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Lessons in Natural (Organic) Gardening

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Home gardening is very challenging for me. I love the idea of supplementing my diet with fresh garden veggies, but it has presented obstacles that I didn't anticipate. When I lived in an apartment, I experimented with container vegetables.

This was great in the spring, but the summer Georgia temperatures dried out the soil faster than I could maintain.

We moved into a house, and one of my first projects was building a raised bed planter. I planted three varieties of tomatoes, jalapenos, and bell peppers.

The deeper soil retained moisture much better in the sweltering Southern heat. However, the deeper soil also encouraged taller plant growth, which I didn't intend. I covered it with netting to keep squirrels from digging in the soil, but the tomatoes rapidly grew into an unmanageable, tangled mess. While the netting kept birds and squirrels out, it came under attack from bugs and other pests.

On the bright side, we ended up with a bountiful harvest of tomatoes. I have not eaten store bought tomatoes in three months.

I've focused on 'organic' gardening without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. I was dismayed by the savageness of the bug attacks on my plants. I tried several varieties of 'organic' pesticides, but they had limited effect. I pretty much gave up on pest control. I figured I lost the war on my plants, and the bugs won.

Curiously, over the past few weeks, I noticed a decline in chewed up leaves.

Over the weekend, I trimmed back the over growth. I'm planning on planting a new batch of crops in the next week. I was delighted to see earth worms have moved into my planter, as I noticed them digging to safety as I pulled roots.

I also saw what I believe to be the cause of my declining bug population: spiders and frogs!

I am an admitted arachnophobe, but mostly when they are in my house. I'm cool with them outside - where they should be! Not slinking around my work desk. I noted a couple of small frogs leaping away as I removed the spent plants. It seems the bugs attracted predators. Nature in balance.

When I replant my garden bed, I'm going to focus more on planting 'companion' plants to deter pests. I'm also going to use cedar chips for mulch, which should also act as a natural insect repellant.

Traditional farming techniques of plant diversity and crop rotation in backyard gardening seems to be the best. The ultimate organic gardening is when the plant health is managed by nature. When garden predators manage the pests and garden soil nutrients are replenished at a rate slowing depletion, then there isn't a big demand for topical pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Now that I have learned a little more, my next crop should be even better.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

THELILEA 9/19/2013 4:01PM

    Great job, those tomatoes look to die for! And I've grown some, I know the blood sweat and tears that go into home grown food. way to go!

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MYLADY4 7/31/2013 11:57AM

    I love doing Organic gardening mainly because I am too lazy to use any fertilizer or any other stuff. I have started to use a mold growth inhibitor since that is was kills my tomato plants early every year. No real problem with bugs where I am.

I use only old horse manure for my fertalizer and it works wonders. I also put down a layer of newspaper and put grass clippings on for my mulch.

It is so rewarding to grow your own food.

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AKHEIDI 7/30/2013 2:32PM

    Good job- gardening is good for the soul as well as for the body- in more ways than one!

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FITGIRL15 7/30/2013 10:38AM

    So awesome!!! Can't wait to see the fruit of your next crop!!!

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Finding What Fits

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

So far so good with my plan to eat and exercise without too much stress or guidance with numbers. It is certainly harder to know if it's "working," but I'm not bogged down with anxiety about it, either. As I mentioned in my last blog, I know what makes me gain weight, so I just don't eat in a way that makes me do that.

The biggest struggle is resuming my strength training program. I've mentioned in the past that I am not very good with self direction in this aspect. I know that it's good for me and I need to do it, but I fumble with the execution. I did well when I had a PT directing me, but I don't have the budget for it these days. I'm trying to obtain a used copy of "ChaLean Extreme" DVDs, as I think a compound cardio/strength directed video workout might be easier for me to stick with.

Exercise and diet is all about finding what routines and meals will work for us. We all know we have to eat well, do moderate cardio, and lift heavy things. I've got 2 out of 3. It's got to be something we do regularly and almost automatically. If it's something we have to force ourselves to do, it's not likely to stick for the long term. We have to keep experimenting until we find what 'fits'.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

SOUTHGOINGZAX 7/17/2013 3:10PM

    Have you looked into CrossFit? I was hesitant to start, because it seemed a little over the top, but if you can find a place with good instruction and small classes, it's almost like having a personal trainer. It's great if you love to push yourself but need some motivational support, too.

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A*L*P* 7/8/2013 9:09AM

    Hey girl! I also picked back up with ChaLEAN, I love the program and the DOMS it comes with emoticon I enjoyed the NROL4L program but I don't have the equipment at home to really make it work so I figure I will stick with CLX until I can join a gym in the fall. Good luck getting it!

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THINRONNA 7/3/2013 9:53AM

    I love reading about your journey. Your tenacity and willingness to learn as well as try things is an inspiration to me! emoticon

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No Numbers Required

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Eating a lot of the wrong foods, and not exercising enough was a recipe for weight gain. No news flash there! Now that I eat how my body likes and get enough exercise, I seem to eat constantly without gaining weight. I can't eat just anything, though. If I ate pizza, hot dogs and beer, I would be in trouble. Fortunately, I like --and my body likes-- protein, veggies, and a nightly glass of wine.

I always thought maintenance would be hard, but I actually think it is the easiest. Our bodies are constantly adapting for us to come into stasis anyway. We all eventually plateau when dieting because our bodies adapt to our food and exercise stimulus. Happens all the time, every day. Our bodies want to be the most efficient with our energy consumption and expenditure.

Weight gain is easy. All I have to do is eat the way that made me fat to begin with: little exercise, processed foods, sugary alcoholic drinks, and junk food.

Weight loss is the hardest. Stop the presses! Shocking, I know.

I haven't put much focus on weight loss for the past few months. I've been busy with classes. Hubs and I don't have any vacation plans, so there's no bikini urgency. I've mostly just maintained with food and walking. Sadly, my weight training routine has fallen on the wayside. I need to get back on it.

I know that my body is heavily programmed to maintain my weight. It won't start storing fat unless I overload it with poor nutritional quality food and/or excessive carbohydrates.

I am going to restart my weight training routine this week. However, that in itself is not going to reduce body fat. There are plenty of heavy weight lifters with high body fat.

Burning fat means my body has to have a reason to draw out extra fat energy. The best way for me is to withhold carbohydrates. If my body doesn't have all the glucose it wants, it has to use more fat. Without dietary glucose as a primary fuel, it switches over to fat.

I'm not eating many carbs at the moment, anyway. I have good success when I eat more avocados and cook with coconut oil, so I'll add more of those in. Hubs and I are going to start riding our bikes after he gets home from work.

I don't feel an urgent need to lose weight, so we'll see how I do without it being a necessary goal. I'm not going to track anything with numbers, and see how things progress naturally.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

TRIANGLE-WOMAN 6/27/2013 8:23AM

    Sounds like a good plan. Sounds like you are vigilant in a good and healthy way and being gentle with yourself. Good for you!

You might check out 'The Plan' by Lyn-Genet.

She uses the word "homeostasis" a LOT because that is what our bodies like. She suggests a number of foods like avocados and other pit fruits (mangos esp) are very "low inflammatory" for a majority of people.

She does suggest that some traditionally "good" foods like salmon, egg whites and oatmeal might not be the best choices for some people who have bodies that react badly to them, especially as we age. This may be why my traditional "go to" weight loss foods just have not worked for me the way they used to.

It is really not a diet, but great big science experiment where YOU are the test subject, so I think you might like it since you a numbers person!

I'm not doing the full blown "plan" yet, but am incorporating more of the low inflammatory foods and recipes she recommends and I feel amazing and have had absolutely no cravings or desire to overeat or even eat things I used to love and avoid like pizza and ice cream. In fact, I was invited to get some Honey Hut Ice cream the other day, and then turned away from it as it was just not that appealing.

Go figure...

Might be worth checking out when you have time to see what you can take away from it....

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WOUBBIE 6/25/2013 8:17PM

    I'm actually thinking of trying a little "burst" weight loss. I actually like what I'm doing, but I'm kind of thinking I'd like to be a little more active, and the less weight I'm carrying the easier that will be. Summer is probably my best time to try some different things out, especially when the boys are away for a few days. I think there's only one week this summer when they're both gone at the same time, though. I better start planning now to make the most of it!

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Calorie Composition Matters

Monday, June 24, 2013

Calorie in minus calorie out is intuitive and simple: just move more, eat less. Except body composition it is not simple mathematics, but complex biochemistry. Note: this is ALL a lot more complicated, but some simplification is necessary. The problem is calorie is a calorie oversimplifies to the point where it's no longer valid. Yes, biochem majors, I am aware I am not telling the whole story.

So what is a calorie? "The amount of energy required to increase the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Kelvin."

A calorie is a measure of how much heat energy it generates. Human bodies are not machines. We don't burn fuel, turn it into heat energy, then spin wheels causing motion.

We consume energy, then transfer it to other molecules in our bodies. Some calories are burned for heat energy, but the vast majority are transferred into another form.

Food we eat builds or repairs cells, produces enzymes, or converts to stored energy. It can also be discarded in some situations.

The amino acids in protein are required for all of us. Animal proteins are the most readily available, and the energy transfer is very efficient. Protein in grains and cereals have very low efficiency - their amino acid composition for human needs is poor. The belief that overeating any calorie will lead to fat gain is sort of right, but there is a misunderstanding about why. It is not simply that the excess calories are shoved into fat cells. When we eat enough protein to meet our bodies' needs, the excess protein is either converted to glucose or discarded. We have no mechanism to store protein directly. Muscle building will only occur with the right exercise stimulus. Eating mountains of meat is wasteful and counter productive...unless you are exercising in a way that encourages muscle growth. (See my blog on the Man of Steel diet).

If you are a regular exerciser, fructose in small quantities is beneficial. It is converted in the liver to glycogen. Glycogen is burned when we exert ourselves during strenuous exercise. Unfortunately, due to modern food practices, almost every one of us over consumes fructose in processed foods. High levels of fructose cannot be processed in the liver fast enough, and is critically damaging to cells. Visceral fat comes mostly from excess fructose. Our liver only ever stores at most 100g of glycogen, and it is never, ever depleted. Even if we stopped eating completely, our bodies will continue to convert anything it can scavenge to glycogen. Muscle glycogen only comprises 1% of total muscle mass. A 20oz soda bottle contains 65g of sugar, and 35g are fructose. Modern hypersweet varieties of apples contain about 32.g of fructose. As you can see, it doesn't take much to over consume fructose - even if you aren't consuming junk.

Starches are a type of sugar. Table sugar is approximately 50/50 glucose and fructose. Starches are pure glucose chains. Fructose must be broken down in the liver, but glucose is ready immediately. This is great if you are a marathon runner or olympian, but it's not so good for the rest of us. High blood glucose is toxic, and the body must use or dispose of it immediately. If liver and muscle glycogen are topped off (which isn't much, as previously discussed), then our bodies try to find another place to put it. Our bodies stop burning fat to burn glucose. If energy burning needs are met, then where does the glucose go? It gets stored as fat. In a high glucose diet, energy needs are exceeded, so fat reserves aren't tapped.

What happens with fat is tricky. Fat in some scenarios becomes triglycerides. In others, they become ketones. Under normal circumstances, unneeded triglycerides (a type of fuel) should be removed by the liver, but there are a few ways this can get disrupted. In our modern diet, this is usually blocked by over consumption of glucose and fructose. When our bodies break down stored fat, they become ketones. However, as per the above paragraph, if there is already an abundance of glucose, fat burn doesn't happen the way we desire. Ketones are a byproduct of fat metabolism, and are either used or discarded, but they are not stored.

Consumption of calories that exceeds our expenditure needs can, indeed, lead to fat gain, but the mechanism isn't straight mathematics. Calorie composition DOES matter. Our bodies need enough protein, carbs and fat - all true. We all have to make our own decisions on what that is. If we have a lot of body fat to lose, it is most logical to reduce glucose consumption so that it stops impairing fat metabolism. Increasing exercise to burn more glucose seems like a good strategy, but then you aren't burning fat. This actually increases demand for protein. Lack of adequate protein and strenuous exercise leads to muscle catabolism.

I've achieved the most success with my weight loss journey when I juggle my food composition and exercise to get the result I want.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

DDOORN 6/25/2013 10:52PM

    Always love to hear about your tweaks, "experiments," what works, what doesn't...especially as I see a LOT of overlap with what works for me. I think we are all pretty unique and this process of truly "knowing" our bodies (especially, in my case, after being so out of touch with my body most of my life) is SO worthwhile!


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MRS.CARLY 6/25/2013 9:22AM

    Great blog, I think you should teach my class :)

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WOUBBIE 6/24/2013 7:26PM

    Relatively simple? LOL! If it WERE simple we'd all be thin and healthy and fit! The amazing thing to me is how counter-intuitive a lot of these things are. Not math. Chemistry.

Comment edited on: 6/24/2013 7:27:17 PM

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LOUIE-LILY 6/24/2013 5:59PM

    Hi Cathy - I see I can learn a lot from you . . . and I thought I was knowledgeable! Being diabetic, I'm always trying to find the balance between carbs/sugars . . . proteins, etc. I'm also trying to hard to pick up on the exercise. I know if I can drop the weight, I may well be able to get off the meds and reverse the disease. Keep the info coming . . . I may not "grasp" it all - but I'll keep studying it.

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VHALKYRIE 6/24/2013 4:07PM

    BILL60: If it works that way for you, great! Unfortunately for me, I had to learn more. Hope this is helpful for someone else out there.

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BILL60 6/24/2013 3:31PM

    Why do we make something relatively simple, so difficult? I personally look at what I burn and compare it to what I consumed. If it's negative, I'm happy. If not, I'm not happy. Anything else is overkill. I just love the simple life. It's not perfect, but it works for me.

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AKHEIDI 6/24/2013 3:21PM

    If only my fat could read this blog.

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    Very informative. Thank you for sharing!

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Man of Steel - The Good and Bad

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hubs and I went to see "Man of Steel" yesterday. I'll start off with the non-spoiler bottom line first: it was good, but not great. I give it a B- overall because it introduced thought provoking elements to a very old American tale. However, it falls short because it introduced too many ideas, and failed to develop the thoughtful elements in favor of excessive CGI city destruction.

If you don't like 'spoilers,' then stop here. The Superman story is one very familiar to most of us, but I don't know what some might consider spoilers or not. If you haven't seen it and feel I gave away the plot, then please don't yell at me! You have been warned!

The beginning of the movie starts with the background story of Kal-El's origin on Krypton. Political strife and an attempted military coup by Zod in the dying moments of Krypton were very interesting. Krypton's downfall is partially due to the ethics of eugenics: all Kryptonians are born into a caste where they serve one purpose with no choice for another. Jor-El and Lara-El defy this with the first live birth of Kal-El in centuries. Before Krypton dies, they shuttle their hopes and dreams for him to choose his path on Earth.

All very, very interesting...but unnecessary. The film spent too much time trying to develop the backstory of Krypton at the expense of other ideas they introduce later. Zod's eugenics was to be the military commander of Krypton, and I definitely wanted to know more - but not in this movie. This would be an excellent basis for a prequel story. Spending as much time as they did at the beginning turned out to be redundant because later when Clark Kent meets Jor-El for the first time, Jor-El has to explain the story to Clark. At this point, the audience already has this information. They could have cut the Krypton sequence completely, and have Jor-El tell it all. It would not have disrupted the story's cohesiveness.

The movie is really supposed to be about Kal-El's discovery of who he is. It would have been better if they started the movie solely with Kal-El's spacecraft crash in Kansas, the Kents' discovery of him, then his discovery of Jor-El all from his perspective. (Oddly, the crash landing in Kansas and the Kents' finding him was completely missing.)

I really liked the new angle they take with Clark's conflict about not knowing who he is or what he's supposed to do. This is why I give the movie an A in theme. He seems to go from job to job, unsure about his purpose in life. Henry Cavill does a marvelous job of portraying someone with godlike abilities, and yet restrains himself from harming anyone (even if they probably deserve it). In tradition with the Superman legend, this is supposed to be due to Jonathan and Martha Kent setting Clark's moral compass towards using his abilities to help, rather than harm. A man who is invincible could rule the world through tyranny, and yet the Clarks guide him towards benevolence. This wasn't fleshed out quite so well. Kevin Costner does a surprisingly good job with the character, but the script did not do him justice. His dying to conceal Clark's identity put Clark in a position of helplessness and guilt, but I can't help but feel the same idea could be conveyed in a less ridiculous setup.

I've read numerous reviews, and it seems I am in the minority on this, but I did not like Amy Adams as Lois Lane. She didn't strike me as a fiesty reporter. The scene where she's supposed to show how tough she is with a military commander didn't throw much authority. I couldn't help but imagine how different that scene would have been with a Sigourney Weaver type actress. In the end, I felt Adams was a pretty Lois Lane, but not one who intimidated Generals in the least. Among the current field of popular actresses, I'm not sure who I would have cast. There seems to be a lack of Sigourney Weavers or Linda Hamiltons in this generation. The use of profanity with the "D" word to establish her as tough was cringe-worthy and a little awkward as I sat next to an 8 year old. I think they were trying to make Superman a little more adult oriented in theme, but most people in our theater were families.

I wasn't too pleased with the scene where Clark discovers a derelict Kryptonian ship and meets Jor-El for the first time. Russel Crowe does the role justice, but the writers made his presence a sentient ghost-in-the-machine. That is a very complicated subject, and the writers obviously thought the audience should just accept it and not think on why or how. This is one of the areas where they introduce a potentially very thought provoking concept, but it needed to be dropped because there was no time to develop it. It should have been portrayed more as a self-aware AI that has Jor-El's memories and likeness, but is not Jor-El. Going with the ghost-in-the-machine was a can of worms where they didn't need to go. Jor-El basically repeats the information that was shown at the beginning, hence the redundancy. Krypton's background could have all coalesced here.

When Zod and company are reintroduced to the plot, it is a little contrived and forced. However, I particularly liked how they managed to portray Superman as the underdog against General Zod and Faora (probably more commonly recognized as Ursa). Explaining why Superman has super powers by our sun was a nice detail (Earth's sun is younger than Krypton's, so Kal-El's body is amplified by the increased radiation). Since Clark was raised on Earth, his body adapted to our gravitation and environment - again, a nice touch. When Zod and company arrive, they are aliens with alien physiology. They wear armored suits and helmets to protect them. The armor blocks the sun's radiation, so their powers are more limited than Superman's - they can jump very far, but can't fly like Superman. However, they are all experienced trained military warriors. Thanks to Krypton's eugenics, they are superior fighting machines because they were bred to be that way. Despite having weaker abilities, they wipe the floor with Superman. How the film managed to depict a sense of fear for a physically invincible man was impressive.

The film also succeeds with setting up cooperation between Superman, the military generals, and a scientist. Superman can't die, but he can't save Earth alone. This was nicely done.

Superman's battles with Zod, though, were way over the top. There was far more CGI building and city destruction than there needed to be. Zod was a very interesting character, and they could have spent more time in thoughtful dialogue in favor of Independence Day type wanton destruction. A more thoughtful movie was possible if they spent more time with Zod trying to convince Kal-El to rejoin his people. He spent so much of his life feeling like an outsider, he could finally be rejoined with people like him. There was a foundation laid where Kal-El might have felt morally conflicted, but this was one of those great ideas that was glossed over too quickly. If I was editor, I would have heavily cut the beginning sequences, and added more meat here.

The conclusion of the conflict has Superman making a choice: Krypton or Earth. He chooses Earth and kills Zod. There is a brief scene where Superman screams, and Lois comforts him. Then...that's it. Wow. Superman kills someone, and they don't explore his feelings about this at all. Very unsatisfying.

Finally, I wasn't too happy with the ending. Clark discusses with his mom that he finally knows what he's going to do with his life. We then see him introduced as the newest reporter at the Daily Planet. Ok...so when did he get his journalism degree, finish an internship, then get the credentials for a staff job at the Planet? Did he fake his creds? I sure hope not. If there was an implied time shift here, I didn't get the message from the writers.

John Williams' iconic Superman score was missing. I understand they didn't want to use it for the reboot. However, I missed it. If I mention Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Jaws or Jurassic Park, I bet every one of you can mentally 'hear' the theme song for all of them. That is the genius of John Williams. I honestly can't remember if any music played at all during "Man of Steel." If there was a score, I can't recall a single note.

So...with all these criticisms, you're probably thinking I hated the film - LOL! Actually, I enjoyed it. I was entertained. However, there were missed opportunities. They introduced some potentially wonderful ideas, and yet had no time to go into depth with any of them. With a book or mini series, you can explore a lot of topics. With a 2.5 hour film, they really needed to hone in on a couple of the most important. I think the whole Krypton sequence was very interesting, and yet it could have been cut. It would be a wonderful downfall of Krypton prequel, but I wanted more Superman.

I give it a B- for excellent theme and concepts, but marked down for choppy execution.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

MRS.CARLY 6/25/2013 9:25AM

    I completely agree! I saw it the day it came out and I was a little disappointed. it was not quite what I expected. You said all the things I was thinking!!!

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FITGIRL15 6/23/2013 11:59PM

    I went and saw it this weekend too.

It was hard to follow for a non-comic junkie. I understand (and love) the original story Superman, but found this version seemed much more sci-fi in comparison. (Funny, since it IS a fictional story! LOL)

I love the ideas of bringing Lex Luthor back into the fray next round. He's a great character!

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VHALKYRIE 6/23/2013 9:11PM

    ARRREAGLES: Excellent points! I really hope they run with Lex Luthor's revenge in the next one. I was telling my husband this afternoon, "How do you hurt someone who is physically invincible? You hurt him emotionally, and Lex is the guy to do it." I just hope they stick with a developed theme in the next one better than this one.

Comment edited on: 6/23/2013 9:13:52 PM

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ARRREAGLES 6/23/2013 7:13PM

    Excellent review-- and I largely agree. The needless violence was too much for me. I expect that from Batman or the Hulk -- but Superman is just better than that. The destruction of Smallville seemed unnecessary, particularly considering the fields all around the place. I know, early superman, so he doesn't know yet, but frankly, I can see lots and LOTS of fodder for Lex Luthor down the road, and not as a heel either -- if some alien did that to MY city, I might rise up as well.

Great thorough review though...

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