Thursday, March 27, 2008

The announcer

"Get going," came the voice from behind me.

"What?" I said, startled. I was settling into the driver's seat of our minivan after buckling Ulysses into his child's seat, and gathering up from the floor the orange knit gloves he'd peeled off his hands. We had just spent a pleasant hour at the playground of Berkley Park, our first outdoor excursion since Wisconsin entered its harshest winter on record several months ago.

It was different from our last playground visit. I'd taken along my iPod, but I never plugged into my usual podcasts, because instead of mostly silence and squeals, Ulysses carried on nonstop conversation. "Up, Mama, up! I up. You up. Sit down! Slide!" We sat side by side atop the pair of straight slides. "Ready, set, go! We did it! We won! Come on, Mama, let's go again. Let's slide! No, Mama, that's not your seat, that's my seat. That's your side. Mama! OK. One, two, three -- yippee!"

It was close to 7 when a chill wind picked up against the fading sunlight. "Wind," said Ulysses, and he reached around behind his head to tug at the collar of his jean jacket. He pulled up, trying to loop it over the top of his head.

"Mama, help me," he said.

"That coat doesn't have a hood," I said.

It was the first time in several months he'd been outdoors without his sturdy, hooded overcoat -- a good ninth, at least, of his total time on Earth so far. By now a jacket with no hood must be an untenable proposition, I thought as he continued to tug

"Mama! Help me!" he said, now agitated. His words were crumbling into a cry. "No hood! No hood! Aggh!"

Or maybe he was simply cold, I realized, suddenly. I whipped off my beret and fitted it over his blue denim ball cap, tucking it down against the back of his neck.

"How's that?" I asked.

"Hood!" he said, happily. I sunk my head a little deeper into my jacket and watched him run towards the climbing rungs.

"Look, a swing! A bridge! Run on bridge, Mama! I'm gonna get you! OK, that's enough. Green car. Come on. Come on, Mama, come on!"

Now, in the warm van, the voice came from behind me with the even-toned authority of a public announcement. "Get going," it repeated.

I turned the key in the ignition.

"You're doing great!" said the voice.

I suddenly felt I was a character in a kids' video game who had accomplished some goal -- frosting the cupcake rolling by on the conveyor belt, or saving the emperor penguin. Had I really turned the key, or had I just clicked on it?

As I rolled the van from the parking spot, the announcer chimed in again, as stentorian as a tone could be in the octave above high C:

"That's awesome!"

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Dora Ball?

Ulysses and I were bouncing a play ball to one another across the kitchen floor. I was overcome by the sweet, childish perfection of his features, the curl of his hair, the simple wholeheartedness of his play.

"He's so adorable," I gushed to Don, nearby.

"Yes," Don agreed.

The ball we were using had been a birthday present he'd picked out when Don's sister and mother had sent us money for his third birthday just over a year ago. This ball, with its motif of Spongebob and friends chasing cartoon jellyfish with their cartoon jellyfishing nets, has been beloved ever since.

Ulysses caught the ball. But instead of throwing it back again, this time he said, "No!"

He held the ball and inspected it, his brows knit. He looked over at me with a frown. He shook his head.

I wondered what was up.

"Not a Dora ball," he pronounced, firmly. "A Spongebob ball."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Crystallized cottonseed oil

Bad: Cottonseed oil.

It's in a lot of processed foods. It was never considered fit for human consumption. Then in the 19th century some cotton magnates with a lot of extra cotton seeds on their hands figured out how to bleach out and otherwise refine away the horrible stench and flavor. Presto, they had a way to make money out of the garbage they were otherwise throwing away!

They packaged the result as imitation lard. For marketing purposes, they claimed it was even better than the real thing. (Why wouldn't they?) The most famous brand name, from a contraction (almost) of CRYStallized Cottonseed Oil: Crisco.

I don't care if the label does say "Zero grams trans fat per serving" (an ominous qualifier if ever there was one). The stuff is not for eating.

For more information, Google "crisco cottonseed lard," and visit:

The Rise and Fall of Crisco
Going Back to Lard for Old Time Pies, by Elizabeth Dougherty, in The Boston Globe


Sunday, March 9, 2008

All things in moderation

I posted this (I've made a few changes) as a comment on Michael Eades' Protein Power site. Here's the page:
(If you don't see it there, it's still in moderation.)


For years, I've heard people solemnly pronounce "all things in moderation" as the key to the ideal, healthful, wise diet. It drives me crazy.

"All things in moderation" is a meaningless utterance.

"Moderation" is a completely relative term. It means exactly what the speaker thinks it means, and carries no quantitative information. My moderate amount of butter might be a tablespoon a day; Lofat Lola's might be that amount over the course of a month; I know people who consume a stick a day, and for them, that's a moderate amount. When you point this out to people, they balk; they don't like the idea that not everyone shares their internalized set of guidelines for moderation. But, I say, that's exactly what's at issue: how much of this, that, and the other thing is an appropriate amount and frequency?

Then there's the "all things" part. Also meaningless. Usually people wield it to disparage people with diets more restrictive than their own. For instance, to say that vegans "go too far" in excluding animal foods from their diet. (I put that in quotes because it presupposes that the direction itself is correct.) However, those people don't like it pointed out that they themselves exclude things that other people eat. The Masai thrive on a mixture of cow's milk and cow's blood. Without that in your diet, at least from time to time, you're not getting your moderate amount of "all things." Oh, but that doesn't count, because we don't eat that. Right. The vegan can say the same thing about Brie.

For the "all things in moderation"ist, the concept of "all" is also perfectly subjective. It doesn't include every substance under the sun, or even every edible substance. It includes exactly what they think is a fitting foodstuff; no more, and no less. If they don't happen to think MSG or HFCS is a big deal, they'll say of it, "Everything in moderation." If they do happen to think HFCS is unfit for human consumption, they'll say the exact same thing, but with HFCS specifically excluded from "everything." Along with chocolate-covered ants, horse meat, and whatever else they don't happen to like.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Intermittent fasting and the aquatic ape

I think about the Aquatic Ape hypothesis of human development a lot more than I write about it. In fact, it informs close to everything about the way I see human life. I've wanted to write about it for years, but it's so big for me, that the task is overwhelming.

So now, whenever I do write a little bit about it, or have a thought, I'll put it here. Incomplete, hasty, unreferenced, and all. For now. It's a start.

I posted the following today on a thread about Intermittent Fasting. Much discussion of this topic seems to center around, or at least harbor, the assumption that Paelolithic and pre-agricultural humans, and proto-humans, would not have been able to eat at regular intervals. This is my contribution to the discussion, which can be found here.

Just a little background: The Inuit at the time mentioned (early 20th century) lived a traditional lifestyle and ate their traditional diet, which was almost entirely fish and water. They also ate some land mammal meat. They were known for their remarkable good health. No vegetables -- yet no scurvy, or other chronic diseases.


In Adventures in Diet, Vil describes three squares plus a snack for the Inuit. Times he mentions for eating, or for beginning meal prep, are 7 am, 11 am, 4 pm, and for the snack, just before bed.

Now I'm going to bring up the Aquatic Ape again. That's the hypothesis that says many human features can be explained by a period in our evolution during which circumstances led us to begin to evolve into aquatic mammals, but the process was only partial. According to this, we can understand some things about ourselves by reference to other aquatic mammals or by reference to our affinity to aquatic and semi-aquatic conditions. (The big flaw I saw in the supposed refutation of this that someone posted a link to on another thread was that the guy pointed to all kinds of way that we are not totally like aquatic mammals. Well, no kidding. The hypothesis explains the ways in which we're [i]partially[/i] aquatic like. For instance... oh, I need to save that for another thread.)

Fish. Three times a day plus snacks. Pretty easy to come by. Even today, if a person dwells by open bodies of water, like a lake or a river. (Today, every person dwells by water -- we had to invent plumbing and wells to make that possible. But I'm talking about open water, including, human-made lakes.) Of course, there's pollution, unfortunately, that can make the catch toxic. But the point is, it's not hard to get enough fish to eat all day, even now.

When we think of pre-agricultural humans, for some reason we tend to think of them rummaging around on land, foraging (most people, not necessarily Bus riders) and hunting. And in that scenario, it sounds difficult to scrounge up three squares and a snack, day in day out. Exhausting. Time consuming. Bloody and messy, with fur and bones everywhere.

For some reason that I can't explain, people just don't put food from the water in a central place in the equation. But I assure you, if you were out in the middle of nowhere and needed to survive, you would find water, very quickly. You'd need it before, and more frequently than food. And in that water, you'd find things to eat far easier to catch and kill than anything on land. Except, of course, for bugs. And our primal ancestors were insectivores.

It makes sense to me that fish and other water critters are a missing food link between insects and big land animals. From the water is where we got enough protein and Omega 3 to grow brains big enough to figure out how to kill the animals we need considerable intelligence to kill. We don't have the teeth and claws and speed to hunt a gazells. We have the [i]brains[/i] to do it.

Back to the point. People think the Paleo folks must have had a lifestyle involving long periods between meals, including intervals of days. I acknowledge that there are more recent hunter societies where this has been known to occur. However, I disagree that it was a necessary, ordinary, universal feature of preagricultural human and protohuman life. Not when a meal is as near as the river, pond, lake or ocean.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Doctor U and the animals

The other day when I came home from work, Don was excited to tell me that he and U had tended to Teddy Bear for hours, with the medical kit he got for his fourth birthday from our friend Sharon.

"He listened to Teddy Bear's heartbeat with the stethoscope," he said, "I looked around through the scope and said, 'Hmm. Yes. I see,' and then Ulysses did the same. Then Ulysses said he had a boo-boo and put the band-aid on his arm." The medical kit has a stiff bracelet sort of band-aid thing.

"Did you take his temperature?"

"Of course!"

Our friend Gigi gave Ulysses the teddy bear years ago, as a birth present. Just recently, he's begun carrying it around, carrying it to bed, asking for "Teddy Bear" by name. It's the first time he's formed an attachment with a stuffed animal as a friend.

Ulysses also made instant friends with his stuffed Boowa and Kwala dolls, characters from the web site that he loves. We got them as a bonus for signing up for a year's service with the site a couple of months ago; we saved them for a birthday present. He was thrilled to see them -- he smiled and hugged them lovingly when he discovered them in the gold-foil cardboard box I'd put them in. Now they hang out with Teddy Bear, and they all go to bed with him together.

A couple of nights ago, he held Boowa in one hand and Kwala in the other, speaking for them and bobbing them up and down in turn. "Boo ha wa ma ba ba ba?" said Boowa. "Ooh, wah wah! Ooh, wah!" answered Kwala.

When he wakes up in the morning, he totters out from the bedroom carrying them all in his arms. He used to bring a handkerchief with him. And present it to us proudly, as if it were a trophy or some sort. Now it's the trio.

He hugs them in a bundle to his chest and says "Animals!"