A New Chapter


retirement

It’s official as of yesterday.

Then again, I’m an author. So I’m never really retired, just able to devote more time to this thing I love. I know people who quit working at a much younger age, and I know plenty who will continue working, either by choice or necessity.

When I walked away from the lucrative job I had as a fraud investigator, I did so because the job, the toxic environment in which I worked, threatened my health. For the next three years, I did not work outside the home. But I tried. I looked for work. I was able to see how much the employment landscape had changed. Back in the 80s, I would revise my resume and send it out with a well-written cover letter to the head of personnel at a company. Ha! Five years ago, I applied online for a variety of jobs, trying to hide the fact that I was over 50, but I knew that whoever or whatever program sorted out applications, mine was likely tossed early.

Then I had an interview with HopeHealth (formerly known as Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island). Here was an agency that actually valued experience! Here was a place that understood what I could offer. I worked part-time for Hospice from June 2014 until yesterday. I worked at the front desk in the Philip Hulitar Hospice Center in Providence, where old friends and colleagues were admitted at the end of their lives. I assisted in Medical Records, ensuring a patient’s file was complete. I helped out in Quality Control, doing tasks that added to the agency’s compliance with so many federal and state guidelines. All through it, I worked with smart, professional, dedicated people who truly put others before themselves. The years I spent working for Hospice helped to erase the  bitter memories of my previous job.

And now it’s done. I’m 60 years old, which to some of you might seem young for retirement. But my time at Hospice has taught me that life can change in an instant. Sometimes circumstances dictate that we keep working, past the time we’d like to have stopped. My husband and I saved aggressively while we worked full-time, and we don’t live large. I don’t know how many years I have left on this earth – thirty? Eighteen? Three? My goal is to keep writing novels, cherishing a day at the ocean, a cup of coffee, the sound of my old dog snoring.

Here’s to my new chapter.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Eleven


The focus shifted, rightfully, away from us this week. We honored my husband’s father (above) with the military funeral he deserved, and I know that he’s now at peace, after years of living with a cruel disease.

Apart from the viewing, the Mass, and the burial, there was work to do at his house. And that work continues. He clung to his independence, living alone in the same house he’d lived in since 1972. There were memories in that house. And lots of stuff.

Look, it happens. It would have upset him more if we’d started cleaning out the excess while he was still alive. So we have our work cut out for us. Clothes, shoes, blankets, linens. Books, DVDs, CDs. Food. Furniture. And so many photos. Donate, keep, or discard. I’m mindful that there’s a lot of emotion right now, so if my husband insists on carting a few things back into our house, I’m keeping my mouth shut. ❤️

Cut It Out


And they did. The malignant melanoma on the back of my thigh was excised yesterday afternoon.


It was no bigger than a nickel. Discovered three weeks ago during my first-ever total body scan, I received a few shots of Lidocaine, then a shaved sample was removed for biopsy.

The results came back the following Friday – cancerous. The spot that never scabbed over and continued to weep had to come out. My appointment was scheduled for Wednesday the 23rd, just shy of three weeks from the initial assessment.

I don’t know why, but I always thought of skin cancer as a ‘lesser’ cancer. Breast cancer is bad. Colon, pancreatic, ovarian, liver, lung – all really bad. Very scary. Why did I think of skin cancer differently? Is it because I could see it? (Well, not this one, on the back of my thigh). Would a nickel-size spot on my mammogram have me as calm? On my lung? I know in my heart I’d have been panicked.

And that’s not to say I wasn’t worried. Two Valium an hour beforehand did little to allay my anxiety. The procedure was over in about an hour. The lidocaine lasted into the evening. I slept last night without any sleep aids.


Today it hurts. I’m taking Tylenol, extra-strength, and resting at home. I’m very much aware that there was trauma. And I am leaving the bandage on for now.

Is all of this TMI? I’m a relatively private person (and here I am, showing you a picture of my thigh!). I guess I just want you to get your checkups. I don’t think this is the last of my skin issues. But I plan to be diligent. Be like Martha, at least in this. ❤️❤️❤️

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Four


Living minimally doesn’t always mean donating/recycling/tossing out things. I’m still purging (bags of shredded paper mostly), but this week I’ve been focused on health issues, and thinking about other ways to clear out the clutter.

I’ve pared down my email by unsubscribing to many newsletters and websites. It was all too much! I was receiving as many as 140 emails a day – recipes, health tips, political articles. I’ve deleted a lot of them. I still follow plenty of blogs, but I’ve changed the delivery of most of them to Saturday morning, when I don’t mind taking the extra time to catch up.

Late last year, I cut my Facebook friends list by about two-thirds. It was right after the election, and I had serious doubts about even continuing with Facebook. I decided to keep my author page active, but cut down on the number of connections on my personal page. There were some hurt feelings, which was never my intent, and I reclaimed as friends those who reached out to me. Social media has helped me find new readers. It’s enabled me, the introvert, to be social in a way that’s not anxiety-producing. But I try to limit myself to morning and evening – an hour or so at the beginning and the end of the day. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – it’s enough.

Think back to a time before social media. We kept in touch with friends by calling, writing, getting together. We certainly didn’t call our friends several times a day to

  • Tell them what we ate for breakfast
  • Describe what we were wearing that day
  • Let them know we were tired
  • Tell them what we ate for lunch
  • Moan about traffic
  • Tell them which restaurant we were in for dinner (and what we ordered)

I’m guilty, too. But I’m trying to be more mindful, trying not to clutter your feed with meaningless posts. In the end, each of us chooses what will bring us joy, inspiration, laughter. 

Next week, back to filling the recycle bin! 

Winter Rules


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As we march toward spring, take a look at these Winter Rules, as published in the Pawtuxet Valley Gleaner, February 5, 1881.

  • Never begin a journey until the breakfast has been eaten.
  • Never take warm drinks and then immediately go out in the cold air.
  • Keep the back – especially between the shoulder blades – well-covered, also the chest well-protected.
  • In sleeping in a cold room, establish the habit of breathing through the nose, and never with the mouth open.
  • Never go to bed with cold or damp feet; always toast them by the fire 10 or 15 minutes before going to bed.
  • Never omit regular bathing, for unless the skin is in an active condition, the cold will close the pores and favor congestion or other diseases.
  • After exercise of any kind, never ride in an open carriage nor near the window of a car for a moment. It is dangerous to health, and even to life.
  • When hoarse, speak as little as possible until it is recovered from, else the voice may be permanently lost, or difficulties of the throat be produced.
  • Merely warm the back by a fire, and never continue keeping the back exposed to heat after it has become comfortably warm. To do otherwise is debilitating.
  • When going from a warm atmosphere into a colder one, keep the mouth closed, so that the air may be warmed by its passage through the nose, ere it reaches the lungs.
  • Never stand still in cold weather, especially after having taken a slight degree of exercise; and always avoid standing upon ice or snow, or where the person is exposed to a cold wind.

So, are you a rule follower?!

Slurp Up this Snack


IMG_0251.JPG

See this big jar? Well, I bought it for snacks. As we move into the season of fleece and carbs, I’d always have my big jar filled with salty, crunchy snacks – nuts and pretzel sticks and Chex mix and the occasional cheez ball. Crunch, crunch. Salty, good-for-nothing snacks. All winter long.

salty-snacks

Only now that jar is filled with vegetable broth. Ha! Big difference, and I made it myself, based on Dr. Mark Hyman‘s recipe (with just one or two substitutions). Today I loaded my stockpot with kale, Swiss chard, radishes (and the greens), turnip, carrot, celery, onion, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, and ginger. Whew! Add plenty of filtered water, bring to a boil, and simmer for at least an hour. Then strain.

So here’s the plan. A cup of this crap elixir a couple of times a day instead of the usual fun stuff junk. I tried some already and it’s not bad. Not as bad as I expected. I could drink a cup of this broth two or three times a day.

Little changes, right?

healthy

Hidden Sugar – It’s Everywhere


Last week I wrote about salt and how much of it is in processed and restaurant food.  For me, it was a real eye-opener. Some meals carry two to three times the normal daily recommended amount of sodium! Now, cutting out the salt is, pardon the pun, a piece of cake for me compared to getting rid of sugar. But I am really trying.

www.stockphotos.com
http://www.stockphotos.com

You’d probably be surprised to learn where sugar hides. February is Heart Health Month, and the American Heart Association recommends that men should not consume more than 9 teaspoons of sugar in a day. This measurement of sugar equals 45g of sugar per day for men. The recommended sugar intake for women is less than that of men. The AHA advises women to limit their intake of sugar to 6 teaspoons of sugar each day. This translates to a daily recommended limit of 30g of sugar.

So, 45g for men, 30g for women. Remember that. Now take a look at how much sugar is in some everyday foods:

  • Chobani peach fat-free yogurt (I’m not picking on Chobani, I’m just using it as an example). One 6-ounce container. 140 calories, no fat. 19g sugar. A little cup of yogurt and you’re nearly at your daily limit.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts small coffee with cream and sugar (their version): 120 calories, 6g of fat, 17g of sugar. Using a sugar substitute? See my note at the bottom.
  • Since breakfast did you in, you decide to have a salad for lunch, and even use the Hidden Valley fat-free ranch dressing you brought in from home.  Look at the back label: the first four ingredients are water, corn syrup, maltodextrin, and sugar. Water, sugar, sugar, sugar. Two tablespoons of the dressing have 3g of sugar – can you limit yourself to 2T? Oh, and maltodextrin – what is it, exactly? According to Wikipedia, Maltodextrin is an oligosaccharide (right) that is used as a food additive. It is produced from starch and is usually found as a white spray-dried powder (yum). Maltodextrin is easily digestible, absorbed as rapidly as glucose, and is commonly used in sodas and candy. And, apparently, salad dressing.
  • Feeling a little tired in the afternoon? Have a Red Bull. One can provides 115 calories, no fat, and 26g of sugar. Or go sugar-free, but read my note at the end of this post.
  • You go out for dinner, because you had a hard day. Again, not picking on any place in particular, but let’s go to Outback Steakhouse. We’re going to share that famous blooming onion thing. Then you’ll have the Sweet Glazed Pork Tenderloin and a dressed baked potato. Total? Over 1,500 calories and about 23g of sugar. Oh, and by the way, the blooming onion serves six.

Now this likely isn’t a typical day, but if it were, you’d have consumed 88 grams of sugar, nearly three times the recommended amount if you’re a woman, twice if you’re a man. And what about kids? Teens? Coca-cola? More Red Bull? Whopper with cheese? Sugar everywhere.

NOTE (this information from the Dr. Oz website): About artificial sweeteners – New research shows that they may actually lead to weight gain, because they make the pancreas release insulin, an important hormone for accumulating body fat. Artificial sweeteners can cause you to go to the bathroom more often. They may cause the muscles in your bladder to become hyperactive – forcing you to urinate more frequently. Even one packet might be enough to cause you to urinate more frequently than normal. This can eventually wear out the bladder, increasing your risk for urinary tract infections and urge incontinence. Recent reports are also linking specific sugar substitutes you eat every day to major digestive problems including diarrhea, cramps, gas and bloating. They are specifically called sugar alcohols, which are calorie-reduced sugar substitutes that include sorbitol and malitol, which are found in “sugar-free” gums, candy and baked goods. As the sweet receptors in your esophagus and stomach are “tricked” by the zero-calorie substitutes, your pancreas is tricked into sending a false spike of insulin that can lead to insulin resistance. This can lead to diabetes. Also, since artificial sweeteners cause your body to crave more food, you can also put on weight, which further increases your risk for diabetes. In addition to diabetes, artificial sweeteners may be contributing to a nationwide epidemic of metabolic syndrome, which includes diabetes-inducing insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and too much fat around the waistline.

Hearts and Flowers and 72% Dark Chocolate


sciencedaily.com

sciencedaily.com

My husband had a dozen red roses delivered to me about a month after we started dating. It was a sweet, romantic gesture that I’ll always remember. And on many Valentine’s Days after we were married, he’d have a dozen red roses delivered to me at my office. While I appreciated the beautiful flowers, I also paid the bills. And the following month, when I saw the outrageous price he’d paid for roses on Valentine’s Day, I’d cringe. He wouldn’t be deterred, but now that I work from home (and earn far, far less than I used to), I’ve convinced him to curtail the rose deliveries. Besides, wouldn’t you rather have chocolate?

According to a new study, eating chocolate can help you stay thin. What? Is this an early April fool? Nope, researchers at the University of California-San Diego found that people who frequently eat chocolate have lower body-mass indexes than people who don’t. Other evidence suggests that chocolate can ward off strokes, heart attacks, and diabetes. So here are ten reasons to indulge tomorrow (unless you gave it up for Lent, not realizing that Lent starts today – oops).

1. Chocolate decreases stroke risk. A Swedish study found that eating more than 45 grams of chocolate per week—about one and a half ounces—led to a small decrease in stroke risk among women. Chocolate contains flavonoids, whose antioxidant properties help fight strokes, according to the study’s author.

2. Chocolate reduces the likelihood of a heart attack. Other studies have shown that eating small amounts of chocolate prevents blood clots, which in turn reduces the risk of heart attacks. Blood platelets clump together more slowly in chocolate eaters, the studies say.

3. Chocolate protects against blood inflammation. Eat one small dark chocolate bar per week, and your risk of heart disease will decrease, according to a 2008 study. About a quarter-ounce of dark chocolate per day keeps the blood inflammation-inducing proteins away.

4. Chocolate helps with math. This is true! Flavanols (a class of flavonoids found in chocolate) helped people with their mental math. The findings suggest students who eat chocolate before an exam may gain a real benefit from doing so, according to the British Telegraph.

5. Chocolate may prevent cancer. Cocoa contains a compound called pentameric procyanidin, or pentamer, which disrupts cancer cells’ ability to spread. When researchers from Georgetown University treated cancer cells with pentamer back in 2005, the proteins necessary for cancer growth were suppressed and the cells stopped dividing.

6. Chocolate is good for your skin. Remember when you were a teenager and everyone thought chocolate led to acne? Well, not only does it not cause breakouts, dark chocolate is actually good for your skin! Flavonoids found in dark chocolate protect women’s skin from the sun’s UV rays, according to German researchers. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the sunscreen.

7. Chocolate can control coughs. One of chocolate’s chemical components, theobromine, seems to reduce the activity of the vagus nerve, the part of the brain that triggers coughing fits. Next up? Chocolate cough syrup – way better than that orange stuff my mother forced down my throat.

8. Chocolate may improve blood flow. In 2008, test subjects of a Harvard study ate large amounts of chocolate for two weeks (oh, poor things). Fourteen days of pigging out on chocolate, they found, sped up blood flow through the subjects’ middle cerebral arteries. In other words, more chocolate means more blood to your brain.

9. Chocolate strengthens your brain. Researchers found that dark chocolate shields cells in your brain, and protects the brain from damage caused by stroke. Epicatechin, a compound found in chocolate, significantly reduced the brain damage in mice who suffered strokes and that same compound improved mice’s memories.

10. Chocolate makes you live longer. Jeanne Louise Calment lived to the age of 122. Supposedly, she ate two and a half pounds of dark chocolate each week. So if I follow Madame Calment’s example, I could be around for my 100-year college reunion.

But don’t just buy any old chocolate. Most of the chocolate you buy in the grocery store is heavily processed, which means that it has lost many of its healthy chemicals. Buy the good stuff. A small amount of good, dark chocolate (look for 72% cacao or higher on the label) is best. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Another Dash of Salt


 

In my previous post, I wrote about the 920-calorie bacon cheeseburger from Five Guys. No, I didn’t eat it; a friend did. But I’ve had plenty of food from restaurants, and I’m sure you have, too. It’s difficult to make a healthy choice without the information about what you’re eating. Here are some of the “healthy” options I’ve chosen in the past:

The Quesadilla Explosion Salad from Chili’s has 850 calories, 45g of fat (21g saturated), 2,230mg of sodium, and 60g of carbs.  Oh, and their Guiltless Grilled Chicken Pita has just 550 calories and 9g of fat, but 2,110mg of sodium.

Panera’s Asian Sesame Chicken Salad (my favorite) is 470 calories, 25g of fat (4g saturated), 560mg of sodium, and 31g of carbs. It’s a salad! High in salt and carbs for a salad. And no longer will I order the Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup: 310 calories, 1,470mg of sodium, 29g carbs.

I’m not a big fan of the Cheesecake Factory, but I know a lot of my friends are.  Watch out for the Spicy Cashew Chicken. Your dish has 1,810 calories and 4,450mg of sodium. In one serving.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the biggest risk of a high-sodium diet is the effect it has on blood pressure and heart health. Hypertension/high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney failure are some of the long-term effects that can result from long-term, high-sodium intake. In the body, sodium is processed by the kidneys. However,  when a person eats too much sodium, the kidneys cannot process all of it. The excess sodium ends up in the bloodstream. Because the mineral retains water, the volume of blood in the body increases. As a result, the circulatory system has to work harder to pump the blood. Over time, this added strain on the system can result in heart disease and kidney failure.

Since February is Heart Health month, this is good information – not to scare you (well, maybe a little), but just to let you know that knowing what goes into your body is important. I’m learning, too – and as much as I like to go out to eat, I’m going to be much more prudent about my choices.

Is Your Body a Garbage Disposal?


super bowl 2013

I know, I know, it’s Super Bowl Eve, and tomorrow, following the grand traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas, people all across America will gorge themselves on beer, chicken wings, pizza, nachos, and all sorts of fat and sodium-laden food.  Oh, go ahead – indulge if you want. I’ve certainly done my share in past years.

I thought about writing on this topic tonight after seeing a friend’s post on Facebook. She indicated that she’d eaten a “5 Guys bacon cheeseburger with all the fixin’s and enough fries to satisfy three normal people.” Her statement prompted me to look up the nutrition information online. Well, that bacon cheeseburger has 920 calories, 62 grams of fat (30 of them saturated), 1,310mg of sodium, and 51 grams of protein. The “regular” fries (not the large) will get you an additional 620 calories, 30g of fat, and 90mg of sodium (that seems low for fries, but okay). So the burger and fries, which is presumably only one meal, contains 1,540 calories (nearly your daily allotment unless you’re a super athlete), 92g of fat, and 1,400mg of salt. (P.S. I should not have shared this information with her; she wasn’t at all pleased with me).

The nutritional information of food served at chain-type restaurants is usually available online. And on Super Bowl Sunday, most of will not be crunching celery sticks and rice cakes (me included). But here’s some information to think about:

Three Bud Lights = 330 calories

Four chicken wings = 200 calories, 340mg sodium

nachos

Nachos supreme (6.7 oz)  = 430 calories, 690mg sodium, 23g fat

Couple of slices of pepperoni pizza = 680 calories, 1,800mg of sodium, 28g fat

No wonder we’re so unhealthy.

So what will you do?

This year I let my husband know that we’ll be making an effort. No pizza! No eating all day (he’s working anyway, but should be home in time for kick-off). I’ll be making fajitas, using salt-free spices, lots of onions and peppers, thin-sliced lean beef, low-salt salsa, and black beans with cilantro and lime. Because I struggle with my food choices every single day. And while none of us wants to feel deprived (deprived? really? we all have so much food to eat, don’t we?), there are options to keep the food choices reasonable. And keep the sodium levels down!

With the Patriots out, I will root for San Francisco to win, for Beyoncé to sing well live, and for memorable commercials. Happy Super Bowl!