Adventures in over-dyeing

Variations on a tweed.  Underneath, the fashion garment, happily dyed with chestnut.  Scraps, left to right, Kelly green, original, spruce.

Variations on a tweed. Underneath, the fashion garment, happily dyed with chestnut. Scraps, left to right, Kelly green, original, spruce.

Over-dyeing is a good way to have a new wardrobe without spending a lot of money, but it is fraught with peril and potential for ruin, much like life, and I’ve found it’s best if I have no preconceived notions about the results, also, much like life.  

I discovered that a large part of my wardrobe was all wrong, grey, black and fuchsia should have been rust, brown and salmon.  I started my forays into over-dyeing last summer.   At first I mostly dyed cellulose fibres and some silks using fibre reactive dyes.  There is a lot of guesswork: taking into account the original colour in whatever mix for a hoped for end result.

 I started keeping a dye journal with notes about the mix of colours, how much salt I used, length of time in the dye bath and then the end results.  With fibre reactive dyes the water stays coloured and there is a lot of rinsing out of excess colour.  It would seem like a waste so I sometimes threw things in the dye bath well after the mordant had been added and the original garments removed.

One happy result was a bright, jewel-toned, silk scarf that I originally bought at an artisan store in Victoria.  I used antique gold.  The fuchsia became a muted coral, the royal blue a soft marine blue, turquoise became teal and the purple muted to blend with the others.  That same dye bath turned a piece of bright pink velvet  to orange.  I re-dyed the velvet with more warm black to get a yummy rust that I was looking for to trim a vest I was repairing.

My experiments were all leading up to dyeing my wool garments.  Wool is a protein fibre and is best dyed with acid dyes.  My method is to use a pot of hot water on the stove which can be tricky because too hot and agitated and wool will felt and shrink.

Wool is a fantastic fibre.  It is strong even when wet and maintains its ability to provide warmth even when 50% wet.  It’s resistant to moisture and to dirt and if cared for well can last for years.  I have a heavy tweed jacket I made in 1993.  It was one of a three fabulous pieces of wool I bought at a surprisingly great fabric store I discovered in Cranbrook, BC when I was there visiting the in-laws with the husband.  I made the jacket in a Japanese hapi style with modified kimono sleeves.  The original lining was a dark purply blue, iridescent acetate with two welt and two patch inside pockets besides the two welt pockets on the outside.

The jacket has been re-lined twice since I made it and I had recently replaced the bottom parts of the sleeves and faced the lining edge to delay the next change of lining.  Meanwhile the discovery of the new, improved palette meant that the black, grey, white and thread of blue tweed was not in my preferred colours.  I changed out the black velvet trim for olive green velvet and changed the dark grey  knit I-cord ties to green as well to give myself some time to feel more confident with dyeing.

I put a scrap of the tweed in with some grey wool jersey garments and a TBS of kelly green because I was trepidatious about how the tweed would behave.  Unbeknownst to me, I now think that the jersey was not 100% wool because when I added the acid to discharge the dye it all went into the one scrap of tweed and no change to the grey skirt and shirt.  That’s why the scrap is nearly black.  It has enough dye for a couple of garments.  That didn’t make me feel any more confident.

The discharge with acids dyes if very cool.  Fabric is first pre-soaked with synthrapol, that releases any excess dye and thoroughly wets the garment.  Then into the dye bath for 45 minutes, swishing around and bringing up to a simmer.  Then, I add citric acid mixed in water and continue to stir.  Within minutes all the dye in the water has gone into the fabric and the water is clear.  A gradual cool down so that the wool is not shocked, spin in the washing machine and voila!

There is a fine line of how much dye to use.  Conservatively, less dye and possibly several times of over-dyeing would be most prudent, but I am impatient with that methodical process so I guess what would be best.

Over-dued and re-lined.  Both outer wool fabric and lining were originally grey.  THe velvet trim was hot pink.

Over-dyed and re-lined. Both outer wool fabric and lining were originally grey. THe velvet trim was hot pink.

My first acid dye bath was teal and I dyed two soft light grey wool garments i’d made in 1989, a tunic and a vest.  I like the result; the colour is dark and mottled.  I could have used less for a more even look.  The vest originally had a fuchsia quilted flannel lining that was finally looking shabby so I replaced it with a soft moss green flannel (overdyed, originally grey) and trimmed with the rust cotton velvet.

Finally I felt confident enough to attempt over-dyeing my tweed jacket.  I removed the lining and partially  removed the collar, soaked the fabric in warm water and Synthrapol, then immersed in a dye bath with 1 TBS of chestnut.  The result was way better than I expected.  The white threads became chestnut, the grey a dark brown and even the black threads toned down to be more espresso than real black.  The overall feel is that the jacket is now a brown tweed.  Success! What a surprise.

The jacket, re-assembled with a new lining, re-lined pockets and new trim and ties.

The jacket, re-assembled with a new lining, re-lined pockets and new trim and ties.

I then dyed a black and white Harris tweed vest and some assorted wool scraps with spruce (sort of a greenish blue, unlike teal, which is a blue-ish green) and re-lined that vest as well.

I was on a roll so I thought, why not try to dye some of my knit garments?

I had a heavy pullover made of two ply worsted yarn from Briggs and Little in New Brunswick that I made in the 70’s.  It originally had a turtleneck that I changed to a mock turtle that was not good looking.  It looked like it would accommodate the neck of a gridiron linebacker.  I unraveled the bad neck treatment and decreased the stitches and converted to a crew neck then did a dye-bath with kelly green and some gunmetal to tone down the brightness.

Detail of cabled pullover with a ball of the original colour yarn.

Detail of cabled pullover with a ball of the original colour yarn.

My guessing turned out well.  I didn’t want the lighter, natural strand of yarn to be bright kelly green and the amount of gunmetal ( a purple-ish, blue/grey) was enough to darken but keep the overall colour green.  I  hanked up a couple of small balls and dyed them as well as a matching toque.

Then I dyed a variegated mohair shrug that had a bit of fuchsia that I didn’t want and a dark cranberry sleeveless cardigan.  I used spruce and gunmetal on them, maybe a bit too much gunmetal but I still like the result, especially the cardigan that is a very dark grape and seems to have lengthened a bit.

My leave and vine sleeveless cardigan, dyed with spruce and gunmetal.  THe yarn ball is the original colour, sort of.  The yarn is Malabrigo merino from Uraguay, hand dyed and spun so there is a lot of variation in the dye lots.

My leave and vine sleeveless cardigan, dyed with spruce and gunmetal. The yarn ball is the original colour, sort of. The yarn is Malabrigo merino from Uraguay, hand dyed and spun so there is a lot of variation in the dye lots.

It’s a learning process.  I make notes in my little book and maybe next time I’ll try the gradual dye thing and not go for the finished colour in one go.  I DO like the vest but I think it’s a bit dark.  Still I can wear it now and it was all wrong colour-wise before.  so the adventure continues and the future is uncertain from this perspective but I have a lovely renewed brown tweed jacket that ought to last another 20 years and should not need a new lining for at least five.  I hope.

It's roomy, the pockets are capacious and it is warm.  I can fit it over several layers and it is new and improved with great colour and the best lining I ever put in.

It’s roomy, the pockets are capacious and it is warm. I can fit it over several layers and it is new and improved with great colour and the best lining I ever put in.


Ambivalence about November


I have a love/hate relationship with November in Maine.  November has long been my favourite month.  I love the ice in the wind presaging snow, the bare trees revealing their spooky branches against the grey skies, and I love Thanksgiving, the best of all holidays that is all about food and no co-dependent expectations.

Alas, it is also deer hunting season so the woods that are normally the domain of the wildlife and Murphy and me have hunters with guns who think that the deer belong to them, as if they are anyone’s.  We wear our blaze orange to signal that we are non-combatants in the deer war but I worry that Murphy will encounter some stranger in our woods and be misunderstood in a deadly way.

Looking buff in his hunting vest

Looking buff in his hunting vest

The thing is, that Murphy is a Great Pyrenees mountain dog by temperament and, ever vigilant, he is serious about keeping all unauthorized intruders from our hill of woods.  Worse, with the cooler weather he has more energy and the bare trees and drier air allow for barking to carry nicely across the valley.  All summer he stays out all night because it is cooler and is quiet but come November, when I tie him outside after his dinner, he barks non-stop until I decide that neighbours need a break.  It’s my compromise, he gets to bark some but not past 8PM.

Then, there is the chance now, until there is a lot of snow ( another reason to wish for lots of snow) that Murphy will not come home from the afternoon walk in the woods and instead do his bark about thing.  Basically he stays at the top of the ridge and roams from one end to the other, covering 100+ acres, barking.  Ruff, ruff, ruff, pause, ruff, ruff.  Repeat.  I’m fairly sure that he could keep this up all night.  It’s the Pyr way of avoiding actual close-up repelling of evil-doers.  Any bad-ass predators will hear him and hunt elsewhere.

So, a couple of times a week I get an additional walk, near dusk, up the hill to entice him home.  He won’t come if I call him of course, because he KNOWS that what he is doing is far more important than any agenda I might have.  Ah, the independent Pyrenees.  So I try to position myself so that he will be moving toward me.  I act suspiciously, make random noise, stay still.  When he is within twenty feet or so I address him conversationally and usually he’ll come over as if to say, hey, Lynn!  You’re in the woods too!  I hook him up, praise him for his excellent job patrolling, give him a couple of treats I happen to have in my pocket and suggest that it might be time to come home.  So far I have always succeeded although a couple of times I’ve walked back in the dark with  the dim circle of my headlamp lighting my way.

Smarter than the average human am I because I have learned not to call out to him as I close in because, like as not, he’ll go into silent running mode and it is just not possible to find a dog that isn’t barking.  Yet another thing to be ambivalent about because if he’s quiet the neighbours aren’t alerted to him on patrol.  It’s a fine line I walk between allowing enough activity within his genetic parameters to allow for well-adjusted dog behaviour and controlling enough so that he complies with societal regulations.

We, that is, I, bend the rules.  After all, I’m the one who has to live with the Captain of the Palace Guard.

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB

Diet and exercise: mind, body, & spirit

Luna moths in June are a wonder of nature

Luna moths in June

Does it really matter what we eat and whether we exercise?  From one point of view, we’re here to have an experience in the physical world.  Does it really matter what that experience is?  In a way, I think not, with no qualifiers.  There are as many ways to perceive reality as there are beings to perceive.  It is not for me to say you should eat this or get up and walk every day so you’ll be ‘healthy’.  Maybe you don’t want to eat mostly plants and no chemicals and would rather sit around all day watching crap TV, or reading or playing games or whatever.  It’s all ok.

But. The reality is that there are lots and lots of people who aren’t happy, and more than that, are depressed or anxious or filled with fear.  That doesn’t seem like fun to me but they continue to be depressed and unhappy and fearful even when taking so-called anti-depressants.  These drugs don’t really work because they don’t change the underlying situation.

Thoughts have power.  We imagine, we think, we become what we believe.  This is a world of free will.  We  don’t have lots of control because there are so many others with their own input but we do have control of how we feel about things.  The problem is that if we are used to thinking and feeling down and fearful those patterns will continue unless we interrupt them.  I learned in my hypnotherapy studies and related readings that neurons that fire together wire together.  Thought patterns and habits that are repeated become habitual.  The opposite is also true: use it or lose it.  In other words, when you stop thinking a certain way, you can really change the kind of neural connections that you have.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fear, anxiety and depression.  I have a friend who is struggling in some murky waters of fear and anxiety.  Anxiety can be crippling and support can be hard to find since the symptoms are so ambiguous.  While talking with my friend it has occurred to me that anxiety and fear are a form of pain.  In hypnotherapy we learn that as much as 75-80% of experienced pain is actually remembered pain, not current.  The expectation of what pain will feel like magnifies the pain.  That’s why pain meds don’t really work long-term and why hypnotherapy can be so effective for pain management.  With several techniques the remembered pain is peeled away until a much smaller and manageable pain is left.

The view from Healy Pass on the BC/ Alberta border.  Love of the world can lighten heavy spirits.

The view from Healy Pass on the BC/ Alberta border. Love of the world can lighten heavy spirits.

So fear and anxiety are sort of soul pain with life and those fearful and anxious pathways become worn in and familiar and at the same time dreaded  so that each subsequent anxiety event is made greater with the anticipation and remembered feelings of fear.  A person might resist but I wonder if resisting might just create more fear and anxiousness with the buildup.  The hard part is that most of us identify so closely with our mind that we can’t separate enough to see/know/perceive that we are the rider, not the ride.  One moment of noticing the negative pathway can make a difference.  Interrupt the thought and reframe.  Subsequent interruptions will be faster until the pattern has changed.

Most of the inner dialog started when we were children.  I know that we all learned, ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.’ but that is not true.  Words have power.  Negative words repeated and repeated to young impressionable children sink in and become core values that limit that person.  It takes work, but those erroneous values can change.

I was fortunate in my childhood because I had a godmother who loved me unconditionally.  I knew that she thought I was fabulous.  I would not have survived my miserable teens without her in my life.  I felt understood and loved and accepted for myself.  To this day my godmother Mary is the single most important person in my life.  I would hope that everyone has at least one person that shows that kind of acceptance.   It is the basis of self-esteem, so important for healthy navigating of a life.

Ultimately the goal for everyone is to enjoy being themselves and to be interesting to themselves.  Being creative or helping others is a way of getting out of oneself but eventually everyone needs to love and care for themselves.

Returning to diet and exercise, it’s my experience that all dis-ease has an emotional and spiritual (invisible) component as well as a physical one.  We are beings of energy and all our cells have a consciousness.  It makes sense to me that the energy of the food going in will directly impact the cells that receive the food. Organic, life-sustaining food that produces viable seeds for the next season is the only choice when you look at the universe in a soulful way.

In the years since the development of low-fat foods and diet this and that, there is an obesity epidemic.  I read recently that diet foods actually cause weight gain (!!!??) and eating good fats  helps metabolism  and targeting healthy weight.  There is more heart disease and diabetes than ever even with all the new drugs.  The cholesterol lowering drugs, statins, have not helped heart disease because cholesterol isn’t the major cause of heart disease, lifestyle and diet are.

I recommend for some interesting and not widely known things about cholesterol, statins and heart disease.  Also, listen to her interviewed by Sean Croxton of  for  clear information about diet and cholesterol.  Cholesterol is the body’s delivery system, how we get fats and nutrients to various parts of our bodies, especially our brains.  Statins don’t just block receptors, they instigate a metabolic change and we are only now learning the full effects.  Some of those effects can be so subtle at first that they are attributed to aging and some of those changes are irreversible.

It’s the responsibility of the individual to attend to her own health and well-being.  I learned when I had cancer that I could control what I ate, I could learn  about my condition and so make informed decisions, and I could chose a fabulous team of health care people to help me journey through cancer to health.  I addressed the spiritual and emotional components as well as the physical.  It all INTERESTS me.

The scent of roses is heartening and can lighten and uplift a somber mood.

The scent of roses is heartening and can lighten and uplift a somber mood.

In his book, Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, Martín Prechtel tells about the Mayans of Santiago Atitlán who believe that we are obligated to the Gods to be sweet and tasty so that they can appreciate life through us and continue to send us life.  I think that, as well, we are obligated to be sweet and tasty to ourselves, creative and interesting.  In our creativity we joyfully honour the creative source and love the World and create it anew each day.

Diet and exercise, the exercise part

I’ve been thinking about exercise and staying fit.  It’s one of the remedies that is cited when a person has some kind of systemic dis-ease but most people don’t do enough.

One of my frog friends hanging on to a rhododendron in my old BC backyard

One of my frog friends hanging on to a rhododendron in my old BC backyard

I’ve always been active.  We used to jump over obstacles in my back yard like lawn  furniture and a 50 gallon barrel, climb trees and bike all over town, catching amphibians.  I  liked best the jobs that kept me active.  I ran all day as a housekeeper in the Plymouth Nursing Home cleaning two floors and seven bathrooms.  I ate three huge sandwiches in those days to fuel myself.  Cooking on a sea scallop boat was always a workout and even the tools were heavy in landscape construction.

You’d think that once I started working on buses that would be the end of my active lifestyle, but I always sat on the edge of my seat, fidgeting, and at every stop I would sprint in to make sure the venue was ready for the group and sprint back to minimize the wait for the clients.  I hiked every chance I got in Banff and Jasper and swam in Vancouver.  In cities I always walk faster, sometimes so fast I walk right by a place I want.  Oops.

On the trail in the woods near Cumberland, BC with Jasper, aged 11.  Our daily routine.

On the trail in the woods near Cumberland, BC with Jasper, aged 11. Our daily routine. (2005)

For the past twenty years I’ve had a large dog buddy and that has me walking 3 to 5 miles a day no matter the weather.  On the odd day that I miss  the walk I  feel the lack.  I am nervous and edgy, out of sorts.  Mostly, every day we walk first thing down the road and  longer in the afternoon.  I will say that the morning ‘walk’ can be very slow and involves some sitting ( on Murphy’s part) in the road, contemplating the universe (I assume) but it’s a good way for me to wake up.

Early morning walk before the plow has been by

Early morning walk before the plow has been by

This summer I have been house painting.   One window and wall required both of my extension ladders and I was lugging and using my sander, caulk gun and vacuum cleaner up those ladders.  Some might not think that is so bad but I’m a small person with tiny hands and wrists so using all those tools 18 foot up a ladder is a workout.  Now that cooler weather has arrived I’m moving firewood again.  Today I chucked a cord of wood into the truck, in four loads, and re-stacked it in the garage.  Lucky me, I can find enough in my daily life to give me plenty of exercise.  I find the more active I am, the more active I can be  and the better I feel.

Shortly after 9/11, the tour company I worked for required the tour directors to get emergency contact information for all the clients.  The form we handed out had a  place for medications that I glanced at in case anyone might have a medical condition of which I needed to be aware.  In one particular group there was a drug, Zoloft, that nearly 70% of the clients listed.  I had never heard of it so I looked it up to discover that it was an SSRI used to treat anxiety and depression.  These people were mostly retired, often with two homes so that they did not have to endure winter, and they had enough money to take expensive trips several times a year.  What did they have to be anxious about?  Well, in retrospect, I guess they could have been anticipating the mortgage fiasco and economic mess the country was headed for.  Still, the meds seemed unnecessary.

I recently read  that the SSRIs commonly used to treat depression create the same effect as if that person had just exercised.  An article in Harvard Health Publications on Exercise and Depression cites a study that compared results for three groups, one that exercised, one that took an SSRI, and one that did both that found that all participants felt better but those that exercised and continued to exercise could no longer be called depressed and stayed in that better place.

I know that for me, with a lifetime of being active, this all comes easier.  I wonder if my general good spirits is a result of ongoing activity.  I have had periods of depression but I’ve always seen depression as a useful tool, an indication that something wasn’t working for me thus time to make changes.  It also helps to have a reason to exercise.  A dog does not ken a bad day, in fact, dogs that are badly behaved most likely do not get enough regular exercise.  And the really cool thing is that just walking is enough.  You don’t have to go to a gym and sweat around fitness freaks.  A daily brisk walk is really all the doctor should order for most maladies.

One last suggestion…… take a walk but leave the phone, and maybe the tunes, at home.  There’s a lot of the world that is missed when the mind is focussed elsewhere, the songs of birds, drops of water on rose-hips, the first dusting of snow on dried hydrangeas.   There’s a lot to notice and appreciate and your heart, lungs, and head will thank you for it.

My neighbour's  hydrangeas under the first dusting of snow

My neighbour’s hydrangeas under the first dusting of snow

I thought I was cutting edge

Who Knew?  I thought I was on top of the new fads in food, but apparently, not all.

Ann does most of the grocery shopping because for at least a few more years she is the only household member who gets the senior discount at The Belfast Coop on Tuesday, Senior Discount Day.  She shops from a list, which I’m still getting used to.   I like to go hungry so I can be creative about future meals, but Ann is way more left-brained than I, so, the list.

We both add freshly ground flax seed to the morning cereal and the supply was getting low, so this week flax seed was on the list.  I prefer brown to golden flax; it’s cheaper and I like the visual.  Ann’s got cataracts that are impeding her sight a bit these days and she’s scheduled for surgery in a few months,and while it really isn’t  debilitating, she doesn’t always recognize the difference in grains.   She came home saying that she’d bought black flax seed since there didn’t seem to be brown or golden.  The black ‘seeds’ got poured on top of the remaining brown seeds in the jar and I didn’t really pay attention until the next morning, when Ann complained that the new flax seeds were really crunchy.

Those of you in the know will probably have this figured out already.  I scooped some out for grinding and observed that these seeds weren’t flat like flax.  I ground them well and cooked with my oatmeal which turned purple in the cooking as if I had pulverized blueberries in my cereal.

It all became clear when I was at The Coop on Friday, my day for the Belfast Farmers’ Market and found a name for what Ann bought: Forbidden Rice.  What a name, Forbidden Rice.  I bought some flax seed and returned home to tell Ann the news, that she needn’t grind that black stuff into her oatmeal.  (Although I do sometimes grind basmati rice into my breakfast cereal.)

I cooked up the forbidden rice in my rice cooker in my usual ratio of 2:1, water to rice and wonderful revelation!  It cooked perfectly, kept its form and has a slightly crunchy, nutty flavour.  Only then did I check it out on the internet to discover that it is the latest trendy superfood, even better, so they say, than blueberries.

Forbidden Rice ( apparently at one time no-one but the Emperor was allowed to eat the rice) is exceptionally high in anthocyanins, phytochemicals that are anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories, and have many other properties not the least of which is boosting the production of cytokines,  so regulating immune response.  Visual acuity has been markedly improved in animal and human subjects when anthocyanin pigments have ben applied, maybe the reason Ann was drawn to buying the rice in lieu of flax seed.

I know there are many who take supplements of vitamins and flavonoids but I have a feeling of certainty that we don’t know enough about the component nutrients in foods nor are we capable of understanding the synergetic relationships within the foods themselves.  Isolating components in tablet form will never be a substitute for the complete food and whole foods.  What a happy surprise to discover this new-to-me, yummy rice.

Forbidden Rice fried with cucumber kimchi and topped with peanut powder.

Forbidden Rice fried with cucumber kimchi and topped with peanut powder.

I’m eating some now.  I fried it with some of my cucumber kimchi and topped with my new fave topping, peanut powder, made by grinding toasted sesame seeds, red chilies, asofoetida powder and peanuts into a yummy crunchy hot condiment.  A new taste delight and soon to be added to the weekly shopping list.  Yum!

Diet and Exercise, the diet part

Sauteed broccoli from the garden with egg topped with refried bean sauce and local blue cheese and a side of my kimchi made with boc choi and garlic scapes from our garden.

Sauteed broccoli from the garden with egg topped with refried bean sauce and local blue cheese and a side of my kimchi made with boc choi and garlic scapes from our garden.

Whatever ails you, the first remedy is diet and exercise, specifically a whole foods/real food meal plan and regular exercise.  Such a simple remedy and yet not the first choice of most folks.  Since my cancer diagnosis sixteen years ago I’ve several times heard of people who, when told they had cancer would say, ‘I hope I don’t have to change my diet.’  That boggles my mind.  It never occurred to me to do anything less that everything I could to get beyond my cancer diagnosis.  Diet was the least of that journey.

Day two of knowing I had cancer found me at the giant Borders in Seattle buying the first of many books for my research.  I figured I needed to gather knowledge, to adjust my diet for optimum wellness,  to network with others to find my best health care team, and to address the emotional and spiritual issues around my cancer dance.  The diet wasn’t a real big deal.  I stopped eating all meat on the road since I couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t full of growth hormones and antibiotics.  I eschewed salmon unless it was wild, and limited my dairy.   I’m not a junk food eater nor do I crave sweet foods  and I cook most of my food from scratch, so really eating for the cancer thing was not a big hardship.

I started loosely following the Blood-Type diet.  Loosely, because there are things that I really did not want to stop eating: olives, hot peppers, blue cheese, bacon and avocados.  When I eliminated beef, chicken and pork and only (mostly) ate lamb and turkey my digestion improved immeasurably.  I also did a lot of herbal and homeopathic digestion support and started monthly colonics for the duration of the dance.

These days my diet is largely organic and very local.  I always eat breakfast, a leftover from taking so many supplements whilst cancer-dancing.  Breakfast always includes local, whole milk yogurt on my oatmeal, usually with grated asiago cheese and harissa.  There are those who say that fermented foods are especially good because those  foods are easier to digest and have lots of live enzymes and available nutrients.  How cool is that, cuz for the last couple of years I’ve been making my own kimchi that I eat nearly every day.  As well, I have finally perfected my kombucha (fermented tea beverage) and a decent ginger beer, both made by forms of fermentation.

After writing Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan said, when asked what should we eat, ‘Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.’  Seems fairly simple and I think it’s worth trying before doing the pharmaceuticals that have so many side effects and mostly just make the big corporations lots of money.  Those corporations put chemicals in food which creates dis-ease and then medicates to perpetuate the dis-ease.

It’s fairly easy to figure out what constitutes a balanced and health-promoting diet.  Eating a variety of vegetables  with whole grains  and small portions of meat  and dairy while limiting refined carbohydrates and sugars and staying away from manufactured foods with unpronounceable ingredients is the way to be as healthy as possible.

I’m not a big fan of eating, really.  Eating takes up altogether too much time in the day for me.  At the same time I have a jaded palette so anything I eat has to have a lot of flavour.  I can’t escape the need for good fuel so that I can sustain my long days ( I sleep about 5-6 hours, mostly) so I don’t waste my eating time on anything that is not going to be good for me.  I don’t usually eat bread.  It is filler with not enough nutrients.  I will make bread if I  have a craving for toast, that way I know exactly what is in the bread.  My main meal of the day is comida, early afternoon.  I got in the habit in Mexico.  Usually it’s made in my big frying pan, mostly veggies with some egg for protein.  I like to treat the vegetables as if they are pasta or grain.  I can cook a panful of food in less than fifteen minutes.

Right now the garden is producing lots of cucumbers so my evening light meal is cucumbers dressed with whole milk yogurt and mint or cilantro, sometimes with an avocado.  If I need something really late a spoonful of peanut butter or two works for me.

cucumber, mango and cilantro with yogurt and harissa.  Cool and hot.

cucumber, mango and cilantro with yogurt and harissa. Cool and hot.

I rarely eat out.  Twenty-four years working on the road and eating three meals a day in restaurants was enough to leave me unimpressed with most food cooked for money.  Most of those meals do not live up to the flowery menu descriptions. I once had a surprisingly excellent wild salmon dinner with wonderful side dishes at the Delta Hotel in Sun Peaks, BC.  It didn’t even require my ubiquitous hot sauce.  Joshua’s (long gone from Banff, replaced by another crappy hotel and shops) always had good food but I had my own personal waitress, Celine, who told me what to eat and she was always correct.  Lamb pasanda at A Taste of India in Vancouver, anything at Villa de Lupo, also in Vancouver, Rebar’s in Victoria.

I understand that crappy unreal food can have addictive properties.  Still, what we eat is one thing we have control of and gradually changing from eating manufactured food with no nutritive value to whole, preferably organic, sustainable foods is doable.  The more a person eats food that is real fuel, the less likely that person will want to waste digestive space on candy, high-fructose anything and all the chemical crap that masquerades as food in the stores these days, and with a real food meal plan, mental and emotional health will improve with the physical.

Cancer serendipity

Swimming at Northern Pond with Murphy is another great upper body exercise.  THese days he mostly guards from shore and pulls me in when he thinks I've had enough.

Swimming at Northern Pond with Murphy is another great upper body exercise. These days he mostly guards from shore and pulls me in when he thinks I’ve had enough.

I can go months and never think about cancer and that I participated in my own cancer dance sixteen years ago, but lately I’ve been thinking about and talking about cancer and cancer treatments wherever I seem to be.

It started in my head.  I’m back to painting Ann’s house on the inside now that the weather is warm enough and I could get her out of the garden long enough to de-clutter the upper living room so I could move furniture and get my ladders in place.  Painting is good for thinking and lymphedema and exercise came to mind.

When I was diagnosed the doctors wanted to not only lop off the breast but remove lymph nodes to help stage my cancer, so they still say.  Following surgery their plan was to give me radiation, chemotherapy, tamoxifen and possibly radiate my ovaries to put me in menopause and stop my estrogen production because my cancer was estrogen-receptor positive.

I agreed to the surgery and reluctant as I was to have lymph nodes sampled, I was talked into it.  My twenty lymph nodes were free of cancer which helped me  to firmly refuse ALL of their adjuvant therapies.   I was not  a preferred patient with the oncologist because I did the research and decided that just because the treatments are there doesn’t mean I needed them.  Still, in all of my research it wasn’t until AFTER the surgery that I found the studies that stated that as many as 70% of women who had lymph nodes removed,  some time after experienced lymphedema, which is lymph fluid pooling in tissues because the lymph channels have been removed.  For some it can be very debilitating and they have to wear compression sleeves to keep the swelling down.

There was conflicting information about what to do to decrease that possibility.  I worked diligently to regain the full motion of my right arm and at first did not carry anything heavy on that side.  but I resumed swimming  and other forms of exercise, mostly walking the dog several times a day and throwing sticks for him.  I also went fly fishing a month after surgery and of course used my right arm.

These days, I only avoid having blood drawn on my right arm or doing the blood pressure cuff there.  I think, that the statistics I found were so high because, when I was diagnosed at 43, it was still very unusual for someone so young to have breast cancer and most of the breast cancer patients who might have contributed to the statistics would have been over sixty and probably mostly not very active or in shape.

Both extension ladders were needed to reach the 18 foot high windows.

Both extension ladders were needed to reach the 18 foot high windows.

So, this month, I found myself moving  large ladders around, and variously using my palm sander, a caulking gun and a vacuum cleaner up those same ladders.  Some major heavy lifting was involved.  Sixteen years of evidence says to me that exercise is good for staving off lymphedema.

A friend who had a lumpectomy a year before my surgery has had more tests lately because of some discharge.  She was going to forgo the annual mammogram this year but after seeing her doctor did have the mammogram and as well, ultrasound and an MRI and now is going to schedule a biopsy.  All this has led to more talking about treatments and diagnosing of breast cancers.

Then, yesterday I was at the post office to mail painter’s shorts to my brother.  The woman clerk asked if I had lost an earring, something I get frequently because I have always had only one pierced ear, the left one.  So I said, as usual,’I don’t have a hole on this (the right) side’, and she said, ‘you’re also missing a breast.’  I burst out laughing!  That was a first and most amusing.

I was never asked if I wanted reconstruction, maybe because they didn’t think I would live long enough anyway or because there seemed to be skin involvement with my tumour (wasn’t).  My medical wouldn’t pay for a prosthetic and I can always come up with something I’d rather have for that $200 than a fake boob.  I also thought that by disguising my mastectomy  no one would know and conversations  might not be initiated about my cancer.  It’s a very easy surgery to cover up and I think that many who have had it suffer with a lowering of self-esteem and feel less feminine.   They also suffer alone.  I  hoped that by displaying my comfort level with my asymmetrical form that I could inspire others to reconsider or at least talk about it.  My experience, though, is that many don’t even notice.  I was at a  party in Seattle 5 months after my surgery wearing a stretch velvet wrap dress that wrapped from the left across to the flat side.  No one noticed, even my friend’s cousin who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The Postal woman said that she thinks that most people still don’t want to talk about it.  Cancer makes them uncomfortable and they are afraid they will get it and die.  A person might as well be afraid of life because life leads to dying too.  We all die.  The important part is how we live.  Lose the fear and life is much more fun, as it should be.

I’m not a cancer survivor.  I had cancer once, a long time ago.  It was environmentally caused and I used that opportunity to improve my body’s related systems and now I focus on (as I always have) having fun, being creative, and learning new things.  Sometimes, like lately, I’m reminded, but mostly it’s not an issue, at all.

contemplating the universe; most amusing and is something I perfected while hanging  with my giant dog friends

contemplating the universe; most amusing and is something I perfected while hanging with my giant dog friends