Orderliness is Next to Happiness

Sometime in the last two weeks, I asked my husband if we could rearrange the living room section of our living room/library/office. Since we had a three day weekend, I asked if we could work on that task on Sunday. While he cleaned, I started moving books out of bookcases.

From the inner wall, we removed one glass fronted bookcase and put it into the smaller second bedroom. Our tall, handpainted bookcase was moved from that inner wall to the adjacent wall on the other side of the closet door. Now, two tall bookcases are on the wall with the closet. I put back all the books into the painted bookcase and put all the chotchkes I let sit on the shelves onto my project desk for sorting/donating/trashing.

On the wall where the two bookcases used to be, we put the apartment style couch. Above it, we hung the family portrait of Mark’s great grandmama. Opposite the couch, we put the matching chair and ottomon next to the back of my desk. We moved a rocking chair from the bedroom next to the chair with ottomon, leaving the kitty cube between the chairs for a mock table. Now, when you walk into the living room from the hallway, the room looks and feel airer and bigger. Even with my project table now just a table of Stuff, the room looks more organized.

Today, I cleaned out the space in the bedroom where the rocking chair used to be, vacuumed, tidied up my meditating cushions, and organized my yoga supplies. Mark helped me put up a shelf unit that has been sitting on the floor since we moved in around October 2013. I cleaned a few items from my dresser and put them on the shelf. I cleaned up the corner of my dresser and cleaned a new brush I bought recently. I’m trying to refrain myself from spending too much time in the bedroom cleaning things up so I can focus on my project desk. The combination of moving things around freed up space in two rooms and, in the third room, the addition fit in nicely with the existing furniture. I felt proud, energized, and organized. (Now if only I can keep it this way!)

About ten days ago, I borrowed The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin from my town library. It has been languishing on the low trunk next to my desk, which makes me feel guilty. Today I cracked it open and read through the first chapter.

I’m already liking the book. I like that Rubin, who was mostly happy with their life, decided that she could be happier and then set about to do that. It gives me hope that I can do the same, which is quite unlike psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky who says that you have a happiness set point. I’m the type of person who believes that you can make the change if you perform the actions you desire on a regular basis. My experience with getting into a gym routine has shown me that, with the right changes, you can push your into a new, higher happiness set point and stay there. I refuse to admit defeat, Ms. Lyubomirsky! (and this probably has more affect on my happiness level than your deterministic theory).

On a related note, I think the vitamins I have been taking to address some deficiencies are helping. I decided to start thinking about how delicious my meals are and how much nutrients I am getting when I eat. Because I have a tendency to worry, I decided that thinking that the food I eat is nutritious is probably a better way to think about food than worrying about depleted soil conditions and low nutrient vegetables. I can make the decision to buy organic or from local farmers, when available, or I can grow my own. But I simply cannot do anything about the soil conditions in which most food is grown. I don’t know if thinking about the nutrients will help me or not. I am, however, enjoying my food more when I eat it. That’s important, too.

Winter Birthday Shenanigans

I’m not sure I can call them shenanigans at this stage in my life since it didn’t involve wackiness or enough alcohol to lead to my stripping naked in public. Not that I’ve ever done that, but you know. Shenanigans.

My birthday celebrations on Friday revolved around two of my favorite things: food and museums (but not museum food, which often leaves a lot to be desired).

I went out the day before and picked up bagels from A&S bagels in Franklin Square, NY, along with plain Philadelphia cream cheese, and Nova Scotia lox. My lovely husband went to get fresh Starbucks decaf coffee for me because I don’t have any at home. He also made our bagels sandwiches for me.

Breakfast - NY Style!

Coffee, even decaf, is a treat for me, so I don’t stock it up. Otherwise, I would drink it. All of it. Every last drop. After breakfast, we hopped the train to NYC and took a subway uptown to W. 83rd Street. From the west side of Central Park, we walked through snow covered hills. I was so excited!

Walking through Central Parking

Walking through Central Parking

The beauty of Central Park in winter with all of nature covered in snow is breathtaking.

Central Park, upper west side, covered in snow

Central Park, upper west side

Erroneously, we headed South for a bit and had to backtrack. Without the help of GPS in my phone, that could have been a lot worse than it was. We didn’t really lose much time. Before long, we were at my favorite museum in NYC: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The El Greco exhibit was running through February 1st, and it was a great excuse to go back. What we noted about his works is that El Greco paid a great deal of attention to a figure’s face, hands, and feet, but other details were not so refined. Here is a snap of one of my faves that was on display:

El Greco painting

El Greco painting

We also saw an exhibit called Death Becomes Her about women’s mourning garb through the 18th and 19th centuries. As you descended down these stairs, classical music could be heard piping up through and up from the exhibit in the basement, giving me chills and causing intense emotions to arise and make me feel like crying.

2015-01-30 11.38.24

Around the perimeter of the room, quotes from women about mourning were being projected onto the walls. This one made me laugh out loud. It disrupted the mood a bit, but I could not help myself – especially the end bit – “or what it is”. I also took a few photos of some of the lovelier mourning gowns.

2015-01-30 11.40.52

Exhibit: Death Becomes Her 2015-01-30 11.44.02 2015-01-30 11.40.33

I could take a thousand pictures of all the wonderful items in the museum that left an impression on me, but I will leave you with these three  – a sculpture by Degas that was even more wonderful to see in person and two works by Tiffany.

Rodin's Girl Statue Tiffany Stained Glass Tiffany Stained Glass

The cool thing about the Degas sculpture is that her blue ribbon was made of satin and the skirt was made of a pleated mesh metallic-type material. The touch of fabric on the metal sculpture gave the girl a sense of life about her, as if she was going to hop off the stand and start dancing. The Tiffany stained glass photo on the right was actually a fountain with running water right behind the plants. A beautiful little oasis.

After The Met, we took the subway downtown to the Union Square area for lunch at ABC Cocina, one of a number of restaurants in NYC by Michelin chef Jean-George Vongerichten. I really wanted to go to ABC Kitchen, a sister restaurant of his that runs directly behind ABC Cocina behind a glass wall. But I could not get a reservation until 2:30pm so I decided to book my birthday lunch for Cocina instead.

Check out the site for pictures to the restaurant. I ❤ the decor, that the kitchen was open and part of the floor plan adjacent to the bar, and the hunky bartender! I ordered a spiced cider toddy that was delightful, scrumptious, and strong.

Spiced cider hot toddy

We ordered gooey ham and cheesy bites (yes, that was actually the description on the menu), sweet potato empanadas, a meat board, and crispy fish tacos. My favorite were the tacos and the ham and cheesy bites. I would go back, but next time I’m hoping to make it to ABC Kitchen, which serves non-GMO, antibiotic free foods.

The next museum we visited was The Rubin Museum of Art, a museum dedicated to Himalayan/Asian art. Two exhibits were of interest: an exhibit of Francesco Clemente, an Italian painter and sculptor, of his paintings and sculpture with Indian influences; and an exhibit called The All-Knowing Buddha, which displayed 54 panels that illustrate how to meditate. Also at this museum was a Tibetan Temple room, replete with ornate decorations, incense, and chanting monks.

Of course, no birthday celebration would be complete without some celebratory dessert. For me, that means ice cream! We were only a few blocks away from the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop (Yes, it’s really called that) in Sheridan Square, so that is where we went.

Mark and I ordered two versions of the same ice cream gobbler: mine was pumpkin and his was apple.

Pumpkin Gobbler

But they were both delicious! By the time we were done, we were full and exhausted, so we headed back home to start rewatching the Babylon 5 sci-fi series that was my favorite series at one time.

I had a great day in a great city with a wonderful man eating fantastic food and seeing inspirational artwork. I grinned like a madwoman all day long.

Not that I’m complaining. 😀

Eating Mishaps

Yesterday morning, I made a sweet potato with quinoa, 1/2 banana, and hemp seeds for breakfast. Then I proceeded to eat most of the whole thing, way past the point of when I was full. Within a couple of hours, I began to pay for my refusal to stop eating by getting a stomach ache.

For the next six hours.

I tried GasX and had two doses of Pepto Bismol, which usually does the trick. When that didn’t stop the pain, I grabbed a heating pad and lay on the couch for the rest of the day. By about 6pm, I was actually hungry, so I had a cup of butternut squash soup and some crispbread. By 8:30pm, I went to bed, exhausted from the stress of having hours of pain.  When I woke up at 10pm to take some medication, I realized I had not posted my scheduled Thursday post and made a quck one to keep readers appraised that one would be coming.

Not only was today a much better day in comparison, it was a better day overall than how I’d been feeling earlier in the week. Maybe it was the sweet potato and the squash giving me an extra boost of vitamins A and C. I had enough energy to get showered, go food shopping at Fairway (new to me), have lunch, and then head back out to volunteer at PetValue for a while. I’ve also managed to eat dinner and chat with a friend before sitting down to write here.

And that’s even though I don’t feel great.

This month, I have become increasingly aware of how awful I feel and have felt. The problem has been that I have not wanted to admit it to myself.  This problem is a lifelong one, rooted in childhood illnesses and the relationship with my primary parent. That alone is worth a post all on its own. Since I’m only recent aware of what’s been going on, I think I’m going to keep mulling it over until I get more clarity before writing on it.

The short of it is that I have been ignoring how I really feel. I haven’t wanted to admit it to myself so that I wouldn’t have to admit it to anyone else and make the necessary changes. It felt too much like giving up, like conceding defeat to myself as the Sick Kid. All I wanted to do was soar and be fierce. It’s hard to be either when you’re exhausted or running a fever.

Well, the good news is that at least some of my exhaustion has been from vitamin deficiencies that I am now working on addressing. Maybe I’ll feel better by summer? Ooooh, that would be tremendous.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Deciphering Health

In last Monday’s post, I mentioned the results I received of the latest round of bloodwork in the office of a NYC doctor who specializes in functional medicine. If you want to know whether you’re deficient in vitamins, minerals, and hormones and how to treat them, this is the kind of doc that you want to see.

My bloodwork came back with the following: low thyroid, low morning cortisol (morning sleepiness), low Vitamin D, very low Vitamin C (!!!), low iron, and low magnesium. I got a second prescription for thyroid medication (Armour) that I began this week to supplement a custom T3 slow-release thyroid medication that I began after my first visit in December. I’m taking iron with Vitamin C, magnesium before bedtime, and an herbal supplement for the adrenal glands, which are responsible for cortisol.

This week, I also tried cutting yeast out of my diet because I probably have Candida (symptoms of bloating, sugar cravings, and headaches). I essentially cut out sugar and breads of all kinds, sticking to crispbreads with no yeast, nor vinegars nor spices nor cheese nor anything that might grow bacteria on it. And I have no idea if it’s that or if it’s the Armour, but I have lost between 3-4 lbs. With low thyroid, it can be hard to lose weight. Everyone says that it gets harder to lose weight as you age.

But what if it isn’t your age? What’s if it’s just that you are low on thyroid, and that’s why the weight stays on? Acne and headaches are also indicators of thyroid problems, both of which I have. So, is it yeast or is it thyroid that’s keeping me in constant headache status? I don’t have a minute of a day in which I am not cognizant of some level of headache. I can’t remember the last time I had a headache-free day. I guess I’m just going to have to wait to see if my thyroid levels get back into the optimal range to find out.

I talked with a friend after my last medical visit. She wanted to know if the doctor knew why all this was happening. Would you believe that question didn’t enter my head to ask the doctor? You go into a doctor, you think you’ve asked everything you’ve wanted, and then your friend asks what’s the problem. Brain fog! I have been saying that I’ve had fibromyalgia for years because that’s what the docs I saw decided it was. Apparently, brain fog is also a sign of thyroid issues, as is lack of concentration. One specialist I saw pooh-poohed the idea that I needed bloodwork to test for Lyme or for anything, really. After what I’ve experienced, all I can say is:

Don’t listen to them!

If you don’t feel well and you’re not getting better, you need a doc and a panel of bloodwork to find out.

After moving to NY, the doc I chose did a whole lot of bloodwork. But since she’s a primary care and not a functional medicine doc, she did not get me on supplements. A year goes by when I tell her that I want someone to treat the whole me because I reject her idea of going to a psychiatrist just to manage the adjustment of Cymbalta.

I started taking Cymbalta because it was reported to help patients with fibromyalgia sleep better at night, one of the signature problems in fibromyalgia. I wanted off the Cymbalta because of the expense and because it’s not helping the problem itself. I am tired of spending $200 a month on pain and sleep medications. If I have to spend that much, I might as well spend it on supplements that are addressing deficiencies.

My primary care referred me, and so this is how I end up with this functional medicine doc who does blood work and puts me on appropriate meds and supplements. Then my friend asks me what is causing all this. So now I wait, but this is fine with me. I started a file wherein I am keeping track of the questions I have for this doc at my next visit in April. Two weeks before going, I’ll get another round of bloodwork to see if the meds and supplementation are having any affect on my deficiencies. In the meantime, I decide to start reading.

Trying to educate yourself on health issues by reading online is likely to leave you confused and with a headache. From what I gather, gut issues (Candida, for example) can cause an inability to absorb nutrients. Lack of nutrients affects your body’s ability to create hormones (ie. thyroid). Stress, lack of sleep, etc. can disrupt the HPA (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenals) axis, which leads to a disruption in the hormones that these organs produce which, in turn, causes a disruption in the ability to absorb nutrients.

I have been exercising regularly, I meditate daily, and I have relatively low levels of stress (although driving on the roads can send it soaring occasionally). I definitely need help with the sleep thing, still, but I am going to give supplements the time to do their thing. Even though the gut – vitamins absorption – hormones – sleep cycle seems like an unending loop, fermented foods can help restore good bacteria in the gut. Things like birth control pills, long-term antibiotic use, and lack of fermented foods in the diet can contribute to poor gut. From what I have read, a restored gut can also mean reducing or lose food allergies because it’s now back to being strong enough to handle what you eat. It’s been suggested that certain food allergies, like to gluten and dairy, might actually be an issue with the microflora in your gut.

Fermented foods are things like sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and kimchi. I bought milk kefir this week, but I want to get the kefir grains so I can make it on my own and reduce my expenses. You can also make kefir with water or coconut milk. I want to try my hand at making sauerkraut, although I will have to wait much longer for that to cure. I have friends who have made kombucha, and I’m going to try that, too. I want to become more confident in the kitchen, broaden my diet, and throw in some good bacteria. Sounds yummy, doesn’t it?

I hope to the highest of high heavens that I can be restored to something approximating good health. I am coming to the conclusion that, although rour regular primary care doctor may be good to visit when you are sick with a bacterial infection, you need to go somewhere else, if you care about achieving optimal health.

20th Wedding Anniversary Adventures

For a variety of reasons, we decided to have a low-key celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary. This called for something more than a Hallmark, store-bought card. So I made one for Mark instead:

20th Anniversary Card Front 20th Anniversary Card Inside 20th Anniversary Card Envelop Front

On Thursday night, we went to dinner at Marble, our favorite go-to restaurant in Floral Park. We’ve developed a good relationship with their main bartender, Doug, who recently featured an article about making drinks in an industry bartending magazine, and Matt, their eminent chef.

On Friday, Halloween, we drove up to Sleepy Hollow, New York, which is about an hour from where we live. We walked around the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery for two hours and took many pictures. You can see the whole lot of them in my Sleepy Hollow, NY album on Flickr. However, some of them were particularly beautiful, including this Egyptian – themed mausoleum:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary Egyptian Mausoleum

The front of Henry Villard’s monument:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary Henry Villard Front

The stained glass inside the Helmsley’s enormous mausoleum:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary Helmsley Inside Glass

Harry and Leona Helmsley’s epitaphs:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary Helmsley Inside Epitaphs

And a panoramic view from the front of the Helmsley’s mausoleum:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary View from Helmsley Front Panorama

The faux Headless Horseman’s Bridge over a brook and under fall foliage:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary Bridge

I snapped 90 photos. Too many beautiful graves, monuments, statues, and views to put here. I definitely want to return because I failed to get pix of the Crane and Van Tassel headstones that were there.

Afterwards, we ate lunch at JP Doyle’s in one of Sleepy Hollow’s neighborhoods. We drove over the Hudson River on the Tappan Zee bridge to the AMC Palisades in West Nyack for a retro showing of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, one of my favorite holiday movies.

I continued the anniversary celebrations by cooking some of my husband’s favorite childhood and current foods. I went a little overboard with the desserts. I had to make banana bread because the bananas were very ripe. And I couldn’t help but make two of his favorite desserts: pumpkin pie and apple pie. I wanted to make sure we had dessert ready before I started in on the dinner foods.

20th Anniversary 3 Pies

For dinner, I cooked up the sauerbraten that had been marinating in the refrigerator and spaetzle. Both are German dishes that Mark’s mother used to make, and it had been a while since we’d made them.

We had a few technical difficulties. I had to ditch the red cabbage dish we were making because we did not shred the cabbage enough; it became a huge unwieldy pile. I also didn’t stir the dough enough before putting it in the ricer, so the spaetzle (German pasta) came out very tiny. The sauerbraten and spaetzle had a ginger snap & stock sauce pour over.

#Sauerbraten with #spaetzle and #gingersnap sauce #German #food

Overall, not as good as Mark’s mom used to make (How could it?), but edible nonetheless. Luckily, I bought a huge cut of beef that we cut into thirds so our future sauerbratens await!


My Monday Evening Happiness

Some people need a lot of money. Others need a sports car, time shares in Hawaii, or $10,000 in monthly income to be happy.

Me? I need this:

Vanilla Ice Cream Soda

Hope your day ended as well as mine!

Cats Calls

If you think cats communicate their wants to humans only by meowing, I am here to set you straight: their ways and means are as diverse as the whiskers on their little faces.

My eldest cat, Hunter, has discovered that my mother is a sucker when it comes to food. His piercing, unwavering stares cut straight to her heart. On the first day that Hunter stared at her for three seconds, my mother whined at me to let her give Hunter some food. I warned her that Hunter would hound (feline?) her if she gave him food, but left it up to her.

At 17 and a half years old, I feel Hunter has earned the right to treats in the form of cooked meats, like chicken or beef. Two cats who used to live with him, Jolie and Misha, both passed away around 15 and a half years old. Hunter has outlived them both and shows no signs of slowing down, even with some kidney issues. Hunter stalks Norman, rapid-fire whacks him across the head, and then chases after Norman at full speed.

Every day, Hunter yowls at the bottom of the stairs until I let him into my mom’s place. At meal times, he sits right next to my mom. She looks down into his big green eyes, and he knows he has her. He stands on his back legs, brings a paw gently forward, and taps her on the arm before he sits down again. Repeat until she gives him food. My mom asked me to pick up a bag of his favorite treats so she could give him those, too.

Today, Hunter added a new twist to his food begging routine. He rubbed his face one way against the arm of the chair that my mother was sitting in, then he rubbed his face on the chair’s arm on the other side of his face, and then opened and closed his mouth a few times while licking his chops.

Personally, I think Hunter is only a few steps away from figuring out how to pointing a paw at his mouth when he is hungry like Simon’s Cat.

I would love to see that.