Archive for the ‘physical health’ Category

I’ll admit it. At the first sniffle, jabby pain at the back of my throat, or cough, I start worrying I’m coming down with something. I’m particularly conscientious of my health in the fall and winter during the back-to-school flu season, but it’s in the summer that I usually get sick.

Last year, it was the (possible) cat scratch fever (long story) that plagued me until the leaves turned orange. The year before that, just as the warm weather greeted the Northeast, I picked up swine flu at BookExpo America (thank you, Javits Center for your recycled air!). This year, it was nothing as dramatic, but, like clockwork, I got slammed at the beginning of June.

On Sunday, I woke up with a telltale scratchy throat. By nightfall, I was cowering in my bed. The virus passed in 24 hours, but I felt sandbagged all day Tuesday, every motion a chore.

Unpleasant recollections of my week with swine flu rushed back to me, and I relived a two-year-old memory: my epic swine flu-ridden walk to a  local convenience store the day I needed more medicine. At the time,  I felt like I had crossed the Sahara (without a camel) while the sun zeroed it on me and laser pointed its rays at my head. Not pleasant. I couldn’t believe a 15-minute excursion had me gasping for air, burning up, and slightly delirious, but so were the joys of H1N1 that summer.

And so, as I walked to work on Tuesday, I thought back to that more excruciating journey two Junes ago, and celebrated the fact that this time, at least, I didn’t have a disease that was terrifying America and parents everywhere. Just a 24-hour bug.

[There’s no song that I know of about swine flu, but here Ted Nugent croons about cat scratch fever, to the delight of the cats in the video.]

Weather: 70 degrees and cloudy. No sign of tornadoes.


Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Friday!

Hannah – She’s on an adventure, and hopefully thrilled by the beautiful landscapes around her.


Read Full Post »

No scones here!

This weekend I’m doing a two-day Wilderness First Responder recertification. I’ll be renewing my CPR and first aid skills. I’ll also be learning all sorts of emergency tricks for situations like: what to do if you fall on your ice-pick while climbing in the White Mountains in January. Or how to respond to a snake bite in the back country in Arizona. It should be a lot of fun.

Of course, now that I live in Somerville, wilderness survival is less relevant than it was three years ago, when I took the original course. These days, my emergency survival kit includes things like an extra T pass, several Starlite mints, and a travel toothbrush. Just in case.

And when things get really desperate (like they did last week), my response rarely involves binding a broken limb with twigs, an old t-shirt, and a sleeping pad. Instead, I turn to baked goods, like the Emergency Scones that I made last week. The recipe, modified from epicurious, is below. Whether you’re feeling desperate or not, I recommend these for a delightful Sunday morning treat.

I’ve also included some tricks for working butter into flour, and for not having to go out and buy buttermilk (especially during a snowstorm). Naturally you should feel free to disregard.

Pea-Sized Pieces: the trick to making these scones is crumbling the butter into pea-sized bits. If you’ve ever made a really good pie crust before, you know that this is what makes flakiness happen – each pea-sized bit melts into a thin film that separates the layers of dough. If the bits are too big, you’ll get uneven dough. If they’re too small, you’ll get a heavy dough. And if you smear them together as if you were making cookies, then you’ll get, well, cookies. To make pea-sized bits: take a stick of cold butter and dice it as if it was an onion. Cut it lengthwise and widthwise until you have lots of discreet, rectangular butter bits that you can throw into the flour mixture. Dump the butter into the dough. Then use your hands and break the bits up until they are pea-sized, or really a little bit smaller. More like a lentil. Keep in mind, once you add the wet ingredients, that you want to keep those butter bits intact as you mix the batter.

Buttermilk Substitute: Buying buttermilk is silly since I never use it and it goes bad quickly. I mixed together 1/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/2 cup milk. Then I squeezed in the juice from half a lemon, mixed, and let it sit while I made the batter. Tasty, cheap, and I didn’t have to go to the store!

Emergency Scones

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat, plus some whole wheat, plus some white. go crazy.)
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • grated peel from one lemon
  • 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips. (Or chop up regular chocolate chips, or a bar of chocolate).
  • 3/4 cup chilled buttermilk (or 1/4 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup milk, and the juice from half a lemon – see above)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon peel.

3. Add butter and work in until lentil sized. (see above for some tips.) Mix in chocolate chips.

4.In a separate bowl, whisk together milk/buttermilk, egg yolk, and vanilla. Pour into dry ingredients and mix gently to keep the butter balls intact.

5. According the original recipe, you can now take this dough, shape it into a large cheese-wheel on a lightly floured surface, and cut it into nice triangles. Instead, I scooped it up with my hands and formed it into scone-sized balls. Array the balls/triangles on a greased cookie sheet.

6. Sprinkle sugar on top.

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until crusty and a toothpick comes out clean.


34 degrees and sunny. A great leap forward from yesterday’s single digits.


Hannah: 6 and TGIF on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.
Anna: 6 and really antsy.

Read Full Post »

The walk from the T to my apartment isn’t terrible. It’s not great either. I live 12 minutes away from the nearest station and the walk never feels long when I’m on my way to work, but returning from an evening event, it can seem treacherous. If there’s one thing that keeps me from going out at night, it’s that 12-minute walk back to my apartment, along the cold, dark, and not particularly well-lit sidewalks of Somerville. I can deal with the time spent on the dysfunctional green, orange, and red lines. Not the thought of The Late-Night Walk.

Last night I had yet another meeting in the financial district. I stayed put after it officially ended, throwing around ideas and getting updates from friends. Then I picked up a tray of sandwiches that were going to be abandoned unless I gave them a home in my empty refrigerator, realized I had left my heavy scarf at work, and darted out of the building into the depths of South Station, emerging 30 minutes later in Cambridge, still carrying my unwieldy sustenance-laden tray. Then I set out on The Late-Night Walk.

Without my scarf, the wind was biting. And given the tray, I couldn’t exactly fold into myself to conserve heat. So I hurried along, checking my surroundings, jumping over patches of ice, and thinking “almost there” until I was, indeed, almost home. Then the wind whipped up. For an instant, I tensed, anticipating the moment when the wind would take all the wind out of my lungs, leaving me breathless. Instead, the cold air entered the collar of my coat—unfortified without my scarf—and rushed down the front of my body, escaping at the bottom of my zipper.

Instead of discomfort, the chill triggered a surge of energy. Of exhilaration. And rather than shivering and gulping air, I ran forward, full of wind-induced vigor, happy to almost be home.

Weather: Cold, but blue skies. This morning at 7:30am it was 11 degrees. But it felt like

-15 with wind-chill.


Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.

Hannah – 7 out of 10. Unreasonably  happy.


Read Full Post »

My downstairs neighbors must hate me. Yesterday, during a random craving for exercise, I set up my roommate’s Wii, which I’ve never played before, and tried my hand (my feet?) at Dance Dance Revolution. I flailed about the room, attempting to hit the steps, and instead kept getting booed by the Wii for my constant screw-ups. In my defense, it was not at all clear why the game never registered shakes of the left-hand controller, or the right-hand one.

Clearly, I didn’t read the instructions.

Ever since I returned from Europe, I’ve had a case of the fitness blahs.  The food in Vienna, Prague, and Berlin was heavy and oil-laden, and rarely included anything green or brightly colored. It was a relief to fill up on salads in Greece, and the fact that I drenched vegetables in olive oil—good fats!—felt healthy. Most days I spent on my feet, touring museums, exploring alleyways and side streets, or running up 500 steps to “that seemingly-close acropolis over there.”

Now that I’m back and cooped up because of the snow, I’m desperate to sweat and exert myself—not my typical impulse. The sidewalks remain treacherous and barely shoveled. The streets have been overtaken by ice mountains and funny-looking snowmen, like the one below. And running up and down the stairs in my building just doesn’t sound appealing.

Tonight I’ll try my hand at DDR again and hope my neighbors don’t complain. A gym membership now seems essential, so signing up is on my to-do list. Until then, though, what would you do if you were me?

Weather: A slushy, nasty wintry mix. Good thing Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow today.


Anna – 5.5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Cabin fever!

Hannah – 4.5 out of 10. She’s cold, even though she has heat.


Read Full Post »

According to WBUR and a slew of other news articles, today is the coldest day Massachusetts has experienced in the past six years. Last night, meteorologists predicted wind chill temperatures of -15 to -25 degrees Fahrenheit in Boston.

Thanks to numerous weather warnings from my mother, WBZ, and strangers in the street, I piled on so many layers last night and this morning that I was actually sweating after a 15-minute walk outside. In case you’re curious about how many layers it takes to overheat in below-freezing temperatures, let me enlighten you:

  • Knit shirt
  • Wool sweater
  • Thermal leggings
  • Wool knee socks
  • Leg warmers
  • Pants
  • Snow boots
  • Wool shawl
  • Silk glove liners
  • Elbow-length knit gloves
  • Winter hat, originally bought for my January trip to Prague and Vienna
  • Knee-length down jacket (a.k.a., the sleeping bag with arms)

I may or may not resemble Randy from “A Christmas Story.”

But I’d rather look comical than become a human icicle.

Weather: 12 degrees in Boston, but it feels like -3, so layer up and stay warm!


Anna – 6 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Lots to do.

Hannah – She’s traveling, so no rating today.


Read Full Post »

As Hannah indicated, I’ve been traveling the world, or at least part of it, for the past couple of weeks. Stops included Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Thessalonike, Meteora, Athens, and Nafplion. That’s a lot of travel for only 15 nights.

Highlights included all imperial palaces, castles, summer estates, and massive Greek temples, particularly those elaborately decorated with delicate inlays and master carvings. Sort of like my apartment. Or not.

Just like home.

Despite adventuring, I realize that I’ve returned without any killer stories. There were no crazy encounters. No out of body experiences. No swashbuckling tales. But there were some tasty morsels of food, excellent birds-eye views, and more than a few masterpieces along the way.

I haven’t taken a two-week vacation from work for nearly three years. Last summer I had a week-long escape to Maine, prior to which I had had a terrible fever (which led doctors to mistakenly believe I had cat scratch fever). My body was recovering when I left, I didn’t feel up to snuff, and taking antibiotics every morning and evening of the trip did not spur relaxation. It was not ideal.

When I was a kid, my dad and brother and I would take long, leisurely vacations to tropical islands—the more remote, the better. About five or six days in, my father would declare he was finally starting to relax. A highly knowledgeable seven-year-old, I’d counsel my father to relax more quickly. Who could possibly need all that time (practically a year!) to adjust to frozen drinks and blossoming flowers?

But when I arrived in Vienna (Trip Day 5), I realized it had taken that long to stop thinking about work. Day 5 was followed by a week of actual relaxation, and also full of museum-hopping. It wasn’t until the Friday before I flew back to the States that thoughts of current and future projects again pushed their way to the surface. Fifteen nights left me with seven blissful, carefree days. And now I’m thinking that two-week sojourns may have to be here to stay.

Weather: Mountains of snow. And even when it’s not snowing, the wind whips the snow around, making it look like we’re being further buried.


Anna – 5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Still getting back in the swing of things.

Hannah – 4 out of 10. She’s had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Luckily, it’s a Friday.


Read Full Post »

This just in from my favorite science blog: “snot is mostly comprised of mucous secreted by the inflamed tissues of the nose, and dead neutrophils that swarmed in kamikazi-style to gobble up whatever bacteria or virus they could find.”

Sad but true: in the past seven days the temperature has dropped from an appalling seventy degrees to an equally appalling thirty-two. With the temperature drop has come a corresponding drop in physical well-being. I spent the whole weekend sneezing (although it didn’t keep me from loving Halloween) and Anna’s voice has been reduced to a croak. Flu season has begun.

Cold & flu season is exciting because it’s an opportunity to talk about the immune system, which I studied for The Emotional Calendar and which is actually really neat. Kevin – an immunologist, science blogger, and (full disclosure) friend – explains it better than I ever could here: it’s all T-Cells and Macrophages and suicide cells and other cool stuff.

But it’s hard to get excited about immunology when it’s 3 am, your head hurts, and you can’t breathe through your nose. November is the ugliest phase of fall. The leaves are off the trees, the sky is gray, it’s cold out, and everyone is sick. October may be a good month to channel Love Story – in November it’s all about fleeces, the world’s ugliest sweater. And of course there is the heavy anticipation of impending doom – by which I mean the rapid approach of the holiday the season.

November is a good month to stay inside and focus on something small and cozy. Like cellular biology, perhaps?

Weather: cold and cloudy. 43 degrees.

Hannah: cold and cloudy but no longer sneezing, thank you. 5 out of 10 on the “I’m so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.
Anna: 7. She already voted and two people want to be her roommate!


Read Full Post »