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Showing posts from 2021

Blue Cross Blue Shield and the OTC Gift Card

Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC gave many of its members gift cards due to a settlement , and OTC gift cards were sent to policy holders, in amounts between $100 and $500. I got a gift card for $200. However, it isn't like a Visa or Mastercard gift card. That would be too easy. For this gift card, you have to go to certain stores, and only buy certain items. After trying to figure out the items I could buy by browsing the OTCNetwork website to only see the manufacturer's abbreviations for most items, and a terrible search/browse tool, I decided to head to Walmart. It was one of the stores on the list, and with the OTC Network app on my phone I started scanning items I would want to buy. Trip number one: Box of Q Tips 4 pack of deodorant 2 bottles of shampoo 2 boxes of toothpaste Sunblock Box of bandaids 2 packs of razors Pillowtop insoles for my worn down slippers Bottle of scar remover Brookview Acai Pomegranate Chocolates Funny, that only the smaller size of the chocolates were

2021 North Hills 5K

I ran the North Hills 5k again, hoping to run faster, however due to some pains, I didn't beat last year's time. I'm happy, overall, with my performance, and am looking forward to training more. The goal is to get below 40 minutes as a total time, somewhere around 13:30min/mi pace. Here are how my runs have stacked up: 2016: 327/356 51:06 2017: 234/281 45:12 2018: 224/262 48:15 2019: 282/305 48:44 2020: 84/116   42:49 2021: 178/239 45:42  Not too bad, third best time overall, and I am looking forward to next year. 

A Study on Trees

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 Deciding to stick with my tree practice, I grabbed the small canvas from week 5, the small canvas from the week after the final course, the tree painting from last week, a blank canvas, and the acrylic book, and went to work. Top left: My attempt to recreate the first painting. Decided to add a hill and path instead of the field to show depth. This week, I tried adding five trees on it, but that didn't work well. The issue was my brush. Despite my lightest touch with my smallest brush, the trunk for the closest tree was entirely too thick, and the other trees weren't that much better. I attempted to fix them with making them longer and changing the third three into being the branch of the next tree. I'd say mixed results there. The leaves aren't bad. I just need smaller brushes or bigger canvases. Top right: Not done yet, actually. I had to leave before I had the time to put highlights on, so it only has two colors on it. I'm also not liking the shape - too much o

Continuation of painting

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Back to the studio! I learned that there is another instructor at the art center who paints acrylics and teaches basic acrylic painting. Her supply list was much longer, very specific, and she included her email in case anyone had questions. I found her business page on Facebook, because she also hosts "wine and paint" type classes as well as paints live at breweries/coffee houses for silent auctions. I asked her if she will be doing classes at the art center again, and she confirmed that she will in January. I recall that her previous class was filled at least two months before the start, so I had better keep an eye out for when winter courses start! I decided to buy a book about Acrylic painting techniques so I could continue painting between now and the start of winter classes. The book I bought is a little more difficult than I had anticipated. My painting of water wasn't great, but I was able to learn how to paint a tree fairly well. Goal: Attempt: I didn't reali

All the Paintings

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 Collection of Paintings throughout the 6 week class: Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 The final set, with proper photography of the paintings: Continuation of Painting

Painting, Week 6

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 It's the last class. I feel like my flower and tree painting is finished, because I don't know how to fix it. I don't really want to add to my small canvas, because I like it as it is. So, I decided to take my blending exercise paintings and practice painting palm tree silhouettes on them. I brought the other finished paintings with me in case the instructor wanted pictures of the final pieces. Spoiler alert: He did not. I went to work, painting palm trees, starting with my least favorite blending painting to my most favorite, in the expectation that I would get better as I progressed. I would paint a few trees, then set the canvas aside to dry while I worked on the next canvas, noting what I wanted to do better, either pressure on the canvas, or thinness of brush strokes, or the multiple ways to paint palm fronds. The instructor was confused when he got to my station. "I've heard of people painting a triptych but a five... tych?" I responded, "I'm j

Painting, Week 5, Open Studio

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 I am determined to practice. I decide to focus on blends and sun rays. The blending exercise goes well, as I continue to practice each subsequent canvas. Looking good, especially the last one! Ok, onto the sun rays. Well, that was an incredible failure. I ended up attempting 12 suns, painting over the first four, lightly, and all of them just stunk. I tried two different techniques and hated them all. Although, the very top right isn't horrid, I would just need better and lighter spikes. Hopefully as I continue to use the membership, I'll get better. Week 6

Painting, Week 5

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I didn't want to forget things I had learned already, like how to blend colors and use the fan brush and how to paint clouds, so I grabbed a small set of canvases to practice on, and started on one. The sky at the horizon reminded me of mountains, so I just leaned into it and actually painted mountains in the distance. I attempted another go at making the sun not look like the moon, but I failed. Maybe it's a level 2 skill and I'm still at level 1. Everything else, I think I like. The mountains are a little messy, but this is just a practice canvas, and I'm only attempting to learn... pretty much by myself.  The instructor brings his long cow painting back, wanders around, and talks about his dagger striper brush again. He notices that I've brought a small canvas and notes that I must be painting from memory since I am not referencing the original painting. He says to the class that we need to be finishing up our paintings as there is one more class to go. I have no

Painting, Week 4

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  I got a small straight edge brush and watched a few YouTube videos in an attempt to do better flowers. While they are better, I couldn't be consistent enough to make it look like the flowers were receding into the field. Instead, it just looks like a weird wall of flowers. I fixed the tree trunk back to what I wanted, and attempted sun rays (which failed again) and a different way to show sunlight diffusion (which also failed.) Ah well, I don't quite know what to do, and I don't know how to fix it. The instructor noted that my flowers were better, and brought a painting about a cow that a farmer friend of his pointed out was too long. He was going to work on making the cow more realistic while everyone worked on their paintings. He spent most of the time talking about going to the sunflower field at Dorthea Dix Park, and how he likes his dagger striper brush. I buy an annual membership to the studio so I can go back on the weekends and practice more. Week 5

Painting, Week 3

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This week, I aimed to continue painting clouds, paint flowers and sun rays on the canvas panel. I also expected the instructor to, you know, instruct, but he didn't. He walked around, talking about the paintings people were doing in a superficial manner, and worked on his two guitarists painting he brought back. He also talked about his dagger striper brush that he uses for grass and leaves and other thin items. The clouds look pretty good, but my flowers just aren't what I imagined. I didn't have any smaller brush with me, so I dabbed as lightly as I could with what I had. It was still too much. The tree is looking alright, if a little cartoonish. It's very difficult to paint realistically, I'm finding. I tried a few times for sun rays, but ended up removing them, as they didn't look good. Well, it is something, and I still have three weeks yet... as well as two other canvas panels and two canvases that I guess we don't need to use? The instructor walked to

Painting, Week 2

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 I took a look at my reference painting. My painting has all the wrong colors! Also, it doesn't have a straight line at the horizon. I also found out through Bob Ross that I needed a few more brushes, and what I bought were NOT going to work. I picked up a number 6 fan brush, a few much larger straight edged brushes and more white paint. Reference: The instructor didn't add anything, or teach anything, but talked about the gig he just did in Delaware. Oh, by the way, he's actually a guitarist. That's his real job. He's in a band, and got his education in music, not art. He just kind of fell into art and his wife wanted him out of the house, and suggested that he go teach at the art center. He brought a half finished painting with two guitarists and worked on that while talking to one of the students. However, I think I got my colors corrected and my horizon line is straight! I used my fan brush to create grass in the foreground and started on clouds and a sun. Not t

Another Month Away - Painting, Week 1

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 I decided to embark on painting and Tableau and running hobbies, which kept me busy. Sadly, due to painting "class", a GI issue that curtailed running, and Tableau being done for work, I kept thinking "Well, the next update will be great and I'll have something to share!" I have things to share all right. It turns I'm not a great painter, but also that sometimes community classes don't have great instructors! I took a painting class at a nearby art center that offered painting classes, pottery classes and jewelry classes, as well as yoga and a few other classes aimed at small children. While I didn't learn much beyond I am not a good painter, I did enjoy having a space to go paint, and signed up for an annual membership for the open studio times. The class materials were: 2 canvases, 16" by 20" 3 canvas panels Assortment of brushes Acrylic Paint Colors:  • Cadmium Red • Cadmium Yellow • Pthalo Blue • Ultramarine Blue • Burnt Umber • Titani

Month away

 I attempted to read through four books, however I ended up not enjoying them. Not enough to get rid of the books yet, but to put them down in the middle to find a book that I did enjoy. I'm currently reading The Joy of X, A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity. Hopefully I'll finish it this weekend and put up a review. I also need to review two board games I recently played. I spent 7 days in Ohio, visiting with family and friends. I even was able to spend time with my great aunt, who is 100 years old! My parents and I went to the Van Gogh exhibit in Detroit and thought it was an incredible experience! I also finished my first Tableau course with a 98%, and am nearly done with my second course. The entire specialization is 5 courses, and I hope to be done with all the work by the end of September.  On the plane to Ohio, I started reading Digital Minimalism, which has been enjoyable and helpful to me. I'm looking forward to my own technology habit change very soon. Oth

Book 4: James May's Magnificent Machines

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 I am a huge fan of James May, having watched him in Top Gear, Grand Tour, Toy Stories, Man Lab, Oh Cook! and my favorite, The Reassembler. When I wandered around Reader's Corner, a used bookshop in downtown Raleigh and spotted "James May's Magnificent Machines", I knew I needed to have a copy. James is an excellent presenter, and his voice comes through in the book, making me chuckle often. James takes the reader through the history of important inventions like the car,  electricity, airplane, radio, television, motorcycle and more, all without being bogged down with too many details. I'm finding it difficult to rate, because I like James May and think he does a wonderful job with this book, but the book isn't some incredible work of importance. It's an easy walk through major inventions with a conversational tone. I don't want to rate it artificially high just because I enjoy all of James May's other work. I've realized that I need to pin dow

Book 3: Economics Explained

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Economics Explained: Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works and Where It's Going by Robert Heilbroner and Lester Thurow is my first fail book. I really wanted to like it, as it was recommended on a personal finance site. I got it from a library surplus sale. I've had two college courses in Economics 15+ years ago and expected some of the book to be refresher and the rest about history of economics and policy choices in the future. It's possible that the book is about that, however I couldn't get past my first two attempts. It is written so dryly that I would have preferred just a college textbook. Quotes that aged like milk, like calling the use of computers "disturbing trends" - and that's in the newly written introduction from 1998. I read the introduction and chapter one, and skimmed chapter two, and wasn't enjoying myself nor was I learning anything, except new ways to sigh. I flipped to page 145, about 2/3rds of the way in the boo

Book 2: The Passionate Programmer: Creating a Remarkable Career in Software Development

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 I bought this book in 2010 or 2011, in the beginning of my IT degree. I thought it would help me focus on what I want to study. Instead, the first couple of chapters confused me. Each chapter ends with some actionable questions - and I could only answer "I don't know" for all of them. Do you want to position yourself in the bleeding edge of technology, or just the leading edge? Do you prefer to specialize in migrating legacy systems - requiring you to be an expert in a nearly dead language - but a very important task to help companies move forward? List all the technologies you use and rank them in their lifecycle. Err... I don't know. I have a year of writing some C and C++? I felt overwhelmed, put the book down, then promptly forgot it existed for about 10 years - except for times I was moving - Oh, yes, I should read that book some day. I finally decided to get it over with - after all, 10 years later, I am in the IT field as a Database Administrator and report wr

Book 1: Augie and the Green Knight

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 I thought I'd start my large three year 'read every book on my bookshelf' project with a rather easy one. I bought Zach Weinersmith's children's book, "Augie and the Green Knight" from Kickstarter in 2015, and figured I'd get around to reading it sometime. Well, the time is now! I'd been familiar with Zach's work as a webcomic and owner of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal  and have purchased some of his other works... which I also haven't read. At least I'm consistent! Augie and The Green Knight is a delightful story about Augie's travels with the Green Knight as she attempts to bring order and civilized manners to the knight. It is a very delightful read, and had me laughing out loud between excellently placed pop culture references and Augie's unique perspective. I would highly recommend it for readers aged 10 and up. Some of the words would likely be a little difficult for some younger children, but I would hope it would en

The Next Large Project

It's so large, I'm setting a rough deadline of three years! I've decided to read every fiction and non fiction physical book I own, except for songbooks. The Kindle books will be for another time. I've had a very bad habit of buying a book, letting it gather dust on my bookshelf for years, feel guilt for not reading it, eventually either not wanting to read it anymore (just not interested in The Philosophy of The Simpsons) or feeling too much guilt for not reading it, and giving it away or donating it. No more! The pandemic showed that I can read quite a few books per year, and at the very least, I should read them all. Not every page - if I'm concerned I'll not care for the whole book, I'll read until the first few chapters of the book and reassess. I do have some very dry books. If I still like it, then I'll continue. I don't want to read anything I don't like, but I bought books I like, or want to learn from. I'll also write a short review

What I Did During the Pandemic

 Technically, the pandemic isn't over, but I'm considering my personal pandemic over - I am fully vaccinated! I can travel and see friends and family, now! I thought I would list what I remember accomplishing during my person pandemic, between March 12, 2020, the last day I went to the office to work, and yesterday, April 29, 2021 the first day I could be considered fully vaccinated. Ran a 5k in a new personal time after extensive training throughout March 2020 and September 2020 when the North Hills 5K took place Visited the Eno River Confluence Area for a 2 mile hike After 16 year hiatus, relearned how to ride a bike, and rode just over 100 miles throughout the summer of 2020. I also walked 182 miles and ran 120 miles. Completed projects like Exercise Every Day in August 2020, Photo a Day Challenge from April to June of 2020, and was able to continue daily posting from August 2019 to August 2020.  Compiled and edited a Gluten free cookbook after months of reading other cookbo

Financial Book Review 2, or There Is No Perfect Pepsi

Malcolm Gladwell gave a talk about choice and gave the example of Howard Moskowitz and his work with Pepsi - after testing, he considered that there is no Perfect Pepsi, only Perfect Pepsis .  I mention this, because I decided to read three more financial books, Smart Couples Finish Rich, The Millionaire Next Door, and its sequel The Next Millionaire Next Door. After reading them, as well as some discussion from friends, I've decided/agreed that just like there is no Perfect Pepsi, there is no Perfect Financial book to give to others. With that in mind, I should amend my rating for Bach's The Automatic Millionaire, then, to probably 2 or even 2.5/5 rather than the 1 I originally gave it. The point of the book is to get people interested in saving and investing, and an embellished story may not hurt. After all, I didn't try to make the math work when I read it the first time around. I happened to borrow Smart Couples Finish Rich , also by David Bach. I liked this book much

Financial Book Review, or You Just Can't Go Home Again

Over the last week, I read five financial books about saving and retirement. I wanted to read through them to see if my recommendations for the books still were appropriate, a decade later. In this blog I even talk about Automatic Millionaire and go through the exercises. Automatic Millionaire Chapter 1 Automatic Millionaire Chapter 2 Automatic Millionaire Workbook Chapter 1 Automatic Millionaire Workbook Chapter 2 I'm both disappointed that I didn't write more with subsequent chapters, but glad I didn't spend more energy on the books, as a decade later, I think this book and its companion workbook are pretty awful. While it did get me interested in saving more, and to write a set of values and ballpark dollar amounts, at the age of 24, I was wildly pessimistic on how much I needed to amass. A million dollars to travel the world? I mean, I could  spend a million on it, but I don't think it would be necessary to require that much to have a wonderful time traveling. Bette

Accidental Excess Fructose Test and Two Large Projects

 I happened to make cornbread last week, and decided to top with honey. It was good! And, the next night, with more cornbread, I had more honey. Last night, with my largest piece of cornbread, I added quite a bit of honey! Forgot that it was one of the tests - excess fructose. Apparently, I have no issues with excess fructose, as I also had no pain, which is great! That means the last test is Sorbitol - found in blackberries, peaches, plums and avocado. I miss avocado and guacamole, so I think I'll buy an avocado this weekend and see how I fare. In other news, I'm working on a cooking project as well as a music composition project, and I'm in the middle of both, so I don't have a lot of finished bits to share yet. Hopefully in the next few weeks I can add something to the blog!

SIBO Lactose retest and Mannitol test

 I tested for lactose again, just because I suspect that was the cause of the whole issue. I ended up making some blueberry buckles - basically, muffins that don't really hold together, with a side of the Tillamook ice cream. I had less than a cup of ice cream, and suffered no ill effects. I really doubled down with some homemade gluten free macaroni and cheese, made with freshly grated cheese and whole milk. Of course, it made more than one serving, so I likely only consumed about a half a cup of milk. Still no pain or issues! What a success! Yesterday, I decided to throw caution to the wind and make a Chinese pork noodle dish with fresh shiitake mushrooms. Something high in mannitol that I hadn't yet properly tested. However, I've been eating mushrooms for years without ill effects, and when I was eating vegan, I ate a lot of them, especially portabellas. The recipe called for 10 ounces of mushrooms, and like the mac and cheese recipe, I only ate probably 2 ounces, likely

McCormick Crushed Red Pepper

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I had some McCormick Crushed Red Pepper in my pantry, and it was starting to get a bit old. Instead of adding a bit of nice heat to my dishes, it smelled a more like chili dust and wouldn't impart much of a kick. Around that time, I started getting advertisements for FlatIron, a company that creates pepper blends to make a more interesting dried pepper blend. I thought I'd try it out, as I'd gotten into hot sauces the year before, learning that there is a lot more into hot sauce than just heat and vinegar. I purchased a pack - one container of Asian red peppers, one container of Hatch Green Chile, and one container of their Four Pepper Blend, that should have taken the place of the boring old McCormick Crushed Red Pepper dust sitting in the pantry. I was making some Asian recipe and opened up the container of Asian Reds to smell the spice blend. The spice level nearly took my head off! Well, no matter, it's supposed to be a hot pepper blend. I tossed it in but found the

Heavy Seas Pale Ale

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Heavy Seas Pale Ale, Powder Monkey, is another Beer of the Month beer, and an excellent one at that. Granted, the reason why I liked it was due to the fact that it was an inoffensive Pale Ale, as so many can be piney or hoppy or bitter, which I do not like. This was drinkable and tasty. Nearly drank them all before I remembered to take a picture and give a review! People who prefer this style of beer might think it is took weak or not bitter enough. I would rate it a 6/10. Happily would drink one if I found myself at their brewery, would gladly accept one from a friend at a party, but not enough to go seek it out. And that last bit is just because the style of beers I like, not against the beer itself. 

SIBO and passing the oligosaccharides test

 I'm still going along with my FODMAP reintroduction. So far, I've checked off: Fructans - three separate tests for onion, wheat and garlic; Lactose - which has disaccharides - and most recently Oliosaccharies! I enjoyed a side of kidney beans.  When I've reintroduced foods, sometimes the first test has a little bit of pain, sometimes the last test with the highest amount of the item causes pain, and sometimes I have no pain whatsoever. The last round, I had some moderate pain the first day with the reintroduction of kidney beans, but for the wheat test, the last day caused pain. When I waited and retested, I had no pain with a similar meal (same pasta and sauce, decided to forgo the cheese even though it was supposed to be fine.) Since the food introductions have been great (a few tests failed, but I retested successfully) I can eat foods with wheat, onion, garlic, cheese, dairy and beans! I've yet to test avocado (Sorbitol test) or sweet potato (Mannitol) or honey (Fr

Bucket List

 A bucket list is a list of items or experiences to do before a person dies. I don't like the idea of having a bucket list that has some sort of regret attached, like "Oh, I never learned X or traveled to Y" so I usually didn't have one. But, I could just change my definition to 'list of items that would add to my life' instead of 'list of items that I might regret if I don't do them'. I am happy with the major portion of my life - I have a job that I like and makes me fulfilled, I have a group of friends I appreciate and see often (excepting during pandemics) and same with visiting with my family. I can die tomorrow without regret. I'll always want to see more of my family and friends, but don't have a nagging feeling of "I never got to see X person/thing." With that said, I did recall that I created a bucket list about 5 years ago as part of an exercise with one of my friends, with things that were important to me then. Let'

Lactose Test Passed! (I think)

 I ran a longer lactose test just to be sure I wouldn't have any issues with 'stacking', then intentionally stacked. I had a half cup of milk on Wednesday, a full cup on Friday, a cup and a half on Sunday and another cup on Monday. I had some mild pain on and off, but it didn't seem the same as the pain I had in August and September (and October and early November). I even had mild pain on the days where I drank no milk in between the tests. I'll still be careful, however, I mostly wanted to be sure I could tolerate 'cooking' amounts, like what would be in sauces or desserts or cheese. I don't like to drink milk and rarely have yogurt or soft cheese. I'll put lactose back in my diet sparingly, but won't ignore foods with a little bit of cream or melted cheese. It'll be nice to have more options. Next test will be mannitol tolerance. Guess I'll go find some mushrooms and sweet potatoes to eat next week or the week after!

Beer of the Month to Review

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 My brother gave me a subscription to a Beer of the Month club, which is exciting! One of this month's beers is Flying Fish's Abbey Dubbel. I like Dubbels in the winter much more than porters and stouts, though many of those are good as well. This Dubbel is excellent! Continuing with the rating system I employed during Advent 2020, I would consider this Dubbel a 9 out of 10. That is the highest rating I've given a beer yet, and don't do so lightly. It is so easily drinkable, it's sweet without being cloyingly sweet, medium bodied, and absolutely delicious. Notes of brown sugar and caramel and sweet bread. I would seek this out and wouldn't mind paying more than normal for a special occasion. I drank one of these over the weekend and was more than halfway through before I'd realized it and knew I better make a point to write a review before I drink the other two and forget the tasting notes! Great start to the club!

Shio Ramen

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  I decided to make Serious Eats' Shio Ramen . I felt like making a ramen, because it would use a salt stock rather than a poultry or beef stock that would lean on garlic and onion that I was attempting to remove from my diet in the short term. I didn't quite read through all the recipe before committing to it in my head, and it ballooned into, I think, my most complicated recipe ever. I started with looking at the necessary ingredients, bonito flakes and kombu to make the dashi. I ordered them from Amazon, and the flakes came from Japan. I saw that there was a Shio Tare in the ramen recipe and looked into what that is - basically lemon salt liquid with some kombu. Ok, two days before I want to make the ramen, I need to make the shio tare, and one day before, I need to make the dashi. The day of, I need to boil water and chicken stock (I ended up finding bouillon that didn't have garlic or onion), add bonito flakes into the dashi and steep, then soft boil eggs, then start

SIBO and Continuation of Low FODMAP Diet

 I've been on the low FODMAP diet now for a month and a half. I've been feeling much better and pain free for most of the time. While I've only had one day of severe pain all day (a week and a half after I started the diet, I have mild unattributable pain about once or twice a week, and generally for 5 - 15 minutes. What a difference! One of the issues with SIBO and low FODMAP diet - after almost three months of nearly non-stop pain, my body doesn't really register hunger until is it really hungry. Any discomfort is just a general pain feeling instead of hunger pain. And with low FODMAP being low calorie, I'm getting hungry more often. That also doesn't help the end of my braces situation - I used to eat two larger meals so I didn't need to take out my braces and clean my teeth more than three times a day. With the need to eat more often, I either brush and floss my teeth after each snack or meal or keep the braces off longer than suggested. I've ended u