Monday, July 07, 2014

fasting in the mountains

This year's family vacation at Camp Mather began oddly. I have been sick for eight months, with one trivial illness following upon another's footsteps. Obviously there is some underlying cause, something causing my immune system to have become as weak and wizened as Mr. Burns', but it could not be determined. Extensive bloodwork ruled out thyroid, liver, kidney, or other obvious enemies. A breath test ruled out an ulcer. The best ideas my medical provider could come up with were that I had a vitamin D deficiency (no doubt caused by my staying inside when I was sick) and crystals in my inner ears (it turns out that if you cause me to sit, roll, sit, like down, roll over like a trained dog, my eyes would shake uncontrollably, thus proving that something was definitely up with my inner ear).

On my own I ran across a recent study showing that a person's immune system could be rebooted by fasting. Evidently when the body is in ketosis (burning off pre-existing bits to keep running), the white blood cells are amongst the first to go. Then the body is signaled to make new, fresher ones. The articles I read differed between saying 2 days was sufficient, with others saying it must be a fast of 3 days. It was also argued that 4-7 days of starvation (450-750 calories) would have the same effect.

No time ever seems ripe for a 3 day fast, but I decided on the spur of the moment to try. I am terrified of going back to Burning Man with such a weak immune system, and I'm sick of being sick. Also, I gained back quite a lot of all the weight I'd heroically lost with huge exercise, and I am dying to become a gym rat again. All that I need is a halfway decent immune system once again.

On Day 1 I fasted. I did allow myself a cup of coffee with lowfat milk, a smidgeon of low fat milk, but nothing else. My rationale was that I didn't want to go through caffeine deprivation at the same time I was undergoing food deprivation. I got through the day just fine. The afternoon and early evening were spent at Iris uber Alles' graduation from the 8th grade, which featured each and every one of the 57 graduates giving two speeches: one on the subject of their choice and a shorter one about a classmate. Lola and I did well sitting through the 118 speeches (some were also given by school dignitaries), but when we emerged and saw the catered foods spread about, I weakened. I told the Sober Husband to stay as long as our admired graduate wished, but Lola and I were going home. “Lola has been so patient,” I said, but the reality was that I could not be by those tables of artfully displayed food. I knew from experience that those lavash rolls were not as flavorful as they looked, but what about the spring rolls? Best to flee.

Day one of fasting: complete, with the only rule-breaking a few tablespoons of low fat milk and a single breath mint (to encourage someone who shall remain nameless to take one, who really needed one).

Day two was rougher. It was the day for Lola and I to pack and depart for Camp Mather. Iris had an elegant graduation party to attend in Santa Cruz, at one of her classmates' second homes right on the beach, and I had promised her she did not have to miss this event.

The horrible reality dawned that each and every one of our family bikes was in a poor state. My brakes were sketchy. Iris's bike had a horrendous flat and needed a new tire, the previously applied patch having failed. Lola's bike was in the best shape but was clearly too small for her. Loving the bike dearly, Lola insisted it would be fine. The Sober Husband's was the next best off but not particularly fabulous.

“Why do we never look at the bikes until the last minute?” I complained. Next year I need to calendar  a Mending of the Bicycles Festival the week before. The Sober Husband was skeptical that any of these bikes would be roadworthy, and, as he kept mentioning, he had a coffee date with his friend J.

My fasting had taken a new turn.  Onay 1, I was peaceful and ambitious, dreaming of good health. Day 2, I was just as committed but crabby as all get out. “Call J. and tell him to come to the house, instead of meeting you for coffee,” I sternly commanded. “You guys can send Iris's bike up with me except for that wheel, and you can have today and tomorrow to get a new tire. Fix one of these bikes (with a sweeping gesture at mine and the Sober Husband's), and I will ride which ever one you can get ready.” This was delivered in a highly testy manner.

At some point I was speaking to the family members about what needed to be done, and the Sober Husband and Lola slowly backed away, down the hall and out the front door. I flew into a temper and chased them. “I do not care how crabby I am, you just cannot leave in the middle of a conversation without saying goodbye! Do you realize how awful that is! How rude that is!” The parrot screamed, “Goodbye! Goodbye!”

Eventually my darling Mini Cooper was packed, with two bicycles on the top and plenty of stuff on the inside. Lolz and I took off. I had asked Lola to find us a book on CD to listen to on our ride, amongst our many, and she had chosen one which turned out to be on tapes. “Lola, I SAID CD. My car can't play tapes.” Lola quailed. “It's okay, Lolz, it's okay,” I assured her. “We'll try some short stories.”

I had a book of Tom Perrotta short stories on CD in the car, and we tried one. It turned out to have a discussion of threesomes and some other sexual inappropriateness which caused me to hit the fast forward button. I felt irked. The stories I'd listened to earlier from this collection had largely been okay for Lola; they just had to be followed by a sexed up one. We did listen to one about an elderly woman whose whiny plastic surgeon son refuses to bring his kid, the woman's only grandchild, to visit around the holidays. It wasn't racy, but it failed to grip.  We gave up on Tom Perrotta. (In Perrotta's defense, a couple of those stories had been greatly appreciated when I was in different company, driving back from camping with my friend Michele).

Lolz and I made excellent time arriving at Camp Mather. Due to my fasting, we forewent our usual decadent Mexican lunch in Oakdale (the Mexican food of Oakdale is magnificent). We did stop for diet Red Bulls, as I found myself flagging and needed a pep-up. The study had said that “fluids of no nutritional value” were acceptable during fasting, and I thought a diet Red Bull should surely count as a “fluid of no nutritional value.”

In the afternoon Lola furtively ate Cheezits in the car. This was horrifically difficult for me. I craved those Cheezits so much.

Once at Camp Mather, we located our cabin. It was somewhat inauspiciously located, in a clump with other cabins, not near any of the roads. It would be tricky to get my Mini close enough to unload. I figured out the closest I could get it, and we gamely unloaded the car. Getting the bikes off the rack was harder. I had a milk crate to stand on, but even so it was agonizing to get them off. A kindly woman sensed my growing psychosis and brushed off my rejections of her help, insisting. We got Lola's bike off. Then the friendly woman's husband arrived and helped get my own bike off. Lolz and I were grateful, although I was well aware of the bad impression I was making: short-tempered and incompetent at removing my own bikes from my own car. 

 Trying to reverse the Mimi back out of the trees to park it for the week, with Lola stationed to watch for dangers, I ran into a rock. “Lola, you were supposed to be looking!” I snapped. The neighbors came out, as if to ensure I did not murder poor Lola. I steered the car as best as I could and got it safely parked with no further misadventures.

Lola and I set up our cabin and hung a hammock. It was time for dinner. I sent Lola ahead to the dining hall as I was still fasting, but then began to feel guilty. Poor Lola, going alone to eat. I came along behind, getting myself some plain green tea (no milk, no sugar, nothing). I found Lola in the end sitting with a couple we know from her school, whom Lola had informed of my fast. “So you're fasting!” they greeted me. “We're taking care of Lola.” I sipped my plain hot green tea while they ate garlic bread and pasta and salads and desserts.

I apologized to Lola for my crabbiness, and she was kind enough to be encouraging to me. We wound the evening down quietly reading.

Day III: I woke up in a state of altered consciousness. I felt vaguely saintly and above it all. Crabbiness from Day II was far below and behind me. I floated about in an aethereal state.

At breakfast I had no interest in eating. Lola had a full meal, while I sipped green tea. The couple we know stopped by. “Still dieting?” they asked. “Fasting,” I corrected, “and I'm in an altered state. It is like those people who fast for religious reasons. It's wonderful.”

They looked at me as though I were insane and excused themselves.

Despite my being on my 3d day without food, Lola and I did some manual labor around camp. Our picnic table was at a 45 degree angle and positioned right between three cabins. Lola discouraged trying it, but I was hellbent on carrying it around and up the hill to the side of our cabin, where it would be a bit more private and a bit more level. It was not easy, but we did it. “Amazon Lola!” I praised her. We set up our bug-repelling dining tent over the picnic table and arranged all our chairs. “We've got it all nice now, Lola,” I said happily, still in my lofty state of an elevated consciousness.

However around noon I snapped. I felt so delightfully above it all... but I was keenly aware of the box of Cheezits. I also felt weak. “Lola, bring me the Cheezits,” I said. “It's 11:58, can you wait two more minutes?” urged Lola.   If not for those Cheezits, I could have made it another day. I actually skipped a wine and cheese social at Camp Mather (and believe me, I am all about wine and cheese socials) due to my fast.

End result: 2 ½ days of fasting, followed by 24 hours of very light eating, then returning thereafter to regular eating whatever the hell presented itself which appeared edible.

It may be a placebo effect in part, but I feel so much better. The first day or two after my fasting, I felt good but weak, and now my energy is gradually returning.   Since then I've worked out a few times at the gym, decluttered my garage, and generally shown a much higher energy level.  I also resisted a cold the Sober Husband had and a virus one of the children had.  Fasting:  it's magic.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

competitive art

The Sober Husband recently pushed me into starting a Twitter account.  Iris uber Alles watched him and then elbowed him out of the way when he was choosing an avatar.  Insulting his choices, she said wearily, "Let me."  She turned the computer to display the results to me.  "Oooh!" I said happily.  "I love it!"

Thanks to Iris, I am a goat, and the top of my Twitter is a lovely picture of Coconut, our feral cat with whom the children and I are obsessed.  (Once when the Sober Husband was away on business, one of the children asked him, "Do you miss Coconut?"  When he said, "To be honest, I haven't thought about him", the children were appalled.  "We worship him," they hissed).

Lola did not take this lying down.  She devoted several hours to creating a piece of art "for your Twitter."

I find it hypnotic and more than slightly unsettling.  I have yet to unleash it upon Twitter, though.