Sunday, December 30, 2012

Spare-A-Goose

My hubs had a Mexican trainer a few years back who wrote out a diet plan for him - including a helping of 'sparagus' every day. Asparagus. But since he pronounced it 'sparagoos' in the first place, he was also a creative speller.

Anyway, the yummy-as-long-as-it's-not-overcooked sprigs your mother always tried to get you to finish might also be a secret weapon when it comes to hangover prevention. And with New Year's Eve celebrations tomorrow night, maybe it's time to consider stocking up on the champers ... and the sparagoos.

Asparagus contains certain minerals and amino acids which apparently help with the metabolization of alcohol. At least these are the results found by a team of researchers at Korea's Institute of Medical Science. Asparagus shoots and leaves might also help protect the liver from damage due to toxins - like excessive alcohol consumption. For more info, you can read the full Medical News Today  article.

I was looking for asparagus martini recipes on the web - just to make things easy. Not surprisingly ... haven't found any! So maybe we should just steam these funny veggies up while we're getting ready for New Year's Eve. You know ... do the hair. Trim the veggies. Shave the face. Place in steamer basket. Put on tie/jewlelry. Steam for a maximum of three minutes - less if the stalks are skinny. Otherwise sparagoos gets soggy and inedible!

Then remove from steamer, add a bit of butter and/or olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, plus a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Then gently tumble to coat each sprig. It's super fast, very yummy and SO good for you, whether you're preparing to party or not.

Because asparagus is also rich in folate, it's particularly good for the brain, helping older adults perform better on cognitive tests. Sparagoos also contains glutathione which breaks down carcinogens and other free radicals, helping to fight a significant number of cancers. In fact - other than helping with the hangover - there are five hidden health benefits to asparagus, reported by EatingWell.com. Plus an explanation as to why this veggie can make your pee-pee smell, well ... a bit funky.

One way or another, I'm off to Whole Foods to fetch ... among other things ... some sparagoos.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hot Buttered Fun

Like a lot of people right now, we're digging out from under that massive winter storm. It's a great day to stay put if you can.

But what of wine and spirits? What if your cupboard is getting bare and/or company's coming over and/or you're just getting tired of your favorite tipple? If you've got some yummy rum tucked away somewhere, it's the perfect time for a Hot Buttered Rum drink. I always thought making something like this required the culinary expertise of at least a grandmother. But it's actually quite simple and fast.

Here's Hilah Johnson - actress, writer and lovable YouTube cook. Dressed up as a pirate wench, she's got a recipe for Hot Buttered Rum that calls for only a handful of ingredients. Rum. Check. Butter. Probably check. Sugar. Check. Cinnamon stick. 2 whole cloves. And water. That's it.

With a double-shot of rum it'll melt the icicles off anything. And if you've got house guests who are overstaying their welcome, fix them one of these after dinner. They'll be snoring like babies in no time and you can roll them down the hall to the extra room and be done with them for the night.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Carol

One of my favorite parts about Christmas are the carols. I don't even put up a tree - but the carols start three weeks early and don't stop until my husband attacks all the radios at midnight on the 26th. (Not everyone digs carols as much as I do!)

I often think I like holiday music so much because it's the one thing my mother couldn't ruin with her drinking at Christmas.  Bing Crosby is always Bing Crosby, right? Doesn't matter who's yelling, fighting or sleeping off a bender.

Speaking of my mom, I haven't told her about this blog yet. I may have mentioned my cleanses in passing, but I'm reluctant to bring the plan up because I'm sure she'll see the ghosts of her own Christmases past in my words.

Not that she drinks a lot anymore. Still, it's been years since I've been home for Christmas. (Wahhh!) Maybe because the last time I went, we both got very drunk and said some things that shouldn't have been said and did some things that shouldn't have been done and I ended up projectile vomiting in the downstairs bathroom half the night. Then in the morning, as usual, she seemed to have no memory of anything. Sigh. It wasn't the first time Christmas turned into a drunk nightmare ... but it was the last.

That's not to say my relationship with my mom isn't better. It's great! I had a lovely chat with her and my brother yesterday and got all my prezzies shipped off in time to get under the tree. It's a sort of compromised Christmas but it works for us right now. And I am so grateful - so unbelievably grateful - that my mother senses something about the situation and never guilts me out about not making the trip. Never. She's unbelievably forgiving. She has to be, I guess ... We've both learned a lot about forgiveness over the years.

Saving Christmas is actually one of the reasons I started blogging publicly about my plan. Because I often wondered how many parents out there - especially single ones, like my mom - were out of control of their drinking and couldn't help but let the extra pressures (and pleasures!) of Christmas turn into a drunken ordeal for their kids. I thought if I could help just one person understand what was happening to them and how to turn it around ... well, that would be a Christmas miracle for me ... ;)

Incidentally, between all the shopping and the schlepping and the socializing, the hubs and I had a chance to watch Jimmy Carrey in "A Christmas Carol" last night. Or at least the ghosts of Christmas past and present. We'll save the future for another night. But wow, what a flick. It is a trippy, ecstatic, truly spectacular Christmas experience - all in animation that will blow your mind. And if you have to be sober this Christmas ... that might just be what you need.

I personally think the trailer doesn't do it justice - it comes off as so dark and narrow. The actual movie is much bigger and brighter. And what's Scrooge without the happy ending? But here it is anyway!

Merry Christmas to all! And to all a good (insert Christmas wish here)!






Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Virgini-Tea

So it's my last cleanse day before the holidays. After today, I'll be looking at about two weeks of non-stop drinking.

Good God, I don't literally mean non-stop drinking. I just mean I won't be taking 'off-days' until after New Year's.

So ... um ... yay!!

It was the English poet, William Cowper, who said "Variety is the (very) spice of life - giving it all its flavor" over two hundred years ago. But the words still ring true for me. Because variety is at the very heart of this plan. I find it helps make it easier to stick to than most moderation programs which have less freedom and variety.

Speaking of the spice of life ... I'm having some spicy homemade chai tea this morning. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is - and it's incredibly good for you. An excellent substitute for double-caramel-mocha-lattes with whipped cream ... on occasion anyway.

Spices have been used for thousands of years to flavor and preserve food. But the upside to all of that is  that spices contain natural phytochemicals which help boost our immune system, fight inflammation and even help prevent some cancers.

Spice-rich diets in countries like India have long been purported to help keep incidents of cancer and heart disease low among that population. Not surprisingly, when Indians begin eating a western diet, these diseases tend to increase to levels more in keeping with westerners. So it makes sense to try to include more spices in our diets - even in the morning.

The spices I use to jazz up my tea are pretty simple. I start with a base of herbal teas available at most health food stores. Since I could never decide if I wanted Organic Ginger Tea for its anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits or Milk Thistle Tea for its benefits to the liver (the silymarin in milk thistle can actually reverse liver damage from heavy metals, radiation - even alcoholism), I decided to mix them together - and the flavors really complement each other. I drink this tea every morning.

I don't add spices every day, but when I do this is how I jazz it up. While the tea bags are steeping in a cup of hot water, I fill a stainless steel tea strainer with:

1 cinnamon stick
6-8 whole cloves
6-8 black peppercorns
4 cracked cardamom pods

I toss all the spices into the strainer and let them sit in the hot water along with the tea bags for several minutes. After that, I sometimes add a squeeze of lemon juice - which also has great anti-inflammatory and potentially anti-cancer properties. You can sweeten the tea with agave or honey, but I usually have mine straight up.

I adapted this recipe from the Dancer's Guide To Healthy Eating available from The Shoe Room at Canada's National Ballet School where I have my classes every week. The authors recommended a boiled-tea recipe using the above spices to help treat the inflamed muscles of professional dancers. I simplified the recipe by simply steeping the spices and adding the other tisanes (herbal teas). This is also a caffeine-free tea which makes it great at night, as well. So experiment with different spices and proportions and see what works for you.

It might be an acquired taste for some, but when it comes to your health, it's worth it. By the way, wasn't your first double-double an acquired taste?

Not to mention your first drink. Though that one didn't take all that long to acquire - not for me, anyway. That's the problem.

Or the opportunity, as the case may be. ;)

Here's EatingWell.com's guide to 8 of the healthiest spices. And more about the health benefits of spices from The Huffington Post.

Monday, December 17, 2012

In The Family

I was lucky enough to inherit a big, crazy clan on the hubby's side. Getting together with them doesn't happen nearly as often as we'd like but hopefully we can raise some cheer over the holidays. God knows there's usually quite a bit of 'cheer' when we get together.

Though I will vouch for the fact these people are just as much fun (and just as accepting) when I'm not drinking, because I've also been thrown at them several times when I've been cleansing. Though I gotta say group dancing at weddings makes a lot more sense when you're drunk than when you're sober. Just FYI.

To mark the holidays, my aunt has emailed everyone her famous Vodka Christmas Cake recipe. I thought I'd share cuz I'm sure I'll be trying this one.  The vodka part anyway.

Subject: Christmas recipe exchange

Hello all,   This is such a busy time of year and I thought I would share with you one of my favorite recipes.   I've had requests for my Vodka Christmas Cake recipe so here goes.  Please keep in your files as I am beginning to get tired of typing this up every year.   Love to all and enjoy the cake.

1 cup sugar
half pound butter
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup brown sugar
lemon juice
4 large eggs
1 ... bottle of Vodka
2 cups dried fruit
4 cups self rising flour

Sample a cup of Vodka to check for quality.  Take a large bowl, check the Vodka again to be sure it is of the highest quality, then repeat again.   Turn on the electric mixer.  Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.  Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and beat again.  At this point it is best to make sure the Vodka is still O.K.   Try another cup just in case.   Turn  off the mixerer thingy.  Break 3 eegs and add to the bowl and chuck in a cup of dried fruit.  Pick the fruit up off the floor, wash it and put it in the bowl a piece at a time trying to keep count.   Mix on the turner.  If the fried druit getas stuck in the beaterers, just pry it loose with a drewsscriver.  Sample the Vodka to test for tonsisticity .  Next sift 2 cups of salt or something.  Check the Vodka again.  Now shit or shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table.  Add a spoon of sugar or somefink.   What every you can find.  Greash the oven,  turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.  Don't forget to beat off the turner and finally throw the  bowl through the frekin window.   Finish the Vodka and wipe the counter with the freaking cat. 

Have a Jolly Christmas!!!!   

Friday, December 14, 2012

Antici-pation ...

One of the great parts of the plan is that there are always times during the year where you can be 'normal.' Where you don't have to worry about cleanse days or work your schedule - or your fun - around them.

The Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa season is probably the longest party streak, stretching to New Year's (Though try not to take advantage. This really shouldn't be more than two weeks without cleanse days. So for me, party time doesn't begin until at least next week.)

But the great thing about the plan is that there's always something to look forward to at other times of the year, too. And the anticipation is really almost as fun as the actual celebrations. Because even though I've tried as hard as I can to knock the boredom out of the plan in the first place, when it comes to comfort and joy, there's always room for improvement.

Birthdays, Valentine's, holiday weekends, vacations. You're rarely staring at the same monotonous schedule all the time. And I would find that boring - which is something to beware of when it comes to drinking. According to Drinkaware, boredom is one of the reasons even young people start drinking alcohol.

But that's why "Independence Days" are such an important part of the plan. They give my life the right combination of freedom and structure. And I've found that to be vital when it comes to staying in control. It keeps me feeling balanced - physically and emotionally. (My heart truly goes out to people trying to be sober this time of year. Gaaad.)

Of course, if you're not into carols, malls and fancy clothes and if your barista telling you "Happy Holidays" every morning makes you cringe, remember ... there's always Festivus. And I think that includes a little drink now and again, too.



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Death of a Cowboy

Saturday night was a tragic one for the Dallas Cowboys.

College friends and Cowboys teammates Josh Brent and Jerry Brown were out for a night of drinking when Brent made the decision to get behind the wheel of his Mercedes. Shortly after that, they were in a single-vehicle accident and the car flipped over. Brent was able to escape without injury, but Brown remained trapped inside the burning vehicle.

When witnesses came upon the scene, Brent seemed confused, wandering aimlessly. One witness, Stacee McWilliams, claims that when she heard Brown calling for help from inside the car, she had to "coerce" Brent into trying to free him.  McWilliams says she's come forward with the story because she wants the world to know "Josh Brent is not a hero."

Well ... Ms. McWilliams's statement is being challenged, too. Another witness claims she didn't hear McWilliams say anything to Brent about rescuing his friend. It turns out McWilliams had been drinking, too, celebrating her birthday. So both of them weren't thinking straight that night ...

Josh Brent is free on $500,000 bail but intoxication manslaughter have been laid. Manslaughter is always considered a less culpable crime than murder, but Brent is still facing up to twenty years in jail.

If there's anything even remotely positive about this story, it's that Jerry Brown's family are saints. His mother insisted Brent sit with them at her son's memorial. She says Josh and Jerry were like brothers and that we all do "stupid" things when we're young. Of course ... there's stupid and then there's, well, intoxication manslaughter.

But she's right. It was stupid to get into that car drunk. It's way too easy for one Saturday night of fun to turn into a living hell. So with the holiday season upon us and partying par for the course, remember that between 30-40% of all traffic fatalities still involve a drunk driver.  So leave the keys at home. Call a cab. Or bring some great walking shoes.

(More on the story here.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Not Working Girl

Honestly, sometimes the best thing for a cleanse day or night is to just pop in a favorite movie you haven't seen in years.

I watched "Working Girl" last week and I thought I was tuning into a humdrum-but-I-love-it-anyway embarrassing old flick. But I forgot how much fun it was (84% on Rotten Tomatoes - and that's from the stingy critics!).

Before you gag yourself with a spoon, this '88 milli-classic was directed by Mike "The Graduate" Nichols and was nominated for nine Oscars - everything from Best Actress to Best Director. Carly Simon won for Best Original Song with Let The River Run (The New Jerusalem). Hearing it again after all these years brought tears to my eyes. Especially with the beautiful, sweeping shots of Manhattan before 9/11 changed the skyline (and the world) forever. (Watch the music video below.)

Yes, there's plenty of drinking. But more on that later because it also boasts one of the most incredible comedy casts ever.

If you've already seen it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, imagine Melanie Griffith (before the collagen) as Tess, our struggling working class heroine. Sigourney Weaver as Katharine, the uptight yuppy boss. A young Alec Baldwin as the sleazoid boyfriend, sporting a mullet no less. And Harrison Ford as the note-perfect investor falling for Tess while actually nearly-engaged to Katharine.

Add to this not-too-shabby cast, an award-winning performance by Joan Cusack (worth it just to see her tri-colored eye shadow and 80s hair!) and early bit parts by Oliver Platt, Kevin Spacey, Nora Dunn, Olympia Dukakis and even a blink-or-you'll-miss-her turn by was-that-really Ricki Lake?

For macho rom-com haters and various low-brows, you can always tune in for the many lengthy scenes Melanie does in garter belts and demi bras. There's even a nude vacuuming scene. She's in the background, but they're there ... I mean, she's there, traipsing around in stockings, stilettos and nothing else but a Hoover and somehow making it if not downright sexy, then freaking memorable at least.  Even Sigourney strips down to lacy lingerie a couple of times, not having been so exposed since that skimpy, sweaty tank in Alien (speaking of great movies). For fashionistas, holeee, the shoulder pads are absolute mayhem.

As for the alcohol content, lots of champagne abounds. But the "oops-I-drank-too-much-last-night" award goes to the scene where Tess is so nervous about a schmancy cocktail party she's attending that her BFF pops her a couple valium to "ya know, take the edge off." Freshly relaxed and looking fine in a designer dress she "borrowed" from Katharine, she meets Jack Traynor (Harrison) hoping to pitch him a great investment idea she has.

But Jack doesn't want to talk business. Instead, he plies her not with Chardonnay - none of that "frog water" he calls it (gasp!! Harrison, you blaspheme!), but with good old tequila. Tess is flying high in minutes and naturally passes out. Jack ends up having to carry her potato-sack-style up the stairs to his apartment, where he undresses her and puts her to bed. She wakes up the next morning without any memory of what happened the night before.

Hmmmm ... sound familiar? Half familiar, anyway?

And of course there's the corny but really well-done concept of downtrodden secretary impersonating a sleek 80s career woman after her mean-girl boss has to be out of the office for a few weeks.

I was trying to think why romantic comedies have such enduring appeal - at least with most women (even though this is a much finer comedy than usual chick-flick fare).  And I think I figured it out: We love romantic comedies because the girl (it's usually a girl) always manages to get the guy/job no matter how silly, stupid, helpless, lost, confused, marginalized, broke, ill-educated or abused she is. Even if that means walking out on the guy/job, the girl always wins in the end. No matter how slim the odds. I think essentially that's what we love about rom-coms. They make us believe ...

Sigh ... believing ... now that's a healthy addiction.

Here's the heartbreaking and hilarious video for Let The River Run. Prepare for a grin ... and maybe even a couple goosebumps.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Brain Pickings

Am battling a bit of a cold right now. Thought I kicked it but they're not making bugs like they used to. (It might take that old home remedy of a few drinks and a long sleep to finish this one off. Haven't tried it yet and it always seems to work. Plus it makes things more pleasant. ;)

In the meantime, if you haven't already discovered it, head on over to Brain Pickings. Maria Popova is the curator of this cache of 'interestineness'  about art, life, books, science, creativity and everything in between. It's not about drinking, per se. But there's more to life than booze, right?

Riiiiiiight.

Ms. Popova grew up behind the Iron Curtain and it seems to give her a unique perspective on disposable consumerism, even when it comes to information. Instead of using ultra-contemporary sources, she's just as likely to cull her curiosities from old library books in the public domain.

She now lives in NYC writing two blog posts and about 50 tweets a day so if you're not into children's books (her most current post), something new will be along any moment. She exists on donations and subscriptions so the giving spirit is welcome. Then cancel everything you have for the day - cuz you're not going anywhere for a while.

By the way, Ms. Popova is also an MIT fellow at only twenty-eight and if I had the brain capacity, that's all I'd do today. Instead I'm going to watch crappy movies and O.D. on O.J. And possibly pickle myself.

(If you want to learn more, she was in the Sunday Times last weekend.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Binge Jeans

Whether it was Gloria Vanderbilts back at Studio 54 in the 70s or a spankin' new pair of Sevens at Avenue (where Lindsay Lohan punched a fortune teller last weekend) don't we all have a favorite pair of party jeans? Turns out, the party gene goes way beyond our behinds ... right into our brains.

I suspected I had a party gene years ago. Though I had no idea modern science would prove me right by polling teenage boys.

As reported in the Ups and Downs post a few days ago, there's a real difference between the way certain people handle alcohol compared with others. And now the brainiacs at Kings College London have found the 'culprit gene' that's probably responsible for why some of us party our heads off when we start drinking and others just sip Kahlua with our grandmothers on Christmas Eve.

It's called the RASGRF-2 (couldn't scientists use a catchy-name department?) and was isolated after scanning the brains of 663 teenage boys. Subjects who had the R2D2 (sic) showed a heightened dopamine response in their noggins. Remember, if neurotransmitters had faces, dopamine would be a big smiley one :) because it's responsible for feelings of reward and well-being.

The boys were fourteen when the study was conducted and two years later - when the rascals had a chance to pilfer mom & dad's liquor cabinet - the ones who showed evidence of this gene were far more likely to be drinking alcohol and even binging.

For better or worse, it makes a lot of sense. As humans we tend to seek things out that make us happy (notwithstanding stupid relationships, crummy jobs and $1.99 all-you-can-eat E. coli buffets). If we've got the R2D2 gene, chances are we're going to have an increased positive response to alcohol ... which will cause us to drink more than sober sods with boring, I mean, normal brains. ;) Don't mind me. Just jealous.

The scientists are quick to point out this was a small study with only a certain control group and the theory needs more research. Totally agree! If you need middle-aged women with the party gene, I'm happy to help out in any way I can.

oh, btw ... drinks are free right?

Read the whole article here, compliments BBC News.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Off Switch

So I'm sitting there in a chain-type restaurant waiting for the hubs to show up after work so we can do some Christmas shopping.

I have several minutes to wait so I order a 9 oz glass of pinot grigio. I put my glasses on and, feeling very studious and celebratory at the same time, I start reading the book Drinking Diaries based on the popular women-and-drinking blog.

I read about one young girl's plight trying to get drunk on a "dry" university campus (they actually have those? Not where I grew up!). And I read about one woman who seemed to remember every glamourous drink she'd ever had and how much her life changed after her husband quit. How their friends abandoned them. How people seemed uncomfortable around him. Nobody likes to talk about drinking problems except people in A.A. ... and me, I guess.

Anyway, I sat there, sipping my vino, feeling as if I was half accomplishing something because I was reading blog-related material ... instead of say, news about Kate Middleton's pregnancy. (btw here's a cool look at the many UK newspapers that trumpeted the royal news on their front pages. It's like Kate wallpaper!)

The hubs showed up a few minutes later. Neither of us were hungry. Besides, the fishy scent in this unnamed restaurant didn't exactly whet the appetite. So I finished my big glass of wine in a relative hurry and off we went to do some shopping.

Did not score.

So we were home earlier than expected and still weren't hungry. I poured another generous glass of wine. Without any food in my tummy and on two big glasses of wine, I started getting a little tipsy. The hubs commented on it at one point, calling me "all muddled because I was drunk."

There's nothing a drunk hates more than someone who calls them on their drunkenness. This is just the sort of thing that would send me into a drunken rage ten or fifteen years ago. It wouldn't end until all the wine was gone and the plaster around the bedroom door needed filling for all the angry slamming. Don't get me wrong, it's not as if I was flattered by the comment ... but I wasn't enraged either.

Instead, I kind of shrugged to myself. Yeah, he was right. I was kind of drunk. So, after dinner, instead of having another glass, I poured myself some water with a big wedge of lemon. But the hubs was surprised, looking at my glass."Aren't you going to have another drink?"

"I've had enough," I told him, feeling quite sure of that. Sweet of you to ask, though. That's another big change from the old days. 

So I sipped my water and was totally fine. Not angry, not bitter, not feeling ripped off. In fact, more wine would've probably put me over the edge and I wouldn't have been able to enjoy myself at all. We settled in for some chatting and TV and then afterwards, the hubs actually poured me a glass of red wine and set it in the living room for me. But you know what? I barely touched a drop of that, either. I had a relaxing night and woke up feeling clear-headed and healthy this morning.

I actually do have an 'off-switch' now. I don't have to drink and drink and drink until I drop. And if I'm in the mood to listen, I can just reach out and click ... switch that switch right off. Caroline Knapp talked about that "internal alarm" in her groundbreaking memoir Drinking: A Love Story.

I remember ten years ago, when I read the book for the first time, knowing exactly what she was talking about. How she was envious of people who could just 'stop' before they went too far. I was in Knapp's position before I started cleansing, too. I couldn't really stop ... But now, I'm grateful to know I  finally have an 'off-switch.' Something that was sorely missing from the walls of my psyche most of my life.

I don't always use the off-switch of course ... :) But the point is, I can. And on a Monday night, that's usually a good idea.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hangovers 101

Found a great YouTube channel called asapSCIENCE with quirky, cool animations for everything from the power of naps to why sea levels are rising. The ones that were most interesting to Ms. Functional on a Monday morning were What Causes A Hangover? and A Scientific Hangover Cure which has almost 700,000 hits. Meaning ... there should be 3/4 of a million fewer hangovers in the world.

No hangover this morning, btw! It's been a while since I've wanted to torture my brain that badly. But just in case you had a little too much fun on the weekend, the folks at asapSCIENCE might be able to help out. Besides, it's just the sort of thing we need as the party season begins ...

Happy December!

(And yes, aspirin is part of the plan ...)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ups and Downs

In light of Lindsay Lohan's latest drunken escapades - punching a woman in the face at a New York club on Thursday - I want to talk about boundaries.

You can love your alcohol ... just don't LOVE your alcohol. Know what I mean?

But for some of us, there might not be a choice. The Telegraph is reporting that there's actually a big difference between the way some people handle alcohol when it comes to our moods. (Like we needed a study to tell us this?!)

Alcohol has both stimulating and depressive effects and we don't all respond to it the same way. For some of us, drinking makes us happy. And for others, it makes us depressed. And for those of us who find alcohol stimulating and fun (check, check) ... there's a much greater chance of developing a problem. (Assuming of course this refers to early-on drinking enjoyment. Because once addiction sets in, depression is the norm.)

The study by the University of Chicago followed 200 people. They were divided between heavy and light drinkers. Light drinkers were people who had between one and five drinks every week. And heavy drinkers were those who chugged back 10-40 drinks a week (whoa!) with at least one 'binge.' I've always been under the impression that binging was five drinks on one occasion. But in this case, it's defined as having five drinks in less than two hours ... sort of like my wine-soaked lunch date this week.  (Kidding!! Or at least half kidding ... ;) You do the math.)

In the study, everyone was given three drinks that were flavored similarly. One had a low alcohol content, the second a high alcohol content and the third was a placebo containing no alcohol at all. The subjects weren't even told that this was a study about drinking.

After enjoying these free refreshments in the name of science, all subjects were asked to rate their moods.

The light drinkers reported that they felt "sedated" and "sluggish." The heavy drinkers on the other hand ... reported feeling "positive" and "rewarded" (in layman's terms 'Yay! Another please ... hic!')

The findings suggest those of us who don't find alcohol pleasurable are much more likely to become dependent on it. Go figure.

Researchers aren't exactly sure what contributes to these differences, but I'll take a wild guess. Pleasure receptors. According to The Chemical Carousel, the award-winning book by Dirk Hanson, some humans - and even certain primates - have evolved with pleasure receptors that are so sensitive to alcohol, at least some form of dependence is almost inevitable.

I'm definitely in the big-time pleasure receptor human/primate category. Which is why I've had to learn to adapt my lifestyle to drinking patterns that help control the mysterious and powerful relationship between brains and booze.

Having said that, Happy Friday! Enjoy!

Sources:
The Telegraph article about moods and drinking
The Chemical Carousel by Dirk Hanson
A play-by-play of Lindsay Lohan's latest brain chemistry experiments ...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Yikes.

An alcohol addiction counsellor in California has been charged with drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter after hitting a man ... and then driving two miles with him crashed into her windshield. People had to circle the car to stop her. Apparently, she was confused and in shock. Not to mention wasted.

The driver had a BAC of twice the legal limit - despite the fact she'd been telling all her patients she'd been sober for years. It was the second time she'd been involved in a DUI accident in as many years. One of her clients is disheartened, wondering how he "can do it" if she can't. :(

In a bizarre twist of fate, the man's brother-in-law - a city worker in Torrance, CA - was called to the scene to set up barricades around the car and only when he was there did he realize he was related to the victim who, unfortunately, died of his injuries later in hospital.

I have real problems - obviously - with the efficacy of a lot of treatment programs. This isn't the first time an addiction counsellor has been arrested for killing someone after a 'relapse.' (I'll share a really horrible story at another time ...)

I honestly believe that in some cases telling a person they can never drink again is like signing a death warrant. Theirs or somebody else's. Not to paint all counsellors with the same brush. Knowing how I used to be, God knows most of them must be saints.

With that, I'm off for lunch with a friend ... that will definitely include a little vino.

I never got my driver's license, btw. Happy coincidence, I think.

More information about the story here.

Too much death this week!! Next time ... happy stories!! Bubbly stories!! Fun stories!! And safe stories ...

Monday, November 26, 2012

HBD MR. D!

Feelin' a bit under the weather but must say a cyber-toast to Ernie Coombs - or Mr. Dressup as he was better known. It's his 85th birthday today and Google.ca is honoring it by featuring his smiling mug on their homepage.

I worked with Mr. D back in the late 80s after I graduated from Rye High and got myself gainfully employed in the TV biz. He was one of the funniest, sweetest, nicest people I ever knew.

I'll never forget the first time I saw him in person. I was sitting in the reception area of the Children's TV Department at the CBC where I would spend the next couple years working as a clerk and production secretary. Maybe I was getting interviewed for the job or something because I remember being dressed up 80s style and sitting very straight to make a good impression. I was even sober (gasp!). I was already nervous to begin with ... but then I heard a voice.

It was my Daddy!!

Or at least my surrogate dad. Because I always felt Ernie reminded me of my father when I was little. Back then, we were living in a teeny village in Northern Ontario not even accessible my road. My pops was the dispatcher for the railroad and we lived in the train station. (Yes, there's a reason everyone in my family drank so much.) We only got two channels in those days - English and French CBC - and Mr. Dressup was the highlight of my morning on the old black and white TV.

The funny thing is, I was so young at the time that I thought because I could see Mr. Dressup, that he could see me, too. As if television wasn't a one-way technology, but more like a window that let you see both in and out. I always thought Mr. Dressup, Casey and Finnegan knew that I was there singing or drawing along or whatever. I believed that's the way TV worked.

So when I was sitting there in the reception area of Children's TV almost twenty years later and I heard Mr. Dressup's voice as he was coming into work, I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. I honestly don't think I've ever been more nervous. I was suddenly 4-years-old again - and somehow, I still had the feeling that Mr. Dressup could 'see' me through the TV. Meaning, he knew I had stopped watching him because I was a grown-up now. And the reason I was so nervous/scared is because I thought he'd feel badly because he'd recognize my face and realize that I'd abandoned his show. (I was self-centered even before the world of blogs, obvi.) But that's how much I loved Mr. Dressup as a kid. Even as a mostly-grown-up young lady looking for work in the Big-ish City, I was an absolute baby for Mr. D. When he came into the reception area, smiling at everyone - including me - he gave no indication of ill will. But I don't think I could talk for a week.

(By the way, I should mention that Ernie Coombs was actually born in Maine - and was an understudy to Fred Rogers. Yes, that Mr. Rogers. They came to Canada in the 60s to do an original version of Misterogers - the original title of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Ernie loved it so much that when Mr. R went back to his 'neighborhood' on PBS, Ernie stayed at the CBC and eventually became Mr. Dressup.)

Anyway, back in the late 80s, I ended up having to do odd jobs on Mr. Dressup and was often there for the tapings. (Believe it or not, for anyone who watched the show, that zany piano theme music was played LIVE every time!)

I was also there for the office parties. ;)

I remember talking to him at a Christmas party my first year there. Natch, I was tipsy and natch I took the opportunity to let Mr. D know just how much he meant to me when I was growing up. His calm manner (my own dad had a temper best left for sadder blogs), sweet voice, stories, crafts and ideals helped form me as a person.

And it's one of the reasons I'm just so sweet today. Blink, blink. ;)

Anyway, so I'm sitting there at this Christmas party, a bit toasted as girls fresh out of university can get at their first professional party and - being as damn cute as I was back then - Mr. D always had time to talk to me. Not that he was ever inappropriate!! Oh my God! Don't be a sick-o!! Oh man. Casey on the other hand ... whoa. What a whacko nut-job puppet he was. Or she? ... I mean I worked there and I still wasn't sure if Casey was a girl or a boy for years. (P.S. He's a boy.)

Annnnnnyyway ... so at that party, Ernie did this thing that he did every time afterwards ... because it made me laugh so much. We were talking and suddenly he took off his glasses (yep, he wore glasses and looked/acted just like Mr. D all the time) as if he was considering something as we spoke. He had a very serious look on his face, gesturing with his eyeglasses as he told this story. Then he went to put his glasses back on and, without missing a beat, he jabbed one of the arms straight into his eye! He cried out in mock pain, buckled forward, holding his eye and blinking comically.

And of course, the first (ten) times he did it, I'd be worried for him. "Mr. Dress - I mean, Ernie ... Are you okay?" Then he'd just give me a big smile. He was so damn good at this little game that he got me every time. It made me laugh so much. I've never forgotten it.

Sadly, Mr. D passed away in 2001 and you can watch CBC's  sweet coverage of here. Lots of trips down memory lane for fans ...

If you love Mr. Dressup or don't want another reason to get depressed on a Monday, you can stop reading now.

I can never think about Ernie without thinking about a really sad story.

I'm warning you ...

Back then I did some after hours work for one of the unit managers of the department - the legendary Mr. Peter Tiedemann. He used to hire me to type the minutes from the management meetings for extra coin. Considering I was already very depressed 24/7, scared about the future, and drinking very heavily, these little afterwork projects made me feel responsible and 'good.' And a girl had to stay in boxed wine and Jacob clothes, after all.

It was a Thursday night I believe. I was working late on these minutes and Mr. T was getting ready to leave. He and his wife were meeting the Coombses at a restaurant for a nice dinner. Being Mr. D's unit manager, he was very close to Ernie and the couples were good friends.  I don't know if I overheard this part or if Mr. T told me, but I remember learning that Mr. D and Mr. T's wife were already at the restaurant and that Ernie's wife had not made it yet. They were waiting for her. Mr. T hurried out of the department and I wished him a nice dinner. As I finished my work alone on the floor, I remember thinking how nice it was that they were such good friends ...

The next day we learned the news. Ernie's wife had been doing some last minute shopping (as I remember it) and was on the sidewalk outside the store when a drunk driver jumped the curb and rammed right into her, killing her on the spot. It was so awful. Such a terrible and unfair thing to happen to such a wonderful man.

I don't remember Mr. D doing that joke with his eyeglasses for me ever again. He continued to tape the show for a few years, but it seemed the light had gone out of him ... just a little bit.

(I warned you, right?)

No reason for tears though. Remember, Mr. and Mrs. Dressup are up there in the big Tickle Trunk in the sky, playing with all those great toys and drinking lemonade and telling each other jokes and laughing and laughing ...

Bless you, Mr. D...
With much love from me and all the kids you helped raise,
xoxoxoxo

More about the show here.
Google's charming tribute page here.
Mothers Against Drunk Drivers

Author's Note: I can't find any information about the fact that Marlene (Lynne) Coombs was killed by a drunk driver - only an "out-of-control car." Though if memory serves ... and it sometimes does ...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Crying Out Now

The Booze-Free Brigade is a group of women who organize and contribute to a website called CryingOutNow.com.

Like DrinkingDiaries.com and Don't Get Drunk Friday on Stephanie Wilder-Taylor's blog, Crying Out Now is a wonderful forum for women to share stories about sobriety, recovery, relapses, shame, fear, guilt, and all the other wonderful goodies addiction brings to us. I tried sharing my story with them, but haven't heard back yet.

I realize that most people in recovery will look at what I'm doing and call it major rationalization for continuing my problem. That it's basic denial. Even dangerous.

But I can't help but continue working on it because I know how much regular cleansing has helped me. Things aren't perfect - I'm not sure they'll ever be. But I do know a few truths: I'm not running out to the wine store first thing in the morning. I'm not hiding bottles under the kitchen sink (and everywhere else). I'm not toting wine in my purse every time I go out so I can sneak it during bathroom breaks. And I'm not getting into vicious fights with my husband three times a week.

I also know that I'm not as terrified and depressed as I was in the old days. And that's the most important thing of all. So - for me - this plan is working because it's improved my life on so many levels. Even if I didn't feel I had to cleanse regularly, I wouldn't give it up because I find it such a fulfilling part of my health routine.

But back to Crying Out Now. According to the website, part of their mission is to help end the shame and stigma of addiction. I'm trying to do that, too, by talking openly and honestly about my own situation. I'm not ashamed of how I used to be - not anymore. I guess because I'm so much better. But I am ashamed of many of the things I did. (Including that moronic romp that I wrote about last week that I have since deleted from the post. Here's a newsflash: blackouts should sometimes be left that way. ;))

Having said that, I do want to be as honest as I can. And I can honestly say that for all the ways this plan flies in the face of traditional recovery methods, my life is better than it used to be. But I still drink. Period. And that was my goal when I set out to improve my condition - to be free of the problems of addiction without quitting forever.

The reason I share my story is because ten years ago when I was looking for a way out, everything seemed so clinical and/or self-righteous. So I was forced to create my own escape plan. And it's worked for me. I really hope that some day it can work for other people, too. And that's why I continue to write about it.

I know abstinence programs are a godsend for many people and that these people also feel happier and healthier now that they're free of addiction. btw ... that's what's really addictive: getting free of addiction.

For a taste of the true joy that this freedom has brought to many women, you have to check out the 3 1/2 Year Anniversary Video for Crying Out Now. It's full of beautiful women with beautiful messages. And the song is absolutely gorgeous!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Survival Rates

Here's one that should get teetotalers riled up.

A study at the Chicago School of Public Health has recently found that the chances of surviving an accident or severe trauma almost double ... if you're drunk.

The researchers at the University of Illinois are quick to say this doesn't mean you should drink more! Because, frankly, drunk people are more likely to injure themselves in the first place.

Having said that, the study involved almost 200,000 patients over fifteen years and the findings were fairly conclusive. They tested the blood alcohol content of all these patients and it ranged from zero to 0.5. It seemed the more drunk a patient was, the less likely they were to die from their injuries.

To get an idea of what these rates mean, the legal driving limit is 0.08. Amy Winehouse had a BAC of 0.4 - which resulted in her death by alcohol poisoning. (Blood alcohol content rates measure the amount of ethanol in a person's blood. A level of .5 would mean that .5% or one-fifth of one percent, is alcohol.)

Everyone involved is scratching their heads. They don't understand the strange mechanism behind this pattern and suggest more research is needed. What they'd really like to do is find a synthetic drug that could mimic these protective qualities of alcohol on accident survival rates ... without actually having to serve martinis to people when they hit the E.R.

Do you think it's possible that drunk people don't know how injured they are? And so they're more likely to survive a bad trauma ... Hmmmm ...

The hubs thinks it's because we're less inhibited overall - physically and mentally we're 'looser' when we're drunk, and probably less resistant to the actual injury and then treatment itself.

Whatever the case, stay safe! Don't drink and drive anyway!

(Or boat/ski/skydive, etc.)

Sources:
The article here
BAC - Wikipedia
More about Amy's tragedy here

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

N/A

They drink a lot on The Good Wife, don't they? They're always going for drinks after work, shots usually. Alicia always pours a glass of red wine when she gets home. There was a whole scene based around this wine they were drinking that was $180 a glass. Um ... yum.

There was a even an alcoholic judge on the show this week. Judd Hirsch played a magistrate who fell off the wagon after years in A.A. They subpoena his sponsor to testify that he hadn't been going to meetings. Apparently, although A.A. is anonymous, it's not legally binding - as it is, say, with doctor/patient privilege, so the woman had to testify.

(But there was a bit of a gaff. His sponsor was a female and that's usually not the practice. They like to keep sponsors same sex.)

Speaking of A.A. ... I was walking down the street and passed a group of young girls in their early twenties. They were all fresh-faced and cute looking. I was expecting to hear them talking about Bieber or an English Lit course or something. But no ... they were talking about N.A. Narcotics Anonymous. The cutest one was saying: "I hate going to N.A. meetings during the day. They're all men."

Another one: "Yah, it's way better at night." 

Their voices were so sweet and unself-conscious. Like they were talking about a pop star or homework. I tried to picture all these recovering young drug addicts - barely out of braces - meeting BFFs at NA. Bizarre sign of the times ...

btw N.A. was founded in California in 1953 and originally called AA/NA. When AA allowed NA to start formally using its 12 steps, the organization became known simply as Narcotics Anonymous. They published "The Little Brown Book" - an offshoot of A.A.'s "Big Book" and today there are almost 60,000 meetings in 131 countries ... Presumably where lots of young girls are meeting their future BFFs and staying clean ...

Sources:

Monday, November 19, 2012

FORGIVN

After that last morally questionable post, I'm happy to report I was actually in church yesterday. Our niece was getting baptized and we had the honor of becoming her godparents.

It was a lovely little church, sunlight streaming in through stained glass windows, the pews full of happy, smiling people. Our little niece has just learned to walk and she doesn't like to keep still, so she was crawling off her mom's lap to go sit on the altar as the pastor spoke. Back and forth, back and forth like this. The pastor didn't seem to mind, nobody did. She was just so damn cute.

But it was also a bit frustrating for her parents - as these things can be - and after much patience on both their parts, a slightly harsh word got traded between them. I watched them, wondering if it would turn into a (quiet) argument right there in the front pew.

Instead, Mom and Dad looked at each other. A moment went by and then ... they just smiled at each other. Really smiled. And the heated moment evaporated in an instant. I saw it happen in front of my eyes.

Maybe it was being in church. Maybe it's that my sister-in-law is a family therapist and knows how to handle family tiffs. Because it was the kind of thing that could happen to any couple - and end up turning into four hours of grumbling and resentment. I loved seeing the forgiveness happen so quickly.

Forgiveness is something I've had a lot of experience with over the years. Because I've had to learn to forgive myself for the things I did when I got drunk in the old days. It's a long, hard lesson. I'm not sure it ever ends.

One time in particular comes to mind. In the summer of 2004 - a full year after I started my first six-month cleanse (and before I had 'perfected' my plan) - I got too drunk and blacked out. I woke up in the morning with that horrible familiar feeling. The dread, the guilt, the shame. I wondered what fight I might've started with my husband ... because that's always what happened when I blacked out. But my life had already started to change ...

Here's a journal entry from that weekend ... (I've put contemporary comments in parentheses.)

June 7, 2004

The weekend was part disaster as somehow I managed to get blotto drunk on Saturday night. I say somehow because I mean somehow. I didn't intend it. But I just remember looking at a fat glass of chardonnay before dinner ... and there are just snippets after that. I felt like shit the next morning and was devastated. But Mark wasn't angry for some reason. He said it's not the same as it used to be. "The zombie is dead." 

(In the old days, that's how he described it. I was a total zombie when I drank. Completely out of control of my own thoughts and actions. But after just one six-month cleanse, my reaction to alcohol had already started to change. I felt I had more power over it - and it didn't control me anymore. Consequently, I had already become less defensive about my drinking. So instead of getting depressed or angry, I stayed in a good mood the whole night. Apparently, anyway.)

Still, I was so upset with myself. Since it was such a wallowing surprise, I've been trying to reconcile it to my new attitude of searching for the positive in everything. I realized ... the one thing I can't stand about myself ... well, one of the things ... is my drinking. It's probably the one thing I could do this weekend to throw me off the rails. And there I was. I did it. 

When we went out to run errands that afternoon, I was still in a guilty funk, trying to find the "lesson" in this huge mistake. Strangely, we pulled in behind an old van with a personalized license plate: It read FORGIVN.

We drove behind this van for a long time. Turning corners. Climbing hills. FORGIVN. FORGIVN. It almost felt like a message ... FORGIVN. And then it came to me ...

In order to be truly happy, in order to truly love yourself, you have to know how to forgive yourself. That is so important. Forgive yourself for your mistakes. There is a power to forgiveness that even the world's oldest religions understand. You cannot love yourself without the ability to forgive yourself completely. So I've done that. 

Well ... 99%. 

Despite the fact I hadn't gone into a rage that night, I knew I wasn't out of the woods yet. So that very summer, I took my first month-long cleanse. Then again about five months later. I've been taking two months off a year from drinking - and at least two days a week - ever since (all this long before I ever thought I'd share my plan). And - to tell you the truth - it's not very often that I have to forgive myself anymore. At least not for drinking ... ;) 

Here are some thoughts about 'forgiveness' from a book called The New Dictionary of Thoughts: A Cyclopedia of Quotations. Only it's not 'new' - it was published in 1954 by the Standard Book Company and it's dusty salmon-covered cover is faded and almost falling off. The pages are yellowed and full of Post-it's and notes from me. It's a fabulous - if dated - resource. 

It used to be my mother's book. Inside the front cover is her girlish handwriting. Her maiden name and her old address at home before she got married. She also wrote: I remember paying $10 for this book - so hang onto it.  

I used an inflation calculator - ten bucks works out to $85.92 today. She was a single girl working as a legal secretary. She must've really wanted that book to pay so much for it!

It makes me wonder where she was in her life back then. A lot of the book has religious overtones to it. Was that important to her? And what about her drinking? She was only twenty at the time, but over the next two decades, alcohol would begin to wreak havoc on her life. And mine. Speaking of forgiveness, I have forgiven her ... and I hope she has me for my drunken tirades against her. We're both alive and well and our relationship is the best it's been in years ...)

So with the idea of forgiveness in mind, here are some quotations from that old book (now available used from Amazon for about twenty-five bucks. Not a very good investment money-wise. But still a charming resource!)

To err is human, to forgive, divine. 
Alexander Pope 1688-1744 (English Poet)

His heart was as great as the world, but there was no room in it to hold the memory of a wrong.
Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882

Only the brave know how to forgive; it is the most refined and generous pitch of virtue human nature can arrive at. 
Lawrence Sterne 1713-1768 (Anglo-Irish novelist and clergyman)

To be able to bear provocation is an argument of great reason, and to forgive it of a great mind. 
John Tillotson 1630-1694 (Archbishop of Canterbury)

He who has not forgiven an enemy has never yet tasted one of the most sublime enjoyments of life. 
John Caspar Lavater 1741-1801(Swiss poet)

Who from crimes would pardoned be, in mercy should set others free. 
William Shakespeare 1564-1616 

We forgive too little; forget too much. 
Sophie Swetchine 1782-1857 (Russian mystic and intellectual)

Sources:

Friday, November 16, 2012

High IQ Anxiety

Everyone from Medical News Today to the Calgary Herald are filing reports on the latest news for pregnant women. Even moderate drinking can lower a child's IQ by two points. That may not seem like a lot ... but tell that to an eight-year-old trying to get out of a PS3 glitch.

This after much recent information about the fact that moderate drinking has been found to be safe for pregnant women - mostly notably by several studies out of Denmark. (This is where they leave their strollers on the street btw and nobody steals either carriage or kid! Saw that on the Oprah show, God rest its soul.) 

There's so much information on this new IQ study that I can't even find the research that backs up moderate drinking is 'okay' for pregnant women. But I've had to look it up - because the majority of women I know actually do drink moderately during pregnancy - and some of them are even proud of it. Only two women I know completely abstained - and one of them had a head start because she was already in A.A.

Now, of course, these are people I know, and I'm Ms. Functional, so keep that in mind. 

It sort of freaks me out. I've got baby pictures of all the women around us drinking while pregnant. Cigarettes in one hand. Lowballs in the other. Tom Jones on the turntable. Thighs bare under miniskirts. How many of us in older generations are suffering from lower IQs because our mothers didn't know it wasn't a good idea to get plastered while preggers? I mean, if we had this information before, maybe we could all be smart enough to get into Harvard - where the average IQ is 130. (The average human is 100.)

But that don't mean Harvard students don't know how to partaaaaay!! On our tour of New England we stopped in Cambridge - across the Charles River from Boston - to check out the hallowed halls of Harvard University. Founded in 1636, it's the oldest institute of higher education in the U.S. - and one of the most revered schools in the world. And what we learned is that although they don't seem to get as publicly 'schmacked' as kids at some universities, posting their parties on YouTube, they still know how to have a good time. 

We were there the Sunday before Columbus Day. Many of the streets were closed to traffic and there were bands playing everywhere. Set-up ones with stages and amplifiers ... and impromptu ones where students had dragged out the trumpets/drums/guitars/fiddles, etc. that their parents insisted they learn to play so they could be well-rounded and get into Harvard someday.

What a scene.  

The music was sort of New Orleans/Dixieland Jazz. Sometimes slow and mournful, sometimes raucous and rowdy. Everyone seemed to be in a trance, many of them in costumes that must mean something only to people with an IQ of 130. 

The hubs and I were hankering for some refreshments so we stopped in a cozy-looking bar/resto called The Red House - which was actually a big red brick house. We ordered a plank of oysters and I had - surprise! - vino bianco of some kind. The lights were low, the bar tables were high and the place was packed. It was still near the beginning of the school year so everything seemed new and fun and full of possibility. (But maybe at Harvard, that feeling doesn't end after the first term ...) 

The privilege, the pride and the plain old joy that these kids (and many professors!) exhibited was fascinating. There was a young couple by the window. She had serious long dark hair, half-pulled back in a barette (the smart girl's fancy 'do). The young man was a pale skinny lad. They hung on each other's words, drinking beer, leaning slightly across the table toward each other. They didn't even look away from each other's eyes. 

Outside on the street the music stopped and started ... and when it stopped, the people would just rock slowly to a melancholic silence ... when it started again, they cheered and sang along. I have a friend whose hubby went to Harvard but we haven't been able to decipher what the celebration was. Possibly just being at Harvard ... 

(That's kind of a lame picture. But the camera was screwing up ... Just imagine a timeless scene of freedom and excess!)

It was nothing like the first weeks of school at Ryerson University (or Rye High as it's affectionately known) where I stumbled around in my youth. Every year, Ryerson has a sort of frosh-week parade through the streets of Toronto. I remember being on our float (really just a flatbed truck with a bunch of drunk kids on it) and looking up at the windows of all the office towers and seeing the business people looking down at us. Ha ha, I though, suckahs!! (I was one of those suckahs a few years later looking down at the parade ... sigh.) 

Anyway, all the students took ferries to Toronto Island for the annual Island Picnic. I got sooooo wasted. Oh. My. God. I was much much too crazy back then. At one point I remember being in a garbage can and having to knock it over and roll it around to get out of it. There wasn't a lot of garbage in it, but still. I have no idea how I got into a garbage can ... Bet that doesn't happen to Harvard girls ... 

Eliot House Clock Tower at Harvard ... 



Sources:
How To Get Schmacked At University  Virginia, anyway.
Harvard 101
Moderate Drinking Unsafe for Pregnant Women - Calgary Herald
Ryerson Picnic. Now called Week of Welcome!
The Red House  in Cambridge. Cozy and cool.
Harvard IQ Article from The Harvard Gazette


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nitrogen On Ice

So an 18-year-old British girl is recovering from having her stomach surgically removed after enjoying an unusual birthday drink. A Jagermeister cocktail laced with liquid nitrogen.

I'm no stranger to nitrogen. Though I can't recall drinking it with alcohol (plain old Jagermeister was enough for us back then), I did work with it as a chemistry demonstrationist at the science center in my hometown. I was "Naughty Nina and her Nitrogen."

I did mostly harmless things with it, like freezing roses by dipping them into a container of N (the chemical symbol for nitrogen) in its liquid form. The rose would freeze instantly and then I could smash it like a crystal glass to the oo's and aw's of the rapt audience. I also did strange things to balloons: the air inside them would shrink after being exposed to the cold ... then magically expand again once the balloon was removed and the air warmed up. Not so many oo's for that one. More like ooooh, okay's.

Of course, my lab partners - the evil genius and the comedian - had other experiments in mind. Using liquid nitrogen, they tried reanimating dead tissue with a laboratory mouse. Um ... I won't get into the details, but suffice it to say Dr. Frankenstein and/or PETA would not have been impressed.

Nitrogen is colorless, odorless and mostly inert - meaning it's not volatile or reactive. Unlike hydrogen let's say, it won't explode when ignited. But it can freeze human tissue and - as we've learned, stomachs. Domestically, it's used in everything from ice cream making to concert fog machines and, occasionally, drinks.

As harmless as it is, the tendrils of gas as the liquid evaporates look very dangerous. I remember the boys picking me up for work that summer and in the back of the truck there'd be this big dewar (an enormous metal keg) overflowing with burbles and smoke. It was completely safe, but it looked ready to usher in WWIII. The worried look my mother would get on her face when she'd see me off in the morning was priceless. It almost made up for all the nasty drunks she took out on me as a kid.

Almost.

Anyway, the girl who lost her tummy is Gaby Scanlon. She had two nitrogen cocktails on her 18th birthday and minutes later started complaining of severe stomach pain. The bartender had told her the N might give her a gassy feeling, but he neglected to mention, oh ...  the goddamn hole she'd get in her stomach!! 

Because one can't actually consume nitrogen. It's waaaaay too cold (−196 °C or −321 °F). It will instantly freeze anything it touches. Having personally witnessed what it does to roses (and mice) I'd say the safest thing to do is just use friggin' ice in your drinks ... or, for the theatrical, at least wait until the gas/smoke has dissipated before drinking. That way you know the N has evaporated - in the case of liquid - or dissolved completely, because solid nubs are sometimes used in drinks, too.

As for Gaby, she's incensed at an industry aiming these possibly dangerous drinks at young folk. Her life is different now. Her esophagus has been connected straight to her small intestine. Apparently, she'll never feel hunger again. She'll have to take vitamin supplements (certain nutrients are absorbed by the stomach, not the gut) and eat smaller meals, but otherwise digestion should be normal. (I imagine - normal-ish would be a better way for people with actual stomachs to define it.)

Hmmmm ... I wonder if this is what's behind all those 'lose 5 inches of belly fat' ads that pop up everywhere. "Have a nitrogen cocktail! Lose the stomach ... and the inches just melt away!"

Sources:

Read more about Nitro Girl's Nightmare
Or Nitro-Geek 101 at Wikipedia.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Brush With Who?

This is going to be my first non-drinking day since going off the cleanse - and I'm ready for it. The weekend was ... awesome! But I didn't over-indulge. No hangovers. No problems. Just a lot of fun!!

We were able to toast the hubby's new job. We were able to toast the first party weekend after the cleanse. We toasted Uncle Eddie, a WWII vet who died right around Remembrance/Veteran's Day two years ago. And we toasted a record-breaking high temperature yesterday (it was almost summery). Hell, we practically toasted toasting.

Then last night we dashed out into a suddenly cool drizzle, down the street for Indian food - our first real dinner out since before the cleanse.

Even though it was almost 10, the resto was quite busy. We sat in our favorite table for two. Another empty table separated us from two men chatting quietly with each other on my right. I immediately noticed that the smaller man was kind of artsy looking. He had a sort of hip/humble slouch to his shoulders. In the next instant, I recognized him. "Is that Gary Oldman?" I asked the hubs.

(I was impressed with myself for recognizing him so quickly. It's not so much that Mr. Oldman is an obscure actor ... as he is a brilliant one who disappears into his roles completely. Making him waaaay harder to place than, say ... John Travolta ...?)

The hubs tried to act casual, kind of stretching his arms up and glancing over his shoulder - sort of like a guy trying to put his arm around a  new girlfriend at a flick.

Then he's like, "Yup. That's him, alright."

I started to get excited. I know Oldman's better known for his role as Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight series. He also plays Sirius Black in the Harry Potter flicks. He's so prolific, I sincerely don't have the energy to count - let alone list - all the movies he's been in.

But I'll always remember him most for playing Drexl Spivey in the Tarantino flick True Romance. This sexy thriller was one of the first movies the hubs and I ever went to way back in the fall of 1993 (speaking of sneaking an arm around a girl, the hubs corralled me into an empty storefront afterwards where we engaged in a long and enthusiastic PDA). As for Oldman, he gave such an unforgettable performance as the nasty one-eyed drug dealer, that I still get chills thinking about him almost twenty years later.

Anyway, I always get a little self-conscious when I see celebrities. (Like when I saw what's-his-name - the Irish lad with a bad attitude - it'll come to me - jogging down Avenue Road last year. Man he was tiny!) I get anxious about it because I know actors say they like working in Toronto because people don't bother them. They can just walk around like normal folks. That's refreshing for famous people, apparently. To feel normal.

But then I think to myself ... but they're celebrities! They're just saying that so we won't think they're vain! Won't it depress them when nobody recognizes them? I mean, isn't that the point of getting famous?! I just think it's rude to not bug celebrities when you see them. So I was really hankering for an autograph or a little nod of the head to Gary, at least.

"You're not gonna say anything, are you?" the hubs asked.

"Who me?" I said. "Nahhhhh."

Meanwhile, the tables on the other side of us started to fill with old ladies. It was after 10pm, but there they were, straggling in, all wearing funky spectacles of different shades, all with different kinds of old lady hair. Four of them altogether, they looked bright and spry, probably retired professors from U of T out for some intellectual discussion and/or curry.

Of course, I was more interested in eavesdropping on Oldman and his dinner companion - someone who appeared to be an agent or producer type. Meaning he was sort of loud and overbearing - at least compared to the mild-mannered thespian who was very softspoken and had the plummiest English accent I've heard outside of Downtown Abbey. 

I couldn't really hear them, especially because the whole time, this table of old ladies on the other side kept getting bigger and bigger. And bigger!! Finally, groups of younger women - girls, really, students - started coming in to join them. The waiters just kept adding more and more tables to accommodate the expanding gang. Meaning they just kept getting closer and closer to us. At one point, one girl's ass even swiped right across the hubs' basket of naan bread. By the time it had all settled down, there were at least 20 women having dinner together and the ones on the end were practically in each other's laps.

And ours.

It was clear that the polite thing to do would be to give up our table - and move to the empty one ... which just happened to be beside Mr. Oldman's. I kept putting up my hand to get the waiter's attention. "Hey, we'll just switch!" kind of thing, but the hubs knew I was probably planning a celeb ambush, so he kept saying, "Wait till they ask! Wait till they ask!"

Well, they finally did ask. But rather than switching all our food, they just slipped the empty table out of its slot and then pushed our table down ... right beside Gary's. I was better able to hear the conversation ... though it was the producer type who did most of the talking, natch. All I could really glean from Gary was that he found the food "almost too spicy" - which it was. My tongue was on fire and the hubs looked like he'd just had a hot shower by the end of it.

Anyway ... about these girls/women on our left. A table of twenty. It's after ten o'clock on a chilly, rainy night. They're arm's length from a fully-stocked bar ... everyone is of age - some of them by whole centuries. And yet nobody was drinking! There was one beer bottle waaaay at the other end of the table, but even the young girls ordered water.

I said to the hubs: "There's something you'd never catch me doing in university. Sitting down to a dry dinner with a bunch of professors. Um ... no thanks."

Back then, if there wasn't booze involved, I usually didn't show up for anything. And that included going to class very much. (It often helped that I was hungover in class, which when you're a kid is almost as good as being drunk.)

Anyway, our Indian dinner went by without incident. I didn't even ask for Spivey's autograph. Though I regret it. He's probably depressed nobody bugged him last night. He's probably on the phone with his fancy L.A. shrink right now lamenting how he's lost it.

"I mean I'm in fucking Canada f'crissakes and nobody bloody recognized me?! When can I kill myself? Or my agent?!"

A more interesting (or at least more booze-related) celeb sighting happened to me earlier this year. I saw Julianne Moore in my local liquor store. Yep. I'm a huge fan of Ms. Moore's and was happy to learn we must have a love of cheap wine in common. Because there she was - no makeup, her long coppery hair down and stringy - and partly graying - wearing drab clothes, not in the schmancy Vintages section where you'd expect to see an award-winning star, but in the cheap 10-bucks-or-less-a-bottle aisles. I don't know - maybe she was planning on going to the expensive section and was just marveling at the fact that - "gasp! Really? You can buy wine for 8 bucks?!" But who knows?

Unlike how she appears in film - ageless and stunning - Ms. Moore looked every year of her early fifties. It made me long for a world where we could all run around with Hollywood lighting and makeup artists at our beck and call because they sure do a hell of a good job at primping people up.

Anyway, I hauled out my iPhone to take a pic of her. I snuck in behind the Chilean section and held the phone up above a shelf. Her face was very pale and expressionless. She was looking down at the shelves, her eyes not even glancing up once. I strained to get a good angle of her, but then I felt a tug of regret.

I wouldn't want anyone snapping a picture of me shopping for wine by myself. Would I?

So I tucked the phone away and wondered ... How desperate do you have to be for a drink that you'll go shopping by yourself for a bottle of cheap wine? Without makeup? Or an entourage? When you're famous? I mean - don't people want to get famous so they can send people out to do things like that ...? 

Nope. See? Stars. They're just like us. ;)

They even look like us. Sometimes, anyway.

Sources:

Gary Oldman on IMDb
Ditto Julianne Moore
And while we're at it: The Irish lad with the attitude - Colin Farrell
For Ms. Moore's next solo shopping spree: a list of 16 of the best cheap wines!