Friday, June 15, 2012

Venus, Strawberry Jam and Quitting!

Life has been chugging along - each day silently folding into the next. I’ve been exhausted (stupid allergy meds - I’ve quit them so that’s helping). I’ve been excited. I’ve been scared and I’ve been... I don’t know. Me. Cooking. Reading. Geeking out over Game of Thrones and Mad Med. And Venus!

Today is my last full day as an employee in the corporate world. Sure, I become a contractor and work Fridays in the office and from home during the week until they hire someone, but today is my last day as a “responsible, 40 hour a week working person.” It feels weird!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m stoked to not make this horrific commute every day. Especially when there’s a fire and Bart doesn’t work and traffic is a bloody mess. I can’t wait to use that time to devote to studying for the GRE, reading my psychology textbook (the class I start on Monday) and focusing my energy on volunteering. It’s just so against me. I’m a control freak. I’m type A. I think I’ve mentioned before that I color coordinate my closet. I want to know what’s going to happen. I like knowing what’s in store for me in the future. It’s how I function. I find comfort *knowing.* I’m the person who plans out everything - my entire day, my weekend, my vacations. So, you can probably understand why I’m kinda freaking out a bit about my immediate future. I don’t know what my schedule is. I have volunteer interviews and training next week. I don’t know where I’ll be volunteering yet, who I’ll be working for or what I’ll be doing. I’ve played the game of “let’s not think about that...” but now it’s all there waiting for me come Monday morning! Exciting and terrifying!

One thing that always strikes me as odd is that you never know how much your co-workers like you until you leave. Why is that? I’ve had so many “you’ll make an excellent nurse!” “fantastic!” “I’m so excited for you!” and “I’ll miss working with you” statements over the last two weeks that it’s a bit overwhelming! I never knew people actually liked me that much. Why is that? Do we just hide under our “status quo” so much so that we don’t actually tell people what we think? Eh, probably. Whatev’s - I’m really not going to miss this work, but I will miss the people.
Venus crossing the sun. The black dot on the upper left at the edge of the reflection of the sun is where Venus is just starting it's journey!
So, one thing that’s cool about working with a bunch of science geeks, is that they go all out when crazy astronomical events like when Venus crossed the sun. I got to see it! There were two telescopes - one with the paper projection (see photo) and one with a proper solar filter so that you could really see Venus. Someone even brought eclipse glasses, but I couldn’t see anything with those. It was so cool! A planet! It exists! And I could *see* it! Yeah, I’m a geek. I’ve given up trying to hide from it.
Coworkers looking at the wonderfully creative way to project the Sun and Venus' travels.
Yeah, we're geeks!
Last weekend, I spent a second session canning. This was a much more pleasant experience than when I canned beets. I got a discounted flat of strawberries from the farmers market last Thursday and they were stinking up our fridge. So, after wedding dress shopping with A (*sniff, sniff* she’s so beautiful!) I went home and got to the sweaty, messy business of making and canning strawberry jam. First time ever! It was hard, hot and messy work (canning, people! stay with me!) but well worth the finished product of having 16 jars of beautiful jam finished! Hooray! I calculated the savings - about $100 of not buying expensive, organic jam at Rainbow (don’t get me wrong, I love supporting Rainbow, but c’mon, $8 per 10 oz of jam?!). And I even made it with honey! No processed sugar! Pamona’s pectin - I think I love you.

Other than that, the only other exciting thing in life aside from the whole minor detail of quitting my job is that I’m finally deciding on the finishing touches for my new bike! In order to bribe me into doing a century with him, I made R get me a custom made bike for my 30th birthday. And so I’ve decided to have it painted in pink. “Pig” pink. And, I’ve decided to call it “Pig.” :D I am SO ridiculously happy to name my new bike Pig. Yeah - I’m quarky. I color coordinate my closet, make kombucha, can strawberry jam and call my bike Pig. And it makes me happy.

Anyway, get out there and actually let people know what you think of them. Pretend that today is the last time you’ll be working with someone and let them know how you feel. Why not? Why pretend? And really, why wait? Nothing in life is forever. Not even Pig.

Overripe strawberries ready to be made into jam and canned!

All 16 jars of canned strawberry jam. Yum!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Increasing Qi

Life has calmed down. The parents came and had a wonderful week here in SF. It was awesome to spend time with them, eat, drink, have friends over for dinner and my Mom was totally cool and went to hot vinyasa yoga with me - she did great! I about died as my shoulder hasn’t really allowed me to do yoga for 3 months, but back at it! I want to start going once per week (and secretly want to recruit R - I mean, it will help his biking, right?? Maybe that’ll get him).

My parents during the solar eclipse over a lovely glass of wine in San Carlos
 Since things are less stressful, I’d like to spend some time writing about how food can be a medicine. If you read this blog, I’m pretty open about my feelings on Chinese medicine (or Traditional Chinese Medicine - TCM). In this first post, I’ll give a overview of TCM and the principles. This will help to explain what I mean by “hot” foods or “cold” foods, etc.

Disclaimer: I’m not a licensed acupuncturist. If it were up to me, I’ll tell you to go see one. My opinions here are not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. Everything written here is simply my opinion or paraphrased from a TCM class I took in January/February, books I’ve read or personal experience. Please don’t ever try to prescribe yourself supplements or herbs - see a licensed acupuncturist for recommendations.

R and me during the eclipse - he's so cute!
 The basics - if you do not want to understand TCM except for at a microscopic level, then please stop reading now - TCM won’t make sense to you and it will just infuriate you. This was the hardest hurdle that I had to overcome in my understanding of TCM. By “microscopic” I mean “reason” or “cause.” In western medicine, we take drugs to interfere with or create chemicals in the body to treat disease, to treat a cause. Western medicine addresses disease at the microscopic level - or chemical level. TCM couldn’t give a shit. TCM looks at the macroscopic level - mostly known as a “holistic” medicine. TCM doesn’t care that you haven’t been sleeping, eating well and have a lack of veggies in your diet so now you have a cold. TCM doesn’t have you take a medicine to decrease inflammation at the protein level like Advil. TCM looks at all the disharmonies within the body and attempts to make those disharmonies balance - to prevent you from getting that cold or help you deal better with inflammation.

We all have disharmonies. Harmony is based on yin and yang. Remember that symbol that was so popular in the 90’s? That’s the TCM symbol for yin and yang. Yin is cold and yang is hot (I remember this by thinking yang has an “a” and so does “warm”). Yin and yang are much more than cold and hot, but there are books out there that describe it much more eloquently than I and I prefer not to plagiarize. Yin and yang have an infinite quality and all things are made up of yin and yang.

Driving up Mt. Tam looking towards SF
 Qi (or chi) is the “energy” in the body. Qi isn’t really energy, but I haven’t yet wrapped my mind around what it is other than to call it energy. So we’ll stick with energy - you and I. Sometimes I feel qi moving (after a good yoga class, during acupuncture, sometimes when I exercise) but qi is always moving - yes, I know I sound like a freak, but stop and pay attention and you might feel yours too. It’s that pleasant tingly feeling that you get sometimes (no, not when your foot goes to sleep...). Sometimes qi is weak or stagnant. In TCM, this is when disease can set in (i.e. a cold, sore muscles, sleeplessness, heart disease, cancer, etc etc etc). There are also different types of qi, but I won’t go into that - mostly concern yourself with the qi that you can work with yourself: nourishing qi. You can “nourish” your qi through sleeping, eating a healthy diet and unrelated but equally important - maintaining your emotional health. Remember, you want equal balance in your body - between yin and yang, between too little and too much. Anything in excess can cause disharmony and subsequently get you sick.

View of Richardson Bay, the SF Bay and SF at the top of Mt. Tam
 In TCM, if you’re healthy but are having a deficiency in some area, a practitioner will likely try to “tonify” your qi. All this means is to give you a boost, an increase in qi. Acupuncture helps here because the acupuncturist places a tiny needle (the width of a hair) into acupuncture points. Think of meridian lines as rivers and acupuncture points as tiny wells or reservoirs. When you stick a log in the middle of the well or reservoir, the water will speed up around the log. Acupuncture acts in a similar fashion to move qi and balance qi. Full disclosure: the needles don’t usually hurt (unless you’re a woman and get acupuncture right before your period - yeouch!) and if they do initially hurt, the pain subsides in a second. I’m also terrified of needles, so when I get acupuncture I turn into a big ball of sweat, but once the needles are in place, I feel fantastic! Luckily my acupuncturist is incredibly understanding with my sweaty antics.

Tonifying qi is excellent when you’ve been working out too much, haven’t gotten enough sleep or think you’re on the brink of a cold. Food is medicine, right? Aside from acupuncture, here are some foods for tonifying qi:

Beef (100% grass fed, organic), cherries, avocado, yams (sweet potatoes), carrots, shiitake mushrooms, beets, barley, coconut (water, shaved, milk), hazelnuts, brown rice, corn meal, oysters, kidney beans, black beans, almonds and apricots.

These are just my favorites. The easiest way to get a full list is to google “foods to tonify qi” and the first link that pops up is a Word doc. Make sure to incorporate a lot of complex carbohydrates with veggies and unrefined grains, eat small frequent meals and avoid “cold” foods such as citrus and raw foods.

My parents are so cute! 
 This post is dedicated to you N - she called me up a week from last Friday and told me how she was tonifying her qi with a glass of pinot grigio! AHAHAH! Love that girl. She’s been riding 35 miles round trip to and from work for bike to work month in May- 2 to 3 times per week - WOW - so proud of you N! And I of course being the crazy, crunchy woman that I am told her to tonify her qi. FYI - alcohol is used in TCM, but for use with herbs and usually with the elderly. Full disclosure: I love wine and still continue to drink it! You can’t take life too seriously...

You likely think I’m a bit nuts. Yes, I’m skeptical as well about TCM. The only reason why I am interested in TCM and the reason why I think it’s true is because it has worked wonders for me. TCM is about a series of patterns that make up a story that help your practitioner understand how to restore harmony to your body- thus the idea of “holistic.”

Again, from here, I’ll blog about how food can be a medicine and what to try for specific things. Changing my diet has made an enormous improvement in my health - and it wasn’t all that drastic. Small changes over time, and taking the time to stop and understand how my body reacts to those foods, helped me to get to where I am today.

Can’t wait to share my awesome weekend in Tahoe last weekend! Will post soon about that and yin deficiencies.

Now go tonify your qi - or just think I’m crazy! I’m happy with either.
Lunch at Fish in Sausilito - YUM!