Category Archives: health and fitness

In like a lion?


Crikey! It’s March already.

I’ve been felled by an evil cold…yesterday was pretty much a write-off except for urgenices like dog-walking, dropping man-child’s forgotten lunch off at school, paying bills, and cobbling together dinner. Not feeling much better today, but must get some groceries and clean the horrendously vile kitchen that Michael neglected to do last evening.

Being sick did allow me to finish off a book for the end of the Winter Reading Challenge over at Goodreads, and I finished up with 600 out of a possible 975 points.  I must say that people who make it to the full 975 points must either (1) read all day, (2) read a lot of easy books, or (3) skim/cheat.  Or maybe they just don’t do anything else.  But it’s fun and I’m looking forward to the Spring Challenge that starts today. My current reading list is here, although not all the tasks have been defined yet. I’m starting with Iris Murdoch’s The Good Apprentice (audio) and Lorna Goodison’s book of short stories By Love Possessed. I’m going to try to manage my hold list at the library to permit some time to read books that I own (and can then get rid of) as we’re getting into double-stacked bookshelves and I’d really like to clear a bunch out.  I use BookCrossing to get rid of a lot of books, and am releasing one today.

Travel plans are shaping up for the spring. Michael is going on a Rome-Sicily trip with his Latin teacher and a bunch of classics students over March Break so we’ve got a few things to do to get that organized, including getting his cellphone unlocked so that he can buy a SIM card over there. Z and I are heading to England in April and I need to do some work on the paper we’re writing and book some accomodation for the time we’re there after the conference. I’m thinking that, given the short amount of time we’ll have, we’ll skip London altogether and try to visit Kent, Canterbury, plus a night in Ashford hear where some of my ancestors are buried. Once again, we find ourselves travelling over the Easter weekend so we’ll need to take in to account that things may be closed.

Carry on!

Alzheimer’s poetry: My father recounts his life in oddly beautiful stanzas – Jane Macdougall

There is something hauntingly beautiful about language unmoored.

David Shackleton for National Post

Jane Macdougall, Weekend Post · Friday, Feb. 11, 2011

My father is a poet. At least, he is now. Odd, that.

He trained as an accountant. And he was the accountant’s accountant — all ledgers and columns; compliances and balances. Tidy. So at odds with family life. With life, in general.

He wore hats. Always hats: for work, for curling, for yard work, for excursions — a hat for every purpose. I realize now he was always staving off the chaos of the jungle.

Shoes were polished with religious fervour and regular devotion. Sunday morning he would set the boys to the task and, in time, they subverted the job by simply dusting off the unworn shoes. It was, I suppose, a type of catechism; but my, did it annoy the natives. I always said he was the sort of man who gave colonialism a bad name.

Shoe trees were essential.

Wooden hangers: the very backbone of his civilization.

Who vs. whom: I know the difference and I owe it to him.

Are you impressed?


Yes, what?

Yes, sir!

And rising when an elder entered the room. We owe him that, too, my brothers and sister. We are better — and worse — for his rigidities.

Archaic English usages I lay claim to, courtesy of a man who refused to let language evolve. Sophisticated would forever rely upon its foundation of sophistry, meaning to deceive, not as we think of it today, meaning to impress.

And now, he is a poet.

He owes it to the presence of beta-amyloid plaques in his brain. We know it as Alzheimer’s, dementia of cinematic proportions. Documented since Alois Alzheimer defined the disease in 1906, there is no cure, no medication, not even a conclusive diagnostic test. From diagnosis to death: on average, seven years.

Seven crazy years.

One need only to see my father now to immediately understand that something has gone dreadfully awry. It’s in his eyes. His hair. His gait. He looks confused; he is confused. The word confused is based on the Latin confundere meaning “to mingle together,” and from Middle English, meaning “to bring to ruin.”


Autopsy will reveal plaques that erected Detour and Road Closure signs in his head. Neural signals bounce around until they are abducted by dendrites hungry for instruction. The instructions, however, are misdirected. Although, misdirected doesn’t begin to describe the chaos created by mistaking the kitchen for the bathroom.

If I ever doubted that one is one’s thoughts, I don’t doubt it now.

Like a thief in the night, Alzheimer’s steals the family silver, one utensil at a time, until there isn’t enough left for a single place setting. But the thief is nefarious: He leaves the knives so that danger is ever present. The presence of madness causes madness; ask any caregiver. The caregiver gets ground down to a nub. No surprise there: What can be expected when nothing can be expected? Cancer doesn’t jettison reason; congestive heart disease doesn’t forsake judgment. Alzheimer’s does.

Information on the subject discusses the slow impoverishment of oral and written language, but it’s more profound than just communicating with others; one loses the ability to communicate with oneself.

The hallmark of Alzheimer’s is the loosening grip on memory. Dad is already forgetting who we are. But forget is too feeble a word. Already he wants to know what we are doing in his house.

His notes, with time, date and full signature faithfully listed, offer a chilling glimpse into the mind disordered by disease. Almost without exception, they are incomprehensible.

But there is something hauntingly beautiful about language unmoored; a stream of consciousness that is truly unconscious. He speaks now in a type of haiku that is often illuminating. Dead simple. Child-like. Impervious to outside understanding yet, often numinously transparent:

Go read the rest….

Heartbreakingly beautiful love letter to her father.

Adventures in sleep apnea


Apparently I snore.

Enough to keep my poor husband awake, and he has his own sleep issues to contend with.

I had my son’s orthodontist make me a device a couple of years ago but even after a couple of adjustments, it abraded the inside of my lower jaw and I simply could not wear it consistently.

My current dentist offered another solution that was half the price and has turned out to be much more tolerable.  The first night I wore it, I had a dream about eating toffee and ended up pulling it out (in my sleep) and tossing it in the trash can beside my bed, but nights two and three were fine.  My snoring was pretty much eliminated, at least such are the reports.  I’ll start using my iPhone sleep app to see if I”m getting better sleep as well, but I certainly awoke feeling quite refreshed.

Adventures in "slow carbs"


The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated.

Okay, you can take the title with a grain of salt, but I’ve been slow-carbing over the past few days and seeing very encouraging results.  The basics of the diet are what is typical in low-carb diets, minus dairy (butter is okay), plus beans, plus red wine(!).  Lots of veggies, no fruit. No grains of any colour.

I’ve been having one of the recommended breakfasts each morning (fried eggs on a bed of steamed spinach, topped with salsa, and coffee with cinnamon and a small amount of cream (only allowed dairy along with butter.)  I had a bit of a cheat yesterday at lunch when I was served fruit with my omelet, and had some profiteroles at a birthday party last night, but otherwise I’ve been true to the diet.  Oh, and the best part?  One complete binge day per week is acceptable!  Like, eat ’til you’re sick if you want.  My first binge day won’t be ’til next Saturday, but I don’t feel incredibly guilty about those two cheats on one day this weekend. Tim wouldn’t be happy, but you know, it’s my gig. 

Ferriss is a very compelling writer and a big proponent of tracking stats.  On everything.  But it’s not necessary to do that to reap the benefits of this plan.  In the past four days I have dropped 5.6 pounds, of which 4 pounds were fat.  ( He’s also big on tracking body fat, which I am doing with a scale that (possibly not completely accurately) hands me this lovely measure.)  My body fat % is quite high, so I’ve got to work to get this down and low-carb approaches have always worked best for me.

On the plan for today is to make a big pot of beef and bean chili for dinners, and a cold bean salad to have in the fridge for lunch with a pile of greens.

If you’re looking for a realistic (no big cooking efforts needed) low carb diet that understands why red wine is an integral part of the examined life, give it a try.  It’s available as a kindle ebook as well.

I’ll keep you posted!

So, what CAN he eat? The post-kidney-stone diet.

My dear one had his follow-up appointment with his surgeon yesterday following the removal of his stone.  Analysis suggests that it was a calcium oxalate stone, with some magnesium as well, which is the standard type.  He was given a sheet of dietary guidelines to help prevent future stones.

First, remember how I mentioned that he was getting so much sleep now that he didn’t have pain?  Well, with the amount of fluid he’s to be getting every day (3 litres), he’s up at night for other reasons. 

On the diet front….

Calcium:  post-surgery, he realized that he was not bothered by what he thought was lactose intolerance anymore and had been enjoying café au lait in the mornings and ice cream after dinner.  Hah!  He has to keep his calcium intake to 500 mg per day, or about 1.5 cups of milk-equivalent.  He could switch back to soy milk, but….oops….soy in on the verboten list (see below).  Knowing Z, he’ll stick to cheese and drop all other forms of calcium.

Oxalate rich foods:  this is so funny.  I mean, all the things that he’s been eating as part of the Mediterranean diet seem to be limited.  For example, he takes 3/4 cup greek-style yogurt with a handful of walnuts and raisins in his lunch every day.  Yogurt?  calcium =>limited.  Walnuts (in fact, all nuts)?  oxalate =>limited.

What else is on the oxalate list?  beets, beans (he heats up cans of mixed beans for lunch), parsley (tabouleh????), celery, okra, sweet potato, dark greens (spinach, kale, chard, endive, etc), strawberries, tea (TEA????), marmalade, chocoate, cocoa, nuts, wheat germ, cola, tofu.  

Animal protein: He is to eat less meat, poultry and fish, with special emphasis on avoiding the following foods that increase uric acid: organ meats, goose and partridge, anchovies & fish roe, game meats, rabbit, sardines, herring, mussels, scallops.  This is so depressing.  We eat anchovies.  We love sardines and mussels, and had been eating lots of the former for fish oils.

Sodium:  reduce it.

Fibre:  increase it, particularly using rice bran and wheat bran as they bind to calcium.

Supplements:  NO Vitamin D, Calcium, or Vitamin C supplements, or fish oil.

It’s going to take me a while to figure out some new meal plans to avoid or reduce our intake of oxalates.  I’m already a fairly low sodium cook, and now that he’s giving up nuts, that will be reduced even further.  But I’ll have to re-evaluate our vegetable purchases, and forget about anchovies on pizza, those great packs of mussels from Costco, and the multi-can packs of sardines we go through every month.  We’ll have to keep tabs on the amount of protein he consumes because so many good sources are limited due to either calcium, oxalate, or uric acid issues.  Pleasures?  I don’t see coffee, beer, wine or other alcohol on the list.  Most fruit seems okay.  

My little (n=1) sleep study

I week and a half ago I blogged about a new iPhone app, Sleep Cycle, that I was trying out.  In a nutshell, it’s an alarm clock that also monitors nighttime movement to determine when you’re in the various sleep stages.  It attempts (within in a half hour window) to wake you up when you’re in light sleep, leaving you feeling more refreshed. By looking at your nighttime graph, you can also see what kind of sleep you got.

After the first couple of nights, allowing the app to calibrate itself, I had a period of a few days of poor sleep.  Here’s one graph:


The time axis is along the bottom. The left hand axis goes from deep sleep at the bottom to “awake”at the top.  I fell into deep sleep immediately (at 12:30 pm) but had a number of periods of near-wakefulness throughout the night, and relatively little time in deep sleep. 

A week later, I had nights like this:


Apart from one period of wakefulness early in the night due to Wilson barking at a stranger (to him) in the house, I was in pretty deep sleep for most of the night.

One thing I have realised is that my natural sleep cycles put me in deep sleep around 6:30, which is typically the time I set my alarm for.  This means that I have to pull myself out of sleep with great effort, and don’t feel particularly refreshed when I wake.  Examining the entire series of graphs suggest that waking at either 5:30 or 7:00 am might be better for me. Not great choices, but 5:30 would work if I could get myself into bed earlier in the evening.

I find this very interesting, especially when I’m in a time of life when my sleep can be very disturbed.  More insight into some of my natural patterns should help me get a handle on how best to manage this most precious of resources.

Those of you with an iPhone can download the app at iTunes here for $0.99.


Wellcome Trust Book Prize Shortlist

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable organization dedicated to improve human and animal health.  The book prize recognizes excellence in novels or non-fiction works with a medical theme. 

The titles on this year’s shortlist are:

Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox by Gareth Williams

Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Medic: Saving Lives from Dunkirk to Afghanistan by John Nicol and Tony Rennell

  • For reference use only at the Toronto Reference Library

So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks

The winner will be announced on November 9.

This came via the Toronto Public Library’s Book Buzz Newsletter. I’d never heard of this book prize and am intrigued by the award criteria.

I’ve listened to the audiobook of Lionel Shriver’s So Much For That and though it was a terrific novel covering some very difficult issues. I’ve just downloaded the The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks audiobook from the library and that”ll be up next.

High-tech tracking for a low-tech need.

A recent series in the National Post on the quantified self got us thinking about our sleep (or lack thereof).  We both have issues, although different, and though it would be a good idea to track our sleep patterns.

In seeking an easy journalling device, I came across this nifty iPhone app that is extremely intriguing. Using the accelerometer in the phone, Sleep Cycle  tracks your sleep patterns (based on movements in your sleep) and helps you awaken in the morning during light sleep, ostensibly making the morning wake-up easier, less disruptive, leading to a better day (or at least morning).

You place the phone upside down on your mattress under the sheet (I use the top corner of my bed) and the during the first couple of nights it calibrates your sleep cycles.  You set the alarm (using one of the included gentle sounds to wake you up) and it awakens you in the period up to 30 minutes before the time when it determines you are in light sleep.  Here’s an example from the website of what a night of sleep might look like.


I have used this for two nights and got two very different looking patterns, which makes sense since I had very disrupted sleep last night, compared to the first night.  

Here’s an example of a good night’s sleep.


And one of a disrupted night (which looks quite a bit like my last night.)


It also tracks how long you sleep and lets you review your previous nights with a simple swipe of the screen.  You can also send your sleep graphs via email and (if you so desired) post them to Facebook.

Here’s a link to the app in iTunes.  For $0.99, it’s a steal.  I’ll post my personal gleanings after a few more days of use.

Day One of Paleo Diet

Other than a massive headache, it went okay.

I’m not sure whether the headache was due to lack of caffeine, lack of sugar, too much Angry Birds on my iphone, or an act of God, but I couldn’t make it to choir last night and only managed to watch two episodes of Weeds and one of Mad Men before retiring to the kitchen sofa with a book and promptly falling asleep.

Here’s how the food portion of my day went:

Breakfast:  two scrambled eggs, two mini cucumbers, two large black plums, tea with honey

Snack: almonds

Lunch: tuna salad with real mayo (no dairy) and pickle relish, two plums, two mini cucumbers

Snack:  cashews and raisins

Cocktail:  arak with water

Dinner:  large spicy sausage with mustard, steamed broccoli with dijon-honey dressing, strawberries, two plums, plain tea

Snack: mixed nuts

My digestive system has felt a bit wonky, but better this morning.

I also decided that I’d make coffee and drink it black, because I have a meeting this afternoon and didn’t want to risk another headache.  I actually quite enjoyed the coffee and realised that I’m not ready to give it up, even without cream. 

This morning, I made a mushroom and two-egg omelette, and had an orange and two cups of java.  Larabars look suitable for the diet, so I’m going to start carrying a couple in my bag for those times I need to eat and suitable fare isn’t available.  And a bag of plain, raw almonds.

I’m off to Canadians Connected 2010 this afternoon down at the Westin Harbor Castle.  It’s a Symposium and the AGM for CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), of which I am a member, owning a couple of .ca domains. Terry O’Reilly and Mitch Joel are two of the speakers and it should be an interesting afternoon. Hashtag is #cira2010 for those of you on twitter and interested.