Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Birds

"Enough is enough!"

I was on my fourth dryer cycle, and my clothes were still damp.  I was tired of the bird poop on the front step, so I made my decision:  The bird's nest in the outside dryer vent had to go.  We'd been more than patient. The nest had been there since early spring. We left it alone throughout May and June because we heard lots cheeping.  But after a while the cheeping stopped. Surely, by now, they'd be gone.

I couldn't use our regular ladder because the space under the overhang was too low, and and the ground was uneven on the grass beneath the vent.  So, I decided to use the kitchen step ladder.

Then, I look around for an extraction tool.  Just for the record, I am not a handi-woman.  I'm sure that somewhere there's a dedicated tool, some he-man device, designed specifically for doing this job. It ranks right up there with adult things you're supposed to know and be responsible for, even though no one ever taught you.

So, lacking this mysterious tool, I had to be creative.

My first choice was a long-handled tongs that we use for outdoor grilling (about once every three years), so I started with that. The step ladder, I found, was a little too short, so I added a cement block on top as a booster.


Well, the tongs kept locking, and I had a hard time maneuvering it in the narrow space under the vent flap.  I needed something different.  So, I thrashed around in the garage for a while and thought about using a discarded snow brush.  I also considered constructing a tool from a broom handle and one of the ceiling bicycle hooks. (Years ago the hooks installed by the previous owners failed, and one of the bikes came crashing down.  The bike was damaged and almost damaged my spouse as well!)

Back to task.  Finally, I settled on the multi-purpose coat hanger.  (Can also be used for cooking s'mores or hotdogs, opening locked car doors (with engines running), and as a duct-taped extension for a feather duster.)  From my closet I located the most pathetic-looking hanger, untwisted the hook end, and bent the rest of it into an L shape.

Climbing up onto my step stool, I perched on the cement block in some unnamed modern dance pose:  Core tight, lower body grounded, upper body spiraled, off center, and lengthened.  (Thank God for modern dance.)

I rattled my hanger around in the vent, yanked on the tightly-woven nest and extracted a few strands.  As things go, the angle of my reach and the direction of the wind caused dirt and several loose particles to fall into my right eye.  So, I stopped and climbed down to take care of that.

In the bathroom I grabbed a bottle of natural tears - too late - found out it was contact solution.  After rinsing several times until it stopped stinging, I went back and moved the step ladder so that I was now upwind of the nest with my one red eye.

The coat hanger went in deep and, OMG, there's someone still living here!  The inhabitant left in a flurry. I sent my apologies but figured there were plenty of feathered friends nearby that could take in an evicted bird.

So then I was using both tools, the hanger and the tongs, alternately.  The nest came out in chunks - pieces of twigs, bits of insulation, feathers, dirt.  Not just a nest, but an extra long condo, complete with a built-in sauna.  No wonder they didn't want to move out.

When I was done, I looked down at the ground, and among all the bird droppings I saw half of a bloody egg.  OMG, OMG, I just aborted a bird egg! With a coat hanger and BBQ tongs!  I suddenly had visions of avian rights protesters showing up at my door with picket signs. Or worse, I'd become the subject of some weird movie:  Revenge of the Birds or the classic Hitchcock horror (You know the one - with the famous attic scene.  My family watched the movie every year, and being a kid,
I always got sent out of the room when that scene came up. Years later, I saw the entire movie and remembered everything except that one part. Of course, now, I would never forget it.)  Ackkkk!



So, after many deep breaths, I put my tools away, stowed my step ladder, and washed off the front step.

My clothes are dry now.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Year, New Challenges, Part 1

On January 2nd of this year, I woke up with vertigo.

As a older than average dancer and a person with multiple food issues, it's not unusual for me to wake up with odd stuff going on in my body - headaches, stomach aches, stiffness, or sore muscles. I've accepted all of that.  But vertigo was a new one for me.

In case you haven't read earlier posts, my top three food allergies include gluten, dairy and eggs.  (BTW - I call them allergies rather than intolerances because allergies are more widely understood. In reality, for allergies, the reactions are visible, outward and life threatening. What I have are more like severe intolerances - invisible, internal, and not immediately life-threatening, but they can wreak daily havoc on your system and over time, cause all kinds of internal damage.)

 On New Year's Day my spouse's family traditionally celebrates with Japanese food - sushi, monjus, teriyaki chicken wings, gyosas - yummy stuff.  But because of my allergies, for the last several years, I've had to be very careful - bringing my own food, putting it in a separate place to avoid cross-contamination, avoiding wheat based noodles and regular soy sauce (which contains wheat).  I did that again this year, but the next day I still got sick.

I laid low for a few days and eventually got better, but over the next few weeks I had several odd and seemingly unrelated symptoms. Fatigue. Brain fog - not disoriented, but hard to concentrate.  Previous pain in my right foot (plantar fasciitis) became minor as the pain crawled up to my knee and took residence in my lower back. Then came the day when my right arm and leg went numb and I had shortness of breath. A few healthcare people, when I told them my symptoms, told me to go to the ER.

So, long story short, I went to the doc, had some tests done, and they found I was low on Vitamin D and had a slight thyroid issue.  An x-ray to my knee revealed a bone spur which I knew about, but now I also had some arthritis.  Doctor's advice:  Take 1000 IUs of Vitamin D everyday, get PT for the knee, and if the thyroid is still a problem down the road, he'd prescribe medication.

Really?  I was already taking 1000 IUs of D, I've already had PT for that knee and I'm too tired to think about doing it again, and I don't want to take meds - for anything. The symptoms from any medications have always been worse than the symptoms from the problem itself.

Yes, I am a child of my mother and my father, and because of this, I don't take anything at face value.  My mother always questioned traditional medicine and antibiotics, and would often turn to vitamins, home remedies or nutrition in response to her health issues.  My father had a very critical eye; he usually questioned people like repairmen and car mechanics, and in general, would question anyone, even his own children, regarding the underlying motives of their actions. My parents knew how to question authorities long before the idea became popular in the 1960s.

Anyway, I decided to do my own research.

I figured - my thyroid levels from the previous year were normal; if it only took a year to get them out of whack, then what was I doing that was different and why couldn't I get them back to normal?  And I also had prayers and praying friends involved in the process, asking God for help, because this is what I do.

So, I looked up causes for low vitamin D and talked to other people. Besides the obvious fact that I live in Minnesota where the sun can be elusive, I needed to take more vitamin D.  Don't ask me how much; every answer was different, anywhere from 1000 - 10,000 IUs.  I've settled on somewhere in between depending on if the sun is out or not that day.

For hypo-thyroid (and worn out adrenals) - more exercise (i.e. keep walking, dancing, stretching), avoid stress, get rest, avoid foods like brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, etc.  (Really? Wow.)

And then a few epiphanies: Both Vitamin D deficiency and hypo thyroid pointed to soy.  Another clue: I had a gluten free waffle one day and felt fine; a few hours later I had a second waffle with soy cream cheese and afterwards I wanted to take a nap!  

Ok, so let's see what happens when I eliminate soy. No tofu, no soy milk, no soy/tamari sauce or liquid amino acids.

In just two days I felt better.  My headaches went away, pain in my knee and low back was gone, and I could think more clearly.

Initially, I was relieved.  I was glad it wasn't something more serious or life-threatening. Years ago when I figured out my gluten allergy, it was a blessing in disguise.  Since I was already being vigilant about eating healthy and avoiding cross contamination, how hard would it be to eliminate one more thing?  My new mission:  Destroy the Soy!

Well, then, reality crashed in.  I had forgotten about those early days of panic when you first discover a food allergy and you're standing in the middle of your kitchen surrounded by food, and you have no idea what's safe anymore.

I thought avoiding gluten was hard.  In fact, I thought a gluten, dairy, egg-free diet was difficult. But soy is insidious. Previously seen as a health food, it's been put into a lot of different foods, including some of my favorite allergy-free go-to items.  And there are different multi-syllable words on ingredient lists that may or may not contain soy:  mono and diglycerides, tocopherols, lecithin, natural flavors, guar gum.

Here are some links:

Maya's Happy Place:
http://mayashappyplace.blogspot.com/2010/01/soy-derivatives.html
http://mayashappyplace.blogspot.com/2013/02/avoiding-soy-in-vitamin-e-tocopherol.html

Prevention Magazine:
http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/pesticides-linked-food-allergies

Besides tofu, soy sauce, and soy milk, I gathered a whole box of items that contained soy - gluten free pasta, cereals, crackers, Mojo bars (!! @,@ !!), bread, vitamins. These are on hold until I can confirm that I truly do have a soy issue.

Imported olive oils, unless they are certified USDA organic, can often contain soybean oil in the mix.  I've always used olive oil for cooking, which meant, I had to get some new pans and utensils because I was getting ill from the residual oils in my old equipment.

Meat - If cows, pigs, or chickens have been fed soy, that can come through in the meat that you buy.  I've done some research into grass-fed beef and organic farm practices and found some viable solutions.

Fruits and veggies - Sometimes they can be covered with a soy-based wax. I had been trying to save money by buying cheaper produce at the big box stores, but I've gone back to mostly organic.  It costs more, but I've noticed a difference.

Fish - Canned fish can sometimes use soy in the preservation process. (I was wondering why I was having problems with canned tuna and sardines.)  I've been told that fresh, farm raised fish can be questionable. It's best to go with wild caught.

I haven't even looked at household products and fabrics yet:  soaps, shampoos, cleaning products, lotions, clothing.

It's been a rough couple of months, to say the least. Too tired. Too overwhelmed. I had to drop out of a show that I was in.  I had to cancel a tutoring client whose lessons required too much prep time. I've had to skip out on some of my more challenging dance classes because I had fog brain which affected my balance and concentration. And obviously, I haven't been writing my blog very much.

This post is getting long-winded, so I'll take a break here. In future posts I hope to cover some of my favorite discoveries and solutions. Thankfully, life is bigger than these new challenges, and I look forward to writing about some the more pleasant slices of this Minneapple. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sliced and Diced But Refusing to Choose

Eight months later, and I'm back.  Where have I been?  Mainly, just doing life—many different slices of life.  But the problem with taking an extended hiatus from a blog is that it's really hard to pick it back up and go on.  Do I give an overview of what I've been doing, or do I start from today and move forward?  I guess a little of both would be in order.

Back in April a fellow writer mentioned a book called Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher.  Sher describes people who have many interests or more than one career path as "Scanners." Scanners have a hard time focusing on one interest, and Sher argues that they shouldn't. Although Scanners sometimes can't finish their projects or they have trouble excelling in one area because the other areas clamor for attention, the best thing for Scanners to do is to pursue all of their interests.  The book offers different tools for doing what you love but showing you how to move forward. There are different types of Scanners. Some rotate their interests seasonally; some set aside different sections of their day or week for different careers; some might work in one field for a few years and then try something totally different.

This makes a lot of sense to me.  I had a friend ask me once, "If you had to choose between writing or dance, which would you pick?"  I tried, but I absolutely could not answer that question.  So, taking the advice of the book, I decided that I was a Sybil Scanner - someone who has 3 or 4 interests that they devote their time to equally.  Looking at the patterns of my life, I figured out that I tend to do things seasonally, writing for one part of the year, and then maybe tutoring, performing or choreographing at other times. And of course, there's always overlap.

So, over the summer I thought I'd focus on writing and tutoring since I had spent most of the previous seasons on dance projects. But, the best laid plans... usually get foiled.  I applied for writing and tutoring jobs but nothing panned out. I even tried to focus back on dance, but that didn't work either. The one project that worked out and was a huge success was the big family reunion that I hosted in August. This was one of the highlights of my summer, and with everything else going on I concluded for the umpteenth time that my life is not my own, and my steps and activities are dictated by the God of the Universe.

After a frustrating summer (which I may or may not go into for future blogs), I decided to expand my tutoring skills by enrolling in the Adult ESL certificate program at Hamline. As soon as I did that, life exploded:

Tutoring - 3 new students in ESL and technical writing
Dance - Access Chautauqua Performance in September, partnering with mixed ability dancers
Freelance Writing - newspaper article deadline
Marketing & Creative Writing - prepping my novels for the Loft Pitch Conference
Choreography - A group dance for the Zenon Zone Show in December
Faith - changes and challenges to my church situation
Personal - my cat died

Feast or famine.  Sliced and diced in many directions!  But, even though it was busy and challenging on many levels, it was very rewarding.  I worked with a a lot of different people and my activities fed each other and overlapped in many ways.  The holidays were quiet, and I was able to take time to grieve some of my losses and disappointments.

2016 has brought new opportunities and challenges. I make no promises on how often I will write, but I still enjoy this blog and will make it one of my goals to continue writing.

Happy New Year

Happy Chinese New Year - Year of the Monkey

Happy President's Day

Happy Valentine's Day

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mouth Choreography


Mouth Choreography makes me smile.  It's a term I came up with this past spring while I was tutoring Simone.  Simone was my adult ESL student from Munich, Germany, and though her English writing and grammar skills were fairly advanced, she wanted to work on pronunciation and speaking.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Gluten Free Food Fest Minneapolis


This post is a bit late, but the information is still good.  Last month I went to the Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  I'm sure the speakers were fabulous, giving talks about allergy free living, but I just went for the food and brought home my orange swag bag full of samples and information that I collected.

Here are some of the highlights from the food fair:

Monday, February 9, 2015

Contra-Tiempo - A True Feast

photo credit:  Kerville Cosmos Jack
I heard many excited conversations in the Ordway lobby as family and friend clusters gathered to attend Contra-Tiempo.  What a great concert - dance, food, stories, and culture - plus so much more.  If you missed my last post, my interview with Co-director Ana Maria Alvarez, check it out here.


Contra-Tiempo's featured piece "Full Still Hungry" was actually a three-part evening-length work that included several dances in each part.  Though it seems obvious, it surprised me that the three parts were entitled "Full," "Still," and "Hungry." The six-piece orchestra wore white, the women dancers swirled in vibrant skirts and the men hip-hopped and break danced in earth tones.  C├ęsar Alvarez, Ana Maria's brother and co-director, composed the original music and wrote the text for the narration.  It was a treat for the eyes and ears.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Preview: Interview with Ana Maria Alvarez of Contra Tiempo


photo credit:  Kerville Cosmos Jack
I'm looking forward to Saturday's performance of Contra Tiempo at the Ordway.  Contra Tiempo is an L.A.-based dance company that fuses Latin, Hip-Hop, Salsa, Afro-Cuban, Urban and Contemporary dance styles.  Their newest piece, "Full Still Hungry," is a commentary on food, race, privilege and consumption and features a six-piece band.  The dance premiered in L.A. at the Ford Amphitheatre in 2011.

I'd like to welcome Ana Maria Alvarez, Artist Director of Contra Tiempo to the Minneapple to share her slice of life.

Q:  Please tell me about the name of your company, how you decided on the name, and what Contra-Tiempo means to you.

AMA:  CONTRA-TIEMPO directly translated means “against times.” I think of it also as dancing, moving, creating against THE times. It also means “the offbeat” and refers to a specific rhythm that is typically found in Cuban music and movement. It’s about the space in between, which is very much what my work is about – this idea of moving and existing in the in between; those spaces that are not here or there but where there is the possibility of something different, new and revolutionary. It’s about new ways of thinking and being and about a world filled with more justice and compassion. These spaces of in between are where we explore and create within this new genre of Urban Latin Dance Theater.