Pain in the Gut

For weeks after Mark died, my stomach hurt. Searing pain, centered in my gut.

Then, winter turned to spring. We made a pilgrimage of sorts to California. Upon returning, I was thrust into the school umpiring season and then, it was summer and more baseball games to arbitrate.

Mary decided to embark on training to get ready for the Tri for a Cure. She returned to work. I got dumped from one of my jobs. Life continued, without Mark.

How does one normalize that which isn’t normal? Life missing a portion of your heart, a family unit in mourning, and now, it’s tourist season and everyone’s life is filled with the seasonal things we all know and love. Except it’s hard to find joy when your life is turned upside-down and you continue reeling.

Our gut is part of the nervous system, known as the “brain-gut axis.” According to an older issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter detailing the effects of stress and abdominal pain,

“our brain interacts with the rest of the body through the nervous system, which has several major components. One of them is the enteric nervous system, which helps regulate digestion. In life-or-death situations, the brain triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. It slows digestion, or even stops it completely, so the body can focus all of its internal energy to facing the threat. But less severe types of stress, such as an argument, public speaking, or driving in traffic, also can slow or disrupt the digestive process, causing abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Stress causes disruption of the digestive process. Since Mary and I have been on stress overload continuing to deal with the details of a life sans its guiding force here during summer’s height, I guess I know why my stomach is hurting again.

Stress can cause pain in the gut.

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12 Things

Americans love their bulleted lists. As if there really are “three steps to success,” or you actually can make $100,000 and never change out of your PJs in the morning.

Yet, there are steps that you can take that may deliver positive impacts on health, offering up benefits now, and as you get older. Eating right has its perks.

Six weeks ago, I decided to see if I could take a sabbatical from meat and dairy. I blogged about this nearly three weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been trying to set a few things straight relative to the depressing election of 2016. A lot of good that did.

So back to health and what we eat. Dr. Michael Greger, along with writer Gene Stone, published How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease. It could also have been subtitled, “The Medical and Scientific Reasons to Adopt a Whole Food, Plant-based Diet.” Both subtitles lend the book sound overly scientific and textbook-ish air. How Not to Die is far from either category. It’s a primer for anyone considering adopting a diet centered on whole foods and plants, with plenty of data, but also many humorous anecdotes from Greger’s own life. I’ve found it invaluable in getting started and immersed in a brand new way of living. Continue reading

Plant Power

When you begin questioning the systems that make up a country whose very foundation is a bedrock of lies and half-truths, the challenge becomes—how far do I go in disavowing falsehood? It’s easy to backtrack on a handful of things, but in a capitalist economy, most people have little choice but to sell their labor to employers and kowtow to the powers that be.

Back in August, we went out to Omaha. I wrote about Mary’s participation in the USA Triathlon National Championships held there. It was a hectic but fun six days.

Mark met us on his way back across the country.

On Saturday night, we decided to go out to dinner as a family like we’ve done countless times before. Mark’s been embracing a plant-based eating program for more than a year. I suppose we could have taken him to a steak restaurant and made him eat salad while we chowed down on top sirloin, but doing that seemed like a shitty thing to do to a son who has consistently shown up in support of his parents and their various endeavors, be it book signings or triathlons, not to mention extended-family gatherings. Plus, I like vegetables, too.

Yelp is an app that’s rarely led me astray. When I checked out vegan restaurants in Omaha, a place called Modern Love sounded pretty funky and cool. I called, made a reservation for three, and plotted the night’s plan. Continue reading

Fasting From the News

I don’t enjoy this time of year. I’ll likely elaborate on my holiday melancholy next week, with a Christmas-themed post. Lack of December daylight doesn’t help, and neither does 50 degree, Seattle-type weather.  Sometimes it takes effort to ward off the gloom.

Compounding the holiday humbug I’m feeling, the news—especially the binary back-and-forth among people of good cheer this political cycle—it seems downright maniacal. In fact, if I believed in evil in the “principalities and powers” sense outlined in scripture, I might assign it to the work of the dark one.

Despite decorations, demonic spirits masquerading as politicians, and winter darkness, nothing can stop the JBE from cranking out content—whether writing for hire, or remaining true to his Tuesday/Friday blogging routine.

Sometimes when things aren’t working, it’s important to change it up. Nothing worse than maintaining routines that deliver negative results.

Beginning last Friday, I decided to limit my news consumption. Other than 5 minutes with the morning news team at WMTW-8, mainly for my daily weather fix, I’ve been in the midst of a news blackout. Dr. Andrew Weil deems these self-imposed withdrawals, “news fasts.”

The news today can't be trusted.

The news today can’t be trusted.

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Dogs and Cats

When our Sheltie, Bernie, died in 2009, Mary and I were crushed. Say whatever you want about animals not measuring up to the status of fellow humans—losing a beloved pet that has been an integral part of your family for 15 years hurts just like losing a human loved one.

He was the only dog I’ve ever had. When he was gone, it left a void in our household. Of course, life goes on.

Mary and I discussed getting another dog numerous times. The verdict was always, “we’re too busy,” and “a dog is like having a child.” The premise being—you can’t come and go as you please. Still, I missed having a pet around the house, especially as the amount of time I spent working at home increased.

A cat was never an option, or so I thought. I’m not sure why. We’d had cats when Mark was small and we even had a couple of energetic and enjoyable cats when we moved out to the country from Lisbon Falls in 1989. They were outdoor cats, coming and going as cats are want to do—until they disappeared—likely devoured by a wild animal in the dark. With Bernie’s arrival, we became a dog household.

When you live out in the woods and there are fields nearby, you are also in the midst of mouse country. One July evening this summer, I was up in my office writing and listening to baseball on the radio when I heard Mary scream. I went downstairs to find a mouse climbing the screen slider between the living room and our outdoor deck. We had a mouse in the house!

I managed to subdue the critter only to have another one show up in our kitchen this fall. Traps and other so-called mouse-control devices didn’t address the problem. Mary is pretty laid back and easygoing—except when it comes to mice living in the pantry. They had to go!

One morning I said to Mary, “you know the best way to get rid of a mouse, don’t you?” She looked at me, a question mark written on her face. “A cat,” I said, answering my own question.

It wasn’t long before she came home with a video of a beautiful chartreuse kitten residing at the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook. This kitten was a dead ringer for perhaps the best cat we’d ever owned, Shauna, who disappeared after we’d moved out to Durham.

Lucy perched on her cat house, watching the birds.

Lucy perched on her cat house, watching the birds.

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“D” is for Discipline

Discipline is an old-fashioned word. It belongs to the time before everyone’s shortcomings got filed under disease, disability—or better—blamed on someone else or a societal injustice. To use “discipline” in a sentence or conversation is a great way to get you branded as an anachronism.

That’s fine. There are some things that can’t be fixed without traditional approaches.

I was thinking about this as I was swimming my lengths in the YMCA pool, part of my twice-weekly routine that I’ve adopted to remain fit and flexible. I rarely am excited when I wake up at 4:30 to be in the car by 5:15 (that’s AM, not PM!) to do something that three years ago I considered impossible. But when I’m done, I’m thankful for the intrinsic motivation that got me up and out the door.

Discipline means having your own personal drill sergeant.

Discipline means having your own personal drill sergeant.

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Face Time is Happy Time

Not sure when it happened, but we’ve all been sold a bill of goods. The people in charge (aka, TPTB) know that united we stand, and divided, we fall. Well, maybe not divided so much, as simply no longer personally connected. Social media doesn’t count. Want to know why?

First, let me state that there is this idea moving towards meme status that the hivemind has accepted that says that “Facebook is great for connecting.” Here’s my thoughts on that—“poppycock!” And I’ve actually got some research to back me up. And what is that research, pray tell?

Well, studies have been done with subjects, aged 50 and up. Apparently, face-to-face interaction (as opposed to Facebooking) is more apt to ward off depression. Very interesting, indeed.

Face-to-face trumps Facebook.

Face-to-face trumps Facebook.

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Finding Balance

Do you remember walking the balance beam in elementary school? While the beam was only inches off the ground, it was daunting for some, more than others. The students who were able to walk the length of the beam were able to focus on the task at hand and concentrate.

Could genetics be in play, here? It’s possible.

A person’s balance is enhanced by three things: the part of the inner ear called the vestibular system; sensory nerves in your muscles, tendons, and joints; and your eyesight. People with better balance are likely able to coordinate these three things. Balance is likely a combination of genetics and also training.

I’ve never been very good on a skateboard. I also wear glasses, so it’s possible my balancing abilities are negatively impacted by my eyesight.

I was never very good on a skateboard.

I was never very good on a skateboard.

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Making a Clean Shift

Six weeks ago, I decided to make a change in how I was eating. When you live with another person, it’s helpful when they also validate your choice, and go along with it. Mary and I are both more than six weeks into what we’re calling “clean eating.” Others knowledgeable in our new lifestyle choice might refer to it as paleo.

It really doesn’t matter what you call it. Both of us feel better, have lost weight, and more important—we’ve eliminated so much junk and crap from our diets that it’s hard to believe we didn’t both adopt this earlier.

We’re both active people. Swimming, biking, running all require a good energy source and fuel for our bodies. Add to that the demands of work and the 21st century lifestyle—one that seems intent on killing us all—and changing things up becomes all the more apparent, at least in hindsight. We’re both amazed that it took us so long to get here.

Actually, I’m not unaware of the paleo lifestyle. Both Mary and I know enough people that are living it. Several friends and family members that are into CrossFit have been adherents of paleo. Our sports medicine doctor has hinted to both Mary and I that making dietary changes, especially given some of the inflammation and sports-related issues Mary and I have both been battling, might be a wise choice.

Paleo made a flash on America’s constantly-changing radar of new fads and dietary choices a few years back. Like most everything else, it was gone, and Americans were off searching for their next flavor-of-the-month. Continue reading

Making Time to Slow Down

My mother, Saint Helen of Immaculata, had a saying that I heard ad infinitum growing up—that saying was, “haste makes waste.” I’m not sure where she picked that one up and I’m guessing it wasn’t one I imagined I’d come back to—but I did, especially after acquiring some life experience.

Quality takes time. There are other idioms like, “anything worth doing is worth doing well.” I remember that one being part of St. Helen’s repertoire, also.

I’m finding that the things that have acquired staying power in my own life are things that haven’t happened overnight. Writing, health awareness, cultivating skills that never go out of season, these things take time.

I’ve written about Malcolm Gladwell and his 10,000 hour rule. It’s about putting the time in and recognizing there’s a commitment to the long haul.

Unfortunately, much of our culture runs contrary to that. We want fast. We demand convenience. We’re impatient when we don’t win $1,000,000.00 in the lottery.

Success sometimes runs contrary to convenience.

Success sometimes runs contrary to convenience.

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