Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The results of the vegan diet

We both lost weight and lowered our cholesterol to different degrees.

The husband lost 12 pounds in the first 2 weeks, which he has kept off and then some. I was very bitter about this because I didn't lose any weight in the first 4 months or so, and I had been riding my bike to and from work.

We got our blood drawn for our cholesterol tests just two months after the husband's initial test result because there was no way we'd adhere to the diet on our wedding anniversary trip.

Husband's cholesterol dropped a good 50 points to just above the high end of normal. And I think he's a good 15 pounds down from before.

My total cholesterol was 160 mg/dL! I'm super-healthy! And now I know that I can avoid a lot of those typical Filipino cardiovascular disease problems by - um - not eating Filipino food. AND I've lost more than the 10 pounds that I hadn't intended to gain! Score! So in total, I'm down about 15 pounds and two belt holes from when I bought the belt last Christmas.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Our mostly vegan diet

Our diet can be described as vegan and lower carb, with one weekly cheat meal.

I didn't quite know where to begin with cooking vegan. I had had enough of a hard time learning to cook without meat, but now I could no longer rely on plain yogurt to add a flavor kick to my food. Naturally, it was time to do research. I borrowed a whole bunch of vegan cookbooks from the library and started following vegan food blogs.

Oh, and I did a very unscientific thing by changing two variables instead of just one. Not only did I eliminate eggs and dairy, but I also tried to lower our carb intake. The precedent for both of these is my older brother. He lowered his cholesterol by going vegan for three months. Then he has since lost a lot of weight by going on his beloved so-called "primal diet," which consists of reasonable amounts of meat, tons of vegetables, and pretty much no carbs.

Thankfully it was late spring and early summer when we started this vegan diet, as we had a multitude of fresh veggies from the farmers' market to keep us occupied! Also, I had lots of time to cook because all my choirs were on summer break. Furthermore, to keep our sanity, we allowed ourselves one cheat day per week: our weekly veggie burrito from Taqueria Cancun.

Next time: The results!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why the veganism?

I decided to eliminate dietary sources of cholesterol in order to lower my husband's blood cholesterol levels.

Back in May, a blood test showed that my husband had pretty high cholesterol. The doctor gave us a couple months to reduce the number by diet without statins. Statins are a class of drugs that lower cholesterol by inhibiting HMG CoA reductase, which is the enzyme that catalyzes the rate-limiting step in cholesterol biosynthesis.

That's right, the body has the ability to synthesize the cholesterol it needs for stuff like cell membrane components and hormones. The body has to balance cholesterol biosynthesis with incoming dietary cholesterol, a process called cholesterol homeostasis. What are dietary sources of cholesterol? Anything animal-derived. For the ovo-lacto veggie husband, this meant no more eggs or dairy. So I figured it was time to eliminate dietary cholesterol and see what the husband's baseline cholesterol numbers would be.

I put myself on the diet, too, for solidarity. It's important to have a good support structure at home with any significant diet change.

Next time: Details of the diet!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ethical Eating: [mostly] vegan

My non-vegan dinner from last night: rye bread, cottage cheese, smoked salmon, green onion, freshly ground black pepper.

Last night the hipster cashier dude at my neighborhood froofy grocery store took a look at my pile of coconut water and diluted coconut milk (as cow's milk substitute) and asked me if I use coconut oil, too, saying that he baked cookies with it and they turned out funny. I said that while I had seen coconut oil in vegan recipes as an alternative to butter, I've never really mustered up enough courage to cook with coconut oil. I just use it as the occasional deep conditioning treatment for my hair.

"Are you vegan?" he asked.

Oh dear. And now I felt I had to explain my entire diet to him.

"No," I said, "I eat mostly vegan, I guess. I cook vegan at home, eat vegetarian socially, and treat myself to the occasional sashimi." I smiled and added, "And bacon."

I found it funny that I was treating cheese consumption as a social construct, much like a person might claim to drink or smoke "socially."

So that's my diet. I've lost anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds in the last six months, and my cholesterol numbers are awesome. I think in my next few posts I'll elaborate on why the heck I turned myself into a grass-fed hippie.

Besides, I'm in music theory marination mode for the time being, so I might as well take a mental break to write about food.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly?

I want to write a song. I wonder what it's like to get goosebumps at hearing my own composition come to life. If I had taken that first music theory class any earlier than spring semester my senior year in college, maybe I could have made time for more composition courses and found out.

At the time, I felt I was doing really well in it. Like most of my humanities classes in college, that class was an easy A. I went through most of the semester doing my homework without aid of a piano. At the end of it, I came away with a ridiculously cute eight-measure ditty that I still have among my sheet music at home.

A funny thing that didn't go so well in that class was the piano lab. The piano lab portion was a lot of playing scales in different keys in multiple octaves. It should have been easy-peasy after my on-and-off years of piano lessons growing up. When I was a kid, I had had a particularly intimidating Eastern European piano teacher; she scared my fingers wiggly. Years later, in that first piano lab session, the instructor plugged her headphones into my keyboard and said in an Eastern European accent, "Please play me a D major scale, two octaves." All of a sudden, I was eleven years old again, with jelly fingers. I played the scales as well as I did when I was eleven, and the instructor complimented my proper fingering. Go figure.

And then there was the solfège. Man, do I dig solfège. My dad's brain is hard-wired for solfège (oïdo, he calls it), so I think I get it from him. In my high school choir, it all started clicking for me. I fell a bit out of practice in college until the sight-singing lab portion of that music theory class. Then I felt like I was in high school mixed chorus again, getting envious looks from my fellow choristers who thought I was showing off. Except in that college class, we were all nerds with our heads buried in our music. Or at least I was. And when I sight-sing now, I'm still that nerd with my head buried in my music. I feel like it's a return to that part of my teenage brain.

But, as with many things in my life, the music became one of this jack's many unmastered trades. Sure, I sing in lots of choruses nowadays. Although singing alto has been wonderful brain exercise, it decimated my upper register, both technical execution and pitch. What a mess I've become.

Singing alto has also made me appreciate good choral writing.

Yeah, so I complimented Anders on his voice leading. Yes, I am a huge dork. Shut up.

Seriously, though, I want to write something lush and pretty. I have a bunch of Shakespearean sonnets that I want to commit to memory (36, 61, 63, 116, 128, 150). I'd love to set at least one of them to music. By the way, this post's title comes from Sonnet 8.

What made me think of toying with choral composition again? Heh, what else colors my mental musings these days? Listen to this piece, Skärgårds Akvarell. The title means Archipelago's Watercolor.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I am awesome.

Anders thanked me for pointing out his faux pas. He had the subtitles revised in his interview video.

Now it says he's been working with "fantastic Filipino session musicians" with no comparison to Swedes. Obviously, the original words are still in the spoken Swedish. Still, although the translation is not direct, the important part of the meaning remains. Compliment without the controversy. Rock on.

And now I feel all influential and accomplished. :-)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I'm not sayin'; I'm just sayin'

So about addressing Anders Paulsson's politically incorrect statement, I decided it was better to say something than to say nothing.

Anders' comment about working with "Filipino musicians who are just as talented as Swedes" probably wasn't outright racist. Perhaps it was a response to criticism. It might have stemmed from some distinctively Swedish cultural elitism. Or perhaps it stemmed not from elitism, per se, but from Orientalism, a romanticized view of so-called exotic Eastern cultures.

In any case, my gut tells me that Anders really didn't mean to be demeaning. Or at least I'd like to believe that he doesn't actually have lower expectations of musical proficiency in the Philippines. So I wrote him an e-mail to make him aware of the possible misinterpretation of his comment, and that I preferred not to share that particular interview because it just wouldn't make sense coming from me.

I guess I was thinking I'd be nipping a potentially sensitive situation in the bud. I hope I haven't made things awkward, thereby screwing over this project.

It was important to me to respond quickly to his e-mail about the interview. I also wanted to ask his collaborating scientists to contact the oceanographer who hasn't yet written me back. But I needed to do the former before the latter.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Am I overreacting to perceive this as subtly racist? [UPDATED]

UPDATE: After all the deliberation, I did finally decide to say something, which resulted in the subtitles being changed for the better. I gotta say, that Anders is a good sport! :-)

Original post below:

Anders Paulsson just got a little less hot for remarking that the Filipino musicians he's been working with are just as talented as Swedes.

Last night Anders e-mailed me a YouTube link to a video of a television interview he did on Sweden's largest news program before the Coral Guardians inaugural gala in Stockholm last month. "Feel free to include it in your introduction of us," he wrote.

The video features Anders along with Johann Rockström, the executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Center. Anders wears a shockingly non-traditional take on the barong tagalog. Whereas traditionally it's a sheer white shirt worn over a white undershirt, Anders' barong is black with gold front panels edged in red.

Starting at 2:40 or so, Anders tells this cute story of how he got into this whole thing about using music to spread awareness of coral reef preservation. Originally he volunteered at the Coral Cay Conservation in the Philippines as a break from music, but one Christmas he filled a bunch of empty soda bottles with seawater and played "Silent Night," to everyone's delight. From then on, a bunch of music projects started, and he says, according to the English subtitles around 3:30:

"I've started playing with Filipino studio musicians who are just as talented as Swedes."

Say WHAT, Anders Paulsson?!

Wow. Yeah, I guess Anders must find it pretty amazing that some vestiges of Western music remain in the Philippines after 400 years under Catholic Spain, followed by some decades under the US. As if the cultural impact of being a longtime Spanish colony weren't already apparent in the religion, food, language, dance, clothing, etc., not to mention the names and faces of people, too. Sheesh.

I have a rule for cases like this. Never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by ignorance.

However, even if this comes from a place of ignorance, that nonetheless implies a pre-conceived notion of low expectations of musical talent in people half a world away.

While the rest of the interview provides a lot of great information about the history of the Coral Guardians project on both the scientific and artistic sides, that one little remark irks me to the point of not feeling comfortable sending the link out. Especially to Important People at my alma mater. Especially coming from me, a talented Filipina-American musician-scientist!

So what can I do? Should I say something to Anders about it? If I say nothing, he'd probably freely share the video and possibly come off looking slightly racist. If I do say something, what can I say to minimize the ensuing awkwardness?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Bad Catholic returns!

*tap-tap-tap* Is this thing on? Can you hear me back there? Yes? Great!

OK, so, this bad Catholic has been feeling extra bad lately. This means I will brain-dump onto Teh Interwebs now, you lucky readers, you, whoever you are.

I have a massive crush on this tall, blond, handsome, Swedish drink of aquavit Swedish composer, soprano saxophonist, and environmentalist, Anders Paulsson (no link because of autoplaying music on the homepage). I have now taken it upon myself to hook him up with my alma mater to promote his Coral Guardians initiative, a coral reef conservation project to provide marine biology educational opportunities for kids in the Philippines.

Why am I doing this? Because I find him hot, and if this collaboration works out, then I might actually get to sing in a concert with him again! Anders is my new celebrity crush. Move over, James Franco; your book sucks. Now, Anders, on the other hand, writes some gorgeous music. And the dude can rock the soprano sax, with a clean tone that seemingly effortlessly obliterates the Kenny-G-associated dorkiness factor of the instrument. And Anders is really nice to look at. He's also a genuinely nice guy and easy to talk to.

What? I have a thing for tall blonds, OK? I married a tall blond, after all.

At the dress rehearsal a couple weeks ago, we ran through his arrangement of "When The Saints Go Marching In," complete with snapping on two and four. He said, "I think it should be slower. More," he paused, "sexy." Then he set the tempo of the snaps while conducting with his entire body. My brain short-circuited, and all I could think was, "I'm sorry, what? I couldn't hear you with your shirt on." (There is precedent for the mental image of a shirtless Anders. Check out this photo.)

So come concert-time, I got all dolled up, donning make-up, contacts, and my bestest (i.e., charmingly booby) little black dress. This paid off swimmingly when, at post-concert dinner, Anders sat RIGHT ACROSS FROM ME! I know, right??? How awesome is that? We chatted up a storm, and at one moment he tentatively asked me, "Are you Polynesian?"

Heh. I grinned. I thought for a moment, "I do so love playing this Guess My Ethnicity game. Should I make him guess again? Nah, let's just get on with it." I knew he had a thing for the Philippines, so I just outright said, "Actually, I'm Filipina," and I smiled.

He smiled, too, and said, "I thought so!" Then he told me he was going to the Philippines for two months in late November, and he launched into his Coral Guardians spiel.

A lightbulb went off in my head, and I asked, "Do you have contacts at [my alma mater's oceanographic arm]?" He shook his head, and then he gave me his card so I could e-mail him!!! EEEEE!!!!

So all told, we've exchanged a good half a dozen or so e-mails about some possible collaboration. However, the Important People at my alma mater aren't replying to my e-mails. I'm still working on it.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Lenten episodes, part 3 - A cleansing bike ride

Wednesday morning there was a freak downpour that coincided exactly with my bike commute to work. That is, the rain only lasted 30-40 minutes, but it was exactly the 30-40 minutes that I was riding to work.

It was sunny when I left the house. On the radio, they said a 50% chance of rain. I thought nothing of it. The sun was shining! Plus, one day last week there was a 50% chance of precipitation, it didn't rain at all. Anyway, I was planning on meeting friends at the new Mission Cheese shop after work, so I wore my Mission-appropriate skinny jeans.

Well, I guess it was lightly sprinkling though sunny when I left the house. As I got to the more difficult part of my ride, it started raining harder. I was just far enough away from home and it was just late enough in the morning that I didn't want to turn back.

The rain got harder as I got up the hill. The way the drops were hitting the ground and bouncing, I wondered if it was actually small hail. Hail! On my morning ride to work?!

Towards the top of my ride, I knew I was getting drenched. It was all downhill from there, so I just kept going. Without fenders, my butt got unpleasantly wet. The freak downpour mocked my usual rule of thumb: Don't go anywhere with your ass wet. Think about it.

Then the rain became a full-on downpour as I got to the flat part of my ride. I was riding more slowly than usual because I couldn't see! Not only were the raindrops hitting my glasses, but the raindrops were hitting MY EYES. I cautiously coasted along, lightly riding my brakes, squinting and blinking half-blind. But whenever I pedaled, the upstroke of the pedal squeezed my water-logged skinny jeans legs and flooded my shoes.

At the rate and volume at which I was screaming, "AUGH! OH MY GOD! AAAAUUUUUGGH!" one could have thought I was having a good ol' attack of the Holy Spirit and a soul-cleansing baptism. Which, I suppose, is nicely timed for Holy Week or something?

I got to worked completely soaked. My co-workers gaped at me as if I were crazy. All I could say was, "It was sunny when I left the house!"

So I switched from my wet softshell jacket to my dry hoodie, peeled off my skinny jeans in exchange for scrubs, and squished around in wet shoes all day.

I hung up my jeans in a sunny window (because it was sunny when I got to work!) above a heating vent. Of course, you can't just leave unlabeled stuff in the hallways at work. It could be considered trash and just thrown away. So I left a note:

Yup. Classy. That was a long day.