Ain’t No Southern Twang

I await with bated breath. Or is it waiting baited? Or with breath abated? Turns-of-phrase easily drive me nuts. In fact, a friend I’ve known all the way through gradeschool writes (and speaks), “sorta speak” instead of “so to speak,” and I’ve never had the heart to correct her.

Personally, I feel it gives her character. On the other hand, the writing Nazi in me screams for reparations. Given my gutteral response, she is now the framework for a character in my latest work.

Should you use turns-of-phrase while writing? The simple answer is yes, sometimes, depending on the situation. Should the whole book be entirely in a conglomeration of phrases? No. Never. Just like some neurobiologist writing latinate in some science periodical should use it sparingly—even for the experts in his field—or a drummer that only hits the drums hard and fast with no rhythm to speak of, one should always avoid drowning the reader in slog.

I also prefer turns-of-phrases remain in dialogue (unless you’re going first person: different animal altogether). Again, there are always exceptions, but they’re like pieces of flair: too many of them and you’re in danger of glaaamorizing to the detriment and, sometimes, death of the book. A fabulous character and a fabulous style are two very different things. If you can keep them separated, more power to you. If you can bring them together to work well? Even more power.

But, power corrupts. Remember. The fool leads the king, doncha know.

Of course a writer can follow the phrase turning to the basic structure of the sentence: it worms its way into everything. By the time a writer gets there, he’s given up on writing a book and decided to do A Study… of a Sentence: Diagramming a voice. Or simply being anal. I’m not talking about the roots of the matter (heh), I’m talking about the stumbling blocks. The “Hell yeah! Pardon my French.” Topped with “In my humble opinion.” Stephen King did a lot of this–A tisket a tasket–to develop the mood and environment. It helped to put a creepy song in the reader’s head, and overall, it worked: he’s wildly successful. And I like him, to boot (there’s another one).

Turn-of-phrase can be a garnish, or it can be a plate full of gristly filler. Divide and conquer, cut the fat, and dodge the bullet, sorta speak.


Aspartame in My Hatorade

I’m diabetic. I weigh a little over 200 pounds. I don’t gain weight easily, and I don’t lose it easily either. When I was first diagnosed with diabetes last January (2011) I was told to remove all soda (my kryptonite) from my diet. I was 185 lbs. Diet soda was fine, since it had no sugar, but sugar (high fructose corn syrup) was bad, bad, bad for me.

Being diabetic is a love-hate relationship. My body needs carbs to be efficient, but it can’t handle the sugar in those carbs so eating them drags me down to zero energy. It’s a complicated “eat only 40 grams of carbs a day” scenario where 10 over or 10 under might screw up the rest of my day.

Aspartame is in everything. Apparently, before my time, sucralose was in everything, and the big companies switched to Aspartame to properly substitute corn syrup. Why? Cheaper. Bottom dollar at work again. Cheaper, processed and therefore patented artificial sweetner some big company can corner the market on. So “diet” usually means aspartame.

“Diet soda” is a misnomer. It’s not a diet soda. It’s not a dieter’s soda. It makes you RAVENOUSLY hungry. Savage like a wild animal. It eats your stomach up until you have a gnawing black hole devouring the universe inside you. You salivate over donuts, daydream about Doritos. And, of course, that’s what the Krispy Kreme and Doritos companies want. Some technical term like Cross-Marketing comes to mind.

Aspartame is the devil for a dieter. It’s like little Bailey’s-filled chocolates for an alcoholic on the mend. It’s better to drink cane sugar than to drink an ounce of that stuff, because it destroys your dieting resolve.

But I’m not a dieter, so it’s gravy. Right? No… It in fact made me so hungry for sugary, candy things I was doing worse in the insulin department than I was before I went off it. Let’s get this straight: soda’s nasty. 49 grams of corn syrup in each 12 oz can is downright dangerous. But I gained 20 pounds simply by getting into an otherwise “healthier” lifestyle of removing soda and other high-carb drinks (like sweet tea).

Advice for dieters and diabetics alike: buy unsweet tea and administer stevia to taste if you have to. Or coffee. Stevia is a NATURAL, UNPROCESSED sweetner that accomplishes the same pros Aspartame does but can’t be trademarked or developed by Big Business, so you won’t hear a lot of advertisement about it. Furthermore, Dr. Pepper won’t be replacing Aspartame anytime soon. It’s bad business, and I understand why they wouldn’t change something that isn’t broken (again, they aren’t in the business to help you lose weight or live healthier. They’re in the business to make money).

SoBe has some low-carb alternatives full of caffine, too, if that’s what you’re looking for. Lifewater. Look for the Truvia label, and look for the lids with purple or green. They are awesome.

Finally, Aspartame reacts with me strangely. It turns me into a blubbering idiot. I forget focus every five minutes, after drinking some, and run around wondering why I can’t remember anything. My creativity dies. It is literally a dangerous drug with damaging side-effects. For me. Reactions do vary, of course.



Stop Being Scared of Vegetables

Momma said eat your greens. Mashed potatoes? Handled. Steak? Already gone. Applesauce? Done and done. Asparagus? Nope. Broccoli? Nope. Peas? Nope nope nope. Salad? At least you can drench it in Ranch dressing.

Red meat shouldn’t be the staple of every meal. “Lite” meals shouldn’t consist of two chicken breasts wrapped in bacon, or a fistful of ground beef carved up to fit in a burrito.

…I’ve been trying to find “perfect meals.” All-in-ones that taste perfect and are incredibly healthy. The kinds of foods you look at and say, “Yeah. I can eat that,” even when there’s that green stuff on it. A perfect meal, for example, is a hefty salad with a single serving of baked chicken, lots of sunflower seeds, a few crispy onions, and an oil-based dressing. Why would I call it a perfect meal? Because it is.

4 oz of steak is a serving. How many steakhouses even offer 4 oz unless it’s a “healthy choice” or “lite choice” menu item? None I’ve been to in my entire life. 1 chicken breast is a serving. Serving sizes are so much smaller than Tyson or Longhorn Steakhouse wants us to believe. It’s smart to give you four servings of meat on a single plate and charge you 4x the price of a single serving for it and hope nobody catches on: it’s called good business. But it isn’t good health.

Lettuce isn’t marketable, so you’ll never find a Texas Greenhouse or an Outback Saladhouse. Ruby Tuesday will always be the fifth pick down a line of commercial eatieries.

Always eat your greens. Always have more greens than protien and you’ll live a healthier life. In fact, some simple advice is this: skip fast food, skip an upended Atkins-style carb-free diet (yes, a diabetic is saying this) and go green. No joke. You’ll shed pounds like an onion sheds tears, and you’ll be so full of energy you won’t know what to do. Maybe actually play football instead of eating cheetos and salsa.

A popular show on Discovery called Dual Survival pits a barefoot hippie on steroids against an ex-marine survivalist to see which style works best in what situation. They trek across the globe seeking some of the more inhospitable biomes to showcase their abilities. Not surprisingly, the hippie forages for grubs and greens while the marine hunts red meat. Given this is a “show and tell” survival show, producers trap pigs for the big burly man to catch and kill just to give the watcher an example of what to do.

Every time the hippie shows up with a bowl full of food, the ex-marine scoffs and fire-hardens his spear: vegetables don’t make a meal for him.

It should.

We Americans have this mindset that meat is the center of a balanced meal. Or maybe just the ones in the Midwest. Yet obesity and diabetes is skyrocketing. Huh. Good red-blooded, God-fearing carnivorous meat-eaters are the salt of the earth. I can’t disagree. If it works for them, great. But I don’t know of a heavy meat-eater that doesn’t have rumbly jowels and a swollen stomach that prefers to watch football than hike a mountain trail. It might be my inexperience showing. I don’t know.

What I do know is spending three years with a vegetarian that was once fruititarian has opened my eyes to an alternative lifestyle. So many people (like the ex-marine) are terrified of not getting their huge flanksteak for dinner. Their body, of course, wants meat. Does the body NEED red meat? No. It needs protein, but not nearly as much as one would think. Does the body NEED the nutrients in the greens? Yep. And you can’t ever get too much. In fact, if you go without red meat for six months, you’re disgustingly sick in the bathroom after you eat three pieces of bacon. Believe me. I’ve been there. And I had to relearn that lesson several times. The body runs differently on white-meat diet.

Fowl meat is healthier than red meat. Fish and seafood healthier than that. Not saying you should give up on the red wine, but healthy living comes from less red.

That being said, if you want to live a healthier lifestyle without working any harder, cut out the red, put in the green. Just like a stoplight. Green means go.

Simpler is usually better. Simplest is best: all vegetarian works wonders, as long as you find ways to incorporate non-meat protein in your diet.



The Holy Grail of Coffee

…and how I didn’t know I was on a Crusade until I found it.

I was one of those Midwest kids that was raised to believe coffee tasted burnt. The few times my dad let me try his morning brew, I must have given him a perfect Bitter Beer face. Even after I grew older I would be tempted by the Pumpkin Spice Mocha Frappamach-whatevers from Starbucks, or the gasoline-colored frothy stuff from gas stations, and I’d be pleasantly disgusted by the telltale burned flavor.

When I was in college, I had three roommates in a single apartment. A fourth—a hipster that squatted four days a week on the couch—worked at Starbucks. Religiously, I might add. His morning prayers consisted of waking me with the tinny grinding of his Starbucks beans. Now, I had heard of the Holy Land: people telling me bitter coffee was a sign of poor construction. So I figured if a die-hard hipster (with just enough curly beard to cover the lapel of his flannel hand-me-down shirt) couldn’t tell me about the secret of good coffee, nobody could.

So I asked him why coffee beans were always burned—especially at Starbucks. His reply? “Oh they aren’t burned. They are a special blend of Bitter Bean that Starbucks uses in all its coffees.”

Okay. Suspicions confirmed. On with my life.

Then I start dating an incredible woman that grew up in Seattle on great coffee. She’d groan about how she wanted coffee, and I’d conjure images of a Green Tea frapp that tasted more of a seaweed milkshake than anything resembling coffee, and would turn my nose up.

So one day she went out, bought a $10 bag of Fair Trade certified Tanzanian coffee from the local 10,000 Villages (which, I might add, was for the price of 2 cups of Grande coffee from Starbucks) and a French Press and brewed me some.

Let me tell you. It was nearly a religious experience. She made it perfect. It tasted delicious black. It was vibrant, full of character, perfect. My throat vibrated it tasted so good. Too bad I wasn’t still in college with my hipster squatter roommate. Bitter beans. Right.

Not knocking Starbucks’ clients. I’m sure the ease of a store on every corner keeps the decision-making to a minimum: good coffee is hard to find.

And the Holy Grail of Coffee? The french press. I grew up with burned perc-O-lator coffee aftertaste in my mom’s morning cheek-kisses and back-of-the-tongue memories of soccer game Saturday mornings with dad’s sipped pick-me-up. One burned cup and every cup is burned.

People spend hundreds of dollars on their Keurig-Cup dispensory coffee. They buy boxes of “single cup” coffees from Starbucks or Folgiers or Seattle’s Best (of which my fiancee nearly cried when she found out they were ground up by Starbucks) and all that disgusting waste. A 200 buck coffee maker that can make only a single cup at a time? Wow. We’ve become dedicated to lazy.

That being said, simpler is better. The simplest, if possible. Good coffee comes from attention. Instead of buying a 200 dollar coffee machine and a 50 dollar 50pack of coffee cups, or a cup of 4.50 burnt ends Starbucks, spend the bare minimum warming (just before boiling) your own water and pouring your own cup. It’s cheaper, it’s tastier, and you get a fraction of the destructive waste of the fast-food coffee.