Friday, January 30, 2009


It stands for Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension, or something like that. My friend Bitta works at the Mayo Clinic, and she tipped me off to the existence of DASH. It is an existence that will begin to influence the way I live.

See, this past trip to Arkansas I did all the culinary things a trip South requires: ate lots of barbecue, lots of fried whatever, and drank lots of Dr. Pepper. It was glorious.

It was also excessive. In the months leading up to my trip I had been experiencing various physical discomforts that seemed to be symptoms of something. In the early autumn I gave up most caffeine, which I think helped, but some of the symptoms persisted. By the time it became clear that it would be beneficial to seek medical attention, I temporarily lost my health insurance with Starbucks.

Let's be real though. Partially from my dad's example and partially through growing accustomed to living without health insurance for several years, going to the doctor is usually a last resort. So it is that I began feeling some of the discomfort one night at my parents' house after dinner, and I decided to check my blood pressure.

To say it was high might be an understatement. I was freaked to say the least. But, without medical insurance, a visit to the doctor had to wait at least another three weeks. So, I called Bitta to seek her sage advice on life style changes in response to this new discovery.

Thus, DASH became a part of my life. It's really a pretty common sense as far as diets go. But, that's the point of lifestyle changes, right? They are usually not unexpected changes. Just unwelcome. So, for me here are some of the guiding dietary principles:

*Lower sodium intake. Sodium is one of the primary culprits of elevated blood pressure. The daily recommended value of sodium is 1500 mg, but most people exceed this several times over. One of the dictates of lowering sodium is giving up nearly all packaged food. Things I would not expect to be high in sodium, like much bread and cereal, have turned out to be on the black list. Also, no more free food at the Bux. Other than the overpriced oatmeal, there is not much reasonable there.

*Lower alcohol consumption. I won't dwell on this, but I pretty much hate this part. Thankfully I was dry for a month last winter and I know I can do this. Also, as much as I hate to admit it, I feel better when I'm alcohol free.

*Lower caffeine consumption. Also helping me with the alcohol reduction is looking back over the last few months and being surprised at how easy it has been to significantly reduce how much caffeine I drink. Another consequence is that my awake feels more awake, and my tired feels less tired. My sleeping has also improved.

*Drink more water. Obvious, but something I've not been very good at practicing.

*Increased magnesium, calcium, and potassium intake. Still researching what foods will help me do this, but I am also reacquainting myself with the multivitamin.

*Eat moderately. A big help with high blood pressure is weight loss. Eating smaller portions, and selecting healthier options go some of the distance with this. The other part is of course regular exercise. Thanks to a growing group of friends who love tennis, this has been an easier addition to my lifestyle. Come spring, I look forward to getting more hiking in as well.

There's lots of other things to consider in DASH, but those are the most salient for me. The upside has been moving my focus from what I'm needing to give up in order to get rid of something, to realizing how the changes I'm making are adding value to my life. I am feeling motivated about SOMETHING for the first time in a long time.

Then there are the little reminders. There is that wonderful feeling of exhaustion after a good tennis match which helps me realize that while my shots were wild and unruly, I left every ounce of energy I had on the court. There is that satisfaction of eating just enough at a meal instead of feeling like I'm going into a coma from overeating. There is that appreciation of friends who give recipe suggestions, cook sensitively, and respond to my ridiculous requests to play tennis in the cold drizzle.

Life is good and is getting better. It's nice to say that without trying to convince myself. Which is part and parcel with these changes. Stress elevates blood pressure as well, and there has been no shortage of that this past year and more.

To put it as simply as possible, I have been stressed that time keeps passing even though I don't have a clue what I want to do. I'm confident in who I want to be, and even certain things I want to do, but the day to day of making a living and all that goes along with that--no clue.

The merry-go-round spins...grad school, nonprofit work, missions, teaching, translation, writing, etc. I never land on anything for too long. I'm not looking for a permanent fit, but I'm looking for a meaningful occupation. I hope that's not too much to ask.

At any rate, my attempts to let DASH impact my life are in the infancy stages, but I'm hopeful. I'd like the other decisions in my life to follow that same path of hopefulness.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Come, Captain

Coquettishly you come to
me in the
A faerie masked in mystery
aloft on gossamer wings
soaked with starlight
Close you hover
gentle caress upon jugular
until secret somethings
gush unceremoniously forth
An outpouring of darkened heart
bleeding confession
costly petition
penitent libation

If I could only catch you
stall this dance
Silence this cacophony
Fill up what is lacking
in my affliction of
Oh! to know your coming
and your going
know it with the familiarity
of tide and shore
Wash over me
wipe away gritty
uneven surface
smoothly I flow
into the heart of
the sunset

I am lost upon you
I am lost without you
I have tasted the
gravity sinking through
the vortex
yawning beneath idle feet
I have felt the wind blow itself
to pieces against
the drift of
my wandering
upsetting course set

Come, captain this ship
Set the sails, tie the rigging
slip the anchor
for home

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"The house rose from its ashes and I sailed on my love of Delgadina with an intensity and happiness I had never known in my former life. Thanks to her I confronted my inner self for the first time as my ninetieth year went by. I discovered that my obsession for having each thing in the right place, each subject at the right time, each word in the right style, was not the well-deserved reward of an ordered mind but just the opposite: a complete system of pretense invented by me to hide the disorder of my nature. I discovered that I am not disciplined out of virtue but as a reaction to my negligence, that I appear generous in order to conceal my meanness, that I pass myself off as prudent because I am evil-minded, that I am conciliatory in order not to succumb to my repressed rage, that I am punctual only to hide how little I care about other people's time. I learned, in short, that love is not a condition of the spirit but a sign of the zodiac.

I became another man. I tried to reread the classics that had guided me in adolescence, and I could not bear them. I buried myself in the romantic writings I had repudiated when my mother tried to impose them on me with a heavy hand, and in them I became aware that the invincible power that has moved the world is unrequited, not happy, love."

--Gabriel García Márquez, Memories of My Melancholy Whores

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Postcards Without Postage, pt. 4

Dear little one,

I had a strange dream last night that made scant sense, but when I woke I knew it was about you.

From atop a mountain, I saw a dark bank of clouds streaming in from the east. They moved swiftly, heavy with purpose. As they reached the sky above me, they began to hover and swirl. Deliberately and ominously they gathered until they became the sky.

I heard a voice neither cruel nor gentle wail, "Cover your eyes!" Against my will I obeyed, the force of the voice driving into me with irresistible compulsion. As the world went black, I could feel the heaviness of the clouds crashing over me, an inexorable tide of darkness threatening to suffocate.

"Open your eyes," said a whisper in my ear, childlike and wise. Oh, how I wanted to listen to this whisper! But against the heaviness I could only manage to loose my left eye from its imprisonment.

I saw the underside of the clouds bathed in a bright orange glow, the reflection of some great forest fire, trees below singing with elegiac passion within the conflagration. It was terrible and beautiful, and I returned to my darkness with a mixture of regret and relief.

"Open your eyes," came the whisper once more, laden with urgency. Again the heaviness prevented me from complying fully, but this time I opened my right eye.

I once again saw the inky cloud bank bathed in fire, but this time the glow was warm and fading, like the sunset. It was another flame of passing, but it burned with the promise of tomorrow's rising. All beneath was silent in anticipation. It was beautiful and terrible, and again I retreated to the comfort of my blindness.

"Open your eyes," came the whisper a third time, adding gently, "Do not be afraid." These last four words birthed a lightness in me, and pregnant with expectation I opened both of my eyes onto the leaden expanse.

Just as I looked, the heavens broke open and the deluge began. The fire beneath the clouds shone through the rain to create a crystal clear rainbow, its arc crowning the horizon. I began to cry.

And then I woke, crying still. My little one, I am awash in sorrow. How will I not drown? I have sent my prayers for peace flying to the four corners of the heavens, but they have returned bearing no message, no assurance. Though I endure 197 days of silence, will I ever again see the world unflooded by tears?

As my red-rimmed eyes surrender to slumber once more, I am searching desperately for the courage to open my eyes to the sunrise. For I know it is you whispering in the morning, "Do not be afraid."