In search of a breakfast drink that you can actually drink….

This may seem like a strange thing to review, but stick with me for a minute…

As someone who heads out with the camera into places without services and who tends to take long road trips, it’s really a good idea for me to keep a food supply in the car. As a diabetic, there are times when I realize I really ought to eat — and I’d like an alternative to finding a fast food joint (assuming there’s one nearby).

But since I’m diabetic, I really want things that are higher in protein and lower in carbs. To add to the complication, I have nut allergies, and I eat zero tree nuts and I also can’t eat peanuts. So right off the bat, 90% of the things most people haul in the car with them fail the “me” test, since the whole universe of granolas and trail mixes and the typical things people suggest are either non-edible for me, or are basically carb bombs. It’s always come down to carbs and jerky and things requiring refrigeration.

I’ve recently seen adds for these “breakfast to go” drinks, and so I was curious. Could this be my “leave in the car for those unscheduled uses” mini-meals? Good news: they don’t require refrigeration until opening, their nutritional setup isn’t bad (the Ensure is actually got a good amount of protein and moderate carbs) and they’re imminently portable and you can leave them in the car until you want them (within reason).

But are they drinkable? I gave a couple a shot. Trust me when I say the chocolate flavor of anything like this is most drinkable, and anything labeled strawberry I would avoid like the plague, just from past experience (remember Quik? Remember Strawberry Quik? Yeah… like the plague…). First up, Ensure High Protein, Creamy Milk Chocolate — I cracked one open unchilled. The first swallow — chocolate Quik. Not a great chocolate flavor, but… And then the aftertaste hit. The best description I can give is “institutional”. Quik was always kind of a weak, not very chocolate, sweet taste. That was this, but then layer in, oh, that flavor you get when you brew up some iced tea and then leave it out on the counter for three or four days until it turns. That flavor. 20 minutes later, I could still vaguely taste it. It would probably be better heavily chilled, just like a bad, cheap beer is more palatable chilled until the flavor goes away, but still, I have to say I’ll only drink ensure under Doctors orders (and an armed nurse), and under protest. A big “no, thanks anyway” here. (I can only wonder how bad the strawberry version is).

Later, I tried the Kellogg’s. It’s not as high protein, but the nutrition profile is still okay. Again, chocolate. This time, I stuck it in the fridge and chilled it. 190 calories 5g of fat, 10g or protein, 29g of carbs. more carbs than I’d hope, but… it’s closer to what I want then most things I’ve tried.

My suggestion: don’t go for the breakfast drinks, but look for the shelf stable milks. Both white and chocolate exist, and both are much cheaper than the “special” drinks, the nutrition is as good or better (the shelf stable low-fat white milks are about 8g protein and 12g carbs. the chocolate is 18-20g carbs), and the only other difference is that the milks don’t have lots of really cheap vitamins (of questional real value to you) added.

So, if you’re looking for something like this, don’t get fancy or follow the marketing, drink the milk.



Posted in For Your Consideration

Cortisone Day

Monday was Cortisone day. It is a day I both look forward to and dread. Off to visit the Orthopedist, wearing sweats that I can pull up over the knees easily. Back in 2007, I was out for a walk, and doing some birding. Trying to get a better look at a bird, I stepped backward, into a gopher hole. The lower part of my right leg twisted and rotated, the upper part didn’t.

The knee is not a pivot joint. Many of us find this out the hard way. The knee didn’t heal. The swelling went down, but every time I started using it, it got wonky. Unstable, and it’d lock up on me. Every so often I’d take a step and it wouldn’t carry my weight. So, off to the surgeon to get the meniscus I’d torn in the gopher hole fixed. Except the surgeon took one look at the x-rays and told me they weren’t operable.

That wasn’t what I’d expected to hear. The knees were arthritic. Which, I guess shouldn’t have been a surprise to middle-aged me, but it was. We had two options: drugs or knee replacement. Knee replacement is — routine — but has all sorts of challenges. Not the least of which is that they only last for a couple of decades (or less) and then you need to replace them again. If we could delay needing the first replacement, we’d increase the chances I’d never need a second. Not to mention to replace both knees is about four or five months of fun (and physical therapy).

So we started simple. Relafen, an NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory). Close relative to Motrin, one of the family of different things you probably generically call aspirin. Fortunately, I tolerated it well, and the knees reacted to it. The pain went away, the knee stabilized, and I could walk again. We started at 500mg (the Motrin you can buy at the store are 200mg). That held the fort for about 18 months, then we boosted it to 1000mg a day. That was good for another couple of years.

Arthritis is a progressive disease. It never gets better, the best you can do is fight it to a draw. So ultimately the Relafen wasn’t enough any more. My doctor didn’t want to raise the dosage (you can go to 2000mg a day, but you can also eat your liver doing so), so he suggested Cortisone.

In walks my doctor, syringes in hand. We talk over how the knees are getting along, they poke at the knees and mark the injection points, and they carefully cover the areas with iodine and then a local anesthetic. I joke about getting the injection points tattooed to save him time. He picks up the first needle, which seems like it’s a foot long, and I close my eyes.

I’m not a fan of needles, but I tolerate them okay, as long as I don’t look. For some reason, the needle hurts a lot more if I see it go in, so I close my eyes. The iodine is cold. The local stings the skin, just a bit. The needle goes in, finds its way under the kneecap. It’s not so much pain as pressure as the liquid flows in and redistributes. Still, it’s not what I’d call pleasant. The needle leaves, the hole is covered with a bandage, we compare notes on how it felt and when to chat next, and I’m gone.

Over the next few hours, a miracle occurs. My knees transform from sore, achy, old people knees into younger knees that actually move without creaks and snaps. The transition itself isn’t painless — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but once it settles down, things work a lot better for a while. This time, the right knee gives up mostly without a fight and within 12 hours felt great. The left knee, which has a lot less damage to it, swelled up a bit and got sore and took about 36 hours before it felt better.

One thing getting cortisone shots has done is give me a new appreciation for what professional athletes go through to entertain us. My doctors don’t want to give me shots more often than every three months because of the risk of doing damage to your connective tissue: it can turn your tendons and ligaments to jello if you hit them with it too often. Yet you hear about pro athletes injecting an injured joint routinely, sometimes before every game. A lot of these guys are taking risks of lifeline orthopedic problems to win — for our enjoyment (and the money and fame). Something to remember next time someone starts up the “athletes are paid too much” rant.

Cortisone doesn’t heal. Cortisone is a quality of life drug. It reduces pain and improves mobility, but it’s temporary. If you use it too often too close together it can make things worse. The big challenge in my life right now is that I’m too sedentary, but moving around more is great in theory, not so great when moving hurts. Cortisone spackles over that gap, at least for a while.

I know that ultimately, I’m going to lose this fight and need to go through knee replacement.  If I can put it off another five years I’ll be thrilled. Right now, that looks practical, but time will tell. And in my long term goal to not be that old guy in the scooter, I’ll take any advantage I can get.

So that’s why I’ll keep taking the cortisone, even though it means dealing with those needles….



Posted in About Chuq

Getting going in Photography on the Cheap

I had a comment on my post about not blogging any more that I felt deserved to be answered in some detail.

But the main topic isn’t what got me interested, nope, it is mentioning of photography and Mac. I use Mac and I am a photographer wanna be. Wanna be as in still have to buy my first DSLR. But I loooove photography, so my question today would be recommending some apps on Mac that would be useful for us wanna be people, that aren’t ready to get a $200 app before they learn the basics?

Here’s what I’ve recommended to people about this:

If you use a Macintosh, it’s an easy answer: all modern macs come with a free copy of iPhoto. If your mac is older and you want to get the most recent version of iPhoto, it’s about $15. There is zero reason to consider buying anything more expensive or more powerful to get started. iPhoto can take you a long way down the path when you’re starting out, and when you feel like you’re outgrowing it, an upgrade to Apple’s Aperture is trivially easy — that’s one thing Apple definitely did right here.

So, iPhoto and whatever camera you have. If you don’t have a camera, then I’ve been talking a lot about the Canon SX50 recently, and at about $400, it’s a great, moderately priced camera you won’t outgrow soon. You can get really good starter cameras for less, too. I haven’t evaluated any myself recently, but there are good starter cameras available for under $200 if you do some research. Or maybe use your phone: if you have an iPhone 4 or later, you have a good phone built it. If you use some other phone, check out the quality of its camera.

We are at the beginning of the end of the DLSR era. DLSR geeks are going to hate hearing that, but it’s true.

The point and shoots are eating the lunch of the lower end DLSRs: When I look at the capabilities of a camera like the SX-50, it’s hard to see why I’d pay double that for an entry level DSLR camera if I were getting started. There are reasons to do that if you’re more advanced, but as a first camera? These mid-range all in ones kick their more expensive brother’s butts.

At the same time, at the low end, cameras have pretty much kicked the butt of the “casual” camera. There’s really no reason to buy a pocket camera any more — those things in the sub $200 range. A modern smartphone has something that good, probably better.

The growing “thing” is the so-called mirrorless cameras such as the Fuji or Sony mirrorless lines or the Micro 4/3 cameras. I spent some time earlier this year with the Fuji X-Pro1 and I mostly loved it, even though I decided not to buy one right now.

I currently carry a Canon 7D and a Canon T3i as my backup body. The T3i can do about 90% of what the 7D does for half the money, and it’s a really nice camera. But in my life, it’s relegated mostly to being stuck on tripod doing timelapses or as my video experimentation unit — and to be honest about it, I’ve started experimenting with a GoPro which I expect will take over 90% of my video and timelapsing down the road at half the price of the T3i.

Things are changing rapidly — two years from now, I expect the “standard kit” for most street and portrait photographers will be mirrorless. I’m pushing beginners and newer enthusiasts at their phone cameras and these mid-range all in ones more and more. I haven’t recommended a beginner DLSR in over a year, and I expect I never will again. In 2-3 years, I won’t be surprised to find DLSRs back as the “prosumer and beyond” market territory. There’s increasingly few reasons for amateur photographers to need a DLSR (vs. wanting one for some other reason, like ego. and the camera companies will happily sell one to your ego. Or mine).

Where it’s hard to replace the DLSR is in the big glass world: Bird and Wildlife photography, for instance. It’s harder to replace a good DLSR system for serious landscapes (but to be honest, if you don’t routinely use filters for your landscape, you probably don’t need a DLSR any more, but there are still definite conveniences).

So, think long and hard about buying a DLSR if you’re starting out. You’re talking about a serious commitment of money — $1000 and up including lenses. You can get most of that from a camera like the SX-50 for a lot less. A camera like the SX-50 is more portable, less conspicuous, less likely to attract the attention of a thief, easier to pack and carry, and more forgiving of a beginner — yes, don’t put down the “training wheels” ability to help you learn how to take good images.

So if you’re starting out, start cheap: get a copy of iPhoto, grab something like an SX-50, and go out and take photos. If you’re still tempted to buy an entry level DLSR, consider this instead: Buy the SX-50 for $400, and then spend the other $600 that DLSR would have cost you on a trip somewhere to take pictures. Like a week in Yosemite or Yellowstone.

When you think of it that way, doesn’t NOT spending money on a DLSR when you don’t need one seem like a good idea?



Posted in Photography