Food!

7 Days

I’m watching vintage Anthony Bourdain — 2003 — and he’s in Vietnam and being very Anthony Bourdain.  He’s a fish out of water, but eager to learn; he’s caustic and classic but a much younger version of the person we see today. It’s fun to point a finger and say “ha, ha, isn’t he awkward!”, right up until he gamely eats the half-matured duck egg (complete with duck fetus) and can appreciate it as a culinary event instead of the classic “ew!” that 99.9% of folks I know would engender. Including yours truly.

It’s been a busy week.

A week ago tomorrow, I sat in a large dining hall at the Seattle Westin.  My brother and husband were there. My best friends were there. Some of my more colorful (and worldly) friends were there.  While I’d love to say they were there for me (and in a way, they were, and it’s wholly flattering), or that they were there for Team Read (and in a way, they were, and that’s wholly heartening), they were there for Nancy Pearl. Nancy Pearl was our guest speaker and let me tell you, it’s one thing to hear her on NPR. It’s quite another to see her in person. But of course, the real stars of the show were our teen tutors, who consistently impress me with their maturity and aplomb.  At that age I was snarfing pop tarts and hiding my grades from my parents. These kids are getting work experience and teaching 2nd and 3rd graders to read; they are looked up to not only by their tutees but also by a room of 300 adults, none with a dry eye at the end of their presentation. I’m proud to be a part of the Team Read team and looking forward to my next role as I step down from chair to secretary. And I’m eternally grateful to M who introduced me to this organization.

Last weekend, I had dinner with friends at my house — relaxing and informal; I also learned to do a gluten-free chicken parmesan (hint: garbanzo bean flour) and my sister’s banana nice cream (OMG coco whip is the secret!!)– and then on Sunday my best friend and I decided to do the Hot Chocolate 15k.

The Hot Chocolate 15k promises a lovely hoodie and all kinds of chocolate-based goodies along the raceway. It also sends you smack up the 99, up three hills, and back down them (and up them). We were walking (thanks to my recent injury) but it’s a small solace. It is 9.3 miles of sheer discomfort and as we got to mile 6 and saw the uphill slant of Aurora (the last uphill, right after you have shoved 3 or 4 chocolate marshmallows into  your face and you’re ready to play chubby bunny and you’re feeling pretty good and then you see the last, huge, uphill of Aurora and you want to say the F-word but your face is full of marshmallows) and remembered that type 2 fun doesn’t come easy. You cross the finish line, get your medal, and then get a cup of cocoa, some chocolate dipping sauce, and a bunch of stuff to dip into said sauce.

But Candie made it up to me, because we got to have breakfast at the 5Spot.

The 5Spot is in Seattle and I couldn’t find it on my own because every time I go to Seattle I get lost (this is not an exaggeration).  Our waiter had amazing purple lipstick and beautiful eyes and there’s a shirt there I like; the food was wonderful and the coffee was intense and I will go back. I also heartily approve of their attitude.  I ate and ate and ate and yet came home with leftovers (which the boy promptly ate).

Tired yet? I was, but it’s only Sunday in this chronology. Yeah, I’ll speed it up.

Monday and Tuesday was all day in an Economics class: take people whose WHOLE JOB it is to do research (with an economics or machine learning bent) and of course they are world-class (the class was run by Glen Weyl and Preston McAffee had a prominent course) and put them into a 3-day course (yeah, I only got three) and add in snacks and coffee and Q&A and stick a fork in me, I’m done. The syllabus alone is enough to make me jabber at the husband, who still gives me that little smile as he listens.

And so we find me at today. Wednesday.  I had an all-day conference on Leadership, full of those cringe-inducing group efforts that somehow were ok, and I find I am glad.  Still so much to do, but all in all a good week. There’s no big political missive here, or commentary on the state of things. Just gratitude.

Except for that friggin’ hill on Aurora.  I could do without that again. I don’t care how many chocolate marshmallows are in the offing.

 

 

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Bonus Round: Protein on the Go

Having finished up the protein powder comparison it’s another week until I tell you all about Premier Protein vanilla shakes, right?

Wrong.

Here’s how this ended up happening: PP was the only premixed I purchased and it sat in the fridge, faithfully, for the first week or so.  But then I got hungry, because one or two of the shakes didn’t quite cut it when I was doing a long run, or because I didn’t have time to pack a lunch as nicely for myself as I wanted to, and so I just threw a shake in there.

The smallest batch of PP’s you can get I think is 4 (unless someone breaks up a pack and gives you a one-off) and within a week they were gone. I didn’t think they’d go that fast and I also didn’t think it would be fair to compare a premixed to have-to-drag-the-blender-out powder, so here’s a comparison of 3 premixed proteins (all Vanilla!).

The contenders: Obviously there’s Premier Protein, which is available pretty much everywhere (Safeway, Costco, Amazon) and was the recommendation by my best friend’s hubs. I then tried out Muscle Milk in Vanilla, and there’s the old standby of Labrada Lean Body protein shake in Vanilla Ice Cream.

The flavors:

  • Premier Protein: basic vanilla, not fancy and not too rich.
  • Labrada: my favorite vanilla of the three, slightly lighter flavor (despite advertisement as “ice cream”
  • Muscle Milk: was fine for the first split-second but there’s a medicine-y aftertaste.

The textures: All three were much more watery than anything I did in a blender, although Premier Protein was the least watery. Then again I’m not sure how I’d feel about a thick shake for a shelf-sitting product.

The vitals:

  • Premier Protein offers 30 grams of protein at 160 calories. Somewhere in there there is 3 grams of fat and 25mg of cholesterol (it is a bit on the high side, while the packaging says 8% of my intake it would technically be 13%).
  • Muscle Milk offers 20 grams of protein at 130 calories, with 4 grams of fat and 10mg of cholesterol (so about 5% of my daily intake).
  • Labrada offers 25 grams of protein at 180 calories, with 7 grams of fat and 10mg of cholesterol.

The performance: These all performed equally well – not quite meal “replacement” (I don’t care what the package says) but with leftover veggies from the night before or to cure mid-afternoon drag they worked great!

The cost: I’m going to use Amazon as the great leveler of prices here; your mileage may vary.

  • Premier Protein: $7.46 as an add-on item of one 4-pack, or a 12-pack for $30.  First price would be $1.87/serving, second would be $2.50/serving
  • Muscle Milk: 2-4packs (so 8) for $24. $3/serving
  • Labrada: $31 for a 12 pack (that’s not a type-o!). $2.58/serving.

 

Grade: Premier Protein gets an A- (subtracting points for cholesterol, although it’s still less than my original shake mix by far), Muscle Milk gets a B- (minus points for being the most expensive and medicine-y aftertaste), and Labrada gets a B  (minus points for all of that fat).

 

 

Lean Green: Nutiva Hemp Protein

img_0243Nutiva was another Facebook friend recommendation and I have to say the packaging is different from the bags-o-powder thus far; in fact the packaging lets you know it’s a Non-BPA container and frankly once I’m done with the powder I’ll likely reuse it for other stuff.
One thing to note about Nutiva is it is green. Very very green. And so if you don’t normally mix your shakes with green stuff (the greenest thing in my shake these days is a questionable banana) you get a new color to drink.

img_0246The flavor: Kinda vanilla? Hint-o-vanilla. Hard to get a bead on it, because I was so distracted by…

The texture: I don’t think “mealy” is the right word, but maybe sandy? More time in the blender didn’t help; although blending it with softer textured things did a bit (e.g., the aforementioned banana). It’s very likely this was intended to be blended with many other things, and in fact there’s a recipe on the side that includes coconut and pineapple (and rice milk or almond milk, the latter of which would kill me). (Oh, and blending with psyllium is a *bad* idea for this, namely because it has it’s own fiber content, so you get to gelatinous goo phase much, much faster.)

img_0244The vitals:10 grams of protein per serving, making it the smallest protein provider of the bunch. However that doesn’t actually appear to be its focus as much as fiber, of which it also provides 5 grams. (It thinks each is 20% of my daily diet). 120 calories per serving means it’s bang in the middle of the current offerings, but where’s the 1.5g fat coming from? Still, no cholesterol.

The performance: Okay. And by okay I mean that I didn’t feel the need to eat until lunch (unless I ran that morning, which is 5 mornings a week) and it didn’t cause any reverse-broom or broom effects, as it were.

The cost: The container I purchased holds 15 servings (about — you can do 2-4tbsp, they don’t give you a scoop and they don’t tell you if those are heaping or not; they do nutrition based on 3 tbsp), and can be got at Amazon for about $14 (Prime free shipping) so it’s probably the least expensive of the lot by “serving” (e.g., slightly under a dollar). However if you were trying to match protein with the original (so, 18 grams) or with Vega (the other vegan offering, which offered up 15 grams) you’d have to use considerably more.

Grade: B-.  The texture doesn’t work for my application but may for yours; and I already get my fiber from the psyllium powder. Bump it up to a B+ if you need fiber and mix with smoother textured items (e.g., peanut butter and the like).

 

 

Gold Standard Whey – Good, but…

Gold Standard Whey was recommended by one of my friends (I have like, four) who is a true badass.  Like get up in the morning at 4am, run 10 miles, then kick butt at work, do eleven billion hobbies, in bed by midnight people. He’s in data so he’s aware there is a curve that most people fall on and is completely ambivalent that he’s ruining it.

gswhey_labelHe posted this before and I’ve heard his recipe — he mixes with peanut butter and kale (he actually likes kale) and chocolate and I have no idea what else.  I put this stuff to the test plain, with psyllium, and with a banana.

The flavor: standard, regular, vanilla. Not to sweet, not too plain; not too fancy.  Very vanilla vanilla.

The texture: PERFECT texture. Truly. Not gritty, not mealy, not slurry, just a great texture. NB: like every other shake thus far (except my original), if you leave it alone in the blender it will seize up and make an impressive gelatinous goo.

gswhey_nutritionThe vitals: 24 grams of protein per serving, which this agrees should be 50 grams per day. 35mg of Cholesterol making it less than my original powder but still an impressive fifth of what I should intake per day (a little more). Only one gram of sugars and 120 calories.

The performance: I felt full, although here’s an unpleasant side effect: remember that “Nature’s Broom” effect some protein shakes give? Let’s call this one “Nature’s Cork”. What this did after standing in my blender it did to me, and while I gave it a legitimate week’s try there is no way I’m doing that again. No.

The cost: a one-pound bag of 14 servings can be got at Amazon for about $19 (free shipping with Prime) making the cost about $1.36 — not the most spendy but close to. But even if it was 50 cents the stoppage in my system is enough of a sign.

Grade: C-. I’m sorry, I just can’t get over the grinding halt of my gears. BUT! Protein shakes hit everyone differently, if I were to remove the gastrointestinal seizure I’d give it a B+ based on the other criteria.

Decibel – No Thanks Turkish, I’m Sweet Enough

I really wanted to like Decibel because I could tell they really wanted me to like it. The website is clearly meant to show professional, serious people doing extremely fit things. The packaging is black, white, and gold (in that order) and there’s a whole booklet on how awesome the product is, that is shipped with said product. Also, my trainer recommended it.

Quick break for this: one thing my trainer pointed out is protein shakes aren’t the same for everyone, and one thing to consider is how likely they are to act as (shall we say) Nature’s Broom. It never occurred to me that that would be a consideration.

So Decibel shipped from the UK and arrived while I was out of town, but I gave it a good week. This review is for Decibel Whey Protein Concentrate in Madagascan Vanilla.

img_0236The flavor: If I were making a shake that would be for dessert — you know, like the kind you get at a Dairy Queen or a Fatburger — then this is the shake to use. If you have a chronic sweet tooth and need your breakfast shakes to be dessert-level sweet, use this. I cannot stress enough how sweet this is. Unfortunately I tend to cut my shakes with things like banana or strawberries, which only serve to make the shake *more* sweet.

The texture: Not as moist in powder form as the Vega was, more of a ‘traditional’ powder. Blended with the usuals (or even stand-alone) it is *extremely* smooth; it even found a way to grind out some of the impact of the psyllium husks I use. Just like other shakes it will congeal if left and you want to rinse out your blender well.

img_0237The vitals: This has 23.6 grams of protein per serving, so more than  my comparison point and quite a bit more than Vega. However the nutritional panel, while including things like fat, does *not* include cholesterol. Also I noticed something else — this said my daily intake of protein would be 50 grams (backward-calculated form 23.6 being 47% of my daily according to them), while Vega declined to opine just how much protein I need, and my original Designer Whey agreed that 50 grams was it. What I find interesting here is technically it depends on what kind of diet you’re on, but some calculators tell me I should aim for as much as 1 gram/pound. I weigh  more than 50 pounds.

The performance: I stayed full, but the cloying sweetness would drive me to drink a bunch of coffee to kill the sweet; this resulted in a couple of over-caffeinated days and some dehydration (remember to drink water!). Also, that “nature’s broom” effect? Let’s just say it worked in reverse. You’d think the coffee would’ve helped with that.

The cost: Here’s where I’m glad I included cost per serving — I thought the bag was a bit large and I was right, this bag has 31 servings. It’s 18.99 british pounds per package not including shipping, and that was another 13 pounds. Just shy of 32 pounds translates to about $44,  which in turn means this is about $1.42/serving and the most expensive one so far.

Grade: B-.  More expensive, too sweet. If you are into sweet and you find your protein shake is not sweet enough, and/or if you don’t mind the extra expense, you can bump that up to an A or A-.

Next up: Gold Standard Whey in Vanilla.

Better than Expected: Vega Protein Smoothie

In my quest to find a protein shake that won’t make my cholesterol go up and will leave me full for the morning (and actually provide, you know, protein) I have taken on a challenge to compare a variety of shake mixes. You can read about that here.

This review is for Vega Protein Smoothie in Viva Vanilla.  This is the *only* shake mix that got 3 or more thumbs-ups from the Facebook/Twitter request for recommendations, and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised.

vegaThe flavor: undeniably vanilla with no pretensions and no aftertaste.  For the most part I blended it with soy milk (hey, extra protein!) but the instructions say it can be mixed with water and I tried that today — again, not bad.  I can definitely taste the flavor difference from my original shake but I’d be happy to substitute this permanently.

The texture: this is where things get interesting. I know the internet hates this word but here we go: moist. The protein powder itself is incredibly fine but also moist, and as a result if you are, say, working with a borrowed blender, be prepared to blend longer than a granular powder. Also, when mixed with psyllium husks if you don’t get the proportions just right you end up with an incredibly thick shake once it’s stood for a bit.  I’m a sip-while-puttering person myself, so that was an unpleasant surprise.  I fooled with the ratios and discovered the following: mixed with 8oz water and 2tbsp husks, it’s fairly watery and holds its consistency.  Mixed with 8oz of soy milk and 1tbsp husks, it’s a decent smooth shake (not watery but not stuck solid, either). Mixed with 8oz soy and 2tbsp husks, get ready for a spoon.  If not thoroughly blended you get pockets of pasty goo, I’d say it took about 1.5-2 minutes of solid blending to get the right consistency.

nutritionfactsThe vitals: This has 15 grams of protein (so about 3 less than my comparison point) but zero cholesterol and only 80 calories. Ingredients include broccoli and pea protein but the powder itself is a bland looking ecru and you’d never know you were eating vegetables (for those of you who like to be healthy but have an aversion to green things). (I have no such aversion). No fat, and 4 grams of carbs, not bad.

The performance: I stayed full each morning to lunchtime, which was the requirement, and that included morning runs for the most part.

The cost: you can get this off of Amazon for slightly under $13, for 12 servings; so slightly more than $1/serving.

Grade: A-.  Negative points for slightly less protein per serving and for texture toying. Would use again, but I’m on to the next blend. Stay tuned!

 

The Illusion of Control

It’s a testament that my Cardiologist remembers my father when he asks me why I’ve come to see him and I reply by saying “this” and hand him my laptop with my Cholesterol charted over the last 9 years. The chart was full-on Excel, broken out into the different types (HDL, LDL, Triglycerides, Total Cholesterol, and my ratio on a 2nd series). I am not the only one in my family to chart a bunch of things in Excel and come armed to a doctor’s appointment with data. “Ah,” he said, “You’re discovering that your cholesterol is going up in spite of what you do to make it not.”

I had explained about the diet and the exercise, I had explained about seeing it go down back in 2010 and in 2012 when I undertook larger physical activities (namely the Ride to Conquer Cancer and the STP), and how with Ragnar (last year and this) there was no downturn. With a restrictive diet there was no downturn.

I was prepared for him to tell me it is genetic (it is, both of my parents and their families have related histories) and I was prepared for him to tell me that short of “drastic changes” I wasn’t going to be able to make my LDL go down without help. I’m not a drastic person so I didn’t want to ask what “drastic changes” were, although I should have just for comparison.

Naturally, I expected him to whip out the ol’ prescription pad and prescribe a statin.

Nope.

“With young healthy people,” he said, and I could have kissed him for the “young” part except I had already figured by the waiting room that I was a good 20 years younger than his usual patient, “I don’t like to put them on statins.”

There’s another reason he’s not putting me on a statin, and that is because I have osteoarthritis in my joints. I’m able to run because I have a fabulous physical therapist, orthodic inserts in my shoes, and I use Hokas. But statins tend to cause joint pain, and I already get joint pain if I’m not careful, so statins, for me, right now, are not the magic bullet. The plan is to take 3 additional supplements, for 3 months, and come back for another round of lipid panels. The 3 supplements? Vitamin D (5000 IU, rather than the 1000 I’m already taking), CoQ10, and Cholestene.

(Can we just take a second to have three cheers for a Cardiologist who is Director of Cardiology for the hospital chain and has been practicing some 30+ years, offering an initial alternative medicine approach? Usually you have to seek that out. )

So, here we go. We’ll give this a try and see if it works; I feel like I’m in good hands.

Next up: The Great Protein Shake Challenge!

 

Choices and Consequences

I have struggled with my weight pretty much all of my life.  I remember being roughly eight or nine, seeing that I had skinny calves — what 8 or 9 year old doesn’t? — and despite my chubby belly, thinking I was skinny and resolving to eat *more* to fill out the calves.

I remember being in high school and feeling overweight and the solution then was to just not eat (or more accurately try to skip lunch or replace lunch with diet pepsi). What I wouldn’t give to have the body I had in high school (okay, okay, minus the acne).

I remember being just back from the student exchange, freshman year of college, and weighing 230 pounds and knowing that the reason the random guy in Statistics class asked me out was because he knew I’d be grateful. (Sweetly verified by his friend in a side comment).

I remember going to the gym with  my friend Colleen — the person who introduced me to gyms and I wish it had been sooner — and by virtue of a hairy-chested trainer named Vinny and a spreadsheet of exercises, losing all of that weight and getting into the best shape of my life.

I remember thinking that was that and I wouldn’t have to struggle with my weight anymore. Then I got married at 200 pounds. I remember getting our wedding pictures and crying for two hours.

I remember eating nothing but Slimfast and Lean Cuisine when my then -husband (USMC) would deploy, walking 3 times a week and thinking I’d finally kicked it.

I remember moving back up to Washington in 2000, having gained it all back.

I remember deciding that if I was going to have a baby — my son was very, very planned — that I was going to need to be healthy if not for myself then for him. And so before I got pregnant (2002) I lost the weight again, and for the most part have kept it off (I have fluctuated by about 10 pounds here and there ever since). I have been in and out of gym memberships (the current one is the longest lasting) and signed up for random events (half marathons, a triathlon, a couple of double-century bike rides and a couple of Ragnars), and for the most part have been doing okay, weight-wise.

Here I am at 42 and the issue is not weight. I recently lost a little and that’s fine, but my goal has been health — being able to run, and trying to be good about what I put into my mouth. At my annual exam in April I got my blood tested and my cholesterol had eeked up; having a family history of cardiovascular problems I took it as a warning bell and tightened up: I quit dairy (except for nonfat greek yogurt and lowfat frozen yogurt). I quit red meat (ok, I had red meat twice in 3 months). I kept up the running (training for Ragnar helped). I took fiber daily. I haven’t had anything to drink since May 1st. Protein shakes for breakfast nearly every morning, with berries and bananas using soy milk.

Three months later I’m back at the doctor’s office, back giving blood, and my triglicerides went down but my LDL shot up 20 points. I have been tracking every bit of food I eat since February (I’ve been using MyFitnessPal off and on for about six years) and I couldn’t figure it out… until I looked at breakfast. My protein shake, the most virtuous thing about my day, has 25% of my daily recommended cholesterol. I wouldn’t have thought it — why would a *protein shake* have cholesterol (I mean, they engineer the crap out of the contents so why not engineer that out?). Vigilance, ever vigilance.

I have an appointment with a cardiologist this Wednesday. You know you get to sit at the big kids table at Thanksgiving dinner when you can not only chip in on the political debates and discussion about the markets, but you also have your own set of health issues to contrast and compare in on, and you officially have a Cardiologist (to go with your other specialist doctors).

So here I am: nearly 43. Weight-stable (losing a little still and that’s fine). Active. I have arthritis and high cholesterol, low blood pressure and Raynaud’s. I have three of those in check. Now I just have to lock down the fourth.

Once more into the breach, dear friends…

Pantry Packed

I was at the monthly PTA meeting for the district and someone mentioned the local high school didn’t have a “Pantry Pack” coordinator. I’m pretty big on the idea of food so I figured I’d volunteer. Essentially, “Pantry Packs” are bags of groceries (single bag per student) that is discretely provided to a student on Friday afternoons, to provide them with food to last through the weekend. These are students who are typically on the free breakfast/free lunch program, and even with that struggle to get enough calories. Single parents working 3 jobs, homeless (with or without family), etc.

(Fun fact: Sammamish has its own homeless encampment. And we have kids going hungry in our schools. Trying to juxtapose this with new $850k homes going up down the street with 4″ backyards is making my brain bleed.)

At any rate, I showed up at the HopeLink in Kirkland to help pack the packs. While I cannot divulge the quantities, let’s say my local school was not a big contender when it came to the volume of packs needed. There were schools there that needed upward of 180 packs (packs are done for one month at an assumed 4 weeks per month, so if you are getting 180 packs then you are serving 45 students). Parents and kids volunteered and went down the row of food, grocery bag in hand (also fun fact: disposable grocery bag… what happens when those go away for programs like these?), following the mantra:

1 Chilli, 1 Mac, 2 Soups, 3 granola bars, 1 Saltines Pack, 2 Popcorn, 2 Oatmeal, 1 Cocoa.

Now, whatever your feelings are or aren’t about societal support, charity, food stamps, etc., I invite you to look at that. That is one can of chilli, one (regular box) of macaroni and cheese, 2 ramen noodle soup packs, 3 granola bars (the kind slightly larger than your middle finger), 1 pack of saltines (not one box), 2 microwave popcorn packets, 2 of those single-serve instant oatmeal packets, and 1 packet (as in, makes 1 cup) of cocoa.

I want you to remember, while reading this, that this is for a high school student. And I want you to remember how you ate in high school. Or how hungry you felt. And now I want you to remember that this list is designed to support a person, nutritionally, from about 5pm on a Friday through Sunday night inclusive. So, 3 dinners, 2 lunches, and 2 breakfasts.

Those oatmeal packets are about 120 calories apiece.

When I came home with the packs, the male person and the young man helped me unload the car (Pantry Pack volunteers store the food at their house for the month, and dole it out weekly to the school) and were amazed at how much there was. Then I had them do the math, dividing it by 4 (for weeks) and X (for students). The young man’s jaw dropped –“I’d eat all of that in a day! I’m not even in high school!”. “I know”, I replied. “I’m worried.”

I still haven’t figured out what happens during school breaks. When I sit down to Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Hanukkah dinner, I don’t know what these kids have — and I don’t know what they do for a two-week break.

I am one of these people who just always assumed there were “services” that “took care of this”. That there are food stamps and churches and charities and pantry packs, and for some reason I thought it was more. But I realized when packing up and working with Jennifer — the coordinator there, who is grateful for help but always worries that there’s not enough food — that it’s often not enough, but it’s “something”.

Again, you can look at it from the framework that the parents ought to do more for their kids, they should go get a job at McDonalds, etc., and work their way up. I am absolutely a proponent of doing your best and especially doing your best for your kids. But I don’t see how, if we are approaching this that the “parents are failing them”, how it benefits to not help the kids. We as a society are paying for their education through high school, and we are throwing our money away if they are so hungry they can’t study. If the benefit of public education is to ensure a well-informed, productive society, we are robbing ourselves and setting ourselves up for failure.

We are entering the season of food drives, and of “adopting a family”; the food will hopefully flow and these kids will hopefully get a decent meal and be able to cram for their Physics final like we all did at one point. I’m just saying that we need to not assume the volume of food or services they *are* getting, and to remember to reach into our pantries, if possible, when Santa’s not looming.

Squashing

Friday morning I found myself squatting in a field.

No, not doing that.

Chinook Farms in Snohomish, WA has, or rather had, a few acres of acorn squash it grows for charity. Girl Scouts planted it, the farmer tends to it, and United Way Volunteers pick it and crate it, and it is then shipped to food banks in the surrounding area. Microsoft’s CDnA group (Consumer Data and Analytics) had a cadre of volunteers to do so, of which I was one.  Acorn squash are delicious but their foliage is sharp and laden with micro thorns, I actually wore through spots of a new pair of leather work gloves and have an impressive rash on my forearm (where my “long” sleeve backed off).

The morning started with that crisp, autumnal chill we get in the Northwest that belies an Indian Summer; it was all turning leaves and wishing for pumpkin spice lattes as I drove the windy road into Snohomish. Arriving at the farm I saw some hundred-odd other blue-shirt volunteers, ready to go out and pick squash. Another hundred or so were the contingent from Nordstrom, in crisp white shirts. I signed the photo waiver and so somewhere, out there, there are photos of me with my group, wearing our blue t-shirts, dirty, smiling, posed in front of a pile of acorn squash.

IMG_1851

Pretty sure we didn’t do it right.

Our VP was in the fields with us, tossing squash to collectors; early on we had deviated from instructions and while we did have fairly neat rows of trampled-down, already-picked squash plants in our wake, our piles of squash (to be wheelbarrowed down to the shipping crates) left a lot to be desired in terms of neatness. The Nordstrom folks had symmetrically neat piles, as you would expect.

Several of the volunteers commented that this was hard work and they would thereby appreciate their brain-intensive but body-light regular jobs much moreso. I found this a little wry in terms of the layoffs that occurred the day before: some of us were already in fervent appreciation of still having a job. I mentioned that to my VP (read, 3 levels above) and he said, “That’s a horrible thing to say. Do you like your job?” I replied in affirmative, and I’m not sure that either of us got the point of where the other was coming from. When the sun poked out of the clouds and it got hot, some took to complaining a little more; they were shut down by the volunteer coordinator who pointed out we could have gone to clean the bathrooms in the downtown Seattle YMCA instead. Not a peep after that. I noticed one lady who never complained. She is 7 months pregnant, and was picking squash in the fields with us.

As the group drove away from the farm to the place down the road where free pizza and beer was promised, I drove home; I had a pile of email to wade through that I was (unashamedly) looking forward to. I had done my planned volunteering for the morning, but I still had that job that I love, and am still grateful for, waiting for me.