Monday, April 30, 2018

Thinking It Through - Arthritis and Mexico

My arthritis is seriously flared at the moment.  The last two weeks my bowling has been impeded by a bum hip making it much less fun.  Sleeping has been dreadful.  Today is better than yesterday which is better than the day before.  Here's hoping I can get back up to my bowling average this week!  And, you know, other stuff I enjoy!
It has been a trying month and I'm feeling rather over it at this point.  There's no point in denying that.  There have been a handful of moments where I've struggled keep it together--to avoid crying or throwing a tantrum.  So, rather than give in to that I thought perhaps I'd distract myself with pondering....
...because, thinking back, my arthritis pain was essentially non-existent when I was in Mexico.  So...what was different?  I came up with eight things--though they're of varying significance, I suspect.
Walking - We walked and walked and walked and walked.  Most days it was seven or eight miles for me, up and down the board walk, in and out of the surf, up and down to the pool.  My "light" day was still 5.25 miles!  This seems the most drastically different factor between Mexico-life and Regular-Life.
Elevation - In Mexico I was quite literally at sea level whereas my Montana home is around 3,100 feet above sea level.  I imagine that changes the internal pressure of my joints and oxygenation in my blood and all sorts of stuff.  All three of us were noticeably winded as we hustled through the Denver International Airport after a week down at the sea.  So there maybe something to this...
Food - I ate smaller portions and as such, significantly less food.  I actually came back from vacation lighter than when I left.  I ate potato chips, margarine, a few pieces of candy, and drank several Coca Light (i.e. Diet Coke) while down south though so it isn't like I avoided processed foods or anything.  I just ate less altogether because I was too busy soaking it all in.   So, maybe I'm taxing my system through over overeating.  As to specifics of diet, maybe I need more fat in my life (I gobbled a lot of avocados) or more fruit (I ate basically a whole pineapple in one go).
Sitting - I was on my feet much, much more than on my butt that week.  That is for sure.  We sat on the boats, we sat for dinner, we sat and played cards in the evening, I started each morning sitting on the balcony a little while.  Buuuuuut, then I was go-go-go all day, basically, walking, swimming, and jogging.  This, of course, ties in with all the previously mentioned walking.  I moved a lot and hardly sat down.  This make me think of my Grandpa Lyle and his catchphrase:  "Get off your dead ass and move."  He was always a big proponent of walking and movement as a sort of medicine.
Showering - I showered at least once every single day on account of the swimming, especially oceanic swimming.  I am more in the three times a week camp in my regular life.  Different thought it may be, I can't quite see how this would make a major impact in my arthritis though.  My skin maybe, but my hip?!  I'm not sure.
Stress - I, in general, do not have a stressful job nor a stressful life.  (Praise be!)  That said, I am sure I was more relaxed laying under that umbrella on the sandy beach listening to the waves crashing.  Of course, the actual travel, especially airports and customs, wasn't relaxing whatsoever and certain points of the trip had their own stress.  Mental math from dollars to pesos while simultaneously navigating Spanish ingredient labels for gluten-free (for mom) and vegan (for me) at that Mexican Wal-Mart being a prime example.  I don't think stress is really a factor, but I had to consider it.
Bed - I slept in a different bed, of course, but still used two fluffy pillows like usual.  Honestly, the quality of my bed rarely seems to matter in my experience.  Sometimes my back hurts just as bad at home in my bed as when I'm sleeping on a two-inch air mattress in the mountains.  Sometimes worse.  I've tried firm and soft mattresses and one, two, or zero pillows and had no noticeable affect.  It is probably worth noting that I didn't really sleep better in Mexico, either, based on my on recollections and on the sleep log from my Fitbit.
Weight - When I came back from Mexico I was five pounds lighter than I am now.  Bearing extra weight won't do the joints any favors, but I am dubious that five little ol' pounds would make that much difference.  In how my skirts fit, sure, but not in how my joints feel.
Perhaps there are additional factors I've not though of yet, but my prime suspects at this point are all the walking and not sitting coupled with eating less altogether, regardless of content.
I do, however, seriously wonder if there isn't something to the lower elevation idea.... barring a major life transition there is not much I can do about that one though.  So, it is a fairly moot point, I guess.  I might do some research in the library's medical databases for my own curiosity though.
So....surprise, surprise....it seems like the solution to increasing my health and happiness might be to move more and eat less.  Ha!  Naturally!  Of course, that would be it....
Maybe I'll start walking to work instead of cycling.  I'd have to get up earlier, but if I could feel better it would be more than worth it.  I also pulled the trigger on something I'd been considering for a while now and ordered a standing desk for my office.
And who knows!  Maybe it was just a matter of blessed timing and happy coincidence that I felt so great in Mexico.   I am thankful for how great I felt during that particular adventure.
I've made other attempts at pinpointing triggers (gluten, beer, sugar) or solutions (daily yoga, sleeping position) that have all failed to yield much fruit.  It is frustrating.  I just want to know what it is so I can make it stop.  My (former) arthritis doctor was never huge on this figure-it-out approach and just counselled me to take my pills and hope for the best in the progression of my disease.  I, too, remain quite uncertain that there is a silver bullet.  Yet, I keep hunting for it because otherwise I just feel powerless and I refuse to accept that.
I always hesitate to click "publish" on these sort of posts as I don't want people to worry or pity or anything like that, especially my family.  So, I'll just say right here and now:  Don't worry.  I'm a tough cookie.  Matt gave me the nicest compliment the other day on our gratitude board.  "I am thankful for Beth today because... she always has pain and doesn't b*%!h or let it stop her."
That's right.  I got this.  Pain be darned.
(And I do feel better in a way, just writing it all out.  The system works!)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Osaka Salad Dressing

I had Michelle over for lunch the other day.  I made my favorite lentil soup and an Osaka spinach salad with toasted almonds.  It is extra fun to cook for Michelle and Matt.  I find myself putting more thought into what I make.  They're both such good cooks and so when they compliment me it makes me especially pleased.  We dined alfresco since it was such a lovely Spring day.
The Osaka dressing on the salad is creamy and savory--packed with flavor.  I just love it.  It is a slightly modified version of our longstanding favorite stir-fry sauce.  Just a couple simple tweaks and it was perfect for a salad, too.
Osaka Salad Dressing
1/8 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 Tablespoons ginger root, peeled and grated*
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon ketchup
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 C sesame seed (toasted or not)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup white vinegar
pinch of white pepper
tiny splash of sesame oil (optional)

Using a blender combine all the ingredients until smooth and creamy.  It will separate in the fridge so shake before using.  Make about two cups.

*If you have a Vitamix or other high-powered blender don't bother peeling and grating the fresh ginger.  Toss in a hefty knob and let the machine do the work.
I still can't quite believe how much I enjoy salads.  It makes me all the more excited for summer when there will be fresh lettuce in the garden and we can avoid cooking on a long, hot day.  Not that I need much in the way of additional enticement for my summer excitement, of course.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Memories from Mexico

As I mentioned last week, I recently got to go on a trip of a lifetime--three generations of women soaking it up under the Mexican sun.  As I have both a sentimental heart and a burning spirit for travel this trip was an overwhelmingly perfect combination.
Day One:  Poolside in the evening light.
Spending a solid week with my mom and my grandma was really cool.  I see them both, sure, but we do live hours apart and we don't get to spend daaaaaaays with each other--eating every meal together, telling stories, and winding down each evening with several games of cards.  So, that was really wonderful for me.  (And for them, too, I gather.)
Day 2:  Cuppa on the balcony
Mexico was absolutely spectacular, too.  Even more so than I expected.  I loved the people, the language, the landscape, the weather....  The mountains were a completely unexpected delight!  I enjoyed the drive from the airport with them as the backdrop to the rugged, scrubby desert foreground.  I got to see more of my beloved saguaros.  I even saw some in bloom with surprisingly delicate little white flowers.   I so love the desert.  Then, just like that, we were on the coast and everything was lush greenery, vibrant flowers, white sand, and water, water, water.  It was a remarkable contrast.  Equally remarkable was the difference between the posh, resort-lined coast and the rubbish and clothes line strewn communities of tiny, plywood homes just inland.
Day 3: Incredible guac and good times on the beach.
Our accommodations overlooked the marina and I enjoyed starting every day out on the balcony with the birds.  I would see two new-to-me species on this trip--Majestic Frigatebird and Hooded Oriole--as well as several rarely-seen-by-me birds, including the schnazzy cousin to the flicker the Gila Woodpecker, the striking Cactus Wren (who, it turns out, likes palm trees), and the sleek and captivating Great Egret.  I saw so many California Sea Lions.  They were playful and sleek and wonderful.
Day 4:  Cool fish, including the colorful Cortez Rainbow Wrasse.
I went swimming--in the ocean or the pool--at least once every day.  We took two boat cruises, one at sunset.  We walked for miles and miles along the boardwalks and through shops selling brilliantly colored blankets, ceramics, jewelry, and other made-in-Mexico crafts.
Day 5:  El Arco, the very tip of the Baja penninsula, at sunset on the dinner cruise.
Snorkeling was mind-blowing.  I was truly dazzled.  Just floored.  Having only snorkeled around a small, muddy reservoir in eastern Montana prior to this I had no idea what reef fish were like, I guess, and I was not prepared for their numbers.  At times there was a veritable carpet of fish under me.    I went four days out of the seven--one professional tour out in the big rocks and the rest along our "local" beach.  I promptly sunburned the back of my legs rather dreadfully on my first go.  I've only really scratched the surface on trying to ID these beauties, but I have a short list already:  King Angelfish, Reef Cornetfish, Guineafowl Puffer, Moorish Idol, Bullseye Puffer, Panamic Sergeant Major, Blue-and-Gold Snapper, Cortez Rainbow Wrasse, Cortez Damselfish, Graybar Grunt.  I really, really, really wished Matt was along for the snorkeling.  He'd love it and it would have been swell to share in that exciting nature experience together.  We'll have to make it happen some day....after we get him a prescription snorkeling mask so he can actually see the fish.
Day 6:  Two California Sea Lions and a Brown Pelican in the marina
Gosh, the salty ocean water tastes terrible!  It always surprises me, being an almost exclusively freshwater swimmer for my whole life and all.  I had an up-close-and-personal revelation about our precious and limited sources of fresh water as a result.  It is just boggling that most of the water in the world is salty like that....
Day 7:  Breakfast with a view.
It was a unique blessing to me, this trip.  I'm glad that everything fell into place allowing it to go off--and so smoothly.  I even had a better handle on Spanish than I realized!  The food was very yummy, the laughter, regional beers, and margaritas were plentiful, and the weather was divine.  So many new and interesting experiences for me and to share them with my mom and grandma made it all the sweeter.  Memories to last a lifetime, that's for sure.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Inspiration Thursday - Grandma Nina

My Grandma Nina is my inspiration for this week.  I've missed a couple.  Oooops.  At least last week I had a good excuse!  I was in Mexico with my mom and grandma.
My grandma is in her mid-80s and she still is up for an adventure. An international adventure even!  The Mexico trip was all her idea!  I love that.  It make my heart full of gladness.
She's still sharp as a tack, too, and loaded with great stories.  We had a swell week playing cards, laughing at jokes, talking about books, and even a little bit of singing together.   I especially enjoyed all her stories about previous trips she'd taken with my grandpa, both domestically and abroad.  She has seen so much of this glorious world!  What a gift!
Grandma may be taking life at a slightly slower pace than the days of my youth (where she--at least in my mind--could do anything), but I was never the less impressed by her stamina at present.  We walked for miles every day and spent hours and hours in the sunshine and fresh air!  When we were contemplating parasailing she was all for it.  At the grocery store Grandma was the one who suggested we try cactus with our stir-fry.  At then end of a busy day she was still game for a stroll down the boardwalk with me.  She even had a bum foot, but didn't let it stop her.
She is full of life and still so interested in new experiences.  I find that to be an inspiration, a goal to shoot for.  I hope that I am on a path to follow in her footsteps.  May the adventure never end!  For both of us!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Bright Lemon Pasta Delight!

As with the cauliflower tacos, I fear I might wear Matt out on this recipe.  I am just so in taken with it I basically drool at the mention of it.  I want this lemon goodness on the menu every week.  The scrumptious bright flavors, the satisfying, comforting textures...mmmmmmm, I can't seem to get enough.  Usually I'm not too picky about fresh lemon juice vs. bottled, but I do think fresh is fairly critical in this recipe.  

This also works well as a sauce for rice, though I do prefer it on pasta.  But, duh!  It's pasta!
Lemon Pasta Delight with pine nuts
Lemon Pasta Delight
4-6 servings pasta
the juice from one lemon
3 cloves garlic, minced/micro-planed
1 1/2 t honey
1/2 t Dijon or brown mustard
2 T olive oil
2 t lemon zest (zest lemons prior to juicing)
1/3 C toasted nuts--chopped walnuts, almond slivers, pine nuts, etc.
1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped
Several twists fresh ground black pepper, to taste
salt, to taste

Make pasta directed (reserve a little of the pasta cooking water).  
Whisk all other ingredients together (except nuts and parsley). 
Toss pasta/rice with the toasted nuts, parsley, and lemon sauce.  If the pasta is too dry add the reserved cooking water--1 T at a time--until it achieves a better ratio. 

Variation: Place all ingredients except pasta in blender and puree into a lemony pesto-like sauce.  Reserve some toasted nuts for the top!
Lemon Pasta Delight - Pesto Style