goingplaceslivinglife

Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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Body Pride

I am not an active person although many people who know me ask if I ever stop and rest. What I mean is that I have never sustained any exercise program more than a month and I am “chunky” or as my daughter calls it,  “fluffy”. The Yiddish words zaftig fits.

So it is with extreme pleasure I can announce that I am healing well from my latest surgery and can see – and feel – the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.  And it is MY flabby, fluffy undisciplined body that is reaching the benchmarks easier and faster than average.

As I sat on the bleachers at the pool where my husband and my friend were participating in what we call “geezer aquatic aerobics” I ached to be in the water with them. I have 2 more weeks to go until I reach the magical 6-week post op mark where the doctor assures me that the surgical incision will be healed enough to block infection from the outside. And since there are kids in the pool right before the low-impact exercise class, we can assume there are elements in the water that could introduce a problem. I will be patient.  Image may contain: one or more people, swimming and pool

This journey through pain and repair has been over two years now. I’d like to run through the story so perhaps others can feel they too can feel better.

est 1978First of all, when I was 19 I went skiing and had a spectacular fall. I laid in the snow off to the side of the run for a while and my memory is that the ski patrol came by and asked if I was okay. My answer was “I don’t know” and they left. Unlikely, but that’s the way I remember it.  I managed to get down the mountain and went back to school and never saw anyone at the health center because hey, I was 19 and healing is pretty magical at that age.

The next time the knee was assaulted was when I was 50 and contracted bacterial meningitis  working at Vanderbilt Medical Center. To be fair, no one else who handled the piece of equipment got sick. The doctors believed that as I was in the 6th year (of what turned out to be 10) of my husband’s fight with brain cancer, my adrenal system had been under assault for some time.  Fight or flight….and since I was choosing to stick with him and fight that cancer, I was bombarded with bad news all too often. That’s when the slow weight gain happened and that’s when my immune system weakened.  Image result for long term effects of stress on the body

So,  there I was all of a sudden, feeling like I had a horrible case of the flu and thankfully friends who came to take care of my youngest son made me go to the hospital.  I was that woman you hear moaning when you walk down the halls of a nursing home….too unable to articulate anything except “I feel miserable”. And then I remember nothing until I woke up and the doc was drawing about a liter of fluid from my knee.

Anyway, I survived, obviously. A year later my knee started hurting and I immediately invaded the doctor’s clinic (one benefit of working in a hospital) and he assured me that the meningitis was not back, but that I had arthritis in that knee.

I controlled the aggravation with glucosamine in various combinations and topped up with Advil if I needed more help. I started acupuncture when I moved to Oregon and sometimes had relief for 10 days without any Advil.

Until June 28, 2016 when I twisted my knee and could barely walk. We were heading to the farmers’ market and poor Graham had to set up everything without much help from me. I went to my doctor a day or so later and she did got me a referral to one of the local orthopedic docs here in town. It took 6 weeks to get an appointment and he took a look at me walking and decided, without the benefit of any x-ray or other imaging that I “just have arthritis and will never need surgery.”  When I asked him why it hurt so much differently and more than before I twisted it he was too busy to answer.

It will be no surprise to you that I refused to go back to him when I asked my primary doctor for a second opinion about 3 months later.  His partner had the benefit of an x-ray at that time and a ct-scan but he said just about the same thing the first doc had said…..I would never need surgery.

And so, while I waited for this knee to magically heal itself, I asked my doctor for PT and continued with the acupuncture. The physical therapy helped some but I was always in pain and always unable to do things I had been able to do before.  A marvelous friend stepped in to help Graham close down our farmers’ market booth each week.

And a year passed. And then my opposite hip started hurting. I had been “walking wonky” for a year because of the knee and the physical therapist opined that my pelvis had tilted because of the knee being out of alignment and the pressure of the femur into the pelvis was different from the way it normally should be.

So, that sounded like the purview of a chiropractor.  The acupuncturist and my primary care physician recommended the same guy so off I went.  There was some relief but when I asked  how long I could expect the treatments to effectively readjust the pelvis I was told “it had taken a while to get to that point and it will take a while to fix.”

Admittedly I was losing patience. And expressed it. So the chiropractor tried some other kind of adjustment and it HURT!  When I went back I saw his associate and that first treatment gave me 3 days of relief. I was looking forward to the next treatment but negated the positive effect by walking six blocks to meet my eldest son for lunch.  Six blocks……and I was in deep pain again. The next treatment the chiropractor tried some other aggressive treatment and that was it. I asked for a referral to a new orthopedic doctor not in this town and went “to get information”.

The new doc ordered a few more x-rays and then showed me on the computer the actual reason for the pain. And he said, very clearly, “you have arthritis which has worn away all the tissue that protects the joint and you are now “bone-on-bone”. There is no getting around the fact that you need surgery.”

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This is the x-ray AFTER the surgery and may look funny because I have porcelain and plastic as part of the appliance because of a concern about a metal allergy. 

I continued with physical therapy and went into the knee reconstruction with muscles prepared as much as possible. I was able to drive in 2.5 weeks (it was my right knee so my driving leg)  which was important because I am the driver in the house. Graham is legally blind and no longer drives. Our friends were fantastic…taking him to the grocery store and me to PT but the relief of being able to get there myself was golden.  I had been told it would take me 6 weeks to be able to drive but I worked my exercise routine at home often.

I wondered how I was going to deal with right knee pain as well as left hip pain during the recuperation. The doctor told me that the hip might be okay after the surgery and it was quiet for about a month, but then starting speaking …and yelling….again.  I was very thankful for that quiet time which permitted me to sit up and get out of bed more easily.

Image may contain: Beth Rankin, standing, sky, tree and outdoor

Taking a walk around the block 3 weeks after the knee surgery. Yes, I was in pain.

And so, the hip was replaced 4 weeks ago.  Bone on bone there also, no getting around it any more.

People who have had both surgeries told me the hip would be easier healing and it has been. Pain levels were not as high and more easily handled with the Tylenol. The issues I had related to feeling like a beached whale having trouble turning over in bed and the bowel issues caused by the anesthesia and the narcotics I took the first couple of weeks.  That issue improved after a few weeks and moving in bed has gotten easier as well.

A few days ago I realized I had not taken any Advil that day. And now I am walking without a cane with an almost normal gait.

The financial side effect of all this is that I had to take money out of my retirement funds to pay my share of the bills. Medical insurance has gotten more and more expensive in the past two years with co-pays and out of pocket requirements higher.  Once I finish paying my share of the bills I will have paid out $7300 and that does not even count my monthly insurance premiums.

The upside to all that is that any additional medical help I need is now without cost. I still need to pay my monthly premium but my prescriptions will be free and the cataract surgeries will be scheduled before the end of the calendar year to take advantage of this benefit.

1983 aSo, I started with a headline called “Body Pride”. There was a time, in 1983 where I experienced a wonderful glowing sense of pride in my body: I had just given birth to my eldest and was sustaining him by breastfeeding him. This was a perfectly clear example that my body worked well.

The faster than usual healing I have had from the knee and hip surgeries is also a mark of my body responding to the work I was doing, both actively through PT and more passively through acupuncture. I was making sure my nutrition was good and my body was getting the extra fuel it required because of the stress on it.

So, for all out there who have similar aches and pains, my best advice is to seek out those things you can do to supplement what you may be doing at home for self-care.  And get yourself to a doctor who will treat you fairly and communicate well. Do not give up and do not set restrictions on where you are willing to go. Yes, it is not fun to drive an hour plus to the orthopedic doc in Portland instead of 10 minutes to the guys here in my town. But it is worth every single red light and I have discovered some beautiful back roads that take me through gorgeous countryside.

I have so much I want to do….I am too young to feel as old as the last two years of pain made me feel.  Now, if only the new joints had amazing other attributes! Image result for bionic woman

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epiphany!!!

Definition of epiphany

plural epiphanies

1capitalized January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ
2an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being
3(1) a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something 
(2) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking 
(3) an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
b a revealing scene or moment
 
In truth, I did not know anything about the Christian use of the word Epiphany until 11 years ago but I’m not talking about that definition. I am talking about the noncapitalized use of the word-the sudden deep understanding that hits a person with clarity.
So, I always believed this concept but last evening I UNDERSTOOD it. I now recognize the difference and that difference is profound.
I always was a good student. I liked school. It was very much a place for social interaction but I also enjoyed the exploration of information.  I remember the handful of amazing teachers I had with great respect.
I graduated about 17th in my class of 350 or so. I did not work hard, so perhaps I could have done better, but it was a place where I felt satisfaction. I could get decent grades while enjoying band, Girl Scouts, my religious youth group activities and more. I was not so dedicated to my schooling that I did not have fun although I have always been a goodie-two-shoes, so my concept of what is fun and yours may differ.
I struggled with math and science but managed to get As and Bs.  Still, I always assumed people who could do math easily, like my husband and my children, were smarter than I am.
Last evening it hit me that they are NOT smarter because they can do math. They just have different strengths than I do. Graham, for example, is a good writer, but he is not comfortable with a writing assignment, any more than I am with math.

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Source: Team Epiphany

And yet, I can whip out an essay about a lot of things easily. Still, we do not consider someone who can communicate in writing to be “smarter” than someone else who finds it difficult.
I believe as more and more people participate in the dumbing down of America, as mobile phone usage has lead people to assume headlines and sound bites are all the information they need, that evaluation of intelligence will have to change.
I also believe that intellectual intelligence is only one of many parts of a person’s makeup that enables success in life. Each person’s emotional maturity also permits analysis and growth….or frustration and stagnation. A high IQ with low EQ will usually lead to a life of alienation, feeling misunderstood by everyone.  The third aspect of intelligence is how you get along with others….can you accept people as they are or are you always judging others?Image result for various modes of intelligence
So, no longer will I feel inferior in comparison to a person who works comfortably in areas where my personal understanding is a bit stressed. I know I have other strengths…and I can fly well with them.
How about you?


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The Most Important Job in the World

What’s the most important job in the world? Nope, not being the President of the United States, although we are learning right now how leadership in that role can influence how others think about us.   But few of us can do that job well, and so, not just anyone should assume the mantle.

I’m  speaking about parenting. Many of us are parents, have been parents, or want to be parents. Many of us should NOT be parents.

Ouch! Was that too nasty?  Perhaps….and perhaps not.

Let’s take an example from something on my Facebook feed today. Facebook is an excellent way to measure the values of your extended community. Some people who post on your feed are people you know well, others not so well, and others are “friends of friends” and you don’t really know them at all. It’s a microcosm of society.  Facebook is NOT good for trustworthy news….make sure to check everything you think is news there. But Facebook is good at understanding people’s viewpoints and that is what makes up society.

This morning a friend shared a concern that a teacher friend of hers had with parents of elementary school aged children. The teacher had posted that she starts the school year each year for the past 25 years the same way. She sends home papers for the parents to complete. We know this pile, and yes, it is an annoyance. But she sends home one more that she originates. She asks for information about the child: likes and dislikes, attitudes about going to school, family life and activities and more. She said she used to receive these essays from 98% of parents, she said in the last decade she has noticed a huge decline. Only 20% of parent’s participate in this.

Yes, I know we all work long hours. Yes, I know there is a lot that needs to be done each and every day.  But, this is parenting. You had babies. Now, the question becomes, what kind of adult do you want to grow?

About 30 years ago I had to make a decision about my marriage. I had two small children (ages 1 and 3) and a husband who was self-centered and diagnosed with several mental health issues. When I saw the toddler mimicking his father’s behavior I knew I was not raising those kids in a healthy environment. I knew that my job was NOT what made money and supported the family (he had stopped working) but to raise those children to be healthy adults who not only could function in society but contribute to it.

We have lots of complaints about kids’ behavior and lack of ambition. We hear all too often that some kids lash out in anger over disappointments. We hear that there have been three generations of families on support programs.  We have a problem and it IS us.

It is parents who are not emotionally mature enough to recognize that their priority for the next 18 years after giving birth is to raise a child who finds joy in life, is excited to be intellectually curious, and enjoys participating in community service to feel a part of solutions.

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source: http://www.smartbrief.com

What? No time?  Unless you are physically out of the house trying to earn a living 16 hours a day, that won’t fly. And if you are out of the house that much, who has your child? Surely you will place your child with a caregiver who will be teaching them how to tackle life’s challenges and embrace the wonderful things.

But I think most people are not away from their children. Most people may be struggling themselves with the burdens of everyday life and may be focusing on their own needs as their first priority. And that is still not the best.

Yes, you need some alone time to regenerate energy. No question about it. I chose 5am-6am. I asked no one to disturb me even if they were awake. That was MY time.

Then at 6am we could start the kids’ day. They had picked out their clothes (with my help as age appropriate) the night before so there was no “where are my shoes” emergencies. There is time for breakfast and packing a lunch before needing to be out the door for the bus or walk or car ride to school when you start early enough.

Can’t get up that early and be functional? Why not? What time did you get yourself to bed to sleep? What kind of “help” did you use to relax the night before that leaves you sluggish in the morning?  What are you teaching your children about responsibility and how they will be as adults?  They will mimic you.

When my youngest was in high school he ran cross country and track.  After the first track meet I saw I would be sitting in the stands for 5 hours between his first and last race.  The next meet I brought my camera and started taking photos. My husband did also.  We were recognized as team photographers and allowed on the field and for 4 years we captured photos of all 80 kids trying their best. HHS April 10 2012 1600m

I posted the photos on a site where (with a password) anyone could grab them and just about all the kids and some parents thanked us for our effort, but no one took over when we “graduated”.  It really amazed and saddened me when most parents never showed up to the high school track meets, even when they were held at our school. No car? There’s a bus and there are other people you can call for a ride.  There are ALWAYS solutions. It depends on you and what you want to do with and for your children.

Just as lust is not love, having sex does not mean you should have a baby.  But if you DO have a baby (and this is for men as well as women) you have just assumed responsibility to raise them. To be better than you are! To learn right and wrong! To develop solutions to problems! To recognized they are part of a community and receive benefits from that community so make time to give something back in service!

Because parents are ducking their responsibility, the concept of “life 101” classes to be held in middle school and high school needs to include a lot of things parents USED TO teach their children. How to develop a budget and live within it. How to balance a checkbook.  How to cook so you can make healthy meals and not need to depend on frozen options that are full of chemicals. How to sew so you can at least put a button back on a shirt. How to iron. How to change a tire. How to make a goal and work towards it. How to how to how to. The list goes on.

Image result for what parents should teach their child

source: http://blog.sfgate.com/sfmoms/2011/02/07/100-things-all-parents-should-teach-their-children/

How to adult. Just because you are over 18 and legally an adult does not seem to equate to maturity with many people.  My parents had a saying that irritated me but it was a truism. At that time 21 was the age of legal majority so they would say “You do not automatically become an adult and know how to do everything when you are 21.”

They taught me much of what I needed to know and yes, some of their concepts were outdated and I rebelled.  I failed and picked myself up again and went on. That is also part of what we need to teach our kids. How to be resilient.

So, when you look at that beautiful newborn and get teary eyed over his potential, develop your plan of action. When you catch yourself spanking the 2-year-old trying to explore her world, change your parenting discipline to one that teaches with reason, not pain. When your 7-year-old tells you he hates you, explain calmly you know that feeling because perhaps right then you are hating their behavior, but you know they can choose to behave in a way that is better. When your 10-year-old gets Cs, look to your own time helping with homework; if you haven’t been you should be able to help pull that grade up to a B at least.  Long before your 15-year-old gets pregnant tell her age appropriate information  about the physical and emotional responsibility of actions….ALL actions. (Get over it people….you had sex and guess what, they will too!)

It takes work to be a parent. And to be a good parent takes a lot more work than many people are putting in.

Look around you. How many people are lonely?  Their kids have flown away and hardly ever come to visit or have contact.  How many people are so judgemental that if the child had opinions that differed from the parent the kid was told they were wrong but not why the parent feels that way.  I talked to an elderly man who was trolling the parking lot of the church looking for his daughter who was homeless. He told me how he hated her having a Latino boyfriend and had told her she could come home but not with him. He did not see he had built the wall that his daughter would not climb over.  Do you know people like that?

It starts with babies. How you raise your kids makes a difference.  Remember that each time you are ready to condemn the actions of “kids today”.

Image result for what parents should teach their child

source: http://www.excite.com/education/blog/parents-need-to-take-responsibility-for-their-childrens-behavior

 

 

 

 


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You DO have time….you have today.

In the past seven years I have really been involved in the local farm-to-table food movement. I urge people to cook from whole foods. They will enjoy the flavor so much more and they can control ingredients, getting away from preservatives that very well could be influencing your health.  But all too many people have the same answer: “I don’t have time to cook.”

Years ago I was ecstatic that my oldest son’s elementary school offered a parenting course when he was in 1st grade. STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) helped me recognize nonverbal signs when things were heading south in the kids’ behavior or my own response. I learned to stop things from escalating out of control and how to talk in a way that taught and provided discipline instead of punishment. I helped my kids learn to take responsibility for their actions and how to communicate their feelings, especially when their emotions were roiled up. And it seemed to have worked, because even if the three of them are not perfect by any means, they are wonderful active adults contributing to their communities. I have suggested this course or some other to many friends who are frustrated by their children’s behavior, since it really helped us.  But all too many people have the same answer: “I don’t have time for a 10-week seminar, one hour a week.”

Each of us makes choices, many of them, every single day. We decide simple things, like what to eat for breakfast and what to wear. And we decide harder things, like identifying the goal of the day.

Some of us are planners; we think about what we want/need to do and figure out the various ways to achieve that with all their pros and cons. Some of us never plan; we are reactors. We respond to things that go on around us. And much of the time we are surprised and maybe a little bit (or more) angry because things are not always the way we want it.

 

I want to share with you the story of one woman I never got to know until after I moved from West Virginia. Having common friends, her comments on Facebook resonated with me in many ways. A few issues were not in agreement and it was in private conversation that I learned that this woman understood her position. That nothing about her was merely reactive.

Until the shit hit the fan. Already a breast cancer survivor, you would agree with me that that should be all Paige should have had to deal with, but no. Her beloved husband collapsed with a brain aneurysm and she had to explain to their two young daughters that Daddy was never coming home. You might agree with me that that is more than any woman should need to deal with in her life.

Image may contain: 4 people, including Paige Muellerleile

Source: Paige M – too long ago

But no, still more. The cancer was back and fully metastasized throughout her body. Paige, above all else, is a realist. She understands there is not much time left.

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source: Paige M December 2017

The pain of knowing she will not see her daughters graduate gets eased for minutes as she makes memories with them. She’s getting things in place, knowing they will be well loved by others to reach their goals, but it is not enough. There is not enough time left.

And then she posted this photo, and I looked at her…..and I see it. Life. In the moment. Participating. Grabbing all of it. Pain. Joy. Achievement. Struggle.

Paige HD

source: Herald Dispatch

So please please please look at your own life. Are you living? Go. Do.     You DO have time….you have today.


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Being Prepared

Graham and I just came back from a short vacation in Puerto Vallarta. Close friends  from our time living in West Virginia have a timeshare there and have been going annually for twenty years.  They’ve invited us before but since Graham was teaching daily then and the timing never meshed with his spring break from Marshall University, we never could schedule it, until now.

Graham is currently teaching one forensic chemistry course for the fall, winter and spring quarters at Western Oregon University. He teaches Wednesday evenings so last week after class we headed to Portland and spent one night in a motel close to the airport. They offer free parking and provide an airport shuttle. That cost us about $20 more than parking in the long term lot and saved us from having to leave home at 4am to catch our southbound flight.  We returned the next Tuesday and so, he will not miss teaching any classes.

It was a short but sweet vacation, valued highly because of time spent with friends who live in Kentucky. We appreciate the ease of communication Facebook and cell phones permit, but nothing is better than to give hugs in person.

Based on my Facebook postings it looks like all we did was eat…and drink. LOL

But I also went prepared with two prescriptions from my allergist. He said he writes them all the time for both Mexico (you must present them in person) and Canada (you can handle the transaction by mail).

I want to explain the reason I travelled with the hopes of purchasing two medicines and then tell you about the experience.

When we first moved to Oregon, my health insurance was part of Graham’s retirement package. It moved me from PEIA (if you have been following the news recently you know West Virginia teachers went on strike to win a 5% raise and no change in their health insurance rate from PEIA. The state had offered a 1% salary raise which was more than negated by a higher increase in the employee share in the health insurance premium. I am so pleased that it took teachers in all 55 counties to stand strong to win this concession from the state legislature but the issue is still not over…more wrestling ahead…but this blog is not about that fight. Just suffice it to say that West Virginia schools are severely underfunded while people in power issue themselves plenty of perks. Seems to be the culture these days throughout the country.)

Okay, back to my story. My health insurance was with a national company and worked fine. It cost me about $500 a month.  Then the ACA passed its Supreme Court test for the mandate that EVERYONE must buy health insurance and I switched over. My insurance premium cost me $550.  That was based on the prior year’s income and of course, Graham had retired and our income was significantly reduced. I appealed for a reduced premium and in their infinite wisdom I was moved to Oregon’s Medicaid expansion, the Oregon Health Plan.

I was initially concerned because I assumed that the healthcare I received would be of lesser quality but with the exception of only one questionable doctor visit,  I was very pleased. The clinic was prompt, the staff was very friendly, and the doctor usually spent at least 30 minutes with me, or longer if needed.

I rolled through that system for 18 months but at the next renewal the questions changed and I got bumped out. Back to the ACA. My new premium was $462 a month BUT it would not start coverage until January 1st. My OHP plan ended September 30th.  That left me three months without any insurance.

I pleaded with each organization to let me stay longer or to pick me up sooner but was told no. I have found out since them I should have called the state insurance commission and it would have continued the OHP the three months. Remember that if it ever happens to you.

What it meant to me was I needed to pay cash for my prescriptions. The blood pressure medication was not bad ($60) but my two prescriptions that help me breathe were close to $1000. Per month.  Simply, we could not afford that.

I picked up my medications the first work day in January and went to the allergist (after I got a referral) about 3 weeks later. My lung function was measured at 37%.

Two months later, back on daily meds, it was up in the high 70s.  In other words, I need this medicine to live.  Each time Congress plays around with dismantling the ACA I know I can expect to die.  I understand I am not alone. I do not generally join in with conspiracy theories, but it is easy to believe “they” want “us” to die.

So flash forward to my friends’ invitation to join them in Puerto Vallarta and our pre-trip discussion about what we want to do etc.  She mentioned that the farmacias there have medicines at much lower prices than here. Hence, the request and issuance of those prescriptions for my breathing.

They had one of the medicines I needed at the pharmacy we visited the last evening we were there. (Yes, I should have started this part earlier but……) I was able to purchase the medicine that helps my lung function, Symbicort. IMG_3171

The cash cost for the Symbicort here is between $400-$450, even with discounts. The cash cost for the same amount of medicine in Mexico was $80. IMG_3172

The packaging is different, but sometimes when I get my prescriptions refilled here the new bottle has a sticker telling me the pill may look different from what I have been issued before but it is the same.  So, the issue is not uncommon.

This is a first person example of how we pay so much more for our medicine than other countries.  You’ve probably seen charts before like this one.oxycontin_0

Some people argue that we are paying for the pharmaceutical companies to do their research. But recently some of those corporations have announced they will no longer do research for medications to help with  AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and more.

Some people argue that we are paying higher prices to subsidize the rest of the world.  Really?  Not true. Other countries have negotiated prices with drug companies for their health insurance programs.

I believe we are charged what they think we will pay. Simple as that.  And so, many people are either not taking the medications they need to be in good health or they are finding other ways to cope.

The problem is, many of us can not afford jacked up prices, like insulin that increased 197% from 2002 and 2013. Or how the cost of an epi pen went up from  $100 in 2009 to $600 in 2016 (400%)and the CEO of that company is well known for his smirk.  Thank goodness there are generic alternatives. 160826143616-mylan-epipen-exlarge-169

Bottom line: there is a lot wrong with our healthcare system and what we pay for it. Our premiums increase annually, our service plans decrease and the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are experiencing record profits.

Why is health care not considered a public service industry similar to water, sewage treatment, electric/gas/whatever you use for heating and cooking?

Until we fix our issues here in the United States, Mexico and Canada will continue to reap the benefits of attracting savvy  medical shoppers.

 


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What does “pink slime” have to do with whether beef broth “gels”?

I’m so fortunate that I know so many wonderful farmers who do what I can not do: grow food. And so many of them, like Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms of Yamhill, Oregon,  have a very high goal to make sure the food they produce for themselves and the public is healthy and free from additives. Chrissie wrote this blog about pink slime after she got a lot of questions why her beef broth had a gelatinous state when cold.
chicken stock2

The ideal stock is made from a combination of meaty bones for flavor, connective tissue (tendons, cartilage, heads, feet, etc) for gelatin and texture, and hard bones for minerals (primarily calcium but others as well). A well-balanced stock made from good quality ingredients should always “gel” at refrigerator temperatures.

Many of you already know that I came to beef quite late in life: I was a near-vegetarian for my first 40 years with maybe five lifetime total servings of red meat. When I was diagnosed as profoundly anemic, and several years of iron pills and green vegetables did not bring my iron levels up, I was finally ready to take the plunge for eating red meat. But the more I read about commodity red meat, the less willing I was to eat it. This finally erupted in the famous temper tantrum that launched Kookoolan Farms: “if I want to eat grassfed beef, I’m just going to have to learn to do it myself.” I’ve been reading about the commodity meat industry for more than 15 years, and every year I think I’ve finally learned all its dirty secrets, but every year I learn a little more and am saddened to discover that it really is just a little worse than I thought it was. This week an off comment in a news story in “The Week” magazine got us off on a research tangent, and I learned more about “pink slime” than I had previously known – including a key “a-ha” moment with the answer to the question so many of you have asked me over the years: “Why doesn’t premade broth or stock gel? It always gels up with no problem when I make it from Kookoolan Farms bones. What’s the difference?” Now I know…. read on. (for the full details you can easily pull up the Wikipedia article about pink slime).

For starters, the formal name for “pink slime” is Lean Finely Textured Beef, or LFTB. It’s interesting to note off the bat that this highly processed beef derivative is “approved for limited human consumption” in the U.S., but is completely banned both in the European Union and in Canada. In March 2012 (interestingly, the latest date for which I could find data) more than 70% of all ground beef sold in the U.S. contained the additive. Also interesting: ground beef can contain up to 15% LFTB with no labelling required to announce its presence. In fact, the only way to avoid LFTB in grocery store ground beef is to buy USDA certified organic, in which LFTB is disallowed.

wiki pink slime

Lean Finely-Textured Beef, AKA “pink slime,” photo from Wikipedia. 95% lean. All indications are that there are no food safety issues associated with this highly-processed “salvage” product, which means _it’s never labelled as an ingredient_ on any products you buy.

So what is LFTB? It’s the very last scraps of meat and connective tissue still clinging to the bones and hides after a skilled butcher has already removed all of the usable meat with a knife. Some of these source areas are considered to be the areas most likely to be contaminated by pathogenic bacteria. These “source materials” are then warmed to about body temperature in order to soften fats and connective tissues. Originally the bones were scraped and rubbed to remove the last bits of clinging muscle, but the resultant product was up to 20% calcium and therefore “not nutritionally equivalent to beef.” At that point the method changed, and now most LFTB is produced by centrifuging. The centrifuging also separates the fat from the lean in exactly the same way that centrifuging separates, say, heavy cream from skim milk. So the resultant product is around 95% lean (i.e. 5% fat). Having been processed at body temperature, the presence of pathogenic bacteria is now considered a given, so the product is exposed to ammonia gas to weaken the cell walls, and then the product is rolled out thinly and flash frozen under high pressure, crushing all the pathogen cells. This crushing both kills any bacteria and also results in very little structural integrity for the muscle cells, hence the “finely textured” nature of the product. The product is then extruded as a pale pink paste through slender tubes, frozen, and shipped to meat processors as an additive. The ammonia-gas-and-crush process is so effective at killing bacteria that in 2007 the USDA declared that the process would be “exempt from routine testing of meat used in hamburger and sold to the general public.”

Why do meat processors produce and use LFTB? In a word, profit. This is a way to squeeze literally every last gram of flesh off the bones. Also, because it is so lean, LFTB is used as an additive in ground beef to raise the lean percentage: consumers are willing to pay a premium for leaner ground beef, and using 97% lean LFTB in a mix allows the less expensive fatty ground beef, mixed with the extremely lean and extremely cheap LFBT, to then be sold as higher-priced lean ground beef. Up to 15% LFTB is allowed, and there is no labelling requirement.

You’ll also find LFBT in beef hotdogs, beef pepperoni, meatballs, summer sausages, and superthin beef lunch meats and bologna, where LFBT may comprise up to 25% of the total product — but it will never be labelled as such.

You’ve likely read the staggering claim that one patty of ground beef may contain the DNA of more than a thousand cattle from more than 10 different countries. THIS is how that happens. And when you read about recalls of millions of pounds of ground beef, it’s because one animal’s scraps get spread so widely into the food net.

beef hotdogs

Hot dogs may taste good, but did you ever think about what it means that they are “highly processed”?

Interestingly, one of the USDA’s senior food safety inspectors dissented on the USDA’s ruling that LFTB can still be called “meat.” He argued vigorously that LFTB is not “meat” because it also contains connective tissues such as tendons and cartilage, and further stated in reports that it is “not meat,” but actually “salvage,” and should not be allowed for human consumption. The USDA never tested independently for food safety, but the largest corporate producer of LFTB, BPI Corporation, commissioned a study from Iowa State University that found no safety concerns. Because the entity most benefitting from this result also paid for the study, one can doubt whether it’s a truly independent research.

Does it matter that commodity ground beef almost certainly contains LFBT? Maybe not. Associated Press food editor and cookbook author J.M. Hirsh compared the taste of two burgers: one with LFTB and one without. He described the LFTB-containing burgers as smelling the same, but being less juicy and with less flavor. To my knowledge no food safety incident has ever occurred due to the presence of pink slime, but you just can’t be sure whether the recalls have been ultimately caused by LFTB because it’s not tested, and it’s not labelled.

Ammonia is present in many other processed foods, as the BPI (Beef Products Incorporated) web site defensively points out: the finished ground beef contains 200 ppm ammonia, compared to 440 ppm for the bun and 813 ppm for the cheese. In other words, these chemicals are already in lots of other processed foods, and are assumed safe, and therefore are not required to be labelled because “you don’t need to know.” That, my friend, is just one of many similar decisions made every day on your behalf and without your input. Here is the USDA’s fact sheet on LFTB.

stock pots on the stove

Beef bones from Kookoolan Farms have “stuff” still on them, never cleaned by centrifuge. Those bits of tendon, cartilage, and other connective tissues give you the silky, velvety, gelatinous texture you expect from homemade beef stock.

Meanwhile, bringing this back around to stocks and broths, the “gelling” process that occurs when you make stocks and broths is due to the presence of scraps of connective tissues and collagen still clinging to the bones. When you buy pre-made stocks and broths in a can or box or in the frozen aisle, one assumes that these are generally made from the cheapest available ingredients. The lowest common denominator of commodity beef bones, even those from grassfed beef, would generally speaking now be so clean (thanks to centrifuging) that there is no connective tissue left on the bones. Thus purchased stock does not gel. Maybe that’s why they add so much salt, too: store-bought just doesn’t have as much flavor as homemade. Last week I observed organic grassfed beef stock in the freezer section for Fred Meyer for a shocking $12/quart. Are people actually buying that rather than making their own higher-quality stock FOR FREE?

Kookoolan Farms beeves are hand-processed using only skilled butchers and knives, no high-tech centrifuging machines, no bleach, no ammonia gas, no LFTB, no strange gasses in the packages to preserve color, nothing but beef. The meat in your share all comes from identically one animal. And your soup bones are hand-cleaned with a knife, leaving plenty of good “stuff” on the bones to give you a rich, gelatinous, natural stock. As always, you may get bones, fat, and organ meats with your beef share at your option, and at no extra charge. Those grass-fed beef bones sell for $3.50/lb and more in the grocery store, but you’ll never pay extra for them from Kookoolan Farms.


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Almost Normal

Almost normal! It’s been about 5.5 weeks since my total knee replacement December 4 and I will see the surgeon on Monday for a post-op appointment. I have some expectations and hopes for that visit. The primary issue is will I get permission to get back into our hot tub?

We purchased an inflatable hot tub almost 2 years ago. We discovered how helpful sitting in the hot tub could be back in 2007 when Graham was on sabbatical in Pueblo, Colorado and the apartment complex had a hot tub next to the pool. We learned that the heat eased sore muscles and joints and improved nighttime relaxation and better sleeping  Although we were in Colorado from January 1 through June 30, the hot tub was available, even in the winter when the pool was closed. It was about 200 yards from our apartment door. We’d get into our bathing suits, put on our terry cloth bathrobes and some slippers and walk over. Chilly, but bearable. Getting out and back into the warm apartment after the soak was more of a challenge. I discovered that there seemed to be an envelope of warm air around my body for a very short time when I exited the hot tub. Getting the bathrobe on during that time was mandatory! Then put the cover back on the hot tub and high tail it back inside.

hot tub

Our apartment was in the building on the right side, so not too far, except when it was 5 degrees.

hot tub in WV

The photo viewpoint is from the kitchen door, so you see how much shorter the after-tub commute became.

We agreed if we ever should be lucky enough to have a hot tub it would be right by the door to the house. And so, about a year later, we found ourselves building an enclosed screen porch on the back of our house in West Virginia. The tub sat on a concrete pad on the ground and the floor of the porch was built around the tub. We stepped down into the spa and Graham installed a handicap pull bar to help any of us to climb back up and out. The walk to the kitchen door was maybe 10 feet, very easy even in the winter.

But then we moved to Oregon where we are renting a house. I was missing the evening soak time. My joints ached more and so, a friend suggested an inflatable. We bought a Coleman hot tub for about $450 the first year but after they replaced one filter/motor, when that failed within a few months, they would not replace it. We searched but could not purchase a new filter alone. So we bought another inflatable for about $250. Watch for sales!!IMG_1953

The inflatable works for us. It runs on 110 household current so we did not have to install a new 220 line into the house. That saved us some money but the lower wattage means the temperature control goes through a cycle which runs about 48 hours and then turns off. We need to check and restart sometimes before the shutdown happens so we can maintain the temperature. The other issue is that it will not run the heat if the jets are operating. Not a biggie for me; I don’t use the jets.

So, the last time I was in the hot tub was the morning before my knee surgery. After that I was restricted from “swimming, hot tubs, saunas” and a few other wet activities. One concern is infection through the suture site. That is well healed now, so should no  longer be a factor.

But, and this is a big issue, I need to be able to get myself out of the hot tub safely. First, I need to be able to swing my leg over the height of the wall. It is an inflatable so not rigid, and if I touch it, it will bend. Graham built me a contraption with 2 posts and a rope so I had something the proper height for practice.  That was not difficult to gain the movement I needed.

Image result for block and tackle to lift heavyHowever, I need to get up off my butt. The inflatable hot tub does not have the molded seats a regular fiberglass hot tub offers; we sit on the padded bottom. So, I need to be able to stand up without the need for a block and tackle.  Simple, eh?  Well, no. As my knee issue got worse and started involving my pelvis and hips last summer, Graham installed a handicapped handrail on the post holding the roof over the tub. (You thought we sit in the hot water with the cold winter rain falling on us????? Come on!)  That rail helped me, but I was able to get on my knees before the surgery. Now, not a comfortable position.  So, after thinking and thinking about it, I tried a few times at home.

Now, in order to do a task that is difficult, the easiest way to figure out how to manage the move is to figure out the physics of it to maximize the strength while minimizing effort. I didn’t take physics in high school and until now, I figured the computer science class I took instead was an excellent substitute.  But now,  more than 45 years after that class decision in high school,  I was trying to figure how to fulcrum me up and out…..hmmmmm

Physical therapists are special people. Maybe a tad masochistic as they push their patients through pain to improvement, generally they are upbeat, optimistic and very much enjoy challenges like this. So this morning at Physical Therapy I sat on the floor next to a table that had been lowered to the height I needed and it only took two times to conquer the move. I know I can get up now! No block and tackle needs to be ordered. LOL

On Monday I will go to the surgeon’s appointment prepared to show him I have the safety issue covered. And if I need to wait, I will wait……but I am betting on hot tub Monday evening!!!