Memory Diet

Mayo Clinic's Women's Healthsource July newsletter reports that the Feburary 2009 issue of Archives of Neurology suggests a Mediterranean-style diet will help keep our brains sharp.

That means plenty of fruits, veggies, fish, whole grains, and unsaturated fats (think olive oil).

It's pretty strong stuff. The study found that participants with a "mid-to high-level adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet were significantly less likely to develop cognitive decline when compared with those with a low adherence to this way of eating." 

Marie, over at Blue Ridge Blog, wants the recipe for the grilled veggie photo I posted a couple of days ago. Just so happens, it comes from a cookbook called The Mediterranean Diet by Nancy Harmon Jenkins.  (I'll post the basic recipe at the end.) Timely, eh?

The grilled veggies are not as big a pain to prepare as you might think. I did a whole pile of them on my old indoor grill, layered them in a shallow pasta bowl, poured on the marinade, covered the dish with plastic wrap, and went swimming. 

Buck and I used "leftovers" of the grilled veggies and tuna from dinner the night before to make our lunch yesterday. Tasty way to amortize both cost and effort! And there are still some veggies left. They will go great with grilled chicken tomorrow. The white blob on the plate by the tuna is wasabi mayonaise. Looks bland, but it's got a nice little kick.

IMG_2623 

There are lots of recipe variations for grilled veggies. Nancy Harmon Jenkins's recipe, "Grilled Vegetables with Oil and Vinegar," calls for 2 eggplants, 2 red peppers, 2 yellow peppers, 3 zucchini and a little olive oil for brushing on the veggies. I only used one eggplant, and one red pepper to go along with the 3 zucchinis.

Her marinade calls for: 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup red or white wine vinegar, 2 garlic cloves, chopped, 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, minced (or use a little salt to taste if you don't want to use the hairy fish), and one tablespoon of minced fresh mint, thyme, or oregano (no contest here, for me — I pulled a few sprigs of oregano and thyme from the weed patch).

Jenkins says to cut lengthwise 1/2 inch slices of the eggplant, put them in a bowl with salted water to cover (1/4 cup salt for every 2 quarts water is her recommendation, but I didn't measure either one), weight them down with a can of tomatoes on top of a plate (just so they don't float to the top). Leave them to soak a couple of hours, then drain, dry off with paper towels, brush with oil and grill.

Slice the zucchinis on a deep diagonal, brush with oil and grill. Jenkins recommend cutting the peppers in half, but since I only had one, I cut it into 6 wedges. Use common sense, and grill them until they're as done as you like them. 

Gotta run. I'm going to go eat another handful of those gorgeous, sweet U-Pick blueberries Harold brought by this morning.

p.s. Blueberries are some of the best brain food around. I'm going to get a double handful!

Green Therapy

The school nurse looked like an oasis in the midst of parents and grandparents clustered thickly around her like so many grains of sand. They appeared to be all talking at once as they held out an arm, thrusting clear, plastic zip-type bags at the short, roundish woman. Her bright cotton tee-shirt was the color of a green M and M candy.

With clipboard in hand and the cheerful, no-nonsense command authority ubiquitous to public school coaches — and nurses, too, apparently  –  she efficiently calmed the gaggle and quickly processed the handover of meds from childrens' caretakers to her travel bag. I gave her our grandson, Alex's, allergy medication and she seamlessly put a ballpoint pen in my hand, saying "sign here" and "here."

The occasion? A two-day middle school band field trip to nearby Panama City Beach.

Outside, two gleaming charter buses looked like giant metallic insects with their insides turned out, as kids and their various travel flotsam and jetsam were loaded into the bellies of the beasts.

I saw Alex greet his best friend in that way of maturing boys, with an understated upward chin bob and an elbow bump. "Hey, man." 

Alex gave me a look that seemed to say, "Thanks for the ride. Love you. Don't hug me, that would be very uncool. Bye."  And he was gone.

I parted the sea of chattering parents and kids and made my way back to the parking lot.

Looking at the whole scene, diesel fumes from the buses tickling my nose, I suddenly had the taste of banana sandwich in my mouth. Memories of field trips past came flooding back. I was a skinny kid with a pony tail, badly cut bangs and a mouth full of teeth that looked to me big as a horse's. 

We were sent off with small  brown bags containing a banana or peanut butter sandwich, and an oatmeal cookie. No cell phone. No Ipod. No nurse to dispense meds. No meds.  My good friend, Steve H., had a seizure disorder, and had to stay home.

Maintenance meds for ADHD did not exist. We made it through childhood with monkey bars, slides, swings, sandlot baseball, tree climbing, catching lightning bugs in a jar, endless bike riding and weekly trips to the public library for armchair explorations of worlds within worlds. We washed and dried the dishes after supper, completed our homework, made sure our clothes were ready for the next morning's school day, and went to bed early.

Reading the previous paragraph tells me I have become my own grandparents. All that's missing is a description of how I trudged through 3 feet of snow (in central Florida) to go to school every day. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel I had a childhood more free, and one that prepared me more adequately for life as an adult, than many kids experience today.

A few days ago, I read a headline that stated the treatment du jour for ADHD is "green therapy." It's pretty radical — propounds the notion that kids diagnosed with ADHD "do better" when they spend time in nature and engaging in vigorous physical activity outdoors, and when they're not "over-scheduled." Might even be able to lay off the illness-labelling, growth stunting pills. Huh. What a concept.

Meanwhile, parents struggle. Meds? Which meds? No meds? In a shifting landscape, how does one make decisions that are best for the child?  How can one know except retrospectively, if at all?

I have never been a parent of young children, but have great respect for those who are or have been. One of my favorite blogs is written by Elizabeth Aquino. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. Elizabeth is also an advocate for her severely disabled teenaged daughter, Sophie, and other disabled children. She writes about Sophie and the life of the whole family with love, and searing honesty. Her blog, A moon, worn as if it had been a shell, is the fine work of a remarkable writer, poet, wife, and mother. Go there. Read.

Unmitigated Gall

I had kind of been looking forward to having unmitigated gall, but the surgeon says the old gall bladder's performance is borderline and so we decided to apply fresh air and sunshine medicine, along with watchful waiting. Dr. Gage also recommended a chill pill, three times daily, or as needed.

Thanks, everybody, for your encouragement.

Buck and I walked the woods and went swimming today. Looks like the fresh air and sunshine treatment is working.

Sweet dreams!

Low Hanging Fruit and A Path of Fallen Flowers

      Ripe Loquats at The Sugar Shack         

                Life is a tree with low-hanging fruit.

                Memory is a path of fallen flowers.

 

 

This is what lying in a morgue must be like, I thought, if one could imagine being a sentient cadaver. 

 The room was cold enough to quell any smell, or sense of smell, and the 38 inch, white sheet-covered board, was sufficient to fit my widest part, with a miserly inch to spare. Narrow shelves popped up to accommodate my arms.

A technician who looked too young to have a 15 year old daughter invited me to recline on the hard surface, one pillow under my head and one under my knees. Her name was Angie, short for Angel in this eerie white gloom. The room was silent save for the snick and whir of expensive electronics.

"I'm going to put an I.V. in now," Angie said. I felt the needle pinch tender skin as the inner bend of my elbow sprouted an odd, blood-filled appurtenance. "I'm injecting the radio isotope," she said. "We'll track it through your liver, then your gall bladder, and then into the small bowel. This first part of the test will take about an hour. You shouldn't feel any sensation from the isotope at all. Do you have any questions?" 

Angie brought a blanket and tucked me in before lowering the electronic camera with its huge crystal within two inches of my chest and upper abdomen. 

There was a video monitor connected to the machine, but the camera unit blocked it out during this part of the HIDA-scan.  "We'll get started now," Angie said. When she  pulled the privacy curtain shut on her way out, the metal grommets sang as they slid on the metal rod. I thought of John Woo, startled white doves and a brash guitar.

The privacy curtain seemed redundant. No one else but Angie and another tech with the fanciful name of Roy were in the suite of testing cubicles.

After a few minutes, I began to wish for the IPod I had left at home. Or would it be so bad if I reached back over the top of my head to where my bag was resting on a shelf and plucked out my Blackberry to read The New York Times? I've always liked to read in semi-darkness. But the big camera and its casing neatly pinned my arms in place as effectively as a full metal jacket. I gave in and began to drift.

 

Life is a tree with low-hanging fruit.

Memory is a path of fallen flowers.

 

About 20 minutes into the test, my shoulders and arms felt like they had turned into the cool marble of statuary, and I cracked, calling for Angie/Angel to bring a warm blanket. Minutes passed and I dozed. A bell-like sound awakened me. It was the sound of the Glasgow to Broddick ferry, arriving at port.

Angie came in and stood staring at the video monitor, clucking like a small hen who has lost a chick. "What?" I said, coming fully awake. 

"Well, the isotope moved through your liver like a streak," she said, sighing heavily," but now it's stuck in your gall bladder." Angie moved the camera up and away from me. "Why don't you walk around some, see if we can get it to move on into the bowel. I don't want to start the second part of the test until we can see it moving."

Once the camera was out of my line of sight, I could see the video monitor. The sight caused me to have a brief freak-out moment. There was a large egg-shaped glow at the bottom of my gall bladder. It looked like a radioactive Easter egg.

"What happens if it doesn't move?" I asked.

"Well," Angie ventured, "We'll just have to see what the doctor wants to do."

"I'm not going to have to go home with a radioactive Easter egg stuck inside me, am I?"

"Oh, no, the isotope will degrade," she assured me, but I wasn't entirely convinced.

I walked around, did a few jumping jacks, hopped up and down from one foot to the other, and then returned to the white board. Angie brought the camera and its casing back down close to my chest. She asked me to turn on my left side for five minutes, and then on my right side for another five, in an effort to entice the isotope to trickle into my duodenum. It didn't. As a last resort, she asked me to lie on my back again for twenty more minutes of pictures.

This time, it worked. A faint white tubular glow began to show up on the screen. We progressed to Phase Two.

The second part of the test involved an injection into the I.V. of cholescystokinin, a substance which fools one's gall bladder into thinking a big, hot fast food cheeseburger is heading straight for it. Nausea and cramps quickly followed, but they subsided. After one more "stay very still" twenty-five minute video session, I was free to leave that icy chamber and go sit in my warm car in the sunshine. Sunshine! Man, it felt good to walk in the breeze and grin at passing strangers as though I had gotten a reprieve. 

There won't be any news from this test until next week, but even the worst outcome – surgical removal of my gall bladder – is laparoscopic drive-by compared to the serious health issues that many folks cope with every day. Yep. The sunshine is beautiful. It's great to be alive.

I fired up the engine and drove home to Buck, where love is in the drip-line, shooting straight and easy through all the chambers of my heart.

 

Life is a tree with low-hanging fruit.

Memory is a path of fallen flowers.

Fallen camelias in secret garden at The Sugar Shack

Wild Grouper Pesto with Lump Crab

Wild Grouper Pesto 

After the doctor visit this afternoon, Buck and I delivered our 2008 tax package to our good friend and accountant, Bill Bass, intrepid globe-trotting volunteer at archeological dig sites and vintage Ford Thunderbird collector, altogether an amazing fellow.

Next, we traveled a few more blocks to Joe Patti's Seafood and found a beautiful wild grouper fillet and a pint of well-picked jumbo lump crab meat.

At home, I dusted the grouper with Montreal Steak seasoning and then slathered it with a mix of pesto, Dijon mustard and a smidge of mayonaise. After 10 minutes under the broiler, it was ready to go. While it cooked, I sauteed some fresh baby spinach with a tablespoon of pine nuts in a little olive oil, and warmed the crabmeat.

This dinner and a glass of crisp Georgia White was a whole lot better than a dose of Mule Kick!

Sludgey Carburetor Update

Personal note: Here's an update on my sludgey carburetor. Saw the surgeon today, Dr. John Ochsner Gage. He has ordered a HIDA scan. My gall bladder walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. The HIDA-scan will determine if it is a duck. Test is scheduled for 10:00 a.m., Good Friday.

Meanwhile, I'm eating and drinking pretty much normally, since I have been eating a low fat diet for more years than I can count. The pain is reasonably low grade and comes and goes, so don't be shocked out of your gourd when I post pictures of our dinner tonight. It was fish and spinach, but the picture looks as decadent as the taste. (You'll see!)

TMI (too much information?)

I thought night sweats, bane of many post-menopausal women, were a minor tribulation of my past. Last November, in Aristotle Speaks!, I wrote confidently about a marvelous low-dose estrogen delivery system that restored a rich dreamscape to my sleeping hours, but was safer than the pill format I had swallowed every morning for years. It helped me chill out at night, too; a nice bonus.

And then.

I thought at first the pain under my right rib cage was a pulled muscle, but it persisted for weeks, and gradually worsened. I began to get the idea that the estradiol acetate ring might be a factor in whatever was going on, and so several weeks ago unceremoniously removed it and threw it away.

By then, the pain had moved around to my back, fairly high up under my right shoulder blade.

No. Don't worry. I'm not leading up to anything scary here. An ultrasound last week confirmed that my gall bladder is full of biliary sludge. Wow, just what every former femme fatale wants to hear.

Ah, well. Buck and I will go visit with the nice surgeon on Tuesday and explore options. Meanwhile, a bland, no-fat diet (with lots of beets and apple cider, thank you dear sister-in-law) is helping keep the pain down to a dull roar.

The estradiol acetate has been implicated in gall bladder disease.

Meanwhile, every night I'm sweating like one of those villains that Sir Sean Connery (the James Bond) locked in a steam bath machine at some eastern European health spa.  As a result, I am having some unusual nocturnal adventures. Sometime in the middle of last night, not sleeping, I got fixated on wondering where an old piece of writing was– one I think I might be ready to deal with now — and got up to rifle through some old file folders.

Never did locate the wordscrap I sought, but I did find an old halfway attempt at a poem from 1978.

My rebellion sits;a yellow fog with fighting mitts

It's gone ten rounds so far;bloodied, sore and blind

Thirsty still, though marred; stubborn, yet; sure of a win

Despite bought judges; despite those bone-cold men.*

 

*I have no earthly idea who or what I was worked up about when I wrote those passionate words some 31 years ago.

 

Okay. So now you know my deepest, darkest secrets (well, two of them, anyway).  I am a crappy wanted-to-be poet and I have a rotten gall bladder!

      

 

Brain Fuel

Brain fuel: blueberries on a whole grain waffle, caffeine, learning new words. The older we get, the harder we have to fight to keep those synapses jumping, those dendrites branching.

IMG_1825    IMG_1826

These are pictures from "Brain Food Saturday." The clever mug is from Creative Nonfiction. It's hefty, stylish and you won't feel stupid for buying it once you hold it in your hot little hand. It's a nice reminder that when you feel empty from writing, go out among some people, listen, and you'll come back  full of words.

And by the way, congratulations to  Kathy Rhodes over at FIRST DRAFT  Laying Down The Words. Her blog entry, "An Open Letter," has been selected for inclusion in The Best of Creative Nonfiction, Volume 3, edited by Lee Gutkind, and will be published by W. W. Norton in July 2009.

IMG_1828 I woke up with the most incredible, nearly full-blown story in my head. It was a richly detailed dream, complete with the first, middle and last name of the main character. I stumbled into my favorite chair with a legal pad and wrote for two hours before breakfast.

Today's blueberry breakfast turned into a semi-fancy Sunday brunch with the addition of walnuts and a skinny latte, yummy with foam, cinnamon and vanilla. 

Annual Physicals

We are dressed like proper ladies in waiting, surgical gowns in sherbet colors of pale strawberry, lime and orange, the swaths of cotton wrap-around fabric equipped with velcro strips at the shoulders to peel down over each tender breast so they can be squeezed from the top, then the sides between the glass and steel plates of a mammography machine.

"Hold your breath. Okay. Relax."

We sit in the cold room together in a foam of silent tension that, like aerosolyzed worry beads, slips between our hunched shoulders and the backs of the uncomfortable chairs.

Will the radiologist want another picture? A conference? Or will the nurses hand out "all clear" letters to each of us and say, "Go now, run along, continue with your life, fulfill your dreams, perhaps even have some lunch?"

The odds don't favor everyone in the room getting that happy Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for our breasts this year — the woman next to me sitting in a wheelchair, for example. She is nearly translucent; poor bare neck exposed in the surgical gown looking naked and vulnerable as she hangs her head in an uncomfortable-looking pose. The oxygen tank makes an electronic thrumming sound at fifteen second intervals.

 

A friend's voice speaks quietly, urgently to me, in the voice I know she would use gazing upon this same scene.

 Don't you dare presume to write her off.

I was there and beyond, my violent breasts turned inward, shaking hands and sharing deadly whispers with lymph nodes systemwide and a goner for sure to every pair of eyes turned my way.

Five years later it is now, and these days I dance the Samba on sultry beaches, run marathon races in magnificent cities, make love as never before, celebrate my daughter's birthdays one by one by one, and make a big, fat, joyful noise.

You are seeing but a sliver of her struggle, only one page, not the book.

 

Meanwhile, Buck is in some other cold room at the clinic, lying on his back under an ultrasound machine which is peering at his aorta and renal arteries to guard the gates from sneak attack, to be sure no chunk of calcium or other pathological pressure might be coming to bear upon that superhighway of blood and plotting insurection, bombs, explosions and a messy street scene — one which would most assuredly include a weeping, wailing, screaming woman. That unthinkable revolution happened to the husband of a writer friend and mentor of mine only a few months ago, and mea culpa, K., forgive me for writing of this, but your own experience may help save other lives.

And so.

We sit or lie down in these chilly rooms, stripped of our clothes and all our worldly goods, with only our stories written on the backs of our eyes, drawing out the nurses. "You tell me yours, and I'll tell you mine."

We do this for love, all for the only everything, love, in hopes of satisfying the hungry maw of our own mortality for at least, please, yet one more year of sweet time together.

 


 

 

Aristotle Speaks!

To me, last night, in a dream.

But first, a few words about post-hysterectomy, menopausal women, insomnia, no dreaming and writing. Heh! My feelings won't be hurt if you leave this discussion and come back on another day.

Okay. Here's the deal. Earlier this week I went for my routine annual checkup.

Last year, I was advised to switch to a lower dose form of oral estrogen. Like a good girl, trying to reduce risks, I did. Yes, the occasional dreaded night sweats returned, energy flagged, sleep became ever more elusive and the wide open tap of my formerly rich dream life became a slow drip.

I saw a new person this year. She asked a lot of questions and offered a variety of options, based on my personal and family medical history. She was smart as a whip and proactive on my behalf. I walked out of there with a clever method of delivering systemic estrogen called a Femring.

Two nights ago, I awoke in the morning after a great night's sleep with my head singing, full of fantastic, colorful, music-filled dreams. There were children playing in a sprinkler and a young couple bathing their baby in a small robin's egg blue Victorian bathtub that had gorgeous flowers painted on it. I saw an old couple holding hands, sitting side by side, their thin legs touching, in a white wicker glider. I met an elderly judge in a 19th century suit complete with ornate pocket watch who flirted with me over tea and scones in a most courtly manner. People gathered for ice cream under the canopy of huge spreading oak trees, and I enjoyed conversations with many of them.

Last night, Aristotle visited. We walked in a grove and talked about some of his favorite subjects: change, movement, purpose and potential. I practically sprang out of bed, fully rested and recharged.

My dream buddy, Aristotle, might note that the empirical evidence suggests increased estrogen is due the credit for my restored ability to sleep deeply and remember my dreams.