Coffee heat rising

An attack of asceticism

{sigh} Decided to kick the caffeine habit for awhile and so now have a fine caffeine deprivation anemia headache. Today being only the second day of this moment of ascetic virtue, I expect another day or two of migrainish crabbiness.

Once when I went off the killer brew, the headache lasted an entire week! Dang. Hope this goes away sooner than that. I’m allergic to aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen, so headaches and other minor pains are experiences to be…well, appreciated. LOL! As in “it feels so good when it stops.”

Normally, a cup or two of regular tea will dull or even kill the pain. Tea has less caffeine than coffee (heh…at least, the way I brew coffee, the result of which will melt a teaspoon left in the cup any length of time), and so it works for backing off the much stronger coffee. After a day or two, I can drop the caffeinated beverages altogether with no further effects.

Just to perfect my misery, I also decided to get off the sauce for awhile. I usually have one or two glasses of wine or beer a day. Probably two is too much, and two is the normal dose around here. Problem is, I tend to slip over that threshold with wine: an open bottle is too easy to tip over into a glass, especially  if you haven’t finished your meal and you think, “Oh well, a tiny swiggle more won’t hurt.” Several tiny swiggles more and you’ve consumed half a bottle of the stuff! Because I have to get up, walk across the room, retrieve a new bottle of beer from the refrigerator, and open it, I’ll invariably stop after two or even one: the minor effort of having to move around and flip off a top is enough to signal that enough beer is enough.

The immediate cause of this frenzy of self-deprivation was yesterday’s conversation with La Maya. She’s determined to go on a diet, and she remarked that a mutual friend has lost a lot of weight but is drinking again and so seems to be gaining it back. I’d like to say our friend is more of a lush than I, but as a practical matter a half-bottle of wine is about a half-bottle too much. So we won’t be calling her kettle black.

Also lately I’ve been having a lot of heart palpitations, diagnosed as “stress attacks” by the worthies at the Mayo. These can be pretty scary, because they cause lightheadedness that at times makes me feel like I’m going to pass out. One of these occurred the other day while I was riding down a long escalator, which was a bit alarming. More often they happen when I’m driving at a high rate of speed on some road where there’s no place to pull over. So far they haven’t caused an actual faint, but I suppose there’s always a first time. Whether there’s a connection between these episodes and the coffee or the wine, I don’t know.

But I do know that sometimes the body seems to get saturated with caffeine, resulting in an overall sense of angst and jitteriness. That’s when it’s time to get off the bean. And I suspect there’s a connection between early-in-the-day caffeine and night-time insomnia. Even though my coffee consumption ends by about ten in the morning, older people metabolize drugs (which is what caffeine is) more slowly than younger ones. So it makes sense that the stuff could build up in your system over time and begin to affect you over a 24-hour period.

Interestingly, opinions are mixed about the real harm or benefits either of my favorite potables cause. We’re told by the worthy authors of Wikipedia that

Coffee consumption has been shown to have minimal or no impact, positive or negative, on cancer development; however, researchers involved in an ongoing 22-year study by the Harvard School of Public Health state that “the overall balance of risks and benefits [of coffee consumption] are on the side of benefits.” Other studies suggest coffee consumption reduces the risk of being affected by Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, diabetes mellitus type 2, cirrhosis of the liver, and gout. A longitudinal study in 2009 showed that those who consumed a moderate amount of coffee or tea (3–5 cups per day) at midlife were less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in late-life compared with those who drank little coffee or avoided it altogether.

Very nice. On the other hand, as we learn from the same source,

Coffee prepared using paper filters removes oily components called diterpenes that are present in unfiltered coffee. Two types of diterpenes are present in coffee: kahweol and cafestol, both of which have been associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease via elevation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels in blood. Metal filters, on the other hand, do not remove the oily components of coffee.

Yes. Well, I happen to favor French-press coffee, qui s’en fie de paper filters. I’m doomed!

As for wine, medical researchers apparently like the stuff, because they can’t bring themselves to condemn it wholeheartedly. Let’s get real here: it is, after all, booze. Nevertheless, we learn that

Population studies have observed a J curve association between wine consumption and the risk of heart disease. This means that heavy drinkers have an elevated risk, while moderate drinkers (at most two five-ounce servings of wine per day) have a lower risk than non-drinkers. Studies have also found that moderate consumption of other alcoholic beverages may be cardioprotective, although the association is considerably stronger for wine. Also, some studies have found increased health benefits for red wine over white wine, though other studies have found no difference. Red wine contains more polyphenols than white wine, and these are thought to be particularly protective against cardiovascular disease.

Hmh. I’ll drink to that.

Problem is, we’re never clearly told what “moderate” consumption is. The Brits would have us believe “moderate” means about a third of a small wine glass or half a pint of beer—a sip or two that, IMHO, would never last through a full meal. Five ounces, however, is a fair amount: almost half of one of my huge burgundy glasses. Here’s one of those monsters with five ounces of water measured into it:

Two swiggles of that much wine, and I’m cha-chaing around the kitchen. w00t!

The whole idea of depriving oneself of the minor pleasures of life in the name of some health or moral benefit has always struck me as dubious. Life is difficult, after all. One has few enough small joys (or large ones). Does it really make sense that taking away the small pleasures that make life worth living is going to make things better?

I doubt it.

However, experience has shown that long-term consumption of the type of Europeanized cowboy coffee I happen to favor will build up a state of tenseness and may contribute to the alleged “stress attacks.” Since I have nothing to be stressed over just now, it’s reasonable to run a test to see whether the caffeine has anything to do with that.

And the wine and beer? Well, like my friends, I certainly could stand to lose five or ten pounds. That beloved beer, in particular, is adding mostly empty calories. Now’s the time, while the weather is good, to be exercising, cutting calories, and running off some fat.

Ten stress reducers

Elevated blood pressure can be a sign of stress, among other things. When I had my little stress attack a while back, my blood pressure was so alarmingly high that the doctors suspected a heart condition; if I so much as lifted my head off the pillow, it went even higher. After the episode passed, the blood pressure numbers went back to normal. But it was scary there, for a few hours. Whenever I go into a doctor’s office, it’s often a little high, especially if I’m not sitting in a chair with my legs uncrossed and my feet flat on the floor. This phenomenon—blood pressure that rises when you go into a doctor’s office—is called “white coat syndrome.”

A week or so ago, GLBL reported at Gather Little by Little that an incident of white coat syndrome led him to buy a blood pressure monitor and keep tabs on himself for a while. This revealed that his blood pressure was higher while he was at work than over the weekend, at home. He put it down to stress.

The work environment can be very stressful, even if you’re not in a high-tension job such as police work, emergency medical or fire services,journalism,or teaching. Certainly one of the elements that led up to my episode—one of the petals of the Poison Poppy, as I call them—was workplace stress, largely resulting from friction with a subordinate. After great effort, I discovered a number of fairly easy strategies to reduce stress, which really comes at you from all directions, not just from the workplace. Here are ten of the best:

1. Reduce caffeine intake

Substitute other satisfying drinks. Some varieties of soda pop are caffeine-free: Sprite, 7-Up, ginger ale, and many brands of root beer. Read the label to be sure. Fruit juices can be combined with soda water or tonic water to make DIY pop, which IMHO tastes better than the canned stuff. Green tea is said to contain less caffeine than black. Sometimes just cutting back the amount of caffeine you take in helps: decaf coffee and tea are not caffeine-free, but substituting them for high-test may help bring down your blood pressure and lower your stress level.

If you go off caffeine cold turkey, you’ll get a headache that may be fairly bracing, but it will pass in a day or two. You can avoid or minimize this by tapering off instead of quitting abruptly. The fact that eliminating caffeine can make you sick should tell you something.

2. Try to de-stress your commute.

Leave earlier so you have plenty of time to get to your destination. Driving in the slow lane reduces the number of people tailgating and jerking around you—you tend to see more of that obnoxious behavior when you’re driving faster in the middle and outside lanes.

Do not listen to the stürm und drang on the news and yak shows. Avoid stations that carry advertising, which also can be stress-inducing and annoying. If your local airwaves don’t carry stations that broadcast the kind of music you enjoy, free of advertising, then get yourself an iPod or MP3 player and bring your own entertainment. Make it something soothing.

Learn some alternate routes to and from the workplace. If you see the freeway backing up, get off and proceed on the surface streets for a while.

3. Keep a low profile at work, and leave work at the office

Refrain from arguing with coworkers or bosses. Let the BS slide off your back like water off a duck’s feathers.

Do your job well and quietly.

Keep coworkers’ and customers’ oddities in the perspective of the large picture. How exactly will their ridiculous behavior change the course of world history?

Don’t bring work home. Make your private time exactly that: your time. And do not work more hours than you are paid to work. If you’re expected to do so, maybe it’s time to find a new employer or a new line of work.

4. Leave the office during lunch hour

Never work through lunch. If you are brownbagging, go outside or to a coffeehouse where you are allowed to eat your own food if you buy a beverage. If you must stay on the premises to eat, take some time to go for a walk. If your company offers a workout room, use it over the lunch hour. Or, if you hate gyms as much as I do and you have an office, close the door and do some yoga during breaks or lunchtime.

5. Learn to meditate.

Use break time or lunch-hour time for brief periods of meditation. Prayer is a form of meditation. If you are religious, spend a few moments at your desk in quiet prayer.

6. Reduce alcohol intake.

Restrict wine, beer, and other potables to one drink a day, max. Alcohol pushes up your blood pressure and interferes with your sleep. If you’ve been in the habit of having a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, you may find you sleep better if you have water instead. Treat yourself to wine on the weekends and on special days only. Nope…for this purpose, every day is not a special day!

7. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy and do it every day.

Walking the dog is exercise. Climbing three flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator is exercise. Bicycling is exercise. Roller-skating is exercise. Gardening is exercise. You don’t have to spend half the day at these activities or exert yourself to the point of exhaustion. A half-hour of walking goes a long way toward lowering your blood pressure and brightening your outlook.

8. Turn off the television.

The constant flow of violence and disturbing imagery flowing out of our TV sets inundates us with stress, if only on a subliminal level. I find I sleep much better if I don’t watch the idiot box at night.

9. Develop a strategy to pay off debt, create a budget, and keep your financial books up to date.

Money worries form a huge part of the stress we all suffer. Getting a grip on these issues, although it won’t instantly solve your financial problems, will at least help you to feel more control of things. And this will ease your stress.

10. Join a group, totally unrelated to your job, that will get you out of the house and into the company of other people. Examples: church, hiking or bicycling group, pet fanciers’ club, hobbyists’ club, Habitat for Humanity, or some other service group.
Try it! You’ll like it!

Another day, another year

Lordie, it’s 2009.

Who would have expected such a thing? When I was a little kid back in the Cretaceous period, I used to wonder if I would still be alive in the year 2000, when I would (after all) have reached the decrepit old age of 55. I felt a little surprised when I made it that far.

To have doddered on almost ten years beyond that has something of the unreal about it.

Now I enter the age that my mother was when she died, murdered by the tobacco pushers and further victimized by incompetent and uncaring doctors. Ever since her death, I have wondered, just like that little kid back in the ’50s, if I would outlive her or if I would go at the same age. Irrational, no doubt: but apparently so many people think along those weirdly magical lines that some actually do die—or contrive to die—at the same age or under the same circumstances as a deceased loved one.

The days in which we ritually celebrate the passing of another year—especially birthdays and New Year’s Eve—feel vaguely unpleasant to me. More than vaguely: distinctly. I enjoy living and don’t like being reminded of how few years remain. Nor do I like being reminded of how many years of my life and hers my mother missed—an entire lifetime of years: my son’s. These things do not make me feel like celebrating. To the contrary.

catrinas2Hallowe’en—la dia de los muertos—when the dead and death itself are celebrated, seems less sad and far less depressing to me. It springs from a deeper impulse, a more thoughtful and meaningful way of celebrating the passage of time and life than drinking, dancing, and setting off fireworks because another year of our existence has gone down.

Speaking of fireworks, someone in the neighborhood has a great fondness for them. They set them off at the drop of every hat, and an excuse like the Fourth of July or New Year’s Day brings on an hour-long frenzy of whistling, squealing, banging, and flashing. Fireworks are illegal in Arizona. That means the folks are smuggling them across the border. I think Pretty Daughter‘s middle-school-aged children are among the celebrants, and that makes me cringe. As you get older, you get more cautious—or possibly you get old because you are the cautious type. A kid in my junior high school in San Francisco was blinded when he set off a cherry bomb in a tin can. Ever since then I’ve imagined that people who let their children play with fireworks are working hard to improve the gene pool.

Well, in the gene department I have a shot at living to old age. Though my mother and both her parents died young, my father lived to 84 despite lifelong smoking and drinking habits; my great-grandmother and great-aunt, Christian Scientists who neither smoked nor drank, both made it to 94. I’m no teetotaller, and it’s clear now that my openness tovisiting doctors isn’t a lot safer today than it was in the 1800s when Christian Science’s aversion for the crude medical practice of the time made sterling sense. But one can hope.

There are several things we all can do to help ensure we live out the years allotted to us:
Eat well
Exercise daily
Drink minimally
Drive carefully
Never smoke
Keep active mentally and socially

Coincidentally, most of these are frugal habits, too. Think of that: frugality adds years to your life!
Live long and prosper.

Long-term care insurance

Metlife sends a notice inviting me to designate someone who can be alerted if a payment on my long-term care insurance is missed. Good thought: obviously, if you get into a predicament where you need long-term care, you may not be competent to pay your bills. I have the premium, which comes to about $75 a month, paid electronically, and so its unlikely the bill will go unpaid unless M’hijito has to take over my affairs and changes things around.

This policy, which I originally bought from TIAA-CREF but was sold to Metlife, will not cover the exorbitant cost of nursing-home or nursing care 100%. However, it does cover enough that my Social Security and (if my mutual funds ever recover) a 4% drawdown from savings will take up the slack. Because my house is paid for, if the utilities are turned off the house will cost nothing while I’m incarcerated in a nursing home. Well, that’s not so: it will cost the property tax and Gerardo’s bill to come around and clean up the desert landscaping once every month or two.

The cost of nursing care in this country is just astonishing, and because much of it is delivered by minimum-wage workers laboring in extremely difficult conditions, it behooves you to get yourself into the highest-quality nursing home available. And of course, the higher the quality, the higher the cost. By 2004, the average annual cost of nursing home care was over $70,000. This amount increases at about 6% a year; the annual cost is now said to hover around $76,500. In the Phoenix area, if I get sick this year it will cost me about $76,200 to get myself cared for.

Home nursing care, which sounds ever so much more desirable if you’re lucky enough to find someone competent, honest, and caring to do the job, runs about $43,885 a year nationwide and $45,800 in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Assisted living would cost me around $29,700, significantly less than the nationwide average of $33,100.

Is there any question about why some old folks ship out on luxury liners in their sunset years?

Neither Medicare nor health insurance will cover nursing care, at least not for any length of time. In theory Medicare will cover 100 days following an acute illness, but you have to show signs of recovery to get even that much coverage—and of course if your problem is acute senility, “recovery” is not in the picture. When my mother was dying of cancer, we found that Medicare and Blue Cross did everything they could to get her off their rolls, to the extent that my husband, who was a lawyer, and I spent so much of our time and energy fighting bureaucrats that I was left with almost no time to spend with my mother in her last weeks. SDXB had to arrange to have his mother divorce his father when the old man was dying of Parkinson’s, in order to force the VA to cover the his care and avoid pauperizing her.

Medicaid will cover nursing home care, but only after you have utterly pauperized yourself. You must be left penniless, meaning you have had to sell your home, your car, and expendall other assets on medical and nursing home bills. In Arizona, if you’ve made the mistake of gifting your children, as is allowed under federal law, with a few thousand inheritance-tax-free bucks over the two years prior to your falling ill, you can be disqualified from this state’s equivalent of Medicaid on the theory that you must have been trying to cheat the system.

So as you can see, if you’re “lucky” enough to make it to advanced old age, you’d better have long-term care insurance. Fourteen percent of people over 71 suffer from dementia, and that doesn’t count strokes, broken hips, chronic heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, or any of the multitude of other causes that put the elderly out of commission.

The problems with long-term care insurance are a) there are lots of shysters out there selling products that will not provide adequate care; b) premiums are high and must include a provision to adjust upward for the skyrocketing cost of care; and c) the older you are when you buy a policy, the pricier the premiums will be.

In general, you should plan to buy long-term care insurance in your early fifties. Obviously, if you purchase a policy when you’re too young, you’ll pay premiums over a long period when your chance of needing the coverage is almost nil. If you wait until you’re too old, you may be disqualified from buying a policy or pay an exorbitant premium.

You need to investigate any insurance company carefully before buying a long-term policy from it. Be sure it is financially sound and highly rated by Moody’s and A.M. Best. In addition, it’s important to fully understand what you’re buying. Most states have an agency on aging or an insurance commission. These agencies can provide you with information on what to look for and what to avoid in long-term care coverage. AARP also offers a lot of valuable information, but you should be aware that this organization is in the business of selling long-term care insurance.

It’s never too early to look into this issue. And if your parents are baby-boomers, now is the time to find out whether they’re covered and to urge them to get coverage if they’re not. Ten million baby boomers are expected to develop Alzheimer’s disease, and as we’ve noted, that’s not the only ailment that can render an elder helpless. The cost and anguish entailed in having to care for an adult who is fully disabled by senility or other illness are devastating—you should not assume that you will be able to care for your parents in your home, especially since you and your spouse will probably have to work to keep a roof over your heads and you will be trying to deal with raising children at the same time.

My insurance covers nursing home care and in-home care. It also will pay a relative or friend a small stipend to care for me at home, and pay to have the person trained in caregiving. As I look at the budget items I can cut if I’m laid off in the next few weeks, one of the items I do not consider to be an option is the long-term care insurance.

Inexcusable! FDA betrays public trust

Have you seen this little gem?The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided to set a safety threshhold for melamine…in baby formula!

Folks. This is the stuff they use to make ugly plastic dishes and cheesy plastic tabletops. Used as a cheap imitation of protein in food, it poisons dogs, cats, and babies.There is no safe level for a toxic substance in baby formula!

Well, now you’ve got it: this is what happens when wacko ideologues take control of a government with the purpose of decommissioning that government. When you kill the beast, you kill the babies.

There is just flat out no excuse for that.