Monday, March 29, 2010

diet, gastroparesis, etc

March 16th: cooked a bunch of new stuff, ate way too much, felt sick all night.
March 17th: diet!

Wait, how could I start a diet on St. Patrick's Day?

Honestly, it wasn't a problem. I didn't want to eat anything on St. Patrick's Day. I felt so miserable I was compelled to do something. A huge internet search led me to a new gastroparesis blog with some good suggestions.

Since the 17th, I've had protein shakes for breakfast and lunch, and then whatever we're having for dinner, although I've been watching portions, especially carbs. I decided to do this for two reasons: first, because I felt so very sick on the night of the 16th. It really upset me that just eating what for many people would be a normal dinner would make me so sick. Second, on the morning of the 17th, I stepped on the scale and looked at a number I hadn't seen since my pregnancy days. Clearly I had to do something to get things under control. I wasn't paying attention to what, when, or how much I was eating, and in spite of occasional bouts of misery, I had been gaining weight. A pound here or there every three or four months doesn't seem like much, but they were creeping up.

My gastroparesis seems to be responding well to this regimen. Not having to digest solid food for most of the day seems to make handling dinner not as much of a problem, although I am nibbling Trader Joe's candied ginger or Ginger Chews nearly every evening. The ginger was a piece of advice I picked up from Crystal's Living with Gastroparesis blog (linked above), and it has really helped.

So my stomach's doing better and I'm back to the weight on my driver's license, down 9 pounds since the 17th. It has been quite a while since that was true. (I'm not sure it was true on the day I got the license.) I'd like to lose a little more for bathing suit season (here's hoping we have some beach weather this summer), but mostly I'm happy I don't feel like puking all the time. Now that I'm back down to what is technically my "normal" weight, I'm curious to see what happens. Since I've cut back my carbs my appetite is pretty much gone -- but at the same time, I don't get that horrid nausea I used to get first thing in the morning when my stomach was empty.

Interestingly, I seem to have the worst gastroparesis symptoms when I eat more starches. I'm still taking digestive enzymes and omeprazole (Prilosec acid-reducer) twice a day. I tried peppermint oil but that seemed to make my reflux worse (a noted side effect), and I experimented with Betain to see if my problem was insufficient acid as opposed to too much, and that was definitely not the case. I've ordered some Iberogast after reading what Crystal had to say about it, it will be interesting to see if it helps when it arrives.

You'd think after nearly two weeks I'd be sick of the shakes, but I try to vary them. I'm also like them because they are fast and easy, and they don't make me sick. That last is a huge plus, and explains a lot of my fondness for them. Also, the Gold Standard Whey is a very good tasting whey protein shake mix, with a pleasant mouth feel (some leave the inside of your mouth feeling like it's coated with plastic.) Some shake recipes:
- coffee instead of water, sprinkle with cinnamon
- coffee, add a scoop of cocoa powder for a mocha
- add a scoop of cocoa powder and a tablespoon or so of peanut butter
- add a scoop of cocoa powder and some sugar free black cherry syrup (I have been corrupted by Starbuck's new Black Cherry Mocha. It's insanely delicious, I just wish they had a no-sugar option.)
- orange Powerade Zero instead of water to make a creamsicle shake

If you use cocoa powder or peanut butter, you have to leave it on the blender for a while. I usually throw in a couple of ice cubes and let it blend while I'm puttering around in the kitchen -- a good 3 or 4 minutes, at least. It gets nice and frothy, which makes it easier for me to drink. I'm thinking of trying cream cheese to see if I can get a cheesecake flavor.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

signs of Spring

The neighborhood turtle comes out to bask in the warm afternoon sun.

And (finally!) blossoms appear on my peach tree.

new cure for hiccups

DS2 (9yo) gets the hiccups all the time. If he laughs for more than 10 seconds, he gets the hiccups. Sometimes he'll just get the hiccups for no reason. He used to get very frustrated because often it would take a while for them to go away -- the usual tricks of drinking water and holding his breath were useless.

Both boys had their well visits with the pediatrician last week, and the only issue that I had on my list to ask about was DS2's hiccups. Surprisingly, the doctor had some practical information and advice.

Information: frequent hiccup sufferers like DS2 are often shallow breathers. Hiccups are spasms of the diaphragm, the thin sheet of muscle below your lungs that we use to fill them with air. If your breathing is shallow, your diaphragm isn't getting a good workout, and it's much more likely to spasm.

Advice (the cure): Fill your lungs. This is the important part: being careful not to let any air escape, draw even more air in, so your lungs feel over-full. This has the effect of pushing down on your diaphragm. Hold for a moment, then release the air slowly. Repeat the process for best results.

DS2 reports great success with this technique. Not all hiccups are caused by shallow breathing, but it certainly won't hurt to try this technique next time you get them.

Friday, March 05, 2010

the LeapForce experience

About six months ago, I got a contract with LeapForce to work at home as a search engine evaluator. I've written about this before, and consequently I've received a handful of emails from people asking me how it worked out. I don't mind answering LeapForce-related questions because I had a lot of questions before going ahead with the contract, and I found other people's comments to be very helpful. At this point I thought it would be better to update the blog with my experience rather than having to keep sending individual emails to curious folks. This post is substantially copied from emails I have sent.

In short: I have found LeapForce to be 100% legit and on the level. I will risk breaching my confidentiality agreement to say that for a 6 month contract negotiated in October 2009, they paid me $13.50 per hour. Note that does NOT include taxes or Social Security, and LeapForce does not withhold anything. You will receive a 1099 statement of your earnings. It is up to you to keep track of your earnings and make sure you put enough aside to cover the taxes and other fees normally withheld.

I did run into a couple of issues. Occasionally there are no "tasks", that is, there isn't any work to do. Saturday and Monday mornings were the worst for this, but at most other times of day, including late at night, there was usually plenty to do.

You do have to keep very careful track of your time worked, to the minute. It is generally easy to do because you're doing everything on your computer, and most computers display the time in the lower right corner. So just make a note of when you start and when you finish, because each entry on your invoice must be to the minute. LeapForce's AtHome website has an invoice application that helps you to keep track of your hours. I recommend entering your time(s) at least once a day.

Keep in mind that this work is self-selecting. If you take the test and it makes you think your head is going to explode, this is not a good job for you. Initially I thought it was fun, but it can be repetitive, and you have to make a LOT of decisions rather quickly. LeapForce has "task per minute" (TPM) expectations of productivity which I think are reasonable, but some people commented that they disagreed. Your TPM is displayed in a little indicator on your LeapForce toolbar, and if it's not green you know you're being too slow. It seems odd to think that an innocuous little indicator going from green to yellow to red could cause your stress levels to rise, but it can. Somedays I dealt with it, other days it really got on my nerves.

For my first six weeks working, I didn't have too much trouble with making the tasks per minute targets, and I didn't have any problems getting my invoices approved. Subsequently I did have a problem getting my invoice approved when I included time I worked on "experimental" tasks. These tasks were supposed to take around 20 minutes, but I could not get them approved on my invoices no matter what explanatory notes I attached (as directed) and I ended up just dropping them. Overall I'd say that I wasted about 3 hours of my time on them, and since those particular tasks were holding up the rest of my invoice, I just deleted them and decided never to do "experimental" tasks with big warnings about how long they were going to take, again. (Other experimental tasks were shorter and I had no problem getting the time for them approved.)

About adult content: when you apply, you tell them up front whether or not you're willing to deal with it. I said I did not want to see that kind of thing, and generally I didn't. However, in some lists of results, a pørn site would occasionally show up. You can never be sure whether or not you're going to run into something like that, just like in a web search you're doing yourself at home. Very infrequently, a query would show up in a task that was clearly looking for pørn, and then you're kind of stuck: if you release the task (drop it), you don't get paid for any of the work you've done on it. So if you've invested 20 minutes in a task and hit a pørn query, you have to decide whether you want to kiss that 20 minutes' pay goodbye, or just evaluate the pørn query anyway. This did not happen often, but it did happen at least once or twice over the few months I was working for LeapForce. It is entirely possible that I've misinterpreted this policy, but I seem to recall getting a warning about not being able to bill any of that task's time if I were to drop it. It didn't happen often enough to me for me to pursue this for clarification.

I will say, the few times I sent email correspondence with a question, I received helpful replies with good turn-around time. They also sent checks right away after the invoices are approved.

Finally, pay attention to the small print: you have to work at least 200 tasks per pay period (month) to keep your contract current. Around Halloween and the beginning of November, I was very busy and didn't put in many hours, and they suspended my contract. They said I could re-qualify if took the test again, but I decided not to. I had to wait until December 1st to submit my invoice, which was annoying since I was no longer working; this further delayed my last paycheck.

Having my account suspended for not working the task minimum annoyed me, and I never really got over that. The experimental task issue and the TPM-pressure added to my negative impression. Neither of these was that big a deal, I just didn't want to deal with it anymore for the relatively tiny sum I was netting after taxes. I think this could be a great job for many people, but it's not one I would do with kids around to see the computer.