Sunday, April 26, 2015

Exo Bars (Not What You'd Expect!)

What is the hottest new trend in protein bars? What kind of flour is packed with a sustainable form of protein from a plentiful source? What are the most adventurous Paleo eaters chomping on these days? What kind of power bar makes you rub your back legs together and chirp all night long?

Yes! You guessed it! Cricket flour!

I received my two free Exo bars in the mail after finding a coupon code on Facebook. I had already visited the site once or twice, but the sample pack of four bars (one in each flavor) cost $13 and that sounded pretty steep to me. Not to mention, shipping was added on top of that. But my two free bars only cost me $2.50 in shipping. (Regular price for 2 bars: $9.50.)



In order to write this blog, I opened up the Blueberry Vanilla bar and gave it a taste. Quite sweet. The texture is chewy and slightly sticky, as you might guess from the main ingredients: lots of dried fruit. The list includes apricots, blueberries, strawberries, and coconut. Honey is used to add even more sweetness. The protein comes from almonds (the first ingredient) and crickets (the fifth ingredient), but there is only 10 grams in a bar. Both carbs and fat come in at a higher level: 16 grams of fat and 23 of carbs, including 14 grams of sugar.

However, all the ingredients are natural, can be eaten on a Paleo diet, and combine to make a pretty tasty product. These bars are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, grain-free, and a good source of iron and calcium. Can I taste the cricket? No. At least I don't think so. I've never eaten a cricket before, though, so my tastebuds don't really know what to look for. Information on the package warns those with shellfish allergies could be allergic to cricket flour, so buyers should beware.

Will I rush right out and purchase a case of Exo bars? No. Although the taste is very pleasant, I would prefer to find a product with more protein and less sugar. For my taste, these are overly sweet. If you prefer your energy bars on the sweet side, you have a hankering for something unusual, and you're not afraid of a little insect in your meal, I'd recommend checking out the Exo bars.

And I was only kidding about the chirping thing. I haven't chirped once. Yet.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Help Me Help Akitas!

Before I met my husband, I had never heard of the akita breed. These dogs originated in Japan but were almost completely extinct by the end of World War II. They were brought back by a single Japanese man who disregarded the law (food shortages made owning dogs illegal) and saved numerous dogs. A small handful of breeders here in the US stepped in to help this ancient breed.

Akitas are unique dogs. In many ways, they are similar to cats. They have no doggie odor. They are extremely fastidious. Most people find akitas to be stubborn, though some of us prefer the term "thoughtful." Most of the time, one cannot expect an instant response from an akita. (Unless a very desirable treat is involved!) They are loyal and will bond with an owner or family (pack) for life. This is the main reason why being dumped in a shelter is particularly hard on an akita.



You may already know that our beautiful female akita Ginny recently passed away. I have been missing her terribly, despite the constant companionship from our male akita, Kody, who is a total lovebug. As a tribute to Ginny, I have decided to split the winnings from the online short story contest I entered between Rakki Inu Akita Rescue (from whom we adopted Ginny) and Big East Akita Rescue (from whom we adopted Kody.) First prize is $15,000. This money would go a long way in helping remove abandoned akitas from shelters all over the east coast and placing them in loving homes.

However, I cannot make this donation if I do not win this money!

Please take a moment right now to download my story at www.freeditorial.com. The title of my story is Facebook Can Be Fatal. You can scroll through the entries by clicking on Long Short Story Contest Entries. Each download counts as a vote! (Liking or reading the excerpt does not count.) Please share this message with your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Together we can make a big difference in the lives of many dogs!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Time to be Thankful

Does it ever feel like the universe is raining on your parade? Like you're being bombarded from every direction and you barely have time to catch your breath before the next wave of crap hits your fan? That's how this year has felt to me.

And yes, there have been some painful, heart-wrenching losses. You have most likely already read about our sweet akita Ginny's death. But most of the bombardment has been a series of minor irritations: my daughter had a fender-bender but no one was hurt; our truck wouldn't start, paid to have it towed to a repair shop where it started up immediately and the inspection revealed absolutely no problem; yesterday, on my way to teach my evening class, I-70 was shut down and then on my way home 97 was completely blocked by police and a tow truck so I spent an extra 15 minutes at a traffic light. Of course this is mostly small stuff that we are not supposed to sweat. But I've begun to feel myself flinching inwardly each time the phone rings: what next, Universe?

Then I remembered something important: to be grateful.

Gratitude is the antidote.

Instead of focusing on this handful of relatively small irritations, I need to back up and look at the big picture. Because the big picture is beautiful.

I have so many things to be grateful for.

My husband is an unwavering source of support and love. And he's not the only one; I have fantastic friends, too. My daughters are both good people: smart, talented, hard-working, and fun to be around. I don't have to worry about food on the table, a roof over our heads, clothing for any season, or even the occasional vacation. Although I lost one dog recently, I still have a gorgeous male akita who loves to give kisses and snuggle with me on the couch every night. There is no doubt about it: I am very blessed.

Best of all, spring is finally really and truly here. The trees are leafing out. The grass is turning a brilliant emerald color. Our daffodils are blooming and the peach tree is sporting a pale pink frosting of buds. In my garden, kale, collards, swiss chard, and peas have all sprouted. Today, a gentle rain is watering all my seedlings.

Life is good.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dieting with Love

I'm still recovering from our spring break vacation. We drove all the way down to Florida for the first time. As most vacations do, ours involved many meals eaten in restaurants, plenty of wine, and zero Pilates. We did walk for many hours each day, but apparently that didn't cut it. While staying at my mother's condo, I made the mistake of stepping on her scale.

Yes, I've probably told you a bunch of times how much I abhor the scale. How it only gives you one number (unless you have the fancy kind) and that number is flawed. The number you really need to know is not pounds but body fat percentage. However, looking in the mirror, employing a measuring tape, and trying on your clothing can give additional information. And all of these methods pointed to the current fact that I need to drop a few pounds.

So ever since we returned from Florida, I've been cutting back. If you've been reading this blog for a long time, you've survived many ups and downs with me on the diet front. It's a lifelong battle which means that even after successfully winning a skirmish or two, I am never finished with this war. As I head toward menopause, I no longer have youth or hormones on my side. But I do have a secret weapon in my back pocket: LOVE.

I strongly believe that every successful diet is born of LOVE, not hatred. Despising your body, hating yourself, or putting yourself down is never going to lead to positive changes. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Punishing yourself with a strict diet will only lead to resentment, anger, depression, and rebellion.

Instead, try love.

Dieting with love is choosing to make a positive change in your life. Choosing whole foods that you enjoy. Considering those healthy foods because of how they make you feel as well as how they make you look. Feeding yourself with a heaping portion of kindness. Remembering your body is a temple.

Here are some examples: Instead of cutting out meals, use small tweaks to bring your meals into alignment with your goals. I usually have cream in my coffee. One of the small changes I've made this week is using only whole milk instead of cream. This cuts at least 30 calories from each cup of coffee I drink, and I usually have 2 per day. So 60 calories less per day times 7 days per week and I have already eliminated 420 calories with one tiny change.

Know yourself, and make choices that will support your own particular style. If you love sandwiches, try to tweak your sandwiches so they still have plenty of flavor but contain less calories. Switching from mayo to mustard cuts close to 100 calories but still gives a big flavor punch. Load your sandwich up with fresh salad greens, pickled veggies, sauerkraut, fresh herbs and/or grated carrots for great taste and nutritional value with barely any calories. Choose the flavors and textures that make your taste buds sing.



You don't necessarily need to give up any particular food or food group, unless you believe that food is a trigger for binge-eating or otherwise potentially harmful to you. If you can successfully consume a small portion, and feel satisfied, then perhaps you only need to cut back rather than cut something out completely. This can apply to anything that you enjoy in moderation: red wine, dark chocolate, roasted cashews, guacamole, tahini sauce, pistachios, brown rice chips, plantain chips. (These are all examples of snacks I consumed this week while still cutting calories!)

Bottom line: try being kind to yourself! Tweak your diet to make a positive change in your health as well as in how you look. Make small changes and be patient with yourself and with your progress. Losing slowly is much kinder to your body than starving or yo-yo-ing. Make this the last diet you ever need to go on: the LOVE diet!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Coping with Grief

So far, this year has offered me many opportunities to grieve. My beloved mentor and surrogate mother Mim Rosen died in March. And now our beautiful female akita Ginny passed away while we were on vacation for spring break. Mim was 87, had a long and extremely successful career as a dancer, choreographer, teacher, professor, and director. Ginny was somewhere between 8-10 years old. None of this makes a bit of difference. A loss is a loss.

How can you avoid grief? Well, I guess you could try never loving anyone or anything. But if you are a human being, love will sneak up on you when you're not looking. Even when you think you have closed off or shut down, people will worm their way into your heart. Dogs have a way of doing this, too.



Apparently there are stages of grief, and none of these works. Denial is great, but it is only temporary. Like a band-aid on a boo-boo, eventually you have to rip it off. And then you have two kinds of pain. Anger is also wonderful while you are experiencing the heat of it. This is one of my favorites because it feels so powerful. I also enjoy blaming. But there usually comes a point where it becomes obvious: anger cannot heal grief. All the ranting and raving and cursing and throwing dishes only makes a big mess you then have to clean up. Acceptance sounds lovely, but this is just another load of crap. I've never been able to completely accept the death of a loved one. Underneath the scars, there still lies the original wound, just as raw as Day One.

So what can we do? If we can't avoid loving, and we can't avoid losing, there is no choice but to pull on our mucky boots and wade through this life with its dark, lurking pitfalls and grief traps. Once you slip into a hole, you simply have to struggle your way back to the surface. Luckily there are hands reaching down to you. Look up! Accept those friendly hands and let the people who love you help. They are offering hugs and kind words and sweet cards and prayers and wet kisses.

And the other thing we can do is treat ourselves gently and with great kindness. Let it be okay to cry and feel sad and not be the life of the party for awhile. Give yourself time and space to grieve in whatever way you need. (Although heavy drinking and binge-eating will just add more pain to your suffering.) Maybe you can write or paint or sing or express your emotions in your own medium. Cook yourself some nourishing meals that are comforting and sustaining. Root vegetables are great strengtheners. Go for long walks with your friends or by yourself. Look for the beauty in nature.

Again, none of these actions will cure grief. These are only steps we can take as we travel along, tripping and stumbling repeatedly. Remember: we all fall down. No one is exempt from grief. You and I are not alone.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Goodbye Ginny

While on vacation in Florida, we received a phone call from the kennel where our two akitas were boarding. As soon as the phone rang on Good Friday morning at 7 a.m. we knew there was something very wrong.

My husband mouthed the words to me as he listened: "Ginny died."

When he hung up the phone, he said he could barely understand the woman who called, she was crying so hard. Ginny had died in her sleep, curled up next to Kody, our male akita.

If you've been following my blog, you know our sweet girl bloated back in January. She had emergency surgery, followed by 48 hours of intensive care. Then we took over at home. At first she refused to eat or drink, so we had to force the issue. But it didn't take long at all before she was up, drinking out of the toilet, eating grass in the yard, and soon she seemed completely back to normal. We sighed a huge sigh of relief. We thought she was out of the woods.

She only had two more months to live.




Since the first moment I saw her beautiful, furry face on Facebook, I've been in love with this dog. I know this sounds weird. I've loved many dogs in my life, but not like this. As far as I was concerned, Ginny could do no wrong. Whether she was deliberately walking through mud puddles or vomiting on the carpet, nothing could detract from her total perfection. She had a definite sense of humor and loved to joke around in her own particular way. Keep-away was one of her favorite games: she'd pick up a toy, taunt Kody with it, then yank it away before he could grab it. It was clear she was laughing along with us when we played tag: we'd try to tag her, but she'd dart away at the last moment.

Ginny was completely bonded to us. On a couple of occasions, our front door blew open in the wind. Although Kody, our male, took off to visit our neighbors and wreck havoc, Ginny chose not to leave. We found her relaxing in the sunroom despite the open door and the enticing breeze from outdoors blowing in.

Everyone loved Ginny. When she strutted into the vet's office, the entire staff would come out to pet her. She received so many treats on each visit, she wouldn't be hungry for her dinner when we got home. Before we adopted her from Rakki Inu Akita Rescue, the name they had given her was Charm because she charmed the staff at the local animal shelter where she had been picked up several times. It seemed that her original owners were the only ones who weren't sufficiently charmed by her. Their loss was our enormous gain.

It seems cruelly unfair that dogs live such a short amount of time compared to humans. We only had four years with our sweet Ginny. Perhaps the universe is designed this way so that we may open our hearts to many different dogs through our lifetime.

But my heart, at least for now, is broken.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Short Story Contest on Freeditorial

Now I've gone and done it. There's no taking it back. At least I don't think there is...

Yes, I've entered my short story titled Facebook Can Be Fatal in an online contest. The author who gets the most downloads (FREE! Did I mention downloads are FREE?) wins! (There may also be a smidgen of judging by some judges involved, but there's no need to dwell on that.) The contest is sponsored by Freeditorial.com.

The bottom line is: I need your help! First prize is $15,000! Second and third prizes are not too shabby, either.

If you are willing, click here to download!

Simply browse through the entries listed under Long Short Story Contest or enter my name into the SEARCH feature. You can also download an app for your phone or read it on your Kindle or other devices.

As you might have guessed from the title, Facebook Can Be Fatal involves a murder, although I wouldn't exactly call it a mystery. Possibly more of a psychological thriller. If you're a fan of the twisted love story, along the lines of Gone Girl perhaps, then you might enjoy it.
 
And even if you're not a fan of murder mysteries and thrillers, you can always click here to download
anyway to vote for my story and just skip the part where you read it! (Just a little authorly humor!) 

No, seriously, I would very much appreciate your assistance in this matter. Thank you in advance. If I win, party at my house!!!