Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Worst Health and Fitness Plan Ever

April 13, 2014

It’s probably a bad idea, but I’m going to share my health and fitness strategy. There are some crackpot ideas in here (especially the first one), and you should abandon them right quick if they don’t work for you. For whatever reason, they work for me, and I’m sharing them because maybe they will be helpful to others who, like me, hate routine and have an unusual metabolism.


The author taking a moment to do some quick yoga while in her pajamas and waiting to get started on some home renovation.


First off, what do I mean when I say that the following tips work for me? I mean that I like how my body feels. I am not skinny and don’t really want to be. I am muscular and I am curvy. Both of those traits come pretty naturally, so my idea is that I should work with my body so that it is muscular and curvy in ways that feel good to me. Work with your body. Love your body. And also ignore your body altogether once in a while. Here’s the attention I give mine.

  1. Skip breakfast. Well, not most of you. Because breakfast is the most important meal of the day for most people. But my metabolism must be a little different than most. If I eat breakfast, then I am hungry all day long and I eat like a horse. If I skip breakfast, then I can usually go until noon or later without a meal, and even then I don’t tend to eat large portions. My mind and body feel better when I start the day lean.
  2. Exercise in the kitchen. I have lots of small chunks of down time when I am cooking. Three minutes while I wait for water to boil. Thirty seconds between the time I flip the pancake and the time it’s ready to go to a plate. And so forth. I take that time to do pushups against the counter or to bust out about 20 jumping jacks.
  3. Figure out how to use what you already have for exercise. As I mentioned, pushups against the counter are great. You can also step up onto a sturdy chair and then back down a few times. You can jog in place or do a few balancing exercises. Forget about equating exercise with going to the gym.
  4. If you do have equipment, keep it small and handy. In my case, I have a few small weights that I keep near the kitchen so that I can do some arm curls while I am sautéing onions. If they were in any way inconvenient to get to, I simply wouldn’t do it. So I keep them near the place where I am most likely to exercise.
  5. When you start to glaze over at work, exercise. Take thirty seconds to do some pushups or sit-ups or whatever. It will make you more productive. Don’t care if other people laugh at you. You are being a good influence.
  6. Accept hunger. It’s the natural human condition to be a little bit hungry quite a bit of the time. When you think you would like a snack, wait about 15 minutes before you go get it. And then try a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts first. You don’t want hunger pangs certainly, but in general we would do well to accept that being a little bit hungry is not so alarming.

Okay, so I’m not a fitness guru. None of this is the result of careful study, and it’s not like following these tips will make you any sort of hottie. But I do feel great about the strength and flexibility of my body. If some portion of this helpful, that’s great. The advice is free, so take it for what it is worth.


Ode to April Fool’s Day

April 1, 2011

I’m a dream date for people who love April Fool’s Day. I’ve fallen for at least three pranks today already. (My favorite was the email from my Wisconsin State Assembly rep who said all 34 Democratic Assembly members have decided to go ahead and leave the state too.)

One April Fool’s prank in 1993 actually changed the course of my life. I was a religious studies major, planning to go on to get my PhD and become a professor (I mean, what else is a person gonna do with that degree?). I found religion such a fascinating topic, I could easily imagine spending the rest of my life studying it. I joined the Undergraduate Religious Studies Association (URSA), which published a monthly newsletter.

For April Fool’s Day of my junior year, we made a mock newsletter in which we poked fun at the department, ourselves, and the professors. We were not a spiteful crew, but we had a fun time with phony interviews, make-believe book reviews, and doctored photos. It was all good-natured, so we were pretty shocked when a couple of the professors were outraged. “How dare you make light of my life’s work?” and “Maybe you don’t see the value in this, but I can assure you others do.” That sort of thing.

James Hart, professor of phenomenology--whatever that means...

Their responses were so egotistical that I began to wonder what it does to a person to devote one’s life to an obscure area of study which, in the larger scheme of things, just doesn’t matter that much. (more…)

Six Good Things

January 9, 2011

Some days I take to making lists. Here are six random things that will make me like you quite well even if I barely know you.

1. If someone says something racist, you speak against what they said.

2. If I’m talking to you and your cell phone rings, you turn off the ringer without looking to see who is calling.

3. You pick up a stranded motorist, especially one that seems down on his/her luck.

4. When an unpopular person walks in the room, you walk up to him/her with a smile and say “Hi, good to see you!”

5. When the unpopular person leaves the room, you still say, “It was good to see him/her.”

6. You say, “I don’t know” if, in fact, you don’t know.

Thanks to the nice people in the world who have inspired this list!

Not to Be Morbid

April 2, 2010

Death is coming. It’s coming for you. Worse, it’s coming for everyone you love. We know this is the natural order of things, but we’ve come to depend on a collective denial in order to keep us in the world of the living.

This denial manifests itself in awkward silences that shadow a person who has lost a loved one or in the decreasing likelihood that we will mention a person’s name if we know they are terminally ill.  But perhaps most of all, it manifests itself in the way we outsource the care of our dead. I am not the sort of person who clings wistfully to bygone times as emblems of all that used to be right but no longer is.  Still I wonder if we lost something very important in life when we stopped caring for the dead. (more…)

Solidarity for Human Rights in Iran

February 5, 2010

Unite 4 human rights in Iran

"February 11th is Victory of the Revolution Day in Iran. Equivalent to the Fourth of July in the United States, it is a day commemorating liberty, independence and freedom. But the Iranian government has long violated these rights and is responsible for numerous abuses including torture, arbitrary arrests, censorship and the most recent execution of two activists accused of inciting the post-election protests on June 12th – even though these men had been held in detention long before the violence erupted.

Since blogs and websites like Twitter and YouTube were virtually the only way the Iranian people could expose the horrific treatment being inflicted on them in the days following the contested Presidential election, we expect that Iranians will turn to the Internet once again to carry their messages. That is why we are asking everyone to show their solidarity online on February 11th – whether it’s on your blog, website, or social networking profile."
Amnesty International

Per Capita Greenhouse Gas Emissions

January 12, 2010

I’m just sayin’..

Remote Control Is for Toys, Not Real Locomotives

January 7, 2010

You’ve seen locomotives, right?  Those enormous hulks of steel that haul things like people, coal, corn, and poisonous gases such as ammonia?  It turns out that the geniuses that run the railroad companies have all sorts of schemes to have them go barreling through the country with only one or even no crew person inside!  In fact, in recent years they’ve already starting instituting remote control operations (RCO) in train yards.  But don’t worry folks, the technology makes things even safer than before.  Does anyone else feel like they’ve seen this movie before?  It doesn’t end well.

It certainly didn’t for Jared Boehlke, the young conductor killed on Mother’s Day in Selkirk, New Jersey, performing RCO duties. Nor for Jody Allen Herstine, another conductor run over while moving cars with RCO in 2003. Nor for another man—a switchman—run over in Utah in 2005 while another worker moved engines using RCO. And a few days ago, came news of another death.

“My heart goes out to the Lundy family, I know the pain that they are suffering. This is exactly what I have been dreading the thought of, for the last seven months. The thought of yet another family in pain, it makes me so sick.” said Heather Boehlke, widow of locomotive remote control operator Jared Boehlke, upon hearing the news of the death of Samuel W. Lundy, who was killed while performing locomotive remote control switching in Minneapolis on Tuesday, December 29.

Railroad workers and concerned humans across the country are writing to Congressman James Oberstar, the powerful chair of the House Transportation Committee, to urge that strict regulations be imposed on the railroads using RCO.  You can get a sample letter here.  I’m sealing the envelope tonight and sending the letter tomorrow, because poorly regulated remote control operations of locomotives is a really dumb idea, and it’s costing people their lives.  If the railroads keep expanding the operations, how long before an accident involving hazardous materials seriously impacts not just one family at a time, but hundreds?

Combat as Care

October 27, 2009

NPR ran a story yesterday about mental health care on campuses. About half-way in, a woman with bi-polar disorder describes what happened when she confided in her family about the extreme emotional pain she was suffering. She felt better after talking and went to sleep, but they called 911.

“And about an hour later, there’s banging on my door,” Gelender remembers. “I go to the door, and there’s two armed police who barge in, [saying] ‘Where are your pills? Where are your pills?'” The officers ransacked her room, she says. They searched her shelves and combed through drawers, all the while yelling a steady stream of questions.

“I’m half-naked,” she remembers. “I’m dressed for bed, and you know, they’re like, ‘Are you going to kill yourself? Are you going to kill yourself?’ And I’m just like, ‘No. I’m not going to kill myself.’ And they’re threatening to take me to the psych ward, and they’ve got their handcuffs in their hands. I don’t know what you say to convince someone that you’re not going to kill yourself besides, ‘No. I’m not going to kill myself.'”
The police phoned the psychiatrist on-call, and after some back and forth, they left. But the whole experience left Gelender horribly shaken.

A moment later in the story, a professional explains that “It’s better to have someone angry and alive than dead and dead.”

Talk about missing the point. How likely is it that someone who undergoes that kind of treatment will make themselves vulnerable again by telling someone how they feel?

Police, the general public, and even mental health providers often take a “combat as care” approach to people with mental illness. As someone who has worked in the mental health field, I have known police who respond with care and kindness, but I have also known them to needlessly escalate incidences and even to beat people who failed to respond as the police wanted them to, even though they posed no threat.

Even when people voluntarily report to the psych ward with thoughts of harming themselves or others, care may be denied until the patient agrees not to leave the ward until given the permission of the psychiatrist. In many cases, the doctors in this ward are wanderers who have been unable to establish their own practice or keep a steady job. In other words, they aren’t always up to snuff, though certainly there are also many that do a good job. The power dynamics are so skewed, that if the patient and psychiatrist are a poor fit, the experience can be hell for the patient. A doctor might insist a patient go on a certain med, even if the patient has had a bad reaction to it in the past, or a patient might have to listen to a doctor’s views on things that have nothing to do with mental health, such as gender roles, religion, atheism, or politics. Only once that doctor gives the okay can the patient return to their job, family, pets, etc.

Will a patient in this situation ever again willingly seek care?

As a nation, we are doing better at demanding that our doctors treat us as partners in our health care. This needs to be true in the mental health field as elsewhere. Yes, patients that are psychotic or imminently dangerous need to be stabilized before fruitful conversations can begin. But when the professionals accept a battlefield mentality on the part of the police or staff, they should not be surprised by casualties.

Error on the Side of No One

October 20, 2009

From the New York Times to the editorial page of every local paper in the country, we’ve all witnessed the range of opinions on medical malpractice lawsuits. The notion that malpractice lawsuits are responsible for a significant portion of the cost of health care has largely been put to rest, but still conservatives rail against large jury awards while liberals tend to side with the aggrieved (those of us with views that fall outside that paradigm are absent from mainstream media). Lately, however, coverage has begun to focus not so much on the lawsuits themselves as on the fear of lawsuits. Apparently, the fear of getting sued can lead doctors to order unnecessary tests just to cover their behinds. This is called defensive medicine and many argue it is driving up the cost of health care significantly.

(I suspect patients are also practicing defensive medicine. Back when I had good health insurance, if a doctor suggested a test I almost always said yes because I really had no idea how long I’d have access to health care. If they find something wrong with me on a day that I am insured, that is much better than finding it on a day down the road when I’m not insured.)

Are doctors really so afraid of large jury awards? After all, they do have malpractice insurance that pays out for them, and most medical mistakes go completely unpunished anyway. According to one recent article in the New York Times, the fear that motivates doctors is not only nor even primarily monetary. Rather, reporter David Leonhardt argues, the fear has to do being called out publicly and perhaps wrongly. Doctors’ reputations may be sullied even if they win a lawsuit. Thus, they order tests or procedures they don’t believe the patient really needs just so they can make a case seem unwinnable before it starts.

The piece of this that I find so disheartening is that you never hear doctors quoted as saying, “I order extra tests because I want to make absolutely certain that no patient dies or suffers due to neglect on my part.” Instead, the death or suffering seems to only be the intermediary step leading to a lawsuit, which is the thing that creates the fear. I realize that the overwhelming majority of doctors do care on some level about their patient’s health, but if the news coverage is to be believed, they seem to care about lawsuits even more. After all, if a doctor refuses to order a test she or he believes to be unnecessary and the patient turns out to be just fine, then the patient will not sue. On the other hand, if a doctor refuses to order a test that she or he wrongly believes to be unnecessary, that is when a patient will sue. Patients will sue because they suffered harm or their families will sue if the patient is dead or incapacitated as a result of that harm.

This is not to say that all those extra tests are a good thing or that every lawsuit has the right target. But rather than target malpractice itself, I would like to see the medical community turn its attention to enormous problem of medical error. According to a recent report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, patients in the United States fare much worse than in many European nations when it comes to being given wrong medication, receiving inaccurate or untimely information about their condition, or suffering other medical error. Clearly, we have much room for improvement. Reducing medical error is the one way that doctors can improve their ability to be protected from lawsuits without harming patients or driving up the cost of health care.

Go with the Twizzlers This Halloween

October 7, 2009

Before you snatch up the bags of Hershey bars for the little goblins this month, take a moment to learn about your chocolate. Chances are good that it comes from plantations in Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) where 11-year-old slaves are doing the work.

The International Labor Rights Forum released a score card earlier this year to help chocolate lovers sort through the claims of various companies—all of whom are shocked! shocked! to learn that they might be making a profit off of slavery.

According to the score card, you can be pretty certain that chocolate purchased from Equal Exchange, Divine Chocolate, and Sweet Earth Chocolates are produced without slave labor. Dagoba, Starbucks, Ghiradelli/Lindt, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Godiva are all taking steps to become slave-free. But please avoid Hershey’s, Nestle, and M&M/Mars (Dove).

The good news? The chocolates made without slavery also tend to be better quality. Yes, you pay a little more, but you end up with much better flavor. I can assure you that the recipe below will make you a hero at parties, and absolutely cannot be made with Hershey’s.

Private Moment Mousse

4.5 oz bitter chocolate, finely chopped
2 Tbl. Unsalted butter, diced
2 Tbl. Espresso or very strong coffee
1 C. cold heavy cream
3 large eggs, separated
1 Tbl. + 1 pinch sugar

1. Whip the cream to soft peaks, refrigerate
2. Combine the chocolate, butter, and coffee in a double boiler. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool until mixture is just slightly warmer than body temperature. Don’t let it get too cool.
3. Whip the egg whites in a medium bowl until foamy and begin to hold shape. Sprinkle in sugar and beat until soft peaks form.
4. Stir the yolks into the chocolate. Gently stir in about 1/3 of the whipped cream. Fold in half the whites just until incorporated, then fold in the remaining whites, and then the remaining whipped cream.
5. Dish it into serving bowls and refrigerate for 8 hours, but no more than 24 hours. OR, put it into a baked pie crust instead of serving bowls. Use this crust recipe: 1 C toasted chopped nuts (macadamia are very good), 1 C flour. Mix. Cut in about 1/3 C melted butter and 2-3 Tbl warm water. I don’t remember what temperature I bake the crust at or for how long. Probably about 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Make sure the crust has completely cooled before putting the mousse in there.
Special note: don’t try to double this recipe. It serves 5-8, depending on serving size.