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Vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains
in Little Switzerland, North Carolina

Hiking in the mountains is a good way to get exercise and enjoy nature. I recently went on a weekend vacation to Little Switzerland, North Carolina, and from there I traveled south toward Mount Mitchell National Park, and then north toward the city of Blowing Rock.

Little Switzerland is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway which is very colorful in the autumn when the leaves change colors. The mountainous terrain provides majestic landscapes and great opportunities for photography, hiking and other outdoor activities. The picture above was taken at dusk from the backyard of the Little Switzerland Inn where I stayed. The blue color of the mountains turned to orange in the morning of the next day. It was fortunate that the drizzle of the previous day cleared up and the sky was perfectly blue for the next two days.

When I got to Mount Mitchell, which is only 25 miles away from Little Switzerland, the trees and the ground were covered with snow from a storm that had blown through the day before. The difference in altitude is responsible for a large temperature difference between the valleys and the tops of the mountains. Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in the east coast, and the view from the top is wonderful in all directions.

The next day, I drove on the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Blowing Rock is a community whose population booms in the summertime as Floridians overwhelmed by hot weather flock to seek relief in the cool mountain air. Blowing Rock has many lodges, restaurants, cultural functions, and outdoor activities. It is a favorite vacation destination that makes it possible to be close to nature and also many city amenities.

See Pictures of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

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Nominative and Objective Cases in English

I winced when I read the headline "Drinks on Who?" written in one-inch bold letters in the October 7, 2009 sports section of the Washington Post. This is the equivalent of saying "Drinks on she?" or "Drinks on I?" instead of the correct "Drinks on her?" or "Drinks on me?". It reminded me of the primitive savage expressions like "Me Tarzan, you Jane" of black-and-white TV days, or Tonto saying to the Lone Ranger: "Him say man ride over ridge on horse."

The nominative and objective case of pronouns is one of the last vestiges of the Germanic origins of English, and it is slowly but surely disappearing. Soon, the pronouns "who" and "whom" will combine into a caseless "who" in sympathy with "you". There is also great confusion about "you and I" vs. "you and me". The words of popular songs like "You and me against the world" by Helen Reddy become imprinted in our mind until they finally don't sound wrong.

In order to use the pronoun cases correctly, it is necessary to understand the structure of the sentences. As a general rule, pronouns in the subject are in the nominative case, pronouns in the predicate are in the objective case. Thus, we say "I saw him" or "He saw me". We would never think of saying "Me saw he" or "him saw I", which is the wrong use of both pronouns. The nominative personal pronouns are: I, you, he, she, we, they. The corresponding objective forms are: me, you, him, her, us, them. Notice that "you" is the same in both cases, so we say "I saw you" and "you saw me". The pronouns "thou" (nominative) and "thee" (objective) which were a familiar or personal form of the formal "you" have disappeared from modern English, but they are still found in biblical passages and in Shakespearean plays.

Learn English Grammar

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How to lower blood cholesterol naturally

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 106.7 million Americans age 20 and older have total blood cholesterol levels of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and higher. That is 35% of the population of the United States! The epidemic of high cholesterol is mainly due to the fats used in packaged and commercial foods. Cholesterol can be lowered by avoiding hydrogenated fats and eating polyunsaturated fats found in fish, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. Unfortunately, essential fatty acids turn rancid rapidly, and manufacturers avoid them to prevent packaged foods from spoiling while they sit in supermarket shelves.

The worst fats for your health are hydrogenated fats because they increase Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol, and they decrease the High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol. Saturated fats like those found in coconut oil and palm kernel oil increase cholesterol levels powerfully, but these are the fats that are used by manufacturers because they do not get stale.

The chart above shows the effects of individual dietary fatty acids on Total Serum Cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol when 1% of the energy from carbohydrates in the diet is replaced by 1% of energy of the specific fatty acids. The chart shows cholesterol increases from lauric acid (C12:0), myristic acid (C14:0), and palmitic acid (C16:0) which are found in coconut oil, palm oil, and butter. Elaidic acid (trans-C18:1), which is present in hydrogenated fats, is the worst because it increases LDL and decreases HDL. The saturated fatty acid stearic acid (C18:0), the monounsaturated oleic acid (C18:1), and the polyunsaturated linoleic acid (C18:2) decrease LDL and increase HDL to various degrees.[1] Here are some steps to lower cholesterol:

Unfortunately, many of the oils available commercially are highly processed. The best thing is not to eat them. Meet your essential fatty acid requirements by eating foods that have the oils, e.g., fish, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc. Olive oil does not lower cholesterol; it is basically neutral. The reason why olive oil receives a lot of positive promotion is because it is used in the Mediterranean diet, and the Mediterranean diet is associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases, although this is not necessarily because of the oil.

The hardest part in normalizing your cholesterol will be avoiding the vast number of commercial foods that have hydrogenated fats and saturated fats. They include shortening, margarine, butter flavor popcorn, hash browns, french fries, biscuits, baked apple pies, chocolate chip cookies, taco shells, and the list goes on and on. Pay close attention to the food labels.

Learn how to lower your cholesterol

[1] Martijti B Katan, Peter L Zock, and Ronald P Mensink, Effects of fats and fatty acids on blood lipids in humans: an overview, Am J Cli. Nutr., 1994;60(suppl):1017S-1022S.

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Influence of United States technology on the Spanish Language

New York City Metro card in Spanish
New York City Metro card in Spanish

The British complain that Americans haven't spoken English for years, and of course, Americans even spell the language differently. Americans spell theatre as theater and colour as color. How horrible! Americans got rid of senseless transpositions and unpronounced extra letters; they also changed the "ise" verb endings to "ize". Not content with improving the English language, Americans are now trying to change Spanish by using nouns as verbs in TV commercials.

Hispanics now comprise approximately 15% of the population of the United States. The demographics of the United States have changed since its founding through acquisition of territories and immigration. In the past, the U.S. has been a great melting pot where eventually everyone has ended up speaking English and blended with the rest of the population. It has been different with Spanish speakers.

The major part of the southern United States was Spanish territory at one time. With the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, the U.S. took control of Florida which had been a province of the Captaincy General of Cuba under Spanish rule. The oldest city in the U.S. is St. Augustine, Florida which was established by the Spaniards in 1565. The U.S. acquired approximately 80,000 Spanish speakers from Mexico when it took over the territory that included California, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. In 1917, the United States gave U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans. About 31,000 Puerto Ricans moved to New York from 1946 to 1950. The 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story portrayed some of the friction between the Spanish and Anglo cultures of the time. From 1947 until 1964, the U.S. had the Bracero Program which allowed the importation of temporary contract laborers from Mexico to the United States. In 1959, a large Cuban exodus started when Fidel Castro won control of Cuba. From 1960 to 1979, hundreds of thousands of Cubans left Cuba to start a new life in the United States, mainly in Florida. Many Americans traveled to Mexico during the 1968 Summer Olympics and discovered Mexican food. Soon afterward, Mexican restaurants started appearing throughout the U.S. and many of the waiters and cooks were of Hispanic origin. Another wave of 125,000 Spanish speakers came in the early 1980s from Central America to the U.S. to escape natural disasters or to seek political asylum. The U.S. also has over 11 million illegal residents who, for the most part, are Spanish speakers from Mexico.

For two centuries, there has been a steady stream of Hispanic people who brought their culture, traditions, and the Spanish language to the U.S. The U.S. is home to more than 45 million Hispanics, making it the world's second-largest Spanish-speaking community after Mexico. Large enclaves of Spanish speakers and radio and national television channels that broadcast in Spanish such as Univision and Telemundo have made it possible for immigrants and their U.S.-born children to retain their language skills and have prevented the melting pot effect.

In a recent visit to New York, I noticed that the Metro cards for the New York Subway were written completely in Spanish. This is an adaptation to the reality that Hispanics comprise a large segment of our society and contribute substantially to the U.S. economy. Advertisements for cellular telephones that can send text messages have introduced new verbs on Spanish television such as "textear" or "mensajear" instead of using the traditional Spanish grammatical constructions "enviar mensajes de texto" or "enviar mensajes". Children who grow up listening to these neologisms will eventually adopt a new American version of Spanish. So how will these new verbs be conjugated?

yo texteo, tú texteas, él textea, nosotros texteamos, vosotros texteáis, ellos textean. Estoy texteando.

yo mensajeo, tú mensajeas, él mensajea, nosotros mensajeamos, vosotros mensajeáis, ellos mensajean. Estoy mensajeando.

Learn English Grammar

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Gout, Cancer and urinary alkalinization

Mechanism of apoptosis and a toe with gout

When body fluids, such as urine, become very acid, solids dissolved in the fluids crystallize within the body and can cause gout and create tophi in the cooler parts of the body. The pain of uric acid deposits from gout can be excruciating. The conventional treatment for gout consists of avoiding alcohol, foods high in purines, and some medications like niacin. Many of the prescription medicines used to treat gout have undesirable side effects.

As if the suffering from gout were not bad enough, a study published in 2009 linked the occurrence of gout to increased incidence of cancer and concluded that "hyperuricemia may be an early manifestation of the carcinogenic process".[1] The study found that gout patients had increased incidence of all types of cancer, including cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, colon, liver and biliary tract, pancreas, lung, skin (melanoma and nonmelanoma), endometrium and kidney, as well as of malignant melanoma.

Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is frequently used as a home remedy for gout. Sodium bicarbonate works by alkalizing body fluids to increase the solubility of uric acid and permit its elimination through the urine. It is possible that this alternative medicine treatment for gout could also reduce the risk of cancer.

In 2007, researchers identified cellular signaling pathways that become active under alkaline conditions by removing amide functional groups from key cellular proteins (Bcl-xL) thus promoting the death of cancerous cells through apoptosis.[2] German biochemist Otto Warburg initially proposed in 1966 that abnormal energy metabolism caused cancer. He showed that tumors have an acidic extracellular environment, and suggested that a switch from oxidative respiration to glycolysis, which produces lactic acid, starts the cell transformation toward cancer. Warburg's work stimulated interest in the possibility that there was some kind of link between pH and cancer. The latest findings raise hope that inducing alkalinization may prove an effective strategy to treat a range of cancers.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if cancer could be prevented simply by regularly drinking some baking soda dissolved in water to keep body fluids from becoming too acidic?

[1] Boffetta P, Nordenvall C, Nyrén O, Ye W., A prospective study of gout and cancer.
Eur J Cancer Prev. 2009 Apr;18(2):127-32, PMID: 19337060

[2] Gross L (2007) Manipulating Cellular pH Suggests Novel Anticancer Therapy. PLoS Biol 5(1): e10

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Americans eat too much sugar

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey database from 2001 to 2004 showed that the average intake of added sugars for all Americans was 22.2 teaspoons or about 355 calories per day. "Added sugars" are sugars and syrups that are added during processing or preparation of foods as well as sugars and syrups that are added at the table, they do not include the sugars that are naturally present in fruits and whole grains.

In August 2009, The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a recommendation to cut the intake of added sugars.[1] The publication gives consumers detailed guidance of the upper limit of added sugars in the diet. The AHA recommendations emphasize a healthy lifestyle and a diet that is rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish. In addition to consuming an overall healthy diet, the guidelines emphasize the importance of a healthy body weight to avoid metabolic abnormalities and adverse health conditions such diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The problem with added sugars is that they are refined carbohydrates without any vitamin or mineral content. Sugars are just "empty calories" without any nutritive value. If you don't exercise enough to burn them off, the body converts them to fat.

Most American women should consume no more than 100 calories of added sugars per day; most men, no more than 150 calories. That corresponds to about 6 teaspoons of added sugars a day for women and 9 for men. Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the greatest source of added sugars in the American diet. A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 130 calories from 8 teaspoons of sugar or high fructose corn syrup. This means that even one can of soda per day is too much for the average woman, and this does not count all the other sources of added sugars such as salad dressing, spaghetti sauce, candy, and baked goods.

Learn about weight control and healthy diet

[1] Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health. A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association, Circulation, 2009 Aug 24, PMID: 19704096 [link]

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Balancing Daily Life with Calorie Restriction

Yesterday, an old friend invited me for lunch. The lunch consisted of a bowl of creamed cauliflower spiced with curry powder, a pickled herring rollmop on a slice of French baguette, and a tossed salad with lettuce, radishes, two kinds of olives, quartered tomatoes, and vinaigrette dressing. Overall, it was a very tasty and healthy lunch.

And then came dessert... There were some chocolates and mini-cupcakes. I ate half a cupcake, which was basically two small bites, and my friend ate the other half. She went to the refrigerator and pulled out a container with individually wrapped ice cream bars covered with dark Dove chocolate. I declined.

My friend, who is quite thin and survived World War II, cocked her head slightly to one side, and with a sly smile asked me "Do you think that you will live one extra day if you don't eat this?" Knowing that there are no guarantees in life, I took the ice cream bar and enjoyed it.

Many of the things that happen in life are highly improbable. If you think about how you met your best friend, or how you met your wife or husband, you will find a long trail of events that had to coincide for things to be the way they are today. The probability of each of those events is very minuscule, and the combination of all of them together could almost be regarded as a miracle. By planning for the future, we feel that we are in control of our life, but undoubtedly along the way, circumstances beyond our control will arise that will change our whole life. We will adapt, and we will continue planning.

Learn about Calorie Restriction

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Modern lifestyle promotes obesity

I just returned from a trip to Manhattan, New York. The streets are packed with taxis, buses, and people walking. Under the streets, you can hear the constant rumble of subway trains. New Yorkers use public transportation and have to walk a lot more than other people in America. Few New Yorkers seem to be excessively overweight. Maybe this is a mistaken impression. It is possible that New Yorkers who are overweight avoid going to Manhattan because then they would have to walk.

Over the last 20 years, Americans have become fatter. Mississippi and Alabama lead the nation in the rates of obesity, but increased obesity is not only happening in the United States. The obesity epidemic is engulfing the entire world. Although obesity is a problem mainly in rich countries, the World Health Organization estimates that by 2010 the developing world will have caught up. Overweight people now outnumber the undernourished.

Why is this happening? The primary culprits are junk food and artificial foods, particularly sweetened soft drinks that provide only carbohydrate calories without any other nutrients, and hydrogenated fats that cannot be metabolized by the body. Lack of exercise is a secondary reason. Here is a list of some of the factors responsible for the increase in obesity.

Food consumption is promoted very agressively. Manufacturers cannot make much money from people who fast or eat small meals. Calorie Restriction and moderate eating are not good for business.

Learn how to lose weight

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Dreaming about guitars and hamburgers

Last night, I had a dream that my friend was going to participate in a musical competition with his guitar. There were other guys dressed in western clothes with guitars who were also going to be in the contest.

My friend invited me to his house. It was one of those stucco houses with a porch along the whole front of the house that were built during the 1950's. My friend's family had gathered around a folding table on the porch where there was a tray of nicely grilled hamburgers, loaves of white bread, and dishes with onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and pickles. I thought that it was curious that they were using sliced bread instead of buns. As I went to the table to assemble a succulent juicy hamburger with mustard, I woke up feeling very hungry.

Two days ago, I was playing the guitar, and this is probably why the guitars got into my dream. I also have been eating chicken for two weeks on a restricted calorie diet. I miss a good burger. I think I need to change my menu for a few days. There is a McDonald's restaurant across the street. Their Angus Third Pounder Deluxe looks tempting. The ingredients are[1]:
Angus Deluxe:
Angus Beef Patty, Premium Bun, Pasteurized Process American Cheese, Tomato Slice, Mayonnaise Dressing, Red Onions, Crinkle Cut Pickle Slices, Leaf Lettuce, and Mustard.

One thing that makes me hesitate about this big burger is that it has 760 Calories and 41 grams of fat, including 2 grams of trans fats. I thought that the trans fats came from shortening used in the bread or the mayonnaise dressing, but I was wrong. Unlike the Regular Buns which may contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil, the Premium Bun of the Angus burger does not contain trans fats, but the Angus Beef Patty is not like the 100% Beef Patty seasoned with salt and pepper used in most of McDonald's sandwiches. It actually contains a lot of ingredients, including partially hydrogenated oils. Here are the ingredients of the Angus Beef Patty[1]:
Angus Beef Patty:
100% Angus beef. Prepared with Grill Seasoning (salt, black pepper) and Angus Burger Seasoning: Salt, sugar, dextrose, onion powder, maltodextrin, natural butter flavor (dairy source), autolyzed yeast extract, spices, garlic powder, vegetable protein (hydrolyzed corn, soy and wheat), natural (animal, plant and botanical source) and artificial flavors, dried beef broth, sunflower oil, caramel color, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oil, gum arabic, soy sauce solids (wheat, soybean, salt, maltodextrin, caramel color), palm oil, worcestershire sauce powder [distilled vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, salt, caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, spices, tamarind, natural flavor (fruit source)], beef fat, annatto and turmeric (color), calcium silicate and soybean oil (prevent caking).

If McDonald's used the premium bun with the 100% beef patties, I could have a hamburger without added trans fats, but alas, that is not the case. I remember the wonderful hamburgers that I used to eat in a diner during my sophomore year in college. A large beef patty on a toasted bun with lettuce, onion, tomato, pickle, and a good dab of yellow mustard. No artificial ingredients. Those were the good old days.

Learn about Trans Fats

Download some songs and samples of string instruments

[1] McDonald's USA Ingredients

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Nutrition enhances longevity and requires financial planning

Last July, Larry Haubner from Fredericksburg, Virginia celebrated his 107th birthday. He credits his longevity to good nutrition and exercise. Haubner exercises daily using some old equipment that he keeps in his room and he takes no medications. The doctor who treats him for free says that he is in good health and that he will probably live a lot longer.

The only problem is that Haubner is broke. The assisted living center where he lives costs $3,500 per month. Two years ago, supporters raised $56,000 to help Haubner stay at the center, but the money has run out, and he is still alive. Haubner never married and has no surviving family or friends who can help him financially. He receives $1,200 in monthly pension and Social Security payments, but that is not enough to cover his expenses at the assisted living facility. Without more help, he will have to apply for Medicaid and move to a nursing home.

Calorie Restriction with Optimum Nutrition (CRON) has been shown to extend longevity in many species. There are many people practicing caloric restriction with the objective of living longer lives in good health, but Social Security is also running out of money. In recognition of the fact that people are living longer, the age for receiving Social Security has been progressively extended. Retirement age used to be 65, but it is now 66 for persons born between 1943 and and 1954. The retirement age will be 67 for those born after 1959.

As Americans get older, the number of people paying into Social Security is decreasing, and the Social Security trust fund will begin to spend more money than it takes in through tax revenue in 2016. The trust fund from which Social Security payments are made will be unable to pay retirees full benefits by 2037, and the program that subsidizes disabled Americans will run out of money in 2020.

If you are planning to live a long life, you better save a lot of money to finance your old age.

Learn how to budget your income

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