Managing meat-free


For the last couple of years I’ve been on a weekly diet that includes two days being completely meat free. In theory it’s Mondays and Thursdays, and most weeks it works out that way, but occasionally it gets shifted around by circumstance. I’m happy to go meat-free, but the challenge always is to find sufficient vegetarian food to keep it interesting. I’d go meat free 7 days a week if I could, but when it comes to food I’m not into austerity. Food is too important an element of life, and given I’ve got a certain span of years I don’t see the value in denying myself the pleasure of it.

I think that’s a sensible attitude, but like everything it’s wise to maintain a balance. I love my meat, though increasingly it troubles me. I am getting older also and good health becomes more of a focus than when I blithely took it for granted. And so I’ve decided to extend my meat free days to three a week.

I’m a systematic character. There are certainly maverick aspects to my personality, but at heart I believe in process and system. It’s the basis of my profession, and though I run an untidy household it applies domestically as well. And so when I set about a venture like this I look to plan it.

There are 7 days a week, and basically 7 dinners I have to consider. Two of them I’ve already set aside for meat free meals – I made an eggplant curry the other day for example, and am planning to cook a Moroccan pumpkin and couscous tagine this weekend. Now I’m adding another meat free day and rather than going the same way will make it different, for variety’s sake. That third day will either be eggs or pasta with a meat free sauce. I know pasta is bad to excess, but I love it, and there are plenty of non-meat options which remain pretty tasty.

Of the remaining four evenings three will be the standard homed cooked, meat based meal, give or take – I could eat out, or visit friends. The other day is my naughty day, generally Friday or Saturday, when I’ll eat and drink what generally I’ll refrain from – pizza, chocolate, beer, and so on. This Friday I’m out for a few drinks locally before going to a new hamburger bar in Hampton with a friend. (At the moment I’ve set other healthy constraints – no bread on weekdays, no sweets on weekdays, no drinking unless socially.)

All of this means I’ll literally be planning my meals in advance. I do that anyway, more or less. I’m not one of those people who have a general grocery shop, even when I could afford it. I know what I’m cooking and I buy towards that. When it comes to meat free food that becomes more essential as while I have hundreds of meat dishes at my fingertips, I have to search out vegetarian dishes. I can’t just make it up or do it from memory.

I enjoy that though. One of the joys of a good meal is the anticipation of it. That’s why I – and millions of others – have bought cooking magazines and recipe books.

In the winter that means I’ll spend some time figuring out my menu over the next fortnight and put together the shopping list to facilitate. It means – in the winter – that over the weekend I’ll cook up the two main dishes that will serve me over the next fortnight (every week – there is overlap for variety’s sake) – one a meat dish, a casserole or curry or something, and likewise the vegie dish. In between I’ll fix up meals on a daily basis as needs be – tonight I’m making pasta with leftover eggplant, capsicum and bocconcini (last night was a chicken curry frozen from a few weeks back). In the summer it’s different only that I have lighter meals prepared fresh – as a rule I eat Asian in the warm months, and European in the cold months.

Food – just writing about it like this pleases me.

 

Grinding it out


So I had a day off sick yesterday and went to the doctor mid-morning to find out if it was just my chest again or something else besides. He wasn’t able to tell me a lot besides suggesting I get an x-ray, a blood test, and perhaps get onto a management plan to handle my chest. I came away feeling depressed, convinced that the problem is my chest and that it’s not going to go away in a hurry.

Today is the first day of winter and already I’ve had 2 months of my chest playing up. Any sensible person would realise that it’s unlikely to get any better as the weather gets cooler and more winter bugs emerge. I returned home thinking I just have to accept it. If it was an occasional thing then fine, I could lie low when it played up and continue on as normally the rest of the time. It’s different if it becomes ongoing. I’m never quite well, and sometimes, regularly, somewhat less than quite well. Practically speaking it becomes an impossibility in my circumstances to ‘lay low’ then. I don’t have that sort of sick leave to start with, and I don’t want to live like that besides. It means that I just have to endure that.

If it was mere discomfort then okay, I could probably grin and bear it. The problem is that when I’m crook I’m much less functional. You know how it is, when you’re unwell you can’t concentrate as hard or for as long as you can normally. On Tuesday I actually had to take myself off and lie down for 40 minutes I was feeling so off. I found a quiet corner of the lounge and lay on the couch and closed my eyes. It was good for me, and returned to work feeling a lot better. But I can’t do that every day, and the fact is that doing things makes it worse, but it’s doing things I get paid for.

Now that sounds pretty gloomy, and sums up how I felt for a bit yesterday. I felt I had no control over things. The whole outlook seemed depressing. But then maybe it won’t be as bad. Maybe I’ve just had a bad bout and in the next week or two the antibiotics will properly kick in and I’ll be free and clear again, as fit as a fiddle. Maybe – and that’s what has to happen. I certainly don’t want to go on a management plan, I’d feel like a fuckin invalid.

I wasn’t happy being at home. I’d have preferred to be a work and productive. From a metaphysical perspective I absolutely hate calling in sick. It always feels like an admission of weakness, if not defeat. The crux of it is that I am being forced into the decision by my body. I hate being forced into anything. I’m the sort who’ll say white when you say black. I’m the captain of this particular conveyance, or so I like to believe – until proven otherwise, when it goes down bad.

So there’s all of this in me and the night comes and the darkness and it’s cold out and I’m colder still because my temperature is down and I look about and see things. My health weighs on my mind. I know that the particular condition I have is not going away and, if I’m not careful, becomes degenerative. I’m sitting there and I can feel my breath coming in and going out and it’s not smooth, but it’s easier than it has been and a lot easier than it will be if things go bad. And that’s what’s in my mind – not this year, but the years still to come. How am I supposed to manage if it goes south? What sort of life is that? And suddenly I’m angry.

Give me a fuckin break, I think. Fairs fair, enough is fuckin enough. I’ve been unemployed, homeless, and near bankrupt. I’ve lost pretty well everything I had, which is a bloody lot. I’m in an underpaid job which at least is much better than what I had before. I live in a cramped box, with just enough money to put food on the table, but no more. I’ve got debt coming out of my ears, a car I can’t afford to register, let alone insure, and need medication I can’t pay for. I suffered the death of my mum followed by the legal wrangles after her death – and the subsequent estrangement from the other side of the family; and now, without my sister and father, have only my nephews and niece for family. Now this – a chronic fuckin condition which threatens to jeopardise that small amount I have left.

It was pretty grim. I felt it for hours and there was a fair dose of self-pity in it. Fair call though really, what have I done so wrong to cop all this? Finally I settle. I always do. I’m weary of it, but there is no choice. I have to survive. To survive it means I have to deal with it. Grind it out, that’s what I do.

It’s not enough to simply endure. I need to do. Doing gives purpose and meaning to life. Everyone needs it. That’s one reason I write, because it’s mine. Because it elevates me from the muck I’m mired in. Fucked if that’s enough though. I don’t want to live off that scant hope. I can’t simply look to survive from one day to the next in the hope it will get better, because it won’t. I have to make it so – and I’m so tired of that. (Enduring all I have has made me stronger perhaps, but I couldn’t survive it a second time). But then I can’t stand the thought of bowing out defeated. What will my epitaph be?

I wasn’t happy, but, as I do, I began to make plans. I set myself targets. Prime among them is my health. I can’t do much without that and so I must look to enhance it. I’m not a doctor and medical science is not something I can control, but I can strive to live healthily, and with more prudence than currently I do. Surely if I achieve some measure of that then I can mitigate the worst of my condition. Step 1. Then there’s the rest of it. I need more, more money, but more purpose too. I’m lucky that put me in the right job and I can achieve both. That’s step 2.

Experience tells me that when you set goals they need to be quantifiable. Airy fairy, vague aspirations don’t cut the mustard. Put a number to it. Put a date. Set yourself and measure your progress against the target. Make it a contest.

This I’ve done for the first two of my targets, but the third, I’m afraid, is very airy fairy. I don’t even know what it is, or how to find it. It remains an underlying truth though. Step 3 – get more joy in my life.

Able again


About 18 months ago I pulled a muscle/did something in my lower abdomen/groin on my right hand side. After that I was heavily restricted in my movements, to the extent that I could no longer do any meaningful exercise. Any lateral movement brought sudden and sharp pain. I couldn’t do anything that relied on my stomach muscles, and I couldn’t run any quicker than an ungainly shuffle. It was extremely frustrating.

I’m generally a quick healer, but this has taken a long time to mend itself. I’m not right yet, but it has improved to the point that I can now do crunches again for the first time since then. I’ve taken stairs two at a time most of my adult life. Throughout this I didn’t have the range of movement to do so. I wondered if I ever would again, and it weighed upon me as another sign of increasing age. Now again I’m taking the stairs at the double. I have to be careful not to aggravate the condition (whatever it is – at one stage a suspected hernia, but no), but t feels good to feel physically able again.

I’ve come to accept that with age there comes a physical decline. It’s not just the things that fail, it’s the general aches and pains. At first it seems to unfamiliar that you think there must be something wrong. Eventually you realise it’s just the wear and tear of life catching up with you, and so perfectly normal. All the same, it’s important for me to keep up a healthy level of fitness. I dislike the concept of decline.

The other physical thing I have to deal with is my leg, which looks like it will never get right. I see a specialist every 6 months to check on it. I’m meant to be on daily medication, but as I can’t afford the price I’m on it maybe 2 months out of 12. The other week I saw the doctor for my regular check-up. Reviewing the results of a blood test she expressed satisfaction. “Looks like we can rule out cancer,” she said. Great, I thought wryly, except that till that point I didn’t even know that cancer was a possibility.

This is typical medical profession in my experience. I like my doctor and we get on well, and she’s pretty cute besides. We banter and carry on conversation like two equals – something rare and refreshing given my current status. Still, I like to know things before the fact, not after. But I guess I should be happy – I don’t have cancer. But I do have a bloody ugly leg.

Such is life


I have a thing about taking sick leave. It feels cheap. I can justify it when I’m so sick that I’m dysfunctional. In theory I can even accept it when I’m not sick at all – the so-called mental health days people take. There’s a brazen honesty in that I can accept a lot easier than those in-between days (though I don’t recall ever taking a mental health day, though I’m sure I have). It’s the days when you feel unwell, a bit off, but seemingly well enough to work still that trouble me.

That’s always my criteria. I stand there and ask myself can I work like this? If the answer is yes then I go to work. It’s not always a wise decision, and much too simplistic. There are always other – very sensible – considerations that should be accounted for. Like, will I last the day out? Am I better off resting now to get well than prolonging it by working? And, is there a chance of infecting others?

I know these things, and once or twice I’ve been smart enough to make a decision based on them, but rarely. I’ve been working this week feeling crook. Like I said, on Tuesday I could barely talk. I was in a stupor for much of the day. Yesterday I was okay until in the afternoon I developed a fever which had me breaking into an uncomfortable sweat every 30 minutes. I’ve been told pretty well to stay away until I’m right, and so I’m home today.

This reluctance to take sick leave is not because I have a particular sense of duty, but because it feels in a way like weakness to succumb to it. It’s one of my many old school notions. There is something personal about it – feeling sick can feel a direct challenge that I can’t help but resist. There’s a deeper reason than that though.

In general terms I’d rather be at home than at work. Most people are like that. There have been jobs I’ve had that I’ve really enjoyed, but even so an odd day off is not unpleasant. In recent years there have been no such jobs, and a day off is a blessing. That’s why I’m so reluctant to take a day off sick when I might.

I’m old school to the extent that I believe you have to be true to yourself – even if it might be to a warped version of that self. Waking up and feeling a bit crook naturally leads to speculation as to whether you should attend work or not. You know in your heart that you’d rather not, and here ready for you is an excuse. It puts temptation in your way, and temptation becomes weakness when you give way to it. I can’t abide that. I’d be ashamed if I gave in to such base temptation. I’d feel as if I cheated myself and rorted the system. There’d be no pleasure in spending the day home then because I’d feel as if I was there on false pretences. And so I’m hard on myself and ask the simple question: am I capable of working like this? Unless the answer is an emphatic no I go to work.

That’s what happened yesterday. I’d slept poorly, along with most of Melbourne, and felt weary – but there was reason for that. I tried my voice and found it was stronger than the day before, and there went any excuse to call in sick. Turns out I was still a bit weak and woozy, but sometimes you don’t recognise that until you begin exerting yourself.

Today I’m home because I’ve realised that I need the rest. I’ve been wearing myself out, and a day doing little will likely be of great recuperative benefit.

In actual fact I feel pretty run-down, and there are signs of it. My cough has caught up with me, which is a large reason I’m home today. I feel generally weary and old at the moment. I’ve developed splotchy rashes on my chest, and one beneath my left eye. No amount of sleep is enough.

It’s hard not to believe that this bout was not precipitated by a debauched weekend. I drank for 12 hours straight on Saturday, and had a whale of a time doing it. I’m not as old as I used to be though, and I think it weakened my defences enough for the bug to get hold of me.

My health is frustrating me. There have been small things for a while that I’ve accepted, but which concern me in a broader context. I saw my specialist the other week about my leg. Nothing to report there really, except that she wants me on this daily medication for the next two years. Problem is that I couldn’t afford it. I delayed it for three weeks before I found sufficient penny to fill the script.

My stomach muscle – or whatever it is – still troubles me. It’s not nearly as debilitating as it was, but I still can’t do any strenuous exercise, and I wonder when I might be able. It’s been nearly a year. We know what it isn’t, what we don’t know what it is. My doctor directed me to a sports physio for treatment, but I can’t even begin to afford that – and so I go untreated. When I think about it it’s greatly frustrating.

It’s times like this you wonder how you can live like this, and for how long? The answer is, because you must, and as long as it takes. It’s not healthy though. I eat poorly, and not always regularly, because I can’t afford to eat better. I sacrifice and cut things out of my life, but some of them are necessary. You do it because there is no other option, with the idea that one day it will get better. It probably will – but when?

And so this too buys into my decision-making about staying home or going to work. It’s better for me to be crook and earning a day’s pay than being home and earning nothing.

The Big Sleep


Scientists Pat and Peter Shaw died recently in a suicide pact. Their daughters tell the story of their plan – and their remarkable lives.

Source: The Big Sleep

Not sure if this is a sad story. It’s a fascinating story for sure, and I’m entirely sympathetic to it, as I’m sure many other Australians would be too.

For me euthanasia is a no-brainer. If you’re in pain and suffering from a terminal illness then it should be your right to end your life on your terms, and at a time of your choosing. It’s something my mother wanted to do, but was unable to.

This story is not about euthanasia though. It’s about a couple well accomplished Australians who, recognising their physical and mental decline, have chosen to leave life rather than persist in an existence less than it was, and knowing it was only going to decline further.

I support this. It’s dignified to leave life like this. You’ve lived a full and happy life. You have no complaints. Your desire is to part with it on your terms, and at a time when it feels right. You make your peace with the decision, you say your goodbye’s to family and friends, and then with dignity you take your leave.

There shouldn’t be a stigma. It should be accepted as a part of the cycle of life.

Worthwhile read. Worth having your thoughts provoked by it.

Going meat free


Austrian body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “you hit like a vegetarian”.

Source: People say Arnold Schwarzenegger is a hypocrite for urging the world to go vegetarian

I’ve been having meat-free Mondays for about a year now, and a couple of months ago added Thursday to that.

For me there are a few reasons to do it. Certainly the environment is one. We’ve created an infrastructure around eating meat that’s obviously toxic to the planet. I’m with Arnie, we can do better, and any little bit counts.

I’m doing it for health reasons to. When I compare my diet now to even just 10 years ago there’s a vast difference. I rarely have fast food anymore, and while part of it is economic much of it is for health. Rather than a lunch-time staple (as it would be 3 days out of 5 when I was working) it’s now a monthly treat, if that.

My consumption of soft-drink is down by about 95%. I still drink, though rarely more than one or two, and with the reduction in eating meat I’m now eating more vegetables.

I still eat too much bread, cheese and pasta, and probably chocolate, and should eat more fruit, but I’m much better than I was. I used to be a big eater too – I reckon my average daily intake would be 300-400 calories less than at my peak.

The other reason I eat less meat is ethical. I love my meat, but I’m also an animal lover. The thought of organised butchery oppresses me. I recognise that there’s a food chain. That’s nature, and we’re part of it, but I hate how industrialised it has become. If nothing else there’s an arrogance – or is it hubris? – in how everything is central to our desires, and our consumption.

There’s an unquestioned belief that the world and its resources are there for us to plunder. While that has environmental implications, it’s the philosophy I find offensive. We are part of nature, not above it.

For me the that is epitomised best by how we rear, at great expense, herds of livestock which are then, literally, fed through the sausage machine by the billions. There’s something callous and inhumane in this. The older I get the more it troubles me.

I love animals. They may not be individuals in the sense that we know, but they each have a life. I feel closer to the plains Indian view of life, in which the buffalo they feed off is accorded respect.

Outracing the zombies


Normally, if suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a rampant zombie infestation, I’d be reasonably confident of surviving. Not now. I’d be cactus.

In general I reckon I’ve got more nous than most people. I’m a bit calmer, a bit smarter, and maybe have a tad more street smart than the average Joe. I’ll reason things through and won’t panic no matter how trying it becomes. I reckon that gives you a huge head start in the survival stakes.

On top of that I’m pretty au fait with zombie lore, though pretty well every man and his dog these days reckons they’re a zombie expert thanks to the Walking Dead. Well, I’ve been into them long before that.

I’ve got the tools too. I have a good-sized metal baseball bat ready to crack a few zombie skulls, as well as a couple of rifles in reserve.

My skin-folds are the best they’ve been for about 18 years. My resting heart rate is superior now after years of languishing. In general I’m strong and capable, and as manly as I’m going to get.

All good, just about, but for one crucial thing. Everyone knows that most zombies shuffle along at barely a walk. Well, I could outrace them, but if I get one of the sprinters on my tail then I’m dinner.

I’ve never been a distance runner. Over a distance I’m going to be caught by most people. I was always fast though. Over 60-100 metres I had the field just about covered. From the time I was a kid I had explosive power, fast twitch muscles, and the general physique that goes with sprinting. I was made to burn, not last.

Sadly I can neither burn nor last these days. About 6 months ago I was playing back yard soccer with Cheeseboy’s son. He could play all day. It was my turn to go in-goal, much as I had in the days before. I’d saved a few shots when I reached to my right to save a shot and felt something twinge in my right groin reaching into my lower abdomen.

At the time I thought it was a strain that would pass in a few days. It wasn’t painful except when I twisted or turned sharply. But it didn’t get better, and still hasn’t.

It’s inconvenient even without a zombie invasion. I can’t run. I can’t do any strenuous exercise. Just between you and me I can’t have anything but very careful sex. Clearly it’s not going away.

Someone suggested to me it might be OP. I doubted that. Then someone else said a hernia. That made more sense. Then yesterday I had a poke around and found what felt like a ridge of muscle jutting up from the smooth surrounds. Bugger. It’s yet to be formally diagnosed, but chances are I have a hernia. That likely means surgery, and all the rest of it.

I can’t let it go. It’s severely restrictive of my lifestyle, but at the same time I can’t afford the time, and likely the expense. Something has to give, especially if the zombies are coming.