Hunger Games

With apologies to Suzanne Collins: This has nothing to do with that.

Hungry Robins

It recently occurred to me that I am drowning in food.

I have often remarked that during the Katrina crisis and the flooding of New Orleans, despite being displaced, I never missed a night’s sleep, and I never missed a meal.

What’s even more remarkable is that I don’t think I’ve missed a meal in many a year, and I could hardly remember what true hunger felt like. Until now.

Because of my metabolism and narrow frame, I’ve never been labeled obese. People still sometimes call me “Slim.” Nevertheless my doctor usually advises me to lose a few pounds. He’s a stickler.

Once upon a time, I was alarmingly skinny. I ate like a teenage boy well into my twenties, yet remained almost skeletal. I gained twenty pounds after getting married in 1993, and another twenty pounds or so upon moving to New Orleans in 1999. I got fatter, but it wasn’t all fat. Several rounds of strength training regimens added some muscle mass as well. But I was still eating like a teenage boy. Meanwhile my metabolism was catching up — a little.

Eating voluminous amounts of food became part of my identity. I would always go back for seconds or thirds. I was a human garbage disposal. Once upon a time I needed the fuel. Now it’s just habitual gluttony. If the average American eats like I do, no wonder we have an obesity epidemic.

But about a month ago something changed. As part of my seasonal purification rituals, I thought about fasting. Hmm, fasting, what a concept. That would involve being hungry.

And that’s when I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I was truly hungry.

I was never taught to fast. Fasting was not a part of the religious or secular culture in which I was raised. One might even say that I was taught never to fast, not explicitly but implicitly. The very notion seems to run counter to our national psyche. As Americans, we like to believe we live in a land of plenty. We like to celebrate abundance.

I went looking for information on the subject of fasting. Here a few resources I uncovered:

  • This month’s Harper’s features a relevant essay that looks interesting. You have to be a subscriber to read it, and sadly my subscription has lapsed. But the Tulane library has it and I hope to bike over there and read it soon. A friend who’s read it tells me that, “Apparently Mark Twain would always cure himself of cold and flu by fasting until it went away.” Intriguing.
  • The International Natural Hygiene Society is ostensibly grounded in science. Then again it may be pseudoscience; I haven’t done the research. They’ve got an article on “What to expect on your first fast.” I’m skeptical of orthopathy by reflex, but this seems like pretty solid advice, at least at first glance.
  • Associated: Fasting for Renewal of Life by Herbert M. Shelton who seems to be an authority on the subject. Shelton was a key proponent of the Natural Hygiene movement. The book is several decades old, which makes me wonder if the science is current.
  • A more recent volume is Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease (1998) by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
  • And there is a functioning Yahoo Group on the topic of Water Fasting.

I’m not sure I’m ready for a fast quite yet, because I’m exploring a radical new concept, namely eating less on a daily basis. This means experiencing a radical new sensation, namely hunger.

At a rough guess I figure I’ve knocked out about 10-20% of my daily calorie intake by the following simple measures:

  1. I’m not drinking alcohol.
  2. I used to eat a snack every evening before bed, essentially a fourth meal. Usually this was a small meal, a bowl of cereal perhaps. But it often was more substantial, especially if I’d a few drinks earlier in the evening.
  3. I’m not having second helpings at dinner, and I’m trying to keep what portions I do have at dinner modest.

In fact I’m aiming to follow the advice of fellow Hoosier Adelle Davis, to “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”

But most of all, I’m learning not to mind being a little hungry, or even pretty darn hungry, from time to time. It’s not a bad feeling. It reminds me that I’m alive. Mindfulness meditation has taught me the value of simply observing such sensation, and realizing I have a choice to respond to them or not. And if the craving for food gets me too cranky, a glass of water or a cup of tea often helps.

What’s especially interesting to me is how quickly my standards have changed. After just one month, I’ve already noted that if I eat a large meal like I used to enjoy, I now feel bloated and overfull. In fact, even my standard lunch (carrot, sandwich, apple, water) is starting to seem like a lot. I no longer crave a cookie or something extra afterward.

Even more wonderful, I’ve noted that healthier food, like fresh fruits and vegetables, are more appealing when I’m really hungry. Ironically, something about overeating seems to make fatty and salty foods more attractive, to me anyhow; I don’t know how other people experience this.

Despite what I wrote above, these changes are not truly radical. They are incremental. But I think that’s for the best.

We may even save on our grocery bill.

Photo credit: Cropped from original, Four Baby Robins by Ruth Everson.

Testosterone and Emergence


Last month, a study was published which reveals that men who take care of their babies get a big drop in testosterone levels. The more involved they are with their kids, the bigger the drop.

These findings certainly corroborate with my experience. Testosterone is associated with selfishness and aggression, and in the months and years following the birth of my daughter, I’ve been feeling the opposite. The authors theorize this may be a survival mechanism. Lower testosterone levels may make men better fathers and also protect them from chronic diseases.

I buy it.

So could all this, everything I’ve been feeling of late come down to a shift in hormones? A hardwired evolutionary development?

Perhaps. And yet: An overly mechanistic view of psychology is highly problematic. Such explanations can be powerful but also powerfully disenchanting, even depressing. It’s the fallacy of reductionism, I think, a fallacy in which I’ve participated for many years.

I even wrote a triolet on the subject back in the late 80s.

I admit it! My mind is a machine.
But really, I’m comfortable with that.
So I tick tock tick talk what I mean.
I admit it! My mind is a machine,
just like my watch, but so is everything.
I work much like a thermostat.
I admit it, my mind is a machine,
but really, I’m comfortable with that.

I’m coming to understand that I am guilty not only of bad poetry but also bad philosophy. The human psyche is certainly more than the sum of its parts. I’ve been reading a bit about emergence and emergentism, and it’s fascinating stuff.

Probably I am mangling this badly, but I’d describe emergence as the idea that seemingly simple components can interact to generate complexities of another order entirely. This offers an alternative to the mechanistic model. Mind can be seen to emerge from the biological brain almost as a new dimension of reality.

In an essay titled “The Sacred Emergence of Nature,” Ursula Goodenough and Terrence W. Deacon write:

Reductionist understandings of how minds work are fascinating, but they are also irrelevant to what it’s like to be minded. While we don’t know what it’s like to be a bat, we know what it’s like to be a human, and it entails a whole virtual realm that doesn’t feel material at all. The beauty of the emergentist approach to mind is that it suggests that to experience our experience without awareness of its underlying mechanism is exactly what we should expect from an emergent property. The outcome has been given reverent names, like spirit or soul, names that conjure up the perceived absence of materiality. But we need not interpret this as evidence of some parallel transcendental immaterial world. We can now say that the experience of soul or spirit as immaterial is simply a reflection of the way the process of emergence progressively distances each new level from the details below.

To extrapolate, the extraordinary cognitive shifts I’ve experienced after the birth of my daughter may well have substantive biological underpinnings, but to focus on those to the exclusion of all else would be to miss the point entirely.

One could say that I lost some testosterone but found my soul — while still maintaining a naturalistic worldview.

Photo: IMG_4151.JPG / Yutan / BY-NC-ND 2.0


Pistolette is quitting coffee for a couple weeks, so I thought I’d revisit the topic myself.

I noted back in March that I’d started my eighth coffee reduction earlier than usual this year. Normally I wait until the weather gets hot, but this year I discovered the joy of dandelion coffee: roasted dandelion root + roasted chicory root = delicious.

Dandelion Coffee

(Thanks to Elana for the recipe.)

I was feeling good, everything was groovy — and then something happened. The Harvard School of Public Health announced the result of a study, which indicated that coffee may reduce risk of lethal prostate cancer in men. Among other things, the study found:

  • Men who consumed the most coffee (six or more cups daily) had nearly a 20% lower risk of developing any form of prostate cancer.
  • The inverse association with coffee was even stronger for aggressive prostate cancer. Men who drank the most coffee had a 60% lower risk of developing lethal prostate cancer.
  • The reduction in risk was seen whether the men drank decaffeinated or regular coffee, and does not appear to be due to caffeine.
  • Even drinking one to three cups of coffee per day was associated with a 30% lower risk of lethal prostate cancer.

Well, that took the wind out of my coffee-free sails. After all, cancer prompted my dad to have a radical prostatectomy several years ago, so the risk would appear to run in my family. I’d like to avoid that if possible. If gulping gallons of coffee might make a significant difference, well, why not?

So I got back on the bean, and I’ve been swilling java all summer long.

And you know what? It kind of sucks. I’ve enjoyed taking half the year off from coffee.

Hopefully further research will identify the beneficial components of coffee, antioxidants perhaps, and maybe I’ll find another way to ingest them.

Test Results


I got the test results back from my doctor. No charge for the office consultation, though it would have cost me ten bucks to talk on the phone. They have a new online system which allows me to see all the results myself, so allow me to copy and paste.

Test results 04/12/11

GLUCOSE 90 mg/dL N
eGFR NON-AFR. AMERICAN 109 mL/min/1.73m2 N
eGFR AFRICAN AMERICAN 126 mL/min/1.73m2 N
SODIUM 141 mmol/L N
POTASSIUM 4.8 mmol/L N
CHLORIDE 105 mmol/L N
CALCIUM 9.8 mg/dL N
ALBUMIN 4.8 g/dL N
GLOBULIN 2.6 g/dL (calc) N
AST 18 U/L N
ALT 22 U/L N
VITAMIN D, 1,25 (OH)2, TOTAL 36 pg/mL
VITAMIN D3, 1,25 (OH)2 36
VITAMIN D2, 1,25 (OH)2 <8
MCV 90.9 fL N
MCH 30.9 pg N
MCHC 33.9 g/dL N
RDW 12.0 % N
PLATELET COUNT 174 Thousand/uL N

I don’t know what half this stuff means, but the doctor talked me through a few items. I’m happy to learn that I am HIV negative. Also, I don’t have asthma. That isn’t listed above but they tested for it last week. Mostly, it’s a clean bill of health.

Except for one thing: I tested positive for mono. That’s EBV infectious mononucleosis, a.k.a. glandular fever, a.k.a. Pfeiffer’s disease, a.k.a. Filatov’s disease, a.k.a. the kissing disease. But mostly around here we just call it mono.

I was diagnosed with mono approximately twenty years ago. At the time I had three different doctors tell me three different things about my long-term prognosis. I was told you can only catch it once. I was told it can recur. I was also told I’d be feeling the aftereffects for the rest of my life.

According to Wikipedia:

Once the acute symptoms of an initial infection disappear, they often do not return. But once infected, the patient carries the virus for the rest of his or her life. The virus typically lives dormantly in B lymphocytes. Independent infections of mononucleosis may be contracted multiple times, regardless of whether the patient is already carrying the virus dormantly. Periodically, the virus can reactivate, during which time the patient is again infectious, but usually without any symptoms of illness.

Over the years I’ve noticed my lymph nodes have a propensity to swell up, often for no apparent reason. Sometimes they stay swollen for a long time. Since the mono virus lingers in the lymph system, this positive test result would seem to lend some credence to the idea that there’s a connection. I would not describe my immune system as particularly robust. Perhaps there’s something I can do to bolster it. I’ve been getting into herbal teas a lot lately. Perhaps a little echinacea and astragalus.

As for the lingering bronchitis, the antibiotic seems to have done the trick. I’m feeling fine, and better than fine. Hopefully I won’t relapse when the Z-Pak runs its course.

P1100765 / Thirteen of Clubs / CC BY-SA 2.0

Medical Madness

Medical Madness

Even though I’ve been feeling much better after my initial bout with bronchitis, I’ve continued to have minor relapses. I exert myself and then feel funny in the lungs and fatigued.

So I made an appointment to see my doctor Tuesday morning.

And it was such a strange doctor visit.

  1. I was informed that my doctor would now be charging $10 for phone calls. In fact, I was given a letter about it, and I had to sign to confirm receipt. The nurse-receptionist blamed “Obamacare” but the letter blamed Congress. So if I get some lab work done, I can either make a standard appointment to discuss the results, or I can pay ten bucks for a phone consult. My insurance will pay nothing for phone calls, but my co-pay for an office visit is $30.
  2. Once I got into the examination room, I was told the doctor now wants patients who can type to enter their own symptoms directly into the system. In the past a nurse or intern would talk to me and take notes. I can indeed type (in fact I’m typing right now) so soon I found myself typing my symptoms into a computer. I actually don’t mind this because I’m fairly articulate and I can know exactly what’s being entered. Still, it seemed weird.
  3. The doctor’s first impulse was to test me for HIV. Since I’m having trouble shaking an infection, perhaps there’s a problem with my immune system. I guess that makes sense. I’ve never been tested for HIV, so I guess it’s a good idea on general principle. I just thought it was odd that this would be at the top of the list. He also tested me for asthma but that came back negative. I’ll get the HIV results next week.

For what it’s worth, I’m on an antibiotic now and feeling better than ever.

As long as I’m talking about medical issues, I should mention the other symptom that prompted me to see the doctor. I seem to have quantity of fluid in my maxillary sinus cavity. I can feel it draining from side to side when I lie down. Yet my nasal passages are mostly clear — I’m not blowing snot. I finally blew some last week, and it was an alarming color I’ve never seen before, a very dark brown. Might be some old blood in there, as I was having bloody noses a month ago. I’ve been doing sinus rinses daily but they don’t seem to wash anything out. I don’t think the antibiotic will get the mucus out of my sinuses. What to do? What’s going on here anyway?

Medical Madness / Juan Calos Herrera / BY-NC-SA 2.0

Rites of Spring

dandelion roots 4

Another advantage of sickness — it can be a good excuse to go on a sobriety binge. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m sick my desire to drink alcohol and caffeine diminishes severely. I don’t want anything to make my recovery longer.

Actually, let me make a liar of myself. In the first week of this bronchitis, I continued to enjoy a little coffee in the mornings, maybe a quarter-glass of wine at dinner, and a hot toddy (with a shot of Wild Turkey 101) before bed.

But in the second week I tapered off completely, and now I am stone cold sober and decaffeinated as well.

Cold turkey is fine for Wild Turkey, but for caffeine the gradual approach is best. I should know. This has become something of an annual ritual for me. This is my eight coffee reduction in almost as many years.

Usually I wait ’til May for the coffee reduction, but this year I had the bronchitis as an excuse, and it occurred to me that this could be a sort of purification ritual in preparation for the vernal equinox. That seemed somehow appropriate to the spirit of the season. I often get into the spirit of Lent by giving up alcohol, so why not caffeine at the same time?

Just to be clear, for me it’s not an act of penance. It’s about feeling good. I enjoy coffee and other adult beverages, but I also enjoy laying off for a while.

In fact, all notions of penance aside, I wonder if the common practice of abstinence at this time of year doesn’t resonate in part because of some spirit inherent in the season itself, something about the character of spring.

As I write this I’m drinking a cup of roasted dandelion root tea. It’s supposed to promote healthy liver function, but mainly I bought it just because I like herbal teas that taste sort of (for lack of a better word) medicinal. I drank a lot of elderflower and licorice root tea when I was sick, but now I was ready for something different, and the dandelion root caught my eye at the grocery. The liver detox claim is an added bonus.

My boss is also off booze for Lent, so I offered her a bag of the tea. She tried it and absolutely hated it. Couldn’t finish it. I have to admit it is plenty bitter. It’s also plenty dark. As I was drinking this cup I forgot myself for a moment and thought I was drinking coffee. Then it dawned on me — that’s probably why my boss and I reacted so differently. She’s not a coffee drinker. I on the other hand have learned to love the bitter taste.

As I went looking for a photos of dandelion root, I was astonished to stumble across this recipe for dandelion root coffee, made with equal parts roasted dandelion root and roasted chicory, and a little cinnamon. I’m going to have to try that if I can only find the ingredients.

But what really gets me is when Elana, publisher of said recipe, notes:

Dandelion is a fantastic liver cleanser and spring is the perfect season for liver support.

Which bears out my previous ruminations. Maybe there’s something to the idea of spring as a season of purification.

I’m enjoying this hot bitter drink now, but cold bitter drinks are especially refreshing when the weather heats up — which it will soon. Last year our Beltane party confirmed my love of amaro. Might have to do that again.

Dandelion Roots 4 / oceandesetoiles / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Good Things About Being Sick

I started this list on August 25, 2005, just a few days before we evacuated in advance of Katrina. I’ve added to it slowly over the years and finally I have seven items, enough for a respectable list. The reason it took me so long is because, as we all know, being sick sucks. But I always like to look on the bright side. So, here are my “Good Things About Being Sick.”

  1. Staying home from work.
  2. Catching up on some reading.
  3. Not having to get dressed.
  4. Sleeping.
  5. Cold medicine.
  6. Fever dreams.
  7. Enjoying your great job benefits.

Of course, your mileage may vary. Those first and last items in particular give me pause to consider how harsh sickness can be depending on your employment situation. A friend who was over at our house the other day had a cough. I noticed it and asked about it. turns out he’s got bronchitis just like me. Only instead of taking time off and resting, he’s working six days a week. “Doesn’t that make it hard to rest up and get healthy?” It sure does. In fact, it seems pretty certain the atmosphere machine shop is what’s making him sick. He comes down with the same symptoms every year. Now Xy seems to be coming down with it, and when I suggested she take some sick leave she scoffed.

Persephone seems to have picked up the cough again. Pretty sure I got it from her in the first place. As for me I’m almost better. Hope I can seal the deal and get all the way well. It would really suck for all three of to be sick at the same time.

Mardi Maigre

Or would that be Mardi Mince?

I never completely recovered from the cold I caught in late January. I only missed one day of work, and I felt well enough that my general routine was not disrupted, but I could not quite kick that last stage. I kept coughing up little bits of phlegm, but it seemed pretty minor.

Last Friday morning, I felt a little hoarse and a little off my game. I thought it was just the aftereffects of Thursday night’s parade-going, but come Saturday I could tell something was happening in my chest. I was coughing quite a bit, and the coughs were getting more productive.

That didn’t stop me from riding way way uptown Sunday morning to take Persephone to see some more parades: Okeanos, Mid-City and Thoth. But on Lundi Gras I played it cool and stayed home while Xy took the girl out for a day of fun and more parades. I whipped up a big batch of white beans and brown rice. I drank lots of tea. I still held out hope that I might recover before the big day.

But when I woke up Mardi Gras morning, I was feeling worse than ever. Damn, I thought, we’ll just have to stay home today. But once I had a little breakfast I started feeling better. Meanwhile Xy was dealing with her own issues (don’t ask) and so it looked like maybe Persephone and I would head out by ourselves. Actually we got on the bike and made it one block before we decided to come back. We demanded Xy get ready and come with us.

So we all three rode our bikes down Esplanade to the Marigny/French Quarter, and we spent maybe an hour at the most just wandering about in the vicinity of the R Bar, gawking at the many spectacular costumes. My favorite had to be the Voyeurinal. Alas, I have no photo; I was going to snap a picture when Xy ran into a long-lost co-worker and the moment of opportunity passed. So just let your imagination run wild on the Voyeurinal.

Oh wait, I see that Wendy got a photo.


And speaking of photos, here’s the proof we actually did make it out of the house.

Royal Ghost Family

We reprised our ghost royalty costumes. If we’d been feeling better, if we’d really done it up, we would have taken a wagon and featured our original Brewster watercolor, which would have added a whole ‘nother dimension. But alas it was not to be.

Persephone was plenty tired, and neither Xy nor I were in top form, and it seemed like it might rain, so we decided to head back before the Societé de Sainte Anne arrived. Didn’t even have a drop of alcohol! That has to be a first for me.

So yeah, it kinda sucks to curtail the fun on the most transcendentally festive day of the year. But it’s far far better to get a little flavor than none at all. When we got back home, my situation deteriorated rapidly. It was almost as if my body had been holding out for me as long as it could. I’m pretty sure I’ve got bronchitis. If it’s viral (as most bronchitis is) the main treatment is bedrest. Oops. Not exactly consonant with an eight-mile roundtrip bike ride.

So I spent Ash Wednesday in bed, and I’m trying to do the same today.

I can’t help but note that this was my twelfth Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I also was somewhat under the weather for my first Mardi Gras back in 2000. Our cat Bilal died on Mardi Gras 2002. We missed Mardi Gras in 2004 out of sheer lethargy, and also in 2008 because of a sprained ankle and advanced pregnancy. Mardi Gras 2009 was compromised when Persephone came down with a fever. Not a great batting average so far.

Next year the pressure will really be on, because Mardi Gras falls on a certain someone’s fourth birthday. I welcome any and all suggestions on how best to celebrate.

Triumph of the Shin

Last Mardi Gras, a dog bit me on the calf. The marks are still visible today, one full year after the fact. I was recently informed that the dog has died. A friend joked that I had come out on top, which I thought was funny, but I do feel sorry for the dog and offer my condolences to the owner, should he ever read this.

Minor Relapse, Electoral Politics, and Music

Last night FOLC had its annual board election. I was excited but also a little nervous. We had a bigger slate of candidates than ever before, fifteen in all, for eight open seats. I wasn’t up for re-election myself; our terms are staggered and mine ends next year. But I was nervous because there was a real prospect for the four incumbents who were seeking re-election to be displaced. In governmental elections I have a severe anti-incumbent bias, but this is not government, and I find I have a great deal of loyalty to my fellow board members.

We had a great turnout, with over sixty FOLC members in attendance, casting their votes. In the end, the incumbents were all re-elected and we have four new board members who will hopefully provide us with a fresh infusion of energy. I’ve posted the results on the FOLC site.

I ended up having to speak at some length at the meeting, and in order to be heard by 60-odd people I had to raise my voice. Unfortunately my poor throat is still on the mend from whatever viral assault I’ve been fighting; I’ve been getting better daily but last night’s activities set me back a day at least.

Sometimes, there’s a silver lining. Some sore throats seem to skew my voice lower by almost a full octave. Here’s what I sound like today, singing the first part of “Philadelphia” by Magazine.

Philadelphia [Sore Throat] by Editor B

Throat Challenge

I seem inordinately predisposed to getting a sore throat. (I also have a propensity for swollen nodes in the throat, which may or may not be related.) I’ve been making some headway in my ongoing battle, but I’ve yet to reach my goal of a year-round healthy throat.

My family doctor prescribed fluticasone propionate nasal spray last year, shortly after the great Good Friday healthcare debacle. (Yes, he started taking my insurance again.) This seems to have stopped allergy-engendered post-nasal drip from infecting my pharynx. So far so good, though I’ve yet to investigate the potential side effects of snorting a steroid on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, last month I got a sore throat of a different kind, lower in my throat than the pharyngeal zone. I went to see an ear, nose and throat specialist and he told me my tonsils were inflamed. He recommended gargling with a half-and-half mixture of hydrogen peroxide and mouthwash, twice a day. Sure enough, 36 hours later my throat felt fine.

This is on my mind right now because I came down with a little pharyngitis over the weekend. I hadn’t been using my nasal spray quite as religiously of late, as it’s not the season for my allergies, but I’m not sure that would have made any difference. I’m pretty sure Xy and I both a caught a virus from Persephone, something akin to the common cold, but not quite as severe. Nevertheless my pharynx was sore as hell yesterday.

I took P to the doctor this morning, and they had her inhale some albuterol for a while to combat the congestion in her lungs. But neither Xy nor P seem to have the sore throat I have. That’s a special bonus just for me.

And there’s something about having a sore throat that really gets me down. I guess feeling pain every time I swallow or breathe keeps me focused on the fact that I’m not well. I’m well-versed in a regimen of palliatives such as gargling with salt water, slippery elm bark tea and herbal lozenges. But prevention is what I’m aiming for.

So, the quest for the ultimate sore throat prevention technique continues.

Mixed Omens

My new year seemed to be getting off to an auspicious start. We ran around a candle on the neutral ground at midnight; we ate some Hoppin’ John and cabbage; I slept in the next morning; I avoided a hangover. Later in the day we even got a visit from the Egg Roll Man. So far so good.

Emboldened, I decided to tackle a minor home improvement project. There’s a thick piece of molding beneath one of the doorways into my study, where the level of the floor drops rather precipitously. This piece of wood has been popping out of place lately. So I removed the three nails that are supposed to hold it down, figuring to replace them with screws.

And here is where my luck began to turn. The very first screw broke off when I had it halfway in place. I thought I could twist it back out again with a pliers, but I succeeded only in bending the damn thing so that even a screw extractor wouldn’t be able to work. I seem to have practically ruined the piece of molding, though I suppose it should be possible to snip off the protruding shard of metal — if I had the proper tools.

It was a minor but demoralizing defeat. I went back to bed for a while, and I probably should have stayed there. But for some reason, later that evening, I decided to try out a new present I’d gotten from my parents, an Oxo Good Grips V-Blade Mandoline Slicer.

Anyone with half a brain can see where this is headed: While slicing a cucumber, I sliced my pinkie finger but good. Some online reviews complain that this thing has a dull blade, but in my personal experience that blade is plenty sharp enough. I’m lucky I didn’t slice the tip of my finger off. Instead I got a nice clean cut, small enough I suppose. It didn’t hurt at all, but it was one of those cuts that just would not stop bleeding.

(Later, when I had it wrapped in ice, I got my pinkie finger well-chilled, and when it thawed out, that was painful. To stop the bleeding I finally realized I needed to elevate my hand.)

I feel like a prize idiot. I’d love to criticize the design of the slicer, but ultimately I don’t blame anyone but myself. I was unfamiliar with this sort of gadget, and I wasn’t careful enough. I hope it’s no indication of things to come in 2011.


It’s been cold in New Orleans lately. The last two nights we’ve had freeze warnings. I don’t think it actually froze, though.

Fortunately the new insulation under our house seems to be making a huge difference in terms of our general comfort level. The energy savings remain to be seen.

I still find cold weather a challenge. My body seems to be deeply offended by any temperature below 70ºF. I’m not really comfortable until we hit 75 or 80º. It looks like we’ll get close to such temperatures again in a couple days, but right now it’s just hitting 40º and it was much colder on the morning bike ride — especially factoring the wind.

When venturing out in the morning, I gird myself my remembering that a) I come from hardy Norwegian stock, and b) I lived for a year by the arctic circle. I even have a photo to prove the latter.


It doesn’t look too arctic in that picture, but it was taken in August.

But back to cold mornings here and now: I bundle Persephone up thoroughly, with coat, hood, mittens and a scarf over her face to protect her tender cheeks from windburn. She’s only got a few minutes on the bike, though; I have a longer ride after dropping her off. It’s really not too bad until I turn off Jeff Davis onto Drexel Drive. That’s always the windiest part of my ride. Not sure why. Maybe the Washington Avenue Canal has something to do with it.

And yet I really don’t mind a cold and windy bike ride. It’s a brief ordeal. I dress appropriately, and I get through it. I’m active and moving the whole time.

No, it’s the sedentary parts of my day that are more of a challenge. When I get into my office my body temperature is usually elevated from the exertion, such that I can’t tell how cold it really is. This morning the thermometer told me it was 61º in here. After an hour or so, my body temperature subsides to its normal level and I really start feeling the cold in my fingers.

I’ve never understood why I have a tendency to sweat when I’m cold, but it certainly adds to the general unpleasantness. Some basic net searches turn up plenty of info about people who sweat in all climates, but that’s not me. I don’t sweat excessively in the heat. It’s only in cold weather that this bothers me, in particular when my feet sweat. Anyone with cold, wet feet is truly miserable. My fingers are cold to the bone. No, I don’t have Raynaud’s. They are just uncomfortably cold, not discolored or painful. And my palms are sweating. What the hell is going on?

When I mentioned this to my podiatrist last week, he made a remark about it being a “sympathetic reaction.” That phrase led me to this:

Also sweating responds to your emotional state. So when you are nervous, anxious or afraid, there is an increase in sympathetic nerve activity in your body as well as an increase in epinephrine secretion from your adrenal gland. These substances act on your sweat glands, particularly those on your palms of your hand and your armpits, to make sweat. Thus, you feel a “cold” sweat.

This would seem to bear out a long-held suspicion of mine — that I’m sweating because of anxiety about the cold. In other words, it’s psychological.

In fact, the name of my second, abortive blogging attempt from way back in April 2003 (a good year before I started this one) says it all: Frigophobia.

The universe is basically a cold place. Heat is a mysterious aberration. No one really knows where it came from, but we’re pretty sure that it is slowly going away. The universe is cooling, and in time it will chill out completely.

This morning it was around 60º F when I left the house. I was wearing a light sweater, a shirt, and an undershirt. After a ten minute bike ride to get to work, my hands were still like ice.

The air conditioning is out of control in my office. It’s so cold we all have to wear sweaters. We all run space heaters in our offices to offset the air conditioning, which cannot be turned off or adjusted by us directly.

I’ve been reading about Raynaud’s Phenomenon and Raynaud’s Disease. Many people have suggested that I might suffer from this, but years ago a doctor told me I didn’t. I’m inclined to trust her diagnosis. The coldness of my hands and feet does not come in the form of attacks. My fingers do not discolor. I do not experience pain.

I don’t have Raynaud’s. I just have cold hands.

My hands are cold. My feet are also cold, sometimes colder than my hands, sometimes warmer. The rest of me is fine.

I used to worry about my “core temperature” dropping. But it is very unlikely that my core temperature has anything to do with it. Indeed, the ability of the human body to maintain the same basic core temperature for many decades is a marvel. I’m not going to freeze solid and die anytime soon.

Two concerns dominate the thoughts of one who fears cold, besides the obvious factor of temperature; these twin concerns are: Moisture and Insulation.

Nothing is eternal. Even the idea of eternity is a fraud. Time is only temporary. The universe is ending, slowly, dying the Cold Death.

Calling it a phobia is probably overly dramatic. But it seems possible that my sweating is caused by anxiety. I wonder where that came from? What’s the root of this anxiety? Perhaps that year up by the Arctic Circle has something to do with it. It was a fairly grim time in my life. In any event, I wonder if I could overcome the anxiety and be more comfortable. It seems plausible but I’m not sure where to start.

Cold Front

Another cold front passed through our area this weekend. On Saturday it was unseasonably warm, on Sunday unseasonably cold, and all day long Sunday I felt out of sorts — not quite right — like my body was out of tune. Nothing severe, but a tiny headache, a touch of fatigue, a slightly upset stomach, general irritability and uneasiness. It adds up.

I found reference to this in an article by Jon Wright.

Perhaps the most stressful weather condition is the passing of cold and warm fronts. A cold front coming through your “neck of the woods” means more than just a drop in temperature. It also means complex changes in the barometric pressure, wind direction, humidity, and even pollutants that may be carried into a forecast area. All of these changes affect our bodies, our endocrine systems, our nervous systems, and our cardiovascular systems.

I do not like cold fronts. I generally don’t enjoy cold weather, period, but as noted above the passing of a cold front entails so much more than that. I swear I feel the drop in pressure deep inside my gut. I’m wondering what I can do to offset these feelings when the next one comes through. Do I need to stock up on calcium, phosphates, sodium, magnesium? Should I regulate my blood-sugar? I wonder if my hypothalamus and pituitary gland are out of whack, and if so what I can do to promote their function.

At least this was a dry front. I really don’t enjoy those cold fronts that drive storms before them. I would like to learn to relish such events instead of dreading them.

Meanwhile we are bracing for the coldest weather of the season so far overnight. We might even see some frost. We’ll be putting our new insulation to the test. I think I noticed a big improvement this morning, in terms of the air temperature underfoot. But the morning bike ride was tough.

Initial Consult

I had my initial consultation with Dr. Swartz today. It looks like I’ll be getting snipped in a couple weeks.

Yes, I’m getting a vasectomy, and if that seems like too much information, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.

Actually I think talking about the procedure is important. It’s one of the most effective means of birth control, and it’s far less invasive than the equivalent surgical procedure for females, the tubal ligation. In fact, a vasectomy only takes about fifteen minutes to perform and in most cases it’s virtually painless. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’m not in that minority that does experience some painful swelling.

But in spite of these advantages, many men are scared of vasectomies, and tubal ligations are more common. This, despite the fact that a tubal ligation is a more serious procedure with greater risks. I don’t want to cast aspersions on any individual or couple’s choice, but I think that reveals a certain bias. Let’s face it — men have a certain amount of anxiety about their “junk.”

So, anyway, before you can get it done, you have to go in for an initial consultation, which is what I did today, and I’m pretty much determined to go forward with this.

There are only a couple of considerations. One is that I shouldn’t ride a bike for a good week after the procedure. I use the bike to take Persephone to daycare in the morning, so we’ll time this to coincide with Persephone’s holiday break. I will probably also need a friend to take me to and from the doctor’s office; as mentioned the whole thing only takes fifteen minutes.

The other consideration is insurance. I seem to have met my deductible because the battery of alcohol injections I’ve been getting in my foot are considered “surgery” by Humana, as crazy as that sounds. My deductible resets at the end of the calendar year, so I’m keen to get this taken care of before then.

Bouncing Back

I think I got a bad burger at the airport in Houston. Ugh. The very idea of an airport hamburger sounds kind of gross. Anyway, Sunday evening I was feeling kind of queasy. Over the course of the night I didn’t sleep much, as my body forcibly ejected all contents from my gastrointestinal system in both directions. I had plenty of delirious imaginings, but they were mostly so abstract and weird I can’t remember much; take a bunch of academic verbiage visualized as a black metal framework twisted into non-Euclidean shapes and you get the idea. I also kept thinking how fortunate it was that my daughter wasn’t the afflicted one. I don’t think she’s barfed in almost two years. I was still feeling pretty shaky when I dropped her off at daycare Monday morning. I rode back home, took a hot bath, then collapsed into bed for six hours of deep sleep. By Monday evening I was back on solid food, though somewhat tentatively, and as of this morning I’m functioning at approximately 87%. Hopefully I will be back to writing regularly here soon, with an account of my trip to St. Louis and other fascinating details.