Agatha Christie Readathon: The Murder at the Vicarage

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Time for our fourth, and final book for the month, a quick reminder…..

The awesome Jay Cudney is hosting an Agatha Christie Readathon! The plan is simple. We have a week to read one of Christie’s fabulous novels and we post a review at the end of the week.

My approach to this Readathon

I am new to Agatha Christie, and I am also embarrassed to admit that! She is such a well known author, yet I have waited 5 decades to read her classic mysteries. What make this admission even worse for me, is that this is my favorite literary genre! When Jay launched this readathon, I saw it as an opportunity to right a horrible wrong in my life (too bad Jay can’t fix all of those!😢 )

These stories have been discussed, reviewed, studied and examined by minds far greater than mine. You can find many a brilliant, detailed and thorough review in numerous places. So, rather than focus on the storyline, I would like to take some time to discuss my thoughts on each of the novels. I suppose this is my chance to have a book club discussion without the actual book club meeting. Dang, I will miss the wine and cookies 🍷 🍪 !

Now, onto the review!

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Synopsis:

Agatha Christie’s

The Murder at the Vicarage

A Miss Marple Mystery

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

 

The Murder at the Vicarage is the first of Agatha Christie’s “Miss Marple” series. As such, it made perfect sense that the story would revolve around the Vicar, who’s home in which the murder took place .

The story is slow to begin as the characters, of which there are quite a few, are introduced to the reader. As this is a small town, or village, everyone is overly involved in one another’s business. It took some time to understand those intimate relationships and to describe the crime in detail. However, once the true investigation begins, the story moves at a quicker pace.

The story is told from the Vicar’s point of view and he is somewhat of an amateur sleuth himself. Indeed, it seems the actual authorities are rather blind to a number of clues and important inferences, which makes me wonder how they got their jobs in the first place!

While the professional investigators are searching for the easiest explanation, the Vicar and Miss Marple are looking for the answers that makes sense, given the facts they have. This is made all the more complicated by the busy bodies and gossip hounds which cloud the facts by withholding information and elaborating details that may or may not be real. Ultimately it is “old Miss Marple” that sees through the deceptions of the culprits and weaves the fragmented truths together.

I do wish that this had been the first of the Miss Marple stories that I had read. I feel this was a great introduction to her character and her keen sense of observational powers. I can completely buy into her position as a supporting character, turned hero at the end when she is the one who puts it all together. I would expect that, as the series continues, Miss Marple would have a greater involvement in solving the future mysteries that seems to be in abundance in this tiny community. Having already completed “The body in the Library”, I do know that the series does not play out that way. Still, I do recommend “The Murder at the Vicarage” as a clever example of Agatha Christie’s excellent writing style!

Thank you Jay, for expanding my literary boundaries! So glad we went on this journey together my friend 😊💕!

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A to Z Challenge: Y is for Yogurt

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To be fair, not just yogurt but all fermented foods! Yogurt just happens to be the best known for its probiotic content. All fermented foods contain probiotics, as long as they are unpasteurized!

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Lets talk about your intestinal flora! Is that too personal😉

 

the colon. intestinal flora

 

The bacteria in your system outnumber your cells of your body 10 to 1! That is a lot of bacteria, and they reside in your intestines and colon. There are a variety of strains, some good, some bad and many indifferent! You need these strains as some make vitamins, such as K, and provide for the optimal conditions for absorption of nutrients.

The “bad” ones? Well they provide you with that embarrassing gas and bloating😳

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The trick is learning how to balance these competing strains.

Eating a balanced and healthy diet is a great start. Consuming probiotics is key toward meeting this goal.

 

 

How are fermented foods produced?

Bacteria will ferment milk to produce lactic acid, which gives yogurt the tangy taste. Bacteria that feed on skim milk produce the fat free variety of foods.

Plain yogurt, that does not have any additives, should be white and thick. Commercial brands that add colors and sugars are not good for you. Those additives will actual feed the unhealthy flora that you are trying to replace and may contribute to weight gain over time.

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According to the official definition, probiotics are “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”

Which is a fancy way of saying they are good for you! Probiotics are usually bacteria but some yeast also have this function. But with so many strains to choose from, which should you be looking for in your yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh?

All fermented foods, with live active cultures, contain probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Enterococcus faecium, Streptococcus thermophilus. 55DA57DA-1104-313F-4ED9-98BC16EAC422.jpeg-copy-e1474035349386-1024x317Be sure to read the label and look for these specific strains!

Benefits of consuming fermented foods, particularly yogurt

It is high in calcium which is needed for healthy teeth and bones. In fact, 1 8oz cup is 49% of your daily recommended total.

Yogurt is high in B vitamins, and required for heart health. 💕

It is also high in Phosphorus, Magnesium and Potassium, all needed for bone health, regulating blood pressure and metabolism. In fact, that same 1 8oz cup has 38%, 12% and 18% of each of those ions, respectively.

Yogurt is high in protein! Remember P is for Protein? We talked about how important protein is for a variety of reasons. Regular yogurt has 12 grams/7 oz, which is pretty good, but greek yogurt (which has been strained to remove all the water creating a denser product) has 22grams/ 7oz!

Protein will help you feel fuller longer and may aid in weight control. Studies have shown that particpants who consumed greek style yogurt remained fuller longer and ate fewer calories throughout the day, compared to participants who consumed regular yogurt.

In another study, obese individuals, who have different flora than lean people, had a  fecal transplant from a person with a lean weight flora. This caused weight loss in the obese host. This result confirmed that gut microorganisms can help with weight control.

In 2013, a study of 210 patients with central obesity (belly fat) was conducted. The subjects were given Lactobacillus gassers supplements. It was determined that the bacteria was responsible for a weight loss of 8.5% in 12 weeks. When the patients stopped ingesting the bacteria they gained all the weight back in just 4 weeks!

 

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What else?

Probiotics lower levels of inflammation.

Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Cause the lowering of total cholesterol levels, and particularly, LDL.

Lowering blood pressure.

Skin health benefits, such as controlling acne, rosacea and eczema. 😊

Any Side Effects?

You could experience gas and mild discomfort for a couple days as the new bacteria settle in, after that your digestion should be better than it was before the probiotics.

Some antibiotics will be less effective due to the high calcium content in yogurt (and any dairy products). Your doctor or pharmacists will tell you to curtail your dairy intake while on the medications.

Many commercial yogurts contain additives that you do not want in your system, such as added sugars or dyes. I like to buy plain yogurt and add in fresh fruit to control the carbs and minimize calories. Making your own is actually quite easy!

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I hope you are interested in probiotics, if you weren’t before. There are quite a few benefits to be had!😋

References:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-benefits-of-yogurt

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/probiotics-101#modal-close

https://www.escoffieronline.com/healthy-vs-unhealthy-yogurt/

https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-829/yogurt

 

X is for Xanthum Gum

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Have you heard of Xanthum Gum? If you are gluten free, have Celiac disease or are a strict vegan, then you probably have! The rest of us may have heard it on a popular ice cream commercial. It’s the one where the cute kids are trying to read the list of ingredients and have to pronounce all the strange chemical names.

Xanthum gum is not a strange name, but is a food additive that is found in almost anything that needs a preservative or stabilizer, think of the interior of your local grocery store!images

It was discovered in 1960, and by 1968 the FDA had approved it for human consumption.

It is a polysaccharide made from either glucose, sucrose or lactose.

Xanthomonas campestris is the naturally occurring bacteria that is used to make Xanthum gum. If you are a gardener then you have seen this bacteria many times (I know I have!) See the black rot on this cauliflower leaf? That’s Xanthomonas campestris

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How Xanthum gum  is made

Xanthomonas campestris is a bacteria that will use glucose, sucrose or lactose as a food source. Xanthum gum is produced when one of these sugars is fermented by the bacteria, and then precipitated with isopropyl alcohol. The precipitate is then dried and ground into a powder which can be added to a liquid to form a “gum”.

 

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The result is the white powder that you can buy at the store. It is often used in vegan and gluten free baking.

What is it used for specifically?

The applications for this gel like substance are almost endless. It is inert, meaning is has no flavor of its own and does not interact, chemically, to its surroundings. It is therefore useful in lowering the friction point of metals. In an industrial setting it can act as a lubricant for pistons and cylinders. It is used as a cheap and effective substance in drilling operations, particularly in fresh and salt water operations.

It is also found in cosmetics, lotions and medicines. Even your toothpaste has xanthum gum!

Sounds tasty huh? But, remember is has no taste!

Why is it in our food supply?

People often site the fact that xanthum gum is used for large scale industrial purposes as a reason for it to be unhealthy for human consumption. It bother folks that this product can be used for other applications. The truth is that this is a natural product, produced by a bacterium, and has unique properties that make is useful in food preparation.

Like chia seeds, the xanthum gum will swell when added to liquids.

l_11350_chefsteps.coffeeIts consistency acts as a thickening agent when added to soups or stews. Most of us use butter and flour as a thickening agent, but if you are gluten or dairy free, that is not an option for you.

Xanthum can be used as a gluten subsitute in baking by acting as a binding agent, taking the place of eggs and/or flour.

It is also found in commercially prepared salad dressings, where it is utilized as an emulsifier, to keep oil and water mixed. As well as commercially prepared pastry fillings to keep water from soaking into the pastry dough.

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It is found in ice cream to prevent ice crystals from forming and helps to maintain the smoothness of the final product.

 

 

 

Since xanthum gum swells when it contacts liquids, it will do that in your intestines as well. Therefore it acts like a laxative in the intestines and stimulates the digetstive tract to push stool through the colon. The more xanthum gum one ingests the more laxative effect! Many popular bulk laxatives use xanthum gum to help people deal with constipation.

Is it safe to eat?

Yes! The World Health Organization (WHO) determined that it is safe to consume 15 grams/day. As  a reference point, most protein powders use less than half a gram per serving, mainly for texture, so 15 grams in a single day would be considered a huge amount.

Are you afraid to drinking beer of wine, consider it is dangerous? Both liquids are a products of bacterial or fungal fermentation. As is yogurt and cheese! One of my favs 😊

Studies have been conducted on the effects of  xanthum gum and found that it can lower both overall sugars and cholesterol in diabetics. Additionally, it can act as a saliva substitute in people who suffer from dry mouth.

Of course, people can be sensitive to this, like they can be sensitivite to any food additive.  If you suspect that you have a sensitivity to xanthum gum, it is not easily avoided due to its prevalence in so many products, food or otherwise. However, when you make salad dressings, or ice cream at home, you do not add xanthum gum specifically.

Home cooked is still always best 😉

Hopefully this demystifies xanthum gum for you, at least a little bit. 🙏😊

References;

https://draxe.com/what-is-xanthan-gum/

https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-340/xanthan-gum

https://www.fooducate.com/app#!page=post&id=57A3313A-D446-9E0C-44E2-8CDDCC498C35

 

 

A to Z Challenge: W is for Wine

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Do you remember when a study came out, about 20 years ago, stating that red wine was good for you? There were no real details, like why it was good for you, or in what way you would benefit. There certainly was no information about how much, or how little, you should drink to get these amazing benefits. A lot of people just heard “red wine” and “good”, and were satisfied with that!

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I get it! I like a drink every now and then too, so it would make sense that if you tell people something they want to hear, they won’t ask a lot of questions. 🧐

In the two decades that have passed since that day, there have been numerous studies conducted on both white and red wine, as well as other spirits, largely negating those small, positive correlations of the original studies.  But, if you ask the average person if consuming alcohol is healthy, they most likely will tell you that red wine is good for you, and leave it at that.

So, let’s take a look at that statement.

All forms of alcohol, not just wine, contain heart healthy factors.

Alcohol will raise the HDL form of cholesterol, and lower the LDL form. This means that cholesterol will be flushed out of the arteries before it has a chance to build up and form a blockage, known as plaque.

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Alcohol also reduces the formation of blood clots by interfering with platelet adhesion, thereby acting as a blood thinner.

Alcohol may also improve the function of the cells lining the arteries themselves.

Alcohols also has anti-inflammatory properties, anti- cancer activators and has been shown to increase longevity in lower life forms.

It sounds amazing doesn’t it! 🍸 🍷 🍹

Why did red wine get singled out?

Red wine contains over 500 natural occurring chemical substances. One of those is resveratrol.

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This is the compound found in the skin of red grapes. 🍇 It is one of the polyphenol class of antioxidants. Red grape skins are used in the fermentation of both red and white wine varieties, so white wine also contains resveratrol, but the red varieties have 13 times the amount. Food scientists have long credited red wine, and resveratrol, as the factor that explains the “French Paradox”. This is the notion that the French, who have lower levels of heart disease, obesity and Type II diabetes, in spite of consuming a diet high in fat and cholesterol, are drinking red wine with their meals and avoiding the harmful effects of their cuisine. Studies began by isolating resveratrol and looking at its effects on cells, and in small mammals. Small, positive correlations were observed and quickly the population grabbed onto the new idea that red wine was good for you.

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It didn’t take long for the herbal supplement machine to grab onto this information. This single antioxidant was concentrated and plugged into a capsule and sold. Annual sales reached an all time high of 30 million dollars in the Untied States, and the list of aliments supposedly cured by this one substances went far and above any of the actual testing that occurred.

The marketing teams touted that you can get all the benefits without the nasty hangovers or detrimental affects brought on by alcoholic beverages.

Not surprising!

 

 

Are there no other sources of resveratrol in the world!?😳

Of course there are! This is an antioxidant, which means you can eat healthy, colorful foods that will give you all the resveratrol your cells can use. The added bonus is that these foods are also full of other cancer fighting, and heart healthy boosting nutrients.

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You could just eat the grapes! The skin is where the antioxidants are contained so look for red, black and purple fruits. Blueberries, cranberries, dark chocolate and even peanuts have resveratrol, as well as many other fine nutrients.

The key is moderation🍇🍆🍫🍷

The last 20 years of data have demonstrated that red wine is not responsible for The French Paradox. There really is no mystery there at all. The French practice portion control, walking is part of their daily lifestyle and they consume more whole foods and less processed products.

Bottom line: if you love your red wine, have a glass (ladies) or two (fellas). Not a bottle! The standard serving size varies from different regulatory governing bodies, but this chart is a close representation from all guidelines.

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And don’t drink to the point of lowering your inhibitions and eating the foods you know will not help you meet your overall health goals. 😉

And don’t kid yourself! That is not a 5 oz. vitamin drink! You need a balanced diet to get the benefits of resveratrol and its antioxidant buddies. 😊

Cheers 🥂 !

References:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/red-wine/art-20048281

https://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/is-red-wine-good-for-you.aspx

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1868537

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/drinking-red-wine-is-good-for-you–or-maybe-not/2017/12/01/49f55e7a-cbd3-11e7-aa96-54417592cf72_story.html?utm_term=.61891f50c52e

 

A to Z Challenge: V is for VO2

Have you heard of VO2? This is one of those fitness terms that seems to be popping up all the time. So, I thought we should define it and I needed a “V” topic!😊

This is the volume of oxygen consumed when you exercise.

It is often expressed as VO2 max. This is a measurement of the maximum oxygen an athlete can use during intense exercise. It is basically a measurement of aerobic endurance, and the athletes’ overall cardiovascular fitness.❤️

This is not just for elite athletes. If you have had a stress test at the doctors office, you may have had this assessment.

How it is measured

The athlete, or patient, performs an exercise, usually riding a stationary bike, or running on a treadmill. The oxygen content is measured in the volume of air that is inhaled and exhaled. Remember, CO2 is exhaled and therefore contains oxygen molecules.

1449223426084-1wr8ssbdskbs1-630-80The test is 10 to 15 minutes and the athlete is required to raise the speed and intensity of the exercise until the point of muscle fatigue. The test must be performed in a lab with the measurement taken with the correct equipment, your Garmin reading is not accurate. Garmin, and other heart monitors can only track your heart rate, and then use your weight, gender, age and height to calculate your VO2, which is off by a large factor!

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The VO2 max is the point where aerobic metabolism stops and anaerobic metabolism begins, muscle fatigue follows quickly. Have you ever had a cramp when swimming or running? It hurts!😩 that is the point we are talking about.

 

Can it be altered?

While there is a strong genetic component, your VO2 max can be increased through proper training. Age, gender and altititude can also affect your VO2 consumption.

To give you an idea of what we are talking about, the averge sedentary person has a VO2 max of 35 ml/kg/min and elite endurance athletes are around 70 ml/kg/min.

Remember Lance Armstrong? At his peak, his VO2 Max was 85 ml/kg/min. He was able to manipulate his VO2 by increasing the number of red blood cells (which bind and carry oxygen). He took EPO, erythropoietin, which stimulates the formation of red blood cells. This was especially helpful when cycling in the mountains were there is less oxygen at high altitudes.

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Of course, he also tested positive for other substances as well, and won the Tour de France seven times before having his titles and medals stripped. Cycling is notorious for blood doping with EPO, and most riders complain that they cannot compete with the athletes who use performance enhancing drugs.

I hope this helps you the next time you see this in your health and fitness reading, which I am sure you are doing regularly!😇

References:

https://www.verywellfit.com/what-is-vo2-max-3120097

https://runnersconnect.net/is-vo2-max-worth-spending-for/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn3Yr-LS_l0

https://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/vo2max.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/lance-armstrong-case-prompts-question-why-is-there-so-much-doping-in-cycling/2013/01/18/32cd089a-5e61-11e2-a389-ee565c81c565_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.913c54117162

 

A to Z Challenge: U is for UV Exposure

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This is a topic that has impacted my life in a couple ways. First, I am a natural redhead, meaning I have the freckles and white skin that often accompany that trait. As a kid I would burn instantly, but growing up in the Pacific Northwest it wasn’t too much of an issue. The sun was only strong enough in the summer, and that is really only 2 months out of the year.

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This is the UV index for Redmond, Washington today. ☁️

 

It wasn’t until much later in life, while studying comparative vertebrate anatomy, that I learned that my cells produce phaeomelanin, the least effective of the two forms of melanin. My melanocytes, (the cells in our skin that produce melanin) do not make the brown pigment that allows others to tan more easily. If you are a burner like me, then you also produce phaeomelanin, which are the yellow and red pigments. We are the freckled population!

I apply sunscreen everyday, yes everyday! My skin type is extremely sensitive to UV and we are constantly exposed, even on overcast days. I am concerned about all the effects of aging, not just melanoma.

Fast forward 40 years of so, and I now have a second home in Tucson, Arizona. This is a climate where the sun shines constantly! I have to be careful, but not as much as I thought I would have to be. Interestingly, as many of you know, things change as we age. I still have lots of freckles, but I don’t burn as quickly as once did. uv10

The UV index for the same date, in Tucson, Arizona. My environment has definetly changed ☀️

 

I thought it might be a good idea, with summer approaching, to take a look at our skin health. It is the largest organ of the body, after all!

Why do we tan in the first place, biologically?

UV light damages DNA. Melanin pigment is produced in an effort of the cell to aborsorb the UV wavelength, thereby protecting the DNA. The more UV exposure the darker the melanin pigment becomes in the outer layer of our skin. The lower layers will begin melanogenesis, a process to produces the melanocyte cells, which are full of melanin. Those cells move upward toward the surface of the skin, as you slough cells continuously. Once the UV stimulus is removed, melanogenesis slows and the dark cells are sloughed off. 600b0f283f4abfb1396fe84b6de96c05

If I get a “base tan” will I be better protected?

No. And that is going to bother some people. Regardless of what the tanning bed industry tells you, all UV light is damaging. The proof is the color of your skin!

All tans are signs of skin damage, regardless if the UV source is natural, or from a tanning bed! There are literally dozens of thorough, scientific studies to back up that claim. And still, people go to tanning salons, just as they continue to consume tobacco products in the face of overwhelming proof that cigarette are linked to cancer.😔

Melanomas are not the only damage: wrinkles, brown spots (age spots) and crepey skin are all long term effects from exposure to UV light sources.

If I don’t have a tan, am I getting enough Vitamin D?

Yes. Your body is incredible efficient at making Vitamin D and needs very little exposure to UV light to activate that pathway. In fact, the tan would be blocking the UV light from making the vitamin! There are far too many good sources of vitamin D that you can consume in your diet to justify the need to tan. At worst, you can take a supplement which would not harm your DNA!

Did you know?

National “Don’t Fry Day!” is May 25 this year! So, get out that sunscreen and apply generously and often!

References:

https://www.almanac.com/content/uv-index-chart-time-burn

https://www.epa.gov/sunsafety

https://oaspub.epa.gov/enviro/uv_search_v2?minx=-122.17978329999995&miny=47.62053510000008&maxx=-122.06778329999996&maxy=47.73253510000008

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-a-base-tan-can-protect-against-sunburn/

http://mentalfloss.com/article/50507/why-do-we-tan

https://www.skincancer.org/prevention/tanning

 

A to Z Challenge: T is for Travel

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Have you ever taken a Fitcation? Maybe you, or someone you know, has used their vacation time to run a half marathon, a tough mudder or go on a yoga retreat?

We have done a few of these types of trips and I have to say, I really recommend it!

There are all types of fitcations, all over the world and of course at varying costs. In an attempt to be all encompassing, I tried to include a wide variety of options.

First, Health and Fitness travel

They have an enormous variety to offer, of course for a price! I have not tried this resource yet, but I am tempted! They will work with you to tailor your destination and activity for your ideal holiday and fitness goals. This would be my way of going to an exotic local and tying in yoga or a spa holiday!

 

The Best fitness vacations to take in 2018

Of course we are already in April, but this is a great place to get ideas for next year as well.

I have been to a few of these already, and certainly agree with some of their choices!

They highlight Mii Amo Resort in Sedona, Arizona. We stayed there in 2016 and it was one of the reasons we eventually bought our house in Tucson.

Sedona is spectacular!  And Mii Amo is a truly unique experience. It is pricy to be sure, but it is all inclusive and worth every penny! Massages, yoga, hiking, golf, mountain biking and delicious, healthy food!

 

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The Edgewater Inn at the Seattle waterfront is fabulous and while they reference the Brunch Run in April, the reality is that there are many 5k, 10k and half marathons in the Seattle area all summer long. There are bike rides and wonderful hiking in the nearby mountain ranges as well. I can promise you that the best time to visit Seattle is the summer, not so much the rest of the year.🌧☔️💦

 

 

Vancouver in September! The perfect time to go! But the SeaWheeze half marathon fills fast, so if you are interested sign up now! The run through Stanley park is beautiful!

 

Finally, I would like to recommend O.A.R.S. for the more adventurious of you. We have done the white water rafting trip through a portion of the Grand Canyon. We spent the night at Bar 10 Ranch and, the next morning, took a helicopter ride down into Whitmore Wash. We boarded the Dories (wooden boats) and our guides took us through the rapids for the next three days. We camped along the way, and dined on delicious food, all provided by the company!

We actually have two more adventure trips set up for this summer! I am sure there will be plenty of pictures on my blog! 😊

I do hope you will consider a Fitcation at some point in your vacation planning. They are a great alternative to the same old routine and you may just find that your friends and family enjoy having a new shared activity.

Do you have a favorite Fitcation adventure? Please share it with me! I am always looking for new ideas 💡 💕