The Best Smoothie Recipe

Posted on November 28th, 2005 in Health and Fitness,Recipes by mynagirl

First off, to make good smoothies, you need a good blender. Being the Consumer Reports dork-heads we are, we picked the Braun MX2050, a steal at $50, and so far we have zero complaints:

Second of all, no ice. Ice is grody in a smoothie. One makes a good frozen smoothie with frozen ingredients. Here’s my recipe that I’ve put together with some trial and error.

Marie’s Favorite Smoothie Recipe
Note: put the ingredients in the blender in this order for best mixing results.

A handful of frozen strawberries — you can do ones from the freezer section, or once every couple weeks I buy organic ones and cut ’em up and freeze ’em in a big bag
A good slosh of Kefir probiotic milk (enough to almost cover the strawberries) — it’s like yogurt but has a more liquid texture. You can use regular yogurt (plain or vanilla) but it will take the blender a LONG time to mix it and you might have to stop it, stir the ingredients, etc, because the mixture is too thick to blend easily.
Half a banana. Mooshy is okay, you won’t even taste the mushiness. Beware of greenies, though.
Large heaping tablespoon of SMOOTH peanut butter — I recommend Laura Scudder’s Natural.
A bunch of honey. Try not to let the honey or the peanut butter touch the side of the blender, you’ll lose some of it to just sticking on the side.

Blend until smooth, and that’s about it! Many variations can be had (lose the peanut butter, add frozen pineapple, etc), but this one’s my favorite because it’s very protein-y. The best protein shake blender will help to make the tastiest, smoothest and healthiest shakes. Sometimes I put some Stonyfield Farms organic Whole Milk Vanilla yogurt in on top of the Kefir to make it a bit thicker. But it’s good with just the Kefir.

Happy smoothing!

The Terry Schiavo Tragedy

Posted on April 8th, 2005 in Commentary,Health and Fitness by EngineerBoy

Terry Schiavo passed away recently, 13 days after having her feeding tube removed. Depending on who you ask, one of the following is true:

Terry Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state for over a decade, and prior to her demise she expressed (on multiple occasions) her wish to never be kept alive as a vegetable.


Terry Schiavo has been suffering from an untreated bout of reduced consciousness that could have been treated if only her husband would have spent her settlement money on it.

However, if you track the timeline of this case and include the relevant public information, one thing becomes clear, and that is that nothing about this case is clear. As far as I can tell from the public record, every single doctor that has directly examined Terry Schiavo, including dispassionate, court-appointed doctors, have confirmed the medical diagnosis of persistent vegetative state. However, a handful of other doctors, some also dispassionate, have said the exact opposite, or at least indicated that her condition should be re-evaluated before a final diagnosis is made, basing their conclusions on the available medical records and videotapes.

Ah, Those Videotapes…

Family members have reported that Terry Schiavo responds to them, smiles, tracks movements with her eyes, and even tried to speak when her feeding tube was removed. The news networks have shown (ad infinitum) the same 2-3 minutes of videotape showing Terry’s mother kissing her and holding balloons in front of her, and Terry smiling and tracking the balloons with her eyes. When I first saw that videotape I was stunned that anyone could think she was vegetative. However, if you look deeper at all the available video evidence, what you find is that even though her parents have had decades to videotape her and show her being aware and interacting, that one video clip is the only one I can find in the public record. However, there are also significant other medical videotapes of her examinations, showing her making the same faces and eye movements, but not in response to any of the stimuli in the area.

Many of the talking head doctors on the news, as well as those that have examined Terry Schiavo, have stated that her smiling, head movements, and eye movements are simply involuntary reflexive reactions and are not based on external stimuli. There are videotapes (which have been shown on the news, but only rarely, as they are not “controversial”) showing doctors clapping in her ears, talking to her, stroking her cheeks, shining lights, moving colored objects, etc, while all the while Terry Schiavo sat there making smiles and grimaces and head movements, but not related to any of the attempts to get her attention. They appeared random. In fact, in the context where they movements were not related directly to anything, they appeared to be a bit spastic. Which is exactly what one would expect from someone in a persistent vegetative state.

So, the Inescapable Conclusion Is…

Based on all

Hot Yoga (Check it and See)

Posted on April 7th, 2005 in Health and Fitness,Mynagirl by mynagirl

The Time Has Come

I’ve been waiting to write this article because I wanted to have more breadth of exposure to yoga (and in particular this kind of yoga) before expounding to any degree on this exercise or this particular studio in an article on our web site. I wanted to try another hot yoga / Bikram yoga studio in Houston to be able to compare and contrast experiences. I thought maybe trying other types of yoga might be good, too… nice to have a range of experience before shooting one’s mouth off about something, especially something as trendy and popular as yoga seems to be at the moment.

However, the time has come for me to yap at you about yoga, and it has to be now. Despite the fact that I haven’t gone to any other studios yet. Despite the fact that I haven’t tried any other forms of yoga. It has to be now because this stuff is just too wonderful for me, and the studio where I go now is just so great I can’t bring myself to try another place, even though intellectually I know I should. I mean, if I’m liking and looking forward to exercise this much right now, why should I mess around with that?

Bikram Yoga, or Hot Yoga

Ok, not that I am a yoga historian or anything, but here’s what I’ve gathered. (Insert standard CleverDonkey disclaimer here: feel free to check yer facts elsewheres, as you won’t hurt my feelings). Bikram yoga is not a “traditional” form of yoga, inasmuch as yoga as a discipline is, oh, 5,000 years old, and Bikram, the dude who came up with Bikram yoga, is still alive and holding court in Los Angeles. His philosophy, near as I can make out, is that doing yoga in a heated room gives the body greater pliability and more ability to really achieve something wonderful in the postures. I think there might also be some concept thrown in there about getting toxins out of the body via sweat and that in India, the birthplace of yoga, it’s pretty hot, so you should try and do yoga in an environment more like where yoga was invented and originally practiced.

Bikram himself (full name: Bikram Choudhury), after inventing this type of yoga and presumably getting some folks to really like it, began at some point churning out certified instructors. They go through an intensive training course of some number of weeks where they live on site during the instruction. He also certifies yoga studios, in that they can be “franchises” and authorized to use the Bikram name for their yoga classes. I think there’s even a lawsuit at the moment regarding name licensing against some studios that use the word “Bikram” if they’re not an authorized Bikram franchise. Very zen stuff.

Anyway, onto the yoga itself. It’s a series of 26 particular postures, all of which (to my knowledge)

It’s Time to Ban All Public Smoking in America

Posted on March 3rd, 2005 in Commentary,Health and Fitness by EngineerBoy

If you read much of this site you may pick up on the fact that I am not pro-smoking (he understated). I was born in 1961, and in 1964 my mother quit smoking because I would not sit with her or let her hold me if she had a cigarette going. My father smoked for many more years, and finally quit by going through a program that consisted of making the rounds of a lung cancer hospice with the attending physicians, and attending the autopsies of the folks who died while you were there. He told me about a particular emaciated living skeleton of a man who sucked smoke through his tracheotomy tube. My dad attended his autopsy and said the man’s lungs looked like a couple of deflated black balloons stuffed with marbles. Too late though, as my dad died young from cancer anyway.

All my life, through my late teens, I was surrounded by people who smoked. My entire extended family had about 70% smokers, and family gatherings were a fog-shrouded stank-fest. Slowly but surely my relatives either quit or died, until now there are no smokers left. Also, starting in my teens I started refusing to socialize with people who smoked, due to the combination of the noxious fumes and the gut-wrenching pity I felt when I realized they were powerlessly trapped by their addiction and wished to quit, but could not. When I was a child, television commercials told me to smoke, and touted the various positive benefits of the different brands. Doctors and stars (like John Wayne) shilled for the tobacco companies.

Everything I Needed To Know About Smoking I Learned BEFORE Kindergarten

But even as a three year old I knew that tobacco was a disgusting and unhealthy habit, and must admit that to this day I think that *anybody* who tried to rationalize their smoking by saying they “didn’t know how bad it was” is full of baloney, as the human body tells you everything you need to know from puff one. But through a combination of mercenary marketing and peer pressure, successive generations each had a non-trivial percentage of its members enticed into the darkness of smoking. And, in the interest of full disclosure, if I am brutally honest with myself (and you), I find smoking to be a character flaw, not only then but particularly now.

Fortunately, I think we can all look around and see that it’s all over for smoking in America, except for the shouting. The places where it is acceptable to smoke in public are quickly shrinking, and we are now down to the last stand. Smokers have been forced into a strategic retreat until now the only places they can smoke are outdoors, in bars and clubs, and in the few remaining restaurant smoking sections. But that is not enough. Smoking is a scourge, a plague, and 50 years from now our descendents will scarcely believe our stupidity.

Even the tobacco companies know that it’s over, at least in the US,

Sleep Paralysis: A First Person Account

Posted on March 2nd, 2005 in Engineerboy,Health and Fitness by EngineerBoy

This is just about what it felt like...

When I was 12 or 13 years old, I woke up one night in my bed, fully awake, fully aware of everything, clearly not asleep, and absolutely unable to move a muscle, other than my eyes. Even my breathing was involuntary, because I eventually wanted to yell or scream, but could not. It felt as if someone had encased me in Lucite, or poured clear concrete over me (while still allowing me to breathe). I felt that there was a malevolent presence in the room. I had no sense of up or down and felt like I was slowly falling and spinning. The two windows beyond the foot of my bed were backlit by ambient moonlight, and took on, to me, the appearance of evil glowing eyes floating at the foot of my bed. I was terrified beyond explanation, even now at 43, when I have a much richer vocabulary. My entire body sweated in terror, even though it was a cool evening. I was so terrified and the feeling of an evil presence was so unequivocal that I assumed that I had either died or was about to die, and not in any good way, with no warm comforting light at the end of the tunnel with loving relatives waiting for me. No, I was going to die, and die horribly. I knew it.

Eventually my repeated attempts to scream started to generate small movements in my throat. Through countless repeated attempts I was finally able to squawk out a tiny sound…this was the beginning of the end of the paralysis, and with each new breath I was able to make louder and louder sounds until I was screaming with all my might (or so I thought). I slowly regained the ability to move my limbs, and eventually sat up, waiting for one or more of my family members to come and see why I had been shrieking my head off. But they didn’t. It was then that I realized that what I perceived as screaming had actually been muffled squeaks, but they had been enough to snap me out of it. I didn’t wake my family up, because I didn’t know what I would tell them. When I laid back down the feeling started to come back, so I spent the rest of the night awake and alert (to say the least).

This event lasted for what seemed like hours, but I really don’t know how long it lasted. I had trouble sleeping for several years after this episode, because I would feel it starting to happen again and would force myself to stay awake.

Over the years I have only told a few people about this event, as it just seemed so strange, and since it occurred in the fringes of sleep, could easily be explained away (by someone who hasn’t experienced it) as “just a bad dream”. I knew

Nia: New Age Exercise I Can Get Into

Posted on January 2nd, 2005 in Health and Fitness by mynagirl

So, last year, my friend Libby met me for pedicures one Saturday morning and said that she’d just come from Nia class. I gave her a blank (and probably confused/skeptical) stare. “Hunh??” She, in turn, had that expression of one searching to explain a complex concept in only a few words. “It’s an exercise class, kinda like dance and martial arts.” I filed the word ‘Nia’ away under ‘martial arts’ in my head (only the last concept she’d said really stuck) and didn’t think any more about it — we proceeded on with our rare morning visit of pedicures and a girly kibbitz brunch.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Engineerboy and I are taking our normal drive to work, and I notice in a strip shopping center just off I-45 and Houston street, in bold red letters above one of the businesses:

Nia – Pilates – Yoga


Eventually, after enough weeks of driving by this place, I think, ‘hunh’ again. I check out their website and realize that Nia seems to be a lot of dance and movement, and that this studio seems to have their act together (I love a well put-together website). I connect these facts in my brain with my orthopedic doctor telling me I have to do something 4-5 times a week to strengthen the core muscles in my spine and abdomen and think, well, maybe I should go check out this place.

Well, I love it! I’ve basically gone for two weeks now (I know, I should go more before writing a review, but the place and the exercise concept is really cool). I’ve gone to several Nia classes as well as a YoNia class, which combines Yoga and Nia. The classes are done barefoot on an immaculate wood floor, and the classes really place an emphasis on how you move your foot when you exercise — rolling your foot as you step and being very mindful of your movement. (Quick disclaimer here: I’m just giving you what I’ve learned from the classes as a student, so don’t assume my thoughts here can teach you about Nia as a concept or anything. I encourage you to go to an official Nia site to make sure I’m not misinterpreting anything.) In general they’re very low-impact, which is good for and my spine, but many of the movements are done in “levels”, so that they can be kept low for those who need to stay at a low impact or low workout level (me, most of the time) or ratcheted up for those who like to kick higher

BalanceBall Chair by Gaiam (Highly Recommended!)

Posted on December 1st, 2004 in Health and Fitness by mynagirl

So, if you know what an exercise ball is (think like what you’d use in Pilates), you can start to picture this chair. It’s best viewed, here, on the manufacturer’s site:

A coworker suggested this to me last year after I mentioned my back injury from a few years ago from a car accident, I even got an auto accident attorney at the time, but still I kept my constant un-preference for 8 – 12 hours of computer work in a normal office chair. I hemmed and hawed for the past year about maybe buying one of these funky contraptions, and in the past month or two really seriously considered it after regular office chairs just began causing me too much pain during the day. I even managed to snag a spare “exec” office chair at my office to try and abate the back pain, but it was no better after a day of constant work at the computer and then more hours of sitting at home in a similar office chair: my back would ache and I was pretty miserable by the end of the evening.

I did all the research about buying one for a while, trying to figure out if it was going to be tall enough for me. I’m pretty tall (5’11”) but I like my chairs to sit high, and the description of the chair says it’s good for someone 5′ to 6′. That’s a pretty big range, in my book. I did call the manufacturer and they said that the height of the ball is 25″ off the ground when the chair is assembled. I measured that against the height of my regular office chair and, allowing for the squishiness of the ball when a grown human sat on it, figured I could live with that.

My dad, sweetie that he is, got me one for Christmas because I’d talked about it so much. When it arrived, we realized I needn’t have worried about the height — it comes with 3″ extender feet that can be screwed into the casters to give the chair extra height (I’ll point out that this was mentioned nowhere on the website, however). The chair came within just a few days after my dad ordered it from Gaiam, and it took Engineerboy about 10 minutes to set it up. The ball has to be inflated partway and then let sit for a few hours and then inflated the rest of the way.

So now to the important part!! So far the chair is great. Aside from not putting too much pressure on your rear end, part of the major concept of the chair (as I understand it) is that you “actively sit” all the time. First of all, it sort of makes you sit up straight… it’s not impossible to slouch in this thing, but it’s much a more natural posture on the ball to sit

How Now Mad Cow?

Posted on September 2nd, 2004 in Health and Fitness by EngineerBoy

I can’t quite figure out why there’s not more chatter and hubbub surrounding mad cow disease. I have theories, such as the fact that if the facts were made clear to everyone there might be massive public panic (plus the possible collapse of the commercial beef industry). For all intents and purposes, mad cow disease looks like it will be the AIDS of this century. We appear to be on the precipice of an epidemic, but nobody is talking about it.

What Is It?

Cows get something called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which is known informally as Mad Cow Disease. Diseased cattle can transmit the affliction to humans, where it manifests itself as something called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). In both cases, what happens is that malevolent particles, called prions, drill through the actual tissue of the brain, consuming grey matter and slowly eroding the function of the brain until the infected person (or cow) becomes a slobbering, staggering idiot with no memories, no higher brain functions, no voluntary (or involuntary, eventually) muscle control, no self-awareness, no nothing. In 100% of the cases the person finally becomes bedridden and then dies. Slowly. Painfully.

CJD cannot be positively diagnosed in a living person. The only way to make a diagnosis is by examining the brain of someone who has died. The brain will be riddled with holes, hence the term “spongiform”. Once you catch it, you are dead. Period.

How Do You Get It?

Humans contract CJD by eating the nerve tissue or marrow of infected cows. The disease is transmitted by particles called prions, which are an abnormal form of normal protein. Prions have the wonderful characteristic of not being alive, which means that they cannot be killed by any reasonable means, and so retain their full infectious power even in fully cooked or cured beef. I’ll repeat, you cannot cook beef to make it safe from mad cow disease. Any time you eat ground beef from the grocery store, fast food joint, or restaurant, you are playing Russian Roulette. There are no tests to determine that beef is safe before it is sold. There is no way to treat or prepare the beef to make it safe if it contains any infected nerve tissue.

Who Has It?

But who has this disease? Well, that’s almost impossible to tell, as it appears to have a long incubation period, measured in years, even decades. That means that there could be dozens, or hundreds, or thousands, or millions of infected people in the world today displaying no symptoms, unable to be diagnosed, and unable to be cured.

Why Should I Be Worried?

First of all, if you are a vegetarian, you probably have nothing to worry about (for the most part, more below the Conjectures section). Also, if you never eat ground beef from the grocery store, fast food place, or restaurant, then you’re probably okay (see Conjectures). However,

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