Monday, September 15, 2014

Diary of the Guinea Pigs: Day One

As previously mentioned, in order to pay the remaining tuition for this semester it was decided that we would take part in a research study (like this past June so we could take a trip to Toronto) ... this one, however, is much larger, and longer, and requires some significant sacrifice. But pays a substantial amount of money.

It's a 26 day study, broken up into 13 day stretches, with two weeks in between. Of those 13 days, 11 days require living at the facility (which works out great because it is campus adjacent - no commute!). Leaving the facility is only allowed for work and school, and one of the weekends leaving is not allowed at all, and also the Friday and Saturday the following week. However, guests are welcome.

Now, to the point. Keeping a record of things, how we feel, what the day is like, etc. seems like a good exercise, and what better place to keep it than here. So, you get to go on this journey of what it's like to take part in a scientific study, and we get to do warm-up writing for all the upcoming papers now until December. Seems win-win.

Wordle: DietBack to the study.
The thing they are measuring is carbon output, (and given the daily weigh-in, its relation to weight loss), so before each meal they "capture" our breath in a strange little bag made for capturing breath (it's totally the scientific name...). Then we eat, and it all has to be consumed within 30 minutes. Following that, breath is captured again 30 minutes after eating, and then an hour and 30 minutes after eating. This happens three times a day, at strict hours of the day. The weekend operates differently, but you'll read about that in updates.

They did the DEXA scan like they did for previous studies, and also 20-30 minute breath capture during pre-screening, the first to determine muscle/fat ratio, and the second to measure how much energy (calories) this body burns at a resting rate (laying completely still in a dark room after laying still in a dark room for 20 minutes prior to get the body into a true resting state). Based on the last study, and very little weight change, the calories this body needs just to pump the blood, complete respiratory function and all the other things a body does, is 1874 calories a day. [This body is a furnace, apparently]. They take that number and multiply it by some activity factor to determine how many calories you need to do things like go to work, think, etc.

The amount they came up with for this body in the last study was over 2400 calories a day to maintain weight. It seems like an utterly ridiculous number (way too high) and as we use the FatSecret app (a great app, by the way), we know that that's almost double our daily intake (which includes alcohol).
So they are packing our first three days of meal at a whopping 2400ish calories. It's a lot of damn food. Disgusting amount. Following this, which is the "balance day", they will decrease the calories by either 20%, or 40% - whichever that don't do will be during our next intake two week following the completion of this one, where it all happens all over again, with the same meals and everything.

So, here we go.

Day One:
Had to get up at 5:20 this morning in order to get to the facility and check in by 6:45 (the commute to this city is at least 40 minutes). Fasting started at midnight last night, which was no problem. Couldn't have any breakfast this morning OR coffee. That's right. No coffee. There will be no coffee for about 13 days (so far there has been no headache on day one, only sluggishness and an slight difficulty taking notes in the first class of the day). The only thing allowed for drinking is water (unlimited)...and the milk they put with breakfast and dinner (gag).
They affix an activity monitor on the arm, which is only allowed to be removed during showers, so they can monitor your sleeping and daytime body stats.

Had breakfast at the facility this morning at 7am. Breakfast for the next 13 days will be at 7am sharp. Lunch at noon. Dinner at 6pm, When we check in Wednesday night bedtimes will be at 10pm, and wake times at 6:30am.

Yeah. Bedtimes. The deal is that they take over the eating and sleeping portions of the life of the subject. As was mentioned. Sacrifice.

So, breakfast was okay food, but at least three times the calories and quantity of food we generally have for breakfast (small-medium apple, slice of sharp cheddar and coffee), and not too far from a breakfast we'd eat on the weekend, save the cereal and milk. Yogurt is served with every meal, it's apparently the control device. In any case, they add sugar and oil to the plain yogurt, which turns into a type of oil slick on the top...appetizing, hey? They will be changing the sugar between HFCS, beet sugar and cane sugar. It's plausible that they are testing how each different sugar effects carbon burned by the body. After doing some light research today it became clear that carbon is a big factor in weight loss, as in the body burns it and what you eat may or may not affect how much you burn. And therefore carbon output, like urine, sweat and...the other waste...are how the fat leaves the body. So, carbon output, and low carbon-output foods become important to weight loss.

You can almost hear a new line of diet foods being created, can't you?

Lunch was again literally three times as much food as we usually consume, very tasty but hard to get down in 30 minutes. Also, a selection of foods that we'd never eat for lunch, or at all really. Like a portion of a Hershey chocolate bar, and a giant turkey taco salad. Usually lunch is just spring lettuce mix, tomatoes, cottage cheese and a small bit of something like cranberries and almonds. By the time lunch was over the milk from breakfast hit full force. Lactose intolerance and all its glory.

Usually the day is punctuated with snacks (celery or snap peas between breakfast and lunch, and plain yogurt with berries, or pineapple between lunch and dinner). But now there's no snacks. So far it's not a problem because all of those frickin' calories just stick.

Dinner, 6pm on the dot. A pasta casserole dish. Ugh. Pasta isn't a normal part of our diet. It doesn't much of the same thing as lactose does once it hits the inside of this body. Not only is it a pasta dish. It's a GIANT amount. Oh, and more milk. A tiny carrot and spinach salad that would have been better without the dressing...but eating everything is required. Licking out the dishes is encouraged. Everything is measured down to the tenth of a gram.

Each meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner) is on a set rotation, so what was eaten today will be eaten again on Thursday, on Sunday, next Wednesday, and next Saturday. Oh joy.

After slogging through the last half of the pasta, and forcing down the yogurt, it is declared a day. There's only one more breath bag left for the day and then there's nothing left to do. Homework, maybe. But no drinking.

Yeah. NO ALCOHOL. Given that nightly drinks have been a very regular thing since moving back to the states three years ago (holy fuck, three years?!), it's going to be interesting to feel 14 days sober.
Fourteen days sober and caffeine free.
It sounds like hell.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Closed For The Season

Hopefully once we get caught up we'll have time to dedicate to writing again...but for the meantime extracurricular blog writing is curtailed to mere "soundbites", if anything at all...and here's why.

Fall Semester 2014:
These are the required books for the classes, all of which have to be read and mentally processed into class discussions, assignments and essays, from now to December 10th...

14 books to read...

  • 15 Annotated bibliographies (of outside texts, none of which are these books, meaning we're going to have to read, or at least heavily scan 15 other texts enough to write annotated bibs and use them in an essay)
  • 5 Essays with due dates starting October 28th (4 of which need at least three outside sources that aren't required class texts), plus 1 Midterm essay
  • that's 30 sources (peer-reviews texts and/or books) IN ADDITION to the 14 required texts)..
  • 1 graphic design final exam project
  • Various tests and exams
  • Weekly writing assignments
  • Weekly graphic design assignments
  • Plus contributing found news articles for two separate classes each week.

Plus...we'll still be working (part-time) until at least Halloween, if not Thanksgiving...(they decided to keep the position seasonal after all).
Though the continued income would be nice (not to mention essential), hopefully it's only until Halloween, because it turns out that 18 credits (6 classes) [12 credits/4 classes is considered full time] are overwhelming on their own, never mind cooking and cleaning and essential errands, plus a 40 minute commute twice a day to school/work...

Of course there's always a little time for a bit of Twitter...gals need to relax and have some fun sometimes, yes?

So, we're closed for the season, as it were (shared school-related writing and assignments not withstanding, and a probable final garden report).

Have a beautiful Fall, and may Winter greet you with gentleness. Or may it all rip you apart. It just depends.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Longtime Culinaire, First Time Briner

Lately anytime there's a cooking program, or a cooking spot on a talk show, dealing in pork chops, they brine them. Even in culinary school they didn't mentioned brine and pork chops. Brine for pickling fish, sure (we've actually used brine for pickling fish, so maybe "first time briner" is a bit misleading...). But brine for pork? It's weird, not having heard much about meat brine (outside of making bacon or ham) until recently, weird since brine seems like the answer to doctoring so much bland-tasting meat of which there is plenty of here in the US of A. (Meat from corn-fed animals have far less taste than grass-fed - it's why meat tastes so much better in other countries where they are primarily fed on other grains and grasses)
But what about the ins and outs of brine: what exactly goes in a brine, how much flexibility is in a brine, how long do you really have to soak the meat? Thankfully, there's the internet for that.

Brine is basically an oil-free, vinegar-free, marinade. Mostly it's a solution of salt and water, with (optional) aromatic herbs and spices thrown in to boost the flavor and moisture of some unsuspecting chunk of meat. Really it can be whatever things you think might taste good together. Avoid vinegars, as the acid in it will "cook" the meat (unless you're making a pickled fish of some sort - in which case vinegar is essential in most cases) causing discoloration and structural integrity issues of said meat.

After weeks of eyeing thick slabs of pork chops in the grocery store, inspired by local tart apples picked from a neighborhood tree on nightly walks, and fresh onions from the (mother's) garden - the onions in our own garden have not had a good year - it became time.
Time to brine.

Like with any recipe, you look at the bones of it, the ingredients that make it what it is. Most recipes have them, the essential ingredients - in this case salt and water - which all brine recipes reviewed had. At that point go to your cupboard, your fridge, your garden (herb or vegetable) and mix and match what you think might taste good "infused" into your hunk of protein (hey, you can brine tofu too!)

The brine invented today was great. The hint of ginger and garlic was excellent, and the meat was amazingly juicy. Combined with fresh local ingredients, Sunday dinner was one to be proud of:
Brined and grilled pork chop with garden fresh (white, orange and purple) carrots & potatoes sautéed with fresh oregano, red and white onions pan fried with tart local apples, and beet tops steamed with minced garlic. Garnished with fresh green onions.
Brine Ingredients:
4 c water
4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp agave syrup*
1 Tbsp country Dijon (grainy) mustard
1 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped (or about 1 tsp dried)
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped (or about 1 tsp dried)
1/2" thick slice of fresh ginger, rough chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
3 medium cloves garlic, crushed (or 1.5 tsp dried)
4 pork chops, thick cut (or 6 thin)
- Place pork chops in large glass pan for about 6 hours-24 hours (the longer the better, of course). If the pan is too shallow and one side of the pork is not submersed make sure to turn each pork chop halfway through your planned brine time.
- Remove from brine, remove any large bits of ginger or other ingredients to prevent burning, and trim any fat you might want to trim off (if there is excess, like real excess, otherwise why would you do that?! The fat is magical.) and season, as desired, with salt and pepper.
IMPORTANT: Make sure to dispose of the brine. Do not reuse the brine. Never reuse liquids you have soaked meat in, as they may cause foodborne illness)
- Cook as desired: bake, pan fry or grill.

For grilling preheat the grill to high, place the pork chop on and close the lid. Turn pork chop and close the lid for another minute.Turn the grill down to medium heat and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side (depending on thickness) until the the center, after a three minute rest, reaches 145-160° Fahrenheit, depending on desired done-ness.
No matter how you cook your pork make sure the internal temperature reaches at least 145°F.

Handy Meat Doneness Graphic:
Image Source: Men's Health
*Agave syrup can be substituted with 3/4 Tbsp honey.
Note: Not all agave syrup is created equal. If you already use it and have never reached information about it you might want to fire up the old Google. If you plan to start using agave, for its several potential marketed "health benefits", make sure that you research the best types to use/buy, and logically think about the pros and cons people are throwing around about the product. Further, sugar is sugar is sugar if you eat too much of it. Not having real reliable sources about this "new" "hot" "trendy", dare we say "hipster", product called agave syrup, use at your own risk, like with any other manufactured sugar product. As always, use common sense.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Let's Talk About Suicide, Baby

This was going to be an issue that we let slide into the pile with so many other things we would have liked to write about this summer (there's been so much), but sometimes there are some people who write some things that crawl into this brain and gnaw at the edges. To eradicate it, is to write. To cleanse the mind...

Mental illnesses, like true chronic depression, is not reserved for the successful, or the talented...nor is it reserved for the poor or disenfranchised.
Mental illness is often due to chemical imbalances of the brain, among many other factors.
(Causes of Depression
Those chemical imbalances know no income level, or social status, or level of talent.

To spread a blanket over suicide and claim it to be selfish, or claim it to be for certain people who deserve it (whether it be because they lived a great life they couldn't handle, or a shitty one, or because they were an icon, or a nobody) is presuming you know the life or support structure, or health, or the mind, of the person who has committed it (or attempted it). You assume a lot the minute you judge someone for making a decision about their life, just because they weren't thinking about you (or the people so many claim loved them), or because their life was a certain way, or worse, because you feel the experience you had with the same mindset/illness is somehow the same for everybody else.

Perhaps the person doesn't have a support system, or if they do, that support system doesn't take their issues seriously, know...depression so bad that they can't imagine a way out other than to kill themselves, is selfish, "all in their head", not real, their fault...
It's not true, (even if you think it is) but often there is nobody in that support system that has ever truly experienced severe depression. In these cases, it's true that nobody understands.
But luckily there are countless people in the world that do. They aren't always easy to find, but if you can't be supportive, you can help find people who are. You can help. You can't help by being judgmental or selfish, you can help, by helping, by listening. Watching for the signs. Understanding the illness.

Depression is not simply about being sad, or being unhappy with your life, or being "bored". 
While those things contribute to overall depression, it's much more.

Another problem that is growing increasingly common for mental health disorders and issues is the prevalence of them (the terms) being depreciated in meaning by people who pretend for attention, or people who joke (for attention), or people who insert the term that describes very real symptoms as a verb, to sound relevant or make their report "pop" (such as in the media), or people who are simply uneducated and inexperienced with real mental health issues. Or people who are ignorant and hateful.

A good example of a depreciated mental illness going the way of depression, is schizophrenia. Over the last year or so there has been an increase in media personalities using schizophrenia as a verb to describe something random, or disordered; just like people saying they are depressed, when they are simply sad, this distorts the true meaning of the word. This devalues the seriousness of the issue, reduces the likelihood of people dealing with real symptoms to be taken seriously, or feel that they'll be taken seriously.

You don't have to agree, of course. But many mental illnesses, including real depression, have very real symptoms - physiological and psychological. Sometimes symptoms people have become skilled at hiding for periods of time. Sometimes signs and symptoms that are obvious - but in a world where people are increasingly concerned with self, they go unnoticed, or become demonized.

And just because you've experienced some sort of depression, and were able to overcome it, doesn't mean everybody can. You can't expect people to be as strong as you, but you can encourage them to be strong. Belittling people, making them a victim of your ignorance, is not a display of strength.

Mental illness is illness.

[BUT...don't forget: 'A Message To Your Diagnosis']

Bottom line...
  • You would no more tell a person's family grieving the death of someone who suffered from cancer that because you had cancer and got chemo and beat the cancer, that their family member should have been able to.
  • You would no more walk around saying "Man, I'm feeling so cancerous today".
  • You would no more tell a person with Ebola that because you had the flu pretty bad once you know exactly how they feel.
The one thing that does not help is making people who, sadly, are a victim of the chemicals in their brain, feel like they are victim of your hate, your ignorance, your scorn...your bullying.

You calling people who commit suicide selfish (or weak) is not going to stop them from taking their life, if anything, they want to stop hearing how their mental health issues are just them being needy, or wanting attention, or being weak.
People who think about committing suicide, or commit suicide, see no way out of their situation...of the hell in their brain.
You boarding up the door is not going to help them, talking about it openly and compassionately just might.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Countdown

Classes start in eleven days.

Meanwhile, painting "season" is coming to a close, there just won't be time (plus we'll have to deal with harvesting and preserving the garden!). Guess this means summer is coming to a close. <sad face>

{Meanwhile, check out the new website and domain for paintings at:}

The anticipation and anxiety have been churning up madness, and we've been doing the best balancing act possible. It feels like this brain is being crushed by the skull, all too often it feels a struggle to grasp a single line of thought and pull it out of the cloud. With only two semesters left before graduation it's the final countdown. The class load is heavier, the topics more focused...but for the forensic science class (yay!) and the class related to problems in political science. By the looks of the books for the POLSCI class, the problem being tackled this semester in the environment and energy in political policy. So...get ready to read a bunch of crap about that.

The mix of classes is really exciting this semester, and there are 12 books to plow through - some really interesting ones, like Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, Connecting Social Problems and Popular Culture: Why Media is Not the Answer by Karen Sternheimer, and Pop Culture Freaks: Identity, Mass Media, and Society by Dustin Kidd (don't worry, those links take you to Goodreads, not Amazon).

Oh, and there's another really cool nutritional study coming up that we'll be taking part in, which requires strict diet (set and provided by the scientists), heavy monitoring and staying at the facility (while still allowing for work and classes) twice, for eleven days at a time. Why would we do that, you ask?! It's going to cover just about all the remaining tuition costs for Fall semester, so,'s just logical. Plus it'll be a savings on
a) gas ($90 dollars for each eleven day stay)
b) groceries
c) alcohol
d) time (80+ minutes of travel a day).
It would almost be stupid not to do it. It would be. It would be totally stupid to pass it up just because of the inconvenience of not sleeping at home (and having all meals and liquids dictated by strangers).
But, we can have visitors. :-)

It feels like the summer went too fast and we didn't do enough writing. It's unfortunate because there were a lot of events some of us would have liked to cover, if only to keep our writing in check, because it feels like this semester is going to be heavy in essay writing, since there is only ONE actual textbook for one of the six classes, the others are destined to be springboards to further research and writing. Having not written all summer, suddenly it's hard to remember how to write anything, let alone in the style of essay, despite having written a stack of them last semester.
Surely just the most average of the anxiety creeping into the space between skull and skin.

So, eleven days and our schedule changes again (schedules are sort of a linchpin in our mental health)...we'll stay positive until proven otherwise.

As always, thanks for reading even though you probably had something better to do.