Friday, May 05, 2017

it *might* be Christmas - in MAY!!

Today was the first day of the year that I biked to work. I LOVE riding to work. It takes just a little longer than driving, and I get a workout in. Plus, here in Colorado it's usually super beautiful out and I get to see things like the mountains, bunnies, birds of prey, new businesses in my 'hood, random stray dogs (there were three today, I was glad I was on a bike because I really wanted to take them home!) etc.

So I'm riding along, surprised at how good I feel (thank you, Katie H, who only teaches one spin class a week but totally helps me to be faster on my bike!) and thinking this is just a glorious morning (thank you, GOD!) and then I get to the part of the ride where the bike path ends and I have to ride on the road. This is a very busy stretch of road that heads north and is pretty much the only option to ride along. There is a wide sidewalk/path that parallels the road but it bends around vegetation mounds at every intersection and cars can't see you coming, so it's not really safe for bicyclists to cruise on through. I do use that path, but there is a lot of getting on and off the bike at all those crossings!

So anyhow, here I exit the bike path and roll up to the stoplight and... BEHOLD! Doth mine eyes deceive me? Across the street, directly in front of me painted on the pavement is A BICYCLE LANE!! And, oh my GOD! There is one on the SOUTH side of this busy road, too! Well God bless the City of Thornton for this wonderful gift! I was so giddy riding along that road, safe(r) in my little bike lane - shouts of joy accompanied each of the little bicyclist road graphics I rolled over. Way to go, Thornton, Colorado!

I'm not going to get into an silly metaphors or lengthy, literate descriptions to convey my love of riding my bike to work. Let's just leave it at: there are some things I really love to do, and biking to work is one of them. I've been doing it intermittently for about 15 years now, to various jobs in a myriad of urban areas. So let's just start with, just getting to ride my bicycle in today was a joy.

But there was something else making today's ride super special - it's Cinco de Mayo, which is the one day a year where I eat however many tortilla chips and drink as many margaritas as I want to. Tomorrow may be rough... May the Force be with you right into Revenge of the Fifth, but whatever, I digress. These days, I am actively trying to lose weight to be a lighter, faster bicyclist. The fact that the weather is perfect and I am able to get a good cycling workout in and mitigate some of my Cinco de Mayo indulgences is nothing short of spectacular. I have been so happy about this all week! [Incidentally I just saw a nutritionist this week and I'm pretty excited about changing up my eating habits (a whole 'nother blog) but I am also still super excited about the chips and margaritas today - olé!!]

Oh yeah, then I get to work and my coworker brought everyone Santiago breakfast burritos! So great to have some tasty green-chile covered protein ready to chomp before I hopped in the shower. (Skipped the tortilla, because, well, nutritionist.) But yeah, nom nom nom.

Christmas. In May. On Cinco de Mayo. Bike ride, bike lanes, nice coworkers, green chile, chips and margaritas... what a day, and it's not even lunch time. Happy Cinco de Mayo. 🚲 😎


Did you know? Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of the Mexican army holding off the French army in the Battle of Puebla. It was an impressive victory, given that the Mexican army was quite small. Cinco de Mayo is not celebrated in Mexico and it's not a true American holiday, so it has a unique distinction of being a Mexican-American holiday! 

Monday, June 13, 2016

We are all Orlando

Despite a long string of bloody attacks on average Americans going through their motions of daily life over the past decade, none of us expected to hear the news of a massacre of so many of our fellow human beings Sunday morning. Today has been a particularly brutal Monday. The flags are at half-mast. The news and radio stations were full of images or audio clips of crying mothers and friends mourning their slaughtered loved ones in Orlando, and condolences and prayers for those directly affected by the tragedy have saturated all media, social or otherwise. Whether or not we were part of this attack, Americans collectively woke up to a broken morning-after, with the fear and devastation making it possibly the worst morning-after in the history of morning-afters.

As details about the tragedy came in, those of us with very little connection to the victims in Orlando felt a guilty sense of relief that this horror had happened so far away. But that relief quickly gave way to fear as we realized that just by going about our daily lives, we, too, could easily have been the target of such determined hate. Whether at church, school, a grocery store, a military base, a movie theater, a community center, an office party, a bar, at the airport or on a commercial flight - we realize that as we go through the motions of our life, we, too, could be attacked in the same senseless manner. We are forced into the scary admission that a truly horrific event – awful and crushing and terrifying - has, in effect, happened to ALL OF US. 

And then our fear began to morph into a need for action, spurring a hopeful aftermath in the wake of this awful act of violence. In the past twenty-four hours we have seen the lines of people wrapping around blood banks waiting to donate, and several of us have gone to our own local donation centers. We’ve read hateful comments toward Muslims, and been relieved to read or hear words from Muslims and Muslim leaders condemning this deeply disturbed terrorist’s actions. We’ve changed our profile pictures to stand with Orlando and the LBGT community as a whole. We’ve done online searches for how to talk to our kids about the tragedy. Petitions are circulating to get changes made to our gun laws. People are silently screaming blame on social media because there has to be some outlet for their feelings of outrage, hopelessness, helplessness and fear. And behind the sadness and the seething, beneath all our worry and fear and hand-wringing and prayers, we are all vowing that as American citizens, we will not stand for any more of this kind of violence.

And that’s just it. The vast majority of people in the United States DO NOT stand for this kind of violence. Whether we own weapons or not, 99.99 percent of Americans DO NOT CONDONE this kind of violence toward our fellow human beings and want to prevent this scenario from ever happening again. This common ground - the collective WANT to never again have to deal with a mass killing like this - unites us.

A post on social media said “Mass shootings are caused by 2 things: #1, Because someone decided to go kill a lot of people for [a multitude of reasons] but does it really f*cking matter; #2 They have guns… which one can we fix?” When you think about it, we can’t really make great strides at fixing either of those two things quickly. Both these things do indeed cause mass shootings, but if #1 is an issue, it really does f*cking matter and the means a person will use to kill a lot of people is irrelevant. That person will use their pilot’s license, their pressure cooker, some easily accessible chemicals mixed together in just the right way in the trunk of their car or whatever they can to inflict mass casualties.

Maybe the thing we really have the ability to do, even if we can't fix it totally, is to seek out a tiny shred of additional human connection with our fellow Americans near us. Our impact on each other is incredible and significant. Each of us has (for better or for worse) the ability to influence the lives of the people we come in contact with. So we can connect and engage with each other. We can introduce ourselves to our neighbors. We can call an old friend. We can talk to the people on the sidelines at our kids’ soccer games instead of scrolling through Facebook. We can volunteer to do something in our community which we enjoy – even offering to help elderly neighbors (or any neighbors!) with cleaning out their gutter since we have already taken our ladder out of the garage. We can smile at the person in line at the post office with us, and maybe introduce ourselves and start a conversation with them. We can all smile and say hello, and see where that connection can take us. Maybe nowhere, but at least we’re interacting with other humans at the most basic level of life. We are all in this together and at the end of the day, none of us are getting out alive.

I love America, it is a great nation which is full of GOOD PEOPLE. There are literally hundreds of millions of wonderful individuals living here doing so many good and kind and helpful things, building and maintaining an excellent way of life for each other – providing reliable electricity, access to clean water, an abundant food supply, a network of highways, easy access to medical care, law enforcement and emergency services, churches, schools, colleges, businesses, and so much more. I am heartbroken that yet again, another violent tragedy has unfolded upon us. I am so sorry for the victims, their family and friends. A suffocating darkness covered all of us on Sunday morning. But we are each small glimmers of light that can pierce that oppressive cloak and ultimately obliterate it. Comedian John Oliver acknowledged the terrorist’s failed attempt to crush the American spirit on air, and while doing so he said I will happily embrace a Latin night at a gay club at the theme park capital of the world as the ultimate symbol about what is truly wonderful about America.” I agree, and I smile at that spear of sunshine he offered to all of us.

There is so much light coming from this tragedy. As Americans who never want to see such violence again, let’s be proactive with that light. Let’s resume actually engaging with our neighbors, our church and school communities, our coworkers, all the other humans we come into contact with each day. We can all start with a smile and a “Hello, how are you today?” As we strengthen our connection to each other we can positively and significantly impact the lives of those around us. This was a terrible, brutal Monday and we are all broken in some way because of Sunday’s tragedy, but let us take that love and light we are all sharing and KEEP SHARING it. Let’s connect with each other in spite of our differences  - and little by little it may work to prevent something like the Orlando Pulse massacre from ever happening again. Where we go one, we go all, so let’s all walk toward the light.

Monday, June 06, 2016

writing prompts

I am stealing this template (and modifying it slightly) from a writer friend who is a real inspiration. NCJoy, when you see this... imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and I promise to set up my own template this month!


last week

"La terra `e un paradiso. L'inferno `e non accorgersene."
"Earth is a paradise. Hell is not realizing it." 
    - Jorge Luis Borges

Mr. Blueberry Pancakes and I have been married for five years. The last week was spent with old friends, family which was married into, things I [thought I didn't] want to do, whales, bagels and brews, beautiful people and spectacular scenery in both California and Colorado. I feel like I've once again figured out how to Liz It Up.

about last week
the week's intention: enjoy
the week's gratitude: old friends
what I'm reading: Rick Steve's Italy
spent the holiday weekend with fam in The OC
watched the 100th Running of the Indy 500 + Alexander Rossi for the win
cuban lunch with nieces + in-laws +cousins, oh my!
caught up with an old friend + new baby
flowers + chocolate + card from our favorite family of friends
productive 3-day work week + consultant Friday (hooray!!)
champagne  + cruiser bikes + Aspen, CO = awesome 5-year anniversary party
random friends staying at our hotel + getting married... again!! 
Sunday drive over Independence Pass
springtime in the rockies 
DoberLove got a bath

looking west from outside Leadville, CO

for this week
  finalize Paris apartment
weights + whole food consciousness + trip to the grocery store
give myself a french manicure
spin class with D + bike to/from work + lunchtime ride (with or without Super G)
catch up with Ayla's parents 
mail presents

Thursday, September 03, 2015

the Doggy Love gets BLOAT

Below is a post I wrote on a forum regarding a really scary experience with Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), or "bloat" as it is commonly called.  If you are a dog owner, please educate yourself on the condition and know the signs, and keep GasX on hand in case your dog starts displaying symptoms. I am positive that saved Marco - at the very least, it bought us some time to get him to the vet where they could really save him!

Hello, Friends.

Some of you may remember me, if not, I am Liz, I live in Denver and have a 4-year old male Doberman named Marco (or Marco Barko as my neighbors love to call him) and he is one of the great loves of my life. When my husband and I adopted this adorable puppy, he was my third dobe and my husband’s first, but for both of us it was the first time either of us had raised a puppy without our moms and dads to help (and do all the work). At that time I found this community which, as you may well know, was SO HELPFUL and supportive, and I can’t say enough good about the place! With the advice of many members here, we were able to make sure Marco grew up into a model dober-citizen. Now, four years later, I haven’t been on here to check in much, though I have popped in a few times when I could.

I am here today because Marco got bloat, or gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) this past Friday. I cannot thank the members of this community enough for providing me with education about that condition when I first came here after getting Marco, and it is because of what I learned here at DCF that I have always kept GasX on hand – that probably saved Marco’s life on Friday night. I am so very thankful I knew the symptoms and knew where to go – HERE – when I thought he might be exhibiting those symptoms. So this website and the time you are spending here getting educated is saving your dog’s life in the future, if it hasn’t done so already! You may not be aware of it now but I’m here to tell you that is the case!!

I am going to share the story of what happened to Marco so you can file it away in your memory in case you ever need it, God forbid. Like me, you may wonder “How would I ever KNOW it was bloat?” Well, you won’t know for sure, but I want to tell you my experience in case it might help you, should you find yourself in a similar situation down the road.

Marco is a pretty typical Doberman male, but is by far the sweetest most docile dobe I have had. My other two were females, I thought he’d be more hard-headed than they were, but he’s not. He is a JOY and is very, very sweet. He’s also a WILD MAN and by that I mean, this dog will not settle down, ever. He’s four and people think he’s a puppy! He stayed at a kennel for a week and they put him in with the puppies, then the guy checking him out was like “how old is your pup?” and I said “Four” and the almost fell on the floor and said “GOOD LORD! I thought he was one, I was going to tell you it gets better and they calm down!” We all laughed about it. But that is how Marco is… super energetic but also SUPER SWEET.

On Friday Marco went to doggie day care in the morning. My husband picked him up around 5PM and he was his usual sprightly self, but when they got home, Marco didn’t want dinner – WARNING SIGN NUMBER ONE. Marco will never, ever miss a meal. I was in the middle of making a wedding cake and there were some cake remnants on the dining table, apparently Marco got some of them as he ran into the house. He probably ate maybe two regular-sized (not too big) pieces – less of an amount of food than he has for dinner (he is fed twice a day). But Marco NEVER gets sugar at all, so my husband thought maybe Marco's stomach was upset due to the sugar - but we both thought him skipping dinner was weird.

We took him out in the backyard, he was super excited and wanted to play, so we did but a few minutes into play time he laid down suddenly and just stopped – WARNING SIGN NUMBER TWO, laying down during play is odd behavior for our dog. At this point I actually thought to myself ‘Now that’s really weird…’ because, for Marco, it is – he will never, EVER stop play, not even if a freak thunderstorm shows up!!! At this point I recognized he was uncomfortable. And I thought “Oh my gosh, I wonder if he has bloat?” I looked at his abdomen / ribs / waist and it was a little big, but he was laying down and I couldn’t say for sure that it was a lot bigger or anything. But Marco wouldn’t get up for a few minutes, even with coaxing him with his favorite toys. When he finally did get up after 10 or so minutes, he took 3 steps and laid down again. I went inside and got GasX and gave it to him. THIS DEFINITELY BOUGHT US TIME AND IS ONE OF THE THINGS WHICH MAY HAVE SAVED HIS LIFE, I (and the vet) can say this in hindsight. The GasX was expired but it did still work, shortly after Marco took it he started burping. He was able to walk around again, and wanted to play a little bit more.OK. Dog seems not great, but fine..." I thought, and we went on with our evening.

Then about 30 minutes later we took him into the house to try to give him dinner again. He was still not interested, but otherwise behaving normally. This is about an hour after he came home, so this is a one-hour time span so far that we had our eyes on him. During that time, he drank water. He had gone pee and poop out while we were playing in the yard. About 15 minutes after the second dinner attempt, he threw up a small amount on the carpet. The throwing up was a relief to me. I figured now he’ll probably start feeling better. We thought maybe it really was just the sugar in the cake reacting to him. But 15 minutes after he threw up, he tried to throw up and nothing came out. And then he started pacing – WARNING SIGNS NUMBERS THREE AND FOUR. The retching with no vomit and the pacing continued on and off for the next few hours.

I still could not tell for sure whether Marco's abdomen was distended, BUT I did notice that his narrow waist area, back near his hind legs, was kind of filling in down toward the floor. 'Maybe this is bloat, maybe not?' I wasn’t sure, but it looked like he had less of that nice tuck where the underside of his chest goes toward his back legs. There was definitely a difference, but I would not say it was an obvious one. I came here to DCF to look at the symptoms for bloat, Marco was in line with all of them EXCEPT his demeanor (other than the pacing) was pretty normal - he was kind of puppyish, very alert, attentive and expressive with his face. So I didn’t want to jump the gun and take him to the vet, and I’d given him the Gas-X. At this point it was about 10PM, and he sort of laid down to go to sleep, so my husband and I went to bed, too.

But then Marco kept waking us up whining, so we invited him to jump in the bed, but he just stood there and whined – MORE WARNINGS, as Marco will never turn down an opportunity to sleep in our bed and just stand there whining. Patrick took him outside and again, Marco tried to throw up but couldn’t. I decided to sleep with him in his doggie room, and an hour went by and Marco never calmed down, was just pacing, and then he laid on the floor and started whining. At that point, when he started whining, I knew... I thought “Oh God, this is definitely bloat, I’m taking him to the ER” It was 2:00AM.

So we arrive to the emergency clinic and Marco goes BOUNDING in like the crazy four year old puppy he is, wagging his tail and body like a mad man as if to yell to everyone ‘WE ARE ON AN ADVENTURE!!! WE JUST HAD A 3AM CAR RIDE!!!! THERE ARE DOGGY AND KITTY SMELLS EVERYWHERE IN HERE!!!!! Mom, this is SO GREAT!!!’ The receptionist asks me why I brought him in, and I say “I’m pretty sure he’s got GDV – bloat.” She gives me this look like 'Yeah, right, lady, you’re an idiot.’ And she says “Well…. that’s a *REALLY serious* condition.” So I tell her I know that, and while he looks fine right now he’s extremely energetic in general, and I promise he was not himself and I’m certainly not one to just show up at the emergency vet at 3AM, and he definitely has all the signs. So we go through everything, then I go through it with a nurse and yep, they think it’s bloat, they do xrays and yep, his stomach is huge and twisted…. But only twisted halfway.

Surgery can save him… but they want to make sure this is what’s going on because, again, he is not ‘presenting himself’ with the demeanor of a bloated dog. I opt to leave him there for the night because they say they want to see if his stomach will go back to normal, and they can monitor him closely because if it really is bloat and it rotates all the way, he will deteriorate really fast and they will be able to start the surgery right away if they have to.

Well morning comes and they call to say he’s no better or worse, but the doc wants to open him up because his stomach is still twisted halfway around. They’ll tack it (gastroplexy) while he’s under. Ok, let’s do it. They call me in the middle of the procedure – back when Marco was one, he had swallowed socks and needed surgery to remove them from his intestines. Ironically because of the way they had to stitch up his intestines during that procedure, it probably prevented Marco’s stomach from completely turning in this bloat incident. (It also prompted us to BUY PET INSURANCE – and I’ve been on the phone with PetPlan and this whole thing will be covered, thank GOD as it is NOT CHEAP!!!) But the doc wanted to talk about the previous surgery, and tell me that unfortunately Marco’s spleen was now damaged so it had to be taken out, which was just fine with me, I just wanted him to come out ALIVE!!!

In any case, he got through the surgery on Saturday and the staff at the clinic were so complimentary toward me that I knew what to do, they said the GasX was a really good move, as was bringing him in even though he was behaving sort of normally, mentally. My husband was thrilled that I ‘saved Marco's life’ but really, I just knew what to look for and that it was super serious, so when in doubt, do what you think is best. I did that. I’m glad.

Marco is not out of the woods yet. He came home Sunday afternoon, but getting him into the car was pretty traumatic. He was screaming. He made it, though. Back at our house he didn’t feel well, obviously, and he laid down for a bit but then he started pacing again. And his stomach/abdomen looked a lot bigger. SO I called the clinic, they had me bring him back. They xrayed him and examined him, said there is a lot of air, but it’s not uncommon, his stomach was normal sized and still in the position they put it in, so that was good. They gave him an extra pain injection and then sent him home with me to monitor. He did go to sleep when we got home. Yesterday morning, however, the clinic called and said to bring him in, another doctor had looked at the xrays and didn’t like the looks of it, he was too swollen/distended. So I went back Monday morning for the third time, LIVID because getting him in/out of the car is obviously terribly painful for him. They did help me get him out of the car.

They pulled a liter of air out of his abdomen and did some tests. They weren't sure how the air is getting in there, if it’s coming in through the incision or if there is a leak or tear in his GI tract, which could be causing an infection. He stayed there under observation yesterday, they ‘sealed him a little better’ by covering the incision with ointment and a plastic bandage, so no air can get in. They took more air out before they did that, and continued monitoring to see if any more air shows up, which it did. So that indicates an infection or some other issue with his GI tract, and they’re now taking him in to surgery again to go in and find the leak. So I’m sort of worried now… I really just want him to be ok, he’s only 4 and very healthy otherwise… I’m happy that I was able to get him to them in time, but now with the complications I can only hope and pray he comes out of it ok, there isn’t any more to be done, I guess, except come here and share my gratitude for the existence of this community! THANK YOU, DOBERMAN CHAT FORUM AND ALL YOUR WONDERFUL, HELPFUL MEMBERS!

Other than that, things have been great, Marco is a happy dog and we just recently bought him his own doggy trailer so we can pull him behind us when we ride! Below are pics of him with my husband taking him around the backyard to get used to the trailer – I hope he gets out of the hospital soon so we can do this again!!

I guess overall I just want to say if you even THINK your dog might have bloat, give them Gas-X. Keep some with you in your car, your purse, anytime the dog is with you. Also keep in mind, in the back of your head, if your dog retches repeatedly but nothing comes up, it might be bloat. If your dog paces continuously and whines like they are uncomfortable, it might be bloat. If your dog lays down or crouches and won’t move, no matter what you try to coax it up with, it might be bloat. Be safe and give it some GasX, and even if they behave like their normal self, if these symptoms don’t go away TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE VET AND TELL THEM YOU THINK IT HAS BLOAT. Even if the dog prances through the doors of the clinic and wags his tail and licks everyone and seems otherwise normal, the staff will take you seriously once you describe what is going on. Don’t wait.

I’ll keep you all posted on Marco… I’m so thankful this forum exists, thank you all for being part of it and caring and helping first-timers like myself! J I don’t wish this on anyone but if you ever find yourself wondering if your dog has bloat, I hope what you have read in this post will help you save your best friend.

PS Marco came home last weekend and is doing great! His surgery for removing the septic infection went really well, he stayed in the ICU a few days to recover and is now back with us and acting like his normal crazy four-year-old-puppy self! His stitches come out Saturday.

Here is a good link to some info about GDV / Bloat:

Friday, October 24, 2014


You know that feeling you get when you look online at Facebook and see that so-and-so was visiting your town and you realize they didn't call you?  Or how about when you see a photo of three of your good friends laughing together, attending a show you wanted to see, and wonder why you weren't asked to join them?  Or when you are out at lunch with a friend and they tell you all about the fun they had seeing the whole gang at the party last weekend and ask why you weren't there and all you can say is "No one told me about it."

For me, the reaction to all of the above is ouch. I wish I weren't so sensitive. And I wish I had better immediate introspection, such as

Liz, you haven't called that person, not even on their birthday, in over three years.

Liz, you bailed on the last two shows with that group because of work/biking/whatever.

Liz, you WERE invited to that party but forgot about it.

Ummmmmmmmmm.... apparently I'm a terrible friend. OUCH. More like OW OW OW OW OW OWWWW OUCH!!!  This pain is crazy, make it STOP!!!!!! But then...

The truth is, I wish I could be a great friend to everyone. I really do. If you've ever been in my life for more than a two-month period, it means I really, really like you - and I probably still do, and I probably resent that I can't be a great friend to you now because I liked you so much. I probably miss you. A lot. I probably think of you incredibly often, like when I see a glittery scarf or a picture of a rowing shell or a piece of cheesecake or a Waffle House sign or Oliver Hudson (he's on Nashville now, which I watch, which I KNOW you would be at my house watching with me, The OC style, every week if we were living in the same town!) And I think of you WHENEVER I drink a Coca Cola product whether it has your name on it or not. And while I'm building my table, I am thinking about you and wishing I could see you more often. Every concert I'm wishing you were there dancing, too. I light candles at my house because you did it and I loved it so I do it too, and I miss you! Whenever I see my kitchen knives, I think of how you hid one under the couch in case crazy ex boyfriend got a little too crazy and showed up. And so many millions of every day other things make me think of you. So. Many. Miracles. So. Much. Missing.

So, yeah, sometimes seeing pictures or hearing stories about things you are doing in your life makes me sad that I'm not part of it anymore. But I'm happy to see you are having a good time, and I love watching your kids grow up because without Facebook that probably wouldn't happen at all. I hope you know that if you were ever on My Island before, you've still got a beach chair available there any time you want to come back and catch up. And on My Island from now on I'll probably be on Facebook less so that I can start calling you and planning trips to see you, so that I can tell you how I rode my bike in the freezing rain and it made me think of that time we were in the boat at Head of the Connecticut getting hypothermia the same way! And then I'm going to call my fellow bike riders and suggest we meet again where we can STAY DRY and get to know each other a little more, because, hey, they're on My Island now!

And just like that, no more ouch. Thanks for being one of my miracles.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


This morning I said aloud to someone else "Liz makes bad life decisions." For fifteen seconds that statement hung above my head and then gravity swiftly pulled it down over my face. I began to suffocate the sadness of those spoken words. I wanted to cry for the person who would think that about herself.

As I lifted the blanket of that statement away I realized that 'Liz has made some bad life decisions.' After all, I'm human, and we humans have a propensity for bad judgement - which leads to mistakes, which teach the lessons that give us experience that ultimately leads to wisdom and good judgement. So maybe I'm just the most experienced 36 year old ever, then, and still waiting on the wisdom and good judgment part.

It's appropriate for this to come up on the day of Maya Angelou's death. One of the prayers of forgiveness I often speak to myself is comprised of her words: You did then what you knew how to do, And when you knew better, you did better.

There will always be mistakes. There will always be learning and growing. To be human is to make mistakes, have experiences, learn and make more mistakes. 

I forgive myself for the mistakes I have made.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sugar-free Lent

Although I’m a Catholic, you can bet (as all good Catholics do) that the saints are not holding their breath for me to stroll through the pearly gates very soon after I die. Even so, I make an attempt to connect with my religion a little more during Lent, and I choose to do so in the typical manner of ‘giving something up.’ Like many Americans, I generally make some sort of diet-related sacrifice  - no brownies, alcohol,  cookies, or [insert whatever food item you like here] type of sacrifice. But I do this because whatever I’m give up is truly difficult for me to do, and when I want it, I have to stop and reflect on the meaning behind why I’m giving it up. 

This year I toyed with giving up alcohol, but honestly that would not be too difficult, and I would only have to  think about a spiritual connection on an intermittent basis. I decided that I wanted my sacrifice to be something which would unite me daily with the divine – and the one thing I have (and love) on a daily basis is added sugars.  Honey on my oatmeal, a bite of chocolate after lunch, a piece of candy out of the secretary’s dish at work, gelato or a cookie in the evening – I could go for all of that in one day. I have a great love for all things sweet. So this, this giving up all added sugars, would certainly be a sacrifice that allowed for a daily dose of divinity. My decision was made the week before Lent, and I was ready for a sugar-filled “Last Week of Sweet Stuff” before I bonded with my religion for forty days.

On the day I made the decision, I found out a few of my friends were starting a “10-day No Sugar Challenge” which would start the following day.  They told me I should do it with them. For a brief moment I thought ‘No Way! I’m giving it up for 40 days, I need time to prepare and enjoy and get it all in before I do that!’ But then I thought… hmmmm… yes I will jump off the same bridge all my friends are jumping off!  I had already planned to give up sugar for Lent anyhow, so why not just start right then, with them? And that’s what I did; I just gave it up, cold turkey.

When I say I gave up sugar, what I mean is, I gave up sugar which is not naturally occurring. No cereals (or anything) with more than 5 grams of sugar in a serving. No honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses, agave or table sugar, since these are all processed and not actually natural. No cookies, brownies, cakes, pies, donuts, candy or dried fruit, including raisins, because dried fruit is an awful lot like candy. Nothing which contains the fructose ingredients High Fructose Corn Syrup or Crystalline Fructose.

I decided that I would still drink alcohol, but avoid sweet alcohols like hard cider, liqueurs, dessert wines, Sambuca, etc. (Yes, I know, alcohol has sugar alcohols in it, but I have about three glasses of wine a week, on average, so it’s pretty minimal.) I also eat fruit, since the sugars are naturally occurring and even in high-sugar fruits the sugar content is far less than it is in any processed food. I have noticed that fruit tastes very sweet to me, now. I mean, a banana and an apple always tasted sweet, but now they are really, really sweet – and grapes are almost TOO sweet for me and I love grapes!

So, what exactly have I been eating, you ask? Well, remember, I gave up sugar but I did not give up carbs. I eat a lot! Eggs. Bananas, grapes, melon. Peanut butter. Pasta with olive oil or my own home-made tomato sauce. Pizza with dough made from scratch. Grape Nuts. Oatmeal. Apples. Nuts. Cheeses. Chicken breast. Steak. Tortilla chips and home-made salsa or guacamole. Salads when I go out, and the dressing is just olive oil and maybe a little balsamic. All kinds of veggies  - squashes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, peppers, eggplant, carrots. Homemade waffles with fruit on top. I’ve been making a lot of soups. Fresh baguettes. Olives. Pickles. Rice. Lentils. Spinach. Fish, lots of it. Shrimp. Salmon burgers. Grapes and cantaloupe. Pears. Sugar-free greek yogurt with fruit added. Basically, REAL WHOLE FOOD. Yes it involves cooking, or eating out at places which are generally a little more costly, but honestly, the extra dollars are very well spent if they are an investment in my health and in keeping my body disease free. We even joined a CSA for the summer, so I expect it will be easy to continue to eat like this. It’s not difficult to do, it just takes a little planning and some (generally) simple meal cooking. It’s actually very fun, for me – and even if you’re not the ‘in-the-kitchen’ type, you can buy a roast chicken and all kinds of veggie sides for not a lot more than it costs to buy them uncooked, and then you don’t have to do the work. So really, you just have to plan a little and decide where you want to spend your hard-earned money. For me, this is an easy choice.

During this Sugar-free Lent, I have been doing a LOT of reading on the effects of sugar in the body and some of the conclusions on research studies I’ve read have been really scary. Mostly because the amount of sugar we typically consume is not normal and our bodies have not adapted to handle processing it all. I believe (and many studies support this belief) that is why diabetes and metabolic syndrome are on the rise in our population – because our sugar consumption has increased at a pace far faster than the rate at which our bodies can adapt to accommodate the extra sugar.  And the “fructose is a good sugar because it’s closest to fruit” seems to be one of the greatest marketing lies ever told. This may be true if you were consuming only the amount which you would find in a piece of fruit, but chances are you are consuming far more than that, and not in anywhere NEAR it's natural form. Several published medical studies are showing that consuming high amounts of fructose in any processed form (i.e. agave, honey, etc., as opposed to the amount of fructose ingested when eating a piece of fruit) can have a very detrimental effect on your liver and your brain. EGADS! In any case, reading about some of these studies may have scared me out of eating added sugar for good. I’ve always been told eating a lot of sugar is not healthy, but after doing my own research, I really believe consuming excess sugar is detrimental to my goal of living a long and happy life.

Do I miss the sugar? Generally, I don’t. I am not going to say this has been easy the whole time. The beginning was tough, and I’m thankful I had friends doing it and supporting me for that first ten days! But overall, it has not been that difficult to go without eating added sugars, and it seems to be easier to do every week. I have a big sweet tooth. I definitely miss chocolate and some days I really just want some dam.n gelato, already. And the little green iced sugar cookies one of our secretaries made on St. Patrick’s day, which I *know* were heaven because I’ve had her cookies before… well, they were very difficult for me to turn down, but I did it. And so far it’s been ok, and having the option to eat fruit really has satisfied my sweet tooth when I do have a sugar craving. Actually just last weekend at a brunch I went to, someone brought VooDoo Donuts – I have been dying to try them and it was one of the first places I planned on going after Lent, but when I was faced with them in my friend’s kitchen, I really didn’t want them. There was tons of fruit, which was super delicious and if anything, I overdosed on honeydew and pineapple! 

Since forgoing extra sugar, I don't notice that I feel any better or worse, physically. I can’t say I have any more or less energy, any more or less mental focus, or any more or less digestive issues – everything feels pretty much the same as it was when I was eating sugar, almost six weeks ago. I will say that I have had a pretty stressful few weeks and I feel like I’ve handled it better than I have in the past. I also have not gotten sick, and generally when I’m pushing myself at work this hard, I DO wind up with a cold or some other illness which knocks me on my butt and forces me to slow down – that hasn’t happened. I am more curious to see how I feel once I start eating sugar again, maybe then it will be obvious, but for now, not much seems different.  I sleep really well, and I have no idea if there is a connection here, but I NEVER get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, where before, when I was eating more sugar, I feel like I would wake up every night to do that. Weird!

What I didn’t realize was how much sugar I was eating before I started this, and how much sugar is IN everything - read the labels, it’s crazy! At first it was weird to have oatmeal without honey and Grape Nuts without the teaspoon of table sugar, but it wasn’t bad. And I just added either bananas or apples to my oatmeal, and I really like it that way. It turns out Grape Nuts are totally delicious on their own, I don’t even want to add sugar and probably will never do that again! There have been a couple occasions where I really wanted to have some chocolate after a rough day, or go out for ice cream or gelato, which made me realize how much I used sugar as a pick-me-up – for me, sugar does mentally make me feel better. I have had to find other ways to make myself feel better, or just ride out the stress or bad emotions. It has been an eye-opening experience on that front. Not an easy one, but a good one.

Even though Lent is coming to an end I am planning to continue down this road of consuming minimal added sugars. Believe me, I will be eating my fair share of Cadbury eggs and jellybeans come Easter Sunday, but after that, I truly feel I will be just fine without the added sugar, because right now, six weeks in, I am just fine! I’m also not worried about what kind of damage I’m doing to my body by consuming all that sugar. I am positive I will eat some added sugars here and there, but my thought at the moment is it will happen once a week at the most. I really want to see how long this lasts for me after Lent. It's actually one of the reasons I'm writing this, so that I can come back to this post and have a reminder how scary the effects of sugar are. It's just not good for me and I really am OK without it. So we shall see how it goes, but for now that is my intent.

By the way, if you eat fat-free or low-fat foods, check the sugar content (and the ingredient list) of the low-fat version vs. the full-fat version. With few exceptions, I find the lower fat version to be higher in sugar and that the ingredient list is far longer and more difficult to pronounce, which is something to think about (and a topic for a whole ‘nother blog!)

Stay sweet, my friends. J