food


This is a long post, so first the short version. In the last year: I started working full time and am adjusting to that. I’m glad to be working towards my MFT licensure, but uncomfortable about how it pushes my relationships and other projects onto the back burner. My marriage gets better and better, despite this. The company I work for goes out of business so I get part of the summer off, and I get the exact same job (family therapist for US Marines & their families) with a new company.

And for the year ahead: I plan to continue this work, taking good care of myself, dance with Reanna every night, as promised to my friend, Tilke, in her “How to be a Real Artist” workshop, get in best shape in 5 years, and learn how to treat myself and Reanna really really well while working full time.

October: I started my year out at Farm & Wilderness, VT, staffing and teaching a really fun psychology project at Not Back to School Camp. As is traditional, I got really sick, but this time it was from a waitress in Rutland, not someone at NBTSC. I recuperated while visiting Ethan & Susannah, also in Vermont. Back in Joshua Tree, I started working out again (SERIOUS style), planted my first winter garden, fixed some electrical and plumbing problems in my trailer, and started setting up a private practice. In the process of hiring a supervisor, I found out that in California, unlike in Oregon, I cannot do my internship in a private practice. So I started looking for work in a local clinic.

Looking out over Woodward Reservoir from my cabin at Farm & Wilderness

Ethan, cataloging NBTSC lost & found in his library

The famous Quodlibetarian tub

Reanna

Reanna at Playa Del Rey

Ollie, a year ago

Ollie & Pap

Gabe, Damian & Maya on the Hwy 62 Art Tour

Trailer at sunset, looking south

November: I move into a new computer, archive my years of audio journal entries, and learn Sketchup while applying for and getting a job at Morongo Basin Mental Health: providing free, confidential therapy for US Marines, veterans, and their families. In what would become a series of small-town coincidences, a high school friend I hadn’t seen in decades worked there, saw my name on the interview list and sat in on my interview, interjecting stuff like, “Oh, yeah, good answer!” Nice way to interview. The manager of the military program assured me that the our contract was solid for at least two years. That’s about how long I need to get my hours for licensure, so the job sounded good–no chance of having to ditch my clients like I had to in grad school! I spent the rest of the month getting in as much time with Reanna and my family before starting full time work.

Rainbow over the Bartlet Mts

Maya & Ollie in hammock

Ollie helps Nana Honey cook

Me & Reanna

December:  My 93 year old Grandpa Bob gets really sick, and I get really sick taking care of him. I was pretty sure he was going to die. He had pneumonia and had to go on antibiotics for the first time in his life. It took me weeks to fully recover. He eventually recovered, too, but I’m not sure he’ll ever fully recover. He’s been on antibiotics off and on ever since and is progressively less mobile. It’s got me thinking a lot about dying–how I can support the people I love when they start having a hard time taking care of themselves, and how I want to die when my time comes.

I start at MBMH, reading 40 hours a week of protocols. I have Christmas with family in Joshua Tree. My brother Damian starts a weekly evening with family, listening to an integral Christianity lecture and meditation that turns out to be a presentation of integral theory to Christians, rather than Christianity to integral thinkers, but valuable nonetheless.

Reanna & Christina, Xmas

Reanna & Maya, Xmas

Ely, Christina, Pap, Ben, Rebeca, Xmas

Gabe, Ely, Ollie, Christina, Xmas

Reanna, ukulele, heater

Ollie, bundled up

January: I get my first paid vacation ever–one week off, fully paid by MBMH. Weird, pretty nice. I write my first attempt at a comprehensive political statement. Reanna and I start a three-month experiment with a strict “paleo” diet, which mostly means we cut out sugar and grains from our diet. The theory is that human adaptation to grains and refined anything is shallow at best. I also start cooking Mexican food (the paleo-friendly recipes) from Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican. I love it. And Reanna loves eating it. I start learning to play Reanna’s ukulele. I play and sing “Amazing Grace” most nights for a month. Fun!

I’m working full time, which I’ve never done. It’s not my favorite schedule. I had to let go of most of my projects. I started building a solar batch water heater in the fall, for example, that is still not finished. The schedule has simplified my life quite a bit. Work all day, spend the evening with Reanna. I gained more respect for my friends who’ve been working full time for decades and still manage to write some music or read books. I’m ramping into a caseload, though, and am seeing seven clients a week by the end of the month.

My endurance training is going great by this point. Mid month I got my heart rate up to 179 bpm without hurting myself. Very exciting.

Smiley and Gallant visit

Reanna in our clean, cold kitchen

Dinner’s almost ready. (Photo by Reanna.)

Grandpa Bob turns 94

Me in therapist costume, with Ollie. (Photo by Reanna.)

February: Full time work continues. I get trained in the Trauma Resiliency Model, which I find very cool and useful. I re-up the trademark on Abandon Ship. I feel sad that I can’t write music with my brothers right now, but have plenty of optimistic plans to do so… Reanna starts designing our future house, another exciting project that I have to watch from the sidelines. I love watching her get super deep into a topic like this, though. She is now the resident expert in passive-solar-optimized-very-small-house design. We start car shopping, too. We need to be independently mobile in Joshua Tree.

Trench. Hose feeding trailer finally to be buried.

Reanna & treehouse near the Mexican border

Ollie, Damian

March: I’m up to 16 clients at MBMH and I’m fighting for mastery of the intense paperwork load. The clinical work is going great. My supervisor is good, I am fully engaged by my clients, and I get to see a good variety of folks–kids, adults, families, couples. The paperwork is fairly unpleasant, though. Mental health providers that get government funding spend a huge amount of time and energy creating and maintaining a paper trail for their work. These clinics get paid based on the work they claim to have done and then various agencies can audit their files and take that money back if a box wasn’t checked or a T wasn’t crossed. I spend my first very late day at work in March, trying to catch up on paperwork. Reanna is not happy.

Highlights: A great lecture by Bruce Perry, planting my first spring/summer garden, endurance training going great (I work out during my lunches at MBMH), meeting the Transition Joshua Tree folks. And Reanna. Reanna is wonderful.

Lowlights: My truck fails smog and I begin what becomes an expensive debacle trying to get it to pass.  I start having sync problems with my Mac that I am still dealing with as I write. I start working on our taxes on weekends. Reanna is Canadian and that makes our taxes super complicated and somehow even though we hired a professional we ended up owing big fines.

Abandon Ship cover art, for the TM folks. Art by Tilke.

Damian & Ollie in old billy goat pen, future garden

Me, just having sunk the garden beds. (Photo by Reanna)

Reanna planting pepper starts

Ollie

Ollie & Reanna take the trash out

Ollie & Reanna rest in the hammock

April: I find out that Morongo Basin Mental Health has decided to go out of business after more than 40 years, at the end of June. That’s quite a shock and less for me than for the many decade-plus employees I work with. At home, our three months of paleo is up and I feel fine, as I have on just about every diet I’ve tried, but it clearly had not solved any of the problems we’d been tracking for the experiment. And I am sick in bed for a week for a third time this year. Reanna’s parents arrive for a month long visit. I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like, but we get in some fun events (like the Morongo Basin Conservation Association’s “Desertwise Landscape Tour” and Transition Joshua Tree’s Water Catchment Workshop), good talks, good swimming.  I get trained in sand-tray therapy by my supervisor, Richard Gray, which I find quite useful.

Reanna preps cholla buds for dinner

Family dinner at Damian & Maya’s (Damian with Bugzooka)

Doug & Kathryn up San Jacinto

May: We get a great little car, a gift from Reanna’s parents. It gets 38 mpg unless we use the AC.  At work, emotions are high and rumors are flying around. I try to avoid it as much as possible. My coworkers are mostly looking for work with great intensity. I decide that I will chill instead, concentrate on my clients, and do what I can to get my job back with whatever company picks up the military contract in the summer.  Meanwhile,  something is eating my garden. My weekends and after work time is often spent critter-proofing.

The highlight of the month by far is meeting my new nephew, Julian.

Julian in sling

Ollie in work gloves

First scorpion of a scorpion-rich year

June: I’m at 21 clients at the beginning of my last month at MBMH. The management has had me continue taking new clients but I’m starting to get nervous about it. It’s starting to look like my clients will have a significant lapse in services, and it pisses me off. I write people in charge at the county and local journalists but no-one can say how long it will take to get the military program back up and running. I know I’m fine. I can look forward to a full season working at NBTSC if things go badly. It sucks, though, that my clients are just getting dumped. It’s screwed up. I just have to set them up as best I can for the lapse and do the tons of paperwork to close their charts. Meanwhile, my co-worker, Jackie, introduces me to Candy Crush, which starts sucking up the cracks in my schedule.

Highlights: Jonathan & Ayako’s wedding in Idaho. Motorcycle safety class with Reanna. And being married to Reanna, of course.

Living room pano: Ely, Christina, Julian, Ben, Rebeca visit

Ben & Julian

North end pano from on top of Reanna’s sewing RV

Ayako & Jonathan, getting married

July: I’m unemployed again, but within two weeks I get interviewed by Pacific Clinics, the company who got the military contract that I’d been working for at MBMH. It looks like I’ll get the job based on the reputation I’d made for myself in that position. That feels good! It means I’ll miss most of NBTSC this year, too, for the first time in 14 years.

Reanna leaves for OR to do prep work for NBTSC and I delete Candy Crush from my phone so I can get some things done: install AC in our trailer, create an outside pantry, build a greywater cistern, make a front step for the trailer, get my motorcycle license, and a few other things. Satisfying. Then I fly up to OR to work the Camp Latgawa session of NBTSC.

Reanna hangs our laundry while I goof off with the camera

Cistern in progress

Julian & me

August: Finish at NBTSC (wonderful, as usual), and spend a few short days in Eugene at an NBTSC leadership summit, then back to Joshua Tree for my last week of unemployment. I completed some last-minute landscaping and plumbing projects, built a dry toilet and installed a weather station, then started training at Pacific Clinics in Arcadia.

At the end of August, Reanna got back from her travels, and we started shutting down all lights and electronics at 8pm and just hanging out until going to bed. This was lovely. We usually laid in the hammock outside, talking and looking at stars. The desert summer evenings are really, really nice. Especially with Reanna.

My advisee group, NBTSC Camp Latgawa

Ely & Julian before dinner

Reanna & Ollie, downtown Joshua Tree

September: I start making contact with clients and by the end of the month I’m back up to 7 clients. This is exciting, and it’s nice to be working with some of my old co-workers from MBMH, and the new crew at Pacific Clinics is an entertaining bunch. Working full time again limits what I can do in terms of projects, but I manage to put a new roof on the old goat pen/the new outside pantry, go visit Quail Springs permaculture farm, and start building a new composter with my 2-year-old nephew, Ollie.

At the end of the month, I have my first birthday at home in many years. Usually I’m at camp. It’s nice. My family threw me a little party and I’m glad to be here, even though I miss my people at Farm & Wilderness.

Yes, Ollie wants to help build the composter!

Rain Event, 29 Palms

With Reanna & ocotillo, on my 42nd birthday.

Advertisements

In 2011, Roger Walsh published a review of the research into ways we can improve our mental health and resiliency by changing how we live. He found eight that had both solid research behind them and strong effects. As therapeutic interventions go, these lifestyle changes tend to be enjoyable, inexpensive, and carry only positive side effects such as increased physical health, self-efficacy, and longevity. Despite that, mental health professionals do not emphasize lifestyle changes. This could be due to a spin on the instrument fallacy: Clients bring in a nail and all therapists can think of to use is their hammer. Walsh suggests this failing is because therapists have unhealthy lifestyles themselves.

  1. Exercise: 30 minutes or more of exercise has therapeutic and preventative emotional and cognitive effects.
  2. Nutrition & Diet: Fish, vegetables and fruit in the diet have both enhancing and protective psychological effects.
  3. Time in Nature offers cognitive and emotional benefits and stress relief.
  4. Good relationships: Being connected in rich relationships comes with cognitive benefits, happiness, and resiliency. In fact, the quality of a therapeutic relationship may account for a large part of the benefit of therapy.
  5. Recreation & Enjoyable Activities (AKA fun): Helps with stress, mood, and well-being.
  6. Relaxation & Stress Management: Mindfulness practices and muscle relaxation techniques can have strong and lasting positive effects on mood management.
  7. Religious & Spiritual Involvement is associated with good mental health, maybe especially with faiths centered on love and forgiveness.
  8. Contribution & Service: Giving time and energy to others boosts happiness, as long as it isn’t out of a sense of obligation.

Bayless cover

I bought Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking From the Heart of Mexico because it was the highest-rated Mexican cookbook on Amazon. It was part of an effort to build a great cookbook library and to create a food culture for my family. It was also to turn my wife, Reanna, on to Mexican food. I grew up in southern California and love Mexican food. She grew up in Vancouver, BC, and never developed a taste for it. My limited sampling of Canadian Mexican food made it clear why: It was not very good.

Because I imagined referring to this book for several decades, I almost bought the second-highest rated book because the cover was so much better, but I realized that both images were probably on dust covers, which I hate and throw away immediately. I stuck with the Bayless’s book.

I am so glad I did. Everything I’ve cooked out of this book so far has been very, very good. Surprisingly good. This food tastes like fine dining–nothing fast-food about it. My wife has had “food-gasms” on several occasions and agreed that we would have been happy to have paid top dollar at a restaurant for what we just ate.

I’m a good prep cook, an OK cook cook, and not much of a real chef. I love that I can follow these recipes exactly and produce inspiring food. I also believe that going through this book is teaching me how to cook. I’m learning the architecture of the cuisine–the staples, the flavors, the dishes, the variations. I can imagine eventually being able to stock our fridge intuitively and improvise great food from whatever we have. What more can you ask for in a cookbook?

Many decades in the future, when human nutrition is finally a reputable science, our current tendency to think of foods in categories like “good for you” or “bad for you,” will seem quaint. We will probably find not only that all foods have both helpful properties and less helpful properties, but that those properties are enhanced, dampened, or reversed depending on many, many factors like quantity, preparation, combination, microbiome ecology, genetics, epigenetics, other physiological factors, environmental factors, psychological factors, and who knows what else. I don’t say this to insult people who spend their time thinking about nutrition and diet, but to point out a useful fact. When science tackles any very complex topic, the knowledge it turns up, even if it was basically correct, always seems quaint 100 years later. That goes double for folk wisdom and other less-rigorous forms of collecting knowledge.

That is the caveat to the following explanation of how I am currently thinking about chocolate:

To the extent that such a category exists, it is looking like chocolate may be “good for you.” I won’t go into how or why, as there are a zillion articles about that, all waiting to be proven wrong or quaint, but there is a strong chance that eating chocolate is largely helpful.

The problem is that chocolate tastes terrible by itself, so it is almost always sold in combination with sugar, a food that is very, very likely “bad for you.” Sugar has the power to make chocolate and many other foods taste great, but also the power to screw you up in a bunch of ways; the Satan of food, if you will.

What is your minimal sugar requirement to make chocolate tolerable? How about pleasurable? It’s easy and fun to figure out. (Although while I was figuring it out in a grocery with my friends, Abbi and Matt, a woman said, “You are ruining chocolate for me. Make a choice and get out.” Clearly this is not fun for everyone.) It just takes a grocery with a decent chocolate selection, a little math, and some chocolate money.

Chocolate selection at the Kiva, Eugene. Site of ruining chocolate for one woman.

Here are the “nutrition facts” for a 41-gram bar of Hershey’s Special Dark dark chocolate:

The math here is easy, since the “serving size” is the whole bar. Just over half of this chocolate bar is pure sugar. Imagine the bar below with the ingredients separated, the chocolate on the right, the sugar on the left:

Hershey Special Dark dark chocolate bar, sugar mixed in.

The six squares on the left would be pure sugar. That’s a lot of sugar.

The lowest-sugar bar at the Kiva was Lindt Excellence 90% Cocoa Supreme Dark bar, at 7.5% sugar. That’s like almost one of one of the squares above. I found it taste tolerable–enjoyable, even, but more in the way wine can be enjoyable than in the way I normally expect chocolate to be enjoyable. Interesting rather than incredibly delicious. I also found that I did not eat it nearly as compulsively as I do sweeter chocolate.

The runners-up were E. Guittard’s Nocturne “pure extra dark chocolate” 91% cacao, at 8.8% sugar and Theo’s Venezuela 91% Cacao, at 9.5% sugar; each had the equivalent of a little more than a square of sugar out of the bar above, about 10 and 20% more sugar than the Lindt. These bars were easier to eat–less burned and bitter tasting, but still definitely in the enjoyable-like-wine category, a little smoother and maybe fruity or aromatic.

The rest of even heavy-duty dark chocolate bars were at 20% or more sugar. That’s at least almost three squares in the bar above. Green & Black’s Dark 85%, for example, is exactly 20% sugar. I haven’t tried it recently, but after eating these 3-10% bars, I expect it to taste quite sweet, with more than twice as much sugar as the runners-up and almost seven times as much as the Lindt Excellence.

Sometimes the nutritional facts numbers do not add up. I noticed that with the Green & Black 85% bar. It’s got 8 grams of sugar per 40 gram “serving” in a 100 gram bar. That’s 20 grams of sugar per 100 gram bar, thus the 20% sugar I calculated. How is it, then, that the bar is also 85% cocoa? Chocolate companies, please explain your math.

On a challenge from the blog 400 Days ’til 40 I did a quick-and-dirty calculation of our carbon footprint for a year here in California. I just used the top hit on Google for “carbon footprint calculator” and made my best estimates for all the values they asked for:

1. I live in California, USA, in a household of two.

2. I use no natural gas, heating oil, coal, LPG, and no net electricity by virtue of a solar array, thanks to an investment by my father. Reanna and I cook with propane, and a little research is leading me to believe we will go through approximately 50 gallons in a year, maybe less. Our share of the firewood that my parents burn for heat in the evenings is about .4 of a cord. My share of all this contributes .08 metric tons of CO2 per year.

3. I fly to Portland and to Albany every year to work at Not Back to School Camp. That contributes .95 metric tons of CO2. Something like a quarter of a ton for each leg. Pricey!

4. Car travel is the biggest polluter at 5.05 metric tons of CO2. This amount probably varies quite a bit each year and is way up from my Eugene, OR lifestyle. This estimate includes a few trips to town each week, a dozen trips to the LA area, and one long road trip to Canada. That’s a bit less than 2 tons for each of those kinds of commutes.

5. I use a significant amount of bus and train travel on my business (and some other) trips as well, adding about .12 metric tons of CO2.

6. The second biggest polluter is a group of “lifestyle” choices. 1.21 tons for eating animal products, 1 ton for owning one car, .5 tons for eating only “mostly” local produce, .61 tons for buying stuff with packaging, .17 tons for buying “some” new equipment, .41 for throwing some stuff away, 1 ton for sometimes going out to movies and restaurants, and .4 tons for having a bank account. Total = 4.21 metric tons of CO2. (The highest value possible here was 24.53 tons.)

Here is the summary they gave me:

  • Your footprint is 10.41 metric tons per year
  • The average footprint for people in United States is 20.40 metric tons
  • The average for the industrial nations is about 11 metric tons
  • The average worldwide carbon footprint is about 4 metric tons
  • The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 metric tons

I have plenty of questions about and criticisms of the way this calculator works. They ask my household size first but do not indicate if they are calculating my individual footprint or my household’s. That could change my score quite a bit if I’m taking the blame for Reanna’s share.

I’d like find a calculator which takes into account more specifics, too. I have owned the same car for 20 years, for example, but the way they asked the question gave me the same carbon footprint as someone who has a brand new SUV every year. Miles driven, too, is not as important as number of gallons of gasoline burned (see my mileage/fuel tracking project here). I buy some things with packaging and I throw some stuff in the landfill (see my landfill tracking project here), but “some” is a vague category to hang such a precise 1.02 metric tons of carbon on! What about grass-fed versus industrially produced meat?

On the other hand, two metric tons is a pretty tight carbon budget, and finding a more accurate calculator will not likely shift my score dramatically. And with this calculator, I am at 520% of my two metric tons, this with a relatively low-profile lifestyle for an American. I could come down to 222% if I did not own a car and never drove one. If I also stopped eating animal products and stopped going to movies and restaurants, I would be close, at 112%. If I also stopped flying, I could actually come in under budget, at 64%, leaving some slack for others.

That’s a pretty discouraging proposition! The biggest barrier is the isolation. No travel means never seeing a large part of my family and community. And the idea is that kinds of lifestyle choices would have to become the norm, not just the domain of eccentrics….

I’m going to have to do some more thinking about this.

Reanna and I explored  LA’s fashion district last week. I think her favorite part was looking at the (to me) bewildering assortment of fabric. My favorite part was this sign, in a frozen yogurt joint near Santee Alley:

We read this sign while eating the store’s product, the most intensely sugary frozen yogurt ever created. This snack was pure entertainment, not food, so the fact that the store was plastered with signs like these was… hilarious?

Another odd thing is the indefinite reference of the sign: is is about the health benefit of blueberries or yogurt? (They offered a few fruits as toppings. We had strawberries on our pina-colada/cheesecake frozen yogurt and they were the only really enjoyable element of the snack.)

Then there’s the singular “benefit” mentioned in the sign, followed by four bullet-points.

Then there are the points themselves. Firstly, the yogurt–or the giant blueberry, or some other thing–“fights and lowers cholesterol.” This may only be funny to me because of all the research I’ve done lately on cholesterol. (I discovered I may have familial hyperchoesterolemia, so I looked into it.) Cholesterol is a kind of fat molecule that our bodies make to use as structural elements in our cell walls, sex hormones, and other stuff. It’s not a poison or virus. Fighting cholesterol makes about as much sense as fighting protein or fighting B vitamins. “Lowers cholesterol” is somewhat less nonsensical, but it turns out that what seems to matter is not so much the high- or low-ness of cholesterol in your blood, but how your body is packaging that cholesterol. If your body is packaging cholesterol in big protein sacks (called LDL) more than in small protein sacks (HDL), then you may be in trouble. And even then, your health risk depends a lot on the size of the big protein sacks that you make–if your big protein sacks of cholesterol are properly big, you are probably OK. If they are relatively small, that is bad news. My point is, this sign’s emphasis on “lowering” serves advertising purposes only.

Next point: “Improves the digestibility of food constituents.” I love the wording. I wonder if they are referring to eating in general, here, as putting food constituents into a digestive tract definitely improves their digestibility.

Next point: “Strengthens the immune system.” Compared to what, I wonder? And what are the units of immune system strength?

And my favorite: “Enhances one’s nutritional status.” I imagine nutritional status is a kind of social status, conferred by eating a big tub of frozen yogurt in public. That would explain why our relatively small portion cost over $7.

I forget who showed me this–someone I worked with at the old Rancho Mirage Charthouse. Squeeze some lemon juice onto your watermelon. I like watermelon a lot, but with lemon I love it. It’s so delicious that I’m surprised it’s not a big thing. Try it and thank me.

Next Page »