Codex Deano

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Past Twelve Months

Wow! I can not believe that it has been almost a full year since I last posted to this blog. I never really left the blogging scene as I have been reading many of the blogs I follow; I just haven’t been contributing. Sorry. It is through the great contributions of others that I find myself drawn back to Codex Deano.

While very little has changed in my professional life, my personal life has gone through several major shifts. For starters my crippling back and foot pains are completely gone. This was achieved with zero help from any doctors and no help from my now-cancelled gym membership (see previous post.) My hamstring muscles had shortened due to an almost constant state of sitting. Sitting in a car for two hours a day and then sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, followed by a couple more hours of sitting down with my kids to help them with their homework every night was (literally) killing me.

For those unfamiliar with the effects of long-term sitting I highly recommend reading this:

and watching this:

After raising my desk to a standing position (yes, I stand at my desk all day long) all the pain and symptoms went away within a week. I recommend this to everyone who has the physical ability to do it.

In other areas, about the time of my last post in November of 2012 I received an e-mail from a new employee by the name of Michelle who wanted to add a new nutrition component to our department’s Green Initiatives Framework (think of a green-team on steroids.) She wanted to introduce people to “plant-based nutrition.” I started out just helping her present her presentations and with setting up some A/V equipment but became slowly engrossed. As an environmentalist I’ve always agreed that a non-meat diet is the healthiest thing for our environment, but I did love a good cheeseburger or two, or three, or occasionally even four times a week. Her approach was a little different though. Instead of trying to inspire and persuade us, she simple provided a year long series of lunch-time lectures which included You-Tube videos of medical doctors giving cold, hard data. This was pure tactical genius on her part seeing she was presenting to a building full of scientists. After watching the evidence they (we) all took off to do our own research and try to dispel what we had just watched. All we found was more evidence backing up the facts Michelle had presented. I don’t think I can put into words how I became a vegetarian over the past 12 months, or how I am now standing on the very edge of veganism, but it all feels right.

The first changes came when I cut-out red meat in July and replaced it with rice, nuts, legumes, & beans: my hair and fingernails began growing faster.  A lot faster.  By the beginning of autumn I had given up all meat. I’ve been dropping about a pound a day while I’ve actually been eating (calorie wise) WAY MORE FOOD. My cholesterol has managed to drop 90 points this year. The last part of the challenge is cutting out the dairy. It was easy giving up the eggs and milk because I never really liked them anyway, but cheese is in almost everything I used to eat. Going just one week without cheese gave me my first break in my chronic rhinitis in almost nine years! I could smell things that I had not smelled in almost a decade! Like the pine trees in my back yard, the fall leaves on the ground, and that nasty moldy shower curtain I was completely unaware of. I never realized how a dark maroon shower curtain could work against me. I replaced it immediately of course.

 The two videos that set me on this path and changed my life are from Dr. Michael Gregor and can be found here:

The Leading Causes of Death (2012)

Preventing Our Most Common Diseases (2013)

I was so inspired that I joined Michelle on a trip to Massachusetts last month for the Boston Vegetarian Festival where we met with Dr. Gregor in person. It was a blast and I can't wait to go next year.

I owe my new found health and happiness to my coworker and vegan coach, Michelle. Without Michelle’s guidance I would have continued to shrug off vegetarian and vegan diets as “extreme.” But thanks to her I’ve discovered that a plant-based diet is a lot less extreme than a heart attack, diabetes, or open heart surgery. A serious blow was dealt to my potential progress when Michelle came to me and said, “I’ve moving to California.” After all she’s done for me and the other here at work, she packed up her gold Prius (nicknamed Rose) and headed west two days ago. I’m guessing that she is somewhere in Colorado right now. I’m doing my best to keep it together and not fall to pieces. She decided to follower her passions, head west, and become a full time plant-based nutritionist. You can follow her cross country vegan restaurant-hopping exploits here: On a less personal note I have been elected the VP of Education for my Toastmaster club and became an Assistant Scout Master (ASM.) I have a fair handle on the VP of Ed position, but the whole ASM thing completely eludes me. I have no idea what I’m doing. I guess that’s another area I’ll be doing my best to keep it together and not fall to pieces. If nothing else it will be fodder for some interesting future blog posts.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Painful Steps

A lot has changed.  Everything looks the same but internally I'm in the middle of an upwelling of some kind.  I think it must have been activated by two key events.  First, I met a coworker who inspired me to start eating a lot healthier.  Second, I suffered a mysterious, almost crippling back injury of some kind.  These two situations have really had a synergistic effect (or is it affect?) on me.

As a professional environmentalist, I've been aware of the benefits of a plant-based diet for a long time.  While I've experimented with it several time I've never committed to it fully.  Even with piles of evidence right in front of me such as weight loss, disappearing heart-burn, reduced joint pain, more flexibility, and just feeling better all around.  Under normal circumstances I wouldn't (and haven't) given this much thought due to the fact that I'm constantly bombarded by a meat-based diet, and my life moves so fast I don't always see what I need to see.  This changed about a month ago when I couldn't get out of bet one morning.

The pain had started as a dull back ache in early October.  My lower back had been getting weaker and weaker everyday.  I had been suffering from planter fasciitis for about a year (pain in the connective tissue on the bottoms of my feet) and now I was having back problems too.  It was getting harder to walk and every morning was harder and harder to overcome the stiffness and pain.  Until one morning I was in too much pain to roll over or even sit up.  It took me an hour to get out of bed.  I have no idea how many times I gasped, screamed and collapsed. I had been reduced to walking with a pair of old ski-poles so I could brace myself whenever my back decided to lock-up or cut-out on me. I had also been reduced to sleeping in a reclining chair so I could get up in the morning.  The doctor said I did not have a spinal injury and my discs were fine, but all the muscles in my lower back had stopped working and I needed to develop my core muscles again.  He also said that the fasciitis was a bruising issue and needed to go away on its own over time.  The chiropractor told me the same thing.  Based on these two coinciding theories, I set out to rebuild the muscles in my core and lower back.  I got a personal trainer and even went to see a guy who fired electricity into my back to "jump-start" my muscles.  I did low-impact stuff at the gym and it didn't help at all.  My trainer added more weight to the routine and suddenly I was right back to where I had begun; unable to walk and in constant pain.  I was still sleeping in the same chair after a month of torture with absolutely no results at all.  I was starting to accept that this may be my quality of life forever; that I would never run with my kids again, never snowshoe or kayak again; and never go hiking in the woods with my family again.  I started to wonder if maybe I had a tumor growing in my spine and was just about ready to call the doctor for an MRI appointment, but I had a bizarre thought at 3:00 AM while sitting in my recliner, "Could the fasciitis and the lower back pain be related?"

I'm no doctor, by any stretch of the huge imagination.  I'm sure if these two things had been related they would have told me...right?  Wrong!  I Googled "LOWER BACK PAIN + PLANTER FASCIITIS" and I got about 50 solid hits, and they all gave the same diagnosis - "SHORTENING OF THE HAMSTRING MUSCLES."  My hamstrings had shortened, pulling the back of my pelvis out of alignment while simultaneously pulling the connective tissue off of the heal bones in my feet.  I just had a four day weekend for Thanksgiving and I spent it stretching out those hamstring muscles every hour on the hour for every waking hour.  I am now 90% better.  I can still feel some bruising in my pelvic joints from the prolonged situation, but it gets better every day.  The only pain in my feet is a small area in my left heal.  I can't believe that this simple fact was overlooked by an M.D., a chiropractor, a muscle therapist, and a physical trainer.  But I'm thankful that the thought popped into my mind at that ridiculous hour...however it got there.

You're probably wondering where the diet comes into play.  As I was hobbling around the house for almost a month, it really slowed my life down and forced me to look at things I would normally skip-over or dismiss. I experimented with all kinds of foods and after 30 days of on-line research and  countless YouTube instructional videos I've discovered that vegetarians and vegan are quite possibly the most beautiful, amazing, positive, and fun people on the planet...and I want in.

Now that I'm physically able to take that next step, I'm going to place my feet on this new path and see where it takes me.  I grew up in a house full of carnivores, I was raised a carnivore, I live in a house full of carnivores.  I expect this to be the greatest personal challenge of my life.  As Oscar Wilde Said, "I can resist everything but temptation."  I wonder which steps will be more painful; the ones on this journey or the steps from the journey I just finished.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Locked-Out, Cakes and It's Almost July!

I can't believe it's almost July!  The last time I updated this Blog there was snow on the ground!

So I had an issue with Blogger and Google+ that caused multiple accounts to be created and as a result I was locked-out of this account.  I still haven't got it all cleaned up yet (so there might be two of me on here) but I'm trying.

I haven't been doing much on the personal side of things, just working, participating in Toastmasters, getting ready to volunteer at the Scouting Camp and trying to maintain the homestead.

I wanted to post a bunch of pics of some cakes that I've made, but I can't see any of the pics I post to Blogger.  They upload OK, but I just can't see them after I add them to the post.  I think it's a firewall issue.

I did an awesome Jaws cake, a very classy baby shower cake for my little sister and a couple of themed cakes for some folks at work.  But I can't post them at this time!  If you hang out in the Twitterverse you can find my (and my cakes) at Follow me and mention Blogger and I'll follow you back.

So I'll be taking a little break from Blogger for a while until I get things squared away.  See you guys soon.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Weird Weather Makes Me Remonisce

Four weeks ago I was snowshoeing during my lunch break at work…four days ago it was 80 degrees outside and I was watching a movie in my back yard.…four hours ago it was snowing again.  The weather is a constant surprise here in New England, and I love it.  I’ve lived temporarily in northern California, Central America, the Caribbean and Asia but I could never give up life in New England. 

While Central America provided me with some amazing weather, I really missed the snow.   If you’re a SCUBA diver there is no better place to live.  You simply take your dive gear to the curb, hail a passing cab (they’re everywhere) and get a ride to the beach for $5.  But the leaves never change to the brilliant colors like they do here, and then there are all those nasty things in the jungle.  I spent several months living and working in the jungle when I was 19 or 20 and it was the only time in my life where dehydration almost killed me.   You really have to be careful because if the heat doesn’t get you a snake or a spider will.  I would become a bit phobic having to check the insides of my shoes for scorpions before I put them on every morning…or having to check under the toilet seat for a tarantula.  It still makes my skin crawl.  Did you know that red ants build their ant-hills to be almost six feet tall down there?  I don’t miss that at all.

The Caribbean is nice for a while but it’s a whole different way of life that I don’t think I could ever adjust to.  Living in paradise has its own unique set of problems.  Being from the U.S. meant I was automatically loved when I walked inside a store (because of my U.S. currency) and then instantly hated while walking the streets.  I encountered groups of young men who survived entirely off of cornering Americans and bullying them into giving up their money.  This was before the days of debit cards, when everyone carried cash.  Maybe it’s changed a little since the early ‘90s, I don’t know.   The food prices were insane!  I understand that beef and other imported items should cost more, but even the fish?  Locally caught mahi-mahi and red snapper were more expensive there then at a store in New Hampshire.  I guess the greed in people takes over and they just expect you’ll pay more for it…and we do.  To give you an example, a good burger & fries here in the U.S. will cost you about $10 maximum at a burger joint and maybe $17 at a fancy sit down restaurant.  In the Caribbean, a burger and fries will cost you about $30 plus gratuity.  Gratuity is not an option either.  When your bill comes it will clearly state, “GRATUITY NOT INCLUDED!!!!” in red ink and underlined about six times.  Not paying a 15% gratuity can get you barred from a restaurant for life.  That’s not the way I like to do business.

Asia was pretty close to the conditions I was used to in New England.  I was on the South Korean peninsula and was blessed with snow, spring rains and no poisonous animals.  There were those nasty Japanese Hornets but I didn’t see too many of them.  Autumn still didn’t bring me the bright colored leaves I missed, but the hardest thing to get used to was the culture of the people of Korea.  They are a very polite people and I have only good things to say about them but the customs and food are just so different from what a westerner is used to.  They snacked on dried squid as we snack on potato chips and they eat kimchi (pronounced CHEM-chee) as a side dish with almost every meal.  For those who don’t know, kimchi is an aromatic fermented cabbage salad that could make a seagull faint. They are very age-oriented too.  For example, I was so impressed with the way Korean families care for their elderly.  They don’t ship them to nursing homes and write them off.  In most cases the elderly remain the “heads” of the family until their deaths.  However, I did not like how things were marketed in ads and on television.  They believe children are the future and so everything is marketed toward kids; cars, dish soap, food, everything.  To make it worse, all commercials (radio & T.V.) were narrated by young women with agonizingly high-pitched voices so that they would sound like little children. 

Of all the places I've lived (other than New England) northern California was the easiest to adjust to, for obvious reasons.  I spent two years living and working between Monterey and the east side of the Los Padre National Forest.  Obviously the culture wasn’t much of a change; just the weather and climate.  It was strange that while in Monterey it was always damp and foggy, while only two hours away, King City was almost like a desert.  The topography of the area plays so much into the region.  The first time I drove through Napa Valley was at night and my mind was playing tricks on me.  I looked out over a vast field of grapes that stretched all the way to the horizon.  All I could see was blackness.  Having grown up near Gloucester, Massachusetts my mind could not accept that an area that large (without lights) was anything other than water.  It was a strange feeling that my mind just couldn’t process.  These days I live near the White Mountains and enjoy the seasons of “summer, autumn, winter and spring”…but in California the seasons were more like “fire, flood, drought and earthquake.”

I enjoyed all the places I’ve lived and I’m incredibly grateful to have had the chance to travel when I was young.  Now that I’m older I’m most happy when my yard is aflame with the colors of fall leaves, blanketed with fluffy white snow or just covered with patches of clover.  The smell of lilacs blooming in the spring and apples in the fall.  The sounds of seagulls at the shore and frogs croaking at night.  Where a sandwich costs less than two hours pay and nothing venomous is hiding in my shoes.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Not Winter & Not Summer

I have a difficult time keeping focused this time of year.  My mind has drifted away from deadlines and spreadsheet to kayaking and camping.  It’s true that there is still a little snow on the ground right now, but this year was a complete wash when it comes to snowshoeing.  We only had one or two good days of snow since October and that is most unusual for New Hampshire.  I’ve been hoping for snow for months but it seems I’m just not going to get my wish.  So I’ve decided to spend my free (and some borrowed) mental energies on looking forward to summer.  This year I really want to do some remote camping. 

There’s work to do!  There are two modes of thought when it comes to remote camping.  The first involves reserving (and paying for) a remote campsite on a lake inside a state park.  The second method requires hours of searching on Google Earth for small abandoned or uninhabited islands.  Both methods have drawbacks and benefits. 

Paying to stay in a state park or state forest allows me to give back to the agencies that maintain the lands and waters I love so much.  It also provide me with a semi-safe place to leave my car for two or three days without it getting broken into or stolen.  But I also risk losing my money if the campsites close due to bad weather.  Then there’s the thing I really don’t like about state parks; other campers.  It’s hard for me to consider it a “real” camping experience if there are families running around in matching T-shirts, screaming at their kids and basically just going out of their way to annoy me.  This is why I prefer the art of “dark camping.”

Dark camping demands stealth, planning and the acceptance of a little risk.  This works best if you can have a friend drop you and your boat off while you keep your car at their place.   I prefer small wooded islands in the middle of rivers or lakes; this makes it difficult for anyone to stumble upon you by accident.  It also greatly reduces the chance of anyone landing on the island after dark and if they do they’ll probably be so drunk you’ll hear them way before they stagger onto the island.  On the other hand, there are times when you will run into others doing exactly what you’re doing; and you thought you were the only one.  Timing is key; you’ll want to land at dusk and quickly conceal your brightly colored kayak or canoe.  You can either drag it deep into the woods or throw a brown tarp or blanket over it.  I prefer the drag method because the kayak contains all the camping gear anyway.   At this stage your biggest threat are the houses on shore.  Those houses contain old, nosy, retired people with nothing better to do but watch kayakers and canoers.  If you land on your island too soon they’ll notice what you’re doing.  If you land too late you won’t be able to see well enough to set up your campsite safely.  If you think you might be visible from shore, just use a brown tarp as a visual barrier to break up the pattern of your campsite and hide your movements.  This is what all those years of setting up living room forts was all about; it prepared you for this day!  As darkness falls, it’s time to fire up the stove.  If you’re in a dry area with a lot of dead wood laying around, I recommend skipping the camp fire.  A small gas stove can provide you with quite a meal if you’re an experienced camper.  After all is eaten and cleaned it’s time to relax.  Take your chair and head to the edge of the water with a book and a small glow stick or just lie back and listen.  I recommend glow sticks over flashlights because they’ll burn all night without a battery, they are completely waterproof and they are less noticeable by people looking at the island.  If you need to douse the light quickly you can just stick it in your pocket.  If rain should roll in, just use your brown tarp as a roof instead of a wall by tying all four corners to trees.  Just remember to tip the tarp in the direction you want to water to flow so it doesn’t pool up and flood your tent or sleeping area.  The rain can be a friend a friend.  It reduces the visibility of others as well as making all the local boat traffic disappear.  

There is the risk of running into a land owner or a law enforcement officer.  If you claim ignorance the officer will usually let you slide.  Claiming ignorance to a land owner usually only works if you package it with fifty bucks.  This is about the same amount of money you would have spent on one of those “official” camp sites anyway…so, nothing lost.   Surprisingly I’ve found that the biggest threat on these little islands at night is ants.  Island ants are very territorial and very hungry.  Plan ahead and bring an enclosed tent or a hammock.  Yeah, I’m ready for summer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Christmas Cake(s)

This year's Christmas cake challenge was Sam the Snowman (the claymation narrator from the old Rudolph special.)  The goal was to create two identical cakes within a couple hours so my son and daughter could each take one to school.

I made the fondant while the cakes were cooking.  By the time the cakes cooled I had most of the small pieces sculpted.  I started with the small parts so they would have time to harden.  This makes them easier to adhere to whatever I'm adhering them to.
Arms, noses, eyes and facial hair

Pocket watches
Gold buttons and red holly berries

Next came the body segments (snowballs) and the heads
I was surprised to find that Sam was made up of 5 segments (including his head.)  I've never made a real snowman that has had more than 3 pieces.

 It was at this point that I discovered Sam is just a heavy-set  Colonel Saunder.

Next was his derby.  A simple black hat with a gold hatband and a piece of holly.
Those are coloring jells, not prescription bottles

Close up

Bodies together and hats on

Once the heads were on it was time to make the vests, place the buttons and his gold pocket watch.
The vests

Adding the buttons

With his tie, arms and pocket watch (with  chain.)

I was very happy with the texture of the vest.  The chain was a little heavier than I was picturing but I was also doing this in record time so I didn't really beat myself up over it.

The finished Sam...
I has some leftover fondant so I threw together a couple of Christmas trees for a background.  I wish they had been darker.

The "green"

The "brown trunks" and some quick decorations

The final product:

Total sculpting time was about three hours.  As I was finishing these guys up the radio started to play Burl Ives' Holly Jolly Christmas.  A fitting song seeing how he was the one who voiced Sam and gave life to this handsome snowman almost a half of a century ago.

Thanks Burl.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Veterans Day

As an eight year veteran of the U.S. Army I always feel conflicted during Veterans Day.  Whenever I hear about a business that is giving away something free to veterans on November 11th, I never take advantage of it.  My former cohorts go out every year and get their free breakfasts or free movie passes, but not me.  I have an immense feeling of guilt, almost like I'm stealing from those who deserve it more than me.  Those who did more, gave more or even those who never got to come home.  

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother's friends coming back from Vietnam.  As I grew up, I watched them fall apart and turn into old men.   Some couldn't keep a job.  Quite a few got divorced or sabotaged their relationships and almost all were alcoholics.  They clung to each other as if they were the only ones who understood each other.  They never complained or asked for a hand-out.  When they were together they always had a good time and they kept each other from straying "too far" over the line.  It's when they were alone that they got into trouble.  They couldn't deal with the outside world like the rest of society did and therefore spent a lot of time in the police logs and sometimes in the obituaries. I remember at least one suicide.  

If Memorial Day is for honoring the Nation's fallen dead, then it seams (to me) that Veterans Day is for honoring those who came back with only half their lives intact...and that's not me. I'm fine.  My small insignificant sacrifice on Veterans Day, is to not use their sufferings as an excuse to get something for free.  I usually stay home on November 11th and spend time with my wife and kids if possible.  It's the one thing almost all of my mom's friends would have wanted if they could get any part of their lives back.  That's how I choose to honor them.

At the end of this post there is a link.  It is a short film directed by the famous John Houston (The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen) that was banned by the U.S. Government in 1946.  It shows the mental condition of soldiers returning from the European Campaign of WWII.  They used the term “psycho-neurotic” back then.  During Korea it was called “shell-shock” and then “battle fatigue” during Vietnam.  Today we call it “post traumatic stress disorder" or PTSD for short.  Whatever you call it, the politicians and leaders of the 1940s buried as much evidence of it as possible.  Many of these veterans were locked away and hidden from society, instead of being given treatment.  This was all done so that the civilian population wouldn’t have to interact with them. The problem was easier to ignored and deny for the “good of the country.”  The soldiers of that war suffered just as much as the soldiers of today, but society (and Hollywood) would have us think differently.  It’s good to know that the government doesn’t have the same level of censorship as they did back then.