Monday, February 17, 2014

Math Should Come With A Warning Label

A while ago I heard this depressing story.  My shoulders slumped in discouragement because my attempt to eat a healthy breakfast apparently has all been for naught.

Ever since Dean retired, and I've been working four ten-hour days, I’ve been up at 5:25 a.m. and out the door somewhere between 5:31 a.m. and 5:34 a.m., depending upon whether or not I actually fix my hair – and by fixing I mean doing anything more than just wrapping a scrunchy around whatever bits of it I can grab as I walk out the door.  I don't fix (or eat) breakfast either.  It’s hard enough for me to make myself get up that early, leaving Dean and Angus snoring away in oblivion, but there is no way I am going to get up early enough to eat something before I leave – not that I could force anything down that early anyway.  Eventually I DO get hungry, though, so I’ve been bringing a container of honey yogurt and a small baggie of granola which I mix together and eat at my desk somewhere between 8:10 and 8:13 in the morning. 

I thought I was being healthy until I heard that news story.  Listening to that made me feel all my efforts have been in vain – just like after I’ve spent five hours vacuuming up dog fur and mopping the floors only to have Angus come in from outside and leave muddy paw prints throughout the whole house.  

I moped around for a few days and I even told Dean to never buy me honey yogurt again.  I’ll have to find something else “healthy” for breakfast.  I thought maybe I could have plain yogurt and granola…………….or ………….not.  I want to be healthy but plain yogurt?  That’s pretty dang tart.  The more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me.  Why shouldn’t I have sweet yogurt and granola for breakfast?  So I decided to conduct an experiment.   I’m not a scientist but I have a daughter and two sons-in-law who are scientists.  Oh, and Dean.  Are geologists scientists?  I guess licking rocks could be some type of scientific research.   Anyway, I’ve picked up a thing or two about experimental procedures.  I know you are required to have a control and whatever the opposite of control is.  And I know you need a hypothesis and you must keep detailed records of your data, analyze it, and determine a conclusion.  

My Yogurt Experiment

Hypothesis – I  can add less sugar to plain yogurt than is contained in my honey yogurt and still make it taste as sweet as the honey yogurt, thus saving calories.  That will allow me to eat other sugar-filled items (like the occasional doughnut or cake in the office) guilt-free with less guilt.

The Control – Honey Yogurt 

The Whatever The Opposite Of Control Is – Plain Yogurt 

The Scientific Word For Background (whatever that is)
I wasn’t sure how much yogurt I was eating every morning so I needed to determine that before I could calculate the amount of sugar I was eating.  So I scooped what I normally take into my container, then I scraped it out into a measuring cup and it turns out I am eating about ½ cup of yogurt every morning. 

The serving size listed on both yogurt containers is one cup.  One serving of honey yogurt contains 33 grams of sugar, which equals 8 ¼ teaspoons of sugar.  So I calculated my ½ cup of honey yogurt to find it contains approximately  16.5 grams – or  4 teaspoons of sugar.  

The plain yogurt container says one serving contains 3 grams of sugar, which is ¾ teaspoon of sugar.  If I gave up my honey yogurt and only ate plain yogurt with my granola I would be eating ¼ teaspoon of sugar every morning. 

The Research – Here’s what I did. 

On the kitchen counter I had one container with ½ cup of plain yogurt and sample of honey yogurt.   

Nearly sugar free plain on the left, life-threatening, sugar-packed honey on the right.

First I took one bite of the plain yogurt and after my mouth unpuckered I ate a small bite of the honey yogurt for comparison.   I then added 1 teaspoon of sugar to my container of plain yogurt and stirred the sugar until it was completely dissolved and tasted it.  And then I took a small taste of the honey yogurt for comparison.  After adding one teaspoon of sugar (which is really 1¼ teaspoons if you account for the sugar already in the yogurt) the plain yogurt had definitely lost the mouth pucker characteristic but was still much less sweet than honey yogurt and not something I was particularly excited about eating with granola.

I added another teaspoon of sugar (which is a total of 2 ¼ accounting for the sugar already in the yogurt) and decided I could definitely get by on that amount of sugar and probably get used to it, but it still had a bit of a tartness to it.

After the third teaspoon of sugar (or 3 ¼ total teaspoons) I decided it was pretty darn close to the same sweetness of the honey yogurt and would be perfectly acceptable with my granola.

And finally, after four teaspoons of sugar (or 4 ¼ teaspoons all together), it seemed too sweet, even sweeter than the honey yogurt.

The Data And Analysis
Of course there is a taste difference between yogurt sweetened with sugar and one sweetened with honey but as far as sweetness, 3 teaspoons was pretty close.  I think I could get by on adding two teaspoons of sugar into plain yogurt which would cut my morning sugar intake by 1 ¾ teaspoons of sugar per day.  Now that doesn’t seem like much but if you multiply that times four (since I work four ten-hour days) I would be eating seven fewer teaspoons of sugar per week.  Multiply that times four weeks and I would be eating 28 fewer teaspoons of sugar a month.  And if you multiply that times seven months I will have ingested 196 fewer teaspoons of sugar by the time I (hope to) retire.   

If I decide I need three teaspoons of sugar in plain yogurt to make my morning breakfast more enjoyable I would only cut my morning sugar intake by ¾ teaspoon per day.  But even that would cut my weekly intake by three teaspoons, my monthly by 12 teaspoons and I would have eaten 84 fewer teaspoons of sugar by the time I retire.  Which is I don’t know how many cups because I can’t find a website to tell me exactly and figuring it out would involve even more math and just thinking about that is making my hands sweat and my heart race. 

The Conclusion
Adding sugar to plain yogurt makes it sweeter.  Honey yogurt tastes better.  Eating honey yogurt is worth the risk of dying from heart disease.  However,  experiments involving math and converting teaspoons to tablespoons to cups and dividing grams and ounces and teaspoons by half or fourths are are unhealthy because the stress of all that math and calculating drives people to eat more sugar. Math is a serious health risk and should be avoided at all costs.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Not All Pearls Are Found In Oysters

A woman wearing a reddish shade of lipstick opened the passenger door, scooted over to my dad, closed her eyes, and gave him a big kiss – on the lips.  Even though my almost nine year old body sat frozen in shock (I don’t think I even took a breath) I’m sure my eyes must have popped open so wide that, combined with my car-head hair, I was the spitting image of a troll doll.  That was how I met the woman who was to become my mother – sitting with my younger sister in the backseat of dad’s car, outside the telephone company where she worked, in Park Rapids, Minnesota.  My dad had driven us from Lincoln, Nebraska which, other than driving across town to see the circus, was the longest time either of us had spent in a car.  I suspect it was a long car ride for my dad too, especially when Shelly asked, 45 minutes after we’d started, how much longer it would be.  

If my mom had second thoughts when she looked into the backseat and saw us for the first time, she didn’t let on.  I don’t think she even reflexively reached for the door handle in a momentary panic to escape.  Even knowing there was a third child who hadn't come along, a toddler no less, she just smiled and accepted all of us.  Once I had recovered from seeing this strange woman kiss my dad I had no second thoughts either.  There was nothing in the world I wanted more than a mother and later, when Shelly and I got to watch the little black and white TV in her apartment, I knew there was nothing I wouldn’t do to keep her (and, I hoped, her little TV).

I was nearing ten years old when I nervously walked up to her after the wedding and called her mom.  Her eyebrows raised in surprise and then the corners of her mouth curved into a smile.  After that first time, saying mom came easily, although I’m sure there were moments for her when being a mom to an instant family did not come easily at all.  We gradually became comfortable with each other and as I got older, unlike much of the world, I didn’t learn everything I needed to know about life in Kindergarten.  I learned it from my mom.  

She taught me the value of nutritious meals as I watched her try to make my dad eat fruits and vegetables.  She blended mushroom soup so the chunks disappeared before she added it to her casserole.  She put a glass of juice in front of him every morning for breakfast and expected him to drink it whether he liked it or not, told him sliced tomatoes were luscious with sugar sprinkled on them and hid onions in the chili.  I’m not sure how or when, but Dean and my mom must have had a secret conference sometime years and years ago because Dean does the same thing to me.  He places a small plate of fruit on the table every night.  He puts lettuce and other green strands of slimy vegetation impossible to pick out in the soup.  He puts tomatoes in nearly everything he cooks knowing full well I have been picking them out of food since I was able to hold a fork, and he mixes so many weeds in the salad I can barely find any iceberg lettuce.  

Mom made me aware of fashion.  I’m not saying I have progressed to double-knit elastic waist pants yet, but I did learn that jeans “so tight they don't leave anything to your imagination” are not attractive.

I gained an appreciation of vitamins and minerals when she informed me that ice cream contains Calcium and strawberry topping is a good source of Vitamin C.

If it weren't for my mom I might not enjoy writing and you wouldn't have to be able to read this blog. I wrote my first poem just for her – after I’d gotten in trouble for borrowing her bicycle without asking – which I still remember … mostly.

Did you ever meet a little girl

Who …dum da dum ... a shiny pearl?

Well here’s one who’s come to say,

I’m sorry for what I did today.

I fell in love with reading after she gave me my first book – Nancy Drew – which led me to discover libraries.  Soon after she taught me the importance of exercise and sunshine.

I learned that flannel blankies keep you warmer than any other fancy chenille throw or quilt or lap blanket, because they are sewn with love. 

I learned being a mother meant being selfless, like the time she got up at 3 a.m. and made Dean, me and the girls pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream so we could eat breakfast before our 11 hour drive back to Wyoming.  And I learned the meaning of magnanimous as the four of us sat at the table staring with vacant eyes, too tired to pick up a fork.

She showed me that preparation is paramount when traveling.  A minimum of six jars of candies, a thermos of coffee, 15 blankets, boots, mittens and hats are required for any trip no matter what the distance or the weather.  If we were somehow stranded and couldn’t make it to the next hot roast beef sandwich, we could live on jelly beans and Brach’s candy.

I learned how to be an attentive wife by her example as I watched her stop whatever she was doing every afternoon around 4:30 to change into fresh clothes and put on makeup before my dad got home from work.  I saw her put dinner on the table at 5:45 p.m. every night for him, and noticed her refill his coffee cup before he even knew he needed it. She waited on him without complaint. .......…… I, uh, might still need a little work in that area.

I learned how to be a good mother just by being her child.  At least I hope I did.  You’d have to check with Leslie and Abby for sure and I'm going to cross my fingers you ask them on a day I haven't annoyed them.

I am who I am because she didn’t change her mind when she saw, in that backseat, what she was taking on.  She stayed, and she gave us gifts of love and protection, discipline and freedom, and the ultimate gift, when it was time, of letting us go.
Ten years ago today was the last time I saw this woman who had been my mother for 42 years. I sat next to her hospital bed, touching her arm.   Her eyes were closed then also and mine were open wide as I watched and hoped for her chest to rise with one more breath, even though I knew I should hope peace would come soon for her.  I watched her ... waiting ... waiting ... until she took a breath, only realizing I'd been holding my own breath when my body let go of the air in my lungs when her chest finally lifted ... until it no longer did.

Even now, when I give my grandkids as many cookies as they want before dinner, or let them eat cake slathered in chocolate frosting before breakfast – because chocolate is “an excellent source of antioxidants”,  or I snuggle under a frayed and torn flannel blankie, or I hear the word luscious, I think of my mother.

I am grateful I had the opportunity and the privilege of calling this woman, who was not afraid to take on an instant family, Mom.