth is these small steps are our chance to reach out to “Unlikely Environmentalists”. “Just One Thing” might seem doable where our 20-step plans are unthinkable. It may be that when people see that their small steps make a difference, they’ll take more steps. “I changed one light bulb; that was easy enough, why not do them all?” Maybe they’ll even be inspired to find out what else they can do. The point is that even if they only do that “Just One Thing”, it really does matter. That one thing is one step closer to getting those “every household in America” statistics into play. We can all take this approach with our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, and see a real difference. I’ll be starting the monthly “Just One Thing” on my blog, and I invite you to do the same. For now, let’s start small. Reach out to one person, and ask them to do just one small thing. Tell them they make a difference.

January Just One Thing: Switch one incandescent bulb to a Compact Fluorescent. That's it. You'll keep 300 pounds of carbon dioxide our of the environment! Just one thing--thanks!
A shout out to David Roberts, who inspired this idea for me last year with this article, which I adore.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Looking Forward-2008

I start this post and I take a deep breath. This year holds so much in it. I read last year's new year post, and I try to think about what has changed. My many blessings are for the most part still in place. My Dad is healthy, we have the luxury to live a sustainable lifestlye in our community, and I have a wonderful family. I've lost a dog, added a job, and let's face it, a few of those lost pounds back. Well, nothing stays the same.

2008 is going to be back to basics for me. Someday Gardens took a lot of time last year, and it's bound to take even more this year. My workload with my paid job has doubled, and it's going to be a rather big year with lots of responsibilities there. If I weren't so passionate about interfaith volunteer caregiving, I would quit, and find a way to do without that income. As it stands, I feel called to continue my work. Somehow though, I need to be able to balance those responsibilities with the other things that matter.

I want to get back to cooking more often. Yes, there's convenience food out there that's organic, but with all of the extra packaging, expense and the added fat and calories, there are lots of drawbacks there. It will still be around as an occasional fall-back, but cooking has to take priority again.

I want to spend more time just doing little things with the kids--reading, playing, gardening, hiking, but giving them my full attention. Bird will start school this year, and it's going to be such a huge change. I want to give her my time while I still have so much more with her, and make sure I take advantage of the time I'll have with Sprout this summer. Public school is as hard as we thought it would be, and if I want to continue to have them hold our values dear, I need to exemplify that and be there with them to drive it home.

With the extra income from my second job, our budget got a little loose. Everyone gets one new outfit a season, tops. Material accumulation needs to get checked. We cut the kids off from their occasional new toy in early Fall, and it made their holiday gifts a lot more exciting. I want to stick with that this year. We need to cut back on eating out and coffee out and focus on saving up for our Someday.

I have to take time for me too, but healthy time. Knitting, reading, gardening, have all fallen by the wayside as I find myself stressed out with work-related tasks. With the elections coming up, I know I'll want to get involved with politics again, and I want to make time for that. I did get a lot of canning done in '07, but I hope to shoot for even more this year.

It's a lot, and it's rather nebulous, but I don't find it overwhelming. I think I'll be happier once I feel that I'm back on track. Right now I tend to just get overwhelmed with work and zonk out from things like relaxing with the kids, knitting, cooking. Yes, those things take time, but they're the things that I value, the things that make me happy, and I think I'll feel clearer once I refocus. I wish you and yours peace of mind and happiness in the year to come.

Friday, January 04, 2008

John Who?

Who is this handsome guy with the winning smile? That's right, dear readers, it's my favorite presidential candidate, John Edwards. Don't tell anyone, but he won second place in the Iowa caucuses last night. Shhh, don't tell, it's a secret! Clearly it is--look at these lead paragraphs from the media:

Chicago Tribune - Young voters and independents flooded gyms and church basements in record numbers Thursday night, delivering a historic and decisive victory in the Iowa caucuses to Sen. Barack Obama, as he vanquished Sen. Hillary Clinton and certified his standing as her principal challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Salon-There are many rivers to cross before Obama is greeted with "Hail to the Chief." But this is the moment to marvel at what the first-term Illinois senator -- virtually unknown in the nation before his epic speech to the 2004 Democratic Convention -- has already achieved. A semireluctant candidate just a year ago, Obama defeated Hillary Clinton and the politics of inevitability in a state that destroyed anti-establishment candidates like Howard Dean and Bill Bradley.

I could go on, I saw plenty this morning. Do they get around to mentioning the candidate that beat Hillary anywhere? Well yes, later in the articles they go on to mention our dear silver medalist, but quickly sweep him into the corner because he has only spent a measly 3 million dollars on campaign ads, whereas Barack and Hillary have spent 7 and 10 million. Let's not forget that he's not exciting on TV either, just a white guy with strong experience, good plans, and one of the most solid characters I've ever ecountered. So does it matter that he got the second highest number of votes? No, good readers, no! Let's remember what our country is about: money and television. I encourage you all to count the number of ads for each candidate and research how much money they've poured into their campaign in our country where people are starving and going without basic medical care. That's what it's about: money and televsion, money and televsion. ([/sarcasm]) Don't get me wrong, if Barack gets the nomination, I'll be behind him. But let's not discount the individual who I think has the best chance of truly changing our country. Time is short my friends.

P.S.--Happy New Year, all! The standard, inspirational new beginning post will be forthcoming. Bright Blessings--M