Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My Christmas Confession

I’ve been lying to everyone and it’s time to make amends.  You see, when asked about Christmas, I always tell folks I “don’t do” Christmas.  And that’s true.  I don’t celebrate the holiday in a traditional way.  I don’t have family, so I don’t feel obligated to participate in any dreaded family get-togethers.  I haven’t purchased a single gift nor have I mailed even one card.  There are no candles in the window nor carols at the spinet.  And I’ve lived this way for close to two decades. 

But the reality is, I really do love Christmas.  Besides the stress that surrounds the holiday, I have some lovely memories of big family dinners, Christmas Eve midnight mass, our annual Christmas choir concert featuring “O Holy Night,” and Christmas morning with all the grandchildren.  I used to decorate a tree each year and I still have a box of ornaments (in storage) that I collected in the first 30 years of my life.  I used to send out hundreds of Christmas cards.  I used to bake dozens of cookies for family, friends, and co-workers.  I even used to host a Christmas caroling party at my home.  So, what happened?  How did I become the girl who didn’t “do Christmas?”

The transition happened gradually, shortly before I moved to California in 1998.  My grandmother, who had been the anchor of many of our family traditions, passed away.  My father picked up the reins and we started some new traditions without her.  And then my father died.  And then I moved to California.  The first winter I lived here, I travelled home to upstate New York for the holiday.  It was just me, my mother, and my sister (who also used to live in CA).   My other sister had estranged herself from the family, and, as the mother of the only grandchildren in the family, she deprived us of sharing the experience with children.  So we went from a two-day celebration filled with tons of family and friends to a depressing week where my mother didn’t get out of bed, my sister drank 2 bottles of wine each night, and I started to hate the holiday that I had always loved.  Although my mother lived another five years after this, that was my last Christmas in New York.

The following year, I started riding a bicycle.  I hooked up with three other riders (all training for the California AIDS Ride) and we rode together for 4 days over the Christmas holiday.  We called ourselves the “Christmas Orphans.”  We each had a different story, but what we shared was the fact that we were alone for the holidays and that we all rode a bike.  On Christmas morning 1999, we rode a 30-mile route in San Francisco.  We continued to be friends and this ride became a holiday tradition.  Over the years, the other three moved on to other traditions, I continued on, and today marked the 15th Annual Christmas Orphans’ Tour of San Francisco.  In these 15 years, I’ve only missed twice:  once when we cancelled due to torrential rain and wind and once when I was recovering from surgery.

One year, there were only 2 of us on the ride (it was pouring rain).  One year, there were close to 100 riders (thanks to a calendar listing from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.  Everyone comes from a different place, many of them with connections to me, and they share the desire to participate in a fun, social ride on Christmas morning.  And, no matter what size the group, we bring smiles to the faces of all who see us, dressed in Santa hats, elf costumes, and riding decorated bikes. 

Alyson + Lorri at the Golden Gate Bridge

The Christmas Orphans’ Tour of San Francisco is a unique ride.  It’s not a long ride, totaling just 29 miles.  It’s not a hard ride, with less than 1,500’ of climbing.  It’s not a fast ride, since we keep the group together (no matter how slow the slowest rider is) and we stop to enjoy the view, take photos, and maybe even have a cup of hot chocolate.  It’s a social ride where old friends and new friends get to see the city in a new way.  On Christmas morning, when everyone else is sitting around their Christmas tree, you can see the random art in the city – the murals and mosaics, the sculpture and the architecture, and, on a clear day like today, the amazing views of the bay, the bridges, and the ocean.

It’s been fascinating for me to see how our beautiful city has changed in the past 15 years.  The infrastructure for bicycles has improved dramatically.  The ballpark was built and has changed names a couple of times.  Parts of the city have been developed while other parts have become less desirable.  I’ve noticed more folks are out and about running, bicycling, surfing, and walking (and today’s beautiful weather definitely contributed to this).  And I still see the homeless, the needy, and the hopeful on street corners and hidden in the nooks and crannies of the city. 

So, my reality is that I DO celebrate Christmas.  And I DO give gifts.  My gift is bringing together random strangers and friends to share in this amazing experience.  I give folks who might be alone the opportunity to spend time with others.  I give folks who don’t celebrate Christmas something to do on a day when many folks are busy with family.  I give myself the opportunity to continue a tradition that has been very meaningful for me.  And the other riders give me the opportunity to share this with them.

It’s amazing to me that I’ve continued this tradition for 15 years.  I don’t think I’ve ever done anything else in my entire life for 15 years.  But then again, I’ve never loved anything or anyone the way I love my bike.  And love is actually what traditions like Christmas are all about.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The Christmas Orphans at Fisherman's Wharf

Monday, December 9, 2013

Why I'm Happy to Have Food Allergies

I've had breathing issues my entire life.  I was born with pneumonia.  I was told I was weak and fragile and had bad lungs.  I never participated in sports (although I could somehow play the oboe).  I had childhood allergies (never defined, but treated with prescription medications) and exercise-induced asthma.  And then, as an adult, I smoked cigarettes for nearly a decade.  Not the makings of a cyclist, but somehow, I found myself on the bike.

When I got serious about cycling, I visited the pulmonologist, who confirmed that I'm allergic to just about everything in the world, that I have temperature- and exercise-induced asthma, and early signs of COPD.  But, I wanted to race my bike, so I endured years of allergy shots (treating environmental allergies but not food allergies), allergy medications to counter the symptoms, and an inhaler to clear my lungs.  But never did this doctor recommend that I eliminate allergens from my environment.

A few years ago, I started working with a different allergist, who recommended I remove all allergens from my environment.  This included eliminating certain foods, my dog (I couldn't do it), carpet, and covering my bed and pillows in anti-allergen cases.  I do the best I can.

The foods were the easiest to eliminate (although this takes very conscious decision-making, especially if eating in a restaurant).  My home is as allergen-free as I can make it.  I struggle when traveling (motel rooms are filled with allergens like dust, dust mites, and mold) and mountain biking can aggravate my allergies to grasses and trees.  But all in all, I've been able to relieve my symptoms by making some lifestyle changes.

Interestingly enough, when I removed my food allergens from my diet, amazing things changed in my health.  My immune system seemed to improve, maybe because it wasn't constantly being stressed by my diet.  My lungs were stronger (proven through breathing tests).  I no longer needed to use an inhaler for cycling, except in very cold temperatures.  My weight stabilized.  My energy increased as did my sleep quality and my mood.  I no longer suffered headaches and a stuffy head.  My skin cleared up and the hives that had plagued me for many years disappeared.  And my recovery time on the bike improved dramatically.

So, why am I happy to have food allergies?

  • I learned to cook.  My most significant food allergy is wheat.  Wheat is in everything, not only obvious foods like bread and pasta, but also hidden in things like salad dressings and sauces.  To eliminate wheat, I needed to learn how to prepare foods from scratch.
  • I learned about great foods I had never tried before.  When I first started eating wheat-free, the gluten-free trend wasn't popular and GF foods were not readily available.  So rather than substituting GF bread or pasta for regular bread or pasta, I substituted other foods.  I discovered corn (tortillas, polenta, chips) and I embraced the humble potato.  
  • I became acutely aware of what I'm putting into my body.  I rarely ate pre-packaged foods, but when I did, I learned to read labels and evaluate the ingredients.  I also started to pay attention to how I felt after eating certain foods.  Did my energy level spike or drop after eating?  Did I feel full?  How did I feel the next day?

Because I'm also sensitive to oats (and many times oats are contaminated by wheat), I had to find a substitute for my favorite breakfast food -- oatmeal.  After some research, I decided to experiment with quinoa.  While many consider quinoa a grain, it's actually a seed, very high in micro-nutrients and is a complete protein.  Quinoa is high in calcium, magnesium, and iron, and is a valuable source of fiber.  It can be cooked in much the same way you would cook rice and can be prepared as a cereal, a pasta, or added to other foods (like salad) to give nutritional value and texture.  All hail the super-food quinoa!

I thought I'd share my favorite breakfast.  It's pretty easy and very filling.  It keeps my energy levels super-high and it's really yummy.

Caveat, I like texture foods (and this is no exception).  I like crunchy peanut butter; not creamy.  I prefer a smoothie to juicing.  I like chunky soups.  I like Almond Joy (not Mounds) and peanut M&Ms (not plain).  I'd rather eat food with a crunch than those that are smooth.  And my breakfast is no exception.

I prepare this in the rice cooker but it can also be prepared on the stove.  It takes 20-30 minutes to cook so you can set it and shower or pump up your tires or walk your dog.

Lorri's Happy Morning Crunchy Breakfast Quinoa (approximately 600 calories):

Prep Time:  10 minutes

Cook Time:  20-30 minutes


1 tsp coconut oil (optional)
1/4 cup quinoa
half an apple (cubed, skin on)
handful of raisins
cinnamon to taste
1 1/2 cup water
coconut milk
raw coconut flakes
chia seed
sunflower seeds

Coat your rice cooker with coconut oil.  Add quinoa, apple, raisins, cinnamon, and water and cook.

When cooked, add coconut milk, coconut flakes, chia seed, and sunflower seeds to taste.

Enjoy your day!

the main ingredients

the toppings

ready to go in the rice cooker

the finished product!