Virtual reality has changed my attitude to computer games


I was never into computer games. My sons certainly are and since X box first made an appearance they have drove numerous vehicles, shot armies of opponents, and have died a thousand times.
This year, Steven brought his new super powerful computer, the headset and hand controls to match, back home for ten days over the winter holidays so that the rest of us could marvel at the worlds you can explore from your living room or bedroom.
I am now hooked.
Although I am as clumsy as a two year old with the hand controls there are plenty of games where you can get involved without needing to use your hands much. So far I’ve been on roller coasters, flown various aircraft around futuristic towns badly, and entered Mexican fiestas. I’ve been killed a great many times over the last week but have also dished it out. When it comes to dexterity and the ability to figure out what button or fingers I should be pressing I’m even less good. I’ve broken nearly all my toys, set fire to my office, and fallen off a few mountains. I now understand why two year olds should never handle small animals no matter how well intentioned they may be. I’m a two year old again.
I can see why kids don’t come out their bedrooms for days now.
As if this wasn’t enough to blow my mind, Steven gave me an Amazon Echo dot for Christmas. Surprisingly it was easy to programme since we have home wi fi set up already. Very soon we were asking Alexa all sorts of questions. She comes in handy for playing music, telling stories, telling you the news and weather and setting timers and alarms. This backfired a bit. I had told Alexa to get me up at 8am. I was already up getting my breakfast by this time. She woke up my husband on the dot, but for some reason he couldn’t remember her name to get her to shut up! He had to open his tablet and find the amazon site to get her name. Of course, he could have come down stairs and asked me….same issue as the directions!
So how will this help the people with diabetes who read our posts? A little bit perhaps. There are apps that can tell you the nutrient content of various foods including the carb count per 100g. There are some exercise apps. There are meditation and relaxation apps. Have you found out any apps for Alexa that you have found helpful?


Eric Barker: Meditation for the distracted


Welcome to the Barking Up The Wrong Tree weekly update for September 4th, 2016.

Neuroscience Of Meditation: How To Make Your Mind Awesome

Click here to read the post on the blog or keep scrolling to read in-email.

So is meditation just another fad that pops up from time to time like bell-bottom jeans? Nope. Research shows it really helps you be healthier, happier and even improves your relationships.

From The Mindful Brain:

The MBSR program brought the ancient practice of mindfulness to individuals with a wide range of chronic medical conditions from back pain to psoriasis. Kabat-Zinn and colleagues, including his collaborator Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, were ultimately able to demonstrate that MBSR training could help reduce subjective states of suffering and improve immune function, accelerate rates of healing, and nurture interpersonal relationships and an overall sense of well-being (Davidson et al., 2003).
And it’s not some magical mumbo-jumbo at odds with the science of psychology. In fact, it is psychology. William James, one of the fathers of modern psych, once said this…

From Thoughts Without A Thinker:

While lecturing at Harvard in the early 1900s, James suddenly stopped when he recognized a visiting Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka in his audience. “Take my chair,” he is reported to have said. “You are better equipped to lecture on psychology than I. This is the psychology everybody will be studying twenty-five years from now.”
Last week I posted about the neuroscience of mindfulness. Long story short (and grossly oversimplified): the right side of your brain sees things literally. The left side interprets the data and makes it into stories.

But Lefty screws up sometimes. His stories aren’t always accurate. As the old saying goes, “the map is not the territory.” When you listen too much to Lefty’s stories and not enough to the raw data from the right brain, you can experience a lot of negative emotions. A big chunk of mindfulness is keeping Lefty under control. (For the full story, click here.)

But where does meditation fit into all this? What does sitting cross-legged and focusing on your breath have to do with Lefty, the brain and eternal happiness?

And how the heck do you meditate properly? Maybe you’ve tried it and only ended up taking an unexpected nap, or getting horribly bored, or feeling like your brain is noisier than the front row of a death metal concert.

Let’s look at the science and cut out the magic and flowery language. We’ll hit the subject with Occam’s Chainsaw and get down to brass tacks about what meditation really is, why it works, and how to do it right.

Time to put your thinking cap on…

What The Heck Is Meditation?

A good quick way to see it from a neuroscience perspective is as “attention training.” (You know, attention. That thing none of us have anymore.)

But what the heck does attention have to do with happiness, stress relief and all the other wonderful things meditation is supposed to bring you?

Paul Dolan teaches at the London School of Economics and was a visiting scholar at Princeton where he worked with Nobel-Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. Dolan says this:

Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention. What you attend to drives your behavior and it determines your happiness. Attention is the glue that holds your life together… The scarcity of attentional resources means that you must consider how you can make and facilitate better decisions about what to pay attention to and in what ways.
And Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, did research showing that “a wandering mind is not a happy mind.” We want to focus on what the right side of the brain is giving us and get free from Lefty’s endless commentary.

When Lefty gets going with his ruminating, he’s much more likely to end up feeding you negative stories than positive ones. You’re happier when your attention is more focused on the concrete info your right brain is feeding you: the “here and now.” That’s all that “being in the moment” stuff you hear about.

So improving your attention is like dog obedience training for Lefty. When you can keep your attention on the right brain data and learn to disengage from Lefty’s running commentary you stress less, worry less and get less angry.

Is meditation powerful enough to overcome that often critical, cranky voice in your head? Yeah. It was even able to improve attention skills in people with ADD.

From The Mindful Brain:

At the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, we recently conducted an eight-week pilot study that demonstrated that teaching meditation to people, including adults and adolescents with genetically loaded conditions like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, could markedly reduce their level of distraction and impulsivity.
(To learn the four rituals neuroscience says will make you happy, click here.)

Okay, so meditation helps you focus on good things and let go of the bad, which can help you be happier and less stressed. Makes sense. So how do you do it right?

How To Meditate

Focus your attention on your breath going in and out. Your mind will wander. Gently return your attention to your breath. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat…

That’s it. Really. That’s all you have to do. Here’s how fancy neuroscience explains what’s going on…

From The Mindful Brain:

If in mindfulness practice our mind is filled with word-based left-sided chatter at that moment, we could propose that there is a fundamental neural competition between right (body sense) and left (word-thoughts) for the limited resources of attentional focus at that moment. Shifting within mindful awareness to a focus on the body may involve a functional shift away from linguistic conceptual facts toward the nonverbal imagery and somatic sensations of the right hemisphere.
Translation: the more you pay attention to the concrete info your right brain is giving you about your breathing, the less attention you have for Lefty’s interpretations, evaluations and stories.

You’re building yourself a knob that turns down the volume on Lefty’s criticisms and ramblings.

But the process is slow. Lefty will start talking again and you need to keep returning to the breath. Over and over and over. Sound like a waste of time? Nope. Here’s that father of modern psychology again, William James…

From The Principles of Psychology:

The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character and will… An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.
(To learn about the neuroscience of mindfulness, click here.)

Simple, right? Actually, I’m hesitant to call meditation “simple.” It is simple, as in “not complex.” Those instructions would fit on an index card with room for your grocery list.

But that doesn’t mean meditation is easy… You know why?

Lefty Fights Back

You try to focus on your breath and banish Lefty but he keeps storming back into the room banging a tympani drum and clashing cymbals together. He won’t shut up.

Even without any input except breathing he still keeps finding things to talk about. And he jumps from one idea to the next. You try to dismiss him but it’s like mental whack-a-mole.

This is where most people give up. Don’t. Your head is not broken and you’re not clinically insane. Buddhists have known about this problem for over a thousand years. They call it “monkey mind.”

From Thoughts Without A Thinker:

Like the undeveloped mind, the metaphorical monkey is always in motion, jumping from one attempt at self-satisfaction to another, from one thought to another. “Monkey mind” is something that people who begin to meditate have an immediate understanding of as they begin to tune into the restless nature of their own psyches, to the incessant and mostly unproductive chatter of their thoughts.
Lefty is like a puppy locked in the house by himself, tearing up the furniture until you come home from work and pay attention to him. But there’s actually a valuable lesson here…

Lefty’s ideas seem so important. But then he’s on to talking about something else. And that seems so important. But then that idea flits away and it’s replaced by another one. And then that idea evaporates and is replaced…

Remember, Lefty isn’t you. He’s merely part of you, doing his job. Your heart beats, and Lefty generates thoughts. But those thoughts — which seem so important in the moment — drift away if you don’t entertain them.

And when it comes to the bad thoughts you have, and the bad feelings those generate, this is crucial and wonderful. You can just let them slide away.

But you’re tempted to take Lefty’s hand and go down the rabbit hole wondering if you should stop meditating because maybe you left the stove on, or if now wouldn’t be a great time to watch TV or finally debate the meaning of life…

Don’t. Turn your attention back to the breath.

And Lefty will say things that worry you or make you sad. And he knows just what will get under your skin. After all, he’s in your head. He’ll play “Lefty’s Greatest Hits” which never fail to get you all worked up. Don’t take the bait.

Your normal reaction is to grab your phone, check Instagram, check email, turn on the TV or do anything to distract yourself.

But that’s how you got into this problem in the first place. You need to sit here where it’s all quiet and build that attention muscle. No Instagram. Return your attention to your breath. Again and again, despite Lefty’s wailing.

Now you can’t shove Lefty away. He’s like the world’s worst internet troll — but with psychic powers. If you engage him, you just make it worse. Thoughts don’t float away if you wrestle with them. It’s like that finger trap puzzle you played with as a kid. The more you struggle to get out of it, the tighter it gets.

Just gently turn your attention back to the breath. Yes: over and over. Build that muscle.

Or maybe Lefty isn’t fighting you at all. Maybe you’re just skull-crushingly bored by this whole meditation thing. But the truth is, you’re not bored…

Lefty is. He’s tricked you again. The voice saying, “God, this sucks. Let’s watch TV.”? That’s not you. That’s him.

What is it when you call something boring? Is it concrete data from the right brain? No. It’s an evaluation. That’s Lefty talking.

Writer and neuroscience PhD Sam Harris explains that boredom is just a lack of attention.

From Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion:

One of the first things one learns in practicing meditation is that nothing is intrinsically boring— indeed, boredom is simply a lack of attention.
When Lefty says he’s bored that means you need more meditation — not less. Train that attention span and shut Lefty up.

(To learn what Harvard research says will make you successful and happy, click here.)

Whether he’s banging pots and pans or trying to trick you into thinking “you” are bored, Lefty won’t shut up. How do you get him to pipe down?

The answer is quite fun. Because we’re going to get Lefty to work against himself…

Don’t Fight. Label.

Ronald Siegel, professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, writes this about the brain: “What we resist persists.” Arguing with Lefty just keeps him talking. You cannot “force” him to shut up.

So what’s the answer? Acknowledge Lefty. And, for a second, step away from focusing on the concrete and “label” what he is saying:

Lefty: “We keep meditating and we might be late for dinner. Better stop now.”

You:Worrying.” (returns to focusing on the breath)

Lefty: “I wonder if we got any new emails…”

You:Thinking.” (returns to focusing on the breath)

This uses Lefty against Lefty. When you use the left brain to put a label on its own concerns, it’s like writing something down on a to-do list. Now you can dismiss it because it’s been noted for later.

From a neuroscience perspective, it dampens Lefty’s yapping and frees you to return your attention to your breath.

Via The Upward Spiral:

…in one fMRI study, appropriately titled “Putting Feelings into Words” participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.
In fact, labeling affects the brain so powerfully it works with other people too. Labeling emotions is one of the primary tools used by FBI hostage negotiators to get bad guys to calm down.

(To learn how meditation can make you 10% happier, click here.)

Okay, so you know how to meditate and how to overcome the biggest problem people face when doing it — Lefty’s protests. But how does meditation lead to mindfulness?

Meditation Skills + Life = Mindfulness

Daniel Siegel of UCLA’s School of Medicine says that when you practice meditation consistently it actually becomes a personality trait.

You gradually start to take that attention-focusing and Lefty-labeling and apply it during your day-to-day life.

From The Mindful Brain:

Mindful awareness over time may become a way of being or a trait of the individual, not just a practice initiating a temporary state of mind with certain approaches such as meditation, yoga, or centering prayer. We would see this movement from states to traits in the form of more long-term capabilities of the individual. From the research perspective, such a transition would be seen as a shift from being effortful and in awareness to effortless and at times perhaps not initiated with awareness.
But you can accelerate this process if you actively to try to perform it. If you’re frustrated in traffic, you can focus your attention on the beautiful, sunny day outside.

When Lefty cries, “Why does this always happen to us!” you can label his statement as “frustrated.” That’ll cool down your amygdala and put your prefrontal cortex back in charge.

You can return your attention to the sunny day around you and let his complaints slide away as they always do — if you don’t turn them into a finger trap.

Lefty gets quieter and quieter. You focus more on the good things in the world around you.

And this is how you become mindful.

(To learn more about how to practice mindfulness from the top experts in the field, click here.)

Okay, newbie meditator, we’ve learned a lot. Let’s round it up and see how mindfulness can lead to the most powerful form of happiness…

Sum Up

Here’s how to meditate:

  • Get comfortable. But not so comfortable you’re gonna fall asleep. This ain’t naptime.
  • Focus on your breath. You can think “in” as your breath goes in and “out” as your breath goes out if it helps you focus.
  • Label Lefty. When Lefty brings the circus to town in your head, use a word to label his chatter and dampen it.
  • Return to the breath. Over and over. Consistency is more important than duration. Doing 2 minutes every day beats an hour once a month.

What makes us happier than almost anything else? The research is pretty clear: relationships.

But winning the war with Lefty is so internal, right? It’s all about you. (And him, I guess… But he is you… So it’s still about you.) Does that mean meditation and mindfulness are hopelessly selfish and self-absorbed?

Nope. What’s one of the biggest complaints we hear from those we love — especially in the age of smartphones? “You don’t pay enough attention to me.”

And here’s where that meditation-honed attention muscle pays off. You can give them the focus they deserve. When you don’t have to spend most of the day hearing that chatterbox in your head, you can truly listen to the people you care about.

Daniel Siegel explains that those attention skills can powerfully improve relationships with those you love by an increased ability to empathize.

From The Mindful Brain:

Our relationships with others are also improved perhaps because the ability to perceive the nonverbal emotional signals from others may be enhanced and our ability to sense the internal worlds of others may be augmented… In these ways we come to compassionately experience others’ feelings and empathize with them as we understand another person’s point of view.
Spend a little time focusing on your breath every day and you can replace Lefty’s voice with the voice of those you love.

Remember: every time you hit a share button an angel gets its wings. (Or, um, something like that.) Thank you!


Email Extras

Findings from around the internet…

+ What’s the best way to take truly restful breaks during the day? Click here. (Written by the very smart Christian Jarrett.)

+ How can your choice of office furniture make you smarter? Click here.

+ Which over-the-counter painkiller works the best? Click here.

+ Miss last week’s post? You definitely need to read “Lefty Part 1.” Here you go: Neuroscience Of Mindfulness: How To Make Your Mind Happy.

+ What’s the best way to motivate people at work? Click here. (Written by that great reader of research Melissa Dahl.)

+ You made it to the end of the email. (I appreciate you waiting to meditate until *after* you finished the email.) Okay, Crackerjack time. Ever hear a song or read something that just “gets you.” It says how you feel better than you could say it yourself? Oh yeah. That feeling. Well, I felt like that yesterday when I read a great comic by the enviably talented (and funny) Matthew Inman. Oh, and it’s about happiness, passion, and doing what you love. Click here.


Thanks for reading!
PS: If a friend forwarded this to you, you can sign up to get the weekly email yourself here.


Book Review: Are you looking forward to Christmas… or just wanting to survive it?

Rick Phillips, one of our fellow bloggers, has enjoyed reading Lene Anderson’s book Chronic Christmas, which gives some tips for the less enthusiastic among us on how to make the best of Christmas.


capture_313x480I was so excited to hear about Chronic Christmas Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic  Illness.  It came to me at exactly the right time of year, and I was in the mood for some fun and practical advice about the holiday season.  When this book arrived in the mail, I was excited to see what Lene might share to help me find that contentment and excitement about the holiday season.  As a person with choric conditions, I sometimes have difficulty getting into the season.  Lene’s words helped me discover some reasons I feel out of step with the rest of the world and gave me practical advice about how to overcome some of my barriers.

Lene shares such wonderful tips for slowing down and basking in the goodness of the holiday season.  Her writing style is easy; her essays are well conceived, and the result is a partial guide to managing the Christmas season with a good touch of fun.  She manages to capture the season in short bursts of narrative that can make even the grumpiest old man find his inner goodness.  Here are a few chapters that especially spoke to me.

December 2, Pace Yourself When Eating.

As a person with diabetes, I often feel left out of the annual celebrations because I see others enjoying food while I enjoy the Television.  In this chapter, Lene reinforces the well know notion that the holidays are not about the food.  Rather they are about who is eating the food.  Her chapter gives me permission to enjoy those who are at the gathering instead of the food at the gathering.   I think it is sometimes difficult for people with diabetes to know this and Lene approached the subject in a way that offers constructive tips.  For instance:

“Moderation is key, Instead of five pieces of Candy stick to one (okay, two).” (Andersen, 2016, p. 7).

“Instead of four glasses of eggnog, have one per occasion and drink sparkling water or tea for the rest of the evening. And so on. You won’t feel deprived. And you won’t stand out as that one person who’s nibbling on a lettuce leaf, making the other guests feel bad for scarfing down everything in sight.” (Andersen, 2016, pp. 7-8)

chronic-christmas-back_314x480December 8, Say Hello

Lene reminds us that we need not remain isolated because we have a chronic condition.  She suggests we try an experiment to break out of our shell.  She suggests that on December 8 we leave the book or earphones at home and practice looking up and out at the world.  She suggests we should look at and marvel in the crowds as they pass by.  She reminds me that people watching is both entertaining and a great way to connect to the world at large.  (Andersen, 2016).  This is great advice for the many times we feel isolated or somewhat alone in the world.  After all, connection is what the holiday season is all about.

For the person who cares about the person with a chronic condition Lene suggests that they offer a drive or a trip to a coffee shop to help people get out in the world.  She suggests:

“Chat with each other, but reach out to others as well. The people at the next table, the clerk, a security guard. Slow down, take the time, exchange a few words. You could very well make someone’s day and you might meet someone really interesting” (Andersen, 2016, p. 35).

These are terrific ideas for helping both ourselves and others.  In fact, opening up during the holidays might make everything brighter.  Lene’s advice gives us the reminder that we need not be isolated while others are engaged in the business of the season.

December 21 – Celebrate Disasters

For me, this was the best advice of the book.  When we celebrate disasters, we have a built in mechanism to make sure things go right.   I love how Lene starts this chapter:

“What do you remember from past Christmases — the times everything went according to plan or the moments when imperfection snuck into the celebrations? We work so hard to make the holidays perfect, but that’s not what makes for enduring family legends. You know the type — the ones that get told and retold, with everyone talking over each other, adding details, and laughing together. Those stories always originate in disasters” (Andersen, 2016, p. 93)

I totally agree with her observation.  The real stories of the season are the ones that revolve around disasters.  So I took this chapter as the best advice I received from Lene’s’ book.    This year, I vow to celebrate the many disasters in my life past, present and future. I will take time to celebrate this year: the time the lock was frozen on the storage barn where I stored the Christmas presents or the time the cat climbed/knocked over the Christmas tree because doing so can prolong the celebration of the season.

So how do I feel about Lene’s book?  I loved it.  You can pick it up on Amazon or Barnes and Noble along with some other retailers.   It is a great gift for those who love people with chronic conditions or those of us who live with chronic conditions.  I am glad I treated myself to this book, and I hope you will as well.   Reading it is way too much fun to miss.


 Andersen, L. (2016). Chronic Christmas Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic  Illness. Toronto Two North Books



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Earlier this summer I found two hedgehogs eating suet/mealworm pellets which I put out for birds in a ground cage in the garden.  As I know that the species is in decline in the UK, I was keen to encourage them.  Therefore I started putting out cat food in the evenings for them and in due course bought a hedgehog house.

The two hedgehogs seemed very pally and would grunt loudly at each other. This is a courtship behaviour called huffing. They were much keener on wet cat food than the hedgehog kibbles and I wonder if this is partly because wet food appeals to their sense of smell.

Later in the summer I was informed that Hessilhead Wildlife Trust near Beith, Ayrshire, was wanting to re-locate over a hundred hedgehogs that had been taken off of a Scottish Island to conserve wild bird nest sites. I was very keen to have some more garden visitors and in due course brought home a mummy hedgehog and her two babies, who by this time were quite big.

What surprised me was how smelly they were and how mobile their long snouts were. I put them all in the hedgehog house which I had filled with hay. Mummy hedgehog went to sleep but being typical teenagers, the kids decided to come out into the early evening sunshine even though it was hours till wake time.

One baby hedgehog made a beeline for the food in the bird cage and once there didn’t want to come out. The other spent a long time skipping about the grass, obviously delighted with the feel of grass under its feet. They had been born in captivity and had spent the time in a shed rather that in in a garden.

For weeks the food we have been putting out in the evenings continued to disappear but we only got rare sightings of them.  They have not eaten anything for the last week, so either they are eating enough from the garden or they have moved elsewhere.  I hope that at least one of them will come back to the hedgehog house to hibernate.

If you want to encourage hedgehogs in your garden put out wet cat food, but not fish flavoured.  Think about a hedgehog house or putting up some planks against a wall to provide a sheltered spot. Have openings in fencing or walls so that hedgehogs can move from one garden to another. Cover ponds so they can’t drown in them. Avoid giving bread or milk as this causes diarrhea in hedgehogs. Be very careful when cutting back foliage in the autumn. Use strimmers only when you can see that there isn’t a hedgehog sleeping. It is helpful for hedgehogs if you can keep some areas sheltered and with enough foliage to support bedding and their diet.

Hedgehogs can do you some favours too. They eat lots of slugs, beetles and Daddy Long Legs larvae.


Jovina cooks Italian: Seafood and Vegetable Grill with Green Goddess Marinade


Seafood On The Grill Tonight


Tips On Grilling Shellfish

The flavor of shellfish benefits significantly from grilling. Removing the shellfish from the grill before they become too well done and rubbery is the biggest challenge. Watching closely for shellfish to turn opaque (non-transparent), removing them from the grill and serving them immediately are key to delicious tasting fish.

Prepare scallops for grilling by cutting off the curved shaped appendage that is attached to the side of the body, if still intact.

Prepare shrimp by removing the shell and the vein that runs along the back. Personal preference dictates whether to leave the tail on or off.

Marinating shellfish in a flavorful oil will help to prevent the tendency of the scallops and shrimp to dry out.

Two skewers work best to prevent the seafood from spinning or turning on the grill.

Grill shrimp on each side for 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the shrimp. Cook scallops for 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on their size.

Tips On Grilling Vegetables

Make room on the grill for vegetables. The caramelized, smoky flavor that comes with grilling does wonders for vegetables. A lot of veggies do well on the grill, but some really stand out — asparagus, corn, eggplant, squash, mushrooms, peppers and onions.

Most vegetables cook better and are less likely to stick if they’re marinated first or brushed lightly with vegetable oil.

For added flavor, sprinkle grilled vegetables with chopped fresh herbs. Cut the vegetables all about the same size for even cooking.

If you use wooden skewers, soak them in warm water for 20 minutes.

Marinade for the Shellfish and Vegetables

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper



Whisk all the marinade ingredients together in a measuring cup. Divide in half. Use one half for the shellfish and one half for the vegetables.

Grilled Shellfish Skewers


For 2 servings


  • 6 medium sea scallops
  • 6 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Marinade, recipe above
  • 2 double skewers
  • Green Goddess Dressing, recipe below

Grilled Vegetable Skewers

For 2 servings


  • 1/4 of a Fennel bulb, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1/3 of a Red Bell Pepper, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 small Zucchini, cut into 2 inch slices
  • Marinade, recipe above
  • 2 double skewers
  • Green Goddess Dressing, recipe below


Marinate the shellfish and vegetables separately for 30  minutes. Drain and thread the scallops on one double skewer and the shrimp on a second double skewer.



Do the same with the vegetables. Save any marinade left in the bowl to use as a basting sauce.

Preheat an outdoor grill to high and grease the grill grates with oil.

Place the vegetable skewers on the grill first, since they will take longer to cook. Cook until the vegetables are tender, turning and basting them with the olive oil mixture occasionally, about 15 minutes.

After the vegetables have cooked for 10 minutes, place the shellfish skewers on the grill.  Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Serve the grilled shellfish and vegetables with the Green Goddess Dressing.

Green Goddess Dressing


This may be used immediately or stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. This dressing is also delicious drizzled over hard-boiled eggs.

Makes 1 cup


  • 1/4 cup snipped chives
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Place the chives, parsley, anchovy fillets, tarragon and vinegar in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.

With the motor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream, scraping down the sides, and process until pureed. Add the sour cream and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Store in the refrigerator until serving time.

Jovina cooks Italian: Herb marinated grilled chicken


The marinade used for this chicken recipe makes the chicken really delicious.


  • One 3-4 pound chicken, wing tips removed


  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh herbs ( I used oregano, basil, sage, parsley, rosemary, chives and thyme because that is what is growing in my garden.)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


Combine the marinade ingredients in a small mixing bowl or measuring cup.

Using kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the chicken backbone; remove the backbone (Save it for broth).

Turn the chicken, breast side up, and press down firmly on the breast bone to crack and flatten it. Tuck the wings under the back.

Transfer the flattened chicken to a medium glass baking dish. Loosen the skin a little and rub the marinade under and over all the skin of the chicken.

My comment: for the less surgically adept (including me!) you can use pre-cut chicken pieces.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator one hour before cooking.

Heat an outdoor grill to high with all the burners on, then, turn one or two burners to the lowest setting to create a low heat area.

My comment: Or use your usual kitchen grill

Grill the chicken, skin side down over the hot side of the grill, until the skin is browned and crisp, about 8-10 minutes. Turn the chicken skin side up and move to the low heat side of the grill.

Cover and grill over low heat until cooked through, about 20 – 30 minutes. Internal temperature should be around 170 F.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Internal temperature should rise to 180 F. Carve the chicken and serve.

Continuous glucose monitors give 1% reduction in Hba1c

free styleVancouver doctors took 12 patients  type two diabetes who were using insulin and gave them continuous blood sugar monitors to help them improve their blood sugars.

Participants used these for 3 months, kept food records and maintained weekly contact with a registered dietitian/registered nurse team.  After 3 months, patients were told to discontinue sensor use and weekly contact and return to usual care.

HbA1c averages started at  8.2  which decreased to 7.1 during the program period and did not increase during the 15 months of patient follow-up.

Hypoglycemia (glucose < 4 mmol) at the beginning of treatment, was an average of 3.5  per week and was unchanged at the end of the study to 2.8.

“In conclusion, our program empowered patients with the knowledge and skill to maintain glycemic control,” Dr Haniak said. “Furthermore, this program is a very effective teaching tool for those patients with severe hypoglycemia to also sustain and maintain glycemic control.”

Haniak P, et al. Abstract 179-OR. Presented at: American Diabetes Association’s 75th Scientific Sessions; June 5-9, 2015; Boston.

Focused Care Improves Control Without Hypoglycemia Risk

From Diabetes in Control June 26th, 2015

My comments: Surely giving patients the Freestyle Libre or similar for a period of time combined with education on a low carbohydrate diet and blood sugar management would be cost effective in the NHS?




5 tbsp soya flour

4 tbsp ground almonds

2tbsp granulated sweetener

½ tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

50ml/2fl oz double cream

2tsp butter

Berries and double cream (optional)



Place the soya flour, almonds, sweetener, baking powder, salt, eggs and double cream in a blender and process until smooth.

Heat a large non- stick pan over a low to medium flame and add 1 tsp of the butter. Tilt the pan to coat the surface with the melted butter.

Spoon  the batter into the pan to make three pancakes about 6 cm in diameter. Cook until risen, golden on the undersides and dry around the edges, then flip over and cook the undersides until golden.

Serve with berries and double cream.


New information about Vitamin B12 Deficiency



Type one diabetics are prone to B12 deficiency because of their increased risk of getting autoimmune disorders. Type two diabetics may get it due to the effect of metformin on B12 absorption.  The BMJ published an article about B12 deficiency and I am summarising it here because there is some important new information for doctors and patients.

The main new information that diagnosis is not as straightforward as the blood test because deficiency can occur and cause symptoms even when the levels are in the normal range. Also some symptoms won’t reverse if they are not treated within the first six months after presentation.

On the positive side, some people are able to take oral B12 quite successfully and may not need injections of B12 for the rest of their lives.

B12 deficiency affects DNA and cell metabolism. B12 is only available naturally from animal products. Because the body stores B12 pretty well, deficiency may not produce symptoms for several years, after going on a strict vegan diet for instance.

In the UK and USA around 6% of under 60s are deficient and 20% of those over 60 are too. In poorer countries deficiency is much more common, possibly reflecting the relative lack of meat in the diet.

Dietary B12 binds to intrinsic factor in the stomach and small bowel to allow absorption into the blood stream.  In pernicious anaemia the stomach cells die off.  Certain drugs can also affect B12 absorption including high dose proton pump inhibitors eg lansoprazole and omeprazole.  Other factors can be alcohol, slow K and cholestyramine.

The first symptoms to show up are often fatigue and anaemia. Moderate impairment can show up as an anaemia with bigger red cells, a swollen red tongue and reduced feeling in the fingers and toes. Severe impairment can show bone marrow suppression, neurological problems and cardiomyopathy. However B12 deficiency can occur with blood levels in the normal range and without anaemia. The cells may be of normal size if there is also iron deficiency at the same time.

Other types of blood cells can be affected in severe deficiency including the white cells and platelets.

The skin pigment can become deeper, reproduction affected, and osteoporosis can occur.

Neurologically motor disturbance, sensory loss, poor balance and reflexes, cognitive impairment and memory loss can occur. Some people may even be psychotic. Even at these extremes 20% of sufferers are not anaemic. Patients may say that their coordination is off, they have become clumsy and can’t walk right. Without treatment weakness and stiffness may develop. Damage to peripheral nerves causes sleepiness, altered taste and smell and damage to the optic nerve.  In severe stages a dementia like illness can occur with hallucinations, paranoia and severe depression.

The main test for deficiency is the cobalamin level but several other tests are also available. None are perfect. B12 levels are often tested when macrocytic anaemia is detected. People with levels of 148 pmol or in the USA 200ng/L or under represent an estimated 97% of people with the condition. This will leave a few, potentially with the condition but who are harder to diagnose. The authors state, “It is not clear what level of serum cobalamin may represent subclinical deficiency.”

Holotranscobalamin and methylmalonic acid levels may be better here but are specialist tests. Homocysteine levels may be used but the test is less specific and raised levels can occur in other conditions.

If B12 deficiency is found and there is no dietary lack of animal products tests for intrinsic factor and anti-parietal cell antibodies are usually done to identify the autoimmune condition pernicious anaemia.

Treatment is started as soon as possible particularly if there is neurological symptoms. Usually this is 1000 units intramuscularly on alternate days for up to three weeks or until there is no further improvement. For irreversible causes eg pernicious anaemia the injections continue for life, usually at 3 monthly intervals.

Oral treatment can be given in a dose of 5-150 units a day very successfully particularly in mild deficiency when the person can be trusted to take them. Potassium requirements may go up in the early phases of treatment as red cells are replenished. Folic acid and iron may also be required.

Although improvement in blood measurements is usually rapid taking days or weeks, neurological improvement can take up to three months but damage can be irreversible if treatment is not started within six months of onset.

Although pernicious anaemia is not preventable, deficiency due to vegan diets, metformin and proton pump inhibitors are. The oral form can work well here.

Summarised from Vitamin B12 deficiency. Alesia Hunt, Dominic Harrington, Susan Robinson.

BMJ 6th September 2014



The best meatballs you will EVER eat…

Half the amount of breadcrumbs or leave them out if you are doing the strict end of a low carb diet. Then dig in!


Ok… Ok… Ok… Admittedly, I’ve been slow rolling with the blog, trying to get something out with consistency but vacations can play havoc with that. Lol.

We are vacationing in Texas and I am cooking for nine people. With four adults, two teens, four pre teens, and my little two year old, portions ave how much to make is always a concern.

Yesterday, I made spaghetti and meatballs AND I’m going to share a GREAT meatball recipe. I hope you love it as much as we did.


2 lbs ground meat (80/20)

1 lb ground pork

7 cloves of garlic, minced

3 eggs

3/4 cup of water

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 cups parmesan cheese

1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

(This makes 24 nice sized meatballs so adjust accordingly)

Preheat your oven to 375.

Let’s start with putting your meat in a large bowl. Mix the ground meat, pork…

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