This is my personal blog, on which I talk about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy. Some topics are serious, others whimsical. I love comments and questions so don't be shy, just courteous, even if you don't agree with me. I have another blog, The Story Template, on which I post writing-related topics on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Let's see, a bit about me... I'm married with two children, and spend much time taking care of our family. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research. I am a Christian who came to faith under protest through studying the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus. I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. I also have written a nonfiction book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story. This book is a programmed learner-type book that helps you, the writer, develop a complete compelling story (novel or screenplay) from a vague idea.

YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Let Me Hold You Longer

I am sad. My daughter is in her first year of college and has been commuting from home. Last night was the first night she stayed in her dorm room.

She has a beautiful place, and a nice roommate. This weekend we went shopping at Walmart so she could buy her soap and shampoo and snacks, and when we got home she packed her linens and toothbrush. She moved most of her stuff on Saturday, and on Sunday, after dinner at the student-hall cafeteria with her, we dropped her off. She's only 25 minutes away, but it feels much further.

When our kids were little I had periodic nightmares in which I was doing something and suddenly realized I'd left them home, alone. And now...

I'm very happy and proud of our daughter. She's doing so well, and her brother in tenth grade is also growing into a fine adult. It won't be long before it's his turn to leave also. I would not for the world hold them back, and yet that tug in my heart wishes they could stay little for just a little longer.

Here's a poem by Karen Kingsbury:


Let Me Hold You Longer
a poem by Karen Kingsbury

Long ago you came to me, a miracle of firsts;
First smiles and teeth and baby steps, a sunbeam on the burst.
But one day you will move away and leave to me your past
And I will be left thinking of a lifetime of your lasts.

The last time that I held a bottle to your baby lips
The last time that I lifted you and held you on my hip,
The last night when you woke up crying,
Needing to be walked,
When last you crawled up with your blanket
Wanting to be rocked.

The last time when you ran to me still small enough to hold
The last time when you said you'd marry me when you grew old.

Precious simple moments and bright flashes from your past
Would I have held on longer if I'd known they were your last?
Our last adventure to the park, your final midday nap
The last time when you wore your favorite faded baseball cap.

Your last few hours of kindergarten, last days of first grade,
Your last at bat in Little League, last colored picture made.
I never said goodbye to all your yesterdays long past
So what about tomorrow? Will I recognize your lasts?

The last time that you catch a frog in that old backyard pond
The last that you ran barefoot across our fresh-cut lawn
Silly, scattered moments and bright flashes from your past
I keep on taking pictures, never quite sure of your last.

The last time that I comb your hair or stop a pillow fight,
The last time that I tuck you in and pray with you at night.
The last time when we cuddled with a book just me and you,
The last time you jump in our bed and sleep between us two.

The last piano lesson, the last vacation to the lake
Your last few weeks of middle school, last soccer goal you make.
I look ahead and dream of days that haven't come to pass
But as I do I sometimes miss today's sweet precious lasts.

The last time that I help you with a math or spelling test
The last time when I shout that "Yes! Your room is still a mess!"
The last time that you need me for a ride from here to there
The last time that you spend the night with your old tattered bear.

My life keeps moving faster, stealing precious days that pass
I want to hold on longer, want to recognize your lasts.
The last thing that you need my help with, details of a dance,
And the last time that you asked me for advice about romance.

The last time that you talked to me about your hopes and dreams
The last time that you wear a jersey for your high school team.
I've watched you grow and barely noticed seasons as they pass
If I could freeze the hands of time, I'd hold onto your lasts.

For come some bright fall morning, you'll be going far away
College life will beckon in a brilliant sort of way
One last hug, one last goodbye, one quick and hurried kiss,
One last time to understand just how much you'll be missed.

I'll watch you leave and think how fast our time together passed
So let me hold on longer, God, to every precious last.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Elf Bread

Because my son wants homemade bread so often, and it's a pain to make, this month I bought a cheap bread machine from amazon. I love it! All you have to do is dump in flour, liquid, and yeast in the bin, then push a button. A few hours later, voila. Homemade bread. It's definitely better than cleaning the counter from the dried flour shards that develop after kneading.

But... can bread be eaten on a low carb diet? I'm happy to say, yes.

I call this bread "Elf Bread" after Tolkien's elves who make lembas, a magical bread they use for travel in which one bite equals a meal.(Merry went overboard with eating it, but being a hobbit didn't seem to suffer too much). Seriously, with a glass of milk I eat one slice of this bread with butter in the morning, and another slice with butter for lunch, and I'm good to go till dinner.

I adapted this recipe from Dana Carpender's 500 Low-Carb Recipes: 500 Recipes from Snacks to Dessert That the Whole Family Will Love. This bread is so good you can serve it to your non-low-carb family for dinner, and they'll never guess it's low-carb (at least until they see you eating it also).

1/2 cup rolled oats
4 tablespoons raw wheat germ
4 tablespoons flaxseeds
4/3 cups boiling water
6 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
6 tablespoons Xylitol (or Splenda if you must)
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup ground almonds
1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup vanilla-flavored whey protein powder
4 tablespoons water
2 packages yeast

Put the rolled oats, wheat germ, and flaxseeds in the bread machine case or in a bowl (if making by hand). Pour the boiling water over them and let soak for at least 15 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients. If using a bread machine put ingredients in the bin in the above order, then push the button. If making by hand proof the yeast with the oat-mixture, then mix in the liquid ingredients and sweetener. Stir in the dry ingredients and knead. Put in a greased bowl, cover with a wet cloth, and let rise until doubled (I like to let dough rise in the unheated oven where it isn't drafty). Punch down the dough and let it rise again. Place in a greased bread pan and bake at 350F.


I have become a low-carb pod person. I cannot stop raving about this; I feel so much better, and with recipes like this don't feel in the least deprived. With no hunger and no sense of deprivation or food cravings I've lost 15 pounds since October and continuing. Time to buy new pants.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Low Carb Chocolate Chip Cookies

My family makes fun of my low-carb foods. I told them they can make snide remarks but only after they taste them, since they're really good. I happened to have a batch of these cookies around at the time. My husband and both kids had to admit that these were good, so good that they could serve them to their friends and no one would be the wiser. My point exactly. Eating low-carb isn't a chore as long as you do a little preparation. I freeze these cookies, or other things I make, and eat them if I want a convenient snack.

My family still thinks my attention to carbs is a little silly, but let 'em. I feel great.

Here's a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that I adapted closely from Dana Carpender's book, 500 LOW-CARB RECIPES: 500 RECIPES, FROM SNACKS TO DESSERT, THAT THE WHOLE FAMILY WILL LOVE. This woman is a magician.

Low-Carb Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup extra-light olive oil
1 cup Splenda
1/2 cup xylitol
2 teaspoons blackstrap molasses (gives that brown-sugar taste)
2 eggs
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup vanilla-flavored whey protein powder
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces sugar-free chocolate chips
(1 cup chopped walnuts, optional)

Oven 350F. Blend together the butter, oil, sweeteners, and molasses. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat well. In a separate bowl stir together the almonds, protein powder, flaxseed, baking soda, and salt. Blend the dry and wet mixes together well. Stir in the chocolate chips and the nuts. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons onto greased cookie sheets (I use parchment paper). Bake for about 10 minutes or until light golden. Cool and remove.


You can buy the exotic ingredients at a health food store or on the internet. walmart.com sells bags of sugar-free chocolate chips for $3 each, with free shipping for a certain minimum spending limit.

If you read my previous article on artificial sweeteners, you know that I really like xylitol (a sugar alcohol) because it measures and tastes like sugar, with no aftertaste. There are no known long-term side effects. However, CAUTION SHOULD BE EXERCISED WITH SUGAR ALCOHOLS. Not only do these cookies have xylitol as a sweetener, but the sugar-free chocolate uses maltilol (another sugar alcohol) to sweeten the chocolate. These alcohols act as an osmotic in the GI tract since they're not digested. In other words, as the bag on the chocolate chips politely warns: "individuals sensitive to sugar substitutes may experience a laxative effect."

Don't panic and say never never. Just make sure that you only eat a few cookies at a time until you figure out your tolerance for this stuff. The "laxative" effects kick in about 4 hours later, so if you react that will be the time. Likely you won't have any sort of problem even if you eat a dozen cookies. Here's some more good news: as you regularly consume sugar alcohols, you develop a tolerance that eliminates GI symptoms, meaning you can eat even more cookies at once :-)))

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Low Carb Eating -- An Update

You may remember I wrote about America's growing obesity incidence back in October. Different populations and different ages of people may contribute to the fattening trend, but I wonder if changes in diet and food availability may also contribute.

The USDA's food pyramid for guidance to healthy eating recommends breads, cereals, rice, and pasta to be the main dietary component (6-11 servings per day) but meats and eggs -- proteins -- to only comprise 2-3 servings per day, and fats to be in the same category as sweets, which are to be eaten "sparingly."

Americans have taken this advice to heart. Look around, at vending machines, in restaurants, at supermarkets. Carbohydrate products are everywhere. It's relatively easy to eat "low fat," but "low carb" is tougher.

But is eating low fat and high carb really the healthiest advice? I've been doing some reading on nutrition, and am beginning to wonder if obesity is not a symptom of eating too much, but simply a symptom of a maladaptive insulin response in the body. Let me explain. Insulin is a peptide hormone produced by the pancreas (an organ lying beneath the stomach), and is released in response to rises in blood sugar. The blood sugar rises when carbohydrates are digested and the food elements are released into the bloodstream. Since high blood sugar causes alkylating reactions to tissues that damage them over time, the body needs to lower the blood sugar to stay healthy. Insulin causes cells to take in sugars from the blood, and also causes glycogen (an endogenous sugar source) to be stored in the liver. In some people, especially with a genetic component and as people age, the insulin may cause a too-vigorous response by fat cells so that they remove ALL the blood sugar. This too-vigorous response causes the fat cells to get fatter, and at the same time removes the energy source from the blood so that the body feels it is STARVING. The person will crave more food, and usually carbohydrates, since carbs cause the fastest rise in blood sugar to supply energy. The insulin is released again, and this sets up a vicious cycle.

I don't know; I'm not a nutritionist, simply someone who enjoys reading the literature. But this explanation seems reasonable.

I've been eating low-carb since the beginning of October, with a 3 week glitch around the end of November. Since that time I've lost 15 pounds without exercise, and don't feel hungry. There are no down effects as far as I can tell from how I feel; in fact, I feel more energetic and just... better.

The toughest part about sticking with low-carb is finding things to eat. I like eggs but not often. I'm not a fan of red meat or of seafood (except salmon), although I can eat it if I have to. I find ham and cheese to be too salty to eat much. So, what's a low-carb person to do?

My solution has been to figure out alternatives to the pure meat-and-eggs choices. I found a few low-carb cookbooks and make low carb taste-alike products such as protein bars and cookies. These taste good, I can grab them off the shelf or from the freezer, and they are satisfying for quick meals like breakfast or lunch. I will eat a spoonful of peanut butter or some cottage cheese if I'm hungry. I love vegetables and have platefuls of red pepper and cucumber to crunch on. I make lots of shredded chicken, and occasionally wrap it with mayonnaise and lettuce in a low-carb tortilla for lunch. Very satisfying. I'll mix up tuna salad or egg salad with celery and slivered almonds to eat for dinner. Occasionally I'll make a slushie with crushed ice and vanilla-flavored whey powder. Sometimes I'll eat almonds mixed with sugar-free chocolate chips for breakfast or a snack.

Now that I've worked out these solutions, and freeze or otherwise prepare foods that I can eat quickly, that taste good, I'm doing much better. I'm not tempted to eat carbs; in fact, the idea is even vaguely repellent. Maybe my body is remembering the swinging blood sugar after breads? I don't know, but I have no problems with desiring cakes and sugar.

So, my verdict? Low-carb seems to be a good lifestyle for me. I'm a convert.

I'll be posting a few low-carb recipes for surprising foods next week.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Regina Brett: 45 Life Lessons (Plus 5 to Grow On)

I love it. In an email I received recently, the text read the following list was by a 90 year old columnist, but when I looked it up (on SNOPES at http://www.snopes.com/glurge/lifelessons.asp) I found this poor lady had been aged 40-some years before her time. Here is part of the Snopes commentary:

Regina Brett is a long-time columnist for Ohio newspapers (including the Akron Beacon Journal and the Cleveland Plain Dealer) who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2009 for "her range of compelling columns that move the heart, challenge authority and often trigger action while giving readers deeper insight into life's challenges.

Ms. Brett is also the compiler of the above-quoted list of "life lessons," which was originally published in the Plain Dealer and has since become "the single most popular column ever written by Regina."

Contrary to the Internet-circulated version of Ms. Brett's list, however, she is NOT 90 years old. Regina Brett turned 50 years old in 2006, and on that occasion she updated her list of "45 life lessons" with an additional "5 to grow on." In a June 2009 blog entry, 53 year old Regina Brett wrote about the Internet-created misperception that she is 90.  http://www.cleveland.com/brett/blog/index.ssf/2009/06/lifes_lessons_speed_up_on_inte.html

So, beware of getting too old too quickly if you write well :-)

I found Ms. Brett's list of lessons compelling, so went to the original source, her blog, in which she prints them plus five more. Here they are, at http://www.cleveland.com/brett/blog/index.ssf/2006/05/regina_bretts_45_life_lessons.html


To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me.

It is the most-requested column I've ever written. My odometer rolls over to 50 this week, so here's an update:

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.

8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.

12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.

16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.

17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.

18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.

19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: "In five years, will this matter?"

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive everyone everything.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.

35. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.

36. Growing old beats the alternative - dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.

38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.

41. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

42. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.

43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

45. The best is yet to come.

46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

48. If you don't ask, you don't get.

49. Yield.

50. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

You Become Who You Wish to Be

I’m dating myself here. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was delighted to find after school a television channel that showed reruns of the original Star Trek series with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Yeah, they were cheesy, but to a young girl they were “fascinating.” Along with books and Star Wars, these were my first initiation into ideas of bending reality and alternate worlds. A few years later I was excited to watch Star Trek: Next Generation. This was objectively a better series, with more complex characters and occasionally a truly mind-twisting premise. The cardboard walls and Christmas tree lights were gone. Yes, maybe the Next Generation episodes were sometimes silly, but as in the first series, full of optimism and derring do.

I love to contrast the characters of Spock and Data from the two series. Spock is a Vulcan – a humanoid who prizes logic and rationality more than anything. Spock never showed emotion, at least until the actor complained and the writers built in a half-human side and a few episodes in which he could deliver a larger emotional range.

Data, on the other hand, is the quintessential Pinocchio: an android built by Dr. Noonian Soong who is incapable of experiencing emotion, although he desperately pursues this aim. Among other things Data learns painting, plays poker, and adopts a cat (Spot), but never quite gets it.

Interestingly, I think of Spock as less human-like than Data. Spock, who is human but wishes to be unemotional, is perceived as unemotional. Data, who is without emotions but “desires” to become human, is perceived as human -- although the crew never forget that he is an android, they always interact with him in a human-like way.

Of course, this perception on my part, as the audience, might be due to skillful acting and writing that imbues a limited character with greater depth. But assuming that this is a true observation, I’ve often pondered why this might be. I think it comes down to this: the characters are perceived, not as who they are or even who they see themselves as, but who they desire to be.

This is a powerful thought.

Who are you aiming to be? What do you wish to accomplish? More than many other factors, these goals will define who you are.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Recognizing a Stroke

A stroke is defined as rapid loss in brain function (motor, cognition, vision, and/or other) due to an interruption in blood supply (for example from a blockage/clot, or hemorrhage/bleeding). A stroke can cause permanent neurological damage or death, and is the leading cause of disability in the USA and Europe, and second leading cause of death worldwide. (Feigin VL. 2005. "Stroke epidemiology in the developing world". Lancet 365 (9478): 2160–1).

The Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is a reversible stroke-like event that is an important warning for high stroke risk. The TIA gives the same symptoms as a stroke (for example, contralateral paralysis, difficulty speaking, vision changes etc.), but these symptoms disappear within about 24 hours. TIAs are usually caused by an occlusion in the blood supply to the brain, say a piece of atherosclerotic plaque breaking off from a blood vessel that travels to the brain and briefly blocks a vessel. ANYONE EXPERIENCING A TIA SHOULD IMMEDIATELY BE MEDICALLY EVALUATED TO LOWER THE RISK OF STROKE. Evaluation includes a doctor history and a physical exam and several tests, including an MRI of the brain, ultrasound of the neck, and an echocardiogram of the heart.

Early medical care if someone is having a stroke is critical to limit permanent damage. If someone trips, or seems to be slurring their words, do this quick check to verify good neurological function:

1. Ask the person to SMILE.

2. Ask the person to SAY A SIMPLE SENTENCE (something like, it is sunny out today).

3. Ask the person to RAISE BOTH ARMS.

4. Ask the person to STICK OUT HIS TONGUE.

You can remember these steps by remembering the first three letters of STROKE: S (smile), T (talk), R (raise both arms). You're fighting a bad problem with the stroke, so then stick your tongue out at it.


If the person has trouble with any of these tasks, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY and describe the person's symptoms. Therapies that can break up a blood clot, if used quickly for an ischemic stroke, can prevent brain damage. Fast intervention no matter the etiology of the stroke saves the brain. WHEN IN DOUBT, GET HELP. CALL 911 SO THAT THE PERSON CAN RAPIDLY BE TRANSPORTED TO THE HOSPITAL.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Our month of *January* is named after the Roman god, Janus. Janus was the keeper of gates, doors, doorways, and beginnings and endings. He was often worshiped at starting events such as the harvest, planting, marriages, births; and transitional life events such as when a boy was now recognized as a man. A common myth told of Janus causing a hot spring to erupt, thereby foiling an attack against Rome.

Janus is shown as having two faces, one looking forward and one looking backwards. I can't think of a better picture for what we call *ambivalence.*

Dictionary.com defines ambivalence thus: uncertainty or fluctuation, esp. when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things. Ambivalence comes from the Latin *ambi* meaning *both*, and *valentia* meaning *strength.*

I think ambivalence is a part of being human in a fallen world, and probably most decisions in life incorporate some degree of ambivalence. Even something as normal as eating breakfast can reflect uncertainty: should I eat the egg or the waffle? (or both?) Or just drink orange juice, or go without... I'm hungry, but I want to lose five pounds by summer...

Have you ever been gripped by a strong ambivalence? Something that is a constant fight within you, that doesn't stop? I imagine that all of us have at least one axis somewhere within our psyche that could make us vulnerable to a frozen ambivalence. What college shall I go to? Should I keep this job, or take that one? Should I marry her?

Should I? Can I? May I?

How horrible this is. I've often wondered if this is why people are so drawn to rules in all areas of life, so that these nagging doubts won't come to visit.

Ambivalence comes in different flavors: intellectual, emotional, moral; and many gradations in between. James 1:8 says *A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.* (AKJV) Yes, this ambivalence, no matter the root, is destabilizing.

It's important to know, really know, your values and goals in life so that when you are faced with these choices, you have a better sense of how to decide. Sometimes, though, life throws you a curve ball, and it's hard to know what to do or how to handle a problem. And then, what?

You will not always know the answer. Or maybe, you know the answer, but can't quite make the final step. Sometimes you hang on: you're too drawn even though you know you should move on.

Immobile, unable to go forward, unable to turn back. Just like Janus.

The solution? First, trust. Trust that God will redeem things, somehow, some way. Then, do the right thing, or the best thing within your power to know.

Being human in this fallen world is hard. I think of the film March of the Penguins, with the Antarctic penguins huddled in a circle through a windstorm with -60 degree temperatures and a four month night. I wonder if the angels look at us humans in this world like this: we don't even know how bad it is. We are battered by ambivalence, despite all of our effort to keep it at bay.

I believe though that God values our good choices, and He will make it right, if not in this world, then in the world to come. Sometimes, that is the best that can be said for a bad situation.

What think you, my friends?