Friday, September 18, 2009


Mornings in Seattle were always crisp as a Washington apple. In New Hampshire during summer, morning hints of a hot day to come when the air feels cool and heavy like a syrup sodden pancake left over after breakfast. I felt it one morning on the way to Via Lactia Farm in Brookfield, NH where I went to buy raw goats milk and whatever other animal parts could be foraged from a freezer of last year’s leftovers. I could see the summer’s fattening stock still grazing in fields dashing my hopes of bringing any beef home for barbecue other than as guests to share my smores with.

Unlike the renegades and rebels in other states selling raw products as ‘fish bait’ and ‘animal feed’ in order to circumvent homogenization and pasteurization laws, the folks at Via Lactea either have no psst! Program for selling raw cheese or the Tappers’ are just as suspicious of me, a foreigner in spite of my New Hampshire birth certificate, as the rest of the folks in town who reckon I’m a ‘flatlander’. Their ability to quote USDA Guidelines and their support of nitrites for cured bacon, of which they were sold out of anyway, was as suspect to me in this state where ‘live free or die’ is the motto, as it probably was to them that I could quote guidelines for selling raw hard cheeses based on aging. I had hoped a few more visits to the farmer’s market on Thursdays - a small huddle of tents, food, and family that look more like a reunion picnic - would send the whispered word of mouth to the Tapper’s that would earn me enough street cred for a password to some backroom refrigerator where they hoard the raw stuff. Raw, grassfed cheese is one of the few places I could get a worthwhile dose of Vitamin-K in spite of the Paleo camp’s stance on dairy in any form because it’s an allergen.

The one visit to their farm was the only day the sun would shine in the early summer of this little vacation destination. It stayed drowned by both economic woes and unseasonably rainy weather. The locals on the front porch and shuffling in the tight register queue of Lydia’s CafĂ© could focus on nothing else but the brutal weather at first. It had one farmer lament that he had bothered to plant his tomatoes rather than rice. I was upset that it had washed away my plans to do the Agni Hotra ceremony on my father’s little plot since his garden too was swamped.
Conversation percolated in this daily social gathering reminiscent of a quilting bee without the quilts - which I’d guess were outsourced to Bangladesh. It left hands free to clutch the better-than-average free trade coffee and underpriced bagel sandwiches. Folks discussed and weighed premonitions on when the water would let up. It would have had them flipping through the always-trustworthy Farmer’s Almanac if Franz hadn’t already pulled up Doppler Radar on his smart phone. After several days of foulness, the mornings gathering looked and sounded more like a Red Cross Shelter as we all huddled together and discussed the tragedy that was the community garden all rotten and limp. I assured the crowd that in cases of torrential downpour, my flip flops could be used as a flotation device. My pink sandals were a sunny standout among slickers and soggy baseball caps.

Lydia’s has a badly feng shui’d dining area with four cramped tables that encroach on traffic to the counter. It causes complex coordinated shuffling to access the coffee carafes – it looks like interpretive dance inspired by Tetris - but as a result I was often in the center of the action despite the angling of chairs that sometimes signal my ‘outsider’ status. Bob, a former Washington lobbyist and current discussion moderator, always pulled me in, introduced me around, and then interrupted most of what I said with persistent input that I don’t take personally. I liked him and so did everyone else even when his opinion was outlandish enough to be merely tolerated for the sake of harmony. His off-color comments described by him as a ‘turd in the punchbowl’ were followed by a few seconds of silence and a discrete change of subject. He’s a Baltimore Orioles fan and even that went without mention by most.

Bob knows many of the rumors in town simply because I think he starts them before he quietly slips off the front porch to get a walnut Danish at a table hidden in the bushes in front of the Yum Yum Shop –a bakery down the street. He has a particular taste for bad pastries and total strangers. I think he’s always bewildered on the days when he finds that both the Danish and the strangers are bland and stale. It makes it handy that he carries a handful of the day’s newspapers under his arm for back-up. There was no salvaging the pastry but, as for the company, a few frank comments always seemed to make things tastier. That and the Granite State News gives him something to grumble about.

Bob always starts with our group first though – even before the French club which, as far as I could eavesdrop, never spoke a word of French from the table in the courtyard. We were the social party he knew he sought until the mad scientist got the better of him and drove him to tinker with other peoples’ day.

Most mornings we had Cheryl who’s naturally nomadic but fenced in by a custody order. Intellectually she did all the wanderings that her feet couldn’t do. Franz and Louise who had the kind of strengths as a couple that, if you’re smart, would have you swearing an oath and traveling in their caravan. There was my other Bob, who found his struggle to remain optimistic surprisingly draining. His internal arguments over what not to say were more spirited than the arguments he would have started had he spoken his mind. Charlie was the misunderstood prickly patriarch with the sharp judgement to protect his soft heart. And, finally, Mark silently inspired us with all the passion of the gypsy musician he once was in the days he played with the Roma in Hungary.

At the end of the summer, my sister joined the group. To most, other peoples’ aura goes unnoticed but to Stacey, it sunburns. Is she fragile? No. But foul energy makes her own cantankerous spirit itch. She hears the voice of her intuition louder than any conversation in the room. It often drives her back to her comfortable home to an open book and a phone switched off. Knowing her the way I do, I could sense her own shifting energy as other people spoke about otherwise innocuous things. It was a polygraph of sorts. The only time I ever worried about walking into a shamanic stink eye or a voodoo curse like unwelcome wafts of perfume was when she was in the room looking anxious. Is there a secret symbol, an SPF, or an aluminum foil hat that could save me? Only she knows. And I think she really does know. I’m a little proud, slightly frightened and mostly fascinated by her.

Throughout the summer I kept accidentally running into I the writings of Martin Seligman, one of the leading researchers in Positive Psychology, and I realized that the square footage of this little porch represented a chunk of my overall happiness. Seligman, who believes that happiness consists of positive emotion, meaning and flow, makes the point in his TED Talk that my porch party was important.

Said Seligman, “I've spent my life working on extremely miserable people, and I've asked the question, how do extremely miserable people differ from the rest of you? and starting about six years ago, we asked about extremely happy people, and how do they differ from the rest of us? And it turns out there's one way. They're not more religious, they're not in better shape, they don't have more money, they're not better-looking, they don't have more good events and fewer bad events. The one way in which they differ: they're extremely social. They don't sit in a seminar on Saturday morning. They don't spend time alone. Each of them is in a romantic relationship and each has a rich repertoire of friends.”

Of course, also playing a key role in my overall happiness this summer was my friend Lance Uppercut (his choice of alias’ not mine) who agreed to be my lifting partner and chauffeur as well as arranging for the spare room in his parents basement that would be my home. I worried at first, when scaled down exposure to Cindy (5 jumping pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 squats – five rounds for time) left him rolled up in an alarmingly compact ball for a man of 6’1” with a complexion so ashen I had to protect him from my Zombie Slayer nephew who was overzealously awaiting his first confirmed kill.

Lance is also freakishly flexible which would seem like a good thing but not always. In CrossFit, most skill acquisition would, after some practice, look like a replicable and precise movement. When someone is learning, the ‘bar path’ is a bit loose and variable at first. With a person who is hyperflexible and has limited spacial awareness – well let’s just say it increases the likelihood of unimagined outcomes. In other words, ‘bar paths’ that should not be followed by anybody at anytime and usually can’t be.

He practiced with an empty bar a lot. I held my breath a lot. No injuries ensued.
By the end of the summer he could clean like a champ, squat like a novice and deadlift like a man who should practice more. He beat me at a workout or two that required 400 meter run intervals - my little legs could not compete with his galloping stride - but luckily the summer ended before I figured out how to ‘accidentally’ anchor one of his shoelaces to the neighboring treadmill before yelling ‘go!’. Competitive I will always be. And it sounds a lot wiser when you can declare it using Yoda’s sentence structure.

My personal fitness goals – because I always have them – revolved around detox, recovering from detox and gaining and maintaining a strong foundation. Detox and rest had finally resolves some shoulder and grip issues but left some weaknesses. My happy little skip through India had aggravated food allergies due to a monotonous reliance on eggs and a coulda-been-anything protein powder as protein sources. Food sensitivities, beyond the standard allergen issues, are most often triggered by a lack of variety in protein which is why Paul Chek recommends a four-day rotation in his book ‘Eat Move and Be Healthy’. The problem, I found, was that it was expensive and frustrating to make this rotation work in a town where food quality was questionable and, in places like the Crepe shop, frozen, canned and preserved just short of a shellacking.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) listed the dirty dozen fruits and vegetables that contain the most pesticides as follows: Peach, Apple, Bell Pepper, Celery, nectarine, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, Grapes, carrots and pears. Welcome to the entire produce department of IGA. According to their site, “EWG research has found that people who eat the 12 most contami­nated fruits and vegetables consume an average of 10 pesticides a day. Those who eat the 15 least contaminated conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables ingest fewer than 2 pesticides daily. The Guide helps consumers make informed choices to lower their dietary pesticide load.” Did they really just say ‘pesticide load’ like it was a flippant RDA sort of thing? Toxicity trumped rotation especially because I found that after the first couple of weeks Lance starved his way through fish day and I chose undesirable bean alternatives to pork. We started carving away the corners of these days by jumping the gun on the tastier beef/cheese days. We slapped grassfed cheeseburgers on the grill before the sun could even set on ‘fish day’.

The growing food sensitivities had weakened my core. I noticed this with the inability to stabilize the snatch. Paul Chek explains, “Internal organs borrow their pain-sensitive nerve fibers from the muscular system. This means that when an organ is in pain, the brain can’t determine if it’s the muscle or the organ that hurts. The brain only knows which segment of the spine the pain message came from. In return, the brain then tells all the tissues and organs on the nerve channel to behave like they’re in pain. Since pain always weakens muscles, the abdominal muscles generally lose tone and don’t respond to exercise like a muscle that doesn’t think it’s in pain.” Pg 121

This foundational work also gave me an opportunity to explore ‘flow’, a crucial part of Seligman’s ‘happiness’ and a place in which skill and challenge meet in a state of concentration where an athlete ‘forgets themself.’ A state of flow is most readily available when both challenges and skills are higher than average according to Mihaly Csikszentmehalyi , psychology and management professor at Claremont Graduate University who focuses on human strengths such as optimism, motivation and responsibility. By continually challenging myself with different rep, set, rest parameters, I was able to capitalize on my skills while experiencing the flow state by focusing on the finer details of technique.

Csikszentmihalyi talked about this in his lecture for TED and where he is described in his bio as the ‘architect’ of flow after extensive research on the subject. “Now, when we do studies, we have, with other colleagues around the world, done over 8,000 interviews of people -- from Dominican monks, to blind nuns, to Himalayan climbers, to Navajo shepherds -- who enjoy their work. And regardless of the culture, regardless of education or whatever, there are these seven conditions that seem to be there when a person is in flow. There's this focus that once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity, you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other, you get immediate feedback. You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel time disappears, you feel part of something larger. And once those conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.”

Clean, snatch, jerk, squat, deadlift and press. Ecstacy.

Again I make the point that the more complex movements have more to offer and not just because of their mechanical benefits. It’s the combination of skill acquisition and sometimes the surrendering of complete control because of that complexity. Says Csikszentmihalyi , “Your skills are not quite as high as they should be, but you can move into flow fairly easily by just developing a little more skill. So, arousal is the area where most people learn from, because that's where they pushed beyond their comfort zone and that to enter -- going back to flow -- then they develop higher skills. Control is also a good place to be, because there you feel comfortable, but not very excited. It's not very challenging any more. And if you want to enter flow from control, you have to increase the challenges. So those two are ideal and complementary areas from which flow is easy to go into.”

Add a plate and a rep, baby. That’s all I’m saying.

In New Hampshire, the challenge in training could sometimes be provided by the facility itself. Like so many conventional gyms, silly exercise contraptions crowded the room so tightly that I always felt like the kid busting through the roof of the snow fort. Gordo was good about letting me shove around the apparatus artifacts for a little space but it still felt like cleaning on rails. Maybe that’s how Lance got so good so fast – he had no choice. Luckily, neither one of us ended up filling out an accident report but I had to be focused on form not pushing the ceiling on kilos. I learned to tear my eyes away from all the crazy-ass things people do in a gym and call ‘exercise.’ Even Lance turned into a bit of a movement snob when he watched people ‘squat.’

I started taking probiotics twice a day - morning and night on an empty stomach - as well as cracked wall chlorella and triphala. I used New Chapter’s All-Flora as a probiotic because I’ve used it before with good results. Don’t ask me to remember why I chose the brand in the first place. I’ve long since forgotten.

The argument for Chlorella was summed up by It’s healing benefits were also discussed in studies on PubMed - the legit peer –reviewed kind of study that appears in journals none of us have much access to otherwise and even when we do they’re a snore. “Chlorella is a powerful detoxification aid for heavy metals and other pesticides. Numerous research projects in the U.S. and Europe indicate that chlorella can also aid the body in breaking down persistent hydrocarbon and metallic toxins such as mercury, cadmium and lead, DDT and PCB while strengthening the immune system response. In Japan, interest in chlorella has focused largely on its detoxifying properties - its ability to remove or neutralize poisonous substances from the body.”

“This detoxification of heavy metals and other chemical toxins in the blood will take 3 to 6 months to build up enough to begin this process depending on how much chlorella a person is taking. Chlorella is a food. As such, it is almost impossible to take too much chlorella. It is also this fibrous material which greatly augments healthy digestion and overall digestive track health.” I’ve been taking the prescribed dosage for two months now so I have no final conclusions.

The Triphala is billed in much the same way but I’ll throw you a little chunk of PubMed from the abstract of ‘anti-diabetic activity of medicinal plants and its relationship with their antioxidant property,’ just to show you I wasn’t kidding and so that I get to look all sciencey. I’ll pretend for a moment that sciencey sounding stuff isn’t wrong just as often.

Methanolic extract (75%) of Terminalia chebula, Terminalia belerica, Emblica officinalis and their combination named 'Triphala' (equal proportion of above three plant extracts) are being used extensively in Indian system of medicine. They were found to inhibit lipid peroxide formation and to scavenge hydroxyl and superoxide radicals in vitro. The concentration of plant extracts that inhibited 50% of lipid peroxidation induced with Fe(2+)/ascorbate were food to be 85.5, 27, 74 and 69 micro g/ml, respectively. The concentration needed for the inhibition of hydoxyl radical scavenging were 165, 71, 155.5 and 151 micro g/ml, and that for superoxide scavenging activity were found to be 20.5, 40.5, 6.5 and 12.5 micro g/ml, respectively. Oral administration of the extracts (100 mg/kg body weight) reduced the blood sugar level in normal and in alloxan (120 mg/kg) diabetic rats significantly within 4 h. Continued, daily administration of the drug produced a sustained effect.”

These supplements will be part of a six month study at which time I’ll conclude my research with absolutely no clear conclusions based on the fact that I began this experiment with no baseline measures. I’ll offer results focusing on how I ‘feel’ confounded with lifestyle variables that further cloud my so-called results. I’ll still proceed partly because my gut says it will work fabulously and because what the heck else am I doing?

So far, I feel good. As a result of the Master Cleanse or coincidentally coinciding with it’s conclusion, I have no taste for chocolate at all, under any circumstances whatsoever. I do however crave black licorice which is used to treat adrenal fatigue when it’s not upping blood pressures and which still counts as ‘Candy’ though most people with a sweet tooth can’t even stand the stuff. This will count as an ‘outcome’. Might as well construct a vague measuring system of 1 to 10 while I’m at it. As unscientific and maybe even irresponsible as that is, my friend Michael Pollan would point out that all nutritional research is unscientific based, as I’ve quoted before, on the fact that we study nutrients but eat food. And black licorice is both weird and a little hard to find which, I’ve decided, makes it compelling data. I could cross-reference lunar patterns to see if that might have anything to do with it but for now, all I know is that chocolate and the persuit of chocolate no longer yanks me around.

My final nutritional challenge of the summer was to spend five days driving across country with Lance partly to see sights he’s never seen. He decided he wanted to test the marketability of his master’s degree in an urban job market. It’s a master’s in English Literature and the drive includes North Dakota. Between the two, disappointments were inevitable. Having both lived in Seattle and driven across country, I might actually be able to provide the kind of advice that could lessen the blows and the kind of disarming tactics that could wrestle the razor blade out of his hand before it reaches wrist. I also knew enough to map the Whole Foods markets from New Hampshire to Chicago and then plan for the lotta nada between Minneapolis and Seattle.

There are things you notice when you make that drive. First, do people in Gary, Indiana wear shock collars that keep them from leaving? I can’t think of a single reason not to leave that zip other than nobody told them they could go. Second, what is the connection between Pirates and Mini Golf and why do seriously landlocked states make any reference to pirates – ever? There are a lot of Pirate’s Cove Mini Golf’s in states that have no history of either pirates or coves. They have had and do have a native American population but any questionable reference is a ‘tomahawk chop’ sort of situation. Today’s pirates don’t seem to be sensitive to stereotypes. It will be funny when Seattle – the home of a lively pirate community and a whole lot people hyperfocused on political correctness – rise up and Mini Golf’s everywhere will have to retheme their parks around the only group we can stereotype these days – Bankers.

And of course my favorite thing to notice on stretches of highway so boring that Lance and I started to bicker just for something to do, is fast food, bad food and nonfood dressed as food being sold everywhere. It was especially bad on toll roads where travelers are trapped into using rest stops because it costs money to exit. Did I mention, too, that I was drinking a gallon of water a day thanks to ‘detox’? That added to the number of stops we made, I assure you. Whatever they said in Fiber Menace about too much water damaging digestion didn’t take detox into consideration.

After passing corn field after corn field, it’s a great time to mention Pollan as well by quoting his most recent article and his entry into the healthcare argument in a piece that appeared in the opinion section of the Honolulu Advertiser on September 12, “But so far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America's fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet.” If he lost you at the mention of farm policies he states the argument more clearly, “To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.”

After Minneapolis, I ate some canned sardines but otherwise starved. I didn’t know where to find organic food and only Albertson’s was visible from the highway. Lance, who grew up with a nasty case of Ulcerative Colitis, and a healthy suspicion of most food, was as lost as I was. We decided to step it up and get to civilization as fast as we could.