Sunday, April 30, 2017

Some Daily Thoughts

I love my dog Peanut.  What a loyal friend.  She has a keen sense of what I'm going through.   She's basically been a barometer of my ever-fluxing state of well-being.  In a moment she is on my lap to gaze into my face, give me a little kiss, and push her chest up against my own. I love that dog.

The love of a good wife is infinitely better and more comforting.  My wife is a saint.  Hard-working, dutiful, pious, and cheerful.  I admire her positive spirit in the face of adversity.  If everyone in her life died and she was homeless and destitute, I'd bet she'd still be able to sleep, get up and carry on through her day with sustained faith and buoyancy.

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Oklahoma weather.  Well, I've talked about it before, how our weather is very unusual and unpredictable.  I have memories of Spring-like weather on Christmas day, and snow in April.  Today is April 30, and it was chilly with a whistling wind reminiscent of winter.  Had to turn on some space heaters.

West Wing.  I'm rounding 3rd base now on season 6.  Very liberal, yes, yes, I know.  But the plot and character development got me hooked.  I especially like the character Josh Lyman, a special advisor and writer for the president.  He's got a lot of energy, spunk, and enthusiasm for his job.

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Ok.  Got to go to sleep soon.  Tell me your thoughts.  Pleasant dreams, and that include's Matthew over at Matthew's Dreams Blog.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Way I See it, You've Got Three Choices

Imagine the poor souls who become disabled by a serious medical illness.  Or someone who loses a spouse or child.  Or someone who is unjustly sent to prison for life.  The list could go on.

And imagine there is no way to undo the situation.  No way to go back and prevent it, or to go on living as if the circumstances of your life haven't been permanently changed.

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I listed above some extreme examples, but many of us have or will deal with some life-altering personal challenges.  A surgeon has to quit doing surgery after losing some fingers to frostbite climbing Everest.  A married couple can no longer have marital relations because of some kind of unusual, medical complication.  One day you wake up and your vision is so bad you can no longer drive a car--at least legally anyway.

Many of us will have some kind of mutilating experience in their life, or know someone first-hand who has.  And a choice has to be made.

The way I see, you've got one of three choices:

1.  Jump off a bridge.  I don't see any upside here.  Either you go from a state of seeming misery in this life to an infinitely worse and permanent state (hell), or if you'd be lucky to make it to purgatory, the suffering would be instantaneously worse.  

2. Give up on life and sit around feeling sorry for yourself.   Become a drunk, druggie, self-loathing, life hating, morbidly depressed dropout on life.   I can see one upside here.  In the moment, there might be some relief from escaping reality.  But given enough time--days or weeks would do the trick--you'd have sunk into a deeper state of misery.  Life would be even worse.

3.  Which brings us to door #3:  maximize your life the best you can despite your handicap or debilitating cross.  If you lose your legs, learn to walk and run using artificial prostheses.   If you lose a spouse to death, mourn and then move on, finding new or renewed relationships.

In the end, no matter how awful the situation may seem, if we care about God and our life, we don't have any other choice than #3.  That's the raw fact of life.

This post is a bit of hyperbole.  Many fortunately will not face tragic change in their life.  Not sure the % in that category, but reflecting on the three above choices, I can see how they'd apply to any trial or cross you're facing, whether it is small or large, temporary or permanent.

In the end we can a) completely give up on a situation, b) retreat into self-pity and a kind of self-indulgence that really hurts more than relieves, or c) grab that bull by the horns, overcome the setback, refuse to throw in the towel, and choose to live fully and as blessedly as possible this little life God has given us.

Our Faith tells me that's the only way to be happy in the next.  And ironically, common sense tells me that's actually the only way to be happy in this life too.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Committed to My Hobby

I did it!  I resurrected my old hobby today, planting a vegetable garden + some flowers.   I was following through on a promise to myself about having regular hobbies--which I chatted about here.  There's something cultivating and rejuvenating for the soul when making something--whether it's a birdhouse, song, recipe, or a garden.

I headed over to Home Depot for some cheap seeds--cucumber, zucchini, and swiss chard.  Last summer the cucumber harvest provided us with endless cucumber salads, but the zucchini plants were a flop--I'll give it a go again.  The Swiss chard package said it can be planted as late as May in Oklahoma, so we'll see.

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Then I headed over to a local specialty gardening store which happens to sell a bunch of vegetable plants at very inexpensive prices.  For about $2, you get four plants.  I picked up tomato, yellow summer squash, and eggplant plants.  Plus some yellow and pink flowers--didn't look at the name--but these are the one's we planted last summer which exploded in color and lasted until October.

Later at home I pulled out my Joy of Gardening book--which seems to be popular among trads btw, considering it's for sale by the Angelus Press--and set the plants and seeds on the front porch.  Some weeds needed weeding, and my hoe came in handy chopping up the soil.

What makes my garden this year unique is that it's all in our front flower beds.  Would take too much labor to dig up all the grass from the garden patch I prepared last summer all by hand.  When you're pocketbook and yard size is limited, you make do with what you've got.

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Dreaming of Tomatoes

In the front row I planted a big yellow to it a small summer squash plant...then a pink flower, repeating that combo a few times down the line.  In the side bed, I spread out some swiss chard seeds towards the front, and in back cucumber seeds, planning for them to grow long vines across the sidewalk and spread out across the yard.  In the very back is a large square bed, where now resides four tomato plants, four eggplants, and some sewn zucchini seeds.

On the porch I planted more of the yellow and pink flowers in a large pot, and in some small pots, and in a middle-sized pot I planted tome red, tropical-looking flowers my wife likes since she is from a tropical country.

If the success of this garden/flower planting is anything like last summer, it will make for a beautified front yard to give pleasure to passersby for months to come, and supply some fresh, organic, homegrown produce for the kitchen!

Every man needs a hobby.  This summer at least, gardening will be mine!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Our First Day in Heaven??

I wonder what our first day in heaven might be like?

After a long, valley of tears.  After a long series of crosses and mystifying sorrows.  For some, after a good spell being purged by fire in purgatory--if we're blessed to die in God's grace.  When all the suffering this side of heaven seems unending.

Think of all your ailments, failures, rejections, hardships, and dark periods.  Think of all the inconveniences, aches and pains, sleeping troubles, depressed periods, loneliness, etc, etc.  Think of the eternal relief and reward that awaits us.

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The Valley of Tears, bu Gustav Dore

I'd like to think our first day of heaven will be like a marathon runner crossing the finish line, being brought refreshments, as a reward for being dehydrated, hungry, and tired.  After all, that initial reward and relief is something the runner aims at in finishing the race.

Perhaps that first day of relief will be different for everyone.  For a poor, deaf and mute, blind, quadraplegic (I imagine there is someone out there so afflicted), that first day through the pearly gates, they will get to run through wide fields of fresh grass, hearing symphonies, and viewing majestic panoramas, while speaking with the angels.

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For me I would like to think on my first day in heaven, I will be surrounded with family and friends who have passed on and made it to heaven, to really have long talks and to laugh.  It would be splendid to have a long, blissful sleep, and to awaken refreshed like I use to as a child.  I would love to experience perfect mental and emotional clarity.  I would also love if I can practice any of those talents and gifts God gave me in this life that circumstances have not allowed me to fully express.  It would be awesome to experience what it would be like to be a surgeon.

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Then again, our first day in heaven may be angelic simplicity gazing on the Beatific Vision.   God knows.  But looking forward to that first day in heaven is one thought that keeps me moving forward in this marathon of life.

What do you think your first day in heaven might look like?  The Comment box is open!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Good Sunday Memories

It's Sunday morning and I'm sitting in my Okie Trad armchair starting season 4 of The West Wing on Netflix.  The show is liberal, and not all that interesting, but I'm sorta hooked on it.  The characters are interesting.  The plots are a good mental challenge to follow.

And the little lady is in the kitchen making scrambled eggs and bratwurst.  Mass is later.

This restful Sunday morning, I'm reminded of good experiences I've had over the years on Sundays.

Growing up we either went to the 5pm Saturday Mass, or 11:30 am Sunday Mass, so when we got up at 7 or 8 on Sunday mornings, we had the liberty of a fine, Sunday breakfast and to lounge reading the funny papers.  I remember waking up my parents by crawling into bed with them under the sheets, asking for pancakes.  Pancakes were a Sunday special.  I have a warm memory of Sunday mornings laying on the living room floor, basking in the morning rays of the Sun, reading the comic section of the Sunday paper.  Dad would be reading the news.  Mom would be checking out the advertisements.  Those Sunday mornings are a warm memory from childhood.

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As a teenager, I became best friends with my older sister's boyfriend--now husband.  During their few years of courtship, it was a Sunday habit for them to come to our childhood parish for Sunday Mass.  Sundays would become a close time for family.  I remember the first time I ate pizza dipped in ranch dressing.  One restaurant we frequented after Sunday Mass was Simple Simon's pizza.  My brother-in-law and I mused how customers were using ranch with their pizza, and it caught on.  Next thing you know we were drenching our pizza slices in ranch.

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Most Sundays we had dinner back at the house, and it was my mom's homecooking that filled the house with a delightful aroma.   Our favorite Sunday meal was spaghetti with all the sides.  We would play chess, other board games, and Nintendo.  But we spent more time outside playing basketball, hitting plastic golf balls, and building tree houses.  As time has passed, those relationships are now substantially different, but those Sunday memories will live with me all my life.

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Flash forward, and in my 20's, when I lived in another state, a good friend of mine and I liked to attend a very conservative novus ordo parish far removed from the city, and along the way go bouldering and hiking at a mountainous park surrounding a lake.   Over the course of a year, we probably took a half a dozen such trips, which were surreal to me.  We had so much fun.  It was a day full of spirituality and adventure.  After climbing a tall rock face, we would perch on a ledge and pray the psalms.  On our way home, we stopped at a rural Catholic retreat center immersed in nature, to pray at their Perpetual Adoration chapel which looked like a log cabin.  These were unforgettable times.

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Probably for most of us, most of the time, Sunday is a simple day like any other Sunday.  Hopefully that means Sunday Mass.  But how much do we really keep the day holy?  How much true leisure rules the day?

I can imagine an idealistic Sunday.  Sunday morning Latin High Mass.  Coffee and donuts with fellow parishioners.  A full Sunday brunch of eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and OJ.  Family games and quiet time to study the catechism and for leisure reading.  A visit to a family member in the nursing home, or a shut-in at home to give some comfort.  Then a hike in the park, dinner, and an evening bonfire.  I do hear-tell there are families that manage to live Sundays like that.

Tell me about your Sundays, and fond Sunday memories, in the Comment box below!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Our Dads

Yesterday I talked about how I managed to force my mind to slip into a subconscious, trance-like state while my head was bolted inside a helmet, and my body stuck in an MRI tunnel for 30 minutes.  Good times.

When your fight-or-flight response wants to high jack your psyche, unnecessarily, there is an alternate impulse minds are meant to resort to--the parasympathetic response.   To slow breathing, heart rate, and calm the mind.
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Being stuck in that MRI, my mind managed to do that, and part of what carried me through a half hour laying in confinement, was imagining in exacting detail my teenage camping and backpacking trips with my dad.

I should preface this post with the admission that in my 20's my relationship with my dad did shift from something benign to a very strained situation.  BUT, by the grace of God, however, we made our peace before he died.  That period is come and gone. May he rest in peace.

So this post is about my father, and our fathers.

Except for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it seems according to some Doctors of the Church St. Joseph too, all of us are a mixture of virtue and sin.

So it is with our fathers, with my father.   They go off to work and bring home the bacon.  They change the oil and balance the checkbook.  

Like many men out there, my dad had a good side and a dark side.  There's the side that wants to do good by their wife and children.   And there's the side where...well, fill in the blank.

Our backpacking trips were magical.  Something eased my dad's nerves into a state of sustained serenity and well-being.  Even mishaps and misjudgments were met with a very moderate response.  Something about the outdoors.  Something about taking a Time Out from the social grind.  It's a natural mystery, how the outdoors, at least in my experience, is civilizing and balancing.

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Perhaps you have experienced the vexing and strained side of your father, or worse.  I'd imagine most have.  But for me these outdoor trips were a taste of heaven.  A time of serenity and joy.

Looking up the side of the small mountain (I say small because the "mountains" we backpacked in Oklahoma and Arkansas were, relative to most, small), I took the backpacks out of the trunk.  Dad had the map spread across the hood of the car.  It was always a pleasure to scan the map and see where the sites along the way were marked by symbols in the map's legend.   It was as much a symbolic journey of accomplishment, to make it through the ups and downs marked by the map, as the actual physical accomplishment.

Before passing the trailhead, we checked our gear and food, but once we stepped onto the trail, we entered a new reality.  The reality of father and son enjoying the pure outdoors.

One of my fondest memories is of our times, at the end of a day of arduous backpacking, when we reached the bottom of a valley along a creek or small river.  Tent set up, water gathered, campfire roaring, dinner cooked, the nearby stream giving gentle, relaxing sounds, father and son would settle in by the fireside for a good long talk.

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We told stories.  We talked about life.  We celebrated our day's accomplishment.  We planned the next day's route.

Those were blessed times.  As a nature lover, and a Catholic believer, I imagine heaven being a natural place of mountains and streams.  It was the book of the Apocalypse after all that revealed heaven would be a "new Creation."

And so that is my hope.  My hope is that one day, when we have steadfastly endured the hike of life through this valley of tears, we will join our loved ones in the new Creation.  There I hope to enjoy a campfire again with my dad, and a good, long hike.

Friday, April 21, 2017

CT Scan Today. Wondered if It'd be like my MRI Experience.

I have a fullness in my right and left middle ears, with some recent tinnitus (which I pray is temporary either from allergies or my TMJ issues), and also some painful cheekbones.  My ENT recently thought I'm having sinusitis and ordered a CT scan.  I finally made it in today to get 'er done.  Boy was I relieved it was no big deal.

I was somewhat resolved to doing it going into the radiology department at the hospital down the road, not knowing how confining and prolonged the CT experience would be.  Back in February, I had a first time MRI to rule out some things (which it did), and that was purgatorial.  When I made the MRI appointment they asked if I'd like "conscious sedation" which I'm still unclear as to what it exactly is, but it's for people who are claustrophobic.  I am historically not.  Until this MRI anyway.

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The MRI machine they used for me didn't have a round tube.  The ceiling came almost down to my nose.

For the MRI, I walk into a small room and there is a large machine with a tunnel.  I think "no big deal" until after I lie down my head is completely locked into a bolted-down helmet and when I am transported back into the tunnel, there is maybe an INCH between my nose and the ceiling of the tube, and I'm immersed in it from the top of my head down to my elbows.

You might think "yeah I can do that, no problem."  But the sucker took 30, yes 30 minutes with no stops, the whole time my head completely locked in the helmet.  If I should want out, it would take a chunk of time, and ruin the scan.  This is what you're made aware of by the tech who counsels you before he sends you into confinement.

Oh and just for fun, you're hearing clunking, electrifying, weird Star Trek kinds of sounds of all sorts.

The first few minutes I felt okay, but then it starts to sink in you're going to be in that stuck position for a Half Hour!  Deep breathing helps, but when those strange sounds start pounding and clicking, you have to resort to other measures.

So for the next 25 or so minutes, having made a deep down decision I MUST do this MRI and endure it, for my health, my subconscious mind reverted to an ever more subconscious trance-like state.  I would transport myself back in time and relive every camping and backpacking trip I took with my dad as a teenager.  That's how I got through it.

I imagined the car drive, the food and gear prep, stopping at the ranger's station, what I was wearing, the feeling of excitement to explore the outdoors, the various vistas and valleys we hiked through, the campfires, stories, mishaps, and thrills.  I relived several of those trips in that half hour.  It was a mental marathon.

So going in to do a CT scan today of my sinuses, I had no idea if I'd be confined like that to a tunnel or for how long.  Boy what a relief when the tech said it'd take 5 minutes, and it really only took 2-3 minutes. There was no tight tunnel, and most of the time my head was covered just to the neckline, and just for a short time down to my shoulders.

Fun times.  Anybody ever had the fun of an MRI or CT scan?  Share in the comments section below.

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The CT scan today looked like this.  So much bigger diameter, and no tunnel.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Well, I have to admit my life has not exactly been a state of Zhen-like balance.  My daily schedule is not a rhythmic flow of work and leisure.  Mostly it feels like work, then chilling out in front of a screen of some kind.  Mea culpa.

The wife and I were talking about this lately.  In her free time she likes doing arts and crafts, writing letters, and sewing.  Me, blogging, Netflix, and the occasional stroll in the yard.

When you've been around enough to see 7 presidents in office, at my age it's a bit of a challenge to acquire new hobbies, or any new habit for that matter.  Many years ago, it was a regular habit to go hiking, backpacking, camping, and fishing.  Now at most I take out the outdoors gear sporadically throughout the calendar year.

Truth be told, what I really enjoy is:  reading, writing, movies, cooking, gardening, and outdoor recreation.  Did have a Summer and Fall garden last year.  Do sometimes pull out an old recipe and roll up my sleeves in the kitchen.  Still maintaining this blogging hobby...But I guess what I'm confessing is I've seldom managed to weave the habit of these regular hobbies into my weekly schedule.  

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I'm thinking of the kind of talent-oriented, mindful hobbies that often sustained our forefathers after a hard day of work.  And I don't mean sitting around drinking beer.  I mean things like woodworking, automobile restoration, bee keeping, and such.

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...well there's no time like the present.  It's still early enough to plan that summer garden.  I've got 5-10 recipes I'm fond of making, and I can start doing a couple a week.  Plus the Sun is out longer and the Spring temperatures are ideal for hiking.

Case in point.  Relative to the plain and rough landscape of Oklahoma, there is a pristine piece of Colorado-like public land reserved for hiking called Red Bud Valley State Park.  The main trail is a a big loop, with a few miles of trails total.  

I usually go clockwise, getting the hard part out of the way, climbing up a rock staircase of sorts to the top of a hill where the habitat shifts to a desert-like landscape of small cacti, lizards, and sandy soil.  Then it's down some cliffs, passing under some shady overhangs (a huge deer with gigantic antlers once stared down at me from one of these overhangs) and past a few caves that give rise to springs.  The last part is a winding path along a raised platform trail through a moist, cool valley of moss and fern trees.  For the Okie who yearns for more majestic natural beauties, this hour long hike is a pretty good fix.

That'll make a good start for kick-starting more hobbies in my daily life.  Plus making some smokey, bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers.

So do you have hobbies?  What are they?  The comment box is open!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My "Eating Plan"

For years I ate a refined, processed diet with a lot of sugar, flour, and soy bean oil.  Basically, if you could boil down the main ingredients of most items in the aisle section of your supermarket, you'll get those three ingredients.

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The Standard American Diet

A few years ago I wanted to make a change, and we switched to a mostly "whole foods" diet.  It helps when you have a wife with very good health habits.  We switched from breakfast cereal to oatmeal, from lots of pasta to brown rice, and from meals in a box to fresh fish.

The next phase of my health journey was to reduce carbs, even the unprocessed kind.  The Atkins diet kicked it off, but it evolved, and I was eating a lot of veggies, salads, nuts, seeds, and cheese, as well as eggs, fish, and meat.  I lost a lot of weight and felt great.

With my health challenge right now, which I recently posted about, I'm not doing a strict low carb diet, that's too much stress on my body, so I'm doing what Dr. Andrew Weil (expert in "integrated medicine," has a big, fluffy white beard) calls an anti-inflammatory diet.  I basically did this before low carb. And it is actually a semi-low carb kind of diet, in that it really cuts out a lot of simple carbs, pasta, and bread.  It emphasizes foods that do not raise your blood sugar.  Not that I'm diabetic--I've been tested--but recent nutritional science has highlighted the importance on low glycemic index food, i.e. food that does not raise the blood sugar much.

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Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet (ie way of eating)

The mechanism goes like this:  with high glycemic index food dominating the diet comes high insulin levels, which causes inflammation, and inflammation is synonymous with disease and illness.

If you have a bad cold, eating a Snickers will probably make it worse, even an orange.  Both are boiled down quickly to sugar in the blood stream, which increases inflammation (cue nasal congestion) and lowers the immune system.  In a matter of just a few minutes!

But if you're trying to overcome an ailment--who doesn't have an ailment?--and if that ailment is largely due to inflammation, itself largely due to high carb food, then it makes sense to eat an avocado or some strawberries instead of that orange.

So that's my eating plan right now.  Thoughts?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The West Wing

First, Happy Easter Okie Trad friends.  It's been a while.  May the radiant light of the empty tomb lift you up and preserve you.

I've been watching old episodes of the West Wing on Netflix.  Feels like I've been into it for a long time already, even though I'm just getting through season 2, and there's what 8 seasons.

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So to start overcoming my blogging atrophy, I'll comment on some thoughts I have from watching the West Wing--or as a conservative friend jokingly calls it the "Left Wing"--from the perspective of a traditional Catholic.

(Preface:  for newcomers, by traditional Catholic, I mean a believing, practicing Catholic, following the bi-millenial tradition of the Roman Catholic Church...that said...)

So if you've ever watched the West Wing, you'd know it takes a lot of mental work to follow the plot.  A graduate degree in political science wouldn't hurt either, lol.  Scene after scene is a chaotic flood of political strategizing, as characters wind in and out of one office room in the White House after another.  If you're trying to exercise your brain muscles, this beats crossword puzzles or

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More than a decade ago, I spent some time watching these programs, but at the time I was focused on the liberal crap that the show does seem to promote.  The characters are liberal Democrats, and they are always arguing with idealism and virtuosity the merits of the socialistic approach to government.

What is the philosophical question about art--does art reflect society, or does society reflect art?  Without probing into the question, it does seem self-evident that the West Wing is/was a propaganda tool for the Democratic party.  Big media has ubiquitous power to manipulate the minds of evening TV watchers across the nation.  Have not many priests and bishops warned about the influence of TV on corrupting the minds of the youth?

At the same time, art reflects society, and in that respect perhaps the mature mind can take in said art and filter out the liberal values it is reflecting from society.  In other words, for entertainment purposes, I think an informed Catholic can watch shows like the West Wing while filtering out the liberal messages, so that one is not imitating the art.

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I'm impressed by Martin Sheen's character President Bartlett.  The character is full of life, even though he knows secretly he has a diagnosis of M.S.  He is full of energy, humor, and passion.   His team of experts make for a fun and at times funny dynamic.  There's C.J. the press secretary.  The part you have to filter out is her feminist, aggressive personality.  The part that sticks is her humorous awkwardness.  Then there's the male trio speech writers/advisors to the president--Tobby who can always be seen carrying some kind of bagel or danish;  Sam, played by the dashing (yes I said dashing) Rob Lowe; and Josh, the neurotic, impassioned, idealist.

In conclusion, while I find the progressive politics of the West Wing to be uninteresting, I think this series is worth watching for mature audiences (hmm, I guess I'm saying I'm in that audience), if for no other reason than to challenge one's mental faculties.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Ask Your Doctor to Check Your Vitamin B12!!!

So, it seems very likely my recent health issues follow a Vitamin B12 deficiency who knows how long I have had.  Turns out you MUST consume regularly beef and milk.  We've been chowing down on chicken and ground turkey for years.  And I'm thinking Almond milk, despite its high amounts of Calcium, isn't a rich source of this vital substance.

Consider this a service announcement, interrupting your evening Netflix program.

If you are experiencing a) extreme fatigue, b) insomnia, c) muscle aches and pains, d) numbness/pins and needles in the extremeties...

GET Thee to a Doctor and get tested EARLY (as it seems I did).  You DON'T want these symptoms to go untreated.

IF you don't like doctors, scram down to your local lab and have them run a blood sample.  Normal range is 200-1000.  I'm sitting at 392 which is low, but still in the "mildly deficient" category.  If you're low, pick up a bottle of B12 at the pharmacy, the kind you put into a dropper and put under your tongue (really gets into blood stream).

I'll keep you updated on my B12 recovery.  Blessed Lent.