Archive for September, 2014

Can You Judge a Restaurant by its Toilet?

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

I think you can, and you should. Attention to detail is a trait you’d like to have clearly in evidence at any eating establishment. Evidence that employees who care have recently used the facilities (including the hand washing) is reassuring and also part of how a restaurant can be judged. If the staff are ignoring trash and dirt and broken down plumbing in the bathroom, then they probably don’t care in other areas as well.

There should be hot water. The toilet has to flush. An overflowing trash can is a turnoff, as well as weird patched together piping and dirty areas.

Part of it is esthetics – the restroom is often the last place a patron will visit, and the state of the bathroom will be that last impression to take with them. A warm, interesting, comfortable, clean and even elegant bathroom means that someone is more likely to walk out the door feeling fully nourished.

The response to my reporting a malfunctioning toilet or other problem is also telling. The hostess or other employee agreeing that there is a problem and has been for a while is not at all reassuring. It is actually pretty distressing. Why hasn’t it been fixed, or labeled out of order? Especially if I just had to struggle with what someone else left, or panicking over a toilet about to overflow, or concern when repeated flushing isn’t working. If you knew that would happen why did you just make me confront it?

I’ve had to deal with clogged toilets, overflowing toilets, poorly flushing toilets, toilets where the chain is disconnected so the handle is floppy, gross toilets, wetness around toilets, and more all in the context of trying to enjoy some good food. I don’t want to go back to those restaurants, and I also tend to let other people know that the sanitary standards at that place are questionable, or assume they have poor plumbing which means my health is at risk.

And thanks to those restaurants who have made their bathrooms lovely. It matters.

Loud Music Interferes With Community Building

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

I’m frightened and also tired of being bombarded with loud music in restaurants, festivals, parties, and other places where people are gathered for more than just listening to music. Although even in concerts where everyone is there to hear great music, I usually whip out my ear plugs that I keep on my key chain. I’ve left plenty of events earlier than planned just because it is too hard to talk, I’m tired of yelling, or the loud music is just so uncomfortable. I also know that listening to any noise above 85 decibels for an extended period of time can cause permanent damage to my ears.
Amplified music has always been a part of your life if you are under under 60 or 70. The dangers of load noises has been known for decades, but we haven’t done nearly enough to make people aware of it or taken measures to protect our easily damaged ears. Almost 20% of middle aged Americans have some degree of hearing loss, and by age 75 the number is almost half. “Of the roughly 40 million Americans suffering from hearing loss, 10 million can be attributed to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).”

This is no small issue. This profound quote is attributed to Helen Keller:

“Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.”

Loud music in social settings cuts people off from being able to talk and interact comfortably. Too much noise makes it hard to be part of and support the building of community.

And then, exposure from noise and loud music (above 85 decibels) causes hearing loss, and even greater potential social isolation.

I recommend that everyone carry ear plugs at all times, and use them. Specialized versions are available that decrease sound, without distortion. They are inexpensive, under $15.

Get a decibel meter for your phone. I’ve been using dB Meter Pro for my Iphone and it works very well. There are also plenty of free apps.

Ask restaurants and other venues to turn down the music. Ask restaurant reviewers to give a rating for sound quality with their review. Use your smart phone meter, and if it’s too loud move or leave. And tell them why.

Consider buying stock in Costco (which has some of the best and cheapest hearing aids) or other hearing aid companies and those who make cochlear implants. Because this is an industry that is certain to grow as baby boomers raised on loud rock and roll grow older. I’m only guessing, but it seems like a reasonable projection.

I’m partially sensitive to this topic as I’ve watched my dad struggle with his profound level of hearing loss. It has caused him to be more isolated, and less willing to be with old friends and his family. His hearing loss makes communication more difficult when interacting with health care workers, law enforcement, and in other critical situations. He has recently published a short book to help others cope with hearing loss – “Adapting to Hearing Loss”. It is an inexpensive and practical guide from the perspective of someone directly affected. These are not the kind of tips an audiologist would give you.

Building community is important. Let’s turn down the volume so that it is easier and less stressful to connect. And so that we’ll be still able to share stories and words in the years to come.

I’m Going to Have to Learn to Spell Pescetarian

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Because I am one. A Pescetarian that is. Thirty some years of vegetarianism (including a two year stint of veganism that was ended with some freshly made garlic goat cheese) ended a few years ago actually. I woke up one Friday and my menopausal body cried out for fish oil. I wanted it. I knew the health benefits. I also had an identity to maintain. I was a vegetarian. But by the end of the day I was buying fish oil as I had no really good reason to say no to a need that I would describe as a physical demand. I tried it. I liked it. I felt and heard the cells of my body say “YES!! Thank you!!”

And then the urge expanded. Last year I visited Sweden, for a wonderful family reunion. It was a renewal of my heritage (father’s side) and a time to be open to the adventure of meeting new family, going new places, traveling far away with my sweetheart for the first time.

And I made a plan to honor that Swedish half of me by eating some Swedish fish.
first fish copy
We were on an island, Gotland Island, in the middle of the Baltic Sea. The restaurant was suggested by my cousin I had just met – actually a cousin is the easy description. Our common ancestor is my great grandfather on my dad’s mom’s side. I’m just happy to be related to such a great group of people.

We were in the medieval city of Visby. We were sitting outside, next to a medieval church, on the edge of a large and very old courtyard of cobblestone and the harbor was a few blocks away. They served us Baltic Herring on mashed potatoes, with a sprig of chive, a wedge of lemon.

When you crave a food, eating it may give a temporary satiation. It may be junk that provides some comfort or resonance with past childhood feelings and needs. It may be sugary and satisfying in an over the top but simple way. This fish was perfectly made, it was a flavor and freshness I had only experienced once before, more than 40 years ago when I had fish and chips around 4 pm in Eyemouth Scotland, just after the fishing boats came in. But I remembered, and my cells began a little dance, and this was the food my body wanted and was slowly figuring out how to taste and chew and swallow what felt luxurious and strange and oh so right.

And so it began.

In the last year I’ve been experimenting. I’ve been listening to those healthy cravings, I’ve been considering the strict dietary limitations that made up part of my identity. I’ve been questioning reasons and motives and choices. The other meat options remain outside the realm of what I would consider food for me. There is no sense of loss, no desire, no imagining what the taste might be. I have no interest, even more than that it just doesn’t seem like food and so is distasteful.

But the fish I’ve eaten is wonderful, and so strangely satisfying. I choose carefully, and I hope thoughtfully. Considering source and freshness and the different types of fish. That seems to matter a lot for taste as well as healthy options.

My body has changed so dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years. I’ve fought off a huge (ten pounds in the end) fibroid tumor twice – once by uterine artery embolization, and five years ago by having it removed entirely with my uterus. Then losing over 125 pounds, most of it after that surgery. 45% of me is gone. And of course menopause. Which is a very fundamental shift. I think the need for fish stems from that change, most of all.

A body that speaks loudly and clearly about what it needs is a great gift. Changing my perception of who I am, what I believe, and the fundamental day to day pleasure of eating healthy food has been a good thing. I feel more aware, more expansive, even excited about opening a whole dimension of food that I had kept closed off for more than half my life. And it has only been a year, not even 20 meals that included fish.

That meal of Baltic herring my never be matched again in my lifetime. But it is something to strive for. And my body’s wisdom is telling me that by eating fish I may live a bit longer and be able to have a few more opportunities for adventures that will be as welcome and as full.

My Imaginary Energy Protector Made of Magical Plexiglass

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Sometimes imaginary thinks work really well. This one has been part of my practice for over 30 years.

Wanting to help other people is a natural urge. We may also be able to trace it to an evolutionary trait – those who were good at being a tribe survived the normal stresses and dangers of life better than those who were more outliers. We also have found that you can increase levels of oxytocin (one of the brain’s wonderful feel good chemicals) by being kind and helpful. Ironically – or purposely – when you have more exposure to oxytocin it also makes you want to be more generous. So you can get into quite a self perpetuating cycle when you help other people.

When you’re in a “helping profession” it isn’t hard to get pulled in and empathize with someone else’s pain or troubles. If you do this a lot, it can lead to burnout, resentment, lower levels of functioning, and even taking on the pain or distress form other people. The idea that “I’ll do anything” to help another may be an occasionally good idea, but certainly not sustainable long term for most people.

I found early on that some clients just took it out of me. I’d be exhausted afterward, I’d have dreams about them, I would obsess about their problems and if I helped them. It wasn’t healthy and it wasn’t workable.

So I imagined I had two tubes of magical plexiglass in my spine. One contained my personal energy, the other was inspired form that core current but only through the plexiglass. The core tube was untouchable. I didn’t use it when working on clients, and it could only be replenshed or “touched” by energy that was of equal or greater vibration. I use the term vibration as a way to imagine some spiritual core foundational energy that every has. Except mine is in a tube. The the secondary tube can be used entirely, and it is easily replenished from the core tube.

Why plexiglass? It was easy to visualize, it was familiar, it seemed like a fun thing. PVC isn’t transparent, I didn’t like the feel of soft plastic. No real good reason it was just what popped into my mind long ago. Some people were imagining crystal tubes and gem studded things. I wanted simplicity and practicality.

I’ve had many clients, especially moms in labor or their babies, who I wanted to give my all to feel better, be safer, or come more quickly in the case of a laboring mom. I don’t let myself go all the way. I don’t use that core current.

This has made it a pleasure and a refreshing experience nearly all the time I work with people. I rarely have trouble “taking on” the stuff that belongs with my client. I usually have more energy after working. I feel safe from any psychic jolts or weird activities that can go on. it is imaginary – and it works well.

just recently I’ve been considering instrumentation. Monitoring devices. Because this is all well and good, but can I also watch and monitor how my different energies are being used? That would add more control and specifics to my imaginary system.

I’ve had some digestive issues, and discovered a “monitoring” system for that. It has worked fabulously in choosing what to eat and when. There is a visual image, as well as an orientation of a spiraling wheel. That tells me a lot about how the system is working, if there are current glitches to be concerned about, and it also seems that I can “add energy” to the digestive system and then monitor the effect. Imaginary of course, but actually very precise as well.

I suggest using the idea to make up your own imaginary system to do what you need it to do. Practice using it consciously for a month or two and then let it be an unconscious practice most of the time. I’m still considering imaginary monitoring systems and would welcome any ideas you might have on that front as well. So far monitoring digestion before during and after has been a huge help for me.

I don’t need it to be real – just effective.

Review: An Odd Meal At Lena From Beginning to End

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Lena has been open for a few years now, but I hadn’t had an opportunity to check it out. I liked the previous incarnation on Washington Street, and looked forward to the new experience.

On Labor Day lots of restaurants were closed, and a friend wanted to treat me to dinner. We ended up at Lena.

It was noisy, but that is par for the course. The wait for water was long, they were not at all busy. The waitress stopped by, observed we had water, and the usual “let me know if you have any questions” and then dashed off before we could pose those questions.

She ended up not knowing much about the menu, and had to consult, and one of her earlier answers she corrected. Simple things like an ingredient, if the salmon was farmed or wild, and what was the fish of the day. It wasn’t fish, it was shrimp.

We ended up with three appetizers and one main dish to split. The food was interesting, unusual tastes, and nicely filling. The Cuban bread served with the meal was as bad as Cuban bread is – I first ran into this in Puerto Rico and it is great for feeding fish when you are snorkeling. It just isn’t good bread. The Gnochi was rich, as she predicted, the potato appetizer was spicy and nice – the request to serve the avocado on the side for my sensitive friend didn’t happen.

The plantain is really good, and they served it with a very nice salsa and sauce.

The cauliflower salad (which was served first) was also refreshingly different and had a combination of bitter and sweet and other. The odd part was the waitress dumping it off in a dash as she went by — in the middle of the table. And we waited, and ended up flagging her down minutes later to ask for plates.

I get that we were a poor tale – no drinks, splitting meals, what wait staff don’t like. But we did tip them off that we were first timers, and the restaurant was not at all busy. Should I feel guilty?

The end of the meal was similar, very long waits for a glimpse at the desert menu, opting to not indulge, and an even longer wait for the bill. In the midst of that, I used the restroom, and one stall (the handicapped) was clearly (yuk) out of order, a problem of no water in the tank so it wouldn’t flush.

No sign. Hmm. So I reported it to the hostess, who said she would take care of it, and that they had been having trouble with that toilet – old plumbing in the building. Sorry, I take that as a bad sign that it is an ongoing problem that was not being monitored, and that it just hasn’t been fixed. I had a similar bad feeling at Eastern Accents months before they closed. The toilet overflowed when I used it and the response was yeah, that happens a lot, we have a plumbing problem. If there is bad plumbing then… I’d rather not go there.

I can’t help but imagine the possible kitchen problems, and what else they aren’t paying attention to. And of course the staff training. It leaves a true bad taste to end the meal by confronting their bad plumbing. Which is apparently not unique.

Details. It matters. So truthfully, I didn’t leave thinking “Yes! I can’t wait for another chance to come back!” No, it wasn’t like that at all. It was just odd and too many small moments of discomfort. And so I end my review with “sorry”. Which is not what a restaurant wants to have happen.